Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Stone, Lord?

This past weekend, instead of going to church with the rest of family, I stayed home with a sick child. I suddenly found myself with something that I can scarcely recognize these days: a quiet home. A quiet home!!! It was a true blessing to be able to dawdle during my quiet time with nothing to distract me.

As I luxuriated in this time, I paused periodically to pray for anyone that the Lord brought to mind. It was during one of these pauses that He laid someone on my heart whose one month old daughter was just diagnosed with a heart condition. Already having a young son who has had to undergo open heart surgery to correct a hole, she was greatly alarmed when the doctors did not like the sounds that they heard when listening to her daughter's heart. Terror had gripped her, and she had prayed for good news. That the sounds would not end up being a hole. Unbelievably, the specialists ended up finding that the baby's heart had not only one, but two holes. She was due to see the specialists again the very next morning for another examination and to be given a prognosis. Sensing that I should pray at that moment, I obeyed without hesitation. As I prayed over the situation, I heard the Lord whisper the words of Matthew 7:9 to me: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?"

I thought of this precious mother praying that her child would not have a hole in her heart. I remembered the devastating findings. My heart ached for this child of God who asked her Father for bread, but got what seemed like a stone instead. I was able to send an e-mail to her and share about the special time of prayer for her and the baby. I told her how sorry I was for her that it must seem like she got a stone instead of the bread she prayed for. I reminded her that if we, in our fallen state, want to do good for our children, how much more does the Lord. I encouraged her to cling to the hope that we have in Christ and to remember that His grace will always be sufficient for us.

As it turns out, it was a God moment. The e-mail was very needed at that particular time. As I reflect on this situation I am struck with a realization. I had been praying for my son's recovery and hadn't received it in a timely manner. Being forced to stay home with him had given me the time I needed to hear God and communicate with this mother. Had my son improved enough for us to all attend church that day, I would have missed the double blessing that resulted. It always feels so rewarding to see the outcome of something that you obeyed the Lord in. Conversely, it always feels so horrible to have that feeling niggling at you that you have not obeyed! I have found that if I do not obey with relative immediacy, the enemy is very skillful at causing me to second guess. I am so glad that did not happen in this case.

This instance has me pondering the times in my life when it has felt like I have received a stone instead of bread from my Father. It can be hard to see it the way the Lord does. I know that my thoughts are not like His thoughts. My eyes see something that I did not want, but maturity has helped me to see that it must be God's love gift to me. He only allows things to slip through His fingers into my life if He intends to use it for good somehow. He cares much less about my comfort than He does about my relationship with Him. And the truth of the matter is that we tend to forget Him when things are going our way. Oftentimes, the "stones" that we receive are the very things that draw us closer to the One who made us to know Him and love Him. He knows what we don't always know: whether the bread that we pray for will bring us closer to Him or pull us further away from Him. And He acts accordingly... always in love. How thankful I am for that!

I encourage you to take in the picture I have included. If you look carefully you will be able to make out that a flower has been drawn on the rock, probably with a Sharpie marker. The girls and I found it in the river on one of our hikes. I don't know who made it like that or how it ended up in the water for us to see that day. But, when I look at it today, it helps me to see God's mercy. It reminds me that the adversity I often experience has a way of causing me to blossom under His loving care. Though He hands me a stone from time to time, it is meant to be a beautiful thing.

Father, thank You for all of your good gifts. Sometimes they are the bread I pray for and other times they seem to me like stones. Yet, they are all your love gifts to me. I am grateful that You are so patient with me and that You delight in speaking to me the way You do. I pray that I will always have ears to hear what You say to me. Help me to always be quick to obey You before the enemy brings doubt and steals the work You have for me. Be glorified in me, please! In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Think About Such Things

This week was all about the vine in my devotional time. It all began to unfurl one morning while reading in Ezekiel 15 where Jerusalem is likened to a useless vine. For whatever reason, this particular thought captivated me. Up to that point the mention of a vine had always taken my mind to Christ's words in the fifteenth chapter of John: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Ezekiel talks about how wood from trees can be made into useful things, but vines are only used to fuel fires. I remembered seeing these relatively large-sized vines on my hikes at Munroe Falls earlier this year. Though quite large (for vines), it is true that they can't be used as effectively as wood from a tree. I thought of the huge quantity of dried morning glory vines that I had used for bonfire kindling. I mentally concurred that vines would probably be perfect to get a fire started or keep it burning.

That word, useless, kept speaking to my heart. I thought of the useless things in my own life: the fear, doubt, grumbling, impatience, reluctance to accept love. None of these things bring about what God desires in me. All of these things must go if I am to be more like Him. My thoughts jumped back to the useless vines fueling fires and I wondered if God might take my useless things and use them to fuel the fires with which He refines me.

Fast forward a few days to Thanksgiving. I had asked my prayer partner to pray specifically for this week as the holidays are difficult for me. I had happily made it through the day before relatively unscathed. Even with a sick child and a stressful cake baking episode, I had only spoken irritably one time. I had been able to check myself nearly immediately and enjoyed the victorious feeling. But then Thanksgiving.

I had done so many things ahead of time to ensure that I would have a better chance at coping with everything on the actual day. Unfortunately, things (and people) happen. Early in the day I began taking all of the serving dishes and pans out that I would be using. I organized my thoughts on paper and got some foods cooking. All went well for a few hours until it was time to prepare the turkey.

The turkey. The turkey that my Facebook friends had helped me find a great deal on. The turkey that I had begun thawing several days too early just to make sure that it would be ready. The turkey that I had checked nearly every day to guage its thawing progress. The turkey that I had neglected to check one last time before bed on Thanksgiving eve. Had I checked it, perhaps I would have noticed that my husband, for whatever reason, and after putting up with a lowered refrigerator temperature all week long, had decided to significantly raise the temperature setting. The night before.

The appointed time for me to begin on the turkey arrived. John lifted it out of the fridge for me and said, "Hmmm. This is a lot harder than I remember it being." Rock hard, to be exact. I felt my flesh rising and had to bite back tears. I began soaking the bird in cold water. I had heard about salt in the water helping to quicken the thaw when in a pinch so I liberally sprinkled some into the water and on the turkey itself. In order to keep myself walking somewhat victoriously, I decided to go to my bedroom for quiet time with the Lord. The plan was to give the turkey an hour, after which time I would check its progress and be on my way. The hour flew by. Unfortunately, the turkey bath water slowly leaked down the drain and it didn't soak the way I thought it would.

John got online to see what could be done with a pretty solid turkey and assured me that we could cook it that way since we were putting it into an oven bag. I explained that we couldn't do that because there were bags of the turkey's organs frozen somewhere inside. I had yet to get it thawed enough to even find them, let alone pull them out. Because the whole ordeal was his fault, John determined that he would get them out so that we could cook it as usual. I asked him to just let it set for a while and told him that we just wouldn't eat turkey that day if it came down to it. This, however, was an impossiblity in his mind. He would not be deterred. He battled with the turkey, slamming it around in the sink and making all kinds of noise in the kitchen. I went in shortly thereafter to find that he had, in fact, found a way to remove the bags of organs. He also managed to break the skin open in several places and pull one of the drumsticks out of socket so that it hung limply.

I looked at the pathetic turkey, a big misshapen heap laying on the cookie sheet, and began to cry. Something about it forced me to come face to face with a misbelief that I battle with. The enemy's voice began playing in my mind: "Just look at that turkey. It is pitiful and broken.... just like you." I knew it was a lie, but I was feeling sorry for myself and allowed it to stick a bit more than it should have. I thought of how I can't seem to get with it no matter how hard I try. How everything seems to be a struggle for me. How I am such an incapable homemaker. How I don't deserve to be loved. Thankfully, I was able to shake the thoughts from my mind relatively quickly. "No, I am dearly loved and redeemed. God has special plans for me. I am not pitiful and broken." I reminded myself of the verse that the Lord had given me during my quiet time when I had asked Him to help me be thankful that very day:

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

I began to take my thoughts captive and refute the lies of the enemy. The day was saved. Though I remained quiet for much of Thanksgiving, I was able to side-step what could have been much worse. In deciding to share my experience, I remembered this picture taken in the spring. At the time, it had spoken to me because of the circular shape of the vine. A circle. The shape of completion. It had reminded me of God's never ending love. As I look at the picture now, I comprehend the truth of that more fully. God, in His infinite love, has promised that He will complete the work He has begun in me. That means that He will faithfully continue to purge my life of the useless things in it that keep me from becoming more like Him. He can use these very things to show me how much I need Him. And He, in his goodness, will help me overcome. He is is worthy to be praised!

Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on me. Though I can scarcely believe it, you see so much more in me than I do. You delight in transforming hearts and lives, mightily using those which the world considers weak. Help me to more quickly refute the lies of the evil one and victoriously walk the path you have for me. Psalm 18:35 says, "You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great." Your Word is precious and alive! My heart overflows with thanksgiving for all You have done and all You will do. In the loving name of Jesus I pray, Amen.