Posted in Faith

My Experience Being Human Today

pexels-photo-556666Being human and alive are wonderful things! The Scripture aptly calls us God’s masterpiece or handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). We were not haphazardly thrown together. We were created with purpose and magnificence, every part of us—body, mind, emotions, soul, spirit. That is why today, on the second anniversary of our traumatic armed home invasion when I was held at gun point, I decided to take this day to celebrate the glorious gift of life.

I had it all planned out. Because I love Life Choices where God has called me to lead, and I work with a wonderful group of people, that despite their own personal challenges, lean on Jesus and are blessings to others, I really wanted to spend the day there. First, I would order my favorite drink, a hot vanilla chai with almond and coconut milk. I would lead our staff devotions and invite them to share in the joy of being alive. Next, I would complete the training of our newest presenters of an educational program for students that I am proud of. Then I would work on some strategic elements to help our organization move forward in expansion. During break times I would connect with my staff individually, express my appreciation for them, and listen attentively to what they had to say. Finally, after dinner I would do some reading and writing for an assignment due this weekend. Most people might not think I had a very good celebration planned. But to me it seemed the perfect way to spend the day, because my life was not cut short and I would be able to answer the Lord’s call through service.

However, this morning “being human” kicked in. From the moment I started spending time with Jesus, my emotions were stirred. I cried tears of deep gratitude for the Lord’s faithfulness to me. And the tears wouldn’t stop. I sang worship songs through tears. I got prepared to go to work through tears, but I left my house too late to make a latte stop. I arrived at work with a couple minutes to spare before staff devotions. Somehow I managed to give my speech on celebrating God’s gift of life and how thankful I am to be alive. Then I opened our devotional book to read. I finished one sentence before handing it to someone else to read. I buried my face in my arms, and started to cry again. My staff prayed for me and spoke words of affirmation and encouragement over me. Then they said I should go home. I complied. (Did I mention how much I love my staff?)

I swung by the coffee shop on my way home, and cried after getting my order. I took some boxes to Goodwill that had been cluttering the guest room for too many weeks, and worshiped and praised the Lord for His goodness through tears. As I played my piano and sang to the Lord through blubbering sobs, His presence was so sweet and near. I made paleo waffles, I went on a walk, and I took a nap. I enjoyed fruit smoothies seated around the table with my knight in shining armor, my daughters, and twin granddaughters. I left space for more tears or other emotions that needed release.

The Lord has brought me through so much healing the last two years. This year has been much easier than the first. While I would never wish such an event on anybody, the Lord has used it to change me at an inner level that is hard to describe. My weakness is to measure my human worth by my productivity, and by my ability to remain emotionally stoic in stressful situations. The Holy Spirit continues to tap me on the shoulder. Being human is more than my output and contributions, even when done for the glory of Christ. Being human is also expressed in quiet, contemplation, authenticity and honest emotion. My journey reminds me of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and his quest to become “real.” Much of my shiny coat of performance and pretense has been worn off. I am free to be human, to feel, to be real. My “celebration” didn’t turn out the way I planned, but that’s just fine. It truly is good to be alive, tears and all. Simply human and alive.

“The LORD your God is among you; He is mighty to save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Posted in Character, Faith

When Our Best Isn’t Enough

chess

It can be hard to give our very best to do something we believe the Lord has called us to do, and have our efforts fall short. Sometimes our best simply isn’t enough. We don’t meet our organizational goals. Troubled relationships are not mended. Our exemplary work isn’t recognized. Living for Jesus doesn’t mean that we will always win or succeed. In the midst of disappointment or heartache, we can be grateful for the chance to shine for Him. Regardless of the outcome, we can rest assured that the Lord is pleased. I shared the following as a post in 2012 on Facebook as a note.

“It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” My aunt’s face was somber. As our eyes met, her disappointment coursed through me. She had driven an hour to watch me compete in the annual Klamath County Potato Festival. “You were, by far, the best contestant here. You had the best stage presence and the best talent. You were the best. You should have won.”

I thanked my aunt and gave her a hug. A stream of supporters cut through the auditorium. I pasted on the sincerest smile I could muster and listened to their condolences, “Sorry you didn’t win. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”

It was the fall of 1984. Months earlier I had seen the announcement for the Potato Festival. It was a local competition, designed to honor the potato farmers in our region and recognize their important contributions. Every participant was given a $50 savings bond. The winner was awarded a $1,000 scholarship to the college of her choice, plus served as the Potato Festival Queen for the year at various community functions. Throughout high school I had imagined participating in the Miss Klamath County pageant and beyond, but I was not eligible because I was a Canadian citizen. The Potato Festival would be my opportunity.

I was thrilled to be chosen out of a group of girls to represent Henley High School, but I had a greater purpose in mind–to represent Jesus Christ and be His ambassador throughout all the Potato Festival festivities. “Lord, I don’t care if I win. Help me to show You to everyone around me.” I prayed that prayer often, and would immediately be filled with a renewed sense of purpose. The Potato Festival contestants, chaperones, and committee were my mission field. Wherever we went, I determined to show God’s love to others. I cheered on the girls, encouraged and expressed appreciation to the chaperones, and shared my faith in Christ every chance I got.

“Jesus loves you.”
“May I share with you how Christ has changed my life.”
“How may I pray for you today?”

The competition spanned two weeks, with a parade, multiple interviews, and two performances. The first performance showcased the girls’ poise on stage and their ability to answer a question on the spot. My question was about church discipline, and I excitedly and confidently shared what the Book of Matthew said on the subject. On the night of the second performance, the auditorium was charged with electricity. Two of the girls were crying backstage. Stage fright had gotten the best of them. I prayed with them and helped to calm their nerves.

The Master of Ceremony introduced me, and I glided onto the stage. As I sang, the Holy Spirit carried me along. “Go ahead, drive the nails in My hands. Laugh at Me where you stand…Go ahead, and say I’m dead and gone. But you will see that you were wrong.”

I captured the attention of my audience. “I’ll rise again. Ain’t no power on earth can tie Me down. I’ll rise again. Death can’t keep Me in the ground.”

The notes lilted through the air, and God’s love reached out to the people. As I scanned the crowd, some were contemplative, others had tears streaming down their faces. I finished the last syllable. A pause of silence. Then applause and cheers erupted. The message had been delivered and received by many.

During the finale, the runners up were announced and then the Potato Festival Queen. My name was called as the First Runner Up. Several gasps came from the crowd, followed by loud whispers. The audience had followed me for two weeks. They had watched me come in first in “poise,” first in “the interview,” and first in “talent.” They knew I had been selected by the chaperones as the one who best exemplified Potato Festival qualities. What the audience did not observe was my struggle to sell raffle tickets. The fourth category of the competition was ticket sales, and I had done poorly, coming in second to last place. When all the points were tallied, my wins were not enough to off set the fourth category. I had come in second place.

I lay in bed that night–after I had finished putting away the chairs, thanked the straggling crowd for their support, and congratulated the Potato Festival Queen a final time. I reflected on the Potato Festival with tears of disappointment and exhaustion. I had given everything and still had not emerged the winner. The loss overwhelmed me. The parting words of my supporters bombarded me. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”

And then I remembered all the opportunities to care for people and to share God’s love with them. I had tried to encourage everybody and had gotten to pray with some. I had done my very best to be Christ’s ambassador, making a positive impression, and many lives had been impacted. It wasn’t supposed to end like this? I settled my head into the pillow, wiped away the tears, and grinned. “Thank you, Lord. This is exactly the way it was supposed to end.”

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV).

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You know that I can be competitive and driven. You know how hard I work to do my best, and how hard it is when things don’t go the way I want. Help me to remember that when trying my best isn’t enough, I have done what is more important–to live for You and to shine Your light in this world. No matter what the results, encourage my heart with Your loving presence. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Not a Fair Weather Follower

stormy weather

On February 19, 2017, my family and I experienced the trauma of an armed invasion of our home. The last three weeks I have been asked several times by well meaning inquirers if it has shaken my faith. To be quite honest…No, it has not. While it has shaken my faith in some people, it hasn’t shaken my faith in Jesus.

I understand where their questions are coming from. After all, how could a loving God allow such a violent crime to happen to His children?

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t need them. Nearly three decades of serving in ministry and caring for people in the throes of tragedy have taught me there are no easy answers. I have read many excellent theological works examining the problems of evil and suffering, but none of them truly soothes the anguished soul.

There is only one thing that brings comfort and peace to me in the storms of life: Running to Jesus.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8).

It’s so simple that we miss it. Many of us run away from Jesus when we are hurt or disappointed. We become jaded that our faithful God-honoring prayers haven’t been answered or when we encounter difficulties that don’t make sense. We close ourselves off from our Helper and Healer, and bitterly rely on our own strength and the power of our own intellect. We shake our fists at the Lord rather than raise our hands in surrender.

Yet, in this broken world, groaning under the weight of sinful choices of past generations as well as our own, the only thing that makes sense to me is finding refuge in Jesus.

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:7-8).

Thirty-six years ago this month, I committed my life to Jesus. As a young teenager, I sat on the front steps of my grandparents’ house, talking to the Lord. “I give my life to You. Even if nobody else in my whole world understands, I will follow You all the days of my life.” I meant it with every fiber of my being.

However, like a bride madly in love on her wedding day, I really had no clue what that meant. When a couple vows to stay together “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us,” they are sincere. But they can’t possibly know what “worse,” “poorer” and “sickness” will look like. I was thoroughly captivated by the One who loves me and gave His life for me. I was determined to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As is always the case, life happened.

The early years of walking with Jesus and serving in ministry were filled with blessings and miraculous answers to prayer. Somehow I came to expect that the blessings were a reward for faithfully following Jesus and believing God’s Word. Eventually though that castle of cards came crashing down. I had to ask myself, “Why am I following Jesus?”
Is it because…
…I want my sins forgiven?
…He promises to bless me?
…He will protect me from bad things?
…All the people I care about follow Him?
…He will make my life easier?
…I feel called to the ministry?                                                                                                                   …I need my own genie in a bottle with unlimited wishes?

 

I realized that if I follow Jesus, because of the blessings I think I am entitled to here on this earth, then I am really a fair weather follower. Trials will come, disappointments will set in, and I will walk away from a faith that is no longer working for me.

When my youngest daughter was born with spina bifida, my faith was tested. I was devastated that she had a serious birth defect. I was angry that God hadn’t revealed Himself as the Great Physician, even though thousands of people around the globe were fervently praying. For a period of over two years, I did some serious soul searching. “Why am I following Jesus?”

Would I be like Job who despite the physical and emotional agony of losing everything continued to praise the Lord?

Or would I be like Job’s wife who advised him to “curse God and die.”

Would I be a fair weather follower like the crowd in John Chapter 6? They were offended because the teachings of Jesus were too hard. They turned away and no longer walked with Him.

Through the years on this journey with Jesus, I may not have always gotten what I thought would be good. But I have found to be true what the Apostle Peter declared long ago.

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

I am not a fair weather follower of Jesus.

Recently I texted my dear friend that struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. She is a follower of Jesus whose trust in Him inspires me. I wrote:

“This life doesn’t always make sense and the only way I know to navigate the difficulties is to desperately rely on Jesus.”

I sent these words 12 hours before three criminals entered our home and stories.

Though trouble may visit my family and my own life be threatened, I follow Jesus. He is my Refuge. He causes me to be resilient. Through the power of His Spirit I thrive.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

My friend, let me encourage you. Don’t be a fair weather follower. No matter what, follow Jesus.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, here I am with a heart of surrender. I choose to trust You when things don’t make sense. I choose to follow You wherever You lead. During times of trial, help me to run to You and not away from You. You are my Refuge and my Strength, always near in times of trouble. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Three Things My Mom Taught Me

002

A few days ago I had my 49th birthday. The Lord has been so good to me. Not that life is easy. In fact, the last few years have been painful because of significant loss and also with intensive emotional healing. I have lifted the lid to my past and acknowledged the dysfunction and brokenness of my childhood, inviting Jesus to heal me. Excruciating and yet liberating.

But it has been tough for my parents too. I understand. Almost every parent, Christ-follower or not, tries their hardest and wants the best for their kids. It’s heart wrenching to find out that despite your best intentions and efforts, it wasn’t enough to protect them from being damaged in some way. However, in celebration of my birthday, I want to reflect on the rich blessings poured out on me. For starters, I give thanks to the Lord for my mom.

My mom was 18 years old when she found out she was pregnant. The doctor recommended she have an abortion. After all she was young and had just started college. Despite the conventional wisdom of the day, she chose life for me. For that reason alone, I am deeply grateful.

My parents got married and wanted a happy family, but it didn’t work out. It was difficult and confusing to navigate divorce as a child. I would have loved to have been raised by two parents on the same team in the same household. Nevertheless, they invested in my life in different ways and taught me some valuable lessons that continue to shape me. Today I want to share with you three things I learned from my mom.

  1. It’s never too late to change. My mom committed her life to Christ at the age of 32. She had done a lot of living before then, marked by broken relationships and poor choices. I have heard her compare herself to the woman at the well in John Chapter 4. And like the woman at the well, my mom was radically changed when she encountered Jesus. The Savior lovingly reached out to her, she took His hand, and I have witnessed her walk out the process of glorious transformation. No matter her age, my mom is committed to growing personally, in her relationship with Christ, and in her relationships with others. In fact, her marriage to my step-dad speaks loudly of her desire to change. After suffering through three divorces, my mom recently celebrated twenty years of marriage to her beloved husband.
  2. Always take the high road. Most of my mom’s career has been focused on public sector and non-profit work. She is an excellent administrator and has great skills in networking and building partnerships. Unfortunately, she has also been viewed negatively by others who felt that she threatened their agendas. My mom has been the recipient of ugly words and treatment. At times, she has endured immense pressure. Regardless of how she is treated, my mom will not stoop to their level. She stands firm in her position, but extends kindness and respect. She is not two-faced; she does not speak negatively about others. My mom relies on the Lord to help her respond with truth, honesty, and integrity. And, no matter what, to love and pray for those who opposed her.
  3. Be brave enough to acknowledge your mistakes. It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong. A sense of fear or shame can be powerful when looking at our failures. We want to hide or bury the mistake, or we respond defensively out of self-protection. Yet, my mom can look at fear or shame, take a deep breath, and muster enough courage to deal with past and present issues—whether small or large. She taught me to be brave enough to acknowledge little mistakes. Rather than lying to cover it up or getting angry at the one who pointed it out, she takes responsibility. Having nothing to prove, she says something like, “Oh, that was me. I did it. Sorry about that!” My mom also taught me to be brave enough to look at the big mistakes. This ability has been a gift to me especially while on my own healing journey the last few years. As I have talked with her about childhood abuse and trauma, she has listened with grace. She does not justify herself. She does not minimize my experiences. Instead, she tries to understand my perspective and see how she contributed to my pain, even though her motivation as a parent was not to hurt me. I have tried modeling this approach with my own adult children. I know I have not parented perfectly. Even though it is scary, I want to be brave enough to acknowledge my mistakes, and see my kids experience the healing they need.

As I embark on a new year and approach the age 50, my goal is to incorporate these lessons into my life more fully. I am so thankful for my mom and the things she taught me. I hope that her example is an inspiration to you, as well. I encourage you to use her lessons as tools to help you thrive in life and in the positions God has called you.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me and speaking to my heart. Help me to learn from parents, mentors, and others you have placed in my life, and to apply their wisdom. Continue to mold me and make me to be more like You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.