Saturday, July 22, 2017

Contentment

Contentment. In Philippians 4 Paul writes that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances in which he finds himself. This has been an ongoing process in me for my whole Christian walk. It's like a pattern: I long for something, God shows me what He has provided instead, and I gradually accept and eventually become actually thankful for His provision.

Lately though, I have been anything but content. This may seem random, but I promise it will all be relevant. Let me explain.

Over the years He has provided housing, food, clothing, and transportation for me. I started with basically nothing and He added as the need arose.

I was scared when I first became single with one child still at home. I needed a place to feel safe; somewhere my son and I could live alone, but not alone in the sense that people were close by. God led me to an apartment, where I had good neighbors. I loved that apartment!  I lived there for 11 years.  I started to want something of my own, though, so He provided. I went from living in an apartment to buying the house I now live in. 

A few years ago, I became aware of just how much stuff I had crammed into my little 900 square foot house. I thought I must need a bigger house, and asked God to provide. But He did something surprising: He opened my eyes to minimalizing.

He showed me that I had adequate housing for a person living alone, and I needed to live within what He had provided. This sounds kind of mean, now that I am seeing it in print, but it wasn't at all. It actually was presented in such a way that it was like a revelation or something. Only God can do that; change your heart to want to give stuff away and actually be happy about it.

So I've been on this adventure of going through my stuff on a regular basis. I am constantly getting up on a Saturday morning and deciding "today I am going to sort through [fill in the blank] and give away what I don't need."  Sometimes it's clothes or shoes; sometimes it's furniture. Lately, it's been pictures, which can be challenging, but also freeing.

I love doing this. (This has to be God).

You have to constantly be in communication with God about this. I have learned to ask Him about everything.  Isn't that what He told us to do, though?

When He directed me to minimalize, I felt strongly that I should not bring new items into the house. For instance, I recently wanted a new bookshelf to accommodate my fantastic new idea I got (probably on Pinterest) for displaying books and pictures in my living room. Instead, He has directed my steps, saying "use what you already have."  I have heard that phrase so many times in my conversations with Him, but He's always right. Always. 

In short, He provides whatever I need.

So, what's the problem if God supplies all my needs?

For quite some time I have been focused on and increasingly upset by the fact that my children and grandchildren live far away from me. Even though we stay in touch by phone and internet, they are too far away to be daily or even weekly in my life, and this has been a sticking point for me. For several years I have battled with this. 

To fill the void, God brought Godly friends around me many years ago to love me and accept me as their own. I am living proof that He does set the lonely in families. The friendships and subsequent "adoption" into the family that He developed with my two "besties" and me over the almost 2 decades we've been friends is a miraculous story in itself, but the details of that is for another blog post at another time.

So I went to God recently, crying and lamenting over the fact that I need to see my kids and grandkids more. I told Him what He already knew: I had always and forever only wanted "the house with the white picket fence" so to speak with the sprawling front porch and rocking chairs on it. There would be a big backyard for the kids, and a deck for us to hang out on and watch them play. My kids and grandkids would be in and out of my house all the time. I would see them at least once a week. This is how I envisioned my future life when my children were growing up. 

This is not my reality

Over the past year or so, I have grieved over the loss of this future that I did not get to have. I have wondered what happened; why would God put a dream in my heart He was not going to fulfill? He never answered these questions. I became increasingly discontent, then discouraged, then defeated. The stage was set to enter back into full depression, each day getting darker and more hopeless. So utterly hopeless. The enemy of our soul would like us to believe that it is hopeless. I almost did.

But there is always hope. ALWAYS.

This past week was the bottom of that downward turn. I wept and prayed for a good long while after church Wednesday night. I did what I should have done in the beginning: I surrendered this whole thing to God. I asked Him to, once again, rearrange my heart, my longings, my desires. 

I basically asked Him to do with my heart what He had asked me to do with my house full of stuff: sort through what was there and take out what didn't belong. I asked Him to purify me and put the right desires in my heart, the ones He wants, because HE KNOWS BEST. Then I went to bed, and got up and went about my business as usual, going to work and coming home. 

This morning in prayer, I heard God as clearly as I have ever heard Him, regarding my kids and grandkids. It was so familiar, and was probably there all along but I didn't want to hear it. He said these words:

"Use what you already have."

So what do I have? I did what I always do when He tells me this about a thing I think I need. I took stock of what my resources are. What do I already have?

I have the internet. Thank you Jesus for the age of technology! We can Skype or Facetime more often.

I have my phone, constantly with me. We can text and send pictures to each other. We can talk on the phone (in olden days people actually talked to each other on the phone. I know, right?)

We can interact on Facebook (when I can get the darlings to comment). I try, oh how I try. 

God has provided a reliable car; I can go and see them more often; especially the grandkids who are growing and changing DAILY. I want them to know and have a relationship with their Mimi. 

As God provides the funds, I can fly to see the ones farther away. I can even drive when He gives me the courage to drive that far on my own.

The enemy wants us to live defeated and in despair. He wants us to believe that nothing will ever change, that there is no hope. But he is wrong.

There is always HOPE. Always.

"I have learned how to be content with whatever I have...For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." Philippians 4: 11, 13 NLT

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Still Standing

God can and does speak to us all the time, in many different ways. We just have be listening and watching. He showed me something awesome this morning in a thunderstorm. First though, I have to give some background on my experience with storms.

I grew up on the edge of tornado alley, so thunderstorms and tornadoes have always been in my life. I never really noticed them until the spring of 1996 when an F3 tornado came tearing through my town and left a 1/2 mile wide path of destruction for several miles. My house was in the direct path, but God spared the lives of my family and our house. We just lost trees, a storage building, and were without electricity for 3 days.

Ever since that night in 1996 I've had a healthy respect for severe thunderstorms, especially those that have the potential to produce tornadoes.

Recently, I've had some wind damage on my property. Two years ago, strong straight line winds took out a tree, causing it to fall and rip the electric meter completely off my house! Three months later, another storm blew another tree down and pulled the wires loose from my electric meter again! At least the second time it didn't cost me anything. The electric company was able to reconnect the wires since the meter was not damaged this time.

Last spring, I got caught in a hail storm with no where to go and had to drive home in it. I had damage to my car and had to pay the deductible to get it fixed.

So, forgive me if I'm a little jumpy when it's storm season. I have good reason to be.

This morning I overslept. I awoke at 8:00 am to the sound of my cat meowing loudly. She was very impatiently telling me that her bowl was empty and she was at death's door.

Ok, that was a joke! For those of you who do NOT know my cat, she isn't about to starve any time soon. She weighs 17 pounds.

After I fed the starving cat, I got ready for church in a hurry. Since I was running late I didn't even turn on the TV. I usually have the news on while I'm getting ready in the mornings.

In 35 minutes I was out the door and in my car. It occurred to me that it was really dark outside for 8:40, but I went on anyway, headed for church.

As I left my neighborhood, which is in a forest that completely obscures the sky, I topped the hill and saw the northwest sky for the first time. It was a completely black wall cloud, and it was bearing down on my town. I contemplated trying to go on toward church, which is 12 miles southwest of there, but I knew I could never beat it. I wasn't afraid at that point, but I also did not want to drive in a severe, hail-producing thunderstorm. I feel like wisdom was telling me to go back to my house and wait until that cloud passed. I would just go to the 10:45 service instead of the early one.

I drove around the block at the next corner and calmly drove back to my house. I parked my car under the carport and went into my house, just as the first gusts of wind and drops of rain arrived.

Once in the house, I turned on the TV and was relieved to see commercials. Anyone in tornado country knows that the weather is the top story when it is really severe, and they don't even break for commercials. You can laugh if you want, but it's true.

Soon, the weatherman was showing the storm on the radar, just as it was arriving outside. It was merely a thunderstorm but it had potential for hail. Since I didn't want to risk hail damage on my car again, I was glad I had come back home.

I had relaxed when I saw it was mostly a lot of rain, so I was not prepared for what happened next. I was sitting on my couch, looking out my front window at the storm. My very large pecan tree in front of my house was thrashing about violently in the wind. We're not talking about a sapling; this is a mature tree, taller than the 2 story house next door. Its trunk is so large I can't wrap my arms around it. Several times, it appeared that a branch would break off the tree. The limbs almost touched the ground two or three times. All the trees in the neighborhood were being tossed around in the wind, but this one right in front of my house caught my attention.

I really wish I had thought to record this but it was so surprising and I was
doing a lot of praying at the time.

After about 15 or 20 minutes the wind started to subside. I stared in amazement at that tree. It was still standing! Not only was it still standing, it had not lost one limb. Not one.

As I continued to look at the tree, I heard the still small voice reassuring me that just as this tree was tossed about in the wind, yet did not break, so would I feel tossed in the storms of life at times, but I WOULD NOT BREAK.

God has made nature to be resilient. Trees can withstand a lot of wind without suffering any damage. He also made us, and when we put our faith in Him and trust in Him to get us through the storms of life, He will.

Lately, I have struggled with just that, one of the "storms of life." Over the years, I have suffered the loss of loved ones, financial loss, and physical sickness and pain. I have been through major depression. I have walked through intense emotional pain and had my heart broken so badly, I didn't think I could survive it. You name it, I've been through it. I'm sure we all have had our share of "storms" of this nature.

However, though I have suffered through many storms over the years as I walk with the Lord, each time He has brought me through. Just like the pecan tree, I'm still standing. This morning, He timed a thunderstorm just right so that He could reassure me that He would get me through this storm that I am presently in. 

I'm encouraged by this, because with every new "storm" or battle, there is growth. Praise the Lord! I will come out on the other side of this with a new level of freedom. He is breaking off some more chains!

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.  Psalm 91:1-2 (NLT)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cast Your Cares

Have you ever had your heart broken, your spirit crushed? Have you felt like you were rejected, damaged, and broken beyond repair? I'm sure most of you have at some time or another had some heartbreak. Pain is a reminder that we live in a fallen world. None of us is exempt, but Jesus has the cure for the pain.

 "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

I'm not proud of the broken life I used to live, but God is using what the enemy meant for evil to do good. I am sometimes led to share some of it.

During prayer recently I was reminded of a time many years ago in my life when I was in one of those very painful places. Life had dealt me a series of hard blows, leaving me as a broken, damaged version of who God had created me to be. My heart had been broken into a million pieces and I was crushed emotionally. God has done a miraculous work in my life and I am completely healed from all that emotional damage, praise the Lord! But I'm feeling drawn to write about it, so here I am. 

I was a mess, but because of the Lord's redeeming love He has delivered me and set me free so well that before I could write this blog I literally had to look it up in my journal because I couldn't remember the details. Thank GOD I can't remember it! This is a testimony of His awesome, redeeming power and love. 

My journals are written in many volumes, spanning the last 22 years since my walk with Jesus began in 1994. They record the details of the journey and I feel strongly that I am supposed to keep them so others can benefit from hearing about what God has done for me. I don't live there anymore, though, and seldom go back into those darker volumes unless I feel led to do so. God gives me grace to read portions without being negatively affected, but He also gives me the sense to leave the past in the past.

Because of my fragile and broken emotions, I was easily hurt over small things. But if something substantial came along that was bad enough to knock even an emotionally stable person down, it was devastating to me. This is about one of those times where an incident hurt me very badly.

After the incident I was to the point emotionally that I had actually become sick physically. I couldn’t eat. For days, I had no appetite.  I ate next to nothing, only then because I felt like the Lord told me to eat.  So I did, but almost got sick. Grief consumed me.  I was functioning a little, sort of on “auto-pilot;” but I wanted to die. I cried out to the Lord repeatedly to help me, because I knew He was my only hope. 


Then one morning during my prayer time something happened. Looking back, I know it was the Lord. Suddenly, for about a ½ second, there was a brightness (I had my eyes closed, but it felt like a light was directed toward me).  Then, I felt the presence of Jesus.  First, His hands were on my head, and then He touched my heart.  For just an instant, it was heavy, like a weight was on it.  I had a cramping sensation in my stomach, like a resistance.  Then it was just GONE. The grief, pain—ALL GONE!!!  My heart was light.  I remember Him saying as He touched me, “you can’t bear this, so I am taking it.”  He took my pain!!!

I have never been the same since that day. I still had some emotional stuff to work through, but the incident that had caused me so much grief and heartache in that particular situation has never bothered me again. I have completely forgiven those who hurt me. I am completely free of the pain.  I don't think about it. I don't worry about it. Its power to hurt me has been neutralized.

If you identify with this at all and are having a struggle emotionally, take heart. You are not alone, and you aren't the only one who has ever felt the stinging pain that is so prevalent in our broken world. Do not believe the lies that the devil is telling you that you are too much a mess, that you are unlovable, or you have passed the point of being able to be redeemed by God. The devil is a LIAR.

God will do for you what He did for me. You have His Word on it.

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22 NIV




22 





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Has God Forgotten You?

I was thinking about this past "winter," if you can even call it winter. It got kind of cold a couple of times, and even snowed the first week in January. After that, we were on a roller coaster of temperature changes for the rest of the season, going from below freezing to near 90 in the same week sometimes. Crazy.

In a normal cycle of seasons, there is spring, summer, fall, and then winter.  Then the cycle begins all over again. At times, everything seems dead in winter. Judging by the outward appearance in nature, if there are no leaves on the trees, no grass, no flowers, and the birds have mostly gone away, it's winter. There is no sign of life, and it would appear that all is lost.

It's kind of like what we go through sometimes in our Christian walk. 

I've had seasons like that, where my prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling. I would pray and not feel like God even heard me. The situation didn't change. I would cry, pray, cry some more, read the Bible, and pray some more.  Still no change. Still complete silence from God.

Even David went by his feelings and said in the Psalms many times, God, have you forgotten me?

"O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
Why do you hide when I am in trouble?" Psalm 10:1 NLT


Of course God hasn't forgotten us. We can't live by our feelings; they lie. Repeat after me: Feelings cannot be trusted. The older I get and the more I grow in my relationship with Christ the more I am sure, completely positive, that these are the times when He is at work, when all seems to be lost; when we are tempted to give up. We just can't perceive it.

Just like in winter.

In winter, the trees have no leaves and no signs of life. Even though the outward appearance seems to suggest that there is no life there, we know better. We know that in the spring, life will return to all the plant life.

God is at work, and even though it appears He hasn't heard us, the answer is coming. Just like Spring. Hang in there. All is not lost; you have HOPE.

Speaking of hope....

We are in Holy Week. In this season of Easter, let us pause and reflect on what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross to save us. When they hurriedly laid Him in the tomb as the sun was going down and Passover was about to begin, it appeared to the disciples that all was lost. He was dead. The Messiah, their promised Savior, had died.

But all was not lost. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead! He is still ALIVE TODAY! He did what He came to do; He died for our sins, and defeated death, Hell, and the grave. 

Because of what he did for us, we can live with Him forever. We have HOPE. 

So, take heart, friend. God has not forgotten you.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.   Roman 5:8 NLT





Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sunday Driver

I grew up in the 60s. Looking back, it appears it was a simpler time and kids today would probably think it was boring. We didn't know what we were missing, though, so we weren't bored.  We didn't know about any of the things that the future held back then, like computers, smart phones, and streaming movies from the internet right to your living room. Talking to another person on a screen and actually seeing them while you talked to them was pure fiction that only happened on the Jetsons.

We had fun, and there was always plenty to keep us entertained. Lots of  pastimes from that time in history seem to have "gone by the wayside," though. The saying itself is outdated and has faded from our modern vernacular. THIS actually strikes me as funny, because it's so ironic. 

But I digress.

The 1st car I remember, a 49 Dodge
One of our activities in my family was the Sunday drive. After Sunday dinner was over and the Sunday paper with its funny pages in color had been read, sometimes there was an outing. It was the practice of piling into the family car--usually there was one per household--and driving around looking at the countryside. Sometimes we would drive 20 or 30 miles out in the country or go to another nearby town; sometimes we would just drive around our town and see the pretty houses going up in the new subdivision. 

Think of it as an old-fashioned way of seeing what's going on around you, like surfing the internet is today. Of course, our "surfing" was in a car with no seat belts, where the children in the backseat leaned up to the back of the front seat and propped their chins over the seat back to get a better view of where they were headed.

Ah, yes. Those were the days.

There was no mall to go and walk around in, and with the blue law in full force no stores were open on Sunday anyway. And...there was no Wal-mart yet! 

Sometimes our drives would include a visit to a relative's house, or sometimes if the weather was nice we would go to the park; but most of the time we just drove around. They usually ended the same way, though; we would stop at Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. Then, as we drove home I would ask if we could drive by the "little pink house," a mid-century modern house a few blocks from our house that was...you guessed it...painted pink.

Yes, this was interesting to see. It was, after all, actually in the middle of the twentieth century at the time, so the house was just "modern" without the "mid century" part.  It was a novelty; a new, ranch style house in a neighborhood of white bungalows built in the 20s and 30s, so it already looked oddly out of place. And, don't forget it was PINK. 

It was also, as we established already, a simpler time. We enjoyed being together, experiencing the sights together and making memories. We laughed at silly stuff that no one else but our family would get. Driving by the little pink house was a bonding experience for us. I've carried that memory and others like it for over half a century and now I'm the only one who remembers them. 

My dad would laugh and tease me, but I think he was secretly glad to indulge my silly request. He wanted to gawk at the strange looking house, too. Of course, we had to slow down when we were looking at something.

And that's where the term "Sunday driver" came from.  Now you know. 

Enjoy life with your family. Make memories like these with your kids. These are the good ole' days they will reminisce about someday. Make them good memories.
,

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Recalculating

Recently, I was using GPS to help me find the airport when one of my sons flew in for Christmas. I had received advice from someone in the area to get off the interstate at a certain exit, but the GPS had other ideas. As soon as I passed the exit the GPS had told me to use, he said, "recalculating..." then gave me the updated instructions for which exit to use. Three times I passed the exit I was instructed to use, and three times I heard him say "recalculating," ever so politely, in a beautiful British accent.

Hey, you set your Siri the way you want. Mine is a British guy.

I laughed about it at the time, but it got me to thinking; doesn't God do that for us? He has a plan for each one of us, but sometimes we either don't ask His direction or we ask Him but then veer off the path He put us on and go our own way. We get ourselves into a mess, way off track from where we meant to be. Finally, we admit we messed up and go to Him for help. He gives us direction, possibly recalculated from what He told us earlier, depending on how far off course we have gone.

In my case, I had planned to go to college but fell in love in my senior year of high school. Since I had always seen myself as a mother, and even wrote in my journal that I wanted to have three children, I did what a lot of eighteen-year-old girls did back in the seventies:  I got married, intending it to be for life, because I believed--and still do--that marriage is forever.

Life happens, though. I did have three children, as I had always hoped I would, and they have turned out to be wonderful people. They were the joy of my life when they were little and still are today. The marriage, however, did not turn out well.

None of this took God by surprise, of course. He knew all along the course my life would take and had already set His plan for me in motion when I found myself divorced at 42.

I can second guess my choices, the paths I took, whether I should have turned here or there, and I have--many times--but it doesn't really matter. It's in the past, and the best I can do now is listen for the voice of God for directions.  Recalculated directions. Because He still has a plan for me. He didn't toss me aside because I didn't follow His plan precisely.

Whether I messed up and missed my exit, or took an exit when I should have stayed on course, God is right there with me, whispering directions to get me where He has planned for me to go.

If you are feeling like you missed God's plan for your life, or if you never even asked Him what His plan is, there is still time. First, if you've never trusted Jesus as savior, please do that now. Admit that you can't save yourself and invite Him to be Lord of your life. Then ask Him to give you directions, and He will.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11 NIV