One Way My Husband Will Never Be Like God

19 years ago today, I foolishly jumped into a commitment with a man I barely knew.  Having met him only 10 months prior, I only grasped a tiny fraction of who he was as I proclaimed that I would love and cherish him the rest of my life.  Only by the grace of God, he happened to be an even better man than I ever imagined at the time, because my historical choices of guys usually moved the other direction. 
Over the years, we both have changed – dare I say - almost to the point that we are not even the same people.  Again, only by the grace of God have we changed in ways that cause us to fall even more in love with each other, and despite each other too.
If I had married my husband knowing he’d never change, could I be happy? I might think I know everything about him by now, but periodically he surprises me.  The fact that he is also continually changing gives promise to adventure ahead rather than a life of complacency and boredom. 
So the fact that God never changes, is that a good thing?  Hebrews 13:8 claims Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Is the sameness of Jesus boring?  Hardly!  I only know a tiny fraction of all that God is.  While it will take all of eternity for me to know Him, I know that He will only become more and more wonderful – and there will never be something disappointing to discover.
The fact that my husband is mutable and that God is immutable is one respect that they will never be alike, and this is strangely a perfect thing.

Love & War - Book Review

If you are married and ever felt any truth to the idea that “marriage is a submarine with Cinderella and Huck Finn shut inside,” then the book Love and War: Finding Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage is for you.  This is not your typical marriage book.  With frankness and inclusion of many difficulties they have faced, John and Stasi Eldredge speak from their 25 years of marriage to each other of the things that they are just beginning to understand.  The battle that strives to tear apart a marriage is real, and we can draw up our swords in a united front to turn our marriage into something beautiful.
Marriage is hard work, and when two broken people join together, as soon as they say “I do”, the pieces gradually start coming to the surface.  We are not to ignore them, but deal with them, and the Eldredges show us how without using clich├ęs.  They also explain how marriage goes through ebbs and flows, and if you think a marriage always has to be happy, then you will turn a simply low season into something worse.  We are to allow for the ebbs and flows by checking in with God, and they provide practical advice on how to get through these times with God at the center.  Without glossing over the issue of sex, they also explain that sex is the barometer of a marriage, and they attack the issues that lead to difficulties in a straight-forward manner.  At the end of book, they provide a series of prayers as a resource that can be prayed together as a couple to bring health and restoration to marriage and maintain it.
Even though I was convicted, the Eldredges didn't make me feel guilty for not being good enough or more discontent with how my marriage is, like some marriage books do. In fact, while I found myself thinking, “wow, I’m glad my marriage isn’t THAT bad,” I also gave further evaluation to some areas I had not considered previously.  I feel motivated to not always fall into the easiest way of doing things and driven to make my marriage even better. 
This book is great for any married couple, especially those you have at least a few years under their belt and as well as those with many.  Even if you feel like your marriage is good, this book will help you appreciate it even more by sharpening your perspective on the purpose and beauty of marriage. 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review. The opinions I have expressed herein are my own.

My Irrational Fear

I don’t exactly envy Elijah’s ride to heaven in a whirlwind.  A whirlwind is basically a tornado, isn’t it?  Was he excited or terrified? Was his adrenaline pumping as it swirled and descended toward him from the sky carrying the chariot and horses on blazes of fire? 

Not just in childhood but to this very day, my nightmares usually involve a dark and sinister tornado, or a herd of threatening tornadoes galloping across the horizon.  Skinny ones, wide ones, in a snowstorm, on a rocky cliff, even on the top of a building during a fire while being held at gunpoint – no dream exactly alike but all have a common denominator. 

Maybe it started with the annual viewing of the movie “Wizard of Oz” as a child growing up in Kansas, and maybe it continued with the devastating destruction of a mile-wide tornado that blasted neighborhoods adjacent to mine back in 1999. The daily drive through the war zone imprinted in my mind as fresh as if it were yesterday, adding fuel to my nightmares.

Yet, anticipating a “long-track strong tornado” from a developing supercell is horrifyingly exciting.  Why?  Is it merely the break in the monotony of daily routine?  Is it the knowledge that someone’s life is about to be turned upside down – and hoping it won’t be mine?  Is it the thrill of danger? The power of something wild that is way beyond my control, like being on a wild roller coaster, but trusting in the tracks and operator to keep me safe?  The anticipation in reality is better than the fear in my nightmares.

Perhaps tornadoes are my symbol of insecurity – the potential for something completely beyond my control to turn my life totally upside down.  If I know that God controls everything that crosses my path and that He will not allow something that is not for my good or will make Him look great, then why this crazy fear?  I know His plan for me is right and good, but I also know it won’t be easy.  It might even be painful, but He is orchestrating the unexpected into my life to accomplish His purposes. 
Maybe a ride to heaven in a whirlwind wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Photo courtesy of NSSL

How to Prepare for the Journey in 3 Easy Steps

Be prepared in 3 easy steps? If only it were that easy!
I am preparing for another big event in my life – something I dreamed for, longed for, and prayed for over the last 2 ½ years, something that seemed wild and impossible, something that required difficult circumstances to bring it to fruition.  I know God placed the desire on my heart way back then, but I also know that if I am not spiritually prepared, it could shatter my world into pieces.  It is complex, delicate, holds so much promise but also much potential for heartache.  

I so desperately want to be prepared. 
I have 3 weeks. 
Is there something systematic I can do? A certain book of the Bible I should study in depth for this season? A Bible study that will prepare me? A list that I can check off so that when I’m done, I know I’m ready for all that God has in store for us?
As far as I know, there is no system, no list to check off.  The Holy Spirit has been repeating to me that there is only one thing I must do: depend completely on Him -- keeping my eyes on Jesus.  How?
  Pour out your dependence on God daily
  Continue in conversation with Him throughout the day
  Be open to Scripture He lays on your heart to meditate on or memorize
  Turn your uncertainties and worries into gratitude and worship
  Meditate on His character, His ways and His promises
But what if I also practiced these through the humdrum activities in my daily life?  How much do I miss by not paying attention to what God is doing when I'm on auto-pilot? 
If I can turn these preparations into habits in my life - all the time, every day, every moment - then maybe I can be in ready-mode for anything. If I do, I will open my eyes to what God is already doing, and be a part of it.  My life will be fuller and richer in the routine and mundane of daily life as well as the life-changing events. I want the abundant life! 

Preparing for Something Big

How do you prepare for a journey?  A big season of change that you know is coming in your life? Something tough, something life-changing?  Is it even possible to be prepared?
The evening before a procedure that held the potential for diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness, I leaned hard on God to prepare me for the news, whatever it would be.  I could imagine how I wanted to be afterwards, how I would react, the character I would display while making my God look great.  But my follow-through of courage and strength is never quite what I imagined. 
Easier said than done, and easier planned than achieved, even though I had the opportunity to practice this more than once.  Still, the best memory of those times is knowing that God was holding me close to His heart because I was wholly dependent on Him.
In other big events, joyful ones - a family vacation, a special anniversary, pregnancy and new motherhood of my second child - I sowed the time to spiritually prepare my heart and God allowed me to reap multi-dimensional rewards.  Even now, a significant aspect of cherishing these memories is the remembrance of the closeness of God during those times because I sought hard to center my heart on Him during these events. 
Whether it be something dreadful, like facing the possibility of cancer, or joyful, like a new addition to the family, being spiritually 'prepared' prevents me from being short-sighted, disappointed, or empty when expectations are unmet.  Whether joyful or tragic, when spiritually centered on Jesus, I can see what He is doing.  Now I know that if I can stay centered on God, He will:
·     Open my eyes to the revelations that He has prepared to give me
·     Show me a new facet of His character and deeper understanding of His ways
·     Draw me into deeper intimacy with Him as I feel Jesus walking alongside me
·     Connect me with others  to grow relationships
·     Grow my faith as I watch for His hand at work in the event
·     Develop new character and courage in me
I want more!  I want to be prepared to receive more.   As I prepare for and embark on another journey and spend time reflecting, no doubt this list will be extended.
The older I get, the more journeys I glimpse that are waiting on the horizon – menopause, high school graduations, empty nest, weddings, sickness, funerals, and other things that I cannot even imagine.  I want God to do all the things I have listed above in all the events of my life.  How can I be prepared?  I’m pondering the answer for my next post…

Small is Big - Book Review

I was misled by the title of Tony and Felicity Dale’s book Small is Big: Unleashing the Big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches.” In order to convey the book’s theme, the title should exchange the words “intentionally small churches” with “house churches”. Rather than finding inspiration and ideas for effective evangelism for my small church, this book praises house churches and provides stories and illustrations on how they have been successful. While this is not a how-to book on house churches or a theology on the nature of the church, it provides ideas and encouragement in a conversational style along with some resources to consult at the back of the book.

This book gave me food for thought on what it means to ‘do’ church.  The Dales challenge the idea of a church meeting in a common building and propose that the best way to “do” church is in houses or coffee shops.  They give ‘traditional’ churches (i.e. meets in a building that is not a house or coffee shop) a pat on the back throughout the book while also knocking them.  If a member from a traditional church joins a house church, they will need to endure the “detoxing” effects. I truly agree that house churches are a viable way of ‘doing’ church and believe in the simple church concept, but the emphasis of this book revolves around the shallow reproduction of house churches, which the authors themselves illustrate the goal as propagating like rabbits.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. 

Following My Desires

This morning on the Desiring God Blog, I read, “Lord, I want to be free. I want my desires so changed into accord with reality so that I can do what I want to do and never regret it. That's what I want. And so I'm going hard after Jesus to change me, because many of my desires are stupid…”  It made me laugh, but it is also MY heart’s cry.

In recent years, I struggled with guilt for increased feelings of reluctance to serve in my church and community.  Although facilitating ladies Bible studies at church and the homeless shelter as well as assisting in children’s ministry activities were things I enjoyed at one time, they morphed into something I dreaded in my schedule. If the activity robbed me of time with my husband and kids, I dreaded it all the more.  Losing all interest, one-by-one, I dropped them until I was serving nowhere.  Then guilt blanketed me.  Being with my family was all I desired, and I worried that my world would become too small.  Had I made my family into an idol?

But the desire to dig deep in God’s Word never left me.  With my extra time, I brushed up on biblical Greek and began studying the Bible more systematically.  While I absorbed knowledge and relished a new intimacy with God, I knew it was right for this time in my life.  Yet, I knew I was not supposed to keep it private.  I’m still trying to figure it all out, but writing what God is showing me is definitely my sweet spot.  And dread is not a part of my life anymore.

Now I look for the things that spark my heart to beat a little faster, areas in which I can show love to people around me – not out of the ‘shoulds’ or to prevent guilt, but with pure desire.  I am concerned that this is based too much on feelings.  Sometimes there are unpleasant duties that must be fulfilled, but I know sometimes God compels me to do them.  Sometimes He compels others to do them.  Listening for the Spirit’s voice in compelling me is working for me for now. 

If I pray daily that God will change my desires so that they will coincide with His, then maybe I can do what I want to do and never regret it.  He will allow me to see through His perspective more and more, and He will continue to change me.

Mother's Day - the Pain and the Joy

It is not chains that hold a marriage together. It is hundreds of tiny threads which are sown together over the passage of time.  Over the years, God has been teaching me how to look at life through His perspective through the Word, and life experiences have shown me that weaving those threads around the central cord of Christ is what gives my marriage not only joyful longevity but strength to endure the Refiner’s fire.

Before kids, Mother’s Day had always been about celebrating and honoring our own mothers, but 16 years ago, for the first time, Mother’s Day was finally going to be my day, or it was supposed to be… But things didn’t turn out like I had planned.

I distinctly remember that May of 1995, sitting in the pew at our church when the pastor asked all the mothers to stand. As I remained seated, my heart ached.  Not just because I wanted to be a mother and wasn’t, but because I felt like I should have been a mother and God took it from me.  A miscarriage a few months rocked my faith, and to deepen the pain, the baby’s due date would have been that Mother’s Day.

Later in the day at a quick shop, the cashier handed me a rose and said “happy mother’s day”.  I refused the rose, shamefully murmuring that I was not a mother.  His insistence that I accept it affirmed my value and place in the world as a woman. God used him to show me that I did not have to be a mother to my own biological children to use the qualities of nurturing and caring for others to impact my world.

I believed in Jesus as my personal savior at the age of 6, but God took me to a new level in my relationship with him when I realized I could not control something I wanted so badly.   I turned to His Word, the Psalms, where I learned how to express both disappointment and reverence, and both despair and hope.  In the Psalms, I can pass from thinking of God as a part of my life to the realization that I am part of His.  

Psalm 46 was the passage I clung to in that season of my life.   “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” 

God revealed to me in this passage that even if creation itself became uncreated, a river of joy flowed from the Lord’s mighty throne.  He bestowed on me a sense of comfort, a sense of hope, something better someday.  God is good, even if at the moment from my own perspective it doesn’t seem like it.

The center cord of Christ secured the threads of my marriage as my husband honored me and expressed my worth, even if God did not plan parenthood for us.  As my faith was refined while walking through the dark valley, I realized that my identity was not to be found in motherhood, but in Christ.  If He did not choose to bless me with biological children, perhaps He would choose to use me to bless others and in a sense have “spiritual children.” 

It seemed like years had passed, but on Mother’s Day one year later, I worshiped in that same pew while embracing the amazing gift of our newborn baby in my arms.  And a few years later, the Lord blessed me with another. 

Even though my children are now 11 and 15 years old, every Mother’s Day I remember the pain of loss but also the joy that comes in the morning.  While I cherish the gift and calling of motherhood, most of all I cherish the love and greatness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and desire to continue to grow in understanding of His perspective through all the chapters of my life as He works them out for our good and to His glory.

Taking Worry Captive - My Adventure

I utterly failed.  This week I had a perfect opportunity to choose to take worry captive and replace it with trust in God.  Instead, I forgot that I had the alternative of peace through Jesus and allowed myself to be consumed by anxiety.

It started on Monday after a phone call about the future and a misunderstanding.  The anxiety began and my attempts to gain control of the circumstances were futile.  With the knowledge that God was sovereign, I was able to be patient to a small degree and watch events unfold.

On Tuesday, I was frustrated at the lack of unfolding events.  The nagging thought of whether or not God would interfere with man’s free will made me wonder how much I could trust Him to work it all out for good.  A verse about worry came to my mind from Matthew 6 in fragments – “Do not worry about tomorrow….each day has enough worry of its own...will not add a single hour to your life…”  This day certainly had enough of its own, yet I worried about tomorrow and the month ahead.  The Holy Spirit was speaking but the noise I was allowing in my head deafened me to Him.

On Wednesday, the worry and anxiety snowballed.  Everything in life weighed heavy on my shoulders, including things of which I had formerly trusted God. Satan knocked, I opened the door, and he summoned his friends and had a whopping grand party.  Satan’s lies had broken in and made themselves at home, and I didn’t even recognize them as strangers.

On Thursday, I experienced the physical effects of the worry-party hangover.  Finally, I was smacked in the head and jarred to reality – I was not responsible for circumstances outside of my control.  Philippians 4:6 echoed in my mind - “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Conviction flooded my soul, revealing that I had chosen sin intentionally by selecting what came natural – worry.  I really could choose to end the worry-party and turn the other direction. Now I was ready to lay the source of anxiety on the altar before God and be careful not to snatch it back.

Through Friday morning, I chose to be obedient and plowed into my work with full concentration. Every time anxiety knocked on my door, I kept it closed, replacing worry with thanksgiving and presenting my requests to God. He gave me peace and His perspective. And not long after, He gave me the answer I had worried for all week…not just an answer, but the answer of which I hoped and dreamed.  Even if it hadn’t been the answer I wanted, He still would have been good and He still could be trusted.   Either way, all that worry and anxiety benefited absolutely nothing, all a waste of energy

Choosing obedience and submitting to God’s agenda instead of my own from the beginning would have carried me through this whole process in a matter of minutes instead of days.  Trying to “prepare” myself for difficulties and trials is a step in the right direction, but if I don’t move the knowledge from my head to my heart into action, then my faith is weak.  God is transforming me.  

Put Your Dream to the Test - Book Review

At midlife, I find myself settled into busy daily routines, but after reading John Maxwell's Put Your Dream to the Test, I discovered not only do I still have dreams, but they are still achievable.  I just need to dust them off, define them, put them to the test, and get into action.  I felt realistically inspired with each page I turned.

This book is not one of those blooks that claim if you can dream it, then you can achieve it. The author guides you through ten practical questions to assist you in recalling and reformulating your dream, defining it with clarity, measuring it against your strengths and passion, developing a strategy, networking with people whose strengths are your weaknesses, counting the cost while keeping priorities straight, having tenacity, and evaluating the satisfaction and significance.
A couple of my favorite parts included the importance of having a ‘dream team’, realizing we can’t accomplish the dream all on our own but instead we should draw on skills of those that complement ours – their strengths complementing my weaknesses.  The author also provides a strategy to help with the planning process in reaching our dreams using the acronym SECURE.  Tenacity is essential to realizing our dreams, and he provides seven tips to developing greater tenacity.  At the back of the book, the Dream Test serves as a map so you can determine where you are at and where you are headed.  It includes checklists, evaluation, and how to plot the course for each of the ten questions that are designed to help you “see it and seize it."

This book is inspiring, practical, and easy to read, as well as potentially life-changing.  For me, I find myself stretching my imagination beyond the expected norm to match my abilities and strengths in ways that may be new or different in my culture.  It helped me to appreciate how God made me and encouraged me to resurrect the dream that died somewhere along the way through life.
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Surprised by Suffering - Book Review

We who live in Western nations live in more security, comfort, and health than many other parts of the world – at least enough that we don’t face imminent threats on a daily basis at this point in time.  When suffering or difficulties strike, they tend to catch us by surprise.  R.C. Sproul’s purpose in Surprised by Suffering is to prepare the reader for the suffering that will come and to not be surprised by it. 
In the first part of the book titled “Unto Death”, the author describes the depth of Jesus’ suffering and why God has chosen the route of suffering to bring redemption to a fallen world.  God is sovereign, nothing is random, and we should not think it strange or unusual when it strikes.  Jesus is our example.  He wanted the cup of suffering to pass from him, but he did not “name it and claim it”.  Our requests are to be full of humility and submission, letting God be God rather than demanding blessings from Him.
The second part of the book addresses issues after death.  The author provides biblical proof along with credible speculations about life after death, the problems of reincarnation, the anticipation of the resurrection, and what heaven will be like.  He shows us what we can know about heaven and why our limited frame of reference makes it hard for us to comprehend it.
In the appendix, he answers specific questions surrounding the problem of suffering, like: what happens when babies die, what role free will plays in suffering, and contacting the dead through mediums.  His theology is biblically sound while being straightforward and easy to grasp.
I absolutely LOVED this book because my love for God and my understanding of His ways grew leaps and bounds.  My favorite part was the modern day story of Job in the business world to show that faith is not blind, but rather is rooted in the knowledge of God’s character.  I want to read this book again and again so that the truths are planted so deeply in my heart that they will be part of my thinking every time I face difficulties.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reformation Trust in exchange for a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Reading of Many Books

So many books, so little time!  I am an avid reader and passionate book lover.  Two stacks of next-in-line books to read tower beside my nightstand (yes, I had to stack them on the floor because they were so tall).  My personal library shelves are filled with at least a couple hundred books I want to read.  Yet, I still buy books and visit my public library on a regular basis in search for more books. 

Just having a special book in my possession feels almost as good as reading it.  I continue the search for the treasure books that will give me a grand epiphany, increase my wisdom and understanding, or inspire me in my walk with Jesus. 

I keep reminding myself that all the wisdom, counsel, and understanding I need for life and death is found in a single bound book.  The meaning is always the same but the way I perceive it and apply it is diverse, depending on my frame of mind and circumstances at the time.  I love books, but my Bible is my greatest treasure. 

It’s okay to read books besides the Bible.  When we read commentaries and books that help us mine the jewels buried in the Bible, we join with the community of believers, dialoguing with those who have studied a passage, topic, or aspect.  We were meant to understand the Bible as a community, and we are arrogant if we think we don’t need anyone else who is spirit-filled to deepen our understanding or provide perspective.  Because we are sinful, we have blind spots and need others to be our eyes in those areas.  Even a whole generation can have blind spots, so it is wise to read those of previous decades and centuries. 

Periodically, I find myself so consumed with the reading of books, that I have neglected God’s own words.  I resolve to beware that the reading of many books does not become my idol and that the Bible will always come first, which in itself is the greatest library I have in God.