I can’t get enough of you

Oh, those first days of dating my husband! Long conversations, frequent conversations, “I can’t wait to talk to you again”, not wanting to be the one to say goodbye and hang up the phone, spending time and money on phone calls, talking about anything and everything!

I.Just.Couldn’t. Get. Enough.

I think back to what I know about Chris now compared to what I knew about him then. What a difference! And to think that I still can be learning for years and years to come! But the friendship we have now is because I’ve put in the time. I’ve listened and watched. I’ve made many mistakes and learned from some of them, and some, unfortunately, I still make. I still eagerly look forward to notes and calls and texts from him. Because I know that good, solid relationships take time.  And I’m willing to put in that time. Every morning, I wake up committed to talking to and listening to my husband that day.

More important, though, is the relationship that I am committed to developing with God. It is the same as my friendship with my husband. The more time I put into it, the deeper and stronger it will become.

One of the ways we invest in our relationship with God is the time we spend reading His Words (the Bible). I think that for many people, studying the Bible is “too hard” or “too boring” or “takes too much time” or “too over my head”.  And so, because studying Scripture might involve effort, patience, discipline, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, we are often quick to dismiss reading the Word in favor of reaching for a devotional or any other book that might talk about God, but is still not the Word OF God. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a solid devotional or any tool that we can use to study God’s Word. As long as we aren’t reading that INSTEAD of the Bible. It reminds me of a young girl who doesn’t talk TO the boy she likes, but passes messages THROUGH another person. Is that really a relationship? Why would I not just talk directly to Him and let Him talk directly to me?

We live in a culture that looks for ways to avoid exercising patience. Speedy Internet, Freaky Fast subs, fast food restaurants, even movies and shows that resolve the story line in 30 minutes or 2 hours. Getting to know God in the little bit of His story that He has laid out for us in the Scriptures will never happen that fast. It takes time and patience. In Isaiah 28:10, we are told that knowledge comes “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” For starters, we will never know all there is to know about God. And He is the one who tells us that it’s okay that we don’t understand everything all at once. That as we put in the time with Him and seek to become more like Him, our relationship will become deeper and stronger. But we should have a yearning to learn more and more about Him. “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for You, O God.” Psalms 42:1

I want to be ever-increasing in my desire to spend time with Him. To anticipate hearing from Him. To look forward to spending hours with Him. To spend my time and money on showing Him I love Him. Little by little, to be learning something new about Him every day. He is most definitely worth it. He is my forever.

“God, you’re my God! I can’t get enough of You!” Psalm 63:1 (The Message)

 

Forever and ever. Amen.

This past week has been long and hard. One week ago tonight, a dear family from our church had their world turned upside down.  A fire started in their home, and over the next couple of days, three of their four children died from smoke inhalation.

Oh, how my heart hurts for them.  I feel sick every time I think of the grief they are experiencing.  As I observed them throughout the day yesterday, when the memorial service was held, I was awed that they were not crushed by their grief.  Heartbroken, most definitely.  Unimaginable sorrow, yes.  But despair, no.

Through the shattered pieces of their hearts, God’s love IS shining.  People that are watching them walk through this valley ARE seeing Jesus!! And God is receiving the glory!  And while their suffering is immeasurable, it is temporary.  They will see their beautiful children again one day.  And that is the hope they are clinging to right now.

It reminds me of a passage in the second letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.

 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 

 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile jars of clay containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.  That is why we never give up. 

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Oh Lord, whenever they feel like they are sinking in despair, please wrap your arms around them and set their feet on higher ground.  Lift their faces to you and give them a glimpse of the “forever” that Nat, Ben and Carter are already experiencing.  Help them to hold on to the promise of abundant life with you.  Abundant life that will last forever and ever…

Amen.

 

 

how do I know?

When I think about volunteering vs serving, I think that my natural tendency is to jump into more than what God has asked me to do.  And that usually leads me to giving a less than 100% effort in the tasks that are actually from Him.

Of all the opportunities that I am presented with on an regular basis, how do I know which are the ones that He wants me to take on?

When the children were little, I was overwhelmed with all that I had to do as a mommy and homemaker.  One day, I wrote out a list of five different things that I thought were important in my day, and then I asked Chris to rate them in order of importance to him.  (While I was a mommy and homemaker, I was first and foremost my husband’s helpmate, and I wanted to be a source of encouragement to him.)  I think this was the first time that I used priorities to help me determine what I could or could not do outside of my home.  If I couldn’t have a hot meal on the table, have clean clothes in my husband’s closet or keep a clean kitchen, I knew that, out of respect for my husband’s authority, I shouldn’t get involved in ministries outside of my home until I could carry out the ministries I had within my home.

As I was able to learn more discipline in keeping our home and raising our kiddos, being involved in other ministry opportunities became a possibility.  Every year, I would pray through what my priorities should be for that coming year.  And when I would hear of needs, or people would ask me to do something, I would prayerfully and honestly check it against what I wanted to be priorities in my life.

Because of the truth that my husband and I are one, I also knew that I should not make big time commitments without him.  Whether he is directly involved or not, whatever I am involved in affects him.  And so, it truly helps me to run these opportunities by him and find out what his thoughts are.

For example, in the fall, I signed up to do a Bible Study that I was really excited about.  But as the weeks went on, I realized that my husband really needed me at home.  Because studying the Bible is a good thing, I had jumped right in.  But I should have prayed about it and checked to make sure it was the best thing for us.  I had committed myself to this study, while unable to minister to my husband.  If I had checked this opportunity against what I knew were God-ordained priorities, I would’ve known that the Bible study, at that particular point in time, was a not for our best.

And there are also those moments when I don’t even have time to think or pray.  It is when God interrupts my day and my only response should be to act.  Like the events that I describe in this post.  God has continued to bring opportunities like that into our life.

There are many different ways to work through the different ministry opportunities that come my way. But whether it is a request from another person, a ministry that my heart has a passion for, a hungry couple standing on my front porch or a need that I’m not sure I’m up for, my first response should always be to talk to God about it.  Ask Him what He wants and then trust that He will guide me.

the question about Facebook…

I was asked several times yesterday about my decision to deactivate my Facebook page. I thought maybe this would be a good way to share the thought process behind my choice.

First off, this is not a matter of Facebook being “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad”. I love that so many people use it to connect and minister and enjoy relationship with one another. I also know that it can be a time-waster or discouragement for others. These issues are not the motivating factors behind my decision.

It feels more like an invitation.

Let me explain…

A few months ago, I was feeling very overwhelmed and distrustful of people. I was also overwhelmed and saddened by everything that is going on in the world. I was discouraged by some of what I saw and read on Facebook. I also was depending on my Facebook friends for fellowship, and was hesitant to enter into face to face fellowship with people at the church we had started attending. I also had been thinking a lot about the amount of “me” that I put out on the internet. (which is ironic since I am going to be publishing this post…)

Anyway, I decided to deactivate my account and see how it affected me. Honestly, for the most part, I loved it. I didn’t love missing out on the news that my nephew had acknowledged Jesus as His Saviour, I didn’t love missing out on family pictures and checking in on my friends, but I did love the margin that it created in my life. I love the space it created for me to think and process and stay in one place (mentally and emotionally) for a longer period of time.

I started it up again once we knew we were moving because it really is an incredibly easy way to keep people posted on what’s going on in our lives. But, I knew that I would most likely deactivate it again once we were settled.

My reasons for deactivating it are different this time.

Now that we are starting to slow down and settle into one place, the whirlwind of this past year is catching up to me. I am filled with emotions and thoughts and desires and griefs that I am trying to process. I am realizing how connected my heart is to my mouth, and how I need to learn to run my heart’s thoughts through my brain before I speak. I am tired. I am sad. I am in need right now.

We have SO much hurt and evil in our world. There is so much despair. So many horrifying events taking place around us.

There is also so much beauty. So many beautiful places that God has created. So many beautiful moments. So many opportunities to live life together. So many people to love. So many people that love us in return. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest. There are so many great recipes that I’d love to try. There are so many gifts I would like to make. There are so many ways I would love to serve.

There is just SO much.

And my heart is overwhelmed.

He is inviting me right now to simplify. To ground myself in Him. To create margin in my heart, my mind and my life.

I am not saying this is a forever decision. I don’t know what the future holds. I just know that for this season, He is inviting me to be off of Facebook and do something different. I still want to live life with the people I care about, I am just going to go about it in a different way.

He is inviting me to come with Him to a quiet place. He is leading me beside still waters.

And I want to follow Him there.

update-a few weeks ago, someone that I grew up with lost his young wife to cancer.  Not being able to get on Facebook and send my sympathies made me so sad, and I began to think about coming back to FB.  I had also been missing all the stuff that is shared on our family page, so I am trying it out and seeing how it goes!

where are we now? how did we get here?

I know I am way behind in updating.  I have started six or seven drafts, but then abandon them because I can’t seem to express what I want to.  So, I am simply going to “bullet-point” the past couple of months to bring everyone up-to-date.

  • End of February-we left Arizona and moved to Roach, Missouri, where my parents graciously opened their home to us.
  • March-Chris started job-hunting in Indiana and Missouri.  While looking for full-time work, he was able to work through a temp agency.  We enrolled the boys in the Camdenton school district.
  • April-Chris continued his job search, even looking briefly at Kentucky and Tennessee.  The boys were doing great in school-which was a huge answer to prayer for us.  At the end of the month, he was hired by a pest-control company and started a full-time, permanent job.
  • May 1-we signed a lease for our own apartment and spent the weekend moving in.  Chris’ job was going great.  His boss was purchasing his truck and they were talking about having him supervise and train the other technicians.
  • May 5-It was a Monday afternoon when Chris came home and told me that his boss had let him go.  When Chris asked why, the boss refused to tell him.  We suspect it was because of concerns Chris had expressed regarding illegal chemical applications.
  • May 6-God had definitely given Chris a “peace that surpasses all understanding”.  He was confident of God’s plans and His provisions for us. (I on the other hand was having a panic attack)
  • the rest of May-God really did a work in my heart regarding WHO He is and HOW MUCH He loves me.  He has promised to always meet our needs, and over and over during that month, He proved Himself true.
  • June-lots of family celebrations and time with my parents.  Chris was working part-time and enjoying his job.  He continued searching hard for full-time employment.  Alex and William both started working at McDonalds.  The boys had a couple of friends from Wisconsin come and spend some time with us, so that was so very nice (for all of us).  The end of the month started time with Michaela and time with my siblings.
  • July-Having exhausted every possible job lead that he found, Chris (on what we thought was a whim, but now believe to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit) applied for a few jobs in Wisconsin.  During that second week of July, he had a phone interview with someone from Johnsonville Sausage, which is located in Sheboygan Falls.
  • July 18-Chris had a face to face interview at Johnsonville.  A few days after returning to Missouri, he was offered a 2nd shift, full-time position.  The cool thing about asking God to lead us by opening and closing doors is that you can trust that He will.  It was very clear to us that we were to move back to Sheboygan.
  • So starts another packing and house-hunting frenzy.  His start date was supposed to be August 1, so we had about 9 days to pack up.  God led us to a home that sounded perfect for us. (That is a story that I will tell another time!!) I was excited to be closer to Michaela, to my sister and her family, and all our other dear friends, but it was so very hard thinking about leaving my parents.  I did a lot of crying during that time.  We spent our mornings packing and our afternoons and/or evenings spending time with my parents.  It was a bittersweet time for me.
  • July 29-we U-hauled it up to Sheboygan and were overwhelmed by the love and support of dear friends who came to help us unload, unpack and get settled.  A HUGE welcome back hug!!
  • August-Chris found out he didn’t start until that first Monday in August, so I loved that he was able to help with the unpacking.  I was eager to be settled, so the process has gone pretty quickly.  There were a few testing times during this period, but we were reminded that whatever God’s plan for us, His plans for us were only for our good and His glory.  And we could trust in that!
  • Today, August 27th-Chris is really liking his job and the company he works for. We are getting used to different schedules and the way it affects our family dynamics.  The boys are registered for school (though dreading the actual start date) and Alex is already practicing with the cross-country team.  All the boys have been reconnecting with childhood friends, and I think that has been very healing for their hearts.  Chris and I are waiting on God to show us His reasons for bringing us back to Sheboygan, and just living each day for whatever He brings our way.

This is just a quick overview of the past few months.  It is pretty much devoid of all the emotions that went with all these changes.  I am still working on processing those! But now you know where we are and how we got here!

 

 

our new normal: the beginning

For the past two months, we have been living with my parents in Roach, Missouri.  When we moved here from Arizona, we didn’t have any intention of staying in this state.  But, God had different plans for us.

After countless resumes and applications put in at different places around the country, and three different temporary jobs, Chris started a job on Monday with a pest control company in Sunrise Beach, about a half hour from Roach, where my parents serve with New Tribes Mission.  The company that hired him is smaller, but one that prides itself in doing high quality work.  The owner is a man who values family, and his desire is for those that work for him to be able to invest in their families at the end of the work day.  While Chris worked without complaint at the temporary jobs that he didn’t prefer, but was thankful for, I am thrilled that he now has work that he enjoys, and that he didn’t have to “settle” for whatever came along.

As it became more obvious to us that we would be staying in this area, I began to look at housing.  It seemed like it was going to be a mighty act of God to give us a job that would pay the bills along with a home that we could afford.  There just didn’t seem to be much available.  As we started looking more intently a few weeks ago, I was beginning to get pretty discouraged at what was out there.  And yet, we knew that God had us settling here and that He was sure to provide something.  We knew we just had to knock on every door that we became aware of, and walk through whatever door He opened.  It was just a matter of trusting in His timing.  Monday evening we looked at an apartment that we liked, Tuesday night our application was approved and a few hours ago, we signed the lease agreement.  Tomorrow night, we are going to start moving stuff over, and hope to have the rest (or at least most) of it moved this weekend.

I am so very thankful for my parents.  When we were trying to decide where we should go when we left Arizona, a wise friend suggested that we head to a place where we would be able to spend time healing.  Without pause, we knew that my parent’s home would be that place for us.  They were willing to make the space for us, and we knew that we loved the trees, birds and quiet of the area they live in, and that we would have the time we needed to reflect and work through some things.  They have turned their lives upside down for us, and I am as excited for them to have their space back as I am about making my own home again.

Our new home will be an apartment, and we haven’t lived next to somebody like that since Michaela was a baby.  It is weird to think about going out to your patio and a few feet away is your neighbor, grilling out on his side of the concrete slab.  The apartment is very small, but relatively new.  It has three bedrooms, but one we are going to make into a TV room so that the boys have a place to hang out with friends that they invite over. I think I am a little excited about the challenge of taking a small space and making it feel like it is bigger than it actually is.

When I first told them about the apartment complex living, my sister in law, Melissa, pointed out that God has given us a great opportunity to be a blessing to all these new neighbors of ours, and I love thinking that this is our “mission field” right now.  Chris reminded me today while we were discussing the size of the home that if we were going overseas, we would be making do with what was available.  And that’s the attitude we want to have-to make the most out of what God has provided for us.

The boys are not that far from the church where they want to go to youth group.  Alex can easily walk to McDonald’s from the house, and there are a few more close-by options for Will as he looks for a job.  There are some kids from their schools that live right across from us and the boys could walk to and from school if they wanted.

And even though we are almost smack dab in the middle of town, I will still be able to sit on our patio and enjoy the trees that fill our back yard.  I am anxious to get some flowers and shrubs planted and see if I can’t convince some hummingbirds to come live with us.

Here are a few sneak peeks of our new home…

Miles and William in the TV/Game room
Miles and William in the TV/Game room
IMG_2917
the living room…
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small frig, but glass top stove and built in microwave
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the kitchen

I just want to say thank you to all who have prayed for us over these past many weeks.  We know that nothing is wasted, and He certainly has a purpose in all He allowed.  We are excited to discover what our new “normal” is.  The next few weeks will be busy as we settle into our new home and the boys finish up their school year.

We were talking with them yesterday and one of the boys mentioned again that he was wondering what God’s purpose was in planting us here.  I told him that we aren’t sure what God’s plan for us is, but we are going to live out each day whole-heartedly, discovering the answer to that question…

CHURCH

I have been thinking a lot about “church” and what that means to me. I think it has been on my mind more than normal because of the fact that we are moving from one city to another, and we need to find our new church family. And with every thought comes a particular memory of Pastor Mark. He is a man who loves to see God’s people being the church that God intends us to be.

It was a Sunday morning. Chris dropped the children and me off at the front doors and went to find a parking spot. We all went in and then the children scattered…off to their Sunday school classes. As I was milling through the crowd of people in the lobby, I thought I heard a voice calling me. I turned around but didn’t see anyone, so continued on my way to the sanctuary. I heard it again, so I turned around. This time I saw our friend, Bob. He called me over to where he was sitting. As I approached him, I saw that his eyes were teary and his face sad. He said to me, “Pastor Mark is here-I thought you might want to say hi to him.”

Sitting at the next table was Mark…he was sitting there with his wife, Jeanie. They were surrounded by people who loved them, who wanted an opportunity to tell them so, to let them know that they were being prayed for. I was one of those people.

I waited until it was my turn, then I gave him a hug. He looked tired and thin. His body looked weary. I couldn’t help but cry as I hugged him. It seemed so desperately unfair that this dear man should be inflicted with such a horrible, painful cancer. It was hard to grasp what the cancer was so quickly doing to his body.

I told him that we loved him. I told him that we were praying for him and his family. I stood up and continued talking to him, listening to his heart. I knew that other people were wanting to greet him, and I knew that Chris would be waiting for me in the sanctuary. So I told him that I was so thankful that I had the chance to talk with him, and I told him that I hated to go into church, that I just wanted to sit with Jeanie and him. And what he said next, I will never forget.

He was still sitting there, looking up at me, holding my hands, quiet tears sliding down his face and he said in a broken voice, “This…this IS church.”

And he was right. A room full of people, wanting to share in the burdens of a brother and sister in Christ. Praying together, crying, moments of laughter, all the time giving glory to God. We didn’t know what His plan was, but we trusted Him to bring something beautiful out of something painful. Jeanie told me a few minutes later, “God has taught us to serve Him and to live for Him. Now He is teaching us to die for Him.”

That was the last time that I spoke with Mark. Less than two weeks later, four weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer, he went to be with Jesus. In those moments, my heart took a snapshot of what the Body of Christ looks like when it is living life together. I treasure that picture, I keep it close.

And I embrace that idea of living life together.
Sharing the ups and downs, good and bad times, laughing, crying, praying together.
Being transparent with one another.

But I am realizing that this is much easier said than done. I want to do this, I truly do. But in our case, in a new town and new local church, it means starting over. And, ugh….it’s not so easy.

Yesterday, the church we would like to attend for a while was having its annual church picnic and baptism service. I was looking forward to meeting new people and for the children to start making new friends. I don’t know if the migraine was purely physical, or if it was a spiritual attack to discourage me, but shortly after I witnessed my two sons being baptized, I was in pain and feeling sick. I could barely handle sitting upright, let alone trying to converse with people. I ended up in laying down in the van while Chris let the boys finish swimming, and then we headed home.

This morning, I still have a lingering migraine, but more than that, disappointment. Even though meeting new people is nerve-wracking for me, I wanted to take every opportunity that I had to reach out to people~to be a blessing. And I didn’t get to talk to anyone.

I have the picture of that Sunday with Mark in my head and in my heart. I know what I am looking for, and I know that God has it for us somewhere. I want to be IN the picture again, not simply holding it and looking at it longingly.

I can’t remember where I heard this…it was either Chip Ingram or Pastor Mark…but one of them was teaching on Romans 12:5

“…so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”

I know that there is a local body that I need. I know there is a place for me to serve. I know it because Christ says it, and I know it because I have the Holy Spirit aching for it inside of me.

We have been invited to try out a Life Group here, and I am excited to do so. I know that God created in me a need to connect with and serve the rest of His body. I am so thankful for the many years of sitting under Mark’s teaching…his passionate commitment to the Body of Christ has taught me to not accept anything less than what God intended.

Lord, please show us the spot that you have carved out for us here in this city. Give us the patience to persevere in relationships and the courage to serve wherever you ask. Let us be part of a church that wholeheartedly follows after You, loves one another and reaches out to the world around us.

 

“conviction”

When I said that I would post about my unexpected company once I had all the words together in my mind….I thought that I had learned my lesson. I was wrong. Apparently, God knew that I needed yet another lesson, and I have a feeling, much more growing and learning to do in this area.

For several years now, I have had the desire to start a soup kitchen in our area. Not just a place where we ladle out a hot meal into someone’s bowl, but where we can sit down and talk…connect…care…share….a place to live out the hope that Jesus offers us.

Recently, our small group from church has been talking about offering a soup supper to those in the area that need a warm meal…and an opportunity to connect with someone. I’ve been getting excited about this and making plans and what do you know? God tested my heart.

In the middle of a very busy evening (children had been sick, phone calls were coming in left and right, supper was running late and our son had to be at the school Spelling Bee in just a short time), a couple that we know came to our door, sharing that they were homeless and they had no other place to go. My husband came into the kitchen and explained the situation and then went into another room to call a deacon from our church.

I stood there at the stove and fumed. I actually prayed that they would hurry and leave. And this is how He answered.

“Nichole, how can you say you want to start a soup kitchen and serve those in need, when you can’t even serve those I send to your door? “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

James 2:15-16

As I confessed my selfish heart to Him, I also thanked Him that I could actually do something about it still. So, I put on my bathrobe (did I mention that I was making supper in my pajamas because I had just showered?), went into the living room and by the grace of God invited them to stay and share our supper meal with us…with a sincere heart.

That was a few days ago. Last night while Chris was at parent-teacher meetings, I heard a knock at our door, and opened it to find our friends standing there, very cold. I invited them in, but my heart….my stubborn and selfish heart…was not Christ-like. (Can you believe it? After that amazing experience on Monday night? I am so saddened by my attitude.) We sat for a while and talked. They had been walking around the city all day long, trying to keep warm.

And as I saw their weariness, God began to soften my heart toward them. We talked about their recent past, their plans, their future…and God impressed on my heart the need to forgive, and give second chances. (After all, I am a recipient of His mercy, how can I not share the same?)

So, once again, convicted of my lack of love (in action), I made my way to the kitchen to make a warm meal for them. As I served them, I prayed that it would be speak to their hearts of God’s love, not simply to their physical bodies and their immediate needs. As they left that evening, I truly did care about what lay ahead for them, and I hope we see them again soon.

So, I begin this day…realizing that I have so much to learn, thankful that He gives me second chances…and He will continue making me the woman that He created me to be, and excited about the opportunities that He will bring into my life. I simply pray that I will take those opportunities and obey, with a whole heart, the first time.