June 29, 2008

A Surprise Ending

God often reveals to us only what we need to know to take us to a particular point in His plan for us and only after we've taken that first step will He tell us what we need to know to get to the next step.
~Tony Evans, "God, Do You Really Care?"
Can I get an Amen on that?

I'm not much on surprises. I like to know how things are going to end. So, the fact that God rarely shares the ending with me is more than a tad frustrating. Well, I do know The Ending...praising Jesus in Heaven forever and ever Amen and Hallelujah. But the endings to certain situations...He's pretty tight-lipped about that. As irritating mysterious as it may be, it's also pretty exciting when God finally reveals what He's been up to.

This week, God's begun to give me glimpses of what He's been working on in my life. Unlike Dorothy's discovery that the Wizard was really just an old man behind a curtain, I'm seeing that my Abba has been doing some pretty amazing things in secret.

When He asked me to give up buying books for a year, it made no sense. Of course I knew it would help my pocketbook, but I didn't see that such a sacrifice could make a significant difference in my life. I was wrong. Putting my love of books/reading into His hands required faith and a dependence on Him. He has been more faithful that I could've ever imagined. I'll share more later this week, but I have been blessed with books, books, and more books since I made that commitment. God wanted to show me that if He's faithful in the little things, He'll also be faithful in the big things. He's opened my eyes to see that when I sacrifice something in His Name, He fills that void with Himself. And it's so much more satisfying than what I'm able to fill it with on my own.

I shared here the realization that I wouldn't see more of Him unless I obeyed Him in the earthly things. I could sense that He wanted to speak some Heavenly things to me, but I didn't know what they were. I kept trying (and sometimes, failing) to follow the earthly commands He was speaking.

It's starting to make sense to me now. I felt a stirring in my heart that started with this post and continued with this one. It is, without a doubt, a MAJOR surprise to me. In fact, if I'd seen the ending first, I may have run in another direction.

Friends, I am praying for confirmation like never before. When I have it, I'll share all the glorious details with you.

June 24, 2008

As Deep as it Gets (for now)

CJ started summer daycamp this week. At the beginning of each summer, she has to pass a swim test before she's allowed in the deep end of the pool. Pretty easy for a former swim team member. Still, she really doesn't like having to take the test. She feels she's proven herself already. Why go through it again?

I've been asking myself the same question. I've been working hard these past months to change my life...my family's life...and it's still not done. I think I'm getting there, and another obstacle pops up out of nowhere. Another test to pass, deeper waters to navigate. Maybe that's what life really is...a series of tests. Some we pass with flying colors and others trip us up before we're out of the blocks.

When I look back at the progress I've made during the first half of my pursuit of peace and simplicity, I am amazed by what God's done. I'm also frustrated that we're not further (farther?) along. Part of me thought that it might all be finished by now, yet I have the distinct feeling that the upcoming part of the journey is going to be much bumpier than the first half.

Falling to the depths...stripping everything away and letting it go...was scary. Leaving it there and climbing back up the mountain...learning to live life without all the excess baggage...will be exhausting & perhaps even excruciating. Yet uphill I must go.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

-Higher Ground
Lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

June 23, 2008

And Deeper

Having no time for quality Bible study this morning, I decided that my family would be best served if I cleaned the kitchen. I'm not sure why I felt I could accomplish that task, yet didn't have time to spend with the Lord, but anyway...

I figured I could at least have some quality worship time while I worked, so I clipped on my iPod Shuffle. Even though I'd made excuses not to talk to God this morning, He obviously wanted to talk to me. Within 10 seconds, I found myself in the midst of tears. Not just eye-glistening tears, but a full-out UGLY cry.

And when I'm weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought
I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
~Sara Groves, "When the Saints"
I was overcome by the knowledge that I'll be in glory with Paul and Silas one day. That there will be people in Heaven who've gone before...who've been so faithful and courageous. And I'm so NOT.

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
~Acts 16:22-25

God has brought this story to me several times in the past month. I haven't taken the time to really think about it, because it's a story I've heard many times before. Sitting here now, I am finally paying attention to the end of Verse 25 - the other prisoners were listening to them. Paul and Silas were in the middle of extraordinarily difficult circumstances, yet they chose to praise God. And while they praised Him, others were listening.

I thought about the complaining I've done lately, and about how much I put myself first. Others are listening. How can I think my life is hard? I didn't have time for Bible study this morning because I overslept. I'd stayed up late reading a book. I should've been on my knees praying for our mission teams in Africa and Peru. I should've been thanking God for the hundreds of salvations the Peru team has seen in just a few short days. Instead, I was reading about a fictitious missionary.

And I want to be one of the saints?

God didn't call me to Peru or Africa. This time. He hasn't pulled me away from my soft bed or my sturdy home. I haven't had to survive without running water or proper clothing. My life is pretty comfortable. Yet sometimes, I find it difficult to sing his praises.

And I want to be one of the saints?

The burdens I carry are light compared to what other believers endure. They are a mere vapor compared to what Jesus suffered for me. Doesn't He deserve more from my life?

I guess I needed another reminder that it's not about me.

June 20, 2008

Going Deeper

Growing up in a small town, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer and moving to Boston. I would return home once a year at Christmas. I would, most certainly, never reside in a small town, let alone my small town.

When I started reading Rachel Hauck's novel,Georgia on Her Mind, I immediately saw myself in the heroine, Macy Moore. Macy has left her hometown of Beauty, Georgia in her rear view mirror and set off to Florida in hot pursuit of the American Dream. She's been gone a decade or more, and has been pulled into an ultra-materialistic lifestyle. She's got a high power career, a BMW, a pair of Gucci boots, and a financier boyfriend. From the outside looking in, Macy's life is perfect. A demotion and a cheating boyfriend spark Macy's journey back to God and the "good life".

I read several reviews of Hauck's other books and thought I'd give her a whirl. Georgia is the only one of her books that my library has. It looked like a light, fun read. Yet I had the distinct feeling that this was a divine appointment. God was giving me a glimpse of what my life would've been if He hadn't intervened.

Can I just tell you that I'm so glad He did?

Macy had her life all mapped out, much as I had mine. God was obviously looking at another map. Here I sit, 10 minutes away from the house I grew up in. (I wonder if He's still snickering over that one.) No high power career or businessman-husband. The closest I ever got to Gucci was the imitation body spray that was so trendy in the 1980s (and still on sale at Walgreens). My aging, beat-up SUV is a far cry from a Beamer convertible.

Still, I have defined myself by worldly standards - my home, my church, my daughter's achievements. I've accumulated things that I thought would make me valuable in the eyes of others. I've participated (or not participated) in activities based on what others would think. Foolishness, all of it.

During the past year, God has been breaking down the layers of clutter I have built my life upon. We began by confronting the material (actually, we're still dealing with that one). We've moved on to the relational.

Lately, He's been relentless in bringing to my attention how often I hold back from doing what He wants for fear of what others may think. While I could easily spot it in Macy Moore, I wasn't as quick to see that struggle in my own life. To further the point, God hit harder in my Bible study, No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.

When I consider what I set my heart on, what motivates me in life, what controls me, and what I serve with my energy and resources, suddenly I am far from graven images and am toe to toe with my lust for attention, my attachment to comfort, my demand for people to meet my needs. These are just a hint of the things I often look to as my personal saviors.
Now was that really necessary?

Here's what I'm learning, friends. People come and go. Things rot and decay. I am not defined by the car I drive, my child's accomplishments, or the praise of others.


No matter what, there will be days when I look like a fool. If that means being a fool for Jesus, let it be.

Oh, Lord, may my prayer be

I do not seek or consult My own will [I have no desire to do what is pleasing to Myself, My own aim, My own purpose] but only the will and pleasure of the Father Who sent Me.
~John 5:30 (AMP)

June 19, 2008

Spring Reading Thing - Wrap Up

It seems like it's been a long time since I made my list for the Spring Reading Thing. Here's how I fared:

Listed Fiction, Completed:
These Three Remain by Pamela Aiden
A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Every Secret Thing by Ann Tatlock

Listed Fiction, Not Completed:
The Recital by Robert Elmer (didn't realize it was a sequel, so I got the first book instead)
The Dead Don't Dance by Charles Martin
Maggie by Charles Martin

Not Listed Fiction, Completed:
The Appeal by John Grisham
Payback by Melody Carlson
Georgia on Her Mind by Rachel Hauck
Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate
With Endless Sight by Allison Pittman
Skizzer by A.J. Kiesling
The Duet by Robert Elmer
These Boots Weren't Made for Walking by Melody Carlson
Fatal Deduction by Gayle Roper

Listed Non-Fiction:
The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace (still reading)
Simplify Your Time by Marcia Ramsland (didn't finish)

Katrina wants to know:

Did you finish all the books you had planned to read? If not, why? No. I got busy with some review reading, and got side-tracked with several other books.

Do you think the challenge helped you read more? Or maybe helped you read books you otherwise wouldn't have? I definitely tried some different books, just by seeing what others were reading.

What was your favorite book you read this spring? Least favorite? Hard to pick a favorite. I had some very good books on my list. Least favorite would probably be The Appeal. I didn't like it nearly as much as the other Grisham books I've read.

Did you discover any new authors or genres that you now love? I found I like historical fiction more than I thought I would. I'd only read two of these authors before: Roper and Grisham.

What did you learn about your reading habits or interests?
I was pleasantly surprised by breaking out of my comfort zone.

Are you interested in another "Fall Into Reading" challenge this fall? Sign me up!

To read other wrap-ups, visit Katrina.

June 17, 2008

Around the House - June Edition

I am:

~Celebrating that school's finally done!

~So happy that we cut back on daycare this summer. CJ spent all day with her dad yesterday. They worked on a friend's shed roof (she was the gopher, and loved every minute of it), napped, and had dinner ready when I got home. Today, she and R have gone to see his mom. The rest of the week, she's visiting family & friends each day. I'm hoping a sprinkling of "off" weeks will be a blessing...less structure for CJ, and less money for us.

~A little sad that CJ's softball season is done, but happy to clear our schedule (except for R's church league softball)

~Praying for church mission teams in Africa and Peru

~Thankful for last night's rain and cooler temps this week

~Looking forward to a "Camp Rock" sleepover Friday night and the Billy Joel concert Saturday

~Preparing for summer Bible study

I should:

~finish purging my clothes & CJ's clothes

~weed the flower beds

~go to bed earlier so I'll stop sleeping in

~buy groceries

~not spend so much time with my nose in a book

~look over my calendar & make some phone calls

~do laundry tonight

~announce that the winner of the "With Endless Sight" giveaway is Amanda! I'll be emailing you for your address.

June 13, 2008

Of Snow Globes and Eternity

CJ collects snow globes. This week, she dropped one that we had brought her from Paris. Her favorite, she said. Her tears could have filled the globe itself.

I'll never get another one!

You never know.

No, I won't. It came from Paris and I'll never go to Paris!

You might. I never thought I would, either.

Then I reminded CJ of the 20-some youth and adults who stood before our congregation Sunday, mission teams heading to Africa and to Peru. These individuals probably never thought they would be part of an international missions outreach, yet God has given them the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance to impact eternity.

Visiting a friend living in Paris was a blessing from God. R and I had a wonderful time, but it wasn't life-changing. The memories, now more than 5 years old, are faded.

~Leading a Vacation Bible School class at a small church in New Jersey, and seeing three souls saved.

~Sharing the gospel in a poor Hispanic neighborhood in Dallas.

These are the journeys that I should be sharing with my daughter, for they will last well beyond the duration of the trips themselves. The souvenirs are much grander than a snow globe.

When I get to Heaven, I may be tempted to ask, God, why didn't I ever go to Switzerland?

Would He answer, Melissa, why didn't you ever go to Peru?

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
~Matthew 28:18-20

June 12, 2008

How Do I Love Thee?

Today is my hubby's 39th birthday. So, I thought I'd share 39 things about him.

He is:

1. a Christian
2. cute
3. loving
4. honest
5. funny
6. a man of his word
7. athletic
8. dependable
9. intelligent
10. a push-over for his girls

He loves:

11. Jesus
12. Me
13. CJ
14. his mom
15. family
16. yellow cake with chocolate icing
17. ESPN
18. the beach
19. chocolate chip cookies
20. spoiling his girls

He makes:

21. the best hamburger I've ever eaten
22. my heart melt
23. sacrifices for his family
24. beautiful cabinetry
25. an honest living

He has:

26. fantastic legs
27. green eyes
28. a lot of patience
29. a beautiful voice
30. my respect

He plays:

31. well with others
32. board games with us (over & over!)
33. hard
34. fair
35. like he's still 18

He can:

36. juggle
37. make CJ giggle like you wouldn't believe
38. still give me goosebumps

He won't:

39. let me forget he's still younger than me!

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I am a better woman for having you in my life, and love you more than I could ever say.

June 10, 2008

"With Endless Sight" Blog Tour & Giveaway

Behind every story of loss is the promise of grace...

It's rare that a book has me up til 1:00 a.m. these days, but I couldn't put "With Endless Sight" by Allison Pittman down. It's the third installment in The Crossroads of Grace series (although the books stand alone), and I plan to put the first two on my list.

From the back cover:

Belleville, Illinois and Wyoming Territories, 1861

Born into a life of privilege, fourteen-year-old Belinda never questions her security, even as she leaves Illinois with her family to discover new adventures in the Oregon Territory . But when disaster falls, Belinda is left wounded, weak, and alone. Her faith in God gives her the only strength she knows in a harsh new world.

Belinda’s journey takes her to a snow-covered mining camp and a red-roofed brothel in the Wyoming mountains, but not before she must spend a lonely winter with the man who took away the life she knew. Throughout the grief and hope of a strange land, Belinda must decide if her faith is big enough to allow her to forgive.

The satisfying conclusion to the Crossroads of Grace series, With Endless Sight offers a rich story of family, new beginnings, and the freedom that grace can bring.

The heroine, Belinda, and her cousin Phoebe (who I didn't like, but did pity) face one difficult circumstance after another, but not in such a way that I kept what else could possibly go wrong. Pittman paints a realistic portrait of life in the 19th century. From the grittiness of the western frontier to the ugliness of the brothel, I was captivated by Belinda's journey.

If you'd like to read the book, I'm giving away a copy. (Wow, I feel a little like Boomama!) To enter, leave me a comment. The giveaway is open til midnight Sunday, June 15th. I'll draw the winning name on Monday. Comments without email addresses cannot be considered.

If you don't win, you can click here to purchase the book.

June 9, 2008

Making a List...

I'm a list-maker. I make menu lists, grocery lists, and cleaning lists. I jot down errands and to do's. I also have a mental list of things I plan to ask God when I get to Heaven. Things like Why did You create mosquitoes? and other such deep, philosophical questions.

Whenever I don't understand something, I tell R that I'm adding it to the list. It's been an on-going joke. Still, there are lots of things I'd like to ask when I meet Him face-to-face.

And when that time comes, you will ask nothing of Me [you will need to ask Me no questions].
John 16:23a (AMP)

Jesus says we won't have to ask anymore questions. Whether it's a diagnosis, a family tragedy, financial hardship, or a pesky insect...either the answer will be revealed, or it won't matter one whit. Either the question has eternal significance, or it doesn't.

I don't know about you, but that makes me think a bit about the questions I've been asking Him lately.

June 6, 2008

Peace in Knowing How It All Ends

Am I the only one who has days when staying in bed seems to be the best option? Some days, the world just drags you down. The past two weeks have been a little that way for me. Work, housework, and girl drama have thrown me into a tailspin. I've lost focus, and have struggled to live out my faith. I cringe when I think of what an unbelieving world has seen in me lately!

To be perfectly honest, it's these little (or not-so-little) daily battles that wear me down. When something big strikes, I know I have no choice but to turn to Jesus. Why can't I remember that in the daily routine of life as well? Deadlines, gas prices, and just not knowing what to fix for dinner...the enemy is constantly seeking to steal my peace and my joy.

One day, that will all change.

So for the present you are also in sorrow (in distress and depressed); but I will see you again and [then] your hearts will rejoice, and no one can take from you your job (gladness, delight).
~John 16:22 (AMP)

I must keep reminding myself that the daily grind is only a temporary plight. There is coming a day when my joy will be permanent, and the thief can't pull it out from under my feet. In the meantime, I'm going to keep cranking this song by Mandisa (turn up your speakers and join me)!

I'm nearing the halfway point on my journey toward peace & simplicity. I think I've done pretty well on the simplicity part; yet I've concentrated on that so much, that I've nearly forgotten about peace. I'm grateful Jesus whispered some peace to me today!

And you know what else is bringing me peace?

(I don't know if you can tell the sign at the top is "Peace"...but it's a great reminder!)

This bookshelf was loaded with books before I started the purge. This is all that's left (well, okay...I have one small box left in the attic, but it's too hot to go up there). One shelf holds cookbooks (down from two). The other two are for books I can't part with, or haven't read yet (down from four, and several boxes in the attic). The top basket has loose recipes that I need to sort through and put into a binder (summer project, maybe?). The bottom basket holds my other Bible translations (I took four Bibles to church Sunday...why do I need to have so many copies of the Word when others don't have It at all?!). And we have room for our games!

I can't tell you how good it feels to have this project completed. It had been mocking me for a while. After posting this picture, I just walked in the living room to make sure this was actually my bookcase. I'm not even kidding.

And then there's this gem:

Have a great weekend!

Skizzer Blog Tour

From the back cover:

"Something both terrible and wonderful has happened. I can't explain it now...."
-- Becca

After receiving news of her sister Becca's abrupt disappearance, Claire Trowling must piece together the shadowy remnants of a past she's long forgotten in order to find her. A cryptic note scrawled in Becca's handwriting leaves more questions than it answers. When a stack of mysterious letters bound by a rare necklace is found, Claire races to discover the secrets that hold her family captive. Suspenseful and full of intrigue, Skizzer takes you on a transcontinental hunt for answers, weaving seamlessly between the distant past of childhood and the urgency of the present.

Skizzer is the debut novel of A. J. Kiesling. To learn more about the author, you can go to her website.

Blog Tour Contest: Win a gift certificate for $40 to the restaurant of your choice...click over to the blog tour post and in the comments leave your answer to this question:

What's the Most Important Thing You've Ever Lost and Then Found?

A.J. Kiesling herself will select the winning response based on originality and sizzle!

June 2, 2008

Such Sweetness

Yesterday, I told CJ that I had purchased some Bible studies for tweens so that she & I could work on one together this summer. She picked one out last night, and immediately dove in. She got so excited, she asked if she could put her study materials on the table where I keep mine. She disappeared to her room and came back with a pencil, pen, 2 highlighters, and a notebook to go with her Bible and study book. She was going to make it all fit alongside my things, but I happily relinquished my spot so that she could have one.

She set her alarm 15 minutes early. My heart nearly burst when she told me she wanted to get up this morning to read the Word, so that she could think about it all day.

I could feel our Father smiling at us having church on a Monday morning: me on one sofa with my prayer journal in hand, R on the other with his Sunday School lesson before him, and CJ in the recliner reading the Word and jotting down notes. It was one of the most tender, sacred moments I have ever experienced in my life.

Tonight may be a different story. After all, CJ is 9 1/2 and as full of attitude as she is hormones. But I will savor today as one when I saw the glory of God revealed.

If you're interested in the studies (for girls only), you can click here. This is the one CJ picked. This author has a series of study books that have fiction companion books. I don't have the fiction books yet, but I'm ordering them this week.