Friday, June 30, 2017

Confession #6: Some Things in the Bible are Hard to Swallow


Understanding God’s Word is a lot like chewing on celery. We take it in, bite off a chunk, and we begin to chew on it. The sweetness enlivens our taste buds, and makes us want more. The water wets our tongues, and refreshes our spirits. The crunch of it satisfies that need we have to feel the weight of something in our mouths, to sink into substance with our teeth, to communicate to our senses that we have indeed been fed. We love to feel the mixing and pulling and mashing and changing of it as we take it in and work it. We are examining each tiny fragment as it rolls around and mixes with who we are, and what we are going through at the moment. We swallow those bits: the water, the crunch, the tidbits that succumbed easily to our reason and intellect.

And then, there’s the strings.

There are parts of God’s Word that are just stringy. We chew, and chew, and chew, and chew. Sometimes for years of our lives, there are passages of scripture that just won’t go down. We can’t break it down into pieces that we can comprehend. It defies our power. We wash over it with all the best of our reasoning abilities, which like saliva are given us by God for the purpose of mixing our own experience with His truth. But the truth remains unchanged. Our spirits groan as we get fatigue in our jaw. We just can’t swallow it yet. It’s too much.

But at some point, we have to move on. So GULP! Down it goes, like it or not.                                                     

This is where the beauty of the Word of God really comes into play.

When we can’t experience the mastication of certain parts with our senses, they still go down deep and nourish our spirits. The nourishment happens in the unseen places of our hearts. Everything about our digestive system is designed by God to bring what we need to those smallest units of life inside of us: our individual cells. The little tiny fingers of our intestinal cells reach out and catch bits and pieces of what we have ingested, and they break them down on a molecular level to bring nutrients to the rest of our body. We can’t see it happening, or even feel it, but we would die without it.

So when you come across a difficult passage of scripture, and you work at it and work at it, and take it apart and study the Greek or Hebrew or multiple commentaries, and you still just can’t wrap your mind around it, don’t be discouraged. Keep chewing for as long as you can, and swallow when it’s time to move on. God’s Word is feeding your spirit whether you can feel it, or taste it, or not. When it gets inside of you, He does the work that no amount of our labors can accomplish. He feeds us in the unseen places, and He is changing us from the inside out.
Lord Jesus, Father God, thank You so much for Your Word. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit who is our personal tutor when we study Your Word. Thank You that you have given it to us to nourish our spirits, and it keeps us alive when we would have succumbed to malnutrition without it. We praise you, and are beyond grateful that Your Word is so readily available to us in our society. Help us to never take that for granted.
But Lord, there are things You say in Your Word that are just hard to get. Help us to trust in Your goodness, even when You don't seem to make sense. And help us to be humble enough to believe, truly, that You are smarter than we are. Let us be conformed to Your image, and not give in to the temptation to try to conform You, or Your Word, to what we imagine it should be. Feed us in the unseen places, and change us from the inside out every time we come to Your Word. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
What are some passages of scripture that are difficult for you? I know I have quite a list...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Confession #5: I Like to Keep Both Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

Yesterday, I threw six pounds of steak into my trash can.

Not because I am purposefully wasteful or particularly picky, but because I spent too long in the Valley of Decision, again. 

The truth is, my least favorite thing to do in life is make a decision of any kind. I much prefer to wait until life's circumstances dictate to me what I have to do. Or, I wait until the absolute last minute so that I can make the decision under pressure, because everybody know procrastinators work best that way. For example, when we go out to a restaurant as a special treat from my in-laws, the waitress will come by once or twice before she actually takes our orders.  Even then, I am usually still sweating out my menu choices. So, I tell her to start taking orders with the person next to me first, and by the time she comes around to me, the last to order, I will have made my decision.  I know that if I feel there is no deadline, I will never make a final decision until you can see my belly button from behind my back.

Back to the beef.

So, the week before Thanksgiving I was busily preparing to have my family over for our celebration on Black Friday, since we go to my in-law's for the actual holiday.  Believe me, I made at least three checklists of all the things I needed to accomplish before we left town Thursday morning. In order to be ready for company on Friday after being out of town until late Thursday night, I have to actually prepare a lot of things ahead of time. (Strange for me, I know, but I learned a big lesson last year...) 

One of the things I realized, obvious as it may seem to other persons, was that my family still needed to eat each day leading up to the big event. I was pretty proud of myself for realizing this consciously, as usually I am so consumed with what I am doing, I tend to forget little details like that. So, I intelligently got two or three things out of the freezer to defrost and use throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

Well, I did manage to feed my family most nights that week, but somehow the beef steak dinner plan was laid aside, and it was left "defrosting" in my refrigerator for...a long time.  My friends who came for Thanksgiving and stayed the weekend commented a couple of times, "Are you going to use that? I think it's going to go bad if you don't use it soon."  Of course I was going to use it. I could marinate it, stir-fry it, cube it and stew it, shish-kabob it, or broil it and slice it with salad...I just needed to figure out what I was in the mood for. In the meantime, there were plenty of leftovers that needed to be eaten.

A week later, my husband asked me again, "Are you going to use that? It's starting to stink up the fridge." Of course I was going to use it. Now that it was unfit for human consumption, wouldn't it be a treat for the dogs if I cut it up into their bowls? Or wrapped their worm pills in it? Or maybe I should just give them each a big, raw slab and watch them gnaw on it...all over my kitchen floor. Maybe not.

Another week went by..."Honey, you really need to deal with that meat or throw it away. It's grossing me out." I got sick. My nose was so stuffy I couldn't smell anything. I figured he must have been exaggerating. I was sure I could still use it for the dogs, if it would just hold on until I felt up to the task.

Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to tackle the mess of leftovers that piled up in the fridge while I was sick. I'm glad I still couldn't smell anything. And I apologized to the flies who died buzzing around my refrigerator.  I didn't even unwrap the steak to check if it was still usable as dog food. I didn't need to. Ew.

I failed to make a decision, which led to inaction, which led to destruction and waste. And an unseen crisis, in this case a bad head cold, stole away my last window of opportunity. By not making a choice, I made a choice. Every time I opened my refrigerator for three weeks, I was invited to take action. That beef was preaching at me, begging me to do something...anything. And every time, I turned away instead.

Like every great preacher, (right up there with smelly steak), the Bible prophet Joel ends his book of prophecy with an invitation to make a decision. Using gripping imagery, he describes the scene of God's judgement on the nations and, in contrast, His blessings on those who have chosen to trust in Him. He leaves the reader to choose which scene they will place themselves in.

Joel 3:12-14
"Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision."

Imagine, a huge valley, filled to the brim with men and women ready to make war against God Himself. Multitudes: crowds upon crowds of people from all over the world, will gather in the last days for this very purpose. Every crowd composed of individual souls. And I wonder: how many of those individuals came to that place of war against God purposely, and how many were just swept along, allowing circumstances to dictate their decisions? By not siding with God, they found themselves going to war against Him.

How many of us today are being swept along toward the day of God's judgement, when we will stand before Him as our personal judge and finally be forced into the ultimate moment of self-revelation? How many of us are leaving our soul's eternal fate in the fridge, so to speak, as we are lost in indecision, both feet firmly planted in mid-air? Don't we realize that by not making a decision, we make this most important decision of all time? 

Every soul who hears the truth about God's plan to redeem mankind by sacrificing His own Son to pay their debt against the law is responsible to act on that knowledge.  Every soul who does not act on that knowledge by being honest enough to admit their innate moral depravity and their need for the forgiveness of the Almighty God of Love and Justice is, by default, deciding against that same God.  Why?

In the weeks that I had perfectly good steak rotting in my fridge, I made decisions every day. I didn't want to get my hands dirty by cutting up raw meat, so I left it alone. It was easier to heat up leftovers than cook a new meal, so I left it alone. It was habit to serve dog food from a bag, so I forgot the beef was available, and I left it alone. Day after day, there was always a reason or excuse as to why that beef went unused. The time my husband spent at work to earn the money to buy that food for his family was forgotten, unappreciated, and ultimately wasted.

In the years of a person's life, our bodies age and decay until the day of our death. Every day we look in the mirror is a reminder of this fact. But it happens so slowly, over time, it is easy to forget. We know we have done things that are wrong, that hurt other people, but we don't want to get our hands dirty and face up to our sin.  So we stuff it in the back of our mind to deal with later.  It seems easier to keep being our own boss and live for ourselves than to surrender our lives to God and live for Him. So we do, even after we start to smell our own selfish stench. We just get used to it. It is our habit to fill our lives with stuff and busy-ness, so we forget that there is a God who longs to give purpose and meaning to it all, to redeem it and make it alive.  So every day we slide closer to eternity, thinking that 'someday' we will deal with our spiritual problems.  We settle for leftovers and kibble, and an entire life goes to waste, until one day, we find it is too late.

(vs. 15-16a) "The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake:..."

It doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to find yourself under the wrath of God today or in eternity.  You don't have to hide and avoid Him because you are ashamed of what's lurking behind the salad spinner. The truth is, He already knows it's there. The stench has reached all the way to heaven, and He is waiting with soapy sponge in hand to help you clean up the mess. He is offering the hand of friendship to you now. The Bible truth is, you are either His enemy, or you are His.

(vs. 16b-18) "...but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more."

Make a decision today. Decide that this is the day you stop allowing life to sweep you along toward the deadline: the day God asks you why you wasted your life, your eternal soul, the one He sacrificed His own Son to buy back from death. Become one of His people. Put your trust in His way of dealing with your sin, guilt, and shame. Stop stuffing it to the back of the fridge. Bring it out into the light, get your hands dirty, and let Him wash you clean in a way you've never known before. Exchange your old habits for new.  Begin to go to Him for the strength you need to make those everyday decisions between what is right and what you want to do in the moment because it seems easier.

Let Him take your decaying soul and breathe new life into it, and make it into something delicious: something to savor and enjoy. Let a new flavor burst out in your life!

(vs. 18) "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim."

Recently, my husband took me on a date to a local steakhouse. As I sliced into the tender, juicy beef I ordered after much heart-pounding deliberation, I wasn't sure if it was the best decision I could have made from the menu options available.  But when I put that first bite of perfectly prepared, seasoned, juicy steak into my mouth, it tasted like a contented sigh. I literally closed my eyes and 'mmmed' with pleasure. I felt deep down that this was so right, so worth the struggle with making a decision.

 I thought, "I want to be able to cook like that. I want my family to feel this happy when they bite into a meal that I've prepared for them."  My very first instinct was to share the joy that I was experiencing.

And so, I am.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him." (Psalm 34:8)

Please, make a decision today--right now. Pray this prayer with me. There is no reason to wait.

Dear God,
Thank You that one day You will judge every soul that ever walked this earth, and that You will do so with perfect justice. Thank You that the evil things that seem to have gone unpunished in this life will be dealt with, and that those who have suffered will see Your justice done. Please forgive me for the things I have done that have broken Your laws. I know that I deserve Your judgement.
I have hurt other people, even the ones I love. I have lied, and that makes me a liar. I have used Your Name as a cussword, and that makes me a blasphemer. In my heart, I have dreamed of committing sins that I am ashamed to say out loud. I realize now that I do not have the power to take my own wicked heart and make it truly pure.
I believe that You sent Your Son to earth, and that He lived a perfect, sinless life. I believe He died on the cross because my sin deserved that kind of punishment, and there was nothing I could do to pay that price by myself.  I believe that when Jesus rose from the grave, it was a promise that I don't have to die if I don't want to, because He already died for me. 
Today, I make a decision. Today, I choose to acknowledge my sin instead of hiding and secretly holding onto it.  Please make me clean, pure and new on the inside.
When the day of judgement comes to me, I will not use my own goodness as my defense, but the fact that today, I chose to believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ. And that at this moment, you legally transferred my punishment to Him, and let me walk out of the courtroom a free person, even though I did nothing to deserve it.
Please forgive me, Lord, for taking so long to make this decision. Please help me not to waste another day of this life You have given me. And please give me the courage to share the joy I've found with others who need to know.
In Jesus' Name,

If you have prayed this prayer, or one like it, here is what Joel says:

(vs. 19-21) "Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of the violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood on their land.
But Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.
For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the Lord dwells in Zion."

You are acquitted of your sins, and you will live forever from the moment you chose to believe!

But be warned: if you read this and chose not to choose, your sins are not forgiven, and desolation will come. Your decaying body is crying out to you: get your feet out of mid-air, and plant them firmly on the foundation of Jesus Christ. And do it today. Tomorrow is not promised.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Confession #4: I'm not really as stupid as I like to think I am.

I'm not really as stupid as I like to think I am.

If you have ever been invited to my house for dinner, it was probably with a disclaimer about my skills as a homemaker.  I like to be up front with people. I tell them along with every invitation I am not very skilled at housekeeping, so that I don't feel like a complete idiot when they arrive and I realize I forgot to clean the bathroom.  More than once, a guest has asked to use my bathroom and I have run in there ahead of them with the spray bottle and paper towels so as to save them from any yucky germs on the toilet seat and flush handle.  I am not a germophobe.  I just can't remember the last time I set foot in there, and I know that the kids don't clean the toilet very often or very well.

For years I have marveled at my friends who homeschool their kids more than I do and manage to keep their houses clean.  It seems to me that they must have a magical formula that makes them able to do that.  Do they keep caffeine drinks loaded in a camel pack all day? 

On the rare occasions when I manage to do school work and do some cleaning all in one day, I stand on top of the hill, feeling like I just won Iwo Jima. I heft that giant, weighty flag of victory into its hole with my last ounce of strength. I stand up, stretch my back, wipe my brow, and look around.  And all I can see is miles and miles and miles of identical hills to be conquered, all around me, stretching forever out into infinity. My shoulders sag, I slide down that flagpole and land on my rump, and put my head in my hands in despair. And I feel like today's battle was a waste, and the victory is empty, and the white flag of surrender is hanging out of my pocket, waiting to be flung into the air before the next day's battle even begins. 

I just can't imagine doing that much work every single day, week after week, year after year.  It's completely exhausting. The thought of getting up and doing that even two days in a row bores me to tears. Literally. I whine and fuss and complain to God, either out loud or in my heart, about the overly complicated balancing act of menial, repetitive tasks He has given me to do. And truthfully, if it were not for my friends who do it successfully and with grace, I would absolutely believe it is just plain impossible.

But it isn't. Or they wouldn't be doing it every single day, week after week, year after year.

So what is the magic formula? I know I don't "have it". I think I am just ignorant.  I don't know how they do it. I read books and watch videos and probe into their personal lives asking questions like, "So, what time do you start school in the mornings? Do you feed the kids, or just skip meals so you can clean? Where do you find the time to clean the bed sheets more than twice a year? Do you ever have fun?" And then I am jealous because somehow they have time for fun, too, and I can't figure out how.  I read the Bible looking for the one verse that will make it all clear to me, and I beg, BEG God to infuse my brain with wisdom to know what to do throughout the day.  Should I clean first, and then do school? Or should I do school and then clean?

On the days when I pray before the day starts, I try to listen to the Holy Spirit leading me even in the smallest decisions.  Then He says something like, "Okay. You asked me for wisdom, so here it is: you need to do that pile of dishes you've been letting sit for a week now. If your kitchen is a mess, feeding your family will not happen. You will forget to feed yourself, get so tired you can't think straight, and accomplish nothing you set out to do today. Start there, with the dishes."

That is smart. By definition, that is not stupid. Of course it isn't, because it is God's wisdom being given to me in answer to my prayer. 

I can no longer claim rights to stupidity, or ignorance, or a mental handicap. No. At this point, I just choose to be downright stubborn. In my own passive-aggressive kind of way.

"Oh dear, Lord. I can't do those dishes right now. It will take two hours, and then I won't have time for school.  Besides, I really need to check my email because so-and-so is going through a hard time right now and I need to see if she is doing okay.  Aren't people more important than dishes?  Will dishes really matter in eternity?"

But if I were honest, I am really saying: "I hate dishes. I don't want to do the dishes. They just pile up again before I've even dried the ones I just washed. I want to do something more important, and more interesting. Cleaning can't possibly be the way to keep my house clean.  There must be a way that doesn't involve physical labor or effort on my part. God, I don't want wisdom. I want a housemaid!"

Proverbs 1:20-23 says, "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets...(22) 'How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? (23) Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.' "

I read this recently, and it cut straight through my bluff. My years of bluffing. Of claiming God designed me with an inadequate brain for being a homemaker, and that He was slow in coming when I asked Him for wisdom.  Wisdom, in these verses, is calling from without, not from within. When I begged God for wisdom, I was really asking Him to fix my problems on the outside so that I didn't look so bad when my friends came over for dinner.  But I was not asking Him to change me on the inside, to care what our home was like when nobody but my husband was coming. I was not inviting the Spirit of Wisdom inside my heart, to do some cleaning of her own.  And when I finally surrendered to the truth that my problems were not with a lack of intelligence, I saw the truth. And wisdom revealed to me the consequences that are coming if I don't change:

"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord...Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.  For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them." (Vs. 24-32)

Proverbs 29:1 says "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."

I believe God's Word is true. I believe Him when He threatens to laugh at me when I fall flat on my face because I refused to obey the wisdom He provided. I truly, truly fear the day that I have hardened my heart and rationalized my sin one too many times, and I call upon Him for help, and He refuses to answer. In truth, I never would have dared to confront this in myself except that destruction came dangerously close: all my hopes of personally discipling my children through homeschooling almost came to an end because of my disobedience in this one area.  My bad attitude toward doing the boring, mundane tasks that must be done to provide a healthy, peaceful home for my husband and children nearly cost me the most precious thing I treasure: time with my children.

What dream, what treasure, are you holding out over the abyss today by your disobedience to Wisdom's call?  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Invite wisdom inside, to sit on your dirty couch, look at your filth, and begin to help you sort through the mess, one attitude, one day at a time.  I am doing this. I am taking a long, hard look in the mirror, letting the light shine on my darkest corners of selfish ambition, vain conceit, laziness, complacency, rebellion, arrogance, excuses and lies. It is so ugly in here. It is overwhelming, just like the rooms in my house that I close the doors on when company arrives.  Today was an ugly day, where I opened the door to that room, looked, and turned and ran away.  But now that wisdom is inside, I can't claim stupidity as an excuse for not conquering it anymore.

I'm not really as stupid as I like to think I am. I am just a rebellious child of the King. I am so thankful for Grace. But I am just afraid enough of the Father's discipline that I am working very hard not to trample on it anymore.  Why don't you join me in doing the same today?

"But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil." (Vs. 33)

Dear Lord, I am so sorry for ignoring Your wise counsel even when I asked for it. Please, please have mercy on this wretched, conniving, sniveling soul.  Thank You that You have known the depths of my wickedness all along, and have loved me with an everlasting love anyway.  Thank You for Your Word and Your Spirit, that have opened the door to my room full of rubble, and that You will make something beautiful of it, in its time.  Please expose the places in the hearts of my friends that need to be exposed, in order to make us all Your beautiful bride. And help us all want to change. Because to be honest, I'm still not sure yet that I want to fight the good fight to the end. It seems easier to throw up my hands, sit on my rear, and quit.  But I believe You are worthy of more than that. Help me to believe You can change me from the inside out, to bring You the praise You deserve.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Confessions of Bible Moms #1: I am pregnant with my father-in-law's child

 Life isn't easy for a Canaanite woman who's been married off to a son of Israel, sometimes called Jacob. He didn't seem very happy when my father-in-law, Judah, introduced me to the camp. I later heard that he was downright angry about Judah himself marrying Shuah, a Canaanite also. At first, I didn't understand why it would matter. I am from a good family, and I came with a sizable enough dowry. Later, I understood the way the Israelites believe they are set apart from everyone else, and why they do not approve of marrying outside the tribe. I was not supposed to be included in the covenant their God had made with them. 

When my mother told me my father had chosen a husband for me, I was nervous, having never spoken with Er before. But I was also excited to finally become a real woman, and have children of my own to care for. I hoped I would learn what kind of man Er was, and that we would enjoy many happy years together. But Er was not the kind of man I dreamed of.  Being married into his family would have made me think Israelites were all coarse, cruel people with hearts of darkness.

If it hadn't been for his grandmother, Leah, I would have cursed them all, and their god. But in her tent, I found comfort after the worst days.  She herself had been married to Israel against her will, and suffered many things in her own marriage. Israel never harmed her, but a man can be cruel in so many different ways. I felt she understood what I was going through.

Leah seemed so different from most women I know.  If she were still here, I would have run many miles to her tent to tell her everything! I wish I could talk to her now, and tell her my secret, about the life growing inside of me. I am so happy I could cry! But I must not let anyone else see. Not yet.

Leah used to tell me of her early years with Israel, and how each time she had a child, she thought he might learn to love her. And she would always tell me how special Judah was, because that was the time in her life when she learned of a love higher and more reliable than the love of a man.

She said by the time she had Judah, she had learned that her God, Jehovah, cared for her, and saw her sorrow, and that it was He who gave her four sons to fill her arms with love. She would tell me of all the ways she had learned to recognize the care of their One God, and she taught me to begin to look for signs that He cared for me too. How many times I wept in her lap as she showed me such wonderful things in the world! Things that helped to lessen the pain of my own world, and give me hope when I had none. They said she had weak eyes, but I believe she saw better than any of the other women in her family.

 The other women of the camp spoke quietly, and sometimes, not so quietly, behind my back. They said that God had refused me because I was a Canaanite, and I could never be part of the covenant their God made with Father Abraham. I did not ask for anything so grand as that. I just longed to be a mother as I always dreamed--as all young women dream of.

I am sorry to say, I could not truly grieve in my heart when Er died, although I grieved for Leah in losing her grandson.  Perhaps that is why his brother and father blamed me for his death, and why Onan, too, purposely left me with no child. In a way, I was relieved, even though my arms were aching to have someone to love. I shuddered to think of looking into the innocent face of an infant and seeing Er's eyes staring back at me.  Leah told me that she believed her God, Jehovah, took her grandsons from the earth because they were so wicked. "If that is true, then perhaps there is a God who cares about me," I thought, "and maybe what Leah has been telling me is true." 

I wonder now what she would think of what I have done.Would she see that I had no other choice?

For many years I waited for Shelah, Er's youngest brother, to be grown so Judah could fulfill his promise to me. He said that I would be given to him for a wife when he was old enough. I did not hope for love, only for a child to call my own and fill my empty days. I finally realized he had no intention of keeping his word, and that I was powerless to do anything to force him into it. I spent many nights crying into my blanket, feeling that all hope was lost. But in these lonely years, living again as a widow at my father's house, I have learned to find the signs Leah showed me, to be comforted by knowing Jehovah still sees me.  I could not truly believe that He had forgotten me completely.

When I would walk alone in the fields, I heard whispers among the grass as I watched it bend away in the desert wind, as if reaching, wishing it could be free to fly away to some unknown horizon. Sometimes, I whispered back. I would say, "If you are true, Jehovah, God of Leah, please give me the gift of life. I know I am nothing but a Canaanite widow, and I have done nothing to deserve Your favor, but I am heartbroken. I am suffering because of things I can do nothing to control. If You care at all, as I believe You do, and as Leah believed, please remember me and help me find a way to become a mother." My family would have looked at me like I was a pitiful, poor dying creature if they knew I was speaking to a god out in the open like that, without even an offering to give! But they can't understand Jehovah like I do now.

When I chose to dress like a prostitute and lie down with Judah, my own father-in-law, was it any more of a sin than it was for him to go into a prostitute's house? Or for him to break the law and refuse to give me to Shelah even though he was of age? I know that because of what I have done, my life is in danger if I do not act very carefully when I can no longer hide my growing belly. Yet I feel an unexplainable peace and security. I cannot help but believe now that Jehovah is looking on me with favor. Did He not grant me a child?

Leah said that her God caused or prevented every conception. If that is true, then it must be true that He has granted mercy to me!  I just know in my heart that Jehovah will protect me and this child. He is truly a God who cares, even about someone like me. I am nobody important. I am not a part of the family of promise. I have nothing to bring to Him. But with this child, I will have something to give. I will teach him to know Jehovah, too.

"Thank You, Jehovah, the God over all gods, for hearing my plea for help. I am trusting in You."

**For the full story of Tamar, read Genesis 38 and Ruth 4:11-12. God not only allowed her to be a mother despite her creative way of going about it, but He gave her twins! That was a sign to the Israelites of God's special favor on any woman. Judah never slept with her again, but she received her deepest heart's desires: children to care for, and the knowledge of a God who cared for her. Her name became used as a blessing to other mothers down through the ages in Israel, and she is forever remembered as one of only four women who are mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

What is your deepest heart's desire today, in this week leading up to Mother's Day? This story reminds us there is a God who cares about us, as women, no matter who we are or how undeserving of His blessings. He sees our deepest needs, and He wants us to come to Him with them. Listen for His whispers of love today, and take some time to whisper back to Him.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Confession #3: Sometimes I mix dirty socks with sacred rags

Don't tell anyone at my church, but it's true.

When I bring home a bag of washcloths and hand towels from our church's free meal ministry, it is so that I can wash them and return them later to be used again. There is never enough to make a full load in my washing machine, so the money-savvy nerd in me is obligated to intermingle them with our family's bleach laundry: dirty socks and...all.

It may sound silly, but that really bothered me the first few times I had to do it. When I was growing up, anything that belonged to the church had a kind of mystical holiness attached to it. From hymnbooks to toilet paper: if it was dedicated to God, I was raised to treat it with reverence. So it follows that even rags that have been consecrated should be treated differently than things from my home that are for common, everyday use.

Thank goodness for bleach.

Because of the addition of bleach, I don't have to worry that my family's dirty sock germs will contaminate the sacred rags. I know that by the time that load of laundry comes out of the dryer, every item will have been sanitized equally. Whether it's a dirty sock left in the backyard after going for a walk in our pond inside my son's tennis shoe, or a sacred rag used to wash a spoon that fed the downtrodden of our community, the end result is clean.

Sometimes, I lift the lid and look down into one of these loads of bleach laundry and watch my life going round and round, like a picture of my own heart. First, a nasty, smelly sock comes to the surface, then a sacred rag, then another sock...the sacred mixing with the dirty. The holy and the common all jumbled and tumbled and rubbing shoulders and sharing lint. The bleach penetrating the fibers of the dirtiest things, killing the odorous bacteria and whisking it away forever. And it makes me smile as I stand and observe the cleansing process. I begin to understand the grace of God in my life just a little bit better.

He delights in intermingling His Holy Spirit in our dirty lives. He allows us to share the gospel with unchurched children one day, lose our tempers with our own kids the next, and still be called His own. He revels in the purifying, refining, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of transforming our dirty socks into sacred rags.

He throws his head back and laughs in the face of evil when He uses someone like me to defeat it.

Have you ever noticed that God has a history of taking a strange but wonderful pleasure in using the most unlikely people to do fantastic things? Just look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1. The list of notable women in Jesus' family tree is fascinating: Tamar, who had to scratch and scrape and deceive her way to motherhood; Rahab, the lying prostitute from Jericho; Ruth, the childless, needy, clinging gentile widow; and Bathsheba, the apparently willing adulteress who lost her first child, conceived in sin.

All of these dirty women, thrown aside by their own people as common, were seen as precious in the eyes of our God. And somehow in the miracle of His redemption, He mixed His holiness with their humanness and presented hope to the world. And in doing that, He brings hope to my world.

Only God can make dirt holy.

When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, He commanded him to take off his sandals, because the place where he was standing was holy ground. Maybe Moses was surprised. Just a moment before, the place where he was standing had been just...ground. Just dirt. There was nothing holy or even notable about it. But when the presence of God descended and saturated that patch of dirt, everything changed. Moses threw off his sandals and fell to the ground in worship.

God makes prostitutes holy. He makes dirt holy. He makes me holy. I throw up my hands, and I worship.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Confession #2: I Prayed for a Fatal Accident

There was a time when I begged God to take my life and put me out of my misery.

Maybe a car accident...or heart failure...anything that would set me free from the pain of life on this fallen planet.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever come to the point where you look at your life, or the lives of people around you, and you think that if there is a God, He must be just plain mean. What kind of love allows people to go through the kinds of things that are suffered every day? God claims in the Bible that we are His friend if we do what He commands, but what kind of friend would refuse to help when they have the power to do so? If God is all-powerful, and has the ability to perform any miracle, why doesn't He? How could He NOT? If He is truly compassionate, how could He stand back and not DO something to help us, to relieve our pain?

Why does He let us live through the horrible times we go through on this earth? Why doesn't He just take us home to heaven? What's the point?

In 2005, my beautiful youngest daughter was six weeks old when we packed up our home and moved. Just before I found I was pregnant with her, the rheumatoid arthritis I thought I had outgrown years ago attacked my body with a vengeance. I spent the pregnancy taking care of three toddlers, my knees and ankles hot and swollen to two times their normal size, depending on crutches to get around our two bedroom mobile home. I was believing with all my strength that God would heal me miraculously. Why else would He allow such a thing to happen to a good girl like me?

My husband was in college, struggling to survive engineering courses and provide for our family at the same time. He had been driving over an hour each way to get to the nearest college that offered the courses he needed. It was time to move back to our hometown, where that college was. We had been living in the same community, going to the same church, for six years. 

All of our children were born in that church, and solemnly dedicated there. The people were our extended family.  We ate at each other's houses at least once a week.  We met together in the mornings for prayer and held each other accountable. We studied seminary courses by extension together. Our lives were intertwined like a tapestry. It was a beautiful time of unity among God's people, the way church relationships are meant to be in a perfect world. It could have lasted, but arrogance had the last laugh. 

Our pastor had a hard time letting go of people when it was time for them to move on, and because of that pride in a false sense of ownership, he destroyed the tapestry woven by God. Over time, he began to try to control every person in the church and the choices they had to make that were between them and God alone. In trying to hold on tighter and tighter, he lost everything.  First one relationship, then another. Each time someone left he accused them of backsliding, sincerely deceived that it couldn't possibly be God's will for someone to leave HIS church. When we had to move, we were no different.  Suddenly, the people whom we thought we would leave our children to if we died, and had vowed to help us raise them up in the Lord, excommunicated us from their lives and vanished. The last time we spoke, my pastor hung up on me.

My world crumbled.

The family of God had been my strength and my support through the crippling pain of arthritis. Coupled with pregnancy and being the mother of four babies, that was as it should have been. When that was ripped away from me so cruelly, it was a natural consequence to wonder where God was and why He was being so mean. I had only ever sought to glorify Him in my life from the time I dedicated myself to Him fully as a teenager. How could He allow His people to be so hurtful? Why didn't He heal my body? Why was He allowing me to be in so much pain? I was crying myself to sleep regularly because there was no position of physical comfort. Without my church family, there was no ameliorating of the spiritual spiral I was slipping into.

I stared long and hard into my future, and I saw no hope.  Apparently people, even Christians, are not be trusted or leaned on. I would have to stand alone from now on, I thought. Rheumatoid arthritis is a degenerative disease. It is incurable according to doctors of western medicine. It eats away at your joints and causes constant pain, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Eventually you can have some joint replacement surgery, but you lose the use of your limbs that technology can't replace, one at a time. At 25 years old, the mother of four, the future looked bleak. I worked in nursing homes. I remember my patients who were crippled so badly they were curled up into a ball in their beds. They were elderly. I was looking at being in that position in a few short decades or less.

Who could blame me for wanting to die?

Who could blame me for abandoning faith in a God who would stand by and refuse to help?

Who could blame me, after a year of struggling with these questions, while packing to relocate yet again, for kicking the moving boxes in anger, hot tears refusing to come, turning my face to heaven and telling God that I hated Him? That if He was so cruel or careless of my life, which I had dedicated to Him, I could care less about Him, too? That I didn't want to serve a God who was so heartless?

I took another look into the future.

I imagined living the rest of my life without God. I had to stay alive. I had four children and a husband who needed me. If there was no loving God, as I had believed up to that point, then there was no way I would leave my family to suffer alone.

What would it be like to live in constant pain, without God?

The tears came freely now. He spoke in an almost audible voice to me, "Even if you hate me, I love you." 

At that moment, I had to make a choice.

I had to make the same choice people all over the world make every day: do I trust God, and go through the pain of life on this cursed planet with Him, or do I reject His love and make my way through life alone?

What would you decide?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Confession #1: I'm not supposed to be here

I'm not supposed to be here. Really.

I'm supposed to be in Africa right now, surrounded by a crowd of beautiful little sandal-footed African children in brightly colored dresses and shorts. They are all supposed to be smiling because they have been introduced to their Savior and mine. Their illnesses and injuries have been tended, and their bellies are satiated with the food they needed so desparately a short while ago. I was supposed to be the one who brought them hope, healing and love.

Somehow, though, I came to a crossroads in my life when I met and fell in love with a wonderful man at the age of 15. For three years, I was torn between pursuing life as a missionary or love as a married woman. A mature woman of 18, I decided on marriage, and I have yet to see Africa. Do I have any regrets today? Not in a million years. Did I spend the first ten years of my marriage wondering if God had somehow misplaced me? Absolutely.

It might be different if I was a natural homemaker. Maybe I wouldn't feel so out of place. But the fact that I didn't even realize homemaking was a career option did not prepare me for the rigors of this daily life. In elementary school, I distinctly remember a discussion on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had already decided in second grade that I was going to be a medical missionary, and that hasn't changed yet. But in fourth grade, a very nice girl in my class raised her hand and said she wanted to be a homemaker like her mom. I had literally never heard the word before. My teacher scoffed and told her that wasn't a real career. I suppose he was right: it's several careers all jammed into one 24 hour period that leads into the next and the next and the next until one day you look up and realize a month, a year, a decade has gone by.

Over a decade has gone by since God diverted my calling from jetting off to Africa to experiencing the most rigorous Missionary Training Academy I could have dreamed: being a homeschooling homemaker.

I Corinthians 2:9 says, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

I never imagined my life would consist of endless loads of dishes, laundry, and diapers. My eye had never seen a woman living out her life as a full-time wife and mother. My ears had never heard anyone speak of that as something to be desired and valued. And it never entered into my heart that caring for your own family  and discipling your own children could be a higher calling than being a missionary on another continent.

Our God is a God of surprises, though. I wonder if Jesus imagined saving the world would require Him to play bartender in the little burg of Cana. Did He see Himself living the mundane life of a carpenter until He was 30 years old, waiting...and waiting...and waiting... for a green light from His Father to begin fulfilling His purpose?  Did He ever hear in His mind the idiotic things His best friends would say when He tried to explain His mission to them? Or the harsh words the Pharisees would use when they accused Him of healing by the power of Satan? Could He have anticipated in His heart the pain of betrayal, of crucifixion, of having the Father turn His face away? Was it possible for Him to understand what sickness, temptation, and a broken heart felt like before He experienced those things for Himself?

God does not make mistakes, nor does He misplace anything or anybody. Jesus Himself had to live a normal, sometimes boring, tiring, and painful human life for 30 years. Did He ever wonder if God had forgotten what He was supposed to be doing? Maybe so. But He had 30 years to learn how to be the Son of God, the Prince of Heaven, living in a human body, submitting to the will of the Father. In the same way, there are things I am learning in this time of my life that I could never have learned otherwise. And at the end of each day, after wondering for 13 years, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.