Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sand or Stone? Living with Grief

Two years. Two years and I now recognize a pattern in my life. The month of May passes and the weight lifts, summer is on the horizon, and it's time to take some ground, conquer some fears, remember her life and live mine with joy!

Then December comes and random thoughts begin to flood the recesses of my mind. Small moments throughout the days catch me by surprise with vivid memories of her laugh, her smile, her hug. In the rush of the holidays, I don't allow myself to grieve. This is the time of year to rejoice! So I push through and smile and sing Christmas carols and save her memory for another day.

Then January rolls around and it's her birthday month and from that point on, from the day of her birth here on earth until her heavenly birthday in May the pictures begin to show up on Instagram and Facebook, and I. Can't. Stop. The memories.

And I wrestle with the Lord because she should be here. It's not right. It's not good. It's not loving that she's not here. And I'm faced again with the harsh reality--yet also my deepest comfort--that God's ways are not my ways. (Deuteronomy 29:29) And her memory reminds me to stay humble because just when you think you've got God figured out is exactly when you don't.

I have experienced loss before her. I have lost grandparents and have even weathered a miscarriage. Somehow the loss of someone older was expected, not easier to bare mind you, but expected. That fits the flow of all life. We live, grow old, and die. The older pass before the younger, sometimes earlier than we like, but still a reasonable assumption.

The miscarriage was the loss of a life I'd never know, a child I'd never hold. That loss was not easier, but less connected. The hardest part was not understanding in full who you were grieving because everyone deserves to be known.

But at nineteen? At nineteen the whole world should be ahead of you. You are connected to everyone around you and all the hopes and dreams of the possibilities before you. You have a past that is full and meaningful and a future that is bright. Selfishly I think, I had poured some of the best of me into her. I was suppose to live long enough to see her pour it back into the world. She was suppose to grieve my death one day.

Instead, two years ago, her death ripped a cataclysmic black hole into the universe of my beliefs, my life. And God has allowed her death to pour more meaning back into my life than I thought possible, than I knew was possible.

People may believe this move to California has changed me, that the process of the move has been the catalyst for change in my life. I'm here to tell you it was her death that left me marked.

It was her death at age 19 that God used to show me I have nothing figured out, nothing is in my control, and at the end of the day, no matter what, all I have left is Him.

When the storm washes away all the sand at the foundation of how you live your life, what that foundation is ultimately built upon at the bottom is all that stands. It's from that point you get to reset.

I fail everyday, but with the bones of my structure exposed two years ago, I got the chance to make some new choices. Was I going to continue filling in around my foundation with the sands of busyness, of false idols in family and friends, of ambition, of pride, of control? Or would I make a different choice this time?

No. Trust. Trust in the God of my salvation are the stones I will choose this time. Trust and faith, altar stones that come in shapes and sizes I don't understand or often know how to fit together, each one different from the rest. I have to wait to place them, one at a time, at His direction, at my Master Builder's pace. And He has been faithful to build in me a stronger foundation than I've ever had before.

Yet there are still times when I rush, when I get impatient, when I want the busyness, the pride, the control, the false idols back in my life that I try to pour those sands onto these new rocks. And the sand seeps into the crevices and holes of my foundation, and it sticks, it stays, and it rubs me raw, and it sits until the next rain comes, the next wave, the next storm, the next tsunami.

Then all that sand washes away.  Again.  Once more.  Painfully. (Matthew 7:24-27)

But this time at my foundation I realize there are more stones left behind than from the storm before. I'm not starting over from scratch every time God strips the rubbing sands out of my life, the things that won't hold up in the storm. There's a larger foundation to start over with than the storm before. And sometimes it scares me because I can't help but borrow trouble and think, "What exactly are you preparing me for, Lord?"

There's never an answer to this question. He just holds out more stones of faith and trust, and I stand there, staring at Him. Will I take them? Will I continue to build the foundation of my life with Him? Do it His way?

How can I not? Did He not send His only Son to die for my sin? Did not He too rip open a black hole in His own universe by turning His back on that Son in His own holiness? God, of all people, of anyone knows the greatest of griefs, the greatest of sufferings. His innocent Son died for my salvation, for my eternity at His own command. His innocent, perfect, only child. (John 3:16)

If in my own grief, I hope I live a life that honors the memory of my daughter-sister-friend, how can I not choose to live a life that honors my Savior-Lord-Father-Friend as well? Even more so!!! How can I not simply build my life as an altar with the stones of His choosing?
Isn't that the very least I can do?

And praise Jesus! He's actually alive and well and present and willing and able to equip me to honor Him with my life!! (2 Peter 1:3-8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

How can I not?

And so the wrestling with God ends, and her death takes on a new life in my life Every. Single. Time. By bringing me full circle back to the truth of my Jesus' death for me.

That's really all that matters, and the truth is, that's really all that ever will. My lesson in life these days: The grass will never be greener anywhere else but in Jesus' yard.
It's time for me to stop looking.

Maybe, by God's grace, I can teach my kids to stop looking as well. Maybe.

What is it that has marked you recently? That has ripped a black hole in your universe? That makes you wrestle with God? Through the pain, can you see the good yet? Are you determined that your life will grow joy out of that pain? Or are you still lost in the black hole, in the pain?

Keep wrestling. (Genesis 32:22-32) Do the hard thing and work it out. Do the mental work. Do the heart work. Do the soul work it takes to wrestle with God. You might end up physically limping in the end, but my guess is you will also end up eternally blessed--you AND those that follow you.

Put your back into it, and do the work it takes to place those stones of trust and faith at the foundation of your life--the life God Himself has designed and destined. Only He has the blueprints. Only He knows where to place those stones. Put down your bags of sand, which may pour out easier, but ultimately weigh more than those stones, and all that sand WILL wash away. It's just a matter of time.

Today I choose the Rock. Today I place another stone of trust. "He only is my Rock and my Salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken." Psalm 62:2 (The soundtrack to this blog in my head right now: Meredith Andrew's song Your Kingdom Reigns.)

Not by might nor by power, but by His Spirit alone! (Zechariah 4:6) Amen!

"The breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4"
In loving memory of Savannah Joy Veale.
Today you dance two years in heaven. Oh the stories you can tell!

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Friday, May 8, 2015

An Unexpected Blessing: Happy Mother's Day!

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture a thousand times only to have the Holy Spirit reveal a new truth about that very passage that you thought you understood so well all these years?

Matthew 25:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father,inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 

36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me." 

37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 

40 The King will answer and say to them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

I always thought this passage of Scripture was like the ultimate Christian goal.  It's the reward we all strive for--the "Well-done-My-good-and-faithful-servant" Award.  I always assumed it came at the end of times when I'm finally in the presence of my Jesus.  It's what I would spend my life trying to attain, but never really be able to see.  Just like the righteous in verse 37, I would humbly ask my Jesus, "When did I ever do these things for You? I just raised two kids. Just the two you gave me.  I'm pretty sure that's the only thing I ever really accomplished, and I'm not even sure I did a great job. You really did all the heart work."

And recently, the Lord literally took this passage and whispered into my heart, "Exactly. If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, look, and be encouraged!"

Verse 35: Who comes to you hungry, asking for food, needing to be fed, unable to feed themselves more than a child?  And Mama, whether that child be of your own flesh or someone else's, the choice to serve them is the same.  There are millions of mothers across the world who choose not to serve their own children.  The fact that you make that choice for your own flesh and blood does not demean or belittle your calling or your service.

This verse also does not specify whether the food given is spiritual or physical.  If you choose to do one or the other or both, are you not unknowingly feeding Christ as well?

Who comes to you more thirsty, asking for water or juice, needing to be rehydrated, unable to pour a cup for themselves than a child? Mama, if you have done this for a child, you have done this for Christ as well! If you have poured words of life into the cup of a child of any age who is searching, in need of hope that only comes from the Wellspring of Life in Jesus Christ, then you have given Living Water to the thirsty.

Who comes to you more of a stranger in a strange land than a child birthed out of the womb, taken from another home, or perhaps another country?  And yet mama, you choose to bring them into your home, to invite them into the vulnerable places of your heart and life, to love them, to care for them, to bathe them, to nurture them, to pour yourself into them. To make it so they are no longer a stranger, but a child who has a place of belonging.  Well done. Jesus sees you and accepts your invitation, your sacrifice.

Verse 36: Who comes to you more naked than a newborn baby? or a child who has been stripped of all they have known, of anything familiar? And Mama, you choose to clothe them. To give them new garments, new coverings to warm and protect and celebrate and give dignity! We do this not only with physical clothing, but with our words and what and how we teach them. By doing so you choose to clothe Christ.

Who do we spend more time ministering to than our own sick children? You blow their noses, medicate their fevers, sleep at their bedsides when the coughing is thick, hold their hands, hug their tiny, weak bodies, willing every moment that you wish it was you and not them suffering. I ask you, Mama, who do you minister to more than your own sick babies?!?!

Jesus says, "Truly I say to you, Mama, to the extent that you did it to one (even one!) of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

And who do we visit in prison more than our own children? Whether their prison be physical--such as actual prison bars or closed bedroom doors, or whether it be spiritual--such as a rebellious or unrepentant heart, or whether it be mental and/or emotional--such as past abuses and hurts, who visits a child in theses circumstances, meeting them exactly where they are, whether in person or through prayer, more than their mother?!?!?!?!

I'm telling you, I have rejoiced in the unveiling of this truth to me for weeks now!

Because on the days as a mother when I feel like all I accomplished was cleaning, feeding, and laundering, I NEED THIS.

I need to hear the whisper of my Lord say, "You fed ME today. You washed MY clothes today. You soothed MY heart with your hug today. You made ME feel better with that medicine today."

Because at the end of the day, every day, for the rest of my life, if all I do is serve HIM, then my heart can live with that and rejoice in that and find hope and purpose and meaning and THAT.

"Thank you Lord for unexpected blessings, for new truths revealed in old passages, for proving Yourself to be faithful to Your Word in Your Word and through Your Word over and over and over again."

So Happy Mother's Day friends! Be encouraged Mama! You serve the King of Kings each day and every day right in your own home!

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Be Missional

(So, my dear friends over at BeStillBeFree asked me to write for them this week, and I'm praying everyone will hop over to their website to check out the podcast and other resources that go along with this post. Here first assigned topic since college....)

I started writing this post a week ago. I wrote one long, deeply complex explanation of what I thought God had been teaching me about what it means to be missional, and somewhere in the middle of writing that long explanation I had a giant "Ah-ha" moment.

My entire life has been missional; it is missional. It's not something I do, it's who I am in Christ.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe themglorify God in the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:9-12

You see, according to Google, mission can be defined as "an organization or institution involved in a long-term assignment in a foreign country." Which means from the moment I accepted Christ into my heart at the age of four, I not only became a new member of the body of Christ--the institution of God's church--but I have been on a mission for Christ ever since and didn't even know it. (Hebrews 11:13-16, 13:14, Philippians 3:20). This world is not my true home. I have felt this in every part of my inner being since I was eleven and old enough to decide Christ is who I wanted to follow, He was what I wanted to pursue.

Every day after that for me has been one missional day lived after another. Because to be missional means to live for Christ. "Ok, ok," you're thinking, "I hear you. Being a Christian is a mission in itself, but aren't we called to more? What about our dreams, our passions, our gifts? Don't those play into our mission?" Yes! Absolutely! Take a big picture look at your life, then look closely at the details. What do you see?

Google also defines a mission as "a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling." This is where it gets tricky because I think God sends us on many different missions within the big mission of simply being His child.

At the age of eleven, my mission was being an obedient child to my parents and a growing seeker of Christ. (Isaiah 30:21)

At fifteen, my mission was to discover the truth about who God says I am. How did He see me? (Psalm 139, Ephesians 1)

At eighteen, the mission became to discover who God says He is. Do I relate to God correctly? (Isaiah 55:8-9)

At twenty-one, my mission became to be a godly wife. Do I exemplify how the church should love Jesus Christ in my relationship with my husband? (Ephesians 5:22-24)

At twenty-seven, God added the mission of being a godly parent. He gave me the responsibility of shaping young hearts and minds that were created in His image. Do I represent God in a such a way that is honoring to Him and appealing to my children? (Deuteronomy 6)

At thirty-four, God sent our entire family on a mission to move across the United States from east coast to west coast in following of a call He had clearly laid on our hearts. (Exodus 14)

And now at thirty five, as if all those missions aren't large enough as it seems, I can feel Him stirring my heart for something more, something deeper. (Isaiah 43)

If people looking from the outside in, see my journey, my life, as being missional, then to God be the glory!!! I'm praising God in writing this blog because He's shown me my life HAS been missional; it IS missional. Living for my Jesus has required deep sacrifices in all areas of my life--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It has required that I hold nothing back from Him. I have learned to bare my soul to Him and for Him. (Psalm 62:8) I have to practice living life with open hands, and it is not easy. Because open hands means my husband, my children, my dreams, my anything are in those open hands. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. (Job 1:21)

Will God still be enough? To be missional, the answer has to be yes. That is both a terrifying and freeing place to live depending on the day of the week and whether I'm experiencing a flesh-filled or Spirit-filled kind of day.

And friends, I am a nobody by the world's standards. I have no books, no speaking engagements, no cause to promote, no ministry calling (at present) except for being a child of God, a wife, and a mother. Don't you think that's a pretty BIG "except for"? I believe God is teaching me that if I live out the missions I already have, faithfully, He will continue to add to those missions in His time, in His way, slowly building me toward those hopes and dreams He's given.

I don't have a name for my next mission, but I can feel the Holy Spirit preparing me for it. I can see God's handwriting all over the pages of my life. He's uprooting old dreams, long dead and buried, and breathing new life into them. He shows me even in the stillness, the seeming nothingness of life, that He sees me right where He's placed me. He proves that He hears me because my prayers have never been more alive or answered.

Being missional means doing life with Jesus. Not like He's some distant religious god or statue or figurehead. No, being missional means Jesus Christ is as real of a relationship in my life as my husband lying breathing in bed next to me--warm, close, and intimate. Being missional means living like I value that relationship so much, I don't want to do anything intentional to screw it up.

It means I spend my life seeking after the heart of God. Whatever that looks like, whatever that takes, wherever the Spirit leads and God calls--that's where I am to be, and that is being missional.

Moses was missional.

When you read the life of Moses recorded in Exodus through Deuteronomy, you start to see the depth of how much Moses just wanted God.  God asked him to do hard things, and Moses had to answer some hard questions about himself. He screwed up and still kept plugging away at his relationship with God. In the end, it didn't matter that he would never get to experience the Promised Land for himself; it was enough that he was on a mission with God together, doing life God's way.

Do you really want to be missional, to live life mission-minded with great purpose? Because I have learned and experienced that God will ask you the hard questions and your answers will determine the direction of your mission, whether you head back to Egypt or toward the Promised Land.

Are you aware of all the areas in life you fall short? Can you identify them, admit them, own them? Can you lay them all out at God's feet and let Him equip you anyway? (Exodus 3-7)

Will you go where He's leading? Who or what is your Pharaoh? Will you face him? Who are the people God has called you to passionately intercede for? to lead? Who or what breaks your heart for God? (Exodus 8-14, Exodus 32, Numbers 14:13-16)

Are you willing to brave the wilderness with them whatever that may look like? Trusting God to be your Protector, Provider for every need, to be your ever-present Guide, and you only move when He moves? (Exodus 16, Numbers 9:15-23)

When the people around you that you serve and/or lead, when they inevitably complain, moan, groan, grumble, question your authority, your decisions, will you complain also? Will you take matters into your own hands? Or will you go directly to God with all your complaints, all your concerns, all your everything? Will you seek God's forgiveness and favor not just for yourself, but for those grumbling people as well? (Numbers 11-19)

And when you inevitably screw up, when you take matters into your own hands, when you forget that God deserves all the glory for anything and everything you are, and God seems to come down hard, will you accept His discipline? Will you accept that your sin has consequences just the same as the people you serve and lead? Will you continue on your mission anyway? Will you serve faithfully, following God despite the fact you may never set foot in the Promised Land this side of heaven? (Numbers 20-Deuteronomy)

Will God be enough?

God must be enough. He must be simply all you need. To be missional, you must consider these questions and be able to answer them honestly.  

The point being, we can be missional anywhere at any point in time as long as we accept and believe the grass is never greener anywhere else--we're not going to even look. Your satisfaction with where God places you in life, where He leads you, shows how much you truly desire God's will and plan for your life. Are you satisfied with the place, the time, the season, the circumstances in which God has you currently living life? To be missional, you must be able to answer that question with yes! 

He knows my dreams. He knows my heart. I trust His plan, so for now, one seemingly, insignificant day at a time, in this stillness--maybe for you it's a hardship--we just need to take the next step of obedience toward Christ, whatever that is. I have learned there is more forward progress in our lives toward the heart of God in the seeming nothingness of daily obedience out of love to our Lord than in a lifetime of mountain top, dream-fulfilling experiences. 

I want to live my life with steady forward progress toward my Jesus.

And while as the body of Christ, we have one mission in common--to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20)--how He goes about accomplishing this mission looks very, very different in each one of us. We all have different dreams, passions, gifts, talents, hobbies, interests, personalities, backgrounds, cultures, families, environments, etc., etc., etc.  The differences among us are as vast as the heavens itself! How then can we expect to find a cookie-cutter, three-step answer on how to complete a mission no one else has ever embarked on because no one else has ever been you

The answer is actually surprisingly simple. You choose to live your life to glorify God in everything you say, do, and think, and then you tell God's story about your life when the opportunity comes or more often, you just live out God's story for others to see. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

You say. "Yes," to God. Every. Single. Time.

He says, "Pray without ceasing." You say, "Yes." And you practice saying prayers in the grocery aisle over which cereal is the best use of the money God has given you. You practice praying about everything and anything, no matter how small or ridiculous. You pray expecting answers. You're listening and looking for God to answer. And He does! You hear God's voice! (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; John 10:27)

He says, "Take every thought captive." You say, "Yes." And you practice being aware of how your thoughts influence your attitudes, and you begin to separate the lies from the Truth. You choose to cut things out of your life that are feeding you lies. You experience freedom! (2 Corinthians 10:5)

He says, "Believe all of My words to be truth." You say, "Yes." And you practice seeking God's point of view first, on everything. Before your friends, before your mom, before you google or check Facebook, you begin checking Scripture first. And despite all the horrible, ugly things in the world, you fall in love with Jesus and realize you have the Pearl of Great Price, and you will sell everything you have to keep it! (2 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 13:45-46)

Being missional means you say yes to God in everything because He is enough.  And if you look carefully at those examples above, you will see that most of the doing is taking place inside your own mind and heart, it's not happening on the outside where people can see. You have to be missional on the inside first for people to experience Christ in who you are on the outside. If you try to forcefully reverse that process, people don't see Jesus; they see you striving to be something you are not.

Missional people don't complain, they don't manipulate, they don't negotiate. They don't have their own agenda. They are not fake, and they are not proud, and they have nothing to hide. As soon as I find myself living in one of these categories, I have a choice to make. Repent, making progress toward the Promised Land or live in sin and keep plodding back toward Egypt.  

God says to repent and missional people say yes to God.

Because the truth is if God isn't enough, then you must have some idea of what would be better, of what could be more fulfilling. For the first forty years of his life, Moses had all of that, and that era of his life ended in murder. No, I'd rather learn from Moses' mistakes instead of live them--at least the best I can--because in the end, Moses died in sight of the Promise Land, having seen the backside of God's glory, having spent countless hours in personal conversation with the God of creation, and God personally defended and honored His servant. (Exodus 33:22, Numbers 12:5-8)

I wonder if Moses looked back on His life in the end and saw the big picture of the mission he had accomplished through God's power or rather if he simply viewed his life as saying one yes after another to his Lord, no big deal, just a simple life of obedience. You get a sense of his heart in Psalm 90 that even at the end of his life, he still felt like it wasn't enough. Maybe that's the truth I need to mission will never feel complete until I'm rested in glory with my Jesus, sitting at His feet.

What is God calling you to do? What is He asking of you, right now? It may seem very insignificant, small, pointless, or meaningless, but GOD is asking you to do it.  Will you say yes? Make that phone call, send that text, smile at that random person? Remember, this is the God of the Bible who breathes life and meaning and symbolism into the simplest of things like a lamp stand or salt. (Matthew 5:13-14)

Will you say yes to the big, scary, difficult thing God is asking of you?  Will you stop ignoring His voice, putting Him off, and telling Him to wait for you to be ready? Who do you think you are anyway?!? Will you be missional and say yes to God, no matter what?

You are always simply one yes away from living the missional life God has called you to live! Decide now! In what way can you say yes to God today, right now? Your missions in life are dependent upon your yes to the only Person in all of History you can fully trust. It is His story after all. We just have the opportunity to be the messengers to tell it. Will you say yes?

And for those of you that are saying yes to God in the daily little things that seem insignificant in a world that always wants to put people in a spotlight, be encouraged!!! You ARE living a missional life. You ARE making a difference. You may not be on a stage with a microphone in your hand, but is that really what matters?  God is enough for you. Claim that promise and truth for yourself. Put it on a t-shirt and wear it for the world to see. God is enough. 

And I am convinced that one day, all of us missional children of God will look back on our lives, just like Moses, and feel like we didn't do enough, but that--praise Jesus!--living life for Him and with Him was worth every moment.  And friend, you will have lived a life like Moses, accomplishing great things for God, and never even have known it.  But those watching will know it, and by your life of saying yes, they will learn to live a life of saying yes to God, and that is maybe the greatest legacy any of us can leave behind, that is mission accomplished.

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