Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Choices at Christmas

 Lately God has me revisiting words I wrote years ago...they bring back memories and have made me think...Did I really write that?  It is my prayer that they will bless you in some way as well. As I read I'm also reminded that God does have a purpose for the road He leads us Christmas approaches and your faced with countless decisions I pray you will make the one that matters most!

From Dec. 8, 2009 - 
Do I buy him a race track or farm set? Her a doll or dishes? Do we open gifts on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? Do we go to his parents or mine? One piece of fudge or two??

Christmas can be a time of choices - gifts, decorations, parties, food, the list goes on and at times it can be overwhelming, but it’s not just the holidays when decisions need to be made. No, daily life does that all on its own. We are constantly making decisions - some big and others small, but they are decisions just the same. Sometimes they are ones we expect and have come to make with relative ease and yet others it can be a choice that is a challenge or one we didn’t see coming at all.

Recently I found myself in a place of pain, a place that brings choices as well. It wasn’t that long ago, so the memories are quite fresh. From the outside all looked fine - a new baby, a healthy family, a newly released book, the opportunity to have been part of a wonderful women’s retreat and on and on. Life was good, but still I found myself slipping back into a place where I had once been. I could smell the storm coming - the storm of depression that is.

And though it wasn’t a holiday, that situation created choices too - do I admit the pain or appear like my life is perfect? Do I accept help or pretend I’m super Mom and do it myself? Do I internalize everything or open up? Do I trust others or turn to God for help? Believe me for awhile I made the wrong choice each and every time - someone would ask ‘how are things going?’ I’d respond, “crazy at times, but it’s alright.” They’d ask, “do you need a meal?” and I’d think why’s that necessary when I’m taking food to the field. Occasionally I’d drop a hint that I was a bit overwhelmed but when others didn’t pick up on it my mind would think if it’s not obvious to them, the pain must not be real. Instead I’d think, I’m just weak, which only lead to me closing up and feeling worse.

I’ve been in the pit of depression before and it’s never a place you want to be, but this time it was different. First of all, thankfully I didn’t fall as far as I have in the past and it wasn’t a constant state. This time I seemed so aware of what was going on, but that didn’t make things any easier. Though I knew the down times wouldn’t last forever some days were hard. But yet pride won for awhile as I put on a smile and tried to keep it all together. Eventually though I admitted things weren’t the way they should be. I was exhausted, easily upset and a bit overwhelmed with life. I felt weak, hypocritical and like it was all my fault. And worst of all I was doubting God and the plan He had for me.

Once I finally shared a bit of my struggle with a friend she shared some words that went to my heart - “You have to park your mind on what is true and worthy of praise. The enemy wants to consume you with disappointment and sadness but you don’t have to let him. It’s up to us my friend - only you and I can decide who we will listen to.” Now I’m not saying the battle with depression is always won by making a choice, at one point in my life medication was the answer, but this time the choice was mine. The words of Psalm 40 came to mind, “I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

These words didn’t magically make things better, but they helped me focus on who is in control. And as I focused on Him in this time of pain He continued to work in me and make Himself real. That doesn’t change the circumstances of my life right now - the lack of sleep continues, the mountain of laundry grows and the work never ends, but His strength lifts me up.

And one morning as I laid in bed praying for the very thing, He put a verse on my heart - John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son that anyone who believes in Him shall not parish but have eternal life.” It’s a verse I’ve known for years and one even my kids can recite, but on that morning I looked at it in a new way - God didn’t just love the world, He loved me and ladies He loves you too. I’d understood that for years, but still the choice is mine to believe it. Do I believe He loves me enough to give up His son? Do you?

I do and perhaps you do to, but my recent struggle has shown me that it’s not a one time decision - daily we have a choice. Revelations 3:20 shares Jesus words, “Look here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.” He is there but it’s our choice if we let Him in. Just as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can cause us to lose focus of what Christmas is all about, the demands and duties of life can cause us to forget Who life is all about.

So today before you are faced with another holiday decision, I encourage you to take a minute and forget about the money and the gifts you’ll be giving, but instead focus on what matters and think about what you are willing to receive. In a few weeks we’ll have presents under our trees, but I pray we remember the only gift that lasts is found on the cross. As the chaos gets crazier and the kids excitement grows remember over 2000 years ago God so loved Wendy, Al and Anna (insert your name) enough to send His son to be born in a stable and die on a cross to give the gift of eternal life. Whether it’s in the stress of the season or the drudgery of life don’t forget He stands at the door and knocks and like my friend said, “the decision is ours.” Make the choice to let Him be your guest this Christmas.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Picture of Prayer as Preparation

This week in Wendy Blight's online Bible study our lesson is titled, "Pray so that." She has shared many good insights and powerful scriptures that remind us why prayer is powerful and necessary.

One thing that struck me was this paragraph that Wendy shared, "Our God is All-Knowing. He alone knows what our future holds. God has given us this gift of prayer. He intends to use it to prepare us. In prayer, God girds us up for the trials, battles and temptations that will come our way." Honestly I don't think I'd really thought about this before, but as I dug into the passage we were studying, Matthew 26:36-45, I knew it was true in my life.

These words about Jesus praying in Gethsemane brought to mind Luke's words about the same time in Jesus life, which were powerful in mine.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 - I can remember that day like it was yesterday...we'd found out we were expecting our 4th child a few weeks prior, but yet the pregnancy was different. And early that morning I woke up knowing something wasn't right. As a Mom, I knew we were losing our baby. The reality of that fact was hard to grasp and brought pain from depths I hadn't experienced before, but before heading to the hospital my husband led us thru family devotions.

We were following a daily Bible reading calendar and I opened to the New Testament passage that I was going to read aloud, Luke 22. I read about Judas and the Last Supper, but was simply saying the words not digesting them or really expecting to hear from God. Outwardly I was reading the Bible but internally I wrestled with what was happening to the baby I already loved, but wouldn't hold til heaven.

I continued in this fashion until I reached verse 42. It was then I paused - I knew what the words were, but everything in me fought saying them out loud. I didn't want to echo Jesus words, but I did. With tears. And His words became my words, "Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

I believed God had the power to stop what seemed inevitable, He could take the cup from me, but more than that speaking these words reminded me God is in control. His plan is perfect. I must trust that He can use bad for His good.

Knowing all of this didn't make the situation easier...I cried a lot. I didn't understand. But God was there and through it all drew me closer to Himself. In the days that followed I returned to Luke 22 and found encouragement in verse 43, "An angel appeared from heaven and strengthened Him." In my darkest moments it seemed God did the same for me.

This all took place 4+ years ago, but just now I've realized God had even more in that passage. Verse 46b says, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Wendy shares these words about this:
“Temptation” as used here is from the Greek word peirasmos and refers to “trials with a beneficial purpose and effect.” They are divinely permitted trials and temptations. As specifically used here, it refers to trials and temptations entered into by a person’s disobedience or carelessness. 

Matthew Henry in his commentary writes, “There was an hour of temptation drawing on, and very near; the troubles of Christ were temptations to his followers to disbelieve and distrust him, to deny and desert him, and renounce all relation to him. There was danger of their entering into the temptation, as into a snare or trap; of their entering into a parley with it, or a good opinion of it, of their being influenced by it, and inclining to comply with it; which is the first step toward being overcome by it.”

Jesus knew the danger and trouble that lie ahead for His disciples. Spending time praying with Jesus and for Him would have not only blessed them but also equipped and empowered them for all they were about to endure.

Looking back this makes so much sense...God brought me to that passage, so I could pray Jesus words. So He could prepare me to fight temptation. The temptation to doubt God, to question His ways, to turn from Him in times of trouble. Friend if you've experienced loss, plans that didn't go the way you expected or times of trial chances are you've asked or wondered, "Why God?" Perhaps you've been tempted to disbelieve, distrust, deny or desert Him.

God knows the why, but He doesn't always explain the answer to us. But He does know the future and He uses His Word and our prayers to prepare us for what lies ahead. Today may I encourage you to stay in His Word, pray, pray, pray and keep your eyes on Him - doing just that will help you walk in faith and thru situations you never imagined you could.

Question for you - How has God used prayer to prepare you?? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

So that...Week One

I have recently started Wendy Blight's on-line Bible study entitled "Living So That: Our Call to Action." I believe God will use this study in my life and in the lives of all the participants. During this first week we spent time digging into a lesson titled, "God Spoke So That."

Our memory verse for the week was from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good purpose.

Through the week, we've explored many verses that prove God had a purpose for every word He spoke. He did not waste His words. He did not use them in the wrong way. He did not talk to drown out the quiet. He spoke SO THAT we could hear, we could learn, we could understand, we could be prepared, we could be disciplined and on and on. 

As the days have gone by, He's opened my eyes to much and as I've thought and prayed about what to write in this week's wrap-up, one thought keeps rising to the surface. It's actually a question that He's whispered to my heart and one that has really made me think, it sounds like this, "Jill, why do you speak? Why do you write? What is the purpose of your words?"

And friends I'd like to ask you the same question, "Why do you speak?" Now our words can't compare to God's, the One who spoke and created the world, but they do have power. How do you use that power? Do you even realize the power you hold? Do you waste your words? Do you use them wisely? Do you speak with purpose?

I know it could be easy to give the right answer to these questions or simply ignore them entirely, but I encourage you to take some time and think about it. Pray and ask God to show you the power in your words and ask Him to help you value them the way He does.

His Word transforms us and our words (when there spoken so that He speaks thru us) have the potential to make a difference. I have a desire to speak and write SO THAT others are impacted for Christ, how about you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Here's something to think about -
God spoke SO THAT..................
I speak SO THAT...................

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flashback Friday - No Turning Back

Today I'm going way back to one of my very first blog posts from July 8, 2008, the words spoke to me and I pray they do the same for you.

I read the second chapter of Lysa TerKeurst's book (What Happens When Women Walk in Faith) entitled A Line in the Sand and God not only spoke to me thru the words on the pages, but illustrated it as well.

Today, Joy, my second child and also our little miss independent was determined to ride her bike without training wheels. So J.D., our 5 year old mechanic willingly removed the extra wheels and encouraged his little sis!

After moments of frustration, I suggested possibly putting the training wheels back on, after all she is only 3!! But my little princess/tomboy, who believes she can do anything her big brother can, wanted nothing to do with that!

She had been able to ride with me getting her started and believed with enough determination she could do it herself. She wasn't turning back even if it meant a skinned up knee!

As I watched her persevere, I thought of Lysa's words, "starting something new begins with leaving something old." That was true for Joy today, just like it is for me as I walk the path God has paved.

Sometimes it is hard, I think I can't, I worry about falling and getting hurt, I wonder what others will think, but just like my little girl I have to make a choice. No matter what might happen, I have to do what God calls me to do. Sure I might crash, but she reminded me I can get back up, brush it off and try again. She even went so far after one fall to stand up, smile and say, "There's not even any blood!!"

As much as Joy encouraged me today - after an hour she was making skid marks just like her brother, Lysa's comment about God filling in the gaps was the icing on the cake. I know my confidence and belief in myself can only take me so far and when I reach the limit it is wonderful to know God will cover the rest.

In the past year I sense He has done that and it's wonderful to look back and see how far He's brought me. His faithfulness in the past offers wonderful hope for the future!!

As I say that I think about what He is calling me from because as Lysa says we have to leave the old if we want something new. I know the thought is right, but at times it is scary - I often let the what if's occupy my mind and find myself dwelling on what might never happen. Why?? 

I move ahead trusting the One who calls. As a former public school teacher who left teaching to stay home 5 years ago, in a sense I will leave an old mindset this fall as I begin homeschooling my son. As I take this step with worry, fear and excitement I know I will depend on God like never before and just like Joy reminded me this afternoon once we take that step there is no turning back!!

Friend, what is God calling you to do? Take the first step, rely on His strength and remember there is NO turning back!

 Jesus replied,  
“No one who puts a hand to the plow 
and looks back is fit 
for service in the kingdom of God.” 
Luke 9:62

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"In My Arms"

My baby is growing up, but the other day it was just him and me in the house. He woke from a nap, early and a little unsettled, so we sat in the chair. I shared gentle words and he calmed down. Time ticked away, a load of unfolded laundry sat in front of me and a counter of dirty dishes were behind me, but we were still and there was peace.

I rocked my little man and thought about much...the amazing impact of a Mother's arms, the joy in being still and the love of family. Like I said my little man is growing up and honestly I don't remember the last time I just rocked him, snuggled and enjoyed the moment. I thought, why don't I take more time to do this? 

As I pondered this question, God asked me another one, "Jill, why don't you take more time to sit with me? Jesse needed your comfort and oftentimes you need the same. Don't get so caught up in all you have to do that you miss time with me and the ones you love."

In the days that have passed, He's reminded me of this moment and brought a few simple words to mind. Friend, no matter your struggle or need take a minute and let His arms embrace you. Being in my arms made a difference for my little man and being in His will do the same for you!

A Mother says to her son,
"In my arms,
you are safe and secure.
You find comfort and rest.
You feel love and peace."

The Father says to His daughter,
"Call for me and I will come.
I'll hold you and
you'll experience the same...
in My arms."

I'm a little late, but Julie Sunne is the winner of Unglued! I'll be in touch! I'm praying this book blesses you!! Trusting it will!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A letter to a friend...(And a GIVE-AWAY!)

I've been following along with Melissa Taylor's on-line study of Unglued and earlier this week she shared an idea. She suggested writing a letter to Lysa TerKeurst, the author of Unglued, and today I'm doing just that. Though this letter is not addressed to you, I believe God may have a message tucked in it for you. And if you haven't read Unglued add it to your list!! If you'd like to win a copy, there's an opportunity to do just that below!!

Dear Lysa,
Oh where do I begin? Six years ago I heard you share your testimony at a Hearts at Home Conference and you've been speaking into my life ever since. Your challenge to say "Yes" to God is one that scared me at first, but it's one God has used.

I could write about the impact of your numerous books, the She Speaks conference or the opportunity I had to work with you at the Rise and Shine Women's Retreat. But for the sake of time and space I'm going to focus on the events of the past week.

I'm currently leading an Unglued study at our church, following Melissa's on-line study and was blessed to hear you speak on the topic in Pella. Obviously God wants me to get the message of Unglued!! And I am!

Like you, I see myself as an exploder and stuffer. And God has been working on each of these areas - the strategies you share are practical and powerful. They have made a difference in my life and relationships.

I first read your book and God opened my eyes to the stuffing I do with my husband. Since then I'm making progress, imperfect I might say, but even the other day he said to me, "I can't believe you're bringing this up already!!" Doing the hard thing, or should I say the good thing, has made a difference in our marriage. Thank you for being part of the process.

So now fast forward to this I understand more and more about stuffing I realize I do this with friends as well. And lately it's been with a friend who's been close thru the years, but a friendship that has grown distant over the last few months. God had revealed the problem to me, but I avoided it and worse yet I continued doing it. It drove me crazy and left me with guilt, but still I did nothing.

Until this week when I was submersed in our study and then heard you speak Lysa. God opened my eyes. He used your question, "What do you fear losing by addressing the issue?" It was true - I missed what was, but with the barrier between us I didn't have that. So this gal, who avoids conflict and confrontation like most people avoid the plague, made plans to do what I don't like to do.

My friend and I got together. We visited and caught each other up. And I silently prayed that God would give me the courage to do what He was leading me to do. He did. We both agreed there was a wall and each owned our role in building it. It was a time of honesty. A precious time of sharing from the heart. A beginning of God's restoration.

I walked away from our time together with one thought - God is GOOD!! I'd avoided and in a way dreaded doing what I knew I had to do, what God was calling me to, but He showed Himself faithful and powerful. Good.

As I've reflected on all of this, I know it's not just the relationship with my friend that has been blessed, no my relationship with God is stronger as well. Psalm 51 comes to mind, verse 4 specifically, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." I was not living with soul integrity as I hid things from my friend and played the "I'm fine" game, but worse than that I was sinning against God. A God who calls us to be honest. 

I'm thankful things went well with my friend, but I also know this may not always be the case. Still God has shown me honesty is worth the risk and a relationship that's right with Him never costs too much.

Oh Lysa, thank you is not enough, but it will have to do as I have no other words. Praying God continues to give you messages that impact my life and strengthen my faith.

Blessings from your friend on the farm,

My friends and I sporting our IMPERFECT PROGRESS shirts!

Last weekend I was blessed to attend a women's conference where Lysa was speaking! It was a joy and God had much to say!! The organizers of the conference gave each attendee a copy of the book and today I'm going to give mine to you!! So leave a comment for a chance to win!! Just for fun share your thoughts - Who has spoken truth into your life this week? How has God used it to make a difference? And if you don't have time to share, just say I'm in and leave your contact info!! Enter for a second time by sharing a link to this post!! I'll announce the winner on Monday!