fear

Beauty_for_Ashes

“And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. THAT IS WHY I am suffering here in prison.” – Paul in  2 Timothy 1 (Emphasis mine)

Wait. What?

I thought Paul was in prison because he got in trouble for preaching the Good News, not IN ORDER TO preach the Good News!

If we read this too quickly it’s easy to miss how incredible it is that Paul actually made the connection between the ministry God had called him to and the impossibly difficult circumstances he was writing from.

Seriously.  Prison isn’t the first place anyone would expect to find themselves if God had just specifically called them to be preaching and teaching the Good News. I bet it wasn’t what Paul was expecting either.

But he embraced where He was and pursued his assignment undaunted by what must have seemed like a terrible detour.

It would be easy to think that this prison phase was just a season to be endured and then his ministry could be resumed on the other side of his release.

That’s how we think. Well, that’s how I think.

We see interruptions.  Paul saw opportunity.  

His perspective was transformed because he never lost sight of what he was called to do.  We can’t either.  He knew wherever he was, he had the awesome opportunity to talk about Jesus, and that ministry could not be put on pause just because of difficulty or trial.

What if our suffering is actually intended by God to amplify the power of our testimony?  

How many times have I thought to myself, “I’d give anything to be able to share just one moment of the tangible experience of knowing Jesus” with my friends?

When life comes crashing down around us, and the supernatural peace and joy that only Jesus can provide is seen where grief, despair and anxiety should dwell, well…

What preaching is more persuasive than that?

Paul’s suffering was made infinitely easier by the fact that he trusted his trial to be an “assignment” that God had prepared for him in advance.  The sovereignty of the Lord was never questioned by him, so his heart was able to rest in promise.

This gift is meant to be ours as well. God promises not an end to our suffering but rather the redemption of it.

As followers of Jesus, we do not suffer hardship without reason.  We do not suffer without hope.  And most importantly, we do not suffer without gain.

God uses trial to bring beauty from ashes.  Let us not forget that ashes only exist where something has been devoured and destroyed by the ferocity of fire.  It may have been something precious to us before, but here on the other side of our loss, we have a choice to make. Be swallowed up by the pain, or focus on the beauty He will bring through the sacrifice.  We can choose to remember our position in Him, having not been given a spirit of fear but of power and a sound mind, and suddenly the ashes become the mark of where He met us to turn the course of our lives again towards His glory!

Never get caught up in the question “Why me…?” before you have set real time and prayer to the question, “Why are You, God, allowing this?”

The first question has its focus on self, the second on Him.  Be assured, the answer to “why” will always come more easily through an acceptance of the plans He has for you.  They are plans to prosper you, never to harm you, to give you hope and a good future.

As a loving Father, He will not ask us to suffer anything apart from Him and His promise to bless us and others through it.  He works together in ALL things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

Oh that I would learn  to consider it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds!  God is wanting to reveal something to me, and through me to others, that can only be discovered in the ashes of what has been burned up.

May I seek my answers in light of that promise.

When I “feel” as though I’ve been unexpectedly sidelined, or I lose sight of the path before me, I pray that God would help me to see the ways that I can stay in the race.  I was meant to RUN.  Even in the dark.  I don’t want to be undone with the “why” of an unexpected turn, for it has come by God’s design, and the finish line can only be found if I keep on running through.  I just need to continue to follow with focus the course the Lord has marked out for me.

As I run through these night watches. I know that these miles are all gain.  For this is where the nearness of my God can be most keenly felt.

Yeah.  THAT’S why I’m suffering.

images_night_time_running_-_Google_Search

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.  So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life.  He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.  And now he has made all this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. 

THAT IS WHY I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. 

2 Timothy 1:7-12 (Emphasis mine)

Read more

GIDLacesLast year I bought a pair of sneakers with glow in the dark laces.  I liked the idea of knowing where I stood, even if I couldn’t see anything else.  That pretty much sums up where I am in life today. And the reality is, I’ve been running in the dark since this blog began.  The sun went down in December and I haven’t known anything of the path in front of me for the past four months. The only thing I’m hearing from up ahead is,

“Come, follow Me.”

You may be tempted to think I’m waxing poetic here.  No. I’m speaking practically.  We are in the midst of preparing our house and farm for sale, plus the better portion of all we own, and moving into the next phase of whatever ministry God has marked out for our family.  We don’t know what that is yet.

We are Abram’s clan readying the caravan in Haran. 

It’s awesome.  And it’s not.   Just like any good roller coaster ride, your hands are in the air and you’re screaming for joy and the next minute you feel like you’re going to hurl, and then comes another hill and you let go and scream holy moly again and its thrills and its chills and its awesome and then, well,  its just not.

Honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well.  I can’t see a step ahead or beside and there isn’t a ton of time to reflect where you’ve been when you’re running blind, so I just keep pressing on and  pressing in close to make sure I don’t miss what God has to say at any given moment.  The nearness of Him is my STRENGTH.

And the nearness of Him is my JOY.

So yeah. It’s been alright.  It’s been more than that.  It’s been GOOD.

Still, there are those moments.   I’m finding that the hardest part of having no illumination beyond a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (which is what, a step or two?) is the loss of direction.

It’s just plain hard to keep forward momentum when you’re not sure where you’re going.   I know in my head that I don’t need a map, or a little blue line on GPS to follow, I’ve got something so much more valuable to guide me.

I’ve got Him.  The voice behind me, whenever I turn to the right or to the left saying, “This is the way, my child, walk in it.”

So I’m going to keep logging miles.  I’m absolutely convinced that the miles I cover in the dark count for something more than the ones I run in the light.  Why?

Because without faith, it’s impossible to please God.

Don’t just skim that.  Please.  Park on it a minute.

Without faith….IMPOSSIBLE…

Once, I asked my husband what he thought the opposite of faith was.  I was thinking unbelief, doubt, etc.  He quickly, and correctly, answered, “Sight.” This is according to Hebrews 11:1 – Faith is the substance of things not seen but hoped for.

I can run in the light all day long without faith.  I can see after all! But let’s be real, in the dark, I might be able to shuffle along a little way, but it takes an active trust – one that would cost me something if it failed – to actually run in the dark.

SO this past week, while I was actively, faithfully, blindly running my race, I started hitting some walls. Literally, not figuratively. One after another.

BAM.  Stop.  Recover.  Turn around.  Re-route.

After about three hard stops, I faced my first real fear since all this began.  It came in moments, and by taking big deep breaths of God’s grace, and specifically of God’s word, my racing heart was stilled.

It reminded me of the day I discovered that previously undiscovered phobias can emerge when pressed just the right way.

Years ago, at a pumpkin patch somewhere in Missouri,  my husband, who I like to call Superman, had just emerged from a straw bale maze/fortress with our two oldest children in tow.  He was a little wild-eyed and he laughed uncomfortably on approach.  “How was it?” I asked.  “Wow,” he said, “that actually made me feel just a twinge claustrophobic….you should take them through!”

So in I went.

The girls showed no signs of any trauma from their first trip in.  They were eager to return for round two!  After all, they had been lovingly guided through the dark by the hand of their father, Superman.  We all see him that way.

As we got about 15 feet in, every glimmer of light completely disappeared, and with it, my sense of direction.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, couldn’t see my children whose hands I was clutching a little more seriously and I certainly couldn’t see what was in front of me.

If I had known in that moment what was before me, I probably wouldn’t have proceeded.  But the girls were tugging on me to forge ahead, and how hard of a maze could it be?  It was built for kids after all.  This was going to be fun!

It wasn’t long before I started running into dead ends.  As I shuffled down one 2-foot wide, pitch black hallway after another, each would end in a wall.  At about the third dead end, I could feel the panic starting to rise up in me like some sort of tsunami.  I was trapped and I was about to lose it.  I mean really lose it.  I could feel my little girls clutching my hands, still okay so far as I could tell, having no idea that they were only moments away from being scarred by life, because some madman decided to imprison their mommy in a house of straw where she lost her mind because of darkness and dead ends and no one to lead her!

A “twinge” of claustrophobia Superman had said?  You’re kidding me, right?

I was praying hard when the light came round the corner and moments later the little kid attached to the flashlight showed up behind it.  I nearly leveled my own girls as I lurched forward and grabbed the poor child by the arm, “DO YOU KNOW THE WAY OUT??”

“Yeah, sure,” says the 7 year old.  It’s not hard when you’ve got a torch.  I wonder if he knows what a hero he is?  Knows that he saved three lives that day???

Superman later confessed he was ready bring it all down around him by throwing his back into it should he have found no other way out.  That’s what got him through it when HE broke out in a cold sweat.  Thankfully that contingency was not required.  Having escaped, he showed no hesitation in cheerfully sending me in.  To what end?

Well our kiddos were dying to do it again!  For them, it was fun!  And he didn’t want to go through it again.  It was my turn to pay the parental dues.

So here’s the thing.

Darkness, loss of direction and hard, unplanned stops can be overwhelming  if you’re the one in charge.  

If, however, you’re following

Holding the hand of Someone you can trust completely, well…

The experience is completely transformed. You come out of it, begging to go back in and do it again straight away.  You come away counting it all joy.

Listen up.

Just close your eyes.  It’s dark anyway.  Sometimes looking into the darkness is a lot harder than closing your eyes to the pitch black and looking into the light of His word and His presence.

Trust the One who is leading you.  Because really, there’s not a navigational system on planet earth with better wherewithal to get you where you need to be than your Heavenly Father.

Listen to what He says and don’t hesitate to do it.  When you’ve got someone leading you blind, taking time to decide whether you will or won’t follow His directions, is high risk.  If you’re a Jesus follower, the issue of whether or not you’ll do what He asks should already be settled.  Do it when He says it.

If I had a choice (which honestly I don’t) I’d wait in line for this ride I’m on, over and over again.

It’s just that good.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”    John 1:5 (ESV)

Read more

runner_road_-_Google_Search

So, I’m thinking I’m at least halfway now. My 45th birthday passed with very little fanfare a few days ago.  Everybody joked about it being my 25th or some other such nonsense, and I just kept thinking, “Hey now! I’ve been going 45 years straight.  That’s a good long way to run. Why would I want to pretend it’s any LESS than that?”

I did the math.  Yes I did.  I’m active, always have been, and I factored in my not walking for the first year plus some sick days.  I’ve had my fair share.

I’ve averaged 9,000 steps a day. This is actually a pretty conservative number since I’ve lived and traveled extensively overseas, always opted for the stairs and spent the last eight years walking to and through my work, which seldom affords me a seat.

I rounded down.  And best I can figure, it has still added up to no small journey.

148 million steps.

One foot in front of the other.

We are all going somewhere.  Every day we’re doing it.  Even when we don’t sense the momentum or have lost our vision, by God’s grace, we remain in motion.

Even on a sickbed we are actively engaged in this thing called living.  Sometimes I think those are the miles that have mattered most in my journey.  The ones spent running hard after God in prayer and praise and study because my feet couldn’t even hit the ground that day.

He redeems it all.

Making a hard stop on my birthday this year did something for me. It gave me a moment to count strides, and in so doing, I was pretty blown away by the distance covered.

The race marked out immediately ahead of me is steep.  It’s uphill for a good long stretch.  I don’t feel equal to the task.

I’ve been having to wrestle fear to the ground before I can even begin the climb.  This is a fresh opportunity to trust the Lord.  I can always trust fear to provide that.

I’m grateful that God has allowed me a moment’s pause at base camp to reflect on the simple truth that great things are accomplished, and races are won, one step at a time.

Praying.  Praising.  Trusting.  Pressing FORWARD.

Putting toes in the water, even if it hasn’t parted yet.

One foot in front of the other.

It’s all moving me towards Him.

“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child He loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects.  God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.     Hebrews 12: 5-7  (the Message)

2013-07-29 13.05.17-1

Read more