Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Broken and New

My favorite platter crashes to the ground and smashes into a zillion tiny pieces. My daughter's attempt at a "fancy" tea party has come to a sad end. Her face crumpled into the same zillion pieces and she begins to sob.

I'm so sorry, mom. It was an accident. I didn't mean it. I just wanted to decorate the tea party fancy!.

I swallow my disappointment and begin to pick up the pieces. Sweep up my frustrations into a little heap. I can't bear to dump those slivers of colored pottery in the garbage. I vow to use them in some kind of Pinterest-inspired craft project.

While putting order to the mess, God brought to mind how my sins are like those tiny pieces scattered all over. Some of the larger broken bits could be my inflated pride, independence, and inability to wait patiently on the Giver of All Good Things. The smaller pieces are likened to petty gossip, physical laziness, and over sensitivity. And don't let me forget, gluttony.

The Lord labeled each of those broken shards. Eek! Who wants to see that kind of "trash" on the kitchen floor for my whole family to see?!  I quickly picked them up and put them out of sight.  Just like my sins.  Out of sight from those who see me.  Out of sight from those who love me.  Out of sight from those who expect more.

But not out of sight of the One who sees and knows all.  For whether I pack my ugliness away in a box to address later or throw them out in denial, He waits for my confession.  He waits.

Thankful that He waits!

I searched for a project for the pieces of pottery and decided to use them for a mosaic.  A NEW piece of art.  Something TRANSFORMED.  NEW.  DIFFERENT from the old.  NEW.

Get where I'm going with this?

Just as I am able to create something new out of my daughter's tragic butterfingers, the Lord desires to create something new and transformed out of me.  He'll take my ugly pile of brokenness and transform it into a new, beautiful vessel for Him to fill.  To complete.  To shine through.

My pinterest board for tile mosaic projects is still empty.  But the "project" the Lord is working on through me is in progress.  And as I learn to allow Him to sweep up the mess of my sins, I give Him the opportunity to create a new beauty in me.

Thankful for the meaning of the mess I've made.  Thankful for His desire to sweep it up.  Thankful for His transforming power.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I Just Wanna Win!

I watched across the table as my daughter became frustrated at losing game after game of Bingo.  Her mouth drew into a firm line, lips pressed together.  Her eyes were almost frantic as she waited for the number-letter combination to be called.  As another player excitedly shouts "Bingo!" she slams her fists on the table and begins to cry.  I, as discreetly as possible, escort her into another room intending to take her down a notch.  What silliness to get so upset about a silly ol' bingo game!

As I march her away from the table, the Holy Spirit begins to whisper to my heart.  Treat her with gentleness.  Don't blow your top.  Just encourage her.  This is not normally my first response.  I tend to have high expectations for behavior and get frustrated when the kids don't respond exactly the way I would.

Thankfully, it was a long march so I was able to actually listen to the Holy Spirit.

Why are you so frustrated, daughter of mine?

Everyone else is winning except me!

Can you play the game and enjoy the fun without worrying about winning?

I don't want to PLAY the game.  I just wanna WIN!

My first thought was well, who doesn't want to win?  The issue was more that she didn't want to endure the process of playing to get to the winning end.  She wanted to cross her arms and blink her eyes Jeanie-style and end the game with a resounding yell of "Bingo!".

After thinking through this episode over several weeks, my mind began to see a connection between just wanting to win/go straight to the end with the act of continual forgiveness.  Stay with me here - it's not really a stretch at all!

Most of us have been taught that forgiveness is a solitary, one-time event.  I am wronged.  I seek wisdom from God's word and godly counsel.  I beseech the Lord for the ability and desire to forgive that person.  There.  The decision is made.  All is forgiven.

I "win" by getting right to the point of forgiveness, right?  Hardly. 

Dr. Dan B. Allender states in his book Bold Love:

It seems that many experience one major moment when a transition takes place from holding on to bitterness to releasing the rage.  This moment is often viewed as the point when forgiveness occurred; therefore, it is now finished and resolved.  . . . it is naive to believe forgiving another for any one failure or for a lifetime of harm is entirely finished.. . . to forgive another is always an ongoing, deepening, quickening process, rather than a once-and-for-all event.

Forgiveness of a hurt or wrong is a daily surrendering to my All-Forgiving Father.  It is a conscious decision, a never-ending commitment to allow the Lord to transform my sour, closed heart into fertile ground for reconciliation.  It is a deliberate act on my part to ask God to open the door to the possibility of repentance and restoration.

The act of forgiveness can not be rushed, pushed through quickly and then checked off as if to say "completed, this task is finished".  It is only through Jesus that I can even fathom enduring, persevering, striving through the process of forgiveness.  Only through His grace, mercy, and endlessly flowing forgiveness can I bear the daily surrender of my hurts or pain.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.  Ephesians 1:7

Bingo lately?  No, but my daughter and I have had lots of chats about the importance of the process of an event rather than just the outcome.  She is learning to enjoy the game (of bingo, of school, of basketball) and looking forward to the end.  And, she still wants to win.

Bold Love
Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr.Tremper Longman III

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hug Me Not

Her bright smile and exuberant personality rushed toward me with arms outstretched.  I braced myself for the inevitable hug. I am hugged every time she sees me coming and going.  I am hugged before and after a prayer.  I am hugged at the beginning and the end of meetings.  Her hugs surround me.

The problem you ask?

I am NOT a hugger.  I do not have a strong desire for physical touch.  My first thought is not to squeeze someone in love.  Nor is it my second thought.  It's not that my parents didn't lovingly embrace me as a child or that my husband is not attentive.  It's not that all my physical love is doled out to the kids during the day and I haven't any hugs left in reserve.  Outside of my immediate family, I am just not a touchy-feely kind of person.

Is my discomfort with friendly hugs a result of keeping people at a distance?  Of controlling who and what I let get close to my heart?  Is it an attempt at protecting my ultra-sensitive feelings?

Yes to all the above. 

All these "Deep thoughts with Niki Carbajal" made me wonder if I keep Jesus at a distance too.  Do I pray just enough to stay in regular communion with Him but keep all the "real"conversation for my earthly friends?  Do I spend just enough time in His Word to learn some Biblical facts, head knowledge, while not allowing Him to teach me the personal application?  Do I have one foot on the water and the other securely chained to the boat?

Sometimes.  Yes.  Oftentimes.

He never fails me though.  His arms are always outstretched, welcoming me into their loving cover.  His smile and warmth outshines even that of my friend.  He has never and will never stop offering me an everlasting hug.

His tenderness softens my heart.  His willingness to continuously welcome me home inspires me to share His comfort with others.  I realize now that is what my friend was doing all along.  Passing on the comfort of the one who has comforted all of us.

Now, I look forward to that 1000-watt smile coming toward me with open arms.  Now I get it.  So, watch out world!  Let hugs abound!

How  precious is Your loving kindness, O God ! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. PS 36:7

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thankfully Thankful

November brings on a refreshing attitude of thankfulness.  People recognize the Lord in the smallest of places, among the spectacular and the everyday.  It's exciting to see exclamations of thankfulness over parents, spouses, children, veterans, and even the Internet.  Some are super sweet and others bring a tear to the eye.  Regardless of the actual object of thankfulness, our Provider, the Lord, is the origin of all things given.  He alone desires our praise and thanksgiving.

Skip Thanksgiving?  My kids think it would be OK!

I'm not sure of the atmosphere of your home but in mine, my children anxiously await the arrival of Halloween with its costumes and treats.  They want to skate through November and dive right into the revelry and celebration of Christ's birth.  They begin to circle their fifteen or twenty most favorite items in the toy catalog on November 1.  These kids have already begun to countdown the number of Sundays remaining on the calender until the day of all days, Christmas.

My husband and I have had to make a deliberate effort to redirect their attention to the Thanksgiving holiday.  Our home school curriculum has led us up to the point in history of the First Thanksgiving.  We've read pilgrim stories and made construction paper tee pees.  In the back yard, we have even planted fresh fish with corn kernels!  Thanksgiving crafts with fall-colored construction paper are so plentiful they are mailed to El Paso to share with Grandma and Grandpa.  Our walls and refrigerator doors no longer offer any display space.

All this concentrated effort of reminding them (and ourselves) to be thankful, to honor God through thanksgiving, and to highlight the true meaning of worship as praise, pointed me toward a beautiful Psalm.

Psalm 100
A psalm of thanksgiving. Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Beautiful!  It's a Psalm we are memorizing and using as "words to love by".  It is filled with instruction, emotion, and promises.

Over the last 6 months I have been journaling my prayers.  At the end of each prayer, I list 5 things I am thankful for that day.  Like many, my list included an amazing husband, sweet children, friends, and material blessings.  As I reviewed them tonight, several stood out to me.  Did they catch my eye because what I learned that specific day?  Or, because of His provision?  Or, because of Him being Him? 

I am Thankful for . . .
  • Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead
  • Kids that respond to hugs
  • Opened eyes and clear understanding
  • Showers after the sandbox
  • Reconciliation of relationships
  • Neighbor kids that never want to leave
  • Creative expression
  • Long distance phone calls and long-time friendships
  • Freedom, second and third chances, and having a voice
I am encouraging (read here: "enforcing") my kiddos to record their thankfulness throughout the year.  To use everyday as an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge all that He IS and all that He DOES.  What a blessing to see a personal, written record of God's generosity and provision.  All glory and honor are His!

Can't wait to see what I am thankful for tomorrow!  Thankfully, He will give me ample opportunities to express my thankfulness (How many "thank" words can fit in one sentence and still make sense?  I think 3 thanks are enough.  Thankfully!).

Then I will praise God's name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Longest Hour at McDonald's

McDonald's.  A plastic playground crawling in germs and swimming in carbs.  The originator of happiness in a cardboard box and plastic toys that are neatly placed in the circular file as soon as you hit the door.

It's also the place I spent an hour on my knees completely relying on the Lord on Saturday.

Let me back up. Our family is enjoying watching 5 year old soccer Saturday morning.  My hubby's phone rings and he answers it.

"Mr. Carbajal?  This is Captain E calling from Alaska.  Your son, Jade, is in ICU."

"Excuse me?  Who is this?  What did you say?"

"Your son has some broken bones around his right eye.  He is in ICU and we are unaware of the severity of his injuries.  Depending on the severity, the Army will fly you and his mom to Alaska.  I'll call you in an hour."

"Huh?! OK, I'll wait to hear from you."

I got the gist of the entire conversation as I watched my husband's coffee-colored, sweet face drain of color.  He plunked himself down on the grass and repeated all he had been told.  My questions flew out of my mouth faster than he could process them. 

Even in the midst of potential heartache, the kids' stomachs were rumbling.  So where do we go?  The loudest, most crowded, most obnoxious place on the face of this God created planet - McDonald's.

We woodenly distributed out nuggets and fries, smiling somewhat blankly at child requests of "more, please!".  I checked my watch praying for the minutes to fly by, seconds agonizingly slow.  I tried to engage Mario in conversation, tried to get his feelings, gauge his stress level.

I couldn't take another moment perched on the edge of the sticky plastic seat.  I marched to the not-so-clean public restroom and hit my knees.  I do admit to checking the floor first.  It may be shallow but have you ever seen the floor?!  Anyway . . .

I spent that time praying, crying out to my Sweet Lord.  Begging Him to protect my son's life, his health, his vision, his brain.  Asking for a "it looks worse than it really is" prognosis.  Asking Him to provide the doctors with wisdom regarding his medical treatment.  Praying for a swift recovery.

After all that, I was honestly able to ask the Lord to give each of us a peace that surpasses all understanding, that we would be able to glorify Him in every single moment, and that we would not only accept His will for the situation but that we would be able to inscribe His will upon our hearts.

I walked out of the Ladies' room a different person, a different heart.  I have never had to rely on the Lord in that way.  I'm 3,000 miles away from my adult son lying alone in an ICU room with unknown injuries.  I'm waiting, hanging by my fingernails to hear from Captain E.

I am utterly helpless. 

Nothing to plan or control.  Nothing to do.  Nothing to say.

Just wait.  Wait.  And wait.

The waiting finally ends.  He is OK!  No permanent damage.  No surgery needed. 

Thank you God.  Thank you for his health and life.  Thank you for Your care and infinite concern for each of us.  Thank you for the opportunity to REALLY rely on You with my whole heart surrendered. 

Thank YOU for meeting me there in that sticky, icky Ladies' Room.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 


Monday, October 17, 2011

Eat Some Grass!

The root of all sin - PRIDE - can reduce each of us to eating grass.  Grass? you ask.  GRASS.

King Nebuchadnezzar ate some serious grass.  He was one of the most powerful rulers in all of the world.  God gave him control of Babylon in 605 B.C.  The king was responsible for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, conquering of other nations, and a prosperous, imposing kingdom.  In Daniel 5:18-19, Daniel reminds King Darius of King Nebuchadnezzar's status:

 . . . the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.  Because of the high position He gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him.  Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled.

Nebbie was a powerful man but only through God's hand.  Daniel 1:2 says that God gave Nebbie victory over Judah and even allowed him to take precious, sacred articles from the Temple of God.  The entire book of Daniel proves God's control, His power, His "running of things".   Through the first few chapters, King Nebuchadnezzar refuses to lay down his pride and will and admit the sovereignty of the True God.

Even after several warnings, the king continues to boast of his own accomplishments.  He even says, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" (4:30).  God's action is swift and immediate.  Nebbie is removed from his crown, his position, his people.  He is driven into the fields and eats grass like a cow, has hair as long as eagles' feathers and his nails are like birds' claws.  Nebuchadnezzar is insane for seven periods of time.

Now, I don't know about you, but I can not imagine a slice of Pride Pie being worth all that.  Wandering around a field munching on grass acting like a cow?  Separated from people, things, and most importantly, sanity? 

I have never had to partake of a grassy cuisine due to an inflated sense of self.  However (and that is a BIG however), God has reached me in other ways.  Many times friendships I held too dear to my heart were removed from my life.  Maybe I was placing too much importance on the friendship and pleasing the friend instead of HIM.  Other times responsibilities and positions I coveted were removed or never given because I had a desire to "do it all and for my own glory".  Not HIS glory but my own pitiful self.  Another time, I suffered physically because I was unwilling to slow down and seek HIS will first.  Or other instances where I just KNEW that I could do whatever it was under my own gumption, strength, ability, and desire.  You know how that ended, right?
The list could go on and on.  The point is if we act like a donkey's behind and revel in pride and self, then God may allow us to eat some kind of humbling "grass" to remind us of His desire to instruct and train us (Psalm 32:8-9).  If we can adjust our attitude of one that is humble and seek HIS kingdom and righteousness first the unnecessary pain and judgement of HIS correction can be minimized.

Be hopeful!  King Nebbie looked up to heaven, his sanity returned and He praised and worshipped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever.  When the king's ability to recognize the power and sovereignty of the Lord returned, so did his honor and glory and kingdom.

We, too, can return from the grass-filled pasture.  Turn our eyes off of our selves and look to HIM.  Remove whatever crown Pride is wearing in our lives and allow the true King to sit on the throne of our hearts.

"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven.  All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble those who are proud." Daniel 4:37

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grab that umbrella!

Obedience training around my house has slipped.  Oh, let me be honest - it has fallen off the map.  My half-hearted efforts at first-time obedience and joyful obedience have resulted in a grumbling, delayed, questioning, bargaining, group of uprisers.  It's a full-fledged revolt of the "Disobedient vs. the Disenchanted".  Sometimes it is easier to let them grumble and complain rather than correct and discipline.

I know, I know.  I am doing them a disservice by allowing them to skate by.  I know the Bible tells us:

  • Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

  • Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord

  • Titus 3:1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work

  • I know too, that whenever I allow disobedience to plant a seed it will grow into a sequoia.  Quickly.  It doesn't take long for a snowball of "Can I do it in a minute?" and "I can't" to escalate into an avalanche of "I don't wanna!" and "It's not my turn!". 

    Then, guess who is angry?  Me.

    And, guess who's to blame?  Me.

    See, God gives us this giant umbrella of protection, an umbrella of obedience.  Psalm 91 tells us that He provides us with protection and safety.  He shields and shelters us.  This umbrella deflects "terrors of the night" and "dangers of the day".  It repels evil and wickedness.  His desire for each of us is that we remain beneath His Umbrella of Obedience, where we are safe.  Step out from under obedience to Him and who knows what will rain down! 

    Besides, there is something comforting about knowing that our obedience to Him gives us shelter with His feathers, shielded by His wings (Ps 91:4).  His word also tells us:  "Those who love your law have great peace and do not stumble" (Ps 119:165).  We are assured of peace, a discerning mind, sustainment of joy, becoming wiser than our enemies, being revived, and comforted in all our troubles.

    I not only want the protection of His umbrella for my children but I want and need it for myself.  I haven't been exclusive in my half-hearted attempts at obedience training with my kids.  Those lazy attitudes and delayed responses were learned from me.  How convicting and hopeful all at the same time!  If I can have such a negative impact on them, how much more of an impact can I have with the Lord behind me, supporting my desire for ALL of our obedience?!

    So, here are the New and Improved Obedience Goals:
    1. Obey the FIRST time, IMMEDIATELY - no delays or objections
    2. Obey joyfully - We'll be mimicking Chik-fil-a's response "It'll be my pleasure!".
    3. Obey in small things and big things - disobedience in small things are more likely to lead to disobedience in all things.
    4. Obey with a whole heart - using all our energy and determination
    5. Obey based on the truth of God - learning to obey without blind obedience, understanding God's truth and authority 
    Are they realistic?  Yes!  Will it be difficult and trying?  YES!  Can we do it with the Lord's grace, wisdom, and instruction?  YES!  We'll be grabbing that Umbrella of Obedience with both hands!

    "The best measure of a spiritual life is not its ecstasies but its obedience." Oswald Chambers

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    A Glimpse of Guilt and Grace

    That sweet child of mine that God gave me as a constant reminder of a need for mercy and grace?  That girl that exposes my every weakness and strength?  That 6 year old fire cracker that has struggled with an "appropriate attitude"?  I witnessed a bending in her spirit of self today. 

    Picture an afternoon of a tired and cranky mom trying to juggle kindergarten with an almost 5 year old and the book of Daniel with the girls.  And, the kicker - trying to be joyful and not tired or cranky - in my own strength.  As I am being pulled this way and that for attention, all I can think of is wanting to indulge in a giant spoonful of chocolate frosting cooling in the icebox.  I know, I know.  Some of you are disgusted by the thought of that chocolate treat.  For me, it is a creamy, rich sampling of manna God sends me as a daily fortifier.

    Sorry for the bunny trail.  Chocolate frosting can have that affect on me.

    Anyway, the stress is mounting, the 4 year old is frustrated and studying Daniel is becoming less and less attractive.  I glance at my sweet second daughter and notice her head in her little dimpled hands.  Tears streaming down her brown cheeks.  A devastated look in her eyes. 

    "What is it little Brown Bean?" I ask.

    "I feel so guilty and am so MAD at myself.  I am so embarrassed!" she cries.

    "What ever for?" I ask not sure where this is going.

    "I have been so selfish and ugly the past two days.  I am so MAD at myself!" she admits while continuing to cry.  "I have been mean to Sophia and Hank and Shelby and everybody else!  I am so angry!".

    "How do you think it makes others feel when you treat them that way? How does it make YOU feel when you treat them unkindly?  Do you think God is pleased with you?"

    "They feel awful and I feel like an ugly, brown troll.  Mean and hateful and I just can't stop myself.  And God probably doesn't want to see my mean 'ol face!".

    Although my heart was sad for her and I wanted to brush it all away, it was an opportunity I had been praying for.  An opportunity to see how the Lord is transforming her heart, bending her steel will.  An opportunity to show her and her siblings (and a reminder for myself) the grace and mercy of forgiveness.  We halted all school work and the pretense of Bible study and prayed.  We thanked God for the opportunity to see His forgiveness, repented for all of our ugliness, and asked God to restore our relationships.

    What a beautiful, guilt-free face that looked up at me from her steepled fingers!  It was a face that felt the forgiveness of our Lord and the beginning of a new day.  As we watched, she was able to actually experience the weightlessness that comes along with repentance and forgiveness. 

    She picked up her pencil and said "Now what was what it you were saying about Daniel?"

    A glimpse of guilt and grace in the span of 10 minutes.

    Psalm 139:23-24
    Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
    And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
    And lead me in the everlasting way.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    Rusty Gold

    My husband and I have a guilty pleasure to confess.  It is not anything that is detrimental to our spirits or disastrous for our physical bodies.  It is just wasted minutes spent watching a program where we learn pretty much nil except the value of someone else's junk.  We love to spend late nights peering into other people's garages, basements, and store rooms via "American Pickers". 

    The hosts, Frank and Mike, travel around the country in a van looking for valuable recyclables - Rusty Gold.  Their eyes light up and sweat begins to roll off their foreheads when they spy something they can transform from junk to treasure.  Rare bicycles and tin toys or porcelain cafeteria signs and oil pumps incite giddiness between them.  Mike likes to say "I'm just an ordinary guy looking for extraordinary things".

    Rusty gold, huh? Their finds are covered in dust and cobwebs and years of grime, neglected  under a bottom shelf at the back of a rarely entered shed.  But they can see through the mud and mire to the beauty underneath.

    Does this sound familiar to you?  God slapped me upside the forehead one late night while watching those antique archaeologists dig. I practically heard His voice quietly shouting:

    YOU are MY Rusty Gold.
    YOU are MY rare treasure covered in sin. 
    YOU are MY priceless find.
    I KNOW your beauty beneath the grime.

    Does the Lord really convict me while watching the History channel?!  Absolutely.  So much so, He began to bring to mind all of my rust obscuring the gold underneath.  Ugliness like PRIDE, FEAR, DOUBT, INSECURITY, and JEALOUSY.  Every sin I hold onto and continue to control adds another layer of funkiness to what God had intended.  Every sin I refuse to surrender and hand over to an All Forgiving God contributes to the gunk accumulating around the beautiful edges He created.  When I resist His desire to transform me into a new creation by living out the old sins, I add an even thicker layer of yuck.

    Just as the treasure hunters lovingly clean and restore their precious treasures, my merciful God knows and sees my true value and worth.  He waits for me to surrender so that He may polish away the rust of my pride and fear.  He is ready with His scouring pad to remove my grime of insecurity and jealousy.  My gracious God is ready with his soft buffing cloth to remove my scratches and scuffs of selfish living and ugly ways.

    Unlike "American Pickers", my transformation is not neatly wrapped up in an hour. Occasionally, I actually purposefully hide with my filthiness inside a cabinet not to be seen.  But the Lord is relentless in His patient pursuit of my transformation.  The Bible says:

    For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

    I rest confidently that regardless of my new dents and dirt I acquire along the way, He will NOT stop His good work in me.  My Father will continue to shape and reform me into His new creation . . ."Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

    American Picker's host, Mike, is an ordinary guy looking for extraordinary things.  But MY God is an EXTRAORDINARY GOD perfecting a rusty piece of gold like me.

    So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18

    Tuesday, August 09, 2011

    Stay There Until . . .

    I have a 6 year old daughter with a passionate spirit.  Nothing is gray when it comes to her.  It's black or white, perfection or disastrous, sweet or sour.  Absolutely no in between.  She is the gift from God that keeps on giving - challenges, frustrations, laughter, hugs, smiles, and tears.  In her I see a future leader or ring-leader.  I see an amazing woman that God has created to inspire other people to act with vigor and vitality.  She has an infectious smile that lights up her eyes and the room she enters.  She has a heart that breaks at every infraction inflicted upon her by me, her brothers, and her sister.

    This girl o'mine is a challenge to home school.  She is the "Why Girl".  EVERYTHING under the God-created sun warrants an inquisitive comment. 

    Why is spaghetti called spaghetti?
    Why can't I have dessert at every meal?
    Why must I brush my teeth?
    Why did Abraham Lincoln chop down the cherry tree?  (By the way, this is NOT something we covered in home school!)
    Why didn't the slaves just say "no"?
    Why can't I wear my pj's to church?
    Why did Mary use her hair to wash Jesus' feet?  (She is totally grossed out by this idea.)

    Sometimes the questions are a genuine quest for knowledge.  Sometimes the questions are a stalling tactic to delay the inevitable spelling exercises, Phonics (her least favorite), or Math.  I can spot the "I'm-gonna-create-lots-of-distraction-so-Mom-won't-make-me-do-school" look from a mile away.  My general response is genius (not my own - I borrowed the idea)!  I ask her to write down all her questions in her "My Questions Book" and then we will answer them after her school work is completed.  This is two-fold: she gets handwriting practice and has to decide whether the questions are really worth recording. 

    As you can imagine, her distraction plans are derailed and the tantrum often comes in on a tidal wave.  The stomping of feet are mixed in with the shedding of easily spilled tears.  The child is 6 1/2,  mind you.  She is sent to her room with the admonition to stay there until she can return with an appropriate attitude.  She'll walk up the stairs wailing the unfairness of it all while imagining in her mind that she is stomping her feet and slamming her bedroom door.

    After 20 minutes of a Tantrum Time-Out, she called down to the kitchen:

    "Mom, I have a question."

    Can that be true?!  Another question even during a disciplinary event?

    "What exactly is an Appropriate Attitude?"

    That is Priceless!  Here I thought I was providing her with an opportunity to focus on her poor behavior and disrespectful attitude.  I was hoping it would draw her out of the "I wannas" and focus on the task at hand and discovering the joy and freedom we can all feel during the act of obedience. 

    I failed.

    The child needed to know exactly what I expected of her.  I took the opportunity to lay it all out in every detail, written in my own blood with a smile poorly veiling my frustration.  Now, there is NO excuse for her misunderstanding our expectations of her as a student in this Crazy School of Learning household.

    Does any of this ring familiar?  Have you ever wondered around, floundered around, trying to figure out what on God's green earth He expects for you?  What he desires of and for you?  Do you stomp your feet and wail (silently or loudly) the unfairness of it all?  Do you sit in your room waiting to figure out the "Appropriate Attitude"?

    Here's the thing - our Holy God has given us everything we need to know, do, say, pray, hope and live for, and die for.  His word lays out a map of His expectations for each of us.  We are only to believe that Jesus is our Lord, our, Savior, our only Way.  And we are to love.  And we are to serve Him.  Every single moment of our day is to honor and glorify Him.  These things are to be done with a heart that desires the freedom and joy of obedience and intimacy with Him. And it doesn't matter if I am flipping pancakes for dinner, pullingweeds, training a child's heart, or evangelizing in Costa Rica.  If it is done with an appropriate God-fearing, Son-worshipping, Father-honoring, Holy Spirit-inspired attitude then it is glorious to Him.

    How much more appropriate can you get?

    So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.   Colossians 3:12-17

    Tuesday, August 02, 2011

    Spinning a Schpiel

    Spinning a schpiel, you ask?  You know the people I mean.  You probably have at least one friend that comes to mind when you read "Official Schpiel Spinner".  The type of person that talks on and on about really nothing at all.  Or, talks only of themselves and never stops to take a breath.  Or, if they do stop it is to switch subjects of "me", "Me", or "ME".

    I recently met one such person.  She seemed nice enough and normal enough.  She used regular speech and made eye contact.  Her children were pleasant and it all seemed dandy.  Until, the schpiel began to flow from her never-closed lips.  Between the I've-been-there and I've-done-that and I'm-gonna-do-that was a cry of insecurity.  The woman was silently screaming "I'm insecure!"  "I'm lonely inside!".

    My first reaction was to cross her off my potential friends list.  I know what you are thinking!  Isn't it ugly to think I have such a list?  I unfairly make a first impression judgement and put potential friends in one of three columns: No Way Jose, I'll Let You Know, or Ding Ding Ding!  What does this say about ME?  Call me a Judgemental Judy - I certainly deserve it!

    Although this subject of prejudgement could stand alone (and I will come back to this another time), I'll chalk it up to Pride.  In my mind, PRIDE = INSECURITY.  Pride and its ugly stepsister, fear, are the basis for my own insecurity.  We all suffer from feelings of being less than absolutely, positively, 100% secure.  It may mean we exhibit an effort at controlling insecurity through being a Chatty Cathy, in- and out-of-control eating, smoking, pornography, spending greenbacks, exercise (or lack thereof), and whatever else we can grasp to cover ourselves.

    Some of us have actual GOOD reasons for feeling a lack of security: abandonment, abuse, neglect, stressful life changes, death, birth, job loss, addiction, and so on.  But just because there is a reason for it doesn't mean we should wallow in it like a grunting hog. 

    Time to get out of the mud, suey!

    In So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore, I read the following sentence and was floored:  "I not only lack security, I also lack faith.  I don't just doubt myself, I also doubt God about myself" (p. 18).  Shut the front door!  That really hit me.  I am actually doubting God, the Maker of all that is seen and unseen. When I walk around with the burden of insecurity, pride, and fear heaped upon my shoulders I am dishonoring the Lord and His work in and through me.  What a new thought in my dense head.

    The wonderful thing about insecurity? We can pour it all out on the Lord.  Psalm 42:11 says:

    Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

    Another favorite of mine:

    I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set me feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.   Psalm 40:1-3

    The Liar above all liars would have us believe that we must tote our insecurities around in a giant suitcase, adding to it each day a new issue or concern.  But as you just read, it is a LIE! We are to take comfort in the Gift the Lord has given us.  2 Corinthians 4:6-7 says "God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness" gave us the ultimate light to shine from the inward out.  We can be on fire with His radiating light through Jesus Christ!  Take a back seat insecurity!

    However, I am similar to the Israelites who constantly were faced with choosing God's path or their own.  As we know, they choose their own more times than we can count.  I, too, favor my own way.  I am consistently faced with decisions that threaten to swallow me in a sea of insecurity or choosing the safety net the Lord has graciously thrown around me.  I take comfort in this last verse: God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear. Psalm 46:1-2

    Adios Insecurity.  Well, almost.

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    Confessions in Room 106

    The Lord sent me to Central America to evangelize.  Except that is not all He sent me to do.  He also sent me to be listening ears to those who needed a sounding board.  And what an amazing opportunity he handed me on a silver platter.

    I had the honor of sharing a hotel room with a BFF for an entire week.  We were able to solve the world's problems until 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning.  I was able to pour out all I had seen, heard, and done throughout the day and so did she.  We were able to unload all the emotions and just "externally process" all God was showing us.

    "Tippity-tap.  Tippity-tap."

    Three ladies from our mission team were at the door of Room 106.  It seems they too, wanted to work through their experiences of the day.  We laughed and chatted with "randomocity".  Until . . .

    "Uh, I have a confession to make." 

    Uh oh.  The air instantly changed from frivolous bonding to electrified intensity.  Whatever was about to be spoken aloud was going to be BIG.  And I mean, mucho grande.  One of us was driven, compelled by the Holy Spirit to unload a burden of guilt and shame.  Each of us listened with tears streaming down our cheeks, heartbroken for the other.  We each could identify with the other suffering, broken compadre in our own way.

    Judgement, you ask?  Not even a drop.  A slave to shame was embraced with a graciousness and mercy that only the love of the Lord could have provided and guided. Prayers for healing and mercy were murmured all around, each in our own distinct Holy Spirit - inspired way.

    You see, I am learning that there is healing in confession.  Confessing ugliness aloud is a difficult process.  Satan uses our shame and guilt to silence us so we tape our mouths shut, with duct tapeWhat if Satan is right?  What if I bare my soul and confess my sinfulness aloud and am met with a cold-faced silence?  What if I am judged and am attached a label according to my sin?  What if I lose a friend? 

    What if?

    The Bible tells us to confess our sins one to another.  Share the burden of another's grief.  Embrace the other in suffering. Bolster each other up in the love of the One that loved us first.  To offer wise counsel.  To comfort another with the Comfort we have already been given.

    What if instead of judgement and exclusion, I am embraced for putting aside pride and fear?  What if I am able to begin healing?  What if I am blessed by another's prayers for my suffering?  What if I bless someone else with my naked honesty?  What if?

    Guess what?  Confession can be a beautiful thing.

    Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.  James 5:16

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Please call me George

    Mommy.  Mommy.  Mom.  Momma.  Mother.  Mutter.  Mum.  Mummy.  Ma.  Mommy.  Mommy!

    These are the words ringing through my home, my ears, and my heart all day long.  With four kids at home, two of which we home school, the call for my attention never ceases.  Pleas for a referee to break up a squabble over trains, assistance with solving for "x", and inquiries as to what will be served at every meal for the entire day, including snacks, are abundant.

    The name "Mommy" is heard so often I sometimes ask my children to call me "George" for the day.  They laugh and think it is funny but I seriously just need relief from hearing the "M" word.  I inform them that I will not answer to any of the M-synonyms (another opportunity to squeeze in a language lesson!) but will be happy to answer their call when addressed as "George".

    An amazing thing happens - those children have to stop and think about using the correct name.  Sometimes it takes them a while to remember my "name" so they mosey on and forget what they needed! 

    Along the way, the whole name-calling overload certainly made me think of the Name Above All Names

    Elohim.  El Elyon.  El Roi.  El Shaddai.  Adonai.  Jehovah.  Father.  God.  Holy One.

    It certainly challenges my outlook of The Lord's perception of my calling out to Him.  Is He rolling His eyes thinking, "here she goes again!"? Is He ready with the curt "not right now" that I give my kiddos?  Is He plugging His ears when He hears my whiny, needy voice begin to wail?

    Unlike me, He NEVER tires of hearing His children call out to Him.  He longs to be called upon.  He wants to hear our frustrations, anger, sadness, joy, thanksgiving, praise, grief, disappointments.  He desires that our first word, our last word, and every word in between be for Him. Our Lord calls us to seek Him with confidence and boldness.

    And maybe I will do well to remember the Lord's example the next time the Mommy word has met its quota for the day.

    And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. Psalm 9:10

    *For a thorough study of knowing the names of the Lord, check out: Lord, I Want to Know You by Kay Arthur.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Weight . . . no Wait

    Weight.  What an UGLY word for those of us who struggle day in and day out to maintain or in my case, achieve, an acceptable BMI. 

    Picture this. . . three or four days a week of "30 Day Shred" - killer! Two or three days of recumbent bike - boring!  Counting and tracking Weight Watchers points until my pencil is worn down to a nub - relentless agony!  What's worse?  Committed exercise and diet changes since mid-November has earned me a 4 pound gain.  You heard that right - GAIN!  Now, to be honest I did have a 3 week excessively indulgent period over Christmas.  But you would think days upon days of Jillian Michels would balance that out.

    As you can guess, there is more going on here than just exercise and diet changes.  For me, food has always been a coping mechanism, a prop.  I was one of those tween girls that had to shop in the Pretty Plus department where designers somehow forgot to make things cute.  You know, gingham and bows instead of Andy Gibb T-shirts and Dallas Cowboy cheerleader skirts.  Didn't they know this "plus" girl was NOT cut out for pilgrim collars and seer sucker?  I wanted parachute pants!

    Years go by and I develop into a svelte teenager mainly due to the hours upon hours on the basketball court and volleyball floor.  Even with the mounds of late-night Taco Bell and Slurpee's I was able to wear the same size as my tiny older sister.  Success!  Can you see the writing on the wall though?  School ends, sports involvement ends, Tiny Me ends.  Food is still my prop and best friend and it starts to show.

    By now, using food or my control of it has become a habit.  I no longer NEED it to comfort me or turn to it for celebration or even mourning.  Now it is just plain ol' sin.  I hold onto that control of food.  I cherish it and covet it.  I keep it on a pretty little pedestal inside a secret closet.  It even has a name plate:

    "Niki's Unwillingness to Surrender ALL to GOD"

    So, I exercise and count my points.  I moan and groan about the lack of physical changes.  I tell all my friends and my husband how pitiful my generous backside really is.

    But you know what I DON'T do? 

    I don't give to the Lord.  I don't seek repentance for my ugly desire to control that part of my life.  I don't crawl on my face and hand the All-Forgiving God my cherished sin on a golden plate.
    I don't.  I don't. I don't.

    So do you know what the Holy Spirit is revealing to me? 

    I'll WAIT.  I'll WAIT.  I'll WAIT.

    I feel as if He is telling me through my frustrating lack of physical changes that He will WAIT to change my WEIGHT until I give it all up.  Everything.  He wants me to hand over the golden key to my secret closet where my disgusting control sits upon a nasty, dog-eared sofa. He demands it of me.

    And, Praise Him above ALL things, He is so much more than my pitiful attempt at control.  I praise Him for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do.

    No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  Matthew 6:24

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Friction and Chafed Thighs

    My family recently visited a sea life/amusement park.  To prepare for the unavoidable water experience, I donned my swim suit under my sun dress.  Now to set the stage, my figure is Rubenesque in nature which calls for one of those not-so-cute swim short ensembles.  What I didn't realize while shopping for said swim shorts was that those shorts cause serious friction!  There was so much rubbing of skin against shorts that day I could have produced enough electricity to power the whole park!

    While doctoring my sore hamhocks with first aid cream, it brought to mind what I am like when I am doing my own thing and not God's.  I have a constant ever-present desire to do things my way first and then "consult" with God later.  You know the "it's better to ask forgiveness later than ask for permission now" theme?  I practically authored the idea! 

    You see, for me, going off on my own Commando-style never seems to work out.  The friction of my independence against HIS desire for dependence upon HIM creates major chafing in my life.  And I mean serious need for first aid.  Every time I choose "me" and "my" over "Thee" and "Thy" I am sinning against HIM that loves me more than I can fathom.  How devastating it is to think of my actions that way.  I would never treat my husband or children so terribly so why do I insist on deplorable behavior against HE that loves me the greatest?

    However, I can take solace in the healing balm of Jesus Christ.  HE welcomes me with a genuineness that can not be duplicated on earth.  He covers my raw and chafed wounds with a healing that is incomparable. HE cherishes my repentence of independence and seeks to guide me again along HIS path.

    Praise the LORD that HIS path does not include swim shorts, friction, and thighs!

    Rubens panting: "Venus at a Mirror" c.1615

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    If I'm Lying I'm Crying

    Have you wondered if your public persona is a true representation of your personal truth or self?

    For the last two years, my idea of my public  self no longer jived with what was inside my heart and soul.  As you can imagine, drama and trauma ensued.  My plastic smile and pretty earrings clashed with (in my mind) my smeared lipstick-stained grimace and tarnished edges.  You see, I could no longer compartmentalize the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It all collided and BOY, was it U-G-L-Y!

    A friend and I had just experienced a weekend conference focusing on our godly roles as mothers and wives.  I remember sitting there surrounded by beautiful (clearly beautiful inside and out) women who loved the Lord.  I couldn't even hear or process what the speakers spoke about, what the songs heralded, or  focus on the people I met.

    All I heard and FELT was my Lord shouting in a whisper that He would no longer accept being in a compartment.  He would no longer TOLERATE my living a pretty, predictable, acceptable, lie.  My Patient Jesus was through being patient.  He now demanded that I Get Up or Shut Up.

    Guess what?  I totally got up.  It was THE moment.  The moment you hear about:

    "When did you hear God?"  "How did you know the Lord was tugging on your heart?"  "How could you tell it was really HIM and not the imaginings of a sleep-deprived mother?"

    This moment with the Lord, because of the Lord, was not only a tugging on my heart or bending of my ear, but an actual PHYSICAL feeling of being pressed down.  Isn't that crazy?  I had the sensation of Him leaning on me with a pressure I could not imagine.  It was hard to breathe, friends.

     And to fast forward, Jesus' persistent and consistent pursual of me has caused that "pretty people" persona to slowly fade.  I am learning that the Lord loves my dimpled thighs and graying hair.  He loves my quirkiness and OCD tendencies.  He loves my ability to recall a license plate I saw a week ago.  He loves my tarnished edges.

    And most of all, He loves my desire to allow Him to refine and polish those tarnished edges for His use and liking.

    To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:29