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Monday, April 23, 2007

Counting My Blessings

“Lord, I praise you for who You are – the Great I Am, Master, Father, King of Kings, Counselor, Redeemer, and Prince of Peace. I praise You for being faithful, loving, sacrificial, holy, almighty, wise, and the lover of my soul. Lord, I thank You for my blessings: I thank You for a husband who supports me, loves our children, and who has taught me more about sacrifice than any other person on earth. I thank You for my beautiful, healthy boys. I thank You for trusting me with them and for giving me instruction in Your Word on how to be a Godly parent. (I also ask Your forgiveness for having to remind me of Your truths and guidance as a parent time and time again.)
I also thank You for the trials in my life, for You so clearly show Your power within the midst of them. You have drawn me closer to You as I walk through the valley. You give me purpose and redefine my priorities through these trials. And, I believe You are giving me a ministry by what I learn through them.
Lord, no matter what happens in my life, you remain the same today, yesterday and forever. I can count on You – Your faithfulness, Your love, Your peace and even Your joy in the midst of turmoil. Who is like You, oh Lord? Where else can I find such unfathomable comfort and hope, even with uncertainty all around me? Lord, continue to use my trials to mold me into a vessel you can use to speak and work through. May the fire continue to refine me. May I reach others for You and show them Your glory and power as I live a life of beauty out of ashes.
You, Lord, are my Rock. There is no other explanation for the amazing joy, comfort and peace I feel as I stand firm among the crashing waves. Thank you, Jesus.”

I feel like I have grown so much over the past week. God is so amazing. There is no one else who can change a life and give a life meaning like He can. More has happened in one week that has changed my perspective than probably all of the past year. (1) Our son’s court date went as well as could be expected – better in fact – as we received even more than we asked for in changing the terms of his current bond. (2) Then on Friday night I had the opportunity to hear Jerry B. Jenkins speak, and I was moved and inspired as he spoke about working with Billy Graham on his memoirs and also about writing in general. (I purchased his book Writing for the Soul and can’t wait to read and apply it.) (3) Coincidentally (or, I like to think of it as a “God-incident”), the next day I happened to listen to an audio tape from Thrive Today that talked about purpose and vision, and how it needs to transcend all areas of your life (in your career, with your family, and all other responsibilities and activities), and as a result I simplified my ultimate purpose into a mission statement that energizes and excites me. (As you might have guessed, writing is part of it.) (4) This past week I was also able to let go of bitterness I was feeling toward my son’s school, as I realized those who acted inappropriately don’t “define” what the school stands for. And, I will continue to choose to forgive those involved until I feel it. (5) Finally, as I homeschooled my son today, I realized how much I enjoy and look forward to spending every Monday with him. What precious time God has given me with my son, despite an overwhelming work schedule. When he was in traditional school, I was able to spend very little time with him as I worked long hours Tuesday through Saturday, and even some Sundays and Mondays. Sunday has become a little challenging as the lesson planning literally consumes hours of my time, but the Monday payoff is worth it. Now, I am challenging myself to find a way to spend quality time with my youngest son. He loves playing games, so I am thinking that a regular game night (or two) would be the answer.

The world says that there is a silver lining in every cloud. The Bible says close to the same thing, but a little differently – “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)” Also, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God and who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)” I pray you will find these truths evident in your life today. If you cannot see the blessings of the Lord, I encourage you to delve into His Word, pray for your eyes to be opened, praise Him in love for who He is (regardless of whether you currently see Him in action or not), and then silently wait for His answer. I believe He will reveal His blessings to you in the most unexpected ways, as you faithfully seek Him and wait upon Him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

You can handle the heat...

If you grew up in Sunday school, you undoubtedly know of the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The king had built a gold idol ninety feet high and nine feet wide and he ordered all to fall down and worship it or be killed. The consequence for disobedience was being thrown into a blazing furnace.

It was brought to the king’s attention that three Jews refused to worship the idol. After giving them a second chance to bow down, which was soundly rejected, Nebuchadnezzar was furious, heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal, and ordered the three men to be bound and tossed in. The soldiers charged with carrying out the order died from the intense heat of the furnace as they threw in the three men. What had made the king so angry? It was their refusal to follow his orders, instead trusting and believing in God as the ultimate authority and the only one worthy of our praise (1 Chronicles 16:25). In fact, they said to the king, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an incredible faith. Not just that they would be delivered from certain death in a fiery furnace, but even if they were not, they would stand firm in faith on God’s word. WOW! Their faith was not contingent on what God could do for them, or even what He had already done, but it was based on what they could do for God, and what He was capable of doing (whether or not He did it). How often do we lose sight of what God is capable of and what we are called to do for Him? When deliverance isn’t certain, and even when it doesn’t come, that doesn’t change who God is. It doesn’t change the truth of His word. God is so much bigger than the reality of our world.

Another interesting part of the story is how apparently Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the minority (if not the only ones) who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. The Bible says that “all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold” (Daniel 3:7), but some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews, saying, “But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:12) These three men stood alone, in spite of the fact that “everyone else is doing it”. How often do our kids do the “popular” thing or are afraid at being singled out or ridiculed for being different than the crowd…even when the crowd is wrong? (How often do we?)

It is the eve of a court date for my son. In some ways, I feel as if I’m standing at the opening to the fiery furnace. And I know it doesn’t end tomorrow, as there is still a long road ahead regardless of the outcome of the proceedings. Even more, I fear for my son who figuratively stands at the same opening. And I don’t have the power to pull him to safety.

Will I chose to cling to my faith in spite of the heat? I will…because I know even if I end up in the furnace, the Lord will be there with me. And I’d rather be in the furnace with the Lord than anywhere without Him. That would be the true definition of hopelessness.

I also wonder if both of my sons will walk the road less traveled and stand firm for what is right and true? Or will either of them follow the crowd, living for the moment rather than for God, and worshipping idols? Oh, I don’t mean ninety-foot high statues of gold, but the idols of today such as popularity, fame, money, and other treasures on earth. The Lord has called us to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also." (Matthew 6:20)

I pray that my boys will find real treasure here on earth, not the man-made kind. I pray that they will put their faith in the treasures of heaven, and that the Lord will keep them from the fiery furnace. But even if they end up there, may the Lord walk with them through it, and may all who see what’s happened proclaim, “Praise be to the God of [these boys]… How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation." (Daniel 3:28, 4:4) I pray that for your children as well, and I encourage you that if you’d like for prayer by name, please respond with a comment, and I will add your child to my prayer journal.

Warm blessings to you and your family.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Judge Not

I am not a perfect Christian. In fact, that would be an oxymoron, for what then would be the need for Jesus’ saving grace? What would be the point of mercy? So why is it that Christians can be the most judgmental toward other Christians? Why do they seem to be sometimes the most unforgiving? Of all people, Christians should know what God expects of us…after all, we carry the name of His Son!
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV)
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37 NLT)
“Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’" (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

My heart has been chipped away, if not downright broken, at some of the situations we have faced as parents of a child in trouble. Parents of his friends have forbid their children to spend time with our son, and while I understand their decision and their concerns, what I cannot understand is what they say to their children…”He’s a bad kid…We don’t want you near him…He’s the not the kind of person we want you spending time with.” Don’t people know their children almost always tell their friends what their parents say? Do they care? Would they care if they knew how these words have hurt my son and created more self doubt and despondency?

My son’s former Christian school has said and done things that are downright unbiblical. I understand their decision to disenroll him (and his four friends), but ways in which they treated these boys and information that has been shared with others are contrary to how Christ has told us to live and act.

Lest your mind take you to the extreme, I want you to know that my son and these friends have not caused physical harm, and their actions have not resulted in any irreparable damage. Out of respect and love for them, I desire to tread lightly in this “public forum” because it’s not my intent to dwell on what’s happened, but what we can learn from it. With my son, I don’t go back over the events that led us here, and I don’t need to remind him of his very real consequences – they impact his daily life already – but what I do strive for is that he knows none of this changes my love for him and my acceptance of him. Oh how I wish I could shield him from those who have chosen not to love and accept him. Or those that say they care for him but cast him into the “leper colony” of life (seemingly saying, “we love you, but only at a distance”). But Christ said to the apostles, “…Preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:7 NIV)” Jesus didn’t hang out with the religious leaders of the day, he hung out at the homes of tax collectors, lepers and sinners.

I guess if I were really honest, I would have to say that I can be pretty judgmental myself…especially before entering this season of my family’s life. And, I guess I am being judgmental even now as I write this and consider those who disparage my son. However, I have come to learn that things are not always as they seem. What we may characterize as “bad” or “ugly” or “undesirable”, Jesus may characterize as “lost” or “hurting” or “in need of grace”. I have come to a place where I pray daily, often minute-by-minute, for my lost child, and others like him. But I know that the Lord does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance. And He will rejoice with me when my “prodigal” son “comes home”. Indeed, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the righteous who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7).

I have often prayed for God to break my heart with the things that break His. I had no idea what the answer to that prayer would be. I would not have chosen this situation to be what “broke my heart”, and it has been difficult for my husband and I to come to terms with it, but it has drawn me closer to God. It has further softened my heart toward my son, especially when he’s being “difficult”. It has pointed out where I have been prideful and even arrogant. It has led me to examine my life to see if it’s truly in line with God’s will (and I am finding where it is not). It has pointed out the weaknesses in our family as it has magnified the stress fractures that threaten to crack us wide open. It gives me an opportunity to Rock-bolt things back in place (with Christ, the Rock). It has also given me a new perspective for other not-perfect Christians and non-Christians alike. I will embrace this situation, and I will continue to learn from it. And God will use it for good, as He said He would. I pray He uses it to speak to others as well…

Oh, and it would be completely unfair and wrong of me to say all this and then neglect to mention how many others have come alongside our family and my son and shown us love and grace and concern. My church family at Red Rocks Church, my sister-in-law, our parents, my direct supervisor, our counselor, and others have been so gracious and good to us. They have been Christ’s hands and feet in this situation. If any of you are reading this…thank you, and we love you!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Gift

I realize that while I carried my children in my womb, and went through quite a bit of pain to bring them into the world, and though they were immediately placed in my arms at their arrival, in all actuality my children were never really "mine". They are "a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him" (Psalm 127:3 NLT). And then we are called to give them back to the Lord, as Hannah did in 1 Samuel (see my previous post).

But what do you do when your children don’t feel like "a gift" or “a reward”? What happens when your heart is burdened and broken, and you cry out to the Lord, "what do I do with this child?!?"

My husband Kriss and I are walking through a difficult valley with our 15 year old. While we've been concerned for some time, the things we have learned in the last month have grief-stricken us. The path he has chosen, and the consequences of his choices, are very real, and very devastating. As we muddle through the uncharted waters we find ourselves in, oftentimes we feel completely inadequate with how to respond, what to do, and even what to pray for. There are times when all I can do is simply pray the name of the Lord, saying "Jesus...Jesus..." I thank God that He knows my heart, and the words that I cannot form, He already knows.

One thing that also continually comforts me is that God loves my son even more than I do. As a mom, that is almost unfathomable. Can you imagine anyone loving your child more than you? But when I consider the brutal sacrifice made on a cross for my son (and for all of us), I can start to understand. And I am grateful, because I know my son’s pain is probably greater than my own. I can’t imagine being a teenager in today’s world. I remember my confusion, my questions, my doubts, my fears, and my longings to belong. Since he’s not inclined to tell us, I can only imagine how much greater my son’s burdens are. I must admit, however, there are times I’m not focused on my son’s pain, I am focused on my own. Even worse, I’m not focused on what Christ is doing is our lives, I’m living as if it’s “all about me”. I become wrapped up in grief, turmoil, stress, and exhaustion. At the end of the day I’m pretty good at laying my burdens at the foot the cross, but come morning, I pick them back up again and walk out of the house carrying them with me. Sometime during the day, I’ll realize the load I’m carrying, and I’ll lay them down again. But, at some point later, even without realizing it, I find myself lugging my baggage around with me again.

Some days are better than others. I always laugh at the well-known prayer, “Dear Lord, so far I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed. And from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help. (Author Unknown)” I think I’m going to rewrite that one with a spin on packing our bags and carrying them around with us. What we need to do instead is go on vacation with God, unpack the bags and stay with Him a while. That’s so easy do while we’re still cozy and snug in our “bed” (when things are good). It’s a lot harder once the alarm clock of life goes off before we’re ready, and our bare feet hit the cold tile floor, and we have a day filled with unknowns. But we must remember God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us. At what must have been a dark time in Moses’ life, as he wandered around in the wilderness, and he learned he would not be able to enter the promised land, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” This theme is repeated several times, including in Hebrews 13:5, “…because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Praise God for His faithfulness.

So once again I lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. And tomorrow (or actually later this morning…I’m not getting a lot of sleep these days), I will wake up and chose to leave them there. I will leave my bags unpacked and walk out into the day the Lord has made. And no matter what may come…and there have been many unpleasant surprises lately…I will chose to keep my eyes focused on Him. Through His eyes, I will truly be able to recognize His gifts. My children, no matter the circumstances, are among the greatest gifts I have ever received. Thank God I am able to see them through His eyes. May they see Him through mine.

Blessings to you until next time.