Sunday, September 23, 2012

Testing, Testing.....

I feel like it's been forever since I last posted. It's been 12 days. My oh my, how much can happen in that short amount of time? Where shall I start? Today is one of those days when I'm sitting down without a clue what to blog about. I just know that I need to do it. I need to keep this up...and I need to share what God is doing for us. Tomorrow will make 6 months that Andy and I have been married. It's been amazing so far and we are so blessed. That doesn't mean we haven't shared a bump or two in the road. Our biggest struggles have been blending our family and finances.

Finances...I thought that I had it pretty much covered. I mean, I've done ok for the kids and myself in the past. It's always been a struggle but we got by, God has always provided our needs, and I shouldered a lot on my own. In the past I've been burned a lot when it comes to money, so letting go and letting Andy take the lead has been hard for me. He took on so much when we married and he has never let us down as a provider. He does worry. Right now, we are paying more out in bills than either of us has ever done. The amount may seem minuscule to some, but to us, it's a big deal. Andy's paycheck covers the major bills, but we had nothing left over. We've been praying for a breakthrough with my job situation. Something had to give.

A few weeks ago, during one of our discussions about finances (which seem to be at least 10x a day now), I brought up the topic of tithing. At the time, the idea of putting in 10% almost seemed impossible. Andy was so stressed and worried about how we were going to make our finances work. So I asked how he felt about giving 10% and explained that it's the only place in the bible where God says that we can test him. (Not that we need to test God to know that He is good!)

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
                                        Malachi 3:10
So, we decided to try it. This week something happened. I got a call to work as a long term substitute. A huge blessing in itself. Even though we aren't sure how long I'll be in this position it's a break for us and I've been promised at least a few weeks of work, possibly the rest of the school year. It's not going to be easy, it's probably going to be the most challenging position I've had yet. I'm going to need to rely on God more than ever before for physical and mental strength. We are so excited though.

The next thing that happened was we were offered a deal that will allow us to purchase a family vehicle at a price and monthly payment amount we can handle. About a month ago, Andy and I had talked about buying it, but we just couldn't find a way to get the extra money to buy it straight out or even to put a down payment on it. I'm so excited about how much we have seen God's blessing pouring out in our life. It can only get better.

I'm not saying that by tithing we're gonna get rich etc. No not at all, I do believe that the more we trust God with our finances, the more secure we will be. My prayer is that the Lord will continue to teach us about stewardship, giving, and trusting him to provide what we need. There's no need to worry, if we worry about bills and money..then we probably aren't doing it right.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
                                                                   Matthew 6:8
 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
                                                                    Philippians 4:6  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beauty from Ashes: Remembering 9-11

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3


I remember.... the two words that are present in our hearts today on yet another anniversary of September 11. Nearly every facebook status I've seen this morning begins this way, or even without words by the sharing of thousands of memorials and photos of the event we all wish had never happened. It did happen though, and in the years since so much has transpired in our country and in our lives.

I'm not going to bore you with a personal account of where I was and how I felt. Instead I'm going to share my thoughts this morning. At our church each year we have sort of a challenge. A word is chosen that we kind of make the theme for the year. Last year, that word was Joy. (I'm still a little stuck on it as you might be able to tell.) This year the word was Memories. Not memories as in memories of child hood or family, birthdays etc. When someone says Memories, we are supposed to say "I Remember" and think of all that God has done for us and brought us through.

I Remember....

11 years ago when the towers fell I was a senior in high school. I wasn't a mother, a wife, a teachers aide, a Sunday school teacher, or any of the other hats I wear today. I had no idea where I was going or what I would be, in truth most days I still don't.

I remember the pain of that day, and wondering like most, what was to come. As a country we mourned for those who were lost, but if you are like me, that mourning was more about the loss of the control and security we felt than about the individual lives lost. How can you truly mourn for people that you have never met. We all felt pain, but here in WV most of us weren't personally close enough to the tragedy to really feel the loss. My feelings haven't changed much in 11 years. It's still hard to personally envision all that happened on that day. I will say that in the past year I've gained a better grasp because personally, I've seen the brotherhood of Men and Women who are willing to lift each other up, stand in the gap, and when needed die for others.

 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
                                                                                       James 15:13

In 2001, I knew a few firemen...mostly old guys who had been running calls for years. They were people I saw in the community, usually only recognized as a volunteer by the black boxes at their side ( boxes that I only recognized because my Dad is a radio guy who works on stuff like that.) Sometimes, driving by a wreck I would see a face or two I knew. That was the extent of it, I couldn't identify with the immensity of the fact that 343 firefighters gave their lives in the line of duty on Sept 11. To be honest, I didn't even know the exact number.

In 2011, ten years after the tragedy I finally started to "get it." On Sept. 11, 2011 Andy met my kids for the first time, not as my boyfriend (that came a few days later), but just as a friend saying Hi at a festival. He drove past us in a fire engine, smiling and waving at the Flatwoods Day's parade. I didn't  realize it, but God was starting something amazing for us. In the year since, I've learned more and seen more than I ever imagined I would about the fire service. I've learned the number lost (you can't be around firemen long without hearing the number 343). I've felt the anxious grip on my heart, when my husband runs out the door not knowing what he'll find when he gets to a scene. I've also seen first hand how this truly is a brotherhood. How guys who have never met and who live on opposite sides of the country can bump it each other in a gas station, online, or on vacation and instantly be able to talk for hours like best friends. No where, not even in churches, have I ever seen that kind of instant respect and encouragement for each other. I don't know how it was before 9-11 but I can help but to think that some of that respect comes from the sacrifice of 343 people who were willing to set the example that all emergency responders follow today. I'm not just saying all this because I married a fireman (granted Andy had no clue he would be called to the fire serve in 2001). Perhaps it took this experience for me to see it though, Firefighters, EMS, and Law Enforcement. It is a ministry in itself and a calling that God certainly creates some amazing people for. God has amazing plans for all of us, that is worth remembering.

I remember....

God has promised us that beauty can come from the ashes. From 2001 on there have been so many moments of mourning and despair that aren't even related to the tragedy. We've all experienced personal trials....and many of us have been brought out of them. In my life from the ashes of a painful marriage, came the Joy of two beautiful children, a Greater walk with God, and now...a great husband.. Every time I've been held captive and wounded in my life I have been set free by a Loving God who cares more for me than I can even imagine. It's good to remember the pain of the past, but only so far as to see where you've come from it God has too many blessings in store for those who seek him...why should we be discouraged?

Lastly, I want to share the first news I heard this morning. September 11, 2012. One of my closest friends called me to share the news that her much anticipated newborn daughter had arrived! At 5:31 am Lexi Jolene came into the world at 9 lb 4 oz, and 20 in long. What an amazing morning! What Joy and celebration!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

                                                                    James 1:17
Today I challenge you to remember.We will never forget the events of September 11, 2001 but also do not forget the Memories since and how far God has brought you. Remember the ones who died for others on that day they deserve our respect, but do not forget the One that died for you for  and for the world. Do not forget the children who are blessings from the Lord, do not forget the trials he has brought you through, and do not forget the good things he has in store for those who accept his great mercy and love. Do not forget His promises. .

 "And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer."       
Psalm 78:35

What has He done for you? What do you remember?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fish Guts in the Belly of the Whale? Or a Nice view Ocean Side?

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

Most of you who know me locally, know that I've been seeking a new job. I love the current one, however if I don't get more hours or move into a full time position I'm not sure how much longer I can stay there. Money is tight and a more stable income on my part would go along way towards helping our situation. So I've been looking.  I've got a few applications in here and there and a few of them look promising but my prayer has been that God would put me where He want's me. Today I recieved another answer. The letter in the mailbox was a resounding NO! The job I wanted...well I wasn't the chosen applicant.

My first reaction was very human...and very common in the face of rejection. I was disappointed. Left to it's own devices the disappointment I felt could turn very quickly to anger and lead into bitterness and discouragement. I was hoping for the job, I wanted it, I had started thinking about what it would be like when I had it......there's a lot of ME in those statements. Had I recieved the letter without prayer in the waiting time....I would have been angry just as Jonah was angry when God didn't do what he expected.

"But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry........But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 4: 1,4

"Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil."  Psalm 37:8

I was reminded very quickly that my prayer wasn't for the job itself, but for God to put me where I was supposed to be. Yes, I could be mad about it, but where would that get  me? I would lose a friend and maybe even an opportunity later on. I realized it's just God's way of saying "Not that one, I have another plan for you."

Jeremiah 29:11 is honestly one of my favorite verses. On days like today it lifts me up to know that God is ready and waiting to guide my steps if I will seek Him. His plans are good. An answer of No from anyone, and the feeling of rejection regardless of the reason is upsetting, but it's not the end.

 “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” Isaiah 32:17

I can have peace because I am confident that God will provide for our needs. He has done so over and over again. There isn't any need to put a question mark there. I trust that God can and will supply.

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 4:19

So...this we know. God has a plan, His plans are Good, and God will provide. Just remember that His plan isn't always the one we think it should be. We may have to give up on a dream, let go of a relationship, swallow our pride, or sometimes even change directions altogether. God's way's are higher than ours. If we aren't willing to let go of our plans and listen for His, we'll never know the JOY and PEACE that He want's us to walk in.  The Bible doesn't say it will be easy...or that we will always agree with where God is leading us. Jonah spent time smelling some nasty fish guts because of his disobedience and even afterward he never really agreed with or understood what God wanted to do through him...I think I'd rather follow God's direction and maybe get to hang out on the beach a bit. If ya know what I mean. =)


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tripping Over Stinky Suitcases

"Once bitten, twice shy." Have you ever heard it? I'm sure you have. The gist of it is, that once we've been hurt, Trust is an incredibly hard thing to give. We throw the blame around without realizing that much of the problem was ourselves to begin with. A lot of times the "bite" is the result of not trusting in the first place. For example, ladies we are supposed to trust God for the man that we are going to marry. Sometimes though, like in my case (2 failed marriages)....we jump in head first looking for love without trusting God or his timing. As a result, kind of like Eve listening to the serpent (we all know how that turned out), we get bit. From that point on it's hard to trust anyone including God. We struggle with the illusion that we have control over our lives and we desperately try to maintain and cling to whatever control we feel we have. We don't open ourselves up to trust easily...and if we aren't careful, the cycle of jumping in and getting hurt will continue.

With that said, let me tell you what's on my mind today. I love my husband, and I absolutely believe that God has placed him in my life and that, Andy is the man that God planned for me. The problem I run into, is that I still have some suitcases laying around, full of baggage from my previous marriages and past experiences. Sometimes, those suitcases make it hard for me to trust my Husband. Even though I know that Andy always tries his best to act in the best interest of this family, I find myself struggling with the fear that is packed up in those suitcases. The fear that sits by the doorway of my heart, that I sometimes trip over on my way to trusting Andy.

Today was a case in point, I felt like the suitcases weren't even going to let me through the door. They were piled up almost to the point where I couldn't see past them. Andy and my Dad were checking out the Subaru and testing it out planning to get it cleaned up and possibly legal for us to drive. I've been praying for us to be able to get a car. You can't know our family without knowing that right now transportation is a big concern for us. I should have been excited. I should have been happy at the possibility of anything to drive and granted I loved the Subaru when I drove it before. Instead...I was angry and frustrated.

Andy was so excited, if you know my husband, well you know that he can get a little loopy when he's excited about something. He was talking non-stop about the car. Meanwhile, I was getting more aggravated by the minute. Here's a little of what was going through my head. "How many times have I told him what's wrong and why the car was parked in the first place? How do these men expect a car that has sit in the yard for almost 2 yrs to be reliable? Doesn't he realize that getting it legal is a waste of money? Yes it's a nice car, but it's never going to run as good as it used to and it might blow up on us and leave us stranded. I can't believe he's even considering driving it!" No, I didn't say any of this out loud but boy was it going through my mind. Andy was happy as a lark, and I seriously just wanted to smack him.

Then later while I was doing dishes...I heard another voice in my head. "Why aren't you trusting your husband?"...... Me, "He doesn't know all of the stuff that's wrong with that car! I've had so much more experience with it, I've told him all about it but he doesn't listen. He wasn't even around here when it was parked." Then I heard it again..."Don't you trust Me?" 

Um, how do you put this. I was busted. Here's the thing I learned. Trusting Andy isn't really so much about trusting him as a person. He is human and he does and will make mistakes. However, if I don't trust my husband to lead our home and to make decisions for our family...then to put it bluntly...I'm not trusting God.

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." Ephesians 5:22

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

As I said above, I absolutely believe that God has put Andy in my life. If I believe that, then I have to believe that God is going to work through my husband to provide for and to direct our family. That's a hard pill to swallow for a girl with a stack of unpacked suitcases. What about those suitcases anyways? If they are getting in the way of my ability to trust my husband then they are certainly getting in the way of my ability to trust God.

"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding." Proverbs 3:5

Lean not unto thine own understanding. My own understanding, all the hurt and the pain of the past, all of the anger and the "He said this, and He did that's" from previous relationships. All of the disappointments and understanding I have of how unreliable the world is. That's what's in those suitcases and every time I stumble over them I'm reminded of what's inside.

You know the worst part about old suitcases when they've been left sitting around and not cleaned out for ages? They STINK! I know this because I just bought some vintage suitcases for decoration and storage for the new place, but when I got home I realized that I can't put anything new in them, until I clean out the old nasty smell. So basically in life it's the same. I can't fill up my suitcases with good things (Joy, Trust, Respect, Grace) unless I let go of, and let God clean out the bad stuff. I have to trade my pain and disappointments in, for His mercy so that I can fully rely on God, and as a reflection of that rely on my husband. 

So I'm gonna try this God's way. I'm going to keep my mouth shut (as hard as it may be), and when I'm handed the keys to the Subaru I'm going to get in and drive without packing up the suitcases for the ride. After all, God created the most amazing universe with such intricate attention to detail that science will never be able to understand or explain it all. Surely, He's a better mechanic than anyone else. How else would you explain a car that's been sitting for so long starting up on the first try?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

An A+ in Kindergarten Doesn't Mean a Girl Won't Need a Little Help Sometimes.

Have you ever been told that you are smart? Of course you have! We've all been praised by teachers, parents, etc at some point or another. We all know what it means to be smart, intelligent, quick witted....whatever you want to call it. Being smart is a good thing, but at the same time it can be a lot of pressure.

I've felt the pressure from kindergarten on. Being labeled as "smart" meant I was expected to have good grades, do well, excel in school, make good choices. Whenever I made a bad choice (and there have been a few) I heard the same thing from everyone "Ann, you're too smart for that!" WAIT a minute though! Whoever said that being intelligent meant you were gonna make good choices? So what's the deal? What else does a smart girl need besides "smarts?" The answer is WISDOM!

It's totally possible to be smart without wisdom. It doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with you, just that there is always room to grow. We are constantly learning from experience, and there are so many things that just aren't taught in school. That includes most of the necessary knowledge needed to be successful as an adult...finances and budgets, parenting, major life choices, and marriage just aren't covered. In the midst of everyday life all of these things seem to crash in around you. When the plate is full you have to figure out what to tackle first and how to balance it all without disaster.

Right now...Andy and I have so much on our plate that wisdom is something I really need. Honestly, I'm crying out for it for both of us. We need direction, and the good judgement that only comes from following God's plan for your life. So I've been reading a little about wisdom and how to find it.

In the bible we read about Solomon, and how when he was given the option to ask for anything from God, he asked for wisdom to be able to lead Israel the way God wanted it to be done. As a result, Solomon was granted wisdom as well as being the richest and most respected king of his time. Not a bad deal and if Solomon can ask God for wisdom, why can't I? I'm not saying I expect the same results. As far as I know God hasn't directed me to rule over a country, but I am called to be a home maker. To keep and guide my home in the ways of the Lord. Andy and I have the responsibility of caring for what we have, making decisions, and raising our children God's way. So why not ask, right?

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

I can ask, and I believe that God will answer that prayer, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to get wisdom by sitting around hoping it soaks in like sunshine warming the ground.

For whoever finds me [Wisdom] finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death. Proverbs 8:35-36

blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. Proverbs 3:13-14

Notice that the Proverbs say "Whoever FINDS wisdom." To find have to look for it as well as ask! To find wisdom, we must seek it in the Word of God and in Prayer.
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:1-6
Wisdom is gift that God wants us to have. He wants us to come to Him and seek his direction for our lives.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5

Every day I'm learning more about the Lord and more about His plan for us. It's so exciting to see that, even though right now we have so many physical needs that it's hard to see past them, God is doing something great in our lives! That's just how God works. When we seek him, we will find the most incredible changes occur in our lives. Solomon didn't ask for wealth, or fame but it came along with what God wanted for his life. I don't know everything God is planning for us, I just know that whatever that plan's beyond what I could imagine. I also know that God has promised us something special. (I'll probably share at a later date). I'm just so excited about where things are going...God is Good.