Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons of 2011.

As 2011 comes to an end I, for one am glad to see this year end and a new one full of possibilities begin. I am hoping that 2012 is a better year. As hard as this year has been there have also been great times of learning and personal growth.

I have decided that I would use this last blog post of 2011 to share with you some of the things I have learned; the good, bad and ugly of 2011

I am thankful for people and circumstances God uses in my life to sharpen me. Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

I am thankful for grace.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I have discovered that though others may walk away from you in your greatest time of need your Savior never will.
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I have discovered that God gives strength far beyond what you thought you had but he only gives what you need for that moment.

God is faithful, kind, generous and provides what you need all the time.

Life is full of risks. Take daring risks to love. Value your own dreams (they are God given). Take the risks necessary to nurture both.

It is not enough to say that you believe that God’s blood covers all sin. If you set limits on your own forgiveness or list sins as unforgivable you are telling others that you do not believe the blood covers their sins.

Sadly, the unsaved world is often more forgiving than Christians. Shouldn’t it be  the other way around. I mean if we have entered into a relationship with God by accepting the work of Christ, then we should freely pour the grace we have received onto others. Yet so often it is fellow Christians who show so little grace and so much judgment. Or more often they will only show grace once you “clean up your act.” Their grace is riddled with rules and stipulations. This has been one of the greatest disappointments of 2011.

I have learned that unless you have lived through a circumstance you have no idea how you will react once in the circumstance. It’s easy to assume that we know what we would do but most of the time we cannot begin to imagine the enormity of the situation.

Music calms the mind and soul. (I knew this long before 2011 but I was reminded again this year.)

Don’t ever underestimate the depravity of the human soul or the amazing healing that Love can bring.

Love is not anything like we think. Love often asks us to do the opposite of everything the world tells us is normal.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Those who are true followers of Jesus actively practice Matthew 5:39
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Those who want to follow Christ wholeheartedly do this with amazing generosity.

Free will was given so that we could actively choose a relationship with God. He did not want us forced into this relationship or participate out of obligation. He wanted us to willingly come. This has been illustrated for me in my marriage this year. I do not want my husband to stay with me because it’s what is expected or he is obligated to do. I want him to stay because he chooses to participate in a relationship with me. His free will to choose tells me that he stays because he wants to.

Normal means a lot of different things. It is adjustable and ever changing. Don’t get stuck with a picture of normal and miss what your normal really is.

You don’t have to have a title to make a difference.

God created and designed me the way he wanted me to be, in the time he wanted me to live, surrounded by the people he chose. To wish for different is saying that he made a mistake.

These are some of the lessons I have learned this year. Some were eye opening revelations, some simple truths reinforced through tough times, others were just reminders of lessons previously learned.

I wish you a blessed new year filled with the lessons that God will use to fill your life with wisdom. See you in 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How long is a little while?

I Peter 5:10: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

After you have suffered a little while. So I understand the suffering part. But how long is a little while? After all in Psalms we are told that a thousand years in your sight is as a day so really, how long is a little while?

Is it when the money has run out but the bills keep coming? Is it when you have tried all the exercises your counselor has recommended but your marriage is still falling apart? Is it when Christmas is coming and you can’t afford presents for your kids? Is it when you are despised by those who you used to call friend?

Is a little while when the foreclosed sign appears in your yard? When the door closes behind your wife, as she moves out? Or the Doctor tells you they have done all they can?

Is a little while when you are accosted by a stranger and told you are worthless? Or when you are ignored by family because of your choice to stay?

A little while, I’ve used that  one too God. When my kids ask when we are leaving to run an errand, it’s not for an hour but I say, “in a little while.” When my husband asks how much longer before I come to bed I say, “in a little while.” Or when a friend asks when I am going to sit down a rest, “in a little while.” It’s a very ambiguous term. Something someone uses when they don’t want to commit themselves to a real timetable.

But you, the author of time, does a little while depend more on my response than an actual measure of time. Does a little while mean when I give up control and surrender to your plan. When I stop trying fix it myself. When I do everything you have asked me. When I am still, and acknowledge the you are God. When I give up worry, striving and anger and I allow you to shape my soul. Is this what a little while looks like to you, Lord?

If this is a little while then let me learn quickly the lessons I need to. Let me release my stronghold and let you shape me. Please Lord, let a little while only be a little while!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mercy Over Judgment

James 2:12-14
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Mercy. What a wonderful word.

Mercy brings forgiveness. Judgment brings anger.

Mercy brings peace. Judgment brings sadness.

Mercy brings life-changing love that compels us to that which is better. Judgment brings resentment and a drive to continue on the destructive path that we are on.

Mercy allows the sinner a chance to repent. Judgment lays down a set of rules that have to be followed at all cost.

Mercy draws a person to you. Judgment pushes a person away.

Mercy allows a person room to fail, room to stumble. But also gives room to get up and try again. Judgment brings only shame and guilt.

Mercy says, “I understand”. Judgment say, “You’re a loser.”

Mercy gives freedom to be who you are. Judgment says. “You have to be who I want you to be.”

Mercy says, “I love you no matter what”. Judgment says, “You are unacceptable until you get your act together.

Mercy stays. Judgment leaves.

Mercy says, “Come as you are.” Judgment says, “Until you are sinless, like me, I cannot associate with you.”

Mercy always trumps Judgment.

Which way will you choose?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do the Next Thing

This has been the hardest year of my life. Many days I would become so overwhelmed with sadness, anger and fear that I would almost be paralyzed. My mind would take trips down the what if road I would be unable to complete the basic chores on my daily list.

One day I was looking through a journal I have had since high school. In it I keep quotes, cartoons and pamphlets that are meaningful to me. I came across a pamphlet that was given to me during my husband’s seminary years. I was privileged to learn under Elisabeth Elliot.

The pamphlet is entitled Do the Next Thing. The author is unknown. I have printed it below:

At an old English parsonage down by the sea, there came in the twilight a message to me. Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that, as it seems to me, teaching from heaven. And all through the hours the quiet words ring, like a low inspiration, 'Do the next thing.'
Many a questioning, many a fear, many a doubt hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from heaven, time, opportunity, guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.
Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand, who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener, working or suffering be thy demeanor, in His dear presence, the rest of His calm, the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing."

When I read these words I was able to get up and do the next thing on my list. I realized that I did not have to spend my time worrying. I didn’t have to allow thoughts of future events that had not happened yet from ruining my present. All I had to do was the very next thing. I had to sweep the floor, vacuum the house, care for the children or run my errands. I did not have worry.

In Matthew 6:25-34 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Today has enough to deal with. Focus on the tasks in front of you. If you find yourself in a situation that seems overwhelming commit it to prayer then do what you can. Sometimes the answer will be in the very next thing you do. When I allowed myself to simply do what was necessary I was less anxious and my world seemed less scary. Some of the tasks I had to do were hard.They themselves were overwhelming. But breaking them down I could look at the task in small steps instead of the whole thing. 
My year is ending better than I once imagined it would. It is different than I had planned but in the end it is turning out better than I planned.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Perfect Fraud

Webster’s dictionary defines perfect as a : being entirely without fault or defect <a perfect diamond> b : satisfying all requirements c : corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept <a perfect gentleman> d : faithfully reproducing the original.

For most of my life I have had a problem with being a perfectionist. Definition C was how I lived. In many ways I allowed this ideal prevent me from being myself. I recently heard a sermon where the pastor said when you present yourself in any way other than who you really are you are a fraud. I realized that most of my life I had been living as a fraud.

In High School I wanted to be thought of as a smart kid. So I hung out with smart kids and pretended that I was doing well. Actually I struggled with Math, Science and Foreign Language but keeping up my fraud was more important than getting help so I never went to tutoring. I volunteered at church. I never admitted that anything was ever bad. I put on my happy face and never let people see below the serface.

In College I wanted to be seen as having a close relationship with God. I read my bible but only to complete assignments. I prayed, but only as a means of having my request heard. I wondered why others seemed to be so close to God and why I felt so distant but I figured I just needed to work harder. But deep down I figured that it was because God knew the very depths of my soul and after looking at it he decided that I was not someone he wanted to be close to. That was the fraud I was telling myself. That deep inside there was nothing to draw anyone into a relationship and so the best I could hope for was being useful. After all people didn’t get rid of those who were useful. So I set out to be perfectly useful.

I got married and spent a lot of my time trying to anticipate my husband’s needs. I thought if I could be a mixture of June Cleaver and Martha Stewart all rolled into a nice package that my marriage would be perfect (or at least I could pretend it was.) As John started working in ministry I poured myself into becoming the perfect pastors wife. I taught classes, organized events, always presented myself as put together. There was nothing wrong with these things, in fact, I enjoyed doing them. But I was not doing them because I enjoyed them. I did them because if people saw me the way I wanted them too. (as perfect) then they could never criticize me or say I wasn’t a good pastors wife. And they would never begin to guess how insecure I was about who I was. They would certainly never guess how hard I tried to achieve the standard of perfection I tried to live up to in order to make God love me.

This perfect fraud I was portraying began to seep out. I became critical of my husband. He would share a story of an incident that happened in our home or ministry and instead of understanding how it connected people to him I would worry that it showed us in a way that was less than the perfect image I was trying to maintain.

When our girls came into our lives I was determined that they would perpetuate the fraud. Sundays were filled with anxiety. Could they just be “good” at church when people were watching them. The list of Don’ts became ever longer. Don’t throw a fit. Don’t run. Don’t be too loud. Always be neat. Always answer when spoken too. . .the list grew each week based on the behaviors they displayed. My thought was if people saw that my kids were not perfect they would know I had no idea how to raise special needs kids. They would know how every day I ended berating myself for failing again to be the perfect mom and raise perfect kids.

The cracks in my life were growing bigger. They were getting harder to hide. A snap at the kids when people were looking. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up. After all, I needed to be good in order for God to love me. I was sure that one day I would receive a note that said I knew I shouldn’t have wasted my blood on you. On the outside no one would have ever guessed.

I tried really hard. I worked really hard. I prayed that God would help me try harder and work harder. But He wanted me to learn something more valuable.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

This was the lesson. GRACE. Not something you earn. Not something that is given to the perfect  people but that which is lavished on the complete failures, degenerate sinners and those humble enough to admit they do not have it all together. Grace that says I love you no matter what you do. Grace that is not dependant on me at all. GRACE.

You see the problem with being a fraud is a lot more than living a lie. A fraudulent life includes lying, pride, fear, a critical spirit, and sadness that permeates your soul. Grace gives freedom. Freedom not only to allow me to live real. But allows me to pour freedom onto my children and my marriage. Grace allows me to see others in their imperfections and to accept them where they are.

I am not saying I don’t slip back sometimes into striving for approval. There are days when my striving spirit takes over once again. But I now know what it feels like to go from a Perfect Fraud to covered in Perfect Grace.