Tag Archives: joy

My Journey of Faith, part 4.

My Journey of Faith-8

At last I had begun to see what a real relationship with Jesus was like! It started simply; by talking to Him throughout the day, about everything. I was purposely, consciously, training my mind to constantly turn to God during the day. To ‘set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth’. Colossians 3:2  I was not finished struggling against sin, but I was starting to see growth in several areas. I finally had hope. I had the promise of help and victory.

Day after day, I pored over the Bible and prayed earnestly for God to help me gain victory over my anger, selfishness, and discouragement. Up until now, the Bible had been quite dry and boring. It seemed almost sinful to admit that – and I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone. But now! Now the Bible was like fresh, cool water on a parched desert. It came alive in my hands, and I feasted hungrily on the Bread of Life!

I don’t know if any of my family or friends could tell a difference. I’m sure Mom could – poor mom had to put up with me during my hard, temper-fraught years. As God changed my heart, I grew to respect and love my mom. I started trying to make life easier for her, instead of trying to get by with as little work as possible. I still flew off the handle at people, I still had a sharp tongue and a scornful attitude, often. But I saw these for the wicked sins they are, and began praying about them and fighting Self.

The next three years I attended the same Youth Conference. Each year I learned more about Jesus Christ, and more about how to walk by the Spirit, and not the flesh. Each year I came home determined to be a light and example to my friends, to help them see the wonderful new truths I was learning. But each year I came home and realized that we were not on the same wavelength, so to speak. The church I attended put a lot of focus on our Christian heritage, and a good moral life, but they didn’t have power! Or if they did, I never heard about it. Every Sunday it was the same testimony of struggling with the same old sins. They preached that Jesus would forgive your sins (and He will!) and that each day was a new beginning (and it is!) but I wanted more! I saw people who had real joy on their faces and testified of changed lives! That’s what I wanted.

So I kept on seeking, learning, reading. I also became disillusioned with the Mennonite culture in general. I loved my church – I really did! But they didn’t seem to be able to offer me much. And frankly all their rules and expectations were grating on me. Not that they were hard to keep; I had no problem keeping them. I never got into trouble with the leaders; I was a ‘good kid’. But the rules were not in Scripture, and the only thing they accomplished – as far as I could see – was burden people with unnecessary loads, and turn away those raised in a different culture. OR, they attracted people who saw it as some sort of ‘Laura Ingalls’ idyllic lifestyle. The reason given for the rules was to keep us from danger. To keep us from falling into sin. But there is a wonderful verse in Jude that says God can keep us from falling! How wonderful it is that anyone anywhere can be kept from falling by the power of the Holy Spirit within us! We don’t need to depend on man-made rules. (verse 24)

Of course, Mennonites are just like any other culture: There are wonderful people who love the Lord, and there are some who have wicked, unrepentant hearts. The problem I saw, was that if your heart was evil, you could still be a good Mennonite. You can hide heart stuff real easy when the church focuses on your appearance. Human beings are wonderful hypocrites. We are all pros at putting up a front! I include myself in this, by the way.

In 1998, my oldest brother died, about a week or two after Youth Conference. I was devastated. It was my first taste of death. But God ministered to my heart in such a special way, that it became a cornerstone for my Christian life. Ever since, I look back and remember how loved I felt at that dark time. You can read about that experience here: This Day in my History.

Well, when I was 18, my family took a 3 month visit to Belize, a small country in Central America. To give a bit of history, my mom is related to some Mennonite missionaries that run several missions in the southern part of the country. When my parents were younger, they went several times to the mission to help  while the missionaries were on furlough in the States. The last time they went, I was 4 years old. I had vague memories, and my sister – who was 6 that time – she also had a few memories. But we wanted to go again and see the mission as adults. My dream was to be a missionary like Amy Carmicheal, so I think my dad was trying to give us a mission experience without us leaving him to get it! 😀

A village school in Belize.

A village school in Belize.

Our family planned to road trip through Mexico to Belize, and there was this friend of the family who decided he wanted to go along. He’d spent almost a year at the same mission doing volunteer work, and had friends down there. So one cold January day, we headed to Belize.

What does this all have to do with my faith? Well, two things. 1. It opened my eyes to the problems that come when you try to impose Mennonite culture on 3rd world natives. (doesn’t work very well) and 2. That family friend who went along, asked me to marry him! 😀 Yes, it was Cliff, and it was in that hot, tropical country that we started dating. And we started dating because one day we had a long talk about Christianity, churches, and our longings for a church that taught more. We both had the same longings and desires, spiritually, and we were both kind of unsure where we wanted to be.

When we went home 3 months later, my church was going through a major church split. Caught up in my new romance, I never did get all the details, and I really didn’t care. I had been wanting to leave the Mennonite church, and here was the perfect opportunity. I gave a letter of withdrawing my membership, and, considering the confusion that church was in at the time, I guess it didn’t get much attention. I didn’t go to church the Sunday it was read publicly, so I don’t really know how that went down. But anyways. I want to say again how much I loved my church. It was real hard for me to leave it. I had close friends there who had poured time into my life. Friends who I am still indebted to, and whom I respect. But it just wasn’t meeting my deep heart cry for life and growth.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

Our wedding day, year 2000. I was 19, and Cliff was 22.

At our wedding reception.

At our wedding reception.

Cliff and I got married in November. (can you hear the happy church bells pealing? 😉 ) And we honored my mother by having a traditional Mennonite wedding. But when we got back from our Arizona honeymoon, we began attending a little non-denominational church. Most of the members were former Mennonites, so we felt comfortable, yet it had some life that we had been missing. We attended that small church for a few months, then  circumstances forced us to move in with my in-laws several hours away. We started attending their small church and eventually moved there.

Arizona honeymoon.

Arizona honeymoon.

Our first home.

Our first home.

I want to share another major, life-changing truth that I learned there; next time!

My Journey of Faith, part 3

 

My journey of faith

“This fog is terrible. Can’t see a thing,” my brother muttered as he peered into the gray darkness. The road was barely visible in the beam of his headlights, the winding mountain road seemed to go on forever through the dark trees and murky darkness. Occasionally, we would see the dim taillights of a vehicle ahead of us, which gave some depth perception to the haze that blanketed the road.

It was November, 1997, and I was riding in the backseat of my older brother’s Mazda pickup. My sister was along too, and we were headed to Pennsylvania to attend a youth conference. Actually, I wasn’t even riding on a ‘seat’, really. My brother loved his music, and he’d removed the backseat of his pickup in order to fit in a giant subwoofer box. 😀 There was a space beside the box for one person (me!) to squeeze in. My knees were in my face the whole trip, but other than that it was quite pleasant, really.

We drove for hours through the foggy night. Finally we drove out of it, and then made it to our host’s home. It was dark, the family was all in bed. We tiptoed up to our rooms and fell into bed.   In the morning we ate an early breakfast and headed to the church. The parking lot was filling up as we drove in, and I was nervous to meet all those strangers! My mom had taught me how to meet people though, and I’d had lots of practice from all the churches we’d been to. But I still didn’t enjoy it when I walked in and the foyer was a crush of strange youth. I managed to hang up my coat and squeeze through the crowd to to the sanctuary. My sister was 2 years older than me, and her personality was more outgoing and friendly. She led the way to an empty bench. Directly behind us sat two girls – clearly sisters – and we’d barely sat down when my sister promptly turned around and introduced herself to the older girl. I shyly introduced myself to the the pretty younger girl seated next to her; never realizing that we would end up lifelong friends! :) (we now attend the same church and she is still one of my best friends and one of the prettiest people I know!)

Anyways. Getting long-winded here…
So we spent a week at this conference, along with 400 other youth. We listened to two sermons every morning, had prayer groups in the afternoon, and choir, then another sermon. In the evening they opened it up for a family meeting where we again listened to a sermon.

I soaked it all in! I took copious notes, I shared my struggles with my prayer group, I re-committed my life to God. One speaker in particular really captured my attention. He was a tall, kind-eyed man from South Africa. He had a way of speaking – a way of using stories and illustrations – that I had never heard before! He spoke about being hid with Christ in God. About the Holy Spirit. About counting the cost of discipleship. He asked searching questions, and thundered warnings. He told funny stories and laughed with us. He also prayed. His prayers sounded like they were going somewhere. I hung onto every word.

Another speaker, white-haired and much less dramatic, spoke softly but gave me new ideas. He talked about victory over sin, living a life filled with the Holy Spirit, and practical christian living. He also gave me a gift that would unlock the biggest blessing in my life to date. He gave me this little book by A.W. Tozer. Now, Tozer is not light reading for a teen who never finished 8th grade! I had to read and re-read some of the paragraphs multiple times to understand what it meant. But that book was where I finally learned what it meant to have a real relationship with Jesus.

“Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous person, quietly and without strain.Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window…
When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes  of God looking in,heaven has begun right here on this earth.”  -The Pursuit of God

The pursuit of God -Tozer

After youth conference, I went home and read a little piece in that book every night, along with readings from the Scripture. I read the book several times. It was eye-opening. I decided that this was it. I was tired of my failing, floundering attempts to live right. To please God. This new life that Tozer talked about – this was amazing! I was in for the long haul. None of this half-hearted Christianity, no more laziness of heart; I was ALL IN!

The first test came quickly. I worked on my father’s sawmill, and I hated that job. It was boiling hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. I remember walking out to the sawmill one dreary wet day that winter. It was cold and damp and miserable. Normally I dreaded the job so badly that I would feel sick. But today, new-found faith firmly in hand, I was feeling almost cheery! I decided that if Tozer could fix his gaze on Christ, so could I! And so I began praying as I worked. I prayed silently – just ‘thinking’ prayers, but of course those kind are as good as any. :) I prayed for everyone I knew of who needed prayer. Then I prayed for myself, all my stryggles and questions and besetting sins. Then, as it was still early in the day, I started just talking to Jesus. I told Him how I felt about the weather, what my dreams were, how I wished I could serve on a mission… my mind wandered, (just like Tozer said!) but each time I would bring it back to talking with Jesus.

My dad's small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

My dad’s small portable sawmill where I spent many hours stacking lumber.

Now, stacking lumber is a rather mindless task. Hard, yes, but repetitious and brain-numbingly boring. So I did a lot of daydreaming. And in the days that followed, I still daydreamed a lot. But each time my thoughts would wander to frustration or anger or discouragement, I would start telling Jesus all about it. At first it felt awkward and stiff. But after a few days it seemed natural to tell my new Friend all my deepest thoughts and fears.

And so I began to grow in my relationship with Him. As I cried out to Jesus for deliverance from my sins, and found a safe refuge where I could pour out my heart – I started gaining victory over my besetting sins. I was no longer angry about everything; I could tell Jesus! I was no longer depressed; I could tell Jesus! I wasn’t ‘fixed’ overnight, of course. It was a gradual growth, just like a tiny seedling growing, stretching toward the light, drinking in water and nutrients. So I started to grow; little by little, so imperceptibly that even I didn’t realize it.

I continued reading my Bible, soaking it in large portions at a time. I devoured it!  I prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I asked God for victory over sin, and, most importantly, I now believed He could give it to me! I also started feeling unsure about the church I was a member of. Why had I never heard these things before? Why did they focus on outward appearances, yet left the heart issues go untouched? Why were rules held above all? I was confused, and unsettled about it, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted everyone to know about this new life hidden with Christ in God. I did try to talk to my parents and friends about it, but some brushed it off as conference enthusiasm, and others didn’t understand what I was talking about at all!

Come back next week and see how I left the Mennonite religion.

The Great Battle Against Self.

the great battle against self

Hey mom-friends, I have some real-talk today. I want to say it real slow, so you don’t miss any of it. Lean in and listen, ok? It’s important. It has to do with your perception of me. You might look at my online life and say ‘wow! she takes pictures, has a blog, cooks, home-schools, etc. She must be so talented!‘ I’ve heard that before. And it makes me smile because it’s nice to get compliments. I enjoy cooking, photography, homemaking stuff, and all that.  But inside I cringe. Because I am not perfect. I struggle daily with my old enemy: SELF.

I want to be kind; self wants to lash out.
I want to be hospitable; self wants to lock the door.
I want to be loving; self wants to ignore.
I want to be forgiving; self wants to relive the pain.
I want to be cheerful; self wants to be gloomy.
I want to be a prayer warrior; self wants to hit snooze.

The great battle of this Christian life is not physical, but spiritual. My spirit, warring with my Self. War is not fun. It is ugly and there are casualties. Often, I am left bleeding and wounded after a battle. I lay there minute, gasping for air, getting my breath back, so I can crawl to my feet again and face another round. It’s not easy, this fighting and struggling. It’s hard.

The one thing that makes it easier?
Don’t feed the enemy. Self gets weaker if you never feed her! Don’t allow self to feed on
vengeful thoughts,
gloomy thoughts,
resentful thoughts,
lazy thoughts.

You know that saying: “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair“?

It’s the same way with sinful or self-pleasing thoughts. They may pop into your head, but you – and you alone – can choose to kick them out. Yes, they will pop into your head multiple times per day. Maybe several times an hour. Maybe you have to literally get up and do something else to get your mind re-routed and stop the thoughts. But stop them! Don’t be distressed because you keep having sinful thoughts; be distressed because you keep allowing them to stay. As long as you are fighting, you are alive, spiritually.

Of course, the staying power in the Christian life is the Holy Spirit, living in us. By His power alone can we overcome sin. Ask Him to fill you. Ask Him to empower you. Don’t settle for a common life. Reach for the Overcoming Life where you live in victory over sin. Don’t think that it can’t be done — just because you haven’t done it, and you don’t know anyone who has.

I have never climbed Mt. Everest and I can say with some assurance that I never will. 😉 I don’t even personally know anyone who has climbed it! But I believe it can be done. I believe even I could,  if I had a desire to, and trained myself. It would be foolishness to say that it can’t be done, just because neither I nor my friends have accomplished it.The Great Battle against self, and scaling mountains

The same goes for overcoming sin. Not all at once, not all in one day. But one stronghold after another – just like the Israelites laid waste to the giants and strongholds in the  Promised Land. The power comes from the Holy Spirit. The weapon is the Sword of the Spirit. (The Bible, God’s Word) Your protection is the armor of God: “having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17

We are weak because we indulge our flesh — we give in to our earthly desires and passions. We need to get serious about overcoming sin, about dying to self – then we will grow. God wants us to grow and overcome, much more than we ourselves want it! Have faith. Believe that He is ready to help, willing to help, and eager to empower us!

True Joy

True Joy
When your heart is broken and your soul distressed
Hang on to Jesus – he comforts the best.
He knows the pain of losing a friend,
He was forsaken; alone at the end.

Trials and hardships are part of this life
True joy is found only in Jesus Christ
Abiding in Him brings comfort indeed,
Trusting in Jesus for every need.

Satan would have us turn skeptic and doubt,
His whispers are poison, we must throw them out.
Getting mad at God – asking endless “whys”
Does no good at all – don’t believe the lies.

“In everything give thanks”, Scripture says,
Deep joy comes to him who obeys.
Nothing can shake you, not one little thing
There’s blessed Peace, when walking with the King.

 

The myth of sleeping when baby sleeps.


 

The myth of sleeping when baby sleeps

You’ve all heard it: “Sleep when your baby sleeps”, but really? Have they actually tried running a household while sleeping when baby sleeps? I mean, the baby is awake for the grand total of 1.5 hours, and 97.2 percent of that time is consumed with changing their diaper, feeding them, and trying to get them back to sleep. In the approximately 3 minutes remaining, it is pretty hard to make a meal, launder grungy clothes, clean the bathroom, and comb your hair. Let alone get the nail polish out of the carpet in your toddler’s bedroom, or actually eat a meal.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me who never outgrew their dislike for childhood naps. Or maybe it’s because every time I decide to be good and lay down for a nap – that’s when my 3 year old decides to wake up early from her nap, or my 6 year old feels its an appropriate time to start screeching “NOT FAIR!!” at her brother (who made sure I was drifting off to sleep before starting to teasing her).
Perhaps I am the only one who has no ‘off’ knob on my brain – and as soon as I lay down in a (relatively) quiet spot for 3 seconds, my brain thinks it’s a perfect time to remind me of that closet that needs organized, and that gunky stuff I saw this morning in the fridge, and did I remember to send the car payment or am I gonna wake up from my nap with no car in the drive?

I try. I really do. I think:
“Today I will get a nap no matter what.”
I carefully instruct and warn (threaten) the older kids: “No fighting! None! A scream will earn you extra chores and you know how bad you hate cleaning the fridge when there’s gunky stuff in there! NO teasing! Actually, you two don’t even talk to each other! On second thought – you all go outside and don’t come back in till I say you can!”
“What If we’re hungry or thirsty?”
“Drink from the creek – pretend you’re pioneers, OK? And you won’t starve in 1 hour, I promise… now go.”
I then carefully get the baby asleep and immediately lie down myself. Its quiet. Peaceful. I will put all thoughts of empty socks drawers and crunchy floors out of my head. We can go barefoot tomorrow. It won’t be fun – with the crunchy floors an all – but I am getting a nap!

I am drifting off to sleep, finally, after several stern self-talks and mental floggings. Then I hear it – screams.
Happy screams. Shouts of laughter and joyful calling to one another, but right outside my bedroom window! I sigh and stick my head under my pillow. That does next to nothing for the volume level. I decide I can sleep through it, and will myself to ignore it and focus on the bird songs and whirring of the bathroom fan that I left running to drown out kid-noises.

Except it doesn’t. Nothing drowns out those happy shouts from 10 feet away. I grin a little, and roll out of bed. Sitting there on the edge of the bed I say aloud:
“I give up. I just give up.” And I stand up and walk to my waiting laundry.
“Sleep is not that important”, I tell myself, soothingly. “You can sleep all you want when the kids are gone.”
I know that’s probably not true – but visions of long, uninterrupted nights in my (very distant) future gives me the umph to go on putting one foot in front of another, sorting laundry and sweeping up kitchen floor crunch. I yawn a few times, and whisper pleadings for strength and grace for the rest of this day. To be happy and patient. To love unconditionally and relentlessly. To have a calm and sweet voice and not bark at my family. Because God has been so good and gracious to me – how can I be less to His children? He does, you know. He does give me grace and patience. Love upon love. And joy. True joy that tiredness can’t quench.
But I have to stay nestled in His arms, covered with His grace, and bathed in little prayers throughout my day. Church and friends and good books and long naps won’t get me through. Only my Father God and His power.

The myth of sleeping when baby sleeps.

We love each other! :)

Note: I don’t recommend having your kids drink from a creek. Especially where 800 head of cows also have access to it, if you know what I mean. They will probably get cooties and leeches and all sorts of gross things. Yuck. Please send a bottle of water out for them to drink. 😉