Sunday, January 24, 2016

Feeling the Stretch

Back when I was single and fresh out of college, I taught in a small Christian school in New Mexico. Gerald was one of my students and when learning to read or write became too difficult, he would say, "It's too hard! I can't know!" I kind of felt that way last week as I was drawing out truths from my Scripture writing in the Psalms. I feel as if I need to go back and reread all that I posted to be reminded. Maybe it's because I haven't really dug deep in the Bible lately that my brain seems all fogged over. I had to ask myself, "What was it I studied last week??" Psalm 139:6 says, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it." The psalmist was speaking of God's care for him. I'm a big fan of the Thesaurus and one of the synonyms for 'wonderful' is the word 'startling'. I looked up the word 'attain' as well. A few synonyms were, "obtain", "acquire", "grasp", and my favorite, "get hands on". Such knowledge of all that God does for me is startling. I do feel that it's an effort to 'get my hands on' the concepts He's working to teach me. Although it may seem too hard some days, I am compelled to keep going. I mentioned briefly in the last post about 'restoring' being my theme for the new year. One of the things on my list to restore is my physical strength. I've started doing yoga stretches every night and I can feel the muscles working...tightening. The stretching just a bit past my comfort zone feels good...I am aware of my breathing and feel as if my muscles are as well. That's an accurate picture of how I'm feeling in my spirit - that it is breathing. The muscles of my soul feel the stretch as I learn something new about God and about myself. 

Psalm 27:6 "And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD." When God delivers me from trouble, do I recognize it? Sometimes my

worst enemy and trouble is myself. Do I acknowledge His presence in my life and that His grace rescues and hides me daily? When I choose to ignore Him, when I fail to see His working in my life, I live ungrateful. Sometimes, joy is hard to find. It gets buried in the hassles of daily life and surviving. David pens that he gives sacrifices of joy for his deliverance. Another word for sacrifice is 'surrender'. It makes me wonder if I am surrendering joy.. Do I offer my sense of joy and put it in His hands and give thanks? Give joy and thanks not only for His protection, but for everything? I want to live grateful. I want to live aware of His presence and deliverance. I want to live filled with grace and joy and song.

Psalm 63:4 "Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name". Oh to feel uninhibited and not self conscious! To feel free as a child who can raise their hands and express sheer joy. I've always wondered what it would feel like to raise my hands in praise. I've been tempted a few times. We just didn't **do** that. I grew up quite conservatively and outward expression of praise was mostly frowned upon. My goodness,
what would others think?? The previous verse reads, "Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee." Out loud?? And then to raise my hands? Maybe someone is looking and will think I look foolish. And there's the trouble. Worrying about what others think and not what God thinks. This photo was taken September 2006 when we were on deputation. We had traveled to New England for some meetings and took a quick vacation to Maine. We took Jonathan to the ocean and he said he'd never seen anything like it. "I'm having the time of my life!!", he had shouted. He ran, he splashed, he laughed, he kicked up his feet and hooted and hollered for joy. He didn't care if anyone else was listening. He was happy, and free and alive. Such open display of delight! I can learn a lot from that child.
  I wonder if you feel this way, too. That sometimes... you want to just let go and get all crazy and just praise the Lord. Sounds a bit fanatic. It's not like Christ dying on the cross was drastic or anything, right? And yet, we can't even squeak out an "Amen" sometimes. So maybe I won't do it in a church service..yet. But I will work to show joy and maybe spread some it around. We remember this day with fondness.. and oh how this child of mine and his loud and open joy just spread and filled us all up.

 {Psalm 5:3} "My voice shalt thou hear in the morning O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up."

In the morning -
I will not direct scathing looks at those who insist on asking direct questions that require more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer first thing before coffee. I will work to keep a straight face..or better yet..manage to smile. ((Give me time - it will be a new habit.))
In the morning -
I will do more than just acknowledge your presence before me with a polite nod of the head and a 'holy grunt'. I will not deliver blank stares, but will focus my eyes and affection on my loved ones. I will work at using my voice to actually respond, "Good Morning"...and mean it.

In the morning -
I will not scowl at my reflection in the mirror, but will believe that I am wonderfully made and will be receptive when I am told I am beautiful by those who know me... and love me best - scars and faults and all. I will look up and be grateful for this gift - another day, for I was never promised another. I will look up for clarity of mind and for guidance for each moment. I will apply myself to righteousness that I might 'love thy name' and be 'joyful in thee'. (Ps. 5:11)

{Psalm 8:4,5} "For what is man that thou are mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour."

Who am I that You are mindful of me? Who am I that you have formed me in Your image and have made me a little lower than Your angels? Who am I that a King would bleed and die for?

When I get low in self confidence, let me see myself as You see me. When I look around and compare myself to others and feel 'less than', let me seek to know who I am in Your eyes and 'own it'. Assure me that it is not boastful, but that it is living convinced of Your excellency.

{Psalm 46:1} "GOD is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." 

A very present help -
I can look on the internet for all sorts of articles and blog posts of how to deal with problems. 

I can post on Facebook my woes and hope someone has the advice that I need. 

I can search on Pinterest for a cute little photo to share exactly how I'm feeling and hope you will sympathize.

I can read all the devotional books that are out there and they may help some. 

But... I have **the Source** of help...a very present help. Not just --present--, but VERY present. Amazing, isn't it? 

Do I make myself still and know that He is God? Do I understand that He is but a breath away? Or do I spring into action to look for help elsewhere? "Be still and know that I am God", I am instructed. (Ps. 46:10)

Be still - don't fidget, don't get restless, don't lose control, don't make a hasty decision...just....SHUSH! BE STILL...fixed, stable, at rest. Tough stuff for this girl who tends to be a tad obsessive compulsive. It really is a lot of work for me to hush my brain and body and..pause.

A very present help-
Current, instant, prompt....AT THIS MOMENT

When I feel fragmented-- when I feel as if I'm drowning in self-doubt and trouble --when I need a place to run to--and when I feel beat down and weak from struggling with sickness, is my refuge, the very first place I should look for shelter. He is my strength when I have nothing left to give. He is very present, He is my comfort and support....He is my VERY PRESENT HELP.

{Psalm 79:13} "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations." 

Just as the foxglove plant has been used for centuries as a heart strengthener to treat congestive heart failure, so has --giving thanks-- been used for centuries to treat heart conditions. How many times does David go back and forth between despair and peace in the course of his life? When he brings himself to remember who he is and who God is and --gives thanks--for all things, he comes to a place of contentment and joy. 

If I were to test the strength of my heart based on how thankful I live my life each day, I wonder about the prognosis. 

I can get weighed down by feeling sorry for myself and blame God for the things that [I feel] just didn't work out in my life. I could hole myself up, close my eyes and heart to life because --I have suffered. I could do that ...and self destruct. ((I'm not speaking of self inflicted wounds. I have scars simply due to poor decision making.))

I don't have all the answers, and I'm not saying that 'giving thanks for all things' is a Band-Aid for all that ails me, but maybe ..just maybe living with the knowledge that I am indebted to God --for everything--is a start. What has helped me, though, is when I began to accept that I am not writing my life story, God is. Two things in my life, in my mind, have defined me; my mother's death at a young age, and my youngest son's death almost 13 years ago. Loss changes people. And I can tell you that I have come to a place in my life where maybe...I don't want to change my story because I don't know what a different ending would hold. "He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means," wrote Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts. I didn't come to this place easily. It was a hard road to hoe. 

Voskamp nails it when she writes, "I wonder...if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see. To see through to God...But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places? How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion. To fully live--to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly." 

So I will give thanks. I will turn over my 'right to be hurt'. I will strive to give thanks, even when it's hard, to see through to God. I will choose to inhale grace and exhale thanks... and fully live.

{Psalm 84:4} "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will still be praising thee. Selah"
 Looking in the Thesaurus again here... Dwell: abide, continue, rest. House: dwelling, habitat, turf--that one made me chuckle. When I find myself unable (or unwilling?) to praise Him, it's time to check myself. Where have my thoughts been --> on myself and my surrounding circumstances?  Blessed am I when I abide, continue, and rest where God wants me to be. Those who stay on God's turf, will still be praising. When had I stopped? At what point did I cross from praising Him for His blessings to a place of doubt and mistrust? Praising is easy when things are going well. The true test of character is to trust that He is good ...
even when it's hard

 This week's study summary:
 Do I offer sacrifices of self to the Lord and give Him my sense of joy? Am I too afraid of what others think to be open and expressive when I feel praise filling me up? When I fail to look up in the morning for direction, for my sense of well-being, for balance, I can change the day's course for everyone in the home by my actions and words. That first cup of coffee is not what's important, but how I respond to a waking household. When I'm feeling less-than, what God said about me is more than enough - I am crowned with glory - His glory. And when all this is overwhelming, and "too hard and I can't know", do I remember I have a refuge? When I am ungrateful, it's time for a heart checkup to remind me that to give thanks is to truly live. And when I find that I can still praise Him even when it's hard, I know I've been camping out on the right turf. 

Where did I get these photos?

1. Peaches - I took this photo when we were on deputation traveling in the Smoky Mountains, August 2006

2. Jonathan/Atlantic Ocean - Maine, September 2006

3. Sunrise --Taken October 2015 in front of the house

4. Flower --El Paso Zoo while my friend Kara was visiting, July 2015

5. Lighthouse --Washington State, April 2008

6. Foxgloves plant --found on the internet (I didn't see a copyright - I did look!)

7. House --Old Town San Diego, California, April 2010 - We had stopped to visit friends on the way back from a meeting in CA and they took us here. Neat place!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Through the Psalms {Scripture Writing}

I found a Scripture writing plan last week that I really like and I started from the beginning on January 1st- even though it was later in the week that I found this. 'Finding Him in the Psalms' has been something I look forward to every day. As I write the Psalms in my notebook, I look for something that stands out that I can 'grab hold to' each day.
I've been posting these verses on Facebook as time allows. I can't be the only one looking for God to be real in my life! I want to post them here on my blog each week so I can see them all in one place... to see my record of graces this past week.  How easily I forget what God's trying to teach me. I get distracted (easily!). I get busy (quickly!). My day can change in a heartbeat depending on the needs of my family. I need these posts all in one place - each week on a page to go back to and read- to be reminded. I've slacked off on recording the graces. Lack of inspiration, sickness, busyness, other excuses. 'Finding Him in the Psalms' has give me something to look forward to in my Bible reading. I'm looking for a glimpse of Him. I'm paying attention to what resonates with me and making a memory of it with photos. It feeds my spiritual self as well as the creative.

Happy New Year, by the way. I'm not calling my plans for the new year resolutions. I'm more on the path of restoration - which may or may not be another blog post. I have to be inspired first. And so far my thoughts are jumbled as to where to start sharing on the restoration journey. Still pondering over all that. 

Are you looking for Him like I am? Do you need to feel His touch on your shoulder like I do? I need to be reminded that He is still within me and beside me.
Here is this week's Record of Graces.  

January 1: Psalm 73: 23-26-- {from verse 26} -->"My heart and my flesh faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portions forever." My strength wanes. I'm still a tad weak physically after enduring a 3 week long cold/flu. This verse came at the right time. Not only does my physical strength come and go, so does my strength of spirit. My strength is unreliable. I need to lean hard on Him.

January 2: Psalm 73: 27, 28-- {from verse 28} --> "But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works."  ...It is good- or excellent, favorable, satisfying, valuable, wonderful... My focus for today.

January 3: Psalm 23: 1-4--{from verse 3}--> "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Or, He recovers. He reestablishes. He rescues my soul - from doubt..from guilt..from despair.. from grief...from myself

January 4: Psalm 23: 5,6 --{from verse 6} --> "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Goodness and Mercy will follow me...I can look back and see that they've been there. I may not have recognized it during times of my life, but they've been there. They've been in the shadows. When I can't find my way, when I'm groping for faith in the dark, I can always look behind.  "God reveals Himself Himself in rearview mirrors", Ann Voskamp writes in her One Thousand Gifts book. "And I've an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance before we can look back and see God's back in the rearview mirror. Maybe sometimes about as far back as heaven --that kind of distance.
Then to turn, and see His face". 

January 5: Psalm 25:1-5 --{from verse 4} --> "Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths." Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes Your direction isn't clear to me. My need to have things under control doesn't coincide with You wanting me to let go of me and what's mine and to trust in You and what's Yours.
Show me- that it's o.k. when things aren't perfect,
You are. And that's enough.
Teach me- that when I feel lost, You're not. And that's enough.
When You show me just a little of Your plan and not the big picture,
remind me that Your 'little' is more than enough. 

January 6:  Psalm 25: 6-12 --{from verse 9} --> "The meek will he guide in judgement: and the meek will he teach his way." 

The meek You will teach.
-Not the prideful
-Not the stubborn or unyielding
-Not the ones with closed hands to Your grace and rigid spine to Your will
The meek, the humble,...the **teachable**....
Am I teachable? Am I slow to learn? Have I lived tight fisted - closed to Your grace and gifts because I think things should have been done differently? Some things You've done in my life doesn't make sense to me, therefore, in a way, I have shut off a 'valve' of sorts.
The valve to my heart? Perhaps.
"A comprehended God is no God at all", wrote Gerhard Tersteegen. I don't comprehend. I'm not quite sure what You are trying to teach me at times. But I need to be ok with that and Let go.
I tried to teach my son that just because he doesn't understand something -right now- doesn't mean that I'm not doing my best for him. Do I take my own advice in relation to my Heavenly Father? Such tough questions.
I have choices.
-To die daily in my stubbornness and unwillingness which leads to being troubled and unteachable
-Or to live with open hands and softened posture -To open that valve wide for whatever God pours out -which leads to joy and new mercies each day knowing that I'm blessed...Knowing that He does give good gifts...
Knowing that He will teach me when I am yielding.

January 7: Psalm 25:13-18 --{from verse 15} --> "Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net." Mine eyes are ever toward ; ever forward; ever facing the Lord, wrote David long ago. As many times as he failed, as many times as he doubted the Lord's work in his life..he still wanted to focus his sights on God. And what was he looking for? What am I looking for? Mercy. Forgiveness. Love. Acceptance. Redemption. Direction. Victory. Aren't we all? All our days we look for these things elsewhere but the only place we'll find them is from the One Who's loved us all our lives.  
"Ever toward" - may it be so, Lord. 

I am reminded this week that God is the strength of my heart. I can't rely on my strength because it wanes. I am encouraged this week that it is valuable for me to draw closer to God and when I falter, He will restore my soul. I can look back in times of doubt and see that goodness and mercy have been in my life. When I forget, I need but glance over my shoulder, look in my life's rearview mirror to see that they've been following me. I feel the 'rod of reproof' when thinking over whether or not I am teachable. Are my eyes ever toward the Lord looking for Him to shew me His ways? Or am I distracted by things that shift my focus? I sometimes consider the Psalms "light reading". I have been corrected in that assumption. When I really dig deep, it stings a bit. Self assessment can get ugly. It either calls me to change or it callouses me. Sobering, really. "Soul searching", a friend called it. "Sometimes you don't know when you're taking the first step through a door until you're already inside", said Ann Voskamp. The door is cracked open to Bible reading again and I'm stepping inside and finding more than enough. More than enough to strengthen me. More than enough to draw me closer. More than enough to shew me and teach me. And I want to pray the prayer that never fails and mean it:
Thy will be done. 

'Want to know where the photos came from? Here's where:

1) The flower photo was taken in July 2015- I believe at the zoo. My friend Kara and her son, Jev, came to see us and we went romping around all over El Paso and she took (literally) thousands of photos. I took maybe 50? I have her permission to use any of the photos she took for this kind of purpose.

2) This photo of the mountain and sky was taken here in El Paso last June. I can't remember why we were driving over the Franklin Mountains, but we pulled over to a scenic area and I snapped some photos of the surrounding area. Breathtaking. 

3) This was taken when Kara was here last July as well. We were on our way to Carlsbad Caverns that day and stopped at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 

4) The photo of the car mirror with the mountains behind - taken on our way back from the caverns, if I remember correctly. Another of Kara's.

5) The covered bridge photo was taken in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains back in 2006. We were missionaries on deputation back then and had meetings in churches out that way. I was obsessed with taking pictures of old barns, fences, and bridges while we were in the area. I remember being amused at one street named "Chicken Hollow".

6) This photo has sentimental value to me. It was taken after we received the news that our son Jonathan may have Tourette's. We had just been in a mission's conference in Bayard, NM and took a back road on the way back to Mexico (where we lived at the time). October 2008 was when we were here. I had taken some neat shots of Jonathan here. Here's one:

7) Silverton, CO is where we saw this beautiful sight in April 2008. We were on our way up to WA state to present our ministry work we were doing in Juárez, Mexico. My husband lived in Silverton when he was 14 and 15 years old. It was one of his favorite places he's lived. A quaint little town it was - covered in snow, much to Jonathan's delight. See? That's pure joy right there.