Friday, January 28, 2011

From End to Beginning

Life is full of beginnings, and ends. Somethings are pretty obvious that they are beginnings -- a baby is born, a tulip pushes up through the dirt, a bell rings to start the first day of school, a man and his wife walk down the aisle a newly married couple. Other things are certainly endings -- a man takes his last breath, the final leaf falls from the tree, the alarm clock awakens you from a dream, a pink slip is handed out and the former employee is escorted to his car. Definite beginnings and endings. At least as first glance...

If you look again, from different angles, these obvious beginnings could be seen as endings. The birth of a baby means 9 months of pregnancy have finally come to an end, a good end, but still an end. While the sight of a new tulip makes us think that spring has begun, you could also say it means that winter is finally over. For kids (and teachers), the first day of school really means that summer has ended. Marriage is the beginning of "we" but an end to "I" and "me."

And those endings, if you think about them, they too can actually be beginnings. For the Christian, death here on earth is only the beginning of eternity in God's presence. The last leaf falling to the ground could mean fall is over or it could indicate that winter has begun. Waking from a dream gives you the chance to start a new day, one full of possibilities. Losing a job seems like you are at a dead end, but perhaps you are just at the beginning of some new opportunity God has planned for you.

Beginnings and endings, not so simple after all.

Right now I feel like I am at an ending. Last Friday was my last day with Jayden (one of my daycare kiddos) since his grandma is going to take care of him during the day. Today is his brother Aaron's last day because he is starting all-day preschool on Monday. Next Friday will be my last day with Harper since her aunt will be able to watch her now that her long-term sub job has ended. Lots of endings. I will still have Carson, so I am not at the end of doing daycare, but going from 5 kids to 2 is a big change. One that allows me a new beginning...

With 5 kids I was never able to take them to the library or park. Just getting all the carseats in place would have taken half the morning! ;) I tried going outside in our yard to play, but at the time 3 of the kiddos were under a year old and thought grass, sticks, and rocks were to be eaten. If I turned to take a leaf from Coralyn's mouth, Jayden saw that as an opportunity to see what the dirt tasted like, and Harper might begin to topple over as she was not yet sitting steady on her own. So we stayed inside. We found plenty to do. We are certainly at no shortage of toys, or imagination for that matter. But, I began to feel trapped inside my own house.

Now that I will only have Carson and Coralyn, I will be able to venture out again. I plan on signing them up for story time at the library. I can attend DC MOM (our church's ministry for moms) the first Friday of the month. I can take them to the park once the weather is nice. We could even go visit other stay-at-home moms and have play dates. If necessary, I can run to the grocery store and grab something I need to make supper. The possibilities are endless, or so it seems!

I am definitely sad to see 3 of my daycare kiddos say good-bye. I have watched these children learn how to crawl and then walk. They have learned letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and so much more. They can make animal noises and actually look through books. They can stack blocks and do actions to simple songs. They're not my kids, but they are a huge part of my life. I am going to miss them.

And I'm not going to lie. I am worried about how God is going to provide for us because these 3 kiddos take a big chunk of my paycheck with them. But, I think He is trying to help me see that this seemingly obvious ending is actually a wonderful beginning. Yes, I will be able to go to the library and the park, but I think God has something bigger in mind. I am not sure what that is. I have absolutely no idea, really. I am still waiting for Him to let me in on His secret plans.

The one thing I do know is this: God finishes what He starts and good always results (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28). He is in control, from beginning to end. Or, in my life right now, from end to beginning.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Daddy Knows Best

This morning I read Psalm 25. Three verses in particular stood out to me, given that I feel like I am in limbo, waiting for God to show me what He wants me to do, what plans He has for me. David must have been in a similar situation when he wrote,
"Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow. Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You." (vs. 4-5)

The third verse came a bit later (16),
"The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness..."

After I closed my Bible, I picked up a book from my dear friend Virginia. I am now on day 29 in Ruth Myer's 31 Days of Praise. She must have seen inside my head and known my thoughts (or perhaps God is the One who lined everything up so perfectly, just perhaps :). She must have understand my struggle to wait patiently for God's direction. She must also have experienced God's faithfulness in guiding her. She must realize that people like me are learning to trust in God and rest in Him while we watch for God to show us the path He has for us.

She writes,
"And thank You that today...that I can let go of the whole burden of my life and marriage, children, and all my relationships (past, present, and future), of my inadequacies and my self-dependence, and rest on Your presence working in me through the Holy Spirit. How good it is to transfer these burdens from my shoulders to Yours, and to rest on You to work in me and for me and through me! I praise You for the gracious way You infuse me with inner strength through Christ...and so I'm ready for anything You want me to do, and I'm equal to anything You allow to happen in my life."

That right there would have been enough for me to realize that reading this right after I finished Psalm 25 was no coincidence. But Myers goes on,
"Thank You that I can give myself up to be led by You...that I can go forth praising and at rest, letting You manage me and my day...that I can joyfully depend on You throughout the day, expecting You to guide, to enlighten, to reprove, to teach, to use, and to do in me and with me what You desire...that I can count upon Your working in me and through me as a fact, totally apart from sight or feeling..that I can go forth praising and at rest, believing You and obeying You and ceasing from the burden of trying to manage myself without Your wisdom and power (adapted from Dr. John Hubbard)."

Yep, God knows my heart, my thoughts, my emotions. And He speaks to me, telling me it's okay, that He is right here with me, leading me every single baby step of the way. He is holding my hand, staying by my side through thick and thin. How glad I am that I am a child of God! And that my Daddy knows me better than I know myself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing in Pencil

Thanks to Jeanne Hewitt, I got my hands on a great book called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I was able to finish it this weekend and wanted to share part of a chapter I read that both challenged and encouraged me. Hopefully it will do the same for you.

The chapter was called "Writing in Pencil" and here what really got me:

I (Shauna) just turned thirty, and I’m finally willing to admit something about life, or at least about my life, and it’s this: I should have written in pencil. I should have viewed the trajectory of my life as a mystery or an unknown. I should have planned lightly, hypothetically, and should have used words like “maybe” and “possibly.” Instead, every chance I got, I wrote in stone and Sharpie. I stood on my future, on what I knew, on the certainty of what life would hold for me, as though it was rock. What I know now is that instead of rock, it’s more like a magic carpet, a slippy-slidy-wiggly thing, full of equal parts play and terror. The ground beneath my feet is lurching and breaking, and making way for an entirely new thing every time I look down, surprised once again by a future I couldn’t have predicted.

At a certain point, I have to wonder about my judgment or my sanity. How can I continue knowing so definitely what the future will hold, and then continue being so totally wrong? This is my new thing: I’m going to write in pencil.

Life with God at its core is about giving your life up to something bigger and more powerful. It’s about saying at every turn that God knows better than we know, and that His Spirit will lead us in ways that we couldn’t have predicted. I have know that, but I haven’t really lived that way.

Everything is interim. Everything is a path or a preparation for the next thing, and we never know what the next thing is. Life is like that, of course, twisty and surprising. But life with God is like that exponentially. We can dig in, make plans, write in stone, pretend we’re not listening, but the voice of God has a way of being heard. It seeps in like smoke or vapor even when we’ve barred the door against any last-minute changes, and it moves us to different countries and different emotional territories and different ways of living. It keeps us moving and dancing and watching, and never lets us drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control. Life with God is a daring dream, full of flashes and last-minute exits and generally all the things we said we’ll never do. And with the surprises comes great hope.

I can certainly relate to Shauna, for I too am a planner. I like to know details, to write things on the calendar so I can prepare for them and be ready when they happen. I don't really like surprises (unless it's like a surprise birthday party or something really happy). I kind of like (okay, really like) being in charge. I want to be in control. So I try to figure things out, and of course think my ideas are the best. I count on things happening exactly as I feel they will and should. But things don't work that way with God. He's the One who has the final say. Which is good because He's the One who knows best. And the sooner I accept this, the better.

God's challenge to me: Get rid of your pens and sharpies. Don't just put them in a drawer somewhere, because you will just keep getting them back out again and again. Throw them in the trash and then take the trash out to the curb. If you must write something down in your plans, do it in pencil. And have an eraser ready!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Little Bit of Hangin'

This morning I got up to go work out. I planned on running on the elliptical, but by the time I got inside, all the machines were taken. I had brought a book inside with me, just in case, so I headed to the stationary bikes instead. While I was biking I was able to finish Max Lucado's God Came Near and wanted to share from a chapter that really struck me.

The chapter was titled "A Little Bit of Hangin'" and referred to a story about Abraham Lincoln. The president had pardoned a soldier who had been sentenced to hang for committing treason. Although the president let the man live, Lincoln told the man's mother, "I wish we could teach him a lesson. I wish we could give him just a little bit of hangin'."

Lucado went on to share how he himself experienced "just a little bit of hangin'" when his 2 year-old daughter fell into a friend's pool and almost drowned. That afternoon he realized how something (or in this case someone) so precious to him could be taken away so quickly. I could try to summarize what Lucado said he learned that day, but I wouldn't do nearly as good of job as he did. So I will just let him tell you himself.

Here's what Lucado wrote:

The stool was kicked out from under my feet and the rope jerked around my neck just long enough to remind me of what really matters. It was a divine slap, a gracious knock on the head, a severe mercy. Because of it I came face to face with one of the underground's slyest agents -- the agent of familiarity.

His commission from the black throne room is clear, and fatal: 'Take nothing from your victim; cause him only to take everything for granted.'

He'd been on my trail for years and I never knew it. But I know it now. I've come to recognize his tactics and detect his presence. And I'm doing my best to keep him out. His aim is deadly.His goal is nothing less than to take what is most precious to us and make it appear most common.

To say that this agent of familiarity breed contempt is to let him off easy. Contempt is just one of his offspring. He also sires broken hearts, wasted hours, and an insatiable desire for more. He's an expert in robbing the sparkle and replacing it with the drab. He invented the yawn and put the hum in the humdrum. And his strategy is deceptive.

He won't steal your salvation; he'll just make you forget what it was like to be lost. You'll grow accustomed to prayer and thereby not pray. Worship will become commonplace and study optional. With the passing of time he'll infiltrate your heart with boredom and cover the cross with dust so you'll be safely out of reach of change. Score one for the agent of familiarity.

Nor will he steal your home from you; he'll do something far worse. He'll paint it with a familiar coat of drabness.

He'll replace evening gowns with bathrobes, nights on the town with evenings in the recliner, and romance with routine. He'll scatter the dust of yesterday over wedding pictures in the hallway until they become a memory of another couple in another time.

He won't take your children, he'll just make you too busy to notice them. His whispers to procrastinate are seductive. There is always next summer to coach the team, next month to go to the lake, and next week to teach Johnny how to pray. He'll make you forget that the faces around the table will soon be at tables of their own. Hence, books will go unread, games will go unplayed, hearts will go unnutured, and opportunities will go ignored. All because the poison of the ordinary has deadened your senses to the magic of the moment.

Before you know it, the little face that brought tears to your eyes in the delivery room has become -- perish the thought -- common. A common kid sitting in the back seat of your van as you whiz down the fast lane of life. Unless something changes, unless someone wakes you up, that common kid will become a common stranger.

A little bit of hangin' might do us all a bit of good.

I feel like I have experienced "a little bit of hangin'" lately, and though it's been painful, I know that God has helped me, like He did with Max Lucado, appreciate life all the more. Somehow I love Lawrence and Coralyn even more; they are just a bit more precious. Little things like giggles and singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and reading Goodnight Moon for the hundredth time aren't so little any more. Everyday routine things like making breakfast and cleaning up one mess after another and writing an email to a friend aren't so mundane now. Special things like sledding down a hill or making snowman bread are even more extraordinary. I am learning not to take life for granted, but to make the most of every single day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Inside Outside Upside Down

Perhaps you have read the book about Brother Bear (of the Berenstain Bears) who travels to town in a box, on a truck. If you haven't read the story before, I will give you a brief summary (which is really about as long as the book itself): Brother Bear climbs inside a box that is then taken outside and loaded upside down onto a truck going to town, but before the truck reaches town, the box falls off and Brother Bears climbs out right side up. He runs home and tells Mama Bear, "I went to town. Inside, Outside, Upside Down!"

I kind of feel like Brother Bear. I feel like my life is being turned inside out and upside down. I know that I will land right side up, but for now it kind of just feels like I am still falling off the truck and bouncing along the road.

Today, as we were driving to a big hill to go sledding (got to make the most of this snow day!), a song came on the radio that I can really relate to right now.
Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but I believe
You're up to something bigger than me
Larger than life something Heavenly

In that short chorus, Sanctus Real expressed perfectly what I am feeling, what I am thinking. In those four lines, they neatly summed up all my messy, tangled, jumbled thoughts and emotions.

Why, oh why, did I lose my precious baby?
What good is going to come of this?
Why does it still hurt so much even after a month has gone by? Will the pain ever go away?

I know I said that I would like to do something other than daycare for a job, but didn't You understand I meant next year, not right now? So why are half of my daycare kiddos leaving this month? At the same time?
God, do You not realize that is half of my income?
How are You going to provide for us? Don't You realize we were counting on that money when we planned our budget?

I thought You gave the okay for me to get my Bradley certification so I could start teaching childbirth classes, so why don't I have people calling to take my classes?
Did I waste all that money? Did I not hear You right?

Why does Liberty have to be making budget cuts that affect Lawrence's salary right now? Isn't there some other way they can save money?
Don't You realize that we were counting on him getting credit for those grad school hours he has now?

What in the world are You doing?
What do You have planned for us?
Do You even have a plan?
What are You trying to teach us? What is the point of all this?
Is there a point?
When are we going to stop bouncing along and land right side up?

I know that God has a plan and that it is a good one. I know that He knows what He is doing. But I would like to know as well. I would like to know what He is doing and why. I would like to know how it's all going to turn out.

Deep down, I know that God is teaching us something: to trust Him and rely completely on Him. For as we come to the end of ourselves only then can we depend fully on Him. And I know that through all of this God is drawing us closer and closer to Himself. He is shaping us into the people He created us to be. He is making us more like Jesus.

All these are good things. But that doesn't take away from the fact that they are hard. I still feel like my life is being turned inside out and upside down. And I still want to know when we are going to land right side up and see for ourselves what God was doing and why it was for the best.
But for now I just have to trust that He is "up to something bigger than me." Something that is "larger than life." "Something heavenly."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Going Bald

Lawrence did just have a birthday and is losing some hair, but I'm not actually talking about him. I am talking about ME!

Don't worry I am not losing my hair, though some days I do feel like pulling it out! ;)

No, I am actually going bald voluntarily.

Yes, I am going to shave my head. Well, actually I am going to have someone else do it for me. I don't think I would do a very good job.

No, this is not a practical joke.

No, I am not crazy. Unless you count being head over heels in love with Jesus, which does cause me to do some pretty crazy things sometimes.

So what am I thinking?! WHY I am shaving my head?! I'm so glad you asked....

Through our miscarriage, God has helped me see that life is so much bigger than me. He is also showing me that there are so many people out there who face difficult situations every day, situations that don't go away. I think of people who have rare diseases and are desperately searching for a cure. Usually I see a commercial or a special report on TV and feel really sorry for these individuals and their families. But I don't really give it any more thought after that. I just move on with my life. Recently, however, I have tried to put myself in their shoes. If my child had a disease or illness I would want to do everything possible to find a cure. I would tell everyone I knew about the problem and ask for their help in finding a solution. I would research and read books. I would travel to the end of the world to look for doctors who could help. I would spend every single penny I had to do whatever it took to find a cure.

With this in mind, I have started to be proactive in seeking ways that I can help others. One of the first things that came to mind was running in 5K and 10K races that benefit organizations that work to find cures for diseases and illnesses or that help families who have them. So, I signed up to run a 10K at the end of January. The sponsor is the Children's Therapeutic Learning Center. This is a little bit about them, taken from their website: More than 5300 children and families have benefited from our services over the years and we have always been committed to remaining on the “cutting-edge” as more information becomes available on best practices for serving children with disabilities and developmental delays. I am very excited about running this 10K, not only because it will be my first race since college and the longest distance I have ever run, but mainly because it goes to a very good cause (not to mention, I get in shape in the process). I have found several other races that interest me as well and am looking forward to the possibility of even running a 1/2 marathon later in the year.

BUT, God seems to be telling me that running races isn't enough. As He challenges me to make a difference in the lives of people this year, He is showing me to do that means I that really have to give of myself. That if I am really going to do this EPIC thing (our church's theme for the year), I have to be willing to make some sacrifices.

Wait a second.
Sacrifice is a scary word.
I think that is the point though.

So...I have been watching to see what else God may want me to do. He used a child to get the wheels in my ol' brain turning. I was on facebook and a friend had posted pictures of her daughter getting her hair (very long beautiful golden curly hair) cut for Locks of Love. I was so proud of this 6 six year old! I thought maybe I should cut my hair again for Locks of Love. It's only been 2 years (come the end of March) since I did it last time. I usually get my hair cut and donate it every 4 years anyway. Plus, it's long enough. I was even planning on getting it cut early. I thought May sounded good. The baby was due in July so my hair would be shorter and easier to take care of since I would have a little one demanding a lot of my time. Now that I'm not expecting a baby anymore, I didn't really have a reason to get my hair cut and decided to go ahead and wait awhile longer. God had other plans, bigger plans. He helped me see that cutting my hair for Locks of Love really isn't a sacrifice. It's actually more of a convenience, not exactly what God has in mind for me and my EPIC adventure this year.

BUT, God's plan did involve my hair. He reminded me that last year a woman at our church had shaved her head and raised $12,000 in the process. All the money went to Society’s Hope Lodge in Kansas City, a FREE place to stay for cancer patients in the Metro during treatment. Every year the organization puts on an event called Shave to Save where people volunteer to shave their heads. I thought to myself, "Now that is a sacrifice!" So, of course, that is what I am supposed to do. I signed up today.

Am I scared? Yes.
Being bald terrifies me.
I have no idea what I look like without hair.
I can't even look at my baby pictures to find out. I was born with a head full of red hair.
Not to mention my hair is my favorite physical feature. For a long time it was the ONLY thing I liked about how I looked.
My hair is my crown and glory.
Not that many people have red hair. My long, red curly hair kind of sticks out, and people remember me because of it (or at least I like to think they do).
When we go out, people comment on Coralyn's beautiful red hair, like her Mama they say. Secretly, I kind of like the attention I get because of my hair.

Which is why shaving my head is the perfect thing for me to do.
It is a huge sacrifice.
But totally worth it.
And my hair will grow back, eventually.

I can do without my hair if it means that individuals and their families will be encouraged as they fight the battle against cancer. If my being bald allows a cancer patient to have one less bill to pay, one less thing to worry about so they can focus on their chemotherapy and enjoy more time with their family, then being bald is totally worth it. If shaving my head will make a difference in just one person's life, then I am willing to go for it! Shave away. Shave to save!

If you would like to sponsor me in this EPIC event, please let me know! My name should be on the Shave to Save website soon, and then you will be able to donate through that. Each person's goal is to raise $5,000 by May 2. All the shavees who raise $5,000 or more will have their heads shaved at the big finale at the Midland Theater on May 12. (If you don't raise that much you have your head shaved at an alternate location on May 9.) If I am going to get my head shaved for this cause and be bald, then I would really like to have it done at the Midland and take part in the huge celebration. Plus, if I raise at least $5,000, then 10 people get to come to the luncheon and see me go bald. So, I would love to have you sponsor me in this "hair-raising" adventure!

There are actually several ways you can donate:
*You can go to the website and find my name and give any amount you want.
*If you or a friend donates $25 or more by check or credit card to the American Cancer Society (ACS), you will automatically get a receipt in the mail for tax purposes.
*You can come to a Wine and Cheese Tasting Auction on April 14. (Lawrence and I will be there, along with all the shavees.) Admission is $40.
*You can come to the luncheon when everyone gets their heads shaved at the Midland Theater on May 12. Admission is $100.

Thanks for helping me live out the EPIC adventure God has called me to. It's scary, and I wouldn't be able to do this without wonderful people like you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rack, Shack, and Benny

These three men came to mind as I thought about how people in the Bible (specifically the Old Testament) dealt with unexpected pain and disappointment, how they responded to difficulties and hardships, what they did when everything seemed to be turned upside down and there was no logical explanation for what was happening to them.

Their real names are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego, but thanks to Veggie Tales we now know them as Rack, Shack, and Benny. If you really want to get technical their names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They were changed when the men were exiled to Babylon and placed in the king's training program. We first see them when they join Daniel in refusing to eat the king's lavish food and opt for water and vegetables instead. From this story we know several things about these three men: they were handsome and intelligent, they feared God more than man, they were committed to obeying God no matter what the outcome.

The next time we hear of these men is when Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream. He outrageously demands that his astrologers tell him what his dream was and then explain it to him. Of course, this is humanly impossible. With the lives of all the astrologers at stake, Daniel steps in to save the day. He says that he can do what the king has asked, if only given a little time. He runs to his friends Rack, Shack, and Benny, telling them the situation and asking them to join him in pleading with God for mercy. Obviously God answered their prayers because He revealed to Daniel both the king's dream and its meaning. Thus, Daniel, his three friends, and all the astrologers' lives were spared. From this story we see that these men, like Daniel, were men of prayer, that they knew to go to God with every problem, to trust Him with every situation. They had faith that He not only could help them but that He would.

In the following chapter we see these men for a third time. This story is probably the most familiar to us, thanks to Veggie Tales. And while the cartoon version helps kids understand the importance of obeying God no matter what, the real story has absolutely nothing to do with a chocolate bunny. The flannel graph I grew up with gets a bit closer since it includes a huge golden statue. However, not until recently I have been able to appreciate the character of these three men, their bold, radical faith, the real issue of the story.

Nebuchadnezzar has built an enormous statue of himself and required that all people bow down to it and worship. The consequence for not following orders is quite severe: anyone who remains standing will be thrown into a blazing furnace. Everyone knew that they had two choices -- kneel or die. Not a quick painless death either; no, no, no...they would slowly be burned alive. Given their options most people choose to go along with the king's command, but not our friends Rack, Shack, and Benny. They remained faithful to God. They knew God had said not to make any idols nor to bow down and worship anyone but Him. They didn't have to sit down and write out a list of pros and cons before they made their decision. It was immediate. Their confidence in God did not waver. When the music played and everyone around them fell to the ground, they stood tall.

The king was so outraged at their defiance, he demanded they come before him. I think he was so taken aback, he explained his orders once again and gave them a second chance to bow and worship the statue. The men were resolute and stood firm. Their response is what blows me away. “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Their obedience was not dependent on whether or not God saved them. Their were no strings attached to their commitment to God. They would serve Him no matter what. It wasn't a "God if you do this for me, I will live for you." or "If you help me out here, then I will do what You want." They didn't make any demands of God. They simply placed their live in His hands. They knew He could save them from the fire. They knew He had the power to protect them from the flames. They also knew there was the possibility that God would choose not to spare their lives. But that didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were obedient to God.

And so, fuming at their total disregard for his authority, Nebuchadnezzar had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego ordered them thrown into the fire. But first, he had it heated to 7 times its normal temperature, which actually ended up killing the soldiers preparing the furnace. Our friends, though, remained unharmed when they entered the fiery blaze. Not even a hair was singed or their clothes scorched. (Sounds like Daniel coming out of the lions' den without even so much as a scratch!) But the story gets even better...not only did God spare their lives, He joined them in the fire.

The story ends with Rack, Shack, and Benny coming out of the fire alive. Nebuchadnezzar is amazed, exclaiming how these men were willing to die rather than worship any god but their God. He in turn praises God and promotes our 3 friends. Another happy ending! You would think that the Bible is full of fairy tales that end with "and they all lived happily ever after." (Sadly, not true.) Of course I want to ask God why He felt I needed to go through this fire of pain and loss in the first place. But since I did get thrown into a fiery mess, I want to know why He didn't let me come out unsinged like Rack, Shack, and Benny. Why did I have to get burned? And then He showed me the verse, "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."

Then, to top it all off, He reminds me that I am not in the furnace alone. He is here with me.

And once again God has reiterated the lesson that knowing how the story ends is not the point. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego didn't know what the outcome would be of refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezzar's statue. Well, they did know it meant being thrown into the fiery furnace. They didn't, however, know if the next page of their life would tell of their death or a miraculous rescue. They were okay with letting God write the story how He wanted and trusted Him with their lives, even if that mean dying.

Once again the verse in Hebrews comes to mind, "Run with endurance the race set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith..." It seems God is trying to teach me that I need to let Him write my story. I don't have to know how things are going to turn out, that isn't the point. The only thing that matters is living for God, no matter what. My faith shouldn't depend on how my story will end, or even what happens in the middle. In fact, I have no idea where I am at in my story. All I know is that God is busy writing it. He's a published author, so I shouldn't worry about what kind of job He is doing. I should just let Him write and look forward to reading the finished product, only then will I be able to understand why things happened and fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot He picked for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

His Day in Court, or Den Rather

Finally, I get to write out my thoughts on Daniel!

As I have been trying to figure out how God works (which I will never fully least not in this lifetime!) and what He is trying to teach me, the story of Daniel has been running through my mind. Like Joseph, Daniel is a pretty familiar Bible character and his story is told in many a Sunday school classroom. Just as I grew up knowing about Joseph and his coat of many colors, I could tell you the account of Daniel being thrown into the lions' den by heart. In both instances, though, I didn't fully understand what was going on. I was focused solely on what was happening to these men. At 5 or even 10 years old, I wasn't thinking about their inner character. The idea that their relationships with God enabled them to respond the way they did in their difficult situations didn't even cross my mind. Yes, I could tell you their stories by memory from beginning to end, but my version had come in a nice neat little package. Now that I am older and have experienced more of life, I think God is helping me unwrap these familiar stories and discover these men for who they really were -- men who had decided that no matter what the cost, they would live in all out obedience to God.

Daniel was probably a young man when Nebuchadnezzar and his army took over Israel. As a handsome and intelligent fellow, Daniel was exiled to Babylon where he was to be trained to serve in the king's court. He first proved his devotion and obedience to God when he refused to defile himself by eating the rich and lavish, but non-kosher, foods offered to him and all the other trainees. God rewarded Daniel's faithfulness, and he was elevated in rank. Like Joseph, God enabled Daniel to interpret dreams, and in this way was promoted to high positions of authority. Unfortunately for Daniel, also like Joseph, people became jealous of him and sought to bring him harm. When Darius (the 3rd king whom Daniel served) showed a little too much favoritism towards Daniel, some of the king's administrators and officers decided that Mr. Goody-Goody needed to learn a lesson. They tricked Darius into passing a law that required the people of the land to pray only to the king; anyone found breaking this rule would be thrown into the lions' den. These men knew that Daniel would not pray to anyone but God and laid in watch for him to fall into their neatly set trap. And pray he did, not once, not twice, but three times a day, and not secretly behind some closed door either. No, no, no...Daniel threw open his window, not caring who saw or heard him, and prayed to his God. No sooner had Daniel lifted his blinds, the men were off running to the king's palace to tattle on their co-worker.

Darius was disturbed by the news and distraught with the fact that he would have to throw his beloved Daniel to the hungry lions. He tried to figure a way out of the situation, but the only solution available was to leave Daniel in the hands of his God. Turns out, being in God's hands was a good place to be, for not even the stone rolled over the lions' den could keep out Daniel's guardian angels.

Having been unable to sleep at the thought of Daniel being devoured by the lions, King Darius was up at the break of dawn and had the stone removed from the mouth of the den. In anguish, he calls out to Daniel, asking if God was able to save him and hoping with all his heart that he hears a reply. Daniel alleviates the king's worry and answers that God did indeed rescue him. Not only did God spare Daniel's life, but not a single scratch was on him.

The only explanation for Daniel not being ripped to shreds by the lions: "He trusted God" (6:23).

Yes, Daniel trusted God, so much so that he kept on praying even when the law said he couldn't, even when the consequences for breaking the law meant being thrown into the lions' den. Of course, we know that Daniel's life would be spared, that God would send an angel to close the lions' mouths, that not a scratch would be on him come morning. We know the whole story from beginning to end. Daniel didn't have that privilege! He didn't open up the window and bow down to pray, thinking, "Who cares if anyone sees me? What does it matter if anyone hears me praying? So what if I get thrown to the lions? No big deal, God's angel will be there to keep the lions preoccupied. Nothing to worry about; King Darius will find me alive and unharmed in the morning." Yeah right! He had no idea what would happen once his foot dangled down into the lions' den. He had no clue how God was going to come through and save him, or if He would at all. He didn't have the slightest notion how things were going to turn out for him.

The only thing Daniel did know was that the Scriptures said not to pray to anyone but God and that he should obey God rather than man. Granted, he did have the past experience of choosing to obey God instead of the king when he had refused to eat the food given to him. God had come through for him then, so why shouldn't he again? Still, Daniel had no written guarantee from God that his life would be spared. All he had was faith. And boy did he live out that faith!

I wonder what was going through Daniel's head as he was lowered down into the den with the lions. Was he scared, hands trembling, his entire body shaking with fear? Was he trying not to think about what it be like for the lions to tear him apart, to feel their teeth sink into his flesh? Was he kicking and screaming the whole way, determined to fight off the lions as long as he could? Or was he perfectly confident that God had his back, that somehow He would save him?

If I had been in Daniel's place, I don't think calm would describe my composure. Frantic, hysterical, and terrified would be more fitting. Right away I would have yelled my lungs out, crying out for God to save me, reminding Him that I had been faithful and obedient, that I "deserved" to be rescued. When the lions didn't magically disappear or turn into kittens, or when I wasn't miraculously teleported to some safe place miles and miles away, I would have closed my eyes, pinching them shut as tight as I possibly could, and flinched my entire body as I waited in anticipation of hearing the lions roar and then bite into my leg.

All too often this is how I respond when I face a difficult situation, when something bad happens that I don't understand, when I don't know what the future holds. We don't know what Daniel was doing or what he was thinking as he was lowered to the lions. All we know is that God saved him. God didn't have to spare Daniel's life, but He did.

So then, of course, I want to ask God why He didn't send an angel to protect my precious baby. I want to say that I have been faithful and obedient, that I didn't do anything to deserve this. But that is not the point of Daniel's story, not if you take off the pretty paper and fancy bows and unwrap the familiar to get to the heart of the issue. When I realize that Daniel didn't know how his story would end and that he continued to trust God no matter what happened to him, then I understand how I need to act when I encounter tough situations, when I face hardships I didn't ask for, when I deal with pain and grief I didn't expect.

Once again, God has shown me that I don't have to know how my story will end, let alone what will take place in the next chapter. And so I come away from Daniel's story with a new appreciation for the man. I come away wanting to be a woman of prayer, someone who, like Daniel, is known for constantly going before God with not only requests and concerns, but also with praises and thanksgiving. I come away wanting to have a trust so deep that I will obey God no matter the cost, that I will be faithful to Him even when I have no idea how things will turn out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

She Did It Again

I was set on blogging about Daniel today, but alas he must wait yet another day. Ruth Myers did it again in her book 31 Days of Praise. Her words spoke to me right where I am at. Well, really God is the one doing the speaking. I am doing my best to listen. Maybe by writing it out and thus getting into my head for a second time (as a teacher I know that repetition is the mother of all learning) will help me really grasp what He is trying to tell me.

Today I have to share the whole entry:

"Father, I'm so delighted that You are both loving and sovereign, and that You cause all things to work together for good to those who love You, to those who are called according to Your purpose. So I thank You for each disturbing or humbling situation in my life, for each breaking or cleansing process You are allowing, for each problem or hindrance, for each thing that triggers in me anxiety or anger or pain. And I thank You in advance for each disappointment, each demanding duty, each pressure, each interruption that may arise in the coming hours and days."

"In spite of what I think or feel when I get my eyes off You, I choose not to resist my trials as intruders, but to welcome them as friends."

"Thank You that each difficulty is an opportunity to see You work...that in Your time You will bring me out to a place of abundance. I rejoice that You plan to enrich and beautify me through each problem, each conflict, each struggle..that through them You expose my weaknesses and needs, my hidden sins, my self-centeredness (and especially my self-reliance and pride). Thank You that You use trials to humble me and perfect my faith and produce in me the quality of endurance..that they prepare the soil of my heart for the fresh new growth in the godliness that You and I both long to see in me...and that my momentary troubles are producing for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, as I keep my eyes focused on You. I'm grateful that You look beyond my superficial desire for a trouble-free life; instead, You fulfill my deep-down desire to glorify You, enjoy Your warm fellowship, and become more like Your Son."

"I thank You for the bitter things
They've been a friend to grace,
They've driven me from the paths of ease
to storm the secret place."
~Florence White Willett

That's all I have for today. Really, I didn't say anything. I let Ruth Myers do all the talking. She did a much better job than I would have anyway.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking the Words Right Out of My Mouth

I was planning on blogging about Daniel today, but then I read today's devotional from 31 Days of Praise, a book given to me by a dear friend when I was in her wedding. I have just recently started reading each day's excerpt, and today's was especially fitting. As you will see...

The author, Ruth Myers, begins the day's devotional with this, "Thank You that You have me in the place You want me just now..." Then goes on to say, "...all is well; for in Your sovereign wisdom You are at work to bring about good results...good results both for me and for others."

Here's the kicker though: "Thank you again that You meant for good the terrible things that happened to Joseph, who was sold into slavery, exiled into a distant country, and later sent to prison on false accusations...and that through all this You had him in the right place at the right time, for highly important reasons. I'm glad, Lord, that You are the same today -- well able to work things out for us, to turn evil into good. I stand amazed at the complexity and mystery of Your wisdom. How safe it is for me to trust Your reason for acting (or not acting) and Your methods of working!

See, I told you it was fitting, given that I had been thinking about Joseph's situation and his response to the trials God allowed in his life. I wonder if God is trying to teach me something here :)

Myers continues, "So I rest in the fact that You have me in this place for this day, and I praise You that You will faithfully guide me throughout life to just where You want me to be, as I seek to do Your will."

One last punch to get the idea in my head, "And most important of all my place is in You...How my soul delights to hide in the secret of Your take refuge in the shadow of Your wings, to eat at Your table, to drink my fill of the river of Your delights. How blessed I am, my King and my God, for You have chosen me, and brought me near, to live in Your presence, to behold Your delightfulness, to seek Your counsel...And to think that I will dwell in Your house forever!"

I guess we will have to wait until tomorrow to see what I have learned through Daniel's life...

15 Months

It's another Tuesday. The 6th of the month. Which can only mean one thing: Coralyn is 15 months old today! How has this happened, that my baby girl has grown up so fast?! Before I know she will be in kindergarten...

For now, she is still my "baby girl." I don't know when you are technically supposed to stop calling your children babies, but I don't care. I know she's not a baby. In fact she is quite the "toddler" and at times already displaying symptoms of the "terrible two's." For the most part she is just an happy go lucky, very busy little girl.

In addition to all she could do at 14 months, Coralyn can now:
*baa like a sheep
*bark like a dog
*meow like a cat
*wiggle her hand for fish
*pretend she is riding a horse
*do a "choo-choo" motion for a train
*help get her coat on and off
*let me put "pretties" (barrettes and clips) in her hair for piggy tails
*load and unload her dumptruck
*match a picture to another picture of the same thing
*give hugs and kisses
*identify her eyes, ears, mouth, and nose
*identify her head, tummy, and toes (we are currently working on knees)
*say "Amen" (kind of) when we are done praying
*move her arm like she is throwing darts if we ask her if she wants to play
*get the ball out of the foos ball table goal and put it back in the slot for us to play again
*hold a ping pong paddle and ball (can you tell we've been spending a lot of time downstairs in the game room?)
*put clothes in the basket into the washer
*take clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer
*take clothes from the dryer and put them in the basket
*use her kitchen toys and food to make us a delicious meal, which she brings to us complete with plate, food, and eating utensil
*say "uh-oh" when she drops something
*put out her hands and shrug her shoulders when we say "Where is it?" or "I don't know"
*give high fives
*blow her nose into a tissue
*"swim" in the bathtub

I am sure there is more, but for time's sake, I will end there. I am so blessed to have such a special baby girl. I love her so much. It's fun and exciting to watch her grow up. She is such a great helper and quite compassionate (she stands in time out when the other kids get in trouble and stays there until they are done, or she will wait and make sure everyone is coming when I say it's time for a snack or lunch). I look forward to seeing how God uses these personality traits (gifts from Him really) in the future. I am delighted that I get to be part of the process of helping her grow up into the young lady he has created her to be!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Rest of the Story

This past weekend our pastor shared the theme for our church this year, and imagine this: it goes right along with what God has been doing in my heart. How cool is that! I just love when God does things like this.

So what is our theme at DC for 2011? EPIC. Basically, don't be ordinary. Live extraordinary lives. How exactly do you do that? Make God the center of everything you do and say, invite Him into every single situation, big or small. Have your entire life revolve around Him.

Our pastor spoke about Jesus when He was 12 years old and got "lost" and His parents spent days searching for Him. Of course He was in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. According to Jesus, He had to be there, in His Father's house, doing His Father's business. During the sermon, an artist was painting what she thought would capture the main point of the message. To depict Jesus' intense focus on God, the artist painted a picture of an eye with a cross in the center of the pupil (or iris, but that's not the point). At 12 years old, Jesus already knew His mission and His mind was completely set on accomplishing it. The practical application for us today: what we think about will determine how we live. If God is the center of our thoughts, if doing His will is our ultimate goal, then our lives will show that. Not only will how we live each day change, our perspective (and certainly attitude as well) about what happens to us will be greatly affected.

Recently, I got to have coffee with a good friend. We discussed the hardships of life, the unfairness of experiencing unexplained pain or difficulty. She made a good point though. She had been reading through the Old Testament and kept seeing time and time again how "famous" characters endured quite the trials. In fact, she couldn't think of one single person who had life easy. For you see, the concept of being "epic" erases the entire idea of "easy." If you choose to live epically, you are willingly forfeiting an "easy" life. You are choosing the "road less traveled," and that will make all the difference (as Robert Frost would say).

As I thought about the Old Testament and some of the familiar stories, three kept coming to mind. Growing up I saw these characters' lives depicted on flannel graph; I knew the stories by heart. But given our recent loss, I have come to see (and appreciate) these men in a whole new light. I can relate to them in a new way. And I hope that I can respond to pain and difficulty the same way they did.

First up is Joseph. He was the favored son, but the resented brother. He didn't elect himself to this position. It just happened. In addition to being picked on daily (I am guessing), he was eventually thrown into a pit while his brothers decided if they should kill him or sell him into slavery, neither very good options for Joseph, but then again he wasn't really in a position to offer any suggestions. Thankfully for Joseph, his brothers spared his life, but he would live as a slave.
Good fortune seemed to shine on him (really God was doing His thing), for Joseph was placed in charge of Potiphar's house. Then along came Potiphar's jealous wife who went and ruined his reputation. Prison wasn't all that bad though (yeah right!), after all Joseph was put in charge there too. He spent way more time there than he expected since the chief cupbearer got all caught up in celebrating his restored position and forgot all about Joseph back in prison.
Finally, Joseph is given a second chance when Pharoah has a dream and the chief cupbear's amnesia suddenly disappears. Joseph is immediately elevated to the second in command and basically ends up saving all of Egypt, not to mention those nasty brothers who thought he wasn't worth more than a few pieces of silver.
After all that he went through, you would think that given the opportunity, Joseph would want to ring his brothers' necks. Instead, we see that he chose to live epically. His mind was set on doing the will of God, which affected how he saw and responded to everything that happened to him. This is the only reason why Joseph would be able to say to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done."
Great, we think. Of course God intended it for good. He had to get you to Egypt so you could think up a plan to keep everyone from starving during the famine. Makes perfect sense! Yeah, to us, who know the whole story from beginning to end. Joseph didn't know the end of the story when he was in the middle of it! He only knew what was taking place right then, and I am sure it didn't seem fair to him at the time (it wouldn't have to me)! I would have wanted to yell at God, to give him a piece of my mind and ask Him why after I had faithfully served Him was He allowing me to experience trial after trial. Not until Joseph saw his brothers was he able to see and understand the full scope of God's plan. Only then did he know the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say).

But because Joseph had chosen to be epic, he was, without knowing the end of the story, able to accept whatever God brought His way, invite God into that situation, and trust that He would use it for His good, somehow, sometime. He trusted that God would complete the story, for he had fixed His eyes on God, believing that He was the author of his faith, from beginning to end (Hebrews 12).

My practical application: I don't know what God is doing in my life right now. I don't know how He is using my present situation to bring about good. I don't know how He is going to accomplish that good thing. I just know He is. I don't have the advantage of knowing the end of the story. Like Joseph I have to accept whatever God brings my way, invite Him into this situation, and trust that somehow, sometime He will finish the story. Like Joseph, I have to fix my eyes on Christ, believing that He is the author and perfecter of my faith, from beginning to end, whenever that may be.

My next two examples are Daniel, and his three friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. But given the length of this post already, I think I will save my thoughts on them for later. I guess you will have to wait to hear the rest of the story...

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