Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fear and Faith: On the Platforms of the Windmill

Fear is a strange thing. It overtakes all sense of logic and can leave its victim without the ability to even form a coherent thought. I know this because I have seen it first hand. While I do have a fear of heights, it usually does not require me to change much about my life. I would say that my fear is a milder version than some. My oldest daughter is absolutely, completely terrified of frogs or toads. I know that may sound strange to you, but the sight of an amphibious, jumping little greenish brown thing will send her to edge of reality and she will do whatever she can to get as far away as possible while trying not to hyperventilate. We are not exactly sure when or why this fear was birthed, but it runs deep. Luckily, it isn't as though one has to maneuver around frogs on a daily basis in Central Texas, so it really doesn't impact her life too terribly.

My mother on the other hand, like me is scared of heights. Maybe I should rephrase that, she is deathly terrified of any height taller than a two-inch wedge heel. One time she had received tickets to watch the Texas Rangers play because she was being honored as her school district's Teacher of the Year. The tickets were just a few rows from the very top of the incredibly tall stadium. I wasn't too keen on going up there to watch (I mean, the birds were flying below us), but my husband, father, and other family were excited about seeing their favorite team. I stayed with mom. She confided in me that when she gets up in high places like that, she is overcome by the intense thought to just go ahead and jump to her death because it is going to happen anyway; her brain says, "Get it over with already!" I was flabbergasted, and quickly made her promise to never do that! Truth is, she can't control the fear, it completely overpowers her logic and luckily she has never acted on the urge. Mom doesn't even do very well going down single flights of stairs or escalators if they are the narrow kind. The more narrow they are, the more steep they appear, and her fear starts to set in. She has managed her entire life and has learned ways to manage her fear and occasionally even beats her fear, but it never goes away. Fear is a really strange thing.

I have heard several times that fear and faith cannot reside in the brain at the same time; that your mind is either fearful or faithful. Which leads me to believe that, like fear, faith must be something that overcomes you and even overtakes all sense of logic. Faith usually isn't logical. Fear is hardly ever logical. In my experience, one causes me to behave illogically and the other causes me to rest in the illogical.

 A great illustration of fear versus faith is a story I remember my Grandpa and Grandma telling me when I was younger. You see, I think the fear of heights was something that in a lot of ways could have been passed down from generation to generation. My grandpa was an intimidating man who stood tall at six feet seven inches. He was a wheat farmer in Northern Oklahoma and a school teacher and counselor. My grandma complemented Grandpa with her slight five foot even build and often helped in the farming business as well as taught school herself. I am sure while reading this post, Grandma will smile at the story and hopefully I do it justice, as my grandpa was quite the story teller in his day.
Grandma and Grandpa in the early years
Grandma and Grandpa ( We sure do miss him)

As I recall, Grandpa and Grandma were working at the farm and the windmill had somehow broken. This windmill was instrumental in their farming because it pumped the water for the stock pond or "tank" for the livestock on the farm. (Grandpa owned cattle and a few horses as well as farming wheat.) Without the windmill pumping water to the tank, the animals would not survive. My grandpa, remember was afraid of heights. I believe his fear was at least as strong as my mother's if not more magnified.

I am not completely certain how tall the windmill was, but in talking to my parents, I am thinking it was around 25-30 feet in the air, and looked similar to this one. The way I remember the story, Grandpa had determined what exactly was broken on the windmill and had the ability and parts to repair it so he and Grandma headed down to the creek. I don't know if you can see it, but on this lovely wooden structure is a tiny little wooden ladder going up one side. The way I always pictured this in my mind when Grandpa told the story was that his had the ladder up the back of the windmill, but it could have been on the side. The problem was that the portion that needed to be repaired was on the opposite side as the ladder, and around the front (blade-side) of the windmill. This meant that someone would have to climb up the tiny, rickety ladder, step on that tiny platform at the top, then stretch around the blades to the other platform to stand so they could do the repairs. Here is where the story gets interesting.

Determined to be self-sustaining and take care of his farm, my grandpa steeled himself against his fear of heights and began the ascent of the tiny ladder. Now I always found it fascinating that a man who to me seemed 12 feet tall would be in the least affected by heights, but nevertheless, he was. At the top, I am sure shaking with fright, but still determined, he would take a deep breath and try to get the nerve up to step on the tiny platform and then stretch his long legs around and step to the other side to fix the windmill. He couldn't do it.  Defeated, he climbed down. Knowing they had to get it fixed, Grandma offers to give it a try. (don't forget she is just 5' tall.) She climbs up the ladder, which probably took her a little longer, and gets to the top. Grandma doesn't have the intense fear of heights, so she steps to the platform and makes the attempt to get to the other side. Her shorter legs will not reach. Defeated, she climbs down. The story goes that Grandpa climbed up again and tried to overpower the intense fear that he had and just couldn't get to the other side, so he climbed back down because Grandma thought she could make it this time. Grandma climbs up and stretches as far as tiny legs will stretch and cannot reach the other side. Apparently they did this little dance of the windmill  for quite a while before my grandpa was able to overcome the fear and get to the other side, repair the windmill and continue farming. Can you just imagine the conversation between this young couple as they both know this has to get done and neither one seem to be able to get it done and yet, there is no one else to do it for them. I can imagine the frustration, conflict, irritation, and later comic relief the entire windmill repair embodied. In that moment, Grandpa had to have enough faith that the platform would hold him, that he could do it, that he would not fall so he could overtake the deeply rooted fear that had prevented him from being successful on every prior attempt. Was the platform stronger that last time? Was Grandpa better prepared? Was he more steady or more ready? Was the climb shorter or the height less scary? I wasn't there, but my guess to each of these questions is, "Absolutely not!" There was no more logical reason to believe it would be okay the 10th time he tried than the 1st time he tried; he just got tired of allowing the fear to win. One side of that windmill platform was labeled FEAR and the other side labeled FAITH; fear and faith cannot abide in our lives at the same time.

Psalm 56: 3-4
"When I am afraid, 
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise
In God I trust; I will not fear"

A fear of heights, or frogs, or storms (another family trait), or snakes, or spiders or public speaking are all things people deal with on a regular basis. Often it is not as much the identified item that is feared, but the threat of what danger or harm it might possibly inflict upon its victim. Many fears are natural, healthy survival instincts that sometimes are fed a little too aggressively. The fears that are the most damaging in my opinion are the silent ones; the ones no one will talk about. The fear of failure, the fear of commitment, the fear of success, the fear of responsibility, the fear of the truth,the fear of loss, the fear of change, the fear of the future, the fear of the past catching up to us, the fear of rejection, the fear of the unknown, the fear of being known...these fears are more taboo; these fears are silent. These fears we don't like to admit we have. These fears will control our lives if we allow them and are infinitely more aggressive than the tangible fears.

You see, my mom can choose the elevator instead of steep stairs. Kaitlyn can just avoid Kermit. My grandpa could have even paid someone else to climb the windmill if it had come to that or found a friend to help. But these silent fears, these intangible fears,  these are the ones that will overcome you and cause you to make poor decisions or keep you from good decisions. These fears will hold you hostage and stifle your growth. These fears are ongoing, and can only be overcome by replacing them with something that will overcome your heart with just as much intensity and power: faith.

The Bible says in Hebrews:
Hebrews 11:1
"Now faith is the assurance of what is hoped for; the conviction of what is unseen."

It is impossible to be fearful and have faith at the same time. You cannot step out in faith if you have fear! The apostle Peter who saw Jesus coming to him on the top of the water asked to be able to walk on the water also and Jesus said one simple word to Peter, "Come." Peter jumped out of the boat, ignoring the waves of a tumultuous sea, and started walking. He had faith in that moment in his Savior and was stepping out not in water, but in faith alone, which held him above the water. But suddenly, he slipped into human logic and realized what was happening was impossible by all accounts and that the sea was tossing around him and he was fully clothed in garments that were probably pretty heavy, especially when wet. His fear took hold of him, and he began to sink. What did Jesus say and do? He said, " You of little faith..." The faith had been immediately replaced by fear and Jesus had to reach out and restore the faith. Maybe it is just me, but God has told me so many times to "come" and I will be excited until I notice a little wind resistance or a wave lapping at my toes and suddenly I am thrust head-first into my former fears! Thank goodness our Lord is gracious and patient with me and picks me up, and reminds me that faith should have my focus, not fear.

Matthew 14:29-31
29 “Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.30 But when he saw the strength of the wind,[k] he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
One other thing I have heard speakers say about fear is that something like 90% of what you fear never happens! Honestly, I do not know if that is some fabricated statistic to make a point or not, but from my experience, it holds a lot of truth. Things that I worry myself over or try to manipulate situations to avoid, hardly ever happen anyway! The times that the most feared thing happened, I have grown through that and learned so much about who I am and who others are and most importantly who God is. If I think of the flip side of the coin, in my experience, the same percentage (if not more) would have to apply about things that I rested in faith over; at least 90%- if not all- worked out just how they were supposed to. Sometimes, not exactly how I had planned, but in hindsight, my plans really aren't all they are cracked up to be.

Think about the rhetoric often used around the word 'fear'. Frozen in FEAR. Gripping FEAR. Overcome by FEAR. Overwhelming FEAR. Wild with FEAR. Spine- tingling FEAR. Heart-pounding FEAR. Trembling with FEAR. Awe struck FEAR. Just typing these makes my heart race a little and I am feeling a little anxious! But for a moment, think with me about the difference it would make, just in the meanings of the phrases if you replaced FEAR with the one and only thing that can literally take its place: FAITH. How would you like to have overwhelming FAITH? Or to be Overcome by FAITH? Spine-tingling FAITH? Heart-pounding FAITH! Or one of my favorites, wild with FAITH! Wow, what a difference! One windmill platform of FEAR and the other of FAITH! What a beautiful picture in my mind now! I think I may write these on cards so I can flip over the fear and replace it with faith! I don't know if anyone can relate, but this gets me excited and makes my heart beat a little faster!

I don't know which particular fear grips you the easiest, but I have found that being aware of the feeling helps me put it in greater perspective and I know that spirit of fear is not from God. God gives us the ability to have faith; Satan throws darts of fear at us. If I am truly overcome by fear, that is of the devil and I have the Holy Spirit in me that can cast that off if I will just allow faith to abide instead.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

 There are countless scriptures in the Bible that either use the phrase " Do not be afraid" or "Fear not". This is a list of just a few. If you are struggling with replacing fear with faith, please look these up and read them OUT LOUD! Let your mouth speak the words, your ears hear the words so your heart will know the words.

Deuteronomy 31:6 & 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10 & 54:4, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 2:6, Matthew 10:26, John 14:27, Hebrews 13:6, I John 4:18

Isaiah 44:8 is one of my favorites:

"Do not be startled or afraid. Have I not told you and declared it long ago? You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock."

You know we refer to it as a "leap of faith" but there is no such thing as a "leap of fear." Fear is human nature, unintentional. Faith is God's nature and must therefore be humanly intentional. So here's to intentionally replacing fear with faith; every day, every time, everyone.

Blessed more than I deserve,

Monday, August 4, 2014

But I Trust in You....

I have always been a sucker for a great quote. I have several quotes that I post around my classroom and have even had a quote of the day for several years while teaching. Yesterday, while catching up on one of my favorite shows that I record and watch later, one of the characters said a line that made me stop for a moment and say a mental "wow." In that one line, God began to speak this next blog post.

" Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." (Auggie, Covert Affairs) 

Now before you think I am one of those people who can find a connection to God in anything, let me say that I don't really mean to do so; I think it is more like God finds me. It isn't like I watch a show and think, "I wonder what God is going to say to me through Law and Order today." Or go to the movies with the mindset that Denzel's next line is going to be a Spiritual awakening in my heart. What happens is much more subtle than that. Something more akin to a whisper of God, " Did you see/hear that? Don't you see how that is just like me?" or "Did you see what I did there?" So when Auggie said, "Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." God said, "Just like my relationship with my children; why is it so hard to trust me? " Whoa - that was unexpected. I watched the rest of the show and went about my day in normal fashion, but the lingering thought kept coming to me, "Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust."

As I was trying to sleep that night and knew that I would be writing this, my mind raced. I thought about all the things we so readily give our trust to every single day, but somehow handing our trust over to the Creator of the World causes such internal turmoil and resistance. I mean honestly think about all the people and things we put our trust in today. Have you ever had your car parked by a valet? I know some of you adore (possibly idolize) that car, but you trust some random stranger in khakis to park your car for you without a scratch. We trust that the rest of the general public will follow at least enough driving rules daily that when we get out on the roads in our vehicle, we will return safely; this despite the inordinate number of accidents that happen in a 24 hour time period. We trust our bank with our hard-earned money. We trust our well-educated doctor to treat our ailments accurately. We trust people we barely know to watch our children while we work or even while we work out! We even trust random strangers to cook our meals for us on a regular basis! We trust pilots to fly us to our destination.  We trust our friends, our coworkers, our family, our ministers. We put our trust in the most fallible creature on the planet every day and rarely think twice about it. But when God asks us to trust him often He is greeted by whining, and wailing and whys. Whoa.

Proverbs 3:5-6Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own understanding;

think about Him in all your ways,

and He will guide you on the right paths.

"Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." 
We give our gratitude freely. I mean, that should be enough right? So, I searched the words, "trust in the Lord" in a Bible app I like to use and it gave me 56 different scripture references that all say that exact phrase. I looked up just the word, "gratitude" and received two different scriptures and only one of them was in reference to the Lord. Now I am sure you are thinking that the word "thanks"( and is basically the same as gratitude) is listed throughout scripture and you would be correct. But I want you to consider that having gratitude and giving thanks are two different, albeit connected, ideas. Gratitude is a state of the heart; a way of feeling. Whereas giving thanks is an act spurred on by gratitude. Gratitude is a way we feel after God does something, trust on the other hand is required prior to God's work.

 We are never really commanded to have gratitude in our hearts, but we are commanded to trust with all our heart. The Psalms are filled with verses about trusting in the Lord, and what that means. Many of the scriptures that talk about trusting him also give us the promises that go along with that trust. I think trust is an act of the heart, something that combines both the state of the heart and an accompanying action.

Psalm 28:7New International Version (NIV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.

I've thought that maybe we have a difficult time trusting the Lord because we don't really know him. But then I am reminded again of all the people we do not know, or barely know, that we trust daily. Sometimes that trust is even ruined by a person and yet we turn around and place the same trust in another random stranger. For instance, my husband once contracted food poisoning from a meal eaten at a particular restaurant. It was terrible and landed us in the emergency room at our local hospital. Granted, we have not gone back to that particular restaurant, but we have eaten in numerous restaurants since then. Most, if not all, with people cooking our food that we do not know. I know people who have had a terrible haircut experience, but that has not stopped them from getting their hair done by someone. Or a misdiagnosis from a doctor, or a bad manicure, or misinformation passed on from a friend, or gossip spread by a coworker. The list could go on for miles. Some of them we even chalk up to human error and continue to trust that same person; I mean everyone has an off day, right?

So why then is it so hard to trust the One who never has an off day? The One who knit us together in our mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13) The One whose promises are lavished upon us over and over in His love-letter to our hearts; promises that only can come from the Creator himself. Promises that the good works He has started in us, He will finish. (Philippians 1:6) Promises that He can use anything in our life for a good purpose.(Romans 8:28) Promises that He sees the whole plan and it is for us to prosper. (Jeremiah 29:11) Promises that we will be blessed just by trusting Him. (Psalm 40:4, 84, 12, Proverbs 16:20, Jeremiah 17:7) Promises that He has our best interest at heart and wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10) Promises of peace and direction and hope. (Romans 15:13, 16:20, I Corinthians 14:33, Philippians 4:7) And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface! He has promised joy from mourning, and beauty from ashes; He has promised help and justice, and joy!

So what is it? Why do we have to fight with everything we have to trust Him? I think it is partly because we are fighting a Spiritual battle against a very determined devil who wants to "kill, steal and destroy" our testimony! (John 10:10) Unfortunately, Satan is well-versed in the ways of our sinful hearts; he knows exactly what recording to play in our mind to get us off track and focused on our selfish desires. The one I think he caters to when it comes to trusting God, is our innate desire to control things. You see when we trust people in the world, we still have a semblance of control. Sometimes it is just a perceived control, but we live in a society that makes it seem as if we have the right to control everything in our lives. We do trust someone we have never met to cook our meal, but we control what the food is going to be and how we want it cooked and I've seen people exert their desire for control to the point that I am embarrassed for them when the meal fell short of their expectations. I have seen people walk out of a hair salon in tears and refused to pay when the stylist did not manage to make them look like Jennifer Aniston when "clearly that was the picture of the hairstyle they presented." I know there are people who will threaten lawsuits for every manner of thing that they put their trust in and the reality fell short of expectation. That is the kind of world we live in.

God's reality is much different. He demands unconditional trust and the very idea that we want to hold back a little tiny niblet of control completely negates that trust. For Him it is all or nothing, no options, no
pre-ordering for desired results, no sending back the plate for another try, no fit throwing or foot stomping. If any of that happens on our part, then it is apparent that the trust was not a heart trust like He truly wants. You see, He is preparing a feast for you and you don't even get to pick out the appetizer. He is a pilot of a plane that you do not know the destination. You do know it will be good, and for your benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes it may not be the feast we thought we ordered, but if we are trusting Him, it will be the one we accept with the gratitude that He provided a feast. Sometimes it is not one that we find appetizing at all at first, but God uses it to teach and grow and stretch us to a place that by the time we get to the dessert round, we might even order another plate! There are even sometimes that I feel like I am eating someone else's plate, if you know what I mean. I have to fight the urge to whine about it not being fair. If only I had a heart for others more than for myself, I would gladly take that plate served to impact the heart of another. I am convicted many times over for my lack of love for the very ones Christ is leaving me here to reach. I only hope that as He works in my life and heart that I will become more and more like Him daily.

The only other reason I can think of that causes us to not trust the Lord, Creator of Heavens and Earth, is that we don't really believe He is. Ouch. In my opinion, if we believe the scripture to be the Holy, God-breathed word of truth, then trusting should be the natural next step. We will not put our trust into something we don't believe in. If I walked into my hair salon and there was a "stylist" dressed in a chef's smock and hat with a set of knives and kitchen shears on the counter, I am not sure I would believe she was a hairdresser and most likely would not allow her to touch my hair! If we do not believe the Word of God as truth, then trust would be a ridiculous expectation. Maybe it is just a matter of being in the Word more, but I think it is a heart condition. If you have never truly put your belief into the Savior for eternal life and all that entails, then trusting Him for everything else is just silly and missing the point!

Those who know Your name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, Yahweh.

John 3:15-18Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

15 so that everyone who believes in Him will[a] have eternal life.
16 “For God loved the world in this way:[b] He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

"Your gratitude is nice, but what I want is your trust." will now be the resounding statement in my mind ever single time I thank God for something. Did I trust Him through this situation before the gratitude was placed in my heart for the outcome? Am I trusting Him 100%; no whining, wailing or whys? Do I trust Him unconditionally- without pre-ordering the outcome? If not, why not? In a world where trusting yourself and being in control is the primary theme, I challenge that unconditional trust in our Savior is the key to our fulfillment of His calling, the only way to grow Spiritually and a command to every child of God.

But I trust iYou, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

Blessed more than I deserve,

Monday, July 28, 2014

When We Walk With the Lord...

I am not a runner. One look at the only pair of athletic shoes I have owned in the last 10 years should be enough to convince you of that statement as fact. Just in case though, I will repeat myself: I am not a runner.  Maybe I could be a runner or even should be a runner, but even when I was much thinner, pre-mommyhood, I have never really enjoyed running. That being said, I know a lot of runners. My sister-in-law loves to run and was recently lamenting over being sidelined due to an injury. My brother-in-law also runs "just for fun," a concept I have never quite grasped.  A friend I used to teach with would go to a math conference and stop along the way for a "scenic run" at some random location. (which I never understood) A friend from high school even has a facebook page all about running with her. I often joke that I will run in two scenarios: 1) if my child is hurt or needs me, I will become the Flash and 2) if I am being chased by something or someone incredibly terrifying with a weapon of mass destruction. Other than that, I am not a runner.

From the outside looking in, I envision running as a very personal time; a reflective time. Most people I know who run spend an inordinate amount of time getting their shoes just right, adjusting all the supportive gear and then setting the distance counter and getting the music ready. They usually pop in the headphones, look off into the distance with determined focus, and take off on a self-reflective, internal journey that is as equally about solitude as it is about being physically fit. They seem so focused on the run and not so much on whatever is around them. This seems to be especially true if they are in some sort of race or event.

Now walking, walking is different. Walking I can do! When people go walking, they often go together in pairs or groups and it is much different; more communal.  Even when people run "together" they really don't seem to do much talking, it appears to be more about a pace or an end goal. (Let's be real honest here, if I tried to talk while running, I would likely get a word in every six or seven huffing breaths and sound like Tarzan having a heart attack!) Now if you are a runner, and I am way off, please don't chastise me- this is just my take looking from the outside. When I try to pinpoint the difference between walking and running, I immediately have this idea or feeling that walking is more intimately connected with someone else where running is more introspective.

Maybe that is why there are so many old school gospel songs about walking with God. Being a music lover, I am also one of those weird people that will hear a phrase or see something and immediately the line to a random song pops out of my mouth. I've even been known to rewrite the lyrics in a goofy way to fit a certain circumstance, much to my daughter's embarrassment. Several popped into my head while contemplating the idea of walking with God.

"Just a closer walk with thee....grant it Jesus is my plea...daily walking close to thee...let it be dear Lord, let it be." 

" When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way..."

Or my very favorite (in Anne Murray's silky voice):
" ...and He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the love we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

I have sang many times in the past for various churches and at different events and one song that I used to love to sing was based on the scripture Isaiah 40:31.

" But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

During the intro to the song, I would always quote this scripture so that the people hearing me sing would know where the song originated. Something about the way the verse read, however, always seemed strange to me. Why would someone only grow weary when they were running but would faint from walking? Why would walking even be listed with flying and running, which seem to be much more physical? Maybe I am just gifted with an incredibly strange mind, but this verse always struck me as oddly worded.

Fast forward to my current thoughts about walking versus running. In my time with the Lord today, I was given a little more insight about maybe why it is worded this way. It always seemed strange to me because I was thinking in the literal, physical sense and not in the spiritual heart sense of the scripture. In the Bible, there is verse after verse about walking with the Lord or in the light or by love and faith. Here are just a few:

Genesis 5:22, Genesis 6:9, Deuteronomy 10:12, Joshua 22:5, Jeremiah 7:23, Micah 6:8, 2Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:2, John 8:12, John 11:9-10, Galatians 5:16, 1 John 1:6, 2 John 1:6, 3 John 1:3 and my favorite 3 John 1:4

 "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 1:4 (NIV-emphasis mine)

If you take the time to look up and read these scriptures, you will see that "walking" is regularly used to describe our spiritual relationship with God and how we mete out this journey, so-to-speak, that is before us. Walking is used to intimate the connection we have to the Lord and by that connection in Him, the connection we have to one another. 

Likewise, there are also many scriptures that use the word "run" in them. Most are not metaphorical in their context until we get to Paul's writings of the New Testament. Paul used the terms "running the race" more than once to give the readers of his letters the visual concept of stretching, working and persevering for the sake of the gospel of Christ. Read for yourself the words of the apostle to those he cared deeply for and mentored:

1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Galatians 2:2, Galatians 5:7, Philippians 2:16, and Hebrews 12:1 (the author of Hebrews is unknown but thought by most to be the Apostle Paul)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" Hebrews 12:1 (NIV - emphasis mine)

Here is where my thoughts on Isaiah come to the forefront. If we look at the wording in Isaiah as a physical description of only growing weary while running, but growing completely faint from walking, the context is strange. However, if we switch gears and think spiritually, for me it shed a completely different light! What if "not growing weary" really means we will persevere spiritually in this race we are running; we won't give up or give in to entanglements of sin. We will retain a staunch focus on the end goal and become less aware of the struggles around us. If we place our hope (some versions say "trust" or "to wait on") we will be given the extra measure of grace and strength that allows us to continue to push through the tough times and the missteps and the drama that is here on this earth! Now that is something worth getting excited over! 

So what about that weird wording regarding walking and being faint? You may think I am silly, or that this should have been something a seasoned Christian would have realized a long time ago, but honestly, it just came to me today. I always took the verse in Isaiah to say that we will be able to handle life's ups and downs with God, which it does, but it is so much more intricately woven into scripture than just that simple concept. For a long time, the simplicity was enough for me, but I now crave a deeper understanding of the Word. 

In my reasoning, the wording " they will walk and not be faint..." is speaking completely about our hearts. God does not want our hearts to grow faint. His desire is that our heart beats strong and deliberately for him. He does not want us to grow bored with our relationship with him or to place it on the lower half of our "to do" list. He wants that relationship to grow and become stronger every minute of every day. He doesn't want the "flash in the pan" type of relationship with us. The scary part, for me at least, is that it is our responsibility to build the relationship between God and ourselves. He has already laid out everything and will always be standing there waiting, willing and ready to complete the work, but we have to determine to do the work. 

When Trey and I walk together, despite the main idea being to be healthier and in better shape, we usually hold hands, it is just natural for us. (Truth be told, we hold hands a lot and I love it!) Walking with my husband is very intimate, personal and enjoyable. It is not something I have to persevere at doing. It is a time, that afterwards, I feel more closely connected to my husband than before; more bonded. It is spending time together even for just a few minutes with no agenda, no list, no ulterior motive, no drama, no end goal other than to get back to the house, the starting point, together.

How much could we strengthen our connection to our Savior by simply walking with Him like that; even just once a day? I don't mean doing a lesson in your Bible study because you don't want the girl beside you on Wednesday night to see how blank your pages are. I don't mean going to God in desperate prayer because you need a situation to be settled or healing for a loved one. I don't even mean singing to a favorite praise song that comes on the radio. I don't mean reading the online devotional and skimming through the scriptures because you feel guilty if you don't. I am talking about a deliberate, planned, no agenda, no ulterior motive, no end goal other than to get back to our starting point, our first love, of our walk together.

 I think our walk would be much improved. I think our hearts would beat for our Savior loud and clear. I think our relationship with Him would improve. Don't get me wrong, I think we should still sing spontaneous praises to him. I think we should definitely bring him our heartfelt pleas for help and deliverance. I think we should do our Bible studies or devotions and if it is out of pure selfish desire to not look bad or from guilt, then I think God can use that time to speak to our hearts regardless. I am just saying that hanging out with God, talking to Him about everything, placing your hope and trust in Him,  holding His hand, that is when you will fall in love and your heart will not grow faint. 

So, I am challenging every person who reads this blog to try it for a month (30 days). Set a specific time and length of time to walk with God daily. It could be 5 minutes or an hour, whatever you decide. Choose something that is a bit scary, but at the same time not ridiculously out of reach. This is a time to grasp God's hand until it becomes natural. (The first time Trey and I ever held hands was pretty awkward, but now it is just the easiest, most natural thing for us to do.) You can have a devotional or several different ones, play some praise music, spend time in prayer or just quietly and earnestly listen for Him to show you something. I don't want to tell you what to study or read or pray about, because I am not an expert in all those things. I can only tell you that the scriptures are His intimate letter to you and if you've never read them at all, 1 John is a beautiful place to start. I love James, and the letters of Paul to the Colossians and to Timothy. Honestly there are so many places, but those are good starting places in my opinion. Just pick something and see what He says to your heart through it! I would love to hear how the 30 days are going and what you have learned along the way, so please leave me a comment occasionally! I am also committed to these 30 days, so I need your encouragement as well!

One last thing before I complete this post. If Trey and I don't take a walk one night, our love for each other doesn't immediately fall away. We just walk another time, another day; no huge dramatic guilt trip needed! Please do not beat yourself up to the point that you never step back on the path; that is counterproductive and nothing more than Satan's attempts to steal your testimony. Don't let him have the opportunity. Your testimony is the only thing he is after and he can only steal it if you hand it over. We have a duty to protect our relationships and the ultimate relationship of Savior to saved requires our utmost attention. 

So who is with me? 30 days starts now! Either comment below that you are determined to a daily walk this month or go to my facebook page and comment there. I want us to encourage and give accountability to one another! I will continue to try to post once a week whatever God lays on my heart. Thank you so much for your support and love!

Blessed more than I deserve,

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good Junk and Organized Chaos

When Kaitlyn was in High School, she was part of our school's swim team. Her sophomore year was our first introduction to swim meets. If you have never attended one of these incredibly chaotic events, let me try to describe it from a parent's perspective.

First of all, swim season runs from about September to February so many of the meets are during cold weather. Kaitlyn of course rode to the meet on the team bus and Trey and I would travel the hour or more to the meet together, arriving with a couple hundred other parents and family. We were bundled up for the cold weather outside while walking up to the door of the natatorium. (until this point, I had no idea that an aqua center was called that) We would walk in, pay for our entry, and make our way to the pool viewing area. The moment we entered the pool area, my breath was taken away, not because of the awesome sight I beheld, but literally because I could not breathe! The air was heavy and hot, similar to a sauna or steam room and the chlorine in the air was so strong that it burned your eyes and nose. (Don't forget, we were wearing our winter coats, jeans and long-sleeved shirts, so, the un-layering quickly began!)

On top of the air restriction, the noise was deafening! There was always this weird echo effect, as though you were in a cave or something. Student swimmers would be walking all around the pool in their Speedos and racing suits (very awkward moments for a teacher that they all ran up to hug and say "Hi Mrs. Rieper!) and many of them had in their headphones. They all had this weird black marking on their forearm, like a tribal tattoo or something.

Swim meet tattooing

I am not exactly sure what each number means, but I know it was a cipher of their individual events. The noise level and crowds of people were always a little overwhelming. The "announcer" was about as audible as Charlie Brown's teacher, but somehow every time the loudspeaker squawked "Muah muah, muah mauh muah lane muah muah muah"  (usually followed by feedback squeals from the microphone) swimmers started shuffling around and lined up, ready for their race. It was and still is the most amazing example of organized chaos that I have ever witnessed. During the races, there would be cheering and coaching, and encouraging and splashing...oh my goodness it was loud in there!

As parents, we would be sitting, peering over the rails trying to catch a glimpse of our daughter. In the midst of all that chaos and craziness, it was like we had a built in homing device for our daughter and could spot her even when we were not sure what in the world is going on all around them. Often she looked exactly like the other girls around her, but there would always be something that told us that she was ours. Seeing her with her team, talking to friends always made me smile. She was in her one-piece racing suit and had waist-length hair wadded up under a rubber swim cap, but she was always so beautiful and we would just watch her. You see at a swim meet, she would have one, maybe two races that lasted less than just a few minutes each  (of the often 6-8 hour event) and were of course scattered within the other races, so we just sat there. Occasionally, we would watch another race or root for a former student that swam on her team, but more often, we spent time asking each other, "Where's Kaitlyn? When is her next race? I wonder if she is nervous. Do you think she saw us?" You see, the key here is that she is our daughter. We treasure her and her younger sister Amanda. They are precious and priceless to us. 

Similarly, I am God's precious daughter; priceless. He looks down from the balcony seats and the Bible says:

II Chronicles 16:9 "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His."

He is searching the whole earth to strongly support his children! What a promise! In the midst of all of our chaos, craziness and deafening noises, He is searching me (and you) out to support me! I am a precious daughter of God! That verse should give so much hope to anyone who feels like they are in the midst of chaotic times. God has his own version of the swim meet tattoo; He tattoos our hearts as his when we make him our Lord and Savior; master of our lives. He even gives us a manual to help decipher what the tattoo really means; it is up to us to take the time to read and figure it all out. One of my favorite verses is Joshua 1:8.

"Keep this Book of the Law (the Bible) always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

Notice that our prosperity and success is directly related to the Word of God; what a challenge. I pray daily that God will give me a love for the scriptures so much that I would not want to put it down; that I would write them in my memory and in my heart. I pray that He would open my eyes and mind to teach me His ways and His words that I might live better for Him. Reading the Bible regularly has always been a struggle of mine and I want to be more disciplined in this area. Whatever the area for you is, ask God to place that desire in your heart to make it better; and not just a one-time desire, but a continual desire to be stretched and to grow. 

I was thinking about how God views us "down here" on Earth the other day while at the movies. (I still have that residual imprinted idea of Heaven being up and Earth being below it and Hell being below that left from childhood.) Movies have always been something that Trey and I enjoy together. Don't worry gentlemen, I am not usually the sappy, chick flick type. In fact, I really enjoy drama, suspense and action movies. We haven't had the occasion to have a night out in a while, so the other day, Trey and I took advantage of our daughter having plans and went to watch Transformers: Age of Extinction. 

I'm not here to give my review of the movie or anything like that. I will say it was typical of the Transformers movies, with a new family and new pretty girl. the action and special effects were as good as always, so we enjoyed the movie. The funny thing is that there were several quotes in this movie as well as in the former movies that hit me with Biblical correlations. The one that just really stuck with me on this day was:

"I'm asking you to do what I do. I'm asking you to look at all the junk and see the treasure. You gotta have faith in who we can be." (Tranformers Age of Extinction 2014)

I just loved that wording, "look at all the junk and see the treasure." You see my Grandpa May was a collector of what he affectionately termed "good junk." He had a garage full of anything from old fire hydrants to the original version of a hide-a-bed sofa to tools and more! He had rotting carcasses of his original Studebaker and a Mach 1 that were hidden by overgrowth and trees. My Grandpa saw treasure in the junk, a trait that was passed down at least three generations.

 I have a few treasured items from the good junk piles. Grandma sent me a slaw shredder that my great grandmother brought from Germany to shred heads of cabbage on. I have a few old aprons and a bonnet and a cool tin pie pan as well as a couple of old glass bottles. When we were cleaning things out after my Grandpa passed away, I found the title to his Studebaker and check stubs from his first teaching job of just a couple hundred dollars a month. I didn't keep all these things, but the treasure was not lost in my eyes. It was endearing to me to see things that he had kept, albeit a little overwhelming that he seemed to keep so much. I sensed the stack of junk before my eyes was a treasure of his yet to be unfolded. 

We live in a fallen world. We are faced daily with so much junk that sometimes, it is difficult to remember that human beings were created in the likeness of the creator. Turning on the television just this week, I am reminded of poverty and terrorism, impending war and hate crimes, crimes against children and elderly; it is overwhelming. Even more personal, on a weekly basis, I have dealt with hurt, betrayal, dishonesty, and just plain meanness. My initial craving is to respond in a way that is neither Christian nor lady-like. I am learning that these are opportunities for growth and learning. 

Somehow in the midst of the junk, God sees His treasure. He looks down and every heart that is His shines brighter than the junk in that person's life or the chaos that surrounds it.  Every heart that he is pursuing is a treasure untold and undiscovered. What if I had the same view of others? How would that change my worldview if I simply tried to see others as precious treasures instead of whatever it is that I am viewing them at the time?

The immature, annoying young lady who insists on using her body for attention would no longer irritate me, but I would see her as a treasure not yet polished. The person who lives a life that I feel is detrimental or against my beliefs would become a heart that God is chasing after and my heart would break in prayer for their rescuing instead of disdain for their entrapment. The rude, bitter woman at the checkout would become someone who needs to be shown an amazing love like my Savior's. The child whose mother was so desperate for him to have a chance at a better life, she thrust him into the hands of a stranger to take him to a destination unknown would be a treasure unfolded that God wants me to help. The homeless man who hasn't bathed in weeks would would remind me of my own filth covered by the blood of Christ. The list could go on and on.

 Or let's get a little more personal. How about the friend who suddenly deleted me from Facebook with no reason, or the person at church that hurt me deeply and doesn't seem to care, the  family member who turned their back in my desperate time of need, the former boss who did not respect me, the kids from junior high school whose mean words still ring in my ears; they are all still treasures of God. Now, please don't misinterpret what I am saying as an insistence that all severed relationships should be restored completely. I believe that I can love others in spite of the hurt they have caused me only through God's grace and strength but that does not mean that I should disregard the common sense He gave me and allow the same relationship as before every time. Sometimes, the best thing for everyone involved is to love from afar; it is about not allowing the hurt caused to be the one thing you see when that person's name comes up in conversation. Instead you pray for God to work in their life and heart as well as your own. 

 I am personally working on learning to let God have the hurt and instead of immediately going to a place of hurt or anger when I see them, I am reminding myself that God treasures their hearts. If I want a heart like His, I must see the treasure he sees.

Matthew 6:21  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I need to rest in the awesome power of our God to change hearts, to grow people, and to love the unworthy. I mean, how much has He done all those things for me and how self-centered have I been thinking I somehow deserved it above someone else? God is endeared to us in the treasure hunt. Thank goodness, in the midst of my junk, he still sees the treasure beneath the grime and dust! I am not worthy of His gaze, much less his affection and yet I am chosen, I am loved as a princess of the most High God! If I am to understand even a smidgen of the enormity of that, then I must grasp the idea that I am not the only one! How can I disregard God's highest creation simply because of poor choices they have made; have I not made poor choices? He sees me in the midst of my chaos and finds the treasure buried by all the junk. But for the grace of God, I would be a rotting carcass lost in the weeds beneath a tree somewhere like those old cars my Grandpa had. 

God is searching to and fro to see you and support you, his precious child, in the midst of the chaos. God is sifting through the junk and finding the treasure that lies deep beneath the surface. I cling to these promises! I am working to be less critical of others and to let go of hurts from the past. I am eternally grateful that our God is continually working on me. 

Philippians 1:6
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Blessed more than I deserve,

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Failure is Not An Option

I Thessalonians 2:1 " You know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure."

Man I needed this scripture recently, and as always, God's timing is impeccable. I started a study with a ladies' group at church over I & II Thessalonians and the second week we covered this scripture.  Paul, Timothy, and Silas had just tried to visit Thessalonica but they were quickly run out the town after visiting Philippi and being stripped, beaten and thrown in prison there. They barely had a chance to even say "hello," but Paul is assuring his friends that the visit was not a failure. You see, they planted seeds, (and a church) they were obedient to the call of the Lord and they did the work to spread the gospel. I am sure things did not go as Paul, Timothy and Silas had anticipated; I am sure they felt a tinge of disappointment. I don't know if you know that much about Paul in the New Testament, but he is a pretty dynamic character in the history of the New Testament church and spread of the gospel. Even so, I am sure being beaten and thrown in jail was not really his idea of a successful missionary journey to a town of people he really cared about. Luckily for me, God allowed him to understand, and to assure others, that actually "failure" really wasn't an option as a descriptor as long as God was in control.

True confession: I have a touch of what people call perfectionism. Okay, maybe it is more like a serious problem. The weird thing is that it is only self-directed. I don't expect others to be perfect, and am probably one of the most tolerant of others' mistakes and shortfalls, but when it comes to my own, I am ruthless. A lot of that personal perfectionism is related to my many deeply rooted insecurities or maybe the two just feed off of one another. I am determined to be good enough and right and yet am terrified that I am correct when I think I am not; such a weird internal conundrum.

 My perfectionism is magnified when I have something specific to accomplish or there is a measurable end product. For instance, when I went back to school to earn my teaching degree it became a screaming billboard for everyone around me to see. I had to get all A's; anything less was unimaginable.

 I went back after working as a teacher's aide for 10-12 years, knowing I wanted to teach. I quit working and in four semesters of college completed 84 semester hours to graduate as quickly as possible. Yes, I took 19-24 semester hours each semester, even begging the dean at one point to allow the 24 hours that semester. That my friends, is perfectionistic encephalitis or "crazy" for short.

 I worked my tail off while taking all those classes. I even remember Amanda asking one day, " Momma, do you have homework every day?" What is silly is that the degree wasn't nearly as important as all those individual course marks. And to this day, one course, Mexican American History, is my biggest frustration. 

The class I really enjoyed. My professor was a crop pants, flip-flop wearing self-proclaimed hippie who was very laid-back (duh) and very knowledgeable. He basically just talked the entire time and showed us pictures of his travels and why he loved Mexican history so much. Lucky for me, I have a pretty remarkable memory and take good notes, (although they are usually scattered all over a page.)

 I was crammed into a class of mostly history majors and mostly 15 years younger than me. The best part about this class ( and I understand this will elicit audible groans from some of you) was that his tests were 100% essay. I don't know if you've figured this out yet, but I'm pretty adept at what I have always affectionately called "fluffing" in writing. That ability added to my memory allowed me to always do well on essay tests. I needed this one last history class for my degree plan and was glad it would be one I felt I could comfortably gain an A in.

The first test day rolls around and I purchase the little blue book (a composition book we had to have for every test). Prior to test day, the professor would give us six possible essay topics and on test day he would only give us two of the six to choose from; we were to write about only one of them. I looked over the two topics, selected the one I felt most comfortable about and began writing. I listed what I wanted to cover in the back of the comp book to make sure I didn't leave anything out. We had two hours and I wrote probably for an hour and fifteen minutes. I read back over the three and a half pages I had wrote, checked my spelling and that I had covered everything, and then walked to the front and put it on the stack on his desk. I felt really good about that first test. 

We came back to class two days later and he had them graded and after the lecture he passed back out composition books. I quickly thumbed through my essay and there were no red marks anywhere. I flipped back to the front and at the top of my first page I saw these words in red, " Very well written. Covered all the facts! Very concise." then I glance to the inside cover of the comp book and see in pretty red pen, "B+." What??? B+? I was very confused.  I flipped back through, reread it and still didn't understand. So after class, I stayed around and walked up and introduced myself to the professor. I told him that I currently had a 4.0 GPA and wanted to work hard to keep that if possible. I said that I had received a B+ on my test essay and asked if he could let me know what I could do to improve my future essay grades in his class. He sat there on his desk, one flip-flop in the floor and one dangling from his unmannicured foot, and asked to see my essay. So I handed it to him, hoping he would just give me an idea of what he was looking for. He flipped through it and said, " Oh, yeah. You wrote really well. I liked that you were able to cover everything so well." I stood expectantly for the "but..." and he didn't disappoint. " ...but, there is no way I am  giving anything better than a B+ for only 3 1/2 pages." and with that he handed the book back to me and dismissed me with a turn to gather his slides out of the slide machine. I quickly went from curious and insecure to indignant. I was floored that he would really base his grade on how many pages it took to say what needed to be said. He had just thrown down the gauntlet to a master-fluffer; he had no idea what awaited him.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to the next test date. The professor gave us the six possible topics and I set to memorizing every minute detail about at least five of them. One of the topics had to do with how the culture of a particular tribe was evidenced in America during a specific time period. This one was very broad and left a lot of room for fluffery; it was the one I spent the most time memorizing ideas about. The day of the test, my husband drove me the hour to the school I was attending for some reason. (I think he wanted to go to a sporting store in the area, but can't really remember.) I told him we had two hours to write, and I wasn't sure how long it would take me. Knowing that I usually do not take the full time, I am sure he expected me within an hour or a little after.

I sat down, with my blue comp book and waited for the test. He put the archaic transparency on the overhead that listed the two choices. BINGO! The one I had hoped for was there and without any further ado, I began writing as quickly as I possibly could. I wrote about everything from the medicine men of the tribe to the food seasonings to the colors in the embroidery. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I covered every single minuscule possibility of anything that impacted the culture of this particular tribe and related it to the time period asked about. When I was finished, I barely had time to quickly proofread my work and count the pages. SUCCESS! Right at the two-hour mark, I placed my comp book on the top of the pile and triumphantly walked out to my waiting husband.

Trey looked worried as he asked, " Was it a bad test? How do you think you did?" I smiled and said, " Oh, I think I pretty much covered it all and I don't think he can deduct from my grade due to a lack of pages written." The look I gave must have been that mischievous look that dripped with sarcasm because he immediately and knowingly smiled and asked, " How many pages did you write?" My answer? " 24." with a content sigh of vindication. He just laughed. (I think he is used to my overachiever- itis)

The next class period for Mexican American History, I was anxious to get our tests back. As before, he passed them back towards the end of the class. I flipped through my writing, finding no more than 3-4 marks in red. I flipped to the front inside cover and noticed he had not written any comments at the top this time. I expectantly glanced across the page to see in red pen, "B+". I guess I showed him...

As I walked out, I commented to a fellow student that I was confused as to how to get an A in this class. She immediately asked my major and when I told her it was Interdisciplinary Studies, she said there was no way I would get an A. According to her, and several others around, this professor only gave A's to History majors like her. I asked what she had received on her test and she said " A-, which I am super excited about since I really didn't know what to write." That course was the only B on my transcript for all those 84 semester hours; the best I ever received on a test was an A- once. For a perfectionist, a B+ is as good as failure, but it is not failure. I graduated and not once has a potential employer asked about my Mexican American history grade.

I tell you that story just so you get an idea of how deeply I am embedded in this perfectionism so that you can understand the struggles I have with not being "good enough" in general. I have a tendency to base my worth on my performance in things especially if there is a measurable end goal. (Which makes this blog something with a lot of power to get me wrapped up in success versus failure with each post depending on how many people read it or how they respond- this is a huge learning process for me to just allow God to use my writing however He wishes regardless of whether I see any results or not.)

Now fast forward to the last couple of years. In an earlier blog post, I told you that God had placed me within a company that allowed me to minister and speak into the lives of many women on a regular basis. This position came with lots of rewards based on performance and I excelled greatly at reaching certain goals. Within three months, I had earned a free car and after seven months, I was in a leadership (management) position. My position within this company has begun to change a little creating some new choices. We decided it would be best to return the vehicle so that our family did not accrue any extra expenses. It was a difficult decision, but one that I am completely at peace with now. The thing is though, Satan has whispered more than once in my ear that this was paramount to failure; despite knowing in my heart that God is orchestrating changes and that He placed me in this company in the first place for a specific reason, there were twinges of self-doubt and I fought the urge to succumb to the idea that I was letting other down and had failed them and possibly even God by not continuing to excel the way I had in the beginning.

And then I went to the Ladies' Bible study and later that week opened my Bible to read I Thes 2:1-6. Even more, God smiled at my weakness and sent me a reminder that He is in complete control. The very day the company came to pick up my car, my blog post, (the first one I had written in years) "When God Closes a Door..." exploded like nothing I had imagined! In one day, over 1000 people had read or shared that single post! The day I could have been slapped in the face with what my insecurities (and my enemy) would tag as failure, God showed me His success! In our weakest moments, that is when God can show us more than ever! I won't lie, I shed a few tears, but I was determined to not listen to the deceiving one and to press into the Savior who has never failed me. By the end of the day, I was so excited and humbled and emotional about what God was teaching me.

Reading from my study, these words jumped off the page:

I Thessalonians 2:1-6 " You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Phillipi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed- God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else."

First of all, I need to quit seeing things as failures especially when I know I have followed where God led and did what I was meant to do; sometimes we don't get to stay around long enough to see the real difference made. Sometimes, well many times actually, things do not end up like we thought they would. We could save ourselves a lot of stress if we would quit painting the rest of the picture when God has only made a couple of brushstrokes. (or maybe that's just me)

Secondly, I should not allow strong opposition to guide whether I do God's work. Although the company I am with is a Christian based company, interestingly, there has been outward opposition to being successful in it and to using it as a vehicle to share God's love to others. I think sometimes people get confused and forget that God can use (and usually does) some of the things we consider so strange to further His kingdom. Sometimes others are misdirected and in a well-meaning way feel the need to enlighten you to their perspective. In the end it really doesn't matter if we have the approval or understanding of everyone we know, as long as God is in control and we allow Him to lead us. That last part is key though, do not try to force onto God something you are doing for your own gain and expect it to sit well with Him or His children. I know in my life he has sent those who spoke in love to adjust my direction.

 Which leads me to the last thing about this passage that is utterly crucial: "We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else." I have to be so careful, especially with my tendency towards perfectionism, to not look for praise from others to decide if I am good enough. The truth is I am good enough and yet I will never be good enough. I know that is a strange thing to say, but what I mean is that I will NEVER be good enough to truly deserve God's love, but by the blood of His son, I am good enough: I am a loved sister, chosen by God! (I Thessalonians 1: 4) All those things that I consider failures, are just silly. I am a loved sister, CHOSEN by GOD!!! During a discussion once about not quite meeting a goal and feeling like I had failed, one of my close friends said, "Stephanie, your worth is not tied even loosely to your performance. If you walked away and didn't even try, your worth would not change a bit." How I am viewed by others might change, but God's perspective of who I am is unchanging, and should stay my focus. This can become a constant battle, especially for those who struggle with low self esteem or self worth. 

I Thessalonians 1:4 " For we know, brothers (or sisters) loved by God, that he has chosen you."

 Even if not another soul reads one of my posts, even if I never earn another free vehicle, even if I had never earned one to begin with, even if I have no friends or hundreds of friends, even if I lose my temper or listen to Satan's whispers too long, or let the praise of others become my focus for a time, even if...I am a loved sister, chosen by God; nothing will ever change that. 

So loved brothers and sisters, chosen by God, what does that mean for you? What is that "failure" that God wants you to see was actually a success? How will you look at future endeavors differently?  In our study, the suggestion was made to approach our Christian brothers and sisters with this same greeting. Even if you don't say it out loud, how would that change your interaction with people? I know I can't even say that in my mind without viewing that person with a little more love and a little more compassion. 

2006 when I got my degree
One last thing I have noticed about my struggles with feeling like a failure is that often I get so wrapped up in the one small event that I am not seeing the whole picture at all. (not that my tiny little brain can ever see the whole picture)  I mean that history class for example, I don't even remember the professor's name, but I remember those grades like it was yesterday! You know what, I still graduated, got my teaching certificate and have been teaching Algebra I to ninth graders for many years now. The car that I recently returned was a huge blessing to our family for about 18 months! We had no car payment and no credit hit, it was just a bonus! Most people don't even earn a free car in their job, much less their secondary, part-time job. Not to mention that I am still a part of a great company that allows me to mentor others in Christ's love often and with amazing women that I love. How can any of that be a failure? It would be like teaching our children to ride a bike and when they finally did it on their own, we say, "Yeah, but you crashed seven times today and you had to keep the training wheels on longer than I thought." We would never do that to our kids! God would never do that to his kids, so you shouldn't do it either. You are chosen. You are loved. You are HIS. Failure isn't really an option anymore.

the amazing car that blessed our family for 18 months

Blessed more than I deserve

~ Stephanie

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.