Monday, 21 April 2014

You are invited

The prodigal son
The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration. But he argued back, “Listen, all these years I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your orders. But how many times have you even given me a little goat to roast for a party with my friends? Not once! This is not fair! So this son of yours comes, this wasteful delinquent who has spent your hard-earned wealth on loose women, and what do you do? You butcher the fattest calf from our herd!”
The father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. Luke 15:28-31 (VOICE)

you are invited
My husband drives straight to the VIP parking. I cringe in the passenger seat waiting to be directed to general parking. Xylon laughs and jokes and finds us parking as close to the entrance as possible. 

Xylon walks into the party like he belongs. I stay on the fringe feeling insecure that I don’t fit in – angry with myself for hanging back, for wearing this dress, for accepting the invite in the first place.

In no time at all Xylon is chatting away to people he has just met while I hang back. I hesitate. I wonder why I was invited. 

I act like I'm gate crashing even while clutching the invite in my hand. Xylon is my +1. 

My husband acts like he is invited to the party even when his name isn’t on the list. 

I’m hanging out in the corner feeling inadequate and frustrated with myself. I forget that I received an invite to this party. Someone asked me to come because they wanted me there. 

I think about how my husband is like the prodigal son – taking his place at the party. While I am like the son who stayed behind – pretty sure that there is no place for me at the feast.

I wonder why I think I don’t belong and I think about what happens in the story of the prodigal son, how the father leaves the party to the son who stayed behind and pleads with him to come to the party. 

It reminds me that God finds me when I feel like I don’t belong.

God seeks me out when I feel overlooked. (tweet this)

When God finds me checking the invitation to see if I’m invited and he reminds me that my name is on his list. 

When I feel like an outcast God will remind me that I’m just as wanted as the person who the party is celebrating.
The story of the prodigal son
From my spot in the shadows I’m reminded that if God is throwing a party everyone is invited: 
The prodigal. 
The brother who stayed behind. 
The servants. 
The neighbours. 
The beggars.
Tax collectors.
Prostitutes.
Fishermen. 

The rich.
The poor. 

No one is left out.

Everyone is invited. 

Everyone belongs.

Ponder: When you have felt like you don’t belong? What helps you feel like you are worthy?

Prayer: God, thanks for inviting me to be part of what you are doing. Amen. (tweet this)

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Photo Credits (Creative Commons): Whistle: Darwin Bell fabric: Pink Sherbet Photography Confetti: slightly everything | Design and modifications: Wendy van Eyck  
Thursday, 17 April 2014

When you need to replace ugliness with beauty (or what a screaming man taught me about loving my enemies)

[A note from Wendy: Today I'm lending this space to Kristin Grunewald. Her creativity in worshipping God never ceases to amaze me. She recently shared this story on Facebook and I asked if I could share it here.]
Love your enemies Matthew 5:34
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. Matthew 5:33-34 (MSG)

Today, a simple trip to the “financial vortex” we like to call Target, ended up being an experience that God would use in my and my son’s life for quite some time. 

It is NOT a story about me. It is a story about the God that I serve and His infinite ability to make beauty from ashes.

As my son, Luke, and I turned off of North Point Parkway and into the strip mall that boasts the big red ball of happy, I noticed that there was a terribly obnoxious amount of traffic. I felt rather sorry for the cars that were trying to exit, (they had a yield sign to us) and so I (not noticing the "keep moving" sign) stopped to let a car squeak by. It was at this point I heard the BLAST of a horn - and when I say blast, I mean it sounded as if the driver had climbed out of his seat and was sitting on his steering wheel. 

And he didn’t let up. 

He followed me into the Target parking lot, and followed my minivan until I turned into a parking space. It was at that point that I realized we were going to have to exchange words... because he had intentionally stopped his car right behind mine so that I could not get out. Gulp. 

I took a deep breath, I knew I was not dealing with a rational, good spirited person. Nope, this was an angry middle-aged horn happy man who was severely enraged by my choice to let a car through traffic. Dear Lord.

My feet had not even hit the pavement before a barrage of arrows came flying from his mouth. This man, I did not know, was screaming at me in the Target parking lot. I watched his mouth moving, his forehead squinched, his cheeks bright red with anger. I heard the words: 
“Idiot” 
“You should learn how to drive” 
“Can’t you read?” 
“It’s people like you who cause accidents.” 

I stood in disbelief. Was this happening? All I could think was “Why is he so angry?” So, that’s what I asked him in the gentlest tone I possess. “Sir, why are you so angry?” He was so taken aback by my response that he stumbled over the next few words, scoffed a little, and then carried on with more arrows. Ugly arrows. Flaming arrows. Hurtful, sharp and wicked arrows... and then... he was gone.

Luke and I stood in the parking lot hand-in-hand with our mouths gapping, our hearts pounding, and our spirits completely stomped on. We had just been harassed by a perfect stranger, for being kind to another stranger. (And I admit that technically I had made a traffic mistake, but I am fairly certain that my abuser has made at least one of those in his life time? Just a guess.) 

Images about loving your enemy something beautifulAfter I collected myself, (and sucked any tears that threatened to fall out - back into my eyeballs) I leaned down and looked into my son’s eyes. 
“Son, I am really sorry that that happened. You know that we NEVER - no matter how mad we are - we NEVER treat another person like he just treated Mommy, right?” 
“Yes ma’am” 
“And son, the Bible says to love our enemies and so I think we really need to pray for that man.” 
“I do too mommy.” 
“Alright, I love you so much” 
“I love you too momma.” 
“You ok?” 
“Yup”

And although I had resolved it with my son, I could not quite resolve it with myself. As we got our items from inside the store, a trail of “poor me” thoughts like “How could a person who does not know me or who I am, attack me like that? I’m like the nicest person ever, that wasn’t fair, my Saturday is ruined, that was so mean, I’m so sad, tears... uh oh, tears... here they come...” And I burst into pitiful self pitying tears, right there in the happiest store on earth

I was letting that man crush my spirit. I was swimming in the ugliness that he had thrown on me and I was so close to MISSING the beauty that God was, in that very moment, effortlessly replacing it with.

As we walked to the car, I believe God spoke to me. “That man put something ugly into the world, now GO and put something beautiful in its place. 
I am God - and I turn ashes to beauty, evil to good, hurt to healing…Go and be my light. Go and bless someone.” 

So friends, here’s where it gets GOOD. Luke and I prayed right there in the car. 
Where do we go? 
What do we do? 
Who do we bless? 
I felt the urge to drive across town to the Kroger near my house and so I took that as part of our answer. 

We prayed on the drive over that HE would lead us, show us who to bless and how to do it. I suspected we would be paying for someone’s groceries and so I immediately started to plan “Operation Bless A Stranger.” Actually, it was more like “Operation bless a stranger who looks sad or down trodden with just a grocery basket, not a whole cart cause we can’t afford it if they’re not in the ten items or less lane.” 

God had something else in mind.

After grabbing a very schizophrenic assortment of unnecessary items that I absolutely did not need, we neared the checkouts. I started to question what I had heard. I felt nervous and embarrassed. What if this didn’t go down well. Who is it Lord? What if I...

And there she was. 

A nicely dressed 50 something. Well put together, a typical southern lady, with a very substantial amount of groceries. Really Lord? She does not look like she needs me to buy her groceries...ALL millions of them. But I knew. The holy spirit was pushing my heart toward this woman, this perfect stranger.

I watched the grocery bill climb higher and higher, a bead of sweat flew off of my forehead, I felt a little nauseous. It was now or never. Her last item had crossed the finish. It was time to pay. 
“Ma’am?” I said. “My son and I would like to pay for your groceries.” 
beauty to ashes bible verseShe looked at me like I had just said “My son and I would like to eat your groceries.” Adamant, she replied. “No. You can NOT buy my groceries, there are way too many here. Someone did this for my mother. No, I can’t let you buy my groceries.” 
To which I replied “Ma’am, my son and I had a horrible experience today, and we prayed a lot about this, and you, and well, we’re going to buy your groceries.” 
At this point the woman realized that I was going to buy her groceries. There was no talking me out of it. She grabbed me. She literally wrapped her arms around me and began to sob. I sobbed too. 
Then she pulled away from me and looked me in my eyes and said this: “My husband is terminally ill, you just, you just have no idea... thank you.” And off she went, pushing her millions of groceries that God had just paid for, out the door.

At this point everyone was crying. The people in line behind us, the checkout girl, the tough guy one isle over “had something in his eye”... (he totally cried). The check out girl looked down at Luke and said, “you have a great mom” to which I say this: This is not about me. This is about the God that I serve. This was FOR me from Him. 

My God turns ashes to beauty, evil to good, hurt to healing, pain to laughter, and traffic violations to stories of His immense love - from one perfect stranger to another. (tweet this)

Ponder: So my challenge? When someone is terribly unkind to you, GO do something for someone else. He has given us the power to replace the bad with something good.


Prayer: Lord, show me how to love my enemies so that they bring out the best in me. Amen. (tweet this)

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Monday, 14 April 2014

What if heaven isn’t real? (or when your doubts seem bigger than your faith)

Does God exist?
Then all his disciples deserted him [Jesus] and ran away. Mark 14:50 (NLT)

"There had better be a heaven."
“Why do say that?” my husband asked me.
I sighed before responding, “Because if there isn’t, then what are we living for?”

We were chatting quietly after just hearing a friend of ours had passed away. We’ve had three friends in their early thirties pass away in the last three months. Each death makes me feel more fragile. It makes me feel my age. It makes me wonder who will be next. 

It makes me ask some honest questions, to speak and write about things that make me uncomfortable. 

I was raised to have a black and white faith. 

A faith that has all the answers so doesn’t even bother with questions. 

As I’ve grown older I’ve found that sometimes black and white makes me struggle to believe in God when times are tough. 

Sometimes I doubt there is a heaven. 

Sometimes I wonder if God exists. 

In my darkest moments I wonder if God and the devil have made a deal about my life like the first chapter of Job. But then I shake that idea off, as it would mean I’m the most righteous person living – I’m not. 

Where did I get the idea that I can't ask questions or that I have to have all the answers to be accepted by God? It’s not in the bible

There are nine words in Mark 14:50 that have brought me comfort in my doubts: Then all his disciples deserted Jesus and ran away.

The disciples must have had doubts too if they ran away. (tweet this)

The disciples must have felt scared that the faith they had would make them look like fools. 

The disciples must have wondered if the man they followed was really God.

A prayer for when your doubts seem bigger than your faithAs I read this verse I’m learning that between my black and white faith Jesus has room for grey. He has room and time for indecision and questions and even people running away because of these doubts. 

If you carry on reading to the end of the book of Mark you’ll see that Jesus comes and visits with these very same men who ran away, with the men who allowed their fears to get the best of them, he visits with them and invites them to be the ones who go throughout the world talking about how their doubts in a man became belief in the son of God, Jesus Christ. 

I don't have all the answers. 
The disciples didn’t either. 
I'm learning to be okay with that. 

I don’t have to have all the answers to believe in God. (tweet this)

Jesus will come to me when I run from him with my doubts. He will come and hold out nail scarred and hands and help me in my unbelief. 

Ponder: What doubts do you have about your faith? How do you handle them?

Prayer: Jesus, thank you that my doubts don’t scare you away. Help me in my unbelief. Amen.

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{Get my book}
In my free e-book Life, Life and More Life I share thoughts on how to make every moment count gleaned from my experiences of loving my husband through 18 sessions of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. If you would like a free copy please subscribe below to receive my devotionals every Monday and Friday.

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Photo Credit (Creative Commons): All photos: slightly everything  | Design and photo editing: Wendy van Eyck