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Archive for October, 2012

Often when we quote Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.) we sit back waiting for God to miraculously change our circumstance or at least show us the purpose of our current crisis.

This week I got a lesson in how we might end up being one of the ‘things’ that work for  good and not the direct recipient of the result. (You mean it’s not all about me?)

Thursday a friend came to share with me how bad stuff has just been piling up on her lately.  She happens to be someone who has just recommitted her life to Christ and is on fire and enthusiastic, wanting to learn more, do more, and feel more in her Christian walk.  I talked to her about being “under attack” and about how satan is not happy with her new direction. She left firm in her resolve to press on.

Friday I met with my worship team to go over the music for Sunday and explained to them that I was not feeling at peace with my choices and I didn’t know why.  So we practiced, worked out all the kinks and left feeling prepared for the service.

Sunday morning during my quiet time God spoke to me about changing the worship set.  That’s a risky thing to do at the last minute when the team has already practiced.  But I felt the strong urging that someone needed encouragement in the area of forgiveness and the vastness of God’s love.  So I made the change, apologizing to my team who I am happy to say is very flexible.

The Pastor’s message Sunday was inspiring and encouraging. It focused on Peter, who after a failed night of fishing, was told by Jesus to go fish again. He was discouraged, exhausted and, as a seasoned fisherman, sure that lowering the net again was futile. He said something like “Been there, done that, Jesus.” (My very loose translation.)  But, at Christ’s urging, he did it and the result of his obedience was amazing. A great lesson in persevering even when things seem hopeless.

Following the service three things happened and I realized what a privilege it is to be a “thing” in the hands of God.

1)     The friend who was under attack came to share with me a brand new crisis, heavier than all the rest.  Of course, the crisis wasn’t a good thing, but her reaction to it was. She had been so touched by the entire service and was encouraged to press on and to keep her heart clear of bitterness and anger. If you knew her situation you would realize how that kind of attitude in the midst of this particular crisis is a miracle.

2)    A second member of the congregation came to me after the service to share how the music choices that morning were right on and how her son leaned over to her and admitted the message in the music was for him and the sermon that followed was just what he needed to move forward.

3)    At a church board meeting Sunday evening I received two amazingly uplifting offerings of encouragement, letting me know that my ministry was very much appreciated and recognized. To really understand the impact you would have to know that I have recently emerged from a season of great oppression when it came to my ministry, one in which I was stifled and at times even criticized for the same things I received encouragement for at that meeting. And the example used in the encouraging comments was the service earlier that day.

I got to be a “thing” working together with a sensitive, sincere, gifted Pastor, a scattering of hurting people, and a beautiful lesson about the bits and pieces of what we say and do under Christ’s direction.

What a privilege to think that God uses scraps of humanity like me to touch the lives of scraps of humanity like you who will in turn touch the lives of scraps of humanity in places we don’t even know, forming the gorgeous quilt of God’s people.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:10-11

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This morning I looked out my office window to see the first deer of the season snacking on a big birch tree just a few feet away.  Gentle, graceful creatures with soft gray hides and inquisitive eyes, they always brighten my day.   I am blessed to work in a facility that is surrounded by meticulous landscaping, about a hundred trees and a scattering of wildlife that often frequent the area.  As pleasant as the arrival of  deer is, the sad thing is it signals the nearness of winter.

Winter is not my favorite season by a long way.  I hate being cold.  But winter scenery is another matter.  I do love the beauty of billowy clouds, snow on the evergreen, even the bare tree branches against an azure sky.  I love the first sign of twinkle lights in  windows and the first sound of Christmas carols on the radio.

What I don’t like is coming to work in the dark and leaving work in the dark.  I vote against bitter wind, sleet and below zero temperatures.  I’d like to ban storms or at least limit their visits to when I’m already cuddled in front of the pellet stove with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.

Alas, every season, every activity, every hobby contains the good parts and the bad parts.  I’m a writer. It’s what I love to do.  I love the light bulb burst of a new idea and I love the furious flow of words from my brain to the paper or computer screen.  I don’t love writer’s block, editing for the tenth time or getting to the middle of a great manuscript and finding myself at a loss of where to go next. If only writing were fun and productive all the time.  Or for that matter, parenting, cooking, working, teaching, reading and so on and so on.

Jesus certainly faced the same challenges in His life on earth.  I would guess He loved the opportunity to heal but didn’t care for the moments when healing didn’t happen because of someone’s lack of faith.  I’ll bet he loved spending time with his closest friends and followers, but hated the moments when it seemed they hadn’t learned a thing from Him; when they questioned who He really was and failed to accept the power in His very name.

Today I spoke with a friend who is really under attack right now and it’s no surprise.  She has had a renewal of faith and is on fire with hope, enthusiasm and joy.  I don’t imagine satan likes that much.  So, he’s out to shake her up.  She’s finding herself in the not so likeable part of the Christian walk.  It’s a reminder that there’s work to do to stay focused and motivated through the ups and downs of life.  Here’s the workout program.  Repeat as often as necessary until you feel those spiritual muscles bulging.

1)  From a  kneeling position, inhale deeply, exhale and pray.  Pray early, pray late, pray always.  Pray when it’s going well and when it’s not.  This will build strength within.

2)  From a sitting position, lift your Bible as often as possible and read.  This will strengthen your mind and your resolve.

3)  Spread your arms wide and reach out to others.  This will strengthen your commitment and build your confidence.

4)  Ask others to join your fitness club.  Ask them to pray with you, talk with you, share with you, commiserate with you and praise God with you.  This will build up your joy and inner peace.

And remember this – if you weren’t on the right path, satan wouldn’t pay you a bit of attention.  He doesn’t care what you’re doing as long as you aren’t doing what God wants you to do.  He doesn’t have a plan for your life.  He just wants to make sure you aren’t following God’s plan for your life.  A good exercise program like the one above will keep him from achieving his goal.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord Himself is the Rock eternal.  Isaiah 26:3-4

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My heart broke this morning when I heard a report on the local news of a fatality accident that took the lives of a mother and her 14 year old daughter. They were hit head-on when another vehicle crossed the center line.  The cause of the accident was reported as inattention.

I wonder how someone left behind after such a tragedy comes to grips with that conclusion? How do you process through such a deep loss when you know it was completely avoidable?  How would you, as the driver of the other vehicle, live with the fact that your split second distraction took two innocent lives?

All morning I’ve been thinking of the phrase “but for the grace of God, there go I.”  I confess, I have picked up my cell phone to check a message I heard come in while I was driving – a split second of inattention. I have opened a piece of mail while sailing down the freeway – a split second of inattention. I have reached around to hand something off to a grandchild in the back without pulling over – a split second of inattention.

It’s interesting that shortly after the news report this morning our local station had a technical glitch causing the sound to fade out for almost a full minute.  Just as it came back on the voice of one of the favorite morning show hosts was heard blasting out the expletive “sh_t”. He apologized profusely once he realized his message had been broadcast to his listening audience – a split second of inattention.

Those two incidents have had me pondering all day the many ways our distractions can result in serious outcomes.  They may not be as tragic as causing a death and maybe not as wide reaching as to get the attention of an entire listening audience, but certainly they can be every bit as sobering.

As bikers, traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles on our Harley, we are fully aware of what a split second of inattention can do. We hear about the accidents all the time. We’ve been lucky, pretty much due to the fact that my husband is ever vigilant and aware, never taking his mind off his job as the driver.

As parents of small children we learn early that once they begin to roll over constant care must be taken to assure their safety. We also learn quickly how children learn what they see and hear.  A split second of inattention in our language and invariably we hear our profanity repeated from the innocent mouth of our toddler.

Living a Christian life requires constant attention also.  If we don’t walk the talk, the damage is extensive. A bit of inattention in the way we handle a store clerk, a family member, even another vehicle on the road is a lesson in hypocrisy, the kind that has for centuries given the church a bad name. We speak kindness but model impatience when the clerk won’t let us return the item without a receipt. We preach compassion but treat a family member with disdain. We claim tolerance but lay on the horn when the guy in front of us is too slow or doesn’t signal for a turn.

A split second of inattention can make us the person who crossed the center line and killed a gentle spirit or a childlike faith. Distraction is a favorite tool in satan’s hand. It happens when we haven’t taken the time to school ourselves for vigilance and practice minute by minute the Christlike qualities we strive to emulate.

In memory of a mother and daughter I didn’t even know, I’m putting my purse with my cell phone in the back seat of my car from now on so I won’t be tempted.

In memory of a Christ who died for me, I’m putting my Bible on the front seat of my life so I will be watchful at all times.

What will you do to protect yourself and others from your split second of inattention?

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,” Luke 12:35

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Today our local paper ran an article about the opening of homeless shelters now that temperatures are dropping close to the freezing mark in the evenings.  One man interviewed stated he was thankful for the shelter where he could come in out of the cold and find something to eat. Homelessness is something I know exists but have never experienced, by the grace of God.

Last night my bible study ladies discussed a lesson on being thankful.  Without exception each lady stated they were thankful for a home that was warm and dry. To my knowledge not one of us has ever had to shelter under a piece of cardboard or shiver through the night on a frost covered park bench.

Two years ago a co-worker got involved in the homeless shelter her church opened and she told me a story I will never forget. She was helping deliver food to a community that had formed along the river in our area and was shocked to find a young couple and their two small children living there.  Their story was heartbreaking.  Both parents had lost their jobs and consequently their home. They were fairly new to the area, had no family or other resources to help them out and ended up where they never dreamed they would ever be – sleeping along a river bank with two little boys.

How many of you picture dirty, scraggly haired men when you think of homelessness? I do.  At least I did before that incident. God brought the message of judgment and compassion home to me in a big way that day. Homelessness is seldom a choice. It is the result of tragic circumstances.  Admittedly sometimes those tragic circumstances are brought about by bad choices people make. But not always!

My heart broke the day I heard the story of this little family. I was privileged to be a very small part of rescuing them from their situation. I don’t know where they are now but I’ve never lost my compassion for homelessness or my sincere gratefulness for a roof over my head, a warm place to come home to at the end of the day, and a soft bed to lie in at night.

Homelessness is like so many other issues we bump up against as we travel through our day.  Poverty, crime, abuse, pain and suffering are out there. We hear a story and for a moment our hearts are moved.  The problem is we tend toward apathy because we aren’t directly affected.  And I’m afraid that’s what Revelation refers to when it speaks of the church of Sardis.  Sometimes called the “dead church” they seemed to have little passion for the needs outside their doors.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty and I’m not trying to push anyone into jumping in and offering up your basement.  But I do want us to keep homelessness on our hearts and in our prayers every day, especially as the temperatures drop and the snow begins to fall.  Here are some ways I think will help us do that.

  • Wake up praising God for a good night’s sleep in a warm bed. Don’t take it for granted.
  • When you see someone on a street corner, push that first thought out of your head and respond with an immediate prayer for people in need. Ask God to help you be descerning in your decision to give or not.
  • Get involved in some way with your local shelters – give food, clothing, blankets or time.
  • Carry items in your car that you could offer to a person in need like gloves, hats, scarves.
  • If you can possibly do it, call your local shelter and volunteer to spend a night serving a meal and making those that come in comfortable.
  • Always, always share the love of Jesus with the lost and lonely.
  • And when you walk into your house at the end of the day, before you yell at the kids for the mess or complain about another meal to prepare or lament over the power bill, thank God for all of it.

Finally, if you have trouble finding a heart for the homeless, remember that spiritually you were one of them once. But it was taken care of by the Christ who cannot look upon a child in distress and keep from weeping. Let’s be more Christlike.

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Matthew 8:17

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Yesterday a friend shared that she felt her life was just a series of “starting overs”.  Her heart was heavy and her soul was discouraged.  Things weren’t working out the way she’d planned – again.  My heart hurts because her heart hurts and I wish I could change her situation.  I wish I could tell her what to do to make it miraculously better.  But the truth is, there are no quick and easy answers.

Isn’t that just the way of life?  Are any of us where we really wanted to be today?  Has anyone not seen dreams die or goals remain unreached?  When I was in 8th grade I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would become a nurse.  Instead I became a wife.  When I lived for riding horses I never dreamed of a day when my pasture would be empty but my motorcycle shop would be full.  When I was pregnant for the first time I never imagined that my son would never take a first breath.  On my wedding day I didn’t know marriage would be so hard, or for that matter parenting, keeping house, keeping my sanity. 

We’ve all had to readjust our plans along the way.  Sometimes it was by choice and we looked forward to an exciting venture.  Other times it was heartbreaking and seemed unfair and impossible.

But at least for me, and I’m relatively sure for the rest of you, it was a time of growth and discovery.  Even the most painful times in our journey give birth to a fresh awareness of how strong we are, how amazing a right turn can end up being, and how, regardless of what was left behind, there are treasures to be had up ahead.

Starting over points make us see again and again who is really in control.  We think that we are and we make choices, good and bad, but God channels them both into the direction He wants us to go.  When it seems all is lost, the one thing we can hold on to is His wisdom and His grace. Only God can turn a loss into a win, a seemingly fatal mistake into a life giving lesson, a brick wall into short pause. 

Each time we dissolve into tears and think we’ve failed, God turns our tears into a river of opportunity and provides a boat.  We just have to get in and start rowing.  The most important thing though is letting him set our course.  Most of our “starting overs” come from a lack of seeking direction in our past endeavors. That’s not to say that tragedy beyond our control doesn’t strike us now and then because it does.  The race we run as citizens of this world is a grueling one. Even the most athletically fit will stumble and fall along the way.

The falling down – the divorce, the bankruptcy, the loss of a job, the parenting disappointments, the damage we’ve done – those aren’t the climactic moments in our book of life.  The fact that we keep on going, keep on singing, keep on believing and keep on starting over are the page turners. 

In the end it doesn’t matter that we aren’t where we expected ourselves to be.  It only matters that we end up where God planned for us to be.  And do you know where that is?  At the throne of grace, forgiven of all our sin and failure, shining with the light of Jesus and surrounded by the people who watched our journey and were inspired to follow along.

For my friend whose broken heart inspired this post, you are at one of the most beautiful places of all, the place where you choose to fall into His great big, comforting, safe and secure hands so that He can pour His love out upon you, whisper His promises into your heart, put your broken pieces back together and set you on your feet again, down a fresh new path that leads to joy.

Today, tomorrow and the next day will be hard for you.  Count on me to walk alongside.  I’ll buy the Starbucks, listen to the problems, pat you on the back and take your phone calls.  But He is the one who will actually take your fractured pieces and form the work of art you will become as you take this turn and navigate your way down the path.

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:9-10

 

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Our autumn rides hold a special place in my heart.  While the air is crisp, requiring an extra layer of clothing, the view from the back seat is glorious.  Here in Yakima and the surrounding countryside the trees are fighting each other for attention, flashing their shades of gold and green, russet and rose.  Along the river the sumac is dressed in red while the birch trees have chosen bright yellow gowns.  I can smell the fall and it’s moist and earthy.

The autumn season is short and I always feel like we have to hurry and enjoy it before it’s gone.  There is such a contrast in the blinding sunlight and the cool air, almost like a warning.  If you’re inside looking out, it appears to be warm.  But step out the door without a jacket and you’ll shiver immediately.

Huddled on the back of our Harley with my leather clad arms wrapped around my guy my thoughts are bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade the beauty of autumn for anything but I’m sad for the signs that our riding season is almost over.  There’s always that distant thought of what will next year bring? 

Having recently experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a good friend, it’s hard not to reflect on the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.  The trees know truth – our life is for a season.  Autumn comes and the best thing they can do is go out in a blaze of glory. The most beautiful, eye catching time of their existence is the beginning of their death – not forever but for a time.

What a lesson for us.  We won’t be green and full of energy forever.  We must take all we can from the joy of our branches dancing in the breeze, birds singing us a morning song, friends relaxing in our cool shade.  At the same time, we must make plans to go out in a blaze of glory.

Is your house in order?  Have you served in such a way that people remark on your golden generosity?  Are you touching lives and sharing some of your rich red life lessons, your russet blessings, and your bright yellow joy of a life well lived? 

We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring but we can certainly take measure of what impact we had yesterday.  I want someone to reflect on their ride though the canyon of life and I want a memory to flash back of me beside the river reaching out with beauty and thoughtfulness, making their day a little richer.  I want them to hear the roar of a Harley and smile because it brings to mind a picture of Christ shining like the autumn sun from my face.  

And when my glorious colors fade, please remember I have died not forever but only for a time.  My resurrection colors will make the autumn season look like a black and white movie!  Praise God for that promise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

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I’m so proud of myself because I started out 2012 by firmly setting good intentions to start early on my holiday preparations.  I was tired of last minute everything.  Taking a lesson from my good friend, Diane, who is always well ahead of the game when it comes to holiday shopping, I vowed I would follow her lead this year. Her gifts are well thought out and appropriate.  Mine are sometimes panic-mode gifts.  Don’t roll your eyes.  You can’t tell me you’ve never bought something with the thought “they can always take it back” going through your exhausted, crowd pressed, standing in a long line mind.

Too bad good intentions are just that – intentions.  There has to be some follow through or they do you no good.  I just discovered that (again) as I peeked at the calendar and found myself gasping. Part of my job as HR Director is to coordinate all of the employee events and activities.  We just completed a very successful employee appreciation picnic and I’ve been sitting back breathing in a sigh of relief that it’s over.  While I was breathing the Halloween potluck, United Way Kick Off, and Employee Christmas Party ganged up on me. 

Here’s another shocker – the holiday season activity rush facing me at work is also facing me at home.  My good intentions of being organized and ahead of schedule never made it past the thought stage.  I’m right where I always am this time of year – panicked. (By the way – that is not me in the picture above.  If I ever looked that good while shopping I would have myself frozen in that state and never thawed!)

Once again I am reminded intention accompanied by inaction results in pretty much nothing. 

I used this example in Bible study last night.  A student can have every intention of getting a 4.0 grade point but if they never come to class or crack a book it’s not likely to happen.  A Christian can have every intention of growing spiritually but if they never come to church, get in a study and/or open the Bible they won’t see much improvement. 

If I don’t get started shopping my intention of having my shopping done early just isn’t going to pay off.  I realize I’m already too late to be really early this year.  But there is some room for improvement.  After all, I still have 77 days.  Yikes!  77 days – that’s all?  I’m in big trouble.

I intend not to let this happen again next year.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8

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