Sunday, June 3, 2012

How Clean are You?

"Its time to eat, kids, did you wash your hands?" Mom asked. "Yep!" said the children. "Did you use soap?" Mom asked again, knowing full well, they did not. "No" they replied. Sound familiar? When it comes to washing our hands, we might assume that most of us follow obvious standards to get them clean, but what is obvious to some, might not be obvious to others and not everyone has the same standard. You'd think common sense is all you need, but is it? If not everyone has the same standard, how do we know what's clean and what isn't?  And by what scale do we measure 'clean'? We are so unaware of how filthy things really are all around us; things that we come in contact with everyday, like grocery carts (which are rated worse than pubic restrooms), gym equipment, restaurant menus, door knobs, your shower curtain and the list goes on.  We either don't see it and deny its existence, or we know it's there and think that by constantly scrubbing and sanitizing with anti-bacterial gels, that we can stay clean.
There are public places that post signs and reminders on the wall, but many ignore them. We can't force people to wash how we think they should. Everyone is individually responsible for themselves. Maybe that's why we tend to think that we are responsible for our inner cleanliness, as well. Matters of the heart; good vs. bad. But again, by what scale do we determine 'good'; how good is good or how bad is bad? Our opinions and cultures can tip the scales greatly and we do what we think is right and judge others according to our personal standard. How can anyone know what is in the heart? Only God can judge the heart of man. (1 Samuel 16:7)
I have a friend, who is a surgeon and I consider him to be a 'good' person. We had a conversation about Heaven and how God might determine who He lets in. He asked, "what if you're a good person your whole life, but do not believe in God? Would He not let you in? And what about God being loving & forgiving?"  In the moment, all I could say was "Yes, He is a loving & forgiving God, but He is also a Holy God and we, being unclean, cannot enter into His presence, without first being made clean". After he left, I thought more about his question and how I could better illustrate this answer. What I came up with, was the following illustration that I think he could easily relate to, as a Doctor. When he goes into surgery, I'm certain, he cannot enter in without first, washing his hands, putting on sterile gloves, scrubs and anything else to assure he was clean, according to hospital standards. If he, instead, just told the patient "I'm a good person", they'd probably say, "So what?!? You're not clean!"  So it is, with God and man.
We can never be clean enough to stand before a Holy God. We would have to be perfectly clean, spotless and blameless; know anyone? This is GOD's standard and we all fall short. So, how do we become this clean?  Certainly not by our own ability. The difference between external and internal cleanliness is that while we are responsible for the external, only God can clean the internal; the heart.  No matter how good we think we are, or try to be, we can never be good enough or clean enough without Him. We would then be like the one who constantly scrubs, over and over, all in vain. Nor can we deny that we are unclean, by using a self-righteous scale to define 'good, bad and really bad', and then say we are good, by comparison. We say, "I'm a good person, I help others, I don't lie, steal or that guy". We become like those who cannot see the filth that is all around us, deny its existence or justify it and then say "IF God is loving and forgiving, then…" ..then, what??  Going back to my illustration, should we allow the unclean Doctor in the operating room, just to prove we're loving and forgiving? And if not, can he rightfully blame the one who does not let him in? Of course not! Neither should we blame God for our unclean hearts.
We are not good, nor are we clean. We are sinners. We can defend, deny, justify or downplay it all we want, but we are guilty and there is a penalty that must be paid. Freedom can only come when we admit our guilt and surrender. We are then given freedom. What?!? Admit guilt, surrender and then go free? Yes…the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has paid our debt. "For the penalty of sin is death; (a life sentence) but.. the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"  (Romans 5:23). The gift is our pardon..we are let go..forgiven..made CLEAN. It is a gift that is free to those who ask. We remain unclean until we are washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 1:18 "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow".
Matt 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you".
Proverbs 14:12 "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, leads to destruction".
Matt. 7:13 "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it".

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Praise Before Promise: My Mothers Day Story

Mother's Day is a very special day for me. Not just because I'm a Mom, but because I was told I never would be one. Several doctors said that I would most likely never conceive children, or something like this: "Is it possible? hmmm, maybe…but is it probable? No". They encouraged me to let it go and not get my hopes up. Give up my hope?!? That's all I had and I was never giving that up. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a Mom. I was the kid with the dolls and strollers; hugging, feeding & talking to my babies all the time. That desire only grew bigger as I grew older. So, when I was told I had several health issues that would prevent me from ever conceiving or even carrying a child, I was devastated, to say the least. But I wouldn't listen or stop trying. I couldn't accept the idea of not having children. It just wasn't how I saw my life. It was a painful 3 years of infertility doctors, medications, charts, needles, surgeries, diets and many tears. I wish I could say that those years were filled with a steadfast faith in God and a positive attitude, but it wasn't. It was, however, a journey that tested my faith, changed my attitude & drew me closer to God, the one who gives life and ultimately gave me my hearts desire. 

I used to journal a lot, so I bought a journal to write in, specifically for that trial. It had a picture of footprints in the sand with the famous "footprints" poem written on the cover. It seemed appropriate for the cause, but little did I know how significant that journal would be at the end of my journey.  I would write in it a few times a week and then maybe a few times a month.  My entries were often unfiltered emotions and prayers, as well as sober documentations of the sequence of events, and the cycle of hope & disappointment, with every passing month. I'd write how I felt when I saw pregnant women and Mothers holding their babies. I'd cry out to God on those pages with all my roller-coaster feelings. Some days, I would humbly pray for patience and other days I would scream and cry, demanding answers. Any woman who has dealt with infertility knows the heavy burden of empty arms.  In those three years, I went from being happy and social to depressed and withdrawn. But, it was also those three years that God began to teach me some very valuable life lessons: What it means to truly surrender my life, my will, and all my desires to Him, trusting that He knows what is best for me and is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than I could ever hope or imagine (Eph. 3:20). It was in that long walk through the dry desert, that I experienced God in a very real and intimate way. I felt His presence, heard His voice and saw the miracles unfold.  It was the beginning of a lifelong lesson of walking in faith, of which I am a student of, even still.

It was April of the third year and I was at my lowest emotionally, but I still refused to give up the hope that I knew I had in Christ. I was nearing the end of the available pages left in my journal and I fought the negative thoughts that began to flood my head. "I'm gonna have to buy another stupid journal". A few days had passed and I remember one night praying before going to sleep. I was so empty and tired.  That was the night I had the most amazing dream. It was so real, that I was able to write it all down in my journal in detail when I awoke the next morning. In this dream, I had just washed up on a shore after being tossed by the wind and waves, almost drowning from a terrible storm. I got up and saw Jesus coming towards me as the dark sky turned so bright, I could hardly see. I felt peaceful and warm.  Jesus took my hand and walked with me as we left footprints in the sand. He told me how much He loved me and that he felt my pain, saw my tears and heard my prayers. That was enough for me in that moment. I was so content. But after comforting me, He specifically instructed me to begin to give praise & celebrate, because I would conceive the following month. "Next month?!?" I asked. I turned to Him, but He was gone. "Did I hear that right?".  Just then I woke up. I wanted to go back to sleep so I could ask Him again, but I knew what I heard. As I laid there, the word "Rejoice" kept repeating in my head. I knew it was God. He was putting my faith to the test. If I really believed what He had just spoken, then wouldn't my natural reaction be to Rejoice? I did believe, but I was afraid of being wrong. "What if I celebrate and it doesn't happen and people think I'm crazy"? That was definitely not faith talking. I believed it to be true, so I decided that I was going to rejoice! Ironically, the first person I told was my Mother.

It was in that next month, on May 9th, 1999 (Mother's Day) that I had my very last menstrual cycle and shortly thereafter, conceived my firstborn child. I didn't know I was pregnant until a day before Father's Day and my due date was Valentines Day. Coincidental? I think not. Soon after confirming the pregnancy, I opened my journal to write down my last & final entry.. and guess what? There was only one page left to write on, the very last page of the book. Oh, how sweet it was to see the loving confirmation that God's timing is always perfect.

My story of infertility is now a cherished memory of God's faithfulness, as I celebrate being a Mother of, not one, but two beautiful girls: Eliana Hope & Emmalia Grace. I now know why we are told to give glory when we go through trials of any kind. Because the testing of our faith will produce perseverance, character and hope. And HOPE will never disappoint us when it is in Christ Jesus (Rom.5:3-5).  We will come face to face with pain and suffering, that's just part of life. We can either give up hope or we can praise the God who gives us hope and a future. It's our choice. We may or may not understand or know why, but this one thing I DO know…God is always faithful and His timing is always perfect.  

The life of faith celebrates God's faithfulness by praising Him, before His promise is fulfilled.  

"Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could ever hope or imagine…to HIM be the glory!" (Ephesians 3:20).

Happy Mothers Day!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Life Promises Nothing...God Promises LIFE!

Life makes no promises, nor guarantees gain;  
No glory in riches, power or fame.

No freedom from sadness, worry or fears;
pain or losses, heartaches or tears.

No gain for the righteous, nor justice for bad;   
No rest for the weary or joy for the sad.

It offers no fountain to quench the soul;   
Nor keep the young from growing old.  
No promise of treasure, found by skill;
No trophy awarded with lasting thrill.    
It plays favorites to no one, takes what it may;
Gives no lasting victory for a winning play.

No plans that promise to stay on course;  
No absence of sorrow, regret or remorse.

No promise of loyal and lasting friends;
No love so perfect from beginning to end.

No great strength, money or goodwill;      
That can breathe into the soul, a life fulfilled.

The only promise that life will give;     
is the free choice, for whom we will live.   

To live for ourselves, there is no reward;
But abundant life, who live for the Lord.

Life promises nothing of which we can cleave; 
God promises life, for all who believe.   

There’s only one hope, and only one friend,      
There's only one God who'll stand in the end.

Though crucified, He conquered the grave;   
Our sin forgiven, our debt has been paid.
The gift of life, fulfilled and set free,  
Jesus Christ will give, to all who receive.  

Ask and He will answer, seek and you will find;
Knock and the door will open; His promise to all mankind.    

Happy Easter! May we remember His great love for us.

Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What's in Your Garden?

Springtime reminds me of when I was a kid and my Mom started a garden. I remember being excited about it, but I didn't know anything about gardening. I was about to learn. Our house sat on almost an acre of land in a little town called Hadlock, Washington. The back yard was big and filled with lots of trees and bushes. The garden couldn't be started without the help of my Dad first. The process seemed long and I wasn't very patient, but I slowly learned that you can't really have a good garden without patience. I watched as my Dad began preparing the space in the back yard. He cleared out all the weeds and set the boundaries for the garden and placed a wooden frame around it. It looked huge to me. You know how everything looks bigger, as a kid, than it does as an adult?  I began to get more eager to start planting, but the ground still wasn't ready. My Dad had lots of work to do before we could plant anything. The hard labor was always my Dad's job. He spent hours out there. He had to break up the old, hard ground, dig out all the bad dirt and then replace it with a special soil that was soft and filled with nutrients.  If he didn't do this first, the hard ground would not allow anything to take root and grow. Then he began dividing up sections and forming rows, tilling the soil deep, so that it was fully mixed in. Each row would be labeled for identification of the different kinds of produce. There were areas that required shade from the heat and other areas that sat in full sun. I couldn't believe all the planning and preparation involved.

Finally, after all the hard work was out of the way, we could begin the planting of seeds. My Mom had a seed for everything. Carrots, squash, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, peas, strawberries, melons, etc.  In each row, we planted a seed and spaced out just enough distance between each one until the row was filled and then stuck the label in the ground, so we'd know what we planted. When we were all done, we watered it. I thought to myself, "it's done…now we wait". I was wrong. Each day we had to give it attention. There was always work to be done. We had to give it a steady and consistent amount of water everyday so it wouldn't dry out. We had to pull any weeds that would pop up, so they wouldn't deplete the nutrients from the soil or take over the garden. We had to keep an eye out for insects or snails that would come and devour any growth. And then wait as the Sun would shine, proving the warmth it needed. It was a daily task that seemed to take forever before any real progress began. There were days I got tired of waiting, but I always knew the crop would eventually come. And it did! It was amazing. I could go pick carrots and strawberries and eat them straight from the ground. Anytime I was hungry, there was something ripe and ready to eat There was nothing better tasting than the food from that garden. Everything had more flavor and was sweeter than store-bought stuff. Anyone that's ever had a garden knows that difference. It was rewarding year after year to watch the fruit of our labor grow. We lived there 5 years and then moved back to California. I have never had another garden since, mostly because I'm just too busy or the space never allowed for it. I miss it though and the memories and lessons learned from that garden are irreplacable. 

As I get older and begin to look back at the years I've lived and all the years, hopefully, still left in me, I'm reminded of this garden and what it has taught me. Our lives are our own personal yard. The garden we grow becomes the food we eat and feed our children with. What we grow is determined by the seeds we plant and how much attention we give it. We can plant aimlessly  and sporadically, without any perimeters, planning or commitments and just see how it all turns out. But more than likely, it'll end up a big mess and no crop worthy enough to eat.

Or, we can look to our Father in Heaven who lays out the foundation of our garden and ask Him to dig out the hardness of our heart, the guilt of our past and the doubts of our future and replace it with His Holy Spirit, giving us a new soft heart, removing the dirt from our past by His grace and forgiveness and giving  us shade, warmth and hope for a promising and fruitful future…an eternal garden of Eden. That's the hardest part, that only God can do. We cannot begin to sow any seeds or grow anything good until he does all those things. And after that, we can't just sit back and do nothing. We still have work to do, too. We have to section off areas of our lives, put God first and decide what to plant. Then label each row by setting aside time each day to read the Bible, pray,  fellowship and accountability with a church body and good teaching. We have to give our garden the daily attention that it needs, water it with the Word of God and let it take root in our mind and heart so we don't dry out. We must always be aware of, and pull out, the little weeds of old habits that sneak in and deplete us or try to take over. We need to protect it from the distractions, business and excuses that come in to devour our faith and commitments, so we become fruitless. Lastly, we must be patient, trusting that His Son is watching over us, providing the warmth and shade we need and the promise of a sweet & fruitful crop in the end. 

I've had many gardens in my life. Some, I would never want to eat from again and others that grew for a while, but I got lazy and failed to work hard at it, causing it to wither and die. I desire a life that is fruitful and always growing. I want to feed my children with the knowledge and truth that will nourish their souls so they'll never be hungry. And it would be sweeter than any other garden, keeping them from eating the weeds of this fruitless generation that lacks God. I don't ever want to be too busy or lack space in my life to grow a garden with God. Without God, It's just a life full of weeds.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I'm a hairstylist and I'm often on my feet for a very long time. And at the end of my day, I can't wait to get home. I'll visualize my bed as I drive home and refuse stop anywhere pushing past all obstacles. My focus is HOME.  I love what I do, though. It's fun, challenging and rewarding, but naturally I get tired at the end of the day, as anybody would. Sometimes, my days even feel like little races, where I start out strong and then slowly lose energy as I near the finish line.  

I remember being on my High School track team and running the 100 meter hurdles. My classmates might remember how ridiculous I was.  Track was not my sport at all, but being 5'2" and running the 100 meter hurdles was just plain silly. I knew I would never place, but I still wanted to challenge myself to something bigger than my preconceived limits. So after school, I would often set up 20 hurdles every 10 meters, totaling 200 meters instead of the traditional 10. Why? Because I thought if I conditioned myself for 20, then 10 might seem easier.  I was so worn out by the 20th hurdle, but determination was my ruler.  Although, this trick never made me faster, nor did it win me any races, I always crossed the finish line. I wasn't running to win, but to finish.

We're all in a race together; the race we call life. We run each and every day with our finish line marked somewhere ahead in an unknown distance. It could be a short dash for some and a marathon for others. We simply don't know how long the race will be for each of us. We just run the best we can. I suppose it's safe to say that we all get tired from time to time, especially when obstacles are put in our lane. We often view them as road blocks. It could be tempting to quit. But again, we must remember that these obstacles are merely part of the race. They are not meant to stop us, they are set in place for us to get past, leap over and poise ourselves confidently for the next one until the finish line is crossed. It is then, that we find rest. 

Was I still tired after 10 hurdles? YEP!  We all get tired, no matter how hard we try to outsmart ourselves. Fatigue is the outcome of doing something hard; it isn't a bad thing. It is merely a symptom that reveals to us that we need to find rest. And whether it's work or play, weariness all of us. Thankfully, 'rest' is always waiting... mile after mile, hurdle after hurdle, there's a finish line at the end of each day and a God who is always there to give us rest and lift us up.

Regardless of who we are, where we live or what we do, we're all headed towards a final resting place. Where are you headed?  Rest can be found in many places, but none greater than from the one who gives rest to the weary. Home may be our focus, but our final finish line is at the end of our life when home is no longer a house, but an eternity. And whether or not we find rest for our soul, is determined by the race in which we run, our focus, and whether or not we cross the finish line. 

*Matthew 11:29 "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.
*11 Timothy 4:7 "I have fought the good fight and finished the race. I have kept the faith".
*Isaiah 40:31 "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint."

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Final Hour Faith

Have you ever been faced with a problem and not know it's outcome or resolve until the very last hour?  The stress and anxiety associated with those events can be torment. But they are critical moments in our lives that define who we are and what we believe by how we respond in that last hour. 

2011 brought a myriad of stressful events that could've easily broken me. All the way up to the final hour of 2011.  There was one particular issue that seemed to back me into, what I called, the "Red Sea". My moment of truth. I felt like Moses with no where to go and the enemy (problem) was closing in fast.  I wondered how Moses must have felt. Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Doubtful? Fearful? Maybe, but what did he do in his final hour? And what did it say about the man he was and what he believed?

I pictured all of the Israelites standing there yelling at Moses for leading them to their death. (Exodus 14:12, They cried, "It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”) This is such a perfect description of the human nature in the midst of crisis. To be fearful and angry. But as I read the story again, I understood the difference between Moses and the Israelites. They were looking back at their enemy and Moses wasn't. He wasn't distracted by the problem because he wasn't looking at it. He was looking at God. (Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”) Wow. That's Faith.

So here I was, still facing my red sea and I knew I had to stop looking at the problem and keep my eyes on God. To wait on Him. His answers are not always what I think or want but I know they are always better and always on time…His time. Sometimes I think God lets us fall on our back to get us to look up. He lets us get to our "red seas", so we can witness His mighty hand do what we could never do and know that He is God. But how many times does He have to do it before we trust Him? I know I don't have the faith that Moses had, but God said it only takes a "mustard-seed" size faith to move mountains. Faith in God, not ourselves. (John 15:5 "apart from me, you can do nothing). 

So, I began to let go of my fear and thank Him for the resolve that was not yet evident and trust Him with whatever happened. I took my eyes off the problem and focused on God. I'm still working on this and I'm amazed at all that God does for me. All of yesterday's worries are now memories. Today is a new day and tomorrow is a gift. I will face more obstacles, but do I really need Him to keep parting seas in order for me to trust Him with my life? I don't want to just have a final hour faith... I want to have faith all the way through it. It's a work in progress.