Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shepherds, Sheep and Me

'It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.' Ecclesiastes 7:2

Some things don't change:

The laundry basket(s) are never empty. 

Someone is always hungry for something.

The kitchen always needs cleaning.
Viv wants 'purple bacon' for breakfast every morning.


Things continue to change:
Little girls grow.
Summer turns into Fall.
Kindergarteners become 1st graders.
Best friends move.
Hearts break.
Mothers die.

But God?

'He does not change like shifting shadows.' James 1:17
God is Yahweh - an UNCHANGING God. This name of God which (by Jewish tradition) is too holy to voice, is actually spelled "YHWH" without vowels.
He is the FIRST and the LAST. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.' Rev 21:6

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.'
Ephesians 2:8-9

It is a high privilege to be saved BY grace. Even though we can not earn our salvation, it does come with responsibilities. 

We have a calling to live up to. What we do or don't do is a reflection ON Jesus, either good or bad. 

That takes me to my life. My reality is...Here today, gone tomorrow.

If you are leaving, or I do we want it all left? Our family. 

Do I want to be short and curt with little hands spilling cups of lemonade?
Or just hand over the paper towel and tell her the truth. That everyone makes mistakes. 

Do I want to spend time living for myself, or for the Lord?

Do I live this life knowing there are 8 little eyes watching me? 

We've done lots and lots of school. Even did a Saturday a few weeks ago. I never do school on Saturday. But it has been nice to just have some sort of normalcy in my life, so we did it. No one complained. I like doing the mundane when it seems like everything is so very, very not-mundane in my life. Or at least it feels like that today. 

The girls were doing scripture memory. The big reward was jelly beans. One for every passage, no matter how long or short. So the girls were knocking it out. Viv even earned one or two. We were down to the last 5 jelly beans. I told the girls, 'Whoever gets more correct in this next passage gets 3 jelly beans, and the other girl gets two.' 

They were game. Carlisle recited awesomely and easily earned the 3 jelly beans. I gave Evelyn 2. 

Before I knew it, Evelyn had run off to find Vivian, to split her earnings with her. I am not making this up. She had 2 jelly beans. She bit one in half and gave the other half to Viv. Viv said 'Thank-you-Ev', and walked off to play. Ev chewed that piece up and chased her down (again) to share the second one with her. I watched the whole thing with my jaw on the ground. I am learning SO much from this child. 

If we let him, God will lighten our loads...but do we let him? 

The Word says 'The unfolding of God's Word brings LIGHT.' Look at what I've been mulling over for the past month since Mom died. God has brought to me an old faithful. Out of the pages of his Word, a Psalm that I have known since I was a child. Taught to me by Mom. The twenty-third Psalm.

A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Do more beloved words exist? Because the passage is so deeply loved, it is also well known. It is especially known by my heart right now because it is bringing me incredible comfort. 

Months ago I bought the 'Lord is my Shepherd' canvas. I had it in an inconspicuous place. But I moved it. This verse is ministering to my heart. I want to be able to see this canvas all the time. So now, I do. 

The Lord is my Shepherd.
God, our shepherd, doesn't check the weather. He makes it. He doesn't defy gravity. He created it. Cancer does not trouble him and cemeteries do not disturb him. He was here before they were and he'll be here after they are gone. 
ONLY God can still the storms of our lives. Because Yahweh has defeated the grave. 
We need a Yahweh.
And according to Psalm 23, we have one. God is our shepherd. 

He makes me lie down in green pastures. 
For sheep to sleep, everything must be just right. No predators. No tension in the flock. No bugs in the air. No hunger in the belly. Everything has to be just right. 
Unfortunately, sheep cannot find safe pasture, or find food. They need help. They need a shepherd to 'lead them' and help them 'lie down in green pastures'. The wolves can get to the sheep if there is no shepherd to protect them. Without a shepherd, they can't rest. 
Without a shepherd, neither can we.
The sheep's job...our to watch the shepherd. TO LISTEN TO HIM. To hear his voice. With our eyes/ears on our Shepherd, then we find rest. 
'You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.' Isaiah 26:3
For God to lead us to green pastures, He needs our full reliance on Him. And we HAVE to listen to the Shepherds voice so we know how to follow him. And how do we know the Shepherd's voice? We study His Word. Shepherds don't yell at their sheep. The sheep wouldn't listen. Shepherds speak gently to their sheep. The sheep recognize his voice and follow. 

27 'My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.'
John 10:27-29
He leads me beside quiet waters. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
He leads...he guides...
God does the action here. The work. He is not behind me yelling at me. He is ahead of me saying 'Come.' He promises a lamp to our feet as we move forward, giving light to our path. Did you know you can't push sheep? Can't. Period. One of my favorite people on earth is a farmers wife. She knows sheep. She said you can try all day long to get s

'Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.' Psalm 119:105

He restores my soul. 
God knows we are not made for this place, that we are not equipped to handle the toughness of this life. So he has come to guide me out.  He came to restore my soul.

Jesus restores our hope by giving us himself.
'Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.' Psalm 55:22

I am sustained. 

By the Lord. 

And by the prayers of my friends. 

I loaded 12,000+ pictures onto our iPad 2 weeks ago. I have it in the kitchen. It plays music while it randomly displays one picture every 2 or 3 seconds. It's our life. Pictures from our life. Some are absolutely terrific pictures, but some are just of daily living. 

It is like a tractor beam. It sucks me in. I. cannot. seem. to. escape. 

I think I will never make a meal or blog again. I just want to stand there and watch as my life is literally flashing before my eyes. 

But I pull away. 

If you feel like a tractor beam is pulling YOU in to anything on this blog, or if you like something you read here. Read these next words carefully. IT IS NOT ME YOU LIKE. It's God. 

He leads me in paths of righteousness. 
Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. 
He knows this little ones name. It's Carlisle.

'How is Carlisle?' 
Everyone asks. Because they read the blog and know the deal. That she was THERE with my Mom in her last hours. 

Carlisle is good. Very good. 
I hear she and Evelyn playing with their dolls, and their dolls die. A lot. But that is SUCH an accurate way to live. Real life. People die.

She's sweeter and kinder and more compassionate and more tender and precious than she's ever been. Ever.

We need a shepherd. 

And we have one. And he knows us by name. To a shepherd, every sheep is different. Every one is special. Has a special face. There is a uniqueness about each and every one of them. 'I have written your name on my hand.' Isaiah 49:16

He anoints my head with oil.
I think this is my favorite part...oil was used on sheep as protection. There are certain bugs that can be deadly for sheep. There are nose flies that deposit their eggs in the soft membrane of a sheep's nose. The eggs become worm-like larvae, which drive the sheep insane. For relief from this agonizing annoyance, sheep deliberately beat their heads against trees, rocks, posts, or brush. In extreme cases of intense infestation, sheep have been known to kill themselves to escape from the aggravation. So to prevent this, shepherds anoint the heads of the sheep with an oil that repels the bugs. Done deal. PEACE. 
But in order to receive the oil, the sheep have to stand still, lower their heads and let the shepherd do his work. 
'be humble under God's powerful hand so he will lift you up when the right time comes.' 1 Peter 5:6 and it goes on to say 'Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.' 1 Peter 5:7

So in our trials, we lower our heads and he applies the oil. I can tell you. The trials are hard, but the oil from the Lord gives LIFE. I trust him. 

My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
My other favorite part of this Psalm.
My cup overflows. Even in this dark season, MY CUP OVERFLOWS. Because of the Lord. His blessings are so sweet. I am full to the brim, and then he gives me MORE. More blessing until it overflows. 

A ministry with my husband in teaching families in this city the word of God, every Sunday night. The opportunity to teach my girls at home. A husband who adores me. He tells me he likes me better without makeup...and he means it. Little girls who are incredibly precious, sweet and loving to each other, but also others. Recognizing that servant leadership is Christ-like.

This is some of the treasures of darkness. The sweetness that God's Word promises. God is close. He is near. If you don't feel close to God, you can be assured, it's not because He has moved away from you. He patiently persists in being present. And his goodness and mercy are with us always. 

I will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER. 
I got a massage last night. The lady that gave me my massage was raised in the church all her life. But in talking to her she kept saying she had a lot of baggage. 
I asked her if she liked carrying her baggage. 
She said no. 
I said, let it go. Take it to Jesus and lay it down. Do you have eternal security? 
She said, what does that mean? 
I said, It means if you got hit by a Mack truck today, do you know where you'd go? 
She said, no.
I told her the bible says that we don't have to wonder, we can know! 

'And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.' 1 John 5:11-13

I asked her if she wanted to pray. 
She said yes. 
And so. 
I prayed.
And she cried.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
The sharing of my guts:
I'm being vulnerable here. If you are judgmental, click over to CNN or some yucky website and judge them. 

Everyone else, read on. I am sharing to glorify the Lord.

'When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!'
Psalm 8:3, 9  

Things aren't always rosy. It was my birthday a week or 2 ago. Having a birthday 3 weeks after someone dies is hard. Having a birthday 3 weeks after your Mom dies is terribly hard. Terribly. I felt defeated. 

Satan came to devour. Destroy. (1 Peter 5:8)
It was hard. I was sad. Defeated.

Brian took the day off of work to be with me on my birthday. It fell on a Friday. It was sunshiny and great. Seemed like the makings for a perfect day. 

I haven't had a night of full sleep in 5 months. That's roughly 150 days of waking up AT LEAST once a night, sometimes more. 
Eventually the newness, and the good juicy endorphins, all wear off and you are just tired. Not to mention, there are 3 other little's running around that have all been born in the prior 4 years. So really I haven't had good sleep in 6 years. 
I'm tired. 
Grieving is tiring too. 
If you don't know that, you will. And for those of you who know, keep nodding. Thanks for coming along side me and understanding...and remembering. 

I am horribly humbled to admit, this birthday girl was a punk. Brian was sweetly helping me do school with the girls. And I corrected him, in a yucky confrontational way. Husbands really don't like that. And I KNOW that. Mine doesn't. And just in case you don't know, I don't have to know your husband to know, your husband doesn't like that either. 

To add fuel to the yucky fire. I did it again. Steam blew straight out of his ears. He didn't say a word. He got up and left. 

I was soo prideful. The problem was mine.

And then I heard it. 

I could HEAR the spiritual battle. I could hear the clinking of armor. the kitchen.

I heard God saying to Brian, 'LOVE HER.'
And I could hear Brian saying 'Not on your life. She's been rude. She's being awful. I don't care if it's her birthday.'
And I could hear God say, 'Love her as Christ loved the church. Not because you want to. Because I say so. It's a commandment.'
And Brian, 'This is hard. I don't want to.'
God: 'I know. But you have to. My Word says,
Husbandslove your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.' Eph 5:25

Let me tell you what Brian did...he loved me. Actively. He took care of the girls. He took care of the house. I emotionally checked-OUT. In a big way, I rested. He was wonderful to me, but more.

I got to the gym that night, for the second time that day. And what was waiting on the check-in desk for me? A dozen roses. 

From. Brian.

How do you hear the voice of God? Read his Word. Pray. You'll hear it. You must learn to recognize it, just as I have by spending time with Him. This is one of the 30 trillion reasons why I teach my girls the Word of God. So that they can hear his still, quiet voice. 

I was tucking the girls in and I said 'It's been a terribly hard day for me.'

Evelyn: 'Why?' Eyes seeking, searching my face.
Me: 'Because I miss Punkin and MeMe.'
Evelyn: 'Oh. I miss Punkin and MeMe too.'
Me: 'But the thing is, EVERYONE is dying...'
Evelyn: 'Yea.'
Me: '...could be today or tomorrow.'
Carlisle: 'You know Ev, it's like when a babysitter comes. They stay a while and leave. This life is a spend-the-night party...'
I'm not making this up...then she said: 'Heaven is our know Ev?'
Ev: (nods) 'Yea.'

I had date night last night, but it wasn't with Brian. Date night was with one of my favorite girls in Florence. She asked me how I was doing... without Mom. I told her the truth. I am really encouraged right now. God is meeting me. Filling me to the brim and flowing over. Things don't feel as low as they once did. And it's because of THIS verse.

'The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.' Isaiah 57:1-2

 When you have the shepherd, you have everything you need.

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