Friday, March 29, 2013

When God's Ideal & My Ideas Do Not Agree

"Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him..."
Psalm 37:5

Dad is buried in Florida; Mom in Ohio.
This has caused sadness and heartache for me.
It just doesn't seem right that they are not resting side-by-side.

I know, I know,
it isn't really them.
In reality, they are Paradise.
That is a deep-settled fact that God so sweetly witnesses to me
every time I become distressed over this.

But, for some reason, I just always pictured them being buried in the same cemetery,
next to each other,
with a double tombstone engraved with both their names
situated at the top of their graves.
Knowing it isn't that way just doesn't sit right with me.
It hasn't ever since we buried Mom last April.
It is one of those things that gnaws at the insides
and just won't go away.

Do you know what I mean?
Ever have something like that in your life?

Before Mom's funeral, I spoke with the man at the cemetery
and told him I wanted to purchase the burial plot right next to Mom
because I had a big dream somewhere back in my mind that one day
I would have Dad's remains moved the 1,072 miles to be buried next to her.
The man was gracious and sold me the plot on a payment plan.
We have been making monthly payments ever since.

A month or so ago, I decided I would start inquiring as to what is required
to make this nagging dream of mine reality.
I made the phone call to the cemetery in Florida,
and my phone call was answered by a woman with a deep voice
who was a bit on the curt, matter-of-fact side.....
kind of like someone who may be in the wrong line of work? :~)
Not much compassion or empathy or sensitivity....
or any of the personality traits one would expect from 
someone working to please and ease grieving hearts.
This woman was gruff....and all business.

I made my request known to her and began to inquire as to what needed to be done....
to fulfill this dream of mine and make it happen.
Sacrifice, on my part, wasn't an issue.
It meant just that much.

"You're talking thousands upon thousands of dollars" she replied, with little feeling.

"Really?" I asked.

"You have to pay for the vault to be unsealed,
then the casket has to be opened,
the remains have to be examined, evaluated, then packed in dry ice.
You have to find a funeral director who will travel from Florida to Ohio
to accompany the body every step of the way.
It cannot be unaccompanied, at any point.
Each time you pass over the state line into a new state, 
they have to notify the officials concerning the details of what they are hauling.
Then you have to take it upon yourself to sell the plot here in our cemetery.
We won't buy it back from you.
This is a big process, and it is very expensive."
Her voice displayed absolutely no emotion.
Just flat, this-is-the-way-we-do-it-around-here business talk.

I had no idea it involved so much."

My heart sank lower to the floor each time she uttered a word.

She went on explaining other details I needed to know.
At the end, I thanked her, said good-bye, and we hung up.

I began to envision them opening Dad's coffin after almost 13 years.

Dad was the most countrified, unassuming, easily-satisfied person I ever knew.
He was a hard working man who didn't mind getting his hands dirty.
No frills about him.
He didn't care a bit about fanciness or riches or ceremony.
He used to joke and tell us that when he died,
he just wanted us to find an old, pine box and throw him in it.
He was very humorous, but he meant every word.
He was from the old school, was raised very poor, 
and never once tried to get above his raising.

Reality of what the woman had said began to settle over me.
Not what I wanted, but what Dad would want came front and center in my mind.
He wouldn't want this.
He wouldn't want to put us out...he never did.
If he forever knew that I was considering spending thousands of dollars
to move what is left of the Dad we knew, loved, and touched
over a thousand miles just so he could be buried next to Mom, 
he would find it absurd.
Completely unnecessary.
Out of the question.

I could just hear him telling me to leave things alone.
To let it be.

To think of someone opening up his coffin, at this point,
and disturbing his remains makes me feel disrespectful.
It just isn't right.
It is like intruding into something sacred....
something that should not be disturbed.
I just would not....could not do it.
I had no idea they would have to do that.
I thought they could just lift everything out, 
vault and all,
put it on a vault truck,
and it could be moved...respectfully.
With dignity.

I called Tim at the cemetery where Mom is buried....
to get his take on it and ask him a few of the same questions.
He told me if I wanted to sell the plot next to Mom,
they would buy it back from me.

I thanked him and told him I would think about it.
I hung up...still in shock...not ready to let that plot go.
Not ready to accept the fact that this long-term dream is just not going to happen.
Oh, it could happen.
If I made the absolute decision to do it,
if we came up with the money,
this could happen.

But, is it really God's will that it happen?
It has been important to me for so long,
I never thought to ask Him if this is what He wants.
If He had wanted them buried side-by-side, 
wouldn't things have worked out that way?
In the first place?

Sometimes God reveals His will through our circumstances.
Then it is up to us to follow the flow...and not push against it.

God looks at all things through the lens of eternity.
We are so our thinking.
We see this side of things.
In reality, the soul is what matters.....
that part of us that will live forever.
The part of Mom and Dad that God now holds in His grasp.
The eternal, never-dying part of them.
They are safe.
Never to be disturbed by satan again.
Never to feel another pain.
Never to cry another tear.
Never to die another death.

I know God is sensitive to my heartache.
He is so touched by everything that touches us.
He is love....the epitome of goodness, compassion, and mercy.
So, I know He cares about this.

He cared when my heart shattered hearing the woman's words.
He cared when I sat down, after we hung up, and tried to absorb
what I had just been told.
He cared, when the possibility that this just might never happen
began to appear on the horizon of my thought process.
He cares, and He gently tried to ease me into this...
by allowing things to fall the way they have fallen.

God cares about our shattered dreams.
He cares when our dreams don't line up with His will.
And He is there to mend the heartache.
To pick up the brokenness.
To bind up our broken hearts.
To give us the strength to let go.

I have this way of looking at things....thinking things must be a certain way...
in order for them to be right.
Right....according to my standards.
Right....the way I see them.

God's thoughts are so far above mine.
His ways so far above my ways.
He had a purpose in allowing things to fall the way they fell.
And He is not required to align His purpose with my expectations.
I am to align my will with His.
He doesn't have to ask my permission before He makes a move.
He doesn't have to consult with me to see if things are going the way I have them pictured to go.
He doesn't have to adapt His plan to suit my whims.
I am to surrender what I think is best 
to His already-laid-out-design.
I am to accept His ideal and let go of my idea....
when the two do not agree.

God's will is non-negotiable.

He has a perfect plan...already put in place.
It is up to me to come to a place of acceptance of and adherence to that plan.

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
His body was human.
Just like yours...and mine.
His flesh recoiled from the awful agony, torture, and suffering He knew would come to Him that night....
just like you or I would cringe and draw back.
Who wants to suffer?
Three times Jesus prayed the same prayer.
Three times He wished for a different outcome...
a different way....
a different path to reach the imperative destination.
Three times He begged His Father to change His mind.
Can you feel His anguish?
On that first Good Friday all those years ago?

Please read the account with me found in Matthew 26:38-44.

"Then saith he unto them,
My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: 
tarry ye here, and watch with me.
And he went a little further,
and fell on his face, and prayed, saying,
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep,
and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: 
the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying,
O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
And he left them, and went away again,
and prayed the third time, saying the same words."

Three times, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, asked God for a different path.
Three times He hoped for deliverance from the awful cup He knew He must drink.
Three times He came to the realization that His longing for a different outcome
did not align with His Father's will.
Three times He surrendered and said,
"Not My will, but Thine be done."

Imagine if He hadn't surrendered.
I even think of that "what if?".

I don't know why things had to fall the way they did
or why it has to be so complicated to make things end up
the way I think they should be.
But, lately, it has occurred to me that God has another plan...
for that extra plot beside Mom.

I am going to hold on to it.
Kevin and I decided we will not sell it back to the cemetery.
We will keep making the monthly payments.
We don't feel led to let it go.
We considered buying two extra plots beside it for the three of us,
but no others are available.
I'm starting to think maybe someone else is intended to be buried to Mom.
When the time comes, God will make it plain,
and the plot will be given and used the way it is meant to be.

Dad's remains will remain...
right where they are.
I won't have them disturbed.
They will rest.
Until that great and wonderful day,
when Gabriel sounds his trumpet
and the dead in Christ arise
to go and live forever with the Lord!
His body, now decayed and unrecognizable,
will be recognized by Him Who created him.
It will be changed....into a celestial body,
when mortality takes on immortality and death is swallowed up in victory!
What a day that will be!

Down here, it isn't the way I had it pictured.
It doesn't seem right.
On that day, it won't tiny bit.

As for me....I wanted a different outcome.
But, I'm okay.
It is just one of those unchangeable things I must accept....
and move on.

I accept.
I surrender.
I say from the heart,
"Not my will, Father, but Thine be done",
because He absolutely knows what is best.
Peace comes as the words spring....
all the way from my heart.

How about you, my friend?
Are there things in your life that are hard to understand?
Things that turned out differently than you think they should have?
Things that just don't sit right with you?
Maybe you have tried your utmost to turn things around,
create a different outcome,
change the end result...
only to come up short and feel that you are pushing against a bigger plan.
It is quite possible that you are.
Perhaps God has said no.
End of discussion.
Door tightly and permanently closed.

I know how you feel.
It is hard to let go.
It hurts to realize that your idea and God's ideal do not agree.

It's okay to feel the way you do.
You will find complete rest as you surrender.
As soon as you utter the words Jesus uttered....
tears coursing down His cheeks, splashing on to Gethsemane's soil,
sweat seeping through His pores as great drops of blood,
heart shattered and anguish-riven....
three days before that first Easter morning.

Jesus won the victory that night.
So will you.

Peace will you align your ideas to God's ideal.
Slowly, refreshingly, unexpectedly peace will fall....
from His heart....into yours....

kind of like softly falling snow on a quiet winter evening.

It falls.
It covers.
It envelops.
It changes the landscape and fills the inmost soul.

At the end of the day,
feeling that peace is all that really matters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Covers

"I have shewed you all things, 
how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, 
and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 
It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Acts 20:35
(KJV - emphasis mine)

I got blessed last night.
Really blessed.
One of those heavens-windows-open-wide-pouring-out-more-than-I-could-contain blessings.

I wasn't sitting in church, when it happened.

I wasn't praying....
reading my Bible....
singing a song...
listening to music...
or walking through nature.

I was pulling out of a Huddle House parking the dark...
after just minding God.

Obedience to God always brings the sweetest, 
most overwhelming blessings.

Zach and I had picked Kevin up from work,
and we had all decided we were hungry.
We drove the few blocks to the restaurant,
settled in to good conversation,
 and were enjoying a pleasant meal.

It was late, and we weren't in the best neighborhood,
so I was happy to see the three cops seated in a booth
caddy-corner to ours.
Every now and then, I glanced in their direction 
to see if they were still there.
Each time, I was glad they were.
You just never know these days.

About halfway through our time in the restaurant,
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, that a group had walked in 
and were heading to the booth in the corner right behind ours.
The group consisted of five young guys,
probably in their early 20's...
some of them looked a bit rough around the edges.
That might be putting it mildly.
At any rate, I began to feel a bit uneasy.

Once again, I found my glance riveted to the three cops,
and I felt comforted knowing they were still there.

Looking at the guys,
I expected them to be noisy,
possibly disrespectful to the waitress,
and thought the pleasantness of our meal might be interrupted.

Why do I expect the worst?
Why do I automatically prejudge?
Why do I look at the outside and make unfair assumptions 
as to what is on the inside?
Why do I judge books by their covers?

Time after time, I found myself looking in their direction.
All at once, out of the blue,
the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit began to deal with me.
"I want you to buy their meal."

"Really, Lord?

"Yes, them.
I want you to stop judging people based on their outward appearance.
I see the inside.
You should trust My assessment.
It doesn't matter how they look,
how they are dressed,
what your assumptions are.
Down under the surface, 
beyond the tough exterior,
they have a living soul.
They feel.
They hurt.
They love.
I created them.
They deserve much as anyone else.
Buy their meal.
Listen to My voice.
Mind Me."

One of the five guys pulled up a spare chair,
to put at the end of the they would all fit.
There were seated and began looking at menus.
Contrary to all of my pre-judging assumptions,
they were mannerly and very quiet.
The waitress came.
Opposite of what I thought would happen,
they were respectful.
They all ordered water, which, for some odd, unknown, off-the-wall reason, impressed me.

I looked at Kevin and Zach. 
Their backs were turned to the five guys.

"I can't explain it", I explained.
"But, I feel like the Lord is telling me to buy their meal."

Kevin asked.

"Did you see the five guys who walked in a little bit ago?
The ones who look pretty rough?"

"Yeah, I saw them.
If you feel that strongly about it,
maybe we should buy it."
Kevin has a heart of gold...generous as can be...
and always willing to listen when he hears, 
"the Lord is telling me to..."

I sat there, silently praying.
"Lord, is this You?
If it is, will you give me a sign...
that you really want us to do this?"

I could picture them becoming offended and possibly enraged.
Crazy thoughts were going through my head.
I knew if we did buy it, it would be with the utmost discretion,
and we wouldn't want them to know until we were long-gone.

Another voice started in.
"You know you can't afford to do that.
Their meal will cost a lot.
A meal for 5 men will set you back to the tune of
at least $40 or so.
Just let it go.
Forget it."

The still, small voice kept speaking...
reminding me that it is His money anyway.

"My children come in all shapes, sizes, races, and outward appearances.
There is no one-size-fits-all mold.
You look at people, and you base everything about them on what you see.
You have such preconceived notions.
Such lofty standards.
I have used men who look a lot like these guys.
What do you think Peter, James, John, and the others looked like?
Do you think they were all cleaned up, close-shaven, and well-dressed?
I choose to use people...just like the guys you are judging.
In fact, these guys are Christians.
But, that really isn't the point.
Even if they weren't followers of Me, I'd still want you to buy their meal."

Excuse me, Lord?
Did I hear You correctly?
I must be way off my game tonight....
when it comes to hearing Your voice
and understanding the meaning of Your words.
Did you say these guys are Christians?"

"You heard Me right, child.
They are My children, just as much as you are Mine.
They serve Me.
They are doing their best...just like you are.
They're human....just like you.
Remember when John came rushing to tell Me
that he and the other disciples had witnessed someone
casting out devils in My name?
He said they forbade him to do it, because he didn't follow us.
He was unfamiliar.
He didn't walk by our side.
And just because he was unknown to them,
they branded him as someone unworthy.
They automatically assumed he had no right.
What was My answer to such?"

I knew the exact incident of which He was reminding me.
It is found in the 9th chapter of Mark, verses 38-40.
It has always spoken volumes to me.
Never more so, than right then.

To be precise, this is Jesus' exact words back to John,
"But Jesus said, Forbid him not:
for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name,
that can lightly speak evil of me.
For he that is not against us is on our part."
(emphasis mine)

Aren't we so like John?
Just because people don't look like we do or like we think they should?
Just because the outside packaging is rough?
Just because they aren't with "us"?
Who are "we" anyway?
Are we so narrow-minded as to think "we" are the only ones
who are Christians or the only ones who are going to Heaven?
That we hold some kind of exclusive rights to the Kingdom Keys?

I imagine if Jesus were the flesh....
He would continually shake His head...
at our audacity....
our feelings of spiritual superiority...
our incessant fascination with making people fit into our molds...
instead of His.

I imagine if we could have witnessed some of the men...and women...
God has chosen to use through the eras of time,
we would gasp....
take on our pious, "holier-than-thou" stance, dig in our sanctimonious heels,
and turn up our smug noses....
until we witnessed the extent of the power of God in their lives.
We judge John for doing what he did.
Don't we do the same?
Each time we do what I did the other night?

The Potter is so faithful to set things right.
He tells me like it is, and that is what I want...
with all my heart.
I want the truth.
So I can be set free...from every shred of self.
I want Him to remove every drop of judgmentalism right out of me.
I want to stop trying to categorize people....
to just love them....
for who they are.
To leave the heart-judging to God,
the only righteous Judge.
I still keep asking myself,
"Just who do you think you are anyway, girl?
Who made you judge and jury?
God looks upon the heart, remember?"

All of this was going on...under the surface....
sitting across from Kevin and Zach.
Once, one of the rougher looking guys happened to look my way.
We made eye contact...for a brief second,
before I quickly turned away....
afraid he could somehow read my awful, judging thoughts.

"Are you okay?"
Kevin always seems to be able to look right through me...
straight to the heart...
and know when something is gnawing at me.

"I'm okay.
I am just waiting for God to let me know for sure...
about what to do.
I wish He would give us a sign."

All through the rest of the meal, 
I kept looking...waiting....listening...for that sign.
None came...
until the very end.

We finished our meal,
stood up to put on our coats,
and started to leave.

"They're talking about the Bible",
Kevin whispered.

What did they say?",
there I was, guarded, making wrong assumptions....
thinking maybe they were sneering or showing irreverence for God's Word.
Even after what God had just told me,
it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the possibility that
these rough, rugged-looking guys could be the respectful-to-the-Bible type.

"They are talking about the Ten Commandments....
in a good way."
Kevin read my thoughts....again.
"They're asking each other which is the first commandment....
very respectfully.
Things like that."

Okay, so I got my sign.

"Let's do it",
 I looked up at Kevin as we walked towards the cashier.

"Okay, I'll do it quietly."
Kevin handed the cashier his debit card,
took care of our meal,
then quietly told her what he wanted to do.

She looked shocked.

"You know which ones I mean, right?"
Kevin wanted to be sure.

"Yeah, the guys in that corner booth over there, right?
She still looked surprised....
in a pleased-kind-of-way.

"Yeah, that's them.  There are five of them."

"Okay, you can do that.
It will be $21.96."

"For all of them?"
Kevin asked, not understanding how five grown guys could
possibly get enough to eat for such a meager amount.

"Yes, that is for all of them."

My mind went back to the lies satan had been feeding me...
trying to dissuade me from minding God.
In reality, the guys had ordered under $22.00 worth of food,
just half of what we thought the check would be.
Soon, the transaction was completed, 
and we hurried out the door.

We got situated in the car,
drove off,
and soon reached the opposite side of the building
nearest to their booth.

As we passed their table,
Kevin and I simultaneously glanced towards their direction,
and there they were.
Faces pressed to the glass.
Grinning from ear to ear.
Waving at us...for all they were worth.
Gratitude, humility, true happiness...
radiating all over each of their faces.

Turns out, the cashier wasted no time in hurrying to their table
to tell them what had just happened.

The looks in their eyes spoke volumes.
It was obvious we had made their night.
But, not nearly as much as they had made ours.

We waved back, and drove off into the night.
I broke down and cried right there in the car...
blubbered like a baby.
Happy, heart-filled-to-the-brim tears.
I felt like God had just sent down a heavenly shower of blessing
all over me...from head to toes,
soaked my inmost spirit with His grace,
and drenched my heart with His love.

"Mama, are you all right?"
Zachary asked, as he heard my sobs.

"Yes, Zachary, I'm fine.
I feel so thoroughly blessed."

"Did you see their faces?"
Kevin asked.

"Yes, I saw."

It hit us driving down the road that the reason their check cost so little
could have been because they didn't order all they wanted,
due to lack of finances.

They could have been college guys,
operating on a shoestring budget.
We'll never know who they were...
or what their circumstances might have been.

"I wish now I would have asked the waitress to get them something
else to eat...added a burger for each of them or something,"
Kevin's said, as we drove along.

I wish we would have done more, too.

You can't judge a book by its cover.
Some of the best-written, most interesting, intriguing literature
lies behind dull, unattractive binding.
Some of the best-intending people lie behind rough exteriors.
And even if they don't have the best of intentions,
they need love....just like everyone else.
Just like you....and me.

I am still feeling that blessing.
Still thinking about those guys.
I've been praying for them.
May they live for Jesus all their days.
May they go out and reach the world for Christ.
I have a hunch His hand is on each one of their lives.

I'm glad He doesn't look on the outward appearance.
He isn't affected by anything we do to the outside.
Sanctimonious airs do nothing to impress our Maker.
The thing He notices is the heart....
that inmost part of us.
He recognized those guys as His...bought and paid for.
Looking on the outside, I would have never guessed.
Here I was, sizing them up,
figuring them to be gang members, hoodlums, ex-cons,
or who knows what else.
Maybe they one time.
I think the key word here is "ex".
Whatever their past, they now belong to Him...I have no doubt.
After all, the ones with the biggest, stickiest messes,
end up having the loudest, most effective messages, right?

I know one thing....I'm glad we stopped at Huddle House.
I'm glad they crossed our path.
I ended up with a huge, life-altering lesson....
and a long-lasting blessing that filled
and continues to fill my inmost soul with joy.

Books aren't always what they appear to be.
It pays to mind God,
and it is definitely more blessed to give, than to receive.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Herein Lies Joy

"Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
Psalm 37:4

"What brings me joy?",
I asked myself this morning,
searching for nothing but completely honest answers.
It didn't take me long to figure it out.

My recipe for a joy-filled day...a joy-filled life....
is really pretty simple.
I'm a simple kind of gal.
Not many frills attached.
What you see is pretty much what you get.

I love to pray.

It brings me the greatest joy to talk to God.
To pour out my heart.
To find comfort as He listens.
Then sit quiet...still...and wait.
Until He starts talking back.
I love the daily surrender...
knowing I don't have to figure things out....He already has.
The isn't up to me, it's up to Him.
The relinquishment of will...
knowing mine is swallowed up in His.
The transfer of responsibility...
off my shoulders, onto His.
It keeps our relationship current...on a daily basis.
If something happens, and I don't get to pray first thing,
my whole day goes out of skelter.
There is a nagging tug that follows me around all day long
and steals my joy...until I drop it all and go seek His face.
I crave time with Him.
I need it.

Joy comes to me in the form of two strong arms
that wrap around me as I cook,
stand at the sink doing dishes,
flitter here and there...doing what I have to do.
Kevin keeps me grounded.
Gives me a deep sense of peace.
Brings untold joy into the every day...
just by being in it.

Joy bubbles within me when a sweet voice says "Mama",
and I realize he is talking to me.
The longing for him started when I was a little girl...
long hair pulled high in pony-tails,
sitting on my bedroom floor,
playing with dolls, dreaming of Prince Charming,
wishing for the real baby who would one day call me "Mama".
I thought it would never happen.
Bundle of joy took on a whole new meaning to me
the moment they first placed him in my arms.

Joy happens every morning when I realize
we made it through another night,
and we are all still here.

Joy comes along and fills my heart just by being with the two of them.
Being a wife and mother are my personal dreams fulfilled.
I was meant to do this.
This is why I was born.
It totally satisfies me.
Fills me with the deepest contentment.
Nothing is a chore.
Down deep, it is all I have ever wanted to do...
more than anything else in the world.

Every time I wash a dish,
change a sheet,
mop a floor,
clean a toilet,
teach a lesson,
fold a towel,
bake a roast,
pack a lunch,
grade a test,
wipe the table,
pick up a toy,
iron a shirt,
cut up a salad,
juice a carrot,
blend a smoothie,
sit between them at the table...
I feel Joy....true and deep.

Joy comes to me in my natural element.
At peace with my Maker,
within Kevin's arms,
raising and homeschooling Zachary,
spending time with them,
loving them,
taking care of them,
serving them...
I am content.
This is right where I am supposed to be.

Joy happens when you are right where you are supposed to be,
with the ones you are meant to be with,
smack-dab in the center of God's perfect will.
Joy is not wishing for anything other than who and what you already have.

Joy is being together...with them.

Whatever we are doing.
Wherever we are.
Living life.
Sharing blessings.
Dividing burdens.

Joy comes to me through the writing of words
flowing from Him Who made me...
filtering through my mind,
then finding their way here....on to my computer screen...
in the form of devotionals.
I love the inspiration part.
Hearing God speak...
feeling His gentle urges to keep writing.
Without it, what worthwhile word would I have to say?
On my own?
It all stems from Him.
These are His words.
His messages.
His thoughts.
Placed in my heart, then shared with yours.

God promised that if we take delight in Him,
He will give us the desires of our heart.
I believe He places the desires there
based on what would most fulfill our lives
and bring us the most joy.
Staying within the parameters of our God-given talents
brings about an automatic sense of fulfillment and deep-seated joy.
The desires that come from the deepest recesses of our hearts
are driven by God's design for us, as an individual
and they give us a good indication of the direction in which we should sail
to find the most joy.
For example, if you are a people person, there's a good chance
you will never be satisfied working in a back office.
Not being able to fulfill God-instilled dreams and desires,
leaves one feeling stymied, smothered, and unfulfilled.

What about you?
What brings you joy?
When are you the most joyful?
What are you good at?
Your natural talents...
the things that come effortlessly to you
These are the road signs to lead you to your true purpose.
Following the desires God has placed in your heart will direct you to true fulfillment.
Trying to struggle against what God wants for you will only lead to misery.
Operating outside of what you are truly good at will cause continual frustration.

The bank in Florida Kevin and I worked for required each person who applied for a job
to complete a test called a "Predictive Index".
On both sides of the test, there were 100 adjectives...
words that describe attitudes and personality traits.
Both sides of the test were identical.
On side one, the applicant was to circle every adjective that described their true self.
On side two, they were to circle every adjective that described how people expected them to be.
After all of the data was entered into the computer software,
the information was compiled and formulated,
and we were provided with an assessment as to which job
the applicant was best suited.
Some people are just not cut out to be supervisors.
Some should never deal with the public.
Others make outstanding managers and shine the most when working with customers.
Everyone is different.
The goal was to match the best-suited candidate to each job opening.
We found this to be best, because people are the most productive
when they are most fulfilled and satisfied.
Putting it simply, a person should do the thing he or she is best at doing.
To put someone in a job in which they continually have to "go against the grain"
to perform their daily duties
is setting them up for failure and puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

God has His Own predictive index scale.
He knows you...and me...inside and out.
He knows where we are best suited...
where we will shine the brightest...
be the happiest....
and find the most fulfillment and joy in our everyday lives.
He gives us desires that lead us to that place.
Your place may be worlds-apart-different than mine.
Only God knows where each of us can be
most efficiently and effectively used in His Kingdom.
True joy is found when we reach that place,
and it will be ours as long as we stay there
and don't wander outside of the parameters and boundary lines God has drawn.

This is real joy.
Joy that transcends any outward circumstance we must endure.
Joy that far surpasses anything this world has to offer.
Joy that is beyond putting into words.
Unspeakable joy.
It automatically comes as we take delight in God, 
finding in Him all we need,
living life at Jesus' feet,
surrounded by the ones who mean the most,
serving them,
continually pouring ourselves out...

for the sake and good of others...
remaining constant in the center of God's perfect will, whatever that may be.

I hope you have more than your share of it.
I hope your heart is overflowing with the joy unspeakable that comes
from being exactly where you are meant to be.
May you always listen to your heart and follow Jesus wherever He leads.
This, my friend, is real joy.
May you find it,
live it,
walk in it...
every, single day of your life.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Washing of Feet

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
I John 4:11
Dad was from Tennessee, Mom from southern Ohio.
They were common people, very down-to-earth, 
extremely giving,
the kind who would give you the shirt right off your back 
if you needed it more than they did.
They taught me the purest of values,
instilled in me a great awe and a deep longing for God,
and an overwhelming desire to bless and help others.
They taught all of this to me, not only by words,
but much more through example....
in how they lived their own lives.

I've seen Dad go often to a fellow Christian brother's home
to care for his afflicted feet.
I can still see Dad bent over,
on his knees,
in front of the elderly man's recliner,
washing and relieving the pain.

I've seen him walk to the side of a dying man's makeshift bed
set up in the downstairs dining room of his home,
because he was no longer able to climb the stairs to his room.
The man was a firm believer in Divine Healing,
and had a strongly-planted faith in the power of God.
It was his consecration that if God chose not to heal him,
he was ready to go to Heaven, where he would receive a new body...
free from pain and disease.
He was never examined by a doctor during his illness,
but it was assumed by all that he was suffering from some form of cancer...
possibly of the throat or lungs.
At any rate, he was coughing up blood
and very, very ill.
The smell was near-unbearable.
Dad would stand there helping him.
Cleaning things up.
Trying to be a comfort.
Never complaining.
The man wasn't family,
but he was a brother in Christ.

I remember a time Mom and Dad went to see a man in the hospital 
who was suffering from a disease transmitted to him 
through the promiscuous life he chose to live.
They were told by the hospital staff that the disease 
was very contagious and highly communicable.
They had to don masks, gowns, and gloves just to go in to see him.
He wasn't a family member or even the closest of friends.
But, they felt a compassion for him and his plight,
and they wanted to show him the love of Jesus.
So, they took their chances...
and followed Christ....
right into that undesirable, dismal room.

There was a dear, elderly, wheel-chair-bound lady we used to visit on a regular basis
who had difficulty bathing, due to her size and condition.
The odor was near-overwhelming.
The whole house was affected, and it took everything I had,
as a child to keep from becoming ill while there.
Mom had a very weak stomach and used to have to spray perfume on her handkerchief
and hold it in her hand, discreetly, under her nose
so she could bear the stench....
just so we could sit with that woman,
talk to her,
pray with her,
sing to her,
be there for her.
She was a precious soul.
I'll never forget how her face used to light up when we walked in,
her toothless grin,
or the sweet hug she always had waiting for us.

Mom and Dad were not perfect.
But, they tried their utmost to please the only One Who is.
It was the joy of their lives to know they were blessing others.
No matter what it cost them, personally.
They taught me that there are things far more important than my own comfort and ease.

Dad was a man who would jump in...
just because there was a need.
He didn't have to be asked.
He wasn't too good to do the dirty work
or the unpleasant tasks that others found too revolting.
Nothing was beneath him.
Mom used to tell me that her and Dad's calling was for personal work.
Visiting the sick and shut-ins,
singing to them,
reading the Bible to them,
praying for them,
being Jesus' hands and feet.

People like Mom and Dad are in a classification all by themselves.
Where do you find people like that these days?
They are what I call a vanishing breed.
In danger of extinction.

We just don't want to get our hands dirty anymore.
We think someone else will do the dirty work.
After all, we can't take the chance of becoming contaminated.
We operate under a spirit of pride and self-exaltation...
to the degree that we appear very aloof to the non-believing, hurting world around us.

In later years, Mom suffered so immensely.
Due to severe colon issues, 
she had to wear an ostomy for the last few years of her life.
It was quite a devastating blow for Mom to wake up from surgery
and find that this was the only result the surgeon could come up with
to save and prolong her life.
But, Mom was made of a strong composition..
At 80 years old, she took on the challenge.
Bless her dear heart, she dealt with it like a real trooper.

I will probably never forget the day I heard about
 a terribly insensitive comment that was made by a fellow-church goer
who didn't think Mom should continue to attend public services, because of her ostomy.
It hurt right down to the core of my being...
to know that we attended church with such hypocrisy,
such insensitivity,
such blatant pride,
such unlike-Jesus people.
Mom was treated with disrespect and unfriendliness 
and left that building deeply wounded more times than I can remember.

It must be beyond-sickening to God...
to see us don our Sunday best,
faithfully attend our Sunday services,
yet, live and act the total opposite of Jesus Christ.

What good does it do?
For us to be so committed?
To never miss a service?
To faithfully warm our reserved pew week after week?
If we don't take it to the streets.
If we don't put it all in practice.
If we can't even live it right church?

We are one of the most spiritually-enlightened nations on earth.
We are inundated and bombarded with the Gospel...
through mediums our forefathers never even imagined.
It isn't for a lack of having access to what Jesus was like
and knowing what we should be doing
that the world is not seeing Jesus.

Remember the lepers?
They were unlovable.
The smell that emanated from their diseased bodies was horrific.
The sight of their rotting flesh was revolting.
These were people no one wanted.
There was nothing about them that would have caused enjoyment in being around them.
They couldn't even go home to their families.
They were ostracized.
Unable to live normal lives.
Beyond human reach.

Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, God's own and only begotten Son,
King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator of the universe.
He didn't have to, but He chose to live and breathe in a human body...
just like yours and mine.
He loved beyond any measure or capacity you and I will ever comprehend.
He wasn't afraid of leprosy.
He loved the lepers....with an eternal, uncontrollable, genuine love.
He loved them so much that He drew near them.
He didn't only draw near...He went a step further.
He did the unthinkable.

"And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, 
Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, 
I will; be thou clean
And immediately his leprosy was cleansed."
Matthew 8:2,3
(Emphasis added.)

Do you see any sign of recoil?
Did Jesus turn away?
Did He show a superior attitude?
Did He stand at arm's length and speak the healing into existence?

Ah!  The untold volumes spoken through Jesus' reaction.
"Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him."
He touched him!
How long had it been?
Since this man had felt the soothing comfort of human hands upon his skin?
He was a leper!
Not to be touched.
Jesus defied human reasoning...every step of the way.
He came to change our way of looking at others.
He came to teach...not only by means of words...
but by living example.

If Jesus touched lepers, 
should we not reach our hands to the untouchables?
Should we not hug the imperfect ones?
Wrap our arms around the ostracized?
Hold them close?
Love on them?
Just like Jesus?

Who are we trying to emulate anyway?
What good is self-righteousness?
Who ever won a soul by donning a Pharisee's robe?
"Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou."
(Isaiah 65:5)

I miss Mom and Dad.
I miss their mindset.
I miss their unselfish, no-regard-for-self-or-how-it-is-affecting-me spirit.
It is what Jesus is all about.

He needs humble people.
To visit the undesirables,
to love the unlovables,
to touch the untouchables,
to hug the draw them close enough to hear His heartbeat,
to carry on His work.

Jesus touched the lepers.
He ate with the sinners and extortioners.
He washed the feet of His Own traitor.
He hung on a cross intended for a save the murderer.
He forgave the men whose hands held the hammer, drove the nails, and raised the cross.
He died for you...and for me....
so that we could be filled with His grace...
to do likewise....
as He did.

After serving His disciples in the humblest of ways 
by washing their dirty, tired, possibly smelly feet,
He told them to do the same...for each other.
"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, 
and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; 
ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."
John 13:12-15
(Emphasis mine)

There is more to washing feet than merely performing the act at a feetwashing service.
I think the point Jesus made right after His last supper with His disciples
is often overlooked and misinterpreted.
The washing of feet was reserved for the lowliest of servants.
It was a necessity in those days, 
due to miles of walking in sandal-clad feet on dusty roads.
The feet washers had a very undesirable, humbling task.

Jesus chose to do what He did.
He didn't wait for someone else to do it.
His disciples' feet needed washed.
So, He did the thing they needed.

We are to another.
If the Lord of Heaven,
God in the flesh,
stooped to serve and perform 
the lowliest, most undesirable of tasks,
should we not do the same...
for each other?

We live in a different day...a different time.

My feet have been washed in countless ways.
I am consistently served through the kind hearts and hands of
the sweetest, most humble husband and son in the world,
through the thoughtfulness of other family members,
through sweet, caring, precious friends...
and strangers....
who possess humble hearts and willing hands, ready to serve.

There are multiple ways to Jesus served.
Be creative.
Go lift someone's load.
Do someone's laundry.
Cook someone a meal.
Bake someone a cake.
Visit someone who is sick.
Donate clothes to someone who needs them.
Take a chore off a co-worker's desk and see it through with a happy heart.
Run an errand for someone who has no transportation.
Buy someone's groceries and deliver them with a smile.
Pray for someone.
Write a check to pay someone's car payment.
Look someone in the eye, tell them you care, and mean it.
Pay for the meal of the people in the car behind you in the drive-thru.
Go spend an hour talking to a stranger in a nursing home.
Sit with a housebound elderly person from church
Mail a surprise care package to a friend out of state.
Hug you mean it.
Tell the cashier to add the cost of the groceries of the person in front of you in line
to the amount you owe for your own....
send the blessed person on their way with a smile and restored faith in the kindness of humanity.
Babysit to give some grateful, weary couple a quiet meal alone together in a restaurant.
Go a step further...hand them a gift certificate to pay for it on their way out the door.
Pick some flowers, put them in a pretty vase, and leave them on someone's porch...
or desk or workstation...
or church pew.

Go wash someone's feet.