Thursday, December 31, 2009

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality…

…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:12-18

Setting goals. It’s just not something that has ever come naturally to me. I have to do it every year for my annual review and I have to say, it is painful for me! I know a lot of people spend time at the end of every year reflecting and setting goals for the new year. Last week, I spent time reflecting and was riveted by the awesome power of God’s hand in my life and the lives of my family. So I thought, perhaps this was the year I’d start setting some goals for myself. New decade, new perspective, why not?

I asked myself a few questions to get me thinking. How am I living gracefully? What do I need to change? What do I need more/less of? These questions got my mind racing in numerous directions. So I started listing some of the things that were floating around in my mind. Spend more time in the Word; make more time for my family; practice patience and good will; spend less time in rebellion; be kinder; choose words more wisely; don’t let anger rise up uncontrolled; be a better example. Wow, the list is pretty long and kind of all over the map.

As I sat there feeling a little overwhelmed by my huge list and what to do with it to make goals that were measurable and hopefully, achievable, I decided to put it aside and dive into my Bible reading plan for the day. I was a little behind, so I had a few days worth to cover. Of course, that is exactly what God wanted me to do because in the middle of those readings was this section of Scripture. As I read it, the words just leapt off the page into my heart. They were alive!
As they echoed around in my head, it was so clear! While MY list looks scattered and overwhelming, God’s list isn’t.

Those few key words of instruction summed up what I was fumbling around with trying to write it myself. Interestingly, my Bible gives that section of Romans a one-word title: LOVE.

I pondered that title for a while. Love covers it all. Of course it does! Because God is love, what more do we need? It is our charge to live life in that love and nothing else. For me, I will print off those verses and put them in a few prominent places so that I am reminded daily that I have a choice. To love or not to love. It covers everything on my list and then some. My prayer is that love wins out this year, and always.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

“For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them…

...but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." Proverbs 1:32-33

Expectations. So much is contained in that little word. I often find myself struggling for words when I hear of unimaginable suffering and pain. We never expect to lose a child. We don’t expect to lose a spouse at a very young age. We expect life to go along without too many bumps in the road and when we do encounter those bumps, we expect to have the stamina and resources to cope and “get through it” without many scars. Many expect a good life if they “do good things and are a good person.” But, life, of course, doesn’t work that way. Things happen every day that are tragic and painful and throw us down to our knees.

Where do we find answers to life’s toughest questions? How do we offer comfort to those who are suffering so greatly? In God’s Word. My reading plan has me in the book of Proverbs. Life without wisdom is life on a winding road that has little purpose and very little hope. That wisdom can only be found in God. God is loving, merciful and forgiving. However, we are also warned that refusing to walk in the way of obedience will result in pain and suffering without the hope that is offered freely in a relationship with Him. In other words, we reap what we sow.

So many people in our daily lives are lost and without hope. They may have suffered greatly or they may be in the midst of a trial like no other. I find myself praying often to be “the light” to them. “Lord, let something come of this encounter that will point them to you.” I often wonder if I’ll have the “words” to help someone who is lost find any peace. God flowing through me is the only way that is possible. As believers, our peace and hope need to shine through in those times when we don’t have the words. Sometimes, just being there helps. Sometimes, it’s jumping in and filling a need – whatever that may be – that shows the light. And then, it’s God’ work to do. I’m learning that I need to get out of the way and let Him work through me, not the other way around. Only He can break down the walls of unbelief.

The Bible doesn’t promise us a life without suffering. In fact, it is stated that we will suffer. The world is a broken place where evil is present and there is much unbelief. There are those making choices every day that impact our lives and the lives of others, and many times that impact is suffering. However, the Bible does promise us that God is with those who believe in Him and that the pains of this life are temporary. That through it all, He is with us and loves us and will bring resolution in eternity. On this side of life, we will never have all the answers and will never know what His plan ultimately is. But, faith and hope offer a peace that is not of this world. And, since this world is broken and frail, and not our final destination, I’m choosing to be okay with that. I am holding out for the long term. And, I pray that I may be used to help bring as many people with me as possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…

…in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6.

In reflecting on 2009, I’m literally blown away at what an incredible year this has been. The twists and turns of life have carved out a path that I never would have predicted or likely chosen, but have been rich with blessing, growth and have pointed my gaze towards the Creator of all.

Who would think that a year filled with job loss, financial uncertainty, a cancer scare, work stress way beyond anything considered “normal” factored into the normal strains of everyday life would be a year that could be thought of as a Heavenly blessing. But, that’s exactly how I see it and am humbly grateful for the year our family has experienced.

God has been more than faithful to my family. For many years, but especially so in 2009. His love and faithfulness have literally transformed my life. I became a Christian several years ago, but the journey of 2009 has lit a fire within my heart that is burning like no other.

When I sit back and reflect on this past year, I can’t help but be amazed by the visible hand of God on every aspect. It started in late 2008, when the economy began falling apart. My husband was a casualty – his sales job was eliminated. Sure enough, God provided. Temporary work, unemployment, an unexpected bonus, a tax refund – one thing after another to shout loudly to us that HE was in control of it and WE were not to worry or be anxious about anything. Once I truly committed to praying before allowing myself to worry, the worry subsided and I felt a peace I’ve never felt before. And my husband recognized the opportunity to pursue the path that God had chosen for him all along. His gift has now become his life work. It’s growing abundantly and we will see fruits of success soon, I’m sure. God has moved mountains for this and we are overwhelmed.

Same thing with a potential health issue. HE laid it out that I would experience my first worship concert on the very day I found out I needed a biopsy. Instead of worrying and fretting, I heard exactly what I needed to hear that night and experienced a level of connection to Him that I had never felt before. I laid it on Him that night and didn’t look back. I had what I needed to get through whatever lay ahead.

For the past two-plus years, I have been involved with a project at work that has been nearly all-consuming. It has taken me away from family, friends, even other important projects at work. But under uncomfortable pressure to lead into uncharted territory, my team and I were able to focus, work very hard and offset the pressure to carry us to an unprecedented victory and hopefully, a bright future. It also opened me up to constant prayer. I wouldn’t make a move or decision without careful prayer now.

It’s pretty amazing how He works, isn’t it? Through all of this, He also spoke into my heart about writing and this blog has been my humble response to His prompting. Some wonderful friends have credited it as a gift. I say, it’s all God. It’s hard to explain, but when I sit down to write these entries, the words just come. It’s almost as if a floodgate is opened and my fingers just start flying along the keyboard. My eyes are just there to keep up and see what’s next.

As 2010 approaches, I have dubbed it as a year for growth and connections. God has generously introduced people into my life this year who have a purpose and a heart for Him. We share a passion to follow whatever path He leads us on. I pray to grow in the ability to communicate and to use that ability to help others connect in a relationship with God – because it is truly the most amazing relationship you can ever have.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.” Matthew 1:23

My Bible study group just finished “The Newcomer’s Guide to the Bible.” It was a great journey and helped me to understand a lot more about the amazing gift that is God’s Word. One thing that I either never knew, or didn’t realize was there is 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. 400 years! That’s a really long time for complete silence. It’s hard to imagine what people must have thought. Did God die, was He angry, or did He just stop caring? Generations passed with nothing but silence.

And then it was time. He could have shaken the foundations of the earth to announce His arrival. But, no. Instead it came in the form of the sweet, soft cry on a newborn. Incredible. Can you just imagine what that must have been like for Mary? As a mom, I know the overwhelming surge of emotion that came with giving birth. But, can you even fathom knowing that you are carrying the Son of God? What a feeling that must have been for her.

And to know that the cry of her newborn baby was the announcement to the world that the silence was broken! Think about that for while. I have been thinking about this all day and I still can’t seem to think anything but pure amazement. And the news was spread when the angel of the Lord said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) He was here. Our gift of salvation in the form of a tiny baby.

It makes me think about the gifts and blessings in life that I know I take for granted. Breath, our senses, the beauty and wonder that surround us every day. There are so many subtle, but incredible things that are so easily overlooked, we may not even think about them being gifts from God. God doesn’t have to loudly announce anything. Small, soft whispers are more than sufficient for the Creator of the Universe.

The soft cry of a baby. In a manger. In a stable filled with animals. Where no one could make room. The Savior of the earth. The One who created the stars, yet chose to come and live among us with one purpose. To save us.

It’s only a few days until Christmas and everyone is busy – shopping, wrapping, mailing, gathering, etc. All fine and wonderful things, for certain. But, I’m also hoping that in our family, we will take time to pause and reflect and relish the greatest gift of all, which came in the form of a very small, quiet package. I don’t want to overlook anything He has in store. I pray I can stay quiet long enough to hear the message.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31

Many, many moons ago, I was privileged to spend weekends on the sidelines as a cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, my lifelong favorite football team. It was a crazy whim of an idea while in grad school in South Florida, since the games weren’t always on tv. I say this part because I have always fought with the issues that most girls grow up with – not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not “whatever” enough. Honestly, I thought I had no shot whatsoever. But, God’s plan was different. Somehow, I made the cut every weekend and finally, made the team! It was one of my most prized accomplishments and a time of life that was incredible and a true gift.

Fast-forward 15 years. I am now a married mom of two. Life is a bit different, to say the least! However, recently I was able to attend an alumni weekend for former Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders. This was the first time I’ve been back, so needless to say, I was a bit nervous. And, frankly, those crazy self-image battles tried their hardest to rear their ugly heads again. Diets, exercise, hair, makeup, oh my!

And then, I went to the reunion. What I found was even better than I could have hoped for. Precious friends with even more beautiful hearts than you could imagine. No one really, truly cared about the packaging, it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters. It was like no time had passed – laughter, tears, stories, memories – what a lovely friend of mine calls “doing life together.” Perfect words.

Upon my return, I was working on a Bible reading plan and sure enough, this passage and some wonderful companion Scriptures were there to relish! As I pondered these passages, some wonderful truths were revealed:

Wisdom is a by-product of graceful living that needs age and life experience to flourish and grow. I know I was not a wise young person. I made many mistakes and choices that were not what God would choose for me had I let Him. But through the years, wisdom has started to settle into those cracks and crevices created by those fancies of my youth.

They eyes are a mirror of the soul. Our bodies will age and break down, but the light in our eyes will shine on and on as long as we are in line with our God. My prayer is that my eyes always reflect His light into the world around me and He uses me for His glory.

God sees us as perfect – because He made us the way we are for His purpose. That is a perspective that is lovely and tricky at the same time. To see myself as God sees me is hard to do on many days. Satan knows what buttons to push and is always working them to try and get me to fall. I’m trying my best to see the benefits of all the changes the years are making in me. Laugh lines mean I’ve experienced much happiness over the years. The scars of childbearing remind me every day that I was blessed with two amazing children and am entrusted to bring them up in the ways of the Lord. The list goes on and on.

Yes, I’m aging. Are there things I’d love to see NOT happening? Of course. But, if given the choice to go back to those days with a better figure and smoother skin, I’d have to pass. Life is much sweeter these days because of what’s growing and maturing on the inside.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Psalm 96:9

Have you ever been in a worship experience that moved you so much you trembled? It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? I can’t say that every time I worship, it’s that way, but there have been some very memorable moments in my life in recent times and this verse has just resonated so much in my heart.

I was sitting here today reading through my daily Bible reading plan. Psalm 96 was part of it. As I read through, these words jumped off the page at me. “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” Wow. What power in those words.

In true form, God had put this on my heart the past couple days. I’m learning to recognize when God really touches a worship experience and I’m so grateful to say I’ve had the honor of participating in a few lately. When it transcends the room, the people, and even the words – it’s like we’re getting a taste of what Heaven will be like when we’re all worshiping the Throne! If this is only a glimpse of the true picture, and I’m sure it is, can you imagine how incomprehensible Heaven will be?

As I relish Christmas this year, I’m praising God with a new heart. I’ve been a Christian for only a little more than 6 years, but even this year, something is different. God has been right in the middle of everything this year, and it’s been amazing to witness. I know my heart has been opened up so much more this year than ever. And, I can directly tie that back to those incredible worship experiences. Thank you Jesus!

I recently had the opportunity to hear a message from Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion movement. The message was about Christmas and how in Jesus, we have already received the greatest gift we could ever ask. Oh, how right that is! His talk included in interaction with a child where he unwrapped a gift and discussed presents. He finished by opening a gift hidden in the box – his Bible. His point was that Jesus is the greatest gift ever and we have the opportunity to be part of the greatest story ever told. That is what Christmas is all about. Don’t tell them, but Louie’s idea inspired me to give my children their own personal Bibles under the tree this year. They have Bibles, but these will be personalized for them and are written for kids their ages. I know they love Jesus – and I hope receiving a Bible will allow us to begin new traditions together in The Word.

And all of this leads me straight back to worship. Because when I think about that incredible gift,
I can help but lift up a song of praise to Jesus.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works...

...out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Ephesians 1:11.

Divine appointments. There’s really no other way to describe it is there? When you can’t explain why you were able to meet that person at that time; or you were assigned to work with that person on this project; or you follow a hunch and go somewhere you hadn’t planned and meet someone who changes you forever. You were supposed to be there. That’s what I call a divine appointment.

Don’t you just marvel at those?! I know I do. God uses people and situations in such amazing ways that you just have to stand there with your mouth open and go “wow!” I have been blessed so many, many times when those appointments show up. Being open to them and realizing what they are have not been easy. My nature is to figure it out for myself and I find myself in that battle all the time. So openness and submission to God’s will do not come easy. And yet, what throws me the most is that when I do open up to it, the results are mind-blowing.

Over the past few days, I’ve had this concept pretty heavy on my heart. Lately, some incredible connections have been made and I’m watching and waiting to see what God has in store with them. Example: I had just finished reading the book, “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. As I closed the cover, I closed my eyes and prayed. I asked God to open my heart to whatever He has in store and whatever that may be, I prayed that all the glory would go to Him. Within HOURS I “just-so-happened” to be put into contact with several unbelievable women of faith. And, within MINUTES of that meeting, were on fire with ideas and subjects that were on our hearts. We must have talked for an hour and left knowing that God has something in mind for us together. I’ve sat in awe over that situation and it’s challenged me to look for those other divine appointments in life that I may have missed along the way.

In our family alone, we can easily point to numerous occasions where we were at just the right place at just the right time and the results were only possible with God. We are seeing it in my husband’s business every day. In just over six months, there is a solid foundation on which to build a great future. We are humbled and grateful that He would use us for such good work.

As I’ve spent time thinking and praying over these God-driven connections, I’ve found myself in tears, in awe and face down in humble gratitude because He is simply amazing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” Psalm 33: 21

My alignment has been a little off lately. Not physically, but spiritually. I’ve noticed it because I’ve found myself caught up in busyness and to-dos and things of this world. My prayer time has been relegated to a few minutes here and there throughout the day when something or someone reminds me of something I “wanted to pray for” and didn’t. I’ll quickly offer up a prayer and move along. And, sadly, even though I took much of the week of Thanksgiving off work with the good intentions of focusing on spending more time alone with God, I didn’t. Company, shopping lists, errands, activities and that worldly view of having to get-it-all-done and be-all-things-to-all-people around me overwhelmed the small voice that was telling me to slow down and step away from the madness.

As soon as I start down this road, I begin to feel “off.” It’s my alignment. Like my car, I need to keep up with maintaining what keeps me running more efficiently and focused. And that is defined for me as time alone, time in The Word and time in worship. If any one of those gets off kilter, I’m out of balance. And lately, two of the three are out of sync and I’ve struggled.

It’s been in my heart and on my mind. Last night and again this morning, God used it to settle my spirit and help me see where I need to be looking. At Him. Focused on Him. Driving home last night, I was listening to an amazing worship song and just loving the moment. I gazed out and saw the biggest, brightest full moon I’ve seen in a while. It was like a cosmic flashlight was pointed in my direction. As I looked at the moon, with the music playing, everything else fell away. It was perfect. Again this morning, as I was standing out in 17-degree weather with 4 inches of fresh snow on the ground with our new puppy, the silence was incredible. Air that cold takes my breath away, but there I was breathing in the moment and the silence, happy that I was back “in tune.”

As Christmas season heads into high gear, I vow to keep it the sacred time it is meant to be. And I’m kick-starting my focus starting now. I’m heading out for a long weekend to attend a reunion. I am so grateful for the opportunity to reconnect and celebrate with a group of women that I shared a very special part of life with. But, more importantly, I’m excited for the built in luxury of quiet time – on the planes, nighttime and early morning. My Bible and I are getting together again. Of course, He’s been there all along. I’ve been the one out of alignment. My heart is rejoicing because I’m back on track. God is so great.