Warm Wednesday Words: The Thawing Out of Hope

Aslan on the move

 

As we head into nearly 2 months of Tony’s unemployment, life’s annoyances never let up.  Appliances break, minor health problems rear their head and spending habits die hard.  We have not only temporarily laid to rest our big plans for a 2016 budget to finally include a retirement plan, but we also look at creative ways to be thrifty as well a closer scrutiny of the new slim line budget.   We have raised the old declutter banner theme  “Less is more in 2004”, (though we could still toss out many dumpster loads) and added on a 2016 theme of “Live Lean in ’16” or something like that.
Ps. 9:9 – The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Aside from the trials that seem to renew themselves daily, we truly have been renewed inwardly day by day and the highlight of our days is our morning Bible readings.  We have started a new habit of praying the scriptures together, which I think is exciting.
Here is the  prayer I emailed to Caleb tonight, “Lord, we praise you because you comfort us in our troubles, so that we’ll know how to comfort others with the same comfort You’ve given us. In fact every trial is laced with the promise of “Aha”. I now know better how to encourage so and so. Not because our circumstances are the same, but the depth of emotion is similar and the yearning for relief also, as well as the realization that most would never or could never understand with such empathy.
We thank you that You are our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd of our family, and that you guide us in paths of righteousness. When we would lose our way, You see and you run to our rescue even if that rescue is in a form we don’t care for at the moment. In retrospect, we can always admit you pulled us out of a mess, sometimes just in time.
we don't lose heart
You do honor us even among our enemies though not always on the timetable we’d like. Your love follows us all our lives and we will dwell with you in complete happiness in Heaven even as we taste Your joy now in this life. Thank you that you renew us inside day by day, even if outwardly we get depressed and at times deal with the slights and scorn of others. You are a refuge for us when we’re oppressed. As we humble ourselves under Your mighty hand, you lift us up in due time. We cast all our anxiety on you and believe that You really do care for us, so much you gave Your Son when we were and are so underserving. We humbly trust and obey you and eagerly await your reliefs, even as we enjoy our inner renewal in the trials, which we know will always come.”
lambs
Ps. 23:1-6 – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Things are starting to happen and it is  reminiscent of the slow thaw of ice in Narnia after the long winter.  The sounds of melting ice include:  Some recent great family times, several positive job changes and job change possibilities within our large family and including that Tony will have had three interviews recently at three different companies by the end of this week, another family gathering coming up in spring, a reunion with Caleb in July on the outside of the bars, many recent helpful kindnesses shown us by family, my employers at Hutson Funeral Home, our church family at Center Point, and other local church friends, as well as the opportunity to get outside ourselves and help friends at Hannah’s Ranch in Cuba, MO (a Mission Gate Ministry), and as I look forward to an upcoming girls weekend and training in Mom’s in Prayer, International.
Ah….Aslan is on the move.

Warm Wednesday Words: Willpower – An Unsung Hero

I canWillpower is much more then it’s often cracked up to be.  Whether it’s willpower to eat healthy, get fit, quit smoking, only drink in moderation, control anger, be humble, not gossip, resist hidden sins, etc, willpower leads to victory.  For those of us who know the Lord, calling on Him to help us packs a powerful punch to our enemy, the devil, who would sabotage our goals.  “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  (Isa. 40:29-31a)  When we are wise enough to acknowledge that God’s Word has the absolute truths that may be distorted by our own perspective, we can add more power to our prayers by praying and believing, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”

Look to the Lord's strengthDiet is probably the most trivial example to use; however, in many social settings successful dieting and fitness is, by example, a colossal failure.  If someone really wants to lose weight, then that must become the focus and most jokes of food indulgence and no time for exercise need to bite the dust in favor of  long term genuine effort.  Just replace any other more serious matter (admittedly by culture’s standards) and insert the efforts, excuses and failures that we laugh about with diet and fitness, and you will agree it is an area whose successful example potential is largely a loss to offering any kind of real example to the harder areas such as serious addictions, hidden sins, etc.  In most social settings, we acclaim the one laden with food dripping with grease and loaded with carbs rather than the one with any kind of dietary willpower.

find a wayI belong to some online social support systems for the food lifestyle we have adopted (Trim Healthy Mama).  On these sites, as on other similar food lifestyles, members are encouraged to post prayer requests, pictures of progress, etc.  The comment strands of encouragement are usually too long to read them all.  The support I have gained in other  online Christian women support groups is also amazing.  We are lifetime friends and constantly lend each other strength with our prayers and words.  There are many other noteworthy types of support groups (both online and otherwise) that lend strength and foster willpower, such as for homeschooling, sports, writing,  marriage, parenting, debt reduction, recovering alcoholics, grief support, widow groups, and on and on.   Some of these support systems can be found within churches or church small groups as well.

someone believes in youAs believers, we have an added boost to will power (or perhaps the other way around) in our conscience.  Oswald Chambers said in his 5/13 Utmost devotional, “God always educates us down to the scruple.  Is my ear so keen to hear the tiniest whisper of the Spirit that I know what I should do?…The one thing that keeps the conscience sensitive to Him is the continual habit of being open to Him on the inside.  When there is any debate, quit.”  If it seems we can’t find our way, we can pray about what, if any, counsel God would have us seek.  When we are truly seeking counsel for our own selves and not using the seeking of counsel as a cover up for gossip; and in fact, are refraining entirely from gossip, then our efforts will be blessed.  “Where there is no guidance a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”  (Prov. 11:14)  C.S. Lewis said, “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”  Hopefully, we will have ample opportunity to offer good counsel, not just receive it.  “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked lead them astray.” (Prov. 12:26)

build upTo have supportive friends who help strengthen you with their words and prayers is good.  Even better is to have a friend or a few friends who are close enough in proximity to put action to their words and hang in there with you through a period of your life when you need strength.   “And Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’  But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’  So they went down to Bethel.”

true friendshipWhat areas of your life do you need strength and willpower in to make it through?  What support are you seeking for that?  Are you listening for the tiniest whisper of the Spirit?  Who around you needs to lean on your strength for a season and are you able to give it?  Are you able to inconvenience your own plans in support of a friend?

 

Warm Wednesday Words: Margin for the Other Side Journey

BeFunky_IMG_20150315_081054430.jpgThe pendulum has swung wide for me recently on life events, and there have been moments in the stormy times, I’ve lost sight of the other side.  Because stresses and griefs tug at the heart even through the elation of miracles, I’ve had a time of it.  Yet the recent warmth of personal kindnesses and encounters threatens to thaw the icy numbness that settles and resettles in my arms.

I will highlight a few, but not all, of the weekend warmths God sent my way.  On Saturday, a friend and marathon runner committed one of her many miles she runs to praying for our family.  She says she likes to pick a friend and devote a mile to them in prayer.  I’m humbled, honored. and grateful.

Sunday I received a “random” message from an out of state friend who I have not been in touch with for months.   Among many other encouraging words, she said, ‘I am praying that the Lord carry you through the storms and calm the waves. May you always remember that the Lord is in the boat with you and that because He is, you will make it to the other side. When the Lord went into the boat with the disciples, he said to them “let us go to the other side“.  There was no doubt that they would make it to the other side.even in the storm…even though they were afraid when the storm came…because Jesus was with them and He knew they would make it, it was not yet His time. It is hard to Trust in the storms that shake us, but Jesus says “Do not be afraid, Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth….” ‘ 

Again on Sunday (after church and a deeply satisfying nap) I did some catching up in the “Breathe” Bible study (by Priscilla Shirer) that I am in, on making room for the Sabbath, boundaries, etc.  After discussing boundaries and margin, Shirer quotes Brad Lomenick, respected innovator and leader of the Catalyst Movement in America as saying several things about the powerful concept of ‘margin’ in several areas of life, including this quote, “Margin in our friendships creates significance and impact.”

If there’s anything new I’ve concluded about friendships over the past year or so, it’s that in my own strength, I might be able to encourage and pass along the love of Christ to someone on occasion, but any consistency is lost on me without some margin in my  life for such efforts.  To have margin requires that I set boundaries.  To set wise boundaries necessitates time in prayer to be sensitive to what parameters I need in order to keep the proper things in their place, and to be guided to friendship as the Lord would lead.

Hebrews 4 says “for the person who has entered  his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.”  Entering into a “rest”, or a cessation of normal activity, and especially to focus on God, counters the physical world and is the beginning of true freedom and blessing.

Oswald Chambers says, “are these things crushing us? Are they badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.”

Today, I was blessed with a friend who I haven’t seen for weeks coming by my place of work just for a quick hug.  And then blessed again with a good ole chat with my mom, who I will never stop needing.  I’m touched in those moments and more recently by many around me who get off the merry go round of their normal activities and in effect, say, ‘Let’s go to the other side.  I’m with you.  And, oh, yes, there IS another side and we’re headed there together!’   I’m so thankful to God because He sends those who would speak His Words, and actively care the way He does.  That is what points to Him and reminds me what I momentarily forgot about the other side.

Warm Wednesday Words: Friendship: A Divine Work

our hearts - old friendsFriends warm hearts, evoke smiles, and build up souls.  I’ve recently enjoyed some particularly warm words and sweet times with friends.  It feels like an emotional sun bath after a spell of rainy weather.  Though there may be many in the bigger tent of acquaintance type friendships, I am referring to sweet and personal friendship; i.e. the kind that endears and fills the “love tank”.  At the inception of friendship is some kind of commonality, random though it may be, and the time it takes to discover it.

you too Then when two or more hearts make this discovery, words are spoken that settle into a heart, find their place, and no matter what fractures may come, the healthy heart will hold onto the good, and ascribe the most positive motives possible to friendship blunders.

friendships imprintedWhen the blunders occur, and they will in all of us called human, there may be a time to question or confront.  As with any other conversation between friends, it is personal, and a preference of private, rather then public should be assumed.

iron sharpens ironHumility, smiles, hugs, (and maybe even chocolate and coffee) are great accompaniments to any such planned conversation, or a good idea for a follow up, which is an important cusp to transition from possible tension to sweet rejuvenation.

sweet perfumeThis gregarious and humble camaraderie deepens the roots of a friendship, and harmony and amicability are all but pulsing in each tete-a-tete.  Both heartaches and victories are shared with lavish empathy.  Here we feel freedom to breath, to speak, to be oneself just as we have in our friendship with our Lord, Jesus.  (Acts 17:28) Here, pretext melts and love, empathy, and yes, definitely laughter reign and are freely reciprocated.

Winnie the Pooh Friends The old saying holds some truth, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.”   And, “When we do the hard intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life.”  Do you have friends with whom you feel safely tucked in love and forbearance?  Can you laugh at yourselves as well as weather a rebuke?  If so, treasure these friends as a divine gift.  The hard work of friendship has a divine calling on it straight from the scriptures.  Are you willing?

Warm Wednesday Words: More and More

taught by God to loveRecently I was given encouraging words from several different people abounding more and more in love  on the very weekend I struggled with fresh grief.  Most of the encounters were not “planned”, but I have no doubt they were prearranged by my loving Heavenly Father.

you lift my head

The first encouragement came from a friend and mentor who shot a random friendly text to me.   She knows the mutual blessing in choosing a few uplifting words.

words as apples of goldThe second “abounder” was an acquaintance I happened to see who went straight from a casual greeting to an unexpected and genuine compliment on something I had done and how it had blessed her.  The words were as a surprise shower of  light beams diffusing healing balm onto my bruised heart.  Then there were a couple elderly sisters in Christ from my church who just did what most elderly “sisters” in the church have learned more and more to do so well; i.e., one chatted with much humble empathy, specific encouragement, and a hug, and one lavished praise about me to my husband, just as she often does to me about him.   The final dose of medicine God administered to me was from laughter and good times with family during a planned birthday celebration for Tony.   Every one of our children connected with us one way or another (and that alone is a blessing) but being able to spend time together eating, talking, supporting and laughing certainly adds to the blessing.

Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
children, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons born in one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. (Ps. 127:3-5)

In “The Children of the Day” bible study on Thessalonians, it is clear that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had a handle on encouraging since they acknowledged twice in chapter four of the first book that the Thessalonians were pleasing God and also loving each other well, and to do so even more.   Beth Moore points out that we are commissioned to abound more and more in living for Christ, and that, indeed we will increase in something, be it living the Christian way, or otherwise, which soon enough becomes the opposite.  She says,  “More and more one direction will force its antithesis into less and less….Human emotions have an inherent propensity to grow.  We can hate more and more or we can love more and more….(And about love)…You and I have no power to affect divine love.  It is perfect.  All we are left to do is ask to know it more and more.  And right there in the increase, a miracle of decrease is forced into play:  as we are more and more aware of His love, we fear less and less.”
perfect love casts out fear

I want to abound in love more and more so that I am bothered less and less by those who are unable and/or unwilling to love as the Lord does, and be able to abound in forgiveness, grace and love toward the unloving.  After all, we’ve all been there in that horribly blind spot in which our own vision sees ourselves less needy then we really are and God less magnificent then He really is.  Paul and his co-writers said this in 1 Thess. 4:9, “About brotherly love:  you are taught by God to love one another.”  God will always raise up some who will seek to abound in love more and more because they are as one taught to love by God, Himself.  That kind of love is portrayed on the cross and it doesn’t play favorites because it is God’s love in us, not something we contrive!  Of the three gifts that remain, love is the greatest.

29df00ac3a23e0edc1268ddd97267b20So what is my response to being overwhelmed with encouragement, even as I occasionally struggle with grievous things?   Though I try to show kindness and encouragement, anyway, it is to do so even more!  1 Thes. 4:10b, “But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more.”

grace abounds in deepest waters

In this season of your life and in this very moment you are abounding in something…even more.  Is it what you’d like to abound in?  If so, how can you practice it “more and more“?

Warm Wednesday Words: A Few Favorite Things

When life gets a little too busy or sad, I find comfort and joy in a few favorite things.  The lyrics from the song, “These are a Few of My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” portray the distractions I enjoy lately.  The song was sung by Maria  to the von Trapp children during a thunderstorm; and the lighthearted lyrics and melody were a purposeful diversion from the undercurrent of terror during the time of Hitler’s rise.  I am thankful for the diversions I find in my favorite things.

“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”

So here are a few of my favorite things….

big family at lakeThe English Clan (with Mom) who I love dearly

the bridge at the end of my runThe bridge at the end of a three mile run

zinnias and lavenderZinnias and lavender on the deck

the view from the hammockThe view from the hammock at night…add in a few zillion stars and that’s typical!

the hammock and the moon

IMG_8707Spending life with this guy!

books, lamps, chocolate

A stack of books, a few current cards (I keep a whole box of special cards and memorabila under the bed), a journal, a few pillows and a lamp!  There might be chocolate hidden in there somewhere.

my favorite pain

 

both laughter and tears shared with friends

 

when some shares your tears and accepts you

Oswald & WorshipBible Study, Oswald Chambers, Worship & Choir….and a cup of coffee.

So what favorite things do you think on when “the dog bites”?  “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things.”  Phil. 4:8

Warm Wednesday Words: What is Needed in the Storm

friends pick us up

I’m going through a season of storms, changes and stretches in my life, and so are several of my friends.  Looking back I know that God put many details in place in my life in preparation for this time.  That He did this and impressed several scriptural promises on me beforehand gives me confidence as I walk this path.  Just as I take shelter in a physical storm, I often take shelter in stormy life seasons.  I allow myself the privilege of being hidden in Christ in more meaningful ways then times of “clear skies”.  Making time for deeper and more personal Bible study, reading, journaling, prayer time and worship are all helpful during life storms, even if I have to give up on something I normally make time for.  Just as in a physical storm I might not put myself in the same places as in clear weather for practical and safety reasons, so in a life storm I allow myself to pursue supports that are helpful and loyal, and am cautious about places that may be hurtful.

storms change usOther then my sweet and dependable family members, who I do not take for granted, and especially my husband who prays often while he drives during the day and who is a great listener,  God put other supports in place. They would include prayer warriors, those who encourage, concerned and empathetic listeners, good church leaders and teachers, a generous friend or two offering their skill sets, and a mentor who pours herself into exhorting me and believing in me when I need it the most.  She often asks me to choose her role for the eye of the storm, and if it’s possible she fulfills it.  All of these supports are just the vessels God has used to pour out His love.  They are special, very, very special, but they simply point to a personal God who seems to be saying through them, “It is Me!  I am with you in this storm.

your silent presenceOswald Chambers said (Aug 12 “My Utmost for His Highest”), ‘There are stages in life when…a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.  If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in Him.”

blessing while going through your own stormWhen Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He didn’t suddenly run out of energy when he asked Lazarus’s friends to remove the grave clothes.  He wanted them to be a part of the burden bearing and therefore the bonds that come about from shared burdens and the joy that comes about from answered prayer and miracles.  What is needed in the storm are supports that get us through.  And, interestingly, this is a mutual need and blessing.  What supports has God put in your life to get you through stormy seasons?  Do you see Him in them?  How do you provide support for your friends when they are in a stormy season?

Warm Wednesday Words: I am a Debtor

to grace a debtorI recently “liked” a blog post on facebook that talked about the grace God gives us when we need to step back momentarily from a church body and heal..   It sometimes appears God does give more grace in those situations then we give each other, even if we are partially or completely at fault.   Like the blogger, I have felt God’s comfort and healing in short “time out” seasons, have experienced God deeply in private worship and devotions, have felt His presence in the “mundane”, have felt His love and healing in the sweetness of my family members, family events, and a few friends who are willing to fellowship on an intimate level, found deep fulfillment in seeking my husband’s approval in our home and family as his helpmate, and felt God’s guidance as I move back into corporate fellowship refilled with grace received and grace to extend.

So my “like” was definitely one of acknowledgment and understanding that sometimes God leads us to a change.  But the deepest spiritual blessings in my own life have so far come about by trusting Him within the hard places, knowing we’re all just a bunch of messed up folks in equal need of grace.  As a dear friend and mentor said, ‘Why add the problems of others into the mix we each already have going on inside us?’  Because I serve Christ, I am not free to do anything but follow Him.  I am His bondslave trying to follow where He is leading me.  It is sometimes through fiery trials which He uses to refine.  It is often in places where I have absolutely no choice but to trust in Him and His promises.  It might be in places of loneliness, humility or misunderstanding, especially if my focus is on myself.  It is often in places where He would have me be bold for Him without knowing the response.  It definitely includes places that are tender and broken.   Where He leads me is never just about me!

Oswald Chambers said in ‘My Utmost for His Highest’,  July 12 devotional, “Am I building up the Body of Christ or am I looking for my own personal development only?…To fulfill God’s design means entire abandonment to Him….My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace, Not even blessing, but Himself, my God” and in the July 15 devotional, “I am a debtor to everyone on the face of the earth because of the Gospel of Jesus; I am free to be an absolute slave only….Quit praying about yourself and be spent for others as the bondslave of Jesus.  That is the meaning of being made broken bread and poured-out wine in reality.”

What a revival we would have if we really lived like this.  A portion of Matt Redman’s, “We Could Change the World” lyrics say it well,  ‘Could we live like Your grace is stronger Than all our faults and failures?… Could we live like Your ways Are wiser than our understanding? Could we live like this?  Could we live like this?…..We’re saying, “yes, Lord, yes, Lord!”…What else could we say, what else could we say?’

We are all debtors to something.  What are you a debtor to?   I want to hold onto God’s Word and the promises He has confirmed in my heart.  My feelings and others’ opinions may or may not align with those Truths, but I am a debtor to God and His truths!

Warm Wednesday Words: The Secret Things

friendship of the LordThere are times I am in circumstances that require me to seek God for the sake of God, not because I have an agenda.  This is not because I don’t have an agenda or keep a prayer “wish” list.  It’s just because I have no control over my list anyway, so I might as well find warmth, comfort and love from God because He is God, loves me and offers an eternal perspective full of hope.  And isn’t that what trust is about anyway?  Turning my control (or lack of) over to the only One who really has control and is All Knowing.  When I spend time worshiping in this realm, it’s not long before my list becomes secondary to His will and He reveals Himself to me in some intimate, personal and often delightful way.

These expressions of His love to me are very real, though their significance is not always  easy to explain to others.   Nor is it always easy for others to explain such personal and holy “secrets” or blessings from God.  It’s not because they’re not genuine, but because God chooses to extol His extravagant love in an often deeply personal way.

2845983a357be9d26c052cc1fd0ccddc

Truthfully, no one can love the way God can.  Who else knows the number of hairs on my head?  Or exactly how I was formed in the womb, including any “defects” he allows as thorns in the flesh for a greater purpose or assets and gifts He places inside for eventual discovery and selfless use.  As Oswald Chambers said in “My Utmost for His Highest”, ‘then we find that God wants to get us into relationship with Himself, to get us in touch with His purposes.  Are we so wedded to Jesus Christ’s idea of prayer – “They will be done” – that we catch the secrets of God?  The things that make God dear to us are not so much His great big blessings as the tiny things, because they show His amazing intimacy with us.  He knows every detail of our individual lives.’
Have you laid aside your prayer “wish” list lately and simply pressed into listening for His intimate expressions of love, joy and communication toward you?  He has secrets ready to share with His intimate friends.

Holley-Gerth-Button-250x250