Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stretch your love muscles

If you are like me, at any given time in your life you tend to think "if only this ONE thing would be different my life would be so much better." Or maybe "if this ONE PERSON would get out of my life I would be happier/less stressed out." A boss that doesn't understand, a coworker who is always out to get you, there tends to be a challenging relationship (or 10) at any given time in our lives. We all know that there are growth opportunities for ourselves when it comes to our interaction with them, but we still lay our heads down at night and pray somehow the person relocates to China. The first person in my life I prayed would disappear was my older brother (sorry Ryan!). As a kid he pretty much made it his mission to make my life miserable. And he was sneaky too! He would use his newly-acquired ninjutsu skills right around my head and in my face the moment mom's back was turned. I'd go crying and tell on him and he would yell "I didn't touch her!" Well, he was right. He never actually touched me, grrrr! He knew how to push every button I had! I remember asking my mom if we could teach him a foreign language and enroll him in a foreign exchange student program. We had one from Finland at my school and she was there the whole year! Now THAT would be amazing. I prayed for that for quite some time :-)

I have grown up to love my brother and in fact, find him to be a pretty cool guy. But as a grown up sometimes my prayers are just a immature and ridiculous as the ones I prayer back then. "God please somehow pluck this one person out of my life. Thank you. Amen." Even though I learned early on we are supposed to thank God in all things, it still seems the thanks you's are on my lips, even in my head, but not so clear in my heart. Over and over I have read 1 Thessalonians 5:18: in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Now this is a pretty elementary concept, but how many of us truly do this? For me, I have been not only learning to thank God for all things, but recognizing that He is the one who plants these people in our lives. On purpose. Can we first recognize His sovereignty and purpose for the relationship, then thank Him for it, and even grow to love that person?! Oh the growing pains! I am working on stretching those love muscles. How much flexibility does my love have? How far can it stretch? See, even God likes yoga!

I recently had that "one challenge" I was praying about daily. Not that it would disappear, but that I would learn to stretch and grow my love muscles, that I would develop more patience, and learn to see God in the face of my challenges. I almost feel guilty about how God answered my prayer. He completely removed the challenge from my life unexpectedly. Puzzled, I prayed..."God, what are You doing? I failed and failed and failed again!" The guilt came in when I thought about it....that was it. That was the last big challenge I was struggling with (at this moment). I really do have wonderful relationships in my life. I don't deserve such blessings in life when so many are facing so many tough challenges! Of course I can thank Him in all things when He has blessed me so! As I struggled with the duality of gratefulness and guilt God has spoken to my heart and made me feel so warm and loved. I still have plenty of struggles and challenges in life, but my heart is finally starting to change. The thankfulness is no longer just on my lips and in my head. It has grown in my heart. I am learning to trust him on a deeper level. One that surpasses stress and worry. Although I have not yet "arrived" because I know better than that, I am so grateful that God is becoming bigger in my life than my challenges. That faith is becoming an automatic response to a problem. With the many more challenges to come and the inevitable failures I will face, I know that God is continuing to work in me and that I will learn to stretch my love in new ways every day.

Titus 3:5 
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

Sunday, September 8, 2013

More than a pep talk

Sometimes a pep talk is exactly what you need. Say you are an athlete and your coach gives the most inspiring, motivating speech you have ever heard. You are FIRED UP--ready to tackle the world! But no amount of enthusiasm can make up for not knowing how to play the game. I mean, if you don't know the rules how can you play right? That's how I feel about our walk with God. There is a time and a place for the inspiring, motivating message. It can pick us up, light a fire, and force us to get moving! But if we don't understand the mind and heart of God, don't understand the rules of the game, how far will our excitement take us? How long will that fire burn? If we do not dig into the Word and study and pray for eyes to see and ears to hear not only His words but His intent, if we do not gain knowledge and strive for wisdom and growth, no amount of enthusiasm will be enough to sustain us and guide us through the trials of life. We will start the day high and as our boss yells at us, our toddler hides our keys, and we get a flat tire we will have to ride the roller coaster back up with the next message. Its like eating a candy bar when you are hungry. You may feel good for a little bit, but without a meal you will crash. We need to focus on His word and intentions for us. That way when the negatives of the world pile up, even if our enthusiasm wanes, we will always have a smoldering fire, an inner sense of peace because we see the big picture.
Let us build a foundation of knowledge and form walls with love and God will put a roof of wisdom over our heads. Let us feel an inner happiness that bubbles over and comes out of us naturally. This will touch others in a way more meaningfully than a great pep talk that burns out like sugar in our blood.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Acts of Kindness

For my 30th birthday this month I decided to steal an idea from many others and perform 30 random acts of kindness. I am currently on number 19 and as I continue, my constant prayer is that I give with the right spirit and intentions. Not for show. Not for recognition or what others think. It may seem weird to be struggling with this, but helping others does feel good. So it makes me examine my heart to be sure my intentions are not selfish in nature. Today I read a daily devotional about being a true giver. It quoted the story in Luke about the poor widow who gave her last few cents to the treasury and Jesus recognizing her gift as the greatest of all. She was focused on Him and not if others saw her. Her motives were pure. As I prayed for my own motives for the remaining acts of kindness I will perform this month I suddenly remembered something from my childhood I had completely forgotten.

I could not have been more than 7 or 8 years old and I lived in a very small town--the kind where you were still allowed to go out and play without constant supervision. I was out in the front yard and I saw a woman I had seen many times before. She was pushing a shopping cart collecting cans. I am still not sure if she was homeless or just very poor. She was always dressed in shabby, worn clothing and looked like she needed a shower and a good night’s sleep. No doubt most people in town knew who she was and what her story was, but as young as I was I had no idea and I was too scared to ask anyone. I remember standing in my driveway that day, looking at her, and starting to pray for her. I wished so hard that there was something I could do to help her. I wished I had a whole truck full of cans I could give her! I prayed and I prayed. It tugged at my soul to see her look so sad.

 I went into my bedroom, grabbed my pink pig bank (an actual piggy bank ha!) and took out two quarters. I can’t remember if that is all I had, but if not I know it was close. As I stared at them I wanted nothing more than to give them to her, but at that time I was PAINFULLY shy. The thought of walking up to her made my stomach turn. I was embarrassed just thinking about it. I really did feel convicted to help this woman and thought God was telling me to! I wished I could be invisible and just magically drop the coins into her hand and float away. My compassion for her somehow overrode all my fears and I walked across the street, through the playground, and halfway through a field to catch up with her and, with a huge lump and no words in my throat, held the coins out. I cannot even remember the words she said to me, but as many adults would do in that situation, she graciously turned down my offer. I was mortified. No doubt my face was bright red and my heart beating a mile a minute all the way home. I was so confused—thought I was wrong about what God told me—thoughts too grown up for a first grader.

Looking back I cannot help but laugh at how that must have looked. I can think of few moments in my life that have been more awkward! But as I complete my acts of kindness and strive to do better about reaching out and helping others in my life, I pray for that same innocence of heart that I had with my quarters that day--a true heart of giving, unconcerned about what I have left over or who will know what I did--a compassion for others that overrides my selfishness and pride.