No Fear Of The Snow

images“When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” Proverbs 31:21

I didn’t always understand this verse. Clothed in scarlet? What does clothing my family in red have to do with  peace in a snowstorm?

We’re buried under a blanket of snow this morning. We don’t get a lot of snow in these parts of North Carolina. I get the impression people around here are pretty thankful they don’t have to worry too often about driving on slippery roads or bundling up with layers of clothing to keep themselves warm in freezing temperatures. I get the feeling the only people happy about a good snowfall are the kids. Not that they like getting out in it, they just like getting out of school.

I love a fresh snowfall. Always have. Even back home in Virginia where it snowed more frequently than it does in Spring Hope I loved it. I was never one to rush to the grocery store because I was afraid I’d run out of the bare necessities. I never got cabin fever. I never gave in to the fear of losing my electricity. I chose to enjoy the beauty of it. I just love the way snow blankets the earth in pure white.

Some of my fondest teenage memories are sledding on one of the best hills in the county with a group of great friends, especially by starlight with a bonfire adding warmth nearby…or ice skating by moonlight on a small pond surrounded by a thick forest of trees. Earthly sounds are muffled and the landscape is put to rest. A walk through the woods in the snow has always been good for my soul. All is hushed and my spirit finds peace.

I never thought I was a Proverbs 31 Woman. Years ago, though, I studied the real meaning of her “perfection” and realized she’s a woman I should strive to emulate. She’s well-prepared in all seasons. She works hard. She’s generous. She’s supports her husband. She takes care of her family. She walks the talk of faith.

She isn’t afraid of the future…she isn’t afraid of the snow…she. isn’t. afraid.

The Proverbs 31 Woman has done all she knows to do for her family. She has fed them well, clothed them properly, and given them a warm, loving home. The rest is up to God. Even in snowstorms.

This is a recurring theme in my life. God doesn’t want me to worry. He doesn’t want me to be anxious. He wants me to find rest in His unchanging hand. The Hand that offers protection and security. The Hand that gives strength and guidance. The Hand that never loses its grip and never grows tired. When my husband has to spend the night at the store and my son in a motel because roads are unsafe for traveling and I’m home alone in a big drafty house with 3 dogs, I don’t have to worry…i’m. not. afraid.

If God’s hands are big enough to hold the whole world then I can certainly trust Him to keep me safe, to keep my family safe. This morning, I have a smile on my face and peace in my heart because my family and I are well-prepared for the snow. I have dry wood for my wood stove, food to eat and plenty of warm clothing. I’m thinking of taking a walk across the cotton field. I won’t be clothed in scarlet, but I’ll be clothed in peace because the Hand of God is with me…

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:7-10

Still Believin’ No Matter What

UnknownThis post was originally written for another ministry blog, but since that ministry has restructured and redesigned it’s website I wanted to repost.

As I prepare to end my month of fasting and prayer, I’ve already seen glimpses of God’s hand at work in my life. I foresee a year of change ahead. Part of me is excited to live out God’s purpose for me in this season of life and part of me is afraid. Afraid I’ll fail, afraid I’ll fall on my face, afraid I’ll take a wrong turn somewhere. I have to keep reminding myself that my life is a journey and when I surrender wholeheartedly to God I can be assured that He will order my steps. Even if I take a wrong turn He has the wisdom to steer me back on track. Even if I fall on my face He will pick me up. Even if I experience fear I will know His peace. So, here I am… still believin’ no matter what.

In November, 2002, about a week before I was scheduled for brain surgery I was reading John, chapter 17, one of the last prayers of Jesus before He went to the Cross. He first prayed for Himself, “The time has come. Glorify Your Son…” Then, He prayed for His disciples, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours…Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name–the name You gave Me–so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me…”

I read the chapter over and over again with tears streaming down my face because my spirit was responding to the words of Jesus and I was deeply troubled. I asked God, “Are You telling me that I’m going to die? What about my family?”

His response was, “What if you did? Could you trust Me with your family? I’m what they need the most and I can go to the places in their hearts that not even you can go.”

A great peace came over me and I realized what God wanted from me more than anything was to hear me say, “Whether I live or die, You are Sovereign and You will be glorified in life or death. I’ve done what I could. There rest is up to You. I give You my family.”

In essence, this is what Jesus was saying to God…”the time has come…I’ve done all that You’ve asked of Me…the rest is up to You. Now glorify Your Son.” Jesus went so far as to pray in the Garden before the soldiers came  to take Him away, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not MY will, but Yours be done.”

How many of us who claim to know and believe that God is perfect and perfect in all of His ways can really pray like this? Yes, I was able to pray something similar before I allowed a neurosurgeon to slice into my skull and perform the very tedious task of cutting a tumor away from the nerves of my brain, but if I’m completely honest with you and with God I don’t always surrender so willingly to the trusting hand of the One who keeps my heart beating every minute of every day.

As much as the child of God wants to know what tomorrow brings, there is always a moment of truth when faced with the unknown when we are genuinely seeking God: Can I trust in the Sovereignty of God no matter the outcome? Somehow, I think when we can answer with a resounding “Yes!” to this question we have reached a pivotal moment in our faith journey. No longer are we weighed down by doubt and unbelief. We can trust in the power and goodness of God. That goodness will always prevail. Love will always rule where hearts are completely and totally surrendered to the work of His hand. To those who can say, “I’ve done all that You’ve asked of me. There’s nothing else I can do. No matter what, I will always love You. I will always trust You because You’re faithful.” It’s such a beautiful place to be.

How can we trust God with some things and not all things? Scripture tells us He doesn’t change. He’s not capable of changing. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He will always be faithful, He will always be trustworthy, He will always be good. When we doubt, worry and try to take over where only God can rule, in a way, we try to dethrone Him. I’m sorry, but that just can’t be done.

So, I’m still trustin’ and believin’ in the redeeming grace of God to save, no matter what. Sometimes I have to surrender again and again, but that’s ok. My heart remembers the Garden and my spirit responds to the words of Jesus because His words will never fade, never pass away and I’m comforted. I can do this. Life isn’t meant to be lived in fear of our tomorrows. After all, I’m still livin’ and breathin’ on this earth. Our worst fear could turn out to be our greatest miracle. You never know.

Can I hear an “Amen”, please?

“Because he loves Me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16

A Dream-Believer

imagesI have a dream…

These words were made famous in August of 1963 by the great Martin Luther King. As he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he pleaded with all Americans to end racism. Near the end of his speech, the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, cried out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and with her encouragement Rev. King drifted from his prepared speech to share the details of the dream God had put deep within his heart. It’s a dream that lives on…even in these present times.

We’ve all had a dream or two tucked deep within the crevices of our hearts. I know I have. Some dreams were never meant to see the light of day, though. They were just hopeful imaginations and what if’s. Some dreams have lingered, creating a passion and desire within me to see them come alive. Learning to discern which dreams are born out of my flesh and which are born of the spirit within me takes a lot of prayer and soul-searching. I’m a dreamer, after all, but I don’t want to be just a dreamer. I want to be a Dream-Believer.

One thing I love about dreams is that they’re meant to be shared. As Mahalia Jackson encouraged Rev. King to share his dream I, too, am encouraged to share mine. What’s a dream if it’s not meant to be shared? If we keep it locked up inside of us then it has nowhere to go. It’s as if we dare to hope such a dream could ever exist outside the walls of our innermost being. There are just some dreams God never intends to put to rest. If we carry them with us to our grave they risk dying with us and that’s a very sad thing.

I have some dreams that I believe have come from the heart of God. One of them is what you see before you as you read these words. A blog. A place where I can be God’s spokesperson. See, I happen to believe God has called me to be His voice through teaching His Word, through speaking and writing. This blog is a place where I can do that, where I can share how He’s working in my life and encourage you to do the same. I know this space needs a lot of attention. I want to make it more visually appealing. I want to customize it so I can add pictures and other media. I want to add personal touches that make it stand out. I want to generate more interest and appeal to more readers. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes God.

I’ve also written a devotion book, Connecting With God Creatively. Have I told you that? Yes, I think I have. Quite a few times, I’m sure :). It was born out of my January month of fasting two years ago. It has beautiful mixed media illustrations by my friend, Sherry French. It’s now in the hands of my artist son, Brandon, who is working on the final graphic touches. Knowing that God inspired this project means I can put my faith and trust in Him to promote it. Sometimes I’m so excited about it, though, that I want to run ahead of Him. I’m learning it takes time. It takes patience. It takes God.

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:1-3

God is the Dream-Giver. It doesn’t matter how many dreams I may have, I know very few of them–if any–will ever survive or see the light of day if I don’t commit every step of the journey to God, if I don’t let Him prepare the way and go before me, if I don’t give Him all the praise and glory. Yes, dreams are meant to be shared, but I’m learning that the best dreams are those God shares with me and asks if I will make them real for Him.

Oh, dear…I feel a salty-tear-cheek-washing threatening to halt my progress here…give me a minute, will you?

It blows my mind when God gives me the privilege of sharing in the work of His hands. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder…why me? And God always answers, “Why not you?” Go figure.

As I fast and pray this month God is showing me that some dreams are way bigger than anything I can dream up on my own. Some dreams require great sacrifices and complete surrender to the work of His hands, knowing that the dream is much, much too big for me alone. I have no idea what this year holds, but I have a feeling that God is going to stretch my faith in unbelievable ways. I guess that means I’ll have a lot to share with you over the next few months.

When God says to me, “Tell them about the dream, Nina!,” you can bet I will because God-sized dreams always have somewhere to go…they’re always meant to see the light of day. God-sized dreams are always meant to live on.

So, stay tuned and please….if God lays my name on your heart, pray for me because a Dream-Believer needs a lot of prayer to see a dream come to life.

The Gift-Giver

17b0966a6ad218d3919a64df48c47e5bWho of us doesn’t like to receive a gift? Not just for a birthday or special occasion, but a gift that comes to us out-of-the-blue. For no reason. A friend sends a care package and a rotten day suddenly becomes the best day of the week. A neighbor shares a plate of cookies. A student brings a card of thanks. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. I love gifts. When a gift is given out of love or deep appreciation I can’t tell you the joy it stirs in my heart. I don’t always want to be on the receiving end, though. I want to be a gift-giver, too…the one who makes someone else’s day…the one who makes someone else smile.

God loves to lavish good gifts on His children and He never expects anything in return, but I believe He loves receiving gifts, too. Gifts that express our love. Gifts that come from a heart of  gratitude for all He’s done for us. My gifts may seem small in comparison, but I believe God is pleased with the sincerity from which my gifts are given.

I learned to play the piano as a child. I took lessons from the time I was six years old through my first year of college. I can’t say I play extremely well. I’ve never claimed perfection. I never really disciplined myself. I despised memorization and I didn’t always pay attention to things like “key signature,” “time signature,” and I still don’t know the names of all the different types of “rests.” During my weekly piano lessons I would shamefully sit at the beautiful black grande piano in Mrs. Anderson’s music studio and begin to play a piece I’d practiced half-heartedly. Part-way through she would stop me and say, “Nina, you still aren’t looking at your key signature.” I’d completely disregarded all sharps and flats and played as if I didn’t have a care in the world.

Shameful. ‘Tis true.

Given the fact that I was born with degenerative hearing loss I can’t say I heard myself playing all those wrong notes. Sounded normal to me. Probably because I’d practiced the wrong way all week. I do know that when I put forth my best effort and practiced every day I could play fairly well. God, bless Mrs. Anderson, please…she was so patient with me. I think she saw something in me I never saw in myself. Being hearing impaired and blind in one eye left me with enough insecurities to fill the luggage compartment of a Grey Hound bus. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard music the way a person with normal hearing does. All I know is, I did learn to play the piano and somehow God has used this small gift in ways I never expected.

Back in the eighties I was the church pianist. I was present every time the doors opened, banging away on the keyboard to my heart’s content. I played hymns for congregational singing, the preludes and the offertories, and occasionally for choir anthems. I’m proud to say I practiced, practiced, practiced during those few years. More than I ever had in my life, but I can’t truly say I was giving God a gift. My heart was missing something. That season was short-lived and God moved me on to the ministry of teaching His Word and speaking in His name. I quickly pushed my musical gift aside.

When God gives the gift of a talent to His child, though, I don’t think He ever intends for it to be cast aside completely. In the past couple of months He has dug deep into the storehouse of my being and brought to the surface this insignificant little talent He gave me. My church’s minister of music recently retired and I’ve made myself available to help. Although I haven’t truly played the piano or practiced in many years I’ve been comforted by this one truth:

“A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” Proverbs 18:16

My talent to play the piano may seem very small. I’m still not claiming perfection, but I’m older and wiser now than I was thirty years ago. I want to give God a true gift. When I give Him what I have in my hands and say, “Take it, Lord, it’s all I’ve got, but it’s Yours,” I believe it becomes an act of worship. My arthritic hands aren’t as strong as they use to be, but they’re willing. When I practice, practice, practice I’m not just giving God my talent, I’m giving Him my time. When I look long and hard at my “time signature” and my “key signature” I’m not just giving God my knowledge, I’m giving Him my mind. I’m desiring to give Him my best.

The funny thing is, I hear even less now than I did as a teenager. When I play for congregational singing I no longer hear any voices. I read the lips of the men and women in the choir with my one good eye ever watchful so I don’t speed ahead or fall behind. I realize just what an act of grace it is that God would use me in such a role, even if it is temporary. When I sit down at the piano on Sunday morning and give Him the gift of my hands, He ushers me into His presence. He opens the door to His heart when I give Him from the gratitude of mine.

Hummmmmm…I wonder if God sings along when I play. That’s a very interesting thought. I believe it’s possible to make God’s day. I know He smiles because when no one else knows what’s in my heart He does and my heart is saying, “Thank You, God, for showing me how to be a gift-giver.”

The Fruit Of Self-Control

UnknownI don’t like New Year’s resolutions. Not anymore. I think it’s wonderful that a new year inspires many to make positive lifestyle changes, but why wait for the New Year to start? I found out a long time ago that it didn’t really work for me. Those resolutions I made out of good intentions never seemed to take root. I would revert back to my old ways or habits after a few months and wonder why in the world I made them in the first place so I just don’t make them anymore. Instead, I want to make changes in my life all through the year. And I want those changes to last.

Let’s face it, sometimes change is hard. Breaking bad habits, overcoming addictions, softening hard hearts, tossing out rotten attitudes…it all takes work; like training to run a marathon, lifting weights to build muscle, aerobicizing (is that a word?) to strengthen the heart. Making positive changes requires discipline. Perseverance. Endurance. Self-control.

Oh, help.

I’ve struggled with a sugar addiction for years. I call myself a sugar addict, but I don’t know if the medical experts agree on that term. All I know is I’m hopelessly out-of-control when it comes to sugar. I eat way more than I should. I want it morning, noon, and night. I’d rather have a bag of cookies than a healthy dinner. I can’t eat just one cookie out of the bag…I eat the whole bag! I can’t eat just one small bowl of ice cream…I eat the whole half gallon. In one sitting! The same goes for cake and pie and candy. I drown my coffee with flavored creamers and double the fudge in my hot chocolate. Oh, and let’s not forget the brown sugar in the oatmeal and honey in the tea. Any time I can add sugar to the five, some say six, food groups I’m sweetly satisfied.

The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with one slice of cake after a meal or two cookies with a cup of afternoon tea, but I lack the self-control to do this and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

Uh-oh. I don’t like the sound of that because I want to be a fruit-bearer. I don’t want my branches lacking in purpose or withering in function. Just because self-control is the last of the nine fruits listed in Galations 5 doesn’t mean it’s not important.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galations 5:22

Lack of self-control means I’m not letting the Spirit control “ME.” If I want to bear more fruit in my life then I need to make changes that reflect the Spirit at work within me. That means I need more than physical food. I need Jesus.

“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” John 15:4 & 5

I’ve learned I can never get enough of Jesus. I have to be so hopelessly addicted to Him that when my brain tells me I need a “sugar fix” I can feast on His unfailing love instead and be satisfied. Honestly, it doesn’t come naturally, but if I really want more of Jesus in my life then, for me, that means I have to choose Him over a slice of cake or bowl of ice cream some days. And sometimes it’s hard ’cause I really, really want the cake.

I have to choose discipline. I persevere. I endure. I practice self-control. I depend upon Jesus to help me because I can’t do it without Him and you know what? After a while, I find there’s a sweetness to life that doesn’t include sugar at all. Every time I say “No” to self I’m saying “Yes” to Him. Somehow, no jumbo-white-chocolate-macadamia-nut-cookie compares to the perfect fruit of the Vine.

Maybe one day I’ll have this self-control-thing down pat, but if I don’t start with my sugar addiction it could spread to other areas of my life and that scares me. I don’t want to lose all my branches, even though I know I need pruning every now and then to produce the most fruit possible. I want my roots to run so deep that no fire, no flood, no storm of life can destroy the hard work I put into training my body to reflect the work of the Gardener.

SoOooooo…here’s to a year of fruit-bearing, my friends…may our branches grow strong and produce an abundance of self-control in all areas of our lives. Let’s do Vine-life together where we stay connected to the true Vine…the One who makes life truly sweet. Let’s resolve to make positive changes that last all year long. Why wait for another year to start?