Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gifts


Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds

On the night Christ was born ---- Mary and Joseph were present, there were shepherds and angels (the former having been invited by the latter), and there were likely a few animals sharing the manger with them. On the night of His birth ---- there were glad tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10). But on that night, there were neither presents nor wise magi from afar. 

On that first starry night, when the Christ child looked up at the stars He had created, no wise men had arrived yet...

It was one to two years after Christ's birth, when the Magi (wise men) arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12).

The manger scene we depict is actually not accurate. We have combined Luke 2 and Matthew 2 into one neat scene ----but it is important to remember accurately, the facts that surround that special night when God's Gift breathed air.

Christ was born in a manger, not in a house or inn. It is believed he was born in warmer months, not in the winter months. Shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks at night (in colder months, shepherds usually brought the flocks in to the manger at night). Angels visited the shepherds, inviting them to welcome the One who had come for all men. So they came to the manger on the very night of Christ's birth.
It was months later before the wise men arrived. They journeyed "from afar" on camels, it was a slow trip. When they arrived they found Mary and Jesus in a house... not a manger (Matthew 2:11).

Rembrandt's Adoration of the Magi

These wise men, two thousand years ago, were among an elite group of scholars who trained, guided, and "made" Kings. Kings who had been born into kingship by the blood in their veins. The wise men knew this baby was the prophesied King, He had been foretold, they had been watching for Him --- from above the world not from within it. When they arrived in Jerusalem they asked,“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) They saw HIS star, they came to worship HIM, they knew the King of the Jews had been born. Herod was horrified at their revelations. Many Bethlehem babies died because they came, they asked, and Herod believed. (Matthew 2:16)
Imagine if the wise men had not inquired of Herod. If we could stick to Luke's telling of the story, where no wise magi are even mentioned and Herod's frantic efforts to destroy the infant king could be erased. Only in the book of Matthew is there a remembrance of the gifts and the horrors that happened months after Christ was born.

The birth of Christ as told by Luke, is the humble, peaceful remembrance where "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19).
However, Matthew, the ex-tax collector, looks at the remembering in a more complicated way. For Matthew, the visiting of wise men, wealth, and gifts is worth noting --- but with their part of the story comes the horrors of Herod's fearful response to the birth of the prophesied King of the Jews. Could we trade in the gifts from the magi for the havoc their visit caused in Bethlehem? It wasn't their fault. They didn't trust Herod either. But if they had never come, would Herod have remained oblivious to the birth of the King? Their visit ultimately cost the parents of Bethlehem their baby boys' lives, therefore, we should glean all we can from their part of the story.  They came, they searched for the prophesied One, and they brought gifts. The gifts must have mattered, a huge price was paid at the time of their arrival.

Why these three gifts for the Christ child?

Gold is very valuable and it was in those days as well; it is superior to other metals in many ways. It's a precious metal that is resistant to corrosion and is the most malleable metal in the world. So --- this shiny, valuable gift, would not "rot", would speak of "royalty", and would whisper of the Saviors ability to transform from God-child to son of man back to Son of God. To find gold, you have to dig, mine, blast, search. The most valuable gold has been refined --- it's endured the refining fire --- the furnace.

Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but tough Boswellia tree by slashing the bark, called striping, and allowing the draining resins to bleed out and harden. The hardened resins are called tears. Frankincense trees are also considered unusual because of their ability to grow in very unforgiving environments, sometimes growing directly out of solid rock. Once processed, one popular use of Frankincense was burning, whereby its smoke and aroma rising upwards represented prayers being lifted to Heaven.

Myrrh had (and still has) several medicinal uses but in early Egypt it was most often used for embalming or anointing of the dead. Myrrh was associated with mortality, suffering, and sorrow. Typically less than one pound of myrrh would have been used during Israelite funeral preparations. However, when Christ was entombed Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing around 75 pounds. (John 19:39) It is worth noting that over the years, the value of Myrrh has fluctuated greatly, but there have been times when myrrh was more valuable than gold. Myrrh is harvested from a tree grown in Yemen, Somolia, and Ethiopia, by wounding the tree and gathering the resin that bleeds out.

It takes my breath away to realize ----- the three gifts given to the Baby Christ were all items found in nature and acquired through such means as :wounding the tree, bleeding the resin, slashing the bark, stripping the tree, and purifying through fire. 
Those are painful words ----- wound, bleed, slash, strip, and purify.
All were later lived out by Christ.
The Passion of our Christ.

Our Savior did not receive royal robes (soft and elegant) or a kingly crown (polished and commanding of respect). He received gifts of great value yes, but still they were gifts that echoed of suffering and death.
His first gifts ----- foreshadowed His final gift.
The gift that gives us life.

Makes me want to shield my eyes from the gifts we pass around this time of year ---- and focus --- with deep sincerity.

All gifts come with some sort of price.
The more valuable the gift ---- the greater the price.
The first gifts our Christ received came at a high price ---- we could ask the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem about that. Those same gifts foreshadowed the ultimate gift our Savior was preparing for us.
May we measure carefully our response...

Luke 2: 8-20 (NIV)
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 910 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 1718 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

Matthew 2: 1-16 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's the Why and How

A precious lady lays in a hospital bed, no longer stable in her thoughts as a stroke and confusion of age has overwhelmed her ability to think clearly. But to me --- she was and is a ray of Sonlight. We met one time (only once). But after that one meeting, she poured love into me through letters and cards up until this illness. She explained to me that God had pierced her heart to pray for me --- intensely. Once, she gently reprimanded me when i wrote her a thank you note for her outpouring of love through words to me. She said, "you have a specific high calling, you should not spend time writing 'thank yous' to me --- you need to be strengthened to attend to the calling God has placed on your life -- keep your focus donna" (It still makes my knees feel weak even as i type her words). She was strong and loving with her words. She said more, she was very clear. She said she was doing exactly what God had instructed her to do, pray. Her blessing of prayer over me was an obedience to her Father. I fell silent at the beauty of her selfless gift...

These love letters came even before the call to Kenya had arrived. She "somehow" knew, i was in for a ride and i needed prayer cover to prepare me for what was ahead. Once she almost frightened me with the seriousness of her "knowing" that much would be asked of me and i needed to prepare. She seemed to know my life was not going to look "normal". She never prophesied over me, but instead she just walked solidly in her attitude that my life was not going to unfold as i had perhaps thought it would, and i needed prayer cover. She said she knew all this because of God's whisper to her when i spoke of Him.

 As we continue to prepare for the move to Kenya, i treasure the people and the words that have breathed life into my trembling "tent". And i'm often, often, reminded of the scriptures below. 

We are not home yet ---

this is not our home --- 

we are not designed to be here long --- 

what we do while we are here matters --

but not in the ways we may think.

My dear ailing prayer warrior friend might live for many more years. If so, the world would be blessed. She might outlive me. But regardless of who gets there first ----- she and i both ---- will JOYFULLY "take down our tents and fold them away" someday.

I'm just suppose to put up my tent in Kenya before i get to make that final move.


2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (The Message)

 1b-5... "when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmadeand we'll never have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less.  6-8That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.
 9-10a But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions."


Some people do nice things ---- hoping their good deed will "please God" and reflect well on them (both to God and to others). Wondering if and hoping that others might say --- "did you see what___ did? they are so wonderful..." But that would be the Martha syndrome taught in the Mary and Martha lesson. (And truthfully, haven't we all worn our Martha aprons before?)
(Luke 10:38-41)
But ------ 
Truly pleasing God looks very, very different...
And cheerfully pleasing God is suppose to be the main thing...

Mary pleased God by being attentive to Him and centering her all on Him. Then the overflow of her life was a blessing to others --- but it was not because of "what" she did for them ---- it was because of "why" she did it and "how" she did it. And ultimately --- the overflow of Mary's actions brought the focus right back to God (not herself). No one was saying, "She is so amazing." But instead, perhaps many were wanting more of the Lord because of the way He was reflected in her eyes.
The "why" and "how" ------ matter much more ----- than the "what".
"Why" we do something and "how" we do it ---- matter more than "what" we actually accomplish. 

"What" this precious lady did for me was beautiful ----- but "why" she did it and "how" she did it dripped of God's presence and His grace. She modeled for me what it looks like to "please God" in this world. I will forever be changed ---- not only because of the words of encouragement --- but even more deeply because of the overflow of her obedience that brought more of God's touch to my life. The cards were just the "carrier" of the more important gift. The days ahead can be better handled because of her obedience to pray and God's faithfulness to answer -- in Jesus' Name.

God Himself models this by His most treasured gift to us. The fact that God gave us His son is amazing beyond words. But  -- the "why" and the "how" make the gift overwhelmingly life-changing. God gave us Jesus --- "why"? because "He loved the world" and wanted to help us find our way to Him.  And God gave us Jesus ---- how? born in an humble manger to people of no stature or influence.
It's the beautiful story of our God's sacrifice and our Savior's arrival.
But ----
What if He had given us His son because He was angry with us for our sinful ways and He wanted His Son to pour out His wrath on us? That would have been a painful "why".
Or what if Jesus, had come to us as a royal, aloof king that lorded over us in anger, superiority, and power? That would have been a grueling "how".
Instead, "what" God did for us becomes even more astoundingly remarkable because of the "why" and the "how" He chose.

God modeled it ---- Mary showed it ---- my friend has lived it ----- i've had lots of opportunities to learn it now...

Here at the Christmas season ---- i'm focusing ---- it is not the "what" that matters most. What we give, what we get, what we say or what we do.

It will be the "why" and the "how".

And long after Christmas has passed ----- this truth will still remain...

1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.      2 Corinthians 5: 1-10 NIV

Photos taken by Maggie in Savannah, GA 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Regardless of what else you put on -- Wear Love

These are the words that have captivated me this week ---- 
as we "remember" the birth of the One ---- 
there are no words to add.

He Is Your Life
 1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.  3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectatorsis with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
 5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
 9-11Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
 12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
 15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Colossians 3:1-17 The Message (MSG)

(photo by Maggie) 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Steadily, Unswervingly, Extravagantly

"We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us!" 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Message)

Recovering from surgery gives one lots of time to do sedentary activities (not so fun). So i've watched lots of Netflix movies. They all have a beginning, middle, and end --- and all through the beginning and middle ---- it's the end that is the underlying focus.
Will she marry him? Will they survive? Can they save the world? Will they get back together? How will they ever make it? Will the bad guys win?
Life is so much like that. Well -- maybe we are not actually pondering the actual "end" (death) --- but most people are living today wondering "how is this going to turn out after all ...?"
The TV screen or books or sporting events ---- most everything that entertains us --- will let us experience the beginning, middle, and end in a relatively short span of time. We like for things to come quickly, to happen fast, we don't want to wait, to savor, to trust, to linger...

Our culture and our intelligence has done it to us ---- we are the product of the world around us. Eager for efficiency, we want it in every area of our lives: our food, our entertainment, our plans, etc.

"I'll take that pizza to go and will pick it up in 20 minutes." No shopping for the ingredients (the beginning), no laughing together in the kitchen while preparing it (the middle), we want to jump straight to "the end" when the hot slice of cheesy wonder is in our hands.

"I'll watch the movie in the comfort of my best chair and know the conclusion in less than 2 hours." Sadly, many people are less willing to engage in "life" themselves and make new friends (the beginning), and spend time together and learn about what works in the friendship and what doesn't work (the middle).  Many people, both young and old alike, would rather just watch the movie or sitcom on tv and get the false sense of experiencing life. Opting to "watch" others live a fake life that can produce the end results within an hour or two rather than go through the long days, months, years, lifetime ---- of living out the full beginning, middle and end. Reality shows are proof --- many people would rather watch others "live" than do it themselves. (Even if it is fake and drama infused.) With the predominant predictions of Counseling to be one of the top 5 careers with no decline expected --- ever ---- it has to make us wonder if fast, false, rush to the grand finale living is best.

"I'd like to go ahead and purchase that more expensive item, even though my income doesn't exactly line up with it, but i can manage it through payments and i'm willing to take the hit on interest." (Because i don't want to live within my means and begin with a less expensive one (the beginning), then build up to a nicer one (the middle), and finally, after all my finances are truthfully in order, get the expensive one i've always dreamed of (the grand finale) --- i'll skip all that to get to the "end" right now... because the world financial system has ways that can make it happen for me now. Why should i wait?)

The world around us has dangerously conditioned us to having the means to forgo or shorten the beginnings and the middles and rush right into the grand finale moments ----- that should take lots of lingering, pondering, wonderful minutes, days, months, and years to embrace.

Kids have learned it from their parents ----- and they wonder ---- "why wait", when i can have it now...? (Oh God... so much is taught to our children --- without words.)

Each of us faces this ---- and we each must choose.
Am i willing to LIVE in the now and work towards the days ahead without focusing on and craving to "know" how it will work out? Am i willing to not see clearly now and wait for the fog to clear, trusting that the weather will clear and the sun will shine bright and i'll be able to see it all as clearly as God sees it --- when the time comes?

Our tv and world might try to spoon feed us ---- turbo reality. But our Lord has something very different in mind.
He wants us to become friends with waiting, trusting, lingering, anticipating. Those are friends HE can do much with in our lives.
And while we wait ----- for the pizza to bake in the oven, while we wait for real life relationships to bloom and grow, while we wait for the nicer things and enjoy the good things we have now (being content with what we have) --- while we wait, we are given very specific instructions ----- from God ----in the next verse...

"But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation; Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (The Message)

Even in this verse ---- GOD saves the "best" till last.

I confess ---- only when i "reach for HIS robe" am i able to step away from the madness and pressures of this world ---- and make another run at doing this whole "life" thing God's way. 

And may we not miss these words --- "knowing Him directly just as He knows us!" in verse 12. If we grow weary in the beginning and middle parts --- we will miss out on the sweetness that comes in those times of knowing HIM. And that ---- would be the greatest loss of all.

One thing is for sure though --- i don't want the quick way --- i'd like to taste the fullness of life under the pen of the Author. And to trust HIM steadily, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly in the meantime ----- yeah --- i'll sign up for that.

"We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love." (The Message)
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (KJV)
"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (NIV)

Photos taken by Maggie in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, and on Cumberland Island, GA. 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Friday, November 18, 2011

Breathing in Grace - Breathing out Gratitude

We watched a movie telling the story of "Ruth". A whole book in the Bible is given to us about her ---- her story must matter. She is a beautiful example of humbleness, gentleness, faithfulness, and thankfulness. Ruth has taught me more than most walking, breathing women. She still speaks, long dead now, but the value of her is kept alive by the One who noticed her gratitude and included her in the lineage of Christ. 
Ruth would hardly find a place to fit in today. She gave, served, held others in higher regard than herself, worked hard, expected nothing for herself, was willing to suffer, did not assume she deserved more, cared more for others than for herself, assumed the position of lowest esteem, did not fret about her future, noticed the needs of others while seeming to not notice her own. She was/is a beautiful picture of grace.
People like Ruth sit at my imaginary table many mornings as i seek.
Seek truth.
Seek what is right.
Seek my Father's ways.
Seek after His purposes for the day.
There's no simple-mindedness here -- i've not lost my marbles --- but i often think of the ladies of "greatness", i study what we know about them, how they pursued God's ways, what were the results of their work, who noticed, who didn't, what legacy was left after them, who was effected, what did they focus on, what did they choose to overlook, who was blessed, who was seen, what mattered most in the end, to who, ----- and does any of this match up with the world today??? How can the stories of the greats be seen in the world around me today? Because if there is greatness around us proportionate to the greatness lived out by the saints, it would most likely be very obscure. Unnoticed by the masses. Quiet. Magnificently mundane or ordinary. But life altering in God's hands.

There is so much that can be learned by studying the lives of those who accomplished much with little ---- because God touched their obedience and brought much from it.

Ruth was obedient to care for her bitter mother in law -- was blessed with marriage to Boaz and the child Obed. She had no idea she would be noticed by the owner of the field when she gleaned after the harvesters. She had no idea she would ever marry again in this land where she was looked down on as a foreigner. She had no idea she would mother a child since her husband was dead and buried. She had no idea her child,Obed, would be the grandfather of King David and therefore in the lineage of Christ.

The beautiful souls around us, the Ruths, are usually so busy doing the next right thing --- they are overlooked and unnoticed in the rushed pace of this world. But, they are noticed by Yahweh, they have His full attention. It's interesting --- those that are noticed most by the world --- get rewarded most in this world. But those who go unnoticed by the "world" are seen by their Father --- and their rewards are yet to be revealed. Such a beautiful mystery.

In my minds eye --- i see Ruth as a very thankful woman. She was a lady who lived for others and not herself. She was grateful for the grain she was allowed to glean. She did not expect to have the first from the fields, she did not expect to have a large amount. She only looked for what was needed, and after the others took the lions' share. She did not bend her back and pick up the leftovers for herself, she had the needs of her mother in law in mind as she worked.

She worked --- after others --- and for another.

Ruth was grateful for the portion she received. Never once does the writing of her story expose a self-centered lady who felt entitled to more. God was the One who saw to the ultimate reward for Ruth, she did not demand nor manipulate it.
She is a beautiful example, a lovely reflection of what God looks for in His daughters.

And so --- her example leads me to ponder...

How many times a day, on a typical day, do we say ---- "thank you" (and really mean it)?

How many times on a typical day, do we entertain the thoughts of ---- "I deserve ... a break, or the evening out, or a new outfit, or a new car or ________,  --------- because -------  I've worked hard, I've earned it, I deserve it"?

The first way of thinking/living trains us to be grateful and to live with the mindset that spotlights the kindnesses of others towards us. We see them and what they did, and we appreciate...

The second way of thinking/living is deceitful. It moves us into a position of entitlement --- which is a slippery, muddy, dangerous hillside. We begin thinking we are entitled to something because we have "earned" it.

Here's a silly, lighthearted example of entitlement vs. gratitude thinking:
A husband appreciates his wife and sees all the hard work she does. He offers to take her out to dinner rather than looking to her to cook dinner. The wife feels "entitled" to dinner out because --- after all -- she works hard and "deserves" a break. So she accepts the dinner out with a slight air of entitlement rather than thankfulness for a husband that appreciates her. His kindness is lost to her.
The wife that lives with gratitude on her lips --- will be thankful that her husband appreciates her and express her gratitude with a sincere "thank you" for dinner out. After all --- he didn't "have" to offer dinner out.
It seems so simple ---- but can so easily be twisted and overlooked.

When we feel we are "deserving" of something because of our previous actions  --- our Lord sees this -- and remembers the fullness of truth.

We all --- every last one of us ---- should hope to NEVER have to receive what we "deserve".
In truth --- if we want to be "rewarded" for all that is good about us --- we should expect to also receive what we deserve because of our sinfulness.
If we got what we deserved ---- we would not want to have to receive it.
"For all have sinned..."
And the "penalty of sin is death"...
But because our Savior hung on the cross in our stead ---- we somehow begin thinking we "deserve" something "more" and are entitled to it.
But the truth is -- that since our Savior hung on the cross and paid for our sins --- we are covered in His grace and blessed beyond what can measured. Our every breath should be laced with gratitude --- since our every breath is covered by His grace.

This Thanksgiving --- may we all --- lay down any deceit of entitlement and wrap ourselves fully in the cloak of His grace over us. May each step moving forward be placed on the path of Gratitude -- realizing that path leads towards helping, serving, caring for, loving, and giving up ourselves for others.
May the words ---- "i've worked hard ----- and so i deserve..." become triggers in our hearts and minds to pause, and remember ----
we do not want -- what we really deserve.
Instead, may we live with a perpetual attitude of constant gratitude.

What do we have ---- right now ---- to be thankful for...? Focus on that and be grateful.

Choose not to focus on what might be missing.
Choose not to focus on anything good we think we have done.

What do we have --- right now -- to be thankful for? Focus on that blessing  --- and be grateful.

It might not be the the strategy that will move us up the corporate or social ladders of this world. But in the arenas where God is at work --- it places us in the perfect positioning to SEE GOD.

Happy Thanksgiving week to you ---- may it last for more than a day or week or month or year ---

May Thanksgiving be a moment by moment way of life,----
and may your heart, mind, and soul be fully expanded as you practice

breathing in grace and breathing out gratitude.

"It is better to deserve honors and not have them
than to have them 
and not deserve them."
Mark Twain

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good."  Romans 12:9
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."  Colossians 2:6-8

Photos taken in Savannah, Georgia and Great Sand Dune National Park in Colorado.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thankful for the Shepherd

For weeks now God has been rolling this well known scripture around in my mind, it's rested on my heart, and has settled soul deep. Every morning (quite literally) this is what is rolling through my mind as i open my eyes and begin again.

It's a chapter that gives us all the "W"s of God. It helps define "who" He is; "what" He does; "where" He is; "why" He cares for us; and "when" He is with us --- always.

The verses have been so strong and prevailing, i've even had to pray against fear with it's whispers of --- "uh-oh - something hard must be ahead -- why else would God spoon feed you these scriptures..."   Well --- the truth is --- something hard is ahead --- for all of us. Not one of us gets off "easy". Life is not fair. God tells us over and over again in His Word - we live in a fallen world -- it's not what was behind HIS door #1. He had Eden for us --- but A and E chose door #2 --- and the trouble began. So --- anyone who acts like they are skating through on this icy pond with no bumps and bruises --- is faking it --- period.

So, when those whispers of "fear" try to get my attention --- i've learned to speak strongly against them and declare the truth. We live in a world filled with injustice, pain, sickness, and trouble. BUT we live in the hands of a loving, faithful, holy Abba -- who will carry us through to the other side. And then these words roll out...

 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. My Abba is taking care of me - He knows what is needed, He knows what is not. He knows what is best. What i think i want, may be the worst thing for me -- i'll trust only in what He knows i need and will be blessed with the overflow of His plans for me. "He must increase; i must decrease"(John 3:30) -- it's a sweet plan -- i'm stickin' with it.

Our Jackson resting after a great game of football at Tuamini.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures --- Not desert places or perilous cliffs, no, He chooses green pastures to MAKE me lie down in. He could choose to "make" me lie down on a bed of nails, or He could choose to not allow me to lay down anywhere, but instead to grow me in hard ways to make me tougher --- but no -- my Abba "knows the plans He has for me, and they are not to harm me, but to bring me a hope and a future". So He gives me a glimpse of His good intentions, by making me "lie down" and rest in a lush green pasture of HIS choosing -- He is good -- the world is not -- but my Abba --yes -- He is good.
He leadeth me beside the still waters. He knew we would become parched in this dried up world, He knew we would need refreshing waters. But, He also knows rushing waters can be dangerous, we might fall in and be swept away from His presence. So He gives us still waters and He leads us to them. The craziness of this world would try and force us into white rapids. But not our Savior.  To actually find ourselves beside the still waters, we have to center our focus on HIM and His Word. We can't try to dance to the drum of this world and expect to find ourselves beside His waters. I must lay down my plans and take His hand --- trusting He will lead me beside the still waters. NO MATTER what life looks like around me --- with HIM i can feel those still waters.

He restoreth my soul --- He restores my mind, my thinking, my thoughts, my feelings --- He will restore me back to health after the world has bashed my soul into bits. There are many "dead men walking among us", their souls have been ravaged. Our Abba knows, we will need our souls restored if we are going to endure this place. But it's so important to remember --- my soul is restored after i surrender my wants, lay down in His green pastures, and rest beside His still waters. We can't go from 90 mph to "He restores my soul" -- we must gear down, slow down, be still and know -- that HE IS GOD. Then He takes great delight in restoring our soul. He is a good, good God.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. I can't find paths of righteousness on my own; the pathway of righteousness is "the good part". I can try and decorate my path and polish it up, i can try and market my path and make it look appealing, but no path is righteous that is designed by people. It may look pretty, but it will decay quickly. Abba will lead us in the good way, in the paths of righteousness --- for HIS name's sake. So as we journey on this good path --- may it always be clear --- it's HIS WAY, His path, His design, His plan, His gift to us. May all the stepping stones on the path and all the flowers growing along the borders of the path point towards His goodness --- may no person try and take credit for them. May the name of Jesus be celebrated because of the overflow of the path we walk.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil No one is immune to this valley. Much is lost in the valley of the shadow of death, people, dreams, hopes, comforts, plans. The valley of the shadow of death could be on us when we bury someone precious to us, or the valley of the shadow may be the season of aloneness that seems unending. It may be when we realize that what we had dreamed of and hoped for will not become a reality, and we grieve the loss of what will not be. The valley walk may come on us when we realize we are not going to get our way (Praise God)-- because others we were trying to control will no longer be manipulated, they are no longer pawns on our board. The valley walk may come when what comforted us most is removed from our presence. The valley of the shadow of death is not only found at a graveside --- it can be felt most intensely sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life, but there can be a mourning present even as lungs continue to breathe in and out and blood flows through the veins. He knows this, our Abba knows when something dies inside us, and He knows the next feeling that comes flooding in --- fear. Because when something dear is taken from us, we can't help but lean towards fearing the days ahead. Abba knows, and so He reminds us to look to Him and not embrace the evil fear that would consume us and take us to a deeper valley of death. Look to the Shepherd, He knows the way out of the valley. How blessed we are that He cares enough to walk there with us so He can lead us through.
For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Our Savior is with us, in the valley. But He won't just sit there and cry with us. He will guide us out of the place of grief and pain. When a child holds the hand of a loving parent they can trust, they will easily move in the direction the parent guides them. So it is with the Shepherds rod and staff. If the sheep will trust the urging of the staff and respond to the tappings of the rod on its back --- than the journey will be easy. But if the child does not want to go where the parents hand is taking them, if they want to lay down and pitch a tantrum instead, that loving hand will become firm and unyielding. Likewise, if the sheep strains against the rod and staff, the journey will not be pleasant, but will be hard and grueling. To feel His rod on my shoulder reminds me, He is near, He will show me the way, He will comfort me in the journey.  No more straining against His loving rod and staff. 

A beautiful daughter of God, Kenzie. The enemy was cancer, but  it did not keep Kenzie from God's table before her.
 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies -- What a good Father to warn me that i will have enemies, but more importantly --- God is with me always. This verse always reminds me of the stories in the Bible as the Kings of old described enemies coming near their cities. In most cases they could see the enemies approach from many miles away. They had time to lock down the gates and prepare for battle. But then there are times when the enemy came from within their fortified walls. King Xerxes certainly had an enemy inside His walls, Haman.  Enemies can be found in the most unexpected places sometimes.  When our enemies come from far away places it is much less painful than finding an enemy who has been allowed to come near our heart. Those are the hardest enemies of all --- those that are "closest" to us. But God is clear ---- HE WILL PREPARE A TABLE for us to feast on --- a table filled with His goodness and life and love ---- and He will allow our enemies to even see His goodness in our lives -- we are not to be deterred or distracted by their sneering, smearing, painful words or actions. We are to feast --- on the table before us. And pray for them. "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44). Only because of God in us, is this one possible. Oh how good God is ---He reminds us -- we will not "starve" for lack of food or love, because enemies are present. He will provide for us and prepare a table before us. We will trust HIM and Him alone --- and love others --- because our Shepherd tells us to -- with His rod and His staff.
Thou anointest my head with oil --- oh how humbling to imagine that the Shepherd would pause in the midst of all His work, to anoint our tiny little heads. But He does, because He loves us. I'm reminded of Max Lucado's Traveling Light -- where he explains that shepherds anoint the heads of their sheep for two main reasons. First, the oil deters dangerous larvae producing flies from laying their eggs in the moist nostrils of the sheep. Gross yes -- but it's a fact, that unless the head and nose are anointed, the flies will lay their eggs in those moist, dark places and when the eggs hatch the larvae will literally drive the sheep insane. So the anointing of oil makes the tender moist places too slick and the sheep is saved from certain death through insanity. Second, the shepherd anoints the sheep's head with oil so that as they bang their heads together (which all sheep -- and people do) -- they will easily glide right off each other because of the slick oil. Amazing --- our heads are anointed to save us from being hurt and from hurting others --- with our careless banging around in this world. But we can not miss the monumental fact -- the anointing on our heads is from the Shepherd, the Savior, the Redeemer. He blesses us with His touch, and the oil that remains on us is proof that HE HAS TOUCHED US. I'm so thankful. 
My cup runneth over.  ---- my cup does not run over because of anything i have or have not done. My cup runs over because of the overflow of goodness from God's hands. In this world, we can become so conditioned to focus on what is wrong or bad --- and by doing so, we miss the beauty around us. It's a tragedy when this happens. We all know people who live life with their cup half empty -- always seeing the negative side to every situation. Then hopefully we all know people who live life with their cup half full --- always seeing the positive side of every situation. These are the people who have chosen to adjust their focus and their thinking  to all that is good and right around them. There are still problems present, circumstances might be just as overwhelming for the positive person as they are for the negative person ----but the response to the circumstances is vastly different. The positive person (by choice) decides to focus on what is right and attend to what is wrong. The negative person (human/flesh reactions) decides to focus on what is wrong and wrap themselves in a blanket labeled self pity. The blanket of self pity will smother the life out of us. How easily we forget to notice how richly our cup is running over ---- and praise God for His goodness to us.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life --- What an amazing image, to visualize God's goodness and mercy following us all the days of our lives ---- so that wherever we go, we are escorted by His goodness and mercy. Not because we have done anything special --- but instead because God is good and merciful and His overflow surrounds us. I love the image as well --- that wherever His children go --- a trail of goodness and mercy remain after them, as long as they are walking the pathway He laid before them doing the work He called them to do. If we could paint the soles of our shoes blue for goodness and green for mercy ----- and leave a visible trail behind us of God's overflow through us into this wounded world --- wouldn't it be beautiful to see. It's what our Father can and will do for us, and for those we minister to --- His goodness and His mercy overflowing.
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. --- No more suffering, hunger, pain, sin. No more tormenting, separation, loneliness, betrayal. No more unfaithfulness, war, famine, disease. No more lack ----- no more loss. What wonderful news this is for all of us who know the Shepherd as our Savior. He is preparing a place for His sheep, His children --- and we will be blessed to live there for eternity. When i was a little girl, i confess, i thought it all sounded quite boring in Heaven. Sitting around singing all day long... Sounds good for a little while --- but my little girl attention span was surely hoping there could be some softball games and picnics mixed in there as well. :) But as i've grown --- and as i've seen such suffering in this world, i long for Heaven in a wonderful "not of this world" sort of way. I often joke --- that i'll be serving cheesecake and chocolate cake every day in Heaven, for surely Heaven will be filled with all sorts of wonderful treats. But in this i'm always joking. In truth, as i've grown in my walk with my Savior --- i long to see His face, hear His laughter, memorize the lines of His hands, see the color of His eyes, and experience the holiness of life with God --- where no pain or suffering will exist. No more hungry people, no more abused children, no more tormenting in prisons, no more abandoned babies or wounded hearts.
Our Savior is preparing a home for us --with Him.

So there you have it --- Psalm 23. It's a simple chapter to memorize --- i would encourage you to do so if you have not already. And add your own "life" words to your memorization. Not to add words to the completeness of God's Word --- never for that reason. But add in the ways you see God in your world through the lens of David's writing in Psalm 23. God's Word is alive --- how He must surely smile when we line up His Words of Life with the life He has given us to live.

I hope you are blessed beyond what can be measured as you are led beside the still waters, as you lay down in green pastures, as you walk the path of righteousness, and feel your soul being restored, as you hold God's hand walking through the valley and feel His nearness to you, as you follow the guidance of His rod and staff and take in the feast Abba has prepared for you, as you sense God's goodness and mercy following after you, and anticipate dwelling in God's house forever.

Psalm 23 (KJV)

 1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Photos taken at Yellowstone Park, Panama City Beach, Kenya, and Cades Cove, Tennessee.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You Loved Me Anyway...

This week, last week, this month, this day ---- they are all spinning by with such a blur. A blur of words and needs and hopes and hurting people. Oh how God is quickening my heart for those who are hurting. It's a painfully perfect way of getting me to remove my eyes from what might be hurting me ---- to move my heart to what is hurting others.
Next week i will be blessed to have a minor surgery --- one i've needed for sometime now --- that will relieve me of an ongoing "discomfort". I'm so thankful for doctors, nurses, and those who know how to do what needs to be done. I'm so thankful ultimately for the Healer --- the One who works through those that "wear the skin".
But i've caught on to something God is doing in my life --- concerning pain.
If i only look at my own --- it becomes monumentally overwhelming. If i pause to consider it for any length of time at all, it consumes the focus of my thoughts and rules my day.
But if i only give my "hurt" a nod of acknowledgment and attend to it as is needed (we should never ignore what is hurting, but need to take care of it), then move on to what is on God's agenda for us for that day ---- then the thing that might have consumed us, does not rule us, it is lessened, it is decreased.

God has whispered to my heart daily ---- "every one is, has, or will be hurting donna" "deeply hurting"-- "do they know how much I love them?", "do they really know how much I care?"
It's not His fault or His choosing that we hurt. He created Eden. This place was not His plan.
But in His goodness, He will still bring beauty from the ashes of our pains ---- if we lean into Him fully.

I'm reminded of the precious old lady i knew who had suffered much pain over the years as her back curved and bowed leaving her in a permanent bent over position. Her precious little bent body forced her eyes to always look at the ground when she walked. But she ---- she noticed the flowers. The flowers were her constant reminder that He was with her, He loved her, He saw her, He thought of her, He cared, He ---- He gave her flowers. She chose to no focus on what she could not see as she walked along --- she chose to focus on the gifts from Him that she could better see --- because of her positioning. She saw many flowers --- that i never even noticed. She was richer for it.

If we belabor the "crookedness" of our situation --- and refuse to see even the flowers underfoot --- we will be defeated, devoured, devastated, destroyed.
But if we realign our focus on what is in front of us, we will see that others need to be loved, and we have the capacity to love them. Others need to feel a kindness in their lives, and we can be that for them, even if we are bent over with our own brokenness ---- we can still move in their direction and remind them --- that they are loved. And in the moving in their direction --- God will open our eyes to the flowers we would have otherwise missed.

Sadly, I knew another lady --- who was consumed with her own thoughts, hurts, feelings, wounds. She sat in her quiet world of pain and was devoured. Eventually, strokes took her mind from her. In the end, she was so self-consumed, she seemed to implode inside her own world. She died a lonely death, leaving a legacy of sadness and bitterness to those who loved her. She chose, in the end, to focus on herself, she did not focus on others. She was starving for the very thing she refused to give ---- love. I loved her --- deeply. But in her final years, she was somehow unable to receive the love offered to her, because she had starved herself of the emotion. She quit giving it and she quit receiving it. Was love still there for her? Yes -- but she no longer received it. She died alone, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was a painful lesson God taught me ---- a visual reminder --- of what happens when the love flow stops.

God is so serious with us when He tells us to love others --- no matter what. We are told to love others because everyone needs to be loved ---- and also in the love flow out -- there will be a love flowing back in --- as we empty ourselves, we will be filled. Not necessarily by the person we loved --- but we will be re-filled ---- by others and/or by our Abba. It's HIS design, His plan for us. It's how He says it will work. Love others --- give it out --- and you will be loved --- you will be filled. When you are filled --- give it out again ---- never stop the flow.

It's what our Father does for us.
Why would God love us as He does? Why does He even bother to give us His Word, His Bible, His love letter to us? We, each one of us, we know, we do not deserve it. I know i don't. I've often told God --- "if i were you God -- i wouldn't bother with me -- i'd move on to another daughter who is more worthy, who can give you a better return for your investment..." But thankfully -- God reminds me -- i am NOT Him. His ways are not my way and His thoughts are so much higher than mine could even begin to conceive.
God loves us --- because HE IS GOD and HE IS LOVE.
He does not love us because we are good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or successful enough. He loves us ---- He pours HIS GREAT LOVE into us. And He wants the love to flow freely
-- into us
-- from us
-- into others
-- and back to HIM.
Ultimately it's a love circle
--- from God -- to me -- to others -- to Him -- to me --- to others --- to Him.

If it flows --- it is beautiful --- even if our backs are bent double with disease and sickness.
If the flow is stopped --- everything near it dies.

I love the song by SideWalk Prophets ---- i sing it at the top of my lungs in the car --- i mean every word of it --- "oh how He loves me"
Here's a link to a video of the song -- --- take a minute and close your eyes -- sit with God -- thank HIM for loving you ---- and then LET THAT LOVE FLOW OUT!!!

"You Love Me Anyway"
a song by Sidewalk Prophets
The question was raised
As my conscience fell
A silly, little lie
It didn’t mean much
But it lingers still
In the corners of my mind
Still you call me to walk
On the edge of this world
To spread my dreams and fly
But the future’s so far
My heart is so frail
I think I’d rather stay inside
But You love me anyway
It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
Yes You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me
How You love me
It took more than my strength
To simply be still
To seek but never find
All the reasons we change
The reasons I doubt
And why do loved ones have to die?
But You love me anyway
It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
Yes You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me
I am the thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway
See now, I am the man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking
Yes then, I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

But You love me anyway
It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
Yes,You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me
You love me, yes You love me
How You love me
How You love me
How You love me

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34 (NIV)

"Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." Romans 12:10

"Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." John 14:24

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." John 15:9 

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From High Banks to Gullys

Steve and i walked down a dirt road this past weekend. Perhaps where you live, there are still many dirt roads, but where we live (for now) they have become a memory of our childhood. Funny --- moving to Kenya will feel like "home" in some unexpected ways --- with it's dirt roads and rolling dust clouds behind passing vehicles.
As we walked, i felt that stirring --- there is always more to be seen than what is right in front of our eyes. If we are paying attention, we can see "much".
The dirt road was lined with nice deep ditches and high, weed covered banks. But there was one spot in the high bank that had been washed away ---- and there is where i felt the reminder.

Please don't think it trivial or too "simple" to see the magnificent in the mundane. It's an art God will grow in us if we pursue Him. God wants to reveal Himself to us, individually, personally, in ways that will ALWAYS line up with HIS WORD. God wants to be more intimate with us than just a Sunday morning preaching or a quick devotional here or there. He wants to meet us in those places, yes, but He also wants to be so close that He can meet us on a dirt road, or doing laundry, or in falling leaves. The key to seeing Him is to rest in His Word (we must know what He "looks like" in order to recognize Him), and then watch, be ever watchful, for Him --- because He is everywhere and in everything.

So Saturday, i found my Abba whispering to me when He turned my eyes to the washed out gully on the bank of a country dirt road in Alabama.

The high banks traveling alongside the dirt road seemed to almost frame it ---- the ditches allowed for good water flow after heavy rains. But in this one spot -- the high bank had washed away and the resulting mini-ravine had been transformed into a trough where the water flowed down.
This part of the bank obviously had a weakened place in it, which allowed for the washing out that had re-constructed it completely. When we have a weak place in us --- the best answer is to run to the One who is strong and let Him reconstruct us there. Weakness is not always bad ---- in God's hands it can be used for great things. He can and will completely rework us --- so that in the end we will look and behave VERY differently than before He touched our weakness.

As a result of the waters "reworking" of this section of the bank --- this portion looked completely different than the ground around it. The ground on either side of the washed out trough stood high and was covered in old dirt, scraggly weeds, and even spider webs. While it stood tall and maintained it's height over the washed out gully, the ground looked parched and old, weathered and cluttered in a tangle of weeds and webs.
In contrast the washed out gully had nothing old or weedy clinging to it. It was slick and clean. Colors shown from the underlying dirt that had now been exposed to the light of day. Stones that had been tucked in below the surface now shone and glistened in the sunlight. If the washing out of the high bank had not happened, the colors and sparklings would have been forever hidden under the surface.
How much like the washed out bank are we? I felt a silly kinship with that old gully.
Years ago, when the pressures of the heavy rains of life proved too much for my high banks, my weakness could hold back the waters no more --- and the crusty, dried, weedy-web surface of me began to wash away. It gushed down the side of my shored up hillsides and once the flow began, there was no stopping it. I began to realize, i no longer looked like the banks beside me, my walls were torn down and i was "exposed". Perhaps those around me didn't notice it so much ---- but my Abba and me --- we knew, we knew.
Everything was changing. It was painful in some ways and wonderful in others.
I had no control of the flood waters that flowed down and tore away at the old me. The rush of cleansing waters had begun --- i was being washed away ---- i was being redefined --- i was seeing things in me that had been hidden for so long --- things were beginning to glimmer and shine --- that had been overlooked and covered. People can not do that for themselves. The bank can not make itself wash away. Only the flood of water can do it. And with people --- it takes the flood of Living Water.
I had grown WEARY of the being a bank. I knew there had to be more than the high walled dirt covered view. And so i asked for the flood of water to wash me away and redefine me into something that could be used for good. Whatever is good, true, honorable, right, excellent, of good report ----- "God, could i have a dose of that and perhaps become a dose of that for others?..."
And so --- the flood of rushing Water came down.
It washed away what was familiar to me.
It carved away at the weakest places until it hit solid ground beneath.
The Water found a pathway of least resistance and it flowed.
Things were exposed. Things were washed away. New things sparkled in the Light.
The Water can flow more freely now and reach the depths below more quickly --- because of the washing away of the bank that had previously been in the way.

Silly --- yes ----
but i felt a tugging in my heart towards the gully wash in the bank beside the old dirt road.

I know what it feels like to be different -- washed away --- redefined ---- to no longer "fit" --- to be exposed ---- to feel clean waters rushing through ----

In God words we would say ----- Saved ---- Redeemed ----  Rescued ---- Sanctified ---- Healed ---- HIS.

Are you a high bank still? Or perhaps you're feeling washed away.
Are you being redefined? Are you beginning to see things under the surface you never knew existed inside you? Do you feel "different"? Unsure about what's next because you've never looked or felt quite like this before?

Take your Peace ---- Abba is at work ---- and whatever He touches ---- is much better in the end that it was in the beginning.

Just take a look at some of the magnificent "gullies"
created by His hands --- 
with rushing, cleansing waters.

Antelope Canyon
Grand Canyon at sunset
If our God can create masterpieces in the soil with water ---- imagine what He can do in a soul...

This gully girl surely is thankful the high banks at the center have been washed away.

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Psalm 96:1 "Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth."

Psalm 51:2 "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."

Isaiah 48:6b “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you." 

Photos taken by Maggie of Antelope and Grand Canyon, Steve of dirt road and gully in Alabama

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pieces of His Puzzle in our Hands

Imagine sitting at a table covered with colorful puzzle pieces; it is your task for the hour ---- a puzzle with a 1000 pieces. The task would be daunting if we did not have the picture of the finished product on the box top; with the picture we feel more at ease, we know what it is suppose to look like -- so we feel more equipped to accomplish it. "Knowing" what the finished product will look like makes the work of the puzzle seem much more "doable".

Life's a puzzle --- with lots of pieces --- some of life's puzzle pieces seem to appear unexpectedly or maybe fall off the table and add confusion with their absence. Just when we think we've got one corner of the puzzle all in place, one piece shifts and the whole picture we had begun to form is thrown off course. The work begins again, we are frustrated; the picture we had imagined is no longer a possibility.

Last Saturday night our family was blessed by a night of worship and praise under the stars in the crisp Autumn air. For an hour, we sang at the top of our lungs to the One, the Puzzle Maker, the Master Designer who gives us the puzzle pieces we diligently work to sort and place. It was a moving night for us ---- it was a soul deep worship --- as it flowed out i sensed Heaven hearing and puzzle pieces shifting.  Friends and family encircled our family as we took the picture we had envisioned and laid it down. They helped us realign ourselves with the newness of the puzzle pieces. They smiled with nods of approval at the new "look" of our altered puzzle and they even began to add some of their puzzle pieces to ours. It looks so much more beautiful than we had imagined. The colors and lines are more vibrant and defining. It's becoming a puzzle that no one family could possibly put together all by themselves. It's so much better --- yet very much different than what it was before the Call. We liked our "old" puzzle pieces just fine  ---- but we are stunned at the new pieces on our board and humbled. We were blessed. We feel weak. We know He is strong.

Mark and Clarissa Gibson and their amazing worship team

Saturday night --- praising and puzzle pieces lay everywhere around me. For the first time in my life i understood something i've never been able to completely grasp before. Under the stars HE created, breathing in the crisp air HE refreshed, surrounded by the colorful fall leaves HE painted, standing/kneeling on the green grass HE grew, and looking around at people HE has blessed our family with ---  i sensed God saying much to my heart --- His healing Words of clarity came ---

"donna - i'm most pleased when you praise me with the pieces.
it's easier to praise Me over the finished work -- i understand that --- and so therefore it's when you can and will praise me over the 'pieces' -- that i feel the great depth of your worship."

In His goodness and because He knew of my need --- He continued...
"I, Abba, will give you all the pieces you will need--- none will be lost or forgotten, I will show myself as your Provider. I'll love you through those I place around you and I'll walk the distance of the path I've designed for you ---- but I want you --- to praise me. Period. I will do the work, I will move the hearts, I will show myself, I will make myself known, I will never leave you and I'll never leave the ones I've given you to love -- they will not find themselves lacking -- they are Mine. I will be at the center and you'll also find me at the edges when they feel all frayed and frazzled. It's all Mine, It's all about Me. I'm the Map Maker and the Master puzzle Creator. All the pieces are mine, all the shifting is in MY mighty hand. And donna --- don't forget --- I AM SOVEREIGN. I hear your prayers and my heart is stirred, i have tears that mix with yours. But my tears are not tears laced with fear or timidity or longing or confusion. My tears are tears of joy over your offering, your surrender, your willingness to put your hands to the ominous puzzle pieces I have chosen to place before you. Hold the pieces in your hands donna, but keep your eyes on ME. You have three assignments ----
1) Focus on me --- focus on what I'm doing, give yourself over to it completely, see Me, I'm going before you and preparing the way of My choosing for you ----
2) Talk with Me-- i already know what is happening around you, i know all that concerns you -- but i want to see you bring it to me -- lift it up to me and i will be attentive to your words  ---
3) Praise Me, no matter what you feel, think, want, or need --- praise Me. No matter how things look, praise Me. I'm not concerned so much with how you feel about it --- i'm centered on whether you will or will not PRAISE ME in the midst of it. I demand it, I deserve it, I am worthy, I will meet you there in it --- Praise ME."

"Focus on ME.
Pray to ME.
Praise ME.
Focus - Pray - Praise
Focus - Pray - Praise"

Today as i type this, a dear friend is laying on a hospital table with her chest cavity opened up as skilled doctor's operate on her beautiful heart. Here heart needs help; her heart needs healing. It's a puzzle piece she had not expected to appear on her table. The best thing she can do with it --- it stay focused on God, pray and praise Him.

Another dear friend is wounded deeply over too many harsh words that have seeped into her soul and broken her heart. Words have been used to break her. Puzzle pieces she had not expected to find on her table. The best way she can respond is to focus on what GOD is saying to her, focus on God, pray to Him, and praise Him. Not praise Him for what is happening around her, but praise Him because He is faithful and true and loving and upright ----- and because HE will be her Comforter and can be the Healer of her home.

Today as i type this --- you may have puzzle pieces in front of you --- that confound or confuse or frustrate or wound you. I do --- is it wrong for me to say that out loud. But i'm finally understanding ---- dare i say it ---- there is a "Holiness" that can be found in the confusing puzzle pieces.

When we, at those moments of complete inability to put the puzzle pieces in their designated places ---- run to the One who can --- talk with Him about it ---  and thank Him for His willingness put them in their right spaces ---- we will find His Holiness is present, His joy can flow onto us. If we do not --- we find ourselves in the loneliest hole of desperation. There's a darkness that goes deeper than the night ---
-------it is known by those who do not run to the Light.

When we pray and when we praise ---- let's imagine we're holding those puzzle shaped pieces that confound and concern us the most in our hands --- and we're holding them up high -- to the ONE who has the box top and knows what the finished work will look like. He knows what to do with the piece that's laying there on our table --- He knows exactly where it goes and how it will fit into the greatness of the finished work of our life.

We can never change our life by trying to throw away the pieces we can't make fit. Those pieces linger, and haunt, and hover -- they will not be ignored.
But we can pick them up off the table in front of us ---- and hold them up to the One who knows exactly what to do with them.
May our life-puzzles be complete ---- with all the pieces in place --- the good ones that fit in easily and the not so good ones that are painful to place. But in the end --- may all our pieces be in place, according to the box top in God's hands.
No stray, ugly, harmful pieces left laying around ----- for someone else to have to deal with.

Leaving a legacy of goodness and grace to our children and those around us means ---- we will look at the hard puzzle pieces ---- focus on God and His ways --- pray over the pieces --- and lift them up to God in praise ---- it's the only way --- some pieces will ever fit.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  Philippians 4:6

"Come, let's shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us! Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns!"  Psalm 95:2 (The Message)

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name."  Psalm 100:4

"Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!"  Psalm 66:20

"Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise."  James 5:13

Paintings by Maggie, our daughter, were silent auctioned at the Kweli Moyo Event last Saturday night. Photos taken by Jana and Kevin Jackson at the Event.