Thursday, September 21, 2017

Remembering God's Gifts in the Hard

Two years ago today, I woke up to a new day alone in a new apartment.  Less than a month before, we had dropped off our daughter at college and our son at boarding school.  Then we returned to Central Asia, packed up our belongings, and moved to a new city to be with a team which was both old and new to us.  A week later, my husband left for a two week business trip leaving me to figure out this new place and life alone.

That day was my birthday, and I was alone.  I could not remember a birthday where I had not been with my husband and kids, and I was dreading it.  Yet I would find out that I was not alone.  As I was getting ready for my day, I heard a knock on the door that lead down to the middle floor apartment.  On the other side of the door were three blond haired children with birthday cards and a special breakfast for me.  This Alabama Roll Tide-loving family was a gift that morning as they loved on me with their thoughtfulness and presence.  Sometimes God chooses to have us rest in His presence alone.  We are in a place where He wants to us to be with just Him.  Other times God uses His people to tell us we are not alone.  This morning, He chose this family to be there and to show His love. 

As the day continued, our team loved on me with lots of sugar, thoughtful words and gifts, and just being there.   My day ended with dinner with friends that we learned language with.  One of the daughters was wearing a headband since I usually wore on.  In her card, she made sure in her picture of me, my headband was present.  It was in that simple supper with a homemade pencil holder as a gift that I again experienced God's gift of friendship.  Even though I was not with my family, I was with a team that became like family over the course of that fall.  Even though that day was not without tears, I was not alone any minute of that day.

Looking back on our time in that city, it was one of our hardest seasons but in many ways one of our best.  Hard can bring out the best or worst in people.  I would say that overall the hard brought out the best in our team.  God was working in us as we were challenged to endure, to learn how to handle difficult relationships, and to have hope when some days it felt like we had none.  Would we leave tomorrow? What did the future hold?  It was in this place that people stepped up to fill in the gaps and found strength they didn't know they had.  We learned living so closely together wasn't always easy, but we found grace.  Life was messy at times but it was real and deep down love for each other grew.  That fall we had a lot of why questions.  The main one being why we did not have flight permissions.  

This past month, I studying the boo of Job with the First 5 app from Proverbs 31 ministries.   Job also had a lot of why questions.  Hi biggest why was why was he suffering so much.  In chapters 38 and 39 of Job, God begins to respond to Job's why's by asking Job questions about creation and the creature that God had created.  As Wendy Blight points out in today's devotional, God was trying to "shift Job's focus and teach Job that the strength to persevere through his difficult season was not found in knowing the why but in knowing the WHO."    Our team never found out the answer to our why question, but we did see God in his working in us, in the creation all around us, and in the team he gave us to work with.  

God's gifts in that season came in growth, friendship, and even the beautiful surroundings where it was safe to take long walks.  But His greatest gift was letting us get to know Him and trust Him in the hard.  Now the team is scattered all over the world-Africa, Asia, America, and Europe.  Today I thank God for their presence on that day and other days that fall season.  I also pray for them as they serve God in their new places.  I pray that they will continue to be God's presence to the people around them, but most of all, I pray that God's presence will be known to them whether it is in the quiet spaces or through those God sends their way.

What gifts have you found in the hard places? Are you stuck on the why questions?  Is your focus on the why or the who? Truthfully, I think the who comes more after the fact than when you are in the midst of the hard.  So if you feel like you are stuck on the whys, just check out Job 38 and beyond.  You won't get an answer to your why questions but you might get a glimpse of a God who was, who is, and who is to come.  

I would love to hear in the comments what you are learning in the midst of your why's.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dive In...

Whether it is an ocean or pool, there are usually two different ways that people get in the water.  Some people test the water out by first dipping their toe in the water.  Then they gradually work the rest of their body slowly into the water.  Finally they might actually dunk underwater making the transition complete.  Other people like my children have the all in approach.  They dive right in or in the case of the ocean, they run straight into the waves no holding back.

Even though I usually a put my toe in the water kind of gal, I think the dive in method is better.  On those hot days in Texas when we had a pool, I remember taking a dive into the water and feeling the cool, refreshing water surround me as I went in and came back up.  When you dive in, there is no question that you are all in.  You are there to swim not mess around by just putting your toe in the water.  You don't waste anytime with indecision but fully enjoy your time in the water.  Think about it.  Who looks like they are having the most fun?  

I think friendships can be like that.  The other day I realized that I was just dipping my toe in the water in a relationship.  It was like I was testing the water out with my friend.  I am not sure why, but I was holding back.  Most likely it was insecurities on my end.  Sometimes I come at relationships with expectations when instead my priority should be what kind of friend I am.  God calls us to love deeply with no if's, and's or but's.  In this case, I needed to dive in and stop holding back. Truthfully, it was a little scary but also just what I needed and hopefully what she needed too.  When I put my toe in the water with a friend, it is about me.  When I dive in, it is more about them.  I get that there are times for boundaries, but more often then not I need to dive in and live life.  Friendship is much more rewarding and fun when you are all in.

Is there an area where you need to dive in?  Maybe you are on a new team and you are not sure if you even like this new place.  You are cautious in getting to know your teammates or give your input.  Maybe at church you are feeling a disconnect and not sure if you this is where you need to be.  You aren't really sure if you want to engage with those around you.  Or maybe in your marriage, you are keeping your partner at arms length.  You have had belly flops in the past and not sure if you want to chance another one.  What if you are missing out on living life fully because you are putting your foot in the water when what you need to do is take a leap of faith into the water and enjoy the life God has for you?  

Maybe you need to dive in with God. You are a follower of Jesus but are not sure if you want to take up that cross daily.  It is no secret that God wants us all in.   Deuteronomy 6:5 says,
"And you shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your might." (NAS)(Emphasis mine)

He wants all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our might.  In Revelation 3, John tells us that God wants us hot or cold, none of this lukewarm stuff.  He wants all or nothing.  He wants us to dive into life with him without holding back. Really, we have no excuse.  God dove in at the beginning.  From creation, He had a plan to make things right between us and Him.  He even gave His only Son so we could have a relationship with Him.  So go ahead, dive in.  

Where do you need to dive in?  Where have you been cautious just putting your toe in first but finally dove in and are glad you did? I would love to hear your story in the comments.  

Dear God, May I dive in with you.  May I love you with all my heart, soul and might.  May I live life with you fully.  Show me those areas where I am hesitant and you want me to go for it.  May each day be a day fully lived for you.  Amen

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Benedict, Listening, and Jesus (Book Reviews August 2017)

Some books challenge you while others cause you to reflect.  Some authors speak to your soul while others remind you of truth. This month my reading has been full of all of these.  As I snuggle up on my chair with my kindle and a blanket, I have been challenged, confronted, and healed by the words of these authors.  Here are my reviews for the month.

1. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

The author proposes the Benedict Option as a way for Christians to live in community and live countercultural yet not isolated from the world.  The first half deals with the history of our culture as well as background on St. Benedict and his monastery.  My favorite chapter was the one about the monastery and the purpose for the routine and rules.
"Ordering one's actions is really about training one's heart to love and desire the right things, the things that are real, without having to think about it.  It is acquiring virtue as a habit." p. 57
 The author's solution isn't that we live like the monks but that we order our lives in a way that brings glory to God and gives us a structure to stay strong in hard times.  Some topics that he discusses are politics, liturgy, education, hard labor, and technology.  My biggest take aways are making sure I have a balance of time to think and being diligent to teach God's word to those God sends my way whether it is my students, my children, or even fellow workers.  

2. The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh

I am not a good listener but would like to be which is why I am reading The Listening Life.  I find this book to be a treasure even though I am only a little over half through the book.  Some passages step on my toes as they remind me to just listen without an agenda.  Other passages warm my heart as they describe how God listens to us. The author, Adam McHugh, writes about how we can listen better to God, scripture, creation, and others but also about the example of Jesus and God as they listen to us.  

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book so far.
"My hope is that we will treat listening as an act of hospitality, one that opens us to the world, to the people in front of us and to the Lord who knocks at the door." p. 29
"If we submit the deepest part of ourselves to our listening, we have reason to believe that God will reveal the deep parts of himself to us. p. 96

3. Is Jesus Worth It? by Stacey Thacker

This first book in the series, The Girlfriends' Guide to the Bible comes out at the end of this month.  Stacey, the author, takes the book of Hebrews and goes through the book examining if Jesus is worth it.  It may seem like a simple question but in reality it is one that needs to be answered in a world of many world views, hardships, and unknowns.  Stacey's writing style is conversational yet well researched.  Her goal is for us to be in the word and even shares a bible study method she uses in one of the chapters.  I would like to go through it again with a friend or two as we dig into Hebrews and discuss the topics of each chapter. 

Here are two quotes that stood out to me as I read.
"The Israelites were living in who they once were instead of who God was calling them to be." (chapter 7)
"We can't run if we are broken.  Let his grace change the way you live and let it give you the strength to run." (chapter 9)
I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  So honestly, I would encourage you to read the book especially if you are looking for a book to study with a friend. 

Once again I am linking up with others at Modern Ms Darcy for her Quick Lit Link up.  It is a great place to go if you are looking for books to read or not to read.  Also I would love to hear in the comments books that you have enjoyed this month.  One last thing before I sign off is that the links above are affiliate links which just means if you click on the link and end up buying something then I get a little something towards my book fund at no cost to you. 

Blessings, TJ