Thursday, July 30, 2009

Changes

This week, I've been thinking a lot about change. The kind of change that gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. Somewhere this week, a marriage crumbled. A life-saving surgery took place. A job was lost. A child was born. A loved one died. You may look at this list and see some good changes and some bad changes. I look at it and choose to see God's gifts.

When something comes along in my life that's devastating, I hate it just as much as anyone else, but I've learned to see it as a gift from God. This precious gift is an opportunity for me to lean on him and rely on him even more than I do when life is favorable. There is a closeness and familiarity that comes only when I'm weeping in his arms and seeking his comfort. I learn more about who I am as a person and often times find things in me that need changing that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. It's in those unhappy, unwanted circumstances in my life that I grow in character and maturity. His strength in my weak moments leaves me stronger and more secure in good times.

When adversity takes a vacation and life is good, I need to praise God for the accomplishments he has given me in my life. I need to share that joy with those around me for no victory can truly be celebrated to its fullest alone. I need to be ever mindful that things are always changing, and hard times will come again but through it all, the good and the bad, God's Spirit is with me. That one thing will never change.

He is my constant companion. He is my protector, my guide, my comfort, my joy and my hope. Time and again, he has proved his love and dedication to me and only asks that I love him in return. How could I not? When all about me is in chaos, he is my rock. When all is calm, he is my peace. Nothing and no one else in all of creation or history can measure up to his perfection. So I choose to give my heart to God because I refuse to settle for second best.

Thank you Jesus for teaching me how to love you by loving me first.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park May 2008

Friday, July 24, 2009

Remember When

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3a (NIV)


This week, I spent a couple of hours catching up with a school friend I haven't seen in over twenty years. It was fun laughing at the "remember whens" and hearing about what's happened in her life over the years. I even saw a few old photos she has of us. As I looked at those photos, I was surprised to see myself smiling in every one of them. I remember that time as being dark, dismal, and despairing. I was a child dealing with abuse. The resulting depression was a devouring emptiness encased in the uncertainties and insecurities of teenage life. Yet, to look at those pictures, you'd never know the hurt I hid inside. A very good reminder that we can't see into a person's heart the way God can. The world saw my smile, God saw my pain and he refused to leave me drowning in it.

I don't look back on that part of my life often because it can still sometimes be very painful, but when I do, gratitude swells in my heart. I am so thankful to the Lord for bringing me through it and for the woman he has created me to be out of the ashes of my past. When I look at the difference of who I was and who I am now, I can't help but have confidence in the Lord that he will bring me through all the challenges and valleys that are ahead of me. When I'm disappointed in myself for what I believe are my failings and inadequacies, I look back at all the Lord has done in my life and remind myself that maybe those victories and qualities I lack today are on his list of things to mold into me tomorrow. Taking a short glance back always affords me the joy of celebrating what God has done in my life and inspires hope for what he will accomplish in me in the future.
About the Pictures
River: Niagara Falls 2007
Sky: Parkwood Pres. Church, Allison Park, PA

Friday, July 17, 2009

Come Lord Jesus

All this week, my mind has been on a sermon I heard last Sunday about the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The preacher explained that Jesus was not directly comparing the unrighteous judge to God. Jesus was saying that if an evil man will answer a persistent plea, how much more will our Heavenly Father who loves us answer our diligent prayer. But this prayer, the preacher told us, isn't the "I want a new bike" kind of prayer. He said that Jesus told this parable to illustrate what he was explaining in the chapter before (Luke 17:20-37) about how we are to be expectant of God's Kingdom. He explained that we can see this kind of expectancy in the prayers of our persecuted brothers and sisters who persistently pray for Jesus' return so that they might be vindicated and find relief from the fear and pain that define their daily existence. The preacher pointed out that we in America, when confronted with praying for Jesus' return, can often be hesitant. He told of a young person who wants to experience prom, college, getting married, and having children. Knowing that everything will change when Jesus comes back, she is afraid she will miss out on those everyday life experiences. So she finds it difficult to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come." with our persecuted brothers and sisters.

This is where my mind took over. Do I pray for Jesus' return as diligently as I do for my car to pass inspection or for the new iPhone? I had to answer no. So of course my next question was - shouldn't I? I've been through so much pain and abuse in my life that there are scars that will only be healed with Jesus' return and the ushering in of God's Kingdom. While I would not insult my persecuted brothers and sisters by comparing my life to theirs, I have a glimpse, from my own experience, of what it's like to fear for my life. I know what it's like to just want to die so that the pain and hardship would end. I know that on the day Jesus returns - I will finally see my little boy again and the aching hole his death has left in my heart will be filled with joy and love again. All very good, albeit selfish, reasons to be in constant prayer for his return.

But then I started thinking about those I love who don't know him yet and those who have never heard of the Lord and his gift of salvation. My thoughts drifted back to September 11, 2001. About how one minute life was going along like it always does for the people in New York, the Pentagon, and on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and the next moment...gone. All of a sudden, they didn't have any more time to come to a saving belief in the Lord Jesus. I cried that day for those people the most. When Jesus comes back, I believe that everyday life as we know it will be irrevocably changed and we will experience the wonder and joy of God's Kingdom in ways that we currently don't have the capacity to imagine. But, for those who have been putting off the decision, who have never heard of him, who have rejected him because they have been hurt by those who carry his name, for those people time will be up. Can I pray for that?

I can't speak for the persecuted. But for me, I'm willing to live with the emotional scars and the pain of my past just a little longer, if it gives those people the time they need to know and accept God's love. I can wait a little longer to hold Bryan in my arms again, if it gives them the opportunity to learn to love Jesus. So maybe my persistent prayer must be: "Come, Lord Jesus. Come into the moments of my life. Give me your strength to endure, your passion to love those around me, your wisdom to lead them to you, and your patience to wait for your return."
About the pictures:
Niagara Falls (August 2007)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Temptation - The Ultimate Pain in the Neck

This week, I've been dealing with a pain in the neck - literally. There is a pinched nerve in the base of my neck that is causing pain in my back, shoulder and arm. Sometime it's overwhelming and tears stream down my face in frustration - most of the time it's manageable. The pain is always there to some degree. I'm learning to go about daily life despite its constant distraction. I've noticed that when I'm concentrating on the important things in life (work, time with friends and family, writing my blog, etc.) that I am able to ignore the pain. I've tried over-the-counter pain relievers, but they hardly mask the pain and can't heal the pinched nerve. Icing the base of my neck seems to alleviate most of the pain while the ice is on my neck but like the pain relievers, cannot correct the cause. I do have hope for permanent relief though as I'm going to a chiropractor who is gently but firmly working the muscles, disks, and cartilage that have shifted out of position back into place. The pain of these office visits are excruciating at times, but necessary to correct the pinched nerve before it becomes permanently damaged.

At first I thought that I was learning about perseverance this week. But in prayer, I've come to realize that this week's lesson is about learning how to deal with temptation. Temptation is like the pain I've experienced this week. While it's the temptation that grabs our attention - the root cause is found elsewhere. Temptation is only a symptom of our sinfulness and it is always there to some degree.

I'm learning to go about my daily life despite temptation's constant distraction and I've noticed that when I'm concentrating on important things like honoring God, spending time in his presence, and helping my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I am able to ignore temptation for the most part. I can look to the world's remedies such as shrugging off my sinful actions as unavoidable, convincing myself it’s okay to sin, or claiming that sin is my right as an individual to deal with temptation but that won’t solve the root cause or eliminate temptation. Real healing comes from time spent with God, seeking his presence and comfort, his guidance and strength. God is creating in me a new heart - one that loves God, not sin. He is the only one who can heal the sinfulness in me and bring final and lasting freedom from temptation. He works this healing in my heart and in my life gently but firmly and this is not always a pleasant experience. In fact, the pain of this healing can sometimes be excruciating, but necessary if God is going to mold and make me into the beloved child of God that he is creating me to be.
About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church, Allison Park, PA (July 2009)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Smile - You're Forgiven!

This week’s lesson was difficult to go through and is now even harder to write about. This past week, I've been reminded of how much I really need a Savior as I have been dealing with my own sinfulness. We all know that we are sinful creatures in great need of God’s love and forgiveness, but I don’t know anyone who likes to admit it – to God or their peers. But here I am telling you that I have been deliberately defiant and turned away from God’s will.

Sin is a personal betrayal of God and to the person God is creating me to be. In that betrayal, God allowed me to feel the full weight of guilt, shame, and self-loathing that comes with sin. Not a pleasant place to be, however, quite effective at reminding me of why I sought God’s redemption in the first place. Being in God’s presence makes the stain of my sin all the more ugly and unbearable. When you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s always good to remember that seeking the Lord’s forgiveness is always humbling, though never humiliating. There is something so truly uplifting in seeking God’s forgiveness, and yet, we so often hesitate to approach him to confess our sin. Why?

While I know that God has forgiven me and has removed my sin as far away from me as the East is from the West, I still have to deal with me. I’m not as forgiving as God is when it comes to my faults and my sins. I fear that the moment I let myself off the hook, I will feel free to rebel against God again. Yet, I know, that until I let go of this, it will hold me back from experiencing the fullness of God’s forgiveness and love which Jesus came to give through his life, his death, and resurrection.

The moment I confessed my sin and God forgave me, he erased it from his memory. So for me to hold myself accountable for something God doesn’t even remember is irrational and not what he would want. In not forgiving myself, I am once again defying God’s will for me in my life. I guess I better get working on forgiving myself and let God take care of what I will or won’t do in the future when we get there.
About the pictures:
Blocked Path - North Park (2005)
Open Path - Deer Lake Park (2007)