Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wandering, but not Lost

An often-quoted line from the famous riddle in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, The Fellowship of the Ring, is “Not all who wander are lost.”  The poem, as a whole, is a prophecy of Aragorn’s ascension to the throne.

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. 

The second line refers to Aragon’s travels.  He was a part of a group called the Rangers, who were viewed as wanderers or vagabonds by those they actually protected from evil.  They appeared to wander, but they were not lost.  They were on a mission.

There are two very different ways to look at the word wander.  One can mean “to move about aimlessly” or to drift, float or stray.  People can wander and pursue all of the wrong things for all of the wrong reasons. Wander can also imply something completely different.  Wander can also mean, “ to follow a winding course.”   This is to chase, go after, or pursue a winding course. A wanderer can be a voyager, a person who takes risks, or an explorer, a trailblazer, a pathfinder, or a pioneer. It can be one who has made a purposeful decision to wander.  This is far from aimless.  

Rove is one of its synonyms suggesting, “vigorous and sometimes purposeful roaming.” This wanderer is unlike the one who loses their focus of the intended goal and begins to carelessly wander away from the right direction.  This wanderer never loses their focus but realizes they must pull off of the main road and take a different one because they recognize a heightened significance of each step and this part of the journey will require extreme focus in order to stay the course.  While searching for a path that will lead the way, it may appear that one is wandering, when in reality, it is a purposeful search.  They are on a mission. 

This is wandering with a purpose because you know that through the wandering, you will find the best path, and be wiser for the wandering.  I am focusing on this type of wandering, which potentially propels us with more direction, aim, and purpose once we discover the path we are destined to blaze.  

Many choose not to wander but to stay on the main road because traveling on winding roads makes them nervous.  The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but often times can also be a missed opportunity by not taking the winding road.  Sometimes all we need is a change of scenery, away from the noise, to help us see the path ahead more clearly and gain a renewed sense of purpose for the direction we are traveling.   Jesus rarely took the shortest distance between two points.

Being led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus wandered in the desert before launching full speed ahead into his life’s purpose. His wandering was far from aimless. The Holy Spirit can also lead us during our times of wandering.  As God revealed His commission to Christ while he wandered in the desert, God can reveal His commission to us while we wander, if we are able to hold our focus on Him.   Having all other distractions of life stripped away, wandering can be a time of intense guidance from God.  

Wandering is usually not done in crowds or even in small groups.  Wandering is usually a journey of one.  Often times, wandering even appears to go against the flow. It is one person, pulled away from the mainstream, even going against mainstream, allowing time for observation, deliberation, circumspection, reflection, and retrospection.

Years ago, my late husband was heading off to the mountains in Colorado for a spiritual “boot camp” sponsored by Ransomed Heart Ministries.  Before leaving, I gave him a t-shirt that read, “Not all who wander are lost.”   It had an image of a pair of hiking boots under it.  In my mind, the boots implied that one needs a good pair of walking shoes in life in order to go down all the roads where life may lead, if we allow it to guide us. I also gave him a wristband with a small compass attached as a symbol for keeping his life, his wanderings, his priorities, and his goals heading in the right direction.  He was choosing purposeful wandering while chasing after God and the winding road that lay before him.  He was willing to take the risks that came with wandering.  He was never lost.  Every step had a purpose. Keeping his eyes straight ahead with every step he took on his journey… He was on a mission. 

It appears to some that I am wandering.  I am wandering, but not aimless wandering. I am wandering with a purpose.  By uprooting my family, eighteen months after the death of my husband, and moving us somewhere in the Hudson River Valley of New York, where we did not know a sole, I was choosing “to follow a winding course.”  I chose to pull away from the noise, the mainstream, and even go against mainstream, in order to wander with God on this winding road for healing of our wounded hearts and restoration of our lives. I chose to allow time for observation, deliberation, circumspection, reflection, and retrospection.  I trusted God that he would hold my hand and reveal to me the next phase and purpose for our lives.

I may be wandering, but I am not lost.  I am on a mission.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Extravagant Love

I met a friend for tea last week to discuss some of my recent writing, and during a pause in the conversation she spontaneously turned to her laptop to pull up the wildly popular viral image of Pope Francis kissing and embracing a severely diseased man. She quickly finds it, then turns the screen towards me as she says, “Have you seen this?”  Of course, I hadn’t, but when the photograph pops up, my insides start to spin in slow motion. The noise from the conversations around me recedes as if someone has turned the volume knob. Immediately, my chest is radiating heat and the upper half of my body feels like a flame is burning.  A sharp lump forms in the base of my throat.  My ears start to ring.  I feel as if I have been quickly transported to an empty, silenced room where the only things that fill the space are this image, my heart, and me.

The next day, I was driving in my car with my two teenagers (and “their” music) when that same powerful visual came to mind. Instantly my eyes were flooded to the brim with tears, as much as my heart and mind were flooded with questions.   What is this trying to say to me?  What “something” inside of me has just been shoved?  And what am I supposed to do with these feelings?

I knew I could not walk away from this experience. I had to explicate it, look for the implications of these incidences, the reason this image of Pope Francis embracing a fellow worshipper touched me in such a deep place.

This is my typical way of responding to weighty issues that cause a movement in my soul.  Actually, sometimes the issue is not even weighty, but for some reason it stirs me, which then leads me to ask myself, “Why is this stirring me? Why did something so seemingly little move me so?”

I know I am not the only one moved emotionally by similar incidences.

Are these experiences somehow connected to our purpose? Down inside our soul, might there be a void craving and searching for an opportunity for our purpose to rise?

In the New Testament, it says, “We don’t yet see things clearly.  We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.  But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!  But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation:  Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.  And the best of the three is love.”  1 Corinthians 13:12-13(The Message)

Extravagant love…the best way to love… the best for us to do as we walk through this journey we call life… this is our purpose.

We see this again when Paul writes in Ephesians 5:2,   “Keep company with God and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us…Love like that.”  I love that last line, "Love like that." In essence, Paul is saying, “You see how Jesus did it?  Love like that.”

On our twentieth wedding anniversary, my late husband gave me a continuous string of fresh water pearls that was at least 30 inches long. I can wrap it around my neck three times, leave it long, or tie it in a knot, or any other creative way that hits me.   I remember opening the package while we were seated at the restaurant and, as I pulled them out of the pouch, the pearls kept coming and coming and coming until my arm was straight above my head trying to hold them up in the air!  The next day I was telling a good friend about the gift and she said with her southern drawl and a smile on her face, "I just love it when a man can love extravagantly!"

Extravagant means to exceed the limits of reason or necessity, profuse, lavish, lacking in moderation or restraint, excessive.  Does our love look like this?  Paul says, "Love like that." Pope Francis inspired us all as he demonstrated a love like that.  It exceeded the limits of reason, he went beyond what was necessary, and it was lavish, with no restraint.  He simply could have barely touched the top of his head or placed one hand on the man’s shoulder while genuflecting with the other.   He chose extravagant love.  Because he did, it was evident to all the consummate healing balm effect it had as they saw  the man drop his head with a long awaited relief into the bosom of Pope Francis and bask in the touch, the compassion, and the extravagant love. The healing in this man’s heart and spirit was palpable to those watching.

This is what loving extravagantly can do. It heals. It causes situations to turn around.  It lifts spirits.  It turns our eyes to something greater than ourselves.

I yearn to be that conduit for extravagant love.  This is the void.  To have the courage, the boldness, the tenacity, to lean into life and humanity with a heart overflowing with compassion and mercy, to love without borders, towards all who are brought across my path.  Living a life of extravagant love fills a void for both the giver as well as the receiver.  It makes our life complete.

Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it – because it does.”
1 Corinthians 14:1

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 21 - Stand

Convictions.  Without them, you will be swept up like a leaf in a current as it picks up and carries anything that is not firmly rooted or attached to something.  This old adage is true, “Stand for something or you will fall for everything.”...  Stand or fall

Conviction - A strong persuasion or belief, the state of being, the state of being convinced of an error or of the admission of a truth.  A state of being free from doubt.  A belief strongly held. 

Convictions set you apart from the crowd, the norm, and the status quo.

Rick Warren says that a conviction is “a deeply held belief that helps guide your life.  It’s more than an opinion.  Opinions you argue about.  Convictions you die for.”

People who have deep convictions make a deep impact…good or bad.  Think of people who had strong convictions: Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Catherine the Great, Nelson Mandela, Hitler, Osama Bin Laden…. It all depends on what is the driving force behind the convictions.  Love versus hate.  Freedom versus control.  Selflessness versus selfishness… We need to ask ourselves, “Are my convictions deep enough that they are making some sort of impact?”

Whether the driving force is good or bad, there is one thing that those who live by their convictions have in common.  Criticism follows their actions.  Criticism follows conviction because it makes people uncomfortable.  Warren encourages us to “live by your conviction, not the criticism you receive.”  Don’t allow the criticism to cause you to waiver in your conviction…. Stand.

Jesus said in John 15:21, “People will do to you exactly what they did to me.  They will do it because you belong to me and they don’t know the One who sent me.” In other words, you will be criticized for your convictions. His whole life, every action, and every word Jesus spoke came from the framework of his conviction.  Jesus was criticized for the people to whom he spoke, for the people with whom he chose to join for dinner, for speaking what he believed, for challenging the status quo, for doing things differently…  “People will do to you what they did to me.” 

Timothy says it this way, “That is why I am suffering as I am.  Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12  

Timothy had a strong conviction of what he believed to be true.  Did he suffer because of it? Yes.  Did the suffering cause him to doubt his beliefs or his decisions if he was doing the right thing? No.  I like the way the Message translation words this same verse,  “This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher.  It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in.  But I have not regrets.  I couldn’t be more sure of my ground – the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.

Living by one’s convictions can be a thrill. A thrill in the moment you step out because of what you believe to be true and then you are momentarily suspended, waiting in anticipation for your convictions to catch you, uphold you, and protect you. Because it is more than an opinion, and is something in which you believe to its very core, you are willing to take greater risks where your convictions are concerned.  You are willing to step out of the boat and try to walk on water.  You are willing to go when everyone else says to stay. You are willing to speak up when everyone else is silent. You are willing to not only step out of your comfort zone but also actually live outside of your comfort zone. You are willing to stand on a delicate edge.  You are willing to not only walk into a storm but also actually lean into it with each step with a fixed determination in your heart.

Convictions are like a zip-line.  My daughter recently did a very challenging zip-line course at a ski resort that turns into an adventure course during the summer and early fall.  She has an aversion to any “extreme” type of sport, roller coasters, or any thing where she might feel physically out of control. (I wonder from which parent she got that?) At first she stated she would never do a zip-line.  When invited by a group from church to go last month, she decided she needed to do it strictly because she was afraid of it.  She wanted to face the fear, overcome it, and prove that she could do it when pushed up against the wall.  A few days after she did it, she made an observation about it.  “You know, I don’t know why it feels so scary.  The entire time you are secured with all sorts of ropes and latches.  There is never a time when you are NOT connected.  You may be un-connecting and reconnecting in between points and way up high off of the ground, but there is always one latch in place that keeps you connected to the source of support.  The danger of falling is all in your mind.”

After she told me this, I stood there processing and thought, “Well that was a deep truth.

Your convictions are your source of support. Fear of rejection and ridicule can keep you from standing but those convictions actually give you the strength you need.  They are the framework that holds your life together or, adversely, without convictions, your life sprawls out everywhere without any real definition.

Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.”  Ephesians 3:20  

Why should standing cause us to fear when “by his mighty power at work within us is able to do more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream”?  When we are walking with God, seeking him, following him, communing with him, and loving him with all our heart, our convictions begin to merge with His convictions, His heart and His desires.  When we dare to stand and walk in those convictions, the convictions He has placed inside of you, His mighty power will work within you.

Don’t let the fear of criticism keep you from standing in your convictions.  Criticism will come, but God is greater than any criticism that may get thrown at you.  Keep your eyes straight ahead, not looking to the left or the right wondering what other people are saying about your convictions.  Stand your ground…. and after you have done everything…. stand.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  Ephesians 6:13

Monday, September 2, 2013

DAY 20 - Right Under Your Nose

My writing was buried this past month in the life of being a single parent.  With back to school physicals and eye appointments for the whole family behind me, back to school shopping and college preparation completed, trading of my van for a car for Mia to take to school checked off the list (this means I am temporarily and personally car-less, but Julia and I will share her car as we work together around one another’s schedules), Mia tucked into her new college near Boston, Michael starting ninth grade this week, and Julia going full speed ahead with her college chemistry class and her other senior year subjects and other endeavors, I am now able to take a step back, breathe deeply, and dive back into writing, which I desperately miss when I am not doing it.  It is as important to my daily mental and physical health as exercising and eating right.

In “40 Days of Empowerment”, I am working through Rick Warren’s book entitled, What On Earth Am I Here For?, which has 40 daily readings.  I quickly found out at the beginning that trying to daily read, meditate, and marinate on these readings then figure our their application to my personal life, try to implement a change in my thoughts or actions, AND write about it, was entirely too much to do on a daily basis.  I found that a week per reading is best for me, sometimes a little less and sometimes a little more.  Sometimes I read and it spurs my thoughts in an entirely different direction but God uses what was read to get me to go these different places.  This being said, sometimes what I write will directly coincide with the daily reading and other times it will be my own little rabbit trail in which I have journeyed along by following God’s lead. 

Today will be one of those rabbit trails…

There are five purposes for our existence listed in Warren’s book, by day 20, we are still on purpose #2, "You were formed for God’s family".  The “God’s family” who stare me in the face everyday are my children.  Many people pray and pray and cry out to God wanting to know their purpose and His will for their lives, forgetting that if they are a parent, married, or part of an earthly family, their immediate purpose is right under their nose.  Be faithful where you are, with what you have been given, then God will shed some light a little bit further down your path…but be present to God right where you are, grow where you are planted, be faithful in little, line upon line, precept upon precept.  I can shine the light of God and walk in His purpose right here in my house in front of and alongside my children.

I remember reading a book years ago by Beth Moore entitled Feathers From My Nest.  She mentioned how during the simple act of folding her kid’s laundry, she would be thankful for them and pray for them.  I started doing the same thing and began to feel joy, love, and thankfulness for the person whose clothes I was folding. I have an added direction of thoughts and prayers while I am folding now that I never had before.  My son has become the same size that my husband was but Michael Anthony is even 2 inches taller.  When I fold his clean clothes, I am usually folding a shirt that was once my husband’s.  This makes me reminisce, see his face, remember his smell, and where he wore each shirt, then my thoughts turn to Michael Anthony and what a big strong young man he has become.    Often times, I use the time of folding clothes to contemplate life. 

I was folding clothes the other day…

These were my thoughts and my internal conversation with God and their progression in my head...all while folding laundry.  “We spend incredible amounts of time together as a family. Lord, was this all part of Your plan…. our abundance of time together? Are we being pulled way back like a stone in sling shot so that when You release us we will come out with full strength for the purpose You have laid before each one of us? I am so thankful that the kids want to spend time with me, with each other, and in this house.  I have been just a beckon call away, down the hall, every day, for the last two and half years (about 915 days to be exact).  God, I see how you have pulled us tightly together to heal and to rebuild our strength by being in one another’s presence in concentrated doses.  Security has blossomed in spite of insecure times.  You pulled us away from all we knew in the South and placed us in the countryside of the northeast where we must look to one another and depend on one another.  You are accomplishing what could only be accomplished by being in this private setting where you have placed us.  You are speaking to us through nature, beauty, and solitude.  We are living out our purpose for this season. Our purpose is to minister to one another and to hear Your voice with greater clarity.  You are using each of us to help heal and strengthen the next. You have supernaturally supplied all of our needs in each other.  There has not been a need to look elsewhere.  It is surreal, really. How is it that so much time has passed and we are still needing this so desperately and willingly receiving this gift from You?  I can see Your hand all over this.  We exercise together, cook together, eat every meal together, watch movies together, listen to music together, travel together, worship together, pray together, cry together, and even get mad together and then hug and forgive together.  I am content and am at rest and peace in this season.  You brought us here to slow down, be quiet, rest, and restore.  As we have done this, it is easier to hear Your whispers.  It is easier to recognize one another’s needs… and that’s our purpose in Your family, our family, right?  To love like Jesus?  Be compassionate, patient, forgiving, kind, merciful, slow to anger, and all of that?  Only You could have orchestrated this place and brought my little family unit together to heal and grow again as one.  How blessed we are to be able to live the quiet life.  It feeds my soul…it feeds the kids too…even when they don’t always see it. You have opened my eyes today to the bigger picture. I am so glad that you know me, you know Mia, you know Julia, and you know Michael Anthony, better than we know ourselves.  You know our needs before we even have them.  I see how You have met our needs in this quiet place where our hearts have been able to settle down and rest. You truly have kept us under Your wings of protection, like in an eagle’s nest, high above the other trees, so high that it is silent, in a strong, warm, and cozy nest, depending on You and each other for survival."

You were formed for God’s family.  Keep your eyes straight ahead and start with the family God gave you, the ones right under your nose.  Your main purpose lies there.  Redeem the time.

Look carefully then how you walk!  Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and the witless, but as wise (sensible and intelligent people), making the most of the time (buying up each opportunity), because the days are evil. Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-16

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 19 - Within Our Four Walls

We live in the same house, share meals together, pass one another in the hallway to brush our teeth, and see each other at our very worst moments.  Can we then assume that this means we have “fellowship” within our family?  I think not.  It makes me think of the old expression, “being in a garage does not make you a car”, or “sitting in a church does not make you a Christian.“ Living in the same house with your immediate family does not always mean that there is real fellowship taking place.  

On February 22, 2011, my husband, and the father of my three children, was killed instantly in a car accident.  Life, at large, would never be the same. Life within our four walls would never be the same.   Relationships outside of our four walls would never be the same…both for the good and for the bad.  Our little family unit would never be the same…both for the good and for the bad.  Bad because the life of Michael Barranco, Sr., and the life we lived with him in it, can never be brought back again. Good, only because of the improved communication, the abundant mercy we strive to  show one another daily, the grace in which we daily must walk in order to be patient when one of us is hurting and grieving at different times than we are and it comes out in anger or despondency, and the necessary continual flow of compassion. We had to choose a path of real fellowship to survive… but we still sometimes miss it, even living under the same roof.

In What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren tells us a key to real fellowship.  “One key to courtesy (real fellowship) is to understand where people are coming from.  Discover their history.  When you know what they’ve been through, you will be more understanding.”  I wrote about this idea in more depth once before in a post entitled, A Habit of a Highly Effective Person.  We all need a paradigm shift to take place in order for us to have real fellowship with others, to be able to show compassion, mercy, and walk in grace towards that person whose shoes we have never walked.  I recently realized that, even within our four walls, we were often forgetting what each one of us had been through and were not remembering where we were coming from individually, as evidenced in our behaviors, our hurts, and our responses.  We know what we have been through, we know our history, we know where we are coming from, and yet we still miss it with one another.  Imagine how much harder it is with people outside of your household?

You should be like one big family, full of sympathy toward each other.” 1 Peter 3:8

If one member suffers, all suffer together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” Galatians 6:10

Starting with people closest to us…” It does not get any closer than those who live under the same roof with you, but this does not mean that it comes automatically without a focused effort, just like good marriages don’t just happen but instead require a daily focused effort on both sides.  It says in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing.  Instead, let us encourage one another.” Warren says, “A habit is something you do with frequency, not occasionally.  You have to spend time with people – a lot of time - to build deep relationships…If you want to cultivate real fellowship, it will mean meeting together even when you don’t feel like it, because you believe it is important…fellowship requires an investment of time.”  Time with the immediate family, within our four walls, does not just happen, it is a habit that must be developed and practiced.  We can only "encourage one another" if we are spending enough time with them to know where they need to be  encouraged!  

This week, I prayed with my kids and encouraged them to show more compassion towards one another, to be full of mercy, and to allow grace to work through us in our treatment of each other.  Remember the hurts that someone is carrying, remember we all hurt differently, remember we are all still lonely for him (their father), remember the wounds, remember the weaknesses, encourage those that need encouragement, show kindness, walk in love, take time for one another, build real community between us, build real fellowship… make it a lifestyle habit within our four walls.  Then, as it says in Ephesians 4:16, “As each part does its work, it helps the other parts grow, so Christ’s whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”  We each have a  part to play in the progress of growth, health, and love that we experience together within our little family unit. It is work, just like the scripture refers to it.  And who is more important to us than those within our four walls?

Ask yourself, “How can I cultivate, today, the characteristics of real fellowship in my household?”

Keep your eyes straight ahead and those you love most right beside you…arm in arm, in real fellowship, encouraging one another with every step that you take, remembering where their shoes have walked.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 18 - Fellowship of Suffering

As I sat across from her that morning while we drank espresso in the local coffee shop, something she shared with me took me away on a quick silent walk with God and my heart melted in awe at His faithfulness to me…. He was showing me what the fellowship of suffering looked like.   We talked about life, our struggles, my fears, my heart, our journey, our hope, and our mutual belief that God is faithful.   As we were one hour into our conversation, she casually mentioned the journal that my sister gave her and a handful of other friends at a luncheon a couple of months after my husband died.  My sister had invited over these women who had been instrumental in holding me up (physically and spiritually) and even running my household that first horrendous week, when getting out of bed, getting dressed for the day, and sitting in my kitchen was the most I was able to do during this stage of shock and numbness.  Those days were, and still are, a blur to me.

She had begun to use this journal as a prayer journal for my kids and me.  She prayed for us continually (and still does) and recorded her prayers and how God showed His answers through events in our lives.  I remember her saying that as she looked through this journal, she could clearly see that God had been holding us in His hand, carrying us, every step of the way, and is continuing to keep us in that safe place. She said “He is not going to allow you to hide because He has done great things in you and He will be glorified for it.”  As she was telling me this, inside I was thinking, “Who am I to be blessed with such a fellowship of friends that would faithfully pray for my kids and me, listen to God on how to pray for us, and stay in it for the long haul with me?”  I was listening to her but my throat was forcing down a big lump because I was washed over with gratitude and amazement at how God had placed friends in my life ahead of time that would practice such a deep level of fellowship with me….the fellowship of suffering.

In the book What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren explains that there are four levels of fellowship.  The first and second levels are simply the fellowship of sharing and the fellowship of studying God’s Word together.  Going a little deeper is the fellowship of serving together, but he says, “The deepest, most intense is the fellowship of suffering, where we enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens.” I remember speaking with the wife of one of my husband's colleagues several weeks after he died and she said, "People are missing out so much by not "going there" with people who are grieving.  It is such a precious time to share in something like that with those we love.  We can learn so much through it."    Warren continues with, “It is in the times of deep crisis, grief, and doubt that we need each other most.  When circumstances crush us to the point that our faith falters, that’s when we need believing friends the most.  We need a small group of friends to have faith in God for us and to pull us through.” I am abundantly blessed to have more than one friend who fits into the category of one who will “enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens.”   

A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends...” Job 6:14

I wrote something on this very topic in my first blog.

“There is nothing that will test your friendships more, or cause your relationships to build and mature, than death and grieving. I am honored and privileged to have the incredibly strong friendships that remain. They have continued to build, mature, strengthen, and deepen. The friendships that have remained firm are those that have continued to come towards me. They did not just say, ‘You know I am here if you need me. Just give me a call.’ These friends took the initiative and called to check in with me on a continual basis and offered their ear, shoulder, or their time. One of these friends came over one day just for five minutes, arrived with a flower from her garden and said, ‘I just had to see you because I would know how you were doing if I could look you in the eyes.’ After speaking to countless people who have suffered a loss, they all contend that calling someone for help or a need is not something that they did, even though the invitation was put out there by very well meaning friends. During this stage of grieving, it requires too much strength and effort to reach out most all of the time. We cannot think or take our emotions very far beyond our little grief boundaries. Others are welcome to enter into those boundaries but it is not often that we leave those boundaries looking for a listening ear or help in any way. We need the support to come to us.  With that said, I want to thank and honor my friends who have continued to come and have had the courage to enter into the grief boundaries that have surrounded me this past year. They have been giving and giving without expecting anything in return…. and that is what has spurned me to write this. It has been a one sided friendship this year. I have had to take, and take, and take, and have had absolutely nothing to give…. I honestly had a difficult time caring about the daily grind in anybody’s life outside of my boundaries. Nothing but life and love mattered… In my heart, I wanted to be more of a friend in return for them, but I could not physically do it. The ability is slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to emerge. It won’t magically change after the one year anniversary either, which means my friends will continue to hang in there with me, within my boundaries, as those boundaries expand and broaden a little more each day. “
The fellowship of suffering….

The bible also says in Colossians 3:12, “As holy people…be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.” Rick Warren says that in real fellowship, people experience sympathy. “Sympathy meets two fundamental human needs: the need to be understood and the need to have your feelings validated.  Every time you understand and affirm someone’s feelings, you build fellowship.  The problem is that we are in too much of a hurry to fix things that we don’t have time to sympathize with people.  Or we’re preoccupied with our own hurts…Sympathy is entering in and sharing the pain of others.”  These friends shared healthy sympathy with me.  Real sympathy is a byproduct of the fellowship of suffering.

Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

We know that our first and main purpose for our existence is for God’s family.  We also know that, within that family, our purpose is to love, love, and then love some more. We show our love by taking the time to experience life together.  We experience life together by sharing, entering in, having deep fellowship, during the times of suffering. If we keep our eyes straight ahead and our eyelids right before us, (right before us means “in the moment”), then we can be more present to others who desperately need that Godly fellowship to go deeper into the fellowship of suffering.  

This friend calls anyone who is endearing to her, “Love”…. So I thank you, “Love”, for showing me another living example of what fellowship of suffering looks like.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 17 - Love, Love, and then Love some more

I am sure no one has teenagers like mine.  What seems to be typical is the need to repeat myself.  This is not exclusive to commands, like “put away the dishes, please”, “make your bed, please”, “take out the trash, please”, “pick up your clothes, please”.  This also includes the teachable moments of why I ask them to do certain things, why treating someone in a certain manner is important, why we should watch not only our words but how we say them.  It is daily training, daily reminders, daily discipline, and daily conversations of what seems to be the exact same situation…did I mention it occurs daily?

 We are now at a stage where my son will sometimes interrupt me, because he has heard it before, and say, “I got it, I got it, I got it.”  My response is then, “No, you don’t got it! Otherwise I would not be saying this again!”  With each time I re-mind them, re-discipline them, re-train them, re-teach them, I say it a little differently, trying to relate it in such a way as to flip the switch to a truly, “I got it” moment.  It is like a deja vous… Didn’t I just say that to him?  Didn’t I just tell her why?  This reminds me of Bill Murray in the movie Ground Hog’s Day.  He awakes every morning to the exact same day, Ground Hog’s Day.  At first, he has the “I got it, I got it, I got it”, mentality. He slowly learns that he can only break out of the cycle and improve his life by taking what he has experienced on the same day, but the day before, and  learn from his mistakes, then apply it the next day, in the same situation, to make the changes necessary for growth and moving forward.  

We are all not much different than teenagers who require continual training and molding. God knew this ahead of time. He knew that we would need to hear the same thing and be reminded of that thing daily because it is too easy to get caught up in our selfish selves.  He repeats himself,  “By the way, did I tell you to love one another?”  I got it, God.  I got it.  I got it. I got it. No, we don’t “got it” or He would not have put the message of love as the common thread and command throughout the entire New Testament. 

 Love has been the message for the last two blog posts and, now, here it is again!  As I have written in the previous posts,  

”’You are a Christian.  This is what Christians do.’  It is not optional.  We love one another.

Family rule number one, number two, number three, number four, number five, number six, number seven…Love one another.”

Keep ‘that one thing’ in our view.  One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]”☺

When reading the bible, one cannot go very far without stumbling upon yet another scripture concerning love, why it’s important, what it looks like, and how to do it.  Since God is love, that is the one characteristic that we need to practice continually if we are going to grow to become more Christ like.  
In the Message translation, Philippians 1:9-11 says this,

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.  Learn to love appropriately.  You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.  Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus would be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” 

I absolutely love the way this translates! Paul prays that our love will flourish, or grow luxuriantly, produce abundantly, lush in growth, richly abundant, profuse! Learning to love much is good but loving well is all the better!  Love appropriately…let your love be suitable to a particular person, condition, occasion, or place.  Don’t be moved by your emotions but use your head.  A lover’s life?  Everything you do should be motivated by love.  Be proactive about it.  Think about it.  Let your life be an example of it…a life Jesus would be proud of.  Your soul will prosper from living this way.  People will see Christ in you and want what you have!  This makes everything circle back for the glory of God.  All of this can happen if we only love much and love well!

God’s purpose for our lives is practically a flashing neon sign in the scriptures. Love. Love. Love… and then love some more.  How can we possibly miss it?  Yet we do, daily.  Just as we think we “got it”, we don’t “got it”. But daily He forgives us, daily He encourages us to try again, daily He gives us opportunities to practice it more, daily He gives us the grace we need to love like Him, daily He believes in us, just like we believe in our children.  If we didn’t believe in them, why would we bother repeating ourselves?  We know their potential.  We know God has a unique purpose for their lives.  God knows our potential and in order for us to walk in that unique purpose which He established before we were even born, we must learn to love much and love well.  With our eyes straight ahead, daily we must strive for a love that grows luxuriantly.  Love, love, and when you have done all you think you can, love some more.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 16 - That One Thing

Watching movies is a hobby that I have enjoyed my entire life. I do not typically watch movies strictly as entertainment but I focus my attention and listen for its intrinsic message. It’s not always about seeing famous people, gazing upon beautiful faces, hearing the musical scores, or even the story line.  For me, I get wrapped up in good dialogue.  Maybe it’s the wordsmith in me, but I love a well-planted nugget of truth within the context of ordinary dialogue. What speaks to me most is when a movie has a memorable quote, which teaches a complicated life lesson in one simple comment that has been worked surreptitiously into the dialogue.  When this happens, something inside of me jumps and immediately tries to settle it into my permanent “favorite movie quotes bank”. The rest of evening I am usually rolling the thought through my mind to discern its truth and its application.

My most recent ones came to me last night during family movie time while watching Brave.  There were two that jumped right off the screen and into my thoughts for processing!  One came at the very beginning and the other came at the very last moment of the movie, which is often where that golden nugget can be found.  We hear Princess Merida say at the beginning, “ There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it."  Her final quote in the movie is, "Some say our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say fate is woven together like a cloth, so that one's destiny intertwines with many others. It's the one thing we search for, or fight to change. Some never find it. But there are some who are led.” I am still chewing on this one!

One of these favorite, quotable nuggets came in the 80’s in the movie City Slickers.  Most of you probably remember it.  Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character, is out on the range with Curly, the rough cowboy who teaches the city slickers a thing or two about life.  

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

As I stated in the last post, we can’t say anything, or create anything, that has not already been done.  “That which has been is what will be.  That which is done is what will be done.  And there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’… it has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9,10   Jesus looked at his followers, just like Curly did, and said in essence, “One thing. Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest of it doesn’t matter.”  “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’  This is the most important, the first on the list.  But there is a second to the set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Matthew 22:37-40  

 His disciples continued teaching "that one thing” throughout the New Testament.

The whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love others as you love yourself.’” Galatians 5:14

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6  

Love means living the way God commanded us to live.  As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love.” 2 John 1:6

 “Let love be your greatest aim.” 1 Corinthians 14:1

 “Keep company with God and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us…Love like that.” Ephesians 5:2  I love that last line, "Love like that."....You see how Jesus did it?  Love like that, not cautious but extravagant.

On our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a continuous string of fresh water pearls that was at least 30 inches long. I can wrap it around my neck three times, leave it long, tie it in a knot or any other creative way that hits me.   I remember opening the package while we were seated at the restaurant and, as I pulled them out of the pouch, they just kept coming and coming and coming until my arm was straight above my head trying to hold them up in the air!  The next day I was telling a good friend about the pearls and she said with a smile on her face, "I just love it when a man can love extravagantly."  Extravagant means to exceed the limits of reason or necessity, profuse, lavish, lacking in moderation or restraint, excessive.  Does our love look like this?  Paul says, "Love like that."

Rick Warren says, “Life is all about love…its what matters most…. Because God is love, the most important lesson he wants you to learn on earth is how to love… It is in loving that we are most like Him.”  This is our purpose.  As we love others, we will discover our unique purpose, but love is our universal purpose.  It really is this simple:  Love God, love others.  Life boils down to this…. that one thing.  When we get to heaven, I doubt God will ask us what we got done, but He most likely will ask us how well did we love.  Don’t just find time, make time, squeeze time, or work in time to practice the skill of loving others, but make it a lifestyle, a part of who you are, that one thing that motivates everything you do. Its easier to keep your eyes straight ahead, and not get distracted looking to the left or to the right, when we only have “that one thing” in our view.

 One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [#*@#*]☺

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 15 - Family Rules

Family Rules:

Keep your promises
Think of others before yourself
Say I love you
Listen to your parents
Do your best
Play fair
Say please and thank you
Always tell the truth
Laugh at yourself
Hug often
Use kind words
Love each other

Lists such as this one are quite the trend right now.  Why is that?  Is it strictly just for decorating or is there something at its core that makes us say, “Yes, I want my family to stand for something.”  Or do we want others to think that we stand for something but it’s only a wistful ideal?  

What is interesting to me is that there is a scripture to back up most every single one of these rules on all of the different signs I have seen.  One of my favorite scriptures whose truth I see everywhere I turn, and I see it in this, is, “That which has been is what will be.  That which is done is what will be done.  And there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’… it has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9,10   God established family rules that looked just like this list thousands of years ago. We put them all together on a cute distressed wooden sign and claim it “new”.

God formed us for His family. You were formed for God’s family. We must choose to be a part of His family, and if we do, there are “family rules”.  Not burdensome, ball and chain, unattainable kind of rules, but basic living rules.  Like, “Play fair”, “Always tell the truth”, “Share”, “Love each other”. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:14-15, “I’m writing …so you’ll know how to live in the family of God.  That family is the church of the living God.”   This means there is a “way”.  

Jesus lived and walked the “way”. He took our family rules to a whole new level when He basically cleared the slate and said it boils down to this one rule… “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34,35   The word used for “new” here means unused, fresh, novel…new in regard to form or quality. He was, in essence, saying, “Loving others is going to look different now.  It’s a fresh, new way. It is going to look like the way I treated you and what I did for you.”  Jesus loved by serving and placing the needs of others over his own.  If we are to love as Jesus loved, we need to know what his love looked like.  His love was sacrificial.  His love was unconditional.  His love was constant.  His love was self-sustaining…it ran on “auto pilot”.  It was the foundation of all that He did.  Everything He did was motivated by love, even every rebuke.  

As Rick Warren states in the first sentence in the book, What on Earth am I Here For,It’s not about you.” …It’s about the family.  Whatever we do personally affects the family.  Loving like Christ is a selfless, servant-minded, sacrificial love. Sacrificial?  A sacrifice is a destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.  Offering something precious. In other words, surrendering ourselves, which is a precious offering, for the sake of someone in the family.  Love sacrificially…and since families, and the family of God, can’t live as islands of collective individuals living unto themselves, there must be some basic rules to help us practice daily how to be more sacrificially minded, in order for everyone to live productive, fulfilling, and purposeful lives.

Warren says, “That Christ would command us to love indicates that it is not just a feeling or a preference….IT IS WHAT ONE DOES! IT IS HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS…a decision, a commitment, or a way of behaving.”  Truly loving others is a proactive decision we must make daily.  If we are in God’s family, we love.  When I was growing up in my family with my four siblings, my dad would often call family meetings.  We would all gather together in the living room and sit on the couch or on the floor and face our parents with eager ears, never quite knowing for what purpose the meeting had been called.  Sometimes they were held for encouragement, sometimes for rebuke, sometimes to express needs, sometimes to solve problems, sometimes to pray, sometimes to share, and sometimes to forgive.  When he was trying to impress upon us a certain character quality of which we were all falling short, he would say, “You are a Ray!  This is what Ray children do!”  It was not optional.  Because we were a part of the Ray family, we were expected to live to a certain standard. We had very clear family rules (and they weren’t hanging neatly on the wall!).  They were ingrained into our hearts by daily practice.  Yes, we continued to make mistakes, but always persevering to live in way that brought honor to one another, to our parents, and to our family as a whole.  God has set the standard for us through Christ….”You are a Christian.  This is what Christians do.”  It is not optional.  We love one another.

We could reword these family rules to help simplify them down to that one thing which Christ commanded:

If you love others, you will…

Keep your promises
Think of them before yourself
Say I love you
Do your best
Play fair
Say please and thank you
Always tell the truth
Laugh at yourself, because love is not prideful
Hug often
Use kind words

By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What do people know about you when they look at the rules by which you live? What does your love look like? Are your eyes straight ahead, proactively and deliberately choosing how you make each step, each action, each word count for the family? Are you preferring others? Family rule number one, number two, number three, number four, number five, number six, number seven,…Love one another.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 14 - The Midnight Hour

The midnight hour…it is dark, silent, and cold in the midnight hour.  The midnight hour can be lonely.  It can be frightening at times.  One can “hear” the silence more clearly in the midnight hour.  The midnight hour is the term that I gave to my journey on which I was forced to walk immediately following Michael’s death.  It seemed as if it would never go away.  I craved for the moment when I would feel the sun on my face again, the dawning of a new day. It was endless days of the midnight hour.  In the midnight hour, God was silent… present, but silent.

Even Jesus had to experience this feeling of being forsaken, a period of no communication with God, when he physically felt like he needed Him the most.

 When Michael died, I experienced “extreme separation”, which is the way I referred to the spiritual and physical separation from Michael, similar to what Jesus felt on the cross when God separated himself from him. I felt extreme separation from not only Michael, but from God at the same time.  They had both been my lifelines… and both felt as if they had been stripped away from me simultaneously.  Michael was physically gone.  There could be no more communication.  With God, He was present, but not saying a word.   

A friend of mine wrote me during those early months and stated how Jesus experienced that extreme separation while He hung dying on the cross.  He wrote, “He felt it acutely when He was pouring out His life and His blood on the cross for our sins.  At that point and time, the Father had to leave Him, separated from everyone and everything on the cross so the sacrifice would be complete.  He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’  There was no reply from heaven.” After losing Michael, there were so many months of feeling completely numb that I had absolutely nothing to say to God.  During my time alone in my bedroom, which is where I could pull away from people and escape to grieve or be silent, there was always a painful silence. It was as if a vacuum had sucked every last bit of noise out of my room.  I felt like it was God and I, just sitting there in utter silence.  I knew that God was still the same, but my circumstances had changed and the way we communicated changed.  I didn’t feel like He had gone or had left me behind, but I felt like I was in the “there was no reply from heaven” stage.  And the silence was deafening.

It is similar to the times when you are sitting next to a best friend or your spouse, and you can sit comfortably in silence because of the love and understanding between the two of you.  Sometimes there are no words needed or no words that can be said.  Some of the best comfort I received from friends during those beginning days of grieving was a loving embrace and a knowing look into the eyes that said, “I love you, I am hurting too.  I am here for you”, but it was all unspoken.   I had always enjoyed a two- way conversation with God.  I would talk to Him, and if I took time to listen to Him, He would talk to me. During this beginning time of the midnight hour,  I felt like we were sitting quietly next to each other without speaking a word.  What could be said?  What comfort could words bring?   I felt Him with me in spite of the silence. I felt the silent comfort.  I felt the silent understanding.  I didn’t hear answers or advice.  I knew He was hurting for me and loving me, but there was no reply from heaven, and, quite frankly, I was not speaking much either.  

I sat in silence a lot in my bedroom and would wonder, ‘Should I say something more to Him?’, but there was nothing…. so we sat in silence together.  I was listening every waking hour.  The silence did not mean we were absent from one another.  It was a loss for words.

How did I focus on God’s presence when He felt so distant?  I thanked Him. I told Him the only thing I felt.  No whistles and bells.  No quoting scriptures. No pleas for anything.  Not even praising.  I did not even have a beginning to my words spoken to Him, or an official “amen” to the barely audible words that I could get out of my mouth.  All I could say was “thank you” for the littlest thing that I could drum up in my heart.  I remember one night, in the true midnight hour, I spoke to Him for the first time.  I whispered, “Thank you,” and then could not speak another word as the tears silently rolled onto my pillow.  I would begin to thank Him for carrying me through each day, and then again for carrying me through each night.  I would thank Him for the life He had given me up to this point. I did have much for which I could be thankful, but beyond that, I just did not know what to say to Him.  Rick Warren states, “The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God…. God removes our feelings so we won’t depend on them.”  He goes on to say, “It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith.”   All of my feelings had been completely removed.  There was no “experiencing God”.  I learned that He was present even if it did not feel like it…even in the complete silence.

Millions of people have gone before me in their experience with the midnight hour.  God called David, “a man after my own heart” and was considered close friends of God’s and yet look at his cries in the midnight hour.  

Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?” 
Psalm 10:1

“Why have you forsaken me?  Why do you remain so distant?  Why do you ignore my cries for help?” Psalm 22:1

“Why have you abandoned me?” Psalm 43:2(And many other places...which means he felt it more than once!)

After two years of feeling like I was living in the midnight hour, the silencing fog began to lift.  First there was the valley of the shadow of death, then there were more valleys of a different kind with fog and obstacles, then there were really long nights, the true midnight hours.  Finally, there was dawn. I was desperately ready for the light of day.  It wasn’t until after I began to call my time of silence with the Lord the “midnight hours”, that I learned there were others who had given it similar names.  St. John of the Cross referred to these days of dryness, doubt, and estrangement from God as “the dark night of the soul”.  Henri Nouwen called them  ‘the ministry of absence’.  A.W. Tozer them “the ministry of the night.”  

Without anyone knowing that I had begun to call my time of silence “the midnight hours”, God miraculously spoke through several friends of mine to encourage me to keep my eyes straight ahead.  All of these friends were in different parts of the country; none of them knew each other, and some of them I had not spoken to in years.  These messages came in texts, Facebook messages, emails, or in person.  God consistently spoke the same encouragement. The silence was breaking. I want to share these with you because I want all to see how great our God is.  He knew that I had grown extremely weary, the battle had sapped my strength, and my courage was waning.  

The storm is over and a rainbow is there for you to enjoy.  The sun is beginning to shine for the light of day is upon you.  The seeds will yield a great harvest and His angels are watching over you to protect you and bring you all that you need.”

You are crossing over. Joshua 1:1-9 says, ‘After the death of Moses, the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead.  Get going.  Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people.  Cross to the country I’m giving to the people of Israel.  I ‘m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on ...It’s all yours.  All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you.  In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you.  I won’t give up on you.  I won’t leave you.  Strength!  Courage!  You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give to their ancestors.  Give it everything you have, heart and soul.  Make sure you carry out the revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it.  Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going.  And don’t for a minute let this revelation be out of your mind.  Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it.  Then you’ll get to where you’re going, then you’ll succeed.  Haven’t I commanded you?  Strength!  Courage!  Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged.  God, your God, is with you every step you take.”

Every new day begins in total darkness. Well intentioned people have been shining artificial light into your darkness, trying to speed your way out of the darkness because they do not like seeing you in pain, it's not wrong, merely misplaced. God will bring his dawn in His timing and a new day according to nature, and its good timing. The people on the ark were told to do nothing but hang on to the boat and ride out the storm. To my knowledge the boat did not have a rudder. They were completely in God's mercy and grace and could no more speed or affect their destiny than the animals on board—in summary, they were passengers... I wanted to allow God to affirm and encourage you in your quest out of the darkness of these days.”

"When you experience suffering in your discipleship journey, the paradigm is...why me?
But then the paradigm shifts, me?  From burden to honor.”

You are a jewel and God Has Not Forgotten YOU.... His unfailing love keeps you even in the midnight hours.”

I was speechless with all of them, especially the last one.  “His unfailing love keeps me even in the midnight hours.” Even when I am scared.  Even when it is dark.  Even when I am cold and lonely.  Even when we are not speaking to one another.  Even when the silence is deafening. 

The Lord has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.” Isaiah 8:17  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 13 - Authentic Worship

I admit it.  I sinned right in the middle of a church service. Sometimes, jealousy would creep into my thoughts, as I would watch my husband worship God in a way that clearly pleased Him. (If I wasn’t jealous, I was proud.)  Many times, when he would sing a solo in church, I would stand or sit there and think to myself,  I wish I could worship God like that. He is SO present to God.  He looks captured by Him. At the same time, it always pulled me into a worshipful place where I would feel humbled with the awesomeness of God.  He was acting out Mark 12:30…”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” When Michael worshipped God in song, he was doing it with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

I found myself comparing the way I worshipped to the way he worshipped.  Hebrews 12:28 says, “Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please Him.”  A way… this means that there is a way that pleases God and there is more than one way.  I know that I am not alone in having thought that worshipping in song is the main way we can worship, so as to please God.  What I read in Day 13 not only opened my eyes, but lifted a burden I had unknowingly been carrying that told me I may have somehow not been present the day when God was handing out the gift of worship.  Today I realized that I can, and do, worship God in a way that pleases Him, but it is in a way that is authentic to me.

Rick Warren says, “The best style of worship is one that most authentically represents your love for God, based on the background and personality God gave you.”  Gary Thomas, who wrote Sacred Pathways, said, “Many Christians seem stuck in a worship rut – an unsatisfying routine – instead of a vibrant friendship with God, because they force themselves to use devotional methods or worship styles that don’t fit the way God uniquely shaped them…. If God intentionally made everyone different, why should everyone be expected to love God in the same way?...Christians have used many different paths for over 2,000 years to enjoy intimacy with God: being outdoors, studying, singing, reading, dancing, creating art, serving others, having solitude, enjoying fellowship, and in a dozen other activities.”  Different people enjoy intimacy with God in different ways.  Because I understand Gary Chapman’s study in his book The Five Love Languages, I also now understand this in view of loving God.  

Chapman explains that we are all wired to best receive or feel love (and express love) in five different ways: through physical touch, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and through gifts.  If we are created in God’s image, then it pleases Him to be worshipped (loved) in these five different ways.  Michael’s “love language” was words of affirmation…. This explains why his words, his songs of affirming his love for God through worship with song, brought such clear pleasure to God and fulfillment to Michael.  It was not only his natural way of receiving love but also his natural way of expressing love.  He was authentically himself while worshipping God in song.  He used to tell me, “Babe, if your love language was word’s of affirmation, I’d be set!” 

My love language is mainly quality time. (I say mainly because it is never just one, there are combinations. My second one is acts of service.) I did not fully grasp how this fits into my way of worship until after I started writing this post!  I may not worship God in song in church in the manner that Michael did, but I spend some serious, concentrated, quality time (as well as quantity) with God every day.  I worship Him with my time… in solitude and simplicity, face to face, looking each other straight into the eyes… and now I realize that this is how I best worship and it pleases God!  It is authentic worship.  I worship God as I enjoy nature.  I worship God with my mind during my quality time of quiet study of His word and quality time of trying to listen to His voice.  I socialize and love others best in one on one situations, and I worship God best, and feel most authentic, while I am spending one on one time with Him.  

This revelation is so freeing to me!  I feel like dashing outside and rolling in the grass like a happy puppy!  I feel like shouting my favorite line from the movie Elf, as Buddy shouts, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!”  I love God, I love God, and I don’t care who knows it!  I love spending quality time with my creator, my redeemer, my strength, my source, my healer, my provider, the “lifter of my head”…and this “way” of worshipping Him pleases Him, because it is the unique way He created me!  Thank you God, for making me “me”.

With eyes straight ahead, I will not look to the left or to the right, comparing myself to others, but I will be present in the moment and rejoice in how God created me and I will take pleasure in being my authentic self as I worship my Creator.

"That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship."John 4:23

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 12 - Honesty

What’s wrong?”, she asked. 

 “Nothing.”, he responded flatly.  

You’re lying.  You have been a little grumpy all morning.  Something is the matter.”, she pressed.  
There is nothing the matter!  Why do you always think something is wrong just because I am quiet?”, he said as his emotional meter rose.

Because I know you.”, she quickly answered.

You always get mad at me when I say nothing is wrong!”, he said, now with greater volume.

She interjected passionately, “It’s because I just want you to be honest with me!  If you know you are grumpy but don’t know why, then just say, ‘I don’t know why I’m grumpy’, but don’t tell me nothing is wrong…it’s something, and it hurts my feelings when you won’t just be honest with me…and yourself!” 

I know this sounds familiar.  We have all been there before with a close friend, a family member, a child, or a spouse.  Everyone wants honesty…even if the answer is, “Yes, I agree I am grumpy but I don’t know why.”  Honesty builds intimacy.  Honesty builds trust.  Honesty breaks down walls.  Honesty makes us vulnerable.  Honesty causes us to face something we might otherwise prefer to avoid.   Honesty is a quality that we assume will follow any close relationship, and when it does not, it causes a deep wound.  In What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren states, “Genuine friendship is built on disclosure.”  We all want authenticity…and so does God.

If we want to build a relationship with God, a friendship with Him, then we must choose to be honest with Him when we talk to Him.  He desires our honesty just like we desire it in our earthly relationships.  Warren says, “In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator.  God, however, didn’t seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.”  He goes on to give multiple examples of this, like Abraham challenging Him about the destruction of Sodom, or David accusing God of betrayal, abandonment, or unfairness, or Job venting about his ordeal, or Moses speaking candidly about their time of wandering in the desert.  He goes on to say, “To instruct us in candid honesty, God gave us the book of Psalms – a worship manual, full of ranting, raving, doubts, fears, resentments, and deep passions combined with thanksgiving, praise, and statements of faith…. You can pray like David, ‘I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles for I am overwhelmed.’” All too often, we sugar coat our prayers and act like nothing is wrong… as if He does not know the real story! Why do we do this?  He knows us and he simply wants us to be honest.

One of the reasons we choose not to be honest in our relationship with God ,and with others, is that we forget the following scripture, and then we lose the balance between believing God for a better situation and admitting, sharing, expressing, or even complaining like David did about the reality of the situation. “Share your burdens with one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2…it is assumed here that we all have burdens and we are commanded to share them, not deny they exist.  We are all guilty of walking around saying, “I’m fine!  I’m good!”, when that is far from the truth.  We don’t want to complain, or listen to complaining, all of the time, but at the same time, we don’t want to hear sugar coated answers all of time concerning situations when your heart is bursting with the need to pour itself out at His feet or someone else’s.  Be real with God and be real with one another.  It will refresh us and lift the weight…. this is why its called a burden! 

After being reminded how God’s friends in the Bible did not hold back anything from Him and shared their doubts, fears, and heartaches, I realized that I am guilty of not being completely honest in my conversations with God.  When I choose not to be honest with God, I am, at the same time, choosing not to be honest with myself.  This is what my conversation with God could look like if I were to lay it all out there….

Lord!  I am so tired!  I am tired of this road you have me traveling!  When will things be all good again?  When?  Why can’t things happen faster?  I don’t know how much more of this I can handle?  You must see something in me that I don’t see in myself.  Who am I to have to walk this road?  God why the long wait? It may not be long to you but it feels like an eternity to me.  I obeyed you and moved my family to someplace where I didn’t’ know anyone…. can you move a little faster? “ 

In my blog post from March 2011, entitled “And Yet,” I showed how David was able to lay it all out there to God, and yet still speak of his trust and faith in God.  The winning combination…be honest and yet acknowledge that He is able.

Psalm 6:6-9 reads, "I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with tears.  My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies.  Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity." (Here comes another 'and yet' or 'but God'.)  " For the Lord(and yet He) has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my supplication."  David says it again in Psalm 22:14 & 15, 19, "I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd.  And my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.... But you, O lord, do not be far from me; O my strength, hasten to help me!" David feels all of these emotions but he knows he can look to God and say,"Here I am Lord... dried up, a wreck, lost, miserable, and feeling so heavy my bones can barely carry me.  But I turn to You, because I know You are able, and in spite how I may be feeling, You are still there."

This is all acceptable.  It’s honesty.  It’s what God wants from us.  If we are keeping our eyes straight ahead and our eyelids right before us, we must be honest with what we see…”The road is pitch black, Lord, and I’m cold, tired, and I feel all alone.  All I can see is my feet and it really frightens me and yet I trust You.  I know you will keep me under your wings of protection.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 11 - Friend of God?

Bringing pleasure to God is one of our main purposes here on this earth. (The "Thing 1" I spoke of previously) I have talked about how it brings pleasure to God when we surrender our whole selves to Him, when we trust Him completely, and obey Him wholeheartedly.  To me, those seem rather obvious.  Being friends with God?  This brings Him pleasure?  For some reason, I have always had reservations about this concept. (Probably because the enemy was feeding me the lie that this could not be true and he did not want to me to fully understand it…since he knows it would unleash a more constant presence of God in my life…which in turn would produce the actualization of a more purpose driven life)  Today, I get it.

My husband used to lead in praise and worship at our church.  (A sidebar - remember though, worship is not limited to the time of singing during the church service for one hour, once a week…worship continually…with our lifestyle.) He did not usually choose the songs but was told by the music director what song he was to sing.  I remember the first time he sung a song entitled, “I am a Friend of God”, I became very uncomfortable standing there listening to it.  It was almost like it felt blasphemous.  How is this possible?  In my mind, I was thinking that everyone there was putting God on equal terms with themselves.  Like, “yeah, I’m friends with God…we hang out…we’re on the same page…) It seemed so disrespectful in that light.  How can we be friends with God when it sounds so casual?  Who are we to call ourselves “friends of God” to the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of my soul, the Omnipotent One?  It would be wrong to overlook His “awesomeness” and not feel the reverence at the same time we call Him friend.  This is what gnawed at me when I heard it ringing in the sanctuary.  I found myself barely singing along with the words.

And yet, I knew this idea of being friends with God was backed by scriptures. Why was I having reservations? 

Since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.”  Romans 5:10

Moses and Abraham were referred to as “friends of God”.

Now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God, - all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.”  Romans 5:11

All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

I think that fear struck me that all these people might be too “comfortable” in His presence and had lost the awe of the reality of who He was. (You see how fear can get in the way of everything? I am being completely honest with you right now and exposing my flawed thinking.)  It honestly made me a little nervous.  This next verse is where we see the balance.  “Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence him.  With them alone he shares the secrets of his promises.”  Psalm 25:14   So there is a balance, a give and take.  Friendship is reserved for those who reverence Him.  We can call Him friend all day long, not “yeah, I’m friends with God…we hang out…we’re on the same page”, but we must be reverent at the same time.  Only those who show reverence can have the privilege of calling Him friend and Him calling us friend.  Now I see and understand the reverence in these lyrics.  My judgmental thoughts blinded me from seeing the reverence within the song when I heard it so many years ago, but as I read today’s teaching in What On Earth am I Here For, this song rose up out of my heart and I “heard” the reverence.

Who am I that you are mindful of me?
That you hear me, when I call
Is it true that you are thinking of me?
How you love me, it's amazing (Who am I Lord)

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

God Almighty
Lord of Glory
You have called me friend
(Lyrics by Israel Houghton)

Friends share secrets, friends know all the little details about one another, friends enjoy spending quality time together, friends respect one another, friends love one another, and friends enjoy close contact with one another.  Friends share all of their life’s experiences. Friends have direct access…their phone calls have been granted permission for interruptions, they can ask personal questions and get the honest answer.  Rick Warren says, “Knowing and loving God is our greatest privilege, and being known and loved is God’s greatest pleasure.” If we truly know Him, we can’t help but show reverence to Him. It is our greatest privilege when we truly know God and love him, because we have then become friends with Him.  What a privilege! The chain reaction that follows is that it brings Him his greatest pleasure!  

Jeremiah 9:24 says, “If any want to boast, they should boast that they know and understand me…these are the things that please me.”  I am a friend of God.  He calls me friend.  I will boldly boast that fact!  With my eyes straight ahead, I strive to get to know Him a little bit better everyday, just as I am always learning more about my close friends, a little bit more everyday.  The more I know, the more I love, and the more I love, the more time I want to spend with Him, and the more time I spend with Him, the more I share, and the more I share, the more that gets shared back to me, and the more I enjoy His presence…He calls me friend.