Made for another world

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." C. S. Lewis

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Scandalous Truth

Have you ever read the Bible to a kid? I didn't realize how scandalous the Bible was until I tried to read it to my son! It's full of murder, adultery, lying, stealing, and trickery, and that's all done by the good guys. It's worse than a Maury Povich show, father-in-laws and daughter-in-laws and babies. How do you read that to an impressionable nine year old? 

All of that scandal points out a greater scandal though, God's love. He's not surprised or put off by the mayhem. He moves in with grace anyway. 

Do you ever feel like your life is a wreck, one big scandalous mess? Don't hide from God, like your parents Adam and Eve did, or you'll miss out on the bigger scandal; God's not impressed by your mess, he's impressed by his mercy.

But we really good Christians try to clean all that up, and in the process, without realizing it, we lose the power. It's unfortunate really that we tend to do that. 

As I read the Bible to Max I want to teach him to read it with wonder over the worst of man being met by all the goodness of God. 

Let's read the Bible with fresh eyes.Without hiding our flaws and mistakes, let the light of truth bring them out in the open, only then can we realize the greatness of God's gift of reconciliation. 

"The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins." 2 Corinthians 5:18

Do you let the messy reality of your life, of the world, of the heroes of the faith, and the undaunted goodness of God come face to face in the pages of the Bible? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Do You Know Any Heroes?

Heroes are awesome! My nine year old, Max, is interested in the laser-eyed, high flying kind. But I'm amazed by a different sort of hero. The kind who fight off fear and take risks for a cause they believe in.

Sometimes that type of hero is high profile, like Bob Goff or Jen Hatmaker. Other times they are the kind of people you go to church with and see in the carpool line. They don't look extra-ordinary, haven't written a best seller, aren't wearing a cape. They're ordinary heroes.

I'd like to tell you about one that has grabbed my attention lately. Stephanie Page is a mom who lives in the freezing world of Minnesota. She's raising three beautiful daughters and investing in the lives of young people, she's blogging, dreaming, and speaking. Recently she started Stories Cafe.

Stephanie says of Stories, "We all have a story to share and our stories can touch the stories of others. Stories is on it's way to becoming a cafe where proceeds will go to the abolition of modern day slavery. Live your story. Share your story. Change a story."

She and her family are working to make Stories a reality. A real place where the proceeds from the Cafe go to fight human trafficking. She's passionate and committed to making a difference.

It hasn't been an easy ride to get to this place, it's taken personal sacrifice. Stephanie's dedication to live what she believes, to put her actions behind her convictions, inspires me. Check out Stories Cafe and see if you aren't inspired too!

Do you know any heroes? It could be your Mom (mine is another one of my heroes), or your pastor, one of your kids teachers, or anyone you know. Tell us who your heroes are!

Have you told them lately that they inspire you? Why not take a moment today to give them a phone call or an email and let them know you appreciate their bold lives of faith!

Monday, May 20, 2013

In need of a Shelter

If you're like me the pressure of life presses in more often than you would like to admit. The frantic pace of trying to make ends meet, keeping up with kid's schedules, pursuing an illusive dream. The aching weariness of a constant stream of bad news. I can't even watch the evening news anymore; killings, hunger, disappointment, disaster, corruption, immorality, a steady dose I just can't ingest. The sorrow of a family member's illness, the fatigue of training up children in this world, the disappointment of personal shortcomings.

It all settles tight between the shoulder blades and threatens to overwhelm. Those moments, which are oddly interspersed with delight and wonder, crop up weed-like so often. When they do my heart is refreshed by remembering the words of Psalm 18:

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way. 

I don't know what weariness you are laboring under, what dreams you are investing in, what hurt is burning in your chest. But I do know the God who is your Rock and mine. He calls, he trains, he protects, and is patient. You've heard it before, but maybe you need to hear it again, God is for you.

Today if your heart is heavy, or maybe you are feeling worn around the edges, take courage, God has offered himself as your shelter. He never wearies of caring for his own and teaching us how to battle in his strength. 

Can I pray for us?
God as the world whirs on, noisy and fitful, quiet our hearts in your presence. Remind us to turn our eyes to you, knowing you always care for your people. Be our Rock, our shield, our safe place of peace. Your good news of grace and truth outshines the ugly of this world any day. Thank you God. Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Prayer God Loves to Answer

For years I have been mystified by passages like James 5:17-18; "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."

What is the key to praying bold prayers that God answers with a yes? What kind of prayer "moves mountains"? I'm coming to learn context is everything and so is our heart's desire.

I acknowledge that God is capable of making the sun stand still, parting the Red Sea, causing a three and a half year drought, even of raising the dead. But does an awareness of God's ability translate into faith? Faith is an intimate understanding that God is who he says he is and will do what he has said he will do, our faith is a response to his faithfulness.

What enabled a man, just like us, to pray an audacious prayer that God answered? I believe context is key. Elijah was intimate with the heart of God, he understood God's purposes in his generation, and acted in accordance with God's plan. Elijah's faith in God's faithfulness, belief in his power, and awareness of God's purpose in that time and place led him to pray with confidence.

Israel needed to be reminded of God's authority and he chose Elijah to be his messenger. Elijah had confidence in his God given purpose. It was out of an understanding that Israel needed to be reminded of God's authority that Elijah prayed.

Does that mean we can pray and God will dry up the clouds for three plus years. Yes and no. Elijah had no super powers. When God calls his people he prepares them to pray boldly according to his faithfulness and power.

I've seen people name, claim, and carry on over things they are sure God will do or give. And yet the answers still seem to allude or be manufactured. God is not bound to please us he is bound to glorify himself. Of course God can do anything, but we would be wise to pray for things far beyond our control or ability only after we have taken the time to know God's heartbeat and learned how he has purposed to use us in this place and time for his glory.

Could God use you or me to pray and dry up rain for years? Yes. Will he? I doubt it. I am not in Elijah's generation, facing the problems of his time, I am not purposed for what Elijah was purposed for. And neither are you. People like Elijah are examples of how God uses those who are willing to serve his purposes, not patterns to follow exactly.

Are you frustrated in your prayer life? Are you afraid to pray boldly? Or does God not seem to answer?

Ask God to reveal his heart, to align your heart to his, to inform your prayers with scripture, and to make you aware of his purpose for you in this generation. His purpose is always to glorify himself and to include you in that goal.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Calling all Mothers

On this Mother's Day as I sat in church with my two precious children, surrounded by my amazing church family, a whisper of sorrow wound it's way around my heart. The blue eyed boy my heart loves wasn't with me.

Being a mother has been my greatest challenge and an amazing gift. The love that comes from caring for someone small and vulnerable has expanded my ability to love. I'm finding the capacity to care for someone that needs protecting doesn't stop with my own children. My mother's heart rises up in indignation when I hear of a child taken advantage of or neglected.

Perhaps that's what God intended, for mother's to extend that nurture and influence as a spiritual reality to others. The little boy who lies in a crib in Serbia isn't my responsibility. I didn't give birth to him. I didn't abandon him when his body succumbed to disease. But I've seen him, and perhaps a heart that can see and love is responsible to be a mother, even to a child that's not hers. 

Perhaps I've beat this drum a lot lately, a call of love for the broken and needy. But I think I've just gotten started and the beat will only grow louder. The world needs mothers (and father's too for that matter but today is Mother's Day so I'll stay on topic).

The world needs mothers to ease a hurting heart, to be an advocate in weakness, to notice when something's wrong and take the time to make it right. The world needs mothers to stretch out their hands in a soothing touch, smile in pride at faltering steps, forgive, cheer, clean, mend, and do it again tomorrow. 

So even from a distance I'll learn to be a mother to a world I didn't birth but am learning to see. Will you join me moms? Strap on your super cape and reach into your mother's tool box and embrace the world. The world is our responsibility not because we gave birth to it but because we've been given our motherhood by the One who taught us to love in the first place and he's inviting us to turn our superpowers of love on those who aren't our own.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Cat, a T-shirt, and how to Live with Cancer

My Mom was diagnosed with cancer in November of last year. Thursday evening she spoke about her journey with cancer at a Relay for Life dinner, I'm thankful to be able to share her talk with you here. Feel free to spread the encouragement, if you know someone facing cancer or a difficult time pass her story on.

Everything I needed to know about how to live with cancer I learned from a cat, and everything I needed to know about cancer I learned from a t-shirt.

15 years ago we lived in the metro Atlanta area. It was fall of the year, late October, almost Halloween. The air was crisp, beautiful fall leaves, pumpkins on porches. The feeling of change in the air. It was in that atmosphere that I stepped out onto my porch and saw a stray cat. He was jet black, had a big, thick Tom cat head, a flat nose like a boxer, a ragged ear that tilted to one side, a crooked tail, bald spots where scars prevented hair from growing, bowed legs, and he walked with a swagger. He was a bad cat with a bad boy attitude. I named him Boo.

Boo didn't trust people and I wanted to change that. I would call him whenever I would see him, offer him special treats, but he kept his distance. As it got colder Boo started coming into the garage for warmth. That worked to my advantage, I could have more contact with him. Boo had a need but he wasn't ready to admit it yet. He could make it out on his on, the hard way, or make it with me, a wiser choice. Finally he gave in, made the wise decision, and began trusting me. Our relationship was under way. But I knew Boo could not be the great cat he was meant to be until he had an operation. I trapped him in a cage, took him to the vet who did his job and when Boo came home he was a changed man.

He began to pursue me. Boo had not just been physically starved, he had been starved for love. He followed me like a dog, constantly at my feet. If I sat down I had a lap full of black cat. It was Boo's lap and he wanted in it. As far as Boo was concerned there was nothing else he'd rather do and no where else he'd rather be than in my lap.

I had been struggling with my relationship with God. God used Boo. I was Boo and God wanted me in His lap. Me! In His lap! I made the wise decision. I wanted to be like Boo, changed. I purposed to yield to the transformation commitment God had made to me in His word. As I spent time in God's lap I began to feel like Boo must have felt in mine; safe, comfortable, accepted, contented, welcomed, prized, examined, wanted, loved.

Two years ago I began having random symptoms; swollen, painful joints, lost range of motion, and even physical therapy. My doctor referred me to a Rheumatologist but by the time I could get an appointment my symptoms were gone. I had heart palpitations and blood pressure fluctuations. I had a night visit to the ER fearing a heart attack. I had a stress test, EKG, sonogram on my arteries expecting blockage but all negative. I had intense stomach pain and was treated for gastritis. I had fevers and night sweats. My symptoms would come and go but one thing was for sure I was losing strength and energy.

Last November 12 I began running a fever. I was treated for a UTI. Two weeks later I still had a fever. My doctor gave me an antibiotic injection. A week later I was still feverish. My Doctor ordered a CT scan suspecting I had an infection in my abdomen. By this time my strength and energy were completely gone. I told a friend "I fear I'm terribly, terribly ill."

After the scan the nurse at the radiologist sent me directly to see my doctor. I knew something was wrong. I saw the doctor quickly, I didn't like the look on her face. She sat very close and began her medical explanation. She handed me the printed radiology report. I interrupted her and said flatly, "I have cancer." She said, "we don't like that word." I don't remember what else was said, I don't remember how I got out of that room. I went out to my waiting husband and told him, "I have cancer." I do remember his loud, clear, definitive "NO".

I had become so dehydrated I was admitted to the hospital a few days later. A liver biopsy said that I had Neuroendocrine tumors in my liver, too many to count. It's a rare cancer, only 4 in 100,000 people have it. After seeing the oncologist on call I was stabilized and sent home. He called later with more lab results and a treatment plan. We learned it was inoperable and wouldn't respond to chemotherapy. But, we were assured, there were new medicines. The old medicines used to treat it had been only 20% effective but the new ones were better. I didn't like the tone in his voice. He was a great guy, we liked him, a good doctor to be sure, but his arsenal was too small for me. We knew we needed other options.

My husband asked his sister, Jeanne, who had lost her son, Beau, to synovial sarcoma two years earlier, what she would do? She suggested Cancer Treatment Centers of America. We had our first visit to CTCA on December 10th. I met my oncologist who passed me off to an Interventional Radiologist for the preferred treatment. My treatment would be an injection of between 2 to 8 million radioactive therasphers. These are tiny glass beads less than the circumference of a human hair fed through my femoral artery in my groin to be placed in the arteries in my liver which fed the tumors. There are only a handful of hospitals in the country with this new technology. I had "fallen" into the right hands.

I felt like a character in a science fiction movie as I had my first treatment on Jan 19. After an overnight stay I was sent home to wait for the beads to do their job. Those were long difficult weeks. I was in the capable hands of an excellent caregiver, my husband. He took family medical leave to be with me constantly. Our church and families were loving and supportive.

But you are never the same after you hear the C word. Cancer changes everything. It changes how you feel about time, relationships, possessions, even your own body as it betrays you. I prayed, asking, begging God to enable me to do this thing. Fear could overtake me at times. What if the treatment didn't work? But, God reminded me of Boo. I had allowed fear to get me out of the lap. Back into His lap I crawled, insisting on being there, finding comfort, rest, peace and trust. In those intimate moments God spoke to me of my fear reminding me that I need to live today, just today. Don't try to live tomorrow, don't look at it. He hadn't ask me to live tomorrow yet, but when He did call me to He would be there with me.

The last time we were at CTCA my radiologist told me that in January my condition had been scary. He didn't need to tell me that. I knew it. I knew I had been in danger, I had felt it. But, a stray black cat had shown me 15 years earlier how to live with cancer, how to walk the most difficult mile of my journey.

My two treatments were considered successful. At the last MRI I had no viable tumors in my liver. We go back to CTCA Monday the 13th. I'll have an MRI of my liver and hopefully find out about removal of the primary cancer.

The last time Silver, my little therapy dog, and I worked at Mission Cancer Center we walked past the gift shop window. There hung a t-shirt that stopped me in my tracks. Printed on the front was everything I needed to know about cancer. I know some medical facts about cancer. I don't understand much of it. I have an oncologist that presumably knows all he can know about my cancer. That's his job. But, what I learned from the t-shirt is what I need to know and it's this: "Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love, it cannot kill friendship, it cannot shatter hope, it cannot shut out memories, it cannot destroy confidence, it cannot eat away peace, it cannot silence courage, it cannot reduce eternal life, it cannot quench the spirit." That's my cancer. And that's your cancer. 

Pat Morton lives in a cabin in the hills of North Carolina with her husband Steve and an assortment of animal friends. She's a native South Carolina girl and a story teller by nature.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fear Is Just A Bully

Lately I've been out-running a monster. It's teeth are sharp and sink into the flesh of my soul. Every time I think about the what ifs I can feel it's hot breath.

Maybe in the dark you wonder, as I do, if the sting and ache of giving birth really is easier than the raising of the young ones. What if parts get broken that can't be fixed. What if little arms eager now for a hug stop hugging, or hug the wrong person, or fall still in illness. The black hole of what ifs could drown a mother's heart.

And then God's call to follow him, in hazy moments, looms like a mountain, bigger than Everest ever was. What if my heart can't contain the pain I find where he leads, or bursts from the love. What if I'm haunted by the blue eyes of the little boy lying in his crib, forever? What if I fail. At what, I'm not even sure.

The foul breath of "not enough" stalks me when I scroll through Pinterest. (I stopped watching the news years ago because I knew red eyes lurked behind headlines, waiting to consume me.) But it's there, down grocery isles, and in magazines, behind Facebook posts, I feel it's hot breath.

The stench of Fear, and his brother Failure, wafts around me at night as I try to sleep. 

Why? I say I believe God is who he says he is and will do what he says he'll do. But I doubt myself. 

Is redemption more powerful than the brokenness, forgiveness weightier than the chains, will he keep his word even to one such as me? Have you ever asked yourself those questions? 

And then the darkness fades and I read words that swell my eyes with tears and shape my lips into a yes.

Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all...So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? ~ Romans 8:1-4, 31 The Message

Did you just fall a little bit more in love? If that doesn't take care of every fear and what if I don't know what possibly could. I've known, but I'm learning anew, that looking at every situation, every person, every weakness through Jesus changes everything. 

When the teeth of fear sink into our hearts Jesus is the only antidote. Ask your fears "is there anything, ANYTHING, else God wouldn't gladly and freely do for me, the one he loves, the one who's trusting him?" And of course the answer is no. He's given everything already, there's nothing left to hold back. 

Play the what if game. What if the job is lost, the child is ill, the friendship ends, the money runs out, the dream's too big, the adoption drags on? Nothing happens, because nothing can separate us from the Love of our life, our Jesus! Nothing. 

Whew, I needed to hear that! Maybe you did too. Fear is just a bully with little ammunition and no power, because we belong to Jesus.

So go face your day, your life, unafraid. And the next time I whimper in fear, remind me fear is just a bully. I'll remind you too!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cultivating the Hearts of the Next Generation

Spring unfolds her verdant banner early in southern Alabama, inviting us to linger outside. As my little daughter and I enjoyed the backyard I noticed that a large pot, brought from my grandmother's house after she died last year, was coming to life. The hydrangea inside is pushing out fresh green leaves and on one of the vines, winding it's way to rest on the shoulder of an angel, also from her yard, was a dainty purple blossom. I didn't realize last year when I brought the faded green pot home what kind of vine was planted along with the hydrangea, but I was so tickled to discover it was the beautiful purple flowering one.

Today in the backyard my grandmother's flowers, and her grandchild, are blooming.

Grandma's green thumb was more of a green hand. She nurtured and cared for her beloved flowers and yard. Seeing her plants, now alive in my yard, alongside of her vivacious granddaughter, reminded me of our responsibility to tend and pass down truth. How are we investing in the next generation?

Life goes on. We tend and nurture, plant and plan, and then we're gone. What do we leave? It matters. Is it lasting, does it effect generations for God's glory, is what we leave behind of eternal consequence? One day the the little purple flower will fade and die but the little girl with bouncing curls, spinning and singing, I trust, will never truly die.

"He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands." Psalm 78:5-7

How we tend little hearts matters. They will not grow straight and strong on their own. Healthy hearts require nurturing. How are you investing in the future generation?