Friday, May 30, 2014

what will I do with no...

I woke up that morning extra early, knowing that something was up. I had interviewed for my "dream job" the day before and had gone to bed still awaiting an answer. Something told me that was not a good sign, still, they had told me I would know by the end of the week, not by the end of the day.

I did my usual morning routine, checking emails and getting on facebook for a few moments before starting my day. It seemed that every post I saw in my devotionals and in pictures was some encouragement about choosing joy or about what to do when things didn't go as you'd hoped. It was on Facebook that I saw one of those picture sayings. You know the ones. The picture that has some quote that you then hit 'share' and post it for others to see. The picture was of an open door and it said "God opens doors no man can shut." Such an encouraging little picture. Then why was my immediate thought, "And if the door doesn't open then what is on the other side wasn't what God intended for you"?

I went for my morning run with questions still in my head. I knew I did not get that job but still hoped to hear otherwise. I had done well in the interview - I knew it. So why did I have this sinking feeling that the answer was going to be "no thank you"?

I had planned to spend some time with my daughter that day and we went out shopping. In my mind I secretly hoped that we'd be able to do this more often if I got that meant more money. I decided to check my emails while I waited on her to pick out shorts and there it was, the email with my answer. I quickly opened it only to read, "Thank you for your time but we've chosen someone else." 

My heart dropped. The door had closed. I wanted to cry, but I don't cry often and certainly not in public. Honestly wish I did sometimes because it might make the ache feel a little better. Well, that was it. I had prepared and prayed and hoped and now....the answer was no. It was over. 

We went on with our shopping but the wind was out of my sails. In my mind, I had made plans...I had figured out how I could "serve God" in this new position...I had pictured myself giving away all my old classroom supplies and working with other teachers to help them. In a flash all those hopes crumbled. In fact, since I had changed to a lower grade level than I had previously been teaching, the devil tried to push the idea that instead of promoted I had actually been DE-moted...pushed to the back of the line. Now, I know that is ridiculous, but I'm just saying how it felt. Okay, now I'm finally crying. Funny how admitting how your feel about something releases emotions.

I spent the rest of that day and the next in a funk. I tried to cheer myself with reminders that it's not about me. It's about where God chooses for me to serve. A sweet friend sent a message reminding me that there might be some student that needed me next year. Others let me know they cared and understood. I was wanted, so why did I feel so rejected? I had waited so hopefully to hear "yes" - what was I supposed to do with "no"?

I went for my run yesterday hoping to hear from God. Usually I hear, "Trust Me" when I am confused. This time I heard, "Listen to your husband." You see, my sweet husband, who is my biggest supporter - God bless him - had said that he just had a feeling it wasn't over yet. When I told him I didn't get the job and extra income would NOT be coming in, he smiled and said it's going to be okay. God has always provided and He won't stop now...and that he just had a feeling it wasn't over yet. Now, for those who don't know him, my husband is the most patient man I've ever met. We are complete opposites. I bounce off the walls and rarely go anywhere in a straight line. He is slow and steady - never wavering. So when I ran and heard, "Listen to your husband" I heard, "Trust Me."

I know I'm not the only person who has ever been told "no"....that has felt like the destiny that they KNEW was to be theirs was somehow stripped away and they had instead been sent to the backside of the desert to herd sheep. I'm not the only one who has looked to heaven for direction and been sent the OPPOSITE way they thought they were supposed to go. Yes, I get the connections here...honestly hadn't thought about Moses until I started typing this blog, but now they seem pretty clear. 

The past weeks my mind has been on learning to "embrace the place" where God has me. Honestly, at times I don't like it...but it's not about me. No matter if God chooses to place me in a position of leadership or chooses to have me working the back of a garbage truck, I am to serve Him with joy where I am. It's not about what I want, it's about where I can best serve Him. I remember years ago dreaming of preaching and teaching in church. I dreamed of encouraging people with God's Word and sharing the insights He showed me for them. I dreamed....are you getting the constant in this? I wanted. Years later, I'm finally figuring out it's not really about me. 

The question remains. What will I do with "No"? Will I grow angry? Will I pretend I never wanted that stupid job anyway? Will I take my ball and go play somewhere else? Or will I look at my Father and say, "Not my will but Yours be done"?

I'm still working through the process of hurt, discouragement, and disappointment. I may even shed a few tears today. I will probably sit on the desert floor for a little while and wonder what happened to the dreams. I will remind myself of all the blessings in my hand. Ultimately, I hope I can hang my hope on the truth that God will use a willing vessel to achieve His will. I will embrace the place where I find myself and will do my best to tend the sheep. 

It's not about me. It's about trusting Him.

Proverbs 3:5-12 (MSG)

5-12 Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
    your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
    give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
    your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
    don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
    a father’s delight is behind all this.

Micah 6:8 (MSG)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Galatians 6:7-10 (MSG)

7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Knowing my calling...

Everyone wants to feel like they are good at something. They know that God has made them special, but many wonder if they truly have a "gift" that is useful at all. 

Some have gifts that are visible and highly prized. For example, some people are good at singing - my children have actually begged me to NOT sing. Some are great home-makers and cooks - my kids will tell you that is ALSO not my gift. Some are prolific writers and teachers and healers and leaders and yes, even Indian chiefs. So many amazing gifts, none of which I actually have. A whole wide world that needs Jesus and I've got....what do I have God?

Like Moses, I felt God told me to look at what I had in my hand...

We have all heard that the gifts of God are without repentance. His call on our lives doesn't change. The thing is, many seem to believe that gifts only operate in those who are in "full time ministry" or that have some career like medicine. I believe that the gifts of God show up in your life no matter WHAT you do for a living. The gifts are not so much WHAT you do, but HOW you do it.

I have often wondered what God wanted me to do. Like many young people I felt I would be called into full-time ministry...only I never really knew what. I did whatever I found in front of me waiting till the day I'd be used of God...and I searched for my "gift." It wasn't until the past year or so that I finally got a clue. My gift is to simply encourage.

I looked up what encourage means. It means to give support, confidence or hope to someone. The Greek lexicon adds to admonish among other things. Then there is this definition: "To give courage to; to give or increase confidence of success; to inspire with courage, spirit, or strength of mind; to embolden"

Notice that none of the definitions is necessarily exclusive to a certain career. I could easily use my gift as a wife, a parent, a teacher, a cashier, a nurse, even a garbage collector. The gift isn't dependent upon a career...only upon the One who gave it. It's that way with all of us. 

Each of us has a gift. Some have the gift of mercy (I love you guys...I seem to be lacking in that one.) Some have the gift of giving or the gift of leadership. No matter what the gift may be, it is from God and is to be shared with those around you. We don't have to wait until we see exactly what God has planned. Just use what you have where you are. Your gift, given by Him, to a hurting world. 

So what are you waiting for? What is in your hand? What do you find that you "do" without even trying?

You and I have been "called" of God to share His love with the world around us. Now is the time, not someday when you finally "make it." Each day we "make it" when we use the gift God has placed in us. That gift that has been evident since we were young. This gift that, before it matured, seemed at times to be a curse to us. It is our spot of both vulnerability and strength. The way that God shines best through you.

Serving God isn't really about doing something great....sometimes it's simply about BEING who He created you to be.

You are gifted....have fun sharing that gift with those around you; and while you're at it, don't forget to enjoy the gifts God gave them.

It really is a wonderful life when you know your calling...despite what your career might be.

 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
wise counsel
clear understanding
simple trust
healing the sick
miraculous acts
distinguishing between spirits
interpretation of tongues.
All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God.
Romans 12: 3 - 8 (MSG)
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Blackberries and manna...

It's spring and the world is in bloom and yielding its fruit in season. Here in South Mississippi, you can find an abundance of spring-time blessings, sometimes in your own back yard. They are almost like manna from heaven that just "appears" with the morning light.

This past weekend, I was walking along my fence row looking at just how quickly things had grown during the few weeks of spring and I noticed a new addition to our yard. Among the fence there were now some blackberry bushes winding their way toward the sky. Tiny little red berries were already poking through the green leaves and I have to admit that while I don't like briars in my yard, I was delighted to see those berries! My mind remembered blackberry cobbler from my youth and my mouth watered a little. Of course, there were no where near enough berries to make a cobbler, as if I'd have known how to make one if there had been, but that didn't change the fact that I had blackberries!

I gingerly reached among the briars and picked the few ripe berries and took them inside to show my husband. I offered to share the three berries I had and silently reminded myself to go back and check the next day for more. Sure enough, a couple of days later, there were more berries! I picked them, this time almost a handful, and took them inside. My husband sweetly put them into a container for me. That's where the problem came in. Once they went into that container, I forgot about them. I think I planned to eat them "later" when I could "prepare them" into something special but never really thought about them again. Soon I would make an interesting discovery. Blackberries, like manna, don't last more than a day or so. 

Yesterday I was in the yard again and picked a LOT of berries this time (the blessings were increasing!) I took my treasure inside to add it to the other berries I had picked, not realizing how many days had passed. Instead of the sweet black berries I had collected, I discovered a furry white mass. They were spoiled, no good for anything.

Well, I thought. That's a lesson learned. Can't just hold on to them indefinitely. I placed the new batch on a paper towel on the counter and determined I wouldn't let that happen again.
A friend came over and we ate a couple of the berries as we talked, but not really that many. The rest waited on the counter for a hungry soul to delight in them. This morning they are still on that paper towel on the counter. They don't look quite as sweet fact, they look like they are shriveling up a bit. Blackberries, like manna, don't last more than a day or so.

The conversation I'd had with my friend came to mind. Frustration of gifts seemingly unused in our lives simply because we do not know quite how to make those big dreams come true. We have dreams of writing books and doing great things (sort of like that blackberry cobbler) but no idea how to make those dreams come true. That's when it hit me. Instead of waiting and dreaming, maybe we just need to share the fruit that is in front of us, no matter how small the amount seems to be. Holding on to the little bits until "later" doesn't work. It's like trying to store up the manna. With blackberries and manna and gifts, it's pretty much a "use it or lose it" kind of proposition. 

Some who are reading this are thinking of things in their lives that they have "put off till later" simply because they don't have time to think about it right now. Some have gifts in their lives that they are waiting to use until they have all the berries and the recipe for the cobbler - but honestly they aren't doing anything about that right now. Some are just staring that the few berries in the palm of their hand and wondering what to do with these gifts that seem so small and so few. Here's an idea - share them. Give them away - today. They won't last until you find the perfect time - they are for today.

Blackberries and manna and the gifts of God are to be used daily and shared with those around you, not stored up and then, honestly, forgotten.

Today I pray that you will enjoy finding the blackberries that seem to have appeared from nowhere and that you will delight in sharing them with others. God's gifts IN us aren't FOR us...they are meant to be shared.

Exodus 16:4-5

The Message (MSG)
4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”

John 6:27 (MSG)

 “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day...

Today was a "terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day" triggered by "a series of unfortunate events." The day was lousy, and my attitude was even worse. I finally got home and was able to lace on my running shoes and hit the pavement. I just needed to run until I had an attitude change. I figured it shouldn't take more than 20 miles. (Fortunately for me, it only took 3.5 because I can't run 20 miles!)

The run allowed me to get alone with God. Now you know why I really run. It's where I find some of my best prayer time.

Along the way I did a bit of wrestling with God about some situations that have been weighing on me. With each slap of my foot on the pavement, I felt my attitude change as I finally released my grip on the situation. Well, I thought I had a grip on things...actually, I never even was close enough to touch it. I was just imagining all the ways it could work out - as if God needed my help to work things out.

As I ran, I released it all to God. By the time I returned, I felt much better. It wasn't until I got home that I thought of a situation that happened this past year with my son. He had to make a trip to the hospital with dehydration and had to be hooked up to an I.V. I giggle now just thinking about it.  (Lest you think I am awful, I knew he was okay when he turned to me after the nurse left the room and said, "She's HOT!)

To appreciate the story, you have to picture the situation. My 16 year old son who is almost 6 feet tall and can drag 5 football players down the field was sitting on the table desperately trying to talk the nurse into NOT giving him a shot, much less put in an I.V. needle. As she prepared the needle, he started trying to use his charm. She got close to his arm and tried to insert the needle and he was talking to her as fast as he could. He tried everything - tried to convince her he was okay, tried telling her that he loved her, tried to get her to tell him she loved him - ANYTHING to talk her out of that needle. I was trying to be sympathetic but I was laughing so hard tears were rolling down my cheeks.

After he finally relaxed, the nurse got the needle in place and the much needed fluids and medicine made their way into his system. He drifted off to sleep and I sat there watching him find relief from the pain that had driven us to the doctor in the first place.

Today I thought back to that hospital trip. Like it or not, I'm not much different than my son. Just as he tried to negotiate, sweet talk, even plead with the nurse to NOT use that needle, I have been doing much the same thing with God. I know how I'd like to see things work out. I try to talk God into doing things my way instead of simply relaxing and allowing Him to have His will. The process which I find myself fighting is for my good and His glory. I need to relax and stay still while He takes care of....well, of me. 

You know, about 2 miles into the run, I had the thought, "God, I will stay right here in the middle of the process until you are done." I don't understand it, don't particularly like it, and have no idea if it will hurt or not (although I'm pretty sure it won't be fun.) Still, I won't try to leave...won't try to run. I will wait...and trust....and know that God can be trusted no matter what I face.

I just hope it won't involve needles.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) 

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

You need this...

Today I did my best to begin digging out from under the clutter that inevitably seems to collect each year while I am busy teaching. We are getting close to summer and the lightness I feel with the coming much needed break are accented with a sudden desire to lighten up here at home.

I was putting away the hundredth item that had found its way into the dining room and wondering why I seem to be the only person in the house that understands if you get it out, put it back. I noticed some of the "stuff" fit if I pushed aside something else in the cupboard. In this case the something else was  pitcher that I was given so that I could serve iced tea from it, because in the words of the giver, "I needed it." Thing is, I have never used the pitcher even once. I prefer to serve tea from its jug I keep in the door of the fridge. It stays colder that way.

As I turned away from the cabinet, I glanced around at all the other things that filled my home, most of which were given to me because I "needed" them. (Okay, I'll be honest. Some of them I bought because I convinced myself I needed them. Advertising is a pro at making us feel like we "need" things in order to be truly happy. By the way, it just makes you feel like you have more stuff. Not necessarily an advantage when it comes to living life.)

I seem to be surrounded by stuff someone else thought I "needed." There is the silverware that doesn't really fit my personality but I picked it because my mom told me that the simple style I'd wanted was too plain. I needed the fancier forks. Out of respect, or maybe frustration, I said okay. There is the cookie jar that I was given that is never used, the ladder-back chairs that tip too easily and aren't really very comfortable, and I can't forget to include the full-length fake fur coat that makes me look a bit like I should wear a flapper dress, carry a college pennant and say things like "Bees Knees!

I understand that the gifts are given in love and it is the thought that counts but I am now left with the task of figuring out what to do with all this "stuff." It all seems to be things that THEY loved, but that just don't fit me.

Reminds me a bit of when David went to King Saul to tell him that he'd go take on Goliath. King Saul meant well, but he tried to put HIS armor on that scrawny little kid and expected it to fit. Of course, we all know the story. David realized he couldn't possibly take on that giant wearing someone else's armor. He had to do what God said using the gifts he already had, the gifts given to him by God.

It's usually about this time in my writing that I figure out where a blog is headed. What is it that God is showing me? I thought it was going to be something like not cluttering my life with what others think I should or should not be...then it hit me. Maybe I've done the same thing to others.

Maybe I haven't given cookie jars or chairs or silverware, but have I been guilty of looking at others and wondering why they don't just do things the way I would do them.  I have to ask myself have I looked at my boss or co-workers or those "in charge" and been critical because they don't do things the way I would? Do I expect other teachers to teach the way I do? Do I expect parents to parent the way I do? Do I expect others to worship the way I do? Do I expect others to do things my way because that is what they "need" to do? I figure they "need" my armor because it fits me so well, surely it will fit them, too.

But that's not how it works. Each of us have been given gifts and a job to do. What I see as "needed" will only serve to clutter their lives if not weigh them down so that they can't even fight. I really don't want to put that weight on anyone.

I guess it all boils down to this. I don't want to clutter my life with stuff or expectations of what others think is right for me. I will continue to seek out the advice of others - especially those who have walked these paths before. I will also try to refrain from "judging" those who do things differently than me. As long as we are serving Christ, we are working toward the same goal...serving with our whole heart the One who loves us.

And that is all we really "need."

Luke 10:41-42 (MSG)

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (MSG)

Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.
14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.
19-24 But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
25-26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
27-31 You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.