Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Don't Want Life to Be Easy

Life has been a challenge this week but I've been thinking this:

I don't want life to be easy. 

If life were easy. 

I wouldn't know Jesus. The fellowship of his sufferings like I do now.

If life were easy. 

I would not recognize the wounded ache in eyes that cross my path.

If life were easy.

I would be entirely too full of myself.

If life were easy. 

I would care less about, things, about people, about God.

If life were easy. 

I'm certain I would be shallow and unwilling to plumb the depths for a friend.

If life were easy. 

I would be less willing to step into the messiness of life to come along side someone.

If life were easy. 

I would not recognize my need for Jesus.

If life were easy.

I would not have learned the value of patience and perseverance.

If life were easy.

I would not understand that it is more about how I do than what I do in life.

No. I don't want life to be easy. 

There is too much to lose.

What would you lose if life were easy?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Losing Face. Witness love.

I've been angry this week. A lot.

Our China managers are here for training and business strategy. We are writing new contracts and tightening what our manager calls leakage. I have some incredible and exciting miracles to share with you, but this is on my heart today.

They described many situations of dishonesty from our China partners. This doesn't come as a shock. We have been working on some situations for years. But the reality stings hearing it first hand.

Some of our partners are very honest and upright. Others sadly are not; they put on a good face when we go to China. In China, they call it knives with smiles. It makes me angry because my father has spent years helping them build their farms, build their business and giving them tools to be successful. They use what they want and do their own thing for their own pleasure.

In China when someone does something dishonest, they call it losing face. When someone is very dishonest and cannot be trusted at all, they say he has no face. Too often, they respond in the moment for their pleasure, while denying our agreements and word.

It makes me think about my relationship with God. How often I put on a good face then take what I want and use it for my own pleasure?

Lose face. I responded to the moment by letting my anger deny I live for Jesus. It wasn't intentional. Does that make me a little like Peter?

Peter promised he would never deny Jesus. Everybody else could, but he would die before bending. Then he responded to the moment and three times, lost face. The rooster crowed.

At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Luke 22:61a.

Can you imagine? The denier and the denied face to face. It must have been a paralyzing moment, searing the mind and heart. Peter realizing what he did. Jesus knowing. 

What did Peter see in the eyes of Jesus? I think he saw compassion, grace and sorrow beyond what he could bear. Peter saw love he could not understand. 

And Peter left the courtyard, crying bitterly. Luke 22:61b

Maybe that was the moment Peter completely believed for the first time. I don't know, but it changed Peter's life. Maybe that black night and the rooster crow was the very moment Peter truly became the rock. 

Black moments of losing face can change our lives too. 

Have you ever heard the rooster crow?

I've heard. I've been like Peter in some ways this week. By being angry and impatient, I denied for the moment that Jesus is my Lord. When I allow that to happen, I lose face.

When we lose face, we lose our witness. In our worst moments Jesus turns to look at me, at you. We behold the same compassion and grace.

Thank you God that no matter what we have done, Jesus knows. 

Jesus turns to look at me. He turns to look at you.

See love. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Getting ahead of God

My niece got married last week and she wanted to have a picnic at our farm the following day to celebrate with her new Phoenix family and DC law students. 

My mom and dad worked relentlessly. Let me tell you Martha Stewart has got nothing on my mom. They returned from a trip a few weeks ahead and everyone kicked into high gear. Planting, pruning, watering, cleaning; the whole staff took part.

As each day clicked off toward the big event, we stressed that flowers were dropping leaves and shriveling. They should have been fully grown and thriving in the favorably mild and wet summer.

At the party, my father apologized that he had treated the flower beds with fertilizer to help them along. The only ones that survived were the flowers he missed.

Isn't that just like us with God?

Fertilizer is a good thing, but too much at the wrong time and growth stops.

I can think of many times I've done the same thing. I've given my daughter good advice, but too much at the wrong time and growth stops.

We are working through business restructuring right now. We needed answers two months ago. Some decisions or non-decisions seem wrong to people.

It reminds me of Gideon. If it had been me God told to go into battle with a candle, a jar and an instrument to blow hot air through I can hear myself now, excuse me God do you not understand the size of this problem? Guess I don't understand what small faith and how little patience I have.

I told a friend yesterday, sometimes those who wait on the Lord sweat bullets.

Do you feel like that? Are you sweating bullets waiting for answers?

The world looks up to people who can make things happen. They are the movers and the shakers. They know how to get things done.  That doesn't mean we have to come in with our fertilizer. We can do a lot of good things, we can make a lot of good decisions.

But too much of our own efforts at the wrong time and growth stops. God can't work.

I remain confident of this: 
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 
Wait for the Lord; 
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:13-14

But for us who call God our Lord, no decision is greater than letting God work in His time and His way.

I encourage you today to resist the small faith, little patience urge to fertilize.
There is richness waiting.
The soil and the seed God is preparing will be a thing of beauty.

Take heart.

Don't get ahead of God. You might miss the beauty.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

When Weariness Seems to Win

Weariness gets me. I have to admit, it gets me in a bad way.

Last Friday I awoke and my mind was in the middle of singing Building 429 We will not be shaken. Praise was on my heart. But, it was still a tough day. I was making big decisions about our business and working through challenges is never easy. Particularly since we are a family business. Like most families, we have our share of strife and baggage.

If you don't know me, my family raises pigs. Yep, I manage a pig farm. More accurately I manage the people who run the pig farm. We are now 18 months into significant restructuring of operations, organization and finances. I have a super team of people way smarter than me who provide excellent and trustworthy advice. Yet, some days it feels like I barely manage to keep my head above water. Like Wednesday.

Four irrigation pivots were broken down at a critical time for corn. The state was coming to visit and presumably shut off our ability to pump out of the creek. Fortunately, they only put us on a schedule. Major building problems at another unit were a big concern. People's stress levels were as high as the acrid summer heat. To top off the day one of my trusted team, our accountant, gave his two week notice.

That did it. CEO or not, I cried. Not very professional, but sometimes being a woman trumps job descriptions. I cried the rest of the day. I put out a 'help me' message to some of my team, hoping they could talk me back from hormones to logic. No call.

Cling to truth. I will not be shaken. 

OK I thought, I'm hosting a study at my house tonight. Their encouragement will snap me right out of this. We start by sharing our week and prayer requests. Problem was several of us had bad things happen. Their problems were just as important as mine. I will get my turn. But the turn didn't come. I hate to admit this, but half way through the evening I shut down and just wanted everyone to go home so I could have a good old fashioned, therapeutic cry.

Trust in Him. Hide in God.

Thursday, I tried to talk with our consultant who was here. He helps people work with people. Can we say God's timing is perfect? Dangerously to close to losing it when I had an afternoon of meetings to run, I said just enough to keep myself together. He gave me what encouragement he could and knows me well enough to understand my process. Do the next thing until I don't feel so raw. I barely made it through the day.

It was Friday morning again and I awoke puffy eyed, exhausted. I fell into my recliner, bible in hand as usual.

Keep Close to me. I'm here.

From the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help for my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary beneath the shelter of your wings. Psalm 62:1-4

God heard my cry and gave this reminder and promise. Thank you, God! Still teary, I was now running late. I rushed to get ready, turning on the radio always set to KLOVE. I stopped dead in my tracks. Guess what song was playing? Yep, We will not be shaken

If you feel like this today, do what little you can. Cling to truth. Hide in God. 

Let your tears flow and know he is sheltering you under his wing. 
Allow your pain, but take it to the rock of safe refuge.
Don't deny weariness. Know it will be banished in the fortress of God.

He always hears. He always gives rest for the weary. He is always faithful. 

Is it instantaneous? Not always, and that is all right. I'm still not back to normal, but God is always good. I know I'm not the only one who struggles. Please tell me I'm not! If I can encourage you take a deep breath and reach out. We are not meant to do this alone. 

He walks with us every step and we will not be shaken.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

China: Prayer #3

Are you on the flight to Detroit?

The words broke through my fog of thought as I passed the terminal entrance for the umpteenth time. I looked toward the source of the cheerful intrusion and saw a woman with two children, all blonde. The boy was very young and the waist high girl obviously feeling as sick as I was. Severe sinus cold and fever did not wait for the comforts of my home. Poor dear.

I affirmed that, yes, we were on the same flight and we struck up a conversation. I could tell from the mountain high stack of luggage, a sick girl, and a stroller lost in the bowels of the luggage system, that she was stretched to the limit.

I offered to help by watching the luggage while she found the stroller, but an employee offered to get it for her. We exchanged our stories while we waited. She lived in southern China and her husband  stayed to work while they visited family this summer. She was fascinated I was in China on pig business.

The children climbed into the now found stroller and we gathered luggage, carts and kids heading our train to check in. She told me they never fly that route home. Hmm, I think this is a set up. 

I have to ask, are you missionaries? Her sideways glance spoke volumes. Not officially she said. We don't work with any organization. We live here, and share where we can.

Prayer #3.
I smiled.  As we headed toward security and I told of my hope that being in China could be about more than only selling pigs. I want to support missions in the country, from within the country. She beamed.

It's astounding how quickly you can become friends when you have a common bond. Her children are absolutely darlings and I was amazed at their language skills. They talked my leg off while we ate supper together.

My new friend shared her experiences. Some of the encouraging things God is doing as well as the struggles people in China face to share the truth of God. She and her husband have been doing this unsupported live-in-share-in ministry for 13 years! She named five countries and I think at least three continents. I was overwhelmed with their "Abraham, Go" hearts of obedience. It requires deep love and commitment to live real for God. Linda, take note.

We helped each other in Detroit and shared a warm hug as we parted for our flights. We said we will stay in touch and that is a promise I intend to keep. God is clearly at work bringing two women together at the same moment in a big airport in an even bigger country. We went our separate ways, but spoke agreement.
It will be interesting to see what God does with this.
Many times at the end of a stressful day I wonder, what mattered?  I struggle with so much time and energy spent on pigs and it doesn't seem very spiritual. Frankly, it isn't.  
You may be wondering today too. I'm learning that God uses everything. God uses everything you do too.
Do every small thing, even the seemingly unspiritual with a heart for Jesus.  If God can find a way to use pigs, don't you think he can use whatever you do for his glory also?

Use what you have been given. It is never small or unimportant.
Watch for opportunities. They are everywhere. With hearts wide open, we will see them.

Share where God has you. Most of us are missionaries living right where we are. God needs us more than ever. 

 Because that's what he is in the business of doing, my friend. Using the ordinary, the plain, the lowly, the boring. The willing.
Are you willing today?


Sunday, June 23, 2013

China: One Big Country and Three Simple Prayers

Soon after God and I came to an agreement that I would, indeed, to do the job he asked me to do, he raised the bar. No big surprise there, God does that kind of thing. But I still shook my fist and pounded the table and said, "Really God? Our first agreement wasn't enough?" I imagine him crossing his arms and leaning back on his throne as he chuckles and shakes his head.

Fine, I can make a trip to China. There God, see how much easier that was this time? Notice I said a trip, as in one. I spent a lot of time talking to God about this one trip.  Friends prayed too. I asked for three simple things. Well, one was a little more than simple.

The only jewelry I took was the cross necklace with the word faith a friend gave me. She thought that was exciting so we prayed someone would ask about the necklace. Prayer #1.

I wanted to be able to share my faith and talk about God with someone. Prayer #2.

The last request was a little trickier. I told God I didn't want our activity in China to only be about raising pigs and selling them to people. I want to find how to use pigs to share Jesus, say support mission work, but I wanted a real connection to the missionaries. That would be cool. Prayer #3.

After days full of meetings, interviews and contracts, we took a morning to see some sights. We have an assistant who is our interpreter. A young woman named Snow. She started talking about some of the bad things happening in the country. Maybe you saw the recent story of the Chinese couple who tried to send their newborn down the toilet. She said a lot of people in China were talking about that. Some thought it was terrible, some were allright with it. Because we have no faith, people can do terrible things and not even feel sorry for it.

Why do we have no faith in our country?

Prayer #2. I told her I'm a Christian and I have faith and that is what I live by. But she wanted to know how you get to heaven. Do you do enough good things to get heaven? No, Jesus is how you get to heaven you know him right? I asked her if she had ever heard of Jesus, and she said that she'd heard only a little. All you have to do is believe in Jesus and that he died for you because he loves you so much. You do good things because you love Jesus and you love other people. The conversation ended, but the seed was planted.

That night I decided to give her a gift. I took two devotional books to China. Jesus Calling and Promises for Life for Women. I chose the Promises book because Jesus in big bold print on the cover might cause problems. This little devotional has scriptures about all kinds of subjects. Anger, joy, resentment, peace. Things we all struggle with at any given hormonal level. I wrote in the front cover how to get to heaven so she could study it.

The final morning in our hotel room, we were chatting about business and Snow suddenly looked at me and said what pretty shirt you have on and what is that necklace? Prayer #1. I told Snow I got it from a very special friend because we both believe in Jesus and it signifies the bond we have because we are Christians.

Perfect time for the gift. I handed the book to Snow and explained it has bible verses about all kinds of topics that would help her. Does God really help you? Absolutely I said. Remember the other day in the meeting I got really angry? You saw that didn't you? I took a walk, talked to God and asked him to please give me patience and love and he did. She wanted to know if  he really helps with anger. More than that, I explained, he gives me peace. Snow told me that is what I need. She said there is a church in her home city that believes like I do and she is going to visit.

She clutched the devotional to her chest and declared with passion, I will read every word of this to my son and I will tell him that it is from you. Snow doesn't have a son. She's not married. Snow isn't even engaged yet. God's word never goes out void.

As I was answering some questions for my father and working on emails, I picked up the other devotional, you know the one with Jesus real big on the cover, just to show it to Snow. She grabbed that book out of my hands and set it together with the Promises gift.  Well ok, I thought, she can have both. I wonder how many people will read them?

God makes me smile. As we headed for the airport, I thought about those two amazing answers. I got there hours early because my father was heading a different direction on a morning flight. I went through the sliding terminal doors one step from leaving China.

I walked and walked circles around that terminal killing time and talking to God. Will he answer my third prayer? The first two were fairly painless. Do I even want the answer?

God um, I'm at the airport now. As if he didn't know.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Real Life Connections (in)RL

We came together. Last minute. When I heard about in(RL)Meet up through Lisa Jo Baker at Jumping Tandem The Retreat. I knew ladies at my church wanted something like this. Needed this. Even though I wasn't sure myself what it was all about. I scoped (in)courage website, got permission from my pastor and before I could come to my senses, emailed the ladies bible study group. Thursday morning. Did I mention the event started Friday? By that afternoon, I had several responses.

Oh my,  I'd better get something planned. I got super excited, watching previews Friday night. Saturday I crashed wondering what I had gotten myself into. I had no idea how to do this. So I baked. And prayed and ideas came and ladies to help and God put it together.

Eighteen women cam of all ages. Each a single rope strand. Questions shadowed eyes and silenced lips. We bound together and wound our hearts as we tied to Him, unbreakable. We tore long strips of colored fabric and watched fun, challenging, insightful women share.

Small groups clustered, questioned and related. With every segment, groups rearranged so no two were ever alike. Talk flowed easier, conversation lingered longer and schedules slipped. I didn't care. Connecting was God's plan.

After each discussion we wrote something to give over to God on the fabric. Then tied our heart expression to the rope. I worried people would think it silly, but God gave the idea. 

When you have been hurt? Who do you know who hurts now?
What sickness, loss or sadness do you or someone you know have?
What excuse do we use for not staying in community?
Who has God put on your heart to show that staying is the right thing to do?

We discovered the unique beauty of God bringing his most creative creatures, women, together in community to learn and love.

We found common ground. Look out for others hurting. Staying is better, even though leaving is easy. It is an honor to be challenged to behave more like Jesus. Reach out to women in stages of life, beyond our own. There is much to learn. Sometimes the smallest thing means the most so do one thing more. Endure in love because friends don't give up.

Throughout the afternoon the binding of Christ, the rope of community filled. One torn fabric piece, one lady, one prayer at a time.

Everyone loved the benches concept and chattered over each other with ideas. Our first "bench" is this Saturday at the restaurant of one of the ladies in the group. I can't go, but that is good. The women jumped in and became part building community. As it should be. We will even have an activity together this summer.

This wasn't a big thing one little woman can do. It is a little thing a BIG God and do and turn it into something HUGE. Because when it comes to staying, He's got us beat hands down. In blood, and stripes, and last breaths and risen first gasps and staying. Forever.