Friday, November 30, 2012

Are you sure you're super woman?

This week I have struggled with anxiety big time. There's always a temptation for me to be anxious about things (can I get an amen here?) - it's just a part of being in a sinful world. The questions come one after the other...

Do I trust him? Or her?
Will I ever feel safe?
Will my money run out?
Will this circumstance ever change?
Does he love me?
Why is my neighbor crazy?
Why can't I control my body?
Why can't they understand?
Will the pain ever end?

And then another question comes...

Can I trust you, Lord? 

And then I have to give my heart a talking-to, and remind it gently that I can entrust myself to God's good, unfailing, and kind care. 

A friend posted the chart below, and it captures some helpful thoughts when all those questions come. Granted, some apply more now than others do, but I found it a really helpful tool to help me refocus. I want to be a woman who abides in God and continually throws myself on his grace and mercy. I don't want to be super woman (and, ironically, I can't be!). Amazing, amazing grace.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Speaking of thankful...

A few weeks ago, the sweet man in my life showed up to my front door with a bouquet of these in his hands and a big smile on his face.

This Thanksgiving I'm especially grateful for him.






Thursday, November 15, 2012

An invitation to partake freely

"As the earth drinks in the rain, as the sea receives the streams, as night accepts light from the stars, so we, giving nothing, partake freely of the grace of God. The saints are not, by nature, wells, or streams, they are but cisterns into which the living water flows; they are empty vessels into which God pours his salvation." Spurgeon

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the riches of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." Isaiah 55

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Empty vessels filled

"As the earth drinks in the rain, 
as the sea receives the streams, 
as night accepts light from the stars, 
so we, giving nothing, partake 
freely 
of the grace of God. 

The saints are not, by nature, wells, or streams, 
they are but 
cisterns 
into which
the living water flows
they are 
empty vessels
into which
God 
pours his salvation."
 
Charles Spurgeon, Morning selection for November 8

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A firm heart

"I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death."

Thomas Paine

This kind of father

"God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home. In all three parables [in Luke 15] which Jesus tells in response to the question of why he eats with sinners, he puts the emphasis on God's initiative. God is the shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps out the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them, pleads with them, begs and urges them to come home.

[...]

God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn't move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their aberrant behavior, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better. To the contrary, he leaves the house, ignoring his dignity by running toward them, pays no heed to apologies and promises of change, and brings them to the table richly prepared for them."

Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 106

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

He first chose me

A selection from Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son:

"There is no doubt - in the parable or the painting - about the father's heart. His heart goes out to both of his sons; he loves them both; he hopes to see them together as brothers around the same table; he wants them to experience that, different as they are, they belong to the same household and are children of the same father.

As I let all of this sink in, I see how the story of the father and his lost sons powerfully affirms that it was not I who chose God, but God who first chose me. This is the great mystery of our faith. We do not choose God God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden "in the shadow of God's hand" and "engraved on his palm." Before any human being touches us, God "forms us in secret" and "textures us" in the depth of the earth, and before any human being decides about us, God "knits us together in our mother's womb." God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a "first" love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself."

P. 105-106

A deep comfort and huge challenge for me. Grateful that he is the father who, while we were still a long way off, runs to and embraces (Luke 15). Amazing love.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Life Verse(s)

It's always hard for me to choose just one thing, so here are my top three fifteen :)

"No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame." Psalm 25:3

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

"The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." Psalm 145

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Luke 15:20

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." John 10:27-28

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." Psalm 84

"Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." Psalm 116

"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16

"This is love for God - to obey his commands, and his commands are not burdensome." 1 John 5:3

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal." Isaiah 26:3-4

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows..." Isaiah 53

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 11

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lose and you will Find


"With what misgivings we turn over our lives to God,
imagining somehow that we are about to lose everything that matters.

Our hesitancy is like that of a tiny shell on the seashore,
afraid to give up the teaspoonful of water it holds
lest there not be enough in the ocean to fill it again.

Lose your life, said Jesus,
and you will find it.

Give up,
and I will give you all .

Can the shell imagine the depth and plenitude of the ocean?

Can you and I fathom the riches, the fullness, of God's love?"

Elisabeth Elliot in The Path of Loneliness

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fight with Him, not against Him

"God seems to honor struggle. 

His nation's name, Israel, implies He wants His people to strip down to the flesh and do battle with Him. 

He blesses even the one who fights against Him,  
as long as the fight is with Him, 
for the sake of knowing Him and being known by Him

In my fury and hatred against God, I still suspect that God will destroy me. 

In fact, He should. 

His plan, instead, is merely to cripple me,
to mark me with His awesome handiwork of brokenness, weakness, and poverty

The creator God,
who dwells in majesty and glory,
walks with the
marks of shame in His hands and side,

and invites me 
to bear the same honor.

It is in this context that I understand the message of the gospel."

Dan Allender, Bold Love, Stunned into Silence: The Liberating Insult of Grace, pg. 79

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Every thought, desire, and action

A short reflection on Psalm 139 from Susannah Spurgeon

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off...
Psalm 139:2

"Thou knowest. Come my soul, here is a test as to your present spiritual condition! Will you apply it? Will you be weighed in this balance of the sanctuary, and see whether or not you are found wanting? Does your Lord's intimate knowledge of your every thought, and desire, and action, oppress and disconcert you, or are you willing and glad to live under such close inspection, and even to covet the glances of that eye which searches you through and through?

Nothing but 'full assurance of faith' in the precious blood shed for you on Calvary can give you this boldness. Happy are you, my soul, if you know that God 'looks through Jesu's wounds' on you, and through those wonderful ruby windows sees you so changed and beautiful that he can say, 'Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee.'

[...]

The God who can understand your thoughts 'afar off' has the power to restrain them; no, more than that; before they reach you, while they are yet distant and unexpressed, he will purify and cleanse them, so that they shall enter your heart as angel whispers, and pass your lips only as words of love and blessing."

Grateful for this Psalm. Grateful to be known and understood by the One who laid his life down for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

God's Wisdom (an excerpt)

For the past few months, I've been reading through JI Packer's Knowing God with a friend. We are moving slowly through this beefy exposition of God's character and ways... and we are enjoying it so much.

One of our more recent chapters was on God's wisdom. Only recently have I realized that any wisdom I have is only a sparkle to what God's wisdom is like. God is perfect, and therefore his wisdom follows suit. Spurgeon said that when we cannot "trace God's hand, we can trust his heart." That, I think, is a helpful way to start thinking about the question of, "what is wise?" or the prayer, "Lord, give me wisdom."

A section I've really loved:

"Such, then, is the wisdom with which God makes us wise. And our analysis of it discloses to us still further the wisdom of the God who gives it. We have said that wisdom consists in choosing the best means to the best end. God's work of giving wisdom is a means to his chosen end of restoring and perfecting the relationship between himself and human beings -- the relationship for which he made them. For what is this wisdom that he gives? As we have seen, it is not a sharing in all his knowledge, but a disposition to confess that he is wise, and to cleave to him and live for him in the light of his Word through thick and thin.


Thus the effect of his gift of wisdom is to make us more humble, more joyful, more godly, more quick-sighted as to his will, more resolute in the doing of it and less troubled (not less sensitive, but less bewildered) than we were at the dark and painful things of which our life in this fallen world is full. The New Testament tells us that the fruit of wisdom is Christlikeness -- peace, and humility, and love (James 3:17) -- and the root of it is faith in Christ (1 Cor. 3:18; 2 Tim 3:15) as the manifested wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30).

Thus, the kind of wisdom that God waits to give to those who ask him is a wisdom that will bind us to himself, a wisdom that will find expression in a spirit of faith and a life of faithfulness."

Chapter 10, p. 108

Lord, give me your wisdom.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How are you?

That's the sweetest and most exhausting question for me these days. 

Some days (today) I feel like it's the first day of recovery; other days I feel great. Confession - I don't always do a good job of inviting others in to my new fatigued world. I just sometimes have to pray that God will give them understanding that not everyone feels like talking about TSH levels, hormones, nap times or recovery from major surgery :) I'm up and down like a seesaw.

In the ups and downs of levels and hormones and emotions, I feel desperate for something steady, secure, and sure. 

I've been reading through Galatians this week - just one chapter each day, since there are 6. As I sipped my tea yesterday morning, I came across this anchor: 

"But when God, who set me apart from birth
 and called me by his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son in me..."
(1:15-16a)

Hold please. God was *pleased* to reveal Jesus to me and in me? It gives God pleasure to save me and use my life for his glory? Even if my hormones are crazy and I feel like I'm running on empty? Even if I don't do a great job of being patient, kind or obedient? 

Yes, Rebekah. Yet another reminder of the beautiful Gospel that saved my soul. There's nothing I can do to earn God's favor. Jesus is the only one who has ever had it, and he covers me because of the cross. God is pleased to reveal Jesus in me. 

Now that is an anchor for my weary soul. I can't lose his favor (I could never earn it in the first place!). Before time began, by his grace, he set me apart and opened up my ears / eyes / heart to the Gospel. God is pleased to reveal his son in me. Wow. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Knowing vs. Hoping


Spurgeon on Job's refrain, "I know that my Redeemer lives," which he states as the comforting truth while in the midst of his suffering:

"[...] But there is also another word here, expressive of Job's strong confidence, "I know." To say, "I hope so, I trust so" is comfortable; and there are thousands in the fold of Jesus who hardly ever get much further. 

But to reach the essence of consolation you must say, "I know." 

Ifs, buts, and perhapses, are sure murderers of peace and comfort. 

Doubts are dreary things in times of sorrow. Like wasps they sting the soul! 

If I have any suspicion that Christ is not mine, then there is vinegar mingled with the gall of death; but if I know that Jesus lives for me, then darkness is not dark: even the night is light about me. 

Surely if Job, in those ages before the coming and advent of Christ, could say, "I know," we should not speak less positively. 

God forbid that our positiveness should be presumption. 

Let us see that our evidences are right, lest we build upon an ungrounded hope; and then let us not be satisfied with the mere foundation, for it is from the upper rooms that we get the widest prospect. 

A living Redeemer, truly mine, is joy unspeakable."

Another kick in the kiester from Spurgeon. So worth it. Great truths and reminders for us when we suffer. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ask. He is ready to hear!

"Think not that God will be troubled by your importunately reminding him of his promises. 

He loves to hear the loud outcries of needy souls. 

It is his delight to bestow favours. 

He is more ready to hear than you are to ask."

A timely word from Spurgeon this morning, March 11.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Scars - Part 2

The first time I played "Scar Stories" at Bryan College, I told the story about the scar on my left eyebrow (what is the deal with the left side of my body?!). My parents tell me I was about 2 or 3 years old at the time. We were on vacation at Tyler State Park (TX) and apparently I had climbed up a tall slide. Little Beks got all excited when she heard her eldest brother coming, and turned around and starting walking down the slide. Bumped, bruised, and side of the head busted open, I fell face first down a ten foot slide.

When my Mom tells the story, she always adds that while my parents saw the whole thing happen, she remained paralyzed with shock. Before she could even start running, my Dad ran and brought me back to the car. Cute story -- while I was getting stitches at the hospital (with the surgical paper over my face), my Mom remembers that I was screaming my head off. She said once she stuck her head under there so I could see her, I calmed right down. Little Beks was just a bit scared to be all alone :)

Until four weeks ago, the scar on my eyebrow was the only scar on my face. That's where Part 2 of this story comes in...

One of my New Years Resolutions was to be a responsible adult and go to all my doctors for yearly checkups. I am blessed to have a job and great health insurance, so I decided to be a good steward of the resources at hand and make those appointments. 

First was the Dentist - success! Not a single cavity, and good, healthy teeth.

Next came my annual physical with my OB/GYN. Let me take a moment and pause to encourage young women to make this particular appointment a priority. I'm not trying to scare you into going to the doctor. I'm also not intending to frighten you or stir you to be anxious about the things that could be going on in your body. On the contrary, my desire is just to encourage you to be a student of your body (be aware, know what is normal or what does and doesn't feel right) and be your own advocate by utilizing the amazing resources we have in doctors and the medical field. Ask good questions, give honest feedback, and trust that God is in sovereign, good control of your life and health. Boom - that's it. 

Whenever I go to any doctor, here's generally what happens - I give them too much information. Unlike a first date, the doctor's office is a welcome place for that! The more you tell them, the more they are able to connect your symptoms with their knowledge, and therefore put together the puzzle pieces. 

So, I gave my doctor a laundry list of observations I had noticed in my life and health over the past 18 months. From fatigue and weight gain, to changes in my work/life balance and daily routine. I probably listed 10-15 specifics for her, and somewhere between my rapid-fire list and her speed-typing, something keyed her off to get up and come over and examine my neck. If you are not familiar with the OB/GYN world (ask your Momma), necks are not their specialty :) However, within seconds, she asked me to swallow and asked, "Can you feel that lump?" 

I felt terrified and calm, all at the same time.

I certainly could feel it and had actually felt something like it before while swallowing and singing in college. Just thought I was a lumpy kind of gal and didn't realize it wasn't supposed to be there. She asked me all sorts of other questions (now, a blur in my memory), but I just remember telling her that a friend of mine at church recently asked if something was wrong with my voice. He thought I might not have been well. As soon as I told her, she said, "You'll want to tell the specialist that."

And so I left the office on a Tuesday afternoon with a referral in-hand and a million questions. 

The whole process I'm about to describe went rather quickly (God's grace to me!):

  • Monday, 1/30 - Original appointment. One lump discovered on neck.
  • Thursday, 2/2 - See specialist. Three more lumps found, all embedded within thyroid. Biopsy ordered.
  • Monday, 2/6 - Biopsy performed. Horrible. Always ask for something to numb it. It's not a "bee sting."
  • Thursday, 2/9 - Biopsy results back, abnormal. Surgery encouraged. I decide to seek second opinion. Also found out I have a family history of thyroid issues...interesting information!
  • Friday, 2/10 - Dear friend from college moves to the DC area for a 13-week contract as a traveling ICU nurse (!) and attends all my appointments with me. Gift from God!
  • Tuesday, 2/14 - Second opinion, surgery required. All questions answered about risks. Peace in my heart.
  • Monday, 2/20 - Confirm surgery date for two weeks time.
  • Friday, 3/2 - Surgery.
Total time: 31 days

The surgery and hospital experience was one that has forever changed me. In one sense this is true because I had something removed that has now been donated to science (enjoy, DC medical students!). I knew I would enter the operating room as a "whole" person, and come out with something missing, and a scar to prove it. 

But in another sense, there are layers of deeper meaning for me. When I look at my scar today, here is what floods my memory... 

I remember two friends who substituted as family for me that day. Both gave up much of their time and resources to love and care for me throughout my unanticipated hospital stay. Erica, whose sweet face I first remembered after surgery. With eyes welled up with tears, she looked down at me and gave me what I needed most -- physical touch. She was such a means of grace to me. And Kenda, a fellow CHBC member and dear friend, stayed by my side, night and day, for 5 days in fact (we only anticipated staying 1 night).

After surgery when my complications started to arise, it was Kenda who I remember held my hand, stroked my forehead, sang and prayed with me, encouraged me that soon it would be over, and read Scripture over me. When I was in and out of consciousness and would wake up in shooting pain, I would often panic and cry out for her. Most times she was already right there, holding my hand and praying over me.

Due to my complications, I was required to have regular blood tests every couple of hours. When it was time to get another sample, it was Kenda who coached me through and told me I could do it. She told me I was so strong (I have never felt weaker). So fearful of needles, and so afraid of throwing up with the pain, I clung to her, and she led me to press in to Jesus. She reassured me of His care for me.

One night in particular, it took them hours and hours to find a vein. After being stuck so many times, Kenda noticed that I was very anxious. She encouraged me to breathe and sing with my little raspy, broken voice. The hymns I Hear The Words of Love and It Is Well were ones I would often sing. It was one of the kindest things she could have suggested, and each time afterward, I would sing while getting my blood drawn and it would calm my heart. God so kindly provided Kenda for my comfort. 

I also remember my surgical team. My surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Newkirk, is by far one of the most excellent medical professionals I have ever come into contact with. His superior way of relating so personally to his patients and exhaustive medical professionalism has put my heart at ease from day one. Any doctor that studies under his leadership will be blessed, and will likely understand what it means to be a superior doctor. 

I remember being wheeled into the operating room that morning with tears rolling down my face, of course. After they attached all my monitors and buttons, I remember two things that I will never forget. The anesthesiologist was very tender, and as she wiped the tears from my eyes, she cupped my face in her hands and reassured me that everything would be okay. As I looked up and saw her smiling down at me tenderly, I also saw every single member of the surgical team standing still and touching some part of my body - arms, legs, shoulders. They all gave me such dignity and honor by waiting for me to drift off, and did so in a very tender way. It is something that will be embedded in my memory forever. 

One of the hardest and most painful parts of this whole experience was the several hours I spent in the post-operating room. But even then, God's grace was tangible.

Unable to see without my glasses on, I remember blurry visions of nurses running back and forth, and loud sounds of other patients coming out of surgery. I felt like I was on the TV show ER. I woke up praying for a friend who had lost her baby, and another dear sister from church who has terminal cancer. And then I began to pray for the guy in the curtain next to me who was groaning with severe pain from a hip replacement. Bless his heart, he was in so much pain. Strange, in that moment, how my prayers were intermixed between my own comfort and the comfort of others. i wanted both. Maybe that is what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1?

I am certain that the anesthesiologist was trying to pull me out of sedation, but I remember waking up in excruciating pain and panic. I had a brace (that felt like a helmet) around my neck, and had the mother of all sore throats.  I felt like I was suffocating and every time I moved there was shooting pain; I was so scared. I tried to cry out and call for the doctor, but my voice was so hoarse from being intubated that it sounded like a slight whisper. She came once to give me morphine, but it was not strong enough (Dilaudid anyone?!). So, I called out again and I must have continued to call out for about 45 more minutes.

I was just crying and praying that someone would come.

She finally came over and I told her, in tears, that I felt like I was calling for her and she wasn't listening to me. She stroked my hair, reassured me that it wouldn't be long and then went away again. I was so distraught. In that very moment, I sensed the most precious peace from God. It was like He spoke directly to my heart and reassured me of His presence and care:


"I see you. 
I hear you. 
I'm not ignoring you.
 I haven't forgotten you."

Those words were more powerful to me than the pain medication. I was convinced in a real way that the Lord's presence was there with me. He never left my side and would not take His eyes off me. I am His charge and His precious child. He wound no sooner abandon me than he would his own Son.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? 
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; 
your walls are continually before me." 
Isaiah 49:15-16



"[...] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
Ephesians 1:3-10


I could literally write a book about the visitors and the love poured out on me through my local church family, great nurses and attending physicians. God's particular care through passages like Psalm 16, 23, 73, 61-63,  Isaiah, John 11-17, and Romans 6-8, Ephesians 1, Philippians 2 rang through my mind and heart during those 5 days even as I slept.

The sweet cafeteria guy was even a kind messenger. He would always come in my room and speak in a gentle voice and give me a huge smile. And he always brought me exactly what my heart desired, which was usually beef broth and jello! There were even moments of laughter, like when the Mario Andretti-like patient did laps around our floor with his IV pole... in the middle of the night. No one could catch him!

Some friends came to sit with me in the hospital and visit, even when I was in and out of sleep. Other friends gave up their evenings to help me do laundry and spend the night when I came home from hospital, so I wouldn't lift heavy things or be alone at night.

There were meals and flowers and gifts and cards and encouraging e-mails -- more than I can even list here. One that I read days later was an e-mail from my pastor, Mark. Almost the exact time I was in pre-op, my dear pastor wrote me a note that told me he was praying for me from Brazil. I am just one of 800 members, yet God has enabled this man to love and care for us in such a special way. Another shadow of his own care for us, I am sure. I do not deserve the care and love that my church pours out on me. So grateful.

When I got home from the hospital, I reflected on all these things and read through all my e-mails. Do you know what I sensed the Lord saying to my heart? That all of this was just a sparkle. Just the smallest speck to show me a portion of His great care and love for me. I sat and wept just thinking about it. Why would he ever choose to place His love on me? I will never understand why, but I fully accept it!

So, those are just a few memories that come to mind when I think about or touch my newest scar.

This weekend I am going to a friend's wedding. I have desperately tried to find an outfit that will cover the scar. I don't want to make anyone who is squeamish feel uncomfortable (because it's not completely healed yet). And truthfully, I am a little self-conscious of it. I don't want people to just think it is a gross scar; I am learning to love my scar. I want them to know it is a mark of God's grace and mercy on my life! So I need prayer for courage - to continue to show my scar and tell the story to others. This scar is a sign that God has not withheld any good thing from me. I pray it would continue to remind me that I want my entire body and life to be a mark of his grace. 

"For the Father himself loves you, 
because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."  
John 16:27

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; 
the Lord bestows favor and honor. 
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!" 
Psalm 84





Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not Lacking Anything

Since the beginning of February, my pastor has been preaching a series on James. The first two sermons (February 5 & 12) have been especially meaningful to me.  I've been listening to other pastors' sermons on James, but little did I know how perfectly this series would be timed in my life. I expected to learn a lot about taming my tongue; I had no idea how James would bolster, encourage, and sustain my faith during this trial. Chapter 1 continues to be a sweet reminder to me:

"Consider it pure joy,
my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 
because you know that
  the testing of your faith produces perseverance
Let perseverance finish its work 
so that you may be mature
 and complete,
 not lacking anything.
 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault, 
and it will be given to you."
James 1:2-5

We've also been singing wonderful songs. When Trials Come has been a particular favorite of mine. Read the words below, come visit my church and sing it with us, and/or listen to it here. Verse 4 sparkles with Romans 8, which of course I love. I hope it encourages you. 

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in it’s shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

Scars - Part 1

My favorite communications professor in college had us do this fun exercise where we would practice short speeches by taking turns running to the front of the classroom and telling stories about the various scars we had incurred. He called it "Scar Stories."

It was always a welcome break from musing on rhetoric and Plato. Some were really serious -- like when a classmate told of the time their house burned down and they had to rescue their children.  Others were hysterical -- like when silly accidents happened like a head hitting a fan or running into a sign at summer camp (me).

One thing I didn't think about at the time (ah, the deception of youth) was that my life would probably include perpetual stories and scars. Marks of Grace, you might call them.  Two that have happened in recent years are coming to mind, and they tie in so beautifully to my life story and how God is making me into a pillar of his grace. I'll tell you one tonight and one tomorrow.

This coming May will mark the two year anniversary of one of my most meaningful scars. It's not one that is easily seen, but it is one I have remembered almost every day for the past 22 months.

Here's the story-- I flew home to Texas to spend the Memorial Day holiday weekend with my family. After a day of swimming, we put the nephews to bed and sat down to have dessert while watching a movie. Mom was in charge of dishing up the dessert, and Dad was making coffee. Hold please. T-Top-Tobler-Tone (one of my nick names for him) makes an amazing cup of coffee. But one catch -- he makes it off the boil AND doesn't add any liquid to cool it. Instead, he uses powdered creamer (another family favorite) and instant coffee, so by the time it hits your mouth, it's about 200 degrees.

Thank you for holding. So, with my Texas-sized portion of dessert in hand and blazing hot coffee in the other, I sat down on the couch and took my first couple of bites. A bit clumsy by nature, I fumbled the coffee mug while trying to switch hands.  The liquid flung out of the cup and landed directly on the middle of my upper left thigh. Then I dropped the entire mug of boiled coffee, which covered my lap and upper left thigh, and reached all the way to the back of my leg. With a blood-curdling scream, I stood up as fast as I could and ripped my pants off. [Warning- graphic] Unfortunately, as my pants came off, my skin did, too. The coffee had given me a second-degree burn.

Like most horrible situations, there are always funny moments. Shortly after this moment, my brother-in-law came out of the kitchen and saw me standing in the middle of the family room without any pants on. I'll never forget the puzzled look on his face!

Another was when we arrived at the emergency room entrance to the hospital. A nurse came out and helped me get out of the car. With one look at her, I knew she wasn't happy to be there that night. I sat in the wheelchair, and Florence Nightmare grunted with difficulty as she begrudgingly wheeled me up a *maybe* 2 degree incline. Good grief. I laughed... afterward :)

Notoriously more painful than a first or third degree burn (due to nerve exposure), the second degree burn cost me three weeks out of work and a total of six months to fully recover my energy levels. I bathed twice a day in lukewarm water and, with the aid of narcotics, scrubbed my skin off to allow new skin cells to form. I walked around sort of like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, because my skin was so tender that standing upright would pull it apart and cause tremendous pain. Going to the bathroom was also difficult, as sitting down would inevitably cause bleeding spells, as the new skin was not accustomed to stretching. I remember looking at the wound and genuinely wondering how it would ever heal back to normal.

One night is particularly stuck in my memory. It was about day 3 or 4 and, for some reason, I was fearing big time about getting in the bath. I waited too long to scrub my skin off and had to end up doing it after the pain medications wore off. I remember screaming in agony for hours, shaking, and crying out to God for his comfort and help. My parents were baffled and didn't know how to help. I can't explain to you in tangible terms, or give you some picture to help you understand from my perspective, but I can tell you that God met me right in the center of the pain that night. I prayed and cried out to him, and he reassured my heart that He was present and not ignoring the pain I was in. I am reminded of my favorite C.S. Lewis quote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (The Problem of Pain).

That night was a turning point for me. For months my pastor Mark had been praying for our congregation, specifically that God would teach us to fear God alone, and that the right fear of God would eat away all less worthy fears. I really feel like God used this situation in my life to help me fear (love/respect/honor/understand) Him rightly. I distinctly remember feeling less fearful of pain, loss and death after the burn. How can you explain that, other than an answer to Mark's prayer? God replaced my fear with trust in Himself.

Who is this God who uses pain and discomfort to accomplish beautiful things? It is surely the same God who sent his Son, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross and drank (to the dregs) the punishment for my sins. The same God who was sovereign over this most horrible, painful, terrible, unexpected situation (God dying for sinful man), and caused the most beautiful flower to bud out of the most bitter bud. The greatest and most horrific scene in all of history was designated and purposed to bring the most beautiful thing ever -- forgiveness and reconciliation to God.

"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel of the one who crushed it." Mark Twain's words are great, but it's probably better said by the author of Hebrews, "[...] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted" (12:2-3).

So, eventually my skin healed from the inside out. Each week the perimeter would get smaller as the body created and sustained new skin cells. (If you want to see a picture, I will show you by e-mail. It really is amazing that I don't have a bigger scar!) And as my skin healed, my heart was strengthened. God sustained me through what I thought, at the time, was one of my biggest trials.

Part two will prove that this was just a stepping stone.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Comfort Me

Probably the two most common prayers for myself are for comfort and protection. I've noticed that God usually answers these prayers be helping me remember the promises of the Gospel and by bringing to mind memories of God's faithfulness.

Two weeks ago, I was facing a big surgery and was non-stop praying for comfort and protection in the midst of some unknowns. I felt freedom to tell God that I was scared and fearful. More than anything, I wanted his protection from the 1% chances pre-, post, and during this season. I wanted a guarantee that my vocal nerve would be protected, that it wouldn't be cancer, and that I would be able to be a Mom one day.

One of my pastors and his wife lent me Charles Spurgeon's Beside Still Waters for my surgery and recovery time. I love reading anything by Spurgeon, but this little book of short daily selections has been a life-giver. I wanted to share in hopes of encouraging you, as well.

"If your trust is in Jesus, there is nothing in the Bible to make you afraid. Nothing in the Bible, did I say? There is nothing in heaven, nothing on earth, and nothing in hell to make you fear, if your trust is in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (John 14:19-20).

"In The End, Nothing To Fear," Pg. 8
Beside Still Waters 

And today's selection from Spurgeon's daily reflections. Reassurance of God's continued commitment to us because it is his same commitment to his own Son. 

"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." John 15:9

"You can trace the beginning of human affection; you can easily find the beginning of your love to Christ, but his love to us is a stream whose source is hidden in eternity. God the Father loves Jesus without any change. Christian, take this for your comfort, that there is no change in Jesus Christ's love to those who rest in him. [...]

Saint, thou needest not fear the loosing of the silver cord, for his love for thee will never cease. Rest confident that even down to the grave Christ will go with you, and that up again from it he will be your guide to the celestial hills."

Evening Selection reading for March 17


So grateful for these words.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oh, Martin...

I've been reading a wonderful book on the Reformation -- the event about 500 years ago that sparked a renewed love and devotion to getting God's Word in the hands of regular people like you and me. It's called The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation and it weaves the lives of the Reformers into a beautiful story (super easy to read, by the way). And I have to admit that I have a bit of a crush on Martin Luther. Actually, I love the guy.

He wasn't right about everything, but God used him mightily by helping him understand the centrality of the Gospel -- that the playing field is leveled. Every person has fallen short of God's standards, and that falling short is called sin. We aren't sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners (Matt Chandler). It separates us completely from God. But because God is good, kind, and merciful while at the same time being just and holy and completely sinless, he sent his son Jesus to obey him perfectly and to stand in our place as our substitute for what our sins deserve - God's just wrath. Jesus took it all; drank it to the dregs, and he died. God in human flesh died. To show God the Father was pleased and that what Jesus did was completely sufficient, He raised Jesus from the dead! He sealed the deal. Done. No more condemnation for all who will repent of their sins and turn to Christ as their Savior. Luther was stunned by God's grace through just having faith in this Gospel. 

So, Luther got it. Good works, penance, indulgences, rituals -- all of it was empty; none of it saves anyone. Not even "good intentions" can save someone. Only grace from God by faith in Jesus can save anyone, and Luther knew that to be true after diving into God's Word.  So, you know what he did?  Total genius and probably a prodigy-- he translated the Bible into the vernacular, so the people could read it for themselves. While at the same time developing much of the German language. You know a big reason why I'm able to read my Bible today? Because Martin Luther did something that no one ever did. Amazing, amazing grace. God's Word will not return void and it cannot be snuffed out. 

So, I've loved reading about this passionate, bold man of God who was moved and shaken by his conscience being captivated by God. In all this, do you know what strikes me just as much as the strides he made for believers theologically?  Martin Luther as a husband and father. My favorite section of this chapter reads:

"The household they built together in the old cloister was a rollicking, rambunctious affair, filled over the years with three sons, two daughters, a pet dog, and innumerable visitors, relatives, and students. Luther had a bowling alley built in the garden for when he broke from his study or prayer (he would pray for at least three hours a day, working through Bible verses and bluntly holding out God's promises, demanding that he keep them). Katie [his wife] ran their sizable private brewery, selling some of the beer to help make ends meet and using the rest to lubricate all those theological discussions over mealtimes and into the evenings. That didn't stop her from occasionally unbraiding Martin for drinking too freely at such occasions, nor from feelings of annoyance when students spent mealtimes taking notes instead of eating."

And now my favorite part. The part that brought me to tears. 

"Twice, however, tragedy struck: both daughters died young, one of them, Magdelene, in Martin's arms. He was overcome with tears and yet did his best to console the rest of the family with the hope of the gospel. 'She will rise again at the last day,' he declared over the coffin. It was said with a confidence he once would have considered a presumptuous sin."

Oh, that section touched my heart so deeply on so many different levels. Immediately, friends came to mind who have lost children in recent days and in the midst of the grief even in the thought, I also burst with joy that those friends will see their children at the last day. They will rise, in God's kindness and mercy. 

And even in my own suffering this is of great comfort. Sweet friends have reminded me all week of very significant facts for Christians. Those who are in Christ will outlive suffering -- sickness, pain, disease, disappointment, loss, death. We will outlive it all because it has been ultimately paid for on the cross of Christ. Another amazing promise is that God promises not to waste our suffering. Suffering and trials are purposeful, not permanent and, as my pastor said in his recent series on James, a specially built platform for us to display that God is worth more than any of our set of circumstances. 

"These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou may'st find thy all in me."  John Newton's hymn I Asked The Lord


Dreams Do Come True: A Segway Family Tour

[Catching up on old posts...]

Oh dear Thanksgiving, you only come once a year... and so do the Tooley's.  Mom and Dad came to spend Thanksgiving with me in the nation's capital, aka my home, and we went on a segway tour. 

It.
Was. 
HILARIOUS. 

Almost lost bladder control at several points. 

These pictures go down in the hilarity hall of fame. Enjoy.


Welcome to the city!



T&C having a smooch.


Family portrait.


Family portrait with adopted Egyptian sister and partner in crime.

C being a rascal.


She is so fun.

He is so fun.

Oh my stars.

I could definitely get used to this...

Precious.

C has never met a stranger.

The Capitol. Love this place.

Capitol Hill barbie.

BAHA

View from the Capitol.
Segwey-ing with the two newest citizens I know. 

SO FUN. 


There was something significant about this building... but I forgot what it was :)



Post segway 80s hair.

Loving on the segway tour guide. Precious nugget.

C post-segway tour.

The Tiger post-segway tour.

The daughter post-segway tour.

Family.

Wisdom in love

Fact:
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 


How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."

Romans 11:33-36


Response:
"All that God does for his children --- is in love!
All that He withholds from us --- is in love!
And all that He requires of us --- is in love!"
James Smith

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Known & The Unknown

Tomorrow.
What tomorrow holds.
If I'll have tomorrow. 
The worries, cares, and concerns of tomorrow.
The fears and questions about tomorrow.

This is what I don't know.

God will not fail. 
He always tells the truth. 
He is trustworthy.
He is good.
He is strong.
He loves me for reasons unknown. 
His plans are ultimately for my good.

This is what I do know. And that is enough.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

These Dreams...

Not only is the title to this blog a reference to one of my newest favorite 80s songs, but it's also a fact for me: I dream almost every night. Usually it's in color. People I know are the main characters (sometimes book characters appear... Moses made an appearance once... and more often than not someone famous sneaks in). I remember the dreams first thing in the morning, and sometimes they are very memorable, like one I had the other night. 

Here's the scene: Jenee, my BFF since childhood, and her Mom took us on an around-the-world trip. We flew from the US to Dubai (random). I forgot to buy my return tickets. We traveled all across Europe and the ME, and then I woke up at 2AM when my bed stilts broke and ruined the latter half of my dream. I think we were in Italy or something. 
 
Pause. 

I also made a cake from scratch that same night. My first time. Homemade cakes are overrated, in my humble opinion. Turned out terrible. But it was really fun to mix together that much butter, sugar, and eggs. Crazy how Betty Crocker that made me feel :)
 
Oh, other side note:

That night, I decided to explore my oven's ability to clean itself: the self-cleaning oven setting! Sounds like a dream come true, but it was a big mistake. Picture this-- I'm sitting in my room, listening to a sermon, taking notes... suddenly I look up... my eyes start burning! I take a deep breath-- something smells toxic! I race into the kitchen, turn the fan on, open all the windows in my apartment (hello DC winter). Googled "self cleaning oven eyes burning." Read horrible stories of cats dying and birds dropping dead. I figured I would be okay, but decided to think through emergency evacuation plans just in case a fire breaks out. Rescue 911 and emergency ladder popped into my head. It took a good hour for the fumes to go away! BAHA.

Here's to new years resolutions: no more homemade cakes, cleaning my oven the old fashioned way, and probably some more crazy dreams!

Iron That Swims

"Beloved reader, what is thy desperate case? 

What heavy matter hast thou in hand this evening? 

Bring it hither. 

The God of the prophets lives, and lives to help his saints. 

He will not suffer thee to lack any good thing. 

Believe thou in the Lord of hosts! Approach him pleading the name of Jesus, and the iron shall swim; thou too shalt see the finger of God working marvels for his people. According to thy faith be it unto thee, and yet again the iron shall swim."


Spurgeon's evening selection for January 13. One of my all-time favorites. 

(Context 2 Kings 6, where Elisha shows the power of God in an every day situation.)