Thursday, April 28, 2016

Drenched with Heaven's Dew

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“…and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world…” Daniel 5:21

Indian summer held on tight wrapping it’s humidity around us like a wet blanket as we sauntered to class through the tree-tunneled path around the pond. I felt my bobbed curls—the ones that took me twenty minutes to unfurl—coil up like Shirley Temple’s locks (but not so cute), making me wonder why I hadn’t submitted to their natural tendencies.

Then, rain came—slowly, at first—one gentle drop after another.  It was almost melodic watching the rain drops create rings across the pond. Then the melody turned dark and the heavens opened just as we emerged from the tree tunnel.

She laughed and slowed.

I cry-screamed and darted.

Then, looking back at her through fogged-up glasses I yelled, “Are you crazy? We’re gonna get soaked!”

“I LOVE getting drenched by the rain,” she giggled back at me. “It makes my hair so soft.”

I tried enjoying it, partly because I thought maybe I was missing something, but mostly because I didn’t want to be rude and leave her behind.

I hated it. Soggy made me feel undone and ugly.

Sometimes that’s just the posture God wants from us—undone and ugly—because that’s where we’re most vulnerable and teachable.  It’s those times when we’re most undone that our God ears hear and our God eyes see.

(Join me in all the undone and ugly at Encouragement Cafe for the rest of the story. There is hope, my friend...)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Look for the rainbow

If you're joining me from Encouragement Cafe, today...Welcome! I'm glad you stopped by.

Look for the rainbow, and remember My promise. With it I sign the covenant I have made between Me and all the living creatures residing on the earth. Genesis 9:17 (The Voice)

Thousands of meticulously pruned grapevines dotted the valley as we traveled north towards Mendocino, California one misty morning. Having harvested grapes at our local vineyard years ago, God reminded me of John 15:4-5:

Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (NIV)

I’d been asking God big questions that day like, “What’s next?” or “Where do you want me to serve you, Lord?” Like the past, He gave me the same one word answer, “Abide.” Simply abide—to remain with, continue, and stay or to have one’s abode; to dwell or reside—with Him. Jesus promises if we make our home with him, he will make his home in us and if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit. It’s a double promise, so wonderfully illustrated by the vineyards.

Home with Jesus is where we live perfectly loved by the One who created us and knit us together in our mother’s womb. With Jesus, we’re encouraged to be our truest selves—the person He created us to be, despite the reality of our earthly home. Abiding is a matter of the heart—where Jesus lives—not a physical place.

And then, through our loving relationship, we will bear much fruit. We don’t bear fruit through striving or demanding or wishing. We only produce fruit by remaining attached to Jesus and being ourselves—just like a grape branch only bears grapes because it’s attached to the grape vine. It doesn’t wish for fruit, or jump through hoops to produce fruit. It just stays attached to the vine and produces grapes—the fruit God created it to produce.

If these vineyards weren’t reminder enough of God’s great promise, he punctuated the lesson with seven rainbows. Yes, seven gorgeous rainbows pierced through the mist that morning. I “ooed and ahhhed and giggled” like a giddy little girl whose daddy was lavishing his love on her.

And then…then God really showed off—around the last turn, outstretched over the vineyards was a fully arched double rainbow! The largest rainbow (or double rainbow) I’d ever witnessed. For this, I had no words, just awe—awe for God’s majesty in creation and His signature covenant. I love how it’s worded in The Voice:

Look for the rainbow, and remember My promise. With it I sign the covenant I have made between Me and all the living creatures residing on the earth.” Genesis 9:17

Look for the rainbow and remember my promise. What better reminder of his promises in John 15 than an outstretched double rainbow over those vineyards? He promises to be a good vinedresser—to care for those of us who make our home in him—so that we will bear much fruit. The fruit He created us to produce.

When we find our ministry calendars overflowing with little fruit to show, will we take the time to stop and simply make room for Jesus? Will we stop and look for the rainbow and remember God’s promise to us—that if we make our home in him he will make his home in us?

Abba, create in us the desire to make our home with you. Remind us daily of your promise that if we make our home in you, you WILL make your home in us. Help us to accept your love that only wants the best for us—the kind of love that helps us to become who YOU created us to be. Amen

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fill 'er Up: Learning Our Child's Love Language

If you've stopped by through Christian Children's Authors blog, welcome!
Hands Language by Dare
flickr.com_436723375_68060276f3_z_CC BY ND- 4.0
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 NIV
Recently, in my recent article called, Life Unscripted, I confessed how I'd wished my children were born with scripts. That way, I'd always know the right thing to say and do. While all the wishing in the world did not produce said script, I did, however, fall upon two fabulous resources (albeit, fifteen years after giving birth to my youngest child). These resources changed my parenting style and helped me communicate more effectively with both my children and my husband.
The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages of Children, both authored by Gary Chapman, were the most valuable tools for my floundering communication skills as a mother and a wife. In his books, Chapman identifies five basic love languages, stating that we all encompass one primary language. By identifying our child's (or spouse's) primary love language and communicating our love for them using that language, we build healthy relationships and "fill their love tanks."
Here's the five love languages Chapman defines:
  1. Words of Affirmation: compliments or words of appreciation; criticism devastates this child.
  2. Quality Time: the need for undivided attention; be totally present. Ignoring or showing no interest in them or their interests deflate this child.
  3. Receiving Gifts: the joy of receiving thoughtful gifts (made or bought) brings great appreciation and joy; overdoing this can be meaningless and harmful.
  4. Acts of Service: showing love by performing a task that's especially meaningful to that child (running their forgotten lunch to school, fixing his bike, helping alongside them on a school project). While we do some of these things already, to the child who has this love language, it's how they feel loved and are especially grateful for your help.
  5. Physical Touch: hugging, kissing, appropriate touching is how this child feels loved. As the child gets older, we must adjust the level of touch, but a simple squeeze on the shoulder to say, "I love you" goes a long way. Without this physical touch, this child feels unloved or unlove-able.
There's two tricky things about all this: one, figuring out your child/spouse's love language and two, considering how to love effectively when your primary love language is not the same as your child's (spouse).
First, spend time observing your child/spouse. How do they show you they love you? Do they praise you for doing things for them? Do they fight for undivided attention? Do they bring you little gifts or do things for you around the house? Or, do they constantly want to hug, kiss or touch you, especially when they're upset or tired? Chapman explains, "our behavior is motivated by our emotional desires."
Secondly, loving them as they feel most loved can be a stretch, a real sacrifice, especially if they don't share your primary love language. For instance, my primary love language is Words of Affirmation, but for my husband and daughter its Physical Touch. It's not natural for me, especially during conflict, to run up to either of them and throw my arms around them. I'd rather run the opposite direction until the situation calms down and we can speak "affirming words" in a calm tone. For years, these two precious people wondered why I couldn't hug them, even after things calmed down. It must have been exasperating. It's not my love language and I had no clue how touching them could make them feel more loved. Honestly, my husband used to have to ask me to hug him.
Chapman states that "when a child's emotional needs are met," [by speaking their love language effectively] "they become responsible adults. If their emotional needs remain unmet, they may violate acceptable standards, express anger toward parents, or seek love in inappropriate places."
It wasn't easy to change how I expressed my love to my children or husband. It took a lot of humbling (taking my eyes of myself and how I feel loved) and a bit of work observing and asking questions. Of course, it's a two-way street, and they've learned how best to love me, too. But, isn't that what God's called us to do? To put the needs of others before our own? To sacrificially love one another?
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13 NIV

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Drought or Rain

If you dropped by from {re}fresh, Welcome!

Let my teaching fall like rain, and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants… 
Deuteronomy 32:2 NIV

Leaving the January New England cold, we flew west to “sunny” California. In a land experiencing drought for almost five years, we looked forward to some spring-like weather—sunny skies and warm temps. But, shortly after we landed, overcast skies and cool, damp breezes became the norm. Eventually, heavy fog set in and monsoon down pours dampened our plans.

We tried not to complain because California was so parched. After a couple of tough traveling days, the rains slowed and the skies brightened long enough to reveal California’s need and all its glory.

We found the need driving north to Yosemite where hundreds of thousands of acres of blackened, fire damaged land and trees stood as evidence. This barren land lay parched and black, crying out for a deep drink of heaven’s rain.

Reservoirs that once ran high along the banks, sat shrunken as though a giant had taken too deep a sip from his oversized straw, leaving but the dregs at the bottom of his glass.

But there was hope, as we traveled through Napa Valley and along the northern shore. California’s glory sang through glistening pruned vineyards, new green pastures, grazing herds, and crops harvested for market around every corner.

Such a drastic difference—these two experiences—it made me think how much like our lives this represented. Our souls may experience years of drought, thirsting after heaven’s rain, and yet none comes. But, through it all, we learn the importance of faith in God, community, and family—how being more dependent on God and one another is actually the better way to live. We become humbled during the drought years until our hearts are ready to drink in God’s blessings.

And when God’s blessings rain down upon a ready heart, God’s glory becomes evident because good fruit appears—fruit, that when harvested, with nourish many.

Preparing to cross over to the Promised Land, God gave Moses a song for Israel. Here it is in part from Deuteronomy 32:2, 37, 39 (NIV):

Let my teaching fall like rain, and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants…

They are not idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess…

See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life…

Where do you find yourself today? Drought or Rain? Do not curse either, as one prepares your heart to receive God’s teaching and the other prepares your heart for harvest. While in drought, ask God, “What is it that you want to teach me? What do you want to be for me during this time?” While it’s raining, give thanks, celebrate and humbly remember God as the source of the blessings.  

Forgiveness: sometimes it's like running a marathon

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Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:14 (MSG)
My husband just ran his first half marathon and I couldn’t be more proud. As he crossed the finish line and limped his way through the medals line, he said he almost blubbered like a baby—not from physical pain, but because he accomplished a significant milestone.
If forgiveness were a race, I’d be a plodder. In fact, when it came to forgiving my dad, it took me thirty-five years to even get off the couch and start training! It’s a common story, Dad leaves his family and a trail of broken hearts behind, but the pain an absent father causes hurts just the same.
For years I prayed, “God, please bring my daddy home. Put my family back together the way it was, please.” However, when he did return to remarry my mother, just before I turned seventeen, life became unexpectedly awkward. Filled with mistrust, I’d built thick, protective walls around my heart so no one—especially my dad—could hurt me again. Although my lips uttered, “I forgive you,” I didn’t forgive my father heart deep.
Fast forward 28 years. I attended a woman’s retreat where the speaker taught on the names of God. Based on the name Abba (Father), she asked us to list all the positive lessons our earthly father had taught us. “Yeah, right!” I scoffed. “What positive lessons could my father have taught me, God? He walked out on me, remember?”
God and I wrestled until dawn when I finally limped toward the chapel, journal in hand. I blasted God for daring to open that closed chapter in my life. Finally, God asked, “Are you done yet?” And God did an amazing thing. He showed me all the positive lessons I learned from my earthly father—because of how God created him and despite his sin. Most importantly, God reminded me that He freely forgave my father, so who was I to withhold forgiveness from him?
I’d love to say I ran home and forgave my father, but I didn’t. I wrestled with God for seven months until I finally surrendered. As I freely released forgiveness, heaven’s gates opened and God’s fullest love and blessing spilled over me.
Forgiveness can be a difficult and painful ordeal. For some, offering forgiveness may be like running a marathon—it may take years of healing and processing before we’re ready. But, whether we forgive quickly or not, the important thing is that we do forgive one another—heart deep and with love.
Is there a person you find difficult to forgive? Won’t you ask Jesus to help you see that person through His eyes and, with His help, make steps toward forgiving that person? Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget the sins against us, but that we release the hold their sin has against us.

Abba, help us to freely forgive those who’ve wounded us. We surrender our unforgiving hearts and pray for courage to release the hold their sin has had on us and to set them free from our unforgiveness.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Life Unscripted

If you are joining me from Christian Children's Authors blog, Welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

by Joanna Penn
CC BY-ND 4.0
“ 'What then is this child going to be?' For the Lord’s hand was with him."
Luke 1:66

I wished my kids came with instructions. They wished I came with a script.

Wearing that deer-in-the-headlights look while my mind raced through the invisible Rolodex of wisdom didn't settle them one bit.  If I lingered too long in dumb-foundedness, they assumed I didn't care; spoke too soon and I didn't understand. Either way it was an exasperating, losing battle and my Mommy Meter quickly ran dry of patience until all that was left was my Mean Mommy sarcasm. "What do you want me to say?" I'd retort throwing my hands above my head. "You didn't come with instructions and God didn't hand me a script the day you were born!" Honestly, some days I was the one that needed the time-out chair!

Seriously, though, wouldn't life be less complicated if our children came fully equipped with unique, personality-based instructions, or at the very least, a script that prompts us parents when we're clueless? 

Elizabeth and Mary came close.

When Gabriel foretold the births of John the Baptist (to Zechariah and Elizabeth) and Jesus (to Mary) in Luke 1, we find that not only did he reveal their sex and name, but he also foretold their Kingdom purpose. John would be the prophet to the Messiah, preparing people's hearts to receive Him through repentance of sins and water baptism. Jesus would be prophesy fulfilled--the promised Messiah, God's son--the One ushering in God's new kingdom on earth.

Knowing they carried God's redemptive plan in their bellies, I'm not convinced parenting these boys was any easier for these women than it is for us clueless moms. Let's put ourselves in Mary's shoes when Jesus came up missing and she found him in the temple after back-tracking three days. Just imagine the words that flew out of her mouth. I'm sure there was a bit of Mean Mommy sarcasm on her lips! Or what of Elizabeth's comments when she saw John living like a poor homeless man in the dessert wearing nothing but camel hides and eating locusts and honey? We don't actually know what she said, but she was a Jewish mother from a long line of priests. TRADITION! I'm not thinking she was too pleased with his choice of attire or diet.

While modern technology allows us to know the sex of our unborn, we don't know God's plan for them. Oh, we wonder about it. On those sleepless nights when the moonlight shines just right onto their sleeping, angelic faces, or when they disobey, make wrong choices, maybe even abandon their faith. In all these situations we pray, "What then is this child going to be?"

Our children may not come with instructions and God may not provide us scripts; we cannot control their choices or what they become, but we can do our best to train them in the truth of God's word, (which He promises will always accomplish what He desires), and we must live God's truth before them.

"So is my word that goes out from my (God's) mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).

As we forge ahead birthing, parenting, living life unscripted, may we not only hide your word in our hearts, but speak them, teach them, and live them. May your purpose for all of us, including our children, be revealed to us and may we partner with you in the fulfillment of your kingdom purposes in us, through us, and on this earth. "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."