Friday, July 20, 2012

Feeding Kittens and Walking on Water



"Elvis" and the girls
"Dolly" and Amanda
About 3 years ago, our family took a vacation to Branson, Missouri. This, so far, is the only real family vacation out of the state that we have ever taken. It was a vacation full of so many fun times and memories that still make me smile. We visited a Titanic museum. We met "Elvis" and "Dolly" and they happened to be married to each other. We visited a classic car museum and made a trip to Silver Dollar City. The girls even rode down a giant hill in this huge hamster ball with water in it!  One of my favorite memories from that trip happened even before we ever made it to Branson and  it came to my mind the other day while I was driving to a friend's house.


Yes, my girls are inside with 15 gallons of water!

At the time, Amanda was 10 and Kaitlyn was 14. We drove to Missouri and I remember we left fairly early that morning. Trey made us some pigs-in-a-blanket to take with us for breakfast. (I know you are wondering  what that has to do with anything, but it is crucial to the story, trust me.) We actually did pretty well since we had left so early and the girls slept a lot of the way that morning. One stop we made at a Love's truck stop for gas and a potty break. Amanda was sound asleep and said she didn't need to get out, so the rest of us took turns stretching our legs and taking care of business.

While Trey was inside, I noticed this sweet little gray kitten by the entrance. Someone had given it a little bowl of water but of course it was meowing to every person who passed by. I thought we could spare a pig-in-a-blanket, so we gave it one to munch on. It was apparently very hungry as it scarfed the pig down in record time. Shortly, we all hopped back into the car and were back on our way to Missouri. Amanda never even budged; she loves her sleep.

Our next stop was somewhere in Arkansas for lunch at Arby's. We all got out, stretched and ordered lunch. It was really nice to sit and enjoy time together, just the four of us, as a family. While we were eating I told Amanda, "Hey, you missed it at the gas station when we stopped and you were asleep; there was this cute little kitten!" Amanda replied with the expected, "Aww." Then I said, " Yes, I even fed it a pig." Amanda's eyes grew wide with surprise and she had this amazed look on her face as she repeated, "YOU FED IT A PIG?" She was utterly astonished! We, well we were confused. So I said slowly, "Yes, I fed it a pig." all the time wondering what was going through her mind. As a matter of fact, Trey and Kaitlyn had also stopped eating for a few seconds and were studying Amanda's face for a sign of what the amazement was all about. So there we sat for a second or two, waiting for her to fill in the blanks for us.
Amanda on our road trip to Missouri (wow she has changed so much since then!)

Suddenly Amanda's expression changed from astonishment to puzzlement and she looked at me, tilted her head in that sweet, puzzled  puppy look and said, " Wait, what's 'feddit' ?" Once it registered with the rest of us that she thought the words 'fed' and 'it' were all one and had absolute no clue what I had subsequently done to the kitten or to the ill-fated mystery swine, we all shared quite a laugh. I am sure the rest of Arby's wondered what the crazy family from Texas found so funny in their Arkansas eatery. (You can write your own punchline here.) Once I had calmed my urge to begin laughing again and had explained that I had given the kitten a pig-in-a-blanket to eat, I was struck with the irony of her amazement. I laughingly said to my daughter, "What makes it more funny is that you were so shocked and surprised and yet you had no idea what 'feddit' was." She very quickly and earnestly replied, "Well, that's because I thought maybe you had mixed up your words and you meant to say you had petted a fig." Silence for a split second and then laughter erupts again. What else could we do? I have no explanation for Amanda's quick wit other than I think she gets it from my brother. Often, like this particular instance, she makes us laugh and smile without even trying. It is just one of the endearing things about my youngest daughter.

As I was driving the other day, this story came to mind and with it a strange new correlation. It was easy for me to recognize that God was giving me something specific to write about. I went home and looked up the scripture that God placed in my mind: Matthew 14:22-31. This is the well-known story of Jesus walking on water and then Peter taking a turn walking on the waves. Only this time as I read it, I thought of Peter a little differently. I sort of imagine Peter a little like Amanda.

Matthew 14:22-31
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

I can almost picture Peter's face start out with excitement and even astonishment as he takes those first few steps, as though he was thinking,"Yes! He said I could!" Then suddenly he looks up at Jesus and says his own version of, "What's feddit?" resulting in a break in the childlike faith he had just embraced. He was wholeheartedly involved in the conversation between he and the Lord and had bought into the idea of walking on the water until the confusion set in and he thought, "What? Oh my gosh, what am I doing? This is impossible!"  His first jump out of the boat, his eagerness to show the Father his excitement oh so quickly turned to questions and doubt and with that he began to sink.

I know it is not an exact comparison, but the emotions and thought process I imagine are very similar. Amanda was bought completely into the amazing feat that I had 'feddit' a pig- whatever that was. She was so excited and beyond ready to hear all about it, and then she thought, "What in the world is my mom talking about? What's feddit?" I imagine the same series of expressions crossed Peter's face. I even wonder if a disciple or two chuckled at Peter's "mistake"? Of course we are endeared to our daughter through this story. Not just in spite of her error but because of it. How much more was God endeared to Peter that at least he was eager to jump from the boat to walk out to the Savior?

On the flip side, I also wonder how it is for God to hear that same question of doubt over and over from His children. He wants us to be so excited and astonished about what His plans are that we step out of the boat with no reservations. What I think He wants even more is for us to be able to push past those reservations when they do arise and continue to step out on faith. I don't think He gets too tired of hearing our doubts because as long as we bring them to God, then we are showing our faith in Him. I think what is more upsetting to our Savior is when we stop bringing our doubts to Him. We should never be afraid to let God know we are nervous or worried or even doubt. I mean, you do realize He already knows it, right? As long as we continue to bring our weaknesses to His feet, Christ will continue to use those weaknesses for His glory!


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Sometimes it is working through the confusion that we learn the most. We usually learn more from mistakes than successes if we will work to see and correct the mistake (a little something that is true in my math class as well as life). Of course, God may chastise us a little like he did Peter in verse 31, but it is with the love of a Father. Reread verse 31 above. Doesn't it almost sound like Jesus is shaking his head and saying, "Silly Peter, you just watched me. Don't you know I will hold you up?" I know I have been in Peter's proverbial water shoes too many times to count. Thank goodness Christ has never given up on me. So many times I have started to step out on faith in excitement and astonishment only to look up and say my own insecure version of, "Wait, what's feddit?" Praise God that everyday I have the chance to step out again and my doubting of the past becomes mere stepping stones to water-walking of the future.

So what is your "feddit"? You know that thing that is so intriguing and exciting that God wants you to jump up and be involved in but as soon as you take a step or two you start to question your sanity. Whatever it is, don't be so stuck on it but use it to move forward for Christ! All he needs is your eager desire to follow His lead. Don't get so caught up in the whispers of doubt in your ear from the enemy. Stay focused on your Father's outstretched hand and you will be amazed at the things He will accomplish that you never could.

Blessed more than I deserve,

~Stephanie
srieper89@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/heartiscrossed

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Going Nowhere Fast

Have you ever watched that show "Undercover Boss" ? It is one that I catch on occasion and I really like it. I will never forget the episode where the CEO of Waste Management, while undercover, was part of a team that cleaned port-a-potties. The gentleman that he rode with, Fred, was amazing to me. He whistled and sang and was probably the happiest outdoor toilet scrubber I have ever seen! He made sure that port-a-potty was spotless! Fred used a strange vacuum to clean out the nastiness and then had an array of cleaners and scrubbers to clean the little outhouse from top to bottom.  It was probably cleaner (I hate to admit this) than my own commode at home! On top of his incredible work ethic, he was joyful; not just happy, but sincerely joyful. The entire time he was vacuuming or scrubbing, Fred was smiling, cracking jokes, making the CEO laugh, and singing. He made the job seem so fun and when the cameras filmed the CEO's thoughts, he was amazed at how Fred took the most menial, nasty job possible and made it something that was so enjoyable and fun! If you would like to watch the trailer for this episode, I posted the link below.

That episode aired as a re-run sometime around the first part of the year. While I watched this man take cleaning a toilet so seriously and have so much fun with it, I immediately felt humbled. You see this last year as a ninth grade Algebra I teacher was one of the most difficult years in my career that I have ever had. I am ashamed to say I did not handle the difficulty with as much grace as I should have.

I worked incredibly hard in my life to become a teacher and truly love the ability to watch a student start to understand something that they have lost hope in. Algebra is hardly ever a class that students are excited to be placed in, and many feel that math is something they will never be able to master. My goal is to teach in such a way that my students see that they not only can do the math, but sometimes, if they aren't careful, they might actually have fun doing it!

This last school year, my school went through a crazy amount of change. Of course change is always difficult. What made the year most difficult for me was that people who had been in place that encouraged creativity in teaching and who fostered a family atmosphere in our school were replaced by those who wanted more "cookie cutter" teaching and frowned upon camaraderie between fellow teachers and employees. My teaching style was directly attacked often by my department leader and I spent much of my time defending methods that I knew from experience would get through to my students. Then to top it off, our team, people who had become my good friends, was specifically targeted and split up and moved to different campuses primarily because we are too loyal to one another and too supportive. The best way I can describe what happened this last year is that it was much like a hostile takeover in business. As a business move, it is smart to separate those who are fiercely loyal to one another and to a former employer because once removed from the group they are easier to control individually for newly placed management. It may be smart for business, but for me and my colleagues, it was devastating.

I was miserable and frustrated and spent much of my time working to hide that frustration from my students. I worried that my dissatisfaction with events and people I had no control over would transfer into my teaching. I worked incredibly hard to continue to give my students my all despite how I felt about things outside of my classroom. Unfortunately most of the people around me that I leaned on for support felt the same way I did. Dissatisfaction breeds dissatisfaction; anger breeds more anger. It became a vicious cycle of frustration, irritation and disappointment.

I debated leaving the district or at least looking for other teaching positions and I was so torn as to what to do. My daughter Amanda, who will be entering the 8th grade, has always said that she couldn't wait until she was at the same school where I taught and I was thinking of leaving a year before she had the chance. It was heart-wrenching.  I really did not want to leave. I graduated from the school where I teach and we live in the town where I teach so I feel really connected to this district. I love the students, many of whom are children of former classmates of mine. My fellow teachers and I had become incredibly close over the last few years; it was a lot like a second family. I even grew to appreciate some of the new administrators and began to form new relationships. Despite the good, there were certain people who seemed determined to control things in a very restrictive way and it was suffocating. I prayed and debated and struggled with direction. I went to my assistant principal at the time and even asked for a letter of recommendation. To my surprise she teared up and almost had me in tears! I told her I wasn't sure what I was going to do; that I was praying for God to lead me.
Amanda at her first cheer camp

As I was trying to figure out what to do for the coming year, I was participating in a weekly ladies' Bible study over Esther by Beth Moore. One week I was just in a state of turmoil and I really wanted out of the whole situation, but at the same time, I felt like I would be letting my daughter down and cause a whole new set of problems with working in a different district. We will only have one vehicle this next school year and the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be everyday will be tough enough even with Trey and I both working in the same city. I cannot imagine how we would manage if I worked in another district. Amanda had also just made cheerleader so I knew that would also factor into our schedule pretty heavily.  All this was weighing heavy on my mind and heart as I went to Bible study that Wednesday night and BAM!  God hit me with His word. Here was the focus verse :

Esther 4: 14b
  " And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Immediately I was hit with the realization that this was being spoken directly to me. Isn't it amazing how alive God's word is so long after the original text was written? It was as if the verse said, " Stephanie, who knows but that you became a teacher here for such a time as this one?" I remember thinking, "What God? You really want me to stay? In this mess? All my friends are leaving and the people are mean and...and...and..." My head and my heart were in quite an argument with God. I sat there after the study and just felt deflated and yet at the same time resigned to obedience. I was being called to stay in a very difficult situation. The interesting thing about it though is that after I decided I would stay, I was much less emotional about losing my team and much less worried about facing people who wanted me to fit my teaching style into their preset mold. I even emailed my administrator, the same one who wrote me the sparkling recommendation letter, and told her that in studying Esther, God told me to stay put. Her response was priceless. "Well thank God for Esther!" was all her email said. (Ironically, since that time, this administrator has found work in another district.)

The following week, God solidified His call for me through a student. Every year, there are certain students that I seem to connect with usually while they are going through something outside of school. I tend to "mother" a little bit at school and really look at my students as similar to nieces and nephews" not quite as close to my heart as my own children, but pretty darn close. When I see students who have to face adult problems and often face them very alone, my heart breaks for them. This last year I had a student whose father was dying. This young man was not the easiest student for other teachers, but for me, he was really well behaved. I honestly had no idea his father was ill until late in the year. This young man was one of those students that you heard things he had done in other classes or you saw him in the hall acting out, but for me he was always polite, hard-working , and usually on task. The worst problem I ever had from him was he fell asleep once. I found out later that he lived alone with his father who was dying. His mother had several other children but this was the only one who lived with the dad. One day, out of the blue, he came up to my desk and asked, "Mrs. Rieper, do you know James 1:1?" I was so taken aback and at first probably just looked puzzled. So he repeated his question. Now, most students know I am active in my church, (many of them attend or have visited my local church) but I don't preach to my students or quote scripture in class or anything like that. However, since the student asked, I was able to legally answer him so I looked it up. Here is what I read to him:


James 1:1 
 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.

The student shrugged his shoulders and walked off. Nothing that remarkable, right? But just wait...God had a bigger agenda. I glanced down at the following three verses:

James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance  4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Let me tell you, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those verses were meant for me, an Algebra teacher will do just fine. The student didn't even seem to want the verse he asked for and never asked me for another verse or anything Biblical. In fact I found out much later that he was not raised in church and only after his father passed he moved in with his mother and siblings began going to church and really searching out a better path for his life. He most likely had never read that scripture or even knew what it was about. Why would he ask me about it?  He ministered to me at a time when I needed to be reminded that God can use anyone to complete His plans; I need not worry because He was in control! I was just to be joyful and persevere! What a challenge in difficult situations! Yet at the same time, how liberating to know that God is so in control that a young, hurting man who did not even know Him as savior was the vessel for guidance for a child of God! Isn't that amazing?

So I had two unquestionable moments that I knew God was speaking directly to me; telling me the direction I needed to go.What direction was that? Nowhere. Stay put. God was telling me that He has a plan and for some reason I am needed to fulfill that plan right where I am. I know so often we want these kinds of answers; the kind that are undeniable. Ironically, God usually does tell us in an undeniable way. I think we just tend to brush past things and forget to really see and hear what He is trying to get through our thick heads! I had no choice but to either ignore my Lord and probably find myself in a more miserable situation or stay the course and obey the one who sees the whole picture! This time, I clung to Him and set myself to be obedient despite the emotions that tend to be overwhelming at times. I say "this time" because I cannot say that I have always followed Him so easily. Hopefully that means I am growing and becoming more mature in Christ; that is the goal anyway. I also found another verse that became my mantra at work on those days when other words kept wanting to escape my lips. I wrote it out and taped it to my computer monitor along with a sticky note that said "WHO KNOWS?". That verse is Colossians 3:23 and it gives me incredible focus.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

This is the verse that makes me think of Fred from Undercover Boss. The verse says "whatever you do..." meaning even if you are cleaning toilets! Lucky for me, that is not my called profession right now, but what I am called to do is to teach and more importantly touch young people's lives. What a charge! I am so humbled that I have been selected to such an amazing opportunity! What I am doing when I teach these young students really has nothing to do with the people I work for. I am there to impact students, represent Christ, and hopefully teach them Algebra along the way. They don't know it, but I pray for them. Well some of them know it because I tell them, but most probably don't. When we take those dreaded state tests, I pray through my rosters, something a friend of mine used to do when we worked together. (I had never really thought about it until I saw her doing it and thought it was a wonderful idea.) When I am trying something new, I often pray that I will be clear and they will understand what I am trying to get across. I am not saying that I am this amazing Christian teacher, because I have such a long way to go, but I am learning how to become more and more Christlike even in my job.

 Being an educator, I am held to the laws that prohibit me from freely sharing the gospel to my classroom overtly, but my study of Esther taught me something pretty amazing about that also. Did you know that the entire book of Esther never, not once, mentions God? It doesn't refer to Him in any way, or to prayer even! It is a story of the deliverance of the Jews from annihilation but it never mentions that they are God's chosen people or that He rescued them. Yet, it is treated as though everyone who reads the story would just know that the hand of God is all over the story; it is a given. The closest Esther ever gets to mentioning God is when she calls for a fast, which traditionally was a period of intense prayer and abstinence from food or drink. Esther was in a position where her true identity as a Jew was not even known for a while and yet she managed to become a representative for them as well as for God. There is no doubt that she is following God as you read through the book, but His name never comes up! What a great way to describe my position as a teacher. I may not be able to mention His name, but I can sure do things that are unquestionably pointing His direction. My true boss is not a student, a parent, a department leader, a principal a superintendent or even the State Board of Education. My true master or boss is the Lord. When I take my eyes off of that truth, I usually start feeling irritated about situations at work that are out of my control. I have to work harder to remember the bigger picture as I do my job with all my heart. Since Jesus is a resident in my heart, then doing something with "all my heart" must include Him.

Undercover Boss never really told us that Fred is a Christian, but I like to think that the kind of joy he exhibited is impossible without Christ. This man lived out Colossians 3:23 in a way that inspires me to do the same. Who knows, maybe he was placed in that position to impact that CEO in a way that no one else could have?  I can hope that somehow I will have the enthusiasm, drive and unashamed joy in my job as Fred displayed while scrubbing the porta-potty! The main thing I must remember is that nothing I do is for a human master; absolutely nothing. So much more has changed even since I decided to follow the Lord's prompting and stay at my school. Much of it is not what I would classify as good, but I have a different perspective now and I realize that as long as I work with all my heart and keep Christ as the center of my focus, I can have a joy in my work despite the circumstances. My goal for the upcoming year is to look for the reason or reasons that God wanted me to stay. I need to do the best job I can as an Algebra teacher and as a Christian. I am also relieved, and Amanda is excited that it appears that I will be there when she comes through my school. It will take a lot of work on my part to not hold to the emotional reactions that I tend to have about situations and instead hang tight to the joy and direction God has given me. Who knows why I am supposed to stay, but I am so anxious to find out! I hope that I can stay focused and that when I do mess up and succumb to the emotions that I will see the verses on my computer screen or that someone or something will be sent my way to remind me that I am following the plan. I pray that you will be able to rest in his plan also. Who knows what is in store for you! Just that alone should spur us to excitement and joy!


Blessed more than I deserve,
Stephanie
srieper89@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/heartiscrossed

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK1J2pq0KZg

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lessons from Autumn


Autumn shortly after we brought her home
My family has always loved animals and we have had at least one pet for as long as I can remember, usually more than one. For several years we have had two miniature dachshunds. Ginger is about 11 years old and Jacob is about 4 years old. In January this year, Trey and Kaitlyn came home with the newest member of our family. She was a beautiful, terrified, nameless six month-old puppy with the saddest eyes you have ever seen. For hours she sat in the same spot and shook while the four of us tried to make her feel safe and at home as we debated on the perfect name for her. We finally settled on the name Autumn based on her brindle coloring. I will say, the term "puppy" is a little deceptive though. Autumn is half lab and half Great Dane and at six months, her paw filled my palm! She was the biggest puppy we had ever had and made our little dogs seem even smaller!




We immediately fell in love with this gentle giant. It wasn't long that we realized that she had many fears and neuroses. It took us a couple of weeks to teach her to respond to her name and to assure her that she need not cower when we would reach to pet her. She is now a little over a year old, and probably around 70 pounds, maybe more. She is such a great addition to our family and best friends with our little dachshund, Jacob. For the most part, we have worked through her fears, although some surface occasionally. She is afraid of loud sounds like the lawn mower, the vacuum or when you shake out a trash bag. She also takes a little longer to warm up to men or loud children than women. Usually with her fears, she tries to get into one of our laps or hide behind us. Just this week, a street sweeper drove down our road and she blind-sided me trying to get into a "safe" place away from the frightening sound.
 Best friends: Autumn and Jacob curled up together for a nap

There is one fear we have been working on since we first brought Autumn home: her fear of going out through the front door and walking on a leash. Now I know you are thinking that we should be glad she won't go out the front door, but this is much more than simply not going out the door. For the first five months, she would not even go near the front door if it was open and would have a complete panic attack if we carried her out to the front yard! She loves going out in the backyard and playing with our other dogs, doing normal dog things. (they play tag with the squirrels quite a bit.), but the front yard made her breathe harder, cower, whine and even get sick! Finally, Kaitlyn coaxed her out to the steps one day and then we worked our way out to the yard. We continue to work on this and she has even become more comfortable in the front yard, but she will not stay for long and has a meltdown if we shut the door preventing her from running back inside.

The frustrating thing for us about this particular fear is that we want to take her on walks with us. She wears a collar just fine. We even got her a harness that she seems to like. Now that we have convinced her to go outside, we thought maybe we could get her to walk two houses down to our friend's house and then back. (We are trying little successes at a time; baby steps.) It did not take long to realize the walk was not going to happen. She would drag the leash around without any problem, but the instant she felt resistance because Trey or I was holding the leash, she became the most out-of-control panicked animal with a wild, terrorized look in her eyes. Now I want you to picture this: a 70 pound dog doing the crocodile death roll in our front yard to try to get away from the dreaded leash that is attached to her collar at the nape of her neck! She rolled so fast and so forcefully that Trey literally had to tackle her and hold her down to keep her from choking herself! Luckily he had dropped his end of the leash fairly quickly or it might have even severed his hand! The leash was so tightly wound around her body and neck that it took both of us working to get it off of her while holding her still without hurting her. The minute she felt free and saw the door opened, she made a dash for the safety of the living room. It almost brought me to tears to see how terrified she was of that leash.

I was thinking about her irrational fear the other night and was struck by the most amazing question: I wonder how often God feels the same frustration with me?

Let that sink in just a moment and think about it with this perspective:

 All we want to do is to enjoy a walk with Autumn; to spend some quality time with her in the world. We love our dog. We want her to be protected from injury or from being lost to us so in our love for our dog, we need her to be on a leash to enjoy walking together. We also want to be sure she doesn't go to places where she could get into trouble. The leash is a method of discipline, a guide to help her know the boundaries that are best for her. Even if she did walk on the leash, it would never be used as punishment. If she wanted to pull it out of our hands, she is definitely strong enough to do so. Of course so far, she has yet to understand these concepts and doesn't connect and trust our love for her enough yet to overcome her fears of the leash with obedience.If she ever does, I think she will really enjoy the walk with us.

What an amazing parallel to our Savior! How many times is He trying to help us out by giving us the proper harness or leash to connect us to His hand and we begin the proverbial crocodile death roll? Even more personally, how many times has God had to "tackle" me to the ground to get my attention and then carefully try to help me untangle the mess I've made? We must be connected to God in order to walk with Him. We need His protection to walk out in this world, and with that protection we can enjoy the walk and see things we have never seen before, and yet we continue to roll; we continue to panic. At least I know I have done my own version of the death roll. Succumbing to the tight grip of fear about what in the world God is trying to do to me when in actuality He is trying to do something through me instead.  It's as though I do not trust Him at all! My mind races, questioning : "What kind of protection is this 'leash' He is placing on me?" I even fall victim to the whining and irrational behavior, and I have known God's love for a lot longer than Autumn has known ours. Not to mention, how much more does God love me than I love my dog? I wonder does His heart break when He sees how terrified I am to truly walk with Him in obedience?

Exodus 33:13 (NIV)
If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

As I thought this all over, it made me shake my head in astonishment that God never gives up on me. That what I view as a punishment so often is more of a hand of protection or simply loving guidance. The biggest realization is that I am falling short of doing my part to make the walk what it was meant to be. I know I do not read His word enough. I know I do not talk to Him enough. I know I do not praise Him enough. I know I do not share Him enough. I have to do my part if I want the walk. I also have to get out the front door at some point and yes, even off of the steps! I have to trust that God's ways are best even if I do not understand them and then I must act on that trust; running back to my safe zone just won't cut it. I want an obedient walk with my Master.
 Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

So I am working to memorize more of the Word. I am definitely stepping out of my comfort zone by writing this blog. (I don't know if you know this, but I teach Algebra, not English, so writing is just something I enjoy doing.) I am also trying to view circumstances in my life in a different, less fearful way. I have added the three verses from this post to my memorization list for the week. I pray that I have found favor in my Savior's eyes and that He will teach me His ways so that I may walk with Him and by all means that my paths will be straight!

In our neighborhood, lots of people walk their dogs successfully. I do not know all their names or the names of their dogs, but if a dog ever wandered into my yard, I would probably know to whom it belonged. The little white poodle belongs to the grandmother across the street. The friendly galloping Wiemaraner belongs to the young couple down the street with three little boys. The old, calm blue heeler belongs to little elderly man who walks with a cane. The German shepherd belongs to the young mother with the red stroller and little boy. You see, I recognize characteristics of the owners or masters and I recognize the dogs. Again, what a wonderful parallel! I can only hope that as I walk through this life, the hand of my Master guiding me is so evident that even those who do not know Him and do not know me would know to whom I belong.

Psalm 25:4 (NIV)
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths. 

Thank you Lord for never giving up on me! Thank you for loving me enough to discipline me in a way to protect me and to allow me to become closer to you! Your consistent love and faithfulness never ceases to amaze me! Thank you for granting me insight to you through the animal you have entrusted to my care. Help me to remember to look for you in everyday moments as much as in the miracles. Thank you again for loving your children more than we could ever comprehend.   Amen

We are still working with our beloved Autumn to overcome her fear of the leash, or of walking on the leash, or whatever her fear actually is. We hope that by continuing to show her our love and a safe and consistent environment, she will learn to trust us even in a situation that causes her such terror. We have not been successful yet, but we are never going to give up. Hopefully someday soon I can post a photo of Autumn walking with us!

Blessed more than I deserve,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Perhaps...

I Samuel 14:6b "Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.


So I started using a new smartphone app last week that is designed to help me memorize scripture. I Samuel 14:6b was the second scripture it "assigned" me. God imprinted it upon my heart in a mighty way, just so I would not forget the impact of His Word.To start this post, I am going to go back several months, just to give you an idea of what an amazing thing God has done for our family.

Over the last several years, my family has been hit hard financially. My husband went without work for two and a half years before finding work about a year ago. During this time, we used Trey's retirement from his previous career to live and open a business. In the last two years, our business failed, essentially losing all of the retirement fund. Our car was subsequently repossessed about a year ago and then our home was foreclosed upon less than a year ago. We have been so blessed during this trying time that our loving God has provided for us every single step of the way. We have a home and we both are now employed. We have two beautiful, healthy daughters who make us proud every day. Recently, the provisions of God's hand has been incredible and undeniable.

Our oldest daughter, Kaitlyn, just graduated from high school. Early in her senior year, she went to visit a few different colleges and of course was being inundated with mail asking her to consider colleges and universities across the nation. In the midst of all of this, she felt led to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She was in fact, so determined to attend Baylor, that she did not even apply anywhere else and would not even look at other universities once she had visited and made her decision. Baylor, being a private, Christian university, is incredibly expensive and you could almost feel the level of stress rise in our house with just the thought of paying for her education. My husband, Trey and I talked about it, prayed about it and honestly we felt this was where she needed to attend. I remember looking at Kaitlyn and saying (the first time of many times), "If Baylor is where God wants you to go, then he is going to have to figure out the money. If he doesn't, you will be attending the local junior college, because we can't even begin to pay for Baylor." Kaitlyn understood, but was still determined and sent off her application.

Trey and I struggled with the idea that we knew this was a great school and our daughter's heart was set on attending there, but we knew we could not pay even a little bit of it. We usually have about $15-25 left each week when we are super careful about our money. The estimated cost of attending Baylor University for one year is currently $51,281! Yes I said $51,281!! Nearly $52,000 A YEAR! Talk about impossible! The amount took my breath away!

It wasn't long that Kaitlyn received her acceptance letter and we needed to send in a $250 deposit to start the process of her becoming a Baylor Bear. We didn't have it. Then we received a check from the electric company for $248 as a refund from our previous account on the house that had been foreclosed. Trey and I discussed it and thought we needed to take a true step of faith, so we used that money and I put the envelope with Kaitlyn's deposit in the mailbox. The mailman came by, taking the envelope and leaving one in its place from Baylor. Imagine our shock when she opened this letter, the very day we sent off our faith deposit and it was a notification to Kaitlyn that her grades and SAT scores had earned her a scholarship of $34,000 to be spread out over four years! It was our first sign that we were on the right track.

For the next several months, I just kept thinking and praying that God would figure out the rest of the money. We really were in no position to even pay for junior college. By April, she had received about $24,000 for the first year through the government and another scholarship from the university!  It was still a long way from $52,000, but it was starting to look a little better.

Trey, Kaitlyn and I attended Freshman Orientation at the beginning of June and it was there that I truly felt a peace that this campus, this University was where my daughter needed to be; it was where God wanted her to be. Every meeting we went to stressed the importance of God and faith and the school's desire to ensure students' spiritual well-being while they further their education. After all the fun parts of orientation, the last place we were sent was the financial aide office and cashier's office to discuss the bill and prepare us for our round of payments. We were still about $14,000 short for the first year. Our options were very limited, and the nice man in the financial aide office said we would need to make payments of about $2500 a month, starting with the first one due July 31st. We just nodded and said, "Okay, thank you." and left in a surreal state of wonder. I remember thinking, " I hope this all works out. How will I tell our daughter that she can't attend here?"  Then I quickly found my "faith button" and just prayed, "Ok, God, this one is all you!"

This is where we found ourselves last week. Enter the verse above. Notice the beginning of it: "Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf." summing up my feelings and thoughts completely! Perhaps: not a word very full of faith is it? And yet, I think God understands that completely and even honors it. I really thought He would figure it out, but in the back of my mind I worried that maybe it would not happen.
Then the second part of the verse hits me: " Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few." Did you catch that? NOTHING can hinder the Lord! A really wise man I know once told me "If God wants it to happen, there is nothing they (those humans that think they are in charge) can do about it...they cannot even say 'no'." The second part of the verse, "whether by many or by few." is also very significant. You see, Jonathan was going, with only his armor bearer, to face the Philistine army. He was watching for a sign that this was what God wanted him to do and if he saw that sign then the two of them would go and attack, by themselves. Jonathan was telling his armor bearer that it doesn't matter to God how big or small your enemy is, nor does it matter to him how big or how small you are. God can do great things with a few or with many. Conversely, He can defeat few or defeat many, it really is not significant to His ability to save.

This is the verse God sent to me via a smart phone app (of all things) the very week I needed to know that even though $52,000 was HUGE to me, to God it looks no different than $1. Our only option for the rest of Kaitlyn's funding was to get an alternative loan. However, obviously, our credit was not good enough to be accepted for a loan. It would have to be in Kaitlyn's name with a cosigner since she is just 17 still and does not have lines of credit established. It was what should be considered a long shot, but last week, it was approved. We are fully funded for the first year of our oldest daughter's college education at the institution of God's choosing, with the bill paid by His bank account. If God says it will happen, they can't say no. No more questions, no more arguments, and it should be no more worries. I hope that I have learned to understand this concept a little better. I have committed a new verse to memory that is a very powerful verse to know. Most importantly, our daughters were witness to the amazing way that God will provide for His children. That is a lesson they can hold onto in future difficult times. Praise to God our Father who loves us and takes care of us even when we are still saying 'perhaps' when he has already said 'YES.'

Blessed beyond what I deserve,
Stephanie
srieper89@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/heartiscrossed