When I Am Distracted

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I’ve been distracted lately. Like…faraway distracted. Like my mind is a million miles away. So many things seem to detour my affections, divert my attentions, deflect my aspirations. What is this all about, anyway?!?

I’d like to play the name game and rattle off some excuses, but I know I can’t. Can’t blame it on age. Can’t blame it on hormones. Can’t blame it on the bills stacked in my great-grandmother’s secretary or the unfinished walls in my partially renovated kitchen. Can’t blame it on the weeds in my back yard or the dead tree dropping branches all over the newly paved street that runs along my house. Can’t blame it on a new job or an old physical ailment. Can’t blame it on anything or anyone else.

Yes, I could make a mountain of excuses, but I know I can’t. Sometimes God will allow me to see the reasons why I am the way that I am, why I feel the way that I feel, why I do the things that I do, but rarely does He say they’re to be excuses…

excuses to be lazy. Excuses to be indifferent. Excuses to be unmotivated or unproductive, frustrated and…well…distracted.

The thing is…I’m not famous for being easily distracted. In fact, I had an audiologist tell me one time that I have a VERY high tolerance for noise. She gave me a test in the sound booth where she cranked the volume up on certain tones. I was to tell her when the sounds became so unbearable I couldn’t tolerate them anymore. Evidently, she recorded some off-the-chart decibels  in my file. I’ve been known to tune out some of the most unpleasant sounds, ignore some of the most chaotic messes, block some of the most ridiculous sights. I’ve been known to find peace and calm in some of the busiest locations…like supermarkets, airport terminals, and busy city streets.

Sometimes I just live in a world of my own. I guess it’s one of the advantages of being hearing impaired, but lately my world has been noisy. Not in the literal sense. More in the spiritual sense. I’ve just been plain preoccupied. What can I say? It happens sometimes. Not just to me. It happens to all of us. Life just gets distracting.

So…what do I do when my world is spinning way too fast leaving me breathlessly overwhelmed? What do I do when I need my brain to slow down and my thoughts to clear out?

I do the only thing I know to do…I go sit. (literally)

I go sit on the floor. (boldly)

I go sit on the floor at some feet. (unashamedly)

I go sit on the floor at the feet of Jesus. (expectantly) 

Sometimes I think I just forget to put my brain in park. Like a spinning top barely grazing a smooth wood floor, my thoughts turn a mile a minute and I have to force myself to shut them down. It’s not always the physical body that needs rest, you know? Sometimes the brain needs it, too. The part of me that feeds off the heart, the Spirit-fed part of me…the seat of all my emotions, all that I feel. Yeah, that place. It needs rest. And since it’s Spirit-fed I have to feed it with more of what the Spirit wants to give me.

And sometimes that means I just need more Jesus. Sometimes when I think I’ve got enough of Him I really don’t. The truth is, sometimes I can’t get enough. I say that with as much humility as I can. Because I think someone else needs to hear this. Because I think sometimes we try to satisfy ourselves with just a little bit of Jesus and whole lotta everything else. We fool ourselves into thinking that a little bit of Jesus will go a long way. But I happen to think that sometimes life’s distractions are indications that we’re not getting enough of Him, the One necessary thing we need.

In fact, my online dictionary tells me that a distraction is a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else; extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.

Hmmmmmm…..

Food for thought.

I’m sorry, but I can’t help but be reminded of a very well-known story in Scripture:

“Now as they were traveling along, He (Jesus) entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said,

‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’

But the Lord answered and said to her,

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'” Luke 10:38-42 (Bold italics are mine)

Oh. My. Goodness. I think I hear the voice of Jesus in my heart,

Nina, Nina…you are distracted by many things, but only one thing is necessary…choose the good part. 

Choose Me.

Yes, Lord. I think I will.

When The Eyes Aren’t Enough

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There’s a reason why there are five senses: Sight. Hearing. Taste. Smell. Touch.

They help us to experience life in the every day.

When I lost my left eye in an accident as a child I was never told there was anything I wouldn’t be able to do. I didn’t grow up thinking I was any worse off for the loss. I adapted. I didn’t just cope, I carried on.

Truthfully…I had a wonderful childhood. Thanks to parents who didn’t fuss over me. They wanted me to have pleasant life experiences.

No one told me early in life that my depth perception would change. I didn’t even know what depth perception was. I grew up learning to sew in a 4-H class one summer and didn’t seem to fret over threading needles. And I played sports in high school. I ran track, played field hockey and wore a cute little cheerleader’s uniform. I did get hit right smack in the eye socket one time by a fly softball playing on the church lawn. That was pretty painful, but without the peripheral vision it was an accident waiting to happen. But, you know? Even people with two good eyes have shared the same pain.

Probably more problematic for me than the loss of depth perception is the loss of peripheral vision. Because I also have hereditary, degenerative hearing loss I am now severely hearing impaired. Which means…if someone comes up beside me on my left side I don’t see them, neither do I hear them. Scary, huh?

My boss at the small town cafe where I worked for three years got a BIG kick out of coming up on my left side and giving me a tickle at the waist. No lie…I jumped every single time. I even let out a squeal. One time he surprised me when the floor was packed with customers having a pleasant dining experience. Let’s just say, after that, he usually waited until there were fewer patrons for fear of starting a stampede. Seriously, if you ever want to run people off just give me a call. You give me a scare and I’ll scream for you.

I guess working at a restaurant wasn’t the most suitable place for a visually and hearing impaired person, but the funny thing is…no one thought of me as ‘disabled.’ Part of the beauty of being able to experience life is not to focus on what I don’t have. I focus on what I do. I still have some of my sight. I still have some of my hearing. I can still taste. I can still smell. I can still touch. Working around all that food at the town cafe certainly brought out the best in my remaining senses.

Did you know there are five basic tastes? Sweet. Bitter. Sour. Salty. Umami. Umami? That’s a new one for me. Had to look it up…it’s a savory taste. Had to look that up, too…it’s an aromatic plant of the mint family, used as a culinary herb, but technically it means it’s full of flavor, delicious.

Whew. You didn’t know this was going to be a culinary lesson, did you? Actually, I have a point. I promise.

Every day life shouldn’t be something we just do. It’s something we should experience. Half the time we don’t even realize how our senses work overtime in helping us get the most out of life. Not just to live like a mindless drone, but live it wonderfully and well. Even when life is hard to understand it’s possible to get clarity and perception when we keep our eyes on the goodness of God.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good, how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8

I like it in the New Century Version, too: “Examine and see how good the Lord is. Happy is the person who trusts Him.”

Is it possible to taste God’s goodness? I believe it is.

But… here’s the million dollar question…how will I know what something tastes like if I don’t put it in my mouth and see for myself?

“Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16

I can see something with my eyes. I can suppose what it might taste like. I can imagine what it might taste like. But, until I taste it, I won’t know for sure.

And that’s a very powerful thought. I want to experience the presence of God. I want to practice the presence of God. I don’t want to hear about Him from someone else. I want to see Him for myself.

I was sitting at a large family-style dinner table in a large dining hall many years ago with eleven other people. In the center of the table was a little bowl with some creamy-looking white sauce. No one seemed to know what it was. So me, being the most curious and quite possibly the bravest, decided to taste it. I didn’t just put a little on the tip of my finger. Oh, no. I took a spoonful. Horseradish. For real. I nearly died of asphyxiation.

Just because something looks good and is pleasing to the eye doesn’t mean that it is.

I can’t just sit back and wait for God’s goodness to reveal itself. Oh, I know it will. I don’t have to do anything to be a recipient, but I do have to choose to see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, even touch it. God’s goodness is part of His character and it can’t be taken out of Him. His good gifts are always raining down, even when I don’t see them, even when I’m not paying attention. But, when I sit up and take notice, my senses come alive and I don’t just think God is good. I know.

Because I experience God.

Because I take refuge in God.

Because I trust in the God of my salvation.

YES! The Lord is good. He is pleasing to all five senses. He is beautiful to my eyes, music to my ears, savory to my mouth, aromatic to my nose, and tender to my touch.

Because of Jesus, my eyes can see the goodness of God clearly. My ears hear perfectly. My mouth tastes pleasantly. My nose smells sweetly. My hands touch softly.

Whew. Thank You, Lord, for the culinary lesson. You add the umami to my life. Because of Your presence I can carry on…

The Friends Who Come To My Pity-Parties

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My husband and I moved to North Carolina from Virginia almost eight years ago. Not only did we leave behind our family, our church family, and the home where we’d lived for twenty years raising our sons, but I put almost three hours of driving distance between myself and my ‘band of sisters.’

That’s what I call the girlfriends who have been with me through thick and thin, through storms and smiles, drama and delight, silence and screams, prayer and praise. Gosh, how I adore these four sisters-in-Christ ’cause we all adore Jesus and that’s such a wonderful thing to share.

These ladies and I actually met in church, at different times, but we all met in Bible study. One year I taught a study on prayer. They were part of a group who just didn’t want to stop praying together when the study ended. So….we kept on meeting together, sharing blessings and burdens, praying our little hearts out. Sometimes with tears, sometimes putting dents in the carpet with our knees, but always with passion and heart. I miss them like crazy.

Somewhere along the way I dubbed these girls my ‘band of sisters.’ You know…like ‘band of brothers.’ Why should only the guys get a name that speaks to such fierce loyalty, bound together like glue? I like the fact that me and these girls are one-in-the-Spirit, one-mind-in-the-Christ, and one-love-in-the-Lord.

When I moved to North Carolina I thought my relationship with these ladies would change, but I’m happy to say we’re still connected. I may not be able to carry on telephone conversations because of my hearing disability, but I’ve developed some seriously amazing typing skills. I’ve got a computer keyboard and a smartphone text pad that serve me very well. All this typing has done wonders to strengthen my arthritic fingers.

We girls still send out emails, Facebook messages, and the ever-increasing-vital-to-survival texts. At least for me! I could not live without texting. The first couple of years after moving my husband had to up our phone plan several times before he finally gave in and went ‘unlimited’. I pleaded my case with my usual theatrical flare….”But it’s my lifeline! I can’t live without it!”

I gotta admit, in the eight years since I’ve been in my sleepy-little-but-largely-adorable-small-town there’ve been times when I’ve been incredibly lonely. One thing about small town life is that most everybody is either related by blood or related by marriage and generations of families have grown up and lived locally for like…FORe-E-e-ver! It’s hard to break in a ‘come-here.’ And I get that. I lived in pretty much one locality my whole life, too, before we moved.

I hate to admit this, but I’m just gonna come out and say it…I’m the queen of pity-parties. Sometimes my rotten self just likes to feel sorry. I don’t guess there’s really anything spiritual about that. It’s just me being honest about me. When we moved, one of the hardest things for me was not knowing anyone at all. I mean, not one single soul. No one to invite to my parties. So I had to have them by myself. And…can I just say? They weren’t a whole lot of fun.

So…in my loneliness and my desperation…I started inviting Jesus to my parties. Unbelievably, astonishingly, and GRATEfully I was so glad He came. For anyone who thinks Jesus doesn’t care I can testify that He does. I don’t think I’ve ever been so desperate for Him my entire life. We’ve had some ups and downs these last few years that have threatened to derail my sense of purpose. I’ve done some serious soul-searching and blatant honesty in seeking the face of God. Believe it or not, it’s been a really good thing.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

So that’s exactly what I’ve done! I cast it all…even my sorry self.

Along the way these last few years, I’ve met some wonderful new friends, but when it comes to throwing a pity-party I still go to my band of Virginia sisters. I can’t help it. They just know me so well. Especially my bestie. She and I still do Bible studies together and on Sunday afternoons we’ll Facebook chat about what we’ve learned, share how God has voiced His Word to us, moved us to greater faith, and stirred our hearts to connect with His.

Recently, as I was sharing during one of these chats, I got incredibly carried away. I started typing and couldn’t stop. That Facebook message must have been at least 6 inches long. I pounded the ‘enter’ key and the kitchen table actually rattled…oops…and waited patiently for her reply,

“Oh…I get it…you’re having a pity-party! Yes!! I will come.”

I actually laughed out loud. Only her…

She then proceeded to coat her words, typed in the usual Roman-style font, with the sweetness of a home-baked, three-layer chocolate cake layered with lots of cream cheese icing, topped with a few juicy, ripe strawberries, stuck in some candles and THEN…God love her…she lighted them!!!

But, just so you know, Jesus was at this party, too.

Because Jesus is in the midst of a friendship when He is the center of attention. Jesus is in the midst of a band of sisters when He is the Person of devotion. Jesus is in the midst of me when He is the Friend of compassion. It doesn’t matter what I’m feeling or what kind of party I’m having…Jesus will come.

No, not everyone will come to a pity-party. Not everyone wants to be around someone who throws them. I know better than to invite just anyone, but Jesus isn’t just ANYone. He’s my F.R.I.E.N.D…God love Him…and He lights all the candles on the cakes at my parties. He may not always tell me what I want to hear, but He will tell me what I need to hear, just like my bestie, and that means more to me than anything.

Pity-parties may not be a God-thing, but it’s a God-thing when Jesus shows up and shakes me up. It’s a God-thing when I invite Jesus and He changes my perspective with every word He speaks over me, with every candle He lights. Oh, I need Him so very much.

Jesus…Faithful Friend, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Matthew 15:13

My band of sisters…forever friends, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

I always know when the party’s over, though. After a while it’s time for everyone to go home. Jesus has done His part and it’s up to me to blow out the candles and discard the cake. Because my Jesus-lovin’ girlfriends know this, too, I’m so thankful He’s been in our midst.

Perfect Peace

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Peace.

It’s suppose to be perfect. At least that’s what the prophet Isaiah says in the book God inspired him to write and name after himself.

“He will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

It’s suppose to be a fruit of the Spirit. At least that’s what Paul says in the book of Galations.

“And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace….” Galations 5:22

Just for the record, I didn’t even have to look up those two Scriptures. They are engraved on my heart and written down in permanent ink within the crevices of my mind where sometimes…when I am fighting the demons of worry and anxiety…I yank them out with a mighty tug and repeat them over and over.

Some mornings I wake up desperate for peace. I want it. I n-e-E-E-ed it. I long for it. I pray for it. I ask God for it.  Some mornings I depend upon this blessed peace like the air I breathe. Happy am I when the promises of God invade my soul, when the faithfulness of God washes over me in bucket loads, coating me with confidence and assurance.

Who doesn’t need some peace these days? Real peace. Not the kind that’s masked with layers of doubt or unbelief, but the kind that’s steadfast and sure.

Some of us need only a dash of peace and we’re good to go. At least for another 6 hours.

Some of us need it poured out like a soothing rain. And we need it every moment of every day.

One of the things I’ve learned is that peace is always there. Ready and waiting for the child of God.

Yes, peace can be perfect because it’s made perfect in Christ. We can’t avoid strife on this earth. It comes to all of us, but it doesn’t have to shake us. It doesn’t have to topple us. It doesn’t have to rule over us. This perfection comes only when I keep my mind on God, on Christ, on things above. It’s perfection at it’s very finest. Completeness of heart and soul. Soundness of thought and mind.

Yes, it’s a fruit within me because I’m a child of the King. Maybe this fruit isn’t always ripe and ready for picking, maybe it isn’t always available in great abundance, but I know it’s there. It’s mine. And even when I struggle to find it in the midst of my cluttered-distracted-and-imperfect-self, I can recall seasons of distress when I not only embraced the blessedness of peace…I lived in it. How positively, how completely, how absolutely perfect it was, too.

It was back in 2002. I was listening to my physician tell me over the phone (back before my degenerative hearing got so bad and I could still carry on a phone conversation with relative patience) that my MRI had revealed a brain tumor and it had to come out. I’d been having dizzy spells, vertigo, fogginess in my brain like I was on cold medicine all the time. Ironically, one of the first and one of the main symptoms of an acoustic neuroma is loss of hearing. Very ironic.

I remember trying very hard to understand what my doctor was telling me, but all my brain was processing were the words…brain tumor…brain surgery. My heart started racing. I could feel my pulse pounding throughout my body and I seriously considered grabbing a paper bag to begin breathing treatments.

But…and this is a BIG but…when I hung up the phone, got up from my chair in the dining room, walked through the kitchen to the family room where my husband sat waiting I can’t even explain to you the powerful way peace washed over me in that moment. BUT. It. Did. It happened. I felt it. I experienced it. I embraced it.

For the next three months as I awaited surgery, this peace carried me. It empowered me. It equipped me. I can’t even tell you how many people noticed it, commented on it, questioned it.

I realized many months later that for those who strive to live and walk in the Spirit, peace is real. True peace isn’t fake. It isn’t phony. It isn’t elusive. It’s there. I just have to let it take root and bear the fruit Jesus intends for it to produce.

Because I’ve known this kind of peace in times of strife I know what it feels like. I wish it came to me as quickly, as powerfully, as perfectly as it did facing brain surgery all the time, but to be honest…sometimes I have to fight for it because the enemy comes against me in some really unexpected ways these days. I hate it that he won’t leave me alone. It makes me fighting mad.

But I know what to do. When worry and anxiety want to get the best of me, I stop. I literally come to a halt. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I put on my shoes of peace and pick up my sword of the Spirit and I quote Scriptures like these (Yes, they’re engraved on my heart!),

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” Exodus 14:14

And I repeat like a mantra…I will trust You, Lord. I will trust You, Lord. I. Will. Trust. You. 

Somehow peace comes to me. In all it’s perfected glory. It comes. It’s still there. It’s still real. It’s still a blessed fruit. I may have to wait for it to sprout some blossoms, but when it comes…it’s mine. I breathe in it’s fragrance and I am comforted.

And you know what else? No one can take it away.

Jesus Understands

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I remember years ago a close friend went through a very difficult season. She was crushed. Childhood injustices had pierced her soul and many trials had wounded her spirit. I had spoken to her often about the love of God and the need for Jesus. I loved her as a friend, but I knew I couldn’t save her. Only Jesus could do that.

I remember the feeling of helplessness on the day I said to her, “I know Jesus loves you. He cares what you’re going through,” to which she replied, “He doesn’t love me. He did this to me. If He cares so much, then why doesn’t He do something? Does He enjoy seeing me suffer?”

It broke my heart. Because I knew Jesus as The Suffering-Servant. The Sacrificial-Lamb. The Thorn-Wearer. The Cross-Bearer. Acquainted with grief. Despised by men. Crushed. Pierced. Betrayed. If ANYONE could understand her pain it wasn’t me. It was Jesus.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being, fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” Isaiah 53:3-7

There is something about this passage that makes me weep. I can’t even watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ without sobbing. It’s so difficult for me to envision this One, who has my adoration and my devotion, bloody and beaten beyond recognition, body bared and hanging on a cross. Yet, before I can see Him as the risen Savior I have to see Him as the crucified Christ. And, truthfully, this is what makes me love Him so.

There was a time when I was indifferent to the suffering of Christ. Maybe because I didn’t want to think about it or maybe just because I took it all for granted…what Jesus did for me. It’s easier sometimes just to accept His grace without counting the cost. To accept His love without cleansing in the blood. To accept His mercy without reflecting in the holy.

One day I heard a song that changed my life. I had gone to the Holy Land with my family. I walked where Jesus walked. I touched what Jesus touched. I sailed where Jesus sailed. I strolled the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering or the Way of Sorrows. I looked upon the Place of the Skull and gazed into an empty tomb. Then, on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, I listened to a man with a beautiful voice sing The Stranger of Galilee. The sun was setting over the Judean hills, the water was calm, and there were fishermen fishing in the waters.

In fancy I stood by the shore one day, Of the beautiful murmuring sea;

I saw the great crowds as they thronged the way Of the Stranger of Galilee;

I saw how the man who was blind from birth, In a moment was made to see;

The lame was made whole by the matchless skill Of the Stranger of Galilee.

And I felt I could love Him forever So gracious and tender was He!

I claimed Him that day as my Savior, This Stranger of Galilee.

I’d been wrestling with God for too long, taking my salvation for granted, treating His sacrifice with indifference. In my own personal suffering and emotional pain, I’d allowed myself to grow cold. As I turned my back to the man with the beautiful voice, I looked out over the sea as the sun began its descent and I realized I’d made Jesus a Stranger in my own life. Instead of allowing Him to comfort me in my sorrows I’d tried to carry them on my own, thinking no one could ever understand what was going on in my heart. Yes, I have lost an eye. I am partially blind, but even worse than the physical blindness was the spiritual blindness that threatened to bind me forever in a sea of shame.

Jesus has this beautiful way of opening the eyes of the blind, of healing a wounded heart, and resurrecting a spirit that has been crushed. He understands humiliation because He was humiliated. He understands rejection because He was betrayed. He understands sorrow because He walked the way of suffering. He understands heavy burdens because He carried a cross. He understands physical pain because He was pierced through. He did it for me. For you.

Jesus. Understands.

And because I finally understood this, I knew I would love Him forever.

God gave me another chance with my friend and what a happy day it was when she came to understand this, too. Jesus, the Stranger of Galilee…The Saving-Servant. The Risen-Lamb. The Crown-Wearer. The Cross-Defeater…was no longer a Stranger in her life. He saved her. Just like I knew He would.

Come, ye who are driven and tempest-tossed, And His gracious salvation see;

He’ll quiet life’s storms with His “Peace, Be still!” This Stranger of Galilee;

He bids me go and the story tell- What He ever to you will be,

If only you let Him with you abide, This Stranger of Galilee.

Oh, my friend, won’t you love Him forever So gracious and tender is He!

Accept Him today as your Savior, This Stranger of Galilee. (Leila N. Morris, 1893) 

When I Don’t Know What Else To Pray

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I’ve decided to pray the prayer that never fails…

Lord, Thy will be done.

Four words. That about covers it.

I believe in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in talking to God, listening to God, and conversing with God. I believe God hears my prayers and I believe I can hear His answers. I believe in praying God’s Word–His heart–and I believe in praying my words–my heart. I believe in being honest with God about my emotions and my feelings, good and bad. I believe in exalting God’s name and giving Him praise. I believe in rejoicing in what God has done and thanking Him for what He will do. I believe in confession and repentance. I believe prayer keeps me near to my Father’s heart.

I believe…I believe…I believe.

But, sometimes…I think God is calling me to a greater trust. When I’ve prayed it all, when I’ve bared my heart and soul, when I’ve exhausted myself and cried a bucketload of tears and don’t know what else to pray, maybe it’s just time to go to the prayer that never fails.

Because when it comes right down to it, I want to have a heart that reflects the will of the Father.

I was reading in Matthew 6 this morning where Jesus’ words have become so familiar that I often read them without a lot of thought. It’s here in this passage that Jesus teaches us how to pray,

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (verses 7, 8)

The Father knows what you need….

Yes, I believe the Father wants us to ask, “You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2b

Yes, I believe the Father wants us to persist in prayer, “…pray without ceasing…” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Yes, I believe the Father wants us to take all our cares to Him, “…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Yes, I believe in praying like this even though He already knows what I need, even though He already knows how He will answer, even though He already knows what’s best for me.

Yet, these familiar words cleansed me with a heavenly rain this very morning and brought my troubled spirit some rest. I read them while quiet tears fell unashamedly and a powerful truth washed over me,

Pray then, in this way:

our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your. Will. Be. Done… (verses 9, 10)

…and I realized that the one request I’ve been praying for what seems too many days and nights, months and years, the one thing I’ve been asking God for over and over again, the one repetitious prayer, the one prayer of earnest persistence, the care of my heart with all the worry and anxiety and fear, was something that God, in all of His Sovereignty, wanted me to fully, completely surrender to His will.

Period.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think there comes a time when God says,

My Child, will you trust me? Will you let me have My way, no matter the outcome? 

Well…will you?

My heart wants to say, Yes. My will wants to say, Maybe. My flesh wants to say, No.

But the words of Jesus ring loud and long…“My Father knows what you need.”

I believe God is calling me to trust Him in a way I never have before. His will–what He wishes and what He determines; how He purposes to bless me through Christ; what His desires and pleasures are for me–is perfect because He is perfect, so He is perfect in all of His ways.

And I am not. So, I’m still learning in my walk of faith. I’m still learning how to pray. I’m still learning how to surrender. I’m still learning to trust. I’m still learning what it really means to pray four powerful words that cover it all,

Your will be done.

The Whisper of Hope

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I just love it when God wakes me up with a song on my heart, inspiring me to put my attentions on heavenly things before I even put my feet on the floor. Things like hope.

When I was in the third grade I auditioned for the school talent show. I had only been taking piano lessons for two years when my piano teacher gave me my first piece of sheet music: Whispering Hope. I not only learned to move my undersized fingers over those ebony and ivory keys, making some pretty sweet music in the process, but the constant repetition of practice and patience left the words to this hauntingly beautiful old hymn forever engraved on my heart.

Whispering Hope was written way back in 1868 by Septimus Winner. I listened to a few versions sung by various artists on Youtube with the volume turned up on my computer and plugs stuffed tight in my ears. Even without hearing all the words I still shed a few tears because the melody itself is just that beautiful.

I like Willie Nelson’s version of this old song the best. He sung it on his album The TroubleMaker in 1976, the year I graduated high school. Being hearing impaired, I didn’t own a lot of records and albums and I didn’t listen to the radio much because I couldn’t understand speech through sound waves mixed with static and electricity coming through a portable radio-stereo combo. I had no idea Whispering Hope was even on anyone’s mind the year of our nation’s bicentennial. Up until last week, I hadn’t thought about it in several decades myself.

But last Wednesday morning, in that place between dreaming and awakening, the words rang true. There the message descended from heaven with a promise. There I lay while silent tears flowed freely and my spirit sung silently along with angels. God whispered hope into the quiet place of my heart and soul and, in the silence, spoke loud and clear.

How I needed me some hope.

I volunteer at the Pregnancy Care Center just two hours a week. I mentor. One on one. Side by side. Face to face I sit with women desperate for hope. Stuck in cycles of defeat. Poverty. Loneliness. Brokenness.

Some weeks I wonder what in the world I have to offer these women? What difference am I possibly making in their lives one measly hour of my seven-day week? Who am I to think I can understand anything of their world? Or speak anything of value into their broken lives? And yet…I can’t help myself. I go back. Week after week, I give them the only thing I know that will save them. I give them Jesus. I open the pages of God’s Word and I give them truth.

I whisper hope.

It’s the only thing I have to offer. The only thing of value. The only understanding I need. Because I know that without hope there is no light in the darkness, no purpose in the pain.

A few weeks ago I sat on a comfortable little couch in a comfortable little room and I listened as one of these precious young women told me through tears that she’s angry, she’s frustrated, she’s confused…at God. The God who says He loves her, values her, and protects her allowed her four-month old baby daughter to die. Her weak little heart was just too sick to keep blood flowing through her delicate frame.

There is nothing comfortable about this. How do I explain when I’ve never known this kind of pain? How do I help her grieve when I’ve never known this kind of sorrow? How, God?  How do I get into this brokenness?

So I do the only thing my heart says do…I weep. I get on my knees before her, I take her hands in mine and I cry. I pray. I look into her eyes and I plead…answer me truthfullycan you still believe even now, that God loves you? With tears of her own she whispers, yes. 

Together we talk Truth. We read Psalm 23 and somehow…someway…God allows me to walk through this valley of death with her. I can see Hope speak into her broken spirit through the voice of the Good Shepherd. I tell her to let Him lead her to greener pastures, to allow Him to sit with her beside still waters. I tell her she may not believe it at this very moment, but He will restore her soul. One day. I tell her one day…she will heal.

Somehow…someway…I want to walk this journey with women desperately in need of a Savior. I don’t want my heart to become hard or cold or insensitive. Sometimes I need to remember the pain of the present that I might never forget the hope of the future.

I realize that even when I think I have nothing to offer, I do. My heart really does know brokenness. Maybe not the kind that speaks to physical poverty or the loss of a child, but I have been broken. I have grieved the loss of an eye, I have lived in cycles of personal defeat, I have experienced poverty of soul and spirit. This I understand. This I know. This I share.

Truthfully, without this hope I’d go crazy. Hope that this life is not all there is. Hope that even though I live in a broken world, surrounded by broken people, I am certain there is a God in heaven. I am certain there is life in Christ. I am certain His love is as real as the beat of my heart. I am certain that He weeps with those whose tears are their only food, whose cries are their only speech, whose prayers are their only sustenance.

It’s in this poverty of soul and spirit that Jesus whispers the only thing that He can…Hope. It’s in this place that my heart overflows with the blessed peace of His presence. My ears ring with the blessed truth of His words. My eyes water with the blessed comfort of His tears.

And because I believe it, my voice whispers back…back into the heart of a young woman who dares to hope. It’s the only thing I know to do.

“…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…” Hebrews 6: 18b-20a

Willie Nelson/ Whispering Hope on http://youtu.be/-Q2AGSq6s94

Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice…making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Sweet Jesus

 

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This morning I woke up about 3 a.m. with the words to an old hymn on my heart. It’s not even in the newer hymn book we use at my church. I haven’t heard it in a long, long time. I guess God wanted me to do some pondering about the message behind the words this morning so I never went back to sleep.

When God speaks, I want to listen, no matter what time of day it is. So this morning I cherished these words:

“Ev’ry day with Jesus, Is sweeter than the day before;

Ev’ry day with Jesus, I love Him more and more.

Jesus saves and keeps me, And He’s the One I’m living for;

Ev’ry day with Jesus, Is sweeter than the day before.” (Music and lyrics by Robert C. and Wendell P. Loveless, 1936)

I love to think of Jesus as sweet. I pray Sweet Jesus. I cry out to Sweet Jesus in moments of tenderness and compassion and I sometimes proclaim Sweet Jesus! in my zeal and excitement.

Sweet is an adjective that means: 1. having the pleasant taste characteristic of sugar or honey; not salty, sour, or bitter 2. pleasing in general; delightful.

How fitting. How appropriate. How…sweet.

Life sometimes loses its flavor. Life is sometimes sour. Sometimes it’s even bitter. Yuck.

When I want to spit the bitterness of life out of my mouth I’m so glad I have Jesus to put the sweetness back in. Like honey…

“How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103

Several times in Scripture the Word of God is referred to as sweet and the first chapter of John’s Gospel tells us Jesus is the Word made flesh. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to the Word when life has handed me lemons and made some of the sweetest lemonade ever! And I don’t even like lemonade. Seriously. Never have cared for it. But Jesus has a way of taking the sour out of a lemonade life.

Can anything be sweeter than honey? Especially when it’s fresh off the comb.

Of course, you wouldn’t catch me trying to steal a bee’s honey. I don’t know anything about bees, but I know people who keep hives and cultivate honey. I’ve even heard of bee charmers. Did you know that most of the references to honey in Scripture are toward wild honey? It was a luxury and used for trading. In fact, the Promised Land was referred to as “the land flowing with milk and honey.” It was a place where God’s goodness abounded. Where the sweetness of His presence would be experienced in Israel’s prosperity, provision, and protection, as long as they depended upon Him and Him alone.

Hmmmmmm….the sweetness of God’s presence.

The sweetness of Jesus. His presence, His Spirit within me. So why can’t I be more sweet?

I want to be sweet. I want to be good. I want to be like Jesus. But sometimes I’m not. The enemy comes and steals my sweetness. Sometimes bitterness creeps in. Oh, how I need the Bee Charmer to extract that bitterness and replace it with pure honey. Plain and simple. I need to taste and see God’s goodness.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

O fear the Lord, you His saints:

For to those who fear Him there is no want.

The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;

But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” Psalm 34:8-10

God is good. Yes. And Jesus is sweet. Any bitterness I find taking root in me I need to put away by turning to Jesus. He’s like a Bee Charmer. He can extract the bad and cultivate all His goodness in me when I let Him so that what comes out is…well…sweet…sweeter…sweetest.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

Bitterness is a root that causes all kinds of trouble. It not only tastes bad, it looks bad. It acts bad. It spreads badly. Like a cancer. It eats me up inside. It’s like lemonade with no sugar. It kills the sweetness of Jesus.

And that breaks my heart.

I want the root of kindness and tenderness to well up like an underground spring inside of me. I want forgiveness to grow and blossom and bear fruit for the Kingdom. Because this is what’s good. This is what’s right. This is what’s sweet.

And you know? The longer I walk with Jesus, the sweeter He grows within me. Every day can be full of flavor, flowing with grace, and flourishing with promise. Every day with Jesus it’s possible to love Him more and more.

The Amen Of God

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“…The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this…” Revelation 3:14

Revelation 3:14 was written by the apostle John on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith. He was writing to the seven churches under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And what a message it was! One that has convicted me more than once in my spiritual journey. I’m not writing about the letter, though. I’m writing about the Name. I’m writing about Jesus, The Amen.

The Hebrew word, amen, means: surely, indeed, truly. It’s root word, aman, means: to be firm, steadfast, trustworthy, faithful. When we say amen at the end of a prayer, we’re saying we agree with the words we’ve prayed. When we interject amen during a pastor’s sermon, or a Bible teacher’s message, or a friend’s wise advice we’re saying we wholeheartedly agree. We’re confirming we believe what is said is true.

“Indeed, Your Word is surely true because You are surely trustworthy, Jesus. Amen.”

We throw this word around a lot, but somehow I think Amen-ing is serious business. I know it doesn’t always sound so serious and sincere when I say it. I’ve been known to take the more southern pronunciation and draw out the A with pomp and circumstance…you know what I’m talking about…with a long A and a singsongy voice….

A-A-A-a-a-MEN! Let’s not forget the Hallelujah’s and the Praise-the-Lord’s that follow. I can’t help it. It just comes out in one long profession of faith. I say it. I proclaim it. I mean it. Somehow, the longer I walk with Jesus, the more I cling to Him, the more I earnestly seek Him, I come to believe Jesus is The Amen in my amen’s. 

I want to live an Amen life.

A life that says Jesus is faithful. A life that says Jesus is trustworthy. A life that says Jesus is unchanging. The Alpha and the Omega. The Beginning and the End. And everything In-Between. The Same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Forever One.

Oh y-e-s, sir! I hear an A-A-A-a-a-a-MEN! threatening to quake the walls of my heart and shake the foundations of my soul. There is power in an amen that truly believes. However I say it, however I proclaim it, however I shout it out, when it comes from steadfast faith it speaks right into the heart of The Amen.

Jesus is the Amen of God. He made a way for me to the Father. He is my way. My truth. My life. All that I am is because He is. All that I need is fulfilled because He gives. All that I crave is satisfied because He sustains. All that I hope is realized because He promises.

And so I continue to amen The Amen. As much as I can, for as long as I can, I will strive to live it. Breathe it. Believe it.

So can you.

Reflections On The Psalms Takes Off

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He (Jesus) replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:21

God is so faithful, you know? Even when I’m not, He’s still so good to see me through seasons of doubt. I’m just being honest. It amazes me what a little bit of faith can do. It can be as tiny as a mustard seed and still move mountains. If that’s what a little faith can do, can you imagine what BIG faith will accomplish? I’ve found that God will really stretch my faith when He’s doing something new in my life. Last year, my word for the year was TRUST. I think I’ve discovered why…

If I trust more in my ability to make things happen I’ll most likely make a mess. I’ve made a few of those over the years and God is really good about showing me how to clean them up. Sometimes we learn best through the messes we make when we try to do things on our own without God’s direction, guidance, and strength. I love God’s way better. Waiting on God is hard, but His timing is always perfect.

Today, Relfections On The Psalms: Connecting With God Creatively, begins it’s public launch. You can find it on Amazon.com, at http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore, and you can order it through any data base in most major book stores across the country. I even have some copies of my own to sell if you’d like to contact me via Facebook or email at gracedtolive@gmail.com.

This book is and always has been God’s BIG idea for me. It’s His vision. I’m just His voice. Writing out the bits and pieces of my testimony and my faith journey was sometimes bittersweet. I cried a little bit and I have a few favorite devotions that still spark a tear or two when I read them, but today…

I’m reflecting on the faithfulness of God in my life. My story is His. My testimony is His. My journey is His. So is this book and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies…” Psalm 36:5

To those of you have purchased copies of Reflections On The Psalms, I want you to thank you from the bottom of my heart…with Sherry French, who is probably one of the most creative women I’ve ever met in my life. Her artwork graces the pages of this book and tells a story all its own.

And don’t forget…all my Frederickburg, Virginia friends! Sherry and I can’t wait to see you at 25 30 Espresso on Saturday, February 21st from 11-2.

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