Saturday, May 30, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED???

So it would appear that my blogging wheels fell off this past week and a half.  WAY off.  We finished school, and without any structure whatsoever to our days, we've gotten almost NOTHING accomplished, including my thirty-day study, #livefreeThursday posts, laundry, cooking, other household chores, etc.  So, starting this weekend, I am recommitting to this blog.  I will jump back into my thirty-day study, I will post the #livefreeThursday post I wrote for last week but never posted, I will introduce the amazing artist who is helping me with blog photos, I will put our house on a schedule to help structure our days, and I will get myself back on track.  But first, I will fall on my knees at the foot of the cross, beg forgiveness and mercy and grace, and plead with my Savior to guide me and help me in these endeavors!!

Please stand by!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Winds of Change

First thing this morning, I headed upstairs to see what my kids were doing.  Immediately, they directed my attention outside.

"The big tree is down!  The big tree... it's down!!!"

Wait, what??

I looked out the window, and I was utterly shocked.

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When we moved into this house almost exactly two years ago, we found that the big, beautiful oak at the edge of the yard was actually dead.  We were charmed by its beauty and the lovely tree swing hanging from its lowest branch, so we left it.  Since then, the tree has slowly been losing branches.  First, the tree swing branch came down.  Then another large branch fell.  We knew it was just a matter of time before we lost the entire tree to a storm or strong wind.

This morning, when my children told me, "The big tree is down!" I looked out, expecting to begin the mourning process for the dead tree.  I thought I would see its remains littering our yard.  Imagine my surprise to see it still standing straight and true, just where it has always been.




I looked to the right, and my shock deepened.  The tree on the ground was a massive oak.  We knew it had some dead branches and hollow places.  There were several families of squirrels residing inside the tree.  We've spent hours watching wildlife scamper and flit among this tree's branches.  We've left food for the squirrels at the base of the trunk.  But now?  Now it is laying on the ground, broken, uprooted, and dying.






We will mourn the loss of this big, beautiful tree and the life it has provided in our yard. 

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Many things in this life are out of our control.  Things happen every day that cause pain, heartache, disappointment, and loss.  And we can't control them any more than we can control the wind that took down my tree.  In the midst of those storms, it is tempting to look around and ask, "Why, Lord?  Why this?  Why now?"  It is easy to see how people come to be angry at God when things don't seem to be fair or to make sense.


Why did You take this person and leave that one, God?  This person was providing for his family, he was a light to his friends.  He devoted his life to following You.  Why?

Why is my child sick?  I've followed You and trusted You, and now my child is very ill.  Why?

Why didn't I get that promotion?  I've worked harder than anyone in this place, but I keep being overlooked.  Why?

Why aren't my dreams coming true?  Everyone else's dreams are happening all around me.  But I'm still here, sad and lonely, with nothing to show for it.  Why?


Why did You take this tree that was still alive and leave the one that was already dead?  This tree provides shelter and food for many creatures in my yard.  Why this one, God?  Why not the other?  We were expecting to lose the dead tree.  We weren't ready to lose this one yet.  Why? 

Why?  Why?  Why?

In those hard moments, we sometimes forget the wealth of promises that God has already given us.  He promises that He has a plan for our lives (Jer 29:11).  He tells us of his deep, abiding love for us (John 3:16).  He even promises us protection.


Copyright 2015 Devon Atkins


Sometimes things happen in life that don't seem to make any sense.  We are left wondering why.  I don't have an answer, but I know the One who does.  In those hard moments, in those moments when I don't understand, I know that the only thing I can do is cling to the One who can answer every why.  When life is out of my control, I can rest in knowing that the One who is in control has got me covered.  He has commanded His angels to guard me.  That's when I have to rely on faith, even when faith doesn't make sense. 


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Lord, when the winds of change blow and trees begin to fall around me, help me to trust You.  Help me to lean further into Your grace and protection.  Remind me that You have ordered Your angels to cover me.  Help me to bring you all of my why questions and to be content in knowing that You have an answer.  I want to let go of trying to control my life so that I can turn it over to You.  Amen.

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This post is part of #livefreeThursday with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.




http://tsuzanneeller.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Thirty Days--Day Three and Day Four

As part of a small Bible study I host, we've challenged ourselves to take thirty days and spend intentional time in the Word and in conversation with God.  Each of us came up with a specific plan to make a DATE (Determine A Time Every day) with Jesus.  My plan is to wake up early, spend time with Jesus, and blog each day about what I've learned or what I've heard from God.  These will be pretty nitty gritty posts, not polished, no graphics, just me, writing what God puts in my heart.  This will push me and stretch me and hopefully grow me closer to who God wants me to be.

Life has intervened in my blogging plans, so I am a couple days behind here.  I have, however, been spending time in the Word and talking with God.  I just haven't had a chance to get it blogged.  I will be doubling up blogging until I get caught up.  
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Day Three

1 Samuel 10:14-16

Saul had finished prophesying with the group of prophets and went to the high place, just as Samuel directed.  Saul's uncle came to them and wanted to know where they had been. When Saul mentioned that he'd met with Samuel, his uncle wanted to know what the priest had told Saul.

Was his uncle curious?  Did he know about the prophesying?  Was he a devout Israelite?  Was he being nosy?  What were his motives for asking?  Was he worried?  What was the relationship between Saul and his uncle?  Were they close?  What was the emotional and political climate as Israel waited for Samuel to anoint a king?  What did Saul's uncle think Samuel could have said?  There aren't many clues in the scriptures, but it makes me wonder.

Saul only told him of the message that the donkeys were safe.  He left out mention of the kingship.  Why?  Was he ashamed?  Afraid? Embarrassed?  Did he not believe Samuel?  Was he concerned that his uncle might threaten his safety or be jealous?  Why would he not share this news?  Again, there aren't really clues in the scriptures, but it makes me wonder.

When we receive messages from God, are we to share or should we keep it to ourselves?  Where is the line there?  Does it depend on the message.  Is God speaking to me for my own personal growth?  Or is He speaking to me to reach others?  Is there a difference in how we respond?

I don't know that I have any answers to these questions.  Is there ever a right time to keep God's messages to ourselves?  Or should His words always be shared?

Lord, give me discernment and guidance about when, where, and how to share Your word with the world around me!  Let it always be about You and never about me.  Amen.

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Day Four

1 Samuel 10:17-26

Samuel called together all of Israel in order to appoint a new king over them.  He gave them God's message:
I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.

He reminded the people of God's power and grace, how He had delivered them time and time again, yet they still demanded an earthly king.  Samuel was there in order to give the people what they wanted.  They chose their king.  Except when the time came to name Saul, he was nowhere to be found.  He was hiding with the bags.

Wait, so Saul is chosen as king over Israel, and he's hiding from it?  Didn't Adam and Eve try to hide from God once upon a time?  That didn't work for Adam and Eve, and it didn't work for Saul.

God has a specific plan for each of us.  When He reveals that to us, we can choose to accept that and live up to the calling, or we can try to hide from it.  Living a life of faith and freedom means walking into God's plan for our lives with hearts and minds wide open.  We can try to hide among the baggage, but God sees us even then.  And His plans for us are unchanging.

Lord, please give me courage and strength to step into the plans You have for my life.  Help me to always stand strong and to be bold.  Let me never hide from Your dreams for me.  Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Thirty Days-Day Two

As part of a small Bible study I host, we've challenged ourselves to take thirty days and spend intentional time in the Word and in conversation with God.  Each of us came up with a specific plan to make a DATE (Determine A Time Every day) with Jesus.  My plan is to wake up early, spend time with Jesus, and blog each day about what I've learned or what I've heard from God.  These will be pretty nitty gritty posts, not polished, no graphics, just me, writing what God puts in my heart.  This will push me and stretch me and hopefully grow me closer to who God wants me to be.

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Day Two

1 Samuel 10:10-13

Saul and his servant had just met Samuel.  Samuel hinted that he was going to appoint Saul as king over Israel, but Saul had his doubts.  Samuel gave Saul a list of events that would happen that day as a sign from God.  One of them was that they would meet a procession of prophets, and Saul would join them in prophesying.

Just as Samuel had said, Saul met up with a group of prophets and began prophesying with them.  Today, we think of prophets as those like Samuel, who heard from God and knew the future.  However, more often than that, prophets were simply those who spoke God's words and inspired His people to follow Him.  The scriptures didn't record what Saul prophesied, but it is likely that he began speaking things he had learned in the temple as a child or young man.

Regardless of what he said, it is apparent in verse 11 that this kind of behavior was very out of the ordinary for Saul or his companions.  People began mocking him, asking, "What's this now?  Saul is among the prophets?!"  It was just as Samuel had said, but the people were making a joke of it.

Again, I can't help but wonder how I would feel in Saul's position.  He came from a wealthy family, upstanding and likely important in the area.  He had gone out on a vital mission to locate his family's donkeys and found Samuel instead.  As if telling Saul that he was going to be king wasn't enough, Samuel also told Saul about some strange things that would happen that day, and they did.  Was Saul scared?  Was he encouraged?  Excited?  Frightened?  Freaked out?  I imagine that he was feeling a mix of these emotions and more.  As strange as it was for others to see him prophesying, it must have been a strange feeling to suddenly be speaking God's words with no prompting or preparation.  God was trying to prepare Saul's heart for ruling Israel, but was Saul getting the message?

A couple things come to mind here.

First, so many times God calls us to do things that might look a little strange to the world around us.  Stepping out in faith might call unwanted attention to us.  Like Saul, people will probably ridicule us for following God when that takes us on a path that is very different from our peers.  We might lose friends.  But God promises us that He will provide everything we need.  That includes protection for our feelings and strength in the hard times.  We have to be willing to be faithful to do His will, even when it is scary, feels strange, or might seem foolish.

Second, God's plans are so much greater than our own.  Romans 8:28 promises us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.  God had a plan for Saul.  He was trying to use this moment with the prophets to prepare Saul for something greater.  God is using the strange, the difficult, the absurd, the painful, and the hard to change us and mold us.  He wants us to be transformed.  But that requires us to be faithful in those situations.

Lord, grant me the courage to step out in bold faith, to go where You call me to go and do what You call me to do, no matter how weird it may look to the world around me.  I want to be who You want me to be, and I want to accomplish Your plans for my life.  Fill me with Your peace and courage, and strengthen my faith.  Amen.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Thirty Days-Day One

As part of a small Bible study I host, we've been challenged to take the next thirty days and spend intentional time in the Word and in conversation with God.  Each of us came up with a specific plan to make a DATE (Determine A Time Every day) with Jesus.  My plan is to wake up early, spend time with Jesus, and blog each day about what I've learned or what I've heard from God.  These will be pretty nitty gritty posts, not polished, no graphics, just me, writing what God puts in my heart.  This will push me and stretch me and hopefully grow me closer to who God wants me to be.

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Day One

1 Samuel 9:1-10:9

Saul went on a mission to find his father's missing donkeys.  Instead, he found Samuel, and the course of his life was forever changed.

The people of Israel were demanding a king.  They'd been ruled by Judges, men appointed by God to lead them spiritually and judicially, for many years.  But the Israelites looked at the nations around them, all ruled under a monarchy, and they wanted the same.  Samuel warned them against it, but God had bigger plans.

Verse 9:1 says that Saul's father, Kish, was a "man of standing."  He must have known about, and probably even participated in, the cry for a king.  Saul knew, as well.  They also knew who Samuel was.  They would have known his reputation.

On their search for the missing donkeys, Saul began to think about giving up and returning home.  He was afraid his family would think he was lost.  They had searched far and wide over the course of three days with no luck.  Saul was probably discouraged and disappointed.  But his servant spoke of a seer, a man of God, "highly respected," and "everything he says comes true" who was in a nearby town.  Saul protested that they had nothing to give the seer.  They were out of food and money. He doubted the man would speak with them.  The servant pulled out a small coin and offered to use that to pay the man.  Saul agreed, and they went to the town where Samuel was staying.

When Saul and his servant approached Samuel, Samuel told them about themselves.  He already knew who they were and why they were there (God had spoken with him). Upon their first meeting, Samuel hinted at Saul's future in 9:20, saying, "And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father's family?" 

Then Samuel began to tell Saul all the things in store for him that day.  He would meet two of his father's men out looking for Saul and his servant.  He would meet three more men, one of which would give him two loaves of bread.  He would meet a procession of prophets and begin prophesying with them, and God would be with him in whatever he set his hand to do.  Then he was to wait for Samuel for seven days.

I can't help but wonder what I would have been feeling in Saul's position. I show up here tired, hungry, discouraged.  And then I come to a prophet, one who speaks directly with God, to help me find my father's donkeys.  And what the prophet says to me... The desire of Israel?  Israel wants a king.  Why would Israel be looking at me and my family for a king?  Are you saying that I'm going to be king?  I'm not sure I want that... OF COURSE I want that!  Power, wealth, fame beyond imagine...  but the responsibility...  I don't know how to be a king!  And how do you know that I will meet these people exactly where you say I will?  I don't know that I want to prophesy with a group of prophets.  Won't that look a little strange?  Why is this happening to me?  But Samuel says that God chose me.  I don't know if I want to be chosen...  The thoughts and feelings swirling in Saul's heart and mind must have been overwhelming.

But verse 10:9 says, "As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day."  Saul was confused and not entirely certain he believed Samuel.  He doubted that God would choose him.  He was feeling insecure and unsure of himself and what he had just heard.  God had a plan for him, but he didn't believe it.  But God changed Saul's heart.

God didn't give up on Saul, even when Saul couldn't quite get himself to believe in God's plan for him.  God changed his heart.

I know that God has plans for me.  Big plans.  More than I can even imagine.  But, like Saul, I feel unequal to the task of fulfilling those plans.  I doubt whether God has really chosen me, if He really knows what He's doing, if He realizes all my flaws and shortcomings.  I mean, I know that He created me, which means He also created those flaws and shortcomings.  But I doubt whether I can be used by Him and for Him.  But God changed Saul's heart.  And I know that He can change mine, too.

Lord, change my heart, just like you changed Saul's.  Grow me into whoever it is You want me to be.  Guide me on Your path for my life, and help me to cling to You through the tough times.  Amen.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Singing

Music has always been a big part of my life.  As a small girl, I dreamed of being a singer on a stage in front of huge crowds of adoring fans.  I craved that fame and attention.  I expected to do great things with my gift of music.





I pursued a music degree, I sang in choirs, I played and practiced, but I was never quite good enough or dedicated enough to become more than mediocre.  Meanwhile, I diligently watched shows like American Idol, just dreaming of my own place in the spotlight.  I so badly wanted that for myself.




As I matured, I slowly began to put away my dreams and face the reality that I will never be famous.  I thought I was okay with that.  I have been blessed beyond all that I can ask or imagine.  I don't need for anything.  I thought that was enough.




Recently, I was presented with an unexpected opportunity.   It was a small thing, but it was BIG to me.  During a Wednesday night rehearsal for Sunday morning worship, the lead guitar player began working through one of our songs.  I started quietly singing along.  The worship leader asked me... well, ordered me to sing into the microphone.  I did, and the whole band began to join.  After we finished the song, our leader decided that I would sing lead for that song on Sunday.  I was thrilled and a little nervous to accept, but I agreed.  I went home and practiced.  I even told friends about it, and we prayed that it would go well.




On that Sunday morning, as we began to rehearse the song before services began, the worship leader started singing the lead.  I was confused and dismayed.  I was confident that he would soon remember that he'd asked me to do this, we would stop, and things would be made right.  But that never happened.  We finished the song, ran through it again, and continued on with our morning.  I was stuck in a place of speaking up and making it about me, or letting it go and pretending like my feelings weren't hurt.  I did my best to let it go and move on, since I knew that was the "right" thing to do, but I was still hurt.  What had started out as an exciting morning quickly turned to disappointment.  I began putting that dream to rest once again.

Then, on the way to worship practice again, as He often does, God spoke with me through a song. 

If You want to steal my show, I'll sit back and watch you go.  If You've got something to say, go on and take it away.  Need You to steal my show.  Can't wait to watch You go.  Take it away!
--Toby Mac, "Steal My Show"
 BAM.  Instant perspective shift.

I've been praying for God to use me, which is just another variation of the dream of being famous.  I wanted to be famous for God.  I wanted Him to use me mightily.  I wanted to be known far and wide as a God girl, as someone who changed the world for Him.

But what I need to be praying instead is for God to CHANGE ME.  When I allow myself to be changed by God, my life becomes about Him.  I fade away.  It isn't about my talent or skill.  It's all about Him and what He's doing around me.  It isn't the song I sing, but the song He sings over me.





Lord, I pray that the cry of my heart will continually be CHANGE ME!  I want to be changed by You first and used by You second.  I want to be known as the girl who was changed by an everlasting Father.  I want to be transformed into whoever YOU want me to be.  I want Your song over me to be louder than any music I could ever hope to create.  Amen.

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This post is part of #livefreeThursday with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.



http://tsuzanneeller.com


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fifteen...

Fifteen years ago, I woke up for the last time as an unmarried woman.



The night before, we were too nervous and excited to sleep, so I had gone for a late night jog with my maid of honor.  She was freaked out by the cornfields surrounding my tiny hometown, and I remember teasing her about it.



My mom and I had planned the entire day.  We put together all of the food for the reception and decorated the hall and the church.  One of my bridesmaids and her mom arranged all of the flowers (artificial because of my allergies) as their gift to us.  My grandparents bought my dress and paid for the DJ.  Friends and family came from far and wide to celebrate with us.







 The day was beautiful, warm, and sunny. It was a perfect day marry my best friend!





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 Fast forward fifteen years.



The years in between then and now haven't always been easy.  We've had some really rough patches.  We've been through some hard times.  I've had a lot of learning to do about how to be a wife and a mother.  I'm not an easy person to live with.  I tend to be spacy and forgetful. I mess up dinner just as often as I get it right.  The laundry is rarely caught up.  The house is usually a wreck.  I don't always show my husband how much I love him in ways that he can feel.






But today, fifteen years later, I woke up married to my best friend.  We have two funny, smart, engaging children, a home like I've always dreamed of owning, a beautiful piece of land that is like our own little piece of paradise, food in our kitchen, shoes on our feet, love in our hearts, and I couldn't ask for much more.



I am so grateful for Mike.  I don't always get butterflies when he walks into a room, but he can still sweep me off my feet.  He makes me laugh, he encourages me, he makes me want to be a better version of myself.  He teaches me, he pushes me.  He is truly my other half.



I wouldn't trade these last fifteen years for anything in the world.  And I can't wait to spend the rest of my life exploring life with this amazing man I get to call my husband!



Friday, April 24, 2015

Brave

The word brave means something different to each and every person out there.  Most can agree on a basic definition, but the details of how it plays out in reality are as varied as the stars in the sky.


For my son, bravery has taken on the form of school work.  He's struggled with language arts for several years.  Spelling and writing are not easy for him.  This year he participated in an intense language arts program called Essentials, which is part of our Classical Conversations community.  In this class, he was required to write a paper every week.  He had to learn about grammar, sentence structure, parts of speech, and creative writing.  A year ago, he had never written more than a few sentences.  A few weeks ago, he finished a two-page research paper on John James Audubon and read it, in the character of Audubon, in front of his entire class and his classmates' parents.  He was nervous.  He was uneasy.  He had no idea how he was going to get through it.  But he did it.  And he was brave.
   

For my daughter, bravery means accepting an important role in an upcoming ballet.  She's been cast as Little Alice in the ballet Alice in Wonderland, which is being performed by Cornerstone Academy for the Performing Arts.  She's small, but she's mighty.  The part will probably be difficult for her.  It will require focus and concentration.  She will have to practice more than she's ever practiced before.  But I am confident that she will do an amazing job.  And she will face it with bravery.


 
 For one dear friend, being brave means standing up for herself, speaking her mind, and fighting for her marriage.  For a few others, bravery means advocating for their children despite disheartening diagnoses or doctors threatening hospitalization. For another, the simple act of getting out of bed each morning is an act of bravery.  Some are facing financial worries.  Others are dealing with medical issues, family problems, marital distress, difficult pregnancies, job loss...  the list of situations can go on and on.




For me, the definition of bravery has changed over time.  As a small child, I was brave when I underwent six hours of emergency surgery while a doctor pulled glass out of my forehead, leaving me with over four thousand stitches.  At another time, being brave meant holding myself together when my family was being ripped apart by divorce.  Sometimes being brave meant telling the truth, even when I knew it would hurt those I loved the most.  Sometimes it meant telling a lie to protect them, even when I knew the truth.  More recently, bravery has taken the form of breaking away from traditional school choices and homeschooling our children.  I had to be brave when God called me to open my home and lead a small Bible study, even though I'd never done anything like that before.

Today, though, and each week, my act of bravery happens when I hit that little "Publish" button up in the right hand corner of my screen.  I share my story, my life, and my heart through the words I type here.  God has preserved me through many things, and all the while, I was able to keep going because of His promise to use my story to bring glory to Him.  Several weeks ago, God pushed me to begin blogging.  It is slow going here, between homeschooling, mom and wife duties, and ministry, but I have been writing.  Each time I publish a new blog post, my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and I question myself.  But my Lord and Savior has called me to write.  So I'm writing.  My prayer is that each week, each month, my writing will become stronger, more in tune with God's call on my life.  I want these words to be His words.  But being transparent and allowing the world access to my heart is difficult.  It is scary and vulnerable.  It requires me to be obedient.  I have to be brave.




What does being brave bring to your mind?  Maybe it means standing in front of a room full of peers and speaking about something.  Or it could involve doing something that terrifies you.  Perhaps you would define bravery as the act of a soldier, police officer, fireman, or other service person performing their sworn duties.  I don't know your story, but I know the God who created you.  I know that He loves you and that He has great plans for your life.  Those plans will likely require you to face your fears, to be open and honest, and to be obedient.  In your own way, in your own time, you will have to be brave.

What does bravery look like in your life right now?  How may I pray for you in that?  I'd love to hear your story, to better understand what you are facing right now, so that we can encourage each other through prayer.

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This post is part of #livefreeThursday (albeit it a day late) with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.


http://tsuzanneeller.com

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring Blooms

Oh, how I love the promise of Spring!  It is hard for me to say which season is my favorite, because each one brings its own beauty.  And each season is a reminder to me of Jesus and His love for mankind.  In the Summer, we bask in His love as He lavishes us in beauty and warmth.  In the Autumn, as the leaves turn crimson and fall, I am reminded of the blood He shed on the cross.  The bleakness of Winter brings to mind the three days when Jesus was dead and hope seemed lost.  But in the Spring... Oh in the Spring, that which was dead returns to life, just like my beloved Savior!!

There is something fascinating about watching the perennials come back to life each year.  A week ago, the bush outside my window looked lifeless and bare.  Today, it sprouts leaves, and soon buds will appear.  Everywhere I look, things that were brown just a few days ago have turned green.  Trees have flowers and leaves.  Tiny leaves are pushing their way through the dirt towards the sun.  Flowers are beginning to bloom.  Life is returning, bringing color and beauty with it.

In the same way, our lives go through seasons.  Ecclesiastes 3 lists many things that have a time and place in our lives, only to move to something new.
1 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
   And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill,
   And a time to heal;
A time to  break down,
   And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep,
   And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
   And a time to dance;
5. A time to cast away stones,
   And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
   And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain,
   And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
   And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear,
   And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
   And a time to speak;
8 A time to love,
   And a time to hate;
A time of war,
   And a time of peace.
 Our lives come and go in seasons.  This is a natural part of living and breathing and moving through our world.  God designed us with seasons in mind.

I have been in a season full of grieving,  self-reflection, remembering, mourning, and sadness.  A chain of events outside of my control sent my world into a tailspin.  I questioned everything about who I am, who God is, and where I fit into this world.  It has been painful, difficult, and lonely.  I have been stuck in Winter for a few years now.  But Spring is coming!!


As I have begun to open my heart to God and to the people He is placing around me, I can feel myself blooming.  My leaves are uncurling and turning toward the Son.  I'm returning to life and growing.  And just like the bush outside my window, what once looked like dead sticks in the ground are now beginning to speak of life, resurrection, joy, color, and love once again!

Spring is coming!!!

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This post is part of #livefreeThursday with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.

http://tsuzanneeller.com


Friday, March 27, 2015

Waiting...

Have you ever waited for something? Maybe it was a favorite holiday. Maybe it was a package in the mail. Maybe someone was late for an appointment. Maybe someone promised you something. Regardless of the details, waiting can be excruciating. It requires patience and sacrifice and trust. Waiting is hard.

I was on the way home from a friend's house tonight when a song came on the radio. The lyrics hit me right in the center of my being.
I'm waiting, I'm waiting on You Lord
And I am hopeful, I'm waiting on You Lord
Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait
And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience 
While I'm waiting I will serve You
While I'm waiting I will worship
While I'm waiting I will not faint
I'll be running the race even while I wait 
I'm waiting, I'm waiting on You Lord
And I am peaceful, I'm waiting on You Lord
Though it's not easy no, but faithfully I will wait
Yes, I will wait
And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience 
While I'm waiting I will serve You
While I'm waiting I will worship
While I'm waiting I will not faint
I'll be running the race even while I wait
And I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting 
Songwriters:  John Waller Iii
Published by:  TRAVELIN' ZOO MUSIC

Peaceful?  Hopeful? Bold? Confident? Faithful? Am I really these things in the midst of my waiting? Yet the scriptures promise good things to those who wait upon the Lord. 

Isaiah 40:31 "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

Psalm 37:9 "For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land."
Lamentations 3:25 "The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him."

Waiting on God is scary, though. His timing is very different from my own. He has plans that look nothing like what I pictured them to be. Waiting on God requires faith... Sometimes more faith than I possess. In those moments, I can only cry out to Him and beg Him to help me in my unbelief. 

Lord, while I wait, help me! Help me to serve you, to worship you, to love you, to trust you, and to be at peace while You work out Your timing. I will serve You while in waiting. I will worship while I'm waiting. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Deliverance...

As I sit here, typing these words with tears in my eyes, I have no idea what to write.  Today is #livefreeThursday, but I'm feeling anything but free.  My life is a mess.  I have one child who just got over two days of high fever and upset stomach and another child who woke up early to an upset stomach.  I'm staring at mountains of laundry, both clean and dirty and a house that looks like it might have been ransacked recently. My husband messaged me a little bit ago to tell me that his entire load of work clothes seems to have oil stains and melted green plastic all over it.  I have half a dozen phone calls I was supposed to make early this week but still haven't made. I needed a shower two days ago. My home, my life is in shambles. 

I recently attended a session of Hearts at Home where the speaker was discussing Titus 2: 3-5.

"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind , and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
In order to teach these things, one must be living them herself.  Scripturally, we are to lead by example.  Looking around my home right now, I have failed this ideal miserably.  And I can't even bring myself to read about "The Virtuous Wife" in Proverbs 31.

I feel like one big failure.

It is in these moments that the enemy whispers in my ear.  "See?  You're not enough.  You can't handle the pressure of being a wife and a mom.  You'll never amount to anything.  You'll never be good enough. You'll never measure up. You suck." 

And he's right.  I am one big ball of mess.  I won't ever measure up.  I will never be good enough.


I will never be enough on my own.  I don't deserve God's love.  I've done nothing to make myself worthy of His notice.  But the good news, the gospel, is that I don't have to do anything to earn God's love.  He's given it freely to me, long before I ever knew His name.  Through that love, I have the power of Christ, who died for me even in all of my failures and screwups, to hold me up.  And that makes me enough.  HE makes me enough.

So today, I am going to cry out to God for His mercy and deliverance from these painful, difficult, demoralizing circumstances. I'm going to rely on Him to show me the next step to take, the next word to write, the next thing that needs done.  And I'm going to trust that He's holding me in the palm of His hand.  I am His child, He loves me, and He will see me through this day.  He will set me free!

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This post is part of #livefreeThursday with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Choices

Brenda is a mom of three beautiful daughters.  She packs up her bags to head home from work after noticing the darkened windows outside her downtown office.  As she steps out of the building to walk down the alley towards her car in the parking deck, a man steps out of the shadows and grabs her.  In that moment, she has to make a choice.




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Hard situations are a fact of life.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, WHENEVER you face trials of many kinds..."  James 1:1 (emphasis mine).  Note that this passage doesn't say IF you face trials, but WHENEVER you face them.  Hard times will come: job loss, sickness, deceit, cancer, violence, betrayal, infidelity, and even death.  These and countless other difficulties occur  because we live in a broken, fallen world.  And the results, the fallout, can be devastating.  These events can leave us feeling shattered, defiled, and utterly hopeless.  It can feel like the very ground beneath our feet has fallen away, leaving us stranded in the pain.  Like an old friend, worry can wrap itself around our hearts and cripple us.  In these moments, we have to make a choice.


Photo credit: monks-retreat.blogspot.com


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Brenda has a choice to make.

She and her daughters have been studying martial arts for four years.  In their classes, they train for different scenarios so that they know how to respond if they ever face that situation for real.  They work on blocks, kicks, strikes, stances, and techniques all designed to protect themselves from a possible attacker.  They practice these techniques in the classroom, using each other as the target.  They talk through the emotions that are brought up in the moment of contact.  They focus on remaining calm, trusting the training they've put in, and visualizing the effectiveness of the techniques they've rehearsed. 

At the moment that Brenda's attacker grabs her, Brenda has a choice to make.  She can choose to follow her fears and panic.  Or she can choose to tap into the training she's put in for the last four years, remain calm, and fend off her attacker.  One choice leads to more pain and fear.  The other leads to freedom and victory.  If Brenda chooses to panic, her attacker gains control of the situation and she is at his mercy.  If Brenda chooses to trust her training, she gains control of her attacker and he is at her mercy.  She has to make a choice.



From the outside looking in, it seems like the choice is obvious.  If Brenda has the capability to defend herself, she should do that.  If she can disarm and disable her attacker, that is what she should do.  However, if she has not practiced her art, if she has not used it enough to make it second nature, if she hasn't participated in enough classroom rehearsals of real-life scenarios, she might not be able to trust her training.  The panic might become overwhelming.  Her body might shut down.  Her reflexes might not be fast enough.  If she doesn't have confidence in her martial training, it becomes difficult to make the choice to use it when she really needs it.  If this isn't second nature to her, it will be almost impossible for her to make the choice to effectively defend herself.

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In the face of hard times, we have to make a choice.

We've been Christians for years.  We've participated in Bible studies, attended countless sermons and church services, served on mission trips, joined in prayer groups, and been to every church outreach.  We know the Scriptures and can quote them with ease.  We've counseled others on how to walk through difficult times.  We know all of the things to say and do to be a "good" Christian.

Then trouble hits.  A spouse loses their job.  A child becomes gravely ill.  Divorce looms large.  A dear friend is a part of a deep betrayal.  And we have to make a choice.  We can choose to follow our fears and panic.  Or we can choose to tap into the spiritual training we've put in for years, remain calm, and fend off the attacks of the enemy.  One choice leads to more pain and fear.  The other leads to freedom and victory.  If we choose to panic, the enemy gains control of the situation, and we are at his mercy.  If we choose faith, we give God the control and our enemy is at His mercy.  We have to make a choice.

Just as in Brenda's situation, the choice here seems obvious.  Our God is the Creator of all things. "I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel's Creator, your King." Is 43:15  He is faithful.  "O Lord God Almighty, who is like you?  You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you." Ps 89:8  He has already won victory over everything we face.  "On this mountain he will destroy the shroud the enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth." Is 25:8

Photo Credit: georgetteann.wordpress.com

 When difficult times loom large, the choice of faith over worry should be an easy one.  However, if we haven't put in the time to practice our faith in real life situations, if it isn't second nature to take our fears to the Lord, if we haven't trusted Him with the small things in our lives, if we haven't gotten to know our Lord on a day-to-day basis, trusting him in a moment of real difficulty will not be easy.  It won't be a choice that comes naturally.  It will be a struggle.  It will feel stilted and maybe even false.  And it won't be effective in overcoming the fear and worry of life.

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We are engaged in battle every single day.  Ephesians 6:10-13 reminds us of this.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  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.
Friends, we face hard times every single day.  Some are small and seemingly insignificant.  We can handle them on our own with ease.  But just like the classroom in a martial arts setting, these are the things that prepare us for "real-life scenarios," those moments when life gets too hard to handle alone.  If we aren't engaging with God daily, inviting Him into our lives, our struggles, our little daily difficulties, then we are missing out on training opportunities.  We can't become warriors without practice.  Would you join in in dedicating ourselves to inviting God into our training grounds?  Let us become prayer warriors so that we no longer have to struggle over what to choose when life gets hard!





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This post is part of #livefreeThursday with the wonderful women over at Suzie Eller's blog, tsuzanneeller.com.  Check out the links there for more encouragement.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Less

"Scabies babies!" they called us mockingly from across the parking lot.  Confused and embarrassed, I found myself growing more and more ashamed.  I was ostracized by these mean kids who I had thought were my friends because I had associated with the lonely, dirty boy in the  corner of the recess yard.  I contracted scabies from him, and they taunted us both about it mercilessly.  This was not my first taste of shame, nor would it  be my last.

Shame

Shame is defined by dictionary.com as "the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc. done by oneself or another."  We've all been there, embarrassed, guilty, humiliated by one thing or another, picked on, mocked.  But there was a time before shame became part of your existence.

My grandparents and I had an evening ritual every night that I stayed with them.  After dinner, we would turn on Lawrence Welk, and I would situate myself upon an old iron and leather foot stool.  That little stool became my platform.  The living room floor was my stage.  I sang and danced with my whole self during that hour, and my grandparents clapped and cheered me on.  It didn't matter that I didn't know the words or the melodies or the dance steps.  I sang and danced my little heart out.  I knew no shame in those moments.

Shame is not something that occurs from inside ourselves, initially.  As we grow and become more aware of the social constraints around us, as others point out our flaws and mistakes, as we watch the people around us and learn from them, as we are ridiculed and humiliated, we react by feeling shame.  We become embarrassed of ourselves or the people around us.  I was so confused when my classmates started calling me names, because in my mind, I had no reason to be ashamed.  I had done nothing wrong.  Yet when my friends began taunting me, I was overcome with feelings of humiliation and self-consciousness.

Adam and Eve had no shame, originally.  "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Genesis 2:25  They were naked.  And they were not ashamed.  They had not been taught that nakedness was taboo.  They had not experienced guilt or sin.  They were innocent and free to do as they pleased, within the boundaries God had set before them.  No one had told them that they SHOULD be ashamed or that there was anything wrong with their nakedness.  Until they ate of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings." Genesis 3:7  When God came to speak with them after this, He was not pleased.  "Who told you that you were naked?" Genesis 3:11  Shame was not part of God's plan for Adam and Eve.  And it is not part of His plan for you and I, either.

Less

His plan for each of us is that we must become less so that He can become more.

Fearless.  "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7

Guiltless  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24


Angerless  "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."  Ephesians 4:31-32


Less me, more God.  "He must increase, but I must decrease."  John 3:30

Shame is not of God.  It is put upon us by the world, but we do not have to accept it.  We don't have to take on the constraints that others place upon us.  We don't have to accept their labels as true.  Instead, we can take hold of the Less that God has for us.  We can be fearless.  We can be guiltless.  Like that little girl who once stood upon a stool and shared her heart for all the world to see, we can be shameless!

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This post is part of Suzie Eller's #livefreeThursday #shameless

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Power of Touch

Sit with me for a moment.  Close your eyes, or at least the eyes of your mind, and begin to feel.  Really feel what is around you.  Listen to your body.  Can you feel your socks or shoes?  Do you notice your jewelry or watch?  Is your hair moving on your scalp?  Are you feeling your chair or the floor beneath you?  Do your fingers feel the computer keyboard or smart device in your hands?  Every day, each moment, the largest organ in our body sends more signals to our brain than we could ever hope to comprehend or number.  For the most part, we completely ignore these messages.  You might feel your watch when you first put it on in the morning, but after a few moments, it simply becomes a part of your normal, everyday experiences, and you no longer notice it.

http://s2.favim.com/orig/33/beautiful-butterfly-free-hands-januarymidnight-Favim.com-268070.jpg#Beautiful%20butterflies%20in%20hands%20gif

Now think about the people around you.  How often do you shake hands with your colleagues?  How many times have you taken something someone was handing you--a pencil, a grocery receipt, a bag, a book, a report.  Did you hug your family before your day began this morning?  Did your children kiss you before bed last night?  All of these things have become part of our daily lives, as well, yet we don't always take the time to physically feel each experience.

In fact, we ignore most of what our skin, our sense of touch, is telling us until we are experiencing pain or discomfort.  You stub your toe or cut yourself.  You get a sunburn or clip a corner with your shin.  When something painful or out of the ordinary happens, the messages from our sense of touch become too loud to ignore.  They must be addressed.

Now think back to the first time you really recognized God's touch in your life.  It was exciting!  It was fresh and new, and you probably could hardly contain yourself.  Remember the first time you read John 3:16 and truly understood it's meaning. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Those words are powerful and strong.  But for so many Christians, this well-loved passage has become a part of daily life, like that watch that you never notice anymore.

We trudge along through our lives, loving God, believing in Him, and even trusting Him, but we've become complacent.  Scripture is full of hundreds of promises from God to us, yet we overlook them.  We ignore them.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. --John 16:33

Everything is possible for him who believes. --Mark 9:23

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. --Luke 10:19

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. --John 11:25

For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict...But not a hair of your head will perish.  By standing firm you will gain life. --Luke 21:15, 18-19

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. --Matthew 6:8

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. --John 14:12-14

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. --Matthew 11:28-30

These words of Jesus hold promises of strength, power, protection, and love.  And these are but a handful of the promises contained in the entirety of Scripture.  God has written down His love for us, and He has promised us much.

Yet, just like our skin, we often ignore most of God's touch on our lives time and time again.  We may know the words in our hearts and mind, but we've become so comfortable with them that we cease to notice the effect they have in our lives.  The busy-ness of our lives, the mountain of obligations in front of us, the abundance of our lives all work against us seeing God's hand moving in and around us.  We completely overlook His touch, until something goes awry.

When we hurt, when life gets uncomfortable, when things get messy, it becomes infinitely easier to turn to God.  And He is faithful to show up in those moments to provide comfort, guidance, peace, and love.  But when that is the only time we turn to Him, we are missing out on truly living out the life He has planned for us.  There is freedom in God's promises, in His touch.

Close your eyes, or at least the eyes of your mind, and begin to feel.  Really feel what is around you.  Listen to your heart.  Focus on God's promises in your life.  Feel his blessings flooding over you.  Remember His protection of your heart.  Notice His forgiveness lifting all of your burdens.  Feel His touch, and know the power of the Most High!

Live free in Christ today!
--Tammy



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linking up with Suzie Eller's #livefreeThursday