Wednesday, February 29

Transformation in the valley

I read through the book of Hosea a couple days ago and thought of a handful of messages and/or blog posts that could be extracted from that little book of the Bible. Here is one thing that really impacted me when I read through this.

But first...let me back up.

Back in the time when Moses was leading the Israelites around the desert, for 40 years, God gave His chosen people a list of rules, one of which was to give God the firstfruits of everything...crops, first-born animals, first-born sons, an offering of dedication for God's use and to thank God for His abundant blessings. So moving on...

After Moses died, Joshua was commissioned to lead the Israelites into the awaited Promised Land, where they were to fight and kill all of the Canaanites and the other inhabitants, for God had given the Israelites this land. Part of the blessing for the Israelites was that in doing this, they would get to inhabit houses and cities that they didn't have to build. They'd have crops they didn't have to plant and possessions they didn't have to buy. BUT, the first city, the first battle, against the people of Ai, was to be the first-fruits offered to God. All the houses, city walls, crops, animals, gold, treasure...all of it...was to be burned and offering to God.

But in Joshua 7, we learn that a man named Achan takes some things and hides them in his tent. What he did was so grievous against God that his sin resulted in the death of Achan and his whole family. The valley in which the family was killed was called Achor (which means trouble).

Okay, skip ahead to Hosea.

Hosea was a chosen prophet of God's who was commissioned to marry an unfaithful prostitute. She conceives three children (presumably not Hosea's children?) and even ends up as a slave at one point, causing Hosea to buy her back. Hosea's marriage to Gomer was a portrayal of God's love for the Israelites, the unfaithful bride. A powerful, beautiful, oh-so-humbling portrayal. But in chapter 2, God gives Hosea a promise:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope."

God, so faithful and full of loving forgiveness for His unfaithful bride, Israel, promises to woo her back, to bless her again with undeserved possessions, and to transform the valley of trouble into a door of hope!! And all of this will happen while IN THE WILDERNESS!

I don't know about you, my friends, but when I'm "in the wilderness," I would typically describe that time as filled with weariness, being lost and alone, and dry in both body and soul. The heat oppresses and I don't know how long I can endure without finding an oasis or haven to restore my soul. Does this resonate with anyone? And yet(!) God promises to create a door of hope for His Beloved during that dry and troubled journey. Is that wonderful and exciting?!?!

I love that image. It creates hope and assurance that even in those times God is still good and will provide for our needs. Hope this encourages you too!

Tuesday, February 28

What is becoming a bad habit

I have this bad habit forming. A bad bad BAD habit.
I can't believe that I've been blessed...protected...thus far.
But this habit needs to be stopped!

 as you can see by my lovely drawing, this bad habit involves me being in the front of the lane, that is going straight. In my peripheral vision, I see a light turn green and so then I go. BUT IT'S NOT MY LANE!!! It's the turning lanes that are turning green. So basically the traffic across from me is heading towards me. EEK!

The first time this happened, I didn't realise my error until I was just about all the way across...thankfully that person delayed in moving altogether otherwise we could have crashed.

There's been a couple of other times that I've caught myself, in that scenario, about to hit the gas pedal only to realise "RED LIGHT, YOU IDIOT!!!"

But unfortunately, I didn't catch myself early enough today! I started going but stopped when I realised a car was coming towards me, and had stopped when they saw me moving. It was so embarrassing, sitting 1/3 of the way into the intersection, clearly NOT where I was supposed to be. Plus, I almost got rear-ended to boot! The guy behind me saw me move and started to move as well and had to slam on his breaks when I quickly stopped. What a mess! One of these days, I'm going to be in head-on collision, ENTIRELY MY FAULT, for not staying put.

Why do I do this? Well, basically I'm distracted...not fully attending to my driving and all that is going on around me. Today I was thinking about some verses in James.

The moral of the story is NOT that meditating on the Scripture can be hazardous to your health! But rather, pay attention, Mindy!!! And maybe, beware if you are ever so lucky to be a passenger in my car.

I really am a decent's just when I'm at the front of an intersection at where I seem to get tripped up. Like I said...a bad bad habit.

Friday, February 24

What I'd like to do this weekend...

--Catch up on sleep
--Catch up on laundry...oy vey! do I need this!
--Go bowling (I wish!)
--Watch an episode (or two) of Downton Abbey
--Watch an episode (or three) of Once Upon A Time...I'm so far behind.
--Wear my pajamas all weekend (not gonna happen) or at least most of the weekend (maybe?)
--Have some quiet time and by quiet time, I don't mean devotions with God, I simply just mean some noiseless, no people-interaction, silence. Maybe some instrumental background music. But this girl needs a recharge and quietness is how it's done.
--Go out in the snow (if we are so lucky on Sunday!)
--Have a good wordy chat with a friend
--Make soup (Chicken Taco Soup)
--Drink coffee...yum!
--Work on my Beth Moore Bible Study
--Memorize some Scripture
--Shave my legs
--Spend some time reading the Bible
--Make something fun in the kitchen (cookie dough, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, chocolate mousse).
--Write a letter to a friend
--Take a nap
--Take off current nail-polish and maybe put new polish on
--Go to church and hug at least 5 people
--Work a bit more on my "ugly" blanket
--Take a walk around the lake outside or to the grocery store
--Discover something interesting
--Spend a little time thinking, daydreaming, researching options for my future
--Clean out the junk in my car (ie, swing by the goodwill to donate)

Happy Friday everyone! Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, February 20

Lent begins on Wednesday

Lent begins on Wednesday (so soon???).
I honestly thought it started the following week which would have suited me well because I know what I'm going to give up and now I have only 1.5 days to adjust.

My church doesn't celebrate or even acknowledge Lent. (I think they don't engage with Lent because it's not a Biblical mandate...just a church-created ritual...but so is Advent, which we participate who knows???) Anyhow, I went to a Lutheran school from Kindergarten through 8th grade, where Lent was taught and encouraged. Just in case you'd like a little background...Lent is the 40 days prior to Easter...a season which begins on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is a day when some churches offer a special church service with the focus of our sinfulness before a righteous God. Typically in those services, the priest or pastor puts ash on everyone's forehead, in the shape of a cross, to serve as a visible reminder of our sins and how only Jesus can make us "white as snow" again. I believe the expectation is to wear the ashen cross on your forehead for the whole day, as you go about your business, to work, school, out to dinner or even to the grocery store. Then it can serve as an opportunity to share the gospel when someone points out the dirt on your face. But my church doesn't offer Ash Wednesday services and plus I work when any of the local services are taking place.

The purpose of the Lent season is to prepare one's heart for the Passion Week: the week Palm Sunday, Passover/Good Friday, and Easter. It also serves as a reminder of our weakness and need for the Lord's salvation. This is (often) accomplished by people fasting from chocolate, sugar, coffee, coke, dining out, watching TV, or whatever else is a key part of one's live. Then as the person struggles with wanting to cave in (or if they actually do cave in), it reminds them that they are weak without the Lord and that only because of the Lord do we have strength and redemption of our sins.

I've heard (and read) some viewpoints that Lent doesn't necessarily need to be denying one's self but could instead be about giving unto the Lord, such as volunteering through the Lent time, reading a large section of the Bible, intentionally encouraging someone every day, etc...this idea works too, I think, because honestly, I think the struggle to persevere would still be there.

Anyhow, this year, having been inspired by Lauren Winner and her book Girl Meets God (a great book!), I am giving up all reading, outside of the Bible (and the Bible Study that I'm a part of). I have been on a bit of a reading craze lately so this is likely to hit hard AND I just started a new book, which I was hoping to finish by next week but seeing as I can't finish it by Wednesday, I think I'll just shelf it until after Easter. *Sigh* But with this self-denial of only reading the Bible, there must also be a goal for me to focus on otherwise I fear that I will just distract myself with TV/Movies, which would not really serve any purpose. I haven't figured out this part yet but will come to some conclusion by tomorrow night. I know I want to include Bible memorization, along with reading...anyhow, I have a day and half to prayerfully determine a plan.

What about you? Any Lenten plans? Does your church do anything special for this season?

Friday, February 17

A spectacular place

I found out this morning that this wonderful old man I know, died on Wednesday.
I know confidently that this saint of a man is walking with our Savior in Heaven, which then made me think of all the other saints who are also up there. Men and women who prayed devotedly. Who trusted deeply. Who loved greatly.

And I've concluded (again!) that Heaven will be a pretty great place.
"What a fellowship, what a Joy Divine!"

Thursday, February 16

Dear Advise Columnist--

Dear Advise Columnist--
I have a funny but very true story that I would love your counsel on. I help out, each Wednesday, at the Awana clubs at my church. I specifically work with the 3-6th grade often funny age group. Well, last week, this one girl (a 4th grader?) was flipping through her Bible and found "Song of Solomon." She showed me her open Bible and asked if that was a real song. When I saw what she was referring to, I told her that yes it had been a song when Solomon wrote it and was curious to see what would happen next. Well, she then began to start singing the words to her own little tune, all in silliness.

I really didn't want to make this into a big deal because it is a book in God's Holy Word after all and there's nothing shameful about what was is written but nor was I eager for her to start singing the more personal "descriptions" that are used in Song of Solomon, especially as I don't know what she's already be told by her parents. So, after a minute, I playfully grabbed the Bible from her hands (since technically she should have been doing something else anyways) making her laugh and scurry to find another Bible.

Thankfully by the time she found another Bible and found Song of Solomon again (which took her a small chunk of time), it was time for the entire group to move to the next part of the night. Sigh of relief! As soon as she left the room, I laughed over how funny and potentially awkward this all was and could have been.

But tell me Advise Columnist, did I do the right thing? Was there something different that I should have done instead?

Someone who is not a parent!

Wednesday, February 15

Turning away

Slowly, with time,
cultivated over the months and even years
(as in my case)
the thing became an idol.

Feelings of eager desperation
a need to know or engage
led me to continually search out the idol
time and time again.

The idol is not bad
and did not seek to control my thoughts
It was I who willingly acted,
making it loftier than the Son.

Would today it offer a nugget
would today it satisfy my heart?
But often the anticipation felt
didn't match the reward.

Then God reached in and gently beckoned
to woo His bride's return.
My eyes opened, the idol was seen
as I humbly knew what to do.

The thing is still there, often on my mind.
A habit hard to break
But only the Lord deserves the high place
So prayerfully, I turn away.

Tuesday, February 14

Being single...and content

I was lent a book on Sunday.

My friend sat down, a bit nervously, and prefaced her offering by how she knows it can be weird when people suggest you read a book and you're left wondering why they had thought of you. I sat quietly smiling, trying to catch up on what she was saying and suddenly she handed me this book that she thought I might enjoy reading.

"Believing God for His Best: How to Marry Contentment and Singleness" by Bill Thrasher

I smiled, quickly praying that this wasn't anything like "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," as I listened to her explain a bit about the author, who had been a professor of hers at Moody Bible Institute. Based on what she shared, I was a bit intrigued and told her I'd probably start reading that afternoon.

This book charts the autobiographical story of how Bill and his wife met and how their relationship developed over six years before their wedding day. Intertwined in their story are the lessons that they have learned and the things they have counseled the singles who have come into their life.

All in all, it ended up being a very good. A short 129 pages, I read all but the last three chapters that afternoon before running out to my next activity. It was so good that I went onto Amazon yesterday and purchased 4 copies so that I can nervously sit down beside some of my friends to say "here, I think you should read this." It confirmed my own thoughts and how God has worked in my life, actually since high school days, but most specifically within the last year.

It can be hard to be content at time when you're single...when most of your friends find their Beloved get married and have kids...when holidays, such as today, or birthdays remind you that another year has gone by and your Beloved still isn't on your radar...when you think about the future and wonder how many weeks, months, or years you might be alone. But can you trust God to lovingly take care of you and to understand your tears for the next moment? For the next hour? For the rest of the day? Has He not proven Himself faithfully by your side over the last how many years? It is in this that contentment can bloom.

A trustworthy God in the past
A moment of trust for the present
Assured confidence for the future

And in the contentment that grows, comes the excited opportunities to serve God and know God with an undivided heart. And that is what I want.

(**This is not to say that there aren't still hard emotional lonely moments, even when you are mostly content in your singleness. But when you are mostly content, I am learning that even in those pain-filled moments, it is easier for me to still trust God, to look to Him, and pour out my pain, confident that He cares.)

Monday, February 13

In the hands of a mighty God

At some point last year, I started listening to books on CD, while driving to and fro, hither and yon. Not all the time mind you, but occasionally, about once a month or once every two months.

I went to the local library system that I'm a part of and typed in various fictional authors that I enjoy reading, one of whom being Lynn Austen. I found that she has this series (of 5 books?), that I haven't read, called Chronicles of the Kings, telling a narrative account of King Ahaz, King Hezekiah, and King Manasseh; three kings of Judah. I felt a bit odd checking out a book on CD when I hadn't yet read the actual books but decided to go with it anyways.

I am currently in the middle of the third book and let me tell you, I have laughed and delighted, I have worshipped the Lord, I have been convicted and challenged, I have cried in horror and pain and I have learned. I find that, having not read the books and only being minimally knowledgeable of the Biblical account, that I am engaging with the story on a level that stirs my whole being, more than just if I had read the words.

To summarize, King Ahaz was a king who did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, or his ancestor King David. He worshipped idols, gave his own sons to be burned for idol worship, and eventually bent his knee to pay annual tribute (tax) to Assyria, the cruel and ruthless power nation of the day, stripping the temple and the country of all it's gold.

When he died, King Hezekiah inherited the bankrupt and desolate country of Judah. Unlike his father, Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, following in the steps of King David, tearing down all his father's idolatrous worship sites and reconsecrating the temple for the worship of the Lord. He restored the temple, fortified the city walls of Jerusalem and other Judean towns, and led his people back to the Lord. Through his devotion and obedience of the Lord, the Assyrian yoke was thrown off and the land of Judah once again flourished, in land, in trade, in wealth, and in peace. But a day came when King Hezekiah was filled with pride, taking credit for the things that were bestowed by God alone, and God allowed Hezekiah and Judah to go through a dark time. The Assyrians returned, desperate to squash and rule over this tiny nation that had eluded them before. And yet, despite that Hezekiah's sin had (supposedly?) initiated this chain of events, Hezekiah came before God in repentance and humility, pleading for mercy from the hands of his enemies and God responded, promising to turn away the Assyrians. And this is where I am at in the story.

It was really impressed on me this morning just how humorous and baffling it must have been to the countries around Judah, who were all either demolished by, or captives of, the Assyria tyranny. One little country, seemingly of little significance and military power, throws off the Assyrians not once but twice! Even Israel, the neighboring brothers of Judah, had already been annihilated and taken away as slaves but the little country of Judah remained. One little country whose God was the Creator of Heaven and Earth. One little country who worshipped a God with a mighty arm, more powerful than a hundred chariots or a thousand horses. One little country who witnessed kings and nations rise and fall but by the word of the Lord. His mighty hand, which cradled His people in His loving care while judging the nations who scorned Him.

Our God is so good...this is yet another example of how He graciously and compassionately cares for the vulnerable. And how in the times of brokenness and trepidation, God is still present and in control.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14

Wednesday, February 8

Phantom Mosquitos??

About two weeks, I started waking up with bug bites. It was a bit ridiculous.
In total, I've been recipient of 4 on my back and about 10 on my legs.

But it's February people...much too cold for mosquitoes.
Plus there was nary a mosquito to be found, either in my room or in the apartment.

And since there are no pets that might have fleas, I've come to my next sad and disturbing guess...

Bed Bugs ((shudder))

Bed bugs and lice must be in the same family tree as they both make me itch just thinking or talking about them. You'd probably chuckle if you could see me write this post because I keep pausing to itch a random, non-bitten place. No estoy loco. At least not today.

I have done a little disgusting research via the internet and have taken apart my bed. But thankfully (and a tiny bit frustrating too) my mattress, box spring, and bedframe all look bug and larva free.

So two nights ago, my research informed me that bed bugs can live in our blankets/quilts and even pillows. ((shudder again)) I then stripped the two quilts off by my bed, tied them in plastic bags and threw them out on the balcony until I could wash them, which I did this morning. Tonight, the pillows are going in the wash for their turn.

I figure that even if I'm not dealing with bed bugs, then at the very least, everything is getting a nice hot wash. I hope this goes away, whatever it is.

Not only am I being victimized by silly blood-sucking creatures but I'm starting to dream about bugs creeping, lurking, and eating my sheets. Ick!

**Update: I just remembered that I had spent the previous weekend at a friend's house that had a maybe I imported some Canadian fleas...

Friday, February 3

A very good thought

Today, my friends, is Friday.
Last night's fellowship was good for my soul.
Even though I don't like my job and I don't know what's next, God is still good and He is still with me.
I now have leftover chicken enchiladas in my fridge.
God wants to use me even now to minister to orphans or child/teens at risk.
After I finish writing, I'm going to get a 2nd cup of coffee.
God has a way of lovingly encouraging me whenever I'm low and tired.
God may allow me the opportunity to see answered prayers on behalf of others, as well as myself.
Next week my friend, who is currently in Africa, comes home.

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been [and will continue to be] my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.
Psalm 59:16

Thursday, February 2

A grateful thought

Thank goodness for music!!!
Do I hear an amen or two???

Specifically today, I love how in the height of emotional vomit (wanting to yell, jump and down, and thinking not-so-godly thoughts) God can reach down and change my heart and mind, through a few vertically-focused songs. It's hard to listen and sing along to songs that worship God and stay angry.

(What I am listening to? Christy Nockels' Life Light Up, Watermark's self-titled album, and Michael W Smith's Worship Again)

I know this is just one instance where music can bless. We all have stories of how music has spoken to us in various circumstances...this is just my experience today.

Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders.
I Chronicles 16:9

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 4:23

Wednesday, February 1

A restful thought

The last few nights, I've had trouble falling asleep. My mind has just been weighted with thoughts. And last night, in addition to a mindful of thoughts (or maybe because of them), I was feeling anxious, overwhelmed, weary, and lost. Completely burdened down by uncertainties and fears. No worse feeling, I think...because the more I thought, the more anxious I felt; the more anxious I felt, the more I continued to dwell on those thoughts. I was on the verge of a great deal of crying.

So whenever I had a hard time falling asleep or whenever I need to still my thinking so that I can fall asleep, I go through the alphabet thinking of various names or descriptions of God. And last night, I thought of the attributes that I most needed from Him at that time. With each word, I felt my worries fall away, as I turned my thoughts on God instead of myself. The crease lines on my face smoothed out. Relaxation and trust came back to soothe me. (I think I made it to the letter M as I don't remember much after that.)

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:8

The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting;
Psalm 138:8