Monday, October 29, 2012

A Day with God

This has been one of those crazy weeks where I never seemed to be able to catch up with my calendar. I kept thinking during the most chaotic moments....I really need to spend some time alone with God - just me and Him. It got me thinking about I poem I wrote a few years ago and shared on this blog in September of 2010. I hope you enjoy reading it again.

A Day with God
Let the ocean’s rhythmic whoosh linger in your ears
while you dance with the sandpipers to the seagulls’ song.
Sway to the water’s gentle lap upon the smooth worn rocks
that wade just beyond the shore.
Your toes sink into the cool wet sand where the water’s edge
plays its perpetual game of tag with the land.
Abandoned by the water’s retreat, shells and sparkling seaglass
glisten as they dry.
A wash of colors layers the horizon where water and sky touch, never to part.
You can almost see where the waves began their quest
to briefly touch the sand.
Breath deep the salty breeze of the ocean’s kiss.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Come with me to the mountain range rising from the earth to touch the sky.
See the river waters stampede over rocky cliffs
and wind through the lush valleys below.
Drink in the rainbow of wildflowers shimmering like rare gems in the sunlight
blanketing the hillsides.
The insects’ hum swells as the orchestra for the animals’ choir that echoes
through the rustling leaves of their forest home.
Hear the moose and coyote harmonize while the eagle sings his solo.
Each bird adding its own sweet trill and in the distance rises
the bass rumble of the bear.
The fragrance of wood, animal, and flower permeates the air
and you can taste the aroma.
A cool breeze rushes down from the snowy peaks to greet you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Walk with me as the setting sun shimmers off the golden sea of prairie grass.
A tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows weaves through
the endless evening sky
And the fading sunlight glistens off of the network of spider webs that connects
each blade of grass.
The swish of the wind combing through acres of grass and wildflowers rushes
to your ear
as the soft graceful sway of the rolling waves of flora waltzes
across the landscape.
The scent of animal and wildflower carried on the breeze tickles your nose.
Rising up out of the distance comes the lonely howl of the prairie wolf
and the screech of an owl echoes from a single tree on the horizon.
As the day fades, the air begins to cool and the grasshoppers’ lullaby
rises up around you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

I've deliberately not included any photographs with today's post. My hope is that the poem will bring the beauty of God's creation into your heart and your mind through your imagination.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How I Met Jesus

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.                                                        Jeremiah 29:12-13

Month after month, insomnia permeated my early morning hours. Too many twilight hours had been wasted sitting in despair wondering how I’d ended up in this place in my life. At the age of ten, I’d sunk into a life-long depression that almost destroyed me and which tainted every moment of my life. Now I was twenty-five and trapped in an abusive environment with no hope or expectation of love, safety, stability, or escape. My only reason for even bothering to live was my five-year-old who needed me to be there for him. I’d spent years trying to fix my life: to be happy, to make my abusive husband love me more, to make enough money to afford to pay both the electric bill and the gas bill in the same month. Many times in that last year, I’d found myself awake in the middle of the night crying out to a God I didn’t know or understand and had denied since childhood – “Where are you? Why can’t I find you?” He never answered.

Then on one of those dreary nights, a seemingly insignificant memory from childhood came to mind. “If you get lost while we’re here – stay right where you are! Don’t move! Don’t walk around trying to find me. Just stay right where you are and I will come find you!” It was my mother’s ‘as-we-walk-into-every-store’ speech. I’d heard it many times as a child.

What made me think of that now? It was then that the light bulb went on over my head – Maybe, I shouldn’t try to find God. Maybe I should let him find me! Maybe, me trying to fix all the stuff that’s wrong in my life is like walking around trying to find him instead of staying put and letting him take care of things – letting him find me.

I remember staring at the ceiling and saying, “I’ve done everything I can to try to fix my life. There’s nothing left for me to try. So God, it’s up to you now. You can’t possibly screw up my life anymore than I already have. Do whatever you want with it. I’m lost and I’m just going to stay right here and wait for you to find me.”
I went on with my life as usual, completely unaware of the big thing that had just happened or that God had heard and accepted my offer. Over time, my life began to change in many ways. God worked behind the scenes of my life to help me overcome nicotine addiction, leave behind my abusive marriage, and weave a network of people into my life who helped me through that first year after my son’s death.
Several years after that late-night prayer, Jesus delighted to introduce himself to me at a Kmart magazine rack. I love to read and as I was browsing through the books that day, I saw a paperback entitled The Book. I was unable to flip through the pages because it was shrink-wrapped, but the back cover promised that this book would speak the Bible to me in my own everyday language. Something inside of me said, “Buy this book.”

That evening, I began reading in Acts and was drawn back to it every night, reading about all of the different kinds of people who came to faith in story after story after story. The striking difference in Paul’s life before and after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus helped me realize that even though I had done some horrible things in my life, I wasn’t too awful for God to love. A few weeks later, I read Romans 5:6-8: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Wow! God doesn’t love me for what I’ll do for him or give to him – He just loves me! Is it possible that someone could love me for who I am, just as I am? And if he loves me for me unconditionally, then there’s nothing I can do that will cause him to love me any less. He’ll just ALWAYS LOVE ME! He loves me enough to take the punishment for my sins and he’s alive right now – loving me whether I love him or not.  

It was at that moment that I first loved Jesus back and gave him my heart and my life because without him, both were empty. With Jesus as my focus, my life has become quite an adventure. There have been some great times and some very bad times. With God’s help, I’ve faced incredible challenges and have been amazed at how God never fails to bring me through those times with grace, healing, and exraordinary blessing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17

About the pictures:
North Park (October 2012)


Monday, October 15, 2012

It's All About Jesus

This past week, I've had at least three people say to me that they see a big difference in me - like I'm a new Maureen compared to the one I was just months ago. I have grown in many significant ways recently. I am reminded of of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago. Because it's still so true, I thought we would look back this week to "It's All About Jesus" originally posted October 1,2010. Enjoy!

I was five years old when the series M*A*S*H came out. For the next eleven years, I laughed and cried with its characters with each new episode. It was probably the most influential TV program in my young life. There was no need for me to despair when the final episode aired in 1983 because many of the earlier episodes had already been in syndication for years. At one point, I was able to watch thirteen episodes a week. Often I would watch several episodes in a row and see tremendous growth in some of my favorite characters when watching one of the early episodes followed by one of the later episodes. No matter how much had changed in them, they were still very much the same characters I had come to know and love over the years.

Okay, besides embarrassing myself by admitting that I’m a M*A*S*H freak (yes, I own all the DVDs), there is a point to be made here. I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to really look back on my life and be reminded of the person I was eleven years ago when Jesus came into my life. I was a very shy, scared, and hurt human being. I hated myself more than I could hate any other person I have or will ever meet and no one could’ve convinced me that I didn’t deserve all the shame and blame I wrapped myself up in. But Jesus broke through all of that. He saw me – the me he created poking through the storm of depression and pain that consumed my heart. He reached through that darkness and pulled me out. If you could see the me I was then standing next to the me I am now – Wow! I’m the same Maureen but I’ve grown so much as a person and as a child of God. I am so different now, but I am still me and grateful to God for all he’s done and continues to do in my life.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how much I’ve grown because I see me every day and growth is a long slow process. However, we can’t discount the occasional growth spurt. In fact, I know a young man who grew five inches in one summer. Often he would be close to tears from the growing pains that seared through his body that summer. It’s the same with our spiritual growth. Yes, there are times when we have noticeable growth spurts in our spiritual lives and it usually comes with waves of great pain. In fact, that’s been my experience these last few months. I’ve grown so much in such a short time that even I can see it. It was not an easy road and I fell so many times, I lost count. But God was there to pick me up, clean me up and point me in the right direction. He gave me good friends who supported me in prayer, friends who sat with me, cried with me and guided me back to Jesus when I felt lost.

I’ve learned so much this summer that I couldn’t possible write it all down in this blog. However, I’d like to share the most important thing I learned: it really is all about Jesus! My focus needs to be on him. I need to seek him in all things. It’s his attention, his love, and his approval I seek. I need to meet him in His Word, not just in my daily devotion, but always, for everything. When I’m happy or sad, confused or hurting – I need to run to him in his Word and in prayer. My heart’s desire is to be with him everywhere I am and it starts here. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)
About the pictures:
North Park (October 2012)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Where Is Jesus During the Stewardship Drive?

Background information:
The church I work for has been journeying through “The Story” (The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People) in sermon, Sunday school, small group and personal study this year. Beginning in January with God creating everything, taking “Story breaks” for Easter, special guest speakers and the summer, they have arrived at the crucifixion this week. This first Sunday in October, they will be laying Jesus in the tomb and then will be taking another Story break for the rest of the month to accommodate the annual stewardship drive.

This past week, in our staff meeting, the pastor jovially remarked that he was putting Jesus in the tomb on Sunday (the first Sunday in October) and because of the annual stewardship drive was not letting him back out until November. That statement has been resonating in my mind and my heart this week. Everything that exists is God’s and we are the stewards of his wealth. And yet, when it comes to the annual stewardship drive, how inclined are we to put Jesus back in the tomb and not let him out until it’s over and we’ve made “our” decision about what to do with the money God has placed in our care. How often do we look at the bottom line and what we think we can comfortably afford instead of going to the Master for his instructions concerning the distribution of his wealth?
Even as I write these thoughts, I find myself guilty as charged. I must admit that in the past couple of years I’ve given what I thought I could without really asking for God’s opinion, let alone seeking his command. With the continuing rising prices of gas and food and almost everything else, plus the addition of a car payment now, I am again more inclined to shy away from asking God what he wants me to do with the money he has put in my charge. I guess I’m afraid that God is going to say to give more than my budget’s bottom line says I am able to give. I’m on a very tight budget and there are few, non-essential expenditures to give up in order to balance a budget with a large tithe.

I guess what it all boils down to is how much do I really trust God? Do I really believe that he is real and active in my life, concerned about and providing for my needs? And not just “believe” but “know” that if God asks me to take a giant leap of faith and be faithful in giving more than my budget says I can possibly afford, that he will be faithful in providing the necessities of life. Do I believe God when he tells me in Philippians 4:13 that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me or do I think those are just hollow words of encouragement? Will I put aside what I can prove and my fear of the unknown, trusting God, who knows and hold eternity in his hand, and approach him in prayer asking, “Lord, for this small moment in my eternal life, what shall I do with the resources you have put in my charge?”
In the end, if I want to do this Christian stewardship thing right, I will have to give up the decision of how much to give, which by the way was never mine to make in the first place, and defer to God’s budget for the disbursement of his wealth and property. It will be a struggle in my faith and whatever God decides, I’m sure I’m not going to be happy with given that I’m human and basically selfish. However, I think that the growing intimacy in my relationship with God as I learn to rely more on him and less on my own strength and understanding is a priceless treasure worth the effort.

About the pictures:
North Park (October 2012)

Monday, October 1, 2012

You Are My Neighbor

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
This week, at the behest of a friend, I read a book called “I’m Proud of You – My Friendship with Fred Rogers” by Tim Madigan. I found it a good read – a book that I believe everyone can identify with at least to some degree. While the book talks about the author’s friendship with “the” Mr. Rogers, its underlying message is that of the human condition and great healing. Tim is very open about his own pain and insecurity, his feelings of being unaccepted and how God, through Mr. Rogers, loved him whole.

The more I understand about myself and my own pain and healing, the more I am convinced that every human being is plagued by insecurity and feelings of being unaccepted in some way or another. This manifests itself in many ways – some people try harder to prove their worth to themselves and others, some give up altogether, some implode becoming depressed and living in perpetual suffering, and others explode launching their anger out onto the world around them.

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
Just today, one of my Facebook friends posted on her status –“It’s hard to explain to someone who has no clue. It's a daily struggle being in pain or feeling sick on the inside while you look fine on the outside.” For some reason, we try to hide this insecurity, this internal battle of worth and value, as if we are the only one in the world who feels this way, believing that if others knew, they would laugh at us or worse, confirm our perceived worthlessness. We go to work, or church, and even at home with those we love and trust the most, and we pretend that everything is okay when inside we’re broken and longing to have someone love us, not for what we do, but for who we are – warts and all. We hide who we are because we are convinced that if they knew the truth of us, they would abandon us and in our pain, we wouldn’t blame them for it.

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
What I’ve found in God’s healing is that he is the one I was crying out for when all I wanted was one person to love for who I was, imperfect, wounded, and limping through life. I needed someone to accept me wholly, not for what I could do, or for the potential I had, but for the person I was right then, the messy, confused, insecure woman I was. Sometimes I laugh at myself now when I think about me crying out for “this unknown person” and I picture God desperately pleading with me to know him as the One who fulfills all my needs. In the beginning, I understood this in my mind. But it took years of God proving his love for me to me for my heart to wrap itself around the understanding of his complete and unending love and acceptance of me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t, from time to time, experience insecurity and feelings of being unacceptable. The enemy is good at what he does. He knows that the slightest doubt can throw all that knowing into chaos and I sometimes fall for his deceptions. But even as I struggle with doubt, there God is – loving me wholly, as always, just as I am, in that moment.

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
What I want to take away from the book and put to work in my life is how Mr. Rogers was to the author that physical communication of God’s immeasurable love and whole-hearted acceptance. I want to be that person – the person who sees the pain in others and reaches out with both hands to embrace them in their messy, insecure brokenness. I want them to know that God loves them without reservation and accepts them just as they are with a grace and love that no sin or insufficiency can overpower. Because that knowledge has brought such joy and peace into my own life, I just have to share it with the whole world. So if I look deep to see through the facade you put on or break through the walls you’ve built up, it’s not to harm you, to call you out on your less-than-perfect attributes, but to embrace you with the love and grace of the One who loves you without limit or pretense. You are not alone and you are so very much loved.