Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can the Message Get Any Clearer?

I woke up this morning with a message from God speaking clearly through my morning-foggy brain.

"The more your carnal inner self kicks and screams, the more you should realize I am doing my greatest work."


I just accepted a management position at McDonald's. Yes, I said McDonald's. As part of my Unemployment Insurance Compensation, I am required to prove that I have applied for at least two jobs per week. So, I applied at McDonald's. I mean, it wasn't like any of the other places I had applied were calling me for an interview. But, as much as I didn't really want this job, the owners called me, interviewed me, called me back to tell me what an amazing person they thought I was, and offered me the job. I accepted.

I have a college education and nonprofit management development certification. I am a certified grant writing specialist. I am a current graduate student at Walden University in the Mental Health counseling program. I am the founder and director of a theatre company. I worked for years as a community planner with a beautiful salary, company car, and company phone. But now I am going to go work at McDonald's.

God and I have a history of fighting over where I think I should be in life and where He wants me to be. Living back in Milton was not exactly my dream for myself as I pictured it as a child. In fact, I wanted to be as far away from here as I could possibly get. I was going to be a famous actress, or at least a well-paid professional. I was going to have a husband, children and lots of stuff. In my mind, that's the way it was going to be, and no one could tell me differently.

But when I went to college outside of Philadelphia, I realized I could never live in the city. I like grass and rocks too much. While I was there, I realized the only relationships that really mattered to me were those of my parents and grandparents and I really wanted to be closer to them. I really wanted to raise my children so that "weekends at grandma's" were a real possibility - and not just for my benefit. I wanted my children to have the amazing connection with their grandparents that I had with mine. So, I moved closer to home - just one town over.

Throughout the years, God has continued to poke me and prod me and pull me back into His purpose for my life. Over a year ago, in June of 2008 to be exact, I finally surrendered. He spoke to me quite plainly and said, "Be still and know that I am God." A peace washed over me like never before in my life. Through a wonderful mastering of life events, He brought me back to Milton to this beautiful home in which I now sit. I was still kicking and screaming internally, but I knew God was in control. He started making things happen for both the theatre company and the town of Milton. I could go on and on and on as to how the Lord has continued to bless me and provide for me since I've returned to this place I once despised. He even changed my heart and showed me how to love it.

Although I've spent the past nearly eighteen months looking for a job in the counseling field, while I'm in grad school, I know I need something a little less mentally and spiritually draining. I'm not saying management of a fast-paced restaurant is brainless. I certainly know it's not. But I think I need a job that will get me out of the house and when I clock out, the work stays behind for the next shift to deal with. I'm certain God knew that too.

My final destination as a manager will be at the Milton McDonald's. God really has a sense of humor, doesn't He? After accepting the position, the questioning set in. What if I have horrible shifts? What if I can't accommodate my kids' schedules because I'm working all the time? What if I hate it and I'm tired and I can no longer keep my house clean and the laundry done? What if, what if, what if?

Then He woke me up this morning and reminded me, again, He's in control. The Milton McDonald's certainly is a mission field in and of itself. Perhaps, He needs me there. It is when I'm doing the most carnal kicking and screaming, that He is doing His greatest work.

I then received this forwarded email that seemed to fall right into today's theme:

Isn't It Strange?
Isn't it strange how a 20 dollar bill seems like such a large amount when you donate it to church, but such a small amount when you go shopping?

Isn't it strange how 2 hours seem so long when you're at church, and how short they seem when you're watching a good movie?

Isn't it strange that you can't find a word to say when you're praying but you have no trouble thinking what to talk about with a friend?

Isn't it strange how difficult and boring it is to read one chapter of the Bible but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a popular novel?

Isn't it strange how everyone wants front-row-tickets to concerts or games but they do whatever is possible to sit at the last row in Church?

Isn't it strange how we need to know about an event for Church 2-3 weeks before the day so we can include it in our agenda, but we can adjust it for other events in the last minute?

Isn't it strange how difficult it is to learn a fact about God to share it with others; but how easy it is to learn, understand, extend and repeat gossip?

Isn't it strange how we believe everything that magazines and newspapers say but we question the words in the Bible?

Isn't it strange how everyone wants a place in heaven but they don't want to believe, do, or say anything to get there?

Isn't it strange how we send jokes in e-mails and they are forwarded right away but when we are going to send messages about God, we think about it twice before we share it with others?

I'm learning that despite all of my hopes and dreams for what God is going to do with me in the future, I really need to start paying attention to how He's changing me in the present. I've prayed to Him numerous times, "Just use me Lord". I guess He wants to use me at McDonald's.

Where does He want to use you? Do you think you're too good for certain situations, people, and positions? Do you think you know more about yourself than God does? I challenge you to consider how much your carnal self is fighting the work God is trying to do in your life.

Another email that I also received this morning follows. This is what loving God and living life is truly all about. May the Peace of God be with you now and always. Remember who's in control.

Although things are not perfect
Because of trial or pain
Continue in thanksgiving
Do not begin to blame
Even when the times are hard
Fierce winds are bound to blow
GOD is forever able
Hold on to what you know
Imagine life without His love
Joy would cease to be
Keep thanking Him for all the things
Love imparts to thee
Move out of " Camp Complaining "
No weapon that is known
On earth can yield the power
Praise can do alone
Quit looking at the future
Redeem the time at hand
Start every day with worship
To "thank" is a command
Until we see Him coming
Victorious in the sky
We'll run the race with gratitude
Xalting God most high
Yes, there will be good times, and yes, some will be bad, but...
Zion waits in glory...where none are ever sad!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Doggy Obedience

I have a dog.

I have always had dogs in my home, throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe in giving a good home to at least one of the countless homeless animals in our country. I also believe having a dog somehow makes a home complete. Having a dog can teach children responsibility and the meaning of unconditional love. I know from experience not every dog is going to bring happiness to the household, but I also know that dogs will teach you much about yourself through your relationship with them. After the unfortunate passing of our last little four-footed monster, Shadow, I searched and searched through rescues, puppy mills, newspapers, and breeders for over two years. I finally found Bugsy Malone, our Shar-Pei/German Shepherd mix who is my newest "teacher."

We got Bugsy in March when he was eight weeks old. His wrinkly Shar-Pei face made it impossible for a person to not fall in love with him. Within a week, he was spoiled rotten, begging to be held and sleeping curled up on my chest. Potty training was a breeze and so were basic commands like "Sit," "Lay down," "Roll over," and "Shake". He learned in two days that he must wait patiently in the middle of the room while I fill his food and water each morning until I give the command "Action" (we're theatre people, after all). He even learned to sit straight and balance treats on his nose until we give the command. When "Action" is spoken, he quickly flips his head and catches the bone in his mouth.

Seven months later, and at 40 pounds, he is a big boy and can no longer curl up on my chest to sleep. If prenatal care in humans directly affects the health and mental development of a baby, well then, at least we have an excuse for Bugsy's lack of mental prowess. His mama was found as a stray, severely underweight, Heartworm positive, and with a cherry eye. The good people at PA Stray Save in Berwick helped nurse mama back to health after her eight puppies were born. Despite Bugsy's ability to learn commands, the rest of his behaviors are... well... rather dumb. But this, of course, is where all good lessons lie.

Every day, I take Bugsy on a three-mile walk. We head down Front Street and cross the bridge over to the island between Milton and West Milton. We walk down the ramp to the island, go under the bridge and walk the South Trail all the way to the very tip of the island. I let Bugsy off his leash and allow him to take a drink from the river. When he's had his fill, which is, of course, determined by how hot it is on any given day, he returns to me so I can put him back on his leash and we return back the way we came.

We have settled into a rhythm of sorts. With my headphones on and my MP3 player blasting Christian artists like Smokie Norful or the "I Can Only Imagine" compilation CD in my ears, I find my stride and sometimes sing out loud while walking. For me, the primary reason for my walk is to just find some time to spend with God. I listen intently to every word being sung in my ears. I sometimes hear a lyric which pierces my heart and brings me to tears. I find myself giving praise to God for every message He has put on these songwriters' hearts and walk on.

But even though my mind is on God while I walk my dog, it is through this daily practice God has helped me to see a truth in the dog and man relationship which mirrors our relationship with Him.

Bugsy has learned to respond to me, and I to him. We have gotten to the point in our relationship where his leash is like a steering wheel. I need only to nudge it one way or gently pull it the other to steer him in the right direction. He doesn't turn around and look at me for reassurance, he simply feels the tug on his neck and responds to where I'm leading him. In the distance, if I see a person or a car pulling out of an alley, I wind up his chain around my hand and pull him closer to protect him. He's still a puppy and wants to jump at everyone he meets, so I'm also protecting him from getting into trouble with people. When the danger is gone, I let out his leash and he continues on.

Rarely does Bugsy lag behind, but occasionally, he will see a squirrel, or a leaf roll by and try to dart ahead. I give him a yank on his leash and pull him back into our stride. Most of the time, one yank will do it.

Sometimes, the incline of the bridge is steep. It is here, going up hill, where I find Bugsy slowing down and losing steam so that he ends up walking right by my side.

Once we are on the island, Bugsy gets playful. Maybe it's the wide open space, or the abundance of sticks, but over and over again he tries to snatch something off the ground and take it along on our journey. I usually ignore it and eventually he'll drop it until the next thing he sees. Then we get on the trail. The trail is a well marked path with lots of obstacles - hills, valleys, tree roots, rocks, fallen branches, and more. For ease of walking, it is very important to stay on the path.

Bugsy varies from day to day on how well he can keep his sight on the path. Some days, it's as if he knows that at the tip of the island is the refreshing water to which I'm leading him. Other days, he darts and twists and yanks the whole way there with every stick, rock, or scent he finds. On days like these, his yanking and sudden jerking either completely trips me up or sends a shockwave of pain through my sciatic nerve. One day he actually jumped up and bit my butt for no apparent reason, just his need to be playful (German Shepherds use their mouths to play). I give him an, albeit, more forceful yank and try to get his attention back on the path.

I've been collecting these "Dog + Human mirrors Human + God" messages for about two weeks now. But just when I thought I had a clear picture on what God was trying to reveal to me, Tuesday struck. Bugsy and I settled into our routine all the way to the island. He pooped a few more times than usual (more on that later) but other than that, it was like any walk. We got to the tip of the island, I let him off his leash, he took his drink. But when the time came for him to get back on his leash, he decided to play "keep away."

Round and round he ran, darting yards ahead of me, then rushing back. Just when I thought he was coming to me so I could put his leash on him, he'd take off again. I thought to myself "I should give him credit since he is coming back to me and seems afraid to go too far without me," but because he was not following basic commands of "Cut" or "Sit," I found myself growing angry. I carry a rolled up newspaper to correct him when he has these moments of disobedience. He finally came close enough to me that I was able to tackle him to the ground, give him three swats wth the newspaper on his backside and put him back on his leash. I held his chin in my hand and said, "Don't you ever do that again.... Let's go!" I resumed walking, well, more like stomping in my fury and then the strangest thing happened.

Suddenly, it was as if Bugsy feared me. He kept turning around and looking at me sheepishly, nearly cringing. If I gave his leash a little nudge, he winced. He didn't dare stop for any sticks or do his usual attempt to romp and play when we came out of the woods. It was almost as if he finally realized I meant business.

In your Christian walk, I'm sure you feel the gentle pulling and nudging of God's "leash" on you. He's trying to keep you moving forward on the path; He's trying to lead you to refreshing water. Along the way, He pulls you in to protect you from harm, but He gives you free will and allows you to continue to walk ahead. When you're facing your mountains, He's there right beside you.

But how many times in our Christian walk, do we try to dart off when something flutters by? How many times do we pick up a new habit (stick) and try to take it along on our journey? How many times do we get distracted, step off our path, yank and jerk until we bring pain to God, and even sometimes bite Him in the butt with our ways?

Because of our routine, Bugsy poops in the same places on his walk always within a few feet of garbage cans. I, always armed with plastic bags, quickly scoop the poop up and place it in the trash receptacles. But on a day like Tuesday when Bugsy pooped a few more times, I ended up having to carry his poop for awhile until I could find a place to deposit it. I know it's gross, but there's a spiritual truth here, so I had to share this information.

How quickly God gets rid of our own personal poop, but sometimes we put Him in a position where He has to carry it a bit longer. When we make mistakes which not only affect us but also the others around us, He's the one left with the cleanup. He's the one who has to mend the hearts and restore the souls left in our wake, not us. We already have our minds on the next stick.

Finally, why does God have to tackle us to the ground and give us a couple of "Life's Swats" in order to gain our attention again. Sometimes we run around and around God - close enough so that we know He is still there, but still in our own place of play and disobedience. And suddenly, when He corrects us, we're surprised! We start looking behind us to see what other danger lurks because we know we're getting spiritually corrected. But if we had stayed on the path and did what we were told in the firstplace, we would have no reason to fear. We could be free to simply walk with God in His undeniable love for us!

Sometimes we act like dumb dogs. God chose us and gave us a place in His home. He gives us food and water, protects us and cares for us. But sometimes, we want what we want, get too easily distracted or simply disobey our Master's call.

When we got home from our walk, I was still fuming. Bugsy kind of collapsed on the floor and hung his head in shame while I detailed the events to Derek. Derek shook his head in disbelief and Bugsy continued to pout.

But then comes the best part. After I had calmed down, Bugsy came to me and lay his head in my lap with his little pointed eyebrows and his pleading eyes. "You know I love you," I said. And with that he jumped up, putting his forelimbs across my lap and burying his head under my arm - the only cuddle position he fits in anymore. Then I added, "You better start listening."

And with that, I was reminded again how our Master handles us. When we finally deal with our shame and come back to Him with a sorrowful heart, He welcomes us back into His arms and reminds us of His love for us.

Okay Lord, I'm listening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Successful Summer

Sometimes life seems like a blur. I don’t know if you experience the same thing, but because of my Event Planner brain, my life is a continuous stream of “Plan. Execute. Recover.” I then humorously like to add my favorite line off of every shampoo bottle, “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.”

In my last post - yes, the one that was dated in June - I was in the planning stage. I stood at that very place where one often has to envision with great clarity what the next leg of the journey will look like. It seemed daunting and overwhelming, but then I realized God brought me here and He’s always with me. Who was I to fear?

This summer consisted of:

- Ten weeks of “Hamlet,” my theatre company’s tenth annual Shakespeare-in-thePark production.
- Twelve weeks of two very difficult courses towards my MS in Mental Health Counseling.
- Sending Zoe off to “Jump Start” to help her overcome her incredible shyness in preparation for Kindergarten.
- Preparing both girls for the annual Harvest Festival Mini Miss and Jr. Miss pageants.
- Keeping a flower garden alive and beautiful.
- Keeping vegetables growing in the zaniest weather patterns I’ve ever experienced.
- Spending every last moment I could find, swimming and playing with my children during what might possibly be my last summer of unemployment.
- Keeping a house clean.
- Keeping a husband happy.

The list goes on, but these were indeed, the most important highlights.

He leadeth me again. I rested in His hands. I gave it all to Him and He blessed my every step with His presence.

“Hamlet” was Gaspipe Theatre Company’s greatest triumph, thus far.
I was able to maintain my 4.0 in my coursework.
Zoe did beautifully well in Jump Start and let’s just say it was Mommy who did the most crying the day the girls started school.
The pageants took place yesterday and both girls made me burst with pride.
The gardens are still alive; the vegetables are still coming.
I can truly say there is not one ounce of regret in me for time lost with the children this summer. We spent every moment we could as a family, creating memories which I hope will last their whole lives.
My house is still clean.
Yesterday, Derek and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. With God’s help, we continue to strengthen our marriage every day.

There were bonuses, too. Because of my obedience in returning to Milton, despite my internal kicks and screams, God is bringing my greatest dream of creating a Center for the Arts to life. I will be working with the Milton Library to create a Center for the Arts in the new facility that the Library just purchased.

And finally, as if I deserved one more blessing, at the end of my twelve weeks of school, when everything was finally settling down, by some miracle of miracles, God gave me two weeks off to write. These two weeks off from classes began the very day the girls went back to school. My agent had made contact with a couple of publishers who were interested in my book, I just couldn‘t find the time to clean it up and finish it out. But God gave me two glorious weeks of clarity and insight (and a quiet house) and last Tuesday, I gave birth to my new manuscript, “Climbing Out of the Daddy Hole.” Prayers for “Uncommon Favor” are greatly appreciated.

I will admit, after the plan was laid out, each step of the way was a bit blurry. I had moments where I felt like I was standing outside of myself, watching myself in action. I mentally would stop myself and experience a “reality check”. “I’m doing it. I don’t know how, but I’m here and it’s happening.” The final performance of “Hamlet” came and went. Zoe got off the Jump Start bus one last time. The grades were posted. The pool closed. School started. I submitted my book and received my agent’s approval.

The Recovery periods from each and every item on my list were glowing. There’s no better word to describe them. Every task, every paper, every show was a complete success.

Now it’s all in the past and I sit here, planning out the next leg: two more classes, a residency in October, cheerleading practices, birthdays and Christmas. The list, again, goes on.

But there’s something different this time. There is no dread, no feeling of being overwhelmed. I suddenly understand the very heart of Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

My God is in me, above me, beneath me, before me, behind me, on either side of me. He has my back in all times. He restores my energy, my strength, and gives me hope with every new morning. When the storms are raging, I‘ve learned to praise Him. He is my All in all.

Is He yours? Have you yet learned how to go to Him as a child and let Him be your Daddy? Have you learned to trust? Have you learned to obey? Have you experienced the awesome magnitude of Him working through you and the blessings of dreams realized?

Go to your Father and lean on Him. Then plan, execute, and recover. Psalms 23 should assure you that “His goodness and mercy will follow you” and “out of you.” John 7:38 reminds us, “shall flow rivers of living water.”

It might possibly be that the blur you experience is when God completely takes over and works out the good for those who love Him.

What an awesome, humbling, amazing place to be - caught in the blur of our Master’s work.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Just Breathe

Apparently, God must be thinking I haven't been busy enough. In actuality, maybe I haven't been that busy. I'm a stay-at-home mom and I've gone back to school on-line. I'm writing a book, managing a household, raising children and attending church which really equates with helping in the nursery. Oh, and yes I still have a theatre company but we haven't been that busy lately either. Most days in recent months, I spend my time working out, cleaning whatever I can and working on school and writing. It's been manageable.

But now I'm feeling as if I'm standing on a precipice not knowing whether to jump or, just like in the Indiana Jones movie, take a step towards an invisible path which may or may not be under the foot of that first step. Suddenly, everything is changing and I'm filled with all of these emotions and physical flutterings in my chest which feel like anxiety, but yet I'm not willing to call them anxiety. I am done with feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed. I think.

Today I start two courses: "Introduction to Mental Health Counseling" and "Professional Ethics and Identity in the Counseling Profession." I took the time to look at my expected coursework this week and immediately those pangs of fear started to creep over me. It's going to be a lot of work. It's going to be a long twelve weeks. This doesn't even scratch the surface of my upcoming responsibilities.

The theatre company has decided to do Hamlet. I love Hamlet, however, it is the longest play Shakespeare ever wrote. I've already spent two full days editing it so that the audience's backsides don't go numb while the play is performed. It still needs help. Three nights a week will never be enough time to dedicate to this monstrosity.

Ellen is done with school on Friday. Now, I've been looking forward to this day for some time. My dream for this summer was to spend as much time as possible with the girls as I possibly could. Zoe starts Kindergarten in August and this might possibly be my last summer that I'm not working. I plan to suck the marrow right out of it. The reality is, sometimes having two kids at home is more frustrating. I will have to be very careful about my approach so the schedule is followed and everyone is happy.

Beyond all of this, it's summer. There are flowers and vegetables to try to keep alive, a yard to mow, vacations to plan. Can you see how my head might be spinning? Ellen's birthday is in July, I'm hoping to have a nice party this year. Oh! And both girls have just informed me they want to be in the Harvest Festival Pageant this year. So I'm now hunting for adorable dresses and dressy casual outfits for September. Did I ever tell you I hate to shop?

Finally, I've just become involved with a community ministry called, "The Bridge." It was a vision God had given me and which I even wrote about in a fictional novel in October. Community Mennonite Fellowship and the Hand Up Foundation members were also given the same vision. On June 7th, the vision becomes action. We are taking Christ's Love to the streets - something I have been desiring to do for oh so long.

It's going to be busy, even daunting at times to get through these twelve weeks. But then I take a breath and remember: He leadeth me, He leadeth me, by His own hand, He leadeth me. I remember what our Lord spoke to me when I was let go from the Pregnancy Care Center. He said so simply and so beautifully, "Be still and know that I am God." I remember the spiritual pregnancy that I have experienced, the birth of my new self, the intricate ways in which God has gotten me from what I consider to be "Unsteady Faith" to "Unshakeable Faith," and I again hear His voice saying, "Do not fear for I am with you." God is with me. He is always with me, helping to bear the yoke, helping to lighten the burden. I am so absolutely humbled that a God like Him chose to have a relationship with a wretch like me.

So I stand on this precipice with no, not anxiety, but hopeful anticipation. I can't wait to see what God will do these next twelve weeks. I'm ready to take the next step.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I need to write

I need to write.

I need to write and I need to stop worrying about what the reader will think. I just need to write.

Winter funk stopped me from writing. See? I haven't posted anything since January 29th. It is now April 21st. What happened? I'll tell you what happened. The agent came back to me after having the manuscript for three months and told me I need to try again. She said, "Don't re-write, re-phrase." It was like a ginormous horse-kick to my stomach.

I tried, believe me, I tried. I wrote myself in circles and ended up deleting every word out of sheer disgust. I sent the manuscript to a writer's service for their feedback. More criticism and more discouragement followed. Less writing followed again.

I enrolled in my master's degree program at Walden University to get my MS in Mental Health Counseling. Because it is an online school, nearly all of the homework applications are writing assignments. For five weeks, I had a 100% in the class. Then suddenly, the prof started getting tougher, deducting a tenth of a point here and there. My assignments, which were once something I looked forward to, are now turning into something I'm dreading.

Do you see the pattern? I receive criticism, whether constructive or not, and I find myself completely unable to move forward. I don't know where it began, but I do remember years ago in junior high and high school, being praised for my writing ability by countless teachers. But when I got to college, during my very first semester I had a professor who hated everything I wrote. That was 1992. It took me until 2006 to dare to write again.

I received this email devotional yesterday.


For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen. 2 Corinthians 1:20

Jesus told the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25 as a warning that it is possible for us to misjudge our capacity. This parable has not to do with natural gifts, but with the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Ghost. We must not measure our spiritual capacity by education or by intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured by the promises of God. If we get less than God wants us to have, before long we will slander Him as the servant slandered his master: "You expect more than You give me power to do; You demand too much of me, I cannot stand true to You where I am placed." When it is a question of God's Almighty Spirit, never say "I can't." Never let the limitation of natural ability come in. If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in us. The servant justified himself in everything he did and condemned his lord on every point - "Your demand is out of all proportion to what you give." Have we been slandering God by daring to worry when He has said: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"? Worrying means exactly what this servant implied - "I know You mean to leave me in the lurch." The person who is lazy naturally is always captious - "I haven't had a decent chance," and the one who is lazy spiritually is captious with God. Lazy people always strike out on an independent line. Never forget that our capacity in spiritual matters is measured by the promises of God. Is God able to fulfil His promises? Our answer depends on whether we have received the Holy Spirit.
I'm not placing blame on God. I really don't know where this ailment comes from. I really don't want to give the Enemy credit, but I do have to believe when a talent is God-given and meant to be used to advance the Kingdom, someone or something might want to stop that talent from coming forth. I see it every time our church tries to put on a play.

Go on devil! Bark up someone else's tree. I don't have time for you!

I refuse to slander God through my inability to put His talents to use. I will not let the battle be lost -the souls be lost - to procrastination and discouragement. I will continue to praise the Lord for His gift of the Holy Spirit who has brought me to such a time and place as this to reach the world with the story He walked with me.

Every day, I make the dreaded journey to the elliptical machine in the dining room to do my daily workout. I start with yoga, move on to do exercises with a stability ball. Sometimes, I even do the AbRocket - anything to procrastinate doing the 30 minutes on that machine. But as my obese frame finally gets into the rhythm of the music pouring from my headphones, I find my stride and begin to sing my favorite Smokie Norful song outloud and breathless, as the tears stream down my face.

I have decided,
determined... i'm committed
That i'll run no matter the cost
And I have decided,
determined... i'm committed
That i'll run
Even though at times I may get lost

I'm going to finish my race
I'm going to take my proper place
In the winning circle
I'm going to run anyway
I dont know where or when or how
But I know that i'm going to make it
Oh i'll run this race
Nestled safetly in amazing grace
I've made up my mind
And I dont have much time
But i'll run, Til I Finish

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Overdue and Underdone

I forgot to post my Praise Report. I neglected to invite you to my Hallelujah Dance. In my previous post, my faith held on to a wing and a prayer that my God would prove Himself to be the Great Provider that I know Him to be. Of course He did.

I was staring down the calendar, knowing my applications had been sent out, my interviews had been completed, but the last Unemployment payment was coming on Wednesday. I knew all week - I
knew God would come through, some way, some how. I expected the phone to ring, the letter to come, the email to post. I rested on His promise to me that He's never seen the righteous forsaken or His seed go begging for bread. I told you before, He always comes through.

Every day that week, I woke up and waited in expectation. 'How was He going to do it this time,' I wondered. Monday rolled by, then Tuesday. Wednesday came, the remaining balance of my unemployment claim posted to my account and I spent the rest of the day writing. I wasn't fretting over how we were going to survive during the coming months. I spent a peaceful day with my husband just writing - continuing to do the work God has given me to do.

Then, Thursday morning arrived. For some reason, Derek decided to stay home that day. I love when Derek decides to stay home. After nearly eighteen years serving in the Big House, he needs an extra day here and there to keep his mind and soul in a good place. We were spending the morning cooking up breakfast fit for a king when I wandered to the mailbox.

A letter from the Department of Labor and Industry awaited me. I expected it to say something like, "Your UC benefits are now exhausted. Thanks for playing, now get a job." I almost didn't open it in my assumed knowledge of what it was. Curiosity got the best of me and I opened it up. "Congratulations," it read, "You are financially eligible for an extension on your UC claim for an additional 20 weeks."

I immediately called up L&I to make sure this wasn't a mistake. The woman on the phone, said, "Yes, your claim begins immediately, you can file this Sunday." I heard the joy in her voice arise as she heard the joy in mine.

I did a Hallelujah Dance. Derek came around the corner, wondering what was going on. "He came through, Derek. He always comes through." We both continued to praise God for His provision. I made sure my Facebook friends got a status update. I emailed my personal Prayer Warriors. I called my Mom. The subsequent weeks have held continuous praise. But then I remembered, I forgot to update you.

This is what brings me to why I have entitled this posting "Overdue and Underdone."

First, I left you hanging after my last post. This Praise Report was indeed, overdue. Maybe some of you out there needed the encouragement and the gentle reminder that God is Jehovah Jireh, Lord Provider. Maybe some of you needed to rejoice with me for a moment just so you could see His light in your darkness. Maybe.

But secondly, I'm going to get real personal with you right now. I am constantly being reminded of how much my praise is underdone. It's a little rare - in both meanings of the word. It doesn't reach its completion. I'm a little short on the follow-through. Maybe a lot of us have this same issue, or maybe it's just me. But not only did I fail to use this blog to give God praise, but I have gotten sucked into the lie of loneliness - again. I'm so tired of this trap, I'm ashamed to write this. But here I am, hoping that somehow my struggle will shine some light on your struggle and together, and with God's help, we will both be better for it in the end.

I believe I have intimated to you before how I've never made friends easily. My lifelong friends are strewn across the United States, but not here. This is why I love Facebook. I can keep in touch with all of my friends through my computer and it brings me great joy to be able to make someone smile across the miles.

Lately, my friends have been kind of quiet. My email inbox hasn't exactly been "dinging" too much. My husband and I are in a different place in our marriage at the moment. My one girlfriend who is here seems caught up in her own life. Nine times out of ten, if we make a date to do something together, she calls to cancel. Except for my neighbor who
always needs something from me, and of course my children who always keep me hopping, I don't get too much social interaction - not for the sake of "togetherness," anyway.

It can be a lonely place to feel like you are not important to anyone unless they need something. I have spent entire days wallowing and crying in my loneliness. Monday was the last lonely day I experienced. When I was finally tired of my own pity party and decided to cry out to God, He simply responded, "Now you know how I feel." Ouch.

Of course the next morning's email devotion fell right in line.

From "My Utmost For His Highest":
Take no thought for your life.  Matthew 6:25

"A warning which needs to be reiterated is that the cares of this world,
the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in, will
choke all that God puts in. We are never free from the recurring tides
of this encroachment. If it does not come on the line of clothes and food,
it will come on the line of money or lack of money; of friends or lack of
friends; or on the line of difficult circumstances. It is one steady
encroachment all the time, and unless we allow the Spirit of God to raise
up the standard against it, these things will come in like a flood.

"Take no thought for your life." "Be careful about one thing only," says
our Lord - "your relationship to Me."

Common sense shouts loud and says - "That is absurd, I must consider
how I am going to live, I must consider what I am going to eat and drink."
Jesus says you must not. Beware of allowing the thought that this statement
is made by One Who does not understand our particular circumstances. Jesus
Christ knows our circumstances better than we do, and He says we must not
think about these things so as to make them the one concern of our life.
Whenever there is competition, be sure that you put your relationship to God first.

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." How much evil has begun to threaten
you to-day? What kind of mean little imps have been looking in and saying - Now
what are you going to do next month - this summer? "Be anxious for nothing,"
Jesus says. Look again and think. Keep your mind on the "much more" of your
heavenly Father."

What an awesome reminder was that. If I'm feeling lonely, I need only to turn to
the one who loves me most. My husband can't even love me as much as God loves me.
My parents can't love me as much as I God loves me. When loneliness enters in, how
dare I refuse to throw my arms around my heavenly Father and wallow in self pity?
God, I have learned, needs our love and devotion, too.

Yes, my praise has been overdue and underdone. But thank God for His faithfulness to me.
Surely, I may not be the greatest friend and my friends may not be able to fit me into their days.
But God - He is the greatest friend, Father, and Love there ever was and ever will be.

Let's continue to make our praise timely, continuous and complete.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Just what I needed

Today, I saw a sparrow.

It was quietly hopping up the trunk of the tree behind my house, foraging for food in the cracks of the tree's bark. From what I could see, it was finding plenty to eat as it made its journey up and up, like a chicken pecking at seed.

I didn't know sparrows stuck around during winter months. I wouldn't know where they might go, but just as the Great Blue Herons which majestically soared up and down the river corridor have disappeared for this season, I figured sparrows might have to go elsewhere for their own survival as well. I guess I was wrong.

You might not know the significance seeing this little bird held for me this morning. Each morning, when I wake up, even in freezing temperatures, I make my way to my back deck and stare at the river. I take a moment to give God praise, which is easy to do when I see the wonder of His creation. Directly across the river from my house is Davis Island. I've spent countless hours watching the wildlife on the island and in the river - deer, wild turkey, muskrats, Canadian geese, herons of all kinds, ducks, and even the squirrels which scamper up and down my trees. I've watched a female Cardinal struggle for days to get the attention of a male, and occasionally a great big groundhog finds his way out from under the neighbors porch and makes his way down to the river. On a clear day, I can even see countless trout, bass and muskies swimming beneath the river's surface.

But today, there was no other wildlife to be seen. Today, I saw a sparrow.

It was this little bird feasting on everything it could find which spoke directly to my soul. Indeed, His eye is on the sparrow. "Thank you Jesus, for this reminder," my soul cried out. This is just what I needed.

God has been in the business of reorganizing my life for some time now. I will admit it, it has been very painful. For an overachiever like me, the pain of finding a job, working there for ten months and being "let go" over and over again has been one of the most crushing series of events of my life. Nothing else has hurt quite so much as knowing I consider myself a "career woman," but facing the rejection of job after job. This has warped the perspective in which I see myself, which has the tendency to bring me through dark periods of depression and a lack of self-worth.

On the brighter side, because hindsight is 20/20, I have seen His hand every step of the way. God has continually guided me to places, taught me lessons and revealed His truth, while maybe not-so-gently showing me there is a certain something He wants from me, or of me, and none of these jobs were "it."

I lost my last job in June. At this last place of employment, God did some amazing things to set me on my path. He aggressively dealt with the sins and pains of my past, healed me of those memories and even birthed a book in me whereby I may be able to bring healing to others. Deep stuff. And then, like the gentleman He is, He released me. He clearly spoke to me and told me, "Be still and know that I am God." Let's just say, I've been trying really hard to do what He said.

Then, He brought me back to Milton. This town had been filled with painful memories and places of judgment from my adolescence. But through the work He did on me at my last job, I was able to no longer wince when I thought of this community where I grew up. He ordained circumstances which allowed me to move here, to be blessed with a beautiful home. I still have no idea why He brought me here, but I know His hand is in it.

My Unemployment checks run out this coming week. Although I have applications and interviews under my belt, I have still heard nothing regarding these opportunities. With winter, the utility bills mount. So do things like tension and fear and seasonal depression.

But today, I saw a sparrow.

Afer praising God for His beautiful reminder, I turned to my email for my morning Devotion. Of course, again, He spoke.

From "My Utmost for His Highest":

He went out, not knowing whither he went. Hebrews 11:8

"Have you been "out" in this way? If so, there is no logical statement possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the difficulties in Christian work is this question - "What do you expect to do?" You do not know what you are going to do; the only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually revise your attitude towards God and see if it is a going out of everything, trusting in God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in perpetual wonder - you do not know what God is going to do next. Each morning you wake it is to be a "going out," building in confidence on God. "Take no thought for your life,...nor yet for your body" - take no thought for the things for which you did take thought before you "went out."

Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you Who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you go out in surrender to Him until you are not surprised an atom at anything He does?

Suppose God is the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him- what an impertinence worry is! Let the attitude of the life be a continual "going out" in dependence upon God, and your life will have an ineffable charm about it which is a satisfaction to Jesus. You have to learn to go out of convictions, out of creeds, out of experiences, until so far as your faith is concerned, there is nothing between yourself and God."

I don't know where I'm going, what I'm doing, where the next paycheck will come from, but God does. I have to learn to rest in that. I have continually spoken over myself, "Be still and know that He is God," "God is in control" and "I've never seen the righteous forsaken or His seed begging for bread" when the anxiety was rearing its ugly head. Faith. It's what we need more than anything else - Faith.

Do you have Faith? Do you know He has your back at all times? Do you know He is the greatest Father, Protector, Provider, Healer, Strong Deliverer, Peacemaker, Banner, Shepherd, Righteousness and Presence which ever was, is or is to come? Do you KNOW this? Can you search the depths of your heart and soul and erase all doubt that He always comes through? He ALWAYS comes through. I challenge you to name one time when the Lord didn't come through for you. He may not have come through in the way you wanted, but I bet He made it better in the way He wanted.

Today, I saw a sparrow. As much as I've leaned on the Lord for the past six months, this past month had me leaning on my own understanding again. Well, you know what the Bible says about that. It says "Lean NOT on your understanding." It also says, "Let not your heart be troubled, there is no reason to fear." It says a whole bunch of stuff that feels good when you read it or hear it preached, but is sometimes really hard to live out.

But today - with a little bird climbing up a tree and pecking at what I'm certain were probably bugs, the Lord spoke volumes into my life and clearly told me to share this message with you.

His eye is on the sparrow. Say it again. His eye is on the sparrow. One more time. His EYE is on the SPARROW. And so what? And so I know He watches over me (and You.)