Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The One Ring

This may be a bit of a silly post today, but for some reason I really feel the need to tell this tale about my ring.

Specifically, my wedding ring.

In our culture, here in America, The Ring is the sign of marriage- that you've committed living your life in partnership with one other person.  It is worn on the ring finger of the left hand pretty much all the time.

Well, about a year ago or so, I was scrutinizing my wedding ring up close and realized that the prongs holding some of my diamonds in were looking very worn.  This is fairly normal, I guess, that settings would need to be re-pronged to secure the precious stones in place.  However, it's a pretty costly repair.  Once I noticed this, I set my ring aside and just thought I better stop wearing it, because the last thing I wanted was to actually have one of those diamonds fall out, because then I'd really have an expensive repair on my hands!

To be honest, I'm one of those people who would have to take my ring off for pretty much everything anyway.  The ring I was married with has one solitaire that sticks up rather high off my finger, and would get caught on everything.  So in the course of daily life, that ring spent a lot of time sitting in a special little cup by my kitchen sink.  When I would leave home I'd pop it on quick, but with a loose setting, that ring just stayed in the little cup.  But even then, I would take it off and tuck it in my purse often as well.  When I play the drums I have to take it off, because the resonance from the sticks goes through the ring and is a major source of irritation...

I have posted a bit over the years about how there are things that our family just learns to live without, and let me tell you, jewelry repair is not even on my radar at all.  We're talking several hundred dollars for someone to reinforce a ring that I have to take off frequently anyways because it gets caught on everything!  So it's been sitting for some time, and it didn't really bother me all that much until I took my kids to our first dance competition of the season.

This was the first time the kids and I have done this kind of thing solo.  As our dance friends were constantly asking where Andy was, I really felt conscious that I wasn't wearing a wedding ring, and I was hoping that no one thought that things were not well on the home front.   Then we went to our second weekend away and there was one point where I took the kids for ice cream and for the first time in my life that I'd actually noticed, I watched a handsome young man check out my teenage daughter.  (Lord, help me! Thank God she was oblivious!) As he moved on, I was both horrified and amused, but then I immediately started thinking that if anyone checked me out like that while we were away, they would not find a ring on my finger.

You know, it's such a little thing, really, but all the sudden I started thinking that there was no reason I really needed to repair the wedding ring I had- I could simply purchase something inexpensive for the time being to take the place of my wedding ring.  It doesn't matter what the ring looks like, it's simply its position on the hand that speaks volumes for all to see.  So there I was, waiting for an opportunity to go looking for a very simple wedding band to put on my finger when an idea literally popped into my head from no where.

Several years ago my mom had given me a ring from my grandmother.  There's nothing really special about it, other than the gemstone in it is my birthstone, and it belonged to my grandmother.  I do like it, as it's in a sterling silver setting which I FAR prefer to gold jewelry, but  I really never wear it  because it doesn't really fit any of my fingers well... except for one... yup.  I went to my jewelry box, pulled it out, and that ring slipped right onto my ring finger and instantly felt like it belonged there.  I have worn it ever since.

And here's the best part.  Not only is this ring comfortable, but unlike my actual wedding band, I don't need to take this one off for anything.  The setting is smooth and set close to the finger, so it doesn't catch on anything.  It has a low enough profile that I can slide my gardening gloves right over it, I can do dishes with it on, I can do my daughter's hair, and I can play the drums with it on as well.  Seriously, it's like the perfect ring for me.  Being a unique person, I also really like that it doesn't look like a million other engagement/wedding band combos out there.  It has my funky pale green birthstone in the center, surrounded by sterling silver greenery.  It's like a little plant on my ring finger, and anyone who knows my love for growing my garden will take one look at this ring and know that it was meant to be on my finger.

You know, it's just like God to meet a need before I even knew it was a need.

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you"  Matthew 6:28-30

As of right now, I have absolutely no desire to get my wedding ring repaired.  I certainly don't plan to get rid of it, but for now, it sits hidden away while a replacement sits on my finger.  A replacement that signifies the importance my husband is to me and how I've committed to spend a lifetime with him and only him sits wrapped around my finger and is more than enough for me.  God is so good to take care of even the smallest of things.  It's those small things that remind me how much He cares for me and knows every detail that is important to me.  And if it's important to me, it's important to Him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Winter's End

"Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."  Acts 14:17

God truly is good all the time.  I've been wanting to post for the last few weeks, because I feel like our family has experienced a miraculous winter season.  I shared back in January how God just seemed to make sure every need we had this winter was taken care of.  The thing is, He totally kept it up.

Andy had constant work all winter this year.  And I mean constant.  So much so that he would go from one job to another and we barely ever saw him.  For the first time EVER in our married lives Andy went back to work and we were not majorly behind in all our bills and desperately needing groceries.  We weren't even behind a little bit!  It's been truly astounding to experience God's goodness on a daily basis.  I was marveling a few weeks ago about how God took care of every need we had over the winter.  Every single one!

Here's an example.  Our kids dance a lot, and once of the things we go through quite a bit of is dance shoes.  Especially with my growing son.  One week his shoes fit, and the next he's jumped up two sizes- it's ridiculous!  Well, every time we needed a new pair of dance shoes, there would be that much extra available that week for me to take care of the need.  We've had three out of town competitions so far this year- in the middle of Andy's lay off season.  We went to all three with gas in our tank, a nice hotel room paid for, and everything we could possibly need as far as food and snacks and entertainment.  We've had years in the past where we've gone to that last competition before Andy goes back to work and we're really scraping the bottom of the barrel.  We stay in the cheapest hotel we can find, pack sandwich fixings, and pray that the continental breakfast has fresh fruit so that we can take an extra piece with us.   And while that seems like such a small need, it's important to us, and important to our kids.  So not only did we have the energy bill paid in full each month, we also had the "fun needs" taken care of.

We have had wonderful adventures at our competitions this year.  I absolutely love seeing God bless my children- there is nothing better than watching them do what they love and knowing that God placed this desire and ability in their bodies and hearts.  He put that desire in their hearts, and like any good Father, he also has taken care of the financial needs necessary to put those desires into action.  I've been sitting here these last few weeks trying to decide if we should cut back a little on our dance activities. Not a lot, but there are one or two classes that I could ask the kids to drop for a year, and I am just so torn about that.  One of the reasons I am considering this IS the financial aspects of it.  The other reason is that having dance commitments six days a week has been a bit crazy for me this year, and I can't help but think that if we could streamline things a bit, my schedule could ease up a bit.

So I've been thinking on this for a bit now.  I've had a frank discussion with my daughter who is dying to do a solo, and I pretty much had to assure here that we'll look at that as a possibility for next year.  I've considered telling my son he won't be doing a duet, even though as a boy that is an important part of his dance training.  Both are very expensive additions to our dance experience... And here is where I am musing and spending a lot of time just whispering to God about it.

Because the facts are that so far, God has never given us reason to believe that our children should not be doing what they are doing.  He has made a way, year after year.  From bringing us to this wonderful new studio when our old one shuttered, to providing ways for us to work off our tuition, to simply providing work for Andy to meet the financial obligations being in dance provides.  Facts are, that right now, at this very moment in time, the wisest thing to do on a financial level is to scale the kids back to the bare minimum they can participate in at the levels they are at.  This still means a lot of dance, make no mistake, but for them it would crush them just a little bit.  But are we at a moment in time where we are to be wise, or are we to take a leap of faith?

See, in one ear, I hear the mutterings of people who are not shy in telling us over and over that we spend too much on our kids and on their activities in dance.  I'm so tired of hearing that.  I cannot imagine being in a season of parenting children and looking at them and deciding that my wants are more important than theirs.  Oh, I have a whole pile of desires that could easily be met if so much of what comes in didn't go to their passions.  But we only have these children in our possession for so long.  Soon they will grow and leave the nest, and THEN I can see to my passions and desires. God placed those desires in my heart too, but they will be met when the time is right.  But those voices don't stop, and I actually have been hearing them a lot this last week as I've been thinking on what direction we need to take with dance.  

Honestly, I wish those critics would shut up, rude as that sounds.  Because they are distracting me!!  As I'm spending quiet time talking to God about this dilemma I'm in at the moment, I keep getting interrupted by these voices of dissent.  What is the intent of these voices?  Do they keep muttering in my ear because I'm supposed to heed them?  Or are they muttering in my ear because they are a distraction of the devil who is trying to break my focus and try and persuade me to take my kids out of a world that they are infusing with the love of God?

John 10:27 says this:   "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."

My discernment is not totally in focus on this issue, and I need it to be.  Decisions need to be made in the next few weeks, and I am just praying and trusting that the correct path I am to take is made clear to me.  I am praying that the voices that need to be silenced in my head will become mute and that the correct choices to be made become abundantly clear.  God's Ways are the only ways our family wants to follow, if we will only recognize His Voice when the time comes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Contentedness. And Peace.

" I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  Philippians 4:11-13

Sometimes a person wonders what other people think when they take a peek into our lives and see what its like.  Sometimes a person really does wonder what the Joneses think when they see a man in the driveway, pulling a car apart- yet again- trying to save money on car repairs.  A person wonders, as their family has emerged from the craziest and most uncertain three years of their lives, just what people on the outside think when the family just keeps going, undeterred and undefeated.

And then you discover what the Joneses really think, and you wish you didn't know what they were thinking, because it is far from the truth, and you realize that what they think is important is not at all what you think is important. 

Many, many years ago, my fine husband owned a business that he really had no business owning.  Oh, he has a very serious skill set that made a fine business idea in the first place, but the actual running of the business?  Oh my goodness, no.  When he shuttered that business and joined the regular workforce, it eliminated a lot of stress in our lives for a time.  And then the bills started coming in for the now-defunct business.  I am not exaggerating when I say that all told, the monetary amounts that he supposedly owed to various entities and organizations ran into six figures.  And, being in a community property state, since I'd married him, I was entitled to half of that bad business debt.  Fun times, no? 

At the exact same time as all this was rolling in, we were finding ourselves learning more about our relationship with God, and digging deeper.  We learned very early in our marriage that God had His hand in all things.  We had a rough road in front of us, but He was not going to let us travel that road alone.  We've spent so much of our lives together worried about finances.  It takes a long time to be rid of six figures of debt- all while raising children and trying to provide the best life for them we can.  For many, many years we've lived paycheck to paycheck, where the paycheck wasn't even enough to pay the bills- because these former entities felt they were entitled to 20% of my husbands paychecks off the top.  Do the math at any level- that's a lot of missing funds.  When we would do our taxes each year, we'd see how much Andy actually earned, compared with what he actually received was a very different thing.  On a real down-to-earth level, we were making a small enough income that we actually would have qualified for all kinds of helpful services- such as energy assistance, food stamps, health insurance, etc.  But no program takes into account that someone may be fishing in your income first, so the paper version of our life looked like we should have had enough.  There have been so many sleepless nights, and I can't even tell about the tears...

During all these years, we have always agreed that no matter what, our children would come first.  We only  have one shot at parenting these fine young people, we wanted to put our very best foot forward when it came to them.   Nothing else truly matters, as long as our children are happy, healthy and love the Lord with all their hearts.   And oh my, are they turning into amazing people.  When I watch my daughter, who is now 14, encourage a friend going through a rough time, my heart just swells with pride and love for her.  Every morning we pray together before we begin our school day, and it always makes my heart sing when the kids ask that we pray for someone they know going through something.   Not a day goes by when I am not thanking God for keeping me at home with my children- and for changing my heart regarding homeschooling them.  

Because I'll tell you, I have tried to get out of it.  Many times in the past I've found myself applying for small jobs, thinking that if only I could do SOMETHING to try and bring in a little income things would be less hectic with the finances.  I did try a couple when the kids were very young, and none of them lasted long, as they interfered too much with the kids or church or something that was more important.  The last time I applied for a job was just last fall.  A large retailer was advertising for holiday help, and they specifically were advertising a position that was early mornings Monday thru Saturday only.  Really early mornings- like I'd be home by ten and we could do our school day after that.  Saturdays were an issue as that's when I clean the church and Abigail has a ballet class early in the day, but I was sure I could clean later in the day and Andy wouldn't mind dropping the girl before he went about his business for the day.

I filled out that application online, and I have to tell you, I had such a sense of forboding about it.  Truly, for an extra job for myself that would work mostly with our family life, this was ideal.  I really didn't want a job, but at the time, this seemed like the most practical and best way to help our family get through Andy's lay-off time.   But I submitted the application, and boy, did I pray about it.  I asked a group of ladies online to help me pray about it as well.  I wasn't praying that I'd be called for an interview, but I was praying that above all, God's Will for my life, for my family, would be made abundantly clear above everything else.  And then the day came- a phone call from the hiring manager at this store asking me to come in for an interview.  I missed the call, and when I checked my voice mail it was quite a bit later in the day.  My heart sank when I heard the message.  Facts are facts, and I've never gone for an interview and not been offered a job on the spot.  I figured I would return the call the next day and start bolstering myself for a return to the workforce over the holiday season.

All along, of course, I should have recognized those checks in my spirit that this was not a course I should be seeking.  The forboding about even filling out an application, the dread when I heard that voice mail... Because wouldn't you know, that very evening the unthinkable happened.  Andy came home from work with a very real job offer from a local high school.  A part-time position within the school that has potential to turn into more.  That part-time job would easily pay double what I would have made had I gotten a job.  On top of that, this new job came with a new schedule, and I now needed to be available Saturday mornings.  I had to call and decline the interview, and that was such a sense of relief for me!

The thing is,  really, while I was dreading the experience, I WAS willing to do what I needed to do to help my family.  I always have been- every year I've assessed the options of putting the kids in the local school and getting a job outside the home, and the answer every year is a resounding no.  We are doing exactly what God means for us to be doing.  Sometimes that surely makes me wonder.  This time of year, so many of our friends are traveling to exotic places- visiting beaches around the world, Disney, or snowy resorts in the Colorado mountains while we sit at home and make do with our own forms of entertainment.  We know kids who have been all over Europe, and we barely can get out of Wisconsin sometimes.

But do you know what?  Oh my gosh, when I look back over these 15 years and I see how much we've grown- I don't even recognize those kids at the altar.  We have learned SO much, and even better, our kids have learned along with us.  On the very practical side, we've learned how to do a lot of things ourselves.  Andy has drastically (very drastically) enhanced his skill set with car repair, plumbing repair, and many other home improvement skills.  He learned most of those things because someone asked if he could do them, because they'd pay him to figure it out in their home.  I've tackled a very significant amount of computer repair, of all things, as well as greatly enhanced my sewing skills by doing alterations for other people who don't even know how to thread a needle.  For years I did costume alterations for our studio in exchange for tuition for my kids.  Most recently, I decided to take that skill set to a whole new level and have designed and created costumes from scratch.  A costume that saved me hundreds (literally) of dollars by doing myself.

Gardening!  I really and truly started vegetable gardening as a way to help feed my family, more than anything else.  The vegetable gardening has certainly done that, but on top of that, it's something I've truly become passionate about. I love to work in the garden.  I love preparing healthful food for my family from that garden and preserving the harvest for later in the year.  All skills that I never would have developed if I hadn't needed to get clever about making that grocery dollar stretch further.    

All these things that we've learned and dealt with over these years have changed us for the better.  Our whole family is no longer enamored with the latest and greatest things.  We have spent so many years being content without that we simply are that- content.  We are content staying at home while our friends hike through the Alaskan wilderness.  We are content sitting around the kitchen table playing a board game together instead of heading out to the movie theater or local gaming complex.  We are so much more content to create delicious meals at home for a fraction of the cost, rather than go out to eat.  I daresay, we are so much more than content.  Is it possible that a family could go through what we've gone through and be... Happy? 

Because we certainly are.  We have no complaints, as we have nothing to complain about!  Every year that my van continues to run with just a few repairs is another great thing to celebrate!  We rejoice over the little things, and we rejoice over the great things!  A few weeks ago I did a sewing alteration, and then took that twenty bucks and went and bought a DVD of a movie we enjoyed seeing.  You would have thought I brought home something truly magnanimous.  It was just a movie, but it gave my kids such joy to know we had it in the house, and we sure enjoyed watching that movie together when the temperatures dropped to twenty below zero yet again.

The thing is, we have not traveled these long roads alone.  We purposed to do it as a family, all four of us.  Everything that we've gone through, the kids have gone through, and I can see how this is only going to benefit them in the future, because they've literally seen the Hand of God on our lives.  They've prayed prayers that have been answered in such amazing ways.  They are grateful for everything we have, and know how much we sacrifice for them.  They know that as parents, we will love them forever unconditionally, and that we could be 110 years old, and if they still need us, we will do everything in our power that we can to help them. 

Because that, my friends, is truly what this journey has been about.  It has been about a Father's love for His children.  Sure, God could have taken away all this toil with just one word, but He didn't, because He saw how much we would benefit from such a difficult journey.  He saw how our faith would grow exponentially, and how our testimony would bolster the faith of those around us.  He saw our children grown to adults, looking back on the lessons they learned as children and being so grateful for the grace of God in their lives. 

For the outsiders looking in, to the Joneses next door, we sure look like we're lacking.  We're living in a tiny little home with little charm that looks really beat up from the outside, but gosh, do I love it here. (I truly wish there was a way to expand our living space, because I would totally consider buying this place from our landlords if there was a way to add on some storage and expand so we could have company and not feel like we're sitting on each other.)  There is a great peace here, and the location is almost as good as twenty acres of tillable earth in the country.   It's a great gift from a Father to his daughter to have a home that is full of peace for the first time in years.  My children are also a great gift, and the fact that God has made a way for us to spend each and every day together is overwhelming to me.  

A Father gives good gifts to His children, and I am overwhelmed by the daily joy and happiness that this life is for me.  We lack nothing and know that we are cared for in the palm of His Hands every step of the way.  

" If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  Luke 11:13

The Joneses have nothing on us, and I feel great sorrow for them that their eyes are focused on our bank accounts and material possessions.  We are rich in every way that matters. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do Not Worry: Encouragement for 2015

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  Matthew 6:25-34

I've been learning a lot over the years about the act of worrying.  I can clearly recall, several years ago, sitting on the couch in my living room, feeling my heart do crazy things and worrying that I was having heart issues.  It happened frequently that winter.  I never went to the doctor for it, but I would worry about that on top of all the other worries we had at the time.  Do you know what it was?  Worry.  At the time we were renting a house from a very volatile individual.  Andy wasn't working because it was his winter layoff time, and I worried each and every day about meeting rent at the end of the month.  And then I worried about paying the energy bill.  And then I worried about paying the water bill, because if we didn't keep our utilities and water bills caught up and on time, the landlord would flip out.  I constantly was in a state of worry that one day on his daily drives past the house (yes, truly, daily) that he would pull in the driveway and tell us to get out.

And then it actually did happen.  He pulled in and handed me a letter which told us we had 30 days to get out.  While our lives changed dramatically that day, and we entered a season of stress, I can honestly say that instantly those strange heart pains were gone.  The worry that had plagued me the three years we lived there was gone.  It hasn't been back, either, despite further upheaval with various things in life.  Part of that is because I try really, really hard to not worry.  When I find myself worrying, or focusing on a worry, I try to catch myself and recite some scripture to myself- filling my thoughts with good words from God above.

This past December I put Matthew 6:34 to the test.  Let's look at it again.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

When Andy was laid off at the beginning of the month, I, of course, started off by looking at the calendar, looking at the empty checkbook, and dreading having to do the winter lay-off dance again.  The dance where I choose what we can pay each month and try to not let anything fall too far behind.  On top of that, we hadn't done a drop of Christmas shopping yet.   So there I was, looking at the calendar and making a mental note of each monetary due date that was coming up- and just for good measure I added a few things for January as well.    I'm looking at the calendar and all the sudden Matthew 6:34 popped right into my head.  I swear I could hear someone reading it to me.  I thought it over a few times, and said "Okay God" and put the calendar away.

A few days later, it was time for something to be due.  I looked at the checkbook, where I did have enough to pay that one bill, but if I paid that bill, I would not have enough for the bill due at the end of the week.  Matthew 6:34 popped right into my head, so I paid that one bill that was due.  I told God that I trusted that the money would be there when the next bill was due.  It went on like that through the entire month of December.  Just as I needed to pay something, Andy would bring a check home or make a deposit.  On top of that, I was able to do some Christmas shopping and not feel like I was buying stuff instead of paying bills.  AND I was able to regularly grocery shop.  I don't recall ever being able to grocery shop like a normal work-month in the month of December.   We started January 2015 with every single bill being paid in full and caught up.  We had food in the fridge and pantry, and gas in the van.

The key for me was to not worry.  In the past, I would look at the bills due, look at the calendar and spend the month hoarding every penny I could, because if nothing else got paid, rent had to be paid every month on time.  I would pay rent, and then if there was some left over, float a payment to the energy bill or something else- though it was seldom paid in full.  On top of not worrying, I also was not plaguing my husband with daily reminders that he needed to make some money as soon as possible.  That's always been a great stress to him in years past.  I think that by backing off and trusting that God was also speaking to him, that God was able to do miraculous things for us, while teaching us both some valuable lessons.

Do not worry about tomorrow.  Now, that's not a call to live today with abandon.  With the example of our finances, that was not a permission to go out today and spend every penny we had on frivolous things.  We still had to be wise, and we still gave in offerings when we could.  But I could relax in God, and let Him take the worries off of my shoulders and carry it away from me.  I could trust that God knew exactly what funds needed to be in our bank account at what time, and then rejoice every time I was able to pay another bill.  I still remember the amazing feeling I had spending Christmas day here in our home with out little family and just feeling SO freakishly blessed and happy.  It has been YEARS since we were able to really give our kids a nice Christmas, and we were able to do that this year, and I just felt like that was such a gift from Father above.

So that is what brought me to posting here today.  Maybe I'll post again soon, maybe not.  But I felt like I really needed to share the testimony, the word about not worrying.  Verse 27 above says "who of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature".  There is so much truth there!  Because do you know what worrying does?  It messes things up.  It keeps me awake at night, because I feel if I think about something long enough a solution will present itself.  It makes me short with my children and my husband.  It makes me afraid to open e-mails because I'm worried someone else is going to want money from me.  But do you know what I do now when I start to feel that worry coming on me?  First I recite verses like Matthew 6:34 to myself.  Then I start praying in tongues.  I have no idea what I'm saying when I do that, but God knows, and I am sure and certain that He will help me to utter the right tongues that will help our situation.

We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.  That is an amazing thing to dwell on and chases the worries away.

Monday, January 13, 2014

When Darkness Covers The Earth

"Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
“Lift up your eyes all around, and see:
They all gather together, they come to you;"  Isaiah 60:1-4

When I was younger I was terrified of "the end of days".  Absolutely terrified.  For people who have been in the faith for a long time, you may remember a series of movies shown in churches in the 80's called "The Mark of The Beast" and they were absolutely terrifying to me.  I was so scared of Jesus returning and of this whole idea of the darkness covering the earth.   Further on in life, dystopian movies and TV shows of all this darkness only served to deepen the trepidation I had about this certain time in the future.  

Only yesterday when Pastor read these verses as part of his message, I saw something completely different.  I didn't see darkness and terror, and the first thought that came to mind was "How beautiful will that be!"  and I suddenly had all these thoughts and visions of lights in the darkness.  Some of the most beautiful sights ever are of lights in the darkness.  Think of a candle-light Christmas Eve service.  Think of a star-filled sky in the heart of a summer camping trip.  Think of the Independance Day- when the skies are lit up with fireworks displays across the country!  Think of the Christmas light displays- which are only pretty when viewed in the dark.

I suspect that the dark times that are coming are not going to be as dark as I once thought them to be.  The fact is, that it will definitely be beautiful.  It will be dark all around us- evil around every corner- but we who have devoted our hearts and lives to Christ will be these lights in the darkness.  We will shine bright as a lighthouse shines on a stormy night, and the people will come.  People who need Jesus will see our lights from many distances and will flock to us- to share in that precious light.  And like a Christmas Eve candlelight service where the flame is passed from candle to candle until the whole room is lit up, we will see the same thing.  As each person finds us and kindles their own fire the lights will spread and grow, and the darkness that seemed as though it would never end will be pushed back and the light will prevail.

It will be a beautiful time, and I am no longer afraid of it.  In fact, I kind of can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Truth about the Proverbs 31 Woman

Anyone who has spent any time here at my Bible blog knows of my affinity for this lovely wife of noble character.  I love her, I adore her, and she inspires me constantly.  Any time I feel a bit discouraged or have a lack of initiative, I refresh my memory and dive into these verses in Proverbs.  She's been so good to me over the years, showing me ways to be a good wife to my husband, and a good mother to my children.  But I've always felt that she was still hiding somthing, that there was something elusive about her that I had yet to discover.

Well, a few weeks back, while sitting in church listening to an unrelated sermon, the Proverbs 31 woman leaped into my mind.  And I saw something new, something I'd never considered before.  I purposed to think on it later, to give it my attention, and to blog about it, because this was something everyone needed to know.  Those thoughts have been coming and going ever since, and today I finally sat down with a few spare moments to read the truth in these verses, and I knew right off the bat that my hunch was right, and it is my hope today that this woman will bring more encouragement than you ever thought possible.

If there was one thing that I would despair about when reading these verses, it was that while I could use them to inspire my everyday living, the fact was that being this particular wife was literally impossible.  That bothered me, that this ideal that we all look up to was showing us a way to live that no human being could sustain.  There is just no physical way that one person could accomplish all of these tasks that this wife of noble character seems to be able to.  The fact is, the truth hidden within, is that I don't think this wife of noble character is actually speaking to us wives and encouraging us in our everyday tasks.  In fact, I believe these verses are not speaking to any one of us individually, but corporately.  It is my thought today that this wife of noble character is speaking to the greatest wife it could be: to the Bride of Christ.  These verses are written to the church, to show us how the Bride of Christ can work together to accomplish everything under the sun.  It shows us how unity and working together can accomplish much.  Read these verses again with that thought in mind, I am going to share them below in the Amplified version.

A capable, intelligent, and virtuous woman—who is he who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies or pearls.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her confidently and relies on and believes in her securely, so that he has no lack of [honest] gain or need of [dishonest] spoil.
12 She comforts, encourages, and does him only good as long as there is life within her.
13 She seeks out wool and flax and works with willing hands [to develop it].
14 She is like the merchant ships loaded with foodstuffs; she brings her household’s food from a far [country].
15 She rises while it is yet night and gets [spiritual] food for her household and assigns her maids their tasks.
16 She considers a [new] field before she buys or accepts it [expanding prudently and not courting neglect of her present duties by assuming other duties]; with her savings [of time and strength] she plants fruitful vines in her vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength [spiritual, mental, and physical fitness for her God-given task] and makes her arms strong and firm.
18 She tastes and sees that her gain from work [with and for God] is good; her lamp goes not out, but it burns on continually through the night [of trouble, privation, or sorrow, warning away fear, doubt, and distrust].
19 She lays her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She opens her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her filled hands to the needy [whether in body, mind, or spirit].
21 She fears not the snow for her family, for all her household are doubly clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes for herself coverlets, cushions, and rugs of tapestry. Her clothing is of linen, pure and fine, and of purple [such as that of which the clothing of the priests and the hallowed cloths of the temple were made].
23 Her husband is known in the [city’s] gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes fine linen garments and leads others to buy them; she delivers to the merchants girdles [or sashes that free one up for service].
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing and her position is strong and secure; she rejoices over the future [the latter day or time to come, knowing that she and her family are in readiness for it]!
26 She opens her mouth in skillful and godly Wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness [giving counsel and instruction].
27 She looks well to how things go in her household, and the bread of idleness (gossip, discontent, and self-pity) she will not eat.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied); and her husband boasts of and praises her, [saying],
29 Many daughters have done virtuously, nobly, and well [with the strength of character that is steadfast in goodness], but you excel them all.
30 Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain [because it is not lasting], but a woman who reverently and worshipfully fears the Lord, she shall be praised!
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates [of the city]!
When I read that, with my mind turned to the thought that these verses are actually speaking to the church as a whole, I get filled with so much excitement!  Especially, look at verse eleven up there:  "The heart of her husband trusts in her confidently and relies on and believes in her securely", if these verses are speaking to The Bride, this verse is talking about Jesus.  And, oh, what warmth here in this verse! Jesus trusts His Bride completely, in full confidence.  He's relying on us to share what He has freely given us- and He believes that we can indeed to that.  Wow.  I admit, I want to go verse by verse here, and show how these verse apply in a corporate sense.  I won't do that today, but may in the future.  Today, I look at them all together and I see how the different pieces of the body can come together, and when they come together in such a perfect way, look at all we can accomplish for the Kingdom of God!

It's amazing! Every once in a while I would read these verses and get discouraged, because while I could purpose to do my best, my absolute best cannot even come close to all this woman accomplishes.  But now, now I see that what I need to do is do my absolute best with the tasks that I have been given- and the tasks I will be given in the future.  And while my task may be to consider the field and plant fruitful vines, another person's task may be to seek out the wool and flax and work with eager hands. Together we can accomplish much- but it's going to take a body that's united in purpose, not divided under many different banners.

And then, when we skip to the end and verse 28, where that beautiful husband comes back in, we see that He boasts of his wife and praises her... Just think church, think what we can do if we work together for the good of the Kingdom.  These verses tell us flat out that if we will come together in unity then our children will be clothed, fed, happy and full of expectation for the future.  If we will come together for God's Purposes, then Jesus, our precious husband, will boast of His Bride and praise her.

Gosh, that's surely what I want!  I want Jesus to return for His Bride and find that she has excelled in all the tasks that have been set before her.  I want Jesus to come to claim His Bride and find a church that has unified under the banner of Heaven and taken the world in a furious, loving way.  Together may we be more precious than jewels, rubies or pearls.  May we BE the Bride of Christ in truth, and be the wife that He will be proud to call His. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Righteousness Speaks: Post Election Thoughts

I believe that God DID hear HIS children on election day.  Our job was to vote for righteousness, our job was not to change the course of history, but to vote right and just.  Christians were to vote for the candidate who best reflected God's thoughts- the candidate against abortion, and who values life. We did vote, and while our voices may have been the minority of the voice... God heard loud and clear.  The Israelites in Egypt were the minority, yet God heard them and delivered them in such a spectacular way...

"And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians."  Exodus 5:5-7

If you had told Israel what was to come in the weeks and months ahead, they would have laughed at you.  But God had an amazing plan for them, and I believe He has an amazing plan for America.  The Israelites watched from their little bubble in Goshen as the Egyptian land was subject to plague after plague.  Eventually, Pharaoh sent them away, where they were led across the desert by a pillar of fire!  A cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  God did not desert His children for one second.  He heard their cries and their groans and their petitions, and He delivered them in the most remarkable way. 

I daren't speculate as to why Mr. Romney did not gain the presidency.  However, with retrospective eyes, I can look back and see that perhaps there were far too many people who were placing all their hopes and dreams for the future on this one presidential candidate.  Instead, the hopes and dreams should have been placed with God, our Father.  Our help for America is not going to come from any president or congressman.  It is going to come from Heaven, and I think it's going to come in a spectacular way.

" I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth."  Psalm 121:1-2

Man is never the answer, and God always is.  Clearly God is not finished with President Obama, and I am excited to continue the opportunity to pray for him and his lovely family.  May the church continue to heed the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, for WE are HIS people and it is our duty to pray this beloved country out of the downward spiral it's in.

" if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."  2 Chronicles 7:14

God is a good God.  All the time, and His love never fails.  He has a great love for America, a great love.  And I am literally on the edge of my seat- praying incessantly for this beautiful country- filled with anticipation for what God is going to do here.  It's going to be amazing, and there will be no doubt that God is the answer and all we need.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Precious Thoughts

"How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!"  Psalm 139:17

One should never, ever discard a completely random thought that comes out of nowhere.   And I say that because I JUST had one that I never would have acted on.  Well, I still haven't acted on it, but the wheels are turning at a rapid, rapid pace.  It was a thought that I'd never, ever considered or thought on before.

I was thinking on our school year.  It's not begun like I intended.  We simply haven't the finances to purchase everything I need, but we're making do just fine for the time being.  The biggest issue is that our History studies are on hold because I just don't have the materials we need, and this has been weighing on me heavily.  I have a good portion of Zander's materials that I've been piecing together, but still need a fair bit.  I need everything for Abigail, however.  For her, I have been planning to tackle the first year of a two-year course on World History.  However, the particular materials I need this year are pricey- we're talking hundreds of dollars worth of books.  I've just been hoping that in a month or two I could begin piecing her core together.  But even that has left me with issues- the course is a 36 week course, so I was trying to figure out how our future was going to look beginning a core a good 10 weeks or so into our school year, and then having to squeeze another 36 weeks on top of that for the second year of the course.  It makes my head spin thinking about it.

Except that the company I purchase materials from has a different option for studying World History at Abigail's age that I'd never even remotely considered.  They offer a one-year World History course as well.  I've always completely discarded this option because I hate the thought of missing out on an entire year's worth of books and material by doing a condensed version of the history.  Only, as it turns out, this one year course is actually not quite as it seemed.  It wasn't created to be a condensed version of two years worth of material- it was created thoughtfully, to give a good picture of world history all on its own.

I've never looked at this option before, but today, for some reason, God totally dropped this random thought into my head to check it out.  I've checked.  And suddenly I'm excited about it!  There are numerous reasons, but here's a few of them.  One, is that if I pick up this particular core I can plan to still use it over a two year time period- which makes starting the materials late a perfectly good thing.  I won't have to worry about leaving it half finished at the end of the school year, because we'll just finish it next year!  On top of that, if I plan to do roughly half of it this school year, then I only actually need to purchase half of the materials.  This is huge, financially speaking.   And even better?  This one-year version of World History uses materials that I already have on hand from Zander's study of World History.  Abigail's never seen these books herself!  And since I already have them, ta-da! Even less will be needed to purchase her material.

This can only be an answer from God, truly.  For the first time in a few weeks, I'm excited about school.  We started last week with what we have, and while it's meeting our needs, it wasn't what I wanted.  However, now I can forge ahead with a plan in place!  I've been wanting to do a month long government/election study, but couldn't figure out how to squeeze it in and then get to our history studies.  This new plan will fit right in place.  We can work on our government studies, and hopefully when we finish up, I'll have enough materials to commence the history work.

God is so good!  And His thoughts are so precious.  Thank you Lord, for a timely answer and the encouragement today.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Positive, Postive, Positive

"in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  1 Thessalonians 5:18

In the last two weeks I have had two recurring themes presented to me over and over.  Whether they are from pulpits, books, facebook statuses, other people, they are clear and concise, and I can tell that God is saying something.  One I will address another day, but the other one is all about watching what you say and think.  It's about staying positive and joyful, and keeping our eyes focused where they need to be focused.

When I think of that, I am reminded of the recent Olympic games.  We watched as much as we possibly could of the Olympics.  We saw so many incredibly talented athletes, and saw feats performed that we watched in complete awe.  And yet, it seemed as if the world around us was looking for the negative.  We would see what (to us) looked like an amazing dive off the platform, full of twists and flips, and the commentator would spend the entire dive pointing out all the flaws.  Now, I realize this was an athletic competition, and the judges are looking for the flaws, but really.  It would have been nice to just watch and enjoy the stunning athleticism and talent we were seeing in front of us.  It would have been nice to appreciate the hard work and dedication that athlete had endured, instead of noting all the flaws and then dismissing them because they wouldn't get a medal.

I think that reality TV has turned us as a people into critics of the worst kind.  Our eyes are constantly scanning for errors and mistakes.  It's gotten to the point where we can't even enjoy an event for what it is, because we're always on alert for errors.  We go to a concert, or watch something on TV and one of the singers isn't quite on their game, and we automatically accuse them of being pitchy or off- like we're some kind of pro in the industry.   We can't even enjoy a good old American football game anymore because we get upset when a play doesn't go as expected and we think we know better than the coaches and we get all upset and start throwing things and accusing coaches or players of not being worth their salary.

And then we take this criticism to church with us.  We listen to the preacher's message with scrutiny- looking for a place for him to say something we don't like so that we can remember that and talk with others about it later.  Instead of listening to the message that God would have us hear, we focus on the negative and miss that glorious nugget of revelation that God had prepared for us that morning.  Instead of participating in the worship we pick apart the worship team and think about how that person doesn't sing the best or how that drummer isn't as good as the other ones, or how the team just doesn't seem to be having a good day. 

You know what this reminds me of? The book of Job. Job and his naughty friends who spent a good deal of the book trying to convince Job that God was the cause of all that was wrong in his life.  Over and over they would point out the negative and tell Job to renounce God because of all the atrocities that had befallen him.   But Job remained steadfast.  He knew his father, and he refused to see anything negative about God.  Despite all his losses and woes, Job held onto his faith in God.  And God saw this- He saw Job's faith and in the end Job was rewarded.

"And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has."  Job 42:7

As I think on this staying positive business, I realize it's more easily said than done.  Why, I've even done it myself recently.   I posted yesterday about tending my garden.  I was so focused on what was going wrong in the garden that I didn't spend any time rejoicing over what was going well.  My tomatoes are doing great, my peppers are doing fabulous, I have a small pile of zucchini on my counter for the first time in five years!  There is so much going well in my garden this year, I have much to be thankful about, and much to rejoice over.  God is so good to us, and I am reminded of my precious son.  This past spring- late spring- he was spending time in his bedroom.  I was doing work in the kitchen, I think, when suddenly he came running into the kitchen and beckoned me outside.  He told me he had spied something wonderful from the window of his bedroom, and he wanted to show it to me.  So I followed him outside and he led me to a lone red tulip sticking up in the middle of nowhere.  It had been there for a few days already, and I'd noticed it, but I certainly didn't stop to appreciate it.

I did right then and there.  Together with my boy, we gazed upon and appreciated this lovely red tulip that was sticking up in the middle of an unsightly weed patch.  I asked God right there to check my attitude and help me to see more moments like this in life.

We need to reject this critical spirit that's trying to work its way into the church today.  We need to stay positive and rejoice in all things! I plan to start doing that immediately, in fact.  Yesterday I spent most of the day canning pears.  Today I get to do the same, and I'm not really looking forward to the work.  But it IS putting a ton of delicious canned pears in our pantry, and in our extended family's pantry.  We've also learned recently that this year's apple harvest is all but gone, which means we probably won't have much applesauce in the pantry.  God knew that, and He prepared this pear tree to produce wonderful fruit for us anyway- so that we would have something healthful and delicious to add to our dinner plates come winter.  So instead of focusing on the lack of apples, I'm going to rejoice in the abundance of pears.  Go God!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Into The Garden

"The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."  Isaiah 58:11

I've decided I like this new method to blogging. It may not be as exciting to have a post every single day, but it feels good to wait until I REALLY have something to post about- something that God's been speaking to me about.  It gives me time to mull it over, dwell on it and try to extract what I can.  And then I come to the blog and get my thoughts down- it allows me to maintain the blog without being stressful, and that's very nice.

Anyway, I've been challenged as of late to try to find more time to quiet myself, and anyone who knows me and my busy life knows that is a HUGE challenge for me.  I truly have no time to myself, and trying to carve out quiet time is next to impossible.  Yesterday, though, I really felt like I needed to find that time.  So I did the only thing I could think of- I headed for the garden.  I spent well over an hour tending to and working in the garden, and the whole time, God kept dropping little nuggets that spoke to me as I worked. 

One of the things that I did yesterday was tear out perfectly good plants.  I'd planted an over-abundance of cucumbers and green beans in my garden this year, in anticipation of a great harvest.  I didn't get that great harvest.  Our weather was not conducive to these vegetables apparently, because the plants themselves were growing fine, they simply were not bearing fruit. I've had many thoughts over the weeks about removing them and planting something else, but I just kept a hopeful attitude that they would suddenly take off.  Well, yesterday I decided to pull them out.  It was hard work to pull out these established plants, and as I pulled them out of the ground and off the trellis, I was reminded that being pruned by God is definitely hard work.  When you're trying to get something right in your life, it always seems like those are the times the devil works his most mischief and makes it truly difficult to get things right.

I also thought about how the plants I was pulling out WERE good plants, and yet they were being removed to make way for something new. Wow, is that a great parallel for the seasons of life.  Lately I've been thinking about the friends I have on my Facebook account, and how many of them are friends from another time.  Friends who were good, and necessary for that season of life, but now we possibly have little in common.  Just like my plants, which needed to be removed to make way for new, these friends of old needed to be removed to make way for the new friends.  It doesn't make them bad friends at all, it just means that they fulfilled their purpose in my life, and they needed to be removed to make room for the new.

This isn't limited to people and friends.  Maybe for other people there is a season of a job, an activity, or a hobby that needs to come to a close.  It can be a perfectly wonderful thing, but it may be time to put that thing behind you.  I think about how many years ago Andy used to play volleyball one night a week. He did that for many years and enjoyed doing so, but shortly after he became a Daddy, that weekly activity was put aside to make more room for family time, and for the job that also came along.  The volleyball certainly wasn't a bad activity at all, but it was just time to set it aside for something new.

So I was thinking about this as I pulled out these plants yesterday, because I sure was hoping that there wasn't anything that God was about to ask me to put aside.  I don't have much to put aside at this stage in life, to be honest.  But it did make me think about different activities and ministries that I've gone through over the years, and it kind of affirmed to me that it was right to leave those things behind.  Sometimes setting something aside can be painful!  We make connections with friends and the people we do our activities with, and it can hurt to leave those behind and step into something new.

That's when the best part comes though.  Because yesterday,  I worked hard at pulling out those plants, and then I was left with a blank slate to start all over with.  A new season is upon us, as we're creeping up to the threshold of autumn, and it was time to plant the fall garden.  The first step after removing the old, was to fertilize and rejuvenate the soil left behind.  We need to do that too!  Before we plunge headfirst into something new, it's important to take the time to rejuvenate and fertilize- even if it's just a day or two.  We fertilize by digging into God's Word and taking in those words of refreshment and rejuvenation.  When I was working in my garden yesterday, I worked fresh compost into my soil- the best balanced fertilizer there is. Even better, it's completely free because we make compost ourselves.  In the exact same way, when we fill our hearts with God's Word, we know we're putting the best into us- and like my compost, it's absolutely free to all.

Once my garden was properly fertilized, then I took the time to plan what I wanted to plant.  While I could just haphazardly throw seeds, that's not a very effective method of gardening.  Instead, I marked out my soil and planned where each seed would rest.   This was a great reminder to me that God's not just going to throw us into something new without proper planning and preparation.  He's not going to take someone who has been working in the nursery for twenty years and suddenly thrust them into leading a worship service.  Our God is a great God who will help us take the necessary steps to plan and prepare for the new season ahead.  Sometimes, though, we find it difficult to through that stage of planning and preparation- we're so eager to get going with the new!

But then finally, the moment arrives, and we can begin to tackle the new season ahead- the new activity, ministry, job, whatever it is.  Yesterday I finally came to the point where I was able to plant my new seeds.  The hard work I'd gone through in the hours before was coming to fruition as I tucked the new seeds into the soil.

But of course, my work isn't done yet.  Just because we've arrived a the new doesn't mean that I can just walk away and forget what's been done.  I need to keep an eye on those planted seeds.  I need to water (hello, Holy Spirit) my seeds occasionally, and keep an eye out for pests and critters who would like to steal my hard work and rob me of my joy.   We need to also water our new season by staying connected with the Holy Spirit- by staying in our Word and maintaining that relationship with God, our Father. 

For our Father is a master gardener.  He knows exactly when it's time for something to be pruned- and He does it with such love.  Sometimes it can be painful, but He always uses gentle hands and helps to carry us while we go through the painful parts.  He also knows exactly the perfect time to plant something new and cultivate its growth.  He is the vine, and we are the branches- I would not choose to abide anywhere else.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."  John 15:5

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thankful For The Small Things

"The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth her green figs,
And the vines with the tender grapes
Give a good smell."  Song of Solomon 2:12-13

There are too many Christians out there waiting for God to do some big thing for them.  I know, because I think I've been guilty of that myself.  Now, don't get me wrong, God surely can and does do big things in the lives of his children.  But I think when we get distracted, we forget about the small things that He does for us every single day.  I like these verses above because they do remind me of the small things.  The flowers, for example, surely can be such small things.  But boy, are they a blessing when they open in the spring after a long winter. 

 The voice of a bird is also a small thing, but it is such a lovely thing to wake up to in the morning.  The kids and I always try and track down a bird when we hear a new voice in the yard.  Right now, in fact, we have a morning dove who has decided to nest above our garage.  She sits day in and day out, patiently waiting for her babies to be hatched.  I've never seen such dedication!  She doesn't move when we go in and out with our vehicles, and doesn't move when we go in and out the front door- which is literally three feet from her nest.  We can watch her from our bathroom window too- so we can observe without bothering her.  We're enjoying the simple act of watching a bird nest.  A simple thing, but a really cool thing that God caused to happen.

Then we move on to the fig tree putting forth her figs.  Change those figs to tomatoes, and you have my small thing.  Everyday I walk out to the garden and bring tomatoes back into the house with me.  It's such a blessing after several years of hardly any tomatoes!  I've already put up two batches of salsa from my garden, and that totally delights me and my family.  Last night I decided to see if I could find some pickling cucumbers at a local farm stand.  When I asked about them, you'd have thought I'd asked for real treasure.  The lady working the stand lit up and went to work gathering my pickling cucumbers.  When she'd measured out the quantity I'd asked for, she then went above and beyond and heaped the cucumbers.  She gave me quite a bit more than the half-bushel I'd asked about.  And then last night I was able to enjoy making pickles- it totally delighted Andy to walk in after work and see the pickle factory in progress.  We delighted in the small things last night!  Which, actually, seem like big things at the moment to me.

Ah, the vines with the tender grapes.  I think that's our key verse this morning, because of the word tender.  Grapes and grapevines are small things, but they need to be tended with care.  You need to be careful, one wrong move and you've squished your grapes before their time and ruined your crop.  In the same way, we need to take care with the small blessings that God gives us.  If we're not going to take care of the small things, why would He give us the big things.  When I think on it, I can think of a dozen small, trivial things that to an outsider would seem incredibly small, but to me, they're huge.  Why, I have the perfect example sitting right here next to me.  Over the last year, I've signed up for a program where I take surveys online.  Just one company, but they send me surveys, I complete them, and then they credit my account with a dollar value.  When that dollar value gets so high, I can trade it in for gift cards to various stores.  For the third time since January, I've massed enough value to trade in my points for a Gamestop gift card.  I am very excited about this, because I have a not-so-little girl who has a birthday on Monday, and I'm very excited to be able to tuck this gift card into her birthday gift.  It's unexpected, and it was perfectly timed to be able to bless her with it.

Another small thing.  We went on our crazy camp out this past weekend.  We basically took enough food stuff to prepare our group meal and then our lunches.  We pretty much brought it all back home with us, so I didn't have to go grocery shopping when we came back home.  To many people, this wouldn't seem like anything special at all.  But it's been awfully nice eating our group meal leftovers in different ways all week, and the lunch things have padded Andy's lunchbox this week with no additional expense necessary.  

The thing is, the Bible tells us to be thankful IN ALL THINGS!

 "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  1 Thessalonians 5:18

And you know what?  When we open our hearts, eyes, and minds to being thankful for the small blessings around us, the world sure does appear a lot more rosy.  I mean, when you're walking around being thankful for flowers and birdsong, and deals at the grocery store, life has a rosy tint to it, and it sure feels good!  I just remembered I have one more example where God totally blessed me with something small in recent weeks.

Last week was one of those tight money weeks.  I literally had $5 in my purse, and no other funding options.  Food-wise we were fine, we have food in the house, but the kids had eaten the last bit of fresh fruit we had on hand.  I have frozen fruit, but I really wanted some fresh fruit to go with our pancake dinner that we were planning that night.  While the kids were at dance, I'd decided to stop in at Wal-Mart (a place I don't shop at often) and see if they had any good deals to be had in the fruit department.  I wanted to make the most of my five bucks.  So right at the front I see cherries on sale for less than two dollars a pound, and then peaches next to that for less than two dollars a pound.  There's a scale nearby, so I weigh up a pound each (or so I thought) of cherries and peaches and head to the checkout. 

So I get to the checkout, and it's one of those long waits.  I have no where else to be, so I don't really mind, but I am thinking that this is a rather long wait for a few bits of fruit.   Well, I get to the checkout and it turns out I mis-read the scale and I actually had two pounds each of the cherries and peaches, which would come to just under eight dollars for both of them.  I was thinking that I had to put one of them back when the cashier did a little magic for me.  Wal-Mart has a price matching policy- they will match any advertised price at any store on any thing.  No questions asked.  Well, this particular cashier knew that another store had put out a flyer that week with cherries and peaches both on sale for less than ONE dollar.  So she pushed a few buttons, and for four dollars and some change, I got both bags of fruit to take home to my kids.  I was floored, I really was.  God totally knew that I wanted this fruit for my kids, and he put this specific cashier who knew about this other store's sale right in my path to make sure that I got that fruit to bless my kids with.

We enjoyed every single one of those cherries and peaches, let me tell you.  And it just showed me completely that God knows me inside and out.  I mean, think of all the steps that had to happen for me to get all that fruit.  First the one store had to have the crazy sale in the first place.  Then, I had to go shopping at a store I never go to in order to get the price matching policy.  THEN I had to have the cashier who already knew about this sale flyer, because I certainly didn't, and didn't have one with me.  And when all was said and done to have the exact amount of money needed in my wallet to make the purchase... God surely does good things.

And so this morning I am reminded to be thankful for the small things.  As I gaze toward my dining room I see twenty quarts of freshly made pickles, and I am so, so thankful.  My kids love pickles, and those will be very welcome in the weeks and months to come.  I am thankful this morning for the great love that God continues to shower on my family.  I daresay He loves my kids more than I do, and He proves it almost every single day.  And for that, I am eternally thankful and amazed.  For they are the tender grapes in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Box Breaking and Dreams

 "For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."  1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

This past weekend, our family went on a little camping getaway.  We usually go camping once a year, so taking a second trip- albeit a short one- was a little treat for our family.  We were going with some friends of ours in an attempt to really get to know one another better. Andy has spent more time with this family than I have, to be honest, and more than once I wondered over the weeks whether this weekend away was a good idea.  I mean, while we considered ourselves friends with this family, we're not super close or anything, and a camping excursion can become so personal!  I mean, you're out in the middle of the woods with not much to do, so a lot of conversation takes place...

So this was one of those box breaking weekends for me, because even right up to the day we packed up and drove off, a part of me was hoping that someone would call to cancel the weekend.  It was just a touch out of my comfort zone, and I couldn't decide if I was looking forward to it or dreading it.  But my husband was excited about it, and my kids were beyond excited about it, so off we went. Of course, it ended up being a wonderful weekend. It really was, and of course I soon discovered that I'd worried about absolutely nothing, but our first night there, as I crawled into bed, I casually kind of asked God why this weekend came about.  Why were we being thrust into the midst of this group of people?  I wondered if there was a greater purpose, or if it was simply about friendship.

Sometimes God takes advantage of these questions we ask.  Sometimes when we ask, He gives us the answers, and not necessarily in a way we were looking for.  Because I had a horrifying dream that night.  I can't even recall many of the details, I tried to block them out of my mind immediately.

 But what I do remember was that I was in a strange land.  It was almost like a video game landscape, to be honest.  What made it video game like was that over time, patches of the world around us were turning into a fire world.  So one day a tree would be a tree, and the next it would be a ball of fire.  One day a stream would be water, and the next it would turn into a stream of lava.  Slowly, everything was turning from a piece of a green world into a piece of this fire world, and then suddenly it began accelerating. People suddenly realized that they needed to flee this fire world, and some began leaving.  There was a clear path- a clear way out, but for some reason, the majority would not take this path, they just kept hoping and praying that this change into fire would stop and reverse back into the green world.  By the very end, there was a rather large crowd of people crowded around the mouth of this path out of the fire world, but no one was taking the steps toward it, and then, to every one's horror, the path began to change into the fire world.  People were dying all around as the fire world overtook them- there was no place to even put feet, because the ground was turning into fire or lava or hot embers.  It really was awful.  The last thing I remember was seeing a park bench that was still not changed into a part of the fire world, and I leaped toward it myself.  As I was leaping, I realized I wouldn't make it, and then the scene that I was seeing began to spiral and disappear- JUST like the end of a video game sequence when your character dies and you have to start over.

I woke immediately, and the first thing I thought was that my legs really and truly felt like they were on fire.  They were so hot, I couldn't get them out of the blankets fast enough.  As I tried to get these horrifying images and feelings out of my mind and body, a very distinct thought came to my mind "The people will perish".  And then I heard that phrase again- several times in fact.  As I tried to settle myself and clear my mind of pictures of dying people, I thought long and hard on "The people will perish".

The thing is, the people we were gathering with this weekend, while they are not a part of our church family, they are families of faith.  They see God's touch in their lives and they are constantly amazed by it. And yet, I really felt like that dream was giving me the answer to my questions to God that night- we were put into this group of people for a very specific reason.  I'm certainly not going to question any of the hearts of our friends, but someone in this group of people needs the love of God in their lives.  It could be all of them- it could be one of them.  It could be one of their children.  It could be someone we have not even met yet- someone who is to come in the times ahead of us.  I have no idea.  But God has put my family into this circle of people for a very big reason- because someone will perish if they don't find Jesus.

So I looked up this idea of people perishing, and found a few verses in the Bible, but interestingly enough, the one that I find most appropriate doesn't even use the word perish in any translation I've found.  Here it is in Hosea 4:6, in the Amplified version.

" My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you [the priestly nation] have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you that you shall be no priest to Me; seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children."  Hosea 4:6

Basically, that verse is saying that the people will perish because they don't know any better.  They have a lack of knowledge- of understanding of the laws of God, and I think it's because no one ever told it to them.  They have forgotten their faith and have become so distracted by the world around them they that even forget to seek out God and his wisdom.

The facts are, that we are to bring the light of the world to the dark places.  When we surround ourselves with our Godly bubbles, we aren't able to be that light.  We do have a tendency to keep our social lives to our family and our church families.  A big part of that is because of our children, they've driven us to surround ourselves with Godly people, and yet, God is calling us out of this bubble we've created- to take His light to where it is needed most.  Jesus died for all mankind- not just a select few- ALL.  And there are too many people out there who simply don't know any better.  They don't know that there is a living and loving God and a living and loving Jesus.  They just don't know, and it is our job, our calling, to gently share the knowledge that we have with those who need to know.

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  2 Corinthians 4:6