Monday, June 26, 2017

A sure "yes"

Ask and it shall be given unto you.
Seek and ye shall find.
Knock and the door will be opened.

The words Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:7 are so familiar to me that I know them by heart. I can rattle off the passage without skipping a beat but when it comes to living the passage...well, that's another story.

Asking, seeking and knocking should be easy, shouldn't they? When I was a toddler I effortlessly mastered the art of all three. I could ask (read: demand) with the best of them. I willingly asked for anything I needed and everything I wanted. When it came to seeking I did so with eager determination. In my tender toddler years I never had trouble knocking and wasn't the least bit shy when producing repeated rhythmic beats against a wooden door.
Now that I'm older I've lost my boldness in asking and when it comes to seeking God, I am reluctant. Even when I do make it to God's Heavenly door I am hesitant to knock.
God's accessibility is not the barrier standing in the way of my asking, seeking or knocking. I know my Father is patiently awaiting my arrival, prepared to meet me at the door and give hear to my requests. What is keeping me from His door is fear of what might happen after I ask, seek and knock. More specifically, it is what might not happen that has silenced my asking, stopped my seeking and halted my knocking.
I hesitate to ask because I fear that God's answer might not be what I want to hear. My grown-up asks are big, unlike my childish toddler requests. The requests I have now are life transforming... To have full health... To be united with a man of God in marriage... To be a witness for Christ... To have internal damage from disease restored to perfection... requests so significant I've been paralyzed to bring them before God out of fear that He might not answer with a "yes." So to shield myself from the risk of disappointment I haven't asked for healing. To protect my heart against sadness I haven't knocked on the door and asked for companionship or love. 

But in Christ, what do I have to fear? Why should I be afraid to voice my requests to my all-loving and all-knowing God? What is there to fear in the perfect plan and will of God? Doesn't He know when "no" is best and "later" is better? Isn't asking God the surest way to get the right answer? Isn't seeking more of God the only treasure worth pursuing? Isn't knocking an act of belief and faith?
In suspending my asking I thought I was protecting my heart from disappointment when in reality it only alienated me from God. Purposefully refraining from actively seeking God separated me from the peace and fulfillment that is only found in His presence. Pulling my hand away from His door, refusing to knock, has kept my face out of the light and truth of life.

As well as I've known Matthew 7:7 in my head, I am just now knowing it in my heart. Matthew 7:7 isn't about approaching God like Santa Clause, hoping I make it on the nice list. Asking God isn't like going before a genie in a bottle and choosing carefully one magnificent request. Seeking God is certainly not about finding what I think I want.
Asking, seeking and knocking are all about nearness to God. Plain and simple. Pursuing God is never about the blessings I receive or the fulfillment of my worldly desires. Living in Matthew 7:7 faith is about relentlessly pursuing the presence and person of God.

Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I know that there is no need to fear God's response to my every request because His answer is not what I am truly seeking. With a heart united with Christ's, my ask will always be simply for more of God... and His answer will always be "yes." 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Gym Gazelle

I watched her glide across the treadmill at speeds so fast my feet couldn't comprehend it. Her run was effortless, as if she were simply a cloud floating through the sky. Like Bambi leaping through a fitness equipment forest.
Her run featured not one but two treadmills running side-by-side, both at dizzying paces. Without even a minute of warm-up she jumped onto the first treadmill. After a few minutes at 6.2 miles per hour the runner made her leap from treadmill one to treadmill two. Even at 7 miles per our she didn't look the least bit phased. Quite the opposite actually. The runner seemed to be relishing in the ease of the pace.
For the next twenty minutes the running goddess hopped from treadmill to treadmill. By the end of her performance I had nicknamed her the Gym Gazelle and was in complete awe. Not only had she run at draw-dropping speeds for miles, she did it while jumping between moving treadmills and without ever breaking a sweat!
Gym Gazelle jumped off her treadmill, grabbed her bag and went trotting out of the gym with a radiating glow of endorphins. As I watched her leave a case of gym jealousy set in. How did her legs do that? I wondered. I marveled at how her muscles could work so powerfully for miles without legs flaring or knees buckling. I asked myself how could she jump from side-to-side without falling? How did her lungs not fatigue and her eyes not go all blurry from the competition paced speed?
In the Gym Gazelle's beautiful run I saw the physicality I wish I had. I coveted her perfect form and smooth stride. I wanted the muscles in her legs, her strength and even her stability. I wanted the lungs and stamina that were propelling her forward. I wanted the body that could do what she could do.

As jealousy descended on me like a dark shadow, a glimmer of light shined through. Don't be jealous, be motivated. 

In that moment of revelation I realized that envying the Gym Gazelle would never increase my strength, speed or stamina. Coveting had no benefit for my body and certainly wasn't doing my heart any good. My jealousy only poisoned my spirit and sapped me of the desire to live fully in the body God has given me.
That simple revelation changed my attitude and heart. I suddenly saw the Gym Gazelle's performance in a whole new light. Envy disappeared as the Gym Gazelle was transformed into an image of the strength God can empower in the human body. Instead of her run producing pangs of jealousy her performance produced springs of inspiration. The Gym Gazelle was a gift of encouragement running on a treadmill and wink from God cheering me on to run (or walk) every mile of my race with His limitless strength and everlasting joy!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"In love"

I thought I've been "in love" before but now I'm not so sure. You see, I used to believe that love was about how you felt about a person and how that person felt about you. I believed the exchanging of "I love you"s was about mutual affection. I think I had it wrong.
Now I understand that I could never have truly been "in love" before because I didn't know what "in love" really meant. Being in love is not about feeling something for someone or experiencing some kind of special connection. Being in love isn't even about clicking or compatibility.
To truly be perfectly "in love" with someone is to feel the way Christ feels for them; to be "in love" the way Christ is in love with you and I.
In love is about the heart's desire to be sacrificial, giving and generous. To be "in love" is to love through hurts and extend forgiveness. To be "in love" is to be second. To be "in love" is to graciously love past annoying habits and irksome quirk. 
I used to think being "in love" was about the relationship - the hours spent talking, the exchanging of thoughtful gifts and the making of future plans. Now I see that was lust in love's clothing. I was in passion, in excitement, in fascination, in fun, in laughter, in connectedness....but I wasn't in love.  I couldn't have been because I didn't know what love was. I didn't know who love was.
In falling more deeply in love with Christ I am learning that I cannot know true love apart from His indwelling. I cannot love without being tethered to His love. I cannot be truly in love, the way God intended, until I know how to be truly in a united relationship of love and devotion with my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Today I love Christ with more passion than I did yesterday or the day before. I love Him more every day. That is true love; that is being truly in love. I know that now because I know love in Christ.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Life DIYer

I am, by nature, a do it yourself-er. Or, as you HGTVers would call it, a DIYer. Now, I'm not trying to claim that I'm the next Bob Villa. I'm not a DIYer in the "drywall the basement," "fix the exploding sink" kind of way. That would be helpful but I'll admit I'm not that kind of handy.
I'm what you might call a "Life DIYer." I enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishing tasks independently, all on my own. Much of my self-worth has been built on my self-reliance. I can navigate a map. I can cook my own meals. If the TV isn't turning on I'll monkey around with the buttons and plugs on my own or at least be the one to call the cable company to reset the box. If you have a problem I want to be the one to figure out the answer. That is, unless you give me your taxes. If you bring me your taxes I will tell you to file an extension. In high school and college I never was one for group projects. I didn't want to depend on the work of others. I wanted the entire responsibility all for myself.
I was born with a strong independent streak. Some might call it a stubborn independent streak and they may be right. I resist help even when it is offered in love and care. I turn down assistance even when it would aid in my endeavor. I used to think my independence didn't harm anyone else. If I choose to carry ten bags of heavy groceries in one load from the car to the kitchen counter my arms were the only arms being taxed. It made sense to me that if I willingly subjected myself to the unnecessary grocery load burden the only once I was hurting was me - and my arms. I reasoned that I was getting things done myself and my efficient, sometimes painful, way.
For years, even as my body became weaker and sicker, I maintained my independence. The simplest tasks, such as carrying Pippy up the slippery wooden steps, are infinitely tougher than they used to be or should be, but still I have refused help. Having placed such a high value on my self-reliance I have fought with ever ounce of my little being to be the Life DIYer I was before I became ill.
As severely as I've been chronically ill, I've been chronically stubborn, too. Neither one has done my body or my spirit any good. What's more, being chronically stubborn and refusing to allow others to help and assistant me when I'm weak and in need hasn't been a blessing for the one's offering the aid. I thought I was the one blessing them, sparing them the trouble when really I was robbing them of the opportunity to be a blessing. I
My body, and my spirit, have had to become tragically weak and fragile for me to see that I can't do life all on my own. I could ruse a little help from my friends and the people who love me. I should be grateful for their compassion and willingness to give.
Slowly but surely, this stubborn DIYer is learning that if God so supplies the offer of a loving soul I should be gracious enough to accept their act of sacrifice. If God so compels a person to be a giver I should humbly embrace their gift of love in action.
Being a DIYer is a great characteristic to embody when your lost by yourself and all you have is a map. Being a DIYer when your body is failing and you simply need someone to help you carry the dog up the steps is just plain stubborn.
As my body is made weaker my understanding of who I am in Christ is made stronger, instilling in me the true source of my self-worth. My value is not rooted in my ability to accomplish every task and Bob Villa Life DIY project on my own. My worth is in being a child of God. No matter how much help I may need or how fragile I become, I am a cherished and treasured prized daughter of the King.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Reminicing

Do you remember summertime as a kid? I do and it was glorious. Mom would put out the sprinkler in the front yard where my friends and I would dart back and forth between the rotating streams of cold water. Barefoot and full of adventure I would climb the trees and dangle from branches. When I got older I traded in the tree for the backyard shed and declared myself "Queen of the World" from atop its shingled roof.
During the summer I could spend hours riding my bike up and down the street and all around the neighborhood. I relished the freedom to peddle my way over to my friend's houses and I never missed an opportunity to run after the ice cream truck. The day my taste buds discovered the Choco-Taco I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Now that I'm older summers have changed and they don't declare "freedom" the way they used to. It's more than just the June release from school and a warm-weather increase in ice cream consumption that's changed. Everything about my summers are dramatically different.
Now during summers I can't spend as much time outdoors and certainly not in the heat of the day. My spastic muscles can't take it. I don't run through sprinkles or jump into pools of frigid waters. My body's thermostat doesn't tolerate that activity, either. I can't ride a bike like I did as a kid because my rear has lost all of its cushioning. And I can't eat ice cream - not unless I want a debilitating stomach ache.
I know it is possible to get winter blues, but is it possible to suffer from summer blues? I think it must be, because on some hot, beautiful and bright summer days I get a little melancholy when I remember summers the way they used to be, when I could embrace them and relish them in all of their sun-shiny glory. I'll admit that on some summer days the tune of my heart has hummed a gloomy, "I'll be so blue just thinking about you" instead of a cheery, "I want to soak up the sun."
At the heart of my summer blues is sadness at what used to be and what is now. I used to be healthy and well and the season of summer embodied that season of my life. From my perfectly golden tan to the strength in my legs to pedal my bicycle for hours, everything about summer was good and right, the way I thought it always would be. For years I have been singing the blues over the loss of summer but not today. Today I am singing a new summer song. A song of freedom.
Whether or not I ever lay on a beach again and soak up a golden tan, I will relish freedom. If I never bite into an ice cream cone again, I will savor freedom. Regardless of my body's thermostat or the stamina and strength in my legs, I will celebrate freedom.
I will sing about freedom from the chains of regrets. I will dance because I am free from the burden of worry and fear. I will smile for the freedom from loneliness and relish the freedom to enjoy silence. I will cherish the freedom to rest and choose the freedom to live in peace over anxiety. I will celebrate because I am free to embrace life and experience it with joy!
Without need a BBQ or a beach I will choose to rejoice in the true freedom of Christ and sing an everlasting song about the Savior who broke my chains of bondage so that I may live in a perpetual season of summer freedom.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The balloon watch continues....

For weeks I have been watching the deflated balloons stuck in my neighbor's tree. When I introduced you to this particular bundle of balloons I described to you my dreams and how God has been trapping them. Then I told you about the discovery that one of the balloons had dropped from the tree on the same day I found a deflated balloon lying on the ground. In that balloon I saw a dream reenter my life although the big reveal of which particular dream became a reality in that balloon drop is still to come.
A few days after one balloon dropped and turned up in the woods, another balloon went missing. This one hasn't turned up just yet. It was a red balloon so keep your eyes peeled and let me know if you see it hanging from a tree or laying in a forest.
So all that has been left in the tree is one balloon. A black balloon. For days the balloon's string has been tangled up in the tree limbs and its round shape has been in tact, floating up and down in the wind. Then a storm came and beat the last balloon to a pulp. It is practically unrecognizable. The balloon looks like a trash bag wrapped around bark. It isn't a pretty sight and it isn't the least bit festive. The balloon looks like decorations gone bad.
The latest development in my balloon dream sage is troubling. If that black balloon is a representation of my dreams what does that say for them? Are they as doomed as the tree's black balloon ravaged by the wind and punctured by pointy branches? Is that the fate of my dreams? To be confused as high-flying trash? To be unrecognizable as anything beautiful, celebratory and joyful?
The enemy wants me to lose hope in my dreams. The black balloon lingering in the tree is nearly taunting me with the temptation. Give up on them. Those balloons are doomed. Your future and the dreams you have for it are going to end up as good as trash. This is the enemy's goal. He wants to use darkness to overcome me and he'll use any means necessary. Even black balloons.
To keep my faith in my dreams and keep the hope in my balloons alive I must make the choose to trust God regardless of the color and condition of my balloons. Even when storms come and ravage them, I have to decide to believe that God is in control. When the balloons look like trash I have to claim the promise that God is in the business of restoration - even dream restoration. When balloons go missing, I must reaffirm my confidence in God's ability to rescue them and His timing to reveal them.
The enemy wants to use my black trash bag balloon dream to destroy my faith in God. He wants to shake my foundation and disturb my dream life. But what satan means for evil, God means for good. Instead of buying into the enemy's lies, I am recommitting to God's truth. He has my dreams. He is protecting them and they will come true. No scheme of the enemy can thwart my God. No storm of satan can destroy His plan. God has a future for me and it is full of beautiful, glorious, eternal dreams. My faith, trust and assurance is in God and the balloons He is holding up for me in Heaven.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

To the afflicted

Dear Afflicted One,
I received word that you are suffering. The report was not breaking news to me. I already knew you were in terrible physical distress. I knew because I've been watching. I have seen every hardship you've faced and every malady you've endured. Believe me when I tell you that not a single one of your aches or pains has gone unnoticed by me. I've been witness to them all but you already knew that much. It is not my presence that you've doubted, it is what I'm doing in your presence that troubles you.
My heart nearly broke when I read your words. "What kind of God would allow such suffering?" How could it be that you've walked with me so long, spent so much time in my company, and still doubt what kind of God I am? Have I not shown myself to be loving? Have I withheld from you any eternally good thing? Have I ever abandoned you, even at your very lowest?
Beloved, I am not here to guilt you into trusting me. I cannot coerce you to have faith. I can only reassure you of what is true. It is up to you to believe it.
The truth is this: there is a purpose in your pain. You are not an afflicted one for nothing. You have been divinely chosen. This life is my plan designed for you and you only.
I cannot reveal the whole plan to you just yet it but I can reveal to you the mission. It is to make you more like Jesus. That is the purpose of all of this. From the pain in your back to the loss of vision in your eyes to the emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. The pain is all pointing in one direction: unification with Jesus.
Oh, I know what you're thinking. You don't feel united with Him while you are cursing your illness and crying out in agony. I know, I hear your words and they are not songs of praise. They are songs of the Psalms and laments of pain. But, take heart, dear Child because even the Psalmist finishes on a high note of praise to the Lord.
If ever you doubt that the pain you are feeling has a reason beyond the here and now, look to Jesus. He is my gift to you. He has saved you into this earthly affliction to deliver you from eternal affliction. He suffered and knew the most brutal pain but that wasn't the end of Jesus' story. He is here with me now, seated in perfection, free of even the tiniest ache and pain. He fulfilled His mission. His thorny crown of suffering was transformed into a radiant crown of glory.
Beloved, you have not received your final crown yet. Yours still has thorns but they are thorns for a purpose, part of a grander plan to be made more like Jesus.
So, to answer your question, that is the kind of God I am. The one and only God who saved you. God who sees your flaws, your sins and your transgressions and loves you anyways. Your Father God who loves you enough to save you and spend every minute of every hour with you. I am the God who designed you as a one of a kind, with a plan for your life that is unlike any other. God, the only one who will never abandon. I am your God who is readying you for eternity and polishing up your crown.
Dear Afflicted, I see more than just your every moment of suffering. I see the entire plan and the eternal purpose. I promise that if you trust me and put all of your faith in me one day you, too, will see the glorious, eternal purpose for your pain.