Friday, October 26, 2012

Nothing to Fear but Fear

As I have shared in prior blog posts, I started this blog as a way to get over my fears of putting myself "out there" and being more upfront about my personal testimonies and faith in Christ (among other reasons).  I have also shared at length the reasons why I grew up being pretty fearful as a child.  Fear is a very debilitating thing.  It stifles creativity, productivity, joy, peace, faith, trust, and love.  If ignored, it can become a raging inferno in the life of the person struggling with it.  Fear masks itself in many ways--in dishonesty, in guardedness, in pride, in anger, in jealousy, in addictions, and the list could go on forever.

Most everyone knows the historically significant quote by President Franklin D. Roosevelt:  "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," which he stated in his March 4, 1933 inaugural address.  That quote has become a highly reused statement over the years by politicians, preachers, teachers, and the like, for obvious reasons.  It is not only a catchy, pithy statement, but it is also loaded with truth.  When we let fear take over in our life, we basically lose our life.  Whatever we are fearing can be no worse than losing our life.  So when we cower to fear, we are essentially allowing the greatest thing we fear to happen with certainty. (Whew, that is confusing)!  But hopefully you get my point.

With Election Day only a little more than a week away, it is hard to not blog about politics even on a small scale.  At this point, everyone is sick and tired of hearing the various opinions on for whom they should vote and why.  Personally, I don't ever recall an election where I've heard so many people remark about how truly uninspired they are with regard to our voting choices.  Once again, the country is pretty polarized, but this time around it seems as though everyone is just choosing up sides based on habit rather than on passionate excitement and fervor for their particular candidate.  Speaking of fear, I must admit that I have a lot of fears about the current state of our nation.  America's financial situation alone keeps me up at night if I spend any time at all pondering it.  It isn't fun to imagine what life might be like for my grandchildren with the debt load they will face and the number of less than desirable nations to which they will owe a great deal of money.  It is almost not even fathomable.  I find myself praying about it and due to the size of the burden, I am forced to let it go. What else can a person do?!  Vote as intelligently as possible, I guess.

Last night, I enjoyed dinner with a few of my fellow band mates at church after our rehearsal.  We got started talking politics, and one friend shared how weary he is of the Republican Party, as well as,  "Americans for Prosperity," and "The Tea Party," acting as if, "Jesus would be a card carrying member of the Republican Party wrapped in an American flag."  It cracked me up.  I agreed that in thinking about who we should vote for in this election, and in attempting to consider, "for whom Jesus would vote," party really doesn't even factor into it.  Jesus looks on the heart and actions--not on the political party.  As for me, I'll probably vote for the lesser of two evils like I tend to do in every election.  In weighing the, "lesser of those evils," I will use God's Word, prayer, and the evidence at hand to decide.

So politics and national issues are certainly areas where a person can easily let fear rule.  It wasn't very long ago that I realized our nation isn't invincible.  I seriously had never thought about that until 9-11.  When you grow up in a country where nearly everyone is well-fed and pretty spoiled in general, you come to believe that your nation is impermeable to change.  You believe it will always exist and will always continue to improve because how could a nation so strong, powerful, and big ever be harmed, seized, or cease to exist?! When you are raised on the belief that America is the number one super power and dominant force in the world, you just can't see how that could ever change or end.  But I now have come to realize how false this notion is and how fortunate I have been, in the forty-two years of my life, to have even had the great fortune of believing those myths.  We Americans have been blessed to take for granted the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed.  Many folks in other countries have never had that luxury--change and national upheaval have been their constants.  I fear that my children and grandchildren may have to face that kind of country one day.  I pray against it, but at times, fear dominates.

For the sake of self-preservation (dare I say, "fear??"), I am not going to say for whom I am voting in the upcoming election.  Most of my close family and friends know anyway.  If I am honest, I must say that I have fears about where the next four years will find our nation.  We've dug ourselves into so many holes at this point, I am unsure how anyone can buy a big enough shovel to dig us out.

But what does Jesus say about fear, and of what or whom we should fear?  In Luke 12:4-5, Jesus says, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you Whom you should fear: Fear Him Who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him."  Obviously, God is the only One we should fear.  Jesus goes on to tell the crowd and His disciples how they can avoid this wrath of God.  Further down in Luke 12:8-10, He says, "I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges Me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.  But whoever disowns Me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."  So what does Jesus mean here?  He is clearly saying that there is no other way to God but through Him.  He is also stating that if we shun the Holy Spirit (in other words, if we shun God's Spirit nudging us to believe in His Son and what He did on the cross as payment for our sins), there is no forgiveness for that.  We can be forgiven for everything else, even if we've ever been guilty of defaming Christ.  But if choose to go on doing that and continue shunning the Holy Spirit, Who is trying to provoke us to belief in Christ, we cannot be forgiven for that.  In fact, this is the only thing recorded in God's Word of which we cannot be exonerated.  This makes sense, too, because why would God come down to earth as a man (as Christ), to suffer at the hands of men on our behalf, and allow us to blaspheme and rebuke His Spirit (essentially, refuse to believe in what He did for us on the cross), and then let us into heaven anyway?  That is crazy!  If everyone was going to get into heaven, why would He have bothered to come down and suffer the cross?  What a colossal waste of time that would have been!  In Luke 10:22, Jesus says, "All things have been committed to Me by My Father. No one knows Who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows Who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."  Furthermore, Jesus states in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  In other words, Jesus is clearly stating that there is only one way to the One true God--through Him.  This was a pretty bold statement to make to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who rather liked thinking that their good deeds were getting them into heaven.  He is essentially also rebuking and discrediting all other faiths, religions, and any other pious, humanistic views of how to "be saved" or "get to heaven," by saying that if anyone doesn't believe in Him, know Him, and trust in the salvation He alone can give them, then they do not know God.  Any other way to God or eternity in heaven is merely a fruitless attempt, according to the Bible.  

Let me bunny trail to say that God's Word, The Holy Bible, happens to be the best selling book of all time, with more than 6 billion in worldwide sales.  It was written by more than 40 authors, over 1,600 years, all with factual, eye-witness accounts, and in which all prophecies listed have come to pass thus far.  All historical and geographical commentary within the Bible has also been tested and found to be fully accurate, with many proofs and geological evidence from archaeological digs to corroborate it.  Add to all that, the fact that those 40 authors somehow all magically seemed to agree, over quite a span of time, on the details, purpose, and points of the Good Book.  Our entire calendar system is based on the life of Christ, and the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed that God's Word had stood the test of time.  Scholars have picked the Bible apart to discredit it only to find that it is 99.9% pure in its translations over time (and many argue that it is actually closer to 100% pure).  When Christ said in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away," He wasn't kidding.  So when we say the only certainties are death and taxes, we can safely add God's Word to that list.

So what is my point in sharing the Gospel of Christ with you today, and how does this relate to fear?  Well, if the only fear we should ever have is a healthy fear of God, the One who created us and everything around us, and the one Who decides our eternal fate, then we need to make our peace with Him.  Everything else we fear just needs to be laid at His feet.  Everything else is pretty irrelevant or minor.  God is in ultimate control of everything--from our personal lives to the election results next week.  We live in a fallen world, and nothing will ever be "right" until the One Who returns makes it right.  So we just need to trust and rest in Him.  We have nothing to fear but fear...and the One Who says we should fear Him.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Staying in Shape

Yesterday afternoon, I went on a long, seven-mile run.  That may not seem like much to some, but for a non-marathon person like myself, it is a long haul.  I decided to make myself do it because lately my runs have been no more than four miles at a time, and I can tell I am getting sluggish in my training.

My husband, Matt, who runs with me, has been doctoring and babying a pretty bad case of shin splints for the past six weeks or so.  Due to this, we haven't been able to run together much lately.  Since I got him running faithfully with me about a year ago, his running ability has improved significantly.  He now not only surpasses my ability in running, but he has also become my personal trainer.  He outruns me now in both distance and time; so when I run with him, he pushes me beyond what I typically do on my own.  Since his injury, my training has suffered--I have noticed a significant change in my ability with both distance and time.  It is remarkable to me how a lack of accountability and support truly affects a person.  When we "go it alone," we typically don't go as far or do as well.

The pastor of our church remarked about this in one of his summer sermons.  He said, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with others."  I love that quote, and I have cited it in another one of my blogs entitled, "Flying Solo."  But it is also relevant here.  Whether in life or in running, when we try to "go the distance" alone, we just don't do as well.  In my particular case with running, I don't go far or fast when I go alone--I tend to "wuss out" a bit! 

So I decided to push myself a lot yesterday and go for a longer run around Lake Shawnee.  I ran the entire lake, which is nearly seven miles.  It was miserable.  I missed having Matt up ahead of me--it was seriously boring.  I also made the grave mistake of not checking the weather prior, and wore fall athletic gear when I actually needed to dress for summer.  By mile number five, I was having severe mucus issues (thanks to fall allergies), my stomach hurt, and I was sweating profusely from being improperly prepared with overdressing.  By mile number six, I had runner's chills and severe nausea (which means you're overheated and overstepping your ability).  By mile number seven, my face felt like it was going to explode, my ankles and knees were throbbing, and my chest was pounding like I weighed 300 pounds.  Even though I knew I was over-extending myself, I just kept pushing due to sheer pride.  This past summer, I was able to run the entire lake many times in the excruciating heat with no problem. Therefore, I refused to be a wimp yesterday and admit that only six weeks later, I couldn't do it.  I ended the run by vomiting on the side of the trail and creating quite a spectacle of myself.  I have never before done this.  So much for pride! Thankfully, few people were around.  It was a harsh wake-up call that since Matt's injury, I too, have gotten out of shape with long distance running.  I have needed my supporter and trainer to motivate me, support me, and push me to do better.

This got me thinking about our spiritual training and how similar it is to training in distance running.  When we get lazy with our Bible reading and prayer life, our spiritual training suffers;  thus, our spiritual resiliency becomes lax.  We approach life unprepared and with all the wrong gear.  We are lacking the tools and readiness needed to successfully and easily handle situations and problems that arise in life.  At the end of trials and testings, we can find ourselves vomiting in defeat instead of rejoicing with victory.  When we try to, "go it alone" in our spiritual walk, and we don't depend on others to support us and encourage us, we can get sluggish and dull.  We need others to push us along in life and sharpen us.  Even when we think we do, we don't always do a good job of this on our own.  I was faced with this harsh reality yesterday--that on my own, I don't push myself enough physically.  What is more convicting is the realization that I actually do a better job of pushing myself physically than I even do spiritually.  I sure don't push myself to read God's Word or pray to the point of total mental exhaustion!  Honestly, I know that I would profit much more from doing that than I did pushing and straining my body to such harsh physical levels.

Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  I wholeheartedly believe this verse is saying that we are called to spur each other on to good works and toward successful living in Christ.  We cannot stay in spiritual shape or physical shape when we aren't training properly and when we are lacking in support and accountability.  We need each other--to encourage each other, to push each other harder to go farther, and to inspire each other to remain faithfully active in prayer and in God's Word.  Spiritual fitness and physical fitness both require discipline, rigorous effort, support, and accountability.

Obviously, staying in shape spiritually is much more important than staying in shape physically--but both are actually somewhat interrelated.  If we don't feel good physically, chances are we are not going to feel that great mentally or spiritually, either.  It is a daily balancing act to maintain all aspects of our being in order to keep ourselves in overall decent shape.  Thankfully, God is there to nudge us and be the best Trainer and Supporter we will ever have.  He cares very deeply about all the components of our existence--our spiritual, mental, physical, and even our emotional well-being.  When we know Him personally and try to walk with Him daily, He has a way of letting us know when some area of our life is out-of-whack.  I praise Him for His gentle reminders and His ever-present help in all facets of my life.  I don't even want to know where I'd be today if I didn't know Him.  Without Him, no part of who I am would be in decent shape.  So today I praise Him for being the best Fitness Pro a girl could ever have (and please, God, heal Matt's injury quickly before I become a total slob.  I miss my running partner)!

1 Timothy 4:8, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The History of Hair

The last time I got my hair trimmed, I remember thinking about the fact that human hair tells the story of a person's life.  As I watched the ends of my hair fall to the floor, I thought about the fact that more than likely, the hair that had just been cut off was probably the last of the hair that was on my head when my dear friend, Michelle, was still alive.  Morbid, sad thought, I know.  My husband never ceases to be amazed at how overly sentimental I can be about everything--oddly, even my stupid hair.

There are many studies and scientific journals that support the fact that human hair not only carries our DNA and individual genetic makeup, but a hair sample can show what drugs a person has taken, whether or not they have had changes in their metabolic functioning, and whether or not they've been under strain of any kind (bodily stress or health problems).  Criminal scientists have even discovered that the hair of bomb terrorists shows evidence of the chemicals used in their bombs, even after a few washings.  It is truly amazing how much our hair strands (and nails, for that matter) tell about us.  Our hair speaks of our lives.  This makes me wonder if this idea was from where the saying, "Get out of my hair," derived.  When we tell someone we're going to, "get out of their hair," we basically mean that we're going to get out of their life--temporarily or permanently.

Human hair typically grows anywhere from half an inch to one inch within a month's time.  Doing some quick calculating, I realized that my recent haircut probably removed the last of the hair that was on my head when my friend was still alive and when I said goodbye to her.  It disturbed me a bit, and I fully recognize that this is a strange thing by which to be bothered.  What difference does it make that the hair that showed the traces and signs of the stress I was under 20 months ago is gone?  It should have felt cathartic.  I mean, keeping that hair on my head wasn't keeping the memory of my friend alive.  But that haircut gave me the realization that the history of that horrible time in my life is gone and over.  My hair no longer carries the story of the loss of my friend and the horrid two months of severe illness I suffered immediately afterward.  It was a strange reminder that just as a chapter in my hair's history has now been cut-off, I too, have been pruned and changed in the past 20 months. It is time to let go, move ahead, and grow a new history.

This bizarre epiphany also made me think of Luke 12:7, which says, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more [to God] than many sparrows."  I also thought of the verse in Luke 21:18, which says, "But not a hair of your head will perish."  In that particular verse, Jesus is speaking to the disciples about the end times and all the horrible things that will happen prior to His return.  He is warning them to hold fast to their faith of the truth of Him, and they will win their lives back in Him, regardless of what happens to them here on earth.  It amazes me that God knows how many hairs are on my head.  That seems like a random, useless thing about which for Him to be concerned.  But there are three main truths those verses are meant to relay to us--that He is an all-knowing God, that He knows each of us personally and intimately, and that He cares for us deeply.  He not only knows how many hairs are on my head, He knows the full history captured within every strand.  That truth was a reassuring one to me, as well as the fact that not a hair on my head will perish in the real end of life.  It blessed me to realize that He cares about everything in my past, present, and future--regardless of whether some of my history feels "cut-off" from me.  He cares deeply for us all and He knows our hurts.  He longs to heal any hurts from our past and give us a fresh start--a new history to write upon each strand of our lives.  

It feels good to get a haircut.  It is a refreshing feeling because my hair always feels like it has this renewed bounce, spirit, and vibrancy about it.  Life is like that, too.  Sometimes we need old, dead things cut-off from us, even if they will always be a part of our history.  We need to let them go and we need a fresh start.  Praise be to God for fresh haircuts and new beginnings.

Isaiah 43:18-19--"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."


Friday, October 19, 2012

Star Gazing

Constellations amaze me.  As if creating the universe, with the solar system, the galaxies, and everything in them wasn't enough, God placed beautiful patterns in the night sky for man to visualize, name, and enjoy.  His artistry is unlike any other.  Orion is hands down my favorite constellation.  It is beautiful and easily recognizable.  When I was in college for a brief stint at Emporia State University (as a means to an end at completing my degree--I am a Wildcat at heart), I was required to take a Physics Methods course toward my degree of Elementary Education.  It was not an easy course, and I worked my tail off to get an A in that class.  I don't recall much of what I studied that semester now which is sad because I studied a great deal.  But I will never forget the things I learned about the earth's movement around the sun, the moon's movement around the earth, and the constellations.  The professor of the course was an avid astronomer, so we did a lengthy unit on these topics in this class.  I thrived on learning the material; it utterly captivated me.  I recall thinking that I did not understand people who think God doesn't exist.  How in the world could there be no God when everything around us is literally hanging in such a delicately designed balance?!  It gave me great peace to yet again get a clear message from God that He is the Creator and Designer of it all--the Father of the universe.  My Father.

Orion became my favorite constellation because at the time I was studying this unit in college, it was fall.  With the shorter days that accompany the approach of autumn, Orion had just made its annual reappearance in the early evening sky.  I had never before seen this constellation or ever really heard much about it, other than in the song that I used to love in high school by Prince and Sheena Easton called, "The Arms of Orion" (and I adored Prince AND Sheena Easton in my teen years).   If you don't remember this duet or haven't heard it in years, Google it and give it a hear (or try this link:  It is a tender, precious song, and Prince and Sheena sing it beautifully together. Their harmonies are stirring.  I have always loved the sound diversity, texture completion, and overall quality of a male and female voice in duo.  I recall dusting the song off and listening to it while taking this class and learning about Orion.  I found myself loving this gorgeous song all over again and falling in love with Orion, too.  Though the song is written and sung with an absent lover in mind, I recall listening to it with my Lord Jesus in mind.  Upon learning of, "Orion the Hunter," I was wooed by God to envision Him hunting for us all and desiring to shoot us with His arrow of love for Him--and His for us.  The song is really moving either way you choose to view it.

Second only in brightness to, "The Big Dipper," Orion is one constellation that is so easy to find.  It consists of seven major stars and takes up nearly a quadrant of the 180 degrees of sky we are typically able to see at night.  I love that it consists of "seven" major stars since the number, "seven," is an important number, biblically speaking.  It is a number that God uses to represent, "completion," often in His Word (seven days to create the earth and rest from it, hence seven days in a week, and so forth).  Since I am not someone who loves the approach of fall and winter (as I've previously blogged), I guess I also enjoy finding something good about the return of autumn.  I always look forward to seeing Orion for the first time each year.  I just saw it for the first time this fall two evenings ago while out on a date with my hubby.  Every year I shriek with delight upon noticing it.  It always catches me off guard--for some reason I'm never looking for it, and I love the surprise it gives me.  It is clearly distinguishable in the sky, and I especially love it during twilight when the sky has this azure blue color about it.  It's just dreamy.

Orion holds us in its arms throughout fall and winter, and is usually no longer visible due to lengthier daylight in the months of May through September.  So that fall semester, upon taking this Physics course at ESU, I remember going outside many nights, taking my little girl by the hand, and we would check out the moon phases and stars together--namely, Orion.  I would point them out and tell her the names of all the ones I had learned that day, and she'd marveled along with me.  I recall her saying, "Mommy, you are so smart and cool!"  (Boy, I had her fooled)!  I'll also never forget all the evening car rides where she, her daddy, and I would find the various constellations and in some strange and wonderful way, they seemed to be little messages to us from God that He was right there with us, holding us and looking down on us.  We decided that the three stars in Orion's belt represented the three of us--her, her daddy, and me.  To this day, we all think that upon gazing at it.  Allie was really taken by the constellations and the moon phases, and her favorite moon phase was the, "waxing gibbous" phase.  She liked saying, "waxing gibbous," and I can still hear that tiny little voice proudly uttering such a funny sounding word.  I still take pictures of the moon in that phase wherever I am and text them to her with the message, "Thinking of you, doll."  It is just one of many special little bonds we share together.

Since Allie is grown and married, I recently made the pronouncement to our now family of four that though the three stars in Orion's belt will always remind me of the three of us, the four outlying stars in Orion can now symbolize the four of us.  The four outlying stars actually represent Orion's shoulders and feet.  That seems perfect since Allie and I lean and stand on the shoulders of our husbands.  Now I have just another reason to love Orion.

To give you a little more information on Orion, the seven stars names are as follows (position descriptions are based from our view of it, so "left foot" represents Orion's actual right foot):

"Mintaka"--right star in Orion's belt (Matt), meaning, "belt of the central one."
"Alnilam"--middle star in Orion's belt (me), meaning, "string or belt of pearls."
"Alnitak"--left star in Orion's belt (Allie), meaning, "lower end of the girdle."
"Betelgeuse"--Orion's left shoulder (Matt), meaning, "armpit of the central one."
"Saiph"--Orion's left foot (me), meaning, "sword of the giant."
"Bellatrix"--Orion's right shoulder (my son-in-law, Kale), meaning, "warrior."
"Rigel"--Orion's right foot (Allie), meaning, "left foot or leg of the giant," (technically this star is Orion's left foot, but is viewed as his right foot from our perspective).  This star is the brightest of the seven stars that makeup Orion.

I think it is appropriate that the left star in Orion's belt, "Alnitak," stands for my daughter, Allie, since we call her, "Al," quite often, and since it means, "lower end."  In our family, Allie is the, "low man on the totem pole," so to speak, with regard to order of command.  (Sorry, Al!  At least you get to be the brightest shining star in the constellation, "Rigel")!  I also love that Matt's belted star, "Mintaka," starts with an, "M," like his name and means, "belt of the central one."  The star, "Betelgeuse," is the second brightest star in the constellation and means, "the Armpit of the Central One."  My husband is not an armpit (just want to clarify that, Babe), but since he is the, "central one," of our family, those stars fit him well.  My footed star, "Saiph," starts with an "S" like my name and sounds a bit like, "Steph."  Its meaning, "Sword of the Giant," is also appropriate to me since I love reading my Father's Word (the Bible is often called our, "Sword").  I think that, "Alnilam," my belted star, sounds like "Al's mom," and since I love pearls, it also suits me well.  Since I always have to sit in the middle of Matt and Allie, my star being the middle star was the obvious choice for me.  Due to the fact that my son-in-law, Kale, is quite a comedian and keeps us all laughing, "Bellatrix," which sounds like a "trick"-ster, suits him.  Kale is red-headed, tall, and skinny like Conan O'Brien, and is just about as funny and witty!  The real meaning of his star, "warrior," suits him, as well.  He stands for Christ in his life, and certainly shields and protects our little girl in many great ways.  The best part about all these fun, fitting tidbits is that I only just found them out, long after having declared whose stars were whose.  Kind of a neat little gift from God yet again.

I am not the only moon and star-gazer in our family. My mom-in-law, Loretta, loves the night sky as I do, and she has always said that whenever there is a full moon, we kids can all know that she is thinking of us and that she loves us very much.  I have always adored her gentle, precious reminders of this fact, and we always think about her when a full moon glows its beautiful light upon us.

Based on Greek mythology, "Orion the Hunter," stands in the sky with two dogs as his companions (the constellations of Canis Major and Canis Minor).  He is situated by a river called, "Eridanus," and together with his loyal dogs, Orion hunts various other celestial creatures in the night sky, such as, "Lepus," the rabbit, and, "Taurus," the bull.  According to the legend, Orion was in love with, "Merope," one of Seven Sisters who form, "Pleiades."  But she wouldn't love Orion back.  Then Orion lost his life when he stepped on a scorpion ("Scorpius").  Since the gods felt sorry for Orion for his unrequited love, bad luck, and lost life, they placed him and his beloved pooches forever in the sky for all to gaze upon with delight.  They also placed many animals near him for his hunting pleasure.  "Scorpius" was placed on the opposite side of the sky so Orion would never be harmed again by it.

Upon learning about Orion, I viewed him as, "God the Hunter," as I previously remarked.  It is fitting to imagine God as, "Orion," because just as Orion lived through the pain of unrequited love and rejection, God has also faced this with a world that for the most part chooses to ignore Him and reject Him.  I also love that Orion hunts for, "Taurus."  I do not believe in astrology and am not into it at all, but since I am technically a, "Taurus," that is yet another special correlation I have enjoyed imagining about this constellation.  I know God hunted for me, and that He shot me with his arrow of belief and love for Him.  Based upon his birthday, my husband, Matt, holds the sign of, "Sagittarius," which means, "the archer."  So I also like viewing Orion as my husband, Matt, who hunted for me and shot me with his arrow of love, as well!  I am blessed to be his prey and capture, and even more blessed to be God's. 

The Prince and Sheena Easton song that I mentioned above says at one point in the song, "I've been searching for a lover in the sea of tranquility."  This is so perfect since the constellation, "Orion," stands beside a river.  God also resides beside a glassy sea, and like Orion, He is also searching and hunting for those who will love Him back.  One day, I too, will stand beside that glassy sea, in utter tranquility, and be with the Hunter and Lover of my soul.  Though we are worlds apart now, Christ lives in me and He will capture me once and for all one day soon.
Isaiah 40:26 (NASB), "Lift up your eyes on high and see Who has created these stars, the One Who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing."

The following image is taken from Wikipedia, but is accurate.

File:Orion IAU.svg

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How It All Began

Someone asked me recently how my husband and I met.  It is always fun for me to stroll down memory lane and reminisce on the precursors to what is now a nearly 25-year marriage.  My husband, Matt, and I met when we were nine years old.  His family moved into my hometown of LaCygne, KS right before our fourth grade year in elementary school.  My first memory of Matt is the vivid recollection of seeing him for the first time as he came into music class on the first day of school in 1979.  He was actually in a different fourth grade class than I, but for music and P.E. both classes were combined.  In a town as small as LaCygne, the new kids in our school stood out like sore thumbs; therefore, I noticed him right away.  My first thought upon seeing him was that I felt sorry for him.  By his body language, it was obvious to me that he was not only very uncomfortable being one of the few, glaring new students in our school, but he didn't look as though he'd had a very good morning.  I also recall thinking that he looked like a really sweet boy.  I found myself purposefully trying to make eye contact so that I could smile reassuringly at him and hopefully make him feel welcome and better.  He looked very alone and fearful, and it troubled me.  We exchanged a few smiles, but it was clear he was much more distracted with the new situation in which he found himself than with the stupid girl who kept smiling at him.  But I didn't have to feel sorry for him for long--I had pegged him accurately.  He was a nice boy, and making friends came very naturally for him once he let his guard down. 

Over the course of that year and our remaining grade school years, Matt was always extremely kind to me.  He would faithfully compliment me and even asked me to go with him on a chaperoned church youth group excursion in sixth grade.  His youth group was going ice skating in Kansas City at a place called, "King Louie."  Since it was technically a youth group outing and not a real "date," my mother approved.  So I obliged him and went as his friend.  He continued to show favor toward me throughout junior high and high school, always encouraging me, complimenting me, and even playing the part of "defender" when other boys would harass or disrespect me.  One day in seventh grade, I got caught in the middle of an unkind, very uncomfortable discussion spurred by a few other boys in our science class.  They were hashing out who they thought the prettiest girl was in our junior high.  They had narrowed it down to me and another girl, who happened to be my best friend.  When you are in junior high and are going through the all-too-common, "awkward years," the last thing you want, especially as a female, is to be outwardly and rudely dissected and compared to another female.  You also do not appreciate boys stirring up any added insecurity (or hints of dissension due to it) between yourself and a good friend.  Everyone knows that we girls do "the comparison thing" well-enough on our own--we don't need any help or encouragement with that, thank you.  As I sat there humiliated and hurting from the crass words that were being uttered, I could feel my face turning red and my back beginning to sweat.  Even though these boys were technically ranking me at number two on their, "most attractive girls in Prairie View Junior High" list, an insecure girl doesn't exactly recognize or feel honored by that at the time when she's being verbally picked apart in public.  To add insult to injury, I had P.E. first hour that year.  Talk about a middle school girl's nightmare.  It wasn't much fun to shower and get ready at home each morning (because what 13-year old girl would go to school without doing so), then go sweat to death for 45 minutes, and then have to re-shower and try to look reasonably decent in a total of 10 minutes before second period.  I swore our P.E. coach, who was anything but girly, purposefully made it is as difficult as possible for us "vain" girls, as she loved to label us, to feel confident about our looks at all.  Starting every day of school out this way during the years when you are being ridiculed and judged constantly by peers made that year one of the worst in my life.  I basically started every school day with wet hair, and if I didn't wash it after P.E., it was sweaty, which was worse.   So on this day, when I was being cruelly compared to my best friend and having one of my lovely P.E. hair days, I just wanted to crawl under the desk and never come out.  It didn't take long for Matt to step into the conversation and say, "Well, I think Stephanie is the best-looking girl hands-down.  Plus, she's really smart and nice, too."  This pattern of defending me and siding with me never ceased to be displayed by Matt--and though he didn't think so at the time, I was paying attention.

I dated a couple of other boys in high school somewhat steadily, and went on a number of random dates with various boys.  Matt likes to teasingly remind me of my, "playing the field" days often, and I am quick to point out that he, too, "shopped around" plenty in his teen years to see what kind of girl he truly liked.  But Matt was always the boy I would turn to if I wanted to have an intelligent conversation with someone of the opposite sex who was also supportive and kind.  It was always nice to be around him--he was steady, sweet, smart, funny, relaxed, and wonderfully positive.  He was also always immaculately groomed, well-dressed, and naturally handsome.  I recall phoning him often during our sophomore year in high school for help in geometry.  He always humbly and kindly offered to help me with homework whenever I would complain that I was struggling with some new lesson, and I took him up on it frequently.  We were both in the accelerated classes together throughout high school, but Matt was one of the "gifted" smart kids.  Retaining and understanding difficult material came quite naturally for him.  I, on the other hand, got good grades because I was a good student and worked very hard for them.  So he would generously offer to tutor me from time to time as I needed it.  I always looked forward to phoning him.  He was gracious, made me feel calm when I was stressed, and was just an all-around wonderful person to know. We also seemed to have a lot of mutual interests, and our personalities complimented one another well.  Add to all that the fact that he always smelled divine.  If you've read any of my other blogs you know how big on "smell" I am.  Matt's trademark scent was, "Ralph Lauren Polo."  What girl didn't love that in 1986?!  But for some stupid reason, I always viewed Matt as just a good "friend."  Sometimes when you begin a relationship as childhood friends, it is hard to imagine it evolving into anything else even if the sensibility of it is screaming at you.

Speaking of sensibility, I must "bunny trail" about the sensibility of dating for a moment. Honestly, my view now on all this dating stuff is that teenagers shouldn't even date.  Dating, if viewed as God would want us to view it, is supposed to be about courtship--its purpose is as a preamble to marriage.  It isn't something we should do for frivolous "fun," for sex, or at the expense of the feelings of others if we decide we're bored and want to move on to someone else.  The world typically perceives and handles it in this way.  Since I believe dating should be viewed as courtship and perceived as a stepping stone to marriage, and since teenagers aren't supposed to be worrying about marriage, I believe it is best for teens not to date.  Our daughter, Allie, was not allowed to "date" until she was 18.  Fortunately, she understood the reasons behind our decision, knew that our motive for it was our love and utter concern for her, and she never bucked-up against our desires to protect and shelter her.  She has thanked us numerous times for guiding her life in this way.  It wasn't easy though because even we, as Allie's parents, were somewhat ostracized by other parents because we were choosing to do things much differently than they were.  Family and friends would always marvel that Allie never rebelled against our decision to shelter her by not allowing her to date until she was in college.  We were always extremely real and honest with her about our past mistakes and dating situations that we had faced.  She knew the truth of the pitfalls of dating and from what we were sheltering her.  We never held a, "because-we-said-so" attitude with her.  Our heart-felt conversations with her about dating and boys always came from an attitude of sincerity. We always made our reasons very transparent and she respected us for it.  I never took that for granted, thanking God regularly that He gave Allie an open heart to always see the true reasons for our decisions in parenting her, and that they were based on motives of love and extreme value for her, not on cruel dominion over her.  I believe this is key in parenting a teenager. 

But back to my particular high school.  The mentality of dating amongst the great majority of kids in our school was that there was something wrong with you if you didn't have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend at all times.  It was ridiculous, and that coupled with the fact that I grew up without a father, caused me to be somewhat obsessed with boys.  I wanted their respect, their approval, and their attention.  Having no father figure to encourage me in my role as a female was somewhat devastating to me.  Looking back on it now with more wisdom and understanding, it is easy to see why I was needy for male approval.  James Dobson, the widely known and respected author and speaker on parenting, marriage, family and the like, says that girls get 90% of their identity from their father.  Since I had no father, God was my father, and for that I praise Him.  But still, I really needed an earthly one at times, too--all kids do.

At the start of our junior year in high school, I was enjoying playing the lead role in our school's musical, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."  Playing the part of, "Millie," was probably my favorite role ever--that was a very memorable and special year for me in high school.  Matt was also in the musical playing the part of, "Dan."  So we were together a lot, and he was a big part of making that year very special for me.  We spent a great deal of time together rehearsing lines, talking, having fun backstage with other friends, and just getting to know one another on a deeper level than we ever had prior to that.  A few weeks into the musical rehearsals, we mutually decided to bow-out of the other dates we had each already made for Homecoming so that we could go together (tacky and rude, I know).  We finally realized that true friends make the best companions--and we've been dating ever since.  Matt was technically the first boy with whom I ever went out on a date, and he will be the last if I have anything to say about it.

Matt was also the first boy I ever kissed.  At a coed junior high birthday party, a game of, "spin the bottle," ensued even though the party was chaperoned (obviously, the parents weren't running a very tight ship).  Terrified, but bending to the dictatorial peer pressure of another girl who declared that we would all join the game or face her wrath, I timidly spun the bottle and it landed on Matt.  I recall feeling utter relief.  I wasn't scared to kiss him at all--he was my friend, and I knew he'd probably brushed his teeth at least twice that day already (yes, I was a germaphobe even then).  I also recall liking it--maybe too much (yeah, yeah, I know--too much info).  But Matt's kiss was as tender as his words had always been.  I decided that everything that falls from this guy's lips was good (if our daughter reads this, she'll say, "Oh, grose! TMI!"  Sorry, Allie). But again, I was paying attention.

Homecoming Day came and would mark our official first date as, "more than friends."  Matt sent a dozen red roses to me at school that day and the card said, "This is just the beginning.  Love, Matt." A dozen red roses in a small town was a pretty costly item.  I was yet again impressed with his sentiment, his kindness, and his generosity--plus, few boys had ever spent a dime on me, let alone to this level.  He wasn't speaking with flattery when he wrote those words--obviously, he really meant them.  He's been bringing me flowers for over 26 years now.

Matt and I spent a great deal of time together during our dating--too much time.  Long story short, we ended up married in the middle of our senior year of high school, and had our daughter six months later (you do the math).  That is a story for another time.  With God's help, protection, and utter mercy, we somehow made it through college while raising our little girl, and made it to this milestone of spending nearly a quarter of century together.  Though I now believe I had no business dating in high school for obvious reasons, I thank God that He gave me enough wisdom to realize the type of guy I would need in my life, especially when I didn't have a good model of "father" for comparison and example.  God was merciful to this needy girl, and gave me exactly what He knew I needed.  As I've blogged about previously, I grew up feeling somewhat unprotected and fearful as a young girl living in a rough town in a single-parent home.  But God has blessed me so richly in my life with a man who loves and fears God, protects and cares for me, thinks I'm greater than I actually am, and who loves me more than he loves himself.  I am also blessed and profusely grateful to God for giving me the great gift of watching my daughter grow up with a wonderful example for a Godly father.   So that's how it all began. 

Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

OKC--City of Sorrows, City of Strength

I have been in Oklahoma City (OKC) for the past three days.  Every time I come here on business with my husband, I am compelled to visit the National Memorial.  It never ceases to amaze me how utterly moving it is.  Without realizing it until afterward, I always find that I have gnawed a hole in the side of my cheek in trying to control my emotions during my visit there (this is an old nervous habit of mine--it sucks being a crybaby).  But I do believe there is a special spirit present at this memorial.  I always say that it feels like God has placed angels there to comfort people and to guard that place as sacred.  I also think that the memorial is extremely well done.  The design is impeccable down to every detail, with special, purposeful meaning behind nearly every aspect of it.  If you've never visited it and the museum that accompanies it, I highly recommend both.  This museum and the National Holocaust Museum are the only two memorial museums which I have visited thus far, that have evoked tears in me (and they always bring tears, even upon repeated visits).  When I visit the 9/11 Museum one day, I am sure it will easily become number three.

Years ago, my daughter, Allie, did a mission project/trip to Oklahoma City to work in a new rescue mission downtown that helps not only the homeless, but also people who since the tragedy, have become homeless due to drug-related addictions.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, the city suffered many other casualties besides the initial ones, one of which was a spike in drug-related problems.  Many believe that the increase in drug-usage and related issues that the city suddenly had to face was an obvious sign that the community at-large was suffering to cope with the bombing.  The ripple effect of such a crisis is never ending.  Upon this mission trip, my daughter developed a great respect and appreciation for the people of Oklahoma City as well as, an understanding of how vast pain and hardship spread when one person decides to do something really evil.  A city as small as Oklahoma City suffers greatly when 168 people die in one instance.  I remember reading in the museum about how many government workers, who knew multiple people killed on that day, had to sadly pick and choose what funerals they were going to attend because they couldn't attend them all.  When 168 people die, and you only have a few days to bury or memorialize them, it adds up to a lot of funerals within a short time.  Many people couldn't attend all of the services of everyone they knew.  Most of us will never comprehend that kind of loss, or suffer and face the cost of all that entails.  It's not even fathomable to most of us.

So, I, too, have a huge heart for this city.  Being in the "Bible Belt," OKC is a city filled with Christians who entrust their very lives to Christ, and they have had to lean steadfastly on Him in the aftermath of this horrendous event.  Though it was over 17 years ago, you can tell when you speak with Oklahoma Citians about the memorial or about, "that day," that it truly seems like it just happened for them.  They will "never forget" the impact of what their beloved city faced.   I marvel at the strength of this town.  I am amazed at the immense sentiment and passionate love that went into the memorial and the museum.  It is almost filled with too much emotion--kind of a difficult museum to visit actually, due to the graphic and deep grief that is prevalent and prominent in every corner of the museum.  But OKC has heart and soul.  They are a city of great strength to have suffered such loss and continued on serving the Lord and each other with such zeal and joy.  Their churches have grown in great abundance.  They are getting a handle on the drug problems, and they are helping to lift each other up.  Just as Christ tells us in His Word, the strong need to help the weak.  It is obvious they have done that here, and it warrants praise to God.

I was thinking about Timothy McVeigh last night and his capital punishment.  I wondered if any of the victim's family members were allowed to be present for it.  I imagined what I would do in that situation--would I care to be present, or would it be too painful for me to attend and relive the horror of it all?  Would watching another death bring only more pain and sorrow to my life?  Would I have "moved on" and forgiven the criminal as best I could?   In pondering all these things, I quickly realized that there's really no way to know what you'd do in that situation unless you're faced with it--and I praise God I've never had to face that kind of suffering and forgiveness.  I also realized that a crime as horrific as this one is a sin only God can forgive.  Even if a human is able to eventually forgive something this bad, it is only with God's help that they can.  It is amazing how truly evil, evil can be.  It is amazing how senseless it is, as well.  But even more than all that, I marvel at how truly good, good can be.  Upon visiting the museum, you will read and learn of all the vastly heroic and amazingly loving deeds exhibited by the people of this city.  God spurred some incredible acts of courage and strength amongst the community here.  With God's help, the people of Oklahoma City rose to the occasion and truly uplifted one another.  It is a remarkable thing.

I remember where I was the day it happened.  I was student teaching in a Second Grade classroom in Garnett, KS.  I was with kids and when the news hit, and I remember looking up from my desk at the little innocent faces in front of me, and praying for the rescue workers who were having to pull out children even younger than this from a bombing devastation unlike any they'd ever seen.  The horror of just imagining it was awful.  I was given the honor of singing, "Let There Be Peace on Earth," at the school's memorial service that was held a couple of days later, which meant a lot to me.  I still cannot hear that song and not think about the horror this little city faced that day.  The children murdered that day would all be college-age now.  It breaks my heart to think of the vast loss their families have had to face. They say there's nothing worse than losing a child, and I would imagine that is very true.  I would guess it is a hurt that never fully heals.  I very often notice upon visiting this memorial, that the chairs, which symbolize those lost that day, are rarely adorned with flowers.  The ones that are, typically are those of children.  Makes sense to me.

I went to bed last night praying for this city.  I prayed that God would continue to heal the many hurts.  I prayed He would give strength and peace to the entire city.  I prayed He would shelter them from anymore pain.  I prayed that anyone who doesn't know Him would come to know Him.  I prayed that the victims' families and all the survivors would arise each day with a rejuvenated joy in their hearts to help those weaker than themselves and to glean comfort and added strength from each other.  I pray these things every time I come here--the city feels so wounded and vulnerable to me.  Yes, I'm a bit of an emotional sap--I realize it has been a while since the event.  But like they tell you when someone suffers a great loss:  don't forget to continue to support them and even ask them how they are doing with the loss.  Prayer is always a good thing, and we need to pray more for each other--even for those we don't know.  I know that God is here in OKC, though.  He is close to the broken-hearted, as His Word says in Psalms 34:18, and He has strengthened this sorrow-filled city. 

Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bless or Blame?

Yesterday morning, I attended the beautiful memorial service for my beloved neighbor and friend, Martha, who passed away on October 4, and of whom I blogged about last Friday.  The pastor of her church, who officiated the service, discussed Martha's battle with cancer and how very difficult and lengthy her journey with the illness has been.  He shared at length about Martha's amazing spirit of faith and joy, and how she exhibited both, regardless of how she was truly feeling and how bad things got during her battle.  He talked of how she never complained, how she showed such perseverance and strength, and how she chose to bless versus blame the Lord during her time of testing and trial.  I had never heard the expression, "bless versus blame" before, and I really loved that.  As I sat there listening to him share of all Martha's wonderful attributes, I thought about how she always made sure to give the Lord all the credit whenever I praised her for her positive attitude and ability to continue to bless and encourage others (and the Lord) even though she was struggling.  Whenever I spoke with her or took her to the doctor, it was truly a struggle to get her to talk about herself.  She was always much more concerned with how I was doing than telling me how she was doing.  Her pastor shared from James 1:2-4 which says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."  He concluded by saying that Martha always counted all her trials as joy, and that she is truly lacking nothing now.  She is in perfect health, perfect joy, and perfect peace.  Martha chose to live her life by blessing the Lord, instead of blaming Him, regardless of the trials He allowed in her life.  She chose to view the trials as opportunities instead of curses.  Amazing stuff.  Supernatural, actually.

When I ponder the rare times I've been able to muster up the ability to exhibit this same amazing power in my own life, it is only when I CHOOSE to rely on GOD for the power to TRUST HIM that I am able to do it.  Without God's help and without realizing and remembering the truth of Who He is, I cannot even begin to bless Him during times of testing.  In and of ourselves, and in our own flesh, we fall short and are totally weak to succeed at this.  If I am brutally honest with you, I have to admit that my tendency during rough times is to blame God.  I have many times thought, "Well, if nothing bad can come into my life without going through God's hands first, as the Bible says, then everything is His fault and in His control.  So HE did this to me!"  But trust is the real issue when we play the blame game with God.  Yes, we know that nothing touches our lives that God doesn't sign-off on first.  But we also have to remember that God's Word says that He has a purpose and something good for us in the pain, struggle, and/or outcome of every trial.  We have to ask for His help at remembering His character and the truth of what He says about times of trial and testing.  We have to remember that this isn't heaven and no one is immune to struggles and hardship--so who do we think we are to expect heaven now?!  We have to take hold of the truths of Who He is, and that He IS trustworthy, or we will go down the slippery slope of not trusting Him. And that isn't a fun ski trip.

There are tons of verses in God's Word that prove God's character and prove that we can trust Him in our hardships.  But my favorite Bible verse of all time is Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."  This verse is a wonderful promise to us--it is one of many promises by God found in His Word.  However, there are some stipulations here if you read it carefully and literally.  It is a promise for those who believe in Him, know Him, and love Him, (because how can you love someone you don't believe in and truly know?!).  It is also a promise for those who are living towards His purposes.  Obviously, I cannot cling to this verse if I decide to go rob a bank and end up in prison for it.  Sin has a price regardless, and we have to pay the consequences of it.  Obviously, sin is not a purpose designed by God, nor something He calls us to do.  So we can't expect that good will come from sin when we choose it over God's purpose.  Unless we repent and turn our sins over to God, no good will ever come from any of them.  If we begin to walk with Him and follow Him and His ways, then He will work ALL things for our good, even though sin isn't what He wants for our lives and we always pay for the consequences of it.  I also love another realization from this verse that I received from a Beth Moore Bible study I took years ago.  Beth shared this verse and the wonderful promise in it, but pointed out that it doesn't say that all things in our life will be good--it says that God works them for good.  So true, and so important to remember in this world where we want and expect nothing but good to come into our lives. 

This notion of choosing to "bless versus blame" can also be applied to other people in our lives.  It is really easy to blame other people for the problems we have in life--sometimes it is even easier to blame others than it is to blame God.  Since people are imperfect and drive us crazy sometimes, blaming them seems almost righteous!  Recently, I was faced with a horribly difficult situation in which I knew I needed to go to someone and try to work out a problem that had arose long ago and was never fixed.  I needed to ask for their forgiveness for the things I had done that I felt may have exacerbated the situation or hurt them, and I needed to try to fix it and reconcile it.  I went to them with two prayerfully considered goals--to fix it and hopefully get my friend back, even if the relationship didn't look like I wanted it to look.  God had shown me clearly that I was never going to be free of the situation or this person if I didn't go to them and at least try.  So I went.  And being a non-confrontational person, it literally took everything I had.  I didn't sleep for three nights and prayed as hard about it as I had ever prayed about anything in my life.  Suffice it to say, it didn't go well for me--well, I didn't reach my two goals.  I poured out my heart to this person.  I was broken and contrite.  They said things that made me think I could trust them and that the conversation was being well-received--essentially, they baited me in some ways.  So on and on I went, pouring out my heart and saying the most loving things anyone could say.  And I meant them.  Just when I thought they would do the same in return (because I could clearly tell they relished my honesty and the fact that I'd put all their sins, along with my own, onto myself), they began twisting and stretching my loving words into ugliness, accusing me falsely, blowing my sins way out of proportion to reality, dredging up the past negatively, and blaming me entirely for the issue we'd had.  They made it clear that I never meant anything to them and that they were neutral in their desire for reconciliation (which everyone knows is code for, "I don't really care to reconcile," because when you're neutral, you don't care).  As I stood there making deductions that any idiot could make from such cruel, conflicting words, I found myself wanting to lash out in kind and turn their words back on them.  I wanted to remind them of the sins they had committed against ME and for the truths of what I knew had really happened in our misunderstanding.  I wanted to use all my "A-game tactics" and my "old self" told me I was justified to do so.  I felt like I was having two battles simultaneously--and I was.  The one I could see and the one I couldn't.  Besides the conflict I was having with this former friend, an unseen war was also raging inside my head--a battle of flesh vs. spirit, or my, "old -self vs. new-self."  During the heated conversation with this person, God was speaking to me profusely, or He was trying to speak to me--it was all really more than I could process appropriately at the time.  I now believe this was also a "God thing."  Matt and I had prayed that God would silence my lips if I began to say anything that would further hurt or bring pain to the other person because my mission for going to them in the first place was ultimately and most importantly for healing.  Boy, did He--I don't think I've ever been so lacking in quick-witted words.  I felt like an idiot as I stood there dumbfounded at the cruel and untrue remarks they were making.  I had no reply so many times that I truly felt like a mute!  I wanted to lash-out at them with proofs and points to put them in their place, but God kept reminding me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  I wanted so badly to blame this other person right back as they were doing to me.  But God helped me in that moment to hold my tongue, to bless them in return for their unkind remarks to me, and to say things that healed instead of hurt them.  I had told myself in the mirror that night before going to this person that I would not say cruel things if my worst fears came true and they were unkind to me.  I even practiced, reciting over and over to myself in the mirror, "Well, this is not the path I wanted us to take tonight.  All I know is that I miss and love ya, and I want to fix things."  It worked because I found myself saying those exact words repeatedly throughout the conversation that night. I refused to use words that hurt and God helped me not to do it. 

Though I was pretty badly bruised and the remarks they spewed my way have cursed and haunted me at times since, God showed me something very valuable at that moment.  We don't always have to win in life to win.  We don't have to return blame for blame.  We don't have to get what we want to get what we want.  As I stood there broken and battered, humiliated and hurt, God told me that the NEW me could do the same thing He did for me.  He took my sins on Himself, forgave me, and let them go.  He freed me up.  He reminded me that I am not the OLD person I once was--I don't need to repay cursing and blame for cursing and blame.  I am His and He took all my old tendencies away.  He doesn't curse and blame me for my sins, so I don't need to do that to anyone else.  More than that, what right do I have to do that?! That is what God sent me there to see and do that night.  I had hoped and prayed it was for the purpose of fixing everything and getting my friend back.  But God had other plans.  He knew my heart and He knew the heart of this person--hence, He knew reconciliation wasn't going to happen for me.  As I walked out of there that night feeling a bit sorry for myself, I wanted to blame Him for nudging me to go to this person and for shaming myself for them.  Why would He ask me to spend all that time preparing my talking points and praying, as well as, the time, money, and energy that it took to go the distance for them, when He knew all along what the end result would be?  But He was quick to show me the grand purposes of it all.  He knew two things--God had two goals, as well.  He knew I would never be free if I didn't go to this person and say these things, and He knew what I needed to learn about blame, forgiveness, and truly loving people whom I say I love.  Regardless of whether that person wanted to "own" or admit their faults, I needed to own mine, say some stuff to free them up, and let it go.  I know God wanted me to take that person's sins against me, put them on myself (essentially onto Him), forgive them (even though they didn't ask for my forgiveness), and let them go.  It wasn't about reconciling anything--it was about freeing them and me.  In that way, I hope and pray that I was successful in fixing things.  I think I can at least say that one of my two initial goals for that night was met--I fixed it as best as I could on my end, trying everything a person can try and saying everything a person can possibly say.  There's a lot of freedom in that, and I've had to cling to that many days when the enemy lures me to fret or withdraw to sad places.  But God accomplished both His goals, and for that I bask in His glory--to that I hold fast. 

Though I left the situation feeling like a lamb that had been slaughtered, I now feel reborn.  I even verbalized this to my husband as we walked out of there together.  Matt said, "How'd it go?"  I said, "Horribly.  I feel like a lamb that's been led to the slaughter."  But we concurred later that just as another Lamb did, I would rise again, and things would be okay.  Much prayer, discussion, and some other outlying factors had gone into our decision for me to encounter this person, and Matt supported it wholeheartedly because he knew how much I had truly loved this person and how hurt I had been for so long.  He knew I was in bondage to them due to the pain of our misunderstanding.  But God knew it, too, and He knew what it would take for me to move past it all.  As I walked out that night from confronting this person, I remember thinking, "The old has gone, the new has come."  God showed me this so clearly that I didn't even shed a tear (and ten years ago, I would have cried all the way home after an ordeal such as this).  I thank God that He gave me this verse on that night.  His Word is so powerful and breathes such life into us, that it can heal our deepest hurts.  I didn't get my friend back that night.  I still pray for them, for that goal to come to fruition, and for God to perhaps work it all together for good in my life and theirs, if it is in His will and purpose.  But I learned something really precious.  We are not here to blame.  We are here to bless, at all costs.  We have been blessed and freed up by God, and it was at a very high cost.  If we can't show that same love, grace, and mercy to others, what difference does the fact that we've been shown this amazing love, grace, and mercy make?  Our faith is just religion in this case--it means nothing and is just for show.  God also showed me that He has new things in store for me and I am not to be living in bondage to anyone or anything--period.  He wanted me to let this person go for now, perhaps forever, in order to bring freedom back to my life.  I was in bondage to all the hurts, to all the "what-if(s)," and to all the, "shoulda, woulda, couldas."  It was a really painful thing to let go of it all--when we carry around a hurt, it oddly becomes a strange bedfellow to us.  When you constantly lick a wound or "pick at it," as a friend from church recently said, it never heals--it actually gets worse.  Bad habits die hard, as they say.  We also always think we know what is best for us, so we fight it.  God often has other ideas.

I praise God for the fact that He reminded me of who I am in Him, and that He is making me new every day.  He reminded me that I don't have to cling to my old ways, beliefs, and attitudes--that I have to let stuff go and turn it all over to Him.  He is helping me to choose to bless Him and others, and not blame.  There was a time in my life when my husband even told me I should have been a lawyer due to my ability to debate well and "win."  Men always jokingly say that, "women are always right."  Well, in my marriage, that wasn't a joke--it was a known fact, and poor Matt loved me so much he just oftentimes gave into it!  I praise God that He has helped to change me in this way, even on some level.  It has been really painful for me at times, but I have needed it.  I know I have much more to learn in this area of life, and that I'll never "arrive" when it comes to my fleshly tendencies.  Blame comes really naturally and easily for perfectionists.  We strive so hard to please others, to love others, and to do right by them, that when they fail us, it hurts really badly--we have invested dearly in them, and we have sought only to bless them, and we are flat ticked if that isn't being reciprocated!  We perfectionists also work so hard, that we have a pretty high opinion of ourselves, too.  We don't understand it when others don't value us fairly or show us respect in return.  Since even God's Word says you "reap what you sow," it is easy to think that if you've sown love and other good things, that others should return the same to you.  We can view God in this way, as well.  We can strive so hard to please Him that when He allows bad things into our lives, we are ticked at Him--because what did we possibly do to deserve it?!  It is humbling to realize that in all the times we shake our fist at God, He is so merciful to tolerate us instead of smiting us as He could so easily do.  It is a shameful thing to think you are always right and only deserving of good, regardless of how hard you work and how much you love other people.  No one is above this law of sin and nature--the only thing any of us deserve is death.  I do believe we reap what we sow, but God chooses to bring a harvest back to us in ways that aren't always understandable at the time.  It doesn't always look like we want it to look, or come from the people from whom we want it to come.  God has allowed me to go through some shame in this situation, and even some that was totally undeserved and unwarranted.  But He showed me something else, too--this other person was hurting.  Though they claimed they weren't, and even said things to allude to the fact that they hadn't given me a second thought, the amount of talking they did, the conflicting things they said, and the frustration and anger they clearly showed told me I had hurt them (or that the situation had greatly bothered them, in the very least).  For that alone, I was glad I went to them and told them all that I did.  Hurting people feels much worse than being hurt--this is another huge lesson learned.  I praise Him for teaching me some things (humility for one) and for ultimately freeing me.   He took all my shame upon Himself--and the whole world's, for that matter.  So He happens to be an undeserving expert at shame and humility.

When I count the costs between blessing and blaming, I realize that though blessing is initially way more costly than blaming, it actually returns a harvest ten-fold of what you paid--maybe more.  It doesn't feel like it at the time, but God promises us in James 4:10, that when we humble ourselves, He will lift us up.  God always keeps His promises.  Praise be to God, and blessing to all!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Resisting the Fall and the End of Baseball

Okay, I have to admit it.  I really despise this time of year.  This week marked the end of baseball season (that is, if you're a Royals fan).  I truly hate the end of baseball season.  I love everything about baseball--the sounds, the sights, the smells (yes, I'm aware I'm quoting the movie, "Field of Dreams"--it happens to be in my top three for favorite movies)!   I just love the overall game itself.  Growing up, my hometown's main baseball diamond was right behind our house.  Even as a young girl, I used to walk or bike through the small field between my yard and the ballpark, and watch random games for fun.  I even played softball on that field.  I could see my mom through our kitchen window, or see her outside mowing and watering flowers, and would wave reassuringly at her.  When it was time for me to come home (which was usually when the street lights came on), I'd hop on my bike and take the clearly marked path home, which I had personally carved into that grassy field from my frequent journeys to the ballpark.  I have a lot of great memories of that ball field--memories of Big League Chew bubblegum (which I still purchase and chew at games to this day), riding my bike to and from games through the grassy field, playing endless games of catch with my neighbor friend, Christie, and coming home with filthy dirty feet to a warm bubble bath, courtesy of Mom (my mother always thought I was dirtier than I actually was because my knees would get so tan, they'd look dirty)!  I remember falling asleep to the warm, comforting glow of those ball park lights shining through our windows all summer long.  Baseball always brought summer fun, easy times, and this great feeling of escape for me, even as a young girl.

I have "grown-up" reasons for loving baseball, too.  Baseball is such a slow-paced, relaxing sport, and I appreciate the passive nature of it.  I also respect the diversity and larger skill requirements placed on every player in the game. The fact that it isn't just a running, throwing, and catching sport (like most other sports), makes it unique in my opinion.  The players have to be able to hit, they have to be able to slide, they have to be able to read lots of pitches and hits, they have to be able to cover other players and other player's positions at times, AND they have to be able to run, throw and catch.  Since I am a summertime person and sunshine lover, the fact that it is a summer sport also helps it rank high with me.  I love that my husband, Matt, and I can crack jokes and visit easily throughout the game and we don't miss out on anything doing so.  We also don't leave the game feeling like we've had to scream at each other just to converse at all.  I also value that 9 out of 10 baseball fans are typically easy-going, polite people (I've never sat next to anyone whose saliva was constantly spraying me due to their profane yelling, as I've had happen twice in a row now at Chiefs games--not sure I'm ever going back to Arrowhead stadium again).  I love that it is an outside sport.  Being able to sit outdoors on a nice evening helps it rank high with me, as well.   Baseball games typically last about three hours, so you get a lot of bang for your buck, which is another great perk (and I'm all about getting the most value for my money). You might even get to stay longer if the game goes into extra innings.  I could go on and on about why I love this sport (and I will)!

Matt and I attended the last Royals game of the season this past Wednesday night.  The Tigers beat the Royals 1-0, so the season ended with a non-climactic conclusion (and obviously, the overall game wasn't even an, "edge-of-your-seat-er").  But it was still a great evening.  I love watching how excited my husband gets when the Royals are up to bat.  He is like a little boy in a candy store.  His face lights up and he looks 20 years younger just being at the ballpark.  He adores this sport and was a pitcher on his own baseball team growing up.  His dad was even his coach for a while.  Matt has many great baseball memories in his life, as well.  He and his dad attended Game 7 in the 1985 World Series, which is one of the most memorable moments of his life.  We share this love of baseball together, and it is just one of the many great ties that bind us in our marriage.  As die hard Royals fans, (and being "all-weather" fans versus "fair-weather" fans), Matt and I know how to have a great time at the ballpark regardless of the game's outcome.  Wednesday night, I saw a mural somewhere at the stadium that I had never seen before then.  It had a quote on it by Humphrey Bogart which said, "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at The Ritz."  I had to chuckle.  As the wife of a congressional beef lobbyist, I'm not sure I would agree because I love a great steak in a nice restaurant, and I want to encourage people to spend their hard-earned dough eating high-quality, healthy, lean beef when they can.  But I know exactly what Mr. Bogart is talking about.  There aren't many things better than a ballpark frank eaten on a warm summer night, loaded with mustard and jalapenos (I am a quarter Mexican, you know), while watching the best game ever invented.  Besides, if you eat the right kind, hot dogs are typically made from beef, too.  So it's all good.

I think I would even go so far as to say that baseball feels spiritual to me--I guess it feels like life.  Every person on a team has to work together with others for success, just as in life, where we are on many different teams with various responsibilities and roles for those specific teams.  But each member has to work individually for personal goals, as well.  When you're up to bat, it's just you and the opposition.  Your team can't help you that much with your own batting record, just as in real life.  There are times when you strike out, and times when you get a free walk.  Sometimes you get a decent hit but no scored run for it, and you're left feeling like your hit was wasted to a degree.  At times, you're lucky enough to get a home run--some people even get a grand slam.  Overall, you're just happy to get a run or an RBI--it feels good to help out the team and others.  There are times when you get nabbed while just trying to run the bases of life, and times when you're able to steal a base and cheat your opponent (or "cheat death," as we all typically have the good fortune of doing at times, thanks be to God and His grace to us).  There are moments when you're thrown curve balls in life, and times when you're thrown hard, fast, "didn't-see-that-one-coming" balls.  Sometimes YOU get hit (crazy, wild pitchers)!   There are pitchers in life and there are catchers--some people do all the throwing and get most of the credit (or blame) for the game's outcome, and some people call the shots, catch most of the fouls, and take all the pitches.  Some folks are designated hitters--it seems all they do is take hits in life.  Some people swing so hard and try so hard they break their own bat (or another "b" word..."back!" I was thinking, "BACK")!  Some of us are way out in left field (daydreaming, perhaps), and others of us are busy with the tedious work at first base.  We all make errors (or mistakes) from time to time.  Some people's errors hurt the team a little, and some may even cost the team the game.  Most of us want to make as few errors as possible.  Sometimes we have to linger at certain bases (or stages) in our lives, and sometimes we breeze right through them.  Some people's lives are like that--they are quick and cut short.  I could go on and on making my little parallels between baseball and life (okay, I guess I have)!  You can make these parallels for other sports, but in my view, they just aren't as poetic as they are for baseball.   But we all typically do have the same goals in life as those found in America's favorite past-time.  We all want to score some runs for our "teams," (i.e., our marriages, families, friendships, workplaces, ministries, etc.), we all want to leave our game with positive, personal records (or legacies), and we all want to "get home" safely with a "win" (or have a good conclusion to our lives).  As I said in Tuesday's post, we're all homeward bound. 

Besides being sad to see baseball season end, I despise this time of year for many other reasons--the chill in the air, the leaves falling, and everything preparing to go "dormant," to name just a few.  It all makes me feel a little down.  I appreciate the beauty of the changing colors, the tastes of fall (i.e., pumpkin spice lattes) and warm, sunny autumn days when I can run and golf without sweating like a pig.  But overall, I hate the realization that winter is approaching and everything appears to be dying.  With the shorter days and the earlier darkness, my energy and motivation seem to magically wane a little, too.  The yearly mental battle of trying to keep my body from succumbing to the lie that I'm tired at 7PM, has begun.  I miss summer already--it feels like a dear friend has just moved away.  It was so cold each morning this past week that my throat was sore and dry after I ran. The wind made my ears hurt and my eyes and nose water profusely.   I had to go back to carrying tissue with me so I could blow my nose repeatedly (fun times).  The cloudy, damp chills of fall (and winter) do not agree with me mentally or physically.  My mind has begun to say, "Well, crud, here we go again--winter is coming!"  And my body says, "NOOOO!"

I guess if life is like baseball, then this is the season where I need to rest and refuel, as the players do after the season's end.  I know realistically that it doesn't have to be the dramatic, "end" of life's enjoyments that my mind lures me to believe happens every fall.  Just as the trees and plants begin to prepare to rest and rejuvenate for a few months, those of us who view this time of year as, "less than desirable," can take this time to rest and refuel, as well.  We can resist the notion that winter is a cold, harsh, dismal time of year by realizing it is an opportunity for us to "cozy up" to those we love, enjoy the best of the season's offerings, and spend more time preparing our hearts for what should be the biggest and best celebration of our year--the birth of Christ.  There are blessings in fall and winter to which I personally need to cling in order to have a positive perspective in the months ahead when I am tempted to become a little downcast in spirit.  If we never had cold, dark days, we wouldn't appreciate the sunny ones (well, sometimes I think I actually would, but you get the point).   Since I don't live in sunny Florida, I must embrace the season's best and get over the fact that my beloved "dog days of summer" are over for this year.  I have to stop "resisting the fall" as I do every year like clockwork.  As I said in Tuesday's post, God will be faithful to deliver us through the cold, harsh, dark times in our lives.  He will be faithful to bring out the sunshine again.

Speaking of dark times in life, I lost my precious neighbor and friend, Martha, yesterday.  She has battled cancer for several years now.  She picked the perfect season to go home to be with her Lord, in my view.  I hope to pass in fall when my time comes, as well.  There's something so fitting about it--leaving at a time when things are preparing to lie dormant and in rest.  (Plus, I plan to get out of here as soon as baseball season ends and before winter hits)!  But seriously, Martha can now go prepare to celebrate the Lord's birthday with Him in person (and in the right way, without all the shopping and endless, ridiculous stress we've added to it)!  I just spoke with her two weeks ago and though she wasn't feeling well, none of us thought the end was this close.  She called to ask me to take her to her doctor appointment because she didn't want to put the burden on her daughter to do it again.  I have never told her, "no," for any request she has ever had of me, and I did that day because I had three appointments myself.  Oh, how I wish I had known it would be the last time I would speak with her.  Those stupid appointments would have all been cancelled!  I never got to officially say goodbye.  Being a non-complainer, Martha didn't express how badly she really was feeling, and it seemed as if I'd have many more times to say, "Yes" to her.  I was so very wrong.  Upon that appointment, the doctors realized she had worsened significantly and rushed her into surgery to remove a huge blockage in her colon.  Her cancer had spread so badly they knew the end was very near.  She never left the ICU and was not able to have visitors these past two weeks.  They kept her sedated and helped her ease out of this life into the next.  I tell myself that it was for the best that her daughter ended up taking her that day because of the news they received--it was good that a family member was there for that.  But my heart is broken about it, and that I didn't get to hug her and say goodbye.  At least we had many talks about her home-going over the past couple of years.  In one conversation, Martha even assured me that if she left the earth and went to heaven before me (as she expected to do), she would go meet my friend, Michelle, and hug her for me!  She knew my heartache with that personal loss, and was such a source of strength for me through it.  Now I'm suffering the loss of her, and she isn't here to comfort me in it.  But God is, and I praise Him that she went quickly and peacefully.  I praise Him that she knew Him and didn't have to, "resist her fall," at all when the end came.  Much like my aforementioned friend, Michelle, (who coincidentally also died of a several year battle with cancer, died on the 4th of the month as Martha did, and was also a spiritual pillar in my life), Martha went home to be with her Lord, leaving a legacy of having the lifelong love of her husband and a totally committed life to Christ.  She knew who she was and where she was going.  What a great way to go.  She earned a lot of runs for her various teams in life, left one heck of a personal record, and arrived safely at home with a big, big "win."  I know there is no need for ballpark lights in heaven, because Martha is experiencing the light of Christ and all its glory.   Bless you, dear friend and neighbor.  Please tell God I want to be your neighbor again in heaven, thank Him for me for putting you on my team, and don't forget to give Michelle a big hug for me!  Rest in peace and see you soon. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hardened Hearts

Last Sunday, our pastor, Jim Congdon, preached a sermon on Mark 5:21-43, using the two simultaneous stories of healing found there.  He drew a parallel between the woman with the 12-year issue of blood and the 12-year old little girl who was sick and dying--both of whom Jesus healed.  In one instance, the person healed had great faith in Jesus, but was terrified of Him because she was an unclean person and felt unworthy of speaking to Him.  In the other instance, the person had faith even though everyone around him said it was too late for him to receive help from the Lord and that the Lord had failed him.  So in both stories, faith, belief, and trust in the Lord were key.  The main point of Pastor Jim's sermon was for us to remember that in this imperfect world, we are guaranteed times of trial, suffering, hardship, and sorrow.  We will all go through tough times where we are begging God for "healing" in the situation.  There will be times when we feel as though God doesn't hear us, isn't with us, is silent when we are begging for help, and doesn't care about our pain.  There will be times when we feel unworthy to even ask for His help.  We will ALL have moments where our faith is tested and where we have to blindly trust God in the unknowns and struggles we are facing.  He urged us to remember that when we go through a terrible trial or crisis in life, we need to keep our faith and trust in God, maintain a steadfast prayer life, and realize that our hope needs to be fully rooted in our salvation through Christ and spending eternity with Him.  If our hope is only in dreams for our current life, we are destined to be greatly disappointed.

We also have to realize that God WILL deliver us from our trials--but it may not be in the time or way that we want.  God is the Great Deliverer and He delivers people in three main ways--He may deliver us from a trial (where He lifts us up out of the trial and we don't have to go through any struggle at all--this is our preferred method, of course), He may deliver us through a trial (where we have to struggle some or maybe even a lot, but He gets us through it and we come out better and stronger for it in the end), or He delivers us by the trial (this is when our life ends due to a trial, but we then have eternal life with Him in glory forever).  Regardless of how He chooses to do it, God DOES deliver us.  It is up to us to rest in this truth and believe it, or we are bound to a life of great distress and disappointment.  We will also be bound to a life with a hardened heart toward God.

I thought about these things and how if we're honest with ourselves, we essentially all want heaven here on earth.  Deep down there is a part of us that expects and hopes for utter blessing, joy, and for things to go "our way" in this life.  When reality hits, we don't like it.  We are so fully vested in our current life and in what we can see right now, that placing full hope in our future destiny and eternity with Christ is really hard for us at times.   I think we also actually feel some entitlement to having heaven right here on earth, and we don't always have the capacity to fully realize that our current life is just an imperfect blur--a temporary existence.  But the truth of the matter is that we are not living our destined lives and we are not in our lasting, real home here.  All the rough things in life that we have to face now will be nothing but dust one day.  If we know Christ as our personal Savior, we can know that we will have an eternity of the perfect, endlessly joyful life that we all strive so hard for now (and that deep down, we all think we deserve right now).

Besides our issues of entitlement and our lack of fully understanding that this life is NOT all there is, we also fail to handle hardship well because of our hardened hearts toward God.  In the past three weeks of my New Testament reading for church, this issue of having a "hardened heart" has really stood out to me.  In numerous places in my reading, Jesus asks His disciples if their hearts are hardened.  In each instance, He asks them this due to their lack of faith and trust in Him.  In Matthew 17:20, the disciples ask Jesus why they weren't able to drive out a demon and heal a little boy who was possessed.  He simply tells them, "Because you have so little faith."  In Mark 4:40, Jesus has just calmed a storm while He and the disciples are out to sea, and He asks them, "Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?"  In Mark 6:52, Jesus has just fed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and the disciples are yet again, lacking in faith in Him as He walks out on water before them.  It is written that they were afraid and that they, "had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."  In Mark 8:17, Jesus again asks them, "Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?"  In Mark 10:5, Jesus is talking with the Pharisees who are testing him and questioning him about Moses and the law of divorce.  He tells them, "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law."  In Mark 16:14, after his death and resurrection, Jesus again rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, hardened hearts, and refusal to believe that He has risen.  There are many more instances where Jesus shows frustration at the disbelief and hard hearts exhibited by people who have been witness to His power and who should know His character and be resting in their trust of Him.

I thought about what causes a hardened heart toward God, and I believe it is rooted in two things--DOUBT and FEAR.  We do not trust, have faith, or believe that God is capable and willing to come to our rescue.  We have more doubt than trust, and therefore, we are afraid things are not going to work out in our favor.  So at the baseline of fear, there is always doubt.  This got me thinking about fear and how Jesus also tells the disciples and many others NOT to fear.  He is quoted saying, "Do not fear," and, "Do not be afraid," too many times to count in the first two gospels alone.  It also got me thinking about what God's Word says about counteracting fear.  1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made in perfect love."  Psalms 34:4 says, "I sought the Lord, and He answered me;  He delivered me from all my fears."  There are many more Scriptures on fear, but these two make it pretty clear--seeking the Lord and loving Him are the best ways to rid yourself of doubts and fears.  1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."  So when our hearts are not full of love, we are susceptible to doubt and fear.  We are not recognizing God and Who He is (that He IS love and that He loves US), and realizing the power He has in our lives.  We are not viewing Him as trustworthy.

I can easily liken this to my relationship with my husband, or to any relationship, for that matter. When I have doubt or fear in my marriage, I am not living out of a heart of trust and love.  Fear is ruling me, and I am not seeking truth and holding fast to faith at this point.  Whenever I don't love anyone fully or perfectly, it is essentially due to either a selfish reason or a "fear" of doing so--perhaps I don't trust them anymore because they've hurt me.  Maybe I doubt their reciprocal love for me.  Therefore, I am not seeking to love them and I have no faith that they are worthy of my love.  My heart is hardened toward them.  This is the same with God.  When we mistrust Him, love is no longer ruling.  Doubt and fear are.  But if we truly LOVE GOD, and understand fully the truth of the love He has for us and the fact that He IS love, we will have only trust for Him--there will be no room for doubt and disbelief.  Thus, fear will be nonexistent in our lives.  Our hearts will be open and in tune to Him and in trusting Him.  We will fully believe that He is trustworthy and we will understand His character.  But that is the key--we have to seek Him and we have to love Him.  When we aren't doing those two things, there is no way we will ever trust or believe Him when we go through the fire of trials in our lives.  Our hearts and our love will be hardened.

So how do we seek Him?  We read His Words.  We tune our hearts to His character and believe the truth of His Word about Who He says He is.  We remember all the things He has brought us through already and the blessings and valuable lessons that came from those hardships.  We remind ourselves that He IS love, and that we are only guaranteed trouble here on earth.  In John 16:33, Jesus tells His beloved disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  We remind ourselves that God IS our deliverer--even when the day comes that He delivers us BY the fire of a trial, and our life here is done, He has still delivered and rescued us.  Our perception of this life has to change.  We can no longer operate out of the thought that we need heaven right here on earth.  We remind ourselves that anything good in this life comes straight from God, and it is only a foretaste of the glory that we will one day have with Him in our permanent, perfect home.   We can relish our current blessings and scoff at our hardships knowing that they are temporary.  In doing all these things, our hardened hearts will soften, and we will gain more and more trust in the One Who created us to love Him.  That is our life's purpose--to have an open, loving heart toward the Author of our lives, to seek Him and His truths, and to trust patiently in the deliverance He will give--regardless of how and when He chooses to do it.

As my beloved neighbor and friend, Martha, is currently struggling with losing her life after a lengthy battle with cancer, I know she is trusting in her Lord for deliverance.  She and I have had many amazing talks about God and His faithfulness.  Though my stomach has ached with sickness each time I have driven past her home this past week, knowing she will never return to live there, my heart rejoices knowing that in reality, she is heading to her real home.  She is about to live fearlessly, in perfect health, and in utter joy for all eternity with God her Father.  How can my stomach ache when I know this to be the truth?!  Though my human mind hates cancer and death, doesn't want to accept that she is leaving me, and doesn't fully comprehend the purpose of my beloved friend's battle, my heart is focused on the Lord and knowing He is trustworthy to take my friend into His arms soon as His beloved daughter.  I refuse to be angry and doubtful about God when I know that our purpose for living here is to learn to love Him through our trials, to seek to know Him better and bring glory to Him before entering into His Kingdom, and to lead others to the truth of Him.  Heaven is our real destiny and home--and we are all homeward bound.

Romans 8:18-25, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."