From Trusting to Twirling

starry sky

Billions of stars dot the dark, African sky. Just beyond the grasp of my fingertips, they sparkle like diamonds. Arms stretched overhead, I sense a presence enveloping me in layers of affirmation, telling me this is where I have always belonged. A soft, cool wind caresses my skin, and I feel peace as I deeply inhale the scents around me – those unique scents of Uganda I want to bottle up and take with me to my native land. The beat of the African drum plays in the background, bringing me back to my reality. I look around, re-focusing my eyes and remember I am amidst a crowd of worshippers.

I am one of many offering uninhibited praise, dancing freely without hint of self-consciousness or outward appearance. I look around drinking in the joy, and my breath catches at the sight.

I see her. Arms lifted, eyes closed, uninhibited – she’s twirling.

Silently witnessing this intimate encounter, I’m spellbound. I peel my eyes away but take one last look. I know I will remember this image forever.

Three months ago, a different picture unfolded. Lying on my living room floor, she was tearful, honest, reaching the end of her own efforts. The dream of Uganda was escaping her grasp, and the reality of the depth of her desire to go entered the room with a force. Would she dare to trust when past daughterly trust led to deeply personal disappointment? Or, would she insulate herself from disappointment, calling it strength, and harden herself against caring?

sprouting plan in dull background

She chose to trust. And God delivered. Daughterly trust in her Father sprouted through a softening soil. And, months later, she twirls. It seems we can only find the freedom to twirl through courage to trust. I need a new pair of dancing shoes. When life encloses around me, I plan to twirl.

Jeremiah 31: 13 

The young women will dance for joy,
and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.”

losinglifetofindlife © 2014 All Rights Reserved

 

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Lifted Veils

(Excerpt from my message shared on 7/20/14 at NewSong Vineyard Church)

We all know, when we are born, we are born into sin. We simply are not able to see clearly as God wants us to – to be able to see the world, ourselves, and others through a lens of truth. Instead, we are born wearing a veil causing blurred vision, a blurred perspective with the obvious and primary distortion being sin.

But, along the way, as we make mistakes, have triumphs, get hurt, and experience life with other flawed and sinful human beings, more veils get added to our vision, creating more layers between how we see things and how God wants us to see things. Examples of these veils might be life tragedies, such as abuse, neglect, divorce, death, or failures. Other veils might be feelings, such as bitterness, resentment, anger, blame, shame, or guilt. Maybe you connect to one or more of these words. I know I certainly do.

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Leading up to the Uganda trip, I continued to face some of the same challenges over and over again, leading to frustration over my inability to change. As some of you know, but most of you may not know, Matt and I have had our share of personal and relational challenges in the 4 years we have been married. Our relationship started off quite rocky in large part due to my required re-location to Harrison, quitting my job, selling my home and leaving my family and 37 years of friendships behind to start a new life with Matt.

One may assume this would be an exciting, honeymoon-like period. But all I felt was anger, bitterness, and resentment toward my husband. These negative feelings began to take root and before I knew it, I put them on each morning and wore them as one would wear clothes.   They were veils – distorting my vision, my perspective, and my outlook to where I lived, who I was living with and even of the loving kindness of God. “If God cares, why would I feel this way for so long?,” I asked myself. Maybe you ask questions like that to.

At the end of 2013, the women’s group I lead each Sunday morning completed a 3- week period of prayer. Instead of starting the year with resolutions, we prayed for God to give us a word; a word He had for each of us pertaining to our lives, our Christian walk, our growth, giving us a divine-focus for 2014.   And my word was “miracle.” This word came across my path in such a way I knew God was giving me this word for 2014. Then, January was awful and February was worse, when it came to Matt and I.  Exasperated, I screamed, “Where is this miracle God??”

Soon, I began to realize, my wanting and hoping for a miracle was a nice start, but miracles are often found only on paths of true brokenness and surrender. Miracles are not experienced through positive thinking but through real change. And change is not easy, and it hurts. It requires a clearer vision only found when we release our veils we so easily hold onto – veils that become so familiar we are not sure what living is like without them. Those veils needed to be gone, and I realized I was utterly powerless to do it.

Miracles Happen

In Uganda, as one day led to the next, I experienced a shift – a shift not initiated by my own efforts.  I began to look at Matt and see him for who he is, instead of who I envisioned him to be. I vividly remember one evening, looking at him, and not feeling guarded or critical anymore. A haze lifted, and I could actually see.  The next morning, I found myself clothed in different feelings – hope and peace. Those old veils began to lift, and through the fabric of bitterness I once wore, I was beginning to see my miracle – freedom and restoration.

 

torn curtain

Jesus does not want us living with veils that separate us from Him. When He came and died on the cross, it tells us in Matthew 27, that “51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The things of the temple were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death the faithful now have free access to God. Jesus Christ, through His death, removed the barriers between God and man, and now we may approach Him with confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Wearing veils shields us from living in truth. Jesus came to rid us of the lies that impact our vision and be the one and only pathway towards real freedom. Isn’t this what maturing in Christ or becoming more Christ-like requires? Asking, surrendering to and allowing Jesus to take away these veils that hold us back and keep us in bondage?

kids in dirty window

I love this picture taken in Uganda. To me, it contrasts my veiled vision with God’s clear vision. My veils, your veils, cause us to see the world, ourselves, and those around us like we see the boys behind the dirty panes of glass – unclearly, inaccurately, causing us to strain to make any sense of the image behind the window. But when I see that sweet face, sticking out through the window, I envision how God really wants us to see – clearly, truthfully, and honestly.

Friends, God is faithful. He is our pathway to freedom. As you allow Him to tear down your veils, you may just see your own miracle peeking through.

 

II Corinthians 3: 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 1But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Hebrews 10: 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

 

losinglifetofindlife ©2014   All Rights Reserved

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My Easter Garden

The ups and downs in temperature this week brought unwanted snow and frost, but, through this uninvited display of weather cycle, brought forth a living picture of Easter in the most unsuspecting of places – my yard.  I confess. I worried for my budding daffodils and tulips wondering if I should protect them from the snow and frost or allow nature to take its’ course.  I chose to keep my protective sheets on the shelf to see if my spots of color would be resilient to what lie ahead.

The next morning, I peeked out my window only to see what I dreaded most – a dusting of snow and thin layer of frost.  Reluctantly, I opened the front door to assess the damage to my budding signs of spring.  As I surveyed the landscaping beds, my eyes took in a sight.  An audible gasp surfaced from deep within.  How had I missed this grouping before?

 

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Three tulips, strong and resilient, presented as survivors of a long, cold, and potentially damaging night.  The beauty of tested life – only through the testing did I fully grasp their resilience.  As they stood proudly in the group of 3, I sensed a deeper vision.  This tangible floral display was a profound metaphor lovingly presented to me in the midst of the most holy of weeks.   In my eyes, my trio of tulips mirrored the trio of crosses, so commonly pictured during Easter week.  But instead of death, my tulips remained temporarily closed, as did the tomb, in preparation to fully open, bloom, and immerse themselves in the radiant light.

Isn’t our past week of weather so symbolic of Easter?  Our week started out warm and beautiful, as did Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when he was greeted warmly with shouts of praise and recognition.  Our weather quickly turned cold, seemingly overnight, as did the crowds that day, choosing to spare a criminal over the spotless lamb.

Soon after, as the will of God was fulfilled, life became death, and was placed in a cold, dark tomb – hope, light, and life felt like violated promises.  A stone of that size placed in front of the solitary opening would have allowed for no light, no fresh air.  Yet, in the midst of void, breeds a resurrected life – A life transformed to a full, resurrected life only available because of the choice to die.

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Today, my tulips are fully open, as was the tomb that Sunday morning.  What the enemy intended for defeat and death, God resurrected into life.  My sweet tulips this morning gave me a picture into the cross on the day of resurrection.  The grotesque sight of blood-stained bark was replaced, if only symbolically, by beauty.  My 3 tulips communicate, not what has been, but what’s available now, and also yet to come.

Over the next 3 days, as we reflect on the unimaginable sacrifice in all its totality as symbolized by the cross, may we do so in light of the resurrected life and of what’s to come.   May we choose wisely when to close and protect, always with the readiness to open ourselves to the radiant light.  God speaks to us in numerous ways.  My prayer is to have the eyes and ears to take in his voice, most especially when presented in the natural.  His message to you may be right outside your door.  Take a look.  What do you see? You may be surprised what pokes through the obvious layers available to all.

 

Matthew 28: 2- 8There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.””

losinglifetofind life © 2014 All Rights Reserved

 

 

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A Living Testimony

Will the present ever be free of its past?  Tonight, after a small group gathering, I asked myself this question and found no easy answer. In my previous secular work, current church involvements, and in my own life, I witness the power this question has over the lives of far too many. Wounds, whether self-inflicted or given by the hands of other wounded souls, linger and infiltrate our thoughts, our beliefs, and our hearts so comprehensively, there is no space free of ‘what if’s’, ‘ if only’s’, or ‘why’s.’ If only it could be so simple as to request a do-over.

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So many people today are functioning in a haze brought on by years of living in 2 worlds: the past and the present.  Over time, life becomes managing instead of experiencing, ignoring instead of resolving, forgetting but not truly forgiving, avoiding instead of changing, surviving but not flourishing.  Before we know it, we are left with no real life at all – instead we have a plethora of relationships, encounters, and experiences seemingly random with no authentic glue to bind them together.  No authenticity.  We are left with little more than feeble attempts of faking it or talking ourselves into a temporary positive attitude, when in the back of our minds, we are managing far more than we were ever intended to.

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Jesus shares in John 10 that He came so we may have life to the full.  Though we may not fully understand what this may really mean for us now, I do not think it implies we are to expect nothing better than what we have experienced.  Nor, is it living for a future anticipated outcome.  There must be a way to learn from the past but not be defined by it.  There must be a way to recognize that yes, sometimes history does repeat itself, but still remain optimistic that it does not have to.  History is what was, not necessarily what will be.  Is it idealistic to really believe that all things can be made new?  Is it idealistic to be hopeful or is hopeful only being idealistic in a realist’s eyes?  I often wonder if ‘realists’ ever experience true hope – hope in the unseen and not just the tangible evidence of the seen.

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Perhaps the antidote is to view the past through the lens of a testimony, instead as something to be hidden, ashamed of, forgotten or doomed to repeat.   Without a past, we do not have a testimony, or story, to share. Our past can be used to steal, kill, and destroy our present and every bit of hope for the future, if we think of it in terms of pain, shame, regret or guilt.  But what if God sees it differently? What if God wants us to connect His work to our lives and speak of it to affirm and encourage others?   Our present day difficulties will one day be our testimony.  God wants us to endure with expectancy that He will use it for good.  Only through such expectancy can we truly have hope in our present.   We are meant to live ‘hopeful presents,’ placing our certainty on God who has carried us through.  We can see His impact when we finally make the decision to see our past for what He has done, instead of what we have done.

If you cannot see what God has done, perhaps your realistic goggles need to be replaced with Kingdom goggles, as my soon-to-be colleague Beth Guckenberger would say.  Perhaps, we need to see how far we have come, instead of how far we have yet to go.  Looking back can be incredibly encouraging if we do so with the right perspective and a dash of hope.  I don’t know about you, but instead of determining what was, is and will be on my realistic assessment of the tangible evidence, I choose to hope in the unseen; to hope God has and will continue to do far more than I could ever imagine.  He works this way in our lives everyday.  The question is: do we wear the right goggles to see through the tangible worldly evidence to the deeper layer of the hope-filled unseen?

So…Will the present ever be free of it’s past?  It can be, but seemingly in only one way:  by giving your past a voice, instead of a muzzle.

 Revelations 12:

11 They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.”

II Corinthians 4: 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

John 10: 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Romans 5: 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

losing life to find life © 2014 All Rights Reserved

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May I Give You 13?

Recently, I had an exchange with a friend that left me grieved to the point of speechless.  So grieved, it is consuming my thoughts.  On the surface, this conversational exchange was about Giving, but the vein ran far deeper.  During this time of the year we traditionally hallmark with good deeds, giving, and serving, the conversation hit me especially hard, only to have the final nail hammered hard, as I’m reading through John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life.

Without disclosing any personal information, the conversation skirted the issue of giving sacrificially.  My friend shared her frustration over being relentlessly approached by organizations, schools, individuals, charities, etc. for donations.  This frustration, bordering on disgust, was vented over relentless requests; some as small as canned goods or extra school supplies for children whose parents cannot or will not provide the basic essentials for their child’s schooling.  Opportunities seen as impositions.

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In fear of sounding “preachy,” I cannot ignore the conviction to share.  It is all God’s money, right? So, why do we treat this topic as taboo?  We are all just temporary stewards of His gracious and lavish gifts He so mercifully entrusts to us to advance His kingdom.  So, why do we battle irritation when approached with Giving opportunities?  Is the violation in the request or in our response?  How clear is our eternal lens?

If we view currency as our money we earn, then, of course, we could easily see requests as invasions or obstacles to our plans.  But, if we see money as a Kingdom resource, might these requests actually be opportunities God gives to test our hearts and to show his love in a tangible way through joyous giving?  Might these requests be an opportunity to meet someone else’s need at the expense of our own?  God cares less about what we give and more about why we do it.  He cares about our hearts, not our 10%.  Perhaps, we will be perpetually confronted with giving opportunities until the heart softens to be joyful in our response, even if our response is a loving ‘no.’  Perhaps those opportunities knocking on your literal door is God knocking on the door of your heart.  Answer honestly, do you utilize more time spending or managing, rather than praying and planning to use your resources to bless others and advance the redemptive kingdom of God?  Do I?

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Our time on earth is but a speck of sand in the hourglass.  Waste is easily disguised.  May we use our time to frame God in abundance, not scarcity.  How can things be replaced if we never let go?  As John Piper would say, “Don’t waste your life…If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.”  He adds that we were all created for one purpose and one purpose only… “to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion – namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life….The real moments of joy in this world are not in moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness….The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life.”  Oh, but the gain, the precious reward!

The New Year is approaching.  I challenge you to try to out give God.  I challenge you to prayerfully give when given the opportunity.  I challenge you to trust God to provide as you give sacrificially.  God may want you to see how debt can be reduced by what you give. As we are soon to celebrate Christmas, let us remember Jesus came to save us from ourselves, including our feeble attempts at self-management.   Everything we have has been given to us, not earned.  It has been given!  When we were too blind to know what we really needed, God responded with the gift of His Son.  Those we give to may not know their true need, but may have a little clearer lens as they see you respond.  So, when asked if we could send in 12 extra pencils to school, may we joyfully respond, “Can I send in 13?”

Mark 8: 34 – 36 (NIV), “34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

II Corinthians 9: 6-8 (NIV)Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Ephesians 2: 8 (NLT)” God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

© losinglifetofindlife 2013. All Rights Reserved

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Dots

Have you ever had a time in life when you felt like life was random?… a time you were left to wonder what the full purpose of your varied life events were for?  As I reflect on the last 5 years, I envision a series of ‘dots’ representing certain events, choices, and relationships that had something to do with where I am today.  There seemed to be loose connections at the time, but what were they connecting toward?  I often wondered, “What will my final dot to dot picture look like?”

One of my favorite French painters is Georges-Pierre Seurat who is known for devising the technique of painting known as pointillism.    Pointillism is defined as, “a technique of neo-Impressionist painting using tiny dots of various pure colors, which become blended in the viewer’s eye.”  An image will take form if the viewer is able to blend the dots into a meaningful picture.  The visual art depends on what the viewer chooses to focus on – the dots or the bigger picture. When viewed close up with limited perspective, a painting using pointillism will look like this:

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This picture displays a diversity of color and placement of specific dots.  However, one can already see that the painter has placed the dots in certain places, near certain colors for a reason.  Certain colors blend well together; some accentuate, others bleed into the colors around it.  But there is purpose for each one; for its color choice and placement.  As more dots are added and the picture broadens and extends, form begins to take place:

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The seemingly random begins to have structure.  Through further deliberation and effort of the artist, he gradually adds more to his picture, and the fruition of his labor is displayed for the world to see.  The final product is a masterpiece.

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To create a masterpiece, such as the one pictured above, is a lengthy, sometimes painful, process not immune to mistakes.  It requires the patient hands of a skilled artist, carrying out a plan that facilitates all of the components to come together.  How often do I try to thwart God’s process in an effort to impatiently self-create my own final product?  How often do I try to settle for a velvet Elvis, when I could be a true original?

This famous painting is titled, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Those portrayed are looking out toward the water, seemingly all in a similar direction.  I have always loved this picture, but I often notice how still it appears, lacking meaningful movement and activity.  The people appear formal and somewhat molded by society’s standards for that time period in history.  This picture triggers me to question what prevents us from seeing how the dots connect to take form in our lives?  Are we so narrow in our focus that we are looking habitually in one direction, thereby sacrificing the whole picture?  What lens are we using? A societal lens?  The natural, flawed, human lens?  Or the supernatural lens that requires us to have faith in what we cannot see?  Do we rob God the opportunity to connect the dots through our faith and obedience because we refuse to operate with less than 20/20 vision?    Do we rob ourselves of seeing what God has created faithfully believing He is not finished with us yet?  Do we fight against being a work in progress and live in frustration because we cannot see the proposed final product?

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God views us as His Masterpiece.  What prevents us from seeing ourselves that way is not God’s vision, but rather our own.  He creates us to be His masterpiece, not because He must, but simply because He planned it for us before time began. The masterpiece He sees is not tainted by the things we do, because our mistakes do not disqualify us from being molded and formed into something beautiful.  We are not beautiful because we are good; we are beautiful because God is good.  We do not innately give God much to work with, so why would we think that we can create something more beautiful than He can?  I struggle with finger painting! We do not have the necessary raw materials to make a masterpiece.  Only He has unlimited resources, such as grace, mercy, love, joy, hope, forgiveness, peace, wisdom, and truth, from which to draw upon to make us into something we could never become on our own.  He just asks that we hand over the paint brush and be His canvas.  What work of art do you attempt to make out of your own life?  I fear my finished product would not even win honorable mention at a local fair. I would much rather be displayed in God’s museum, presented under His light, for Him to marvel at all He has done.

Ephesians 2: 9-10Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

losinglifetofindlife © 2013  All Rights Reserved

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Rooted

 

This weekend, I spent a day in the yard cleaning up flowerbeds and planting fall color.  After I finished the landscaping beds, I thought I would end the day switching the flowers in our outdoor pots near our front door.  I approached the pots planning on a quick removal because only two of the five plants in each container survived the summer.  However, what I thought would be a simple task of removing the last plant in each planter turned into 20 minutes of pulling with all of my strength, resulting in nothing other than me covered in dirt!  If I could have stood on top of this planter and pulled with all my might, this plant would not have budged! How could one little plant that started like this cause me such trouble?

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So, I entered the garage and exited with a sharp, hand shovel ready for battle.  I pierced the shovel as hard as I could into the dirt hearing the roots slowly cutting free.  I proceeded to dig the sharp end deeply into the dirt, taking the time to make sure that I cut a seamless circle around the root system.  Nothing could be left of this plant or my mums would surely die.  Finally, covered in sweat and out of breath, with one final pull, the plant broke free.  This plant had grown and rooted so deeply that it killed almost every other living thing around it.  In a matter of 4 months, it had evolved to this:

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The Bible encourages us to be deeply rooted in the Word and in relationship with Jesus.  It tells us that, if we are not deeply rooted in His truth and Love, our faith will wither away (Mark 4: 6).  But, the Bible also tells us to be cautious of what we allow to take root in our lives.  This plant on my porch had deep roots, but they caused death to other livings thing around it.  Sometimes, we need to uproot something that has taken hold in our lives to make room for the right roots to grow.  This plant was deeply rooted but not in the way God intended.  Its’ roots did not promote life; they obstructed it.

I have met people in the past who were quite vigilant about monitoring the movies they watched, the music they listened to, and other worldly influences around them.  These are all good things; however, being rooted in God is not only about what you keep out of your life, but is also about what you allow in.  It means inviting God in to cut away, remove, plant, nourish, weed, rearrange, and display for His glory. The plant pictured above had the potential of being a beautiful addition to my arrangement had it shared the food and water with those around it.  But, instead, it chose to hoard and was left with nothing but itself.  It did not allow others to benefit from its existence.

As we root ourselves in God, He asks that we share that nourishment with those around us.   He asks that we allow others to see the beautiful arrangement He has made. He asks that we allow pruning to take place to make room for more life to grow.  He asks that we share our space knowing that there will always be more than enough to go around.  God is a much better gardener than I am.  He knows what needs to stay and what needs to go.  All He requires of me is to seek after Him, to remain pliable under His skilled hands, and to stop pulling back.  I pray I do not give Him the fight that this plant gave me.  How  much more painless that process would have been had that plant just let go.

Colossians 2: 6-7 (NLT) “ And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.  Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

Matthew 5: 14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”

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Just the Clothes on My Back

Matt and I recently returned from Kenya a few weeks ago.  To travel internationally requires a lot of preparation.  We left with so much luggage that we could barely manage the load through the airport.  We left with suitcases full of clothing, baby items, books, toys, and medicine.  Items to clothe, educate, and improve the well-being of unsuspecting children.  I left Ohio with baggage labeled worry, selfishness, impatience, self-reliance, and restlessness – habitual patterns of responsive living that keep me focused on myself and my small little world.  My baggage is heavy and costly.  It weighs me down; it distracts.  It impacts my focus and perspective.  I really do want to travel more lightly.

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Two weeks later, I returned from Kenya a little lighter, carrying fewer suitcases and less baggage with lighter weight.  I transferred some of the weight to His shoulders.  I left some of it in the African dust, as I did in Africa twice before.  Her soil is familiar to my offering.  The road we walk toward eternity is cluttered with loads discarded along the way.  The gate we travel through to heaven is a narrow one (Matthew 7: 13-14).  Jerry Sittser writes in the Will of God as a Way of Life that, “His way is narrow because it squeezes all of the selfishness out of us.  It deprives us of the right to live for ourselves.”

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This loss of freedom to live our way really is the pathway to true freedom.  Obedience leads to freedom.  It lightens our load as we travel through that gate.  I do tend to over-pack when I travel.  Thankfully, God is so loving that He will transform me until I am traveling with only the divine essentials…nothing more, nothing less.  He does not give up on me when I choose to hang onto to something I do not need.  Instead, He slowly loosens my grip and places my hand onto His. When I travel through that gate, I envision that I will be traveling with only the clothes on my back; not clothes of cotton and wool, but fibers of divine material – His spirit, His character, His fruit.  I will travel through a gate specifically cut to my size with no room for a bag in either hand.  Just room enough for the version of me that He saw all along.

Colossians 3: 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Matthew 11: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

losing life to find life © 2011 All Rights Reserved

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Book Ends

Being the perfectionist I am, I often think that I have to learn more, grow more, and have more predictability, security, and stability in my everyday life before I can start serving, volunteering, or leading.  Things have to be “just right” in my own mind before I can wrap my mind around taking another mission trip, leading a certain ministry, etc.  A long stretch with little discomfort or suffering has been a pre-requisite for me to be open to an opportunity or a leading by God.  I mean, life is primarily good, with episodes of hardship and suffering being the exception to the rule….right? But what if the good times are simply book ends for longer stretches of suffering?

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I have been reading two very good books over the past few weeks.  The Man with the Key Has Gone! is written by Dr. Ian Clarke, an Irish born physician who has served in Uganda for 30+ years.  His current accomplishments visible in Kampala are fruits from 30 years of hard work, great faith, numerous setbacks, and small successes one could see as too small to keep going or just enough to push ahead.  The other book, The Will of God as a Way of Life written by Jerry Sittser, is a must read for anyone who may be confused about God’s will and how to discern it within the struggles of everyday life.  What do these books have in common? They both address the trap of expecting life to be problem-free and waiting for an absence of struggle in order to begin or continue giving, serving, sacrificing, and following where God may lead.  When we do so, we put our trust in our own expectations, rather than in the belief that God is good no matter what.  When we operate out of these false expectations, we may never begin because we may view struggle as our “sign” to wait or abandon.

If we see suffering as the exception to the rule, we may see it as an intrusion on what life is really supposed to be.  We may allow it to halt our advances toward the life God really has for us.  We may continually be frustrated when it rears its’ ugly head.  However, M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled offers another perspective.   He writes, “Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult- once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

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This is not to say that we must sit each day awaiting the next horrible thing to happen.  Instead, suffering loses its hold on us when we embrace it, instead of avoid it, as a part of the environment in which we are meant to serve.  We can focus on what we will allow into our lives, rather than on what we will not allow.  We won’t be left sitting in endless worry until things get back to normal.  We may actually re-define what “normal” really is for us.  We will have a life operating out of faith, instead of predictability.  We may be able to view the momentary anguish in the larger light of His redemptive plan.  We may learn to abandon ourselves into the hands of a trustworthy God.  We may focus on what suffering is teaching us, rather than how it makes us feel.  It is the true test of the Christian life.

I Peter 4: 1-2, “So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you are willing to suffer for Christ, you have decided to stop sinning.  And you won’t spend the rest of your life chasing after evil desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.”

losing life to find life © 2011. All Rights Reserved

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My Case Load

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Here is a personal confession:  I love to be organized.  Seeing a task to completion gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I like tasks with clear beginnings and endings.  I do not function well when there is a lack of closure.  Too often, I lump people in with my tasks, and, before I know it, I have a task-driven daily schedule that is void of any activity that has the sole purpose of relationship; a schedule void of the simple pleasure of being in a specific person’s presence or doing something I enjoy with no specific outcome in mind.  There’s not much “being” in my day to day life, but there is a lot of “doing!”

Today, I was reading an article out of the April edition of In Touch Magazine, and a quote challenged me to really think about how I view others and my approach to them.  The writer asked, “What compels a Christian to see a fellow human being as unnecessary to the body of Christ?  What makes him treat someone like a project – or worse, causes him to ignore his neighbor altogether?”

In my work as a School Psychologist, I work with students who are experiencing some form of significant difficulty at school, encompassing academic, emotional, behavioral, or developmental issues.  At times, we generically term these students as “cases.”  Please keep in mind, we do see the individual identities of the students.  I work with dedicated and caring individuals who sacrifice and take on more than is manageable, so that no rock is left unturned.  But, we/I also can casually refer to the “numbers on our/my caseload,” making it easy to forget that behind every number is a person with a future, but more importantly a soul.  Too often, I can view them as a ‘stressor’ or an inconvenience, depending on what other activities I have in my life at the time.  They can easily become a project, which depersonalizes and organizes their difficulties into stages of completion, as I daily see names drift on and off my caseload, making note if they “qualified” or “did not qualify.”

Compartmentalizing people makes it more clean, predictable, and sensible, but reaching out to others in the context of relationship is messy with blurry lines and no set instruction manual.  There is no protection against rejection or disappointment.  There is no guarantee of an outcome.  When reaching out to others, I have often thought about our need to put ourselves in a position where we are learning as we go, while remaining flexible enough to alter our solutions and our schedules to see the true work that is before us.  We need to guard against measuring “success” by measurable outcomes.  At times, we may be fortunate enough to see the fruits of our labor.  At other times, we may have no clean closure here on Earth.  We may not see how the seeds we planted grew until we have our heavenly perspective.

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In our ordained work, we never see the full blueprint. We may never see the resolution.  People are not projects or cases when it comes to life and death.  They are growing and changing souls pliable under God’s skilled hands, not our own.  But, we build with Him using a divine supply list that leads to creation, not project completion.  May I always remember to build faithfully with patience and care; quick to give at the expense of my plan and slow to label as unreachable or ‘a lost cause.’

I Corinthians 3: 6-10, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.

losing life to find life © 2011.  All Rights Reserved

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