Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Happy Place

I can remember when getting ready every morning (you know the time spent taking a shower, putting on makeup & fixing hair) brought on a battle in my mind that was so fierce I just wanted to run back to bed and hide under the covers.  Every. Single. Day. 

The thoughts, lies and what ifs pelted me like golf ball sized ice in a hailstorm. 
The battle was real, and it was exhausting.  And I often found myself on the losing end.  I would feel defeated before my day even got started.

Then, several years ago, I took a friend's advice and started arming myself with Ephesians 6.  I posted the verses in my bathroom and read them constantly.  I repeated various parts as needed and would visualize myself putting on each piece of the armor described in the Scripture. 

As I allowed God's Word to sink into my head and my heart, things began to change. 

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." 
Ephesians 6:10-18
God's Truth began to change me from the inside out - one battle at a time.  It transformed my mornings which in turn transformed my days.

Now, it's WHILE I'm getting ready that the Lord speaks to me the loudest (not audibly of course but in my spirit & thoughts.)  He births blog posts, retreat topics, volleyball practice plans, prayers for people, creative gift ideas, Bible study lessons, parenting solutions, answers to prayers, peace for circumstances, etc. during my morning routine. 

Oh, isn't it just like the Lord to turn what used to be the toughest part of my day into the brightest part??!!!  He turned my battlefield into a harvest field. He took the dreaded and made it the anticipated.  He created my "sweet spot" from my weak spot. ONLY GOD!
So yesterday, while I was getting ready, I was praying for different people that the Lord brought to mind.  As I prayed for the 12th grade girls in my discipleship small group at church, the Lord brought something else to mind.  He reminded me of something we do at the beginning of each small group.
Every Sunday night when we meet, the first thing we do is write down on a sticky note an attribute of God, specifically who He's been to us during the past week (Faithful, Forgiving, our Provider, Protector, Comforter, Redeemer, Joy etc.)  Then we post it on the wall and go around the room during our prayer time and praise God for who He's been to each of us during the week. 
As I thought about this, I soon began to consider what attribute of God I would write down this coming Sunday night.

The first thing that came to mind...My Happy Place.
God has been my Happy Place this week.  (I'm not sure of the exact Scripture reference for that attribute, but I'm sure it's in the Bible somewhere :) lol)
But not just this week.  He was my Happy Place last week and the week before that and the week before that. 
And by my Happy Place I mean my true source of joy, trust, love, identity, hope, security and rest. It's a place I long for and a place I don't want to leave once I get there.
Yes, I know that as a believer & follower of Jesus Christ, God is always with me.  His Holy Spirit lives inside of me and never leaves me. I've been adopted into His family as His daughter, and nothing can pluck me from His hand.  That's not what I'm talking about. 

I'm talking about the place where the Lord's presence is overwhelming to me.  The place where I delight in His Truth and gain perspective & clarity.  The place where I choose to be still before Him and simply listen & allow Him to minister to my soul. The place where He and I fellowship in ways that are often indescribable.    
Unfortunately, I sometimes have trouble finding this place.  I get too busy to stop by. Or I think I don't need to go there because I've got everything under control.  Or worse yet, I don't want to go there because I'm afraid of what may be revealed to me (about myself, my sin, my circumstances etc.)

Ugghhh! There come those lies again - taking aim and trying to rekindle an old familiar battle within me!  But thankfully now when the lies come, I'm able to remind myself to "stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist..." Ephesians 6:14.

And the truth is
.....when I go to the Lord, I will find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30) 
.....He is sovereign and apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5) Him, I will find forgiveness for my sins, not condemnation (Romans 8:1-4) 
.....He will work all things together for my good & His glory (Romans 8:28-30)
.....there is nothing that can separate me from Him or His love because He is my Abba, Father and I am His daughter (Romans 8:14-17; 31-39)
....the deepest desire of my heart is to know Him more and more each day (Psalm 37:3-4)

The truth is.....He is my Happy Place (Psalm 18:2) 

So what about you? What attribute of God would you write on your sticky note?  Who has God been to you this week?  In what ways has He revealed Himself (His character) to you specifically?  Is He YOUR happy place?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Persevere and Finish Strong

I'm not even sure where to begin.  I've written this post several times in my head, but now that I'm actually in front of my laptop, my thoughts are like scrambled eggs :) 

But the fact that it took me nearly an hour just to get into my blog to be able to write (due to being logged in under the wrong email address) is all the confirmation I needed to persevere and get this post done.

It feels like I've been on an adventurous roller coaster ride this past week with intense & exuberant moments that have left me exhausted and in desperate need of processing it all.

So, I'll just start sharing, and we'll see where God leads.

For the first time all season, I was FINALLY able to go to one of Tanner's Cross Country meets bright and early on Saturday, October 18 at York Comprehensive High School.

Several people had told me about Tanner's end of the race sprinting skills, but I had not witnessed them for myself - until this day.  And I CRIED LIKE A BABY!  I was so stinkin' proud of him that I'm crying again now as the scene replays in my head!  I have never seen him run so fast!!!  Runners who seemed out of his reach mere seconds ago, he soon passed on his way to the finish line.  His determination and burst of energy were inspiring and led to his fastest time all season!

He persevered.

He finished strong

Way to go, son! 
Your Biggest Cheerleader

On Sunday October 19, I traveled to Laurens SC (along with a few hundred others) to celebrate the life of my friend Courtney Dover Robertson who definitely ran her race well.  You can read about her here:  a-celebration-of-life-for-one-that-inspired-many

Her race was a difficult one, but thankfully she had the Lord with her every single step of the way, along with her devoted family, friends, co-workers, students etc.  As I sat in her church surrounded by so many who loved her, I watched pictures of her life appear on the big screen.  It was undeniably apparent that Courtney had indeed lived her life well - even as she battled breast cancer for over 15 years (or maybe it was because she had battled cancer for so long - I don't know.)  Courtney loved well, and Courtney was loved well.

(As I stood talking to her family in the receiving line, music quietly played in the was Dave Crowder's "How He Loves".....ONLY GOD!)

She persevered.

She finished strong.

"Well done good and faithful servant....." Matthew 25:21

Monday 10/20 began our last week of volleyball that entailed practices and the 8th grade county conference tournament. It was an intense and fun week.  We finished 1st in our division for the regular season, and then on Thursday 10/23, we took the championship game down to the third set against an undefeated Dutchman Creek team.  The result - we came in 2nd in the conference.  My girls redefined what it means to "leave it all on the court."  They played so hard that they literally had nothing left to give.  Saying that I'm proud of them does not even begin to express my admiration for them.

The thought of me coaching volleyball still seems surreal :)  I often joke with Faith that when she tells my future grandchildren that I coached her team, they are all going to roll on the floor laughing hysterically, and I'm going to join them! (And then I'll need help getting up!!!)  It is nothing shy of miraculous.  ONLY GOD!  Seriously, I played volleyball a few times in junior high in my dad's backyard on Sunday afternoons - that's it.  Period.  If we played it in PE at school, I have absolutely no recollection of that.  I played softball, basketball and cheered.  No volleyball.

Therefore, God calling me to coach was one of the toughest assignments I've ever been given.  Last year it felt like I had been dropped in a foreign country where I did not know the language and did not have an interpreter.  This year, I knew some of the language but not to the level of comprehension that allowed me to speak it fluently.  Honestly, I did immerse myself in the sport between last year and this year.  However, my brain struggled to absorb it all and gave credence to the old saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks!"   

Let's just say, I am so thankful for answered prayers!  God is so faithful! To Him be the glory!!!  He used YouTube to teach me a ton (especially since I'm a visual learner), and He graciously sent a parent who played volleyball in college to help me for some of the season. Tamara, I am forever grateful for you and the time you invested in our team  You are definitely an answer to prayer! 

Coaching this sport was beyond humbling.  My pride took a few blows on more than one occasion.  You see, I'm a realist and don't like pretending.  I never tried to cover up my lack of volleyball experience.  Instead, I spent countless hours teaching myself the game every single day so I could teach the girls.  I did not want to short change them in any way.  I often begged God to give me insight and understanding into how to help each girl improve.  And because He is faithful, He did indeed answer, time and time and time again.  It was all Him which leaves no room for me to take any of the credit.  Not one little bit. 

Volleyball was just a tool that the Lord used to allow me to invest in the girls' lives.  Volleyball was never the point.  It was merely the process.

Our season started with a splash....when we accepted the ALS ice bucket challenge from Coach Amanda Scott at Banks Trail Middle School.
From there, we faced our toughest opponent in our division for our very first game of the season.  I had prayed for the Lord to give me a creative way to build team unity and motivate the girls to do their best.  Inspired by our school mascot, I did a little research on mustangs and found we (as a team) had several things in common with our name sake.  From this, we adopted MUSTANG STRONG as our team motto and emphasized that we are stronger TOGETHER!
 Interestingly enough, we played our first game on 9/11...How fitting!

Of course with unity as our focus, it should come as no surprise that it was our unity that came under attack from every direction imaginable.  Honestly, halfway through our season, things became so challenging that I lost more sleep than I care to admit, and I literally thought I may have an ulcer.  Let me be clear, my physical symptoms had nothing to do with the game of volleyball but rather everything to do with these girls, their self-confidence, their relationships with each other, their need to learn how to deal with differences and conflict in healthy ways, and their ability to work together as a team by learning to appreciate each other's strengths rather than feeling threatened by them & being divided by them. 

Again, the Lord gave me creative ways (characteristics of mustangs, puzzles, gifts & gaps, Starbursts, Hersey's kisses) to demonstrate a few important life lessons.  The girls probably think I'm crazy, and that's okay as long as they remember at least one life lesson and take it to heart :)       

I am happy to report that through it all my girls stepped up and shined!!! 

They chose unity and to cheer each other on.
 They chose to BE a team - not just a group of individuals wearing the same jersey.

They chose to work hard and push through.

They chose to be ALL IN and play their hearts out - TOGETHER.

They persevered.

They finished strong.

Mustang Strong!

As the Lord would have it, Beth Moore's newest Bible study was offered at church during volleyball season.  It was perfect timing. It began at the start of our season and ended last Wednesday, the day before our last game.
God used this study to meet me exactly where I was at and to teach me new things about Himself and His Word - things that took on new meaning because of the current season I'm in.  So many times during the course of the study, I was awed by God and how He tied lessons from the study to lessons I wanted to teach my team during our few months together.  He taught me what I was trying to teach them.  Of course, the busyness of life tried to interfere with me digging into God's Word through this study.  But by God's grace and mercy,
I persevered.
I finished strong.
My life has been forever changed by the power of God's Word.
On Friday, I had the privilege of going to Ridgecrest (near Asheville NC) with my friend Tracy in preparation for our upcoming women's retreat. 

The retreat has been in the works for about 2 years now.  The Lord birthed the desire for it in the hearts of several different women, and He is bringing it to pass in His perfect timing - Nov. 14-16.

At the retreat, I'll be leading the Saturday morning session on prayer that will involve taking a prayer walk and spending some quality time alone with the Lord.  My soul cannot wait :)
When we first started planning this retreat, we knew that it was prompted by the Lord. But we did not know when it would happen.  Lots of details had to be sorted out and several obstacles overcome.  Thankfully.......
The retreat plans persevered.
We are praying for it's purpose(s) to finish strong.
We are praising God in advance for the lives that will be impacted.
Friday night was Senior Night for fall sports at the Nation Ford High School (NaFo) vs. Northwestern football game.  It was also "Pink Out" for breast cancer.

Check out God's beautiful rendition of His own Friday night lights....stunning!  Shawn was out of town with work so Faith and I were Tanner's escorts :)

It's so hard to believe that Tanner is a senior and will be graduating soon. 
Persevere, son.
Finish strong.
The Lord has amazing plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11-14a.)
Saturday morning, we slept in.  Unapologetically, we sure did.  That evening Tanner, Faith and I went bowling - courtesy of a free Groupon from my friend Tina. Thank you my friend!

At the bowling alley, I was reminded of how important it is to laugh and have fun together as a family.  Too often we get caught up in so many other things and neglect the most important thing - those closest to us.  Recently, while praying for "balance" in my life, I was convicted of something.  Sometimes I minister more to other people's children than to my own - OUCH!  What this means for me is that I have to be intentional about teaching my own children what I am so passionate about teaching other children (in my youth small group, volleyball, on mission trips, etc.)  And to make this happen, I will have to say no to some things so I can say yes to my own family - without feeling guilty.
I'm praying to persevere in my priorities.
I'm asking God to enable me to finish strong in parenting my teenagers.
Dear Lord, help me to be 100% present (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) when my family and I are together (physically.)  Help me to make the most of every opportunity, especially when it comes to Tanner and Faith.
Sunday night, our church hosted its annual Trunks and Treats for the community.  Our ABF class used "Despicable Me" as our theme.  Lots of yellow shirt minions running around :)

 Tanner and his senior class were Fishers of Men from Matthew 4:19

The 8th graders' theme was Toy Story, and Faith was Stretch the Octopus. 
This event is about more than games, candy and costumes.  It's full of opportunities to meet new people, connect with them and invite them to church.  As an added bonus, it's also a time of fellowship and fun as a church body.  May we...
Persevere for the sake of the Gospel.
Finish Strong for our Faith.
Never stop reaching out and loving others. 

Yesterday, Monday October 27, we had our volleyball team pictures taken, and then we celebrated the end of our season with a little party.  We had an amazing cake made by one of our talented parents (Thanks Debby!)

After spending nearly every weekday together since August, I already miss these girls!!!  It was such an honor to spend the last 2 volleyball seasons with them.  This is a very special group of young ladies with very bright futures!  Keep shining girls, and don't let anything steal your sparkle!!!
Wow, the past week has indeed been eventful and roller coaster-ish!  It's no wonder that I needed to do a little blogging to help process everything.  Thanks for joining me. 

Just remember, no matter what's happening in your life, whether things are wonderful, difficult, hectic or seemingly mundane...Choose JOY.  Choose GRATITUDE.  Choose SACRIFICE.  Choose UNITY.  Choose TRUTH.

Choose to PERSEVERE.

Choose to FINISH STRONG - in HIS STRENGTH, not your own.

"In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize.  So run your race to winTo win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best.   An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.  I fight to win.  I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around.  Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to.  Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside."  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I should be in India, but...

I should be in India right now.  It's been the plan for many months.  God clearly called me to join this mission team. 

However, on Friday night, we discovered that my passport had disappeared!  It apparently escaped from the top left drawer at church, abandoning its teammates (everyone else's passports) in pursuit of a solo adventure. 

I'm thinking while being in that drawer, it must have overheard lots of conversations and been privy to some pretty cool info about upcoming youth events.  You know like the next "DESTINATION UNKNOWN" event!  (Our youth leaders plan a fun outing for the students, but the students have no idea where they are going until they get there.) The excitement and anticipation must have been too much.  Unable to contain itself, my passport decided to leave the comfort and safety of that drawer and head for "Destination Unknown" a wee bit early.  If only it had left a trail or a few clues behind.  If only...

But then I would have missed all that God is doing through this circumstance! 

Let's start with a true confession.

For over 12 years, I've been praying for joy, and the Lord has faithfully & abundantly answered. True joy cannot be contained. It's demonstrative and must be expressed.  Personally, when I'm filled with joy, I cannot help but be (spiritually) sensitive and attentive to the people God puts in my path because I want them to experience His joy (along with His love, forgiveness & peace) too.  Genuine joy opens my eyes and heart and allows me to see divine opportunities all around me and to make the most of them.

But when joy is absent, selfishness is there to take its place. 

For nearly 2 years now, the enemy of my soul has been in hot pursuit of my joy.  Indeed he comes "only to steal and kill and destroy" John 10:10.  Unfortunately, he has gained more ground than I care to admit (in regards to my joy.)  It's been a real struggle. A fierce battle at times, especially recently.

BUT GOD has used my passport situation to regain an abundant measure of my joy! ONLY GOD!

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

To some, what I'm saying must sound crazy.  Actually, without God, it would be crazy.  Really crazy.  But with Him, it's real and it's amazing!

AMEN! - Toby Mac posted this on Facebook Sunday and it just made me laugh!

I have been OVERWHELMED by God's presence and peace these past few days!  Oh and the prayers!  Powerful and persistent prayers!  THANK YOU PRAYER WARRIOR FRIENDS for all of your prayers!  What strength, peace and joy they have brought.

It's not possible for me to share every single thing God has done and revealed since Friday - it would simply be too much.  So let's see if I can make a list that makes sense (without writing a novel!)

1)  I got the call about my missing passport around 9:30pm Friday night.  As I am processing and praying, there is a knock at our door at 10:42pm.  When I opened the door, there stood our neighbor, exhausted & on the verge of panic because he had lost his cell phone.  I just laughed!  The Lord has such a sense of humor!  He sent the lost cell phone to seek help from the lost passport!  ONLY GOD!

Our neighbor was so distraught because he had an 11 hour road trip in front of him and really needed his phone.  Shawn & I were able to help him find it.  Then God gave us the opportunity to pray with our neighbor before his trip! This is HUGE!  We have been praying FOR our neighbor for 5 years, and here we were holding hands in his front yard praying WITH him!  A divine appointment orchestrated by a lost cell phone.  The Lord's lesson:  He uses lost things to save & redeem things, to answer prayers, and to impact eternity in ways we could never imagine!

2)  As soon as I knew my passport was missing, I reached out to my prayer warrior friends. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for these women who encourage me and pray God's Word specifically for me!  And there is nothing more true than God's Word.

3)  With lots of initial thoughts, emotions & possible scenarios to sort through on Friday night, I stayed up really late talking to the Lord.  I prayed very specifically about my passport at 2:00am and was about to turn off my computer when I felt prompted to check Pinterest for a few minutes before heading to bed.  When I clicked on Pinterest, this is what I saw...

That pretty much sums it up!  ONLY GOD!

4)  In preparation to minister in India, our team had to be able to share 3 Bible stories in detail, from memory.  As a team, we practiced doing this with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego.  For my other 2 stories, the Lord impressed upon me to study the woman at the well and the woman who washed Jesus' feet with perfume so I could use them to reach out to women.

Friday afternoon before I knew about my passport, I was praying for our trip and asking God about specific ways I could minister to my team and to the people we would meet.  He overwhelmingly revealed that He wanted me to reach out to women and how. 

Saturday morning (after I knew about my passport), we had a conference call for our upcoming Uganda trip.  Our team leader Kim shared some of the ministry opportunities that she is working on for our team.  Several of them include working with teenage girls & women! And some of the specifics she shared were EXACTLY what God had laid on my heart the day before!  What I thought was for India, God was actually preparing me to use/do in Uganda!  As well as RIGHT HERE AT HOME THIS WEEK!  ONLY GOD!

Saw this on my cousin's fb page on Sunday too! It put a smile on my face :)

5)  At church on Sunday morning, Pastor Jeff told us to turn in our Bibles to Ephesians 2.  When I grabbed my Bible, it opened to Daniel 3 - the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!  Instantly, the words of these 3 godly men came to mind..."the God we serve is able to save us....but even if He does not...."   That's right!  The God I serve is able to reveal the location of my passport so I can go to India.  But even if He does not, I will trust Him and accept His sovereign plan! 

"And without faith it is impossible to please God...."  Hebrews 11:6

6)  It has ignited an intense time of prayer for me.  All weekend long, the Lord continuously prompted me to keep praying and not give up.  He called me to fast & pray and keep looking for my passport.  On Saturday night when my faith was starting to waiver, the doorbell rang.  God sent Susan Habbick to my house to pray with me (even with her van full of groceries that needed to get home!)
Don't you want this Praying Princess Warrior on your side??!!!

7) The Lord used my missing passport to inspire me to blog again.  It's been 2 years since my last public post.  He began giving me the words for what I'm writing now on Sunday morning.  As I thought about blogging again, I thought about the title of my blog and what it truly means to be an "oak of righteousness" that displays His splendor. 

At lunch on Sunday, Shawn read this quote to me from the Coffee News..."When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that OAKS GROW STRONG IN CONTRARY WINDS and diamonds are made under pressure."  Peter Marshall 

So I'm choosing to believe that my missing passport is really a growth spurt for this ole' oak in pursuit of righteousness!

8)  When I walked out the door to go to church Sunday morning, there was a PRAYING MANTIS on our front door frame!  Of course there was!!!  Talk about being covered in prayer!  Too funny :)

9)  If I really believe that God is sovereign, then my actions will reflect my belief. From the moment I learned my passport was missing until we dropped the team off at the airport, I sensed the Lord wanting me to be completely packed & ready to go as if I had my passport in hand. He wanted my actions to match my words. 

It’s one thing to know (intellectually) that God is sovereign.  But it’s another thing to live like you believe He is sovereign in the midst of unexplainable circumstances. The God I serve is ABLE to reveal the location of my passport so I can go to India. But even if He does not, I will trust Him and accept His sovereign plan - with my bags packed & ready to go.

10) "What ifs" can drive us nuts if we let them.  We want to know WHY.  We want things to make sense to us.  So when I think about the details surrounding my missing passport and the timing of it all, a litany of possible reasons why God may have stopped me from going to India on Sunday come to mind.  Initially, my thoughts centered around protection.  But pretty quickly, they turned to other things, positive things, bigger things, kingdom things. 

What if it was for the people I’ve had to talk to while trying to get a new passport?  Sharing Jesus with them flows right from how my passport was lost.    

What if it was so Johnny, our senior youth pastor, would be prompted to check his own passport on Saturday, only to discover it had expired back in April?!!  Now he has time to renew it before leading a mission trip to Costa Rica in a couple of weeks!  ONLY GOD!     

What if it was so I could be with Tanner this morning when he got his braces off after 3 ½ years?

What if it was to increase my desire & determination to go to India and minister to the people there – at a different time, on a different trip? 

What if it was for all of these things and many, many more?  Only the Lord truly knows the reasons.  But here’s what I do know for certain…the Lord is calling me to trust Him and to walk in complete faith and obedience according to His Word – with JOY and with or without answers - wherever I'm at.

On the way to the airport with the ladies on the team (minus Faith - she's at home with me :)

And make no mistake about it, I'm still a part of this India team.  I'm just playing a different role now.  While my teammates' feet are on Indian soil, my knees will be on American soil covering them in prayer.  It's a win/win :)  God is good and ALWAYS faithful!

P.S.  I cannot believe I forgot to mention this.  Thankfully, the Lord brought it to mind this morning (6/25.)  After we dropped the team off at the airport, I was a little emotional.  I got back in the van and told Shawn I was not going to cry because I had to go take a picture for my new passport.  But then, at that exact moment, the Lord played a very special song for me on the radio..."How He Loves" by Dave Crowder!  Such a precious, precious gift to me!  Oh how He loves us!!!  And yes, I did cry - humble, happy tears.  I will remember this gift from Him every time I look at my new passport picture :)

Loving HIM with all my heart,