Saturday, October 19, 2013

Warning: Surprises by Nature Cause Unexpected Results

There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved: It is God's finger on man's shoulder.
~Charles Morgan

My Week:
This was actually over two weeks ago. I began feeling rather unappreciated. I complained quite a bit that week. There was dirty dishes left in the sink as if they are going to jump into the dishwasher magically all on their own. There was the empty toilet paper roll as if a new toilet paper roll in the closet would escape and replace it. There were piles of personal items left here and there as if they were squatters with no other homes. There was my daughter who referred to the beginning of our weekday as doing "doom and gloom" lessons, which I reminded her that I sacrifice many things I would like to do in my life to homeschool her and that it is time we spend together so when she refers to it that way, it hurts me. Yeah, by Thursday of that week, when my upper back began its nagging aching, I was miserable and probably even more miserable to be around. On Friday, I was starting to come out of the mood...sort of, as I was trying to look forward to the weekend as we had plans with some friends.

The Plan As I Knew It: 
I would pick up my friend to go to the women's meeting at church on Saturday morning. While we were there, her husband and her daughter would come over to my house so that afterward we could have lunch and play a game while our daughters play together. Even though there is a difference of 5½ years with theirs being the younger, most of the time they play well together.

My friend and I were talking about her upcoming birthday that we planned to celebrate the next weekend by going to her favorite restaurant, Bahama Breeze, so I had been thinking about the orange  glass bead bracelet (like my love bracelet) I was going to give her, because the woman loves everything orange and having to do with pumpkins; it reminds her of autumn—even her daughter's middle name is Autumn.

The Arrival Home:
My friend's upcoming birthday was foremost on my mind as I walked into my home and up the stairs from the basement garage and saw that the top rail was decorated with crepe paper streamers and balloons. When I reached the top of the stairs in the living room and turned toward the dining room to see more decorations there. I was a bit exasperated at that point saying to my husband "I have not even wrapped her present yet!" and immediately following that I heard a child say "Happy Birthday, Mama" to the left thinking that sounded like my child, but surely it was theirs.

Even as I looked around at the color scheme I wondered why they would use purple and green which are my favorite colors together instead of orange for my friend. Okay, I admit that was beyond just being dense, but honestly I have never had a surprise birthday party in my life. My birthday was forgotten in my mind as it was two weeks past when my husband was working away from home. When it finally dawned on me this was for me, I immediately dropped my exasperation and enjoyed the leopard printed paper plates and table cloth. Yes, these were definitely decorations I like.

Their Secret Plan:
All week, even when I was melting down and the temptation to let the cat out of the bag was so great, so my husband told me, my husband and friends had been conspiring, but I suspect the real ring leader was my daughter, who can keep a secret about a party since she was three, even under extreme duress. My husband told me he was not sure how it would work out between the leopard print and purple and green, but our daughter knows how to pull a party and the decorations together. (I think she even plans parties in her sleep.) The balloons, still meandering in a slightly deflated state in her bedroom, were purple and gold. Even if the decorations looked silly together to anyone else, I truly enjoyed them: I felt loved and appreciated.

We had fried chicken from Publix (which is the best fried chicken, better than any restaurant—except maybe Chick-Fil-A) and a cake with ice cream. My friend gave me a pumpkin roll with a cream cheese icing filling (I did write that she loves pumpkin, did I not?) and I had my love bracelet on. I also had just received a new cover for my Kindle that I ordered from Amazon because the bright green one I had was falling apart and the new cover was—can you guess?—a lovely leopard print! Yes, this is about as good as it gets in my little world.

My Friend's Birthday
For her birthday the very next weekend, my friend wanted to eat out at Bahama Breeze, her favorite restaurant to which I have never been before, but my traveling husband had. I was concerned that I might not be able to go or that I might dampen the mood. I was on the tail end of a flare up with my upper back that day and normally I would not have gone to church as sitting up always makes it worst, plus those hugs many like to give can be quite painful. Thankfully, I did get better after the service as the day progressed.

We went to the early church service as we normally do on Sunday and then we stopped at Carlton Farms, which is nearby, to get raw milk. The girls took off to the petting farmyard area. My friend was hoping to buy a pie pumpkin but even though the farm store is always open to sell milk and eggs, they were not ready for selling pumpkins until noon when they also open the corn maze, which was another 30 minutes after we had gotten the milk.

We decided not to wait, driving both vehicles to our home, dropping off the milk that would stay just fine in the cooler, since it is kept just two degrees above freezing at the farm, until we got home later to prepare it for freezing. (We place it in half gallon containers because then we use it all before it begins to clabber.) We left their car at our place and drove together in our van to the restaurant. I liked the atmosphere and the food was good too. My friend loved her orange bracelet present.

Another One Coming
Next weekend, two weeks after her mother's birthday, it is their daughter's turn to have a birthday. Her mother began planning it last weekend while she was beating us at Uno after we returned from the restaurant. They discussed Chuck E. Cheese as that is what their daughter wanted since she had been to a birthday party there, but her parents decided on inviting her entire school class and a couple others outside of her class like my daughter to a birthday party at their home. As she was brainstorming, I offered to do face painting, but suggested that she have an activity where a child could be pulled out during it without missing something. Leave it to my friend to come up with painting pumpkins! Yesterday she asked me to bring our Twister spinner as she is going to spray paint red, yellow, green, and blue dots on the lawn so everyone can play at the same time. It seems it will be some party!

~ Thank you, my Lord, for good friends and celebrations of life! ~

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Only Thing You Can Take With You

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They're all precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

A friend let me borrow the audio version of the book Heaven is for Real. First of all, I have to comment on the writing itself. It was delicious! Rich in its descriptions that would rival the best of fictional books, but it was an account written by the father of a boy named Colton who had visited heaven. I was so glad my daughter listened to most of it with me, because I would stop it now and then to comment on the writer's imagery and I could see she was processing how the writer painted a canvas with his words.

As the father had written at one point, I too believe that God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, heaven...all of it is true, but there was something so confirming listening to the remembrances of the boy. I am so hungry for heaven now. Previously, I really did not get what heaven might be like other than in my mind it would be so different in indefinable ways, but maybe it is not a different as I though it would be. For one, it became clear to me that God originally formed Adam and Eve as He wanted us to be. We as beings are still very much ourselves in heaven. I really do not know what I thought we would become there, but I thought we could be changed immensely somehow, nearly unrecognizable to what we are in the flesh. I also never thought that there would be children in heaven, but that age would have no bearing there. Since what is spiritual can cancel out what is logical here, I just assumed that the spirit of a child would be the same as the spirit of the elderly, but it makes sense that God allows a baby to develop in heaven.

The one thing that really hit me was how much the boy seem to emphasize that Jesus loved children. That to me translated to how much He loves me personally. I am not a child in the sense of my age and development, but I was and still am His child. The boy mentioned that God the Father adopted the children, so when I sing the words "I am a child of the One True King" it is not just wishful thinking. I really am. Wow!

Between the accounts of visitations to heaven by Colton and Akiane, I have changed my perspective quite a bit. I was a bit afraid of passing on, as we tend to all fear the unknown because heaven was largely unknown to me (still is in many ways), but now I am just hungry for heaven! I am anxious to go there, like a child wishing to go to an amusement park.

Actually, it changed more than just my fear of the unknown and my sometimes wondering if God really does love me, I was thinking about all the children that were going to heaven everyday. Is it any wonder that the Lord allows this world to continue? While He hates evil, He is also receiving the children who died from evil deeds and illnesses due to our fallen state, all those children He so much loves into His Kingdom, a truly wonderful place where no evil exists. So, no matter what happens here that causes our death, there is a far better place to which we go...if we are believers.

So, what does God really find valuable? Children, people, everyone, and even me! It is one thing to know that and it is another to experience it or just truly accept it. I tend to wonder why God allows the world to continue as it is when it is so determined to reject Him, but now I realize that even as corrupted as this world is, through it is produced what He loves: people. It even produced me and He loves me. So, while I am in the process of accepting this on a personal level, it came to me that God treasures us. We are His treasure and He wants more.

The very cool realization for me this day is that the only thing we can take with us into the Kingdom is what God treasures: people. It is not just about getting someone to accept Jesus so he will be "saved." It is not about hiding away and being protective of Christianity or even our own lives, it is about bringing one more person to God. It is about living our life giving the God we worship and love what He treasures.

The truth is I have not been one to treasure people as a whole. My Lord is obviously working on me about that a lot lately. I have a small number of friends whom I treasure, but I certainly have not been looking at a stranger thinking this is one of God's precious treasures, whom He loves. God is changing my heart and it has been rough moving over to understanding and accepting His perspective about people because it is so convicting and revealing how inadequate my love for other people is. In a way, it makes me sad for all the years I spent trying to feel His Love and to seek His Heart, when it now is so obvious that I was missing what He treasured. Again, it is one thing to know it like we are called to spread the Word so others can be saved, but it is another to think that bringing Jesus to people is how we bring what God treasures to Him.

He treasures me. He treasures you. He treasures the lost people in the midst of their evil acts. How can that amazing, awesome love He has for us be overpowered? It cannot. Let us bring what He treasures with us!

~ My Lord, I know you have been changing my heart. I am still tripping over old thoughts but I love You and and to bring You what You treasure. May I be accepting to what You would have me do. ~

Monday, October 14, 2013

Foundation or Anchor?

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church;
~Matthew 16:18

Rocks in Israel were (and still are) plentiful and have been used for all kinds of things that have been replaced in our modern times with other materials, so I think we do not understand the importance of this promise Jesus was making. It takes the right kind of rock to be used as a foundation of a building, one that will not break under the weight of all the other rocks that will be placed on it. It can have flaws but not ones that will compromise its purpose under pressure. That was the kind of rock that Peter was. That was the kind of people on which Christianity was built as Jesus promised.

In places, like here in America were Christianity is a well established religion and there is freedom of religion, we have very few foundational rocks. Most of us have never and will never be tested under the kind of pressure that the early Christians suffered or even Christians still do in some other countries. We sit comfortably in places of worship openly, perhaps a bit too cozy, for a foundational rock is always under pressure.

Another use for rocks in the time Jesus walked with men, many of them fishermen same as Peter, was an anchor. Do you know that the Bible has no record of Jesus ever referring to an anchor? (I confess that sometimes I am more fascinated by what Jesus did not say than what He did.) Here He is in the company of fishermen and He did not say that Peter will be the anchor on which the believers will hold steadfast in times of turbulent seas. Think about it! Is this not what the Western Christian church has become, people trying to anchor Christianity while the turbulence escalates?

Are we to hold steadfast? Yes, we are to hold steadfast in our belief, faith, and love for the Lord, but that does not really build the church. One could be a very devout believer and stay at home, however I also believe that if one has a close relationship with my Lord that He would not be asking the person to stay at home.

How about the church pew? Would it be enough to please my Lord to just show up in a church pew on Sunday or better yet have some task to do in the church? So many Christians believe this that the church has not taught them how to be Peter, the rock on which to build the church...other than just politely inviting people to church. I am trying to imagine a meek Peter politely asking someone to come worship with him after He witnessed Jesus die and be alive asking him to feed His sheep right before his eyes! Yeah, that just does not work for me.

Peter was a passionate man, fearful at times when not with Jesus but once He realized Jesus would always be with him, he as even more fearless in building the church than when he tried to protect Jesus from being taken from him by the Roman soldiers! Peter had an invincible long as Jesus was with him and he was with Jesus.

So, which are you, the rock at the bottom of a turbulent sea holding steadfast or the rock on which Jesus is building His church even under pressure that could break other rocks?

~ My Lord, thank you for the freedom we have to worship you, but help us who love You be foundational rocks on which to build the church for You rather than just anchors. ~

Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Love Bracelet

...Love your neighbor as yourself.
~Matthew 22:39

A friend just told me that she did not know if I had noticed how different I am from the way I was last year at this time. My Lord has blessed me with the ability to completely forget the bad or at least not remember bad things that have happened in my life in any kind of sequential orderquite a feat considering I am a sequential kind of gal. Thankfully, I have this blog to keep a record not just of events but of my spiritual state of being as well. I have not forgotten the burden I felt for my former church that became so keen and overpowered every thought and prayer I had at the time. I nearly lost myself in the quagmire between wrestling with what God wanted and what the church wanted, and what I might have wanted, other than trying to please my Lord rather than fight with Him, was completely pushed aside. I believe there were many reasons I had to go through that short season of my life, but one in particular now is far more evident than before.

A few weeks ago I did something I have been wanting to do for a long time since even before we began visiting other churches in January, even though I still was wrestling with God to just do it. A visiting pastor invited anyone who needed healing to come up and let him pray for them. I wanted to be healed of a few minor physical things, but there I was standing next to a man, who of all the people there, had the greatest need for healing; a man on oxygen and barely able to stand. Immediately, I felt selfish for coming up as I knew this man needed healing far more than I did. I also felt terribly sad because I just knew God had another plan and he would not be receiving it at that time as much as he wanted it. (I did not know him or the situation, but I just knew his time was short—the very next Sunday, we were celebrating his passing on to be with his Lord.) So, I am standing there wanting to go back to my seat thinking of how my needs are so little in comparison to him and probably everyone else if no one should waste a prayer on me.

The pastor did not just pray for me but passed on words of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. He talked to me about how I did not love myself. It is still very difficult for me to accept this. I always feel that I am rather selfish and even demanding, but this pastor was sharing what my Lord wished for me to hear so I tried to listen and accept them. He also said that being humble is not what I was doing, although I might believed it to be that. If I am to love my neighbor as I do myself, yet I do not love myself, then my neighbor is in trouble. That hit me very hard. I have never thought of it that way.

Although I did not know it at the time, that was a pivotal point for me and I have yet to grasp it completely. For the last few months, I think I have been in a very slow recovery of a lifetime of denying myself that I had come to begin to recognize almost a year ago yet it got kicked up a few notches that day. Even as I write that I still hear the denial of it in my mind as I try to convince myself I really have not been doing this. I survived poverty and abuse in my childhood, but continued in a self-imposed semi-state of self-denial and self-degradation. I write a semi-state, because I have fought against going too far and slipping back into a clinical depression. I have lived through such a depression once in my life for nearly two years and I just refuse to allow myself to be in that debilitating hell on earth ever again. However, the few times I began to make peace with identifying my self-worth, something would happen that would make me pull myself back down to that point of not being depressed yet not really enjoying my life if whatever changed was a sign from God to make sure I did not become too full of myself, so I led myself to believe. Now I am thinking that I was attributing something to my Lord that was not from or of Him. If you have read my blog for some time, you may have recognized this struggle in my least, I am seeing it for myself now.

So, recently, I have noticed that I have been doing some little things that I just like to do for myself...and others too. I have been more generous, not because I feel I should be, but because I really want to be, which has been growing in me as well. It is not just giving to others, but also allowing myself to enjoy things as well—I really did not realize how much I do not allow myself to enjoy things, all kinds of things...I probably still do not fully realize it. 

This glass bead bracelet has become my personal symbol of love. I saw bracelets like this a few weeks ago on display at the studio of the Princess' piano teacher. One of her "piano moms," as she calls the mothers of her students, makes these Pandora style bracelets to sell for $20, who can pass up a price like that with beads that look like this! I decided they would make nice gifts for a couple of friends and also for me, as it was around the time of my birthday.

I met the jewelry maker at her home a few weeks ago and pick out bracelets for the others and had decided that even though I am not much of a jewelry kind of girl that I really liked these and I was determined to get one for myself. Now here is where my struggle usually begins. First of all, I will choose the most difficult path, which in this case was to pick out my own beads from a selection that would boggle the brain. The jewelry maker told me that she has a friend that can never make up her mind on which beads she wants and I warned her that I would probably be that way as well. Since she is well practiced with situation, she told me to pick from the bracelets she had made and then we could exchange beads according to my wishes.

I still struggled with just selecting a color! At this point I normally would talk myself out of it completely just because I could not make a choice so I must not want it enough to make this worthwhile. Perhaps that is just my excuse to say I am not worth it? Then I consciously made a decision instead of finding the one I think I should get to justify my reasons for wanting it in the first place, I would pick out the one that I just want, the one that catches my attention most. My eyes immediately fell again upon the one I first liked so much it at the piano studio with some beads of stemmed flowers on a black background. Then I tried to talk myself out of it: It is bulky and heavy so would I really wear it? I could not use the metal allergy since most of it is made with glass beads, probably from China so maybe I should not get it because of lead? I do not wear the black and purples to match it really. In fact, I am a pretty drab dresser with denims, whites, and earth tones except for a few hot pink T-shirts, so I was telling myself I should go for the browns or something else that I could match.

However, I surprised myself and picked the one I really liked and asked her to add some green beads, matching those green flower stems. I even had her pick them and when she put it together...I just loved it! Next thing I knew, just a few hours later that day I found a cute black top for around $6 with the Kohl's price tag of $46.00 still on it at a nearby (to the piano studio) SERV store and a black sweater for around $5 at Goodwill so now I am liking black along with some other colors I have not dared to wear. I have always liked short black boots, black tops, and black belts with a light denim jeans, but I cannot think of any time I have ever had such an outfit of my own...yet.

I know it is just a bracelet and the bracelet did not change my life, but it is symbolic of a change in my life...and I am allowing myself to really enjoy the bracelet and the love for myself that it symbolizes.

~ My Lord, thank you for simple pleasures. I know they do not last, but while they last please remind me that it is You Who allows me to enjoy them.~

Friday, October 4, 2013

Inviting the Uninvited

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
 ~Mark 2:15-17 (New Living Translation)

Yesterday we received an invitation in the mail. It is amazing how a few words on a piece of paper can change one's mood and focus. It was not wedding or baby shower invitation, but a blanket invitation on church stationery sent from a person we highly respect worded so very delicately to invite those who have departed...not from life but our former church. The "impromptu homecoming" is set on a Sunday this month, when a gospel couple will be singing at the morning service. (Too bad it did not mention a meal to follow as that always seemed to attract more people than anything else ever did.)

Initially, when my husband told me about the invitation, I though it would be nice to have a bit of a reunion with the people who were a part of our lives for four years...just a visit for the hi's, hugs, and no hard feelings kind of thing that I would like to see at all reunions.

My husband is one to bring me down from my wishful, head-in-the-clouds dreams to hard-earth reality. Has even one of these people called us in the ten months since we left? Only one but that was initiated by me some months ago and I was told that even she does not attend the church now. (The one couple with whom we are close I do not count; it was only a matter of time that they would leave and they have. We all go to the same church now and I think they love it even more than we do!)

My husband is not in the least interested in the get-together, although he did say if it were only for the person who sent the invitation, he would go, but later he thought about how uninvited we were into the lives of the church members. For the most part, we both are all or nothing types of people. We will give our all until we have nothing left, which is why we are choosey about making commitments trying to be sure it is God's will and timing. When it comes to individuals, we always look for something with which we can connect deeply, hooks that will stick into the flesh and keep us from pulling away from each other. Such hooks seem deflected by Sunday shields of shallow politeness and we have been in such churches for most of our lives, including this one. We have been invited, but heartily welcomed...?

When we were in that church, we called ourselves a family but the family lacked some crucial relationship-building elements, like being involved in each other lives, helping each other out, being invited to one's home to share a meal, or at least a "how ' ya doin'" phone call once in awhile—and to pray with a person just because...well, I guess that was supposed to be the pastor's job. We knew more about each other because over time we had shared information, but I stopped giving much personal information for months and no one made any inquiries. Other than the Sunday morning polite exchanges our relationship with them was no deeper than walking in the doors of another church to which we had never been previously—having had the experience for some months to compare, I promise you that I am not exaggerating. Even when we invited others for a meal, which was hard enough to coordinate with my husband's work schedule and his travels, there was always an excuse as if getting too close on a personal level was a secret code that we were breaking, except for one couple with whom we have developed a strong bond. Even when a visiting pastor came, one of two couples would ask his family to dinner after services, but even if they were eating out, it was like a secret where they were going. The churches we loved the most would tell everyone so whoever wanted to join the meal would feel welcomed to do so.

"We were hoping our dear friends who helped found and settle our church...." That could have been us in a prior time perhaps, but it would not be us since the 40-day fast two years ago. We did not help found that church: not the church as it began but more so not the church it has become. If anything, we felt very strongly God's leading to unsettle was this time last year, in fact.

The questions that still hang in the air:

  • What has changed in that church from a year ago?
  • Why are there no young people or children in the church? 
  • Better yet: Why has God not even sent anyone under 40 years of age to the church in the last three years?

While I enjoy and have sung gospel music, it does not escape me that the only ones who are going to be attracted to a church service of gospel music are the people mostly over 50 years old who were raised in churches that had gospel music (and often preached that all other music, except for hymns, are not holy enough). That is exactly the same tactic this church has used for years...while hoping for change. It is so sad to watch this same scenario being replayed over and over with enough window dressing that the members can convince themselves that it is a step towards change. How many steps towards change have we taken with them? Enough to know we walked in circles inside of the box they have created. Being outside of the box gives one a completely different perspective than being inside of it.

There are masses of unsaved, never-been-churched people who could not be more unreachable with "old time religion." It may be good enough for some, who wish to come out and be separate from the world, but the flip side is that it is not reaching all those lost people who live in the world. Religion has always alienated people, but Jesus did not: He was (and still is) the Kingdom at Hand. He is Incorruptible Love. He is the Church. He is most definitely out of the box reaching the unreachable, inviting the uninvited. I just do not think my Lord reached the unsaved singing gospel music and sitting in church waiting for God to change things for Him or bring people to Him, but by being willing to change things for God and do what the most religious men found to be unacceptable, and even unholy, as He met with the sinners outside of the synagogue! He was the representation of His Father and are we not to be representing Him?

There is a chorus of a surrender song by the band Unspoken called "Lift My Life Up" that rings in my head right now:

All my dreams, all my plans
Lord, I leave it in Your hands
I lift my life, lift my life up
Have Your way in me
Have Your way in me

If only that could be the focus of this church! If only we had more church-goers being Jesus instead of talking about Jesus and trying to look like model churchers as were the Pharisees, not Jesus! If only God could have His way with the church...He would call people to it, young and old. I have seen what churches look like when the people are sincerely asking God to have it His way with their church AND are willing to act on His wishes, those who are being Jesus to the unsaved, those who are willing to do what is impossible for them to do, because they have seen so many times how God will make it possible! They have something that is not contained in a box or a building.

My Lord has sent my family to churches where their services are a spiritual splash of refreshment and a joyful reunion with people we did not even know, yet the spiritual connection was evident. It would not be a homecoming for us to visit our former church, nor do I feel my Lord calling us to go back. There will be time for meaningful reunions of old acquaintances in heaven; today is time to embrace more lost souls with His arms.

~ My Lord, help us all to give up our religious views, those things that we place so much importance but bear no fruit, those things that so blinded the Pharisees. Bring us all in reunion with You and Your will.  ~