Saving Our Lives

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Luke 9:23,24

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These words and ideas don’t make any sense, but they are what Jesus did for us.

He sacrificed his comfort, his leadership, his position with the Father, in order to save you and me.

How do we give up our selfish ways?

For many years, I thought that filling my schedule with good deeds, and thoughtful words was giving up my life.

Until I realized that I was trying to draw life from those to whom I “gave” myself. Without a conscious decision, other people had become my idol, my focus, my false god.

It was never enough. People disappointed me. Even when I received the compliments and recognition that I so desperately wanted, the “high” didn’t last long. I even made a “Warm Fuzzy” file to try to refill my empty soul.

I ended up drained, hopeless, with feelings of despair and loneliness mixed in for good measure.

After a long season of pain and the sin of demanding my own way, I asked God to give me a heart that was ready to repent.

 

It took time. More pain. Looking at myself and despising who I was. At the end of my rope, I was willing to submit. Willing to give up everything—reputation, safety, even family, if necessary–to fall under His Lordship.

It wasn’t easy, but it is simple. Lay down my life to follow His leading.

It wasn’t instant, but He is patient. Asking again and again for a fresh start, washed in Jesus’ blood.

It isn’t perfect, but He is faithful, even when I am faithless.

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The Lord wants us to draw our life from Him, to lose ourselves in love and worship.
To breathe in His words, His mercy, His graciousness.
To exhale our own wounded pride and ambition.

Pray that you will learn to let go of your personal agenda and learn to be fully open to His love so that it spills over to the ones around you.

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I Will Pour Out

I have always loved the miracle in 2 Kings 4. A widow, whose husband had served Elijah, was threatened by a creditor and she had no resources. She and her sons fell through the cracks of the culture.

So God stepped in with a miracle.

But she and her sons did the hard work.
They humbled themselves to ask their neighbors for any empty containers.
They did the hard work of transporting those containers to their home.

Even as a child, I wondered how crowded their little home was with containers.
Did they have a table covered with jars?
Did they collect larger pots that sat on the floor?
What did they expect would happen?
Did they wish that they had collected more containers?
Did the neighbors give their empty containers cheerfully or with questions?

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The containers, and their work in collecting them, were the limiting factor on the oil.

Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, used in consecrating priests (Exodus 29:7) and used to comfort the sheep (Psalm 23).

Honestly, I’d never made the connection between this miracle and my own life.
What do I do to leave space (empty containers) in my life for the Holy Spirit?
Am I willing to do the hard work of making this space for the Holy Spirit?
Do I ever shut the door and block out all the cares of the world, focusing on the work the Holy Spirit wants to pour into my life?

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While the widow’s oil stopped pouring out when the last container was full, God promises to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

One of the things on my bucket list is a spiritual retreat. While I should be able to do that in my lovely, quiet, country home, I find too many distractions. The weeds in my gardens, the ever-present laundry and dirty dishes, the stacks of returned piano music that hasn’t yet been filed, the books that are on my “read ME” stacks, even the daily delivery from the postal service.

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Part of me longs for taking 24 hours away, and part of me is a bit frightened by what the Holy Spirit will show me.

And today, as I think about the widow and her sons, I have more respect for her and fewer questions about how much more oil she might have had if they had collected more jars.

 

Elijah said “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and your and your sons can live on what is left over.” (2 Kings 4:7)

It was enough.

And whatever the Holy Spirit reveals, He empowers us to be obedient.

Open Bible

Renew Your Mind

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1,2

The first time I read through the entire Bible systematically was during my year at Bible college as a class assignment.

Though there was a great sense of accomplishment for reading the entire Bible, it wasn’t enough. For multiple years I fell behind after the book of Exodus when the readings were mostly lists of families or rules for sacrifices. Even when I tried plans that mixed up Old and New Testament readings, I’d miss a few days, and give up.

My earliest teachings were that I should begin the day with a quiet time, starting my day with God.

Bible & tea cup

It was a set-up for failure when I had to get my family and myself out of the house by 7:30 a.m. Returning after long, taxing days, feeding the family, and often attending an evening activity seemed to absorb every minute. Some days I barely managed to offer a nutritious tidbit and keep the clothes clean, dry, and wearable.

My quiet times were sporadic at best, and most often neglected.

Nearly three years ago, a new friend invited me to read through the New Testament in a chronological Bible. It seemed more do-able.

  1. I discovered that the format of Bible readings for each day were grace-filled, allowing me to jump in on the date rather than feeling I had to catch up on a missed reading.
  2. I broke through my expectation of reading first thing in the morning.
  3. On-line discussion drew me to the reading whenever I had a chance.

After successfully-more or less, as I missed a day here and there-completing the New Testament, I accepted the challenge to read through the entire Bible in 2014. And I invited members of our church to join me.

The format of the printed Bible and accountability of a group have helped me continue to read God’s Word consistently.

Team 365 at retreat center

The second year, it was fun to make connections or comparisons of Scripture that I’d not seen or heard a teaching on before.

Nearly three years later, I’m discovering that my mind is being renewed. Last week, at training sessions in which I have a leadership position, my mind went to an example in the Bible to help illustrate the situation we faced.

The first year I read through the Bible, I was probably a bit legalistic about it. But it is becoming a necessary part of my day.

We don’t do the renewing, we simply subject ourselves to it. We submit our mind to God and let Him fill it with His truth. He is the guardian of our makeover.” From “Indeed: Exploring the Heart of God” from Walk Thru the Bible

In my garden, I can provide healthy plants, enriched soil, in a location with sunlight and water when the rains don’t come often enough, and keep the weeds out of the space. However, I cannot do anything to make the plants grow and produce fruit.

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Likewise, I expose myself to God’s Word, eliminate the negative inputs around me, but the Holy Spirit is the one remaking me to be more like Christ.

If you want your mind renewed and transformed, join me in the Bible reading adventure. It will help you learn to walk by faith!

walking Granny home

There IS Rest

“Sometimes life feels like you’re running on a treadmill while someone keeps pushing the button to increase the speed faster and faster.” from “The Lies of Busyness: Devotions from Time of Grace”
 
As I read that, I remember that feeling. Even after the girls were grown up and creating homes of their own, it seemed there was never enough time in a day or a week.
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But as I read this quote this morning, a quiet voice nudged my thoughts.
 
“You don’t experience this feeling too often anymore, do you?”
 
It is true.
Quietly, imperceptibly, I am learning that the treadmill continues to go around, but I can choose to step off.
 
Two things have changed that.
 
#1 – Observing Sabbath rest.
First, I chose to do only tasks that weren’t on my list, tasks that felt creative on that day. For instance, baking cut-out cookies and decorating them with my granddaughters was NOT on my “to-do” list, but on a “Make memories with grandma” kind of list.
When that got easier, I began to give myself permission to read for a couple hours. Something fun,something frivolous, something that wasn’t on any list except my own “Books I want to read someday” list, or a recent recommendation from a fellow reader.
Then I was introduced to an on-line friend friend at a retreat in the middle of Nebraska. Shelly Miller’s Sabbath Society is a weekly letter about learning to observe Sabbath through the ups and downs of life in our day.
So I am journeying toward observing Sabbath. Not always perfectly, not always quietly, but recognizing it as a day to invest in people, relationships, and my inner self. It is not a day to catch up on what didn’t get marked off my to-do list or, even more damaging, getting a head start on the list for the coming week.
Rather than dread Sabbath, as it seemed so terribly dull to me as a child, and wasteful as a busy, employed mom, it has become a defining rhythm of my week, and as I discovered this morning, of my life.
It is a gift of God, reaching down, helping me to step off the treadmill.
#2 – Hosting Christmas 2013, knowing that it was very likely the last Christmas we would have to spend with Kenne’s mom. Though I had begun planning early for the 24 hours her immediate family would spend together in our home, I found myself adding things to the list to make it a memorable time for all twenty-two of us.
While the last minute purchases of prizes for a couple games were fun, and the photo booth that my girls helped me put up at nearly the last minute made a back drop for some fun photos, it did not define our time together like laughter, singing, our traditional program, and spending time reflecting on favorite family memories.
But it did help me realize that while lists can help me to focus on what needs to be done, my tendency is to keep extending the list.
Sabbath reminds me that the list needs to have a stopping point. That Christmas’s never-ending list is a marker for realizing my propensity for continually adding to a list.
But what a gift this morning that I am learning, slowly as it may be, that time is not my master. God’s gift of Sabbath, once I embraced it, has helped me be more subject to Him, my Lord and my Master.
So yes, I am learning that God wants me to step off the treadmill, to slow it down, to rest in Him.

Getting to Know God

But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. Psalm 1:2

The first time I heard about a plan to read through the Bible in a year was at Bible camp when I was in Middle School.

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Ever since then I have had one plan or another tucked inside my Bible. But after the creation, the flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and then Moses bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt, the descriptions of land, counting of people and genealogies would weaken my resolve.

I would fall behind in my reading, overwhelmed when trying to catch up and check all the boxes that I’d missed.

Bible studies and devotional guides kept me in God’s Word, but at times it felt more like a fast food diet – filling but lacking the depth my spirit longed for.

Bible study journal

Then a new friend from California whom I’d met at a retreat invited me to read through the New Testament with her and several other women. This eighteen week commitment seemed like a good idea. Besides there weren’t so many places to get bogged down.

Reading through the Bible chronologically was interesting and took a bit of adjustment. What helped me was that each day was laid out under the date. When I fell behind a day or two, I moved ahead to the current date. The more I read, the more I looked forward to my reading time.

So I decided to make another attempt at reading God’s Word in a year.

And though I still miss a day or two each week, something marvelous has happened. God’s story of redeeming us is a thread that flows from beginning to end. The Old Testament, the old covenant of the Law, still has shimmers of grace woven into it.

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Our faith grows because we give attention to it, and learn more about who God is and how He wants us to live.

If you feel like your faith is stagnant, I encourage you to be intentional in reading and meditating on God’s word every day. You can also request to join our reading through the Bible group on Facebook. We’d love to have you join us.

Considering Mother’s Day

When we entered the classroom, there was a floor lamp minus a shade, a chair sitting beside the blackboard. All of us were curious, silencing the normal classroom chatter as we jostled into our desks.

“Today we will be working as partners. I need a volunteer to demonstrate how we make silhouettes.”

Most other years, we just drew cards or planted flowers to take to our mothers for Mother’s Day, but the year we made silhouettes was memorable. And my silhouette hung on the wall in my mother’s laundry room many years after it was made.

Twenty years later, I began receiving Mother’s Day cards from my daughters. Tender moments as they excitedly gave me their handiwork. I still get some handmade greetings, though they are more sophisticated now.

Ashley in aqua dress in glider

About that time, I realized purchased cards said things that I could not honestly say to my mom. Selecting a card required care and delicate wording. Though I honored my mom and knew she had done the best that she could, there were a lot of empty places in my life. Like many young adults, it was easy to put the blame on her rather than acknowledge that I was a broken, wretched sinner.

God blessed me with a mother-in-law who knew how to love more unconditionally. It was easy to find a card that expressed what I meant.

She also taught me that motherhood is a gift.

Frankly, sometimes all that I felt was the responsibility of being a mom.

But she helped me see that having children was a gift, and that each one of our girls was a treasure.

1991 all four girls

And I had a friend who remained single and childless, except for her classroom of children each year.

So I began to see that Mother’s Day might be a dagger in the hearts of some.

To those who desired to be moms but were not able to be, for whatever reason.

To those whose mothers had been unable to love them in the way they needed to be loved.

To those whose mothers had died, even if the child was an adult.

To those who failed their expectations of being the mom of their dreams.

To those whose children had broken off communication and rejected all they had been taught.

So this Sunday, bear in the mind those whose hearts are breaking, for whatever reason.

Our mothers—and we all have one – are part of our DNA, half of the first cell that began our existence. Some of our mothers were able to be part of nurturing us, some were part of our pain, some had to give us away.

Caretaker mothers feed us, comfort us, teach us, pick us up when we fall. And a godly mother prays for us and leads us to Jesus.

For many this weekend is a time to honor our mothers. But for many others, it is a painful reminder of all that our mother was not able to do or to be. For some it is another hit on dreams unfulfilled.

So walk gently with those around you this weekend. These scars are not visible.

And perhaps you’ll discover that along with the celebration, you, too, carry ambivalence in the mother-child connection.

Not My Home

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Oh Lord, you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

walking Granny home

When you are thirteen years old, you feel like your life is just beginning. You start learning from other adults outside your family circle. As you are exposed to a wider variety of friends and their families, you realize that your family is not the only way that people choose to live.

As I look back thirteen years, all four of my children’s grandparents were still actively involved in their lives.

One by one, every four years, we adjusted to life without a grandparent.

But saying farewell to the remaining grandparent was hardest.

Perhaps it was because we are now the “old” generation.

Or because of sharing life with her every day for thirty-five years.

Her home was just across the driveway, in full view of our home. She had been there to help with watching our girls when they were little.

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Tea parties, sometimes just because the girls had asked to use Grandma’s bathroom when they were outside playing in her trees. At other times, the tea parties were planned, with invitations, and a dress code requiring “dress up.”

She taught at least two of our girls to ride bike, spending hours starting them at the top of the gentle knoll in our driveway and running alongside as gravity coaxed them down the hill.

On many mornings, the girls would leave our house and run over to Grandma’s to wait for the school bus. From her window, they could see the bus turn the corner and be outside not one extra minute, which is important when the wind is blowing across the prairie.

Grandma also taught them to appreciate the big band songs of Lawrence Welk,  and the ballroom-style of dancing from the 40’s and 50’s.

When there weren’t enough people to play ROOK, she showed them how to play cards with a dummy hand.

And nearly every morning for those thirty-five years, she and I walked at least a mile together. We talked about everything, from gossip (yes!) to philosophy. And at times she credited me with her most recent health kick.

The last eighteen months of her life continued to be lived on her terms, mostly. We knew that our presence and attention made it possible for her to stay in her home. She loved her little house and took pride in its upkeep, even when it was physically challenging for her to do that.

Nearly a year ago, cancer beat out her healthy cells. She was at peace.

But this week, we let go again. Her house is gone. Emotions are mixed.

Rejoicing in the excitement of the new owners.

Relief that we no longer need to tend that property.

Reminiscing about the stories those walls could tell.

Reflecting that this world is NOT our home.

God promises that he is preparing a place for us with him. As I get older, and closer to the home he is getting ready for me, it is easier to let go.

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But when I saw her house go around the corner, down the road, never to be seen out my window again, my eyes misted, my heart clutched, and my breath came in ragged snatches.

And though God wants me to hold things loosely, I know He understands my sadness.