A Broken Compass

The proposal came in November.  Marriage, the next June.  Nearly 34 years ago, two young adults who were in love and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, living the american dream, said “I do” on a beautiful, top 10 day in June.  That was my husband and I, and my goodness, we were young!  I had just turned 20 and Brent, my husband, was 21.  We had dated for 3 years and Brent had finished college.  I had chosen to go into the workforce and not attend college.  So the next logical step, at least in our minds, was to get married.  Two adults who were still, very much kids.  In love?  YES!  Could we imagine our lives without the other one beside us? NEVER!    We were a starry-eyed couple who were head over heals in love with each other and could not wait to be married.   All you need is love, right?  

Did we have a clue about what our love for each other would require of us?  Did we have any idea how absolutely beautiful and brutally painful marriage and parenting and life would be?  I can say without reserve, the answer to those questions, is absolutely not!  

Never-the-less, on June 18, 1983 our journey was about to commence.  

When we announced our engagement, there was much excitement and celebration going on.  Everyone wanted to see the ring.  Everyone was so happy for us.  During our six month engagement, there was rarely a day that passed when I didn’t get a giddy “congratulations” from those in our social circles and acquaintances.  That’s what we do, right?  When someone gets engaged, we congratulate them. Excitement ignites excitement.  Celebration and excitement were in full blaze because we had much to get done.  

A date to pick.  Invitations to be chosen and ordered.   Addresses to gather.  A party to plan.  A suitable band to be booked (DJ’s weren’t really a thing back in the day).   Meeting with the pastor.  Bridal showers.   Wedding dress shopping.  Gift registries to complete.  Flowers to pick out.  Photographers to get lined up.   Engagement pictures to be taken.  Food to be arranged.  Venue for the reception to be selected. Attendants to pick.  Tuxes and bridesmaids dresses to be ordered. Songs to select. Rehearsal dinner to think about.  Decorations to be made. A honeymoon to plan.  

Between the proposal and the wedding much preparation was taking place.  Every detail was thought through, organized, prepared for and checked off our list. Except for one.  Our life together after the wedding.  

Hindsight is always 20/20, right?   You can see with crystal clarity, after the fact, what was perhaps visible before, but hindered, as we looked at the planning of a wedding through an impaired set of glasses.  We were not followers of Christ yet.  We were followers of self.  But that hindsight shows me clearly that we would have been wise to  spend more time preparing for the marriage and less time preparing for the wedding.  Our pre-marriage counseling from our pastor at that time was minimal.  I think we met with him a couple of times, mostly to pick out scripture, and talk about the ceremony.  Here is what I wish he would have said to us.

“I am so happy that you two are in love and want to get married.  I really am, it is truly fantastic!   Love is created by and marriage is ordained by God and I am so happy for you, that you are willing to make this commitment to each other.   There is no doubt that a wedding is a cause for celebration, and there will be a time for that.   However, let’s sit down and talk about what comes after the wedding.  Lets talk about the marriage.  Let’s talk about raising children.  Let’s talk about this journey called life that you are going to take together.  Let’s talk about how incredibly beautiful and brutally hard all of it will be.  Let’s talk about the compass you are going to need to navigate through some difficult terrain.  Let’s think about setting aside the same about of time and effort to plan and prepare for the marriage, as will be required to plan and prepare for the wedding.

Because that didn’t happen, we began our journey with a non existent compass.   In the ensuing years of marriage, parenting and all that life throws at us, we stood in the middle of a road full of navigational difficulties.   There were places on the path of this journey where the pavement was broken.   When boulders and buckled pavement lay before you, it makes the journey difficult to navigate.  You can’t even see around the boulders, so the path isn’t even in sight.   You have no idea how to continue.  Broken pavement can be traveled across,  but not without some difficulty.  It’s a bumpy ride!  Falling down is inevitable.

No matter what the situation was that was on our plate from time to time, without a compass, we found ourselves in one of two situations.  We were either stranded and paralyzed, unable to move at all, or we took a wrong turn which just caused more confusion, heartache and hard days.

I want you to really think about this for a moment.  Plan to set out on a journey from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA, with no directional assistance.  You are going to have to travel on some roads to get there.  You have no map, no compass, no GPS, no smart phone, MapQuest, or Google Maps.  You just have to try and figure it out ON YOUR OWN.  Paralyzing.  Wrong turns will make the journey longer.   Harder. Agonizing.  With out some help, you will likely never get to where you wanted to go.  Or maybe worse yet, someone hands you a map that takes you to Texas but you don’t find out until you get there that the directions were wrong and Texas isn’t where you wanted to end up.

And so it is with life.  ALL OF LIFE.  Not just marriage and parenting.  Maybe you will never get married.  Maybe you will never have children.  Your life and journey may look vastly different than mine.  That doesn’t matter.  Every age, stage and circumstance, the best days of your life and the worst days of your life will require a map, and a compass.   But make no mistake, just as you would need a specific set of maps and navigational tools to get from Washington, DC to California, your life will require the same.

In life, there is only one set of navigational tools and one Navigator that will give you good directions.  YOU may have to recalculate from time to time but that isn’t because the directions were wrong, it’s because you were not paying attention or chose to take a short cut and tried to travel down the road of life your own way.  I speak from experience, not theory.  I have tried to navigate life through many of the maps and compasses handed to me from the world (which, by the way change from decade to decade) and they all lead me to the same exact place.  A DEAD END.

So, who is this One Navigator and what does His road map and compass look like?   If you have read my blogs before or know me at all, you probably already know what I’m going to tell you.  

God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  

And while the Trinity and the roles that each of them play in our lives are fully and utterly sufficient to put our feet on the right road, God lavished upon us some additional, incredible navigational tools.  

Gods Holy Word.  Prayer.  A community of other believers.

While all of these are unquestionably essential in life’s navigational toolbox, for this blog, I want to concentrate on Christian community, and I’m talking about something different than Sunday morning – during church – community.  Don’t misunderstand me, Sunday morning church is vitally important.  Not because you earn any favor from God or you get to check it off your list and put a hashmark on the list of “good” things you did. Nope, not at all.  God knew that His people would greatly benefit from regularly meeting together.  To encourage each other, holding fast to the hope of Jesus.  To stir one another to love and good works.  (see Hebrews 10:23-25)  Church is good because, with the right attitude, it is an act of worship.  If you are among the lucky ones who has a pastor dedicated to unapologetically teaching and preaching the full counsel of God’s word, then you are fed life sustaining Truth, and our souls need that because the other 6 days of the week, the world does a fine job at sucking the life right out of us. 

In my humble opinion, Sunday morning – during church – community is what I define as a more broad community.  It is a step towards connecting with a smaller group of people, from within this broad community, who will walk closely beside each other and do life together.   REAL. AUTHENTIC. LIFE.    Think you don’t need this?  You are wrong!  Not because I say so, because God says so.

In Acts 2:42-47, God again tells us that believers coming together is for our good and His glory.  They were devoted to biblical teaching,  fellowship and prayer.   (Remember those three incredible navigational tools I listed above?  Gods Holy Word, Prayer and Community)  They didn’t just do this in the temple.  They met together in homes.  They shared meals as well as each others joys and burdens. They did life TOGETHER!  

It wasn’t exactly popular to be a follower of Christ back then.  Jesus had just been killed.  His followers knew they would need encouragement from each other to hold tight to what they believed.  Being a follower of Jesus isn’t very popular right now either, and if we believe what God’s word tells us, its going to get less and less popular.  

So, here’s my questions for you.  Who do you do life with?  Who is coming alongside you, encouraging you to be devoted to studying and applying God’s Word?  Who do you pray with?  Who are the people you hang around with on a regular basis who are fellow heirs of the inheritance we have in Christ?   We MUST make this a priority.  I wish you could hear the passion in my voice and the concern I have for you.  I so want to spare you from the agony of trying to manage life on your own little island with no community around you.  

As a young believer, a baby Christian, I did that for quite a few years.   Trying to use my new navigational tools (God’s Word and prayer) on my own island.  But these tools were new to me and I didn’t exactly know how to use them.  Even though my heart longed for authentic christian community, for a fellow sister (or sisters) in Christ to come alongside me and speak Truth into my life, about LIFE, I didn’t have it.  And here is why.

My enemy didn’t want me to have it.  

I listened to whispers he blew into my ear that kept me from pursuing it. Here are some of the things he whispered to me.  Has he whispered any of these to you?

     You are a new Christian and know nothing about the Bible.  If you join a small group Bible study, you are going to feel stupid because everyone else has been studying the Bible for a long time.  They will be talking over your head and you’ll be too intimated to ask questions, so why bother.   

     On Sunday mornings, he would be sure that I saw all the families who were walking into church with big smiles on their faces, husband and wife hand in hand with a happy-go-lucky spring in their step. They had children in toe that acted like they were absolutely delighted to be coming to church.   Then came his whispers…. and just who do you think you are going to connect with here? Who would you reach out to anyway?  It’s obvious that their marriages are fantastic and they are doing everything right with their children.  You really think they are going to relate to your struggles?

     The people around you have been following Christ for years and they have their life together.  They have forgotten what it is like to be an infant Christian and they will be shocked by the sin you have in your life.  Really, you’re going to tell someone that you need help with THAT sin?

     So, you think you might ask some of these people for help and guidance in raising rebellious teenagers?  You might want to rethink that.  After all, a lot of these people home school their children.  Their kids have flown through their Awana books like nobodies business.  Their children WANT to attend youth group and their kids spend their free time helping at Christian camps and going on mission trips.  They are not going to be able to help you with rebellious children.

     You thinking about going to that women’s Bible study that starts in a couple of weeks?  Hum, do you think you will know anyone there?  You are an introvert, and going someplace where you might not know anyone makes you really uncomfortable.  Lets not forget that.  

There are more things he whispered to me to keep me from connecting with other women but I think you get the picture.  Thankfully by God’s lavish love for me and the continual prompting of the Holy Spirit, along with being fed Truth every Sunday, satan lost this battle.  (Can I get an AMEN?)  About 7 years after I became a Christian, I took a deep breath and attended my first small group Bible study.  I was 43.  Was I scared?  Yes.  Did I feel intimated? Yes.  Did I worry I wouldn’t really know anyone and I would feel awkward?   You bet.   Was I exhausted after a long day at work and just wanted to stay home?  Yes.  Did I worry that I would fumble looking through my Bible to find a certain book?  Yes.  Was I afraid I would have to read out loud or pray out load?  Yes.  Did I understand everything?  Nope.  I still don’t.  Did I always get my homework done?  No.  Did I get there every week?  Nope.

Did I keep going?  YES, YES, YES.  By the grace of God, YES!   And community happened.  

I sit here today with tears in my eyes because of the community of women who have walked beside me in the past, currently walk beside me now, and the new women who will walk beside me in the future.  They have taken me by the hand and showed me how to use those new navigational tools, to take me from where I was on my map to where I wanted to go.  And this process continues, because until we are called from this home to our eternal home, we have not arrived at our destination. They have laughed with me, cried with me, prayed with me and wrestled over God’s Word with me.   Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  I have been sharpened.  And guess what else?  ALL of satan’s whispers have been revealed for what they are…..LIES!   When women who are in community together, choose to be transparent and authentic with each other, some marvelous things happen.  We realize that nobody, and I mean nobody, has life all figured out.  Their marriages are not perfect, their children are not perfect, they struggle with the SAME EXACT THINGS THAT I STRUGGLE WITH.  Their life contains broken pavement and huge boulders, just like mine.  BUT, WE NAVIGATE THEM TOGETHER!  In doing so, our hearts are woven together with some common pieces of gorgeous thread.  God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, God’s Holy Word, Prayer, Christian community.   The tapestry these threads create is breathtakingly beautiful. Human words fall short in describing it.   God knew it would be so. 

Don’t put this off, don’t believe the lies of your enemy.  If you are not yet comfortable joining a small group Bible study, do it anyway.  One on one mentorships often flow out of small groups.  Or just ask someone to mentor you, one on one!  If they say no, ask someone else.  If you don’t know who to ask, talk to your pastor, he will have resources for you or he will help find you someone.  

Take a step off your island…………………… because it’s lonely there.

In closing, I will leave you with this.  I believe that Christian community fosters our hearts to experience Ephesians 3:16-21, which says,  

that according to His riches in glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts, through faith. That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or imagine according to the power at work within us.  To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 3 of 3

At then end of part 2, I explained how had just spent several hours praying.  Praying for a family in our church that had just lost a teenage son in an automobile accident and praying for members of my family who had turned their back on God and the Christian faith.  I had returned to bed to get some sleep.

In the wee hours of that morning, I found myself awake again.  But it wasn’t due to a nudge from God.  It was a phone call from my parents.  We all know that when the phone rings at 2:00 AM, it is rarely a good thing.  All I could hear on the other end of the phone was both sobbing and hysterics.  My mom was sobbing and my dad , in the background, was quite noticeably upset.   The only thing I could make out, was the word, Michelle.    And then….. Michelle is gone.  I said, “What do you mean Michelle is gone.  Like, she’s missing?    The answer was, “No, she passed away tonight.  We need you to come to over to our house right now.”

I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and proceeded to fall apart.  I fell apart for the obvious reason, my sister had died.  But IMMENSE sorrow filled by entire being as I thought about the possibility of where Michelle might be.  Heaven is real.  So is hell.   I began to visibly shake and became inconsolable.  I could NOT bear this thought.  I just remember saying over and over, NO, NO, NO, NO.  This just CANNOT be happening.   Why, God, Why?  Why didn’t you give her more time to find you?  Why would you let this happen NOW?  

My husband reminded me that we needed to get over to my parents house.  Our children were sound asleep and my parents lived 2 blocks from us so we wrote our kids a note (in the rare event that they would wake up) just telling them that we had to go to grandpa and grandma’s house and would be back soon.  

At my parents house, we learned that Michelle had recently had surgery but she was at home recuperating.  And then something went terribly wrong.  A blood clot had broken loose and landed in one of her lungs, and as you already know, she didn’t make it.   We sat in my parents living room, numb.  One minute in complete shock not really knowing how to process all of this and the next minute crying so hard we could hardly breathe.  My sister lived in Alaska, which at the time, might as well have been on another continent.  It seemed that far away.   

The wait to see Michelle was excruciatingly long.  Funeral services would be held in Alaska first and then in Iowa.  Arrangements had to be made to transport Michelle across state lines.  This all took time.   While Michelle’s husband planned the funeral services in Alaska,  my parents and I worked on the funeral service to be held in Iowa.  As anyone who has planned a funeral knows, the week to ten days after someone’s death has occurred, those left to make arrangements for the funeral enter into a kind of  “auto pilot” mode.  There are things that have to be taken care of, so you go through those motions and do what you have to do.  The numb feeling never really leaves you for quite some time.

One of the things that has to be taken care of,  is visiting a local florist to order a casket spray and other flowers for the service.  My dad wasn’t really into flowers so my mom and I went together to take care of this.  We walked into the floral shop and started looking through photo albums of different floral arrangements that we could select.  All the while in this kind of fog, where your brain can’t really process decisions very well.  It’s all overwhelming.  My mom then closed the books and said, “I know what I want, but I don’t know if you can get them in December.  My daughter’s favorite flower is a TULIP!  If you can get them, I want TULIPS.”

I am not kidding you or exaggerating one bit when I tell you that I immediately had one of those weird out-of-body experiences.  I could no longer hear the voices around me.  It was as if God pulled me out of that situation for 30 seconds and instantly took me back, to just two weeks earlier, when I unknowingly purchased TWO HUNDRED TULIPS.  Visions from that day quickly flashed through my mind.  Finding those tulips at a cost of next to nothing.  Throwing 4 bags of tulips in my cart.  Dumping the tulips out on the garage floor.  Realizing how many I had, but vowing to not throw any away and planting ALL those tulips. All of these scenes played through my mind in about 5 seconds.   Finding those tulips on Veteran’s Day in 2001 was no coincidence.  This my friends, is nothing short of God’s Amazing Grace!   Those tulips were woven into that day by the Master Weaver.   I was soon snapped back into the task at hand but remember standing there in complete shock and awe realizing just how personal God is, with His gifts of grace.  

Over the course of the next several days, God’s Spirit began revealing more of God’s grace to me.  God knew my heart was carrying a heavy load not only because of Michelle’s death but because hell is a real place.  God allowed me to pick up the broken pieces of my heart and start putting them back together.   The finished puzzle was a beautiful picture that only God could create.   You see, because of the time difference between Alaska and Iowa, God showed me something truly remarkable.  As I put the pieces together, I saw myself passionately and fervently praying for my sister in the HOURS JUST PRIOR TO, and quite possibly even during her passing.  REALLY, GOD… YOU ARE REMARKABLE!   As I allowed this to sink in, A peace encircled me and pierced my heart and mind.  A peace that passes all human understanding.  A peace that was imparted to me by God and continues to this day to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus concerning Michelle.  I went from completely distraught to completely at peace.  God is the only one who has the ability to accomplish such a task in our souls.  

Did Michelle acknowledge her need for Jesus that night, before it was too late?  I don’t know.  God is the only one who knows this.  But, here is what I DO know.

  • God knew I was going to need some tulips in my yard in the spring of 2002.  A beautiful and very personal reminder of my sister. He orchestrated the events that would make this a reality.  THIS IS GRACE.
  • God loved me enough to allow sleep to evade me on November 27, 2001.  He sent me to my knees in prayer for several people that night,  but stirred my heart to concentrate the biggest portion of my prayers towards my sister.  THIS IS GRACE.
  • Our battles are not against flesh and blood.  I was not “battling” my sister when it came to her belief of Jesus Christ.  For we battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  ~ Ephesians 6:10-12.   Ephesians goes on to say that the only way we can successfully fight against these forces is with God’s Armor.  This armor includes the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God,  and PRAYER.  I know that night when my knees hit the floor it was not in defeat.  Quite the opposite.  I came fully dressed for battle, wearing the very armor of God.  The sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) was drawn, and fighting a mighty battle that night.  I PRAYED and PRAYER stirs the power of our mighty God to fight on our behalf.   THIS IS GRACE.

God’s grace is defined as unmerited favor.  We can do nothing to earn it.  The word grace, can also be translated to mean blessing or kindness.  God’s grace culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Jesus is God’s ultimate gift of grace to us. However I believe that God pours out His grace to us in an ongoing, lavish manner.  

Because of the events that God wove together just prior to Michelle’s death, I have HOPE!  Hope that when the Master Weaver wove these truly remarkable circumstances together, it was for someone’s good and His glory.     God answered my prayers from that night.  He has allowed me to  grieve my sister’s death with HOPE.  Not because I know she is in heaven with Jesus, (because I don’t know that) but because God and I together, engaged the enemy in a mighty battle that night.  I have Hope that the battle being waged in the heavenly places that night was met with enough of God’s armor to claim the victory of  salvation for Michelle Sue Gearhart.  That my friends, is all the hope I need!   

Thank you Lord God for your peace that passes understanding that continues to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus now and for all the days of my life!  I stand in awe of You!  Amen.

I pray that YOU can see God’s grace in each and every day and especially in the middle of the hard days that eventually find us all.   Grace can be found in something as small as a tulip and in something as annoying as a sleepless night.  

 

 

 

 

 

Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 2 of 3

I wrapped up part one of this story after I told you about the 200 tulip bulbs I had finished planting on an unseasonably warm Veteran’s Day in 2001.  As I put the last few bulbs in the ground and cleaned up my gardening tools for the year (again), I had absolutely no idea the significance that this day would bring to me in just a few short weeks.

Veteran’s Day came and went and the reality that the holidays were upon us turned my attention, full force, in preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Our children at that time were 15, 12 and 9, so our schedules were busy, busy, busy and organization was needed to maintain any kind of sanity.  Maintaining our sanity during these years and the following teenage years might be open for debate!

Thanksgiving had now come to pass and late November was upon us.  I went to bed one night completely exhausted but not able to fall asleep.  I tossed and turned and tossed and turned some more.  I remember laying there thinking about a family in our church who had lost a teenage son in a car accident just a few weeks earlier.  My heart was heavy for them and the grief they were experiencing.  Their lives had been turned upside down in the blink of an eye and I could not imagine their pain.  I grew more and more restless and I just could not fall asleep.   God’s Spirit nudged me.  The thought to get up and pray entered my mind.   Most of the time I have to pray out loud.  Otherwise my mind gets distracted and the next thing I know, I’m running the next day’s schedule through my mind.  I didn’t want to bother my hubby, so I got up and went to the living room to pray.

To pray for the people and lives that had been forever changed by this tragic loss.  I tried to wrap my head around the indescribable grief and heartache this family was feeling.    I remember thinking, how does this family lose a child, grandchild, brother,  and find the desire to even get out of bed?  How do you lose someone you love so much and not let the grief absolutely consume you?   How does a parent lose a child and smile or laugh again?  How does a person experience such grief and ever start doing “normal” things again?  The lists in my mind went on and one.  The only conclusion I could come to and begin to reconcile any of this,  was God.  God’s mercy.  God’s grace.  God’s compassion.  God’s love.  God’s presence.  God’s loving kindness.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Spirit.  I knew that God and only God would be the answer to all those questions.   I also knew that this family knew God.  They didn’t just know OF Him, they KNEW HIM in a very personal way.  This family, including their son, knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  This family knew that they were sinners in need of a savior.  They had put their trust in Jesus, turned their lives over to Him and followed hard after Him.  Did this fact take their grief away?  Not one bit!  But,  it gave them HOPE!   Grieving with hope is an incredible gift.

WHILE GRIEF REMAINS, HOPE SUSTAINS.  

HOPE LOOKS FORWARD WITH

CONFIDENCE THAT GOD’S PROMISES ARE TRUE.

My thoughts shifted to our own family.  I knew if our family ever had to endure this kind of grief,  God would be the lifter of our heads and the catcher of our tears.  I made a request to my Heavenly Father that night.  I asked Him to hold us close, and cover us with His compassion and love should something like this happen to our family.

I knew that the only way our family could bear the weight of death was through the power imparted to us through the relationship we have, with the One who has overcome death.   I knew the relationship I had with Jesus would not make grief easy, but I prayed that night that He would sustain me with His righteous right hand if I find myself in a season of grief.   

As I prayed for our family, a new heaviness gripped my heart.  Michelle.   Michelle was my younger sister by 4 years.  Michelle was the spirited, adventurous type who let nothing or no one hold her back from what she set her mind to.  Brave.  Strong willed.  Passionate about the causes close to her heart.  All in, all the time.  She lived outside the box and was her own person.  Confident.  Smart.  Energetic.  Spunky.  Opinionated.  She did not follow the beaten path, but blazed her own trail.  A fantastic Aunt who loved my children with her whole heart.  I admired her for these traits, many of which I did not possess.

So, why did Michelle bring a heaviness to my heart?  She had abandoned Christianity.  She had turned her back on God.  She was embracing and putting her hope in something other than Jesus Christ.   This burdened my heart.  I had tried a few times to talk to Michelle about Jesus.  I tried to explain to her that there was a HUGE difference between the legalistic ways of religion and Christ.  I tried telling her that Christ wanted a relationship.  I wrote her a letter once, pouring my heart out to her over this matter.  It was met with silence, lingering ongoing deafening silence.

So in this night of sleeplessness, I prayed passionately and fervently for my sister and her husband.  I prayed scripture over them, I prayed and prayed some more.  I asked God to soften their hearts and remove the veil from their eyes so that they may recognize Jesus Christ and their need for Him in their lives.  I told God that night, that should anyone in my family pass away, I wanted to be able to grieve with HOPE.  When I stopped praying and lifted my head, the clock had moved ahead 3 hours.  I returned to bed hoping to get some sleep.

Continued and concluded in part 3 of this series

 

Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 1 of 3

This story, about how I found God’s grace in something as simple as tulips, is a bit long.  So with that in mind, I have divided this story into 3 parts.   This way, if someone wants to read it, they can read a section at a time and come back for subsequent parts on their own time schedule.  

It was the fall of 2001 and the autumn season was lingering.  When I was growing up, my mom always called this warm fall weather, an indian summer.  I was loving every minute of it as fall is my very favorite time of year.  I LOVE everything about it.  Football.  Crisp mornings and mild afternoons that lend well to shorts and a sweatshirt.  Bonfires.  The colors of God’s paintbrush.  Pumpkins.  Hay rides.  Apple orchards.  Indian corn.  Chili. Lazy walks with crunching leaves.  Harvest moons.  Combines and wagons.  Ham sandwiches on the tailgate of a truck in the middle of a corn field.  So the unseasonably warm weather that was lasting well into late November was fine by me.  

I have worked in the banking industry for the majority of my adult life.  So this meant that I got a few extra holidays throughout the year.  Veteran’s Day was one of those extra holidays.  I generally have the news on in the morning while we are getting our day started.    Veteran’s Day would bring special segments that would air, reflecting on those who have served our country and honoring their service.  I would linger for a while to watch these segments and feel thankful for the country in which I live and for those who have made individual sacrifices for the benefit of many.  But I’m ashamed to admit that my focus soon turned to planning out the rest of my day.

**Note  (In the last 7 years, I have personally experienced the many sacrifices that military families make. While I have never had to deal with someone close to me paying the ultimate sacrifice for our country, I have seen great sacrifice up close and personal none the less. My son-in-law has been deployed 4 times during active conflicts in the middle east.  He, our daughter and our granddaughter have sacrificed mightily for this great country of ours.   I now have a deeper respect and reverence for our soldiers and their families than I did 16 years ago)

So, on to how I planned to spend the rest of that day.  Since I had the day off, I had planned to head to the city and start some Christmas shopping.  I have always had a goal to get my Christmas shopping done BEFORE December.  I don’t do crowds, or congested parking lots, or long lines.  The emphasis on santa everywhere you turn gets me riled up, so I just try to avoid shopping after the calendar says December.  So, over the river and through the woods to the big city I went.

My first stop was at one of those big box stores to stock up on necessities.  In 2011, we had 5 of us in the house and went through toilet paper like nothing you’ve ever seen.   While I was there, something else caught my eye.  (This ALWAYS happens to me. I swear they know I’m coming and they know my weakness and they place it front and center as I enter the store.)  On this particular day, the “something else” that caught my eye was tulip bulbs.  And let me tell you, they had those things marked down to next to nothing.  Remember, it was November 11th after all.  I’m an avid gardener and an avid gardener doesn’t pass up tulip bulbs when the store is practically paying you to take them off their hands.  I was flipping excited!  I didn’t have a single tulip in my landscaping and I was already plotting the whereabouts of their planting as I stood there smitten over my bargain.    I hurried myself along thinking that if I got home in time, I could get these babies in the ground later that afternoon.

I must have stayed on task and scurried along  because I did arrive back home around 3:00 that afternoon.  I gathered the 4 bags of tulip bulbs that I had bought, a spade and some bone meal.  I dumped out the first a bag of tulip bulbs on my garage floor and realized something. Big box stores don’t sell anything in small quantities.  Evidently this was true for tulip bulbs as well.  Each bag didn’t contain 10 or 12 tulip bulbs like most places sell.  Each bag had 50.  That’s right, FIFTY tulip bulbs.  50 tulips X 4 bags =  TWO HUNDRED tulip bulbs.  Now, here is a little fact for you about avid gardeners, we rarely throw plants away.  It is the cardinal sin in the gardening world.  So……. over the next two days, I found spots for all 200 tulips.

Continued in part 2 of this series

The Perfect Candidate

During the past 15+ years, I have spent much time honing my skills in the field of Human Resources.  The array of tasks one must learn in the world of HR are varied and more broad than I realized when I jumped into this role all those years ago.

Employers need employees to carry out their mission.  Employees need employers in order to earn a living.  We are, to some degree dependent on one another.  One of our tasks in the HR world is sifting through lots of resumes when we have an open position to fill.  We get pretty good at reading between the lines, picking up on little details and seeing red flags that would knock a candidate out of consideration before they ever get a chance to introduce themselves and shake our hand.   And then it happens.  We find ourselves holding what appears, on paper anyway, to be the perfect candidate.   Professional experience.  Education.  Life experience.  Maturity.  Leadership ability.  Loyalty.  Driven. Accomplished.    However, many hoops must be jumped through before we decide to make them a part of our team.  Interviews.  2nd interviews.  Personality profiles and considerations. Reference checks.  Clean criminal background reports.  A satisfactory credit report.  A LOT OF HOOPS.

THIS IS HOW EMPLOYERS FILL OPEN POSITIONS, BUT IT IS NOT HOW GOD FILLS OPEN POSITIONS.  WHEN GOD EXTENDS HIS HAND TO US WITH AN OFFER TO BECOME A PART OF HIS TEAM, IT IS NEVER CONTINGENT ON CLEAN BACKGROUND CHECKS OR IMPRESSIVE QUALIFICATIONS. 

We could present to God, the perfect resume, with a lot of impressive qualifications.  We could look great on paper.  He would set it aside and say to us “I don’t really care about all of that.  LET’S EXAMINE YOUR HEART.”

In 1st Samuel chapter 16, it is time for Saul to be removed as king over Israel.  The Lord told Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem, for the Lord had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king.  In this process Jesse presented 7 of his sons to Samuel, whom Jesse must have thought met the qualifications to be king of Israel.  The Lord rejected all of them.  Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”  Jesse answered, “There is still the youngest, he is tending the sheep.”  Can you hear the tone is Jesse’s voice?   Well …… I have presented to you all of my sons except my youngest, (which was David) and the only thing he knows how to do is tend sheep. He really isn’t qualified for the job.  He isn’t king material. He is not good enough.

But God saw what man could not see.  He saw David’s heart and told Samuel to “Rise and anoint him (David); this is the one.”  (latter part of 1st Samuel 16:12)

Has anyone ever told you that you weren’t good enough?  Maybe this is something you have only felt a couple of times in your life.  Maybe not feeling “good enough” is deeply entrenched in every fiber of your life.  Do you ever feel like God could never use someone like you?  That is what your enemy wants you to cling to.   Satan is a LIAR!   May we never, ever believe the lies that satan whispers in our ears telling us that we don’t have the proper qualifications to be a  part of Gods team.  May we never, ever believe satan when he tries to convince us that our past (or present for that matter) is way to messy and we would never pass the background checks.  May we never, ever believe satan when he tells us there are 7 people who are better qualified for the job than we would ever be.   Incase you missed it the first time, satan is a LIAR.

God is extending an offer to you!  No interview or clear background checks necessary!  Will you accept His offer?  God is offering you the best benefit package you could ever imagine.  God’s benefit package includes the power of the Holy Spirit on this side of heaven (the benefits of the Holy Spirit are to numerous to list here) and eternity with HIM.  If your heart is willing to acknowledge your sin and your need for Jesus Christ to be your Savior, ask Jesus into your heart.  The Heaven’s will rejoice and you will be hired on the spot!  God will provide the training for you to become an effective team member (disciple).  It will all be for your good and His Glory.  He will be the best “boss” you have ever known.

The following is the Lord’s response to Samuel when the Lord rejected the first son of Jesse, that Samuel thought was surely the Lord’s anointed:   But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, for I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”     1st Samuel 16:7

God isn’t dependent on us to carry out His mission.  He doesn’t need us.  However, HE WANTS US!  HE WANTS YOU.  Go to Him with your willing heart and become a part of His team now and for all of eternity!

 

 

When Christmas Lights Beckon Us

Homes, businesses, churches, trees, fireplace mantles, staircase railings, city parks and light poles.  These are just a few of the places and items that you will find adorned with lights during the month of December.  White ones and brightly colored ones, tiny ones and the big vintage ones from our childhood. Twinkling or not.  All one color or multi colored.  We all seem to love Christmas lights.

Those lights, they beckon us don’t they?  Our eyes are drawn to those lights.  We drive around our towns to see the lights at Christmas time.  We may even travel a fair distance to take in an extra special display of these lights.  They persuade us to linger. They slow down our driving.  They invite us to pause our hurried schedule.   The lights are almost always successful in their purpose.  We do linger, we do pause our hurried schedule, our eyes take in their sparkly beauty.

It could be later that night, or a week down the road and those Christmas lights do it again.  They will beckon you.  

Your day has been long.  Nothing has gone right.  Supper has been made and cleaned up.  Piles of laundry have been washed but stare you down, waiting to be folded and put away.  Helping the kids with their homework has been conquered, but not without some battle scars.  Baths have been given and the kids have been tucked into bed, FINALLY!   You wrap a couple of presents.  You pay some bills and pack lunches for tomorrow. You pull the least wrinkled clothes out of the laundry pile and hunt down everyones shoes.  Its a preventative measure, hoping to limit the meltdowns  the next morning.  You are tired.  To the bone tired.  As you start getting ready for bed, you begin turning off the 25 lights that the kids left on all over the house.  Christmas lights and a few candles are the only lights that remain.  The Christmas lights get your attention again. You push back the urge to just go to bed.  You notice that your physical space has been transformed.  It is different than it was just 5 minutes ago.  You sit in the stillness and enjoy the quiet and the glow of the lights for a little bit before exhaustion calls your name again and you unplug the lights and go to bed.  

Christmas lights ARE great.  They transform our neighborhoods, city parks and light poles, and even our living rooms at the end of a long day.   Christmas lights ARE awesome……. but also temporary.  They beckon our EYES.  Once they are taken down and packed away, they no longer have the ability to make us stop and linger.  They can no longer call us to pause our hurried, hectic lives. The peace, calm and even excitement they once brought has been stuffed in a box and placed in the attic.

THERE IS A BETTER LIGHT THAT BECKONS YOU!

This better Light doesn’t just transform your physical surroundings.  This better Light that beckons you has the ability to transform your heart, your life, and your eternal home. This Light truly transforms neighborhoods, families, communities.  The Light that pursues you is not a temporary light.  This Light isn’t seasonal.  It can never be packed away and stuffed in the attic.  NEVER.  This Light has overcome darkness FOREVER!   The Light shines in the darkness and has OVERCOME IT!  John 1:5

JESUS CHRIST IS THE LIGHT THAT BECKONS  YOUR HEART RATHER THAN YOUR EYES.

The light of Jesus will call you to linger with Him.  He invites us to slow down and pause our hurried schedule.   Accept His invitation.  Give in and sit in the stillness.  Open your Bible and find the light of truth in His word.  You will notice that your heart is being transformed.  It is different than it was just 5 minutes ago.  Calm.  Peaceful.  You will want to linger.  If our hearts are willing, He will always be successful in His purpose, that we might find the calm and peace and joy that only He can offer.  Transformation WILL happen.  We will not want to leave His presence.  Gratitude and blessings replace the frustrations and stresses that were on our mind just a short time ago. You will want to just stay and stare at His light.  

When, if only for a while, the only thing you focus on is Jesus, the stress of the day that has already been and the things still waiting to be done, fade away.  Our perspective changes in the LIGHT of His glory and in the PEACE of His presence.

Do you feel it?  That tug that won’t go away.  He is pursuing your heart with a fierceness and love that you can’t wrap your head around or begin to understand.  There are things in this world that look bright and shiny and attractive.  They seem to beckon our eyes. Do you find that the appeal of those things flicker out after awhile?  Do they lose their their attractiveness?  That’s because they are a false light.  Jesus has real light waiting for you.  

LIFE GIVING LIGHT.  

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said “I am the Light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the LIGHT OF LIFE.”  John 8:12

Jesus Christ is knocking at the door of your heart! Do you hear Him knocking?  Answer the door!  Don’t hide in the living room hoping He will go away.  Don’t tell yourself you are too busy for company right now.  And never, ever, ever think it is too messy to let Him in.  You never have to clean things up before you invite Him inside. He is beckoning you into a relationship with Him.  He wants to give you His light.  He wants to give you eternal LIFE.  Remember how the Christmas lights beckoned your eyes and transformed your physical space?   Jesus wants to transform your heart and stimulate your eyes, allowing you to see all things through HIS eyes.  He wants to hand you a new pair of glasses!  

My heart longs and aches for you to know Jesus and have His transforming LIGHT!  I pray that as you sit in the quiet and stillness of your Christmas lights, you will reach for the hand that is the Light of the World.  He is reaching for YOU!  

The transformation that will take place in your heart will be exceedingly more beautiful than the most glorious display of Christmas lights you have ever seen.  

I hope you never look at Christmas lights quite the same!  Next year when you hang your Christmas lights, I hope they are more than just a Christmas decoration.  I hope they are a reflection of the light of Jesus that lives inside of you!  To God be the glory!

If you would like to spend some time in God’s word, I have listed some scripture verses below that talk about His life giving light.

Matthew 4:12-17     Isaiah 9:1-3       Matthew 5:14-16      Psalm 119:105     John 1:5          John 8:12     1 Peter 2:9       Ecclesiastes 2:13

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Excitement and Wonder of it All

When my husband and I were raising our children, we were not born again believers. We were not disciples of Christ.  We were not seeking to follow Him.  We were not seeking to learn from His word.  That has changed!  Now, only by His grace, that has all changed.  I have been changed and my husband has been changed.  As God’s word tells us, we have been transformed, a new creature!

As the excitement and wonder of Christmas is in full throttle for most of us, I reflect on how we did Christmas with our children.  If I were to raise children again, because I have been changed and transformed by Christ, our Christmas season would be changed and transformed as well.  It would look different now than it did all those years ago!

We’ve always known Christmas was about the birth of Jesus.  We told our children it was all about Jesus.  We were regular church attenders and our children went to Sunday school, so the birth of Christ was not some far off, foreign concept to us.   We SAID Christmas was all about Jesus.  We told our children that Christmas was all about Jesus, but all the activities that occupied our time and energy and left us stressed and utterly exhausted, had almost nothing to do with Jesus.  

I can remember so well, the list of things to do.  The expectations that other people placed on me.  The expectations I placed on myself.  It all left me drained.  Completely drained.  Stressed.  Overwhelmed.   Trying to please everyone and strained family relationships.  Wishing it would just be over.  

If our Christmas celebration was a varsity team, Jesus didn’t make the cut.  

Our varsity team players, in no particular order were:  Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, decorations, santa, visiting santa, writing santa letters, baking, shopping, manipulating our children to ask santa for a toy that we could find and afford.  Oh how shopping for the “hot toy of the season” can suck the life right out of you.  Christmas cards, more baking, wrapping, finding stocking stuffers, more shopping, financial distress.  Coaching the kids once again to ask for toy “B” instead of toy “A” because santa was going to run out of toy “A.”  More shopping, wrapping, baking, late nights.  Christmas cards start arriving in the mail and I haven’t even started mine.  More late nights.   More of meeting those expectations.   Joy…gone.  Peace…gone.  The most wonderful time of the year?  No it wasn’t.  My heart ached for something more!   

I now know the reason my heart ached.  I know the reason I was overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed.  It was because Jesus was an afterthought in all of this Christmas hubbub!  As these varsity players stood in the limelight of Christmas, Jesus sat quietly on the sidelines, patiently waiting to be noticed.  

Instead of staying up late wrapping presents, I needed to be spending time wrapped in His presence!  It is in the stillness and quiet that we hear Him whisper our name.

So, what would I change?  What would I do different?  With all the things the world has come up with to put Jesus on the sidelines of Christmas, HOW, OH HOW do we divert all the excitement and wonder of Christmas back to Jesus?  If I had the chance to raise my children again, here is how I would do Christmas differently.

As parents, the way we spend our time and energy preparing for Christmas, the things that take priority on our to-do list of Christmas activities must be Christ centered.  IT MUST BE!  Otherwise our actions speak louder than our words and what our children SEE us doing will make more of an impact than what we SAY about Christmas.  Are decorations, baking, lights, trees, shopping, Christmas cards and visits to santa wrong? NO!  They are not.  I’m not a fun hater.   BUT, they must to be on the JV team.  They must come 2nd, or 3rd or 4th.  

I would teach my children that the most exciting, astonishing, magical, awe inspiring, full of wonder, joy bringing event of Christmas, is the birth of a baby.  Not santa and the north pole.  Instead of writing letters to santa asking for gifts, we would write letters to Jesus. We would ask Him to give us the gifts (or fruits) of the Spirit and I would teach my children about those gifts.  I would build a small manager and place it in our home.  Instead of teaching my children to excitedly wait for santa to come and fill the emptiness under our Christmas tree, I would teach my children to excitedly await a baby to fill that empty manger.  

On Christmas Eve, instead of reading The Night Before Christmas, I would read Luke 2: 1-18.  We would linger over the AWE and WONDER of an Angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds and how afraid they were.  With great excitement and joy I would emphasis verse 10-14.  But the angel reassured them, “don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS THAT WILL BRING GREAT JOY TO ALL PEOPLE.  THE SAVIOR – YES, THE MESSIAH, THE LORD HAS BEEN BORN TODAY IN BETHLEHEM, THE CITY OF DAVID!  AND YOU WILL RECOGNIZE HIM BY THIS SIGN:  YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN STRIPS OF CLOTH, LYING IN A MANGER.”  I would explain to them that immediately after the angel spoke these words, lots and lots of angels broke out in praise, saying “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND PEACE ON EARTH WITH WHOM GOD IS PLEASED.”  We would break out in our own version of praise to God with singing, dancing and jumping and clapping.  

I would explain to them how the shepherds hurried, with great urgency to Bethlehem to see if what the angel had told them was true.  I would teach them to get up Christmas morning and rush downstairs to see if the baby had come, just liked the shepherds rushed to Bethlehem.   Was the manger now filled with the greatest gift imaginable? 

I would read them Matthew 2 and talk about the brightest start in the sky that led the wise men to baby Jesus.  The Star of Bethlehem.  Then, instead of searching the sky for santa and his reindeer, we would search the sky for the brightest star we could find.  I would tell them that, just as the shepherds followed that light to find Immanuel, GOD WITH US, if they follow the the light of Jesus, they too, will find their way to God.  

I would find an Advent devotional to do with my children so that each day focuses on preparing their hearts for Him, not santa.

Lastly, I would explain how all the other activities of Christmas (done in moderation), the lights, decorations, baking, presents, etc are preparation for the biggest and best birthday party of the year. A Happy Birthday banner would hang among the other decorations.  Jesus would have the fanciest birthday cake ever.  We would have one great party, complete with the singing of Happy Birthday to our Savior.

Would I still take my children to visit santa and write him letters?  Yes, I would.  But they would know that he is just a fun part of the celebration.  They would know that santa isn’t real.  Does that steal their joy during Christmas?  I don’t think so.  I think it redirects it to the proper place.   

That is how I would change the WONDER AND EXCITEMENT OF IT ALL TO FOCUS ON JESUS!   

** Note:  My thoughts are not meant to start a firestorm about how Christian parents handle all the things that swarm around Christmas.  I just wanted to share my heart and encourage others with ideas to make Jesus the main event at Christmas.  I would love to hear ideas of how your family has kept Jesus at the forefront of their Christmas celebration.