Thursday, November 17, 2016

In The Fire




"Take me with you," I whispered to my husband as he departed for a business trip a few days ago. Part of me was excited for him and the other part envious. I was jealous he got to venture to a new country, even though it was work related. "He's going to try new foods and see sites I never have while I look at the same four walls, listen to children bicker and figure out what to make for dinner again," I shamefully thought.

Let me rewind just a bit. My husband and I have been married a little over 3 months. 4 months ago I had a picture in my head of what our lives would look like. Visions of fields of wild flowers colored my imagination as we gleefully ran into the sunset. I guess a lifetime of Hallmark and Disney movies helped prompt those daydreams. But, real life has a way of waking us up very quickly. As soon as we married, the storms began to hit. So much so it seems all areas of our lives have been tested. From appliances repeatedly breaking to kid troubles to drama from exes to identity crisises. There are times we'll look at one another and jokingly say "we made it through another one" and times we'll tearfully say "how much more can we take."

Which brings me to this current business trip he is on. We'd been praying about it for weeks since we knew he was going to be leaving. Asking God to help things run smoothly but it's been anything but. One child got sick, followed by the second and then a third. Our microwave caught fire and we've been living out of a cooler for a month since our refrigerator's been broken. I went to pick up a sick kid from school and my car wouldn't start. And, as I type this, we still have two more days to go until he gets back home. This isn't a woe is me pity party or at least that's not my intention. What I want to convey are the lessons God is teaching me in a class I like to call - In The Fire 101.

This class is one we've all had at some point or another. Let me explain. Most of our days are spent around the campfire, so to speak. We're surrounded by family and friends. There's always some heat in the middle, also known as problems, but we tackle them and sit back down with our marshmallows until the heat gets too hot. Every so often, that fire starts to burn out of control when we are faced with too many issues all at once. We feel alone, swarmed by flames and smoke that threaten to spontaneously combust us. We learn at an early age to stop, drop and roll in a fire. However, God is teaching me to Stop, Drop and Grow.

What it seems I am constantly learning is to:

Stop filling my calendar with activities that I don't make time for Him.
Stop fixating on myself and my problems.
Stop thinking I am in control.

Instead...

Drop to my knees and bask in God's presence.
Drop my selfishness and gaze on God. Then, help others.
Drop my pride and pick up the humility of knowing His plans are perfect no matter how much they hurt.

By doing these things, the Lord allows us to grow in our maturity and walk with Him. As we do so, we are able to brace ourselves in the blaze. We become stronger and so do our marriages. The relief comes when we realize God is with us in the fire just like He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who stood untouched by the heat in the fiery furnace. Jesus Christ is our balm when the sparks have grazed our skin. He breathes life and pieces us back together when all we feel is left are ashes.

No, life normally doesn't go as planned. This side of Heaven will always produce pain. But look around. Who has he placed beside you to help alleviate it? He's given me the greatest gift and answered prayer who is my husband. One thing I have quickly learned in our short marriage is it is far better to suffer with someone than to suffer alone.

A side note-God not only wants His children to come to Him when we are standing in the inferno but he wants a relationship all the time. Let us remember that the next time we are sitting around the campfire enjoying the warmth and telling stories. Hmm...I can't help but wonder if God likes marshmallows.?

Father in Heaven,
Thank you for the trials you send my way to keep me humble and constantly reaching for your hand. Help me to withstand them so I grow closer to you and more like you. Thank you for the smooth days that allow me to exhale and remind me of all I have to be grateful for. Thank you for the people you have sent to walk alongside me through life. Help me never to take them for granted.  In Jesus' name, Amen.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Paralyzed by Busyness



The clock read 8:45 a.m. By then, the kids were dressed, had eaten breakfast and been taken to school. Two loads of laundry were done, Bible read, prayers sent and the grocery list written. I glanced at the empty coffee mug and knew I needed a double dose of Joe and Jesus. The bags under my eyes and frown upon my face were a telltale sign I needed to stop and slow down.

I'm not good at slow. It means I have more time to focus on all I need to be doing but it also points out what I've been ignoring. Busy work is unavoidable. We check off our to do's and before we know it, the day has slipped away from us. Doing so makes it easy to drown out God's whispers. For weeks I'd had the same prayer: "Lord, help me balance my time wisely so I can keep up with housework and homework and still do what I love-write."

I like keeping a tidy house. I enjoy making hot meals for my family (especially when they eat them) but to sit quietly before God as the pen flows on paper revitalizes me and brings a sense of fulfillment that can't be matched. To make time for something that brings gratification seems like it would be a no-brainer. Just add it on the calendar. However, oftentimes, I will put it on the back burner. Pretty soon that hot passion within will turn cold and leaves me with feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Busy isn't bad unless it constantly overshadows what God want wants to do in and through us. I'm not saying He doesn't want us to cook and clean. One of the greatest ways to show our family Christ in the flesh is to serve them through these acts of love. But, when we have certain desires within, burdens that keep us up at night, messages to share through communicating the gospel then it is not enough to simply ask God for more time to accomplish these.  Proverbs 14:23 says all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads to poverty.  We must be prepared to put in work to get it done and not let ourselves be paralyzed by busyness.

The routine, day in and day out schedules, though chaotic, are often easier because their familiar. It's the action steps we take behind our knee deep in tears prayers that are often hard and uncomfortable. We'll tell ourselves "someday I will pursue that dream." "I don't have enough time right now." "I'm not good/smart/young enough." Whatever excuse you can think of, I've said it. I've talked myself out of quitting numerous things and regret most of them. The tasks the Lord gives me that I continue to strive for are the ones I'm proud of. Whether they take 5 weeks or 5 years.

Those who have accepted Christ as their personal savior, have the power of the Holy Spirit burning inside of them. He has placed fires of desire in us and I believe He takes great delight when His children actively pursue Him so He can ignite those. Whether you are a nine to five employee who wants to stay at home with your little ones. Or, you stay at home but volunteer for so many things and you simply need a time of rest.  Maybe you want to take a few classes or start your own business.  Whatever it is, God is with you. It doesn't mean you won't stumble, but, if we don't become weary in doing good, we will reap a harvest if we don't give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Action steps:
Take time to learn about this man we call Jesus and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Talk to Him in prayer and when you do, allow every insecurity, fear, hurt, longing and dream to pour out. Ask Him to help you manage your time to be able to pursue all He has for you boldly.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When Life Doesn't Go as Planned



We eagerly sat down with buttered popcorn in one hand and a ginormous Diet Coke in the other. Those first three minutes in the theater were wonderful. Plush seats, junk food and loud surround sound was the perfect entertainment for a Friday night. By minute four, a series of questions were ushered in. "Mommy, what's that man doing in the movie?" "Can I have more snacks?" "May I go to the bathroom?" All these questions were nestled between food that was spilled on the floor and kids that got up and down out of their seat. On top of all this, the long awaited movie could've waited until its debut at Redbox.

I chuckle as I think about one of our first movie outings as a family, but, isn't this how real life goes? We have a picture perfect vision of how our lives end up.We predict which college we'll attend, job we'll take, person we'll marry and children we'll have. Most of us are filled with anticipation until our things don't turn out how we expect them to. Such as:

The highschool senior who talks of the grand career they want to have but other choices take them down a difficult road that makes college appear as a far fetched idea.

The college graduate whose forked out enough money, blood, sweat and tears to earn their diplomas only to be rejected by every company they apply for.

The single whose one desire is to be married but has been in the dating scene so long their fairly certain their upcoming Saturday night date is with someone they already went out with last year.

The couple who have been to an infertility doctor so many times their wondering if they should have their own room there. Or, the mom and dad who once held a child in their arms have to open those same arms to bury their son or daughter.

How do we remain hopeful when all our dreams and aspirations seem to crumble at our feet?

This reminds me of Paul in the Bible. Paul, who walked a path of religious extremism and wanted to eradicate Christians, was one day suddenly converted. Paul was a chosen instrument and preached the good news on many missions. He also wrote many books in the New Testament. He suffered, was imprisoned and evidence suggests was martyred for his faith. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 Paul writes: "Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm." He goes on to say that he was given a thorn in his flesh and he begged God to take it away but the Lord said "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." Then Paul was glad to boast about his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ could work through him. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
      
If anyone faced hardships, Paul did. Can you imagine the joy on his face when he set out to sea and the devastation when the ship wrecked? Or the elation he felt when telling others of Jesus and the isolation when he was imprisoned alone? But, instead of giving up and falling into despair, he seized every opportunity to witness and encourage. "We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trails, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment." (Romans 5: 2-5)

No matter who we are, how much education we have or money in our account, there is one thing we can bank on. Life will throw curve balls. It can have us soaring one minute and knock us to our knees the next. When our design for life's course derails, we must place our hope in the Lord. To trust every detour will bring us to a better place. That every shattered dream and ache in our heart will be used for God's greater glory. And that when we take our eyes off our circumstances and place them on Him, He will bring clarity to confusion and peace in the midst of pain.

Father in Heaven,
We thank you that though we can make our plans, you determine our steps.  You lead us beside still waters. You renew our strength and guide us along right paths. Forgive us when we doubt you. Help us to trust in your good and perfect will for us knowing that you can see the entire picture when we cannot.  In Jesus' name, Amen.