Monday, November 17, 2014

broken hallelujah

For those who really know me (or those who have been reading this blog for a while), this will come as no surprise:

I like to be in control of things, to know just how everything is going to work out. I like to have a plan.

If you ask my mom, she'll probably tell you that my mantra has always been, "I can do it myself."

I have always been an incredibly independent person. I can usually figure my way through a difficult situation, and I've always taken pride in that. I don't like to ask for help--I'm perfectly capable of working things out for myself, thank you.

Only, sometimes I'm not.

That's something that has taken me a long time to be able to admit (and something I'm still working on, to be honest). I've always tried to be strong, to stand on my own two feet and face whatever life throws at me. The thing is, that's not what God wants from me.

God doesn't want my strength,
because He has more than enough of His own.
What He wants is my brokenness,
my realization that I can't get through
this thing called life on my own,
my willingness to come to Him in humility
and tell Him that it is only His strength that matters.

I've been listening to a sermon series from Dr. Tony Evans called, Joseph: Detours to Destiny. Pop heard part of it and had Mom order it to send to me because it seemed like just what I needed to hear.

It's been wonderful. If your life is on a detour--you know, one of those times when you feel stuck in someplace that's keeping you off track from where you're supposed to be--I highly recommend you listen to it.

When I was listening to it today, Dr. Evans was talking about the fact that God doesn't need my help to get me to where He wants me to be. He doesn't need my connections or whatever I think I can do to hurry things along. My future is in His hands, and He is the one in control. He will lead me to my destiny, and He doesn't want to share the credit with me.

God doesn't need me to do it myself. In fact, He doesn't even want my help.

What He wants is for me to realize that my hands are empty. He wants me to let go of trying to control things, because when I'm holding onto the illusion of being in control, I can't hold onto Him.

He wants me, acknowledging that I am broken and weak, because it is only then that I will step out of the way and let those around me see His strength.

Friday, November 14, 2014

God is there, even in the storms

This life is hard--sometimes unbearably so.

Just yesterday, an amazing couple with a strong faith lost their son to a mysterious, aggressive illness. A sister lost her brother, her kids lost their uncle, some sweet friends lost their cousin, and a whole host of people lost a friend.

Life hits hard sometimes, hard enough to knock us flat. In those times, the times when we need God the most, it's incredibly hard to see Him.

It's like when the disciples were in the boat and a storm came up without warning. They were facing the wind and the waves, fighting desperately to keep the boat from sinking--struggling to just keep from drowning. All the while, Jesus was sleeping. (Matthew 8:23-27)

We cry out like David,
"Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God." (Psalm 69:1-3)

"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered You, O God, and I groaned; I mused and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: 'Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?'" (Psalm 77:1-9)

Sometimes, God seems silent. He seems distant. Sometimes, when life is hardest, it's easy to wonder if He has abandoned us, if He really loves us.

In those times, though, He is still there. Just like Jesus was in the boat with His disciples while the storm raged, He is with us in the tempest.

He is quiet because He knows we need time to grieve, time to be sad and angry and hurt. So He simply wraps His arms around us and lets us cry.

He is there in the silence. He hears our cries and listens to our questions and feels our pain, and He hurts for us. We are told in John 11: 35, "Jesus wept" and in Isaiah 53:3 that He was "a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering."

Our God will never forsake us. He is there, even as the storms rage around us and the waters threaten to swallow us up.

He is there, always.

"The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing."
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

to those who have served...thank you.

Veterans Day.

Today is one of those days that are a bit hard for me. Today, we honor all those who have served. Today, we say thank you...

~to all those who have given of themselves for the sake of freedom.
~to all who give up their own precious time to serve and protect.
~to those who believe freedom is worth fighting for.
~to the strong.
~to the brave.
~to the courageous.
~to those who stand on the front lines to protect those they love--and those they've never met.
~to those who are scared, but who do the job anyways.
~to the faithful.
~to those who are tired, but know they'll rest when the job is done.
~to all those who choose to take a stand.
~to those who unselfishly take on an often thankless job.
~to the wounded, some with wounds that everyone notices and others with wounds the rest of us will never see.
~to the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Marines.
 
We say thank you, but the words don't seem like enough to honor the sacrifices made by so many.

From the bottom of my heart, though, "I thank my God every time I remember you." (Philippians 1:3) You are in my thoughts and prayers today, and I hope that today you are reminded that, although we forget to tell you, we are beyond thankful that you stood for us.

For those who are currently serving, "be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
 




I Stand
~J. Michael Goins
  US Army 2 Lieutenant
   2nd Battalion, 
   12th Cavalry Regiment, 
   1st Cavalry Division
   KIA 15 August 2004
   Najaf, Iraq



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

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

looking for the good

I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

On one hand, I love that I'm able to keep in touch with--or, let's be honest here, act like a creepy stalker and look at all their pictures without actually ever being in contact with-- a bunch of people from my past who I would never know anything about otherwise.

I love getting to see baby pictures and wedding pictures and school pictures and albums of beautiful places I'll most likely never get to see in person.

I love reading status updates that show excitement for new jobs, new houses, and new loves.

I smile regularly when I get online, which is wonderful. I like to smile.

On the other hand, though, I hate social media. It becomes an easy place for people to post personal things they would never share with other people under other circumstances, things I would really rather not hear about--or worse yet, see pictures of!

I don't like the animosity that pours out of people online. For some reason, the internet is seen as an anonymous place. That in itself is funny, seeing as how our privacy online is almost non-existent. Besides that, though, people seem to think facebook is the perfect place to gripe about every. little. thing.

Social media has become a free for all where people feel they have "every right" to put down people they have never met while arguing about subjects they would never typically debate with total strangers.

Sometimes when I get online, it seems the whole world is made up of nothing more than
greed
anger
hatred
sexuality
laziness
immorality
blame
fear...

Every once in a while, though, something else shows up. Every once in a while I get to see true beauty in the form of
family
nature
love
God
baby smiles
courage
peace...


So I'm going to look for those things.
I'm going to try to focus on the people who show me that there is still love in the world, the  people who show me what it looks like to live like Jesus in a fallen, broken world.

~The women I know who fight courageously to live and stay unbelievably loving and joyful through surgeries, chemo, and radiation.

~The moms who sacrifice of themselves for their babies.

~The dads who take the time to show their kids how much they like just being their dad.

~The people who love despite being hurt.

~The people who stand for Truth even when it isn't popular.

~The people who take a moment to see the beauty in the world.

Maybe you would like to join me?

Friday, October 24, 2014

religious freedom

In recent years, "religious freedom" has taken on new meaning in the United States. People twist the phrase, even going so far as to form a group called "Freedom from Religion" whose unspoken yet evident purpose is to attack Christianity. There are even those who try to argue that our Founding Fathers were not intending to establish a Christian nation.

The thing is, no matter how people try to twist it, the Truth never changes.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew what it would take for a new nation to survive and thrive. As the authors of Under God stated, "In declaring their independence from earthly power and authority, out Founding Fathers declared their dependence upon the Almighty God: 'with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.'"

Samuel Adams said, "We have this day restored the Sovereign, to Whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and... from the rising to the setting sun, may His Kingdom come."

Today, society has twisted things so much that it is starting to be okay to practice any religion--
      as long as it is not Christianity.
 
Private business owners are consistently attacked for standing up for their personal belief in the biblical definition of marriage.

Christians are depicted in mainstream media as being full of hatred.

Secular ideas have replaced Christian morals and values on screen, even when Hollywood has taken on accounts from the Bible such as Noah.

Most recently, the mayor of Houston has issued a subpoena demanding the sermons of a group of pastors who dared to make a stand.

Since the founding of our nation, the United States has historically been a place where followers of Christ were free to follow Christ. President Reagan once said, "Indeed, it is an indisputable fact that all the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in [the Bible].

Those of us who live in the United States have been greatly blessed, and we have not faced the persecution that so many of our brothers and sisters around the world face on a daily basis.

Now, it would seem that is beginning to change.

I have a bracelet my husband had made for me, and on it is a quote from Doctor Who: "I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and dreamer of improbable dreams."

In this, I am still an optimist. I still believe our country can get back on track, however far-flung that hope may seem. As God told Israel, "if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I've always been taught, though, to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. In that, my prayer is that we in the United States will learn from the persecuted Church, our brothers and sisters in chains.

May we have the strength of the children who are being told to deny Christ or die--and who are choosing death.

May we be able to stand firm in the face of imprisonment, as those in Iran, China, North Korea, and countless other countries do.

May we be able to keep the "peace which passes all understanding" if we face torture, like our Christian brother Kamal in South Sudan:

It is possible that our freedom to practice our faith in God will be taken from us in the not so distant future. It is possible that even here in the United States we will soon face the persecution that followers of Christ have faced since Jesus Himself was crucified.

We need to take a stand. We need to remember the words of Nehemiah 4:14b, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."

If--when--the day comes that we face persecution, my prayer mirrors the words shared by Dr. Inch once:
"And may you be able to say
that when all is gone but God,
He is enough."

Friday, October 10, 2014

what have we become?

We've lost ourselves.

Somehow, in all the chaos and the noise around us, we have lost sight of everything that is truly important, everything that once set us apart.

We have stopped taking a stand, and as a result we have let others walk all over us in the name of "progress."

We have become a country
~which would rather protect a chicken than a baby
~in which people barely bat an eye when a woman publishes a video of herself having an abortion
~in which a woman writes a selfish letter to the unborn child she is planning on killing (one she calls Thing), and gets praised for making a choice "for her"
~in which a boy was given detention for sharing his lunch with a classmate who had less
~with people so afraid of offending others that they hide their own beliefs
~where people are attacked for supporting the Biblical definition--God's definition--of marriage
~where it is accepted and expected for people to sleep together before they are married in order to find out if they are "compatible"
~where parents are not supposed to discipline their children
~where pets are more protected than kids
~in which a woman is praised for having the "strength" to choose to end her own life when her journey gets too hard
~that has decided that the government gets to call all the shots
~that no longer values personal responsibility and autonomy
~where an Eagle Scout got suspended for having a pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his vehicle at school
~in which Christmas decorations are no longer welcome in many public places because they might offend someone--nevermind the fact that they are usually just of Santa anyways
~where hard work is penalized instead of rewarded, and people expect to get something for nothing
picture by Sarah
~in which football players are called heroes and soldiers are abandoned
~where "patriot" has become a bad title
~in which kids are given trophies and medals for just showing up, because the "experts" think that it would harm kids to realize that they aren't always the best at everything they try
 


We have become a country weakened, beaten down, and nearly broken. We are on a downward spiral, and it breaks my heart.

We need to take a stand.
We need to speak up. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

I've been quiet lately...

It's been a while since I wrote here. To be honest, it's been a while since I did any kind of writing. I would like to say that's just because I've been so busy with school, with all the articles I'm reading and everything I'm writing for my education classes. I would like to say that, but it wouldn't be the truth.

I haven't written because I don't want to write what I feel like I should write.

I've been feeling lost lately, in so many different ways. I've started a different career path again with the change over to education and physics. I've ripped out page ofter page in multiple notebooks, with nothing I write coming out the way I want it to. I've started over on at least 3 different stories, but none of them have worked. I've cried out in my prayers, begging to hear from God, but He's seemed silent. My heart and soul feel like they're tied up in knots, and no matter what I try to do I can't seem to undo the knots.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure it's because I'm not doing the one thing I'm supposed to be doing right now.

There has been a common theme to just about every blog or book or article I've read this year (or at least to all of the ones that have prodded at me): Tell your story. It was even the theme of one of my own posts early in the year, one in which I said I had started working on my story.

Over and over again, the words jump out at me. Tell your story. The world needs your story, even the messy parts.

I've done my best to ignore them. The problem is, I'm pretty sure that it's been God's message to me that I've been ignoring. So every time I've called out to Him and begged for Him to speak, to let me feel Him, I've gotten the same response. Silence.

Silence, because He's already told me what to do. He's already made His point, and He's made it abundantly clear. Tell your story. Over and over again, He's used the 2x4 to make it sink in.

But I don't want to.
There--I said it, plain and simple.

I don't want to tell my story, because it hurts. It's messy and uncomfortable and private, and I. just. don't. want. to.

That came out for the first time the other day when I was on the phone with my mom. I blurted out that I knew I was supposed to tell my story, but I didn't want to. Honestly, speaking the words out loud was the first time I even let the idea get fully formed in my mind. I didn't want to admit it, not even to myself.

I've begged and prayed for God to tell me what He wants from me. I've spent years searching for direction, for the next step. For a long time, I had no idea what was next. In many regards, I still don't know what's next. I don't know what will happen once I finish my degree. I don't know where our family will move to next, or where Nathan and I will work. I honestly know very little about God's plan for my life.

But here I am, fighting against the one thing I know I've been told to do next. I'm scared--terrified, truthfully. I don't want to start down this path. I don't want to pull out old memories and uncover old wounds. It feels like I'm being asked to cut open old scars, ones that haven't ever really even healed properly. It hurts my heart to even think about it.

So, I'm asking for prayers. Begging for them, really.

I can't do this.
I can't.
I'm too weak, too fragile, too broken.
Too determined to be strong on my own.

But this whole blog got started because I felt God calling me to be faithful, to step out of the boat despite the storms, to trust Him to guide each step. I want to be faithful. I want to be obedient.

I don't want to write my story, but I'm more afraid of staying in the silence than I am of finding out what other people have to say when they see my mess.

Please, pray.
I need it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

I told Pop one time that my favorite sermon of his was, "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?" and was a bit surprised by his response. "Thanks," he said, "but I can't take credit for that. If I remember right, I borrowed that from C.S. Lewis."

Not a bad guy to borrow a sermon topic from, if you ask me.

I was trying to decide what to write on here a while back and Nathan told me I should write about that sermon. He hadn't heard it and I can't remember anything more than the main points, so I put it off. For one thing, I haven't been real anxious to tackle a topic C.S. Lewis wrote about--or one Pop spoke about. Both sets of those shoes are pretty big to try to fill, to be honest.

The other day, though, I gave in. I decided I would look into it and make an attempt to write something. I looked up the sermon and found something interesting:
         It looks like C.S. Lewis borrowed the idea, too. From what I can tell, the "trilemma" can be traced back to the mid 1800s and a couple of men named Mark Hopkins and John Duncan.

Who knew--even C.S. Lewis borrowed ideas from time to time!

So, I guess I said all that to say this: I am absolutely scared to death to dive into this subject. I hope, though, that I can do so without muddying up the waters for you too much... and I guess I should stop procrastinating and get on with things :)

*****

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?
It seems like an odd question, doesn't it? Those labels don't really go together, and you wouldn't think there would ever be a situation where you would be asked to make a choice between the three.

The thing is, I think that question is one everyone needs to ask themselves. To me, you can't truly be confident in your faith until you understand just what it is that you believe--and why you believe it. Contrary to what some people have been taught, that means asking the hard questions and working through the answers. Here's one of those hard questions: Who was Jesus?

The question of whether or not Jesus was a real person have finally started to quiet. There is too much historical evidence of the man named Jesus, born in Bethlehem to Mary and her husband Joseph, who then spent His childhood in Nazareth and went on to become a great teacher. The Jewish historian Josephus mentioned Jesus, and the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of His execution by Pilate. So if we don't need to question whether or not the man Jesus lived, the only question left is who is He?

Here you have a man who claims time and time again to be the Son of God. In Matthew 16 He asks Peter, "Who do you say I am?" Verses 16 and 17 go on,

"Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,
for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven."

When He was being questioned by the high priest Caiaphas, here was the exchange:
"The high priest said to Him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God:
Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'
'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied."
Matthew 26: 63-64 (partial verses)

Jesus told the people to follow Him. He told His disciples that they would be persecuted for doing so. He talked about being raised from the dead and about feasting with His disciples in heaven. He said many would come in His name, claiming to be the Messiah, the Christ.

Listening to everything He said, we have three options:
1. He was a Liar
-The first option is pretty simple: Jesus could have been a liar. He could have known full well that all He was saying was false, and He could have been saying all that crazy stuff solely to deceive people. If so, nothing He ever said should be taken as good. If He was a liar, He shouldn't be held up by other religions as being a prophet, a moral leader, or a great teacher. If He was simply lying, He was nothing more than evil.

If He was simply lying, though, He would have to be one of the most devious, conniving men to have ever lived. He would have had to work out elaborate plans to be able to fake healings like those experienced by the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), the bleeding woman (Matthew 9:20-22, Luke 8: 43-48), the blind man (Mark 10: 46-52), and the soldier whose ear was cut off (Luke 22: 49-51). He would have had to figure out a way to get a herd of pigs to drown themselves in the lake (Mark 5: 1-20). He would have had to convince multiple people that their kids had died and been restored to life (Matthew 9: 18-26 and Luke 7: 11-16).

Sounds like a lot of work to me, especially when the end reward was a Roman execution.

2. He was a Lunatic
-Here's the next option. Maybe Jesus really wasn't who He claimed to be, but maybe He fully believed it Himself. Perhaps He was simply crazy. That could explain a lot of the stuff He was saying, like talking about being the Son of God. We've seen people follow crazy people before, right? Hitler and Mussolini come to mind for starters, along with quite a few cult leaders who have convinced people to do crazy things. As was the case if He was a liar, though, if Jesus was a lunatic we shouldn't pay any attention to His teachings. He shouldn't be seen as a good man or a wonderful example of morality we should try to emulate. If He was crazy, we should steer clear of Him and His claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah Israel had been waiting for since the birth of the nation and the time of Abraham.

3. He was--and is--Lord
-So, if Jesus wasn't a liar and He wasn't a lunatic, we are only left with one option.
He was who He said He was, the Son of God sent to earth to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. He was a moral leader, sure, but He was and is so much more than that.
He is the bridge that spans the chasm between imperfect man and a perfect God.
He is the sacrificial Lamb, His life laid down to justify us--people who could never justify ourselves.
He is the Rock upon which we can build the only foundation that will stand the test of time.
He is the Word used to speak all of creation into existence and then sent to us as a love letter from a merciful Father in heaven.


So, there are the options. Who do you say Jesus is?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

a letter from a preacher's kid

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the number of letters I've seen lately, letters full of pain and bitterness aimed at "preacher dads." They are letters from PKs who write about never seeing the love of Christ in their home while listening to their dad preach it from the pulpit. They are letters of legalism, punishment, and neglect. The words pour out of wounded hearts, and the damage done to such tender spirits is evident.

Yes, sometimes being a preacher's kid is hard. For all those who were wounded, though, there are others of us who were blessed. Our hearts haven't been hurt, though, so as is often the case you don't hear from us. I don't write to take away from one side, but to perhaps lend my voice to the other. So here's my letter, from one preacher's kid to her father...

***
Dear Pop,
I know it worried you at times, the question of how your job affected your kids. I'm sure that's common to a lot of dads, but it somehow seems different for a pastor. After all, most dads don't take their kids to work with them on a regular basis. Well, I can't speak for Michael or Sarah, but I can tell you how it's affected me.

It was a strange thing sometimes, being in the spotlight when I hadn't auditioned for a role. There were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed, when it seemed like expectations were being heaped up on shoulders too small to carry such a heavy burden. It seemed like I ws supposed to have it all together, to know how to dress, speak, and act the part of the "perfect Christian." The thing was, I was just a kid still trying to figure out all of that stuff myself.

But that pressure didn't come from you.

From you, I learned that it's not bad to fall under a heavy burden because when you fall the easiest place to get to is your knees. You taught me that what someone says on Sunday isn't nearly as important as how you live the rest of the week. You showed me the importance of looking at everything and everyone through eyes unclouded by judgement or preconceived notions. You also taught me to have the courage to ask the hard questions and the strength to accept the hard answers.

From you I learned that your witness isn't a bunch of words strung together. Instead, it's the way you live your life. I've learned the value of integrity, compassion, and humility.

Being a preacher's kid may have been an unusual childhood, but it was a good one. It was a childhood I wouldn't have traded. It was one in which I never doubted how much I was loved by both my earthly father and my heavenly Father.

So, from one preacher's kid, thank you for following God's call on your life. Thank you for showing me how to live the life of the called, even when it's hard. I love you.

Love,
Me

Thursday, August 28, 2014

a story of evil and protection

I don't post twice in one day. Pretty sure I've never done it before, and there's a pretty good chance I'll never do it again.

Today, though, I had to make an exception.

There is evil in this world. Most of the time here in the U.S. we see it from a distance, a faceless terror affecting the lives of other people. It seldom affects us, so though we know it is there we don't feel it's effects.

This morning, evil reached out and touched my family.

I sent Nathan off to school this morning, because he's going to be spending the next year dividing his weekdays between the college campus and a high school campus while he works towards a Master's in education. After fixing breakfast for the kids at around 7 a.m., I saw multiple missed calls from Nathan. When I got him on the phone, he told me that a wheel had come off of the Bronco as he drove into Toledo. A little while later, after being towed to a service station, he told me that the mechanics were emphatic: the Bronco had been sabotaged.

That's not a word I use lightly, but it is all that fits in this case. I have only spoken to him through text messages so far because his phone battery was too low to be able to call, but Nathan told me that apparently all the lug nuts had been loosened on all the tires. The tires had also been cut somehow, though I'm still not entirely clear on the details. They didn't appear flat when Nathan left, so I'm not sure how they were cut. Once the truck is drivable again, he's on his way to the police station to make a report and figure out where we go from here.

Honestly, I'm terrified. I have no idea what it takes for someone to want to do that, and I have no idea why anyone would want to do that to us. Our safety has been put in jeopardy, and I'm desperate to regain some sense of control over the situation.

At the same time, I am infuriated. Someone set out to hurt my family. MY family. That is not something I am able to just accept, and it will probably take me a little while to forgive--and then definitely not through my own strength.

I know, though, that the evil my husband and I were introduced to this morning does not even begin to compare to the evil attacking others on a daily basis, all around the world. For those people, my heart aches and my soul cries out in prayers of protection and strength.

Though this morning has given me a small taste of the evil in this world, it has also reminded me of something great:

~God is good.
~God takes care of His children.
~He and He alone protected my husband as he drove the 30 miles into the city this morning on four loosened, cut tires.
~God has a plan for us, and Evil is powerless before Him.

"But the LORD is faithful,
and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one."
~2 Thessalonians 3: 3

faith & trust

There's a story about a man who went in view of the call at a church. He gave a sermon that everyone thought was amazing, and they all voted to have him as their new pastor. Much to their surprise, he preached the same sermon his first Sunday there. When he stood up the next week and did the same thing again, the church leaders confronted him about it.

The new pastor listened calmly to their complaints then smiled. "Don't worry," he said, "I'll move on to the next sermon when you figure out how to start living out this one."

***

Have you ever been there?

I know I have. There are times when I feel like God is harping on one topic with me, grounding the same lesson into my head over and over again. It's as if He's preaching the same sermon
day after day,
week after week--
sometimes even year after year.

Most of the time, the words are the same. If you look back through the posts in this blog, you'll see a common theme in what I've been told: "You claim to have faith in Me, so trust Me."

faith: belief without proof; confidence; reliance; loyalty; fidelity

trust: reliance on the integrity, veracit, etc. of a person; confident expectation
 (definitions from The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, 3rd ed.)

I claim faith, but I have a hard time relying on the One in whom I have placed my faith.

Trust is hard for me-- I would much rather rely on myself than trust other people. I don't know if it's because of my stubbornly independent streak or something else.

I do know, though, that if I claim to have faith in God I have to trust Him.

Maybe one of these days I'll be ready for Him to move on to the next sermon.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see."
~Hebrews 11:1 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

10 years of grief and life

10 years. Somehow it seems like it just happened yesterday, yet a lifetime ago at the same time. 10 years where life has gone on all around me while a part of me has been forever frozen in time. A decade in which I have slowly learned to grieve and live at the same time.

My hometown will be dedicating a street to Michael at 10 tomorrow morning on the 10th anniversary of his death. The rest of my family will be there, hearts heavy with the pain of both the day's memories and the death of my grandpa in the quiet hours between last night and this morning.

This will be one of many memorials I've missed. You see, for years I couldn't --and
wouldn't-- deal with my brother's death, so I didn't go to all the services to honor his sacrifice. My logic was simple: if I didn't have to face it, I didn't have to hurt.

The thing is, a heart doesn't work that way. Oh, it can for a while. But by avoiding the pain, never letting it show, all I managed to do was trap it inside. The pain simmered there, under the surface, and I lied to myself by saying I had things under control.

Control.

There's that word that pops up so often when I'm being honest with myself, the thing I'm so often reminded that I don't actually have. Oh, but I sure tried to control it.

Early on, I was given the impression that this wasn't really my loss. When people would talk to me, they would ask about my parents and Michael's widow. I heard over and over again how hard this must be on them and how strong I needed to be, so it was easy to use that as a cop-out. My loss must somehow be less important, easier to deal with. If I was struggling, that must mean I just wasn't being strong enough.

So I was strong, and I barely cried. When Michael would come to mind--in the early months it was because I would think of something I wanted to tell him before suddenly remembering that he wasn't there to tell--I would blink back the tears, swallow the lump in my throat, and shake the thoughts away.

I was strong.

It took a long time for me to finally realize what I probably should have known from the beginning. My pain wasn't the same as what my parents were dealing with or what his widow was going through. That didn't make it any less real, any less searing, any less world changing.

I lost my brother, and with him I lost a part of me that will never come back.

You see, siblings get under your skin. They are as much a part of you as your heart is, part of your body and your soul. They know your history, your jokes, your corny sense of humor. They hurt when you hurt and rejoice when you rejoice. They may laugh when you fall but are the first to pull you back up to your feet. You take it for granted that you will grow old together, watching each other's kids grow up and poking fun at the first sight of gray hairs. Siblings occupy a part of your soul that no one else can access, and when one of them is ripped away it changes you forever.

10 years ago, part of me was suddenly empty.
And no one understood...except my baby sister, but it was my responsibility to be strong for her the way I knew Michael would have been for me. I didn't want her to see me hurting because I wanted her to know I could be there to support her if she needed me.

That empty part of me still aches, and most of the time I still blink the tears away and swallow the lump in my throat. There are some days, though, when that doesn't work.

Those days are filled with a roller coaster of emotions and memories, with pictures flashing through my mind
~laughing as Michael tried to saddle Red Cloud
~driving him home after a basketball game because he was pretty sure he had a concussion but didn't want Mom to worry about him in front of all the guys
~putting on a Garth Brooks lip-syncing concert in his tiny bedroom
~breaking down next to his casket at the graveside
~wiping my fingerprints off of the chrome in his old truck when we pulled into the high school parking lot before school
~my babies who never got to be teased by their uncle
~sweaty hugs after football games
~watching him and John walk down the hall as people moved out of the way, only to have them stop to tell me hi--seniors talking to a lowly freshman
~a black bracelet with his name on it worn to Sarah's wedding

Tomorrow is bound to be one of those days, a day I sometimes wish I could simply sleep through and wake up on the 16th. For every stab of pain, though, there are 20 years of happy memories, and I wouldn't trade those for anything.

This year I won't be with the rest of my family at the street dedication because I'll be here in Ohio getting my kids ready to start school next week. I know, though, that the morning will be filled with people who loved Michael and people who love my family, and for that I am thankful. I'll be there in spirit, but I'm forever grateful to those of you who will be there in the flesh, strong arms there to hold up my family when I can't.

10 years. It's a milestone I never could have imagined reaching.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

too stubborn for something better

Cows are funny creatures. I was reminded of that this past weekend when I was home to visit and got to help Pop move his herd across the road. Summer in Arkansas means hot and dry most of the time (though the start of this summer hasn't been too bad), and that means the grass can't quite keep up with all the cows snacking on it all day long. Since I was home to help, Pop wanted to run all his cows in, put wormer on them, and move them across the road to where the grass was greener... on the other side of the fence... sorry, I couldn't resist.


It went relatively smoothly at first, and most of them came up when he hollered and started up the tractor. We even managed to get them worked relatively uneventfully--Pop only got kicked a couple of times, and the only one to kick at me graciously stopped her foot a good couple of inches in front of my face (yes, my face. Pop's comment was, "She's a bit of a high kicker, huh?").

But then, we had to try to get the rest of the herd.



A few of Pop's cows were a fairly new addition to his herd, and they weren't really used to coming when called and walking across the road to the other field. They were, however, together in one corner, so the plan was to easily push them along the fence line, around the chicken houses, and into the holding pen. Pop was in his truck and I was on foot since his four wheelers aren't working.

The plan...ha!
 
It wasn't long at all before a few of the calves were spooked, and then everybody took off running. Just in case you were wondering, I'm not very good at out running cows. When they're in a small space it's easy enough to step in front and get them to turn. When they're in the field, though, me stepping in front of them doesn't amount to much.

They were stubborn, and most of them are still right there--trying to graze on some extremely picked-over grass while the rest of the herd enjoys the good stuff.

I couldn't help but wonder how many times I've been like that herd that stayed behind when the Farmer tried to move me to something better. How many times has God tried to lead me, nice and easy, along the fence to get me right where He wants me, only to have me break away as soon as I get a chance, running for what I see as safety just because it's what I know?

Eventually, those cows will follow Pop's tractor and his voice, and they'll let him lead them across to where he wants them to be.

And hopefully, I'll follow suit. One day I'll learn to let God lead me without fighting to stay where I am, where I'm comfortable. Maybe I'll see that the pastures He leads me to really are greener.

One day, I'll listen to His voice instead of trying to do things my way first.

Monday, July 28, 2014

a legacy

"A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure."
~Ecclesiastes 7: 1-4

I'm just a couple days away from making one of the hardest trips of my life, traveling back home to quite possibly say goodbye to both my grandfathers.

Papaw has had a hard fight for a long time now, battling COPD and emphysema for every breath. Grandpa's fight has been more recent and less obvious, but he now fights against the cancer in his esophagus just to be able to swallow his liquid diet. They have both always been amazing, strong men, and it makes my heart hurt to see their bodies turning on them.

I'm broken over the thought of losing them, but I'm also reminded of how incredibly blessed I have been to have these two men in my life for almost 30 years now.

They are both Army vets, men who gave of themselves for God and country. They are also both horsemen, though their approaches couldn't be much more different. For me, though, what I'm most thankful for is the commitment they both have always had to their families. They are both men with strong arms and rough hands, proof of the years they spent sacrificing their own comforts for their families.

I have learned so much from these two men, and some of my best and worst qualities can be traced back to them:
my love of horses
my stubbornness
my sense of honor
my dedication to my family
my enjoyment of a good story
my temper
my pride in my work
my appreciation for good workmanship
my love of travel
my love of home
my addiction to Dr. Pepper
my reliance on God

Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."

Neither of my grandfathers will leave this world with a lot of gold or silver in their pockets. They will, however, leave a legacy I am proud to be part of, names esteemed by those who know them-- and that is worth so much more.

"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."
~Daniel 12:3

Thursday, July 24, 2014

faith, hope, & joy: a lesson from VBS

This week has been VBS, and to be honest I went into it pretty negatively. It was only 3 days for 2 hours each day; I'm used to 5 days of VBS, all morning each day. Set-up was done in just a couple of hours; I'm used to spending most of the week before VBS at the church building doing set-up and decorations. I was going to be walking around from station to station with a group of kids; I'm used to classroom teaching and time to get to know the kids.

Basically, things weren't going to be done the way I expected, and I got negative.

Then I was talking about school with Nathan. I was upset about how things are progressing-- or not progressing, to be honest. I was frustrated about being looked down on and judged. I was tired of doing things the right way only to be knocked down-- over and over again.

So again, things weren't going the way I expected.

And when my own kids started talking back to me and being mean to each other and just plain not listening, I felt like a failure as a mom. They were being disrespectful...

and weren't behaving the way I expected.

 I was watching the total lack of sales on all of my books on Amazon, wondering why in the world I was even writing if nothing was going to come of any of it. I hadn't made enough money to just stop all this school nonsense and write for a living.

Again, not how I expected.

Woe is me, huh?
 I was wallowing in self-pity, focused on how nothing was going the way I planned. Looking around, I was pretty much seeing life as rotten.

Then Nathan did something he really didn't want to do-- he told me how negative I was being and how utterly miserable I seemed, no matter what was going on.

I was hurt and mad, and Nathan went to bed that afternoon (so he could get up to work the night shift) pretty sure he would wake up to the silent treatment.

I went out to work on the yard, and I was pulling weeds with a vengeance. And even that was making me mad, because each time I looked up I was just faced with the overwhelming number of weeds I still had to deal with.

In the middle of that, though, something happened. I was reminded (again) that I'm not in control. I was reminded (AGAIN) that my way isn't God's way. When Nathan woke up for work, he was greeted with an apology and a thank you.

VBS Tuesday night talked about hope, and Wednesday night was joy. One of the things I was being negative about became the very reason I was convicted-- the negativity and pessimism and "woe is me" attitude was completely choking out the hope and joy I should have.

My circumstances haven't miraculously changed. There are still some things about VBS this week that I didn't full agree with, things with school are still up in the air, and my kids haven't suddenly developed perfect self-control. For that matter, the yard still needs lots of work!

What is starting to change, though, is my attitude. I'm trying to give up my stubborn, constant desire for control. I'm trying to regain the joy I once had, the optimism and hope that once guided my life because of my faith in the One who is Hope and Joy. 

Instead of looking at VBS as negative just because it wasn't what I expected, I've realized that God worked through it this week-- in spite of me. Instead of focusing on how often my kids fight with each other, I'm starting to focus on how much they love each other and how often they cuddle up next to each other. Instead of seeing school as something that's draining me, I'm trying to see it as the amazing opportunity that it is, one a lot of people don't get.

Things have never come easy for me. A lot of my time and attention lately has been spent focusing on looking forward to a time when things will-- but in doing that, I've fallen into a trap of seeing the struggles right now as somehow unworthy, as things I have to get through as I wait for life to start. The problem with that mindset, though, is the fact that life may not ever be easy here on earth.

If I spend all my time waiting for the life I want to start, I'll miss out on the one I've been given-- and that's not something I have any right to do.

God has allowed me to live this life for a reason, and He has a plan for all of it. No matter how much I struggle for control, He's the One who has set the course. He's the One in control, even when I ignore that fact. It's like He's the parent driving the car and I'm the kid in the backseat playing with my plastic steering wheel and whining that we're not going where I think we should.

So like David, I'll pray:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
Psalm 51: 10-12

Monday, July 21, 2014

when the journey is too much

The last time I wrote, it was about how God sometimes speaks in the quiet, the passage in I Kings 19 where God chose to speak to Elijah in a whisper instead of in the power of the storm or earthquake.

Have you read the chapter before that recently? It's the one where Elijah challenged all the prophets of Baal and Ashera to a duel.

Really--an old-fashioned duel!
Only instead of guns blazing it was a duel of fire.

Well, it would have been a duel of fire, only the prophets of Baal and Ashera didn't have any fire to duel with. Elijah, on the other hand, had flames that God sent down, fire hot enough to burn up a bull, the firewood, all the water that had been poured over the altar, the 12 stones used to build the altar, and the soil the altar was built on.

Then, Elijah watched as all the people of Israel turned back to God. After that, he killed all 850 false prophets. And even after that, he told the king that rain was coming--even though there had been a drought for 3 years at the time. When the rains came, Elijah was given the amazing ability to run ahead of King Ahab's chariot, racing him to town.

Talk about a spiritual high! Elijah must have been in a whole different place mentally and spiritually right then. He was probably feeling pretty darn good about himself when he went to rub it in Queen Jezebel's face. He had just made fools of all her prophets and then had them all killed. In the face of all that had just happened, I imagine he figured Jezebel would have no choice but to repent of all her evil ways and turn to God.

But if that had happened, calling someone a "Jezebel" probably wouldn't have the negative connotation it does today.

Instead of feeling shame and remorse, Jezebel made Elijah a promise: she would kill him.

You would think Elijah would just laugh in her face. Or maybe call on God again, this time asking Him to knock her down a peg or two. Surely that would  have been easy to do. After all, God had just done some amazing things at Mount Carmel.

Elijah didn't laugh.
He didn't stand up to Jezebel.

We're told that he ran off, terrified.

I've been in that place before. Not the same, mind you--I've never taunted a group of 850 false prophets and then called down fire from God. For that matter, I haven't ever outrun a chariot.

I have, though, been in a situation where I experienced a spiritual high and then fell as suddenly as if I had walked off a cliff. Actually, I've had a few experiences like that in my life, times when the valley of fear and doubt seemed to swallow me and block even my view of the mountain top.

There are times when I've seen the amazing things God has done, then somehow it seems like I manage to forget about all of that in the split second it takes for things to go wrong.

I get overwhelmed by something that scares me, and suddenly I forget that God can--and will--take care of me.

I know it, or at least I know that I should know it.
The problem is, I have a trust issue:
I want to trust myself instead of Him.
I want to take care of things myself--that's the only way to know everything is going to get done...the way I want.

I have a stubborn tendency to forget that God's way of taking care of things usually isn't the way I would choose.

That's the same thing that happened to Elijah, and his valley was so low that he was praying to die. He cried out to God, "I have had enough, LORD," and then he crawled under a bush, kinda like an animal does when it crawls away to die.

You know what, though?
Even when we are at our lowest, even when all we can do is tell God, "I've had enough," God takes care of us. For Elijah, that came in the form of an angel who told Elijah to get up and eat, who gave him bread and water. The angel also told him something that, to me, is one of the best things to hear when you're overwhelmed: "the journey is too much for you."

Sometimes, the fact that someone else recognizes that what you're facing is just plain hard is enough to pull you through. For Elijah, it was enough to let him travel for 40 days and nights until he reached the mountain of God., the very mountain where God spoke to him in a whisper.

So take heart. God knows you're overwhelmed.
He knows things have been tough.
He knows that you've had enough, that the journey has been too much.

And He's still there, providing, no matter whether we remember or not. And if we follow Him, He'll lead us to a place where He can speak to us.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

be still...

"The LORD said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire was a gentle whisper.
~I Kings 19 : 11 & 12

"Be still, and know that I am God"
~Psalm 46:10b

Life is busy.

Sometimes, it's just plain hard to get away from everything--assuming we even want to. These days, the thing people seem to be the most concerned about is being connected. You very rarely see somebody without a cell phone somewhere in sight, and facebook and twitter are even at the center of advertising campaigns.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone when I admit to spending way too much time on facebook, pretty much just being nosy to be honest.

I don't know about you, but I'm at a time in my life when I'm desperate to hear God's voice. I want to hear from Him because I want to know His plan for my life. I want Him to guide me, to set my feet on the right path.

The problem is, I don't spend enough time listening.

When life gets busy, when life gets noisy, it's hard to listen. You see, in my experience God doesn't tend to yell to get my attention (I think He's used a 2x4 to make some of the lessons sink in from time to time, but that's a different story). I would love for Him to get my attention with something impressive like the burning bush, but that hasn't seemed to be His way with me.

Instead, He's quiet.
He whispers.

And there's a funny thing about whispers. You can't really hear them unless you're still and quiet.

When's the last time you were truly still, the last time you were silent so that you could listen for the whispered voice of God?

I have to admit that I can't really recall the last time I was. But then I turned on a documentary called "Into Great Silence" about a group of monks who break their silence only for prayers and songs, and it got me thinking.

If I'm truly desperate to hear God, I need to make listening to Him a priority.
I need to be still.

This week, my babies are spending their last week in Arkansas with their grandparents. It's just Nathan and I here, and he's working nights right now. I'm planning on taking advantage of this time for a few things: housework that I need to get caught up on, a paper and presentation that I need to put together for my Radiation Protection and Regulations class, and getting in some writing time so I don't lose my mind. More importantly, though, I plan on taking some time this week to be still and quiet, to stop talking long enough to listen for God's whisper.

Here's hoping you're granted a bit of surprise quiet this week so that you, too, have a chance to be still.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

this parenting thing is hard...

I want you to know, my parenting this last week or so has been the best it's been probably since my sweet baby girl was born 7.5 years ago.

I haven't yelled at either kid, lost my temper over the little stuff, been impatient, zoned out when they told another long story, or pretended to listen.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that my kids aren't here right now. They're spending this part of the summer in Arkansas, going back and forth between grandparents' houses and having a blast spending a month on the farms.

I miss them and I can't wait for them to get back--my house is entirely too quiet--but I know one thing for sure:
it won't take long for me to lose my temper, no matter how hard I try not to.

This parenting thing is hard.
Why isn't that something they talk about in those "what to expect" books?

It's filled with stress and anxiety and messes and endless loads of laundry and sinks full of dirty dishes and tears over nothing and fights and arguments and "why?"s and legos to step on and piles of toys on the stairs and complaints about dinner and...

Some days, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

It's easy to get pushed so many times that you finally snap, even though you promised yourself that you wouldn't today.

It's easy to respond with sarcasm when you know that's not the way you should answer, even though it's your toddler's millionth question before 9 a.m. 
 
It's easy to want to be hateful back when your little drama queen is glaring at you and daring you. After all, I've got 22 years on her with that whole "moodiness" thing. Doesn't she realize that she's an amateur dealing with a professional?

But then, a dirty little boy brings you a tiny flower in his grubby hands--just because he thought it was pretty and his mommy would like it.
A rebellious little girl crawls up onto your lap and snuggles against you, saying "I love you" in the sweetest voice you've ever heard.

And you're overwhelmed again.

How could you love someone so much?
How could someone so little have such a huge impact on you?
How in the world did God choose to bless me with the chance to be their mom?

And you whisper a prayer, saying thank you to the One who gave you such an amazing gift.

And them another thought crosses your mind:
How in the world am I ever going to raise these precious souls without completely messing them up?


And the prayers of thanksgiving turn into pleas for help, because you know that you can't do this. You aren't strong enough to stand firm for these little ones you've been entrusted with. You see them cry tears of pain and realize that you can't protect them. You have to drive away and leave them behind at their grandparents' for the summer and you know that you can't always be there to stand guard.

And somehow, God reassures you. He tells you,
"You aren't strong enough, but I am your foundation and I will always stand firm. I am a fortress for these precious little ones, and I will be the only protection My children will ever need. You can't stand guard, but I have put My hedge of protection around them. I have entrusted them to you for a reason, even if you can't see it.
Lean on Me, believe in Me, and rely on Me;
they will learn to do the same."

So when my babies get back, I'll love them with everything I have. I'll mess up and I'll apologize and I'll mess up again. And I will rely on God with all my heart, mind, and soul--because He's the One who gave me these precious, obstinate, spirited, amazing babies, and He's the One who will keep me from completely messing them up.

"Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me."
Psalm 63 : 7 & 8