Are you kidding me?

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evaporatingdishHave you ever done something completely stupid? Not just a ‘that was dumb’ kind of moment, but an all out ‘where on earth did my brain go’ kind of moment? If you can’t seem to recall such a time then you are a liar…shame on you! 😉 My problem isn’t that I have to answer that question with a big ol’ ‘you know it’; the problem is narrowing down which of those were in fact the stupidest. Out of the blue this morning, one such moment quickly came flooding back to mind…

When I was in school, without question, I detested science. There was not a single grade level where I found it enjoyable; there was not a single facet that I wanted to engage in. Science made me want to be physically ill. It was because of this hatred that I intentionally put off taking Chemistry until my senior year in high school. Chemistry, in my opinion, is just the most evil of all the sciences but unfortunately one of those necessary evils to get to graduation. I held off taking it until my senior year for one very specific reason though – the ability to exempt the final exams. As you can see, I came at it with a distinct plan in mind. I was ready to attack it. The third day of my senior year we were preparing to do our very first experiment. Beakers were out, test tubes, the bunsen burner, goggles – the works. I have no clue what we were testing, but I remember we had to assemble the stand for our beaker to sit on. We had to light the burner and then, using these big old tongs, carefully place the beaker over the little flame. All was going great – I made my little notations, I did my little measurements, I was rocking this experiment – take that ‘science’, I’m kickin’ butt here. When I had completed my assignment, I then had to go about the task of taking my station back down and putting everything away. I diligently went about snuffing the fire out, putting my goggles away, and cleaning up the beakers and tubes, leaving the bunsen burner for last. I so carefully used the tongs to take the beaker down thinking the whole time ‘be careful – this is going to be hot.’ Slowly I was able to get the steaming glass over to the sink and breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had made that transition without burning myself or spilling the scolding hot contents all over. I went back to take the bunsen burner and ring stand apart and as I was mentally patting myself on the back, I grabbed ahold of the metal ring that the beaker had been sitting on. Did you catch that? I reached out, with my bare hand, and grabbed the metal ring that had been supporting the glass beaker over the hot fire. Interesting fact – when heating a beaker, anything that the beaker may be sitting on will also get hot. I had so carefully removed that blasted beaker only to come back to my stand and grab ahold of the scolding hot ring it had been sitting on. Are you kidding me? One moment, I was as careful as could be, the next I had second degree burns on the entire palm of my left hand. Are…you…kidding me?!?

James 1:13-15…”When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Temptation! Here again, in this section of scripture, we see that James is just a cool guy. He has such a clear understanding of the human heart and mind. How we play the blame game; how we think way more highly of ourselves then we should. What I love is that for the first twelve verses he has really been addressing the idea of trials. The hardships and times of fear we face, that ultimately grow us stronger in the Lord. And then he ever so gently eases over into the idea of temptation – an area that we would rather just deny we struggle with and just say well, this is just the Lord too. But what we fail to get, and what James so pointedly is telling us here, is that trials (for the most part) are testings that happen on the outside, and temptations (for the most part) are the things happening on the inside. What he’s trying to drive home here is that if we aren’t careful, the testings on the outside may become temptations on the inside. Did you catch it? Read that again…if we aren’t careful the testings on the outside may very well become temptations on the inside.

When I was doing that experiment – all signs pointed out my need to be careful and that if I wasn’t I could get very hurt. I stayed alert to those signs for a little while, but then in my arrogance, in my stupidity of thinking I had done enough to stay safe, I fell right into getting hurt. That wasn’t the fault of my teacher. I couldn’t blame the students working around me. That was on me.

In the case of falling into temptation, there is always that gut reaction moment of wanting to blame God – we see that as far back as Genesis when Adam proclaimed…’That woman you put here with me…’, but as James states – God cannot be tempted and does not himself tempt us. Let’s face it – it’s so much easier to pass the blame then to face the reality. At any given time we could always try to make the argument that situations and things that other people do define us and cause us to act out on our temptations. But the Lord, has so graciously shown me the error of that thought process. In the same way that trials are a lifetime guarantee – temptations will always be along our path as well. If we don’t take seriously the danger that lies within those temptations (as James says, it will result in death) then we are walking a very dangerous line. That is why God so graciously left us His Word. He has placed scriptures, such as these powerful verses here in James, all throughout the Bible for us to learn and know, hear and understand, and most of all rely on in times where temptations want nothing more than to suck us in. We can try to say – I will never be able to stop…, we can claim that we make the choices we do because of the horrible upbringing we had…and we can stay trapped in a cycle that will do nothing but bring about death – but we are lying to ourselves. God however…, His word IS true. He IS the God from which everything comes. Every good and perfect gift IS from above. Even when that gift is wrapped in a trial that He helps us overcome. Even when that gift stays wrapped up for years, untouched by us. He IS a consistent God. He IS the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. When His word tells us of how he encouraged Moses to ‘Be strong and courageous’ to ‘not be afraid or terrified’, that ‘the LORD your God goes with you’ and ‘will never leave you or forsake you’. He is telling us those exact same words! And even when our friends struggle or our children seem to struggle, He will reach down and whisper those words in their ears as well. He does NOT change like shifting shadows! He IS all about loving us! Yes, there will be times where trials may tempt us to handle them in sin. Yes, there will be times that we make that choice. But praise God…no, I mean it PRAISE God that He loves us so much! Praise God that He stands ready to help us overcome that sin. Praise God that when we do fall, He is the one that picks us up. Praise God that we have been given the opportunity to live this life in the freedom of His grace and mercy and not bound in captivity.

It is not always easy. You know how that memory of my Chemistry catastrophe came to mind this morning? I was cooking on the stove. I had cooked up a little something  and in my haste to keep them from burning, moved them from the back burner where they had been cooking to the front that was nice and cool. In the rush of my putting the things together I sat my spatula too close to the back burner that had just been cooking – and burnt the top of my finger. I’ve walked this road before…and yet did it again! Are you kidding me?!?! Even if that is how you feel over the most gripping of temptations you face – where you thought you’d learned enough not to go there again…know that your God is not there trying to trip you up and make you fall – He is waiting to help pull you back up. There is such hope and so much joy to be found in that truth!

My prayer for Today…

Lord, I would so love to pretend like I am not faced with temptations and better yet would love to say I avoid all of the temptations that come my way. But… The enemy would love nothing more in those times where we fall into temptation, than to cloud our mind with thoughts that would question you, doubt you and be angry with you. Thank you Lord for the assurance that you would not tempt us into evil. Thank you for never leaving us or forsaking us when we feel we are just too weak to resist a temptation or that we are a failure for having given in. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for the promise that you are working to make sure that we lack nothing. Thank you for being our rescuer. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your love. Thank you for mercies that are new every morning. When the fear of falling overwhelms, thank you for being our peace. So humbled by your love this morning. Thank you Lord. Amen.

The One About the Tooth

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During my senior year of high school, Chris and I somehow found a way to ‘date’ long distance as I lived in Richmond, VA and he in Louisville, KY. We wrote letters and had the occasional phone callPD0369 (but as there was no such thing as free long distance and phone bills got into the hundreds of dollars – those calls were few and far between). Yet somehow we were boyfriend/girlfriend, he drove in to be my date for prom and came back to see me graduate. The difference on that particular trip was that I got to go back to KY with him. My sister and brother-in-law were living in KY and had graciously opened their home for me to live with them that summer before I headed off to college. I was so excited. Here I was about to live with my sister…who was my best friend…THE person who understood me like no one else, who just ‘got’ me AND I was going to be near my boyfriend. We would actually get to go on a real date – what? Excitement didn’t quite cover the depth of emotions. It was an excellent summer. Jennifer and I grew close, I drove my brother-in-law nuts, and Chris and I … well, fell that much more in love (cue the ‘ooos and aahhs’ or for those with a weaker constitution cue the vomit noises). A few weeks before I was to leave for college Chris gave me a beautiful Bible and a ‘promise ring’. I was on cloud 9. Cloud 199. It was all so dreamy and fantastic. And then…(this is where you go ‘dun dun duh’) it was the weekend that I was to leave. My parents were on their way – due to arrive any minute – so Chris, my sister, my brother-in-law and I popped out to kill some time helping them look at potential apartments. On this particular day, it was raining. Raining is a sweet description – it was torrential downpours. Buckets of water dumped from the skies and for some unknown reason we all thought it would be smart to try and make a mad-dash from the car to the office clear across the grounds. (Because staying in the car and waiting for the rain to ease up was far too brilliant an idea). One by one we all took off. Yelling and laughing all the way. It didn’t take long for the combination of blinding rain and uneven pavement to take my feet out from under me. As is typical for any moment when I make a fool of myself – I instantly began to howl laughing. Here I was feeling so dumb a.) for trying to outrun the monsoon, and b.) landing on my tush in a puddle. It was hysterical…for about 2 seconds. You see Chris had been running directly behind me. He was making as fast a mad dash as I was and wasn’t prepared for me to suddenly stop and take a little break in the middle of the sidewalk. As I landed and began to laugh my uncontrollable, ‘all gums showing’ kind of cackle – Chris’ knee came smashing into my mouth. As fast as his knee hit me in the mouth, it managed to lodge onto my front tooth and quickly rip it from its resting place – root and all. It took less than half a second for my cackles of laughter to turn to screams of pain. Blood was everywhere – everything happened so fast no one knew what was going on. I was whisked to an emergency after care facility while Chris and Rusty, my brother-in-law went out to search for my tooth. It was horrible. In a second…everything got flipped upside down. Horrific!

This story came to mind this morning as I read the next few verses in James 1:9-12. As I have been thinking about these verses – I remembered having to read them in a different version of the Bible some time ago, called The Message. This version of the Bible is not one that you would want to use to actually study the Word, but I like to see the poetic way they simplify verses from time to time. And this is one of those moments that I love the simplicity The Message places on this passage. It says When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.’  I love the way that James tries to paint as clear a picture as possible.  He doesn’t mess around. He is quick to tell us that trials should be considered pure joy – remember why? Because it means God is about to do a work in us, to test and strengthen our faith. He then talks about how we need to seek wisdom – remember from who? God – so that we won’t be tossed around, but stand confidant in Him. Do you notice a theme here? Our mindset needs to adjust and realign back to being on Him…in trials – think on how God is moving in you and experience joy. In decisions that need to be made – think on what God has for you and stand firm in His truth and you won’t be tossed about, further confused. If we persevere, if we stand the trial, if we walk in humility we will receive the crown of life. If we get consumed by the trial, if we fret and stress going back and forth in how to handle the situation or if we forget that everything is but for a fleeting span of time…we will not find joy and we will miss what He has promised for us. Relationship with our God, trust in him, humility in being his and focus on him – this is what we need to focus our time and energy on. Everything else…withers and fades and can disappear in a second. That summer all that I had held onto and focused my attentions on were gone in a second. Securities of what I saw when I looked in the mirror, plans that I had in place, all suddenly changed. The following year was a trial of recovery. But it was all worth ‘giving a cheer’ because the Lord was seeking to correct my focus and get my mind set on Him. What is your mind focused on? Are you persevering in Him? Are you holding the things, the people, the plans of this world higher than your God?

My prayer for Today… 

Lord – I thank you so much for how your Word both challenges AND encourages. None of us ever seem to be thrilled with the trials that come our way – no matter how big or small – but there is purpose behind each one. You remind us that they WILL come. You tell us to be prepared for that – but then you encourage us to remember that it is to strengthen our relationship with you; it is to build our trust in you. You remind us that those who persevere are blessed in you. The things in our lives that we get so caught up in can steal all of our focus, can steal our hope, can steal our joy. They can pull us down, pull us away from you – ‘things’ that are here for a moment and then quickly gone. My prayer for myself, for my friend reading…may we persevere in you today. May we stand the test. May we draw closer in to you. May we remember that you have promised to be with us through each of these moments – good or bad. Thank you for the promise of your crown. Thank you for the hope. In your sweet name we pray – Amen.

 

Wisdom? I got this.

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So trials are inevitable; they come as an attempt to strengthen our faith and bring us to a place of completion; we should consider that pure joy. One would think that, having barely touched the surface of the subject; James would really continue diving down deep into that subject. But that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case…check it out…”If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:5-8 So it seems we are taking a bit of a detour…or are we? At what point in our lives do we need wisdom more than in times of trial? When we are in a season of testing, is that not the time we most need counsel? In the face of these storms…when clearly scripture tells us to consider these times with a spirit of joy…there has to come the question, how? Wouldn’t you agree? So to whom are we asking that question?

As a society, I have to say, we have come up with some pretty creative ways to seek wisdom and counsel, affirmation and answers. Social media. This has become a great outlet to express what’s on our mind, to complain about our day, to ask for recommendations from everything from what to have for dinner to a good family doctor. We read of problems that others have expressed and even find ourselves scrolling through the responses that have come from people we don’t even know – just to see what others might have said. We are always looking for wisdom, for answers, for understanding. But James is ‘politely’ pointing out here that we are looking in the wrong place and with the wrong heart.

As I have pointed out before, Chris and I met when were quite young – just teenagers. Needless to say, the quick way in which we became so serious about each other did not exactly thrill Chris’ mom and therefore I was not a particular ‘fan favorite’ for quite some time (or at least that was my 17 year old perception). But in fairness, there were several things going against me. Chris was her firstborn. I lived eleven hours away. He was at a place where he needed to be making decisions on college, not a spouse…to name but a few. Now having a good relationship with his mom was very important to me, and I began to process ways that I could get into her good graces. This was never something that I prayed about. At no time did I ever get on my knees and ask the Lord for wisdom in how to find favor with Denise or how to build a real relationship with her. At the time, it seemed a silly prayer. If I was going to be in Chris’ life, by default I was going to be in hers so why pray for what was going to happen (Did I mention I was very young and clearly stupid at the time?). I wrestled with how to become close with Denise for a long time, and finally I came up with a brilliant, beyond brilliant plan. I was going to become an elementary school teacher. Denise was an elementary school teacher…how perfect would that be? We would have common ground, similar interests. I would be able to go to her for advice and talk through experiences with her and we would become close. I sought no other opinion, but merely stepped out and applied to college, making all the right preparations and choosing all the right classes that would set me up for a teaching degree. I even got a job at an elementary school as an instructional assistant. Perfection! Well, perfection…on paper…reality was something much more different. I struggled horribly with classes. I faced such internal struggles – ones that I could never quite put my finger on. By this point, Chris and I were married and were both working full-time jobs while going to school full-time – not exactly stress free years. I soon grew to a point where I began to hate my classes. I lacked motivation, I just didn’t want to be there – and so I didn’t go. The problem was I never told Chris that I wasn’t going, never dropped the classes and tried to hide the semesters that I had flunked out of every class. It was in those moments, that I began to pray…prayers of fear – what if I’m found out, what will Chris say, how can I get out of this? I never acknowledged that maybe I was trying to force something that wasn’t intended for me. I never laid it all down before the Lord or sought His direction and I certainly never asked for His plan or wisdom in what to do. And yet I continuously asked myself the question of why was I in this mess?

The day finally came where Chris found out the truth of how I had been handling my college career. It was a painful time in our relationship and yet a groundbreaking one for reasons I’ll save for another day. But together we decided that I should stop trying to pursue a degree. Fast forward, about a year. I was working for a Christian bookstore as their gift buyer and assistant manager. One afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was a part of a national women’s conference. She was in town because they were holding their conference at a local church and she was in doing some promotion. Somehow she and I struck up a conversation and she quickly asked me if I would take my lunch break with her. For the life of me I would not be able to tell you the details of that conversation; I could not even tell you her name but it was the most life changing conversation I’ve ever encountered. As I sat listening to her talk of doing ministry and being on mission for God, affecting the lives of women and reaching the lost for His glory…the Lord gently and firmly interrupted the conversation. I sat listening to her rather intently, when I was overwhelmed by Him saying…’you know… this is what I have for you’. Now granted His voice was not audible…she had no clue He had interrupted her and I certainly played it off, but it was very much like He had slipped into the booth beside me, nudged me and began to talk. He continued, ‘do you hear what she is saying…that is what I want for you…for your life, your walk, your career.’ I cannot tell you how excited and bubbly I became in that moment. I wanted to shout out ‘OKAY!’ but before I could He completed His thought…’but there’s something you need to do for me first. You need to go back to school.’ Now I’ve got to tell you – the woman who was talking to me probably thought I had completely lost my mind because I went from completely excited and bubbly to completely nauseous – turning all different shades of green all the while not telling her of the conversation God and I were currently having. I can ONLY imagine what expressions kept randomly running across my face. From inside my head I screamed at God – ‘WHY?!?!’ to which He directly replied ‘so that I might have that victory in your life.’ I inwardly confessed that I couldn’t do it – I would fail – that I would start and (to quote James) merely end up blown and tossed by the wind. And do you know what His response was? ‘You’re exactly right…you will.’ I suddenly realized in that moment that this was a trial, a test that I had failed – miserably. Everything in me knew that I would, without question, fail at it again if not for one thing. I needed to seek help from Him. I clearly lacked the wisdom on how to succeed in this – I needed Him. I had tried semester after semester telling myself ‘you can do this’; knowing that I wouldn’t be able to. I had tried to go down a career path that the Lord had not prepared for me. And I had tried to manipulate a relationship with my mother-in-law that the Lord had designed to be beautiful in His time. I had asked with doubt plaguing my heart and mind and the result had been nearly drowning from being tossed about in the waves so much. I realized that this would hang over me forever, not just as an area where I had failed, but where I hadn’t allowed the Lord to win. I could not do it without Him. Exactly a year from that lunch I walked across the stage of the coliseum, dawning a cap and gown, accepting my diploma and praising my God – who, because I had asked Him (over and over and over that year) for wisdom, had given it to me generously without finding fault.pd0059-xl

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Are you seeking Him? Do you believe He will give you the wisdom you seek? Is your faith in Him, man or yourself? He stands ready to give…generously…won’t you allow Him to?

My prayer for Today…

Precious Lord, I realize quickly as I think through foolish decisions I’ve made in my lifetime – I come to one resounding understanding – you are a massively patient God. I also see that I am far more stubborn and thick headed than I realized. There are times where I have encountered situations and sought wisdom and opinions from everyone I could think of, but you. There have been times where I’ve just rested in the knowledge of what I felt and wanted to do. In my ignorance, in my stupidity…I fail often to seek that wisdom from you. But, as you promised, you have never forsaken, never failed, never left me – no matter how many times I have forsaken you, failed you, and walked away from you. I need your help Lord to remember to lean on you and look to you during the hardest of trials, but Lord may I not forget to look to you for the day-to-day. If you are the one who has laid this path I’m on before me – why on earth would I look to others for direction. May I hold to you and look to you – always. I pray for my friend who has been gracious to read my ramblings today – I pray that when they have questions, concerns, need wisdom, or question the trials that surround them currently – that it is You that they look to and lean on. Precious Lord – thank you for loving us so desperately, intently, and completely. I love you. In Jesus name…Amen!

Trials! Really?

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hgtv-feat-kitchbnaSo I hate to admit it, but several years ago, I had an addiction. In truth, I haven’t really confessed this to anyone outside of my Christopher but I was addicted…to HGTV. It started off innocently enough; having recently delivered our fourth little one, I would find myself like many mommies – facing the middle of the night looking for something to help pass the time. On one of these sleepless nights I innocently stumbled across this channel. It didn’t take long before I found myself in awe of the transformations that came as an old dilapidated house was transformed into a thing of beauty. I found myself entranced with the way knocking a wall out, completely changed the look and feel of a home. And yes, I even found myself questioning…will they love it or list it? I would watch a show here or there, but then I began to record them so that when those quiet times came up I would always have a selection of programs to entertain me. This should have been my first sign that this was slowly becoming an addiction, but what clinched it for me was when I began to look around my home. Suddenly our home of seven years was showing much more wear and tear then I had realized and the ‘quick fixes’ that I saw transpire on TV seemed completely doable. But it was when I began to watch these shows when Chris was in the room that I realized I had a problem. I watched them quietly…making sure not to say anything like ‘don’t you think that would be cool’ or ‘why don’t we do something like that’. I just let them play until that exciting day when Chris began to brainstorm ‘what if’ home improvements with me. Ha Haaa! It was a wonderful moment of excitement and shame all mixed together. 🙂

Following one of these conversations we began to talk through what it would look like to put in ‘hardwood’ floors. We even went to Lowes to get an idea of pricing and then came home to see what kind of square footage we were looking at. Chris diligently went about spouting measurements off to me and then together we sat down to determine the square footage. A little multiplication here, some dividing there and we got to an answer – 8910. We hurried on to figure how much flooring we’d need and more importantly how much it would cost and when I hit ‘=’ on my calculator, I sunk into the chair…$26,000. WHAT?!? We did all of our calculations again…and again…$26,000. Good glory! We sat there dumbfounded. Chris just shook his head as that was a good 13 times greater than what he was expecting. I sat there thinking HGTV had lied to me. Deflated we both began to squint at the filthy carpet, conceding that maybe it really wasn’t THAT bad. Sigh. It wasn’t until the next day as we sat lamenting that it suddenly occurred to Chris that we made a completely crucial mistake…8910 was correct but that was the calculation in inches not feet (an important little detail as we had in fact calculated it as feet.) We were apparently going to lay hardwood flooring for the entire street – you’re welcome neighbors. Glory! It was a horrible miscalculation and NOT one of our finer moments.

So with that frustration tucked away, let’s rejoin James.Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’ James 1:2-4 ESV  

Yesterday we opened this lovely letter from James, received a simple (yet challenging) greeting and then BAM! James doesn’t waste a single second – he throws out a huge challenge. Count it all joy when you meet trials. I’m sorry, count it all joy when I meet trials? Count it all joy when I meet trials? Does this seem counter-intuitive to anyone besides myself? Trials – when there never seems to be time to get all of the laundry done. Trials – when the children test your patience and you find yourself at a loss. Trials – when finances are tight and you’re unsure how you’re going to cover all that needs to be taken care of. Trials – when a loved one gets sick or hurt. Trials – when a long-time friendship suddenly ends. Trials – when you lose your job. Trials – when a parent once again hurts you with their words or actions. Trials…Okay, clearly I get that we will experience or ‘meet’ trials of various kinds – and sometimes they may even happen simultaneously. I understand that trials can come at any degree, for any length of time; one at a time or all piled up together. I understand that there will be trials. But I am to count it all joy when they come? If we stopped reading after ‘count it all joy’ we’d simply walk away confused, frustrated and shaking our heads. But James goes on to explain why. Is it because trials are fun? No. Is it because suffering is enjoyable? No. In truth it has nothing to do with ‘the moment’ or even the trial itself. If you look at what James says here, he explains that it is a testing of our faith. They test our faith – will we hold to Christ? Will we trust Him with the outcome? Will we try to work through it alone or will we lean on Him? Will we lose hope? Yes, it is our faith that is tested.

Sometime ago, I shared with a friend an example of just that…
I was almost twenty weeks pregnant with our second child. My husband and I were preparing for that exciting visit where we get to have an ultrasound. Where technology would allow us a sneak peek of our newest miracle and where, if possible, we would get to find out if we were expecting a boy or a girl. Chris took off work, we found a sitter for our two year old and off we went; giddy, giggly, and talking through all kinds of ‘what ifs’. We were ushered into the ultrasound room and soon saw our little one. It has to be a mama thing…but what makes a blurry white blob just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? The technician went about measuring quietly – very stoic and somber. She only spoke to ask if we wanted to know what we were having and then obligingly informed us we would be having a little girl. Holy cow…a girl! The technician wrapped up what she was doing and said the doctor would be in to talk with us soon. She had barely left the room and Chris and I immediately began gushing. We talked about how his mom would be SO excited, how much fun it would be to have both a boy and a girl, and that always favored question…what will we name her? As we were talking, we were interrupted and asked if we could make our way down to the doctor’s office. This seemed a bit odd, but as this was our first time with this obstetrician we didn’t think much of it. We entered his office and slowly watched his welcoming smile fall as he began to express to us the concerns of what they saw on the ultrasound pictures. The conversation began to blur as I heard statements like ‘we don’t see her intestines’, ‘there is too much fluid surrounding her heart’, ‘we can’t find her liver’, ‘we’re unsure of her survival rate’; ‘you may lose her’. Somehow my body remained there…but my mind kept trying to escape. Plans were made for us to go to the hospital for a more in-depth ultrasound and for us to make a game plan. Out of courtesy of our emotions we were escorted through the back of the office and like923107_10152229776648566_1755021014_n that … we found ourselves sitting numb in the car. I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to find joy in this? I’m supposed to be glad that our baby girl may die? Is that what James meant? No…here is what James meant. About a week later…a painful, gut wrenching week later…it was time to go to the hospital to find out the fate of our daughter. I sat on the bed, head down, trying to remind myself to breath in and out. Chris came and sat beside me and I will never forget his words…he looked at me and said, ‘Sarah, whether we get a lifetime here on earth or an eternity with her in heaven – she’s our girl and we are her parents. We will love her and she will always be ours.’ I can’t explain it, but a peace washed over me as I realized that the God who I felt hidden from in the moment – had this. He had her fate in His hand – if that were to be with us or with Him – both were worthy of praise and I rejoiced. I looked at this man beside me…scared and worried…but strong in faith and realized that we would walk this together and I rejoiced. I sat in a place of complete helplessness, fear and uncertainty and yet knew my Jesus would not forsake me, would comfort me, and would love me through this and I rejoiced.

Trials come. As James says ‘there will be many kinds’ – trials will come in relationships, in health, in finances, in experiences…in all kinds of ways, they will come. For those of us who call on Christ, these trials are opportunities to see Him work, to hide in Him, to hold to the truths of His word. They are opportunities where through Him we persevere, we endure…so that when the next trial comes we look to Him quicker and believe in Him more. We have a God who is so crazy about us that He doesn’t want us to lack anything…and when trials come and we still doubt…we lack, so He wants to eliminate that for us. See the joy isn’t in the trial. The joy isn’t in the suffering. The joy isn’t in the fear. The joy is in Him! That sweet place when everything else is a mess, our world is rocked and what comes next is unknown – He is constant, He is steady, He has it all in His hands. We must put our joy in Him for there is no better place to find it and there is so much wanting to steal it away.

Don’t be foolish like Chris and I were when we were trying to calculate our square footage. In our rush, in our desire to skip to the end – we did not count the cost correctly. In fact, we were horribly off base. We are to count it all joy. Don’t miscalculate. Don’t underestimate. Don’t discount. You have a God who wants you to lack nothing. What joy!

 My prayer for Today – 

Lord, I love you. When everything around me is chaotic and crazy – that one thing I know – I … love … you. Precious Lord it is no surprise to you that this scripture, while filled with such hope, gets under my skin. My flesh wants to fight the truth in this verse for all it’s worth. I want to have my pity-parties. I want to get frustrated and just yell. I want to hide under my covers. I want to stand face-to-face and let that other person have it. I want to scream. I want to sob. I want to freak out. I want to make a plan that will solve it all. But you didn’t say, ‘Consider yourself challenged when faced with trials’, you didn’t say ‘See how tough you can be when faced with trials’, nor did you say ‘because of your mistakes, your failures, your ineptness – you will face trials’. You asked me first to consider them joy and then you explained that it’s because you are doing a work in me. You explain that you want me to be complete not lacking anything. You are giving me hope – not in how the trial will turn out, not in a quick end, not that it won’t return, not even that it will all resolve sweetly – you are giving me hope in YOU. You are testing my faith – my trust in you – the depth to which my relationship with you goes. In conflict, chaos, fear, uncertainty, heart-brokenness or even simple frustration – you desire for me to cling to you, to trust that you will strengthen me through these things and to know that no matter what the outcome you are in control – you’ve got this. Please help me when I forget these things. Forgive me when the trials that surround me, I allow to consume me. Forgive me for my lack of faith and for not finding that joy that is in you. For my friend, praying along with me – I ask that you help them to see that the trial they are facing needs to be laid down. They need to fuss, cry, pout, shout out their fears and concerns to you. May they see that you are wanting to use these moments to have them draw closer to you – to test their faith. I thank you Lord for your patience with me when I miss the mark and lose my joy. I thank you that when the trials in front of me are fighting for position – I can rest in the joy that I find in knowing you are a God who can either move the mountain or lift me up over it. Please help me daily find my joy in you. In Jesus name…Amen!

What’s in a Word?

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16689_10151351824413566_1868162756_nIt was November of 1993. My sister Jennifer, a new youth pastor at a church in Louisville, KY, had just taken one of her youth out for a ‘thank you/get to know you’ dinner. She sat across from a tall 17 year old boy, chatting about the move he had just helped her and her husband make into their new home. Chatting, that soon turned to the age old question that every teenage boy is asked…’So do you have a girlfriend?’ Now I’m not sure the exact response, but whatever words he uttered were met with ‘Oh, you sound just like my sister.’ And for the next 45 minutes she spoke of me. Again, not knowing what words she said…a young Christopher Andrew went home and said to his mom ‘I’ve just heard about the girl I’m going to marry.’ We were married three years later and we have just crossed over the 20 year mark as husband and wife. There is power in the spoken word!

About a month following that encounter, Chris asked my sister if she had my address because he wanted to write me a letter. (Yes, an actual pen to paper, put it in an envelope, place a stamp in the corner, put it in the mailbox – letter. We were pre-email my friends!). Who knew that simple request would turn into 6 months of writing back and forth. Who knew that genuine feelings would spring forth and that two teenage kids would fall in love – never having talked face-to-face, never having been on a date, never having spent any time together. Love that came through writing letters. There is power in the written word!

I have always been an introvert! Always. I’ve learned to put myself out there, but that takes a concerted effort because to my very bones I’m an introvert all the way. Add in a strong dose of low self-esteem and insecurities and it’s a wonder I ever spoke as a child. But give me a pen and a piece of paper or a keyboard and a blank screen and I can’t seem to fill it fast enough. I think it is for this reason I am so drawn to the letters written in the New Testament, but to the letter James wrote in particular. He didn’t just write a letter…he got real and to the point better than most of the New Testament writers (in my opinion). He uses illustrations that not only make you think, but also smack you upside the head. I love that! 😉 I have read his letter countless times, I have even attempted to pray through it once before – given this current season that I am in – I cannot seem to stay away from it. Every time I read it, I glean something entirely new. There is power in THE Word!

So it is clear to say that several decades ago, I fell in love through letters. Something that I thought was completely unique and could never happen again. And then I began to pour over the Bible. Grabbing verses here and there, devouring entire books, flipping through to the ‘favorites’ and low and behold not only did I come to realize that I have a God who loves me like crazy…but that is how I came to love Him too. There is purpose in His holy word.

Then I look at the very simple first verse found in James. James 1:1 and it says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” I’ll confess that for the longest time I thought this was a ‘throw away verse’. Nothing super life-changing in this simple little opening. Not really a verse that I’m going to quote when a friend comes to me for encouragement or give as a verse to live by. Not one that I’m gonna spend much time on because lets face it, in the book of James there are some meaty verses in there – let’s skip this one and get to the good stuff…i.e. a throw away verse. But when I stop to realize that ALL of scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16) well, then I can’t really throw this verse away, but instead better look at it that much closer. There is a lesson in His holy word.

To get much out of this verse, it is helpful to know a little something about James, in particular that he is the brother of Jesus. He has been with Jesus his entire life – he has eaten with him, washed with him, done chores with him and yet as it states in John 7:5 ‘even his brothers did not believe in him.’ In fact, it wasn’t until Jesus was resurrected that James believed. And here he is not just finally believing but pouring his life out to make the name of Jesus known. I think about the weight of that truth. He could have taken on the attitude of a name dropper…’I am James. The brother of Jesus. You know the one who performed miracles, raised folks from the dead, walked on water – oh yeah and came back to life himself after being dead for three days? Yeah, you know him? I am his brother.’ I’m relatively sure the rest of the book would have unraveled had that been his starting point. He could have also taken the approach of ‘ashamed’ – all those years, all of that access to the one true Messiah and he never believed. He could have hung his head in regret and shame, anguished by the years of wasted time and had he done so there may not have been book at all. But the approach he took – the word he used? Servant. He didn’t boast in his title or hide in his shame. He made it clear from the very first line of his letter that it wasn’t about him at all. ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’. There is meaning in His word.

When times get difficult. When conflict arises and fractures begin to appear (in relationships or any situation), we always have a choice of how to address it. We can puff ourselves up with an attitude of ‘don’t you know who I am’, we could get completely defeated with an attitude of regret and ‘I should have never come here’ or we can set ourselves aside. We can remember that in the end – it is not about us, it is not for our glory, it is not for our sympathy…it is about being His. If I would start every argument with ‘Hi, I’m Sarah, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ there’s not going to be much anger that follows that statement. If I would start every scenario of conflict, fear, worry or stress with ‘I, Sarah, a servant of God…’ then …   As a servant, I’m not in control. As a servant, I’m not ‘all that and a bag of chips’. As a servant, I’ve been called to serve and therefore have worth. As a servant…   There is conviction in His word.

How about you? Which approach are you taking with others? Do you approach based on making a name for yourself? Do you cower in insecurity? What prevents you from simply being His servant? What stops you from drawing close to His word?

My prayer for today…

Precious Lord, I come before you empty, worn and completely uncertain about so many things. I have given the enemy so much freedom to play with my thoughts and wreak havoc on my heart. I find myself bouncing around focusing on so many other things when my focus – to every day, to every situation, to everything that I do should be as your servant, as your girl. Sometimes I bend toward the side of wanting to show others where they are wrong…that is your job – You are God…I am your servant. Sometimes I want to hide away from all of the unknowns, all of the changes, all of the uncertainties…but you knew of these things before the foundations of the earth – You are God…I am your servant. I am in a season where I am confused by the doors you are opening and those you are closing. I want to take control, check all of my boxes, and wrap it up in a nice tidy little bow…You are God…I am your servant. I have been blessed to have had you in my heart for over thirty years. There have been times where I have felt you dance with me, times where I’ve relied on you to carry me, times of deep conversations and sweet songs. I confess that while I see the challenge of this one simple verse in James – and I pray it out before you here – I struggle to truly let all else go and just trust that being your servant is sufficient. Lord I want so much to fall in love with your Word all over again. I need to be reminded of how much you love me – and remember that nothing else matters. I desire to be your girl, to find rest in you, and to boldly lay all else aside to just serve you. Help me find a renewed joy in serving you. Help my sweet friend who may be reading this now be bold enough to proclaim to be yours, to put down selfish desires or insecure excuses and just hold to being yours. Help them to see the power that is in your word, the purpose and lesson that you have placed in it for them. Open their hearts to what you need from them – as a servant in the church, as a servant in their home, as a servant in their relationships, as a servant for you. Lord while I know you continuously promise you will never leave or forsake – I also know that I have to take those steps to stay closer to you. I am excited to dive deeper into your word. I need you Lord. I love you so very much. I pray all of this in your precious Son, Jesus’, name – Amen!