Friday, October 2, 2009

my barometer

"As a face is reflected in water,
so the heart reflects the real person."
Proverbs 27:19 (NLT)

I realized this week that God has given me an unusual gift in an unexpected person. She's four-years old and her name is Sara. My Sweet Sara.

It turns out that in addition to being my precious daughter, Sara is also my spiritual and emotional barometer! Who would have thought?!?

Whenever I'm struggling, Sara's behavior reflects it. She starts getting into things she shouldn't and pressing her siblings buttons (and mine!)

One day she wrote a message using big, plastic magnetic letters on the stairs for me. It read, "Mom, have some peace, joy and love." (I know, she's only four. Seriously, it's like God has secret meetings with her on how to teach and guide me!)

One day she said, "Mom, I just need you to be patient and kind with me."

Why? Because I wasn't being patient and kind.

Thankfully, Sara is also reflecting back to me days when I actually get it right!

On Wednesday evening, we went shopping on our "date" night to buy her a new pair of slippers.

As I pushed her through the store, she said, "Mom, I have something to tell you. It's not mad, sad or mean. It's good. My heart is EXPLODING—with LOVE!!!"

Oh my.

This, my Friend, is what God's healing power and love are all about. Sara has been through so much for such a little girl.

God has done a deep work in her heart and in our relationship as we continue to find our way as mother and daughter. It has been far from easy, but it has been oh-so-blessed.

As I'm learning more about myself and areas I need healing, God is using Sara to reflect back to me where I'm at spiritually. Too often, I allow my emotions to run my day. When I do so, I'm a wreck when it comes to mothering.

Thankfully, I am followed around by a little mirror. She helps me to quickly see when I need a serious attitude adjustment by seeking the Lord in prayer.

Sara doesn't pull any punches. And, honestly, on my off days, it's not easy to see my flaws.

Thankfully, it's God's Spirit that speaks through my little one. Instead of crushing condemnation, He allows me to hear His gentle voice, along with the conviction His grace and love bring.

Chances are, my Friend, that I'm not the only one living with a walking, talking barometer!

God has a way of using others in our lives to speak His truth to us. Granted, we may not always like what we hear. The key, however, is to push past the initial feelings of resentment and frustration that so easily rise up within our flesh.

It's then that God enables us see how those challenging relationships are carefully crafted gifts given to us for our own good.

God desires for us to reach our fullest potential through His strength, power and glory. The process is not easy, nor is it always enjoyable, but the blessings that result are priceless.

Keep pressing into Him, my Friend. He loves you and has good things planned for you.

In Him and through Him we are LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

My heart's exploding with His love,
Amy Jo

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

left out

"And since we are his children, we are his heirs.
In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.
But if we are to share his glory,
we must also share his suffering."
Romans 8:17 (NLT)

It can be extremely difficult to have compassion upon others unless we have experienced similar pain and struggles. This morning, a friend told me about the tragic death of her dog. She broke down in tears and apologized for crying.

Having lost a family pet in an unexpected way myself, I knew what she was going through. I didn't have to pretend to understand or try to stir up compassion, it came automatically.

Last week, my oldest daughter was feeling left out. Her younger siblings were having a great time playing together and weren't interested in including her. Unfortunately, her way of responding to their behavior was with anger. Obviously, her actions and words did nothing to improve her situation.

Of course, it's always easier to see the details from the outside. And so, I set about to share my thoughts on her current conundrum. ;-) Ah, but the compassion piece was missing and my input was not—in the least bit—appreciated.

Wouldn't you know, God wanted to use this experience to teach a lesson. Guess what I'm struggling with this week?

Feeling left out. Sigh.

Since I wasn't able to teach Chelsea with grace, God has also been revealing my pride and allowing me to experience humility.

You see, there's a situation in my life where some good friends of mine are able to do something really special. Circumstances in my own life are preventing me from being able to be participate. It's not the first time this has happened. This time, however, it's hitting me especially hard—and I'm feeling left out. So much so, that I've been fighting off tears all week.

In the past, I would have allowed bitterness to build up, not recognizing that I actually have a choice in how I respond to my feelings. After watching Chelsea go this route, I was encouraged instead to turn to God with all of the ugly feelings that were starting to surface.

(Actually, my first reaction was to whine to my husband. Thankfully, God gave him the grace to respond to me in love!)

Once I finally turned the situation over to the Lord, He began revealing new truths to me. It's always important for me to begin first by taking an honest look at myself.

Whenever I bring a situation before the Lord in prayer, His Spirit reveals to me areas where I personally need growth, healing or refinement.

Honestly, it's easier to point the finger at the other person and blame them for my uncomfortable feelings. Past experience, however, has always proven this reaction to be a BIG mistake! Once I see my own need for God's mercy, the other person's actions seem so insignificant!

There are times when the people in my life choose to be hurtful on purpose. In that case, it's important that I share my heart in love.

Most of the time, however, they truly aren't aware that their actions or words are causing me to feel hurt or left out. If that's true, the very best thing I can do is to give them grace.

In this situation, the Lord has allowed me to suffer in order to help me become a more compassionate wife, mother and friend.

Instead of getting angry and saying or doing things I might regret, God has been helping me to process through the pain. Guess what? It's working!

Today I feel 99% better. I'm still disappointed to be missing out on the fun, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, I've been able to pray blessings upon my friends and wish them well.

I trust that God has other plans for me this time around, and, that His will is always the best for me. Perhaps it was simply to refine me just a bit more. If that's the case, the blessings will be enjoyed over a lifetime, rather than a short weekend.

Relationships can be so hard. Sometimes feelings can get the best of us and before we know it, we've hurt people we love without even realizing what we were doing.

The best thing we can do is to remember that when it comes to feelings, we actually have a choice. We can either manage them—or—we can allow them to manage us. Sometimes it takes awhile to recognize who is managing who.

Thankfully, God is able to teach us through our mistakes and help us make different choices in the future.

This time, I was able to heed His guidance, and I'm so thankful that I was. Next time, however, I may go bungee jumping into the world of unmanaged emotions and learn yet another lesson the hard way. :-)

Until then, I think I'll enjoy the peace I have today and thank Him for allowing me to be LIVING A BLESSED LIFE! I pray you are as well.

God is SO good,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

measure of beauty

Lindsey Kane posted this video on Facebook today since it features one of her songs. (I was blessed by Lindsey's beautiful music and heart when I attended She Speaks in North Carolina two years ago. Move Me Aside is one of my favorite CDs.)

Here is what the woman who made the video wrote about it:

"This is footage from all three orphanages and slum schools that I visited in Uganda and Kenya in June and July this year. It really sums up the absolute beauty and worth they each have in God's eyes. I was blown away by these kids. They have all been through unimaginable experiences but they still hold an incredible hope and joy that I think a lot of us lack."

Most of these children do not have a home, a family, fresh water, clean clothes or adequate food to eat. The smiles on their beautiful faces, however, assure me that they know the secret of truly LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Ah, may I follow after their courageous examples and rejoice in my own struggles and suffering. Truly, life could be much, much worse.

Deeply humbled, and blessed,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

her name was zoe

"One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope
that he would lay hands on them and pray over them.
The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened:
'Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me.
God's kingdom is made up of people like these.'
After laying hands on them, he left."
Matthew 9:14 (The Message)

Geoff and I were privileged to minister to a group of children this weekend. As I began to pray about what God wanted us to teach them, I felt Him saying that He wanted us to just love on the children. While it was important for us to have something to do with them and structure to our morning, I felt our focus was not to be on curriculum, but simply on love.

The first arrivals were really energetic (a.k.a. BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS AND SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS!) This was simply confirmation that we would definitely need an extra dose of God's love to shower upon them. :-)

And then a boy walked into the room wearing a blue sweatshirt, with the hood pulled over his head. "Ah-ha, this one will need a different kind of love," I thought.

The first words out of his mouth made me smile. "My name is James*, and I don't have a name tag."

"No problem," I answered, as I wrote his name on one and stuck it to his chest.

He immediately took it off and said, "No, I don't wear name tags. If people want to know my name, I'll just tell them." At this point, I began to chuckle inside.

He then put his arms out and said, "Oh, and I'm new to this whole classroom thing. Just thought you should know."

"So am I," I replied with a bigger smile on my face. Our morning was off to a great start.

Trailing seven-year-old James was a four-year-old girl named Zoe*. While James was trying to cover his nervousness with bravado, his little cousin simply shadowed him wherever he went, never once removing her thumb from her mouth.

Just as we were gathering the kids to start class, little Zoe let out a shrill and fell to her knees. It turned out that her cousin was trying to throw a football and nailed her hard in the chest. My mommy-instincts automatically kicked in and I stooped down to pick her up.

Now, you have to know that my own four-year-old, Sara, has taken years to allow us to hold her close and cradle her. After having my two oldest children grow up being snugglers, my brain and heart needed to learn to adapt to a non-cuddler. Instead of expecting immediate bonding from children, I now expect just the opposite.

So, when I picked up Zoe, I expected her to either pull away or go stiff. I was ready to do whatever she needed, but wanted her to feel comforted and safe. What happened next brought tears to my eyes.

Little Zoe burrowed herself into my neck and got as close as she could. I had already discerned that this little girl needed some extra loving on. While I was sad she was hurt, I was grateful for an opportunity to forgo formalities and be able to hold her close and give her some love.

From the moment I picked her up, I noticed a strong odor about her. At first I wondered if she was wearing a diaper in need of changing. Granted, she was four, but you just never know, right?

After seeing her soiled clothes, however, I realized she simply needed a good bathing. My flesh tried to be bothered by this, but my spirit woke up to the precious opportunity God had graciously dropped into my lap.

The little girl looked as though she was from a third-world country, and yet, here she was right in my own community.

And to think, I had felt disappointed lately because I haven't been able to go on a mission trip yet! All I needed to do was open my eyes and see the children and families in need around me.

I brought little Zoe over to the group of children and joined the circle. She snuggled in even closer as I began to gently rock her back and forth. I noticed that every time I stopped rocking, she kept rocking.

Geoff asked if any of the children had prayer requests. As we made our way around the circle, I gently stroked Zoe's little back and head. When we got to Zoe, I whispered in her ear if she wanted us to pray for anything.

The words she spoke felt like a knife in my heart. She quietly spoke for the first time, "For my Dad. He's in jail. He's a bad man. He killed people."

Her cousin then added, "Her Dad hurt her, that's why he went to jail. She's confused. She doesn't know what she's saying."

I don't know where the reality lies, but either way, these sweet children were carrying burdens and knowledge far too heavy for four and seven-year-olds.

I don't exactly remember my exact words because I was so stunned. I know that I my goal was to acknowledge the seriousness of what was being shared, while also trying to put the other kids at ease.

I talked about how people with broken hearts hurt others. I said that we could pray for the Zoe's father and ask Jesus to help heal his wounded heart. I then quietly said to Zoe, "I am so very glad that you are here. We'll pray for your heart as well. I'm so sorry your father hurt you." I then asked Jesus to go deep with His love.

A little while later, James and Zoe left the circle and refused to join the group again. Until God opened another door for me to minister to them. They told me they were hungry and wanted to have the breakfast they had earlier refused. Oh, what a privilege it was to serve them food!

Remembering that James didn't like name tags, I felt God guiding me to mark his paper cup with a smiley face. I then added the words, "I like you!"

Wouldn't you know, in just a couple of minutes, I noticed my new little friend balancing his plate on the Bible we had given him. He was crawling slowly back on his knees to rejoin the group. I quickly went over to help him carry his things and made room for him at the table.

James was soon followed by his sweet little cousin. My son, Liam, asked me later why Zoe was nice for the adults but stuck her tongue out at all the children when we weren't looking. I told him the same thing I told precious Zoe. People with broken hearts hurt others.

I asked God to break my heart for those things that break His. Yesterday, He answered my prayer, yet again, in a new and deeper way.

Her name was Zoe. His name was James. God used them both to open my eyes to the children and families in need around me.

Oh, my Sweet Friend, there are so many children hurting all across the world. God calls some to travel across the seas, and some to minister in our own neighborhoods. Either way, our job is to reach out and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. When we do, God is glorified and lives are changed. Including our own.

May God allow us all to see with His eyes, touch with His hands and love with His heart. It is then that we are LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

(*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these precious children.)

I believe in Love,