Monday, May 16, 2016

"Wild and Free: a Hope Filled Anthem for the Woman who Feels she is Both Too Much and Never Enough" by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

  If there is ever such a thing as being overly excited about a book, that's exactly what I was the first time I came across this title.  It sat in my amazon cart for months as I waited for it's May 3rd Release date to finally come! I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the story of someone who understood exactly how I often feel...too much and not enough!  I had high expectations...and maybe that's just not fair considering it's only a book, the story of someone else's life.  So, even though I might have been a little disappointed when I finally had the book in my hands and had read to the last page, it's no fault of the authors.  Jess and Hayley put so much love and thought into their book!  Yes, I wanted more, but I also got a lot out of it... maybe exactly what I needed.
  Over the past few weeks, God's been doing something in me.  I can't really explain it, but there's been a bit of a shift in our relationship.  I ended my time on the missions field feeling pretty broken.  Looking back now, it's almost as if during that time God "broke up the ground" in me so that something new could be planted.  I see twinklings of what it is in the here and now, and I am encouraged, but I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be.  I can say though that I keep finding myself contemplating this idea of God as "Father"....a good father... my father... in a whole new way
  The authors of this book talk a lot about God the Father.  They way they speak it seems as if they are curled up next to him, affectionately talking about their "daddy".  I've always struggled to see my relationship with God in the same light.  It's much easier for me to consider myself His servant or "in His army", but the way Hayley and Jess speak of God the Father and His love for us, the more I long to know Him in the same way.
  As a follower of Christ, I cling to the idea that "while we were still sinners... even though (God) could foresee the full weight of how much we'd sin... He paid the price to allow us into His family" but it is that much more powerful to think that "our standing has never wavered with our Father (God).  Though the world has twisted what it means to be a daughter, His stance and His position towards us has absolutely stayed resolute.  The world cannot dictate what it means to be treasured by our Father, but the love and relationships of our Heavenly Father can heal and transcend the damage done here on earth".
  The truth is, as Hayley admits and I know to be true for myself, "I still sin, and He's still rescuing me!".  However, there is such comfort in knowing that "your freedom was won the cross and secured by your Father in your Christian Life.  It is not something you have to try to do; it is something that is simply true of you.  You are seen, you are chosen and you are free".  We can rest in " knowing that  you can never break things beyond repair" and " we never need to be afraid of failure... not when God's  grace will always be there to break our fall".
  As the writer's share, "It is the very nature of this fallen earth to let us down and leave us fractured" and "we'd rather cut our losses and preemptitively put up barriers to make sure that we never get hurt again" but "those in chains are rarely able to free themselves" and it's "at the foot of the cross, (where) we are all found out.  We are all covered in the blood of Jesus.  We are all made whole again".  This is what this book reminded me of... this is how we can live wild and free.... it's because of THIS great love of the Father... the Gospel of Christ!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"When God Doesn't Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted To Learn, Truths You Can't Live Without" by Laura Story with Jennifer Schuchman

"We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear, We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love, As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea, And long that we'd have faith to believe
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life, The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise"
~Lyrics by Laura Story
  When this song first came out, I like many people, felt very connected to it.  It was encouraging and a reminder that even in the hardest points of life, we are not alone.  However, now after reading Laura's Story...the story of the life behind the song... I am overwhelmed with awe and have a whole new appreciation for every word and the truths behind it.
  I've been thinking a lot about suffering a trials and the darkest moments of life's night lately.  Thinking about where God is in the midst of those things and how I seem to take two different routes in response to tough situations (running to or running away from God!).  I've had questions for and arguments with God about the suckiness of life that I just don't understand (yes I know there is sin in the world, I get that... but sometimes you need more than a pat answer).  That's when I saw this book.  In the midst of my mess and the messiness of those around me, as I was wondering where is the hope and why God isn't doing anything about it all, I saw that title "When God doesn't fix it" and I knew I needed to read it!
  To be honest, in reading I was hoping for answers... at least the kind that would satisfy my longings.... and while I did find wisdom in these pages, the answers I got were not the kind I would have expected.  And the truth is, as Laura wrote, "God doesn't owe us an explanation this side of heaven.  There's nothing in scripture that tells us we're entitled to an answer.  It's not that God is secretive and doesn't want us to know, it's that we're incapable of seeing the big picture".  Not only that but "We ask God why, believing the answer will provide us with some kind of deep soul satisfaction.  But too often, we don't get the answers we want". And "even on those occasions when (we) do get an answer... it always leads to more questions"!  Ain't that the truth!
  As I was reading Laura's story, my heart broke with hers, and yet as I watched her life "fall apart" I began to understand something that I am so often blinded to.  That is, it's our world... not our God... that cheats us out of the joy of life.  It's the world that tells me that as a 30 something year old woman I am suppose to be married, with children, living in my own house and driving my own car... and since that's not my life, there must be something wrong with me... or God's failed me in some way.  But God never promises us any of that.  In fact the Bible says "In this word you will have trouble..."! Yet God also offers us the comfort to "take heart, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  This world has convinced us that God owes us something cause we are here.  That we are good people and a good God would do nothing but bless us!  But that's not the truth, is it?  As the Bible says, "There is none righteous not even one" (Romans 3:10).  Laura puts it this way, "The righteousness scale in the bible says that no one but Jesus makes it to the top.  But despite our lack of Goodness, God is always God and is always good to us" and yet , "Even during our darkest trials God is waiting with outstretched arms for you to come into his presence."
  Now, if you're like me, then maybe you're thinking "but what about the time when...".  I was there too.  I still sit there sometimes, wondering why it felt like in my darkest moment, when I was crying out to God and begging Him with all that was within me to show up, He seemed nowhere to be found.  But then I was out walking the other day...the 7th or 8th day in a row of crappy rainy-ness... and it was like I had this small epiphany.  I hadn't seen the sun for at least 168 hours, yet I knew, behind those clouds it was still there, every day rising up and setting.  I may not see it.  I may not feel it's rays.  And for all intents and purposes I have no proof it's there... but I know it is.  And it's the same with God.  Sometimes the clouds of life get in the way and I can't seem Him or even feel Him and I wonder if we will ever meet again, but I can know that He is there and He always will be.
  "No matter what it is that we are praying for, a time will come when we bump up against what we think God should do and what He allows".  The thing is "God doesn't promise our stories will make sense in and of themselves, but He does promise they will find their greater purpose in light of his greater story of redemption".  He is there with us, because we are His and ultimately the story is about Him!
  So, like I said in the beginning, I might not have gotten the "answers" I wanted from this book, but I ended up with honest truth and wisdom from someone who has walked through the fire (and in many ways is still in it) and I stand here at the end believing God to etch those truths into my heart and help me to trust Him more and more. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Man of Vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker

  A few years ago I had a bit of a falling out with World Vision.  It wasn't over what you think.  What happened was I had a sudden loss of income and could no longer send my monthly support.  I tried to make it work but eventually I had to decide to give it up.  I wrote World Vision.  I called them and explained the situation.  Yet over and over again each month they would send this bright orange envelope to my house with big, bold writing on the front exclaiming how I owed them money!  I felt horrible to begin with but even worse by this embarrassment.  Eventually I was able to get the whole thing rectified, but it really hurt my opinion of the organization.
  Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book, "Man of vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker, one of the daughters of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision.  As I read the story of a family torn by humanness and yet the miraculous power of God to work through such flawed people, I was awed and reminded that nothing in life is ever perfect!
  I have a tendency to get caught up in the lie of perfection.... or more accurately my own imperfection.  Every time I fail or do something wrong, I beat myself up as if there shouldn't be a struggle.  I have a tendency to view struggles and pain as God's way of showing me His disapproval; as if it's all His punishment towards me.  I know this isn't how God works.  I know, even though there are consequences to sin, God loves us and willingly died to cover those sins.  Sometimes my mind just forgets what my heart already knows. 
  Albeit a bit scary, this book was a good reminder that “A commitment to Jesus Christ is no guarantee of immunity to the disease and pain of the world.  In fact, those who are most greatly used are often most viciously attacked.” And that "the story of greatness is not the story of a man or a woman or a family who runs and never stumbles or falls; rather, it is the story of those who dare to run and stumble and fall, and who by the grace of God pick themselves up to run again and again and again". 
  The Pierce's weren't perfect.  Bob Pierce in particular was someone who struggled with a temper and avoided his family and even had an emotional breakdown, yet God used Him greatly.  Tens of thousands of people came to Christ through his ministry.  Thousands orphans received care through his creation of World Vision.  And even more needs were met all over the world through his work with Samaritan's Purse.  It just goes to show that it's God working through us  and that our imperfections don't disqualify us from being used by Him.
  The end of the book deal with the suicide of the eldest daughter in the family, with Bob's emotional breakdown and the diagnosis of leukemia and ultimate how the family was able to reconcile before his death (a reconciliation that while certainly brought some closure, wasn't  the clean cut wrap up we see in the movies).  As I read through it all, I was overwhelmed by the faith of Lorraine Pierce, even in her loneliness and inability to understand why.  I was impressed by the forgiveness of Marilee and her ability to see God's faithfulness through all the hardship.  And I felt the longing of Robin who just wanted her father's approval.
  This isn't a new book.  It doesn't look impressive by the cover.  Yet what this story has to teach us is so much greater than my words can express.  I am sure this book will continue to speak to me as I think back of the lives of this normal family that truly gave all for an extraordinary God.