His grace still amazes me

I have a confession to make.  I am not a very good patient.  Patient, as in sick person, individual recovering from surgery, that kind of patient.  I am something of a hypochondriac and I can be Eeyore from time to time, imagining the worst and worrying over things I can’t change.  I’ve spent too much time in the 55 years I’ve been on this earth waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m not happy that I’m this way, and I certainly don’t think my gloom and doom honors God very much.  One of my most frequent prayers asks the Lord to help me to trust Him more.  I wonder if He sometimes wants to shake me and tell me that He’s trying if I would just learn the lesson!

This past year has asked me to not only be a good patient, but to lean on that trust more than I’ve ever had to before.  Many of you know that in the past 9 months I’ve been hospitalized with blood clots in my lungs, sat and waited for Scott to come out of triple bypass surgery, and then had a hysterectomy in order to deal with my diagnosis of endometrial cancer.  Our days have been challenging, to say the least, and my fretfulness hasn’t helped any of us.  But then, just when I need them the most, the Lord allows me an epiphany.  You know what an epipany is, right?  one of those unexpected moments of divine revelation when you’re given just a glimpse into the nature of God and how He is working His will out in your life.  In those moments I have been able to see the unfailing love and support that we have received from family and a host of friends.  As Reagan has stated, they have loved on us and taken care of us in ways that simply stagger us from time to time.  Something the doctor says will remind me that God has been in control every step of the way, meeting our needs before we even knew we had them, allowing our recoveries to be uneventful and relatively uncomplicated, blessing us with a generous, loving daughter who refuses to allow me to feel sorry for myself.

His mercy is truly new every morning, and when I stop to notice, His grace to us just stops me in my tracks.  Maybe the answer for me is to try to be more like Tigger and less like Eeyore.  What do you think?

 

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Do I Trust You, Lord?

Roman 8:1 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I find it necessary to remind myself of that often because I’m the world’s worst at condemning myself for the mistakes I make. The voice of the devil in my head encourages me to blame myself and see myself as a first class screw-up each time I make a mistake. I know that’s not how God sees me, so my prayer over and over is a plea to the Lord to help me to see the things I do through His eyes, to trust Him more when I don’t understand why things happen as they do, and to not blame myself unduly when the mistakes come. That hasn’t been easy, especially during times like I’ve experienced this past few weeks at school. Three times I’ve been accused by a parent of one of my students of deliberately speaking ill of her and going out of my way to ensure her failure in my class. (If I were doing that, I’d be the world’s worst at it; she made A’s in my class for every grading period!) She says I have been spreading rumors about her daughter, and has even accused Reagan of trying to turn the entire school population against her. My attempts to meet with her were met with contempt. She assured me that she wasn’t interested in hearing any of my lies and insisted that I would say anything to save my own skin, even if it meant spreading malicious gossip about her and her daughter. She made it clear that if she could, she’d have my job.

The stress and worry took their toll. I told myself, as did Scott, my friends, and my boss, that her accusations were unfounded and I shouldn’t let it trouble me. Heeding that advice was more difficult some days than others. This parent came close to stalking Reagan at school a couple of times, so I worried about what this was doing to my daughter, as well. The words of one particular friend spoke to my heart just when I was feeling the most vulnerable and confused; she said that I needed to trust that even though I couldn’t see it at this moment, God was working it out for our good. She reminded me that while I was too emotional to see my circumstances clearly at that time, that God would allow me to see what He had been doing all along if I would trust Him to take care of it and continue to be faithful.

Those were powerful words of comfort to me at that time, and I think they can minister to all of us no matter what is going on in our lives. There are many uncertainties in the daily lives we walk – health concerns, financial worries, questions about our personal future. As much as it pains me to have to admit it yet again, we can’t fix everything in our lives that goes wrong. As a fixer, that is often the source of my greatest frustrations. I can’t fix this situation with this particular student, no matter how much I want to. All I can do is be faithful to the One who is Almighty, Invincible, Omnipotent and Wise. He is my Heavenly Father, and in His hands is the safest place I can be. There’s rest there, and peace.

Our church is in His hands, as well. Are we being faithful to what He is calling us to do for Highland? Do we trust Him with our church? Is there more we could do if we would listen to His leading? Or have we decided that we know what’s best for the church and tuned out the voice of God? No matter what circumstances we may face along the pathway we walk, there is hope, and joy, and a future for us as long as we are faithful. At the end of the day, that’s where I want to be. Trusting God and living in faith. Sola Deo Gloria!

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Where two or more are gathered . . .

This past Christmas season didn’t feel much like Christmas to me. I kept waiting to feel that upwelling of good will when I heard a Christmas carol being played on the radio, or to recognize that quiet zing of childlike joy when I saw the decorations going up in the stores, or to wipe a stray tear on my cheek as I thought once again of the many precious memories I have of the holidays I’ve spent in the past with those I love most in the world. Nothing like that happened. Christmas this season came in a flurry of chores and items on a list that had to be accomplished by almost suffocating deadlines. I ordered most of my gifts online, ignored the Christmas card list I’d carefully penned because there simply wasn’t enough time to address one envelope, dealt with each item on the list as expeditiously and simply as possibly, never turned on the radio to listen to one carol, and completely missed Christmas. I was miserable. Christmas wasn’t Christmas at all.

I don’t say this to have anyone feel sorry for me. Illness took beloved family members out of our traditional celebrations this year, I was visited by my old friend, the sinus infection fairy, and so was sick throughout most of the holidays, and I was occupied by necessity with school related deadlines until we were finally dismissed on December 20th. (Just a note to future school calendar makers – December 20th is too late to get out for the holidays. There has to be some other remedy!) Still, I’m determined to make sure I squeeze every drop of holiday joy out of Christmas next year or know the reason why! In thinking about this past Christmas that never was, I realized something far more important. People who try to maintain their Christian faith outside of the walls of regular church attendance struggle with really experiencing a meaningful realtionship with God. Belevers need church. We need to hear the minister preach from the Word and be challenged with the truth he shares. We need to have our toes stepped on because there’s something in our lives we’ve been avoiding or ignoring that suddenly we can’t avoid when he mentions it from the pulpit. We have unconfessed sin burdening our hearts, relationships that need to be nurtured, or healed, or renewed, within the congregation. We need to be involved in discussions in Bible Study and Sunday School, to have our ideas tested for their veracity against the canon of Scripture. We need to hear the hymns and be reminded of the times we sang them in days past, with parents and grandparents who have long been gone from our lives but whose Godly foundations still uphold us. We need to grow in our faith, and we simply cannot do that sitting at home on Sunday mornings listening to tv pastors or Gospel music on the radio.

Please don’t misunderstand me; if you are physically unable to attend church, or if your job keeps you busy on a Sunday morning, I’m not trying to suggest that your faith isn’t what it needs to be or that you are committing some kind of horrible crime by not going to church. Many individuals, including my own mother, are physically impaired and cannot be in church on a regular basis. These precious children of God worship at home the best they can, and my mom was faithful in her Bible reading and study because she wanted to grow in her relationship with God in spite of her disability. Unfortunately many of us able to attend services don’t simply because we don’t see the need, or we would rather be doing something recreational on a Sunday morning, or we think that church is too old and irrelevant to teach us anything of value any longer, or we’re simply too lazy or self-serving to give God the honor He is due by making ourselves a regular part of church worship.

No one wants to miss out on the joy of Christmas, but the temporary, transitory joy that comes from celebrating Christmas can’t begin to compare to the deep joy that can be yours by putting yourself at the foot of God’s throne every Sunday morning to worship Him and learn from Him. Don’t miss out on spending time with God.  Nothing should take precedence over going to church, ever.

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I Love to Tell the Story

I love stories. If you know anything about me – English teacher, published author – this will not come as any surprise to you. I’ve been an avid reader ever since Aunt Dorothy propped me up between two pillows at the tender age of 18 months and began to teach me to read. I was raised by a mother who consumed the written word and lovingly shared it with me and my sister. She read poetry, fairy tales, and Bible stories to us from as far back as I can remember, and when I grew older we shared books with one another. We had favorite authors in common and could talk books for hours. That early nurturing is one of my greatest blessings. It’s one of the reasons I love Christmas as I do – the stories. I memorized the story of Jesus’s birth from Luke 2 when I was still a young girl, and I read other Christmas stories over and over – “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Clause,” “I Heard the Bells,” – and they, too, became a part of my Christmas tradition. I’ve tried to pass on that love of story to Reagan.

I hold another story very dear to my heart – my faith story. I remember how I was encouraged in my faith from a very young age, by parents and family members who took me to Sunday School and opened my eyes to the glory of attending church. Youth ministers and music ministers, beloved Sunday School teachers, Bible study leaders, and the elders of my church have added to that story for me, enriched it and my life by the lessons they taught and the examples they lived. I add to that faith story every day, I hope, when I read from my devotional book, when I study God’s Word, when I learn something new about Him through Scott’s sermons, or when I hear a new song that speaks to my heart. My life is what it is because of my faith story.

We all have a story. I love to hear other people tell of their journey of faith, of how they came to understand God’s love for the first time and how their lives have been changed because of God’s grace working in their circumstances. By listening to others’ stories I learned for the first time that miracles can happen every day, in even the simplest, most humble of lives, if His children are willing to trust. I learned the power of a simply-spoken, earnest prayer from hearing those stories. I’m richer in my faith story because someone took the time to share his story with me.

That’s what I think is the true miracle of Christmas. It seems to be the one time of year when we are able to shake off our fear and self-consciousness and willingly share our faith with others. Christmas allows us to speak freely about the love of Jesus. Our calling as Christians demands that we be open to God’s leading in our lives so that we can share His love with others, perhaps at a time when they most need to hear that they are loved, that God has a plan for their lives, that they are not alone. In order to be able to share, however, we all need to know what our faith story is. Maybe if we took a little time to develop the details of our stories, to write down the events of our lives so that we’ll be prepared to share when the opportunity comes, we might not be so afraid to speak up. Make no mistake, there will be a time when all of us are called to give an accounting of why we believe. Isn’t it exciting to think that by being prepared to share we can be the instrument God uses to work a miracle in someone else’s life?

This holiday season as we observe the traditions that make Christmas special for us, let’s also add preparation as a part of those traditions. Let’s be ready. God is at work in the world, and I want my story to be a part of His story. Sola Deo Gloria!

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My Heart Will go on Singing

I grew up in a house filled with music. My mom and dad loved to watch The Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights, Lawrence Welk on Sunday evenings, and The Happy Goodman Family on Sunday mornings while we were all getting ready for Sunday School. My mom sang to us at bedtime, and when she wasn’t at the piano playing and singing, she was sitting in her favorite chair humming to herself and writing songs. My sister and I sang a couple of those songs at church when we were little girls. I can’t remember my mother without thinking about her love of music.

One of her favorite hymns was “Until Then,” one of the birthday hymns we sang in services not long ago. I stood there and belted it out with tears spilling onto my cheeks; I could see her sitting at the piano playing and singing that song. As I sang along with the lyrics, the first line of the chorus struck me, and I had an epiphany. The line says, “But until then, my heart will go on singing,” That line sums up my mom’s faith, her outlook on life, her life itself, better than any other words that have been written or spoken about her.

My mom didn’t have an easy life. She struck out on her own when she was 16, living and working in Washington, DC, alone and a long way from home. Young and inexperienced, she found herself in difficult situations from time to time, but somehow the Lord always sent someone to help her out, to offer good advice just when she needed it. Still, she was naive and lonely, and that first taste of independence didn’t come without difficulty. Throughout the course of her life she endured being raped, financial struggles, the loss of her first child from complications during childbirth, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. In spite of those dark times, however, my mom never lost her faith, never lost her hope, never gave up believing that God was somehow working it all out for good. That’s the lesson she taught us, my sister and me. No matter what hardship tried to knock her down, she responded with a song. She praised the Lord with the music she loved, and His mercies saw her through.

I’m grateful every day for my mother and for the love of music she instilled in me. I’m grateful for that unwavering faith that taught me that God is faithful, that He can be trusted no matter how much Satan tries to drag us into the depths of despair. I haven’t had to endure anything as heartbreaking as Mama had to endure, but the way she lived her life still resonates in my spirit when I do face uncertain times. My mother’s heart went right on singing, no matter what. I sing all the time, too, and I praise the Father in whom I have placed my faith as I do. Maybe the lesson Mama taught me can be a reminder to all of us. The Word says that the Father inhabits the praises of His people, so the next time you’re faith is burning a bit low, do what my mom did. Sing!

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New Beginnings

There’s something special about a ‘first’: first day on a new job, first Sunday in a new church, first morning waking up in a new house. Everything is possible, everything is waiting for us to begin. I used to love the first day of school. I couldn’t wait to sharpen my new pencils and put the new packet of notebook paper into my new folder. I loved sitting in my new classroom, imagining all sorts of possibilities. My first day of my first class at college is etched vividly in my mind; I couldn’t wait for the professor to begin her lecture so that I could begin filling in that new notebook with information. I love teaching school, in part, because of the series of ‘firsts’ it affords. Each grading period offers the possibility of another beginning, a new opportunity to improve a grade, a new unit of study, a fresh start.

I guess everyone needs the chance to put past mistakes behind them, as well. Unintentioned hurts, embarrassing moments, awkward conversations, can be forgiven and forgotten because of those new beginnings. The aches and trials of the past can be forgotten as a ‘first’ is anticipated. It’s like a burst of summer breeze to break up the shimmer of a sweltering afternoon; nothing refreshes the spirit and brings a smile more than that unexpected, fragrance-laden zephyr.

God gives his children a new beginning with each new morning. The Word tells us that ‘. . . joy comes in the morning.’ Paul also tells us in Philippians that ‘forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ His mercies are new every morning. We can ask for His forgiveness of our past sins and know that there is no condemnation awaiting us. We can be free from the humiliation of past mistakes; God has forgiven and forgotten them. We can stop blaming ourselves because things didn’t turn out the way we were told they should; in Jesus there is no shame. That voice that whispers in our spirits that we can never be good enough, never be righteous enough, never atone for what we’ve screwed up in our pasts, can be forever silenced. That’s not the voice of God; He gives us His new beginning each time we ask.

It’s summer break once again, and I’ve got plans for a great many ‘firsts’ over the next ten weeks. Reagan’s response has been something like, “Gee, goodie,” every time she hears me bring up the list. I’m looking forward to an entire summer of ‘firsts’ in my walk with the Lord, too; I can’t wait to get started. Do you need a new beginning with God? It’s not too late to start again. He’s waiting for you to call His name. I feel a breeze stirring. . .

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The Idol of Control

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I was one of the youth sponsors at my home church in Humble. There were about two dozen teenagers in our group, and those five years were some of the sweetest I’ve ever known. This was an exceptional group of kids – generous, funny, loving, talented, compassionate, and always good for a few surprises. One of the projects they undertook during this time was a musical. I don’t remember the name of it, but one of the songs I do still remember was called “Surrender.” It was the theme of the production. I have found myself thinking about those kids and that time quite a bit lately, and the idea of surrender calls to me even more.

Lately I’ve found that several of my students are struggling daily with the idea of surrendering. They want to be in complete control of their behavior, of their classmates’ behavior, even of my behavior, and when they find that to be impossible, they respond with tremendous anger and frustration. They remind me of a little bird whipped into a frenzy, beating frantically at the bars of the cage, desperate to get out and terrified that they’ll never be able to. It breaks my heart, because I have never looked at boundaries as cages. In my life the boundaries my parents established for me were loving reminders of their watchcare. I didn’t resent those limits like so many of my friends and peers did, and like some of my students do now. Maybe that parental love and care set me on a path of easier acceptance when it came to Godly boundaries in my life. I’m not saying that I’ve never gotten frustrated or angry at some of the boundaries that have restrained me, nor will I ever do a perfect job of living within those boundaries, but I’ve never fought for my own way against my parents, or my husband, or the Lord. (I’ve got plenty of other sins to pick up the slack I’m happy to have found in this particular area!)

Still, it is worth thinking about. If we want out own way so much that we’re willing to hurt others to get it, if we insist that we know better than someone else in a position of authority, whether that be boss, teacher, police officer, public official, minister, parent, you get the idea, then we have made control into an idol in our lives. We’re essentially saying that we know better than the person in authority. We are refusing to bow to that leader, to his or her ideas or decisions because we believe we know more than he or she does. Ultimately, if we insist on our own way to the detriment of our relationship with that person, that job, whatever, then we are living in rebellion against God as well. We have essentially said that we aren’t willing to relinquish control to anyone else because we don’t trust his or her expertise, his or her care over us, his or her understanding of the rules, of the employment policies. We aren’t willing to trust God to work everything out according to His will for our lives.  We all know people who want to be in that kind of control.  Their lives are filled with frustration and anxiety.  They beat at their own cages and damage so much in their lives.  I hurt for my students who are already exhibiting that kind of arrogance. I wonder what kind of happiness they’re going to find in their lives down the road. Having to be right all the time is a lonely place to be.

God doesn’t want us to live with that kind of iron-fisted control in our lives. He calls us to trust instead. He tells us in John that He is the vine and we are the branches and without Him we can do nothing. I’m okay with that arrangement. There are too many tough decisions that I have to make in my everyday life as it is. I couldn’t manage at all if I tried to wrest God’s control from Him and handle it myself. What a mess! Surrendering to His control in our lives, trusting that He is working all things for our good, comes with a freedom that is incomparable to anything else we can know. He’s God! We need to let Him be God.

“Like a song in the wind, He is calling again . . . surrender.”

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