Thursday, November 28, 2013

Apple pie, tears and giving thanks...

Thanksgiving is always one of my favorite times of the year. I love to look back, reflect and remember. This holiday provides the joy of getting together without the pressure of presents, stress of shopping and occasional chaos that's created at Christmas.

But yesterday the day didn't go like the Thanksgiving eves in my past. I wasn't surprised I found myself missing my grandma...I had actually been preparing myself for that. Five and a half months ago we said "Good-bye" to her and even in June I thought about how the holidays would be different.

Big family gatherings were her thing! Two years ago I remember a conversation with her - she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, passed the age of 80 and her daughters suggested someone else hosting Thanksgiving. Her response? "I don't know why they think I can't do it?"

She did it! Two years ago today I enjoyed my last Thanksgiving at "B's" house with close to 50 other family members. Personally, some days I struggle to get food on the table for all 7 of us, but Grandma thrived on serving others with love! One of her many areas of expertise was apple pie, my favorite.

Last summer, a couple of weeks after Grandma passed away, my son said to me, "Mom, you never did learn to make apple pie like her." He's right, but it wasn't for her lack of trying to teach me. We spent many hours in my kitchen and she even came to our very first MOPS meeting when I begged her to come teach us young moms. I've tried to apply her teaching numerous times, but the end result is typically me proclaiming "I'm never doing this again!" You see she made pies from scratch with lard and used a rolling pin!!

But yesterday, I had the desire to try again. So I did. I started with the job I could do, but one I really don't enjoy...peeling. I have to be the world's worst and my grandma, she was the best. Seriously, she could peel 4 to my 1. And she did it with joy. I made it to apple 3 and the tears started to fall; if you'd of walked into our kitchen you would have thought I was cutting up onions.

Honestly, I was surprised with the emotion and a bit overwhelmed with the memories, but thankful for the reminder from the Holy Spirit as I recalled my pastor's words, "Don't just thank God for the memories thank Him in the memories." I did the job I never enjoy, let the tears falls and thanked God as I remembered.

Then I moved on to the crust...the part I always fail!! I pulled out the rolling pin, my least favorite kitchen utensil, and as I thought about never being able to do this I remembered words a friend had shared as we talked about Thanksgiving without my grandma. She had said, "I pray God will do a 'new thing' and comfort you." I had the thought maybe this will be the new thing - me actually rolling out a pie crust rather than resorting to my daughter's play dough trick. Awhile back when Joy helped and sensed my frustration she advised, "Mom, you could just put it in the pan and push it together!!"

Well, I rolled it all out, put it in the pan and had one small crack to fix. This may be an everyday occurrence for you, but it was answered prayer for me.

I was grateful. It was hard, it is hard to think of Thanksgiving without Grandma B, but it was good to remember the fun we'd had in the kitchen. Memories can leave us sad, but I'm thankful God changed my perspective and reminded me to appreciate what I had rather than just focusing on what, who, was missing.

Last night at our Thanksgiving Eve service, our pastor spoke from Philippians and touched on what God had led me to do during the day. Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Friend, I don't know what you're anxious about today, but can I encourage you to pray about it? As you pray about it don't just share your heart and ask God to meet your needs, but do it with thanksgiving. Right now as you miss a loved one, worry about finances, struggle with a relationship or fill in the blank with your source of anxiety, what can you thank God for? 

Thanking Him changes our perspective, reminds us of our purpose and assures us of His presence. This Thanksgiving may we give thanks even when there are tears, trials and the turkey is tough! Friends, He is worthy and provides all we need, today let's thank Him for giving!!

I believe it's good to share our thanks...powerful for us to put it in words and a blessing to hear what others have to say!

Let me start - God's faithfulness, His goodness and presence in my life. For growth spiritually in myself and my children, for opportunities, for family and friends, for my church and the best apple pie I ever made!

Not a perfect pie, but a precious picture - My sweet Joy, a sweet smelling pie and my g'ma's giant cinnamon shaker!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Future Farmers

Growing up, I was the oldest of 3 girls on a dairy farm that also raised sheep and pigs. I was a tomboy, but farming was not my thing. It was work, usually hard work in not the greatest environment...baling hay on hot, humid summer days or scooping silage on freezing, windy days. Just two of the jobs I didn't enjoy. It could also be messy and often it didn't smell the best. There was also the stress...animals getting sick, the weather being out of your control, prices changing and the list could go on. 

I was the sister who often said and I quote, "I'm NOT marrying a farmer!" Well, you can guess what God did!! I left my parent's farm and now live on the Beran family farm. As we raise our family, I'm grateful for the location...sometimes it's still stressful, but I do have a new appreciation for life on the farm and the lessons God teaches me here. 

Farm work is never done!

Recently, I was asked if I thought our boys would be farmers and I simply responded, "I don't know." They're 2, 4 and 10, so only God knows where He will lead them. But I've started to pray He will make them who I never wanted to be...I pray I have 3 future farmers, well, actually 5 - my little ladies can "farm" too.  

This past year, God has really used the farm to speak to me. (Isn't it amazing how He takes what we want to avoid and speaks through it?!) He's given me a picture of cultivating a heart of prayer, a glimpse of Himself as a shepherd and me as His sheep. On the farm, I'm constantly reminded God is in control and He's the One I must trust. Every spring, I see what it means to plant and how the process works and then in the Fall, we remember the harvest is His. 

As I've thought about the possibility of my boys being "farmers" I truly have started to pray, that regardless of where life leads, they are farmers in a spiritual sense. The parable of the four soils (Luke 8:4-21) has many lessons, but lately my eyes have been open to a new point...regardless of the soil condition, the farmer planted the seed!

I pray my boys (and my girls and me) will always plant the seed. Life on the farm will teach them that they don't always grow, but as they grow up surrounded by combines and corn they'll also learn we don't do the growing! Every spring their dad puts seed in the ground, not because he's guaranteed a harvest, but simply because it's a job he's called to do. I pray my future farmers will spiritually do the same!

You really don't farm alone!

Hosea 10:12 are words that come to life for this farm girl. It says, "Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until He comes and showers his righteousness on you." As my little farm boys grow, I pray this verse will become a reality in their life. And friend, whether you're a city girl or a farmer's wife yourself, I pray you are encouraged to do what a farmer does - plant seeds, work diligently, trust the Creator who's in control, pray for rain, endure the storm, enjoy the journey and thank Him for the harvest.

Farming is Fun!

Have you ever thought of yourself as a "Farmer"? Like me is it a job you wanted to avoid? Spiritually, what can do to be a "Farmer" today?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What are you afraid of?

The other day I opened the door to our suburban to find this - 

Job, my husband, who I do love has a sense of humor I don't always appreciate!! I'll admit I screamed and jumped about 3 steps back. Thankfully, nobody was around to see my reaction. Once I caught my breath and moved past the angry thoughts towards my husband, I thought, 'Jill, what are you afraid of?'

This coon, that had made my heart skip a beat, was dead. There was absolutely nothing it could to me, but for a few minutes it kept me from doing what I needed to do. My fear messed with me so much I even resorted to calling my husband and asking, "What am I supposed to do now?" He stated the obvious, I did it and then I moved on with my day.

Later on as I thought about this, God started speaking to me about other things I am afraid of - like failing and letting people down. He also brought up my fear of man. He didn't stop there, He went on to liken them to the coon. These fears can also stop me in my tracks, make my heart race and keep me from the plans God has for me.

Being afraid of a dead raccoon really is ridiculous, but friend it's just as crazy to fear man and failure. An animal that is no longer living truly is not a threat. Though it can't harm me, I'm not saying it won't scare me. I may be scared of failure or letting others down, but I can't let that fear paralyze me and keep me from doing what I need to do.

I've been spending some time studying Ezekiel, the man I really only knew for the dry bones story, but I'm grateful for all God's been teaching me through him. He is a man who was being sent by God to his own people, ones who were rebellious and ones God said would not listen to him. Doesn't that sound like a fun assignment?!?! (If you're a mom, perhaps it's one you can relate to?!? :)

Personally, I would have been afraid! And honestly, I think Ezekiel was too. Why else would God say these words in verse 6, "And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people." Three times God told him, "Do not be afraid."

Oh friend, God has told me the same thing too many times to count! And often times even though God says that, I can still be afraid. When I read on in Ezekiel I appreciated knowing I was not alone; verse 14 tells us he went on in anger and bitterness. He really didn't want to do it. But more important than our shared feelings is the simple fact that Ezekiel went. He was afraid, but yet he obeyed. 

His obedience trumped his feelings. I hate to admit I sometimes allow the opposite to happen in my life. My feelings, especially those of fear and doubt, can keep me from doing what God asks me to do. How about you?

But the good news is God is a loving Father who teaches us and gives us another chance! The next time He asks you to obey, even if you're afraid, remember you're not alone and our fears can't hurt us, but disobedience does have consequences. 

I didn't want to remove the raccoon from our vehicle, but I did it anyway. I really didn't have any other choice. And friend I pray you and I will walk in obedience in a similar way.  When we're afraid, when obeying is hard and even when it makes no sense, I'm asking God to help us do it anyway!

Something to think about - When is a time fear paralyzed you? Can you share an example of when you obeyed even though you were afraid? How does reflecting on this impact you?

A great song that speaks to this very idea is "Do it Afraid" by Elizabeth South. Listen to it here - 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Picture of a Shepherd

Through the years, I've shared a few posts from life on the farm, specifically ones about sheep. There's been "Feed My Sheep", "A Lesson from my Lambs" and "Me, A Sheep?", but today rather than the animal my focus is on the farmer!

"The Lord is my shepherd..." the beginning words to a very common passage in the Bible. One of the first verses many memorize and a Psalm that says so much. But today as I worked on my Bible study homework these words made me think about my dad. 

He is a shepherd. He has close to 200 ewes (female sheep) and usually spends the majority of every February in his barn caring for his lambs. I'm not just talking about an hour of chores morning and night, he's out there every few hours around the clock. Even during the night, when it's freezing here in Iowa and he's tired. He does all he can to take care of the little lambs when they are born. (My dad may or may not have burnt out a few of my mom's hair dryers through the years!!)

He spends time with them everyday and gets to know them each in an individual way. Believe me, sheep have many different personalities! He knows which ones need extra care and the others who need tough love. He does his best to give them what they need.

My dad doesn't just watch over his sheep during lambing season; he cares for them all through the year. Every summer he spends hours fixing fence and changing pastures. Rather than using a trailer he often saves time by simply putting a little feed in a bucket, calling them and leading them where they need to go. 

And then there are the orphans, the little lambs who for one reason or another don't have a mom. These are the ones who get extra care. Growing up there were a few that even made it into the house for an hour or two. Dad does all he can to nurse these little ones to health. Though the orphans look cute in the picture, they are work!! It can be a challenge to get them to drink and at first it seems their need for attention is constant. 

My little ladies feeding the little lambs G'pa gave them!!
Friends, as I've thought about and tried to paint a picture of my dad as a shepherd, I've been reminded our heavenly Father is the Shepherd. And me, well I'm the orphan lamb. He takes care of me, looks after me and provides for me.

My dad will admit sheep are not the smartest animal and after growing up with them, I agree! But the thing is my dad doesn't raise them for their intelligence. Granted he does raise them for a living, but honestly there may be more profitable choices...I mean really when's the last time you enjoyed leg of lamb?!?! He raises them and spends countless hours with them because he enjoys them, he loves them. 

And friend that statement brings tears to my eyes because I believe the same could be said for our Shepherd. He doesn't do the things He does for me because I'm intelligent or deserve it. He also doesn't work for me because of what I can give in return. He provides, leads, and cares because He loves. It's as simple as that.

Isaiah 40:11 tells us, "He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young." I'm grateful I've watched my dad do all these things, but I'm even more thankful that I have a heavenly Father who does the same for me!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A look at the heart...

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

The Lord looks at the heart. Isn’t it interesting to think God looks at the thing that no one else can see? Granted this verse isn’t referring to the beating organ in our chest, but what Samuel is being reminded of is God knows our thoughts and intentions. He sees past our good looks and nice smiles all the while overlooking the extra pounds and crooked teeth, the One who makes our heart beat understands the motives of it.

Perhaps we should pause and do an exercise…I encourage you to bow your head in prayer. Close your eyes and ask God to look at you and tell you what and who He sees.

If you’re not sure how to begin, pray the words of Psalm 26, “Test me Lord and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” Be still and listen to what He has to say. Take time and write down what He whispers to your heart.

Perhaps this exercise is difficult, maybe even painful as we pause long enough to be convicted, but friend remember there is purpose in the pain. God convicts us of things to make us better, to help us change and become who He made us to be.

Don’t work through this exercise too quickly or skip it all together; I know that is a possibility because I’ve been tempted not to include it myself.

Friend, I’ll be honest the report the great physician gave to me didn’t make me feel real good. I heard things like: sometimes I look at you and see selfishness, other times it’s laziness and there are moments when I see one who’s too quick to doubt. Not exactly the happy, uplifting little exercise I expected.

Quite frankly, I was stuck. Who wants to read a post that leaves you feeling depressed? How can asking God to examine my heart help me see myself in a better way?

Honestly I walked away from this post and thought I’ll write tomorrow.

But then God intervened like He always does…my husband asked me to help him and my initial mental response was I have enough to do, I’m tired and really I don’t want to do that right now. I pushed these thoughts to the side and joined my husband in the task at hand. Time passed quickly, eventually the job was done and we were both pleased.

He looked at me with a smile and said, “Thanks, I know you didn’t want to do that.” Friend, those words hit deep. One I was grateful for his appreciation. Two, I was surprised how he saw what I was thinking. And three, as we finished the thing I didn’t want to do I was blessed.

This project was not part of my plan, but God had clearly put it in my path. Remember how I said I put my thoughts aside? I was only able to do that by asking God to help me put my husband first, give me the strength and time to do what needed to get done. He helped me trust and embrace His plan when it didn’t match mine. He answered my prayer, helped me walk in obedience and blessed me as a result.

As I realized this, He instantly brought the heart examination exercise to mind and did two things with it. First, He showed me those ugly things He revealed are true and are areas I need to work on. He sees them and others do too. Secondly and just as importantly, He reminded me there is value in doing what I don’t want to do.

A couple of days have passed since I first wrote about the heart exam and God is continuing His work. Initially the findings He revealed hurt. I wanted to plug my ears and pretend I couldn’t hear what God was saying.

Those strategies didn’t work, so instead I kept seeking Him and looking for wisdom. Like the faithful Father He is, He responded with words to comfort my soul. Jill, if you want to know who you are, you need to know who I see. In the same way you put on a mask or make-up to hide your face from the world at times you do that with your heart as well. You may deny yourself of reality, but I know, I see your heart. Before you can really see the beauty I created when I made you, you must allow me access to the ugly. Remember only I can take what is broken and make it beautiful. Let me change you from the inside out.

Friend, perhaps this exercise hasn’t affected you the way it has me, but I want to share a bit more. Looking in the mirror has never been on the top of my to-do list and this heart examination has helped me understand why. Granted growing up, I never really thought about God thinking I was beautiful. But since accepting Christ as my savior and digging into God’s word, I know He thinks I am.

Knowing this and living like it is true are two different things though. I mean reading Psalm 45:11, “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord,” doesn’t serve as a magic pill. I know this truth, but still avoided the mirror.

Deep down I now believe 1 Samuel 16:7 had something to do with it. Knowing the LORD looks at the heart impacts me and if you’re honest I’d have to guess you’d say the same. Though we can hide our outer blemishes and inner struggles from others, we too know our heart. When we deny God access and keep Him from examining our heart, the ugly that is there is something we see in the mirror.

So friend, I encourage you to constantly be in prayer and ask God to examine your heart. It’s something you might not want to do, but it’s what we need to do. Though we can’t see our inside, knowing God does can impact the way we see ourselves.

Now you might be thinking what good is it going to do if I allow God to examine my heart and reveal the ugly to me? I look in the mirror and do that myself already. I understand this thinking, that’s exactly why I wanted to forget this exercise. Believe me I didn’t want to make you, or myself, feel worse.

So before you leave my blog never to return again, I want you to think with me a bit about pearls. Chances are you’d like to put a string of them around your neck and look in the mirror; they are beautiful and something of value. But let me remind you, a pearl is a finished product. A pearl is something that is created inside a mollusk, an oyster shell which is not the finest thing to look at.

Some might say the shell around the pearl is ugly, but as time passes and the pearl is created we are left with a thing of beauty. Friend the same is true of our heart, a heart God created, sees and knows.

He isn’t a Father who just sees all of our faults (He does), but He also knows the good. Psalm 139 is one we’ve heard often, but it’s worth revisiting. Take a look at verses 13-14, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Friend all His works are wonderful, that means you and me. Let’s stop and ask our question once again, “Who Am I?” Perhaps we’ve given an answer that is based on our appearance, the face we see in a mirror, but I pray as you’ve read this you realize that’s not an answer God gives.

He wants us to look inward, just like He does, and realize beauty begins in the heart. 1 Peter 3:3,4 tells us, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

In God’s eyes beauty is not something we see in the mirror or add on as an accessory, it comes from within. Proverbs 31 tells us beauty is fleeting, but the inner beauty Peter is talking about doesn’t fade away. Actually friend, time adds to this beauty.

Let’s commit to asking God who we are, pledge to believe what He says and allow Him to examine our heart. This process will help us see who He sees and thus become who He created us to be. We might still be little (or big), but we are beautiful when our heart is pure, our motives are right and our character is like Christ.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Just trust me."

Have you ever found yourself worrying? Do you struggle doing what God calls you to do? Me too. Actually the other day I realized this was consuming me. God had made it clear He was leading me to do something I didn't want to do. Something that would be hard, something that might not turn out like I expect and something that might not be understood by others.

I was wrestling with this and though God confirmed His guidance again and again I grew more and more anxious. My mind was focused on all that could go wrong. I could say the wrong thing. The other person may misinterpret what I'm trying to say. And the more I listened to these doubts the more I began to worry. I found myself questioning what I already knew. Things like God's goodness, His faithfulness and even His provision.

I could feel this consuming me and after attempting to fight the battle myself I finally listened to that still small voice and went to Him. I opened my prayer journal and as the words began to flow the tears started to fall. I confessed my doubts, worries and fears along with my selfishness and pride. And when I stopped talking, I was encouraged to listen.

God quietly whispered words I needed to hear and Truth I needed to remember. This situation wasn't about me or the person He was leading me to talk with, this was about Him, His glory and His Word. I am not in control, but He is. His plan is good and His ways are not my ways. My job is obedience and His role is to take care of the results. He will lead, but I must choose to follow.

So that night I laid my struggle down and asked God to remind me to let it go when I try to pick it up again. I committed to following Him even when He leads me where I don't want to go. I thanked Him for who He is - my Creator and Provider, my Rock and my Redeemer, my Shepherd and my Father, all things He never forgets, but I need to remember!

Our time together ended and peace had replaced my anxiety. I had the desire to trust what I had begun to doubt. The fear of man had left me paralyzed, but now my love for the Lord gave me the desire to obey.

That night before I went to bed I opened a daily devotional and smiled when I read a common, but always powerful verse - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Friend, I tell you all of this for a few reasons - first the one that may be a bit selfish - to keep myself accountable. In my heart and mind I'm trusting God with this, but I have yet to actually do it. By putting this out there I'm using the old practice what you preach philosophy - since I've shared all of this, I know God will remind me of what I said!! Second - I think it helps to know we are not alone. Your struggle may be different than mine, but if I had to guess you've struggled with doubt or walking in obedience before. And finally, sometimes I think we just need reminders, I know I do!

So today I encourage you to remember this -
God is GOOD! - For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. (Psalms 86:5)

God is FAITHFUL! - God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

God is PRESENT! - So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

As you leave here today my prayer is that you have been encouraged, reminded and can hear God whispering the same words He said to me, "Just trust me." Friend, I don't know what challenge you are facing or the struggle you're in, but I do know the One who is with you and I believe He can provide whatever you need. Seek Him, trust Him and obey Him!! Then pray for me as I do the same!!