Thursday, January 23, 2014

Not So Beautiful Seeds

"But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good..."
Genesis 50:20

Lori and I were out shopping....making our rounds, 
hitting all of our favorite primitive, antique, and second-hand stores, 
when I stumbled upon this wonderful little gem hanging on a wall towards the back 

I loved what it says so much, I couldn't just leave it hanging there!
I had to bring it home with me.
I'm glad I did.
It was one of those impulse buys that I didn't live to regret.

I hung it on the bathroom wall...
the one Kevin and Zach redid for me primitive-style.
Every time I read it, it gives me hope.
It reminds me that good comes out of bad.
That God has a plan....always...
and even if the beginning of a situation is sad, and not so beautiful,
it has within it the potential to produce the best and brightest flowers.

And, here's the thing....
sometimes we don't find out that the not-so-beautiful seed is in the process of producing the oh-so-beautiful flowers 
until long after the seed has been planted.
We don't know it is even happening.
It is not an instantaneous revelation.
It doesn't go from ugly to beautiful overnight.
The seed has to go through a sometimes-lengthy germination process
before the flowers actually begin to break forth, blossom, and bloom.

Depending on what type of flower it is,
the length of this whole process varies.
Plants known as annuals sometimes don't produce their flowers until the end of the season.
It takes biennials two seasons, as they actually lie dormant during colder months.
Perennials, like roses and daisies, blossom repeatedly, at different times of the year.
The special thing about perennials is that they wither down in the winter,
but bloom again the next spring.

During the germination process, it is hard to believe that anything beautiful will ever be produced.
One could even give up hope and think their labors involved in planting the seed were all in vain.
They can look at the black soil, showing no sign of life, and walk away disappointed,
discouraged, frustrated, and disheartened...feeling like they have wasted their time.
Or they can take heart seeing a stem that has poked through the soil,
then become disappointed as it seems to be growing ever so slowly
or not growing at all.

We don't always see what is going on under the surface.
God allows a trial to start...a not-so-beautiful seed...
and all we see is the ugliness, the pain, the feelings of abandonment,
when all along, He is working all things together for our good.
After the trial is past, many times, we can look back and see how something
truly beautiful sprang forth from it.
Sometimes, it takes years.

In my quest to read the Bible through this year,
I just recently completed reading the book of Genesis again.
Oh, I enjoyed it!
I absolutely love the Old Testament.
There are so many precious gems and nuggets of spiritual good in its pages.
I feel I am barely skimming the surface.
Could one person ever hope to unearth it all in one lifetime?

I never tire of reading the story of Joseph.
I become so engrossed in it, and I always feel sad when I reach the 50th chapter
and read about his death.
This man understood true suffering.
He was thoroughly rejected by his own,
sold into slavery,
taken to live in a foreign land away from all that was familiar and dear,
falsely accused,
and thrown into prison, where he was cast aside and forgotten for years.

Talk about feeling abandoned by God.
Even after he had held fast to his integrity,
even though he always did what was right,
even though he had dreamed dreams of a blessed life,
even though he made wise choices,
he was led into the crucible of human suffering.

As I read the story through this time,
God opened my eyes to see things about Joseph's story that I had never noticed before.

Even though Joseph was what we would consider a "good" person,
he had some character flaws.
He was in need of refinement.

God had a plan.
Joseph was in it.
God had a Divine call upon his life.
But, in order to equip him to fulfill that call,
there were some rough edges that had to go.

For example, take a look at the 17 year old Joseph.
The Joseph who dreamed lofty, God-given dreams of being superior to his 11 brothers.
The one who couldn't wait to run and tell his brothers about the dreams.
The one who was dubbed by his father, Jacob, as the favorite son.
The one who didn't make the slightest attempt to hide it.
The one who proudly wore the coat of many colors made especially for him by his father,
flaunting it in his brothers' faces every time he put it on.
The one who, from outward appearances, possibly held a higher opinion of himself
than he should have had.

The plans God had made for Joseph were of the stateliest sort.
God planned to prosper him, and give him a future
that would include being the 2nd in command over the land of Egypt.

To be a good leader, one must be humble.
One must be teachable.
One cannot have such a high opinion of one's self.

There were lessons Joseph had to learn before God could exalt him
to the place of honor He envisioned for him.
There was a refining process that had to take place.
The only way to refine Joseph's dross was to place him in the fire.
It would take no less than 22 long, arduous years for Joseph
to see the fulfillment of his teenage dreams.

At the age of 39, he saw and realized the full fruition of those dreams.
He saw his 11 brothers bow down before him,
begging him for food,
pleading with him for mercy.

It was a different Joseph that stood before them, as they bowed.
No longer the proud, boastful 17 year old,
but a fully-mature, dross-removed, established-in-God, humble man....
so humble that when he saw the dreams fulfilled...right in front of his very eyes....
he did not gloat.
There were no "I told you so's".
No "You are getting what you deserved".
No "You did me wrong, now I am in a position to get even."
No "You should have listened when I told you that one day you would all bow down to me."

None of that.
No gloating.
Not even the slightest trace of enjoyment of their miserable plight.

When Joseph saw them, his reaction was not one of a hot-headed teenager,
but of a man who had walked through the fire with God.
A man who had learned anguish-filled lessons in the school of hard knocks.
A man whose God-like character had been forged and perfected in the crucible of pain.
A man who did not take delight in watching his traitors grovel.

Joseph's reaction to seeing his brothers bowed down to the ground at his feet?
Joseph wept.
With such anguish that the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard his cries.

This was a changed man.
A man fitted and equipped to carry out the life-work God intended for him to live.

His transformation did not happen overnight.
It was a process.
The beginning of his refining started with a not so beautiful seed
when his very brothers betrayed and sold him into the hands of foreigners.

Towards the end of Joseph's story,
he said this to his brothers,
"But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good..."
There wasn't a trace of bitterness in his tone.
No regret.
No animosity.
No desire for vengeance.
No pride.

This was a purged-of-dross version of Joseph.

Photo by Angela Gellenbeck

Have you ever heard the story of the silver refiner?
I received it in an email from someone a long time ago.
I don't know where this originated and was unable to verify its validity or the author,
but I wanted to share it here.

"There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi.  
As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, 
"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." 
This verse puzzled the women, and they wondered what this statement meant 
about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver 

and get back to the group at their next Bible study. 
That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. 
She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. 
As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. 
He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - 

then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. 
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. 
The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. 
For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, 

"How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"  
He smiled at her and answered, 
"Oh, that's the easy part -- when I see my image reflected in it."
~Author Unknown~

As the refiner melts the silver in the crucible,
the impurities that float to the top are called dross.

"Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer."
Proverbs 25:4

Purify the silver and remove the dross, 
and what remains is a vessel God can fill and use.

The definition of dross is....
 the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal as a result of oxidation,
waste, impure, or foreign matter; impurity,
 something that is base, worthless, trivial, or inferior

Dross is ugly.
It is not beneficial to the silver.
It must be removed, and the only way to make that happen...
the only way to separate the dross from the true silver....
is to use extreme heat.

"And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver..."
Malachi 3:3

Only our Refiner knows how much heat is necessary to remove the dross from our character.
Only He knows how long we should be left in the heat.
Only He can see whether or not His Own image is yet reflected in us.
Only He knows how long the "germination" process from a not-so-beautiful seed
to a bright and beautiful flower will take.

There is dross in each one of us,
and in order for our Refiner to have a vessel that is fit for Him to use,
He must first remove it from our character.
Having dross on board makes us inferior to what God desires us to be.
It hinders our progress and impedes our usability in His hand.

I am finding as I walk this Christian path that the dross-removal process requires
more than a one-time trip to the Refiner's crucible.
If we ever begin to feel that we are completely dross-free,
we are only fooling ourselves.
Looking back over my life, I can see that each time I have entered a fiery trial,
God has had a purpose.
There was dross on board....
dross that I often didn't even know was there.
Dross that was ugly and worthless and vile.
Dross that was holding me back from being all God wanted me to be.
Dross that hindered God from seeing His image in me.
Dross that I would never have even realized was present in me,
had I not watched it rise to the surface in the heat.

I have prayed much in this current furnace of trial.
I have sought God's face diligently...fervently...earnestly.
Begged Him to show me.
Today, it finally hit me that He has been showing me....already.
During this trial, dross has risen to the surface.
I hadn't identified it as being such....until today.

Who wants to claim their own dross?
Who enjoys watching such undesirables float to the surface,
realizing they spring forth from their own nature?

As the intensity of the fire causes the dross to rise, and it begins to make itself evident,
we may as well face the music and own it.
It is ours.
Whether we admit it or not.

It hit me like a ton of I sat and typed the words to this devotional.
This trial is not without reason.
God, the Refiner knew all along...
there was hidden dross, buried deep, and I didn't know it.
He is using this present bring it all to the surface...
to my attention.  To make me see.
He has brought me to this place...this valley....this affliction....
and He has not yet seen that it is in my best interest to remove me from here....
because the refining process is not yet finished.

He loves me too much to allow me to go a step further laden with dross.

Other people can see and falsely assume that we are purified.
They can see us as dross-free and holy, based on our demeanor and outward appearances.

God isn't interested in outward appearances,
no matter how showy or sanctimonious they be.
God cares about what is going on inside the heart.

We can look at ourselves and overlook the dross...
even pass it off as being a trait that "runs in our family".
We can blame it on Aunt Ruth's impatience,
Grand-Mama's proud spirit,
Mama's jealous bone,
or Grand-Daddy's fiery temper.
We can even be truly oblivious to it
and totally unaware that it is even there,
when all along...
under the surface, hidden within the elements,
undiscovered dross lurks.

Last night, I was feeling really bad, physically,
tired and beaten down from the length of this trial.
I really poured out my heart to God,
and I asked Him to search me.
To know me.
Just like David did in Psalm 139:23-24, when he prayed,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

You know why?
Because I no longer trust myself.
I will not trust my own ability to search.
I overlook too many things.
I make excuses for shortcomings.
I, too often, am tempted to sweep problem areas under the rug,
pretend they aren't happening,
and sincerely intend to go back later and deal with them.
More often than not, later never comes.
So, the problem stays there...under the rug....out of sight and out of me...
but not to God.

"...all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
Hebrews 4:13

Perhaps David had come to the same conclusion I have when he prayed that prayer.
Maybe he didn't trust himself, either.
Maybe that is why He asked GOD to search him and know his heart
and try him and know his thoughts.
It is possible that he had a tendency to overlook his own dross,
or perhaps, he had learned, like me, that dross is often not visible to us...
that the only One Who can really see all of us is God...
and it would be wisest to allow Him to do the searching.

I prayed David's prayer, and I meant it with all my heart.
He pointed me back to some things He has already been dealing with me about.
It is so plain to me that this is the Divine purpose for this trial.

The other day, I stood at the kitchen sink, feeling very defeated,
and the Spirit of God spoke to me and said,
"I'm not finished with you yet."
He let me know that He still wants to use on earth.
I could never put into words how much that comforted my heart!

This trial is to remove the dross from the silver, 
so I will come forth as a more usable, better-equipped vessel.

When I began to listen to His voice and view this fiery furnace from this angle and through this lens,
it gave me courage.
It comforted me....knowing this is not the end of the journey.
It is merely a stopping point...
a period of time spent in the Refiner's crucible...being purged of inward dross.

How else would we know the dross is there?
If He didn't stop us and hold us in the midst of the fire until it floats to the top...
where we can see it, deal with it, and get rid of it out of our lives?

This trial started as a not so beautiful seed.
That's for sure.
But, this germination process....this stop on the fast-track of life....
this time of being dropped into the intense heat for dross-removal
is fulfilling God's mission.

He has a plan for me.
Just as He has for you, my friend.
Wherever you find yourself today,
He is absolutely in control.
He knows where you are.
He placed you there.
He hasn't forgotten you.
Nor will He leave you there too long.

His timing is perfect.
One day, the not so beautiful seed will produce the best and brightest flowers...
just like my little, stitched sign says....

you will see....and so will I.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Deal Breakers

"For his anger endureth but a moment;
 in his favour is life:
 weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning...
Psalm 30:5

It is estimated that there are 7,487 promises in the Bible.
Commitments that God has made.
Things He has promised to do.
Gifts He has pledged to give.

Covenants He has vowed to never break.

Through the years of time, God has remained true.

God has never gone back on His Word.
It is forever settled in Heaven.

On the flip side, how many promises have been made to God through the years?
From the beds of Intensive Care Units,
from Hospice corridors,
from foxholes,
from mangled wreckage,
from death row and prison cells.

How many times has God heard promises like this?
"Lord, if you will just spare my life,
God, if you will just work a miracle,
if you'll just get me out of this,
I'll serve you, Lord.
I'll turn my life around.
I will live a Christian life."

It must sound like a broken record to God.
I wonder how many times He hears that kind of cry on any given day?

How many times has He intervened and granted those requests?
Healed diseased bodies,
raised up the dying,
brought soldiers home safe,
stopped the bleeding just in time,
sent an unexpected pardon to the incarcerated.

I'll admit that I have been battling discouragement.

I have been going through some cloudy days.  (Click here to read.)
Wanting to feel better, then getting up each day thinking I first...
only to find out I am just as weak, after doing the simplest tasks.
It is frustrating to me.

The other day, satan appeared....isn't he always around?
Peter warned us to, "Be sober, be vigilant;
because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
 walketh about, seeking whom he may devour..."
I Peter 5:8

That's his mission.
He never sleeps.
He doesn't lighten up on the attacks when we are sick and weak.
In fact, it is like adding fuel to the flame of his cruelty
when he spots a child of God in a diminished state.
That is whom he seeks...and when he pounces hardest once he finds them.

If anyone ever knew about satan's attacks upon the vulnerable, 
it was the Apostle Peter.
His admonition...his words...hold a lot of weight and credibility with me.
He wrote from first-hand experience,
having made those kinds of promises to Jesus....
only to fail miserably and break every one of them a few hours later.

I was already feeling down the other day, when satan crept around
and really pounced on my fragility.
"Why don't you just turn against God?
He isn't hearing your prayers.
You will never get better.
This is more serious than you think.
God isn't going to heal you.
You may as well just throw in the towel and stop serving Him."

Oh, the nerve!
Can you imagine?
After all these years....
serving God with all my might....
loving Him with all my heart and soul....
doing my utmost to be obedient and follow Him wholeheartedly....
and now when things are not so good,
when I am tired and weary of fighting,
when my body is ill...
satan having the audacity to come and suggest that this battle should be the deal-breaker?

Mom and Dad always taught me to be a person of my word.
Papaw used to say, "A man's word is his bond."
I heard that a lot growing up.
It stuck.
As much as lies within me, I always try to keep my word.
I am not a deal-breaker.
This sickness is not a deal-breaker.
Just because things are not progressing as quickly as I think they should,
just because I am fighting feelings of abandonment by God,
just because I am truly beginning to wonder what is going on....
does that give me the right to back out of my end of the bargain?

I told God that if He would save my soul, I would serve Him all the days of my life.
I said that He could use me in whatever way He chose to.
I begged Him to forgive me of my sins, and that if He did,
I would follow Him matter what.

I made some pretty solemn oaths when I prayed those prayers.

God and I....we have a "deal".
Without contingencies.
Without loopholes.
Without any potential of amendments.
The original deal...those initial words that spilled from my lips...
when I was sin-sick, broken, miserable, and in dire need of redemption....
still stands.
To me, my promises are irrevocable.
I said what I meant,
and I meant what I said.

God made promises to me,
I made vows to Him.

Serious vows.
Vows that came from the bottom of my heart.
I couldn't have meant them more.

In the multitude of 7,487 promises God has made,
"life will always be a bed of roses" or
"you will never be sick" or 
"things will always go smooth" or
"you will never face a trial" 
is not among them.

You won't find those statements as having been uttered by God.

Remember Job?
The man walked an upright path.
God's approval rested upon him.
He was a righteous man.

After a series of severe, intense trials,
the one who should have encouraged him most came to him
and tried to persuade him to turn his back on God.
"Then said his wife unto him, 
Dost thou still retain thine integrity? 
curse God, and die."
Job 2:9

But Job and God had a deal.

"But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. 
 shall we receive good at the hand of God, 
and shall we not receive evil? 
In all this did not Job sin with his lips."
Job 2:10

I think it all boils down to one word...spoken by none other than Job's wife.
What does it mean?

I found these definitions...
Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.
The state of being unimpaired; soundness.
The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

Do we just maintain our integrity when things are going our way?
When health is abundant, finances are overflowing, and trials are few?
Do we only remain steadfast when we are physically strong?

Is a fiery trial legitimate grounds for breaking our deal?
For not keeping our promises?
For turning our backs on God and walking away from Him?

Trials are going to all of us.

The same man who denied Jesus and learned an ultimate lesson from it said,
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, 
as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; 
that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
I Peter 4:12-13

In the heat of the battle, in the intensity of the moment,
Peter broke His deal with Jesus.
He walked away.
He vehemently denied he even knew Him.
When it was all over, he was filled with extreme remorse.
He went out and wept....bitterly.

His heart was think that he did not keep his end of the promises he had so sincerely made.

He failed Jesus at the moment He needed him most.

Peter knew all about breaking the deal.

Hence, his solemn warnings to all who read his epistles.

I really respect Peter.
He failed...he allowed his trial to convince him to break his deal with Jesus, 
but he didn't stay down.
He knew what to do, and he humbled himself and did it.
Because of his repentance, he was restored...completely and without any strings attached.

It would probably be beyond shocking to have a list of things that have caused
those who have made promises to God to turn from Him and break those promises.
Some are more determined than others.
For some, it more than likely took extreme trials to cause them to break the deal.
For others, it probably wouldn't seem like it took much at all.
Some run at the first sign of adversity.

I don't know where the idea comes from that once we become followers of Jesus,
we will never encounter another trial or hardship in this life.
That somehow life will mysteriously become a bed of roses, without thorns.
That we will be transported to some kind of ethereal realm where all is an Eden-like utopia.

We don't go straight to Heaven the minute we become a Christian.
We continue to live on the earth, in a very human body, made of flesh and bone,
completely susceptible to all of the things of which we were vulnerable before our conversion.

But, how blessed to know that after He redeems us,
we have Jesus on board!

He literally dwells within us, and we have access to the fullness of His precious Holy Spirit!
This makes all the difference...while walking through the valleys, trials, and fiery furnaces of life.

So, why would we turn from Him?
Why would we throw up our hands and quit when the battle is raging?
Why would we even be tempted to break the deal?

We need Him.

Unbelievers have the same troubles we do.
Their lives are not exempt from sickness.
They suffer.
They go through hardship.
They hurt.

Wouldn't it be in our best interest to want to stay in God's favor?
Wouldn't it be smart to keep our promises and not even consider breaking our deal?

As I sat and pondered the enemy's audacity in suggesting to me that God has forsaken me,
that this trial will last forever, and I may as well do what Job's wife suggested he do,
I realized the absurdity of his temptation.

I made a deal.
It was forever.
I meant it that way.
Just like God meant it that way when He promised He would never leave me,
never forsake me, but would walk every mile with me.
Just like He meant it when He hung there on the cross and didn't make the choice to come down
or call for legions of angels to deliver Him....when His pain was at its most intense.

He kept His promises to me 
in the most extreme of circumstances.

Will I buckle and cave and go back on my promises to Him
in this trial?
In this sickness?
Just because I am struggling to understand?

Paul wrote a letter to the church at Galatia, and he asked them a pointed question.

"Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"
Galatians 5:7

We give up over so little.
We throw in the towel over such small trials...when compared to those of our dear Lord.
We decide it just isn't worth it over the slightest sign of discomfort, suffering, or difficulty.

If only we were as faithful to keep our promises to God
as He is faithful to keep His to us!

What steadfast children of God we would be!

So, what are you going through, my friend?
Do you feel God-forsaken in your trial?
Does the night seem long and never-ending?
Does it seem you overcome one hurdle, only to have another one arise?
Are you tempted to give up on God?
Does it seem that the Heavens are brass when you pray?
That no one is listening to your heart-wrenched cries of despair?
That God has taken a long-distance vacation, and it is of no avail to keep calling on Him?
Does it cross your mind to break the "deal" 
you have made with Him?
Do the vows you made to Him seem like they were spoken an eternity ago?

May I offer you a shred of hope?

May I encourage you?
With words I am now using to encourage myself?
I am right there with you.
Maybe not in person, but in shared sorrow...discouragement...illness....depression....
disillusionment....despair....frustration....exhaustion...wondering if the long night of trial will ever end...
searching for Him and feeling He is a million miles away.
I am
I, too have been tempted to stop trusting...stop throw away my confidence...
to blame turn away from stop stop interceding and bombarding Heaven,
to toss aside my faith.

David encouraged himself in the Lord in moments of hopelessness.
I wonder sometimes if that is when he actually wrote 
some of the Psalms through which we now take such comfort.

Sometimes, we have to encourage ourselves in the Lord, too.
Sometimes, we can find no other source of encouragement.
Sometimes, we feel so the the heat.

But, we are not!
We can't always see Him, but He is absolutely there.
We can't always feel Him, but it is then that we must trust.
We can't always hear His voice above the chaos, but it is then that we must be still.
We can't always trace His hand, but we know His everlasting arms are beneath us...
carrying us....holding us close....keeping us going.

Right now, wherever you are, whatever the hopelessness of your circumstances,
may I encourage you?

Don't let whatever you are going through become the deal breaker.
Hold firm to the commitment you made to God.
If that is all you have left, hold on tight.
You are not God-forsaken.
I promise.
He is there.
In the dark.
He is on board.
It may seem that He is asleep...oblivious to the raging storm...
deaf to your cries.
I promise you He is not.
He heard you the first time you prayed.
He saw every tear well up, then course down your anguished face.
He felt it....just like He was the one who cried.

Don't walk away from Him.
Walk towards Him.
Draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.

Satan wants to offer you an alternate deal.
Satan is a liar.
The truth is not in him.
You can't afford to place your trust in anything he says.
He doesn't know how to tell the truth.
He has been a liar and deceiver from the very beginning.
He tempts you to break your deal with God.
He tells you that your problems are all God's fault.
He spews foul untruths every time he opens his mouth and sneaks a thought into your mind.
Don't take his offered deal.
You will eternally regret it.

Keep to the original plan...
the initial "deal" you made with God.
Stay the course.
Don't give up just because this is too hard.
Trust me, it is harder on the outside perimeters of God's perfect will.
Out there, you have no Helper.
Keep drawing from your Life Source.
He is the way, the truth, and the life.
He loves you with an undying, unconditional love.
Even when you pound your fists Heavenward and question His plan.
He wants you to stop squirming...and relax.  (Click here to read.)

Like I said, I am in the heat of it...right with you...
and this is the same things I am telling myself right now.
I am no better...loftier....or more holy....than anyone else.
I struggle.
I question.
I still squirm.
One thing is not an option.
I made a "deal", and it cannot be broken.
I can't turn away from Him now.
He has done too much for me.
I love Him too much.
What in the world would I do without Him?
At the helm.
Giving me hope.
Telling me to be still.
Refilling my courage.
Guiding my steps.
Holding my hand.
Carrying me.
Loving me with an intensity beyond the capability of humanity.
Forgiving my frequent missteps.
Walking through the fire by my side.
Cheering me.
Encouraging me.
Telling me it is better farther on.
Reminding me that this didn't come to stay, it came to pass.

I know He is the clouds.

What in the world would you do without Him?

To say He had it rough while on earth is the biggest understatement ever made.
He understands our plight....more completely than anyone ever will.
He never said this would be easy.
But, He did say we would never walk this path alone.

It is no time to break the deal.
Don't allow your trial...your circumstances....your situation...
your heartache...
to be the deal breaker between you and God.

He is keeping His Word.
He is still with you.
He will always be.
Hang in there, my friend.
There will be an end to this trial.
Precious, encouraging words...from the Psalmist David himself,
"...weeping may endure for a night, 
but joy cometh in the morning..."
Psalm 30:5

Your morning will come.

Then you will be glad you didn't break the deal.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Our Infertility Journey

"He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. 
Praise ye the LORD."
Psalm 113:9

It seems that here lately, God has allowed my path to cross the path
of several couples who are struggling with the heartbreak of infertility.
Having lived through this for so many years,
I listen to their hearts, and mine goes out to them in so many ways.
I so want to give them hope that God does indeed still open barren wombs,
and He still sets the solitary in families.

On a link-up, I recently came across an interview with Caroline
who, along with her husband, is now facing and working through the pain and anguish of infertility.
Her interviewer, Lisa Newton at Amateur Nester, who is also struggling with infertility,
so graciously offered to listen to other stories.

The sweet Spirit of God spoke to my heart that it is high time I share ours....for His glory.

So, the interview was published today.
To God be the glory.
To visit Lisa's site and read our story,
 click here........

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Left Behind

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31

Today, I stood at the front door waving good-bye to Kevin and Zach.
I mentioned the other day that Zach has been feeling down because his long and carefully-laid
birthday plans have been intercepted and interrupted by my sickness.

We planned to go out today...finally....and let him do all the things he has been planning.
Then the night before last, I struggled hard to breathe and just didn't seem to be getting much better.
Yesterday I found out that this stuff is still in my right lung...
guess that explains the weakness, shortness of breath, and overall feeling bad.
I was beyond disappointed to learn that....
I was so in hopes that it was gone...healed....completely.

So, long-story-short, I didn't have the strength to go with them today.
They altered their plans somewhat, hoping to still include me on the original ones when I am able,
and the two of them drove off in the rain to treat Zach to some long-awaited fun.

I am so thankful they could go.
I have felt so bad making Zach wait.
His birthday money is burning a hole in his wallet,
and he has been cooped up in the house for days.  :)
I watched them drive down our road,
then I closed the front door with a prayer that God would bless them,
protect them, and bring them back home safe to me.

It doesn't feel so good to be left behind.
The three of us usually do everything together.
Seldom, do we do things separately....except when we plan a one-on-one "date", 
either as a couple or as one of us taking Zach off for a "Daddy" or "Mama" date.
I think all of those times are important...every married couple needs alone time,
and there are ways Zach relates differently to both of us,
so he needs that one-on-one time with each of us from time to time.
It's all good.

I'm not used to being left behind.
Usually, I am in the thick of it...offering to help drive....enjoying every moment....
knowing Zach is growing up so quickly, and we need to make every one of them count.

The house was quiet after they left.
The weather has warmed slightly, so I had the kitchen window open for some fresh air.
 I listened to the rain....and occasional thunder....
hoping against hope that God will send the healing I need....soon.
I don't think I yet have learned everything He is trying to teach through this trial.
Otherwise, it would have ended by now.
The enemy shoots forth lies that this will never get better...amongst other frightening thoughts.
They come at me like threatening, terrifying, fire-filled darts.
It is then that God reminds me that I have a weapon of defense called the shield of faith
that was designed and created by Him to be used in these exact circumstances....
for this exact purpose.
Truly, it is one of the most important pieces of armor provided to the soldier of God...
God's very intent in creating it is as an antidote to quench the fiery darts satan hurls.
They come at us with fire burning in their tips.
Upon first contact with the shield of faith, the fire is put out, and the threat is over.

But, like all of the other armor pieces, it does absolutely no good,
if it is not picked up and used, right?

Quenching his fiery darts with the shield of faith often involves the quoting of Scripture.
How important it is that we have it hidden deep within our hearts and minds,
so it will be available to use when we need it most.

Jesus defeated satan all three times during 
His temptation in the wilderness
by lifting the shield of faith in the direct quotation of Scripture.

It will work for us every time, too.

But, what about the times we are too weak to pick up the shield?
Ever been there?

Sickness leaves us depressed.
It wears down our resolve.
Erodes our strength.
Renders us incapable.
It takes a lot more effort to take a hold of the shield of faith 
when we are physically depleted and trampled down by illness,
than when we are healthy, strong, and at our best.

Oftentimes, during those weakened moments,
we need someone else to pick it up for us....
which is exactly what happened in our house recently.

Dear Kevin...and sweet, precious, Zachary!
How touched I am by their fervent prayers for my healing!
The other night, I was in pretty bad shape and called to them to come pray for me....again.
As I lie there, struggling for air, pleading for healing,
I listened to Zachary's words.
Oh, those words!
I wish you could have heard that prayer!
That prayer moved me like you wouldn't believe.
Our little boy, praying and seeking God with all his heart.
Heart-wrenched, earnest cries from the depths of his little soul.
"Lord, we need You.
God, please heal Mama.
Daddy and I need her, Lord."
He cried so hard.
I have heard this little prayer warrior pray some anointed, inspired, fervent prayers....
but, honestly, this intercession...on my behalf...reached a whole new level.
I could never put into words how deeply moved I was by the burdened sincerity of that prayer.
It crossed my mind that if his words were touching the core of my soul,
how must they be affecting God, His Heavenly Father...the One to Whom they were being prayed?

I knew, in that moment, that God heard everything Zachary and Kevin were saying in that prayer.
God heard.
I know He did.
I could feel it.
My mother-heart was broken, hearing that prayer.
How much more God's father-heart had to be rent in two!
Hearing those cries, watching those tears, feeling that level of sincerity.

"And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us:
And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, 

we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him."
I John 5:14,15

I love these verses!
I quote them often to God in prayer...
sometimes my faith is weak, and believing the Word of God is the only thing I have to cling to
in those moments.

I have thought about Mom and Dad so much lately.
Longed to call them.
Longed to hear them tell me everything is going to be okay.
Longed to hear them say they are praying for me.

I miss their love...and care....and concern.
How grateful I am to and for my siblings, family, and all of the others who care and are praying for me!

I have called upon them often, when things were at their worst,
they have dropped whatever they were doing,
and they have prayed.

Last night, Debbie, LD, and Mark came,
and oh the sweet blessing they were to us!
We had a very anointed, precious time of prayer together.
The Lord was so very near, and His presence fell upon each one of us in a powerful downpour.

And Jesus!
Oh, so often my mind is upon Him!
All He went through for us,
the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion He endured...
and the fact that HE, Himself is interceding...non-stop for me!
Oh, the thought!

"...It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again,
Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
Romans 8:34

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."
Hebrews 4:15

He could have chosen to be a distant on-looker of our humanity and all we encounter in this life.
He could have stayed in the comfort of Heaven, opted to never leave,
and merely watched and sympathized as our hearts break and our bodies ache.
If He had made that choice, we would not only be completely void of hope,
but we would not have a God Who truly understands the human condition.
It is one thing to look at someone and say, "I feel for you.  I am sorry for what you are going through."
It is quite another to say, "I know how you feel.  I have walked in your shoes."

Jesus chose to come to earth.
He wanted to experience what we go the nth degree.
All of it.
There is no emotion, no physical condition, no anguish that you and I will ever encounter
that He has not already felt, lived through, and fully experienced.
He was tempted, tried, and tormented in every, single way you and I are.
There is nothing we could ever go through that He does not completely and entirely comprehend.

So, when we cry out to Him...the way Zach did the other night,
we can be absolutely certain that He is touched...
He is moved, my friend...
to a degree that we will never be able to fathom.

Jesus was often "moved with compassion"
when He came across suffering, tormented, anguished souls
during His life on earth.
He couldn't turn His head and pretend it wasn't happening.
He literally hurt when He saw the hurting.
Remember how He groaned in His Spirit as He stood by Lazarus' tomb
and listened to the cries and anguished sobs of those who mourned?
Remember how He stopped the funeral procession of the Nain widow's son,
as she grieved over his lifeless body,
so He could speak life into him and restore him to his anguished mother?

"And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a city called Nain;
and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people.
Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city,
behold, there was a dead man carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow:
and much people of the city was with her.
And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her,
and said unto her, Weep not.
And He came and touched the bier: 

and they that bare him stood still. 
And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. 

And He delivered him to his mother."

Luke 7:11-15

Don't you know it just filled Jesus' loving heart with joy to be able to restore that son 
to his grieving mother?
I can just see the smile that must have crossed His sweet face, 
as He turned to walk away from the two of them.

Jesus Christ is deeply moved when we pray.
He it feels to be human...every part of it.
He listens to those heart-wrenched prayers...
and He prays for us....
to the Father.
He is right there...right next to God...making intercession for you and for me.
Praise His name!

Left behind.
Watching others moving and going and doing.
It is a new experience for used to being the one who is "doing the doing."

Jesus knows how it feels...all of it....
even the left behind part.
Remember the Garden of Gethsemane?
When He kept asking His disciples to pray with Him,
only to come back a while later and find them sleeping?
He was alone...when He needed them most.
They all forsook Him and the heat of the battle.
He had no human comfort.

Surely God has reasons for halting me here...on the sidelines of life.
I don't know why this is taking so long.
I am so tired.
Thankfully, I did finally get some sleep during the early morning hours today.
It was the best sleep I have had in almost three weeks.

When I think of the burdens of others and the length and severity of their tribulations,
I realize that mine pales in comparison.
I am not complaining....just wishing to feel better...longing to be released from the trial.
But, should I be?
Should God's mission to teach be aborted before it completely fulfills its purpose?
Just because of my whining and squirming to break free?
Do I really want the Shepherd to bring an end to this if He has not yet finished the work
He set out to do when He first led me to this pasture?

He knows what is best.
I know theory.
Do I really believe it now?
As the battle rages?
This is where I find out.
This is where the lofty boasts of trusting Him completely are put to the test.

So, I sit, and I wait upon the Lord...for healing....for lessons....
to learn all He wants me to while going through this.
I want to squeeze every drop of spiritual good 
I can possibly wring out of this trial. 
My heart is wide-open to Him....My Teacher, My Master, My Lord, My Savior, My Healer...
My tender, gentle, Good Shepherd...Who gave His life for me...
Who suffered a beyond-horrible, intense, inhumane scourging brought about by
cruelly-inflicted stripes by the strong hands of burly, hard-hearted Roman Soldiers....
just so I could be healed.

"Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,
that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness:
by Whose stripes ye were healed."
I Peter 2:24

Past tense.
By Whose stripes we were healed.
It is a done deal.
All we have to do is wait for it.

How could I ever praise Him enough?
For all He went through...for me?
I feel so undone.

I love Him with all my heart....
I don't know of a moment I ever loved Him more.

I wait....hoping and believing that "this too shall pass."
Trusting the wisdom of His timing.
Knowing and acknowledging from the bottom of my soul,
that He doeth all things well.
Hoping for the moment I mount up with wings as He promised
Looking forward to the day I can run and not be weary...
walk and not faint....
do my chores without losing my breath....
resume to "normal" without feeling like I will collapse....
and having to rush back to the recliner every little while to rest.

I am feeling very much left behind
but how sweet to know that Jesus is walking this path with me!
No one knows better how this truly feels, 
and there is no other hand I would rather trust to lead me out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My "One Word" for 2014

"Behold, I will do a new thing;
now it shall spring forth;
shall ye not know it?
 I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19

I haven't mentioned much in the way of New Year's Resolutions during these first days of the New Year.
But, I have made a few.
I wanted to share some of them here.
First off, I decided to read the Bible through this year.
I've done it before, but never by following a specific plan 
that enables you to finish in exactly one year.

I went online to research different plans, 
and the one I like most and chose to use is found here.
I love this website!
It provides five different plans to read the Bible through in one year
and several versions and even languages.
Under STEP 1, I chose King James Version, then Old/New.
This way I am reading every day in both the Old and New Testaments,
so I am digging spiritual good from both wells!

Our printer is on the blink, so I have been going on and jotting down 
what I am supposed to read each day.
This isn't to say I may not read in other, additional places on some days, as the Holy Spirit leads,
but I am trying to make sure I read what is "required" at the very least.

I love this plan, and by God's grace plan to stick to it.
Announcing it here makes me feel more accountable.  :)

Secondly, it is my goal this year to try to address some of the health issues
I have been choosing to ignore, and just hoping they would go away.
Some are issues I've had for quite a while and are becoming more pronounced.
I've put them on the back burner for years...
always putting everything and everyone else ahead of dealing with them.
But, this year, I plan, by God's grace, to take some pro-active steps in becoming healthier
and doing what I need to do to improve my own well-being.
I truly believe that is why God has permitted this latest illness.
In the process of dealing with it, a door was opened for me to begin working on other issues.
God always has a plan, and He has shown me that I need to learn to take His cues
and, by steps of faith, walk through those open doors.
Some things are beyond my control, but I believe God wants me to do my part
and do all within my power to get better.
So, this is the beginning of a hopefully-healthier me...
and a healthier temple for Him to dwell within, speak through, and use!
I'm doing this for Him first.
Having that mindset makes it so much more important....and necessary.
He deserves the best we could ever offer Him.

Thirdly, I mentioned before that a few Christmases ago, 
Kevin bought me Ann Voskamp's book called "1,000 Gifts".

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

I am so glad he did!
In it, Ann repeatedly uses the word, "eucharisteo", which basically means "to give thanks".
She was challenged by a friend to begin looking at life through the lens of eucharisteo
by recording one thousand things she was thankful for.
This suggestion completely transformed her life and way of viewing it.

I found this to be so intriguing.
A while back, I began my own list, but shortly thereafter, fell by the wayside 
and stopped doing it.

As the New Year dawned, and with it much communion and alone time with God,
it came back to me that I should make this a habit in 2014.
A beautiful, empty journal stared at me from the floor of our room,
each time I passed it....just lying there...collecting dust on my side of the bed.
My friend, Priscilla, bought it for me...I think it was for my last birthday.

Why not put it to good use and start my gift-journaling at the same time?

SO, I began my eucharisteo journal journey.
If you calculate it out, you would really only have to name three gifts/blessings per day
to reach 1,000 by the end of this new year.
But, I confess, that once I started writing, I couldn't stop.
Today, I am already over 260!
There is SO much for which to give thanks!
I have to pull myself away from it in order to stop.
I have a feeling I won't be anywhere near finished counting my blessings when I reach 1,000....
God's bountiful gifts are truly innumerable....and too great to count.

And lastly, I decided to start journaling about my weight.
It is a whole new approach.
I know...weight is such a touchy subject,
but, one that, for me at least, needs to be addressed, nonetheless.
I have made no loftily-aspired weight loss goals or resolutions for 2014.
None at all.
I am not committing to losing a certain number of pounds this year.
I hope to do that, and I always wish for it to happen.
But, honestly, I just can't take the pressure of such a commitment anymore.
I don't want to deal with the self-inflicted guilt.
I'm done with setting unrealistic goals,
only to fall short and into depression over not being able to attain them.

I was talking to my sister, Sandi, the other night on the phone,
and she gave me the idea of journaling my journey.
I was feeling so down that night.
The words just started pouring out of a flood gate had been opened.
My frustrations with the whole weight yo-yo experience,
my struggles with low self-esteem because of it....
on and on I droned.
I am so grateful for sisters and friends who listen,
never judge or condemn,
and truly empathize.
I count them among my most treasured my on-going list of 1,000.

As we talked, Sandi gave me some really great support and suggestions,
and among them was to start writing things down.

It came to my mind that I have another beautiful empty-paged journal...
a Footprints one...
given to me by my niece, Kristen several years ago.
I came across it recently while cleaning out a night stand drawer.
So, right there and then, I decided to use it as my weight journal.
Not so much to focus on the numbers.....
but to focus on my feelings about my weight.
To work through some of these inward, ongoing issues that may be contributing 
to the interception of my progress.

Everyone is coming up with one word for 2014.
I've seen some great ideas online.
I think if I had to sum one word....
the general sense of the direction I am discerning to be God's will for me this year....
it would be restoration.
The root word here is rest.
Setting some things aside, in order to be still, so that God can restore.
So, He can do what He is needing....and wanting to do in me.
Focusing on Who...and who is most important in my life.

It's been a rough couple of years.
I feel like I've been through the ringer,
turned upside down, and shaken empty.
My body, my soul, my mind, my nerves...
all of me....
screams for it.
Waits for it.
Needs it.

My life verse for the new year?
Joel 2:25
"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm..."

Oh, bless His name!
I love this verse!
It has been a source of great comfort to me so many times.
It is a direct promise that you....and I can cling to and hope for in this new year.

Locusts come into our lives in many different forms....
all of them brought about by the enemy of our souls
who possesses the sole intention of robbing us of everything good.

Jesus called him a thief and said he comes
"to steal, and to kill, and to destroy..."
John 10:10

Three different types of locusts are mentioned in Joel 2:25...
the canker worm, the caterpillar, and the palmer worm.
Among their descriptions in the original Hebrew, I found these words....
licking up,

That pretty much sums up the work of the devil, doesn't it?
He invades...he intrudes...he continually over-steps his bounds,
inserting and forcing evil elements into our lives.
Everything about him is destructive.
I hate giving him any credit, but through much personal experience,
I have found his attacks to be very well-organized.
They spring up quickly and increase at the speed of light.
He is creepy...sneaky....sly....crafty....under-handed and evil to the core.
He laps up anything good he can find in and around our lives.
He walks about, like a roaring lion, 24/7, seeking whom he may devour.
He strips away the shiny and beautiful and replaces it with the dull and ugly.
He is the ultimate ravager...
he pillages during destructive raids and takes away the good things as his spoil from the battle.
He gnaws away continually...constantly trying to erode Godliness and lofty aspirations.
He devastates anyone and everything in his path, leaving behind a ransacked, sickening aftermath.

He is a distributor of locusts....all manners and sorts of them....sent out to bring us down.

But, praise God, we are more than conquerors through Him Who loves us!
(Romans 8:37)

God has promised to restore everything satan has robbed from us.

Joel 2:25 is my promise for this year.
Restoration is my word.
I am looking for good things.
I am speaking blessings.
I am believing the God of my salvation to send and restore my health...
and I am believing Him for that more abundant life Jesus came to give us.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

How about you, my friend?
What is your life verse for this year?
Any special promises God has personalized....just for you?
Have you narrowed the Holy Spirit's leading in your life right one word?

Thinking of it....seeking God for a sense of clarity as we begin walking this
new, untested, unfamiliar 2014.

The year ahead is an unwalked path.

My prayer for you is that every day will find you walking it by faith,
clinging tight to His nail-scarred hand.
For truly, that is the only safe way to travel.