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All posts for the month January, 2018

Strength When the Struggle is Real

Published January 25, 2018 by Dawn

I sat here last night and wrote two or three sentences over and over, going back and erasing, writing something else. Nothing flowed because I didn’t even know where to start. A regular reader will have noticed a marked decrease in my blogging over the past two months, and I finally have a word that adequately defines why: stunned.

Like a deer hit with a high beam, I’ve felt taken off-guard. Hit hard and fast with an overwhelming barrage of things, and for a while, I didn’t want to talk about any of it because it would have been complaining and I am currently breaking up with self-pity. I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to share from a place of security and wholeness. So, let’s talk.

A little over two months ago, we took in a little boy who needed a safe place to stay for a bit. He’s six, adorable and more of a handful than I wanted to deal with. It was a God-thing, but it didn’t feel good. First lesson: our comfort is not God’s ultimate aim in life. We have to stop worshipping our comfort and refusing to do God’s will because it doesn’t feel good. Let’s just say this wisdom didn’t come immediately, but more of a chastisement. I was wallowing in my own self-pity and self-centered bitterness. Then, the Word said, “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me,” and immediately I was faced with this dilemma: who’s right? Me or God? I was hurting, but not right.

It’s hard to accept, with gratitude, a child who causes angst in your own children and purposefully annoys them to get their attention. A child who pees in the floor when he’s mad or upset. A child who moves like a sloth through his morning when you have to be taxi to three different schools before you head to work. A child who doesn’t do what you ask unless you watch him like a hawk, repeatedly disobeys, and is one more person not picking up after himself in a house full of people you were already frustrated with for the same reason.

This child has good qualities too, but I was so frustrated with the depth of sacrifice, I couldn’t take my eyes off the things that were causing me to choke, to give him any credit. Not only was my attitude unChrist-like, it was downright sickening. And I knew it.

Then, we added a third into what is now known as “the boys’ room,” (another thing grating on my already-hurting son), when I had to take in a short-term exchange student because they are my responsibility while they are here and this teen’s placement didn’t work out. He’s not a problem at all, but there were more sacrifices: Earlier mornings, shorter showers, less laundry days, putting on make-up in bad lighting and not having time to do my hair. Having one more person to pick up and drive all over every day. One more person eating meals and hanging the door open. My electric bill roiled my stomach!

On top of this – or maybe beneath it is how they feel – are my own two precious kids struggling with hormones, an absent father, pressure from school, pressure from teachers, pressure from friends, and needing me to console and love on them while inside, I’m kind of freaking out. When my daughter hit me with an “I miss my dad” at bedtime the other day, and all I could do was cry with her, the magnitude of how powerless I am in my life hit me hard.

Lesson two: hardships bring us closer to God, and that was why Paul gloried in them. I went to my room and prostrated myself on the stained carpet that desperately needs TLC. Inhaling dust and God-knows-what, I cried out to God because I do know that, although things seem out of control, He is absolutely still in control. I felt held.  I felt listened to as I poured out my soul. Then, I felt taught as the Holy Spirit reminded me that God’s aim in our suffering is to teach us obedience, perseverance, and all the strengthening words we need to help others in their suffering. Paul talked about being offered up on the sacrifice and service of other believers’ faith – he was talking about enduring trials so that the faith of others may be built up. His comfort, his desires, were the sacrifice. All so that others might come to really know God and His power at work on their behalf. This is such a beautiful thing.

I was also reminded that when you tell God you are ready to be used, you don’t get to pick the circumstances and it’s foolish to complain because God is answering your heart cry to be used. It just might not look like you want it to look. And it certainly never feels like you hope it will feel. God orchestrates our lives because we are His. While we are looking for miraculous and amazing things, God is in the people and places of ordinary, everyday life. So many of us will miss our moments to be used for His kingdom waiting on a stage and lights. If I refuse to be Jesus to this little boy, or this Chilean student, because they take up time that I could be holed up reading my Bible or writing, I’ve missed a divine appointment that I’ve prayed for simply because it’s not the way I envisioned my service to the Lord working out. But that’s not the will of God; it’s the will of Dawn. I set myself up as an idol.

When I thought I couldn’t possibly do another thing in surrender, God asked something else of me: I was asked to move our teen meetings at church to Sunday mornings so that the larger group of teens that attend on Sunday morning will participate in a service. I was reluctant, but I did it upon the advice and excitement of others and the peace I received in prayer. But as eleven bustling, energetic teens followed me up to our new classroom Sunday morning during the interim between worship sets, I faced my own fear: losing “my time.” Sunday morning is my time of truly pressing in to God. I mean, I have a prayer-life outside of church and my Bible and I are besties, but Sunday mornings fill me to overflowing like no other time of my week. It’s a time of release and abandon and submission. And when I close my eyes during worship, I feel alone with God and it is glorious.

I walked away from “my time” to teach a group of teens that sometimes, I feel, just want to mess around until the bell rings without really digging into the treasures God lays before us each week. Again, self-pity and bitterness sidled up next to me and cooed in my ears in patient understanding of my plight.

When I got home, I went to my room and laid my face on the dingy carpet again and told the Lord how I felt. Again, God comforted me and then reminded me of Jesus, climbing up a mountainside to pray and being followed by a couple thousand people. Or being chased by a boatload of them across the Sea of Galilee when all he wanted to do was mourn over his cousin, John. Jesus, who, of all people needed a break, stealing away for moments with God whenever the opportunity arose, but never insisting that a time be set aside specifically for him to pray. He made time of the moments in between, instead of making a god out his OCDs. Lesson four: It’s important to be filled, but God does not want you to make a god out of your set times to be with Him. He wants you to be available to minister whenever and wherever, and He promises to meet you in the in-between moments to strengthen and encourage you.

If all of this has taught me nothing else, I have learned lesson five, which is that people will drain us quickly. So many need Jesus, but they will come to us first and they will fill up on Christ through me and you. We are the first image of Jesus people see, and they will earnestly desire Him and seek Him out through us and we will pour ourselves out until there’s nothing left in the bottom of the cup. But emptiness is not God’s will in ministry. Fullness is. Springs of living water bubbling up inside of us. David said, “All my fountains are in you” (Psalms 87:7). We have to be with God in stillness and be filled. He is our source of replenishment. We need Him in order to be the hands and feet of Christ. If even Jesus needed him, how much more will we?

I can honestly say that circumstances have become so much easier, having heard these blessed truths. I can now look down into the freckled face of this six-year-old boy and see Jesus and my duty to Him. I can smile at this child without feeling the weight of the burden I thought he was. I can endure a host of students hanging out in my kitchen at eleven at night, eating my lemon meringue and stealing moments with a Chilean teen who will be leaving in a week. I can smile through the murkiness of mothering children who are experiencing inner turmoil. I can smile at God knowing that while I didn’t ask for any of this specifically, I did ask to be used and this is what it looks and feels like. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

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Trials with a Tea

Published January 18, 2018 by Dawn

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Hot cup of tea in hand, I retreated to my bedroom this morning, set a fifteen-minute timer and sat down with the Lord for what was left of my morning before I had to leave for work. There’s not usually anything left of my morning, so this was a rare treasure I gave myself by getting up just a smidge earlier. I should really do this every day…

I’ve been quiet before Him for two days like this, purposefully. I cleaned “the chair” and took care of the laundry-in-limbo so I would have a special place for my time with the Lord. I just needed a newness because things have been stale and I’d become complacent. So I cleaned “the chair”, rearranged my room a little and now I have a quaint sitting area where I can have tea with Jesus.

Ok, now that you can visualize  … teatime this morning, the Lord shared something with me that really lifted a burden. I’ve been a victim to bad theology, and although I easily recognized it was false, some of it got into my heart. It’s that junk about God only having good plans for us, based on Jeremiah 29:11. We’ve created an entire doctrine based on this one scripture and I’m afraid it’s hurting people in the church. You see, the church is in a dangerous rut of delivering inspirational/motivational, me-centered sermons that convince people that God only wants them to be happy. Such a misguided notion tends to make people think, when things get uncomfortable in life, that it’s just an attack of Satan or a punishment for wrongdoing.

According to scripture, sometimes, hard things that break us are the will of God. I mean, it was in Jesus’ life. Also in Paul’s. And John. James. Peter. The list, people, is long. Many men and women in the bible endured hardship as the will of God. And do you know what’s missing in this scripture in Luke where Jesus, weeping droplets of blood, asks his Father to remove the cup because it’s a hard one to swallow? God’s reply. I checked all four Gospels and there isn’t one. God didn’t respond to him. Luke 22:43 tells us an angel came and strengthened Jesus, but he was strengthened to endure the road ahead. Golgotha. Betrayal. Torment. Death. All the will of God.

God did not even utter a word. I wonder if He was weeping just then. He knew what was to come. He purposed it. And Jesus didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t punishment. It was for a greater good. God’s greater purpose.

I desperately want people to understand that, while God desires our ultimate good, He is more concerned about working things out in conformity to His will than He is about rescuing us when things don’t feel good. Sometimes, He requires hard services and acts of obedience that take us beyond our own abilities and make us cling to Him as He teaches us how to walk the hard road. We cannot say that because something feels right, it must be what God wants because I have found that sometimes, things don’t feel right or good, but when I pray, God says to me (like he said to Paul), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

God sometimes brings us to places we don’t want to be. Asks us to be obedient in things we don’t want to do. I believe He does this to humble us, so we see our weaknesses. So we reach out for His strength. So we learn to depend on Him. One of Satan’s many lies is that God never gives us more than we can handle. Sure does make us feel strong, doesn’t it? But it’s a lie. God often gives us more than we can handle because He wants us to turn to Him and usually, this is the only way to get us to do that.

I share this from my heart, friend. I pray this word brings relief and leads to healing. God really does love us, and while He has good things in store, He also works mightily through trials and tribulations. The Bible says that “he comforts us in all our sufferings so we can comfort others with the comfort we received” (2 Cor. 1:4). Such trials are precious when they cause us to run to God. Those tender moments of being comforted eclipse even the most harrowing circumstances and remind us just how good our God is. I hope you run to Him, friend, and climb into His daddy-lap. He longs for you and is patiently waiting, even now, to tenderly gather you under His wings where you can find refuge. Be at peace!

My Defender

Published January 11, 2018 by Dawn

I was standing outside my office chatting with a coworker today when a loud, angry voice cut into our conversation.

“Who do you think you are?”

We both froze. Her eyes got wide and she looked anxiously over my shoulder. I turned slowly to see what she was looking at, afraid to see what was going on behind me. The voice continued to loudly, sternly explain itself to an unknown offender we neither could see. Neither of us recognized the voice, but we stood there, shamefully listening, trying to figure out who was behind the tirade less than twenty feet from us but hidden behind a wall. Finally, we identified the speaker by what he was protesting. He angrily continued, “You may talk bad about myself or my wife behind our backs and we would never know, but you will not sit in my class and talk bad about anyone in my family.”

Right after I recognized his voice, the reality of what was happening hit me so powerfully: the quietest man I know, the calmest and most level-headed man I know suddenly became one of the fiercest. He was defending his wife against an attack she most likely knew nothing about in that moment, and he had put the accusing student in his place in such a powerful way, it sent shockwaves down the hallway that affected anyone within hearing distance. It was startling and wild and beautiful.

When I got off work today, I checked the mail on my way in the house and found something there that shook me. I am susceptible to emotional tsunamis when crises hit, and my initial reaction was to run into my room, cry and call my mom for a freak-out session. I reacted like I normally do, but when I got off the phone, I immediately remembered listening to my coworker defend his wife and I realized that I, too, have a defender. I have a heavenly Husband who loves me and the Bible tells me that He confronts my enemies. He vindicates me. He destroys the work of the enemy and scatters them in all directions. I finally understand what it means for God to be our defender. You see, God is not just love. Love is an attribute of God. So is merciful, graceful, and many other wonderful things. But the Bible also says that God is just. He is jealous and He defends those who love Him.

I qualify.

The turbulent waters became immediately placid inside me. The tsunami didn’t happen this time. For the first time in forever. I finally know what it feels like to know that God is going to take what Satan purposes for evil and turn it around for my good. I know what the face of a defender looks like. I know what the voice of a defender sounds like. And I know that the enemy trembles when a Husband stands up for His bride. For the first time in my life, I feel secure leaving all of life’s triviality in God’s hands. I pray the Holy Spirit reveals this wisdom to you in such a powerful way, you come to truly understand what it means to be defended by our heavenly King.  He loves us fiercely, and defends us even more so.

 

Paul, A Prisoner of Christ

Published January 7, 2018 by Dawn

I sat down with the Word of God this morning, specifically praying that God would transform my heart and mind (Romans 12:2) and make me holy by cleansing me with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). I’ve needed it, as I have felt overwhelmed by the battle lately, abandoned in acts of obedience, and left alone to bear the burden of life.

My last long study session, I read most of Acts so I pulled the satin strip of a bookmark out as I flipped open my Bible and began where I left off at Acts 25. Paul was imprisoned and had been handed down from Felix to Festus. It seemed the will of God kept Paul captive to a succession of administrators who needed to hear the gospel. When Festus questioned him and thought to send Paul back to Jerusalem so he could finally put an end to Paul’s trial, Paul appealed to Caesar. This appeal guaranteed his continued imprisonment, and we later find, after Paul witnesses to King Agrippa, that if he hadn’t made his appeal to Caesar, he could have been set free. The men who had accused him years before had lost their fervency and forgotten their accusations.

I wonder, if Paul had known how close he was to freedom, if he would have went back. This man, whom God continually gave wisdom to and great discernment, did not have this one piece of information that could have been his get-out-of-jail-free card. The truth is, God had kept this information from him because it was God’s will that Paul go to Rome. Paul never questioned God in this because he knew that the fulfillment of his vision for ministry, the vision God gave him, was that he should minister in Rome.

I find this truth slightly discomforting: God’s will for Paul was a purposed captivity. We find through the next few chapters that God provided a relative amount of freedom and comfort, and even safety, in Paul’s service, but at the end of the day, Paul spent years in captivity – years as a prisoner – because it served God’s purpose.

In Acts 27, Paul’s captors defy logic and reason, ignore Paul’s discernment, and set out on a ship with 227 men during the worse time of the year for sailing. Their zeal to finish their assignment swept them headlong into a massive shipwreck. Fourteen days on a harrowing, turbulent sea. Days without food, living in constant fear for their lives, these men could have avoided all of this if they would have just listened to Paul’s Spirit-led advice. Because God, was gracious, though, the storm eventually drove them to Malta where all survived, although they lost their ship and all their supplies.

Almost as soon as they had reached the beach, Paul began to build a fire and a viper latched onto his hand. He should have died, but instead, he just shook it off and kept going. This part of the story has awed me for years. I marvel at Paul’s faith, but to him it was a simple thing: God had said he was going to Rome, so he was going to Rome. There was nothing that could keep him from God’s plan for his life, no matter how scary and deadly. Paul was settled in this knowledge and it carried him through every attack of the enemy to make him fear otherwise.

Not one to waste a moment of His minister’s life, God used the shipwreck on the island of Malta to bring healing to the nation there, spread the Gospel of Christ, and replenish His missionary-in-chains. He used every bit of the shipwreck – used Paul in that place – and prepared him to go on in God’s ultimate plan.

Chapter 28, verse16, tells us that Paul arrived in Rome, in fulfillment to the vision God had given him. This fulfillment came through captivity. Clearly, it wasn’t Paul’s plan; who plans to live his life in captivity? It was God’s plan which Paul submitted to because he saw himself as an obedient servant, not a master of his own life. This plan was good, even if it didn’t feel good.

The end of Acts, the end of 28, tells us that Paul was a captive in Rome, preaching the gospel unhindered in his own rented house. I just can’t get over this. He was fulfilling God’s ultimate plan for his life as a captive, but living as a free man in his own rented house and preaching the gospel without hindrance. That blows my mind! God fulfilled Paul’s vision and used everything Paul endured. He encouraged Paul through others and kept him safe by posting guards outside his house. Otherwise, Paul was “free” to minister to the Romans.

As I read all of this today, I was astonished. Never did Paul waver in his faith. Never did God waste a moment of suffering. And never did God allow Paul to be harmed as he fulfilled God’s plan for his life. Paul was obedient. He didn’t complain. He took everything that happened with such a deep conviction that God could use it and all he had to do was yield in all ways to God’s will. Everything that happened was an opportunity for Paul to minister and he did. He never worried about himself. He endured discomfort for the sake of the lost, and was led in chains everywhere God wanted him to go. Satan had no power in any of this. Anything that might have been the work of the devil was thwarted and repurposed by God.

Father, I want that kind of faith. I desire an obedient heart like Paul’s. Give me ears to hear and a strong, steadfast belief in your love and ability. Increase my faith, increase my love and give me a heart that desires your will above all things. If your will for my life requires me to be uncomfortable, I pray for a love for you that surpasses my own self-love, so that I can do your work unhindered by my selfishness. Thank you for your Word, that brings healing and comfort, that renews us and helps us to continue. I love you.