Having enough to give 

I have been so richly blessed by so many people this year.

Friends have reached out with such love and encouragement in regards to my surgery and other events that have happened.

Friends, and friends of friends, financially helped me when I lost my insurance 10 days before my hysterctomy.

Unasked for. And if my pride were the one to talk- undesired. Because, “there are people worst off than me.” Or “I don’t want people to use me as a charity case.”

God used them to minister to me in the midst of such emotional turmoil. I am so very thankful for the continued destruction of my pride and the friends who loved me.

I was thinking back on all that happened this year as we are tend to do as the new year approaches, and I am struck by one truth that has followed me all of my life.

Even when I am certain that I don’t have the funds to make it till the end of the month, I always have enough to give.

I just got done doing my favorite part of Christmas shopping — giving my year end donations to the charities I support.

And I am reminded yet again, I always have enough to give.

It’s funny. At the end of the month, I sometimes regret a certain purchase that cost more than I was planning. But, I never regret giving money, time, or gifts to other people.

This isn’t a time to toot my own horn over the things I do or the amount of money I give, but a chance to marvel that I always have something to give.

I learned that golden truth in the kitchen with my Mom as a kid. I learned it in the pickup with my Dad as a teen.

You always have enough to give something to someone else. There will always be someone worse off than you. There is no pride in giving, it should always be with the humble knowledge that you will also probably need that hand up at some point in the future.

There is a running joke in my family that my Mom can never keep what she is cooking in one pot. The lady has six crockpots! All very well used. When she makes soup, she always makes enough to give to someone else. She stocks my grandparents’ freezer and still has enough to give a meal or two away to a neighbor.

As a kid, I remember the months that we lived on top ramen and peanut butter sandwiches — but we always had food to eat. And Mom and Dad never hesitated to provide food to a friend that came over. We always had enough to give.

Living in an old house where a wood fire was the only reliable heat source, Dad is always having to find wood to feed it’s flames. When we were down to the last row of wood and trying to figure out if we could make it last till the next payday, someone would call up and say that a widow desperately needed some wood. We’d pack up the truck and we’d go stack our precious supply of heat in someone else’s woodshed. We always had enough to give.

Time seems like it’s in such short supply when we are rushing around trying to complete our lists. My Mom and Dad put in full days at work that was mentally and physically exhausting and come home just eager to go to bed. And someone would call for help or there’d be some community event that needed volunteers, and suddenly there was enough energy and time to help one more person.

When emotionally spent because of so many health concerns and family hardships, we always had enough energy to hold a friend whose world was shattering.

We always have enough to give.

Sure, we could always have more money in the bank if we kept those spare cents for ourselves rather than putting them in the Salvation Army bucket. Sure, we’d make more money if we worked a higher paying job or worked longer hours, rather than working in our community and using those hours to help a neighbor. Of course, we’d have more money if we didn’t use our last $20 to get those groceries for that family whose father is too sick to work.

People looking into our lives can always find things we should be doing to have more money. We aren’t frivolously spending. But we are always willing to give.

I was always taught that if you see a need that you can fulfill — do it. Never wait for someone else to do it. Because if everyone waited for that mythical “someone,” nothing will get done.

We all have enough to give.

There are so many stories out there of people who have lost everything still finding ways to give something to someone else.

Those who know what is like to question where your next meal is coming from, are usually the ones most likely to give their last $5 to make sure someone else can eat.

Giving should never be about pride or getting a tax break. It should be about the humble knowledge that today, you have enough to give. Because most of us are just living paycheck to paycheck. We’re just one illness, accident, or layoff from being at that Food Bank. So while we can, how about we make sure that those who need it now, can eat well enough to get back on their feet. And when we might need it, perhaps they will be in the place to make sure we can eat well enough to get back on our own feet.

Billy Graham is quoted as saying that, “God gave us two hands, one to recieve with and one to give with.”

Or as Audrey Hepburn put it, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, and one for helping others.”

If we are to live in relationship with other people, there is a natural give and take that comes out of it.

I think sometimes in our petty humaness, we too often compare ourselves to those we are helping. “If they just worked harder they wouldn’t need the help.” Or “At least I can take care of my family.” We compare need to an unwillingness to work, rather than realizing that that single mom is working 14 hour days to try and keep her kids in school and is starving herself so her children can be full.

Don’t let your pride get in the way of helping someone else. You never know when you might need that helping hand yourself.

We always have enough time and money to help someone else.

So help.

Stop comparing and saying we should and start doing. Go take food to the Food Bank,  go help that old man shovel the snow off his sidewalk. Sit with the friend who is so depressed, you are worried they night do something drastic.

You just might be the one God put in their lives to encourage them to hold on just one more day. Your gift of time or money or even a random kindness, may just be that one blessing that gives that person the power to keep walking forward.

We always have enough to give.

That’s the power of God’s love and blessings. They multiple exponentially when they are given to others, rather than hoarding them like a dragon on a gold heap.

This holiday season is always a good reminder that we are not called to be Ebenezer Scrooge, but rather we are told to hold this world’s cash very loosely.

You can’t take it with you when you leave. So how about we all spend it on helping someone else?

As my Mom says, “Give until it feels good.”

I am so blessed that I always have enough to give.

Merry Christmas everyone! ♡

Matthew 25:35-40

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Doubtful Faith

One of the hardest things about being a Christian is, for me, struggling with doubt. 

Other Christians tell you the cliches that seem to be bred into our Sunday School faith. “God has a plan,” “God never gives us more than we can handle,” “Everything happens for a reason.” In other words: how dare you be in doubt! If you believe in God, you can’t doubt! It’s un-Christian!

Non-believers who know you are a believer, jump on you. They make the doubt stronger and more uncomfortable because they are looking for a reason not to follow this “Jesus thing.” You are an example/ experiment that is being played out in real time in front of them. You are the reality star in their Survivor: Faith edition.  

I want to hazard a thought. 

I think doubt is good for a strong faith. 

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion and feel comfortable enough to share it. 

Doubt can make my faith stronger.

Doubt comes in many flavors. 

Strangely though, when one believer hears that another believer is doubting, they seem to always think it means doubting in God. Like I doubt He truly exists. That soon I’m going to be one of those missing-link-believers-big-bang freaks they are afraid of who is killing God.

At least that’s what I feel like they think the few times I have voiced the burden of doubt on my shoulders.

I know people who have gone through this doubt. I understand it. You watch the horrible things happening in the world and possibly the own pain you are going through and wonder: Why? If you believed and loved well…why would a good God allow so much pain? 

So the doubt you struggle with, the doubt other believers don’t help you carry, wears you down. Some of you might tentatively cling to your beliefs, but maybe not necessarily your faith. You keep the good things of the ‘religion,’ by helping others and attempting to live well, but you don’t give credence to the heart changing soul saving aspects of the faith anymore. It hasn’t changed the world for the better, so if there is a God out there, He is no longer involved with His creation. 

Others throw the baby out with the bathwater. God is not real. He can’t be. A loving God would never allow this, so He doesn’t exist. You were brainwashed. 

I have never questioned if God was real since I placed my trust in Him. I also have never questioned His grace or love. That is not a burden I have been forced to struggle with yet, thankfully. I truly feel for those who have to. It is an extremely difficult burden to unload. 

God has always been very real to me. Things have happened to the good, that there was absolutely no way it would have happened by human hands. I have been greatly comforted in heartwrenching sorrow, by an unexplainable peace.

Instead, what my doubt is, is my worthiness. Its not necessarily my worthiness of God’s grace and Jesus’s sacrifice, though on rare dark nights of the soul I find myself wrestling with that question. 

Rather, I doubt my worthiness to be a part of God’s plan. 

I see myself as too insignificant to be a gear in His plan. I’ve always have had this weird vision of the Book of Life open in front of the throne at Judgment Day, turned to my name. There isn’t anything written under it. There is no accounting for what I’ve done or haven’t done. Simply my name, written in Christ’s blood. Proof that I loved Him, but no proof that I lived for Him. 

Some days that snapshot of a daydream haunts me. It fuels a discontentment in my present day environment that I struggle with. 

And I ask myself: What am I doing for God? 

>>I want to take a moment here and make myself abundantly clear: I believe that according to what the Bible has taught me, salvation is not based on my good works. There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my salvation. It is a gift freely given by Christ when He took my punishment for my sins and died on the cross. The only thing required of me to receive that unearned blessing is to ask for it. Even if it is on my death bed, I still can ask for it. And I will receive it. Because its a gift waiting for me to unwrap it.<<

I am surrounded by some on-fire people with the vision of what God demands of them. They see a chunk of His plan so clearly that it seems that their mission field is so ripe that the fish are jumping in the boat and the fruit is falling from the trees. They have that brilliant passion that just drives them forward. 

I know that what I perceive isn’t always what is happening. I know that they all have their own fears and struggles. But my very human doubting mind wonders. 

Have I missed God’s call? 

But, then again, why would He want me when He has her? She gathers people without trying, she’s so energetic that people line up to help. 

I can’t do that. 

Did you know that Mother Teresa, a woman well known for her faithful service, had doubts? In 2007 a book came out with letters to her confessor that poured out the pain of doubt. 

It rocked the world in many ways. The media of course used it to show how fruitless faith in God was. If a woman as sacrificial as Mother Teresa wondered about a loving God, how can He be real? Some people even labeled her a Christian Atheist.

Supposedly, when she first reached out for comfort and guidance in her “dark night of the soul,” one priest urged her to keep quiet and confess her sins. He did nothing to help her understand her doubts or to strengthen her faith so those dark nights didn’t become dark years. He was fearful the impact it would have on other people’s faith.

Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony….Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?— Mother Teresa, Saint of Calcutta. Undated Letter, quoted in “Mother Teresa: Come be my light” (2007) 

How heartwrenching. If only this woman had someone to walk with her in her dark nights. To hold her faith until such a time as she was ready to carry it again. Not to condemn her for wrestling with her questions, but to love her until she could feel God’s love again.

Isn’t that what the Body of Christ is for? We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep for those who weep (Romans 12:15).” Those who are doubting are weeping. Do not be Job’s friends who tell the man he must have sinned for everything that happened to him. It isn’t a sin to doubt. 

We live in a very broken sin-filled world. Bad things happen. Any believer who says they don’t question it has to be lying or hasn’t read their Bible.

We do such a great disservice to other believers when we don’t ask for prayer and guidance when we struggle.

Church has too often become a building where you come to show off your perfect mask of peace and contentment, rather than the raw honesty of broken tears and uncomfortable anger. There is an unspoken law that we must not make other people uncomfortable because then we can’t win their souls. So we peddle the Prosperity Gospel lie. “When you become a Christian everything become perfect. You no longer struggle, you no longer cry, and you always win.” If mature Christians can’t handle hard times of doubt and bad things happening, how can we expect brand new believers to?

And the first time a new believer stumbles, they beat themselves up. They are a failure. They either run from God, thinking they are unworthy, or they no longer advance of in a deeper relationship with other Christians and God. 

We will stumble. 

We all have our trip ups, our temptations, our trials. We will make mistakes. You are human. God knows that. 

If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, himself wondered if God could let the heavy burden pass from him, or voiced His concern of His Father forsaking him– HE UNDERSTANDS. (Matthew 26:39, 27:46)

God never created us to be mindless followers of Him. He wants a relationship between us. He knows that questions will come, arguments will happen, tears and laughter will be shared. He knows that we will have doubt. This world breeds it like cockroaches. 

He just asks us keep the communication channels open. 

We could totally be Jonah. And God will still use us. I think He’d prefer us to be willing though. 

Jonah questioned God’s justice. He questioned it so hard–because he knew God was just and forgiving– that Jonah ran! He tried to get away from God’s sight even though he knew it was impossible. He got swallowed by a large fish as a disciplinary action. The prophet finally went to Nineveh, dragging his feet. When he told the town about the judgment God was getting ready to mete out, it wasn’t with a passionate cry to listen. It was “God is going to kill you, so repent. Or not. I don’t care.” Then when God actually did forgive the people- like He said He would- Jonah basically said “Kill me now.” Then got another lesson from God.  

Jonah spoke to God and heard His voice. And still he doubted.

Abraham and Sarah, the very beginning of the faith of Israelites questioned God’s plan. They tried to make God’s promise work because they could simply not see how they were to have a child in their advanced years (Genesis). And Abraham is still considered a Hero of the Faith  (Hebrews 11). 

Peter denied knowing Christ three times– even when Jesus told His disciple that he was going to do so. And he lived with that regret even as he worked his mission. (Luke 22:54-62)

All the twelve men with Christ’s inner circle struggled with great doubt when they saw Jesus die. How can this man die? He says he’s the Son of God. How can he die? 

Thomas doubted so strongly the story of the Resurrection, that he said he wouldn’t believe until his fingers were within the wounds on Christ’s body. (John 20:24-25)

Doubt is real.

It isn’t a sin.

Jesus didn’t reprimand His disciples beyond telling them that He said this was going to happen.

Don’t let anyone shame you for your doubt. And don’t shame anyone for their’s. 

I urge you, as someone who doubts, to speak about it. Do what you need to do to move through your dark night of the soul. 

Pray. Get into nature and feel God’s power. Read the Scripture. Listen to music, read devotions. Find the stories of missionaries that speak to you. Find the prayer warriors in your church and ask them to pray. 

God gives us ways to work through those moments/ years of doubt. We just need to learn how to use them.

I doubt. My heart and mind go to battle and I doubt. I wonder how God can use me. But I still move forward.

Find a way to keep walking until your doubt doesn’t cling to you anymore. And help someone else when they start to doubt.

Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

The Burden of a Blessing

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Have you ever stopped to think what a burden a blessing might be?

We ask God to bless us without really knowing what we are asking for.
We wish each other God’s blessings on days of birth and holidays. We ask for blessings of health and wealth as if those are the only forms of blessings possible.

Do you know what a double edged sword God’s blessings can be?

When you ask God for his blessings, do you ever stop to think what you might be agreeing to?

Studying the major blessings that we see in the Bible, I think they all come with a heavy burden. I wonder if I were to ask Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Peter, or Paul (to name just a bare few) if they would say that while worth it, God’s blessings were particularly heavy at times?

If you knew that you were going to be plunged into the fire to be molded and sharpened, would you be eager to be a recipient of God’s blessings? 

If you knew that to get the blessing you would have to do something that was going to be difficult and trying, would you still ask God?

I think we really need to think carefully about asking God for his “favor and protection.” God is no wish fulfilling genie. There is a purpose behind everything he does. While he protects us from the talons of the evil one, perhaps his favor has a heavier load that accompanies it.

For example:
Abraham was called out of his culture to be blessed mightily by a God forgotten by most of the population. By answering God’s call, Abraham is accepting the first part of a contract between himself and the Divine. By seeking God’s blessing – the promised offspring that will be multipled greatly- Abraham is in essence sealing the contract (a binding agreement) with God.

Both God and Abraham must fulfill their part of the agreement for the blessing to be fully realized. This is where the burden can be seen.

Now, we must remember that in all subsequent contracts we look out, God has always laid out exactly what he expects and what he promises. God has never breached his contracts, nor does he hide in loopholes. He did no less with Abraham.

Abraham is a product of his own sin though. Where God has promised -blessed- him and Sarah with a multitude of descendants in their barren union, Abraham’s duty was to have faith and trust in God’s timing. Thankfully, God still brings into completion his side of all contracts despite human failings. Abraham, with prompting from his wife (also a contractee) manufactures a loophole in the blessing.

Instead of waiting for the promise to come to birth, Abraham attempts to do it in his own terms, by producing a child with Hagar. Effectively starting the war between two sons’ descendants–Israel (Isaac) and Islam (Ishmael). Two children whose blessing is a big burden. Both equally blessed by their Father’s God with a multitude of descendants who, because of that same father’s sin, will be at war against each other until the end of days.

The burden with the blessing. The burden ultimately comes from the inability humans seem to have on completely trusting God’s promises and causing problems with our bumbling. The blessing was pure: Isaac was promised in God’s timing. Abraham’s line was set up to be gloriously long. But, he couldn’t wait, because his faith just wasn’t strong enough. So, the contract had a human sized hole punched through it, causing God to do what he promised twice. Ishmael equally received the inheritance of being Abraham’s son.

God does not lie. He promised Abraham that his children would outnumber the sand on the shore. That means to completely fulfill his part of the contract, God had to bless each child from Abraham’s loins equally.

This burden of blessings, can be seen in the interactions of Isreal the nation with God as well. You first start to see the inkling of the difficulties that Isaac’s children will face before he is even born. Genesis 15:13 says, Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years.”

To be called out as different from the surrounding tribes would have been a heavy burden to carry. The very customs God wanted them to use were to declare them set apart. Isreal was to be an example of righteousness, and in that to be a shining light for the pagans to see.

When Moses came on the scene, he was part of Abraham’s blessing and a bearer of a renewing of the blessing on Abraham’s descendants. With the renewing additional blessings were handed down, along with a more refined covenant. The covenant though was still very closely related to the original blessing, but because it was dealing with a much larger contractee/ person group the language was much more defined. The 10 Commandments along with cultural laws were shared between God and the Hebrew people.

These laws were set literally in stone to show the Hebrew people exactly how different God was calling them to be. But, once again, God asked if the people were really willing to follow the very strict rules he was giving. Exodus 19:5  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples ….And they promised they were willing. Not once! But twice! Exodus 19:8  All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Even in the midst of worshipping a man made cow, they said they were willing to follow the rules.

So the blessing was given. The burden was felt. In an effort to be considered truly different from the surrounding tribes, the Israelites were in essence, declaring a cultural war. The God they worshipped became a feared unknown entity to the enemy.

The burden is truly felt when other nations attacked them on the battlefront. Or, when God disciplined the Hebrew people because they were choosing not to fulfill their part of the agreement. The burden is felt when God has them dispersed over the centuries on a number of occasions to remind them of his blessings. Through slavery and homelessness, God reminds his people that he alone is their resting place and their salvation. The blessing can indeed be heavy.

Then we jump to the New Covenant because God’s Son completely fulfills all aspects of the old contract, not just the promises that God puts forth but the human side as well.

Jesus Christ brings into complete fruition all parts of the original agreement between the Divine and Abraham. Along with all the renewing contracts with Abraham’s descendants. God does not null and void one little bit of the blessing.

God knew that we humans could not fulfill our side of the blessing contract even when we tried our hardest. So, instead of ripping up the agreement –or suing us– as is his right as the Contractor, God instead keeps not only his side of the promise, but ours as well! He provides the ultimate form of our agreed upon service – faith and trust- in his Son, who trusts his father so much that he died to complete the blessing.

Because God does not lie or cheat, he made sure his contract -blessing- was 100% fulfilled. He provided the means to make sure it happened. No loopholes.

The blessing of a baby was a heavy burden for Jesus’ mother Mary. Because of her righteousness, she was deemed worthy.

Mary’s burden was difficult. Even if you ignored the fact that she was an unwed mother at conception, she was literally giving birth to a child that she was going to have to see die. Her burden was of the heart, she was going to have sacrifice her little boy as a man on a cross. As a devout Jew, she would have known that her child was going to face something horrible. She and Joseph would not have been naive in the raising of their son. The blessing would probably have been a very heavy burden, but not nearly as heavy as when she kneeled in front of her bleeding, gasping for air, tortured, precious little baby boy who was taking on the sins of the world as he was nailed to the Cross.

The heaviness of the blessing must have driven her to the ground.

I think, to truly appreciate God’s blessings, we must feel the burden of them. God’s blessings should not feel light and airy, because I don’t think we recognize the significance of what he is giving us.

There are sayings about trials being blessings in disguise. Or that the struggle to get where you are now was actually a blessing because, now, you know you appreciate what you have.

Perhaps, to receive God’s blessing, we need to sacrifice our comfort to be a part of the contract. We live in a sin riddled world and our own sins affect the way we interact with God. We will continually fail in keeping our side of the agreement, but we are called to keep trying. Our faith and trust in God are the services we must render to fully appreciate God’s blessing.

Thankfully, God does not search for loopholes like we do. He does not void our contract every time we slip up. Instead, unlike human contractors, God fulfills both sides of the agreement.

But. We will be held accountable for our services. God is no push over. He made a promise to Abraham’s descendants. He made a promise to the world at the death of his Son, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But remember, God, especially in his love, will hold us accountable for that which we have not done.

You cannot partake of God’s blessing if you do not enter into the contract with him. He cannot force you to sign on the dotted line, accepting the burden of his blessing.

I honestly believe that if asked, Abraham, Moses, and Mary would all say the burden is heavy, but the blessing is glorious. And very worth it.

So, the next time you wish for God’s blessings on an endeavor, think. Are you willing to shoulder the burden that comes with it? Are you willing to truly sacrifice your comfort to sign on the dotted line of working with God?

I might have to remind myself throughout the trials and probable suffering that the world will use to make me attempt to find a loophole in my contract, but I want to be part of God’s blessing. I want to feel the weight of the burden of proof of God’s consuming love.

I want to fulfill my side of the contract.

So I have to remember, as the world knocks me to my knees, the blessing might be a heavy burden some times, but oh, it is so worth it.

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My shoulders are tired

Last night, I watched “Moms’ Night Out,” and I highly recommend it. I understand this woman! I won’t give it away, because you HAVE to watch it. Suffice to say though is that there are three women who are beyond stressed out with their families. One in particular just can’t get a hold of life anymore and either needs to take a night off or is going to mentally break. Fun and hilarity ensue.

Now, while I am not a mother obviously, I am on that stress precipice where I will either explode leaving emotional debris everywhere or where I will cause equal damage by throwing up my hands and literally walking away.

But, right now, I am stress paralyzed. I totally concur with the movie–it’s a real thing.

I’m not getting respite on any of my three fronts. I can’t run to church to escape the tensions at home and work. I can’t hide at home on my days off to recover from work and gear up for church. And work is no longer a happy experience where I can focus on something to take my mind off of church and home.

And before you give me the supposedly sage advice of finding a new church or job– that is not going to fix anything. The idea of running away from the blessings God has given me, is not hardwired into my DNA. The opposite is. I care too much for the people involved to just leave when things get rough.

Running away– while a nice thought when your jaw aches from biting down on the harsh words that want to spill forth–never solves anything.

I think there is enough broken relationships in this world to prove that.

I am a fixer. I am a counselor. I am a listener. I am a caregiver. These are aspects of my core personality. I can’t change who I am. It is not in me to say, “I can’t handle any more, so don’t tell me anything else!”

I have been so consumed by the stress, that I, who process things by writing, haven’t written anything in many weeks. Which, let me tell you, adds more stress because what in the world am I stressing about?! I don’t know, because I can’t write it out. Argh!!

I always like to say that I don’t worry. Worrying will not change the aspects of the future you are concerned about. Staying up late at night chewing on your fingernails won’t change how much that doctor’s bill will be. Nor will it affect the flight that a loved one will be on as if your worry will be the cushion that will keep that plane from crashing.

Nah, I don’t worry. I stress! Totally different in my book.

I don’t care if Webster’s Dictionary says worry is a synonym of stress. You can’t believe everything that is written okay?

Webster’s says that stress as a noun means: “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While worry means “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”

Sure, I dwell sometimes. But, everything that is concerning me, isn’t even about me! It’s about people I love and am worried concerned about. How can I be there in the moment for them? How can I encourage them? How can I represent God’s love in the tension? How is it going to affect the community, family, client?

I’m not trying to control the world. I’m not even trying to change my little sphere of influence.  I just want answers to be given so people aren’t waiting for the next shoe to drop. So I don’t feel as if I have the weight of these people’s fear crushing my back.

My shoulders are tired from the burden I carry.

The unknown is scary. We do not know how to ready ourselves for the hidden threat. We don’t know if we need the shield or the first aid kit, if we need knives or bullets. We don’t know how to protect each other from the masked intruder who is right outside our peripheral vision. That dark entity that could possibly be holding a sharp knife that is ready to rip our lives apart. We’re in a constant state of readiness, waiting for the attack. Sometimes it happens and we can expel the adrenaline. Other times, we are in the fight/flight response with nothing to do. But be ready. Be alert. Be exhausted…

Sometimes, I feel as if I gather other people’s worries, fear, concerns, hurt, anger, as an attempt to get them through the problem. As if I am trying to protect them from that sick twisted emotional bomb by holding it for them. As if I want to throw myself on that grenade in a brave Steve Rogers act, so others have a chance to live. As if sacrificing my peace of mind will keep someone else sane.

I must think highly of myself.

We, or maybe I should just say, I, get this convoluted idea that if I work my butt off, I can protect people from…well, from life. I can keep my friends from finding out that their beloved parent has cancer. I can keep my parents from worrying about their financial existence. I can keep my grandparents healthy. I can keep my brother and his wife safe in Texas from the floods. I can keep gossipers from harming my church family with their vicious vitriol. I can keep my client safe from her anxiety. I can keep my community working together for the betterment.

(Humm, psst! Ranelle, you know, that sounds a lot like worry.
Nah…it’s stress, you don’t know what you are talking about. Shhh!)

I don’t have a messiah complex. I don’t have a hero complex. I don’t have a martyr complex. Believe me, I don’t aspire to be Captain Steven Hiller who takes on the alien ship with a nuke strapped to my ship.

I KNOW that the weight of the world is NOT on my shoulders. That the happiness of those around me is not my job. I KNOW this. But, still. I have a desire to make sure that if I can, I can keep them from shedding tears. I can keep the anger at bay.

I need to live in the Swedish Proverb, “Not my monkey, not my circus.” Or in BBC’s Sherlock’s Detective Inspector Lestrade’s motto: “Not my division!”

Don’t borrow trouble. You can be concerned, but ultimately, it’s not your job to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the world. God gave me the heart to love people, but he has also told me that I have a limit on how much I can take on. It is all in God’s hands. I need to stop taking my loved ones out of his hands, thinking I can do a better job at caring for them. Because, obviously I can’t.

Where I grow weary and exhausted with the strain, God never does. Where I get exasperated and frustrated by their actions that just cause more pain, God just continues to love. When I don’t know the whole story, God does and still loves. Where I make mistakes in the course of helping, God never does. God is the only perfect caregiver there is. I am a pale broken imitation. But, still God uses me.

So, today is a day of self-health. I am dating myself. I am finally writing, here in the park on a pretty day. I am taking a breath. I had my comfort food, aka Tacos. (Yumm) And I will go watch a movie. I will go home to play with my dogs and be snubbed by my cats. I will simply be. Try to keep from mind the problems that Sunday will bring, that Tuesday will hold. I will unclench my jaw and rotate my neck. I will shed this weight and put it where it belongs, in God’s hands.

When I start to take it back, I will say a prayer instead.

I will learn how not to worry the problem like a nasty mosquito bite. Checking in on it every few minutes to see if it still itches. I will pay attention to God’s police line, where it says “DO NOT ENTER” and in smaller words “IT’S NOT FOR YOU TO WORRY” (I mean…stress.) I won’t sneak under the tape and rob my loved ones back into my hands.

If you pray for me…I would be eternally grateful.

“No one can pray and worry at the same time.”– Max Lucado

Matthew 11:28-30– “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Luke 12:25- “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Lining a Milestone in Silver

The 9th was my 30th birthday. 30 years on this little planet that is hurtling through the cosmos. 30 years that go by unnoticed by most of the 7+ billion people on this blue marble, but for a small group that means the world to me.

I was thinking about milestones, how society says that by each ‘stone’ we should be ever so far in our life.

Medical milestones at a young age cause anxiety with parents when children don’t start sitting upright on the time dot, or speaking, or walking.
When we hit 13 (at least in America), we decree we are ‘Teen’ and more responsibilities are heaped upon our shoulders.
When 16 comes around with jangling keys, we fight for freedom and worry our parents.
18 decrees us ‘Adult’ by the law, and we are kicked out of the safety net of our high schools into the scary world of work and college.
Then 21 comes around and suddenly everyone sees you as a true adult and urges you to drink up and flash that license as proof.
It’s time to sow your wild oats and party hardy, until you are 25, now it’s time to start calming down and looking for someone to spend your life with.
And now you are 30. Now you should be settled with a loving spouse, have a few little munchkins running down, have a respectable career and basically have your life set.
The next years will run by a bit predictably, but not poorly, you’ll buy a house, have grandkids and dogs running around that house.
Retirement will come at a suitable time, where you can still go on adventures and see the world, where you can babysit your great grandkids that you spoil rotten, much to the bemused annoyance of your grandchildren.
The twilight years will of course be kind to you and your spouse, and you will slowly slip away from this little world, entering into the peace of heaven, while leaving a family of loved ones comfortable and happy.

But…what happens if you don’t make those milestones?
Are you a failure?
Does society judge you for not succeeding at their arbitrary decrees?

I can easily tell you what I have not succeeded in, what milestones I have missed: marriage, kids, home, dog, successful career that I went to school for, a nice saving’s account, and a newer model car.

So basically…everything I have failed at, right?

One can easily paint their whole existence a failure, if they just focus on what society says we should be doing. I found myself getting caught in that riptide when I was bearing down on my day of birth. I started comparing myself to my friends: those who are about to get married, others who have children, one who had gotten a home, others who are in their dream jobs and making a comfortable living or are working in their God called ministry.

I had to knock myself out of that spiraling mindset. There is never an end to it. You can just keep tearing yourself down and listing how badly you are dealing with your life. Or, you can start seeing what you ARE doing, and how amazing your season of life truly is.

Every person is gifted with seasons. If you are familiar with Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about a ‘Time for Everything,’ and it starts at 3:1 with this verse, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven.” Now, I like to believe this ‘time’ is not dictated by society or our culture. Because having the nameless mass that changes the fads, in charge of my milestones is a little terrifying.

So, I believe God is in charge of my seasons, my times. Sure, freewill plays a part in how we react to what is going on in our life, but God also places us in certain places in the world for a reason. So that we can dig deep and blossom brightly in the darkness.

With my mind on that thought, I pondered what I have succeed in and I attempted to list out 30 triumphs for my 30 years on this earth:

  1. I have a Masters in Divinity from an accredited seminary!
  2. I have surpassed all of my old IEPs and have left my doubters in my dust!
  3. I am a Sunday School teacher for the ladies of my church, and have been so for the last 3 years, helping give them the tools to dig deeper into the Word.
  4. I have been recently chosen to be the new Superintendent of Sunday School.
  5. I am very active in my church, and my opinion is respected.
  6. I am an encourager, really working on listening to that little voice prompting me to reach out to someone who is hurting.
  7. I am getting really involved in Joni and Friends with various ministries: collecting wheelchairs for Wheels For the World, Family Retreat, and having gone to Global Access Conference recently.
  8. I am a respected Caregiver, all of my job opportunities since I was 14 came from word of mouth. I actually just got offered a job for 2 years from now, because the lady liked the way I took care of my present client.
  9. My clients always know that they have me firmly on their side for support.
  10. I had the opportunity a few years ago to actually lead a workshop at my college on disabilities.
  11. I finished and passed my ‘thesis’! A 73 page paper that I worked on for 8 years!
  12. I spoke at a workshop for the satellite showing of The Justice Conference at my school.
  13. I am writing on this blog as well as short stories.
  14. I’m learning not to be a perfectionist and having the fear of failure keep from doing something.
  15. I’m not shying away from debates nearly as much as I use to.
  16. I worked on my screwed up ankle for three months which gave me the ability to pay for my apartment for the last semester of college while I was laid up.
  17.  I am known for my level of work ethic.
  18. I am constantly becoming more comfortable speaking in front of people.
  19. I have, through the grace of God, learned how to be more honest with myself.
  20. I have also with his grace, managed not to be swayed by from my personal path by other people.
  21. I’m learning how to really listen to God’s prompting and act on it.
  22. God is giving me ways to use my spiritual gifts, in places and ways I never thought possible.
  23. My education has not ended, because I am constantly learning.
  24. I am constantly digging deeper into the Bible.
  25. I’m dreaming big and planning a possible Retirement Center in my valley. Who knows, right?!
  26. I am learning how not to wait to do something I really want to do, simply because I just don’t have enough money, I can still have fun.
  27. I’m going to go to Disney with a group of friends, thanks to their generous birthday gifts, which means I will be taking my first true vacation!
  28. I will be skydiving in June thanks to my parents! Crossing off something from my bucket list and facing one of my fears.
  29. I still have a great relationship with my parents and I count them as my closest friends.
  30. I am constantly learning how to trust God more with my life.

I might not be where I thought I would be, but I am further than I thought I could be. My life is not my own, God owns it and he has different plan for me than my little checklist.

Overall, my life is good, and I am thankful for the last 30 years on this little blue marble hurtling through the cosmos.

His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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