Saturday, January 1, 2011

What I Miss Most

The first time I ever shared publicly, both my testimony and the word of God, was in front of a sanctuary full of people at a midweek service in my church. As I found myself standing there looking out over the audience, I was overwhelmed with fear. As I looked down from the stage, I looked down into the eyes of my pastor and saw fear. I could read his mind as he was clearly asking himself what he had done allowing me to stand in his "pulpit". The only thing I was more aware of than the look in his eyes was my own shaking hand gripping tightly to the microphone it held. It shook so hard I feared I might smack myself in the head and knock myself out right there in front of everyone.

That process that brought me to that stage was an unusual one. It was in November 1997 as I lay in bed one night late talking to the Lord. At the time my ministry was completely personal, and online. I led a "support group" (for lack of a better term) of about a hundred women called PAWSE. It stood for "Post-Abortive Women, Support & Encouragement." After the Lord had done such an amazing work in my own heart and had brought me out of the depths of my sin and guilt only to place me in the crux of His arm which held redemption and hope right next to His very heart, I had an absolute passion to share the hope and freedom I had found with others. A stay at home mommy who worked part time, my passion became my purpose and the Lord just seemed to help me connect with other women who were struggling with the aftermath of abortion, and joyfully, He used me to offer them hope. As I lay there awake late one night, I heard the Lord as He quickened my spirit.

Clear as day I heard Him tell me that He wanted me to give my testimony and share my story for the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade which would be commemorated in the following January. God wanted me to share in my church? The idea was ridiculous. And I laughed to myself about the craziness that I would be the one He would tell. I mean what was I supposed to do, tackle my pastor and take over? Surely He was informing the wrong person. But the thought wouldn't let me go, so I laid in bed and argued with the Lord about the ridiculousness of it all.

Finally when hours had passed and sleep would not come because the Lord would not let me rest without obedience, I finally threw out my compromise. "Fine," I hissed quietly from my bed, "if the anniversary actually falls on a Sunday or a Thursday, then I will ask, otherwise, I'm out." And I hoped my willingness to bargain would mean that sleep would come. But it didn't. So finally, I got up and made my way into the kitchen and pulled the calendar up on the computer screen. My heart sank, the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was on a Thursday, as was our midweek service at that time.

In what felt like the craziest thing I had ever done in my Christian life up to that point, I quickly typed a letter out to my pastor telling him what I felt the Lord had told me. I was certain my pastor was going to think I was nuts, but the overwhelming need to, quite frankly, get the Lord off my back was greater. So on that late night I wrote the letter, signed and sealed it and walked out to the mailbox to send it on its way with a laugh and a prayer.

Within a week or so, my pastor replied and let me know I was the plan for the service on January 22, 1998. We had a short conversation about my props, which included some business cards I used to carry with a small heart in the upper left corner for the page, and a wall of paper reams I would need on the stage to share the reality of how many babies a year die in the United State by abortion.

The pastor and I didn't speak again until just a couple of days before the service. Our conversation then was short, just a confirmation about the wall of paper to be built. The heart on my cards, no bigger than the fingernail on my little finger, if I would print them across a page to the full, would require a wall of reams of paper about 5 feet across and 3 feet high. So we settled the details and then I waited for direction or advice, and instead he said good bye and we hung up.

By the day of the service, I was extremely nervous. I have never, NEVER spoken and given my testimony publicly. The closest had come was a few years before when I was a voice over a video in a church full of people who I didn't really know. The only real public speaking I had done at that point was in front of a speech class my senior year in high school. So by the time the day had come, I realized what a fish out of water I was and wondered continuously if I had really heard the voice of the Lord, and if I was supposed to be doing this at all.

I arrived at the church that evening and say anxiously in the front row as the worship team practiced. The thought of running for my life was constant and appealing. My pastor seemed busy, and other than a short hello, we didn't speak. I kept waiting for his instructions, but they never came.

After worship practice was over the pastor's wife came down the stairs and sat next to me, and I think she sensed my nerves. I blurted out my concern that I hadn't been given any real instruction about what I should do. She looked me in the eyes and said, "Didn't you tell him the Lord told you to do this?" As I nodded she said, "Then why would he have to tell you anything more?" Although I heard the logic in her words, I was still completely discombobulated.

Then the next thing I knew I found myself up on the stage and staring down in fear and into fear. I was on the wire without a net. As I watched my pastor shift uncomfortably, I looked to my husband on the other side and he nodded encouragingly. I stopped for a moment and closed my eyes and prayed silently, simply, "Lord, help me, give me the words."

When I opened my eyes and began to speak the words flowed out of me. For the next 45 minutes, I spoke as though I had been doing it forever. The only word to accurately describe it is "anointed." The Holy Spirit fell and the Lord did all the talking. Truth be told, if the service had not been recorded, I would never even know what I had said. I don't remember my words. I remember the look of relief on the pastor's face, I remember the emotional response of people who were listening. I remember the amazing sense of God's power and presence. I remember being COMPLETELY aware that what was happening had nothing to do with me. I was an empty vessel and the Lord poured through. It was amazing.

Then the next moment I became full aware of was when 45 minutes later, as I stood there, just as suddenly as the sense had come, it was gone. Like a heavy coat removed from my shoulders, I knew that His power and anointing was lifted, the job He'd given me complete. I looked out at the crowd and said, "Thank you very much," and got off the stage as quickly as I could.

It was the most amazing feeling, to sense the Lord's presence like that. It became in an instant, the best feeling in the world to me. It wasn't about the stage, or the recognition, it didn't have anything to do with me at all, it was about the moment of being right in the very center of God's will, submitted, obedient and being used. It is the most amazing place to be.

In the years that followed, there were more opportunities. For a season I got to teach and share on consistent and regular basis. I loved it. I loved it because the Lord would take me through His word and teach me so much, I would have pages and pages of notes and preparation and then when the day to share would come, I would step aside beforehand in worship and pray the prayer of John the Baptist. I would ask the Lord, "may I decrease that You would increase," and he never failed to answer that prayer. He always showed up, and always the sense of His presence and the honor of being used in that way would bless me in ways I cannot find words to describe. It is the place of absolute dependence on Him, absolute expectation of His response to my need and the fullness of joy of being in His presence.

There were several years where the opportunity for those experiences were frequent and consistent. I spoke to youth, both in my own church and in other churches. I spoke often at our own women's bible study, and the Lord opened other doors. I grew immensely in my seeking, preparation and dependence. The Lord would grow me mightily as I prepared. 10 pages of notes from preparation and I'd use almost none of them, and all the word pictures the Lord used to speak to me would suddenly be replaced 5 minutes before or right in the midst of my sharing, and He would use me to communicate life and hope and encouragement to others, and I would know in that moment, at least in part, exactly what I had been created for.

Then one day, it was taken away. The door and opportunity seemed to close. The heart didn't disappear. The words of encouragement aren't gone, but the door to share them in the way I'd come to love was sealed. I lost it first by geting into "trouble". It was a consequence for a misunderstanding. I was told I was no longer fit to be used. After the season of consequence ended though, the door remained closed. It's been 4 years or more since it was even a door of access at all. I have in those 4 years been given the opportunity to move in that gift 4 times. And it makes me sad.

Sometimes when I open up and share about the desire that is very much still alive and well, I get hurtful responses. People make it about a need to be on a stage, or to be center of attention, but I have labored long and hard with the Lord about whether or not the root of my desire is there, and I can say in confidence it's not the case. I know my hear that is in that desire is twofold. It's first about being the used vessel. It's about the sense of His presence that comes when He is using me for His purpose. The second is about the encouragement of others. Nothing blesses me more than seeing someone grasp a little bit better what it is to be loved by the Lord, to be encouraged to press on, to offer hope in place of despair.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned during the days when doors were open was that the Lord always divides ministry by one. Even when I stood in front of a room of fifty women or more to share, I knew if only one was touched or blessed, then that ministry had purpose and it mattered. I know that the God I serve even in a church service on Sunday morning will fill a sanctuary with hundreds, even even only one person needs to hear what the pastor will say. I also know He is usually far more efficient than that, but I know, this God who looked to the one sheep over the ninety-nine, cares dearly for the individual. I also know that even when maybe I wasn't exactly where I was supposed to be spiritually, that if the Lord wasn't going to show up for me, He'd always show up faithfully for those who'd come to hear from Him.

I know the Lord still continues to use me even with closed doors. 3 years ago at a women's retreat where I found myself feeling on the outside, miserable and alone, I heard the Lord speak to me then. He told me very clearly, "write." It's how this blog was born. It's an interesting challenge in that my desire is to be used of God and often I will pour myself into a post only to hear not even a peep of reply. It's then I think of my husband who faces his own challenges and frustrations and ministry, who often has to bring it back to, "I do it for the Lord." And I do. Although I hope this blog will build up and encourage others, I do it for the Lord. I do it because He told me to, and the truth is, the last time I am absolutely certain I heard Him, it was when He told me to write. But even though I have this as an outlet for the ministry He has placed in my heart, I still miss the opportunity to speak for the Lord, to be the empty vessel that He pours through.

I get flack for that. But I have asked the Lord to take the desire away if it is not of Him, and He has not. I know the want in it is not one of pride, because I know it isn't me, it's always Him if it's any good at all. It reminds me of my days of infertility. I longed so desperately to have a mother, and the desire was so intense it was like a physical ache. The difference then was what I wanted I had never known. I had never been a mother, and never held a child at my breast that was mine, so though I ached, I did not know what I was missing. This time the ache is at times almost just as physical, but the pain is knowing what's not there. It hurts.

I think to myself, if a gifted singer could never sing out loud again, they might understand. If a pastor was told he could never preach the word again, he might get it. If a gifted pianist was given a ministry to only clean the piano, then perhaps she would understand my pain. But unless you've been given a gift and told it could not be used, you can not understand my desire, the God-given desire to do what I know He Himself gifted me for.

My prayer for 2011 is God's will for my life, whatever that may be, and truly only He knows. But in the deepest want of my heart, I hope that 2011 holds a door, and that when I am able to draw closely enough to it, I will find it open, if only a crack to be used in the gift He gave me, and that I will find myself in a place where I am able to share the truth and encourage others.

In the meantime, I know that ministry is always divided by one, and I will do my best to love and touch every life He brings in mine with His love and encouragement. And I will continue to pray that if this desire is not of Him, that He will remove it, but if it is, I pray He will bring life to it, in Jesus' name.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tipping the Scales in 2011

2010 is winding to a close, and it's the time of year of taking stock, pondering and evaluation. I find myself looking back at 2010 and mulling over disappointments, failures, regrets. I also find myself looking hard to see if there are any places I would consider to be victories, or successes.

As one year ends and a new one approaches, I also find myself giving thought to what I want to do in the new year to hopefully secure the balance in the year to come will weigh heavier on the victories and successes side than the disappointments, failures and regrets.

I know I'm not alone, it's common to man. A new year offers new hope, new opportunity, and begs for a new plan.

I began last year 30 lbs lighter than I had the year before. This year after losing another 17 lbs in the first half, I find myself actually 5 lbs heavier (at least last I checked before the holiday) than I was a year ago. So I think I will file weight loss efforts on the side of disappointment and regret. I won't give it a complete failure mark though, because I know I did learn a lesson about how to get my weight down, and what it takes to feel better with regular activity and exercise in the first 6 months of the year. And I learned the importance of not slacking off.

I really hoped this would be the year I finally wrote my book. But, I didn't. But I don't think it qualifies as a failure, because in some ways, I feel like the Lord has been giving me a little more direction in that area. And although I do regret not being more diligent in my efforts, it's not a total loss. So I won't file that one under a failure, even if it isn't a success... yet.

Our financial situation isn't any better than it was a year ago. And in reality is probably a little worse. But in all honesty, I am guessing most people except a fortunate few would make that same assessment, the fact of the matter is, things are tough all over. So although I would definitely not consider that area of life to be either victorious or successful, I can't take on the failure all by myself, though I am sure there is a decent level of disappointment and regret to hold to.

So I have to wonder. What would I place on the side of success? Where has my victory come from this year? Surely I have to be able to file something under the "victory and success" side of the scale.

Truthfully, it doesn't take me long to know exactly what to file there. First off my marriage. I can honestly say with every passing year, I am more and more in love with my husband. Being married to Neal is my very best blessing. I love him more than chocolate, and I know whatever challenges we face, we face together as a team, and nowadays, a happy healthy marriage is harder to find than it used to be, and so I can without a doubt file that under success.

I look at my three rambunctious kids and think about all the days they drive me crazy and make me want to pull my hair out. Then I think about the fact that I have this amazing 16-year-old son who loves the Lord and has the heart to serve and care for kids, about how he chooses to live a clean in godly life despite the fact that he is surrounded by temptation and evil constantly, and I realize, he's not forcing me to pull most of those hairs out after all. Then I think about my 9-year-old son who does a poor job of speaking sarcasm and can get himself into trouble on occasion with his mouth, but the same mouth that occasionally misfires says the sweetest prayers of any person I have ever known. I think pf all the times we have been praying for someone and somehow through some supernatural discernment well beyond his knowledge or understanding, he will pray the exact perfect words for someone he may not even know. And I think about my daughter who while sitting around our advent table these last few weeks has taken the burden upon herself to pray for the salvation of the girls in her gymnastics class. I think about her song writing, as her heart just seems to burst forth in worship for her savior, and I think about the contagious joyful laughter she has that I know is a gift from God. My kids? I think they definitely get filed under successes, or at the very least, successes and victories in progress.

This past year, I have had the continued privilege to invest in Jake's friends through our bible study/ small group called Envision. Watching those boys come into my home and worship and share the Word together, honing their skills in teaching and encouraging them to seek the Lord above all else? Total success. And a privilege and joy greater than I can begin to describe.

This year I also had the awesome privilege to be involved in a couple of wonderful ladies' groups. I got involved with 11 other friends and we started a Bunco group. Ok, so maybe Bunco doesn't sound profoundly spiritual, but I think about the times when we stopped and prayed together and the hours on end we laughed together and encouraged one another, and I KNOW that bunco groups are a gift from God. So bunco? SUCCESS! And we also started a Facebook connected social group as well called the Grown Up Girls. It doesn't come across as the most super spiritual grouping, we have moves days, and girls' nights in, we've had lunches together and exercise walks in groups, nothing particularly profound, yet I know it has fed my spirit, and the spirit of many other women. It's brought ladies to church, and created new friendships, it has made our big church seem a little smaller when all of a sudden women are seeing women there that they met in a social aspect, and suddenly both feel a little more welcome, a little more at home, just a little bit more a part of thing. The Grown Up Girls? Definitely filed under successes.

Also under the success side of things I would file several friendships that grew to a deeper level. A woman who took time to mentor me, a woman who studied the word with me and a woman who intertwined her family with mine more intimately, success, success, success.

So as I step back and really look things over, I see something GLARING from the success side of the scale. It's people. People are what matter. Relationships are what really count. What matters most is what I have done with the relationships in my life.

So often in life I feel like such a failure as a Christian. Too many days when I am short-tempered, or my mind wanders from where it should. I stumble, some days it seems, all day long.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) That's what Jesus said. And although I have no doubt there have been many, many times I have failed to reflect that love in the lives around me, I also know, I have at times managed to reflect it. Success!

I don't mean this in any kind of prideful proclamation. I know I fall short all the time, but I have hope, because if the successes in my life are related to my relationships, than I at least know I am on the right path. At least some of this Christianity deal is actually sinking in. I may trip on it often, but I am at least on the proper path. And thankfully, I know if I'm on the path, the Lord will get me to the destination.

"The LORD makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand."

Psalm 37:23-24

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

The fact is, I've kind of lost count of exactly how many years I've been on this path with the Lord. It's not quite 20, I think I've settled so far somewhere in between 18 and 19 years since I recommitted my heart and life to the Lord. I have far from walked a perfect path, but I have somehow managed to stay on it, and that is without a doubt my greatest success and victory in my life. And truth be told, it's the only victory that really matters. It permanently tips the scale of life for every year, because if I have Jesus, I have everything I need.

As I look forward to 2011 and try to evaluate what I want for the year to come, the answer is simple, I want more of Him. I want to seek Him and pursue Him, and continue to grow in Him. I want to fall more in love with Him and learn more about Him. I want to continue on this path where the reality is, there is always more of Him to be found. There is always more of Him to experience. And there is always more of Himself that He wants to reveal to me.

So as I look toward 2011, I know my hope for the year to come. It's not a goal or a resolution even, just a fulfilling of the call the Lord placed on my hart in the first place. I want to be obedient to His command for my life.

Jesus said to him, “
‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:37-39

The fact of the matter is, relationships are what matter most. First and foremost my relationship with the Lord, and secondly with the people He places in my life. If all cylinders are firing properly then the other relationships in my life will benefit from my relationship with Him. It's the way things are meant to work.

So my 2011 is looking pretty promising. Not because I have some diet in mind, or a new membership to a gym. It's not because I have the magic budget prepared that will finally get me out of debt or because I am going to finally write that book that will make me a million. None of those things are what are waiting for me in 2011 to make sure the scale tips toward victory and success in 2011. What gives me hope and promises me victory in the year to come is the Lord. Just as surely as He is with me and beside me now, He is waiting for me in the future. He standing outside of time has it all under control. I do not know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future, and I know He's for me, and has good plans for me. He's going to love me, and I'm going to love Him back to the best of my ability, and together, we're going to love others together, and 2011 will be one heaven of a year, no matter what it may bring.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our[a] faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 John 5:2-5

In Jesus' name, I pray