Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hitting the Window

I work from home now. This is a wonderful blessing! But, there are small burdens.

Today, as I began my workday, I heard a loud 'BANG'. And I knew. My heart sank.

One of "my" sparrows had flown full-speed into our living room window.

One of the blessings I enjoy is the patio of our downsized house. We've been here a year now; and I most enjoy the late afternoons (when the sun has dropped behind our west-facing house). There is cool and contentment awaiting me on the patio when I've completed my day's work.

I most enjoy watching the birds. My favorites are the sparrows and the hummingbirds. (My least favorite are pigeons, but that's another post topic). The sparrows and the hummingbirds also love the shade and the coolness; and they dart around and play as I relax and enjoy God's creation as if He created them "just for me". That's why I call them "my" sparrows.

So, when I ran to check the status of "my" sparrow, I found it had landed unconscious on the seat of one of the patio chairs. I watched with a sorrowful heart as it laid there. Charley, our Bichon-Frise is bred to be a bird-dog; so, I didn't dare open the door.

I debated whether to run out and hold the sparrow in my hands. I felt helpless.

So I did what I do every time I sense a feeling of helplessness: I prayed.

And I said, "Lord, your Word says you know every sparrow (Matthew 10:29) and you love them..." And then, my prayer was interrupted by a sense that the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. And I heard,

"I love YOU like that!"

Instantly, the memory of the verse in Matthew and also in Luke (12:7) came to mind and heart. That's why we "store" God's Word in our hearts. I remembered those verses are about exactly what I prayed: God's infinite care for us.

In that moment, the sparrow began to shake violently; almost like a little sparrow-seizure. Again, I wanted to run out there and lift it into my hands. But, was that what was best for the sparrow? I found I deeply wanted what was best for that sparrow.

And then, it hopped up on its legs and crouched low. I agonized over whether it would survive. Thoughts of internal bleeding or brain damage crossed my mind; but, again, there was nothing I could do to heal it or bring it comfort.

Once again, I had to declare that "my" sparrow's life was in God's capable hands and His Will would prevail. Once again, I had to confess my trust in God and pray for His "good, pleasing and perfect Will" (Romans 12:2)

Knowing there are no cats in our neighborhood, and resolving to keep Charley in the house all morning, I could walk away and leave "my" sparrow, hopeful for a time of restoration.

God spoke to me through this situation as He does through many of the things I encounter in this life.

I "hit the window" sometimes.

And His Infinite Love for me causes Him a sorrowful heart as He watches me "lie there unconscious" (like when I try to justify some wrong I've done by ignoring Him or His Word...direction for my life) or "seizure" (like when I'm rude or fight against Him or others who try to help me).

But, here's Good News: God is NOT helpless.

He could easily reach down and hold me in His Warm Capable hands after I "hit the window". And He could choose to heal me on the spot. He could also choose, rather than heal me, to bring me "inside" to be with Him in His Home. By His Will, living with Him in Eternity.

In this season of my life, He chooses, instead, to watch from a safe distance and Love me and Provide a choice I can make, each day, to be with Him. (John 3:16)

After I "shake off" the pain and disorientation of "hitting the window", His Desire is that I be free, first and foremost (Galatians 5:1)...not captive in someone's hands, their shoebox, or under some false healer's control.

When I "hit the window" He first wants me to rest. And then, He wants me to "fly" again and show everyone how Wonderful the Power and Majesty of His Love, Creation and Care really is!  

"My" sparrow took time to rest; and then, feeling strong enough, flew away to rejoin the rest of Creation and play. And "my" sparrow will, indeed, testify of God's Greatness  - again and again -  to me and to others in times of play and in times of cool contentment.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Idols Discovered

Our Tuesday night community group is going through Kyle Idleman's Gods at War study.   As the study has gone through the list of common idols in our lives, I was judging myself immune.  I would ask myself, "Do I love that more than I love God?" and the answer would always be, "No, I'm good."  So I would listen to discussion, share stories about others I knew (without naming names) and spend a nice evening with people I treasure.

Then, while driving in my car one morning, I prayed from Psalm 139:23&24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

God loves to answer prayers, especially the ones he teaches us to pray in His Word.  One of my favorite things about God, however, is that He rarely answers prayer in the ways that we think He might.

He answered my prayer, I believe, by allowing these hard circumstances, all at once for the Good He wants to do in me:
  • What started as an exciting downsize move to a house we all love, has turned into delay after delay. Our belongings are all in boxes, taped and organizationally labeled, destined for the smaller house we believe God wants us to have.  Every bookshelf is taken apart and empty.  All the pictures are down off the walls and stacked in one room.  Everything is empty and ugly.  We've been given the go-ahead to move to the Broadbent House.  Our offer was accepted and a close date of July 19 was chosen.  Then, we learned the buyers of our house were having un-anticipated problems with their loan. 
  • In the interim, I was led to apply for a job I was told could take months to land.  I really didn't want a new job until after we moved and got settled; but the job offer came before the keys to Broadbent, so I trusted God and became excited about this new job.  Yesterday, I was told I would not be working that job after all.  
  • Our dear pet Guinea Pig is dying.  I'm doing all I can to minister to her health according to the vet's instructions; but it appears she's finished.  And all I can do is watch...helpless.  It doesn't seem wise to spend money we don't have to put a 4.5 year old Guinea Pig in the pet hospital on IV fluids when their life span is 4-6 years.  That's wisdom, sure; but I'm hurting!!
 My sweet German daughter Vivi compared my life's circumstances right now to that of Job.  I pushed back!  I said, "No, this isn't like Job at all.  Job lost his family and his health.  I have my family and I have regained my health. And I have healthy fruit-bearing ministry to volunteer within.  I just don't have good circumstances.  It's just every circumstance connected to me that's pitiful." 

As we talked it through, however, we discovered that, regardless of the differing circumstances, the bottom line was and is EXACTLY the same: God WINS and wants to remain at the center of our lives.  Or, taken from a line in a favorite song of mine, sometimes God places us in the midst of circumstances that will teach us important life lessons and, in the midst of circumstantial poverty:  "all you really have here now is 'Me'".  You can listen to this gut-wrenchingly wonderful song called "Welcome to Delaware" by Watermark by clicking on the link.

As these circumstances began to fall in layers, I spent a tiny bit of time thinking, "God, what did I do wrong?"  "Is Broadbent the wrong house?" "Is this the wrong job?"  This is where the story of Job is SO valuable.  I need NOT spend time thinking these thoughts.  They are fed by Enemy minions.  I think God includes the story of Job in the Bible to demonstrate the types of things the Enemy wants to do to try to destroy our Joy.  But, even more important, He shows us through Job that even when everyone around us will say, "You're being punished for something, JUST GIVE UP!" we have an opportunity to cling to God and love Him MOST and everlasting!  And, regardless of our circumstances, when we cling to Him, we are His!  And He loves (verb) us. 

It was after debating Job that I realized what was REALLY happening:  I had prayed to God to ask Him to show me "any offensive way" in me and HE WAS ANSWERING that prayer.  And he was showing me, through the lessons on idolatry, the offense.

I am confessing today that:
  • I love the home I've created for our family.  I grew up in a dirty, smoke-filled home.  My childhood home represented chaos and disorder.  The home I maintain for our family represents peace and orderliness.  I love it.  And, until everything was chaotic, boxed up, taken apart and going NOWHERE and I was forced to live in the chaos, I didn't realize that I loved my home too much.  It had somehow become an idol in my life: something of first importance to me.  God desires to be first.  And through this circumstance He is powerfully showing me an "offensive" way in me that I must confess and turn from.
  • I love being seen as someone clever, hard-working, dependable, orderly, organized and imaginative.  I have worked no fewer than 3 jobs at once ever since turning 15 1/2 when I got a job during lunch hour at a sandwich shop, worked at Wienershnitzel after school and babysat on weekends.  People call me AR.  Friends call me OCD.  I love (verb) my family and co-workers by keeping things orderly so they can find what they need easily and spend more time doing what they enjoy.  After the house went into sustained chaos, I threw myself into my new job: spending time studying whatever I could so that I had all the newest tools for organizing and providing solutions.  First, God allowed a misunderstanding that resulted in FIVE days without the Internet.  No more online research for me!  Then, when I still didn't recognize the "offensive thing" God was showing me, I got an email yesterday afternoon informing me that my client had asked for someone else.  No job.  I have loved DO-ING and being recognized as excellent more than I have loved God.  I must turn from this!
  • I still think I have control over most things.  I thought I had learned that I don't.  Sitting next to my mother, dying of COPD, robbed of her memory, I learned I cannot control any important things.  Watching our sweet "Lou-Girl" die, regardless of money I've spent at the vet, medicines I've administered right-on-time, food I've given according to the package directions...helps me see that I must also stop believing that I have any meaningful control over anything lasting.  Clearly, God is using this circumstance to display another "offensive way in me".   I don't want to be my 'god'.  I don't want to be my family's 'god' or my friends' 'god'.  I want God to be God.  I want to point to Him on the Throne.  I want His perfect Will over my life and the lives of my family and friends. 
So, wow.  I honestly don't know what to do today.  I know I can still keep a nice house and work a good job and strive for excellence and encourage myself and others toward health and freedom.  Those things aren't bad.  My love of those things and my pride about those things is what's bad.  Putting those things on a pedestal has to go!   I also know that trying to DO this change in myself would be a tremendous mistake.  God will make this change in me at His pace according to His timing.   

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Supposed to..."

I am realizing this morning that "supposed to" is the opposite of following Christ.

I didn't realize the powerful way that "supposed to" was infiltrating my thinking and attitude.  I'm going to be bold and say that "supposed to" is a nasty tool of the flesh existing to torment and disappoint.

And this morning, as I begin my quest to eradicate "supposed to",  I believe I'm going to LOVE my life of following Christ even more when I let "supposed to" go.

Here are some examples that left me completely empty yesterday afternoon and evening.

  • We were "supposed to" get the keys to our new house on Friday
  • We were "supposed to" have movers move our big furniture to make the move smooth and safe
  • I was "supposed to" meet my new client yesterday afternoon
  • I was "supposed to" get to sleep late during the summer
  • I am "supposed to" make a perfect healthy meal for my family every evening
We've been studying the sins that poison our daily lives in our adult small group.  Anger, Jealousy, (notice those are the first two I think of) Guilt and Greed.  I highly recommend "Enemies of the Heart" by Andy Stanley.  He describes the way these emotions can hurt us; but also describes the antidotes: Forgiveness, Celebration, Confession and Giving.  I enjoy books that offer practical help.

This morning, I think I'm discovering a personal link between "supposed to" and Anger and Jealousy.  

Yesterday, I went to our new house to meet our agent and greet our pest control guy as our agent let him in to do his work.  I stood in the house and instead of enjoying our soon-to-be new home, I found myself thinking and talking about how "frustrating" it all is.  We were "supposed to" be already moved in.  

Then, I went outside and discovered our new neighbor in the front yard of her new home.  She was asking some construction guys to move their cars because their moving van was on its way.  I smiled and went to meet her.  Her name is Angela and she seems really nice.  I felt a moment of gratitude to be blessed with nice neighbors; but the gratitude was quickly overshadowed when I became SO JEALOUS that she was getting to move in before us.  After all, we were "supposed to" move in on the 19th.  We're "supposed to" be baking cookies for her and welcoming her to the neighborhood.  But NO!!!  (can you feel the jealousy fueling the anger even as you read this?)  

Honestly, I had to cancel the rest of my day.  A bitter spirit consumed me.  I was mad (alternating with sad) at everything.  Sleep was my only retreat and escape.  I prayed as I fell asleep that God would sing over me as I slept and heal this hurt.  

He is SO faithful when we ask Him for the VERY THING He wants to give us.  

I awakened feeling refreshed.  I read a devotion that left me feeling convicted and resolute.  I shared a prayer with our small group that was helping me.  And I wrote this blog post.  He provided ALL the Wisdom I needed (James 1:5) for Freedom (Galatians 5:1) once again!  Praises!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Mind Blown"

I had a TREMENDOUS, life-altering time with the Lord during "quiet time" last week.

Many people ask me about how to have a "quiet time".  There's no right answer.  It's personal...very personal, actually.  But I'll share what I've been doing during my "quiet time" as I tell this story.

I get up every morning and head straight to my quiet time couch.  Usually, I awaken with a prayer on my heart and, after greeting the Lord and telling Him how much I love him, I begin there.

Then, I'll turn to a devotion that is specifically scripture based.  Right now, I'm LOVING Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  I also love most devotions by Max Lucado.

I read the devotion for that day and then go into the Bible to see the scriptures that inspired it.  I ask God specifically to reveal what He wants me to know about Him through these scriptures. .  My dear friend LeAnne Varenkamp taught me to use "SOAP" each morning as I journal:

S: Scripture-write out the scripture in the Bible version you are reading
O: Observations-write out your simple observations about this Bible verse
A: Application-write out how you think this verse applies to your life right now
P: Pray-write out a prayer, praying the verse back to God

Then, sometimes, being a "word nerd" I will research a Greek or Hebrew word within the verse that's "jumping out at me" and I'll see if God has any hidden nuggets of goodness in the languages used to document the original Bible.

On October 27, I awaked with a cry of HELP in my heart!   Earlier this year, I began feeling a nudge to "step aside" from my Director of Family Ministries job.  Everything I encountered in my prayer life and in the circumstances around me confirmed that nudge, turning it (after not initially obeying it) into a full-fledged SHOVE.  So, here I was this morning, having just resigned from a perfectly good job working at a church where I love to worship.

I knew I was obeying God; but, as I worked through my two weeks of notice, I felt very confused.  It's SO counter cultural to leave a paying job (not well paying...this is a church we're talking about) for nowhere-ness.  The battle in my head was waging HEAVY!

I woke up asking God, "Am I an idiot?"  (yes, I talk "normal" to God.  He created me, so he knows me best)  "Have I turned the wrong direction?"  "Did I miss you?"  "How will we pay our bills?"  "Can't you tell me more?"

I opened the 'Jesus Calling' devotion and it said,

"As you become increasingly aware of My Presence, you find it easier to discern the way you should go. This is one of the practical benefits of living close to Me. Instead of wondering about what is on the road ahead or worrying about what you should do if…or when…, you can concentrate on staying in communication with Me.When you actually arrive at a choice-point, I will show you which direction to go."

Wow.  Okay!!

Then, I researched the Bible verse that inspired her devotion.  It was Psalm 32:8.  And I wrote it down in my journal:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Only, I accidentally wrote it this way:

I will instruct you and teach you in the ways you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Hearing a gentle whisper to, "Look at the verse again" I noticed that I had written 'ways' instead of 'way'.  So, I said to the Lord, "Isn't that just like me, Lord.  Running around in many 'ways' when there is only one 'way'?"  And, being a well trained copy editor, I struck out the extra letter that didn't belong.  

But, now it looked like this:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way$ you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

"Oh no, Lord! Now it looks like a dollar sign!!"  

And then I heard in my soul,  "Sweet one, you often 'run around' in many 'ways' because of money, when there is only ONE WAY and I have prepared that one way for you.  Stop."  

Convicted.  I sat convicted.  I use my responsibility strength and administration gift in our home to pay the bills and, sometimes, I worry about where the money will come from.  I didn't think it affected my decision-making very much; but here was our Lord telling me He didn't enjoy or approve of my 'way$'. 


After getting this all written down (won't my kids love these stories?) I decided I had time enough to research the Hebrew words in this scripture.  Which one?  

Well, I knew that in the New Testament Jesus refers to Himself as 'The Way'.   I wondered what word in the Old Testament Hebrew would be the word for 'the way'.

My favorite "word nerd" site for this kind of research is  I opened this site and clicked on the word 'way' within this verse to reveal it's Hebrew history.

What I saw took my breath away!

I was asking God to show me 'the way' and the Hebrew word in that particular verse is DEREK?  Are you kidding me?

For those of you that know me, Derek is my earthly rock, my best friend, my husband.  Given as a gift to me by God, I firmly believe.

I couldn't wait to share this with the family!

Blake immediately tweeted, "Mind Blown".

Bryson loved every minute of our time together hearing from God. I could tell that his admiration of his father was growing again.

And Derek was clearly moved and humbled.

And me?  Unashamedly willing to admit that I had been, once again, "striving in the flesh" instead of resting in the arms of the ONE, the I AM, who created me and created 'the way' for me to live...never in fear or confusion...but in complete Faith.

So, I'm unemployed and quietly waiting at the feet of Jesus for Him to reveal His 'way'.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Getting Weird at the End of the School Year

My dad was an air traffic controller and pilot for fun.  My mother was a stewardess.  Life's analogies for me often appear in terms of airplanes and flying.

So this morning, after dropping off the kids at their schools, I found myself thinking about the pace that comes at the end of school.  I decided that, with multiple children and a foreign exchange student in the home, the end of the school year feels more like bracing for a Sioux City, Iowa crash landing than placing my seat back and tray table into the locked and upright position and gliding into a "normal" landing.

Awards assemblies, yearbooks, youth group potlucks, finals, preparing exchange students and host families for the students' departures, band concerts, graduation, graduation parties, gifts for teachers...the list is long and exhaustive.  And potentially exhausting.

I recently finished a powerhouse of a book called Weird...because normal is not working, by Craig Groeschel. You can read more about this book here.  I'm continuing to learn that the difference between exhausting high-speed living and comprehensive high-capacity living is focusing on staying "weird".

When I'm "normal" I say, "Yes" to everything and complain to everyone within listening distance about "how overloaded" I am.  I pretend like I'm complaining; but I'm really bragging about how terrific I must be.

When I'm "weird" I focus on saying, "Yes" to those activities with lasting significance at the beginning of the year SO THAT our Stephens family can continue our tradition of family dinners at the dinner table together.

Let's examine one recent common end of year activity:  The End of Year Band Concert.  If your child is not playing an instrument this year, you can easily substitute sports playoff game, awards assembly, science get the idea.

When I'm "normal" I spend the entire band concert texting and talking on my phone in the back of the room.  Or I even step outside to make or take calls.  There are so many details to handle, after all!  When I'm not texting or talking on my phone, I'm trying to connect socially with the other moms in the room (taking roll, if you will) so that we can meet later and commiserate about our busyness.

When I'm "weird" I spend the entire band concert making eye contact with each of the children on the stage, smiling and cheering them on!!  I am not thinking of the next place I need to be.  I am concentrating on being fully present. And I file some moments away in my mind so that I can show the kids how important they are by retelling specific parts of the concert where I was proud of their behavior or the behavior of a classmate.  I focus on stories that will build their character.  My phone is put away (unless I use it to take a picture or two).  And, whenever possible, the pictures I take are of our child flanked by Nana and Papa and Sissy and Bo SO THAT our children can recall and remember the devotion of family and reproduce it later in their own lives and families.

I commit to being weird that God would be Glorified and pleased and for the lasting effects on the next generation!!

Join me?

Friday, December 9, 2011

God Delights in RIGHT Behavior

I'm excited to share (pass along) a story from someone precious to me. 

Her name is Vivi.  I skype with her every Saturday morning and we share what's great, as well as what's not so great, with each other.  I know she thinks I'm encouraging her (I'm old enough to be her mom) but I must share that her life and her observations encourage me in GREAT ways!

Vivi is studying at University in Germany to be a physical therapist.  She is learning about proper movement and motion and the RIGHT use of muscles, etc.

Last Saturday she told this story:

Vivi said that she's been spending some time in a children's hospital observing children whose illnesses have taken away the ability for them to move properly. 

After much observation, she shared that she had become a bit weary and discouraged watching these children try to navigate.

Then, in an unusual turn of events. she was asked to babysit a visiting sibling of a child who was ill while that child was taken from their room for testing.  So, she sat and watched and played with the healthy sibling.

She shared with me that she found herself DELIGHTING in the movements of the healthy child.  She had been watching so many children who could not move in age-appropriate ways, that watching this healthy child made her heart soar and put a sweet smile on her face.  (She didn't say "sweet smile"; I added that because Vivi's smile is one of the sweetest I've seen).

It was in that moment, Vivi shared, that she realized a tiny bit of the DELIGHT that God, our Father, feels when He watches us move in a RIGHT way, free from sin.  She felt excited and joyous at the thought that our RIGHT moves could DELIGHT God in much the way OR MORE than she felt watching the healthy child.

Here's the thing:   Sin corrupts our RIGHT movements just as illness corrupts the movements of the children Vivi was observing in that hospital.  And God's heart is grieved when our movements are corrupted by sin. 

What's important?  The children in that hospital did not choose their illness.  They would NOT choose their illness.  They have no choice.  But WE HAVE A CHOICE!  We can choose to walk away from sin, accept the healing protection that a life with Jesus offers, and begin to move in a RIGHT way. 

And we'll feel the joyous DELIGHT of God. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Peer Pressure

What do you think of first when I say, "Don't give in to peer pressure"?

Your first thought immediately goes to teenagers. Am I right?

Turns out, peer pressure might begin during our teenage years; but it CERTAINLY doesn't end there!

I learned years ago, through the wonders of Myers-Briggs, that my personality type is called ISTJ.  Should you desire, here is more about Myers-Briggs and more about this personality type:   Myers-Briggs ISTJ  I notice here that the ISTJ personality is called the Duty Fulfiller.  I also learn that I have a need to decide based on facts and EVIDENCE.

This precious season of my life, what I am facing right now, brings much peer pressure.  People who are PRECIOUS to me are making decisions that don't match my decisions.  They are making decisions using EVIDENCE that the Lord has simply NOT provided to me.  

It's important to say that those dear to me are not making BAD decisions; they're just feeling led to choose DIFFERENTLY.  Our paths diverge.

The temptation to decide as they have decided, and cling to them because they are precious, is tremendous and overwhelming. 

What is the over-riding voice of this temptation? 

What voice do I hear in my head?  

It sounds like this:  "They MUST know something you don't know!!  You NEED to find out what they know so that you can turn the same direction that they are turning...before it's too late!  Demand their EVIDENCE!"  

The voice carries with it two senses:  one of conspiracy and the other of urgency.  This voice is NOT the voice of my Lord.  Jesus doesn't speak to me this way.  There is an enemy to my soul, who continually lies to me, who speaks this way.

How easy it would be to give in to this voice!  Simple.  Quick.  And, sadly, there would be LOADS of loving support from those around me as I turned to join this small crowd.

But I choose, instead, the way set before me by Jesus Himself.  The difficult way.  Complex.  Slow.  And, sadly, many of those around me might find themselves confused.

This morning, during a short quiet time,  I was reminded why I must choose this way.

In Proverbs 3:3  (just before the famous 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart..."verse)  we find that Solomon, easily the richest and wisest man to walk the earth to this day (move over Bill Gates), providing this wisdom:

"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thy heart."

You can read more about this verse here: Proverbs 3:3

My favorite part of the human commentary on this verse is when the commentary writer encourages us to "reckon it as your greatest honour, glory, and beauty, that you steadfastly adhere to these things"  and continues on to say that "nothing makes a believer look more lovely in conversation than a close regard to the truths of Christ, and a constant walking in his ordinances."

At our New Harvest Church there is a steel beam holding up the entrance to the lobby.  These words are cut into the metal of that beam:  Jesus Full of Grace and Truth.  

Hundreds of years after Solomon encourages us to wear grace and truth around our necks like a beautiful scarf for all to see and admire, Jesus arrives to say, "I AM the way and the truth and the life..." (John 14:6)  

Today, as I wrap myself in "mercy and truth" I ask Jesus to provide the determination that I will NOT look to the left or the right (Joshua 1:7) and I will fully depend on Him to provide every bit of EVIDENCE I need to make the decisions that HE ALONE wants me to make.  

All I've ever wanted is that my life would stand in testimony of His Goodness, Mercy and Truth and leave a legacy of loving and following Him.  

Even when those around me are making seemingly "good" decisions that tempt me to join; I will rely on Jesus to provide me with His BEST!