Wednesday, September 28, 2016

for when you have to venture out to come home

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”  ~Mark Twain

The exact moment I came across these words is unremembered but the encouraging, challenging, and to be honest a bit convicting feelings they left will not soon be forgotten.  Framed on our wall surrounded by photos of transcontinental and worldwide adventures, Mark Twain's challenge stands, reminding me that while I am dearly loved I am small in comparison to the great big world God created.

I married a thrill-seeker, an adventurer, a roots had never grown down too deep mover, a traveler and experience collector.  He married a homebody, a lover of familiar comforts, a rooted Southern girl who originally couldn't bare to be transplanted too far from her original bed, one who longed to see but feared to venture out.  We are a perfect clash, an iron sharpening an iron, forcing one another to go out and to stay home.  The dance of balancing these two is rarely an easy one, sometimes not a pretty one, but always one that ends up, one way or the other, glorifying the One who is authoring the way.

As an introvert, quiet and alone is not just a wish, it's a necessity.  There are many who flourish in the midst of the bustle, and there are many others who can only step into the bustle because they have learned they first need to flourish in the still corner.  However, with it comes the temptation to stay in the corner of safety and solitude, inviting people into my world occasionally but stopping myself before stepping into theirs.  

There is often such a fine line between understanding the needs of the person God created me to be and the sinful heart that overtakes and thinks it knows best. 

Lest you extroverts think you're off the hook though, my personality may not allow me to completely understand enough to speak directly to your needs and struggles, but it could be easily argued that as courageous as it is to be on the go, there is courage in staying still as well.  In the quiet and stillness He speaks to you.  I pray you seek out the quiet to listen.

There have been multitudes of new locations sought, new experiences had, and new people met and better understood these past twelves years of adventuring with my other half.  And the things seen have changed me.  There have been large bustling cities full of lights and voices, homey neighborhoods and towns, quiet serene fields where we were the only ones around, mountain tops encompassing views from hundreds of miles beyond, amazing man-made feats of engineering, awe inspiring cliffs framing divinely created sunsets, and much more.  And whether joyous or difficult there will be things seen that cannot be unseen.

When you venture out I guarantee you will be uncomfortable.  You will see distressing things.  The intimacy of the customary is gone. Stripped you are of your natural habitat, and open you are to the unknown.  Things that your eyes and mind deliberately block out when navigating the well trodden roads, now have to focus on everything in their path ensuring that you can see where you are, ensuring that you will see who else is there as well.  

I have prayed during these times in the past and will continue both for myself and others in the future that blinders will not be put on but that light will shine on the uncomfortable to cause compassion to grow in the heart.  If we believe the Truth that we can not flee from His presence (Ps. 139:7) and we believe the Truth that The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9) than we must believe that the steps we take and the things we see are divinely orchestrated and instead of ignoring them we must allow them to seep into our heart and ask how they are to change us, make us different.

As harsh as this may sound, the assumed and true anguish of others is not there to make you see how much you have been blessed but to stir your heart to be a blessing to others.  Perspective is a miraculous thing.  Seeing the hardships around can absolutely produce a thankfulness within your soul that might not be achieved any other way, but if your only reaction is to mutter to yourself "well at least what I'm dealing with isn't that bad" or the tried and true, southern hand on heart, whispered through pursed lips and teary voice "I am just so blessed" then there is a point the size of this world and beyond that you are missing.  

But beyond the possible hard and unfamiliar, there will be scenes closer to home.

When you venture out, looking at the new and unfamiliar, you will ironically see so many beautiful things and people that are quite familiar.  Mother's pushing babies in strollers listening to the oddest of words their toddlers are spewing out, women and men rushing to work, people cleaning, building, cooking, serving.  Tourists staring at a new environment trying to navigate, trying to take it all in. Locals rushing by maybe somewhat callous to the too familiar charms of the city in which they live.

All the feelings of comfort that come from a well known environment exist in the neighborhood next door and in others halfway around the world.  We all are living in communities, placed there by a divine plan to intermingle, to seek out the bustle or grow on the outskirts of it.  We are not so different, there is a common thread carefully woven by a great Designer that wherever you are can remind you of home.

For me and my introverted self, the best thing about venturing out is the reminder of how I love to come home.  But come home Changed.  Each time away presents opportunities for new growth, better understanding, pricks of the spirit.  Then I go back home ready to jump back into the life He's given bringing in this new knowledge, renewed Spirit, and new desires to be better at and expand His influence in my everyday.  Pushing me onward all the while bringing me home.

The imagery of the prodigal son comes to mind.  There are many ways to extract meaning from that one story and while on the relationship side I relate much more to the older brother than the prodigal, on the seeing the importance of home I am in tune with the prodigal all the way.  At the end no matter what experience came before, he knew the place he needed to be was home in the safe and loving hands of his Father.  He came home having seen and experienced much more than he ever imagined, more than he might have ever wanted.  He came home changed.  He came home knowing that there was one place and one place only he wanted to Abide.

Venturing out puts to death exactly what Mr. Twain claims it will but it also brings about a Light in Life that nothing else can when you see that the venturing out is also a way to see that home is not a brick and mortar or wooden box that houses all your belongings.  Home is a Father who loves, a Son who saves and a Spirit who guides.  That is where I want to abide.  It feels like home to me.

Pray that I always want to come home to Him, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

for when you need to remember what you are given

There is something about being around small children that will cause you to question your sanity. They do not have to have come directly from your body or call you mom, nor does it need to be the same sweet small person following you around.  All that is required is for one or more to be a constant part of your life in some form or fashion. The continued presence of such small people with their energy and words and lack of filters and impulsiveness and overall beautiful not at all self-controlled thirst for life and the actions that are produced from that miniature minded carpe diem philosophy effects your brain cells in a way that causes them to flit away almost without being noticed until you try to speak an intellectual thought without time to process your words before they are let loose.

As a former babysitter, dance teacher, school teacher, and now mom, there have been a slew of wonderful children in my life and therefore a mass exodus of brain cells that once had my back when attempting to produce intellectual thoughts.  Now, and I am hoping you can relate, phrases will at times just spill out of my mouth that cause me to literally stop in my tracks and truly wonder if I have in fact finally gone crazy.  The carefree teenager and young adult mind of this mid thirties woman never imagined I would utter the phrase "We do NOT wash our hair in the toilet."  Never imagined I would stand in confusion trying to discern why I would have strung any of the commands together that I had just given and what on earth did they mean anyway.  I have felt, on more than one occasion, much like Ernest T. Bass learning to read and write.  Nohuntbewareopenandclosenocredit can sound like more Shakespeare than the times when my words come tumbling out in a hurried directive towards a blonde boy or three.

Then, there are those purposeful nonsense words you say, ones that can only be uttered at children for fear of losing your adulthood membership card when said aloud to anyone over 4'6".  Just last week while sitting in the lobby of our youngest's preschool, the other parents and I giggled to each other when hearing a lovely teacher sing a song to her three year olds about flushing the potty and washing their hands.  Every part of me was thankful for her desire to remind and teach about proper hygiene, but that sing song direction initiated a waterfall in my thoughts of phrase after phrase I and others have used to teach and remind depending on the situation at hand.

The one phrase that came before any others is one I guarantee you have heard and possibly said, not only to a child but maybe even to yourself.

You get what you get and you don't pitch a fit.

Its usefulness in the situations in the lives of children is countless.  Its lessons valuable.  Be thankful for what you are given.  Be content.  Do not compare what you have in your possession to what is in the hand of the one next to you.  Have self control in your reactions.  Do not pitch a fit over something that has just been handed to you free of charge.  Adults have uttered these words for so long that children will say them to each other, say them to themselves, and if the said grown up is honest, they have had to turn this phrase around on themselves as well.

In daily life on this world, it is a helpful rhyme that gets quickly to the point and nips many things in the bud before tantrums arise, but somewhere along the line, this quick child-rearing colloquialism can at times shift the view of who God is in our lives.  I have caught myself equating God with a teacher passing out suckers at the end of the day, reaching into the bag with no rhyme or reason, and handing out what happened to be in His hand to the next one waiting in line all the time reminding me that I get what I get so don't pitch a fit.

Forgive me for my doubt of your perfect plan.  Forgive me for my lack of Trust.  Forgive me for forgetting at times the Truth of who and what You are, Creator, Omniscient, God with me.  Forgive me for not remembering your Love.  For not remembering I am your Special Possession.

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13)  He is intentional, specifically designing your heart and life to work out His good for the Kingdom.  He is not random.  You do not just get what you get.  You get what you are given.  You get what He gives.  

What He gives is abounding Love (Ps. 86:15), divinely orchestrated gifts from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12), every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), a holy life --not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace (2 Tim 1:9)

And even better--maybe not better but just as amazing--is the fact that we are told to ask, to make our heart known, then sit as the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guards are hearts and minds then to Trust what comes next because the Lord is at hand. [paraphrase of Phil 4:5-7]

Semantics are important, different ways of phrasing can truly change how a person responds to your instruction or advice, but this is more than semantics, this is better understanding of who God is in your life and who you are because of Him.

We don't get.  We are given to by an Almighty Father.  And we are given so that we can give in return.

Everything you come across in life is ordained and allowed, nothing comes as a surprise to the one holding you in His hands.  It will not all be easy, but it will not all be hard.  It will not all be what you may have requested or imagined, but it will all draw you to Him in life altering, heart altering, magnificent ways.

Your world may even fall apart, but I promise it will get rebuilt.  Slowly or quickly, painfully or peacefully, pieces will come together and what was once crumbling will be made strong when it is built on the Cornerstone.  And you can use all of it to advance the gospel (phil 1:12) and to declare His glory (Ps. 96:3).  

Don't think about what you get, think about what and who you have been given.

Praying faithfully for you today, pray for me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

because I need to be reminded to pray

I wasn't planning on writing today.  Yes, I know Wednesday is my day, the day I set aside all the to-dos no matter what and try to put into words the thoughts that seem to just float around in my head until they are snatched up and tailored to make sense. But not today, today was a day when the no matter whats mattered a little more than normal. 

Tomorrow evening a group of people who have each left a piece of their heart in Romania are gathering at our home to fellowship with and love on the family God used to draw us there.  This loving missionary family and it's many branches are in the US from RO and we are eager to hear the hardships and successes being faced and to assist in filling them up with love so that they can overflow on those so very far away when they return.

Because of this, I had pre-warned my mind that no thoughts were going to be processed today so it would get a little rest, but amidst the cleaning and fall decorating my eyes kept glancing from one object to another and my mind decided it wasn't on vacation after all.

To anyone who knows me well, they know that decorating is one of my favorite things.  It is a hobby that brings me joy, relaxes me, and gives me a creative outlet.  I still have not figured out how to convince my friends to really make good on the request that I come in their homes to help reorganize, rearrange, and redecorate, but one of these days I will hopefully sucker at least one into it.

Though there is an ongoing list in my head of items I'm searching for, I never know when that one special treasure is going to to pop out at me.  While I love the typical spots like Target, Homegoods, and Hobby Lobby, my favorite places are full of once loved and forgotten items or even better, another's free trash that can become my treasure.  The items in my home that bring the biggest smiles are ones that have a story beyond factory to store shelves.  They have either been through something, seen it all and then some, been unearthed from piles others thought were filled with nothing, or been created with the two hands of a loving friend or family member.

Within this treasure trove are a handful of special keepsakes, specifically chosen to remind me of one thing, to pray.  More than souvenirs, these have been taken from special places and purchased from special people and their point extends far beyond home decor.

Leaning on a wall in our entryway is a solid wood door covered in layers of paint.  This door came from the home of a woman forced to leave her home after it had been condemned, a woman living in an area of town ravaged by drugs.  This door stands still not only for looks but to remind me of the families struggling because of addiction, of the children being raised without the basic needs we so often take for granted, of hearts that need healing.

On a shelf in the living room is a watercolor print made by a dear friend, Never Ceases is its infinite reminder.  The picture faithfully sits to remind me to pray for her and her husband as they serve as missionaries in Bogota, as they struggle with the joy and sadness that mixes together when you know you are answering a call in your life but are having to do it so far away from family and friends.

The words are there to remind me to pray for myself and others who need to be reminded that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.

Next to that sweet and beautiful reminder is a metal square with a number and a beautiful white engraved plate.  The number was taken from a home in Romania. This home that looked like it was beyond repair, has now been turned into a two story orphanage, Laney's House, and almost ready to give a loving home to abandoned girls.  Oh how I want to remember those young lives in prayer.

Next to it the plate, handmade by Romanian hands, waits there reminding me to lift up those hands working for it's very life and the lies they are trying to support.

Each of their purposes is great and they do their job faithfully and without complaint, but there is a different truth that happens more often than not.  I walk right by.

Daily, I pass by the beautiful solid wood door, brimming with stories of happiness and heartache, and I do nothing.  Daily, I stare at a shelf filled with beautiful things made for beautiful purposes by beautiful people and my eyes glaze over, recognizing nothing.

Objects are wonderful reminders, when you remember them.  My heart may have the best of intentions to lift others up but on my own I will fail every time.  My heart needs more than visual reminders of a people in need, my heart needs compassion for those people, an ache of love and longing only available through the righteousness given to me through Christ.

Because of Him I am a new creation and because of that I am Holy and Dearly loved and am able to put on a compassionate heart (Colossians 3)

Without the compassion shown to me over and over again from my dear Heavenly Father, I would have no ability to show compassion to another and compassion is a key ingredient when praying for the needs of another.  Compassion fuels your heart's ability to love, to sympathize, to want to help, to want to understand, and to know that there is Hope in the end because the compassion did not come from me it came from and through a Perfect Unfailing Love.  And when I try yet again to remember everything on my own and fail again when I forget everything on my own, that same compassion is what reminds me that I too am in need of the same love, and that I too have it unfailingly.

I don't know how you remind yourself to pray or who is on your heart full of desire to lift up, but I do know that you can't do it alone.

I am praying for compassion to make its way in.

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.