Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Play To Win



My youngest daughter, Sofie, is a fast and fearless little girl who loves sports. All sports. And like most young athletes, Sofie likes to win. Recently, she and I saw a t-shirt that made us giggle. It said, "I play to have fun, but I win anyway". "That is totally me, Mom!" Sofie said laughing. I smiled at my little athlete and agreed, "You do play to win, sweet girl."

She was still talking about the shirt as we drove home from our errands and it led us to an interesting conversation about Christ. As she was talking about how much fun it is when her team wins a game, I glanced at Sofie in my rear view mirror and took a moment to plant seeds of truth in my daughter's young heart.

"Sofie, isn't it amazing that we have a Savior that also plays to win?" I asked. "What do you mean, Mom?" she wondered aloud. Now that I had her attention, I stated my case carefully and quickly. She is, after all, only eight years old, and her attention span is short. My window of opportunity was small and fleeting. So, I took my moment and continued, "Christ took our sins to the Cross and conquered death. Through Him, we have victory. Jesus wins!" A big smile came over my little girl's face as she listened to my words. "Yep! Jesus wins alright!" She said brightly.

Jesus wins! We are told "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV) Unfortunately, many of us forget that simple truth when the game of life appears lost. Still, we must remember that things are not as they might seem. As Christ followers, we must not lose heart.

The Cross is our Savior's reminder that victory lies in Jesus Christ. When all was lost, and we were bound by sin, Christ declared victory by His sacrifice alone.

That doesn't mean that things will always turn out the way we want. We live in a sinful world and life's journey can be treacherous. Truly, there are things we will never understand this side of Heaven. We simply are not calling the plays! Still, as believers, we have hope and victory because our Savior plays to win.

Regardless of the fight in which you find yourself.
Despite how messy your circumstances.
No matter how defeated you may feel.
All is not lost.
For Christ has declared victory in your life.

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Indeed, we have victory in Jesus Christ. So, let us lift our hearts and our heads towards our Savior. The game is not over and we are not defeated. Together, with Christ, let's play to win...and don't forget to have fun!

Monday, March 26, 2012

CRAZYTOWN Population: ME

CRAZYTOWN
Population:  Courtney

I have wanted to write about the realities of adoption (TRUE reality) ever since we started the process.  And, for the most part, I feel like I did.  I don’t really do fake well…so it just kinda comes naturally for me.  I was honest and up front about my feelings and how things were going on my personal blog.  But then something happened. 
What happened, you ask?  LIFE.  You know what I mean…when I say LIFE?  I started to tread water…frantically.  And I was staying afloat…just…barely.  And that constant struggle to stay afloat pretty much sucked the life right out of me.  Sounds a bit harsh, I know.  But, it is the truth.  We were home with our son from Uganda for maybe a day or two…and I didn’t have it in me to blog anymore.  Let me be more specific…
I have not had the kind of life that I would consider “easy”.  If I am being honest, I don’t really know of anyone who has.  But, with challenges from my childhood, teen years, marriage, and short parenting experience…I knew stress.  I knew how it felt and how it looked.  Me and stress…well…we were kinda buddies…I was just so used to living in a constant state of high stress.  I learned a lot of things the hard way as a teen…probably because of my childhood.  I hung out with the wrong people and didn’t make the best choices.  I ignored that tugging that God kept giving me to come back to Him.  He was always there though.  Looking back…I see it clearly.
When I got married…I started to realize how life was to be lived.  And I developed a very close relationship with the Lord.  But my husband didn’t quite get it and four years in…his alcoholism had become unsafe for our family (at the time we had a daughter who was about 1), and we were separated.  This is when it got REALLY good!  God really did some intense work in both me and my husband.  He went into treatment and got sober.  And I let go of control.  We each fought and conquered our own battles with the strength coming only from God.  After a year, we renewed our vows.  About a year after that, we decided to adopt.  This is, of course, a very condensed version of our truth.
I say all of this so you can kind of understand where I am coming from and see what I mean when I say that I know what stress looks like.  I did all of that – right down to living on my sister’s bottom bunk with my baby girl – without needing to “seek help” from an outside source.  I went inward.  I found God (whom I already thought I knew) – in the way He wanted me to find Him.  I turned over EVERYTHING to Him.  And it felt GOOD!!!
So…when we decided to adopt we were ready to go!  Right!?!?  HAHAHA!!!  I love to look back at that time and think of how na├»ve we were.  Not in an ugly way…more in a beautiful way.  We started the process, and 4 months later (that’s right FOUR MONTHS LATER), we came home with our son, Owen Mukisa.  Right about the time we got our referral for Owen, our daughter (Gracie) was diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis. 
And so two very difficult journeys started.  I had never left the country before and I was absolutely terrified when we got to Uganda to bring Owen home.  I was sick over leaving our daughter.  And God moved.  He worked.  He put everything into place.  And it was AMAZING.  We were home with Owen within about 3 weeks.  It was a miracle!  So why did it feel like the “poop” was hitting the fan?!?!
We were home from Uganda for 3 days and my firefighter/paramedic husband had to go back to work.  I made the difficult decision to quit my job…and we prayed that there would be enough money to make it work.  To this day…I am not really sure how…but God makes the money work! 
THEN I ENTERED CRAZY TOWN.  Like…really…CRAZY TOWN.  The day would go by and I would not be able to remember anything that happened.  I would start a sentence and forget how to finish it.  I would walk down the hallway and forget what I was walking to get.  There was screaming, and hitting, and biting, and whining, and I was SHOCKED at how poorly I was handling it.  Guilt became my new best friend.  I was disgusted with myself and felt like I was such…a…failure. 
We don’t have the time…nor do I have the emotional capacity to go into the details on this.  Maybe I will write about some of them one at a time on this blog.  Who knows what God will lead me to do with those beautiful, broken bits of life?  For now…what I really want to talk about is how vitally important it is to talk about what you are going through.  Talk to a friend, a family member…or a professional.  When I got shingles for the FIRST time…I started to clue into the fact that perhaps my body was exhausted.  I already knew my head and heart were.  I felt like I was failing my children…my most valuable, beautiful blessings. 
SO…for the first time in my life…I reached out for help.  After all…both of my children were getting the help they needed!  I knew, right away, that THEY needed to find healing.  Why it took me a while to figure out that I deserved it…well…that is another topic.  Finally, I decided to do whatever it took to fix myself.  I needed to lengthen my fuse.  I was aware that my life was stressful.  Anyone could see that if they spent 5 minutes at my house.  But, that did not really matter.  It was MY LIFE.  And I needed to do it well.
I talked to a counselor and she quickly recommended that I talk to my doctor about taking something.  I couldn’t help but think that it was like me giving up on God.  God is bigger than this!  Why should I need to take meds to help me cope???
So I prayed.  And then I prayed.  And then I prayed some more.  And I made the appointment.  Then, I showed up.  One step at a time, right?  When I left the doctor’s office that day…I couldn’t believe what happened.  As I spilled my heart out to my general practitioner…with whom I had no kind of relationship…I realized he totally understood me.  This man…who had pretty much nothing in common with me…got it.  Then he asked me if he could pray with me.  WHAT?!?!  Can he pray with me???  Of course!  So, we prayed.  And I left 100% fine with the prescription of Zoloft he gave me.   Little did I know…this was day 1 of a better perspective of life for me.
Do I think everyone needs meds?  Of course not…that would be silly.  Do I think that there are lots of Mommies out there who are struggling due to a depletion of “normal” brain chemicals???  Of course I do!  Are you one of them??? 
Go.  Find.  Out.
As I type this blog…I now have shingles for the SECOND time.  We have been home for a year and a half.  Gracie has been diagnosed for about the same time.  And life has NOT gotten easier.  I wish I could tell you something else…but that just would be a big, fat lie.  So, I’ll be real.  This isn’t easy yet.  Not sure that it ever will be. 
Here is the difference between today and a year and a half ago:  MY SOUL IS AT REST.  Do I always get it right? No.  Do I still get stressed?  Yes.  Do I still experience guilt?  Sometimes, I do. 
BUT…I can honestly say…that I see God’s hands all over my life.  I see that he is working miracles.  I see that He loves me SO MUCH.  I see that I am strong…otherwise He wouldn’t have picked me to do this.  I see that He is using my life for His glory.  What an honor!!!
I can tell you with the most honest sincerity…I HAVE HAD THE MOST DIFFICULT YEAR OF MY LIFE THIS PAST YEAR.  BUT IT HAS ALSO BEEN THE MOST BLESSED AND BEAUTIFUL YEAR OF MY LIFE.  And I hope that the years to come are just like it. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

He Died For All

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.--II Corinthians 5:15 (NIV)

I think sometimes I forget that when Jesus died on the cross, He saw it all--He saw those of us who are alive now; He saw those in the past and those yet to come; He saw those who live in America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia....He knew about each one of us, and, though He would've died for just one of us, He indeed died for all of us.  It's overwhelming, really.  God loves us enough that He sent His Son, Jesus--and Jesus loves us enough that He died a cruel death on a cross so that we might live forever with Him.  Simply amazing.

There is much to be said about the second half of the above verse, but I want to focus on the first part: He died for all.  I was recently in Africa on a mission trip, and I went to both Zambia (among the poor) and South Africa (where I happened to be among the wealthier class).  Going into the trip, I knew that I was ready to serve in Zambia.  God has given me a heart for the poor, and I couldn't wait to love on them.  And sure enough, it was all I imagined.  I had a great time giving hugs and simply sitting with children.  I enjoyed the people I met, the little ways I could serve....it was easy for me to imagine Christ dying for them, which in turn made it easy for me to want to love and serve them.  It is easy for me to see their need for Him as they pray each day to have food to eat and a family that loves them.  I get that part of "all."

But then I went to Durban, South Africa--and there I was confronted with a life very much like here.  I was surrounded by people with beautiful houses, great schools, and plenty of food.  I was surrounded by people like the ones I live near every day.  And honestly, going into that part of the trip, I wasn't overly excited.  I have never considered myself good at ministering to the upper/middle class.  I know that they need Jesus just like everyone else, but I don't ever feel like I can relate or have the right words to say.  However, God used this trip to open my eyes more fully to their needs as well.

We met women whose adult children had strayed from the faith.  We met those whose children and parents were struggling with medical issues.  We met those who were struggling with how to be kind to their coworkers.  And as we prayed with them and for them, I feel like God reminded me, "I died for all--not just the ones who seem to need me because of their financial circumstance.  I died for those who don't even know they need me, too.  I died for the wealthy and the poor.  I did it for every one of you...."

Though I knew in my mind that what I heard is true, I had to feel it in my heart as well.  And I did--it took a lot of airplane time to get there, but God used a far away land to remind me that not only does "all" mean different races and cultures, not only does it mean the poor and needy, but it means those who are just like me, too.

How thankful am I that Jesus died for me--and that He died for people just like me as well.  You see, poor or rich, weak or strong, old or young, we're all basically the same.  We all need a Savior, and there is only One who can meet that need.  He is enough--for every one of us.

Thank You, Jesus, that you died for all.  Thank You for reminding me and for showing me another look at who You are and the depth of Your love for us.  May we be found faithful in showing Your love to a lost and dying world....


Monday, March 19, 2012

What is being printed on your life?

We went this week to Fort Worth to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  We didn't even know this was over there until this week and we really enjoyed our trip. 
This location for the Bureau prints about 60% of all of the money printed in the United States. We were able to take a tour of the plant - millions of dollars had to be in that building!  In addition to the tour, this was one of 3 weeks during the year that the craftsmen are set up and you can see some of the old ways and current ways that currency is printed.  They are also able to point out some of the security features on our paper dollars that are not noticable unless you know they are there.
One of the things that kept coming back to me again and again, was the amount of detail and the attention to detail that is given to each bill that is printed.  The material our paper is printed on is a special blend.  It goes through several printing processes.  It is allowed to sit and cure for days at a time.  And at each turn, it is inspected.  If just one note on the entire page has a defect, the whole sheet is thrown out. 

We are also put through a "process" in our Christian lives.  God prints us on very special "paper" - He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  We are put through different trials and tribulations - all for the purpose of glorifying Him , so "that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:6).  All of our experiences are to make us more into the image of Jesus Christ -"we all...are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2Cor 3:18).  Each of these things prints onto the fabric of our lives.  We are intricately detailed - each one of us is unique and has details that only God can see.  God is constantly inspecting us and making corrections so that we become more and more like him every day.  One thing that is different, though, is that when God finds a defect in us, He does not consider us a lost cause and throw us out.  He takes the time and effort to correct that defect.  He considers us of such great worth that He spends time with us.

As we finished our tour, there was also a section that emphasized all the precautions that were in place to prevent counterfeiting.  What was evident was that in order to recognize a counterfeit, the inspector had to be completely familiar with the "real thing."  How true that is for us as well.  Not only are we being transformed and inspected by God, we must also know Him and His Word.  This is the ONLY thing that allows defense against all of the false teachings in our world today.  We too must know the "real thing" if we are to recognize the counterfeit.

What about you this week? As God works on transforming you - are you taking the time to get to know Him?  Are you letting Him find your "defects" and correct them to make you more into His image?  Are you so familiar with His Word and with Him that you recognize when things are contrary to His teachings?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I love spring cleaning. You know, the big cleaning projects, such as cleaning light fixtures, cleaning out closets, or sorting through toy buckets, putting everything back where it belongs. With my kids at Grandma’s this week, I’ve done just that, reorganizing their closets and shelves, rearranging their rooms to better accommodate their current needs/interests. I can get lost in these projects and have such joy and satisfaction after a day (or days) spent accomplishing these grand tasks.

Know what I don’t love or even like? The daily/weekly cleaning tasks necessary to keep my house presentable. Dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, etc. Just yuck. The tedium of these tasks often causes me to procrastinate or ignore them longer than I should. Yes, I do enjoy the beautiful, clean home when they are done. Yes, there is a feeling of satisfaction when all the laundry is done (which only lasts until bedtime when there is once again a pile of dirty clothes). But, for me, there is no great excitement in the daily chores of housekeeping. I have to choose daily to do the chores, to get the work done.

This is not unlike our walk with God. The mountain top experiences, like camp or a retreat, a revival, a mission trip or an amazing Sunday worship service, are so exciting. Preparing for them, anticipating what God will do, keeping our ears and heart open to hear what he wants to share with us. Pure Awesomeness.

Consider Moses as he experienced the original mountain top experience. He had just led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and God called him up to the mountain (Ex 19:20). Moses was speaking with God, one-on-one, on that mountain top. He was so changed he had to wear a veil over his face because he glowed (Ex 34:29-33).

You would think after that experience, Moses would have lived an incredible God-filled life … every day … for the rest of his life. But no. Somewhere in the journey, in the day-to-day, as the people got more grumbly and were whining for water, when God said, “tell the rock to yield its water,” Moses instead struck the rock with his staff (Num 20:2-12). Maybe he was angry at the people for their grumbling and hit the rock in frustration. Maybe he wasn’t really listening to God and just did what he’d done before – used the staff to perform the miracle. Maybe he was having a pride moment, and thought, “I got this. Watch what I can do,” and hit the rock because it was more impressive than just talking to it. Whatever the reason, Moses disobeyed God, and there was a big consequence of the disobedience. Moses didn’t get to lead the people into the Promised Land.

In everyday life, it is harder to remember the mountain top moment. It is a challenge to keep our ears and hearts open to hear what God will say. Day-to-day focus on God takes perseverance and determination. There’s a reason the Bible says “Do not be discouraged,” again and again (God said it a lot to Joshua, Moses’ successor). We have to choose daily to follow God. We have to choose daily to pray and study God’s Word. We have to choose daily to serve God. We have to choose daily to take up our crosses and follow Christ. It’s not easy … but the reward is Pure Awesomeness.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24 ESV

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15 ESV

Choose you this day …

Monday, March 12, 2012

Identity Crisis

So, not too long ago, I had my purse stolen out of the front seat of my car. It held my entire identity. It was an absolute mess. My husband and I immediately had to cancel credit cards, change bank accounts, change over all of our direct deposit information, file a police report, and all of the countless other inconveniences that happen as a result of someone snatching access to your identity.

It was very unnerving during those few transitional hours while we made phone calls and froze accounts. I felt as if we were on the verge of complete ruin! I just didn't know what this person was going to do with my information and that felt awful.

Fortunately for me, it ended up alright. I was able to recover most of my important documents and ended up losing only the cash and credit cards. A decent ending scenario all things considered.

As I reflected on the terror of those short moments where someone else could have completely taken control of my life and turned it upside down, I was reminded how my life under God's control differed greatly from this fiasco of a situation.

There is no doubt that when you give up your identity and surrender complete control of your life to Christ that it too will be turned upside down...or, more like, upside right. And, it isn't always easy. But, we can have peace. We don't have to feel a sense of terror about what God might do to us. God's character is on the line. When we completely surrender ourselves to him, he will always come through. He will work things together for good in our lives for the sake of His glory.

I can find rest in that. I hope you can too.

I also remembered the words of this old hymn. Maybe you are familiar with it as well.

"I Know Whom I Have Believed"

I know not why God's wondrous grace
to me he hath made know,
nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
redeemed me for his own.

But I know whom I have believed
and am persuaded that he is able
to keep that which I've committed
unto him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
to me he did impart,
nor how believing in his word,
wrought peace within my heart.

But I know whom I have believed
and am persuaded that he is able
to keep that which I've committed
unto him against that day.



Thursday, March 8, 2012

www.ask.god



No, this is not an ad for a new website... although I can admit that there are some times that I wish that God's mind was categorized into a nice little search engine where I could just hop on my phone, type in my question, and get a list of little answers from which I could choose. And maybe even the answer I want could have a "Buy Now" button. And, of course, it would come with a coupon code, like GODROX or GODSAVS. Oh wow- free shipping?!?!?! Wow, isn't Jesus just so great!

But, seriously, as much as we often want the answers all lined up for us, there are so many reasons why we don't have this option, but one in particular stands out in my mind:

If we have all of the answers available, who's to say that we will choose the "right" one? I know that time and time again, I have thought... seriously, seriously thought... that I was making the "right" choice or praying the "right" prayer only to realize that it would have totally backfired on me later. You see, that's the rad thing about God... He can see the matrix. Like, He sees all of the years of the past that add up to the present and He sees all of the years of the future. And He knows which answer will lead "everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them". (Romans 8:28)

And what is extra awesome... so many times I ask God for things that I think are in alignment with what he wants... only to realize years down the road what a good thing it was that He didn't "answer" my prayer. But I think here is where I need to give some props to the Holy Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit is a "translator" for us to God. And just like Romans says just a few verses earlier, "The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father, who knows all hearts, knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will." (Romans 8:26-27)

So, here's the thing... it's kind of like an answer to what Courtney asked the other day, "What are you doing to make sure that you have a personal, unrehearsed prayer life?"

I think that knowing that God can see the matrix... knowing that He is making sure that everything that happens is for our good (even if it's for our good yearrrrrrs down the road)... and knowing that the Holy Spirit will take those prayers that were quite possibly out of alignment with God's own will and that he will "translate" them into a request that does align with God's will... well, all of that just gives you another level of freedom in prayer. The freedom to ask.god for whatever you think is in God's will.

So, this week... talk to God in your own voice. Stop and talk to Him while you are walking down the hallway of your house. Stop and talk to Him while you are trying to find an unbruised apple in that bunch you got from Sam's. Stop and talk to Him while you wait for that little cut from shaving that part on your ankle to stop bleeding (that's at least a good five minutes!).

And be cool with God. Be you with God. Cause He's better than any search engine you could find... He's got your back. And He's got your future.

www.AndThat'sPrettyAwesome.com

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Ransom



My husband and I love to snuggle up and watch movies. It's one of our hobbies together. Our friends tease us that we have seen every movie that has ever been made. Despite our best efforts, I am sure we have missed a few. One movie I have been thinking about a lot the past couple of weeks in the movie "Ransom".


Imagine your child has been kidnapped. That is the gist of this 1996 thriller starring Mel Gibson. I know. It's a nightmare none of us want to consider. But hang with me for just a bit. Picture it now. You precious son or daughter, lost to you, can be purchased back...for a ransom. That's what God did for you, His child, through Christ.


Scripture teaches us that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many". (Matthew 20:28) Furthermore, "there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people". (1 Timothy 2:5-7) Because of sin, all of mankind has been captured by an enemy who seeks our destruction. After all, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Romans 6:23)


Because of the fall of man, we are all born into sin. We are told that "for this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant". (Hebrews 9:14-16) You have been ransomed.


When I consider the fact that my Heavenly Father sent me a ransom in Christ, before I even took a breath, I am filled with wonder. Truly, His great love is too big for me to fully comprehend. But, when I filter these events through a parental lens, I see more clearly. For if one of my precious children were taken from me, there is nothing I wouldn't do to bring them home. My kids are precious to me and worth any ransom. That is who you are to the LORD.


God, The Father, saw his children captive to sin and sent a ransom in Jesus Christ. I could not free myself. Not with good deeds. Not with charity. Not with social justice. Neither can you. Only Christ can free us from the captivity of sin. Through Christ alone, the ransom was paid in full. My ransom. Your ransom. He is the ransom for us all.