February 11, 2015

Following the Cloud

We have called Grace Bible Church home for over 12 years now. On the first Sunday I sat in service, the Senior Pastor preached about the gift of children. As he was sharing an illustration about his firstborn, he made a side comment that everyone should have children young. I don't remember anymore of the sermon because at that moment, God used Dean to speak directly to my heart.

yep. you heard the man. this is it. this is the place I have for you. No one is gonna judge you here. these are your people.

That morning changed the entire trajectory of my life.

For 12 years, God has used Dean Woodward to speak into my soul time after time. Almost a year ago, a wrung out, used up, broken down me heard him share about his youngest daughter having a similar spiritual desert and how she copied the entire bible and it "changed her". I had been begging God for a full week to "change me". Over and over again, I had breathed that prayer. I lost the rest of the sermon (again. sorry dean. I am sure it was fab.), as I sank into what God wanted me to hear.

Do this. This will bring about the change you are seeking. I heard you, baby girl. We are still in this together.

BUT, now Dean is leaving us. He feels God is calling him to a new place for a new purpose. I copied Numbers Chapter 9 the morning after Dean made his announcement. It explained in detail how God would send a cloud to descend on the tent of meeting. If the cloud was hanging out, they stayed put. If the cloud lifted from the tent, it was time to pack it up and see where God was sending them next. As I copied the words, I very clearly saw that part of following the Lord is going where He leads, even if you really like where you are currently situated.

Dean's cloud is moving and his job is to follow it.

Having had this revelation, I think my reaction to Dean's announcement has been the opposite of most of my Grace people. I am excited! Excited to see what God will do with Dean next. Excited to see who he is bringing in to teach us now.

And I am really proud of Dean for doing what God wants him to do. And lets all be honest, doing THAT is hard and not doing THAT is what gets us in the most trouble in this life. This also proves (at least to me) that Dean is exactly who he always purported himself to be. All the attributes I had mentally given him are true. The example he has set over the past 12 years is the same one he is still living.

As I sit here and type tonight, I am filled with such joy and thanksgiving. I am so thankful to have been led spiritually for all the years by a man who is still putting his money where his mouth is. I can believe all the insight and the wisdom he shared because he is living what he preaches. What an amazing gift. I can't wait to see which gift will be sent next!

February 7, 2015

Blogging during the Holidays

Well, it just doesn't happen.

I was so busy making merry and celebrating the birth of my savior that while I have been diligently copying, I have not had enough time to relay my experience to you. My apologies for my lameness.

Good news. I am back.

To quickly bring every one up to speed, when I last posted I had just finished the book of James (Book #4 in my copying experiment). After James, I went to the old testament for the books of Hosea and Obadiah. Both books I had never read that underscored the downward spiral of the people of Israel. I did not feel very uplifted during these weeks. Things were not going well for the Israelites. They did not get better. It chipped away at my heart as I watched God's chosen people turn further away from Him. I could practically feel the pain God felt when his people continued to look everywhere but up for their fulfillment. But as the Word is made to do, it inspired me to remember that sin is not only painful to me but also to my Heavenly Father. I think a part of me needed to remember whose I am and what that means.

Next, I decided I needed some happier Israelite moments, so I choose Numbers. I guess most people wouldn't consider this a particularly happy book (I have even heard rumors of the "b" word associated with it. gasp). One of the bonuses of copying the bible is that I get to marinate in it a bit. A side effect of this prolonging is that my really overactive imagination can go to work. While others read Numbers and see a list of things to do, I see a culture in its hay day. These people have been freed from slavery. They are their own for the first time in too long and they are happily ready to serve the God who freed them. It is so easy to move from a list in your mind to the people who made these things happen. For example...

Chapter one lists the results of the census. While others see a page with unpronounceable names and huge numbers. I see tribes. I feel the pride of the people of Reuben as their leader announces the number of men of an age to serve militarily. I see the smile of the leader of the tribe of Gad as he takes his turn. These are not numbers. These are people. God's chosen people in their appointed time. That is special.

In chapter two, there is a very detailed explanation of the order in which they were to march and make camp. I see people walking together along with the livestock that carried all their worldly possessions. I see the sweat roll down their foreheads as they erect the tent of meeting or their makeshift homes at camp. I hear them wonder aloud when they will finally be home.

As I copied the laws of the Nazarites in chapter six, I imagined the people who would feel this call to set themselves apart for their Lord. People who loved Him so much, they gave their very existence over into his hands. It was inspiring to imagine.

I have marveled over every little detail God has laid down thus far and I am only on Chapter 9! It seems like such a great way to start the new year! At the beginning of the best time in Israel. Everything wasn't certain, but it was definitely new and exciting! That is my prayer for you this year, blog reading world. That even in the midst of an uncertain, ever changing world, you would find excitement in all the God is doing!

November 15, 2014

Telling it like it is

I tend to err on the side of TMI when my kids ask a question. This causes a lot of eye rolling and head shaking from my husband, but there are two, in my opinion, very valid reasons for my forthrightness.

#1 - Sugarcoating things leaves room for interpretation. And by "interpretation" I mean skewing any and all situations to be what we want instead of what they are. I want my kids to live in reality. Even (maybe especially) when reality is a bummer.

*My father-in-law is an alcoholic. We have always been completely up front with our children about this fact. We have never said that "Grandpa is sick." or "Grandpa isn't feeling well today." Those phrases, while technically true, are not the whole truth. They need to know that he is choosing to remain ill. We want them to witness the destructiveness of this disease because it is in their DNA. Sugarcoating this reality would rob them of knowledge that they may well need when they enter their adult years.

#2 - I want my kids to know that when they ask me a question, I am giving them the truth. Even when the truth is hard.

*Caroline was in elementary school the first time she asked me if I had ever tried drugs. (Did you all just sigh with me?) It would have been so easy to change the subject, give an evasive answer or just flat out lie with the justification that she was too young to handle the truth. I didn't. I took a deep breathe, swallowed my pride and said, "Yes, sweetheart, I have." Now blessedly the conversation didn't go much beyond that. Just long enough for me to say that I was extra stupid in that moment and that I was sure she would be smarter than I was. And I really hope she will be, but on the chance that she is as human as the rest of us and finds herself on the backside of a mistake, I pray that my honesty in that moment will help her to trust that I will understand her weakness and love her still.

This philosophy is why I LOVE the book of James. James tells it like it is. He says exactly what is on his mind and does not bother to brace his audience for the truth. He pretty much beats you over the head with it. I need that.

BUT loving James' direct approach does not make it any easier to read. 2000 years later, God is still directing these words at me. A few of the ones that hit particularly close to home.

1:22 Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Ouch.

1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongue deceive themselves and their religion in worthless. Direct hit.

3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God's likeness. Especially the ones with questionable driving skills.

4:17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. Man!

 I rolled the through the book of James in two days. TWO days. I just could not seem to put it down. I have missed this feeling. Not being able to get enough of my time with my Lord is something I didn't know I could miss until it was gone. I am continuing my way through the bible. Heading back into the old testament next and the book of Hosea, of which I have not read a single verse. It makes me a little sad to admit this.

For those of you keeping count, 4 down and 62 to go.

September 28, 2014

Losing Sleep

I finished the book of Daniel today.

Wow. That is some seriously heavy stuff there at the end. I am not even going to try to get in to end of times and meanings and dates and all the whos and whens and wheres. There are those infinitely smarter than I to look to for those answers. It is all way above my paygrade. But, there were some things I have discovered about the bible and myself as I was in this book that I think are worth sharing.

*The book of Daniel gave me nightmares. I guess my mind was empathizing with Daniel a bit as I dreamed repeatedly of a vision that was horrific to witness and then equally horrific in its interpretation. The worst part was always having to be the bearer of bad news. In the dream, I felt weighed down as if I was actually lifting a burden. It was a bummer.

*Being Daniel was not as glamorous as we like to make it out to be. We picture him with a lion's head in his lap or smiling while eating a salad while his contemporaries got fat. We love sitting Daniel and his co-horts up on a pedestal with David, Solomon, Moses and other heroes of the Old Testament, but reality was that he was a slave to strange people in a strange land for his entire life. Said life was threatened constantly. He had to adjust to multiple rulers with multiple styles. No one really liked him. And the gift he received from God in his ability to interpret dreams, brought on the heaviest of burdens. After being abducted as a teenager, he never returned home. Stop. Let that sink in. God's plan for him was be kidnapped and never return home. Great stories now, but not so fabulous to live through.

*God blesses a heart turned to Him. Things could have gone downhill for Daniel with the quickness a number of times over his life. Daniel kept his heart turned towards God and though it didn't magically solve all his problems (well, except with lions.), God blessed him over and over again.

3 down, 62 to go! Next I am moving back to the New Testament and into the book of James (my princess's favorite).

September 26, 2014

In Transition

I have started walking at our city park while the boys hit the skate park. Yesterday, I listened to a podcast from Focus on the Family about helping your marriage survive mid-life. Since my own parents' marriage did not survive that state of being, I am always interested in any one's advice on navigating this time period. They were interviewing a couple that wrote a book entitled, The Ten Best Decisions a Couple Can Make. The information they were sharing was nothing new...until the woman started talking about what she called a "mid-life transition" for a woman. Her experience was that this takes place for most women between 28-38. As I fall into this age bracket, the statement got my attention. She went on to describe it as a time when a lot of women start wondering "What's next?"  Typically, they have finished having children and the kids are all in school or mostly all school age OR if you have not started a family, your biological clock takes on bass drum decibels. This woman stated that it is completely natural for us to start thinking about and moving towards the next phase of life.

Made sense, but what she said next really got me. She was asked by the host, how you know if you are in this transition. Her answer described me perfectly. She describe a woman who felt unsettled, discontent. A woman who may be feeling far from God but not understanding why she feels this way or how it happened. The woman said, "If you walk into a room and see one thing out of place and it sends you off the deep end, you are probably in this transition period." Chuckling ensued.

I froze in the middle of the path.

I have been begging God for months to help me figure out what the heck is wrong with me! I have absolutely NO patience. I am not kidding. Socks on the floor are sending me over the edge. WAY over the edge. (I am currently hiding in my room because I have snapped at everyone in the house this morning over really stupid stuff and I do not trust myself to interact with my family anymore today.) Now He graciously has pointed me in a direction that makes sense...except that I hate it. I hate this answer with all of my being.

I sure as heck was not laughing. I wanted to sit down right there and cry, but my good sense rushed in at the last second and I started back towards to skate park to pick up my boys and head home.

Bert and I had a date that night. It was fun, but I will be honest and say that it wasn't nearly as fun as normal. The problem was me. It started with my inability to choose an outfit. Nothing was right, but was I realized in that moment is that it was my perception of myself that was the actual culprit. I don't feel attractive or smart or wanted. Truthfully, I feel pretty worthless. Which is also insane as I have never, ever felt like this about myself. I thought I was hot even ginormous pregnant. I have never doubted my intelligence. I have always had a very good concept of my worth. (Just ask my brothers) And furthermore...


Really?! The logical part of me wants me to just get the heck over myself. I really dislike whining and mid-life crisis just reeks of "whine". Not to mention the fact that it feels like a slap to the face of God. "Hey, thanks for this really awesome life you have given me. Great husband, cute kids, our health, a business, a lovely home, a great church, good friends, etc. You've really outdone yourself and I am thankful BUT...well, its not enough. Apparently, I need more."

More...how much more could I possibly need? Is it incredibly selfish to have this want of something more when I have so much? When on earth would I do this more I seem to desire? And what does it look like?

More...this word keeps going around in my brain. It is keeping me up at night. It is killing my appetite and my attitude. And yet, I can't shake it. I can't get free from it. I am constantly wrestling with it. Four little letters and they are eating me up.

And that, dear blog readers, is my reality. Frustrated and (apparently) searching for more.

September 20, 2014

Faith like a Child

As I was finishing up Luke, I came across the point in the bible where Jesus tells us to have faith like a child. When the disciples would have turned them away, Jesus said,

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Awe. Isn't that so sweet? I imagine that is the universal thought we read those verses and then merrily go on our way with our adult faith completely intact.

But here is the thing. Jesus did not waste his breathe saying things he did not mean. If he said for us to have the faith of a child, we really ought to eaxmine what exactly that means and then try to achieve it.

This summer, I led the missions time at Summer's Best Week. We were discussing the world's water crisis and how we can help. One morning, a little girl walked up to me and handed me a Ziploc bag filled with change. "Its everything I have, " she stated matter-of factly and walked over to take her seat.

Of course it was.

I took the stage wiping tears from my eyes and trying desperately to pull it together so I didn't scare the 75 kindergartners seated before me.

Four years ago, a college student from our church was raising money to spend his summer break working in an inner city. Bert and I had been approached to contribute and discussed the amount over dinner one night. Chase asked me what we were talking about and I briefly explained that Mr. Chris wanted to spend his summer working for Jesus but he needed money so we were going to give him some. On Sunday, Chase got in the car with a Ziploc bag filled with money clutched in his hand. When we entered he walked over to where the young man's mother was standing and presented the bag to her. "This is for Mr. Chris so he can work for Jesus." She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and assured Chase she would give it to him.

Faith like a child moves people.

It is big and full and encompassing. It is perfect and uncomplicated. It is pure and inspiring. Grown women cry when small children hand them Ziploc bags full of change. Even years later, a young man is so moved by the sacrifice of a 5 year old that he still talks about it with a smile on his face.

It seems to me that litmus test to determine if you are receiving the kingdom of God as a child is whether or not your faith moves people. Does your love for others move them to tears? Is your faith in Jesus so big that it leaves a lasting impression?

Those are the questions the Holy Spirit dropped in my lap for me to wrestle with today. They are good ones. As a Christian, they might be the only ones worth asking. 

August 26, 2014

First notebook filled

Notebook #1 is full.

I noticed some things about me and the way others see me today that I wanted to share.

(Disclaimer - this is completely nonspiritual and uninspiring, unless you count the fact that God made these parts of my personality)

#1 - I have to label everything. It is a barely containable compulsion and I have long since stopped fighting it. When I grabbed the next notebook from the drawer, I immediately wrote "2" in the top right hand corner and circled it...just like I did for its predecessor. Apparently, I also need my labeling to match. Sometimes I make myself sigh.

#2 - Caroline likes my handwriting. If you have teenagers, you know that compliments are few and far between and have to be spit out as if they are choking on them. Said compliment almost made me cry. I have got to get more sleep.

#3 - My husband is convinced that I toss everything immediately and am in no way sentimental. When  I proudly showed my husband my completely filled in notebook, he congratulated me and then offered to drop it in the recycle bin on his way to the garage. I responded with huge eyes and a shaking head as I clutched my notebook to me in horror. Then I laughed. As a rule, I am a tosser of the unnecessary and can be pretty ruthless. What a blessing to have a man who knows and loves me exactly as I am! But surprise, surprise (for both of us) I think I am gonna hang onto my notebook for a little while. See, I can be sentimental.

AND...I think this experiment is working. The only think that can be said to that is "Thank you, Lord."