Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Magnificat Two

Mary’s worship song takes a turn right after her declaration that “he who is mighty has done great things for me”.  Up to this point Mary was worshipping God remembering all He had done for her.  Now she turns her attention to what God does in general.  The Scripture records go from the first person to the third person.

Mary bookends this part of the song with the theme of God’s mercy.  The names of the bookends extol how God shows His mercy. 

The first bookend is about God’s strength.  Our little GRANDson sings about God’s strength, “our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do”.  The words of that child’s song challenge me.  Do I really believe there is nothing my God cannot do?  I’m living with several unanswered prayers.  It causes me to wonder if God really can do ANYthing.  That thought leads me into Mary's second comment about the proud.

Am I so arrogant or proud as to think that I know the best way for God to answer my prayers?  A few years ago I was listening to a missionary report.  The missionary was telling us about a pastor in the persecuted church who had asked that we NOT pray FOR him, but that we pray WITH him.  His greatest desire was for the advance of the gospel in his country.  Other things like the persecution he lived with was not as important.  My prayers might be asking for lesser things.

Mary's third comment is another aspect of pride.  God brings down the mighty and He exalts the humble.  Mary is thinking about a lot of history as she sings this verse.  But this verse is not just history.  God still is doing this.  And I’m thankful … at least after a while.  I’m thankful for my friend who recently questioned my thinking on a particular scripture passage.  I had cross references lined up to support my proud thought.  As I pondered her question, I came to the conclusion that I really don’t know exactly what God means by this passage.  I need to be humble.  I may not be right!  It was good to admit that to her.

Mary's fourth comment reminds us about how God is able to fill the hungry and deal with the rich.  This contrast tells me that God is the provider and the great equalizer.  He is faithful.  He will meet our needs.  Because of being career missionaries this concept is very real.  Bill and I have no guaranteed salary.  Over the years we have seen God provide faithfully for us.  As a wedding gift one of our friends made a calligraphy print of part of Psalm 84:11 for us.  “… no good thing does the Lord withhold …”.  We have prayed that scripture for the last 38 years.  God is faithful. 

Her last comment is about how God has helped his servant Israel.  God is still in the business of helping.  I’m experiencing that as God answers my almost daily prayer, “God, what would it look like to trust You today?”  I need His help daily. 

And Mary leads us back to the topic of mercy, the bookend. 

These are heavy comments.  Two bookends are needed.  The other bookend that is supporting the mercy bookends is the generation bookend.  Verse 50, “And his mercy is ... from generation to generation”.  Verse 55, “as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  As an adopted child of my heavenly Father, I am one of Abraham’s offspring.  Everything that was true about God for Abraham is true about God for me and for my children and grandchildren and for all the future generations of the children of God.  What an incredible God!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Magnificat - One

I just HAVE to tell you!  I’m so excited I’m about to burst!  REALLY!  Our son just received word that he won the prestigious fellowship he applied for.  J  (I didn’t even know that when I wrote my first draft of this post.  But what a wonderful gift and illustration that is.)  You know, I think that’s how Mary felt after Elizabeth’s affirmation.  She just had to burst into song.  I find it interesting that Mary’s song did not come after Gabriel’s announcement to Mary it came after Elizabeth’s affirmation.  There is something special about the affirmation of a girlfriend … or in this case a female relative.  God, please help me to be an affirming friend to the women I come across today. 

God, through Gabriel and Elizabeth, said to Mary, I love you.
Mary’s response, her song is saying back to God, I love you.  It was worship.

Mary’s song came from the depth of who she was.  She says, “my soul magnifies… my spirit rejoices” in “the Lord” … in “God my Savior”.  In the words Lord and Savior, Mary acknowledges who God is in her life.  Previously she had referred to herself as a servant, this time she speaks of the same relationship only looking at it from God’s side.  He is her Lord.  And like me, Mary needed a Savior.  Like me, God is her Savior.

But it was the next few verses that caused me to burst into song.  Mary says, “for …” or “because” and lists four reasons why she is magnifying and rejoicing in her Lord and Savior.

1.     “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”  When God looked at Mary, He saw humility.  He saw a servant.  Those observations affirmed to Mary His love for her.  My question for me, what does God see when He looks on me and how has God affirmed His love for me today?

2.     “… all generations will call me blessed;”  That started with Elizabeth.  A few chapters later another woman called Mary blessed.  Jesus was there and He responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Luke 11:28.  Both are true.  Mary was blessed.  I can be too.  My question, what do you want me to hear today God so I can trust, so I can respond and so I can be blessed?

3.      “He… has done great things for me,” God was active in Mary’s life.  My question, how have I seen God active in my life this past week?

4.     “… holy is His name.”  This character quality of God seemed to summarize for Mary all that she was experiencing.  My question, what would be the character quality I would ascribe to God as a result of my experience with Him recently?

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Psalm 103:1

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Ponderings - Elizabeth

Mary had just experienced an amazing encounter with an angel.  The angel, Gabriel, had communicated to her that she had found favor with god, would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and her child is the Son of God.  After a few questions, Mary humbly surrendered to Gabriel’s message and Gabriel departed.  I love that Gabriel stayed with her until Mary was able to embrace his message. 

About ten years ago, Bill and I were involved in a marriage counseling intensive.  I remember the first day the counselor saying to us “We don’t know how long the intensive will last, maybe one week, maybe two, maybe a month.  But we will both know when the intensive has done its work”. He was right.  We both knew.  (It was 2 weeks.)  Our counselor stayed with us until we had embraced his message.  Gabriel stayed with Mary until she had embraced his message.  I want to be like that for my friends too.

The next thing recorded for us is that Mary went with haste to visit her relative (cousin?) Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was much older than Mary and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Oh how I identify with Mary at this point.  Having a conversation with an angel must be quite wonderful, but sharing with someone with skin on is so helpful.  Their family relationship gave them a special bond.  Their supernatural pregnancies gave them a special bond.  Their faith in God gave them a special bond.  And I wonder if like me, sometimes Mary needed to process externally.  What a gift Elizabeth was to Mary.

Elizabeth was there.  Elizabeth was available.  Elizabeth was affirming!  Affirmation is a wonderfully powerful gift.  Elizabeth first affirmed Mary’s identity, “Blessed are YOU”.  Gabriel said, “O favored one”.  I am blessed because of my relationship with God.  That blessing speaks of who I was created to be not what I was created to do.  Secondly Elizabeth affirmed that Mary’s baby is also blessed.  Gabriel named the baby Jesus and called him the Son of God.  Jesus is the fruit of Mary’s womb. For Mary, carrying Jesus was living out who God created her to be.  Lastly Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s surrender to God.  Elizabeth voiced to Mary her faith, “blessed is she who believed”.  Gabriel affirmed it by departing from her.  Elizabeth affirmed it with words.

There is something very special about woman-to-woman affirmation.  God used Elizabeth significantly in Mary’s life.  Mary’s Song of Praise, known as the Magnificat is recorded after her time with Elizabeth, not Gabriel.  And in the process, Elizabeth was also blessed.  When Elizabeth greeted Mary, the baby Elizabeth was carrying leaped for joy.  Elizabeth had been hiding her pregnancy for five months.  Was she embarrassed because of her age?  Was she fearful of a miscarriage?  Was it too good to be true?  Did she just want time to savor it with Zechariah?  I don’t know.  But I do know that when Elizabeth affirmed Mary, Elizabeth was also set free to enjoy her pregnancy publicly.  I bet they had a lot of special conversations over the next three months as Mary continued to stay with Elizabeth.

My prayer is, “God, would you please use me like you used Elizabeth to be an instrument of affirmation to the women around me.  Thank you.”

“Blessed is she who believed …”  Luke 1:45

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Ponderings

I enjoy changing the d├ęcor in our home with the seasons.  The basic furniture stays the same, but it’s adornment changes. 

It’s the same way with my time with God.  The basics are the same:  my Bible, my journals, a good book or two that have been ministering to me.  But what I focus on changes.  So with the beginning of Advent, my Word time this year is centering on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  What a gift that her story has been recorded for us!

Mary doesn’t yet know that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant when she is visited by the angel Gabriel with his amazing message.  “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you”. The Bible records that Mary was greatly troubled at the saying.  Gabriel has not said anything to Mary about being pregnant with Jesus yet.  He has just spoken something about her identity and Mary is greatly troubled.  The identity Gabriel gives her speaks of God’s love for her.  I bet Mary was more in tune with being the beloved of Joseph, the soon-to-be bride than being the favored one of God.

My culture has so programmed my identity for me that I too can wonder when someone speaks to me using God’s identity markers for me.  I’m sometimes more in tune with being “the basket lady” rather than the beloved child of my Heavenly Father.  Or even an identity I love, “Mana” (grandma) can be more real to me than my truest identity.

Mary’s response reminds me that I need to listen well to surprise affirmations as they might be from God!  I’m challenged to approach my friends this Christmas with their God-given identities. 

I love Mary’s vulnerability and honesty.  Gabriel continues on with his BIG announcement.  Mary’s first response is a question.  I don’t picture her question as a challenging question but rather a question from what Mary knows is true.  She is a virgin and virgins can’t be pregnant … at least apart from the intervention of God.  Gabriel gently speaks to her wonderings.

This so encourages me.  God is not threatened by my questions.  His answers may not come to me as quickly as Mary’s did but I believe they will come.  Questions are ok.

One other thought and this is a big one for me.  “… you will conceive … and bear a son …”.  Mary is going to bear physical fruit.  My desire is to bear spiritual fruit for God.  These words communicate to me that when I live out of my God-given identity I too will bear fruit. I love Philippians 1:22.  If I go on living out who God created me to be, it will mean fruitful labor for me.  My loose translation. 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  Hebrews 13:2

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Knot in the Pit of My Stomach

Sometimes I call them “mental arguments”.  I have a decision to make and I just don’t know which way to go.  Or I’m thinking I really should do something and I really don’t want to do it.
I’m confused or frustrated or worse yet, I’m battling what I think I should be doing.

That happened last week.  The knot was rather large.  I didn’t want to even consider the implications of my decision.

I have three current journals.  One is where I record underlines and quotes from books I read and messages I hear.  The second is my writing journal.  I often think with my pen and my thoughts are recorded in this journal.  The third is a beautiful leather bound journal that Bill gave me for Christmas a year ago.  This is a very special journal to me.  I use it as a prayer journal and I only record the scriptures and other request in it that I pray regularly for me and for those closest to me.  It is also a picture of my spiritual journey.  It is often this journal that I turn to when the knot makes itself known in my stomach.

And so I went to my leather bound journal first last week.  As I once again began to ponder and pray over the Scriptures that God has impressed on my heart over the years, I began to relax.  On the fourth page of that journal I have recorded several lies that I had come to believe about myself over the years as a result of the culture I was brought up in.  Immediately after each lie, I have recorded the truth of what God says about me.  These scriptures have become foundational and timeless for me.  They seem to apply to many of my life situations.  And that was true this time. 

As I considered the decision that was causing my knot and as I considered each lie and its corresponding truth recorded in my leather journal, it was obvious to me that making the decision one way was living out of the lies that have defined me for so long.  Making the decision the other way was living out of the truth of who God says I am.  I want to trust God.  I want to live out of the truth of what God says about me.

My decision was made.  The knot is melting as I pray in the light of the truth.

Do all things … without questioning …that you may be blameless …in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  Philippians 2:14ff


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Unscrewing My Big Toe

My friend used that descriptor once to explain what she and her husband did when they spent their week in Vail each fall.  Her words were, “sometimes I have to unscrew my big toe and let it all flow out”. 

I need to do that too.

In 2003 I wrote in one of my journals, “I need to be more intentional about quiet and solitude”.  Life is busy.  The needs of people are always present.  I love visiting our GRANDS.  I’m an extrovert by design so I love to show up for everything.  But my physical, emotional and spiritual batteries run low and I need to recharge.  That starts with unscrewing my big toe.

Sometimes I call it “sitting and staring”.  I just allow myself to be.  I’m not reading; I’m not writing; I’m not praying.  I don’t think I’m necessarily even waiting, I just am.  I’ve discovered this is good. 

Beyond that I’m also discovering that for me to recharge, five ingredients are necessary:  beauty, quiet, reviewing and listening, reading and sometimes writing.

For Christmas last year Bill gave me a deck heater.  Our deck is surrounded by old evergreens.  I love the beauty that is out there and the deck heater allows me to extend the days I can meet with God outside.  When the weather is too cold even for the deck heater my favorite place to meet with God is from an overstuffed chair in our bedroom that faces a sliding glass door that looks out to our deck.  These are places of beauty for me.  There are others, but these are my regulars.

I do enjoy music.  But to recharge, I’ve learned I prefer quiet.  I love listening to the “Sounds of Silence”. I know, that dates me.  The sounds that God has created, like the wind through the trees or water flowing from a nearby creek … or even the small fountain next to our deck are gifts from God to me. 

Paul says in Philippians 3:1, “…to write the same things to you again is no trouble for me and is safe for you”.  Reviewing is a safety net for me.  I have favorite scriptures that God has impressed on my heart that I often (sometimes daily) go back to and review, think about and pray over.  There are certain quotes that speak deeply to my heart that I need to hear again and again.  And as I review, I listen.  What might God be saying to me in these circumstances?  David Martin Lloyd Jones has said, “Most of our unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we are listening to self”.  I’ve added and talking to God.  I need to listen to God!  Listening sometimes is even more important than praying.

A big way I listen to God is through reading.  Reading my Bible for sure.  But also reading my journals and reading favorite authors.  I hear God through what He has whispered to me in the past and realize the truth is still true.  I hear God through the writings of others.  My current favorite is Sally Breedlove and her book, Choosing Rest.

Finally sometimes writing helps me to unscrew my big toe.  As I listen to myself through my pen I hear the affirming or the directional or the calming voice of God.  I leave with new perspective and my big toe back in place. 

“The Lord is my shepherd …He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul…”  Psalm 23:1,2,3

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kudos in the Elevator

I sell Longaberger baskets.  It’s been a good match for me allowing me to earn a bit of money and to do it around my passion – encouraging women in their walks with God.

Like all good sales companies, Longaberger has a yearly “pep-rally”, better known as a convention.  As consultants we are encouraged and empowered to be the best sales people on planet earth.  Every attendee is given ribbons to hang from their nametag.  Some of the ribbons mark certain achievements.  They have been earned.  Other ribbons are not earned.  They signify which group the consultant is a part of and other un-earned realities.  They want us to feel important.  It usually worked.

At one of the conventions in the late nineties, I was proudly wearing all my ribbons.  They fanned out like an upside down peacock from my nametag flowing down to my waist.  In the hotel elevator one afternoon, a stranger and fellow consultant seeing my many colorful ribbons congratulated me on my “achievements”.  I smiled and “humbly” said, thank you.  I knew I hadn’t earned all those ribbons but it felt good to be noticed.  I kind of liked the identity those ribbons gave me.

Fast forward a few years.  I was talking with a friend and describing my office to him.  My desk faces a wall that was full from top to bottom with framed Longaberger certificates.  The certificates, like the ribbons, were sometimes earned but often represented other true but un-earned realities.  However, anyone else looking at the wall would be impressed.  I guess I was trying to impress myself too.

But that impression was a source of confusion to me.  It was not a picture of my primary identity – the beloved child of God.  It was not a picture of what I was really passionate about – encouraging my friends in their walks with God.  Yes, Longaberger is a part of my life, but it is not the most important part. 

My friend asked, “Is that wall encouraging and reminding you of who you really are?”  I knew the answer to his question right away.  I went home and took down the wall … or at least the meaningless framed certificates that hung there.  I left one along with a few decorative pieces.  The one was a reminder of our group’s contribution to the American Cancer Society.

I’ve learned over the years that I need to remind myself regularly of my true identity.  I often review scriptures that speak to that in my devotional times.  This is so life-giving to me.

Yes, Longaberger is still part of my life.  But I have learned to keep it in its rightful place.

“Set your minds on things that are above (and true), not on things that are on earth.”  Colossians 3:2 – parentheses mine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Of Course I Love You

I was stomping around the kitchen and complaining loudly.  I was not happy and anyone who was in our home knew it.  My husband was standing near and letting me vent.  Finally I looked at him and challenged, “Do you even believe I love Jesus?”
He stretched out his arms to me, took me in his embrace, smiled down on me and gently said, “Of course I do!”  His love broke through my childish behavior and re-affirmed to me my real identity.

In that moment, I not only melted, but I learned a huge lesson about love, my husband’s love and God’s love.  To this day I do not remember what I was so angry about, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the depth of the love I experienced in that anger.

God through Bill accepted me right where I was that day.  He allowed me to be.  In that acceptance I realized what was really important.  My perspective returned.  I felt rescued.  I felt delighted in.  My behavior that afternoon was not a reflection of who God created me to be, my true identity.  It was a bad reaction to a frustrating situation.  But I was still a saint … a saint who was sinning at the moment, but still a saint.  The love I experienced in that moment allowed truth to flow to me.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else (even my stomping around the kitchen in anger) in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38,39

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm not Good Enough, or Am I?

I grew up believing that I was not good enough.  I had plenty of evidence to support it.  From not being invited to the elite Girl Scout camp in junior high to trying out for the color guard in high school and not making the cut and into college and my adult years, circumstances led me to believe the lie that I was not good enough.  It was very hurtful, but I knew nothing else.

During my college years I was introduced to reading and studying the Scriptures in a new way, as if they were a personal message from God to me.  I remember hearing John 1:12 and learning that I was a child of God.  I was part of the family.  Christianity was about a relationship, not just a religion.  And Psalm 139 said I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  WOW! 

These were great thoughts.  They were true thoughts.  I loved what they conveyed.  But they didn’t touch that BIG lie that I was so trained to believe, I am not good enough.  Actually for many years I didn’t even think that there was a connection between their truth and my lie.

About ten years ago all that began to change.  Transformation began as I learned to TRUST that truth!  When I realized that God was speaking the truths of His Word to me to change my life, something began to happen.  My default was slowly becoming, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and other Scriptures that speak of God’s picture of me. 

Every morning one of my prayers became, “God what would it look like for me to trust this truth today?”  … to live like I really believe it?  The lie was beginning to slip away.  God was doing something and it was “very good”.

But there was the shadow side.  As I was learning to believe that I am good enough … after all I am God’s creation and part of His family, there were contexts where I knew I was good enough.  I had a contribution to make and I was blessing those I was involved with.  Ahhhh, do you hear the pride?

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”.  I experienced God’s faithfulness to me as He exposed my proud heart to me.  It all began one spring when I volunteered to be involved in one of those contexts where I knew I was good enough.  I was flabbergasted when my offer was turned down!  I was hurt.  I was embarrassed.  It was their problem, or so I thought. 

Light dawned slowly over the next years as I pondered that situation.  I began to realize that this was the other side of the same issue.  In situations where I was feeling I was good enough, I began to realize that this too was a trust issue.  I was trusting in myself for my ministry; I was trusting in my gifting; I was trusting in my training.

Just as I need to trust God for who He created me to be, I also need to trust God for how I live out that creation, trust applied to ministry as well as my personal life.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”   Proverbs 3:5,6

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Affirmation is about who a person is.
Compliments are about what a person does.

Recently I attended a two-day conference where we were asked to do an affirmation exercise.  We were divided into groups of two and given of list of over 150 affirming words.  We were asked to circle all the words that would affirm our partner and then choose five to verbally share with stories to back up our choices.

I experienced three big lessons about affirmation that day.

Jay* was my partner.  Jay and I have a fairly new friendship.  We met only three months ago.  There are many of those new friendship details that I don’t know about her.  But, I found it easy to affirm her.  What a delight.  First affirmation lesson, I don’t need to know a person well to affirm them. 

Later in the day on one of our breaks I was visiting with a young wife.  Her words were, “my husband is not good at affirming me”.  I felt sad that that was her experience.  And I also wondered if she was missing some of her husband’s affirming ways.

I have experienced words of affirmation voiced by my husband Bill at times.  But more often I experience his written words of affirmation.  I love the cards he chooses for me and writes on.  My birthday card from five months ago is still standing on my dresser.  I wish I had saved those early letters he wrote when we were just beginning to know each other.  I need to be more of a romantic!
Second affirmation lesson, affirmation takes many different forms.

A third lesson on affirmation is a hard one.  It also displayed itself during the weekend.  Another friend was sharing about her experience with the affirmation exercise over a meal.  The affirming words had ignited her shame.  She shared when her friend affirmed her artistic bent, she heard that as “I’m not organized”.  Every word used to affirm her, she had a “not” for. 

I do that too sometimes.  Many times others have recognized my strength in hospitality.  Often I have put that down with this sentence, “No big deal, that’s easy for me”.  How dishonoring to God who created me hospitable and who is delighted when I use my home to minister to others.  Third affirmation lesson, even a positive thing like affirmation can ignite shame and feelings of unworthiness.

I enjoy affirmation.  I need affirmation to help me live out who God created me to be.  God is the ultimate affirmer.  Because I desire to grow in godliness, I need to grow in affirming the good things I see in others. 

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well”.  Psalm 139:14

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

LET THEM LEAD, Love Them Well, part 3

This afternoon as I sat enjoying a cup of coffee with my neighbor, God whispered in my ear … “Sue, I have more to teach you”.  Sandra* was telling me about times when she has heard the whisper of God.  I wanted to encourage her.  I wanted to share a verse with her.  I wanted to correct her understanding of OT history.  I wanted to talk!

A few weeks ago I was in a conversation with a group of women on the subject of confidentiality.  The specific confidential topic was prayer requests.   It was suggested that when a friend shares a prayer request, my total responsibility is to pray. 
***That means not share it with another so they can be involved in praying. 
***That means not even come back to her and ask about how it is going. 
***That means to not discuss it with others who also heard the request.
The request is her story and I need to let her lead if she wants to bring it up again. 

Yikes, that was a new thought for me.  Isn’t it showing concern to ask about the situation?  Isn’t it showing love to let her know I’m remembering to pray?

Letting them lead was just drilled down to a new level for me. 

As the conversation continued, it was mentioned that there are times when a follow-up question is appropriate and kind.  But there are also times when the only appropriate thing is prayer.

As I pondered that I realized that this is about trust.  Do I trust that God is big enough and His hearing is sharp enough to not only hear my prayer but also to act?
And do I trust that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in my friend and that they too can hear the voice of God?  My responsibility is to pray and trust.

Letting them lead in any follow-up conversation about the prayer request is one way to love and honor my friend.

Letting them lead is about being silent.  Let their story be their story.  Let their prayer request be their prayer request.  Silence just might be the best encouragement I offer.

I have a feeling my prayer life will never be the same!

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”.  I John 5:14

Sunday, October 31, 2010

One of My Security Blankets

God took a Scripture I used to be scared of and made it a favorite, Ephesians 2:10.

“For we are His workmanship” – We … and that includes me … are His (God’s ) work of art.  I understand that the Greek for workmanship is poema.   I am a beautiful poem penned by God.  I am His wonderful creation. But not only me, the word is “we”.  I am a member of a community, a family that has been fashioned by God, knit together individually and corporately into a beautiful tapestry.  There is a belongingness in this phrase that is such a gift.  This is my identity.

created in Christ Jesus for good works” – My creation has reason.  I am sometimes tempted to ask if the good works I’m involved in are important enough.  And sometimes I have wished that I could be involved in the good works I see others doing.  NOT GOOD!  When God leads me to a good work, it is HIS work for me and it is VERY important.  It is exactly where He needs me to be.  When I take my eyes off God and look at the works of others, I’m learning that that is a major act of Un-trust.  Not good!  This is my purpose.

which God prepared beforehand” – Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; …”  This is an amazing thought to me.  Although God was speaking these words about the prophet Jeremiah, I believe He was speaking them for me as well. God knew me before He formed me in my mother’s womb.  And with that knowledge before I was even born God consecrated me.  He had dibs on my life before I was introduced to my earthly family.  WOW!  This is my security.

that we should walk in them” – We should walk – not run.  How often I am tempted to think it needs to be done now.  I need to invite them for dinner this week.  I need to call her today.  I am so tempted to run.  The urgency can be overwhelming and tiring and not necessary or good.  If indeed these are God’s good works that He prepared for me to do and if He is asking me to walk, I will trust and walk.  This is my pace.

For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, …” Jeremiah 29:11 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Contentment - Was it possible?

My first memories of being discontent are from my single days.  I don’t remember the specific issues, but I clearly remember thinking the marriage would solve my discontentment – wrong!  I brought my discontentment with me into our marriage.  Ugh!

Scriptures like I Timothy 6:6, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment” and Hebrews 13:5, “…and be content with what you have …” were a source of great frustration for me.  I wanted to experience the truth of those verses but it eluded me. 

The source of my discontentment was not things.  I was well cared for in that arena.  My brand of discontentment came from my frustration that I thought I was not as godly as some of my friends.  I didn’t get the opportunities others had.  I was seldom asked to speak.  I thought those public-type things were the key to significance, the sign that I had something to offer.  Because those were seldom my contributions, I was frustrated and discontent.  To make matters worse my discontentment came from comparing!  Now, I was feeling doubly bad.  I’m not only discontent, I’m also comparing.

But I had hope, I thought.  Thinking I knew the keys to growing as a believer, I memorized verses on contentment; I did Bible studies on contentment; I even prepared and presented devotionals on contentment.  But my discontentment continued.  All those good and right things didn’t touch my issue.  I was adding the good things to the top of my bad issues.  I was treating the symptoms and not the disease.  My hope was leaking.

The bottom fell out in the fall of 1997.  I was sitting in a large group meeting and another woman was on the platform.  I was mad!!! Why didn’t I have the opportunities she had?  I made a significant decision that night.  I GAVE UP!  My plan was from then on I would put on a happy-looking mask and pretend that all was ok; that I didn’t care.  In one way, it was the wrong decision. It was like taking the good desires God had created me to have and freezing them.  But it also was my first step in the right direction – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  By my giving up, I was admitting I could do NOTHING about this issue.

I lived with my mask for over 2 years.  I thought my happy mask was protecting me and fooling others.  Neither was happening and I continued to hurt. 

Because the mask didn’t allow me to see clearly, my hearing was sharpened.  I began to hear God’s voice. That was the beginning of my second significant step.

With the help of a godly counselor, I began to hear God’s personal message to me.  It spoke of how much God loved me and of the purpose He had for me.  As I meditated on those truths over the years, my contentment issue (or lack thereof) began to disappear!  One day I realized I hadn’t even thought about contentment in a long time.  Transformation was happening.  It felt so good.

“God not only loves you very much, He has His hand on you for something special … something happened IN you, your life is echoing The Masters words”.  
I Thessalonians 1, The Message.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

There is No Place Else I'm Supposed To Be

The first time I had this thought, I was sitting in a canoe in the middle of a quiet lake.  For someone who usually has a do-list going, this was an amazing revelation.  It’s ok to be quiet.  It’s ok to sit, enjoy and listen.  It actually felt really really good.  J 

Since then I have had a growing appreciation of those moments of quiet and listening to God.  Not only do I appreciate them, I NEED them.  They bring life into perspective for me.  For example,

It was mid-August.  Vacation was starting on Friday.  It was an unusually full week for both Bill and I.  And we were both tired. It was one of those weeks where it was easy to misunderstand each other.  That happened.  The misunderstanding led to hurt on my part.  Not good.  I “stuffed it” and continued to pack.

Thankfully vacation for us has become to be defined by quiet mornings alone.  This time we were camping in the mountains of Colorado.  The weather was wonderful.  It created the perfect atmosphere for our mornings of quiet and listening.   My hurt evaporated as I sat enjoying the quiet, enjoying God and listening for His voice.  

I’m an extrovert and sitting quietly alone doesn’t seem very extrovert-ish to me.  But I’m learning that not only do I “enjoy” these times of quiet, I NEED them! 

I need time to reflect, to ponder.  These are not only times of solving my issues … although that is good.  It is out of these times that I’ve come to realize who God created me to be.  I’ve listened to the desires He has put in my own heart.  I begin to get it, to understand life.  My journey makes more sense to me.  I leave these times not only rested, but also refreshed and motivated.

“O God, Teach us to see you and reveal yourself to us when we see you.”             Ambrose of Milan
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let Them Lead, LOVE THEM WELL, part 2

For many years I have prayed that I would love women well. Then I started thinking about what that would look like to love women well. I realized that when I tried to love everyone the same … kind of the way I would want to be loved … it led to frustrated relationships. Not good!

Rebecca* and I had been friends for over 30 years. I truly wanted to love her well. We are very different. And our differences could be irritating to me. I’m thankful that Rebecca taught me about loving well.

Big lesson #1 – Accept where they are and meet them on their ground. When I would extend love to Rebecca in ways she appreciated, I learned about loving well.

Big lesson #2 – Hang in there with them. Virginia* is teaching me this lesson. I can’t will my friends to be further along on their spiritual journeys than they are. In the Scriptures, I see many references about walking with God. I need to walk with God with my friends and not ask that they run.

Big lesson #3 – Loving well is to trust God with our relationship. I don’t need to create opportunities to relate. God will open the doors through my friends. I’m thankful this is happening with Pamela*. This is another application for me on letting them lead (October 7 blog post).

Big lesson #4 - What is important to them becomes important to me. To be honest, I really don’t want to hike to that pond. But my friend, Charlotte* does. And she has invited me along. I do want to love her well. I would love to see her in the Kingdom.

“We should a guest love while he loves to stay and when he likes not – give him loving way.” William Jackson Palmer’s inscription on the entrance to his castle in Colorado Springs, Glen Eyrie.

“And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment”. Philippians 1:9

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

LET THEM LEAD, Love Them Well, part 1

The first time this thought came to mind was last spring as my friend, Trisha, was telling me a story about a younger woman who came to her asking for some spiritual guidance. Trisha encouraged her to go to the local Christian bookstore and pick out something she would enjoy reading with Trisha. In other words, Trisha let her pick the curriculum.

What a concept, the student leading the teacher. Trisha trusted the Spirit of God in her younger friend. How affirming!

I’ve been trying to put that into practice with the opportunities that God opens up for me. Let them lead. To be honest, that doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m experiencing it’s wisdom.

Sometimes a friend will open the door wide and invite me to be the “older woman”. But not often. Most of the time they open the door a crack and peer in. I’m invited to lunch. We become Facebook friends. It’s a baby step in a relationship. I wonder if they’re trying to determine if I’m safe. And sometimes I think they don’t know what they’re seeking as they crack open the door.

I’m learning that if I push open that cracked door, I’m running ahead of God and where He has our relationship. It can set the friendship back. When a friend “cracks” the door, I need to peer through the crack and offer crack-sized love. As our friendship grows and the door cracks open a bit wider, and trust is being established, I can offer more love to my friend. But she controls the door. I need to let her lead.

I call this my Crack Ministry.

“And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment.” Philippians 1:9

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unadorned AND Anointed

I have always had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that both these concepts can describe one person.

Now, unadorned I get. That’s me. I don’t wear a special uniform. I don’t have a job title that communicates significance. I don’t carry a specter. I’m just me … unadorned, ordinary.

Unfortunately the truth in the previous paragraph, however, led me to believe an untruth.
If I’m unadorned and ordinary, I will not have a significant contribution in God’s Kingdom.

I believed that untruth until God began teaching me how He defines, “significant”. What an eye-opener. I learned things like:
… I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit …
… the righteous flourish … grow … bear fruit …
… called by His name … created for His glory …

Knowing truth didn’t change my belief system. … at least not right away. The truth needed to become part of the fabric of who I am. That happened slowly … but surely … as I prayed over the truths above asking God to make them believable to me.

Two summers ago I was celebrating with friends who had just been given a “significant” ministry role. As several of us gathered around to pray for them, another friend anointed them with oil. But he didn’t only anoint my friends; we were all anointed with oil. We all received this symbol of consecration.

As I remembered that occasion recently, God spoke gently to me saying, “Sue you may not have a title, but you are anointed. You are set aside for a special and significant role in My Kingdom.”

“We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”
II Corinthians 4:7, The Message

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fragile Identities

My GRANDson is 4 years old. He has a happy heart most of the time. Lately, however, he’s been struggling. If things don’t go his way, he loses it. My son says, “he seems so fragile”.

I identify. My identity is sometimes fragile too.

Earlier this year, I was praying with some good friends. During the prayer time I learned some things I hadn’t known … some things I thought I really should have known. It frustrated me, but I was cool. My friends weren't aware of my frustration.

Later that day I was asking my husband about those things. After all, in this case, I felt he probably knew what I didn’t and he should have told me. With Bill, I didn’t hold back! My fragile identity was painfully obvious.

“What got into you?”, he asked. To be honest, I didn’t know. What I did know is that my poor husband was taking the brunt of my insecurities, my fragile identity.

As I pondered his question the next morning, some light began to dawn. I didn’t know the answer to the question, but it was obvious to me that I’m good at hiding, putting on a costume, not letting my friends see the real me. After all, I want them to think I’m more together than I really am. I’m a bit more mature than my 4 year old GRANDson who is able to be honest no matter who he is with.

But when I was in the presence of someone who was safe, I no longer hid, the costume came off and I allowed the real me to surface. I became like my GRANDson. Someone safe is someone I know loves me.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it – we’re called the children of God! That’s who we really are. …” I John 3:1

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let the Words of My Mouth

“You know, Sue, it may help if you don’t take the name of the Lord in vain in my parent’s home”. I was a college sophomore and a young believer when my roommate made that suggestion. “Oh God” was a pretty normal part of my vocabulary.

That’s my first memory of anyone commenting on my speech with the exception of being reprimanded by Mom for copying Dad’s rather salty speech.

I also grew up with sarcasm. “I didn’t mean it” or “I was just kidding” were phrases I had to employ often in my interactions with others. This for me is a hard one to break.

Even arrogance had crept in. I remember giving a presentation on children and scripture memory several years ago. I should have stuck to my notes, but I wandered into some arrogant statements. I was very humbled and embarrassed as I thought about it later.

More recently I was with a good friend and made a true comment about her to another friend in the room. She was faithful to me and told me later how my true words had deeply hurt her. Yikes, speaking the truth can sometimes be inappropriate and wound a friendship. Again I was humbled and thankful for a faithful friend. This re-enforced the truth to me that the hearer always has the right of interpretation.

Yes, the culture I grew up in greatly influenced my speech. But God is greater than culture.

My friend Paula wrote on my birthday card this year referring to this blog, “Speak softly and gently, Sue, His words of grace”. It was timely counsel from a good friend. Thank you, Paula!

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Calling for Courage

A few years ago some of our friends invited Bill and I to take horseback riding lessons with them. Yikes, horses are BIG! But the desire to share the experience with Bill and our good friends caused me to stir up the courage and say yes.

Courage has called out to me in harder places too, in those places where I’ve needed courage to face my shame… that which I felt was wrong about me, my person.

A descriptor for Adam and Eve before sin entered the world was, “they were naked and not ashamed”. I desire to have the courage for those words to describe me too.

The gospels record a story of a woman with a flow of blood that had lasted 12 years. She had gone to many doctors and had not found relief. She was desperate. Her desperation gave her the courage to face her shame, come to Jesus and just touch the hem of his garment. She didn’t quite have the courage to speak to him. But her courage was sufficient. The result was Jesus reached out to her, healed her, and blessed her with peace and freedom from her suffering. (Mark 5:25-34)

As I thought about that story, I wondered to myself,
What is the shame I feel that I need sufficient courage to act on?
It takes courage for me to even ask that question.
Do I really want to know the answer?
Do I really want to act on what I find out?
Do I really want to grow in godliness?
That’s the rub.

Philippians 1:20 – “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body …”

“Courage is being scared to death, but getting in the saddle anyway.” John Wayne

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Live INside the Box

Although I had been involved in ministry with The Navigators since my college days, I was propelled onto Navstaff by my marriage in 1972. Suddenly I felt other eyes upon me, I sensed expectations. I began to look around me for role models to see what my ministry should look like. From my observations I felt I was not measuring up. It was not a good feeling.

For the next 25 years I continued that destructive pattern. I saw what others were doing and what I was not doing. Somehow I never arrived at the destination where I thought I was supposed to be. I was hurting.

Sure, there were some “successes” along the way. I could introduce you to my friends who had become believers and many seemed to appreciate the Bible studies I facilitated. But in my mind, I knew there was more. The problem was I was looking for the more in all the wrong places. I journeyed from frustration and discouragement to anger to finally giving up. I literally decided, “I will grin and bear it”. That was 1997.

In the darkness of that place, the light of Scripture began to penetrate my heart and my mind. Truth gradually began to replace the lies I was so good at believing. Something was changing.

Sitting in a coffee shop one morning, I heard the voice of God whisper this truth in my ear, “Sue, you don’t need to create ministry. Live out of who I created you to be. Live INside the box I have created for you”. It was as if God was saying, don’t look to others look to me, trust me. I almost wept with relief! That began a new journey.

Jeremiah 1:5 – “… before you were born, I consecrated you”
Philippians 1:22 – “If I am to go on living in this body, it will mean fruitful labor for me …”