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When God Walked Through My Front Door

in courage photo

When God led me to start a small group for women to encourage each other and grow closer to Him, I had no idea how our first meeting would go…or how badly I needed it. This is the story of that meeting:

Our women’s encouraging group was meeting for the first time, and I wanted everything to be just right. The house was clean, for the most part, and the kitchen table was free from piles of folded underwear. (A friend who was coming tried to comfort me about the house saying she didn’t care what it looked like, even if there was underwear on the kitchen table.) The orange juice and coffee were waiting, and I’d just pulled a gluten-free coffee cake from the oven, so no need to worry about serving a day-old rice-flour dessert (aka sawdust) to my friends.

Everything appeared to be ready. Everything but me. I was a complete wreck. Not only have I always struggled with hospitality (I worry about the food I serve, dangling cobwebs, and the spots on our drinking glasses. Spots? Who am I kidding? They’re so bad they look frosted!), but I knew I wasn’t ready to encourage anyone. Earlier in the week I’d gotten a big ol’ “No” on a writing project I’d been working on for a few years and dreaming about for much longer. The rejection hurt and I was in serious discouragement mode. Lord, how can I possibly welcome anyone and make them feel loved and encouraged when I am hurting and the pain is festering like a splinter in my heart?

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Waiting at the Screen Door

screen doorSometimes I build a wall of cement blocks around myself, keeping them at a comfortable height because I don’t want anyone to see me when I’m struggling, when I’m falling apart. I’d rather let you peek over the blocks to see my crazy curly hair or maybe I’ll give you a little wave to let you know I’m here.

The wall keeps me safe while I’m hurting. Without it, I’m completely vulnerable and that scares me.

But if you’re struggling, then staring at my cold wall with only a glimpse of curly locks or the palm of my hand isn’t going to do you any good. And I want to encourage you.

So today, I’ve hoisted the blocks aside. Please understand, those things are heavy and I certainly didn’t do it alone. I had to surrender the blocks to God. He is the only One who can really move them.

But that’s how much He loves you.

I believe He wants you to read something in my struggle, and I have no idea what that is but I’m trusting Him as I step beyond my protective pile of blocks to let you see me. The real, hurting me I usually hide:

Last week was a really rough one for me. I was beyond discouraged. I was severely depressed. I mean, a heavy darkness like I’ve never known before (and I’ve had some real doozies in the past). Oh sure, I reminded myself of the Scriptures I often share with others when they’re going through something similar. (Joshua 1:9 to be exact.) I put on a “happy face” when I needed to because it’s easier to do that than try to explain something like: “I hurt somewhere on the inside so deeply I can’t understand it. I know God is with me. I know the enemy is trying to steal my joy. But this is so heavy I can hardly move, can hardly take a deep breath. I can’t write. In fact, I don’t want to write. I can’t see clearly or hear God clearly. I’m crumbling, falling apart, crying myself to sleep etc. etc. etc.” Yes, it’s much easier to offer a little smile and retreat to my corner of the world behind my wall.

The discouragement came after I stepped out in faith and obeyed God by speaking to two different groups of women. I still smile when I think how God sometimes calls me to do that when He knows my heart and the fear I have of public speaking. I have a friend who laughed when I explained that to her. Her laughter still rings in my ears and brings a smile to my face. Only God can transform this little girl whimpering in the corner into a woman who can hold a microphone and speak of God without shaking. Only God can do that.

As I mentioned, the heaviness came after I obeyed God. My first thoughts were, I’m terrible at speaking. I didn’t do it right. I failed. I let God down. I let everyone down. (All of which came like flaming arrows, if you catch my drift.) My Father knows my heart and all my imperfections and He is the One who called me to speak, to tell His daughters how our struggles strengthen our faith. I’m sure He planned accordingly for my many shortcomings and stretched His strength to fill in my many, many weak spots.

But then came exhaustion; a total sense of feeling drained. Again, more thoughts like, See, you were just doing it in your own strength and you got it all wrong. If God called you to do it, He would have given you the strength to do it. You certainly failed Him. That was a whopper of a flaming arrow; a big fat lie. God did give me the strength to do it. There was no way I could have made it through that day of speaking without Him. Seriously. I had such peace all day long, even with arrows zooming by my head. It was days later when the exhaustion knocked me over.

Then FINALLY after days of falling asleep nearly every time I stopped moving, of trying to praise God in song, praying to Him and sobbing, breaking down and building a wall so high only God could see past it, God touched my broken heart, my wounded spirit while I rested. I woke up Saturday morning with a real smile and a song in my heart. Some of the words that beautifully played over and over in my heart: I press on.

But that’s not all. I saw something in my spirit: A screen door opening. I don’t know about you, but I often think (and write) about closed doors and waiting on God to open them. This screen door was exciting to see! And the more I thought about it, the more I began to praise God that it wasn’t a heavy, ironclad medieval contraption of a door like I often imaged. It was a screen door. You know, the kind that allows fresh air, the scent of lilacs, and the songs of the cutest little house wrens to flow right in.

While you and I have been waiting for God to open the door, His Holy Spirit has been flowing in to fill our spirits, overflowing and spilling into our hearts. The whole time! We’ve never been alone, just as God’s Word tells us.

So I learned when we’re waiting on God, we’re not staring at a rock solid door, our noses stuck to it as if we’re being punished. We’re staring through the mesh of a screen door at the horizon, getting glimpses of God and the wonderful promises He is working on for our lives. We get to smell the rain, hear the thunder, and appreciate His creativity blooming all around. We get every bit of that while the Holy Spirit, our wonderful Comforter, holds us and waits with us.

You see, God wants us to wait with Him while we’re waiting for Him. He wants us to talk to Him, cry out to Him, and REST with Him while He’s preparing to open that screen door for us.

That beautiful, creaking screen door that will open up our world to His will and His plan for our lives.

Can you see what’s out there? Can you look past the screen door, past the porch, beyond the horizon? Can you see all that God has for us?

Me neither! But I know my God, and I know it’s going to be jaw-dropping good.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV.)

“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14 NIV.)

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14 NLT.)

 

God Uses You While You’re Waiting

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How many times have you waited in line, annoyed and in a hurry? You know what I’m talking about. Your mind is spinning with all the things you need to do and you get to the only checkout line that is open and there is a lot (a LOT) of stuff on the conveyor belt and the cashier is really in no hurry. No hurry whatsoever.

You get irritated, right? Maybe a little annoyed? I mean, you’ve got things to do. You don’t have all day to stand there waiting.

I’ve definitely been there, unfortunately, and I’m not proud of the times I probably huffed and acted like a spoiled brat. (Forgive me, Lord.)

But this past Saturday was different.

I went to a little store not far from home to buy a card. Yep. That’s it. I went to the only checkout line that was open and saw exactly what I described earlier. The couple in front of me had the conveyor belt loaded with a tower of stuff wobbling when the belt moved forward. But the sun was shining into the store, and I shooed away my to-do list that was buzzing around my mind like an irritating little pest. (Boy did that feel good!)

I was in line for a really long time, but I had such peace. Strange, huh?

Finally I paid for my cards (did I mention I found two?) and stepped out the door, the sunlight warming my skin. I drove home with the windows cracked for a little fresh air while listening to some music that soothed my soul. Everything was just fine.

As I approached my turn, a big ol’ pickup truck coming from the opposite direction made the turn ahead of me. I wondered why the driver took the turn so wide, but when I saw him I knew why: he had his face buried in his phone.

I turned and followed him onto this winding country road, dandelions swaying as we drove by. When he started driving in the middle of the road, I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and began praying, “Lord, please don’t let him hurt anyone.” And when he started to drive uphill on a blind curve, still in the middle of the road, I found myself pleading, “Please, Lord. Please.”

I realized in the very next moment who I was praying for when a man on a motorcycle came down the hill.

The truck swerved, barely missing him, and barreled up the hill. From where I sat, it was as if God slowed the motorcycle down with one hand and scooted the truck over with the other; as if both were chess pieces in His hands.

Two lives would have instantly changed in that moment had God not intervened.

But God did step in. He used a stay-at-home momma in a ball cap, delayed her at the store and gave her peace while waiting and for the drive home so she wouldn’t hurry, and nudged her to pray. And then, He answered that prayer and allowed her to see it with her own eyes. Thank you, Lord.

I realize now the moments we sometimes see as annoying or slow-going can be the very situations God wants to use us in.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You’ve talked to a woman in a checkout line because there was a really, really long line. Perhaps she was lonely and God used you to encourage her. Or maybe you had an extra-long wait in the doctor’s office and talked to a man who was terrified of getting back the results from a test. But God used you to comfort the man, to help him in his waiting.

You may not always see how God is using you. It might not always be so clear or fast as His mighty hand reaching down to stop an accident in front of you. But you can be sure that He will use you if you ask Him, if you surrender your times of waiting to Him.

Who knows? You may even get to see Him perform a miracle before your very eyes.

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT.)

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NIV.)

Take Care of Your Body

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My mom yelled at me this morning while we were talking on the phone. Before you start feeling sorry for me, don’t. She was right. (See, Mom. I can admit when I’m wrong!)

Lately, I’ve been having problems with my feet. (Bear with me, I promise there’s a point in all of this.) My feet have been hurting like never before and yesterday they were bluish in color. The answer may be poor circulation, high cholesterol issues, or Raynaud’s syndrome, which would explain why I love my warm and fuzzy socks so much. (The crazy colors are just a wonderful bonus.)

But Mom reminded me that I need to take care of my feet because she had pampered them for years when I was a child; exercising them after I was born with windblown feet to set them right, rubbing lotion on them, pampering them with kisses and Band-Aids when I scraped and cut them. And I’m sure there were countless times of wiggling and tickling my little piggies simply out of love.

She insisted I need to buy a new pair of GOOD walking shoes. (Okay, so my husband has been telling me this, too.) But Mom was reprimanding me because she’d taken responsibility for my young feet, had loved and cared for them before I could. When I was toddling around and banging into things, Mom was there to comfort and care for those bumps and bruises.

And isn’t that just like God? God has been there for me, for YOU, from the very beginning. He knitted us together in our mother’s womb in a miraculous and wonderful way. He watched over us, lovingly whispered to us, and has kept us safe in ways we are oblivious to on this side of eternity.

But now that we’re older, what are we doing with those bodies He knitted together? Are we abusing them? Forbidding times of rest because our to-do list is unrolling and stretching out the door? Are we stuffing them full of garbage because we don’t have the time, we don’t make the time, to fix the healthy stuff so we grab what’s fast and easy? Or are we passing on exercise because we just don’t feel up to it? How can we when we’re surviving on imitation cheese slices and bananas? (Side note: That used to be my actual breakfast many years ago.)

Take this little post as God “yelling” at you today, my friend. Lovingly, He is yelling at you and me. (Don’t feel bad, this is the second time I’ve been yelled at today!) We need to take care of our bodies, these gifts He meticulously knitted and crafted. He planned and worked together how you and I were going to look, the feel of our skin, the radiance and the blend of colors in our eyes, the texture of our hair. And He designed our bodies to work in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. What right do we have to take the miracle of our bodies and frown upon them, viciously abuse them, or just blatantly ignore their needs?

We don’t have the right when we realize: They are His vessels to use, too.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NIV.)

 “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT.)

“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT.)

 

You Are Radiant

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Many years ago, I dated a man who was verbally abusive. He never hit me physically, but he knew exactly how to lash out at me with his words and how to slice my heart with his silence. I finally left him when I decided I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than be with him. (Side note: This was before I was walking with God, so I was unaware that God was with me.)

Unfortunately, something in me had been damaged by his words and through that relationship. I left, but I was scarred in my heart and in my spirit, and those scars left me feeling ugly. Beyond ugly. Repulsive. And I didn’t know if I could ever let anyone get close to me because they would see that ugliness and run the other way.

So I worked at hiding it, burying it under a “I’m fine” mentality and keeping people at arm’s length. It worked. I smiled a lot. I managed it all very well.

Until I met this wonderful man (now my husband of nearly eighteen years), and I wanted to let him in, past the barricade I’d constructed. Only, I was afraid he would see that ugliness seeping out and would turn and walk away. I teetered back and forth, uncertain what to do, until finally (thankfully!) I let him in.

I am here today, looking over my shoulder at the past, and remembering that trial. That difficult season. That unbearable feeling of not being worthy or good enough. Of being ugly. I was terrified of being caught, of being discovered that I was ugly underneath it all, and that I wasn’t really anything special at all; just an ugly blemish hanging out in the world.

God brought this all back to me today, some twenty years later while I scrambled eggs for lunch. I’m not exactly sure why, but He knows why and He was very clear in saying:

Ugliness is a lie.

You. Me. We are NOT ugly. All that the word “ugly” involves: the feelings of not being good enough, of being way down at the bottom of some ridiculous ranking system, that we’re stupid, a waste of space, unimportant, unlovable, insignificant etc. Those are all lies.

The truth is, we have great value. Remember what Jesus did for us, for YOU. You are unique and lovely and beautiful. And you are simply wonderful because God made you that way. Period.

No, you’re not perfect nor do you have to be. (Whew! What a relief.) But you are perfectly loved by the One Who is love.

If you are going through a similar and painful season right now, let me tell you: God sees you. He was there with you when the words someone spoke to you damaged you. And He sees how you’ve tried to bury them and how they keep surfacing like pond scum; that’s just what those hurtful words are – pond scum.

Get rid of them. Scrape them off and fling them aside. And as you step over that muck and walk away, lift your head high and praise God as His light shines upon you.

You are a beautiful and radiant child of God Almighty. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14 NASB.)

“Those who look to him [the Lord] are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5 NIV.)

Overwhelmed

daffodil

It started snowing on our flowers this morning, so naturally I grabbed my camera and ran out the door. A lone daffodil that had been standing tall in the sunshine yesterday, hung its head in a layer of snow and ice today.

I can completely relate to that flower.

Last week I had an amazing day with God and felt like His hand was in mine, and His face was shining on me all day long. I woke up, slipped on a really comfy and bright T-shirt (not just my socks!) and felt like God instructed me to grab some old CDs for the drive into town to get groceries.

I listened to songs I hadn’t heard in years and found myself laughing at what I used to think was so “cool” and crying when a few love songs made me think of God. (Am I the only one who does this?)

After visiting a few grocery stores and feeling such a peace among the bags of spinach, frantic mommas and their fussy little ones, and a kind woman who explained to me how to make dandelion jam, I was about to go home when I felt God telling me to go to one more store. I shrugged (what a profound response to my Lord!) and obeyed. As soon as I walked in I realized they had shelves full of chocolate on sale. I laughed and thought, Okay, Lord. If you really want me to buy some I will. Sometimes it’s downright fun to obey God. 🙂

I wandered over to the book section with a particular book in mind for a few friends, but instead found a biblically-based book on a subject I’d been praying to understand more: angels. As I went to pay for my items (only one piece of chocolate in my hand!), I heard a song over the speaker that stopped me right in the middle of the store.

I once had a vision of Jesus waiting for me under a tree with tears in His eyes as I ran to Him. I had the vision while listening to this song, so whenever I hear it, it stops me and I lock eyes with my Jesus.

I stood in that store and smiled. The chocolate was great and the book was a blessing, but this was a treasured moment; a private conversation between my Savior and me.

I was completely overwhelmed by His love that day, by the blessings He tucked into songs and brought through friendly faces, the surprise of flowers hidden around a corner when I took a walk later, and the sunlight filtering through the bare branches in our backyard and dancing on the ground at my feet.

But a new week began and life picked up its pace. I hit the ground running with my to-do list crammed in one pocket, writing deadlines in another, friendships to be nurtured in yet another pocket, planning for an event, preparing for two speaking engagements…I found myself running out of pockets. And air. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.

Until today. Today I hit my knees and prayed. It wasn’t anything fancy.  No special words or powerful Scripture came from my lips. Just a simple, “Please help me, Lord. I don’t know what to do.”

Not long after my prayer, I noticed the snow and the daffodil. In a strange way, I felt like I was looking at myself.

No, I’m not a bright yellow flower, of course. But I felt God shining His light on me just recently and here I was overwhelmed and loaded down with all this “stuff” I needed to get done.

I realized I can’t control time any more than that flower can control the snow.

But I know Who controls every bit of it.

And now as I look out the window, the snow has already melted and I know the daffodil will soon lift its head to be kissed by the sunlight again. And I will soon find myself standing in the middle of my life, smiling and in awe. Not because things are perfect or have slowed down, but because I’m no longer overwhelmed by anxiety but by peace. Peace that comes when I cry out to God for help and when I admit I can’t do it all.

Peace that overwhelms me like a day spent with God and locking eyes with my Savior in the middle of a store.

“O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.” (Psalm 61:1-2a NLT.)

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT.)

 

 

It Makes Perfect Sense to My Heart

snow flowers

Sometimes things don’t make sense to me. Why is snow falling on the delicate flowers in our yard and melting the moment those flakes land, before I can get a single photograph?

And why did God allow me to write about the pain Jesus endured on the cross, my own heart torn in two (read here), but not about the joy of Easter morning so my heart could overflow with joy?

Perhaps He wanted me to stay at the cross awhile longer, so I wouldn’t dismiss it after a day or two; to be still at His feet and really take in the gravity of Jesus’ actions that day. For me. And for you.

And really, only God knew about today; the snow falling on the timid flowers and the question I would ask. “When, Lord?” He knew my question before I asked and told me today it’s time to stand up from the foot of the cross.

I imagine lifting my hand from the rough wood, cherishing Jesus’ blood that soaked in to my own fingertips, and closing my hand; holding His sacrifice closer in a more profound way. I look upon His face once more and close my eyes, allowing the image to burn into my mind; so when I feel bouts of selfishness or discouragement, I will close my eyes and see Him and remember what He has done for me and how much He loves me.

It’s time, so I stand from the foot of the cross and remember Jesus had to be carried from it. I wipe the tears from my face and thank Him for the freedom I have to stand, and the life I have here and now as well as eternal life.

Finally, I’m going to do what I’ve been desperately longing to do since I first knelt here: I’m going to run to the tomb.

I’m going to imagine running to the tomb like I’ve never run before because I want to be bathed in the light that glows brighter than the street of gold reflecting upon me. I’m going to run past every distraction, past all the things I need to do because this is where I need to be. And I’m going to stop at the entrance of the tomb, a place that should be dark, and I’m going to be thrilled at the sight of the empty tomb permeated with light. A light so pure and heavenly it cascades like water flowing over the rocks on the ground, washing over me.

And I’m going to stand in the light, letting it warm and heal all of my brokenness; the sensation of it dancing across my skin. I’m going to close my eyes and visit the image of my Savior on that cross. Not because I’m struggling with selfishness or discouragement, but because I don’t ever want to forget. And I want to be totally aware of the striking contrast of what I have seen and what I’m about to see:

I open my eyes and see Jesus Christ, my Jesus, standing before me in all of His radiance and glory. He is so tender and kind, and so mighty, and I realize He is smiling. I am in such awe that my Lord and Savior is actually smiling at me. His eyes reflect everything pure and lovely and holy. I struggle to stand in His presence, but He steadies me. We gaze upon each other as if we’ve known each other all along, as if there are hidden words we share when we look upon each other that belong solely to us. My heart tells me, it’s all true.

It doesn’t make sense why the Son of God should die for me. But it makes perfect sense to my heart: He loves me.

And He loves you.

Thank you, Jesus.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12 NIV.)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9 NIV.)

 “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!’” (Luke 24:2-6a NIV.)