Well they say it's your birthday! Well it's my birthday too!
We are getting ready to head out on a hike to Cedar Falls in a little while, but I wanted to write down some thoughts that are on my mind before we head out and I get busy with the plans of the day. I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you as they have been to me today.
In church this morning, we read a portion of the account of the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Here are the notes I wrote as I listened and pondered God's goodness in the life of Joseph even as things around him were less than idyllic:
The applause of men can be enticing, especially when we are feeling low or needy, but accepting it is dishonest and settling for it is foolish when the God of the universe deserves the credit and the God of the universe is the true lifter of your head.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT) "But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high."
On my birthday today, I praise the One who knit me together in my mother's womb and who, in His great mercy, has saved my soul and given me a life filled with meaning and purpose! He has repeatedly lifted my head in due time and been my source of greatest joy and greatest satisfaction in life. May I serve him well with as many more days/weeks/years as He gives me!
A Letter to My 20 Year Old Self
To My 20 Year Old Self,
Hi. Do you have any idea how much potential you have? No, you don’t; I know because I was you 17 years ago. Let me enlighten you a bit from this side of 35, sweet girl. God has wired you uniquely, hand-crafted your personality, your talents, your intelligence, and your creativity for a purpose. Please, don’t get hung up on what that purpose is right now or how it will play out throughout your lifetime. Please don’t let it paralyze you. Please don’t lie awake at night fretting over whether or not to change your major or whether or not you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate or whether or not you’ll ever get married.
Stick with what your prayers and your gut are telling you for now, for today and trust God with the future. Concentrate on your character right now more than your path. “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half,” (Dostoevsky). In the meantime, don’t pretend that you have got it all figured out, even if people expect you to. Yes, your future may very well include things like a successful career, marriage, motherhood, influence, ministry and more; but it may not look anything like what you imagine those things to be right now – and that is a good thing.
A successful career might be that position at the law office downtown or a low paying job that pays the rent and finds you doing something that you never knew you were made to do. Marriage might mean a white wedding dress followed by 50+ years with a godly man or perhaps remaining loyal to God and God alone for the rest of your days. Motherhood may include bringing up sons and daughters who come into your life through childbirth or adoption, or it could look more like mentoring girls and boys younger than you or foster-parenting for a season. Influence may involve writing that book that everyone reads and raves about or it could be displayed more quietly as you devote time and attention to the handful of special people God puts under your care. Ministry may involve travel and large crowds and the salvation of many, or it may be quietly holding the hands of those who no one else notices and introducing them to a Savior you’ll never be sure this side of heaven if they completely accept.
Whatever lies ahead for you, rest assured, IT IS GOOD. It is so good, that you can’t imagine something better, no matter how hard you try. You can’t make it better by worrying about it now either, so don’t bother. God is the one who makes it good and His work in your life isn’t dependent on your planning or fretting or manipulating your situation. It is only dependent on your obedience. Walk with Him. Trust Him. He knows the way.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. Believe Him that this is true, even when things are hard.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV. Trust that He knows your heart better than you know it yourself.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 KJV. Learn to love God through relying on His word, the Bible. It is relevant and it is breathtaking.
“The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24 NLT. Don’t be afraid to ask God “Why?” when you don’t understand the detours, but be willing to accept and keep moving forward when he answers with “I’m not going to tell you right now.”
Above all, commit to laying all of your plans and hopes and dreams at His feet on a regular basis. Some of them He may one day give back to you, wrapped in his beautiful grace. Others he will discard, because of His infinite mercy, replacing them with something that He desires you to have even more. Either way, you will have your treasure – a life of meaning and purpose, and a relationship with the God who planned it that way from the beginning.
Learning From Senior Saints
Tonight we had the blessing of sitting on a panel for a young adult small group at our church discussing the topic of marriage. There were three couples on the panel - one couple had been married for 52 years, another couple had been married for 22 years and Jason and I were the youngest having been married for 14 years. A combined total of 88 years of experience at this thing called: "til death do us part." I enjoyed participating and I really enjoyed hearing the responses from the other panelists to the great questions the young adults had come up with for us to answer. Questions like, "How do you establish good communication?" "How do you turn your heart back to your spouse when you feel distant?" "How do you maintain joy in your relationship?" Good stuff! One response in particular from the most veteran of the couples really made me think. When asked about red flags in dating, they responded that things were different when they were younger. You didn't have all the resources or even think to have certain discussions while you were dating... "You just got married!" "It's funny," he said. "We didn't have half of what you have today to guide you, but the divorce rate today is so much greater than it was when we were young."
It is so wonderful to have the perspective of an older generation - things WERE different then. Things ARE different now. We will not learn from our elders and their unique perspective unless they show up to the table when these discussions are had, and they won't show up unless we invite them.
"The greatest asset a church can have is mature saints. We shouldn't alienate ourselves from these dear people. They have grown in their knowledge of God and in His likeness and have learned things that only experience can teach. On the other hand, the greatest liability a church can have are saints who got old and didn't mature. All they want to do is censor and control. They are no more loving, kind or patient now than they were 20 years ago." - The Common Made Holy by Neil T. Anderson
This is one of the great challenges of the Christian life: To remain teachable throughout our lifespan and to be willing to teach as well. We do not have the luxury of remaining stuck in our own generational rut, declaring our way to be the only way. We must expose ourselves to those who have grown up or who are growing up in a different culture and context from our own. True unity and true growth depend on our refusal to settle for ignorance when it comes to the ways of those older/younger than us.
When was the last time you purposely sat across the table from someone from a different generation as yours, either to humbly teach or to humbly be taught? When was the last time you read a book about the nuances of a different generation in an effort to better understand? (Such as: The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, or Generation iY by Tim Elmore, or You Lost Me by David Kinnaman) When did you last go out of your way to seek someone out from a different generation to ask advice on a specific topic or just to hear their story?
Proverbs 3:13-18 (NIV)
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
May we never stop learning and growing. May we never stop seeing the value in those older or the promise in those younger. May we learn to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and refuse to let walls of ignorance be built between generations.
The Best Marriage Advice Ever
"Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future, and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. Your relationship is the field and the flowers and the rolling
hills. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and in your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.
But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not
even be true, but sometimes it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies.
Noël and I have come to believe that the combination of forbearance
and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. That’s where you shovel the cow pies.
You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a
lot of cow pies. But you say to each other: You know, there is more
to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that
because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all
in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell
it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then we are
going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of the
field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are
not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of
the field that is sweet.
Our hands may be dirty. And our backs may ache from all the
shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the
compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is a gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved."
This is an excerpt from John Piper's book, This Momentary Marriage. It is my favorite book on the subject of Christian marriage and it is a resource that Jason and I rely on HEAVILY when offering premarital counseling sessions. I pray that you can find your own way to keep the "cow pies" where they belong - in the compost pile, and that you pitch your tent far from that place.
PS - Congrats to our friends Jared and Emmy on their recent wedding and many blessings to Sabrina and Emily and their grooms as they make final preparations for next week's big events! We are blessed to have you in our lives.
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
The Danger of Comparison
Today during the discussion we had in the Sunday School class that we attended, I was reminded of a habit that we have gotten into as a family. A good habit! Every time Timothy has a birthday, Jason and I give him a new privilege and a new responsibility based on his age and ability level. Hmmm, what does that have to do with Sunday School...? I'm glad you asked.
We were discussing how grateful we are that God doesn't confront us with every single sinful attitude and action in our lives all at once. We were comforted with the fact that sanctification is a lifelong process and that His grace is sufficient through it all. That made me think of Timmy's birthday privilege and responsibility, because as Christians one of the worst things that we can do is compare ourselves with other believers. That comparison either leaves us gloating in our privileges and mastery of our responsibilities or leaves us feeling like dirt... neither attitude is godly.
Here is a practical example: On Tim's 10th birthday, his new responsibility was to make his bed daily. He was finally tall enough and his arms were finally long enough to do the job right.
- Does this mean that Tim's bed had gone unmade for the previous 10 years? No. We took care of it until we were convinced he was able.
- Does that mean that we were secretly harboring anger toward Tim for the previous 10 years because beds need to be made and he wasn't making his? No. We hadn't asked him to do that yet, nor did we feel like he was ready for that responsibility. There were other things we had him working on in the meantime (setting the table, picking up dog poop in the yard, vacuuming, putting away dishes, etc.).
- Does that mean that the 7, 8, and 9 year old friends that Tim had who had already been making their beds themselves were better than Tim? No. They had been given different responsibilities by their parents that had nothing to do with what was between Tim and his parents.
If that makes perfect sense to us, why do we not always carry that principle with us into the spiritual realm. Why do we look down our noses at people who "call themselves Christians" but still sin in ways we don't? Or, on the other side of that coin, why do we look at others who have mastery over something and declare ourselves worthless because we aren't there yet. God convicts us all and equips us all as He sees fit as we grow up and mature in Him. He doesn't expect everything from us all at once and we shouldn't expect it of each other.
The moral of this story?
1. You may be making your bed daily, but don't gloat over your brother or sister with the unmade bed... chances are he/she has been busy picking up dog poop. Want to trade?
2. Thank God for His grace that is sufficient for every task and every mistake we make along the way. He knows what we are capable of and He never asks more of us than we can accomplish with His strength and support. What a loving Father!
2 Peter 3:18 (NASB): "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) "...speaking the truth in love we will all grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
This morning, my husband and I were awakened by our son who came into our room announcing that "SOMEONE needed to take him to school!" He had overslept. We had overslept. Let me explain why:
1. The past few days in Southern Ohio have been hot and muggy.
2. We do not have air conditioning in the house we are renting.
3. There is only 1 outlet in our bedroom that is near our bed.
4. There are three different plugs that need to be plugged into that outlet: the alarm clock, the bedside lamp, and a fan.
5. Only two of these items can be plugged in at once.
6. Last night, the fan and the bedside lamp won the outlet face-off.
I wanted to read last night, so I unplugged the alarm clock and plugged in the lamp. Unplugging the fan was NOT AN OPTION given how hot it was. Guess what! The alarm clock does not work unless it is plugged in. My son's frantic request this morning is proof of that. Thankfully we got him to school on time (and when I say "we," I mean my husband), but the situation left me thinking...
We have a source of unlimited power in the world. His name is God the Father/God the Son/God the Holy Spirit. Those who believe, have access to His power! The only outlet for God's power, however, is His Will; His "good, pleasing and perfect will." He doesn't let us plug into Him for power in order to do things that don't go along with His perfect plan for our lives. When we find ourselves running on empty, it is likely because we are doing one of two things: trying to accomplish God's Will without accessing His power (through prayer, time in the Bible, time with other Believers, time spent in worship) - this is like my alarm clock that had access to the outlet, but remained unplugged and was thus ineffective; or trying to accomplish things that are not God's will for us (which He will not sustain) - this would be like me plugging in a lamp that had a burnt out light bulb, I could plug it in as many times as I wanted to, but it will never light the room.
When the power is available and abundant, but the outlets are limited - it is important to choose wisely what we plug in.
1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
PS - If you comment on this blog post that I need to buy a book light, you are right, but you've missed the point. (wink)
The Note Taker
When I was a college student, I had two amazing jobs. One was serving as the front desk clerk at the dorm I lived at all four years, and the other was as a note taker for the Department of Student Services. Hmmm, perhaps "Amazing" isn't the word you would use to describe these jobs of mine. I get it. Neither was glamorous and neither paid particularly well. The jobs were (and still are) amazing to me because of what they allowed me to do. Working at the front desk enabled me to get paid while I did my homework and socialized with the other girls in my dorm, and it didn't require me getting dressed up or spending any money on gas to get there! As a note taker, I would go to the Student Services Department at the beginning of every semester and show them my class schedule. They would then let me know which classes I was already taking that they could use my services in. You see, there were other students attending my school who dealt with learning disabilities, and one way that the University made sure these classmates had equal opportunity to learn and achieve was to pay students with good note taking skills to share their notes from each lecture. It was a major win-win scenario. 1. I got paid to take notes in classes that I already needed to go to and take notes for. 2. I took better notes than I normally would because I knew that someone else was relying on me to communicate clearly. 3. A fellow student got the extra help they needed to succeed. Maybe now you'll agree, those were pretty amazing jobs!
As I was reading the book, "Radical - Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt, I read this profound section which made me think back to my days as a note taker:
"Imagine being in the Sudan. You walk into a thatched hut with a small group of Sudanese church leaders, and you sit down to teach them God's Word. As soon as you start, you lose eye contact with all of them. No one is looking at you, and you hardly see their eyes the rest of the time. The reason is because they're writing down every word you say. They come up to you afterward and say, 'Teacher, we are going to take everything we have learned from God's Word, translate it into our languages, and teach it in our tribes.' They were not listening to receive but to reproduce. Now journey to a contemporary worship service in the United States. Some people have their Bibles open, while others don't have a Bible with them. A few people are taking notes, but for the most part they are passively sitting in the audience. While some are probably disengaged, others are intently focused on what the preacher is saying, listening to God's Word to hear how it applies to their lives. But the reality is, few are listening to reproduce."
God's Word is not meant to stop with us, it is meant to flow through us. I am challenged by reading Platt's book and by remembering my college note-taking job to remember that everything I receive can be used to bless others, teach others, encourage others, remind others, and point others to the glory of God - and that doing so should be a very natural thing, a real win-win scenario.
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB
What if I gave all?
As my husband has made the transition from life as a teacher to life as a minister these past several years, I have been going through a transition as well. I can look back over the years and identify seasons of my life where I have known very clearly what God was asking of me (the year he asked me to learn submission was a doozy). In this current season, the lesson is about NOT HOLDING BACK. One by one, God has been peeling back layers of my own selfishness and showing me how I have been choosing to withhold good things from those around me. It isn't pretty. Some of the things are small, but could have great impact - a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement; other things are more involved - my time, my energy, my vulnerability, my love.
As we made the drive recently from PA to OH, Timmy and Jason were in the moving truck and I was in our car by myself with time to think. I realized that God was indeed asking me to consider what life, what ministry, would be like if I stopped holding back and gave all, trusting Him to replenish me and use my efforts as He sees fit - refusing to make judgement calls about whether something or someone was "worth" my offering or whether or not "my offering" was worthy of the someone or something. Immediately, the lyrics to this song (by Ray Boltz) came into my head for the first time in many years:
He heard the preacher say
A single dime can feed
A hungry boy or girl
With nothing to eat
So he pulled a dollar
From the pocket of his jeans
And he asked his mama
How many will this feed?
She just smiled
And when she told him ten
He reached back again
What if I give all I have?
What will that gift do?
My child, a gift like that
Could change the world
It could feed a multitude
He didn't close his eyes
Or turn away
I can see him standing tall
He saw the need
And I can hear him say
What if I give all
The song goes on to recount the stories of both the young boy in the Bible who gave his lunch (fish and bread) to Jesus who used it to feed THOUSANDS, and to Jesus himself who gave everything He had to save the world from sin.
What if I gave all? What if I stopped acting like I belong to myself and started acting like my God was big enough to meet my physical, spiritual and emotional needs in such an overwhelming way that I was freed up to give liberally of myself, KNOWING I wouldn't be left depleted for long? What would that gift do? It is time to find out. This move to Ohio may not have turned out the way I expected it to, but it doesn't give me an excuse to withdraw and hold tightly to what is "mine." If anything it compels me to submit to the only One who is never taken by surprise, the only One who holds the future. The God of the Universe whose resources are without end and whose love is unfailing.
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NASB - "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."
Romans 12:1 NASB - "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!