Summer Challenge … to stay in His life-giving Word

Summer is here!

Glorious lazy days of flip-flops and warm sunshine and dripping popsicles and hazy blue skies and brilliant aqua blue water and precious memory-making.

But sometimes the wonderful distractions of summer inevitably pull us away from our regular times in God’s Word. Even though many activities take a Sabbath rest in the summer, we cannot afford to take a break from God’s Word.

Perhaps you already have a plan to keep you connected to Jesus in the summer through His Word (and if you do, good for you!). But if you don’t, would you consider joining us in the Psalms?

Basking in the Psalms title page

(click the image above to download the Basking in the Psalms booklet)

Nothing too time-consuming. Nothing too difficult. Just basking in the glorious light of His Word.

There are 43 weekdays in July an August so I’ve chosen 43 Psalms for us to read and meditate on while we engage in summer activities. The booklet serves as a journal for you to record your thoughts about your time with the Lord. Here is a sample journal page:

Basking in the Psalms journal page

There are instructions within the booklet to guide your time in each of the above sections.

Would you consider taking your Bible and your Basking in the Psalms booklet to the park and settling under a shady tree while the kids play? Take it with you to the beach and read as you soak up the sun? Perhaps a picnic in a wooded area? A hike down a trial as you memorize a verse or two?

When printing, choose booklet, side-fold (it will print on an 8.5 x 11 page landscape to be folded and tucked into your Bible).

Enjoy these sunny days Basking in the Psalms!

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Consider it all joy

We sang the song on Sunday and the words woke me before the sun touched the horizon on the day of surgery: Keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace. For I am Yours and You are mine.

Tip-toeing downstairs I knew I had some business to do with God if I was going to bravely walk into that hospital choosing faith over fear, my ultimate goal for this part of my trial.

As the birds started their morning song, I asked Him to help me choose faith over fear. Then came the still small knowing: Child, if you are going to choose faith over fear, you must speak faith-filled words.

I knew what the Lord meant. I had been voicing my worst fears only to him – the one I shared my life with – while being strong and brave with everyone else. Wasn’t that allowed? But bringing those fears out into the open was enough for Satan to use against me. Yes, I needed to choose faith-filled words in the privacy of my own home and in the intimacy of my marriage too.

Some of our hardest work is done on our knees, but the feeling of peace and calm that washes over a person after surrendering the thing to God is well worth the effort.

After getting the kids off to school and packing my hospital bag, we spent our lasts few minutes sitting on the deck soaking up the warm June sun. A perfect day.

“Let’s just stay here,” I suggest. “It’s too nice to spend the day in a hospital.”

He smiles and stands and takes my arm. Time to go.

On the way I listen to that song one more time: I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

God’s peace that passes understanding washes over me again.

We arrive and they tell us to take a seat among all the others waiting. I glance around the room. Some waiting their own procedures, others waiting for loved ones who are in surgery; some pacing anxiously, others calmly reading; some sitting in silence, others chatting quietly with the person next to them. There is a story – a trial – behind each face in this room, and I wish I could spend time talking to each one.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).

It’s perhaps the most ridiculous statement in all of scripture, and yet a command of God through James.

This room is absent of happiness, which is to be expected because happiness is circumstantial and flees quickly in these kinds of situations. But joy … joy is possible even here because it is supernatural. However only a Christ-follower can understand and demonstrate joy in a place like this. A follower of Jesus Christ knows there is far more going on – far more at stake – than what is apparent on the surface of the situation. Joy delights in the person and purposes of God which go far deeper than mere circumstance.

Joy

Yes, consider it all joy. I desperately want others to see it written all over my face. When the pressure is on, that’s when we get to prove the difference Christ makes in a life.

It’s not long and I’m called in to another room to be prepped for surgery. As the nurse is taking my temperature and my blood pressure she asks me about the cards in my hand.

“Is that a motivational thing?”

I smile. “No, not motivational. Life-giving. They are Scripture verses.”

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I had spent time that very morning writing down all the promises contained on these twelve small cards. Dozens of promises of God’s saving presence. Multiple instances where He reminds that help comes only from Him. Again and again He commands, “Do not fear.”

The gentle blonde nurse says it’s time to put in the IV. I glance nervously at my husband and he points to the cards in my hands. He knows it’s one of the parts of this process I dread the most, but I remember the words God had given me that morning:

“God’s Word and His gospel should be like an IV bag that keeps your soul hydrated with living water, steadily dripping the hope-giving, life-altering, joy-igniting, perspective-changing truth – truth that will then shape how you feel, regardless of what’s going on around you, because its based on the objective, unchanging truth of God’s Word, instead of your ever-changing, easily deflated, and often misguided feelings.” (Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason).

God's word

Soon it’s over and the liquid is dripping into my veins, the peace that passes understanding dripping steadily into my mind and heart.

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The nurses leave and say they’ll be back to get me in a little while. A glance at the clock. 12:30. One hour to wait.

We settle into the waiting and the clock ticks nosily.

A few minutes later a different nurse walks through the door, this one familiar. I recognize her as the mother down the street of the little boy who often rings our doorbell. I didn’t know she was a nurse. She said she saw my name on the board and says she immediately started praying and came to find me. So kind. So gracious. Sisters in Christ. She asks which surgeon I have and when I tell her she smiles reassuringly. He’s the one she would choose to operate on her family, she says. Peace and calm wash over me anew. How did she know those were the words we needed to hear right in that moment?

God’s grace.

They call my name and its time. I follow the nurse down the hall while pushing the IV pole. We approach large double automatic doors and she turns to my husband and says, “This is as far as you may go.”

I give him a panicked look and he kisses the top of my hand and looks straight into my eyes and says, “I love you.”

I follow the nurse through the doors into a world I have not known before. A world of people facing perhaps their worst fears, of hours lying on an operating table, of top-notch surgeons performing life-saving surgery. My little surgery is none of these things, yet there are people here whose lives could be changed in an instant. This world – so foreign, yet so intriguing.

The nurse carrying my chart settles me into another waiting room, this one occupied by three other people, one a patient and two hospital volunteers. The patient – an older lady sits across from me in an identical hospital gown. She’s looking anxiously from the clock to the small television in the corner and back to the clock, while nervously fidgeting with the IV tubes running from her wrist to the pole.

The sweet grey-haired volunteer sits at a desk in the corner, and turning towards me asks, “Are you Shannon?”

I smile and nod.

She checks me off her list and welcomes me warmly to the OR waiting room, then proceeds to tell me what will happen from this point on. “The anesthetist will come and talk to you a few minutes before your surgery, then the nurse will come and get you and walk you down one of two hallways to your operating room.”

My eyes blink back the tears. The fear is creeping in again and I feel like running and hiding. But there is nowhere to go.

In the midst of trials, our natural response is to escape and run and hide. But God wants us to remain under the weight of them so He can develop steadfastness, endurance, perseverance, and patience in us. The truth is, the Christian who doesn’t remain under the hand of God will never see the purpose of God in the trail. Sadly, it will be all for nothing. Remaining in the place of pain produces the intended result.

No, I’m not running. I want to be in total submission to God in the midst of this and be willing to receive whatever He wants to teach me, because quite frankly – I don’t want to have to learn this one again.

God, what are you trying to teach me through this? Besides the cancer, what needs to be cut out of my heart and life to make me more like Christ? I have to be willing to ask this in faith, without any conditions. No part of my life off limits.

The older volunteer is training the younger one by her side and turns to whisper instructions.

I assume the room will settle into silence broken only by the drone of the TV, but when she’s done instructing the young girl she turns back to me and starts asking about my family. She’s sweet and easy to talk to, and I immediately relax. She’s worked her whole life as an OR recovery nurse right here on this very floor of the hospital and now volunteers her time to make patients feel at ease as they face surgery. She’s truly gifted to serve in this way and I’m grateful for her ministry.

A mom and her two-year old daughter enter the operating area across the hall and the volunteers quickly go to make them feel comfortable and answer any last-minute questions.

Now alone with the patient across from me, I glance at her and our eyes meet. She laughs coarsely and says, “I’m so thirsty I could drink the toilet water.”

I laugh too.

Of course, not eating or drinking for more than 24 hours makes any water seem appealing.

She’s broken the ice and we chat easily about family and surgery and her surprise new baby grand-daughter. She’s been waiting in this room for over an hour past her scheduled time and she’s getting frustrated. I ask her if she’s nervous, and although her actions betray her words, she says no. This is her third surgery in a few short months.

The volunteers come back in the room and the older one hands me a thin blue hair net for my head. I almost laugh at the irony. The four fashion divas on the television, wearing pumps and short skirts and more jewelry than I own, are debating style verses comfort. This hospital gown, fancy gauze slippers, and hair net are certainly neither.

It’s time for the toddler across the hall to make her way to the operating room, and a gentle nurse peels her from her mother’s arms. Her screams echo loud down the hall as she reaches back toward her mama and a mother’s heart breaks into pieces. I whisper silent prayers for them.

Then finally the nurse comes for the woman who’s been anxiously fidgeting with her IV and dreaming about water and off she goes.

The minutes tick well past my scheduled surgery time. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest.

Its in the waiting

But it’s in the waiting that God often does a good work. The question is, will you wait on God by faith in the midst of your trial, until the darkness turns to light? How long, you wonder? God alone knows, but it will be in His perfect timing. Do you believe God is sovereign and He is good, even in this?

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).

I spend my time praying for the little girl and the older woman now under the knife.

Finally the anesthetist comes and tells me how he’s going to put me to sleep, followed shortly by the OR nurse who tells me to come with her. My heart begins to pound. Here we go.

I follow her down the far hall and she pushes through double doors into the operating room, grabbing a mask as she enters. I try to take it all in. The room is very large and cold and full of unfamiliar instruments. There is a singular narrow bed in the middle with two huge lights above it, and there are six medical staff scurrying about wearing gowns and masks.

She tells me to climb up on the table and lie down. My arms barely fit by my side and I try turning my head to the right and left, memorizing the scene.

The words of my daughter’s prayer come back, “God, help mommy to know you are right beside her when they cut her neck open.”

Jesus, You fill this room. You were in here before I came in. Your presence is so very real.

We are all waiting for the surgeon now, and I hear them page his name. One nurse smiles and pats my arm while another one straps me to the bed.

The surgeon bursts through the door and immediately begins giving orders. He pauses to turn to me and smiles reassuringly. “We will take good care of you,” he promises.

Then the mask and breathe deeply and the world goes dark.

When we are in blackness darker than the dark of night, it’s so reassuring to know God never slumbers nor sleeps. His eye is on the little girl down the hall and her frantic mother in the waiting room. His eye is on the older woman who desperately wants to watch her baby grand-daughter grow up. And His eye is on me as they remove the cancer.

I wake up in a room bustling with activity. I’m the last in row of hospital beds, each with a computer and a nurse stationed at the end. Immediately I notice a clock on the wall to my right and I struggle to focus on the time, but the room is swimming.

Thank you, Lord.

It’s over.

My breath slows and I hear the woman at the end of my bed say, “Take a deep breath, Shannon.”

I do and fall back into the black nothingness.

Its three hours of swimming in and out of consciousness, while they continue to monitor my vitals and take blood, and my family waits patiently in another room.
Finally I’m able to force my eyes awake for longer than a few minutes and they say I’m ready to be taken to my room for the night. As the porter wheels my bed out into the hall I catch a glimpse of my dad in a room as we pass and I reach for him.

After setting into the room where I will spend the next 24 hours, my husband,  dad, and sisters come quickly to my bedside.

I smile weakly. “It’s over,” I whisper.

Yes, this part of the journey is over.

For a Christian, life is about displaying the superiority of a life lived in God. Why do Christians get cancer? Why do children of believing families get sick and why do loved ones die? Why do Christians fall into hardship of any kind? Because the sons of God behave differently in trials than the sons of Adam. While others run and hide or crumple under the weight, believers are given supernatural resources to remain under the difficulty, allowing God to transform their characters in the process.

This is what I desperately want for this trial.

Is it easy? No.

Is it possible? It must be. Why else would He tell us to consider it all joy?

What can you do in the midst of your trail to display the superiority of a life lived in God? All for His glory …

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Galatians 6

Galatians 6_7-8 Scripture Print

(click on the image above to download the scripture print)

The final chapter of Galatians! I trust you’ve been blessed by this little letter as much as I have.

Here is the workbook for Galatians 6. Don’t grow weary in your study … finish well!

There are some things the Holy Spirit has been teaching me as I’ve studied this final chapter of Galatians:

  • I need to be courageous enough to gently restore others if and when I see them struggling in sin. AND … I need to be willing to receive loving correction from others.
  • I’m so grateful for the body of Christ and how we bear one another’s burdens. I’m not quite sure how people move through live without a loving church family.
  • This principle of sowing and reaping has been on my mind and heart for days now. I’m so aware that I can’t expect to be holiness if I spend hours each day sowing into the flesh.
  • The Spirit has reminded me that I need to be patient as I wait for the spiritual harvest in my life and in the lives of those around me. Don’t lose heart! Don’t grow weary!
  • Galatians 6 has also caused me to examine what I boast in. Paul determined to boast only in the cross of Christ. Can I say the same?

Thank you for journeying through Galatians with me.

It is all grace that we are able live in glorious freedom as we walk in the Spirit! No longer slaves, but children of God through faith.

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10 Things God Wants to Teach Us About Trials

We are all bone-weary and worry-sick and battling fear at one time or another.

She stands at my door and tells me her current struggle. And we call on the name of God together – right there – door wide open for all the neighborhood to see.

What they would see is two broken women desperate for rescue.

Aren’t we all desperate for Him to intervene?

Because whether it masks itself as health issues, or relational difficulties, or financial struggles, or emotional pain, we all feel the affects of this sin-soaked world.

But there a God in heaven, and He gives hope in the form of a Person.

I have to admit – at first glance –  this is all backwards and upside-down thinking.

This isn’t the way we would have designed our spiritual growth. This isn’t the method we would have chosen. But as you meditate on these truths from Scripture, you will come to see, as I have, that God has designed it this way in His infinite wisdom for our ultimate good.

The truth is this:

Trials and difficulties are the vehicle through which we are transformed into the image of Christ.

Hebrews 12:5-11

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

“A trial (suffering, hardship, difficulty, discipline) is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change our conduct and our character” (James MacDonald).

God has allowed very painful circumstances into my life over the past year, including the death of my mom and a cancer diagnosis, and other difficulties that are simply too private to mention. However, I’m so grateful for what He is teaching me through them.

Trials

1.  Temptation: “I’m the only one.”  Truth: Everyone goes through trials

No one is immune. Everyone faces difficulty at one time or another – in fact, most people are going through a trial right now. James 1:3 tells us to “consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials” – not if. Trials range from small irritations to devastating situations. They can be short in nature, or last for months, or perhaps even years. Although we may feel like the only one, everyone goes through trials.

2.  Temptation: “God doesn’t love me.”   Truth: Trials are proof of God’s love for us

When God allows difficulties into our lives, He is not being mean or cruelly indifferent. Quite the opposite. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that God disciplines those He loves. Just as parents discipline and train and instruct their children out of love, God disciplines us because He loves us. He loves us enough not to leave us as we are and to do the hard work of transforming us into the image of His Son.

3.  Temptation: “I don’t have what it takes to get through this.”  Truth: God wants you to admit you don’t have the resources in your own strength to get through the trial

When we are going through trials we often feel like we don’t have the resources (strength, energy, emotional stamina) to get through the trial. The truth is, that’s exactly how God wants us to feel. He often brings us to the end of ourselves so we will turn to Him. God wants us to admit we are powerless to change our circumstances or ourselves.

4. Temptation: “I must figure out how to get out of this.”  Truth:  God is taking us to a new level of dependence on Him

When crisis hits our first reaction is often to figure out how to escape. We strategize and plan and turn to people for advice. But God is using difficulties to take us to a new level of dependence on Him. He wants us to get before Him in prayer in a deeper way. Allow desperation to lead you to deeper dependence.

5.  Temptation: “God has abandon me!”  Truth: God moves towards us in the midst of difficulty

It’s very tempting to think God has abandon us in the midst of difficulty. Or perhaps He’s too busy with other people, or maybe sleeping? But most people who have allowed God to train them through trials  would testify that they felt a unique sense of God’s loving presence in the midst of trials. The truth is God moves towards us in love and grace in the midst of trials. His power is perfected in our weakness and He reveals Himself to us in special ways.

6.  Temptation: “God would never allow His child to go through this.”  Truth: Trials are proof of sonship

Hebrews 12:8 says if we are without discipline then we are illegitimate children and not sons. If our lives have been problem-free for some time, we may want to consider taking a good hard look at whether or not we are a child of God. Trials are proof we are God’s children.

7.  Temptation: “This is too much to handle right now!”  Truth: God knows the perfect timing and the perfect amount of difficulty to allow into our lives

God perfectly measures the trials He allows into our lives. As our Creator, He knows exactly the right time in our lives to lead us through each valley. When we feel as if it is too much to handle, we need to simply trust in His infinite wisdom. As a loving parent, He knows what is best.

8.  Temptation: “Nothing good could ever come out of this.”  Truth: What God allows, He allows for a good purpose

Trials work to provide what is lacking in us. Hebrews 12:10 says God disciplines us for our good. But notice that it is a conditional promise – we have to be willing to be trained by the trial. When God disciplines us through trials, He has a good purpose in mind. And He is able to work all things together for good for those who love Him (again, conditional).  What if years later we still can’t see the good? Does this mean God has not kept His promise? No. If we have been faithful to allow God to do His work in and through us, we must continue to trust that in the unseen spiritual realm of eternity, God has caused good to come out of the difficulty.

9.  Temptation: “I have nothing to learn through this.”  Truth: We must admit and submit and be willing to be trained by our trails

It is an attitude of pride that refuses to admit we have anything in our character that needs refining. A humble person agrees with God that there are some rough edges to be smoothed and some impurities to be removed. Hebrews 12:9 says we must be subject to the Father. We must also be willing to be trained by our trails, or we won’t receive the promise of the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). God wants us to share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10), but we have to allow Him to do His work in us.

10.  Temptation:  “This trial has gone on too long!”  Truth: This pain is momentary, but the profit is immense

In the midst of suffering, we desperately need a heavenly perspective. What seems like forever to us in the midst of pain, God describes as “light and momentary.” Our trials are producing in us an eternal weight glory far beyond all comparison. God is fitting us for heaven, and the pain will be well worth the reward. We must determine to focus on the things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Lift your eyes above the storm.

Praying God’s love and grace would abound in your life in the midst of your trials.

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A Tribute to Dad for Father’s Day … {better late than never?}

I was the boy he never had.

I trudged along beside him in rubber boots to the barn every evening to watch the cattle noisily lick up every kernel of corn.

I stood on the back of the little corn planter riding round and round the field watching the little seeds drop into the ground.

I skipped along to check the groundhog traps on summer evenings and cheered when we got one.

I hugged him wild the day I came home and there was a horse in the barnyard … all for me.

Every Sunday evening he’d walk out the front door, suitcase in hand, and kiss my mother goodbye on the front porch. All week long she would have to answer the question from three little girls, “How many more sleeps until Daddy comes home?” Then on Friday night when we finally would hear that air horn and see the big truck pull in the laneway, we’d run and wave wild until it came to a stop, then climb up those big steps and into his arms.

I am so grateful for the childhood he worked hard to give me. Space to run wild and free. Room to grow and make mistakes, yet always come home.

When he told me I couldn’t go, I slammed the door hard and told him I knew better, and then flew halfway around the world to explore the land down under. I know now I must have sliced his heart right in two. I can’t imagine how he must have laid awake at night wondering if I was safe. Four months later when I realized home was the place I was loved most, I didn’t tell him I was boarding a plane to come back. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I’d be welcome.

It was in the dark of night that I came through those never-locked farmhouse doors  and climbed the stairs to their bedroom. With my heart ready to beating wild inside my chest, I gently shook him awake. When he realized the long-lost daughter had returned home, he sat straight up and hugged me and said, “You’re home! Let’s party!”

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That’s the heart of a father. Always ready to welcome and celebrate a prodigal home.

That’s the heart of our heavenly Father when we repent and turn home.

Thanking God today for my earthly father …

 

When you are battling fear

It comes in the dark of night whispering dreadful things.

It presses in all around and makes my mind race, my heart beat faster, and keeps my eyes wide open.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. Fear of the unimaginable.

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You see – for me – the unimaginable has happened.

It was in the dark of night we walked single-file down a hall lined with shadows to say good-bye to my mother. It was in the dark of night we watched her take her last breath and the machines count down to zero. It was in the dark of night we drove away from that hospital forever marked by the anguish of death.

The dark can be paralyzing.

Psalm 56_3-4a

At the pre-surgical appointment, when the nurses are explaining all of the risks of surgery, the fear creeps in closer. I know its their job to explain these things to everyone who walks through these doors. I know this is absolutely worst case scenario. I know my God is far greater than all of this. But what if …

Its afterwards when I think about the risk of infection and the infection that took her life, and their question about whether or not I have a will in place,  that I give in to the fear.

He asks me how it went and I say, “They are going to cut my neck open!” My voice has risen an octave.

Before he has a chance to respond, I go on. “They asked me about my will and they talked about infection and the complication of excessive bleeding and they said I may wake up in ICU and my voice may be forever hoarse  and – ”

He interrupts, “Those are all things they have to tell you, but the likelihood of them happening are very rare.”

I know this is true.

“I know, but what if? What if the cancer has spread? What if this is the beginning of health complications that eventually take my life?”

Why can’t my racing mind believe God is far about infection and bacteria and bleeding and all of it?

I take a breath. “They are going to cut my neck open.” I say it softer now.

Psalm 121

It’s at that moment she peeks around the corner, wide-eyed and silent. My heart sinks. I thought they were both upstairs getting ready for bed. Our eyes meet for a moment and without saying a word she turns and runs upstairs.

He looks at me and we both realize what I’ve done. Up to this point we’ve tried very hard to be honest, yet shield our children from the possibility of things not turning out well.

And now she has overheard my fear-laden words.

Psalm 112_1,7

As I’m tucking her in she asks in a small voice, “Are you afraid of surgery, Mommy?”

The truth – yes – very afraid, I admit.

“But honey, I’m going to choose to trust God instead of being afraid. God is so much bigger than my fears.”

She nods and puts her little arms around my neck, pulling me close.

“When you were talking to Daddy in the kitchen, I was praying the whole time that you wouldn’t be scared. I can pray now too.”

I smile and tell her I’d like that.

She prays, “Dear God, help Mommy to know You will be sitting right beside her when the doctor cuts her neck open. Help her not to be afraid. Amen.”

Simple, child-like faith.

Psalm 91

She tells me in the morning in her sweet seven-year-old voice that I’m doing the right thing by choosing faith over fear, because that’s what the Bible tells me to do.

I ask her what she will choose to do when she’s afraid and she says, “Faith!” and bounces away to play outside.

Psalm 46_1-3

I know this is not complicated surgery. I know this kind of cancer is “the best to have.” I know the risk of complications are very minimal. But the enemy can cause fear, nonetheless.

But today I’m declaring I will choose faith over fear. I will believe that God is completely in control of all aspects of this journey. And He will bring good out of it because He is a good God.

Psalm 34_4,7

It’s later when the Bible study girls are praying for me that my eyes are lifted once again to God’s purposes in this. He has much He wants to teach me and many things He needs to change in me. When she hugs me at the front door and says good-bye she whispers, “Don’t fear.”

I smile.

Psalm 27_4-5

I look it up after she’s gone, and yes – over 100 times in scripture God tells us not to be afraid. It’s a command.

Don’t fear. Choose faith.

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(click here to download the Scripture Memory Cards about fear)

Scripture Memory Cards on Fear

This song has been playing loud in our house on repeat over the last few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you wonder if there is more to suffering than what it seems

Sometimes interruptions in life can make frustration erupt in all its ugliness.

Life had been moving along well. There was evidence of good fruit in ministry, I was getting things accomplished and being effective with my time, and  I was looking forward to the spring and summer with all my glorious plans.

Life was good.

But then the interruption.

Two weeks of illness and fatigue were taking their toll. In addition, the countdown to surgery and the uncertainty of a future with cancer was constantly looming large and black.

That’s when the frustration finally erupted. It was in the kitchen through tears that I told him I DIDN’T PLAN THIS! IT WASN’T WHAT I WANTED! And why would God allow this now?

(Frustration and anger can make one sound quite like a toddler, stamping her little foot in the midst of a temper tantrum – perhaps cute at two – not so pretty more than three decades later.)

Difficulties and suffering are like that. We don’t plan or schedule them in our calendars. And when they come, they very often throw life into an upside-down, panicked frenzy.

We view suffering is our enemy, and we do our best to run and hide.

But I can’t hide from the cancer. I can’t slow the hands of time as surgery is quickly approaching.

He takes me into his arms and whispers reassurance again into my ear and I calm.

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It’s later after church that she asks how I am doing, and I resist the urge to act like I am ‘just fine’ and instead admit my frustration.  “It seems like a massive interruption to my plans,” I say.

She nods. The reality is it is an interruption.

But what if divine interruptions are divine appointments? What if God’s ways are infinitely higher than mine? What if His plans are so much better?

What if suffering is not what it seems?

We view suffering as an interruptive upheaval to the rhythm of life at best, or in the worst case scenarios, it completely destroys our faith.

But what if the physical pain we endure drives us to the Great Physician?

What if our grief points us to sure and certain hope?

What if a broken relationship brings greater dependency on the only One who can bring reconciliation?

What if loneliness ushers us into the holy presence of God?

I know all these things to be true, but now comes the test of living them out. We are all on this journey of living what we know.

“God is teaching me to hold my plans with an open hand and surrender them to His will,” I say with a weak smile. Its easier said than done and certainly a continual day-by-day process full of failures and successes.

She’s smiling now because she knows. She is not a stranger to suffering herself.

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What if instead of running from our suffering, we turn and bravely face it,? What if we completely trusted the One who allowed it – the One who can ultimately work all things for good? What if we truly rested on the everlasting arms? What if instead of fear we chose faith?

The true question is: what do we believe about God in the midst of our suffering? Do we still believe He is good although the circumstances are quite the opposite? Will we continue to believe He is sovereign although life is spinning out of control?

This is the glorious truth:

Suffering is not what we think. Quite the opposite. It is not something to run away from, instead it is something to be embraced because it is evidence that God is at work. He is in the process of changing us in the midst of difficulty.

And so the place of greatest suffering is holy ground indeed.

And this –

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

No comparison. Not even worthy to be compared.

Do you believe it? Do you believe that regardless of what you are currently going through, it is absolutely NOTHING compared to what awaits you in eternity with Him?Your current difficulties will pale in comparison in the light of His glorious splendor.

 

 

Galatians 5

Galatians 5_24-25 Scripture Print

(click the image above to download the Scripture print for Galatians 5)

We are almost done the book of Galatians! Two more chapters. You are doing so well! God is pleased with the time you spend sitting at His feet in His word.

Many treasures await us in Galatians 5. These are a few of them that you have to look forward to as you study:

  • We live in the glorious freedom of God’s grace. Keep standing firm in that freedom and don’t choose to return to slavery.
  • We are waiting for the hope of righteousness. This life is a waiting room, as we look forward to the return of  Christ. (My son asked me last night when Jesus was going to come back. I said I didn’t know, but maybe tomorrow? A big smile spread across his face and he said, “I hope so!” Don’t we all need that eager anticipation for Christ’s return?)
  • There is a solemn warning from Paul not to turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.
  • The Law is fulfilled in one word: love.
  • Paul talks about the inner battle between the Spirit and the flesh. No doubt you’ve felt this struggle within yourself. If we choose to walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. This is the key to Christian victory.
  • The fruit of the Spirit is listed in this chapter.
  • Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires – now that’s getting serious!

I’m praying that God reveals Himself to you in a new and fresh way as you study Galatians 5. I’m praying you are given the power to stand in freedom and walk in the Spirit.

Download the workbook for Galatians 5 here.

Have you been committing parts of Galatians to memory? I issued a challenge several weeks ago for those of you who feel especially ambitious to memorize all of Galatians 5 (and I’m trying to do it too!). It’s such an amazing chapter. Download the Galatians 5 scripture memory card here.

Galatians 5 Memory Card

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When God answers

It’s after the sun goes down and the day is done that my thoughts usually turn towards her.

It’s been a little over a year, and I still miss her terribly. Because what can fill the aching void when a mother leaves this world?

And who do you want when you are not feeling well?

I’ve never dreamed about her since she passed, and I desperately wish I would. A dream so vivid it’s like I could reach out and touch her? Please. God?

I try hard to remember.

Memories are a funny thing. Some so vivid, yet the ordinary moments fading quickly into a distant past, long forgotten.

I fall asleep asking God for memories of my childhood to come flooding back. Images of her. Memories of what she looked like, and of her sweet voice, and her gentle touch. Something … anything.

But morning comes without a single dream and with the continual, steady fade of my limited childhood memories of her.

Then this comes from a sweet aunt in the midst of breakfast clean-up.

Mary holding baby Shannon

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Mary and Shannon Nov. 17th, 1979

Pictures of never seen. Moments I’m far to young to remember.

God’s grace all around.

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Waiting and trusting on this dusty road

We are all the same, walking this dusty road called life. Yes – the details may be different – the mountaintops looming higher or the valleys sinking lower, but we are all the same.

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That’s the thought that goes though my mind when we settle into a small, cramped, incredibly stuffy waiting room. Each chair is filled with a story. Each story with a common theme – cancer.

We are all waiting to see the man who can cut the cancer out.

Aren’t we all waiting for the Great Physician to cut out the parts of us that threaten to kill us?

The woman across from me is noisily chewing her gum while continually staring at her phone. I wonder what her story is.

A family of four pile into the room. A mother noticeably shaken and a father clutching a bag of medicines. The two tattooed sons say they can’t stay in a room like this and would rather wait in the car.

I don’t want to be here either.

The man beside me is staring straight ahead, motionless. His wife is beyond the orange door in a room less claustrophobic.

I pull out my calendar and wonder when it will be. When will my life be interrupted by a knife? Which box will I replace all the normal activities with ‘cancer surgery’?

In some ways I want this. Not the cancer – never the cancer – but a divine interruption. Sometimes we need to be shaken awake to the glory all around. Sometimes we need to wake up to His presence and really, truly feel.

Sometimes we need to realize that we are really all the same. And despite my valley, I can reach out and touch the life of another.

I smile at the woman across the room and for a brief moment she looks as if she wants to smile back.

Then my name is called.

We sit across an ancient desk and listen to the surgeon give his standard description of the procedure. I ask questions he’s probably heard a thousand times.

Could the cancer have spread?

Yes – a very real possibility. But we won’t know until the surgery.

And do we have any more questions?

Yes. I tell him about my worst fears. About the infection that quickly claimed her life and could the same happen to me?

The truth is, he doesn’t have all the answers. None of us do.

Grateful to leave that place, I grab his hand, and he asks me how I’m feeling.

Worried? A little.

Scared? Slightly.

Nervous? Yes.

But strangely at peace. This is not a surprise to Him who has all my days written in His book. My future rests securely in His hands.

Later we walk silently through the sun-dappled trees, so grateful to be here in this moment.

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Wait and trust.

And use all of this as an opportunity to glorify His great name.

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