A Bump in the Road {Frustrations in the Middle}

I think I hit a bump in the road this week. The journey continues.  The road seems long.  The end is …well, I’m not sure!  Heaven–sure; but earth …that’s another story.  Earth bound trains leave me in frustrated stations.  Destinations unknown.

It seems people continue to be mean and ornery and don’t do what I want them to do (she says in a self-righteous, sarcastic tone 🙂 ).   Bumps in the road frustrate me …block my smooth-sailing-wanna-be-persona. Funny how one minute I’m overwhelmed with miracles in the middle and the next minute  overwhelmed with frustrations.  Hormonal or just plain human?

Frustrations can leave you “spittin’ nails”– as they say down here in the south.  And that ranting often ends up spittin’ nails  on social media walls until those walls begin to look more like a pelted target at a shooting range than a place where friends stay posted in relationships.

I thought I’d try a different approach — partly because God convicted me and partly because I hate puttying  holes in the walls.

Three days after thyroid cancer surgery, the clothes dryer had a melt down of its own.   Twitter feeds and news reports and the ongoing political venom lobbying back and forth sent my thoughts into hyper-drive.  God’s family fighting each other tooth and nail.  Even the mail sent me into another frustrating loop pushing that play-rewind-play again button on a conversation I wish I was bold enough to talk with someone about.   And did I mention I can’t wait to get  this sticky tape off that’s plastered on my neck holding my incision together!!??  And to top it off, my  little window air conditioner sounds likes it’s coughing up chunks of metal (or perhaps choking on them) as it tries to keep up with this 90 degree weather here in Alabama.   Happy fall y’all!

Let’s start with my own personal tropic of cancer storm?   I’m barely into the process and I’m already frustrated.  I’m ready to move on …get this behind me.  Shed this story for a new one. I’m tired of the fitting room and trying on the multitude of options.

Then someone had the audacity to tell me  it’s not just about  praising God IN the storm, but praising God FOR the storm.   And here I am.  Can I be thankful for this storm?

What can I thank God for?

How about …the surgeons,  the medicine,  the hospitals,  the peace that God has given throughout this experience that is truly miraculous– to say the least.  How about the lives of others God has brought to my attention who desperately need a healing touch of prayer, love and a “I understand what you’re going through” word of encouragement.  How about the sticky tape that kept me from bleeding and promoted the healing process!  Okay — even that as well.

Turns out, cancer is not a monster anymore.  It’s a thing.  A real thing.   But God is so beyond that thing.  He turns cancer into gold and ashes into beauty and bald into beautiful.  We tend to go into a default pattern of the typical path of cancer treatment but my Father owns the path and He has a very different view of the process.

And that political climate that feels like a hurricane wreaking havoc and unleashing unprecedented disaster?  Well, my Heavenly Father had a little  parenting conversation with me as I  prepared to teach a Bible study  on “Love your Enemies” from Matthew 5:43-48.  Ughhh…don’t you hate it when that happens!!

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”  (from Matthew 5:43-48 NLT)

That kind of love has an action plan.  Pray for our enemies.  Loving only those who are lovable is easy.  Anybody can do that but a follower of Jesus has the DNA of our Father.  Mud slinging doesn’t look well on us.

Can I love those in the political arena like I love my best friend?  Maybe not in the same kindred spirit of let’s-have-coffee-together kind of way but definitely acknowledging this person as someone God dearly loves and longs to bring home to the family table.  That kind of love.  Yes.  Hard but needed.

And those situations I want to fix or have the guts to tell ’em what I think?  Well, that’s better left in the hand of my Father as well.  He may give me an opportunity to speak into another person’s story but it won’t be very appetizing until He’s added just the right spices to flavor the conversation.  It’s His responsibility  to set the table!

 Pray.  Wait.  Listen.  Love.  Forgive.  Let go.  Repeat.

Ask myself, “Is my way the only right way?”  “Is this for my benefit or truly for the benefit of others?”  “What is this surfacing from down deep inside me that needs addressing?  Past pain?  Unresolved anger?  Rejection?  Jealousy?  Pride? ”  “Who am I trying to help in this situation?”  “Is the purpose to bring about good or just to get something off my chest?”

Pulling my toes back a little further.  My “ouch” meter just hit an all time high and I think the song says it best…  “It’s me!  It’s me Oh Lord…standing in the need of prayer.

Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer …

Refrain:
It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer;
It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not the preacher, not the deacon, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer …
Not my father, not my mother, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer …
Not the stranger, not my neighbor, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer …

So I guess I’m left with “standin’ in the need of prayer” instead of “spittin’ nails.”  How about you?  And by the way, while writing this–God began  to bring peace into these frustrations of mine.  He was nailed to cover my spittin’ nails.  His nails for mine.  Grace.

Pictured in the photo above are the hands of the precious prayer warriors who meet at our home almost every Tuesday at noon for prayer.  These hands have held each other and lifted many to the Father who continues to carry us through it all. 

To God be the glory–Great things He has done!

 

Some Thoughts from the Morning of Surgery

They told me to arrive by 8:30 a.m. with surgery scheduled to follow around 10:30.  No food or drink after midnight as if it might be your last good meal!  No morning coffee…ughhhh.  Sticky note reminder on the counter.  Medicine restrictions a week before and three weeks after surgery.

Typically, as soon as my feet hit the floor and I’ve made a brief pit-stop,  I amble into the kitchen  to begin  the morning pour over coffee routine.  Roger has usually already started the electric tea pot and put the coffee filter in place because …well he just happens to be sweet like that.

The process is so routine …so fluid.  So much so, that it’s a wonder I didn’t need bright yellow caution tape marking off the coffee area to make sure I didn’t cross the line and mess up pre-surgery protocol.

On a normal morning, I would set my phone alarm 2-3 hours before I have to be anywhere …and “anywhere” could involve several different locations around the city.  I have the privilege of working with a team of  facilitators from our non-profit organization to share the love of Jesus with many employees and volunteers who are serving  in much-needed community organizations in our area.  ( Side note:  I’m pretty sure I  have the best job in the world. )

Times vary.  Locations vary.  Topics vary.  Google calendar reminds me where to be and when to be there.  Staff notes keep me on track to the topic that should be covered.  Prayer and research guide my morning thoughts …and coffee wakes me up to have them!!

After some quiet space–I shower, get dressed and head out the door with a Bible and a handful of notes.

September 26, 2018 was different.  The calendar reminder said, “Joy’s Surgery” — on the very date that marked the birth of our youngest son, Ben …24 years later and a very different kind of surgery.

This one was to remove thyroid cancer in my neck.  Round 2. They said after 5 years it was very unusual that it had returned this way.  I guess I’m special like that. 🙂

The date was scheduled by my doctor but I knew God had something to do with it.  As soon as she announced the date of surgery, I almost smiled as I remembered the c-section surgery I had had 24 years earlier.

This was a good day to have surgery.  There was peace in the date.   God had given life 24 years ago and He would give life again.  It felt like another promise from God that He was covering every single detail.

Miraculous peace in the process.  Anticipation of the adventure.  Expectation of what felt like a  Divinely-scheduled event.

As I was getting showered and dressed that Wednesday morning of surgery, the thought came to mind that this day — this surgery date — was just another assignment for me from God for this particular day.  It was the same as any other day …love God, love people, connect the two.

On another day my assignment might have been, “Go to the Manna House and co-lead a devotion for those 5-10 precious people I’ve gathered around the table in the little room on the right.” Another day might be, “Walk in your neighborhood and bless those you meet with encouraging words and a hug here and there.”  On most Tuesdays it might be …”Pray like a mama-prayer-warrior with others circled up in your little living room who  stand in the gap for the hearts and  lives of so many.”  Or… “Walk it out with Me.  Look for My glory in creation.  Capture beauty all around.  Snap photos to remember.”

FLOWERS arranged with love by Beth Hyde– QUOTE in background printable by Gary Morland*:  “Wherever you are is a good and important place.  Start there.” Design Artist: Annie Barnett

But on 9/26/18, it was as if Jesus said,  “Go to Crestwood Medical Center for surgery.  Bless everyone you meet with  encouraging words –showing My love in any way you can.  Make sure they feel appreciated for all they do for others.  Every tech who draws blood, every nurse who changes bandages and yes, even the one who pulls out that drainage tube from your neck — that one too!  It’s not an easy job.   And to the one who took sharp tools to carefully cut through skin and remove that cancer — hug that one.”

Somewhere between the morning shower and arriving at  the hospital, I had an overwhelming sense that today was really just like any other day of walking it out with Jesus — only this day would involve going to a different location to share the love of Jesus.  This day would include an assignment I didn’t necessarily want but one that was needed for the overall Kingdom mission to be accomplished.

Same mission statement …Love God.   Love People.  Connect the Two.  Different location assignment.    New group of people.  Ones I honestly don’t want to see again but am grateful beyond words for their part in my well-being.

If God’s word is true that “Through suffering our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies,” then our bodies will most likely have to go to places of  suffering so that the life of Jesus and the Glory of God will be visible to others. (See II Corinthians 4:10 NLT)

“Your mission Joy, should you choose to accept it …” isn’t just for the cast of Mission Impossible.  Each day is a new day with a new assignment.

While it may feel routine and run of the mill, there’s nothing really routine about it.  Every moment can be an opportunity filled with Divine appointments.  Words can leave trail marks that lead others home to the Father.  Actions can be anointed for such a time as this for the rescue of those who need an Advocate…a Savior.  Never underestimate the ordinary.

As we accept God’s assignment for today, may this be our prayer …

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

from “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13 NKJV)

And as Our Father equips us with the daily bread  we need for each assignment, may everything we do bring honor and glory to His name until we hear the words, “Well done,  good and faithful servant.  Assignment Completed.  Mission accomplished. 

So what about you?  What assignment has God given you?   Is it just about today or is a long-term assignment?   Have you accepted the mission?


Quote in Photo Credit:  “Wherever you are is a good and important place.  Start there.” Gary Morland     (Artist:  Annie Barnett)  Printable found HERE.

Special thanks:  
~to my husband and our kids for their patience, love and always being there for me,
~to the doctors, nurses and medical staff at Crestwood Medical Center, Huntsville, AL,
~to so many who continue to pray me through this assignment,
~to those who called,  brought food, flowers, chocolate and coffee to sustain life and happiness,
~and especially to my Heavenly Father Who continues to love me and care for me like none other!
To God be the glory …Great things He has done!

When You Need a Breakthrough

I had a dream …

This particular dream involved a lady humbly praying as she walked around what seemed to be a small town.  She came to the grave site of my husband’s Grandfather Martin  and while praying, he came back to life!  He joined us at the house we were in and talked with us.  Of course, even in my dream, I wanted to capture the moment by taking pictures and insisted on lining my husband, his brother and his very alive grandfather up in front of the mantel for a picture to document the happy time we were enjoying together.

The dream continued on with a few more fun and interesting details but at some point (still in my dream, mind you), I thought to myself —  since this lady was quite the prayer warrior, I’d ask her to pray for me for deliverance from  anxiety and OCD type issues.  When she prayed over me, she said she saw “foes” all around me.  The dream ended there …

Now I’m here to tell you, not all dreams are from God but I believe He has used some of my dreams to reveal a significant truth to me.  When a dream seems to have that kind of importance, I write it down in my journal, talk to God for any clarification or interpretation, look up any Bible passages that the Holy Spirit brings to mind related to the dream, and  I’ll often share it with a good friend who can help process any spiritual implication where the Holy Spirit might be speaking His truth.

When I woke up the next morning, I wrote down the dream and sat down with God over any meaning that He might have for me.  Some initial thoughts focused on the word “foes.”  I rarely, if ever, use that word but it sure sounded familiar from verses I’d read in the Bible.

I looked up Scripture where that word is used and it seems  King David of the Old Testament had quite a few up-close-and-personal-encounters with a few “foes” in his time…

“Only by Your power can we push back our enemies; only in Your name can we trample our foes.” (Psalm 44:5 NLT)

“With God’s help we will do mighty things, for He will trample down our foes.” (Psalm 60:12 NLT)

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.  He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.”  (Psalm 18:16-19 NIV)

“He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.” (Psalm 112:7-8 NIV)

I believe God was relating “foes” to the spiritual enemies that come against us to try to attack us spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally.  But as God also reminds us through the pages of His word …He will fight our battles for us, He will  rescue us  and give us spiritual weapons to stand against the fiery darts the enemy hurls our direction.

Many days later, the Holy Spirit continued to give confidence and encouragement in the journey –taking me over 12 hours away to another state to hear words like these taught by Pastor Gates as he took us through 2 Samuel 5:17-25  at The Mending Place Church in Wichita, Kansas*…

“The LORD did it!” David exclaimed, “He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!” So he named that place Baal-perazim (which means “the LORD who bursts through”). 

2 Samuel 5:20 NLT

While the whole story is pretty fascinating, the meat and potatoes of this scene serve a healthy meal of victory.  David, fresh out of his inaugural clothes as the newly anointed King of Israel, is faced with public enemy #1 — the Philistines.  Arch rival to his people.  Personal nemesis since his Goliath giant-slaying days.  This was definitely not his first rodeo nor would it be his last.

“David inquired of the LORD” for help and when the enemy circled back around to nab him again, David again asked the LORD what to do.  Always seeking God’s direction.  Always dependent on the Rock that made that giant tumble in the first place. Always knowing where his ultimate victory would come from.  Never assuming just because he had “been there-done that” before that he wouldn’t need the Almighty God to help him.

Clearly, David knew who his enemies were.  There was no question or need for discussion or “is it just me or is this an enemy attacking?”  He knew.

Have you identified your enemies…your “foes”?  Do you look at an enemy as a person?  Someone who has hurt you in a significant way?   Physically …emotionally …mentally …spiritually?

How about your emotions?  Depression?  Anxiety?  Stress?  Pain?

Health? Cancer? Suffering?  Finances?  Government?  Evil in the world?

Are these really “the enemy” or is it that same old nemesis that’s been around since the beginning of time?

The truth is “…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)

I know it often seems like there are people and places and situations who feel an awful lot like the enemy and give that eerie  feeling that they’re hiding behind the bushes waiting to ambush us at every turn; but the truth is, we have an arch enemy and it’s not “them” or “that place” or “that thing that happened to us.”

Not only that, our true enemy is impressed to the point of being threatened that we’re anointed by God to do great things for His Kingdom.  He’s so impressed, in fact, that he’ll go to great lengths to take us down and end any influence we might have been anointed by God to share in this dark world.

He’s a robber and a liar and there’s nothing good in him.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10 NIV

But I can’t camp out there.  I can acknowledge who the enemy is and be clear on his tactics.  He’s always going to be on the attack — especially when God’s moving in my life with the fresh wind of His Spirit.

I’m circling back around to that phrase — “The LORD who burst through.”  I’m writing it out here to remind me to keep asking God what to do …how to handle these things that feel like they ambushed me out of nowhere to try to destroy me and steal my joy.  I’m trying hard to wait and  listen for that still small voice or that voice that thunders from the heavens if necessary or that word He shares through another person.  And I’m also watching for the trees to rustle above me — those supernatural things that are happening around us all the time if we’ll just look for them.

God’s bigger.  He wins.  His plan will never be thwarted.  His will is accomplished above all others.  He will burst through any darkness, any enemy camp, any storm, any bad news you just received, any battle raging before me or in me.  That’s His name.  That’s His honor.  It’s Who He is.  “He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!” (2 Samuel 5:20 NLT)

Whatever you’re going through right now …whoever or whatever seems to be throwing darts at your tender heart as if it has a bull’s eye on it — God is standing ready to burst through and fight for you!

Ask Him for help.  Listen for His answer.  Wait for Him to come.  Look around you and watch for Him to act on your behalf.


*To listen to Pastor D.M. Gates’ entire message from the Mending Place South City, click HERE  or check out more good news  @   www.mendingplace.org/listen-online

**My granddaughter used to sing THIS SONG when she was knee-high to a grasshopper and I can’t stop singing it the way she always did it …using her little arms to push through the air and show how God pushes back the darkness!  Listen to Darlene Zschech sing “In Jesus’ Name” HERE.

May God bless you and keep you and may His face shine upon you and be gracious to you and give you peace …sweet peace! 

(from Numbers 6)

 

 

 

A “Sermon on the Couch” from a Homeless Friend {More Stories From Our Front Porch}

It was a cold, April morning and I had barely opened my eyes when I heard an obnoxious knock on the door around 6:45 a.m.  It was a homeless friend of our’s.   I had set my alarm for an early rise to prepare for a Bible lesson to be shared later that day.  I didn’t want to answer the door– let alone answer the call for help.  I had things to do …lessons to prepare …God’s work to accomplish.

Yet there it was …an incessant knock on the door.   This early spring month  had ushered in a cold wind making her namesake shiver.   My weathered homeless friend wanted to know if she could come in to get warm.  Turns out, one of the local shelters turns you out at 5:30 a.m.   Her next stop for assistance wasn’t open yet and she needed warmth as she waited.

I’m not sure if it was me or my husband — but one of us opened the door and invited her to come in.  I was annoyed.  This was not in the plan for my early morning.

She asked for a coat …anything to layer warmth over her thin body.   My patience was thin.  Roger gave her one of his sweatshirts.  Sitting there with my warm cup of coffee,  I still wasn’t getting the memo.

But she didn’t stop there.  She not only wanted another warm layer of clothing, she also asked if she could  be warmed with something to eat …and some coffee as well!   My better half, a.k.a. better-at-loving-like-Jesus-than-I-was-in-the-moment,  went to the stove and scrambled up a pan full of eggs — serving up  some strong coffee and a piece of bread to go with it.

Somewhere in a moment of selfish resignation as in —  “I guess I can’t do anything about it at this point.  I might as well embrace this moment,” — God’s  grace entered.  A thought drifted in that I might as well read the passage of Scripture to her  out loud and invite her into my Bible study preparation.

The passage? …”The Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew 5-7.  You know, a sermon Jesus sat on a hillside and taught  to a bunch of people who still looking for the Messiah –not realizing He was sitting right in front of them.

I mumbled out the words of Jesus as He taught those who would listen …

Teaching about Revenge

38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. (Matthew 5:38-42 NLT)

Something about that last line, “Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow,” turned my heart around to really look in those beautiful blue eyes  of the one sitting beside me so I could see God’s face and hear His voice.  I had almost missed His knock on my door that morning but He was persistent …incessantly knocking.  He had a real-life lesson for me in the making.  One that can’t be learned through commentaries or study guides.  He came to sit down beside me in the early morning hour.

Halfheartedly, I asked what she thought Jesus was trying to say in those words.  How would she interpret this hard passage?  I knew the stories from her past …stories too raw and painful to type out here.  What would she say about “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?”  How would she interpret Jesus’ words to go the second mile?”

Her words broke through.  I began taking notes as my unlikely Bible teacher shared wisdom  from above.

Taking her scrambled eggs and piling them on a piece of bread, she made an egg sandwich.  She liked it that way and voraciously ate her breakfast as she took gulps of hot coffee in between large bites.  With a mouth full,  she blurted out quite confidently that what they were saying in essence was, “what goes around comes around,” but Jesus was really getting to the core of the issue.  With  a deep knowing, she said it was really about “seeing where your heart is.”

She said we’re supposed to “pray for them”–those who have hurt us.  And speaking of those who have hurt us?  My friend knew all about  hurt through personal abuse and pain.  She knew all too well of injury inflicted by the hand of those who were supposed to love and care for her.  She shared some of those painful stories and said, “They really didn’t do it to me.”

How could she say that?  The injustice was inexcusable.  The acts of violence and abuse inflicted on her, unbearable.  She went on to say that God had protected her through all of those painful, abusive times and had spared her life in miraculous ways.  And her best line  in speaking about Jesus, “He did not fall off the cross!”

Her teaching didn’t stop there.  She said, “Don’t go with your mind.  Go with your heart and what God is telling you to do.  Follow your heart–not your mind.” 

And a favorite line from the morning sermon, “Keep your prayer hands up and believe in Him and all things are possible.”  

And somewhere between the bites of scrambled eggs and the child-like simplicity of her words, I sensed the Holy Spirit had brought her to  me as a gift that morning.  She would be my real-life lesson to shed light on Jesus’  teaching from the Sermon on the Mount by giving me my own personal sermon on our couch.  

And the words I shared at my devotional teaching time later that day?  The words from  my morning teacher, of course.

 

Hebrews 13:2NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

Led Into the Wilderness…

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.” (from Matthew 4 NLT)

“Led by the Spirit into the wilderness…”  Why on earth would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil?  Everything about that phrase bothered me and nothing about that phrase brought much comfort …until recently.

While  in my own wilderness journey, I’ve been walking miles and miles toward where I’d hoped would end up in the  promised land!  You know…that place of  joy and freedom without dragging  along behind you the baggage of anxiety, self-doubt  and  a wagon load of other negative emotions chained to your ankles.   Yeah — that place!

In my almost-there-but-not-yet-state, a surprising turn in the path opened up before me.  God made a way in the middle of  my journey to help facilitate a simple devotional time in several locations throughout our city. The topic…”The Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew chapters 5-7.   I think He knew that in teaching others, I would end up being the student.

As I was preparing to move forward with the lesson, the Holy Spirit seemed to lead me to back up into chapter 4 to give context as to what was happening prior to this famous sermon delivered by Jesus.

The temptation of Jesus.  40 days.  40 nights.  No food.  Wilderness.  Deserted in the desert.  No-man’s land.  Barren.

Ironically, Satan comes in person to deliver up one of his text-book temptations to Jesus — the Deliverer of man-kind.

As I read the passage, the phrase, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” still baffled me.  I began to read it out loud and the Spirit began to share something of the Father’s heart for me in this story.

Here’s what I’ve come to know…

The Spirit of God will never lead into any place that He can’t carry you through!

If the Spirit is leading you — no matter what the situation–He is leading you from a place of victory that He longs to give.  The starting point is determined as well as the finish line.  You are starting from a place that will lead you through to completion.  You are carried along by the Spirit throughout the entire journey.  He never leaves you and is always there to give strength and insight as He teaches you needed truths the Father wants you to know.  These truths are vital to equip you and train you to live a life of joy and peace  in this life.  It’s a time for  you to grow and mature into the you God knows is the better version of you.

Where the Spirit of God leads you, He will see you through.

The path has been pre-determined with an outcome that will bring a deeper intimacy and strength to your walk with Jesus.

But the infamous question still lingers…”Why?”

One man at our Bible study leaned into his thoughts and shared that he saw the temptation of Jesus as an example of what we’re supposed to do when we’re tempted by the evil one…a model for us so we have a guideline when we experience our  own temptation in the wilderness.

Yes!  What you said! Of course!

But I also believe there may be another reason.  What if for each wilderness experience there may be certain areas of our lives that Jesus wants to shore up …solidify …giving us a strong anchor to His truth.

Hosea chapter 2 talks about how God was going to take his people back into the wilderness to have a “come to Jesus moment” to deal with their sins;  yet there is also the mercy of the Father as you read these healing words of restoration as well …

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor[b] a door of hope.
There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

(from Hosea 2 NIV)

The “Valley of Achor” represented the valley of troubleGod was  making  a way out by actually using the wilderness wanderings and the times of trouble to build a door of hope to the other side!   The very place we’ve come to  know as trouble and agony can become the very door that leads us to a place of hope.

It also seems interesting to me that after Jesus went through the temptation in the wilderness, His public ministry began.  Wilderness experiences often birth a new season  of purpose and direction in life.

After Mama died,  I started a long wilderness journey.  I thought it would just be the valley of grieving but while walking it out, it seems the Spirit has been dealing with many deep-seated issues that have been lingering in my heart for years — loss, abandonment, rejection, identity, lack of confidence and feelings of worthlessness and inferiority– to name a few.

You see,  painful situations you may be going through now may actually  be a limb sprouting up from roots long-buried.

As each one presented itself, the enemy accused me and battered me with situations that pelted me like hail on a metal rooftop leaving divots on my heart.  The arrows came through daily experiences that seemed to re-open  wounds of my losses and inadequacies.

God needed to take me back into the wilderness to speak tenderly to me and remind me who I am …who He says I am and that He is all I need for every longing of my heart.    He needed to show me my sin of wanting the  approval of others …of seeking identity and significance through relationships and accomplishments …likes and follows  …expectations of  others to respond in the way I thought I needed to be loved.

Idols I had erected in my heart needed to be torn down and thrown into the fire.  The Father knew the wilderness would be a good and open space for me to deal with that so He lovingly took me there so we could have those one-on-one conversations without humiliation.

His love drew me there.  His grace covered my sin.  His mercy never let go of me.  He was never any more than an arm’s length away.

He’s a gentleman, you know.  He shared in private a better way for me to walk in public.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2 NIV)

As for me?  Well, I would tell you I’m still trudging inch-by-inch toward that spacious place but I’m starting to see the light shine through the valley of trouble and that door of hope is now in sight.  And as the Light shines through,  turns out … Jesus has been carrying me all the way!

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
His love endures forever…

to Him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

(From Psalm 136 NIV)

*Photos taken are  from various trails and travels in Alabama, Montana and Connecticut.

Taking That First Step

FIRST STEP

They say the first step is always the hardest but what if that first step looked like that first step of your feet touching the sand as you made your way to the open beach …the ocean’s waves lapping up to greet you.  

What if that first step was one of anticipated beauty …a place where you knew your soul could breathe and your cares washed in fresh perspective …healed in the salt air.

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Why do we fear those first steps?

Why do put off those first steps?

Why do we let reason outweigh the reality of what could be?

Why the hesitation instead of anticipation?

Why wouldn’t we run toward freedom and inexpressible beauty?  Why, instead, do we run back to what we think is safety — familiar territory — when  life is being sucked right out of us …labored breathing …gasping for peace?

Why do we try to frantically grab others we love and run back to the familiar — huddling in and bracing for the storms that are sure to come? It’s what we know to be true, but our fear keeps us there like a ball and chain and since we don’t want to be alone, we take others with us in an effort to spare us some of the pain of isolation.  

Where are those who will risk going into the storm to grab another by the hand and pull them out to take that first step — giving  a walker  if necessary …to give courage to go ahead. Step. Forward.

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“…be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:8 (NLT)

Mark Twain once said, “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”

When you realize staying where you are might be more painful than the fear and unknown of stepping forward, you’re taking the first steps  into freedom.

Is God nudging you to step forward into something life-giving? …emotional healing? …beginning or growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ? …stepping out in faith to begin that “thing” you’ve been thinking about for a long time?…new places of ministry? …a different career path? …healthier relationships? …a move?  …physical well-being?

Jesus is that friend who  took that risk, weathered the storm, and gave up everything so we could be free.  He’s holding out His hand to help you …take that first step. 

 

The Calling to the Back of the Bus {Revisited}

We’ve been celebrating Black History Month now for –well …almost a whole month!  I’m late to the party and sadly, I’ve been late both in “real-time” and in  too much of my “life-time”.  God is changing that.  He is changing me!  I’m still learning but I believe there has been movement in the right direction — the direction straight to the heart of God.   I just sat through another enormously impacting conference sponsored by the community development organization,  The CornerStone Initiative …”Better Together”.  I’m still in deep process.  My head is swimming and my heart is  still stretching.  It’s hard to know where to even begin the conversation again so I’m pulling up one from the archives and revisiting what the Holy Spirit spoke back then.  How far have we come since then?  How far have I come since then?

…So this giving of your  money and possessions thing seems pretty clear but a “moment” began happening for me as a shift took place in my mind from possessions to positions …a “what if” kind of moment.

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Rosa Parks (Photo: Public Domain)

Follow me for a minute on this shift to …the moment .  I remembered the story of Rosa Parks–this hero of a woman — who, back in the day of such strong racial prejudice and abuse, stood her ground and refused to go to the back of the bus for the sake of a white passenger whom the bus driver deemed more worthy of a seat at the front of the bus.  Her courage made history for African-American people everywhere that day and  I am still so proud of this woman’s courage in the face of such opposition but the thought occurred to me…

What if someone  who was sitting in the place of  “privilege”  at the front of the bus  had “chosen” to give up their “position” and go to the back of the bus, making it possible for  someone  under-privileged , mistreated  and devalued   the opportunity  to move to the front ?

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Then a flood of other thoughts from my favorite Book came to mind…

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

 More words like…

“Freely you have received, freely give”

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (NIV)

It seems that whole “least is greatest” and “the first shall be last” is more like a revolving door to me.

There was a theme here that was becoming imprinted deeper and deeper on my heart.  I’ve been given so much in the way of material blessings, spiritual blessings, family and friends who love me deeply and on and on.  (Reminds me of another truth…to whom much is given , much is required. )  What if I make choices every day to “move to the back of the bus” in a sense, so that others who are under-resourced, poor, demeaned, de-valued, abandoned and alone might have the opportunity to “move to the front of the bus” ?  You know– take the lower spot so others can rise to the top kind of thing.  Funny thing is, it doesn’t have to be a measured distance or amount– it’s just that….

 if the...” willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

2 Corinthians 8:12-15 (NIV)

Amounts are never the issue…it’s willingness of heart. Doing something rather than nothing at all  seems to matter.  

I’m not exactly sure how this might look on a daily basis for each of us.  It’s not any amount or action dictated by others necessarily.  That’s the beauty … and the pain of it all… it’s a decision I have to make in my heart .  It’s sometimes easier if someone just tells me what to do, I respond in some safe fashion,  and then I feel all warm and fuzzy inside — my “generosity” box checked for the day, week or even year !   But when I’ve got to look into my own heart and see some areas I could make a difference — make  different choices about purchases , positions, etc. — that takes some soul-searching and who wants to go there on a regular basis 🙂 .

Not surprising,  giving of our possessions seems easier — more tangible — giving of our position — much harder.  

These are questions I would never in a million years try to answer for you  …just ask you to re-think the obvious “climbing the ladder” scenario of our culture.  We might have to step on pride and security and safety and significance and comfort — OUCH !

Maybe it will mean moving to a different state …or a different  kind of neighborhood–choosing to be okay with a not-so-great school system …taking a  position at work with less hours or less pay so more hours can be spent helping others …hiring someone who desperately needs some income instead of hiring that highly acclaimed professional.  That paint job might not look quite as  good on your door as you had hoped, but the confidence it painted on them will look Designer – phenomenal !

And what about letting someone else take the lead on something when you know think you could do a much better job.  After all, allowing others to grow in their gifts can be risky and messy and sometimes you feel it’s just easier to do it yourself and save the time and hassle of it all !

I guess it’s the whole attitude I want to have more of … taking the bottom rung so others can move to the top for a change — encouraging others to move forward and experience their dreams even if I have to switch positions or hold my current place in line for a bit longer.  After all, haven’t I been at the front of the bus long enough?? and isn’t moving back really moving forward in God’s kingdom thinking ?  Wasn’t it Jesus Himself who moved to the back of  the universe , planet Earth, so we could move up with Him to His kingdom and share in all the  royal  family benefits !? Now there’s a great Model to look at  …

 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross …”

(Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

What might your “back of the bus” decision look like this week?  I’d LOVE to hear your life-giving choices .  Who knows?… maybe we’ll make a difference — one back seat at a time.

So go ahead — let’s go to that vulnerable place in our soul  and soak in the words of this song  by Matthew West – “My Own Little World” and start asking God where He might have us “sit” today.

 

Photo creditwikipedia.org  –with their description–“Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she began. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93).”  Public Domain

Looking for Direction?

I have a confession to make.  I. Love. My. Google. Maps. GPS App!  It’s like having a good  friend in the car with me telling where to go without me stressing over looking at a map or squinting to see street signs.  “She” just tells me the next turn at the 1/4 mile mark and lets me know if the way is clear and when I should reach my destination.  Life. Is. Good!  I even use my Google maps navigation  around town to find new ways to “arrive at my destination” !  I don’t want to deal with a bunch of sheets of paper with directions printed on them.  I’d rather jump in my truck , push a button and hear “her” voice say, “Head east on Loren Drive …the way is clear and you should  arrive at your destination by 3:30 p.m.”!   (Don’t judge me! 😉 )

Wouldn’t it be great if  there were signs   and clear signals  that told you exactly where to go in life?  What decision to make?  Move here?  or there? What career should I choose? Church?–mega with mega programs or smaller, more organic in nature?  Relationships?   What about voting?  political candidates?  Health questions?  Financial decisions?  God’s will?

How awesome life would be if there were arrows pointing you in the right direction!  

But how will I trust the arrows?  the voices?  the signs?  Will I see them in time?   Will I get distracted and miss something important? 

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“Show me the right path, O Lord; 

point out the road for me to follow.

Lead me by Your truth and teach me,

for You are the God who saves me.

All day long I put my hope in You.”

Psalm 25:4-5 (NLT)

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Oh God …Help our anxious hearts to surrender — to yield — to “give way” (as they say on the Australian road).  Give us eyes to see the truth You have marked out for us...the path  You have set before us.  Show us Your ways.  Reveal any sin or offense that is tripping us up and  lead us in the way everlasting.

Open the path before us to a spacious place to receive refreshing and healing and  give us the courage to take the next step.  Wash over us with Your grace and truth  and guide us with Your Almighty hand.  Holy Spirit,  anoint us with power and love and a sound mind.  Help us to trust Your gracious hand and hear Your voice above all other voices.  And let Your voice be heard through us to help others along this road of life –pointing them to the Savior …the Redeemer of our souls …the Giver of all Life– Jesus Christ.

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Listening to God Speak: Episodes 1, 2 & 3

There’s been a series going on…a series of listening to God and like any made-for-TV drama,  each episode has continued to build on a theme.  I wasn’t really sure what the “theme” was at first but as the words began to come, the pieces began to fit to reveal a much larger story.

Episode 1:  “Do whatever He tells you.”    John 3 (NLT)

It started getting a little funny — every time I turned around, I was reading or hearing this verse from John 3 !  I almost started doing a  “double-take” and looking up for the face of God to peer through the ceiling.  It’s from the story John tells of Jesus’ first public miracle — turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  Beautiful story !  The interesting thing is, there was a dilemma going on and Mary, the mother of Jesus, seemed unconcerned that His time had “not yet come”.   She was in the moment and the moment needed help.  Her mothering skills kicked in and she saw a need and knew Someone Who could fix it.  She knows her Son !

But these words rise above all the rest of the story for me…”Do whatever He tells you,” and I think, “Okay, God must be reminding me to “stay with the stuff”, “keep keeping on”, “don’t grow weary in well-doing’ .”  I think it’s all about what I’m currently doing so I sit back and say “that’s cool ! I’m all in.”  Listening more…

Episode 2:  “Here am I. Send me!”  Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)

Yikes !!!  I moved all the way from Connecticut almost 2 years ago–following God all the way –for another wild and wonderful and scary adventure.  Didn’t I do the “here am I, send me” already??  Where else am I supposed to go? What now??  I’m feeling that “stepping out on a limb” thing going on again .  The wind is starting to blow and things are getting a little unsteady !

Now before all the locals think I’m up and moving again…spoiler alert:  it’s not that 🙂  However, there’s another “moving of God” in my heart to step out of my comfort zone and “relationally” move into a “neighborhood”, so to speak–a new opportunity.  This would probably not seem like a big deal at all to any of you but it seems to have something more attached to it than meets the eye…a sense of calling.   It seems God is setting the stage for another “Light show” that only He can pull off.  It seems He’s opening the way to pitch a tent and be with people   and He’s calling me into the tent with Him.

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John 1:14 (MSG)

I’m listening … hearing …praying …seeking …

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There are unknowns, fears, what-if’s, insecurities …

Episode 3:  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10 (KJV)

Now you need to know I nearly gasped out loud when the Bible study leader read these words the other day.  Little did he know all the episodes that had played out before that moment and all my questions and fears about whether or not I was capable or suitable or big enough  to “do” this thing I felt God was calling me to do.  The series of events had been building and God was capping it off with this truth…

He had already prepared –even ordained– in advance the “good works” He wanted me to do.  This was His doing and not mine at all.  His grace. His work. His creation. Ordained. Prepared …in advance! 

You see, it’s by grace I’m saved through faith–not of myself — it’s a gift of God — not by works, so I can’t boast about it on my own. Beyond that, this salvation and grace is not meant to be hoarded and kept all to myself — it’s meant to be worked out …fleshed out in the real world with real people and that’s not necessarily my doing either.  God has planned and purposed the places and houses and neighborhoods I would live in , so that no one can boast about that either.

But with the calling, comes the equipping.  There’s no “throw you out there and hope you make it” scenario.  He’s with me all the way and the safety of the limb is never  really the question  because His arm is never too short to save …underneath are the Everlasting Arms.

And the Bible study leader–listening to my fears and my  “I’m not big enough” excuses– turned to me and said, “You’re right on script.”

The Call of Jeremiah

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 1:4-8 (NIV)

Could it be you have that same feeling that God is calling you “out on a limb” with Him to do something you’re just a little bit–maybe a lot !– afraid of?  Can you piece together the episodes He’s been writing in your heart so far?  Are you at the “Yeah, sure!  I’m all in, remember!” part or the, “What? Are You sure? Who me?”, or the “Aha!” moment?  I’d love to listen to your episodes !