21 July 2014

Beauty and Happiness are Real, Too

Heidi, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth:  Peace be multiplied unto you.

Because of course that's how I would address all of you if I were ruler over the largest, most influential nation on earth.  Which I'm not, but the world wide web can carry my words every bit that far, right?  Well, maybe without the influence of absolute and forceful authority over my readers, but you know. 

I'm posting on location, as you might be able to tell from my photo of the Knik Glacier surrounded by its beautiful snow-capped mountains.

And I've been thinking in my travels about how Nebuchadnezzar and Darius began their letters to the nations, telling them all what a wonderful God Daniel and his fellows served, telling them to give Him reverence, telling them all about the things the God of heaven was doing in their lives.

That's really what I want this blog to be about, too.  All about the ways my God changes, brightens, and enriches my daily life, whether I'm out in the garden, studying His Word, or enjoying the beauties of nature.

I know there's often talk on blogs about making sure life online is "real", by which it seems that most people mean they want to be sure other people behind computer screens don't live perfect lives either.  As if a balanced picture of life has to include more of struggles and ugliness, and less of beauty.

Here, though?

While there might be times I reflect on grief or pain or sadness, most of the time I come to my little corner of blogland to remind myself that beauty is real in my life.

It's my pause for breath on a climb heavenward, moments taken to look back over the breathtaking view God makes out of an imperfect life dedicated nonetheless to Him.

17 July 2014

We Built the Shed (and Reflections on Choosing a Great Husband)

It took us a lot of hours, but we worked well together, and have all but the inside flooring done.  How exciting is that?!

I couldn't help but think throughout the process of all the things you don't plan for when you're dating your spouse.  My husband and I have been through so many things during our four years of marriage that I couldn't have possibly imaged when I said "I do."

You don't picture building sheds, moving from state to state, grieving with friends, traveling, attending weddings, and just carrying out the day to day responsibilities of life together.

Well, you try to picture all that stuff, but since there's no real way that you can predict how another person will handle all those things till death do you part, you observe everything you can and then take the step of faith before God and all your witnesses at the altar.

After four years of happy marriage and after getting that shed finished, I am delighted to report that my husband consistently shines through even better than I imagined he would in all the varied experience these four years have sent us through.

Yes, we are normal people who have our difficulties in life, but this marriage thing is great, and I'm glad to be in it for life.

15 July 2014

Saving Parsley Seeds

I'm a completely beginner seed saver.  My grandma once told me saving seeds is easy--all you have to do is let them dry out--but since I've seen a multitude of books about seed saving, and about saving seeds from the different types of plants, I'm not entirely sure I believe her.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to start with saving herb seeds, because they simply bloom and make their seeds while the lazy gardener just lets the plant dry out and die.  No water required.

I was perhaps inordinately pleased with the number of seeds that came off of the first flower turned cluster of seeds.  Just think--a whole parsley plant coming from each of those tiny wonders!  Can it get any more exciting than that?

Holding the pile of seeds in my hands, it feels profound rather than cliche to think about faith like a parsley {mustard?!} seed, and how the faith-plant grows and blooms in our own lives, only to make enough seeds to take over the garden with more faith-plants in other people.

08 July 2014

While Aloes Grow

We fly, we marry off a few friends, we grieve, we put screws and nuts and bolts into that shed of ours, we run, we walk, we teach, we water, we pollinate, we sing.

Meanwhile, our four aloes become sixteen, and I scheme about easy and efficient ways to harvest the gel and use it in my hair.

06 July 2014

All the Way with Jesus

{Today I played Blessing by Laura Story while two sisters sang at 
their brother's funeral.  Play the music while you read, if you wish.}

I sat at the table on a regular Friday afternoon eating a taco.  My husband answered his phone, and before he could hang up to tell me the news, the tears came.

I took another taco-bite, hardly tasting anything.  Everything had happened so fast.

We've lived here less than a year, and when we came, we really didn't know anyone--except that a close friend said she knew someone here, and put me in touch with a family she thought we'd enjoy getting to know.  

They invited us over that first Sabbath, the one we would have spent in a hotel room if it hadn't been for them, and before we knew it we were fast friends.  Quickly and firmly bonded, all in an afternoon's Sabbath rest.

They'd all three welcomed us--father, mother, son.  Daughters gone to college started to hear about us as we spent more Sabbath afternoons talking and walking as well as late Saturday nights with their family playing games.  We laughed often and much, the three of them and the two of us, together.

With summer vacation came that dreaded relapse no one thought would rear its ugly head.  Relapse worked fast, and hardly three weeks later, a vibrant nineteen-year-old went to sleep in Jesus.

Daughters came home as often as they could during those tough weeks.  They knew it would be hard, but they wanted to sing for their brother's funeral.  Oh, those precious girls!  I wanted to make everything better, but all I could really do was say, "Oh, friend, I'd be so honored to play the piano for you."

There's no class in college or graduate school that really prepares you to play the piano at funerals.

Of course you learn all along that you can't really think about much outside your piece while you're performing, and you learn to focus on reading the notes if they're in front of you, or at least thinking about them in several different ways if they're not.  You learn to tune out distractions, and you learn to follow the singer.

So in that sense, you're prepared.  You've been learning in every lesson and every class how to get through a piece at a funeral, but when it comes down to it?  

There are no words.

The two sisters dared something incredible, singing faith and acceptance and blessing with their brother lying cold right in front of them.  You don't dare let them down by falling apart at the piano.  No, you must dare with them, with faith that Jesus is coming again soon, that He might actually work some kind of blessing out of all this pain. 

You take your familiar seat at the piano, the same one where a young man once sat to play this very song for his sisters to sing.  Back then, he'd just been diagnosed with leukemia.  Today, they sing without him, but for him, or really for Jesus, trying to hold on even now.

You determine to play from your heart, but not so intensely that you break down and can't play anymore.  You start, they sing at all the right times, you all three get through somehow, you walk  back to your seat in a crowded church sanctuary, the tears come.

And Jesus is never so precious than on a day like today.  

During the days right before his death, he kept saying, "All the way with Jesus."  That's how we're all planning to go forward from here, all the way with our Savior.  We don't know any other way, really.  

We'll remind each other often.  We've laughed together, and now we've cried together.  It's only fitting for us to link arms and walk together on the pilgrim pathway leading all the way home.

04 July 2014

Does Jesus Care?

Revisiting this third verse of a comforting hymn, because while many celebrate a holiday today, dear friends of mine are grieving the loss of their son.  (Originally posted on November 4, 2009.)

Does Jesus care when I've said goodbye to the dearest on earth to me?
When my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks, does He care enough to be near?
Oh, yes! He cares, I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are dreary, the long nights weary, I know my Savior cares.

{If you'd like to see the other verses of this hymn, you can find it in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, number 181.  You can also read its text here, where there's also a simple midi recording of the piano accompaniment.}

03 July 2014

Knowing God's Will

I was beyond blessed in more ways than I can count to attend a private Christian high school where Bible classes were a required and daily part of the routine.  I'm sure my Bible teachers knew these classes were their chance to nourish and train us spiritually, giving us tools for a life-long walk with Jesus.

I can't speak for others who went through those classes, but they were a huge part of my spiritual foundation, where I learned how to (and how not to) study the Bible, how to share my faith, and how to seek God's will for my life.

I got to thinking about my sophomore Bible class the other day, after a friend and I talked, heart to heart, about how to make decisions that line up with God's will in our lives.

Because sometimes it feels so hard to see what He'd like us to do, because we just can't see the future consequences of the big decisions we make, and because sometimes it doesn't seem like God is giving us any options we think we'd like to take Him up on.

And of course while we'd like to trust that when things don't look like we'd hoped or dreamed they would God will work out some dreamy plan to surprise us, deep down we know we're in a war zone until Jesus comes again, and there might be tasks or jobs or seasons in life when all we are is on the front lines where it's ugly.

Blessed to be in the center of God's will, yes--always yes--but ugly nonetheless because that dragon-serpent-devil knows he has but a short time and wreaks havoc wherever and whenever he can.

Well, as I took some moments here and there to look back on God's leading in my life, I remembered a simple tool my sophomore teacher gave us--what children we were!--and encouraged us to write in our Bibles for easy reference.

He simply called it, "Knowing God's Will."

I read it over, and just about teared up as I looked at each step, and recognized how time and again, even though I've felt doubts about whether I've always really done exactly what I should, God truly made His will clear as I followed these steps in my life.

There are just eight simple steps to knowing God's will, and they all come straight from the Bible.

1.  No Will of Your Own in the Given Matter

While this doesn't mean we won't have our own feelings about a decision, or that our feelings are not important, it does mean that, like Jesus in Gethsemene (see Matthew 26:39), we'll be willing to surrender to God's will even if it doesn't line up with our own.  

As Paul tells us, we also need to make it the principle of our lives to be a living sacrifice to God, and it is only then that we will be able to prove what the will of God is.  (See Romans 12:1, 2.)  An unwilling heart clouds our vision, and makes it next to impossible to see and obey what God would have us to do.  

During the ministry of Jeremiah, God's people found out the hard way what happens when we seek to know God's will, yet don't bother to do what God tells us.  You can read more about that disaster in Jeremiah 42.

Lest we think that doing God's will might leave us empty, broken, and permanently discouraged, let's remember how Jesus was physically strengthened by doing God's will at the well in Samaria.  "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work."  (See John 4:31-34.)

2.  Don't Go Simply By Feeling

Have you ever been in that place where you have to make a decision, and can't come to peace because your feelings change every ten seconds?

It's a relief to me to know that I don't have to decide based on my feelings.  Feelings can be an important indicator of what's happening in our lives, but they're also dangerous when we use them as a foundation for our decision making.

If Jesus had gone by His feelings in Gethsemene, none of us would have hope today.  (See Matthew 26:39 again.)  God promises to guide us, to direct our path.  (See Isaiah 30:21.)  We can trust that promise.

We can't, however, safely trust our own hearts.  The Bible says our human hearts are deceitful above all things (see Jeremiah 17:9), and I know from experience that my heart is a dangerous thing to trust.

3.  God ALWAYS Guides through His Word

"Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."  This oh-so-familiar promise found in Psalm 119:105 depicts God lighting the path of those moving forward, not just those in a place of rest.  Are you on a journey that seems dark and dangerous?  Unlike my flashlights on late-night hikes, God's Word never runs out of batteries, and its relevance never fails to shine new light.

Sometimes we wonder whether one decision or another would be what God wants, when in reality some paths that open before our feet don't put us in places that agree with God's law or the principles of His government.  Compare your opportunities with the law and testimonies, and make sure your opportunities are in line with God's kingdom.  (See Isaiah 8:20.)

God gave us His Word not just to sit on a shelf, or even merely to inform our views of ancient history, but to be an active blessing in our lives.  He inspired all Scripture, and He gave it to us to teach us doctrine, to correct us, to reprove us, to teach us how to be righteous.  (See 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.)  We can rest in the promise that His Word will guide us to good decisions.

4.  Consider Providential Circumstances

When I was in college, I prayed prayers like this:

"Lord, if you want me to be with such-and-such guy, please make our paths cross more often."  

Then I wouldn't see the guy at Sabbath school for a couple of weeks when I normally would, or he'd come but not sit next to me.  Or I'd see him from a distance on campus unexpectedly.  I started keeping a tally.  Am I really seeing him more often? I'd ask myself. 

I'll never forget the day I stood in Walmart near the checkout stands, waiting for my friend to finish her shopping.  There the guy was, with his mother!  

In that moment, it clicked.  There was no way he was going to see me standing there, or probably even recognize who I was, and seeing him there in line was no logical way to tell if God was directing my circumstances toward this guy as a lifelong companion.  

I realized I had been putting my sights on marriage, when the guy probably didn't even know my name.  I had tossed aside the things that should guide a marriage decision...like compatibility, personality, spirituality, personal acquaintance, and all the rest, but that would be a whole post or series on its own...and looked for "providential signs".  

But let me assure you, seeing someone from a distance in line at Walmart does not count as a Providential Circumstance and most definitely does not give clear direction for a marriage decision.

I nearly burst out laughing as he and his mother passed by me in the store without recognition and without comment, and I finally realized how ridiculous my rationale had been.

The Bible does, however, give sanction and place for stories about people who asked God for signs.  Gideon's story in Judges chapter 7 is a prime example.  He asked for a sign, and God gave it.  Then he asked for another sign, to be sure, and God gave that sign too.  God gave signs to show Gideon who to take to battle, and clear instructions about how the battle would be fought.

One of the things I love most about this story is the way God graciously gave more than one sign, and didn't leave Gideon in a place of doubt when he sincerely wanted to know what God would have him do--even though reading the story centuries later it seems abundantly clear that Gideon already had all the evidence he needed to move forward.  

God wants us to know His will, and He doesn't play hiding games with us.  He makes the way clear.

Deuteronomy is an amazing book on a lot of levels, but one thing that grips me as I've been reading it the last few days and weeks is that Moses reminds people of how God led them in the past.  Many times, when we look at the past, we can see clear points of guidance, and even patterns to give us courage and wisdom as we keep moving forward.  

Deuteronomy 8:2 particularly points people back to their past experiences when they knew God had led and delivered them.  We would do well to do the same.

5.  Consult with Godly Friends

The Bible is full of good things to say about getting Godly counsel.  And there are plenty of stories of what happens when people get bad counsel (like Saul and the witch of Endor, for example).  Here are a couple of my favorite passages on getting good counsel.

"Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."  Proverbs 11:14

Notice that we shouldn't rely on one good counselor (I use this term loosely, not excluding professional counselors by any means, but also not limiting the term to mean only them), but on a multitude of them.  

Not every decision is something we can wisely share with a multitude, but I believe it's important to have a strong network of Godly people in our lives who can inform the way we think about decisions, in general or in specific.  None of us on our own has the wisdom sufficient for the life we live in the war zone between good and evil.

The book of Psalms opens with a blessing to those who don't walk in the counsel of the ungodly (see Psalm 1:1).  It's not enough to get counsel--we need to be sure it's good counsel.

6.  Ask God, in Prayer, to Reveal His Will

God promises wisdom when we ask in faith.  (See James 1:5.)  Take Him at His word.  Ask, believe, and watch Him fulfill His promises to you.  While it's a familiar promise, it still holds true that those who ask receive, those who seek find, and those who knock find doors open to them (Matthew 7:7).  God is not in the business of hiding His will from us.

Paul tells us a little bit about how to ask God for things in prayer, as well.  We need to remember to come to Him rejoicing, without fear or worry, laying everything at His feet trusting that He can handle it all.  In return for presenting our requests before Him, God gives us peace that passes understanding.  (See Philippians 4:4-7.)

Isn't deep peace something we all want?

7.  Make a Decision

As my Bible teacher put it, "Don't wait for a sign of bolt of lightning from heaven.  Consider prayerfully the weight of evidence from the foregoing steps, and decide.  Then tell God what you have decided."

Don't rush through without considering the evidence, but don't demand more and more signs from God until even He can't do anything more to convince you which way He'd like you to go.

8.  Proceed with Your Decision

Quoting my teacher again, "Invite the Lord to stop you if you've made a wrong decision."

In Acts 16:6-9, Paul and his companions had made plans to go preach the gospel in certain places.  A good idea, right?  But for whatever reason, God had another plan, and it took a couple of tries to get His missionaries on track with Him.  

The beauty of this passage, at least for me, is that God didn't leave them wondering what He wanted, but rather repeatedly made His will clear to them so they wouldn't get stuck in a wrong or less than ideal path.  

It's easy to think that if we miss the one big sign or the one quiet impression, we'll forever be out of God's will.  God doesn't work that way.  He wants us to be in His will probably more than we want to be in His will, and He's more than ready to help us figure out what that should be.

God promises to lead and guide our lives in the way we should go (Psalm 32:8), and the result of His guidance in our lives will ultimately be glory (Psalm 73:24).  If we start the process by acknowledging Him, and leaning on His understanding instead of our own, He will indeed direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5, 6).