Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

Warning: Serious cheesiness to follow

I think it's so appropriate for our nation to have our very own holiday designated for giving thanks, for we have so much to be thankful for. We have received God's blessings in amazing ways for many years now. How sad that those who are so blessed are often the very ones who forget to say "Thank you." Evidently, it's easy to do. Think of the 10 lepers that Jesus healed, only one of whom returned to show his gratitude. Their miracle had just been given to them, and they just went on their way without even saying, "Thanks."

Since I am one of these abundantly blessed people and I don't want to neglect showing my gratitude, I will stop for a moment to give thanks for...

three healthy children
a roof over my head
a table filled with food
and my soft, snuggly bed

a husband full of grace
family always by my side
winter days by the fire
and warm pumpkin pie

good books to get lost in
a night out with friends
a God whose love is perfect,
whose faithfulness never ends

beautiful fall leaves
the crisp autumn air
a healthy body
a head full of hair

a car that still runs
flip-flops for my feet
a Savior whom one day
in heaven I'll meet

Christmas trees full of light
a heart no longer blemished
the fact that this poem
is finally finished

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Counting My Trials

Since Thanksgiving is just two days away, I thought this would be an appropriate time to count my blessings. But then, that seems a little overdone. I mean, anyone and everyone counts their blessings (otherwise known as "What I'm Thankful For") this time of year. Even people who don't profess Christ find it easy and see it as an important thing to do. We can all appreciate the good things in life, regardless of our spiritual condition. So, what makes believers different? It should be (but how often is it really?) our decision to count our trials...as joy.

This is not a new or mind-boggling concept. I've even written about it before here, but I kind of said it in a different way. However, since I'm a slow learner who is very thankful for God's patience and wonderful ability to hammer things through my thick skull in many different ways until I finally get it, I've just had an epiphany about counting my trials as joy. I am to "count it all joy...when I meet trials of various kinds." (James 1:2)

To count or consider my trials joy, it takes a conscious decision at every moment of every day to choose joy. And I must not only choose joy, but decide that my trial is ALL joy. That means none of anything else. It's only joy. This is so simple, but my life has looked and felt totally different the past two weeks as I've attempted (and done a pretty good job, I must say - thanks to the Holy Spirit, of course) to put this into practice. When I get up in the morning to lunches that need packing, tired, grumpy children who need to be fed and clothed, a ticking clock that never seems to have enough time on it...I have decided to see it as an opportunity for joy. When someone cuts me off in traffic or when I experience continual interruptions to my already busy day, I choose to find joy in it. When a particular little girl forgets all her daily responsibilities again, or when a certain unnamed 4-year-old is defiant for the 87th time that day, or when a cute but feisty toddler cries through dinner prep, dinner itself, clean-up and bath time...I make a choice that it means only joy for me. I'm telling you my life, my attitude, my mothering, my role as wife have all been changed by this simple thing. By choosing God's way.

I don't know how to explain it other than this: In the moment the trial appears, I stop. I take a step back and it's almost as if I'm viewing it from the outside. What I really think is happening is that I'm seeing my life from God's perspective, which is otherwise known as wisdom. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." James 1:5 And, when I see it that way, it's easy to spot the joy in it.

God is granting me the ability to see my life as He sees it. He sees my trials as opportunities to make me more like Jesus. I've applied this to "big trials" before, but it's applying it to the everyday "little trials" that has been revolutionary for me. He sees what He wants to accomplish in me through every little situation in my life, and there is great joy in becoming like Christ. He sees the end result, the eternal result. He sees that this momentary trial is preparing me for the eternal glory and joy He has for me. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18

For quite some time now, I've realized the value of viewing life from an eternal perspective - acknowledging that this life is so short that the trials and suffering here will seem like nothing compared to the everlasting peace and joy they will bring me in heaven. I just haven't been able to do it until now.

So what's the difference? Why has the light bulb finally gone off for me? All I know is in God's timing, He has answered my much-repeated prayer for wisdom just as He promises in James 1:5. That's just one of the amazing things about God...He is faithful to His Word. It won't be easy to remember to live each day with this approach...counting my trials, big and small, ALL joy. But when I do, the glory of Christ is so much more evident in my life. And since that is the goal and purpose of my life, I will seek to count away...both at this designated time of Thanksgiving and everyday the Lord sees fit to give me life and breath.

Thank you, Lord, for the blessings you give me each and every day, whether they come in standard blessing form or in the form of trials. For I serve a Savior who "for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Just as the stars shine brightest in the darkest night, so your joy blazes brilliantly through life's worst problems when you count them as joy.
Elon Foster, 6000 Sermon Illustrations

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Thankful Heart

In the spirit of this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday which I do love so, I am going to share something for which I am very thankful and quite fond of. Naturally, I am very thankful for my family, my home, food on our table, a car to drive, and I plan on posting about that closer to the Big Day. However, today I'd like to focus on a place which is very near and dear to my heart. Publix.

There are days when I wonder how I lived life for more than a quarter of a century without this delightful grocery store. You might argue that for many of those years I was a mere child and could not value the existence of such a place. But I would tell you to look at my three children. Listen to their squeals of delight as we pull into the parking lot. Witness Luke's excitement as we near the door to pick up our space ship buggy. (It's NOT a pretty picture if they're all taken.) Watch as they wiggle with anticipation the closer we get to the bakery counter where they will receive their free cookie. I'm not sure who loves the cookies more - me or them. I don't actually eat the cookies (except for the occasional sneaky bite), but I adore them for their ability to keep my children quiet and content for at least the first few aisles of our trip. So, I now realize that I lived a deprived childhood as I visited Food World in Huffman. Yuck.

As an adult, however, I do have an even fuller and more wonderful appreciation for this grocery store. There is something so enjoyable about purchasing pretty fruit and wholesome veggies from such an organized produce section. There is something calming about walking up and down the aisles of neatly displayed food where there is usually an employee greeting you and offering any assistance you might need. And then it's just so fun searching out the great BOGO (buy one get one free, for you grocery shopping amateurs) deals. You just never know what might be on sale. Because we all know that food you get for a really great price tastes so much better! And it's even more yummy when you know you have a coupon for it - that they'll double. I'm sorry, but Sara Lee apple pie for $.70 is extra delicious. And ten Sister Schubert's rolls for $1.50 taste so much better than if I paid over $3 for them.

The best moment happens as I stand in the check out line, chatting with the friendly workers who are appreciating my children's obvious cuteness, and watching the amount spent go down as the amount saved goes up while my coupons are being scanned. (I will say that I am not one of these super coupon women that can come out with 50 items for a total of $2. I typically save and spend about the same amount on a good day.) And then the blessed moment arrives when the bagger insists on helping me to my oh so cool minivan with my groceries - which means I don't even have to take the cart back. Then I savor the satisfaction of an hour well-spent, a task accomplished, and money saved. It's back home to anticipate the next Wednesday when I will open up the weekly Publix ad and peruse the great deals I won't be able to pass up for the next week.

Ahhh, it's the simple things in life. Do they have Publix in the Caribbean? Wait. Don't answer that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Overwhelmed

I am a girl who gets easily overwhelmed, much like I am right now. I am overwhelmed by a very unorganized and dirty house, overwhelmed by the rapidly multiplying dirty clothes, overwhelmed with tadpoles and kindergarten programs, overwhelmed at the prospect of a huge decision in our future, overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays, overwhelmed by the very small amount of money in our checking account verses the large number of days remaining until another payday, overwhelmed by another day of missing church, overwhelmed by constantly coughing children. I'm just overwhelmed by life, which is not unusual for me. But I'm definitely at peak-stage right now. (Funny how I have time for this blog, though.)

I dream of a relaxing vacation, leaving all this chaos behind. I dream of a day with nothing to do but read a book. I dream of enough money to not have to worry about putting gas in my car. I dream about children who always get along and pick up after themselves. I dream about a day when my husband is not too busy to hang up curtains.

Now I realize that, as wonderful as all those things sound, they are neither realistic nor necessary. I have to choose to be overwhelmed...overwhelmed by the hope I have in Christ, overwhelmed by the promise I have of an eternity with no pain, suffering, or dirt, overwhelmed by my wonderful Savior who was not overwhelmed by the cross. I don't need vacations or money or perfect children...I just need Jesus. And what do you know...I have all that I need. I am overwhelmed.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5-6a

Sunday, November 8, 2009

God of Promise

Wow, this is a long one. I'll be impressed if any of you actually read it all, and I won't blame you if you don't. :)

I've heard about God's promises for most of my life, growing up in church and all. The first time we're introduced to this aspect of God is usually the story of Noah and the rainbow, the sign of God's promise to never destroy the whole earth with water again. I've also heard many testimonies of people over the years who were "standing on" a certain promise that God had made to them through His Word. There are books written on the subject and we're often reminded that we can trust God's promises for our lives. But I'm always baffled into silence when asked the question, usually in a Bible study format, "What promises are you trusting God for in your life?" or "How has God kept a promise to you in the past?"

Of course, I always defer back to the standard, "I trust Him to save me and give me eternal life," or other such general promises that I don't always think of in terms of a promise. But in this post, I'm really referring to those specific promises that God makes to you in a specific time or circumstance in your life. This has just never been a real concept to me. However, (as you've probably guessed by the fact that I'm writing on this subject) I feel that God has spoken a promise especially for me this week.

First let me say that Bible study was just amazing for me on Thursday. We've been studying Abraham and Sarah, and this has just been such a rich and applicable study in my life. The picture of this couple forsaking prayer, trying to figure out in purely human terms how God will fulfill His promise, and making a huge mistake that brought hostility in their marriage, a broken friendship between Sarah and Hagar, and violent consequences for mankind to this day was a great reminder to me to seek God in prayer and His Word and QUIT TRYING TO FIGURE THINGS OUT BY MY OWN LIMITED UNDERSTANDING, trusting Him to complete His work in my life in His own timing and under His own terms. Also, huge comfort came from knowing that, despite this pretty big mistake these two made, God continued to love them and did fulfill His promise to them by blessing them with a son and so much more. I'm so glad that people of faith in Scripture aren't perfect!

Okay, I digress. So, as I'm sitting in lecture time on Thursday, a Scripture is briefly referred to that has come up several times lately. Don't you just love it how God does that? He brings up something over and over until we get it. At that moment, I felt God saying, "This is my promise to you. This is what you can cling to when things are rough." The Scripture is found in Mark 10: 28-31:

Peter (or it could be Amy!) said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

I struggle with giving up things of this world for Christ. I don't know how, if it comes to it, we'll leave dear friends and family to move a long way away with no road connecting us. Though it's much less important to me now, I don't know how I'll deal with selling our house and many of our possessions to move to who knows what kind of dwelling. I don't know how I'll deal with leaving a church where we have wonderful worship services each week where I am able to connect with the heart of God and going to a very different type of church (though I realize worship is not about me). I don't know what I'll do when I'm so lonely I want to cry and I have no girlfriends to run to and share with. I don't know how I'll handle leaving my kids' great schools and teachers and taking on the huge responsibility of teaching them myself, which I do not feel equipped for. I don't know how I'll like giving up that monthly paycheck (though it doesn't ever seem large enough) and truly depending on other people to support us (which, I know, is really just depending on God). You get the point...

But I think I'll handle it by reminding myself of God's promise to me. Yes, there will be suffering and maybe even persecution. Yes, it will be hard and there will be days you want to quit. During those times, I have a promise. And don't consider me totally selfless. I have been promised blessings more abundant than I have ever known, both in this life and especially in the next. I am trusting that God will provide for my family like He never has before...maybe not more money, but in amazing and faith-building ways. I am trusting that God will provide friends to encourage me...maybe an ocean away or maybe right next door. I am trusting that God will provide an education for my kids...by equipping me or providing an awesome school an a little bitty island. I am trusting that God will give me the ultimate blessing...more of Himself.

Ultimately, God Almighty is a God of Promise...willing to make them to us and able and faithful to keep them. That's why He is worth following. What could I ever sacrifice that would not be worth more of Him?

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa...Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?...Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

~David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa, December 4, 1857

Monday, November 2, 2009

One of Those Days

Do you ever have one of those days? One of those days when you wish you could turn in your resignation from all responsibilities? One of those days when you know if one more person throws a fit, you'll just lie down and kick and scream, too? One of those days when you wonder what in the world you've gotten yourself into? One of those days when it's hard to believe you'll miss this, as everyone says you will? One of those days when reminding yourself how blessed you are just isn't helping a whole lot? One of those days you can actually feel the gray hair growing? One of those days when you wonder who's really smarter...you or the 4-year-old? One of those days when your only hope is bedtime?

Well, I've had one of those days. It was actually just one of those mornings, which turned into just a normal, exhausting kind of day. If you're curious as to what I was doing between 9 and 10 am this morning, you'll be happy to know I was sitting in my pajamas in the kitchen floor, staring at a pile of Cinnamon Life cereal and repeatedly telling my screaming child to pick it up since he had deliberately thrown it down there in a fit of displeasure. (And, yes. He did pick it up. I wonder where they get their stubborness from?)

Later, you would have found me in the dairy aisle of my nearest and favorite grocery store, glancing side to side to make sure the coast was clear. Then I had to remind the aforementioned child that he did indeed have to stay in the hard-to-steer spaceship buggy the entire duration of the shopping trip. Naturally, as this was going on, someone I know and haven't seen in a while rounds the corner with her quiet, cooperative son sitting in her buggy. Lovely.

And interspersed in all this fun, I was listening to another child whine and complain about how hard life is and how terrible it is that he NEVER gets to do anything fun. It really is sad that we have absolutely nothing in or around our home with which to entertain a child other than a tv. I really should look into getting the child some books or toys or maybe even a few puzzles.

So, today I accomplished one load of laundry and bill-paying. Oh, and I did cook dinner which, of course, no one under 5 feet tall liked. And I suppose you could say that getting through the day without packing my suitcase and high-tailing it out of here is an accomplishment, too.

"Why?" you might ask. Why put up with all this grief and stress? Why wake up tomorrow and do it all over again? (Well, hopefully some of the details will be a little different.) But isn't the answer obvious?