Archives for April 2013

He is Our Friend {Little Girls Shouldn’t Lose Their Mom}

The little girl’s blond hair flips and flops as she runs around the park.  Anyone observing would see a happy child who loves the outdoors, playing after school with her sister and nanny.

I watch her shoot down the slide and sway on the swing.  I love that she’s smiling  – even if for this moment – she’s decided that life is good…normal.  I am undone when she and her sister present me with a bouquet of flowers, freshly picked from the playground’s lawn.

Her sister is just as sweet.  We swing side by side, discussing frozen yogurt flavors and toppings.  Turns out we both love cake batter with a variety of toppings.

swings screen shot for WOP

But, I know.

I know that in August this little nine-year-old gal lost her momma to breast cancer.  I know her smiles can quickly become frowns.  I know she loves her daddy but misses her mommy.

She also has two sisters, five and three, living in this nightmare.  Little girls should never sit in the funeral home as their mommy lays unmoving – gone – in a casket.

I listen as her nanny gives the 10-minute warning…girls, we’re leaving soon.  She turns to me and says that meltdowns can be avoided with such warnings. The nanny’s in her early 20s; she picks these little gals up from school daily and takes them for ice cream or to the playground – or both.  She showers them with kisses, hugs, and words of love and affirmation.  She disciplines when necessary, but loves always.

And, I am reminded that only God…only God could orchestrate this meeting of lonely little girls with a sweet college student who’s endured her share of pain and suffering too.

It’s a match made in heaven.  Literally.

I don’t know the whole story.  I only know part of the nanny’s story.  I’ve only spent a few hours with the three little gals who lost their momma to cancer.  But as I watch her swing the blond-haired sister from the monkey bars, I see God’s hand.

I see how He matched hurting hearts.  How He joined the hurting to create space for healing.  

How He prepared one hurting heart to understand the depth of another hurting heart.

And isn’t that what God does? Shows up on the most unexpected days in the most unexpected ways to love His children.

We are truly a gift to one another if only we see each other through HIS eyes.

I thought of God’s divine provision for three little gals who miss their momma and for an older gal who doesn’t understand her own.

I am reminded of Ruth and Naomi.  Of Rahab.  Of Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter.  Of Jonathan and David.

From the beginning of time, God has given us one another.

Friends.  Family.  Baby sitters.  Sunday School teachers.  Pastors.  Small Group members.  Teachers.

But, most of all, He’s given us Himself.

And, I often forget this.  I am always thankful to Him for those he’s placed in my life.  I look to Him and whisper thank you each time I see His divine hand in my relationships and the relationships of others.  But, in the midst of noticing, embracing, and loving all those who surround me, I often forget…

Jesus is my friend.  Sure, He gives friends – intertwines the lives of three little gals with an amazing nanny – but He gives us Himself too…

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. John 15: 12-17

The command is clear:  Love one another.  Lay down your life for your friends.  But, the next part is the part I often forget to embrace:  I have called you friends.  

We didn’t choose Him as we choose other friends; He chose us.  He chose you to be his friend, sister.  When you’re alone or with your best friend.  When your chasing sweet little gals in the park or walking alone alongside a stream.

He is there.  He is your friend.  Your relationships and connections viewed in the context of His story make them all the better and fruitful.

In fact, our story only makes sense and only matters within the context of HIS story.  When we can see His divine hand at work for His glory and purposes.

I pray you are recognizing those He’s given to you…I pray you show His love to them. But, most of all, I pray you remember that He’s your first friend. The only One to whom you can and should always run.

Be thankful for those God’s given to walk alongside you, but give utmost gratitude to the ONE who is always there, waiting…loving…listening…forgiving.

Move Forward {A Visit to the Cemetery}

I rounded the sharp curve on the rural road.

That’s it.  We’re here.

And with those words I pulled into the gravel on the side of the road.

Five years.

I had not seen or sat in this place for five years – intentionally.

I kept my sunglasses on, a shield against the bright sun and a veil for my emotion.  No turning back now.

A friend had volunteered to go with me.  She breaks the silence by offering to stay in the car.  “Do you need to go alone? I can stay here and wait.  Whatever you’d like.”

I consider her offer. I don’t really want to do this alone.

We open the doors. It’s a beautiful day. The wind’s blowing, the sun’s shining, and somehow I know this is God saying welcome.

I realize my idle chatter about wearing flip flops and the mushy ground is just that – idle.  Pointless.  I don’t want to be overcome with emotion and the only way to keep it in check is to chatter.  So I do.

Slowly, we walk among the headstones, reading name after name of those who have passed from this life.  We stop periodically, reading tributes and noting dates.

Beloved Husband.

Infant Girl.

Loving Wife.

1815, 1923, 1942, 1981, 2005.

Some stones are new and shiny. Others are broken, mossy, and unreadable.

I pause occasionally and explain my relationship to the one listed on the headstone.  Great aunts and uncles seem to surround me.  So much loss.  Connected to every stone is a family missing a loved one.

We keep walking; before I know it, I am there.  My grandpa’s grave marker directly in front of me, and I know….my dad’s is on the backside.

I last stood in this spot on January 10, 2008.  I listened as my childhood friend, Chad, honored my dad.  I watched as a family friend stood in the background beside the machine that would move dirt, covering my dad’s casket.

Misting rain, cool winds, and gloomy skies. How appropriate for this day that none of us had seen coming.  The rain matched my tears, the winds my shifting emotions, and the gloomy sky my heavy heart.

But, on this day, the weather symbolized the passing of those tears, emotions, and heaviness.

The clear sky reminds me God is clearing my heart of bitterness and anger.  No daddy’s girl ever understands such an untimely death. The blowing winds remind me God is ushering in a new day, a new outlook, and healing.   The bright blue skies remind me God is my Creator.  He is in control.  He is sovereign, and his timing is always prefect.

I stare at my dad’s headstone, talking  to him in my heart.  I miss you.  I love you.  You’d love the kiddos that Hannah and Owen have become.  You’d love the friend standing behind me.  I am sorry I didn’t bring flowers. You wouldn’t have wanted me to waste the money anyway.  It’s a beautiful day, Dad.  You’d be camping or on the front porch watching cars pass.  I work at a homeless shelter now. You’d love hanging out there and talking to the people since you love story as much as me.  Owen does too. I live in Ohio now, but I still love the Mountaineers.  Steve is good.  He’s still loving me despite me as you always did.  Life is good, Dad.  You did good in so many ways.

And, finally…

I am so sorry I’ve not been here before now.  I couldn’t come.  I am an avoider, Dad. You know that.  I got it from you. But, I am here today.  To say I love you and move forward.

Move forward.

How in the world do we do that?  After we lose a loved one. After the divorce.  After the cancer.  After the harsh words.  After the unfair decision. After the job loss.  After the affair.  After the sin.  After feeling forgotten, forsaken, and unloved.

How do we move forward? 

How can we even want to heal when pain is predictable and forward is foreign? 

In Ruth 3:3, Naomi tells Ruth to put on her best clothes.  Ruth will no longer live with Naomi; it’s time for her to move forward, seeking a husband.

My Bible study followed this verse with…

We have known a time when God asked us to take off our clothes of mourning, clinging, grasping, wishing, hoping, striving, even praying for something…and move forward…The Lord asked me how long I was going to mourn for the old because, indeed, he had something new for me ahead.  It was time for me to move forward – without my mourning clothes.  Here’s the deal:  When we’re wrapped in garments of mourning, we’re unavailable for whatever else God has for us. In a sense, we take ourselves out of the game…My simple hope is when God has held us, healed us, and lifted our heads, that we’d be ready to move forward with Him; and though our hearts may always ache, we won’t stay in mourning clothes forever.

And then the author asked…

Do you sense that God is asking you to throw off some weighty garments? 

Unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, discontentment, jealousy, mourning, or anything else that might be keeping you in a stagnant place?

My heart whispered yes.

Unforgiveness turning to bitterness?  Check.  Over a year’s passed since the event, but I know there’s some unforgiveness in my heart lurking on any given day.

Jealousy feeding discontentment?  Check.  Doesn’t it seem everyone else has a perfect life?  They smile back at you via Facebook photos, enjoying a night out with the girls while you burn yet another meal.

It’s time to change our clothes.  No more mourning clothes.  No more unforgiving and jealous clothes….

21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:1-24

10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. Colossians 3:10

18 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

Do you need to move forward?  Putting on a new self and refusing to dwell in the past?

If so, begin by letting the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Memorize and dwell on and in His Word.  Pursue holiness. Be thankful.

Trust in Him, leaning not on your own understanding.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Surrender to Him.  (Matthew 10:39)

Find rest in Him. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Transform through the renewing of your mind. (Romans 1:1-2)

Live thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Psalm 30: 11-12)

Abandon self to Him and for Him. Meditate on His Word. Commit to prayer. Listen for His voice.  Wait on Him always. 

Can I pray for you as you “change your clothes”?  I’d love to intercede for you.

Live Chosen {When You Feel Left Out}

It was a day much like today.  Breezes blowing.  Sun shining.  Birds chirping.

We’d been confined indoors for months waiting for the winter to pass.  Sitting at desks longing to run and play in the sunshine peeping through the classroom windows.

Today was the day.  Recess wouldn’t be in the gym or in the classroom.  We were headed outside!

Running, jumping, playing on the swings, see saws, and slides.  I could barely contain the tapping of my anxious feet as I watched the time tick by on the clock.  A few more minutes…

The bell rang signaling freedom.

We burst through the doors and sprinted to the playground, the sun shining on our jacket-clad backs.  I was ecstatic.  Spring was here.  Summer was coming.

After wearing out the swings, my friends and I decided to play kickball with some older kids.

Dirt swirled as we lined up on the baseball field.  Two fifth grade boys stood as team captains – one bouncing the red ball as he perused the line up of available players.

One by one the boys chose.

One by one my friends took their places on a team.

Until…I stood alone.  Not chosen.  Not picked.  Not included.

Finally, a boy assigned my team, not because I was wanted but because someone had to take me.

I was only 10, but I can still hear, smell, and feel that day.  Until then, I’d always been chosen.  I was smart and sweet – just not athletic.  I was chosen by teachers and friends for spelling bees and sleepovers.  But, this time?

Unwanted.

I never tried another sport, scared I wouldn’t be chosen for the team.

Sadly, I continued living in that space for years.  I even live in it some today.

I think…I would love to [insert dream here], but what if they say no?  What if they don’t think I’m worthy?  I choose not to ask, fearing the answer.

Fearing rejection.  Fearing failure. 

I don’t want to be the one standing on the baseline while all the others stare back at me.

So, I stay out of the game.

But, we can’t stay out of the game.

We can’t sit on the sidelines, waiting to be chosen. There’s a world who needs us.

We are chosen. 

By Him. 

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All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1: 3-5

Merriam Webster’s defines chosen as one who is the object of choice or of divine favor: an elect person

You are already selected, elected, and chosen.  An object of His divine favor.  You don’t have to stand on the sideline and wait for God – or man – to choose you. Through the power of the Spirit living in you, you can choose yourself…

We know, dear brothers and sisters,that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true…1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

In fact, when you’ve been chosen by Him, living on the sidelines and waiting to be chosen, invited, or picked can be disobedient.

Being chosen is a call to action:

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3: 12-17

As one commentary explains, God’s choice of you…”the Bible never teaches that it dulls human responsibility.  On the contrary, as this verse shows, it is precisely because the Christian has been elected to eternal salvation that he must put forth every effort to live the godly life.  Divine sovereignty and human responsibility go hand in hand.”

We can’t sit this life out, waiting.  We must clothe ourselves in mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and enter the mess, allowing for each other’s faults, forgiving when offended or left out.

We must put on love, which will bind us together in community, allowing the peace from Christ to rule in our hearts, being thankful always and in all things.

We must teach and counsel one another in the wisdom He gives us, singing praises to Him with thankful hearts…always remembering – in whatever we do – that we are HIS representatives – HIS CHOSEN.

This life?  It’s not a sideline life.  While we may still feel unloved, rejected, and left out sometimes, may we choose to live our lives as chosen by Him, especially when not chosen by others.

You’re chosen.  Today, tomorrow, forever.  Don’t wait any longer for the “day to come” or “the group to include you” – live chosen.

Who Am I? {Discovering Identity Through Ruth}

As a young bride she never imagined her husband would die in a few short years.  Alone.  The chance for remarriage in her culture? Slim to none.  A life of poverty seemed certain.

She’d met her husband while he and his family visited from a foreign land. Now, it was time for his mom to return, for she was alone too.  Her husband and sons had all died.

To go or to stay?  That became the question.  Going with her mother-in-law would not be easy.  She’d have to turn her back on her people, never to see her family again. If she stayed, she might get a chance to remarry. Might.  If she went?  Chances at remarriage in a land of people who despised her kind would be even less.  Planting new roots would be nearly impossible.

What hope did she have?  The future looked bleak.

Can you identify with this sweet gal?  Labeled by her ancestry and past.  Mistakes made.  Wrong paths chosen.

Labeled by those around her as lowly, used, and hopeless. Future looking lonely.

If I were Ruth, I may have thrown my hands in the air, returned to my idols and lived among my people.  But, she didn’t. She made a choice.

She chose God. 

The moment Ruth joined Naomi on her journey to Bethlehem, she was all in.  The decision made deep in her heart to go and be with Naomi always.  She bravely left her homeland and courageously planted roots in a foreign land.  A place that considered her people lowly.  A place that worshipped the one true God.

Upon arriving, Ruth began looking for a field.  A place to glean, picking up leftover grain so she and Naomi could eat.

Leftovers.

The remains after everyone has chosen.

In many ways Ruth seemed “leftover” – a widowed Moabite, trailing her Hebrew mother-in-law.  Eating the grain “leftover” after the workers harvested.

To the world she was ….a Moabite, a widow, lowly, poor, second-class, hopeless.

To God she was…His child, chosen as part of Jesus’ lineage, first-class, forgiven, loved, adopted.

Ruth was anything but leftover. 

I am anything but leftover. I needed reminded of that this week, for I often struggle with the labels slapped on my life by culture.

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To the world I am…wife, mom, Christian, teacher, writer, friend, recovering, broken. And with those labels comes a host of expectations and ideals that I rarely feel fit my life, which leaves me searching, flailing, frustrated, and struggling to be all everyone expects me to be.  Knowing…I will never measure up.

I don’t think I even want to.

Thankfully….to God I am…

Loved.                (Galatians2: 20, Ephesians 2: 4-5, 1 John 3:1)

Chosen.              (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 1: 4-6)

Known.               (Psalm 139: 1-4)

Purposed.          (Psalm 138: 8, Jeremiah 29:11; Jeremiah 1:5)

New.                     (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Rescued.              (Ezekiel 34: 11-12; Philippians 4:13

Adopted.              (Ephesians 1:5)

Righteous.           (Romans 3:24)

Forgiven.              (Ephesians 1:7)

Free.                       (Romans 8:2, Colossians 2:11, Romans 6:18)

Holy.                      (1 Corinthians 1:2,1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:4)

Complete.            (Colossians 2:10)

Masterpiece.      (Ephesians 2:10)

Beautiful.             (Psalm 139: 13-16)

Light.                      (Matthew 5:14)

This is who Ruth was.  This is who you are.  You are not the labels stuck on you or the roles assigned to you.  First and foremost you are loved, chosen, known, purposed…by Him and for His glory.

The next time you’re wondering, asking…who am I?  Simply fill in this blank with any of those words and proclaim the promise given to you by God in His Word.

Hello My Name Is ________________

It’s one of my favorite songs this week:  Hello my name is child of the one true king, I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I’ve been set free.

So have you.  I pray this week and always you live out of your identity in Him, not the one dispensed by the world.

After all, you’re the child of the one true king.

Where Two or More are Gathered {Church in My Basement}

In the midst of the craziness and the pain and things that overwhelm us, can we sit at the table and share in that for which we are thankful?  Because that is where, together, I know we will find our joy.  Sara Frankl

A friend and I were talking about Good Friday.  We longed for a time of worship, communion, and Scripture.  No frills or extras.  No expectations.  Just to sit at His feet and say thank you.

A time at the table, sharing in that for which we are thankful…His death for our sins and resurrection.

We’re blessed to know some talented musicians who agreed to lead us in worship for an hour in my basement.  We bought some bread and grape juice, lit a few (ok, way too many) candles, and sat down on couches and bean bags.  My daughter read about the Passover from Luke, and I read about His crucifixion from Matthew.  A friend prayed and another friend read a blessing over us.

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It was simply beautiful.

Watching families…husbands and wives…take communion together. Some standing.  Some on their knees.

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It reminded me of my desire and God’s directive a few weeks ago to get back to the heart of worship.  NOT what we’ve made it. But a time that’s all about Him alone.

It also reminded me that where two or more are gathered in His name – He is there (Matthew 18:20).  Whether in my basement…at the park…in a million dollar church building…wherever.  He joins us when we gather in His name.

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While I love the teaching and opportunities at my church, I sometimes get wrapped up in church.  Just doing church.  Programming and process.  I often forget to simply worship my Savior who died and rose again.

So, I loved being still, knowing He is God.  Sitting on a bean bag, listening to the beautiful voice of a sweet gal, thanking Him for all He’s done, is doing, and will do.  Remembering that I can worship Him in many places  – not just at “church” – that in fact, this was church.

I look forward to many more basement worship services…I look forward to Sunday mornings in my church building…I look forward to my family’s Bible study each morning.  I love all of it.

I just hope we all remember the importance of worshipping Him always.  Living in a spirit of gratitude.  Thinking outside the box of a church building when it comes to sitting at His feet.  Engaging in worship with just a few in our homes.  Worshipping Him love throughout the week, not just on Sunday.

This weekend was awesome.  Good Friday, Easter Sunday with my family, and my sister’s 40th birthday celebration.  I ended Lent with way too much diet Pepsi and the realization that I’ve been living WAY out of balance.  I plan to write about it as soon as I muster up the courage to admit the realities of my messy heart and a few failures that make me want to kick myself.

But, for today, I am clinging to my Living Proof memorization verse for April 1:    “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8