Thursday, September 27, 2012

Climbing on Ashes

I finally figured out why my amazing friend, who seems to know me better than myself sometimes, would want to take me on a trip to climb Mt. St. Helens.  She is smarter than I; and in her wisdom, after passing many blog thoughts through her head as we ascended, she remained silent.  And, after writing about ten pages worth of blog notes in my journal on the plane ride home, I still wasn't sold on what the main point was.  There were many sub-points, but three days post-climb, I got it.

The T-shirt we saw (but neglected to purchase) in the "Lone Fir" registration shop sums it up "We Kicked Ash".

Ashes - that's what we were climbing on.

And, that's what God has taken me out of, and brought me on top of!

Ash, according to Wikipedia, refers to products that remain after fire or incineration or combustion.  When something or someone is burned or "blows its' top" (as in a volcano) there is almost always something left over from that.  And it is through or on top of that, that we climbed over and rose above.
She accompanied me on the climb, as Jesus has accompanied me every step of the way since my little life volcano.  Both, of which, have led me higher than I'd ever imagined I would go.

When we started the hike, before the tree line, it was easy.  Just a little winded from walking up hill, but the path was clear.  There were markers that were very easy to see, nice and blue, along our path, as long as we looked up every once in a while, it was confirmed that we were going the right way.  Post-combustion, God holds our hands as we hold His, and He gently leads us out from where we've landed.

Those great theologians, Lone Star, sang in their song, Mountains, "Walking's easy when the road is flat... the good Lord gave us mountains, so we can learn how to climb."

As we passed the tree line, it got harder, and our hike became a climb.  Climbing is different from hiking because it often requires the use of your hands to keep going up.  It is more arduous, but you get to go higher, too!  It is here that the pole markers were harder to spot.  Sometimes we would just keep going, not knowing if we were going the right way; yet very comforted when we finally saw a marker, confirming each step we had labored.

As we come to the tree line with God, we can choose to stay with Him, and go higher - or just take the easy way out and go back down, foregoing the view at the top.  If we stay with Him, closely obeying Him and following His markers for us, we can see some pretty cool stuff.  And we can rise above the nasty ashes left from our lives.  The markers, here, are harder to see, you have to search for them, as in this photo - and, sometimes, you don't see them at all.  But, as He has given me a hunger for scripture, He has been rewarding me with marking posts of peace, showing me that I'm climbing the right direction.

One thing I did not like to do during the climb was to look up.  It was frustrating because the goal looked so far away, and each step was hard.  I realize that every once in a while you had to, to make sure you were following the markers, but it was more palatable to just concentrate on the step I was on at the time.  In Steven Curtis Chapman's song, Beauty Will Rise, he says "It would take our breathe away to see the beauty that's displayed out of these ashes."  I think God was telling me here that He wants us to just cling to Him each day.  He doesn't want to show us where we will be in twenty years because we won't believe it - it will seem unreachable.

But when we get there, after following those markers and persevering, we can rise above the ashes!  We can see His Glory!  And, we can move on to climb something higher.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Living Wide Awake!

I bit the bullet.
Signed us up for a family serving trip to Costa Rica - and I can't wait!
One of my daughters (I'll let you guess), even told me that this is what she's always "dreamed about doing".  Maybe I should just leave her there.  (kidding)

The dream comment is big though.  I just finished Erwin McManus' book, Wide Awake.  It took me a while because I didn't want to read it at night since it was so motivating I didn't think I'd be able to sleep.  In it, he says that our dreams - the ones we dream while awake, are God's visions for us.  The things He puts in our hearts that He has designed for us to do.

"Our dreams are where the future is fueled and created."

So, when I heard the message at church last week, and 5% of it was about getting your kids out of their comfort zone to see what the majority of the world lives like, I grabbed that, or, God grabbed it for me, and wouldn't let it out of my head until I did something about it.

I figured someone would report me if I just took them to Haiti on my own, so, of course, God saved us the last spot on the family service overseas trip with our church. Woo whoo!

So, I guess my point in writing this is - read the book, but beware!  It just might get you to do something crazy, but it sure feels awesome when the crazy thing is something God is telling us to do.  Here are some writing samples that just might whet your whistle...

"Your dreams are a foretaste of the life you can have and the person you can become.  But before you'll ever live those dreams, you have to discover a dream worth living.  That's why God is so essential to this journey and why Jesus has come for us.  Long before you took your first breath, you were a dream - a dream in the mind of the one who made you.  He saw you before you were created, and he alone knows the full extent of your creative potential."

"While some dream to escape life; you dream to live."

"To live wide awake 
is to take responsibility 
for who you are 
all the talent and potential that resides within you.  
To live an awakened life 
you must have a sense of urgency 
fueled by passion 
the courage to take initiative."

Now, you know why I didn't read this at night.
I have so much underlined, so many pages folded, I don't want to put this book on the shelf, and neither will you.  I want it to spur me on to follow the dreams God gives me, and act on them, because that's what gets the blood flowing from the heart that was designed by the Master Creator to fully live!

Monday, September 17, 2012

She Who Has Been Forgiven Much...

Loves Much

Do you remember this story?  It is recorded in Luke 7.  Jesus anointed by a sinful woman.  He (Jesus) tells a story to Simon about two men who owed money.  One man owed more money than the other, but both of their debts were canceled.  Simon acknowledged that the man who had owed a larger debt would be more grateful than the other, which was the point.  The sinful woman showed her love for Jesus so much because she knew she had been forgiven so much.

While one point may be that the more we mess up in life, the more often we can experience God's amazing grace;  I think another point is the more we REALIZE how much we've messed up, the more we grab hold of and spend our lives for Him because we realized how much we NEED it!

Brings me back to the post about my youngest daughter and her nasty notes.  A few of you have asked if it worked (see Grasping Grace post)... Two things have happened since then that show that this grace thing really might be getting through.  First, the photo:  I was a goalie - she now wants to be goalie!

The second example is a little revealing, but worth it for the analogy.  She met her dad's new girlfriend this weekend.  (I new it was coming; I'm fine, thanks to God totally taking care of my heart and holding it in His hands, I am honestly not fazed).  But, she was not.  Her eyes swelled and she wept and held me as she hesitantly shared the news with me.  She did not want my heart to be broken.
She is the only one who responded this way.
Maybe, she is realizing how much she has been forgiven.  Maybe she cares for my heart so much because she realizes how much grace she has received from me?

The sinful woman was overwhelmed by Jesus' love so she responded by giving Him everything she had.
My daughter might just slowly be realizing how much I love her, and now, the things that just might break my heart, are breaking hers.

God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins because that is the only way we could be forgiven.
When we realize just how much we need this,
we will grasp it with both hands,
we will want to become like Him,
the things that break His heart will, too, break ours.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I LOVE my Thursdays!

I don't really mind when my house isn't clean (sometimes to the irritation of others).
I don't really enjoy dressing up (if theres a zip or a snap, my kids think I'm going out).
And, my grammar is not impeccable either (I'm sure you've noticed this).
So, I'm starting to learn why I am very comfortable, and thoroughly enjoy hanging out at Breakthrough, a Homeless Shelter (and way more) in East Garfield Park, Chicago.  Just seems to fit me better than the North Shore sometimes...

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of leading my first devotional.  I was assigned the topic, "Becoming A Woman of Strength", because that is the name of the series the group is in, and I was pinch-hitting.

My head told me - "That's perfect for you, you've been through a lot and have been able to display this!".
God told me - "You're life has been a cakewalk compared to the lives of those you're about to speak to, so, be prepared to learn a few things, My oh-so-confident child..."

For the next few hours (because conversations continued well past the designated thirty minutes), I heard about rape, eviction, cutting, drugs, prostitution, family abandonment, imprisonment, and the list could go on.

Cakewalk confirmed.

1 Timothy 4:7b - 8 has always been one of my favorite verses and was clearly spelled out for me:

"... train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." NIV

"Exercise daily in God - no spiritual flabbiness, please!
Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever."  MSG

For the past six months, I was getting to know some of these women through exercise (not a ton, mind you, because exercise is not really a top priority).  But, today, through Scripture, they showed me that "exercising daily in God" holds promise for now AND later.  That "physical health is susceptible to disease and injury, but faith can sustain us through these tragedies"(Life App. Study Bible).
A lot of these women had been saved and strengthened by God.  They knew the power that only God can put into a life that needs desperately to change.  God really DOES "give strength to the weary and increase the power of the weak." (Isaiah 40:29).  They were living proof of this.  And, because they had seen the faithfulness of God, they were hungry for Him - to learn more about Him and His faithfulness.  He doesn't make their muscles sore, He re-juvinates them!  Here they were, in a homeless shelter, recounting the ways God had blessed them!!  And, they just kept talking, they didn't shut up - I loved every minute.  Unlike the Bible Studies I've often been a part of where it's like pulling teeth to get someone to talk, they wanted everyone to know what God had done for them.

Yes, I want them to exercise because I know that they will ultimately feel better and have more energy, but training in godliness "has value for ALL things."  Whether well-fed, or hungry - and HE loves to meet and satisfy those who are hungry for HIM!  The Message translation of Psalm 73:25-28 paints a picture of what I was able to see yesterday:

"You're all I want in heaven!
You're all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look!  Those who left you are falling apart!  Deserters, they'll never be heard from again.
But I'm in the very presence of God - oh, how refreshing it is!
I've made Lord God my home.  
God, I'm telling the world what you do!"

Now THAT is a picture of what strength in the Lord looks like!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Unbroken or Broken?

I had the pleasure of forcing myself to read Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, for the past two weeks in order to be ready for an interview with Louis Zamperini (the man of whom the book is about) at church this weekend.
It was an awesome book, and I can understand why it was on the New York Times best seller list for 92 weeks.
However, I could not figure out why our Pastor wanted to interview Zamperini until the last few pages.  THAT was my favorite part.

Spoiler Alert:
The title "Unbroken" characterizes Zamperini's life for 90% of the book, but in the end, he is broken, and that characterizes his life from then on.  Thanks to Billy Graham, the man who was known for his strength, allowed himself to be broken.  And, it is in the breaking, that he was made whole.  Who else can completely take away revenge from a man's heart?  Who else can repair an almost broken marriage?  Who else can restore nightmares to peace?  Jesus.  The only One who can make a broken vessel whole again.

Zamperini's unbrokenness showed others how strong he was.  But, it's in his brokenness at the end, that allowed God to come in and give himself the inner strength that others saw.  He could not see his need for a Savior until he realized his own weakness  There is a strength that we might have deep down, but it is not complete until we see our weakness and allow ourselves to be broken and filled with a strength that comes from the one who made us.  When we realize this, God can use us to do even greater things than we could have done on our own.

Psalm 66:9 - 12  resembles a lot of Zamperini's life:
"He has preserved our lives - tested us - refined us - brought us into prison - laid burdens on our backs - let men ride over our heads - we went through fire and water - 
BUT you brought us to a place of abundance!"
It is this place of abundance that Louis Zamperini is basking in, and hoping to see very soon, all at the same time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

King David Vs. Honey Boo Boo

Walking my dog the other morning, we came across two very different women.  The first shrieked in fear when he slowly approached her for a sniff.  I quickly pulled him away, though he knew he wasn't wanted anyway, and then I kinda chuckled.  I was perplexed at how someone could be scared of this goofy looking gullump.  But, it was dark, and she had headphones on, so I'll give her that.

About 20 minutes later, another one passed, stating how beautiful he was.  He proudly pursued her, tail wagging high, looking at me as if to say - come on, let's get closer to her - she thinks I'm beautiful!
(I don't think male dogs are offended by the word "beautiful", I think they really know it's a good thing).  He couldn't keep his eyes off her, and if I were wearing roller blades, I would have had a nice ride.

We are made the same way.
We follow (aim to please, pursue to reach a goal) those who tell us we're beautiful.

Okay - now we'll get into the title;  I have a confession to make.  I watched Honey Boo Boo this week.  I also have a vow to make.  I will never do it again.  I am not a fan of those shows at all, mainly because they are obsessed with promoting outward beauty.

Psalm 45:11  says this:
The king is enthralled by your beauty; 
honor him, for he is your lord."

If we follow those who tell us we're beautiful, the question is, who are you listening to?
If we are listening to man, beauty actually moves outside onto our skin and we become prideful and high maintenance.  If we are listening to God, our beauty deepens, humility grows, we are more low-maintenance (way more enjoyable to be around). 

1 Samuel 16:7b says "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

This is where David comes in.  He knew this.  God called him a man after His own heart!  He was beautiful to God because He listened to what God said of him.  The King (Ps. 45) becomes enthralled by our beauty when He sees Himself in our hearts.

As for the other little lady; she, and several others, seem to be consumed in what the world thinks of them.  And, "beautiful" is actually a way better fit for a man (or my dog) in this challenge.  When Honey meets Jesus, now that will be beautiful!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You Are My Strongest Player

In an effort to implement June and Ward Cleaver-Style parenting; I went to bed before my oldest came home from her late soccer game the other night.  She was quite wound up telling me (who could barely keeping my eyes open) all about their win and how she played.  Then right before she left, she said;  "The coach pulled me aside right before the game and told me, 'you are my strongest player, so I'm putting you in forward'".
But she doesn't play forward - for the past few years she's been playing midfield, and she started at defense when her career began at age six.  Apparently he's got new plans for her.

I woke up the next morning and heard those words penetrate from a different angle;
"You are My child, whom I have chosen, and I'm putting you in forward now."  That got me pretty pumped!
Most of us, as new Christians, start out in defense, trying not to sin.  Keeping the enemy out of the net.
Then we get to a point where we move up a little, to midfield - playing defense and offense at the same time.  Trying to avoid sin as much as we can, but starting to branch out a little, too.

Forward, however, is fun.  "But you're a goalkeeper", you say, "how can you talk about forward being fun like that?"  Yes, that's true, but have you ever seen a keeper get let out of the net when their team is  winning handily and get a crack at playing forward?  The words I often used included cages, animals, and open gates.  My focus was on their goal, do or die!
This relationship that we've been in is starting to change who we are, and give us a purpose; one that is becoming more and more clear.

In his book, Wide Awake,  Erwin McManus has a whole chapter on focus that sounded similar:

"The focus of your life isn't supposed to be your shortcomings, failures, sin, guilt, or shame - I think religion has done enough damage by focusing way too much on sin and guilt - what you have at your core shapes everything about the life you will live. And sin and guilt and shame are not where God wants you to focus your life - When you expect your dreams to become your life you find the strength and resolve to focus.
We get distracted by our surroundings and circumstances and everything happening around us, and they pull our attention away from where we are supposed to be going.

Focus allows you to live a life of full intensity.

When you are focused, you are your most powerful."

My daughter's coach wanted to channel her potential into one thing.  He didn't want a little bit spread all over the field.  He wanted everything she's got fueled towards the goal.

That's what God wants for us, too.  Are our minds scattered?  Letting all the little things around us take our us off of our goal?  God wants our dreams to come true as much as we do.  Peter was able to walk on water because he asked Jesus for this opportunity.  What seemingly impossible thing that God has laid on our hearts have we not asked God to help us to do?

FOCUS is defined as the center of interest or activity.  
close and narrow, concentrated attention.

When God tells us that we are His children; He's reminding us who is at the center of us; and that He has made us with a dream that will become more and more clear to us as we get rid of the muddle around us.  In case you don't believe me; here's some words to dwell on from the Master who made you!

"The Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, has chosen you."  Isaiah 49:7b
"God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special."  1 Thes. 1:4
"You are my servant, Israel (place your name there), in whom I will display my splendor." Is. 49:3