Monday, October 31, 2011

The Battle Within Won from Above

How I wish my heart was ever faithful.
Yes, perfectly determined to follow You.
Yet the fancies of this world
entice me, often causing me to stray.
Forgive my wavering devotion tainted
by this world’s distractions
which all too often steal the worship which
rightfully belongs to You.
Diverted from Your Holy Word,
from seeking Your will, Your righteousness,
Your love and grace -
I find myself empty and craving Your embrace.
You’ve spoken me into existence
and ordained my each and every day.
Your Word nourishes and sustains me.
Your will – my very life upon its journey.
I humbly confess Lord that
my mind, my heart, my soul’s desire
to follow You in all my ways
waxes and wanes as an ocean wave.
Only Your Spirit can turn my heart
from this world’s worthless riches
to receive the timeless treasures of Your Truth.
And still my hope is not ill-placed
as you have promised to restore my soul.
Your grace will grow a holy love in me for You
beyond this world’s momentary temptations.
And so I resolve to listen and learn
as Your Spirit fills my heart and head
with a deep-rooted awareness
of Your Way and Your Word.

Poem in response to Psalm 119:33-40
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh PA Dec. 2009
Deer Lake Park Nov. 2010

Monday, October 24, 2011

The One Person I Can't Forgive

In my forty-some years on this earth, I have encountered a lot of people for whom I’ve had to forgive much. People who have mentally, physically, sexually, and emotionally abused me. Bullies from my childhood and those whom I know and call family and friends. From being called names to being degraded and physically harmed by a man who vowed to love and cherish me all the days of my life. From the best friend in high school who slept with my boyfriend (and let’s not forget the boyfriend who slept with my best friend) to the neighbor who stalked me for six months until the day he attacked me in my own home. From the husband who left me for a 17-year old girl to the God who let my son die in a horrible car accident. Yet all of these people, with God’s grace, I have been able to wholeheartedly forgive and pray for. I pray they have the peace and hope God has given me. As for God himself – I have come to love him deeply and rely on his will no matter what.

However this week I realized that there is one person I have never been able to fully forgive. There are still moments in my life when I hold this person accountable for every misspoken word, every neglect, and every failure, everything wrong she's ever done. Who is this poor woman? It's me.

Why is it so easy to find it within myself to forgive all those who have wronged me, who have hurt me and yet, I can’t seem to finally and wholeheartedly forgive myself? Am I so wretched a person that it is easier to forgive the whole world, yet not me?

In my intellect, I know that the answer is no. The Bible tells us we are all sinners, equally sinful in the sight of God’s holiness. So why is it so much easier to forgive everyone else's unholiness than to forgive my own? Jesus died on the cross for my sins – for my sinfulness in its entirety which means that there is nothing in me or my past that has not been forgiven and forgotten by God. To hold myself accountable for my sins after they have been forgiven is like saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough. I can’t possibly make the argument that Jesus’ death, Jesus the perfect holy Son of God who gave his life for mine, is somehow insufficient to pay the price for my sin. If the God who loves and created me, redeemed me and is making me a new creation in him has forgiven me, who am I to withhold forgiveness? And yet, I still want to hold myself accountable, to pay for it somehow, someway to make up for my wrongs.

I see no way out of this endless circle of guilt I’ve wrapped myself up in except to give it to God. To forgive myself again and to hand over again to Jesus the unforgiveness, the pride, the self-righteous judgementalism I hold against myself. I hope this time, my heart learns beyond doubt what my head already knows – I am now and always will be a forgiven beloved child of the living God.
About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church (May 2011)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Grace 's Inextinguishable Light

For the last two and a half years, I’ve been taking a few hours each week to reflect on what God has done in my life and then write about it in 500-750 words or so to share with you. Often, I begin thinking about it on Thursday and by Sunday afternoon – I have a good idea of what I’m going to share. This week, I had in mind what I was going to write and then I went to church Sunday morning and I was so touched by what I saw there, I had to put aside the original idea. I hope and pray that you will bear with me if this is not like my other blogs.

This morning at church, we watched on as a young couple brought their beautiful baby girl forward to be baptized. The Elder presenting them to the church family was the baby’s grandmother. Their extended family was sitting up front to share in that wonderful moment when this precious child became a member of the body of Christ and of our church family. It was a joyous occasion. And yet, it was also bittersweet because after church, I knew the family would be heading to the funeral home where the baby’s great-grandmother was laid out for visitation.

Grace, who was 93 years old when passed away on Friday, was the epitome of her name. While I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know Grace well, I’d spoken with her a few times over the years as she was also our church’s secretary for the longest time. She was a humble, grace-filled, lovely woman who, among other things, was our church baseball team’s biggest fan. She’d been a long-time member and had raised her many children in the church. And in turn, they also have raised their children in the church. Today we watched on as the fourth generation began her journey as a child of God through baptism. I know that Grace, who has now completed her baptism and is with the Lord, would have been so happy to see her great-granddaughter start the very journey she herself cherished in her own life.

Today our pastor talked about being the salt of the earth and a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Grace was surely that and her light will continue on well into the future as this little girl and generations to come are brought up to know and love the Lord as Grace did. Two hundred years from now, the world may not remember or know that Grace was here, but her light, the light of hope found only in Jesus, will still be shining in the generations of children nurtured in the faith by the family of faith that Grace loved and cared for. What a wonderful legacy this woman has left us.

That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave. Though I don’t have any children to whom I can pass on my faith, I can pass on my faith in some way to everyone I meet like Grace did. I hope that when the Lord calls me home, there will be someone who knew very little of me, but from our few encounters could tell the world that I loved Jesus passionately and shared that love with him or her in some way, be it big or small.

May God bless you with love, peace, hope, and grace.

About the pictures:
Fichter Fairy Garden (May/June 2011)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tell Me a Story

This past weekend, I attended the Women of Faith conference in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful time of worship and focusing on God with 8,000 sisters in the faith of all denominations. The speakers gave incredible testimonies of God’s grace in their lives and made it clear that every one of us in that stadium has a story – a story of God’s grace, love, and healing. We each have a story to tell of God working in and through our lives that we were given to share with those around us.

I remember looking around at the thousands of women there at one point during the conference and thinking, “every one of us is messed up somehow. Not one of us has had a perfect life or lives that fictitious better-than-me life we all assume everyone else has. We all know hurt, disappointment, confusion, indecision, hard circumstances. Each of us was broken and in need of God’s saving grace. Whether we’d been a Christian for a day or a lifetime, we all need Jesus just as much right now as we did the first moment we gave our hearts to him.”

There was a moment in the conference when we all were singing praises to God and the blend of thousands of voices rising as a single chord of worship to our Savior was a most beautiful sound that took my breath away. My voice blending with all the others until it couldn’t be picked out even by me was a phenomenal reminder to me that I am not alone. Not only is God with me always, but my family, my Christian brothers and sisters, are always near to support and comfort me, to encourage and help me through difficult times, and pick me up when I fall – as I am there for them.

We each have a story and when those stories combine to glorify God, it is a beautiful thing! That’s why I write this blog. That’s why I offer my time and my heart to grieving families and that’s why I serve in leadership at my church. Because I want my life to be a beautiful offering to the Love of my life – Jesus. I want my life to say that He loves me and I love Him. And when my small voice is added to the many other seemingly small voices, we will be heard as one beautiful chord of worship and praise to the God who created and redeemed us.

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian (July 2009)

Monday, October 3, 2011

All in the Family

Yesterday we celebrated World Communion Sunday at my church. The tradition of WCS began in 1933, at a Shadyside church right here in Pittsburgh, to promote Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation. It was adopted in 1940 by the National Council of Churches encouraging Christian churches worldwide to celebrate our Christian unity even if our nations are at odds with each other. 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The Nazis and their fascist reign of terror swept over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future. Seventy-eight years later, we still face terrorism and anxiety over economics, politics and the future. However, instead of a single church, countless Christian churches around the globe met around the Lord’s Table yesterday in unity, claiming their heritage as children of God and their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior as their bond.

I wish I could say that we made a difference in the world, made a statement the world could not ignore, changed the hearts of world leaders who last week were set on power, wealth, and property above all else at any cost, and now have their hearts set on Jesus and seek only God’s will in their lives and in their lands. I wish I could say that my own country’s leaders have had a change of heart and are wearing sackcloth and ashes in repentance seeking God’s guidance in the oversight of this land. I can’t even say that.

I don’t know if it will ever contribute to the world becoming a better place, but I do know that for one day – I was very aware that my little 700 member congregation is just a very small part of “The Church” – Christ’s bride. And in the "Church" which I am a part of, there are brothers and sisters who had to meet in secret to celebrate our unity yesterday. There were some, beaten and dying in prison because they will not renounce their faith in Jesus, who celebrated our unity in Christ yesterday. Please pray for them. There are missionaries all over the world who have answered God’s call to go to, sometimes hostile, foreign lands who celebrated our unity. There were brothers and sisters who had no bread or wine, who joined us at the Lord’s Table to claim their unity with us in whatever ways the Lord provided for them. At the Lord’s Table, we are united, all equally sharing in his love and grace, all equally blessed in his Spirit and equally called to share the good news of his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. For one day, we made a strong statement to God that we are His people and that He is our God, and if the rest of the world saw it – good! For me, it was an affirmation of God’s sovereignty in my life and that I am one among many in God’s family – no matter where I am, there is family nearby for me to lean on and I am there for them to lean on me.

If you believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior – you are my family. Please know that I pray for you – that you will live and grow in God’s will and that he will strengthen you in your faith. May the Spirit guide and protect you and the peace of Christ fill you. Amen.

About the pictures:
North Park (September 2011)