Friday, May 27, 2011

Weariness and Walls or My Summer Questions

It’s that time of year.  Since kindergarten my life has revolved around the nine month – three month school calendar.  For as long as I can remember, the start of summer is one of the highlights of my year.  This year is no exception.  We’re a bit weary and ready for the re-charging and the renewal that summer brings. 

Last September I called my first blog, Living Inside the Box.  A box has sides or walls and God has specifically designed the perfect box for each of His children.  Sometimes the wear and tear of life causes the walls to develop cracks or other faults that need repair.  Summer has typically been a time or repair.  As this summer starts, these are some of the questions that I’m pondering about the walls God has designed for me.

The beginning words of Isaiah 26 are foundational.  Isaiah 26:1, records “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks.”  My salvation, my status as a child of God, is the basis for the walls around my life.  I love the security of that picture.  Just as a young baby with a tiny room grows and their close-in walls need to expand, the walls of my life are expanding as well as I grow and understand my identity.  The words of The New Bible Commentary give additional understanding. “The city is strong – not by brute force but by the saving activity of the living God.  So the enjoyment of this personal protection must be personal in truth and in trust.”  And so I ponder some questions to grow in trust …

Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”  Walls or borders or boundaries are good things.  In Old Testament times many cities were surrounded by literal walls for their protection.  I too need the protection of walls in my life.  This scripture begs this question from me:
Father, what are the self-controls I need to exercise this summer?

Psalm 51:18, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;”
God is in the business of building up and doing good for us.  One way He accomplishes that is by building our walls.
Father, how can I co-operate with you as You build up my walls this summer?

Isaiah 62:6, “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen;…”  These watchmen are like guardians praying and watching for the fulfillment of God’s promises.  (ESV commentary) 
Father, what are the promises You want me to be trusting You for this summer?

Micah 7:ll, “A day for the building of your walls!  In that day the boundary shall be far extended.”  I love it.  God is changing my capacity.
Father, what will my new capacity look like at the end of the summer?

And so I conclude:    
* I need walls.  They are my protection.
* God controls my walls.
* My walls can be breached.
* God can expand my walls. 

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
Isaiah 49:16

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

again and Again and A-GAIN!

Our family was driving home from a visit with Bill’s dad. David, our toddler son was safely secured in his car seat for the eight hour drive.  He had recently learned the word “why”.  I can’t remember the actual figures, but for a half hour I counted the number of times he asked “why”.  Then I multiplied by sixteen.  You get the picture. 

Bill and I thought we would go crazy except for the fact that David was our son, our child and we loved him.  So we were patient and endured.

Isn’t that so like God?  I imagine God goes crazy with our why questions and all the other things He has to keep re-enforcing for us over and over and over again.  I am so glad that one of God’s characteristics is patience!

For me, the issue usually isn’t the why question.  But I too need to be reminded of God’s love for me and plan for me over and over.  So I review His love again and AGAIN and A-GAIN. 

I John is a good review place for me.  Chapter 3, translated in The Message Bible says, “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us!  Just Look at it – we’re called children of God!  That’s who we really are… that’s exactly who we are: children of God.”  I love this translation because I hear the excitement and the excitement is over my identity ~ my real identity.  I AM A CHILD OF GOD!!! 

It’s so easy for me to get confused about my identity.  As a wife, a mom, a gramma, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cousin, a neighbor, a staff member of The Navigators, an independent consultant and leader with The Longaberger Company, and, and, and … I often have to check in with myself and remember that underneath and girding up all those other temporary identities is my primary identity ~ the beloved child of The Father.

Knowing this truth is good. J  But it is not enough. L  I need to trust this truth.  And I’m reminded of this every time I close my Bible and journal and continue with my day. 

Recently I was visiting with a friend.  I had my “Navigator” hat on.  In other words, I was in a ministry mode.  I had to be the spiritual one and impart some wonderful truth to her.  It was not going well.  We were polite with each other but also both of us were feeling a clash, an un-comfortable-ness.  This generic cameo has repeated itself many times over in my life.  What is going on???? 

I knew the truth of my identity but I was not trusting it.  I was trying to trust in a position or a role that I was filling, Navigator staff.  I should be able to minister, after all I’m a Navigator, was my theme. 

What I was forgetting in that moment was that when God adopted me as His child and gave me an identity, He wanted me to believe the truth of that identity.  My created identity has purpose and that purpose is not altered by the role I’m filling at the moment.

Later that day, my friend and I went out for coffee and a stroll through some new shops.  We had a delightful time.  The difference was me.  I was not trying to be someone, I was relaxing in and relying on the being God created me to be.  My identity was shining, not my role.  My guess is ministry was happening.  J

But I need to be reminded of my primary identity again and AGAIN and A-GAIN!  That’s why I review it almost daily.

“So we have come to know and to believe (rely on, NIV) the love God has for us…”
I John 4:16, ESV

Friday, May 20, 2011

Caterpillar or Butterfly

Several years ago I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.  Among other things, it measures where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale.  I had taken the test previously and had always come out as an extrovert.  This particular time it categorized me as an introvert.  Hmmmm.  As I shared these results with some of our friends, they laughed!  I had to agree with them.  Although fairly close to center, I believe God made me an extrovert.  My family and friends agree. 

As I was pondering this recently, it highlighted an important truth to me.  If I really want to get to know the treasure hidden inside some of my friends, I need to be willing to journey with them.  A journey reveals more of who they are than a one time test or a short acquaintance.

I am so thankful for several friends who have been willing to journey with me.  I can tell them the truth about myself and it doesn’t scare them.  As a matter of fact, they draw closer.  They want to be on the journey with me.

I’ve come to call these journeying friends along-siders.  They come along-side of me for parts of my journey and we travel together.  My husband Bill is a one of a kind along-sider.  For over thirty-eight years we have been journeying together.  I’m not sure there is anything I could tell him that would shock him.  He has been my best lover and biggest advocate.  I’ve learned to trust his wisdom even when it doesn’t make sense to me at first.  I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion.

But Bill is a unique along-sider.  All the other along-siders on my journey drop in and out at different times.  And I love each one for their personal contributions.  I need their different contributions.  Each has contributed to the person I am today.

One of my other along-siders is a fellow Navstaff wife.  I so appreciate her ministry to women and am always honored when she wants to include me.  Our relationship hasn’t always been easy though.  But we’re willing to face the hard things.  It has been a special bond as we’ve struggled through some issues together.  I have benefitted.  I think she has too.

There is another friend who drops in and out of my journey.  She is a professional counselor and has given me an open door to call her.  Her gift of godly discernment has helped me many times when I’ve felt like I’ve hit a wall in my spiritual growth. 

I’m thankful for my local along-siders.  We journey together more frequently.  Their gift of friendship and trust is important as I learn what the strengths are that God has given me and how I live them out in my daily relationships.  Their contribution is priceless. 

Each of these wonderful friends and many others who walk parts of my journey with me has helped me to break out of my cocoon and become the women God designed me to be. I’m glad they are treasure hunters.

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
R. Buckminister Fuller

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 17:17

Monday, May 16, 2011

Treasure Keys

We know each other, but not well.  We see each other in our common place, but we don’t talk a lot.  We smile and are friendly.  I’ve heard things about her, and I think they are true.  Those things have colored my picture of her.  The crayons are not in my hand. 

With my heart I believe that she is a treasure wrapped in a brown paper package.  But I don’t really know.  I haven’t taken the time or created the opportunity to open that package.  If I don’t I’ll never experience her treasure. 

Last summer I read a novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  It is a story about some maids working in the deep-south in the 1960s.  The maids were not only in charge of house cleaning and silver polishing, they also had significant nanny responsibilities. 

One of the stories in the novel that has stuck with me is a conversation that happens one day between one of the maids and her little charge.  This wise older African American woman was helping the little Caucasian girl understand that her importance and her significance were not in the color of her skin but in what was inside of her.  The maid took two identical pieces of candy.  One she put in a little brown paper sack and the other was put in a little white paper sack.  The child opened both of the sacks to find the same candy in each.  The object lesson from the wiser older woman helped the young child understand that the treasure within is the important thing not what it is wrapped in. 

Sometimes I too need help and the reminders of wiser older women to encourage me to discover the treasures that are sometimes hidden deeply under layers of wrapping.

We do Bible study together.  Sometimes we don’t agree on the interpretation of a particular passage.  Usually I believe I have the right one.  L  This particular day I was quite sure I did and I wasn’t very open to her understanding of the passage.  The study came to a close cordially enough, but I could not rest.  After mulling over our discussion (mulling over ~ often a flashing orange light for me) and some additional personal study, I concluded that she might have been right … or at the very least, I was not 100% convinced of my own initial conclusion.  I shared my experience with her and asked for her forgiveness for my stubbornness.  She graciously granted it and I experienced a bit more of the treasure locked inside my friend.  I’m learning that humility is a key to opening treasures. 

It’s always easier to open a treasure if you have the keys.  Getting to know a person for myself, believing that the treasures are hidden within us and humility have been some of the big keys for me in opening the treasures of my friends.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, …”
II Corinthians 4:7a

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bringing Out the Best

or Opening a Brown Paper Package.  We had just moved to Sacramento and our older son was in junior high.  It was important to us that he was plugged into a good youth group.  That morning we had visited a church and noticed that there was a picnic later in the day for new kids to the youth group and their parents.  Not knowing anyone, Dave and I went.  As Dave was joining in with whatever the boys were doing, I was wandering around in a haze.  I know I looked like the new mom on the block.  Trisha noticed and invited me to sit next to her with several other parents.  That was a very welcome invitation and, by the way, the beginning of a special friendship.

Several years later, after another major move, I was in a similar situation.  This time I was wandering around the ladies coffee hour before Bible study at the church we had recently decided to attend.  I was obviously new and Marion approached me and guided me to a small group.  Interestingly, Marion has also become a very dear friend.

Noticing and taking initiative is the first step in opening brown paper packages.  I am so thankful that Trisha and Marion both took initiative with me.  They continued to get to know me and help me get involved in the women’s ministries of our new churches.  I remember going to coffee one day with Marion and she asked me, “Sue, how would you like to be involved in our women’s Bible study ministry?”  She opened the door wide for me.  What a huge risk on her part!  I had an answer and she supported me.  Marion was opening the brown paper package that was covering the real me.  Thank you, Marion!

My friendship with Janine is less than a year old, but it is very special to me.  The very first time we met we realized we had a lot in common.  Besides both of us being the mother of two sons, we both have a heart for listening to God in solitude and silence and helping other women do the same.  My church invited me to facilitate a one day retreat on that topic.  Even though Janine lives an hour away, she made the retreat a priority and attended.  Not only was her presence a huge affirmation, but at the end of the day before driving home she offered to de-brief with me.  Her questions and her affirmation continued to open my brown paper package. 

Bill and I have enjoyed being part of a couples group for several years.  Although we all have a lot in common, we also all have a lot of differences.  Ed and Mary own a cabin in the mountains and several times the ten of us have squeezed in their cabin for a weekend together.  Thank you, Ed and Mary!  As we live together, our differences shine.  Mary is wonderful about stepping aside and giving anyone else access to her kitchen.  The treasure inside Mary’s brown paper package is more evident as we live together.  What a gift she is to our group.  Although it is rarely possible to move into each other’s worlds like that, it highlights the importance of spending time with friends on their turf to see what is inside their brown paper package.

Assuming there is a treasure inside the brown paper package of a believer’s life is always a correct assumption.   

To be continued …..

“…It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”
Galatians 2:20

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Once a Mom ~ Always a Mom

I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t want to be a mom.  Thank you to my mom who enjoyed being a mom; I had a wonderful example before me.

To Mom, family dinners were important.  Mom not only made a balanced meal each night, she set the table (till me and my sisters were old enough to help) each night in a way that communicated this time with family was important.  The table always looked nice.

To Mom, our activities were important.  Mom not only made sure we got to the activities we were enrolled in, but she often was involved in them herself.  I remember her watching and silently encouraging me as I tried out for the Color-guard in high school.  And Mom was always involved in Scouts with us either leading our troop or helping with our projects.  And I’m quite sure Mom and Dad sacrificed financially so we could have some of those important childhood experiences like summer camp.

To Mom, school was important.  Mom helped and encouraged us with our homework.  She always made sure our clothes were ironed and we looked nice as we left for the bus in the morning.  Even though Mom was a teacher by training, she knew school was more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

To Mom, the local church was important.  Mom planted the seeds of faith in my life by bringing me to church, Sunday school and youth group.

To Mom, our friends were important.  Mom brought us up to know how to be a friend and how to communicate with our friends.

To Mom, vacation was important.  Every summer she got the whole family ready for our two week vacation with Grammie and Grandpa.  A highlight of the year for all of us.

To Mom, our home was important.  Being a homemaker was part of who she was and it was a priority for her.  To this day, keeping her home guest ready is important to her.

To Mom, traditions were important.  We always had home-made Halloween costumes, Christmas stockings and Easter baskets.  Traditions were not only about things, they were about family and celebrating together. There were a lot of extended family dinners throughout the year often including our second cousins as well as the first cousins.  I have many good memories as a result.  (This was one of my hardest adjustments to marriage as Bill and I had very different experiences with family holidays growing up.)

On February 24, 1976, I became a mom and Mom was there to help me adjust to this new precious life that had joined our family.  Thank you, Mom.

With Mom’s coaching, encouragement and love over the next several years, I also learned that “once a mom, always a mom”.  Mom never stopped wanting to support me in my motherhood journey. 

Mom is a very young ninety-something now.  Both our sons are married and have children of their own.  Mom is now a GREAT-Grandma.  Last December we received a letter from Mom early in the month suggesting how much money we should spend on Christmas.  I smiled, “once a mom, always a mom”! 

I love being a mom and a gramma ~ Mana to our grands ~ I can't help it, it's in my genes!  :)
Mom on the left visiting her older sister, my Aunt Elizabeth a few weeks ago.

“Honor your father and your mother”
Exodus 20:12 and Matthew 19:19

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Brown Paper Packages ~ The Downside

Early last fall one of our pastors preached a sermon from Ephesians 2 that has stuck with me.  He spoke of the implications of the terms Paul uses to describe us in verse 19.  We are no longer strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.  Because this is true, Brian exhorted us to do away with every other category we have for each other.  We cannot look down on others (nor can I look down on myself).  And we can never be exclusive.  I was convicted as I thought about how I sometimes categorize some of my brothers and sisters in the faith.  Although I don’t remember him referring to this reference in II Corinthians 4:7, he could have.  As members of the household, we all carry this treasure (the Holy Spirit) in jars of clay ~ or ordinary clay pots ~ or brown paper packages.  The size and shape of brown paper packages vary but what is most important about all of them is what is inside.  And brown paper is not opaque!

Deb and I have a special friendship.  Along with JA, the three of us share vulnerably from our lives and encourage and pray for each other.  What is unique about our friendship is we live in three different states and a big part of our friendship is by email.  Last week Deb shared this story.  And she graciously is allowing me to share it with you.  Thanks Deb!

I had an experience Tuesday where I really felt like a brown paper package that no one had any interest in.

We just joined a new church and the pastor has been very encouraging and affirming of us. 

There are many marriages struggling in the church so I offered to meet with some wives to encourage them and share some of the treasures that have helped me during the past 25 years.  His wife has a group of 30 young moms she meets with on Tuesdays and she had asked him and another pastor to come and address their questions on marriage and parenting.  He asked if I'd come to and answer a few of the questions so the women could have the opportunity to get to know me.

Now for starters I am severely hearing impaired - I can do one on one, or speak to groups ~  but discussions?  That was way out of my comfort zone.  But I sensed God wanted me to go, so I went.

I get there about 15 min early.  Some women are setting things up.  They barely speak to me except to say they don't need help. So I'm left on my own as the young mom's start arriving.  I try to talk with them but they aren't at all interested in talking with me.  In fact one asks have I been able to find friends my own age?  Most of the time I'm sitting by myself and feeling very alone and on the verge of tears.

When the morning discussion starts, the pastors initiate but soon ask me to address some of the questions.  You better believe I'd been praying James 1:5 for wisdom and the Lord was very present.   What He gave me to share really resonated with the women.  And can you guess what those women did after?  They came up to hug me, thanking me for coming, and one even came up and said, "I would love to sit at your feet" and I'm thinking "you wouldn't even talk to me an hour ago!!!"

So thankfully it ended on a good note - but those 45 minutes were AWFUL! 

And I wonder how many times does this happen in the church - we don't accept people until we see something to approve of?

And that's where your brown paper packages come in Sue - everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made.  So no matter how brown that paper packaging may be there is treasure in there just waiting to be discovered.  Can I look at the people around me eager to accept them as Christ accepts me in order to bring praise to God - seeing them the way you describe Sue - even before the packaging is unwrapped?

Ahhhh, and that’s the challenge.  How can I get to know the treasures that are inside all those brown paper packages, all those people who are part of my household that sit around me every Sunday?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God,”
Ephesians 2:19

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My A-B-Cs

The alphabet is one of the first things we learn as a young child.  When I browse the children’s section of a bookstore or a library, alphabet books abound on a variety of subjects. Our kids memorized their first verses of scripture following the letters of the alphabet.

In the last month I’ve visited all three of our GRANDchildren.  Judah lives in SC and Jack and Ashlyn are in Kansas.  They are all pre-schoolers.  Perhaps that is why the alphabet is on my mind.  I sang it more than once in the last few weeks.

So creating an alphabet that highlighted some of my most major spiritual lessons was easy.  In some cases it was hard to choose one word.  Here’s what I settled on.

A ~ aroma ~ What a privilege that God allows us to be the fragrance of Him to our world.  II Corinthians 2:14  And what an awesome responsibility that is. 
B ~ brown paper packages ~ The best thing about brown paper packages is what is inside.  The Holy Spirit lives inside of us who believe.  It is His aroma that is evident to my world.
C ~ consecrated ~ I love that God consecrated me BEFORE I was born.  An amazing thought!  Jeremiah 1:5
D ~ desires ~ God both gives and fulfills the desires of our hearts.  I’m learning to pray about my desires and asking God to define and refine them.
E ~ echoes ~ The name of this blog, Echoes of Grace, comes from I Thessalonians 1 in The Message translation, “… our life is echoing the master’s words …”
F ~ fruit ~ “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me …”  Philippians 1:22  Fruit-bearing is one of my desires.
G ~ grace ~ This is what the Christian life is all about!
H ~ holy ~ An amazing thought that God implants His holiness in me!
I ~ identity ~ My primary identity is my relationship to God.  I am His child.  John 1:12.  Although I didn’t realize its significance 45 years ago when I first memorized this verse, it has become important to me.   More thoughts with “J”.
J  ~ John 1:12 ~ “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the  power to become children of God”.  During my college years, this was the first verse I memorized after realizing that being a Christian spoke of my relationship with God, not just my religion.  My parents took me and my sisters to church as we were growing up.  Church had always been part of my culture. I can’t remember a time when I did not believe in God.  But it was never a personal relationship.  So receiving Jesus was the next step for me.  Receiving is still an important part of my Christian walk.  As I read my Bible, I’m always thinking about how I can receive what I’m hearing from God.  How do these words relate to where I am today.                    
K ~ known ~  “Jesus knows me this I love”.  This saying hangs in our bedroom under a
grouping of family pictures.  I love the truth it communicates.
L ~ loved ~ “Jesus loves me this I know”.  And He loves me a LOT!  I John 3:1 is translated in The Message to say, What marvelous love the Father has extended  to us!  Just look at it – we’re called children of God!  Another version translates “extended” as “lavished”.  WOW!
M ~ meditation ~  I have found this discipline so life-giving for me.  Psalm 1:1 and 2 is a favorite, “Blessed is the (wo)man… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law (s)he meditates day and night.”
N ~ “naked and not ashamed” ~  This phrase from Genesis 2:25 describes my heart for this blog.  I desire to share vulnerably with my readers from what God has done in my life.  If it is indeed God’s work, then I cannot be ashamed!
O ~ omniscient ~ I need to trust that!  God is all-knowing.  For me this is a basic truth that undergirds all of life and gives a bit of perspective in hard things.
P ~  partnering ~ What a gift to me to partner with you as we walk this Christian life together. 
Q ~ questions ~ Questions have been part of who I am for many years.  They have been an important part of my time in the word as well.  I often try to put myself in the place of one of the Bible characters and ask how I would feel if that was me.
R ~ reflection ~ I imagine you have noticed the upside down mountain picture on the home page of my blog.  It is a reflection in a lake of the Maroon Bells; one of the most beautiful spots in Colorado.  A reflection like an echo does not have a life of its own.  It is like a picture of the real thing.  That’s my heart.  I want to be a picture of Jesus to my world.  My favorite scripture on being a reflection is II Corinthians 3:18.  There are two big encouragements for me in that verse.  The first is, we are a reflection when our faces are un-veiled.  When I’m hiding behind a mask, there is no reflection.  The second encouraging truth is when I reflect God, I am also being changed into His image. Thank You, God.
S ~ stewardship ~ Colossians 1:25 speaks of this concept.  Any ministry that God allows me to have is a stewardship from Him to me for others for the purpose of making the “Word of God fully known”.  This is what I pray for my writing.
T ~ trust ~ a little word with BIG implications!  Trust is the verb form for the word, faith.  Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith (trust) it is impossible to please him …”  One of my almost daily prayers is, God, what would it look like to trust You today?
U ~ unadorned clay pot ~ In the Message translation, II Corinthians 4:7 says, “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”  I love that!  My ordinary everyday life is a vessel for God to use. 
V ~ value ~ Philippians 3:8 – “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth (value) of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord …”
W ~ workmanship ~ In Ephesians 2:10, this is the Greek word, poema.  It describes us who are believers.  We are God’s poem, His work of art.
X ~ eXperience grace ~ One of my prayers for myself and others is that we would understand and experience grace so the Gospel can grow and bear fruit in our  lives.  Colossians 1:6 ~ my paraphrase.
Y ~ Your (my) heart ~ Proverbs 4:23 is translated in NIV, “ABOVE ALL ELSE, guard your heart as it is the wellspring of life”.  This is a BIG challenge for me.  In order to do this, I must know my heart ~ the heart God gave me.
Z ~ Zephaniah 3:17 ~ “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 with His love;
                                      He will exult over you with loud sing