Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Freedom of Sacrifice

Sacrifice. Boy, I really don't like that word. It typically means me giving something up that I would rather not hand over.

I sat with a friend today and listened as she poured her heart out, sharing with me her struggles. At times, it seemed as though she were telling my story. Our journeys are similar to a degree yet separated by circumstance.

As my friend spoke, my heart reflected on those things the Lord has spoken to me pertaining to these same issues -- one of the hardest being sacrifice and living selflessly. I am not very good at either but I am trying. I am learning it is much better to keep the peace than to be proven right. It is sometimes more gracious to allow someone else to express their point of view than for mine to be heard. And it is always the right thing to forgive a wrong than to allow it to hinder and destroy a relationship.

I hate sacrifice! I want my way. I want to be heard and I want it all to happen immediately. The beauty of this call to selfless living is that in laying down all those unhealthy desires, I gain something of far greater worth. There is a certain peace that comes with not always having to be right. When you don't have to have your own way all the time, the Lord will begin to make a way for you. Did you catch that? When we relinquish our will and stop trying to make things go our way, God steps in and has His own which is far better than anything we could conceive for ourselves.

Letting go of that which we know we need to surrender, no matter how much a part of our makeup it may have become, is freeing in the struggle. It's a tug-of-war in our souls that is won when we simply let go. We can either choose to release our hold and remain standing or get pulled into the muck and mire of our own making. We cannot win by holding on. In a way, it's simply a matter of how we chose to lose. When we begin to experience the peace that comes from allowing the Lord to have control over those things we once held so dear, we can then begin to understand why we were meant to let them go.

Recently, I've started praying some new scriptures over my life. When I began doing so, I had no idea what it would require of me to see these things come to pass. Things I wanted the Lord to do for and in me, required more than just my speaking them forth. He sometimes desires for us to partake in the creation of our own blessings. Often, our unwillingness to die to self is what hinders His hand. He cannot always give us what He wants us to have when our hands are clasped tightly around what it is we want for ourselves.

It seems I am walking through this truth everyday. Some things are easier than others to release and some I continue to struggle with greatly. What I am experiencing is a greater awareness of those things that need to go. While I may not always surrender quickly, that is my heart and my desire for obedience is what pleases the Lord.

If you find yourself wondering where peace can be found in the midst of your situation, ask The Lord this question. "What am I holding onto that I need to release?" There is a blessing He has been longing to give you if you'll just lay that thing down, freeing your heart to receive it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Blessing of Pain

Some of you may notice that I changed the title of my blog from "Just Thinking" to "The Heart Speaks." I'm always thinking about something but I am learning more and more that from my heart, my mouth speaks and it's often not exactly what I'd wished I'd said.

I saw some old friends recently that I had not seen in years. It was wonderful to reconnect with these dear companions, but I was so hoping that I wouldn't see one individual in particular simply because of a wounding I had received at their hand. That spot was obviously still tender no matter how well I tried to cover it up.

Well, as God would have it our paths did cross. There was no avoiding someone who wouldn't let themselves stay hidden, much like I had chosen to do. I avoided contact for as long as I could, like a wounded animal afraid to be touched. When approached, I did what any hurt thing would do, I chose my words deliberately in hopes of ending the interlude as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, I was sick -- heartsick! Though I wasn't mean or rude, my demeanor was unloving and extremely detached. I had never fully released that which I perceived as an affront to me in my relationship with this individual. My actions revealed what was in my heart and it wasn't pretty.

In truth, what I thought was moving on from an offense I'd received was actually a cover up. Masking indifference for forgiveness is a dangerous infection no salve can mend. Fortunately for me, I tend to be pretty honest with myself in the end. As a believer, when we're honest before God we know when we're just plain wrong. I'm not saying it's easy. In fact, I hate it when I'm wrong. That usually means I have to do something about it, and God knows I will because I want to grow up in Christ, achieving the fullest stature of the Cheryl I was created to become. ...but, back to the heart issue.

It was rather telling to me afterwards, after all the fretting beforehand in anticipation of seeing this person, just how obvious it was to me that I was still holding onto the pain of that situation. Why couldn't I see it as clearly before? Maybe it was because until I saw this person, I was able to convince myself that I had moved on. Then while I was standing there face to face with them, the truth came forth and it hurt.

Do you you realize that pain is a gift? It is an indication that something is not quite right and it is in need of healing. The pain I was experiencing in my heart should've clued me into my greater need for healing. The Father's love for us is so great that He allows us to experience pain. Can you imagine having a broken leg and not experiencing any pain because of it? What sort of further damage could you inflict upon yourself without the indication that something is terribly wrong? Pain is a blessing when you look at it like that. However, just having the pain and not doing something about it is not a good thing either.

When we present our pain to our Great Healer who has the power to transform our hurts into our holiness, then we wince no more when those places are touched. What once caused us to shrink back and respond in fear, now compels us to allow the Spirit of God to search us and to reveal those places in our heart that need His healing touch. Exposure is a great thing! Living there is not always easy but as we yield to the Lord more and more each day, our defenses begin to crumble and weaken giving Him greater access to those deep places in our hearts.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Are you the Best?

I've started frequenting the grocery store chain that I love, at a new location. It's on my way home from work and therefore more convenient for me. It's not the big "ta-dah" version I am used to but it will suffice since it carries everything I typically need anyway.

Last week, I decided to do my weekly shopping for groceries at this location as opposed to the one I normally go to for this trip. I took my time going up and down the aisles, (something most people hate doing but I somehow find therapuetic), familiarizing myself with where everything could be found. When I was done, being that it was in the evening after work, I started to prepare myself for the long cashier line in which I was destined to wait.

I began making my way through the crowded paths, looking up all the while to make sure I didn't end up in one of those "15 or less" aisles. No matter how cute I tried to be or pathetic I tried to look, that just wouldn't fly with my basket heavily ladden down with provisions for the following week.

However, to my surprise, every register except one was open and many of them were manned by managers! I was shocked! I could get in any line I wanted because all were moving quickly. Never in my life had I seen so many registers open at once. Even more shocking was the number of managers, checking, sacking and filling carts. Had I just walked into the Twilight Zone? They were moving people out of there so fast that I started scrambling for my store card, my wallet and even my keys, so that in case they rushed me by too fast, I would at least be ready to load up my car once my head cleared from the daze.

The look must've shown on my face. In fact, I know it did because I was so floored by this phenomenon that I commented on it to the manager that was checking me out. When I did, she said, "I wondered why you were looking around like that." I made sure she knew that I thought this was a good thing and that they were now my new favorite location. Really, I just wanted to make sure that I would receive this kind of service all the time. :0

The manager said that they all felt it was their job to keep the store running smoothly and that they realized we all just wanted to do our shopping and get home. How right she was, but few in her position care enough to do anything about it. She also said something else that kept me pondering all the way home. "We don't mind doing whatever it takes to help out."

I looked at her and said, "That's why ya'll are the best and why I will be shopping here more often."

As I drove home. I thought to myself, what if we all did our very best everyday? What if we tried harder, gave a bit more, made a bit more effort than the day before? What if instead of saying or in most of our cases thinking, "That's not my job," we thought, "Sure. I'll help with that!" What if we went beyond the norm everyday?

A friend and I were talking the other day about my current job and why she thinks I'm there. I was relaying a rather frustrating story to her about one of my clients. I had worked very hard on obtainging some special assistance for this elderly lady. It was a big thing we were doing for her and I was so happy to be the one to tell her what we would be providing for on her behalf. I had gone beyond what was required of me to make this happen for this individual. I was so excited, only to watch most of this tremendous blessing crumble before my eyes, because once I did my part it was out of my hands and into another's who didn't care as much or perhaps like their job enough to see to it that this request be honored in a timely fashion. What if we all cared as much as we could each day?

I have another client who needed some major help as well. I had also been working on this case for several weeks. This time, the client herself was holding me back from completing her request by not giving me everything I needed. I stayed on top of the situation, constantly calling to check and see if she had everything. No longer wanting to delay the provision she needed, I went to her home to retrieve the last and final paperwork needed to complete her request. I could have waited until she compiled everything herself or simply just let her follow up with me once she had all she needed. When I called her last week to tell her that her request had been approved, she screamed so loudly into the phone that I nearly dropped the receiver. What if we each went the extra mile everyday?

I didn't tell you why my friend thinks I'm in this particular position. She says it's to leave things better in my wake, for the next person who will follow behind me. I agree. I'm not trying to toot my own horn. In fact, because of how much work I have to do, I have been strangely impressed upon to make my work count. At times when I've wanted to take shortcuts that would get the job done but cause my work to be less than perfect, I've felt the gentle nudging of the Spirit encouraging me to go all the way, and not stop short. I want the work I do to be so precise and so excellent that the next person will have to work harder than they ever did before to equal my results. At times I may feel as though I am cleaning up the mess passed down to me, but in reality, what I am really doing is raising up a standard of excellence through the tasks set before me. What if we each did more than we thought we could everyday?

You are the best you there is. Can you imagine you, only better? Just what would that look like? Don't imagine it. Be it! Give yourself fully to the tasks at hand.

2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A DUH Moment

Have you ever had a revelation about something or a word from the Lord that was so clear and so strong that all you could think to say was, "DUH!" Well I have! I wrote this about one such experience several weeks ago.

My summer is starting to wind down and as difficult as parts of it have been it has also been much needed. I have been so thankful for this time to reflect on the past few months, examine my heart before the Lord and to seek Him for that which I could not do alone. Yet in the midst of that, chaos has been looming all around me trying to force me to respond to it. For the most part, I've refused. I just done lef' out! For those of you who do not speak ebonics, that means I simply turned my back on the madness.

However, there have been days during this difficult time which have been especially trying. I started getting a little anxious about some of the decisions yet to be made and the uncertainty of the future before me. I won't go into details because some of you know them and it would take too long to explain it all to those of you who don't. In my distress I did something thing that I promised myself I would not do. I knew beforehand, what would happen if I took that route. I'd get frustrated, anxious and discouraged and that is exactly what where I ended up!

I began to focus on the logistics of how this would happen and when that would happen and before I knew it, I was in a place I never wanted to be. I was without peace. Oh, how I needed to be with the people of God to just simply worship! Because I had been recovering from surgery, I had missed being with my church family for several weeks. However, that evening was our Psalm Sunday - two solid hours of pure unadulterated worship! Woohoo!!! I was so ready.

All our pastor had to do was open up with a scripture, (I don't even remember which one), and I was a mess! It's one thing to be alone with the Lord and to do business with Him in the privacy of your own prayer closet, but it is quite another to engage in corporate worship with people who truly love their God. Something simply magnificent is released when we do that. There is just a lingering presence of the Lord that seems to follow you home and won't let you go. It also doesn't hurt to have a worship leader who doesn't just know how to worship, but who also knows how to lead others into as well. Our church is so blessed!

Even a few hours later, I was walking through the house and the Lord began to speak to me about one of the issues I hade been bringing before Him. Although what He was saying was really just a confirmation of things He's spoken before, this night it had new meaning. Something was different. I think before I was simply hoping it was true. This time I got it. I believed it! Again, I was a mess.

I need to have more "DUH" moments! To be surprised by God in those times is like discovering Him anew again, and again. Something that seemingly should've been so obvious, can sometimes only come to light when we acknowledge we simply have no clue and begin to focus on the One who does, as opposed to the problem at hand. Worship! If I went there first each time instead of to managing my own need, perhaps my struggles would not be so prolonged.

The Lord is always speaking things to my heart through life's situations, through interaction with others and in the quiet moments of my day. However, I'm not always receiving those words as He intends and sometimes I just plain miss them altogether. I'd like to live in that place of complete dumbfoundedness where I am continually in awe of His presence and His concern for me.

I have a friend that is always stating how clueless she is, as though that were a thing to be ashamed of or frowned upon. I wish I were more clueless! My independent nature is sometimes quite exhausting, but oh to live in that place of trusting God more and my own self-sufficiency less! That is my prayer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Am I Being Changed?

Do you ever have those moments when you wonder if God is doing anything at all in your life? Are you being changed? Are you growing spiritually? Do you see prayers for your own life being answered?
For several years and still today, I have been praying off and on for growth in a specific area of my life. Beginning this year, this prayer became one of the most important for me in this season of my life. I am sure that I probably uttered it before the Lord almost every day. However, I did not see much progress. If anything, I sometimes felt as though I was slipping backwards in this area, until just a few months ago.
I received one of those e-mails. You know the ones – the “Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Me” surveys. This one was a little different though. It was a bunch of questions you were supposed to answer about the sender. Once you were done, you send it back to them and onto several other people who also didn't have the time it takes to fill out one of these surveys.
Given that it came to me from an old friend that I just recently reconnected with, I played along and filled it out. Besides, it was fairly short and I didn’t pass it on to anyone else. :-) (...and she is probably reading this. Sorry, Babe. You bless me!) She quickly responded back to the survey with her answers about me. About halfway down the list, I paused. Her answer to one of the more personal questions about me was an answer to the prayer I had been praying all this time. What I couldn’t see in myself, for lack of patience, stillness or simply unrealistic expectations, she had seen in me. This survey I saved.
It’s crazy how frustrated I still become with myself when I don’t see change in an area that I am actively working to improve upon. Yet God in His unmistakable goodness, reminds me along the way that He has not given up on me. Though I may not see results as I would prefer, He is pleased with my heart and points out that there is more to see than meets the eye. I love that about Him! This gentle pat on the back gives fuel to my petitions and encourages me all the more, to pray that I would see as He sees, even when the subject is me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Confessions of a Re-gifter

Once when I was visiting some friends, before I left they gave me a gift. When I got home and opened it I saw it was a very nice candle. I love candles but what was I going to do with another one? I keep some on hand for gifts and I really didn't need it or have anywhere for it to go. So, I thought I'd regift it. Yes. I confess. I am a regifter, and not at all ashamed of it. I have a "gift closet" where I keep gifts on hand that I've purchased and some I intend to regift. BUT in my defense, I do so for two reasons.

First of all, being the efficiency expert, I think we hold onto way more stuff than we need. How can I continue to help others downsize if I can't let go of some things myself?

Secondly, I am a teacher. As if that reason weren't enough, let me clarify. At my school, we receive lots of gifts - nice gifts at Christmas time and others during the year. I once received a cake from a well known bakery on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!! Can you imagine if I held onto every gift I received every year? What would I do with all that stuff?

Those of you who know me well already know that I don't regift everything. I love making things for people as opposed to buying gifts. However, my feeling is when I give someone a gift, what they do with it once it leaves my hands is up to them. If they regift it, it's their's to give away. So, with reasons for why I'm a regifter set aside, I will continue.

As I was thinking about who I could give this really nice candle to, I heard the Lord say, "Don't give that away! Keep it for yourself. Why do you do that? That gift was meant for you and while it's sweet that you want someone else to have something you may have in abundance, that person meant for you to enjoy it. I want you to enjoy the gifts given to you whether you think you should keep them or not. Whether you have need of them or not. Whether you have room for them or not. They thought of you when they made it or bought it, so receive it as it was intended - a gift for you."

That was rather eye opening. I never really thought of it like that before. Then I started thinking about how easily I overlook some of the gifts the Lord has given me and gives to me every day. What gifts have I placed in the gift closet only to collect dust? Pondering this even now, I can see the gleam in His eye as He offers them to me -- eagerly waiting as I open them to see what He picked out just for me.

Have you ever considered that? God watches us to see how we will respond when we recognize His gifts being presented to us. A sunset. A child's laughter. A friend's funny personality or their warm hugs. Your creativity. Your ability to love in all things. Your keen sense of direction.

Now, I reconsider all gifts. Someone thought of me in love and made me a priority on their list! I'm glad the Lord thought of me enough to include me on His. Aren't you?


A funny thing happened not long after this story occurred. I received the most bizarre gift from a dear, dear friend. They were so excited about watching me open their gift - just sure that I would love it. Bless their heart! I had no idea what they were thinking. It was one of the weirdest gifts I had ever received, but I kept it because of this story and because it apparently meant something to them. Months later I figured out they had given me this gift as a reminder of something very profound that happened to me just a few weeks earlier that only they and a handful of others knew about. How very thoughtful! I would've been devastated had I given away that precious gift.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Another Lesson from Tiger

Sometime back I was dog sitting for some friends who had several dogs and cats. The one dog that stays inside is mean and also the smallest. My dog Tiger, was with me that week and he stays inside with me too, but he is by no means a small dog.

During the 10 days that I was there, the mean little dog took every available opportunity to aggravate Tiger. Anyone who knows Tiger knows that he is just a big strong ball of loving energy! He loves everything, both animals and people and he only wants to do two things -- cuddle and play. On numerous occasions while we have been here, I have had to stop him from trying to play with this other dog. He would make an attempt to play and the mean dog would simply growl and lunge at him.

Well, when I got home tonight and let both he and the other dog out, of course it began again. Tiger wanted to play, but the other dog did not. I'd had it. Enough already! So I said, and yes, these were my exact words, "Tiger, why do you keep pursuing him?"

I actually stopped dead in my tracks after I finished that sentence. Immediately, I heard the Lord say, "It's because of love." Okay, now barring the fact that we are talking about two dogs here, can you just see that picture? What must that kind of persistence look like in human form?

This lesson was so very prevalent in my own life at the time and yet even still, today. I had also listened while friends shared their struggles with me about this issue as well. Sometimes loving is hard, but it is also a choice. We can choose to give up trying to love others because of how difficult they can sometimes make it for us, or no matter what, we can keep loving.

Not long ago, after a particularly trying time with someone, I told the Lord, "Okay. I give up. You're going to have to show me how to love them because this isn't working." I had done all I knew to do in the way of love and yet their response back to me was anything but.

Later that evening, my heart was drawn to I Corinthians 13 because I knew the answer was there. From The Message, verse 4...Love never gives up. Wow! I got that message loud and clear. It would have been so easy for me to walk away because I knew I had given it everything within me to love this person, in spite of their treatment of me. I would've felt justified in doing so too.

However, that is not the way of love. Sooner or later, I would've also felt the coldness of my heart beginning to give way to deeper more detrimental consequences that come from not walking in love -- bitterness, resentment, woundedness, perhaps even anger. I've got enough issues! I don't need all that stuff too!!!

That is the bottom line though. Isn't it? As a friend of mine used to say all the time, "We all have issues and we all need counseling." I'd like to modify that a bit and say that, we all have issues and we all need someone to love us through them!

The truth is, people sometimes respond to us out of their woundedness, their pain, their fears and even their disappointments. Yet we have a choice. Will we continue to love or will we choose to walk away and give our love to those who won't fight as hard to receive it? I love what The Message goes onto say about love.

"Always looks for the best. Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies."

I want to love like that. My dog does! Isn't he amazing?