Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Car Wash for the Soul

This morning, I was desperate to hear God.  I needed to be forgiven and to forgive others after the events of the weekend.  I wasn't passing all the blame – I knew I had been wrong.  But I was consumed by the fact that I had been wronged as well.  I was hurting.

This started a few weeks back when my personal prayer and devotion time dried up into a desert experience.  It only took one day to skip it.  Then another. And another.  This continued for about 2 weeks. 

My lack of personal time with God made it clear that I was not right yesterday.  I was not connected to God and communicating with him, therefore the words that I said were unnecessary and offensive in themselves.  What scared me was the fact that I didn't even realize how wrong I was until AFTER the words left my mouth and were hanging in the air like the mushroom cloud after an atomic bomb.  I didn't have a filter or a mental warning light before I spoke those words.  After I saw the reactions, I realized I had stepped out on my own and left a great divide between me and my family. 

I went to bed early last night; partly because I was tired, but mostly because I was avoiding talking to God.   I realized as I tried to pray before I left for work this morning that I really should do my devotions.  Maybe God would speak to me through the book I had been working through for 2 months (yet, I’m only on Day 17).  I was hopeful that something profound would ease the painful memories of all the events that transpired. 

The devotions led me to these verses...
Proverbs 30:7-9 O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die.  First, help me never to tell a lie.  Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!  Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.  For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”   And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.
The author prays for God to not give him too much, too little, and please just give enough for today.  All those prayers are well and good, but it totally did not address my issue.  As part of this study, I write out prayers that Praise, Repent of my sins, Acknowledge that God is in charge and submit my will to Him, pray for others (intercession), pray for myself (supplication), and finally pray for God to Equip me (PRAISE).  Today, I asked God to please forgive me for my words, let me know if I should apologize, and prayed for those that hurt me by their actions. 

Afterwards, I felt a little better.  Any time with God in prayer and reading His Word is better than none.  But I kept praying as I drove to work and even turned off the radio so I could focus on my words to Him.  About halfway through my commute, I suddenly had an idea to get my car washed.  Since I was visiting family over the weekend, my car was covered in a thick layer of road sludge (salt and dirt).  I debated about waiting to run this errand at lunch or after work.  But the reality is that I will be tempted to skip the errand and wait until another day, so I took the time to get it done before work. 

As I drove away feeling refreshed in my super-clean car, I realized that all the dirt from the weekend was gone.  It was washed away.  Good as new.  Just as quickly, I realized God does that for my soul too!  All that was required of me is to make the choice to turn it over to Him.  He is in the business of vacuuming, scrubbing, wiping, cleansing, and polishing me from the inside out.  All I have to do is be willing for the transformation. 

I guess my biggest lesson here is that God spoke to me, albeit unconventionally.  It wasn't exactly through His Word, but He honored my obedience and spoke to me - through a car wash.  I shouldn't be so hasty in thinking God was ignoring my request.  He may have something way deeper and more insightful in mind than just following a routine and expecting the same results each time. 

Psalms 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Leave Light

Every choice matters.

This life lesson popped up repeatedly the past few months.  Public figures not filtering their words while speaking to media or personally ruining their reputation by posting insensitive words for the world to read.

Right before Christmas, I went to a memorial service for a teenager that died in a preventable accident.  Every choice matters.

The memories spoken were remarkably the same from so many young people, which confirmed the impact he had on everyone present.
"He was my best friend."  
"He was like a brother to me."  
"His positive energy/joy/peace/enthusiasm for life would change the atmosphere in the room."  
"He made me laugh."  
"He brightened my day when I was sad."  
"He gave the best hugs!" 
"I knew I could call him at 3 a.m. and he would be there for me."  
"I didn't know him well, but it sounds like from what everyone else said, I should have gotten to know him better."  

As for me, I met his mom twice at church, but I had never officially met him.  But from what I heard, I should have.

Time and again, the youth sharing their memories would add,
"I'm not religious, but he loved me and told me about God/church/youth group."  
"He encouraged me when I was bullied for my faith."  
"I feel like this many people showed up because they loved him.  I normally wouldn't talk in front of this many people, but I can tell there is no judgement here."

The impact this teenager had was far-reaching.  Even after he went to be with Jesus, he was changing lives.  One friend said that he always invited them to go to church, but they never went.  Guess what?  They were in church that night at the memorial service.  Another one said that while he wasn't religious, the day after the accident he lit a candle to honor his friend.  He wrote, "Leave Light" on the candle.  The young man who's life we were celebrating confidently shared his faith without being judgmental.  This teenager left a light shining so bright that all could see - even those that didn't share his beliefs.

Attending any funeral service prompts me to evaluate my life and my impact to those around me.  This time, it was humbling.  This young man was only 18 years old and his impact was deep and wide.  He touched classmates that had never set foot inside of a church.  He treated everyone as if they were the only person in the room.  He forgave others when they snubbed him and welcomed them to his group of friends years later.  He made everyone around him feel as if they mattered.

Then I look at my circle of influence.  At church, I let myself get involved with others.  I let others in and pray for them and actively get involved in their circumstances.  I know when they are having a bad day or when they are really struggling with life.  I know that when they pull away, they need someone to send that text that says, "I love you and I'm praying for you."

Outside of church, my track record isn't that great.  Until recently, I didn't have time to reach my friends that don't go to church because I was over-committed.  When I reached a breaking point, God re-prioritized everything and directed me where I needed to focus my time and energy to be more effective.

At work... I ashamed of my actions there.  I get frustrated with some people there.  More often than not, I get caught up and participate in office gossip.  I get annoyed when people ask me for things.  What kind of light am I shining?  The "if you aren't in my circle of friends, I can't be bothered with your problems" light?  Or "I'm a caring/loving/compassionate person at church, but at work I'm too busy for you" light?  What if there is no light shining at all?

I strive to be honest when I write here because I don't want anyone reading this to think that I have it all together or that I have all the answers.  I write because it helps me to process situations and learn about myself.  I also feel like it helps me to discern what God wants me to do.  It helps me to dig deep, perform the root cause analysis of my current situation, or understand God's truth.  I love Jesus, but I have to continually work at this to even come close to getting it right.  I am a work in progress.  I am training to be more like Jesus.

Just like with physical exercise (which I am still having a very difficult time making it a routine) I have to make the choice daily to seek God.  I could easily go an entire day, week, month, year, or decade without praying or reading the Bible.  But without both of those critical tools, my spiritual health degrades rapidly.

This boy, only 18 years old, made a decision (or possibly several decisions) one night that resulted in his death.  He never intended on dying that night, but there were consequences to his choices.

I make bad decisions all the time.  I'm not bragging about any of this - honestly, it's humiliating.  Again, I am attempting to be honest and transparent.  I yell curse words at drivers that cut me off.  I glare at people in the grocery store that get in my way.  I waste time at work doing anything except my assigned tasks.  I get annoyed with people entirely too frequently.

Every choice matters.  My back pain is increasing and now bothers me when I stand too long.  Before, it only hurt when I sat too long.  Again, this goes back to needing to exercise, but it is so easy to hit the snooze button in the morning and sleep through the extra minutes needed to fit in a walk before my shower.  With the news of this young man's death due to a few choices he made on a normal evening, I realized that I don't know why God is telling me to get up early and walk.  I just know that He did tell me to do it.  I need to obey.  I need to obey willingly and immediately.  My time here is limited.  I need to make the most of every opportunity.  I can't let a moment slip by without pleasing Him.  Living for Him.  Honoring Him.  Praising Him.  Obeying Him.  Loving Him.

Jesus, please help me leave light.  Please help me not to get so busy that I can't care for others.  Please let me to treat everyone with love and compassion, regardless of how they treat me.  May I shine love, joy, and peace to all those around me.  May I speak freely about my relationship with you and point others to you without judgement.  Please help me to obey you even when I don't understand.  Please help me to get up early each morning and walk, using that time to enjoy your creation and speak to you in prayer.  Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness when I do mess up.  Thank you for loving me with unconditional love.  Thank you for leaving light for us to follow.  

May I remember that every choice matters.  

I choose to leave light.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Catching Up (or falling behind)

I apologize for not wrapping up all the wonderful things that God has done in my life last year and this year.  There is no way I'll remember everything, but I'm going to start with the big items and God will have to fill in the rest.

My back is healed, praise Jesus!  That was the most excruciating experience of my life.  I now have a lifelong prescription of exercise to prevent it from happening again.  What's ironic is that I should be overjoyed that I don't have to take any medicine to feel better.  I just have to get outside, enjoy God's creation, and move my body.  However, this year I have been battling with myself to do this.  I have walked some, but it was only when the pain was increasing daily.  As soon as the pain went away, I stopped walking again.

God was convicting me more and more.  I finally confessed my sin of laziness and procrastination and asked God to help me wake up early to walk before work.  The next morning, I woke up even more tired than the night before.  This lasted for a week!  Then I came down with a nasty cold that sapped every ounce of energy I had.  After 2 weeks of pure exhaustion, congestion, and countless tissue boxes - I became angry.  I asked God, "Why did you let this happen when I was finally ready to obey you?"  His gentle response was, "You didn't exercise when you were healthy either."  Lord, I am still struggling with this, please help me to go out for a walk daily!

The other late breaking news for 2013 is a new My One Word.  Initially, I chose Focus.  I believe I blogged on that, so you know my reasons for picking that fine word.  However, God distinctly gave me another word.  Soon after I chose Focus and published my one word on (www.myoneword.org), one of my dear friends and mentors changed her word.  *gasp*  Changing your word after publishing it?? Are we allowed to do such a thing??  Duh.  Yes.

The word God initially gave me (before Focus) was Faith.  However, after all the craziness of 2012, I thought, "I don't need more faith.  I trust God to take care of me and to supply all my needs.  What I need is more FOCUS so I can finish things I start."  However, the word "Faith" kept coming back to me, especially after I realized I could change my word!

I kept praying because I wasn't going to change my word unless God confirmed it.  Oh, did He!

1. Several close friends were sharing their current life situations with me and I kept thinking that all they needed was a little faith!  Why were they giving up so easily?  Didn't they know that a miracle could be right around the corner?  Didn't they know that we serve a big God?  Didn't they know, "We can do everything through Christ, who gives us strength"?  (Philippians 4:13)

THEN, I had a brilliant idea!  I was going to pick "Faith" for my word so I could have faith for my friends!  How humble!  How self-less!  Right??

Not two seconds later, God put me in my place.  He reminded me exactly where I was lacking Faith in my life.  My hair loss.  Yes, you read that right.  I am a 30-something female and losing my hair.  God immediately gave me this verse:
Matthew 17:20 (NLT) "You don't have enough faith," Jesus told them.  "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain,'Move from here to there,' and it would move.  Nothing would be impossible."
I will not be posting a picture of it, but please trust me that this hair loss is noticeable.  My scalp shows through, there is a significant amount of space between my hair, and a lot of hair comes out in the shower.  Only a few people have ever dared to confront me about it and I was crushed when they did.  It is humiliating.  For years, I refused to talk about it.  It was staring everyone in the face, but I was in 100% denial that it was there.  I was so ashamed and tried everything in my power to fix it.  I've gone to the determatologist, checked hormone levels through blood tests, used Rogaine, massaged my scalp, and even stopped straightening and blow drying my hair.

2. Then, God's next lesson in the search for my one word.  "Focus" relies on my effort.  "Faith" relies on God's effort.  

It has been so hard for me to trust God about losing my hair.  In most areas where I've trusted Him, He has answered my prayers in a relatively quick fashion. If the prayer wasn't answered completely, I would at least see some progress.  Not so with my hair.  If one month it seemed to be growing back, the next month it all seemed to shed at the same time and I feel like I'm starting all over again.

3. Finally, God revealed the last confirmation on my new word for 2013. Which was another very true, and sobering reality - my hair loss is a visible flaw because I try so hard to hide all my other flaws.  Please know that just writing those words hurts.  It is not something I would have ever come up with on my own.  It literally made me flinch when the thought ran through my mind, but the depth of the truth it held made me stop and face it.

I realized that just like I was trying to hide my hair loss, I had a hard time admitting my weaknesses to others.  As if I could somehow keep them in the dark.  But, I slowly began talking to people about my hair.  I returned to a former hair dresser that didn't make me feel rediculous for trying Rogaine.  I talked to my mom about my feelings and what God was teaching me.  Then, when it was time to start discussing our one words for 2013 in our small group, I stepped out in FAITH and told my small group about it.  A few kind women said they hadn't noticed before.  Regardless, I know that I was the one truly in denial.  I know it was visible and I was the one trying to hide it.

Amazingly, ever since I've been more open about it, I don't notice it as much anymore.  It was as if my hair loss had a hold on me.  I was drowning in shame and I had no idea.  All it took was talking about it.  By speaking about something humiliating, I was able to shed God's light on it and remove the power of darkness that it held over me.  I faced my fear of people seeing my scalp and then talking about it behind my back.  As soon as it was brought to light, my fears faded away.  If I am talking about it to them, why would I care if they talk about it behind my back?

God, in His goodness, gave me Joel 2:25 as a promise.  I don't normally pray over Bible verses, especially when the promise is something completely unrelated to my circumstances.  But when this verse popped into my head, I prayed it one Sunday morning.  I didn't know the reference at the time, but I prayed, "Lord, please restore the years the locusts have eaten."  On my way to church, I saw a license plate that said, "JOEL225".  I immediately remembered the verse that I prayed and I knew!  I checked as soon as I was parked and sure enough, it was my verse from earlier that morning!  Here is what it says:
Joel 2:25 (NIV)  "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten - the great locus and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm." 
Now, I don't know why God lists 4 different kinds of locusts (neither did my Bible footnotes), but I do know that God meant that He would restore what has been taken away.  My hair is growing back in.  While I don't have a think luscious head of hair, I am seeing progress.  Faith doesn't guarantee instant results.  Faith involves handing over control to God to fulfill His promises - in His time.  Therefore, I will keep praying and thanking God for restoring what the locusts have eaten.

If I have FAITH as small as a mustard seed, I can say to this mountain (a.k.a. hair loss), 'Move from here to there,' and it will move.  Nothing is impossible with God.

Does something in your life have you held down by shame?  

Have you tried bringing it to the light by sharing it with someone else?  

Will you consider taking your small seed of Faith and move some mountains with me?

Please share your thoughts (or mountains) below in the comments!  I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2013 OLW - Focus

God, you are GOOD!  Thank you, for once again showing me exactly what you want from me.  I kept praying for my One Little Word (OLW) for 2013.  Over and over again, "Focus" kept coming to mind.  I would see it more than once a day, but then again, I felt compelled to add new words daily too!  

Sometimes all it takes is reading blog posted on Facebook to find just the confirmation you were looking for! :)

While selecting a word isn't difficult, it isn't something I take lightly.  Last year, my OLW was “Love”.  When I pick a word, the enemy tries to attack it.  IMMEDIATELY.  It’s happened 2 out of 2 years!  Satan doesn't want me to grow; he wants me to stay complacent.  He must think that starting the year off in a battle will cause me to give in and give up.  No!  I must fight!  Last year, I had to ask God immediately for help and He didn't not disappoint!  I learned so much about how to love others, how to love myself, and most importantly, how to love God.

Here are some of the areas I want to gain “Focus”:

1) To start 2013, I asked God to infiltrate every aspect of my life. I asked Him to give me His goals and His desires. The cool thing was that I had 4 "big" goals in 2012 with lots of milestones to reach each one.  I finished a lot of milestones last year, so I made some progress.  I just didn't finish any of my big goals.  I realized that while I want to lose weight and be out of debt, the goal God has for me is to glorify Him with my body and money. It takes the "focus" off me and puts it on God. I haven't removed any of the goals from last year’s list. They were all just modified.  I'm not worried about losing a pound a week or maxing out my 401k contributions.  I'm just going to ask for guidance and wisdom to focus on what I eat and where I spend my money so I stop doing things mindlessly.
Romans 8:5-8 (MSG) Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self, ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.
2) I let myself get distracted by the things of this world.  I need to focus on Jesus.  Period.  This affects every area of my life.  If I focus on Jesus and honoring Him with my body, losing weight won't be a struggle.  If I focus on Jesus and honoring Him with my money, getting out of debt and reducing my expenses won't be a struggle.  If I focus on Jesus, I will see the people I am speaking with as He sees them and I will realize how valuable our time is together.  I will realize that I need to be in the moment and they deserve my undivided attention. 
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (MSG) Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
3) I start too many things and never finish (Bible studies, countless books, getting out of debt, losing weight, cleaning the house, getting the certification). Sometimes, I get bored, overwhelmed or discouraged.  Then, I just give up.  Other times, I don't put my ALL into it.  This happens a lot at work.  Yes, I have a lot on my plate, but I know I could do better and do more if I just applied myself. 
Ephesians 6:5-8 (NLT) Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
·      4) I also get distracted in conversations or while praying. When someone else is talking, I find my mind wandering. Sometimes, I think of a question I want to ask the person that is talking, but to avoid forgetting my question, I stop listening to what they are actually saying. Other times, I want to tell them something that is completely unrelated to what they are saying.  I still tune them out so I don’t forget what I want to say.  Either way, I want to really hear what people are saying to me.  I want to be in the moment.  I want to learn to listen.  This principle applies to my prayers and being still long enough to hear God’s whisper.
James 1:19 (NLT) Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
Kings 19:11-13 (NLT) “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper
Ironically enough, the word “focus” isn't in many Bible translations.  The New International Version (NIV) doesn't have the word at all!  The New Living Translation (NLT) uses it 4 times. The Message uses it a whopping 28 times!  The verses below might not say the actual word “focus”, but it does describe the action quite effectively. 

For 2013, I already have many distractions trying to steal my Focus.  Here are my weapons to fight the battle:

The definition of “focus” is…
     1) To concentrate attention or effort, emphasis
Philippians 4:8 (NLT)And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 
     2) A point at which rays (light, heat, or sound) converge toward another point
Romans 8:5 (ESV)For those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on things according to the Spirit.
      3) Adjustment for distinct vision, a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding
Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
      4) A center of activity or attraction
Philippians 3:10-14 (NLT) I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Alternatively, a lesson in losing “focus”:
Matthew 14:24-31 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

This is exactly why I want focus

Stop worrying about my current circumstances, especially when the wind and waves are fierce.

Don’t fret over what may come. 

Forget about the past

Learn to be present in His Presence 
Ephesians 1:17-19 (MSG) I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 36

For an explanation of the challenge, please read Day 1.

For an explanation of why I'm on Day 36 of a 30 Day Challenge, please read Day 11.

Today has been difficult.  There is no particular reason, yet there are a million reasons.  For the first time in a long time, I feel that God is distant.  I've had several weeks where God was literally answering prayers immediately. I felt like He and I were one.  It was an incredible feeling of being held close.  I had nothing to fear.  I felt secure.  

Then yesterday, I was overwhelmed at work.  I now report to 2 different people on 5 different projects.  The deliverables are all due in the next 2 weeks.  It's too much to do during the day, so I have to work the weekends and long hours, some of them at home in the evenings.  Not to mention, I was hoping to take the exam again soon so I could have the material fresh in my mind.  

It made me pause and think of all the chaos of the past month.  I have felt on multiple occasions that I was being tested.  First, my health was attacked when I went to the ER for my back.  Then, my confidence was attacked by not passing the exam.  Now, it's like Satan's final straw - the chaos attack.  I will say, usually, this attack totally works.  I get so overwhelmed that I just stop everything good in my life.  I turn to food and alcohol for comfort and completely isolate from anything that could point me back to God.  It's easy to find friends that are willing to be swayed to fall into this pit with me.  Or, they are already there and are more than willing to pull me down to their level. 

Not this time though.  I am still very much feeling overwhelmed and I see the chaos swirling around me like a tornado.  Yet, I've learned the hard way that the vices I used to turn to never satisfy the emptiness or uncertainty.  When I've turned to them in the past, I wake up months later from whatever mess I've allowed myself to wallow in and realize that I made one seemingly minor wrong decision after another.  It led me farther away from Jesus, who is the only source of real happiness and peace. 

Therefore, I choose to trust God.  I choose to wait on God.  I choose to believe what His word says even though I still don't feel or hear Him.  But I know that His love is not based on my feelings (thank you for this, Lord Jesus!).  

Romans 8:35, 37-39 (NLT) Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love?  Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord

Kari Jobe "You Are For Me"

It is times like this, that all I can do is obey.  I know God hasn't changed, and if I've changed, I don't want to stray too far from my source of hope.  Therefore, I will remain in Jesus. 
John 15:4-11 (NLT) [Jesus said,] Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers.  Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!  When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples.  This brings great glory to my Father.  I have loved you even as the Father has loved me.  Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father's commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!
In seven (7) verses, Jesus said "remain" 10 times!  Not only that, but He promises in verse 4, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you".  In order for me to remain in His love, I must obey his commandments (verse 10).  Praise Jesus, the last promise is that if we obey and remain, our joy will overflow!

Jesus, even though I can't feel you right now, I thank you that your Word is available to me 24/7/365.  Your words are never far from me and may they penetrate my soul so that it flows out of me and fills those I see each and every day.  I pray Lord Jesus, that you will guide my steps tomorrow and show me what I should do every step of the way.  Please help me to balance my workload based on your priorities.  May I honor my managers and you in doing everything for your glory.  I will wait for your clear confirmation on when or if to reschedule my exam.  Until then, please help me to study and use my time in ways that honor you.  Jesus, I thank you for the trial of chaos.  I thank you for giving me a focal point to see peace inside of the situation.  Please Jesus, let me hear your whispers in the whirlwind.  
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 33

For an explanation of the challenge, please read Day 1.

For an explanation of why I'm on Day 33 of a 30 Day Challenge, please read Day 11

I know, it seems as if I slacked off on the challenge and blogging.  However, I have been faithful with my scripture reading and I have abstained from coffee and alcohol for 24 days!  

I thought of writing frequently, but it would have been too much of a distraction.  I was busy studying.  Let's take moment to catch you up on all the craziness of this year, month, and week.

In May, I changed jobs.  It was a difficult transition to me and quite honestly, I felt like a failure.  I felt like I let myself, my co-worker, my company, and even my customer down.  The reason why I took the blame was because I didn't have a certification that would have kept my job.  I knew I would attempt to get it eventually, but I also heard all the horror stories about the difficulty of the test.  I knew some very intelligent people who failed.  I couldn't handle another loss.  Not this year at least.  So I had every intention of studying hard and passing it the first time.

The exam I need to take is a certification test to become an (ISC)2 Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP).  I took a bootcamp in May and it opened my eyes to the level of effort needed to pass. So, I vowed to study.  Someone said that the knowledge needed to pass the exam is a mile wide and an inch deep.  You need to know a little bit about a LOT of topics.  250 multiple-choice questions in 6 hours.  It's like running a marathon.  Food and bathroom breaks are included in those 6 hours.  From what I've heard about running a marathon, mile 20 is the toughest.  You've been pushing yourself for so long and you know you are closer to the finish line than you are the starting line, but your energy is gone and you can't muster up the strength to go faster than a fast walk.

So, I studied and took a paper-based exam in June.  Back then, paper was preferred because there was a rumor that you couldn't go back and review your answers on the computer-based test.  The disadvantage on the paper exams was that they were scan-tron and it could take up to 6 weeks to receive your score.  I gleefully and ignorantly waited for the day that email would arrive.  When it did, I was devastated to realize that I did not make the cut.  I missed it by 69 points.  I failed again.  This time, I let myself down and the few people I told.

I knew I would have to take it again, but I procrastinated.  I didn't want to subject myself to it again.  I didn't want to sit for 6 grueling hours answering very difficult questions that didn't seem to be in any material I studied.  Also, the only option left was to take it computer-based.  Paper exams were no longer offered.  The advantage, instant exam results, with the exception of a few poor souls that are audited for testing integrity's sake. 

In September, I finally scheduled it for October 15th.  It was a Monday, so I would have to take off work for it, but at least it backed up to a weekend so I could study and be ready to go!  Then, remember what I wrote about throughout the challenge?  I injured my back on September 30 and ended up in the ER.  I spent the first week of October on pain meds and there was no way I could study.  So, I postponed it until October 31.  I just wanted to get it done.  No more procrastination.

As you can tell, that is today.  Halloween.  I'm not superstitious and I don't celebrate Halloween.  (In fact, it just occurred to me that I am home and have NO candy if any children were to knock on my door. Yikes.)

God put so many things in my path to help me prepare!  It was as if He was telling me that He's got this.  I just need to do my part, but He has my back.  I would pray over the verses from the challenge every day and ask that I be filled to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) and that God would fill me where I was lacking (Ephesians 1:23).  My friend, who happens to be in the same line of work I am, invited me to a women's study group that are preparing for this exam too!  While I realized I study better alone, it was encouraging to meet women that are going through the same thing I am and meeting new friends along the way.  I was getting excited about my profession once again!  Then, a conference came up at work that was totally applicable to my job AND included a CISSP review as part of the fee.  My company paid for me to go and I received invaluable work training and very helpful CISSP study time!  On top of that, I had so many friends and family praying for me.  I felt overwhelmed with all the people that were covering me and lifting me up to God.

Plus, God was showing me daily how He was providing for me and answering prayers.  Some big, some small.  All were answered in very clear ways to the point that I couldn't help but be thankful.  I felt like God was showing me repeatedly that He had this under control.

Even to the point that I was praying earnestly several days ago and I asked God to restore what the locusts have eaten.  I knew it was a Bible verse in Joel and it seemed applicable to what I was in turmoil over.  That morning, I saw a car with a license plate "JOEL2 25".  I knew without looking it up - that was my verse!  God blessed me within hours of praying that prayer.  He is so good!

I read all the exam tips and tricks and every last one said to relax and do not study the day before the exam.  That way I show up refreshed and ready to tackle it.  I wanted to watch a movie and I have a few romantic comedies that I thought would be light and fun.  When I saw the movie, "Facing the Giants", I knew I had to pick that one.

The whole movie was uplifting and about how with God, ALL things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  God did amazing things in the lives of the coach and high school football team.  He showed them that when we give everything over to Him, He will take it and make it beautiful.  We praise Him when we win, and we praise Him when we lose.

So now we get to today.  Exam day.  I was up at 5 a.m., on the road by 6:20 a.m. and at the testing center by 7:09 a.m.  I wasn't dare late, otherwise, I would forfeit my exam fee.  I was receiving texts from friends and family that early in the morning, encouraging me and praying for me.  It was such an uplifting experience!

As I mentioned with the marathon analogy, the 2nd time around wasn't pleasant either.  Since it was on a computer screen, the words would blur, I would find myself reading things so many times that I would have to look away, then refocus and try again.  My back was in serious pain from sitting that long.  I took one break and somehow it was 9 minutes.  All the verses people gave me were written on my white board that was supposed to be for notes.  I used it to focus my attention on Jesus because I knew I wasn't going to do it without Him.  I finished the exam with 2 minutes to spare.

All that, yet I didn't pass.  I will say it again because most people didn't believe me the first time.  I did not pass.

My score increased by 50 points, so I only missed the mark by 19 points.  My mind immediately rushed to all those people praying for me.  I would have to tell them.  I would have to let them down.  Open myself up to criticism.  Feel the pain repeatedly as I saw people who were praying for me and either didn't get my text or email and needed a verbal rendition of what happened.

Then I realized what I forgot to do.  Thank God.  Praise Him when we win, praise Him when we lose (from "Facing the Giants").  That is truly a sacrifice of praise.  When I'm down and out, I still owe Him my thanks.  I still owe Him my gratitude and love.  I still owe Him everything I have.  I would be nothing without Him.

My dear friend called me about this time and said the most profound thing.  What if this test is about opening yourself up to what God thinks of you and not what others think of you?

How did she know?  How could she have possibly known what my first thought was?  I was so worried about telling other people.  Being a failure.  Again.

Here is the truth in this whole, long, drawn-out story (thank you for bearing with me):

  • I am not a failure.  Romans 8:37 (NIV) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 
  • I am being renewed.  2 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV) Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.   
  • I am God's child.  John 1:12-13 (NIV) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
  • I am a new creation.  2 Corinthians 5:17  (NIV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
  • I am loved.  Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

My past does not define me.  God is continuing to refine me and to create something new in me.  Praise God, I am not who I once was.
James 1:2-4 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect [mature] and complete, needing nothing. 
Passing the exam or... not passing.  New job or old job.  Healed or in pain.  I am choosing to praise God.  Yes, Lord, even if I don't get whatever it is I'm praying for, I choose You.  I trust You, I believe in You, and I give my time and talents to You to use as you see fit.  Please give me direction in the next few weeks to guide me on my next steps.

Big Daddy Weave "Redeemed"

Friday, October 26, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 28

For an explanation of the challenge, please read Day 1.

God is doing AMAZING things in my life right now.  There is way too much to type, but here is what blessed and motivated me today.  I just had to share!

Here is what I'm learning:  God blesses me so I can bless others.

Confession:  I am obsessed with my budget.  I love spreadsheets, charts, and calculating things in Excel.  My personal budget has over 11 tabs that cross reference each other.  I keep attempting to create a dashboard of sorts, but I can't stop changing it long enough to enjoy the finished product!  I am not saying this to brag, God has convicted me on multiple occasions to just walk away!  I would spend hours changing amounts, moving funds, analyzing different scenarios.  Especially since this is money-related, it is a form of worry and fear of the future.  Neither of those things honor God and He is the one in control of my finances - not me.  It is important for me to be a good steward of what He gave me, but I must learn to manage my finances without taking God's role.

My church started a fundraising effort to put us in a better financial situation.  I am totally on board with this because of my passion for paying off debt and using God's resources wisely.  They published an announcement stating that there was a particular weekend that we would begin giving generously.  I panicked.  I even talked to my small group leader about it.  There was no way I could contribute.  I have all my money allocated and the weekend they selected was in the middle of a pay period!  She calmly said, "Just pray."  Duh, why didn't I think of that??

So, I "just prayed".  I told God that He knew my resources and saw my bank account and budget.  If I was going to participate in this initiative, He was going to have to show me where the money would come from!

While at work the next day, where all my great ideas for non-work related activities come to me,  I remembered that my Home Owners Association (HOA) has been sending me a statement the past few months saying that I had a credit balance of exactly 1 month's fees.  I sent them an email and asked if I could either skip a payment or if they would send me a check to zero out my balance.

God's provisions:
1) Within 24 hours, the HOA replied and said that I could skip the payment!  Money was arriving and God was not done yet!!
2) That week, a retreat I had paid for was cancelled, so the registration fee was reimbursed!
3) God reminded me that just last month in my crazy budget spreadsheet, I randomly found unallocated money in my savings account!  I figured I could save it for an unexpected need, and this qualifies!
4) I have a "bucket" in my savings account for future giving.  This is the future and it's all about giving!
5) My electric bill was only half of what I had budgeted.  Why was I even surprised?!
6) I was saving the amount of my Emergency Room copay because I knew that the bill would be coming eventually.  I finally realized that if God was giving me all this money just to give back to Him, He can surely help me come up with the money for the hospital bill!  So, I added that money to the offering!
7) Two weeks ago, I attended a work conference and because I am attempting to pay off my credit card, I paid for everything out of my checking account.  By God's grace, I was able to skimp and save to where I lived within the tiny bit of money left over for groceries and eating out!  I realized that when I do receive the reimbursement check, I can give the whole check to God!
8) After I submitted my expense report, I was informed that I would receive 75% of the per diem rate for the day.  I questioned her (I'm not sure why), but I said that I had only been gone for 1 day and it was local.  She said that it didn't matter, I still received it because I was "travelling" for our company.  I literally made MORE money on the transaction that what I spent!

As of today, the amount that God has given me to give to the church is MORE than my monthly tithe.  While my monthly tithe will be given to the church on another Sunday, God more than doubled it for this month!   He gave me money out of His abundant resources just so I could give it back to Him.  How can I not be thankful?  How can I not give it back to Him?  It was never mine to begin with!
Philippians 4:19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.