Saturday, December 28, 2013

Coming Home

Two days ago we made the 545 mile trip down to my hometown, Irmo, SC. Me and my little family. Every time it amazes me how well our boys travel. They watch movies. Jaden plays with his Mobi-go. They make imaginary monster truck tracks on their arm rests and legs and have a rally full of sound effects. They are my seasoned little travelers and take the extremely long trip in stride. Until we hit the last hour. Then all bets are off.

Even though we've done a lot of moving since we got married, when I come back to SC it always feels like home. I can rummage through the refrigerator and make a feast out of the latest snacks my mom has prepared. A drive through downtown does not ignite annoyance of the fear of getting lost or stuck on a one-way street. I sit and enjoy the ambience of the Christmas tree, which is always a 9 foot beauty which dominates my parents' vaulted ceilinged den, filled with ornaments commemorating their many trips, anniversaries, children's milestones and events, some older than I am.

Over the past month since my mother's stroke, which you can read about here, I've reflected on the love of family and how special that bond is. Differences between us and conflicts will rise, but the relationship that unites us will always be there. Sometimes it's placed on the back burner and expected to stay alive simply because it's there. Many of us develop the same sort of assuming behavior with our relationship with God. After all, he'll always love us, right?

But I don't want to live that way. As if I'll always have one more day, one more moment to make experiences and memories which will live in my heart and mind forever.  I know that one day, in God's perfect timing, my parents will be face to face with their Heavenly Father.  And even though I don't spend my time dwelling on that fact or in fear of it, I am certainly aware of its reality. For that reason, let me live in this day.  Not missing an opportunity to tell my Mom and Dad that I love them. That I appreciate them and everything they do to show they care.

As I watch my boys play with their Pa Pa's model train set and run around the house without a worry in the world, I remember what Jesus said during his earthly ministry. "Let all the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these." My silly, adventuresome boys who hug and kiss people they barely know. My little Jaden who instilled excitement in my nieces and nephews over saying the prayer before dinner.

I have no doubt my spirit will dwell with them in eternity, but we are given this one life here on earth to live, breathe, and let the Spirit of God shine through us. Let's not go another day taking it for granted.

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  James 4:14

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is God Enough?

I've walked the road of trying to fill myself with things other than God many, many times.  And every time, I have failed.  Whether it be staying busy, shopping for clothes I didn't need, or having one more drink, nothing sustained me and filled me like the grace and love God poured into my life when I sought Him for the first time.  It is a daily commitment and oftentimes, struggle, to keep Him at the center of my life, but as Paul writes in Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ so I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."  It is only by the Spirit that I can live the life God has planned for me.  I make the decision to live by the Spirit instead the flesh moment by moment, day by day.  And when I fail, He is there to pick me up again when I return to his loving arms.  Although in this life we only catch little glimpse of his glory in comparison to what awaits us in Heaven, it is in those moments when I sense his presence and know I've done his will that I feel most complete.

Only Jesus, the name that is above all names and by which every knee shall bow, is enough. He is sufficient to cover my sin, to pay the the debt which I never could.  "For if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Gal. 2:21)  Even though there are times I try to perform, behave, or meet some arbitrary standard of worthiness, I always find myself at the foot of the cross, the only place where I am righteous in the sight of God.

I believe many women spend their lives searching for that special friend or soul mate who truly "gets us." Who understands our little quirks and nuances.  Who doesn't get angry when we fall short because they understand we are only doing our best.  I spent much of my life trying to find that person as well.  But the truth is, God is in the only one in this universe, or any universe, who truly understands the depths of our being.  He made us and knows things about each one of us that we don't even grasp ourselves.  As in says in Psalm 139:1, "Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me."  

Searched me.  Wow.  I don't know about you, but that statement blows my mind.  When I look up the word search in the dictionary some of the definitions which are listed are, "to examine thoroughly in order to find something," and some synonyms are "look through, forage for, seek, leave no stone unturned."  Is there anyone one this earth you can say has searched you?  My guess would be no.

I'm eternally grateful that I have a God who knows every aspect of me and my personality, yet loves me anyway, to walk through this life with me.  We will not leave this journey here on earth without battle wounds, some of us more than others.  But God's endless love and provision is enough to get us through to the finish line.  One of my favorite books in the Bible is Philippians, and it remind us that, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6)  When I remember this promise, I am filled with peace in the midst of the storm.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Worry?

Sometimes I imagine myself physically tossing my worries and 
anxiety into the ocean, to be swept away to a distant land.

Earlier this week I was practicing an act I've been prompted toward by some spiritual leaders in my life.  I was praying God's word and speaking his promises out loud.  This action is also mentioned in the opening chapters of a Bible study I've been doing, A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. I spent weeks resisting the idea because I felt silly walking around my house talking, seemingly, to myself, but the more I engaged myself the more I realized what I'd heard and read was true.  I wasn't distracted.  My mind wandered less frequently.  I felt conviction in what I was praying.

One of the verses I prayed during my time alone with God was Philippians 4:6, which gives a prescription for worry and anxiety.  Instead of feeling anxious, we are to trust God. We present our requests to Him.  We surrender our circumstances to Him and thank Him continually.  Then the peace of God will fill our hearts and minds, and we will be free.  Although the instructions are fairly simple and straightforward, often the practice of them is not as easy.  Or so I discovered as the day progressed.

I sat down later and began studying chapter nine of A Confident Heart, which is entitled, "When Doubt Whispers, 'I Can't Stop Worrying'" and was just finishing up a blog post when my Dad called.  He started the conversation with our normal small talk and then blurted out that my mom was in the hospital with symptoms of what she thought was a minor stoke.  The only word I heard in the entire summary was the word "stroke."  My independent, stubborn, seemingly healthy mom.  My mom who hasn't spent a day in a hospital since the birth of her children.  I tried to mask my nervousness by asking tons of questions.  Questions which he didn't have the answers to.  Tests and more tests were needed.  The ones they'd already conducted were inconclusive.  By the end of the phone call I realized that I could only do one thing.  Wait.

Like most people, I do not like waiting.  My parents live over five hundred miles away so my natural instinct, which was to jump in the car and race to the hospital, was not feasible.  My five-year-old was still in school, my youngest was napping, and after I called my husband and relayed the news, I was left alone in a quiet house with my thoughts.  Thoughts which, unless they are focused and filled prayer and God's Word, can become very dark and negative in those types of situations.

I believe that when I prayed from Philippians and read the chapter about worry that morning, God was preparing my heart and mind for the coming news.  As I waited for more information and test results I recited that verse again and again, focusing on the words and trusting that God would protect my mom.  I thanked him for all the blessings in my life.  As I focused on everything I had to be thankful for, the dark thoughts became less overwhelming.

My mom is being released from the hospital today, and although she will have to undergo physical therapy to regain function of her right arm and hand, which were affected, her spirits are high and her brain alert.  I am amazed not only by her strength and determination, but by God's provision and the many people who prayed, visited, and called.  She was surrounded by people who loved and supported her both near and far away.

Being given a stark reminder of your parent's mortality is heart wrenching.  As a child, you want to protect them from harm in the same way they watched over you as you were growing and return the act of love they communicated throughout life.  But when circumstances spin beyond control, you can turn inward or reach outward.  Toward the God who is sovereign and holds the whole world in the palm of his hand, toward friends and family who love you and love the people who mean the most.

As I look back on the past few days, I am amazed to see God's hand and how he cared for each of us.

"You go before me and follow me.  You place your hand of blessing on my head." Psalm 139:5 NLT

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From Daydream to Reality

Exploring God's creation always offers excellent opportunities for 

A couple of years ago when my family was living in northern Utah I took a creative writing course at a local arts council which was taught by a published author.  On the first day he gave us ten steps to be an effective writer and make writing a part of our lives, and one of the steps made me chuckle and think to myself "Yep, that's me." Daydream.  This is a step he'd personally added to a list of others which were commonly used by those in the field.  

I found it interesting because many would argue that daydreaming is not an effective use of one's time.  But yet here was an award-winning writer telling me that I should make this habit part of my daily routine, as it would help me better achieve my aspirations.  If I would allow my mind to wander and my imagination to soar, my thoughts would become words on paper, which would in turn become stories, novellas, and novels.  It was a revelation which I pondered for several days.  As a person who often is torn between a side of me that is creative, artistic and imaginative and another side which is very practical and down-to-earth, the practical side often overshadows the other when I feel the constant need to check items off my to-do list.

"Slow down," I often sense God saying.  I have things I want to tell you.  Plans I want to reveal to you.  Could this be tied into daydreaming?  Could an infinite God shape the thoughts of my finite mind and use his Spirit to place dreams within my thoughts, my heart?  I believe He can.  I know it.  I've experienced it.

Many times, my daydreaming has led me to hopes of becoming a published author, writing novels and books for ministry which would help transform lives and lead women to Jesus.  And then doubt will whisper, "That will never happen.  You're not good enough.  There are many writers out there who are better and have a more intriguing story to offer."  Over the years and the course of several Bible studies, I've realized there is also an Enemy who rules this world who would like nothing better than for me not to fulfill the plans God has for my life.  Spiritual warfare is not just a concoction made up by people who have wild imaginations or extensive paranoia.  It is a reality.

The truth is, when it comes to God's plan for my life, my knowledge isn't even at the tip of the iceberg.  He reveals little pieces of it day by day when I immerse myself in his Word and prayer.  Other days, when I fill my day with mindless tasks and neglect my relationship with Him, I feel lost.  It is a daily struggle but when I earnestly seek Him he never hides his face from me.  One thing I do know is that the dreams and desires within my heart were put there by God.  As it says in Psalm 139:1, "You have searched me, Lord, and you know me." 

As I continue this journey on earth before moving to my eternal destiny, the times that I feel most alive are those when I am embracing the personality, gifts, and dreams my Creator gave me.  Not when I'm comparing myself to others, conforming or competing, but accepting my role in the body of Christ.  I am still discovering what that role is, but the more I more He reveals to me, the more complete I am as the woman God created me to be in Christ Jesus.