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THE PERFECT PICTURE

October 30th, 2008

Like the commercial says, life comes at you fast.  Well, not always.  Through a series of unexpected events several years ago, my life went from ‘coming at you fast’ (which pretty much would have described business as usual in our lives) to a season of ‘hurry up and wait’.  And wait. And wait. 

It all began when my husband’s employer sent him on an out-of-town work assignment that ended up being a month-long internal job interview.  The company sang his praises and hinted that the job was his – we just needed to wait a little while.  I had already been waiting a month, but you do what you have to do.  So we waited. 

 

While we were waiting, my husband, Ben, contracted a virus that attacked his heart, a condition the doctor said was life threatening.  (For you medical folks, he contracted both myocarditis and pericarditis.)  Because medical science had not yet found an effective method of treatment, Ben was medicated and sent home to let his body rest as much as possible, and wait.  We would have several months to wait before the doctor could even determine whether his heart was improving, or if he was going to need a heart transplant.  So we waited.  And waited. 

 

Sadly, the recovery process extended the job wait that much longer.  We were discouraged to learn that the illusive position was being filled in his absence.  However, he was promised a promotion and a transfer as soon as he was able to return to work.  So we settled in to wait again.

 

After several months, an echocardiogram revealed that Ben’s heart was indeed improving, and he would survive the virus attack.  God’s favor was surely on our lives.  As soon as the doctor released him, Ben informed his manager that he was able to return to work.  Anticipating our transfer, we hurried to get our house on the market before leaving town for the holidays.  Upon our return, Ben was told once again he would have to wait. 

 

When our house sold almost immediately, we inquired as to how long a wait we would have.  Ben was told this job too had already been filled and he would have to wait for the next opening.  Meanwhile, since the company needed to find something to keep him busy, Ben was offered a temporary assignment (traveling) while he waited.  Apparently my stress bucket was also full, because I too contracted a virus that left me sick for a long while.

 

Picking up the pieces of our hurry-up-and-wait existence, we sold our house, sold or gave away most of our furniture, and rented a tiny apartment.  Ben began his temporary assignment, leaving town every Monday morning and returning Friday night, while I waited at home.  And waited. 

 

This wait lasted for almost a year until one Wednesday afternoon, Ben’s company contacted him on the road and offered him his promotion and transfer.  You guessed it: he needed to report for his new position the following Monday.  Talk about hurry!  We barely had time to celebrate between his rushing home and rushing out again.  I settled in at home for a three-month wait, while our townhouse at the new location was being built.  Living in that tiny apartment was soon going to pay off because we could afford to buy new furniture and decorations.

 

After nearly two years, our wait was finally over.  Words cannot describe my delight as I finally rejoined my husband and we embarked on our new adventure.  Life was sweet indeed as we shopped for new furnishings, and we began setting up our new home.  After all this trouble, we were going to make sure every piece of furniture and every accessory was perfect for our long-awaited new start. 

 

That is how we came to need the “perfect” picture. As we decorated and arranged pieces, we found that one wall in our living room was in need of just the right picture.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  It had to be a refreshing scene to balance the pictures on either side.  It had to have a hunter green mat to match the other accessories.  It needed to be the perfect size to fit the wall and have a dark wood frame to match the table below it.  After spending an entire weekend tromping through too many stores to count, Ben was exasperated and we gave up the search.  He was certain my parameters were much too narrow and I would never find my perfect picture.  But you know how persistent a driven woman can be!  I vowed to take up the search another day.

 

Monday morning found me venturing into my new routine, making my way to the gym for an aerobics class.  (My reward for all that waiting was a few months of fun before looking for a new job.)  As I was busy bouncing, and struggling to keep up with the group, all of a sudden a thought came to me, seemingly from out of nowhere.  Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, so I was quite taken aback.  The thought said:  “Your perfect picture is at the Christian bookstore.”  I had no idea what to do with that thought – gee, I had not even been thinking about the picture!  And further, I had no clue where to even begin hunting for a Christian bookstore.  I had been dropped into the middle of a metropolitan city, with no idea where to even find a grocery store.  I was proud of myself for getting to the gym and finding my way back home again.

 

As much as I tried, I just could not shake that thought.  So, as soon as class was over, I asked the instructor if she knew where I could find a Christian bookstore.  She directed me to a mega mall (oh, great!) two suburbs away, where she thought I might find one.  I gathered what courage I could find, studied my map, and headed out.  Finding the mall, I drove around until I chose the entrance that looked the least daunting; I could get lost in there and never find my way out.  I walked in the entrance door, and right there in front of me was a Christian bookstore.  Looking out at me from the display window was – you guessed it – my perfect picture!  Sure enough, it was the perfect size with a dark wood frame, and the mat was hunter green.  The clerk said the picture had just arrived, so it must have been sent for me.  But the best part of all was the picture itself:  a wonderfully refreshing waterfall with the most amazing scripture that summed up our past two years.  “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  No doubt, I had found my perfect picture.

 

It would be years before the Lord would reveal to me that He was the one who put that “thought” in my head.  At the time, I didn’t even consider that possibility.  I had no idea God would speak to us, other than what He gave us in Scripture.  I did not hear an audible voice; I simply received a thought that caught me by surprise.  In an instant, I knew something I had not previously known. 

 

That was the beginning of God’s teaching me to recognize His ‘voice’ and to accept the invitation to respond to His leading.  Indeed He was laying out His plan for me for the years ahead, to speak to me of many things.  These days, He often gives me a word, a picture, or sometimes simply a ‘knowing’ that I did not have before.  He even expands words and pictures into stories!

 

Would you say you have trouble hearing from God?  Do you even believe He speaks to you?  Perhaps He has been calling you, and you have not realized it.  Are you ever surprised that you suddenly know something you did not know before?  I could have been hearing from God years sooner, had I understood that was a possibility.  If you had not known before, you know now that God does speak to us, in many different ways.  Doesn’t that revelation make you want to lean back in your chair, take a minute, and ask God to speak to you?  Who knows, He just might have your ‘perfect picture’ waiting somewhere.

 

 

Proverbs 8:4

To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.

 

Deuteronomy 4:10b

…‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’

 

John 10:4

“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

 

Psalm 25:5

Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day.

 

Isaiah 40:31

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 

A PRISON BREAK

October 22nd, 2008

  

Today’s  Angelic Times’ front page headline announced a dramatic prison break.  The lead story reported that a lady named Missy broke free of her prison chains and walked away from a life sentence.  Powerless to prevent the escape, guards stood by as her Advocate walked her out of the gate and into a joyous freedom.  She could not contain her excitement as she danced down the walk and began her new life.

 

Missy was born with a big heart and the God-given ability to make ‘lemonade’ from the lemons in her life.  She did not have a daddy, but she did have an uncle who provided for her basic needs.  Missy and her mom lived with her Uncle Harry for as far back as she could remember, and life worked, for the most part.  That is, it worked until the day she was robbed and victimized, and then wrongly framed, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.  As the guards dragged her to her cell, they mocked her, reminding her that she would never again know freedom.  And for a time it would seem they were right.  She lost every appeal, and no new evidence was forthcoming, so she had little hope of parole. 

 

Missy made a few friends on the inside, but prison is still prison.  When she stood up for herself, she was beaten.  She had no one she could trust (it is quite difficult to find a true friend in that world).  She did the best she could to adjust to the confines of her surroundings; she did have some good days and a few good times.  But mostly, she made lots of ‘lemonade.’ 

 

Missy was well aware of God’s deliverance.  His mercy was evidenced by her surviving the beatings and abuses, even when a death sentence was pronounced over her.  She thanked Jesus every day for the price He paid for her, and she ran often to those “green pastures” referenced in Psalm 23.  Missy held firmly to her faith, and her belief that God would indeed walk her out of that prison someday.  She knew she had an Advocate who would never leave her nor forsake her.

 

You see, while Missy was still very young, Uncle Harry had stolen her innocence.  His violations imprisoned her into a nearly unbearable life, and she was unable to escape his grasp.  When Missy finally reported Harry’s crimes, her mother refused to believe her, and Missy was put out of the home.   Not yet old enough to care for herself, Missy fell into the hands of one abuser after another, finding her only escape in drugs and alcohol. 

 

Once she reached adulthood, Missy was able to steer away from the abusive relationships, and her life did improve.  God was continuously at her side, encouraging her and loving her, and she ran to His Psalm 23 green pastures often.  However, she was still imprisoned by the pain, the bitterness, and the unforgiveness toward the one who had stolen so much from her.  Harry was part of the family so their paths crossed occasionally; the sight of him would churn up all the sludge in her soul.  Missy truly desired to forgive him, and she often spoke aloud those words of forgiveness.  But every time Harry’s memory came to mind, once again she was drawn back into that prison of unforgiveness.  

 

That is, until today, when she stood toe-to-toe with the memory of Uncle Harry.  As she pressed in, determined to gain her freedom, her Advocate surrounded her with His love and encouragement.  First, she boldly spoke out everything she had always longed to tell Uncle Harry.  Then, emotionally spent and red-faced from crying, she leaned back and grabbed hold of her Advocate, and whispered.  “Abba, I am so tired of carrying this burden around, hating Harry for how he ruined my life.  Even today, he is totally unrepentant and I do not expect he will ever come forward and admit the truth.  What he did was horrible beyond belief, however, Your Word tells me to forgive others like You have forgiven me.  Because forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling, once again I choose to forgive Harry for everything he has done to me, absolutely everything.  This act of forgiving is for my benefit, not his.  Lord, You love even the most hardened criminal and the most abusive sinner.  I know You sent Your Son to pay the price for even Harry’s sin.  I do not fully understand the depth of Your love, so would You let me see Harry like You see him, so I can forgive him completely, like You would do for him?” 

 

As Missy closed her eyes and opened her heart, the Lord showed her a sweet and innocent little boy playing in the park.  Missy’s heart softened a bit; she knew that little boy was Harry.  Then she saw a man approach him, lure him away with toys, and do the unspeakable to that little boy.  Missy found herself crying out to Harry, warning him to run away.  She cried over what was done to the little boy, and she reached out to comfort him.  Then her eyes flew open as she looked out in amazement, because for the first time in many years her heart was filled with compassion for Harry.  What had been done to him was no excuse for the things he did to Missy, and she acknowledged that fact.  Then she chose to forgive him fully for every horrific thing he ever did to her.  Missy spoke out forgiveness, stood up, reached out to her Advocate, and handed Him the key of unforgiveness that had kept her locked in prison.  Missy walked through the prison door, and celebrated as years of chains loosed her soul.  She left that prison, arm in arm with her Advocate, never to return to that dark place of captivity.

 

This story is based on a true account, with names and some circumstances altered.  Do you find the story hard to believe?  If so, I would invite you to test it by forgiving someone in your own life.  Choose a person who has hurt you deeply, someone you have not been able to fully forgive.  Find a quiet place, sit for a minute, and ask God to let you see that person through His eyes.  Then wait until the Lord reveals His heart to you and your heart is softened.  You see, forgiveness is not about the other person, nor does it ever mean you are coming into agreement with the sin that was committed against you.  Instead, it is about your being able to break free from the prison of unforgiveness where you have been held.  Until you see the person through God’s eyes, and love with His heart, your heart cannot stir up enough compassion to let go of the pain. 

If God will do that for one of us, we know He is willing to do that for each of us, if we will only ask.  It was for freedom that Christ set us free.

   

 

Galatians 5:1

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

 

Genesis 50:20

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, …”

 

Colossians 3:13

Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

 

Psalm 142:5-7

I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.  Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I.  Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name; the righteous shall surround me, for You shall deal bountifully with me.”

 

Matthew 5:44-45

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

 

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY SECRET PLACE

October 15th, 2008

 

 

My, what a day I have had!  My world is spinning as I try to accomplish too many things in too little time.  A reactionary, that is what I have become.  It seems like I cannot even find enough time to prioritize the order in which I should put out the fires.  As I take a deep breath and turn my attention to the next job, I remember the story of a trial lawyer with whom I once worked.  He constantly complained that the office work assignments were not being appropriately prioritized, causing him to miss filing deadlines.  Finally our secretary provided him with bright red folders to wrap around his work assignments that needed her immediate attention, a solution that greatly pleased him.  The very next morning, he greeted her with a large stack of work, every assignment wrapped in a red folder.  So much for effective prioritization.

 

That is how I feel today:  every task comes at me sporting a red folder.  I try to remember my Lamaze coach breathing techniques so I do not hyperventilate.  How do I get into such predicaments?  How does life pile on me like this?  I offer a silent prayer that I would not run out of steam before the most demanding items are addressed.  I promise I will never again let myself get this far behind, and I really mean it.  Meanwhile, I guess I will dig in and get done what I can.

 

I press in and finally get through the day’s stresses and pressures, and I am bone weary.  My head aches and my stomach is still tight, even after a relatively quiet ride home.  I climb into my lounging clothes as quickly as possible, more than ready to find rest for my weary soul. 

 

Ah, this is my favorite part of the day, I say to myself, as I head in to my secret place.  For me, that secret place is a bedroom converted into a prayer room.  I turn on some worship music, stretch out in my recliner, and pull a blanket over me.  The warm sun soothes me as it pours through the west window.  I stretch, breathe deeply, and sigh.  The day’s drama begins to fade away as I take in the sweetness of the moment.

 

O Lord, I have waited all day long for this precious time with You!  Come and wrap Your glory all around me, as I snuggle into Your chest.  Where can I go but to You?  Who else knows and understands me, who else comforts me before I even speak?  I close my eyes and sing along with the music, welcoming the joy that soothes my weary soul.  I smile, knowing I am truly blessed beyond measure.  Oh, how I love the peace of God that passes all human understanding!

 

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”   I acknowledge that I am desperately in need of a time of rest for my body and soul.  A brief “unwinding” will not cut it for me; I need a few moments on a daily basis when I can encounter that deep Sabbath rest only He can deliver.  I can speak or sing or worship, or I can quietly sit in His presence and bask in His glory.  When that time is over (my, how I resist letting that time end!), I can return to my workload with renewed vigor.  As I leave my prayer room and head for the kitchen, I wonder why I do not arrange for more time in that sweet place.

 

Do you have a secret place?  It does not need to be an entire room.  It might be a closet or a corner, or it may even be under a tree or on a porch swing.  For many, a prayer shawl simply pulled up over the head is their secret place.  All I know is this:  if I prepare a place, make the time, and extend an invitation, Jesus will come and meet with me, each time in new and deeper intimacy.  He will indeed offer me that sweet rest that can only be found in Him.  I have learned that I must set aside time for that encounter and guard it with my life, because otherwise the hordes of hell will resist me and undermine my best laid plans.

 

If your day is much too full, if you are entirely too busy and way too tired, stop for just a moment.  Allow yourself to breathe deeply and rest in the arms of a loving God, Who has been inviting you to this secret place for years.

 

 

Matthew 11:28

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

 

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

Psalm 91:1

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

 

Psalm 31:20

You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence…“

 

Jeremiah 31:25

“For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.”