If you are new to our blog, we encourage you to read some of our first posts (from October/November 2009) so that you will understand the
beginning of our journey.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Laying Aside “Cherished” Sins

Recently I’ve been reading a book by Bruce Demarest, entitled, “Stages of the Soul”. He states, “Cherished sins block the flow of God’s love and conflict the heart with anxiety and remorse.”

Those words - “cherished sins” – grabbed my attention. Could I actually be guilty of “cherishing” certain sins? (Not that I felt good about the possibility, but I did need to consider whether it might be true of me.) Through our journey of this past couple of years - and particularly after our arrival in Oregon - I believe I have cherished some sins; wrapping them around me like a cloak. I’ve enveloped myself in distress and spiritual despair, due to a lack of trust in Him. It’s amazing to me that I could cling so strongly to behaviors that are so destructive.

Somehow, by fighting God for control, I thought I could shorten my journey and make it easier. Have my efforts paid off? Have I gained any ground by desperately clinging to my cherished sins? Of course not. My actions have only made my heart more anxious and my distress more severe.

C.S. Lewis said, “God cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death.”

Thankfully, God has used this challenging season in my life to help me spiritually grow and recognize more deeply my need for Him. These months of transition have given me the vital and necessary opportunity to identify my “cherished” sins more clearly. As I lay them aside, the Lord graciously invites me into deeper relationship with Him.

Several years ago I heard a song recorded by Annie Barbour. These words reflect what God has done…and is continuing to do…in my heart and soul.

For My desire is to heal your heart
In ways you can and cannot see
That you might know the priceless child you are
That you might know Me

-      Julie

Thursday, June 2, 2011

God’s Love

During one of my recent sessions of schooling (in the mountains near Palm Springs, CA), we were asked, “Would we work so hard to prove ourselves if we deeply believed…if we really and truly believed… that God loved us?”

I pondered that question for a few days and thought it might be helpful to look in the Scriptures to see what God says about His love for us. As I read and pondered many of these Scriptures, the Heavenly Father helped me to see that my understanding of His love was influenced – in both good and bad ways - by my earthly father’s love.

I know that God is different than those fathers who are uncaring, abusive or neglectful. My dad was none of those things. He was good to me; sweet and caring. I miss him terribly, even though he’s been gone more than 25 years. But because he grew up as the youngest of 12 children, with a father who was firm and had strict rules (to the point of harshness at times), my father saw “discipline” as damaging. So he was gentle…very gentle. Particularly with me. As his youngest child and only daughter, I received a great deal of grace, because my father wanted my world to be easy and comfortable.

But as I got older, the world flowed into my life, despite his protection. He had hepatitis when I was in junior high, a heart attack when I was in high school, and many other adverse experiences. The very protection he wanted for me; the protection he provided to me as a child; became an impossibility as I grew older and as he grew more frail.

My parents were wonderful people and I will always be indebted to them for their great love and encouragement of me. Unfortunately, though, I concluded that God would love me in exactly the same way as my parents; that His love always would be like their love.

And I’ve lived with this improper view of God’s love for most of my life.

Needless to say, recognizing that I had a distorted perspective of God’s love was an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve read the Bible, I’ve faced discipline from God before, and I’ve certainly had difficult seasons in life. But the stress of this current season of transition, combined with the length of God’s seeming silence, caused me to lose my spiritual footing. I felt as if He had abandoned me. After all, if He really loved me, wasn’t He supposed to protect me from pain and hardship? But He wasn’t protecting me…in fact, He sent us to Oregon in the most difficult time of year (gray days, lots of rain) and then He has allowed delay on several fronts (finding a job, sale of our house) that actually has made life more difficult.

So during the end of my trip to California, and continuing during these recent days, I’ve been meditating on a number of Scriptures that provide a better understanding of God’s never-ending love for me.

Psalm 86:13 – For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.

Psalm 103:2-5 – Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 119:76 – May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.

Psalm 145:8 – The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

Isaiah 38:17 – Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.

Eph. 3:16-19 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Heb. 12:5-7a – And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Heb. 12:10 – They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

I John 3:1a – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

I John 4:9 – 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.

I am thankful for all that God is teaching me; for the ways He is giving me a better understanding of who He is; for His incredible gift of love to me. And I am grateful to be learning that His love is higher and wider and deeper and better than the wonderful love I received from my Mom and Dad.

I still don’t have answers for many of the questions that face me today, but I do have assurance – great assurance – that God is at work. That He has a plan. And that I am His well-loved child.

- Julie

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thanking God For My Sisters

The weeks and months since our arrival in Oregon have passed by. There certainly have been some good moments, but there have been far too many dark and sad moments. Months of looking for a job …with little-to-no success. Only sporadic contact (by telephone, not face-to-face) with old and trusted friends…and not enough time yet to have made deep new friendships here. A husband who is busy and enjoying his work, but often is absent…after we’ve had 15 months of almost constant time together during our sabbatical. Personal finances that are not yet in balance, due to the length of this ongoing transition…leaving little room in the budget for a variety of new experiences in our new community.

As the months have gone on, at times I have felt abandoned by God and unclear about “the next step”. I found myself crying way too often and much more moody than usual. I struggled to be thankful for all that God has done, and instead sometimes felt like running away.

I have known God since I was a little girl, but I suddenly did not have enough faith to sustain myself. I certainly have faced plenty of challenges in my life, but this one confused me and made me feel in a darker place than ever before. Where was God? What was He doing in my life? Where did I fit? I was feeling “soul sick”, but did not realize how much this thinking had permeated my days, until just before I left for my next session of schooling in southern California.

I went off to my residency, hoping that God would show His face to me and meet me in the midst of my brokenness and distress. I ached to believe that He had plans for my future and that He was with me. Within a short time after I arrived, I felt like God was pouring His love into me and onto me and over me. The process started as soon as I got off the plane and into the presence of one of my oldest and dearest friends. She knows me so well that she was able to minister to me and help me begin to break out of my spiritual and emotional bonds. And throughout the week, close and trusted friends ministered to my soul and brought me to Jesus, the precious Lord who heals broken hearts.

I felt as if my experience was like the paralytic described in Mark 2. In that story, a man who has been paralyzed a long time is carried to Jesus. Jesus tells the man that his sins are forgiven and then heals his body, setting him free from both his physical and spiritual paralysis.

I know that physical disabilities and diseases can affect the soul and mind. I’ve often thought that the paralytic suffered not just from physical paralysis, but also from feelings of hopelessness, brokenness, and sadness. But – because of his friends – this man receives the gentle touch of Jesus: the touch of endearment, as Jesus calls him “my son”…the touch of forgiveness, as Jesus removes his sins and pain…the touch of healing, as Jesus restores his body and his soul. This man is brought to Jesus, and receives the gift of His touch, through the faith of his friends.

In my case, I felt like I had no way to even get to Jesus. My body was weary; my heart was in great pain; I was at the end of myself. But my loving friends helped to carry my sorrows…and they carried me to Jesus. As they did, my hopelessness began to fade away and my weary heart began to revive.

Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend loves at all times and a sister is born for adversity.”

I feel so deeply indebted to my friends. Their love was a reflection of God’s love. They helped me to regain my bearings so that I can navigate all that lies ahead in our new home in Oregon.

- Julie

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  Matthew 27:50

Earlier today, I was finalizing plans for our Good Friday service at church. Needless to say, this caused me to spend a lot of time pondering what Jesus endured on that fateful day. I marvel at the contrast between the cries of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday…and the cries of “Crucify him” the following Friday.

“What a fickle crowd”, I think to myself. But then I am forced to ask, “Could I be just as fickle toward the Lord?”

The painful answer is, “of course”. There are many times when I demand things from Him. Many times when I turn my back on Him.

Many times when my actions proclaim an attitude of, “What have you done for me lately, Jesus?” But the fact is that my Lord owes me nothing.

Nothing.

After He endured the betrayal of His closest friends, two sham trials, whipping, shame and ridicule, and then crucifixion on Good Friday…hasn’t Jesus done enough?

Of course He has. Because Jesus willingly chose to experience all of those horrible things. He did all of that for me, in an amazing display of sacrificial love. The greatest gift of love ever performed in human history. And He did it so that the barrier of sin that kept me apart from God could be eliminated. So that I could actually draw close to the Living God; the Creator of heaven and earth.

Incredible.

And yet…when Jesus does not give me all I want; when I do not have all that I think I need…it is so easy to whine and complain. To want more, expect more, demand more. So Good Friday humbles me. Good Friday helps me keep my life in proper perspective.

Good Friday reminds me that the God loves me and paid a huge price to grant me the privilege of knowing Him.

Good Friday also reminds me that this life is not all there is; that even though I become obsessed with my life “here and now”, the Lord is more concerned about my life “there and then”.

Because Good Friday is not the end of the story. Easter Sunday is coming!

- Bruce

ps. Thanks to my friend Kris Carter for the powerful graphic, which we used in our service tonight.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Root Ball

Over the years, I’ve transplanted various bushes, shrubs, and trees. I’ve learned – through trial and error – that transplanting is rather tricky. You must dig around the roots, leaving a fair amount of dirt and a sizable root ball to ensure that the plant has a good chance of sustaining itself in its new location. But even if you dig out a sizable root ball, you always wind up severing some of the existing roots. No matter how hard you try, you always create shock for the plant when you remove it from its home.

To minimize the effect of this shock, you get the plant into its new location as quickly as possible, surrounded by freshly turned dirt, lots of good soil, and all sorts of mulch, compost, and other nutrients. If the plant survives the initial shock, then it likely will survive. The goal, of course, is that the plant will do more than survive…you want it to thrive. That requires a great deal of patience, because the plant needs time for the root ball to begin to grow again. Once the plant permeates the new ground around its new location with a new root system, the plant once again will thrive.

It just takes time and patience.

"Time".  "Patience".

Two words that have become a central part of my life over the past couple of years. Two words that, quite frankly, I would rather not have to deal with. Because sometimes I get tired of waiting to reach the goal. Sometimes I just want to arrive and be done.

Our relocation has much in common with transplanting. When we finally pulled up stakes in Fullerton…when we severed our roots…it definitely was a shock to the system. But we arrived here and we were placed in the good soil of Garden Way Church. We have been welcomed and loved and affirmed. We have survived the shock. We know that God has called us here, so we have every confidence that we will thrive. But now we must wait. We must have patience. Why? Because putting down roots…the deep, live-giving roots that form the essence of long-term relationships… simply takes time.

I have a mental picture of our emotional/relational root ball. We are sitting comfortably in our new bed, surrounded by rich soil that is full of nutrients. We can see tiny new roots starting to form, sending their tendrils out into the surrounding soil. In the weeks, months, and years (years!) ahead, these new roots will thicken and grow. They will extend out further and further. They will dig their way deeper and deeper into the earth. And the end result will be a plant that is firmly established; a plant that is thriving; a plant that is producing rich relational fruit.

Blessed is the person…whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers. [Psalm 1:1-3]

We long for our roots to be as strong and deep here as they were in Fullerton. We look forward to that day with eagerness. So we hold firmly onto God…we daily build more connections with the people around us…and we try to wait patiently for this process to unfold.

- Bruce

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mental Transitions

We’ve been here just a little over 4 months.

The physical transition from southern California to the southern Willamette Valley has been relatively smooth. First of all, we just love this area. It is beautiful! Second, without too much difficulty, we have learned our way around town. We have found new doctors and shopping centers; we have hiked and biked some of the local trails; we have explored some of the surrounding countryside. All of this creates comfort and familiarity, helping us increasingly to feel “at home”.

But the mental transition? That is another story, because my mind keeps playing tricks on me.  For example...

I will be driving down a street, something in my peripheral vision somehow reminds me of our former life, and suddenly…just for a moment…I think I’m on West Avenue.

Weird.

I will get up from my seat at the local movie theater, and my mind tells me I’m at the AMC in Fullerton. So when I step outside there is a moment of wondering “Where am I?”

Strange.

I will be thinking about the weekend and the need to do errands, and my mind – at times – starts thinking about Lowe’s and Home Depot where I used to shop, rather than Jerry’s Home Improvement Center where I now shop.

Bizarre.

Back in January these “ghosts of Fullerton past” were occurring regularly, but now they are much more intermittent. These tricks of the mind are understandable; we don’t just erase 25 years of history from our memory tapes. And yet these mental gyrations hold me back; they are like a tentacle reaching out from my past that won’t let go. And they create a sense of disorientation that slows down my ability to fully engage my new life here in Eugene/Springfield.

I anticipated that this move would stretch me in many ways, but this particular challenge – the retraining of my mind – is one that I did not expect. So I find myself pondering the wisdom of Romans 12:2: “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is….”

I now see this verse in a new light.  I know that it is God’s will for me to be here. My mind, at times, tries to keep me anchored in the past. So as I renew my mind, not only do I sever the tentacles that hold me back…I increasingly experience peace with God’s decision to bring me and my family to our new home.

- Bruce

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.   Isaiah 40:31

I’ve been pondering this Scripture recently...particularly the word “wait"...as I continue to wait for God’s next step to clearly unfold in my life. There are two kinds of waiting that come to my mind:

- waiting for the known: when we know something specific is coming our way (the wedding to take place, the baby to arrive, the vacation to begin, the school year to end…)

- waiting for the unknown: when we’re not sure what lies ahead (looking for a new job, hoping for a raise, waiting for the doctor to call with test results…)

If we are confident of the end point, does it make any difference in how we wait? I think it does. While waiting for the known, we can be excited, nervous, and even anxious…but these emotions are easier to handle because we can see a reasonable end point.

When our children were little, I remember waiting for Bruce to come home. I would be watching a clock at times, weighing the kids’ behavior and what I wanted to put up with, based on how long I had to wait. If it had been a difficult day, I would find myself dispensing just enough patience to get me through until he arrived. I was pacing myself, so I wouldn’t get too weary or faint…and this worked (at least sometimes).

But it’s entirely different when I can’t see what the end point will look like…or when it will come about.

If I’m not careful, I find that my ability to handle the waiting dissipates, because I become worn down by anxiety, by worry, or by fears of what might happen. In fact, I can become so distressed that I start to believe things will never change.

But as a woman of faith, that is when I am supposed to lean most heavily upon God. For Isaiah isn’t just telling me to “wait”, he’s telling me to “wait upon the Lord”. It is in waiting in relationship with the Sovereign, Creator God that I will find new strength. The Bible is filled with individuals who waited on Him to receive strength in their time of need, and I find myself examining the circumstances of these people for inspiration as my own time of waiting seems to grow ever longer.

Joseph – who was unfairly imprisoned for more than a dozen years – reminds me to persevere.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – who stepped into a fiery furnace – remind me to live with courage.

Moses – who led the Israelites for 40 years of wandering – reminds me to never stop trusting.

A Syrophoenician woman – who cried out to Jesus for mercy on behalf of her demon-afflicted daughter – reminds me to believe in God’s healing power.

Rahab – who hid the Israelite spies and asked to be rescued – reminds me to never give up hope.

Mary – who watched Jesus as He lived and died and rose – reminds me to live with a view towards eternity.

Even though I’ve waited for many things in my life, in this new season I realize that I need to learn how to hold more firmly onto the Lord. Isaiah tells me that as I wait for the Lord, I will fly on wings like an eagle; I will run without getting weary; I will walk without growing faint.

I’m captivated by that image of the eagle.

The powerful wings of an eagle enable it to soar to great heights, giving it an incredible ability to view things from a long distance. If I hold onto God more firmly as I wait, perhaps He will allow me to gain a better perspective. A higher perspective. Perhaps even a glimpse of His perspective that will help me better understand His unfolding plan for me.

Eagle chicks remain in the nest for more than 3 months before they try to fly; much longer than most other birds. What a great reminder that time in the nest provides comfort, care, and the opportunity to gain strength. It is essential waiting.

I feel so ready to step out of my nest, and this extended time of waiting can make me frenetic and anxious. But increasingly I sense that God is holding me back; that He is having me wait so that I can gain the necessary strength – physical, emotional, spiritual – for whatever lies ahead.

Because if I wait until He’s ready to let me go, then…and only then…will I be able to catch the wind and soar like an eagle.

- Julie

Monday, January 10, 2011

You Can’t Use Me

“You can’t use me”.

These jarring words pounded into my head…and pierced my heart…as I folded laundry one night last week. I knew God was speaking to me. I have been struggling in my journey of faith, and I found myself – once again – doubting, complaining, and worrying. Was God accusing me of trying to “use Him”; to simply get Him to do what I wanted?

Having known the Lord a long time, having encouraged so many others when their circumstances were difficult, I hate admitting that I sometimes lack trust in His provision.

How can this be? Am I carrying bitterness because we had to wait over a year for Bruce to be called to a new ministry? Am I angry with God because even though He has called me to the vocation of ministry, my occupation now will not be in a church (which I knew before we moved)? Or am I just complaining because I feel my marketplace abilities are inadequate to find a position in this difficult economy?

Did I think my obedience in coming here would make the road smooth and easy?

I think my struggles are fueled by all of these questions, and probably a few more. The point is: I find it too easy to be anxious about, and at times critical of, God’s choice in moving us. I have struggled with my own sense of worth and understanding; wondering why He sometimes waits so long to take action.

Feeling anxious makes me pull away from others, while listening to negative thoughts makes me believe I cannot adapt to change; that things won’t work out. And then I feel bad because I should be buoyant in this new situation. After all, I love new adventures and new places and new people.

I realized that I was allowing my anxiety to rob me of God’s peace, to make me silent and critical, and to cause me to act and react in ways that really are not like me.

God rebuked me because I was trying to fight Him and somehow make Him do what I wanted. I was pierced to the heart as I realized I was “guilty as charged”; that I wanted to use God for my purposes so that my life would look like what I wanted.

But I sense that God is digging ever deeper within me, as He continues to pull out the securities (and insecurities) that so often rule my life. How strong these roots are within in me! He wants me to surrender, and He asks me to be willing to be used by Him in whatever way He chooses.

He’s asking that question we’ve all heard: will you trust Me and Me alone, even when it does not seem to make sense?

Hearing His gentle rebuke made me cry. How could I continue to worry and be anxious when He so clearly tells me to lean on Him, to depend on Him, and to trust Him? How could I demand that He fulfill my purposes, when as His disciple I vowed to follow Him, to love Him, and to trust His guidance in my life?

I asked forgiveness for my complaining attitude and my anxious spirit. I asked that He create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Instead of trying to “use Him” for my purposes, I desire to allow Him to use me for His purposes. For I want to be able to answer “yes” unequivocally to the question “Do I trust my God”? Yes, I will trust Him with my circumstances. Yes, I will trust Him with my life.

- Julie