What I Do Have!

Standard

The request came in as an e-mail to our cancer ministry. The cancer survivor was an out-of-state resident with no personal connection to us. She must have googled cancer and our name popped up. She wanted support. We offer support. The only problem was that we don’t offer the type of support she was most interested in.

The person took the time to fill out our enrollment form. I admit that it was the most creative application I have seen to date. Her answers to varying questions revolved around money. Her specific prayer requests included a gift basket with gas and food gift cards from our church. Under favorite color, she replied “blue” tagged along with “quilt.”

I am a six year cancer survivor and a one year leader for a cancer ministry. Without fail, the top two prayer requests are for healing and for the family members that accompany the survivor on his/her cancer journey. Gift cards and pretty things fall much further down the list of prayer necessities. Nonetheless, I get it. Cancer is expensive even with good health insurance. People going through cancer oftentimes experience financial hardships.

I replied to the person’s e-mail and acknowledged her financial need. Sharing our mission statement, I explained that we are not able to financially support her. Rather, we “provide hope, encouragement and love through a community of support so no one battles cancer alone.” In my mind, I patted myself on the back. I took her request seriously and responded appropriately. With an extra dose of mercy, I decided to reach out to her with a personal phone call if I heard anything back via e-mail. All I needed was a brief response like, “Okay” or “Thanks.”

I didn’t hold my breath and I wasn’t surprised that my e-mail sent was the end of our interaction. Only it wasn’t the end of it. I should have filed away the paper application, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Her form sat on my desk for a over a week. God kept bringing this woman to mind. The more I tried to find closure, the more I thought about this woman and her situation. Specifically, God kept bringing me back to Acts 3 in the Bible.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:1-6)

That’s when I knew that I didn’t do all that I was supposed to do. I had already said a prayer on the woman’s behalf. What was the next step? A clue was on her application. Under activities and interests, she mentioned something that tied in perfectly with a gift we send to those served through our ministry.

I called the volunteer who mails that particular gift and explained the situation, including the God nudges I felt. I had to smile at the volunteer’s confirmation. She replied that her mother had a saying, “It doesn’t matter what is in their heart. What matters is what is in your heart!” We sent the gift.

We expressed the love of Jesus Christ to a stranger. The name of Jesus was shared with someone who needed to hear His sweet name.  I don’t know the response or the result because we never heard from the person again. Nonetheless, I knew that I could finally file the application. We  had offered the very best of what we do have: the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Just A Jacket

Standard

It arrived many years ago in a brown grocery paper bag with a string tied around the bulky package. My mom had found the winter jacket at a garage sale and thought of me. It was an extravagant gift. My mom didn’t have much money during that period in her life and had stopped buying gifts.

The jacket is worn out now with a tattered lining. I was at least the second owner and it is obvious that the jacket was loved and worn, even before my time. The jacket has outlived its purpose, yet it hangs in my closet taking up valuable space.

I know the reason why I keep it. It was unique. Whenever I wore that jacket, I could count on at least one stranger complimenting it. As soon as I arrived home from running errands, I would tell my husband that another person liked the jacket. It was a long-running joke between us because I loved everything about the jacket, the fabric, design and color, whereas my husband never cared for it.

I know the real reason why I keep it. It is a jacket that my mom lovingly picked out, touched, and sent to me as a surprise of her love. My mom has been gone for four years now. That jacket is still a connection to my mom in the flesh. I imagine my mom spying the jacket at a garage sale and remarking, “I know my daughter will love this!”

As we downsized houses and sorted through too much stuff, the subject of getting rid of the jacket came up over and over. I would put it in the donate pile one day and take it out the next day. My husband finally told me to keep it. We would make room for the jacket. Something as ordinary as a coat captured my heart.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the ordinary and then reminds us of the extraordinary beauty of Jesus Christ that captures our hearts.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).

The ordinary became the eternal definition of love expressed. The unique gift from our Father in heaven is a garment of salvation that always looks beautiful and never becomes tattered in the hearts of His children.

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10.)

Jesus cloaks us with God’s extravagant love that transforms the ordinary and changes hearts with the extraordinary. We wear God’s love as a garment that holds us in His loving arms and never lets go. Make room. You are loved!

 

 

 

 

God Moments Can Become God Stories

Standard

I knew it was going to be a busy week. I was still learning the ropes in my new volunteer position. The ministry had finished their annual fundraiser and there was a flurry of activity to follow up on. In addition, we were headed out-of-town to visit my in-laws.

That day I was a woman on a mission with a long to-do list. If I adhered to my schedule, I would cross everything off my list and be home to make a nice dinner for my husband. I was on-time with my self-declared agenda until I dropped off information at the church’s welcome desk.

That’s when my plans abruptly changed. The person behind the desk commented, “Oh good, I was looking for those ministry forms because my friend is battling cancer.” As a cancer survivor and the administrative leader of a ministry that supports cancer survivors, I recognized the lead-in to a lengthy and emotional cancer story.

I am not proud to admit that in my mind, the flesh reaction was, “I don’t have time for this. I am on a schedule with my things to accomplish.” Immediately, I heard the Holy Spirit’s rebuttal in my soul, “This is why you are here today. Take a breath, slow down, and be present for this person.”

I recognized my God moment. The Holy Spirit only gives perfect advice. There was no doubt about what was at the top of my to-do list. I listened intently to the person’s cancer story, offered encouragement, and gave tips for enrolling her friend in the ministry.

Once I had shared the practical, I turned to the most important aspect of my God moment. I offered to pray. We prayed for her friend, for her, their friendship, and the circumstances of this particular cancer story. I walked away from that God moment encouraged by God’s blessings in my day.

God provides the opportunities to remind us that our God moments can become our God stories. In reality, it is even bigger than that in God’s kingdom. Obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudges opens the floodgates for blessings to flow. God’s beautiful intervention insures that our God moments can become part of someone else’s God story!

Psalm 42:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isaiah 66:14

When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.

 

Part 1: Beauty In Unexpected Places

Standard

IMG_3638

We headed north for vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was counterintuitive as a spring break destination. We traded sandy beaches for rocky shores, ocean waves for the swells of Lake Superior, swimsuits for winter boots, and warm days for windblown snow.

Visiting family and a comfortable place to stay for free were the allure. However, we discovered so much more: the beauty of winter. The pristine snow sharpened the sky’s blue and the pine trees’ green. The cold breeze coming off the lake created intricate designs along the shore. White and gray displayed their own palettes of color. If the cold didn’t take my breath away, God’s handiwork in the winter season did!

At first glance, much in the Bible seems counterintuitive to the world’s way of thinking. “Bless those who curse you.” “Love your enemies.” “Lose your life to find your life.” Only sacrifice atones for sin. Death leads to life. These challenges to our human perspective are given clarity at the cross of Jesus Christ.

As the only perfect sacrifice, Jesus died for God’s enemies to demonstrate God’s love. In the ugliness and starkness of the cross, God wrought the everlasting beauty and glory of eternal life through Easter’s resurrection. The cross was the means and the price to provide for our salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The Easter story is our story!

May we approach and celebrate every day by thanking God who shows up with beauty in the least expected places.

(See more pictures of winter beauty in my post, Part 2: Beauty In The Least Expected Places.)

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

What Does The Light Reveal?

Standard

Sponge Painting 0

I was excited to paint our bathroom. However, I was not excited about the preparation necessary to paint. Thanks to the decorating tastes of the prior homeowners, our bathroom walls were textured with bright red sponge-painted on a white background.

My husband described the work to be done before I could even think about opening up the can of paint that would transform the bathroom. We removed everything attached to the walls. We brought in megawatt lights to illuminate flaws to be spackled. I cleaned the walls with a washcloth and felt for surface imperfections hidden in the distraction of sponge-painting.

The next step was to sand and smooth out the wall surfaces. It was impossible to remove all the globs of red paint. We did our best and crossed our fingers that what remained would not be too noticeable on the finished walls.

One coat of primer was not enough to hide the bright red. Two coats of primer were better, but not perfect. The white primer revealed nail holes and more nail pops that we could not see or feel before. More spackling, sanding, and priming were the result. Finally, we reached the point that we were done—literally done. There were still more flaws to correct, but in our minds and hearts, “It was good enough!”

Two coats of paint later and my bathroom felt brand new. Final inspection (before putting the paint supplies away for good) involved passing a light up-close over every wall from floor to ceiling. I was disheartened. We had taken our time and given it our best, but the sponge-painted texture was still evident in certain areas. The bathroom was now bright and cheery, but it wasn’t perfect. It was simply good enough.

God never settles for just good enough. God requires perfection in our holiness. We may think that we are good people with good intentions whitewashed of sin. However, God’s standard of holiness reveals flaws that are still evident. We may live a good life doing good for others. Yet, God’s light shines in the deepest parts of our being to illuminate the sin hidden from plain view.

On our own, we will always struggle with imperfections as we peel away one layer of sin after another. God longs to transform our lives of dark sin into beautiful displays of holiness in His image! Through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross, God forgives our sins and imparts His holiness into us.

Jesus is the light of the world revealing judgment of sin to those who reject Him. Jesus is the light of life revealing forgiveness of sins to those who choose faith in Him. Embrace the light found in the loving touch of God the Father whose handiwork is always perfect.

Isaiah 1:18

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

John 8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

 

The Ants Go Marching

Standard

Ants

The ants go marching. With the first real warmth of an ever-nearing spring, ants have entered my kitchen domain. After observing their behavior, I have reached the conclusion that ants are not very smart.

Ants don’t heed warning signs. I placed poisonous bait because the ants’ behavior is so predictable. Once the foraging ants are hooked by the bait, they return with even more ants. Although dead ants litter the counter, the live ants ignore the warning for their future and return to what is sweet and attractive in the present. Before too long, the entire colony will follow the same path of destruction.

We are so much smarter than ants. We can recognize what will harm us. We would never lead others astray. We wouldn’t follow the crowd into danger. We think and act beyond present self-gratification. Right? Regardless of our answer, the bottom line is that all of us need God’s help. Satan is an enemy that will use anything to entice and ensnare us in sin.

Through God’s Holy Spirit, God equips us to be on guard and to follow in our Lord Jesus’ footsteps of obedience. We never march alone for Jesus knows our suffering and temptations in life. Even more comforting than being able to sympathize with us, Jesus has secured our victory over Satan and evil. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross settled the matter once and for all by upholding eternal life in Himself and eternal defeat in Satan.

May we joyfully live out the victory that is already ours!

Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Colossians 2:15

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

 

 

The Evolution Of Prayer

Standard

I have noticed the evolution in my prayer life. It starts with a problem: an emotional hurt, a troubling physical symptom, or fear of the unknown. My first reaction in prayer is to wish the trouble away. “God, please remove this from my life.” Or in other words, I don’t want to deal with this.

When the trouble doesn’t go away, I pray for God to make it a non-issue. “God, please make it not a big deal in my life.” I ask God to take the trouble and make it simply an annoyance. My hope is that it becomes something I can ignore most of the time or even forget temporarily.

When the trouble becomes a big deal in my life, I ask God to use it for my good. “Lord, open my eyes to see the lessons that you have for me.” When I have to deal with an issue, the process in conjunction with the Holy Spirit’s guidance more clearly defines my faith and refines my witness. Growth and maturity result as an answer to prayer.

I like to think that I am a fast learner. I can pick out specific lessons for trials in my life. The real problem is that I forget to apply the lessons and inevitably slide backwards. That’s when I pray, “God, may you use this for your glory!” Finally, I have reached the point where my prayers are not about me!

I desire God’s glory to be reflected through the circumstances of my life. God’s glory becomes personal as His peace settles over my mind and my heart. Oftentimes, the reason for the prayer remains the same, but I am changed. My problems feel smaller and my God feels closer as I exalt Him. God’s answer to my prayers was the evolution of power and intimacy in my relationship with Him: which is exactly what God desired for me and what I needed from Him all along!

Romans 8:28-29

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.