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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Story Behind the Song

When I first started dating my husband, he would take me here and there in his little red '98 Ford Escort.

Side Note: That little Escort, affectionately named "Red Rocket", took us up and down the East Coast for our honeymoon, vacations, family visits and music gigs.  12 years, 2 kids and 1 Labrador dog later, we finally had to let it retire.  We had completely outgrown our faithful car.

Anyway, I used to love listening to all his music Cd's in the car.  I had never heard most of the music he had or the artists he listened to.  The tunes were catchy, but I became especially interested in the lyrics.  They were so creatively and poetically written and many of them were telling a story or were a response to a certain story.  It made me want to pull out the CD covers and read the lyrics by themselves.  And it made me want to find out the 'whys'.  Why was the song written?  What was the story behind the song?  How much more I appreciated the song once I understood the story behind it. 

All of us sing a song. 

We might not realize it, but we do.  Our lives play a tune that others around us are hearing.  Some people's songs are so sad.  The tunes are written in minor keys.  Their lyrics are dark.  Others sing songs about searching.  To quote U2, they are among those that say "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."  They are not yet satisfied.  They might even be bored with life.  They realize something is missing, but can't put their finger on it. Then others sing songs that may sound happy, but if you look closer, the lyrics are unsettling.  All of these songs are an expression of each person's story.

Do you know which songs I like to hear the most?  The songs that are the expression of those who have found the Abundant Life.  I never get tired of them.  In fact, their songs give me Hope.  I love hearing interviews of people who tell their story...  "I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."  I love hearing about the woman who says she once sat in despair but now has Joy.  Her song is so beautiful!  I love hearing the stories behind the songs that talk about trusting God.  Those stories are usually ones that involve great obstacles and a Faithful Shepherd.  They have found it!  They have found Love!  They have finally found what they've been looking for!

And though all their stories are unique and personal and they all sing a New Song of their own, they all share the same Chorus of God's great Story:

"One Love, One Redeemer
I rest safely in my Father's Hands. 
No need to look further,  I'm never bored with my Savior.
With Joy I grab hold of His Plans!" 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Obsessed

It's a chronic issue for me. 

I can't watch a movie without my mind wondering.  I can't walk through the mall without my thoughts being redirected.  I can't even walk my dog without my mind being consumed with this one thought...

God.

Seriously.  If this was a disorder, I would constantly be admitting myself into rehabilitation. 

"Hello, my name is Valerie and I am obsessed with God."

Obsessed means "To have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic."  (Free Dictionary) 

Yep.  That's about right.  Thing is, I have found something (Someone!) so amazing and fascinating that really anything else in this world now --even enjoyable things -- are pretty much boring in comparison.  I'd much rather be thinking about Him and talking to Him than do anything else with my day.  

Though this may seem odd to some, that is exactly where God wants our thoughts to be:

The Bible says, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things..." 

And why?

because "...your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:2 NIV ) My life and all I need is found in Him. 

And how many benefits there are when we fix our thoughts on Jesus!  Isaiah 26:3 (NLT) says,

"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!  Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock." 

When we fix our gaze on He who is our Life, Love, Peace, Hope, Security, Rescue... (the list goes on and on!) the more we will really see Him and experience Him throughout our day, the less cares we're likely to carry, and the more Love we will have for others. 

We go where our thoughts take us.  Obsessing over God and allowing our minds to be consumed with thoughts of Him will only lead us to one thing:  The life that is truly Life!
 

Monday, July 22, 2013

From Land to Air

Many of us grew up singing the song. "I'm in the Lord's Army...I'm in the Lord's Army..."  Great song.  I still sing it with my kids sometimes in the car.  The images I get in my mind sometimes when I sing that song, though, are pictures of people who are working/striving and trudging through the mud like dirty and exhausted soldiers.

I chuckled out loud as I typed that because I realize that many of us in the Church feel exactly like that-- a dirty and exhausted soldier.  We've been to war and back.  We've been holding our ground.  We've been fighting the good fight.  We haven't given up, but many of us are just plain tired.  We are soooo tired.  We want to keep pushing through, but our boots are getting heavier and heavier as they are being pulled down deeper into the mud. 

So, is this what a faithful follower is supposed to look like?  Is the sign of a good disciple one who is about to fall face first into the mud he's been trudging?

I'm going to say a resounding, "NO!"  And I'm sure if you can relate, you might be saying the same thing.

I'm not saying that a good disciple isn't going to experience friction, resistance, trials and tribulations in this world.  I'm not saying it isn't noble to persevere.  I'm saying maybe we've been taking things on in our own strength and have been carrying burdens we were never asked to carry.  Maybe we have felt like these battles have been ours to fight.

God is whispering a word to us today:  "Rest."

What is there left to do if we really did what God told us to do:  Lay down your burdens.  Cast your cares.  Come to me all who are weary and burdened. ?  The only thing left to do is rest.  Let your heart rest.  Let God pick up the heavy weights.  He's happy to do so.  In fact, He is more pleased when we lay them down than when we try to show Him how strong we are by continuing to trudge through. 

It's a mystery but it's beautiful.  See, it takes more belief to rest than it does to continue striving.  When we rest in God we are leaning not on ourselves and our own strength but we are putting our full weight onto Him -- like a baby in his parent's arms.  And when we rest and trust, we experience more of God and His Presence.  And when we experience more of God and His Presence, the more He is able to lead us, strengthen us, work His will through us and breathe His Life through us to others.  The more we rest like a child the more effective we are for Him!

I remember one time when I was at the end of my rope, I cried out to God from the mud.  I said, "God, how am I supposed to go forward?  I feel like I can't even move another step."

And, as clear as anything, He said to me, "It's time to fly."  It was time to take off my heavy boots and open my wings and let God carry me up and over the burdens and trials and begin to learn how to soar with Him, learn how to trust and rest in His strength and salvation -- not my own.

When I look up the word 'trudge' in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, it says "to move heavily or clumsily".  Funny enough, near antonyms for it are:

Coast
Glide
&
FLY!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Student-Teacher

I understood the concept more as I spent time in elementary music classes during my year of student teaching in college.  I didn't come in with my own agenda.  I didn't introduce myself to the teacher and let her know what I'd like to see happen.  I walked in with the mentality of "I'm here to learn and follow what you are doing."  She was the one in charge, not me.

I was learning to follow.
 
****

I honestly forget sometimes that God is a real Person with real Thoughts, real Plans, real Ideas and real Opinions.  I picture Him like this far off Spirit that is detached and removed from what is really happening here on earth and specifically in my life.  I'm like the ignorant teenager that says, "Dad, you just don't understand.  You are so out of the loop."

That perception of Him affects everything about my relationship with Him.  It greatly affects how I talk to Him.  My prayers are formed around the idea that He has no idea what is going on.  My requests are small because I question if He even sees and hears. 

But, God is doing a work in my heart.  He's helping me see that He is not only fully aware of all my comings and goings, He is actively working in them!  He is a God with His own Ideas.  I mean, He is, after all, the one that created all things (including me), and He has Ideas and Plans for the things He has breathed Life into. 

The more I grab a hold of that concept, the more I remember my time as a student teacher again.  I remember that He has been running His Classroom for well, forever now, and He is inviting me to see, learn and follow what He is doing and going to do.

When I realize, too, that all His Plans for me are Good and He is working all things for the Good, the more I want to humble myself and say, "God, thank you for actively working Your Plan and Ideas in my Life.  You do understand.  You do see what is happening here on earth.  You are fully aware of my circumstances and understand my heart.  Thank you for caring and being so close to my everyday life.  Show me your Ideas.  Show me what You are doing.  I will trust.  I will follow."
 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Meet You There!

I began writing this blog 3 days before my father was in a serious car crash that eventually took his life 2 weeks later.  God is so gentle with us.

******

I had a conversation recently with my 8 year old, Makenna, concerning our transition from life here on earth to eternity.

It began with her being very distraught over the idea that one day my husband and I will die.  It was a thought too big for her little heart and mind to try to even begin processing.  Tears filled her eyes and then she quickly buried her head in her pillow as she lay on her bed.

"Ahh, sweetie."  I said.  "I know, it's sad.  But it's important to understand that it's not the end.  We can't live forever in these human bodies.  But God has made a way for us to live forever in new bodies.  Death is not the end.  Because of Jesus and because we both believe in Him, death is a Door that we pass through to go be with Him forever.  So even when I die, I'm just going through that Door first and we'll see each other again when you come through the Door."

Her eyes began to dry as I spoke.

She said, "So, it's like when we went to Hersheypark.  (Hersheypark is an amusement park.)  The times when I went with Daddy ahead of you and Bryana (her sister) to enjoy some rides and we said, 'We'll meet you there!'  You would see us again when you caught up with us?"

Loving her little childlike analogies, I smiled and said, "Yep. Daddy and I would just be going ahead of you to enjoy ourselves with Jesus. So you don't have to be afraid because we know we'll see each other again.  We'll meet you there!"
 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Not What I Had Hoped You'd Say

My 8 year old asked for a Bowie knife.  Perfectly good request in her eyes. I mean, to her this would be both practical and fun, right?

How surprised she was to receive the answer my husband and I gave her -- Clearly, NO. (Lol)

She counteracted our answer by reassuring us that she is getting to be a big girl now. We could trust her if we just gave her a chance.  

Obviously, no amount of pleading was going to persuade us. We love our child enough to make 'No' our final answer. We only want what's best for her.  Even if she doesn't understand why, she has to trust that our decision is for her own good. 

My requests go up to God in the same child/parent way. I tell Him what I'd like and He can respond yes, no, or wait (yes, but not now.)  In the same way my child has to trust my answers, I have to trust my Daddy's Answers. Only He sees it all and will answer in a way that is best for me (and anyone else affected by the decision). 

Here's an example... My husband, Bryan, is 9 years older than me.  Can you imagine if he asked God to bring him his wife when he was 20 years old?  If God answered the way Bryan prayed it, he'd be looking down at an 11 year old!  

See, He is God, we are not. When we keep that perspective and combine it with the fact that He is head over heals for us and loves us enough to leave heaven and sacrifice His life for us, we realize that no matter how He answers --especially when the answer is confusing and not our preference -- we can trust that it is the Perfect Answer, even if it leaves us scratching our heads. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vertical & Horizontal

The Carpenter was at it again.  He was creating something New. He laid the wood on the table.  

Looking over at me, he said, "Watch."

He carefully sawed the wood and crafted it perfectly into two large planks. 

"What can God do with just two pieces of wood?" He asked me. 

I could not respond.

"Much." He said. 

He laid one plank vertically in front of him.

Looking at me again he said, "Love is vertical -- from Heaven to earth and then back to Heaven again."

He paused and looked at the wood. 

Looking at me again, He said, "When the plank is raised up, it is Heaven's Love that holds it in place, not earth's effort."

Then he reached for the second plank.  I was amazed at how strong His arms and hands were as He gently laid it horizontally across the first plank into the form of a cross. 

"The vertical Love will naturally flow through the horizontal to others." He said. "The horizontal cannot produce Love on its own."

Then I looked around and there were no nails or glue to hold the wood together.

"What will you hold the vertical and horizontal together with, Lord?" I asked. 

With a smile on His face, He looked at me once more and said, "Myself."


Monday, July 1, 2013

The Case of the Missing Child

My childhood was spent in the rural mountains of Pennsylvania.  TV was limited. (We only had Saturday morning cartoons!)  Internet had not yet been invented.  Computers were used mostly for data entry and DVDs wouldn't be in homes for almost another 20 years. 

But, none of that mattered to me.  The world was my theater, classroom, playground and wonderland.  The bushes going up my driveway became a secret spy meeting room for my sister and brother and I.  I danced and sang down the grassy hills of my grandparents' lawn pretending to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.  The marshy pond at my great-grandfather's property became an enchanted place where I played the leading lady, Sleeping Beauty. 

It was in those early years that I started to discover what I love.  I started to discover who I was.  Being free, unhindered and uncensored in my playtime helped me relax and be present in the moment.  There was no worry or lingering thoughts that kept me from engaging in my magical time.   There were no deadlines to meet, bills to pay, political issues to debate over, people to please, or the voice of the world telling me to conform.  It was just me, my siblings and my Creator's Creation.

Even if you didn't grow up in the mountains, you might still be able to relate.  Life is simpler when you're a kid.  The big stuff you let the adults handle.  All you focus on is embracing the day and seeing where it takes you.  Even when you have to do a chore or a task, you make it into a game so that even the boring stuff becomes fun.  Worry is foreign and imagination rules.  Our childlike approach frees us up to discover the world for what it really is, discover ourselves for who we really are, and find God woven through every piece of our day.

But, somewhere the magic gets lost...

We grow up and grow out of our childlike wonder.  We think we are progressing.  We think we are moving into something better.  We turn into adults on the outside.  But if we listen to our hearts, we can feel the struggle.  The longing to be simple again without care or worry.  The hunger to embrace life the way we used to.  The urge to laugh more and to love with abandonment.  To help without thought of our own gain. 

But something else besides the magic gets lost.

Somewhere in it, we get lost, too.  We forget who are really are -- the one we discovered when we were free, unhindered and uncensored. 

But if we listen closely, we can hear the Creator calling us back to our wonderland.  He is giving us permission to be kids again.   He is giving us the nod, yes even strongly encouraging us! to go back to our childlike view of things, our childlike view of Him.  He tells us that our greatest role models in life aren't going to be the kings and queens and celebrities of our day.  No. 

He says, "See this child?  See how free and trusting?  See how she gives?  See how he loves?  See how they laugh?  Behold, your inspiration."