January 28, 2017

A Valentines Challenge for You, Married Person!

February is upon us.  Around here that means we're starting to think about our youngest's birthday, which happens to fall on Valentine's day.  Since she was born, Valentines day - a day I could focus on my husband and give him some much-deserved attention - is often overshadowed by celebrating her wonderful little life.  While folding laundry this week, an idea came to mind that could remedy this problem: lead up to Valentines day by sharing with him one thing I love about him each day during the first two weeks of the month.




Coming up with ways to keep the romance alive when you've been married for a while can be challenging, can't it?  Kids distract, work overwhelms, exhaustion overtakes, and our spouse does that little thing that really annoys us, and why don't they just stop it!  ;)  We must be creative and proactive to keep our till-death-do-us-partner in life at the forefront.  Taking him or her for granted is far to easy, which is why I share this idea with you.


The Challenge, should you accept it:
  1. Spend some time thinking about your spouse: What attracted you to them?  What are some of your favorite memories together?  What do you love about them: looks, personality, behaviors, style, gifts, etc.?
  2. Make a list of fourteen things, (twenty-eight if you want to do the whole month), so you are ready to go.
  3. Starting on February 1, write them a note or whisper in their ear each day one thing that you love about them.
  4. Be prepared with a couple of reasons why you love that attribute of who they are - my husband always asks when I compliment him!
  5. Be prepared to find that you really do quite like that person who keeps you awake with their snoring at night!

There you are, then.  Whatever you do to celebrate the marriage God has given you, I pray He would strengthen you to know how high, long, wide, and deep His love is for you in Christ.  And may that love fill you to overflowing into the lives of others in your homes, workplaces, towns, and cities.


Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 3:18

December 18, 2016

Fighting for Christmas

Eight-twenty this morning was a comical and accurate example of what December has felt like for me this year!  My phone dinged a notification.  I was working on this post and it was a couple of moments till I checked my phone.  My daughter had to be at church 5 minutes ago to acolyte for the first service!  Obviously it was on my calendar, but I never noticed it this week.  She was sound asleep snuggled under her blankets, recovering from a busy weekend that included a youth lock-in.  Intentionally, I was letting her sleep in.  Oops!  Well, I threw on clothes as quickly as I could, slipped into a coat and boots, grabbed my purse, and drove way-too-fast to church to sub for her!  Thank goodness I'd showered the night before - it's the little gifts!!

Even better, I really enjoyed being in the service.  Immensely.  The choir's anthem fit so well with the Sunday School lesson I had ready for the youth this morning on the transfiguration in Mark 9 - the glorious Christ, the center of Christmas Himself on beautiful display.  The sermon was about celebration and fit so well with the post you are about to read, confirming for me the need to interrupt my hiatus to write this Christmas.

I have been needing to get this all down, to get the thoughts in my head sorted out one way or another.  Hopefully these words are not only a help me, but to you too, dear reader.  I wish you a very merry Christmas, giving this to you as my gift!  Cling to Christmas with all your might!!




Earlier this month in an Advent devotional provided by our church, which includes Bible passages and selected readings from C.S. Lewis, I read:


Christianity is a fighting religion.
It thinks God made the world - that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God "made up out of His head" as a man makes up a story.  But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Christianity is a fighting religion.  I don't know what December has been like for you, but I think that sentence really struck me because I feel like I have been fighting this month - fighting for Christmas to win over in my heart.  Not Christmas-the-feeling promoted by Deck the Halls, White Christmas, and Holly Jolly, but Christmas-the-Truth proclaimed by Joy to the Word, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

December has been a tug-of-war in my heart and mind between the Truth and the lies.  I have been more impatient and frustrated in the last few weeks than I have been in a while, and for no good reason that I can find other than the reality of the earthly battle every Christian faces against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And oh!  How the latter would love to see us stop fighting:
  • to give up on the Advent readings with our family, because it seems like no one is listening;
  • to let go of the traditions, because they seem like too much this year;
  • to give in to all the stress of preparations, because it's more natural to complain than rejoice;
  • to take our eyes of that precious manger, because it seems more comforting to wring our hands and lament than to cast our cares on Him and live in the freedom Christmas heralds into the world;
  • to forget about loving our neighbor generously, because we aren't sure we have the reserves to care for anyone else.




Christianity is a fighting religion.  And I'm gonna fight!  Why?  Because I know Jesus.  Because there is victory over the grave.  Because I'm in enemy territory and I want to stand firm.  For What?  Not a feeling, but for Truth.
  • So my kids can taste and see that God is GOOOOOD. 
  • So that in my little spheres of influence I might have the opportunity to see the Kingdom come in new ways.
  • So that I can see my Savior demonstrate His strength in my weakness.
  • So that God can be glorified, as He is worthy to be.



None of us are entitled to anything, not even a holly, jolly Christmas. But Christians know the Prince of Peace.  And we can let Him rule in our hearts.  As Lewis points out, we can participate in God's work of putting the world right again.

So when I lose my patience, I ask my kids and my Gracious God to forgive me.  When I feel my pulse quickening with anxiety about gifts, or plans, or not measuring up, I stop and look to my Good Shepherd to takes my hand and says I love you, always, little lamb; let's take each day one step at a time.  I will lead you.  When I want to grumble, grovel, or gripe, I will turn on the Pandora Christmas Hymns station and let the lyrics permeate my mind and soul.  When we pass a bell ringer and her red bucket, I dig in my wallet, the kids throw in coins, and we talk about God's love .  Through all of those things I am reminded how the Lord has put my soul right with Him thought Christ, and it renews my desire to be a part of His ministry of reconciliation in the world.

Christmas, true Christmas, is restored in my heart.


Every time we choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, despite every fiber of our being wanting us to go in the opposite direction, we are fighting the good fight!  Every time we repent and believe the good news, heaven rejoices and hope is restored!  Every time we put our neighbor's interests before our own, the Kingdom comes and Christmas is rightly observed!

Christmas is God-come-down, true, life-changing love.  That "sweet baby Jesus in the manger" came to rescue a world lost in sin and destined for death and destruction.  When our hearts are filled with the faith to believe that Truth, well, everything is different.  Christmas holds fresh new wonder, and will year after year!

We have a choice.

Will you fight with me? 

Let's start here.  Sing along and rejoice!




Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

February 16, 2016

Farewell, For Now

You may have noticed that posts are few and far between these days here at Life in the Valley.  Lying in bed this morning I realized that now might be the time to let go of this for a while.  My Gram once advised that I should keep writing till I felt like God was telling me I shouldn't anymore.  So wise!  Today, that time has come.  I want to be writing now and then, but cannot seem to fit it into life.  Then, knowing this space is dead becomes a source of stress rather than the joy it has been during seasons when I have been able to write regularly, i.e. when I have been willing to choose writing over something else.

I am so grateful to you readers who have encouraged me along the way.  And I hope someday to be back at this.  But right now, maintaining a blog does not fit in with my priorities.  Surely this being a year of surrender has something to do with why the idea of leaving Life in the Valley alone for now came up in the wee hours this morning.  I am rolling with it, because the thought brings me such peace ... and because I'll find excuses not to obey if I don't take this immediate action!

Feel free to poke around the blog.  I will pray that past posts will be an encouragement to you in the present.  May God bless you as you seek Him; I know you will find him!

I leave you with my favorite verse:

Source


Most sincerely,
Heather

January 28, 2016

A New Refrain for Your Days

Since it is the beginning of the year, my Bible reading program includes a chapter from one of the gospels each morning.  Recently I finished Matthew and started in on Mark.  As usual, I was struck by the story of Jesus calling Levi, who held the despised position of tax collector.  He says to him, as to the other eleven He called, "Follow me."  Levi, (later to be called Matthew), got up and followed him.  Then Jesus goes and has dinner at Levi-the-sinner's house, dining with him and other undesirables and drawing the disdain of the Pharisees for such unclean behavior.  Doesn't He know with whom He is dining?!



Well, in fact, He does.  His reply to the Pharisees about why He eats with tax collectors and 'sinners'? It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Surely hundreds, if not thousands, of sermons have been preached on this passage, highlighting various things we can learn about God and ourselves.  Here is what stuck out to me: in every instance that Jesus calls someone to Himself, He is recorded as saying, "Follow me."  He doesn't give any prerequisites and His authority doesn't demand that he give any explanation.  He looks people in the eye, says Follow me, and they do!




I want to respond in the same way, with this new refrain for my days, LEAD THE WAY, LORD!


What does that look like?  Some examples:

When my children are ignoring or blatantly disobeying, making my blood boil, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I start to feel overwhelmed by how behind I am on all things "life" and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I am caught in sin (anger, pride, self-love, etc.) and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When unexpected financial, relational, emotional, or spiritual challenges arise and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When someone comes to me for counsel, I feel ill-equipped, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When I feel paralyzed by insecurity, rational or not, and I hear Jesus say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!

When the Lord calls me to something I'm sure is out of my league, and I hear Him say, Follow me,
to respond, Lead the way, Lord!



The way of the Lord is simply to follow Him!  He does not expect us to be Him.  Yes, He desires for us to grow in likeness to Him, but that is done in the daily following of our Savior.  It is in the following (listening for His voice and guidance through our days) that we are transformed into people described by the love in 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not self-seeking, not keeping records of wrong, rejoicers in the truth, people who protect, trust, hope, and persevere.  We grow in loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind by following Christ.  We grow in loving our neighbor as our self by following Christ.  We need never run ahead, we need only to let Him take the lead.  Since He is love, He will never fail us.

So, whaddaya say?  Will you join me in the refrain?

Let's pray: Lead the way, Lord!


January 16, 2016

2016 Word of the Year: Surrender

Making resolutions is fun to me; it's a personality hazard!  But like many, I love a new year full of possibility for positive change.  When I was young we had a tradition of making resolutions together as a family.  My dad kept a folder of our yearly goals and we'd reread them each year.  My siblings and I would make "resolution booths" out of couch cushions and pillows and set our sights high: quit wetting the bed, stop biting nails, learn to read, etc.  As we aged, our resolutions continued to be age-appropriate: read more or specific books, organize something, get better grades, etc.  I love these memories!




Last year, the Lord guided me in a new direction, planting the idea of a 'theme word' for the year, one I could focus on and watch Him use to transform me.  For much of last year, I wrote about being OPEN regularly, to keep myself accountable to that God-given word.  As 2015 was drawing to a close, another word kept coming up enough that it occurred to me that I should maybe pay attention: SURRENDER.

Truth be told, I find this word terrifying.  When I think of surrendering I think of having to let go and give up on things I hold dear, whether or not they are good for me or honor God.  I visualize myself clinging tightly to idols that might as well be golden calves, for as they are just as deaf, mute, and useless as idols made of stone and metal.  I picture SURRENDER looking like un-clinging to those idols and clinging instead to our Savior.

Well, I wrote the previous three paragraphs a couple of weeks ago.  Looks like I didn't make a very strong blogging resolution for the year!  The last week has been quite interesting, though.  Here I am fearing having to SURRENDER because I love myself and my golden calves so much, and God has been driving home to me that He is merciful, loving, and kind.  I cannot get through a day without being overwhelmed by His never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love, to borrow a phrase from The Jesus Storybook Bible.

God is killing me with kindness!

And I'm finding His kindness is unlike any other.  From stories of His chosen people and their deceitful, dishonest, and impure ways I have been reading in my study times, to the quiet whispers of the Spirit to my soul that say, Heather, you really are forgiven.  God truly loves you as His childI have been floored daily by this incredible God who owes me nothing but gives me everything, even Himself.

Of course, as a Christian I know that God is love and all that jazz, but it has been humbling and heart-freeing to be the object of His direct and consistent instruction from His word and Spirit that HE LOVES ME.


The Truth makes me want to live differently,
with my family, my friends, at the grocery store -
a joyful surrender in response to His love.


I'm convicted, but hopeful, because if God loves and forgives me, surely He can transform me.  I won't be forever bound by my chains of addition to praise, fear of failure, the prideful need to be the best, the constant need to compare, quick anger and frustration.  My Father loves me.  It is well with my soul.  Every day I can repent and believe the good news!

I have several stories to share about how Scripture reading has been piercing my heart and uplifting it.  I will do my best to share them over the next few weeks, because friends, God's word is the best fuel for our faith.  Watching the Lord "in action" with His people throughout history, reading about Him walking the streets of Earth, and meditating on the praise of the Psalms and wisdom of the Proverbs changes the way we think and sparks our spirit to life.  New life!

Dear reader, are you exposing yourself to and availing yourself of the Word of God more than on Sunday mornings?  You don't need an over-the-top plan or resolution, simply a commitment to crack the book or the app open and take in something.  If you need ideas, I'd be happy to help you come up with something.  I am confident, because of God's never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love, that regular meditation on the Word will make 2016 a different year for all us!




Finally, if you have a theme word for the year, I'd love to hear about it!





January 5, 2016

A Stronger Marriage Starts with You



Did any of you make a resolution to strengthen your marriage in 2016?  If so, I have a couple of tips I learned years ago that have helped me to make our marriage more healthy.  The truth is you can do nothing to change your spouse.  The only one you have control of in any relationship is yourself.  Perhaps 2016 can be the year of no more finger pointing in your marriage!  Well, we are human, so how about a lot less finger pointing and significantly more uplifting.


Two practices have helped me immensely and fertilized the soil of our marriage to help good fruit grow.  Grateful to those who let me in on these bits of wisdom - though I don't remember who they are - I pass them on to you.  I write from the perspective of the wife, but husbands may benefit from applying these as well.  Of course, I can't be sure, because I've never been a husband!



#1 Do not speak ill of your husband to others.  You know those Scripture verses about only speaking that which will build up others?  Those apply to relationships with all people, including your husband.  Take this to heart.  It is a gift to your husband to know he never has to worry about you mocking or speaking ill of him in public or even in a private conversation with a close friend. 
Give yourself a check-up: Are you quick to jump into bemoaning with other wives at the way your husband is such a failure?  Or do you readily and regularly find ways to praise him, at home and when you are out?

#2 Be the kind of person you would like to come home to.  You probably have a laundry list of things you'd like your husband to do and ways that he is not meeting your expectations.  But when you greet your husband at the end of a work day or first thing in the morning, throw in a little of Jesus instruction, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  This word applies not only outside our home, but in them, too, with our closest neighbors, family.
Give yourself a check-up: Are you the kind of person you would want to come home to?  Do you regularly nag, belittle, and criticize?  Or do you habitually embrace, encourage, and build up?

We cannot control or change our spouse behavior, but the Lord calls us to live righteously regardless of how others treat us (or our perception of how poorly we're being treated).  Looking to our Savior reminds us that He calls us to nothing more that what He gave, did, and does for us.  He will also help and strengthen us to choose our spouse above our self.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

Who, being in very nature God,
   
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
   
by taking the very nature of a servant,
   
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
   
he humbled himself
   
by becoming obedient to death—
       
even death on a cross!  Philippians 2:5-8
Now, you won't need to die on a cross, but sometimes not getting our way can sure feel like dying!  And let me add one more thing: God sees.  He sees you striving toward righteousness and the Bible says He will greet you at the gates of heaven with, Well done good and faithful servant!  If you keep reading there in Philippians 2, you'll learn about God's reward to Christ for taking sin upon His shoulders and obeying to the end.  God sees and He is near.  Don't you forget it!

Give these two simple marriage-strengthening practices a go.  May 2016 be a year of less finger pointing and more "love one another".  I am confident it will make a difference in your marriage, in your heart, and in your relationship with the Lord in this new year!



January 3, 2016

Before You Make That List of Resolutions ...

Happy new year, friends!  As we welcome 2016 I want to share Psalm 1 with you.

Blessed is the one
   
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
   
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
   
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
   
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
   
whatever they do prospers.
 
Not so the wicked!
   
They are like chaff
   
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

I open the year here on Life in the Valley this way, because the start to a new year can make us a little nuts.  Giddily we set goals and make plans for the coming year, resolving that this will be the year of grand transformation and productivity!  Of course, that year has never happened according to our plans.  And though we have grown and changed and developed new habits over the years as a result of a little planning, resolutions never result in the complete transformation we desire.

One of my biggest troubles is getting obsessed with making precisely the right choice in every situation. The problem with this is that there are many options in most situations that could be equally as fine.  Some examples: Spend time with people or spend time alone?  Hang out with the family or get a chore done?  Commit to plans at the weekend or leave it open?  Spend money on this thing or save for another?  And so on and so forth.  I can make myself crazy worrying about making the "right" choice, rather than relaxing, making a decision, and letting the time (or money or whatever) be spent as it is spent and letting life unfold however it does.  Even in the middle of certain activities, I can find myself fretting that I'm not able to simultaneously do the other thing that seems pressing.  Can you relate?

I am certain this is NOT how God wants me, or you, to live!  He has not called his children to live in a state of constant internal frenzy, panic, and fear!  Jesus talked, after all, about righteousness in conjunction with peace and soul-rest.

Which brings me back to Psalm 1, Blessed is the one.  The "one" described is the person who forsakes the way of the world for the way of God, delighting in and meditating on His law.  His heart is oriented toward the Lord, and consequently, he is deeply rooted, fruitful, healthy, and prosperous.  In contrast, the "wicked", those not oriented toward their Creator, are not connected, rooted, fed, and growing.  As easily as wind blows away chaff, they will be blown away and unable to stand before the Lord with the righteous.

Now, at this point you might be thinking, "That's not very nice."  But we are dealing here with the Word of the Lord and He has laid out these two options for us: His way or our own.  He is also quite clear, from Genesis to Revelation, about the results of each path.  To know life, we must choose His way.  "Wickedness", i.e. our own way, leads only to death and separation from Him.  Check out the final verse; it's a good summary of this:

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

In those words I find great comfort and instruction for my frenzied heart and mind, that fear failure by not getting everything "right."  I pray you will find balm for your soul in these words, too.  Here's it is.  Those who walk in God's way are being watched over by their Lord.  God's people are called to know and obey His law, of course, but they are also cared for, sustained,  and preserved by the law-giver!  We may be fickle and inconsistent, but the Lord is not.  Blessed be His holy name!

Starting 2016 here fills me with hope.  The Lord is not calling us to get life "right".  He is calling us to live life with our faces, hearts, and minds turned toward Him.  As His children, we can begin this new year confident that He is watching over our way!  We can also take heart, knowing that in choosing Him He will make us as trees planted by streams of water, deeply rooted, fruitful, healthy, and prosperous, to His glory and praise.

Make those resolutions, they help us grow.  (I've got my "word of the year" all ready to go!)  But first, bow the knee, so you're in the right position before the Lord and can give HIM the honor and praise for the growth that comes over the next twelve months.

Happy new year!