Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Little Sweetness to Brighten Your Day

I ran across this old video of Allyson the other day, and it brought me such joy I thought I'd share it with you. It's from November 2010, when she was four. She was rehearsing for her Christmas program. Enjoy!

video

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Just Enough Manna

Ever since school started a few weeks ago, Allyson has been asking to walk to school, but I've been busy with work and other obligations, and it wasn't until this past Thursday that I actually walked with her. I woke up with a smile on my face that day and thought, "This is going to be a good day."

Bill and I managed to get her ready 15 minutes early, which was quite a feat given how slowly she moves in the morning, and the two of us set out at 7:35, just as the sun was climbing through the rosy glow of the morning sky. It was a glorious day, and with each step I felt my spirits rising.

Allyson held my hand the whole way there, often lacing her little fingers through mine. She told me all the reasons she loves first grade, the most important being her beloved teacher, whom she was thrilled to see at our church recently. We talked about the day to come and prayed that God would help Allyson to enjoy learning and to share His love with others.

When we got to the crosswalk where Ethan used to dismiss me when baby Allyson and I walked him to school--he was in fourth grade then--I asked Allyson if she'd like me to cross with her. Of course she would! I grinned.

But when we got to the door, she told me I could hug her, but not kiss her. "That would be embarrassing in public," she explained. I laughed as I gathered her into a tight hug, and laughed harder when she couldn't resist slipping me a furtive peck.

On the mile back home, I talked with God, thanking him for the joys of the day, and then just enjoyed walking in silence with Him. When I got home I felt so happy--HAPPY!--that I just had to send a quick text to some loved ones about what a great morning I was having.

My sister Melody replied, "God gives us just enough 'manna' for one day at a time. He is faithful! Praise the Lord!"

As I look back over my week, I can see that manna is the best way to describe the little (and big) ways God has reminded me of his love. I haven't undergone a radical transformation so that suddenly I can trust God and let go of all doubts forever. Instead, I've come to the realization that it's okay to be weak some days because God always has the encouragement I need, just when I need it. But I have to reach out and take the manna every day. Like the Israelites, I can never collect extra for the next day.

Here are just a few examples of the manna God has given me this week:

  • Phone calls, emails, and text messages from loved ones
  • Hugs all around at Tuesday night Bible study
  • Laughing with my Bible study friends during introductions as I recounted the story of my trip to the fabric store with Gentle when we decided we were going to make cloth pads
  • Multiple reminders to BE STILL
  • Reading a passage in Romans 5 about perseverance, character, and hope, and then having someone else read it to me the very next day
  • A card from a friend just when I needed it most, reminding me that God is holding me close to His heart
  • The way my friend Angel's face lit up when I walked into Pilates on Thursday morning
  • At Ethan's drumline competition, recognizing the faint strains of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" on the marimbas during another school's performance, amid the clashing cymbals and the snares' staccato rhythms. This same song had so encouraged me at church last Sunday. Encountering it twice in one week shocked me since it's an old hymn I scarcely ever hear. 
And then there was the unexpected laughter yesterday morning at 6:30. I was taking Ethan to band practice before school, and three times when I tried to start the car, the engine wouldn't turn over. After it finally started, Ethan, who literally never utters more than a grunt on the way to school, remarked that I need a new car. 

"We have to replace Bill's truck first," I said. "It's much older. It'll be a year or two before we save the money to replace this car." 

"You should get a moped," Ethan mused. I chuckled, pretty sure he was joking. "My friend Bryce's dad has one," he went on.

"Yes, we saw Brice on the back of it on the way to band camp, remember?" I laughed at the mental image of Bryce's father, a former body builder, hunched over the handlebars with Bryce clinging to his waist. 

"They get 50 miles to the gallon," Ethan said. "And if you get one that's freeway legal, they go up to 70 miles per hour." 

"Yes, I should get one." I snickered. "And you can ride on the back in the mornings." 


"No way."

"Of course, it might be crowded when we need to take a friend home," I said solemnly.

"No way. Not happening."

"I'll post a picture on my blog. Hey, you could take Meggie's color guard flag and let it flap along behind us," I said. And then the laughter broke out. Not the little ha-ha kind, but belly laughs that filled my entire body with joy.

Wonder of wonders, Ethan laughed too. At 6:30 in the morning. Sounds like divine intervention to me.

Speaking of school, I've been meaning to post the pictures from the first day. Here they are...

Allyson in a Tartan Skirt She Picked Because It Reminded Her of Bill's Grandma, Who Was Scottish

Ethan and Allyson Enjoying First-Day-Of-School Ice Cream 
And here is some of the incredible scenery I mentioned in my last entry, in Portland, Oregon.

Hiked to Top of Multnomah Falls With Friends Nancy and Rita

Rita Snapped This Shot of Me at the Top

You must have been praying for me. Please keep it up!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

He Will Continue to Deliver Us

This is one of those entries I am hesitant to write, for two reasons. 1) It's humiliating to admit my weakness so soon after my last, top-of-the mountain post. 2) I know some of you worry about me, and I don't want you to. In any case, I really must share because it's another one of those times when God amazes me way too much to keep it to myself....

Remember how I said in my last post, "I'm sure this trial is far from over"? Of course I was right, but even I didn't expect that my joy would be so short-lived. Within 48 hours, I began to entertain worries about the future, and by the following morning, this past Sunday, I was in a full-blown anxiety attack. It wasn't even the worries about the future that got me, it was the frustration that I could be so vulnerable to my negative thoughts even after such an amazing revelation about why God is allowing me to go through this difficult time.

My typical tendency toward anxiety had been compounded by lack of sleep, and after an hour of trying to read the Bible and pray, I had myself convinced that I was surely losing my sanity. They'll have to carry me off, I thought. I just don't see how I can go on.

At that point, I sent a text message to my sister Amy asking that she and Mom request prayer for me at their church that morning. "I feel like I'm drowning," I told her.

And then I sat on the back porch drowning in my tears, gripped by a formless fear that constricted my chest. "Please God," I whispered. "Please. Please rescue me."

Amy's response encouraged me a bit, especially since she said she and Mom were praying against fear even though I hadn't told her I was afraid. But I still had a hard time holding back tears when I woke Allyson and made her breakfast. If she saw the tears that splashed into my cold cereal, she didn't say anything.

The first song at church was Our God is Greater, by Chris Tomlin. When the music minister reminded us that God is bigger than any problem we could have brought in with us, I started to sob. I cried through most of the worship service, while Bill silently squeezed my hand. These weren't the happy tears I usually shed during worship, nor were they tears of relief. They were tears of hopelessness and longing.

But when Pastor Bill stepped out to deliver his message on fear, everything changed in an instant. Here's the verse that flashed on the screen:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I grabbed Bill's arm. "Hey, that's the verse Amy just texted me. She and Mom were praying that for me this morning!" I could barely keep my voice to a whisper.

"Weird," he whispered back.

"Not weird, wonderful," I said. "That's God."

The sermon was perfect for my situation. What stuck with me most was the admonition to be persistent in my faith, to expect opposition from the enemy but to keep my eyes on God's promises.

I walked out of the church in awe, humbled at God's grace. I felt ashamed to need so many reassurances, and grateful for His patience with me. I felt very loved. But I still felt terribly sad and tired.

Bill and Allyson dropped me at the airport that afternoon for my flight to Portland. I passed through security numbly and then wandered through the airport looking for something to eat, wayward tears slipping down my cheeks at random moments. I didn't even bother to brush them away. The airport was so crowded that strangers kept bumping me, yet I felt utterly invisible.

I called Amy and Mom from the gate and told them the story of the pastor's message. We were all excited about how God had so clearly spoken to Amy about my fear, and how he'd given me exactly the same message twice in one hour.

But I was still teary when I ended the call and walked down the jetway. God, I thought, could you please sit me next to someone kind? But then I dismissed the idea, for of course the seat assignments had been arranged long before.

The girl next to me did seem quite pleasant, and she willingly loaned me her only pen for the first hour of the flight while I poured out my heart in my journal. After that she took a nap, and I read several chapters of The Hunger Games, which was quite captivating but not at all cheerful.

I closed the book when I was down to the last three chapters, saving the rest for the return flight this Saturday. I closed my eyes then, but sleep wouldn't come. Instead, the scary thoughts tried to worm their way back in. "You're all alone on this plane. There's no one to talk to, no one who understands. You're probably going crazy."

I opened my eyes and stared out over the wing at the fluffiest white clouds I'd ever seen. The sky was full of God's majesty, but all I wanted was a friend to hold my hand. I turned away from the window with a sigh. My seatmate was awake, and she was looking at me. "Are you enjoying that?" she asked, gesturing to my book.

I shook my head slightly to clear my thoughts. "Hunger Games? Oh, yes. It's a great book. Have you read it?"

She had, and she also saw the movie, which she said was good but nowhere near as good as the book. We talked easily for a few minutes, and then gradually the conversation turned more serious. I learned that she is a nurse manager who works in an addiction treatment center, and that they work with their patients to help them overcome negative thought patterns.

So I took a deep breath and told her about my negative thought patterns. She was kind, compassionate, and very reassuring. We talked about scriptures that apply to my situation, agreeing that the only way to combat the lies is by replacing them with truth.

We talked for over an hour. As the plane made its final approach, I told her how I'd prayed that God would put me next to someone kind, and I thanked her for ministering to a stranger. She told me I'd ministered to her just as much. She'd had a hard trip, and she hated to have missed church, and the best thing that could have happened was having someone to talk about Jesus with. She also confessed that she never talks to people on planes--neither do I--and that she is very shy and doesn't like to start conversations with strangers. So neither of us had a doubt that God had orchestrated our encounter.

When we pulled into the gate, I finally thought to introduce myself. She said her name was Molly. When we parted ways at the terminal, she gave me a hug. I smiled all the way to the hotel as I marveled at God's providence. He knew all along what I would ask, and He'd already granted my request. At the same time, he met Molly's need even though she hadn't asked anything.

In the two days since, God has continued to lavish me with little signs of his love. I've laughed with colleagues whom I haven't seen in two years, eaten salmon that melted in my mouth, walked everywhere in the most glorious weather, drunk in the sight of towering trees that belong on a serenity poster, and eaten cookies and scones lovingly made by the locals on my team. Today at lunch was the icing on the cake. I met a girl from class who is a fervent Christian. She's my age, and we seem to have a lot in common. We shared tips for insomnia, and we talked about Jesus. When lunch was over, she gave me a hug, and I called her my sister.

I was positively grinning as I walked back to class because I realized that truly I had just found a sister I'd never met before. How incredible is that? I have sisters and brothers everywhere. How could I ever feel alone?

Again, I'll readily admit that this trial is far from over, but at this moment I am overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). And the next time I feel like I'm drowning, I know God will pull me out of the deep waters. He will rescue me from my powerful enemy who is too strong for me, and he will bring me out into a spacious place. He will rescue me because he delights in me (Psalm 18:16-19).

Now, a request for you. Please don't worry about me. Instead, pray for me when I come to mind. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, I felt in my heart the sentence of death, but it happened so that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead. "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope, that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers" (emphasis added).

You keep helping me by your prayers, and God will continue to deliver me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Steps Up to the Very Gates

As you've seen from my last few posts, I've been going through a very difficult season in my life. I've been able to see spiritual growth from day one, mainly because all of my pain and fear has drawn me to Jesus day in and day out, morning to night. But the sorrow has worn me out. There have been days--and sometimes just hours--when I could lift up my eyes to see what God is surely doing. Times when I could say with all my heart, "Lord, I trust you. I surrender my broken dreams to you because I know that what you have planned for me is so much better."

But those moments of faith were not able to stand against each fresh wave of pain and disappointment. The disappointment was often with myself. Why can I not learn the lesson and move on? Why am I so weak? Why can't I have a steadfast heart?

In the past week or so, I did have some breakthroughs. I could feel God changing my heart, and it excited me. But the enemy redoubled his efforts, and I felt so beaten down that I longed for heaven. "I'm so tired," I sobbed to God. "I'm tired of hurting, hurting, hurting. This is too hard for me.... No, I know your plan is good. Not my will, but yours. But please help me see past this storm to believe I will have joy again."

On one of those down days, I called one of my dear aunts. She prayed with me and really encouraged me, and she admonished me to reach out to friends and family for prayer when I am down. So I did that. I sent texts to all my friends when my heart was hurting. I held hands with my sister and prayed for deliverance. And I called two other aunts when I felt like giving up. Through all of that, I received just enough encouragement to go on a little longer.

And then came yesterday. Oh, hallelujah! It started in the morning when my dear friend Gentle phoned to let me know she'd been praying for me the day before. That alone encouraged me because I hadn't told her how despondent I'd felt on Wednesday. She said she asked God for a verse to pray over me, and he gave her Deuteronomy 30:11-13, which at first didn't make a lot of sense to her:

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

It took her quite awhile to figure out why the verse sounded so familiar; she had seen it in Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind. That book happened to be sitting on her nightstand, and she flipped through it eagerly, only to find the verse inside an entire chapter devoted to why God allows us to walk through difficult times.

So yesterday morning, Gentle read me the verses and some of the chapter from the Battlefield book, which she is going to lend me. I was greatly encouraged, but still felt that dull ache in my heart.

In the afternoon, I found a confirmation of the word God gave Gentle from a most unlikely source, an email from Ethan's percussion teacher. At the end of all the band business for the coming weeks, he wrote a couple of paragraphs about how the kids have been responding to the challenges of their rigorous practice and performance schedule. This sentence in particular leapt off the screen and stirred something in my spirit:

I aim to create an opportunity for the students to feel like they are being pushed too hard towards something they cannot achieve only for them to find out that they have achieved what they thought not possible and that in the end anything is possible.

I was floored. I thanked God profusely for this confirmation and for what He is going to achieve in me through this thing that I thought was too difficult for me. God, you are so good! I thought.

I guess God knows me well enough to know that delivering a message two times in one day wasn't quite enough. In order for it to really get planted in my spirit and burst into bloom, I needed to hear it a third time.

I had missed my morning quiet time yesterday because I'd had insomnia the night before, so I planned to do my Bible study last night. But the evening didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped because Bill is out of town, and it just takes me a lot longer to get through all the chores and routines without him. So by the time I had a chance to work on my Bible study it was nearly 10:00, the bedtime I'd set for myself.

I hemmed and hawed. I needed my sleep. I'd lost sleep the night before, and I know that I don't deal as well with stresses and challenges when I'm tired. But I needed to hear from God. I don't deal well at all with challenges and stresses when I haven't spent time with God.

"I love you more than sleep," I said at last, settling crosslegged on the floor of my closet with my Bible and Beth Moore's Breaking Free study, which has been a lifeline to me during these struggles. The topic for the day was The Display of His Glory.

I came wide awake when I read these sentences in paragraph two:

...God's glory [is] the way He makes Himself known or shows Himself mighty. Therefore, when God seeks to glorify Himself through an individual, He proves who He is by causing the believer to be what is otherwise impossible and to do what is otherwise impossible.
Three times, the same message! I read on feverishly.

I found that, according to 2 Corinthians 4:7, God's glory that shines through us is held in our earthly bodies, "jars of clay," to show "that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

Of course! I thought. This is why I've been so weak. So that I would know it is only God's power that delivers me, not my own strength. Of course this trial is too difficult to me. That's why God has not left me to go through it alone.

I wanted to stop right there and glory in this knowledge, but I just had to keep reading.

Beth led me through the account of the Israelites crying out to God for deliverance from their slavery (Exodus 2). I read about God striking down the firstborn of all the Egyptians while passing over the Israelites and about Pharaoh letting them go (Exodus 12). And then I read about how they left loaded down with the riches of their enemies, willingly handed over: gold, silver, jewelry, costly fabrics.  

Next came a quote from Streams in the Desert, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman:

The gospel is so arranged and the gift of God so great that you may take the very enemies that fight you and the forces that are arrayed against you and make them steps up to the very gates of heaven and into the presence of God.... God wants every one of his children to be more than a conqueror.... You know when one army is more than conqueror it is likely to drive the other from the field, to get all the ammunition, the food and supplies, and to take posessession of the whole.... There are spoils to be taken!

Now, this next part of the story may shock you. You might even think I'm a lunatic. But I'm willing to take that chance....

When I read the part about stepping all over my enemy and up to the very gates of heaven, I cried out, "Hallelujah!" And then I read it again. And again. And then I stood up in my closet and danced for joy. I spun in circles and jumped up and down and laughed. I cried and laughed some more. And then I praised God for about 20 minutes.

"Yes, yes!" I repeated over and over. "I am more than a conqueror through Jesus who loves me!"

Yes.

I'm sure this trial is far from over, but I WILL hang onto this treasure from the darkness. Not only am I going to survive this trial, but when I come out on the other side, I will be stronger than ever before. And not only that, but the things that the enemy has been trying to steal with me, God will restore them double. I don't know how that works in this case, but I believe it. I am going to emerge from this dark valley loaded down with riches, the spoils from my enemy who thought he would destroy me.

Again, I wanted to just go to bed and fall asleep rejoicing, but I felt compelled to read on. And I'm glad I did, because then I saw the most delicious irony as I read on about the deliverance of the Israelites (Exodus 35). Guess what they did with all that plunder? They gave it right back to God. They freely offered gold, silver, bronze, fine yarns and linens, and acacia wood for the tabernacle and its furnishings. They gave olive oil and spices for the anointing oil and the incense. And they gave precious stones to be mounted on the priests' garments.

So they took the possessions of their enemies and used them to glorify God! Hallelujah!

And that, my friends, is why I sat down at 6:30 in the morning to tell you about all of this. I want God to be glorified through my life. I want to tell others of his all-surpassing power, so that other people who are suffering devastating trials can find the courage to believe their deliverance is coming. Consider yourself told.





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