Saturday, October 8, 2016

when self-reliance becomes something else

I'm big on self-reliance. My whole life, from the time I was little bitty, my mantra has been, "I can do it myself!" One of my dreams is to one day have a self-sustaining farm, one on which we can totally support ourselves and our loved ones without counting on anyone else.

Worldly self-reliance isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God tells us to work and to support ourselves so that others won't have a reason to speak against us--"make it your goal to lead a peaceful life, mind your own business, and keep your hands busy in your work, as we have instructed you. That way you will live peacefully with those on the outside, and all your needs will be met without depending on others." (I Thessalonians 4:11 & 12, VOICE).

The problem comes, though, when my self-reliance comes ahead of my reliance on God. It usually sneaks in a little at a time, starting with something tiny, something I can handle on my own without "bothering" God about it. I want to handle things myself, but in doing so I start trusting in my own power and stop trusting in God.

"My goodness, how you've turned things around! You seem to think that the potter is equal to the clay; should the pot say about the potter, 'He didn't make me'? Or does the thing formed say about the one who formed it, 'He doesn't understand anything'?"
~Isaiah 29:16

When I start trusting myself instead of God, I'm like the pot saying that I know better than the Potter.
God doesn't expect me to take care of everything on my own. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He doesn't need or want my help taking care of things.

"Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says,
'In returning and rest, you will be saved.
In quietness and trust you will find strength.'"
~Isaiah 30:15

God doesn't need my strength--He doesn't even want it. To Him, my strength is nothing. Instead, He wants me to let go. He says, "This is the way; here is rest for the weary. I am showing you rest." ~Isaiah 28:12
That's hard for me, that "rest" thing. All I do is look around and see all the things that are being left undone, all the things I should be doing, all the things that I need to "fix." I have a tendency to do the same thing with God. He calls me to rest, but I start looking around and seeing all the things I think I should be doing.

In James, we're told, "Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn't assume the LORD will rescue them or bring them anything. The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused." ~James 1:6-8
When I rely on my own strength and wisdom, I usually get myself lost at sea. And when I'm lost, being tossed around by the waves and getting more and more disoriented, I start paddling frantically trying to get myself back to shore. It's only when I'm undeniably lost that I start asking God to show me where I'm supposed to be. He can't always show me right away, because sometimes I've gotten myself so far off track that He has to lead me back through the waves and across the open sea before we're even in sight of where I'm supposed to be.
And it's only when a story comes along that rips the paddles out of my hands and leaves me totally incapable of doing things myself that I finally give in and let God. I don't want to do that. I want my first thought to be like the Psalmist's:

"When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone."
~Psalm 56:3

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

what do I know of holy?

I've written a few times about songs that have meant a lot to me in some way, from childhood songs that God's used to remind me of truths I'd lost sight of to songs that helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Recently, I heard a new song that really got to me. It's by Addison Road, and it's called “What do I Know of Holy?”

If you haven't ever heard this song, here's a video. I highly recommend listening to it. I can't get blogger to work with me right now, so you'll have to watch at youtube. I'll try to fix that soon...

I have to admit, the first time I heard this song it was as if somebody had stepped into my thoughts: “I tried to hear from Heaven, but I talked the whole time.” Wait a minute—so that's not just me? Other people tend to carry on entirely one-sided “conversations” with God, too? I can't tell you how many times I've begged and pleaded for God to tell me something—anything—but never stopped long enough to actually listen.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
~Psalm 46:10a

“I think I made You too small...” I wrote an entire devotional about the power and magnificence of God, yet I'm still guilty of this on a regular basis. Every time I let fear overwhelm me, letting the stress and anxiety pile up until I feel like I can't breathe, I'm making God small. When I let the fears take over, I'm telling God that I don't trust Him to take care of me through all of it. I'm telling Him that my fears are bigger than Him.

“So do not fear,
for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~Isaiah 41:10

“I guess I thought that I had figured You out...
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save--
but those were only empty words on a page.
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be;
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees.”

I've grown up knowing what we always called the “Sunday School answers.” I can tell you all the stories about all the heroes, all the times God worked on behalf of His people. I asked Jesus into my heart at a revival when I was 9 years old, and I have no doubt that I will spend eternity with Him. I can sing the hymns and quote the verses and name the books. But even with all of that, there are times when all of those things kind of blur together into a single, shapeless mass.

Don't get me wrong—I know I'm blessed. Sometimes, though (and too often than I want to admit), I forget just how amazed I should be at the very idea of being blessed by the Creator of the universe.

I've written about how studying physics and biology has given me a different view on how faith and science intertwine. Sometimes, I get a tiny glimpse into the absolute enormity of God's power, and I'm left in awe. I see brilliant minds who are humbled by the unbelievable simplicity that can be found buried underneath even the most complex of physical systems, and the complexity that lies within seemingly simple things. In those moments, I realize that I really don't know much of anything about God.

“For the LORD gives wisdom;
from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
~Proverbs 2:6

“Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of holy?”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

what about when your faith is broken?

Sometimes, life breaks you. It gets to be too much, pressing you flat to the ground with your face in the dirt. You know what you're supposed to do—pray--but you just can't seem to find the words. Everything has crashed down around you, overwhelming you, and you feel like you can't breathe. People tell you, “Everything will work out. Just have faith.”

But what if your faith is broken?

What if you simply don't have it in you to “just have faith”?

I've been there. I've found myself down in the depths while the people around me are saying all I need is the faith that everything happens for a reason (please believe me when I say that those words are seldom comforting) and that it's all part of God's plan. I've had my faith shattered into so many pieces that I didn't think it could ever be repaired.

“if we are faithless, He will remain faithful...”
~2 Timothy 2:13a

God knows that we will face things that shatter our faith into a million tiny pieces. He knows that we will feel abandoned, lost, and alone. He knows that sometimes it's hard to even remember to breathe in and out, and that everything else is simply too much.

Through all of it, though, He isfaithful. It doesn't matter when my faith is shattered, because His faithfulness can't be broken. And eventually, He gathers the shattered pieces back together. Piece by piece, He slowly mends our faith. He reminds me that I don't have to remember how to breathe, because He breathed into my lungs and they automatically strain for more of His breath. He quietly reminds me that He holds all of creation in place, keeping it from spinning out of control, so what makes me think that I can spin out of His control?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

sunrise rainbow

I saw something this morning that I've never seen before--a rainbow in the middle of the sunrise.

Believe it or not, I've seen a lot of sunrises. When Pop and I would milk in the mornings, we got to watch quite a few of them. There were even a couple of times when I was in the milk barn when Pop came in and had me stop to walk outside and watch the sun come up.

Every sunrise I've seen was beautiful; if you haven't seen one in a while, it wouldn't hurt to take the time to get up early one day and watch. It's a whole different world at that time of the day--it's quiet and calm and gorgeous.

I've seen amazing rainbows in the past. In our little corner of the Ozarks last spring, we got to see a double rainbow that stretched from one side of the sky to the other, touching bright green rolling hills on each end. The bright colors were spectacular against the bright blue sky. 

This morning, though, there was something amazing about seeing the sky on fire with the rising sun--all filled with pinks, reds, and golds--with a rainbow shining in the middle of it. It was just one end, hardly anything that filled up the whole sky, but it made my breath catch.

It didn't last very long, and the rest of the morning has been gray and dreary. There hasn't been a storm, just a constant drizzle that is enough to get everything wet but not enough for me to carry an umbrella.

Rainbows are reminders of God's promise, and this morning His promise to be with and to take care of His people struck me when I saw the rainbow in the sunrise. When the rain came, the rainbow wasn't visible anymore. The colors of the sunrise were replaced with clouds that hid the splendor of just a few minutes before.

Isn't life like that sometimes? You are given glimpses of God's awesome power, of His beauty and magnificence, and your breath catches. In that moment, everything seems right. You know that God has you, and that you can face whatever lies ahead. After all, He's right there.

But then, the gloom comes. The beauty of God is hidden by the dreariness of life, and you start forgetting about His promises.

Do you know what's amazing about a rainbow? The light is always there, even when you can't see the colors. The only reason you can see the rainbow is because the conditions are just right, with the light splitting because it travels through the rain. All those colors are still there; it's just that you can't see them all the time.

The same is true of our relationship with God. He is always there, and His promises are always true. We can't always see Him, but that's just because the conditions aren't always exactly perfect.

And just like it's the rain that lets us see the beauty hidden in the light, sometimes it's the hard times in life that let us see God's beauty. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

I can never be enough.

People are living in darkness--some because they've chosen to scamper back into the darkness after they've seen the light, others because they've never seen the light and don't know there's something other than the darkness they've always been in. Our job is to walk fully in the Light so that other people will see our deeds as being from God. We are called to love because He loves; we are called to speak the truth.

Judgement will come to the earth and to everyone who has ever walked on it. We are promised that over and over again, and reminded that it's a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31). All of us will face judgement for what we've done, and by our actions we are all condemned to death. On our own, we are far from worthy. In fact, we're closer to being worthless.

God's judgment--His wrath--is a terrifying thing. It is unrelenting and absolute, and no one can stand under the scrutiny of the Perfect Judge. As it says in Micah 7:9a, "I must bear His anger because I have sinned against Him." Isaiah 8:13 says, "After all, only the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, should terrify you. Only God is holy, only God should leave you trembling."

On my own, I have no chance. I could never do enough to earn my way into heaven--I can't be good enough or help enough people or give away enough of my own possessions.

I can never be enough.

If my story ended there, it would be a pretty dismal story. It would be hopeless, leading to an empty, worthless life that might as well be spent in the dark.

But amazingly, that emptiness is where the story--His story--starts. God looks at us and sees us in the midst of our failures, in the midst of our sins, and He offers us grace.

We could never be perfect, so God gave us an "out," so to speak. In the middle of the Darkness, He sent the ultimate Light. Jesus lived a perfect life, the only One in all of history who could do that. His grace was offered in the form of the perfect, blameless sacrifice--in the form of the One who could look down over the people who hung Him on a cross and pray that they be forgiven, even as the blood ran down his face to make Him see through a veil of blood.

The rest of that verse from Micah says, "until He argues on my behalf and rights all my wrongs. He will bring me out into the light, and then I will see His saving justice."

When we step out of the Darkness into the Light, it's a scary thing. Every fault and flaw is exposed; we can't hide anything. His Light shows us for everything we are. But then, just as Jesus saw people through a veil of His blood while He hung on the cross, God sees us through a veil of the blood of the Perfect Sacrifice. The blood of Jesus covers all our flaws, sins, and faults.

God sees us through His grace.

It doesn't matter that I can't ever be enough, that I can't do enough to earn God's favor, because the Perfect Sacrifice will always be more than enough. Jesus forgave
the ones who called for Him to be crucified,
the ones who drove the nails through His hands and feet,
the ones who shoved a crown of thorns onto His head,
the ones who spit on Him and mocked Him.
What makes us think that we're so different, so special, that our sins are too much for Him to handle?

Micah 7:7 says, "But as for me, I will look to the Eternal One, and my hope is in the True God who will save me. My God will hear me."

Despite all I do that drives a wedge between me and God, my God hears me. His grace covers all my sins, no matter how horrible they are.

Friday, July 29, 2016

born to fly

I've written before about how different songs have had an impact on different phases on my life. Music has always been a huge part of my life, starting with the songs my mom and her mom taught me when I was little—The B-I-B-L-E, He's Still Working on Me, Mares-e-dotes, Sunbeam, Jesus Loves Me...the list could go on for a while. In school, my first heartbreak came when I didn't make the elementary choir in 5th grade and one of my proudest moments came when my high school choir teacher looked at me in shock during my audition one year and asked, “Where did that come from?”

Music has a way of reaching all the way to my heart. I've fallen to my knees listening to a worship song that broke me, I've been lifted high by another that made my heart soar. I've had songs of all genres made a difference in my life. My now husband but then boyfriend told me how he felt about me with Coldplay's Yellow. I've sung along with songs that said what I couldn't—or didn't dare—say. I have lyrics from a song written in the scrapbook I made after Michael was killed. There are lyrics from another song that I hope to paint on the wall of my house some day when we finally have a house of our own instead of a place we're renting.

And today, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I was reminded of another song that's meant a lot to me since high school. It's by Sara Evans, and the chorus says:

How do you wait for heaven?
And who has that much time?
And how to you keep your feet on the ground
when you know you were born to fly?”

I was searching through some of the blogs I read faithfully, looking for something that would speak to what I've been feeling lately. One wrote of being overwhelmed and overlooked, but she was talking about being overlooked by the world and handpicked by God. There is great truth in her words, but what about when you're feeling overlooked by God? I read another that was about having the wrong girl, about feeling like you've been called to do more than you're capable of doing, of being asked to run when you barely feel able to walk. Again, while I understand the sentiment, what about when you feel like you're standing still, growing stagnant? Yet another wrote about what happens when God calls you to do something hard. But what if you're trying to figure out what He's called you to?

What about when you feel like you were meant to do something, and you just can't figure out what that's supposed to be? How do you come to terms with feeling like you were meant to fly, but instead you're sinking below the waves?

I have a really hard time with the mundane. I joke that I must have gypsy blood in my background or something, because I find it really hard to sit still and simply walk through the everyday life I find myself in. Don't get me wrong--I know I'm blessed. I have a husband who supports every crazy whim, kids I would give my last breath for, and an amazing family most people can't even imagine. I teach a great bunch of kids in one of the most beautiful places around. There is a roof over my head, food on my table, and a gorgeous view outside my front door.

I've been blessed with way more than I deserve, and I know that.

But there's part of me that is still searching, still desperate, still longing. There's a part of me that wants to be used for something bigger than myself, something...more.

I'm sure it comes down to a trust issue with me; it usually does. I know that God is in control, and I know that He has a plan for my life. The thing is, I want to know right now what exactly that plan is. I fret and I worry and I stress, and I lose sight of the fact that all my worry is doing is telling God that I don't trust Him to work everything out in His timing.

Because, as hard as it is for me to admit, His timing is perfect. Looking back, had I been able to see what all God would lead me through I'm pretty sure I would have said Thanks but no thanks. Maybe, then, the waiting is all part of God preparing me for whatever He wants me to do. Maybe, before I can do something more, I have to learn to be content--to be faithful--in what I see as the mundane.

Let me tell you, that's a hard lesson for me to learn.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm tired...

I'm so tired of all this mess.

I'm tired of hatred being spewed in the name of “progress.” I've tried to simply ignore it, taking the ostrich approach of sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all just blow over. Surely, we're better than this—smarter than this. Surely, people will get tired of the fear-mongering and race baiting and police blaming. Surely we'll look at those who stand up and rant about how we can't "discredit one person's experience" (though it is perfectly fine to discredit the experiences of millions of others) and see them for what they are—pitiful, insecure, lost people.

The thing is, that's not happening. While I'm trying to ignore the chaos and hatred, it's tearing everything down around me. It's taking this country that I have always loved, the country that my brother fought and died to defend, and it is twisting it into something dark and scary that I don't want my babies growing up in.

We live in what has, from its very conception, always been one of the greatest nations on earth. Through a commitment to God and each other, we have lived a blessed life. We haven't been perfect—because we're human, something people have somehow forgotten—but together we've moved forward. We've pushed past the pain because that's what it takes to make things better.

But now? We've stopped moving forward. So called “leaders” are using their positions to create division by preying on the fears and emotions of the very people they claim to help. The President uses a memorial service for 5 slain police officers as a platform to promote himself, to malign the men and women who put on a uniform each day to step between the good and the bad, and to tell us that we are racist and bigoted.

We are told that it is racist to say all lives matter. We are told that being white makes us racist—and if we don't agree, it's just that we don't realize how biased we are.

We have always poked fun at the “Monday morning quarterback,” the one who sits on the outside looking in and talks about how he would have won the football game if he had been in the quarterback's place. Why, then, do we take it as gospel when people start talking about what a police officer should or shouldn't have done in a life-threatening situation? Someone like me—someone who has never worn a badge and has never put myself in harm's way, someone who hasn't been trained as a law enforcement officer—shouldn't watch a youtube video or a facebook video and decide that I have suddenly become an expert in self-defense tactics and in the instant assessment of threat that our police officers are tasked with on an almost daily basis.

Lies are spewed from pulpits, news desks, and stages. And the sad thing is, even though the lies are wrapped up in undisguised hatred and anger, people are swallowing the lies and feeding them to their children.

Racism and hatred are taught. Our kids are born without it. The first time my daughter noticed a black girl (not the first time she had seen someone of a different race, but the first time she pointed someone out as different), she told me, “That girl has beautiful skin.” Fast forward a couple years to Raiden in kindergarten in a Toledo public school. She came home crying the first week because the girls in her class wouldn't play with her because she had “ugly white girl hair.”

Racism is ugly. And yet right now it is being held up as something good, a cause to be championed by Black Lives Matter.

What happened to “love your neighbor as yourself”? What happened to “be kind one to another”? What happened to living a life worthy of respect instead of demanding that those around you don't “disrespect” you? Why have we fallen victim to the race baiters who want nothing more than to drive us apart and stir up fear?

We should be better than this. You know what's pitiful? There are people who call themselves Christians who are standing on both sides of the “protest” lines, hurling insults and hurtful words at each other. As followers of Christ, we are called to be different. We are called to be salt and light in a fallen world. And right now, when our country has been so suddenly plunged into darkness by our “leaders”—now is when our light should shine the brightest.

"Remember His call, and live by the royal law found in Scripture:
love others as you love yourself."
~James 2:8a
Stop blaming.
Stop hating.
Stop using your words to cause division and fear.

"The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices.
The tongue is unique among all parts of the body
because it is capable of corrupting the whld body.
If that were not enough,
it ignites and consumes the course of creation
with a fuel that originates in hell itself.
Humanity is capable of taming every bird and beast in existence,
even reptiles and sea creatures great and small.
But no man has ever demonstrated the ability to tame his own tongue!
It is a spring of restless evil,
brimming with toxic poisons.
Ironically this same tongue can be both
an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father
and a weapon that hurls curses
upon others who are created in God's own image."
~James 3:6-9

Start loving.
Start reaching out.
Start helping each other, because it's awfully hard and lonely to navigate this fallen world on your own.

"Who in your community is understanding and wise?
Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness,
blaze a trail for others.
Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition,
you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule.
Heavenly wisdom centers on
purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy,
and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.
The seed that flowers into righteousness
will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.
Where do you think your fighting and endless conflict come from?
Don't you think that they originate in the constant pursuit of gratification
that rages inside each of you like an uncontrolled militia?
You crave something that you do not possess,
so you murder to get it.
You desire the things you cannot earn,
so you sue others and fight for what you want.
You do not have because you have chosen not to ask.
And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want
because your motives are all wrong--
because you continually focus on self-indulgence."
~James 3:13, 15-18 through James 4:3