A Lesson on Brokenness . . . Grace is a Gift!

It happened so quickly!  My husband and I were in a hotel gift shop–killing time really.  While looking at some terra-cotta Christmas ornaments, one I barely touched tumbled to the tile-floor and smashed into pieces.  We looked around for help, surely everyone in the shop heard the crash . . . but no one came.  Dutifully, we looked at each other and started picking up the pieces one-by-one, before making our way to the sales counter.

When I showed the manager the pieces, I must confess that part of me hoped she would forgive the debt owed.  She didn’t.  Instead, she looked at me and the broken pieces and said, “It’s okay Ma’am, I’ll give you a discount . . . that will be $14.” My heart sank as I looked at my husband and said, “I’m sorry, Honey.”  She looked me and asked, “Do you want this?” With tears threatening to spill, I started to say “no”–why would I want such a painful reminder?  However, my husband interjected, “Yes, we will take it–I will put it back together.”  So, she put the pieces into a clear ziploc baggie and we walked out of the shop.

A lesson on brokenness . . . .
A lesson on brokenness . . . .

It was quite a while before either of us spoke.  Inwardly my thoughts seemed to go everywhere at once–embarrassed at breaking the ornament, upset that the store manager was not willing to forgive the debt . . .  I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I struggled inwardly with a growing anger.  Yet, in a flash my anger dissipated as I recognized my sinful and foolish attitude.  Suddenly, these words flew through my mind like an electric banner:

Kathie, you love the idea of grace but you have forgotten that, from start to finish, GRACE IS A GIFT!”  

I felt silly and downright arrogant when I realized what I had done–demanding what can only be received as a gift!  Two passages of Scripture came to mind.  The first was David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.  After being confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David’s prayer reflects the kind of brokenness that pleases God in verse 17,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

The second passage, written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to his friends in Ephesus (chapter 2, verses 4 and 5), boldly declares the wondrous love of God who, in His divine mercy, offers grace to all who repent of their spiritual brokenness:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
it is by grace you have been saved.”

As we continued to walk, I found myself bubbling over with excitement at God’s kindness in extending this lesson to me.  Suddenly, I was grateful that my husband had the broken pieces in his pocket and could hardly wait for him to glue the pieces back together.  This Christmas that very special ornament will be hung on our tree with special care, tagged with a note for all to see: Grace is a Gift from start to finish!

All to His Glory!

 

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!

When Storms Bear Down . . . .

I wrote this in my Journey Notes over a year ago when a hurricane was bearing down on our community.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage you as it did me this morning.

“When storms bear down:

“Be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

Remember . . . do not forget . . . teach your children and grandchildren about God’s faithfulness.  Lord, thank You for these reminders to remember and never lose sight of the miracles large and small that I have seen:

  1. The miracle of a changed heart that would have turned to stone if you had not stepped in.
  2. The miracle of three amazing children who love and serve You.  What a joy to see them care for their children and spouses as they honor You.
  3. The blessing of a marriage that has weathered many challenges and served to strengthen our commitment to each other and to You.
  4. The miracle of changed lives through Counseling–Your Spirit and Your Word are sufficient to convict and cleanse the repentant heart to make it whole.

Yes Lord . . . I will remember these things and many more!”

My praises for that day were:

  1. Haven’t lost power
  2. Marshall (my husband) is home.
  3. Joy in Your Presence

~~~~~

The sad thing is that on clear, sunny days I forget the blessings cherished in those tougher seasons.  I get sloppily complacent in my day-to-day living as I take God’s presence and provision for granted.  I hate that about myself but do I hate it enough to change–or to be changed?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15

Storms that bear down can be good  because they heighten our awareness of our frailty . . . our vulnerability . . . our need for protection from on High.

Storms that bear down help us keep our priorities straight . . .
as we refuse to “sweat the small stuff,”
giving thanks that we . . .
are not . . .
alone . . . ..   

Today, the weather forecast is for rain and cloudy skies, colder temperatures but no big storms threaten . . . for now.  Should I pray for storms to shed my complacency and guilt?  Or, perhaps beat myself up for my failures and life’s unfairness and continue living as if I am alone (even though He is with me?)

What is the key to resolving this dilemma, when storms are no longer bearing down and we have lost our way?  I offer this to you, not as a Counselor but as a friend who has failed many times and known God’s faithful forgiveness:

  1. Prepentance offered on the basis of God’s character rather than focusing on ourselves is the important first step.
  2. Remember that every day is a spiritual battle and is therefore a storm that bears down one way or another.
  3. Give thanks to God for the miracles large and small witnessed in the past, as you meet the challenges/storms of each day in His strength and to His Glory.

“Be careful . . . watch yourselves . . . DO NOT FORGET!”

All to His Glory!

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . the people living in darkness have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned.” 
Matthew 4:16
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

The Cosmic Grace of Prayer ~ God’s Gift to His People

I love the cosmic beauty pictured in Revelation that portrays God savoring the prayers of His people as they are poured out before His Throne:

The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.  
Revelation 8:4  (The New Living Translation)

 Prayer is a grace-filled wonderous gift; God’s cosmic provision whereby we can best communicate with Him and love one another.  I write this to thank those of you who have so faithfully extended the gift of your prayers before God’s Throne for my family.  Although my dad still has pneumonia and is considered “medically unstable” he does appear to be improving.  When I left Dad, all of his meals were delivered to his room; now, he is going to the dining room for most of his meals in a wheelchair.   On Veterans Day my brother reported Dad was alert and seemed to enjoy their visit.  Norm even expressed a hope that Dad might eventually be able to return to his assisted-living apartment–baby steps!

As I reflect on all that has taken place in the past three weeks, I have been blessed by the cosmic grace of your prayers being answered in accordance to God’s Plan for my family.  He has not only provided the care Dad needs but has given my brother and I a deeper appreciation for how every day of this journey is a gift of grace no matter what happens.  The Apostle Paul expressed what is truly on my heart in Ephesians 3:20-21,

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”

It is my prayer that the gracious working of God in your heart and mine, will broaden and deepen our appreciation for such an amazing, out-of-this-world gift.

All to His Glory!

Seeing Beauty Through Eyes of Love and Mercy ~

Sometimes the simplest stories make the greatest impact on others.  This story is about how God answered the prayer of a woman struggling with fear.  It is a testament to how God can transform what is rejected by the world, to instead see beauty through eyes filled with His love and mercy.  Enjoy!

It happened when the United States was pulling out of Vietnam.  Operation Babylift, ordered by then-President Gerald Ford, was an effort to save as many orphaned Vietnamese children as possible before South Vietnam was taken over by the North.  At least 2,700 children were flown to the US (and another 1,300 were flown to Canada, Europe and Australia) to be adopted by families eager to receive them.  One couple, Ken and Miji Working, living near a military base on the West Coast of the US, had previously adopted special needs kids from overseas.  When Operation Babylift was launched they were asked if they could adopt one of the children but– believing their plate was already plenty full–.they declined the offer.  (They would soon find out that God had other plans for them!)

Late one evening they received a call from a Babylift coordinator asking for their help.  There was one little boy, about a year old, who no one would adopt because of the severity of his facial abnormalities.  The caller admitted they were starting to panic as he asked; “Would you be willing to care for this little boy until a home is found for him?”   The Workings’ agreed to provide foster care, until a home was found.

The next day, Miji described how she struggled inwardly as she drove her car to the place where she was to meet the little boy.  As she was about to drive into the parking lot Miji prayed, “Lord, just please help me see this little guy with Your eyes.”  She parked her car and walked into the building.  She found the waiting room where there was lots of activity as the children were being introduced to their new families.  Miji was sitting to one side of the room when she glanced up to see the beautiful brown eyes of a child peeking at her over the shoulder of what turned out be one of the Babylift workers.  Miji described how her heart was touched by the pair of eyes looking at her to the point where she found herself thinking, “Oh Lord, if only the child you have for us would have such beautiful eyes!”  When the worker turned toward her Miji could see that the little boy with the beautiful brown eyes had a chasm where his mouth and nose should be.  This was the little boy no one wanted but who captured the hearts of the Working family.  They named him “Tom” and they did decide to adopt him.

In fact, I was delighted to see him, a highly energetic boy of about seven playing with a bunch of other kids.  At that time, Tom and his family had endured numerous surgeries and would face many more as he grew.  I saw how the power of God’s love and mercy, imparted through the Workings, had made an amazing difference in Tom’s life.

Since then, I have been blessed by following Miji’s example, praying, “Lord, give me Your eyes to see , , , “ this person or situation through eyes of faith. He then helps me to take a deep breath, step back and see the situation with grace-filled eyes of love and mercy.  I have encouraged many a client with Miji’s story and witnessed the fruit of blessing in their lives. .

Two Scriptures come to mind that help to underscore the wisdom of seeking Jesus’ eyes when facing trials of many kinds.  James 1:5 encourages us:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  

The Apostle Paul imparted this piece of wisdom in II Corinthians 4:7-9 and 16-18,

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

No matter what you may be facing, God will open your eyes to new possibilities . . . all you need to do is ask!

All to His Glory!