Category Archive: Relying on God

post by carolnl | | 2

What is Success?

 5:00 am Saturday. Most of our missions team met at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. One of the three team vans picked Don and me up in San Jose, from where we headed to meet the rest of the team at Starbucks in Gilroy.

Tools – check

Passports – check

Toilet paper – check

Clothing, sundries, hats – check

We were as ready as we were going to be.

11:30 pm Saturday, we drove through the gates at Rancho Santa Marta in the Baja. My leg was screaming.

Our usual 15-hour drive to the Ranch, 65 miles south of Ensenada, had taken 18.5 looong hours. As we left the Bay Area we enjoyed reconnecting with former team members and getting to know new ones. After stopping for a fast-food lunch near Magic Mountain, one of our vans refused to start. AAA towed it to one service center which wouldn’t take it because they were going to close at 5:00. We went to another, determined the repairs would not be a quick fix, and made the decision to leave the one van behind to be repaired, and reload three vans into two.

We emptied most of the three vans, took out non-essentials (a coffee table, several boxes of t-shirts, some equipment), and repacked people and materials tight into the two other vans, then finally took off again. At Chula Vista we stopped to fill up with gas and enjoy a quick fried chicken tailgate dinner before climbing back into the vehicles to cross the border.

After unloading our weary bodies and supplies at the Ranch, we crawled into bed. I took two Advil PMs to knock me out, wanting very much to be in church Sunday morning.

As the team historian/photographer, I took some photos during the worship service. My heart was renewed as I greeted old friends. I turned to where three of our team stood to sing, and watched one of our new team members who is also a relatively new Jesus-follower. Eyes closed, his face lifted to the heavens, tears streamed down Miguel’s face. And I began to weep as I saw the adoration, praise and worship on his face.

The worship leader introduced separate prayer times for pastors/missionaries; for the Ranch, staff and children; for those who are ill. Children stood voluntarily to give thanks to God for everything from a barbecue this afternoon to their teachers and house parents.

Ranch Director Rod’s sermon, in English and Spanish, addressed what it means to be a success. Miguel is a picture of success. Coming from a difficult background, he said “God, you said if we would seek you with all our hearts we would be found by you. Where are you?” As he kept praying that prayer, God showed up and changed his heart and life. At the end of the sermon, Rod’s father-in-law, Bill, who founded the Ranch with his wife Kaye, stood. “Son-in-law,” he began, “your success will be reflected in the lives of these children who will grow up and change the world.” What a touching and meaningful encouragement.

Drawn into Miguel’s worship, I actually had my first message long before the singing ended and the sermon began.

I am so thankful to be here once again, with staff and children we love dearly.

Some of us have been at RSM for years already; others are brand new this year. God seems to meld us together as we drive and share and snooze along the way, and then throughout the week as we work together.

This week our primary focus is putting up trusses for the new high school building. The Ranch is home to 40-45 children, many learning disabled, some abused, some orphaned. Some will grow up and become teachers or come back to the Ranch as house parents; others will never have the skills or maturity to leave the Ranch and will be given work to do here into adulthood – gardening, cleaning, animal husbandry. Don and I have come to love this ministry to Mexican children in need; and to the 220 students bussed into school from up to 60 miles away during the week.

Pray with us as we serve this week: our attitudes (especially when we get weary), our unity, our effective work on the projects and love for the kids as we see them throughout the week, as well as the day we’re divided into groups to have lunch or dinner in one of the four residences; the piñata and s’mores party (no chocolate, too much caffeine) one afternoon. I look forward to seeing many young friends we’ve watched develop over the past eight years, to reconnecting, loving on them, and praying for them and for their teachers and house parents. Pray that our service will be an outgrowth of our worship of our good God, and will honor Him.

I think of what success means for our team this week. Scripture says “In everything you do, do it as unto the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks …” Success will be our working in unity, encouraging each other, not only doing the work effectively but with grace and joy. The HOW will be as, or more important, than the WHAT.

Thanks for praying with and for us. Buen dia!

 

 

Sleepless Nights and Grace

I typed emails, giving directives like shotgun blasts.

I lacked sleep, unable to get comfortable with my leg still healing from a total knee replacement.

Perhaps I was more sensitive, more grouchy, because the discomfort, while certainly bearable, has been present now for five weeks after surgery. The first two weeks I expected pain and discomfort. But after that it just became wearing. Along with that we had (wonderful) company for a week, I took a fall on my new knee, and we have been preparing for our annual missions trip to Mexico which involves a lot of planning and communication and follow-up on my part.

Friday night was another sleepless night, at least initially. Finally I stopped fighting to sleep and got up. I have a Coloring Book Devotional, “Drawn to Worship,” by my friend, Lisa Bogart. So I sat at the kitchen table and colored in the lines (photo left). As I did, I began to pray for the many friends who are in need of one sort or another right now – health, strength, loss, rebellion – and God showed me how grouchy I’d been. I asked His forgiveness and committed to asking a few others for theirs too.

My husband was first. His graciousness to me is a picture of Jesus’ grace, extended freely and without condemnation. “I know you’re going through a hard time. I expect you to be a bit touchy. Just know I’m here for you and I’m with you all the way.” (Which he proved again last night when I couldn’t sleep. Don got up and put the ice machine on my knee, legs propped up on a recliner plus wedge pillow. While I expected him to return to our bedroom while I hoped to get some sleep on the couch, he grabbed a blanket, sat down in the other recliner and spent the night in the family room with me.)

Our missions trip team leader was next. He too extended grace and appreciation for what I was doing.

What a gift we can extend to each other … just a piece, a reminder, of the greatest gift God has given us … grace, forgiveness, acceptance in the Beloved. As I said to Bob, “I can’t commit to feeling better, but I can commit to trusting God for grace for my need each day.”

I’m thankful for my God, who is and extends GRACE and strength for each need when I rely on Him (which I was forgetting to do); and I’m so grateful for friends who also reach out, not lessening God’s standard but also saying “I get where you are. I’m sorry for your struggle, I love you, I support you.”

And my struggles are so minimal when compared with others’ – but they are MY struggles and the ones that God uses in my life.

So … I can’t commit to feeling better, although that will come with time. But I CAN commit to behaving better, by the grace of God. And I might be coloring again tonight!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)

Abandoned … for Me

Abandoned.

Left behind.

Completely alone.

Terrified.

It was noon Sunday. I was nine years old, and I realized my parents had left church–without me! Frightened, I wondered how long it would take them to realize I wasn’t in the car.

Would they expect someone else to bring me home?

Come back for me?

Be annoyed with me?

Thankfully, my childhood abandonment was short-lived. Mom and Dad heard the silence in the car(!), realized they’d forgotten one child and, to my great relief, returned to pick me up.

I had very loving parents and I was terrified.

I grieve for the many children who are abandoned emotionally, physically, spiritually by addicted, incapable, or uncaring parents. I remember a former acquaintance who, along with his waste collection buddies, found an abandoned, live infant in a garbage can.

But for Christ, fully God and fully man, to say “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” expresses incomprehensible pain.

At that moment, Jesus, carrying all the sin of the world on Himself, identified fully with my sin, and the collective sins of the world. Although He did not sin, Christ felt the separation from God that we sense when we have unconfessed sin in our lives. In heaven, the Son was One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three experienced perfect communication, complete alignment, sublime love, total Oneness. Leaving all that only to feel forsaken, abandoned–how great a chasm that must have been!

Truth set me free!

After a God-honoring memorial service for my first husband, I fell into a deep pit of abandonment, aloneness, despair. I was crushed by the question “What if everything I have believed is a lie … there is no eternal life with Christ … and I will never see Jerry again …” My conclusion was that if the Bible was not true, and faith in Christ was based on a lie, life as I knew it was over. No hope. No sustenance. No future. I might as well quit now.

I was alone in another sense. Because I had experienced God’s faithfulness, presence and hope during Jerry’s illness and death, people often commented on my example of faith, and how they were learning from me how to respond in adversity. How could I now disappoint them by revealing my doubts, the anguish I felt, my separateness from God and others? So I kept my agony to myself and wandered through murky darkness for several weeks.

One day God brought Peter’s words to my mind: “Where else would we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.” And suddenly, my heart was free. Truth won out. The gap closed, and I was again in union with my Lord, who went to the deepest of all pits in order to give me hope and life eternal.

A dear friend once told me that God wants to be God even in my deepest despair; and that however low my pit, God has gone deeper still.

Where are you feeling abandoned? Where do you need to have God reach in to rescue you from your pit? Tell Him. Allow Him to touch you and renew your spirit. If you’re willing to share with me, I’d like to pray for you too.

Jesus agonized on the Cross. He suffered the greatest pain possible, both physically and emotionally, and He died. But then came Sunday, the day the world changed forever! This Easter week, let’s praise Him for His sacrifice and His resurrection, which give us forgiveness and life and hope and peace.

He is risen!

The Wisdom of Leaning

Yes, leaning.

Who are the people we tend to look up to, admire, want to follow? Generally, it’s the strong; the leader; the successful entrepreneur or the woman who always appears put together.

And yet, sometimes the wisest, and strongest, thing we can do is recognize our weakness and lean in–to Jesus, to others–for help, support, guidance.

The apostle Paul recounts asking God several times to heal him of a physical affliction. In II Corinthians 12:9-10 he shares the message he got back. “Each time he (God) said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God’s ways are so opposite of our North American “can-do” mentality, our focus on independence. When something in our lives isn’t working, we try harder, like the little train that could. Only sometimes we can’t. And God doesn’t want us to try apart from Him. I sometimes find it a challenge to step back from my own striving to say “I can’t do this; can’t help this person; can’t change this situation. Only You can, so help me lean into You and allow You to work without my getting in Your way.”

We’re instructed to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:17 (NIV) God never planned for us to carry our burdens alone. He has promised to guide, instruct, counsel and love us. We have this great resource wholly available to us. But how often do we forget, or neglect, to call on Him for help?

Sometimes wisdom is just leaning into Jesus, trusting His heart even when I can’t see His hand at work. There was a time when I couldn’t see the next step ahead, when I felt devoid of hope, unsure of what to do, in a mire of despondency, confusion and despair. While I trusted God, I had no strength left with which to hold onto Him. But scripture, and truths I’d learned from His Word, assured me that He would not let me go even when I couldn’t hang on even by the tips of my fingers. During that time He gave me a song, to which I clung.  I listened to it every night for at least three weeks before going to sleep. Here are the lyrics, and a link to the song as sung by the Gaither Vocal Band.

 

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,

While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place.

‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try,

For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”

But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise

Where the storms never darken the skies.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

When the long night has ended and the storms come no more,

Let me stand in Thy presence on the bright peaceful shore;

In that land where the tempest never comes, Lord, may I

Dwell with Thee when the storm passes by.

Chorus Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,

Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,

Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

I want to be wise enough to lean into my Lord and Savior, trusting Him through the storms and joys ahead; and to rejoice as He leads me through this new year. Won’t you join me?

Joy, Pain, and Peace

Quite the weekend! At a client appreciation dinner Friday night, Don and I received a significant answer to prayer, not only for us, but for someone we love.

Saturday we attended a magnificent Christmas concert at Twin Lakes Church. The rafters were raised and joy was present! Two hundred singers, instrumentalists, dancers, American Idol finalist James Durbin; Rebecca Jackson, violinist with the San Francisco Ballet; and Grammy award winning cellist Jonah Kim told the story, not only of Jesus’ birth, but of the cosmic war going on between light and darkness, and the knowledge that God in Christ has won the battle at the Cross, that Jesus is Lord!

My physical therapist, Emily, joined us, as did a former Intel colleague and his wife, Bill and Carol Munger. Bill and I haven’t been in touch for eleven years, until I recently learned he and Carol now live in the same area as we do. Wonderful to enjoy this concert with these friends. We were all lifted up, encouraged, renewed in spirit.

And tonight, we will celebrate a 50th birthday for one of my daughters-in-faith.

We are richly blessed in the things that really matter–family, friends, the God who is here with us, Immanuel. Beautiful, centering music. This morning, sunlight streaming through the window as Don and I sat across from each other, reading God’s Word and having our minds renewed.

Yet in the middle of all the festivities and celebration and joy, there is lots of pain.

  • Families have lost, and are losing, homes to California wildfires. Some don’t know where their next housing will come from.
  • Finances get stretched in the desire to provide a wonderful Christmas to our families.
  • A friend’s infant nephew is in the hospital with three infections.
  • Another friend’s husband has been in the hospital, fighting for his life, for over 200 days.
  • Families are stressed because of conflict, finances, illness, and other challenges.
  • Loneliness is heightened during a season focused on love, when many are surrounded by loved ones and it sometimes feels like everyone else has it together.
  • Political conflict abounds, here and abroad.

With all our technologies, our knowledge, life is still hard. Jesus said that “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)  While we still face difficulties, we have a God who has promised to be with us in all, who cares for our pain, and who promises His people a future when justice will reign, illness will have died forever, and we will live in peace, love and joy in His presence for all eternity.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” (Matthew 5:3, MSG)

Will you join me in focusing on moments of joy and gratitude this Christmas season, rather than in the “to do lists” we all have for the holidays? Let’s make more of presence than of presents; of the beauty in our loved ones than in our homes; of God’s good gifts than in our wish lists.

Blessings to each of you this Christmas!