Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bold, Courageous, Scared, Doubtful, Unlikely Misfits

In my introduction to this series, I asked you who came to mind when you heard the word courage.

You might have named some soliders or well-known world leaders.
Perhaps you thought of a family member - your father or mother or grandparent.
You could have listed numerous people for numerous reasons.
The names - the faces - you remembered greatly depends on your definition of courage.

Today, I want to us to look together at some courageous men and women from the Bible.  We will see how God used these individuals at different times in different ways to accomplish His divine plans and purposes throughout the course of history.  We will see how these men and women stepped up to the plate and carried out the often monumental tasks asked of them.  We will see how these men and women impacted countless lives during their physical time on earth, but also how they set a standard for us today and thus forever changed the course of the world.

Before we put these courageous men and women on a pedestal so high we can't ever dream of climbing to their high prestious or living with the same boldness, determination, and confidence they did back in the day, let us also remember that these famous individuals were NOT perfect.  They made mistakes.  Many of them.  They had questions and doubts.  They experienced setbacks. They encountered opposition. They were NOT the richest, smartest, best looking people on the face of the planet.  Rather, for the most part, they were the misfits, the outcasts, the ones overlooked, picked over, rejected, abandoned, ignored, cast aside, left behind, not given another thought.  Until God came along and informed them HE had different plans for them.

Bigger, wilder, crazier plans then they could have ever imagined.
God was going to do something in and through them that they NEVER could have done on their own.
Yet, with HIS power and wisdom and strength and everything else they would need, they WERE able to do amazing things - things we still remember and talk about with awe thousands of years later.

As we look back at these men and women whom we would certainly describe as courageous, let us not forget they BECAME that way because of GOD.

Let us take hope that the God who worked in and through these men and women of old is the SAME God who is alive and on the move TODAY.  And if we LET Him, He can use US too...

More on that in a minute.
First, let's actually meet these courageous men and women I have been blabbering about for some time now:

Joseph - second in command to Pharaoh, movies have been made about this Prince of Egypt who saved the country and many surrounding nations from starvation during an extreme famine

Moses - runaway murderer turned shepherd who then returned to Egypt, demanding that Pharaoh let God's people go and invoking 10 dreadful plagues until his request was granted and then leading the thousands upon thousands of Israelites through the parted Red Sea into the wilderness and to the border of Canaan, calling down mana and quail from heaven and water from rocks along the way

Joshua - first a spy who went against the crowd and gave a good report, encouraging his people to go in and take the land the Lord had given them then the commander of Israel's armies who did just that, marching around fortified cities like Jericho and watching the walls come tumbling down at their feet

Rahab - prostitute who hid the Israelite spies, knowing her people would be defeated and requesting that she and her family be spared when her city was conquered

Elijah - prophet of God who called down fire on a soaked altar and watched it go up in flames

Gideon - army commander who went to battle greatly outnumbered and still defeated his enemies, using clay pots and laterns to do so

Ruth - widow who committed to taking care of her mother-in-law, willing even to leave all she knew and go to a strange land and spend her days picking up leftover wheat as the workers harvested the fields

Esther - orphaned girl who became queen and went before the king uninvited, risking her life to save her people who had been set up to be destroyed without a way to defend themselves

David - youngest of seven sons, this shepherd boy faced a giant all other grown men were too scared to take on, bringing him down with a single rock and then cutting off his head

Daniel - captured refugee who refused to eat the king's delacies and later spent the night in a den with hungry lions, waking up without a scratch the next morning

Peter - wild, brash, fisherman who often spoke before he thought but walked on water, raised people to life, and helped lead the first Church as they spread the good news of salvation to the entire known world after Jesus' death and resurrection

And who could forget JESUS - Son of God, Creator of the world, left all heaven's glories to come to earth to save lost mankind by giving His own life in our place, calling out the religious leaders of the day for their hypocrisy, making the lame to walk and the blind to see and the deaf to hear, raising the dead back to life, YET in the Garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest BEGGED God if there was any other way

I am sure we could list so many more courageous men and women of the Bible.  Check out Hebrews 11 for a pretty in-depth record of the Heros of the Faith.  Even now, I think of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel's 3 friends, and Paul.  We could talk for days about various characters who displayed courage in one way or another.

And again, we could deceive ourselves and think these men and women have something special you and I lack.  That they were superheros with superpowers.  That they were immune to fear.  That they never questioned God or His ways.  That they knew everything was going to work out and could face the situation head on without any doubt or worry.  We would be wrong, dreadfully wrong.

Let's go back through our list and take a closer look at these courageous men and women.  I think we will be encouraged. And hopefully emboldened too.

Joseph - was despised by his family as he shared his dreams and eventually made his way to Egypt as a slave, sold by his own brothers; was wrongfully accused of raping Potiphar's wife and thrown into prison where he stayed for YEARS; interrupted dreams and hoped for someone to remember him and still waited YEARS more before being released and elevated to his position by Pharoah's side...  how many times do you think he questioned what God was doing or wondered how being in prison was a good thing bringing about God's good plans.  Do you think it was EASY for him to forgive his brothers and realize God has used their evil for HIS good, to save his family and countless lives from so many surrounding nations?

Moses - ran away after killing an Eygptian beating an Israelite man; told God in the burning bush that he did NOT want to go back to Pharoah, to send someone else who was a better speaker; got so infuriated with the Israelite people he was leading through the wilderness that he thew down the original tablets with God's laws on them and hit a rock instead of speaking to it.  Moses made quite a few other mistakes along the way too, and actually missed out on entering the Promised Land of Canaan all together because of them.

Joshua - he may have been 1 of 2 spies who wanted to take the land originally, but when it was time for Joshua to take Moses' place as the leader of Israel, God had to remind him numerous times to be strong and courageous.  Do you think he immediately thought God's plan to march around Jericho - without talking - was the best military tactic?  Do you think he wondered if God would truly part the Jordan River once the priests put their toes in the water to lead the entire nation across to the other side?  Do you think he never got frustrated or discouraged as he led the people in one battle after another?

Rahab - she was a PROSTITUTE, who LIED.  Yet, God used this woman, not only to hide the spies, but if you look in Jesus' geneaology, you will find her.  She was a great-great-great-great (and so on) grandma to JESUS!

Elijah - after defeating the false prophets of Baal, he ran and hide on a mountain, scared for his life and worried that he was the only one left who followed God.  He had just experienced an awesome act of God - fire coming down from heaven and engulfing a drenched altar is pretty incredible - yet he doubted and cowered in fear.  God spoke to him - not in the wind or storm, but in a still small voice.  And THEN Elijah was ready to go back to it and finish what God had called him to do.

Gideon - he was hiding in a wine press when God came to him.  He reminded God he was the youngest of his family, who happened to be one of the least in all of Israel.  He tested God not once, but twice with a fleece.  FINALLY, he was ready to answer God's call.  I wonder, though, what he thought of God's plan to go up against the enemy with only 300 men?  I am thinking he might have secretly questioned God's idea to use clay jars and laterns to "attack" the opposing army.  BUT, he did it all anyway.  He even smashed his own father's idols to smitherines.  He rose up and BECAME the "valiant warrior" God saw in him.

Ruth - she was from Moab, NOT originally from Israel.  She was a GENTILE.  A woman.  A widow.  The lowest of low in that day's society.  I bet she missed her mom and dad and family when she moved to Israel with Naomi.  She might have been homesick, but she didn't have time to think about it.  She had to spend all her time gathering food for them to survive.  And as she did, her CHARACTER stood out to Boaz.  Eventually, the two were married.  They had a son Obed.  Obed had a son Jessie.  Jessie had 7 sons, the youngest was David.  Did you see that?  Once more, God used a woman to change history, as she too was a great-great-great-great (and so on) grandma to JESUS!

Esther - she originally told Moredcai that she couldn't go before the king for risk of death; she took 3 days to fast and pray before making a decision about what to do (it was NOT an immediate thing where she fearlessly stepped up to do what only she could); she "chickened out" during the first dinner party she had for the king and threw a second one before letting him know about wicked Haaman's plan to destroy the Jews.  Esther may have been put in her position "for such a time as this," but it took some convincing for her to believe that and to accept the role she had been given.  Thankfully, she didn't let her fear stand in her way for too long...

David - yes, he was a man after God's own heart, but he sinned GREATLY.  Adultery.  Murder.  Not the best father to all his children - they actually rebelled against him and tried to KILL him.  He had many faults and made many mistakes.  YET, God used him to lead the nation, to write words we still read today and connect with because of their genuiness and heartfelt passion.  David was far from perfect, but he too was Jesus' ancestor - both Joseph and Mary came from his line (see Matthew and Luke)!

Daniel - we know he refused to eat unkosher foods and to pray to the king and stood up to leaders when they weren't obeying God and even interrupted dreams with less than favorful meanings.  BUT, I wonder how many times Daniel was shaking when he did those courageous thins.  I am going to guess he was pleading with God to save him from the lions - not running up to cuddle with them.  We see the boldness and steadfastness in Daniel, but we don't know what was going on behind the scenes either.  Regardless of his feelings, he did what was right and set an amazing example for us today.

Peter - yep, he did get out of the boat, but remember that minutes later he was sinking and calling out to Jesus to save him.  When Jesus was on trial, Peter followed, but then denied even knowing Him.  Not once, not twice, but three times!  And then, after Jesus died, Peter went back to fishing - until Jesus showed up and reminded him to "feed His sheep."  Peter was quick to speak, but his fear got the best of him at times.  Still, God usesd him to start a movement that would alter the course of history.  Peter was not the most educated, yet he spoke to huge crowds in a way that moved their hearts and  resulted in thouands accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

JESUS - He sweat blood in the Garden that night.  He was greatly distressed. He knew His time had come.  Yet, He prayed, "not My will but YOUR will be done."  He surrendered Himself to the Father and carried out the plan that had been set in motion before time even began.  He willingly subjected Himself to phsyical torture.  He didn't defend Himself when mocked or scorned.  He didn't save Himself on the cross, when He so easily could have come down in the blink of an eye.  He stayed.  For me.  For YOU.

Once more, we can all agree these men and women displayed courage.
But let's not forget: they acted - not without fear, but inspite of it.
Their FAITH was bigger than their fear.
They believed their God - our God - was bigger, more powerful than their situation/circumstances.
They trusted Him.
And did as He asked.

And a whole host of other emotions we might not know about - at least not from the written story.
Yet, we KNOW because we feel the same way.
We face the same fears.
Even if we aren't in the exact same situations as these heros of the faith, we can relate.

And we have the same choice each one of them did.
We can cower, flee, hide, doubt, say no.
OR we can stand, step out, trust God, believe He is going to come through for us, and say YES.

We can miss out.
If we turn down God's invitation to be part of His kingdom work, He won't go sulk or throw a pity party.  He won't get exasperated or put His hands up in the air, wondering what in the world He is going to do.  He will just find someone else who is willing.

You see, God doesn't need us.
He can run the world perfectly fine without us
And probably a lot better without us, if truth be told.
YET, He is gracious and kind and DOES invite us to be part of the work He is doing.
We has different roles for each one of us.
These are the purposes for which we were created.
These are the very reasons we were placed on this earth.

Should we choose to say YES to God, we experience something amazing.
We live out the passions He puts in our hearts.
We live up to the potential He put inside of us - for He carefully and intricately designed us in specific ways for specific reasons.
We fulfill the dreams HE has for us.
We BECOME who we are meant to me.
Who HE created us to be.

We thrive.

What is YOUR choice?
Will you believe you are made for more?
Will you trust God to act on your behalf, to carry out the plans and purposes HE has for you?
Will you let your faith be bigger than your fear?
Will you be courageous?

Remember, it's okay to be scared.
I am.
Let's be scared together.

But let's also be COURAGEOUS together.
Together we can do this.
Together we can make a difference.
Together we can change the world.

Dare to Be Different

In my 20+ years of following Jesus, I have come to realize God does NOT work the way I expect.  I should know this.  He told Isaiah waaaaaay back in the day that His ways are not our ways.  Yet, for some reason, I still tend to put Him in a box and look for Him to do things the way I would.  

One would think I would also figure out the whole "God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called," type thing.  The two concepts tend to go hand in hand.

God's ways are NOT my ways.
They are bigger. Better.
WAAAAAAAAY better than I could ever dream or imagine.

And because God's ways are NOT my ways, He uses people differently than I expect.
He doesn't use who I think He will.
Or how I think He will.
Or when I think He will.
Or where I think He will.
Or even why I think He will.

Good thing, too.
Because really, He shouldn't use me.
I am not anyone special.
I'm a white, caucausian female in the United States.
I am of normal build, maybe a little on the short side - 5'4" if I stretch, 125ish pounds when not pregnant (which won't be for awhile since baby #4 is due this fall).
I'm a wife.
A mother. Of 3 girls (and then the baby on the way).
I don't make millions (yet).
I haven't written any books (yet).
I haven't invented anyhing that has changed people's lives all over the world.
I'm not a genius.
I'm not a beauty queen.
In my eyes, I am typical, average.
Certainly not extraordinary...

Yet, I believe God is using me.
And I KNOW He can use YOU too.

Here's what I am coming to find out though:

God doesn't typically act or respond to our requests for Him to act UNTIL we take that first step.
When we obey and do what God has asked - whatever it may be - and take Him at His word, THEN He acts.

This is NOT how we usually go about doing things in our own lives.
This is NOT how we normally interact with others on an everyday basis.
This is NOT common to us.

It's different.
Hard to swallow at times.
Often doesn't make sense.
Against the grain.

And so we tend to resist.
At least I often do.

I am a detail person.
I like to know everything before I make a decision.
I want to see all the plans laid out, with all my ducks in a row.
I like to be in control, to know the when and where and how and who and what and why.

BUT, this is NOT how God works.
His ways are NOT my ways.

His ways may be unconventional.
Or even absurd.

Take the time he told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River to clear up his leprosy. The Jordan River was filthy.  And God wanted this pretigious leader to wash in the dirty water, dipping specificially 7 times, to heal him of an unhealable disease.  Makes perfect sense.  NOT!  At first Naama resisted and questioned God's plan.  Thankfully, he listened to the advice from his servant and did as he was instructed.  And came out of the water a different man...

Or there's that time God instructed Joshua to march around Jericho for 6 days, without saying a word as they did.  Then, on the 7th day, the people were to walk around the city walls 7 times.  And THEN, they were to shout as loud as they could.  God assured Joshua the walls would come crashing down and they would rush in to defeat their enemies.  Yep, that's how generals usually plan an attack.  NOT!  Good thing Joshua was willing to try something new and different...

I'm sure the blind man wondered what in the world Jesus was doing when He spit in the dirt and rubbed the mud on his eyes - not that the blind man could see what was happening, but I bet Jesus' disciples had some quizzal looks as they watched their Rabbi.  Spit, dirt, mud...that's what every optomitrist will tell you he needs for an eye surgery.  NOT!  But then again, Jesus isn't your typical Physician...

We could share story after story of how God has acted in ways we don't understand, ways we never would have thought up on our own, ways that are contrary to everything we know.

We can resist God's ways.
We can question them.
Doubt them.
Try to explain why they won't work.
OR we can accept them.
We can follow His instructions, no matter how absurd they may be.
And I guarnatee you this - we WILL see God come through, BIG time!

Remember how he took Gideon's 300 men up against a HUGE army?  Remember how Gideon's men had clay pots and laterns and used them to defeat the enemy?

Remember how the Red Sea parted and the Israelites walked across on DRY land?
Remember how God did pretty much the same thing at the Jordan River, parting it as soon as the priets' feet were IN the rushing water?

Remember how God provided oil for the widow for months and months?

Remember how Jesus turned water to wine?

Remember how God SPOKE the universe into existence?

Remember how Jesus came back to life after 3 days?!

Yeah, you would think we would realize God's ways are NOT our ways.
You would think we would understand that He uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways.
All that is required is for those normal, everyday men and women to say YES to whatever God is asking of them, whatever He wants to do in and through them.

As we have the COURAGE to say YES to God, we see walls fall down.  We watch the lame walk.  We rejoice as the dead come back to life.  We see God do the humanly impossible.

For remember, He is NOT human.
We are.
He is NOT.
And thus, His ways are NOT our ways.
They are bigger, better.

BUT, we have to dare to be different.
To let God call us.
Then equip us.

That takes courage.

Here's the cool thing though - God gives us the courage we need.
IF we let Him!
In saying YES, He fills us with His Spirit, which means we are filled with the same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead.  We are filled with ALL of God - His wisdom, His peace, His grace, His mercy, His joy, His knowledge, His understanding, His love, His COURAGE...

Are you ready?
Are you going to take that first step today?
I don't know what that step might be for you in your life, in your specific and current situation.
But I know that as you take that step, God will be with you, holding your hand and steading you as you go, wherever it is He may be leading.

I am going.
I am following.
I am listening to His voice.
And as we will discover, THAT is key to being courageous as well...

For now, will you listen with me?
Will you go?
Will you commit to taking just that FIRST step?

Courage-ous What?

If someone asked you to define courage, what would you say?
When you hear the word courage, who are some people who come to mind?
How would you describe a courageous person?
What makes someone courageous?

Are these courageous men and women brave, bold, unafraid, not scared of anything or anyone?

They don't bat an eye at danger - running into fiery buildings or battling on the front lines to save lives and protect those they love (and those they don't even know).

They don't feel sick to their stomach or hide shaking legs behind the podium as they speak in front of large crowds.

They don't worry if they are cut out for the job, worrying if they will measure up to everyone's expectations.

They don't hesitate to say what's on their mind, stand up for what's right, defend the helpless, demand justice for the oppressed, or call for change in a corrupted world.

Or do they?

Does being courageous mean you are never scared or worried or hesitant?  Does it mean your hands never shake or that you never run to the bathroom to get rid of the butterflies?  Does it mean you are 100% confident 100% of the time.

Absolutely NOT.
At least not in MY book.

I think we do ourselves an injustice when we view courage in this way.
For who then can be truly courageous?

And that is not good, not good at all.
Our world would have NO hope whatsoever if courage required a lack of fear.

Rather, I have come to believe courage helps ANYONE to act in spite of fear.
Courage grows in the heart.
It is rooted in a belief, a passion, a purpose, a calling, a vision, a dream.
And no matter what, that cannot be restrained.

Hence, courageous poeple are undaunted, determined, committed, steadfast.
Some may even consider courageous people radical.

THAT is where I think we get hung up and start to shrink back from becoming courageous ourselves.
We wonder what others will think of us.
We fear ruining our reputation, missing out on a promotion, losing friends, hurting someone's feelings, stepping on someone's toes, getting strange looks, or whatever else we come up with in our minds that we worry might happen to us if we act courageously.

And we forget what might happen if we do.
We could impact a life.
We could give someone hope.
We could inspire someone to go after their dreams.
We could brighten someone's day.
We could restore a relationship.
We could alter history.
We could change the world.

Before I get ahead of myself, though, I want to explain why I am doing this SERIES on courage. Over the next few days, I want to talk about:

*what courage is
*how God's ways are NOT our ways (and thus it's GOOD to be different, to do things differently)
*how it doesn't really matter what others think - it's not about them, or us, anyway
*how so many "voices" are vying for our attention and how to determine which ones are telling the truth and thus which ones we should listen to at all
*how life is a race, a RELAY, and how we EACH must run our part well for the sake of everyone else on the team (those present with us now and those generations yet to come)
*how to leave a legacy, one that inspires others to live up to their fullest potential and serves as a catalyst to help others live courageously too

Beyond courage, really, I want to touch on a topic near and dear to my heart, so much so that it is welling up inside of me, bubbling over.  I can't keep quiet any longer.  I can't tame it down.  I HAVE to share what God has impressed upon me.

Am I scared? Nervous?
You bet.
BUT, I believe far too many of us are missing out on so much that I can't sit back and let that happen any more.

We are made for more.
Every single person on the face of earth.
Regardless of race, ethnicity, location, economical status, gender, age, physical or mental abilities, or anything else that could possibly caterogize us in any way.
We are ALL created for a purpose.
A divine purpose.

And that right there should be enough to instill us with at least a trace of courage.
It should stir up within us a hunger, a thirst.
To do more.
To BE more.

We ARE made for more.
We are made to THRIVE.
We are offered abundant life.
But it is up to us to make that CHOICE to live purposefully, passionately, courageously.

And if we do, as we do, we begin to see how our life has meaning.
EVERY day we are given, every breath we take is meant for something.
So the question remains - what are we going to do with the time we have been given?

Will we cower?
Or will we stand?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Riding the Bike of Life

My 5.5 year old saw her friend riding her bike withOUT training wheels.  On the way home from our friend's house, my daughter immediately asked if SHE could learn to ride her bike withOUT training wheels too.

When we got home, I took the training wheels off her bike.  And thus began the adventure of teaching my first child to ride her bike.

Excited to have the training wheels off and get going, but has NO idea what all learning to ride this way entails!
Let me assure you, this task is NOT for the faint of heart.  It is NOT for the weak or the weary.  It is NOT for those who can't handle falls, and scrapes, and bruises, and tears. Lots and lots of tears.  And sighs of frustration.  And shouts of discouragement.  And pleas to just give up already.

Oh no, teaching your children to ride a bike without training wheels is quite the ordeal.
You will be out of breath as you run down the sidewalk, holding onto the back of your child's bike, helping them stay upright.

You will learn how to look ahead and gage when your child will be at the next patch of grass, and time it perfectly to let go at just the right moment so they will most likely fall on the softer grass as opposed to the neighbor's rockhard driveway.

You will inspect scrapes and cuts, assuring your child they are okay, encouraging them to get back up and mount their bike once more.

You will repeat again and again and again, "Good job!  Let's try it again!  You'll get better and better the more you practice.  You CAN do this.  I am so proud of you."  And other such phrases as you celebrate the small successes and hope with all your heart they do even better the next ride.

You will hold your breath as they fall and pray they don't break their wrist or twist their ankle.

You will pretend to keep holding onto the back of the bike and ride beside your child while they peddle solo without realizing what they are doing!  And then when they do fall, you will tell them your secret and explain how proud of them you are!

You will watch as they figure out how to get going on their bike without you holding the back to steady it.  You will cheer and clap as they make their way down the sidewalk, holding your breath as they swerve and sway several times but somehow manage to stay upright and reach the end of the street.

You will tear up as you see the HUGE smile spread across their face as they look back at you, excited they rode down the sidewalk all by themself!

When they get back to the house, you will give them a high five and a big hug.  Then, of course, you will take a picture to capture the moment and treasure the memory forever!

Reaching home after riding all the way down the sidewalk to the end of the street by herself!
Over the past several days as my daughter has been learning the process of riding her bike without training wheels, I feel like I have learned so many life lessons!

*Getting started is the hardest part.

*Having someone help you and give you advice is key to success.

*You have to listen to the person/people helping you and take the advice they give.

*If you keep your eyes straight ahead and look to where you are going, you are more likely to stay upright and less likely to fall.

*When you do fall, you have to get back up and try again.  Staying on the ground doesn't do you any good or get you any closer to reaching your goals.

*The more you practice, the better you get.

*The more you try, the more confident you feel.

*When you accomplish your goals, it feels really, really, really good!

*Those who helped you get started are going to enjoy celebrating with you and will tell you they KNEW you could do it.

Sadly, in life, we often forget how we didn't learn to ride a bike without training wheels our first try.  We want success to be IMMEDIATE.  And if we don't reach our goals right away or we encounter hardship or face difficulty or have to overcome an obstacle, we want to give up.  If we fall or have a set back, we whine and complain and begin to think we will never be able to do what we want.  We have a pity party. We look at others who are doing what we want and wonder why our success hasn't come yet.  We compare ourselves to others who have been practicing longer and have more experience than us.  We get distracted and look sideways and backwards instead of focusing on OUR goals and keeping our eyes straight ahead to where WE want to go.  And if we don't get there fast enough, we stop.  We quit.

And we miss out.
Big time.

Imagine if my daughter had gotten so discouraged about falling so many times that first day.  What if she had decided that she couldn't do it and asked me to put the training wheels back on - or worse yet had put her bike away in the garage and never riden it again?

Well, then, today never would have happened!
She started all by herself, without me holding the back to steady it.
She rode all the way down the sidewalk to the end of the street, without me running beside her.
She stopped at the turn, all by herself, and looked back at me with the BIGGEST smile ever!  She was so proud of herself, and I was one excited mama too!  When she got back to the house, I gave her a HUGE hug and told her how amazing she was!

Teaching my 5 year old to ride her bike without training wheels was really more of a lesson in LIFE for ME!!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Flying High

As a mother with 3 young children, sleep has not been a huge part of my life the past 5 and 1/2 years!  Not that I haven't wanted to enjoy MORE sleep, but I simply haven't been given the opportunity!  With midnight and 3 am feedings, then getting up at 5 or 6 to officially start the day, uninterrupted sleep is a thing of the past.  I know in the future, I will get more sleep, but for now, it's not on the agenda.  Or at least not likely to happen.  My 17 month old has only been sleeping through the night for about 4 months, but in case you thought I was able to FINALLY sneak in 8 hours of ZZZZ, you would be mistaken.  You see, I am pregnant and up at least once in the night to go to the bathroom - and I'm only 14ish weeks along.  Haven't even hit the "I'm so big and uncomfortable" stage yet!  Like I said, I don't see sleep anywhere in my NEAR future!

This morning as I was enjoying a rare moment of "me time" during my walk, I was talking to God about how tired I was.  Then, I was hit with the reality that He NEVER sleeps.  He NEVER even RESTS.  He doesn't get to run to the bathroom and lock the door to grab a few seconds by Himself.  He never gets a day off.  He never even asks to take a 15 minute lunch break.  He doesn't ever sit down and prop his feet up after a stressful day.  His head NEVER hits the pillow.  He doesn't even have a bed!

A passage from Psalm came to mind, and as the thought of God watching over me while I rest made its way to my heart, I was overcome with gratitude yet again.

I look up to the mountains - 
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the One who watches over you will NOT slumber.
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
NEVER slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord Himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from ALL harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.

I may be tired, but simply thinking about God's schedule and all that HE does in a day makes me EXHAUSTED.

He keeps the planets spinning and the moons orbitting and the stars in place.
He knows the goings on of EVERY nation on earth.
He sees every baby who is born.  And knows the number of hairs on their heads.  And every single person on the planet for that matter.
He hears every word that is said, whether shouted or whispered or muttered under your breath.  He even knows the thoughts in your head that are never spoken aloud!
He listens to every request brought before Him, never turning anyone away, for any reason.

He is a BUSY God.
Yet, He NEVER grows weary or tired.
He NEVER sends us away, saying He is too worn out to deal with one more thing.
He is ALWAYS there for us, ready and willing and eager to help us, however we need!

Isaiah reminded me of this beautiful truth and enduring promise:

To whom will you compare Me?
Who is My equal? asks the Holy One.

Look up to the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by name.
Because of His great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the EVERLASTING God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He NEVER grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of His understanding.
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find NEW strength.
They will SOAR high on wings like eagles.
They will run and NOT grow weary.
They will walk and NOT faint.

Again, WOW!
God doesn't keep all His strength and energy to Himself.
He shares it with US - with me and YOU.

Jeremiah's words in Lamentations assure us of this:

The faithful love of the Lord NEVER ends!
His mercies NEVER cease.
GREAT is His faithfulness;
His mercies begin afresh EACH morning.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in Him!"
The Lord is good to those who depend on Him,
to those who search for Him.

Thank goodness!
I don't know about you, but I personally need new mercy every single day.
From the moment I get out of bed until the time my head finally hits the pillow again at night, I am in DESPERATE need of God's faithfulness and grace and love and peace and joy and hope and wisdom and strength.  NO way could I do this life without Him!

I may not get as much sleep as I would like, but at least I DO get some rest EVERY day.
What a GIFT from God!

I may dream of hours upon hours of uniterrupted sleep, but in the meantime, while I live out my reality from day to day, I will rely fully on my God who is my strength and my song.

As Moses sang his praises to God after He delivered the people of Israel from the Eygptian army racing towards them at the Red Sea, I too will shout out my gratitude to my God for delivering me on a daily basis!

The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise Him -
my father's God, and I will exalt Him!

I don't know where you are at today - full of energy or wanting to crawl into bed and sleep for days.  I DO know this though, God is here for you and ready to help you face whatever is on your plate today.  He will give you the strength you lack.  Look to Him, and He will NEVER let you down!  In fact, Paul promises us that God's power shines best when we are at our WEAKEST!!!

"My grace is ALL you need.  My power works best in weakness."  
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

Paul has even more to say to encourage us as we live out each day.  Yes, we are tired.  Yes, we are weak.  Yes, we are overwhelmed.  Yes, we can get discouraged or frustrated.  Yes, we can want to give up.  BUT, we MUST remember this:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like FRAGILE CLAY JARS containing this GREAT TREASURE.  This makes it clear that our GREAT POWER is from GOD, not from ourselves.

We ARE pressed on every side by troubles, but we are NOT crushed.  We ARE perplexed, but NOT driven to despair.  We ARE hunted down, but NEVER abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are NOT destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus SO THAT the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

Yes, we live under CONSTANT danger of death because we serve Jesus, SO THAT the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death, but this has results in eternal life for you.

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of FAITH the psalmist had when he said, "I believed in God, so I spoke."  We KNOW that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise US with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you.  All of this is for your BENEFIT.  And as God's grace reaches more and MORE people, there will be GREAT THANKSGIVING, and God will receive more and more glory.

THAT is why we NEVER give up.  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being RENEWED EVERY DAY.  For our present troubles are SMALL and won't last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly OUTWEIGHS them and will last FOREVER!  So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we FIX OUR GAZE on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will SOON be gone, but the things we cannot see will last FOREVER.

With this in mind, my friends - my tired, weary, weak, worn down, exhausted friends - do NOT give up!  Press on!  Make today count!  Use today for good.  God has given us today for a reason.  Let's make the most of it and KNOW that as we do, God will come through for us.  He WILL take our efforts - even the measly ones, even the ones when we feel like we can't do one more thing - and bless them SUBSTANTIALLY!!!

So let's not get tired of doing what is good.  
At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up!

I am right there with you.
Rubbing my eyes.
Pulling my hair out.
Watching the clock and hoping bedtime comes faster somehow.
And that the children magically fall right to sleep and don't get back out of bed to get a drink or go to the bathroom or have a bad dream or need another hug or ask for one last kiss.  But that they rest peacefully and soundly until 8 am the following morning.

Hey, one can hope, right?!

But, even if that doesn't happen, I am NOT giving up.
I am raising my eyes to the heavens, from where my help comes.
I am relying fully on God Himself to strengthen me and carry me when I can't take another step.
And as I do, I will SOAR to new heights!

Find YOUR wings - or rather climb on God's - and join me!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Purpose Driven Life

A few years ago (okay, maybe more like a decade or MORE ago), Rick Warren published a best-selling book:

I think people were drawn to the title because they were seeking meaning, wanting to know why they are here on this earth, what to do with the time they have been given, and how to make the most of their days.

My husband and I were talking on the deck last night after we put our 3 girls to bed.  We were enjoying the cool breeze and soaking up the silence after a busy, hectic, chaotic day.  The peace and quiet was good for our bodies, but even more so for our souls.

To simply sit and breathe.
To relax.
To reflect.
What a new concept as parents of young children who fill our lives with drama.  And JOY, so much joy.  But peace?  calm?  quiet?  Not so much! :)

As we treasured this rare moment, my husband began to share from his heart.  Usually I am the one pouring out my emotions and asking the "What's the purpose of life?" type questions, but last night my husband was the pensive one, the talker.

At one point he shared, "I just don't want to get to the end of life and have regrets.  I don't want to waste my life."

His words hit me like a ton of bricks.
First, that he would even be questioning if he were making a difference rattled me.  My husband is an incredible 3rd grade teacher.  He has been teaching for 9 years now, and in that time, he has touched so many lives - in and out of his classroom.

I immediately thought about how 9 years ago, he invited his students to come with us to Ponca Bible Camp for a week of summer adventures.  We had 8 boys and 1 girl join us.  One of the boy's families let us borrow their 12 passenger van to make the trek down to Arkansas.  As we pulled out of the school parking lot that Sunday morning, only one boy knew Jesus as Lord and Savior.  When we drove down the camp hill at the end of the week and headed back home the following Saturday morning, ALL 9 children had made the decision to follow Jesus and live their lives for Him!

The next summer, 18 children came to camp with us.  We had to find a school bus!  Each year MORE children have come to Ponca.  Last year, I believe over 100 boys and girls from our area - ages 9 to 18 - attended at least one week of camp.  HUNDREDS of lives have been changed, eternally!!!

Group picture from Week 6 of camp in 2015.  Almost half the campers were from the KC/Liberty area!
And yet, my husband is questioning if he is making a difference, if he is wasting his life, if he is living out the purpose God has for him!

I could share story after story of how God has used my husband to speak TRUTH into people's lives, to shine the LIGHT, to offer HOPE, to be a source of JOY, to provide STRENGTH, to be a voice of WISDOM, to encourage, to inspire, to challenge, to equip, to empower, to build up the Body of believers.  He's also done all that for those NOT part of the Church.  Every day he pours himself out.  He may work in a public school and have certain "limits" on what he can legally say and do, but he makes himself AVAILABLE.  And as a result, God is using him - in so many ways, ways we may not even know about for years to come.

After listening to my husband for a little bit last night, I responded to his ponderings.  I shared from my heart how I truly believe God IS using him and how we simply need to continue to be OPEN to whatever He has for us.

I am so proud of my husband.  He has said YES to us going on a mission trip to Ethiopia this summer.  The trip has a lot of unknowns.  Given that we will be in a completely different culture, a set schedule is not guarnateed, which is hard for my organization-loving husband.  Then there's the reality that we will meet and fall in love with some children at the orphanage.  I have been longing to adopt for a LONG time, but earlier this week, my husband admitted he is ready to start the process.  He even joked that baby #4, growing inside of me right now, will be another girl and that we will get our boys from Africa.  Nothing could make me happier!  Though the idea of driving a "bus" to get our family around doesn't make my husband thrilled, I think he will get used to our new reality when the time comes!

I'm not exactly sure what spurred my husband's thoughts last night, but something else he said provided a clue.  He mentioned how he was happy for me. He went on to say how much he has seen me change in the past 2-3 years.  Back then I was a busy mama of 2 precious girls and running an in-home daycare (taking care of 4 additional children, under the age of 4, each day).  He described me as stressed, overwhelmed, sad, searching.  But now, he sees me differently!  Because something inside of me has changed.  He spoke of how I have joy and peace and PURPOSE.  And he's right!  I do feel as though God has given me an amazing ministry, with countless opportunities to serve and encourage others, to make Him known, to extend FREEDOM and hope, to inspire others to overcome their fears and pursue their dreams - no matter how wild or crazy they may be.  Granted, I don't have everything figured out, and I KNOW God has even more in store for me and our family.  I may not know what exactly where the path before me leads or what adventures going down it will entail, but I do know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am where God has put me and am doing what He has created and called me to do!  I have quite the journey ahead of me, but I AM becoming the woman He designed me to be!

My husband may not see it, but God is doing the SAME thing in HIS life.
My husband may feel as though he is at a major crossroads and not know for sure which way God would have him go.  BUT, as he declared last night, "God will be wherever I go."  And that filled my husband with PEACE.

We didn't make any huge decisions last night, but we did make room in our hearts for whatever it is God is doing.  We did open ourselves up to whatever opportunities He is preparing for us.  We did agree that God is good and confident He will make HIS purpose for each of us - individually and as a couple/family - known, in HIS timing!  For now, our job is simply to follow Him.

One step at a time.

THAT right there is what the Purpose Driven Life is all about!

Won't you join us?!

Big Ask Part 2

I am scared to type this, to make my request public.
God already knows the desires of my heart.
He and I have spoken about them many, many, many times over the past several days.
While HE is the only one who really needs to hear my pleas, I feel compelled to share my prayers and reveal myself to you all.

Not to sound selfish or greedy, but rather to showcase God's marvelous, abundant, LAVISH grace which He freely bestows on His children, and DELIGHTS in doing so.

My hope is that as I pour out my heart, you will join with me in making YOUR requests known to the Lord as well.  And together, we can CELEBRATE as God does His amazing, supernatural work in our lives.

Before I share my Big Ask "Part 2," I want to set the stage.
This past week, I read a somewhat familar verse - in Christian circles at least.  Hebrews 11:6 not only provides us with a definition of FAITH, but also gives us a beautiful glimpse at the wonderous character of our Heavenly Father.

"And without FAITH it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must BELIEVE that He EXISTS and that He REWARDS THOSE WHO SEEK HIM."

I love this verse so much, and as I read it again last week, my heart was flooded with so many emotions. Joy, peace, thankfulness, gratitude, awe, humility, surrender, wonder, and more.  It's not just that God IS but that He rewards those who seek Him.  He makes Himself known to those who look for Him.  He blesses those who come after Him.  And not begrudingly or sparingly, but rather with abundance and joy and love and DELIGHT.  He finds PLEASURE in rewarding those who love Him and trust Him with their lives.

With THAT in mind, I was assured that I was not being selfish or greedy in making yet another request to my God.  Instead, I was being welcomed with open arms and a huge smile, invited - URGED - to come into His presence, to climb up onto my Daddy's lap, to rest my head on His chest, and pour my heart out to Him.  He wasn't offended in the least.  He was DELIGHTED.

And so it is with much EXCITEMENT that I now share wtih YOU my Big Ask "Part 2."  If you remember, back in March, I asked God to make it possible for my husband and I to earn $50,000 in bonuses from our company It Works.  What looked humanly impossible was a perfect opportunity for my God to blow me away and do "infinitely more than I could ever ask or imagine!"  On March 31, we officially promoted to Diamond and Double Diamond, earning $50,000 in bonus money!

That money - paid out over the course of 25 months - has already paid for our mission trip to Ethiopia AND enabled us to start setting aside money for a future adoption fund!  Totally a blessing from God!  Many might think that blessing enough.  And indeed it is!  I am beyond thankful to the Lord for what HE has done in my family's life!

Yet, I felt compelled to ask for MORE.
Not for myself.
Not to pad my pockets.
But rather to equip my husband and me and our family (3 young girls and a baby on the way) to BLESS even more people in even BIGGER ways.

And one thing that has been impressed on both my husband and my hearts is to start pursuing adoption sooner rather than later.  The process can take YEARS, so if we want our TWO kiddos in our home in the next 2 years or so, we had better get going!

Earlier this week, I read in Proverbs 3:

"Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be FILLED WITH PLENTY and your vats will be BURSTING with wine."

That verse reminded me of a passage in the book of Malachi:

"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  And thereby put Me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."

Um, WOW!
Brings be back full circle to Proverbs 3 and an extremely popular section of verses:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Do NOT lean on your own understanding.  In ALL your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."

As you surrender your life to God, trusting Him to do HIS will in your life and bring about the GOOD plans He has for you, He makes Himself known to you.  Not only that, He BLESSES you.

So that you can in turn bless others!
He makes Himself known to us, so we can proclaim His name and make Him known among ALL the nations!

Bonuses are "up for grabs" again this month.  My husband is SUPERCLOSE to promoting to the rank of Double Diamond and earning a $15,000 bonus.  I am somewhat close to reaching Triple Diamond, and if that were to happen, I would earn a $25,000 bonus.  That would be another $40,000 in bonus money.  Some mind think me crazy to ask for such a thing, but here I am asking anyway.

The task before us is HUGE. Daunting.  Almost humanly impossible.
For a second that scared me and kept me from asking this of my God.
Then, He reminded me of WHO He is - all powerful, all knowing, all sufficient.
But even more - gracious, ABOUNDING in love, DELIGHTING in blessing His children!

And then of course there's the WHAT He can DO part - "infinitely more than I could ever ask or imagine!"

How dare I limit Him!

So, I'm not.
Not anymore.

Today, I am making my Big Ask "Part 2" known.
I am "anxious" to see what God does with this request.
We have 25 days left in the month to make this happen.
Not all that long, but then again, He did make the entire universe in just SIX days.
I'd say 25 is plenty of time...

If you would like to "support" us as we raise money for our future adoptions (we would like to bring TWO kiddos home), we would love to tell you more about any of the natural health and wellness products It Works has to offer!  The money you INVEST in those products goes A LONG ways.  You see, it really is MULTIPLIED as your orders result in us promoting and earning these incredible bonuses!  $40,000!

If you would like to JOIN us on this adventure, we would be delighted to have you come along on this life-changing journey!

It Works has been such a BLESSING to us, and we feel compelled to share it with as many people as possible!  The income we receive allows us to have the freedom to breathe and to GIVE when God makes a need known to us.  We are a sieve.  As He pours Himself out on us, His love and grace and mercy and peace and joy and strength flow through us to others.  At least that is our hope and prayer!

THAT is the longing of my heart as I share this BIG ASK with you today!

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