My Real Treasure

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“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

My neighbor has this rusty metal barn. The doors are so dented they now hang askew. Sections of the tin roof have pried away from the nails that once secured them and when the wind blows it makes an unnerving racket. I only hear it when I’m outside, but in the darkness of night when I’m taking my dogs for a last potty run it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I’ve often wondered why my neighbor puts a padlock on the old banged up doors of his barn. Maybe it gives him a certain amount of security, but I doubt very seriously the itsy bitsy lock would keep anyone out with a determination to get in. I hope nothing of any value is stored inside. I probably wouldn’t be caught dead in it myself. The thought of snakes lurking in unseen places is enough to keep me at a safe distance. I don’t want to get spider webs in my hair, either. Eew.

My husband and I learned soon after we moved into our 100-year old home in our tiny little town that we don’t dare leave anything outside we don’t want stolen. After my cd player was ripped out of the dash of my car and our aluminum ladder removed from its resting place on the side of the house we decided nothing was sacred here. Before we moved to North Carolina, we had lived in one house in one neighborhood for 20 years and never had a single thing stolen from our house, our car, or our property. Bummer.

When my neighbor and good friend up the street had her house broken into earlier this year I began to realize that “the times they are a-changing.” We can take all the precautions we want…install fancy security systems…iron bars on our windows…a few deadbolts and security lights…but when it comes right down to it, even if a thief can’t get in, a fire could still destroy, a hurricane could still level, a tornado could still demolish, a flood could still wash away. No material possessions I own on this earth are meant to last forever and I’ve come to find that the real danger is allowing the enemy to take away the treasures stored in my heart.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

I’ve been pondering this word…treasure.

As a noun, a treasure is a quantity of precious metals, gems or other valuable object. As a verb it means to keep carefully (a valuable or valued item); to cherish or hold dear, to prize or value greatly or what I strive to attain and what I most dread to lose.

Years ago I used to think about what I would most want to save if I knew my house was going down in a fire. Aside from the obvious…my family, my children first and foremost or any other living and breathing thing present at the time…I really thought I would save my photo albums. I don’t know why these pictures are so precious to me other than the years of memories and life they represent. They chronicle our family’s history, a part of our heritage permanently captured on glossy paper and preserved in pages and pages of protective plastic. I have at least a dozen photo albums. Yes, I was a picture-taking momma, the kind that embarrassed my children and threatened their very lives with my Canon Sure-Shot if they didn’t grin and bear it! Now that they’re all grown up, though, I think they’re glad I made a big deal about it. These photo albums have given them some enjoyment the last several years. Every now and then when I browse through them I find some empty sleeves where pictures have been removed. Later I’ll find them plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. With a grin and a thought I think to myself, “You did good, momma!”

I know there’s no way I could haul a dozen photo albums out my door or window if a fire was raging behind me, smoke stinging my eyes and choking my lungs. Truthfully, I know I’d just make a run for it because I know my life is more precious than any material thing I possess.

Life…

That’s the real treasure to God. He cherishes me. He places great value on my life. I am of great worth to Him, but He wants to be my treasure, too. That’s why He tells me to guard my heart.

” Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Sometimes I feel like an old rusty metal barn…dented, banged up, and blowing in the wind…but even though I’ve taken a few beatings in my life and weathered many storms, I think I’m well-preserved for from within my heart there flows streams of Living Water. I cling to It. I drink deeply from It. Because this Water is my very life. I cannot live without Jesus. Through every beating I’ve endured, every storm I’ve survived, every dent I proudly display, I’ve come to see my earthly life through a different kind of lens, through His eyes. No possession I posses on this earth can ever compare with the riches that I will gain in heaven.

Like my Canon Sure-Shot, God has preserved my life over and over again. You only need to read my “About Me” page on this blog to understand what I mean. God has captured permanently on the memory of my heart His constant, abiding Presence and the certainty of a royal heritage rich in His grace. Yes, He’s allowed me the blessings of earthly treasures, more than I deserve, but I know not one of these material possessions will follow me into eternity. My heart will. That’s why I strive to guard it, to let God protect it and keep it maintained.

Because Jesus has my heart, I don’t dare leave anything of value unprotected that I don’t want stolen. Riches like love, joy, peace to name a few. When I lose my perspective, sometimes I allow the enemy to steal them away. I have to remind myself that the enemy is a thief, but he can never have my heart. It belongs to the Life-Giver. My physical self may wear out on this earth, but my spiritual self will last an eternity so I strive to preserve it well. When I look through the lens of my Father’s eyes, I see what He has permanently captured…my heart where His Son lives and breathes in me. I keep what’s sacred there under His abiding care. Nothing can be snatched away.

And I think to myself, “You’ve done good, God! You’ve done good….”

 

When I Am Undone

IMG_1135Have you ever been “undone”? You know…unglued. The word may have different meanings for different people depending upon circumstances. My goodness, I’ve been literally, figuratively and spiritually undone many times in my life…if that’s possible. Of course I’m a bit of an expressionist. So, to clarify allow me to explain the “Nina-differences”.

To be undone means to

-literally untie, unwrap, unfasten something.

-figuratively realize that something hasn’t gone as planned.

-spiritually in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “Then I said, ‘Woe is  me, for I am ruined (undone)! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.'” Isaiah 6:5

 

Literally, I can’t explain how I feel when circumstances seem to unwrap my heart’s emotions and unfasten feelings neatly packaged and tied with a string.

Figuratively, I can’t tell you how many times in my life things haven’t gone according to my plan.

Spiritually, I can’t describe what happens in the very depths of my soul when I’ve found myself in the presence of my holy, gracious, and merciful God.

 

It happened the other week. I found myself face-to-face with temptation. Literally, staring it in the face. Figuratively, completely caught off guard. (I won’t tell you what the temptation was because temptation comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s different for each one of us. If I tell you what this was to me then you might not identify.) Spiritually, I came completely unglued when God showed Himself in the midst of it.

The wonder of this testimony is that I actually stared temptation down and, as I did, God came to my rescue. I cannot remember the last time I was so spiritually undone. God didn’t send an angel I could visibly see. He didn’t strike the enemy with a sword or knock him off his feet. He didn’t send a lightning bolt or even an intercessor. No. He did something I never would’ve expected. He sang to me.

Literally, I heard His song in my heart. He unwrapped the tangled nerves in my ears and I heard it loud and clear.

Figuratively, when I thought I might give in to temptation He came unexpectedly. He caught me completely off guard proving that He had a plan meant to get my attention.

Spiritually, the wonder of His presence was very real to me.

 

I was completely undone.

 

“My chains are gone

I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

And like a flood His mercy reigns

Unending love, amazing grace.” (Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone by Chris Tomlin)

 

Just as Isaiah realized that silence was necessary, humility desired, and holy fear understood I found myself entirely wrapped up in the presence of El Elyon, the Lord of Hosts. When Isaiah heard the Voice of the Almighty he

literally unwrapped his heart,

figuratively lost himself in a powerful, unexpected moment with His God, and

spiritually accepted the atoning work of God and surrendered to His call.

 

How I wanted to do the same.

 

As the haunting voice of God rang in my ears and the melody of Amazing Grace drifted through my inner self I kept silent and just let myself rest in His presence. I wept in gratitude because He didn’t leave me to face temptation alone. He didn’t abandon me or turn away from me. He unwrapped my heart, came unexpectedly and reminded me of the redeeming work of Christ to save…”My God, my Savior has ransomed me…Like a flood, His mercy reigns…Unending love, amazing grace.”

 

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.”

 

I love how God comes to me in my vulnerability. I love how he literally, figuratively, and spiritually unwraps my heart and reminds me of His sweet, abiding Presence. I love how God loves me.

 

I can’t help it. I’m undone. Because I’m just plain amazed by Grace.

 

Taking Life-Giving Words To The Streets

286282_254066424623307_7434725_oI’m not a steamroller. At least I don’t think I am. There may be times I’m pretty adamant about the way I want something done, but it’s usually something within my home or my personal life. I’d like to think I don’t take steamrolling to the streets.

Have you ever watched a steamroller flattening fresh pavement, making it all smooth and level? Would you want to get caught underneath it? I cringe at the thought of my human self flattened and crushed beneath the weight. Slow. Excruciating pain. All life squeezed right outta me.

What is a steamroller, anyway? An overpowering force or a person with such force that overcomes all opposition and pushes through processes and solutions, crushing all opposition; one who quickly dismisses someone in a heated argument, totally ignoring what the other person is saying.

That’s what the dictionary says, anyway. The Nina-definition is slightly different…one whose words hurt and who doesn’t care much about the feelings of others. I only say this because it’s how I feel when someone crushes me with destructive words.

I’m not really a steamroller and I don’t do well around those who are. I’ve battled too many insecurities in my life to allow myself to spend much time around people who make me feel small. When someone enters my little world and makes me feel insignificant and unimportant I tend to withdraw, tune out, or wave the white flag of surrender.

“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:5 & 6

No, I don’t like the thought of barreling over someone, having no regard for feelings at all, crushing spirits, flattening self-esteem, squeezing the life out of passions. How depressing….I don’t think steamrollers are very good at encouraging others and that’s what bothers me the most. There are too many of us battling poor self-esteem and just plain giving up for lack of godly encouragement.

Why is it so hard for us to encourage one another? What is so difficult about lifting someone up with words of affirmation?

To encourage means to give support, confidence, or hope to someone; to motivate, uplift, inspire, cheer, embolden.

Oh, I like that word…embolden. To give courage or confidence to someone. Like en-courage! There’s something so beautiful about using words to give courage to someone. And who doesn’t need some courage these days!?! Fo’ sho.’ To think, I can actually use words to build up, lift up, and spur someone on…oh that is such a lovely thought, but I don’t just want to think about it, I want to do it.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Oh, sweet Jesus, let me consider….let me understand, let me be intentional, let me observe carefully my sister’s feelings, let me be attentive to my brother’s circumstances, let me fix my eyes and my mind on this thing: to speak encouraging words, uplifting words, motivating words, inspiring words. Because Lord, I know how much need them and if need them, then I know others do, too.

The world is full of broken hearts, crushed spirits, flattened self-esteem, dying dreams. It brings tears to my eyes. There are too many steamrollers out there squeezing life out of the best of us. I don’t want to be one of them. I want my tongue to speak from a heart that seeks to give hope and courage. Life is too precious not to consider the power of words. If I’m gonna light a fire I don’t want it to be from a corrupted tongue, I want it to be with the Spirit’s un-corrupted Presence. He will always bring out the best in me when I give Him control of this little body part…my tongue…that threatens to steamroll those He has placed in my sphere of influence. It takes work. It takes intentionality. It takes the Spirit’s power. If I’m gonna be steamrolled, let it be by the work of the Spirit who knows just how to squeeze out the impurities and the imperfections so that I might walk on level ground.

“Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

So what are words of affirmation? Words that lift up…not bring down. Words that encourage…not discourage.  Words that inspire…not dissuade. Words that motivate…not depress. Words that cheer…not sadden. Good words. Beautiful words. Lovely words.

And this is what I want to take to the streets. Life.

Words that give life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going With The Flow

IMG_1059Today…I’m going-with-the-flow.

I had a day all planned out. My daily planner had pencil notations from 10:00 this morning all the way to 8:00 tonight. Do you ever have days like that? Actually, I used up a lot of pencil lead writing in this week’s calendar. Yesterday I was wondering how I would handle it all. I thought I might be a little looney by week’s end. Those who know me well know I tend to dramatize the happenings in my life. I might get a little excited. Sometimes I might even get theatrical. Sometimes…

My urban dictionary says that “to go with the flow” means: To not attempt to exert a large amount of influence on the course of events, whether a specific series of events or events in general. A person who does this is often referred to as “laid-back” or “easygoing”.

Do you hear me laughing out loud?! Do you picture me rolling on the floor laughing? Never in a million days on this earth would I consider myself “laid-back” or “easygoing.” Ask my husband. He’ll tell ya.

My last post was titled, Surprise In The Sunrise. So, I guess today I’m having to walk my talk. (Surprise-Surprise!!)

Only You, God. Only You.

For me, as a child of God, going-with-the-flow means that when He surprises me I need to learn to let the Spirit carry me along. I can’t stress over the surprises that mess with my well-planned and perfect-little-organized-schedule. This morning I needed to erase everything off my personal agenda for the entire day. So. What. Did I really just say that? Oh, my goodness, I think I’ve had a breakthrough! My active imagination pictures God celebrating me today…

Beca-a-A-a-use…in God’s economy, I don’t think He likes it when I plan my days down to the last detail and forget to leave room for Him to manifest some of His awesomeness in my life. I learned a long time ago to use a pencil and not a pen when writing in my daily planner. Scratching through the iron pen of my plans and rewriting His will over the top tends to leave a big mess. If I’m not careful I get all mixed up whose will I’m really following. It’s a lot easier to buy extra erasers to delete my well-thought-out plans when God decides He’s got something better in mind.

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motive. Commit your activities to the Lord and your plans will be achieved.” Proverbs 16:2-3

One of the things I’m discovering about surprises is this, if I believe God is in control of all things and I’ve given Him control of my daily life, then I can trust His surprises to be God-ordained, God-orchestrated, divine opportunities and I can live in the moment knowing I’m right where God would have me to be. I can trust that when I go-with-His-flow and ride-on-His-wings then I’ll find myself in the center of His will and that’s such an amazing thought, a thought that allows me to live in the moment.

Because moments are precious. And I don’t want to use all my moments on myself…

Moments like now. I’m sitting at my computer typing this post because I’m sitting with a loved one who is very ill. She’s sleeping right now. Yes, I’m typing, but I’m praying, too. Loving…Caring…Encouraging…More Praying. I’m going-with-the-flow. I’m not trying to change things. I’m not fretting. There’s no drama. There’s no theatrics. There’s no stress. There’s just peace.

For once I’m easy-going, but only because my God makes it easier. For once I’m laid-back, but only because I can lay it all down on the altar. God’s in control. He’s in the details. He’s the Master Planner and I want His personal agenda to override mine every single time. There’s such a plethora of awesomeness knowing He planned this day for me and I can honestly say, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right here, right smack in the center of His will.

“Many plans are in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

 

 

 

Surprise In The Sunrise

IMG_0210God is full of surprises.

The first thing I do when I walk downstairs every morning is take my dogs outside. They’re all over me. Whining. Jumping. Running to the door. If I’m not fully awake before they greet me, I quickly come to life, grab the leash and get their little doggie buns out the door before their bladders explode. Forget the coffee. Who needs a shot of caffeine when you have a burst of canine?

Lucky for me…or should I say, blessed am I…when the first thing I see as I open my front door is the sunrise. No two are ever the same. The horizon may not altar much, but every sunrise is a beautiful, glorious surprise. The tree line may have the same irregular bumps and ragged edges. The deserted country road may boast the same straight lines and winding turn. The fields may still spread their wide expanse with rows of crops across the landscape, but the sky? I can never count on the same blues, or the same pinks or oranges. I can never expect to see the same greens or yellows. I can never predict the presence of clouds or the color of the sun and, yet, somehow I think God enjoys stirring my heart by twirling the heavens with His watercolors. Even those who don’t acknowledge Him appreciate the wonder of an early morning sky beholden to the Beholder…He’s the only One who gets to decide how to paint each new dawn.

Oh, I know not all surprises are pleasant. Some are framed with painful horizons, marred by bumps and ragged edges, they seem to pierce the sun and repel the light. Some lead us down roads with one winding turn after another. Some have planted rows and rows of unwanted growth. Maybe that’s why God prepares such beautiful sunrises. He knows how much we need good surprises. The kind that stir our hearts to awaken a thankful response. The kind that brings color to our world and paints beautiful pictures on the great expanse of our memory. Reminders that He is good. He is faithful. He is true.

Every sunrise has a horizon. I have one, too. According to my online dictionary, my horizon is the limit of my mental perception, experience or interest. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say, “I need to broaden my horizons,” but I’m thinking I might need to give it a shout out myself! It means it’s time to get out of my comfort zone. It’s time to expand my knowledge. It’s time to move on. It’s time to do something else. Sometimes I get stuck so God helps me out. He shakes me up a bit. He surprises me. He gives me a proper sunrise by pushing past the tree line, revealing what’s around the bend, or planting something new. Perspective is everything.

When I wake up in the morning I don’t know what the day is going to hold. Anything could happen. When I open the door every morning I don’t know what I’ll see. Anything could appear. If I don’t treat each day as a gift from God I risk missing out on the surprise in the sunrise. With my weathered eye on the horizon and a proper perspective, I see the tree line reaches to heaven, the road leads to grace, and the field produces a harvest. And I can’t tell you how glad I am that no two sunrises are the same.

Sometimes I need a little help in appreciating each new day. I need a reminder that some surprises are good for the soul. I need a burst of color, an explosion of light. I need God’s perspective. I need the brush of His fingers to paint pictures on the canvas of my heart and when He does…I become beholden to my Beholder. He’s the only One who gets to decide how to paint my dawns. He’s the only One who knows how to mix just the right amount of color to give my heart a proper twirl.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True…” Revelation 19:11

 

The Sting of the Fire Ant

IMG_0987Some places God just doesn’t want me to go. Some things God just doesn’t want me to do.

Some. Things. Just. Aren’t. Good. For. Me.

Period.

Sigh.

I haven’t always listened to God. I wish I had. I wish I did. But, I don’t. Sometimes I just want to do things my way. My curiosity gets the best of me. Temptation knocks. I cave. I give in. I wish I didn’t.

Like the other day.

I stomped a fire ant mound. Oh, I’ve heard a few things about fire ants, but I didn’t take heed. I didn’t run. I didn’t turn away. Oh, no. Not me. Not this woman. No, I thought I could divide and conquer with my own two feet. Just bring the foot down and crush the enemy!

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Let me just say, some enemies need more than a foot stomping. I have never seen so many ants in my life. Thousands upon thousands swarming out of that clay-constructed fortress. Attaching themselves like glue to my two-inch-platform, open-toe sandal. Never was I so grateful for two inches of space between ground and foot. Picture me on the side of the road jumping up and down, shaking my leg, stomping my foot, removing my sandal and pounding it on the ground to rid it of the threat to my body and health. Never was I so grateful for the grace of God. I only got stung three times. Three times too many. Today I’m paying the price…itching, burning, my skin has a pulse. A painful reminder that I should have listened to what I’ve heard about fire ants. Take heed.

God gives me warnings. He’s gracious like that. He wants what’s best for me. A loving Father who cares so much for me that He tells me to take heed.

“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.” Proverbs 13:1

I honestly, truthfully, and painfully admit…I am not always very wise. I attacked a fire ant hill. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to rid the earth of  dangerous pests, but there are much safer ways I could have done it. I could have planned. I could have worn proper clothing, used another means, and prepared a more strategic attack. When messing with the enemy I need to heed God’s advice. I need to seek His counsel. I need to remember that when I’m unprepared I could very well be setting myself up for failure.

Who wants to fail? It hurts. It stings. It can leave some nasty scars.

Believe me, every time I want to scratch off the top layer of my epidermis where those ants left their mark, I remember I should have listened to what I’ve heard about fire ants. I won’t be stomping any more ant hills with a two-inch platform sandal, leaving my skin exposed and my pride unchecked. The ants may have won this battle, but I left my shoe print on their mound. Next time, I’ll be attacking with a potent concoction of vinegar and baking soda.

See, I’m wiser now. Those ant stings left their imprint, too, and I don’t want a repeat. Once is enough for me.

“A fool spurned his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” Proverbs 15:5

I wish I was always so teachable. I wish I was always so quick to learn a lesson. I wish I was always so easily molded and refined. Some lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again in the school of life, but one thing I know…God never gives up on me. It scares me to think of what I would be like without Jesus. It scares me to think of where I’d be or what I’d be doing.

It scares me to think because I know there are many times when I do listen to God. Like when His Word washes such a holy truth over me it’s like a hammer and the stubborn rock of my will is broken into tiny little pieces, “Is not My Word like fire”–the Lord’s declaration–“and like a sledgehammer that pulverizes rock?” Jeremiah 23:29  Or when His Word pierces my soul and spirit in such a way as to change my hardened heart, “For the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

The enemy may leave a few marks on me from time to time, but God leaves an imprint that’s far greater, far more powerful, far above the intentions of the enemy to leave me helpless, hopeless, or hapless. I’m definitely wiser now than I was ten years ago, ten months ago, ten days ago…three days ago?!? Amen to that!

Yeah. So, I’ve heard about the fire ants. But, now I’ve seen them for myself! And I’m not ignorant any longer to what they can do. They aren’t good for me. Period. I’m wiser now.

I’ve also heard about my God. But, I’ve seen Him for myself!! He is so-o-o-o good for me. And I’m not ignorant to what He can do. He’s proved Himself over and over again in my life. Even when I’ve not listened to Him. Even when I’ve done things my own way. Even when curiosity has gotten the best of me. Even when I’ve caved. Even when I’ve had to suffer the consequences of my actions. He has been ever gracious. Ever merciful. Ever the loving Father.

I will not forget the sting of the fire ant. But!! I will not forget the mercies of my God, either. I don’t want to forget that He has an abundance of wisdom, an abundance of grace, an abundance of pulverizing, penetrating truth to slay the sting of any enemy, any time, anywhere. From now on, when I want to do some foot-stomping in enemy territory, I will do it God’s way. You can take that to the ants and pour it down their stinkin’ clay-constructed fortress.

So there.

“Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord.” Habakkuk 3:2

 

 

 

 

Morning Has Broken…

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Morning has broken Like the first morning,

Blackbird has spoken Like the first bird

Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!

Praise for them springing Fresh from the Word. (Morning Has Broken, Eleanor Farjeon 1881-1965)

 

Praise…it’s really such a simple thing to give God His worth, to open the mouth and speak words that confirm how wonderful He is. And He really is! But, praise is such a difficult thing when the heart doesn’t feel it. I know from personal experience that I don’t always have a song of praise for God in my heart. When I’m weighed down by many cares I’d rather cry than sing. When my soul is burdened and my spirit crushed I’d rather withdraw in solitude than face the world. When tears flow more freely than the fruit of my lips I find myself entering a very dark night.

I’ve had seasons when God seemed far away, seasons when He has been so silent I’ve found myself begging Him for a word, “God! Please talk to me because I can’t stand it when You don’t talk to me!”

I’ve had seasons when God seemed absent, seasons when I’ve faced one trial after another and found myself begging Him for relief, “God! Do you care? Please, help me because I can’t stand another minute of this!”

I’ve had seasons of wandering, when I seemed to be floundering with no direction, no vision, no map for my life.  Wandering along purposeless. Feeling useless.

I’ve had seasons of desertion, when I seemed to be stuck in the desert with no rain to quench my thirsty soul, no manna to feed my hungry heart, no trees to shade my shriveled spirit. Prodding along hopeless. Feeling helpless.

Praise…are you kidding me? When the clouds don’t pass, the storms don’t cease, the darkness won’t lift? Yes. Praise. Even when I don’t feel it. Even when I don’t want it. Even when I may not mean it. Because deep down, where God’s Spirit lives and breathes in me, I know He’s there. In that awful place where I know how very much I need Him, where I understand how desperate I am for Him. Like an early morning riser caffeine-driven because of poor, fitful sleep, I crave the presence of my God because I know He’s the only One who can break through the clouds.

Morning has broken…

“You are my Lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light..” 2 Samuel 22:29

Whatever the dark night of the soul really is, I know that God can open prison doors. I know that He breaks through walls of bronze and gates of iron. I know He lifts burdens from weary souls and heals those who are crushed in spirit. I know He can speak to me in the silence and He can walk with me through the trials. I know that if I press on through the darkness there’s a beautiful dawn waiting for me. Because just as I need the darkness to remind me of how much I need Him, I know He will give me seasons of refreshment, too. Where fellowship with Him is so sweet that I soak in His Presence, feed on His Word, and drink from His River of delight. I call them garden seasons, where God walks with me on dew-drenched grass in the cool of the day.

 

Sweet the rain’s new fall Sunlit from heaven

Like the first dew fall On the first grass.

Praise for the sweetness Of the wet garden,

Sprung in completeness Where His feet pass. (Morning Has Broken, Eleanor Farjeon 1881-1965)

 

God is ever passing my way. It doesn’t matter what season I’m in. His feet never pass me by. He never takes His eyes off of me. He never abandons me. He never misplaces me. His Word tells me so. This is my hope. This is my help. This is my song of praise.

Praise…I’m not kidding. In all seasons. Because dark seasons do not last forever and God is faithful in season and out of season.

“He has put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:3

How easy it is to praise God when things are good, but when I can say, “I will still trust You, I will still praise You, I will still love You,”  when things seem bad I believe I’m giving Him one of the greatest gifts I can give…the sacrifice of praise.

When the clouds have rolled away and the rains have ceased and I’m blinded by the light of His glory I know every trial, every burden, every tear I’ve shed has not been in vain. I want my faith to be so real that it clings to the presence of God even when He seems far away. I want my faith to be so pure that it waits in expectation for God to speak when He seems silent. I want Him to find me faithful. I want Him to find me trustworthy. I want Him to find me in praise because one day the dark night gives way to dawn and morning will break…it’s there that He greets me. He revives my heart, refreshes my soul and renews my spirit. I open my mouth and confirm how wonderful He is. And, I realize…that all along…when I praised Him even when I didn’t feel it, I really did mean it.

“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 103:5b

 

Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning

Born of the one light Eden saw play!

Praise with elation, Praise every morning,

God’s recreation Of the new day! (Morning Has Broken, Eleanor Farjeon 1881-1965)

 

 

 

Come…An Invitation

IMG_0977I remember as a young girl the pure joy I felt whenever I received an invitation to a friend’s birthday party. To know that I had been specially selected, uniquely chosen, personally invited to be part of a celebration. Just the thought of party dresses, cake and ice cream, and simple games like pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey (yes, it sounds lame, my friends, but it was fun back “in the day.” Honest-to-goodness, it was!) made my heart flutter with excitement and expectation. Oh, yes, and picking out the birthday present was almost just as much fun as the party itself. I could hardly wait to see my gift unwrapped and the happy look on my friend’s face.

My little party invitation always found a resting place in a prominent spot in our home. Heaven forbid if I let my mother forget that important date. She got no rest until she called in my RSVP. In my mind, to be invited anywhere meant someone, somewhere liked me enough to include me. Me, the little girl with the fake eye who was sometimes very insecure and unsure of herself.

I’ve been pondering a lot lately on the word, “Come…” as seen in Scripture.

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

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55:1-2

God is such a gentleman. I’m convinced that if there’s a deep south in heaven God lives there with sunflowers and magnolia blossoms growing in His backyard. In spite of all my crazy, mixed-up, chaotic ways He comes to me. Me, the big girl with the fake eye who is still unsure of herself sometimes. Come. Come to Me. He doesn’t come barging in on a John Deere tractor. He doesn’t come riding in on a bull. He doesn’t yell or scream or order my naughty self to sit down. He knocks gently on my heart’s door. When I look through clouded window panes of muscle and tissue there He stands and my heart melts. I can picture it in my mind’s eye. Always there. Always knocking. Always waiting. Patiently. For little-ol’-me to get tired of my busyness, tired of my craziness, tired of my selfishness and just visit with Him. I can even hear His voice in a deep southern drawl…Let’s have us a visit.

Oh dear. My cheeks are getting a salty-tear-washing at this very moment because sometimes I just cannot fathom that the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent One wants to spend time with me. When I think of what Jesus did to make a way for me to the Father, pouring forth, bleeding out, giving His very life…how can I cast aside His invitation? How can I stick it in a drawer and forget about it? How can I allow it to gather dust or pile my indifference on top of it?

Come to Me. Do you get this? ‘Cause I don’t. But I don’t think I’m supposed to get it. I’m just supposed to accept it. I’m supposed to put Jesus’ invitation in a visible place in my home and never forget it’s there. This beautiful, open invitation with my name on it. I don’t have to wait until I’ve got it all together. I don’t even have to put on a party dress. I don’t have to serve cake. I don’t have to play games. I don’t have to spend any money on gifts.

I can’t put a price tag on anything Jesus offers. Things like rest. Contentment. Satisfaction. Soul food. Thirst-quenching Water. Priceless.

I love to start my day with Jesus. He doesn’t just like me. He loves me. He includes me in His family. When He says to me, Come and have breakfast,” (John 21:12) I want my heart to be so open to His presence that I don’t even hesitate to set a place for Him at my table. I don’t want to hesitate to pour Him some tea and pour out my heart. I don’t want to hesitate to share my life and share sweet fellowship. I don’t want to hesitate to soak in His presence and soak in His Word.

I don’t want to hesitate when Jesus comes calling because really this is the perfect gift. His gift to me. My gift to Him. The gift of time. Of presence. Precious.

Wow. What a way to start the day.

Come. What an invitation to ponder.

Here’s another thought to ponder…there’s an invitation that still sits in visible places. Jesus is still knocking on heart’s doors. The Perfect Gentleman. He stands. He waits. He freely gives.

One day there will be a celebration above all celebrations. Plans are already underway. Preparations are already being made. There’s a place card at this table with my name on it because I’ve already sent in my RSVP.  I’ve accepted this free gift. I’ll be among those who’ll rejoice forever knowing I’ve been specially selected, uniquely chosen and personally invited to attend THE party of a lifetime. Oh happy day! It makes my heart flutter with excitement and expectation.  I can hardly wait to see the happy look on my Friend’s face.

Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22:17

The Truth About Dissing

IMG_0815When my husband and I put our home in Virginia on the market seven years ago it brought out the worst in me. I might as well have been taken over by the pod people. I’m surprised my husband didn’t move to North Carolina without me. I became a man’s worst nightmare…the nagging wife.

“…and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” Proverbs 19:13

Like water constantly dripping from a leaky faucet I was making my poor man miserable. I’m sure there were times he would have preferred living in a tent in the woods than under his own roof. At least he would have had some peace in his heart.

“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” Proverbs 21:9

If you’ve ever sold a home you know it can be nerve-racking. It wasn’t just all the preparations that went into the sale of our home it was the stress of moving to another state. Leaving the city of our birth, the country of our childhood, the place where we raised our children, our ministries and our church family, our neighborhood with all it’s comfort and familiarity, our family, our friends….leaving it all behind to move to a new place where we knew absolutely. no. one. Not one single person.

Yeah. I was stressed.

That cliche’? Too blessed to be stressed? It’s cute. It’s wise. It’s true. But, it’s not practical for a high-strung woman going through menopause. Just sayin’.

One of the things I’ve learned in the seven years we’ve been in our new home is that once you become a whiner and complainer, it’s hard to break the habit. But, praise God, hallelujah and amen, I think I’ve had a break-through ’cause the good Lord has seen fit to give me some of His hard-to-ignore-wisdom-and-counsel this past week.

Whining and complaining is really a lack of trust in the Sovereignty of God. My word for 2014 is trust. As I’ve been reading my Bible through this year I’ve highlighted and journaled in the margins of God’s Book everything He’s been showing me about trust. I’ve always thought I had a pretty solid foundation of faith, weak at times-yes, but I’ve never doubted my salvation. I’ve been digging deep this year, though, and I’ve allowed God to expose some of my ‘ugliness’…the parts of me that aren’t very ‘pretty.’ One of these things has been my tendency to worry. When I worry, I stress. When I stress, I whine. When I whine, I complain. When I complain, I criticize. When I criticize, I start dissing others.

Dissing is now in the new contemporary versions of our American dictionaries. It means to disrespect someone, to criticize. So last week I was whining about something. The next thing I knew I began criticizing someone. Before I knew it, God had gotten in the middle of it. I guess you could say He put a stop to it. Like a lightening bolt. Boom. Thank goodness I didn’t drop dead. I don’t know that heaven is ready for me, yet.

All of these words began to flash before my eyes: discord, disunity, disharmony, dissatisfaction, discontent. God showed me that when all these disses show up in my heart they wreck havoc on my soul and spirit. I’m not just disrespecting my fellow man, I’m disrespecting myself. I’m disrespecting my God because my heart is really Christ’s home.

When I’m whining and complaining there isn’t much room for God’s love, joy, peace, and contentment in my life. It’s as if I’m poisoning my thoughts with everything that is not “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8)

But the defining moment came when I realized I can’t really bring honor to God when I’m dissing because I’m not respecting Him and His authority in my life. It’s a lack of trust in Him. A lack of trust in His goodness.

And that brings tears to my eyes. I don’t want to hurt God’s reputation because He really and truly is good. Deep down, where the heart of Jesus lives and breathes within me, I really do love this Man. This Redeemer. This One who only wants the very best for me and part of His best is to rid me of all that isn’t good so that I can receive all that is…all that is “true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable.”

And when it comes right down to it, I can’t shine the light of Jesus when I’m full of disses. I want to be full of blesses instead. I really do want to be too blessed to be stressed.

So I’m working on letting go of a bad habit. It takes work. It takes practice. Not only do I want my husband to live peacefully in his home, I want Jesus to feel at home in my heart. I don’t want to let the pod people take over because they dull my sparkle. I want to shine. I want to keep a twinkle in my eye. I want to light up my little part of the world.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…” Philippians 2:14

Lighting the world for Jesus begins in me. It starts in my heart, Christ’s home…the place where He is pleased to dwell.

Grace After Grace

IMG_0787My pastor has a real heart for prayer. On Monday my husband and I joined him in a new kind of prayer ministry he has started as a community outreach. After receiving permission from the directors of our town’s medical clinic, we set up a tent, a table and some chairs on the lawn just outside the main doors. Our mission was to ask people going in and out of the clinic if we could pray for them.

That’s all. Pure and simple. Nothing added to it. Nothing taken from it.

To tell you the truth, I really didn’t know what to expect. I don’t like rejection and I half-believed there would be a lot of that, but God knows I love to pray and so do these two godly men I served alongside. I especially love to pray with others, taking their names to the throne of grace while holding their hands.

There are a lot of hurting people in our midst. Many of them feel helpless, sometimes hopeless. Some are frightened, afraid to even face tomorrow. Others feel completely alone. They just need to know someone cares. Somehow, prayer has a way of bringing comfort to those who may not even know how to pray for themselves. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve prayed with someone and we’ve both ended up in tears. Only Jesus can reach that deeply, touch that tenderly, and comfort that generously.

But I’ve come to understand something about prayer. Something that makes all my own personal suffering worth it. I’ve had my share of physical discomfort in life. I live with a measure of discomfort every single day, but God has not left me to cope on my own. He gives me all I need to live life well. If He does it for me, I know He’ll do it for anyone.

“Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness…” John 1:16

We have all received grace after grace…

Oh my goodness, I think I need to shout “Hallelujah!!”

Grace after grace after grace…never-ending grace. In other words, I’ve been given plenty to go around. It’s not to be hoarded or hidden away.  As it has freely and generously been given to me so I should freely and generously share it with others.

There’s a scene in the The Lord of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Ring, that I have memorized. Frodo was stabbed by a morgul blade and near death. Lady Arwen raced him away on her horse, carrying him to her people where they had the power to save him. Along the way, they were pursued by the Nazgul who desired to capture Frodo, the bearer of their precious ring. Because they were held up by the enemy, Frodo began to slip away into the shadow world, but Arwen cradled him in her arms and with tears in her eyes she prayed,

“What grace has been given to me, let it pass to him.”

Such an abundance of grace has been given to me. I know where I’ve been. I know what I’ve done. I know what God has saved me from and what He still delivers me from. I know what I struggle with every single day. I know my weaknesses, my frailties, my insecurities. I know the power of grace. How can I not want others to know it, too?

When I hold someone’s hand or lay my hand on her (or his) shoulder to pray with her, in a way I’m cradling her in my arms. I don’t always want to just say, “I’ll pray for you,” and then put her name on my prayer list.  Sometimes I want to pray side-by-side, face-to-face, and hand-in-hand in the Presence of God. I want to share tears. I want to give comfort. I want to unleash grace.

I want to pass it on.

I know grace is unleashed in thousands of different ways, but prayer is so very personal and God is a personal God, meeting us right where we are and loving us just as we are. People need to know God sees, God hears, God cares. And I can show them that through prayer. Prayer is just another way to grace someone, but I believe it’s one of the most powerful.

We met with such a wonderful response yesterday outside the medical clinic. People were receptive, responsive, appreciative. And, yes, there were even some tears. I have no doubt God touched many hearts. I have no doubt God came down.

I have no doubt Grace abounded.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so our comfort overflows through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Prayer changes things. Prayer covers things. Prayer calms things.

For the love of grace, pass it on….