Archives for January 2013

Hope for the Hurting

Yesterday I wrote about a day that changed my life forever.   A day I’d rather forget, never relive. Since the post, I have received emails and Facebook messages from those hurting, healing, and/or surrendering.

One person I’ve not talked to years sent a message saying life is hard and he’s ready to give his life and control over to Christ. One mom feels inadequate to lead and shepherd her teen daughter well.  She feels alone and unloved.  Another friend also dreads January 30 because of a traumatic event that occurred many years ago.  One of my writing mentors shared that she’s beginning to write a story that she wishes was not hers to write.  A teen texted me expressing fear because her parents don’t share her faith.  She wants them in heaven with her. Another gal confessed she’s deep in sin while serving in ministry full-time; she desires freedom.
Do you feel that? Heaviness.  Life is hard.  We feel we aren’t good enough.  We have a past that haunts us. We want others to know Him like we do, but we don’t feel qualified or equipped to share.
This is our broken world.
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And while my heart is heavy for those hurting, I am filled with hope and a peace that passes all understanding. 
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
The man I’ve not talked to in years – husband and father to three – is taking steps to surrender to Christ.  The mom who wants to parent well is reaching out for help, understanding, and prayer.  The friend who dreads January 30 has finally shared the trauma with a counselor and today is looking brighter.  My writing mentor is putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard;) and voicing her story for the first time.   The teen gal has resolved to renew her mind daily with God’s word and pray diligently for her parents, shining her light into their darkness. The one in full-time ministry is finding an accountability group and praying through each temptation, seeking Jesus to renew her mind.
There’s hope.  Hope for each of them, hope for you, and hope for me.
Nothing is impossible.  No mountain too high and no valley too low when you place your faith, trust, and hope in Him.
Today I ask that you join me in praying Psalm 27- a Psalm filled with hope!  For the hurting.  For healing.  For transformed and surrendered hearts.
Dear Lord,
You are my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  You are the place of my security – my stronghold.  Of whom shall I be afraid?  Though this world may cause me worry and distress, my heart will not fear.  I will be confident in You! Lord, I ask one thing:  That I may dwell in Your presence all the days of my life, gazing upon Your beauty and seeking You.  When I face trouble, I know you will keep me safe in Your dwelling place…in your presence.  Lord, hear my voice when I call.  Be merciful to me and answer.  Your face, Lord, I seek in the storm and in the calm, for I am confident of this:  I will see Your goodness in both.  Today and always I will seek and wait on You. 
Amen
Can I pray for you today?  Whether you’re hurting, healing, surrendering – or perhaps in the best place you’ve ever been – it would be my honor to pray for you.  You can comment or email me at sarah.b.farish@gmail.com.

This Day Changed My Life Forever

All it takes is one phone call, one text, one email and your life could change forever.

Have you heard that?

It’s true.

On January 30, 2012, I got that text.  I’d been at a winter retreat with my church’s youth.  I came home on a spiritual high.

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I woke up that Monday on top of the world. All seemed to be well with my soul.

Then, a text.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t stand.  I calmly slid to the bathroom floor and called my pastor. He was on his way.

This is not the life I signed up for.  This was not the dream Disney movies promised. This was not supposed to happen to ME – maybe others – but not me.

I serve you, Lord.  I love you.  I help others.  I am a good mom and wife.  I love my family.  Come on…this can’t be.  It simply can’t be.

I knew better than to engage in this line of thinking.  I deserve death for my sin, nothing else.  But, I couldn’t stop this argument with God.

That’s really all I recall about the day.   I remember sitting with my pastor in a room at my church – a room I still don’t like to enter.  That’s it.

What was the event?  I know, I know.  I’ve been promising to share that for a few months.  And God has said… wait.  I’ve written the post again and again, but each time it feels “off.”

I know I will share.  I know that God will tell my story to help others and glorify Him.

But…

If I share the event today, then the WHAT will overshadow the WHO.

Jesus.

My “story” is a story of how God’s redeeming my life (most are).  Notice I said “redeeming” not  “redeemed”  – I am still in process.  Still walking with Jesus daily, trying not to “fix” and “correct” but to rest in his love and grace.

As I reflect on this year, I am amazed at all God’s taught me about Him, relationships, and myself.  But, if I had to choose one lesson to share, it would be this:  God has to be your center.  He must be the source of your identity and self-worth – nothing and no one else.

Your life must me centered on Him and Him alone.

Have you heard that before?  I bet so.  I had.  Many times.  But, until God walked me through suffering and placed me in situations that were simply unbelievable, I found my worth in self, titles, and others.

Remember that argument I had with God in the bathroom floor?  I serve you, Lord.  I love you.  I help others.  I am a good mom and wife.  I love my family. 

Each sentence begins with…I.  Me. Sarah.  And THAT was the heart issue I needed to address.  While my motive was often love of God and thankfulness to Him, it wasn’t always.  Sometimes my motive was “look how smart I am” or  “watch me fix this situation.”

I’ve spent 364 days leaning into him, making him center, messing up, repenting, and leaning back into him.  My tendency is still to fix and solve.  My tendency is still to save the world.  I love others more than ever and their pain becomes mine. I hate to see the suffering of others.  I just want to fix it.

But, I have finally come to the end of myself. I am finally resting in a place in which I know I can fix nothing.  I can be God’s vessel for helping others to seek Him and restore their lives.  That’s it.

Information and 10-step programs are great.  They’re wise and may be helpful.  Yet, if those are center and not Jesus, change will be temporary at best.  True change only comes when you allow Jesus to transform your heart. 

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

So, here’s my story:  God knew my heart issues.  God had a bigger and better plan for my life.  God knew I would never fully live for Him and serve Him until He transformed my heart.  So, God allowed. He didn’t create the situation – sinful humans did.  But, he worked all things together for good.  He used devastation to bring hope and healing.

He made a new Sarah – and He still is making me and all things new.

Some days I fall back.  On Sunday, I went to my car after church.  One of the reasons for my suffering – whom I’ve not spoken to in months – left a devotional about hope with a note on my car.  Remember, I had just returned from a retreat – on a spiritual high – overflowing with Jesus.

I picked up the book, having no idea who placed it on my car.  I opened it and read the note. In that moment, I had two choices.  React out of my humanness (throw the book across the church parking lot and ask God why He won’t keep this person out of my life) or pray for the heart who purchased the book, wrote the note, and took time to find my car and leave it there.  Pray for the one who helped turn my life upside down.  Pray for the turmoil rising up in me, asking God to step in.

I chose to pray.  And weep.  For myself, for the others involved, for the brokenness of this world, and for the things that can’t be unsaid or unseen.  And in that moment, God showed up…again.  He brought memorized verses to mind. He gave me a friend who I texted on and off throughout the evening and night.  A friend who never once tried to “fix” or give answers– she just kept speaking Jesus back to me.

And, yesterday morning, I listened to this sermon on radical grace and read this from the book that had been left on my car (the person had turned down this specific page):

You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house. 1 Peter 2:5

I have a friend who lost his job, a fortune, his wife, and his home.  But he tenaciously held to his faith in Christ – the only thing he had left.  Like Job in the Old Testament, he would not abandon God, no matter what happened.  And yet, like Job, he couldn’t help but wonder why.

One day he stopped to watch some men doing stonework on a huge church.  One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of stone.  “What are you going to do with that? asked my friend.  The workman said, “See that little opening away up there near the spire?  Well, I am shaping this down here so it will fit in up there.”

Tears filled my friend’s eyes as he walked away, for it seemed that God has spoken through the workman to explain the ordeal through which he was passing:  “I’m shaping you down here, so you’ll fit up there.” From HOPE for each day by Billy Graham

He’s shaping us down here, so we’ll fit up there.  He’s transforming our hearts and lives to glorify Him.  How humbling to know he loves us so much that he desires to change us so we’ll become more and more like Him.

This past year was tough.  But, I consider God’s refinement a blessing.  He’s set me free from the number one contentment killer:  comparison.  He set me free from competition, so I can faithfully live out my calling and serve Him.  He set me free to be me.  The me HE made me to be, not the me I made.  

And, He won’t relent until He has it all.  For that, I am thankful.

I don’t know what you’re walking through today.  I don’t know what you’ve been through or what God is about to allow in your life.  But, I know this.  He’s there in the mess ready to teach, transform, redeem, and restore.  Growing you closer and closer to Him. There’s HOPE.

Learning to Trust…Again

NOTE:  Please excuse my blog’s “look”; it’s under construction.  Thanks!

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I have horrible eyesight.  I got my first pair of glasses in third grade.  The huge frames were light pink fading into light blue with my initials in the corner of the thick lenses.  So tacky…someone really should have intervened 😉

When I wake up in the morning, I fumble and bumble for my glasses before I can see the clock.  Sure I can see shapes and outlines, but it’s blurry until I put my glasses on. I need my glasses to see the world.

I was thinking this morning…I’d love to have “God” glasses to put on, so the blurriness in my life would come into focus.

Lately, I have felt God calling me to something new, and He’s given me clues and affirmation, but the big picture is blurry at best. If only I could put on my “God” glasses before stepping forward into the great unknown.  If only I could see beyond the initial commitment to write and serve.  But, I can’t.

To be obedient, I’ll have to trust God and step out in faith.  Trust.  That’s a hard one for me.  I am not a fan of the unknown.  But, I’ve discovered recently that trusting God does not mean I can’t be concerned, fearful, or uncertain about what’s up ahead.

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Trust does not mean I won’t or shouldn’t feel.  I should.

Trust is doing what God says anyway – despite my fear, uncertainty, and concern.

When I struggle with trusting and taking the next step of obedience, I think of Abraham and Sarah.  In Genesis 15, God promises to make Abraham  a great nation:  “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abraham had no children; his wife, Sarah, was barren.  And, they were in their 70’s!  Yet, they remained faithful and obedient, trusting an unseen God.  They didn’t have a Bible to read, reminding them of His faithfulness to others, reminding them of His character. Still, they trusted.  And, in Genesis 17, 90-year-old Sarah and 100-year-old Abraham had a son named Isaac.  They had trusted God and waited (with a few slip ups) for about 25 years.

Did they doubt?  Yes.  (Evidenced in Genesis 16 when Sarah decides another women should give Abraham a child.)

Were they scared?  I bet so.  They left a nice home and their family to follow where God called.  Later, Abraham tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister because he feared for his life.

Were they concerned? Uncertain?  Yes.  Read Genesis 12 to 22.  Much cause for concern and uncertainty in their lives!

Still…

They trusted.  They followed.

Not because the future was crystal clear. They didn’t have God “glasses” either. Yet, they were obedient to God in spite of fear, uncertainty, and disappointment.

Wherever and to whatever God is calling you today, I pray you step forward.  Trust God even when you can’t see the next step…even when your vision’s blurry.  He is faithful.  Seek Him each step of the way by listening carefully to His voice, studying His word, seeking counsel, and praying to Him.

Will you be scared?  Concerned?  Uncertain?  Probably.  But, that’s ok.  Do what He says anyway – that’s trust.

A Letter from Jail

On days like today, I miss teaching high school English.  I loved analyzing the rhetoric of inauguration speeches with my AP students, comparing the newest one with those of Kennedy or Lincoln.

I especially miss teaching English on MLK day.  I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the greatest orators of all time. His choice of words and use of language to clearly communicate his message to all people at all educational levels was a true gift.

I taught “I Have a Dream” a few times, but my favorite King piece was and is “Letter from Birmingham Jail. “

On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, with pen and paper.  He’d received a letter from a group of clergymen- pastors – questioning his motive and technique as he fought for freedom.  Their request was that he stay away from Birmingham.

King didn’t often answer critics, but he composed this letter in response to these gentlemen because he felt them to be men of genuine goodwill whose criticisms are sincerely set forth.

King explained to these pastors that…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

So true.

Below I’ve excerpted a few sections that have caused me to pause and consider my faith, my walk with God, the society in which I love, and my role in this world.  I hope you’ll read each one and reflect on King’s words.

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But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus…”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment…

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There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century…

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I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

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I could compose an entire blog post on each of these excerpts, but I’d rather you think about King’s words written almost 50 years ago and their relevance today.

 May we never see injustice as acceptable – in ANY country. 

 I pray God always find us as “extremists” as we proclaim the gospel and live  for Him.

Thanks, Martin Luther King, Jr., for these lessons about faith.  We honor you and your passion for love and equality.

Guilty: My Tongue Needs Tamed

Guilty.

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Have you ever listened to a sermon or read a book and felt guilty?  Conviction that the message is for you?

Oh my word (pun intended as you’ll see!).  That’s how I felt this morning.

I am a talker.  I love people, I love talking, I love joking…oh, and I love to talk.

Recently, I’ve been participating in a mentoring class with my friend, Lisa.  I have been learning the value of listening more and more.  I actually like to listen too.  I just love conversing period, especially about Jesus.  I understand Him and His word so much better when I process aloud.

Talking about Jesus is awesome.  But, this morning my pastor reminded me that talking about others – even in jest – is not.

And that’s where my downfall lies.  I’ll join others in joking about someone else – even if I say nothing, I laugh.  It may seem innocent.  It may be hilarious.  But, I am held accountable for those words – each and every one.

I’ve recently been guilty of doing this to those in authority.  Those who feel powerless often joke about those in authority – that’s nothing new.  But, still, it’s sin.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire,a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body,sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:3-6

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

Consider what harm has been done to you by a flippant or sarcastic comment.  Sure, you laughed it off and smiled.  I do that all the time.  But, it’s still hurtful.  Words hurt.

Consider what harm you can do with a flippant or sarcastic comment.

Ouch.   Been there and done that sadly.

God immediately brought to my mind how I’ve joked about the incompetence of a few people in my life.  (We all know the heart of that:  While that person may be incompetent, my joking about them translates to “I am competent and the other is not; I know the right way; I am better. Ugh.  Yuck!)

How I’d love to take these words back.  Actually, the two people God brought to my mind have NO idea I’ve joined others in joking about them.  One I barely know.  But, what a crappy witness I’ve been by joining the jokesters.

And, I’ll admit:  Change in this area will be hard because I hate being “that kid” – the one who goes against the grain.  That’s the one some joke about for thinking he/she is holier than thou.  Now, I think…nope.  They aren’t being judgmental or acting better.

They are honoring God.

Ugh.  I know the harm that comes from words.  I’ve felt it.  I’ve been impacted by it.  I have harmed others.   And while I think I am being funny, there’s nothing funny about hurting others.  I can’t help but think of Matthew 7:12.

In everything,therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…

Maybe you’re not a jokester, but you

  • Take cheap shots at others, putting them down
  • Gossip about others, perhaps disguising it as a prayer request
  • Perpetuate rumors
  • Share things that you’ve promised to keep private
  • Trash talked another’s school or team, especially in person, during a game.
  • Made yourself look good at the expense of others.  You know, “I may not be perfect but at least I don’t_____ like so and so does.”
  • Maximize the sins of others while minimizing your sin.  I don’t struggle with homosexuality, so it’s easy for me to target that sin while minimizing my hurtful, sarcastic comments.
  • Dismiss an unkind remark.  I do this with an “I am just kidding!”  There’s truth in jest.
  • Sarcasm and joking.

(Thanks to my pastor for this list.)

I also thought about the obvious:  motive, attitude, and intention.  If my heart /motive isn’t to harm, but just to get a laugh, is it ok then?  Or just to relieve the tension?  Is it ok then?

Does that make it hurt the listener less?  Does that make it ok?  No.  It’s just not ok to “bust” on someone or joke about others.

We are held accountable to God for how we use our tongue:  for life or for death  – for good or for evil (James 3:10).

I want to speak life. Always.  I bet you do too. None us get out of bed in the morning thinking…let’s see who I can hurt today.  Yet, we have to be intentional if we want to avoid hurtful words.

I am thankful for a pastor who will proclaim these truths even while he (admittedly) is in process and struggling with aspects of his own message.

I join him in processing and praying for God to work on my tongue, shutting my mouth when He knows I am about to speak death and not life.

The Danger of Wandering Eyes

“Look, Mom, there’s a deer!”

“Look, Mom, there’s a wreck.  I wonder what happened?”

“Mom, we just passed so and so.”

As I drive, my kiddos commonly share with me what’s going on in the world around us.  They want me to join in the sightseeing.  Unfortunately, I can’t.  I am one of those people who drives where she looks.  So if I look at the wreck, then I begin to head straight toward it.

I drive wherever my eyes are looking- even if just for a few seconds. I can’t hold the car straight on the road unless I am looking at the road.

Where my eyes go, I go.

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While that may seem obvious to you, it’s not always been to me. I think I can look at the deer and not veer.  I think I can “window shop” and not buy. I think I can go to the buffet and only eat small portions.  I think I can watch movies or TV dramas and dismiss anything “questionable.”

After all, I saw it. I may have even desired it. But, that’s where it ended.  Right?

Maybe.  You can probably (as I have) successfully engaged willpower once or twice.  You didn’t eat, buy, or have wandering thoughts.  But, ultimately what you seek, you’ll find.

Where your eyes go, you will go.

In Genesis 3: 1-6, notice Eve’s progression to sin:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. (NLT)

Eve SAW that the tree was beautiful.  She DESIRED the wisdom it would give her. So she TOOK some of the fruit and ATE it.  Then, she GAVE it to Adam and he ate too. **

We see, desire, take, sin, and give the sin away/influence others.

It all begins with our eyes.

I never understood the full reality of this principle until my friend and I began studying the Sermon on the Mount.  Last week we studied Matthew 6: 22-24:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (ESV)

Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! 24 “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. (The Message)

Our eyes are the windows to our body.  Do we seek light?  Or darkness?  I encourage you to reflect on all the places your eyes focus in a day.  Your computer, your phone, the television (shows and commercials), the movie screen, the mall window, books, your home, your office, the faces of others, and more.

What’s on your computer and smart phone?  Facebook?  Where are you looking?  What are you reading on those devices or in books?  Are you feeding light – goodness and godliness – into your body or darkness?

What viewing choices might be tempting you?  Is the Pizza Hut commercial tempting you to eat when you’re not hungry?  Is the mall window tempting you to buy something you don’t need or can’t afford?  Is the affair on Scandal helping you justify your affair?  Is your home filled with reminders of Him?  When you look into the faces of others, how’s your heart?  Do you see an image bearer of Christ or something else?

We could go on and on.  And, I pray you do.  I pray you brainstorm a list of all the places you “look” in a day.  I promise it will be eye-opening (pun intended;) and heart-enlightening.   After all, as verse 24 says, we can’t serve two masters.  We’re either serving and looking to Him or something else.

“Seek Him” has another meaning for me now.  I not only want to seek him with my heart, but also seek Him (literally) with my eyes. I am now aware of the sinful path my eyes can set me on. I realize I can’t avoid all sinful things in this world or guard my eyes 24/7, but I can gird up my heart with scripture and prayer for those moments when I’m caught unaware. (Sometimes those Taco Bell commercials creep up on me!)

If you’re interested in studying more about “the eyes” in the Bible, read these passages:

  • Job 31 –  Job made a covenant with his eyes.
  • Joshua 7:19-25 – Achan sees the spoils – the cloak, silver, and gold.  Then, he covets and takes.
  • Samuel 11 – David sees Bathsheba, desires her, sends for her, and…perhaps you should read this one on your own 😉

**Thanks to Jen Wilkin for this illustration.

It’s Not Goodbye – It’s See You Later

Saying goodbye is never easy.

Sometimes friends separate because of poor choices.  While you’re hurt and sad, you know the separation is wise and necessary. Still, it’s not easy.

Sometimes friends separate because life takes them in different directions.  It’s not a specific or sudden goodbye.  It’s a gradual growing apart.  One day you look back and think, why aren’t we friends?  It’s not easy.

Sometimes friends move. We’re happy for them.  We know they’re answering God’s call.  God’s plan is crystal clear.  But, guess what?  It’s not easy.

This week Steve and I will say goodbye to our close friends.  I don’t use the term “friend” lightly.  These are friends who have walked alongside Steve and me through thick and thin…mostly thick.

When we gave them every reason to turn their backs, they didn’t.

When we walked through hard seasons, they walked alongside us.

When hard conversations needed to happen, we would have them.

We’ve laughed together; we’ve cried together.

We’ve said congratulations; we’ve said I am sorry.

We had our final dinner together last night, and I spent much time after they left reflecting on all they’ve done for us.  This blog exists because they encouraged me to write.  When trying to think of a name for this blog, I ran the possibilities by them.  They read the first post before it was posted.

And, that’s just one (small) of many ways they’ve supported our family.

Perhaps what I learned most from them is that friendship is a balance.  When going through difficult times, and I’m talking about gut-wrenching suffering, friends should support and love one another.  They should pray for one another.  They should check in, give words of encouragement, bring a meal – all those things. (And they did.)

But, for me, the hallmark of a true friend is one who discerns and gives space. Our friends were wise enough to know they couldn’t fix everything.  Only God can heal and fix in His way and in His time.

So, they’d step back.  This was a gift.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  But, they knew that at the end of “me” is God.  And God alone. They gave us space to turn to God instead of always turning to them or other people.  I know, understand, and believe in the importance of community.  But, through their love, I learned to come to the end of myself.  And there was God, waiting and loving me – just as they knew He would be.

I am so thankful for their friendship.

My friend gave me this mug.  It’s her favorite verse and has been my anthem for almost a year. (I look forward to using it each morning.)

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

She gave me a letter with the mug and closed it with…this is “see you later” not “goodbye.”

This line touched me deeply.  Not only because I will miss her, but because I recently celebrated the anniversary of my dad’s death and another good friend’s dad died today.

As I reread her letter this evening, God used her words to remind me of His promise to all whose hearts have been awakened to Jesus as Savior:  our death is not goodbye – it’s see you later.  This broken, messed up world is not our home.  We rest in this HOPE:  it’s not goodbye – it’s see you later.

I am thankful for my wise friend and my risen Savior.  There’s HOPE.

Celebrating (and Missing) My Dad with Hope

Five years ago I stood in the cold on a hill in Liberty, West Virginia.  I tiptoed through the grass, not wanting to disturb the silence, wanting to blend in to the crowd.  I walked over a hill past headstone after headstone, name after name, loving words upon loving words, to my dad’s final resting place.  In the distance I saw the machinery that would cover my dad once they lowered him into the ground.  I could hear my sniffles, for my weeping was yet to come.

I said goodbye to my dad.

I knew my loving, vibrant dad was not in the box.  He wouldn’t be in that grave.  He doesn’t rest in the cemetery.

And that’s why I have HOPE. 

Today I can hardly grasp that my dad’s been gone five years. It often seems like five minutes. Some moments are never easier.

I’ve written much about my dad on this blog; how he died, how it’s affected me, and how much I miss him. I celebrate dad here every October 4 – his birthday – and every January 10 – the day he took his last earthly breath.  I celebrate him in my heart every day.

I commemorate these days to remind myself and others to truly love  – now, this moment, today – don’t wait.  Love your family.  Love your friends.  Love one another.  You don’t know when death is coming; my dad didn’t.  One minute he was talking to me on the phone, the next minute a text from my sister, and he’s on a ventilator.

Most of all, I celebrate my dad  to remind myself that my HOPE is not in this world.  My dad’s hope was not here on this broken earth.  Our hope – mine and my dad’s – is in heaven.

My hope is Jesus.  My hope is in a man who is also God.  Who walked this earth and died on a cross, rising up from the grave to save me – and my dad – from our sins.  (John 3:16)

Hope is confident expectation.  I am confident that Jesus is who he says he is and my life is secure in eternity.  I am expecting, waiting on Him and His return.

I miss my dad today.  January 10 always looms like a dark cloud.  But, today, the dark cloud is accompanied by a beautiful rainbow – a sign of God’s promises to me and the world.  A sign of hope.

Instead of walking in sadness today, I can walk in freedom and joy, knowing my Creator saves me, forgives me, redeems me, and loves me.  Most of all, he promises me an eternity with Him and my dad.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Psalm 62:5

Don’t Practice, There’s No Reward: A Lesson from My Son

This morning my son was writing an essay.  He seemed confused about some of the proofreading marks I used as we edited his rough draft.  Worry crept in…his fifth writing assignment…he should have the hang of this.  Why doesn’t he know this?

After talking him through the essay and asking some questions, I uncovered the issue:  He’d only done one of the five previous assignments.  I asked what any momma would ask, Why didn’t you do the other four assignments?

His answer?  They weren’t graded. What’s the point in doing the stuff that’s not graded?  I don’t see any sense in it.

My response?

Why do you go to soccer practice, Owen?  There’s no wins or losses. You don’t get a trophy.   You get nothing from it.  Just show up for the games when it counts. (Of course, I don’t believe this, but I knew soccer would get his attention.  It did.)

Owen explained to me how important practice is.  You can’t win or get a trophy without practicing, Mom.  You can’t just show up for the game.  If you’ve not practiced, you don’t know the plays, you aren’t in shape, and on.

I reminded him…the other four assignments were practice for the fifth GRADED assignment, Owen.  Your teacher wasn’t holding you accountable for the practice, so she chose not to grade them. The ungraded assignments were “practice.”  But, now she’s holding you accountable for what you’ve learned.  This essay is “the game.”  The “trophy” is what you’ve learned and the grade.

As Owen and I talked, I realized this same idea applies to my walk with Jesus in more ways than I can share.  If I don’t intentionally seek Him every day, I begin to feel like “I don’t know the plays” or “I’m out of shape.”  I feel as if I am not hearing Him clearly.  I feel He’s distant.

When trials come – and God’s Word promises they will (John 16:33)– I find myself wandering around, looking for Him…frustrated he’s not “answering.”  Frustrated that I am not hearing Him. Frustrated he “let” this happen.

It’s often during trials that I realize I’ve not been seeking him, intentionally, daily.  I have only desperately begun seeking him because life got tough.  And while that’s wonderful, necessary, and normal – to seek Him in the suffering – I know if I seek him daily then He will write his word on my heart for all times.

And having His word written on my heart is priceless.  He brings it to mind just when I need it, so I cling to it.   Knowing his word also guards my heart against sin, and draws me closer to Him and His will.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119:11

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1

Our relationship with Christ is much like other relationships.  The more effort and time we put in to knowing another person, the closer we become to her. The more effort and time we put in to seeking Christ, the closer we become to Him.  And, it’s a delight!  To know His word, know Him, and see Him at work in his word and in our lives is awe-inspiring.

As my new year of HOPE begins, I have committed to reading God’s Word daily and memorizing Scripture.  Or, as Owen would say, “practicing and learning” so when the big assignment comes, I am ready 🙂  In the meantime, delighting in the Lord and His faithfulness by reading and memorizing his word is a blessing that is drawing me closer and closer to Him.

If you’re not sure where to begin studying God’s word, there are several places to seek help.  YouVersion is a website and mobile phone app that allows you to choose Bible reading plans (short and long) and read multiple translations of the Bible. There are also many great devotionals.

If you’d like to begin memorizing Scripture, resources abound!  I am participating in the Siesta Scripture Memory Team through Beth Moore’s Living Proof Ministries, which holds me accountable. Scripture Typer helps me to memorize the verses.  (There’s an app for that too!)

If you need further direction in studying and memorizing God’s word, please email or comment. I’d be honored to help you!

Losing and Finding Hope

Hope.  My one word for 2013.  After I felt God impress this word on my heart, I reflected on 2012. When had I lost my hope? When and how did I begin to find it again?

My story of losing hope is yet to come, but here’s the moment I found hope again…

I sat in a small room in the Valle de Angeles, Francisco Morazan, Honduras, near Tegucigalpa.  A non-descript room filled with beds and one small sofa.  One of seven women preparing to welcome over 100 missionaries to this place for a four-day retreat.

  

We gathered to sit at the feet of Jesus. Praying and listening for His guidance.  Focusing on what He purposed for us over the next four days and beyond.  Emptying of self and refilling of Him.

Our leader shared 2 Corinthians 3:18.

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.  And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (Verses 16-18)

His Spirit lives in those who have turned to Him.  We reflect His glory.  He makes us more and more like him, changing us into His image.  And best of all, when His magnificent glory shines upon our faces, others can’t help but notice.  His Spirit living in us creates a glow that others notice.

And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Freedom.

I listened but didn’t speak. I was feeling awkward and insecure about being part of this team.  I felt I’d lost my ability to teach or to be a friend.  I never prayed aloud anymore.  I used to love discussing God’s word, but mostly had kept silent in recent Bible studies.

In some ways, I’d lost myself because I’d lost my hope. And when you don’t have hope, you don’t know who you are or where to turn.

In this moment, God began restoring my hope. My hope in Him, this world, and myself.  He began working on my big picture “heaven is my hope” and my small picture “I have hope.”  He spoke to me clearly in this little room…

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.

For me, that was hope.  Hope of a life of freedom for me and others. We don’t have to live in bondage to anything.  Think of your new year’s resolution. If you’re resolving to change that part of your life, then there’s bondage in that area. There’s not freedom.

He offers freedom.  If we’ve turned to Him, the Spirit lives inside us. And, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. (I know I’ve said it three times, but it’s so exciting!)

What do you want to be free from by the end of 2013?

Pray…God change me. Lord, whatever it takes – joy or suffering – change me.  Then, be obedient to his commands, engaging in relationship with him through his word, prayer, and Godly community.

A warning…this isn’t easy.

In that little room in Honduras, the leader reminded us…it’s so easy to get distracted by what’s around us – on our left and right. The opinions of others.  The pull of the world and culture.  The need to be known and fit in.  The stuff in catalogs and magazines.

She turned to the lady on her left and placed a bracelet on each of her friend’s wrists and asked her not to look left, not to look right, but to stay focused on Jesus.  Eyes heavenward.

Each of us received two bracelets from the one on her left, reminding her to stay focused with her eyes turned upon Jesus.

Together we sang Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Rest full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

If you rest full in Him – gazing at His wonderful face – following Him as He answers your prayer “Lord, change me” will become easier.  I love this quote from Joanna Weaver:  It is impossible to be in the presence of Jesus and not be changed.

I pray you and I are changed, looking more like our Creator, from this day forward.

There’s hope.

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What’s your one word for 2013?  I’d love for you to share!  You can also join the One Word 365 community.