Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unmixed Blessings

"The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, 
and he addeth no sorrow with it."
Proverbs 10:22

When I was expecting Zachary
and having complications,
God gave me this verse.

Out of the blue one day.
He just gave it to me.
Up to that point,
I couldn't remember having ever read it.
But, from that day on,
I claimed it as mine,
and I have stood on it ever since.

After a very tumultuous pregnancy,
including the crushing blow of losing Dad at the very early part,
God brought us...
and Zachary...
through to a healthy conclusion.

I couldn't have been more thankful.

When God gives a blessing,
it is not mixed.

It is pure blessing.

He doesn't add sorrow with it.
It is not bittersweet.
It is all good.

A lot of good things in this life are only partially good.
Obtaining or maintaining them requires giving up something....
sometimes something cherished.
Or sometimes they appear good...
on the surface...
but not so good...
after we delve into them
and read the fine print.
Not so with a blessing from the Lord.

He gives good and perfect gifts.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, 
and cometh down from the Father of lights, 
with whom is no variableness, 
neither shadow of turning."
James 1:17

There are no ulterior motives behind a gift from God.
He doesn't bribe.
He loves to see us blessed
and to watch our joy
as we recognize something He has done especially for us.

When God does something,
He does it right.
He does nothing halfway.
When He blesses,
it is all blessing.

Over the past two months,
God has shown His power and love to us
in almost unbelievable, truly amazing ways.
Completely unexpected blessings...
that we didn't ask for.
To tell you the truth,
I would never have even thought to ask...
for blessings such as the ones He has carefully planned and so graciously bestowed...
all on His own...
without us even asking.

I hesitate to speak of it....
for peril of sounding boastful.
So, let me set this straight...
my boasting is all about GOD...
and what He can do...
and what He has done.
I want GOD to be magnified,
and lifted up.

He is worthy.
He alone.

"My soul shall make her boast in the LORD:
the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad."
Psalm 34:2

2 Corinthians 10:17 says,
"But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
"As the Scriptures say,
"If you want to boast,
boast only about the LORD."
"But he who boasts,
let him boast in THE LORD JEHOVAH."
(Aramaic Bible in plain English)

One day...
out of the blue....
God gave Kevin a miraculous gift.
His boss called him into his office
with an amazing offer.
Totally unexpected.
Beyond anything I would have even thought to pray for.

We couldn't figure it out.
We felt so humbled....
so unworthy...
so loved and embraced...
 by our Heavenly Father.

Around the same time,
we got a letter in the mail
with news that seemed beyond too good to be true.
Another unbelievable offer.
I kept reading the paperwork...
over and over.
Searching for the catch.
Trying to find a glitch.
Looking for an "aha,-so-it-isn't-all-it's-cracked-up-to-be" flaw.

I never could find it.
I picked up the phone to call the sender.
A pleasant voice answered
and reaffirmed the details I had read about in the letter.

"I just don't understand why you would just decide to do this",
I questioned.

"Because, we are rewarding faithful customers."
She explained.

That's it?"
Skeptical me.
Always wary.
Slow to believe.

"That's it."
She responded.

"But, there must be a catch.
Isn't there?
What's the catch?"
I still couldn't believe my ears.

"Everyone thinks that.
But, there is no catch.
We just want to do this."
Bless her heart,
I am sure I was trying her patience.

She remained pleasant.

Kevin and I talked it over....repeatedly....
re-read the papers....
kept trying to find some loophole....
that would confirm our 
"I-knew-it-had-to-be-too-good-to-be-true" mentality.
Surely, this had to be a mixed blessing.
People don't just cut you a break...
especially in this day of greed...
do they?
It isn't normal for them to reward faithfulness in this manner, 
is it?

I called back again and another rep told me the same exact thing.
Then another.
And another.

I must seem very dense to God.
My inability to simply believe His Word and accept His gifts...
must come very close
to exhausting even His patience.
I imagine if Jesus were here,
walking among us,
He would often turn my way,
with frustration in His eyes,
and say,
"O, ye of little faith!"

Finally, the truth sunk in.
The light came on.
God was sending us two big,
very appreciated,
very welcome,
very undeserved...

There was no sorrow added...
to either one of them.
Just pure blessing.
Only God could do what has been done.

I was over-analyzing them,
trying to find a flaw,
searching for a reason
to call them mixed blessings.
No reason existed.

God's blessings are never mixed.
They are good and perfect gifts.

Do we deserve them?
Definitely not.
But, He gives them just the same.

I think sometimes our feelings of unworthiness
prevent us from fully enjoying God's blessings...
or even accepting them.

We don't understand why He loves us.
We focus on our failures and issues,
and we talk ourselves right out of believing
that God wants our lives to be blessed.

Jesus said,
"I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly."
John 10:10

Who are the "they" Jesus is speaking of?
It is you, my friend....and me....
and all who believe He will do what He said He will do.

Have you ever tried to do something for someone
who didn't feel worthy for you to do it?
Or tried to give a gift to someone who
was hesitant to take it?
Maybe you had feverishly planned and poured your all into making it special,
invested a lot of time, thought, and effort,
given it all you had,
to show your love to them...
only to have it refused and rejected.

How did it make you feel?

Imagine how our Creator must feel
when we hesitate to take His gifts and blessings?
When we try to uncover some hidden "sorrow" in them?
When we pick them apart and talk ourselves into believing they are mixed?
When we refuse to accept what He has to offer?

God has gone to great lengths to enrich and enhance the lives of His trusting children.
He has so much for each one of us.
His storehouses are filled to overflowing...
many of them have yet to be tapped into.

After He convinced me that what He was offering was real...
that it was pure, untainted, unmixed blessings...
that He did it, not because we asked Him to,
but because He wanted to...
that it pleased Him to see us blessed....
I was overwhelmed to tears,
turned to Zachary and said,
"Zach, God really does love us."

Of course God loves us.
Are you just now figuring that out?"

He found my statement absurd.

I guess when you have been in the valley for so long,
you can reach a point of feeling God-forsaken.
Of course, we never are.
I knew that...
But, being bathed in the overpowering realization
that God worked out two very humanly-impossible
situations for us...
without us even asking....
made me understand a new depth of God's love.
A new appreciation for His providential, Father's care.
It reaffirmed His promises to us in the most profound of ways.

Romans 13:7 instructs us to,
" Render therefore to all their dues:
tribute to whom tribute is due;
 custom to whom custom;
fear to whom fear;
honour to whom honour."

I want to honor my precious, precious friend, Priscilla.
She's earned it.
It is due.

Honestly, there is no one on earth who could be more true....
more faithful...
more genuine.
She has walked with us through so many things.
She isn't one of those people who cares from a distance...
or holds you at arm's length...
not really wanting to get involved...
or be inconvenienced.
She is one of my most faithful prayer partners.
She enters into our burdens with an intensity that is extremely rare.
She takes our concerns, problems, and heartaches,
 and she makes them hers...
no matter what the cost...
to her, personally.
She made a great sacrifice to stand by my side
the day my dear mother was laid to rest.
Having her there was such a comfort.
She and Mom were very close.
She faithfully called Mom...
and filled many of her lonely hours...
with loving, encouraging conversation.
I could never begin to say how much I appreciate her.
There are no words.
She is, as we speak, entering into a fast with me
concerning some special burdens and needs.
This isn't the first time she has given up food
to intercede to God on behalf of one of our burdens.
Where do you find a saint of God like that?
She emails almost every, single day...
she has missed very few days since Mom died...
always faithful, always caring, always concerned.
The love of Jesus is all over her.
It shines through her in everything she does.
She is loyal to the core.
She is there for us...
no matter what.

In the past few days,
she and I have been comparing God's relationship to us,
to the relationship parents have with their children.
She reminded me that God wants to do good things for us
just like we want to do good things for our children.
God hates to see us suffer,
just like we hate to see our children suffer.
God wants to see us blessed,
just like we want to bless our children.
It gives God great pleasure to pour out His riches upon us...
physically, financially, emotionally, and especially spiritually.

Listening to what she has been telling me makes me see
that God did what He has done in our lives
because He wanted to.
He absolutely wanted to bestow...
unmixed blessings.
He is faithful to send them...
in gentle streams.

As the realization of the magnitude of these special miracles
settles over me,
all I can think of is Ephesians 3:20.

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above
all that we ask or think,
according to the power that worketh in us..."

Exceeding abundantly above...
all that we ask or even think!

Is there something God has been trying to give to you...
or do for you...
that you are hesitant to accept?
Afraid it might have hidden contingency clauses?
Concerned it is being given with ulterior motives?

Maybe it is a person.
Someone God has placed in your life.
Perhaps it is His will for you to accept them...
for who they are....
and stop over-analyzing the gift and blessing they could be to you...
if only you would open your heart and let them.

Or maybe it is an opportunity...
a new job...
an untested path....
an area of ministry....
an unexplored adventure.
Perhaps God keeps giving you subtle nudges...
gentle urges...
in the direction of the opportunity.
It could be the fulfillment of His greatest dreams for you,
if only you would peel off that first layer...
of the gift God is trying so hard to convince you to unwrap.

His blessings are not mixed.
There is no sorrow added...
to any single one of them.
He gives them with the purest of intentions.

Because God wraps all of His blessings and gifts...
with love.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Speaking Faith

"...even God, 
who quickeneth the dead, 
and calleth those things which be not as though they were."
Romans 4:17

I love the depths of this verse!
Even God!
The God in Whom Abraham believed...
the God in Whom we also believe.
In Whom we put our complete trust.
It is He Who is able to do all things.
No matter how impossible they seem.
Regardless of the foregone conclusions of others.

I especially love the last line of this verse...
"and calleth those things which be not as though they were."

God can make something out of nothing.
He is the only Creator.
He is the only One Who can start with only a word
and bring an entire universe into existence.
He calls those things which be not as though they were.
He defies the wisdom of man.
He proves us wrong time after time.
He shatters impossibilities...
and makes them over...
into answers to prayer.

Tonight, I was under a particular heaviness of heart.
A burden was pressing me...severely.
Crushing my spirit.
To the point that I dropped to my knees...
right there...
in the midst of the battle...
and I began to call hard upon the God
Who calls things which be not as though they are.

I knew the situation...
from the inside out.
I felt the panic...
the gripping fear...
the implications of what was happening.

I felt overwhelmed.

As I knelt weeping,
pouring out my heart,
telling God all about it,
right there...
on my knees....
He gave me a gentle nudge and reminder...
of something I have really gotten a hold of
over the past several months.

He whispered this verse in my ear.
In His still, small voice.
I would recognize it anywhere.
"And Jesus said unto them...
 If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, 
ye shall say unto this mountain, 
Remove hence to yonder place; 
and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
(Matthew 17:20, emphasis mine)

Oh, the wonders of His love!
The glory that falls...
when He speaks!
Things change.
Walls come down.
Mountains move.

It was like God was telling me,
"The ball is in YOUR court.
Stop asking Me to do this.
You do it.
Through no merit or power of your own.
But, through the Power that works within you.
Resist the devil, and he will flee.
He has no choice.
Believe in Me, child.
Speak to the mountain!"

All it takes is the amount of faith equivalent to 
a grain of mustard seed.
Do you know how small that is??
I'll show you.

A dear, thoughtful friend and encourager
made this for me.

As you can see,
the mustard seeds she glued on this slate
are tiny, little seeds.
I cherish this because of who made it for me,
and I cherish it because of the powerful message in these words...
spoken by the mouth of the Word...
who became flesh and dwelt among men.

I have it hanging on our refrigerator door.

It reminds me every time I open and close the refrigerator
that the amount of faith that would fit into just one
of these tiny, little seeds....
is all the faith I need....
to move mountains.
To change situations.
To acquire the undivided attention of Almighty God.
This is it.

As God spoke to me tonight while I was praying,
He made me see that I have this much faith.
Buried deep within the fabric of "me",
I have at least this amount of faith...
in Him.

But, to leave it there...
deep inside...
six-feet under...all of my doubts and fears...
does no good...
at all.

It is one thing to have mustard-seed-sized faith.
It is quite another to act upon it.

He said that if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed,
we need to speak it.
"Say to this mountain,
be thou removed."
Open our mouths and say it out loud.
Tell the mountain to go.
Tell it what to do.
And it would do just that.
It has no choice...
when it hears faith's voice.

Isn't it funny how you can read a Bible verse for 40 years,
memorize it in Sunday School,
hear it preached multiple times,
preach it yourself,
and never get it?
Never grasp what it really means?
Never have enough gumption to put it into practical practice....
in your everyday life?

It is so simple,
I stumbled over it...
for many years.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not hard to understand.
You don't have to possess rocket-scientist mentality
to assimilate its depths.
Jesus brought it down to us...
broken down into terms...
that even the most simple-minded of us can fathom.

I must be at the end of the line in that department. :~)
To complicate it like I do.
To over-analyze it to shreds.
To put so much effort into perplexing it.

Jesus said if we have this tiny shred of faith
that we
"shall say unto this mountain, 
Remove hence to yonder place; 
and it shall remove;
and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
(emphasis mine)

One of the many dividends we are paid
for hiding His Word in our hearts
is that He will bring it back to us...
at just the right moment...
in the heat of battle.

My whole prayer changed....
as I listened to the voice of God.
I took that grain-of-mustard-seed-faith,
I raised its mighty shield....
right in satan's face....
and I began to speak.....
out loud...
commanding, in Jesus' name,
the mountain to move.

I believed with all my heart.
I knew God heard me...
that Heaven backed me...
the moment I felt His glory fall around me.
The mountain moved....
within minutes.
I received news that the cause for my distress
was over.

I have no doubt that the victory was won during that prayer.
Before praying, the mountain was HUGE in front of me.
It seemed immovable...

"Impossible is one of God's favorite words."
Max Lucado

God absolutely answered prayer.
He did what I could not do....
through my act of faith.
He took that tiny mustard-seed-sized morsel of faith,
and He gave me courage...
to use it.
To speak the desire of my heart into existence.

Did you know that...
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue"?
This profound truth is straight from God's Word
in Proverbs 18:21.

We can literally speak death...
or speak life...
into our situations.

We can have the faith...
hidden, obscured,
buried deep....
inside of us...
and never use it.
Never speak it.
Never put it into action.

Tell me, what good does it do...
stowed away...
out of sight?

If the mustard seed is never planted,
a tree it will never become.
It will remain a seed.
It will never accomplish its purpose.

Faith unused is faith unfulfilled.
It never accomplishes its purpose.

Can you imagine what could happen in your life....
in my life....
if we began to exercise and use our faith?
If instead of burying our faith,
we buried our doubts...
our negativity...
our words of death...
If we spoke only faith when we opened our mouths?
If we believed God with all our hearts....
then lived it out in our lives?

Is there an intimidating, overwhelming, looming-larger-than-life mountain...
in your path?

What is your mountain?
Think of it.
Your biggest obstacle.
The most pressing burden upon your heart.

Do you believe in God?
Listen to this verse in Hebrews 11:6,
"But without faith it is impossible to please him:
for he that cometh to God must believe that he is,
and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

First of all, we must believe that God exists...
that He is.
Then, we must believe that He actually does answer prayer.
That if we consistently seek His face,
He will reward our diligence.

It is imperative that we have faith...
in order to please God.
It is imperative that we speak that faith...
in order for the mountain to move.

Out of all of the armor of God pieces we are to put on,
did you know that faith is the most important?
Ephesians 6:16 says,
"Above all,
taking the shield of faith,
wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."
(emphasis mine)

Above all.
Most importantly.
In order for the shield of faith to quench satan's fiery darts,
we have to pick it up,
take it,
raise it,
use it.

I know I cannot express all that is in my heart tonight!
I wish I could.
I wish everyone in the world could grasp this.
We are held under bondage too many times.
We are completely immobilized by the ploys and schemes
of our archenemy, satan.
We serve a mighty God.
He has all power.
He can do anything.
There is nothing impossible with Him.
Jesus said nothing would be impossible to us, either.
If we will just speak to the mountain.
If we will just speak faith...
directly to our situation....
straight to our problem...
into the face of our mountain.

Why do we feel reluctant...
to speak faith?
Why is it so much easier to look on the dark side?
To cower before satan and his tactics?
To cave under the pressure?
Is it because we are weak from the pounding?
Weary from the battle?
Too exhausted to fight?
Doesn't he always pounce the hardest
when we are at our worst...our weakest?
Sure, it will take effort on our part.
We will have to fight...
go on the offense...
take an aggressive stand....
and never back down.

Speak faith, my friend!
Faith in the God Who calls things that be not as though they are.
Faith in the God...
Who can - look at a sick body and call it completely well...
because He has the power to heal anything.
Who can - look at an empty bank account and call it wealth...
because He has the means to fill it to overflowing.
Who can - look at a lonely, single woman and call her married....
because He has created just the man to fulfill her dreams.
Who can - look at an infertile, childless couple and call them parents...
because He still opens barren wombs.
Who can - look at an unrealized, unfulfilled, long-buried dream
and call it reality...
because He has the key to open all doors.
Who can - look at the over-indebted and call them debt-free...
because His blessings make rich, with no sorrow added.
Who can - look at the jobless and call them employed...
because He is rearranging lives and orchestrating events to provide them a job.

Our God can do anything.
There is nothing beyond His capability.
All He asks is that you and I believe in Him.
He doesn't require an enormous amount of faith....
just enough to fill the inside
of a tiny mustard seed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Two Become One

"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
And they twain shall be one flesh:
so then they are no more twain, but one flesh."
Mark 10:7,8

When Kevin asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year,
I told him I'd love to re-do our main bathroom.
For the past 11 years, 
it has been lavender, 
with a Thomas Kinkade border at the top.

It was pretty,
but I was ready for a change.

It's funny how your decorating taste evolves over time...
and what you were so over-the-moon for a few years ago,
kind of begins to wear on you,
and you find yourself seeking something a bit different.

my dear, sweet husband pulled off all of the old border,
and he and Zach painted the bathroom a warm, soothing deep tan color.
They did such a great job.
I love them both so much!

Today, Kevin and I put up a new border.
I love when we do projects together.
I cherish every second.
Pulling together to complete a shared endeavor
is very strengthening to a relationship.

This border is ultra-primitive
with the neatest sayings on it...

(don't you just LOVE that?)


There it is constant reminder.
In so many forms...
from so many directions...
His sweet voice calms me...
with these powerful eight words!

Now they are pasted on our bathroom wall....
along with...

Kevin bought me a new shower curtain and liner, too.
I chose black...
to bring out the black in the border
and because black and tan complement each other so well.

Funny, how something like this can just pick your spirits right up.
It didn't really cost all that much,
but the small changes completely "renovated" the look.
It doesn't look like the same room.

Each time I walk past it,
I peek in and read the border,
and I am encouraged...
to draw closer to the One Who made me.

I love having things around me that remind me of God.
Things that elevate my thoughts,
each time I look at them.

As I stooped to gather up the tatters and pieces of the
old border Kevin had removed,
my thoughts went back to the day they were applied
to these same walls.

"Your Mom put this border up for us."

I didn't remember that."
Kevin replied.

I remember the day she did it.
I think that is one thing that held me back...
from re-decorating for so long.
I felt bad undoing all of the sacrifice she had made
in doing something that meant so much to me.

Mom Smith loves doing things like that.
She loves decorating,
doing household projects,
and helping others do the same.

I wish she were as strong now as she was then.
If only her health and age could somehow be reversed...
to that day.
She could work circles around me.

I felt a twinge of sadness as I dropped the last shreds of border
into the open trash bag in my hand....
thinking of the beauty of the art it contained,
thinking of Mom's hard work,
and how quickly it was torn apart.

Then I thought of how we had enjoyed the fruits of her hard work
for over eleven years.
Her labor was not in vain.
The pretty cottages on the border comforted
and brought solace and a sense of serenity...
to us and to many guests through the years.

Thomas Kinkade's work always creates an atmosphere of peace.
His paintings take you away to another place...
another atmosphere...
where all is completely calm.

He had such a gift.
It is incredibly sad that the world will never know
what other wonders he would have bestowed
had he lived longer.
It seems his life was cut way too short.

For those of us still living,
life goes on.
Each day brings its unique changes.
Every year that passes finds us older
and in different phases of life.

I doubt if Mom Smith could decorate a bathroom now
like she decorated ours all those years ago.
Not that she doesn't still have the same capability and know-how.
In that department,
she hasn't slipped a bit.
And granted, she is still spry...
and extremely energetic...
for her age,
but life has changed for her in many ways.
She isn't as steady on her feet now.
She staggers.
I would be terrified for her to climb on a step stool
or try to reach over her head for an extended length of time.
Her days are spent differently now.
They are filled...
from morning to night...
 with caring for the man to whom she has been wed
for over half a century.
Today is their 53rd wedding anniversary.

He depends upon her a lot more these days.
For even the most basic of needs.
Things he could easily do on his own,
just a short time ago...
he now has to wait for her to do.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer
she will be able to maintain this pace...
to keep up with the progressively-increasing demands...
while dealing with her own steadily-declining health.

She wouldn't have it any other way.
She just lights up when she is serving others.
It is her nature...
to nurture the ones she loves.

But, I worry about her a lot.
I feel sad that we live so far apart,
and I am unable to do much to help.
I'd love to relieve her load,
to pay back just a small fraction of all
she has done for me through the years.

I have lost count of it all.
She has loved and cherished me
as a daughter....
from the very start.
I couldn't love her more.

As we thought of her and Dad Smith today,
Kevin told me he continually lives with the dread...
of losing them.

I know how he feels.

I told him I don't know whose shoes are harder to walk in.
or mine.

It is all behind me now.
Both parents are gone.
The dread of losing them,
going through the torture of saying good-bye,
has already come true.
I have already walked that path.
I can call them on the phone no longer.
Can't go to see them.
Will never make another memory with them...
at least not on this side of the grave.

Kevin, on the other hand,
still has the opportunity to call his parents every day.
We can still pack up and go visit them from time to time.
Lord willing, there are still memories to be made.
But, for how long?
He still has the dread of walking the path I've walked...
 hanging over his head...
every, single day.
He has to live each day with the anxiety and apprehension
of seeing Lori's phone number on our Caller ID,
picking up the phone,
and hearing distress in her voice.

So, which is worse?
Whose shoes are more uncomfortable to wear?

I really don't know.
I guess it is a matter of perspective.
Kevin said he thinks mine are.
I kind of wonder if maybe his are.
Either way,
it is a fact of life.
If we live long enough,
if our parents live long enough...
if life happens in the usual way...
if it follows the road most traveled...
we are all going to walk this same path.

In all honesty,
I am glad it is behind me,
instead of ahead of me.
Because, from my heart,
I don't think I could have gone through it again.
I'll never have to.

Both of my parents are resting...
safe and secure...
in the arms of Jesus.
Nothing alarms them now.
They don't cry....
or worry about us....
or live in any kind of fear.
They aren't alone.
They are surrounded by millions of the redeemed...
of all ages....
in the same place as Peter, and Paul, and Abraham....
and best of all,
They are at peace.
Satan can torment them no more.
No one can break in on them,
rob them,
distress them.
Their bodies have been laid to rest
in peaceful cemeteries....
surrounded by pretty trees
and singing birds.

This life is all over for them.
God called them home....
to live in a place...
a realm...
that is never-ending tranquility.

When I meet them up there, by God's grace,
we will part no more.
And though the pang of separation in this life
is near-unbearably painful,
I know, deep in my heart,
that this is only temporary.
One day, we will be together again.

What hope!
What joy!

I feel incredibly close to Kevin's parents.
We are a tight-knit family.
Always have been.
His parents and my parents were friends.
We have so many special, sweet memories.

So, I am dreading the moment of separation...
right along with Kevin.
It is going to hurt me beyond my ability to put into words
to watch him walk through the stages of grief
when he loses his parents.
I will be feeling it, too....
almost as keenly.

When you love someone,
it is just that way.
You feel what they feel.
You are right there...
in it...
with them.

Over the past two years or so,
Kevin and I have walked a very unfamiliar,
rocky path.
I thought we were close before we took that first step....
into this fiery furnace...of testing.
As I look at our relationship from today's angle,
I see a different "us"....
even closer...
our bond even stronger...
and more reinforced.
And, I can see that....
 just as pulling together to complete a shared endeavor
is very strengthening to a relationship...
pulling together to walk and live through a shared sorrow
is even more strengthening.
There is nothing in the world like shared suffering to draw two people
closer to Jesus....
and to each other.
We've stepped on the thorns strewn in our path...
Tears have been wrenched from our hearts...
and the four of our eyes...
at the same moments...
for the same reasons.
We've looked at each other time after time after time...
and discovered the same, exact reflection...
mirrored in the expression of the other.

He has held me close so many times...
I have held him.
God graciously allows one of us to be strongest,
when the other is at their lowest, weakest ebb....
to balance each other.
God ordained it that way.

He loved my parents...
as much as I love his.
It hurt him deeply to say good-bye.
Even deeper as he realized...
lived out...
the pain in my heart.

God willing, I will be there for him...
every step of grief...
when it comes time to tell his parents good-bye.

I hope it is no time soon.
I beg God every day to help them...
to leave them with us...
as long as possible.

Some days, I feel the dread with such force,
I feel I cannot bear it to be anytime soon.

God knows.

Whatever happens, by God's grace and mercy,
we will face it...

Jesus said in today's passage of Scripture that
two shall be one flesh...
that they will no longer be two...
but one flesh.

It seemed mysterious to me...
all those years ago...
when we started out.
I knew I would drop my last name
and take Kevin's,
I knew we would share the same bank account,
mortgage deed,
and physical intimacy.
Becoming one...
 made perfect sense....
in those kinds of ways.
But, how would we...
how could we...
 be one and same person?
How would we no longer be separate?
How would the two of us...
truly become one?

It is no mystery to me now....
all these years later.

The longer you share life with the same person,
the more "one" you become.

Emotions become more entwined.
Mindsets more unified.
The more you come to know someone,
the more they have invested in you.
And vice versa.
Each shared moment is another deposit into the investment.
It grows day by day,
year by year.
Each mingled tear,
every shared laugh,
the individual moments and events....
that make up this thing called married life.

There are so many benefits to sticking it out together....
to staying with the same person...
for a lifetime...
like God designed.

The history is just there...
You don't have to explain.
They've lived it...
walked it....
with you.

You can finish each other's sentences...
because you know each other's hearts...
so completely.

The other day, during a time of laughter and fun,
little Zach looked at Kevin and me and said,
"You know, all that we have been through
has really drawn us all closer, Mama and Daddy."

It touched my heart...
deep inside.

He sees it.
Feels it.
Senses it.

Our bond with this little fellow has deepened...
and strengthened...
just like the bond we share with each other has been reinforced.

As the sign on the new border in our bathroom says,

I realize that our lives are completely in His hands.
We don't know what tomorrow holds, 
but we absolutely know Who holds tomorrow....
and we know Who holds all three of our sometimes-trembling hands...
in His....

Through it all,
after all,
I have never loved Jesus...
or Kevin...
or Zachary...
more than I do right now.

Through the fire,
they have all become more beautiful...
more precious...
more dear...
to my heart.

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
'Tis grace that brought us safe thus far,
And grace 'twill lead us home."

A dear minister friend always says,
"God will take us through,
if we can stand the pull."

by and through God's amazing grace...
we'll make it through.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Following The Path To Peace

"And the work of righteousness shall be peace; 
and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
And My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, 
and in sure dwellings, 
and in quiet resting places..."
Isaiah 32:17,18

Could you find any more comforting two Scriptures?

What brings you peace?
Is it not when your heart is completely right with God?
When there is nothing in the world between....
you and Him?
When all sins are forgiven and under the blood of Jesus,
and you are walking in every shred of light He has shone across your path?
When you are completely and wholeheartedly obedient...
to His perfect will for your life?

If this most important relationship is off-skelter,
there is no peace.
There is inward turmoil...
a lack of serenity.

But, when everything is balanced...
when we are doing all we know to do...
to follow Him...
and the path of righteousness He has winnowed before us...
all is calm,
all is tranquil.
Life is sweet.
Even when the storm rages all around us,
we are at rest.

I have found that when I do whatever is necessary
to maintain that inward peace with God,
it stabilizes me.
When my spiritual equilibrium is balanced,
so is the rest of my life.
When I do what needs to be done to keep clear with God,
it automatically includes a secondary path to peace...
maintaining harmony with others.

As God forgives me,
I am empowered to forgive.
Even when I am not asked to.

God's command to us to forgive others 
is not contingent on whether or not they have apologized.

Did you ever think of that?

Sometimes, we hold a grudge simply because we feel
that the ball is in the other person's court.
That they did us wrong,
and until they make the next move to make amends,
we can give our grudge safe harbor...
and never forgive...
and we are completely justified.

Not so.

Because no matter what the other fellow is doing,
I am responsible for me.
You are accountable for you.
Making excuses to God for our refusal to forgive
is a waste of time.
It is pointless.

Because Jesus forgave.
Do you think the Roman soldiers responsible for His cruel, violent death
knelt at His profusely bleeding feet,
looked up at Him,
and begged His forgiveness?

Yet, what did He do?

From the depths of His anguished, tortured soul,
He cried...
to His Father...
the Judge of all men...
the One Who determines where we spend eternity,
"Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do."

He wasn't asked to forgive.
The vicious, callous, bloodthirsty perpetrators weren't sorry in the least
for the intense humiliation and inhumane cruelty they had inflicted...
upon His mutilated body.
They felt no remorse.
It was all in a day's work...
to them.

But, did they even have a clue...
as to what they were doing?
As to Who they were killing?
Jesus knew they didn't.
He read their minds.
He viewed their hearts.

He chose to forgive.
And because He forgave,
we can, too.
There is nothing that has ever happened
or will ever happen
to any of us
that will come remotely close to
what happened to Jesus Christ.

He came to reconcile.
To bring a path to peace...
between us and Almighty God.
To be the bridge.
To light the way.
To suffer the most extreme of all injustice,
then turn around and forgive it completely.

He is our Example.

This, my friend, is the work and effect of righteousness..
spoken about in Isaiah's prophecy in today's Scripture passage.
Jesus is righteousness personified.
If we trust Him,
if we follow Him,
if we do what He did,
the effect in our everyday lives
will be quietness and assurance.
This is the path to peace.
This is the peaceable habitation...
the sure dwelling...
the quiet, resting place.

Isn't this what we all long for?
What we all crave?
In this chaotic, noisy, unsettling world?

The formula is so simple.
Sins forgiven equals peace with God,
all because of what He did on the cross.
Then extending that same forgiveness to our fellow man,
all because He forgave us.

That's it.
That is the path to peace.
Not so hard to understand.

Love compelled Jesus to do what He did.
Love overpowered every other emotion He had.

It is all about love.
Loving God with all our hearts.
Loving people as Jesus loves.
Love caused Jesus to build the bridge.
Love enables us to cross it.

"Jesus said unto him,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul,
and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it,
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
(Matthew 22:37-40)

Did you catch all of that?
It all boils down to the two components.
Love God with everything you've got.
Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
This is the path to peace.
This is what every other word in the Bible hangs on.
It all hinges on this.

Loving God with everything you've got translates into
doing everything necessary to maintain the fellowship you have with Him.
Making your relationship with Him the top priority of your life.
Giving Him what is right, not what is left.
Doing every, single thing He asks.
Keeping everything clear.
Doing whatever it takes.

Maintaining that sweet, precious, invaluable communion...
isn't it worth it?
That means more than anything else ever could.

Loving your neighbor as yourself translates into
doing everything you possibly can to keep the peace.
Who is your neighbor?
The question is more, who isn't?
"If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
(Romans 12:18)
All men.
Loving your neighbor means forgiving your neighbor...
even when he doesn't ask you to.
Letting it go.
Doing what you need to do to keep bitterness at bay.
Showing the attributes of Jesus,
even when it is hard.
It will never be harder for you or me than it was for Him.

If we long for quietness,
a peaceful household,
and quiet rest....
this is the path, my friend.

This is the path to peace.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Despiteful Users

"Let us therefore follow after the things....wherewith one may edify another."
Romans 14:19
The original Greek meaning of edify is this:

"the act of building;
spiritual advancement;
instruction that builds a person up to be the suitable dwelling place of God,
where the Lord is "at home";
the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom,
piety, holiness, happiness;
what contributes to augment wisdom."

My friend, Kim, told me that she has decided to "shed".

I remember the moment she said it.

At first, I found it amusing and chuckled.
I had visions in my mind of a snake shedding its skin,
and that in no way epitomized my vibrant, sweet, caring friend!

She looked at me as serious as could be and said,
"No, I mean it, Cheryl.
I have been shedding."

"What do you mean?"
I was still amused.

"I am in the process of shedding people who bring me down.
Shedding people who are toxic to me.
Just letting them go."

"Wow", I replied.
"That is so smart, Kim."
I was no longer laughing.

The light bulb finally came on...
in my head...
concerning what my friend was telling me.

She said that she refuses to continue to keep toxic relationships in her life.

I admire her and
respect her courage.
She is not a mean person.
She has a kind heart.

It takes me a while sometimes...
to identify things.
To see people as they really are.
I wish I were more perceptive....
like Kim.
Quicker to analyze.
By the time I figure it out,
many times I end up on the worst end of a situation....
completely drained.
By the moment I realize something is very unhealthy for me,
I have usually mercilessly pushed myself past the point of good sense...
for the sake of a very disadvantageous-to-my-mental-and-spiritual-health,
impossible-to-make-a-difference-in situation.

Why do I do this?
Stranger yet, why do I allow it to happen more than once...
perpetrated by the same person??

Some people are just not good for me.
Some people are not good for you, either.
They vex the spirit each time we see them coming,
recognize their phone number on the Caller ID,
or see their email address pop up in our inbox.

To me, just thinking of certain people is vexing....
remembering all I have tried to do for them...
everything I've put into maintaining a relationship with them...
times I have opened my heart...and them....
only to be disappointed repeatedly time after time after time.
Only to be repaid by the sharp jab of an injection 
of their toxic, poisonous venom....
as soon as I turned around and wasn't looking...
or was out of earshot.

There are relationships that are absolutely not healthy to maintain.
There are people who are absolutely toxic to us.
They are takers...
They only want what they can get,
never ever giving anything back.
The only time you hear from them 
is when they want, or more often than not...need, something from you.
Something that they know only you can provide.
They are sneaky.
Full of guile and deceit.
Wrapping the poisonous venom of their underhanded ulterior motives
in the false pretense of being "friendly".
No one in the world needs that kind of "friend".
They remind me of a leech.
They literally and greedily draw the very life out of you,
walk away satisfied....for the moment,
leave you utterly and completely drained and depleted,
then come back for more as soon as they become bloodthirsty again.

You could allow them to drain every bit of life out of you,
and it would be completely for naught....
absolutely pointless.
It still wouldn't be enough for them
as they stood over your lifeless form
angrily kicking,
thirstily demanding more.
And you.
All you would have accomplished is to become
an unnecessary martyr.

God does not require this.

Many times, we are brought under bondage to these 
types of people, because we are Christians.
We long to be Christlike.
And we should.
Being like Him should be the loftiest of our dreams and aspirations.

Unfortunately, toxic people are quick to pick up on this.
They use it against us.
They think it gives them an advantage
and use it to justify their cruel abuse.
Sad to say, 
often times,
toxic people are professing Christians.
They may even go to worship services with us.
Be someone we have to "deal with" and interact with
on a regular basis.

As a Christian,
God requires us to be kind.
To forgive.
To maintain a humble, meek spirit.
To be polite in passing.
He also expects us to use the wisdom He has 
so graciously instilled in us.
To know and recognize when a relationship is not beneficial.
To let go of every weight that is pulling us down...
vexing our spirit...
draining our joy....
robbing our peace.

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, 
 let us lay aside every weight, 
and the sin which doth so easily beset us
 and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..."
Hebrews 12:1
(emphasis mine)

I believe this type of situation falls under the
"despitefully used" category Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:44.
The original Greek word for "despitefully" here is ἐπηρεάζω,
and it literally means:

"to intimidate by using threats and false accusations "tailor-made" to the situation, i.e. under-handed tactics;
treat wrongfully;
threatening, reviling abuse;
spiteful abuse;
to treat abusively"

Sound familiar to anyone?

So, what did Jesus say concerning this?
What are we required to do for someone who despitefully uses us?

"But I say unto you, 
Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you, 
and pray for them which despitefully use you..."

Pray for them.
He didn't ask us to perpetuate the abuse.
He didn't demand that we continue to answer their phone calls...
only to be further drained of all spiritual life.
He didn't require us to answer their conniving emails...
to continue to buy into their deceit
and feed the spirit of bondage under which they operate.
He told us to pray for them.
To pray for them.

Don't allow satan to bring you under bondage
to his demands.
You do not have to please satan.
You do not serve him.
He is not your master.
You serve the One Who spoke the words of eternal life.
The One Who gave this perfectly-fitting advice...
to pray for those who despitefully use you.

Praying for someone will keep bitterness toward them out of our hearts.
It is very difficult to hate someone we are praying for.
It actually changes our perspective and helps us to love them,
in spite of their presumptuousness.
But, thankfully, we are only required to love them...
from a distance.
God does not require that we become their bondservant,
nor that we cater to their whims and under-handed motives.
Just pray for them...
that's all.

God does not demand the perpetuation of toxic relationships.

In fact, His expectation of us is to refrain from non-edifying situations.
He commands us to lay the weights aside.

It is just plain wrong
to continue to foster a warm, inviting environment
in which these ruthless, blood-sucking "leech-type" people
can thrive and exist in our world.
To consistently make it comfortable for 
them to inflict their presumptuous,
over-bearing toxins
is not something our kind, loving Creator requires.
In fact, His Word tells us 
to "follow after things..wherewith one may edify another".

The thing to ask ourselves is this...
am I being edified by this relationship?
We need to think about what it means to be edified...
based on the original Greek meanings and interpretations
(included at the beginning).

Is this relationship building me up...spiritually?
Is it creating a place in which the Lord would wish to abide?
Would He perpetuate this environment?
Is this promoting my spiritual a Christian?
Is it prodding me to be more pious, holy...and happy?

Time is just too precious to waste.
We only have so much of it...
then it is gone.
The Bible is clear.
If it isn't edifying,
don't partake of it.
Don't encourage it.
Don't give it leverage.
Don't continue to waste your time on it.
No longer endure its abuse.

We should do all we can to help another spiritually.
I am all for that.
We should be examples of strong edification.
But, when we identify that a situation is no longer edifying, 
that we are not accomplishing any spiritual good,
that the continuation of a relationship is not building us up,
but instead wearing and tearing us down....
to the point of breaking us...
it is time to let it go.

There are those who truly need us...
to be there for them,
to love them,
to be strong for them,
to fill our God-given role.

Allowing a despiteful user to drain the life out of us
is not fair to our spouse, our children, and others whom
God has faithfully placed in our lives.

We need to make a choice.
Where will we place our energy...
our life?
Where does God want it to be placed?
What does He require?

As you read, have you identified a toxic relationship in your life?

A "leech"-type, one-sided relationship in which the other person
has only their own selfish satisfaction in mind when making demands of you?

Are you being despitefully used....
and in the process being drained of all emotional and spiritual health?
Is there nothing left to give the ones you love most...
because your strength is being drained by a "leech"?

Let me ask you this...
how long have you tried to appease this kind of mindset?
Is it ever satisfied?
I can assure you that it never will be.
From lots of experience,
I can testify that this is not healthy for you.
You will be completely defeated...
and depleted...
by this spirit...
IF you allow it to continue...
IF you keep enabling this person to use you.
They can't do this...
without your permission.

The next move is up to you, my friend.
You must draw the hard line.
You must show the tough love.
You must create the distance.
More than likely,
this situation will never change on its own.
Takers will always be takers.
Despiteful users will, more often than not,
always be despiteful users.
A leech does not metamorphosize...
into a beautiful, graceful, non-intrusive butterfly.
It is always a leech.

Waiting for the other person to change is not wise.

What if it never happens?

Protect your life.
Start now.
Remember, the life is in the blood.
(Leviticus 17:11).
The blood is what a leech is after.
It is up to us to protect, guard, and defend our self,
our spirit, 
our life,
for the sake of our families....
by cleansing the toxins.
Making the hard choices.
Deciding what is most important.
Purging the relationships.
Shedding the undesirables.
Avoiding the leeches.
Following Jesus' advice to simply pray....
for those despiteful users.

Continually allowing someone else to drain us is unhealthy,
and we are the only ones who can stop it.
Or as my friend so aptly puts it,
"Shed".  (:~)

A "leech" can take on many forms.
It doesn't always come to us in the form of a person.
But that is fodder for another day...
logs to stoke another devotional fire!

More coming soon....

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thank God For Friends

"Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not."
Proverbs 27:10

A true friend is a rare find.
They have their faults.
But, they are worth keeping.

Zach and his two best buddies, Austin and Jonathan.
I went through a time of deep depression after Mom died.
That is no secret
and probably the understatement of the century.
There were days,
I honestly wondered if I would survive.
Unfortunately, there still are.
Today, wasn't one of my better days.
I struggled at lot today,
because I thought of Mom...
a lot.

I wanted to see her...
to talk to her...
to go pick her up and take her someplace...
like we used to do so often.

I just miss her....
more than I could ever put into words.

During the months immediately following her death,
I shut a lot of people out.
I had no choice.
And though I was misunderstood,
and my behavior had to seemed cold and insensitive,
from the other side,
I was powerless to change a thing.
I just couldn't cope.
Couldn't deal with talking.
Couldn't handle encounters.
There were very few people I allowed in...
at all.
Strictly my inner circle.
It's all I could do.
Even the phone was mostly off-limits.
I could talk to a select few....
that was it.

I seem to do that when the hurt is deep.
It is just a natural instinct for me...
to withdraw...
further and further into an invisible cocoon...
and stay there forever.
If God wasn't so faithful to me,
I probably would do just that. :-)

He has strategically placed very special people in my life.
True, blue-to-the-core friends.
Loyal ones who care...deeply.
I am so very blessed.

Kevin, Zach, and I were enjoying a meal together...
at Olive Garden...
when I happened to look over at a table caddy-cornered from us.
There was a group of women...
possibly a women's club of some sort...
gathered at a long table,
having a good time.
I didn't know any of them,
but as I gave a quick glance in their direction
one of them caught my eye.
There was something about her face...
her eyes, specifically....
a certain element...
that reminded me so much of an old friend.
A friend who had helped me through
 a very deep hurt and troubling time
just months before Mom died.
A friend who had talked with me on the phone, for literally hours at a time,
prayed with me,
advised me,
understood my situation so fully, because she had gone through something uncannily similar,
and who drove a very long distance to be at Mom's funeral...
to support me on one of the worst imaginable days of my life.

A friend I had shamefully neglected.
I didn't realize it until that moment...
as I locked eyes with this stranger...
seated a few feet away from me.

I missed her.
I felt the sting of tears coming to the surface.

"What's wrong?"
Kevin asked.

Bless his dear heart,
my emotions can change so quickly.
Here we are, at one of our favorite places on earth,
the same restaurant chain he took me to eat on our very first date over 25 years ago,
laughing, enjoying ourselves with Zach,
when he looks over and all of a sudden,
I am crying.

I can go from hysterical laughter to uncontrollable tears in a split second.
Can I get an amen?  ;)
He never knows...from one minute to the next...
what my emotional state will happen to be.
He is the most kind-hearted, patient man on earth.
I couldn't love him more.

I discreetly nodded in the direction of the woman who resembled my friend
and mentioned to Kevin how much she reminded me of her.

she sure does."
He understood, as always.
Kevin always just knows...
what is in my heart,
what I can't put into words.

"You know, I really need to get in touch with her.
I feel really bad.
I haven't talked to her in a long time."
I felt a deep sadness...
like I was on the verge of losing something precious.

When we got back home,
I came straight to the computer and emailed her.
Tonight, she and I talked on the phone for over two hours.
We just picked up right where we left off...
the last time we talked.
I am glad she didn't give up on me.
I'm thankful she could appreciate my need for space...
that she didn't get offended by my silence...
and withdrawal.
May I be ever so understanding...
with those I befriend.

Had I not seen the stranger...
had God not allowed her to be seated right next to us...
would I have ever felt the urge to re-connect?

Here's an even stranger tidbit of information....
almost unbelievable, but totally true.
I saw the same woman again...
the other day...
in a completely different place.

What are the chances?
I don't even go to that area of town...probably nearly 50 miles from us...often.
I happened to be there on two different occasions...
and saw the same woman twice...
who has eyes just like my neglected friend.

Our families have known each other for years.
I remember going to her house as a little girl.
Her Mom always kept a box of toys and books available,
right next to the staircase,
and I would play while Mom and Dad visited her parents....
and talked over church problems,
political situations,
and the stuff of life.

She had one book in that box
that was my favorite.
I read it over and over and over.
"The Princess and the Pea",
by Hans Christian Andersen.
I loved that story.
I would read it and daydream about faraway places...
and becoming a real princess.

Such childish dreams.
Such fond, cherished memories.
To be a child again!
To sit on the floor of that farmhouse,
long hair pulled up high in two ponytails, one on each side of the top of my head,
(sometimes Mom pulled them so tight, I felt like my eyes were squinted...
can anyone relate??)
feeling the sense of security in knowing both of my parents
were nearby...
close enough to touch.
I never had a clue...
what a blessed little girl I was.

My friend is several years older than me.
She is closer to the age of my older siblings,
so we didn't really become "friends"
 until several years into my adulthood.
She was up and grown and out of the house
during most of my visits to her home place.

The older I get,
the more I realize how valuable those links to childhood really are.
I don't want to let them go...
lose them...
watch them slip away.
Staying connected somehow makes me feel closer to Mom and Dad
and those carefree days of innocence.

I thank God for the gentle nudges He gives us.
The reminders He sends our way.
To keep in touch with those we care about.
To not let the distance become irreparably far.
To hold on to what is important.

I'm glad I spotted that stranger.
Who knows, I may run into her again.
If I do, I'll know for sure God is trying to tell me something.
I think I better pay close attention.

How about you?
Any cherished relationships dangling by a thread...
ready to break...
and completely?
Anyone you've neglected?
If they are a true friend,
they will forgive.
You will pick up right where you left off...
no matter how long it has been.
There will be no harsh words of rebuke.
Just compassion...
and tolerance...
since they know you'd do the same for them.

A true friend is hard to find.
Sometimes, they do things that get under our skin.
They get on our last nerve.
They have quirks.
We become impatient and intolerant,
and tempted...
to give up on them.
To throw in the towel.
To cash in the relationship,
and look for another.

Sadly, our search for a replacement is often in vain,
and we find ourselves wishing we could have our old friend back.
The one who knows us inside out...
and loves us anyway.
The one who shares a piece of our history....
and our heart.

Today is a great day to take inventory...
of your relationships.
Is there someone you need to call?
Someone you need to send a card to?
Someone you've neglected?
Someone you really don't want to lose?
Someone you need to forgive?
Someone you wish would forgive you?

Sometimes, we let go of a friendship over the pettiest of things.
Then we spend precious time and energy on remorse.
Why not let go of the regrets and just start
Forgive yourself.
Forgive your friend.
Then start again.

True friendship is worth whatever it takes to keep.