Thursday, November 27, 2014

When Thanksgiving is Hard

Thanksgiving is a day that always makes me think and it has become my favorite holiday. I appreciate the simplicity (no gift-buying pressure) and treasure the memories. Fourteen years ago on the eve of the big day Job surprised me when he asked me to be his wife and four years ago we learned we were expecting our 5th child. This holiday holds memories that our dear and represents a concept that is critical, but today I was reminded that sometimes Thanksgiving, and giving thanks, can be hard.

A childhood friend, who I grew up with, went to school with and later coached with lost her dad...15 short months after losing her mom. My heart hurt when I read the news...Chuck was one of a kind! "Sir Charles" and I always enjoyed a good conversation...he kept people on their toes and loved them from the heart. I can "see" him now as memories race through my mind and again the tears fill my eyes. I think of his 3 daughters and 2 sons and the pain they must feel. I've never been in their shoes and can't begin to understand, but the situation has me thinking.

Thanksgiving, like I said, is my favorite holiday, but sometimes the things we love are hard. Today, a day many were looking forward to and enjoyed, was hard for my friend and her family. And friend, there may have been moments that were hard for you as well. Moments when you found yourself missing loved ones who weren't there. This was my 2nd year without my grandma B and yesterday as I prepped and worked in the kitchen I thought of her. I missed her, and though I'm thankful for the memories, I'm reminded sometimes remembering is hard.

For my friend this day will forever be marked, Thanksgiving may always be hard. All this had me thinking about the bigger picture...Thanksgiving may be a single day on the calendar, but God longs for it to be a constant state of the heart. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, "In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 

We often wonder what God's will for us and here He clearly tells's not a job or a ministry, a place to live or a trip to take. It's not a complicated task, but it is a difficult one. We are instructed to give thanks in everything. Today when I spoke with ones I love and spent time with some as well, it was a fun thing and honestly, an easy thing to do. But tomorrow, next week or next year when I'm personally living out the bad news it won't be enjoyable, but God will still expect it.

Friend, His will for you and me, is to give Him thanks. How can we do that on days that are not created with that focus? On days when it's hard? I'll admit I've wrestled with these questions today as my thoughts drifted to my friends who were planning a funeral instead of enjoying a feast. I struggle living out the command when my kids and I are having a bad day.

I found myself asking God, "How? How do I do this, give YOU thanks in EVERYTHING?" And then He reminded me of a verse our pastor shared last night at our Thanksgiving service - James 1:2-5. It says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." 

I'd been studying the beginning of this passage, but the last verse really hit me. Considering our trials pure joy is another thought that is quite contradictory to our human emotions and something I struggle with. Perhaps you do too. If so, be encouraged by verse 5. Friend, when we don't know how to give thanks in everything or how to consider our trials a joy, we need to ask. God will guide us, direct us and provide for us. That truth alone is something to be thankful for. 

Friend, I pray your Thanksgiving has been blessed, but if it's been hard I'm asking God to draw you near and use HIS WORD to speak to your heart. Go to Him now with the hard stuff, the trials, the painful memories and ask Him for wisdom, He will provide. And then on this night of Thanksgiving, do the thing we are created to do - give Him thanks. 

Thanking Him for YOU now.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We Need Words

Words have always had an impact on me...growing up encouraging ones could really motivate me and angry ones would leave me crushed. Since junior high, I've enjoyed putting my thoughts on paper...using words to fill my journals. Prior to getting married, Job and I went through the "Five Love Languages" and I was not surprised to find out words of affirmation is my primary language. And just this week I was reminded why we need words.

Wednesday afternoon I posted a picture to Facebook of a moment that had touched my heart. My daughter, Joy, (10 next month) had her nose in a book that has blessed me and led me deeper into God's Word. She's had this book for 9 months, but just really started reading it. I've been praying about my kids making their faith their own and when I saw her jotting down answers to the questions, God reminded me He hears and answers.

This was a wonderful moment for me as a Mom and from her comment I knew Wendy Blight, the author of Living So That, appreciated it as well. Later on that day, I sent her a message sharing more about the story behind the picture and then moved on with life.

As the evening unfolded, my oldest and I had a few not so fun moments. He disobeyed and I was frustrated. He acted and I reacted. He spoke up and I grew angry. We talked about the struggle, but didn't solve the problem. Bedtime came, we prayed and I said, "Good-night. I love you." He was silent. I reached the door, looked back and said, "I really do." He gave me a look I don't like to see and one honestly I rarely do; one that seemed to say, "Whatever."

I went down the stairs as tears fell from my eyes. I felt terrible. I was sure I was failing as a Mom and feared what lies ahead. All I wanted to do was crawl in bed. As I moved towards my goal, I stopped to shut down my computer and noticed I had a message back from Wendy. Her words went straight to my heart and brought Proverbs 16:24 to life.

I was reminded that I have done something right. The picture she saw did say something about me as a daughter, well all my kids are being exposed to and taught the Word. They know God created them, loves them and has a plan for them. They understand they are sinners and Jesus died for them. I am trying to do what I believe is right...Satan wants me to think I'm a failure, but through encouraging, life-building words from a friend God reminded me that though I make mistakes they don't define who I am.

After a couple of short sentences helped me regain perspective, God continued to speak. Satan had been condemning me, but now God was convicting me. He assured me the beautiful pic I posted on Facebook really did say something about me as a Mom, but also gently and lovingly showed me the picture etched in my mind as I said, "Good night" to my boy said something as well.

It said I'm not there my boy I have room for growth and improvement. I'm not perfect and my Father does not expect me to be...I should be a parent with the same philosophy. I may have the gift of encouragement, but my words can also be critical...especially of the ones I love. Friend, these are not easy things to share and they are even harder to deal with, but yet I know this is good.

How can I say that? Let's go back to the picture at the top of this daughter is not the only one reading Living So That, I'm studying through it as well and this week my memory verse is - James 1:2-3, "Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of faith brings perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Friend, last night was a trial for me as a wasn't the first and I know it won't be the last. God is working in me and my son and I trust He will be faithful to complete it. (Phil. 1:6) I am able to press through this knowing He has a purpose, is doing a work and providing me with words.

I'm grateful for the words from people around me that prove these verses are true -

"The tongue has the power of life and death..." Proverbs 18:21
"Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances." Proverbs 25:11
"Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:24

I'm blessed and in constant need of the words found in the WORD because...

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughy equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

And now rather than listening to Satan's words that leave me feeling low, I'm lifting words from God up to Him in prayer and He is renewing my mind, changing my heart and working in me.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Lord I pray the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart would be pleasing to You. Please empower me to not let any unwholesome word come from my mouth, instead I long to speak ones that will glorify You and build others up, especially Job and the kids. Finally Father, I pray for you to give me a longing for your Word like the deer pants for the me thirst for the Living Water knowing You will fill me up. Thank you Lord for the way You work, continue to speak to me through Your people and especially Your my ears to listen, tender my heart to receive and prepare my feet, heart and mouth to obey. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Do you understand your need for words? Especially your dependence on the Word? I pray you do and I'm asking God to bless you with a word from Him today!! Thank you friend for joining me and allowing me to share a few words with you!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Just Wondering

"Mom, you know I really am 'Wonder Woman!'" are the words my 7 year old daughter said to me. I wasn't sure where this was going because as far as I knew her understanding of this superhero was nonexistent. So I responded with nothing and then she proceeded to say, "Because I really do wonder a lot!!!"

Well, if those are the words that define 'Wonder Woman' then I am her as well!! My little lady comes by her deep thinking quite naturally and friend I've found myself wondering quite a bit the last few days. Saturday was the funeral of a wonderful friend/neighbor/sister in Christ and as we celebrated her life and legacy I thought about mine. Yesterday marked the 6th year anniversary of the death of my grandma Biwer and I found myself reflecting on much.

As I thought about this I remembered something my other daughter said a few years back...we were heading to the visitation of an elderly man from our church when Joy, probably 6 at the time said, "Why do we go see dead people?" We explained the whys of our actions, but her words have always stuck with me...too often when we make the choice to take time for people it's too late.

Friend, none of us, or are loved ones, are guaranteed tomorrow so we'd better be intentional with today. Psalms 90:12 says, "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

All my recent wonderings have left me with the desire to be more intentional with the things I do and say. I long to make a difference for Christ and shine His light; I know that must begin here right where I am at. I also believe God is showing me I need to do a better job of speaking up and really sharing my faith...someday "I'll do it later" won't be an option. He's also showing me there is much I can learn from the people around me...others who've walked with Him for years and experienced things I never have. They have wisdom I could glean from, but I have to be intentional and ask questions and listen to the answers.

So friend, let me start with you - Tell me about your relationship with Christ. What has been the greatest challenge as you walk in faith? What have you learned through it? What advice would you share with me as a wife, mom or believer?

I could go on, but I'll stop with that and finish with the other thing God is showing me I could improve upon...sharing my appreciation and saying the things I too often leave unsaid. A week before her passing, Janet called me and wanted to talk...she told me somethings I never knew and spoke words that touched my heart.

So friend, whether I see you face to face or know you from far-away, I do appreciate you and the connection we share here. I'm grateful for your encouraging words, wise insight and the opportunity to join you on this journey. I pray for you and thank God for you!!

Today I'm asking Him to use my wonderings to make you think as well. May we each be intentional with our time and diligent with our gifts as we walk in a way that is worthy of our calling.

Finally some encouraging words that I just read this morning -

"This earthly chapter is not the end of the eternal story; the pain of death will one day be only a memory." Unknown

"Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity." John Milton

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand  firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

She gave all...

In the last two weeks I've learned of the passing of two precious people, Bobbie and Janet. They were both in their 60's, were each deeply loved and are now deeply missed. I knew Janet personally and learned of Bobbie from a mutual friend.

They were both women who loved the Lord and served Him to the end, but from the world's perspective their lives looked very different. If you were to google Janet, you'd find her obituary. If you did the same with Bobbie, you'd find pages of information - websites, books she'd authored, interviews and words from famous people. Some might be quick to say one of these women had more of an impact than the other, but let's think for a minute what God is saying.

Without a doubt, I believe as each precious sister entered heaven they heard the words we all long to hear, "Well done good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:23)

As I've reflected on the loss of Janet and Bobbie, God's brought much to mind, but for now I'll simply share two Scripture passages. First of all from Psalms 116:15, "Precious in the sight of Lord is the death of His faithful servants." The NLT says it like this, "The Lord cares deeply when His loved one dies." I remember reading these words 8 years ago when my grandma passed away and being encouraged that God cares too. This time we long to avoid, the season that brings pain, tears and grief is precious in God's eyes. It's a homecoming for the ones He loves and calls His own and it's a reminder for me of the hope we have in Him.

The other passage that comes to mind when I think of these two specific women comes from the can find it in Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44. It's here we find the story of the widow's offering. Neither Bobbie or Janet were a widow, but from what I know they each gave all they had. And more importantly they lived the life God called them to and glorified Him in it.

Like I said from the outside their lives were very gal speaking from the stage to many and the other serving the kids she babysat for 33 years. Now that their lives are done, they are both being missed by many, especially by those who knew them personally. Ones they'd loved, served and prayed for. They each had children and grandchildren of their own, but they also both impacted countless others and treated them as a Mother does.

As I've thought about the lives these women have lived I've been encouraged to think about mine. They each walked with humility, sought after God, spent time in His Word and prayer and followed where God led. They used the gifts they'd been given and trusted God in the good and the bad. They shared their faith and praised God in the storm. They were wives, moms, friends and women who made a difference and glorified God. They were women who served an audience of One, stood before Him and are now with Him.

My heart hurts as I think about not seeing Janet or hearing her wise, encouraging words. And I sympathize with those who will miss Bobbie in a similar way. But I'm also grateful for my connection with them and for the reminder to be intentional with the life I've been given. I've found myself asking God to help me remember my days are numbered as well and praying that He will help me give all I have just like Janet and Bobbie did.

Friend, what you and I have to give looks very different, but I pray our effort and attitude is similar. Knowing, if that's the case, the effect will be the same God will be glorified in our lives and others will be blessed as we live out the legacy we one day will leave.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Is It Humility?

Welcome to those of you joining me from The Encouragement Cafe where I am again sharing about humility. If you'd like to read my devotion titled, "What is that?" click HERE.

As I wrote, we must understand humility if we are going to live humbly. Though I wrote the words in the devotional months ago, God recently taught me a lesson about this...last weekend to be exact.

My husband, Job, is an elder at our small county church, which means once every few months he is in charge of setting up communion. This role means I am responsible for making a loaf of bread...something that is NOT a gift of mine.

By Saturday afternoon, I had successfully made two loaves of bread...the kids were thrilled to enjoy one for supper and I did what every mom of hungry kids would do with the other - hide it! Time came for baths and the bedtime routine, so I set the bread out on the counter knowing it'd be easy for Job to find when he left to set up.

With baths over I dressed Jesse, my 3 year old, and sent him off; then I did the same with Jed, my 5 year old. As I finished cleaning up I heard Jed, "Mom, come quick, Jesse eatin bread!!!!"

Instantly, I knew exactly what had happened. I entered the kitchen to find this...

A flood of thoughts entered my mind, but it all came down to, "What are we going to do?" Minutes later Job  came in and his first reaction was far different than mine...he laughed, which only added to my frustration. At 8:30 I put the kids to bed and then returned to the kitchen.

Thankfully I had one more loaf of frozen bread dough; I found the directions and moved forward with the fastest baking plan. At 11:30 PM I opened the oven and found what I called, a "Humpty Dumpty" loaf of bread...I don't know what happened, but it looked bad.

Honestly I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't fall. I knew there was nothing I could do so I went to bed...a short time later Job came in from a late night in the field. He saw the bread, didn't say a word and then I asked him, "What are we going to do?" He assured me it would be alright.

I went to sleep asking God to work it out...I wasn't sure how that would happen - I'd already contacted my three bread making friends, we are an hour from the nearest store that would have a loaf of homemade looking bread and church was at 8:30. Yet there was a part of me that knew it would be alright.

At 4 AM I woke up and knew I was to get up and try again. This time I found a recipe for my bread machine, prayed as I added the ingredients and returned to bed asking God to do it. By 6 I was back up, put the dough in pans and let it rise. During this time, my brother-in-law stopped by and asked for the communion bread...Job had asked him to take it to church. I wrapped up the "Humpty Dumpty" loaf and Satan reminded me I wasn't cut out to be an elder's wife.

Time kept ticking away as I did the dishes, while I stood at the sink I thought about the devotions I was sharing this week - both were on the topic of humility. I specifically got to thinking about what humility really is and more specifically what it should like in the situation I was in. God had me, a recovering people pleaser with a life long approval addiction, on this one. "Why was I making another loaf of bread?" was the question He put on my heart.

I would like to say it was because communion is important, it's a holy sacrament and something I want to do right to honor God. I also remembered the widow how didn't give much, but gave all she had and wondered if God was telling me my messed up loaf was enough. Friend, those things are all true, but I know I was also worried about what others would think.

So when my daughter looked at the nice freshly baked loaves of bread and asked, "Which one are you going to take to church?" I simply responded, "I might not take either one." She, the girl who inherited a bit of my addiction, was shocked and asked, "Why?"

I told her what God had been showing me about humility and how I really didn't know my answer to His question. Then I explained how our actions might look humble, but if they come from a prideful heart it's not humility at all. She looked at me a bit confused and then left to get ready for church.

After our conversation, I had peace about the whole situation and was prepared to leave it in my husband's hands...thinking he'd say it wasn't a big deal, nobody would notice and we didn't have time to switch it anyway.

He came in from chores, entered the kitchen, and called to me in the other room, "Why don't you run this loaf down to the church right now." I didn't ask any questions and then did what he said...I knew submitting to my husband was the humble thing to do.

Time for church came and after a powerful sermon we took part in the breaking of the bread. As our pastor echoed Jesus' words from the last supper and lifted the loaf of bread...I had peace. I had heard God's voice at 4 AM, followed His directions and made the bread for Him. I gave Him the best of what I had and He was pleased with my perseverance.

He wants and deserves our best...friends that's not always easy and rarely does it come without trouble, but if we humble ourselves it is possible. When we do this He will bless our obedience and be glorified by our actions.

Friend, I pray you are encouraged to really think about what humility is...may we never forget that it is directly connected to the fear of the Lord. May we move past worrying about what others expect and focus on giving God what He deserves. What does God deserve from you today? Your obedience, your praise, your thankfulness, your heart, your time, your money, your 5th loaf of bread? I don't know, but God does - ask Him and then pray for the humility to make it happen!

A few more thoughts on humility -
"God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us." Martin Luther

"Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil's reach as humility." Jonathon Edwards

"I used to think that God's gifts were on shelves - one above another - and the taller we grow, the easier we can reach them. Now I find that God's gifts are on shelves - and the lower we stoop, the more we get." F.B. Meyer

"He who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:11

" grace to the humble...Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up." James 4:6,10

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thoughts from the Day

Welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe! It's a pleasure to be sharing a devotional there today! If you'd like to read, "How Low Can You Go?" click HERE.

Friends, I typically like to have a blog post to accompany my devotions, but today I'm at a loss of words. I'm writing this on Sunday night after a visit with Janet, a humble, Godly woman from our church. She is sick - tomorrow marks 4 weeks in the hospital and they are now talking about Hospice care.

It was good to see her and even better to visit with her. Her memory is good and faith is strong, but her body is failing. She says everyday I wake up and ask, "Lord, why am I still here?" She knows there is a reason, but struggles with the want to understand. She is ready to meet her Savior and is doing all she can to share Him with others.

Many thoughts went through my mind as we made the hour drive home. My heart breaks for her husband, Arnie, who held her hand as we conversed...hanging on to moments that are fading away all too fast. There were also thoughts about family and friends who are not ready to die, but like Janet are now one day closer to that day than they were before; thoughts about myself and the things that are most important in life. Finally, thoughts about Jesus the One who's humility brought us the reason for hope.

And friend, I'll admit as I type the tears are falling. Death is hard, but friend it's real. It happens all the time...sometimes it shocks us and others life let's us prepare, but regardless of the timing it is difficult. But remembering this reality can be helpful, it can help us focus and keep things in perspective.

Today Janet can't walk across the room, but I know she'd beat me in the "Humility Limbo"! Her life is coming to an end, but her focus is on Christ and others. She's still praying for others, reaching out so things aren't left unsaid and assuring others of her love for them. She's trusting in God, relying on Christ and sharing her faith. She's let go of her plans and embraced His.

Friend, I feel my thoughts are scattered, but my prayer is that you'd spend some time today thinking about humility and ask God how you can live that out. As we lower ourselves, we lift Christ up and friend that is what we are created to do and in the end it's all that will matter. Also, if you'd pray for Arnie and Janet, along with their family and friends, I know they'd be grateful.

I'll save the best words for last...ones that come from God instead of me, ones that remind me of Janet and encourage me - "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 self, the unfading of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4