Friday, December 28, 2012

A Merry (Stand-Out) Moment

Even though Christmas Day has come and gone the few days between Christmas and New Years still feel sacred and special to me.

It is kind of like we don't want to see the magic we hang on to what's left of it before we have to get on with life in a new year.

I hope to bring you lots of pictures soon that detail some pretty special people and memories that will mark this Christmas. 

Today, however, I want to single in on one very merry moment that I have cherished and thought of a hundred times in just 3 short days.

Shep and I used to go stay at my parents house on Christmas Eve before we had children.  Even when Caroline was little we would still go and do Christmas there.  As Ava and Zeke came along we changed our tradition.  So now my parents arrive on Christmas morning to see the gifts that Santa brought AND to enjoy our standard breakfast of sausage balls and monkey bread.

This Christmas was no different.  They arrived to three ecstatic children each vying for their attention and affection.  After they made their way around each child's gifts we gathered at the table to eat.  The kids kind of came and went...nibbling here and there...but not wanting to fully leave their toys just yet.

So the adults (plus Caroline in her chair) got some down time to just talk and visit. 

Shep and I had gotten the opportunity to go the a Christmas concert with some friends from church.  The singer/songwriter group we saw is called the "Gettys",  They were wonderful.  (Check them out if you don't know them)  They consider themselves to be modern day hymn writers.  They put on a fantastic Christmas extravaganza and focused completely on Jesus.  I loved their music and lyrics so much that Shep had surprised me with some of their music in my stocking.

We told my parents all about it and decided to let them hear some of their music.

The four of us (plus Caroline) went into our bedroom and began playing the cd.

My parents enjoyed the Irish sounds and holy lyrics that filled the room.

As Shep sampled the cd for them he decided to end it with "In Christ Alone".  Keith Getty helped pen the words to this powerful song that so many of us love.

Before we knew it we found ourselves (the four of us) gathered around Caroline singing along with Kristyn  Getty and Alison Krauss.

By the second verse I realized just how magical this moment was and I could feel God's presence dwelling among us. 

We were four people singing to our God because only In Christ Alone have we been saved.  AND we were four people singing around our little girl who can and will only be healed In Christ Alone.

What a fitting gift to receive on Christmas morning. 


Not even gift wrapped.

But....priceless and unforgettable!

Friday, December 21, 2012

He is so real to me...

John 1:5 says, "The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."

This wonderful verse is describing our Lord Jesus.  He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5).

You can't get far enough away from news outlets to see how bathed in darkness we are.  We are sin sick people.  The curse of sin lives on and the only way to light is through Jesus...who is light.  And He baths us in His glorious light and the darkness can never extinguish it.

That is glorious.

Hold everything you see that is evil up to God's Word and KNOW that despite what happens....darkness (or evil) does not win.  

I just wanted to quickly share how God spoke to me last week. 

Shep and I have been a bit troubled about some things.  We have needed God's intervention and encouragement in specific areas.

Last Thursday I stood in the shower and asked God Almighty to encourage me...again about Caroline.

I was headed to our last day of bible study before the Christmas break.  I knew that the content was about fulfilling God's ministry in your own life. For God to encourage me specifically about Caroline's healing was going to be a stretch but I desperately needed it. My emotions and frustrations were pent up like waters raging behind a dam.

I asked the Lord, "Please speak to me about Caroline.  Let it be so clear that I cannot mistake what you are saying.  Give me something so that I will know it is from You."

So off I went to bible study.  We had a small intimate group.  I shared with these women how things had been and just how desperate I was to hear from God.

We prayed as a group and then began our video.

As the teaching began I sensed that God was going to answer my request.  Beth taught us several strong biblical truths about ministering to others in the name of Jesus.

I sat silently and wondered how in the world God was going to speak to me about a "right-now" request regarding Caroline's healing through a dvd that was taped a year ago and centered on the calling and ministry that Jesus has over our lives.

I just trusted quietly...and hoped with everything in me.

After 45 minutes of teaching Beth began to bring things to a close.  And as she did she began to speak encouragement over us about our faith.  It was like the teaching took a complete detour and she started teaching and equipping us on a different subject matter.

She began to exhort us not to give up.
She warned of how the Enemy wants our faith over every thing else.
He will come at us with doubt after doubt after doubt.

The hairs on my neck stood up.

I knew God was speaking directly to me.

She kept going and then my private clue from God came from her mouth.

She began quoting from one of her bible studies called "Believing God".

-God is who He says He is.
-God can do what He says He can do.
-I am who God says I am.
-I can do all things through Christ.
-God's Word is alive and active to me.

I'm believing God.

Sobs burst from my mouth....and probably scared everyone in the room.  I couldn't hold it in.

But this was it.  A huge moment between me and God.

And He knew I would recognize it.

The bible study she was quoting was the very study where my faith was established and solidified.  I did it for the first time 8 years ago and have done it 2 more times since then.    

God used that study to speak over and over about healing my girl.

How in the world did He make sure that I would hear it again...on the very day I begged for Him to speak...listening to a dvd that was taped a year earlier....on an entirely different subject?

Because He is God and He goes out of His way to show us His love!  I was overwhelmed!  There are a handful of women who witnessed this encounter and it was very real.  He is so very real.  His presence in that little room was thick and felt by all.  

That, my friends, is God's glorious light shining in some of my darkness of doubt.

He still does this!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

All of a sudden...

Shep here.  I remember Andrea telling me that God has two speeds at which he usually works-  sloooooowly and suddenly.  That little quip came to us through our dear friend Deana.  If you look back on your life you can probably identify many examples of each.  I remember the night I met Andrea.  I had no idea when I woke up that morning that I was going to meet my wife.  I remember the day Caroline was born...I did not go into the hospital expecting to see the mayhem that ensued.  Everything was fine- I was about to be a daddy, and then, suddenly, everything an instant, everything went black...

Since that time there has been this process going on- this slow, grinding process.  You may have heard the illustration about the sculptor who was renowned for his sculptures of horses.  One day while being interviewed in his studio before a raw block of wood, the interviewer asked, "How do you even get started with something like this?  All I see is a block of wood."

The sculptor calmly replied, "I guess I'm not real sure...I just start with a block of wood.  Then I take my hammer and chisel, and cut off everything that doesn't look like a horse."  That is the sort of painful process I am talking about.  For the past ten years God has been using our darling daughter (among other things) to help cut out everything that doesn't look like Jesus.  I wish I could tell you that the process was close to completion, but I'm afraid we are not even to the sanding stage yet.

The slooooooow process is ever before me.

But Thursday we were reminded of the suddenness of God.  Zeke and Ava were out playing with the neighbors.  Suddenly, the door flew open and in came Zeke, blood streaming out of both nostrils and his mouth, with his front left tooth knocked completely out.  He had done a faceplant on the sidewalk.  Now, this is not that big of a deal...he just lost a baby tooth.   But it really bothered me.  Just that morning I had seen his sweet smile.  Now, he's missing a tooth.  It just happened.

Kind of like the time my brother and I were heading back to our apartment in our beautiful '72 corvette.  I saw a flash of motion out of the corner of my eye and in an instant, my world turned to glass and noise and blood.  Some lady had gotten out of her car and failed to put it in park.  It rolled down the hill, crashed into our car and knocked us into the other lane of traffic where we were struck by an oncoming car.  They had to cut us out of that mass of twisted metal and fiberglass and carry us via ambulance to the nearest hospital.  One minute I was thinking about what I was going to do that evening.  The next minute I was counting the lights on the ceiling of an ambulance.

Now I don't mean to sound morose...far from it.  I just think that it might do us some good to remember that as neatly as we craft our little world, as much as we think we are in control, as many safeguards as we put in place to insulate our own little fiefdom- there are things at work which we cannot control.

The Bible is full of examples- Abraham spent no less than 25 years wandering through the desert, then suddenly God's promise was fulfilled and he was a daddy.  Joseph's life was marked by this.  One day he was considering his dreams of ruling over his brothers...then he found himself at the bottom of a well...then over time he was elevated to a position of prominence in Pharaoh's house...then suddenly he was thrown into prison where he stayed for somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 years, then, with no warning, on the day God had set, the doors flung open and he was back in the chips again.  You see...sloooooowly and suddenly.

In the new testament, the writers warn us about this repeatedly... We are told that no man knows the day or the hour of Jesus' return, that it will come suddenly as a thief in the night, and that we will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye.  We stay here, laboring for the master and then one day all will change...

So what do we do with this?  I suggest as James did, that we "redeem the time, for the days are evil."  Do you have someone to forgive?  Well, forgive them.  Do you have something to do?  Well do it.  Is there a person who needs your help?  Well help them.  You just never know when the process is going to come to a screeching halt.

And in the meantime, be on the lookout.  You might just walk into a pizza place one night and meet this unbelievable woman that changes your life forever, that makes you want to be better than you are, that shows you what it means to live, and love.  All of a sudden...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ugly Honest Prayers

I am sure you have heard the term "ugly crying."

Maybe you haven't.

It is the opposite of normal crying where tears roll down your cheeks and you sniffle some.

Ugly crying involves your whole body.  Shoulders shaking, head bobbing, nose running, arms flailing, and mouth moaning.

Well last night we (Shep and I) did our version of "ugly praying."

There was nothing really dignified about it....except for the fact that we were praying to God Almighty.

Our eyes were closed.  But our bodies were more laid in the fetal position rather than bowed down.

We both had heavy hearts.  We are needing God's direction in some areas.  His provision in other areas.  And His encouragement in ALL areas.

Ever been there?

The best thing to do is pray.  But I will warn is the last thing you will want to do.

As Shep begin praying I knew this prayer was a bit different than the ones he normally prays.  It wasn't that he was being ungrateful.  I doubt that man has an ungrateful bone in his body...unlike me.  But he wasn't hiding behind words he felt like he ought to say.  He just prayed.  Real raw words.  The fears and frustrations that you don't say....were spoken.  The feelings you feel when your faith feels completely absurd were uttered.

All the questions we have about Caroline and other issues were asked...with no answers falling back on our ears.

All the reasons for wanting to give up were spoken....but knowing we won't.  We can't because we have come too far to turn back.

I even interjected things in his prayer (yes, out loud) that I don't understand.

Like I said, it was ugly.  But honest.

Maybe this is what is meant by a "come-to-Jesus meeting."

We were exhausted, overwhelmed, doubtful, frustrated, and discouraged.

You can't just stay that way.  Although I would bet that many folks walking around are a big bundle of those things.

So...our fix was to talk it all out to our Heavenly Father.  He promises to be faithful.  He tells us to bring our burdens to him and not just the pretty ones or the easy ones.  He wants the ugly honest ones.

This morning I woke up to new mercies.  I also have strength available through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I don't necessarily feel it but, like the air I breathe without seeing, it is still there.

I am gonna walk in that truth today. I am gonna cling tight to the promises of God without possibly feeling that they are true.

But I wanted to write about last night.  It was ugly and real.  It is awkward to feel that desperate for God but I think it is a good thing.

I was honestly amazed by so much that we think and feel that we hold back from God.  It felt good to release it to Him.  He can handle it.

I didn't have to look very far to find a Psalm from Asaph writing prayers like Shep prayed last night...these verses are from the New Living Translation.  Psalm 77:1-3

"I cry out to God without holding back
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble ,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I pray, with hands lifted toward heaven, pleading.
There can be no joy for me until he acts.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help."

Ugly and honest words written and prayed long ago to the same God who listened to us last night.

He never grows weary of listening to His kids.  And He remembers our weaknesses....

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Test your words.

(I love how Ava,the little sister, so tenderly cares for her big sister.)

I have bragged on my Ava many times before on this blog.  She is my middle child.  A pleaser.  A girly girl.  Tender to the core.

Lately she has shown the propensity of being very affected by the words of others. 

We all are to some degree...

Some kids let it roll of their shoulders without a second thought. 

That is not going to be my girl.

She also has the role of being Caroline's sister.  That means she helps us change her, feed her, and do things for her on a regular basis.

She adores her sister.  Hear me on that.

But I think she struggles sometimes in front of others who are embarrassed by the drool from Caroline's mouth or whatever else they may see.  It isn't that she is embarrassed by Caroline too.  She just doesn't know how to deal with others' issues of her sister.

I hate this for her.

I have had to deal with it as her mom but at least I am a grown (and sometimes, mature) woman.  I can deal better than a 7 year old with a super tender heart.

This past week she came home with another incident of overhearing someone making fun of her sister.  They called her "ugly" and said they "hated her".

My heart broke for her.  But it was another opportunity for me to teach her something that we have been discussing over and over at our house.

~Just because someone says something doesn't make it true.~

We must test our words.

The ones we use and the ones that proceed from the mouths of others.

I am certain we have many years ahead of us to work on this.  I need to do it myself.  

"May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my defender."  Psalm 19:14

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let Them Marvel

God's Word is life and breath to me.  Now.

I hope it is to you as well.

That wasn't always the case.  I wouldn't have admitted that to you years ago but it was true. 

I viewed the Bible as a sacred book that others understood but I did not.  I had been raised to respect God's Word and even hide it in my heart...whatever that meant...but I did little to do that.

Instead I left it lying around my home.  I made sure to grab it before church on Sundays because I didn't want to not have it at church.  But, upon returning home, it went back to its place.

Only when desperation entered the scene of my life did I dare pick it up.
Only then did I dare to believe that its pages held the power for victory in my life.
Only then did I decide to be a disciple...truly a disciple...learning and discovering truths that had always been at my disposal.

Praise God for that desperation!  It birthed desire.  Then that desire sparked some devotion.

Now...I try to NEVER let myself get out of the routine of a bible study.

I need it.  I know that about myself. 

Ok anyway...this post does have a point.  A scripture verse spoke to me the other day and I just wanted to flesh it out a bit.

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of the them, that they had been with Jesus."  Acts 4:13

This is such a cool verse to me. 

Wrap your brain around this....people can get blown away by Jesus in us.

As we go about our lives and ask God will direct our steps.  God will ask common Jane's (like you and me) to step out in courage and boldness.  It may not be huge or scary or it might be.  Others (people watching without telling you they are) will see that you are ordinary, but, somehow extraordinary...because of Jesus.  They will marvel and take interest.

Pretty cool thought. 

That just by living out our faith (however hard or monotonous that may be) others could be stunned into interest.

Another cool thought is that we don't have to be well educated or advanced at all.  The bible says that Peter and John were "unlearned and ignorant." 

I certainly fall into that category several days out of the week. 

Yet....others marveled.

Only Jesus can do that friends.

He is so wonderful.

Let's live meaningful lives and leave some folks marveling at the mark of God upon us!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

GIFTS of the unexpected kind

God uses everyday occurrences to speak to me all the time.  I think He loves to work this way.  It reminds us that He is very much...Immanuel..."God with us" right here and now in the midst of our messy and marvelous lives.

I have been enjoying being sneaky for Christmas.

My kids are getting gifts that they would never even think to ask for Christmas. The gifts aren't super fancy or expensive.  They just don't think about them.  Maybe they just don't think they would get them.  We don't do tons of toys at our house all year long. Birthdays and Christmas are about the only time of year that they get new things.

 They will see a commercial come on for some new toy and say, "Mom, I think I want that for Christmas."

I respond with a typical non-committal mom reply, "Oh really."

I know good and well that they may think that they want want they see...but it would only last them a day or two and then they would be over it.

The deal is I really know my kids.  I know what interests them.  I know what will have some longevity...even if they don't.

Right now there are gifts already purchased (and hidden) that they do not know exist for them. 

Yet...they are intended for them. Specifically chosen with each child in mind....and it is just a matter of time before they possess them. 

I love that.  I love knowing.  I even love the waiting.

It makes the giving so much more fun!

Well I think God works the same way with His children.  Those of us who have cried out for a Savior and repented of our sins get unexpected gifts from our God who knows us intently.  Inside and out.  He knows what is best and lasting for our growth and fulfillment.

He even knows to over look some of the foolish things we ask for that we don't really want even though we don't know it just yet.

He knows it already.  He knows it all... the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end.

Lately some of His unexpected gifts in my life been things I wouldn't have even known to ask for myself.

But they have been gifts that I have enjoyed so much!

Not monetary or material in any way....believe me, I ask for those already. Guilty there :)

These gifts have been encounters, people, friendships and opportunities. 

Even the thought of some of them bring quick tears to my eyes because they are precious and mind-blowing. 

And I never even asked.....He just did.....because He can...and He delights in us.

How awesome of Him to know me better than I know myself and to want to give me things to watch my face light up....just like I do my own children.

"So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him."  Matthew 7:11