Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving, Stretchy Pants, and Jars of Clay

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter His courts with praise.  I will say this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice for He has made me glad.

It is the day after Thanksgiving, and my family of four is slowly rising this morning, one by one, from our Thanksgiving slumber.  Our bellies and hearts still full from the copious amounts of food and love we feasted upon yesterday.  Thank you, Jesus for family, friends, pumpkin pie and whipped cream…but, mostly Lord, thank you for stretchy pants.  Amen?  Amen. 

“There is always, always, always something to be thankful for”.  I placed a sign with that phrase on my dining room wall a few years back.  It serves as a daily reminder to me (and I need that reminder) that thanksgiving is so much more than a holiday.  It’s a place to enter and abide - a place where hearts are stretched and filled with life, goodness, grace, abundance, and joy.  It’s totally our choice to binge and reside in that place of thanksgiving though.  And, it’s not always easy to do so, especially when life is full of circumstances beyond our control.  The circumstances themselves, hard as they may or may not be, are not nearly as important as what we opt to do with them.

When someone suggests you’re sick it is easy to dwell in that place.  And, though it’s of utmost importance we take care of ourselves, it’s also important we realize sickness does not have to become our new address.  We have the power within us to overcome that frame of mind. The more focus we place on being ill, the more we begin to believe that’s all we are.  “I can’t do this or I’m not capable of that because….” It takes determination, balance, and a thankful heart to stay out of that pit.  Sickness doesn’t define you no more than it defines me.  Jesus does.  I read this profound statement the other day:

“Though we may think we are at the end of our rope, we are never at the end of our hope!”   

Praise God He is our hope!  I am thankful.  The past six months have no doubt been wearisome and many times I’ve felt at the end of my rope.  There have been moments my face has been so hot from tears, stress, and anxiety that I wanted to stick my head in the freezer – thinking the cold air would somehow manage to keep me from spontaneous combustion.  I have been hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, struck down…but, I’ve not been abandoned.  I’ve not been destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).  God’s power is alive and well in me and because of Him I can keep showing up…facing each day with a thankful heart. I may feel at the end of my rope, but I’ve never been at the end of my hope. 

We’ve ruled out many things, but we’re still searching for a cause of my health concerns and symptoms. Tuesday I will undergo a kidney biopsy.  My physicians now considering lupus nephritis as a potential culprit.  Your continued prayers are much appreciated.  I don’t want to go through the biopsy.  Sitting at home in my stretchy pants and eating pumpkin pie sounds like a much more fun and exciting way to spend the day.  But this, this is the circumstance I am in.  And, the circumstance itself is not nearly as important as what I opt to do with it. 

I’ve been reading lately the book of 2 Corinthians.  It is chock-full of reassuring, comforting, God breathed words spoken and gifted to us through the Apostle Paul.  Paul penned the heartfelt words of 2 Corinthians around the time period of A.D. 55-57.  It blows my mind that something written that long ago is still completely applicable and appropriate for today.  God is good.  He always knows just what we need at the exact time we need it…even if it’s more than a thousand years later.  He’s pretty awesome like that. 

The focus of Paul’s message was Christ, not himself.  He wanted others to see Christ’s work in him, and he fully acknowledged that his abilities, his strength, and his accomplishments were not the result of anything he himself could do, but rather what Christ was doing in and through him.  Preach.  In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 Paul writes that those who love the Lord are like jars of clay – frail and fallible.  Yet, despite that frailty, they are jars filled with the priceless treasure of Christ’s power dwelling in them.

You guys - I am a jar of clay, frail a fallible, but God is alive and well, and He is at work in and through me.  What an honor and privilege that is! Sometimes I just need that reminder – a kick in the old stretchy pants, so to speak.

If there is but one thing you take away from reading this blog, I pray it is this – God’s saving, all consuming, merciful, powerful grace.  He is my hope.  My strength.  My power.  My salvation and my song. 

It is because of the strength I find in Him I can even remotely begin to have a heart of thanksgiving.  A heart that overflows for His glory (2 Corinthians 4:15).  Because of Him, in the midst of unmet expectations and unanswered prayers – there is appreciation.  On those days when my chin quivers and my eyes fill up with tears – there is gratitude.  Because, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. 

Hurt, anger, frustration, resentment, bitterness…the list goes on – these are all totally normal emotions or feelings, and believe you, me – I experience them.  I don’t necessarily know how to avoid them. But, I am learning not to reside in them.  And, that my friends makes all the difference in the world.  Those feelings strangle and choke when I feast upon and dwell in them.  And, you know what?  It’s difficult to breathe, much less move from that dwelling place when you’re suffocating. Plus, I’ve already mentioned I’m partial to stretchy pants, pumpkin pie, and breathing.  So…

I will choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will choose to enter His courts with praise.  I will choose to say this is the day that the Lord has made. And, I will choose to rejoice for He has made me glad. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Learning to Lean

Thank you for praying for me and my dear family over the past few months.  Shortly after my last blog post, I underwent surgery to remove and biopsy a suspicious area in my bladder. I am overjoyed, however, to tell you that during the procedure, the area in question was nowhere to be found!  There was literally nothing, NOTHING to be removed!  Permission granted to dance happily amongst yourselves.  I may or may not have danced a jig myself.  (No, I’m not a good dancer.  But, hey, Jesus doesn’t judge my lack of dancing skills, so let's move on shall we?)

I will be seeing a kidney specialist in a couple of weeks to determine whether kidney disease is the culprit of these ongoing health concerns.  The symptoms that started five months ago are still very much present.  So, while we are rejoicing over the absence of a cancer diagnosis, we continue to wait with anticipation for answers.  Each day I’m learning to lean more and more on the grace and goodness of the Lord...trusting in His timing and His plans.  Desperately trying not to run ahead and control things myself.  I know His ways are better than my own.  And, because of that I’m so very thankful that He loves me despite myself and despite my failures in leaning on Him as often as I should.  More of Him, less of me.  I’m learning to lean.

This learning to lean thing is hard.  It’s truly a daily decision...sometimes it’s a minute by minute, or even second by second decision.  We, as a society, are so accustomed to instant gratification that any amount of waiting or not getting exactly what we want can often lead to tantrums of toddler like proportions.  Bless.  Trust me when I say I could easily be mistaken for Veruca Salt’s understudy in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  And, she was a bad egg, my friends (Check it out here).  Thank God He doesn’t always give us what we want, but He is oh so faithful to meet our every need.  He saves us over and over and over again; steadying our stride and reminding us to lean.  For goodness sake, He’s the creator of the universe.  So, um, He's perfectly capable of handling the hot mess we are, no? 

From my study Bible, in the introduction to the book of Proverbs, the commentators write:

“Knowledge is good, but a vast difference stands between ‘knowledge’ (having the facts) and ‘wisdom’ (applying those facts to life).  We may amass knowledge, but without wisdom our knowledge is useless.  We must learn to live out what we know.” 

Mercy. That gets me right in the feelers.
  We can study, and even memorize the entire Bible.  We can be Bible scholars (and heaven knows there are many scholars out there who can quote the Bible from cover to cover) but, without application of what we know and learn from scripture – all we have is...knowledge. Being smart is good.  Being wise is greater.  If we aren’t applying God breathed instruction to our lives, then God's word is nothing more than a bunch of useless information floating around in our big ol’ brains.
Let me be perfectly clear here, I don’t share with you as an expert on this subject by any means.  I’m just a girl longing to serve and honor the Lord, working out her salvation each and every day.  If my sharing is helpful to you along your spiritual journey, then I am ever so thankful for the ability to share.  But, hear me when I say - Praise God His mercies are new every morning.  Cause, you guys, I need some mercy.  For reals.  I can’t even tell you how many times, in the last week alone, I have laid down my crown at the feet of Jesus just to pick it back up again seconds later. 

The Lord has proven Himself faithful time and time again in my life.  I could talk till I’m blue in the face of His providence.  I have no reason to doubt Him.  I know His plans are best, but living out what I know...sigh.  That’s where the rubber hits the road, and I’m like a teenager learning to drive.  Jesus take the wheel.  Each day I’m learning to loosen my grip on my own agendas, my friends, food (props to Reese’s peanut butter cups), music, retail name it - whatever or whomever I’m leaning on for temporary satisfaction and security in place of the One who grants eternal satisfaction and security.  I’m learning...learning to lean on Jesus. 

Running after instant gratification is such an easy takes us off of the perfect, individualized path God has designed just for each and every one of us. And, it’s a trap that I (and I pray you do too) know better than to fall into. The more aware we are of the traps and snares, the greater chance we have of avoiding them in the future. I liken this to my boys’ math homework. Todd and I require the boys do their homework as soon as they get home from school.  It has to be done before they can watch TV, get on the X-box, or whatever else their little hearts desire. I can’t tell you the number of times I have graded their math homework and found careless mistakes. They know most of the answers, but make errors because they aren’t focused on their work. Instead they are in a hurry to get that temporary high of playing games or watching a show. So, they rush to the finish line and end up getting off track – only to find they saved no time at all and have to go back and correct mistakes that shouldn’t have been made in the first place (at which point whining ensues on their end...and mine. Algebra gives mama a headache). 

Slow and steady wins the race, but often we are too concerned with satisfying our desires that we run ahead and end up taking a detour down the wrong path, tripping over ourselves along the way. Have I mentioned I trip a lot? In the hurdles of life, we find success, joy and peace when we lay aside our own plans and expectations—and surrender to His. His pace. His path. His answers. His plans.

The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, wrote the book of Proverbs. He also wrote the books of Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In these books, Solomon shares his wisdom with readers. But, Solomon wasn’t wise by his own merits or doing – his wisdom came from the Lord. Solomon literally prayed for it, and God, in His great faithfulness, granted it to him (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).

In Proverbs 1:7 (NIV), Solomon wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Knowledge is plentiful.  But, wisdom, wisdom is scarce.  Wisdom requires putting into practice what we know, not just taking charge and running full steam ahead.  Everyone is looking for a source of strength.  We can choose to lean on ourselves, on others, on things, or...we can lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus.

Our human understanding always limits God. Learning to lean on Jesus - to depend, rely, and rest on him is a crucial part of our spiritual journey. May we seek His wisdom as we run with endurance the race He has set before us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  -Proverbs 3:5, 6 (NIV)

I'm learning to lean.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Music and Lyrics

"My favorite thing is to hear how the songs start showing up in people's lives, and help them talk to God in their everyday situations". - Matt Redman (Christian singer/songwriter)

From a very young age music has been a central part of my life.  It gives voice to my feelings, emotions, and thoughts when I can't quite find the words to express them myself.  It is also a mode through which the Lord speaks His truth and promises into my life.  And, oh how I love that He sets those truths and promises to music.  As I sing them over and over I am able to memorize the wisdom and encouragement they hold, and am reminded He is ever present and ever faithful.  Just think of all the wonderful God given lyrics that speak so dearly to our hearts...

 "On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand"
"In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song"

Most recently I've been loving the song, "In the Eye of Storm" by Ryan Stevenson.  It's good, good stuff, people.  You should totally check it out. 

"In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm"

As the Lord speaks to me through song, I am reminded of this passage of scripture in the book of Zephaniah:

"For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs." – Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
I"ve been filling up on His joyful songs lately (and chocolate...lots and lots of chocolate).  You know the old saying, "Garbage in, garbage out"?  My mind is prone to wander and worry, and if allowed to roam free I would quickly find myself wrecked with fear and anxiety.  God breathed, joyful songs of love are just what my weary heart, mind and soul needs! 

This past Sunday marked twelve weeks of walking this present road my family and me are on...this detour we did not anticipate we'd be taking.  Twelve mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting long weeks of walking, trusting, singing, and waiting for answers yet to come.   I'm still experiencing symptoms of a potential cancer recurrence. There's been no change in my diagnosis either.  Just waiting, waiting, and more waiting. 

I feel I can see a "Y" just ahead in the road, but when we"ll reach it is anyone"s guess.  One path takes us down the road of cancer again.  The other allows us to continue life where we left off twelve weeks back.   I struggle with wanting to run ahead to get to the "Y" faster, and slowing my pace dreading what may come. It"s been hard to juggle the thoughts and feelings we've had along this road, and I'd be lying if I told you it's been easy to keep the faith.   This limbo of desperately wanting answers yet being scared of hearing them rips at my heart.  Somedays it's all I can do to keep the tears at bay, to whisper prayers and scripture over the fears that haunt my mind, and to wait patiently on the Lord.   

One of my favorite scriptures is:

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." – Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

A few years ago, I wrote a song around this verse.  It's titled apropos, "They That Wait". A friend of mine recorded and produced the song for me.  He also played all the instruments on the song. In retrospect maybe I should have had him sing it as well... :) If you can stomach my vocal, you can listen to the song here:

This song, and many others have been such a source of encouragement to me lately.  I've got a playlist, and I'm not afraid to use it!!  The lyrics in the second verse of my song are as follows:

When the days get long and I feel so weak
I'll keep pressing on cause You are my strength
I will rest in Your divine delays
And choose to follow You all my days
(They That Wait, © Angela Winterbower 2011)

God breathed, joyful songs of love for the wait.  I'm doing my best to press on, rest in the divine delays, and follow God’s will.  Some days are easier than others...this waiting is hard.  And, it takes a whole lot of focus to stay...focused. 

Next week and the following week, I will return to the doctor for more scans.   We would truly appreciate your continued prayers.  And, if you have some songs you think I should add to my playlist, or perhaps some encouraging words or scripture to share, well, feel free to pass the suggestions along!  I'll just be here waiting. 

Thanks guys!  Much love.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Waiting on the World to Change

Yesterday we enjoyed the respite of our warm beds and blankets a little longer.  We hung out in our pajamas till mid-afternoon.  And, we feasted on a big, homemade breakfast about the time we’d normally be arriving home from church.  We sipped our coffee. We chewed, instead of inhaled, our food.  We spent time together in the same room for more than a few brief minutes or the length of one television show.  It was nice.  It was peaceful.  And, it was savored.     

Once the plates were cleared and bellies were full, Todd and I stood in the kitchen, held each other tightly and wept.  Ten years have passed since we’ve shared a similar embrace and those same painful tears.  

“We should probably use today to prepare for what may come.  We know from experience, if we get bad news, we’ll have to make some decisions quickly and things will move at a rapid pace. 
So, while we still have a bit of control, let’s get ourselves ready just in case”. 

Todd agreed and suggested that we fill the boys in as well.  Until that point we had been relatively quiet about the whole thing.  Neither of us want to cause alarm, undue concern, or attention to ourselves.  We know there’s a very real possibility of what may come though.  My mom shared yesterday morning, with the ladies in the Sunday School class she and I attend, what she knew of the situation.  We knew with making the information public we would likely receive more phone calls, texts or visitors than normal, and we felt the boys should know why.   There is no easy or perfect way to tell your children this kind of news.  I thought I would be able to get the words out of my mouth with confidence and assurance.  Instead they clumsily tumbled out and the tears started up again.  We did our best to explain and reassure.  I may have cancer again.

We talked about CT scans and scopes, what may come, and what may not.  The boys were both quite young the first time I had cancer. 
My youngest, Joseph, only 9 months old then, and my oldest, Jack, just three.  I remember holding Joe in my arms and the ache in my heart as I wondered if we would ever be given the opportunity to truly know one another.  And yet now, with ten year old hands hugging my neck, he held me.  The moment didn’t pass without love from Jack as well.  I am surely blessed with some wonderful boys.  I love them and they love me.  It’s good to be loved.

The rest of our day was filled tending to chores and duties and later time together with a splurge on an amazing ice cream cake!  This week, today in fact, is my 10 year "cancerversary".  So, we celebrated.  Ten years of cancer freedom.  Ten years of time together.  Ten years of memories made.  Ten years of loving deeply and being loved.  Then, as the day drew to a close, two precious boys climbed in bed with us. None of us able to sleep.  So, we held each other tightly and we prayerfully surrendered to the Lord our lives and this circumstance we’re facing.  We know our world may change, but we also know we serve a God who does not. No matter what, God. Is. Good.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. - Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

In a changing world, we trust our unchanging Lord.  He is our rock.  Our hope.  Our joy.  Our salvation.  I pray He is yours as well.  

Our family would so appreciate your prayers as we prepare our hearts and minds for news to come.  We have not received a cancer diagnosis yet, and of course, hope and pray we do not.  We trust in God’s goodness and perfect plans for our lives though.  So for now, we hold on tightly and we wait….

Monday, January 25, 2016

Demo Day

It's been a while since I shared with you last. A little over a year to be exact. There's no good excuse for my being silent, really.  I sat down one day to rest - which was a good, and much needed thing. But...I got so comfortable, I settled in and stayed put. Laziness and lack of motivation will take up residency right next to you in your easy chair if you let them. And, boy have I ever let them. In fact, I may have even spooned with them during my sloth like sabbatical. I also spooned some chocolate peanut butter ice cream, but that's neither here nor there, really. 

You guys - it is H-A-R-D to get back up after having been idle for so dang long. Furthermore, lack of motivation is sometimes motivation in and of itself - the motivation to keep doing nothing, that is. But, here's the thing, when someone or something sits idle and unattended to for a while it can be quite detrimental. Take for instance a vacant home.  No matter how beautiful that home may be, if no one tends to the property, it will eventually deteriorate and fall apart.  Taking a break and getting some rest is good, but we gotta be careful not to let that rest turn into a permanent furlough or we end up worse for wear.  (If this does not apply to you, then praise God! Keep on keeping on, my friend. I'm generally preaching to myself and working out my own salvation here anyway.  So, carry on.  Today's sermon will be done shortly.)

When you're stuck in your easy chair, or rut of another nature, self-doubt and excuses to stay put will be plentifully supplied to you on a silver platter by none other than Satan himself. He cleverly disguises them to look more attractive than the greater gifts the Lord has waiting for each of us in the wings. In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the devil himself didn't stand by said easy chair fanning the occupant with a palm leaf and spoon feeding him/her chocolate peanut butter ice cream (that stuff is my kryptonite, you all. God help me.) The apostle John has Satan's number though.  He calls out Satan for who he is...  
"...when he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies."  -John 8:44 (NLT)
The father of lies will go to great lengths to keep us from making any moves toward the blessings of the Lord. And, if we're not careful to demolish those lies, then you may as well get comfy and put your feet up folks, cause paralysis will soon be a settin' in. Now, lest you think the Lord lacks the ability to make something look attractive or tasty (Ahem, George Clooney, y'all. You're welcome.), hear me on this - God has no intention of deceiving us into thinking we're getting something awesome when we're not. He speaks truth over us, and calls a spade a spade. Not only that, but His gifts for us are good and perfect (James 1:17, people.). Always. They don’t need a disguise. They are glorious and divine all by themselves. And, you can take that to the bank and cash it.  Cause that right there ain't no ice cream coated, palm leaf fanning, easy chair sitting lie. 

I love (as in L-O-V-E with big, red hearts) the HGTV show, "Fixer Upper". Oh. My. Goodness. Chip and Joanna Gaines are adorable, on steroids.  What's more, those two cuties have an amazing gift to look beyond the ugly, run down, and sometimes dilapidation of a home to visualize its true beauty...its true identity...its true potential. No matter how long a home has sat unoccupied, unkempt, unused, unloved...they see worth where others may not.  Chip and Jo show potential homebuyers several different properties, most all of which require varying degrees of fixer upping (is that even a word? I don't know. Anywho...). If the clients choose to take a chance on the worth the Gaines' see, then you can bet your sweet bippy the homebuyers will end up with a captivating and beautiful fixed up sanctuary to call home. I love that. And, for what it's worth, I love Chip and Joanna.  Big hearts to you, Gaines family.  Big. Giant. Red. L-O-V-E hearts.  

The restoration and remodel of the "fixer upper" home usually begins with "Demo Day". It is at this point in the show, that Chip with his all in macho, six foot, three inch frame showcases his demolition skills with a side of theatrical craziness mixed in. After the rubble is cleared and construction complete, the beautiful and divinely talented Joanna puts her incredible design and decorating touches on the formerly run down abode. And then good people, what once was lost is now found. The beauty and worth of the "fixer upper" is no longer hidden, but restored and visible for all to enjoy. 

Today is my "Demo Day". I am through being lazy and stagnant. This fixer upper is jumping out of her easy chair and turning herself over to the best carpenter, creator and designer of all! Over to The One who sees past how long I've sat idle, unmotivated and stagnant but never, ever once stopped seeing my worth.  Over to The One whose very word is like a sledge hammer that busts wide open the lies Satan masquerades as truths!  Fix me, Lord.  It's "Demo Day".  
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." – 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) 
Care to join me for some demolition of your own? (insert manly grunting sounds here). There is God breathed beauty and worth inside of each one of us that should be uncovered and shared. Rest when you need to rest, but for heaven's sake, don't sit so long you become idle and unmotivated and forget your worth. And, for heaven's sake, always keep your sledge hammer handy so you can bust open the lies that Satan delivers. Swing for the heavens, baby!  
"God can redeem not only every life, but every season of our life, every addiction, every lie, every failed marriage, every financial crisis, every jealous thought, every bad mood, and every deep, dark secret. He uses our lowlights to demonstrate his power. No matter how deep our pit of sin is, God's long arm of redemption reaches down, pulls us out, washes us clean by the blood Jesus, and welcomes us home."  –Laura Story
Welcome home!  It’s demo day, friends. Do you have the courage to let God reveal His beauty and worth in you? 

*Ironically, the Laura Story quote is from her book, When God Doesn’t Fix It.  Your humor is not wasted on me, Lord.