How blessed we are to have friends who lift us up, who speak truth to us, who listen, give advice, encouragement and their constant prayers. This is richness; this is true treasure to have such wonderful women in your life.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's a Cow Day!

When I am visiting with my sister at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the summer, I sleep with the windows wide open.  I love the the fresh, cool air filling my room and even enjoy the sounds of the night.  My bedroom window faces out onto a large, beautiful cow pasture.  At five this morning I was awakened by the sounds of the cows bellowing out over the meadow.  One bellow wouldn't waken me, but, for crying out loud, this was going on for quite awhile.  Sometime during the summer, the ranchers come to take the calves from the herds and then no one gets any sleep for two days around here, but the calves are too small yet.  I finally roused my weary body from bed, and saw through the window my sister sitting on a chair looking out over the pasture.  Joining her on the patio, we sat together and watched the sun rise over the mountains and listened to the cows literally yelling back and forth.  There are four different herds of cattle out in this vast meadow beneath the mountains and cows from each of these herds were conversing back and forth across the valley, each one trying to out do the other, with a few calves joining in just to prove they could.  

I grabbed a cup of coffee and decided to spend a little time with Kay Warren in her book we have been reading together.  The chapter I read this morning was  "Adopting Heaven's Value System."  I love this chapter and had to smile when Kay began talking about cows.  He loves to give me days like this...this is my "cow day":)  My sweet, sweet Lord knows how visual I am, so He constantly brings me object lessons to show me things I might not see any other way.  So today it is with the cows.  In this chapter we read that meditation on God's Word is the way to become "better acquainted with God," which produces a "settled assurance about God."  Meditation has been defined to me before as "ruminating," and I have been given the illustration of cows chewing, chewing, chewing their cud, swallowing, burping the whole thing back up and chewing again.  But this morning the Lord was pretty specific in what He was trying to illustrate to me...When a cow is bellowing away, their is no ruminating going on.  

I can talk.  I have always been a talker.  My dad one time told the doctor at an emergency room in Kansas, he was there not because he thought he needed to be, but because his daughter in California could "talk a mountain lion out of a tree."  In the last few years, God has been teaching me the beauty of silent moments of meditation, and I have grown out of my uneasiness with them and learned to crave those quiet times.  To begin with, I had the same thought as others Kay mentioned in the book.  I felt I just could not meditate. Until I realized that I meditated ALL THE TIME just not on God or anything good.  I was actually a great meditator!!!  I just had to switch what I was meditating on!  What a revelation!  

Here's the problem.  My thoughts so habitually went to the negative, the worrisome, the fearful and even terrifying "what ifs" in my life that the cycle had to  be broken over and over to finally get to a healthy, life-giving place of meditation.  Even now, when something comes up, it can take me back.  For days, sometimes, I will wallow there making myself completely miserable...and, sadly,  miserable is just as contagious as joyful. 

On my granddaughter, Brenda's, tenth birthday, we took her camping way up in a wilderness area.  Near a spring she found a really interesting plant;  we looked it up in the field guide and found out it was "loco weed."  True to the sound of it's name, when animals eat this stuff, they go crazy.  This is a great picture of what happens in these "down times" of mine.  I ruminate on "loco weed" and then I start bellowing like a cow gone mad.  And all the other cows around me, begin to feel my crazy and start bellowing with me.  Not good.  

Starting into Bible study some years back with the ladies of the church I attend, literally changed my life.  Sitting morning after morning with a Bible in my lap changed me and continues to change me...Thank God!  The one amazing truth I have found is the more I meditate on God and His Word, the more I desire to spend time with Him and His Word.  The opposite I have found, though, is just as true.  The less I time I spend with Him and am out of my Bible, the need ebbs away to finally no desire at fact, hardly a thought.

This morning as I read this chapter, I began to really pay attention, first, to what God had created for me to enjoy this morning...the sights, the sounds, the feel and smell of all that was so beautifully arranged around me for my pure pleasure.  The greatness of the Sierra Nevadas, the vastness of the valleys and meadows, the blues of the sky and brilliance of the sunrise all, just by themselves, were worthy of praise and adoration!  He has made it so easy for us to praise Him.  Then I thought about how truly loving He is and that His will for me is always good.  Contemplating a sweet verse such as "His love has overtaken our lives;  God's faithful ways are eternal,"  (Psalms 145:13) reminds me of what is important to my God, and I cannot stop the thoughts that come..."Overtake my life with Your love"..."Remind me today of Your faithfulness"..."I can trust Your ways for me and mine"..."You are a good and loving God!"  Meditation.  My mind was irresistibly filled with Him and His thoughts. And here is the precious dynamic of meditation.  Later in the day, I received some disappointing news about my puppy, Livvie, from our vet.  At first, my heavy heart lived in the despairing moment, but then the thoughts...THE TRUTHS of the morning began to beat back those nagging and defeating "what ifs."  Victory!  Peace flowed over my heart, faith in my God's good will in my life encouraged me and joy returned to my soul.

There is one wonderful aspect of our Lord that seems to always be true, at least in my life...if I crack door, even timidly, to take a step toward Him, He swings it wide.  I will pray those one sentence prayers "Lord, how do I love You more?" "I want to love Your Word."  "I need to have Your heart toward __________"(you fill in the blank)  "Bring peace."  "Help!"  "I want to meditate on Your Word, but I haven't a clue where to begin." Then there comes the moment when peace settles over me or the desire for His Word has become "bread," or the truths of a verse flood my mind with praise and adoration....the answer has come and is more, different and came so sweetly that in awe I think "When did that happen?"  All I know is He swept in and changed my heart and mind.  Miracle indeed!   

It truly is a mind shift, isn't it?  To think more on what God wants in our lives rather than what we think we want, what we think will bring us joy, contentment, and value those things He values.  I don't know who Mike Mason is, but his words "To embrace God's point of view, however briefly, is to be joyful" are words to encourage us toward a God centered mind set.
His desire is that we grow closer to Him, know Him better everyday, trust Him more fully, love Him more dearly, and truly know His good heart toward us. 

Love and sweet times of ruminating to you, my sisters,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Plastic Pearls

I got up this morning, fed the dogs, then myself, fixed a cup of coffee and sat down to tackle what was coming next in my Choosing Joy devotional.  Actually, I knew what was coming "Joy in Surrender," and honestly...I wanted to get started.  I was not prepared at all for the story I read.  It so blessed me, that I am going to take the time to type it out here for you.  So here goes:

Plastic Pearls

A four year old girl was taken to the toy store by her mom.  At the toy store, the little girl was completely enchanted by all the princess dress-up clothes and accessories.  The little girl especially loved a necklace of plastic pearls, so her mother bought them for her.

The little girl insisted she always had to wear those pearls.  She wore the pearls while she slept, in the sandbox, talking a bath.  She never wanted to take them off.  "I am a princess," she declared, "and a princess always wears pearls."  Months went by and over time those plastic pearls began to show their use.  The string was dirty.  The paint was chipping.  The clasp had eventually been taped back together.  

Every night before bedtime, this little girl crawled into her daddy's lap to snuggle and talk about the day.  One night, her daddy asked, "Little princess, do you love me?"

"I love you, Daddy, I love you," the little girl joyfully replied. 

"Will you give me your pearls?" her father asked.

"No, Daddy, they're mine.  I'm a princess."

Her father kissed her on the forehead and the pajama-clad girl scooted off to bed.

The next night at snuggle time, her father asked the same question, "Do you love me?"

"Oh, Daddy, you know I do," the little girl responded.

"Will you give me your pearls?" he asked.

The little girl was adamant again, "Daddy, I am a princess," then quickly slid down and ran to her room.

The third night, the little girl, fearing the question that might come, was hesitant to snuggle with her dad.  But love won out and the little girl rested her head on her dad's strong shoulder.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

Big crocodile tears fell from the little girl's eyes and, unable to speak through her tears, she nodded her head yes.  The little girl loved her dad.

"Will you give me your necklace?"  He calmly asked for the third night in a row.

That night the little girl ever so slowly unwound the tape that held her pearls together and obediently gave them to the father she loved.  With one hand, her father tossed them into the fire.  With the other, he reached into his pocket and gave to his a daughter a new strand of beautiful, real pearls.  Exactly the kind a princess should wear.

Angela writes this:  "In that surrender, she (the little girl) had to trust her father's good heart toward her. She had to believe, even when she could not understand, that his desire was for her best.  She had to trust beyond her own understanding:  'Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding'" (Proverbs 3:5)

In 1982, after a long, hard fight within myself, I surrendered to God something so precious I thought surrender completely impossible.  After having two healthy sons who were the absolute loves of my life, Peter and I lost a baby at twelve weeks to miscarriage.  I was completely devastated.  And angry.  While I was in the hospital recovering because the miscarriage, I found out that a family member was going to have a baby due the same month as the little one I had just lost.  In my young mind at the time, God was heaping on my heart cruelty upon cruelty, and I shook my fist right back in His face.  My poor husband did not know how to handle this new creature that came to live with him.  My heart was filled with sorrow, regret and bitterness and had a hole the size of Norway that no amount of love or tenderness from this sweet man could possibly fill.  I was in a cold, dark, deep, hopeless place.  I remember thinking I would rather endure physical pain than this excruciating emotional heartbreak.  In the hope that this hole could be filled with another baby, we got pregnant again.  Everything was great until about eight weeks when the bleeding and cramping began again.  There are no words to describe the desolation I felt.  Why?  What in the world had I done wrong?  Why did He hate me?  Why did He want to hurt me?  

Surrender.  If I am completely still maybe the baby will stay.  Surrender.  Hold on, baby, hold on.  Surrender.  Don't move.  Surrender.  Stay calm.  Surrender.  I can't surrender this.  I can't.  I can't.  I can't.  Oh, Lord, I can't go back into that dark place again.  Please, Lord, I can't surrender this little one.     Help me, my Father, to surrender.

"Remember Isaac and Abraham, Cherri?  Give me your Isaac.  I'll take care of him, and I will take care of you.  Trust me."

In that moment, I took my hands from my tiny pregnant belly and lifted them to heaven.  "This baby is Yours.  I gave him wholly and completely, and I will not shake my fist at You.   I surrender all...even this precious little one."

The bleeding and cramping did not stop.  In fact, I got food poisoning that night and vomited violently along with all the rest.  My Isaac did not get the reprieve Abraham's did...but peace reigned in my heart in the midst of all this...miraculous.  Peter called the hospital to see if he should bring me to the ER.  He was petrified.  This time the miscarriage seemed way worse, but they told him to "let Nature take its course."  Miracle.  (A trip to the ER that night would have probably changed everything.) But "Nature" had something else in mind and It definitely took Its course...just not in the way any of us thought.

A week later, I was still bleeding and cramping.  I went to my doctor because last time my miscarriage was incomplete...hence all the complications.   I thought the same thing was happening all over.  I was sad about the whole experience, but not angry.  At the office, I explained what had happened and that though the symptoms had subsided some, they had not gone completely way.  The only thing curious to me was that I was still feeling the never just "morning sickness" nausea I had felt before the miscarriage.  So my doctor decided to check for a heartbeat.  To tell you the truth...I didn't want him to.  I had already accepted the fact I had lost this baby, so to give me any kind of hope, even for a moment, seemed adding pain I just did not need.  As he set the doppler on my belly there was nothing...just my heartbeat in the background...thumping away like nothing traumatic was happening. little beats in double time to mine.  And then one small movement of the doppler and...No way!  There it was!  How could this be?

We all, Peter, the nurse and my doctor.  Miracle.  

And here she is!  My Isaac turned out to be Kirsti!

Kirsti is a reminder to me at this moment that I have surrendered deeper, dearer things to my good Father than this dream I have hung onto for so long.  Does my father have a "good heart toward me"?  Through tears I can type these words...Oh, yes, yes, yes.  His heart is for my good.

His heart is for your good.  His goodness is beyond our understanding.

Love and REAL pearls to you, my sisters!!!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chocolate Cisterns!

I could have told you this would happen.  I am spending the summer reading and writing about joy, and at this moment, I don't have a joyful cell in my entire being.  I am usually an "up" kind of girl...which has been annoying to my family at times.  I can nearly "Pollyanna" them to exasperation.  Well, not now.  Circumstances have slid my heart and mind right into the "pit of despair"...especially at night.  During the day I can distract myself...keep myself busy doing and doing and doing some more.  But at night, that is when the enemy's voice is no longer drowned out by busyness.  And he is brutal.

I had to let go of a dream recently.  One that I have thought of and pictured a thousand times.  A dream I have looked forward to for decades.  But lately I have been praying THAT prayer,  "Lord, if this is not your will show me and help me to see it clearly so I don't waste my time striving, thinking and planning for something that is just not You."  And He did.  I cried buckets of tears in the process of letting this dream die.  Still sadness remains.

And then other just plain weird stuff happened.  Circumstances that sucked the joy right out of my day and left this hovering feeling of "badness."  Even when I was not directly thinking on these things...I felt them hovering...just there...always in the back of my mind. I hate that feeling.  

So tonight, rather than toss and turn keeping Peter up, I decided to read the devotion I had skipped earlier in the day.  Honestly, I wasn't even surprised when these words were the first I read: "Joy Instead of Despair."    Of course that is the chapter I am on!  The Lord has done this more times than I can possibly count.  Oh, girls, in moments such as these He whispers to me:  "Cherri, I see you.  I see you."  I am humbled by this kind of sweet, intimate attention.  

Angela says, "The heart falls into despair when we forget.  When we forget who we belong to and how very powerful God is."  I have lived long enough to have seen many seemingly impossible circumstances turn completely around.  I have cried out to God and He has answered over and over.  He has moved powerfully in my life.  And still I forget.

Over twenty years ago Peter and I built a "spec" house with our very dearest friends, the Palms.  It looked like the perfect opportunity for us.  Our friend, Bill, was a contractor; Peter was a surveyor and between the two of them, they had many, many friends in different trades.  The house was built on a beautiful piece of property in the foothills of Palmdale overlooking the lake.  At the time all the homes in the area were on wells, but that wasn't a problem...EVERYBODY hit water when they went to dig their wells.  So we got busy with construction and before the house was even finished, it was sold for the asking price!  Then we dug our well...and another one...and another one....and another one.  ALL dry holes.  We borrowed money from Peter's dad and dug more, still no water!  We had sold a house with no water.  Not good.  The people who bought our waterless house did not take the news well.  They wanted to sue us for the amount homes had gone up since they signed the contract.  Not only that, we were told we could not sell the home because no bank would finance a house without water.  Believe me when I say the night our families got together to try to figure out what to do was a pretty despairing evening for us all.  We had absolutely no hope of getting out of this, zip, none.  So we prayed.  We called all our kids together and got on our knees and asked God to help.  One thing we were positive about was this:  There was no way out of this except the mercy of God.  Then the phone rang.  I don't know who answered it.  I don't remember who said the words:  "You're not going to believe this!"  But I sure remember the words that followed..."The people who bought our house want to pay cash."  Even today I think back in wonder...They paid cash for a house with no water except what was trucked in and pumped into a water tank installed on the property.  We were stunned by His goodness...still am.

I forget the times He has been unmistakably visible in my life.   

I got up this morning and turned to the chapter I am on in Kay Warren's book Choose Joy, and there He was again:)  Twelve hours later my sweet Lord greets me with this chapter heading:  "Drinking From Dry Wells."  Not kidding!  Twelve hours ago I was begging for his joy and actually settled for the peace He gave last night so I could have a good night's rest and now I sit here smiling as I type.  Redeemer.  He reminds me over and over.  He is a Redeemer of everything.  He redeems even dry wells.

Kay shared a scene from her life that I TOTALLY related to....On page 80-81 she writes that when she is heartbroken over a situation and joy has completely vanished, leaving her feeling "upset, lonely, scared and anxious" she goes through a series of "cistern digs" to try and create joy.  She will call someone to talk and helps for a moment, then despair rises again, so she distracts herself with music; it helps for a bit, then despair rises. something, nope...doesn't last.  Chocolate!  Even chocolate cannot beat back despair.  I could have written those paragraphs myself.  I have been going through this cycle lately...The other afternoon, I even  got out a bag of frozen chocolate chips to eat (and that was after all the crackers and hummus was gone)!!!  I was desperate for joy even for a moment.

I have to wrap my mind around this truth...He, Jesus, my Lord, the Creator and Savior of my soul...He alone is joy.  Last night as I talked with Him about all that was on my mind and my complete lack of joy, I knew the answer was surrender...give it up and lean on Him.  But I told Him I don't want to just say the words:  "I surrender."  I want it to be real.  I don't want to just feel good for a moment.  I want true joy...whenever...WHEREVER.  And I don't want to fake it.  

Then, this morning, Angela had me in Psalm 63: 1-8

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.  Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.  On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. 

And Isaiah 40: 20-31

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on then and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.  "To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.  Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:  Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls each by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.  Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"?  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
As I read these words, joy began to spark again in my heart.  I started "clinging" last night and this morning, rather than feeling despair hovering in my thoughts, the Holy Spirit is hovering there instead.  He is a really good "hoverer."  In fact, He invented hovering...just read Genesis 1:2:)  

Last night as I wearily carried myself back to my bed, I remember thinking, "It is just impossible to be joyful over all this "stuff."  Very true.  There actually is not a the remotest detail I can be even happy about, but I can know this with certainty...He is in this with me.   He has not forgotten me.   "My way" is not hidden from my Him, and I can rest in that.  He is still my Redeemer.  He has proved himself faithful in my life time after time...and in that...I can rejoice!

Love and joy to you, my sweet friends!


PS  I took a peak at the next chapter in my devotional and wouldn't you know..."Joy in Surrender"!  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Jesus, the Man of Joy

Good morning, Girls!!!!!  

This week I had a marvelous time looking at the images online of "laughing Jesus" and "smiling Jesus."  Whenever I picture Jesus in my mind, I can't help it...the first image is so ingrained it is immediately right is the somber, handsome, Caucasian Jesus we have all seen over and over throughout our lives.  As I looked over all the happy images of Jesus (and some of them were pretty imaginative and different) this was my absolute favorite...Maybe because to me it seems pretty accurate (although not in the ethnic way).   Joy is bouncing off them both:)  Love that.

Last night I visited my eleven day old granddaughter (and her parents:).  Kaley handed Adley to me, and because my thoughts are so focused on recognizing those joy-filled moments God gives, I thought, "This is one!"  Oh, yes, indeed.  I was holding this sweet miracle and appreciating every little detail about her, when she focused on me; our eyes completely fixed on each other, and I hoped she could feel the love this nana has for her girl.  Then she grew tired and nestled down on my chest, falling sound, sound asleep.  I could have stayed like that forever.  Joy.  Sometimes it comes in the quiet.

But sometimes it visits us in jubilant moments much like the picture at the beginning of this blog.  Don't you love that image???!!!  Jesus must have played with children like this...He was a big brother to quite a brood after all.  My husband, Peter, reminded me that Jesus was perfect at all His roles.  He was the perfect big brother.  I remember my Peter Kye in his role as a big brother, and he was pretty awesome at it.  He had many, many gleeful, happy moments with his younger brother and sisters.    Jesus had to have been  a fun big brother who played exuberantly with his siblings, and it is more than likely Jesus had some pretty fun, crazy times with His disciples as well.  Joy. Sometimes it comes with high-energy and laughter.

Kay brought to our attention this week another side of our Savior's that touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes.  It doesn't matter what we all comes back to this: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..."

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)  Kay Warren has a beautiful paragraph in her book that deserves repeating:  

But what was the joy set before Him?  What joy was so rich, so satisfying, so deep that He was willing to suffer such terrible abuse?  You were the joy set before Him!  I was the joy set before HIm!  He suffered so He could be reconciled with you.  With me.  When people spat at him, His disciples left Him, and everyone mocked Him, He was thinking of the joy.  When He was flogged, when that cruel crown of thorns was jammed on His head, and when He hung on the cross, He got through it because He was holding onto the joy of presenting us to God.  (And here is my favorite part, girls...) Here she is, Father; I brought her back to You.  The joy of restoring the broken relationships, of living with me and you forever...that was the joy set before Him, that was the joy that kept Him nailed to the cross.  
Sometimes joy comes miraculously, inexplicably in the midst of pain and hardship because we know the promise of what lies ahead. 

Years ago their was a movie put out by Visual Bible called Matthew.  In this unique word for word telling of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was very obviously a man of joy.   My kids really enjoyed this movie, even though the only script was the book of Matthew, because Jesus was so happy and filled with delight.  When you watch this really like Jesus!   For those of you who have never viewed this movie, I thought you'd like a sample, so this is the "Sermon on the Mount" scene.

Watching a movie like this is fun because it helps us see maybe just a bit of what it might have been like to be around Jesus in the flesh.  It helps us see His words differently...not flat on a page, but spoken with emotion, passion, love, and with His mission every moment on His mind.  And what is also kind of cool is the actor who played Jesus, Bruce Marchiano, was from Italian and Syrian descent...somewhat closer to reality than our white Jesus pictures.

It is good to think of Jesus as a man of joy and all this means to us:   Jesus loves to bring joy into our lives and we can bring joy to Him.   

Jesus and Joy. 

More of both of them.

Love, Jesus and joy to you, my sisters...