Pieced Together for Good

I’ve recently joined in the Five Minute Friday fun with a group of people who gather once a week to “just write” without worrying about getting things “just right.” After receiving the weekly prompt, we are turned loose to share our thoughts in just five minutes before posting and linking up with others at http://www.lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday You’re welcome to be a part of it! Today’s thoughts are about Together.

TOGETHER

There’s a benefit to not going it alone.

Don’t believe me? Try riding a tandem bike or teeter-tottering at the park or playing ping-pong or checkers or football. And let’s not forget that it takes two to tango.

As much as there are days when I require some “alone” time, I’m thankful to be surrounded by others the majority of my moments. Because although alone can be blissful at times, it can also be, well… lonely. And hard.

Maybe that’s why the Bible encourages us to gather together so frequently. Because we need each other.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor…

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken…

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst…

We need the working together of the whole to produce something good. I NEED IT. I need the strength of others to bear up under the burdens of this life, and sometimes I need to help do the bearing. Somedays I need a together moment just to remind me that God is present. Right here. With me. Always.

Perhaps most of all, I need the constant assurance that I am together with God. In league with the Lord Most High. A sharer in this divine gift of salvation that holds me together and gives me purpose. A receiver of the working of grace as God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them.

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the broken.

God takes it all.

He gathers it together, pieces the fragments of my messiness, and births the beginnings of good into a happily ever after that only He could dream up. Not without pain. Not without purpose. Not without the joys and struggles. But a constant gathering nonetheless. Every broken, ordinary, amazing, anxious, peaceful part of me.

He takes me alone, then binds me together with Him to form something beautiful. Something GOOD. Something the two of us can enjoy for eternity — together.

The Counsel That Stands

The other day I took a walk to the bridge at the end of the road. Beneath that bridge is a small waterfall which makes a continuous rushing sound as close to that of the ocean that can be found near my rural homestead. For this Ohio farm girl who longs for ocean waves more than the trickling of the nearby creek, its tune was soothing to my ears. I closed my eyes and simply sat for a few moments, imagining a scene of sea waves lapping against sandy shores as I allowed my mind to wander and rest in the song of nature –  a melody that never grows tiresome to these ears of mine.

And in the stillness of a heart attuned to the glory surrounding me, I wept.

I wept for all the hurts in this life. I wept for relationships gone wrong, for sicknesses wreaking havoc in the lives of friends, for depression that twists minds, for tiredness that weighs heavy. I wept for all the overwhelming circumstances that demand too much. Too much time. Too much effort. Too much mental focus. Too much… me. Mostly, I wept with the longing of a daughter who yearned to spend a few hours in conversation with a mother whose counsel could steer my heart toward wisdom. A wisdom that I desperately needed on so many fronts. It’s been over twelve years since I’ve heard the sound of my mom’s voice, and on this particular day it was her counsel I wanted to hear – even more than the sound of ocean waves.

While I did not hear my mom’s physical voice, memories of her words of wisdom nestled into the depths of my heart. Regardless of the trials, no matter the problem of the day, the brunt of my mother’s counsel was always the same: “Seek the Counselor.” Mom consistently encouraged me to go to God. With my problems. With my praises. With the attitudes in my heart that were so far removed from the reflection of His image I was intended to bear.

As I walked back toward home, I took her advice, and I found the peace for which I yearned.

I found it.

And it wasn’t because my mother’s voice somehow miraculously broke through the pearly gates to reach out to me.

It wasn’t even from the soothing sound of rushing waters.

Peace came in when I took the time to seek the Counselor.

Right there in the beauty of a God who never tires of my seemingly ceaseless cries, peace washed over me.

As steadily as the small river beneath my feet poured over the rocks, rushing to meet the current that flowed, so the burdens of my heart rushed forth to meet the river of God’s healing power. In the awe of a Father who never grows weary of me, I felt a release that has been missing for several months. Maybe it was a combination of the life-giving walk, the strains of birdsong wrapped around river rapids, the memories of a mom who always pointed me to Jesus, or maybe it was simply God breaching the gap between heaven and earth. However it happened, it came.

And it wasn’t because I had perfected my approach. It wasn’t because I had prepared my heart beforehand with just the right Scripture reference. It wasn’t because I was pondering a profound teaching from some Sunday morning service.

It was because I simply cried out. I came in my brokenness, my tiredness. My weary.

It was because I unknowingly took Paul Miller’s advice from his book A Praying Life:  “The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come weary.”

I didn’t even have to exert the effort to fit that criteria. I NEEDED Jesus in the midst of my messy.

And He came.

And while I am certain to have more weary in the days and weeks ahead, I am equally assured to have His presence beside me. Whether I feel it or not.

Whether I’m wide-awake or half-alive to the things of His Spirit.

Or broken into a thousand, splintered pieces.

As long as I show up again… just messy me… He will be there, steady as the rushing of the waterfall. Tirelessly, lovingly, patiently blessing my life with His peace in hand.

Turning my heart toward truth again, as I turn my heart to the Counselor.

Even if it is one overwhelmed, weary, wandering, messy thought at a time.

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Fried Eggs and Scrambled Thoughts

Many years ago there was an anti-drug commercial that showed a man holding an egg while stating, “This is your brain.” He then picks up a skillet and says, “This is drugs.” After cracking the egg and frying it in the skillet, the man looks at the camera and asks, “Any questions?”

Despite the simplicity of the commercial, the point was made. More than 25 years later, and I still remember that “drugs fry your brain.” Funny how things stick with us.

Recently my thought life seems to be running the course of the wayward egg on its way to the skillet. It’s frightening how quickly one little thought can hit a hot spot in my mind and start sizzling with intensity. And it doesn’t just sit there and fry nicely; it becomes a big, scrambled mess. And while scrambled eggs can be nourishing to the body, nasty thoughts are not.

In fact, they tend to smell a lot like rotten eggs.

Given the number of scrambled impressions wildly careening about in my mind lately, it’s easy for me to see why the Bible places an emphasis on taking every thought captive under the obedience of Jesus Christ. My unchecked thoughts are prone to “fry my attitude” much like the famed commercial shows that drugs can fry my brain. I think it’s time for an intervention.

But just how does one go about controlling her thoughts?

How do I capture those random impressions that work their way into my psyche so completely, eluding proper management?

By adopting  a “whatever” attitude. 

When a wayward thought pops up and begins sizzling in the skillet of a negative perspective, turn off the heat by applying God’s Philippians 4:8 “whatever” standards.

Whatever is true. Is that thought you are processing based upon a rumor or false assumption? If so, ditch it and ponder the fact that the person whom you are thinking of in an unfavorable light is created in the image of God.

Whatever is noble. Are your thoughts honoring or discrediting the one upon whom you are focusing?

Whatever is just. Are you fair in your assessment of others, or are you judging them based on hearsay? Are you holding them accountable to your own standards of conduct or presuming that they will act in ways that are more honorable than your own?

Whatever is pure. Have your thoughts been muddied by the influence of others? Guard against contaminating thoughts that are prone to overrun the banks and pollute the surrounding area.

Whatever is lovely. Focus on beautiful things. Try seeing the bright side of a situation instead of constantly looking at the downside. It’s amazing how beholding beauty lightens the heart and breathes life into the soul.

Whatever is of good report. Are you tempted to believe a bad report? Dwelling on the “what ifs” of a possible outcome generally only lead us to worry and anxiety. Believe the promises of God, then apply them to your life accordingly.

Whatever is virtuous. There’s a reason that a man of integrity is honored by the Lord. Strive to live a life that is above reproach. Your thoughts are a great place to begin.

Whatever is praiseworthy. Building others up is much healthier than tearing them down, and it increases joy for all involved. The next time you’re tempted to allow your thoughts to drive you toward demolition of another’s character, exchange the wrecking ball for a hammer and nails, then work toward repairing the rifts.

Reining in random thoughts is a lifelong responsibility. Some days we’ll do better than others, but the goal is to continue responding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Surrendering ourselves to truth, then positioning ourselves to reflect it.

And just in case you need a visual reminder…

These are your thoughts:

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These are your thoughts without God’s intervention:

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Any questions? 

When it Hurts…

Please pray for me. However the Lord may lead you to do so. I need it.

This is the note I woke up to find in my inbox this morning. No details of the situation were included. Just a request for God’s intervention.

Just an SOS from a hurting friend.

Please pray for me… I need it.

Prayer is needed.

For broken hearts. For lives rushing headlong toward situations that seem they can only turn out badly. For children who are neglected. Marriages that are unstable. Lives crushed from the weight of so many unanswered questions. Hearts heavy from too much hurt.

And in the midst of my prayers for a friend who is hurting, I was reminded of a simple truth:

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When it hurts, run to God.

And so I did.

And I am.

And I will continue to do so.

For my friend.

For myself.

For all the unknown trials and burdens that are yours to endure in this moment of living.

When it hurts, run to God.

Then stay there until the burden is lifted.

Until God’s peace intersects with the point of your brokenness.

Until you sense the presence of a Savior who has borne each of your trials upon His own shoulders.

Until you rest in the care of the One who can carry it all.

When it hurts, run to God.

Allow nothing to keep you from the Keeper of your soul.

Run past the doubts.

Push through the obstacles that block the way to His presence.

Run with faith, believing that God is with you in your journey.

No matter how long the road may seem.

No matter the number of doubts that tempt you to cease trusting.

No matter how much it hurts.

Run until you reach His throne and find His grace when you need it most.

“So let us come boldly to the throne of  our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” ~ Hebrews 4:16

 

 

That’s How Love Works

You may have noticed my absence of posts the past two weeks. That’s because I only recently returned from a jaunt to England. And while my husband and I did manage to take a stroll through London one afternoon and spend a few hours at the British Museum, sightseeing was not the primary objective of this first overseas adventure together. We went there for a wedding. A wedding between our adopted Ugandan-born son and his lovely English bride.

I cant’ help but smile when I think of the ways that our heavenly Father works. When I prayed that God would scatter my children across the world for His glory, I never dreamed of how He would choose to answer that prayer. I had no inkling I would become “Mom” to a young African man whose presence in my life has turned out to be no less miraculous than that of my five natural-born children.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s often how God works.

Continually, I am reminded that His ways are much higher than my own. His thoughts supersede my wildest dreams. His plans extend far beyond the greatest adventures I could ever conjure up. And the fulfillment of His purposes breaks down the strongest of defenses, bridging the widest gaps of division as He brings lives together from across the nations.

Because that’s what LOVE does.

Brings us all together.

Against the backdrop of a world often set at odds, pitting nation against nation, I had the amazing privilege of being in a foreign land with people from other countries, races, and cultures all gathered together because of LOVE. And I belonged there. An American mom… with a Ugandan-born son… who was marrying an English bride… supported by a best man from China… alongside English and Hungarian bridesmaids… with the officiating Scottish-Australian pastor… planning to return to Mexico as a missionary couple to share the LOVE of God with a people who need to know of the hope that is found in Christ.

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Too often, it is easy to see the hatred.

It’s easy to think the worst of people.

It’s easy to lump an entire nation of individuals into one unfairly judged category due to the actions of one extremist.

In the middle of so much hurt, it’s easy to forget love.

But these past few days, I’ve been reminded. I’ve seen love shine brightly. I’ve watched two lives bridge the divide of race, continents, and culture to meld into one. I’ve watched a young man who has overcome an incredible amount of rejection and hardship stand and pledge his love to another with the assurance of being accepted. And I’ve been honored to stand with him and welcome his new wife into our crazy, God-ordained, international family.

In short, I’ve watched God’s LOVE at work.

More importantly, I’ve been a part of God’s love at work.

One small piece of the blessing.

And in giving my love to a young man in need of a Mom,  I’ve received much more than I have given.

Because that, my friend, is how God’s love works.

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Enjoy the Ride!

There’s a video that has recently gone viral depicting a car salesman taking a test drive with an incognito Jeff Gordon. Pretending to be a nervous driver, the professional Nascar racer hesitantly pulls from the car lot with the salesman riding shotgun, only to rev the engine and careen through the streets much like he cruises the racetrack. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting salesman is unaware of Mr. Gordon’s true identity. With terror-stricken expression and words filled with expletives (thankfully “bleeped out”), the salesman makes it known in no uncertain terms that he is not appreciative of the ride.

When the full-throttle joyride is finished and the car safely returned to its place in the lot, the salesman bursts from the vehicle intent on “calling the cops.” Gordon immediately begins to explain that it is a prank, revealing his true identity as he removes his disguise while assuring the man,” It’s okay. I’m Jeff Gordon.”

As soon as the salesman realizes that he has been “had,” he looks at Gordon with a large smile on his face and asks, “Can we do that again?”

Whether or not the video was staged (as some are claiming) or truly an impromptu incident, there is still much to be learned from the salesman’s recorded reaction.

My first thought upon watching this video was: It’s funny how quickly perspective can change our attitude.

Once the truth was revealed, the salesman immediately wanted to take another ride with the very man whom he had just seconds earlier accused of being an “idiot.” I can’t help but think that, given the opportunity, his second car ride would have captured an entirely different scenario.

Funny how our perspective changes when the Truth is revealed.

How quickly our mind is calmed when we realize Who is truly in control of our circumstances.

I must admit, there are times in my life where I have been duped into believing that God was absent, or at the very least, clothed in disguise. And I have ridden in the passenger seat screaming like the terrified salesman, certain that my life was careening out of control, while I prepared myself for a crash-and-burn ending.

Sometimes, God does seem to cloak Himself.

Sometimes He seems to come into my life in ways that are so unassuming, I assume He is absent.

Sometimes He shows up in ways that are so unexpected they are barely recognizable as being from Him.

Instead of simply stepping into my circumstances with obvious glory revealed, He seems to sneak in, subtly daring me to trust Him. And much like the panicked salesman, I plead, “Stop! Let me out!”

When I cannot see clearly, I don’t trust the One who is in control.

Would that I could always see Him as He is. That I could readily recognize His presence and note His hand at work, moving and directing all things for His purposes and my ultimate good. If I really KNEW He was there, if I really TRUSTED His ability to steer me safely through every curve, wouldn’t I be more apt to enjoy the ride?

Today is the perfect day to take God at His Word.

Though we may never fully learn to see God as He is on this side of eternity, we can still trust Him. Instead of holding on for dear life, we can loosen our panicked grip of control and ask for a second chance to “enjoy the ride,” knowing He is more than able to navigate safely through every obstacle confronting us.

The next time you feel as if your life is careening out of control like a runaway Camaro, take a closer look at the Driver.

Chances are, He bears a striking resemblance to a certain Savior you may know.

Then simply sit back and enjoy the ride with the full assurance of knowing you are safe in His nail-scarred hands.

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Please Hold

“I’m sorry, all of our customer service representatives are busy assisting others at the moment. Please hold, and your call will be answered in the order it was received…”

Seriously, are there any words more frustrating when you are needing assistance than those offensive words of, “Please hold”? While I have been placed “on hold” several times throughout the years, I do believe my run-in yesterday tops the list for longest-phone-hold-to-date. It literally took me more than 4 1/2 straight hours before the issue was resolved and the coveted airline tickets were purchased with a savings voucher my husband earned a few weeks back when he volunteered to take a flight bump. (I now understand why folks are so hesitant to surrender their seats. It’s not the inconvenience of the delayed flight so much as it is the frustration of later trying to redeem the “special deal” you were promised.)

The only thing more frustrating than being placed on hold while on the telephone is when that same scenario plays itself out in life. Things are going along just fine; you’re comfortable in your job; settled in your ministry; family life is a daily routine of activities and events. Then suddenly, for no obvious reason, things change. Life is interrupted with a “holding pattern,” and much like a plane caught in the currents of an unexpected storm, you are left “circling” above the runway. Holding… holding… and holding for the next break in the storm so you can comfortably land and go back to life as usual. And perhaps that is the very reason God likes to shake us up with a “hold.” He doesn’t want for us to become too comfortable in this life.

Becoming too comfortable in this life means we may have lost sight of the life that is to come. Becoming too comfortable in ministry may suggest we are precariously close to forgetting that it is God who ministers through us, and not we ourselves. Becoming too comfortable with our family routine may indicate that we are taking each other for granted. So God steps in to shake things up by placing our comfortable life “on hold.” Suddenly, what made perfect sense to us just yesterday no longer seems as clear. The ministry that was previously so fulfilling no longer seems to offer the same sense of satisfaction as it once did. In short, God pulls us to the sidelines and asks for us to wait on Him to do something “other.”

And while a needed rest is always refreshing, an enforced nap can be quite unsettling. Or at least disappointing. No one wants to be banished to the sidelines when the game is being played on the field. After all, where’s the productivity in that? And once again, we find our focus has honed in on producing in attempts to attain a soul satisfaction that is found only in being with the Master. While it is unsettling to be unsettled, sometimes it is exactly what our Father knows we need. For in the “holding,” we take the time to look at things with greater clarity. We pause to more closely observe the people and happenings around us than when we are caught up in a blur of activity.

If you are finding your life “on hold” at the moment, I encourage you to stop fighting against it. Stop attempting to fill the void with activity. Stop sitting on the edge of your seat anxiously tapping your foot in anticipation of putting down the landing gears. Simply stop. Instead, I urge you to do as my friendly airline representative encouraged me while I was waiting on his computer to process my request: “Place your phone on speaker mode and go make a cup of coffee to enjoy while I work through this.”

Don’t try to rush the process, simply allow God to work through this.

All those plans He has in store for you? They are on the way. But until they arrive, enjoy the rest. Right now, that is the plan. Because when it’s your turn to get into the game again, you’ll need to hit the ground running for all you’re worth. In the meantime, hang tight with your heavenly coach and allow Him to pilot your course. You’re in for an awesome destination… it’s guaranteed.

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