Sunday, September 23, 2012

Great is HIS Faithfulness!

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
The wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
And is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
And therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:19-24

 You may recall that these verses have been my encouragement for the last several months as Shawn and I have desired to start a family.  I always related well to the first part of the passage, and I remembered often the steadfast mercies of the Lord were renewed each morning.  But now, I think on the second part of the passage…and I can wholeheartedly say – “Great is HIS faithfulness!”

Our prayers have been answered!  We found out at the end of August that we are pregnant!  God has granted us our greatest request!  I think of Hannah in 1 Samuel.  She prayed and prayed for God to give her a son.  In 1 Samuel 1:11, she prays,

“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” 

I remember praying a similar prayer thousands of times.  And God did eventually answer Hannah’s prayer and He has answered our prayer, as well!  In the praying and suffering, Hannah’s faith grew and she learned how to better trust in God’s provisions for her life.  I think I know a little better how Hannah felt so many years ago.  I say, like Hannah,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
My strength is exalted in the Lord…
There is none holy like the Lord;
There is none besides you;
There is no rock like our God.” 

I think also of Mary, when she found out she would be giving birth to a miracle baby.  The miracle within her was so overwhelming that her heart’s response has become famous.  I think of a song I used to sing in Bethel’s choir, taken from Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-48:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
He has regarded me;
His servant I will be
From this day evermore.”

God has looked upon our sadness and emptiness and He has heard!  He has heard and He has acted!  Praise God for the life that He has given to me and Shawn!  My thoughts lately have been on our first child that we lost through miscarriage several months ago.  I eventually saw how God worked out the loss of our child for His glory.  I see now how God has worked out these years of waiting for His glory.  And I can’t wait to see how God shows His glory through the growing and living of this child within me.  All praise and glory be to God!

So, friends, I am writing to tell you that God’s faithfulness is GREAT and I am overwhelmed with his goodness and mercy!  When Shawn and I were married, we sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding.  It’s interesting that our wedding song is taken from my favorite passage in the Bible…and even more interesting that it has become my life verse.  I am confident that God has been working out EVERY event in my life to show me that His faithfulness is great towards me!  The last verse says, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!”  Amen to that!

I ask for your continued prayers concerning our baby.  Please pray that the first trimester would go well, especially since we’ve miscarried before and that increases our chances for another.  I am confident that God’s faithfulness will be shown, no matter what!  Our baby is due in early May and we can’t wait to show God’s proof of faithfulness to all of you!

With joy,
Shawn and Melissa (and baby)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What It's All About

I don’t want to!  I shouldn’t have to!  She doesn’t deserve it!  Not yet!  I don’t feel like it!  He didn’t even say he was sorry!  Oh, how many times we have repeated these words to ourselves to justify our inaction…the inaction that should cause us to stop and examine our hearts.  This is the hardest part about being a Christ follower (in my opinion) and sometimes, it’s the LEAST fun part!  But when I actually do it right (more often than not, I botch this up BIG), I’m amazed at how wonderful it is and how much good can come from it.  So, what am I talking about?  It’s the dreaded word -- forgiveness*groan*

Last time I posted, I talked about the first layer of God’s clothing that we should be wearing, which was compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  As if that isn’t hard enough, we’re told that there is another layer.  What?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  And it’s even harder!  Take a look…

"Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Colossians 3:13

 That’s one really short verse that packs a pretty mighty punch.  In short, God is telling me – If someone does something wrong towards you, you are to forgive him immediately.  Not only that but I’m to bear with other people – what does that mean?  And, oh by the way Melissa, if you don’t forgive others – remember that the Lord has forgiven you and you didn’t deserve it.  Ouch!  Like I said, it’s not easy.

So, what does it mean to “bear with one another”?  Another word could be to endure with one another or to put up with one another.  No, that doesn’t mean rolling your eyes every time that bothersome person looks away or telling every one what a royal loser that person is and how messed up she is.  To put up with another in love means to endure the sins of another, realizing the sins that you have as well.  You know, it can be really hard for me to be around an annoying person. It’s hard to act like I care – very wrong of me. When I’m tempted to do the “eye roll” or the sigh (you know what I’m talking about), I should really think about how many times I, Melissa, am the annoying one that is hard to “bear with”.  That gives me something to think about.  Ouch, again…

The next part says to “forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.”  Alright, now we’re getting to the good stuff...and the hard part.  Let me clarify.  This does NOT mean that I can wait to forgive a person once they realize that they are sorry for what they’ve done.  This does NOT mean saying, “I forgive you,” and then continuing to treat that person as though you haven’t forgiven them – because you really haven’t, if you’re still treating them that way.  By the way, if you struggle with this one (I do), then the sin is on you – not the other person.  Ouch, three times!  This does NOT mean holding every little speck of wrong done against you close to your heart and waiting for that person to repent of those sins.

So, what does it mean?  Forgiving one another means to realize that we are also in need of forgiveness.  Typical Bible answer but think about it.  How many times have you been mad at someone for all the many things they have done to you?  Me personally, I find it really easy to look at that person and judge and condemn and make them inferior in my mind because after all – How could they?  How could they do that to ME?  So, how many times have you done that – only to find out later that you have been just as guilty in the situation as they are, maybe more? 

I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten upset at Shawn for not doing something – only to find out that I had dropped the ball BIG TIME in other ways that same day!  Sometimes, I am such a hypocrite!  Now, my sweet, loving husband always apologizes to me for what he’s done and I start to feel pretty superior.  After all, I’ve shown him his wrong and now he’s so sorry he’s done that to me.  I’m a good person because I’ve forgiven him.  (Or have I?)  I need a pat on the back!  *Even as I write this, I’m ashamed to think that I do this sometimes.*  After Shawn apologizes to me, I often later realize the wrong that I have also committed that he NEVER confronted me about – and I find myself shamefully crawling into the other room to tell him I’m sorry. 

So, moral of the story:  Don’t withhold forgiveness from someone because you think they don’t deserve it.  I GUARANTEE that if you look closely, you’ll also be in need of forgiveness!  Actually, I can almost promise that…especially if this unforgiveness has been hanging around for awhile. Just the "unforgiveness factor" is in need of forgiveness – does that make sense?  Believe me, if you struggle with this – you are NOT alone.  There is at least one more person who struggles with this…and that would be me.  So, don’t beat yourself up.  Pray about it and be more ready to forgive!

The verse ends by saying, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  The end.  It’s that simple!  It doesn’t matter if that person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, in your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if that person isn’t sorry.  It doesn’t matter if that person has wronged you 500 times, in the same way.  It doesn’t matter – period.  Because we have to remember that WE don’t deserve forgiveness, WE don’t act sorry, and WE have wronged Christ many more than 500 times – and WE ARE STILL FORGIVEN!!!  Let me repeat that – We are still forgiven and we don’t deserve it at all!  Thank God that He doesn’t look at my actions and treat me the same way that I treat others!

You know, Shawn and I were talking about forgiveness the other day.  I’m pretty sure it was after one of those times that I came crawling into the room. I was honest and told him that I really struggle with this, especially towards people close to me - why is that always the case?  He said, “I know you do and I’ve been praying for you.”  Wow…here I am, treating him as though he’s inferior to me and I’m the one that’s been the subject of prayer.  Ouch, four times!  Anyway, we were talking about this and I asked Shawn to keep praying for me.  He said, “I will, honey.”  Later in the conversation, he said something that has been etched into my mind.  He said, “Forgiveness is really what Christianity is all about.  If you can't forgive others, then you're missing one of the most important parts of Christianity.  This is so true. This is what sets apart a Christ follower from another who does not love the Lord.  I doubt that I will ever be perfect, especially not at forgiving others.  But, I don’t EVER want someone to look at me and question my faith or my witness of my Savior because of my unforgiving heart.

So, if you struggle with this – don’t hang your head.  Rather, lift it up to the One who can heal your unforgiving heart.  I promise you won’t be the only one saying that prayer.  *smile*

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."  Isaiah 1:18

Happy Forgiving!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Tribute to My Mom

Sunday, September 9th, is my Mom's birthday.  I won't tell you how old she is but I am going to tell you how wonderful she is!  So, this post is a tribute to my beautiful and wonderful mother. 

 Many of the first memories I have in this life include my mom.  I helped my parents cook in the kitchen at church camp when I was too little to be a camper.  I remember complaining that I didn't have any important jobs to do and I wanted one ( I was only like 5 or 6 at the time).  So, my mom brought out this huge - and I mean HUGE - block of cheese and told me to start grating it.  I think I stood on a chair and grated cheese for the rest of the day...until I grated part of my thumb into it, too!  I know, gross - but I was proud that I could help!

She helped me learn to ride my bike without training wheels.  She taught me how to fix my hair.  She taught me how to cook.  She helped me with my homework. 

Mom faithfully took me and my sister to piano practice each Saturday morning and had us listen to "Adventures in Odyssey", a storytelling section on Christian radio.  She always had 103.9 FM on the radio in the car, home of Southern Gospel Music.  There are some days when I really want to hear "Little Chuckie was a Church Mouse" - the song that I used to beg my mom to let me call in and request...and she usually gave in!

She took care of me when I was sick.  I have vivid memories of laying on the floor at her office, rolled up in my sleeping bag because I was so sick.  She couldn't take off work every time one of us kids got sick - so she just took us to work with her and we slept on the floor all day.  I remember loving it because I knew that my mom was going to take care of me, even at work.  She would put us in the adjoining room to her office, turn off the light, and shut the door. 

Mom took me to the oral surgeon when I got my wisdom teeth cut out.  She held me up on the way to the car when I was still too woozy to talk straight.

My mom never missed a game when I was in grade school or high school.   She was at every softball, basketball, and volleyball game I ever played in - unless she and Dad went their separate ways because one of my siblings had another game on the same night.  I often marveled at how she could stay awake for the 2 hour right home from several of my basketball games, while I was sleeping like a rock in the back seat.  She'd wake me up at about midnight when we got home and she would still be up the next morning to help me get ready for school.  What a mom!

She always fixed me my favorite birthday meal - even if it was a little bit odd!!  Hot dogs or sloppy joes, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes, with poke cake!  Strange meal but she never said a word!

My mom was there for me when I was in college and beyond, waiting for God to show me the man I was to marry.  I remember her telling me that God had someone great for me and that I should just trust in Him to take care of things.  She would encourage me to give my worries and loneliness up to God and have joy in my life again.

Mom would massage my feet after my long weekend shifts (and some short weekday ones, too) at Dairy Queen when my feet hurt so bad that I couldn't even walk to my bedroom.  She understood the pain because she has it too - and she quietly rubbed my feet at night while we sat in front of the TV and watched MASH.  lol
My mom showed up at our apartment on "moving day" in Sparta and calmed me down before anyone else showed up when I saw the moving truck pull up and said, "I'm really moving.  I'm really leaving, aren't I?"  She helped me finish up the last minute stuff I needed to do and assured me that everything was going to work out.  She was there when me and Shawn looked at our empty apartment after everyone had left and wondered what our life was going to look like in Iowa.  She told me that the thought of panic that said, "What have we done?" as we looked at our completely empty apartment was normal and that we were doing the right thing.  I already knew that but needed to hear it.  She was the one who helped me pack my most important last minute valuables and made sure that they made it safely to our home in Iowa.

Mom guided me step-by-step through my miscarriage that I had last year.  She told me exactly what to expect and that I didn't need to be worried.  She was there for me 2 days after moving to Iowa, when I laid on the couch and cried about what had happened.  She was the one who encouraged me to take a nap, in the midst of boxes and boxes of stuff everywhere...and while I slept, she finished unpacking my kitchen.

My mom (and my dad, too!) is always the one who cries when we leave to go back to Iowa after a trip home.  The week (or 3 1/2 days with each family) goes by so fast that before we know it, it's time to say goodbye.  She always smiles a brave smile and says, "It was good to see you.  Have a good trip home."  and the whole time, her bottom lip is shaking.  That's usually when I start to struggle too!

 It's pretty obvious that God has used my mom to help shape me into the person I am today.  I have lots of learning and growing to do still but I know that I am where I am today because I had a mother who never gave up on me and always stood by my side.  I know that today still, I have a mother who is always willing to listen and understand on the phone.  Just last night, we talked until her cell phone died and then talked on my dad's phone for another 45 minutes or so!  I know my Mom is here for me and I love her for the mother that she is to me!

So, Mom - when you get around to reading this, I love you!  Thanks for being the Mom that I needed in my childhood and into adulthood.  Thanks for your love and care over me!  I love having you for a mom!  Happy Birthday!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Good Clothing - Part 1

What are you wearing right now?  I’m wearing an orange Mission to the World shirt from a past mission trip and brown shorts.  Now I ask again…what are you REALLY wearing?  You’re probably thinking – “Okay, maybe this is a post I need to skip if you're going to talk about clothes.”  But seriously, don’t leave yet!  I can’t stand clothes shopping and all that stuff so you don’t need to worry!  *smile*

My question is:  What type of spiritual clothing are you wearing?  I’ve never really cared about clothes and I think I’ve still got some shirts from college that I wear almost every week.  Is that bad?  haha  I could never really be labeled as a fashionable person and that has never bothered me.  But when it comes to spiritual clothes – I want to be wearing the best and look the best.  I want to be as well-dressed as I can possibly be.  Anybody know a good store for spiritual clothing?  I doubt Kohl’s would have anything, huh?

I’ve been thinking about my spiritual clothing ever since our Bible study on Thursday night which has been focusing on Everyday Christian Living.  I learned that there are 3 layers of clothes that we, as Christians, are supposed to be wearing each day.  So, I thought I’d unload each one in a separate post to do two things.  First, I’ve wanted to think on them more and understand them better myself – and I always think better through my fingers.  Second, I wanted to give you the chance to think on them and perhaps check out the type of clothing that you’ve been wearing.  I know my clothing needs a bit of freshening up – so don’t be discouraged if you find that to be the case!

So, the first layer of Christ-like clothing is…

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,”  Colossians 3:12

 There you have it – the clothing that will help make you the best dressed Christian around!  But what does that mean?  How can I be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience?  To be clothed in compassion means that we should be considerate and concerned for the welfare of other people.  We should actually care about how a person feels and our hearts should yearn to care for that person.  In case you’re wondering, the opposite of compassion is coldness.  So if you catch yourself feeling cold – be sure you change your clothes quickly!

To be clothed in kindness means to be nice!  That’s easy!  But sometimes kindness looks a bit different.  Kindness means more than just being nice.  It means being “Christian nice” – which means that we show kindness in the face of cruelty (which by the way, is the opposite of kindness).  It’s easy to be nice to the nice people – but it’s hard to show kindness or compassion to the people who like to attack you.  But – kind is what we must be anyway!

Clothed in humility is the exact opposite of arrogance.  That might be the easiest answer.  An arrogant person insists on always being right, always having things their own way, and never backing down.  So, don’t always insist on being right, don’t always have things your way, and be willing to walk away.  Being humble means that we’re not going to participate in the arrogant person’s game.  Don't continue discussing something if you realize that it's only going to cause more trouble or more friction - just walk away and leave it alone.  Showing humility can diffuse many fires of arrogance.  And women – another great way to be humble is to dress with MODESTY!  My mama taught me well when it came to this.  Don’t wear clothing that will encourage men to lust after us – what’s the point?  Our beauty should be the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.”  1 Peter 3:4  Any man worth getting to know will want to look deeper than skin-deep – so be humble about clothing!

Being clothed in meekness means to be yielding and submissive.  Our personality shouldn’t be domineering or over-bearing to others (the opposite of meek).  Our speech should be soft and loving.  We should submit to the authority of our husbands and others that God has placed in authority over us. 

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”  Ephesians 5:22

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  Hebrews 13:17

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  Romans 13:1

There is no room in our Christian life for proud and assertive behavior when it comes to those whom God has placed in authority over us.

To be clothed in patience is to show endurance in suffering.  To be persistent in a loving way.  Patience means to be tolerant of the small things – like a flat tire, a dead battery, a burnt supper, an annoying person, a long wait at the doctor's office, a family of ducks crossing the road – and to tolerate these things without complaint.  Don’t get irritated easily, which is the exact opposite of patience.  The staying power of patience is a tough thing to learn – and I know that I’m still working on this one, for sure!

So, these traits are the first layer of clothing that God requires us to put on.  As Christ-followers, it isn’t going to be easy to wear these clothes.  If you live on the same planet that I do – then you’re going to have plenty of chances to practice the “putting on” of these clothes.  Just think about it.  How many times today have you had the chance to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient?  I can easily think of an example for each of these, just from today.

I encourage you, from one Christ-follower to another – focus on getting dressed up for the next few days with the right clothing.  And no, Kohl’s doesn’t have it – but your Bible does.  So, pick it up and read it – and you’ll find clothing selections like you never imagined!  Now that’s my kind of shopping!