Thursday, March 29, 2007

True Freedom

Lent is almost over. Yet the journey is just beginning. For as I look back at what God has been speaking to me during this time, and the things He wants to do, I know this will not end at Easter!

I've been reading a book by Fenelon, called Let Go. He was an archbishop in France during the 17th century. The book is actually a collection of letters he wrote to believers: to encourage them, teach them, admonish them, exhort them, etc. They are very challenging, and definitely not for speed reading. There are 40 letters, so it worked out well for Lenten reading. I'd like to share a passage from Letter 30. I thought these were powerful words.

"Happy is he who is a free man, but only the Son of God can make us really free. He can do it by breaking every fetter. And how does He do that? By that sword that divides husband and wife, father and son, brother and sister. There is not a person in the world who can be allowed to hinder us from doing the will of God. If we allow the world to hinder us, then our professed freedom is only a word. And we will be as easily captured as a bird whose leg is tied to the ground. He might seem to be free. If the string is delicate enough, you might not even see it. And if it is long enough, the bird might be able to do a little flying. But, nevertheless, he is a prisoner. I hope you see what I am trying to say. Because the freedom that I covet for you is far more valuable than all you are fearful of losing."

There is more, but I think you see where he is going. Christ alone can give us the true freedom we seek. But it has to be on His terms, not our own. It has to be His way, and not the way others would say we should take. We have to be willing to lose all for the sake of Christ's freedom.

Oh, Lord, may there be no strings of the world, well-meaning friends, family, or self, that keep me from the true freedom you desire for me.

"Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' "

He whom the Son sets free is free indeed!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prayer Request Update

I recently shared a request re: Jim Maley, the gentleman from Indiana who was injured in a fall back in January.

Well, there is a great update on their blog, entitled "Easter Miracle". Check it out at the link below:

Lifting Up Dad from Our Knees

I am rejoicing in God's miracle-working power today!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Looking Unto Jesus...

First, an apology. I recently discovered that when I switched to the new Blogger, it took my e-mail out of my profile. It has been returned to its rightful spot. Feel free to contact me!

I love these verses, and I feel they really capture the whole essence of what Lent means:

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, (emphasis mine) the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

It's all about knowing who we are in Christ, remembering that the Saints in heaven are cheering us on, setting aside earthly entanglements, and running the we follow Christ's example.

The cross was a joy for Christ, because He knew it meant our salvation would be accomplished. And that when all was said and done, He would be back at the Father's right hand, the victory complete. We, too, must take up our cross and follow His lead (Luke 9:23 and following). We must run with endurance the race set before us.

Lent is a way of "recharging our batteries." When we set aside the weights, it's a lot easier to run!

Let us continue to lift one another in prayer. The journey is tough, but it's worth every step!

Keep your eyes on Jesus!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Halfway through the journey....

Just some random thoughts today.

Lent is just over halfway done. Only 19 more days until Easter. Forty days seems like a long time at the beginning. Now it seems like the time is just flying by. (Okay, that's very cliche'...but it really does seem that way!)

Things I'm (trying) to learn throughout this season:

* patience (not doing too well on that one; daily battle)

* forgiveness (doing better, but still in need of improvement)

* love (not just for those who love me back...still working on that, too)

--This is beginning to look like a list of the fruit of the Spirit...WOW! Imagine that!

Truly, those are the things God is trying to work in me and work out in my life: the practical expressions of His Spirit, being lived out by me daily, as He enables.

Spring is here on the calendar. I look forward to it blossoming more and more in my soul, too!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Passing Along a Prayer Request

While reading another blog recently, I came across the following prayer request. I wanted to share it with my readers, too.

This request is for a family from Indiana. The husband, Jim, fell down some stairs on January 19th, and hit his head. He has been recovering from the resulting head injury and broken vertebrae (in his neck) since that time.

His family has a blog set up to give updates on his progress. God has already done some amazing healing in Jim. The family blog is found at Lifting Up Dad from Our Knees.

His wife, Sue, also has a personal blog, with reflections on her own feelings and experiences throughout the ordeal. Her blog is found at A Resting Place.

I know they would appreciate any and all notes of encouragement...but especially knowing you will be praying for them.

God bless.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

In Memory

Today is March 13th. It is the birthday of one of my dearest friends: Denise. It is also the birthday of her twin sister, Erlene. This year, for the first time, Erlene will be celebrating her birthday alone.

You see, Denise finished her earthly battle last year on March 24th. Denise fought the good fight. She finished the race. And in the end, cancer did NOT have the victory!

Denise and I met in college, the first week of our freshman year. We had music classes together. The teacher sat us alphabetically, which put Denise right in front of me. It served to make us partners on any music notation done on the chalkboard. It also provided a chance for me to get to know one of the most godly women I've ever known.

Denise's passion was God first, of course. But her life passion was missions. The country of Ghana, in Africa, was the place of her heart. One summer, she had the privilege of going to Ghana, and spent three months ministering to the people she had prayed for so long.

Denise was a prayer warrior, too. She was someone who stood firm in her faith, no matter what. When it was discovered that she had a brain tumor, she never wavered in her belief that God could heal her. Over the years following that first diagnosis, the tumors would come and go. Still, Denise remained strong in her trust in God.

I don't know how many lives Denise (and later, she and her husband) touched for God. As one who had the privilege of her friendship, I can say without hesitation that she touched me in so many ways. Her life challenged me.

I have no doubt that she has heard, "well done, good and faithful servant."

Thank you, Denise, for your friendship. I miss your smile. Happy birthday, dear friend.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

To Brighten Your Day

The following poem is borrowed from an e-newsletter I receive (Above Rubies). The poem was written by the editor's granddaughter. I asked her permission to post it here. Enjoy!
What's this without that?

What is a beach without a sea?
What is a dog without his fleas?

What is a home without a family?
What is man if he isn't manly?

What is a pond without fish?
What is a star if you can't wish?

What are woods without any trees?
What are branches without any leaves?

What is a bird without his song?
What is right if there's no wrong?

What is a desert without the heat?
What is a clean room that isn't neat?

What is a song without a tune?
What is July if there's no June?

What is a story without an end?
What is a person without a friend?

By Meadow Barrett

Thank you for sharing this with us, Meadow!!!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A "Motivational" Talk

We had more snow come through Ohio yesterday. Yes, I know. It's March! (A couple of years ago, we had at least a little snow every month from January through May.) But I digress.

The white stuff came down quite heavily, and left us with around 4" to clear from the driveway. Thankfully, our two kids were able to help with the job. My back isn't what it used to be. (Remember, I'm 40 now?!)

As the boys worked at one end, I worked toward them from the other. Our driveway is quite long, and will fit at least 5 vehicles, bumper-to-bumper, on one side. However, we live in a duplex, so it's wide enough for 5 on the neighbors' side of the driveway, too. That's a lot of driveway, and a lot of snow.

Now, we are only required to clear our part of the sidewalks and our side of the driveway. Since their side of the driveway is next to us, though, we have to at least clear a path to our side of the driveway. The long and short of it (no pun intended) is that we simply clear the whole thing. It's just easier.

After we finished, I sent the boys inside (school work was calling). I went across the street to clear our elderly neighbor's driveway. She always insists that it isn't necessary, but I still do it. After all, what if she needed to get out? What if there was an emergency? I do NOT want her to slip and fall when she goes down to check her mail, either.

As I was clearing the driveway, I thought, "This is a labor of love for me. Stanna is a sweet woman. Even though we don't speak the same language (she is from the former Yugoslavia, and speaks very few words of English), we have this unspoken bond, shared in smiles and hugs. I do this because I want to show her my love in ways I cannot with my words."

Oh, but the Spirit wouldn't leave that one alone. "And so, Joni, why do you clear your own driveway?"

"Well, of course, because I love my family, and it needs to be done."

"And what about the neighbors' side of the driveway. Hmm?"

"Well, now, that's because we're supposed to love our neighbors, I guess."

"But is that why you do it? Do you truly love them? Or is the snow clearing simply a job done out of duty--what you feel you should or must do?"

A labor of love? Or a labor of duty? Tough question. My neighbors aren't so easy to love. Their lifestyle is far different from ours. They have awakened us at all kinds of crazy hours. We have witnessed many loud "discussions" and parties from their side of the duplex. The months since they moved in have not been easy.

It goes back to the verses I shared in a previous post. This is something I know God really wants me to deal I really and truly love my neighbors?

For now, I must admit, clearing their sidewalk and side of the driveway is, for me, a labor of duty. I am praying that the labor of duty will become, for me, a labor of love.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Working Through

As I continue to wrestle with all of the aforementioned items (and others), words from my husband ring in my ears:

"I wish you could see yourself as I see you."

And I think the Lord is speaking to me the same words,

"I wish you could see yourself as I see you, and as I made you to be."

Friday, March 02, 2007

In a Dark Corner

A little note before you continue reading. Most of my posts have been more devotional in nature. They have come from things God is speaking to me, or something I just felt I wanted to address. They haven't been extremely personal, overall. This one is a little different. Lent does that to a person, I guess. I'm not used to being quite so transparent, especially in such a public forum as a blog. I pray that somehow this will minister to you, my readers.

So now the "refrigerator door" of my soul has been propped open. Some of the lids on those little containers have been opened, and found full of something less than desirable. The contents have been tossed. That wasn't too, too painful. Things I know God sees in me; things that I knew just couldn't stay.

But have you ever noticed that the little light bulb doesn't quite shed light everywhere? There are still dark places in the fridge. Nice little hiding places for that old Cool Whip container that had leftovers of something (?) I planned to reheat at some point in time...but never did. It's not really hurting any of the other food in the fridge. It's just back there by its little self. Ah, but it is taking up space, isn't it?

The Spirit sees every nook and cranny of my soul. Even the little dark corner where I thought that "thing" was well hidden. You see, my way of dealing with things that are hurtful is to just NOT deal with them. But then, that isn't really dealing with them, is it?

Oh, no...the lid on the Cool Whip is opening now!

I have this whole store of memories in this little dark corner. Most of the time, they're hidden quite well, and ignored (by me). There's a catalog. Title: Every time someone has shown they don't like me or don't approve of me. Every time I have been made to feel unworthy of someone's respect and/or friendship. The categories range from school friends, to school teachers, to boys I liked, to respected church leaders...there are others, but you get the picture.

* My first grade teacher. When another child asked what we were doing next, Mrs. D. replied, "We will be doing such and such." To which the child said, "But Joni said we were doing this." Mrs. D.'s remark: "Well, then, Joni doesn't know as much as she thinks she does. Does she?"

* My third grade teacher, who accused me of cheating on a spelling test.

* Some of my female classmates, who in third grade decided that there were just certain ones who didn't belong in their little circle of friends. Sometimes I was in. Sometimes I was out.

* A list of boys I liked, that always chose to "break up" with me when a cuter girl game along.

* The friends who made jokes about some of my physical attributes as I began to develop. It was supposed to be the big joke...and I laughed. But not on the inside.

* The friends who judged me when a boy of another race started paying quite a bit of attention to me. It was not a mutual feeling. I just wanted to be his friend. But I was judged for wanting to "mix races".

* The time of loneliness in high school, when all my friends spent their weekends partying and doing other things that I knew I could not take part in. And during school, made it very evident that I was now the outsider.

* The coach who always promised me I would play, even though I spent most games warming the bench. He would laud my meager skills in practice, but never seemed to think they were good enough for game time.

* The friend who accused me of "being on something" once, when I was in a really hyper, silly, teenaged girl mood. I was so hurt that this person didn't know me well enough to know this could not have been true.

* The guys in our Christian college who either wanted to date me because "God told them to" or wanted to stop seeing me, "because God told them to". I always wondered why it was that they felt they were so much more spiritual than I I couldn't hear God's voice, too.

* The coach who knew my mom had driven 8 hours to come visit me at college, and would have only one opportunity to see me play on the college volleyball team. And, even though I had played most of the season, chose that one game to keep me on the bench. My mom never got to see me play college volleyball.

* People from a church we pastored, who were cruel, and said horrible things (to me) about my husband. People who I worked so hard to learn to love. People who turned away from us.

* People who have closed themselves off to me, simply because of the journey our family is taking. I am still ME. I am still in love with the Lord. I still need friendships.

As I'm reading some of these things (there are more, but this is enough!), I realize how petty some of these things may seem to others. And maybe they are. The common thread for me, though, is that in each incident, I allowed another person's view of me to shape my view of myself. I allowed a little wound to form, and allowed the hurt to just sit there. It was my only little place of control. Because, of course, I had a right to be hurt and wounded, after what they did, didn't I?

A good friend and pastor of ours once told us, "You can't minister from a wound, but you can minister from a scar." The meaning is simple: An open wound is painful and there is still healing that needs to take place. A scar shows that there was once a wound, but God has healed it.

I have allowed these little wounds to sit in that little dark corner for so, so long. I have allowed them to be my excuse for withdrawing from any potentially hurtful situation that might add salt to those wounds. But now I am seeing that they are prideful little sins, being stored up as my own little cache of excuses for being hurt and angry...and not forgiving others. They are my way of avoiding similar circumstances. "I can't put myself on the line again, and risk another rejection, you know."

I'm really not explaining this very well, but feel this was something I needed to post.

You see, God's Word doesn't tell us to forgive others because they've asked for our forgiveness. It simply tells us to forgive.

"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us...If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." (Matthew 6:12, 14)


I wish I could say this is all dealt with, I'm free, and I'm experiencing great joy and victory right now. But that's simply not true. The bottom line is that I'm still struggling with all this. God is working. The Spirit is speaking. My hardness is weakening. I'm repenting. Healing is starting. It hurts, but it's got to be done.

Lent is not an easy journey. But it's a healing journey, that takes us ever closer to the One who gave Himself on the cross for our ultimate healing.

Pray for me. And I'll pray for you.