Not too long ago a door was opened and I walked through it. For a few hours a week, you can find me at my favorite clothing store as a sales associate. Meeting new people and listening to their stories, as we put together outfits or finding a great fitting pair of jeans, is a dream. If they leave better off than they arrived, I have done a good job, whether they buy something or not. Everyone I work with is younger than me and I absolutely love it! The generations behind us could really use encouragement, I am finding out, and they genuinely receive all you can give. Actually, everyone can use a kind word these days. When I get to go to work, I am thankful for this fun opportunity to encounter many people that normally would not have crossed my path. And you never know how God might use us in the new places He leads us, but I am excited to see!
Twenty four years ago, on this particular Sunday in the Young Life camping world, my husband and I met for the very first time. Today we visited our oldest daughter, who is working at this camp, not even realizing it was the same day until we got there. During our visit I was continually reminded of the Lord’s timing and faithfulness. And as we sat in the worship service with our daughter, thankfulness filled my heart. On that same stage all those years ago, the boy I had met minutes before, played his guitar and sang, leading us all in worship. This unsuspecting guy had no idea that on my list of things I wanted in a husband was a bonus box that read, “sings and plays the guitar”. You cannot tell me that God is not about the details. Because it had to be Him that placed that sweet desire in my heart and knew it would be met. And returning with a van full of kids, seeing our daughter thriving and reconnecting with friends on this day gives evidence. I just can’t get over it….
A phrase in a verse stuck out to me this morning. The verse says, “Wait for the LORD, be strong, and let your heart take courage, wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:14. It was the “let your heart take courage” part that caused me to stop and consider these words that imply permission. Sometimes circumstances, false beliefs and fear discourage us so badly. Waiting, strength and courage feel so foreign, even impossible. However, it seems the key is found in whom or what we are waiting. If we wait and place our hope in the economy, health, relationships, you name it, we hand our hearts over to them and our strength and courage too. If our heart is filled by love Himself, kept by Him, then strength and courage do come as we wait. And we know that sometimes it can take close to fifty years for life giving permission to be given again. This greatly encouraged me to continually trust the One to whom my heart belongs, as my source of strength and courage, waiting on Him to move.
If there were some magic formula taught in a class before becoming a parent, many of us would have gladly signed up. If each child came with special instructions, that would guarantee that they would live out of their true identity, we as parents would diligently follow them. While we have been given plenty of scriptures regarding raising children, I think there is even more we are being offered as parents. Maybe raising children is one of the biggest opportunities to bind ourselves wholeheartedly to our Heavenly Father. This independent stuff does not work, but being completely dependent on Him is a rare, but courageous way to live. And since we recently celebrated dads, I can tell you from a front row seat perspective, that dependence is what makes an incredible father.
Going through the homework for the summer Bible study, a statement the author made stands out. ”Self-importance is always an enemy to your true self-identity.” This idea of elevating ourselves is the opposite of humility. So who we truly are, the person God created us to be, is found when we are brought low. While the process may sound like being thrown into a fiery furnace, it is actually the place we become unbound to our self-importance and the real us emerges. Now if the real you and me were of no value, the enemy would leave us alone. However, this true self is an enemy to his dark plans and the fire we now carry illuminates the darkness. Light has a way of drawing the enemies attention it seems. So the fight continues over the flame that shines, this Christ in us shines with humility, casting a welcoming glow to others. Self-importance would only bring a dark shadow. And so the decision to fight against this darkness continues and by the power of the igniting flame of the Holy Spirit, we shine.
There is a woman named Ruth in the Bible that is fascinating to me. She is a widow and a foreigner that ends up collecting grain, intentionally left for people who found themselves in her vulnerable state. The field she gathers from happens to belong to an honorable man, who takes notice of her. They end up marrying, by yet another plan of provision. Because Ruth knows what it is like to be one gathering grain and in a state of need, I have to think this gave her eyes to see people differently. How do you think she treated gatherers when she becomes the field owners wife? Maybe part of the good that comes out of whatever life experiences the Lord allows to put us in need, whether it is relational, physical, financial and the list could go on, we come to the other side noticing others. When we have eyes that are trained to see hearts in need, we remember the hope others gave to us and do likewise. Not to give them only our story, but to provide hope for them to gather. We encourage them to keep going and do not allow them to go home empty. The harvest is ripe with opportunities these days, friends.
Sometimes conversations spark thoughts that lead to questions. To answer them takes time and courage. What I discovered was quite healing and I needed to extend forgiveness again to individuals within two groups. When one person hurts you within a group, your feelings towards the whole group can be clouded. Maybe this happens most with Christians and the Church. Someone meets a person that says they are follower of Christ, but are anything but loving. The belief could now be that all Christians are unloving, therefore the God they belong to is not loving. Goodness, we humans can really mess things up. For me, it came down to being dismissed on different occasions in a way that made me feel unwanted and unneeded. Who in the world wants that to be true? Who wants to not be invited to the table because you are not wanted or needed? The truth is we have all been invited by God, who sent His Son to die in order to extend the invitation to His table. There is not a human alive who has the authority to make anyone not welcome. The price was too costly and none of us had to pay it. So, we can get into the habit of continually reminding ourselves and others that we are greatly wanted and needed by our Heavenly Father. Maybe we all need to let the truth of His great love for us sink deep and go invite accordingly. Every person you meet is worthy of a seat, they just don’t know they are needed and wanted at His table. Lets be the one to tell them.
A friend and I gathered with a group of middle school girls this morning to do a study on identity. It is such an incredible opportunity to give these girls what most of us only wish we had at their age. Something that stood out was the reminder that only our Creator, God Himself, has the authority to give us, His creation, our identity. No one else should be allowed such power. As parents, we are entrusted as guides that affirm who God says our kids are as they grow up. When they forget or begin to take on what is false, due to any number of things, we get to remind them of what is true. The hard part is that sometimes as parents, we have not gotten this identity piece down. What I have found the most freeing is to pray and ask the Lord to bring to mind all the names or lies I have been told or even told myself about who I am. Listing them out is extremely painful, but exposing them to the light is good. Then pray and ask what is true. Ask the Lord to tell you who He says you are. Open your Bible and have it all confirmed. Since God is love, what you hear is loving. It will make all the difference. Perhaps your middle school self will be healed once and for all. And the love you now have for yourself will then be shared with those around you. Brings to mind what Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39).
Recently, I found myself in a dressing room trying on clothes. The lighting was bad, but the thoughts in my mind were much worse. Processing this whole experience uncovered a root of shame. Somewhere a lie took hold that I should look perfect and anything less would be considered failure. Unable to achieve this goal resulted in shame. I would have honestly told you this was not in my heart anymore, but clearly here we were again. I had to ask myself how much has shame stolen? The list would be long and maybe yours would be too. If this had ended with me, it might have taken longer to be set free. However, when one of my children experienced the same thing, a war on shame was declared. I will not sit by and allow our enemy to plant seeds of shame, nor will I help with my thoughts and words. We were made for freedom and not prison cells of shame. I will declare these words again and again, “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:7). And another good one, “…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5). Shame takes room in our hearts that is meant to be occupied by love and we live accordingly. It is only with His power that this prisoner has been set free and on the alert for this happening again. So to the enemy I say loudly, “No more!”
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30). Reading this verse recently got me thinking about actual light and not just a weight measurement. Jesus had just spoken words that encouraged His humble, childlike followers, who had opened their hearts to what He was revealing to them. Jesus then gives this beautiful invitation to come to Him with all that weighs down. He said to them and us, that we can join with Him, learn His way of gentle, lowly living and experience deep rest. Have you ever met someone who actually took Jesus up on this offer? There is a peacefulness to them that seems to radiate light from within. Makeup and skin treatments will not bring this kind of glow. When one lives with this light burden, the darkness gets pushed back just a bit everywhere they go. The good news is He is still sending out this invitation and all we have to do is accept. Our world could sure use more light and rest wouldn’t you agree?