The Greatest Commandment

Because of the way I was raised, I have a really warped image of who the God of the Bible is.  I have oftentimes viewed Him as an angry Father, constantly displeased with me because I do not measure up. (I find it a bit inconsistent that I don’t think He feels that way about everyone else!?  “I love the whole world – except you.  You need work first.”)

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In my head, I know that He loves me because He died for me and I realize that we are blessed to live in the Age of Grace – but that does not translate to emotional/heart knowledge because of my own family dynamics.  In my head, I know that my earthly father loves me – but that relationship does not feel loving and my heart is often left feeling rejected by my earthly father.  As a child, I always strived to be perfect so that he would love and accept me.  As an adult, I realize I am far from perfect.  All of my failures pile up, leaving me feeling as though I have no worth and am unlovable.

This has definitely translated to my view of my relationship with God.

To add to this confusion, the family member who had the biggest spiritual influence on my life is very controlling and passive aggressive.  Her view of God is warped in the same way that mine is – she actually believes that if she’s not in church on Sunday morning or if she commits some sin and then dies, she will go to hell.  She sees God as constantly waiting to bring judgement on her.  She puts a lot of emphasis on outward appearances and rules. She uses guilt trips to manipulate you into doing what she wants.  She is in bondage, as I have spent so many years in bondage.  So when reading the following verse, I have always kind of heard her voice in my head…

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15

If I really love God, I will stive to keep his commandments so that I can SHOW my love for Him, right?  He’s like my relative – “if you REALLY love me, you’ll do this…”

Last night, Scott and I were listening to an online bible study on Revelation that we’ve been working through for the past month or so, when an idea was presented that honestly blew my mind.  You may have had this right all along, but bear with me because I have not had it right at all.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17

In context, Jesus is telling his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit!  There is only one way a person can keep the commandments – through the power of the Holy Spirit!  My view of this verse has been completely backwards.  I’ve emphasized “works” – keeping the commandments in order to show my love for Jesus.  In actuality, loving Jesus will CAUSE me to keep his commandments!  My focus has been on the rules when all this time, He’s been saying “Love me.”  If we love Him, the Holy Spirit will work in our lives and produce the fruit of the Spirit.  We don’t have to work to try to obtain those things.  They will be a natural overflow of our love for Him!

When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?”, what was his response?

 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

Again, I’ve always just seen these verses as “Well, that’s because the first of the 10 commandments have to do with loving God and the rest have to do with loving your neighbor…”  I’ve viewed it as a quick summary of the whole list.

But I was missing the “love”.  

Love Jesus and you WILL keep his commandments.  Not because He’s trying to make you feel guilty.  Not because He’s asking you to try harder until you get it right.  Not because He’s waiting on you to be just be a bit more “godly” so that you can be accepted.

You were accepted when He died on the cross and took on all your guilt, failures, and ungodliness.  Love Him!  And as you allow the Holy Spirit to change your heart, you become more like Him.

Lord, help me to love you more.  Help me to get my eyes off of what I think I need to be doing and focus on all that You are.  Mold me and shape me into who You want me to be.

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Review: The Heart Mender

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Several years ago, I won a copy of The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews as a blog giveaway (and it’s been so long ago, I can’t even remember which blog…)  I put it on my bookcase to be read someday and as it turns out, someday was this week.  I picked it up on Tuesday afternoon and finished it at 12:30 am on Wednesday!

The story (based upon actual events and people) straddles two time lines: the first, our current time, when the author finds a mysterious container buried in the sand by his house.  The second, 1942 (World War II).  After doing some research on the items in the container, a mystery begins to unfold that involves Nazis and U-Boats on the Gulf Coast of Alabama during WWII.

I was surprised to learn that during the war, German U-Boats (submarines) were sinking American ships in American waters and that cargo and bodies were actually washing up on our beaches, but the media (under the President’s orders) didn’t report it!  Being the skeptic that I am, I had to research and sure enough – the facts are there for those who want to search them out.  (Including recent underwater footage of the wreckage of the U-166 submarine featured in The Heart Mender.)

I don’t want to give too much information on the actual story line, because it is so unexpected that you really need to read it for yourself.  The author weaves a wonderful story that leaves you contemplating love, forgiveness, the consequences of war, and how the older generation lived in completely different times (but also how they have an awful lot to teach us, if we’ll only listen.)   Needless to say, I LOVED THIS BOOK, couldn’t put it down, and had to tell my husband all about it when he said he didn’t have time to read it immediately himself.  It’s one of those stories that I’ll be ruminating on for a while.

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When We Don’t Quite Get God’s Will Right…

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27

Several years ago, I listened to a series of messages by Otto Koning, a missionary to Papau New Guinea.  The area is one of heavy spiritual oppression and when people would die who weren’t followers of Christ, it is was a terrible and frightening thing to watch.  When a believer would die, even of some horrible injury, the passing would be completely different – peaceful as they crossed into Glory.

Otto tells of a time when he and his wife (and others in the ministry, if I remember correctly) were praying fervently for a man who they believed was to be a leader in the local church body.  They prayed and prayed for this man, very specific prayers.  I can’t remember exact details, but things happened and it turned out that this man was actually not a believer.  And then he was killed and his death confirmed that he had not been a believer.  And Otto questioned how they could have been so wrong – and what about all those prayers?  But then God raised up another man in the community and it was like all of those prayers had been for that man.  Otto quoted the above verse in Romans – and explained how the Holy Spirit is able to redirect our prayers if they are not according to the will of God!  (How comforting is THAT!?)

Just over a year ago, we learned that a baby girl was due in September.  She was to be our daughter’s half sister, born in another state.  We begged and pleaded with God for that baby’s safety and that if it was His will, that she would come to our home to be raised with her sister.  For four months, this baby’s safety weighed on us and we prayed and prayed and prayed.

Less than a week after that baby girl was born and placed in a foster home in that state, we received a text asking for if we would take placement of a  7 week old preemie – still 5 weeks from her due date.  It was only going to be for a couple of weeks, because she was going to a relative.  They technically shouldn’t have asked us, because they were supposed to wait a full 6 months after our adoption was finalized – but it was exactly 3 months to the day.

It has been almost a year now.  Our daughter’s half sister is about to be adopted by her foster family in another state.  God kept her safe and we praise Him for that!  But He didn’t bring her into our home.

In reading through what we know about our soon-to-be adopted baby daughter’s history (yes, that “couple of weeks” placement is actually going to get to be FOREVER!), she came extremely close to being aborted and was born addicted to multiple substances.

This makes me ponder a bit… God knew His plan for this precious one long before I knew she existed.  Was the Holy Spirit interceding on this baby’s behalf, using the prayers I was praying for another child?  Kind of interesting thought, isn’t it?

Has it been 8 months already?

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow marks 8 months since I spent the day at the NICU and brought a wee baby girl home.  She has grown and is doing remarkably well for having such a rough start!  She is adored by her big sisters and was a total trooper earlier this month when we took a very short trip up to Canada.  She brings joy to everyone who meets her!

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In February, our family moved from the house we were renting to a home that we purchased up in the foothills of North Georgia.  It’s a lovely area and the town we are in has that wonderful small town charm about it.  We made the difficult decision to leave our church home of the past 4 1/2 years.  Quite simply, it was taking 40+ minutes to drive there and we had to take separate cars because of Scott’s participation in the praise band.  He had to be there earlier than us on Sunday mornings and stayed very late on Wednesday evenings for practices.  We had already spent 2 1/2 years commuting 30 minutes each way and it really limited our participation.  That said, the Lord led us to a local congregation that really shares our heart of international missions and is just all around awesome.  As with any church, I’m sure we’ll see issues the longer we are there, but we love the focus and how friendly and giving the people are.  We are also impressed with the teen group and Alyssa will be going away to a week of summer camp in a different state in July!  EEK!  She is thrilled to bits and feels very comfortable in the new church – something we were a little scared of to be honest.  There are several adoptive families in the church and there are people from Colombia!  Did I mention it is FIVE MINUTES from our house?

 

We love our new home, as well.  We now have a screened in porch, above ground pool, huge schoolroom in the basement, guestroom, prayer closet…  It’s not on as much land as we would have liked, but we hope to be able to welcome people into our home and practice biblical hospitality!  Our basement guestroom is located just off of a den with couches and tv and has a full bath. It’s quite comfortable. We hope to be able to host missionaries that travel through the area (just as soon as I actually get the schoolroom presentable, that is…)

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We were so blessed in April when a local church’s youth group came to the new house and fenced our back yard for us!  They were doing a day of service to foster families and we were honored to be selected. Three young men and their leader spent the entire day working, through thunderstorms, to complete the task!

Things here are rolling right along.  We have a big trip coming up in a couple of weeks and then we will get to attend a 15th birthday celebration for one of our very first foster placements.  So excited to get to see that sweet girl again.  She and her sister were reunified 3 years ago this past week and we have been blessed to get to remain in contact with them since then.  We hope to open back up to additional foster placements after that – and we are also inquiring on an older teen who is available for adoption (because we are all kinds of crazy, but mostly because God seems to be pulling out hearts in that direction.)  And we’re investigating buying a Ford Transit Wagon because let’s be honest – we can only fit one more child in the minivan…

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I went to a strip club

Some really good thoughts here! We are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet!

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strip clubA while back I was asked by a group of pastor’s wives to go with them to strip clubs.

That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me.

At first I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think.

I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it’s part of my calling. But, given what I’ve walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be.

And I know how insensitive the church can be.

And I was uneasy.

But, these weren’t just any pastors wives.

They had a vision.

One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside.

It reminded me a lot of Jesus.

So, I jumped on it.

Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I’ll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect.

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A few pictures of the family.  I can’t include the wee baby at this time, but we are so blessed!  I am so thankful that our family said “yes” to fostering.  We would have missed out on so much joy that God had for us!

Road Tripping – Episode 4

Continuing our road tripping saga…

After saying our goodbyes to Scott’s family, we headed south to Pennsylvania Amish Country (Lancaster County.)  We camped at Country Acres RV Park.  The park was situated off the main drag and where our site was located, there was some road noise, but across from us was an Amish farm (corn field to be exact!)

We had breakfast at the Bird-In-Hand Bakery & Cafe and then walked across the street to the Bird-In-Hand Farmers Market and bought a few goodies.  We stopped by the Roadside Stand (yes, that’s what it’s called) and had the most delicious, buttery pretzels I’ve ever eaten, along with homemade root beer that was only 25 cents a cup!  We visited the little Ace Hardware and found some bulk food items and then ventured into Country Housewares – locally known as the “Amish Walmart” – and ended up coming out with a cartful!  Locally made baskets and a drying rack, sheets ($13/set for queen!), and I can’t remember what else now!  The lighting inside was by gas light and they had everything from sweaters and socks to crystal, home decor to stationary, toys, games, hardware items – you name it, they had it!  We found some great spots, thanks to my innkeeper friend Ruth Harnish at Flowers & Thyme B&B.  She mailed me coupons and a map with all the great spots circled.  We looked at our map and realized we were at the wrong Bird-In-Hand bakery for breakfast that morning and headed to Bird-In-Hand Bake Shop, where we got a dozen whoopie pies and two shoofly pies to bring home.  YUM!  Then we met up with my brother and his fiance and enjoyed dinner at Dienner’s Country Restaurant.  This offers the smorgasbord experience, without the giant price tag.

I am a huge fan of Amish fiction.  I read Wanda Brunstetter and Beverly Lewis and Beth Wiseman… I have wanted to visit Amish Country for many years.  I have to say, I was shocked by how commercialized it was.  Heavy traffic, outlet malls, and “amish” stores selling items mass produced in China.  Bird-In-Hand is a corporate identity and they have restaurants, a theater, accommodations…  It all kind of blew my mind.  We did spend some time just driving through the country and looking at the farms.  We saw an Amish father with his son on his lap, mowing their front lawn and being pulled by a horse.  We enjoyed it, it was just a whole lot different than I was expecting.

One activity that we really enjoyed in Lancaster was the Biblical Tabernacle.  About 40 years ago, some Baptist man in Florida built a life-sized replica of the tabernacle described in the bible.  He sold it to the Mennonites and it is now on display at the Mennonite Information Center.  (Side note:  The Mennonite Information Center offers tour guides who will RIDE IN YOUR CAR WITH YOU and spend a couple of hours giving you a tour of Amish Country, hitting spots that interest you.  We would have done this if we didn’t have a toddler in tow!)  Our guide for the tabernacle was so well versed in biblical history and so filled with the Holy Spirit that we felt like we had been to church to worship.  It was an awesome experience.  The actual reproduction is kind of dated, but is neat to see so that you can imagine what the real tabernacle was like.  But the tour itself and the tour guide were just incredible!  Highly recommend!  Inside the Mennonite Information Center is a gift shop that includes Ten Thousand Villages items, too!  (These are items made around the world to give people a sustainable income.)

After breaking camp, we headed south and camped at Claytor State Park in Dublin, Virginia.  We got there in the evening and enjoyed a walk through the woods and along the lake.  It was quiet and peaceful.  A wonderful spot!

12038814_10153589577356215_8873569950938670441_oWe loaded up and were back on the road.  Boy, were we glad to see Blue Ridge, Georgia come into view!  It was a wonderful trip and we made many memories!  Including Isabel falling off the bunk and hitting her head and the entire camper flooding due to heavy rain… Can’t wait to do it again (but we may upgrade to a regular camper!  Pop-ups are hard to deal with if you’re changing locations every day or two!)

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Road Tripping – Episode 3

We always enjoy visiting with Scott’s parents and this trip we were doubly blessed because we got to see his brother and sister-in-law from B.C., as well!  James also flew in and it was nice to get to spend time together.  We visited Wheeler’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush and purchased some goodies to bring back to our Sunday School class.  It was interesting to see the miles of blue tubing used to collect maple sap from the trees and pump it into the boiler room.

One afternoon, we took Alyssa and ventured into Perth to Crossroads Tea Room.  This was a special occasion for Alyssa – we presented her with her purity ring (which she had chosen months and months ago and had no idea we had purchased!)  It was a sweet time and the food was delicious – particularly the sticky toffee pudding!

We took a quick trip into Ottawa one day and hit the market just as it was closing.  They had awesome prices on maple syrup and maple candy.  We also got these little ice cream cones that were filled with maple syrup and topped with maple candy.  They were a bit MESSY – but delicious!  I also loaded up at Bulk Barn (taking full advantage of the exchange rate!

If you ever have the chance to drive Hwy 7 between Perth and Peterborough, you won’t regret it!  The drive takes you past glacier-carved lakes covered in lilypads, numerous blueberry and pie stands, and quaint rental cottages.  We stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and found some delicious homemade butter tarts that were definitely worth the stop!

To be continued…

We interrupt this road tripping saga…

… because last week I took placement of a baby!  A wittle bitty baby.  A micro-preemie, who at 7 weeks old weighs under 4 1/2 pounds.  She’s still over a month from her due date.  And she is precious.  And eating every 3.5 – 4 hours 😉  I have two or three more installments from our trip, but I have to find the awake time to write them.  Right now, I’m trying to grab naps whenever possible!  I have no idea how long this little peanut will be with us, but I’m enjoying all the snuggles!  (The apnea monitor is a bit intimidating though!)

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Road Tripping – Episode 2

We loaded up and made a quick stop by Tim Horton’s – where the drive-thru is not quite set up for vehicles pulling trailers.  A crisis was avoided, but we were about an inch away from having our tire jump the curb and having to call a tow truck.  Some coffee and timbits later and we headed to Hidden Valley Carefree RV Resort near Turkey Point, Ontario.  This is right above Lake Erie – but I must confess, I never actually SAW Lake Erie.  There were many trees and we were there primarily to visit family.  Will have to plan to see the lake the next time we visit!

The campground was nice.  The majority of it was filled with seasonal or full-time campers.  These folks had permanent decks and porches built onto their trailers, storage sheds, the whole nine yards.  We were up in the back in the nightly camping.  And on night one, we had the whole place to ourselves!  On nights two and three, we were joined by two or three other campers and that was it.

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On day 2 there, we drove to Brantford, Ontario and picked up Scott’s brother.  We grabbed lunch at a Chinese restaurant and it was NOT good.  I will forever avoid restaurants that advertise “Chinese and Canadian Cuisine”.  We then drove to Niagara Falls.  It was a beautiful day!  We enjoyed Journey Behind the Falls – a tunnel that goes under the river and behind the falls with little hallways that allow you to look out at the water cascading over.  (I think this would be super cool to see in winter when it is frozen over!)  Scott took video from the platform at the base with the GoPro camera.  Alyssa LOVED Niagara Falls.  Isabel was not a fan of all the mist!

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The next day, we headed out to visit family – leaving the awning up, stove mounted outside, and a window unzipped.  We drove past Scott’s childhood home, saw tobacco, asparagus, pumpkins and ginseng growing (along with more corn and soybeans!)  We had a wonderful time visiting Scott’s aunt & uncle and cousins.  They were so sweet to have craft supplies for the girls!  We stayed longer than we had planned, joining the family for a tasty dinner of pizza and wings.

While we were out, it began to rain.  And rain.  And rain.  By the time we returned, the awning had come completely off the trailer, the stove had gotten soaked and the press board that it was mounted to crumbled, and the canvas began to leak (this despite no leaks with 3 rainy nights already!)  We had a very uncomfortable, wet night that night!  Saturday morning, we had a temporary break in the rain that allowed us to get the trailer put away and we headed to Scott’s parents’ home, near Perth, Ontario.

To be continued…