Monday, August 23, 2010

Those aren't groceries, they're ingredients!

As the cashier scanned and bagged the items I had presented for purchase, I went about my business, swiping my debit card and transfering the packed bags to my cart. Suddenly the woman two customers behind me piped up, "Whatchya makin'?" "Fajitas," I replied. "I knew it," she exclaimed, "those aren't just grocieries, they're ingredients!" The Top Chef in me grinned from ear to ear.

I chuckled for a long way home. Then I got to thinking that this woman must also have an inner Top Chef. Somehow she recognized that this was not a mundane trip to the grocery store, but a deliberate attempt to create something special. I didn't share with her that I was also making salsa and guacamole and some kind of yummy dessert that involves ice cream and coconut. But she didn't need to know that to be able to see this was going to be no ordinary meal. I don't always cook this way, this day was special, a meal with friends.

Thinking about how carefully I selected my ingredients to prepare a special meal, I started to think about how I don't always prepare this well for my daily spiritual walk. I really admire people who do so. These are the true Top Chefs of God's kingdom. The ones who seem to have perfected their recipe for a healthy spiritual walk which usually includes fresh daily servings of a devotional and prayer time in the morning, some form of Scripture study and liberal servings of ... well, serving - acts of service to those around them.

I have to admit though that while I aspire to this level of excellence, I'm more like a Top Chef wanna-be. I often cook a little extra so that I won't have to spend time cooking for every meal. Sometimes I serve leftovers. (And let's face it, my dad's Turkey Chowder really does taste better the second time around!) Some days, instead of being able to have eggs for breakfast, I am only able to grab a quick bite of cereal or a granola bar. Other days I might be able to have fruit and toast with my eggs. And then there are the days that I'm craving an omelet, but as I prepare it, a piece of shell falls in and I have to struggle to fish it out.

All this to say that despite my best intentions, life is happening all around me. And while I may not get eggs and fruit everday I rarely, if ever, just skip eating all together, as you can tell by my girlish figure! Sometimes I eat that granola bar in the car - with my favorite hymns and praises songs playing in the background, or a chapter of the Bible on my iPod piped through the radio, sending up little bursts of praise and prayer while driving. On those days my spiritual tummy grumbles throughout the day, and I may have to have a more substantial meal later.

Other days I do get that omelet and I can linger over it, truly feasting on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, able to offer up a soliloquy of prayer that tastes sweet as the words fall off my tongue. When I'm done feasting my spiritual tummy feels stuffed, but like all good meals it lasts just long enough that I know I'll want my favorite snack for dinner - popcorn, cheese and apples - light but tasty.

Still other days I don't get my spiritual breakfast until I get to where I'm going for the day, such as the Tuesday morning women's gathering at church. That's like getting to eat out with someone else doing the cooking! A lot of days I play restaurant and have the privilege of preparing and serving up a meal. And when I am wandering around in a spirtual wilderness, I am keeping my eye out for the Manna that only God can provide.

I may never get to a place in my life where I nail down the exact "daily recommended servings," but as I say grace over each meal I hope to remember the words of our precious Jesus. "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." (John 6:29) The essential ingredient for every meal!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, August 13, 2010


My husband smiled at me this morning after I handed him a paragraph to read out of Francis Chan's Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. "Sounds like The Land Between," he responded, at which point I held up the other book I'm reading by Pastor Jeff Manion. "Double-dipping?" he asked. I just smiled back. My husband finds particular delight in this exchange because it is usually I who rolls my eyes at this peculiar habit of reading more than one book at a time.

It's probably not as peculiar a habit as I think it is. Many of you might be asking, "What's wrong with that?" To which I would point out some obvious draw-backs, such as how much it clutters the night stand, not to mention getting confused about which book contained which paricualr piece of wisdom. My poor ADD-addled brain hurts just thinking about it.

Your next question might be "So why are you doing it now?" Well, I just can't help myself. God has been speaking to my heart lately about some pretty weighty things, not the least of which is how we have been facing this particular season of our life. Yesterday I mentioned that Howie has been out of a job for about a year. That's a hard place to be, as some of you well know. And although our marriage is well-intact and we are both as committed as ever to sustaining it, it has not been without its struggles.

Recently, my own frustration level was so high that I had to admit to one of my pastors that my thoughts toward Howie lately had been of an imprecatory nature. "Imprecatory?" you ask. Think David's Psalms, where he calls down God's hand of judgment on his enemies. Some how I don't think Stormie O'Martian (The Power of a Praying Wife) would approve and frankly, I wasn't feeeling that great about it either.

That's why I went to my pastor and his wife. I wanted to know how a godly wife handles the type of frustration I was feeling. Thankfully, I have the kind of relationship that allows me to share this way and after a healthy dose of reality and wisdom, I am still able to look my pastor in the eye and say, "Wow, thanks!" Armed with some homework assignments and after Howie's own trip to see the pastor, I'm feeling a little bit better these days.

Then we both had an opportunity to attend a leadership conference where we heard the message that inspired the book, The Land Between. Or maybe the book inspired the message. In any event, Jeff Manion was speaking and we bought the book! If there is a message out there for someone stuck in transition, this is it. Since I was already reading Chan's book and I really need the message of Manion's book ~ yes...I am double-dipping!

Boy am I glad I am. Let me just share with you the two quotes that so spoke to my heart this morning.

From Chan:
"So, if you say you want the Holy Spirit, you must first honestly ask yourself if you want to do His will. Because if you do not genuinely want to know and do His will, why should you ask for His presence at all?" p. 51

and Manion:
"People often quote a common proverb in time of pain and tragedy: 'Time heals all wounds.' I do not find this statement to be necessarily true. Some people heal over time, while others become deeply embittered and acidic...While offering us a greenhouse for growth, the Land Between can also be a desert where our faith goes to die - if we let it. The habits of the heart that we foster in this space - our responses and reactions - will determine whether the Land Between results in spiritual life or spiritual death. We choose." p. 21

I came away from my reading this morning certain that my frame of mind can be the single best ally or my worst enemy in pursuit of godly character. By the way, one of my pastor's homework assignments for me was to wake up each morning and make two lists in my journal. One is a list of all the things I can praise God for, the other is all the things of which I am thankful for Howie.

Wanna do some double-dipping with me? Read these two verses: Romans 8:6 'For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace' and Romans 12:2 'And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.' I guess if I want to get through this tough time of transition in our lives, I really do need to guard my mind-set.

Which brings me back to double-dipping. I used to see it as a confusing and messy way to live. But in reality, when I'm egaged in it, it can be a delightful way to hear confirmation from God. Most importantly, I need to keep dipping daily, especially into His word. After all, this sheep's gotta eat too!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth

This morning when I woke up I had a beautiful sight outside my front windows. A thick mist hung over the water while the sun came beating down around it. I could see the island across the way peeking out of the mist and the picture was just stunning. "Good Morning, Lord," I thought as I ran for my camera. I wanted to capture that sacred moment to savor later.

Summer has all but eluded us here in our fair little corner of Washington state. Just the other day my friends and I were speculating that Spring had skipped over Summer and gone straight to Fall as we found ourselves wrapped in sweaters and blankets in August! But this morning the sun was streaming in my front windows, so I decided to have some quiet time with the Lord in Nonna's old rocking chair right in the sunlight.

I never imagined the sacred time that I would have there today. But even as I prepare to share it with you, I'm feeling a little stingy with the memory of it. Even so, it is an important moment to put down in writing because, just as I wanted to savor the beautiful sight outside my window, it is a lesson for all of us to savor every unexpected blessing in our lives.

As I sat down with my journal and the Bible study I am just finishing, I looked at the topic of the week which is about God's calling on our lives. So my first words to my Lord were about the blessing of having had a lovely time with the Ladies Summer Study which met for the last time last evening. As I looked around the room at those ladies who had been consistent and finished well, I was struck by the personal relationships I've had with all but one of the women. Each woman there represented a study or ministry opportunity that God had led me to since moving here three years ago.

Each precious face marked a milestone of growth, certainly in my own walk, but also in their own. And the one woman whose face I am just coming to know represents the potential for another relationship and growth in the body of Christ. Remembering those faces and the realization that God had gathered those women for a special time this summer, the words spilled out, words of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of His faithfulness in my life. Words that acknowledged Him as the author of my life and ministry and words of repentance that until last night I had, at times, not been as grateful as I was at this moment.

For months I have been questioning whether I was seeing His direction in my life, whether He was at work in guiding me toward deeper commitment to His work, and because my husband has been out of work for the better part of a year, I was beginning to wonder why He wasn't showing us where He wanted us. But all of those doubts and worries fell away this morning. As I realized how truly blessed I have been to be a part of His work right here where I am, and as I felt His loving arms embrace me and comfort me, I felt like His precious daughter, safe in the lap of her Daddy. I felt freedom to pour out my heart and my tears, to share with Him how much I love Him and want to be the daughter who runs to Him and grabs His hand and says, "Look, this is my Daddy!" And I buried my head in His chest and apologized for doubting Him and begged His forgiveness. And then in a final and sobering moment, I told Him that I never want to be the daughter who brings Him shame and embarassment. He just held me a little closer and let me cry until I was ready to crawl down and get on with my day.

This was a sacred moment indeed. I honestly don't know that I have ever felt this close to my Father God. But for a brief time I truly felt that the gap between heaven and earth was non-existent. I still have questions about what the next steps are on the path He has me on. And as I opened my book to work on my homework, I read the chapter title "Finding God in Unlikely Places." I laughed out loud as my tears turned to utter joy. How like my God to give me one last assurance as He turns to let His other daughters spend time in His lap! Although I still have questions, I certainly have no doubt that I am right where He wills.

Psalm 37:23-24
The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

Praying that you, too find God in unlikely places today!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Work in Progress (or "Thank God He's Not Done With Me Yet!")

Last night I wrote in my journal "Clearly, I am a work in progress! It seems to be two steps forward, one step back these days but progress is being made."

Early in my walk a sweet man in one of our small groups shared a favorite verse with me - "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." Philippians 1:6 I loved the idea that if God started something in me, He would see it through to the end. Not like me, who has been known to start a craft project and lay it aside for months or years even, only to come across it some time later and feel like an utter failure for having given it up before its completion.

Speaking of projects ... I'm nearly done with an organizing project that I hope will bring a little more order and peace to my life. For over a year our bedroom has been a repository for a lot of things that don't belong in a bedroom. Stacks of books and papers, empty suitcases, leftovers from the creation of wedding invitations - a craft project I am happy to say I finished in good time! This week I have been diligent to get everything put away in its place. After a little furniture moving, I am happy to report that the bedroom is now just that - a bedroom, nothing more or less. What a sense of accomplishment!

In the process of getting things put away and, for the most part, organized I came across several of my old journals. Since my early walk I have kept sermons notes, prayers, and the ramblings of a child of God trying to work out her salvation with fear and trembling. I started them in the days before discovering the blogosphere, which you should be mighty thankful for! It was interesting to read through some of them and realize just how faithful God has been to those things He has begun in me. In them I read some of the early insights I had from studying his word. I read prayer requests, some answered and some that I have prayed for without ceasing and haven't yet been answered. I read many joys and struggles I have had over the years, some long-forgotten and some so fresh and vivid that I was lost in the recounting of them.

What struck me the most was how the truth of one small Scripture verse was made so evident in the pages of those precious books. God is faithful to complete the works He begins in me. What encouragement for today when I look at the prayer requests I wrote a few days ago or think of my present circumstances, which don't necessarily make sense to me. How hopeful I feel knowing that the God of the universe has been and still is present and active in my life. And it even gives me hope that those projects that I've started ... and haven't finished ... aren't really failures in my life, but opportunites to take them up again and continue what I started. They are no longer unfinished projects, but works in progress, just like me!