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.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 10 - Surrender

Yes, Lord, Yes
To Your will and to Your way.
I wanna say yes, Lord, Yes,
I will trust You and obey, 
When Your spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I’ll agree
And my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.

Back in 1991, Michael and I made a change in churches and we found ourselves in our first non-denominational, “full gospel” church.  These lyrics were to one of the first songs I remember singing.  It is a song of surrender.  This song would always get stuck in my head.  I found myself always singing it in the shower, singing it while I prayed, or putting a “soul choir groove” to it while I was working in the kitchen!  Looking back now, I think that was God’s plan.  He needed that message of surrender to get firmly and deeply planted down into my inner spirit (like a daffodil bulb that gets planted in the fall for an early spring bloom), so that the answer, “yes, Lord” would ultimately naturally bubble up (or emerge and sprout up) when it came time to answer His call.  I used to get so tired of that song!  I would try to start singing other songs so that I could get that one out of my mind but it never worked.  (Of course, now that I am bringing it all to my memory right now, it will be stuck again for quite some time!) 

 It was the music in the church that spoke keenly to our hearts.  It was the worship through music that God opened up a window for us to see that there was more to our walk with Him.  It was a crossroads.  He had an adventure for us.  The music ushered us into a tangible, more intimate place with God than we had ever experienced.  What we did not know at the time was that it was the presence of “surrender” that was luring us. Peace and intimacy with God follow when we surrender…And surrender…. And surrender…. And surrender…  Learning to surrender ourselves while worshipping with music was a baby step to learning how to surrender when it came to crossroads that required more from us in order to surrender…. quit your job (trust me), change churches (trust me), coach full time (trust me), stop singing (trust me), start singing in church (trust me), start writing (trust me), have a baby (trust me), sell your house (trust me), buy this fixer-upper (trust me), start your own firm (trust me), homeschool your kids (trust me), live without Michael(trust me), move to New York(trust me)…surrender, surrender, surrender… daily, continually,

“Don’t surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes.  Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to Him to be used for righteous purposes.” 
Romans 6:13

Rick Warren states in What on Earth am I Here For, “Surrendered people are the ones that God uses…. Nothing is more powerful than a surrendered life in the hands of God… Victory comes through surrender.  William Booth, founder of Salvation Army, said, ‘ The greatness of a man’s power is in the measure of his surrender.’”  In 1 Corinthians 1:9, it says, “God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of His Son and our master Jesus.”  God placed in us a longing for adventure!  It is natural for us to yearn for it and want it…. But, we must surrender for the adventure to begin.   God HAS an adventure for our days.   Like Abraham, “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home.  When he left he had no idea where he was going!”  Hebrews 11:8

If you don’t surrender, sometimes He may put you into a position of forced surrender…and it is usually uncomfortable and it may hurt.  We would never have to trust Him, surrender to Him, if our life was always easy. We could simply rely on ourselves.  Why wait until the surrender is forced?  Its often times fear.  Fear keeps up from saying yes…. fear gets in the way of all of God’s plans. In my opinion, it is the number one warfare tactic of the enemy.  It will stop us in our tracks.  It will make us turn the other direction.  It will make us procrastinate our surrender.  (I have learned so much about the spirit of fear and it’s lies over the last two years, that I am thinking I may write a book and expose it for the nasty, lying, manipulating, bully that it is.)  What is the worst thing that can happen when we surrender to God?  What are we afraid of when we are at the crossroads of either doing what God is showing us to do next or to continue in the same way we were traveling?  

When we say, “yes” to God, our heart becomes at peace.  “I’ve told you all this so that in trusting Me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace.”  John 16:33  Here I sit in the country of the Hudson River Valley… moved on in this adventure by traveling here on the road for three days, with two cars (packed to the top –literally), three kids, two dogs, and my mother, while driving in the rain the entire journey.  I was moving to a land where I knew no one.  I surrendered my life’s direction to God.  I still do not completely understand the road, but I do feel unshakable, assured, and deeply at peace with the choice to surrender, and a comforting sense of peace where God has us at this point in the adventure.  I have no doubt that His plan is perfect.  I have no doubt that surrendering my future to Him was best choice I could have made for my children and me. 

With eyes straight ahead, I will strive to surrender to God each forward step in the direction that He leads, even when what I may see is total darkness.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 9 - Understanding is Overrated

If part of our purpose is to live a life that brings pleasure to God, then wouldn’t it be helpful to know what specifically brings Him pleasure?  Rick Warren lists out four things that we can do that give God pleasure: when we love Him above everything else, trust Him completely, obey Him wholeheartedly, and when we fulfill His purposes (and our personal, particular purpose).  In looking back at the notes I have taken while studying this chapter, I noticed that I have a plethora of scribbles all over the pages concerning the trust and obey sections.  I ran out of room and began more personal notes on a piece of notebook paper.  This is a big red light to me that these two things are messages in which I am passionate and a message that God wants me to develop my thoughts into writing!  Every time I sit down to write, I give my gift of writing and communicating back to God.  I only want to write what He wants me to write.  I want to learn what He wants me to learn.  I take this process very seriously… which is why the “obedience” part of this lesson deeply strikes a chord with me.  I don’t ever want to miss God’s lead or, even worse, hear and see His lead, then choose not to take it.

Trust has been a big thing for me since Michael died.  In the physical world, I have had to discern when to trust and not to trust people on a whole new level.  Some workmen have tried to take advantage of the fact that I am a woman, by assuming that this means I won’t know any better if they do their job below standard, or try to charge me more than they should.  Most all times I have been able to prove otherwise by wisely asking questions that proved I knew exactly what was going on with a particular job, and, in some cases, knew more than they did!  I learned to ask well chosen questions, with a well chosen vocabulary, at the beginning of a job in order for them to know up front that nothing was going to get past my watchful eyes…. the work, the materials, or the billing.  It is quite the opposite in the spiritual world. 

With God, I have had to completely, 100%, without a doubt, without hesitation, trust Him with every detail in my life.  He is the only one who is watching my back 24/7.  He is the only one who knows where my road is going to lead.  He is the only one who protects me, takes pleasure in me, and provides for me.  My complete trust in Him has been the foundation for survival in every moment and every breath I have taken since Michael died.  I trusted in Him before, but at the same time, I trusted Michael for things in which I must now trust God. In Psalms 50:14, God says, “I want you to trust me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you and you can give me glory.” Trust completely, even when I don’t understand it. If I trust Him, he will rescue me!  (That has been a promise worth clinging to these last couple of years.) 

I was at a retreat in Colorado a little over a year ago led by John and Stasi Eldredge, the authors of several bestselling books and the creators of Ransomed Heart Ministries.  John said one simple statement, in regards to us trying to understand something God has asked us to do, and it stuck with me.  He said, “Understanding is overrated!”  We want to understand what God is doing so badly, but, most of the times, if we did understand it, it would not change our circumstances or make the task any easier.  In some instances, what would we gain by God helping us understand?   So why not just trust and give up always trying to understand what God in doing in your life?  Does it help when you try to explain to a two year old why it is important for him to take a nap?  Would it help if you said, “Now sweetheart, you need to get your rest so you won’t be cantankerous later at dinner time… and you know that if your little body gets sleep deprived, it can lower your immune system and we are going on a trip this weekend so we need everyone rested and healthy…and Mommy has a writing deadline to meet before we leave so that I can relax this weekend….”  Do you think understanding will help that two year old in this situation?  Of course not!  We must trust God because He is so much bigger than what we can conceive and He knows the big picture…just like this mommy knew the big picture.  We are not capable of grasping the big picture.  Rick Warren suggests we pray, “God, I want You to be magnified in my eyes.  I’ve made You too small.  I’ve limited You.”  He goes on to say that “it pleases God when we go out on a limb for Him and when we attempt the impossible.” 

Noah was a great example of putting trust and obedience together.  Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land.  He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told.  His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world.  As a result, Noah became intimate with God.”  I love the way this is worded in the Message version… “his act of faith drew a sharp line between…”.  His faith, his trust, set him apart from the ways of this world and placed him over on the side to accomplish God’s purposes.  He trusted that God knew what He was doing when He instructed him to build a boat the size of a football field on dry land, far away from any body of water, while anticipating rain, which up to this point in history, rain had not fallen from the sky! (The earth was watered from the ground up…kind of like a sprinkler system.)  This is trust without understanding! I also love that the benefit of trusting and obeying God is that we become intimate with HIm!  “The Lord takes pleasure in those who honor Him and trust in His constant love.”  Psalms 147:11  Noah trusted then obeyed wholeheartedly.

Wholehearted obedience is by no means the easy road. Warren says, “It will sometimes be inconvenient, unpopular, cost me, doing the exact opposite of what our natural inclinations are.”  This made me think of my move to New York.  I knew that this was something God told me to do.  Why would I have wanted to do something this hard in my own will, especially after what I had just been through?   Did it make sense?  Did I understand it?  Did other people understand it?  Did it cause me to fall out of relationship with some people?  Was it inconvenient?  The answer is not just no, but #%*# no!   Did it cost? (And not just monetarily) Was it the exact opposite of what I would have liked to have done in the natural?  Did it force me out onto a limb? The answer to all of these questions is not just yes, but #%*# yes!  But as I stated by quoting someone in a previous post, “I am safer in the middle of the most dangerous war zones in Iraq while in God’s perfect will for my life than I would be if I were living a comfortable life in America outside of His will.”  It is extremely important to obey God and stay in His perfect will.  Even though I did not understand nor could I even see the big picture, I was willing to sacrifice all these things in order to obey God.  

I agree with John Eldredge…understanding is overrated!  As my mom often says when she gets confused, does not understand the situation, or what she is supposed to do, she will say in an exasperated way, “Just point me in the right direction,” or “Just tell me what to do.”  This means, “I can’t do it on my own. You understand it and it is good enough for me.”  This is what God wants from us.  This is what pleases God.  Complete surrender.  Others can look at it as foolishness or lack of wisdom if we move forward without a clear explanation or understanding.  God looks at it as strength and courage and honoring Him…and it pleases Him. 

We press on with our eyes straight ahead, then one day we may look back and say, “Ahhh, so that is why I had to do that!”…. but then again, we may not ever figure it out… trust and obey, forgoing understanding, and simply because “You father said so that’s why!”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 8 - Take Pleasure?

We were created for God’s pleasure.

You created everything and it is for Your pleasure that they exist and were created.”  Revelation 4:11

The Lord takes pleasure in His people.”  Psalm 149:4

This means God takes time for pleasure.  Do you think He completes His work then sits down to take pleasure in us or takes pleasure throughout His moments of time?  I would say through out His time, just as we might stop what we are doing momentarily to watch a child discover something new or to listen to them laugh.  We are taking pleasure watching someone else take pleasure! God does the same thing with us.  It is hard to grasp that verse…we exist and were created for His pleasure.  This shows us another whole dimension of God.  He stops to enjoy things!

I can’t say that I stop to enjoy life or take pleasure often enough… I can’t even say that I do it daily.  I feel as if I am always on a mission to accomplish or on a mission to withdraw and accomplish nothing, (but even in that I am trying to accomplish solitude, thought time, down time, etc.). Taking time for pleasure, or enjoyment, even if only for a moment, I too often look at as if it is an unwanted interruption.  How mixed up is that thinking?  We were created for God’s pleasure!  Satan has tried to manipulate our thoughts and make us feel guilty if we stop to experience the pleasure.  You don’t have time for that… This will make you late…This is only in the way…What you have to get done is too important… Enjoy this later...Wait until the next time....I know I am not the only one who tends to think this way.

 Why wouldn’t we want to experience a little bit of pleasure, a moment of enjoyment interspersed throughout our days?  What do we think we are proving by not allowing it or pretending not to notice that which would bring us pleasure?  I am not in the habit of seeing things around me in which I can, and should, take pleasure.  Actually, I am seeing them, but I am choosing not to acknowledge them.  I will say that I acknowledge and take pleasure constantly in nature.  As I write this, its 4:30 in the morning, the moon is bright, and yet, the light of the sun is beginning to fill the sky.  The birds are beginning to chirp, I hear an owl nearby, the sky is blue, and the trees are perfectly still, after three days of rain and high winds.  I am having a hard time writing because I am enjoying, taking pleasure, in the birds and the beauty that are distracting me.  It reminds of something I wrote in my first blog post entitled,  “My Michael”.  I was describing Michael’s love for gardening together.  “While we would work outside, he would stop just to watch me, come give me a kiss, or just pat me on the bottom. If it was a gritty workday, we would share a beer together at the close of the day, but if it was a tranquil day of planting flowers or pruning, it would be over a glass of wine strolling through the garden together or sitting on a garden bench. “  This is a great example of weaving pleasure in and out of work.

In the book, What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren says,  “One of the greatest gifts God has given you is the ability to enjoy pleasure.  He wired you with five senses and emotions so you can experience it.  He wants you to enjoy it, not just endure it.  The reason you are able to enjoy pleasure is that God made you in his image.  … The Bible tells us that God grieves, gets jealous, and angry, and feels compassion, pity, sorrow, and sympathy as well as happiness, gladness, and satisfaction.  God loves, delights, gets pleasure, rejoices, enjoys, and even laughs!”  Do you love, delight, take pleasure, rejoice, enjoy or laugh enough each day?  If not, why not?  Why are we denying ourselves the best part of God’s image? Jesus stopped in the middle of a very busy, crowded moment of ministry to take pleasure in a group of children.  Do we do the same?  I am guilty of not having done this enough.

To know our purpose, we must know God.  Rick Warren says we must practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.  God does, and will, take pleasure in our worship in heaven.  I am sure there will be plenty of things in which to take pleasure in heaven.  Hosea 6:6 says, “I don’t want your sacrifices – I want your love!  I don’t want your offerings – I want you to know Me!”  Now that we know that God takes pleasure in us, that taking pleasure is part of His image, and we were made in His image, what will we do when a moment of enjoyment, beauty, or pleasure presents itself?  Will we keep listening to the whispers of the enemy that we don’t have time for it or will we stop and scoop the moment up into our laps, like we would a child, and take pleasure in the beautiful moment that stands before us?

Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going to work, walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.”  Romans 12:1   Warren says, “Real purpose driven living happens in the ordinary, routine, mundane things of life.”  In everything we do, as we operate in the daily-ness of our purpose, there can be moments of happiness, gladness, satisfaction, delight, pleasure, rejoicing, and even laughing.  I want to know, and reflect, that part of God’s image a little bit better.

In 2 Corinthians 2:15, it says, "Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God..."

He takes pleasure in our sweet aroma.

If we are truly keeping our eyes straight ahead and our eyelids right before us, and we live fully in the moment,  we will recognize the moments in which to take pleasure as they arise like a sweet aroma.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 7 - Thing 1 and Thing 2

A scenario…A woman is hired at a well-known restaurant for the sole purpose of functioning as the head dessert chef.  In order for her to have gotten this job, it is assumed that she has mastered the basics and has mastered them to the point that she can now be creative within the “laws” of baking.  Creativity, confidence, and a sense of purpose flow in the kitchen now because she has mastered the basics, how they work together, and what basic ingredients have to be present in every recipe in order for it to be a success.  It is assumed that she understands various flours, their different uses and how they respond differently according to the mix of ingredients with which they are blended.  It is assumed that she knows that her eggs will perform best at room temperature.  It is assumed that she knows butter has to be cold when she cuts it into flour to make streusel toppings, pie crusts, or scones.  It is assumed that she knows to preheat the oven for a long time and, when she thinks its hot and ready, let it heat just a little bit more. It is assumed that she has baked for people on a small scale in other places.   It is assumed that she has practiced all of these skills in a variety of ways and has much time invested into the foundational principles of baking.  She went to culinary school because she loved to cook and create.  She did not know where it would take her but she did what she knew she had to do, and that was to get in the kitchen every day.  She had to master and incorporate the basics into her daily routine in the kitchen.  By doing the tasks that presented themselves to her daily, she was prepared when the opportunity arose for her to step up to operating as a head dessert chef.  She mastered Thing 1 then when Thing 2 arose, she was capable and prepared.

Hang in there with me….

A little over 20 years ago, I began earnestly seeking after God’s will, His purpose, for my life.  “Lord, I want to do Your will!  Lord, what do You want me to do in life?  Lord, what purpose have you set aside just for me?”  A couple years into this prayer, I remember buying a teaching series on cassette tape by Rachel Burchfield entitled, “How to Find God’s Will and Hear His Voice”.  When I saw it, I remember thinking, “Jackpot!  Here it is!  I am going to listen to this and I am going to know exactly what God wants me to do with my life in order for my life to bring glory to Him.”  At first, I was disappointed with her answer.  In my spiritual immaturity, I thought I would find that “one thing” hiding somewhere in her message.  Instead, I heard things that did not sound very exciting to young woman in her twenties…. things like, “God’s will is to chisel away everything that does not reflect Jesus Christ” or “God’s will is Lordship” or “You can find God’s will through your natural skills”.  I wanted something more specific.  I wanted to hear something like, “head dessert chef, next week.”  The one that struck me as almost too simple (and not exciting at all) was that I could find God’s will and His purpose for my life through my natural skills.  It had to be more complicated than that?  Today, I read through my notes that I took while listening to this teaching in August 1995. (I kept a journal of all of my personal bible study and prayer time.)  I had written down an inventory of what I thought were my natural gifts, at that time.  They were dancing (I was teaching hip hop at the time), cooking, entertaining, leadership, creating, and writing.  I was putting my natural gifts out before me in writing so that I could be more aware of how to weave these different things into my daily purpose, and serve and glorify God in the process.

A man’s gift (his craft) makes room for himself and brings him before great men.” Proverbs 18:16

Countless examples are found in the Bible of people who were operating in their natural skills, day in and day out, mastering the basics until they could do it with their eyes closed. Samuel learned the skills to work in the synagogue.  These skills enabled him to fulfill God’s purpose by using them to serve with David.  David was a shepherd and had mastered all of the skills needed to have the keen eye that a shepherd needs to protect its flock, which was developed from daily use. One of these skills included being able to handle a slingshot with great precision in order to protect his flock from wolves and other animals.  These skills enabled him to fulfill God’s purpose by killing Goliath with a slingshot, which then propelled him to become king, and then wrote a large portion of the book of Psalms. Paul did his natural skill of tent making and preached at the same time.  Jethro, Moses’ father-in –law, using his natural skills, offered his administrative skills and organizational ideas to Moses to help manage the Israelites. (I would say being the administrative assistant to Moses is a big purpose!) 

 Paul, in Romans 1:1 states his 3 purposes, in graduating order. “Paul, a bond servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle (a special messenger), set apart to preach the gospel of and from God.”   First, servanthood is assumed.  Love God and serve him with our whole heart and then walk in that love and serve with humility to those who He places around us.  Secondly, if we are believers and followers of Christ, we have been called and given a gift…Paul’s gift was that of an apostle.  “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.”  1 Peter 4:10 Thirdly, we are set apart for our unique purpose.  The first and second one I am referring to as Thing 1… the main thing. One of the well -known quotes from Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”   The problem that arises when we are searching for our purpose, we forget Thing 1, the main thing, the thing that is assumed that we should be doing simply because we are disciples of Christ.  We want to jump right on over all of that servant and natural skill stuff to the “unique purpose”, which is Thing 2.

It is in Christ that we find out who we are living for.  Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.”  Ephesians 1:11 He has an overall purpose, a global purpose, (Thing 1) which is the umbrella over our unique purpose (Thing 2).  In our search for purpose, it is easy for us to turn a blind eye to Thing 1, even with it sitting right in front of us.  We actually are stepping over it (and sometimes on it!) in order to rush to find Thing 2.   Are you married?  Then it is assumed that God’s will and His purpose for your life is to love and serve your spouse, right under His will for you to love and serve Him. (As with Paul…a servant first)  Do you have children?  Then it is assumed that God’s will and His purpose is to serve them, teach them, train them, provide for them, and love them.  Do you have natural skills?  Then it is assumed that you will look for ways to use those skills to help others and, in so doing; pass on God’s many blessings.  These are all Thing 1. 

Master Thing 1.  Keep the main thing the main thing.  This is God’s global purpose.  As you are mastering that daily walk, your Thing 2, your unique purpose, will begin to unfold in a beautifully choreographed way that you could never have imagined.  We must “get in the kitchen daily” and focus on Thing 1.   As we are operating in Thing 1, we then continue to pray that God will show us what we have been “set apart” to do.  Enjoy Thing 1, with eyes straight ahead and eyelids right before you, (this means you are focused on moving forward without distractions but simultaneously aware of where you are presently standing) because Thing 2 will only build on the existing foundation of Thing 1. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day 6 - Enjoy the Season(even in longest winter)

I love to garden.  I love digging my fingers in dirt.  I love the smell of wet soil. I love choosing what colors and textures of plants will look good together.  I love seeing a beautiful flowerbed or collections of pots, with plants spilling over the edge, come together like a delicious meal.  I love to garden with someone and I love to garden alone. (My husband loved to garden because he said God spoke to him clearly and showed him many truths about life through metaphors in the garden.) I love the sound of the pebble paths connecting garden spaces under my feet.  I love to prune. I love roses…. all kinds. I love peonies, hydrangeas, herbs, Louisiana irises, Shasta daisies, English aster, wisteria, and Carolina jasmine, confederate jasmine… I love to dead head spent blooms.  I love looking at a bedding area that has been freshly mulched.  I even love to weed! (With my trusty knee pad though, of course)  I love what each season brings.  

In spring, I love the colors that are available, watching plants come back to life, observing the new growth, the process of trying something new in the garden and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. In the summer, I love the time of sitting back a bit and enjoying the fruit of my spring labors, eating all of the seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the never-ending time of weeding!  I love how the fall ushers in a feeling of a fresh start just like the spring.  I love fall cleaning in the garden, the change of colors from bright to warmer shades, crunching my feet in dry leaves, planting mums, decorating with pumpkins, and the smell of cinnamon and cider in the air.  I love the starkness of the winter in the garden.  I love being able to see the horizon through the tall skeletons of the trees.  I love how the trees look majestic with absolutely nothing adorning them.  I love how everything still looks beautiful with the bare minimum.  I love dreaming about what I will do the next spring!

How tiresome, though, it would be, even though I love each season, if there was only spring, or only summer?  “As long as the earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” Genesis 2:22

We need seasons of change.  

Understanding, accepting, working, and enjoying the changing seasons of life are not as easy as it is with the seasons in the garden.  How I wish it were so!  Why is it so difficult to embrace each season of life?  Why can’t it happen as easily as I embrace the seasons in the garden? Some seasons in our lives would get tiresome just like they would in the garden…can you imagine changing poopy diapers your whole life?  Being young and foolish your whole life?  Carpooling your whole life?   Working out the kinks of being a newlywed your whole life?  Thank you, Lord, that these seasons change!  There is a purpose to every season and one season cannot fully be appreciated without the season that precedes it.  “There is a time (a small space of time) for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

There is a purpose for every season.  There are certain seasons, that while we are in the “heat” of them, we cannot see the purpose.  The death season, the grief season, the mourning season, the crying season, the tearing down season, the quiet season, the lonely season, the wandering season…(My husband had a t-shirt that said, “Not everyone who wanders is lost”.  Wandering is a season, just like it was for the Israelites.)  As seasons change in order for plants to grow, we grow from the changing seasons in our lives.

I have been in winter for a while now.  It has been cold and stark, and there were even long, dark nights, with very short times of sunshine in the days.  I have longed for the spring, for the life season, the dancing season, the laughing season, and the building up season.  In March, I finally felt the beginning of the seasons of change.  I made it through the  “the midnight hours” and I finally began to see and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.  The changes of seasons are usually gradual, in the garden and in our lives, but, occasionally, they can happen suddenly, almost like an interruption.

I experienced a seasonal change suddenly, like a cold snap that kills all of your spring plants, an ice storm causing you to lose power, a debilitating blizzard in the middle of the night that causes all of life to come to a stand still, a hail storm the size of golf balls on a summer day that shatters the windows of your car, a flash flood that washes away seeds you spent hours planting. Like one can force flower bulbs to begin to grow, in what appears to be out of season, we can also be forced into a season of dormancy.  What we do in, and with, each season matters.  Rick Warren suggests that there are four questions to ask in order to make the most of each season: What can I learn in this season, What can I enjoy in the season, What is most important in this season, and How can I help others in this season?  

The first question,"What can I learn in this season?", I naturally attacked during the last two years since Michael died.  I sought God, prayed, and continually looked for all that I could learn from what had happened and learn from all of the different seasons in which I had suddenly found myself.  Looking back, the hardest of these questions to answer was (and still can be), what can I enjoy in this season and how can I help others.  I did not, could not, think about how I could proactively help others, with the exception of helping my children cope.  I tried to meet them where they were, meet their needs, answer their questions, love them, kiss them, hug them, and make the necessary connections with other people whom I felt God could use in their lives during that season.   I blogged in order to seek out what I could learn from that season, and in so doing, helped others who were grieving, walking in a similar season, or trying to understand my season.  The question with which I struggle, and honestly have struggled with even before this past season, is what can I enjoy in this season of my life.

In Ecclesiastes 11:8, it says, “People ought to enjoy every day of their lives,” and in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; this is God’s will for you.”  Really?  Why did these scriptures have to be put in the bible?  Why could they have not specified particular seasons for these to be true?  Like, this season, keep your head in a hole, this season play outside, this season shut your door and don’t come out until the storm is over.  Paul has to go and blow it for all of us by saying in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Whatever the season)  Paul was a prisoner, ship wrecked, had death threats, experienced starvation, physical beatings, alienation, and the list goes on and on and on… and yet, he can say, “count it all joy”?  He kept his eyes straight ahead on the road before him and his purpose.

We can’t keep thinking, “I will be happy when…” or “I will enjoy my life when…”.   We are all guilty of this in every season of our lives and then, ironically, when the season is over, we wish we were back in a particular season.  There is something to enjoy in each season, we just have to look for it.  When we find it, we must give attention to it.  The bible would not command us to “enjoy every day of our lives” if God was not simultaneously providing something for us to enjoy in every season.  I want to enjoy my days.  I desire it and there are countless other scriptures to support the reason and need for it.  

Father, forgive me for not enjoying life more, before and after Michael’s death.  I want to be an example for my children.  Help me to not look back but to press forward towards all of the life that you have ahead of us.  Press towards my purpose, and enjoy the journey, enjoy the season.  Because it is Your will for me to enjoy my days and to give thanks in all circumstances, I will press on. And by your grace and the work of Christ, I, like Paul, can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.   

Enjoy your season; enjoy this day in your life…with eyes straight ahead.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 5 - Mind Transformer

Worldview has been a buzzword that has increased with popularity over the last decade.  Day 5 in What on Earth am I Here For? is entitled, “Seeing life from God’s view.”  Wouldn’t it be much easier to just have God’s view of this world, instead of trying to funnel everything that this world has, what it says about us, or what it throws at us, through our own personal sieve to see what our “world” view looks like when it comes out?  If we are believers in gospel of Christ, shouldn’t our views look at least similar if we all have God’s view?  I want His view.  I want to see things the way He sees them.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of mind (complete change of your worldview).  Then you will be able to know the will of God.”  

For over twenty years now, one of my other common prayers to God has been for me to be able to recognize things that are of this world.  Recognize it when I am looking through the lens of the “world” view.  Recognize daily all of the little beliefs, or habits, and what the world thinks we should or shouldn’t do, which have slowly crept into my life because they were the standards of this world, instead of His standards. He will show it to us, even in the details, because He is into all of the details.  Lord, I don’t want to be conformed to this world.  I want you to continually transform my mind.  I want to continually be set apart for Your purposes.  Not my will, Lord, but Your will be done in my life and in the lives of my children.

 God’s view looks totally different.  People will not always understand you, or your choices, when you are living your life with God’s view being used as your filter.   In Acts 19:26, while Paul was teaching God’s view and challenging the present view of the people, it says that he had “alienated a considerable company of them.”  This is a nice way of saying he ticked off, or offended a bunch of people along the way! Countless times, people in the Bible were alienated by friends, family, and new acquaintances because they chose to see life, and their circumstances, and make decisions based on what they saw and understood from God’s view.  They knew what the will of God was, and they had allowed Him to transform them ”inwardly by a complete change of mind.”  It is a challenge to recognize areas that are “conformed to this world” when you, and your culture or community, have grown to accept them because of familiarity.  The only way to have a worldview shifting, mind transforming, life-changing walk in your purpose with God, is to seek His view and let Him begin the transformation.  Will you alienate people when you begin to do this?  Absolutely.  Your change of views, because they are not the status quo, will make people uncomfortable.  We must stand firm…. not looking to the left or to the right, but keeping our eyes straight ahead, and our eyelid right before us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 4 - Part II, Eternity...and that's the bottom line, folks

Yes, I agree with Rick Warren, we were made to last forever. “God has planted eternity in the human heart.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11   I agree that this life is just a time of preparation for what is yet to come in our next life, in this place we call eternity.  Heaven or hell…we will spend our present life preparing for one of these two places.  I always knew this and thought I understood it (as much as our human brains can grasp it), but never in my life had I experienced actually losing someone who I loved as deeply as I loved Michael.  I knew he was in eternity now with Jesus but I struggled with God’s plan of, what seems to us as, a complete separation between eternity (the spiritual realm) and the physical realm we live on this earth.  I wrote about this in one of my posts the first year after his death.  My first question to God about this was why would we be allowed such great love on this side of eternity with an ultimate end of being separated from it?  Couldn’t we have more of a glimpse every once in awhile instead of complete separation?  Yes, there is restoration in heaven.  Yes, I know that the love we experience in this physical world is just a taste of the love, peace, and joy we will experience in heaven.  (No matter how good it is here, it is only an extremely diluted version of what God has planned for us in heaven.) Yes, we all still have a purpose when we lose someone to eternity.  Yes, our purpose that should be driving our lives each day has an eternal significance, under the umbrella of God’s purpose and plan for eternity as a whole.  Yes, this should, and does, make me depend on God more, lean on Him even more for His love, protection, and comfort, as I relied on my husband….. But I am human, and I fail everyday.

But God gave us a safety net.  One of the safety mechanisms is that “He put eternity in the human heart.”  It is in our DNA.  By Him doing that, we have a built in compass, an internal knowing that there is more to this life than what we see, a built in destiny for something greater than we can even imagine, a built in purpose with eternal significance.   The problem is that not everyone recognizes it in his or her soul, and just because we don’t always tap into it, or discover it, does not mean it is not there.  Those who don’t recognize it as a void, which only eternal purposes can fulfill, feel that they are missing something, that there is more to life, and they try to meet that desire, that void, with all of the wrong things, instead of recognizing it as a longing for the eternal.   He also put in us the capacity, the ability, to continue on.  I like the Amplified version of the bible in the way it explains this in  I Corinthians 10:13.  ”For no temptation (no trial, enticement to evil, testing in general)(no matter how it comes or where it leads) has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear].  But God is faithful [to His word and to His compassionate nature], and He can be trusted not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptations He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.” The trial will not only be something that we can withstand, but He will also give us a way out…. He provides a safe landing strip when we feel like we are free falling.  

That, my friends, is good news.  It gives me hope.  It makes me realize my purpose counts for eternity.  It makes me imagine Michael, already on the other side of eternity, cheering me on( along with my Dad), as they watch me every time I stumble, fall, crawl, walk or run,  but then brush off  the dirt and continue to keep my purpose driven life pointed towards eternity.

...eyes straight ahead, eyelids right before you

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day 4 - Part I, Obsession with Hope

The reading for Day 4 and the audio teaching that accompanied it filled my heart with so many different thoughts and feelings that I find it hard to harness them into one main theme for today’s post.  (Maybe I will do Day 4 part I and part II…I will decide when I get to the end!) This is because sometimes his audio teachings go deeper and in a slightly different direction than the reading for the corresponding day.  The reading is about the truth from Ecclesiastes 3:11 that says, “…God planted eternity in our hearts,” and so there is more to life than the here and now.  I learned much about this truth after Michael died, having been forced to face death and the idea of eternity face to face.   The audio goes into a deep teaching on hope and where to find it.  As peace goes hand in hand with purpose, hope gives fuel to our purpose.  Rick Warren states, “Hope is essential for handling the crisis in life.  When a man has hope, he is capable of enduring incredible burdens.  When hope is gone, people fall apart.”  My hope for God’s plan and purpose for my life got me out of bed each day these past two years.   I am going to choose to write on hope first….looks like there will be a part I and part II after all!

I have spent much time processing the idea of hope since February 2011.  I have read books on hope, talked to my counselor about hope, searched the scriptures for hope, cried out to God concerning hope, and finally clung to hope. My hope is what enables me to carry on each day in our new home, a new state, a new church, a new town, but all with the same purpose.  I did not see the clear connection between hope and my purpose until today. Hope gives me the strength and the desire to walk in my purpose.  Hope gives me the ability to see and plan for a future…because I know my life still has a purpose.  My search for hope actually was a result of my search for joy.  Following is something I previously wrote about hope and joy, which directly relates to hope.  This was written March 2012. 

About a month ago, a week after the one-year mark, I suddenly came to an all time low. I say suddenly, but it crept on me for a couple of days, and then I was suddenly drowning. I felt that there were no expressions left in my face. I could not smile. I did not want to talk. Life felt blank, bland, and completely, utterly, absent of joy. I had never experienced this particular, specific mood, to this extent. I had to remind myself again, as before, “Breathe,” and “Breathe deeply.” I don’t remember how it happened, but I somehow ended up on the phone with Julie, and I broke down on the phone and told her how empty I felt, that there was no joy. She said that she had noticed it as well. She immediately took charge of all of the boys and gave me the next three hours alone in my house to work through this extreme low. I went upstairs and decided to write but knew that I could not post it at that time. I was not even sure that I could write it all out in this form, so I chose to write a poem to describe my emotional state. I was in a mental search for joy. I was trying to get a grip on biblical joy, what it meant, and was it wrong for me to not be feeling or walking in joy at this time. Following is the poem that was produced out of that quiet time of searching and experiencing this great void.

Mystery of Joy

Empty void monotonous blank 

Duty bland continual drudgery

Robotic expressionless motionless numbing

Invisible, concealed, hidden, covert
Stir it up, seek for it, dig for it, fight for it
Uncover it, desire it……mysterious joy

Keep moving, lean forward, believe, trust
Presence, feeling, absence, searching
Discovering, understanding……mysterious joy

Written by
Jene’ Barranco
February 28, 2012

I sat on all of these feeling for a couple of weeks then searched the scriptures more deeply concerning the topic of joy. After reading countless scriptures and many studies on joy on the Internet, I realized that I was not in a place yet to feel, show, or walk out any form of joy, as we know joy. Then I came across this verse in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” This jumped right into my heart when I read it. I thought to myself, “I can be joyful in hope….this is something I can do.” I can be joyful in my certainty (my hope) of God’s sovereignty. I can be joyful in my anticipation (my hope) of God’s perfect plan for my life. J. Hampton Keathley, III said in a study on hope,
“By its very nature, hope stresses futurity and invisibility. Things we have not received, can’t see or both. It changes how we see ourselves. It changes us into pilgrim persons, people who see this life as a temporary sojourn. It changes what we value. Hope, if biblical, makes us heavenly minded rather than earthly minded. It affects what we do with our lives - our talents, time, treasures. The Christian life, if it is grasped according to God’s truth, is a magnificent obsession with an eternal hope, a hope that does not lead to an escapist attitude, but to the pursuit of life on a whole new dimension. It makes you bullish on the potentials of life as stewards of God. It gives us power to live courageously to be all God has called us to be in Christ.” 
I do have an obsession with an eternal hope. I am pursuing life on a whole new dimension. I am living courageously to be all that God has called me to be in Christ. My hope has changed my values, or rather secured them even more. I am a pilgrim on this journey. My ability to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer,” is the force that pushes me along this long road. 

 “May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in Him.  Then you will overflow with hope…” Romans 15:13

“I have hope when I think of this: The Lord’s love never ends: His mercies never stop.  They are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:21-23

“I have plans for you, not plans to hurt you.  I will give you hope and a good future.” Jeremiah 29:11

(I recommend reading The Hopeful Heart by John Claypool.)

Day 3 - Choose Peace

If peace of mind is a gift from God, and essential to living a purpose driven life, and all we have to do is accept it, or rather choose it, why don’t we all simply choose peace?  Isn’t it a “no brainer”?  Why would we not want to receive it?  Rick Warren says, “We can’t have the peace of God until we make peace with God.”  Are you waiting to receive the peace of God but won’t let go of that one question of, “But why God?”  Why didn’t You do this thing for me?  Why did this person have to die?  Why won’t that person give me an explanation for their life? I’ll receive Your gift of peace, but only after you give me some straight answers to my questions.  These kinds of questions are all wrapped up in the disguise of pride and jealousy.  The gift of peace is sitting right there in front of us and yet we choose the wrong box every time we allow ourselves to pick up pride or jealousy and all of the questions that come with them.  (Actually, in most instances, pride and jealousy are creatively wrapped up in the same package.)  Is it possible to effectively walk in God’s purpose for our lives, know and understand our purpose, and continue to leave the unopened gift of peace sitting there in front of us?

I believe the answer is no.  With that said, I choose peace.  If receiving God’s gift of peace is the first step to discovering (or recognizing) my purpose, and understanding it, then I want peace.  The prayer for peace had been a constant prayer of mine long before Michael died.  I longed for peace on a daily basis.  I knew it was the skeleton that held my little family unit together. Was the peace always there? No, but it was an intentional effort on our part to try to keep the peace.  Having a household that is inhabited by the peace of God can, in and of itself, be the only witness that some people need in order to experience the love of Christ in action.  I discovered something else interesting about walking with God’s gift of peace and purpose. It can make other people mad! When they can’t understand your peace, or the decisions you make based on your peace, it can stir up all kinds of ugliness. Isn’t that a peculiar thing?  Often times, I think it is the freedom that makes them mad.  When we are driven by our purpose and seeking peace with each step we take, we are freed up from the bondage that this world tries to impose through fear, material things, or the approval of what other people will think. When we seek God’s peace and live our lives with the purpose God put inside of us, we are not going to please everyone.  In his discussion about what drives our lives, Rick Warren states, “One key to failure is to try to please everyone.  Being controlled by the opinions of others is a guaranteed way to miss God’s purposes for your life.”  I don’t want to put aside peace, and in so doing, dilute my purpose, in order to make someone else feel better about my life, my decisions, and the direction God is taking me.

Peace and purpose go hand in hand.  Do you have peace in your life?  If you can say yes, then you are probably successfully living and being driven by your purpose.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.”  It does not happen on its own.  As we must consecrate each day and welcome God’s will into our lives, each day we must do as it says in I Peter 3:11, “…seek peace and pursue it.” Daily we must keep our purpose firm, “…eyes straight ahead, eyelids right before us”.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Day 2 - Recognizing Purpose

In my life leading up to today’s teaching for Day 2 from What on Earth am I Here For, I did not have “issues” with the three main questions that Rick Warren proposes are life’s greatest questions: the question of existence, the question of significance, and the question of intention.  To my remembrance, I have never struggled with these questions in my entire life.  I have always known there was a reason for my existence, that my life mattered, and that there was a purpose for my life.  But since I lost Michael, my life, my journey, my purpose, has taken an extreme detour and it has caused me to not recognize my purpose as easily as I once did.

A detour does not mean my purpose has changed, it only means that the road on which I will be traveling while walking in that purpose is leading me in a different direction.  I wrote about this in my first blog, A Woman’s Heart, which followed my heart, my pain, my faith, and my hope the first fifteen months of my grief.  This particular post was entitled, “New Map, Same Destination?”  My purpose looked differently when I was married to Michael Barranco but the purpose God planned for my life has not changed just because Michael is no longer with me on the journey.  I have been stumbling through using a new map when I had been quite comfortable with the old map.  I had to deal with the question, “Is the destination (my purpose) still the same, even though I have a new map?”  Physically, my purpose looks differently now, but its still the same purpose.  I am still looking at my purpose every day and trying to recognize the new face it has.

When someone has had a terrible accident and has completely damaged their face, they have reconstructive surgery and scars, sometimes to the point that their close friends may look at them and think, “Is that you? You look so different? “  It may even be uncomfortable to be around them at first because things feel different than they once did.  Eventually, familiarity is restored.  Since Michael died, I feel like I am squinting while looking at the purpose God has had for me since the beginning of time, straining my eyes to see something familiar.  In my mind I think, “Is that you, Purpose?  How will you look without Michael by my side? How will you manifest yourself now that the surroundings and the people have changed?”  This is where I struggle.

I know the significance is there.  I know there is still a purpose for my life but I feel like I have been given a new owner’s manual to teach me a different way to use a tool that I not only have had my whole life, but had also used it so much that it had become comfortable in my hand. I am not comfortable with my purpose right now.  I think my purpose had gotten so intertwined with Michael’s purpose that it is strange to see my purpose separated from his.  My purpose and I are getting reacquainted and trying to get past the awkward moments of not knowing how to act or what to say.  I am recognizing its face more and more with each passing day.  Every once in awhile, a situation will arise or a conversation will take place with someone new and, suddenly, I catch a glimpse of purpose, in a new location.  I almost feel my heart say, “There you are. I have missed seeing you.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 1 - Eyes Straight Ahead

I remember years ago, when my oldest daughter, Mia, was about two years old (she is now almost twenty-one), I began to pray earnestly for God’s will in my life. It became a daily, passionate petition. I wanted to be in His perfect will at all times in my life. I wanted Him involved in the details of my life. I didn’t care if it looked different to the world…. and it has almost always looked different. “Not my will Lord, but your will be done in my life. I don’t want to be conformed by this world. I want to walk and live set apart for your purposes. Use me Lord. Use my gifts, use my hands, use my words.” 

I heard a speaker one Sunday, several years after beginning that daily prayer, who did covert mission work in Iraq during the active wartime, and he shared some stories of the extremely dangerous situations he had experienced while carrying out these missions. He explained the supernatural ways that God delivered him in every one of the circumstances. He stopped at one point and said something profound and I felt like we were the only two people in the room, as if he was sharing a secret with me that I was going to need in order to stay the course. He said, “I am safer in the middle of the most dangerous war zones in Iraq while in God’s perfect will for my life than I would be if I were living a comfortable life in America outside of His will.” It sunk down into my heart like a hunter’s well -placed arrow into the heart of its prey. It nailed me. My desire to be in God’s will, and walking in His purpose for which I was created, became engrained in my heart yet another layer deeper.

During these early years of proactively seeking God’s purpose and will for my life, He had me submerge myself into the book of Proverbs. I read through that book over and over, continuously for years. It was all I was supposed to study. I fell in love with every little morsel it had to offer me. During those years, my children were around 5,2, and 1. My only time to myself was early in the morning, so I rose at 4:30 a.m. and had Proverbs and God all to myself for two hours. The verses became planted down inside of my soul and I noticed they would rise up out of my spirit when a situation arose that called for the wisdom of Proverbs. Having Proverbs as ammunition for the daily battles in my life brought me a miraculous amount of peace. (Even during a time when things should have been crazy with three small children, beginning the long road of homeschooling, coaching and training 15-20 hours a week, and supporting my husband while his architectural career began to take off at break neck speed.) 

 One verse in particular stood out to me and became almost like a daily mantra for me. It was my request to God every single morning with a hunger to stay earnestly focused on the next step and place that step exactly where He wanted it to be. In Proverbs 4:25 &26, I found the prayer that not only led me into each day as a young mother, but it has given me the strength, the wherewithal, and the courage, to look each new day straight in the eyes since my husband tragically died. I feel now as if my lips are pursed together, my chin tilted slightly downward with determination, and I am leaning into unknown frontier. My eyes are narrowed in on the path that lies before me. Sometimes I feel like I am in a jungle and I am blazing the path with a machete in my hand, knowing that my very survival depends on each step I take. “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and you eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established.” 

Today I began a 40 day study of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has recently been expanded and released as What on Earth am I Here For. I am doing it with a small group of seven other women from my church and we are committed and accountable to one another as we press into this teaching. The irony in it is that this was one of my husband’s all time favorite books. It brought about a paradigm shift for him in the way he saw his purpose in this life. His favorite line he remembered, and frequently quoted, is the first sentence in the book. “It’s not about you.” His life became increasingly more and more about worshipping God, connecting with believers, maturing in his faith, and serving all people. He was walking out God’s purpose in the ordinary task of daily living and making a difference in everything he set his hand to do. For some reason, I never read the book. (Maybe because I was still stuck in Proverbs!) 

 Today, I began reading the book that helped visibly change my husband’s life and take his relationship with God to a whole new level. Proverbs 4:18 describes his life well. “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter until that perfect day.” My path is finally getting brighter after two years of survival in the midnight hours of what felt like complete darkness. I have never asked God, “Why?”, through all of this pain and grappling in the dark…. but I have asked, “What?” “What do You have planned for me?” “What on earth am I here for?” “What are You doing through all of this?” “What is my purpose?” “What do You see in me?” “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible,… everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” Colossians 1:16  I have been in what has felt like the dangerous trenches within the heart of a bloody war zone for my heart and my life, since I learned of my husband’s sudden death on February 22, 2011. I have survived. Because of my prayers for years leading up to that day, and God’s abundant grace and mercies, I have been kept safe in God’s perfect will. There is a purpose for life. My life has significance. It may be invisible to me most of the time, but I am determined, with my “eyes straight ahead”, to discover it and fight for it.,