Friday, March 28, 2014

Even If

Welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe today...thank you for stopping by! In my devotion titled, "Not What I Expected" I shared a bit of my heart and as I reflect on all that lead to those words tears come to my eyes. I wrote about my prayers for my grandma and God's answers. Answers that even now, 9 months later, still leave me sitting at the keyboard with tears streaming down my face.

Jesse receiving his 1st and last chocolate Easter bunny from B last Easter.
 I find myself thinking about my grandma often and missing her too. My children talk about her quite a bit and the other day my four year old even asked to go to her house. We'd all love to see her again, hear her laugh and feel her love, but for now we must wait until we're reunited in heaven.

And while we wait, what do we do? Honestly, sometimes we still cry and typically we thank God for the memories, but we also try to thank Him in the memories. And sometimes that is hard...I don't just want to remember the good times, I'd still like to experience them. Like my son, I too would love to go have ice cream with Grandma B, but since our prayers weren't answered like we wanted that won't happen.

That fact could leave me angry, and it could have caused me to turn my back on God, but instead it's drawn me closer. In His Word, God tells me (and you) not to lean on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). I don't understand why my grandma's time was up and perhaps you're confused by pain in your life, but friend that's OK. We don't have to rely on our own understanding, instead we must trust our faithful Father, the One who has a perfect plan and works things together for our good and His glory.

Our circumstances will change, but God never does! He is good, He is powerful and He is sovereign. As my grandma walked through her battle with cancer, I can remember hearing Kutless sing, "Even If The Healing Never Comes" and thinking that could be true for Grandma. The reality of her not being healed was something I needed to face and share with my children. As I thought about this, questions entered my mind - "If the healing didn't come, would I still say God was good? If the healing didn't come, would I still trust the great and mighty One?"

Nine months have passed since I told my grandma, "Good-bye" and friend can I encourage you today by saying I still trust the One who gave answers I didn't want, who worked in ways I don't understand and comforted me with arms I don't see. The peace that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7 is real and it does guard our hearts and minds.

Can I encourage you to trust our heavenly Father, run to our Lord and find comfort in the One who saves even if? Even if your loved one passes away, even if the relationship is not restored, even if your plans fall apart, even if ______ fill in the blank.

Friend, let's keep seeking God, asking Him to fill our needs and praying for the miracle! May we also remember we are the one who does the asking, but God does the answering and sometimes those answers aren't what we want. In those "Even If" situations we will hurt, we will cry and we may even be discouraged, but may we cling to Him in our desperation.

If you are on the other side of an "Even If" situation may these words from Isaiah bring you comfort and hope.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.
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.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preparing to Plant

We're starting to think spring here on the farm and that means one thing - planting!! Yesterday my husband wanted me to attend a meeting with him to get a better understanding of what they are doing and give my input on some decisions they need to make. I'll admit it wasn't the first thing on my to-do list, but when it was all said and done, I'm glad I went.

For awhile I felt like I was back in chemistry class as the presenter talked about nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium. I didn't understand all that back in high school and it still confuses me today!! But as they discussed preparing the soil for planting, God started talking to me. To my husband's surprise I even started taking some notes!! Later he found out they had more to do with preparing the soil of my heart and planting seeds of faith instead of writing about dirt and beans!

Friends, there is so much more to farming than filling a planter with seed, driving across the field and waiting for rain. They were learning about managing air and water in the soil, managing residue, using tillage, feeding the crop and growing more microbes. I still don't understand some of that, but that's OK because I do have a better appreciation for all my husband does and a little more knowledge.

Your interest in all of that is probably less than mine, but take a minute with me and think about the condition of the soil of your heart. Is it right for your faith to grow? What "type" of soil do you need? How can you improve it? What do you need to do in order to manage your soil so that your faith can really grow?

I don't have all the answers to these questions, but I know they are ones I will think about. God will bless me for digging into this and my faith will grow as my soil improves! Are you willing to do the same?

Just as there is so much more to growing corn and beans on the farm, I know I can do a better job in growing my faith and my children's. But just like my husband, it will take time, work and effort. I must be willing to learn, diligent and disciplined, but my friend may we remember a strong, growing faith is way more valuable than increasing our bushels per acre!!

What will you do today to improve your planting conditions? Please share I'd love to hear your thoughts!!

"Still other seed fell on good soil, 
where it produced a crop—a hundred, 
sixty or thirty times what was sown. 
Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 
Matthew 13:8-9

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Happens When You Fall?

"Jill falls down, but she always gets back up!!" Those were the words a friend shared with the athletic trainer on our college basketball court. I had made a defensive move I'd made 1,000's of times, but my knee did something it had never done. My knee was swelling, the pain was growing and I needed help getting up after a fall. 

Eventually we found out I'd torn my ACL, but as I've thought about the devotional I'm sharing at the Encouragement Cafe (Read it HERE) I've found myself thinking about my friend's statement. She was right...I fell down on the basketball court - I like to think it was because of my hustle, but it may have been my lack of coordination. The reason for my falls really doesn't matter, but my actions following them are important.

Friend, let me ask you: What causes you to fall? Nineteen years have passed since I was falling on the gym floor, but life does trip me up - sometimes it's my mistakes, others it's my flesh and there are moments I stumble because of someone else's words. Would you agree, there are times life can knock us down. If so, read on...if not, thanks for stopping by!

During my basketball days it really didn't matter what caused me to fall, the important thing was getting back up. Friend that is even more true in life! I wonder if my friend would say the same about my falls in life? 

I want you to join me in thinking about the falls that compare to the one my injury caused...the ones we don't just bounce back up from, the times we need a helping hand. Friend, in those moments Someone is always there, the question is are we willing to ask and then receive the help that's offered? 

When you and I fall, because we will, may we remember Psalms 145:14, "The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." In the Voice it says, "The Eternal sustains all who stumble on their way.  For those who are broken down,God is near. He raises them up in hope." 

Friend, when we fall God is present and has the power to help. The next time you find yourself falling down in the game of life, turn to Him, reach for His hand and let Him get you back on your feet! May all who are watching think, "She falls down, but God always gets her back up!!"

Below are words I penned a few years back as I reflected on a walk I'd shared with my young daughter...she was walking down our gravel road and I was walking through life.

"A Child's Walk"
The young girl sets out -
a smile on her face,
no worries on her mind
and joy in her heart.

As she wonders along 
her mind does the same -
it's easy to get distracted
watching the birds and butterflies
and it doesn't take long
to get lost in a daydream.

The distractions can cause pain,
but her mom is there to help
offering a hand when she falls
and a hug when she's hurt.

The young girl grows up
and the walk continues,
it's no longer down the sidewalk,
but, on the path of life.

Her actions remain the same
and distractions still exist -
the busyness of life
and the many roles she plays
cause her to stumble from time to time.

But God is there
and her Father won't let her fall -
He offers comfort when she's hurt,
guidance when she seeks,
and direction when she's lost.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Signs of Spring

It has been a long winter! The temperatures have been cold, better yet freezing, and the snow was deep! Through the winter plans were often changed and events were cancelled. I believe we in Iowa are all ready for summer!

 Today as I walked through the yard and drove down the road I was reminded that before we enjoy summer we must first experience spring. Spring is a wonderful time and a busy one on the farm, but it's also a time of change. The new growth is what we look forward to and appreciate, but sometimes I forget what must take place before the flowers bloom.

Before the fields are planted and the gardens grow, the snow must melt and the mud needs to disappear. This March we have plenty of snow and some of it is already becoming mud. As a Mom of 5, I'm not a real fan of mud on the farm...I consider that 3 letter word a synonym for laundry!! Though I'm not a clean freak, this time of year just seems so dirty - the beautiful white snow is now a dirty gray, the gravel roads are a soft, muddy brown and my children's shoes all look a bit different.

Prior to leaving the house today, I read a comment on my latest blog. I wrote about humility and shared how God was showing me some of my struggles. In response Wendy wrote, "He wants His highest and best for us and sometimes that involves showing us parts of us we don't want to see." I agreed with her statement, but as I drove down the road God brought her words to life. 

In my mind, I grumbled about the dirty mess and muddy road, but I realized if I wanted warmer temps and sunny days we had to get rid of all winter left behind. And then God reminded me the same was true in my life. If I wanted to move forward on my walk of faith and take another step towards becoming who God created me to be, I had to deal with the dirt in my life. 

Friend, God has been showing me I still struggle with some things like insecurity, fear of what others think and doubt. He's also trying to reveal His plan for me and in order for that to unfold I need to deal with areas of sin He is revealing. 

This is where my illustration breaks the temperatures rise and sun shines, the snow will melt. It has no choice in the matter, but I do. I can choose to walk through the messes in my heart and allow God to clean it up or I can refuse, turn my head and ignore what God shows me. Through the years I've done both...we all know what happens when we choose the latter, so for a minute let's think about the first option.

When God shows us the ugly in our hearts, He always has a reason. The ugliness of sin upsets Him more than the dirty, muddy, melting snow does me. He knows He created me for more and He also knows He's equipped me to move past whatever is holding me back. Finally friend, He knows the beauty that will be created when we've walked through the mess!!

But knowing these things are not enough, we must humble ourselves and ask God to examine our hearts. Then we must work to change and improve. Will this be easy? No. Will it require work? Yes. Will it get messy? Probably. Will it be worth it? Yes!

All of us in Iowa endure the muddy, messy spring because we know an enjoyable, beautiful summer is bound to come. As followers of Christ may we do the same...the only way to walk into the wonderful plan God has for us is to walk through the messes we create and God brings to our attention.

Today, will you join me in bowing your head in humility and make Psalms 26:2 a prayer of your heart? Ask God, "Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind." Friend, don't stop there...pray for ears to listen, eyes to see and a tender heart that is ready to respond. 

Remember the start of spring may be messy and dirty, but it leads to a time of growth and beauty. This is true in nature, but may we not forget this truth as we live out our faith!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Word of the Week - Humility

Nearly 10 days ago, one of the key words I wrote down as I took notes at church was humility. This is a concept that is connected to faith quite often, but that day I didn't reflect on it too much. Then two days later I found myself struggling with insecurity...doubting my voice mattered and thinking my role wasn't that important. I knew this thinking was wrong, so in attempt to correct my thoughts I pulled out my Bible and journal. 

I came across the word - HUMILITY and was reminded this type of thinking was not humility. There was a time in my life when I considered my insecurity a form of humility, but I've learned that is not the case. Friend, we can be prideful in a quiet, dangerous way. Insecurity is a form of selfishness and that is never a type of humility!

So in that moment, I was reminded to let go of my insecurities and tune out the lies I was listening to so that I could humble myself before God. As I did this, He led me to believe His thoughts more than my own. He reminded me I was created for a purpose, I have a voice that matters and He was in control. 

Then He lead me into a situation I never expected and had left me anxious, but as I surrendered my will and trusted His plan (and listened to my husband's encouraging words) He filled me with peace. I was in a place where I couldn't do it, but looking back I know that is exactly where I needed to be because then God can!!

God did what He needed to do and showed me this "situation" was about so much more than it outwardly seemed...I trust God spoke through me, but more than that He spoke to me. He showed me I still struggle with insecurity and truly living as the one He created me to be. For the last 5 years, He's led me on a journey to discover who I am and has put it on my heart to share the story.

I have a book proposal, two notebooks full of scripture and stories, but I also have a heart overflowing with  doubts. I've told myself, "There are plenty of books on this topic...mine isn't needed. I don't have time. I don't have the skill. I don't have the platform." The reasons are endless and they do explain why I haven't written, but as I humbly sat with this before God I was reminded they don't excuse my disobedience.

If I want to live as a humble servant of Christ, I need to do what He asks. Even when it doesn't make sense. Even when nobody else knows. Even when it seems impossible. Friend, humility is at the core of Christianity and it is essential if we want to live in obedience. Not just when it comes to writing a book or Bible study, but especially as we live our lives!!

The day following this heart to heart with God I received a new book and I did what I always the acknowledgements and then turn to the last few pages. On the final page I read this, "Jill, humble yourself so that..." and the tears started to fall. The word I'd scribbled on my sermon outline was now cemented on my heart. 

A new entry was made in my journal and God kept speaking to my heart through His Word. Perhaps He has something to say to you -

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,“God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5-6

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

Friend, I'm not sure if HUMILITY needs to be your word this week, but let me encourage you to consider thinking about it. Insert your name in this blank "_____________, humble yourself so that..." Pray about this and God will give you plenty of opportunities to live it out!! And if you've mastered this, I invite you to pray for me!! Thank you friend! It's a joy to humbly walk through life with you!!

"If you are humble, nothing will touch you, 
neither praise nor disgrace, 
because you know what you are." 
Mother Teresa" 

Friday, March 7, 2014

I have decided...

Welcome to you today!! Special thanks to my friends visiting from the Encouragement Cafe! In my devotion, I state life is full of choices...friend, would you agree?? I've been thinking about choices and even shared about them in a few recent posts, but today rather than focusing on our countless choices and frequent mistakes I want you to join me in thinking about a decision.

Now personally decisions have NEVER been one of my favorite things. I am not very decisive and never have been. Growing up my philosophy was - my decision is: I choose not to decide. I was content with letting others make the decision, but as a Christian I know that method is not Biblical. I will be held accountable for my actions, words, thoughts, my life. (Romans 14:2) And friend, so will you.

On thing we will be held accountable for are the choices we make...big, little, easy, hard we are responsible for them all. I still at times struggle with making decisions and choosing what is best, but I've found something that helps. 

When I remember the most important decision I've ever made I'm better able to choose what is best. Like the song says, "I have decided to follow Jesus" and that changes everything, or it should! 

My decision to follow Christ should impact my desire to be like Him therefor I should choose love. That decision should lead me to His Word so that I'm full of His wisdom and able to make the wise choice. When I decided to follow Christ I made a decision to die to self which means I should choose to put others before myself. Do you understand what I am saying? Our decision for Christ should impact every choice we make!!

Finally one last thing...this Truth is powerful and true, but it is also convicting. I know there are times I fail, my selfish choices don't match up with my most important decision. I'll admit there are times my choices are not filtered through this decision to follow Christ. So what do we do? Reflect on those choices, go to God and others if necessary, confess your sin and turn from it!! Then make the choice to accept His forgiveness and decide to repent.

And friend, if Satan is using this to condemn you refute his lies with Truth. Romans 5:8 tells us, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." My choices...good or bad, don't change the love God has for me. And the same is true for you!!

I pray you have been encouraged to let your decision to follow Christ to impact every choice you make! And may we choose to live out Proverbs 4:25-27, "Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thoughts to the paths of your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil."

I want to thank you for the birthday wishes and kind words! The winners of the books are Sara and "Lauren"...I'll be in touch!

A song for you today...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Birthday Thoughts and A Give-Away

Well, today is my birthday. Typically, I'm not one to announce that, but I guess with Facebook and 5 children it's no longer a secret!! And honestly, this year it's something God is leading me to address here.

Growing up, I loved my birthday pretty much like every child, but as a teen and adult I was pretty much OK with nobody knowing. I didn't want to be the center of attention and got embarrassed when I was singled out.

I clearly remember one birthday nearly 10 years was a Sunday and at church everyone sang to me. I wanted to hide behind my young son, but he was too busy running around. Later that day, my brother-in-law was joking with me about turning red and I said, "I don't know why everyone has to make such a big deal out of this." His response? "Jill, we love you and want you to know."

He made a simple statement, but one that was quite powerful! I still think about it when others start to sing the birthday song. For years, I called this behavior humility, but 5 or 6 years ago I realized it's really insecurity. And friend, as Susie Larson says, "Insecurity is a form of selfishness."

So fast forward to this year...just yesterday on the eve of turning 38, a situation took place that revealed I STILL struggle with insecurity, doubt and thinking I really don't matter. Granted I've made progress, but I have a ways to go.

And today, I want to share two resources that have helped me that I plan to revisit in the year to come. I also want to give you an opportunity to win one of them for yourself!

Last week I was walking through a time of frustration and feeling the attack of the enemy...instantly a friend came to mind, who I assumed could be in a similar situation and I thought, "I should pray for her!" Then God quietly whispered to my heart, "Perhaps you should pray for yourself!"

So, so true! I understand the need for that, but I don't always take the time to do it. But it's important and honestly it's not selfish or prideful. Actually it's just the opposite...going before our mighty God takes humility and God will keep our heart pure! So with that story, the first resource I want to share is Julie Gillies' book, "Prayers for a Women's Soul." You can learn more about it HERE. This is a book that has helped me and I trust it would bless you as well.

I realize my struggle with insecurity is something I will never conquer on my own, but I know God has helped me takes steps to overcome this. One big way He helps is by teaching me through His Word. Today I'm excited about a book that is being released that will lead us to the Bible. Wendy Blight's new study, "Living So That" is one that God will speak through to transform us from the inside out. You can learn more about it HERE.

So friend, today on my birthday I want to thank you for the gift you are to me. I appreciate you joining me here as we journey through life and walk in faith. I value the time you give up to read my thoughts and your encouraging comments mean more than you could know. Thank you!! I'd love to share the resources I've mentioned above, so leave a comment sharing which one you'd choose and your email for a chance to win! Then stop back on Friday when I'll be sharing a devotion at The Encouragement Cafe and announcing the winner.

As for me, I'm off to enjoy the day with my greatest gifts...a family who loves me!! I'm grateful for my husband and children, even though their desire to celebrate may wear me out before the day is done!! Here's a glimpse of their love - the first cake Joy has made and decorated entirely by herself!!

Finally, a verse to close our time together. It's one of the first ones I read today and as I get older I thought it was quite appropriate!! But more than that I appreciate the wisdom it holds...I hope you do too!! "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18