Sunday, February 28, 2016

The God Who sees me

Have you ever found yourself sitting in your closet crying to God, "I can't do this anymore?" It may have been a figurative crying or, like me, it may have been a literal reaching the end of your rope. In any event, whatever your "this" was, you are not alone. I feel your pain. I was at the point of utter emotional exhaustion, knowing that nobody had the answer but God.

I love the fact that even in that most vulnerable and wounded place, my God meets me there. He sees me and He reminds me that I am not alone. One of my favorite verses comes from the Old Testament story of Hagar when she fled with her son Ishmael. Gen. 16:13, she said, "You are the God who sees me." (El Roi)

Over the summer, I traveled to North Carolina to help my mom do some work around her house. There was a ton of stuff that needed to be done and I had plans to get on the road before too late. True to my nature, I tried to fit in one more To-Do before getting on the road. I started the 8-hour solo drive at about 6 pm. I was exhausted. I had been at my mom's for a week, pulling days that started at 7 am each day and ended at midnight. Crash for a few hours. Wake. Repeat. I thought I could make it home.

Somewhere in West Virginia about 1 am in the morning, I had pulled off an exit to get something to eat and to get gas. It was night. It was very dark. It was very foggy. I was very tired.

I pulled back on to the ramp to get back on the Interstate. I had my GPS going and was listening to my book on tape. It was so foggy that visibility was extremely low. Then I begin to notice headlights coming. The vehicle passed. Later on down the road, another passed on the other side. That seemed weird. I checked the GPS again. It said I was on the right Interstate. When the next vehicle passed me, it seemed to veer around me more so than just pass me by. Then another did the same thing. I began to suspect that maybe my GPS was leading me wrong. I pulled off and checked my GPS again. And again, it said I was on the right Interstate.

I pulled back on again. And the same thing happened. Cars and semi-trucks seemed to veer around me. Something wasn't right. I pulled off again to check my GPS. I had the strong feeling that I was going the wrong way. I decided to turn around. I sat on the shoulder and sure enough the next vehicle passed going int he direction that my car was now pointed. I figured if nothing else. I would go the same direction the car had just gone and if I ended up a few miles down the road, I could just get off at the next exit. I did end up driving about 5 miles before I saw the next exit sign that revealed to me that I had truly been traveling on the correct Interstate, but in the wrong direction.

So those cars and semi-trucks that were veering to my right and to my left were not just passing me, they were avoiding me. I clearly understand in that moment that I should have been dead. And tragically, if I had collided with another vehicle, not only would I have been killed, but likely would have killed someone else. It was extremely sobering.

And for the next several miles, I prayed asking God, "Why me? Why had I been spared?" In my spiritual imagination I envisioned His angels atop my mini-van, saying "Nope" and moved that car to the left. "Nope" and moved that semi-truck to the right. Protecting both me and the other drivers. It confirmed for me that God has a purpose for me. I should have been dead, but He left me here. "What is my assignment?"

And so all the more, I am pressing toward Him, wanting more of Him, to go deeper, grow closer, to accomplish what He left me here to do.

So back to the beginning. If you have had that moment of utter brokenness and have cried out to God from that deepest place in you Spirit, He is El Roi, the God Who sees you. If you have had that encounter when you feel His power and presence at work and you are striving for even more obedience, He is El Roi, the God Who sees you.

Be encouraged! Wherever you are along the road, His hand is upon you. He has a purpose. He has a plan. And that is truly a WOW Moment!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Living by the Law of Mae’s Green Thumb

I was thinking about my grandmother, Marece Wall. Her birthday was yesterday, February 15. I wanted to honor her in remembering her birthday. So let me tell you about my grandmother.

You see, she could grow anything. She could literally pinch a shoot off a plant she liked. Then, she would place that bud in water where it would grow spindly roots like hundreds of white pieces of thread under her watchful eye. When it was ready, she would take this delicate new sprout and push it down into nutrient-rich soil. With her gentle care, she tended this young plant until it thrived.  

My grandmother understood that growth is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once, but is a natural occurrence characterized by gradual, yet continuing, changes. I learned a lot from my grandmother. I’m condensing those lessons in a six steps to help you. Think of the acronym GROWTH.  

First, give of yourself.  Many times when we want to see change, we look to our spouse and say, “If only he would do this or that” or we look at our children and think “If they only behaved this way.” Then what? The answer is we assume we would be happier or our lives would be less stressful.

In order to see growth in others, we have to start with ourselves. It may mean making changes in our attitudes, behaviors, or expectations. In some cases, it may actually mean giving more of our time to invest in our families.

Second, replenish your body and spirit. We can never have enough to give to others without taking time to replenish ourselves. That means taking time to replenish your energy, to revitalize your body, and regenerate your spirit. My friend Christina calls that self-care.

You can only be your best when you take time out each day for yourself. You have to designate time for yourself. Whether it’s a half-hour to read a book, take a bubble bath, go for a walk, even watch your favorite TV show, take time for something that personally brings you joy. It is a time to unwind and gear up for another day. Take time to meditate, write in a journal, spend time in prayer or reading your Bible to renew your Spirit.

These are ways to refill your tank so that you have more of yourself to give. None of us are at our best when we are burned out, stressed out, have not had enough sleep, or sometimes didn’t have time to eat. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of those you love.

Then, open your mind. Many of us get into a rut with our relationships. Break out of the box. Listen to new ideas. Consult friends who have older children to see what methods may have worked for them. Talk to women who have been married for some time. Subscribe to magazines that will give you parenting tips, ideas for meals, other suggestions. Use discernment. Evaluate what will work for you. Be willing to try some new things, even if you find they need to be tweaked. Since Ecclesiastes says “there is nothing new under the sun,” you may be surprised to find the timely advice that God provides if you will take the time to read His Word.

Equally important is weathering the difficult times that come with transitional periods. It is said, “A gem cannot be polished without friction.” In all relationships there are difficult times. Trials and tribulations can be the doorway that takes you to the next level in your faith, in your love, or in the development of your own character or that of those you love. Learn to weather the storm together.

Develop life strategies that allow your family to support and encourage one another during your most difficult times. That does not mean denying problems, or turning a blind eye to things that are wrong. It does mean showing your love even more when it would be easier to walk away.

Next, teach what you have learned. We grow when each of us learns to invest our lives into someone else’s. Like my grandmother, I have committed to pass on my knowledge, wisdom, and experiences and entrusting them to my children to reach future generations. Another part of this principle is gleaning from your elders. Take time out  to really spend time with your grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and other older members of your family. Don’t forget older people in your neighborhood that can also be a source of wisdom.

Finally, heal your heart. To see real growth in yourself and those around you, you need to heal: get rid of bitterness, deal with past hurts, forgive those who have wronged you, release the anger that can linger after you have been hurt or perceived that you have been hurt.

Bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, anger are all negative emotions. They can eat away at you when you harbor these emotions instead of hurting those whom the emotions are toward. In essence, holding on to these kinds of feelings does more damage to you. This is especially true within your household
Remember the definition of growth: it’s a process, a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result or a natural continuing activity or function. The result you are looking for is to be whole, to be the best you, to have each member of your family to be their best.

My grandmother understood these principles when it came to providing love and support to a budding plant, but even more when it came to our family. “Let this mind be in you,” says Philippians 2:5 and see what takes root.  

Happy Birthday Mae!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Step into the unknown

A while ago I began to work through a book with my leadership team when I led a children's ministry called "If you want to walk on water, You've got to get out of the boat." It was a book about taking risks and having faith. But I have found that the greatest challenge to truly walking in faith each day is fear.

God has been dealing with me a lot lately about fear. He has reminded me of the numerous times that He has told us in Scripture "Do not be afraid." When I was preparing for my first missions trip to Haiti a few years ago, I began to almost talk myself out of going until I prayed. I asked God to give me a confirmation. I needed a Word from God. The morning I prayed, my devotional was Joshua 1:9, "This is my command -- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." I held on to that verse because it reminded me that fear is not of God.

So why do we tend to be like Lot's wife? We look back in spite of how things have unfolded in our past. She seemingly did not consider that God was merciful and had provided a way for her family to escape and experience new life. The Israelites complained bitterly as they wandered in the desert and wanted to go back to Egypt. Like Lot's wife, they seemed to have forgotten that in Egypt they were in bondage. Things were so bad that they were forced to make bricks without straw, but yet still they wanted to go back.

I believe that both Lot's wife and the Israelites could not move forward because they did not know what they were moving toward. They did not trust God enough to go in obedience. They were afraid of the unknown and unwilling to let go of the familiar.

To get out of the boat, like Peter, and walk on water, we first have to recognize that it is Jesus that we are walking toward. He is the One that sustains us. And then there is that phrase again. As Jesus approaches, He says to them in Matthew 14: 27, "Don't be afraid. Take courage. I am here." Then Peter takes that first tentative step. He inquires of the Lord. Peter doesn't just jump out of the boat. He asks, "Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water." And Jesus' simple reply is "Come."

Our faith is not in our own ability, but we trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit to confirm the message that Christ speaks to us, "Come." The question then is this, Do we trust the nature of Christ enough to step into the unknown?

Peter did not just get out of the boat. He stepped out of the familiar into a storm because he trusted in the One that was greater than himself.

I was in the familiar. I knew it would cost me something, actually a lot, to step into the unfamiliar, in fact into a storm of doubt, regret, second-guesses and conflicted emotions. But I inquired of the Lord, "Lord, if it is you..." and His reply was "Come."

It's still pretty scary out of the boat. Not sure I've begun to sink. Probably still taking my first few tentative steps, But I have to keep my eyes on the One that quiets that storm, The one that says to my personal storm, "Peace. Be still!"

I will not look back. I can't go back. And I don't want to. When God says go. the best thing to do is obey. I trust Him. Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."