Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Happiness



Since I’ve been in Borger the past few weeks, I’ve heard the same thing over and over from people there:  “You and Andy seem so happy in Groom!”  We are!!  Oh my goodness—are we ever!  There are several reasons and it’s taken me awhile to think about it and give voice to it. 

•I chose to be happy. I remember on our way into Groom, I told God, “God, I CHOOSE to love these people and this place!”  I honestly thought it was going to be a hard adjustment—but the people of FBC and Groom made it easy. They are amazing people. After our first year here, I told Andy, “What if we’d missed out on knowing these people??”

•I’ve continued growing and changing since I moved to Groom. In fact, I’d say some of the most significant changing has taken place as I’ve come to understand who I am. But that couldn’t have happened without God plowing up the ground of my heart in Borger. Borger was the place where we grew up!  

•FBC Groom has taught us community. In a small church, it takes everyone to make something happen. And in a small community, you know everything that’s going on with everyone. After serving in a church of every size, I choose small. Relationships are so important and it’s so much easier to build strong relationships in small communities. (Which is also why large churches work to create small communities!)

•God is here. Of course...he’s everywhere!  And he wants to do something through all of us to impact the kingdom of God. We’ve never felt the significance of that like we do here. So much of our ministry we’ve only been able to see the results in hindsight. But we feel the urgency and excitement here.  Unity unleashes a limitless God!

Am I happy?  Absolutely!! I’m sure part of that is because I’ve matured. So much of my life I’ve struggled over “the next thing.”  I’ve finally learned to be content. And maybe the most beautiful thing is the connectedness we have with four different churches—Amarillo, Broken Arrow, Borger & Groom. It just feels like I’m in the perfect place physically and spiritually to see God do abundantly above all I could ask or think!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Dried-Up Palm Branch




A lady at Caprock has had this palm branch hanging on her door since Palm Sunday. As I’ve walked by it each day and watched it dry up, so many thoughts have run through my mind. All of those palm branches from the triumphal entry of Jesus were lying forgotten on the road as the week progressed. People’s emotions turned from exultant joy to being terrified, angry, or even murderous. 

But Jesus?  I think those palm branches were a memory he clung to. Have you ever had something sweet happen and immediately entered into a trial?  That happened to me in January 2018. My sister and I went to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit the Pioneer Woman’s store and tour her lodge. On our way home, we stayed in Oklahoma City and shopped at the outlet mall. We had a BLAST!!  We talked our heads off and just relaxed. Upon coming home, Andy’s family & I began the journey of my mother-in-law’s cancer. It’s been over two months of treatments, hospital stays, and rehab—with no end in sight. My mind keeps taking me back to that trip with my sister. What a gift!!  

I kind of think Jesus hung on to those waving palm branches as he faced the cross. Those palm branches weren’t a flippant thing—even though the people misunderstood. He knew he would become King after he paid for the sins of the world. Not just a king...the King of Kings.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Who Are They?




I’ve been caring for my mother-in-law who is in rehab. She’s there trying to regain her strength so she can resume chemo treatments. This particular rehab is a combination nursing home and rehab. Yesterday, God instructed me to SEE as I went to spend the day with my mother-in-law. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I asked God to open my eyes to see what he sees. 

As I walked the halls and stopped to talk with several people, God began to open my eyes. If I could have seen these same people 50 years ago who are now shuffling, walking with walkers, wheeling themselves in wheelchairs, or sitting and looking at me blankly, I would have seen someone completely different. I would have seen young mothers hanging their clothes on the clothesline and cooking meals from scratch. I would have seen strong-backed men working on power lines, building houses, or working hard at a carbon black plant. I would have seen teachers, nurses, secretaries. I would have seen pastors, musicians—family men who loved to make their families happy, men who opened doors for women. I would have seen serious, lighthearted, emotional, fun-loving people—friends and neighbors. I would have seen leaders of thriving churches and growing communities. I would have seen heroes who survived a war and their wives who survived the separation. These people are a part of what is called the greatest generation; people with wills of iron. And they all have stories. 

One lady, who was a wonderful teacher, dresses smartly and walks the halls every day. She has no idea she is a resident—she believes she’s there to visit these people. I love her!

One man endured a life of highs and lows as a builder in a day when money was hard to come by. He lost his wife a few years ago but has sweet family who come to encourage him and meet his needs as he goes through rehab. He hopes to go home next week. 

One woman advises us all that she has Alzheimer’s. Her husband comes at 5 in the morning and stays until 10 at night just to be with her. He eats all of his meals there. Andy says it reminds him of the movie, The Notebook. 

And there are residents who only have the quiet visitors of memories in their minds. Their bodies are now tired and worn out and their minds frail. They are alone after a lifetime of giving, I imagine. Most long for home; some don’t even remember. 

If God asks you to SEE....look closely.


Monday, January 1, 2018

2018



What will 2018 hold?  
There’s only One who knows. And He’s already gone before us into our future. That’s my confidence. 

But it doesn’t mean I won’t ask. I’m asking for change—a change in my heart, a change in my capacity to give, a change in my understanding, a change of perspective, a change in habits, change....

I want to see God do amazing things. Things that blow my mind. Miracles...often.  

I want deeper relationships and broader influence. I want to know God in ways I’ve never known Him. I want to be his friend...His very good friend!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mary



(The story of Mary as told by Matthew & Luke—and filled in-between the lines with my vivid imagination. But what’s not imaginary is that we, like Mary, can all be pregnant with the promises of God. “For with God...nothing is impossible! A privilege of a lifetime can belong to each of us.)

My name is Mary. I was born to middle-class parents in Nazareth. My father used his hands to build furniture—really, anything with wood—for a living. I have an older brother named David. I grew up understanding that David was the favored firstborn—and a firstborn son, at that. He stood in line to inherit everything from my father. I stood in line to clean, wash clothing, and cook—everything expected of a girl in our culture. But YHWH had blessed me with a good big brother. David was my co-conspirator and confidante. We’d always had a great relationship and he let me tag along with him most of the time. In fact, it was through David that I’d first met Joseph. They were best friends. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to hang out with the two of them—that wasn’t permitted in our culture. But I’d seen him and knew he was handsome and heard David talk about him enough to know he was a man of good moral character. In fact, I’d hinted to David of my admiration of Joseph in hopes he’d tell our father who had recently told our family it was soon time for me to be betrothed. And it worked!  Joseph & I had recently celebrated our engagement with friends and family. Joseph was now working to build our future home and David had offered to help him in the evenings. 

But then, the “thing” happened. I was working in my room one morning when an ANGEL appeared to me!  I know—it sounds crazy!  But it really happened. Gabriel’s first words to me were, “Hello, Mary!  You are highly favored by God above all other women. Don’t be afraid!”  Of course, I was afraid! No one I knew had ever seen an angel before. I was also very confused. Why me?  The angel seemed intent to answer all of my questions. He said, “You will have a baby boy and name him Jesus. He will be the son of the Most High and he will rule his people.”  Thoughts were flooding my mind. Every Jewish girl hoped to be the virgin promised to have the Messiah. But how could this be?  I could only ask, “How can this possibly happen?  I’ve never been intimate with a man.”  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you and you will conceive this son. He will be God’s son!”  It was like moments of time—past, present, and future—were flashing through my mind. I was seeing everything which had brought me to this point and every possible outcome to this extravagant offer (because I knew it wasn’t a demand, but a request). I considered them all but in the end, I said, “I’m willing!” And my heart felt the pleasure of God. 

I went into the barn to find David. I felt like I was still in a dream but it had all been very real!  “David!  You’re not going to believe this!  An angel named Gabriel just appeared to me and told me I was the chosen one—I’m going to have God’s son, the Messiah!”  David dropped the tool he was using and grabbed my shoulders. “What are you saying, Mary?”  There was an intensity in him I’d never seen before. I explained it again, “An angel, David!  He told me God has chosen me as the virgin to have his son!”  David walked in short circles in deep thought. “What’s this going to do to Joseph?  Have you thought of that?”  Joseph!!  Of course I’d thought of him in those flashes before I gave my answer to Gabriel. But...would he believe me?  David shook my shoulders in his strong hands again and said, “You must go tell Joseph. I’ll go with you.  But first...you have to tell father and mother.”  After we’d told our parents of this wondrous event (At this point, fear had moved in—but I kept reminding myself it WAS a wondrous event!), they agreed we must tell Joseph immediately. 

My heart was about to come out of my chest as I told Joseph word-for-word everything the angel had said. I could see his eyes dim. And I could tell—he didn’t believe me!!  I was crushed. 

David didn’t say much on our way home. I could sense he was doubting the whole thing. But then, I began remembering other things the angel had said. I told David, “The angel told me that Elizabeth is going to have a baby, too!”  Elizabeth was our mother’s cousin who was as old as our mom and she’d never had a baby until now. “That’s it!” David exclaimed!  “We’ll send you to Elizabeth’s until we see what Joseph is going to do.”  We both knew we were facing a very scary situation. Joseph could have me killed for being pregnant before we married. The whole community would believe I’d been unfaithful to him if he chose to disclose it. He could also “divorce” me from our betrothal—another possible public humiliation. That meant I’d probably be doomed to never  marry. Our consolation was that Joseph was a kind man. But we never knew what could happen with pressure from his family. As soon as we got home, David told our parents of Joseph’s unbelief and suggested he take me to Elizabeth’s. They agreed. We quickly packed and David and I began the short journey to my cousin’s house. 

When we arrived at Zachariah & Elizabeth’s house,  Elizabeth saw me and screamed excitedly!  She had a glow on her face as she exclaimed, “You are blessed above all women, Mary, and the baby you’re carrying is also blessed!”  She laughed and told me her baby had leaped in her womb when she saw me. I grabbed her and hugged her tightly!  Someone KNEW!  Someone believed!  Even though my parents and brother wanted to believe me, I still sensed doubt in them. But when I looked at David in this moment, I knew he now believed. I wanted to cry, to shout, to sing and dance!  My heart was full and overflowing. How could Elizabeth possibly have known unless YHWH had told her?  

Peace pushed fear out of my heart. And I was reminded of Gabriel’s words to me, “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.”  I soon found out God was proud of his son’s birth—he wasn’t ashamed and didn’t want me to be shamed. An angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take me as his wife—that what I’d told him was true. And God didn’t just speak quietly to Elizabeth’s heart or have an angel speak privately to Joseph. His announcement of our son’s birth was shouted in the skies by an army of angels. God made a public announcement that his son had been born—to the poor and rich, alike!  Confirmation after confirmation reassured me of God’s love for me and his son. 

I knew I’d never be a perfect mother to this perfect baby boy...but I knew God wouldn’t fail. He would fulfill every promise—just like he’d already done. I had the privilege of a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Discarded Gifts




Have you ever given someone a Christmas gift—and you knew immediately it was a fail?  You could tell by the look on their face or the way they lamely thanked you—or the fact that they shoved the gift under all the wrappings on the floor. It’s disheartening. I’ve had a person like that on my list. I can spend hours thinking about the gift, search through every store and online, spend more money on them than anyone else...and still feel like I’ve failed. 

I was thinking about this recently (because I was shopping for them again), and it occurred to me that I may have done that with God. So I asked. “God, have you ever given me a gift which I apparently didn’t like and just tossed aside?”  I immediately heard, “Yes!”  (He didn’t have to answer so quickly!)  So I asked which gift I’d rejected. To which he replied, “The gift of writing.”  I tried arguing, “But I write all the time—blogs and...stuff.”  And he was silent. Because he knew that I knew what he meant. He meant fiction. I’ve toyed with the wrappings of that gift but had never picked it up and used it. So I told him right there that I wanted to embrace each gift he’s given me—and he might have to remind me of the other gifts I’ve rejected. 

It hurts when a gift is rejected. Remember that this Christmas.  And if you have the courage, ask God which of his gifts you’ve rejected.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Part IV




Kids with wings, shepherd’s robes, and animal faces were running all over the fellowship hall after the Christmas play. “Sugar high,” Caleb surmised. I was thanking Jessa for her help. “What a sweet way to start the candle lighting service.  I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”  “We were lucky that Evelyn didn’t toss all those costumes from ten years ago. I hope you stay in shape—you know everyone is going to expect this every year now,” she said laughing. I think Jessa had a point but it was so much fun, I didn’t even mind. “Merry Christmas, God,” I whispered in my heart. 

Christmas Eve. Time had slipped by so quickly and I only had one more gift for Caleb—and I’d just finished my twelfth gift for God. My 12 Days of Christmas giving had done something amazing—amazing and totally unexpected. My heart had become more passionate about my husband. I’d focused on his gifts and desires for over a month and it had been so much fun!  I’d also learned a lot about him. He told me, “Merry, you’ve made this the best Christmas ever!”  I think it changed Caleb, too. It’s like he couldn’t help himself by doing little things for me along the way—like bringing my favorite chocolate donuts from the Donut Stop when he went to the city. But out of the socks, handkerchiefs, a gift card to A Lotta Latte, a new study Bible, tickets to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, a soldering iron, and, among other things, a trip for two to Oregon to see his sister (thanks to the pay raise and bonus from A Lotta Latte!), I think his favorite gift was the print with his names and the letter with the  prayer. I still caught him reading it often.

As for God?  I loved the way we’d laughed and talked for the past month. I know “everything is from him, through him, and to him,” and that’s kind of what I’d experienced in giving to him. I could never keep a secret from him. And I think several, and well...maybe all, of my ideas came from him. But the thing is...I know he delighted in ALL of them!  But what amazed me is that so many of the gifts I gave him involved the people in our church—things like taking several containers of soup for Miss Shirley who’d been sick and lived alone, a night of babysitting for Mark and Sandra, taking Opal to the doctor, and vacuuming the church for our janitor who had knee surgery. All of these things had developed a relationship between me and our church. I’d found my place.  

Christmas Eve night, Caleb and I sat in front of our Christmas tree relaxing and enjoying the lights. I was admiring the James Avery birthstone ring Caleb had given me for my birthday when he asked me, “Do you want to open your Christmas gift now?  I could almost sense him vibrating with excitement. “If you’ll open yours first,” I said. I handed him a shirt box and he shook it and said, “A red shirt!”  I rolled my eyes and inwardly cringed because he was half right. He tore into it and pulled out the red shirt and faded red cap. They both had a masculine logo design I’d created which said “Steadman Farms.”  He sat there holding the shirt out looking kind of stunned. I quickly interjected, “Caleb, I hope you like the logo. I created it in faith—believing that some day God is going to enlarge your territory and give you your heart’s desire.”  He didn’t say a word...and I was worried. He just picked up a large flat manila envelope with a big red bow on it and handed it to me.  I nervously began pulling the flap open and pulled out some official looking documents. I honestly had no clue what I was holding. Caleb took the papers and layed them down and took my hands in his. “Merry, the most incredible thing has happened and I hope you don’t mind that I did all of this without your knowledge. But it all happened so quickly—and I wanted to surprise you, too!  You know Mr. Troyer who fell and broke his hip?”  I nodded ‘yes’ but nothing was making sense. “His family put him in assisted living this week. And I heard they were going to put his farm—including the farmhouse, barn, everything—up for sale.  I went to them and asked if they’d consider a lease purchase of it all—including all of the farm machinery. And they said YES!  Not only was the machinery included, but Mr. Troyer had already purchased the seed to plant next spring.  The price they quoted was way undervalue—they were just happy to sell to someone they trusted who would take care of it. Plus they didn’t want to have to make more trips down here to try to sell it. Of course nothing is official until you sign the papers, too.”  Big ol’ tears were sliding down my face. How could something this wonderful be real?  And then Caleb told me, “Of course, I’ll still pastor, but I’ve  already told Jake Leathers that I’ll only continue working for him until April and then I’ll go to work on my own farm—and hopefully make money from crops next fall. Jake told me I’d done such a good job for him that he wanted to give me a bonus. We now have our first calf!”  I was sobbing by this point. This was infinitely above all I could ask or imagine!  How could I contain it all?  God had heard and answered our prayer—in an incredible way. He had definitely enlarged our territory and fulfilled Caleb’s name and dreams. 

That’s when I heard God whisper in my heart, “Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas, Merry Noelle!”  My name had never fit better. 

The End