I started a new journal (one of about 10 – don’t judge) this year for recording verses and thoughts that strike me in a new way. I have read through many of the books of the Bible several times, but, as I have said before, I truly believe that the Spirit reveals things to us from the word in a new way as we are needing them or as we grow and become ready to receive them. To that end, I have decided to journal these verses as they present themselves with the significance they have to me at that moment in time. Just the other morning while I studied I wrote down this verse. “…the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6) There is so much meaning layered in these few words. On the morning that I wrote them, I truly was thinking about serving and loving on the people whom God has brought into my life – mostly through Celebrate Recovery and our new church home. And I whole-heartedly believe that truly, as a Christian, our faith is expressed through the way we love those around us. This morning, though, as I re-read that verse, it presents a new, slightly different meaning. I think of this verse today in terms of my covenant with Brian. We just celebrated our first anniversary. I would be lying if I said that everyday of that first year was like a honeymoon, with rose pedals and violins,etc. We had our challenges. Not only the challenges presented by trying to blend our families (I use the word BLEND very loosely), but also just the ups and downs of really learning each other and living together AND growing in our walk with God at the same time. At times, we were overwhelmed and thought that maybe our expectations of this covenant we had made with each other and God were too much. We were very intent on the fact that our marriage was priority and that God was using our love and our union to make us more holy. But in the day to day “muck” of life – that all seems too lofty and leads to disappointment. I am certain that God brought Brian and me together for His purposes. I am certain that Brian is the man God intended for me, and I am so grateful for the love that we share. This verse this morning really spoke to me as far as Brian and my marriage is concerned. We can get bogged down in daily life, raising kids, paying bills, highs, lows, failures and disappointments. But when we take time to be still and to share with each other, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” I am made more holy through this covenant. I am learning to love like Christ loved through this covenant. I sit here in the middle of a home that has, at times, felt broken and failed…and I am more certain than ever that I am where God called me to be. My faith in God is being expressed through this love.
As we pulled into the driveway and began to unload our bags, I already wanted to go back. Back to Happy Church, with its big yellow smiley-faced sign, and it’s peaceful setting, surrounded by the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. But even more beautiful than the mountains are the people. It’s funny…I always say I’m not much of a “people person” but I do believe that God is changing me into one. And I am becoming attached to the very special people that I spent time with this weekend. God is pushing me out of my comfort zone and asking me to step out in faith. And I thank him immensely for the nudge. While in Breathitt County we got to visit with our friends Randy and Janet and meet new friends, Mike and Connie. They all work/serve at Happy Church and are all amazing, obedient people of God. We cooked out with some families from the community, sat around the campfire and sang songs and made s’mores, played cornhole, and just relaxed. And began to build some great relationships. Sunday morning Brian and I got the chance to lead worship and walked away so blessed from that experience. It was a spirit-filled time with new friends and with God truly moving in that place. In a county that is one of the poorest counties in the nation, there is so much pain and sorrow and hopelessness. But there is also so much to be Happy about, there are so many blessings and God is working through the lives of several dedicated servants. Children are hearing His word, they are signing songs of praise, they are learning to live their lives with His guidance, and they are being loved like Jesus would love. I’m praying tonight about what Brian and I can do to help in some way to support that Happy effort. I’m praying that God gives me a heart to love on people more every day. I’m praying for our friends in Breathitt County. And I’m praying a prayer of thanksgiving for our time there.
Have you ever pulled up to a four way stop at the same exact time that another car has? And then you and the other driver awkwardly sit and look at each other waiting for the other one to go. S then you both start to giant the same time…more awkwardness. Followed by each of you waving the other driver on-at the same time. Now what? So you both start to move again….and the awkwardness soars to a new high. (Or am I the only person on earth who experiences these types of awkward occurrences?) Typically, in these situations, I am the driver who is willing to yield to the other driver and wait. I’m also the weirdo in the grocery who will let someone go in front of me if they have fewer things in their cart….so that I don’t hold them up with my overflowing cart of groceries. I yield to total strangers. And that’s easy, and it feels good. So then why is it sometimes so stinking hard to yield to those around us that we love. Not just in small, superficial ways…but in the big meaningful ways. If we truly love and care about someone, shouldn’t we yield to them. The dictionary defines yield as to give up, surrender, or submit. This can have so many meanings in our every day lives. Within the boundaries of our own families, are we yielding to each other? Do we hold out for what our selfish nature desires, or do we surrender to what is good for the whole family? Am I holding a grudge based on my hurt feelings, or am I giving them up in hope that relationships may be restored and grow? Do we submit ourselves to what God requires of us or do we attempt to maintain control and do it our way? Relationships are difficult. They are dynamic and challenging, but so vital and rewarding.
And if we (talking mostly to me) have trouble at times yielding to those we love…how much more difficult do we make the process of yielding to others…the poor, the homeless, forgotten. And what about our enemies!? We are commanded to love our neighbor. We are commanded to love our enemies. I believe that part of that process of love is yielding…submitting, surrendering. What if I gave up -even occasionally- my $6.00 cup of coffee (venti, quad, skinny, french vanilla latte) and blessed someone else in a small way. What if I surrendered some of my time to just sit and talk with someone who feels like they don’t matter. Am I willing to yield to others? This is a challenge that I know I am not alone in facing. I think if we were all honest, we could probably find areas that we have been less than willing to yield. Are we holding grudges over past hurts? Are we stubborn with our time, our money, even our emotions? I know that I am a work in progress and that I have many strengths but I also have many flaws. I thank God that He loves me…enough to die for me even with all my imperfections. And because of that sacrifice and my love for Him, I want to be more willing to yield.
James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
Saturday morning. Springtime. Soccer season. It seemed just like any other normal day as my son and I set up our chairs and settled in, ready to cheer on Carty and her team. The sun was shining, the smell of fresh, hot kettle corn wafted through the air tempting our senses. Life was seemingly “good.” And then out of the blue, it got better! Zach turned to me and began a conversation (with 15 year old boys – that’s almost a miracle in itself somedays). He told me that he’d really been thinking a lot about who he wanted to be, and who he thought God wanted him to be. He said that he was tired of letting life get him down, tired of being depressed, and that he was ready…ready to change…ready to let God be in charge of his life…ready to be baptized. Those words were the sweetest words I could ever hear. I fought tears as I told him how very proud I was of him and how much I had prayed for him to see the bigger picture. We talked throughout the game about what it really meant to be baptized, and how it would change his life. We also talked about the fact that making the decision to follow God would not mean that life would instantly become “perfect.” Life would still be difficult at times, peer pressure would still exist, and “bad things” would still happen. He seemed to understand and said that he knew that he was sure about his choice. He was ready to live out the life God had planned for him.
Later that same night, Brian and I had the privilege of baptizing Zach. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. I pray that Zach will always remember that decision and live by it for the rest of his life. And I pray that he will be an example to others around him. I will always cherish those words he spoke to me that day…”Mom, I’m ready.”
I heard this saying from a dear friend just the other day. “You can’t buy puppies at Kroger.” She was upset about yet another negative encounter with her mother and we were talking about how those mother/daughter relationships can be so tricky. She was upset more with herself than with her mother’s behavior. She kept saying, “I know that Kroger doesn’t sell puppies, but I keep going there anyway.” It took me a minute to realize what she was saying…but then it hit and sunk in. She knows how dysfunctional her relationship is with her mother, yet she expects a different outcome each time they interact. She expects that her mother will be loving and supportive and caring…but guess what – she’s not. It’s like expecting to walk into Kroger and buy a puppy, when you know that they don’t sell them. The more I kicked around this phrase, the more I began to think about other ways that this relates to real life and to other situations. I have been blessed to minister to many people over the course of the last year and a half. I have met some amazingly faithful, strong people who have had experiences that I can’t even fathom. I have also met people who I know needed the Lord so badly in their lives, but remained lost. There are a lot of lost people out there trying to buy puppies at Kroger. They are seeking peace and comfort from people and things, but sadly, they will never find true happiness and contentment in those people and things. True peace and true life comes from a relationship with Jesus. Not from a man or woman, not from a drink, not from a pill, not from shopping, or food, or wealth or fame. Its so sad to see people hurting and lost, looking for fulfillment from the wrong sources. I know this all too well. For many years I sought acceptance and love from so many negative places. I was lost and wondering around trying to find what only God can give. Thankfully we serve a God who is merciful and pours His grace out on us daily. I have found such happiness in living my life for God…and I want everyone else to have what I have. God’s love and acceptance are more than enough to mend any hurt, heal any wound, and calm any storm. I went back to my friend yesterday and shared these thoughts with her. I thanked her for sharing her insight with me and for allowing me to listen to her. God is so good at putting people in our lives from whom we can learn so many valuable lessons about life, and about ourselves. I am thankful for the lessons I continue to learn from those around me. I am thankful to God for fulfilling all of my needs as He sees them.
A few months back there were a series of commercials that ran, seemingly every other 30 seconds, about depression. They started out with soft, meloncholy piano music. The first line of the commercial was…”Depression hurts.” I must say that I agree. For a long time (decades) I think I was in denial that I suffered from this ugly disease. I blamed hormones, post pardom, relationship issues, seasons, and anything and everything else I could think of. I’m not sure that I used to even believe that depression was a “real” disease. I thought that it was just me that felt the way I felt…like it was all in my head…and I just wasn’t “right.” My understanding and acceptance of this dreaded disease have changed and after a lot of reading about conversations with others, I know that I do indeed suffer from depression. Continue reading