But I’ve Heard All that Before~I want to Hear YOUR Story

Last week I was at a women’s Christmas tea.  The ambiance was lovely~dim lighting, white Christmas trees, soft decor.  The tables were clustered and seating was arranged prior so that your host~the one who invited you~ was with you and all of her other invitees.

The theme of the evening was Peace.  Peace at a time of year when many don’t have it, can’t feel it, don’t understand it.

Tchristmas2012_0008

I don’t always feel comfortable in these settings. Yes, I grew up in an organized church. Yes, I’ve even organized functions like this. But sitting in this place, this year, after all that we’ve been through~~ I felt awkward.  And then the speaker for the evening got up to share.  This is the part I was waiting for. I love to hear peoples’ stories.  When someone has struggled and has overcome or is in the process of overcoming….these are the stories I want to hear. My soul longs for the connection between what I know and what I see.  As she began her talk, I leaned in.  And then, I was disappointed.  I had heard it all before.  The story of Mary , Joseph and the shepherds.  I thought perhaps she would move into 2012 and our desire for peace. I was waiting for the hook.  You know, the part where the whole story gets turned upside down and we can all relate.

But that never happened.  The story was read straight from scripture.

Let me interject here and say that I love the Christmas story. I love to hear how Mary was afraid and fled to Elizabeth’s house. I love that Joseph was wary and concerned. I love that these ARE real people and their story is supernaturally linked to mine.  But none of that was said.  Scriptures were read and then she was done.

This entire agenda for the evening~Peace~ was a huge let down.

Now, while you may be chastising and shaking your finger at me for not embracing what it was, I did. I enjoyed the evening for what it was but I was disappointed for what it could have been.

I don’t want to hear the retelling of an age-old story.  I want to hear how THAT STORY has changed YOU.  I want to hear your stories.  Because, at this time of year, more than any other, we all want that Peace. We want HOPE.  We want to know that everything we’re doing isn’t paying lip service to an historical event but rather a living, tangible Person who came in the form of a Baby to be with us in all things and through all things.

 

So, tell me your story. I want to hear from you and what this season is to you. I want to know how hard it is to be festive and jolly when life is hard and has hit you in the gut.  And I want to hear the stories of how God With Us is a resounding theme in your life, when the world is unraveling at the seams.

The Hard Things

It gets harder every day.  Climbing this mountain. Out of breath, weak and exhausted. And I wonder out loud, ” does this mean we’re going the right direction? Because it’s so hard? Or does this mean we give up, turn around and go back from where we came?”

Mt.Everest climbers are a burly bunch.  Well, they have to be, right? How does one relish the thought of looking at the face of the tallest, harshest peak on the planet and not run scared the other way, never to turn back?  How do they stare it down and force their feet one step further?  Slap on the oxygen tank? Ready the gear, engage the safety harness and press forward~ I’d be white with fear before I ever was white with frostbite.

Preparation is key.  No one just wakes up one day and decides they’re going to climb a mountain. Any mountain…least of all the tallest peak.  No, you will spend months and years preparing your body, your gear and your mind.  You will study and learn and practice and ……….fail.  You will fail before you succeed.  You might fall, break a leg, lose some confidence, lose your mind, get frustrated, lose money….fail.  Failure is a part of the journey.  Without failure on the small mountains, you won’t have  a hope on the large ones.   Failure is the catalyst to success.  Failure is that unseen, unheard friend that will show you where you are weakest.  Failure will point out the flaws in your plans and in your gear.  Failure will get you off your high horse and onto solid ground.

Failure.

The thing about failure is that it’s hard.  And it’s painful.  And it’s humbling.

I am humbled by the fact that we weren’t prepared, we didn’t know some things that we should have known and we didn’t learn from past mistakes. Humility and weakness are friends too.  They force you to your knees.

I have learned , through all of the hard things, that I still have my faith. I still believe.

As the Sherpa-guide leads the climber up Everest,  so too does God lead us up our mountain.  He’s the one with the extra oxygen tank and the heated tent for rest.  He’s the guy who holds us up when we’re about ready to fall.  He’s the one with the answers and the way out, even though it’s too cloudy and stormy for us to see.

He’s the Guide and He knows this mountain because He’s been here a thousand times before.  He’s not scared of what’s ahead because He’s already been there.

I don’t really understand mountain climbers and their zest for the dangerous climb.  I can’t relate to the risk factors that they knowingly walk into daily.  But I can appreciate all of the years of preparation they take to make that ONE mountain top their victory summit.

I’m not enjoying the climb.  I have wanted to turn back many times. I’m almost ready to give up.

Abraham never gave up, even though he never did see the promised land.  He never gave up on believing that God would provide him with an heir, even though he was old with age.

David, when he was just  a boy, took on an entire army when he could have packed his bags and went home.

Ruth and Esther, Daniel and Noah, Paul and Timothy………they all had every reason to give up, give in, walk away……

But they did the HARDEST things in the shadow of the loneliest valleys… because they believed.

I still believe and I’m still climbing. Until the day I die and someone pulls me off this mountain, I will keep going.

In The Middle of a Mess

My husband just shakes his head. After 20 years of marriage he knows better than to try to change me or expect anything more from me. Sometimes, it’s all he can do to bite his tongue and walk away.  I have the uncanny ability to just sit in the midst of a mess, happy-go-lucky and focus solely on whatever I’m doing.  I can read a book, write a letter,  bake a cake, watch TV, laugh at a joke, sing a song and all kinds of other mindless, frivolous ventures in the middle of a room that looks like a Chernobyl afterthought.

I know it probably bugs many of you reading this. I’m sure you’re all the perfect housekeepers; uber-organized, ultra-clean….that’s fine. You can do whatever you like. But for me, I can just plop myself down in the midst of massive chaos and enjoy one thing. It doesn’t bother me, phase me or rattle me in the least bit. I am in total bliss-dom with my one task.

And perhaps, this is why….in the midst of a life of chaos, where I don’t know if next weeks’ mortgage payment will be paid, or how I’m going to keep up with this weedy yard, or how I’m going to get that quonset door closed by myself, or if I’ll be able to get my dryer working again, or if my van will make it to town for another trip before the tire finally blows….maybe it’s  why I can sit down, hum a tune and sew something pretty and not be phased in the slightest.

Matthew 6:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Pressed but not Crushed

I haven’t been blogging lately. And it’s not for lack of material. Trust me, I could write a book already. But it might be a depressing, morbidly self-deprecating  article on the hardships of middle-income life and the not-quite-getting there theology of repressed goals.  *sigh*   Life is hard. Anyone out there feeling that?  I mean, REALLY hard.  Some days it’s easier to stay in bed, close the curtains, shut the door and pretend that no one out there exists.  Well, other than the drooling cat sharing my pillow.  Thank God for cats. They are a great  sympathetic ear. No matter how whiny the words are that come out of our mouths, they purr and nuzzle.  And all they want is to be loved.

Our valley of despair seems to be worse some days than others. In the past week we have had to come face to face with the hard truths:  Our kids are growing apart.  Our finances have weakened to a state where bankruptcy has actually been a verbalized option.  We have mounting bills, taxes due, mortgage arrears, vehicles in desperate need of repair and today, our son got in his 3rd accident of the past 6 months. It’s enough to make grown men cry.  And they have: both of them. My husband and my son, a mess of tears and broken pain.

Overwhelmed and depleted of any energy to stop what appears to be a roller-coaster let loose on the downward spiral track.  Out of control. Lost.  And yet, not abandoned.   That is the mysterious surprise in it all. We are beat down, bruised and yet not crushed. We could be. Maybe we should be. Sometimes we’re close. But we always rebound.

I love this passage. I think I need to read it every day. It is so true that what we are going through is temporary. And I have said from the beginning that I just want God’s glory to be revealed.  I just want Him to get the praise for whatever happens. And even when things go down hill I still want Him to be praised. Because folks, you see, we are not here for ourselves. We are here for Jesus. We are His light in a dark world. And whatever hard times I may be facing is only to bring me closer to Him and to show others the pathway to His glorious light.  It’s not easy. It’s not fun. It hurts and I am tired. But there is an eternal destiny for all of us.  And I know that all of Heaven and the Holy Host are on my side, cheering me on.  The finish line is near, but for now, the work of running the race remains. With blistered feet and throbbing pain….we will push forward.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ,who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from Godand not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c]faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.

If all I can do and all I can say is that God is still God. Then let it be so. And I do believe in miracles.  I believe we are on the cusp of one right now. And it likely won’t come in the way we planned or expected. But I learned many months ago that plans and expectations are petals in the wind: gone in a breath.

 

Living Through Disappointment

Last night I was feeling so sorry for myself and I wrote out this blog post full of lament.  I couldn’t publish it then because I was thinking I might be giving myself permission to be in a crappy mood. I posted this thought on Facebook and got a little perspective from a couple of friends: 

So here I go with what I wrote:

Days like today I feel pretty pessimistic. I wait every day for the phone to ring and perhaps hear our realtor’s voice on the other end.  We haven’t had a showing in months.  And every day that goes by is another day of being away from my kids and my husband.  Every day is one more reminder of how far we’ve come and still we have no indication of how far we’ll go living like this.

I get excited every once in a while. I pump myself up with some form of  optimism thinking this could really be the week things change.  But sadly, I am disappointed over and over again.  I have refused for a long time to even plan ahead because it just makes it harder but last week I allowed myself to dream a little.  Dreaming of a new yard and what kind of space I might have for a garden. Planning how much time it will take to unpack and get settled before the summer and my son’s graduation.

Yep, that was the breaking point.  My only son is graduating in 3 months and I have missed out on all of his senior year. I don’t know his friends and I don’t get to see him off to school.  He texts me sometimes about food and how much he misses a good home-cooked meal.  It breaks my heart.  I feel like we’re growing apart.  He often doesn’t call for a week or more at a time.  My daughter is so lonely too.  Sometimes she cries on the phone and I can barely breathe; it just seems so unfair.

I cried out to the Lord this morning. I begged him for some sort of resolution. I asked him to intervene and make this right.  Enough is enough.  And honestly, I don’t know what His plans are for us.  We’re kind of lost.  But I know I’d be more lost without Him.  When there’s no one else there to listen to me, He is.  And no one else is really capable of giving advice more than “there,there , it’ll be okay”.  Well, it’s not okay.  It hasn’t been okay for a long time.

I have some friends going through difficult situations now too. Sickness, separation from loved ones, trauma and financial strain.  You can’t just fix these situations with a word or two.  A Bible verse is nice but it doesn’t take away the ache in my heart.  I KNOW that God is able but I just don’t understand why He’s not doing something.  I’m being honest here.  I have doubts.  Not that God is real, but that I’m hearing Him or that He isn’t trying to teach me some sort of lesson that might result in more hard times  or even worse.

The thought occurred to me last week that we may very well lose everything .  We’re down to the bottom of our proverbial barrel.  We have nothing more to draw from and selling is the only way to pay off some debts.  But with selling taking months longer than we ever anticipated we may run into a default situation. Emotionally, I can’t go on like this much longer and financially, we’re down to one more month before we find ourselves unable to pay certain bills.  That makes me sick.  We’ve never defaulted; never gone bankrupt.  It’s been hard some years but we’ve always managed to get back into the black.  This is now 2 years into unstable and uncertain future.  And I’m so tired of it.

It all sounds hopeless and futile, doesn’t it? It’s how I feel.  But the sun always comes up in the morning and the days pass by without catastrophe.  I have to be thankful that through all of this , God is making me into someone who is more sympathetic, less critical and more willing to help those who really are in need.

And the hymns play in  my mind:

 Farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by

 

Or this one:

By and by, when the morning comes,
When the saints of God are gathered home,
We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
For we’ll understand it better by and by.

 

I know that we will understand it someday.  But it’s no fun in the process.

 

I woke up to this today; a little encouragement when life is weighing you down:

5 Reasons Why Hope is Bright Today by Emily Freeman

 

Break My Heart {Open My Eyes to the Things Unseen}

I wonder sometimes if I have grieved the heart of God by turning my back on the things He cares most about.

And then I begin to wonder if I really know what He cares about.  Do I? Do you?  Do we actively pursue those things that God has asked from us?  Do justice, love mercy , walk humbly with our God…do we?

Matthew 5…these are Jesus’  words and although you may have heard or read them a thousand times before, I challenge you to read them again and let them speak to your heart and your soul:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We lack conviction so often to speak up. It’s easier to stay silent.  It’s often personally detrimental to enter into a conversation about abortion, Creationism, God, morality, the Bible…it’s uncomfortable.   I get that.  I have been silent for a long time about things that are completely against the Word of God.  This WORD that I say I cherish.  This WORD that I read and find comfort in; it is also a word that admonishes and convicts.  And I turn my back sometimes because it’s easier.   But what is the point then?   Why read it or cherry-pick what is convenient if we are going to completely ignore the very words of Jesus?  I always say and I have always believed that the RED letters trump all others.   Jesus’ words are life-giving, freeing, but they’re also the words of our teacher and our Lord and they bear paying heed to.

~~ do we HUNGER and THIRST for Righteousness?

~~ do we stand up for Jesus? Do we defend Him?

I’ve read several posts and blogs lately about following your heart and passions but not in the way you might think. Did you ever consider that those things that make you cry and make you angry are perhaps the things that God has called you to advocate for?   What makes you so crazy you feel like you might explode?  What issues  get you on your feet?  We’re not all called to the same ministries but we are ALL called to MINISTER.  All of us.

Right now I know of people building houses for orphans in Haiti and Africa.  I know of people feeding the hungry in the Phillipines, in Croatia and in LA.  The need is great and it is everywhere.  There are 27 million people enslaved who need help, NOW.    There are 4000 babies a day dying in the US because they are considered dispensable .  There are women being beaten and forced into loveless marriages.   There are children being raped.  There are coaches and teachers abusing their students.  What are YOU going to do about it?  What am I going to do?  We cannot sit by and watch and wait.

For every Starbucks coffee you think you have needed this week, you could have saved a life.  For every new pair of shoes in your closet you could have fed a family.   For every holiday you take, your money could have provided clean running water to a village.  The need is everywhere; the need is great and we have the means AND the opportunities.

I cannot make you do anything.  But I can write and I can use words to bring light to the needs of this world.  And that is what I am going to do.  It is time for all of us to stand up and ask the Father to break our hearts for what breaks His.

I see the king of glory
Coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes
The whole earth shakes

I see his love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing
The people sing

Hosanna
Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith
With selfless faith

I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees
We’re on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me

Break my heart from what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdoms cause
As I go from nothing to
Eternity

In Defense of Whitney{Because We All Fall Sometimes}

Whitney Houston was probably the first and likely the only pop star in the 80’s whom I listened to faithfully, knew the words to every song and loved like a sister. She was fresh, full of life, so amazingly talented and she was a Christian.  I found her to be absolutely inspirational.  

Hearing about her death last week was hard. I immediately thought of her mom and her daughter, as so many around the world did.  But I never once doubted where she was. We may be humans here on earth but only because we are bound by our earthly bodies. The minute her heart stopped beating, her spirit was in the presence of Jesus. Of that I am sure.  And I’ll tell you why.   Whitney was a woman of faith, thrust into the spotlight, the limelight and the furious and fast paced world of fame and high expectations.  Look back on any and all interviews that she has done over the past 30 years and you will see a recurring theme: grace and faith.  No matter how high the highs were or how low the lows had taken her, she clung to her faith in God, her assurance of His will in her life and the knowledge of His redeeming love in spite of all of her mistakes and failures.  Many before her and many after her have turned their backs on their church-based roots but Whitney never did. Even up until her last recorded “public show”(which was never intended to be a performance), she claimed the love of Jesus. Who does that? Someone who KNOWS in her heart and her spirit that her only solid foundation is in the loving arms of her Saviour, that’s who.

In the days since her passing, there has been a LOT of media coverage. Over-saturated coverage as is typical for a big-name star.  The networks and news rags are all after one thing: ratings. Because well, ratings equals money.  And this is a heartless, cruel business that is all about money.  Whitney was a casualty of the greed of the business. She is not and was not the cause of it, nor is her death and the reasons behind her death her fault. However, that is how she is currently being portrayed: a drug addicted, spoiled starlit who brought this all on herself.  I am asking you to look at it a different way.  What if Whitney was your sister, your friend, your daughter?? What if you knew her better than anyone else?  I’m going to make some assumptions here. And I hope that you will bear with me.  I don’t claim to be a doctor, a music mogul or a lawyer.  I haven’t sat down with Whitney or her family and I never will.  I’m asking for you to lend me your thoughts and your common sense ponderings.

Whitney was a real person.  A real young girl, who grew up in a singing family and had raw, natural talent.  A talent so unique and special that she couldn’t keep it hidden.  She sang in church and she used her gifts to praise the Lord. In her own words she knew that when she closed her eyes and sang , the Spirit of the Lord came into that church and people were affected. She only ever thought of being a back-up singer.  But of course, she was far too big and talented for that. And so, a record producer heard her, fell in love , got dollar signs in his eyes and signed her.  Her mom warned her about the business but she said, no one can prepare you for how hard it is. Maybe if she would have been a solo contemporary Christian artist it may have been a bit different, but not necessarily.  That fact is, she was signed and signing as a performer is like signing your life away.  You don’t own yourself anymore; the record company does.  You don’t make decisions like “I’m taking this week off” or “I want to sleep in today”.  No, artists have been sued for doing that.  You are owned and you are enslaved to your label and your producer.  I don’t think most of us can truly comprehend the magnitude of that sort of life change on a young 21 year old girl.  The pressure must be overwhelming.

Suddenly, Whitney was forced into a life of concerts, bookings, publicity tours, studio work, vocal lessons and travel.  Did she get to sleep in her own bed for more than a night or two those first few years?  The pressure to perform at 100% all the time, every time must have caught up eventually.  It does with most artists.  And soon, doctors are called in to help with anxiety, fatigue, jet-lag, vocal strain.  Medications are prescribed to sleep, to be alert, to feel energized…and money? Well, it’s flowing and there’s a pill for everything.  It’s innocent at first.  Like taking a Tylenol for a back ache.  I will tell you this as someone who has suffered with chronic pain: one Tylenol here and there doesn’t cut it after a while.  Soon you need more and more frequently too.  You can see where this will lead.  Soon, there needs to be more drugs, harder drugs, more prescriptions and the pressure only continues.  Movies, media and the spotlight never fades.

I will stop there with the assumptions.  I don’t know. You don’t know.  But I can guess and I’ve seen and heard it all before.  Unfortunately, even stars get the blues but for some reason they are held to such a high standard that they are not allowed to fail or to slip.  And one bad photo?? It’s on the front page of every magazine with presumptuous headlines assuming the worst.  I wonder what the headline might say on one of my “bad”days?  I’ve gone to the grocery store looking like the hag from Hell on more than one occasion. I can only imagine what someone might assume from me.  And they’d be wrong .

So, here we are, the night before her funeral.  I love funerals. I really do.  They calm all the stormy waters of looking perfect, feeling great and being pulled together.  Emotions are raw and REAL.  And that is what we all need now: a good dose of reality.  We may never know what happened in that hotel room last Saturday.  It doesn’t matter.  A woman, a mother , a daughter went Home to be with Jesus.  God knows the days of our lives; He has them numbered.  He knows the choices we make , good and bad.  He is fully aware that we are fallen and incapable of perfection but He’s okay with that because He died so that we wouldn’t have to.  There is not one person in this world who can claim that they have it all together.  There are millions of people who take antibiotics that weren’t prescribed for them, too many pain killers , drink too much and don’t eat right.  The exception for us is that  we don’t have cameras following us when we do slip and fall.

It is sad to me that so many people have taken to social media and TV saying that she failed. So many words like drug-addict, junkie and loser.  It’s hurtful , you know? It really is.  Because she represents what could be any one of us.  And she didn’t fall flat on her face. She always got up.  And she ALWAYS looked UP.  She was honest about how hard she had worked to conquer the demons within her and she was honest about how easy it was to fail and fall into those bad habits again.  But she  finished every interview with a smile and a look towards Heaven.  She knew her hope was in the Lord.  And that is her legacy.  For as much as we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, He is strongest in our weaknesses and that is what I see when I look at videos of Whitney Houston.  God Bless her daughter and her family as they mourn.  May they know and feel the resurrecting power of Jesus in these days and weeks ahead and may they be filled with peace knowing that their beloved Nippy is with her Saviour and Lord.

“Guide me thou O Great Jehovah, feed me till I want no more.”‘

And one of my favourites….I look to You: