Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Giving Thanks

We just returned home from Dave's parents in North Carolina. I don't know what it is, but every time we go there, we just have a great time - and we pretty much just relax. Dave's parents are so great, and after hearing some thanksgiving stories of my friends and family, I am SO thankful for my in-laws. We can't wait to go back on Christmas day to see the rest of the family. Our boys are looking forward to it almost as much as we are. : )

We began a couple of new traditions this year for Thanksgiving, and prayerfully will do similar things for all the holidays. We seem to get so caught up in the preparations FOR the holiday that we often skip the PURPOSE of the holiday. We really want to make memories for our kids to truly embrace the meaning of WHY we celebrate these holidays. We got a few ides from the FamilyLife website. We purchased the Thanksgiving book by Barbara Rainey that explains the whole story of the pilgrims and read it to the boys over the course of a few days (I think I was sleeping in elementary school when we learned all that, because other than the pilgrim's coming over on the Mayflower, I did not know a whole lot. And while Dave was reading, I was the only one asking questions) : ) One thing we did was had the boys trace their hand on a piece of paper and Dave made a turkey out of it. Then we wrote 5 things (one on each finger) we were thankful for, for each person that would be around the table. The boys colored them and then we matted them and had them laminated for place mats (I will put pictures on our website soon). It was a great exercise and helps us to appreciate even those we don't know so well. Another thing we did, was we all wrote 5 things we were thankful for on an index card before dinner. We had 5 kernels of corn on each plate (a reminder of the daily rations that the pilgrim's had to live on) and as we passed a basket each person would drop a kernel of corn and say one thing they were thankful for. The basket went around 5 times. It was great to hear 65 different things of gratitude. I loved hearing my boys being thankful for Jesus.

At this time, I am thankful for so many things. One thing is in response to the last post. God has really been stretching us in the area of finances, and we have learned to live on less rations as well. Not nearly where the pilgrims were, so that made me extremely grateful as we read their story. Our boys have been aware of the struggle because there has been many times we had to say no to things because we could not spend the money. I think this has been the best thing for all of us - I think it has really developed a attitude of gratitude in all of us. I will explain: The Friday before we left for NC, we received a very large paycheck. It was enough to pay back the 2 weeks we were behind and pay the all the bills for the week. There was extra money as well. Oh the temptation to want to go out and celebrate. But instead, we thought it wise to fund the envelopes for the rest of our bills for the month, which we were able to do. What a blessing that was! While we were away, Dave received another paycheck,and since our bills were already paid for the month, we decided to put money in an envelope for Christmas.

Our plans for Christmas this year is to go to the Children's Home on Christmas morning and spend the day with the 7 children in the Foster home. Ever since we began the tradition of either going to South America for Christmas to the give Christmas to the kids, or just sending them gifts, we all (my whole extended family) want to somehow keep up with that type of tradition. My sister is organizing it and got a list of things that the home needs. The other night, I told my boys that we had set a certain amount of money aside for Christmas for them. I asked them if they wanted us to buy them gifts or use it for the kids in the home. Without giving it one thought, they said, "Give it to the kids, we don't need anything." I thought that was awesome, but didn't know if they were just trying to say the right thing. So I said, "Let's just say that mommy and daddy were going to buy you a Wii (the video game system they really want) for Christmas, would you still make the same decision?" David and Jonathan both said that although that makes it harder, they felt in their heart, that we should give it to the kids. I could not have felt prouder of them. In spite of our sin and selfishness, God continues to work in the hearts of our boys and it humbles me. I WOULD NOT have made that choice if I were them. And I take no credit for the decision they made.

So we decided to go shopping yesterday for some items on the list and the boys helped pick out the stuff. We were looking for a good family movie to buy for the home, and we came across the shelf of Christmas movies. I picked up a Dennis The Mennis Christmas movie and said, "Oh that looks cute." Jonathan said, "Mommy we didn't come here to shop for us" (something I had said to Samuel several times already). David replied, "Jonathan, mommy can buy us a movie if she wants to." In which Jonathan said, "We don't need it, we have enough stuff." So needless to say, I put it back.

You know, sometimes I feel so inadequate as a parent and wonder if I am really pleasing God with the raising of my children. Sometimes, particularly with David, I feel so out of my league with how to teach and train him. I am still trying to figure out what "Surrender" really means in the area of parenting. Sometimes I feel like Job when his friends had a lot of opinions about why he was suffering, only I actually believe them. It is a difficult battle to simply trust God with your life, instead of trying to control it. I used to be so prideful before I had children. I thought I had all the answers. Now I feel like I don't have any, and it is often overwhelming. I know the Lord had pierced my heart in this area, and I still have so much to learn. I can feel the battle within. My flesh still wants to fight against what I believe the Lord is trying to teach me. I still want to control because somehow I still feel it is a reflection of me. I think God is more concerned about HIS reflection. I think too many times in the past I have made myself believe that the things I did and the choices I made was to reflect Christ when ultimately I just wanted to look good to others. God knows as well as I do, that my prideful thoughts and actions do not reflect Him in any way, as much as I may want to convince myself that they do. As long as I can hold it together on the outside, that will reflect God. I know better. That is what God has been teaching me. It is my heart He wants. And if my outward appearance looks foolish for awhile, while He gives me a heart transplant, over time, the outside will come.

I think journaling this story of my kids has helped me to see that this is just one example of what God can do when I surrender to Him. He was working when I wasn't even aware. All the worrying that I do about my parenting is so futile. I guess I thought of surrender as doing nothing. But it is not doing nothing. It is keeping a vibrant, active relationship with Jesus, and watching for when His Spirit moves in me and THEN act on it. So often I move before He does. It goes against my personality to sit back and do nothing. But I am still learning. I want nothing more than for my boys to know and love the Lord with all their heart, and the only good parent that can teach them that is God. I am the vessel He chose to use to teach them, so my job is to listen to what He tells me to do. If I am not actively seeking Him and listening, I will miss it and be found guilty of complacency and laziness. If you have a personality like mine, you understand. If you have a tendency toward complacency, you will accuse me of being too hard on myself. And I am often guilty of that. However, I feel the Lord is wanting to lift that burden off of me by asking me to simply seek His face and listen...

There is much gratitude in my heart today for the Lord and His tender mercy toward me. I am so unworthy of His love and grace. I have so far to go and I am thankful for His love and that He accepts me as I am, but loves me too much to keep me that way. His standards are high, but He never intended for me to meet them in my own strength.

I pray that I will never settle for anything less than holiness, and that I seek His face moment by moment and that the Holy Spirit will guide me through the center of God's perfect will for my life.

To the one who is able to keep me from falling......

Friday, November 2, 2007

God is good!

I know that title sounds so churchy - something someone would say when things go the way they want them to. But how about when things don't go the way we want them to? It is not as easy to say that God is good. Why is it so hard to see and know and feel God's goodness when we are hurting?

So many times in the past, I found myself praying so much harder in times of need. Deep down in my heart, I really did want to know God, but at that moment I was more desperate for His answers than simply just to know Him. It was a difficult transition from praying for God to move on my behalf, to just simply knowing Him. It's easier said than done, when you have a sick child, or you were thrown into a situation that you have no clue how to handle, or you have bills to pay and the money is not there. God has given us a greater revelation of Himself through all these difficult times. The message we continued to hear was how we needed to surrender ourselves to Him. HOW to surrender was the question. How do you lay your burdens at the foot of the cross and leave them there - without the temptation to pick them back up again?

I say all that background to get to this point. When it came to finances (with Dave working on commission most of his 11 years at Cornerstone), we have been desperate at times, but at worst, we MAYBE went a week or two without a paycheck. During that 11 years, Dave left Cornerstone to start his own business. This year was probably the most difficult financially (as we went $14,000.00 into debt), yet Spiritually, it was the best of our married years. God taught us so much that year, but interestingly, being a good steward wasn't one of them. When I say being a good steward, I do not mean just living within our means, but seeing everything that we own as belonging to God. We said it all belonged to God, but lived as if it belonged to us. It wasn't until now, that we are truly understanding that it all belongs to God.

Over the past few months, as paychecks have been slim to none, we have questioned God's provision. I began to wonder if God supplies all our needs, than what was the reason we did not have enough money to pay our bills. We prayed for provision, but did not see it coming in. Not once did we think God was not doing His part, but questioned what WE may have been doing wrong. God is a keeper of His Word, and if He says He will provide, then He will.

A few months ago I decided to look back at our past 6 months of paychecks. I realized that had we been living as tightly as we were for the past couple of months, we actually would be pretty close to on target to pay all our bills. This made us realize that only God knows what things we need to prepare for (like an economy crash), and we cannot live like it belongs to us. I don't know about others, but we don't usually prepare for a crisis.

A few weeks ago, as I was having my time with the Lord one morning, I began to pray that the Lord would provide a paycheck that week. (At that point we had gone 5 out of 7 weeks without one). It seemed that my desperateness for a paycheck was not what it was in the past, even though times were more desperate now. The reason why is because we felt God was refining our hearts SO much in this area, that I feared that getting a paycheck would send us back into our old ways. I wanted this mindset to stick. I know this may sound strange to some, but God had so much more to teach us. I remember just crying before the Lord that day, with joy, because I felt for the first time of ever coming before the Lord with any kind of desperateness, that my desire to KNOW HIM, was greater than my desire to receive something FROM Him. I felt a peace in my heart, as God reminded me of the story of Jeremiah and how He is the re-builder of ancient ruins. God put my heart to rest, that although we may struggle a little more in the area of finances, and maybe even go more into debt, that in His perfect timing He will repay it all back.

There was a time in my life I would never have wanted to share any of this (Pride). But I wanted to share this story on the other side of a miracle. After God works it all out, it is so much easier to share the story. But today, God is still God, and we KNOW He will provide. Not in the way we thought, but the lessons learned will be worth the wait. When we were financially stable, we missed so much of a hurting, dying world. We were so selfish with how we spent our money. We helped others and gave whenever we saw a need, but never did we sacrifice ourselves in order to give. God has truly humbled us during this time - especially through those who DO sacrifice to give. As we began raising support for full time ministry, we have seen so many things concerning finances. Many people are struggling financially more than ever due to the economy, yet we can see sacrifice on the part of so many.

There is so much more on this topic, but for sake of time I will end with this sweet story:

We have a precious, 78 year old woman, living in a trailer, on Social Security on our support team. She is my mentor and friend. She has been a constant source of love and encouragement in my life and honors God with how she lives her life. A few months ago, she sent us a check in the mail, saying she would pledge a certain amount monthly as long as she could afford to do it. Every month may be different, but she would try to send something. We noticed the past two months that she was sending multiple checks, and this month we received three. Knowing how little she has, I called her today to make she she understood what was going on. She had no idea this happened. She said she just writes a check every time she gets an envelope in the mail. She did not realize an envelope is immediately mailed once a check is received. At first she was concerned because she thought a check may bounce because she does not have that kind of money. Once she realized her checkbook was fine and nothing had bounced she said, "You know sweetheart, every time I write a check, I say, 'Lord, I wish I could give them so much more', and so God went ahead and did it for me."

I am so humbled by this precious woman of God, who financially had nothing her whole life and raised two children on her own who grew to know and love the Lord. As she lives the last years of her life she will never regret not having nice things, or think of all the vacations she could have gone on. God has truly provided every thing she has needed and the legacy of faith she leaves to so many, not just her own children, is something you cannot place a dollar on.

I pray I never lose sight of the reality that God has so much more to offer just by knowing Him, than any amount of money, friends, family or health. Knowing Him is truly the greatest blessing I can have. There is no greater joy than having a revelation of who God is and what He wants to show me in my life. It has been so fun to watch Him work in my husband and my boys as well.

Back in June, I posted this poem by Beth Moore. Rather than going back and finding it again, I pasted it here, because I think it so so appropriate for the topic. It just encourages me to keep trusting.

The Life I Planned

Has someone seen the life I planned?
It seems it's been replaced
I've looked in every corner
It's lost without a trace

I've found one I don't recognize
Things missing that were dear
Promises I'd hope to keep
And dreams I'd dreamed aren't here

Faces I had planned to see
Hands I planned to hold
Now absent in the pictures
Not the way I told.

Has someone seen the life I planned?
Did it get thrown away?
God took my hand from searching
Then I heard Him say

"Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans I have for you
Are more than you can dream."

"You long to walk by sight
But I'm teaching eyes to see.
I know what I am doing
'Til then, you must believe."

He's done so much, I felt ashamed
To know He heard my moans
To think I'd trade in all he's done
For plans made on my own.

I wept over His faithfulness
And how He'd proved Himself
How He'd gone beyond my dreams
And said to Him myself,

"No, my ears have never heard
My eyes have never seen
Eternal plans you have for me
And more than I could dream."

"Yes, I long to walk by sight
But you're teaching eyes to see
You know what you are doing
'Til then, I must believe."

I felt His great compassion
Mercy unrestrained
He let me mourn my losses
And showed to me my gains

I offered Him my future
And released to Him my past
I traded in my dreams
For a plan He said would last.

I get no glimpse ahead
No certainties at all
Except the presence of the One
Who will never let me fall.

Are you also searching
For a life you planned yourself?
Have you looked in every corner?
Have you checked on every shelf?

Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans I have for you
And more than you can dream.

Perhaps you long to walk by faith
But He's teaching eyes to see
He knows what He is doing
Child, step out and believe.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what
God has prepared for those who love Him."
1 Corinthians 2:9