With these hands…

And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days.” Nehemiah 1:3-4

Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. He was pretty comfortable… a good job, security, food. He had everything he could need in his cushy job. But when he heard the news of his homeland, of its destruction, he sat down and wept. He mourned many days, and fasted and prayed. Nehemiah lifted his voice to the Lord and he prayed for all his people… for his homeland. And today in our nation, many of us may feel the same as Nehemiah did so long ago. Many of us may be weeping. My soul aches and tears run like faucets and all I can attribute it to is what seems to be such a senseless tragedy.

Nehemiah not only prayed, he did something else. He was moved beyond complacency. He was so moved that he had to go back to his homeland. Because had to do something. And so, Nehemiah went back and inspected the walls of Jerusalem. They did in fact lay in waste, but he wasn’t discouraged. Instead, he told the people, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem…” He encouraged the downtrodden people. And their response? They said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to do the good work.

What took place in Boston yesterday brought back the memories of September 11, among other tragedies. So long ago, Nehemiah was moved to action. And we see the same thing today. Our hearts are lifted with the many stories of heroes who ran to help, of the local people opening their homes to strangers. But what about those who are so far away, but moved beyond complacency. We may not be able to go physically and lend our hands… so can we do anything? Our tears fall, but can we do more? Yes… I believe at the very least, we can pray. We can lift our hands to God and pray for those who are left, that they may rise up and build. We can clasp our hands together and pray for our entire nation, that we may all rise up and build. We can pray to God that His good hand will be upon us, as it was upon Nehemiah.

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD…” Isaiah 54:17

A Bowl Girl

“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…” Jeremiah 18:2-4 and 6

About seven or eight years ago, my husband and I visited a town called Seagrove, which is known for its pottery. We spent several hours there visiting shop after shop and admiring all the different vessels. Before visiting Seagrove, I never gave much thought to pottery… I just thought bowls. But in Seagrove, I saw a treasure of urns, jugs, pitchers, soap dispensers, plates, platters, and cups, among other earthenware. Each shop housed a myriad of vessels, each one a different shape and size, each one varying slightly in color or texture. No two were exactly alike. And that’s what makes pottery special. Each piece is unique and not to be duplicated. Kind of like us… God’s own earthenware.

Although I was faced with many beautiful pieces that day in Seagrove, I selected a bowl. See, I’m a bowl girl and I simply adore them… all shapes, all sizes. When we were first married, I received several sets, but I didn’t part with any of them. Because to me, there’s something satisfying about the way a bowl looks. I have so many today, but my favorites are the old and scarred ones. I have several pieces of Fire King that remind me of my grandmother. I also have a couple of white bowls that belonged to her, and those are my favorites. Although the white ones are the most simple, and have not a spark of color, they are dearest to me because I remember how my grandmother filled them with sausage gravy. Just like pottery, her sausage gravy cannot be duplicated… hers was unique.

There were a lot of flashy, bright bowls in Seagrove, but I chose a more subdued one… kind of deep brown overlaid with olive green, and almost unrecognizable is turquoise peeking through. And what I really love about this bowl is how it shimmers and gleams in the sunlight. At first glance, the bowl looks drab, but upon closer inspection you see the glimmer. However, it has to be in the light to shine. And you know what I did? At first, it was displayed on my sofa table. I thought it was pretty and wanted to showcase it. And where it was, it did catch some light. But basically, it just sat there… lifeless. A few years later, it was packed away into a box and kept in storage for close to a year. When it was unearthed, I again put it on display. With each move, I used that bowl as a decoration… a piece of knick-knack. And so, over time, it lost its appeal. It became part of the lay of the land around my house. I didn’t really admire it anymore. Finally, it was relegated to the top of my fridge. Still on display, high and lofty… but in the shadows of the room. There, it caught no light.

Just a few months ago, I decided to get that bowl down from its high place. See, to me it had lost its sparkle and shine. It wasn’t as special anymore, and so I decided to use that bowl for what it made for. I actually put it on my counter where it humbly housed fruit… it became serviceable. And so I was surprised when my cousin admired it in its lowly state. She even had to pick it up and peer closely at how the flecks of light sparkled in the sun. And it caused me to take a second glance. Because I had forgotten the shine. It was a dust catcher for so long, I forgot how beautiful the bowl really is. And what strikes me today is that unless I brought that bowl down off that high place where it used to be, it never would have caught the light. It would have been high, but in the dark. It would have stayed dull and unappealing. But that bowl, when low, really shone.

You know, that bowl went through a lot to look like it did. There was a process it endured not only to make it shine, but also to make it serviceable.  First came a drying period. A kiln used low temperatures to dry out the ceramic, and remove all of the water before the final firing. When the vessel was ready, the kiln used higher temperatures and a process called burnout. The kiln was heated to such a temperature that all the impurities were burned away. The next process was sintering, which means the particles of ceramic bonded to each other… the bowl became structurally stronger. That process actually changed the particles of the ceramic from clay into finished ceramic. The final stages of making the ceramic bowl involved glazing. It’s when the piece became sealed and acquired a finished look. This process involved such high temperatures that the oxidation of the exposed ceramic increased so high that the quartz crystal structured with the ceramic actually melted and flowed together. Not a comfortable process, but it’s what makes pottery so beautiful. And it sounds downright painful in light of the fact that this is exactly what God does with us. But it’s this process that gives His vessels their shine.

“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’ Or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?'” Isaiah 45:9-10

God is making each one of us into a vessel for His glory. And we can either let God have his way with us, or we can fight the process. And how much we struggle will probably determine the length of our stay in the kiln. It would probably be helpful if we could begin to understand what kind of vessel it is that He’s forming. Are we urns, filled with God’s living water ready to splash it onto whoever thirsts for eternal life? Are we soap dispensers, spurting out the truth that makes sinners clean? Are we platters, holding mounds of God’s word that nourishes the soul? Or are we bowls, teeming over with the fruit of the Spirit? In essence… how has He gifted us? Is He making us an evangelist, a teacher, a missionary… or something else?

Or perhaps what’s more important to understand is where we are in the process. Are we dry as we wander through the desert on a pilgrimage to Him? Or we in that burnout process, where our impurities are being purged? Are we becoming structurally stronger as we bond to Him? Have we been transformed yet, from clay to ceramic? Are we sealed by Him? Have we been brought through such high temperatures that our selfishness has melted away, leaving only godly desires flowing alongside His own? Have we made it to that final process where we are being glazed by His fire? If so, take heart… because we’re getting ready to shine.

The fact is we are all His vessels, created by Him for His purposes. He is the potter, and we are the clay. And once we know what we are, we can be used by Him. And He wants us to know. See, I’m a bowl girl. Or I hope to be. I hope that I can step down from my high place, and cease striving with Him. I pray that I will humbly let Him make me into whatever it is that He wants me to be. If I can do that, then He will place me on His countertop… for His service. And perhaps I’ll teem over with fruit… His fruit. And just maybe, parts of me will be lit up… just like that bowl that sits on my own countertop.

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you… the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. Isaiah 60:1-2

Self-Serve

First comes faith… we have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He did what He said He did before we can go any further with Him. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. And so we start there… with faith. But what next? How do we come to know God? He promised that if we sought Him with our whole heart, we would find Him, right? So quite naturally, we move on to the next step which is searching His word. Because within the pages of Scripture, we find Him. We learn about His character, about His nature, about His mighty acts. Through His word, we gain knowledge about God. That’s what I set my heart to do three years ago, and I pored through His word. In the fall of 2010, I veered off course for a while. But when I got back on track, I started searching His word with a fine tooth comb. I have a voracious appetite for His word, and it’s what sustains me. Jesus said that Man shall not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God. He also declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

But within the past year, something has occurred to me. Oh, I have gained much knowledge, but what about my heart? Is it beginning to resemble His? If I’m going to be completely honest (and this is the truth about God & me), I have to say… “not so much.” Yes, I have a passion for His word. I love it. I want to read it, I want to share it and discuss it. I love His word. But what about Him? Do I simply love Him, as I am so commanded? And what about His people? Do I love them as He tells me to? Those are the greatest commandments. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… that’s the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. Well, as I examine my heart, I have to say I am not quite doing this. I am trying to love God the best I can… I am loving him with my mind, with the knowledge I’ve gained. But my heart? God help me, it’s not a heart of flesh yet. It’s still somewhat stony, because there are people all around me that I can be loving in tangible ways… but unfortunately, I have not moved beyond my comfort zone to reach out. I have not truly extended my hand to those in need.

I’ve referred to darkness that surrounds me… darkness that I can fall into quite easily. Well, I guess that would be called depression and I go there at times for no apparent reason. And with my mind, and all the knowledge I’ve gained, I’ve tried to fix this problem. But to no avail. I even fasted this past January for 21 days. Not from all food, but particular foods. See, I wanted it to be a spiritual thing, and for those 21 days I purposed certain issues to God. One of those issues being my darkness. But you know… even that spiritual thing turned into something for me. Because I lost weight, and I liked that. And so, the spiritual fast turned into multiple trips to the scales. That wasn’t for God. And in hindsight, I have to wonder if God prompted the fast at all. Because the truth is He already told me how to escape this darkness. It was in the fall of 2011 when I saw a passage of Scripture that so moved me I immediately copied it onto an index card and placed it in plain view for a while. But you know, I don’t think I ever acted on it. Because I still live in darkness. And I still fail to move beyond the comfortable nest of my home and church. This is what God said through Isaiah 58:6-10:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you: the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.”

What is apparent to me is that I have been living selfishly. I have been serving myself heaping helpings of God’s word, gobbling it down and savoring every word, but then… I am the only one nourished by it. I’ve grown fat on God’s words, and feel pretty good about all this knowledge I’ve gained. I’ve sacrificed hours of my time seeking Him, reading His word and praying. I tithe and give money to World Vision. I’m doing everything I should be, right? Wrong. I follow the rules and keep my hands clean. This makes me a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I have neglected the weightier matters of God’s word… justice and mercy and faith. Jesus said to go and learn what this means… “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And I believe this is what He wants for me to learn. Because until I can learn this, healing will elude me. He tells me… extend my soul. If I could just be an extension of Him, then my healing will spring forth speedily. If I could just move my eyes off of me, and onto those that surround me, my darkness will be as the noonday. See, He doesn’t want my sacrifices of tithes and prayers and Bible study. Not unless I can attend to the most simple, and yet weightier matters, too. Because these – mercy… justice… faith – ought to have been done without leaving the others undone. And let me not forget love. If I could just love as He did…. sacrificially.

I have a love for God’s word. And it’s through the study of His word that I know, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” And because of John chapter 1, I know, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Jesus is the Word of God become flesh. If I love His Word, then I do love Him. The problem is all the self-serve I’ve been indulging in.

There’s not a thing wrong with studying God’s word. We’re commanded to. However, it should change us. And it will, if we let it. It will change us if we just do what He says to do. But what He says to do is challenging. Because it means removing ourselves from our bubbles of security. It means in addition to praying for ourselves, we pray for others. It means in addition to writing out checks, we go out there and meet with those who are in need. It means to not hide ourselves from our own flesh. We all have some of those family members, right? The ones who cause trouble… the ones who have so many problems it’s just easier to turn the other way. God tells us to love our neighbor, not just in word but in deed. He tells us to get out there and get dirty. And it’s then, and only then, that our healing shall spring forth speedily. It’s only then that our light shall break forth like the morning. Perhaps then, we will all shine bright in the dark… like Jesus did.

To those who shine bright…

Jesus said let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). And this is for all those out there who are shining bright. You are the ones who bring glory to His name!

I learned something about my husband’s cousin this morning. She has MS, and I didn’t even know it. And you know, although we don’t see each other often, what I remember about this gal is that she is exuberant. She’s joyful. She’s contagious. And she posted something yesterday that moved me to write about yet more struggle. But at the time, I didn’t even know what she was really going through! Because although she wrote about going through a valley, you know what she did? She counted her blessings. She thanked God for what she did have. Rather than bemoan her situation, she brought glory to His name. She shines.

There’s a gal I know who has two boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Oh, how she struggles. I don’t even have a clue how hard she works. But you know what I know about her? She’s beautiful… inside and out. She has such a sweet heart, and for some reason when I see her, I’m drawn to her. She doesn’t complain about her situation. You know what she does? She brings glory to His name. She shines.

You know, my son was baptized this past Sunday. And it was a beautiful ceremony… the pastor sprinkled him with salt, and gave him a candle. See… we’re supposed to be the salt and the light of the world. We’re supposed to shine that light for all to see. And what a joyful occasion it was! My son has invited Jesus into his heart, and he has a hope and a future. He is secure! What glory! And yet, I write about the struggle. May God help me to see what He’s given me. May God help me to embrace my current season in life. May God give me the eyes to see, as I’m so very blind! God help me! Help me to shine! Restore the sparkle to my eye so that I can be like these two gals I know. They’re beautiful, contagious and special. And they bring such glory to Your name.

Lord, help us all to see what we have. Remove the scales from our eyes. Help us all to find blessing in each day. Because it’s all around us. If we can just open our eyes wide enough. And to those who shine bright, for His glory, I say thank you. From the bottom of my heart. You bring glory to His name. May we all follow your lead… may we all shine bright.

In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. Matthew 6:22

I have a dream…

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Psalm 24:3

This afternoon, I had a moment of doubt about what I was doing. Because I have been writing about struggle, and turmoil, and strife.  I even had the song “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne rolling around in my head. It’s a beautiful song… a man sings his heart out about his pain. Trouble following him since the day he was born, and worry won’t leave him alone… but he was saved by a woman. And that woman, she won’t let him go. Do you know what I hear in that song? God. Because Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, but to take heart for He has overcome the world! Trouble is a part of our lives. But it’s not a woman who will save us. It’s Jesus. He is the One who will not let us go.

It was this afternoon when I read a comment on the blog about being thankful and counting blessings. And for a brief period, I felt uncertain about what I was doing. Because all I seem to write about is struggle… not blessing and thankfulness. For some reason, I cannot seem to break through all the strife. Why? Why am I stuck in the valley, when I want to be on the mountain with God? What purpose does the trial, and my writing about it, serve? Wouldn’t it be more effective to write about thankfulness, and counting my blessings? Wouldn’t that bring more glory to God? Wouldn’t uplifting blogs encourage someone all the more? Am I coming across as a whiny, baby???

And God reassured me. There is purpose. He reminded me of my dream. It was birthed in the summer of 2011, and has grown to all consuming proportions in recent days. I want to write because I am passionate about God. He is the One who instilled that passion within me. He is the One who is transforming me into something more… for Him. But along the way, there’s struggle. And so, what comes out is the truth about God and me. And right now, I have trouble. Right now, I’m in a valley. And you know what? I feel deep in my heart that most people out there are living in the valley, too. But, I’m on a journey. I’m ascending a mountain with God, and I want other people to come along with me. I want other people to know what I’ve learned, and what I’m learning. Because it took oh, so long to get just where I am now… and there’s a mountain to climb, and endurance is required. Yes, I’m passionate about my struggle. Because I know in my heart, I am not the only one who feels the same.

Yes, I have a dream, and God reminded me of my dream today through two separate sources. I read an article entitled “5 lies that keep us from dreaming” in the P31 Woman magazine. And after my recent blogs about “Desire,” I just have to share what I read: “Your dreams aren’t about you, they’re about what God wants to do in His kingdom through you.” “So right here, right now, take back your God-given permission to dream and to follow the desires of our heart.” And, “the ‘more’ your heart has desired is what God has wanted to give you all along.” I also read a devotion from a book called, “Fresh Grounded Faith,” by Jennifer Rothschild. The topic? Follow your heart… she talked about Martin Luther King’s famous speech of August 28, 1963. She said that the speech almost didn’t happen. See, Dr. King had a dream, and he talked about it, wrote about it and shared it. Communicating his dream was his passion. And so, his advisors worried that the phrase, “I have a dream,” had been overused. They thought that it might lose its impact, if you can imagine that. And so, Dr. King did follow the new speech; however, before he came to the end he strayed from the transcript. He began to follow his heart, and speak out of his passion. And he said, “I have a dream…” The rest is history, as they say.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – I have a Dream

Martin Luther King had a dream. And his dream was God’s dream… Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”  May we all have just such a dream. And when desire gives birth to passion, may we know that it was God who placed it inside us.

At the end of your rope

Here lately, words of comfort escape me. Because I look around, and honestly, all that I see is struggle. It seems as if every person in my life is going through something, and this morning my heart breaks. Every person I know is suffering in some way… whether it’s doubt, bitterness, despair, overwhelmed, distrust, pain, disease, or something else… it’s there. All the people I love seem to be coming to the end of their rope. Do you know what that term really means? It’s when someone is at the limit of their patience or endurance. And this sums it up… my loved ones have just about hit the wall. Patience and endurance are running low, and for some reason, I am empty with regard to words of encouragement. As a matter of fact, it’s as if I, too, have come to the end of my rope. And so this morning, I did the only thing I knew to do. I cried. I lifted my voice to God and asked for His help. For me… and for all those that I know who are at the end of their rope. And I heard Him. He said, “Strength.”

It was the end of last week when I read the book of Ruth. She married a man named Boaz, and his name means, “In Him is Strength.” I entered the word “Strength” in my journal, and wondered if this was the word I needed to carry with me for my present season in life. And so now I know… it is. But not just for me… strength for them… and strength for you. Last week I read a blog that pointed to Psalm 27. This particular Psalm holds a special place in my heart because of the fall of 2010. My husband had a job interview with a company located in Northern Virginia and I wanted it bad. So we prayed beforehand, and we happened to use this Psalm. But before we even finished, I knew the answer was, “Not this one.” I knew it deep down because we prayed… “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”

Wait on the LORD and He shall strengthen your heart. Do you know that “wait” means to look for, hope and expect? I didn’t know that till a few years ago. To me, wait simply meant that… wait. But God says not to just wait. He says to look for Him, hope in Him, and expect in Him. He says He’ll strengthen our hearts. And we know (at least in our heads), that there is purpose in the wait. God doesn’t allow us to go through things for no reason. He’s working on us. As we wait on Him, we look to Him. We pray to Him. We ask Him for help… we ask Him for His strength. Because we cannot do it alone. We do not possess the strength to get through life on our own. Remember, it’s “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It’s “In Him is Strength”, not in me. And so we wait.

It’s recently that I’ve felt a glimmer of excitement. There’s a fresh hope in me. Because God has reminded me of His strength and power. Somehow, I forgot this most important truth. I became weary with my life and present circumstances. But it was yesterday through Psalm 21:1 that He reminded me… there is joy in His strength. It was through Nehemiah 8:10 that He reminded me, the joy of the LORD is my strength. He knew I needed to read this. Because I was coming to the end of my rope. And it’s obvious that all those around me are sliding down to the end of theirs, too. They’ve just about lost their grip in that no endurance remains, and their patience has run thin. They’ve become weary with their trials… they’re tired of their doubt and bitterness, sick of their distrust and despair, they no longer want to feel overwhelmed, and they don’t want to face another day of pain or disease. What LORD, can You offer as a word of encouragement? Because I’ve been feeling down, too. I don’t know that I have the words…

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. There is no searching of His understanding. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases in strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31

I have to smile when I read that last part… they shall run… they shall walk. Today those words have to be specifically for my dear friend. You see, she’s on crutches. And her God wants her to know He sees her. He is telling her that not only will she walk, but she will run. And may we all run. As we wait on Him, may we be expectant! As we wait on Him, may we have hope! And may we endure… because He will provide the strength.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27

Full Circle

August 31, 2010: How long will you forget me… and my desire to be in Virginia? How long before I know you… and see Your face? How long will I be anxious, and agonize over what I don’t have? Answer me, God! Restore brightness to my eyes, as I live and walk as if I were dead. You will deliver me! (Old journal entry derived from Psalm 13)

I wrote this prayer almost three years ago. And as of April 9, 2013, not much has changed. If I simply replaced my desire for Virginia with my newest desire, I could voice this prayer today. It’s apparent that Desire has been my foe for as long as I can remember. She surely has been residing in my heart for years, as evidence of her fruits are woven throughout my journal entries. Desire promised joy, but she delivered only bitterness and anger. She gave birth to impatience and complacency, and finally, to melancholy and depression. Three years ago, Desire had a grip on me, squeezing until there was no room left for anything good. And she almost won, but God came through for me. And here I am today. Desire’s grip is just as strong, but He is stronger. It’s only in His strength that I can defeat her.

Not long ago, I stood at the edge of a precipice. Because of unmet desires, I lost hope. Tired of waiting, I peered into the depth of darkness, poised and ready to fall… but this time God stopped me. He gave me an outlet for my passion, and the blog came to pass. Through it, I began to pour out my heart and soul and I once again felt purposeful. And it was through the writing that I recently came to a turning point in my life. I began to question every single thing I was doing. Or not doing. I came to the point in which I wanted to know God, and what He really wants of me. Because everything I was doing felt so hollow… empty works. Basically, I came to today… a place in which I want to know from the bottom of my heart just what God created me for. I want to know what His purpose was in making me. I want to know what those good works are that I should be walking in. And so today, I am just as desperate as I was three years ago. Today, I am desperately seeking what God wants me to do. I again want to know what His requirements are. And so today, I find myself just where I was in August of 2010. Full circle.

In August of 2010, I was like a woman with a split personality. Full of desperation, and yet, full of hope. Anger with my circumstances, and yet, acceptance. Up and down, back and forth. I wanted and craved and desired, but then, I accepted and submitted. Today, I am exactly the same! Today I want something every bit as much as I wanted Virginia so long ago. And so I see my current feelings documented on page after page of my old journals. It’s like nothing has changed. And yet, everything has changed. The difference is… today I know Him. It was just under three years ago that I began my search for God. He said, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” So I sought the knowledge of God. I wanted to know Him and I desired a relationship with Him. In the prayer above, I even asked Him, “How long before I know you?” I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but today I know it’s true. I know Him and have that relationship that once eluded me. He answered my prayer. And so now, I have a new hope. See… part of that prayer of so long ago was for God to restore the brightness to my eyes. Then, I felt like the living dead…  exactly how I felt so recently. And although Desire hasn’t lessened her grip on me, and she continues to bear fruit in my life… this time around, I know God! He answered my prayer in bringing me to Virginia, and it’s here that I came to know Him. And I feel certain He’ll answer the rest of my prayer in due season. He’ll one day restore that brightness to my eye. He’ll revive me by breathing new life into my deadened soul. I just need to do my part…

Psalm 27:8 says, “When you said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” This verse holds the key to defeating Desire. Although “seek” has several meanings, one spoke loud and clear this morning. It means, “to desire.” When I can simply desire God’s face, or His presence, as I did then… He will deliver me from my foe. Because His presence is the one thing I should desire. And so today, He brings to remembrance what He told me before… In Your presence is fullness of joy. See, Desire may offer joy, but she can only deliver pain and sorrow. Because what she promises may never come to pass. But God’s promises are true, and what He promises is fullness of joy in His presence. God says, “Do not mourn nor weep… do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” In His presence, I will find the joy Desire couldn’t deliver. And it’s through the joy of the LORD, that I will find the strength to defeat Desire. Because the more time I spend with Him, the more my desire will be for only Him. That’s the day Desire will lose her grip on me.

I’ve come full circle. I’m right back to where I started almost three years ago… desperately seeking God. And now, my hope is renewed. For God answered my prayer and He delivered me. And He’ll do so again.

September 9, 2010: I shall have joy in Your strength, and in Your salvation how greatly shall I rejoice! You have given me my heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of my lips. I asked for life and you gave it. (Old journal entry derived from Psalm 21)

Half-Baked

Aha! I’ve identified my foe, and I know her well. Her name is Desire and she’s crafty and sly. She booked a room at Heartbreak Hotel, but she hasn’t left me yet. She overstays her welcome, but I can’t force her to leave. She dwells here, within my heart, spreading her belongings all around. She spreads her junk in every nook and cranny, displacing the One who also takes up residency in my heart. But Desire is rude and she doesn’t care who she crowds out. She’s pushy, and makes her demands. She rings her bell at all hours of the night, expecting my immediate service. She wants, and she says so. And when she doesn’t get what she wants, she makes noise. She’s so loud, I can’t hear my other Lodger. He speaks, but she’s louder. Desire shouts but He whispers.

Desire is my enemy. I want and I crave and I yearn. I want something so bad, it causes me to suffer. Basically, I cause me to suffer. Because I cannot quell those feelings that take up all my heart and mind. How in the world can I love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind (the first and greatest commandment), when there’s no room left in my heart and mind? I can’t… not the way I’m supposed to. Thus, my battle. What happened to my ammunition… the wisdom I thought I acquired, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Well, my ammo level is running low and I can’t quite strike Desire. Her foxholes are too deep, and my pitiful attempts to crush her are easily avoided.

I want. I want to be a writer… for God. But not just that. I have a deep desire to be a published writer… for God. It’s something that grabs hold of me every now and then, and I fixate on it. And that’s the problem… I fixate on it, my desire, not Him. And so, this becomes my struggle. I fight with myself. I had a beautiful start about a year and a half ago. I wanted to write about God, and His glory and His light, and how He moved in my life. And so I did. But then, I saw opportunity. I saw another glory… for me. Something a lot of folks don’t know about me is that I grew up shy. And throughout my school years, I was always the less than girl. My friends were more than me. Prettier, bolder, more popular… just more. After graduation, I joined the military and there I saw my chance to excel. There I thought I could be more than I was. What a pitiful fall into a pit of muck that turned out to be. Oh, I was more all right… just more of everything I shouldn’t have been. And then, I met my husband. It was through him, I met Jesus. And after a long period of silence with God (because of me), I finally sought Him. I was desperate. About a year and a half into my diligent search for God, I began to catch glimpses of Him. And when I came close to His glory, the desire to write was birthed. It was not of me… He is the One who placed that desire to write inside me. However, after writing out my testimony, I faced my past. All those less than years were brought to the forefront of my mind, and I thought this could be it. Finally, I could be a somebody. Finally, I could be more than I was. And so, the desire to write for God and His glory morphed into the desire to write for me and my glory.

Alas, as time went on, the burning desire to write intensified. I churned out page upon page, but after three writing contests… nothing. And then came defeat. Then came the bitter. Then came depression. The defeated feelings continue to fluctuate as time goes on, but the desire to write remains. Thus the blog. I have to get it all out. And my desire to be more than I am is the battle I fight. I read a Proverbs 31 devotional recently. It was titled Escaping the Rut of Want, and it provided a great picture of myself. The writer mentioned how her daughters baked a cake, but pulled it out of the oven too soon. It looked done from the outside, but the inside was not. As the cake sat there, it imploded. And this, I see, is me. I’m half-baked. Oh, God is making me… but I’m not done yet. There are some air bubbles inside that need to rise to the surface… there’s some raw batter that needs to sit in the oven just a bit longer. The desire I hold to (the one for my glory) has to be burned out. Only God will know when I’m done. Because until I want to be more than just for Him, nothing’s going to happen. Until I can accept my situation, and remain less than so that He can become more than, I will sit in this oven. Until I want to write for Him, and only Him, I remain half-baked.

Desire is a hard thing to rise above. She can only be conquered when I submit to God, and accept who I am today. I am who I am, right? And for today, I am a child of God, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and legal assistant. This is my station in life… this is where God has placed me. Until I can wholeheartedly embrace what He’s given me (and He’s already blessed me with so very much), there is no way He can entrust me with more. When I submit to what I am, Desire will fall away. She will retreat only when I surrender… to Him.

I am a writer… for God. Words burst forth from my heart. I dream about them and recite my composition over and over in my brain till I can get it out. Yes, I am a writer. Psalm 45:1 says, “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” This is me, most of the time. If I can just lose myself and that desire to be more than. If only my sole desire is to write about Him and for Him. If only…

A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul. Proverbs 13:19

Made for More

You know, God speaks through His people. And it was through another blogger, a lady named Annie, that God reminded me of why I write. I do it because I want to encourage people. I want to write about my ups and downs with God… the truth about God & me… so that others will be encouraged when they’re feeling discouraged. Annie mentioned Hebrews 10:25… And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. She said in meeting together (through Facebook, blogs, etc.), we can do just that. We can encourage one another. And so, although I recently lost my way and forgot why I was doing what I do, I am slowly finding my way back. And I remember… I write to encourage. That’s why I do what I do.

And this is what struck me today. Not a new thought, I’m sure, but it hit me in a fresh way. Probably because I was surfing through Facebook, and so many things caught my eye. All different postings, but a common theme in all. Here are a few examples… “When all you’ve got left is being strong~~~you’ve got to find a little faith to fall back on…” This posted by a friend who has two boys, both with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. “Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come,” followed by the words, “I hope so.” This from my loved one who just had her second kidney removed. She’s undergoing dialysis for at least two years, at which time she’ll be eligible for a kidney transplant – if she remains cancer free. “In this world, you will have trouble; but take heart, I have OVERCOME the world.” This shared by a friend that I know has overcome difficulty in her life. “Open house this Sunday… please share, we need to sell our house.” This posted by my sister-in-law. “Lord, I bring to You my burdens and You know my situation. You know I can’t make it without You. Comfort my heart, give me strength and help me carry on.” This on a woman’s page that I knew as a young girl. Her daughter used to be my good friend… she died in a car accident on her 21st birthday. One friend from my youth posted, “Pulled out all of the stops to make Easter everything it always has been…..problem this year is that something very important was missing…..SOMEONE very important….first Easter without my mom….missing her terribly today……” My other good friend replied to that one, as she was missing her own mom and dad. My cousin shared a poem written for her mother who died almost a year ago. And one posting struck me because of its simplicity. It said only, “Every storm runs out of rain…….” I don’t know what she’s going through, but it’s something.

God makes us, that’s true. But as we’re being made, we go through struggles. We’re not guaranteed a smooth ride just because we’re His. On the contrary, we’re promised trouble. But whether it’s something huge or something small, what we can be sure of is that God can use it. In some way. It’s the rough patches we endure that enable us to empathize with each other. It’s the hard times that allow us to rejoice in the good. It’s the struggles that refine us. And you know… it’s the rough times I mentioned above that God uses to make us into what He wants us to be. He uses our bad for His good. And the good presents itself as we’re strengthened through the battle. The good is seen when we overcome. And good abounds when we use our own struggles as a way to encourage one another. It’s after a trial that we’re made by God. And it’s either through or after the battle that we can begin to walk in the good works He’s prepared for us. That’s what the apostle Peter did. Jesus knew Peter would stumble, and so He said, “When you return to Me, strengthen your brethren.” And so He did. And so shall I.

I’m somewhat ashamed to call what I go through a struggle. It severely pales in comparison to the very real battles fought every day by those I’ve mentioned above. But nevertheless, I do struggle. Because I ache inside. No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape dark periods. I’m filled with longing, and battle something that I can’t even place a name to. The only thing I know for certain is that I fight. I struggle with the darkness that hovers on the edge of my peace… just about every day. And so this tells me… I’m made for something more. I know that God will use me somehow and in some way. Because I ache today. And there will be some tomorrow that He’ll use it. When the time is right, I will overcome. And it will be right on time, because God does not delay. He’ll deliver me when He’s ready to use me… for His purposes. This is why He made me.

And to the one who is going through a storm just hoping for that rain to stop… take heart. God will use your pain. In some way. You’re made for more, too.

I am what I am

When I was a new Christian, my focus was on the doing. Because James 2:26 really tripped me up. When I first heard, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” I panicked. Because in the beginning, I had no works to accompany my faith. And quite honestly, a time or two, I doubted my salvation for this very reason. Because my thought process went something like this… Why, oh why, if I am a Christian, do I not feel like everyone else? Why don’t I burn inside with a fire for the cause of Christ? Why don’t I burn because there are souls separated from Him? Why don’t I go out daily to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit orphans and widows, and evangelize on every street corner? Where is the love? Why, oh why, don’t I exhibit the works that should accompany faith? Because James 2:18 states, “I will show you my faith by my works.” Quite clearly, if there were no works evident, then I wasn’t really His, right? These are the thoughts that have plagued me off and on for years. Even as recently as this past year. But today, I am beginning to understand the truth. And the truth is, we don’t know what we should do. At least not by our own power.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28, 29

First comes belief. We simply must believe God, and everything that He says through His word. But after the belief is where so many of us mess up. I’m saying so many because I cannot believe that I am the only one who has lived in this manner. I first believed in 1997. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for something before I even knew His word because I thought I had to. And then I moved away. In 2004, when I found a good church, my faith was deepened… but I got busy. I volunteered for some stuff because I thought I should. In 2008, upon moving back and rejoining this good church, my faith was established and my prayer life took off. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for more than I should have. I do not say this to deter anyone from volunteering… certainly not. But, I do wish to caution those new to the Christian faith. Because we must get to know God before we will know what His work is. If we don’t take the time to know Him, then our works will crumble away and leave behind an embittered, angry soul. I am proof of that.

But here’s the good news. We don’t have to do anything that we don’t feel moved to do. When we are ready, God will move our hearts. We will know when we are supposed to do something, because Jesus will call. Just like with the apostles as they were fishing along the banks of the sea. He said, “Follow Me…” and they heard Him and followed. Just like Moses who was tending sheep. God appeared to him, and Moses heard and was used by God. And just like the apostle Paul, who was formerly known as Saul. Saul persecuted the early Christians and he consented to their deaths. He was actually breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus. And there was Saul, an anti-Christ, but he heard Jesus. Because Jesus selected him. He said, “for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15, 16. Jesus chose Saul, and Saul heard Him when Jesus appeared. Jesus said, “I will show him…”

Later in his life, Paul proclaimed the gospel. It’s what Jesus had appointed him to do. Paul said, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…” I just love what he said. “I am what I am.” And that is the best news for me today. “I am what I am.” I am what He created me to be. I will do what He created me to do. And I will know when He so moves me. As long as I am spending time with Him, and soaking up His word… and as long as I have an intimate relationship with Him, I’ll know. There will no longer be the question, “To be, or not to be,” or “To do, or not to do,” because I’ll just know. I now see that not every work is for me. Because I am a chosen vessel, and I bear His name. And at the right time, He will call me for what He has planned for me to do.

There’s no question about it. If we are His, then there should be works. Just not forced ones. And the good news is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Bear with me… just one more visit to the dictionary… workmanship means, 1) that which has been made 2) a work a) of the works of God as creator. He made us for a purpose… His purpose. We’re His handiwork. And as we are transformed daily, we begin to naturally walk in the works He created just for us. We will fulfill our purpose here on His earth as we walk in Him.

So for now, I will rest in that knowledge. I’ll stop beating myself up when I don’t feel moved like the next person. Because whatever it is that person is doing may not be for me to do. Rather, I will embrace what I am today… a child of God, created by Him and for Him, and created for those works I shall walk in… in Christ Jesus. Because who knows what tomorrow will bring. Who knows who I will be tomorrow. Because every day is a new day with God. And every tomorrow holds promise.

… and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2