What’s In My Heart?

Wednesday night at our Community Group we had a great discussion and ministry time with someone in our group. Prior to that discussion, we read an article by Paul Tripp on how easy it is to apologize — or even ask forgiveness — without stopping to consider the heart issues behind the things we do and say that hurt others.

Some people wrongly assume this kind of thinking is a sin hunt.

As Christians, we need to regularly (daily!) remind ourselves that we are forgiven and declared not guilty of every past, present and future sin because of the sinless life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. What incredible news! As believers, we will never pay for our sins because He already did. If you are not yet a Christian, I pray you will become one soon because this news is just too wonderful to pass up!

Yet this staggering truth doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to invest what author Jerry Bridges describes as the  “personal, vigorous effort, anchored in the grace of God, that the sanctification [growing in godliness] process requires.”

This means that I can’t simply say to my husband, “I’m sorry I was mean to you. You know I’m really tired and have been struggling with a lot of stuff recently.”  While I certainly appreciate his understanding, the truth is that I’m mean because I choose to be. If my friend or a client or a grandchild was in the room I wouldn’t be harsh with them. No matter how tired I was.

I have been going through a rough time recently. And I’ve been mean to my husband. But this I know: any time I am convicted of wrong or sin, it’s a gift from God. Without Him, I would go on my merry way hurting lots of people in the process — especially those I am closest to and love the most.

Don’t worry about me going on a sin hunt. Trust me, I don’t have to hunt for my sin. It’s typically right out there, unless I’m using self-control because I don’t want just anyone to see it. When God opens my eyes to see it, I’m grateful because conviction of sin is an evidence of God’s mercy and work in my life. He doesn’t just show it to me, but then helps me to identify the root in my heart that allows me to think and act and talk in ways that hurt others and dishonor Him. THEN He gives me the strength and desire to change. Wow.

If you’d like to read Mr. Tripp’s helpful and honest article, you can find it here.

Have a good weekend!

The Beauty of Brokenness

Yesterday I was talking about not apologizing for God’s will. A friend commented on the post, saying, “…although there are trying circumstances weighing on me, the good far outweighs the bad. I can speak like the Israelites who said in Psalm 126:1, ‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.'”

I’m asking myself if I am one of “those who dream.”

I think part of what I’ve been walking through recently is the disappointment of some of my dreams not coming true. Here’s an example…

When I was younger (umm, much younger) I dreamed that Benny and I would serve at the same church for forever and ever. We started a church at age 25 and then spent two decades growing and serving and sinning and making memories together. Many of the people who helped get the church off the ground persevered through the hard work, challenges and leadership changes — and are still there three decades later. In those early years we talked about being buried in the woods behind the building we all sacrificed to see happen…and mused about replacing the little ones we held in our arms during worship with our future grandchildren someday.

Two churches and lots of gray hairs later, I now hold my grandchildren hundreds of miles away from that place. Sometimes I still battle sadness over forever and ever not happening there.  With them. I see pictures of their grown-up children on facebook and remember holding them in my lap, then wonder, “Do those kids even know who I am?”

Then I think about the people I wouldn’t otherwise know. The tears and prayers and fellowship and laugh-till-I-cried moments that wouldn’t have happened with friends I wouldn’t have gained. The trials and suffering that awaited me here in Florida that I needed to get to so I could experience God’s help in delightful, sanctifying ways.

Broken dreams are hard to handle. Until I think of Eden. I think about how God’s perfect and beautiful plan for His image-bearers was broken by sin. Yet even before the garden was created, God devised a plan. From the brokenness came a glorious plan of redemption that put God’s wisdom and love on display when our sinless Savior paid the ultimate price.

When I was dreaming about forever and ever, God knew my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled my way. But how can I not praise Him for the experiences and people that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if there was really a place for me to be buried out in those woods?

It’s like seeing a lovely mirror crashed and broken on the floor.  Now, rather than one piece of reflective beauty, there are many. My broken dream has resulted in numerous unsolicited yet precious gifts — including a brand new church to which God knew my broken dream would lead.

My friend reminded me of dreaming. I hope her reminder blesses you today.

Dream on.

No Apologies Needed

Are you ever hesitant to rejoice in God’s will — especially when you don’t know how other people feel about it? Find it easier to admit when you’re struggling than to share openly when good things are happening?

I was talking to a friend recently who moved from her longtime home in one place to a city out of state. Although she misses her friends and family, she was excitedly telling me about how God was meeting her in the new situation: new area, new friends, new church and cool places to visit with her family.

At the end of our brief chat she mentioned how nice it was to talk to someone who was glad she was happy. While she has felt very supported by her friends, there’s a part of her that doesn’t want them to know how much she likes it there because they could feel she’s “glad” to be gone.

Are you in a season where God has blessed you? Has your financial situation improved during this down time in the economy?  Has God blessed you with a nicer home, newer car, or a prayed-for relationship? Is your marriage growing? Are you in a sweet season with your children where everyone seems to be getting along? Are your friendships thriving in fresh ways?

A pastor friend once warned me not to apologize for God’s will. During times of trials or suffering we can be quicker to talk about God’s sovereignty than during seasons of blessing! It’s almost as if we are ok with “defending” God’s will when times are tough, but remain silent when times are good.

While we want to be compassionate and sensitive to those who are hurting due to challenging circumstances in how we boast in the Lord’s goodness, let’s not rob God of His glory when He surprises us or those we love with answered prayers or gracious blessings. Gushing about His goodness and provision is not only fun, it’s also a way to point to His love.

A parent who gives a gift to his or her child loves to see their eyes light up as they run to show the gift to others.

Our Father is probably that way, too.

Is there someone you can boast to about God? See if you’re like me and find it harder to  do this than to speak of your challenges.

Remember, we’re not boasting in ourselves..but in Another.

Able. Powerful. Loving.

Two of my sons are in the Philippines (or as I said on my Facebook, in the “Philippians”) on business. When it’s nighttime here, it’s daytime there. However, in order to keep working during Orlando office hours, they are sleeping during the day and working through the night.

Minutes ago I was chatting online with Jake. Technology can be a wonderful thing, especially when it allows Mom to connect instantly with a son who is halfway around the world.

This has me thinking about prayer. I’m reminded that my Father never slumbers or sleeps, and that he is always available. I can open a chat session with him any time and know He’ll respond. During this season of my life with so many weighty things happening in my own heart and with beloved friends, I’m finding myself chatting regularly with God. How amazing that He’s never too busy for me! While leisurely times of prayer are valuable, these brief but heartfelt chats with my Father remind me of His nearness and availability.

Take this morning. I awoke like I often do these days, asking for God to heal a friend with cancer. Quickly, my pleas turn to comfort for another friend who is walking through painful situations with her children.  Soon after, I get an email from a new friend who is facing serious financial challenges, then another message from a young woman who desperately needs help dealing with a painful family relationship. As I’m driving to help out at my son’s office while he is out of the country, the Lord graciously shows me I’m struggling with unbelief that God has the power to help me with my recent bouts with self-pity.

Can you relate? Living in a broken and fallen world is just plain hard. Needs abound and there is often so little we can do.

But pray.

As I age and the situations in which those I love and I find ourselves seem to be more serious, I am finding my chat sessions with the Lord increasingly more precious. Yesterday morning there was a prophetic word in our meeting that spoke of God’s ability to help us. The message continued with this wonderful reminder: He is not only able, but He is also powerful.  And He is not only able and powerful, but He is also loving.

His ability and power are stunning! Yet we have seen demonstrations in our sin infested world that power without love can be devastating. Our sinless, glorious and sovereign God has unlimited ability and power — and fathomless love.

That’s the God who is always available to you and me. Wow. I’m going to stop and chat with Him now…just to say thanks.

Happy Birthday, JJ!

I left Orlando in a rush after the birth of my first grandson to head to El Paso, Texas to anticipate the birth of Josh and Rachel’s firstborn.  Josh Jr (JJ) was sweet to wait for Granma to get there! Just two and one-half days later, after a yummy italian lunch together, Rach called me from her bedroom to say she thought her water had broken.

Watching Rachel go through a long labor together with my son at her side was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I have witnessed many births, but have never seen a husband and wife partner so beautifully through labor. I also enjoyed sharing the experience with Rachel’s wonderful parents, John and Gloria. We laughed and prayed together…and John ate quite a few of my homemade chocolate chip cookies. Smile.

JJ reminded me so much of his daddy when he was born. I think we were all surprised when he came out with light eyes and hair, which he gets not only from Dad but from Rachel’s paternal grandmother. I have written before about the tearful moment when Josh took his minutes-old son aside to speak his first words to him. He wanted his baby boy to know he was a sinner whose Daddy wanted to someday introduce to his Savior. It was a moment I hope to never forget.

As you can see, JJ’s hair became a striking red that gains him attention everywhere he goes. He is a sweet, thoughtful and gentle little boy who endears himself to all who meet him. His quiet personality is a nice balance to his “live loud” cousins. Yet JJ has his own struggles when his tender heart gives way to sinful attitudes. His parents are doing a wonderful job using these common childish reactions to point him to the Savior Daddy told him about 7 years ago today.

I have often marveled at God’s kindness to allow me to witness the births of my first two grandsons in less than three days some 1,700 miles apart. The days following JJ’s birth not only gave me precious time with my son’s firstborn. They also provided sweet times between my first daughter-in-law and me. I got to serve her; cook; light candles and play worship music; clean; help Josh organize a “Costco shelf” with extra household supplies; and watch her adjust to first-time motherhood with joy and grace.

I loved her before, but left with deeper affection and respect for her than ever.

Letting you into my life with stories about my grandchildren isn’t just an excuse to talk about them. It’s a way to let the little world that visits here see God in the story of my life. You see, I wasn’t supposed to have children, which means my little people wouldn’t have existed. Because God hears and heals, this adorable redhead came into the world.

Is your heart weighed with worry or concern that God doesn’t hear and heal? Have you been praying about something for a really long time that hasn’t happened? I can’t tell you how God will answer your prayers. But He promises He hears…and that he withholds “no good thing” from those He calls His own.

I pray that my stories remind you of your own. Your life is a story of God’s love, redemption, faithfulness and goodness just like mine. I have eleven little people whose existence remind me regularly that God hears and heals.

What reminders are around you?

Two Grandsons. Two states. Two days.

Jaime was having her first “planned” baby and she was so excited. Kayla was a surprise but baby number two was an answer to her prayers. Just days later, we heard the news that Josh (my oldest) and Rachel were expecting their first! The due dates were within days of each other.

When my daughter-in-law sweetly and unexpectedly joined Josh in inviting me to El Paso, Texas for their baby’s birth I was touched. Jaime was very releasing, but her desire was for me to be in town for the birth. When both couples discovered they were having boys, we were all excited. Boy cousins just days apart…how fun!

Josh made my flight arrangements for March 24 — the very day Wyatt decided to come. Hours before I was scheduled to leave, we were in the hospital anticipating his birth. A few hours after he was born, I rushed to the airport to board my plane.

I returned from Texas to an exhausted Mommy and a sick grandson. Wyatt had several medical issues that resulted in incessant crying due to gas and reflux. Jaime, ever the student, demonstrated her love for her baby boy by researching how to help him; setting up appointments with lactation specialists and doctors; trying one natural remedy after another for gas relief; and spending countless hours cuddling, burping and comforting her baby. I watched her cry, endure sleep deprivation, battle fears of more serious undiagnosed health issues with her son, and beg God for strength.

By God’s grace, Wyatt has none of the health challenges she feared. He is a sweet, affectionate and kind little boy. Whether it’s been a few hours or a few days, every time he sees me I receive a warm greeting and hug. Those months we all spent trying to sleep in Jaime and PJ’s recliner while holding him upright (his only sleeping position) resulted in a sweet bond with this little guy. His affection, warmth, kindness to his sisters, eagerness to serve and help, and “best buds” love for Cousin JJ brings our entire extended family joy.

One day when he was about 18 months Jaime called her dad and me in tears. He was throwing a lengthy and violent tantrum and didn’t know what to do. She knew Dad and Mom had endured our share of toddler tantrums (thanks for our Jesse and Janelle). We provided what comfort and help we could, then sent her to the Lord for help. Once again, God helped her. In his short life, Wyatt was giving his mom (along with his dad and grandparents) important opportunities to trust God.

Echos of Wyatt’s anger still come out. He sometimes says mean things, flops angrily on the couch when he doesn’t get his way, or throws a toy when he’s mad. But one of the evidences that God is massaging his heart is his quickness to respond to correction and ask forgiveness…even though it’s often because he was made to.  🙂

I pray this tenderness continues, leading him to a moment when the reality of his sinfulness results in crying out for forgiveness from an eager and loving Savior.

I can’t wait to get that call.

Happy birthday Wyatt Joseph. Your Granma loves you! Looking forward to shopping with you in a couple of hours!

Happy Birthday, Nae!

Four years ago today Jaime called me. It was her fourth, “I might be in labor” call. I’ve learned that Jaime thinking she “might” be in labor means get in the car and start driving there.  Her last baby, Annie, was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital. This time she decided to play it safe and have Danae at home.

Benny and several of our kids were on a youth retreat. Of course. They missed Annie’s birth because she came too fast. This time they were two hours away. But even though Lauren and Janelle were determined to get there and woke Benny up to leave right away, they arrived just a few minutes too late…

When I left my house that morning I didn’t realize I was about to come as close as someone can get to delivering their granddaughter. In our church up north, I was privileged to attend or assist at several births with my midwife friend, Martha. I had amnionic fluid dumped on me by one friend and almost watched another baby delivered into a toilet (sorry to any guys who visit here…smile). But no births have compared with those of my grandchildren. On that March day I was about to see my 8th grandchild come into the world.

Danae Jewel (named after Benny’s mom) was born while the midwife sat peacefully knitting her a newborn hat, assuring me I had enough babies and assisted with enough births that I knew what to do. With Daddy nearby and Granma sitting next to Mommy coaching her through her contractions, Danae rushed into our world and hearts.

A nasal cyst resulted in two surgeries and some scary interactions with specialists, but from day one we knew this was one special little girl. As you can see, her little eye swelled with infection but even in the hospital with an IV stuck into her scalp, her smile remained. While her hospitalization and surgeries were challenging, I had a front row seat watching my daughter tenderly care for her sick baby girl. My respect for Jaime soared during those days. I knew she was a strong woman — but her trust in God inspired me and made me fall in love with my own little girl all over again.

Today Danae is a healthy, beautiful and vibrant toddler. Her smile still lights up the room and reminds me so much of her Mommy’s. Yes, she hits her sister, sometimes whines when she doesn’t get her way and is pretty protective of her My Little Ponies. After all, her adorableness can only mask her sin for so long. She needs a Savior, and I’m praying today that He will draw her heart to Himself at an early age.

Happy Birthday, Nae Nae! Granma hopes you enjoyed your grapes for dinner last night. I love you and can’t wait to see Jesus turn you into a godly young woman who loves Him. Maybe in a lot of years I’ll still be writing and bragging about you. With pictures.

Made for Another World

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “Most people, if they really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise…if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Have you noticed that when you go through rough times, heaven becomes more inviting?

I remember hearing my mom talk about looking forward to heaven. I thought it was because she was old and had stopped having fun in life. Talking about Jesus coming back or how dying is hard only for those left behind — but not for the person that was lost — was kinda freaky to me. I didn’t want Jesus to come back until I was married…had kids…enjoyed life more!

Over the past several years I’ve walked through some hard times. Nothing life-threatening, and certainly nowhere near the level of suffering of others I know. These trials have tutored me in several ways (more on that another time). Recently, the Lord has been showing me that one thing suffering does is reveal the longing for heaven that I heard from and saw in my mother.

I think part of this longing comes from realizing that Lewis was right. A suffering-free life would tempt me to believe that this world can satisfy.

One of my favorite songs over the past year is called “Blessings” by Laura Story. It ends with these words:

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
And what if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

You and I were made for another world: a world where our greatest longings will all be fulfilled.

What is going on in your life currently that is tempting you to be discouraged? Could the Lord be using the daily grind and fatigue of caring for a new baby to gently warn you not to find your identity in motherhood alone? What if the challenges you are facing at work are revealing a hidden root of selfish ambition that could mean you think your job title or salary define your worth? Or what if the perplexing difficulties you are walking through with friends in your church are intended by God to lovingly point you to the only One who won’t reject, leave or disappoint you?

Nothing or no one in this world can really satisfy. Our identity is in Christ…alone. And any struggle, disappointment, suffering or trial that comes that reveals “a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy” is a mercy. And the disguise isn’t as elusive to me now as it used to be.

I’m smiling…and realizing this is why Mom loved to talk about heaven.

P.S.  Listen to “Blessings” here.