Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

In Hunger Games: Catching Fire, there was a very powerful theme running throughout the movie. Some of the tributes knew that their real enemy was not the people in the game trying to kill one another. It was the leader of the Hunger Games who was pulling the strings. It was easy to forget that truth when they were in the middle of the violent game, fighting for their lives. But they would remind each other, "Remember who the real enemy is." They needed to work together, form alliances and stay focused on the bigger picture. They needed to resist and trust that there was a bigger plan in all of their suffering. If they united, perhaps they could be part of a resistance that would help bring down the games once and for all!

Friends, please...let's remember who our REAL enemy is in this life. It's not people of another race, it's not our law enforcement, it's not our government. We are all puppets in a diabolical scheme the moment we stop resisting the temptation to act out in our anger and frustration with violence and cruel words.  Resistance is the key. We can take a stand for good only when we stop taking vengeance into our own hands. God sees, God knows. As hard as it is, wouldn't it be better if we trusted Him to work this out in His timing?

Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Day I Said "No" When I Should Have Said "Yes"

She was in the lobby of the medical building, slumped over on a chair, sobbing into her hands. I was going up to the third floor and she was seated right by the elevator. I felt in a nudge in my heart to stop and pray with her. But I was only two minutes away from my appointment and if I stopped, I would be late. It wasn’t worth it, I thought. So I ignored her as she cried, stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button. The doors closed and as her sobs faded as I ascended in the elevator, my heart was broken.
Why did I say no to God this time? 

He was clearly asking me to reach out to this woman. I sat in the waiting room, and the doctor was (of course) late calling me back. It had been about five minutes and I couldn’t get this precious woman off my mind. I told the receptionist I would be right back. I stepped into the elevator, pushed the button for the lobby and rode down, heart pounding and praying she would still be there so I could pray with her. The doors opened and there was no sign of her. I had missed my opportunity. All because of fear. Fear of being late, fear of rejection from her (what if she thought I was nuts?) and fear that if her problem was too much, I would make it worse by not knowing what to say.

My last blog was a big confession that got to the root of my “misplaced yes” and my “neglected no”.  After I posted my thoughts, I began to clean my kitchen and remembered this day. What if I had actually said yes when God prompted me to pray with her?

But I didn’t say yes that day. Fear was my motivation and landed me in the middle of a missed opportunity! It's interesting to me that fear is what keeps me from saying "No" but it's also what keeps me from saying "Yes"! People pleasing is choosing to please people over God, no matter if it's in saying "yes" for selfish reasons, or saying "no" for selfish reasons.

Let’s take a deeper look at the root of the fears that paralyzed me that day:

Fear of failing. What if I didn’t know what to say? What if I sounded like a dork? Oh, but doesn’t God tell us He will give us the words to speak at times like this? And hasn’t He always done that in the past? Yeah, that excuse doesn’t float.

Fear of judgment. What if she thought I was nuts? Yeah, she might. So what? But let’s be honest. How many times have you asked someone if you could pray with them in the middle of a serious heartbreak and they said no? I have a feeling she wouldn’t have thought I was nuts. She might have actually appreciated it. But if not, at least I've been obedient to what God asked me to do. I've actually learned that my job is obedience. God's job is to take care of the outcome of that obedience. Another bum excuse.

Fear of commitment. What if she needed more from me? What if she was a life-sucker who cries at everything and looks at life’s glass as half-empty? Maybe she always cries. Maybe she is a martyr and nothing I could say would help? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know God prompted me to pray for her. There is no doubt about it. I trust that if He gives me an opportunity, He will equip me for it and whatever commitments may stem from it. How can I know her motives or her heart? I don't even know her! Yet another lame excuse.

Fear of being late and disappointing the physician’s office staff. This is valid I suppose. When we give our word that we will be somewhere, we should always keep our word. But we also need to remember that Jesus, many times, reprimanded people because they kept the law before they loved. Law over love never works. In retrospect, I believe with all of my heart that God would have taken care of me as I took care of her. This excuse doesn’t float, either.

If I feel I should say yes, but say no out of fear, I’m going to miss out on a blessing. The great thing about God is that He won’t miss an opportunity to reach out to others at all, but if I am not obedient, I miss out on that blessing of being used by God to reach someone’s heart. He will find someone else, who is willing, to do the work. He's God!

My prayer is that someone said "yes" to God that day at the physician's office. I know it wasn’t me. I missed my chance, I missed the blessing. But God’s heart was to comfort that precious woman and I pray He found someone who was not afraid to reach out to her and share His love and concern for her broken heart. In the meantime, He taught me that opportunities come and go. And I want to go where He leads. I don’t want to be left wondering, “What if?” ever again! God doesn't waste your mistakes. If you ask Him, He will show you the better way. Let love be your highest goal!

Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Real Reasons I Say "Yes" When I Should Say "No"

My heart was racing as I stepped up to the pitcher’s mound. I knew I was no good at pitching, but my
church’s softball team was in a quandary. Our pitcher and our back up pitcher were both out of town and we needed someone to step up. I knew I stunk at pitching, but I thought, “Well, nobody else will do it, so I will!”

Famous last words.

I began the inning by walking the first few ladies. Not bad. At least nobody hit a homerun. When the bases were loaded with walkers, I began to get really nervous. I mean, even more nervous than I already was at this point. The more I failed, the worse I got!

Nothing prepared me for what happened next. I let go of the pitch and when I watched the home plate to see where it would go, I couldn’t find it anywhere. That’s when I heard the laughter roaring from both teams and even the people in the stands watching. I was confused. I felt my face flushing and my embarrassment quickly faded and turned to belly laughing when I realized I had thrown a pitch – to second base! It had literally gone over my head and behind me.

Oh my word. Story of my life!

I tell you this not to embarrass myself (all over again) but to show you a very vivid picture of what
happens when I jump in and volunteer to do something because “nobody else will do it.” Can you relate? Perhaps you’re the one who feels bad because ministry opportunities go untaken. People are un-served. Things are not being done. And you think that because you’re “available” you should step in and save the day, no matter what the cost.

How’s that working out for you?

My guess is that you’re tired, exhausted, perhaps even frustrated and even bitter towards others because they wouldn’t “step up”. Self righteousness may be creeping in.

How do I know this? Only because I’ve lived it. I’ve been the one to do this for a long time. My mom even bought me a coffee mug once that said, “Note to self: Stop Volunteering for Stuff.”

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that I really do need to stop burning myself out. I need to ask myself a few questions before I commit to doing something that I feel needs to be done:
  • Is this something I feel God is calling me to do?
  • Will this commitment take me away from my top priorities?
  • Is there someone else who could be doing this?
  • What is my motive for doing this? Is it so I won’t disappoint the person asking or is it because I feel it is truly a place where I can serve joyfully and keep my other commitments?
  •  Have I given myself time to pray and seek wise counsel on this decision? Or do I feel rushed to make a quick decision?

My mentor once told me that if I say yes to everything, I end up burning myself out and honestly, I could be stealing an opportunity from someone who is truly gifted and called to do the work. I’ve always remembered that. Sometimes the things I say "yes" to end up being a distraction that takes me far off the path God truly intended me to take.

Please hear my heart here. I’m not telling you to say no to every opportunity and I’m definitely not saying that God cannot equip you to do something He’s clearly called you to do, even if you are not naturally gifted at it. Prayer, wise counsel and time are all essential in making the right decision. But look at your true motive before you say "yes".

To be completely honest, I've since realized that the root of my decision to say "yes" to everything was my fear of hurting or disappointing people. I’ve realized that comes from a place of fear. My fear is that others will reject me. But saying "yes" out of fear of rejection is really a selfish motive for being kind. In other words, I was being kind in order to gain favor and acceptance from someone and that showed a need for boundaries in my life. Fear of a person's disapproval can lead to codependency, which happens when we depend on another person's approval and acceptance for our happiness. It's a form of idolatry! But oh, how selfless and sweet it looks on the outside! 

In my desire to be "needed" I was not faithful to what God had actually called me to do. And let's be honest - does God really need me? He's God! He is holy, almighty, self-sufficient and perfect! He's invited me to be a small part of His work, but He certainly doesn't need me. I'm not going to ruin His plans. He's God!

I have learned over the past few years that saying “no, thank you” has not hurt me in the least. Actually, it’s really helped me establish boundaries and it’s given me time and energy to do the things God is actually asking me to do! And not one person I’ve had to say “no” to has rejected me. I actually believe they respect my honesty and desire to be a woman of my word. You can be nice and say no at the same time! (smile)

You will find your fears of rejection and disappointments are more than likely unfounded, too. You can take control of your life – one decision at a time. Trust me, God knows what needs to be done and He has the perfect person for each role. We can trust Him to complete what He starts, with or without us! 

In looking back, perhaps there was actually a woman on my softball team who had a gift of pitching and she didn't even know it? But I said "yes" so quickly, she never even had a chance to try. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Stephanie!

My daughter, Stephanie, is having a birthday today. That means that twenty-five years ago, I was giving birth to her in a hospital in Reston, VA, terrified, very young and absolutely thrilled that epidurals did what they claimed! (smile)

I also remember being a bit confused by the wave of emotions that were very new to me. Holding your first child for the first time is probably the closest thing to heaven on this side of life. Seeing her eyes, her wiggly body, hearing her cries, counting her fingers and toes... It was more stimuli in a few moments that I ever thought possible! How did this perfection come from me? Were those tears in my young husband's eyes? I'd never seen him cry before.

Someone once said that once you become a Mother, you wear your heart on the outside of your body. I believe that. I've never felt so vulnerable, so proud, so thankful, so filled with joy, as I have since becoming a Mother. I'm so thankful for the gifts of my children. I proudly wear my heart on my sleeve.

I'm also so blown away by the fact that it's been a quarter of a century! That is just plumb crazy. How the time flies! I'd always heard time goes quickly, but I never realized just how quickly. I remember when she was about four years old and we were pushing her in her stroller on a cool night. The time had just changed, so it was darker earlier. She looked up at the dark sky and said, "Mommy, I think God must've cleaned the moon tonight. It's really bright!"

Gosh, that seems like yesterday.

Stephanie has been through a crazy year of transition and she has handled it with such grace. I am always so inspired how she looks at life. She has a way of seeing the lessons God is weaving into her life in the sweetest ways, even in the hardest times. What a gift. She posted on her Facebook the other day:
Tonight the Lord let me catch a tiny glimpse of what he might feel with all of us. I am working at a senior living center that cares for residents suffering from dementia. While trying to get a resident ready for bed tonight, I kept reminding her that I was trying to help her and I cared for her and wanted the best for her. All the while she was hitting me and calling me horrible names. It reminded me of all the times God has told me that his plan for me is ultimately for my good yet I kick and scream and lose heart. He knows what's ultimately best for me. I'm grateful for his patience.
Wow, I would hope that is how I would have seen it. I know that I would think twice about complaining or having "hurt feelings" over something like that after reading her post, though!

If it were not for this precious woman, I'm not sure where Rod and I would be with our faith, either. I'm not sure if you've had a chance to read how God used her in our lives to help us see His Truth, but if you haven't, please take a few minutes to read this. It's pretty incredible how God uses our children, isn't it?

Today, I'm thankful for the gift of my daughter. It never ceases to amaze me that I feel like I'm the one receiving a gift on my children's birthdays! I get to remember the incredible ways that God has blessed me with each one of them and the world gets to join in with me as we get to celebrate them for the entire day!

Happy Birthday, sweet Stephanie. You are so incredibly precious to me. I love your heart for others and your deep trust and love for the Lord. You give me strength and you inspire my heart to love well. Thank you for all you've brought into our lives and our home! Enjoy your special day!!

Love, Mom

Monday, November 3, 2014

Breaking Free!

My son's dog, Buddy, used to go out back on a long lead when he went outside.  We’d hook him up and he went about 40-50 feet out until it tugged on his collar. There was a little circular path where he walked back and forth.  He rarely even experienced a tug on his collar after awhile because he knew where his boundaries were.

One day, Buddy's lead was broken and we couldn't get it to hook onto his collar.  I let him out and just stood there, watching him to make sure he didn't go too far.  Well, he didn't.  It was as if he still had his lead on him.  I was amazed at how he continued walking the exact same path, no further.  He didn't even try to go any further than his boundaries.  

He was content with the familiar and he was trained to be "bound". I don't even think he realized the chain was gone!  I thought for sure that Buddy would realize he was free and that he would run like the wind, far past his normal boundaries.  But he didn't. 

Watching Buddy that day got me thinking about my own chains. I've spent the majority of my life chained and bound to sin. But it is for freedom that Christ has set me free, according to Galatians 5:1.  But free from what?  Do I act as if I'm free all the time? 

Not so much. 

I have been not only saved from sin but I've been set free not to sin and yet often I stay in the same place, wandering on the well-trodden path that I've made just inside my boundaries of the world.  It's as if I don't realize the chain has been snapped and I'm free to go beyond these walls of bondage - but I just don't see it.

How often do I continue to have the same negative thoughts when things get tough? 

How often do I worry and complain? 

How often do I make the wrong choice because the right one just seems too hard to make? 

Every time I decide to willfully sin, I'm acting as if I'm still in chains, still a prisoner to the very sin that Jesus set me free from on the day I received His promise!  Why do I do this?

Maybe it's because, like Buddy, I am comfortable and it is familiar. I've been trained to be “bound”. Maybe I am afraid to go beyond the "normal" and experience Christ's freedom?  I mean, what might He ask me to do out there?  What might I encounter?  

No matter what, I only know that today I want to go beyond.  I want to experience the freedom Christ died to give me!  I'm reminded that He is with me and He is guiding me - He says He will never leave me or forsake me...do I really believe this?

Go beyond, my friend.  Choose wisely today.  Give Him the opportunity to show you how freedom feels and trust Him to help you choose the right way.  The world believes that freedom is being able to sin; that being "free" means we can do whatever our sinful nature wants.  But that will always keep us bound in chains. 

It's not very challenging to go with the flow, to continue to make the choices we used to make that were easy to make but left huge, painful consequences.  We think that's adventure?  No way.   It's much bolder and a lot gutsier to go past the boundaries and break free from the chains that sin has bound us with into the new life of freedom Christ promised us!  

Now that's adventure!

Buddy did the right thing by staying in the safety of his boundaries.  But we do the right thing by running free, far past the world's boundaries that we used to be bound to!  Christ has broken the chains, my friend! 

True freedom comes when we realize that we are free not to sin.  Our freedom is exhibited best when we walk in the Truth - the new life He has given us - the freedom that comes when we choose what, in our own power, would be impossible in our own strength. 

Romans 6:14-18 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace.  Well then, since God's grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?  Of course not!  Don't you realize that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey?  

You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.  Thank God!  Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you.  

Got Questions?