Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why My Dead Yard Draws Me Closer to God

If you live in Charlotte, you know that we had a very wet summer.  It was uncommon.  Many complained about it.  I really tried not to because - my grass was staying alive!  Yes, I get really wrapped up in the way our lawn looks.  Our grass in the back yard was planted on top of rock with about 6 inches of dirt on it.  It remained pretty green this summer because it rained every couple days.  Recently Charlotte has experienced a period of several weeks of 90 degree sunny days with no rain.  Stepping on the brown, spotty grass in the back now sounds like stepping on crackers.  I walked around outside for a while this morning and these verses came to mind:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives. 
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5-8
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.   Psalm 1:1-3
Obviously our backyard has some issues.  The several weeks of hot sun and no rain did not help matters - the root system is just not deep enough to get enough water.  There are roadblocks in the way.  The circumstances in the environment around our grass recently has caused it to wither and not produce what it is made to produce - which is green, plush, manicured goodness that makes this girl very smiley!

The above verses are comparing ourselves to trees (or plants).  Mostly though - the root system of those plants. Have you ever seen an older tree that has some roots as large as trunks?  Amazing.  These huge root systems give the tree nourishment, but also stability.  Both passages want us to realize that when we attach ourselves to, remain in, delight in, and trust in God - the Living Water - we have sustenance no matter what our outside circumstances bring.  It allows us to remain stable, healthy and alive and bearing fruit (good and righteous works).  I think some of this comes with maturity - just like it does with giant plants.  But a lot of it depends on us.  The place where you've been planted might not be the best (just like our extremely rocky back yard) but we must persevere and keep digging for the Truth.  I recently repotted a plant and when I removed it from the smaller pot, the roots had curled totally around the drainage rocks I had placed at the bottom.  It is possible to get through those rocks!  There will be roadblocks like rocks that pop up but God provides a way through or around.  May our roots reach around those boulders!  If we go weeks without being in God's Word - we will whither.  And if we depend on other people or things for our sustenance then we might as well be living in the desert - parched - where no one lives.  We would not even recognize good when it came!

I would rather live like the healthy trees described in these passages - with my leaves always green and never withering, bearing fruit - than my crunchy back yard!  Most are drawn toward the soft and plush rather than the hard and crunchy!!  And when tough circumstances came my way, I wouldn't hardly notice and just keep on doing what I was doing.  I tend to reveal how shallow my roots are curled around the Living Water, when circumstances get crazy!

Even though I can't delight in the plushness of our yard, and tend to look longingly at our neighbor's instead, I can delight in God and that will give me the type of root system that REALLY matters.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ouch! Growing Pains!

God's been working on me these past few weeks.  It's always exciting to realize but sometimes it is a bit painful.  Just like when my little Evan wakes up grabbing his legs at night crying from the growth pains, I sometimes want to grab my heart and cry out!!  But it's necessary for his little bones to grow bigger and stronger and for my heart and spirit to grow more like Jesus.  Let's face it though, when it is pointed out to you glaringly that you are not doing what you should be doing, it hurts!

My 'aha' moment was two-fold over the past week.  Through the book I've been reading, "Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life" by Emily Freeman, God opened my eyes to see that I have a false sense of entitlement or 'right' to certain things.  It's been torturous to me for as long as I can remember to find out that I've let someone down, hurt someone, or that someone doesn't like me for some reason.  The thoughts surrounding any of these circumstances have driven me to some dark places in my past.  As I've learned about and accepted who I am in Christ - how HE loves me, accepts me, wants me, is proud of me - a lot of these circumstances that come up do not lead to obsession on my part.  But yet it still is something I struggle with and I still get a sick feeling and my heart skips a beat when I find out that someone has said something mean about me.  Why?

I have held myself to a standard that even Jesus did not attain on this earth.  Jesus was not liked by everyone.  I am realizing that I think I have a 'right' to these things:  a good reputation, to be accepted, to not hurt anyone or let anyone down, to be liked by everyone, to not have conflict.  Another way to look at it - I should be able to control these things.  I should be good enough to have these things.  Um, well, if I did not have the Holy Spirit living in me I might need to work so incredibly hard at these things.  But since I have Him I can release these burdens I've put on myself...  I am not a failure because I unintentionally hurt someone.

I do not need to run and hide back to my old way of life, much like Peter did after betraying Jesus.  Jesus will be standing on shore of my life every time I mess up ready to feed me - just like He was for Peter who felt like a failure and felt like he couldn't measure up.  Read this story about Peter in John 21.  "The Restoration of Peter"  I'd never really heard this story before and it was told to me twice this weekend.  Not by coincidence.  He wants me to relate to Peter I'm sure.  Peter denied Jesus (failed) three times.  Yes, on my own I can not attain 'like Jesus' status.  I can not keep a good reputation or not hurt others or have everyone only have rosy things to say about me.  But, if I let go of these standards and surrender these things to Jesus, He can take care of it.  He can act through me.  I can be at rest.  I can say, 'it's okay' - and mean it - when something is said about me that's not positive.

Jesus also did not live here on this earth without saying some hard stuff.  I imagine it even hurt some people. I know a lot of people didn't want to hear some of what He said and went the opposite direction.  But He didn't wring his hands and obsess about those who didn't accept Him.  He had a job to do and He could not lose focus!

God is revealing to me how saying the hard stuff will get me further in relationships than ignoring it or skirting around it.  And by further I mean either a stronger, healthier relationship or the assurance that I was honest even if the relationship is wounded.  I avoid confrontation like the plague...I always have - because IF I say 'that' to them (even in love) I may lose a friendship or hurt them deeply.  There is my perceived control and my self-made standard that everyone needs to like me.  I do have a few spiritually mature friends who are close enough that I don't have a problem saying the hard stuff - even if I shake uncontrollably the whole time.  But in three weeks time God has shown me in three separate situations that my lack of trusting God, my fear of man and my perceived 'rights' to a good reputation, not hurting anyone, and everyone liking me has damaged some relationships. If I would have been honest and said some things that may have stung instead of worrying so much about how to actually do it without hurting her, maybe things would have ended differently.  If I would have said 'Is something bothering you?  Things don't seem to be moving on the way I'd hoped and I think I may be hurting you?'  instead of just remaining quiet and letting the relationship fizzle things may be different now.  If I would have communicated the things that were bothering me instead of just retreating silently, maybe I wouldn't have been unfriended, on the receiving end of the silent treatment, and things would be different.  Ouch.

He so clearly opened my eyes this weekend and told me - 'Amy, if you are going to claim to be the transparent, open, and honest individual that you are, then you have got to be these things when it is uncomfortable and the threat of hurting someone with honesty is there.  You've got to be honest and transparent in all circumstances, not just the easier ones. You've got to let go of control and your idea that you must be liked by all.'   Agh!  Ouch!  Again, fear of man, has tripped me up - and He is teaching me even more facets of how it affects things.  And in two areas that I am most passionate about and want others to 'get':  who we are in Christ and how the world longs for real/transparent/honest people.  God taught me an important lesson in these last few weeks.  Yes, it hurt.  I hate that I didn't realize I was being that way - especially since it hits home in the two areas I'm most passionate about.  But - I am not perfect (another 'right' I apparently need to let go of!)  But praise Him that He gently showed me the truth and is refining me and preparing me for the future!

Image courtesy of  adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Gift of a Good Book

I've always loved reading for as long as I can remember.  My all time favorite story from childhood is "The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher" by Robert Kraus.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  In elementary school I loved Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary books.  Then in high school I got into Danielle Steel books - I think I'd read every one of them at that time.  Once Jeff and I got married I decided to get rid of all of them because I noticed that as I read those perfect-fairy-tale-tear-producing-love-stories I became pretty dissatisfied with my own knight in shining armor!  From there I discovered Christian fiction authors such as Karen Kingsbury and Francine Rivers.  Jeff teasingly calls them Christian Harlequin Romance books.

I have loved reading Christian non-fiction books ever since I've known they were available after I became a Christian.  I appreciate different opinions and views and what the author's sharing on what she has learned in her walk.  Reading these books are never to replace reading scriptures though!

We must keep up reading the Bible and praying that the Spirit would reveal to us what God is trying to say to us.  The Word is alive and speaks to us differently during different times.  Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires."  It's truly amazing and can not be replaced.

Still, I love devouring a book written by a fellow brother or sister in Christ, who has been transparent and real enough to share his or her struggles, failures and victories - published for the world to see.  Being able to relate to the author and saying 'me too!' every few pages, wondering if she was in my head when she typed her book - I love it!  Being convicted by something written a while ago, but read at just the right time - God speaks to me through author's written words often.  He offers me peace and reassurance and tools to move forward or to tweak a bit of 'me' to become more godly. If you've read my blog for any length of time you've noticed that I've shared many of the things God's opened my eyes to through books.  I thank God for gifting these teachers who have written books to add to our learning more about Him and ourselves.

Proverbs 1:5 "let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance"

Apparently others share my passion of reading Non-fiction Christian.  Christian Living.  What do you want to call it?  I'm very excited about a new venture that God put on my heart months ago and is coming to fruition now - with two awesome, godly friends, Angie and Karyn!  We are launching a monthly book discussion/fellowship group at our church in less than two weeks!  It's been fun planning it and praying about it and watching God bring it together.

For this first month we chose to read, "Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life" by Emily P. Freeman.  It was neat to learn after we chose the book that the author lives in North Carolina and grew up in a small Indiana town.  After two chapters I've been hooked.  Relating with what she has to share.  Learning from her.

I've so related to the 'good-girl' mentality.  My past is riddled with wearing masks and hiding instead of receiving and believing who God says I am.  Hiding behind performing well, a good reputation, a fake 'fine', my acts of service, my strength and responsibility....anyone??   I especially relate to Emily Freeman's words about how she no longer hides as a good girl - "Now, I hide in the completeness of Christ.  I rest in his shadow.  I am hidden, but not behind a paper mask of false identities and try-hard religion.  Now, I am hidden in Christ:  safe, secure, and complete.  And when I hide in him, it is no longer I but Christ who is seen."  This scripture has come alive to me this week:  Colossians 3:3 "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."   I am safe.  I am hidden.  I am confident.  I do not have to make up ways to hide.

I won't go into any more detail about this book - you'll just have to get it and read it for yourself!

Feeling thankful for good books and for the gifts that God gives us; how He has blessed us with talents of many kinds to use to further His kingdom.  I pray that as He leads me in my writing and sharing that hearts would be softened and a little of Him would shine!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Changing the Way I Think...One Thought at a Time

A picture outside the house I grew up in. Summer 1987
I played outside all the time while growing up in St. Wendel, Indiana, barefoot until late fall.  The ice cream truck visited, the neighborhood kids created our own Fourth of July parades, we caught lightening bugs and put them in jars, we played with crawdads from the creek, we made pottery out of mud and baked it in the sun.  I can smell the laundry detergent off of the clothes on the clothesline and remember the sounds of the attic fan pulling in the night sounds with the breeze at night.  I remember my mother scrubbing my black tarred feet after a long day of running back and forth over the chip and sealed road.  Eating berries off of the vines and sucking the 'juice' out of the honeysuckle. Swinging high in the shade out over the creek on the rope swing with the wood seat my daddy made me and riding my pink Schwinn with the banana seat, tinsel streamers on the handlebars flying.  

Lovely thoughts from the way back past.  Things to think on.  Do I have other memories that don't make me smile and relax from my years of growing up?  Oh yes - and I can remember them in as much detail!

What am I thinking about from just this past week?  Well, I'm dwelling on how I let a friend down and hurt her.  Even though she's forgiven me, I am choosing to replay it in my mind.  What could I think about instead from the past week?  Maybe how God arranged a divine appointment with a new friend and gave me joy for that afternoon?  Or how Emily and Evan are happy with their new teachers and are enjoying school so far?  Or how I felt so blessed to be back at a Bible Study group after the summer off?  Those things sound better.

What kind of everyday thoughts are in my head right now?  I'm tired.  I'm still feeling alone here.  My spirit is downcast.  Jane Doe down the road doesn't like me.  

I just reread one of the verses I think God wants me to remember each hour of each day.  
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8
A few years ago I spent some time looking up each one of these words.
True: reality and fact, accurate, genuine, real
Noble: set apart, superior, high moral character
Right: beneficial, desirable, convenient, good, correct, being in accord with fact, reason and truth
Pure: without faults, clean, without impurities, inappropriate or unnecessary things
Lovely: full of love, inspiring love and affection, attractive qualities
Admirable: having wonder or delighted approval
Excellent: exceptionally good, superior, excelling
Praiseworthy: meriting praise and exaltation

I was surprised at how 'good' all of this was.  I mean, seriously, how am I supposed to think only on this stuff?  Have you seen what goes through my mind in a given hour, God?  The answer...yes...He has.  Verse 9 goes on to say, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you."  Wow, that's exactly what I need...peace.  Romans 8:6b says, "The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace."  

These everyday thoughts that I just wrote down definitely don't line up with what God wants me to be thinking on.  It is not lovely, right, or true...  Here's what He'd like me to think about:  I am tired - God will give me rest.  Thank you God.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)  I feel alone - God says I'm never alone. Thank you God. He also says He will give me the desires of my heart...might just need to be patient...  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)  and "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)  My spirit is downcast...just think about what He has done for me!  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." (Psalm 126:3)  Jane Doe...first of all this is my perception, it is not truth.  But then I need to remember that Jesus, perfect Jesus, did not gain approval from everyone so why do I think that I should?  "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:8)  Why do I think I've failed when someone does not like me?  It is okay that others do not like me.  I will live at peace with everyone as far as I can and then leave it into God's hands. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18)

Here is what the goal is - "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:15)  Yes, a lot of my 'changed' thoughts above were scripture.  But I know that it is truth.  Sometimes it's hard to judge what is and isn't truth in my confuddled brain of mine.  But I know that God's word is true, so I will start there.  I will allow God to transform me into a new person - one thought at a time.  And intentionally choose to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy .  And the God of peace will be with me.

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2 NLT)