Thursday, December 28, 2017

what is Christmas?

"Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light--
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched."
~John 1: 1-5

Unbelievable, indescribable power is displayed in God speaking all of creation into existence. This power, above and outside of everything we can imagine, simply had to breathe for life to begin teeming across the surface of the earth. Besides that, this Voice whispered the cosmos into being.
Think about that for a second. Taking a line from Star Trek (because I'm a nerd): "Space: the final frontier..." I'm not sure what the purpose of my physics degrees is or will be, but I'm thankful for the courses I took. Because of those classes, I've been given the chance to see just a bit of how powerful the whisper of that Voice had to be.

Generations of brilliant minds have been devoted to attempting to wrap their thoughts around how this universe works. They've stumbled across theories and equations ad principles that scratch the surface, and they attempt to dig deeper and figure out a little more, another little piece of the puzzle. But that's all any of it amounts to--little pieces, tiny glimpses of God's creation. No matter how much we learn, we just barely scratch the surface. Describing the intricacies of this universe quickly becomes a complicated process that even the best minds have trouble keeping straight.

The Voice spoke, and light formed out of darkness. The stars began to burn and spin in the cosmos. He spoke, and subatomic particles spun together to form molecules. Those molecules twisted into proteins, then cells and tissues and organisms. The ultimate power of creation was revealed in His Voice.

"The Voice took on flesh and became human
and chose to live alongside us.
We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor--
the one true Son of the Father--
evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth."
~John 1:14

All that ultimate power, and He laid it all aside and came to earth as a helpless baby, born in a stable and placed in a manger. He left the splendor of Heaven to be greeted by shepherds and watched by livestock. Yet in the midst of that, a star heralded His arrival and wise men from the East brought gifts--gold for the King of all kings, frankincense for the Great High Priest, and myrrh for the One who would give His life as a sacrifice.

The story of Christmas is not one simply of a baby born in a stable. It is the story of the Voice, the ultimate creative power of God, choosing to put aside His splendor in Heaven to come to earth. It is the story of the Creator choosing to become the sacrifice for the created. It is the story of the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

God, what do You want from me?

That question is in my head on a daily basis, roaring out over all the noise and chaos that fills my mind. It colors everything I think about--every decision I make. For years now, I've been desperately seeking God's will for my life. I've begged and cried and prayed for some answer, for just a hint of what it is that God wants me to do for Him. I've made decisions based on what I thought would work best for serving Him...and then felt broken when those decisions led to plans that fell through.

I've wondered just what it is that I'll do for God since I was old enough to ask that question. I want to know His plans for my life, because I know and fully believe that God sees what is in my future and is there to guide my steps.

I have this tendency, though (well, bad habit if I'm being honest) to rely on my own thoughts and opinions and ideas instead of letting go and listening to God. Don't get me wrong--I know that His plans are better than mine and that I can't even begin to understand His mind.

I know that, but for some dumb reason I keep trying to do everything my way.

At church Sunday, though, Pop pointed something out that I didn't really want to hear. He was talking about someone he used to know who was constantly stressing over God's will for his life, wanting to make sure each and every step was in line with what God wanted for him. He may as well have been talking about me. To be honest, he most likely was talking to me when he pointed out this verse:

"Now this is God's will for you:
set yourselves apart and live holy lives"
(I Thessalonians 4:3a)

That's it? No stressing and striving to figure out if each and every step I take is falling exactly where it's supposed to?

I want to go where God leads me, in ever aspect of my life. What I'm starting to realize, though, it that it's a lot easier for God to lead me if I'm close to Him. So instead of focusing on the path, trying to figure out the exact place for each step, what I need to focus on is drawing closer to the One I'm supposed to be following.

"Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely;
    never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
    and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don’t think you can decide on your own
what is right and what is wrong."
(Proverbs 3:5-7)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I can do it myself...

I've spent most of my life determined to prove myself. I can't tell you when that started, but my mom has told me many times that "I can do it myself!" was a very common thing to hear me say when I was little. That hasn't changed much in the 33 years I've had on this earth.

Sometimes, that mantra is a good thing. Sometimes, my stubborn determination is what keeps me pushing through when times get hard. It's what got my backhandspring when I was doing gymnastics when I was little. It's what got my best friend and I to grit our teeth and push through basing an extension in cheerleading when we were told it was too hard for us. It's what got me through the initial shock of my brother's death. It's what got me through homework assignments that made my crazy and 2 physics degrees I never imagined getting.

The problem is, faith in my own abilities won't get me very far. Because, you see, knowing my strengths also gives me a really good view of something else--my weaknesses. And believe me, I know those all too well. I see them on a daily basis. I could go down the list of what I'm not good at and all the ways I've failed to live up to expectations (I have that list running through my head on a pretty regular basis).

When you're always trying to prove yourself and you have a front row seat to watch all the ways you mess it up, it's easy to start tying your worth to what you do. Or to be blatantly honest about myself, I seem to tie my worth to my failures.

I want my life to matter, to have some sort of significance. That desire has always been there, but I think it was magnified by my brother's death. Actually, that's not quite right. It was magnified by his life, but maybe brought to my attention by his death. I've gotten the chance to see just a hint of all the lives his touched, of the impact he made in his short 23 years, and it's made me examine my own life time and time again.

That, coupled with a youth that focused on learning about missionaries and a heart that breaks when I read stories of God's people around the world, makes me ask all the time if I'm doing enough for God. I'm so desperate for Him to use me, desperate to figure out where I fit in His plan and what it is He wants me to do for His Kingdom. I've had great men and women of God whisper in my ear, "God's got big plans for you," but so far I've just found myself lost...

But here's the thing--God's "big plans" probably don't have the same definition as mine. And besides, God doesn't actually need my help. He is full capable of accomplishing His will without me--He spoke all of creation into existence, so what would stop Him from simply speaking His will to happen?

So instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I need to start focusing on who He wants me to be. Like the psalmist, I need to learn to say,

"My soul quietly waits for the True God alone
because I hope only in Him.
He alone is my rock and deliverance,
my citadel high on a hill;
I will not be shaken.
My salvation & my significance depend ultimately on God;
the core of my strength,
my shelter,
is in the True God."
~Psalm 62:5-7

Saturday, November 4, 2017

when it seems the bad outweighs the good

"Despite what you may think,
these ruling spirits are losing their grip on this world."
1 Corinthians 2:6b, The Voice
When you look around at this world, it's easy to see the bad. After all, that's what everyone is pointing out to us. The news is full of stories of evil and heartbreak. We see people hurting all around the world, often watching their loved ones get ripped away from them. There are threats of war, terrorist attacks, attacks on every value and ideal that used to be held dear.

And then there are the personal attacks, the bad things happening in our own lives that may not be evident to those on the outside. There are marriage issues, financial troubles, illnesses, and decisions that are simply the lesser of two evils.

Here on the new farm, there is sickness and injury and death and heartbreak right now. We are in a bit of a tricky situation, where we need the farm to succeed in order for us to afford to be home on the farm, but we need to be home on the farm in order for it to succeed. On Wednesday, we came home from a rough day at school to 4 dead goats. Then Thursday, we found another 5 bodies when we got home. We talked to the vet yesterday and went (again, after school) to pick up the vaccines and antibiotics he had suggested, then came home to 3 more goats dead, and multiple goats that were injured due to a dog attack--by our own family pet. That was after what, for me, had been one of my roughest days at school so far.

Sometimes it feels like the bad outweighs the good. It feels like Satan and his minions are winning the battle that is raging around us, and that we're just the casualties of war. It feels like God has turned away from us and is just letting the enemy do what it will. We feel forsaken.

Remember, though, you aren't alone in that thought. While Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani—My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). And those weren't just His words--in His agony, Jesus was repeating the words of David:

"My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
    Your ears are deaf to my groans.  
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
    my tears in the night bring no relief."
(Psalm 22:1-2)

But what if just maybe, Satan is clawing like crazy for every small victory he can find because he knows he's losing the war? What if he sees the end getting closer, and that's why he is struggling so desperately against us?

Despite how this world looks, the war is drawing to an end. The victory has already been won, and the enemy is trying to get in a few final hits before they are vanquished for good.

While Jesus hung on the cross, I imagine it broke the Father's heart. I don't think God wanted to watch His Son suffer, and I don't think He wants to watch us suffer. But sometimes, I think He lets us go through the bad stuff because He knows that what's waiting for us on the other side is something better than we could have ever imagined.

Without the cross, there wouldn't be the glory of the resurrection.

Without the bad, there wouldn't be the beauty of the good.

In the midst of the bad times, may we be able to say like David did:
"Still, You are holy"
Psalm 22:3a

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a school...

Once upon a time, there was a school. This school, like so many like it, was held in high regard in the community. When parents sent their children to this school, they had high expectations. After all, getting an education was a great privilege. And as is said, with great privilege comes great responsibility...and in the case of this school, even greater expectations.

When a student went to this school, he expected to work. His parents had often told him that nothing worth having came easy, so he didn't expect his education to come easily, either. He expected to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, but he didn't expect to do so without a lot of hard work. He expected long nights of studying and homework, time spent learning to do what he had to do instead of just doing what he wanted to do. He expected to compete with his peers for the top grades in the class--after all, competition is how you get better.

He expected his teachers to be strict and to to be tough, but his parents told him they were that way because they cared about him and wanted what was best for him. He knew better than to act up, because once the teachers told his parents, he would really be in trouble.

He knew that if he wanted to graduate, he would have to earn it. He would have to work hard to pass his classes, because they were designed to single out the best and the brightest. A diploma from his school wasn't something to be taken lightly, because having earned one meant you had truly gotten an education. That little piece of paper wasn't something you came by easily.

The students who went to this school had good reputations, because the school had a good reputation. Whether graduates went on to the university or went straight to work, they were known as hard workers who would push themselves to do better and to be better. These graduates had learned to be responsible for their own actions, and they knew that those actions--whether good or bad--had consequences. So when these graduates got out into the world, they knew how to take responsibility and to stand up and do the right thing, no matter the cost.

An education from this school was well respected. In fact, it was seen as world class. This school prided itself on taking boys and girls and turning them into young men and young women of intelligence, wisdom, and character. As a result, it helped shape the future through the students who left its halls to become leaders in their fields. It helped create a firm foundation for doctors, lawyers, electricians, teachers, scientists, preachers, entrepreneurs, historians, writers, and a whole host of others.

And then one day, this school was told that it had to change. It was told that it wasn't fair to single students out for excelling, because not all students were able to excel. It was told that the purpose of a school was simply to get kids to graduate--forget all that nonsense about teaching responsibility and a work ethic. It was told that the old way was too old fashioned. It needed to be progressive, to move forward, to change with the times.

So the school started letting kids get away with not working. After all, they couldn't punish a kid for not doing homework. They started telling the teachers that their goal should be to get every kid to pass. Forget the notion that not everyone is capable of the same things--teachers should be able to take kids who won't memorize multiplication facts and teach them to factor polynomials.

The teachers were no longer allowed to truly teach. Instead, their goal became to make everyone mediocre. After all, not everyone can be the best and the brightest. If you want everyone to be equal, you're going to have to lower the bar. So the teachers became discouraged. They started feeling like babysitters--and poorly paid ones at that. They still tried to teach, because that's what teachers do and who they are. They fought to teach responsibility and character, but they were reprimanded for correcting the kids. They tried to push the best and the brightest to do more and to be more, but they got in trouble for letting kids fall through the cracks.

The kids took full advantage of the system (because kids are smart), and they started slacking off even more (because kids, like adults, don't work harder than they have to). They stopped turning in work on time, because they knew no one would hold them to it. They stopped studying, because there was no reason to compete for a little piece of paper they were guaranteed to get, anyway.

When kids graduated from this school (which they did at an amazingly high rate), the colleges and workforce started turning them down. The kids didn't know how to work. They didn't show up on time, only put in a small amount of effort, and expected to  be praised for the tiny amount of work they put in. They blamed everyone else for their problems, and didn't know how to deal with the consequences of their actions. They thought everything should be handed to them--why work hard to earn something?

And for some reason, no one could understand why.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

what happens when we let Jesus down?

At church, we've been working on a chronological reading of the Bible. I was supposed to be a 1-year journey, but...we've been working on it for quite a while now. If I'm remembering right, we're heading into our third year.

So anyways, we've made our way up to the resurrection. In Luke 24, we're told that the women went to the tomb and found it empty. When they ran back to tell the eleven that Jesus's body wasn't in the tomb, the disciples didn't believe them. But Peter...he ran to the tomb.

A lot can be said about Peter (I've said quite a bit myself, including in my devotional--I think I identify with him more than I might want to admit). In this moment, I can only imagine what was going through Peter's head. Go back a couple days, and you find Peter standing his ground next to Jesus, ready to die by the sword for Him if necessary. He drew his sword--then Peter watched Jesus reattach a man's ear, and he followed the crowd to Ciaphas's house for Jesus to stand trial.

Think about that confusion for a second. Peter was ready to die for Jesus. Then he saw Jesus heal an ear that had been cut off. I imagine, as he followed the crowd that night, that Peter expected the ear to be just the start of Jesus's revelation of power. After all, Jesus had just talked about having legions of angels at His beck and call. Dealing with a few Pharisees wouldn't be a big deal.

And then came the denials. I think Peter was watching from a distance because he expected to see Jesus call down those 12 legions of angels He had mentioned in the garden.

But He didn't.

While he was watching the trial, Peter started getting nervous. Nothing spectacular was happening, the way Peter had expected. Instead, people started connecting Peter to the man being treated as a criminal.

So Peter did what many of us in our human weakness do--he distanced himself from Christ. He didn't want to be associated with Him--in that moment, it was too big a risk. And then it happened again...and again.

3 times, Peter denied even so much as a knowledge of who Jesus was. The last time, when he was in the middle of saying, "I have no idea what you're talking about," a rooster crowed.

Backtrack again, and you have a conversation between Jesus and His disciples as they were sitting around the table for Passover. Jesus singled Peter out to encourage him. He told Peter,

"Simon, Simon, how Satan has pursued you,
that he might make you part of his harvest.
But I have prayed for you.
I have prayed that your faith will hold firm
and that you will recover from your failure
and become a source of strength for your brothers here."
(Luke 22:31-32)
Peter, the calm, thoughtful man that he was, responded with (from The Voice, because I really like their take on this): 
"Lord, what are You talking about?
I'm going all the way to the end with You--
to prison, to execution--
I'm prepared to do anything for You."
(verse 33)
I can see the expression on Jesus's face as He smiled a sad smile and shook His head. He told Peter that that very night, before the rooster crowed in the morning, Peter would deny Him 3 times.

And now here's Peter, standing on the outskirts of the trial, telling people he didn't even know who Jesus was.
"And he hadn't even finished the sentence when a nearby rooster crowed.
The Lord turned toward Peter, and their eyes met."
(verse 61a)
In the middle of His trial, the moment Jesus knew would lead to His death, Jesus found Peter in the crowd.

Can you imagine what had to be happening in Peter's mind right then? It was hard enough hearing the rooster crow in the middle of his third denial. But then, Jesus looked at him. Jesus found Peter in the middle of the crowd, in the middle of what was arguably Peter's worst moment, and their eyes 
met.

So when Peter heard that Jesus's body wasn't in the tomb, he ran to see for himself. We aren't told a whole lot about what happened to Peter right after that moment, but I can imagine what I would have been thinking. 

  • I would have been thinking that the last time I saw Jesus, He knew I was denying Him.
  • I would have been thinking about how much I had let Him down, and how I had blown my chance to stand with Him at His worst time.
  • I would have been thinking about my own failure, and how things hadn't gone according to my plans, and wondering how anything would work out the way Jesus had promised.

It's easy to feel like you've let God down. In fact, if we're honest we probably feel that way on a daily basis. I think it's important to remember, though, that even in our worst moments, Jesus sees us. He takes the time to find us in the crowd and to make sure we know we are still connected to Him.

"If we are unfaithful,
He remains faithful,
For He is not able to deny Himself."
(II Timothy 2:13)


Sunday, October 22, 2017

a prayer...

God, this world--our country--is a mess. We look around and can't help but see the bad.
  • Hate-filled words are thrown out. I wish I could say it is done without thought, but it isn't. Those words, filled with venom, are spit out with the sole purpose of hurting people, creating wounds that cut all the way to the heart.
  • Natural disasters wipe out years of hard work, leaving people homeless--but more devastatingly, hopeless.
  • Wicked men kill innocents, and while so many lives are snuffed out in the blink of an eye, countless other lives are turned inside-out and upside down.
  • Right is called wrong, and people try to justify evil.
Things are falling apart all around us. Dreams are shattered, families are broken, hopes are lost...the future seems to be fading right before our eyes.

Father, please pull us--Your children--close to You. Let us feel Your arms around us so that we are reminded of You in the middle of the mess.
  • Let us see Your strength, even as we're reminded of our own weakness.
  • Remind us that You are always the same, constant and steady despite the chaos.
  • Show us Your love for us, even when all we hear is hate.
  • Give us Your peace in the midst of disaster and loss.
  • Help us to remember that this world--this life--is temporary, and that You wait to welcome us home.
God, let Your love fill us and pour out of our broken places to spill over to those around us. Make us beacons of Your light to a world that seems to only be getting darker. Give us the courage to be different--so much so that people can't help but notice. Let us be reflections of You in a world that is searching for answers to questions they don't even know how to ask. God, our of our brokenness, help us to heal the broken parts around us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

40 years & a lifetime

Sunday, my parents celebrated 40 years of marriage. That alone is incredible, especially in this age of temporary marriages. What was more incredible to me, though, was how the day went...

My parents are servants--they always have been. I can't remember a time in my life when they weren't pouring themselves out for other people. And even on their big day, that didn't change. Mom loves to cook for people, so she prepared a feast for everyone there. She was in her element, making sure everybody had a full plate, full cup, and a full belly. Pop's service looks different, but it was evident Sunday, too. Above everything else, my parents were both focused on making sure everyone there Sunday left with a full heart.

Love overflows from them, and you can't help but see it. Their love for each other is unconditional (though that doesn't mean they don't have their arguments...), and that love spills out onto anyone they come into contact with. Their home that day was filled to the brim with family and friends, and I would venture to say that all of them felt at home that day.

I've always been a watcher, so that's what I did Sunday. I watched my parents move from one person to the next, ensuring every single person there knew how valued they were. I watched Pop lean in close to hear low voices, his attention fully on whoever he was with. I watched Mom refill drinks and hug necks and gush over everybody who came through the door.

And I saw friends who made the trip in from out of state, driving for hours, just to make sure Pop & Mom knew how loved they were. The house was full of food, love, stories, and laughter.

I can't even begin to explain what my parents have taught me about life and marriage, though I owe it to them to try...

I've learned:
~loving people means serving people
~"home" is a place to share with the people you love
~family doesn't have to mean blood relations
~sometimes, you feed people's bellies to fee their souls
~marriage means supporting each other through everything
~take turns in the spotlight
~love unconditionally
~never stop being in love
~hug & kiss often, even in front of your kids
~build each other up
~above all, there is God
photo credit: my mother-in-law :)

Monday, October 2, 2017

...just remember Me

What does God want from us? How much does He expect us to do? What does it take to appease Him, to fulfill all His requirements? What are we supposed to do for Him?

In this world, we are used to our worth being tied to our actions. Merit determines reward, as it so often should. I struggle with that myself--if I can't "earn my keep," so to speak, I feel like I'm not good enough.

Enough. That's what it comes down to for me. In so many areas of my life, I feel like I'm not doing enough. When I look at my house and see the laundry left unfolded and the dishes still in the sink and the clutter covering tables...When I watch goats die and can't do enough to save them...When I see a kid who seems to be slipping through the cracks at school, and I wonder if I've done enough to help them...When I look back at my time in graduate school and wonder if I tried hard enough to make it work...

Did I do enough? Am I doing enough now? What am I supposed to be doing for God? How much is enough to make God happy with what I'm doing?

Because, you see, for a people-pleaser like me, that's a big deal. I want to do enough. I want to be enough.

If you look at the major religions of people around the world, this is a huge theme. Hindus believe their current station in life is determined by their actions in a previous life, and their goal is to live a life that is good enough to get them out of the cycle of reincarnation.

Buddhists strive to reach Nirvana, which is an end to all desires--which only happens when you are finally good enough to reach enlightenment.

For Muslims, life is spent trying to follow the Pillars of Islam. When you die, your soul is judged. If you've done enough good, you enter Paradise.

The Ancient Egyptians believed their heart would be weighed when they died. If they had done enough good, their heart would be light--and they would be rewarded.

So what does God, the Eternal & Most High, require of us?

"With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justly,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?"
Micah 6:6-8

Or for a little more clarification:

"For God expressed His love for the world in this way:
He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him
will not face everlasting destruction,
but will have everlasting life.
Here's the point.
God didn't send His Son into the world to judge it;
instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction."
John 3:16 & 17

God's requirements of us? Love the One He sent. Believe in the life-giving power of His sacrifice. Believe...and be saved.


We don't have a list of "dos and don'ts". We don't have to hope that, in our human weakness, we've been good enough to earn our way into His presence. Instead, the sacrifice was already made on our behalf, the price already paid.

And what of the One who was sacrificed? What about Jesus, the One who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."? What does He require of us?

"Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me."
John 14:1

"“Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37-39

And when it comes to His sacrifice, His body broken on the cross and His blood spilled for us?
"Do this to remember Me."
Luke 22:19

He simply asks us to remember. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"...so"

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one You love is sick.”
When He heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.' Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, 'Let us go back to Judea.'" (Matthew 11: 1-7)


When Jesus heard that Lazarus was dying, according to our logic He should have immediately gone to heal him. After all, Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary, & Martha. If you love somebody, you want what's best for them.

And of course, obviously what was best for Lazarus was to be healed...right? Or at least, that's what we in our limited human understanding think has to be true.

I don't know about you, but I have to admit that most of the time when I pray, I have the answer in mind. You see, I tend to think that my idea of how life is supposed to play out is pretty darn good. Honestly, a lot of my prayers probably have a bit of "If you could just do what I'm wanting we'll be good, thank-you-very-much."

Besides, like Lazarus, I'm one Jesus loves. Given that, He should hurry to pull me out of whatever mess I'm in.

Or, maybe not.

Read this passage again, especially the last two sentences: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, 'Let us go back to Judea.'" There in the middle is something I hadn't noticed before, a tiny little word: So.

I don't remember what blog I was reading that pointed that word out to me, but the message stuck with me. Jesus loves me and wants what's best for me in all circumstances. The problem is, in my short-sightedness I can't see what He sees. He sees the darkness I'm in, how I'm wandering around groping to find my way out, how I'm letting myself sink down in despair.

But He also sees something else. He sees what will happen when I'm on the other side of the darkness, when I step out of the shadows into His Light. He sees how, whatever the circumstances, this will work for God's glory...sometimes despite me, if I'm honest.

Sometimes we are in the middle of the dark, feeling like life is closing in on us and that surely the pressure is too much. We cry out for Jesus to just come to us--
because we know that
in Him is rest
in Him is peace
In Him is healing.

Jesus hears. He loves...and so, sometimes, He waits.

Because sometimes the darkness is needed
                            in order to truly appreciate the beauty of the light.
Because sometimes the pressure is needed
                            in order to create diamonds.
Because sometimes the pain is needed
                            in order to produce strength.

So hold on. If you're crying out for Jesus to just come, because you know He can speak and calm the storms--or whisper and calm your heart--know that sometimes, He waits.

Because even in the hard times, He can be glorified. If we just wait.

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.
Love,
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 love...how 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