Monday, March 28, 2011

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Small children often hear that question.  Currently my almost five-year-old GRANDson wants to drive a tow truck.  Once in a while I hear adults say ever since they were a young teen they knew what they wanted to do.

But I also hear some of my peers still jokingly say they still haven’t figured out what they want to do when they grow up.  I have a hunch that they are confused because they are trying to figure out what they want to do.  And that’s not the first step.

I’ve known for many years what I wanted to do.  And really it hasn’t changed.  But the joy in the doing has changed completely.  Because over the last several years, I’ve learned that who I am is much more important than what I do.  What I do springs from who I am. 

In his book, The Sacred Romance, John Eldridge says, “There is no escaping your identity.  You will not live beyond how you see yourself; not for long.”   That is my experience.  Although I was doing things that I thought were important, it was never enough.  In my thinking someone else could always do it better.  The issue was not what I was doing.  The issue was my identity.  My identity was defined by my doing.  And when my doing was not good enough, neither was I.  It was a vicious circle. 

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…” I John 3:1.  That is my identity.  I am the child of God.  I was born into His family.  I carry His name.  As a member of His family, He gave me gifts; He gave me desires; He consecrated me; I have an inheritance.  About ten years ago these truths became real to me and it changed everything. I have meditated on this truth almost daily since then.  God is bringing a new freedom into my life.

Last summer I pounded the proverbial stake into the ground.  We were camping in the mountains and I was enjoying the warm summer morning with my cup of coffee and my Bible.  I was reading Psalm 33.  Verses 13 and 15 stood out, “The Lord looks down from heaven; he see all the children of men … he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds”.  This led me to some questions.  When God sees me does he see someone who is living out of who God created her to be?  And when He notes my deeds are they in line with the heart God fashioned in me?   I knew some of the answer was yes and that was encouraging.  I also knew I still needed to grow.  And that is encouraging too.

How I got to that point was a process.  My answers would have been different ten years ago.  The first and most important step was embracing my identity as the beloved child of God.  I needed to learn that my being was the most important thing.  The next step flowed naturally from that and I continue to work on this.  I needed to identify the lies that caused me to believe that my doing (not my being) was the most important thing.  And I needed to replace them with truth from the Word.  That in turn allowed me to see more clearly the desires that God had placed in my heart.  My doing began to flow from my being.  This has changed everything.  What I want to do is to live out of who God created me to be.

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God”.   John 1:12

Friday, March 25, 2011

Affirmation, part 3

“Thank you for seeing something in me of Jesus.”   Those words were part of an email I received recently.  They came at a time when my friend is hurting … a LOT!  “I am just trying to get through each day with love and courage.”

You know, I had not thought of the fact that I am “seeing Jesus” in her.  But most certainly I am.  And as she is “just trying to get through each day” she is displaying Jesus to so many around her. And she is doing it well.   I am so thankful to call her a friend.

I wonder if that might just be the very best way I can affirm others, to observe how they are living, to see Jesus in them and to share that with them.  After all, I want my life to be a picture of Jesus to my world.  And it is so encouraging when another notices and points that out to me. 

My sister wants to do some work on our family tree.  She emailed me a question about a certain web resource.  I could not help her, but I knew another one of my friends could.  So I forwarded her question on.  WOW, I received an above and beyond response.  Not only did my friend answer her question, she pointed my sister to additional resources and offered to personally help her.  I was overwhelmed.  But I shouldn’t have been.  My friend was living out who God created her to be. 

My friend loves to serve.  It is one of her spiritual gifts.  And my friend loves genealogy.  Put the two together and it was very natural for her to offer to help my sister.  My friend was being a picture of Jesus to me and to my sister.  How affirming to her to let her know that I see Jesus in her.

For a long time I thought that I need a certain role to have a platform where others would see Jesus in me.  Not true.  Others can see Jesus in me and I in them when we live from the heart God gave us. 

“And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes I me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.  I have come into the world as light …”
John 12:44,45

Father, please help me to see You in my friends and to be quick to affirm them.  amen

Affirmation, part 1 is here.  Affirmation, part 2 is here

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In The Ring, On The Mat

My husband sometimes watches college wrestling on TV.  He enjoys it.  He understands it.  He wrestled in high school and college.  I rarely watch with him.  I don’t enjoy it.  And I don’t understand it.

That’s often how I feel about life.  It’s like a wrestling match or a fight.  There are so many hard things all around me.  I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t understand it.  I want to be out of the ring.  But life often has my friends and me in the ring, in the fight. 

Several years ago I memorized Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be still”.   I don’t remember the circumstances that surrounded me at the time that would lead me to memorize that verse.  I wish I did.  However, last week I found myself reviewing that verse again.  Then that very same Scripture was used in a testimony I heard during a worship service later that same day.  Hmmmm.  So I went back to Exodus 14 to remind myself of the story. 

Pharaoh had released the Israelites from slavery and Moses had led them through wilderness land to the edge of the Red Sea.  But Pharaoh changed his mind and came after the Israelites with his entire Egyptian army.  The Scriptures record three responses from the Israelites:
  • They were totally afraid ~ understandable.
  • They cried out in terror to God ~ they prayed in desperation.
  • They complained to Moses ~ so human.

Moses had three responses for the Israelites:
  • Don’t be afraid.
  • Stand firm.
  • Watch what God will do. 
The Scripture summarizes this, “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be still”.

This led to pondering what it looks like to be still.  After all that is my part and I Peter 3 tells me that a gentle and quiet (that seems to be a synonym for being still) in God’s sight is precious. 

Being still means remembering the faithfulness of God toward me in the past.  “… In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength”.  Isaiah 30:15

Being still means recalling God’s love for me.  “…He will quiet you by His love…”.  Zephaniah 3:17

Being still means to be actively engaged, to be praying and trusting.  “… and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever”.  Isaiah 32:17

Being still means recording the works of God with thanksgiving.  “Be still and know that I am God …”.  Psalm 46:10

Being still means not complaining.  “A fool gives full vent …a wise (wo)man quietly holds it back.  Proverbs 29:11

“And I’ll use Pharaoh and his army to put my Glory on display…”  Exodus 14:4 and 17, The Message.   I love that God uses the same words before and after verse 14.  Being still and allowing God to fight puts His Glory on display!

“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Habakkuk 2:20

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Refiners Fire

I started this blog in September 2010.  My primary motive and heart’s desire was to minister to other women through the lessons God had taught me.  A second motive was to record for me how God had worked in my life.

What I’m learning ~ a-GAIN ~ is God’s plans are so much bigger than mine!  And I’m so thankful.  Here are some of the things I’m experiencing, and hopefully learning, as I blog:

  1. When I am vulnerable enough to put something in writing, God continues His deepening  work in my own life.  Hence, some of my posts are lesson 1, lesson 2, lesson 3 etc.  Sometimes my response to these new lessons on the same subject is Yikes, these were lessons I thought I had learned … note the past tense … and it’s a bit scary.  Other times I interpret God’s continuing work in my life as His love for me in action.  This second interpretation, I’m sure, is the more accurate one.  After all, it was God who said through Paul, “… To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Paul also said, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Philippians 3:1 and 1:6. 
  2. I’m continually amazed when I learn that someone is reading my blog.  How did they know about it?  And I’m also very thankful.  After all, that is my primary motive that I would minister to women.   
  3. I really do love hearing your responses.  I guess my insecurities lead me to want to know that my words are helping you.  I interpret silence as my post was not helpful.  But when I make hearing from you the measure of the helpfulness of the blog, the blog becomes about me, not ministering to you.  I’m working on this one.  Paul’s pure ministry heart is a challenge to me, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering … I rejoice.”  Philippians 2:17. 
  4. God is purifying my motives by using my own words to work in my life.  In my words, my desires are spelled out.  God gave me my desires and He wants them to honor Him.  I do too. 
  5. Finally, or dare I use that word, writing this blog has been an act of worship for me.  It is a recording of God’s work.  It is causing me to remember.  It leads me to wonder and ponder God and His goodness.  I am thankful. 

The Scripture I’ve been claiming for this blog is Colossians 1:25.  “… the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you to make the word of God fully known”.    The italics are mine to highlight the key thoughts for me.  In other words, my prayer is that my life experiences and my words will incarnate The Word of God for you. 

“For it is God who works in you (and me), both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” 
Philippians 2:13

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Joanne

You might remember Joanne.  She is the daughter of my friend Kay.  Joanne suffered a major stroke on January 11, 2011.

Today is Joanne's birthday.  It is also the day that she moved to the rehab hospital.  Both these things made today very significant and special.

Joanne loves charm bracelets.  In honor of her birthday one of her friends asked us to wear our charm bracelets today and whenever we heard them jingle use that as a reminder to pray for Joanne.  Joanne, you got a lot of prayer todayI hadn't worn my charm bracelets in a long time.  It was fun to get them out and a joy to pray for you throughout the day today.

Yes, Joanne still needs our prayer.  Her husband updates her blog, with prayer requests almost daily.

This has been a big learning journey for me too.  Before Joanne's stroke I was pondering the many hard things so many of my friends were walking through.  I posted this two days after her stroke.  And I'm learning a ton about prayer as well.  I wrote about one of my most significant lessons last month.

This is one of the Scriptures I most often pray for Joanne and her family,

Oh, the depth of the riches, and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen
Romans 11:33-36

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Making A Difference

Two weeks ago I went to see the movie The Grace Card with my friend Connie.  Being a movie critic is not something I normally do.  However, this movie illustrated so well what it takes to really make a difference in the lives of others that I want to share some thoughts with you. That too is my desire.  I want to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me by sharing how living the Christian life is playing out for me.

In many ways I felt the story line was unrealistic.  But the lessons portrayed through the story line echo truth.  Receiving the grace of God and offering it to others is the key to making a positive difference.  That was what the main character learned.

The main character, a Caucasian father was a hurting and bitter man.  His marriage and his family were struggling and he was struggling in his job as a policeman in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.  About seventeen years before, his five-year-old son was hit by a car and killed. The car, driven by an African-American was leaving the scene of a drug transaction.  That incident colored the father’s entire life.  And it was the impetus that drove him into law enforcement.

As the story begins, his second son is a senior in high school.  He is not doing well in school or in life and his relationship with his father is very rocky.  The father’s bitterness is being passed down to his son.  Life is not good!

Since the first son had died, the father’s wounds and hurts had festered.  They were poisoning him and everyone around him.  He was making a difference, a very negative one on everyone with whom he came in contact. 

At one point in the movie, the father is asked, Why did you want to become a policeman?  His answer was, I thought I could make a difference.  In other words he thought that putting on a uniform and having a certain job would cause his life to count for something, to make a difference.  

The plot spirals down.  Others were passing him by on his job.  His family life is unraveling.  And at about this time, he is given a new police partner.  He is an African-American, a believer and is learning about grace.  Although the turn around takes a while and has a lot of ups and downs, their relationship is the key to the end of the story.

The father does finally learn about grace, both how to receive it and how to give it.  He did get his desire, that he would make a difference.  But it didn’t come because of a uniform he wore, it came because of a relationship.  He came to the end of himself.  He was a totally broken man.  But he accepted the grace that was offered to him and was able to pass it on.  He made a positive difference.

“…“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
 II Corinthians 12:9

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ready-Made Friends, Real Friends and BFFs

“Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other gold.”

I think that might be a chorus from an old Girl Scout song.  I can’t quite remember but those words have stuck in my mind all these years.  

Friendship has always been a high value for me.  I even have a small display of some favorite plaques in my kitchen about friendship.  One of my favorites says, “Friendship is a sheltering tree”.  Many times I have experienced the shelter of friendship.  I bet you have too.

Growing up I never had enough friends.  Even though I was always involved in groups of some sort with other girls that provided friends, something was missing. Wallowing in the back of my mind was this sad thought, I don’t have a best friend and that seemed important.  It was all about me.  L

I’ve grown up. Friendship is still very important to me.  But it’s not about me.  It’s about God and his purposes in friendship.  This has brought freedom, joy and a new depth to my friendships.

Today I count myself fortunate to have many friends.  God has given some new friends in surprising ways.  I count the two women who share my GRANDchildren, the mothers of my daughter-in-laws as two special friends.  Thanks Dave and Jeff for bringing them into my life.  J

Some friends are “ready-made friends”.  We are put together in the same group or live in the same neighborhood for example.  It may be a short-term friendship like the women who sat on jury duty with me 17 months ago.  Or it may be a very long-term friendship like being on the same ministry team.  These friendships sometimes, but not always, continue and grow long after the group has dismantled.  My former neighbor Ginny and I have become real friends even though we no longer live on the same street. 

Ready-made friends can become “real friends” and often do.  Real friends are friends because of some similar interest, shared life experience or similar values and they want to be friends.  Several of my real friends I’ve met through the churches we have attended or through my Longaberger business.  A similar interest caused us to meet; similar values caused our friendship to grow.

Some of the ladies in my knitting group are becoming real friends.  We relate outside of knitting.  We enjoy coffee together sometimes and we realize that life is more than our next knitting project. 

Thirty-five years ago a new friendship was born when Candy and I were both expecting our first child.  Although we had a ready-made friendship because we were both part of the same group, our ready-made friendship developed into a real friendship because of our shared life experience.  Our sons were born three months apart.  For the last 25 years we have lived in different parts of the United States.  We usually see each other once a year, but I look forward to my times with Candy.  She is real friend. 

There is a third category of friends that I call “best friends”.  Recently I learned this acronym, “bff” ~ “best friend forever”.  I like it.  God has given some bffs. There is no limit on how many bffs someone can have.  I like that too.  But bffs come at a cost.

As I think of my bffs, some of the costs have been major transition and/or pain. 

Several years ago we had recently moved to a new city.  We had settled into a large church and didn’t know anyone.  After a few Sundays I remember recognizing a lady from a Sunday school class when we walked in the front door.  Wanting friends, I approached her.  I don’t remember the content of our conversation but I do remember she pointed me in a direction and said, “see you there”.  I didn’t feel real good about that encounter. 

A few months later another new family moved into the area and came to our church and Sunday school class.  Their children were about the same ages as ours.  I approached the mom who was swimming in the same waters I had been in only months before.  Transition is hard. It can be painful.  We became real friends.  Today I consider her one of my bffs. 

I almost lost another bff.  I don’t remember the reason, but I do remember being very mad and hurt.  My wise husband pushed me toward my “friend” and warned me that I was on the verge of losing someone who had become special to me.  I had to move toward her and ask her forgiveness.  By God’s grace, I had the courage to move and she had the grace to accept.  Since then we have walked through several joys and some very deep sorrows together.  The pains have cemented our friendship!

Another bff is currently swimming in the very deep waters of her young adult daughter having a major stroke.  I am swimming with her through my prayers.  Her friendship is a gift to me.  Our friendship started in the ready-made category.  We along with our husbands were both invited to be part of a small group.  Over the years she and I became real friends.  Today I consider her a bff.

Ready-made friends, real friends and bffs all are part of my life.  I appreciate them all and look forward to how these friendships will continue to grow as we live life together.

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul”.
Proverbs 27:9, The Message

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Titles, Uniforms and Roles

I can’t help it.  I come upon it naturally.  It started when I was in elementary school when mom signed me up for Brownies, the forerunner of The Girl Scouts. 

I was so proud to be a Brownie.  One day a week I got to wear that special uniform that gave me significance.  I didn’t know that word back then, but I knew the feeling and I liked it.  After a few years I promoted into Girl Scouts.  This time my uniform was green.  The very best part of the uniform was the sash that I wore over it.  It draped from my shoulder down to the opposite hip.  It advertised the troop that I was a part of.  But the very best thing about it was it advertised all the badges I had earned.  Each one carefully sewn on by mom, let my friends know all my achievements.  I felt important.

I clearly remember pouring over the Girl Scout Handbook and reading the requirements for each badge.  I chose which ones I would work on by how fast I could accomplish the tasks.  It had nothing to do with learning or interest; it had everything to do with earning another badge that would announce to my world that I had accomplished something.  It was an identity for me.

The pattern continued into high school.  Now I was no longer a Girl Scout, so I needed another identity.  I tried out for the Color Guard.  They had impressive uniforms.  Marching on the wrong foot during the try-outs however guaranteed I would never be a Color Guard!  L

In college, it was sorority.  My mom had been in a sorority during her college years and that seemed like a good thing.  Again, it would provide an identity for me.  On our campus, all the sororities had uniforms that the members wore ~ even better.  Although I must admit the tan blazer and skirt didn’t do a lot for me!

It was during college that I also realized that being a Christian was more than my religion, it was a relationship with God.  I responded to that and began to grow in that relationship.  Soon that relationship became more important to me than sorority and I went inactive after only a year.  That was a huge step for me to give up that very visible identity.  But it didn’t change my desire for others to know I was important.

After college, uniforms were no longer a part of my life.  But the desire for significance was.  I longed for an identity that communicated I had value.  It became roles and titles.  Bible Study Leader or Women’s Bible Study Director seemed to fit who I was.  And I had lots of opportunities.  I also quickly moved up the ranks in my part-time job with Longaberger. 

But no matter how many uniforms I wore, or titles I had, it was never enough.  They never satisfied.  As I’ve pondered this I’ve realized that what I was craving was feeling valued and having influence.  What I thought communicated these things were actually doing just the opposite!  They were masks that were covering up the real me, the me God created. 

My two desires were good desires.  God gave them to me.  But I was looking to fulfill them in all the wrong ways.  God wants me to know my value.  God wants me to be an influencer.  These days I’m hearing God say to me, “Sue, you have good desires; after-all I gave them to you.  Let me fulfill them for you and work them out on your behalf”.  I’m learning.  Influence is living out who God created me to be and that’s where my significance needs are met. 

“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 Master’s Words”.  From I Thessalonians, The Message.  And where the title of my blog, Echoes of Grace, comes from.