A feather or a sign (for my feather buddy)

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I have a friend I don’t see very often. And though I’m a bit older than her, we used to play when we were young. See, our parents were friends way back.

I have great memories of running around her property, riding in the tractor bucket, jumping in their pond, swinging the swings into the high heaven, and singing songs with her and her sister late into the night (Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop, Shimmy, Shimmy, Bop)…

Anyway, life hasn’t turned out so smooth for her. And she posted the most beautiful poem today (copied from a friend). After reading it, I was inspired to write her the longest Facebook message ever. But just as I finished typing it up, my computer went black. Some sort of error shut me down.

When I rebooted, I hoped the message would still be there. That I could send it. When I saw it wasn’t, in frustration, I gave up. I wondered if the computer glitching was a sign to not send anything.

Then, I looked to God and said, you’ll have to send me a sign today if I’m supposed to send that message.

About six hours later, I received the above feather. A totally unexpected gift from my cousin. Well, to me, this is God’s sign. Reach out to my friend and tell her what I’d been thinking…

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I’m six days into this devotion. Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a strong woman…

I’ve told my friend more than once that she’s the strongest woman I know. And if you know who I’m talking about, you know why. See, she takes care of her kids. They need her. More so than other kids need their mama’s.

I ended up printing that poem she shared for my journal. I have her name on it, with a note, “Wonder Woman?” See, I’ve asked her before if she’d be willing to share her story with some women…

How God’s helped her through life.

Today, I wondered again if she’d be willing to. One day. God willing. Maybe via video… because her life is just too up and down to commit to anything outside the home. It was the following from the poem that made me think it again:

“A little one fighting for their life – And you, strong beside them in perfect stride.” Again, “More strength than you had ever known. A faith in God and Him alone.” Again, “You’ll fight and give up and fight some more. You won’t be stopped by seemingly closed doors.” And finally, “Your motherhood was not the way you planned. But today you love more – and stronger you stand.” 

Wow.

This describes my friend perfectly. And what stands out the most is that part about faith in God. Him alone. See, my friend has a faith in God that runs deeper than most and she’s very vocal about it. No matter how rough things get, she continues to praise Him. To thank Him. Never losing hope…

And because of a conversation we had recently (via messenger), I think I understand why…

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

My friend had posted a picture of a feather. I had to ask why because feathers recently took on new meaning to me. I just love the image of God covering us with His and even wrote about it a few months back. Lo and behold, after finishing the piece on feathers, I caught one in mid-air. Out of the blue.

It felt like a miracle.

One month later, I received another feather. This one was deep, down in my purse. I found it the day the state shut down. My second feather coincided with the shelter in place.

Well, after my friend posted the picture of feathers, I learned she loves Psalm 91:4, too. More, I discovered she also receives feathers. Hers being way more dramatic and way more amazing than my finds but that’s not my story to tell…

The point being, because we bonded over feathers, I believe God nudges me to send that message I started earlier. That golden feather inspires me, too.

What I find amazing, though, is that my message would have been incomplete had it gone out earlier. Because I hadn’t read what I did tonight…

And I can’t help but wonder if the timely shut down of my computer was so I’d have the following to pass on first.

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As I said, I’m reading a book called STRONG. Because of that, I’ve really dug into the definitions of strong and weak and meek. The above find provided me with a picture of the younger me. Man, was I meek. But also, I was weak and I hated that about me. Oh, I despised my timid and mousy demeanor.

Not surprisingly, my friends were always the opposite. Bold and secure and strong and confident and all that went with the package. And because I admired them, I made this my aim. I wanted to emulate the strong woman, not the weak.

Because strong women are admirable.

But see, God’s taken me to task over this the past few years. It’s been quite a process. Basically, though, I now comprehend I was trying to be strong according to the world’s standards. More, I was trying to be strong and confident and the whole package through my own power.

But what I want to share here, is that I believe my friend emulates not just the world’s model of a strong woman, but also God’s. I think she is strong because God is within her. I think He equips her and empowers her and I think that’s true because Psalm 91:4 is her verse. “He will cover you with his feathers.”

But I think the key to her strength is found in the first verses of the Psalm…

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

There’s a lot to do with dwelling and resting and abiding in here. And I think my friend does this. She stays with God. She remains with him. She has to. But because she does, she can state the following and really mean it:

“My God, in whom I trust.”

Honestly, before this past year, I couldn’t say that in all sincerity. I still placed my trust in too many other things. And when those things gave way, there went my confidence. When everything I hoped in was shaken, I was left shaking. Insecurity abounded.

Here’s my big revelation of the evening, though. I find it in the definition for trust. Among other things, it means: confidence, secure, confident, bold, sure, to have confidence, to be bold, to be secure, to feel safe.

Wow. This is my definition of a strong woman. It’s everything I ever wanted to be. But I realize if I want to be this kind of woman, I have to dwell in the shadow of His wings. If I want to be bold, I have to remain with God. If I want to be confident, I have to stay with Him.

And I have to tell you, this really kind of rocked my world tonight. Because it feels just like God handed me the blueprint for becoming a strong woman…

Nestled right here in the verses I’ve been meditating on for months and months. Tonight He showed me exactly what a woman who trusts God looks like. She looks just like a strong woman. And she looks just like my friend…

Because when a woman has that kind of faith, it shows. The world can’t help but notice her sureness. An inner strength.

This describes my feather buddy. Because no matter how hard life can be, no matter how difficult, and no matter how crushing, she always displays strength. But I now know, her strength stems from trusting God.

The end result is the strong woman she is.

I want her to know that I’m not the only one who sees her strength. One born not only of struggle, but also, born of God. That’s what I want her to know…

Strength. It’s her feather.

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I realize I could have sent a private letter. Or a whopping personal message. Instead, I opted to post this blog. There’s a reason for that…

See, when my feather buddy and I talked about feathers, she told me it was time to receive another. Well, I’m putting this out there because I’m hopeful it will feel just like she found one…

Because that golden feather given to me out of the blue today? I can’t help but think it was right on time. A nudge from God for me to tell her just what I just did. Thus, I have no doubt in my mind…

That one was just for her.

Because indeed, God covers her with His feathers.

 

Gifted and Talented

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You hear it a lot. Shine your light. Why? So men may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. This is what we hear in church and it’s what we read in the gospels (Matthew 5:13 – 16).

Because for true, we are to be salt. And light.

I dare say, though, it’s pretty easy to get off track. All to often, we may get caught up in busyness and extra curricular works. Even good works. Maybe especially good works. Because Scripture talks about that, too.

As the book of James warns, faith without works is dead, right? So we better darn well get busy doing a work. Any work will do. And the more visible the better. Because we have to shine the light of Jesus in a dark world. How? In the form of good deeds. Something that can be measured and valued and seen by all…

At least that’s where I went off the rails just over a year ago. My heart deceived me and I was led astray by busyness. I thought I wasn’t doing enough. That I had to be more showy in working for the Lord. So I did the wrong thing. I let go of the very thing God created me to do by taking hold of what I thought I should do.

It was a yoke I grabbed hold of. And I slipped it right over my neck and kept it there. It nearly strangled me. Yes, the yoke of empty works nearly snuffed the light right out of me…

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights. James 1:14-17

Sometimes God speaks in unexpected ways and through random sources. Yesterday, His message came through someone I just met. This guy came to our home to see my husband and on his way out, wisdom fell from his lips. He said, “Leave the door open. Let the sun shine in.” And it was just like the light switched on in my soul.

I had to ask my husband if he said what I thought he did. And so I told Jason… the darkness had come back. I’d been as black as night and his words seemed big. My husband’s response?

“Shine on.”

And so God reveals truth to me through a chance encounter with someone my husband had to see. Confirmed by my beloved. Yes. Open the door. Let there be light. And most importantly, shine.

But not through empty works or passionless deeds I think I should do. Instead, may I shine in the way my Father created me to shine. Because this is the best way I can bring Him glory… simply doing what He made me to do.

Using Your Light

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 421-25

I stopped blogging over a year ago. Why? Because I thought it was keeping me from doing more important things. Like ministry or mission work. And so I set out to do something grand. I tried one thing and it failed miserably. I limped away feeling injured and ashamed.

Then, I set out to do the next thing. Oh my gosh was I busy. And I just couldn’t understand why I had to do it all alone. No one really came alongside me to aide my cause. And there lies the truth… it was “my” cause. Not God’s. A work to bring me glory, not Him.

The fact is I simply accomplished an empty work hoping to prove myself. Look at me, everyone! I’m busy. I’m doing something for the kingdom. A miserable attempt at shining God’s light because it was really just a veiled attempt to shine my own.

The worst part? I put something God gave me to the side. He gifted me with a specific passion and I neglected it for well over a year. In a sense, I dug a hole and hid my talent. I hid me. And by doing so, I ended up hiding Him. Hiding God’s light by hiding my own.

How crazy is that?

And so the above passage from Mark resonates. Because it’s a warning, really. God’s telling me to use what He gave me. He’s telling me to unearth what I’d buried. And the scariest part? If I don’t start using what He dispensed, He’ll take it from me.

“Gifted and Talented”

When I was a little girl, I was part of the “Gifted and Talented” program at school. And quite rightly, they no longer call it that because we’re all gifted and talented in our own way. We all have the capacity to shine if we’re operating with the tools He provided us.

Me? I was selected because I liked to draw. That’s why I got to participate in the program and I liked it. Because it made me feel special. It brought me some attention. And dare I say a little bit of glory?

Anyway, God stitched an artistic bone into my being as He knit me together in my mama’s womb. Later in life, He awakened another passion. He gave me the desire to write and I did so with wild abandon.

In the Fall of 2011, I began to write and it consumed me for years. The problem was I got carried away by this new “gift” and a war began in my heart. Yes, my flesh began to crave the little bit of glory writing brought my way.

Just like that little girl I was when I participated in “gifted and talented.”

That’s when I decided I should put it away. I decided I couldn’t handle the compliments so I dug a hole and buried God’s gifts. I thought it better to pursue other other methods of light shining like busyness. Ministry, I called it. Because writing and painting just didn’t seem to be enough.

Fortunately, a lesson from Matthew 25:14-30 teaches me otherwise. Furthermore, it underscores the stern lesson of using your light (or losing it).

See, there were three servants and their master gave to each “talents.” It was money… the equivalent of 200 pounds of silver or 100 pounds of gold. One was given five talents, another given two, and the last received one talent – each given according to their ability.

The first two servants did well. The one who received five gained five more and the one who received two gained two. But the slave who received only one talent dug a hole and buried it. In his defense, he told his master he was afraid so he hid it. He said, “Look you have what is yours.”

His master’s words are terrifying. “You evil, lazy slave…” He took the talent away and gave it to the one who had ten. And his words reiterate the very ones from Mark 4 I find so scary…

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw this good for nothing slave into the outer darkness.”

And that’s where the servant ended up. Darkness. Which brings to mind what I said earlier. “The darkness came back.” My revelation being that this is where I’ll end up when I don’t use my talent, which really belongs to God anyway.

Yes, I believe my not doing what God made me to do brought on the darkness. Because when I’m not doing what I love, I feel lifeless. Purposeless. And so the hole I dug to hide me and my talent turns into a grave…

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“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I painted the above picture recently. It’s my dad and me. And I like that Daddy’s giving me his love. I also like that Daddy resembles Jesus here. Jesus with a headband.

Anyway, my dad gave me what he had to give. Like a hug every. And Jesus? Well, He gave what He had to give, too. Like light. And He still gives it.

As for the darkness that recently came my way, well, I don’t think I was following Him. And the promise of light is for those who follow Him. I just got side-tracked. And the further I went in my own direction, the darker it got.

But some random man woke me up yesterday. He said to leave the door open and let the sun shine in. And from here on out, I pray that I do.

I pray to uncover what was hidden. Like the words He places within… messages that burn so bright. I pray to put my “gifts and talents” on a lampstand because that’s the best way to shine His light. The purest way to bring Him glory.

And God help me if I don’t because I believe what He says. He warns that if I keep what He gives me hidden, He’ll give them to someone else. Someone who’ll use them and multiply them.

So I pray…

Yes, God, please give me the courage to shine your light in a dark place. Equip me to use what you gave. Because You made a promise… You said more will come my way.

More gifts and more talents and more light…

All for Your glory. 

Yes, this is how I can shine my light.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. Isaiah 60:1

The mouth of the cave.

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Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. James 5:7-8

One story I go to again and again is Elijah’s. And every time I read about this man’s wilderness trek to Horeb, I’m overwhelmed by a tender and merciful God. About a month ago, Elijah was brought to mind once more through a Beth Moore study (James: Mercy Triumphs). Beth touched on what happened before the desert journey… when God worked through Elijah, a man with a nature just like ours, in a miraculous way. When he prayed for no rain, it didn’t do so for three years and six months. But then, when he prayed for the rain to come, the skies broke open and watered the land. Beth highlighted his faith.

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.” But when Elijah said this, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Yet, he promised a downpour. He went up a mountain and bowed to the ground sending his servant off to check the horizon. Nothing. Seven times he sent his servant, finally to hear the report, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming from the sea.” And so from this teeny, tiny cloud, Elijah gave warning, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.'” What faith he displayed in forecasting a rainstorm when seeing only a tuft of cloud. Sure enough, after a while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. 1 Kings 18:46 says, “The power of the LORD was on Elijah…”

So, what happened? How could one who encountered God in such a way shrink back in fear? Because the next chapter shows Elijah wandering through Beer-sheba (desert). One verse describes Elijah running for his life, and yet another records Elijah’s request for God to take his life. “I have had enough! LORD, take my life.” That’s when he lay down to sleep. Elijah literally had a mountaintop experience with God, but slid down to the backside of the desert. And this is what moves me every time. An angel touched him and encouraged him. “Get up and eat.” A loaf of bread and a jug of water was provided for sustenance. Afterward, he lay back down. Again, the angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” And so, after eating and drinking the second time, he was strengthened to walk for 40 days and 40 nights through the desert. To Horeb. The mountain of God. That’s where Elijah camped out in a cave. And it was there, he encountered God.

Now, tone is everything. I don’t know how God sounded when He called out to Elijah but in my ear, I hear tenderness. I hear compassion and mercy. I hear care as He whispers, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And when Elijah vented, raging about his circumstances and the struggle, God let him. And when he railed about how alone he felt, God listened. But then, He simply said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”

At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  1 Kings 19:11-13

Twice God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” It touches me for God wasn’t harsh. Rather, He gently reminded His servant of unfinished business through a softly spoken question. When Elijah heard Him, he roused and stood at the mouth of the cave. But he didn’t yet step out. It was as if he had one foot in, one foot out. And before stepping out, he voiced his complaint one more time. But God simply gave instructions. He said, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascas.” Apparently, Elijah had spent enough time on the mountain. He had work to do, for he had rested, refueled, and was strengthened. After he encountered the living God, it was time to journey onward.

I think about Elijah a lot. Because I’m in awe that he could slip away… that he could stumble… that he could falter… that he could fear. But as the book of James says, he was a man with a nature like ours. He was only human. And when it comes down to it, I think Elijah was just empty. I don’t think he had in him what he needed to carry on. He had depleted his storehouse of energy and faith. And so, he had a layover in his journey. A time to rest and replenish. This is how I feel sometimes.

At times, I just need to quit what I’m doing. I make frequent stops for the bread of life and living waters, which are necessary for sustaining life in a barren land. However, after filling my horn with oil, I’m supposed to get up and go. I cannot tarry at the mouth of the cave. And today, I think this is where I am. I tremble at the mouth of the cave for I fear leaving the place where I last encountered God. But that’s where the walk of faith comes in. As Beth Moore said, it’s the law of the harvest. It’s easy to rely on God when He’s right there in your midst and you marvel as He rains down on your life. It’s those other times, the dry times between the rains, where faith gets exercised. And like Elijah needed faith to step out of that cave, I need it, too.

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This is Molly, my little cave dweller. I’ve written about her before as I contrasted the difference between her and my other kitty, Otis, who is a fearless traveler. But here lately, I’ve noticed a change in Molly. For where she once peered out of the mouth of her cave, our doorway, she now wants to go beyond the entrance. At first, she was timid and had to be near me. Not only that, I had to leave the door open. If it was closed, she ran back and stood there till I opened it. She’d scurry past me as she ran out of sight. But inevitably, she’d come back to the door so she could peer out again. And we’d do the routine all over again. Eventually, I began to leave the door open so she’d have a sense of security. But you know what, it was just this past week or so that she seemed to no longer need that security. I’ve closed the door and she doesn’t fret. Not only that, she ventures out of my line of sight. She doesn’t need to see me anymore to feel safe. Confidence dispels her fear. And in this, I rejoice. Yes, Molly may be well along in years (she’s fifteen), but her life’s not over yet. And as old as she is, she is just now learning to step out in faith.

Truth is, the mouth of Molly’s cave looks just like mine. And God already called out to the cave dweller that I am… once, twice, three times, or more. I heard His tender whisper over two years ago when He said, “What are you doing here, Pam?” But I tarried. See, the mouth of the cave is comfortable, one foot in and one foot out. It’s so easy to step back into my nest of security if I need to. But I hear Him anew, “What are you doing here…” And His question prompts me to rise for I know He bids me, “Get up! Go!” He’s given me instructions more than once. But a twinge of fear lingers. For if I venture out a few short steps, the door to my cave may close. And then, there’ll be no turning back. I’ll have to walk one step after another until I reach my next Mount Horeb. But this is what He wants from me… my steps of faith. The carry me from one mountaintop to another. And if experience has taught me anything, I know that the path may become dry and thirsty along the way. But as long as I continue to seek His face, He’ll show up. He’s near to those who call on Him. And you know, He hasn’t let me down yet. I am confident that when I can’t quite see Him and I’m at my driest, God will rain down on me once more.

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12

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What Mary Said

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And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Who doesn’t love the Beatles? Don’t most of us sing along with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison? When we hear those familiar tunes, don’t we all love to belt out the lyrics to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” or “Twist and Shout,” or “Here Comes the Sun.” I do. When I hear them, I can’t help but join in.

And so, this morning’s revelation kind of stopped me in my tracks. Because today was the day I realized that the Beatles sang Scripture. And so, when millions of people sing along with Paul McCartney, they too, are singing Scripture. For “Let it Be” is biblical. It’s found in the book of Luke, chapter 1, verse 38. “Let it be…” And the words belonged to Mary. It’s what she said.

Sing along if you know the lines…

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be…

Today I contemplated the lyrics of this song for the first time. Ever. Despite having heard the song hundreds of times, and having always understood that Mary is the mother of Christ, today I paused to consider their deeper meaning. “Let it Be.” What Let it Be could have meant to the Beatles. And what Let it Be means for us today. What wisdom lie within those words uttered by Mother Mary. Let’s consider…

Mary was a young virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. And like any young girl who is soon to be married, don’t you think her mind was filled with what was to come? For she was soon to be a woman. She would soon leave her family to be joined with a man… becoming one flesh. But one day, everything changed.

An angel appeared to her, startling her with his greeting, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Mary was troubled, and so the angel encouraged her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” He proceeded to tell her of what was to come, but she couldn’t imagine how that could be, for she had never known a man. The angel’s reply…

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Imagine. This was a young girl. She had never been intimate with a man but she was told she would conceive. Do you think she was joyful? Or full of trepidation? For a woman didn’t have as many rights then as she does today. No, an unwed, pregnant girl would surely endure hardship.

And what of her engagement… what would Joseph think? If we had lived then, and found ourselves in similar circumstances, would we have responded as Mary did? In the face of harsh reality, could we have done the courageous thing.

Knowing with certainty that people would scorn and ridicule her, Mary accepted her fate. She was destined to be the mother of God’s Son, and she welcomed her circumstances. And despite what was sure to come her way, Mary said the courageous thing. She spoke words of wisdom and replied, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Let it Be. To me.

Mary may have been a young girl, but she was wise. God chosen one. And blessed was she who believed, for there was a fulfillment of those things which were told her. For she knew with God that anything was possible. Thus, she faced what life served up. She walked in courage and in strength for she dwelled within the shadow of the Most High. And as she poured herself into Jesus, her Son grew within the shadow of her love.

But over time, as she watched Jesus grow in stature with God and with men, she realized her destiny was complete. Because God’s love for the world, which was housed in a man called Jesus, soon eclipsed Mary’s love for her own. For Jesus was God in the flesh, and He had His own destiny to fulfill. And so, again, Mary had to let it be. Circumstances were beyond her control.

Let it be were the wise words of Mother Mary. They were also the words of the Beatles. And I just learned that circumstances may not have been so favorable at that time, for “Let it Be” was their breakup album. Perhaps those young men were drawing strength from Mary’s words at a time when they needed to be encouraged. Because Paul McCartney cries out no less than 36 times, “Let it Be!”

See, the band was parting ways, soon to venture off on individual paths. Was it an angry split? Or was it just time? Regardless of the reason, I’m sure a bittersweet season hovered upon their souls. And so Paul’s words must have come from a deep place. Words spewed forth from a turbulent heart. And ours too, as we echo his refrain, “Let it Be.”

I’m sure Paul meant what he sang. And may we feel the same. When life serves up something we’re not quite sure how to handle, may we face it courageously. And in our darkest hour, may Mary’s words be planted deep inside sprouting forth the peace we crave…

“Let it Be, unto me… according to your word, Lord.”

As for Mary, she was wise indeed. And she had a way with words. Even after Jesus was a grown man with His own ministry. For there was a wedding but the wine ran dry.

Mary knew what to do, though. She turned to Jesus. He replied, “My hour has not yet come.” She must have been persistent, though, for she directed the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

More words of wisdom from Mary.

And the people listened to her. And did what she said. And what He said. Then, they beheld a miracle. Water turned to wine. And Mary? She probably wasn’t surprised. For she knew…

With God all things are possible.

And she knew her Son. For she grew up in the shadow of His love.

Mary turned to Jesus in an hour of need. And she pointed others in the same direction. She did so by speaking words of wisdom…

Let it Be…

It’s what Mary said.

 

I am Forgiven

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This past weekend was lovely. I gathered with close to thirty women in His name. We laughed. We cried. We shared. We sang. We studied God’s word. And we prayed. Sunday morning we talked about Mary, the mother of Jesus. And as I meditated on her, and thought about Him, my heart was moved. Tears hovered on the edges of my lashes as I gazed at pictures of Him, and for once, I was without words. Afterward, we shared communion. Just us women. And I don’t think communion has ever meant more to me. And I believe that’s because for the very first time, I see myself as I really am. A sinner. And for the very first time, perhaps I really believe it… that I am forgiven.

It was the previous week that God provided a vivid picture of me through my son. He’s been going through a shaky patch, birthed when he began staying after school. And for some odd reason – his faith in me has been shaken. The school actually called one afternoon because my son was in tears, terrified that I would forget him. I was almost speechless. Where in the world did this come from? First, I tried to comfort him. Then, I grilled him. And later, I exhorted him.  But alas, my son remained weepy and attached for weeks. The only thing that consoled him was a note I had written and posted to the refrigerator in full view. It detailed the dates and times and the whens and wheres I would meet my son. This seemed to work.

Finally, when my son’s after school commitment was over, I tossed the note in the trash. I told him we don’t need it anymore. But to my dismay, his little face crumpled up, and tears spurted. He wanted that note back up. But I refused. I sat him on my kitchen counter and peered into his eyes. I cupped his cheek and said, “Don’t you know that your mama won’t forget you? Don’t you know that I’ll always be there to meet you? Don’t you trust me?” And mouth askew, he shook his little tear stained face back and forth to answer. No. And I was stunned for my son told me that he didn’t trust me. And as soon as I helped him off that counter, that little stinker proceeded on his own with paper and marker, and made his own chart for my use. See, my spoken words alone were not enough to boost his faith. He needed written words to give him comfort.

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You know… one of the biggest questions that’s plagued me throughout my spiritual journey is, “Where is the love?” If I am really His girl, then why don’t I feel His unconditional love? And if I were truly His daughter, then why don’t I feel love towards every person I come into contact with? Furthermore, why have I held to a judgmental attitude all this time? And the answer to all these questions, I believe, is really quite simple. I think it has everything to do with what my little boy has been going through. For I’ve been lacking what he lacks. And it’s called trust. It’s called faith. Therein lies the real question, “Do I trust Him?”

Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil. When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he said, “say it.”  

“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him. Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50

In truth, I have always more readily identified with the Pharisee in this story. But today… today, I finally see a glimpse of me in this forgiven woman. See, I read something last week. Quite some time ago, I participated in a study called “Forgiven and Set Free,” but I had forgotten what was written… “Still don’t feel forgiven? Then believe it. Just believe it.” Ah. Belief. First comes belief. Simply take Him at His word and trust that I am forgiven. Then comes love… the love that seems to have escaped me. For Jesus said, “…her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much.” That literally means, “Her love shows that she has been forgiven.” Later, Jesus told the woman that her faith has saved her. Her faith. Her trust.

You know, I was horrified when my son told me that he doesn’t trust me. He didn’t have enough faith in me that I would be there to meet him. He thought I would forget him, and so, a few written words on a piece of paper gave him comfort. Those written words increased his faith in me. Just as with me, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. And don’t you know that just as much as I comforted and grilled and exhorted my son, God does the same thing with me. Every bit as much as I want my son to believe in me, He wants me to believe in Him. He wants me to take His word for it, just as I expect my son to take me at mine.

Oh, what a picture. A sweet little boy sitting on a counter looking into his mama’s eyes. His little heart broken and shaken. He didn’t believe. And then, there’s me. A little girl sitting on a chair, looking into my Father’s eyes. My heart broken and shaken. I spoke words into my son’s heart, and God speaks the same into mine.  All this time, He’s been saying to me… “Don’t you know that I won’t forget you? Don’t you know that I’ll always be there to meet you? Don’t you trust me, Pam? Don’t you believe Me?” For so long, He must have seen me looking back at Him, mouth askew, shaking my tear stained face back and forth in answer. No, God. I don’t believe You.

But today… today, is different. I say, “Yes, Abba. Yes, Daddy, I believe you! I am forgiven.”

And His daughter will walk forth in love. For my love shows that I am forgiven.

“Ah!” His disciples said. “Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God.” Jesus responded to them, “Do you now believe?” John 16:29-31

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=He+is+with+us&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=F129ADE72250D5534FCEF129ADE72250D5534FCE

Jacob’s ladder of success

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The truth about me today is that I feel mad. MAD. I feel thwarted at every turn. There are so many things I want to do, that I aspire to do, that I plan to do… and yet, a wall. One delay after another. And so, today, I just stopped. I picked up the kitten I’m “baby-sitting” and laid on my son’s bed. MAD. And I thought to myself, fine. If I can’t do the things I need to do, then I’m just going to lay here and do nothing. NOTHING. And I lay there and seethed, dripping in fury. But as I lay there, and sleep beckoned me, I began to think. Well, there’s the cucumbers that need to be drained (canning tonight). And there’s the load of clothes in the dryer and the wet ones in the wash. And the sink full of dirty dishes, and there are emails to answer (for work). And lastly, but certainly not least, there’s my son who needs my attention. And so, I arose. But after arising, I had some new thoughts about my anger. Well, old ones, really, but those thoughts were brought to the forefront of my mind.

My anger. I know why it flares up. I see it every time. It’s when I don’t get my way. And when things don’t go my way, it’s my selfish nature that’s on full display for all to see. And yet, I think it goes a bit deeper… as I lay in my vegetative state this afternoon (which was really just a reverse tantrum), I contemplated my feelings of ire. And I realized that although my anger is derived from my selfishness, ultimately, it’s the lure of success that feeds the selfishness. And by not achieving the success I grasp at so desperately, I feel mad. MAD. And so, I climb up a few rungs, only to slide back down making little or no progress. And so I ask myself, what exactly am I trying to gain? What exactly am I trying to prove? What is it that pulls me to climb higher? And I see… it’s not God and what He would call success, but worldly success that woes me to climb, climb, climb. If I want to be truthful, and since this blog is called the Truth about God & me, I suppose I must, I have to confess that maybe my definition of success more closely resembles the 2nd one I read below.

  1. achievement of intention: the achievement of something planned or attempted
  2. attainment of fame, wealth, or power: impressive achievement, especially the attainment of fame, wealth, or power
  3. something that turns out well: something that turns out as planned or intended

Jacob, the Patriarch, has been brought to mind several times here lately. More particularly, that infamous dream of his… Jacob’s ladder. And I didn’t pay much attention at first, because I thought his story was old news as far as I was concerned. See, I thought I had already gained all that I could from Jacob’s story (since I had read it many times before). But today… today, I saw something new. Today, I saw something in Jacob’s life that aligns right alongside mine. I saw that Jacob did the same thing I’m doing today… grasping at success. And perhaps, he was trying to climb that worldly ladder of success, too. Because he sure did whatever he could to get there.

I had always been told that Jacob’s name means deceit. True, that, but my Bible shows another definition of his name… He Gasps the Heel. And I think this meaning sheds new light on Jacob. Blue Letter Bible (online) shows “heel holder” or “supplanter,” and if you go just a step further and look up the root word of his name, you’ll find “to supplant, circumvent, take by the heel, assail insidiously, overreach.” This was Jacob. The Patriarch. Abraham’s grandson. And perhaps it was his destiny to be deceitful, to be a heel grabber, to be a supplanter, for the LORD appeared to his mother and said, “Two nations are in your womb; two people will com from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23

Sure enough, it began at birth. Esau emerged from his mother’s womb, but afterward Jacob… grasping his brother’s heel. Even then, so young, did he think, “Me first!” Me first. Did Jacob know what the LORD told his mother? Did she share that information… that the older will serve the younger? Or did Jacob just do what came naturally to him? Did he enter the world with a me first mentality, and did he feel that he would do whatever it took to rise to the top? Did he care who he hurt along the way? And what about the path he chose? Did he overreach his bounds through his actions? Did he circumvent God’s plan to achieve his own as he supplanted his elder brother? Or, was everything Jacob did necessary for his life’s journey. Let’s go back and see…

Esau was hungry. Where was Jacob’s compassion when his brother asked for something to eat? Rather than graciously fill a bowl, Jacob took advantage of the situation and demanded that Esau sell him his birthright. And as Esau did, Jacob ascended a rung of the ladder of success. Worldly speaking. And the big one… the stolen blessing. What treachery… what trickery… what thievery… what deceit! Jacob actually dressed in goat skins so that he would be hairy like his brother. He pretended to be Esau before his elderly father, who had poor eyesight. And the ploy worked, and Jacob gained the blessing that Isaac intended for his eldest son. Surely this act alone propelled him up that ladder three or four rungs. He achieved what he set out to do… success. He, the younger, ended up with Esau’s birthright and his blessing. The older would surely serve the younger.

But then, reality set in. Oh, Jacob gained what he wanted alright, but his brother wanted to kill him. Esau was mad. MAD. And he wouldn’t forget. And so, Jacob did what most of us would do. At his mother’s prompting, he ran away. And so, he left his home and went on a journey. And darkness descended upon him. I would venture to say his heart was as dark as his surroundings.

He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. Genesis 28:11-12

I love this portion of Scripture. Because this is the moment that Jacob encountered the living God. This is the moment that the LORD God, God of Abraham, and God of his father became Jacob’s personal God. This is the moment that God became real to Him. It’s where God came down and met Jacob… right where he was. In the midst of the darkness and in the midst of the mess that he made of his life. God came to him, and made promises to Jacob. He promised blessing, and a future through his offspring, and God said that He was with him. God said, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob woke up from his slumber, he knew the truth. He knew God had visited him, and gave him that dream. And Jacob did what he should have. He did what we should all do when we encounter the living God.

Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. Genesis 28:18

Jacob marked the moment. For this was the real beginning for Jacob, when God became his own. And from that moment on, Jacob began gathering stones. But first, God gave Jacob a vision. He gave Jacob a dream. A good dream. And perhaps it was then that Jacob realized the ladder of success he had been climbing was not worth climbing at all. Because God showed him another ladder… one that reached to heaven.

See, Jacob was a ladder climber. Just like me. And it was Jacob’s nature to do whatever he thought necessary to climb to the top… rung by rung. He stopped at nothing to achieve what he purposed. And he didn’t stop long enough to think about who was hurt in the process. Not until it was too late. Am I any different? The truth is… as I ascend the so called ladder of success, rung by rung, I do the same thing that Jacob did. I want what I want. I want success. And I have a dream, so I lay aside so many things as I feed that dream. I do whatever I think is necessary to further the dream. But at what cost? Because usually, I don’t stop long enough to think about those I hurt in the process. Not until it’s too late. Like my little boy, who sits in the other room as I type. What about him? My dream is good, yes. I do want to write for God. But now, I have to ask myself… Is it for His glory? Or mine? Because it started out for Him. But as I ascended a rung, the next one didn’t look so high. And so, the original dream faded… my dream became bigger. But God’s gives dreams. And the dream He gave to Jacob is the one He gives to me.

Oh, I have a dream. But God’s dream is bigger. And the truth is, until my dream is God’s dream… I’ll slide right down that ladder of success I so desperately try to climb. Before I know it, I’ll be back on the ground. And so, I remember… the bigger dream. I remember a ladder, with angels going up and down on it. And I remember Him. Not me and my success. But His. It’s His dream. Always was, and always will be.

Then He said, “I assure you; You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:51

Set in Stone

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“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness,
You who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.” Isaiah 51:1

It begins when you determine it in your heart. When you purpose to know God, then things begin to change. What once seemed a chore (reading the Bible), becomes your favorite thing. You come to a point in which you cannot get enough of God’s word. You pore over it, and it is poured into you. You fill up with His words, and then a miracle takes place… words spoken so long ago begin to speak directly to you. God begins to lead you in what’s next. I believe it was the fall of 2011 that Isaiah 51:1 prompted me into action. How beautiful the verse that directed me to go back, back the way I came. This is the verse that made me think of my ancestors, and my upbringing, and the events that led me to where I was two years ago. Yes, I looked back – to the rock from which I was hewn.

And not that long ago, I was again led to my past. Again, I am looking to the rock from which I was hewn. But now, I think God means something more… I see that in reading the Old Testament. You know, God did amazing things with the children of Israel. Miracles took place, and a couple of times – those miracles involved crossing water. God led His people through waters, raging waters, deep waters. But, He stopped the water so they could pass. He did the impossible right before their eyes. The first time, God’s chosen people were enslaved. He delivered them from Egypt… saved them from their circumstances, and they crossed over the Red Sea. Afterward came the wilderness wandering. It was there, in the desert that God spoke to them. Moses approached the thunder and lightning, and entered the thick darkness where God was. And God gave Moses all of His commandments. He told Moses everything that was expected of His people. His commands were set in stone…

“On the day of the assembly the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, inscribed by God’s finger. The exact words were on them, which the LORD spoke to you from the fire on the mountain. The LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant, at the end of the 40 days and 40 nights.” Deuteronomy 9:10-11

I’m sure most of you are familiar with what took place within those 40 days that Moses was away. The children of Israel became impatient, and turned away from God so very quickly. While Moses was receiving all of God’s commands, set in stone, God’s chosen people were turning away from Him. As Moses came down the mountain and saw what the people were doing, so enraged was he that he broke the stone tablets… the tablets that contained God’s holy word, inscribed by God’s own finger. The stone tablets were shattered, a picture of how God’s chosen people were shattering His laws by their actions. You know, in the next chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses was given that law again.

“The LORD said to me at that time, ‘Cut two stone tablets like the first ones and come to Me on this mountain…” Deuteronomy 10:1

Moses spent yet another 40 days and 40 nights with God, like the first time, and he received God’s words anew. Again, God wrote His commands on two tablets – His word set in stone. And again, Moses exhorted the people. He again brought God’s word to the people. In my mind, it’s as if the children of Israel were looking to the rock from which they were hewn. They again had to look to the stone… the stone that commanded them how to live their lives before God. They had God’s word to guide them. And they had the presence of the LORD Himself, as He moved them along the wilderness… 40 years.

Then the time came! The promised land was in sight, and God was ready to bring His people into the land. But, there was another river to cross. Another miracle to take place. And God was faithful. He stopped the flow of the Jordan River. An entire nation of people crossed over. Afterward, God spoke to Joshua…

“Choose twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, ‘Take 12 stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests’ feet are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night.'” In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7   

God’s miracles, set in stone. Stones to mark the Israelites’ path, to remind them of God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy and His power. Stones for future generations to see, and to learn of their forefathers’ God. A God to lead them, just as He led their ancestors. Notice God said to go to the middle of the Jordan. Perhaps it was there, in the middle, that the waters would have run the deepest. Perhaps it was the middle of the dry river bed that the people began to tremble in fear and doubt when they saw the wall of water that could come crashing down at any moment. It was there, in the middle, that they needed to muster the most courage… and faith. It was in the middle of a dry river bed that the Israelites witnessed God doing the impossible… for them. And they set up stone markers to remember His deeds.

And so, this is what I do today. In looking back to the rock from which I am hewn, I am gathering stones. I am setting up stones to mark the path I have already traveled. I can look back and remember, yes, God. When the storm raged its fiercest, when the darkness seemed the thickest, and when the waters threatened to overtake me… God. Markers, in journal format, to memorialize God’s miracles… set in stone. But wait, there’s more. May I not forget the most important stone. Yes, it’s true I come from a family here on earth. Yes, I can look back to the rock from which I was hewn in the form of my ancestors, but there’s the Rock. May I not forget Him:

For it stands in Scripture: Look! I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and valuable cornerstone, and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame! 1 Peter 2:6

This rock. This chosen and valuable stone is the stone. If I look to any rock from which I am hewn, may it be this One. For it is Him who gives me victory. Today, I can look back. I can look to God’s commands, which are set in stone. I can look to my past, and the stone markers along life’s highway that help me remember the great things He has done. And I can look to the Cornerstone – for I am cut from His quarry. I can have confidence, for whenever there’s a new river to cross, or a storm to pass, or darkness to overcome, or there are doubts that assail me, I will look to this Rock from which I am hewn. I will remember Him, and how He overcame. Jesus on the cross is the victory. And it’s through His cross that we can cross over at all…

And as for life… well, there will be many rivers to cross. But thanks be to God that we have the cross.