Monday, December 24, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas

I haven't really been in the "spirit" for Christmas this year. It's driving me crazy because normally I'm all about Christmas. Giving gifts to friends and family. Christmas cards. All the good food. Spending time with family and friends. Christmas carols. I usually drive everyone crazy because I start listening to Christmas music in October! Every year I always write out my own Christmas card, print them and mail them. I love to cook and normally have cooked non stop by this time of year.

But this year has been different. I've hardly listened to Christmas music. I didn't send out cards. Even shopping for gifts this year was a chore. I haven't cooked a ton of food. It's just been weird. And it's not been me.

But as I sit to write this blog, I realize that, as important and fun as all those things are, they are not really, truly what Christmas is about. Those things and traditions are a part of Christmas...but they are not the reason for it.

I collect Nativity sets. I put as many out as I can each year at Christmas. And I'm afraid that at times, this year included, I have simply put them out as collectibles. I haven't taken the time to really think about what they represent. Oh, I know they depict the birth of Christ. But do I really take the time to think about what that really means? And sadly enough, I don't always do that.

This year I watched "The Nativity Story" for the first time. And I've watched it twice so far. It brought me back to the realization of what this season is all about. I watched the struggle that Mary and Joseph went through for this baby. I saw the faith that they both had, even in the midst of judgement from others. I saw the joy on their face when they realized that she had just given birth to the Savior. And I wanted that joy. That was the moment that touched me the most, that brought tears to my eyes. The realization that God - eternal, all powerful, great God - loved me enough to risk it all to come save me.

That is a powerful and awe-inspiring thing. He didn't have to do that. But He took on flesh, allowed himself to be totally dependent on two people who had no clue where life was going to take them. He chose not to be born in an age of convenience and electricity and running water and hotels. But He chose to enter this life in a tough and dangerous time and be born in a stable. There were no hospitals, no doctors or nurses, no epidurals. Nothing. Not even clean cloths to wrap Him in. Why? Why would He do that for someone like me? Someone who tries to live the best she can and tries to please Him, but who fails miserably every day. Someone who is selfish and moody sometimes. Someone who has taken Him for granted.

But He did. He loved me enough that no matter what I do or don't do, He still loves me. He loves me! And He loves you! What a thought!

So that brings me back to those traditions I haven't looked forward to this year. There is a girl, Amanda, who has been fighting cancer. I have been in contact with her through email and read her blog updates. We share a love of the music of Elliott Yamin and Blake Lewis (surprised?). And somehow God has allowed our lives to meet. She wrote a few days ago about how Christmas would be different for her this year, having to spend it in the hospital. But she also commented that Christmas is what you make it and that it is about Jesus. She is wise beyond her years.

So maybe, just maybe, God has allowed me not to be excited about all these "normal" Christmas traditions to bring my focus back to the One important thing. Jesus. We get so wrapped up in parties and gifts and travel and rarely take time to honor the One we should be celebrating. And if that is what He intended - to draw my focus back to where it needs to be - then I am thankful.

Christmas is not about all of these "things." It's about the One who came so we might have life and have it more abundantly! Yes, abundantly! That does not mean sitting around letting life pass you by. It means get out there and live!

So my prayer for you this Christmas is that as you spend time with your family and friends, as you give and receive gifts, as you sing those carols...remember to take some time to honor Jesus. Because without Him there would be no Christmas. There would be no life. There would be no joy.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! And I hope the New Year brings you joy and peace and hope!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

God Speaking

I know I have said this a million times, but it just never ceases to amaze me how perfect God's timing is. My friend, Ruth, gifts me songs through iTunes every so often, and every time she does, I never download it right away. That may be perceived as procrastination (and those of you who know me well, know that is a possibility). However, I view it as God Speaking in His time.

Awhile back, Ruth sent me Mandisa's song "God Speaking." I had heard what a wonderful song this was, and I couldn't wait to hear it. But as usual, I didn't download it right away. So one night sitting at my computer, I remember the song and downloaded it. And it blew me away! The words were exactly what I needed to hear at that time. See...God's timing.

As I listened to the song, I thought about the many, many conversations I've had with my parents, Ruth and a couple of my other friends about how God speaks to us in unexpected ways. A lot of us live in a box and try to fit God into that box and go through life so selfishly and so unaware of what is around us. We are too concerned with our life and our desires and our needs that we don't take the time to look at other people and other things. And that is a shame.

As those of you reading my blog and who are close friends already know, I have been going through sort of a transformation over the last couple of years. A little over two years ago, I suffered from major depression and anxiety. I went to couseling, took some medication and changed a lot of things in my life. I made my salvation sure. And I began to throw away all of the "put God in a box" things I had been told my whole life and start anew and discover who God really was. And my life has changed so much for the better!

Instead of seeing the glass as half empty, I now see it as half full and actually expect it to fill back up. I try to look at the big picture and not let little trivial things bother me. I make an attempt to see others as God sees them and show them a little kindness. I've stopped worrying about screwing up every five minutes and have learned to live freely in the grace of God. And life has been so much more fun and free and worthwhile and, I believe, more of what God intended it to be.

I've also become more aware of little things around me. The purple wildflowers on the side of the road...God knows my favorite color is purple and knows the days I need a little beauty in my life, and call me crazy, but I believe He puts them there for me, to bring me a little joy. My favorite singer {Elliott Yamin...if you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years :) } will come on the radio unexpectedly....God knows his music brings a smile to my face, and call me really crazy, but I believe He knows the times I need a smile. My favorite resident (and yes, techinally I don't have favorites) asks to go eat lunch with me...the first time he has EVER asked anyone to go to lunch.....God knows the bond we have and what that meant to me to have him ask me that and gave him the words to say. Another friend and I have both felt this desire to do something more with our lives, to help more people and use our gifts in music and art to do so...and God has started slowly opening up doors to do that...and we can't wait to see how wide he busts all those doors open.

Now, not all of these examples nor all of the things God uses to speak to us or bring a smile or joy to our lives are of a "spiritual" nature per se, but is not God the Creator of all things? Can He not use whatever He wants to use to show us His love?

And that brings me to the lyrics of "God Speaking." This song says so much better what I've been rambling on and on trying to say. God will do and use whatever He wants to to let us know He loves us. After all, that is the central and most important message in scripture...God loves you! And He will go to the ends of the earth to show you that. I believe that is true because He does that on a daily basis with me. No matter what I've done or not done, no matter how bad I mess up, He still goes out of His way to show me He still loves me. Wow! No one else has ever or will ever be able to offer that kind of unconditional love. So I leave you with the lyrics to the song. I hope you will read over them, even download the song, and let it speak to your heart. And I hope you will take time out each day to seek out the little and common ways God is telling you how much He loves you! And take the time to share that love with each and every person you come in contact with.

God Speaking by Mandisa

Have you ever heard a love song
That set your spirit free
Have you ever watched a sunrise
And felt you could not breathe
What if it's Him
What if it's God speaking

Have you ever cried a tear that
You could not explain
Have you ever met a stranger
That already knew your name
What if it's Him
What if it's God speaking

Who knows how He'll get a hold of us
Get our attention to prove He is enough
He'll do and He'll use
Whatever He wants to
To tell us I love you

Have you ever lost a loved one
Who you thought should still be here
Do you know what it feels like
To be tangled up in fear
What if He's somehow involved
What if He's speaking through it all

Who knows how He'll get a hold of us
Get our attention to prove He is enough
He'll do and He'll use
Whatever He wants to
To tell us I love you

His ways are higher
His ways are better
Though sometimes strange
What could be stranger Than God in a manger

Who knows how He'll get a hold of us
Get our attention to prove
He is enough
Who knows how He'll get a hold of you
Get your attention to prove He is enough
He'll do and He'll use
Whatever He wants to
To tell us I love you

God is speaking
I love you

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Free To Live

I have finally returned to writing my blog. I hope to write more regularly from now on. I basically have been suffering from writer's block. I've had several ideas, sat down to write and come up with nothing. Then one day last week, after reading a passage in Colossians, it all just started to flow and it wouldn't stop. :) And that goes to prove that God's timing and wisdom is better than mine. And He knows the when's, what's, how's and who's of every situation better than I ever could. So now for the blog...

Free to Live

I have been struggling with some things over the last few months...learning to wait as it appears everyone but me is attaining their dreams and desires, not being afraid to live and enjoy life, not fitting in at all in the small town I live in, trying to figure out what living a Christian life really means...and the same question keeps popping up in my head.

Am I following a list of rules trying to make God love me enough and trying to please people or am I living freely in Christ? And yes, there is a BIG difference.

So many of us, me included, have wasted precious time worried about doing the right thing and making sure we don't make a mistake rather than worrying about loving God and loving others and making sure we take in all God has given us. We can't be afraid to live. I spent many years following a predetermined list of do's & don'ts that I perceived to be the way to live a good Christian life. While doing that, I've missed out on many opportunities that God placed before me, afraid I'd mess up. I guess I was kind of like the servant who buried his talent rather than investing it. Over the last couple of years, God has begun to change my heart and my way of thinking.

We can't be afraid to live! Yes, there are rights and wrongs and things that God has set forth that we need to obey. But we can't live life in a protective box afraid we'll mess up or succumb to temptation or say the wrong thing. Might we do those things? Yes, we might and usually do. But the cool thing is, the thing that brings freedom is knowing that if we do screw up, if we do sin, forgiveness has already been offered! Take the story of the prodigal son. His father loved him. It didn't matter what he had done, how he had lived...His father never stopped loving him. Did he have to suffer some consequences for his actions? Yes. I mean, he ended up living in a pig pen and eating their slop. However, when he finally came back home, did his father judge him or condemn him? No! He stood there with loving open arms and threw him a party and welcomed him home! Jesus told this story to give us a picture of God's love for us...and if God loves us with this kind of passion and abandon, shouldn't we love each other the same way? And shouldn't we live each day with that kind of passion and abandon?

We should be free to live and enjoy the beauty and joy God provided around us. We can miss out on so much when we live in fear. A person is not saved by following a laundry list of rules; a person is saved by the free gift of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. So if we aren't saved based on anything we do, why do we think we should live our lives based on a list of rules. Yes, when you are saved, you put off the old things and all things are made new. You live to please and glorify and worship God. But when you worry more about do's and don'ts than you do about loving God and sharing that love with others, your focus is on the wrong thing. Your focus shifts to what you do or don't do rather than to what God has done. And when you do this, you live in fear rather than love. I John 4:18 - 19 says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." When we are afraid that God is some big guy just waiting to pop us because we mess up, we have a very wrong view of God. The God I know loves me and forgives me and welcomes me back home every time I mess up. Do you know the freedom that gives you?? Not a freedom to keep sinning or keep doing wrong, but a freedom to live in love and not be afraid to take a chance or take a risk. A freedom to live and know that God will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5) A freedom to want to live the way you know will please God. A freedom to enjoy the life He gave you.

Over the last few months, my anthem per se has been Kelly Clarkson's "Sober." No this is not a "Christian" song...but you know what? I've found that God can use just about anything to speak to us, if we will only listen (but that's another blog for another time). The second verse of this song says: " the end of this road I might catch a glimpse of me. So I won't worry 'bout my timing; I wanna get it right. No comparing, second guessing, no not this time." How much time have I wasted worrying about timing? "I'm 33 and not married...oh my gosh!" (my own concern or a worry that the world has placed on me?). How much time have I wasted comparing myself to others? "I'm not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough, don't sing as well" and the list goes on. (again, my worry or something others have placed on me?) How much time have I wasted second guessing choices that I've made? "Should I have taken that job?" (did I pray about it and feel led to take it? does it make me happy?) We waste so much time worrying about all these things and more rather than living freely in Christ and just enjoying life and trusting His timing and wisdom.

Another thing we tend to worry about is our friends' and families' lives. It is not our place to judge. Last time I looked, God was the one in charge of that. Do I have friends who do things I don't agree with? Sure. But you know what? I guarantee you I do things they don't agree with.

Consider Colossians 2:13 - 3:15:

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head (Jesus), from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

This passage continues and tells us how we should live and how we should put off our sinful nature, but it also tells us to live with humility and love:

Colossians 3

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
(Notice how in verses 8 - 9 he lists some more sins that we tend to not think of as being "as bad" as those listed in verse 5. Sin is sin. I have no right to judge someone who may be sexually immoral when I myself have a problem with anger or gossip/slander. That is why we need to leave the judging to God and we need to concentrate on loving others in the name of Christ.)
12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

My job as a Christian is not to police others. My job as a Christian is to LOVE others regardless of what they do, who they are, anything. That is what God has done for us...why should we do any less? Look at it this way. Trust me, more people are drawn to God and salvation in Christ by people who have shown them love than by those who have judged or condemned them. And that is exactly what Colossians 2 - 3 says.

So I challenge you this week to start to live freely. Take time to notice the beauty around you and to live without fear. Might you mess up? Yep. In fact, you'll probably make a lot of mistakes this week. But you can live knowing that God is there, waiting with open arms to pick you back up and set you on the right path again. Take time to truly love others and focus more on the fact that they are wonderfully created by God, and that fact alone should cause us to want to share His love with them. Focus on being humble, gentle, compassionate, kind and patient with others rather than on pointing out what they've done wrong.

And most of all, start to live freely in Christ - the way God made you to live! There is more to life out there...take hold of it and live!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rock Around the Block

I am taking a little break from blogging due to our play at work. I will return with a new blog in July. But if you are in the area, please come see our musical.

Rock Around the Block
June 21, 7:00 pm
June 22, 7:00 pm
June 23, 2:00 pm & 7:00 pm
June 24, 2:00 pm

The residents are doing a good job, and it's going to be a rip-roaring good time with music from the 50's! If you would like tickets, please leave me a comment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Conversations With God

Prayer. Does it come easy or is it some big looming task you are afraid to try? Prayer is simply a conversation with a God who loves you more than you could ever imagine. One of my favorite songs about prayer is "Before It Was Said" by FFH:

Every day I sit and pray to God above
To watch over me and my family
But every day I seem to pray the same old thing
In the same old way, and I start to think

That maybe I should change
And find something better to say
But I've learned to believe
You always hear me when I pray

So I get down on my knees
'Cause I'm stronger than these
Voices inside of my head
They try to deceive me
And make me believe
That I would be better instead
To take my requests and put them to rest
But You're already one step ahead
You knew just what I would say
Before it was said

Every night I lie awake wondering
If You're listening to every heartbeat
You've told me that You know the deepest part of me
And You'll watch over me and my family

So I guess I shouldn't change
'Cause You hear every word that I say
And I knew You are here
When I come to You this way

So I get down on my knees
'Cause I'm stronger than these
Voices inside of my head
They try to deceive me
And make me believe
That I would be better instead
To take my requests and put them to rest
But You're already one step ahead
You knew just what I would say
Before it was said

So I guess I shouldn't change
'Cause You hear every word that I say
And I knew You were here
When I knelt down today

So I get down on my knees
'Cause I'm stronger than these
Voices inside of my head
They try to deceive me
And make me believe
That I would be better instead
To take my requests and put them to rest
But You're already one step ahead
You knew just what I would say
Before it was said

This weekend as I drove to a friend's graduation, I was randomly playing some old CD's I hadn't listened to in awhile. I found an old FFH CD and popped it in, jamming out and singing at the top of my lungs. When this song came on, I sang along. And then I realized something new about prayer.

I believe prayer is simply talking with God. A lot of times we hear great preachers and men of God pray using big words and flowery phrases with "Thee" and "Thou". We read great prayers of old. And many times we feel intimidated thinking there is no way we can measure up. However, God is not impressed by flowery lines and flowing phrases. He is touched by the person praying and by their sincerity and the intent of their heart.

If your view of prayer is one of formality where you have to set aside a specific time and place every day to pray then I can understand why it can seem to be such a daunting task. Now I am not saying that having a daily quiet time with God is not important or a good thing to do. It is. However, if you will view prayer as simply a conversation with God, something you can do anytime, anywhere, I think you may pray more and come to enjoy these moments with the Father.

You can pray all throughout the day. In the shower. Brushing your teeth. Doing the dishes. On the way to work. As you lay down to sleep. While you are typing on the computer. (In fact, I prayed a lot while typing this because my computer froze up.) These prayers do not have to be formal. They don't have to contain big words and big requests. They are simple and to the point conversations. It is during these times that I personally can be more honest and open with God than I could ever be with anyone else. I view these moments with the Father just as I would talking with a friend or my parents or my boss. Prayer is meant to be a means of communication with God. And just as I would communicate with any person here, I can communicate with my Father. I may request He keeps my family safe while I'm brushing my teeth. I may thank Him for the beautiful cluster of purple flowers on the side of the road while driving to work. I may ask for wisdom how to order my day. And as I do this, each moment becomes a holy moment. A moment when the God of the universe bends His ear to hear my voice.

And this brings me back to the "something new" I learned this weekend. As I listened to the words of the song I really connected with the line about praying the same old thing every day and thinking I should change my prayer. I know I pray some of the same things over and over and over. Yes, I add new requests here and there and a new praise. But my basic prayers are similar each day. And then I realized as those words played over and over - If I view my prayers as conversations with God and think of them as I think of conversations with others, then why be so worried about repeating the same things? God is not so worried about the content of our prayer as He is the content of our heart. Every morning, my mother and I have almost the same conversation over breakfast. She asks how I slept. I answer and ask her the same. She asks if I want coffee. I ask about her blood sugar. We have a version of this same conversation almost daily. Does it make it any less important? No. Does it mean we are just making small talk and don't care about each other's answers? No. We are both genuine in asking and interested in the answers.

I believe the same holds true for our talks with God. Yes, I may repeat myself. But you know what? Like the song says, He already knows what I'm going to say before I say it. And He does care and is interested in the mundane, repetitive things in my life. He enjoys fellowship with us. He made us to have fellowship with Him. Part of that fellowship is prayer. Simply coming before Him to talk and share our day, our desires, our hurts, our needs. Talking to Him about anything, anytime, anywhere. And He promises to listen. If we will learn to converse with Him throughout the day about the normal routine things of life, it will become easier to come to Him with the big stuff we face, as well. And He will become the first person we seek answers and advice from. Prayer will become just as natural as breathing.

So this week, I challenge you to view prayer in a new way. Start learning to just talk with God throughout the day just as you would talk to your family or friends. He is always there, ready and waiting to fellowship with His creation. He can't wait to hear what you have to say. We may not always get the answer we want. But if you will learn to view prayer as simply talking with your Father, you will learn the answer isn't as important as the time you spend asking.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Redeeming Love Has Been My Theme

Last week I began listening to a CD that one of my best friends sent me...a compilation of songs that told the "story" of her life for the past year. There were two songs that stood out and touched me deeply. I'll get back to this in a moment.

If you know me, you know that I deeply desire to be a wife and a mother at some point in my life. Not that I'm rushing it now or that I feel any kind of "clock ticking." A few months ago that would be true; but now I am learning to be content in my circumstances. And if you know me, you know I am very picky and refuse to settle just to satisfy the norms of society. So last week, as I was driving home from work, I was listening to the CD my friend sent me. There is a hymn on the CD, "There Is a Fountain" sung by Selah. I have sung this hymn thousands of times in my life and never have really felt the impact of the words until last week. As I was listening the words of the chorus hit a place in my heart that just moved me to tears and allowed an "epiphany" of sorts to happen. "Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die."

And that's when it hit me on the drive home. Redeeming love. An unconditional love that does whatever it takes to win my love. Isn't that what I'm looking for? Isn't that what everyone is looking for? I long for someone to pursue me, to do all they can to win my love. To truly desire me and love me for who I am. And suddenly, as I heard and sang those words over and over again, the Father gently began to speak to my heart, and I began to understand a wonderful truth.

I have a mental list of certain qualities and characteristics that I seek in a husband. They vary from the very deep and spiritual (like he has to be a Christian and be willing to be the spiritual leader of our home without being a dictator and ruler) to the very odd and mundane (like being able to have a 3 hour conversation over a cup of coffee). This list is only in my head, and is subject to change on occasion. I do not seek perfection, but I do have high standards - which I believe I'm entitled to have and which everyone should have. The divorce rate would be a lot lower...but that is another blog.

So this brings me back to the drive home and the song and the wonderful truth I discovered. This redeeming love I'm searching for, this wonderful lover and friend, this amazing person who loves me more than I can comprehend...He's already here. As I started to go over in my mind that night this list of mine, the Father started to show me how He already fulfills all of those things in His own way.

Here are some examples. I want someone who will surprise me with little notes about how much he loves me or that just have some encouraging word on them. Well, God already does that in His word. Every time I open my Bible and read, I find some treasure that He left for me to find. And I find those treasures, those notes at the exact times I need them. He always leads me to a verse or passage that is relevant to exactly what I'm dealing with at that time. Hmm...could be on to something here.

I want someone that I can talk to for hours on end and it feel like no time has gone by. Well, I already have someone I can talk to. God is available 24/7, no matter what mood I'm in, no matter what the day. And He wants me to talk with Him and spend time with Him. So if I'm mad and need someone to yell at, He doesn't mind. If I'm sad and need a shoulder to cry on, He listens as I pour my heart out to Him. If I just want a sounding board, He listens to every word. No matter the subject, the mood, the time of day, I can talk to Him for hours and know that He truly listens and cares. And that He is interested in everything I have to say. Could it be?

I have a problem with confrontation and have this unfounded fear of someone leaving me if I let them in on the real me. So I tend to keep up walls, afraid to let people in on the real me. Well, guess what? God not only knows the real me, He made the real me.I can be honest and open. And He will never leave me! No matter the mistakes I make, He will not walk away. He stands by my side no matter what. He will go to bat for me. He knows me better than I know myself and loves me anyway. How many human beings can you say that about? He will never break my heart. And heaven knows it's been broken badly before. Hmmm...

I want someone to bring me flowers and give me little gifts...not necessarily spend a lot of money...but gifts that are from the heart. A poem, a bouquet of wildflowers, a night out on the town. Again, God already does this day after day. This week on my way to work, I noticed these little bouquets of white flowers that are popping up all over. Now, this may be considering myself too important, but you know what? I think He put those there just for me. And if you have noticed them, too...He put them there just for you. His gifts are personal and special. I know that in the past couple of months, He has blown my socks off with His gifts. My friend that sent the CD...He has used her in an amazing way to bless me. And she came into my life at just the right time. Which leads me to my next point.

Timing. As humans we screw up on the timing of stuff so often. I do it all the time. Mostly, I'm too impatient and try to work things out myself. Often, we are "too busy" to attend to the needs of others. Or we say we'll get to it later. Well, God's timing is perfect. Again, the CD is a perfect example. I actually received the CD in the mail almost a month ago, but I just "didn't have a chance" to listen to it. Of course, that was all part of God's plan. I wasn't supposed to listen to it until last week. Not until I was ready and my heart was ready for the gift that it turned out to be. And I was given the gift of two wonderful songs (well more than that actually, but two that stood out). They were exactly what I needed at that precise time in my life. God knew He was getting ready to deal with me about something specific and that those songs were what I needed. Last month, this same friend sent me an iTunes gift of the song "None But Jesus" (which I advise listening to). She sent it to me weeks before I actually downloaded and listened to it. One night, at a down time with tears in my eyes, I remembered her gift. So I downloaded it. Coincidence? I choose to believe not. If I had opened that song any earlier, it would not have ministered to me the way I needed it to. Again, God's timing is perfect. I think I am on to something.

I also want someone who loves music. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you know me, you know how important music is to me. I want someone who understands the passion I have for music and how it can reach me the way nothing else can. Well, since God created music, I'm pretty sure he understands this.

These are just a few of the things that floated through my mind on that drive home. And I realized that everything that I'm looking for in another person, I already have in my Savior. Yes, I do still long for an earthly relationship with an amazing man...the one God has for me. But while I wait on Him to work that miracle (and love truly is a miracle - what else do you call two complete strangers with two completely different personalities traveling through life together and enjoying every minute of it - a gift only God can give), I can learn to be content and satisfied with my relationship with Him. I know that in His time He will bring the most wonderful person into my life, and He will delight to surprise me beyond comprehension with that gift. But for now, it's just me and Him. I am His and He is mine. See, even if we are blessed in this life to find true love, it will end. Be it a broken heart due to a break up or a broken heart due to death. But His love will never end. It is eternal and amazing and wonderful and surprising and any other word you can think of to describe it. Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.

Now for the second song I mentioned at the first of this blog. As I wait, my prayer is that I will be used by God to help others, to better the world for someone else, to do what He calls me to do. So I pray as you read the lyrics to this song, your desire will also be to be a "living prayer" to Him. The words are so appropriate for those of us who are single; yet it is appropriate for anyone who seeks to live for Him. After all, what more do we have to offer this Love who never ends than to be a living prayer for Him.

A Living Prayer by Allison Krauss

In this world I walk alone
With no place to call my home
But there's one who holds my hand
The rugged road through barren lands

The way is dark, the road is steep
But He's become my eyes to see
The strength to climb, my griefs to bear
The Savior lives inside me there

In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

In these trials of life I find
Another voice inside my mind
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love
the Father gives

In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God to Thee

Prayer for Virginia Tech

Normally I would be posting a new blog as it is Monday. However, in light of the events today at Virginia Tech, I am going to postpone my new blog for a couple of days and ask you to pray.

Please pray for the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy and for those who were wounded. Also pray for those who survived as they deal with the loss and possible survivor's guilt.

No one can comprehend the pain and devastation lauded on these victims and families todays. No one but Jesus. So please pray that His peace will fill their hearts and lives and that He will be their comfort and hope in this painful time.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Loving Your Neighbor

One of my favorite versions of the Bible to read is The Message (all Biblical quotes used in this post will be from this version unless otherwise noted). I love how it is written as if you are reading a book and how the phrases jump to life and make it so real to me. A couple of weeks ago I started reading in Romans. The whole book of Romans is amazing and holds so many truths. But I started reading chapters 12, 13 and 14 and the words just jumped off the page and caused me to think about how I live my life. Do I live it to the fullest and take advantage of each opportunity God places before me? Do I share His love with each person I come in contact with each day? Or do I keep what I've learned to myself and stay in my safe little routine and ignore the needs of those around me?

More times than not, I am afraid that I have done the latter. Oh, I mean well. I think of ways to help or reach out to others. I see opportunities all around me, but somehow I just figure that surely God will use someone else. That He has something else for me to do. I call myself someone who is compassionate and my very profession is one of helping others. But when something calls me to step outside of my little safe box of routine, do I respond? Do you?

Romans 12:9 tells us to "love from the center of who you are; don't fake good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle." This is not an easy thing to do. Love from the center of who you are. In order to do that it is important to know who we are, who God made us to be. And to love ourselves...which is very hard to do at times. Practice playing second fiddle. Wow! That is also a very tough thing to do. Sure, we want to help. We want to make a difference. But at what cost? Only if we get recognition? Only if we get a pat on the back? Or are we motivated by something deeper. Something beyond ourselves. Motivated by the love God Himself placed inside us. The desire to live out the life of Jesus in us and share that love with others - regardless of what we may or may not receive in return.

Romans 12:14-19 also contains some wonderful words of wisdom. "Laugh with your friends when they're happy, share tears when they're down...Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great beauty in everyone...don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God..."

Laughing with your friends and sharing their tears with them seems easy enough. This verse says nothing about sharing your opinion and interjecting your thoughts into the situation. Why is it when we have a friend who comes to us needing simply a shoulder to cry on do we insist on opening our big mouth? They are not coming to us for words. They are coming for comfort. And that is exactly what this verse is saying. The NIV says to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and to "mourn with those who mourn". Our job as a friend is to simply BE there. When someone has suffered a great loss, for example, they simply want a person to understand and just cry with them, not offer them a solution or tell them it will be OK. At those times our needs and our thoughts are not what are important. What is important is to simply love that person and laugh WITH them and cry WITH them.

Make friends with nobodies. Discover beauty in everyone. At first glance this, for me, seems easy. I wasn't popular in high school and have always seemed to fit in best with the "misfits". But when I look closer at my life, I see that I, too, tend to be "stuck up" at times and am not always friendly to the "nobodies" of this world. It is so easy to do. You pass the man in the grocery store who may be unshaven and unkempt and maybe even smells a little. You try your hardest not to make eye contact and avoid him. All the while never knowing what may really be going on in his life. Do we ever stop to think that maybe he has been at the hospital all week with his dying wife and just stopped in for a quick snack on his way to see her and hasn't had a chance to shave or wash clothes this week? You see the woman at church who isn't all that attractive by the world's standards and she isn't dressed in the latest fashions. So you just glance her way but refuse to go up and welcome her. Do we ever stop to think that maybe she is like the woman who gave all she had while the Pharisees and Sadducees complained that she hadn't given enough? Maybe she is on a fixed income and gives her money to help some missionary in another country or gives to help the homeless. And heaven knows that God views her as more beautiful than most gorgeous super model in the world because of what's inside. Do we ever stop and think about the story behind the people we meet or see everyday? The ones we do our best to avoid? God does. He not only sees their stories; He is writing their stories. I am so thankful that He looks at our heart and not our outward appearance. We would do well to do the same. Some of those nobodies we pass by just might turn out to be some of the most godly and giving people and some of the best friends if we would but give them a moment. And after all, without Jesus, aren't we all just a bunch of nobodies? Isn't He the one who makes us beautiful? Time and time again the Bible tells story after story of the "nobodies" Jesus used and continues to use to share His message and His love. Fishermen as disciples? A prostitute as a rescuer? An atheist as a Bible scholar? So remember...make friends with nobodies. Christ has done no less for us. And see beauty in everyone. If a person has Christ in their heart, they are beautiful beyond compare. And if a person is lost, we should still see the beauty that Christ could bring to their life and share His love. We should see beauty in each person no matter what. God does, and He asks no less of us.

I'll do the judging, says God. Hmm. Where did we get to the place where we thought it would be OK to judge others? I've come to realize that when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves. Usually we have an area we know we are failing in and so we automatically see that in others and feel the need to judge them. God tells us time and time again that He is the judge. Not us. The only person I have any right to judge is myself. Like I said above, we have no idea about the stories behind peoples' lives. We have no idea what led them to the place they have come. I may see someone as harsh and stand offish. Yet God sees the fact that they had their heart broken and are doing all they can and putting up walls to keep from getting hurt again. I may see someone who has a "bad reputation". But God sees someone who is searching for love and not finding it. I may see a person with an addiction. God sees a person who is trying so hard to shut out the pain. How many lost people have we turned away from God because of our own selfishness or because we are more concerned with how we will be viewed by fellow believers rather than how God may be calling us to minister to a person in need? How many believers have we let down because we were more concerned with looks and position and what we could get out of something than with how we may be able to meet their need? May God forgive us for seeking our own way rather than His and for turning away from those in need.

Loving our neighbor is not always the easiest thing. But if we will take some time to look beyond the surface, to see the bigger picture, we can see them as God sees them. Loving your neighbor begins with loving God and then loving yourself. Mark 12:31-33 (NIV) tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." No commandment greater than these. Greater than anything else He commands us to do. Greater because if we do these two things, everything else falls into place. So the next time you pass that stranger, take a moment and offer a smile or a hello. The next time your friend needs a shoulder to cry on, let them do just that. Offer them a shoulder and share their tears instead of your opinion. When you see a new person at church next Sunday, walk up and say hello. When you see a person struggling with a sin, be there for them and pray for them rather than judge them and kick them when they are down. You never know when God will decide to use you to lift up someone else. And you never know that He may use that stranger to lift you up. Remember "be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2)

So this week seek to love your neighbor. Truly love them. Love from the center of who you are. Make friends with the nobodies. And learn to discover the beauty in everyone. Train your eyes to see beyond the surface, to see the story behind the person. Take the time to listen and to care. After all, God took the time to see beyond what the world sees in us. He loved us enough to send His Son who demonstrated the ultimate example of love by dying in our place. The least we can do is to love each other. Life is hard enough without us tearing down each other. So seek to love and let Him love through you. The blessing you receive from obeying that command is so far above and beyond any earthly acclimation. And the results will last for an eternity.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! I have been blogging off and on on myspace for a few months and have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts and ideas the Lord has shown me about different things that I have encountered in my life. Over the last several weeks I have been feeling that He wanted me to do something more, to share in a greater capacity. I'm still praying about specifics and all that He wants for my life. However, I have felt that starting a blog was a good starting point. So here it is.

I decided on the name Expectant Hope because that is a phrase that kind of came to me during a situation towards the end of last year where I was seeking God's guidance about a life changing decision. As I sought His will in the matter, several verses came to mind about asking Him for what we need and what we want, about being "carefree in the care of God" (Matthew 6, The Message), about hoping for what we cannot see. I used to be the person who never believed that good things could happen for fear they would not and I would be disappointed. But as these verses came to mind I realized that it was OK to hope, to dream that those things would come to be. And thus the phrase "expectant hope" was born in me. It's about a hope that expects God to do what He said He would do. Not a brash, arrogant expecting. But a hopeful, trusting, confident expecting. After all Jesus Himself said to believe that we have what we ask for and it will be given to us (Mark 11:24, NIV). It's not a hope that expects God to be at our beck and call or do what we want when we want it. Rather, it is a hope that expects God to answer in His time, in His way and with His answer. A hope that expects the best God has for us.

As I post new blogs I have no idea what direction they will take or what topics I will cover - most will be from my perspective, the perspective of a single woman trying to navigate the path He has for me. A woman who falls many times and who is not anywhere near where I know the Father wants me to be. But a woman who is seeking His will and trusting in Him to give me the desires of my heart.

My prayer is that the Lord will somehow use this forum as a way to share that expectant hope with you who read it. That you will not see the words as what I write or as my thoughts. But that you will hopefully hear the Father's words and feel His love. I'm not saying I'm the best writer or that I have all the answers or even that what I have to say is always perfect or important. It will be far from it. You may agree or disagree. But I hope that it will cause you to think and to seek the Father in a deeper way than you have before. And I hope that it will cause an Expectant Hope to arise within you about what only a loving God can do in your life.

Please feel free to share any comments.