Thursday, September 21, 2017

an unplanned post...

This wasn't the blog post I meant to write. Actually, when I started writing it, I had no intention of sharing it with anyone. A while back, after I read The Help, I started writing my prayers. You see, my mind races like crazy all the time, and I've never developed the discipline I need to be able to focus on a prayer I'm saying in my head. So instead, my answer to that is to grab a notebook and a pen.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but I'm more than just a tad bit addicted to notebooks. I have to look at them any time I go to a store with a stationery section. In this case, the notebook I was writing in was one I snagged from Nathan (he had only written on the first page...).

In any case, the post I wanted to write was called "...on being a lady," and is one that I've had written out on paper for a long time. In fact, I even typed that title in when I first opened this page to write...

But as is often the case in my life, it seems God had other plans. I kept getting the nagging feeling that I needed to pull out my prayer and share it here, with you. I have to tell you, it's not one I'm really all that comfortable putting out there (you can probably tell by how much I'm procrastinating). But if I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do, hopefully there's a reason & hopefully it will help somebody else.

So, here goes...

Dear God,

I'm afraid this is going to be pretty blunt, because I'm not in a very good place right now. I've always heard that bad things come in 3s, but lately it's felt like we've had bad things happening in 3 sets of 3s.

I know I'm still living a very blessed life--really, I do. I understand that I have so much to be thankful for...

But God, life is hard right now & I'm just staying on the edge of a breakdown all the time. I don't understand why so many things just keep getting piled up on top of each other.

First, let me thank You. Despite all the mess and all the chaos and all the stress, I know that You are ultimately in control. Sometimes I lose sight of that. Sometimes the storms distract me and I start focusing on them instead of seeing You. God, please help me to focus on You. Help me to remember that You say, "At the time that I choose, I will judge & do so fairly. When the earth and everyone living upon it spin into chaos, I am the One who stabilizes and supports it." (Psalm 75:2&3)

God, I know that my thoughts can't even begin to compare to Yours. I know that You, in Your ultimate wisdom, know just why everything in my life has been happening, and You know how everything is going to turn out. God, please help me to see all of this for what it is--temporary. Help me to live a life that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. In the middle of the chaos and stress, help me not to mar Your name.

I told You, though, that this would be blunt and honest, so here goes. I know the Sunday School answers. I know all the words I should be saying, how I should be acting, and what I should be doing. The problem is, right now I don't want to do any of those things. Right now I just want to ask, "Why does this keep happening? Why are all the little things just piling up like this?" I want to cry out, "Abba, why have You turned away? Why aren't You just fixing all the bad stuff?"

Like the insecure child I am, I want to know what it is that I keep doing wrong that keeps causing all these things. What am I supposed to be learning that I'm not getting? What am I supposed to be doing to fix it? Why does it feel like my world is falling apart?

But that's part of my problem, isn't it? I saw a quote one time that said, "If you think you've blown God's plan for your life, rest in this: you, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful." (Lisa Bever) When I start asking what it is I'm doing wrong, what I'm supposed to do to fix everything, maybe that's me trying to take control of Your plans for my life.

God--Abba, please...I don't even know how to pray anymore. I don't know what to ask You or what to say. I'm at the point where my words are just jumbled in my head...but more so in my heart. So Father, please hear the cries I can't utter. Please hear the words I can't form. Please take my insecurities and turn them around so that I remember that I am secure in You, no matter how much my world is shaking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

13 years...

You taught me to be strong
when others see me as weak.
You told me I could do anything
if I set my heart on it.
You showed me how to stand
when those around me crumble.
You encouraged me to follow my dreams
even though it may be hard.
You pushed me to do my best
even if it's not acknowledged.
You led me down the narrow road
though it is never popular.
You listened to me
when no one else would.
You comforted me
when no one else could.
You were my teacher,
my confidant,
my example,
my encourager,
my leader.
Because of you,
I know how to keep going.

For my brother.
Mandy Jean Kilbourn

Friday, August 4, 2017

amazing love...

"Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking..."
~John 1:1

Jesus was with the Father at the beginning of time. As the Voice translation puts it, "His speech shaped the entire cosmos." (v. 3) He is so powerful that it merely took His breath to give us life.
Yet, He chose to leave the throneroom of Heaven, to step away from His seat at the right hand of God. He chose to put aside His glory and to humble Himself, to take on flesh and live alongside us, because He saw us.

He saw us in all our human imperfection. As David said, "For He knows what we are made of; He knows our frame is frail, and He remembers we came from dust." And I think that just like when He looked out over Jerusalem, Jesus was overwhelmed with love for us. And in His love, He wanted more for us. In John 15:11, Jesus said, "I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction..."

I've written before about how amazing it is that the Creator of the Universe cares for us, but I have to admit that I don't think about it very often. I don't let myself focus on the wonder of what it means to be loved so spectacularly and so completely, a love made even more amazing by the fact that it is unearned and undeserved. It is a Love that wrapped His arms around us when we were at our lowest and worst, then whispered in our ears, "Look here, I have made you a part of Me, written you on the palms of My hands." (Isaiah 49:16)

I get so wrapped up in what other people think of who I am and what I do. I stress and strive to please people, to make sure that I don't let anybody down. I worry about what they think of me and how they see me. But God says, "Have you forgotten Me, the One who made you and the whole world, who stretched out the skies and made sure the earth's foundations? Yet you constantly worry about others--" (Isaiah 51: 13) It's definitely easier said than done, but we need to stop focusing on how the world sees us. Besides, if we're truly living as God has commanded us we've already been told that the world will see us as alien.

We need to switch our focus and put it on the Commander of Heavenly Armies, the God who created the universe and yet knows the number of hairs on our heads and who collects every tear we cry. We need to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One who stepped away from the glory of Heaven and traded His throne for a crown of thorns, simply because He wants us to experience the delight of being with the Father. All that matters is how God sees us, and when He looks at us He sees us made pure by the blood of His Son. He sees us carved into the palms of His hands.

There's a song that says, "Amazing can it be that You my King would die for me?"

And our job? We are to share that amazing love with others. We are to point to our brokenness, our human weakness, and tell people, "...and the amazing thing is that God loves me in spite of all of that. I am made whole and loved because of Him. He took all my failures and mistakes and sins and put them on His own back when He chose to walk the painful path of the cross. He took the punishment that should have been mine and He gave me His light instead."

"Arise, shine, for your light has broken through!
The Eternal One's brilliance has dawned upon you.
See truly; look carefully--darkness blankets the earth;
people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
the Eternal's bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising,
you will enlighten the leaders of nations."
~Isaiah 60:1-3

Saturday, July 29, 2017

who do you say I am?

"JESUS: Who do people say the Son of Man is?
DISCIPLES: Some say John the Baptist. And some say Elijah. And some say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
JESUS: And you? Who do you say I am?
PETER: You are the Anointed One. You are the Son of the Living God."
~Matthew 16:13-16

There are all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is. Some people just call Him a good teacher (see this post for my thoughts on that). Some, including Muslims, say He was a prophet sent by God to show us how to live. In some churches today, He's basically said to be some sort of genie who grants wishes (except they call them "answered prayers"). Even the demons recognized Him as the Son of God.

It doesn't matter who everyone else says that Jesus is. Being able to repeat what others say doesn't mean anything about your relationship with Him, and that's what He wants. What He cares about, what He's asking, is, "What about you? Who do you say that I am?"

I don't know about you, but that's not a question I've given a whole lot of deep thought. Sometimes we have a tendency to just take what other people say and run with it, not really thinking for ourselves. Sadly, that's really common when it comes to religion. What Jesus wants, though, has very little to do with religion. Instead, He wants a true relationship with each one of us. In Philippians 3:10, Paul says, "I want to know Him inside and out." That's what each one of should be saying.

It isn't enough to just acknowledge who others say Jesus is. I can tell all the stories--about Him being found in the temple as a boy, about His temptation in the desert, about His biblical miracles--but what I really need to tell others (and to show others) is who Jesus is to me.

He is my Comforter. He is the One who comes and simply wraps His arms around me while I grieve, the One who wipes away my tears and keeps track of each one.

He is my Teacher. He is the One who lived in such a way that I have an example of how to react in every situation--when I'm tempted, when I'm facing unimaginable hardship, when people are trying to trip me up. That doesn't mean that I always react the way I've been taught...but I'm working on it.

He is my Counselor. He is the One who listens as I pour my heart out; the good, the bad, and the ugly. He listens to my prayers even when my words get all jumbled and confused and don't make any sense. And then He's the One who calmly points out where I'm off track.

He is my Savior. He is the One who looked at all the ways I have and will mess up in my life, who saw that I could never be enough on my own. He saw that I wouldn't be able to cross the chasm separating me from God, so He chose to go to the cross in my place in order to bridge the gap for me.

He is my Strength. When life hits me too hard and knocks me flat on my face, when it leaves me out of breath and too weak to even push myself up to my knees, He is the One who lifts me out of the dirt. He is the One who tells me, "Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders--it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your easy souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." ~Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

if I could just...

Just. Such a little word with such a big impact in my life.

If I could just get more done during the day...
If my kids would just do what I ask...
If I could just get my kids at school to understand that math doesn't have to be terrible...

Those are the minor "just" statements, though they aren't really minor things. The bigger ones, the ones that keep my awake at night and keep my mind jumping from one thought to another during the day, cause a lot more anxiety for me.

If I had just been able to make it through my PhD...
If I could just get my writing to take off...
If I could just make a go of this farm...
If I could just be good enough...
If I could just figure out the road I'm on...

This morning, I did day 24 of my 40-day devotional, whispers of rest, by Bonnie Gray. My 40-day journey through this book actually started about 2 months ago, so it should be over by now. Rest has been a bit elusive for me lately, though, so my 40 days have stretched out quite a bit. I don't like when that happens--I'm big on schedules and knowing the timeline for things, and if something is supposed to be 40 days, by golly, that's what it should take. God's timing isn't the same as ours, though, and I'm starting to realize that He is working through the delays.

The last line I wrote this morning as I was reflecting on today's devotional was, "I just need to follow Him, to trust Him."

That just seems like such a simple thing. In truth, I guess it is simple. The issue is, simple isn't always the same as easy. And for me, trusting and following are not easy things. I've always felt like I have to prove myself, to show that I can do things on my own. I work to show that I'm enough, that I can handle any situation life throws my way.

The problem is, I'm not enough. No matter what I do or how hard I try or what I accomplish, I'll never be enough. I can never be good enough to earn God's favor, no matter my standing in this world.

Satan has this tricky way of knowing our weaknesses and using those weaknesses to try to manipulate us. For me, that means an almost constant barrage of reminders of my failures, of all the ways that I need to be just a little bit better. He whispers in my ear, telling me all the ways that I've let people down. He points out my faults and flaws and revels in making me see those things above all else. Sometimes, the whispers get so persistent that they drown out all the other voices. To be honest, sometimes they worm their way into my thoughts deep enough that I start questioning everything I know to be true.

I know God's promises. I know He doesn't abandon His children. I know that He has me in the palm of His hand and there's nothing and no one that can pull me away from Him. Sometimes, though, I get overwhelmed by the thought that I'm not enough, that if I could just be better, I could earn God's love for me. And in those moments, I start feeling like God has disappeared. I feel like I'm miles away from God and His plan for my life, like I'm wandering around lost in the dark.

If I could take a step back and see myself from God's perspective, I can imagine what I would see: a petulant girl with her eyes squeezed shut and her hands over her ears, tripping over tiny obstacles and running into walls that wouldn't be an issue if she would just open her eyes.

"When the earth and everyone living upon it spin into chaos,
I am the One who stabilizes and supports it."
~Psalm 75:3

"...but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One,
Jesus, has in store for me--
and nothing will stand in my way
because He has grabbed me and won't let go."
~Philippians 3:12

God doesn't condemn us, no matter what we deserve. When He looks at me, he doesn't see my failures and flaws. Instead, He sees His child. He sees me as His masterpiece, as the one He created for a specific purpose. When I feel alone, He's right there:
"But look at this: You are still holding my right hand;
You have been all along."
~Psalm 73:23

"In the roar of Your waterfalls,
ancient depths surge, calling out to the deep.
All Your waves break over me; am I drowning?
Yet in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love.
When night settles and all is dark,
He keeps me company--
His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life."
~Psalm 43:7 & 8

"There is a sure way for us to know that we belong to the truth.
Even though our inner thoughts may condemn us
with storms of guilt and constant reminders of our failures,
 we can know in our hearts that in His presence
God Himself is greater than any accusation.
He knows all things.
My loved ones, if our hearts cannot condemn us, 
then we can stand with confidence before God."
~1 John 3:19-21

I won't ever be enough, no matter what I do. There is no "If I could just..." statement that will ever make me enough. The amazing thing, though, is that God is more than enough. His mercy and grace cover all my flaws and failures, and when I think I'm alone in the darkness He says,
"After all, it is I, the Eternal One your God,
who has hold of your right hand, who whispers in your ear,
'Don't be afraid. I will help you.'"
~Isaiah 41:13

When I think I've been abandoned,
God is close enough to whisper.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

how do we bear fruit?

We talk all the time about bearing fruit. The Fruit of the Spirit is well known (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control), and we spend a lot of time talking about how followers of Christ are to be known by their fruit.

I think, though, that we forget what it takes to bear fruit. In John 15:2, Jesus was talking about His Father and said, "He leaves those bearing fruit and carefully prunes them so they will bear more fruit."

Prune. It's such a small word, but it holds so much significance. At first it might bring to mind a picture of somebody snipping back one or two leaves here and there, maybe taking an ugly leaf or a dead branch. But here's the thing: when you prune something back for producing fruit, you typically take a lot off. Since Jesus used the picture of a vineyard, we might as well look at that, too.

When someone is trying to get a good crop of grapes, they cut back all the pretty stuff. The vines with all the beautiful leaves and tendrils get cut back, leaving nothing but the main branch--typically the ugly stem that comes up from the root.

In our lives, we don't mind when the ugly stuff gets cut out--the stuff we don't like and would prefer to get rid of. I don't mind when God cuts out negativity. I would love for Him to cut out the busy-ness. The problem is, those things are like the ugly leaves. They may make the foliage look prettier when they're cut off, but they don't really help with producing more fruit. Those things are just superficial.

Instead, it's the deep cuts that make a difference. The pruning that matters is the one that hurts--the one that cuts back the parts of your life that you like, the beautiful parts that you don't necessarily want to get rid of. Sometimes, what gets cut back is a dream you're holding on to. Or maybe a relationship gets cut off. I've had some major prunings in my life: plans have been cut off, relationships with great friends have ended, and I've lost people. My most dramatic pruning came after my brother was killed.

I wouldn't have chosen any of those prunings, and to be honest I wouldn't wish most of them on anyone else. It hurts to be pruned, to have big things cut out of your life, especially when those are things that mean a lot to you. Don't get me wrong here; I'm not saying that all the bad things that happen in our lives are things God has caused. Sometimes, branches in the vineyard are broken by storms and it is only then that the Master of the vineyard comes along and cleans up the brokenness.

But here's the thing: Jesus told us, "I am the vine, and you are the branches." (John 15: 5) When we get pruned back, it leaves us with Jesus as all we have to cling to.

It isn't a fun thing, believe me. It is sometimes a heart-wrenching, soul-crushing experience. But in the midst of it, when we're at our lowest, we can call out with the psalmist,

On the day I needed You, I called,
and You responded
and infused my soul with strength.
Whenever I walk into trouble,
You are there to bring me out. 
You hold out Your hand to protect me
against the wrath of my enemies,
and hold me safely in Your right hand.
The Eternal will finish what He started in me.
Your faithful love, O Eternal One, lasts forever;
do not give up on what Your hands have made.
~Psalm 138:3, 7-8

 There's a promise in there that I tend to forget about: "The Eternal will finish what He started in me." God has started a work in each of our lives, and He won't abandon His work. We just have to remember that sometimes that work includes healing from the prunings so that we can produce fruit.

Monday, May 29, 2017

when I almost forget...

We had a wonderful time Friday, with our family over for bbq chicken and just a general get-together. That's one of the things I've most been looking forward to with our move to this new place. In the past, we've either been too far away or in too small a place to have everybody over, so it's a blessing to be able to invite our family out and actually have room for everybody.

All weekend, though, something was off. I couldn't quite put my finger on it; I was spending time with my family, watching my kids play with baby cousins and baby ducks. We were laughing and chatting and making plans to build a big deck on the front of the house. We have been relaxing in the beauty of the Ozarks--wandering by the creek, looking at the hills, and seeing the lightning bugs.

It wasn't until last night that I realized what it was--I was missing my brother.

It crossed my mind for a fleeting moment Friday, while I was getting food ready for everybody. I was walking through the house when I thought, "I wish you could be here this afternoon, brother." But then I got lost in the day, and didn't think it again.

And sometimes, that's what hurts the most.

Sometimes, I almost forget that my brother isn't in the middle of the laughter.

I almost forget that Memorial Day has a different meaning for my family.

I almost forget how my nieces and kids would have their uncle wrapped around their fingers.

I almost forget my brother.

That may sound dumb to say, but it's the truth that's so hard for me to admit. Sometimes, in the joy and laughter and just everyday life, my brother slips from my mind.

And then, when that realization comes rushing back, it hits so hard that it takes my breath away. It puts a lump in my throat that's hard to push down and threatens to bring tears to my eyes. The thoughts and emotions are so conflicting that it's hard to put them into words (for some reason, it's always hard for me--a word-weaver--to find the right words when it comes to talking about Michael).

So today, since I can't find the words myself, I'll give you Michael's words:

I Stand

I fail in this fight which embroils me;
I lack the strength to press on.
My spirit is crushed,
My mind full of doubts,
My body rebels,
Yet I stand.

Strength, welling not from within me,
Helps to resist this onslaught.
God lifts me up
From ashes and dust.
He is my Strength
So I stand.

Through the hail of fiery arrows,
Satan's temptations raining down,
God is my Armor,
God is my Shield,
God is my Foundation
And I Stand!

I can't win this battle alone,
But God doesn't require that.
He fights my battles;
He defeats my foes;
He asks just one thing,
That I stand!

"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand!" ~Ephesians 6:13

~J. Michael Goins
2 LT, US Army
KIA 15 August 2004
Najaf, Iraq