Thursday, May 9, 2013

Coming out of the cocoon

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...a time to keep and a time to cast away...   Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

I heard a little story the other day about a caterpillar who was very warm, comfortable and safe inside the dark cocoon she had created for herself.  She knew it was time to come out, but she was frightened.  "What will it be like outside the cocoon?  Do I have what it takes to survive?  Am I ready?"  She wrestled with her fears and anxiety until she was convinced it was time to leave her cocoon.  As she struggled to break free, those fears rose again in her mind telling her she didn't have the strength to make the change.  She never thought it would be so difficult, so challenging.  She was brought to the end of her strength when suddenly - light.  Blinding, beautiful, breathtaking light.  At that moment, the cocoon that had wrapped her, protected and sheltered her was left behind as she rose high into the sky.  She had wings!  Wings that never would have flown had she not struggled to push herself from the shelter of the cocoon.  Wings that took her to a new height, providing a perspective she had never known.  She looked down at her cocoon, grateful for the season in which it kept her safe to grow and develop.  But then she looked up with a profound sense of longing to know just how high she could fly.

Have you ever been that caterpillar?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Like a dog with a bone

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   Philippians 4:4-8

It's amazing how often I can take a blessing and - due to my anxious heart - turn it into a curse.  I become so obsessed with the need to protect it, hide it from harm, and guard it from being taken away that I end up finding little to no joy in the blessing whatsoever.  My need to control things turns the blessing into a curse.  I end up wishing I never had the blessing at all because the thought of losing it hurts too badly.

Do you find yourself doing the same thing?  What if you and I changed the way we approach God's blessings this Thanksgiving season?  Maybe approach them less like a dog with a bone?

My angel of a maltese, Bailey, (seriously, I feel like God dropped her into my life straight from a cloud in heaven) brought this spiritual point to my mind today.  I was all excited getting back from the grocery store because I had bought her brand new bone stick thingies that I had a feeling she would absolutely love.  I opened the package and she abruptly took it from my hand, ran to the living room and left me in the kitchen.  I smiled thinking about how happy her little heart must be to get a new bone she had never chewed before.  I pictured her cuddled in her doggie bed enjoying the taste of the raw bone.

As I peaked around the corner to catch a glimpse of her bliss, I saw she was not enjoying the bone at all.  She was frantically digging in her blankets trying to bury the thing!  I called her name in annoyance, "Bailey, stop it!  Just chew it!"  She stopped and starred at me in anguish.  I rolled my eyes and went back to the kitchen hoping she would settle down and enjoy the not-so-cheap dog bone.

A few minutes passed and she started pacing the kitchen trying to find a place to bury her gift.  I gave up.  I took the bone from her and said, "Forget it!"  I knew she would not sit down and just chew it, so I had to take it away or she would spend the rest of the day whimpering around the house with the stupid thing in her mouth.

As I took it from her with a grumble, I realized how often I am just like my little fluffy buddy.  God gives me a beautiful gift and instead of thanking Him for it in humility and enjoying it in gratitude, I start putting all my energy into hoping He won't take it back.  But God does not want us to approach His gifts that way.  He wants us to enjoy them for as long as they are in our lives, to let go of the need to control their outcome, and to stop being anxious over their possible loss.  He is honored and blessed when we handle our blessings with the proper perspective.  I think the problem is that we begin to find our identity in the blessings themselves, instead of in the one thing that was given and can never be taken from us - our salvation in Jesus Christ.  If we change our approach to the blessings He gives us, then they can come and go throughout the seasons of our life and we will stand unshaken and grateful.

Let's thank Him together this weekend for His many blessings!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Optimism is a form of healing."

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Philippians 4:8

I recently watched the Diane Sawyer interview with Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.  Gabby Giffords is the Congresswoman who was the victim of a shooting that happened at one of her political meet-and-greet stops in front of a grocery store on January 8 of this year.  Six people died, but she survived a gunshot wound to the brain.
As her sweet husband described, if the bullet would have been a centimeter higher, lower, or too the right or left, she would have been dead.  But that was not in God's plan.  Instead, God spared her life and has provided her with amazing doctors, therapists, family and friends, and an incredibly loyal husband.  

I found myself hanging on every word Mark spoke, finding encouragement in his positive outlook.  This is a man who at this time last year had a perfectly healthy wife, but who now has to help her finish sentences.  He was at her side from day one, serving her by helping her stay positive and hopeful.  He taped her progress and the footage is shown in the interview.  One of the videos shows Gabby laying in her hospital bed with a distant gaze and scars on her head.  Mark asks her to give him a thumbs up, but she points her index finger instead.  He laughs and casually teases her about pointing the wrong finger to make light of the error so she won't get discouraged.  

He said he put a sign above her door for visitors that said, "No crying."  Although he could have been obsessed with how Gabby's injury would affect his life and the future he had planned, he took a deep breath every day and decided to be strong for her.  This quote hit me deeply and still resonates when I feel like I can't go on, he said, "Optimism is a form of healing.  Hope is a form of love."

I've heard it said that when you commit to serve your spouse in marriage, you actually grow in love for them.  It's the way God designed it.  Serve them unselfishly with love and joy, and you will be rewarded with a deep, long-lasting love for them.  I have found that to be true.  Laying down my plans and serving my husband in his illness has bonded us to one another in such a profound way.  I would not have asked to walk this road, but I am thankful God has given me the strength to take one step at a time.  I often stumble over negativity and hopelessness, but the Holy Spirit urges me to get up and press on.  His grace enables me to do so.

As Gabby was interviewed, Mark just stared at her with love.  You can tell he admires her strength and determination.  She is far from what she once was, only able to speak in short sentences and often having to rely on facial expressions and sounds to communicate.  But I have no doubt she will recover because she has a partner who supports and encourages her daily to keep going.

May I be that for my husband.  May we all be that kind of friend, spouse, family member to the ones God puts in our lives to serve unselfishly.

Inheritance without Hardship?

"You should not be like cowering, fearful slaves.  You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family - calling Him, 'Father, Dear Father'.  For His Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children.  And since we are His children, we will share His treasures - for everything God gives to His Son, Christ, is ours too.  But if we are to share in His glory, we must also share in His suffering." -Romans 8:15-17 (emphasis added)

I recently heard a sermon that struck me deeply.  It was based on the truth that we as believers want to live victoriously and abundantly, but we don't want to do what it takes to do so - we don't want to die to ourselves.  As humans, its the exact opposite of our natural desire.  We want our lives to go how we plan.  We "want God's inheritance without the hardship"*.  I hold up my end of the bargain (living right) and God holds up His.  But in order to truly share in the glory of Christ's resurrection (which should be the goal of every believer), its often God's desire that we share in Jesus' suffering and death.  In order to be resurrected in victory, we must die. 

It made me think about how I so longed to be a Godly wife and mother when I was younger.  I prayed and dreamed of the opportunity to create a peaceful, Christ-centered home with my husband one day.  When I got married on February 9, 2008, I believed my dreams were coming true.  God had provided a Godly man to lead that peaceful home I pictured for myself.  All was going according to plan.  I used to feel such a profound sense of pride in seeing the man I married study God's Word and teach others.  So, when Josh started developing the not-so-subtle symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I couldn't accept it.  This was not the plan!  No, he was supposed to be strong!  A stalwart example to all families of what a Christian man should be!  He can't be down and out, he has lives to impact…or should I say, impress?

Well, whether I liked it or not, God's plan was to pull my husband over to the "side of the road" and work on Him in deeper ways than I imagined.  Secret, silent, obscure, and confusing ways that baffled me and many others.  Most days, he can barely gather his thoughts, let alone study God's Word for an hour or lead a small group.  What was God doing?  Why had he abandoned us?  Why was He taking my dream away?  Did I do something wrong?  Do I not have enough faith?  All the typical human questions we ask when God allows suffering.  But now I see that God wanted us to "die".

Ok, this may be confusing, but I apply it to my situation like this…I used to dream of a warm, fuzzy, Christ-filled home, right?  Yes.  I wanted to be a Godly woman/wife who could be strong and courageous in the face of suffering, right?  Absolutely.  So, why did I not expect that I would need to go through suffering to find out that I can be strong in suffering?  Why did I want Christ's joy to fill my home without facing the suffering He went through as well?  Did I just want the gold medal without actually having to run the marathon?  Sad to say, that's exacted what I wanted.

What if God allows suffering to give us a taste of our blessed Savior's suffering on the cross?  What if He is teaching us to die, so that we can live?  What if it is the greatest blessing to us, His children, to walk through suffering, but instead we see it as the greatest betrayal? You see, the Bible says that it absolutely is the greatest blessing. 

Your pain may be different than mine.  You may be thinking that yours is much more dramatic and overwhelming.  You may be thinking that your pain is not nearly as bad.  But if there is anything I've learned through this, it is that PAIN IS PAIN.  This life is short for all of us and full of trouble.  We must lean on one another in humility.  My pain is no more and no less significant than yours.  Our trials are tailor-made for us to conform us to the image of Christ.  They are designed to teach us, shape us, and make us shine for Christ in this dark world.

Embrace with joy the suffering you are walking through.  And if the season you are walking through is light and happy, then embrace that with joy as well.  Do not fear the future!  Our God will hold you every step of the way.  He is faithful to His children…always.

*Quote taken from page 21 of "Hope" by Nancy Guthrie