Heart Guard

I am so blessed, I get to go to work today! Sierra thought as she jumped from bed minutes before the alarm sounded.

Humming happily, she buzzed through her workout and breezed into the shower. Smiling as she shampooed, she thought of how she might create today.

Her first commissioned work was foremost on her mind.  She needed to do her ultimate best to boost her work, promote the studio, and hopefully someday earn a comfortable living.

How blessed am I to use my gifts, my passion, to glorify God. Stepping out onto the fluffy, white towel, she suddenly stopped; realizing something which halted her heart.

All week I’ve been thinking of and planning for work each morning, breaking my routine of focusing my thoughts on the Lord. I’m so anxious to use the gifts He gave me, to see what I might accomplish in a career, and so excited to finally see the end product; I’m more focused on what I might create than the Creator who gave me the gift.

Sierra slowly toweled off, her heart deeply troubled. “Lord I didn’t mean for my love of my art to overtake my love for You.”

Proverbs 4:23 quickly came to mind, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Her heart had hung all week on her artwork, her masterpiece-in-the-making. It was filling her final thoughts as she drifted off to sleep and consuming her conscience as she awoke each day. It was forever on her mind, always the top priority.

Not today, she thought, shaking her head. She turned on the Christian radio station, streams of Scripture flowing through the lyrics, soothing her longing soul.

After completing her grooming, she carried her Bible to the breakfast table, vowing to start her day with Jesus. She began a conversation that she would revisit throughout the day.

Can you relate to Sierra? I know I have. I can get so excited about an assignment, especially when ministry related, sometimes I forget the true purpose in pointing life toward God.

In the work He gives us, He wants us serving Him, loving Him. What a blessing to enjoy the assignment! But we need to be on guard that the assignment we get to do does not overtake the position of the One who assigned it to us.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember our hearts are to be first and foremost overflowing for God, not for our God-given assignments.

 

Be silent?

Milan sank into the soft sheets, the cool cotton comforting her as her mind reeled, refusing to retreat or relax.

She was angry; and everyone in the know would deem it her right. The world was not treating her fairly. She was beaten and defeated, and she didn’t know why God had allowed it.

She was tired of living like this.

She flopped over on her side, trying to recall the girl she used to be. Where were those positive thoughts now? Where had her gentle smile hidden? How had her heart hardened so?

Sighing, she slowly turned onto her back. “Lord, what has happened to me?” she wondered. She recalled the years she’d start her day with Scripture, days long-forgotten.

“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

Her eyes popped open at the Psalm so forefront in her mind.

“Lord, how can I search my heart and then be silent? There is so much wrong with the world, with my world.” Anger surged again. She had done nothing to deserve this pain and agony. Yet, she had to deal with it.

She wanted to yell and scream, burst forth with a blistering outpouring of accusations.

“Be still and know, I am God.”

This reminder actually slowed her racing heart and halted the tortuous thoughts.

Long ago, she had known how to live out that Psalm: Let go and let God.

I don’t need to solve it. My part in this equation is to simply trust.

“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds search your heart and be silent.”

Her nightly ritual of replaying the days infractions had built up negative emotions. Negative emotions not reined in had caused negative thoughts. Negative thoughts playing like a broken record both prevented her both from being silent and from barricading herself from sin.

Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.

In her overwhelmed state, she had chosen to see only the hardships. When she chose to be silent before the Lord, she knew she was loved.

Her life details didn’t instantly improve, but the journey was no longer solitary.

She knew she didn’t need to decipher it on her own.

She folded back her covers and climbed from the bed. After kneeling in heartfelt prayer, she stood, that characteristic smile in place.

She opened her Bible to Psalm 4 copying verse 4 on an index card. She taped it to the bathroom mirror where she was sure to see it several times a day.

Heart lighter, she wanted to be certain she never forgot this one ever again.

 

Keys

Samantha gazed adoring into her darling daughter’s face. This perfectly beautiful baby slept so peacefully, not a care in the word.

Samantha began a prayer she would pray over all her children the rest of her life, “Lord, may this beautiful child love You and serve You all the days of her life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Who will she become?

What will her personality be like?

What gifts will she possess?

What challenges will she face?

In that hospital room, holding her newborn baby in her arms, Samantha knew tomorrow she would carry her home.

What is the most important key to life I can teach her?

How to stay safe?

How to love?

How to be kind to all?

Psalm 27:4 provides a weighty answer: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only so I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” NIV

 

The Message version of Psalm 27:5 further explains, “That the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, the perfect getaway far from the buzz of traffic.”

Being held securely in a parents’ arms feels safe and secure.  Going out into the world doesn’t always leave us with the same warm fuzzies. Every parent knows this vast world can be wonderful, and it can also be heart-breaking.

The best tool we have to offer our children, our friends, and even ourselves for navigating life is to introduce him to the Lord.

When we do life with the Lord, we are not alone. He’s not the magic genie in the sky who suddenly makes it all better. However, He does promise:

– to stay with us always (Deut 31:6)

– the pain has a purpose (Romans 8:28)

– He will redeem everything we go through. (Romans 8:28)

Samantha knew the proper order of things. As she watched the infant’s chest rise and fall, she knew mothers should not outlive their children.

Chances were, she would not always be there. However, if the baby grew up with a foundation of faith laid on her heart, she might choose to love God with all her heart, soul and strength.

She would have courage in scary scenarios. She would find wisdom when she felt clueless. And, even if she lost everyone she knew, she would know the Lord, and never, ever be alone.

 

You Can’t Lose God

She moved her hand toward the plastered mess on her face. She discovered it was her hair. She gazed about stunned. Unbelievably the sun was shining as though nothing had just happened. Liar!

LuAnn stared around at the once pristine beaches now waist-deep in water. She wasn’t sure how far the waves of the tsunami had carried her, or where her family was, or if any were still alive.

She squeezed her eyes shut against the last thought, ignoring the pressure of the murky water swirling around her. Psalm 27 came to mind: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?”

God, where are You now? A sense of comfort hit her, shocking her still more. God, I know You’re here. You kept me alive. Her peace wavered. But Lord, I am so scared, she shook from shock. Sobs welled in her throat, bursting forth just like the uncontrolled waves she’d witnessed moments before.

“The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?”

“God, You’re in control, even now, when it doesn’t feel like it. Please Lord, help me trust, slow my racing heart, give me clarity of mind to know what to do.”

“Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear.”

Those waves Lord, that wall of water taller than the hotel- it assaulted  EVERYTHING! Despair threatened again, Please help me God!

It would be a day and a half until LuAnn could get to a make-shift clinic. Her wounds, which were actually quite minor all things considered, were bandaged, her broken leg set, and she was fed and rehydrated. Those days plus four more were the longest, most confusing days of her life.

As she wavered between sleep, wakefulness, and simply dazed shock, she tried to pray, tried to be positive. She tried to fight the fear inside her heart.

Six days after the tsunami, she awoke to the touch of someone or something in her hair. Her eyes opened to focus on her husband’s face, bruised and battered, but oh, so beautiful at that moment.

Her two children, bruised and still in that day’s clothing, now torn and filthy, chattered nonstop.

Her chest heaved as sobs could not be contained. God had saved them all!

“Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Months later she recounted her story. She reflected on her faith that horrible week. Then she wasn’t confident of anything except the fact that God was there. Her eyes told her everything was lost, probably even her family.

But as those waters rushed and darkened, she knew God was there.

LuAnn’s story is dramatic, yet not necessarily unique in the sense we have all experienced a tsunami of some sort. Oh, maybe not literal walls of water, but emotional tsunamis which prove no less heart-wrenching.

When we surrender our lives to Christ, He doesn’t promise perfect pages in our biographies.

Sometimes, we lose lovely moments.

Sometimes, we lose loved ones.

Sometimes, we lose lovable lives.

Yet, we choose if we lose the Lord.  He promises to never abandon us (Deut 31:7)

We need to make the choice not to abandon Him.

LuAnn demonstrated how even, when we are hit hard, when we can’t feel God in the moment, we can cling to His truth, and His promises. When we need to, we can, and should, ask for faith, for peace, for the ability to trust.

Philippians 4:19 promises that God will supply all our needs. Even when we are desperately in need, especially when we desperately need Him like never before.

 

Waiting for Grace

Waiting.

Forever. Or so it seemed.

“God, it’s difficult to do the “right” thing, especially when I don’t see Your mighty hand sweeping away the sadness, the agony, sometimes found in this life.”

Silence.

Sheila huffed and reached for her beloved Bible. She picked it up tenderly, as the binding sometimes lost pages and the covered sometimes slipped off.

She recalled when it was new, and her faith fresh in a wonderful world.

Shaking her auburn hair away from her eyes, she settled back onto the plush, green couch.

No, it appeared God hadn’t moved on this, yet she knew His promises could be trusted.

She opened her bookmarked page and reread what was already etched on her heart. “But the Lord loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones.” Psalm 37:28

She reflected on David’s life, the author of many of the Psalms. If anyone knew the frustration and weariness of doing right yet being persecuted, David did.

How long did David, God’s anointed run for his life, waiting for God to change his circumstances? And yet, David didn’t strike out on his own, taking matters into his own hands.

“How long, Lord?” She sighed, resting her head on the back of the couch, lifting her eyes to the ceiling.

The Lord will not forsake his faithful ones.”

In the end, David was king. His time fleeing from a madman who wanted him dead was redeemed.

His time hiding in caves, protecting his life, was redeemed.

His time refusing to seek revenge, was redeemed.

God is always faithful. He knows what happens. He doesn’t always prevent the hard stuff, the stuff we think He should edit right on out of our story!

But He is faithful, thought Sheila again. As hard as it is, I must be faithful to Him, trusting His word, His promises.

Lord,” she prayed closing her eyes against the frustration she felt, “please help me to be faithful to You. Please help me to patiently wait…”

Held

“The Lord is my strength,” Stacy repeatedly murmured to herself as tears slid down her cheeks. Quickly brushing them away, she tried to focus on the task at hand, if nothing else, than to ensure the safety of her sweet daughter in the backseat.

Crisis had hit her like a brick wall. But unlike other obstacles she had endured, this one was not her story to tell. No asking for prayers, not able to talk to a friend. She was not the leading role in this tale, only a strong supporting character who must remain silent.

The tears fell as she turn up the volume of the Christian rock music already vibrating the car. “Focus on the positives, ” she reprimanded herself, “God’s got this.”

God did have even this, but He wouldn’t solve it overnight, or as Stay would learn, even the next year. But, He would reach down and comfort as only He could.

Arriving at the lesson for her little girl, she tried desperately to compose herself. As always, Stacy switched off her ringer before entering the creative sanctuary of the studio.

The lesson, progressed as usual; Stacy relishing some normalcy in the moment. As it ended, Stacy helped her daughter collect her things, and as they steeped away, Stacy felt herself gathering despair and anxiety as she approached the car.

After securing her chatty daughter in her car seat, she dropped into the driver’s seat. Heart ever-so-heavy, she turned on the ringer and plugged in her phone. That’s when she saw it: the message that changed everything about her mental mindset.

“You have been heavy on my heart today. I’m praying for you. I have no idea what’s going on, but God does. If you don’t need these prayers today, save them for a day you do. And remember, it you need anything, I’m here.”

There was no earthly way this godly woman could know about anything; Stacy had not even seen her in weeks.

Stacy’s eyes brimmed over once more and a little voice from the back seat asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”

“These are tears of joy, honey. God sees me. God hears me. And He’s reaching out to remind me of these truths.”

Starting the car Stacy knew, whatever her day held – and she really had no idea what might come God was right there with her. He might not always halt the horribly hard things of this life, but He held her right in the palm of His hand.

Always There

Pouncing, playing and protecting. That’s a very accurate description of our favorite furry family member.

Minna, a one-year-old Rottweiler puppy, loves each member of our family with her whole heart. It’s evident in the way she lives: she sleeps lightly, springing to her feet at the slightest sound. She often detects things we never would have noticed. But nothing escapes her monitoring.

When someone is upset, she runs to him, nuzzling her big black head directly into his face with her warm, comforting tongue depositing kisses all over until  laughter abounds. Often, she detects emotions even the most perceptive humans miss.

And if anyone new approaches, she is watching the interactions like a hawk, ready to jump to our defense at an instant!

Minna demonstrates a lot about God’s character.

God never loses sight of what is happening to us, and He is always there to carry us through. Whether it’s a physical challenge or an emotional hardship, He is constantly there. He promises He will never leave nor forsake us. He means it – NEVER.  He will always be there, even if we don’t see Him immediately. He is present, watching carefully what is occurring, and seeing far more than we can see with our human eyes.

Dog people will attest to why dogs are called ‘Man’s best friend.’ People who know God say they could never do life without God.

I am so thankful I have both.

God uses Minna to comfort me in addition to His presence and peace. He will never forsake you or me.

 

Perfection Not Needed

Tears filled my eyes as I read my eight-year-old’s handmade card.

ALL ABOUT MY MOM

My Mom’s Name: Stefany (She tried to sound it out!)

My Mom is happiest when I: spend time with her.

My Mom looks prettiest when she: dies her hair. (Yes, she spelled it that way!)

The best way to describe my mom: Awwsome

As I read the gift of words she joyfully delivered, my heart melted.

The author in me ignored the grammar.

The teacher in me ignored the spelling.

The mom in me laughed and cried over the depth of love my sweet daughter displayed.

It was simple, heartfelt, unabashed love for her mom.

I thought my heart might burst.

Our heavenly Father feels the same when we approach Him in like manner. He doesn’t expect us to come to Him presenting perfection with all the ‘right’ words or flowing phrases. He doesn’t expect pristine lives proffered to Him.

He simply gazes adoringly at His imperfect children who bare their hearts in love and praise.

His heart melts too at the sight of our obvious efforts to please and honor Him.

We weren’t perfect when He authored His plan for us to be reunited with Him.

We weren’t perfect when He implemented that plan and His son suffered on the cross for our salvation.

We aren’t perfect today when we come to Him with our fears, joys, sorrows and praise.

Yet, just like a teary-eyed Mom reading a third grade Mother’s Day letter, He could not love us any more.

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ dies for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

 

His Creation Calls

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

The pebbles crunched under the weight of my hiking boots on the trail.

The sky was beautifully blue. The leaves were gloriously green. The vivid colors captured my attention away from inside my head. The birds called to one another; a woodpecker fed nearby. Even a bunny hopped into the lavender flowers as I quietly crept by.

A sigh escaped.

The woods were wondrous. Oh, to stay here all day!

The babbling brook gurgled as I neared the curve of the trail. Something dashed through the brush.

I slowed and allowed the peace to wash over me.

Why can’t I stay here? What I would give to have these moments  ALL day.

Simply put, I was needed elsewhere.

Psalm 1:3 reminded me that I could baste myself in God’s word and in His presence and I could experience that peace.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3 (NSV)

While the walk through the woods reminded me that spring had sprung indeed, His words reminded me that wherever I was, I could experience that peace. That rooted in God, I was sure to succeed in whatever the day held.

The sun streamed through the canopy, illuminating the leaves and highlighting just how much beauty God’s creation held. It also filled me with hope that promised I had not an inkling of His plans for me.

My part of that successful equation? Simply remain faithful to Him. Trust Him. Read His word. Trust His word. Rely on Him.

Simple to state.

Difficult to do.

Yet, with Him, all things are possible.

I could trust Him to help me do what he was calling me to do. And I could trust Him to quiet my mind when it raced away, willingly embracing the stress of the moments. I could trust His still, small voice when the loud roar of traffic tried to blot it out.

But most importantly, I could trust Him to help my mind, help my heart, and help my thoughts stay faithful to Him.

And in doing that, some semblance of peace would come.

As I turn around and returned home, the trail  turned the opposite way and I viewed the slight waterfall. How beautiful it appeared. How tranquil. And, how strong.

Just like a tree planted by the stream…

 

 

 

 

In Need of Sonshine?

A quick trip outside in the afternoon sunshine is all I need to lift my spirits. I work all day in a wonderful classroom. It has plenty of cabinets, four sinks, smartboard and two TV’s! What more could I want?

A window to the outside.

In the cinderblock rectangle of technology, I miss the simple satisfaction of the sun.

I found it particularly painful in the winter. I’d arrive before daybreak and never glimpse those golden rays until lunch.

Now, as the earth awakens and the grass greens up proclaiming spring has sprung, my heart longs to gaze into a bright world of color!

Life just seems better, feels more content, when I can see the sun.

I feel better physically and mentally when I can spy the golden ball in the sky.

Spiritually I am better when I abide in the Son – in Jesus. When I am honest with Him about my daily challenges and life-long struggles.

When I can actually close my lips and halt my tongue and stop to contemplate: what would Jesus do?

Those times when I construct my own son-less days; whether it’s perceived too little time to stay in His presence or too many to-do items to construct a conversation, I grow weary. Those days are dreary.

Just like a few sun-filled days can perk up my happy-go-lucky outlook; a few son-filled moments can lift my soul.

Jesus promises in John 15:4 “Remain in me as I also remain in you.” (NIV)

How comforting to claim that promise! He will remain in me – and I only need to look at Him to see past the gray clouds of this life to see the glory of the Son!