Monday, March 30, 2015

Vines and branches... and wine :)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love wine.  Whenever visitors come over, I offer wine.  Whenever I’m on a road trip I make a point to stop at a winery along the way.  After a rough day at work, I’ll wine down with a glass and a cooking show or crime show.  I’ve recently really gotten into Bones.  The first thing that comes out of my mouth when there’s something to celebrate, “We must have wine!”

You get my point.

But wine is not a vessel I use to get drunk.  Wine is not a means to a drunken end.  I won’t lie that it’s happened once or twice in times of celebration, but in both instances I felt regret to have abused the wine in that way!  There is far more to wine than the drinking.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5). 

This is a vine.  A particularly old one, too. 

The vine is the twisted wood that spreads its arms out like a T.  The branches are the tiny things sticking out of the vine.  The branches are pruned throughout the year to control what kind of fruit it will produce and how much of it will be produced.  Let the branches grow out and you’ll have a lot of grapes not worth fermenting because the vine will be working too hard to meet the needs of every bunch.  However, prune the branches to allow only the grapes needed to grow, and with the right soil and climate and care there will be an incredible harvest. 

That incredible harvest, with the proper time and care, ends up in a magnificent bottle in my basement cellar to savor and enjoy!

Wine isn’t just about wine.  It’s about the work, patience, tender care and guesswork it takes to make and tend to the harvest.  Sometimes you don’t know when the best time is to harvest the grapes.  You use your best judgment based on your education, experience and the knowledge of others.  Sometimes I don’t have a clue in what I’m doing in my relationship with God.  So I use my best judgment based on my education of the Bible, my life experience and the knowledge of others.

Wine is not only wonderful to drink and share with friends, but the whole process is fascinating and highly symbolic for me.

To be the branches on the vine I only need to do two things: keep holding onto the vine (Jesus), and let the gardener (God) do his pruning when and how he sees fit.  He knows exactly what to do and when to do it and it’s always for my good.  Even when the pruning involves struggling to get the hours I need to pay my bills… and continuing to depend on and trust in him when my wallet disappears in another city.  Abiding in the vine, because it’s only through the vine that I have access to the gardener.  And only through both vine and gardener does this tiny little branch have any hope of surviving this world and all its trials.  And when there’s a time to celebrate, there’s always wine!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I lost it.

This week I researched what it would take for me to get Meg, my dog, to Oman and discovered it's about as difficult as signing up for the military.  It's easy as long as you can stomach the amount of paperwork involved.  Anything to get my girl to be there with me.  I also set up a Go Fund Me website to hopefully pay for the cost of getting me through the CELTA course (Cambridge's Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), and the plane ticket to get to Oman (

My roommate and I are hosting a couple of gals from a nearby church for the next couple of days and last night we had a great long conversation, just the four of us.  I shared about my story with moving to Oman and the wonderful man who is waiting for me over there.  It lifted my spirit and reminded me why I'm putting myself through this difficulty.  He's worth it.  The whole church is worth it.  GOD is worth it.

Today I went to work and got to share my story once again and then share in the pain of loss with my client's wife.  I came home, grateful to have the job I do where I can bring comfort and prayers to the hurting.  I was welcomed by my beautiful puppydog and was once again filled with gratitude that I can take her with me.  Then I opened my e-mail and saw that tomorrow was payday.  I opened the message that had my paystub.... and my face fell.

I suddenly lost it.  Tears streaming down my face, I mentally calculated the bills I had to pay: rent, insurance, car payment, phone, utilities.... and realized I had just enough to cover rent and insurance.  I'd already talked with a supervisor and pushed to add more hours to my schedule so now I'm up to a consistent 32 as of next week.  I've already sold what I can sell before the yard sale.  I thought of putting my bed up for sale and using a blow up mattress for the next few months... that would give me a few hundred dollars.  I thought about the 1/8 tank of gas I have left in my car and wondered how long I could make that last.  Maybe through the weekend?

I cancelled a date with a young girl I love because I didn't think I could hold myself together through it.  Her mom called to check in on me when I said I had to cancel, and once again, I lost it.  Tears streaming down my face I failed to hold it together while I said I was worried about money.

It's hard to hold onto faith when you're holding two fish and a loaf of bread with 5,000 to feed.  It's hard to see the miracle when you're in the pit with muddy walls surrounding you and no one above that you can see.  It's hard to ask God for help when you wonder if what you lack is his way of saying you're not supposed to go.  It's hard to ask for a loan when you don't know if/when you'll ever be able to pay it back.  The more I sell, the more I try to climb out of this pit the deeper I feel like I fall.

Cast your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.
Ask, and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.
I can do all things through him, who gives me strength.
God's grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in weakness.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Truths I need.  Because I'm having a hard time seeing how I'm going to financially survive this next month.  I hate credit cards, but I'm at the point where I'd use them if I had to.  I hate that.

And once again.... I lost it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Choosing faith means choosing difficulty

Yesterday I looked at my bank account for the fourth time in an hour and let out a huge sigh through the fingers that covered my mouth.  My checking and savings read $0.00... combined.  My bills are up in the hundreds.  A check I've been expecting for the last ten days, which would put me back in the black, has yet to arrive.  I drove to church yesterday praying about my situation and looked at my gas tank, grateful to have it nearly full.  That's something I wouldn't have to worry about.  Right next to it my "change oil" light has been on for the last two days.  I tried to ignore it, there's nothing I can do until I get paid, and was quickly reminded that I needed to sell this car in the summer and couldn't afford not to take care of it.  That reminds me of the work I have to do to to get ready for the yard sale next month, which reminds me an enormous source of income isn't going to be available to be come next month or in the months after until July.  Of course July is when I'm taking a CELTA course to be able to teach English as a second language when I move and that course is WAY outside my ability to pay for it.  By about $2,000.... How is any of this going to be possible, and where will the money come from?

In moments like these I have to count my blessings.  I'm blessed to be without children.  That's an expense I would never be able to afford right now.  I'm blessed to have a generous and understanding roommate and best friend who fills the fridge and buys me a drink when we go out without ever mentioning it in the future.  I'm blessed to have a roof over my head and food for today.  I'm blessed to have a Bible I can open and read and find peace in the words, and I'm blessed to be the daughter of a mighty Father who will not let me go hungry.

And God's promises.  He will answer my prayers (Matt. 7:7-11), give direction for my life (Prov. 3:3-5), provide all that I need (Phil. 4:19), all things working out for my good in the end (Rom. 8:28), do far more than I ask or speak (Eph. 3:20), give me everything I need to do every good work (Matt. 6:33-34).

I admit I had to look up those promises because I don't have them memorized.  There's something I can work on these next few weeks and months.  In times of discouragement I know the Bible says something about how God meets my needs, but it somehow eludes me as to where to find it.  This is why in Deuteronomy it says to lay these words in our heart and soul and write them on the doorposts of our houses and gates (Duet. 11:18, 20).  It's not enough to know its in the Bible somewhere.

When we act out in faith, following God in any area of our lives that leads to self-sacrifice, we're going to face resistance.  When we give up more of ourselves to draw near to God, he thinks it's great!  Satan, not so much.  He will throw up every possible road block to prevent us from doing the very thing we were designed to do from the moment we were born - be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  If you decide you're going to give more to the church each month, you're going to have a sudden, unexpected expense pop up each month.  Your car broke down, your daughter had to go to the hospital... will you still give what you initially intended?  If you decide you're going to quit smoking and devote that time to prayer, you're going to have cravings like nothing you've ever had, and you'll have your smoking buddies bugging you incessantly to join them, or they'll make fun of you for not.  Will you still quit and devote that time to prayer?

Following Jesus means self-sacrifice.  It means being uncomfortable and facing persecution and rejection and disdain for our actions.  Who leaves the comfort of their home and a good family to walk through the desert with 12 guys proclaiming Truth that ultimately led to his murder?  Who chooses such a life if it were without purpose?  No one.  Jesus chose that path because it had purpose - incredible, incomprehensible purpose.  We choose to sacrifice ourselves for the cause of Christ because each step of drawing nearer to God has incredible, incomprehensible purpose.  We never know who is watching and will draw near to Christ as well because God used us to show someone how to do it.  Many will reject you, there will be road blocks that will cause you to wonder if you're doing the right thing at all.  But obedience to the Spirit is always the right thing, and here's a good way to test if it's from the Spirit: is it for your glory and comfort and honor, or for God's?  If it's for God it's likely there's little in it for you and much in it for Him.

As I look at my bank account and the upcoming expenses that seem impossible to pay, much less likely, I begin to wonder whether this is something God really wants me to do.  I start to wonder, should I ask for money?  Should I do one of those online fundraisers like I did to serve in Haiti or Malaysia?  I don't know...  My intentions of moving are to bring the Good News to the Middle East.  I don't know how exactly I'll do that, but I know it's why I want to go.  And I have an opportunity and a wonderful church to help and encourage me in the process.  God already knows what's going to happen and how it's going to work out.  And I find myself resting in that, and in Him and His character while I search for ways to honorably and righteously get the money to go.

One thing I cling to:

"And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.  And he ate nothing during those days.  And when they were ended, he was hungry." - Luke 4:1-2

Temptation comes from Satan.  Testing comes from God.  There's a vast difference between the two, and a big red line called "Love" is what separates them.  Love does not tempt one to do evil.  Love tests to see if our love is true.  Will I persevere out of love?  Will I succumb to temptation because I love myself more than I love God?  Sometimes I don't know the answer to that question.

Today I choose to persevere.  Often my choices determine my answer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Selling Everything, Gaining More

I've always marveled at those who decide to sell everything they have and move to another city/state/country/planet to advance the Kingdom of God.  I'd sit in church and listen to the pastor lift up this couple or that family and tell their story.  He'd marvel at their sacrifice.  He'd boast about their faith!

Then I'd drive home and feel like a total failure for not putting my kitchen utensils or washing machine on the market.  I'd stand in my personal library and loathed the idea of selling my books.  I could write a check that tightened my budget a little, but sell everything?

Seemed a little extreme.

Right now, my house looks like I'm either partially moved in or partially moving out.  Boxes are everywhere and an entire room is dedicated to what's going in a massive yard sale in the near future.  I look at every belonging and wonder how much I could sell it for.  Certain sentimental stuff - old pictures, photo albums, yearbooks, a hope chest with baby items inside, all handed down to me - are going in the smallest storage locker I can find.

What changed?  What changed between the person who held on to everything so tightly and the person so willing to give everything away?  I don't see myself like I saw those other people - someone to boast about.  Quite the contrary - my awareness of my own sin far outweighs any goodness I might have to my name.

In one of Paul's letters to the churches in Corinth, one of the most corrupt and debauchery-filled cities in history after Sodom and Gomorra, he touches on the topic of giving.  Give as you've decided to give, as long as it's with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7).   There's a story of a widow who tithes two copper coins and Jesus looked at her and said she gave more than anyone who was putting in much more (Mark 12:41-43).  That's the equivalent to someone putting in a penny, and another person tossing in a $100 bill.  She gave all she had, and she gave cheerfully, while others gave more out of show than for a genuine joy to give.

There's another story of a rich young man in Luke 18.  He asks Jesus how to inherit the kingdom of God.  Jesus tells him: follow the commands.  The young man responds the way a typical prideful young person would - "I've done all that."  In reality, to achieve such things perfectly is impossible.  However, instead of calling out the young man's arrogance, Jesus looks at him and loves him.  Then he tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.  The deed of selling everything wasn't the point.  Jesus was targeting the man's heart.   His greed and pride mattered more to him than having a relationship with the Almighty who longed to have a relationship with him.

God just wants us to give to him the way he gives to us.  Cheerfully, with as much as we're willing to give.  Ideally, it would be everything because it means HE matters more than everything else, which is the ultimate and lifelong goal.

So what was it exactly that dawned on me?  What changed in my heart?  For the last 18 months I've made it a mission to get to know God personally, like I would a best friend or someone I'm dating.  I knew I needed to grow in trusting God, but without getting to know him how was I to trust him?  In those 18 months of studying out his character, how he intervenes and disciplines and saves and loves his people, I fell in love with God in a way I never have before.  When the opportunity to move came up, it was terrifying because at first I thought it was just for a man I love.  Sounds kind of silly really, doesn't it?  Something that big usually is the biggest thing there is!  And don't get me wrong, I do so love and adore the man I'm dating.  Then I realized my reason for moving was much bigger than that.

I'm willing to give everything up that I have, everything I own, to move to another country, an underground church because I love GOD.  I would give up anything and everything to get to know God better, to experience his love better and in greater ways than I have so far.  The more I give up, the more I gain, and it's the most incredible feeling in the world.  It's freeing to give so much away because it draws me closer to him, relying on him and depending on him and trusting him to provide.

And I know he will, because every time I've trusted him in the past, he's come through.  Even when it feels like he hasn't, as time passes I realize he actually has - just not in the way I initially expected or wanted him to.  He did it better.

My yard sale room.  I have twice this much to put inside eventually!