Thursday, August 29, 2013

Things I Learned This Summer (Part 1)

Hey Friend,

As the smell of school bus fumes fill the air and kids with bright new sneakers once again grace the halls of neighborhood schools, I thought it would be a good time to write my back to school essay..."What I Did This Summer".

Seriously, I did learn quite a few things about God, myself, my family and others this summer and I hope that you won't be bored to tears with my reflections...

After several years of what seemed like nothing but trials - a long drawn out divorce, my dad passing away, the dog dying, a rebellious son, extensive knee surgery and recuperation which made me have to leave a job I loved (teaching), and a few other plagues; dawn finally peeked through the darkness.

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

On May 31st, my summer began with the sweetest, kindest, most wonderful man in the world asking me to marry him.  I know that only God truly loves unconditionally, but I have to say that my fiancĂ© comes pretty darn close. I've been a busy bee making wedding plans.  We want something small and intimate, but boy I've realized what an industry weddings have become.  When asked by the florist who my wedding planner was, I replied, "You're looking at her!" 

One thing is for sure...God has been in control all along.  God is in the business of bringing beauty from ashes and He has never failed nor forsaken me.  Perhaps that's why I knew immediately what lyrics we would dance to for our first dance together as husband and wife:

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true

That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you     (Rascal Flatts)

Besides, this southern girl needs a little country to kick off what I know will be many happy years together. 

Now there's the little matter of fitting into the dress I picked out.  That leads me to another thing I learned:  It's a lot easier to put on weight than to take it off.  Okay, no big revelation there, but what matters is understanding why I put it on and having the right motivation to take it off. 

For why I put weight on, glance back at the 3rd paragraph.  I admit I am a stress and comfort eater (double whammy). When the goin' gets rough, give me the M&M's.  There is something physiologically soothing about eating a pint of ice cream.  But, God calls me to cast my cares on Him and find comfort and refuge beneath His wings.  Ben and Jerry's is a far cry from the comfort God can offer.

My motivation to take weight off was all wrong too. 

I am the temple of God and His spirit dwells in me. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

If my body was God's temple, then God was slummin' it for quite awhile.  I was not treating my body like a suitable dwelling place for God's Holy Spirit.  I will not say that this has been easy, but I did have to come to the realization that God had equipped me with everything I needed to make some radical changes in my life (which included my eating and exercising habits).  I had to believe with my whole heart in Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.

 Christ and I have taken off 45 lbs. and still have a way to go.  Like many things in life it takes commitment, obedience, accountability and encouragement.  Since taking that first step, God has been faithful to provide.  When I slip up or stumble, He doesn't criticize me, He just says, "Keep taking steps, Bev!"  God is pretty awesome that way!

I'm out of time and room for today and laundry calls my name so I will end this post with one simple thing I have learned...Whether they are two or twenty, children are most beautiful when they are sleeping.  Nuff said. 




Thursday, August 22, 2013

God Loves Us In The Midst Of Our Messy Lives

Hey Friend,

I finally found it...the copy of "Real Simple" magazine that I was hunting for through the cluttered pile of magazines and newspapers on my coffee table.  Alas, there it is with the captions that had caught my eye.  "A Place For Everything!  Ingenious Organizing Systems To Clear The Clutter For Good".

Ironic, kind of, wouldn't you say? Just follow these ten easy steps and your life will be completely organized, miraculously changed and you will be a much happier person.  I admit that I crave organization and simplicity, but my life and house are anything but organized and simple.  I think it is in my DNA to be a clutter-bug?!

This trait, unfortunately, draws me into the "comparison game"...a deadly game at best.  This is where I look around and compare myself to the other people, women in particular, that I see keeping tidy and organized lives and houses. Secretly I muse...they probably have a chore calendar for every day of the week and have all their meals planned out in advance.  My method involves opening the freezer door and whatever falls out onto my feet is dinner for that evening.

In addition to comparing myself to others, I have had the audacity to compare myself to about an impossible mountain to climb!  When I seek perfection in my life, I am being prideful and think that somehow I can achieve perfection on my own.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that God loves us in the midst of our messy lives.  He is mindful of our frame and the messes we make of our lives.  You see:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

No matter how big or small the mess, we ALL fall short of the mark.  Perfection-what we need to stand face to face with God is impossible for us to attain on our own.  We NEED GRACE!

"Life isn't about getting it right - but about receiving grace." (A. Voskamp)

God's grace, like rain, falls down on the broken, the down-trodden, the despised, the lonely, those who have failed and yes, even the mess makers.
Read the Beatitudes (blessed are those...) and you see what a heart God has for those who struggle and come up short in life.  All He wants is for us to turn to Him and He is ready and able to pour out His incredible love upon us. 

If your life is a mess, rejoice, you are a great candidate for God's grace.

What changes do you need to make to lead a life governed by grace vs. a life that is dictated by the bar set by this world?  Will you join me in inviting God's grace into your messy life?  He's ready and willing to love on you...



Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Less Is More

Hey Friend,

Sometimes I sit and reflect back on my life and I wonder what was I thinking?  How on earth did I do some of the things that I did?  What was my motivation?
Every so often it is good to reflect on the past, but not so much that we get tangled up in a web of regret.

I look back on my years in college and I wonder who was that girl that wore a superwoman cape?  I was a cheerleader, I was a choreographer in the dance company, I was VP of my sorority, I was the coordinator of Orientation Board - the group that organized the week of freshmen orientation, and I graduated summa cum laude with a double major???  Whew, makes me tired just thinking back on it.

I graduated into adult life and the path continued...I coordinated rather large chapters of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) - one in PA and one in IL.  I was very active in church.  I sang (tried to sing) in the choir, I taught Sunday school, I was a senior high youth group leader, I led numerous Bible studies and was a small group leader...and the list goes on!

I was a modern day Martha - running around in circles, "doing good and serving" while my other lazy sisters in Christ simply sat at Jesus' feet and drank in His words.

Serving is not a bad thing, but too much serving begs the question, "Why?"  Looking back I can see that subconsciously I was compensating for a low self-esteem.  Maybe if I succeed in doing all these things, I will feel better about myself.  I also think that I didn't buy into the fact that God loved me just as I was. 

Christ's words, "Come as you are..." (John 6:37) were lost on me.  I felt like I had to perform for God in order to be fully loved.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The enemy was having a field day with me.  I bought into his lies that "more is better" and resting, savoring and simply sitting at Jesus' feet was lazy.  I was a striving maniac...always in "Go" mode.  No time for resting, reflecting and just being.  No sir, not me!  I really wasn't living life as it was meant to be lived.

Satan's name means "adversary" and he is definitely adverse to anything that resembles abiding in the Lord.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.  (John 10:10)

I was so busy serving (serving who?) that I wasn't living life.  I had traded in my freedom for performance and it was slowly killing me.  I believed the enemy's lies that I had to do more or I really wasn't a "good" Christian.  That is the voice of condemnation and that is not how God speaks to us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

Whenever you feel unloved, unimportant or insecure, remember to whom you belong. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Fortunately my God is good and over time I have become confident in the truth regarding to whom I belong.  I have traded performance for freedom, striving for resting, shame for delight and death for LIFE!  Less actually is more!

I do less, but I live more...I now love the time when I can sit, like Mary, at Jesus' feet and drink in His word.  I believe the truth in Jeremiah 31:3. that I am loved with an everlasting love.

God is love and Love does not ask us to bury ourselves in the rat race of always doing.  Love lets you truly "Come as you are."  (John 6:37)



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fear Not - Easier Said Than Done

Hey Friend,

It's confession time again...I used to be a control freak.  Not that I don't still fall back into past patterns, but God has opened my eyes to why I tried to control things and why I don't have to anymore. 

What drives the need to have to be in control?  Insecurity, yes...I doubted my own ability to handle difficult situations.  Worry then became my constant companion.  But what drives a person to have contingency plans A-Z?  I'm afraid it's the four letter "F" word - FEAR. 

Fear results when we place our confidence in ourselves instead of in God. 

And, since I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, I lived as a very fearful person and that's no way to live.  I know, however, that I am not alone.  Most of us live with some degree of fear.  This world can be a hard and scary place a lot of the time.  God knows our frame - he knows that we are going to have fear.  That's why there are more than 300 scriptures in the Bible on fear.  God put them there, not so we will go on a guilt trip for having fear, but for reassurance when we do (and we will) face fear.

Sometimes when I get overwhelmed and fearful, I forget just how big God is.

That's when I turn to scripture to remind myself just how big God is.  The Creator who spoke the world, the oceans and the stars, into being; the One who knows the exact number of hairs on my head loves me beyond measure and is bigger than my fears!

If God is for us (me/you) who can be against us (me/you)?  (Romans 8:31)

The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

God is not only bigger and stronger than our fears, He takes it several steps further and promises to get rid of what we fear and will fight for us when we do fear. 

What are we to do with our fears?  Turn them over to God...why?  Because God IS love. And what does Love do?  It casts out fear.  If I hand over my fears to God and not try to handle them myself, what does He promise?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  (1 John 4:18)

When I was in the sixth grade, I was tall for my age.  People may find that hard to believe since I'm a whopping 5 ft. 3" now.  I just stopped growing after that point.  I vividly remember being on the playground and this one boy (bully) was tormenting my friend who was much smaller than me.  I'm not quite sure what came over this usually mild mannered young thing with braids, but I walked up to the boy; told him to stop teasing my friend and then I did it...I decked him.  Yep, laid him out flat on his back.  Of course I was immediately whisked off to the principal's office, but the mama bear instinct just rose up in me and I wasn't going to let someone I cared about be treated that way.

We are created in God's image and that's how He cares about us.  He will fight for us if we will let him.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  (Exodus 14:14)

Personally, the image that brings me the most comfort when I am fearful, is the one found in Psalm 23.  I picture myself as the lamb being nestled in Christ's strong, yet loving arms.  He's holding me safe - close to His heart.  I don't have to do anything but just be in His presence.  There is no expectation, no condemnation and He understands what I am going through.

As sheep we are prone to wander.  Sheep don't have any natural defenses like the quills of the porcupine or poisonous venom or sharp teeth and claws.  Basically, on their own, sheep are toast. 

The Good Shepherd goes to great lengths to protect his sheep.  Sheep are skittish, fearful animals.  The Shepherd calms those fears; makes them to lie down and rest; makes calm pools in running water so that they can drink.  His rod and staff protect the sheep and He will put His life in danger to protect His flock.

My soul ultimately finds reassurance that God and I are super-glued together.  Nothing...NOTHING...can separate me from His love.

For I am persuaded beyond doubt (am sure) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us (me) from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8: 38-39)

That's one "neither" and nine "nors" for a perfect score of ten.  Fear not - easier said than done, but thanks to God's merciful intervening, not impossible!  God is ultimately the one in control and His plan for us is good!



ps.  Just a reminder that if you are reading this blog, I continue to lift you up in prayer every morning and every evening.  May you be blessed!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hands Raised High

Hey Friend,

To grasp the significance of this post, you need to understand my background.  I was raised in a very staunch, conservative, Presbyterian church.  The church, itself, was absolutely beautiful in its cathedral style with vibrant stained glass windows and towering arches.  When it came to "warmth" of the service, however, let us just say you could practically ice skate down the aisles.  We jokingly referred to ourselves as the "frozen chosen". 

Don't get me wrong, I don't pretend that one size fits all when it comes to worship.  That's why there are so many different styles of worship because God reaches us all in different ways.  That being said, I remember the first time I went to a contemporary, non-denominational service with a friend, and horror of all horrors; these people actually raised their hand or worse yet two hands during the singing portion of worship.  I remember thinking...weirdos - must be religious zealots.  It's all a show. I would never be caught dead doing that!

Famous last words!  I have been attending contemporary, non-denominational services for at least twenty years and, you guessed it, I am moved at certain times; as the Holy Spirit moves in me, to raise my hand(s) during worship.  Yes, I am officially one of those people (gasp).  I can't remember exactly when it first happened, but I do remember that the feeling that came over me was so strong and I felt the words so passionately in my heart that I couldn't help but raise my hands in praise to my Father in Heaven.

But, I have learned, I am in good company.  Holding up one's hand in prayer and adoration began as early as Exodus in the Bible.  In Exodus 9:29 Moses replied, " When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord."  God even commanded Moses to  stretch out his hand toward the sky. 

David, in the Psalms (songs) lifts his hands many times in various forms of prayer.  He lifts them in praise, obedience, lament, surrender, sacrifice, grief, blessing and much more. 

Let me just share with you some scriptures that speak to the many reasons why Christians around the globe lift their hands during worship:

Praise:  "Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands."  (Psalm 63:3-4)

Sacrifice:  "May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting of my hands be like the evening sacrifice."  (Psalm 141:2)

Blessing:  "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord."  (Psalm 134:2)

Lament or Grief: "Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!  Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street."  (Lamentations 2:19)

Obedience:  "I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes."  (Psalm 119:48)

I could go on and on, but that's just a sampling.  Even the posture of our hands says something about the state of our heart.  When my children were little, they would hold out little dimpled hands and reach for me with a "language of the hands" that said "Hold me - I need comforting".  When they did that, I naturally picked them up and held them...much like our Heavenly Father does with us and He comforts us with His words..."I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you."  (John 14-18)

One of my favorite songs sung by Hillsong is "Forever Reign".  The lyrics go:

Oh, I'm running to your arms

I'm running to your arms
The riches of Your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
I picture myself, arms outstretched, running into the warm embrace of my Abba - my Daddy.
Sometimes my hands are in a posture of surrender.  They say, "I quit...I give up...I lay my burdens upon your altar, Lord."  Like Jesus I say, "Not my will, but yours be done."  Worship in music very often brings me to a place of utter surrender. I raise my white flag and I surrender to God.
My point here is not to convince you to raise your hands during worship, but to help you understand why some people do.  It's usually not a conscious just happens.
The Lord has been so very good to me.  He has seen me through so many trials.  He has never let the water sweep over me.  Though I swim in the depths, I never drown. 
But even when I begin to drown, I raise my hands unto the Lord and He lovingly picks me up and places my feet on dry ground!