Friday, September 19, 2008

Still Breathing on the Bench!

"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

I just had to sit down and get this story out today before it gets lost somewhere in all the data floating around in my mind. The older I get, the more I will come across pieces of a good thought in my head knowing that somewhere were the details that went with it that I just cannot recall in clarity. So, hot off the presses of my mind is a rather short but sweet and insightful nighttime conversation between mom and teenage daughter:

Mom: "So, do you have any prayer requests?"
Daughter: "For a good night's sleep."
Mom: "Yes, I know. Let's pray for someone. Is there anyone who has a special need that you know of?"
(Daughter all wrapped up in her bedding lifts her head off the pillow trying to bring someone to mind while Mom childishly interrupts.)
Mom: "Me! Let's pray for me!"
Daughter: "Ok, what?"
Mom: "I have scheppers." (Not sure that's in the dictionary...ask Jennifer Huff Konieczka, or continue reading for explanation.) "I've been feeling kind of tired and useless and a little down, you know? I kind of feel like God has sat me on the bench. I'm just watching the game be played, unable to contribute."
Daughter: "Well, maybe it's so that you can catch your breath."
Mom: "Maybe, but I'm kinda tired of the bench."
Daughter: "Well, then maybe you should get in the game."
Mom: "Ok...let's pray."
(Mom prays and prays and prays, as always! Boy, that mom can pray! Daughter begins to softly chuckle at what she has learned to be through the years the closing of the prayer, not necessarily due to recitation, word choices, or voice fluctuation. She just knows that surely mom must be about done by now!)
Mom: "In Jesus' Name, amen."
(Daughter looks up at mom softly laughing.)
Daughter: "When you were praying I pictured you on the basketball court," (Her sport of choice.), "all suited out with little sweatbands around your head and wrists."
Mom: "What were my colors?"
Daughter: "Green and white." (Not daughter's own school colors, mind you.)
Mom: "I love you."
Daughter: "I love you, too."

(They hug, and daughter avoids a kiss; however, mom still moves in, and daughter wipes it off. Mom reminds daughter that she heard on a morning radio program that kisses are the best stress relievers and informs daughter that she better be kissing her even when she's old and gray. Then, comes a sweet, gentle, holy, good night kiss.)

Oh, how I love those nightly conversations, even though just moments before, my goal was to get in my own bed without delay. I have heard it said by the wonderful, Jesus-loving, Living Word immersed Beth Moore, and others, that the best gift we can give our children is our own walk with Christ. I agree, and I am learning to be disciplined, devoted, and passionate about my relationship with God before my children while also striving to be authentic. I must praise Him when I weary; I thank Him when I am wondering; I own my mistakes and ask forgiveness when I am rebellious and at fault; I sing and celebrate His goodness everyday, in joy and in sorrow. I ask them their prayer needs, and I share with them mine. Individually and together, we go before His precious and glorious throne of grace.

So often, He touches me through the insights of my children. My daughter's vision was one of me in the game, dawning the green and the white. As I have learned in part, green is the color that represents life and growth; white represents cleansing, purity, and hope. So, maybe that's what this bench thing is all about. My Lord knows where I have been, where I am, and where I am going. Quite possibly, He has chosen to sit me out to grow me, to purify me, and to renew my hope in Him as I catch my breath, His breath through the hands on coaching of His Holy Spirit in me. Maybe someday I'll be back in the game from my standpoint, or maybe I just need to find contentment on the bench and support those out on the court through prayer, giving and much more. Most certainly, I need to look around on my bench and see who's sitting next to me, so that the life and hope of Jesus Christ will be poured out in love, compassion, and encouragement through me. Even when we feel like we are on the bench, in Christ, we are in the game!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Grow Me Up

Even to your old age, I will be the same, and even to your graving years, I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you, and I will deliver you.
Isaiah 46:4

Recently, I've been watching some growing pains, not the old, (How old is a matter of perspective!), eighties sit-com, but the real thing. You find yourself moving along rather blissfully down the road and then a major shift in life occurs that you didn't altogether desire or ask for just smacks you in the face.

I am watching this happen in one of my beloved--my firstborn, beautiful child. When I think of her, the words "heart and soul" come immediately to mind, for she touches the very depths of me. I feel her joy and her pain. When she hurts, suppressed hurts in me awaken. I realize the older she gets, the more I just have to listen and love. Of course, my first course of thought is what can I do, how can I get busy to fix this situation for her? When I settle back down to earth, though, I begin to understand that she doesn't need to or want my fixings in most situations; she just needs me to listen and love.

I hate to, but I have to interrupt myself right here to tell you how I learned this lesson, again, most recently. I watched it played out between father and daughter. How sweet and how sacred are those moments shared? They simply sat and talked together in a dimly lit room--just a few feet apart, face to face. It was so peaceful and quiet. She spoke; he nodded; she spoke again; he affirmed her; and there, they sat together. In all of the wonder, it was quite unnerving to busy little me who could not even slow down enough to listen to one I so love. Honestly, I was jealous--quite jealous--and decided to ignore them until that inner, nagging nudge, (A.k.a., The Holy Spirit!) stopped me in my tracks. I stood on the stairs just around the corner from them, frustrated by the obstacle but melting under the pressure of my own selfishness. I moved myself out of the way and worked my way into the equation. I had known what was going on with my baby all along; she had already shared her feelings and happenings--or lack of--with me. I had just been missing the movement of compassion and the comfort of fellowship on my part in her sorrow. But, daddy had been available, ever-ready to sit and listen and authentically love. Another lesson learned by me.

These times are so unsettling, but they are also the times I pray for--when change happens, old comforts are disabled, and the opportunity to enter into new freedoms is set before us. It hurts when my child--who is hardly a child in reality but always my baby girl--feels lost, yet, I know in her confusion, God will be faithful to meet her and show her the way. I know this, because I've been there, and I find myself there time and again in my own person daily walk, and certainly, as a mother in need of wisdom. We have to believe He is near for ourselves and for those we love; we have to reach out to Him in all things, as well as to reach over and pull Him down over them.

That evening, after praying with her and then with my husband on her behalf, I cried myself to sleep in prayer. I wrestled with the Lord of Hosts over my questions and concerns, proclaiming His total sovereignty, as well as my lapse in making any sense of it at times; I vowed, though, to trust Him, because through the knowledge of His Word and experience with Him in relation to His character, I know He is completely trustworthy. I finally rested in His presence, His nearness, for sometimes that's all I can do.

The next day, amazingly, the situation had not changed, but I noticed the pain had lessened--the load felt lighter, and the smile was wider and brighter, quite possibly because we had called upon and allowed Him to take it off our shoulders, respectively. The night may seem long and, at times, the growing pains may feel unbearable, but Divine appointment is at hand, and He will take you to new places in the spiritual realm with a greater revelation of His faithfulness. We cannot and should not steer around these inconveniences, though we would most often like to. If we do, we will miss important life lessons, and perhaps, a spiritual growth spurt, for those growing pains are stepping stones in knowing and trusting Christ Jesus more. He loves us enough to allow them to happen to us and those we love, for they drive us deeper into His heart, if only we will go.

What changes in life have spurred your growth? Are there any changes that you believe have stunted your growth? If so, what steps did you or do you need to take to allow Christ Jesus to heal you?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SomeBuddy to Love!

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows."
James 1:17

Many mornings I wake up and make my way to the dining room table where I sit in quietness with the Lord. I pray; I read His Word; I read a daily devotion; sometimes I journal and write down verses on index cards for reference and memorization. Other times, I sing or just sit and listen. I laugh; I cry; I confess; I wrestle out loud; I question; I praise; I surrender. Often times, I am interrupted in this sacred session by big brown, needy eyes and a husky, furry paw tapping on my knee. I look down to see Buddy, our springer spaniel, my faithful companion of 9 months now.

One day in particular, in the midst of my interrogation of the Lord's timing in my life, (As if!), the sight of Buddy overwhelmed me. I remembered back to the last Christmas season when I was debating over whether or not I should surprise the family with a new puppy. I searched and found a couple of cute, little options; however, the load and stress of homework, papers, and finals for my college classes greatly distracted me. I decided to bypass the puppy option and told my family what I had thought about doing. At that point, they were rather ticked off at me; I really disappointed them with my decision to not get a puppy. They thought I was being a real Scrooge!

So then, what else could I do but get down to business with the puppy search?!? Much to my dismay, all the precious puppies were spoken for; Santa had snatched them all up to take to other families. Major bummer for me--lots of fun for them! I went to bed on Christmas Eve's eve--December 23--praying, begging, pleading for some insight, for just a little hope that could come in the form of a canine. It went something like, "Couldn't You, Lord, please, do this for me if You won't answer me on anything else?" Honestly, my faith in Him due to what seemed to be unanswered prayers from my standpoint at the time was rather small and stagnant. I was bracing myself for more of His quietness, thinking that I just needed to get used to disappointment. After all, it was all my fault anyway, for letting the matter go.

But, oh for the great love and mercy of God! The next day, Christmas Eve, my phone rang at noon. It was a nice man asking me if I was still interested in a puppy, because someone had just backed out of taking him. "Him?" I asked. I was really wanting a playful, cuddly male to go with our two females. (Yes, they are all fixed! Ha!) So, guess what surprise my unsuspecting family came home to that evening? The cutest, chunkiest, lazy-eyed, soft-headed, sweet-smelling, little puppy that you ever did see was sitting under our Christmas tree! "Buddy!" That's the named that poured out of my husband's heart and seaped through the huge grin on his face the second he laid eyes on our new baby.

My Buddy--I like to call him Buddy Love, because he loves to be loved on, and I love to love on him. He's a stinker, though. I've got bleached out spots all over my bedroom carpet from him ripping into a bottle of lotion that contained benzoyl peroxide; I walked out in the backyard yesterday to find the stuffing everywhere from, yet another, toy that he carried out in his enormous jowls and destroyed; while outside, I stepped in one of several holes with which he's decorated the yard; and, I noticed that the back door is just about shredded because he thinks there should be no barrier to his nearness to us. But, I still love him so much.

When I get onto him for misbehaving, he hangs his head and then soon moves in close to sit at my feet just waiting for approval. When I sit down, he comes to sit in my lap. When I sing praises to the Lord, he stares at me and tilts his thick head from side to side. When I cry, he draws near and sniffs my salty cheeks. When I get busy, he waits for me to notice him. If I am inside, he wants to be inside; if I go outside, so does he. When I pet him and then stop, he reaches out his paw and pets me until I start rubbing him again. When I'm at the computer typing away, he comes and drops a soggy, slobbery stuffed turtle on my arm. (That really just happened. Ugghh!)

And that lovely day, when my faith was stretched and I was struggling to make sense of God's timing and involvement in my life, Buddy just came and sat quietly beside me. I remembered instantly upon seeing him, the gift that God gave me in Buddy. He was an answer to a very simple prayer when all I could do was call upon His Name for help. My Jesus hears me, and He answers my prayers-- both large and small, in His timing. He can move swiftly, or He can takes His own sweet time, whichever He deems best. Most certainly, the Lord could move any mountain for me in a heartbeat, but He'd usually rather spend time on growing my faith and expanding my knowledge of Him so that I learn to trust Him enough to move mountains in and through me--one by one.

Sometimes, though, He brings you a Buddy to remind you of His love, faithfulness, compassion and goodness, even when you are having doubts, usually amidst your doubts. During the waiting and all the confusion, it's so important to just keep asking, to keep seeking, to keep reaching, and to keep on believing, if only with the little faith and energy you may have. He is there, and you need Him desperately! Sooner or later, He'll bring you a Buddy, and, don't forget, buddies can come in different forms. This cherished gift may certainly try your patience and interfere with your comfortable lifestyle by demanding your time and attention, but he, too, will deepen your ability to see outside of yourself and love beyond your self-imposed borders. He will ultimately point you to your perfect Heavenly Father, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and cause you to love more like Him!

For me in that season, He brought Buddy. What about you? How has the Lord sustained or reminded you of His nearness and goodness in a season of waiting, in the wilderness, so to speak? Are you seeing Him in your everyday life--in people, places, or activities? And, how does His simple, everday participation in your life spur you to love? If you feel led--please share. (I would do so now to avoid that "nagging nudge" of His. Just kidding, see prior post!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Difficulty of Obedience

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want."
Romans 7: 18-19

For days, ok weeks and maybe months, I have felt that nagging, little nudge of the Lord beckoning me to complete a certain task. I hate to use the word nagging; however, it seems appropriate, because it is so often the opposite of what my flesh is really wanting to do. Even still, that nagging seems to have purpose, and underneath it, I know there's something new--something worthwhile, a new discovery, hidden treasure, a lesson learned, and an open door. What may seem, at times to me, a nagging nudge is really His precious, gentle, nail-scarred hand moving me forward to that next place for which I am longing and for which I have been praying. Why do I wrestle so stubbornly against Him and then accuse Him of ignoring me? Oh my, I am such a big baby!

All this time, I have been asking Him the same question over and over again. He keeps answering me in one way or another with the very same answer, but I keep on asking, thinking that quite possibly that answer could change. In fact, He humors me by answering me occasionally before I ever voice my question, because, you know, He already knew the question and already had the answer before I even directed the question to Him initially. (Whew...that's a simple concept that I can make complex in a hurry!) So, what's the question...."What do You want me to do, Lord?" How many times has He heard that one?

I kind of think that He has been answering that question for Me for years, just for this very season in my life. I am wondering why is it so difficult to digest His answer when it is really the answer for which I have been hoping. Maybe it means I have to get busy and take ownership of the gifts He has deposited within me; possibly it means that I may have to wade the shores of criticism or experience uncomfortable amounts of rejection--both of which I would love to gracefully pass over. It may mean that I have to intentionally install new levels of discipline in my life, which means giving up something else that delights me. I really do not know why I struggle so except for my flesh, but I do know that the yearning in me will not cease until I choose to walk in obedience.

The thing is...He is not being mean at all, not in the least. He is so nice and incredibly patient with me that I can hardly stand it, but He is also patient enough to wait steadily and quietly on me in this place until I choose to step up and step out. He's a bit stubborn, too, but in a faith-building, fruit-bearing, very effective kind of way.

So, then, here I am, trying to be His obedient little girl. I feel like I have nothing to offer. I feel embarrassed that it has taken me so long to surrender. I feel uncreative and unworthy of the task. I feel scared of getting any type of response or not getting any response at all. I feel emptied, because my flesh has been crucified to the cross of my own affliction but of His own redemption; I feel full, because when my flesh is poured out, His Spirit fills me up. I feel free, because there's nothing like the peace that rushes in when I trust Him with all things, great and small. I feel loved, because I am, forever and always in Christ--in obedience and disobedience. Oh, but how great is the sweetness of His presence when we walk in obedience, abiding in His tender love and care!

The commission God gave write, to start here on this blog and share my heart. Am I such a goofball or what? Yep, it's true, but I am reminded by His Spirit whispering softly yet ever so authoritatively in my ear that I, too, am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus! Thank You, sweet Savior!