The Littlest Creature

My daughters have a hamster. His name is Stan. Although this mama was vehemently opposed to the addition of this creature to our family, his friendly demeanor and supple coat found its way into my heart. So Stan has successfully elevated his status from rodent to pet in our family.

It would seem that Stan is vying for a new promotion amongst our ranks, bible teacher. He hit the scene with a surprise lesson the other morning… 5am to be exact… that God really does care about the littlest things in our lives. Stan found himself free of his homey habitat and shivering with fear behind a suitcase under our bed in the wee hours after his rooftop door was left open the previous night. The story of glory is in the adventure of his trek in which only a divine guiding hand could have maneuvered him through. There are at least three insurmountable obstacles he had to overcome on his journey:

1)      Avoiding a date with a 12ft drop from the second story hall to the family room below which sits immediately behind his cage.

2)      Eluding starvation by bypassing refuge in the nearest bedroom, my daughter’s, in which he would have become like ET enveloped in an outrageous pile of stuffed animals and undetectable for days until his stench led us to his whereabouts.

3)      Miraculously escaping the jowls of my 75lb golden retriever after having been buried inside them as he was dripping with saliva when we finally rescued him.

After safely tucking Stan back into his cage, I crawled back into bed thanking God I didn’t have to deliver a fatality story to the girls in the morning. I was immediately reminded of the scripture that says, look at the flowers of the field, they do not worry what they will wear, and look at the birds of the air, they do not worry what they will eat; the Lord provides for these and doesn’t He love you all the more?

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A25-34&version=NIV

God was basically saying to me, “See, I do care. I have you covered even when you’re not looking.”

Today, know that God does care about every part of your life. He has you covered. He will provide all that you need when you put your faith in Him. Every little creature on this earth, whether a flower or a hamster or a problem or a relationship, is under His care. When you meditate on this and relinquish control to His will, He will see you safely back home.

Speak Life

I woke up to a great TobyMac song in my mind this morning, Speak Life, which prompts this post.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0&feature=kp

One of the *great* manifestations of my having been abused as a child is to have lived with a perpetual expectation of impending death. This was such a facet of life for me, that up until just a few years ago, I didn’t even understand that it’s NOT NORMAL! That not everyone walks around thinking everyday life events spell sudden death.

Now, to reset the garish perception that I run around with a blanket over my head checking my locks 47 times, refuse to leave the house because the sidewalk might freakishly rupture and swallow me whole, or believe an alien abduction awaits me at every turn of the corner, it looks more like this. A bracing of my muscles as I drive into an intersection waiting to get fatally t-boned in the driver side door (particularly if I’m the first, last, or an isolated car). Turning a string of headaches into an inoperable tumor in my brain. Thinking that ongoing stiffness in my back means cancer leaching up my spine. When in reality they are, unlikely, job stress, and an old mattress, respectively.

So, praise God, I’m free from the emotions associated with the thoughts of impending death, even though it’s pretty much impossible to stop them from coming into my brain. But as I’ve taken that ridiculous outer layer off the death onion, I’m now privy to recognizing the more subtle ways that impending death invades my life.

At one time, waiting for my marriage to die

Waiting for the innocence of my children to die

Waiting for my son to die emotionally, spiritually

Waiting for friendships, relationships to die

Waiting for dreams to die

And the list goes on…

I was just waiting for all these things to die because I wasn’t doing the opposite, fighting for LIFE! That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard on them, on the contrary, I was working ridiculously hard, and then waiting for them to die.

Check out the first words of every verse of the story of creation:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

They all start with, “And God said…”  He SPOKE life into everything. Not planned, not executed, not met with 14 other people, not strived, worked, developed, designed, counseled, read, discussed…

I’ve done ALL these things to an excruciating, painful, exhausting end, and they are all absolutely necessary, BUT, they can only be effective AFTER the life of God’s word has been breathed into the situation. Otherwise, the effort is spent while waiting to die.

Breathing God’s life into a situation is just as simple as speaking it; speaking aloud that you receive the life of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name into a situation and you reject death. The spoken words alone are powerful enough to alter your perspective on the spot. God is the giver of life, and that doesn’t mean just at our conception and birth. It means, perpetually and unfailingly every single day. Seize this great opportunity by Speaking Life today.

Claiming Victory for Tadi

This is the end of the silence. This is the end of the isolation. This is the end of the enemy’s reign in our lives to keep us trapped from victory. This is the end of fear. Today is the day I take hold of the multitude of prayers that have been sent up to the heavens in my son’s name and claim victory over his life in Jesus’ mighty name.

My son is suicidal.

My son is homicidal.

And this is over in Jesus name today.

My son is a beautiful boy who has been dealt a raw hand. In his 8 years of life he has born more trauma and suffering and hurt and pain than most of us will ever know in a lifetime. And today I don’t wait to the end until it’s over to tell you the story of the glory of God. Today I invite you into the fire of our lives to expose the presence behind the lie that my son is broken. Today I expose the weakness and untruth in the lie. Today I invite you in to partake in the glory of God in action, unfolding in a little boy’s life.

In my prayer this morning, the Lord gave me a sword and told me to fight. I said “Yes!”. Today I am wielding that sword and taking action to fight for my son’s life instead of sitting by waiting for death to overcome us – death of family and death of relationships and death of hope. I claim victory over it all right now in Jesus name.

Today is the day for Tadi. I invite you to stand with me.

Lemons to Lemonade

It occurred to me today that this old cliché has a pow of faith as its backbone. I’ve always thought of it as a “buck-up” sort of encouragement that allowed someone to overcome the emotional burden of an unpleasant situation but largely left an inescapable sense of defeatedness in not knowing how to actually do it. However, I realized there’s power in them words when you let the Holy Spirit be the sweetener that transforms your sour to delicious.

We all have some undesirable part of our personality or behavior that stems from a previous unpleasant event in our lives. Maybe an over-critical old boyfriend made you hyper-sensitive and too reactionary; maybe a neglectful father made you desperate and clingy. For me, I became hyper-observant as a result of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Here is a glimpse into my day living with this type of behavior. I hear the swirl of ice in my husband’s glass and immediately recognize he’s about to say something he’s uncomfortable with. I notice that a co-worker is in my (former) boss’s office at a time he is usually not there and directly understand he is quitting his job. I see the shift of a friend’s pinky finger and am instantaneously heart-broken that what was just said hurt her feelings. At the meeting of a new person, I am swiftly dissecting every lift of an eyebrow, bending of the lip, tilt of the head, shift in body, flex of the hand, bend of the knee, shuffle of a foot, so that I can seamlessly react to their response to my presence and adjust my behavior to assure their comfort around me.

Sound exhausting?

It is!

The amount of energy it takes to acquire, integrate, store, recall, and use this information pervasively throughout the day is astronomical. I go to bed at night emotionally drained and physically exhausted. It has been a huge burden to live with, particularly because I acquire a lot of information of inconsequential value. I don’t really need to know every time someone doesn’t like my shoes because I have an uncanny ability to see an instantaneous flick of the eye. I really don’t need to know every time someone is watching me from behind because I can sense the oppressive weight of their gaze. I really don’t need to know every time someone places judgment over me because I understand the difference in the edge of their lip being turned ever so slightly up or down.

Now take this behavior and drop it in a corporate setting where I would regularly engage with 100’s of people and be overrun with shifty, side-handed, corporate politics. Nightmare! Now that’s some lemons. How did I turn that to lemonade? The Lord a plan for me and I trusted Him to lead me there. He brought me into a blossoming of this otherwise highly intrusive behavior. He made me a writer.

What makes a compelling story? Being drawn into the characters. What does it take to be drawn into the characters? To experience their innermost thoughts and feelings through meticulous description of subtle behaviors that reveal the truth beneath the unspoken word. What does it take to be able to do this? An encyclopedia of knowledge on the subtlest of human behaviors to pull from. When I visualize a scene I am writing in my book, this disruptive hyper-observant behavior becomes my best friend. I close my eyes and observe every move of my character. I transcribe it to prose and when I read it back to myself, the scene comes to life.

I am spending my days enthusiastically writing for the Lord using a dysfunctional manifestation of a horrid childhood experience. There is nothing outside His control. You are experiencing some part of your persona that feels like an overwhelming burden resultant from an unfair or undeserved experience in your life. This is part of the Lord’s plan for you. Seek His guidance on how He intends you to use this for His glory. Allow Him to transform both your perception and your usage of this burden into a gift, your lemons to lemonade. He will not fail you.

Our King

My 4th grade daughter was given an assignment at school to write a poem that started with “Lift every voice and sing” and ends with “Let us march on till victory is won”.  This is what she wrote:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Christ the Lord has risen

To our cries of hope he listened

We lay dead in our sin

But we are His earthly kin

So he gave us His only Son

He gave us His Holy One

He leads us down the path of light

He leads us down the path that’s right

The Lord our King is mighty

We are his holy army

He prepares us for the battle that comes

He prepares us for the battle that will be won

Satan will have a taste of his medicine

And will be thrown in his own pit of fire

Let us march on till victory is won

Hope in a Little Black Dress?

My little black dress and the town’s best party have given way to cozy jammies and a movie with my kids on the eve of the new year.  The change of scene is a reflection of my stage of life as a mother of young-ish children.  But moreso it’s a reflection of the diminishing significance of the flip of the calendar year for me.  For truly it is just an arbitrary number assigned to a day that follows the previous and precedes the next.

Culturally, we have learned to assign special meaning to this arbitrary day which allows us to be filled with hope; hope for restoration and renewal and a new beginning.  It is wonderful to be overflowing with hope so we celebrate its arrival every year.  But when the new year fails us and does not rise to meet us and lift our hopes to reality, we are burdened with a heavy sense of letdown.  With only one opportunity a year to be renewed, how could we not be disappointed?

But what if we could be filled with hope every day?

I’ve traded in my little black dress and the desire to celebrate the arrival of hope because I’ve learned it doesn’t depend on the arbitrary flip of a day on the calendar.  I’ve experienced that we can be overflowing with hope every day, any day, through our Lord Jesus.  I’ve learned that He never constrains us to a particular day but is always ready to provide hope and restoration and renewal and a new beginning.  He is always knocking on the door; He’s just waiting for us to let Him in.

But what does it mean to let Him in and receive His hope?  It means every day you tell Him your hopes, your failures, your sorrows, your dreams, your triumphs.  Every day you ask Him for wisdom and a new perspective and knowledge.  Every day you ask Him for hope.  And every day you celebrate Him like the breath of fresh air the new year brings.  And He, and only He, will rise to meet you and lift your hopes to reality.

So my little black dress is tucked away in the closet until some other completely random and arbitrary day beckons for its adornment.  Because I know I can celebrate the arrival of hope any day, every day, and receive the gift of restoration and renewal and a new beginning anytime I call on Him.

Stairway to Heaven

Growing up with 5 older brothers living their high school days in the thick of the hippy scene, I spent many hours as a kid with their headphones on listening to music through their hifi stereo system.  Led Zeppelin and The Stones were the top echelon of the daily repertoire of music.  They lyrics to the song Stairway to Heaven have stirred countless hours of debate, negotiation, and argument about their meaning, ranging from them being spiritual genius to the ranting of a raging drug addict.  And if you look at the lyrics, it’s not hard to understand why.  They are stupid confusing… let’s just be real afterall.  If someone handed you that as the blueprint for how to get to heaven, could you get there?  Quite simply, no, you couldn’t.  It’s totally confusing, unclear, esoteric, and quite frankly, meaningless.

What about the countless other ways that we learn how to get to heaven?  Sing this hymn, give your money to charity, be a good person, speak with righteous words, go to church on Sunday, work hard, volunteer, go on a mission trip, feed the poor, be on the prayer team at church, become like your pastor, become like your pastor’s wife, host a life group, recite your prayers every night, bake a cake for your neighbor, sit and spin, stand on one toe under a full moon and sing at the top of your lungs until your voice explodes, JUST TRY HARDER!  Whew!  Forget it!

All of these ways to heaven have one thing in common – they are all wrong.  There is nothing confusing about the way to get to heaven.  There is nothing difficult about it either.  The way was never meant to be hard or unclear or a secret or reserved for special people or good enough people.  The way is available for everybody and is shockingly simple.  Believe that Jesus is the Son of God who took away the sin of the world.

Picture the Grand Canyon.  Picture you on one side and God on the other.  There is no amount of work you can do to bridge that gap.  The great news is that God doesn’t expect you to.  He’s already got you covered.  Jesus came as fully human and fully God to stand in the gap for us.  The cross that He died on is the bridge that takes us across the gap.  You need to put your hand in His, your faith in Him, to get across.  When you do, the sacrifice He made for us, his own life, is acceptable payment for all our wrongs and allows us to walk across and stand in the presence of God in heaven.

When you declare Jesus as your Savior, your life is transformed.  He comes in and starts scrubbing and buffing and softening and polishing your heart.  He fills you with His Spirit and frees you from the things that have you trapped right now.  Then you can do the things you are called to do, like those above, from a place of gratitude and appreciation instead of obligation and effort.  If you believe in Jesus already but have not yet made a declaration for Him, do so today.  If these ideas are new to you and you want to learn more, contact me to discuss it.  Don’t let your walk to heaven be blurred by esoteric, inaccurate, or meaningless untruths.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

We had a festive and cheerful long weekend of diving into the Christmas season with decorating the tree, submerging ourselves in Christmas music, hanging lighted garland outside, watching the first of our annual repertoire of Christmas movies, and even getting some shopping and wrapping done.  The kids are excited to have the first packages under the tree!  Now we just hope they make it to Christmas without the 75lb golden retriever deciding they would make a good afternoon snack.

Bono

But what about the real reason for the season?  At church on Sunday, our pastor talked about it, we hear about it all the time, and everyone’s heart is yearning for something more than the commercial craze that dominates our holiday.  Jesus is the reason for the season.  But how do we find Him buried amongst the packages and boxes and bows?

Last night at dinner we were deciding what we were going to do for the evening.  We didn’t have a lot of time but we wanted to close out a great weekend together as a family.  I got the idea to do a Christmas devotional.  I hopped online and with a quick Google search I readily found a plethora of devotional series to choose from.  We cozied up on the couch together in front of the Christmas tree, invited Jesus into our presence, and did the devotional.  It only took 20 minutes.  But by choosing to dedicate some time to Him alone, we were filled with His spirit overflowing that otherwise hollow place inside that permeates the commercial Christmas.

If you’ve not done devotionals before, they are great little tools to learn a bit about scripture, to get a life application for how it plays out in today’s world, and to stimulate conversation when otherwise everyone would be staring at the walls or the TV.  They make great dinner conversation or bedtime stories and you can find them in any flavor you need, for families, for young children, for parents or adults.  They can focus on Advent or the birth of our Savior or music or anything and can be daily, weekly, or whatever frequency you might be looking for.  There is one fantastic website that will send the devotional to your email and track your progress for you:

https://www.bible.com/reading-plans?category=devotional&lang=en&query=christmas

And you can always Google to find just about anything you are looking for.  As you allow these tools to transform your Christmas focus, I pray for you and your family to be filled with the joy and peace that goes beyond our understanding that only He can bring.

Three Days to Reconciliation

I’m sharing this largely because it’s just a great story.  It came up at our last session of Art of Marriage last Friday and I was inspired to share it.  It’s the story of the 3 days from divorce papers to reconciliation in my marriage.

A very brief background on my marriage.  My husband, Matt, and I were married for 17 years.  Like every marriage it was peppered with the tough times, some of them pretty intense, and some of them that were perpetual, always coming back again and again.  We were getting by, struggling, getting better, getting worse, but it abruptly hit the breaking point just a couple months after our 17th anniversary.  We separated, Matt moved out, and we were waiting out the one year requirement that North Carolina has between physical (housing) separation and divorce proceedings.

During this waiting time is when I came into real relationship with Jesus.  It was glorious… and painful.  As you may know, coming into relationship with Jesus is like looking into a mirror that has the ability to reflect back every ugly part of your character and personality that you’d rather avoid looking at.  Well, I spent many, many… many days, looking into this mirror.  And I was acutely convicted of my contributions to the failure of the marriage.  I was repentant and sorry for what I had done.  I was ready for the next go-round if the Lord blessed me with a new husband.

Six months into the separation I attended the Divorce Care class series on a recommendation from a friend.  It’s a 12 week class that focuses on a different topic each week, separation, anger, isolation, dating, etc.  I cruised through the first 10 weeks with fairly little consternation about each topic since I had already been run through the Jesus ringer anyway.  The 11th week came.  The topic was Reconciliation.  The motive was to consider it.  This class made me MAD!  I mean mad, mad, like really hot mad.  I was so mad and it was so disproportionate to my experience from the previous 10 sessions that I realized I really needed to scrutinize it.  I went into prayer that night asking the Lord for wisdom.  The answer I got was, “It’s time to ask Matt back now.”  What???!!!  I was floored.  Never, not once, had I considered this.  When I had been praying for a whole family, I meant a new one (a new husband anyway, not my kids of course).  I did NOT mean Matt.  This happened on a Thursday night.

On Friday, my brain was like a tsunami of thoughts about asking Matt back.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  I sent a note to my lady friends from the Divorce class and they told me to hold tight until we were meeting for coffee the next night.  So I did.  I went into prayer that night and I put God to the test.  “God, if you really want me to do this, I need a chance to talk to him in private.  I’ll know you want me to do this if he asks me out to lunch,” I prayed as Matt was already dating someone else.

The next day, Saturday, I was out shopping and I texted Matt asking him if he still wanted to go in on a bike for our oldest daughter for her birthday.  He said yes.  I asked if I could just pick it up while I was out or would he prefer to do it together.  He said together.  I asked him when would be a good time for him and he said, “How about over lunch this week”!!!!  Yes, seriously, that was his answer.  I was speechless, and totally unprepared for that.  So I went into “technicality” mode – technically, he didn’t ASK me out to lunch.  I told this little ditty to my girls from Divorce Care that night over coffee.  There were four of us, 3 white ladies and one black.  We very affectionately call each other our vanilla sisters and our chocolate sister.

My vanilla sister said, “Don’t do it!”

My chocolate sister said, “Girl, if that’s the Holy Spirit talkin’, you betta listen!”

Wow, that threw me off.  But I had to agree with her; she was right.  So then I started down the, “Well, if he this and if he that,” path.

And my chocolate sister said, “You betta just tell him you love him and would he come back.”

Double wow.  Now that was the Holy Spirit talking to me.  She was right again.

So what did I do?  I went home and put God to the test… AGAIN.  I got to the point of accepting reconciliation in my head, but it was far from in my heart.  I wanted to walk in obedience, but I wanted to be darn sure what I was being asked to do.  I prayed that night, “Lord, if you really want me to do this, just give me a really, really big sign,” and I went to bed.

I went into worship at church the next morning about the same as before… with massive tension through my entire chest cavity and up through my neck that was so painful it was starting to prevent me from being able to take a full breath.  This had started and was getting progressively worse during the separation.  I started singing during worship.  The presence of the Holy Spirit flooded me and instantly the tension and the pain melted away like hot butter.  It was gone.  I decided that was my really, really big sign.  My heart was filled with desire to reconcile with Matt.

We were planning to meet for lunch that Wednesday to get the bike and I assumed this was the time I was supposed to ask him back.  But God had other plans.  He said, “Today.”  What??!!  This was Sunday, only three days after the original “Reconcile” message!!  I told Him that if I had the opportunity to talk with Matt in private when he brought the kids home that evening that I knew He really meant today.  The probability of this was absurdly small as the kids of course would crash through the door and practically bowl me over when they came home.  That evening they pulled up in the driveway.  I had the kitchen door to the garage open and could see them coming up.  The kids decided to stop and play basketball.  Seriously.  Basktetball???  They hadn’t used the hoop in months!  Then Matt came in the house, into the kitchen, by himself, not another soul around.  Seriously???

I asked him if we could chat.  I reassured him that if he were too busy we could do it another time.  He said no, now was fine.  I suggested he take a seat.  I told him I loved him.  I asked him to come back to marriage.  He actually did not fall out of the chair.  I told him I would wait until he was ready, however long that took.  It took precisely two and a half weeks.  That was April.  We celebrated our 18th anniversary together that May.  He came home that July.  And we celebrated our 20th anniversary this year.  Since then, Matt has come to know and accept the Lord also.  Our marriage is now founded on the rock that created it and it is growing stronger every day.

Matthew 26:61:  I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.

 

A Golden Calf

When I read in the bible about things people used to covet and idolize, it seems so obvious how dumb their behavior was.  Let’s see, let’s melt down some gold, form it into a calf, put it on the shelf, pray to it, and wait for it to fulfill our lives.  Woohoo!  Ok, seems like something I’m pretty much never going to do, so check “covet” off my list.  Not guilty.

Or am I?

Being truthful with myself and taking off the blinders about the golden calf, covet means “that which you spend most of your day thinking about”.  Ok, GUILTY!!  I was in a hurricane of covetous behavior over the last 10 days about a new business opportunity that came my way.  My mind was racing about this business even during the night such that in the unfortunate circumstance that my daughter’s hamster’s wheel was squeaking at 3am or my dog heard a random inconsequential noise and let out a “save the world” bark and woke me up, I was doomed.  I was awake for hours strategizing about how to capitalize on this business.  This was going to fulfill my life!!  I was going to be a millionaire in a week!!!  After 7 days I was exhausted and after 10 I was desperate.

Now, knowing this definition of covet, “that which you spend most of your day… or night… thinking about” meant that in the sane part of my brain, I knew this obsessive strategizing was a problem.  So I would pray about it during my morning prayer time asking God to help me let it go, but day over day, my prayers sounded a lot more like an aggressive volley in a Wimbledon match, “Dear God, please help me overcome… the strength in the compensation plan is… oh, overcome my covetous… the target market is huge… oh, my covetous…” and so on.  I was trying hard and I was desiring to let it go, but I was getting nowhere.  And all the while, everything I set out to do on this faith walk went by the wayside; my book and this blog.  Why wasn’t the prayer helping?

After 10 days, the light finally went off… or on… in my brain.  It was the way I was praying.  I realized I needed to stand on scripture, not just ask for help.  It’s a subtle but very important and powerful difference in prayer.  I remembered that scripture tells us we have the authority to give God dominion over our thoughts.  So I did.  I gave Him control of my thoughts.  Within a day the obsessing was gone and within two days He was feeding me ideas about how to efficiently maneuver this business opportunity… in a controlled fashion… and rejuvenating my desire to write for Him.  And He will fulfill something in my life with this business as He sees fit.

Whatever you are primarily focusing on to fulfill you in life is your golden calf.  It could be work or volunteering or your kids or party time or movies or movie stars or whatever.  Whatever it is, you will find it to be more successful, or less distracting, or less an obsession, when you focus on God first and allow Him to maneuver it for you.  Give Him dominion over your thoughts on it and watch His truth unfold in your life.