Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The missing lamb

"You number and record my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle - are they not in Your book?"
- Psalm 56:8, Amplified Bible

It's just a stuffed animal.  Just a little white stuffed lamb, about seven  inches tall, with white fur, black button eyes, furry black feet, and a little pink button nose.  A child's plaything, a little girl's joy.  So why does it move me so?

A picture enters my mind.  I squint through the haze, seeking clarity.  The photograph is now black and white, the blurriness gone.  A little girl with long hair and a big smile.  She wears a checkered coat and clutches to her chin this stuffed white lamb.

The girl is my sister at age four.  From days of long ago, when we played and laughed and fought and shared a room.  Long before the stresses of divorce and money worries and single motherhood etched lines deep into her face, around her eyes.  Long before the struggles and fights began with her son.  Long before he took her from us in her sleep.  That was four years ago.

Mom went through old boxes this past month and set some things aside that she thought I might want.  Pillowcases lovingly embroidered by my grandmother, who went to heaven the same year Judy did.  Jewelry from years past.  And the little white lamb.

I cannot stop looking at it, thinking of her.  The one who missed me so much when I moved out of state.  Who I argued with as Mom's health grew worse - why do you stay away?  Because I can't bear to think of life without Mom!  Little did we know that Judy would leave us first.

The one who left such a huge aching gap in our hearts and our lives.  Even now when I see a woman with long sandy blond hair, my breath catches in my throat.  Is it her?  No, I remember, Judy isn't here.  She is with Jesus now.

Some people just slip quietly, peacefully away in their sleep.  Others are taken from us violently, leaving pain and questions and sobs and prison visits in their wake.  I know Judy was glad to leave her life of worry, to find peace with her Savior.  I only wish I had known it would be so soon.

So I am left behind, with grieving parents and a nephew imprisoned for life and far too few reminders of the little girl who was.  The one my youngest daughter no longer remembers.  Will I forget one day too?  How many times did I dial her cell phone those first few weeks just to hear her voice on the recorded message?  May I never forget!

I hold the little lamb close, and I look at her ring on my finger, and I resolve that my life will count.  That it will be fully lived.  Nothing reminds us not to waste our minutes like the life of a loved one taken rudely, much too soon.

Lord, capture my tears in Your bottle, and hug Judy for me.  Tell her I can't wait to see her again, and help me to live wisely until that day.

He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young. -Isaiah 40:11

Monday, September 20, 2010

Putting aside idols

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron.  "Come on," they said, "make us some gods who can lead us. We don't know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt." -Exodus 32:1

Even as Moses was receiving the law from the Lord's own hand, the Israelites were rebelling against God at the foot of the mountain.  

How is it, we ask, that the Israelites could witness God’s incredible salvation - the plagues of Egypt, ending with death; salvation at the Red Sea; manna and quail from heaven to meet daily needs - and still give up on Him and Moses, asking Aaron to build them a golden calf to worship?  These people have no memory.  Surely we would not make the same mistakes. 

But of course the story of God’s people is my story as well.  How often do I fail to trust in the Lord, instead trying to build other gods – security, writing, my husband, work – into my life and worship them?  Not that I actually bow down to them, but idol worship can also be defined as giving them more time and energy than I give the Lord, and taking sanctuary in them instead of in the Lord Most High.  I must confess that I do this far too often.

Lord, I need - we all need - Your help to (1) SEE when this is happening – please put Your finger on it and say, Beloved, THIS is what you are doing, taking refuge in these instead of in Me. 

Next, we need Your help to (2) STOP this from happening and rededicate ourselves to You. 

Then please help us (3) SEEK Your guidance and direction in giving these things proper place in our lives, in subjection to You.  You must always be supreme in my life, supreme over these things... because that is Your rightful place, and because only in putting You first can there be peace and order in my life.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. - Matthew 6:33, The Message

What idols compete with God for your time, money, and attention?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jesus loves me

Last night I went to sleep reading Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel. Or at least the first few chapters of it, since that’s the size of the sample I downloaded to my Kindle.

Now I am going to have to buy the actual book because of its fresh perspective – actually, its fresh reminder – of the true message of the Gospel. As opposed to the message most of us think is the Gospel.

We Christians know that we are saved by God’s grace alone.  But most of the time, we live as though salvation depended on us.

Of course, that’s not the way we THINK we live.  Satan’s lies are much too subtle, because he knows if we saw them plainly we would recognize and reject them.

But when we "tsk" at the person who wears cutoffs and a tank top to a church service… when we feel a weight of guilt because we skipped prayer group and haven’t spent alone time in the Bible for a few days…when we are afraid to show our Christian friends who we truly are, but mask our struggles and our feelings and our hearts instead… we are living as if salvation depended on us, upon our good works. And that’s not the Gospel according to the Bible.

The message of the Gospel is not just good news. It’s great news. It’s the Best. News. Ever.

Even if I didn’t spend time in the Word this morning, or this week, or this year…
Jesus loves me.

When I lose my Mother of the Year award because I forgot to pick someone up from volleyball practice,
or played a computer game instead of doing the dishes,
or said things to my kids I swore I’d never say…
Jesus loves me.

When I choose to skip an opportunity to say something nice - or help someone who’s struggling -
just because I don't feel like doing the right thing,
Jesus loves me.

And He loves you too.

Even when you wear cutoffs and a tank top to church,
or a cuss word escapes from your lips,
or you’re just not sure about this Christianity thing,
or you’ve messed up so badly you are sure you can never be forgiven,
Jesus loves you.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

God demonstrates his love for us in this:
while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.

-Romans 5:8, NIV

I love the way the Message says it:

God put his love on the line for us
by offering his son in sacrificial death
while we were of no use whatever to him.

The message of forgiveness and freedom through Christ is not just for those who don’t yet believe.

It’s also for the broken and discouraged and sinful ones who sit in the pew every Sunday. The ones who think, if you really knew me, you wouldn’t sit so close to me.

In Christ we are all truly free.  So when will we start living like it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our dreams or God's dreams?

"I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better
life than they ever dreamed of." - John 10:10 (The Message)

This week I've been going through boxes in our basement, trying to clean up a bit.  Some of those boxes belong to my oldest daughter, an Army lieutenant who will be home for a few days next month before her unit heads to Iraq.  I decided to work on her boxes now to save her some time and also because I know it will be much harder for me emotionally to do this after she deploys.

Jess is a prime example of how God's paths for our children can be so different than our own dreams for them.  A lifelong musician, she joined the local National Guard band in high school because she loved to play and wanted to earn money for college.  She left for basic training two days after graduating from high school.  I remember begging God for nine weeks to "please let her survive Basic!"  She had never been an athlete, wasn't in prime physical shape, and had never expressed interest in military service before then.

Jess not only survived Basic - she thrived.  To my amazement, she fell in love with Army life during those nine weeks.  After returning home, she was bored at college and one day found the website for the US Military Academy at West Point, NY.  She became determined to get into West Point, and she succeeded.  She even met her future spouse there - a fellow South Dakotan - and married Craig on graduation day.

Now she's a lieutenant in the medical services branch, stationed at Fort Hood, TX, and heading to Iraq in August for her first deployment.  Craig's unit is also being deployed, and they hope to be able to share a CHU (housing quarters) or at least see each other now and then.

This is not the life I would have chosen for Jess.  I would have chosen a life of music, spent close to home, close to me.  God chose a life of service to country for her, service to soldiers as a leader, a life far from me.  Though it will not be easy, especially when she is overseas and in harm's way, I know His choice is the better one.

I have watched Jess blossom and grow these past few years.  She loves her husband, and he treats her like a queen.  She loves her job (a good thing, since she works 14-hour days) and is a fierce advocate for the soldiers in her platoon.  She has seen places I only read about (Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, France, and soon Iraq) and lived experiences I can scarcely imagine (20-mile foot marches, throwing hand grenades and shooting rifles, even skydiving with a free fall!).  And when we talk, I hear her enthusiasm, her passion for life.

As moms we want our kids to be safe, to take the easier way, free of pain and sacrifice.  It's in our nature.  But when the Lord tells them, "Come, take My hand, and see everything I have in store for you," would we really choose instead to clip their wings and hold them close to us?

I'd rather have my daughter love her life and live out her dreams than force her to live my dreams for her.  Because this way, even if she is taken from us by an enemy bullet or IED, at least she will have fully lived.

Lord, help us to pray daily for our kids.  And let us pray not for our will to be done in their lives, but for Your will to be done.  Help us tuck them softly, confidently into Your loving arms, knowing that they do not belong to us, but to You.  In Jesus's name, amen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Crown of His Creation

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." -Psalm 24:1.

We were blessed to spend a week in Hawaii earlier this month, and I was amazed in new ways at the beauty God has placed on earth.  I saw hundreds of plants I've never seen - evergreens with needles that appear to grow upside down! a flower that looks like an ugly ribbon! mango and pineapple plants! - plus birds I have never seen before.  I snorkeled near Black Rock on Maui and saw dozens of fish I had never seen before, each with its own particular beauty and design, the stamp of God's creativity.  The terrain was absolutely gorgeous - mountains and rivers and waterfalls and that azure ocean, light sands and volcanos - so unique, unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in the States - more like an exotic new continent!  And I marveled at the God who could pour all of this beauty into our world simply by His Words - "let there be..." - whose creativity is beyond anything we could ever master or even imagine.

And yet, despite the bursts of color and light and detail, despite the overwhelming variety and beauty of all these things He created, He calls us the crown of His creation?  Sinful man?  Lowly, sinful ME?  How can this be?  How blessed we truly are!

Lord, give us eyes to see anew the beauty of our world, the splendor of Your design, the vastness of Your creative heart.  Bring us to our knees in worship for the One Who created all of this, yet loves each of us enough to give Your most precious Son so that we could know You and love You and spend eternity with you.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not popular

My heart is breaking for my little one today. The one with the deep love for Jesus, with the bubbly laugh and tender spirit. The one so easily wounded by the words and snubs of her classmates, by her sister’s sharp tongue, by a stern word from her father. A tender spirit is easy prey, an endangered species in this harsh world.

School ends at noon today, and I’m picking up my girls (plus their desk contents) for lunch and shopping. But this morning I mentioned that if they get invited to go home with a friend, they can, and we’ll just shop another day.

“I’ll probably get an invitation from Sue,” said my oldest. “She always wants me over.”

“I’m sure I won’t get an invitation,” said my youngest. “Nobody invites me over.”

My heart clenched at the small, sad voice. It’s true. She’s got a great fifth-grade class with lots of kind, friendly girls. Much better than her third-grade classroom at a different school, where she was constantly bullied verbally, where I reacted with shock when her teacher described her as quiet. “Quiet?” I asked. “She has never been quiet.” Then the story came out, of how the other girls intimidated and mocked her on the playground each day.

We moved her from that school to the Christian school. Not because it’s perfect (kids are kids; we all have a sinful nature), but because character development is a greater focus there. If someone is picking on my child, I want that to be addressed, and not in a “toughen up and get used to it; that’s life” manner. Sin occurs in our Christian school, but the teachers deal with it, because Christ-likeness is the goal.

But although her classmates are kind, they have their groups. There’s the popular group, the go-getters who are always hanging out together and laughing. And there’s the other group – the three girls who wish they were in the first group, but aren’t. My daughter is in the second group.

So although we’ve had each girl over to our house for playdates several times, and they always seem to have fun (based on smiles, laughter, and effusive thanks when it’s time to go home), they rarely reciprocate. When a group of girls piles into a mom’s car to go over to one of their houses, my daughter is never in that group. And it hurts her. It hurts ME.

Growing up, I was not in the “in crowd,” though I was often on its fringes looking in, hoping to join. Most years I only had one friend, and some years, those friends were not very nice. It was a great relief when high school arrived: I found my role and talents and niche and stopped caring so much about popularity. It was great to move on, to leave behind that “not good enough” feeling.

I’m not someone who longs for the good old days of my youth, simply because each year brings new friends, new horizons, more opportunities, more joy. Sure, there are times I feel unpopular nowadays, when all the other mothers sit together at my girls' sporting events and hold vivacious conversations around me (but rarely with me).  But when that happens I just hold on to Jesus a little tighter and thank Him for the "loner" personality that He uses mightily in my writing.

I gladly said goodbye to my younger years, finding more riches in Christ each year, and hoped I’d never see them again.  Nobody told me that I would experience them again through the heartaches and sorrows of my children. Just one more reason to spend many hours on my knees before the throne of grace.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't make yourself comfortable

"God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable."

Our church is seeking an associate pastor.  We've brought in two wonderful, godly candidates, and the search committee meets tonight to prayerfully select one to hire.  We've had several lively discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of each - not easy to determine, since the "weekend blast" visit format is a pretty artificial situation.

Each candidate has many outstanding qualities, and we definitely need the Spirit of God to clearly show us the best choice.  But I've been thinking about one quality that keeps being mentioned that is not (in my view) a good reason to hire someone...the "comfortable" quality.  As in "I feel very comfortable with this person," or "He's a great fit for our church family."

The more I think about this, the more I wonder....when did comfort level become a good reason to hire someone?  As near as I can tell, it's not a good reason to pursue ANYTHING within the Christian life.

God has not called us to be comfortable.  The Bible is not a book of stories about how God soothed His people with familiar situations or clear answers or the status quo.  It's the history of a people who were called to be set apart, different from the rest, relying on God for directions.  If you think about it, it's a book about God messing with the status quo, taking us out of our comfort zones.

The Lord doesn't call us to sit or lounge or stay or settle in.  He calls us to GO.  Leave the land where you know everyone and everything, where you are popular and accepted.  Follow Him to the land where you're surrounded with the unknown, with people you don't know, with stories you haven't heard.  Where you must rely on Him, and only on Him, for wisdom and direction.  Only then will you experience the greatness, the security, the overwhelming power and love of God.

Jesus certainly didn't concern Himself with the status quo.  He made people very uncomfortable.  Very important people, like the top religious authorities.  That's how He wound up on a cross.  Oh, God's sovereign will and mighty grace brought him there, definitely.  But the Pharisees didn't kill Him because of His popularity, but because they didn't like Him.  He didn't fit in with the ones in charge.

We serve an exciting God - a dangerous, loving God who will stretch and grow us - not a comfortable God.  It reminds me of a favorite quote from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

Mr. Tumnus: [of Aslan] He's not a tame lion.
Lucy Pevensie: No... but he is good.

My prayer is that we never get too comfortable in our walk with Christ.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Questions for God

- What is the purpose of wind?  I understand why we have rain, and snow, and sunshine, but what does wind do?  More specifically, what is the purpose of South Dakota winds - the kind that are 30 mph, 45 mph, 60 mph? (Other than slamming the car door shut on legs and fingers, and scattering vital papers over a 30-mile radius?)

- Why did You create mosquitoes?  Do they have a worthy purpose in Your plan, or are they just instruments Satan uses to torture and harass us?

- Why can I remember useless things from years past - stupid poems I learned as a child, rock songs with unholy lyrics, mean things my ex-husband said?  And how come these foolish things take up precious brain cells and crowd out useful things I really should remember - my best friend's cell phone number, the name of my child's teacher, my wedding anniversary?  Does my brain need rebooting, or is it a permanent malfunction?

- I am slogging through menopause at the same time my daughters are entering puberty.  Is this some kind of punishment?  And can my husband survive the drama?

- Why is life so unfair?  My parents are dealing with multiple health problems and running out of money.  A couple I know has a child - their only child - who struggles with crippling seizures, and now the wife has cancer too.

- How is it that I can find time to read so many things - the newspaper, magazines, books, even food labels - yet struggle to faithfully find time to read Your Word?

Lord, I am so glad You know the answers to life's questions (humorous or serious), that You know the condition of every heart, that You promise to care for us and never to leave us.  Help me to put my trust in You, my hand in Yours, and let You lead me through this life, confident that someday I'll know the answers too.  Show me those in need and help motivate prod me to bless them, to be Jesus to them.  I pray this in Jesus' name.  Amen.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
-Psalm 145:16

Monday, March 29, 2010

Being instead of doing

It is so easy in life's hustle and bustle to forget God.  There may have been a time years ago when one could easily go somewhere quiet and think, but those places are more and more difficult to find.  Even in my own home, to escape the ever-present television, I have to go into my bedroom and shut the door.  And the more often I am drawn there, to the quiet table with my Bible and my computer and a window overlooking the park, the more often I WANT to go there.

That's the thing nobody ever told me about devotional time, also known as quiet time with God.  As a Christian, you are supposed to spend daily time reading the Bible.  As Lysa TerKeurst has pointed out in her excellent blog, we often regard it as a "supposed to" or a "should," which sadly puts it in the same category as making your bed, brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, etc. - just another item on the daily "to do" list. (Which for moms can be an INCREDIBLY long list - grocery shop, do laundry, make supper, read with the kids, supervise homework, etc.)

What nobody ever tells you - what you must discover for yourself through doing - is that this is the only "should" that will actually refresh you, satisfy your hunger, make you long for more - as long as you don't treat it as a "have to."  When I approach this with the right attitude, it feels a lot more like having coffee or lunch with friends.  I approach it with excitement, and when I leave, I can hardly wait to do it again.

Two books have really helped me on this journey to developing the right mindset.  Louie Giglio's excellent book, The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life, is an excellent reminder that all of life should be about worship - that in fact it IS all about worship.  Whether we worship God, athletes, our schedules, our children, our money, or something else, we are made for worship.  God doesn't wait silently in the church all week for us to come back and see Him again on Sunday.  He created us with a gap that, despite all of our other efforts, is only filled when we come to Him in worship.

The other book is called The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M Nouwen.  I had heard of Nouwen before, mostly in sermons, but had never read him.  The book explores solitude, silence and prayer as ways to grow closer to the Father.  Reading it makes me long to spend MORE time away - time parked next to the lake, or alone by a river, or even alone in my bedroom - sitting at Jesus' feet, thinking about all He has done for me and worshipping Him.

We are surrounded by noise and voices telling us to "Do this!  Do that!  Go there!"  But to grow as Christians, sometimes we must learn to stop doing and simply to BE...to be alone with God, seek His will, and listen to His voice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beauty from Ashes

A favorite T-shirt of mine reads, "NOTHING you do for a child is ever wasted."  A friend of mine says this isn't true, that there are thousands of things parents can do for their children that can turn out to be a total waste of time.  Nevertheless, I love the idea that all those little things can make an impact and change a life.

How comforting to know that we serve a God who promises that none of our experiences, none of our pain is wasted, so long as we submit ourselves to Him.  As a Christian, I cling to the promise of Romans 8:28 - that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him.  And Isaiah 61:3 - that He will exchange the ashes of our life for a crown of beauty.  I believe that no experience, no occurrence, nothing that happens to me in this life is a wasted experience, that He will use it all to help me minister to and comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).

This certainty brings me peace and hope.  But frankly, sometimes I find it scary.  Especially in light of some of the truly terrible experiences in my life.

Years ago when my first husband left me for another woman, my life was a total shambles.  Divorce, bankruptcy, pain, isolation, depression.  How can the Lord use that to bless others, other than lifting me up as a terrible example?  I am not naive enough to believe that I did not help to kill that marriage - the Lord has been far too frank with me for that.  And He uses those gentle, loving reminders to make me a much more loving wife to my husband today.

And what about the most terrible tragedy of my life - my sister's violent death at the hands of her son three years ago?  It chills me to think that I might someday be called upon to minister to another family dealing with the murder of a loved one.  The only way I could EVER do this is through His grace and mercy and power.  And even then it would be very difficult.  The very thought breaks my heart.

I know that every gift and talent He gives us can be used to His glory.  But for years now, I've wondered if He has any plans for my writing abilities.  Certainly I found these most helpful and greatly praised during my years in school and in the secretarial field.  But they've been underused in other areas of life until recently.

Encouraged by the wisdom of Lysa TerKeurst and Jen Hatmaker, I've been supplementing my Bible study time with journaling lately, and the more I write, the more I want to.  But I yearn to be able to develop this gift within a godly ministry so that He can use it not for my glory, but for His.  I want my words to be able to connect with women, to ring true in their lives, to help them see more clearly our amazing Lord, to learn something more about His love and faithfulness and promises.

That's why I've been praying about a conference He has brought to mind lately - the She Speaks Conference offered by Proverbs 31 Ministries.  To spend a weekend in the company of godly women engaged in ministry, sharing their wisdom and allowing God to work in my life, would be such a blessing.  Though the conference is geared toward speakers, it has a writers' track as well, and that's the one my heart longs to attend.

The desire is there, but the finances are not.  So unless the Lord sees fit to pave the way through a scholarship (such as the one offered by Lysa TerKeurst) or other unexpected graces, I will not be able to attend this summer.  But I will continue to pray for a way to get there.  And in the meantime, I'll ask Him to develop my gifts (and, more importantly, my heart) so that He can use my talents AND my tragedies to advance His kingdom.

May His glorious name be praised!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Praising Him in the storms of life

"Where seldom is heard a discouraging word..." - Home on the Range

God spoke to me this afternoon as I was reading the first chapter of Job.  Here is a man who had everything - seven sons, three daughters, lots of cattle and sheep and camels - this means little to this non-farm girl, but in Biblespeak it means he was very wealthy.

Then Satan slithered over and told God that Job was a fair-weather friend who only loved Him because of all His blessings.  So God gave Satan permission to take everything Job had, so long as he did not harm Job himself.  And then, ka-blam!  Calamity struck!  Armies invaded, a tornado hit, lightning struck, and all of Job's children and possessions were dead and gone.

What did Job do next?  He cried, he swore, he raised his fists and yelled at God...

What?  No, he did none of those things.  The Bible says he mourned (tearing his clothes, shaving his head) and then WORSHIPPED God.  "I brought nothing with me into this world, and I can take nothing with me when I die.  Everything I have comes from God, and now He has taken it away.  May His name be praised!"

And the Word further tells us that "in all of this Job did not sin or blame God."

Obviously Job was a man whose love for God went far, far beyond the blessings He had given him.  I mean, God allows Satan to take away all he has, and he praises Him instead of blaming Him?  That would not be MY first reaction!

Okay, let's be honest.  I complain when I misplace something or the dishwasher breaks or the kids argue with me or minor inconveniences get in my way.  I argue with God when He doesn't answer my prayers the way I want.  And when calamity strikes, when I am overwhelmed or griefstricken and simply don't understand, I don't praise...I yell.  I go into my prayer closet (or the car - since I spend so much time driving kids around) and I raise my voice and say, "I don't understand!  Why?  Where were You?  Where ARE You?  Are You still in charge?  I need to hear from you!"

Job never DID hear why all this happened to him...not in chapter 1 and not by the end of chapter 42.  Yet he still praised God, worshipped Him, acknowledged Him as sovereign.  I want to be like Job when I grow up...if I ever do grow up.

Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.  Help me to trust in you so firmly and fervently that even life's storms and calamities cannot shake my belief that You love me, that You are here, and that You are in control.  Help me model this unshakeable faith to my children, that all future generations of my family may glorify Your name.  Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Strength for the Battle: Devotional methods

Yesterday I shared about my struggles with holding regular devotions, that daily time with God that equips us for life's daily battles.  I often tell myself I don't have time to sit at Jesus' feet, since our mornings are so hectic (I really need to get a better morning plan!).

But I was reminded as I took the time this morning of something a friend once told me: Make the time for God, and then watch as He makes the rest of the day work out, so that you are rewarded for the time you spend with Him.  For the second time this week, as I spent what surely seemed like 30 minutes in the Word, I found that only 10-15 minutes actually passed on my clocks, and I came away refreshed and not as harried.

My time with God tends to follow a pattern.  I always start out with a prayer, asking Him to clear my mind and speak to my heart, to meet me where I am.  Then I study the Scripture, reflect on what it says, and journal what I learn or what I feel Him telling me.

As for the Scripture time, I've never been one to use one of those very brief (200-word) devotionals, simply because the time is so short I don't really feel I've been in His actual presence.  I know those work well for many people, but in my own life, it always feels like Gospel Light - only a bit of substance, with  my mind undiverted long enough to make a difference.

I've used other helps from time to time, but these days my Bible reading tends to be one of two methods.  Often I'll do as Lysa TerKeurst does and read a chapter or two of Scripture, asking God to give me a special verse to cling to that day as His way of speaking to me.  This allows me to cover more Scripture in less time, yet still leaves me knowing I've been in His presence and giving me something to carry with me through the day.  Whether I spend few or many minutes exploring His Word, I leave this oasis refreshed and ready to pursue life with the Living God.

Other days, when I'm in the mood for in-depth study or have more time, I'll use the five-step method detailed by Ann Graham Lotz in God's Story. It takes time, but the results are intensely personal and well worth the time invested.

  1. Look in God's Word - Read the Scripture passage.
  2. List the facts - What does it say? Make a verse-by-verse list of the most outstanding, obvious facts, not details. Who is speaking? On what/where/why? Don't paraphrase; use actual words from the passage.
  3. Learn the lessons - What does the passage mean? Identify a spiritual lesson to learn from each fact. Is there a command to obey, a warning to heed, a promise to claim, an example to follow?
  4. Listen to His voice - What does it mean to me? Take the lessons and put them in the form of a question I can ask myself or others. Ask God to communicate to me personally through His word.
  5. Live in response - What is God telling/asking me? How will I respond? Write what I will do in response to God's message, and date the note as a journal and also to ensure followthrough.

Ultimately it's not the method we choose, nor the time of day, but the simple fact that we pause in our busy lives to listen to the Lord that will make the difference.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Strength for the Battle: Devotions

As a child (and, okay, as an adult) I loved the Nintendo 64 game Zelda.  As Link, the intrepid adventurer, pursued his quest to find Zelda, his lifeblood would be chinked away bit by bit by the monsters and pests and obstacles he encountered on the way.  But every now and then he could enter a cave and find a certain fairy who would fill him up again, pouring powerful lifeblood into the little hearts at the bottom of the screen that represented his available life.  He would leave the cave filled up, healthy and ready to resume the battle.

As a Christian, when I'm feeling drained from the struggle, I know what I need: not a fairy with a magic wand, but time spent sitting at Jesus' feet - what we Christians call devotions.

I've been a Christian since I was 13 years old.  And I've known since at least age 20 that you don't progress much in the Christian walk without a regular devotional time - a daily time reading God's Word and praying.  So how is it that, at the age of 48, I STILL struggle with having a faithful daily devotional time?  What am I waiting for...maturity?

My sister-in-law posted a great reminder on her Facebook page yesterday, a quote from Watchman Nee: "We may delay the growth of the life of God's Son in us, but we have no way of accelerating it. Because of this, it is of utmost importance that we accept God's ordering of circumstances in our lives, for it is by these circumstances that we receive the disciplines we need from the Holy Spirit to strengthen us as we grow."

Over the years I have heard so many great, yet conflicting, pieces of advice about devotions: They should be in the morning, to equip you for the day - but if you can't fit them into the morning, anytime will do.  All you need is a few minutes - no, you need at least 30 minutes.  A great supplemental or devotional book will help - vs. no, you only need the Bible.  You can do them anywhere - but you should pick a special spot and do them there every day.  My evil twin (my sin nature) says my devotions aren't consistent because of all this conflicting advice, but the Holy Spirit calls this excuse total hogwash.

I've found some great tools and some great words of wisdom from three different sources.  I love the refreshing take on Bible study found in Lysa TerKeust's book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl.  Lysa is a member of the Proverbs 31 Team.  I love her blog, and highly recommend her article "Don't Read Your Bible," as well as just about everything else she's ever written.  She's a woman who has suffered much in her life and loves the Lord tenderly.

Jen Hatmaker is another Christian author who refreshes me.  Her Bible study books are among the most humorous I've ever read, and she makes no pretensions about having a polished life, which makes me feel right at home.  Her excellent book A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study is a great source of suggestions for getting the most out of your personal devotional time.

I believe the Lord will bless every minute we spend sitting at His feet, whether it's in the morning, noon or night, whether it's in a quiet corner at home or a quiet corner at McDonald's, whether we use only His Word or add some special books or helps.  He will take every opportunity we give Him to pour His Word and His wisdom into our noisy, hectic lives.  And we will be all the better for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

To Save a Life - the movie

This weekend I took my 13-year-old daughter and one of her friends to see the new movie, "To Save A Life." I wasn't sure what to expect.

I had read a few reviews on Christian websites and had seen enough posts elsewhere to know that the movie portrays teen situations most of us hope our kids avoid - including swearing, drinking, parties, cutting, sex, isolation and suicide. I'd also observed mixed comments from Christians. Some decried the movie for portraying these things, saying they thought they were bringing their children to a clean (by which I presume they meant G-rated) movie. Others were very disappointed that the movie lacked a clear message about the gospel, how Jesus saves us.

I very much enjoyed "To Save A Life." I had feared the movie would present the aforementioned negatives, counter with an "include everyone" message, and leave God out of the picture entirely. This did not happen. The movie realistically portrayed a church and its youth group, including flaws, but also clearly pointed out the value of life, encouraging us to reach out to others in love and bring them to the Lord, knowing how much He loves us all. We were left with a message of hope.

Some say that the movie threw in too much - too many situations, trying to address them all, and that the acting was a bit weak. I agree that not all of the characters were well-drawn, and it sometimes seemed that the main character would become overwhelmed with all that was thrown at him. But the Christian life is like that. Often we believe our lives will get better when we start walking with God, that our paths will become smoother. The truth is that often this is when the bottom drops out and everything goes wrong. So I appreciated the fact that the movie didn't shy away from this.

There was also a clear message about reaching out to the lonely, the outcast, the isolated. We are literally surrounded with people who are hurting. Some of them seek solace in the partying life; others become more and more alone. There's probably not a person walking on this planet who has not at one time or another felt lonely, abandoned, outcast, unloved. It's our job and our privilege to reach out and help them connect with us and with the One Who loves them more than anyone else can, and I loved the way this movie underscored that point.

There is much to dislike in the films Hollywood continually tries to sell us. "To Save a Life" is an opportunity to vote with our wallets and our attendance for those filmmakers who give us what we say we want - realistic yet uplifting portrayals of lives faithfully lived, seeking the Lord's guidance as the storms of life rage around us. I intend to see this movie again, with my 11-year-old daughter at my side, and I encourage others to do the same.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Say Uncle!

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." -Matthew 11:27-29

As a child, I liked to wrestle with my siblings (or cousins or any other willing party; I was a tomboy back then). If you were losing and wanted to quit, the victor would always cry out, "Say 'Uncle'!" before they would let you go. Saying "Uncle" meant the battle was over; you were admitting that you were overwhelmed.

Well, life has been amazingly hectic lately, and after looking at today's schedule (four, yes, FOUR things going on after work today), I am officially saying "Uncle." I am overwhelmed! How is it that my life can be one constant rush from one activity to the next? Some of this is inherent in being a mom - two of tonight's activities are for my kids. Another one is a service activity for the church. But regardless of whether the activities are positive or noble or family-oriented, the fact is that our entire lives can easily become stuffed with activities, and just because they're good, that doesn't make the busyness a good thing.

I admit that I bring a lot of this on myself. The fact is that I can get much more done if there are five things on my to-do list than if there is only one. I seem to thrive on busyness. You would think that if I had more free time, my house would be cleaner and my life more organized. But as I quickly learned during a few rather short stay-at-home periods of motherhood, given large expanses of free time, I tend to waste them with TV, computer games and the like. So I definitely tend to err on the side of busyness.

But, as Moses' father-in-law Jethro told him in Exodus 18, "What you are doing is not good. You...will only wear yourself out." The good is in fact the enemy of the best. All this racing around, living a life of "good" but hectic activity, gets in my way. There are no free moments to think, to plan, to set goals. There is not nearly enough time in the Word, and much too little time spent talking to my children about the Lord or His Word. In fact, there's too little time spent talking to my family at all, except for giving advice, instructions, updates, or orders. How can relationships thrive in that environment? They don't.

Satan is more than happy for us to fill our lives with good things as long as they keep us too busy to draw nearer to the Savior, to encourage others in their walk with God, or to spend time in prayer. His plan is subtle but insidious and effective. Blitz our lives with frenetic activity and don't give us time to examine our lives, our thoughts, our hearts...till one day we look up and realize that we have drifted away from our loved ones and the One Who loves us more than anyone else can.

For many years I have regarded busyness as an acquaintance, a regular part of my life. But now I must finally acknowledge that I have let it become a friend...a welcomed and accepted part of my life. I think it's time to "unfriend" this very unfriendly friend.

Lord, help me to become the LEAST busy person in my family, so that I can become the biggest encourager, so that I can model Your peace to my husband and kids, and so I have time to do the things that matter the most. And please put someone in my life to hold me accountable and remind me of this the next time I am tempted to sign up for everything!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Truth Project

Tonight we gathered with a group of friends to begin viewing Focus on the Family's The Truth Project video series in our home. I saw this series last year in church and loved it; it does a wonderful job at examining our culture and our faith in light of absolute truth, which is found in God alone - He is the author of truth, because He alone is truth.

Yet how quick we are to disregard His Word and His promises, and how quick we are (okay, by WE here I mean ME) to instead believe Satan's lies. The lie that we don't need God, that He doesn't provide, that He doesn't love us, that we need to take care of ourselves because He's too busy or cannot or will not.

One of the things that appeals most about the Truth Project is that so often Christians (especially Bible-believing Christians) are regarded as Neanderthals, belittled for believing a book, and thought to be people who don't think, who unquestioningly trust in an ancient, hopelessly out of date faith. Yet the Word of God is not out of date; it is living and active. And unlike so many mythical tales that have proven false over the ages, scientists and historians and anthropologists make new discoveries each day that attest to the truth of the Bible.

I love knowing that, although God asks us to believe in Him, trust in Him, and read His Word, He also is the God of our minds as well as our hearts. He is deeper than the deepest discoveries man can make, deeper than the greatest mysteries known to science. And He doesn't ask us to shut off our minds when we come to Him; in fact He invites us to get to know Him, to test Him and see that He is trustworthy.

C.S. Lewis, the great scholar, set out to prove that Christianity was a hoax and became converted in the process. Along with others, so did Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. And then these men wrote books and compiled evidence to show the world - and the church - the proof. God's Word will stand the test of time and every test man can create. Do you doubt? Then earnestly seek the truth and you will find Him!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just getting started

I've wanted to start a blog for the longest time, but always feared I'd have nothing to say, or that I'd forget my thoughts before actually reaching the computer. Lately, however, I've noticed that LOTS of folks have blogs, including some who seemingly have much less to say than I do. So I've decided to take the plunge.

The goal is not to post my status or complain about life (Facebook works just fine for that), but to share what I learn each day as I embark on this journey...a journey to lose myself and, in so doing, find Christ (Luke 9:24). Hence the title of my blog...Losing Myself.

As for the domain name (The Word Woman), I chose that because (1) I love to write and read and (2) I love God's Word, the Bible. I'll probably be the only one to read this blog, but it's still exciting to try something new.