Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It Can Be a Merry Christmas

I feel asleep on my sofa last night, but before doing so, I decided to leave my Christmas tree lights on overnight. This morning upon waking, it took me some time to remember what day it was. It was daylight outside and I'd slept so soundly that I wasn't sure if it was a workday, a Sunday, or what. Then I remembered.

Laying there trying to come out of my sleep stupor, I began zeroing in on the ornaments on my Christmas tree. I have hundreds and not all of them can fit on the tree. Yet, I can tell you where most of them came from; whether they were teacher gifts from when I taught preschool, gifts from a friend or from an ornament exchange, or whether they were ones I had purchased. The ones from friends got me to thinking.

Looking back over the past few days and over this past year - the time I've spent with friends and family has been a gift. As a single girl, it can be hard sometimes to be alone during certain seasons of life, especially at the holidays, whether you're with family and friends or not. So I can understand those who suffer from loneliness at the holidays. However, I'm not there.

My heart grieves with those who will not be with their loved ones this Christmas because they've passed on at some point this year. My mother passed away several years ago just a week before Thanksgiving. So I get it. I understand that kind of pain and grief. Although I'm not currently living it, I can't forget about those who are experiencing it now.

We live in a world that's broken - broken people living out their brokenness in the midst of broken systems. Yet I look around and I see beauty; beauty in the way we often treat one another, the care we give to someone in need, the love expressed through a long hug or the invitation from friends to spend a holiday with them. I see vast wealth on display in my life and in the lives of my friends: the joy of added family members, special times together making memories, amazing blessings being poured out - things the world might not measure as wealth but they most certainly are.

Yet sitting here looking at my tree, thinking all these big thoughts on Christmas day, I'm reminded of my life from years ago - when I could not think these weighty thoughts or be joyous in my singleness at Christmas or at any holiday. I could not see and fully embrace the richness of the blessings in my life for the longing in my heart to have what I wanted, for things to go as I had planned, and for my life to mirror what I thought in my head it should be. I was too busy lamenting my life and it's circumstances to spend it rejoicing my life and it's beauty. I'm not there anymore.

I don't live in the shouldda, couldda, wouldda's of life. I easily move past regret (most of the time). While things may sadden me when they don't go as I'd hoped, I choose not to live there. Don't ask me how. It's to no credit of my own. I think perhaps the Lord just graciously gave me revelation, after revelation of the beauty of my life as it was and as it would be once I let go of regrets, and more importantly, as I began to relinquish my need to control how my life played out.

The result? I am very content in my singleness while still believing for my mate. I don't spend my time wishing I was... I really don't care about the latest and greatest this or that. I'm a techno retard,and I'm just fine with that. I often say what I think (not always the best idea), but it either makes people laugh, cringe, uncomfortable or wish they could just say what's really on their mind. I choose friends I want to be around - people who are for me, who know how I can be, not friends to advance, give me status or think like me, but people who make me laugh, make me think, build me up, love me for me and let me be me, speak the truth and who have no agenda. I'm not easily swayed by others opinion of me. Only One really matters to me.

More importantly, I now have a love for life I didn't have before those lamenting years. I love people more completely, even those who haven't yet learned how to fully love back. I love where I'm at in life but not content to stay there. I love that I am becoming more me - more confident, more hilariously witty (at least I think so), more unshakeable in the things that really matter, more loving and full of grace (my constant prayer), more aware of my broken places, and more like someone I'd want to have as a friend.

I see people all around me who have it all, yet are empty inside. Nice cars, big homes, all they could ever want, opportunities I'll probably never have but inside they're a wreck. They're around all of us living their lives in the shadow of their pain just waiting, whether they know it or not, for the God of CHRISTmas, to come and do for them what he did for me over and over and over again - give them a revelation of the beauty in their lives today. That's where my heart is lingering this Christmas morning.

Perhaps you are that one or you definitely have someone in your life today who fits that bill. Offer up a prayer for them this Christmas, for the Gift of Christmas, our Emmanuel, to come and invade their world today. My favorite quote about Jesus comes from a movie, oddly enough about slavery, yet it encompasses the true meaning and spirit behind this precious Gift.

"Then he was born and everything changed."

That can be true for you today, no matter who you are or what your life looks like. Jesus wants to give you the life you never dreamed, full of the joy only he can give. Whether you know him or not it doesn't matter. For you today, everything can change.

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Time for a Change

I'm not sure about you but in my world, the Christmas season can become very hectic. Events, parties, deadlines, shopping... All of the running and doing can easily rob me of the Christmas spirit if I'm not careful to protect my heart during this joyous season.

I've come up with a way to keep my focus where it needs to be - on Jesus and on others. It is after all a season of giving, a season of hope and a season of joy. So why should I let all the "doing" steal that from me?

Many years ago, I was given a very sweet gift for Christmas. Some dear friends of mine who are more like brother and sister, gave me two tickets to see the Houston Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker. I had never been before and this gift was made even more special by the fact that their daughter, whom I had been helping take to and from performances, was in the ballet that year! I was thrilled to be able to see her perform and to attend for the first time.

It had also been an especially difficult holiday season for me. It had only been a couple of years since my mother passed away just a week or two before Thanksgiving, and I was working two jobs just to pay bills. Things were difficult so gifts were going to either be handmade or not at all.

It wasn't hard for me to figure out which friend I would take to see the ballet with me. It was someone who knew this family well and who would also be excited to see my little friend perform. It also made deciding what gift to give this friend much easier.

However, my solution turned into a dilemma as this thought entered my mind, "How can I give them something which costs me nothing?" It was after all Christmas - the defining moment in the history of our world when the greatest Gift ever given departed heaven and made His appearance on earth. What was given on that day and in His years on the earth to come, was very costly. Some serious thought went into that gift!

I mean, I know this sounds like an easy solution - free tickets equals a free gift, but not for someone who really thinks about what to give others and who loves to give. I was really torn about this until I realized something very sweet. Knowing where I was financially in that season of my life, the Lord made a way for me to give a dear friend, what I most likely would've given them anyway had I been able to afford it. That's our God. He's a giver of good gifts!

So back to my solution for keeping Christmas in my heart in the midst of all the business and stuff... I'm starting something new this year and I hope that you will join me. It's an experiment which I think will change my attitude and keep me centered on Jesus when I'm being pulled in so many different directions at this time.

Every week from now until the end of the year, I plan to give something to someone in my sphere of influence, who least expects it. By give I mean I will hand write a note, make a treat, do something for them, give a word of encouragement or bless them in some way. This could be anyone from the guy I pass on my way to church each Sunday who sells newspapers by the road. We always visit briefly or at least wave to each other. Perhaps there is something I can do to bless him. It could be a neighbor or someone I know but seldom get to visit with. Perhaps they'd like to have coffee and have someone to share their story with.

For me, giving for the right reasons helps to put everything else into perspective. It makes me aware of my own self demands and just how insignificant they can be in light of meeting someone's need or making their day with so small a thing, such as a hug. 

So won't you join me this Christmas? Let's forgo the rushing, and stressing, and hurrying and instead, let's amp up the giving, and blessing, and smiling. You never know what just a smile from you might do for someone who really needs one.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In a Moment

There is a quote I found which has gripped me quite deeply. 
"I am just striving to be more me than I've ever been."
I would dare say that this sums up my life over the past 3 - 4 years. The problem is, there has been too much in the way to push through and to throw out from time to time, and that has become more and more apparent over the last month or so. 
I attended a meeting around that time, with a group who was visiting here in town to minister. I went for one purpose: the testimonies I had been hearing were amazing and I wanted prayer for a medical issue. So near the end of the meeting, already pretty late into the night, I received prayer from one of the team members.
As is the case with our God, sometimes what you want and what he actually wants to do for you, are not the same thing. For about 40 - 45 minutes, we dealt with some other issues involving two very significant people in my life. (I actually sort of saw that coming. This wasn't my first rodeo!)
Within minutes of leaving that time of ministry, I mean getting in the car and turning the ignition, the Lord began to give me new redemptive memories to replace ones I've carried with me for possibly 30+ years of my life regarding those two individuals. In fact, I could not turn off the flow pouring into my mind that evening, from the moment I left until I had my last conscious thought before drifting off to sleep! It was that consistent.
God replaced what I saw and thought about those individuals for decades, in just a matter of seconds. And that's not all! He reversed all the negative things I'd heard one of them say about me, as well as all the things which were never said to me that should've been. That was the non-stop stream playing in my head that evening. WoW! And though it's no longer non-stop, it is still just as consistent but through various other forms.
An outpouring of love in multiple ways, has been rather consistent since that day. I wish I could go into detail, but if I shared the specifics I would give too much away, possibly dishonoring the main individual which most of this centers around. But I will say, the Lord has been relentless in changing my mental make up concerning this person, myself and most of all how, I think my Heavenly Father sees me.
I've had some not too proud moments since then; what in the past I would've considered classic "Cheryl" moments. After those instances, I've lingered briefly on regret as opposed to wallowing in shame. That's HUGE for me, partly because shortly thereafter those instances, some ridiculously crazy blessings have happened to me, reinforcing the new mental picture I now have about myself all from that one initial encounter with the Lord. I even shared this with a friend after one of those moments, Just when I think I'm the worst person on earth, God does something to prove He totally disagrees.

Only God could undo in a moment, what we didn't even know was wrong with us; that completely sets us on a new path to becoming more of who we were created to be. One encounter...
Maybe you're there. You need that one encounter. You know this wasn't the first time I've asked for prayer for this particular medical issue. Remember? The whole reason I went for prayer... However, I had also been pressing into God and walking in the light with others in recent weeks/months leading up to that moment, asking for the Lord’s help in transforming a particular area of my life – an area I knew I was greatly deficient in for a daughter of the King, and something I now find myself growing in as a result of his kindness to me throughout this experience.
If you're looking for the magic ingredient, a way to make your transforming encounter happen, you can stop right there. There isn't one, but I will say this. Actually, I’ll say two things!

Every time we meet with the Lord, we have an encounter. Something of the holy is exchanged when we seek him. He is after all, God, holy and full of light and the light dispels darkness. Whether we realize it or not, something in us is changed through each encounter with him. That’s one.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
Secondly, there is something the Lord finds very attractive about humility, especially humility about our own failings and brokenness.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." James 4:6
I have no idea why he chose to tie my broken memories into my personal request for transformation through a request for physical healing, but he did and I am grateful. One request… Multiple results… Several surprise blessings... God's math is crazy good!
What is it that you need? I'm still asking for healing in my body, but I'll take the healing that's occurring in my both mind and my spirit. Press in for your own personal transformation. Don't make your pursuit solely about what you want, whether it’s good or bad. If you do, you will be disappointed. God is after the bigger picture - you being transformed into the image of his Son. With that will come blessings you never thought to ask for, and possibly answered prayers you didn’t see coming.
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:14

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Pursuit

Ugh! As I logged on to write I noticed that my last blog entry was in August. August? Embarrassed, feeling guilty and chiding myself, I'm glad I made that commitment earlier today to spend every day I have off next week, posting at least one blog entry. Just one. I can do that!
I have a friend who is a budding young photographer. She's been honing in on her new found love by taking a photography class and enlisting friends and family members for photo shoots for her portfolio. She's also had a few paying gigs already. She inspires me.
Recently though, I guess she hit a wall. She has made a commitment to take at least one picture a day of herself as sort of a self-imposed photographic journal. I think that decision may have been made after realizing that she had not been giving as much time to her craft as she should, if she wants to get better at it. I get that. I'm there, in more ways than one.
Isn't that how all of life is, though? Unless you're a savant, we have to spend time honing and perfecting a skill if we want to get better at it. Oh, how I have found this to be true in spiritual matters especially.
So many of us want to be "fixed" right away, or want to wake up and find that the discipline we've been lacking and yearning for, is now just second nature. I really wish it worked that way! But the truth is, if we want to be a better version of ourselves, someone has to put in the work to make that happen, and guess what? That someone is ourselves.
I'll let you in on a little secret. I don't like disciplined people. I think there is something freakishly wrong with them. Really I do, because I grew up in a home where discipline was not a healthy thing. In fact, there was so much of it in the negative since of the word, that I think something inside me rejected discipline almost completely. Therefore, it takes great effort for me to be disciplined in just about anything, but I make the effort because even I know that you can't go through life simply flying off the seat of your pants.
Yet why do so many of us do that in our spiritual lives? We attend church - our weekly duty. We may even be involved in a weekday activity and volunteer at church, but that about sums up the extent of our spiritual activity. We love God most certainly, but we forget to tell him daily. We want things for our lives, good things, God-sized things but we settle for morality because the other requires more of us and perhaps we're not sure if we really want to put in that much work.
Can I tell you something? We have a graciously loving Father, who thinks the world of us, regardless of how much work we're putting into our own spiritual well-being. Not only that, but his desires for our lives far exceeds our own hopes and dreams. He pursues us with relentless passion because he simply likes being with us.
Above all, he knows we're weak, frail human beings who don't know how to love him well. Therefore, he puts his love in us and calls us to himself so that he can show us how to love him, how to love others and how to be who he's called us to be.
I think maybe that's where we should start - allowing ourselves to see the Lord as a loving Father who desires good things, great things for his beloved children. Living in fullness was his idea! We did not come up with that.
Where are you struggling to be more disciplined, or to put it another way, where are you struggling to be more like Jesus?
For me it's in the area of grace. Grace is not a common characteristic of mine. Yet I am fully aware of how gracious the Lord is with me and I want that gift in my life. I want it to ooze out of me without even trying!
So I'm working on that all the time, night and day, 24/7, and guess what? The more I work on it, the more I see how much more work I have to do! It's not supposed to work that way, right?  Maybe it is. I don't know. But what I've noticed is that I try just that much harder. I press in a little bit more each day, and I desire to live a grace-filled life more and more in the process. I don't give up because the task seems unreachable based on what I currently see and know about my own life.
We don't want to throw in the towel because we realize that we're not good at something after just a few attempts. We keep pressing in, allowing those disciplines and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to transform us in that difficult place.
My prayer for you and most definitely for my own life is that we will be people who press into God and who desire to live transformed lives, so that our lives might bring him honor. That means our spiritual growth won't just happen. We must be intentional about it.
Material possessions, prestige, status.... None of it matters if our spiritual lives are shallow and only on display one day a week. The Lord is worthy of a life lived in pursuit of becoming more and more like his Son, no matter how imperfectly that pursuit is played out. The pursuit alone is what blesses his heart.
If you're struggling or tired of not seeing growth in a particular area of your life, please allow him to reveal that truth to you. He wants to encourage you today.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Created with A Purpose

It's been almost three years since I read a book which has completely transformed my thinking and made my creative gift just a little more daring.
When I read "Dreaming with God," by Bill Johnson, I wasn't in a place where I felt I had much influence. In fact, everyday, it seemed as though life was being squeezed out of me and the real me, who I was truly created to be, was being snuffed out little by little with each passing day. Yet something in me was stirring as I read this book, methodically pouring over it's pages and taking time to stop and reflect on much of its contents.

Just a month or two after finishing "Dreaming with God," I began a very intense journey of personal transformation (Faithwalking) that mirrored a great deal of what I'd read in the book. SOMEONE had set me up! Not too long into the process, things began changing in my world that I did not foresee - good things and things that began to make room for the gifts of God within me (Proverbs 18:16). This journey was all starting to make sense.
So why am I telling you this? Well mainly because I just came from a two day leadership conference that has me really inspired and thinking about what started it all for me, or at the very least what re-ignited my vision for what I was called to do which is to help others realize their full potential and to enable them to fulfill the purpose for which they were created. I'm pretty clear about that and very humbled by that calling.
What I have discovered through this journey is this... We all have a role to play in the lives around us, but we are also individually responsible for the what we do with the life we've been given. We get one chance at this thing called life. So the role we choose to play is significant, whether it seems so to us or not.  
I can sit back and watch others who are in the game and be critical of how they play it, the choices they make while doing it and who they choose to be on their team. Or, I can choose to suit up and get in the game myself. I may not be as good an athlete as those around me. I may not have their skill or ability, but I bet they can't manage like I can. That takes someone who sees every angle and who knows what to anticipate that the team might need. I can do that! I can handle the details. Every team needs a manager! (Please forgive the sports analogy, but I think you get it.)
We are given just this one life and we each have a significant role to play. So why do we sometimes belittle our abilities or stop short, making excuses for why we can't do something? Who told us we couldn't? Why do we believe that lie? Who said we have to do this like so and so, or be like so and so in order to be significant; not anybody I choose to listen to and maybe that's the problem. We often choose to listen to the wrong voices.
I used to listen to the voice that said, "You will never be as good as blah, blah blah..., or you could never do this as well as blah, blah, blah..." Then one day I stopped comparing myself to others because I finally realized, I'm not like other people! When God made me he really did break the mold. I do not have a clone who thinks like me, acts like me and lives like me. I truly move to the beat of a different drum and most of the time it's my own. So when my creative juices start flowing there is no telling what will come out, and that's okay! I am honoring the gift of God within me.
So here's how that looks for me. I tend to not listen to what other people say about my ideas or the things I envision - in other words, criticism. Why, because God gave me the vision or the idea. He now has an obligation to bring it to pass if I am willing to put effort behind it. If I'm not, he's off the hook. This God-given idea won't die, he'll just find another willing soul and pass it onto them. I will simply miss out on an opportunity to be used by God and will never know the impact I could've had. There's no shame in that, just a lesson.
Every opportunity which comes our way to do something for God, is just like throwing a pebble into a lake. A tiny pebble will loose momentum pretty quickly and you can see the ripples die off after just a few seconds. But if you take each opportunity which comes your way, each pebble you receive, tossing them in one right after the other, they will create ripples that extend farther than you can see. Now add to that, those around you who are in the same boat with you (church, small group, ministry, business, work, etc.) and their pebbles; each one dropping them in one right after the other, doing whatever it is they're called to do. Now you have an unstoppable wake that over time, can reshape a landscape.
So let's go back to where we started. There are moments in our lives where God gives us opportunities to be challenged and/or transformed. We hear a message, read a book, see a life that's been utilized in a powerful way and something within us gets stirred. That's what happened to me, and a significant shift occurred in my thinking. I went from dismissing ideas to thinking, "What if that worked? This could be really cool!"
I could've just read the book or gone through the Faithwalking process and remained much the same as I was before I did either of those things, but something in me was hungry for a more authentic way to live. I knew I wasn't fully expressing who God made me to be. The real Cheryl was masked behind years of disappointments, fears and critical words, many from my own lips. I was ready to that woman because I thought she might be really cool. I was right!
My question to you is, are you being fully you? What are you doing with the opportunities life places before you? Fear and uncertainty can grip our hearts like nobody's business, but we can't let them stop us from being who we were created to be.
Let me encourage you today. Don't give up on the dreams in your heart. Don't decide to not do something because you think you won't be good at it or you think you might fail. Don't step aside to allow another to fill a void meant for you, simply because YOU think they'd be better at it. Don't sell yourself that short.
Surround yourself with people who motivate, inspire and challenge you to be a better you. Place yourself in situations, where you are being stretched. You will not grow if you're not being fed the right stuff.
This world needs what you have to offer or else you would not have been created. God put in you an expression of himself which he wanted to have released in the earth. Your life has meaning and purpose. Fulfill it. Our God is worthy of a life fully lived. We can give him that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resolute Words

It's a new year and this is just as good a time as any for a new post! If you're like many people, you've probably made some resolutions you'd like to accomplish in 2013. Not me. I don't make resolutions, or at least I don't call them that. Perhaps some would call them goals, but for whatever reason I do not like to put a title on my unofficial list of things I'd like to do in the coming year. In fact, it's not even an actual list. I know. It seems complicated, but my system works for me!
Maybe this is why so many people fall short of fulfilling their New Year's resolutions. To me, making such a big deal out of creating a list and then setting out to do those things involves too much pressure. I like to take everyday as it comes and make room for new things naturally, within the normal everyday ebb and flow of life. I, too, have had many years where I gave up on my resolutions all too soon. This way of doing things just seems to work better for me.
My unofficial list, as I stated before, isn't really a list. I do spend some time at the end of each year thinking about what I'd like to do, where I'd like to be and who I'd like to become over the next twelve months. From there, my unofficial list just sort of evolves.
While visiting with a friend this week, sharing our hopes and dreams for the coming year, she mentioned wanting to spend some time each month learning something new. I was so thrilled to hear her say that because one of the things that was important to me was personal enrichment - intentionally learning and trying new things. So we've already signed ourselves up to take a beginners quilting class! Now that may not be your cup of tea, but we're ecstatic about it. Remember, this is my unofficial list.
I've decided to really press into relationships this year; loving on a deeper level, and I want to have a clearer revelation of the Father's love for me which is where it all begins. I am convinced that love truly makes the difference. It never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8, but you really should just go ahead and read the whole entire passage, starting from verse 1 - 8 in The Message version. POWERFUL!)
It can heal. It can forgive. It can overcome offenses and it can transform broken lives. Look around. The need for love like that is truly overwhelming.
There's more to my unofficial list than just these I've mentioned here, but this is all I am willing to share. A girl must have some things she keeps just for herself and her God.
This new year ahead is full of limitless possibilities. If we try too hard to make things happen and focus all of our energy to that end, we will most likely fail and neglect other areas of our lives which desperately need our attention. However, if we do nothing, care for no change, no transformation at all, we'll get just what we desire - nothing. We were made for more than just a sedentary existence. We were meant to flourish!
My wish for you in this new year is that you would do just that - flourish, "prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers."  3 John 1:2