Monday, June 29, 2015

What are you looking at?

The title of this post is a question that recently convicted me and put things in perspective. Perhaps it's one you need to think about too.

You see for the last couple of weeks I've been fighting fear and questioning purpose. I've struggled with doubt and been challenged by comparison. I've looked at the size of my mountain instead of focusing on the greatness of my God.

Some of the struggle has been hard life changing stuff - cancer, accidents, death. It all left me grieving and thinking, "What if?" At other times it's daily stuff - busyness, sibling rivalry, disobedience (sometimes my kids' and others mine), dentist appointments, the endless calls of "Mom" and so on. On top of that there's things in the world...things happening our grandparents would have never expected that leave me thinking about the world my kids will grow old in and the persecution that will come.

As I've focused on all this "stuff", I've found myself with the glass is half empty mentality. I've struggled with depression in the past and at times felt myself slipping down the hill. Friend, if you've ever been in that pit, you know it's not a place you want to return to.

Psalm 40:2 has been true in my life - "He (God) lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." I'm grateful for the redemptive and healing work God has done, but I've been reminded faith is not a one time decision. Life is a journey not a destination and as you and I walk the path God's paved for us there is much to look at, but there is only one thing we must focus on - Him.

When I look at my problems, life can get overwhelming. When I look at the pain in our world, life can get depressing. When I look at my to-do list, life can be defeating. When I wrongly look at others and compare my life to theirs, things can seem pointless. All these are examples of looking at the wrong thing!

Sometimes when I look at the wrong thing, I start to focus on the wrong thing and that paints a bad picture that is way out of perspective. Once our pastor used a quarter to illustrate this in a children's sermon - he had a child look at a quarter someone held a few pews back. Then he gave the boy a quarter and had him hold it an inch from his eye. When we are zoned in our problems, fears, worries and doubts we don't see them clearly and they appear much bigger than they really are.

So rather than focusing on the trouble, let's look at the One who can handle it. God, our Father, the One who created the world, holds it together and has a purpose. He is loving, kind, able, present and powerful. He can provide ALL we need - "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

Friend today, may we fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) as we remember who He is and allow Him to help us become who He made us to be.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.

    With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 
Psalm 16:8

My eyes are ever on the Lord,

    for only He will release my feet from the snare. 
Psalm 25:15

Monday, June 22, 2015

We're on the same team!

Hello friends! A special greeting to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe. It's a joy to be sharing a devotional there today. (You can read "Quit Keeping Score" HERE.)

Growing up sports were my life. I loved watching, practicing and playing. I enjoyed all kinds of sports and liked keep tracking of athletes and teams. Winning and losing are a big part of sports and as you read in my devotional that mindset became part of my marriage.

When two teams go head to head, it's a given there will be a winner and a loser, but I've learned that can't be the case when a man and woman become one. I'll admit it took awhile for me to really understand this. I didn't set out to be in competition with Job, but in time I started keeping score. In basketball it was good when our team's point total increased, but in marriage that's not so good.

At times it seemed Job and I were going head to head in a heated one on one competition. There never really was any trash talking as neither of us are real screamers, but I did a lot of internalizing. This only led to problems as the minutes ticked by and the numbers in the win/lose column increased. Thankfully as I grew as a wife and a believer, God opened my eyes to this problem, this sin in my heart. And He also brought a verse across my path that we eventually claimed as our marriage verse.

Psalm 34:3 says, "Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!"

It's hard for opponents to do anything together and in a way God spoke to my basketball brain with that one simple word - together! Job and I are on the same team and were created for the same purpose. God designed each of us individually to glorify Him and if we come together we can shine His light even more...especially in a world that continues to drift apart.

Friends, marriage is hard. Just yesterday our Pastor said, "Every marriage is challenging." I think we're kidding ourselves if we say we have it figured out. There's always more to learn, new layers to pull back and maturing to take place. This won't, and can't happen, when we keep score and see our husband as the opponent.

Today, will you instead join me in seeing our husbands as teammates, ones who we can glorify God with? Encourage him, support him, and help him. Do all the things a good teammate does...cheer for him, be grateful when he succeeds and thank him for the assist! Remember it's not about who did what, or gets what, but Who this life is for and the glory He receives!

My Teammate and Me - July 28, 2001

Grateful for change and a stronger team!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When life is hard...

It's been awhile since I posted here and since then some hard stuff has taken place. Last Wednesday, a couple I graduated from college with were in a bad accident while vacationing in Florida. The husband, Ben, was killed along with his 11 year old son and 9 year old daughter. Erin and Kaia (7) will bury their family tomorrow. Then on Friday, Becky, my cousin who used to spend some summer days on our farm and invite us for camping trips, passed away after a short battle with cancer. She leaves behind a husband and 3 children. We celebrated her life on Tuesday, but also spent much time grieving her death.

For the last week, I've been reminded that life is hard and death is final. I've been sad and thinking a lot. I hurt for Jason, Erin and the kids left behind. I can't imagine being in their shoes, and find myself falling apart if my mind goes there. I wonder, "What would I do?"

I type that question now and don't even want to continue writing because honestly I don't want to think about the "what if's?" but four words keep coming to mind - "Remember Who I Am." And friend, I know that is wisdom from God that I need to cling to, perhaps you do too. This simple phrase says so much and is helpful when bad things happen, when I'm tempted to do bad things and when I don't understand.

Friend, when you or I face trouble, and we will...see John 16:33, we must remember who God is. He is our Creator. The other day I was reminded that God did not create death, man's sin caused it. Death, cancer, terrible accidents, these hard things were not a part of God's initial plan.

He is our Father. A Dad who loves us, cares for us and will never leave us. When life is hard, we must run to the One who can hold us, strengthen us and help us.

He is our Healer. It could be easy to argue this with the reality that Becky, a woman who just turned 40 died. Clearly God didn't heal her, but yet in a way He did. Not the way we wanted, but now her pain is forever gone, she is healed. And I trust, in time, for some a long time, He will heal our hearts too.

He is our Provider. Tonight I told my daughter, I could wash her shirt. A simple task that I practically do every day, but as the words came out of my mouth I thought of my cousin's daughter, Lilly. Her mom isn't there to wash her shirt or do the countless other more important tasks a daughter needs her mom to do. That just breaks my heart and makes the tears fall, but even in the midst of sadness I remember Phil. 4:19 - "My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." 

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the midst of tragedies it seems there is no way to go on, but yet people do. They do the next thing and then the next thing. Survive this moment and the next. Jesus is the Way to heaven and He will show us how to walk the path of life, even when it's an uphill climb. He is Truth and that's something I've needed to remember. When my mind takes over, worry can set in. The other day I listened to a pastor as he shared following another tragic accident and the words I took away were "Fight Fear!" When doubts enters our minds and Satan tells us lies, we must replace them with Truth. Finally, Jesus is the Life. The other night my husband said to me - "Jill, God is the God of the living not the dead." Matthew 22:32 says, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Friend, when we and our loved ones pass from this life, we have the opportunity to live with God forever (as long as we've confessed Him as Lord and Savior) and while we are here on earth, we have His spirit in us and He not only provide eternal life, but abundant life as well.

Friend, I don't know how life is hard for your right now, but I pray we can each remember who God is and if you're hurting, grieving or doubting cry out to Him. Remember who He is and pray and ask God to make those traits visible in your life. Speaking of prayer, would you join me in praying for Erin and Kaia Bartlett and Jason, Dalton, Logan and Lily Snow.

The Bartlett Family

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

He'll Never Leave

Over the last few days in Iowa many Cyclone fans have been thinking, or at least hoping, Fred Hoiberg, the beloved coach of the ISU basketball team would never leave. There has been talk of him moving on to the NBA, but many hoped "The Mayor" would remain in his hometown and coach a team that's predicted to be in the top 10 next year.

I've found myself reading more sports articles than I have for quite some time and waiting for the news. Today I watched the Chicago Bulls press conference and saw them introduce Fred Hoiberg, their new coach. My oldest son, who obviously did not inherit my love for basketball, didn't understand what the big deal was. I know he's right "life will go on" but this all got me thinking.

Letting go is hard and leaving is too. I remember when I told my basketball girls I wasn't coming back to was hard. A few years ago my daughter's best friend moved away and that's still hard. These thoughts led to a bit of reflection and the thing is this letting go and leaving process is part of life.

Think about it for a minute...we grow up and leave home, we get married and let go of life as we knew it, we become parents and start preparing to let them go. Coaches are not the only ones who leave...pastors do, bosses do and friends do too. Relationships change and regardless of the reason, that change can be hard. Since we are a people created for relationship this adds a challenge to life...we grow to love people and when our connection with them is different, we have to adjust. Which is often easier said than done.

As I found myself thinking about this an important truth and powerful verse came to mind, "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. 'As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you." (Joshua 1:5) Friend, every single relationship in our life will change except one. We never have to worry about God leaving us for a better opportunity or to chase a life-long dream. His job will never take Him away and death can't separate us. 

You don't have to take my word for it -

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you." (Deuteronomy 31:8)

"David also said to Solomon his son, 'Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished." (1 Chronicles 28:20)

"God has said, 'Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5b)

Friend, regardless of where life has you and if you're in the process of leaving or letting go, I pray these words are a powerful reminder and an encouraging truth. God the one who loves us, equips us, knows us and provides for us will NEVER leave. We can say those words with confidence!