Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coming Boldly to the Throne of Grace

This painting is by Emile Munier

Miraculous things happen when we pray with believing hearts. Encouragement from God's Word and church are key.

Here's the thing...I have never had peace about homeschooling Gracie. She never did either. We were going to make the most of it because, financially, that's where we were. I didn't want to teach her at home, not because I think I can't do it. That's not it. I know I can. But, just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you should. It hadn't been going well. And it only got harder when Rachel started back to ACA on Wednesday, August 18th. Gracie continually asks, "Why does Sissy get to go to school and I can't? How come I have to stay home all day with you, Mama?" (Ouch.)

I have explained to her many times that Rachel's is all taken care of. Praise the LORD! Gracie is unwilling to accept this. I agree quietly. It's not fair. Yet, instead of praying to God, I keep whining about it.

I want Gracie to have EVERYTHING the LORD has for her. I never want to stand in the way of what He has for her. SHE BELONGS TO HIM! He brought her to us on her one month birthday. We realize He hand-picked us to care for her and bring her up to know HIM and love HIM with a loyal and willing heart. That part, I can do. That is the reason I believe God chose me to be her mother. I can impart a loyal and grateful love to Grace towards our Heavenly Father. But, teaching her academically...nah. I stink there. You can ask Rachel about that.

The family joke is that I haven't any patience. I tell them, "I don't have any patients, I'm not a doctor." Ha ha. But, it's really not too funny.

Enter the Holy Spirit and He stirs up my tenaciousness. My husband hates my tenacity. He tries to run and hide when he sees it rising up. Here's what happened.

In February, while Gracie was attending preschool at ACA we applied for financial aid to pay for her Kindergarten. She was tested and approved to begin Kindergarten there in August. Our financial aid came through based upon Rod's income in February. The school offered us a nice grant in April. Rod lost his job just around the time we found out about the grant. It was going to be a total stretch now. We did not sign the school commitment letter for Gracie. We waited all summer for things to turn around for us financially. I prayed lazily that God would just help me be patient while He comes through with the next job for Rod.

We had a nice summer hanging around our lovely home. (Thank you, Lord for this wonderful place you've given to us.) The deadline to sign the commitment letter for ACA passed. We decided to homeschool. I was bummed but that was nothing compared to Gracie's reaction. Fast forward to mid-August.

I don't want anyone out there to think I am against homeschooling. I'm not. I know some lovely homeschoolers who are adults now (Sunny Williams, Rachel Osigian). I know it's a wonderful gift that some very dedicated mothers give to their children. But, I believe in our case, my girls are better off with a variety of God-loving teachers who are trained to be teachers and a mama who trains them at home about loving God and family. This is what works best for us. But for the moment we had one shoe on and one shoe off, so to speak.

Pastor Mike began preaching about Boldness. Four Sundays in a row he preaches nearly the same message: Boldness. Living boldly for the glory of God. YES! Not skulking around in the shadows sinning quietly as a habit and then slinking into church on Sundays to repent (again). Boldness is being courageous enough to recognize that you must humble yourself like a little child and keep your eye on the Prize. Boldly reign in your flesh. Boldly share your faith. Now is the time for boldness!

During this time Pastor Glynn Bachelor brings a teaching on the awesome work of the Holy Spirit. He quoted R.A. Torrey, "Many in the church claim for themselves only a small part of what God has made possible for them in Christ because they know so little of what the Holy Spirit can do--and longs to do--for us."

And Pastor Glynn also gave us this quote from Lloyd John Ogilvie, "Sadly, many Christians settle for two-thirds of God. They are what I call 'bi-tarians' rather than Trinitarians. God the Father is way up there somewhere, aloof and apart from their daily lives. Christ is out there somewhere between them and the Father. The Holy Spirit is some kind of vague force or impersonal power, but they do not know Him personally." (Ugh. That kind of made me feel sick.)

After church I go pick up Gracie from my mom's class. Here comes another ACA mom who we also go to church with. She has a daughter Gracie's age. She looks me seriously in the eye and asks, "Where is Gracie?" I knew she meant, why wasn't Gracie in Kindergarten at ACA? I told her we were homeschooling because of Rod's job situation. She shook her head in understanding and as she was I heard the voice of the LORD say to me, "Hezekiah. Hezekiah. Hezekiah." Hhhm. Hezekiah.

While I made lunch I thought about what I know about King Hezekiah. The LORD told Isaiah to tell him he was going to die. He went home and curled up in bed and faced the wall and cried. He plead his case to the LORD. The LORD heard him and sent Isaiah back to tell him he had been given fifteen more years.

I whispered to the LORD, "Am I curling up and taking it instead of pleading my case with you, LORD?" That night Rod and I went to church because Bill Delong was preaching. I love Bill. I can't tell you all the reasons why. He and his wife Edith are some of the most dear people I have ever met. Bill and I share a birthday, so I feel like we have this special connection and also, I just love to hear his wonderful stories.

That night Bill said he heard a Word from the LORD about boldness and he wanted to share it with us. He said that God told him that boldness isn't just about sharing your faith but there are so many unopened blessings in Heaven because God's people just won't ask. He reminded us that we are to "...COME BOLDLY TO THE THRONE OF GRACE, THAT WE MAY OBTAIN MERCY, AND FIND GRACE TO HELP IN TIME OF NEED." Hebrews 4:16

Needless to say that message accompanied by my Hezekiah prompting and Pastor Glynn's sobering quotes weighed on me Sunday night. By Monday morning I was filled with HOLY SPIRIT-led BOLDNESS to state my case before my King.

"It's not fair, LORD. This is YOUR DAUGHTER! You want the very best for her. I want the best for her and we both know she is withering here at home with me. I trust You, LORD that YOU chose the best mother for her in choosing me. I thank You for that extreme privilege, however, I am not the best teacher for her and YOU KNOW IT! Please, LORD, please make a way for this child to go to ACA. I am coming to YOU boldly and boldly asking for mercy and grace for help in time of need. Gracie needs a DIVINE INTERVENTION that only YOU can provide, LORD. You're leading me and I'm following, now please, throw open that door for Jesus' Name I come boldly to You with this request! Amen."

By 8:15am I had an ox-goad pressed into Rod's back as he phoned the headmaster at ACA. Rod asked him to "re-evaluate us financially" so that we could possibly get a larger grant since our finances are different now than they were in February. He said he would call us back. Rachel was sitting in class. Gracie was working on her math workbook I bought for her at Ingles. Rod waited. I waited and then I prayed some more.

In the meantime a relative of mine called out of the blue. He said he wanted to do something for Gracie. I told him what we were trying to do at the current moment. He laughed and said, "I want to contribute monthly to her tuition." I thanked him and told him how nice that was but no, that wouldn't be necessary. He said, "It isn't for YOU, it's for her. Now, just say thank you and tell me your address again." I did and I got all hopped up in faith.

I pictured the LORD down on his knees with his arms outstretched to me saying gently, "Come on, come on, you can do it. That's it. Keep coming. Come on, come on, you can do it. That's a girl, keep trying." His gentle urging reminded me of watching Gracie take her first steps. And it made me smile.

Friends, by 3:00 pm last Monday I was walking around the ACA campus with my arms full of tiny size 5 uniforms. Gracie started Kindergarten the next morning bright and early. I've never seen her happier. I am so filled with gratitude at our fabulous LORD for listening to my plea and answering my prayers (and Gracie's)!

I never want to become an unbelieving Holy-hand-tying "bi-tarian". The first scripture verse I ever taught Gracie was, "With God ALL things are possible, yaaaaayyyy!!" (Of course I added my emphasis to Mark 10:27.) God can do anything He wants to. And He uses his Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. I want to believe Him for anything, and everything. When He answers my prayer my faith in Him grows by leaps and bounds. I hope my daughters see it too and their faith grows as well.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Praise Jesus!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dry, Dry, Dry. But, Not Forever!

This painting is by Morgan Wiestling

It's been a very dry season for me. I'm not talking about lack of rain, either. All of my plans have been rearranged by the LORD and I have been struggling through the process.

In early April my plans were all set. Rachel, my oldest, would be turning 16 this summer and heading to tenth grade at her wonderful private Christian school. Gracie, my very active five year old, was already tested for Kindergarten at the same school and was enrolled to begin in the Fall. She had just finished preschool there and absolutely loved it. And I loved the idea of them both going there. It's a great school. Full of teachers and staff who openly love the LORD. These are people who have had struggles in their lives and share with zeal how the Lord brought them through those hard times. It's one way we overcome the enemy: the word of your testimony.

On April 20th everything turned upside down. It was going to be a difficult day anyway. I knew this before I woke up that morning. It was the one year anniversary of my father's suicide. God has blessed me with assurance countless times that my believing father is with Him. I cling, cling, cling to these assurances. I KNOW that my earthly father is with my Heavenly One even at this moment. Still, the date was there. It's hard to forget.

But, one year later, that afternoon my husband came home from work early and announced that he'd been laid off from his first paying ministry job. He's been a custodian and a laborer all of his life until God finally opened the door for him to get PAID to minister. What a blessing! But, now after a year and a half of that, God had closed the door. Yes. God did it. We were well aware.

By mid-July Rod still had not been able to secure work. He had applied for janitorial jobs at the hospitals and schools, yet no interviews, let alone, phone calls came out of this. My dear brother offered him good paying, hard laboring construction demo work out of town. Rod went. He worked. He ministered to hurting people with conversation and prayer. He made enough money to get us through July's stack of bills, except the first payment for Gracie's school.

It was evident that we were going to have to let that go. Like I said to begin with, God was rearranging my plans. I wept, at first. Gracie did, too. "This is God's plan for now, Grace. This is what God has for us. We have to be flexible in His hands." She admitted she would keep praying. She did not want to be homeschooled. I did not want to do it, either. Even if it is only Kindergarten.

Okay. After four months of my husband being unemployed I got mad at God. I withdrew and felt the ground around my heart get real hard like a dirt road in a dry summer. I kept going through the motions: morning devotions, Bible study (I can't get out of this because Rod wakes me up every morning at 6:30 with a steaming cup of coffee at my bedside and gently demands that I get up and study my Bible). I kept up with prayer. Inside I was ticked off, really, because I got to that hard place of: "Why pray? He isn't listening, anyway?" I felt myself getting madder. I knew I had a choice to make. I knew I was making the wrong one. With my mouth I praised the LORD but my heart was far from Him. You don't fool God and you only hurt yourself with this behavior. Still, I felt very much like a spoiled child. My spiritual arms were crossed angrily across my heart and my face was scrunched up with displeasure.

One night I could not sleep. I was so dry. I was so tight with emptiness. Without Him I am nothing. Without Him I cannot function. If I am not for Him, then I am against Him. I got to a quiet place where I just fell to my knees and admitted my anger at Him. I let it all out. It had been quite a stretch of time for me. I try to make this a regular practice: casting all my cares upon Him because He cares for me. But, I couldn't bear this dry, heavy load anymore and I felt His gentle quiet voice remind me that I was never designed to. I didn't feel much better once I got off my knees, though. I was still dry. Deep inside, I kept thinking, "Now, He'll give me my way." Dangerous. Pride is the biggest sin of all. I was trying to play a game with Him and He doesn't play games. I forgot that, momentarily.

More bad news came. I was sent for tests. I need surgery. Because Rod is unemployed we actually qualify for me to have the tests and the surgery for free. (A Silver Lining to unemployment.) I struggled with the idea of this surgery, too. It means the absolute end to the eight year old hope that someday I will give birth to Rod's son. The end of that hope. The tests also reveal the reason Rod and I have never been able to conceive. Mystery solved. Surgery needed. Life is changing in unexpected ways.

In April, I didn't see this coming. I didn't give all my anxieties to the LORD about these things. I mourned over what I've done to my body in my pre-Christ life, AGAIN. I mourned over never being able to give this precious husband of mine his own son. I heard my enemy whisper, "He got a real clunker when he married you, huh?" I waved him away like an annoying gnat instead of resisting him like I should have. I carried these worries and burdens around on my shoulders and then, finally, I got sick. All the what-if's in the middle of the night. All the regrets over things I can never ever change (that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, by the way...only I forgot because I ran out into the desert like Hagar, thinking I can handle this on my own.)

I wandered around my house one agonizingly sleepless night just coughing, wheezing and unable to breathe freely. I began muttering, "Dry, dry, dry. Oh, God, I'm so dry. Dry, LORD, I'm dry. I'm just so dry and I can't get any relief. Where are you? Why are you so silent? I'm dying of thirst here. I can't breathe. I can't catch a single breath, LORD. It's so dry." And then, in the dark I remembered Ezekiel 37. I flipped on the lamp and opened my Bible.

"The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.

Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley and indeed they were very dry.

And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So, I answered, "O LORD GOD, You know."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!

Thus says the LORD GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.

I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD'."

So, I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied , there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together bone to bone.

Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

Also, He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, "Thus says the LORD GOD: 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live.'"

So, I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army."

And this verse I had marked on the opposite page in my Bible from Ezekiel 36:26-27,
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them."

It was my "word in season". The next morning I was new and revived in my spirit, but my flesh was wheezing, coughing and perishing. Rod sent me back to the doctor. I didn't want to go. A voice kept whispering, "Haven't they seen enough of you?" But, I went back. When I checked in the receptionist dodged my covered cough and instructed me to wear a mask so that others wouldn't be contaminated.

I was thoroughly humiliated at having to wear this mask in a room full of people, but I put in on and casually leafed through a copy of a parenting magazine. Soon enough a sweet young, face in pink scrubs came through the door and called out my name. She took one look at me in my mask of shame and her face was filled with the compassion of Christ. As soon as I stepped through the door she said softly, "Take that off, now."

She took me into the examining room and began asking me all the necessary questions as she gently checked my vitals. I was grateful to the Lord for sending me a tender-hearted girl to nurse me that day. It's a Christian clinic that I go to, so I felt completely at ease as I started to shed my complaints both the worries about my upcoming surgery (couldn't this be a contributor to my current illness?) and then my fears at homeschooling Gracie because we can't afford to send her to her school.

Here is the LORD at work. This girl. This eighteen, maybe nineteen year old girl reveals to me that she is currently enrolled in a fine college and attending nursing school, pursuing her dream, only because of her diligent homeschooling mother. "I would never have been able to get into college and become a nurse without my mother as my teacher. Never."

All the weights dropped off of me, right there at that moment, in that room. She smiled sweetly at me and confessed that she's been really "dry" lately and was just struggling with how to get past it. I laughed between choking and coughing spells as I told her about Ezekiel 37. She asked me twice what the reference was. We talked some more and I thanked her for her kindness. Before she rose to leave she said, "I want you to know that I was praying that God would send me someone tangible, someone with flesh on, to encourage me in my walk. He sent me you. Thank you."

I have been praying for her. Her name is Sarah. The LORD blessed both of us that day. It may be dry at times but it won't last forever. (It just occurred to me, as I typed her name, that when Hagar ran away into the desert, God told her to go back and submit herself to Sarah. Hmmm. Hagar and Sarah were both having the same struggle of unexpected things in life that the LORD had for them.)

I had to go to a dry place of my own choosing. God didn't leave me alone there. (He didn't leave Hagar alone, either. She called Him "the God who sees me.") He waited patiently for me to realize, it's not my will, but His that matters. I must get past my ideas about how my life and the life of my family "should be" and accept what He has for us. It is the only way to maintain a peaceful heart. Jesus did this same struggle in the Garden hours before his Divine Suffering. We all must remember "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up." James 4:10