Directing Squirrels

God spoke to me through a squirrel.

We were coming home from a birthday lunch date with my daddy, and in the middle of the street there was a squirrel. He was pitiful. He was confused and dazed and didn’t know where to go. He’d head one way then circle around another way – going nowhere just spinning. He’d get dizzy so he would lay down his head and then twitch his tail and fight to stand up only to be dazed and confused again. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever witnessed. I wanted to cry, and I told my dad we had to help him. I was desperate to see him be safe!

We went to my house, and I grabbed an old dog kennel. I figured maybe he we could lure him in and release him into a tree. Yes. I wasn’t thinking clearly. After all, my college roommate and I had played momma to a baby squirrel for a few weeks, in my right mind I would have remembered how dangerous a scared and trapped squirrel could be, but all I could think about was the danger it was in, my own didn’t matter.

My dad and I walked over to where we had seen the squirrel, but in just those five short minutes it had taken to get him some help, he’d moved. We weren’t content with that we wanted to know where, so we walked a little and saw a tail twitch at the base of a tree. It was our little squirrel! He was slowly but surely making his way up the tree, to safety. I saw my compassionate dad getting choked up and wrapped my arms around him! My dad leaned his head to mine and said, “I’m glad he made it home.”

God spoke to me later that day. He said “That desperation, that heartache that you felt for that simple squirrel is but a fraction of what I feel as I watch my misguided children spin about dazed and confused with no where to turn. I need you to point them to safety. I need you to make sure they find the tree, the cross, and I’ll Take it from there. Just point them to Me.”

And that’s what we do. Everyday, in a million different ways.. Whether its through Teen Christian Ministries, LeadHer Academy, or writing books, We point to the cross. We are desperate at times! We want to grab them and force them into safety, not wanting to see them face the pain or heartache we have, and we forget that we can’t save them. That’s the hardest truth. We can’t save them. But He can! Only, they have to choose to fight, to shake off the confusion, and find their way to safety. But they have to walk it.. We can’t place them there.

I was pondering this very heartbreak after sharing my squirrel story with my friend, brother and writing cohort, when I was reminded of one of Jesus’ own moments of pain and desperation:

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matthew 9:36, 37, 38 MSG)

His heart broke! He saw their confusion and their aimlessness and His heart broke. The one that could save them stood amongst them, but what did He say? He turned to the disciples and basically said, “You see that? They need YOU to help them.”

That’s my same hope and inspiration! I can only do so much. I only see so many squirrels..err.. People.. But WE see many.. And if we are willing He would point out so many more! His heart is breaking still at their aimless confusion and desperation, and He addresses us, as He addressed me last week, “I need you to point them to me.. And I’ll take it from there.”

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It’s the little things

I’m concerned. It seems like God’s children are losing their purpose. They are getting so tied up with doing they are neglecting the gift of being. I have heard more often than I can let slide the words, “I feel like I’m wasting my time. I’m not sure I’m fulfilling my calling.” Okay, side-note: I have also had that thought. And, it bothered me. The truth is as we look around us, there is more and more to do. I think we get overwhelmed. Those of us that feel we need to take on every task or mission that is set before us are worn out, and those that are just dwelling in grace with an air of apathy are missing out. There is a balance. That balance is His Spirit.

I don’t think we put enough confidence in this gift, the gift of the Spirit. We are trying to do things on our own, when He does indeed have a plan and a purpose for us, and it isn’t some huge mystery that He has hidden and requires a treasure map and a key to unlock. More than that, it doesn’t necessarily mean fame and money and popularity. It’s absurd to think that, and yet we do, if we are honest, think that our obedience will bring about blessing in all it’s worldly forms.

Sometimes the simplest acts of obedience bring eternal blessing. I keep hearing “I need to show more love,” “I need to give more,” “I need to spend more time with my family,” and the same sweet souls that are saying this spend time dreaming up expressions of grandeur when it’s so much easier than that! Let’s break that down.

“I need to show more love.” Then make love the over-riding thought in everything you do. If you need a refresher on what “love is,” check out chapter 13 of 2 Corinthians. Love always requires compassion. Seeing others as more important than you. More love will require more of you, put simply. It will require sacrificing what you want for what they want. It will require more work not less. It will require giving when you are more comfortable with receiving. It will require becoming less as His Spirit in you takes over. If you want to show more love, make this your prayer: Father, today show me how to love like you love us.

“I need to give more.” Ok. So, do. The excuse is often that we don’t have the means or the time, well, that’s part of the gift. Instead of taking those clothes to the consignment store, find a family that lost everything in a house fire, or a church that takes up collections, or simply donate it to Goodwill. If you have been holding that pamphlet from World Vision or Compassion International in your hands and thought, “Maybe I should..” Do it. You will be surprised how quickly you get accustomed to that small amount deducted monthly. There are any number of gifts we can give…be creative, and make this your prayer: Father, today show me who I can help, and give me the willpower to assist them.

“I need to spend more time with my family.” This doesn’t require you to plan a 7 day cruise. This can be as simple as instituting a “family night.” Cook their favorite foods, or order them in for those that don’t like to cook. Pick out a game, a movie, or put up a tent! If that isn’t your thing, go out as a family to eat…no friends just family, and visit, talk, share. You will be surprised how much more inclined they are to talk when you are investing in them. Incorporate mother/father/daughter/son dates. These are great! My youngest loves this! She already gives me the stink eye because I married her daddy before she could… who better to show her how to act on a date and how she should be treated than her daddy? Sometimes these one on one moments of investment open up more communication and affection than you will ever discover talking over your laptop or texting to their iPods. There are a million different ways to show your love for them, to give them more attention and to spend time with them all at the same time! Make this your prayer: Father, help me to make time for my family. Prioritize my life to invest in them, and give me grace to deal with the drama. ☺ (Maybe that last part doesn’t apply to you as it does me.)

Maybe you are wondering, “But, what of our purpose, our calling?” This is our calling. God sets aside two things as the purpose of mankind in various forms and places in the Bible, but it boils down to basically two things: Love God and love others. In that order, and with intensity! Whatever gifts you are given – and there are any number of gifts that we each possess – He placed them in you to do these two things. And when you love others and share His attention and affection with them, this is an act of worship!

So don’t get bogged down in the world of “success” and wondering if you are missing something more. Instead rely on His Spirit inside you that beckons and impresses and inspires. Listen to that still small voice, and as you do you will realize that it is louder than you ever realized, and you will feel your life swaying with its energy, and as you give into the current and power you will find that you are doing better. You are loving better. You are giving better. You are spending valuable time with those that are your family. And, as a reward you will see that the world around you is doing better…your circle of influence is more peaceful, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling. One simple offering at a time, and your purpose will be made complete even if you never do anything spectacular! Who defines spectacular or grand, anyway? The God who came to earth in a feeding trough and died on a splintered cross, was buried in a borrowed grave and gave over the Good News to a ragtag bunch of fishermen and sinners. I think He knows better than us.

Carving out monuments

The minute I walked in the doors of the church his presence was felt. Or was it the Holy Spirit? They echoed the same. I walked forward in a line when someone extended a hand, “Here, you first.” I smiled. Knowing. This person had been touched by the life of Robert Ammon Warner as well. He had been touched, and in that small gesture, was showing homage to a life lived well.

Today I started the day by contemplating my epitaph. Strange yes, but not random. I am going through a Bible Study that asked it of me. But, I realized it was fitting as I walked into a room of people that I didn’t know. I may not have known their names, but each held meaning and purpose and a destiny whether they were aware of it or not. Each life touched in one way or another by an extraordinary man of God, a man we affectionately referred to as Brother Bob. He was revered and loved and remembered, and this memorial was more of a testament to the work of Christ than any other I’d been to.

Bob Warner was a saint. No doubt. But he’d never say it. He was a kind man, prone to emotion, and filled with love. I will never forget our first encounter as he handed me a book, “The United States of America was built on hope and faith!” He said with a loud and passionate voice. He was so convinced of this that he asked each and every member of our church to read that book, “The Light and the Glory”. He evoked passion for our country for the founders and for its purpose in the Kingdom of God. I admit with a frown that I never read through the book. In fact, it still sits, collecting dust, on my bookshelf, dog-eared about a fifth of the way through.

I will also never forget the sincerity in his voice as he shared how Jesus met him in the cockpit of a fighter plane in World War II and how his life was never the same. It was with great grief that he shared of the many friends that had lost their lives, and the eternal question of “Why me?” was whispered in his heart as he still possessed his life. It was out of that deep understanding that he then gave his life over to God, and that is the place that God took an ordinary man to the man of distinction that we remembered today. He wasn’t proud of the violence of war, but he never insulted his military. One year, a missionary woman from Japan came to our church, and with her she brought one of the native pastors. With tears in his eyes and love in his voice, Brother Bob spoke: “I am so sorry for what we did to your country and for the bomb. Please forgive us.” All that were there that day were touched by two things: his repentance and the acceptance of the Japanese man that represented a country that had been ravaged. It exemplified the heart of Christ, and the truth of the Body that sees no lines of distinction.

If I posted his picture, you wouldn’t know his face, most likely. But if you took that picture to a group of people who were uneducated and poverty stricken, those he taught to read and thus gave them hope, they would most likely weep. He was an educator by design much less than occupation. He believed that every person had a chance to an education and that education would bring them confidence. He offered tutoring at no cost. He hosted it for a few years at our church with others of our congregation, and it was a blessing. In fact, he was so committed to education he also taught in the prisons and fostered a ministry there. I will never forget the time that I joined them. Yes, me. A young woman in her early twenties went into a men’s prison and ministered. I sang. They listened. And I remember quite keenly that I had no fear. Brother Bob also invited my husband to go. We each went once. But, they were remarkable memories. Sadly, the ministry fizzled out and others came in and we never had the opportunity to go again, or maybe it is that we didn’t make the opportunity.

As Brother Bob’s son gave the eulogy he said that more than any other characteristic his father exemplified love. Yes. He didn’t live his life worrying whether or not he was in the Father’s will or if he was a part of the right group or wondering what anyone thought of him. He simply walked this earth giving out love. No one had to ask him, “Are you a Christian?” With one look at his outstretched arms and the smile on his face, the answer was clear. This man was a follower of Christ.

I left the church thinking. Seeking peace and understanding in my own circumstances and the ministries that I am a part of…when I heard the Voice that governs my days and my nights say, “Peace. Live. Love. This is what I ask of you.” And, the realization hit me, if no one speaks another word about me on the day of my memorial, may the love of God ring out! May it fill up the room, and may the truth of my life be exemplified in my love for God and others, and may my gravestone read, “This woman was a follower of Christ.”

The Thorn

I’ve been studying about Thorns this week…not actual thorns on rose bushes and other such deceptively beautiful plants…but flesh thorns, those things that stick and fester and cause us to doubt everything God created us to be. They take on many names, you have seen them if not felt them: molestation, rape, insecurity, fear, abuse, infidelity, abortion, abandonment, sexuality, depression, or divorce. In just a matter of minutes, in most cases, they stick fast, and there they are, to be contended with or not.

I have dealt with my thorn for almost 30 years. A thorn I didn’t have any control or say over, and a thorn that was innocently thrust in. But, a thorn is a thorn, and so year after year, phase after phase, situation after situation, that same thorn poked and throbbed and tortured me. Yes. TORTURED me.

During this week, I felt its jab again. Because, we are after all studying thorns, and mine for so many years has been so real, so evident, so deep. So, as I do, when I see the evidence of the thorn I take it before God. This week, He taught me something that I have been too scared or too ashamed to see before, something that I want to share with you.

For years, I have pictured myself, as a little girl pouting before almighty God and showing Him my thorn. It would stick, I would hurt, I would cry and take it to my Father…and show it to Him. A year ago I did this, and He reached for it. I finally extended my hand far enough and held it out long enough that He grabbed my arm gently and pulled it to Him. I watched in admiration and humility as this thorn that had been giving me so much pain for so many years, was being pulled out! He dried my tears, danced with me, and instructed me to move forward and make a difference.

That boldness wasn’t without opposition. You see, for every step I moved to make a difference and to share what I had learned, the enemy met me with discouragement and fear and a greater attempt to discredit me and what God had called me to be. I wrestled with that, and every time, though knocked down for a moment, he discovered I wasn’t down for the count. So he dug deeper, and sent that fiery dart straight into my scar from my thorn.

Wounded, brutally broken, I nursed my thorn again. Angry and disappointed, pointing that finger at God, He offered to hold it. I pulled back, afraid. What if it hurt more this time, what if the thorn was bigger, what if it had never been removed at all, but only hidden? So, I held it out to Him, only to show Him with a pout that I was hurting yet again.

Yesterday, in my prayer time, I tried to show Him my scar, but He wouldn’t look at it. It’s a really strange feeling to be vulnerable before God and feel that He is disinterested. So, I dropped my hand and kept at my work, figuring I had done something wrong. Then last night, He spoke to me. He spoke to me in a picture, my picture, our picture.
I saw Lily (my 8 year old) hurting, crying, pouting holding her hand, looking at it. Her Daddy came up and asked her what was wrong, and she showed him her finger, “It hurts; it’s my thorn.” He reached for it and she pulled back, “NO! It’ll hurt worse! You’ll hurt me!” He stooped down and reached again, “Can I please just see your hand?” Defiant and crying, she pulled her hand away and told him no. Then seriously, he reached out for it again, “Honey, you have to trust me.” She looked at him, considering this request, but convinced that only she could effectively nurse her wound, she attempted to pull the thorn out on her own. Watching her, and sympathizing, he wouldn’t be dismayed, “Can I show you something?” Lily still holding her hand slowly raised her finger, cautiously. “Where is the thorn?” he asked. Confused she grabbed back her finger, “It’s…” He smiled and picked her up and placed her on his shoulders.

This morning, I woke up and understood. It’s GONE. This thing that I have tried to nurse, and I’ve been trying to understand, and I’ve been showing God for sympathy, is actually gone. The pain that I feel is real, but it isn’t the thorn. It’s a result of the thorn, one of the effects of the thorn, but the thorn itself… it was removed a year ago. So, today I have two choices: I can keep holding my hand, pouting over a wound that is healing and a thorn that is gone, or I can go forward in the truth that My Father can be trusted…and what He says is true, and He doesn’t undo what He has done, and He is lifting me up. After all, He showed me, I am on His shoulders, and the beauty of it is, His shoulders are broad enough to carry all of us!

The day He swallowed my death

*WARNING THIS IS ABOUT SUICIDE AND MIGHT BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC

“Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death?” 1 Corinthians 15:51

In our community we have suffered the loss of 5 teens through suicide in the last 6 months. That’s been almost one a month. So, in an effort to share encouragement and to speak life into broken hearts, we are choosing to make May Suicide Awareness Month and having a huge, free concert this Thursday (June 2) with Building 429, Royal Tailor Band, and Hayley Masters!

I have a vested interest in this venture. Eighteen years and about a couple months ago, I was convinced that I would be better off dead. The heart-wrenching and overwhelming fear of my future, years of bearing the guilt and shame of a past that I couldn’t come to grips with, and the feelings of isolation and “no one will understand”, were all climaxing to a point where suicide seemed like the best choice.

Unlike some might think, one very rarely just wakes up one morning and decides to take his/her life. It’s a very deliberate murder of self. Much thought goes into this – the hows and whens and wheres actually are very well thought out. I wrestled through all of those options, and luckily for me, I lived in a foreign country where handguns were not easily accessible, so a blade or a knife to the wrist seemed to be my best bet. I had thought it through and was well aware of the “failure rate” of that type of suicide so I studied my arms and wrists intensely so that I would know exactly where to drive the blade, what blade would be best, and whether or not a knife was necessary. I chose a weekend where I knew that I would be alone in the dorm, because honestly I didn’t want a peer to walk up on the scene and be traumatized. (Strange. I thought I was being thoughtful.) I chose the community bathroom, because there was a large sink drain in the floor and I would run the water so that it would drain away the blood more quickly so I wouldn’t have to endure the sight of blood for long. I knew it would hurt my parents, and come out of nowhere for them because I had worked so hard to disguise my depression and my anguish, but I also figured that they had two other daughters that would fill that void for them. They would be fine. It was the best plan for everyone.

I remember the walk down the hall. The blade was securely in my hand, and my tears were blinding me. It felt very much like a march to the gallows…even if I was my own executioner. I turned on the light to the bathroom and made my way to the sink. I said my goodbyes in my head, I cried for each of my family members and wished my friends life’s best, then just as I was about to jerk the blade into my flesh, I saw something in the sink faucet. I was crying so I wiped away the tears thinking that I was mistaken, but then I saw that it was a face. I leaned in to take a closer look and noticed it as the precious face of my then toddler niece. Funny, I didn’t think I was going crazy. It was a welcome sight. Then I heard the following words, “For her.” The moment freaked me out. I pulled back and got angry and became once more resolved with the blade when I heard, “NO! You must LIVE for HER!” I know it sounds crazy, but I knew exactly Who was speaking to me in that moment. The Power and Authority in that Voice was so strong. I dropped the blade and fell to the floor, “God, help me! I beg of you, help me!” I heard the door creak at the end of the hall down from the bathroom. I pulled myself up from the floor and wiped my eyes. I was a master pretender. If someone were coming, they would never know what was about to happen. But, no one came. In that moment that I stood and waited for the door of the bathroom to open, all I could hear was my heartbeat, and with every beat of my heart those words echoed, “For her, for her, for her, for her…” I looked at the blade, where it had fallen just about two feet away from me, and I stared at it. I looked at the faucet, where I had seen her face. I looked at my wrists. Then, I remember, squeezing my hands in a fist, dropping them to my side, and walking out of that bathroom.

I felt two things as I made my way down that hall – “I’ve failed”… and “Now what?” I got back to my room, turned off the light, laid on my bed and waited. The next morning, there was a knock at my door. My friend, Joy Conrad, had made something for me. She brought it to my room. She laid it in my hands. It was a picture album. She had hand-stitched the front with the words “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” But, instead of pictures, this book held about 20 3×5 cards, and written in hand on each one of these cards was verse after verse of God’s promises to me, His love for me, His desire for me, and His purpose for me. She had no idea, but that was the beginning of a long climb out of a dark pit.

It began with that book. I found the energy to move one step into life. I acted the part of the perfectly healthy teen while I was at school or with my friends, but when I got back to my room, I would sit on my bed, facing the window, and I would sit in silence…letting my heart speak to it’s Creator. The next week, the silence turned to words. I would read those scripture verses out loud and let their power fill the room. The next week, the words were replaced with songs, simple heart-felt songs that echoed my Father’s heart back to me. We stayed in that place for a long time, singing to one another. It probably sounds crazy that I knew He was singing to me, but I knew that He was…He was singing through me and to me… and as we sang, life began to grow brighter. Slowly but surely, I began to write…my feelings, my fears, my heart, my life song…whatever I was thinking. Never knowing that He had given me my purpose in that.

Last night, as I watched and listened and my heart grieved for those lost and those desperate and those considering, I wept. But mingled in with those tears of sorrow, were profound tears of joy as I nuzzled my husband’s cheek and thanked Daddy God for rescuing my life. It’s no wonder I’m passionate about teen girls…and for the heart of broken women of all ages…it was more than for my niece that He saved me that day. He saved me for every her that He would allow me to meet…and in time He has filled me with a powerful love for them, that refuses to let them believe that they are anything less than worthy! He saved me so wonderfully that year that even the pain that came after that time, and the pain that I recently endured, and the pain that I have yet to endure, in the end, all seem worth it, because with each revelation of frailty, I’m reminded that He is Strong and He is with me, and in those moments of stillness, He is still singing over me.