Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Faithful Pour

I am not a very trusting person.  You can blame it on the number of ways and times people, and life in general, have let me down - I do.  I keep people at arms length because I don't inherently trust.  In new environments I rarely talk, and if I do it is about those things I feel are worthy of discussion.  To be honest, even if I know you for a long time, there is still a part of me that doesn't trust you.  Not that you are secretly plotting to do ill towards me, but because I don't even want to give you a chance to.  Call it what you will, I call it self preservation. It's an ugly beast of a thing that lives in my head. It causes me to destroy friendships before they get off the ground and alienate myself in many social settings (my social anxiety does a lot of this it is hard sometimes to tell which beast is gaining ground).

I find the older I get, the more introverted I become.  I don't know if it is from my general need to declutter my day and get home where I feel safest, or if it is something altogether more bothersome.  Either way, I long to not be this person. I would very much like to be bolder, more outgoing, and more trusting of others. But for now, we will call my desire and who I am a work in progress!

Then today happened. I love Sundays - for a number of reasons but mostly because of church. We had a wonderful service today.  Perhaps it was because today we had a guest Pastor who brought the message and the gospel to life like all the messages I had heard growing up.  He kicked it old school and it was exactly what my heart and ears needed to hear. There's just something about going to church and hearing an older pastor preach that makes you feel like a kid again, like you have your whole life ahead of you to do what it is you are called to do.

After the service I took time to talk with our Pastor and catch him up (in roughly 3.2 minutes) on the outcome of the past 16 months of our lives. It was a hurried conversation, to get all the words out that needed to get out and not press on and monopolize all his time (I can do that when I trust someone). I got the highlights covered. I also shed a couple tears, which I do each time I recount the outcome because I am still amazed at how God worked out the details. Pastor gave me a perspective on this and I paraphrase, "if you had been told 16 months ago this was going to be the end, would you have managed the situation the same way?" I don't recall giving a straight answer at the time, but without a doubt, it would be a NO.

What do all three of these things have to do with each other?  The guest Pastor said something along these lines this morning while giving a story about a Bishop in the Methodist church, "our past times in worship lead to the present shape of our life."  The purpose for this was to say, that sometimes it takes a long while to answer our call - while some know straight away and work it from a young age, others take a longer time to build their shape. (Meaning it takes years of hearing the gospel and learning God's truths.)  It is that shape we go to church to get filled up in order to pour out into the lives of others. But, how do I do that when I don't trust people?  Well, the truth of it is, I have to trust God.

If there is one thing these past 16 months have taught me, and it goes along with what Pastor asked, it is that faithfulness begets trust. It is quite easy to say I trust the Lord, but another thing altogether for me to actually do it. Simply because trust often requires the action of inaction. For each step I tried to take on my own, the more out of shape I became. I would work myself into a hairied mess and reduce myself to an anxious blob of a person. I wonder if that isn't a reason why it took so long?!  God had to teach me to rely on the shape (past messages and teachings) of my upbringing and not try to reshape myself during this situation.  He didn't give me a timeline in the beginning because I needed to get to the point where I gave Him total control.

The thing of it is, once I did, the end came that much sooner. Not in time, but in my not working for it. Throughout the entire process we did the right things. We remained faithful to what the Lord asked us to do.  Not only did we remain honest and truthful, but we prayed continuously - for all involved. In each and every step, even when we didn't know what or even how, we did what needed to be done. And wouldn't you know it?  The more faithful I was/we were the more my trust in God grew!  It had nothing to do with the outcome (afterall we didn't know what or when it would be) but everything to do with how my shape was being filled.

That is just it, people. This entire process was another way God was teaching me to trust Him all the while He was growing and filling my shape. All for the day when I could take this situation and share it with another; so I could pour out the blessings and the truth of what God reveiled to me, to us, through this. It is because of this I challange you, in the face of any trial, to remain faithful and trust God. Continue to do what is right even when it is hard, even when others are telling you otherwise.  You never know, someday it could be you pouring your story into another and filling them up so they can pour theirs into yet another.

In His Name

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Waters of Life

I'm not a water person. I don't long for beaches and ocean views for as far as the eye can see. I don't plan extravagant tropical vacations and I most certainly don't envy those who do.  Yet, I live in an area surrounded by water.  Lakes.  We are surrounded by lakes. LOTS of them and great big ones too - in The Great Lakes. I can literally travel 20 minutes in any direction and be at a lake, river, or stream.  I am also not a fan of boats. They scare me.  It's not that they are inherently bad, but more because their sole purpose is to put me smack dab in the middle of said body of water and well, NO THANK YOU!!!

Despite my general dislike for the water, I do appreciate the beauty of it. (I know, I often wonder about myself, too!) In fact, I don't mind looking at pictures of beautiful ocean/beach landscapes, hiking trails along a lake or river, and going to see certain bodies of water - like, say, waterfalls.  In fact, some of my favorite pictures are those of little lakes I have taken while backpacking in the Rockies or visiting various other National parks around our country and Canada.

My best friend and I took a two-day pack trip up into the Rockies a decade or so ago and camped way up - past the ability to have a real campfire. (Basically past normal air! HA!) There was a small, beautiful lake on our way up. It was surrounded by flowers, trees, and many hikers. I remember falling in love with the view as we crested the first major incline of our hike, but my friend told me to wait, there was a better one coming. (She had already hiked this trail before.) We got higher and higher, and my body got weaker and more tired.  So much so, by the time we got to "camp" I was so exhausted I spread out there, on the ground - as in on the side of a mountain - and slept.  No tent, no blanket, just me and the mountain.  Hey, when you're tired you just do you.

I don't recall the amount of time I was asleep for, but I remember telling her, after I awoke, how amazing the views were.  Sure, vegetation was minimal - we were too high up for much to grow- but the view.  Oh, the view.  However, she told me to wait because there was something better. She got up and I followed her.  There, in the clearing about 15 feet from our camp, was a little lake. It was the clearest, most pristine lake I had ever laid eyes on.  It took my breath away. There wasn't a ripple on the surface and I could clearly see the bottom.  I remember not only seeing the colorful rocks under the water's surface but also my reflection on the water's surface.  (And man did I need a nice big cup of coffee and a shower!)

Proverbs 27:19 tells us, "As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart."

I like to think the reason I saw my reflection so well that day was due to the lack of turbulence on the water's surface. Sure we were up really high, it was chilly for mid summer and there was even snow on some of the furthest peaks, but the fact was, the water was peaceful. In contrast, the lakes in these parts are seldom calm. Well, perhaps when the winter has iced them over or before everyone wakes up in the morning and heads out for their daily adventures on them. Lakes around here are well used for recreational purposes on good days (summer) and tossed about on those days Mother Nature has other plans (fall, winter, spring).

It's much like life. We have seasons where our circumstances and situations are peaceful and others where the storms have tossed us about. Yet, the Lord tells us, despite this our heart tells us of who we are.  Work with me here.

It is very easy for us to be happy, joyful even, when life is going our way. We can see clearly.  There is no adversity and we don't have to put any real effort into making things happen.  For lack of better words, we just are. In these days we are able to put our best feet forward; after all, nothing is taxing us so there is minimal effort required. The image we see is that of a person put together, gleefully sashaying (ok, I may have just watched Cinderella) through life.  People, in these moments we are the embodiment of perfection.  (Yes, I am taking the Disney analogy a little too far.)

However, when the storms come (because they always do), and the waters are choppy - the real test presents itself. In these times, what is being reflected in our lives?  Are we still joyful despite the ripples?  Are we still able to hold our heads up and take the next step? Are we still able to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing?  That is just it.  We don't truly see the reflection of who we are when the waters of life are calm.  Rather, when the storms rage and the waters are unbearable, that alone, is when we see our true reflection because in those moments you have to dig deeper than the surface.  You have to look under the ripples.

Why?  Because underneath all that is happening around you, is the person who is holding it all together for you. If your faith is shallow then the ripples will wipe away the reflection of God's work in your life and you will reflect the bitterness, the hatred, the ugly truth of your heart when faced with trials.  But when your faith is deep, you see the image of your Heavenly Father reflected in the ripples.  Because it is at those moments where He is holding you, guiding you, leading you, and helping you through the storm.  Sure, He has the power to take it all away, but sometimes, just sometimes, He walks you through them to show you what your heart is really made of for the purpose of growing you more into His likeness.

I won't sit here and pretend I have seen His reflection in every storm, nor will I pretend I have never been the cause of a storm in my own life.  However, I can say without a doubt, the longer I have been on this Earth and the more seasons I have gone through, the more opportunities I have been given to see my life's reflection. Yes, there are storms where I see nothing but raging waters, others where I am standing firmly in the midst, and still others where I had my eyes closed so hard I missed seeing the reflection of Him who was holding me. However, in all those times, learning took place.

What season are you in? Calm or stormy, what does your heart say about you?  Would you be willing to give that over to the Lord?

In His Name,

Monday, February 26, 2018

Motivational Monday

I am still in Proverbs. I admit, I've been reading slow these days. It's as if getting through the word isn't the same as getting in the word; the former is the goal, the latter is the prize.  I read all of Proverbs 20 this morning and while I found a couple nuggets to think on - or that hit home, it wasn't until 21:2 where I was stopped in my tracks.

"A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart."

If I may be honest, this verse scared me at first. Actually, it scared me a lot. I know it shouldn't because God is God and I am not.  I mean, why wouldn't He know all there is about me? In fact, it is comforting He knows every small detail about me and yet He loves me still - idiosyncrasies and all. But this verse tells me a little more about God and His level of knowing me.

As people we are very selective with who we let into our lives. Ok, maybe not everyone is like this, but I am. I have two people (my Mr. and my best friend) who know what I really think and how I struggle with those thoughts. Sure, I have others I share with, take all of you for example, but I share what I share and you're welcome.

There is a level of exposure that comes with sharing your inner person with others. This deep sharing is way beyond the superficial - it is past pleasantries and social acceptance. This sharing is what's given to others you are comfortable with and those you know, without a shadow of a doubt,  won't turn and share with anyone else. These are people who will help you to grow in spite of and in relation to what you have shared. Now, go on, think of this person in your life. Thank them and cherish who they are for you.

Now, I want to tell you something about this person.  Not in relation to who they are, but solely because of who you are. They don't know you as well as you think they do. They don't. Because despite the level of exposure you give them there are still things you don't share. I am not saying that is bad - at all.  What I AM saying is this - there is one who knows you better that you know yourself.  He doesn't just know your thoughts and actions, He knows your motives behind them.

Now, if that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.  Please don't stop reading this post now - we are just getting to the good part!!! How many times have you done something good for the sake of doing something good and then how many times have you done something good so that others can see you doing something good?  Do you see the difference there?  It comes down to the motive behind the action.

It is that small difference where our Lord and Savior knows us better than anyone else in this world.  He knows what is in our heart - are we seeking to please Him or man? Are we working to an end of self gratification and preservation or that of another. Are we extending ourselves to help another grow in and become closer to the Lord or are we Bible-thumping for the sake of Bible-thumping?  People, it is this!

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 says this, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God."  and 

Hebrews 4:12 tells us this, " For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

I don't want to scare you. These are actually verses of comfort. I have not shied from the fact we are going through a really rough season. This season has presented opportunity after opportunity to express ourselves in light of our beliefs rather than in light of our feelings.  But this morning, after reading the passage in Proverbs and the others shared above to help me gain more understanding, I admit I may not be completely honest with myself in this. I hate to admit that God knows what I myself don't allow others to know. (I shared some in my last post - bitterness of heart and spirit).  

I don't want to like this person. I want to hate them and not give them an ounce of my energy.  I don't show this to others. But God knows.  He knows the motives behind my actions even when I don't share them with others. He knows when I think what I don't say. He knows when I don't do what I should and do what I shouldn't where they are concerned. He knows the disdain I harbor for this individual.  More than that, He knows the truth behind each and every step I take.

It is hard to admit this. It is hard to know someone is working with all their might to break up your family, your home, and your livelihood - and that the thoughts you have for that person are wrong. While I cannot change them, God can change me.  While I cannot make them behave differently, God can reach them. 

I pray the Lord can give me the strength to pray for this person and their brokenness.  I pray that He reveals all of the ways I have been a hindrance to this situation rather than a conduit for His glory. I know I can't change the past and I most certainly cannot design the future, but I know someone who can.  And He is so much more interested in making me into His likeness than He is with my comfort and security on this Earth.

So, if you will excuse me, I am going to go check my motivations at the door and hope in the process God is cleaning me up.  In order that on the day I stand before Him, while I know I will be judged accordingly, I pray I will also be judged accordingly.

Hoping this post meant something to you.  

- M