Fresh Perspective for the Storms of Life

IMG_0691Last week, my father and I walked along Wakefield Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia. It’s a quiet strip of beach. Restful. Peaceful. Just a few hours walking along the shore is enough to help me refocus and put my frayed nerves back together. I don’t get to go as often as I like, but I was visiting my parents who live just a few miles away and it was a beautiful day .

As we were strolling along the shore, we came across a baby river turtle fighting the surf in its quest for deeper waters. Every time the waves would deposit him on shore, he promptly turned back and re-entered the water. In desperation and determination, those tiny little legs paddled fast and furious against the current. He didn’t want to be on shore. He wanted to be in the water. Past the rolling waves, past the tugging undertow, against the moving current. To get to the deeper calm he had to battle his own personal little storm.

Somehow, this visual has given me a fresh perspective for the storms of life. I’ve pondered it for days. I don’t want to be in the storm. I don’t like it. I don’t want to paddle my tiny little arms and legs until they’re spent with exhaustion. I don’t want to enter the surf again and again and again. Most of the time I just want God to get me out…relieve me…spare me. The storm isn’t my destination. I want my feet on solid ground, but now I realize that sometimes in life the storm is the destination.

God wants to stretch and strengthen my spiritual muscles. When my human faith struggles with things like doubt, God sends me into the storm. Fighting against the rolling waves, the constantly moving current and the undertow that threatens to pull me beneath the surface I gain a different perspective.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side…He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray…when evening came…the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come,” He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed in the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-32

We make a big deal about Peter taking his eyes off Jesus. About his lack of faith, his doubt. But I see something new here. I see something fresh. I see something that has changed my perspective.

Jesus purposely made His disciples get into the boat and push out to water, knowing the storm would come. He is Lord of the skies. Lord of the seas. Master of the wind and waves. Jesus knew His disciples needed fresh faith and He knows when I need it, too. He knows what causes me to doubt. He knows when I need to fight the wind and waves. Before He can take me to the other side, I have to face the storm.

I like Peter. I like his passion. His zeal. His honesty. “Lord,” he said, “if it is You, tell me to come to You on the water.”

IF. For all Peter’s passion and zeal, for all his faith in Jesus as the Son of God, for all he knew to be true about this Man he had pledged to follow, he still had doubts.

Sometimes, I am Peter.

Jesus still comes to the doubters of this world. He takes our little bit of faith and puts us out to sea. He sends the wind to stir the waters and meets us there because He’s not just the Wave-Maker. He’s also the Wave-Walker.

I want to be like Peter. Yes, he took his eyes off Jesus for a few seconds and began to sink, but he got out of the boat for crying-out-loud! He was the only one. The only one who asked Jesus to prove Himself. The only one who was honest in doubt, “Lord, increase my faith. Do the impossible.”

And Jesus did. Peter walked on water. So what if it was just a few steps. When his faith faltered and he began to sink, he still cried out to the only One he knew could save him. Peter’s little bit of faith really did save him.

Somehow I think Peter strengthened a few spiritual muscles in that storm. I need to do the same. I can even learn a lesson from the river turtle because as my father and I watched that baby turtle…all alone fighting the waves…he really did make it past the surf.  In deeper waters he’ll grow bigger and stronger. One day he’ll be strong enough to swim all the way across the river to the other side.

Storms are a part of life, but I want to learn to ride out the storm with an ever-increasing faith. When threatening waves deposit me on shore and keep me from reaching the other side I want to turn and kick against the current with desperation and determination. When the storm turns fierce and I lose my courage I want to cry out, trusting and believing the Wave-Walker will reach out for me and lift me above angry waves because even when I doubt I still know He’s the only One who can save me.

Sometimes I think the storm is the real destination. Maybe the other side is the reward of weathering the storm. And who knows? When I push out to sea, past the rolling waves, past the moving current, past the tugging undertow, and face the storm with fresh perspective…who knows? I just might learn to do a little water-walking of my own…

 

 

 

 

When Five Loaves and Two Fish Feed a Crowd

imagesLast week I studied the well-known Bible passage in John 6 that records Jesus feeding five thousand people with a little boy’s lunch. One of the things I love about God’s Word is that no matter how many times I read it or study it God will speak fresh truth when I have ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to understand. I can’t help it…I just think it’s the most wonderful thing.

 

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.

Philip answered Him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” John 6:1-13

 

Back in January I wrote the post, The Dream-Believer. I mentioned that God had given me a dream and one day it would be time to share it. As I studied this passage with eyes wide open, ears unplugged and a heart eager to receive I realized it’s time to share my dream. I’ve written a devotion book. It chronicles my spiritual journey through simple, every day experiences. Like a journal. I’ve written what I feel as honestly as I can, recording ways God has touched me, inspired me, encouraged me, and convicted me. These thirty devotions have been illustrated by my friend, Sherry French, who is a talented mixed media artist.

This past January I was offered a contract from a Christian publishing company and I accepted. The book is now in production with an expected fall release. You’d think I’d be elated. Excited. Expectant. You would think, but to tell you the honest-to-goodness truth I’ve been very scared.

Waves of fear have washed over me. Failure. Faint-hearted. Faithless. Fiery f’s. Flaming darts of the enemy. Doubt. Discouragement. Dread. Deadly d’s. Unbelief. Uncertain. Unable. Unforgiving u’s. And what if no one buys the book or those that do feel they wasted their money after they read it? What if the first run of a thousand copies sits in the warehouse collecting dust? What if I never get to write another book? Whiny what-if’s. Does it never end?

Shortly after I signed the contract on this book-a book I know for certain was completely and totally inspired by God-I realized that all my fears were a lack of faith in Him to use the gift of words He has given me. A lack of faith in His power. His might. His work. His ability. We’ve all been given a few loaves and a few fish…something or somethings…a gift or two that God never intends for us to keep to ourselves. These somethings are given for us to share, to shine, to show the faithfulness of God. We’ve heard it over and over again….it’s not about me…it’s all about Him. Isn’t it time we lived it?

Months ago, when I realized God was increasing my faith through the publishing of this book, I determined to ask Him to sell five thousand copies. Oh, I know He can sell more than that, but I’m just an unknown author with a little gift to share. A few words to shine the light of Jesus. A testimony to show God’s faithfulness in my life. When I pondered over this story of the boy who gave all he had, I realized God wants to feed five thousand people with my little lunch.

Five loaves. Two fish. Five thousand people. And all are fed. It’s a God-thing. A miracle. A multiplying.

Jesus, the Multiplier, cannot be underestimated. When I think I have nothing to give He says, “Give me what you have.” When I think my offering is too little He says, “Give me what you have.” When I think my talents are insignificant He says, “Give me what you have. I, the Multiplier, will take your nothing and make it something. I will take your little and make a lot. I will take what you think is insignificant and make it important. Never underestimate My miracle~working~power.”

When I give God my five loaves and two fish it will always be enough. More than enough. There may even be leftovers. Nothing I give in Jesus’ name will ever be wasted.

So I’ve surrendered my little girl’s lunch…this devotion book…because it’s not mine. It’s God’s. He’ll feed the five thousand. I’ll just pray each one is filled.

When the fiery f’s, the deadly d’s, and the whiny what-if’s threaten to scare me silly Jesus reminds me this isn’t a Nina-thing. It’s a God-thing. Sometimes I’m still like a child, a girl surrendering her basket full of somethings, but I know I’m never too old for miracles.

All the somethings I have to give for all the days of my life will never be wasted in the hands of the Multiplier. And that’s such a wonderful thing.

(For those of you who may want to hear more about, Reflections On The Psalms: Connecting With God Creatively, I’ll keep you updated the closer we get to our release date. Please pray for us!)

 

Blessed Mom

IMG_0664Several years ago for Mother’s Day, my sons gave me a beautiful framed print with the words from Proverbs 31:10-31 printed in script alongside a photo of a soft pink rose in full bloom,

“…her children rise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…”

After I cleared my throat and wiped away a few tears I think I actually asked them, “Do you really feel this way?” After all, a mother’s heartfelt desire is that her children not only think well of her, but speak well of her to others. Somewhere in the midst of all the mistakes, the arguments,  the weaknesses, the fears, the messes…somewhere in the middle of all that we need to know we’ve done something right. We need to know we’ve made a difference. We need to know we’ve loved enough, guided enough, protected enough, provided enough…..mothered them enough.

I know that not everyone who reads this post is as blessed as I am to have a mom who mothered them plenty good. I know not everyone who reads this is a mother…please don’t think I’m insensitive to the pain that Mother’s Day may bring anyone. I hope you’ll understand why I really want to honor my Mom. I want to speak up and thank her for loving me like Jesus, guiding me in His truth, protecting me in His name, and providing for me by His grace. I really don’t think I would be the mother I am if not for her example. Yes, I am blessed.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I’ve often thought of what it must have been like to raise a child like me, a child who seemed to go from one medical crisis to another. Food allergies. Asthma. The loss of my eye. Hearing loss. Thyroid cancer. Thank goodness I never broke any bones. As active as I was that in itself was a miracle. I imagine that through it all Mom was working out her faith with fear and trembling. I imagine she was learning to trust God with every beat of my heart. I imagine she was leaving me at the throne of grace over and over and over again. Laying her Isaac down. Filling bowls in heaven with her prayers. I imagine her letting God develop her character, teach her perseverance, and supply her strength. I imagine her courage. No, I don’t just imagine. I saw it for myself.

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for noble means strength and might; to show oneself to be strong; to display valor.

Courage. It doesn’t always come the way we expect it. Sometimes it comes in the face of trials. I think it takes a lot of courage to raise children. We can’t always love them with hugs and kisses. We have to learn to love them from afar. We can’t always guide them with our hands. We have to learn to guide them with our words. We can’t always protect them from the world. We have to learn to protect them with our prayers. We can’t always provide for them materially. We have to learn to provide for them spiritually. My mother has lived this well. Life isn’t always filled with love, joy, and peace. Not without Jesus. Sometimes life is filled with anger, sadness and fear. Thank goodness my Mom loves Jesus. I know there were times she was afraid for me and for my sister. I know there were times she didn’t feel strong, but she was. I know there were times she didn’t think she displayed valor, but she did.

So, Mom, I want you to know…you are strong, you are courageous, you are a blessing. Not just to me, but to so many others. I’m so glad Dad found you and the two of you have faith-walked for over fifty years hand-in-hand, doing family and ministry together in the name of Jesus. I’m so glad God brought me into this world to be your daughter so that you could mother me. I’m so glad to know the blessing of your love and courage, a blessing worth far more than the rarest of jewels. I know you love your diamonds, but I love me some rubies. Something about the deep red. Something about the heart. You may sparkle like a diamond, Mom, but it’s your heart that holds this grateful child in a sweet embrace no matter how old I get. Hopefully, your legacy of faith will live on in me. My sons assure me it does. Blessed to be a blessing.

How do I say thank you? Maybe like this,

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:28

Here’s to you, Mother-Of-My-Heart. You do it right. You make a difference.

I rise. I call you blessed. I treasure you…

and I love you.

 

The Freedom Swing

15155571-girl-swinging-high-in-the-airSome memories are just so……sweet.

Like me on a bright summer day swinging in a backyard swing. A child. Hair blowing in the breeze. Laughter riding on the clouds. Legs pumping  faster and faster, harder and harder, lifting me higher and higher. Forward…back…forward…back. That old rusty swing set came alive, one leg lifting out of the cracked cement hole in the ground then landing with a loud thump back into the burrow. Lift…thump…lift…thump. A parents’ nightmare but no one dared stop me.

I was free.

I never realized why this memory was so precious to me until I became an adult. There were so many things we didn’t talk about after my eye accident. I was a young woman before I dealt with my stuff. I must have been 30 years old when I finally asked my mom, “Why didn’t we ever talk about this?” Her response was simple, “We didn’t know what you were going through. We thought you would talk about it when you were ready.” Bits and pieces have come together over the years. Some memories of that season have finally made some sense. Like me-in-the-swing.

After my eye surgery I didn’t do too well in the hospital. What child wants to spend day after day in a sterile hospital room separated from all she holds dear? What child looks forward to dark, lonely nights in a bed without her parents in the next room? What child finds comfort in strangers watching over her and changing her bandages? Thank heavens things are different now than they were back in the sixties. Gone are the strict rules and regulations that kept hospitals free from germs and infections. There’s only so much a 3-and-a-half-year-old-child can understand. So after a while, since everything that could be done for me had been done, my parents just took me home. I was so happy to be out of that cold hospital with all that colorless gray that the first thing I did was run to my swing.

No more hospital bed with the raised, steel bars. No more women with white hats and men in white coats. No more lonely, fearful nights. No more gray.

Nothing but blue skies. Bright sunshine. Singing birds. My cat. My bed. My family. My home.

My swing. The freedom swing.

With the sound of my laughter riding on the wind I pumped my short little legs as hard as I could. Faster and faster. Harder and harder. Higher and higher. I returned to the same backyard where that rock flew out from under the mower and crushed my eye, but I couldn’t have been any happier. In just a few short years I would be trapped in a different gray season. Sometimes freedom comes with a price. This price I paid in years. Years of not talking. Years of not grieving. Years of not understanding. Years of not swinging.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t miserable by a long shot. I had a great childhood. Wonderful, loving, supportive parents. An in-your-face younger sister who made life loud and looney. A church family that loved all over me and a community of friends that live on in my heart even today. I played in the woods, climbed trees, rode horses and learned to ski in the Potomac River. I grew up wearing a cheerleader’s uniform, running around a track and swinging a hockey stick. I dressed up for school dances and dressed down for parties. I hung out with girlfriends and went on dates. I got my driver’s license. I laughed some more, but sometimes laughing was better in the swing.

I always wondered why I couldn’t talk about what I was feeling in my heart…why I didn’t feel pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough…why I backed off when someone got too close…why I spent so much time comparing myself to others, thinking I would never measure up. When a soul is in conflict there’s not much peace in the spirit. Not knowing how to be honest I just packed it all in and down it went, as deep as I could stuff it, wondering why I couldn’t recapture that pure and uninhibited joy swinging in my backyard swing that hot summer day.

True freedom isn’t free.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm,then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galations 5:1

As a young woman I let Jesus get into my mess and all that stuff I’d packed deep inside began to find its way out of darkness into light. As the showers of God’s grace rained down, seeds that laid dormant for so long began to sprout and bud. I began to talk and share. I began to grieve the loss of my eye. I began to understand God will always be enough for me…and…I learned to swing again. Like a child. Hair blowing in the breeze. Laughter riding on the wind. Legs pumping faster and faster, harder and harder, higher and higher. Forward…back…forward…back.

These days, my world is full of color. My favorite is yellow. I think it has something to do with the sun. More to do with the Son. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield.”  (Psalm 84:11) I love me some blue sky and when I look up at the clouds I remember, “He makes the clouds His chariot and He rides on the wings of the wind.”  (Psalm 104:3) But, I love the rain, too, because without it there would be no watering of the earth, no watering of my soul. “As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  (Hosea 6:3) 

Maybe that’s why my memory is so sweet. God is all over it, all wrapped up in it. My Joy. Pure and uninhibited.

i. am. free.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36