Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Prepare Him Room

Sunday we had about a 4 hour gap in time. When you have a busy life, a gap in time can be like a gift of gold or a black hole. You know what I mean? Plowing through a long to do list feeling so accomplished or completely wasting it sitting on the couch staring at your phone.

I had a choice how to spend those few hours, my list of how they could be filled would have taken that long to write.  I feel like my life is one long undone list right now.  So what thing to cross off the list Sunday?  The first Sunday of Advent. Wouldn't it be nice if I showed you my great advent wreath I created, or to share the wisdom of a beautiful devotion.  No, I spent those precious hours cleaning out our attic.  Really, that hits about #147 on my to do list, but why not randomly select something that definitely could have waited until next summer?

The motivation for this actually came from my son. We had cut down a Christmas tree the day before and didn't have time to put it up when we brought it home. (this sounds like a bad theme in my life...) Sunday we rearranged the living room to create a space for it. We ended up with too much furniture for our small space.  I decided it would be a good idea to get rid of an old love seat that we had taken from my aunt's house when she moved to a nursing home. Daniel would not have it.  He tried every which way to convince us to keep it.  Did I mention it is missing a leg and it is white...who buys white love seats? I was getting slightly exasperated and stopped the conversation.

"We are getting rid of it, we don't need it, it's broken, and doesn't match anything else in our house." I said very matter-of-factly. Then a tear slowly escaped his eye. What in the world, why was he crying over this?

"It was Dee Dee's. I remember going to her house and sitting on this and looking out the window with Maggie (her beloved cat). I don't want to get rid of it." I hugged my son as I realized this was not about a worn out couch.

We have experienced an unusual amount of loss these last few years.  And it takes its toll.

As much as I love to get rid of stuff, he won me over. I couldn't get rid of this tattered sofa. And then the light went on for him, "Let's clean the attic so I can make a hang out room or a music room and put it up there!"

So we went up and grabbed boxes of total random stuff that needed to be tossed. We filled the garbage can with trash and the back of the car with donations. The photo here includes a few of the treasures I still need to sift through!

Some treasures from my attic :)
We ended up taking off the 3 legs that were left on the love seat and carrying it up several flights of stairs.  We spread out the carpet remnant and dusted the cobwebs away.  It's pretty "rustic", the walls aren't finished and the floor under the patch of carpet is plywood.  I have to admit though, it is pretty comfortable. It is a quiet space that Daniel loves...and calls his own.

So why am I telling you this story (besides confessing I have lots of issues)? Since Sunday I can't get the phrase out of my mind:

                   Prepare Him Room

You know the Christmas Carol: Joy to the World! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.

Just as we prepare our homes to celebrate Christmas, with Christmas trees, lights, and decorations, we also prepare our hearts for Him.

As I think back through these last few years and some difficult moments, I can easily think that I didn't "need" the pain. Just like I didn't think we needed that old sofa. But as we prepared the attic, we noticed a perfect place for my aunt's love seat, it really fits perfectly, like it was made for that space.

And as I reflect on those words, prepare Him room...I see how He has allowed some brokenness into my life.  Some things that just don't seem to belong. If I just look at my hurts, disappointments, grief as items that are worthless, then they are just occupying space in my life, treated as trash. However, if I truly want to prepare room in my heart for the Lord, I can look at these "tattered pieces" of my life with value. In His hands, He can re-purpose my pain for His glory, creating something I can value and share.

Joy to the world! The Lord has come into our lives to take the broken and make something beautiful. May we prepare Him room, room for healing and hope and peace and joy. Clearing away the shame and guilt through His forgiveness. And as He does His work in us and through us, we can sing with all creation and marvel at the wonders of His love.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Perspective

I will lift my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

It's a funny thing. Why do we want what we don't have? If we have straight hair, we want curly hair. When it's too hot outside we long for winter. When it has been grey for too many days in a row, summer cannot come soon enough. After we place our order at a restaurant, we want to change our mind as a delicious dish is delivered to the table next to us.

I know many lonely people that long for community, and yet I find myself (one steeped in a great community) longing for some time alone.  I find guilt creeping in as I try to figure out how to escape the beautiful chaos that is my life just for a few moments.  Tonight I took full advantage of a free 45 minutes to be alone. It was glorious and guilt free!

I dropped off the kids at an event and walked one of my favorite paths, Chambers Bay.  Many of you know this route as it is one of your favorites as well. It sits on the shores of Puget Sound, with amazing views of several islands and on a good day the Olympic Mountains.

I asked the Lord to quiet my heart and allow me to hear from Him.  My schedule (or scheduling) doesn't allow for much time to exercise...well, it probably does, I just haven't figured it out.  The point is I don't exercise nearly as much as I'd like or need. This particular walk is a 3 mile circle.  It takes you along the water, up a steep hill, along the road, and then back down to the water.  The hills are challenging when you don't exercise daily!

When I came to the uphill section, I tried to figure out the most effective way to conquer it!  I figured if I just focused on the pavement right in front of my feet that I would not get discouraged by how far I still had to go.  Face down, focus, whatever you do, don't look at the hill!

But then Bebo Norman came on Spotify, with "I Will Lift My Eyes." And this face down plan wasn't cutting it, it was discouraging.  So I listened to my pal Bebo (isn't that a great name?) and lifted my eyes. There was beauty all around, the sky was blue, the trees were green, birds were flying.  It gave me perspective. The shade was a welcome friend on this 90+ degree day.

From my walk today
My journey was so much more enjoyable, the struggle of the hill lost its weight as the scenery became more of my focus. I had a new perspective, a new point of view.  You see where I'm going right?

Our journey with the Lord is similar.  We hit the pavement running in the mornings, nose to grindstone. Our view is narrow, often only "seeing" our own circumstances, our own troubles. If we lift our eyes we gain a new perspective.  We are not alone.  There is more happening in our little corner of the world than we realized.  Yes, there is sadness and trouble, but also joy and beauty!

Are you struggling? In a rut?  Lost perspective?  Lift your eyes.  Look around.  Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. (Seriously, do it now, it really helps!) Maybe you don't want to see the uphill struggle you are facing. Ignoring it will not make it better...just sayin'. Keep moving forward friend.

Why do we want what we don't have? Maybe it is because we don't realize the greatness and depth of what is ours already. Lift your eyes and see all that is yours.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hopes For A Granddaughter

This is Eugene Bal Jr., which means there was a Senior and proudly, there is a III.  This is my dad when he was a young and playful boy on Maui.  Today is his second day in heaven. Our second day without him, which of course causes deep reflection on his legacy.

My dad wasn't perfect and his early adult years were a little bumpy.  He was strict and worked a lot.  He was a Colonel in the Air Force and I remember having to say "Yes Sir".  He wasn't all serious either though. We have many pictures of merry Christmases and joyful vacations.  He had a strong work ethic and enjoyed relaxing (a difficult balance I find).

When I was in high school, he received Jesus as Lord of his life and there were some major changes.  He became one of the most tender and compassionate men I have ever known.  He made drastic lifestyle changes that honored God and his family.  He would openly cry when his heart broke for the hurting, the prisoner, the downcast.  He also perfected being stingy and generous all at once.  He bought shoes from Kmart, but would be the first to write a check for a mission trip.

Tutu and Julia
I could go on and on, but for now, I really want to share a letter he wrote. When Julia was born I asked both of my parents to write letters to her.  Hopes that they had for her. My mom had some health struggles at the time, so she chose some very meaningful photos and didn't write very much. My dad though wrote the most beautiful letter I've ever read. This was who he had become and that is one of the reasons I loved him so.  He didn't live in the regrets of the past, but chose to live well the life he had left.  When we shared about him tonight at dinner, this was one of Julia's favorite moments...this letter.

Dear Julia Grace,
I never really spent time with your mom, aunties or uncles like I have with you. I guess I was "too busy". I never really expressed any hopes I had for them either.  Now it's time to change, so here goes:
I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books.  I hope you learn to make your own bed and wash the car.  And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen.  I hope you have to walk to school with your friend and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.  When you learn to use computers, I hope you learn to add and subtract in your head.  I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what Ivory soap tastes like.  I don't care if you try beer once, but I hope you don't like it.  I sure hope you make time to sit with your Grandpa and I hope you will come to know Jesus a lot sooner than I did. These things I wish for you - tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness.  To me it's the only way to appreciate life.

     Written with a pen.  Sealed with a kiss.  Tutu


You make know to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; 
at your right hand are pleasures forever more.   Psalm 16:11

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Importunity

Each new year I ask the Lord to give me a verse, or word for the year.  A direction for my spiritual life.  He has been faithful to give me one each time I ask.  

I have a favorite place to sit and meet with the Lord in my house.  I am intentional to be free from distractions (no piles and projects in sight).  It is a small space with a sweet view. This may sound weird, but there is an old rocking chair there in front of where I sit, I imagine the Lord sitting and talking with me. Sometimes I sit quietly, and many times, not so quietly as I pour out my concerns to Him.

Anyway, (see how distracted I can become!) I went to my favorite spot and asked the Lord for my 2017 verse.  He led me through my maze of thoughts and ideas until we stopped at the word - importunity.  It was in the margin of my Bible as I was reading about seeking God.  I looked up the definition and found: shamelessness, persistence, insistence, over-eagerness.  It doesn't sound so noble, sounds annoying actually.  

The only place it is found in the Bible is Luke 11:8
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

Jesus is telling a story. There is this guy and a friend of his comes for a visit and they have no food.  Being that the local grocery store is probably closed, he goes to another friend's house. He bangs on the door and says, "Hey, I need food, a friend has come for a visit and we have nothing".  The home owner says, "It's midnight! Go away, we are already in bed!" This guy is not getting up for any reason.  Yet because of the persistence (or importunity) of this man, the guy gets out of bed and gives him as much as he needs.

This parable has often bothered me, I was raised to be polite.  I would never knock on my neighbor's door insisting he give me food in the middle of the night.  How can it be okay to whine to God about our needs, even if they are for another?  That just isn't how it is done. You figure it out yourself, find another neighbor, look further back in your cupboard, find some other way.

God definitely had my attention here.  I looked up the biblical definition of importunity and found this: if by shameless insistence a favor may be won, even from one unwilling and ungracious, still more surely will God answer the earnest prayer of His people.  God's willingness to give exceeds our ability to ask. The parable teaches by way of contrast, not parallel.

What I found was that in contrast to the irritated home owner, God is a good Father, desiring to give us what we earnestly seek.  We only need to ask, seek, and knock...as the next verse instructs.  And this is where I found my 2017 verse.

And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  Luke 11:9


Literally this verse says, keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking ....shamelessly.  We cannot irritate God by our persistent prayers.  In fact I think He delights in them because He loves us. 

Andrew Murray said, "How all nature has been arranged by God that in sowing and reaping, as in seeking coal or gold, nothing is found without labor and effort."  

And I wonder if that is what prayer is, what prayer does.  The answer to our prayers is not the goal.  The answer is a by-product of a life lived in communion with the Lord.  Prayer brings us to our rightful place, as we humble ourselves, empty ourselves of our own agendas, plans and inadequate solutions. Those things are crucified with Christ, so it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me. We ask, we seek, we knock.  And the door is opened to the way of the Lord.  His plan, His will, His purpose.  His presence. 

So my goal this year? Not to be so polite with God. I will shamelessly, persistently, eagerly, unapologetically...ask, seek, and knock until He answers.  And then I will keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking some more.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

When

The other morning I was reading in Deuteronomy.  Verse 1 from Chapter 20 caught my attention:

"When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you."

I read verses like this and often laugh out loud (probably not the typical reaction!).  Here is Israel, a rebellious lot at best.  Yet they are God's own possession. They are dearly loved.  The Lord is giving instructions for war.  I hear something like this:

So Israel, when you go to battle, you are going to see the odds stacked high, like really high against you. You are going to face your enemies, people that want to destroy you, there are going to be so many that you will not be able to begin to count them.  Oh and by the way, they will have horses and chariots...you can't win. My advice, my command, don't be afraid.

As I was thinking through this scenario I was reminded of some other "when" verses in the Bible. When you pass through the waters and through the rivers...when you walk through the fire, Isaiah 43:2.  When you hear of war, Luke 21.  When you meet trials of various kinds, James 1:2.

This life is so unpredictable, yet we do know we will face hardships.  
It is not a question of IF we will, but a command for WHEN we do.

Our human reaction often is fear, worry, doubt.  Fear draws us away, we run, hide, retreat.  We are paralyzed, consumed by the situation.  So if we are not to fear, what do we do?  How do we obey this command when we face the "whens" in our lives?  When your finances fail, when there is a terminal diagnosis, when a heart breaks, when God is silent....when.

I wonder if we are to do the opposite? Fear makes us want to give up. Faith causes us to draw near, be vulnerable, be honest, run to Him.  I looked up antonyms for fear and this is what I found: assurance, calmness, cheer, confidence, contentment, encouragement, faith, happiness, joy, trust, love, courage.

How do you want to live? Paralyzed? Fearful? Stressed?  I want to live in complete assurance of who I am in Christ, with confidence that He will keep His promises (He will never leave us!), encouraged by the family of God, trusting in the One who allowed me to be in this situation.

How about you?  Are you in a circumstance that seems overwhelming?  No way to win? No way out?  I have tried both paths.  Run, fear, hide, avoid, distract...anything but face the giant.  And I have asked God for help and have chosen the path of faith and courage. My hope is that when I face my next battle I will obey His command and choose the path of faith, not fear.  It is so much better. There is freedom found in the faith-filled life.  And I choose to live free.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Goodbyes


I'm not so great at goodbyes.  And I am not very fond of them.  I have had plenty of practice.  I said at least six goodbyes as we moved from houses, friends, and neighbors by the time I reached Junior High. I think it may have been easier being the one leaving. Now I am on the other end as the one staying.  Staying on this side of heaven.  Staying in my city.  Staying at our church.  So many goodbyes.  

I wonder if I could be better at this?  I don't think I'll ever like them. Maybe I can think a little more like Winnie the Pooh though.  Ponder how grateful I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so difficult. The answer for sure is not isolation, to run from ever having to say goodbye again. Though the thought has crossed my mind.

There has to be an antidote to the sadness of saying goodbye. I wonder if Pooh bear actually was right?  Maybe being thankful will take the sting away. I am beyond grateful that I had my mom for so many years, thankful that she created fond memories with my kids.  Thankful for her legacy and her prayers.  I am so glad to have worshiped and served with many military families at our church.  Thankful for their insights in bible studies and sweet conversations. How wonderful my life has been because of these fleeting friends.

I took a pause in this blog.  I started this yesterday and decided to walk away and  pray.  I asked God what was going on in my heart.  Have you ever felt something and didn't quite understand what was going on? What God was showing you?

This morning I woke up and I think God is showing me something about regret.  When someone leaves, we can start playing the regret game.  You know the one.  It's not a very fun game.  All the "if only"'s are drawn from the deck of regrets.  One of my life goals is to live life without regrets.  Pretty sure that is not possible! God definitely is growing me in this area as I desire to please Him above all others.  And that is a life without regrets.

So I am working on a new game. When I have to say goodbye, I will have two decks (not literal, who has time for that, virtual if you will...)  One deck will be thankful cards: I will consider all the ways I can be thankful for that person or family.  And the other deck (that I may actually make...) God's Word: Scriptures that set my eyes on Jesus, not the "if only"'s. My regrets are the enemy's way of distracting me from pressing on and going towards my goal of living a life pleasing God, one without regret.

So back to goodbyes.  Can we say goodbye without feeling any regret? (I should have taken more pictures, I should have spent more time, If only I had....) I really just don't know.  I do know that we can choose what thoughts to entertain. Forgetting what lies behind (those things that entangle us - like regrets), and strain forward to what lies ahead (gratitude, good memories, all we have in God Himself). As we say goodbye let's fill our hearts with thankfulness.  The more we can pour in, the more the regrets get pushed out.  And maybe the sting won't be so deep. Goodbyes are here to stay until Jesus returns, I guess we'd better figure out how to do them well.

Here are some verses we can add to our new way of saying goodbye:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (notice it says give thanks "in" all circumstances, not "for" all...hmmmmm)

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Psalm 34:4-5 I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Friday, May 6, 2016

To my retreat girls (part B)....

So this is the inside of my refrigerator.  I opened it up this morning and found my vitamins. (Yes, they are gummy.  No, you may not make any comments about the fact that I justify eating candy in the form of vitamins every morning, we all have our weaknesses!)

I had taken them about 30 minutes earlier and I have NO idea how they wound up in my fridge.  I have never put them there before.  Didn't I just say at the retreat how easily we are distracted?  I even said, "Do any of you ever put your phone in the fridge and try to plug in your milk?"

I was wondering why in the world I did this and then I realized I was distracted (and didn't even know it).  I asked the Lord why I was so "worried and bothered". He gently reminded me about yesterday.  I shared with you that I had a burden that I took to the feet of Jesus. Apparently I forgot to leave it there.  I had picked it back up, threw it over my shoulder, and marched on with my day.  Somehow to my surprise it was weighing me down this morning.

I went back to the Lord and gave it to Him again...with tears, this time lots more tears. Why do we so desperately want our own way?  I have some pretty great ideas and it baffles me that the Lord doesn't use them. (please hear the sarcasm!) In His gentle way He asked me how in the world He can make this beautiful if I keep taking it back from Him.  So I find myself back at His feet, giving Him this unmet expectation.  This unrealized dream.  I do believe I told you all that Drawing Near is not easy.  And now I am living it.  Please tell me you struggle too.  Somehow this is easier knowing we are not alone.

I love the truth that God gave us: Drawing Near is an invitation and lifelong pursuit.  It is not something to check off our to do list.  It is about humility and obedience and worship. It is about a relationship with the One who has all we need.  Who is all we need. So I will try this again and see how tomorrow goes.  His mercies are new every morning...good thing, I need them every day!

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen
Romans 11:36