Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blessed. My Oversized Paragraph of Thankfulness

I am finding it easy to be thankful today.  My Christmas tree is up and decorated.  It is small and does not look real even a little bit, except for the shedding it does during set up.  But it looks like Christmas, and so I am happy.  I am preparing to spend three days with my family.  I am planning to see Jake's family that we don't see nearly often enough.  So many things I have prayed for have unfolded into reality over the last months.  One of my dearest girlfriends has finally found a love interest, and we already love him, even from afar. After months of uncertainty and weirdness, our church is still here, and Jake and I have joined a new life group.  I have friends, close and far away, and God uses them to regularly bless my life.  They pray for me, cheer me on, and we all keep in touch as best we can with such busy lives.  I have had a handful of tests to see if my body is capable of making and growing a baby, and thus far, everything has come back clear and perfect.  And while I long for my own kids, I am blessed with friends and family who allow me to love theirs.  Next week I am playing music four whole nights, maybe a record for this girl who does not actively pursue opportunities to play.  Jake and I are camping with my parents and my sweet niece Reagan for two whole nights this week.  I am taking my guitar and books to read.  And while I am praying for a few friends who will face tomorrow's holiday without their dads for the first time, I can look forward to seeing both parents and all five siblings and most of my nephews and nieces.  It will be loud and funny and generally chaotic.  I just finished watching The Price is Right, and I could not help but think about my grandma, who loved The Price is Right but would have disliked Drew Carey as much as she hated commercials (that she would mute, much to my frustration).  And even though she is gone, along with my other grandparents, we have years of memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases spent with them.  Hundreds of nights spent on hide-a-beds and bedtime stories and staying up too late giggling with my siblings.  We have promises to see those grandparents again.  We have a place to live, cars to drive (that are now completely paid off, thanks to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace plan), friends and family that we love, and we have ministry opportunities that we are praying about.  For today, our bills are paid and things are looking up.  And all of these things come from the hand of a perfect Father that knows how to give good gifts to His children.  His gives generous amounts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and provision and correction and instruction, like a good father does.  I am looking forward to continuing this season where so much of the world stops and places their focus on Him.  My prayer for you today is that you would know Him, too, in a personal and relational way, and that your family would be blessed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The $6.75 Lesson... Why you should clean out your drawers

I got my first job when I was only 15.  A real job.  One that brought a regular paycheck.  I worked at my school providing childcare for elementary students that needed to be dropped off before regular school hours.  So for the last two years of my high school career, I woke up earlier than the rest of my siblings, got dressed in the dark*, and headed to school hours before everyone else.  And I earned my own money.  I loved it.  I could buy whatever I wanted without having to ask for money.  And one of the most important things I learned during this time was to give.  To tithe.  To give to missions.  My parents instilled this in me from an early age.  They taught stewardship as a Biblical principle, but they also modeled it in their own lives.  And I saw how God provided for our family.  I was taught Luke 6:38.  I knew it worked.

Part of this giving was faith promise missions giving, which is a very Independent Baptist program designed to support missionaries.  I made a yearly giving commitment, and I gave a certain amount every week until the following year when I would pray about the amount and recommit for the upcoming year.  During my first year of working, I committed to give $12.50 a week.  I added that up to $50 for most months, and I liked that amount.  It felt like a lot of money for me at 15, but I thought it was what I should do.  

One week, I came up $6.75 short.  I don't remember what I had done with the rest of my pay, but I felt sick when I realized that I would not have enough to pay my missions offering for the week.  I went to our garage, where my mother was folding laundry and I told her about my problem, hoping she would give me a job to earn the extra money.  Instead, she told me to pray about it.  I hated hearing that.  I wanted a solution.  But I still prayed about it.  I wanted to have the full amount to give.  

Then I cleaned my room.  If you know me at all, you know that this was probably a necessary thing.  I am messy.  But as I was cleaning my room, I cleared out some of my drawers.  I threw away notes and old homework papers.  And you know what I found?  An envelope of money.  In addition to the school job, I also tutored elementary students on the side, and I was paid in cash.  I was paid directly by the parents a whopping $10 per hour (a fortune in 1992), but this payment was different.  This particular parent had ordered hot lunch for her daughter on a day her daughter was absent, and so she took her hot lunch refund out of my tutoring money, leaving me to ask the school office for the difference.  (This seems like a crazy thing to me now, but I guess because my dad was the school principal, she felt like it was an appropriate move.)  But God had a plan behind her crazy reasoning.  Inside the envelope of tutoring money was exactly $6.75.  A five, a one, and three loose quarters.  And I learned something.  God provides.

I have told this story a thousand times, but the truth is this: I have a hundred more stories just like it.  Truly I do.  Throughout my life, but especially in the difficult times, He has provided.  Money.  Opportunities.  Healing.  Friendships.  Guidance.  Jobs.  Cars.  Patience.  Encouragement.  Hope.  He provides over and over.  And during my current season of life, during a difficult situation with our jobs and ministry, He is still providing.  I cannot even tell you how much He is taking care of us.  But here is the hard thing... Provision doesn't always come the way we expect it.  It doesn't always come when we expect it.

I like to plan. Jake and I have a budget that accounts for every dollar we make.  We know when we get paid and how much we get paid, and we have come to find peace in the plan we have created.  (Thank you, Dave Ramsey, for that.)  But the plan has broken down.  Paychecks have been late, or reduced, or have not come at all.  And it's no one's fault.  Right now, it is the nature of our church life and church work.  But here is what I have learned, just because provision does not come the way I think it will (through my paycheck) does not mean it isn't coming.  Because it comes.  Every. Single. Time.  And it comes through ways we could not plan or organize or arrange.  It comes through checks in the mail and surprise gift cards and money handed over with the message "God told me to give you this".  And I believe He did. Because He knows what we need before we even need it, and He prepares provision long before we pray and ask for it.  Isaiah 30:18 says that the Lord waits to be gracious to us.  He waits for opportunities to be gracious and merciful and kind.  And He often uses His people to do it.  

I am continually reminded that this is who God is.  It is His character.  He can't be anything less than this.  He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.  He provided a ram on Mount Moriah.  Manna in the wilderness.  Water from a rock.  Bread and fish for the 5,000 (or however many people were actually there).  Money from a fish.  Salvation for all sinners.  So this is me, confessing to you that I am so very blessed.  I am simply called to be faithful in my giving, and He gives back, without fail.  I am overwhelmed by God's provision.  I am blessed with friends who are generous with prayers and resources.  I am daily

I don't know what you need.  Money.  Healing.  Restoration.  A miracle.  I don't know.  But I know who provides.  I know who takes care of that kind of thing.  I know it because I am living it.  I know it because when I was 15 years old, God arranged for me to be paid $6.75 instead of a full $10.  He knew I would remember that lesson.  I do.  And I am grateful.

How has God provided for you?

*Which meant that I went to school one day wearing two different shoes.  I also did this once as an adult.  I am crazy like that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four Days Late

"Although He is the infinite God of the universe, your pain causes Him pain, your joy gives Him a lift, your hopes bring excitement to His heart... It's an amazing thought that though the self-existing God needs no one, He has chosen to be so emotionally identified with your ups and downs, your dreams and hopes, that your happiness actually affects His."
 - Chip Ingram, God as He Longs for You to See Him

When I was a kid, I learned a lot of Bible verses.  I had to.  Psalm 119:11 said I needed to.  By the time I was seven, I could easily quote the Romans Road, Psalm 1 and 2, a good portion of Romans 6, and a random selection of verses that everyone teaches kids.  John 3:16.  Romans 8:28.  Genesis 1:1.  I earned little Bible story books for my hard work, and I happily learned my weekly memory verses in exchange for prizes.  But for whatever reason, I delighted in quoting the Bible's shortest verse.  John 11:35.  Jesus wept.  I don't know why I thought it was funny, but just those two little words together seemed almost irreverent.  And since preacher's kids don't get too much of an opportunity to be openly irreverent, I embraced it.  I can quote a verse.  Jesus wept.  And then I would laugh.  I was a weird kid.

I am not seven anymore.  I do not learn new memory verses for prizes, although it might be helpful if I did.  (I started memorizing Colossians this past spring and got stuck when I was 75% done.  I will finish Colossians.  I will.  But maybe prizes would have helped.)  But I also don't laugh about John 11:35.  Because now that I am grown, I know the story surrounding it in a way that I didn't know when I was a child.  I know what it means that Jesus was moved to tears in this situation.  I know how that relates to me now.  

You know the story.  Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick.  He stayed where He was for two whole days.  It doesn't even say He did anything while He was there.  He just stayed.  Then he arrives in Bethany just in time... to see that Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Oh yes.  I have heard the story a hundred times before.  But when I read it in Scripture, I am impressed by a few things.  

First of all, I am always a little surprised that Jesus was in no hurry.  No hurry at all.  He sort of explains that Lazarus will be fine, and then He just stays.  Meanwhile, Mary and Martha are praying and crying and freaking out over in Bethany.  Lazarus is getting worse.  
 His life is fading.  Hope is fading.  And Jesus is just waiting it out.  

Second, I have to point out that after two days, Jesus tells His disciples that Lazarus is dead.  And then He tells them, "for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe".  Having to share the news of a death is no small thing, but Jesus shares it and then basically calls the disciples out on their obvious lack of faith.  You guys should be glad that I wasn't there so that I could convince your faithless selves that I can take care of this.  That's how I read these verses.  

And last, we are back to that tiny little verse.  Jesus wept.  When Jesus arrives to Bethany and meets up with Mary and Martha, there is lots of crying.  Mary was crying.  Martha was crying.  The Jews that were with them were crying.  And then Jesus cries.  Which might seem weird because He knew what was about to happen.  But He wasn't crying because Lazarus was dead.  He was identifying with the pain of the people He loved.  He was crying tears of compassion for His friends. 

These things speak to me.  All three of them.  And there are plenty of other lessons to be learned here, but today these three things are front and center in my thoughts.  Because today, I have problems.  Budget problems, church problems, not-being-pregnant problems.  And for the time being, things are getting worse.  And I am praying and crying and freaking out.  Hope is fading.  And Jesus, He's just waiting it out.  He's taking His time.

I can read these verses with a little bit of imagination, and I can hear God speaking to me the same way He spoke to His disciples.

"for your sake" I am not coming through right this second.
"for your sake" I am taking my time.
"for your sake" I am not moving in your timeline.
"for your sake" I am waiting until you think hope is gone.
So that you may believe.
And that speaks to me.  There is a reason for the wait.  There is a reason for the silence.  There is a reason that answers are not coming today.  He is growing my faith.

And in the meantime, it's okay to cry.  It's okay to feel the sadness that comes with hard things. Jesus identifies with my pain.  My anxiety.  My frustration.  He knows how He will provide.  He knows how he will come through.  He knows that His timing will be perfect.  But if He wept with Mary and Martha in their sadness, I know that He certainly weeps with me in mine.  And even while He has provision and a plan and He knows it will all be okay, He grieves with me over my losses.  He grieves with you over yours.  

He is aware of our needs.  And for your sake and for my sake, He is taking His time.  Provision is coming.  A miracle is coming.  Renewed hope is coming.  Encouragement is coming.  It might feel four days late, but it is on the way.  


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