Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yea, though I walk through the valley...

When I was in the 4th grade, I played softball. I had to, my dad was the coach. I was awful. Not just bad…really, really awful. During games, I was always in the outfield. When it was our turn to bat, I was always at the end of the line-up.

My poor dad. He was a great athlete in his day…good at every sport he played. Basketball, baseball, track. He’s completed 10 marathons, and were it not for his recently replaced hip, he’d still be running.

He was blessed to have three daughters…never got that elusive son, but never complained. Oh, how he must have wanted me to be the star of that team. And I was just about as girly as they came. Plus, I was really only interested in singing and theatre. But, I played softball (and basketball…another sad, sad story for another time) and I gave it my best. Both of my parents put time in with me at the batting cages and in the back yard…hours of practice…to no avail. I was just bad. Really, really bad.

I learned a few things through it all, though. First, humility, and how to be a gracious loser. Second, to keep my eye on the ball. “Keep your eye on the ball, Rebecca!” I can still hear my dad’s voice. “Eye on the ball, Boo-ba-doo!” That phrase used to pop into my head while studying for finals…when I was so tired my eyes were crossing. “Focus, Rebecca! Keep your eye on the ball!” Even today, as a scattered, working wife and mother. Anytime I need to keep my mind on the task at hand, I remind myself to “keep my eye on the ball.”

Someone should’ve taught that to Peter. You know the story of Jesus walking on water. This happens right after He feeds the 5000 men (not to mention all the women and children – He actually fed anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Immediately following the miraculous meal, Matthew 14:22 tells us, “Jesus made His disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while He sent the people home to pray. Night fell while He was there alone.” Meanwhile, Peter and the other disciples get caught in a storm, and were struggling terribly against heavy waves. Let’s pick it up at Matthew 14:25 and read through verse 26. “About 3 o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking He was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘It’s all right,’ He said. ‘I am here! Don’t be afraid.’”

That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it? His first concern is to calm their fears. He identifies Himself and comforts them like a mother soothing a child waking up from a bad dream. But it’s what happens next that I really want you to pay attention to. Matthew 14:27, Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. Ok, PAUSE! Did you catch that? Let’s read it again. “So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around….” PAUSE!! Peter was doing just fine…as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Notice that. We have the other disciples panicking in the boat. Waves are crashing all around them. Wind is howling. They literally fear for their very lives. And yet with all of this going on around him, Peter is able to step out of the boat…and walk on water. Until he takes his eyes off Jesus. Un-pause. In fact, rewind just a tad. “But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me Lord!’ he shouted. Instantly Jesus reached out His hand and grabbed him. ‘You don’t have much faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.”

Let that sink in. How many storms, how many valleys have we been through, where we took our eyes off the Lord and doubted? It’s so easy to have faith when our boats are sailing across smooth water. You can be sure when the disciples started out across the Sea of Galilee, they were riding high. They’d just watched Jesus feed THOUSANDS with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They personally walked around and collected TWELVE BASKETS of leftovers. And yet…the first wave to rock the boat and they spiral into sheer and utter panic. They most certainly took their eyes off the ball, didn’t they?

You know what used to happen when I failed to watch the ball? I missed. Every time. At best, I hit a wild, crazy fly that was easily caught. And I was out. But when I focused…when I remembered what my father had so patiently taught me…I hit that sucker. My scrawny little 4th grade arms hit that puppy at least to mid-field! I rarely made it to first, because I was slow, too, but at least I hit it! Here’s the thing, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we hit life's fast balls head on…and send the enemy running.

You know what the other team used to do when I went up to bat? They “brought it in.” I’ll never forget that feeling. “Easy out, everyone! Bring it in! Bring it in!” I can still hear them, and still feel the humiliation. It was a pretty effective maneuver. They saw that I wasn’t very strong. Bringing the team in added to my intimidation.

Friends…don’t you think the enemy does the same thing? Don’t you think he knows when you’re in a valley? Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is your personal Savior, then you’re saved, and there is nothing the enemy can do about that. But he will distract you every chance he gets. He will tempt you when you’re weak. He will taunt you when you’re frightened. And he will make every effort to take your eyes off of Christ.

If you are breathing and over the age of 5, you’ve traveled through a valley. If you live in the United States of America, there is a very good chance you’re in one now. The latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that the unemployment rate is at 10% as of December ‘09. We’re in the worst recession the nation has seen in decades. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. Climate change. Health care reform. Depression and anxiety rates as high as they’ve ever been. We are hurting as a nation, and we are hurting as individuals! Do not take your eyes off Christ, don’t do it!

He wants you to TRUST HIM…He tells us so over and over and over in the bible. And He wants us to look at HIM. When all hell is breaking loose, you keep your eyes on HIM. And let me tell you something…He’s there with you, I don’t care how deep or dark your valley is. John 8:12 – Jesus says to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Psalm 139:3, David writes of the LORD, “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.” Every moment. You have not breathed one breath without the Lord knowing of it. Every hair on your head is counted, and God is not going to desert you.

Psalm 139:5, You both precede me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” He goes in front of you, with you and behind you. While things are uncertain in your life, He knows exactly where you are…and He wants you to follow Him!

How do you do this? Seek Him. Pray to Him. Learn more about Him by reading His Word. Psalm 109:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” One thing I want you to notice about that, though…it all hinges on faith. He promises a light unto our feet…not a search light to show us what’s ahead. He will guide your every step, I promise you, but He will do it one step at a time.

One thing that just astounds me as I learn more about God through bible study, is how many times He tells us not worry. Oh, He knows us so well, doesn’t He? We’re certainly no better than the disciples who walked with Him on earth. Here in this moment, 2000 years after Christ’s death, He knows our struggles. Matthew 6:31-33, “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” I’m going to stop there for just a second…because it’s so important to understand that. He gives us “our daily bread.” He doesn’t give us the big grocery store run of a week’s worth of grace and strength. When you wake up in the morning, you have everything you need from the Father to get through that day. He has already given you the strength to hit every curve ball life can throw at you. All right…pick it up at verse 34. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Amen. Amen to that.

He hears ours prayers. And He loves us. Seek Him. Cry out to Him. And don’t take your eyes off the ball.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Life God Can Bless...

A LIFE GOD CAN BLESS

Here’s a scenario most of you are familiar with…either as a parent, or as a memory from your own childhood. It happens at least several times a week in our house.

Let me set the stage for you. Mike, Caitlyn, Nick and I seated around the dinner table. Dinner is finished, except for Nick. On his round, plastic Elmo plate sit a few untouched pieces of chicken…several mashed up green beans…and a couple bites of fruit. To his credit, the kid is smart. He at least moves them around on the plate to make it look like he’s eaten. The dishes once sitting in front of me, my husband and daughter are long gone…moved from the table to the sink to the dishwasher 15 minutes ago. Caitlyn is now nibbling on a piece of left-over Halloween candy. Mike looks like he might tear out his hair, and then there’s me…trying to talk sense to my two year old son.

Nick: I want chocolate!!
Me: Sweetie, you can have some chocolate. Just eat three bites.
Nick: No…I no want three bites!! I want chocolate.
Me: Honey, you can have chocolate. I WANT you to have chocolate. But you can’t have candy unless you eat some of your dinner.
Nick: I no want dinner, mama! I want chocolate!!

This goes on for a bit, then Mom wins, Nick loses, Caitlyn gloats, and Mike hides under the table (only kidding, honey).

You know what, though? I don’t feel like I’ve won. It wasn’t really a contest. I adore my son. I’d lay my life down for him in a split second. I want to give him chocolate, I really do. He loves it…it brings him joy…thus bringing me even MORE joy. But Nick needs protein, fruit and vegetables first. He doesn’t like them, and given his way, would skip straight to the chocolate. But as his mother, I know what’s best for him. And as his mother, it’s my job to keep his best interests at heart.

Sound familiar, anyone? It sure does to me.

I went walking with a girlfriend of mine earlier today. We laughingly call it exercise therapy, because it’s one part exercise, two parts therapy. Today she told me that sometimes she thinks God has His arm extended…holding His palm to her forehead…and she just keeps swinging and swinging…trying to get things to go her way. All the while God is looking down at her with a smile, knowing that when she gets tired of trying it her way, she’ll come around. I love that, and told her that I was going to steal it for a blog. Thank you, Pam.

But it’s true, isn’t it? If you feel like you are on a treadmill going nowhere, you have to ask yourself a question. Are you living a life that God can bless?

I’m trying to. Lord knows, I’m trying. I’ve had a humbling year, my friends. Because God has shown me…very specifically…things that need to be removed…if He is going to bless me and use me to my full potential. I’ll tell you my story in a moment. First, I want to tell you another one. This is Kim’s story.

Kim is single. Never been married, no kids, late 30s. Beautiful. She is so beautiful that she gets stopped on a regular basis. Kim has never had a problem getting a date. She has a big problem finding a healthy relationship. There are a few reasons why. She has some issues stemming from childhood that are unresolved. Because of this, she has an intimacy problem with men. Deep down, something won’t let her get too close to someone with good intentions. Because that would mean she’d have to be vulnerable. And that would mean she might get hurt.

Kim drinks. Heavily. Every day. Partly because of the depression, partly because of her insecurity. Kim doesn’t think she’s much fun to be around when she’s sober. And when Kim drinks, she makes bad decisions.

Kim is lonely. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, but there is a man in her life. Unfortunately, he isn’t really interested in her as a person. He promises her everything…after two bottles of wine…and always after midnight. The next morning of course, he’s gone. She’ll go two or three weeks without hearing from him. She’ll get angry, swear she’s done with him forever, and then answer a 10:30 pm text message. “Hey honey, want some company? I have a great bottle of wine I can bring.” Cycle continues.

Kim wants to get married. She wants to have children. She goes to church every Sunday. Church, restaurant with friends, margaritas, home, wine, sleep, guilt…..repeat. Kim ignores the voice that whispers, “follow me.”

Kim is not living a life that God can bless.

Have you ever read Matthew 6:33? I love it…and it’s one of the few verses where I prefer the King James version, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

The New International Version reads, “but seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

What does that mean? It means we should seek God’s will before our own. It’s just like me and Nick at the dinner table. I love Nick. I want to give him chocolate. And if he would only seek MY way first, (chicken, veggies and fruit) I would gladly give him chocolate. I’d be so excited that I’d probably give him an extra piece! And…he would have the added benefit of feeling great because he’d be putting good, healthy things in his body first.

You know what we are, spiritually? We’re like two year olds running around. We really are, and I fully include myself in that analogy. We think we know what’s best, we think we know how to get there, and all the while God is telling us this…

Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

In other words, God is telling us, very nicely, that “it doesn’t matter why! Because I told you to, that’s why!” I’m sure He uses a much nicer tone than we do as parents, don’t you think?

Sometimes it’s pretty tough to try to reason with my two year old. And on that same note, our puny little brains are not equipped to always understand WHY when it comes to God’s way. Isaiah 55:9, :As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” We are so rarely told why. We are simply told…to trust. To trust that God’s way is better. And you know what? It is.

Over the past six months or so, I’ve felt strongly compelled to stop drinking. My husband and others close to me were surprised by this. I don’t drink all that much. Maybe one or two nights on the weekend. I sometimes go a few weeks without having a single drink. I don’t get tipsy every time I drink. But I have had my moments. And the conviction is there. God has been crystal clear on this. I am not to drink. It’s not part of what God has in store for me. God wants me to live a life He can bless. I know without a shadow of doubt in my heart that His plan for my life doesn’t include alcohol. That’s my struggle. For others, it’s food. Others, spending money. Promiscuity. Pornography. Laziness. Vanity. Gluttony. Gambling. Pride. Gossip. Lying to get attention. Stealing to see if you can get away with it. Always needing the right label on your clothes. Perhaps you struggle with forgiveness. Forgiving someone else…or yourself. Maybe it’s something from your past…something God wants to heal. He can’t heal it if you won’t face it.

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, fear, insecurity, hopelessness or helplessness, there is a very good chance that there is something in your life that is keeping you from enjoying all the blessings God has in store for you. Sometimes these feelings are from a physiological imbalance in your body. That’s not to be ignored. But more often, it’s because we are out of sync with God’s plan for our lives. We are not being all we can be. And deep down…we know it.

The day I realized I could never drink again was a Tuesday. I’d had a few too many a few days before…and justified it to myself. I thought, everyone does it every now and then. I hardly ever do. But the conviction was there. I turned on a Christian talk show that I sometimes listen to, and the topic was Christians living outside of grace. I had never really thought about that before. Christians living outside of grace. Saved…but not blessed. Not living the life God wants them to lead. The passage they were quoting was Galatians 6:19-21. Read it very carefully:

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except in those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Most people look at that quickly, and shrug it off. But read it again. Especially the part that says “Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Emphasis mine.)

If you see yourself in there anywhere, seriously consider asking God for the strength to remove the sin.

Kim wants so badly to have what her friends have. Marriage, babies, a house with a swing set in back. And I have to believe…with all my heart and soul…that God, her merciful and loving Father, wants so badly to give it all to her. That, and then some! The tone Jesus takes in Luke 12:31 is so full of tenderness it melts my heart. Jesus says, “He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

I can picture the look on Jesus’ face as he spoke those words. “Don’t be afraid, little flock.” He calls us “little flock” just as I call my children “sweetheart,” “my love,” or “Nicky Noodle.” No laughing…there’s a story behind the silly nickname. It’s still a term of endearment…just like Jesus uses with us. The point is, He loves us as His own dear children. Just like I would lay down my life gladly for either one of my children, he stretched out His hands on the cross to lay His down for us. We are purchased with His precious blood. He wants so badly to bless you until your cup is running over! Psalm 37:3-4, “Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desire.” (Emphasis mine.)

Please, please take this seriously. Whatever it is that’s keeping you from a close relationship with your Father…get rid of it. It’s not worth it. God provides a better way…I promise you. Let my story prove it to you. It was scary to give up drinking. It’s such a way of life. And I have friends who won’t like me as much for it. The only time they knew me to not drink socially was when I was pregnant. But God’s way is better. My life is and will continue to be BLESSED because of this. My children will grow up knowing you don’t have to have a drink to be fun. And let me tell you something….I AM STILL FUN! (lol)

And maybe because of that, my children won’t make some of the mistakes I’ve made.

Just know that if there is something you struggle with, you have a kindred spirit in me. I’m not judging anyone. I have too many logs in my eyes to be too terribly worried about the spec in yours. I just want you take this with you…there is great rest…in laying your burdens at the feet of Jesus.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

Amen…and God bless you. And bless you, and bless you, and bless you…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Soul Food

I have a girlfriend named Lori who makes the best baked macaroni and cheese in the world. I mean it…in the WORLD. It’s just downright sinful, it’s so good. And she will be the first one to tell you that it’s pretty indulgent. We're talking butter, real cream, 3 or 4 different kinds of cheese, home made croutons (made by soaking the bread in butter, toasting it and tossing it into the mix)…it’s just incredible.


And while I’ll mow it down just as quickly as you can blink…I’m feeling it later. Feeling it travel slowly through my body…depositing fat on my hips, arms, thighs…you get the picture. I always think it’s worth it while I’m eating it. The next day…I’m not so sure.


And you know where I really get in trouble? With the leftovers! One serving wouldn’t be such a big deal, but once I’ve had it, I want it again. So I’ll maybe have a bowl for lunch the next day, a little for a snack later on, and before you know it, it’s gone. And I have to run a few extra miles to compensate.


I’ve noticed a pattern with myself. If I don’t eat the macaroni and cheese, I don’t really crave it. And I do the same thing when it comes to what I feed my brain. Here’s a confession for you, and I’m not proud of it. I tivo “The Hills” on MTV. I know, I know. A married mother of two, sings in church, writes a Christian blog, and all the while I’m cramming my brain full of smut tv! I never said I was perfect. For anyone who shares in my guilty pleasure, I even watched some of last season’s episodes more than once (hey, it was Lauren’s last season). I haven’t really been quite as into it this season (with Kristen), but you’d still find it on my DVR if you went looking.


Something happened over the summer, when all the good tv shows took their sabbatical. I had nothing to watch. So I started to read the bible more. And more. And then I started to journal about what I was reading. And then I started to blog about it. And amazingly, I have started to see God work in my life like never before.


Because as clichĂ© as it sounds, we are what we eat. If we’re stuffing ourselves full of Lori’s fabulous mac and cheese on a daily basis, our thighs are going to get bigger! If all we do is read TMZ, watch E! Online and flip through Us Weekly, our brains are going to get mushy! And our lives are going to reflect it.


God talks about this in Isaiah 55…it’s a great passage…and we’re going to break it down. Here we go…


Isaiah 55:1-2 – “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!”


Any athlete on the planet will tell you that a diet of Lori’s baked macaroni greatness would be terrible for performance. I run, and I can tell you that if you want to see your speed pick up and your endurance increase, you need to put yourself on a diet of lean meats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and good healthy grains.


Likewise, if you are trying to better your relationship with God, you need a steady diet of prayer, worship and scripture. So let’s move on…it only gets better!


“Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!” I love it when God uses exclamation points; it shows that He is very eager…He feels very adamant about soul food. So where do we get it? Let’s take a look at the very next verse…


Isaiah 55: 3 – “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David.”


No exclamation point here. I can almost see God looking into our eyes; hear Him lowering His voice to emphasize His point. “Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake.” That is serious. Now we’re talking about eternity. God wants us to come to Him with our ears wide open. Not like when we come to church on Sunday morning…looking all prayerful and holy…but really thinking about what we’re going to make for dinner. God wants us to come to Him undistracted, and ready to receive His message. Then He will give us all the mercies and unfailing love that He promised David.


And that is where things start to pick up. When you get to a place where you are listening to God, and studying His word…get ready to be blessed. Get ready…to be transformed.


Isaiah 55:4-5 – “He (David) displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”


Those words are rich with the promise of the Lord. The Lord’s promise to YOU. God already told us in verse 3 that He will give us all the mercies and unfailing love that He gave to David. Now, He tells us He will give us power, too.


When you witness to the Lord, there is power in that. And God’s power will make you a leader of nations. Stay with me, here. You may not be the president of the United States, or even of your home owner’s association. But if you live your life as a witness to the Lord, people will be drawn to you. Your “nations” are your circle of influence. We each have one. If you are a parent, your children are in your circle of influence. Your co-workers are, too. Are you in a Bunco group? That counts. Anytime you are with people that could be influenced by the way you act or what you say, you are operating inside of your circle of influence. And God will make you a leader.


Some people may shy away from this, but it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. To be an effective witness, you don’t need to stand on a street corner waving your bible and screaming out scripture. That is not a very effective way to bring people to Christ. That is a very effective way to get people to think you have a screw loose. Your greatest testimony comes from your life.
God has recently called me to give something up. I’m not ready to blog about it, but I will be more than happy to tell you what it is in person if we run into each other.


The thing I gave up wasn’t illegal, and not even necessarily sinful, but it was getting in the way of my witness. It was interfering with my testimony. God wants to use each of us, but in order to do that, we have to live a life that He can bless. And to do that…we have to be on a steady diet of good, healthy soul food.


Watching The Hills isn’t a sin. Neither is eating a big, healthy dose of Lori’s mac and cheese. But when that’s all you’re feeding your brain, or your stomach, you start to get soft (literally and figuratively).


On The Hills, the girls get into cat fights, they steal each other’s boyfriends, and they’re out clubbing almost every night. The norm is to party and get drunk, to hold loose moral standards. And you know what? That’s tempting stuff. That is tantalizing television. And pretty soon you’re watching more of it. Hollywood preaches the exact opposite of the gospel. Sex before marriage is expected, affairs just happen, the skinnier you are, the better, and the younger you look the more you’re worth. If your jeans aren’t “this” brand…if you don’t carry “that” phone…or drive “that” car, you aren’t good enough. Funny, though. The people you see plastered across the magazine covers don’t seem all that happy, do they? They need a good, home cooked meal. A hearty dose of soul food.


Isaiah 44:1-4 – “But now, listen to me, Jacob my servant, Israel, my chosen one. The LORD who made you and helps you says: O Jacob, my servant, do not be afraid. O Israel, my chosen one, do not fear. For I will give you abundant water to quench your thirst and to moisten your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit and my blessings on your children. “


Do you see how God is pleading with us? Just exactly the same way that I plead with my son to eat his peas. Because they’re good for him. And God’s Word is not just good for us…it’s essential.


David wrote about it in the most well known psalm of all…Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings."

God is extending you a dinner invitation. Will you accept?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Living it out...

Dr. Martin was enjoying a rare lunch break during an unusually slow day at the office. Instead of grabbing a sandwich at the hospital where he worked, he’d decided to walk the half mile to the little cafĂ© down the street. While he was eating, he looked around at the other patrons. A group of ladies were talking and laughing two tables down, another couple looked as though they were in a heated argument. There was one other person also there by himself. A robust looking man, with a large plate of pasta in front of him. The man was sweating, and his lunch hadn’t been touched. Dr. Martin noticed the man was gripping the table, and seemed to be struggling for breath.

The doctor picked up his sandwich and took a bite. He chewed slowly, all the while watching the other man. The man pulled at his collar, clutched at his chest, and slumped over onto the table. One of the ladies two tables down let out a scream, and the whole restaurant seemed to erupt in chaos. “Doctor!! Somebody call a doctor! I think he’s having a heart attack!!”

Dr. Martin took another bite of his sandwich. He thought to himself, “I know I could help him. I know what to do. But my profession is my business. It's personal. It’s not something I want to share with the whole world.”

A ridiculous scenario, isn’t it? A doctor, spending thousands of dollars on medical school, countless hours interning, and weeks of sleepless nights in the E.R. only to decide his expertise is private. Not something he wants to share. That would never happen. In fact, it didn’t. There is no Dr. Martin (that I’m acquainted with), and I made that story up. But here’s one that might hit closer to home.

Kelley and Rachel met in college and have been best friends ever since. They share a two bedroom apartment in a trendy area near downtown. Back before they started their careers, they were joined at the hip, hitting all the fun clubs, always the life of the party. Then Kelley got a job at a prestigious law firm. Early mornings…late nights…70 hour work weeks. Rachel got a job too, selling ads for a glamorous magazine. She had a pretty laid-back boss. As long as she made her numbers and kept her clients happy, she could pretty much come and go as she pleased.

Kelley started a Saturday morning bible study, and Rachel started entertaining clients during the week. It always involved expensive dinners, exotic wines, and partying all hours of the night. Kelley found a vibrant fast growing church, and never missed a Sunday service. Rachel would meet her out for brunch after….if she woke up in time.

Kelley started to notice that Rachel seemed unhappy. She was always tired, always frustrated. Rachel didn’t understand how Kelley always seemed so peaceful, when Kelley worked twice as much as she did and made half the money. Kelley thought about asking her to go to church, but knew her roommate would never get up that early. She thought about witnessing to her, but knew Rachel would just shrug it off. Or even worse, make fun of her. So Kelley said nothing. And the two continued to drift further…and further…apart.

Do you see a parallel here? It may not seem like it, but the two scenarios are equally ridiculous. We laugh at the first one and say "that would never happen!" But the second one makes us squirm. It happens all the time. And it's is an offense to God.

God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to live among us, to die a sinners’ death, and how do we repay that? “My faith is my business,” we tell ourselves. “My relationship with God is private.” “I don’t want people to think I’m a bible beater.” Do you know what that makes us, as Christians? Useless. It makes us absolutely useless to the body of Christ. James writes in chapter 3, verse 14, “Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.”

It’s a major deal to James…he spends a good chunk of his letter to the Jewish Christians telling them that faith without works means nothing. And it should be a major deal to us. It’s like having a paralyzed arm. An arm that can’t move is of no use to the body.
I love the next verse, where it really gets convicting. James 3:15, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, goodbye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” That person doesn’t need your prayers, he needs your coat! That woman doesn’t need your blessing, she needs 5 bucks to get some McDonalds!

I’m guilty of it. I can’t really remember the last time I asked someone to go to church with me. But I do try to make my faith a natural part of conversation. And I understand that it can be intimidating. But it’s what we’re called to do as Christians. It’s our job…to spread the good news. Luke 24: 47, Jesus tells His disciples, “With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’” We’re so quick to rush out and tell all of our friends about a great sale. “Cute retro t-shirts at Target, 10 bucks!” Why is it so difficult to tell those we cross paths with every day about the Good News that could change their life forever?

Not everyone is called to ministry, and not everyone is called to evangelize. Those are very special, specific callings from God. But every last one of us IS called to witness. We are most certainly called to love each other, and serve each other.

One of my daily prayers is that I would love people…really LOVE them…just as God loves us. And trust me, friends, some people in my life can be pretty tough to love. I pray that God would open my eyes…to see people…just as God sees us. I probably miss that goal more than I hit it, but I'm working on it. This is a crazy, mixed up world, but we’re all in it together. We all have issues. How much better would things be if we really, truly followed Jesus’ two most important commandments? Mark 12:29-31, “Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

That’s pretty powerful. And pretty straight forward. Hard to plead ignorance when the bible says...loving each other is every bit as important as loving God. So here is your challenge. Who is in your immediate circle of influence? Are you witnessing with your lifestyle? Do you show love to the office gossip that suddenly stops whispering when you walk in the room? What about that parent on the PTA that just has to be in charge of everything? Or that darn kid that’s making your child’s life miserable? Jesus loves them just as much as He loves you. They are just as precious in His sight. For the next 3 days, just love them. Don’t expect anything back. Just treat them like Jesus would if He were here. Find ways to serve them. Love them like you love those closest to you. You might be surprised…your living witness might change their heart. It will most certainly change yours.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Forecast calls for rain

I've been wanting to write a blog entry on storms for some time now. And it's no wonder. Where I live, in the DFW area, we've had a lot of rain. But I've had serious writer's block on this particular subject, and I'll tell you why. It's because I don't feel qualified. I've had my share of storms, who hasn't? But recently, I've watched some of my friends endure storms....storms that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

My sister in-law was overjoyed when she found out she was pregnant. She and her husband have three beautiful boys, and they wanted to try for that girl just one more time. She would be equally delighted, though, if God blessed her with another baby boy. A healthy baby was their top concern. She works at an OBGYN's office in Dallas. How lucky to be able to get a sonogram anytime you want and see that precious little soul wiggling around! The nurse had an appointment cancel, and called Karen (name is changed) back to see if they could figure out the sex. She looked...and looked.....and looked. No heartbeat. Instead, heartache. Grief. Loss.

A friend of mine was stunned....just stunned....when the diagnosis came back. Colon cancer. And it had spread to her lungs. And she has no insurance. Instead of baseball with her two little boys, she's lying in a hospital bed hooked up to countless machines, so tired she can barely lift her head. Instead of saving for her children's college education, she's watching their meager savings disappear before her eyes.

I have no idea how they feel. I can sympathize all day, but any words I offer sound hollow in my own ears. So....I do the only thing I know how to do. I try to do what God is already doing. I walk with them. I listen to them. I cry for them and with them. I pray for them and with them. My own sweet sister recently had a miscarriage scare. She had found out she was pregnant about two weeks before she was to leave for Italy. Anxious to see the doctor before she left the country, she scheduled an appointment....even though she was only about six weeks along. When she got there....no heartbeat. I talked to my sister on the phone immediately after she left the doctor's office. My heart broke in two as she cried and told me, "Rebecca, I don't even know what to pray." I've never had a miscarriage, but I have been so sad and broken that I couldn't even find words for my Savior.

This bible passage brings comfort to me. Romans 8:26, And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. That almost moves me to tears. Can you picture it? Jesus, the Son of God, who endured every temptation but lived a sinless life. Who died, hanging on a cross...nails piercing his hands and feet. Mourning with us. Praying for us....with such passion that it can not be expressed in words. Friends, that is the truth. If you don't believe me, just look at John, Chapter 11.

In this chapter, Lazarus (brother to Mary and Martha, and a dear friend of Jesus') has died, so Mary and Martha send for their Lord. By the time Jesus gets there, it has been several days. As soon as Mary sees Him, John 11:32 tells us "she fell down at His feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Let's pick it up at verse 33. "When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, He was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. 'Where have you put him?' he asked them. They told Him, 'Lord, come and see.' Then Jesus wept." Are those not some of the most precious words in the bible? Jesus wept. He didn't just swallow the lump in his throat....or wipe a few tears away. Jesus WEPT. And I have to tell you....He wasn't weeping for Lazerus. He knew what He was about to do. He was about bring Lazerus back from the grave. No....Jesus wept for Mary, for Martha, and for all of those who loved Lazerus.

Isn't awesome, that our Savior is so compassionate and loves us so much, that He weeps with us? Even when He already knows the outcome of our storm, He weeps with us. Let's go back to Romans...take a look at Chapter 8, verses 27-28. We'll pick up right where we left off, right after we read how the Holy Spirit prays for us with "groanings that cannot be expressed in words." "And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." Now pay attention.....you don't want to miss this part - "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Did you catch that? God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God! There is NOTHING....no storm....too great for God! There is not ONE SINGLE situation that He can't turn around and use for His good purpose.

Take Nancy's story. Growing up, she and her sister Suzy were as close as two peas in a pod. When the two girls went off to college, they spoke every day on the phone. Nancy was the maid of honor when her sister married her college sweetheart. Imagine the storm clouds gathering when Nancy answered the phone and got the news...Suzy had breast cancer. Imagine the winds of doubt, the thundering fear, and the anguish pouring down when they found out Suzy would not live. Friends...have you ever heard of the Susan G. Komen foundation?

God can use any situation to work for the good of those who love God...and are called according to His purpose. Who is called? You are. Isaiah 43: 1-3, "But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you."


He has called you by name...you are His. When you go through deep waters and great difficulty, He will be with you. We know the forecast calls for rain. We know there are deep waters and great troubles ahead. We don't know exactly what the outcome will be. But we do know this....we are not alone. He is with us. We will not drown....and the flames will not consume us. God bless you and keep you, and I pray that everyone who reads this will find their way safely through the storms of life....holding tightly to our Lord's hand.


And by the way, Karen is now 2 weeks out from giving birth to her 4th child...a baby girl! And this baby was a complete and total surprise. It took fertility drugs to get pregnant with her first three children...but not this time. And more good news....my sister is thankful for each day of morning sickness that she's going through right now, because it just confirms what the doctor told her as soon as she got back from Italy. She IS pregnant, and the heartbeat is strong! Hallelujah! My friend, however, could use your prayers. She is currently still undergoing chemo, but is very happy to see the tumors shrinking.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"One Missed Call"

My parents recently went on a fabulous trip, the trip of a lifetime. They went to Bergamo, Italy, for a ceremony honoring my late grandfather, William Sinclair Ashbrook, Jr. They were gone for 10 days. And I talk to my parents at least four or five times a week, so this was a long time to be out of touch.

I knew they were coming back on September 19th, sometime in the afternoon. I was anxiously awaiting the call, so I had my cell phone nearby all day. However, that day was also the day of my sister-in-law's baby shower. Which I was co-hosting. So you can imagine, I was a little preoccupied.

I'd been running around, doing errands, all the while listening for the phone. I had just completed one last chore and was headed home, when one of my favorite songs came on the radio. So I rolled the windows down, turned the volume up, and started singing away!
When I got home, I checked my phone as I was getting out of the car. 1 Missed Call. Bummer! It was my parents, and an exhausted sounding voice mail told me they were on a layover in New York City. By the time I called, it was too late. They were airborne.

There were two things working against me here. First, I wasn't paying attention. I was busy, distracted. Second, I wasn't listening. I had the radio going full blast, and was singing away at the top of my lungs.

I wonder how many times I've done this in my spiritual life? Just cruising along, letting life distract me. Not listening. Not paying attention to my relationship with God. The result? One Missed Call.

Something interesting to note. I wasn't doing anything wrong. Getting ready for the shower. Listening to the radio. But my priority that day was to talk to my parents. And since I wasn't paying attention, I missed my chance to hear about Italy, and make sure they'd made it home safely.

So here's a little parallel on the importance of hearing...and answering...the call. Take Philip. Philip was one of the first traveling missionaries we hear about in the New Testament. He was one of the seven chosen by the disciples to administer food and goods to the new believers, and a powerful evangelist. In fact, he was on fire. Turning Jews and Gentiles into Christians right and left in Samaria. And that's where he was when this happened, Acts 8:26 - "As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, 'Go south, down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.'"

Now, let's put ourselves in Philip's shoes. His ministry in Samaria was very successful. He was preaching to great crowds, and the response? Amazing! He was watching the Holy Spirit fill the hearts of those who previously had not even believed in the Jews' God. Let me tell you, I wouldn't want to go. Especially down a long, isolated road that ran straight through the desert. Hot. Dusty. No thanks.

But look at the next verse, Acts 8:27 - "So he did, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of Ethiopia."

Whoa. The treasurer of Ethiopia. Now that's a guy with great authority. Mr. Eunuch was working directly under the queen. Philip basically met the Ben Bernanke of that portion of Africa.

And you know what Mr. Eunuch was doing? He was studying the scriptures. Isaiah, to be exact. Isaiah 53:7-8, which reads "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, He did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice."  And Mr. Eunich had no idea what that verse meant.  But Philip did. It just so happens that in that verse, Isaiah is prophesying about Jesus Christ.  So Philip rode with him awhile, explaining how the scriptures foretold Jesus' life...and death.  And Mr. Eunuch...one of the top officials of Ethiopia...believed.

That's worth noting. Philip was in the middle of doing God's work, turning many to believe in Christ. But he was paying attention...and listening. And God called him away from something good...to do something great. What did he do? He answered the call. And because of that, the eunuch believed, was baptized, and spread the Good News to Ethiopia. And that was the beginning of the Word spreading to all the ends of the earth. Because of the eunuch, thousands came to know Christ.

For us, it's certainly not impossible, but it is unlikely that God will send an angel to tell us what to do. I wish He would! But have you ever been in this situation? The church needs volunteers, but that's your only free day to do your big grocery run. Or you notice a co-worker looking especially down, but you just have to get those e-mails answered. So you tell yourself that your stuff is important, and you go on your way. And when you check your spiritual cell phone...1 Missed Call.

God's work can be done anywhere, anytime, not just between 10 and 11 am on Sunday.

Are you paying attention? Are you listening? Don't get so distracted by baseball games, and homework, and e-mails, and grocery lists that you don't hear your spiritual cell phone. Dedicate part of each day to the Lord in prayer. Set aside just 15 minutes a morning to read the bible. I promise you, that if you believe, God has a job for you to do. Don't miss the call!

Thank you for reading this!  I love to hear your thoughts, both positive and negative.  God bless you!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"You can't stop this love train!"

As I write this (September of '09) I have a three year old daughter and a two year old son. And I have decided that people with children around two years of age are in an exclusive club. I'm working on a catchy name for it, but for the time being, let's just call it the "I'm at my wits end what on earth am I going to do with this child?" club. If you have kids that are older now, you've already gratefully turned in that membership. If you aren't a member yet, this can serve as a warning. And, perhaps, birth control.
My son has tantrums. Not just run-of-the-mill tantrums, either. If his tantrums were storms, they would be F5 hurricanes. They aren't just kicking and screaming. They're forces of nature. And since scolding him does no good, and ignoring them means I'm going to be in that same geographical location for a good 30 minutes or so, I decided to try something that my mother did with us (she claims). I love him through it.
And what do you know, it works. I can tell when the tantrum is coming. Just like in nature, there are signs. So before the low grumblings can progress to gale force screaming winds, I love him through it. I put him on my lap, snuggle him tight, tickle him, and laughingly tell him, "You can't stop this love train! Can't stop this love train! I love you no matter what you do!" And he usually comes right around. Who can resist that kind of love?
Peter couldn't. A passage that brings me a lot of comfort is Luke 22:31-32. Let me paint the picture for you before you read it. Jesus and His disciples are sitting in the upstairs room. Jesus has already washed their feet. He tells them that He loves them just as the father loves Him. (John 15:9) He tells them to love one another just as He loves them (John 15:12). They have shared the wine and the bread...the first "communion" ever taken. They are quietly talking. And Jesus turns to Peter (then called Simon), and says "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have all of you, to sift you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen and build up your brothers."
I want you to notice something. It says "So when you have repented and turned to me again....." WHEN. Jesus knew Peter (Simon) was going to sin. He knew it. And He wanted Peter to KNOW that He knew it. And He wanted Peter to know that He loved him, and to turn back to Him.
It's taken me a long time to forgive myself for some of the things I've done. A looooooong time. And to this day, I am so much quicker to forgive others than I am myself. But here is another truth, and it's one you need to write on your heart. Just as we are commanded to forgive each other, so we are commanded to forgive ourselves. If God Himself can forgive our sins, who are we to withhold that same grace from ourselves? 1 John 1:9, "But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong." But you don't know what I've done, you don't know how many times...you don't know... It doesn't matter. He cleanses us from EVERY wrong. No matter how unworthy of love you think you are...you aren't. You are loved. Precious and holy in His sight.
Let's read a little further in the scriptures. And again...let me paint the picture. Peter has denied his Lord three times. He was one of the 12, one of the chosen to walk with Jesus, and three times he denied even knowing him.
On the morning of the third day, the women go to Jesus' tomb. And the stone is rolled away. Mark 16 tells us that the angels told them not to be afraid, but to go tell and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive. But look at this, Mark 16:7....the angel says "Now go and give this message to His disciples, including Peter: Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there, just as He told you before He died." Including Peter. The angel gave them special instructions to tell Peter. Jesus knew that Peter would sin. Just like He knew I would. Just like He knows I will. And He loves me anyway. Just like He loves you.
Later on, Peter became one of the strongest evangelists in recorded history, writing two of the books in the new testament, preaching of great love and forgiveness, and converting thousands to Christianity. And you know what? Jesus knew this too. Matthew 16:18, "Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it."
I think about that, and I ask myself, what will I do....with the grace I've received?
There is nothing that my two year old son, or my 3 year old daughter could do that could make me stop loving them. No tantrum so great that I can't forgive it. And nothing melts my heart faster than my child coming to me, with a tear-stained face, whispering, "Mommy...I'm sorry. I love you." How much more love, how much more mercy, how much more grace will our Heavenly Father pour out on us? Nope. Can't stop this love train.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Licking our wounds...

I have a dog named Jim. Jim is about 5 years old, and roughly 105 pounds. He is a good dog, very sweet, and wonderful with my two small children. Recently, Jim had to have surgery to repair a torn ACL and remove bone spurs around his knee. This left him with a wound about 6 inches long, closed together with staples.



He's handled it far better than I would, I have to say. Almost immediately, he was able to limp outside to potty (sorry - that's the toddler mom in me coming out - I should've said "to relieve himself."), and he's hardly cried at all.



The biggest challenge we've faced is that Jim wants to lick his wound. And if left alone, that's what he would do. He would crawl into the corner, face the wall, and lick his wound. To keep him from doing this, we have to keep him in one of those big, plastic, doggy clown collars. Pretty funny looking, but they keep him from making a serious mistake.



To lick his wounds is his natural instinct, but there's a problem. It pulls at his stitches, and puts him at great risk for infection. And infection, of course, could kill him.



It struck me today...how like Jim I am. And no "looking like a dog" comments, please. Don't we, as people in general, tend to do the same thing when we're hurting, emotionally? We do. We pull away. We hide in the corner. We face the wall because we don't want anyone to see us cry. And we lick our wounds. And if left untended to, our wounds get infected.



So just for funsies, I looked up the definition of infection. "Invasion by and multiplication of pathogenic microorganisms in a bodily part or tissue, which may produce subsequent tissue injury and progress to overt disease through a variety of cellular or toxic mechanisms." Yikes! So how does that translate to us, emotionally? Let's paint a little picture with an example. I'll tell you a story that happened to someone I know. We'll call her...oh, let's see...we'll call her Rebecca.



When "Rebecca" was in 7th grade, up in beautiful Shoreview, Minnesota, she was in gym class one day. And the class was divided into teams. And because the gym teacher was cruel and sadistic, she let the two captains pick the teams. One captain called out a name, then that individual joined the ranks of the chosen. Jerry something or other was captain number one, and I...I mean, "Rebecca," doesn't remember the name of captain number two.



Guess who was picked last? Me. And guess what Jerry said right after whining that he was "stuck" with me? He told me that I had a big nose, and that I'd never have a boyfriend. That sounds so stupid, doesn't it? It was 1987, for heavens sake. But I never forgot it. In fact, I remembered it on the morning of my wedding day.



Look back at the definition of infection. Invasion by and multiplication of pathogenic microorganisms.....Jerry's comments were certainly an invasion. And you know what they did over time? They multiplied in my mind. What started out as a hurt led to bitterness, anger, and a need for revenge. Does this sound familiar to you? What invaded your peace of mind? A break-up? A mean comment? Are you a victim of life's unexpected cruelties? Maybe you've lost someone. Maybe you're trying to have a child. Maybe you've been passed over at work, or lost your job. Whatever it is, please.....please don't let it multiply and infect your spirit. Friend, Jesus is the only one who can truly heal you of this.



Here is something that I find truly AMAZING. Jesus tells His disciples to do His work after He's gone...and listen to this analogy....and tell me it's not divine. Matthew 5:13, "You are the salt of the earth......" Salt has 3 purposes. To preserve, to give flavor, and to HEAL. You have a sore throat, gargle with salt water. A dip in the ocean will help to heal a skinned knee. The salt of the earth will surely heal your heart. (I did not come up with this on my own, btw. This beautiful analogy can be found in Sharon Jaynes' "Experience the Ultimate Makeover.")



Nothing spoils the flavor of our lives more than bitterness. Nothing is more exhausting than lugging around a heart full of hurts. So I'll leave you with this. It healed my heart...and it will heal yours...



Matthew 11:28 - "Then Jesus said, 'Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.'"



Isn't it time to put your burdens down? Here...have a little salt...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Come...bring me your crazy...

One of my favorite sayings is that everyone carries around a sack of crazy. And we do...every last one of us. Some call it baggage...some call it issues...but I prefer to call a spade "a spade." Tip toe around it any which way you want...but we all carry around a sack of crazy.

I love a person with a really big sack of it, too. Maybe it's because it makes mine look smaller, maybe it's because a person who isn't afraid to open their sack and let you peek inside is just honest. And I love honesty.

Why can't we all just lay it out there? None of us are any better or any worse than anyone else. Here....my sack is pretty large....but go ahead. Take a peek.

I've struggled with anxiety half my life...and that's just the tip of my issue iceberg. If we're friends, there's a good chance that I'm wondering at the moment if you're mad at me. If we're not, I'm probably wondering why. I have a great job, and have never been able to really enjoy it. That's because I'm always waiting to get the pink slip. I hate giving my opinion because I don't want to offend anyone. I hate to not give my opinion because then I feel like I'm not standing up for my beliefs.

I worry about everything. EVERYTHING. EVERY. LITTLE. THING. And having children has only made it worse. Don't suggest meds, prozac and I are friends. So one day, I decided to do a little search. I decided to find out how many times in the bible God tells us not to worry. Because did you know that to worry is to live outside of God's will? Seriously...it's means we're not trusting God's plan for our lives. It means we don't have faith that God is in control. I didn't find out exactly how many times He commands us not to fear (it's a lot and I'm still working on it), but I did find some gems that never fail to make me feel better. Please to enjoy...

Isaiah 43:1-2 "But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.' "

That's a wonderful one to send to someone who's lost a job, by the way. And I absolutely LOVE that God has "called you by name; you are mine." Awesome, isn't it? Here's another one to write on your heart...

Isaiah 44:2 "The LORD who made you and helps you says: O Jacob, my servant, do not be afraid. O Israel, my chosen one, do not fear."

Make sure you pay special attention to that - the LORD who made you is also the LORD who helps you.....are you asking for help? Consistantly? Don't be afraid to pray...and pray and pray and pray....
The scripture goes on with verse 3, and it is very helpful to me when I'm in "panicky mother" mode....

Isaiah 44:3 "For I will give you abundant water to quench your thirst and to moisten your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit and my blessings on your children. They will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank."

Here's a great one if you're worried about having enough. Are you contemplating a job change? Debating whether or not to stay home with the kids? Worried about money in general? Then Jesus is speaking to you in Matthew...

Matthew 6:25-27 "So I tell you, don't worry about every day life - whether you have enough food, drink and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don't need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to Him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.

He continues....and I think He means it in this one...because He says it twice...

Matthew 6:31-34 "So don't worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it's own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.

That's one to meditate on for a moment. Please pay particular attention to this part - "He will give you all you need from day to day IF YOU LIVE FOR HIM AND MAKE THE KINGDOM OF GOD YOUR PRIMARY CONCERN." If you have a lot of worry and anxiety in your life (and have already determined that there is not a chemical imbalance in play - don't laugh - it's a common thing!), then ask yourself...what is your primary concern? God will bless you...if you are living in His will. If you are seeking refuge in His word. If you are making the Kingdom your primary concern.

That's enough for today. Up next...I'm not sure. Either more on worry, or on LETTING GO. And I capitalized that for a reason. LETTING GO of the sack of crazy we all cart around. It's possible...I promise.

Love to you!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Story - covered in His fingerprints....

Hmmm...my first entry on my brand new blog. This must be how a writer feels, when they have an idea for a story bubbling under the surface...and they sit down, diet coke on their left, crisp new stack of paper on their right, and a brand new pen in hand.

I feel like I have a lot to say. Whether or not anyone will read it, TBD (to be determined). Whether or not it will do anyone any good, TBD. But I have something to tell you, and I might as well start at the beginning.

Once upon a time...no, too cliche.

Deep breath...big sigh...here we go.

I was born in Bloomington, Illinois. Not a big town, but it didn't really matter. We didn't stay there long. As a matter of fact, we didn't stay anywhere very long, but I'll get to that in a minute. I was the first child, sister number one came along about 3 years later, sister number two about 2 years after that. My dad was in sales, and he was good at it. So good, that he'd get promoted about every 3 years or so. Great, right? Except that with every promotion came a move.

The first move (and we moved in 1976, 79, 84, 87, 90, 93...you get the picture) of significance to me was the one in 1987. We moved from Overland Park, KS to Shoreview, MN. Up until this move, I'd always been a pretty popular kid. Lots of friends, lots of activities, healthy self-esteem. If I had to look back and pinpoint where the problems started, I would have to say Shoreview, Minnesota.

I'll never forget my first day of Jr. High in my brand new school. I was a middle-of-the-year transplant, in a town where no one ever moves. Everyone seems to marry their high school sweet-heart, and everyone's been friends since kindergarten, if not before.

And then there's a new girl. A student-aide walks me to class...it's choir...about 3 times the size of a normal class. She opens the door, and we walk in. You hear the needle screeching off the record, the room falls silent, a collective gasp rises from the crowd.....ok, maybe that's a little dramatic, but that's how it felt to my poor, 12 year old brain. Nothing I did or said helped me to blend in, either. Up in Minnesota, my mid-western way of speaking was like a foreign language to them. "Oh myee gash...whyee do yoo have such an accent? Where are yoo frahm? Loo-ee-see-ah-nah?" By the way - it's hard to write in a northern accent. You may have to just use your imagination. Guess overalls had been all the rage in Kansas...but when I wore my prized possession up there, they called me farm girl. That was the middle of 7th grade. It took until the beginning of 8th to really make any friends.

High school wasn't too much better. One girl in particular made it her mission to keep me from having many friends, and she succeeded pretty well. When my parents broke the news at the beginning of my 10th grade year that we'd move to Colorado over the Christmas break, I wasn't too heartbroken. Part of me really looked forward to a fresh start, a clean slate, if you will.

If I were to say nothing good came out of living in Minnesota, it wouldn't be the truth, though. In 8th grade, I went to a retreat called "Quest," and that was my first experience with Jesus Christ. Up until then, I had kind of seen God and Jesus as one (I know they are, but I didn't really differentiate them at all), kind of floating up in the sky, granting the wishes of some, and not others. I guess I thought of God as a big, cosmic Santa, except not nearly as jolly. More judging, and quick to punish me for every missed step. At Quest, I got to know God on a more personal level, and I got to know His Son. At the end of the retreat, they gave us a copy of the New Testament. I took it home and started to read it, and I started to pray. It's very interesting that God chose that time in my life to call me to a deeper relationship with Him. It's very comforting to see that He was there, even when I felt so alone.

I'm not sure if it was my freshman or sophomore year, but the follow-up retreat to Quest was TEC - Teens Encounter Christ. This one was a little longer, a little more in-depth, but otherwise very similar. At the end, we got a copy of the full bible. I still have it today - and it's very precious to me. It's in two pieces, ragged, tattered, underlined, notes on many of the pages...loved. That bible has been with me, perched right there within reach on my night stand, ever since.

So we moved to Highlands Ranch, Co., and I loved it there, but the damage was done. I had self-esteem issues, weight issues, eating issues.....pick an issue, any issue, I probably had it. But I did have a fantastic group of friends. We got into quite a bit of trouble, but we lived to tell of it, and we all seemed to turn out in the wash. An interesting side note, though. The "trouble" I got into (and don't be mistaken, there was QUITE a bit of it) coincided perfectly with my decision to stop going to church. It was nothing against God at all. But I just wasn't going to be the new kid again. So other than Christmas and Easter...no church.

Fast forward a few years...I'm a nervous freshman swallowing back tears as her mother and grandmother drive away from GSP...an all-girls' dorm at the University of Kansas. Since I didn't want my potential friends to see me crying, I hid in the bathroom for a good 30 or 45 minutes, trying to compose myself. Just when I thought I had it together, I'd break down all over again.

But college proved to be fun. I joined a sorority, made lots of friends, and changed my major 3 times. The first year. I guess it was my sophomore year when my mother called me, and wanted to talk about the classes I was taking. Since I had grudgingly decided I wanted to be a track coach and a health teacher (I know...me?? Teach?? This is where you can take a moment to LOL), I was loaded up on classes involving math, science...everything I'm terrible at. My mom asked me if I had ever thought about radio or tv. I can hear her now, God bless her. "Really, Rebecca...you have such a nice speaking voice, and you do love to sing. And you know, I always said you were a good writer. Call the journalism school, you'd be very good at this. Really honey, do it today." Well, my mom ended up calling the dean, and made an appointment for me. My mother would deny this, but I really believe that was at the Lord's nudging. God had a plan for me, just like He has a plan for you. But I stray.

So I went to meet the dean, and right there on the spot, he just enrolled me in all of my classes. I didn't have to apply for the school or anything. And thus began my love affair with radio.

I love radio so much. I love everything about it. I love the way it sounds when you're talking up the intro to a good, fast song, and you just nail that post (if you're a radio person, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about). I love it when I have an idea, and then I see it escalate into something on the air. I love the laughter, working with other people, playing music for a living. Its a good gig.

So I graduated with my BS in journalism (so appropriate by the way - a BS degree in radio, I love that). But before I move in that direction, let me tell you a little bit about where I was personally. I'd moved out of my sorority house before the start of my senior year, and was living in an apartment with my 3 best girlfriends. I was working full time, studying full time, interning part time (felt like full time), and partying the rest of the time. I was also the only one out of all my friends that didn't have a serious boyfriend. Insert my mother's voice...."Oh Rebecca. The ONLY one? I'm sure you're not the ONLY one." No, I was. The ONLY one. So young, so lonely, so ripe to meet the perfect jerk.
The perfect jerk came into my life right before my 21st birthday. I didn't succeed in removing him from my life until after my 24th birthday. But again...I stray.

So I pose a question to you. What do you do when all of your friends have moved away and gotten married? What do you do when you're a 22 year old emotional mess who drinks a little more than she should and makes terrible decisions? Don't move to Texas, where you're parents live! Don't move back home, save money, pay off debt, and try to get a job at a radio station! For heaven's sake, no! You stay where you are, you get a job that you hate, and you move in with the perfect jerk! Take your parents advice, ha! I was going to learn myself, and I was going to learn it the hard way, thank you very much for caring.

So that's what I did. I took my flimsy self-esteem and my warped body image, and I got a job at a plastic surgeon's office (if you need to LOL again, feel free. I can't hear you). Because that's what you should do when you really need a lesson in loving the body God gave you. You look at fake parts all day.

So here's a fun way for me to spend the day. I can pull out my journal from those days and read the entries. "Dear God, I know this relationship I'm in is a mess. Please fix it. Please give me a sign if I'm not meant to be here." And then my parents would call me......"Rebecca, the radio stations down here are wonderful! You'd really love Texas, move in with us. You won't have to give us a dime." No thanks mom and dad. I've got a great life up here, really. "Dear God, I'm miserable up here. I'm getting my heart broken on a daily basis. Please give me a sign if I'm not meant to be here." And then I'd get in such an awful fight with the perfect jerk that my voice would be lost and my dignity destroyed. "Dear God, I just hate my job so much. Please help me to find a job in radio. And please give me a sign if I'm not meant to be here." And I'd wreck my car. Do you get the picture?

I was begging God for signs (seriously, I have a whole prayer journal and a half of them), and He was giving me billboards. We make a serious mistake when we come to God with our will and ask Him to bless it. How could God bless my life at that point? I wasn't honoring Him with my life style at all! Nothing I was doing was according to His word. Instead of asking the Lord Almighty to bless our will for our lives....lets come to Him, offer up our lives to Him, and ask Him to show us His will. If I'd have done that in the first place I would've saved myself a lot of heartache, but my story wouldn't be nearly so juicy.

So lets fast forward a tad. You know how you'll have a weird dream, and you're going from place to place and you don't know quite how you got there? One morning, and it was right after another horrible fight with the perfect jerk, I woke up, and just lied there staring at the ceiling for about an hour. Then I got up, and I got my suitcase. I wasn't thinking...I was just moving. Almost like some unseen force was guiding my motions.....ok, now open the suitcase. Ok, now open your drawer. Ok, now put some underware in it. I was just kind of floating along. Then I packed up my car, and went back inside. I called my boss and left him a message that I'd be gone for awhile. And then I left. And I drove south.

Olathe, Kansas is right off of I 35. The same I 35 that goes through the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and the same I 35 that goes through the DFW area. Up north, it splits into I 35 E and I 35 W. Same with Dallas/Fort Worth. I'd given my parents a little heads up that I was headed their way, but I was a little out of it when I did it. It never occurred to me that I had no idea where they lived. I knew it was Keller, and I thought Keller was closer to Fort Worth than Dallas, but that's about it. I never started crying until I got to Denton, and saw the signs for the I 35 split. Then...I lost it.

I found a pay phone and got a hold of my dad. Poor dad. He answers the phone and all he hears is me crying so hard I'm hyperventilating. But he gave me directions and I was on my way. You know the story of the prodigal son in the bible? How the younger of the two sons doesn't want to wait for his inheritance, goes and blows it, and then comes back ashamed and hanging his head, just hoping for a servant's position? And his father honors him. That's how I've always felt about my move to Texas. I didn't listen to my parents. I made foolish decisions. I was going to show everyone that I could do it my way, all by myself. And then, as I'm driving home to see my parents, I realize I don't even know where they live.

And there was my dad...outside...waiting for me to pull in. He opened my car door, pulled me out, and held me while I sobbed as if my heart had been ripped in two. It hadn't, of course. It had just been stomped on and then ripped into a million pieces.

Too make a long story less long, I went back up to Kansas after a week of letting my parents just love me and take care of me. How like God they were. They'd forgiven me before I'd even asked for forgiveness. They gave me grace before I even realized I needed it. They just celebrated my return. Don't be afraid to let God do that for you, if you need it. One of my favorite bible passages is Jeremiah 31:19-20...."'I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.' 'Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?' asks the LORD. 'I had to punish him, but I still love him. I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.'" Isn't that AMAZING? Even when we turn away from God...He LONGS for us. He doesn't just love us...he longs for us. Meditate on that for just a moment. Breathe it in...and accept it as truth in your life. He longs for us...and surely will have mercy on us. Lord, I thank you for that. I thank you for your love and your mercy. Amen.

Once I finally realized that I could no longer live in Kansas, I did what I had to do. I packed up my stuff, said goodbye, and left. Did I look back? Of course. Was it easy? Of course not. But God never told us His will for our lives would be. Was it right? Oh yes.

Back in Kansas, every door I knocked on was slammed. Or just not opened. I couldn't get a job in radio to save my life. And Kansas City isn't a major market when it comes to radio stations. Dallas is. It's the fifth biggest market in the US. And when it comes to country music, it's the most important market. If you want to work in country radio...you want to work in Dallas/Fort Worth. I moved there October 11th, 1998. Two weeks later, I had a job at 92.5 KZPS running the board on a Sunday morning show. Two weeks later, the news director at 570 KLIF called me to see if I was interested in filling in on news when the full timers were out. They also needed weekend producers. They happened to share office space with a country radio station. I got a job in promotions there, and then spent the rest of my free time in the studio, pulling cd's for the dj's and asking questions. I just drank it in. Then, on Easter Sunday of 1999 the program director called me and wanted to know if I'd ever dj'd before. There'd been a jock who'd no-called, no-showed and they were pulling him off the schedule. Could I maybe come in at 10pm and work until 1am? Could I!?!?

After that, I got a position as a part time jock on that station. After doing the overnight shift for roughly 3 months, the program director called me in again, saying he wanted to pair me up with another girl to do a night show from 7pm to 11pm. 2 and a half years later, my dream came true. I went over to 96.3 KSCS and joined Terry Dorsey and Hawkeye to be part of the Dorsey Gang. I've been there since August of 2001.

Do you see God's fingerprints in there? They're everywhere. Do you see how much better His plan was for my life? Look at what I was praying for. And God said, no child. I have something prepared for you. Something so much better.

Another one of my favorite bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11....."'For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

If you're hurting, or hoping, or searching, or frustrated....I hope this can be of some help for you. God's plan in my life continues to unfold. As of this blog post, I've been married to my soul mate for 5 years. I have two beautiful, precious children. When you're in the middle of the storm, you can't see the clearing ahead of you. It doesn't matter, though, because God can. And He has big plans for you....plans for good and not disaster....to give you a future and a hope.....