Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Life in the Shadow

If you grew up or live in my hometown, you probably know my brother.  Billy Jack's the guy that everyone knows and everyone loves.  As a teenager, he was larger than life and well known for other reasons I suppose, but as an adult, (and please never tell him I said this) he continues to be a genuinely great guy.  He has a huge heart and deeply cares for his friends and family...even strangers.
It was sometimes hard to be the little sister living in that huge, larger than life shadow.  He was way more popular. (Thankfully I was smarter!) ;-) Sometimes though, I didn't mind being Billy Jack's little sister. He was only one year ahead of me in school, so I guess being his sister helped.  I wasn't invited to his parties or anything, but I did always know I was protected.  If something bad were to come up (even though we were not super close at the time,) I knew my brother would stand up for me.  There was safety in his shadow.
My brother Billy and I at prom.
No, we did not go together!
Yes, we were this awesome!
A few years ago, I was walking with my kids.  It was a hot summer day, the kind that sucks the very life from you.  I don't know why (perhaps my 5 & 3 year olds were driving me nuts, and I needed out of the house,) but I decided that we would get out and take a walk.  Brilliant!

It would be fun, a nice break in the monotony of the day...WRONG!
This would have been a better idea!
Have you ever walked a small child in the blistering heat of summer?  It was fun for about 5 minutes...and then the complaining began.  In my mind, I know my son was there, probably in the stroller, but he fades in the background at this point because Baby Girl who often is the center of her own universe was determined to be the center of everyone's universe that day.

"Mommy, it's so hot.  Mommy, carry me.  Mommy, it's too bright."  Translation:  #Imgoingtodie!

We were not too far from home, but it seemed a million miles away.  I might have picked her up and just carried her (that is what she really wanted;) but as I said, I was already pushing Baby Brother in the stroller, so that wasn't an option.

Then, I looked down and saw my shadow.  
There it was. The solution to our problem, a shade from the brightness and cooler shelter from the heat of the sun.  "Samantha," I said gently (though I wanted to scream,) "Walk in my shadow."

Cue bewildered toddler stare and....wait for it...."why?"

"Because there is shade.  If you walk in my shadow, the sun will not be so bright and you will be a bit cooler too."  I knew she would be sheltered from the heat and brightness of the sun if she would only walk in my shadow.  I gave myself a mental pat on the back for my genius problem solving skills.  "Well done, Mommy," I silently congratulated myself.

For a moment (a very brief moment) she tried it. Then stopped and loudly proclaimed in all her five year old glory, "NO! I don't want to. It's too hard" and it was back to complaining and utter misery.

Ah the joy that floods your soul when your sweet little one (whom you labored with for what seemed like forever and pushed for 3 1/2 hours to birth into the universe) looks at you with that defiant determination and tells you NO!
In the midst of my frustration, I felt a gentle, unexpected nudge.  Not the nudge of a sweet little one saying, "I'm so sorry for being a stubborn tyrant dictator!" though that would have been very welcome.  It was a different kind of nudge, but one just as familiar as the tug of a toddler.  It was the nudge that comes when you know the Holy Spirit is trying to grab your attention.

In my wisdom, I knew that if Samantha would only walk in my shadow, her life would be easier.  She wouldn't be as hot and the light would not be hurting her eyes, so what was the stinking problem?

The problem was that walking in my shadow (from her limited perspective) was a chore.  She had to stop when I stopped, go wherever I went, and follow wherever I led...and she just didn't want to go the way that I was going. She did not want to be in my shadow.
As God continued to move upon my heart, I felt those familiar tears begin to well up in my eyes and burn my face as they rolled down my cheeks (and not just because there was sunburn though surely there was.)  The Holy Spirit was speaking directly to my heart.  The truth was piercing me like a two edged sword...dividing soul and spirit...judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12) not to condemn me (Romans 8:1); because he understands and empathizes with my weakness (Hebrews 4:15), but to set me free (John 8:32).

I don't remember exactly what was going on in my life at the time.  I remember we had moved back to North Carolina after eight years in Europe with a dream to plant a church in Pittsburgh, and I remember that it wasn't going the way that we had planned. (In fact, that's not where we ended up at all....maybe one day?)

Spiritually and emotionally, I was frustrated, hot, the sun was hurting my eyes too.  I wasn't happy at all.  I missed my friends, my life felt upside down.  I was unhappy and everyone around me sure knew it.

God was clearly speaking to me in the heat of that extremely frustrating day...

Psalm 91:1(emphasis mine)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will REST in the SHADOW of the almighty.

The Holy Spirit whispered, "You need to walk in my shadow.  There is shelter from the heat for you. There is comfort for you.  The heat of this trial doesn't have to scorch you."

"But God, I'm tired.  It's too hard." I argued. (Sound familiar?)  "I don't want to go where you are leading. I want to go somewhere else.  I don't want to stop here.  I don't want to go there?"  But did I dare to stare up at heaven and loudly proclaim "NO! I don't want to!"

What choice did I really have?  Walk on my own, sweat, let my eyes squint and cause a migraine all because I was just as stubborn as my five year old and thought I knew more than God!

There's a song (Yeah, it's me, of course there is a song...)

Where you go, I'll go.
Where you stay, I'll stay.
When you move, I'll move.
I will follow.

In that moment, God was offering me shelter.  He was saying, "You don't have to brave the heat on your own.  You can abide in my shadow.  All you have to do is go where I go. Stay when I stay, and move when I move."

It seems so simple. Why did I want to fight it?  Why on that hot summer day was my daughter failing to see I was trying to help?  Why was I failing to see and accept my Father's gentle solution to my misery?
As I walked down the street that day I surrendered.  I said, "OK God, I get it. I'm going to stop trying to do it all on my own in my own stubborn way. I'm ready to get out of the heat and rest in Your shade. I'm ready to cool off."

I'm writing this three years later and it still in many ways seems like it was yesterday.  I'm writing this now because I find myself once again in need of shelter and refuge.  I'm having trouble going, staying, and moving when and where He does, and I need to abide in the shadow of the most High and realize He has a plan and is looking out for my best interests even if I can't understand what is happening right now.

I need to let God hide me in the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17:8).  This is a season in my life where I feel like God has just stopped moving for a minute.  I want to go forwards or run back, but the shelter is in the resting shadow of God who, in His infinite wisdom, knows that I need to stop for a minute.

I'm frustrated.  I tend to still think I know better, but I have to trust Him.  Just like I needed my daughter to trust me that day and to walk in my shadow, God needs me to trust Him and abide in his shadow because He sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and knows what is best for me.  I need to listen and be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I need to find a way to sing for joy in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 63:7)!

You see God is like my big brother. (Oh my, did I really just say that?...Please NEVER tell him!) Well, at least in this one respect, He has my back.  When I need Him (even when I think I don't need Him,) He is and will always be there for me.  Living in His shadow may not always be easy, but it certainly does have it's advantages.  There is safety in His shadow.  We are protected and sheltered. May we all learn to abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  There's no better place to be than living life in His shadow.


Are you struggling between walking on your own or walking in His shadow?  May I encourage you that you don't have to take the heat.  Life is better when we choose to trust Him even in the most difficult situations. If I can pray for you in any way, please let me know!  Pray for me as well!

Trusting Him Always,

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

7 Layer Chocolate Cake - Life Lessons We Should Learn from Grandma

Mary Frances Grimes, my grandmother, went to be with Jesus on Saturday.  Today we had her funeral.  This is my tribute to her.  Rest in Peace Grandma!  Well done good and faithful servant. Enter in to your Master's joy!

A 7 Layer Chocolate Cake - Life Lessons We Can Learn From Grandma

Chances are if you are in this room, then you are familiar with the fact that one of Grandma’s favorite things to do was cook.  It’s also likely that at some point in time you have eaten some of her famous 7 Layer Chocolate Cake.

Like the layers in the cake she always brought to reunions and holiday gatherings, there were many layers of lessons that we can all take away from my Grandma’s life. 

The 1st layer is the one that was most important to Grandma and has also become the most important to me as well.  The foundation of everything she was and the life she lived was her love for God.  I remember going to stay with Grandma as a child.  I remember her reading her Bible. It was marked and highlighted with care.  It was worn from use.  The words went from the pages into her heart and made her the woman that we all knew and loved.  I saw her pray beside her bed every night before we would go to sleep.  I couldn’t always hear or understand the words that she was saying, but there is no doubt in my mind that many were for me…and many were for you.  We will all do better if we make God our foundational layer as well.

The 2nd layer we can take away from Grandma’s life is to love our family.  Passionately, boldly, unwaveringly.  Grandma loved each of us.  As different as we are, as many mistakes as we have all made (some more than others though I won’t name names), never once have we doubted that Grandma loved us.  She has always been there for us.  Sitting at a dance recital, a graduation ceremony, a wedding.  Grandma was present.  In today’s world, someone can be at a particular place or time, but still not be present.  Today we get distracted with smart phones and TV.  When you were with Grandma, she was present.  There in the moment with you.  She made you feel important and loved.  That is something I’d like to learn from and make sure in my life and with my family and friends, I’m there…100% and that they know they are important. This is how we should love our family.

The 3rd layer we can take away from Grandma’s life is her love for others.   As I drove from SC on Saturday, I was thinking about legacy.  I guess for some that means something grand like solving the problems of the world or becoming famous.  Grandma’s legacy was different.  I think possibly the most profound legacy that she left this world spawned from her love for others.  If anyone needed help, Grandma was there.  She was the kind of person who would do anything for anyone she could.  When I look at our family, each of us inherited this compassion.  Mom and Aunt Barbara have always helped others.  All of us in the family have watched this from our birth.  And when I sat and thought about it, we are all helpers.  We go out of our way to help others.  In a world where this is becoming more and more rare, I’m glad that we learned from Grandma the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  I’m glad that this legacy is a part of our heritage, and I hope we can continue to pass this legacy down to our children as well.

The 4th layer we can learn from Grandma’s life is to be content.   Grandma’s life was not extravagant.  She lived simply. I never heard her complain.  She had one box of toys in the back of her home.  We were all different ages at different stages in life, and there were a lot of us.  Somehow we all were content with that same old box of toys….for years!  Sometimes I feel like I always have to have more, get more, do more.  I think I can learn, that we all can and should learn to just be content and thankful for what we have.  We are so blessed and if we are not careful, we will be too busy looking for the next thing in our lives and our happiness will pass us by.

The 5th Layer would be to find something you love and do it…with joy, with excellence, with others if you can.  Grandma loved cooking, playing games, plastic canvas, quilting, singing, and gardening among many other things.  So she found time to do the things that brought her joy.  I don’t know where she found the time, but she did.  I think we do well when we pursue the things we love and make time for them instead of letting the tyranny of the urgent make us slaves to what we must do at the expense of doing what we love with the ones we love.

The 6th layer I want to take away from Grandma’s life is to have the ability to exude peace.  This is hard for me to explain because I’m not sure how she did it.  Whenever I was with Grandma, I just felt peace.  I think that is why I loved to be with her.  We didn’t have to be playing something or doing anything together. When I was at Grandma’s I just felt at peace.  As an adult, I now realize that even Grandma surely had problems of her own. I know she faced trials, yet somehow whenever I was in her home, I felt a supernatural peace and calm.  Grandma’s house was a safe place.  My home was also safe of course.  It was great, but Grandma’s house was special because Grandma’s love was special.  And in her love, my heart felt peace.  I want to be able to bring that peace to others as well.  The world is hard.  People need peace.  I hope we can learn from Grandma that even though we have troubles in this world, our hearts can still find peace in God, and our homes can still be a place of peace for others.

The Seventh layer and the icing on the cake, is Faithfulness.  She was a faithful Christian, a faithful wife, a faithful mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother.  In her later years, she was a faithful caretaker to Granddaddy James.  You could always trust her word.  If she said she would be there, she was there and on time. (God help me.)  She was dependable, someone you could count on and not worry about.  God help us all to be so faithful.  And thank God that when she left her earthly body behind, she finally got to hear God’s words affirm her faithfulness as He surely said to Grandma, well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord and that is where she is right now. 

Grandma’s cakes were made of just the right ingredients. They were frosted with love and prayer, and baked with perfect timing.  I’m thankful for the legacy she has given to all of us and thankful that one day, if we have learned from her life, we can all be with her again in heaven.  That would surely be her greatest joy!

Rest in Peace Grandma…until we meet again!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Out of These Ashes

This morning was difficult. My back was in pain.  I did something to my back last Saturday and have had to deal with the pain all week.  The doctors are not sure, but it is either a sprained or pulled muscle or a problem with a disc in my back.  I'm on steroids and Aleve and taking painkillers and muscle relaxers as needed.

I find my family once again in a chapter of transition where God is asking us to let go of one thing before really telling us what it is we should grab a hold of next.  Chris, my husband, has taken a job in another city, and without long explanation, the kids and I are living with my parents (7 hours away) for a few months as we try to see how God will put the pieces of our broken hearts and lives back together in a story of redemption like only He can write.  We were all set to visit him in the town that will likely be our new home during our Spring Break from school when this back fiasco came along and has now completely ruined our plans.

With all of this weighing heavy on my mind, I awoke this morning with my body in pain and my mind clouded and overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.

I have fought all of these mental battles before but never with a sense of physical helplessness and pain that is leaving me dependent upon others and unable to literally get up and out. There is nowhere to run but to my Lord.

As I laid in bed, I felt the sense that I was being overwhelmed and something rose within me that thought: though I can't push back all of the physical pain in this moment, I have to fight in the Spirit to push back the mental anguish because it is crushing me. (Side note: Yes, I do believe and pray for physical healing, it was just not my focus this morning.)

So I began to pray in the Spirit and tried to push back against the anguish, these are the things I felt and sensed God showing me as I prayed....

I felt some space begin to lift between the darkness and my mind. I asked God to fill in that space with His hope, love, and joy...Hope for the feelings of hopelessness, joy for the feelings of despair and comfort for the helplessness I was feeling.

I felt as I prayed that God was speaking to me the words  from a Stephen Curtis Chapman song...
"Out of these ashes, beauty will rise 
You will dance among the ruins. 
You will see it with your own eyes."

  "Beauty Will Rise" by Stephen Curtis Chapman

A glimmer of life and hope awakened inside, but even still, I felt like despair was trying to overtake me. So I began praying and asking, "God, what is the opposite of despair?" because I knew that is what I needed and is what I need right now.

The only thing I could think is that the opposite of despair must be joy, and I remembered these words from another song.

 I am pressed but not crushed,
Persecuted not abandoned,
Struck down but not destroyed.
I am blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure
That His joy is gonna be my strength.
Though the sorrow May last for the night, His joy comes in the morning.

 "Trading My Sorrows" by Darrell Evans

It's not just a song, it is a promise in God's word.

2 Corinthians 4:7
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed

So I prayed (and continue praying now... For me and for you..)

"God help me not be crushed by the disappointment and despair I feel. Help me have understanding where I am absolutely baffled and perplexed in the midst of what you are doing in my life. You see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) but I can't, and I need understanding and peace in this storm.  Though I feel struck down, let me know that I am not destroyed!"

"God please give me joy in the midst of pain and despair, the secret treasures hidden in darkness that you speak of in your Word."

Isaiah 45:3
3I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

"God give me The secret treasures of Your hope, Your life, Your peace, Your comfort, Your Presence, Your Strengthening, Your freedom."

"Go before me and as Isaiah 45:3 says level the mountains I face and break down the gates of bronze and cut through the bars of iron that are imprisoning me in my own hopeless and despairing thoughts."

Isaiah 45:5-7
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you...
6so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.

Friends, I am choosing to cry out to the one and only God who forms the light and brings prosperity and disaster, so that He may strengthen me that I may know Him and His treasures hidden in darkness and that others may see His light and glory being worked in and through my life. That the world may know and see that He is real, true, and completely with us in the midst of our grief, pain, sorrows, joys, highest moments, victories...God is with us, Immanuel, in every time, season, and chapter of our lives (Matthew 1:23).

As I continued to pray, I felt God comforting me with the words from another song....
I am not alone, I am not alone.
You will go before me, 
you will never leave me.
 I Am Not Alone - Kari Jobe
Verse 1
When I walk through deep waters
I know that you will be with me
When I'm standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
Oh I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

Verse 2
In the midst of deep sorrow
I see your light is breaking through
The dark night will not over take me
I am pressing into you
Lord you fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as your own

You're my strength
You're my defender
You're my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You have always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul

I know God is with me walking through this chapter, as He has in every chapter of my life.  I am not alone.  He has not left me.  He goes before me. He never leaves me. He never will. 

His word also promises this truth. Nothing can separate me from His love.

Romans 8:37-39

37In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,kneither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate me from God, and all of this momentary light affliction is working in me something eternal for Your  glory .

2 Corinthians 4:
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Romans 8:18
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

So in light of his Truth and promises in the Bible, I pray God will help me as I wait to keep perspective and that He will help me know that this chapter will not last forever. 

Another song awakened in my Spirit, a song for me to treasure in my heart....a hope that God will give me
Beauty for these ashes, 
A garment of praise, for my heaviness. 
Beauty for ashes, 
Take this heart of stone and make it yours. 
I delight myself in the richest of fair, 
Trading all that I have,   
for all that is better. 
A garment of praise for my heaviness 
You are the greatest taste, 
Your the richest of fair.

"Beauty for Ashes" - Shane and Shane

Again it's not just a song but a promise from His Sovereign word...

Isaiah 61
The Year of the Lord’s Favor

1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,a
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

This is what I am realizing, I
n order ....

...for me to To be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor....

....for God to rebuild ancient ruins and restore places long devastated for generations in my life...

....For me to bind up the broken-hearted and proclaim freedom to the captives...

Right now ....

In this season and in this moment,

...I have to allow God to bestow upon me a crown of beauty instead of ashes

...the oil of joy instead of morning

...and the garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair that I have felt weighing me down.

This isn't easy for me.  


Because it requires faith that as I surrender my pain, grief, suffering, disappointment, He will actually take it and give me something better. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I struggle to put all that trust in Him because I fear disappointment.

But from somewhere deeper inside my heart, I have to remind myself...I have to remember that God is a good, good Father (yes that's yet another song...)

 Good, Good Father - Chris Tomlin

and When I ask for bread, He will not give me a stone. (Matthew 7:9) It is His desire to work in my life for His will and good pleasure, and mine too (Philippians 2:13). His promise is to prosper and not to harm me, to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

So this morning, God once again as always, has come to me in my place of despair and encouraged me to fight for the promises and hope that the devil, is trying to devour, steal, kill, and destroy. (1 Peter 5:8, John 10:10). I must remember that Jesus has come to give me life, and to have it to the full. (John 10:10).

Though I can't say I feel the glory of heaven, I can say that I do feel lighter and that the darkness has been pushed back and God is filling in those places of darkness with the light of His love.

This I know, I will continue to press into God and fight back against the despair...

....Until the hope in me is secure and I become that oak of righteousness for the display of His splendor,

...until the ancient ruins and places long devastated in my heart are rebuilt and renewed.

....Until I am restored and able to with newfound boldness and the freedom that comes from one who has overcome, bind up the broken-hearted and proclaim freedom to the captives, to comfort those who mourn and help them to also receive the oil of joy and a garment of praise. 

I resolve to fight, not just for me, not just for my family, but for those that God will use me to reach in the future.

Easy? Not really.  But I have nothing to lose. So I chose to press on. Will you?

Philippians 3:12-14
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.