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. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 15

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

God is so good!  He even uses mistakes to bless me!

I was all prepared to write about how "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young once again spoke to me what I needed to hear.  I just grabbed my book and Bible and looked at the date, then looked at the date on my computer, then looked back at the book - I read October 15th! God has a reason for everything!  My small group always says that book speaks to us on particular days when we need it.  Jesus realized I needed that date's message today instead!

Here is what spoke to me from "Jesus Calling":  "A few steps away from your true path are pits of self-pity and despair, plateaus of pride and self-will."
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 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.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart
While I do not claim the possible diagnosis that the doctor gave yesterday, I have been really discouraged today.  I keep asking dangerous "what if" questions.  That's always a slippery slope that leads to darkness.  Praise God, I had dinner with a friend that offered great encouragement.  She firmly stated, "God did not give us a spirit of fear!" (2 Timothy 1:7)  Then she went on to say, even if my "what ifs" came true, wouldn't it be better to know that I received God's blessing?

Ahhh, she hit a sore spot with that point.  Another friend had directed me to an amazing article called, "Wrestling with God" (click the title to read the article - you will be glad you did!)  In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with God in the flesh just to receive a blessing!  Here's the catch, God "touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with him."  Even still, Jacob didn't let go of God until daybreak.  At that time, he begged for a blessing.  Because he didn't give up - God blessed him!  Then we get to verse 31 and it says that Jacob was limping because of his hip.  Meaning, Jacob received exactly what he asked for - a blessing.  However, God did not heal him.  God humbled Jacob to a state of total dependence on Him.

The article goes on to list other great struggles followed by acts of faith. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son.  Job lost his possessions, children, and health.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were asked to worship idols instead of the Living God.  The Caananite woman mentioned in Matthew 15:22-28 begged Jesus healed her daughter from demons.  These were all huge tests of faith, yet they all persevered.  They did not let go of their faith in God until God blessed them!  They loved God more than themselves, their children, their possessions, their health, and their life. 

Going back to "wouldn't it be better to know that I received God's blessing?"  I have a hard time answering that.  Here is what I'm wrestling with God over - what if I don't get healed and have to deal with this pain or "limp" forever?

An excerpt from the article "Wresting With God":

"When facing problems, temptations, and sufferings it is far better to focus our strength on clinging to God rather than trying to overcome by our own strength. 
  • In order for us to fail and give in to problems, temptations, and sufferings we must first loosen our grip on God and even turn away from Him
  • In order for us to have success God’s way we must cling to Him with all of our strength and perseverance until He commands His blessing upon us."
This hit me hard.  It also reminded me of words a dear friend that gave in to temptation once said, which have stuck with me to this day.  She said that during her entire journey through faith, she was closest to God during her battle against the temptation.

Our journey is all about the struggle.  We must fight for our faith.
Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Satan is going to do his best to try to lure me away from following God.  Especially during trials, pain, and temptation, I must cling to God and call on Him to be my strength.  

I must not let go until I receive the blessing!  

As I fix my gaze on Him and not my circumstances, I realize that "forever" is only temporary.  This world is not my home.  Even if I am in pain the rest of my earthly life, it seems minor compared to the joy that I have for eternity! 

Thank you, Jesus, for changing my heart towards this trial.  I thank you for the pain.  I thank you for the blessing that it requires me to fully depend on you because I can't do this alone.  I ask for strength to complete my work, studying, social activities, and even serving at church.  I will not give up.  I trust you, Jesus.  I ask that you bless me and be with me in all that I do.  May you be glorified in my life, now and going forward.  In the name of Jesus, I ask for complete healing for my back, spine, discs, and ligaments.  Thank you, Jesus for hearing my prayer and loving me! I love you!  (((hugs)))

Friday, October 12, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 14

I had my follow up appointment today for my back. It was such a strange appointment.  I was very stiff because I didn't take any Advil or joint supplements so I would be able to feel everything and tell the doctor exactly what I was feeling.  

I met with the nurse first, who listened to my concerns slightly.  When I mentioned I decided after 4 days to stop taking the pain meds, she immediately interrupted and assumed I was addicted to them.  I told her no, but I was trying to explain that I kept taking the anti-inflammatory until the side effects were too much and I stopped taking that too. The result was extreme stiffness because I wasn't controlling the inflammation or pain. 

When the doctor arrived, the conversation seemed odd to me.  I felt like I was seeing the whole thing from an outside perspective, not an out of body experience, but just seeing things in a new light.  

After assessing my X-rays, immobility and pain, the doctor said he thinks it is a herniated disc. He wants me to schedule an MRI to confirm.  Also, I need 4 weeks of physical therapy. All I could think was Sharon Glasgow stating that she was not accepting the diagnosis that her husband had a heart attack - and he didn't have any sign of it when he left the hospital! 

Then, the doctor asked me multiple times if I want more pain meds, sleeping pills, or even anti-anxiety meds for the MRI.  Again, something just didn't seem right, I looked at him with a confused expression just said, "No."  It was very disconcerting to be accused of addiction by one person and the next is pushing drugs on me. 

I had just a moment alone when the doctor left after telling me his suspected diagnosis. Tears formed in my eyes, I turned away from the door to look out the window, and I had an urgent desire to call my mom and just cry.  However, I immediately remembered an email devotion that I just read in the waiting room.  I have 2 choices: I can either panic or I can pray.  So, I quickly gave it to God, turned away from the window and waited for the nurse to return. 

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

When I got in my car, I really prayed and told God that I was not claiming this diagnosis.  He is my Healer, my Physician, and my Creator.  He knows what's wrong and I know that He can heal me.  

I will schedule an MRI and go to physical therapy, but I know that there is something bigger at work here behind the scenes.  I'm not sure what's going on with my life right now, but it's incredible. Please keep praying for me. God is working and unfortunately Satan is too.

On the drive back to work, my phone battery died so I couldn't call anyone and my gas light came on.  Immediately, I began searching for a praise song on the radio, then I was flipping through the CDs - nothing was working.  Then I remembered what a friend told me this week!  Every time she has a reason to praise, she sings "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" (a.k.a. The Doxology).  That worked!  At least I knew the words! I was praising Jesus and telling Satan he was not going to win this battle.  He may be trying to discourage me, but I know that my Lord and Savior is by my side.  Jesus will give me strength when I am weak!  
1 Peter 1:6-7  
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 11

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

Friends, it's confession time.  God knows that He has to tell me to do something more than once before I admit that yes, I really do hear what He's asking me to do.  Then it takes me a few more reminders before I actually obey.  Thank you, Lord, for your patience with me!

My confession to you:  I was going through the motions of this 30 Day Challenge.  I have been praying and believing and trusting in God, but I haven't been honest with myself.  Worse, I haven't fully surrendered to God.  I haven't written what I am fasting for this challenge (scroll up and click on the link to read Day 1 for more info).  I have done this challenge once before and I gave up all forms of alcohol.  At the time, I was turning to it more frequently than I should.  I would use it to relax in the evenings, I would drink socially, and the intake was increasing more than my thirst for God.  It was a necessary sacrifice at the time.  However, since then, I haven't turned to it as much.  I realize it just makes me tired, it's harder to wake up the next morning, and quite frankly, if it isn't the weekend I just don't even bother.

Yet, Sharon's challenge was to read all those Bible passages and give up something we couldn't live without. I knew what it was, but remember my cycle with God.  Like a child, I put my hands over my ears and scream repeatedly, "I can't hear you!" *sigh*  He's patient.  He knows eventually my arms will get tired and I will eventually put my hands down.

Finally, I confessed to God on Day 9 (10/7/12) that I was going through the motions.  I was doing the minimal requirement and expecting God to fill me to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19).  I fully expected Him to bless me and be victorious without ever truly sacrificing.  I wasn't putting my heart into the challenge for God to change me, to provide His strength in my weakness.  I asked forgiveness and then begged God to give me the strength for what was about to happen the next day.  The day I truly give up what I could not live without.... coffee.

Some of you know, experiencing me without coffee is just not a pretty sight.  I didn't even want to go to be the night before because I was so dreading the morning.  I have strategically posted signs in my house and office saying, "All the coffee in Columbia can't make a morning person" and "Coffee is the most important meal of the day."  All the pictures in this post are from my kitchen and this isn't even all of it!

Praise God the Day 10 (10/8/12) was a holiday!  So I was able to take my time with getting up and functioning without my "lifer juice".  Amazingly, as the day went on, I actually wasn't craving it, I didn't have headaches, and I was able to function!  God really did provide strength in my weakness!

For the two women who are bravely giving up coffee also, thank you.  You know who you are, but you had no idea that sharing with me your sacrifice would convict me.  Hearing your courage to take that step of faith to honestly look at your life and lay down exactly what God put on your heart to give up for 30 days is refreshing!  I pray that God blesses you richly during this time and that you will be victorious in your challenge. 
You may realize that I didn't dare blog about this at the time it was happening.  I have such a hard time admitting failure.  While I'm processing things, I tend to think too hard about what is happening and I don't allow others in until I get a clear direction from God.  With this one, I needed and received multiple confirmations before proceeding.

In our blogging world, I find that the writers I identify with the most are the ones who are vulnerable.  They put themselves out there.  Without makeup on.  In their jammies at 4 p.m.  Wait, I've already done that.  That means that you've seen me at my worst, and you've accepted me just as I am.  I'm not perfect, and it's high time I stop filtering what others know about me in my life.  If my mistakes can help just one person realize they aren't alone, they aren't the only one, then it is all worth it!

Also, because of this dishonesty (just calling it what it is), I have decided to recommit to the challenge as of 10/8/12.  So, my 30 Day Challenge will be 40 days and end on 11/7/12.  I have decided to continue giving up alcohol through this extended time too.

Lord, I thank you that your strength is made perfect in my weakness.  I thank you that I'm not who I used to be.  You are continually molding me into a new creation, your beloved.  You are so merciful to me even when I pretend I don't hear you.  I thank you for your generosity and patience.  Please Lord, continue to do miraculous works in my life and in those reading this.  May I always be honest before you and continue to hear your voice and do as you ask.

Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT) Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God - truly righteous and holy. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 10

After such a glorious church service yesterday, I was really struggling to make it through the day.  Sunday’s have notoriously been difficult for me. I used to attribute it to spending every Sunday afternoon watching NASCAR with a former beau.  Oh, the things ladies do for their men.  But I haven’t watched NASCAR since that relationship ended (thank you, Jesus). 

One new thought - Satan may be just waiting for me to be alone to insert thoughts to bring me down.  I know the tools that I have to fight this kind of attack!  Prayer and God's Word.  However, I allowed myself to suffer and wallow in my misery all day yesterday.  I even went back to stuffing myself with food to try to mask the pain.  It hasn't worked in the past, and as before, I felt even guiltier for running to food for comfort instead of God.  

Finally, I gave up and went to bed even though I wasn't tired.  I decided to write in my Thousand Gifts journal .  My motives were divided:  Part of me was inflicting punishment for focusing on negative thoughts all day and turning to anything but God.  Another part of me desperately wanted to see some glimmer of light in the darkness.  

#721 I am thankful God is near, even when I don’t feel Him.  He is not bound by the limit of my feelings.  He is constant and He is faithful.

If I did this activity every day, I would only need to write 3 to reach 1,000 gifts in one year.  Yet, I teeter between spurts of writing and forgetting to be thankful.  Last night, I wrote from 719 – 742.  I didn't stop thanking God for the gifts He has given me until my heart and mind were in a better place.  Then I slept.  Peacefully.

This morning, God’s gift to me was written in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young:

I love you with an everlasting Love.  The human mind cannot comprehend My constancy.  Your emotions flicker and falter in the face of varying circumstances, and you tend to project your fickle feelings onto Me.  Thus, you do not benefit fully from My unfailing Love.
 Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Thank you, God, for your affirmations.  Thank you for knowing exactly what I needed to hear at this precise moment in time.  Thank you for loving me despite my fickle emotions and reactions.  Thank you once again for your forgiveness and mercy and grace.  You are good.  I love you, Jesus!  (((hugs)))

Sunday, October 7, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 9

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

Today is Sunday on a rainy, cold holiday weekend.  I was secretly praying I wouldn't have to help with the little kids during the 2nd service. By this point, my back was killing me and I didn't have time to ice my back before heading to church.  Praise Jesus, they didn’t have many kids and they released us!  We had a pager in case there was a major influx of children, so we had to stay in the service for a second time, but at least I was able to sit!  Thank you, Jesus!  It was a fabulous message that ties right into the 30 day challenge verses from John.

John 17:20-21 (NLT)
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

John chapter 17 provides Jesus’ last will and testament before being arrested and crucified.  
  1. Jesus prayed for himself.  He asked God the Father to glorify Him, so that He in turn could glorify the Father. 
  2. Jesus prayed for his disciples. He asked God the Father to protect them from the evil one.  He had protected them while he was on earth, but he asked for God to step in and maintain their protection after Jesus joined his Father in heaven.
  3. His last prayer before paying the brutal punishment for OUR sin was to pray for “all who will ever believe in me through their message.”  When Jesus prayed for all believers, he prayed for unity.  The unity he requested was not only among all believers, but also unity with Jesus and God the Father.

What if all believers world-wide created a united front and only focused on what will glorify God? It would make all our petty disagreements look small and insignificant.  As the pastor stated, one of the biggest dangers churches face is disunity.

Satan will use any tactic possible to make the church unappealing to those who don’t know God.  If non-believers look at us and see hypocrisy, back-stabbing and gossip, what would make them want what we have?  They experience that every day.  Why would they want to know God if it’s more of the same chaos?

Our unity can be a catalyst for surrender.  Our disunity can be a roadblock. 

John 13: 34-35 (NLT) So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Jesus commanded us to love each other - just as he loved us.  Our love and unity will the differentiating factor to lead others to Jesus.  

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. 
God, please use me to prove your love.  May I draw others to you and not push them away.  May your love for me fill me up to overflowing so it is passed to everyone I meet.  

1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 (The Message)
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 8

For an explanation of the 30 day challenge, please read Day 1.

I am so thankful that God gives me second chances.  However, in my case, it’s more like 3rd, 4th, and 10th chances.  While I've been writing about my back and fully expecting healing, I haven’t been focused on what this challenge is all about.  It’s about God’s word.  It’s about digging into these passages of scripture.  It’s not about God performing miracles in my life (however, I still fully expect Him to).  It’s about me opening myself up to what God is saying in the verses.  
Lord, forgive me for losing focus and for making this all about me.  I ask that you speak to me through these verses and open my eyes to see what you want me to see.  By reading these verses out loud, let my mouth speak the words you want my ears to hear.  By holding your Word in my hands, let me feel what you want me to feel. 

God is good.  I only made it through 4 verses before He spoke to me and stopped me in my tracks.
Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…

Jesus, this has been my heavy on my heart for days now.  I feel lost.  I find joy in serving you and writing these blogs.  Yet, I do not feel joy at work.  I remembering enjoying my job at one time, but that seems so long ago.

Do I doubt my job because they are asking me to take a certification exam that I have failed already?  Lord, you know how terrified I am to take that exam again.  You also know that I have not done my part in studying.  I have so many friends praying for motivation and understanding of my studies.    

It makes me question everything. Going back to Ephesians 1:18, what is the hope that you have called me to?  Lord, should I delay the exam?  Should I take it at all? 

The first thing that comes to mind is the sacrifice of getting my degree.  It took me 6 years.  I was working full-time and going to school.  I missed out on many social activities.  I missed out on a “real” college experience.  Instead, I had to balance school and work and fight for that degree.  In the end, it was worth it.  I know you carried me all those years.  I know you motivated me through family and friends to just keep pushing through, keep going, and don’t give up. 

Thank you for that reminder, Jesus.  This exam is temporary.  This exam is not the end of the world.  I have prayer warriors that are surrounding me with support.  As I learned at the retreat, my past does not define my identity.  My past failure does not dictate my future victory. 

Jesus, I thank you for your incomparably great power!  I thank you that the same power that raised you from the dead is available to me!  I thank you that I am not alone in this difficulty, but you are right here with me.  I thank you that God placed all things under your feet – especially this exam!  You are in control!  I ask once again for you to please give me the motivation to study, the wisdom and revelation and comprehension to understand what I am studying, the retention to remember it, and also Jesus please help me to focus only on the areas that will be on my specific test. 
John 14:12-14 (NLT) [Jesus said] “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!"

In the name of Jesus, I cast out distraction.  In the name of Jesus, I cast out failure.  In the name of Jesus, I cast out fear.  In the name of Jesus, I cast out the pain in my back!

In the name of Jesus, I accept victory into my life.  In the name of Jesus, I accept focus while studying.  In the name of Jesus, I accept peace.   In the name of Jesus, I accept healing for my back!


Friday, October 5, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 7

For an explanation of the 30 day challenge, please read Day 1.

I didn't have time to write about Day 7 because I went to work for the first time all week.  I wasn't able to take my pain meds for my back and I forgot my ice packs at home.  However, by the strength of God, I survived!  Then, I went home and slept for 12 hours. J

Sharon Glasgow posted a blog (click here) yesterday that shared her experience at our women’s retreat!  To God be the glory!  

New Hope Church 2012 Women's Retreat at Skycroft

Thursday, October 4, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 6

An amazing thing happened yesterday.  I did the unthinkable (for me).  Opening up.  Being vulnerable.  Letting others in.  I posted several blogs yesterday without stopping to think of the consequences.  I didn't worry about who would read them or who wouldn't read them.  I just posted them.  No regard for anything other than – this is me.  This is me without makeup on, still in my jammies at 4 p.m.

It reminds me of another miracle I've experienced this year.  In sharing prayer requests, no matter how seemingly small, I've experienced the healing of power of opening up and sharing the burden.  In letting others pray for me, I no longer have to carry the weight alone.  It is an instantaneous feeling of relief.  My small group leader mentioned that it is related to bringing the issue/struggle to the light.  When Satan has us pinned down under the weight of the burden, it seems too much for us to carry.  We feel shame, fear, and loneliness.  But when we fight through the dark veil and reach out for someone to join us in the fight and hold our hand through the dark times, the dark veil is lifted.  No, an answer may not come right away, but knowing that you have support, love, and friends fighting with you brings peace and comfort. 

Praise God, my pain is noticeably less today!  I don’t feel like I’m walking as crooked as I was yesterday.  I was able to get out of bed without contemplating how to experience the least amount of pain.  I feel so rested today, but was told by my manager to just stay home and get better.  I’m not one to argue logic (ha!), so I am enjoying day 4 of being in my jammies.  It may be time to consider a load of laundry…

There are some major blessings that have come from this ordeal.  1) I feel rested.  2) I've talked to my mom a minimum of 2 times every day.  Before, she and I barely spoke once a week!  Surprisingly, we have a lot to talk about!  I am so thankful for our relationship and her love for me.  She even offered to come to my orthopedic appointment next week.  J  I told her not to, but I appreciated her concern and sacrifice! 3) I've been able to catch up on some reading and studying that I fell way behind. 4) I've been able to cuddle and have some kitty time.  I try not to be crazy-cat lady, but I do love them dearly.  They are so sweet and little Gracie comes over to cuddle the second that I start crying.  Every time.  That’s love right there.

As I mentioned yesterday, when contemplating with a friend as to why God would bring me to this place of pain, the first thing that came to mind was that God wants me to rest.  I know I say this too often, but God is good, He is patient with me, and extremely merciful in my stubbornness.  He knows that I need at least 3 confirmations of something before I grasp the lesson.

I don't believe I blogged about this, but I had been fighting exhaustion for a few weeks.  Last week, it came to a head and I started having chills like I was fighting a fever.  I was so tired that I wanted to just lay my head on my desk at work and rest for about 4 hours.  One night, I made it home from the office, fed the kitties, didn't bother with eating dinner myself, and went to bed at 7 p.m.  I didn't wake up until 7 a.m.  However, I felt refreshed and the chills/fever were gone.  

Today, I was talking to my mom about resting for the Sabbath.  I still struggle with that.  I cannot comprehend how to fit it into my schedule.  During the week, I work.  Saturdays are occupied with errands or social activities.  Sunday is for church and I usually end up going to lunch with friends and running errands.  Also, I have to fit household chores in there too.  How do I devote a whole day to rest?  What constitutes rest?  Reading?  Beading? Blogging?  I just can’t wrap my brain around it. 

On top of all that thought about rest, I have small group tonight and I was scheduled to meet with my leader before group.  I told her I had to pray about it because since I've been home, I haven’t been praying over decisions.  I've missed several God-honoring activities this week due to my back pain.  I wasn't sure if this was spiritual warfare or God telling me I had to rest.  Immediately, Gracie came over and cuddled.  She was purring so loud and loving on me.  That was all it took.  I knew God wanted me to rest.  I do too much.  I have a hard time saying, “no”.  As an added confirmation, here is how God spoke to me through “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young:

Though the Holy Spirit is infinite, He deigns to be your Helper(Deigns means to lower yourself. The Holy Spirit stoops to my level to help me.)  He is always ready to offer assistance; all you need to do is ask.  (Why don’t I ask for help?)  When the path before you looks easy and straightforward, you may be tempted to go it alone instead of relying on Me.  (My independent tendencies are not something to be proud of.) This is when you are in the greatest danger of stumbling.  (Ahem. Debilitating back pain, anyone?) Ask My Spirit to help you as you go each step of the way.  Never neglect this glorious Source of strength within you. (Jesus, please forgive my pride and independence of trying to do everything on my own.  I am nothing without you and you are the source of my strength.  Please direct my every step and guide my decisions so I can learn to rest in you and only take on the responsibilities you would have me do.)

Even God-honoring activities can be detrimental to my spiritual life if I am not following God’s leading.  I must actively choose to practice being still so I can hear God’s whisper in the whirlwind.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 5

I woke up still in pain today, but it does seem to be less each morning.  Thank you, Jesus! I was taking my time trying to evaluate whether or not to go into work because I didn't want to risk it – especially if it spasms while driving.  I took the anti-inflammatory meds to see if it would ease the pain enough to go to work.  After a while, the pain increased and I knew I would have to take the pain meds.  Unfortunately, yesterday they made me nauseous and I had to lie down.  So, I let my manager know that I wouldn't be able to make it in today either but to let me know if he needed anything from me.  If I had to be on a call, I could time the meds so I would be coherent for a conversation. 

I took the pain meds this morning and called my mom to let her know I wasn't going into work and that it still hurt.  She has been so supportive through all this.  She was so sweet to even say that dealing with pain has to burn calories even if I can’t exercise. J  God bless her!

Last night, I was feeling sad a little.  While I love my alone time, I don’t enjoy forced alone time.  I feel like I don’t have any options because I can’t go to work and I can’t drive.  I love how God answers prayers before I actually form the sentences.  I know that God is here with me and I know that I do have friends praying for me.  He then blessed me with 4 friends contacting me within 2 hours through 1 email, 1 text conversation, and 2 phone calls.  God is GOOD! J  The last phone call was really special.  She said, "Sometimes God causes pain in our life to try to teach us something."  I told her that the first thing that came to mind is to slow down and restBe still.   

If I ever publish my journals from this year, I felt over and over again that while my One Little Word is “love”, the lesson for the whole year has been to wait, be still, and be patience.

Psalms 27:13-14 I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalms 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:  He will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

After all that contemplation, I was going through my hundreds of emails clogging my inbox - deleting them and cleaning them up as best I could.  I came across one that was only a scripture, but considering what I’m going through right now with my back pain, I read it with new meaning. 

(...the paraphrased promise of Isaiah 66:9 NCV)
Ann Voskamp
One Thousand Gifts

Lord, please show me what new thing you are creating in me, reveal to me what is being birthed through this pain.  Help me to see your hand at work in my life and may I not be a stumbling block for those around me.  May I always point them directly to you.  Thank you, Jesus that you are not finished with me yet.  That you are continually transforming me to be more like you every day.  I thank you for the pain. I thank you for this time to refocus my priorities.  May my priorities be led and managed by you and may your will and way be clear to me like a lighted path.  Help me to follow your direction and guidance with unfettered obedience.  This is new territory for me and I lay down my desires so you can give me your desires.

So, today, after I took my pain pills, I knew I had about 45 minutes before I would feel the need to lie down.  I was feeling slightly better, so I started to clean off my couch and coffee table.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly things get piled up and especially when I’m not feeling well.  I want everything close to me, so I keep piling things higher and higher.  

As I was going through the junk mail and papers piled high, I found prayer card after prayer card from the women in my small group.  I found birthday cards to others that I never mailed out.  Letters I never responded to.  Books I hadn't read in over a month.  Many things were lost in the shuffle and forgotten. 

On one trip to the kitchen to throw a pile of old magazines away, I looked over at my piano and had a desire to play for the first time in about a year.  Then I saw what song the book was open to, “Our God Reigns”.  I am so out of practice, but there was joy in playing the piano again and singing praises to my God.  It was a special moment because despite this trial, my God does reign.  He gave me the desire to play the piano.  He gave me this piano for FREE.  He loves the music even though the piano needs tuned and my singing isn't great either.  He doesn't need me to sound as good as the worship team at church, He just appreciates the effort and time spent worshiping him.  

Thank you, Jesus that I don’t need to be perfect with you.  You take my offering as it is, no matter how off key I sing or how out of tune my instrument sounds.  To you, it is beautiful music.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 4

My dear sister-in-law, Linda, took such good care of me!  She was the one to take me to the ER last night and today, she took me to get my prescriptions and to the grocery.  Praise God - my prescriptions cost $8 total and my grocery bill was small enough to pay cash.  It's amazing how little I need when I'm only focused on buying the essentials!

I think I did a little too much walking at the grocery, but at least I was moving a little.  My back hurts still and it is very difficult to walk or stand up from a sitting position.  I can’t pick up heavy objects (over 5 pounds) and I can’t stretch to reach things.  But, I was very thankful that I was able to shower today.  In my shower, I thanked God that I don’t have any broken bones, that I can raise my hands over my head, and that I can stand long enough to clean up.  Another huge praise, I got out of bed in less than 5 minutes AND I managed to get both socks on in about 10 minutes or so.  We are making progress! J   God is good!

Linda was sharing a story about a friend of hers that is going through a really hard trial in her life.  She was saying how everything lined up for God to make the problem go away, but at the last minute – it didn't.  Linda said the most profound thing.  There must be some reason that this trial wasn't taken away from her.  She needs to just praise God for this trial and through this trial. 

That really resonated with me.  I think she is correct.  I need to praise God through this trial, even if I’m not seeing healing immediately.  After our retreat, I felt like God would heal me immediately just like Sharon’s husband Dale or her mother.  Then again, her mother didn't heal completely, she just didn't die.  Jesus, I trust you through this trial.  I thank you for all the people praying for me and I thank you for your love and strength to get through this together.  I am also thankful for pain meds.  J

I just read the passages of scripture today and realize that I was so caught up in the activities of the past few days I forgot to journal about the verses!  I am drowning in God’s love right now.  The fact that my mom was willing to drive here from Ohio to help me, and Linda spent 2 hours in the ER with me after spending all day in court with a friend of hers, and my brother was willing to do whatever was needed to help me.  The women in my small group are praying for me.  God, I thank you for showing me that it’s OK to ask for help (even though I didn’t exactly ask for help).  I thank you for helping me to see your work in all of this.  I thank you for giving me pain meds to ease the intensity of the pain.  I thank you for letting me find a doctor that can see me in the next 10 days.  I thank you that I was in and out of the hospital in 2 hours!  That’s a miracle!  I thank you that I can still walk, sit, and shower.  I thank you that you are with me even now.  I thank you for this back pain to make me slow down.  I thank you for showing me that I need to rest.  I thank you for showering me with resources to grow closer to you.  The Lord’s Table, Sharon’s 30 day challenge, Jesus Calling, THE BIBLE, and all the devotions you’ve given me through email.  God, you are good.  And your love endures forever.  I am worthy.  I am valued.  I am loved.  (((HUGS))) to you, Jesus!  J

Monday, October 1, 2012

30 Day Challenge - Day 3

When I got up at 2:30 a.m. this morning, I saw that one of my friends had texted me at 10:30 p.m. the night before to ask how my hip was feeling.  At the time of her text, I was in bed and physically unable to get out.  I was thanking God that he put my pain on her mind because I know she prayed for me.  She had no idea what happened, but God did and he was already putting people in my life to pray for healing!

As I said in my last post, I did post a prayer request in our small group at 2:30 a.m. because I know we have early risers and I figured the earlier the prayers start the better for me.  We fondly refer to each other as prayer warriors because the prayers are so powerful, I can literally feel them.  

The gal who had texted me about my hip the night before called me around lunchtime and gently told me for the ump-teenth time that I need to see an Orthopedist (she has been patiently telling me this for 11 months when I first hurt my hip).  

Then, I talked to my manager and his wife had back pain so I emailed her to ask what she did to seek help.  She said I should see an Orthopedist to get pain management or physical therapy.  

A few hours later, I called my mom and she said that I needed to go see a doctor, not just my chiropractor.  Ok, Lord, I get it!  I remembered my primary care physician gave me a list of Orthopedists, but I had no idea where it was.  I slowly climbed the stairs to my room and praise Jesus the list was on TOP of the pile on my filing cabinet! J

Dear Lord, please give me the wisdom to find the right doctor that will see me tomorrow.  I pray that I will find a testing center that will give me an MRI or X-rays (which ever are needed) quickly!  And Lord Jesus just to cover every detail, I pray that they will all be covered by insurance and I won’t have to pay much, if anything, out of pocket.  Thank you!

7 p.m. update:  My mom called my brother.  My brother called me and told me that I should have called him (he lives 15 minutes away) and he encouraged me to go to the Emergency Room.  I hesitated, but finally agreed.  Praise the Lord, they got me in very quickly and I was out of there in about 2 hours.  The diagnosis is a muscle spasm.  I received a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and 2 pain meds.  The pharmacy was closed, but I'll get the meds tomorrow.  No tests were performed and no money out of pocket yet!

30 Day Challenge - Day 2

Today I woke up exhausted.  I went to the early Sunday service because I had to help with the little kids at the 11 a.m. service.  God provided super-natural energy to get me through the day and He blessed us well-behaved kids.  As an added bonus, He allowed me to meet with a friend in need after church.  God is good. 

I came home after church and went for a 45 minute walk.  It was glorious outside.  I even ran 4 blocks!  When I got back, I sat down and iced my back – as a precautionary measure.  I talked to my mom and then a friend on the phone.  The last thing I did before I showered was to tell my small group leader that I would type up my notes from the retreat so she could send them out to our small group.  Then I went upstairs to take a shower.  I decided to lift my 5 pound dumb bells and get some arm exercises in. 

At some point during the evening (before or after my shower), I had changed my password.  As an IT security professional, I know that we should never disclose our passwords, but this is an exception because it plays directly into what's going on in my life.  I use a pass-phrase, which allows a longer password.  Part of it says, “Thank God for Healing.” 

After my shower, I came back downstairs and sat down to do The Lord’s Table Bible study (a Biblical weight loss program).  However, as I was sitting there, my back started hurting more and more.  It got so bad, I couldn't sit any longer.  I had to stand.  I could barely get myself up off the couch.  Then I went to pick up my laptop that weighs between 5-7 pounds.  I dropped it.  Thankfully not far, but I must have hurt my back when I lifted those 5 pound dumb bells! 

Immediately, I recognized this was spiritual warfare.  The ONLY thing I can think of is that I agreed to type up the notes from the retreat to share with our group.  I was also praying some powerful prayers for friends that are going through difficult times in their life. 

In every way possible, I was proclaiming in the name of Jesus, praising Jesus, casting out Satan and His demons, and accepting God’s spirit of healing.  I thought of what friend had shared that when she felt a spirit suppressing her at home, she finally had the courage to command it to leave in Jesus' name.  Yet, she didn't think to protect her children.  She felt like the spirit must have left her and tormented her daughter.  I wondered if I was able to release my friends that I was praying over earlier and the spirits were angry enough to torment me in the only way they could.

I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. because all I could think of was laying horizontally.  I wasn't tired, but I knew that I couldn't lay on the couch because I wouldn't be able to get up.  Going to bed helped alleviate the pain.  But, I could hear my cat downstairs knocking things over and acting like a spaz, I wondered again if that was spiritual warfare!  So I was praying for him and casting out whatever was tormenting him (he’s usually lazy).  At 2:30 a.m., I woke up to go to the bathroom and couldn't get out of bed.  I was in so much pain and no matter how I moved, it HURT.  I cried, I begged Jesus to help.  30 minutes later, I was out of bed.  Going to the bathroom was another painful experience.  Getting back into bed was painful.  I had the where-with-all to turn off my alarm and grab my cell phone.  If my alarm went off, there is no way I could get to it in less than 30 minutes!!  So, I took the time to post a prayer request in my small group.  I fell back asleep and woke up around 7 a.m.  I was still in pain, and again, I couldn't get out of bed. 

I have been praising God, reading my 30 day challenge verses, praying, and taking Advil.  No relief yet.  I will keep (pray until something happens).