Thursday, April 28, 2011

From my Heart

In the life lessons section of my journal I have this sentence recorded, “Live from the heart God gave me”. 

Initially that was a warning for me.  It was a corrective to what I used to think gave me significance.  My significance used to be based on what you knew about me.  It was always easier to advertise to you who I was if there was a uniform that did that for me.  So in elementary school and junior high, it was my Girl Scout uniform.  In high school I was hoping it would be a color-guard uniform ~ that never worked out.  During college it was the blazer that I got to wear that communicated the sorority I was part of.

And if there wasn’t a uniform, it was a role that I got to fill that communicated to me ~ and I thought to you ~ that I was significant.  It was usually a leadership role of some sort. I mistakenly thought that my usefulness was tied to a role or a uniform.  But I’m realizing the vanity and the pride in that thinking.  Not only that, but how incorrect it truly is.

I’m learning to love the line in the song, “My Favorite Things”, from The Sound of Music that speaks of “brown paper packages”.  The idea of course is that the wrapping is not what makes the gift special, it is what is inside that counts.  And so it is with us who are believers.

Author LeAnne Payne says, “Until we learn to yield to God all our needs, cries and the desires of our hearts in petition, we will neither know Him or our hearts as we should”.  I think my desires were right.  But how I thought they would be lived out was not.

I’m figuring out what is inside the brown paper package of who I am ~ what my desires are ~ what thrills my heart ~ the heart God created within me.  And I’m also learning what sidetracks me from living out of those God-given desires.  Galatians 5:16 teaches me that my flesh also has desires.  Those desires may look good on the surface, but underneath they sidetrack me from living out who I really am. 

Asking myself some questions has helped me figure out if my desires are from God.
For instance, what is it about this desire that I think is life-giving?  And, what is it about this desire that I really enjoy?  What might God say about this desire?  Proverbs 3:5 is a good caution for me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”  I’m learning to allow God to speak to me and shape my desires.

Many years ago I heard the voice of God speak to me from Jonah 2:8 where Jonah is praying to God from the belly of the whale.  In the NIV, this verse is translated, “Those who cling to worthless idols, forfeit the grace that could be theirs”.  To be honest, I don’t remember the circumstance that caused that verse to speak to me.  However, in the last several months, God brought that verse back to me again as my husband and I are looking at some changes in the near future.  Change is always hard in some ways.  I want to cling to that which I know.  But the real question is, do I want to forfeit the grace that could be mine?  NO!  So I submit my desires to God.  And slowly my desires are changing.  I’m learning that the brown paper package that has been our life for the last few years no longer contains the desires God has given us.  So what is more important, the packaging or the contents of the package ~ the heart that God has given me?

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”.
Psalm 37:4

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Personal Easter Story

Resurrection is bringing to life that which was dead.  The resurrection in my life dawned over a period of years as I pondered the life-giving truths of scripture.  The ah-ha moment came quickly as I realized what was happening in my life.

The Old Testament law in Leviticus 19 teaches me to love my neighbor just like I love myself.  And that’s how I “loved” for a long time ~ just like I loved myself.  For example, I never felt like I was good enough.  Others seemed to always have the opportunities I wanted.  So in loving them like I loved myself, I really didn’t believe that they were good enough either!  They really weren’t qualified for their opportunities either.

Another un-truth I clung to was that I needed a role or a title to have significance in the Kingdom.  And when I did have certain roles or titles, even significant ones, others always seemed to have better ones.  So in loving others like I loved myself I had to down-play their contributions.  I could not appreciate their contributions just like I never realized the significance of mine.  Attempting to love others like I loved myself was an exercise in futility.  No-one was experiencing love!

A few years ago I started praying that I would love others well.  God’s faithfulness in answering that prayer led to the ah-ha moment and a resurrection in my heart.  Something began to come to life in me.

Jesus gives us a new commandment in the New Testament in John 13 concerning love.  He teaches me to love one another just like He loves me.  The source of my love is not how I love myself; the source of my love is how Jesus loves me!  Ah-ha!  Resurrection!

As I pondered Jesus’ love for me, I began to experience my love for others changing.  I noticed opportunities to affirm others and I could genuinely do that.  Because I had the DNA of godliness, I was “good enough” and my friends were too.  After all, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, Psalm 139:14.

And as I meditated on II Corinthians 4:7, The Message translation reads, “We carry this message in an unadorned clay pot”.  The message of the Kingdom doesn’t require a role or a title, a clay pot will do.  So it has become easier to love and submit to those who have roles and/or titles.  My submission communicates loving like Jesus loves.  Because I am experiencing God’s love for me, it has become natural to share it with others.  This has been transformational for me.  That which was dead came to life.  I’m finding myself loving and enjoying my friends and their contributions.  I’m not feeling threatened or insignificant.  Ah-ha ~ Love as Jesus loves me!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
John 13:34

Monday, April 18, 2011

Proclamation by Incarnation

Bill and I recently returned from a mission’s conference at our home church in Illinois.  We always love going.  But this year was extra special.  Let me share three snap shots.

The first snap shot started over thirty years ago with a young non-Christian teen sitting in her English class in a public high school.  The teacher invited one of his friends, a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators to give a presentation on linguistics.  Her name is Dorothy.   The young girl was mesmerized and decided to major in linguistics in college.  Noticing the special interest of the girl, the teacher re-contacted Dorothy after the presentation and asked her to pray for “that girl”.  For the next ten years Dorothy prayed for “that girl” never even knowing her name.

In the meantime “that girl” became a Christian and was introduced to Wycliffe Bible Translators by her boyfriend  ~ who was interested in aviation ~  during her college years.  Eventually they married and joined the staff of Wycliffe.  They have been serving with them since 1977.  But they never met Dorothy.

During the missions conference “that girl” met her prayer warrior friend for the first time!  It was an amazing reunion testifying to the faithfulness of God.

The second snapshot revolves around Noah, the 15-year-old son of our other missionary friends with Josiah Venture who are ministering in the Czech Republic.  Noah has been a contestant on the Czech Republic’s version of American Idol, "Czech Superstar 2011".  You can see one of his renditions of a Beatle song and another from that genre here.  What I loved about this story is what Noah was trusting God for in his TV experience.  His prayer requests included that he would have boldness, humility, discipline and that he would be the light of Jesus as he rubbed shoulders with many in the TV and music industry.   

The last snapshot is of the ladies weekly quilting group at the church.  This group of women meet on Tuesday mornings to learn the craft of quilting and to enjoy sharing around the Word of God.  This group is an official part of the women’s ministry at the church and meets at the same time each week as some of the small group women’s Bible studies.  It is one of the most successful outreaches to women that the church has!  It is the largest group; it is multi-generational; it reaches many women outside of the church family. 

I see one theme in all three of these stories.  Dorothy, Noah and the quilting ladies are all living out who God created them to be.  They may not be proclaiming the Gospel with words but they are incarnating the life of Christ to their worlds by doing what they love.  In the midst of their everyday lives, in a public high school English class, on a TV set in the Czech Republic and in a quilting group God is advancing His Gospel in settings that may not hear of His love in any other way.

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Palm Sunday Questions

Two of my neighbors have been reading the Gospel of John with me.  As we pondered and discussed the Palm Sunday narrative from John 12 recently, God challenged me with some questions.

It is a week before Easter.  Jesus is coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, knowing that the Cross awaited him.  How appropriate that he came riding on a donkey, a symbol of peace. 

He was greeted by a large crowd waving Palm branches as he entered the city.  Palm branches convey the message of victory over the enemy.  But the victory they were looking for was a political victory.  They misunderstood.

I wonder how many times I misunderstand the mission of Jesus in my world.  Asking why is evidence of that I often misunderstand.  I don’t get it.  But I think I know why I don’t get it ~ I’m looking at all the circumstances around me and trying to make sense of the puzzle.  I think I don’t get it because I think I know the best way and the best way is not forthcoming.  And I don’t get it because I don’t have the big picture.  I don’t know the end of the story.  So I misunderstand. 

Two exercises have helped me in my misunderstandings.  The first is deciding to trust the Word of God with the circumstances. I often pray, God what is it you want me to pray concerning this circumstance.  I have found this very helpful.   The second is pondering this question, how might God tell this story?

One thing I love about the crowd who came to meet Jesus is when they heard Jesus was coming they dropped everything to be with him. 

It kind of reminds me of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” ESV.   The questions that come to me are … What do I do to put myself in a place where I hear from Jesus?  I’m learning that one way I hear from Jesus is through the words of others friends who write.  I’m just finishing Howard Baker’s excellent book, The One True Thing .  It is an easy read but full of insights that challenge me in my relationship with God.  A second question that I need to ask myself is Am I willing to drop everything to meet with him?  Sometimes I don’t like the answers to my own questions!

One thing I love about Jesus is that he didn’t set the people straight with his words.   He let his actions do the talking.  Not only is a donkey a symbol of peace, it is also a symbol of humility, righteousness and salvation.  Zechariah 9:9.  Just a few verses later in John 12:45, Jesus says, “whoever sees me sees him who sent me”.

How often I believe my words are necessary.  Hopefully as I live my life with my friends, they will see Jesus.

“And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.”  John 12:45

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A New Song

Recently Psalm 92:15 has grabbed my heart and guided my prayers,

“to declare that the Lord is upright,
He is my rock and
There is NO unrighteousness in him.”

Thank you, Father, that your ways are trustworthy with my young friend who had a stroke.  Father, would you please restore her to health.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, that I can trust your care with my friends’ prodigal sons.  Father, may the sons experience your running toward them.  Please let them respond to you.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, that your plans are good for our son who needs a job.  Would you cause his resume to rise to the top of the many that are received.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, that you will give comfort to my cousin whose husband was killed.  Help her, Father, through today.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, that your timing is perfect in the sale of my friend’s home.  Would you let these potential buyers agree to the terms. 
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for the grace you are extending to my friends as they struggle with serious medical issues and parenting three young children.  I pray that tomorrow’s surgery will be successful.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for extending grace to our young friends who have experienced so many miscarriages.  I pray for a baby for them.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for giving wisdom to our friends whose daughter struggles with a brain tumor.  Help them with today’s decisions.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for the opportunity to trust your goodness with our friends who are living with cancer.  I pray for grace for today.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for how you are protecting my young friend who is in the midst of a divorce.  Father, would you provide her needs emotionally, spiritually, physically.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for your timing with Bill’s next career assignment.  Please give us patience.
There is no unrighteousness in you.
Thank you, Father, for your peace that passes all understanding.  Our friends need that this week as they plan for the funeral of their son.
There is no unrighteousness in you.

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
Psalm 40:3

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Waiting is so hard!  Yet that seems to be our lot in so much of life.  Whether is it waiting for the birth of a baby, waiting for a job offer or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, waiting is part of our everyday life.

I don’t like to wait.  Sometimes it seems like a waste of time.  So I do what I can to prepare.  I carry my latest book or my knitting to the doctor’s office.  After all, I’ve been taught to redeem the time and if I’m prepared to wait I’m a bit more patient.

But the hardest things to wait for are not compensated for with my knitting.  The stakes are more significant than if my doctor is on time. 

In 1969, while we were in college, God spoke to my then boyfriend and now husband through Psalm 33:20-22 as we waited on Him for His will concerning our friendship.  The principles on waiting in those few verses have been good guidelines for us in many of the circumstances of our life since.

“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in Him because we trust in His holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us even as we hope in you.”

In 1969, we were seeking God and His will for our relationship.  After we heard those encouraging words, we waited 3 more long years before marrying.  Those years were the warm-up for preparing us for many more opportunities to wait.  What we learned from that scripture are timeless lessons as we do wait.

1.  I am not waiting for a circumstance.  I am waiting on the God who is sovereign and who has His glory and my good at the center of His will.  So my prayer life reflects this.  As I was praying with a friend recently about a difficult situation, we agreed to pray in a certain direction because that was all we understood.  But we also acknowledged that we didn’t know God’s will.
2.  In the midst of the waiting God is our helper.  He is the one who moves the process along and gives perspective as I go.  So my prayers include thankfulness or His work.
3.  God is also my protector.  I may never know all the ways He has used His shield in my defense.  This leads to humility in my prayers and a trust in the God who protects.
4.  I can be glad in the process, not because of the waiting part, but because I am trusting in our Holy God not in circumstances.  I am so challenged by our sons and their wives and their gladness in the midst of their waiting on God in their careers.
5.  Allowing myself to be continually aware of God’s love for me is a key component to my ability to wait.  I review that each day. 
6. My hope is centered in God, not the circumstances.  Waiting is active; waiting is trusting; waiting is walking with God.  The Psalmists thoughts end where they started. 

“For the Word of God is living and active, …”
Hebrews 4:12a

Monday, April 4, 2011


About eleven years ago my husband Bill went through a time of severe depression.  He didn’t go to work; he couldn’t read ~ not his Bible, not the newspaper, not his Louis Lamour books; he couldn’t watch TV or talk on the phone.  On a good day he could walk to the end of our driveway and back.  The depression paralyzed him. 

I went through it too, vicariously.  Those were very difficult months for both of us.  Over the years I’ve been asked how I responded to Bill’s depression and how this experience affected me. 

This was a new experience for us both.  It blindsided us.  I didn’t study on how to live with a depressed person.  But a nurturing instinct kicked in and these are some examples of my responses.  I’m sure these are not right for every situation, but they worked for us.

  1. I protected.  When the phone rang, I was quick to answer it.  Both the ringing and the voices were more than Bill could handle.  While I was talking I always went to another room behind a closed door.  When the doorbell rang, Bill would hide in a bedroom behind a closed door.  I didn’t make excuses for him. 
  2. I accepted.  I didn’t push him beyond what he communicated he could handle.  Many well-meaning friends had books they suggested he read.  They piled up and that was ok.  There were suggestions of what foods to eat or supplements to take.  I let Bill decide.
  3. I honored.  I let him lead.  He did have some better days.  I remember the first Sunday of Advent.  Bill decided he wanted to go to church.  Although I loved the service, it was overwhelming for Bill and we didn’t return to church for several weeks. 
  4. I suffered out loud.  God provided some wonderful friends for me during that time.  I’m an extrovert and being able to process our experience verbally was a great help.  We had one friend who checked in with me every day!  What a wonderful gift!
  5. I continued with my activities.  There were some activities that I did pull back from.  But there were others that I did not.  Those times of normalcy ministered to me.
  6. I realized that this was part of my journey too.  Although that did not happen right away. 

Going through and coming out of the depression was a process for us that started with a visit to our medical doctor for Bill.  There were some medical issues that needed to be addressed, but after about a month our very wise doctor accurately diagnosed what Bill was experiencing. 

The process also included starts and stops.  There were three trips that we took during those early days.  Two went well; one did not.  We were always adjusting. 

Letting others into the process took time as well.  We're thankful for the contributions and encouragements from many friends.  At one point Bill thought he was ready to return to work.  After one day, he wasn’t back for several months. 

The huge turning point for us both was the counseling intensive a good friend arranged for us.  We moved to Denver for the two weeks and met with a counselor every day.  That’s when I realized that this was our journey.  Both of us were tremendously helped by the time.  The big truth that both of us needed to reclaim was that our identity rested in the fact that we were the beloved children of our heavenly Father.  That made all the difference. 

Bill did go back to work.  He eventually stopped taking the anti-depressants.  But the process that started in the counselor’s office continues to this day.  It’s been a good journey.

“For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and a hope”.  Jeremiah 29:11