July 26, 2014

The Lord is Good

The Lord is good, so very good! Today is a great day to give praise to the Lord of Heaven. He is good, He reigns, and His mercy endures forever.

It is a good Saturday morning in sunny and very hot Phoenix. It is July 26 and our monsoon season is in full swing. We have not had as active a monsoon as in year's past, but there is still hope that the rains will come before the season ends. July and August are the rainy months here in AZ. It is normal for us to get good rain storms every other day during these months. Unfortunately, the past couple years (well, perhaps dozen years) the monsoonal flow has not been as strong, and we have languished in the heat and the humidity. The blessing of the monsoon, besides the rain, is that it keeps our temperatures low, around 100-104 instead of the daily highs of 108-115 that will come without that break in the heat. Still rain or no rain, there is blessing in living in AZ (I just cannot think about that right now! LOL!)

As I sit here today, I think about all that I have to accomplish today and tomorrow. I am focused on writing my paper, on making good headway. I know that I am at the wall, so to speak. I am at that point where I have to get something down on paper, something that will push me forward toward the goal, the end. I have until Friday to turn this paper in, so today is a critical day. I need to make a dent in the project because getting from 10-25 pages is tough. I can easily write 10-12 pages. I can do this in my sleep (practically). It is far more difficult to write 12-25. You need good content, and you need to be able to get into the details of the paper at this point. The turn is always around page 11, and without good content, the paper lags and ends up being mush (just a "whole lotta nothing"). Today my prayer is to get a good portion of the paper done. I would like to see 5 pages of solid writing today and tomorrow (10 total). That would leave me with 12-13 pages to complete M-F of next week. My overall goal is 22-23 plus references.

I can do it. I've done it before. I prefer to write 15-19 pages, so pushing this up to 22-23 is a struggle for me. God knows what I need to get done today, so I let this go, and I let Him do this work through me. He is good, so very good.

Thinking About My Purpose (Romans 8:28)

I think a lot about my purpose. I ponder my calling, wonder about the plans God has for my life, and I reflect on what He has done and is doing in my life. My life has purpose, and I love the fact that I am called to live my life a certain way, to fulfill certain tasks and jobs, and to be and do things that only I am uniquely created to do. My purpose informs my choices, it focuses my path, and it gives my life direction. Without purpose, my life could feel empty, hopeless, without any form. Therefore, knowing my purpose, understanding my gifts and my abilities, and then actively pursuing their use, is what provides deep soul satisfaction to me. It gives me my reason for being, for living, and for loving this life.

I wish I could say that I have always felt satisfied in life. I wish I could say that I always believed I was called to live a life to the full, to the brim, and with a great sense of hope, but that would not be true. For many years, I believed that life was hard, it was a chore, and it was not a happy, hope filled experience. I had a "school of hard knocks" approach to living -- everyday I put on my hard hat, pulled on my heavy boots, and I prepared myself to spend another day in the trenches. I worked hard, I lived hard, and I "endeavored to persevere." Life was something you churned through, and if you were lucky, you tried really hard not to get chewed up and spat out.

I can remember experiencing that "life is hard" moment for the first time. It happened when I was young, at that point between childhood and adulthood, where you go from seeing the world as rosy and full of possibilities to black and hopeless. I was in my early teens when I experienced the death of a friend. I had lived a pretty sheltered life up to that point, and I had never had to watch anyone in my family die. It is hard enough to lose a family member, but when it is your peer (or close in age person) it hits you differently.

I can remember the day vividly. It was raining outside, and my Mom and I went down the street to visit our neighbor. Her daughter was 16, and she had died recently. She went to my high school. She came home from school two weeks before with flu-like symptoms. She had a fever, and she was feeling sick. Her Mom gave her aspirin to reduce her fever. She died just says later. She had contracted Reyes Syndrome, a rare but serious condition where the brain swells. It has been linked to the use of Aspirin in children and teens recovering from Chickenpox or the flu. Her mother didn't know any better, and she gave her child the medicine she thought would make her better. It didn't. It caused her death.

My mother made me go visit this family. I didn't want to go. I was scared to go. I didn't know if this condition that she had was contagious. I didn't know if I would get sick and die. My mother said it is what you do when someone dies, when a neighbor has needs.

I went to her house. I walked through her daughters bedroom. It was eery and unpleasant. The mother wanted me to see her daughters things, to show me her daughters room. I understand it now, but back then, it just was scary for me.

I remember going home and getting sick. I was sick to my stomach and I wanted to throw up. I prayed to God to spare my life, to not let me get this condition. I was so afraid of getting sick that I would not fall asleep, I would not rest.

I considered my life then, as a teenager, and I knew that the only way I would survive not getting this sickness was to hunker down and be careful. I made it my plan to always do the right thing, to make good choices, to be in control of every detail. I could not risk getting sick or getting hurt. I began a life of seriousness, of not taking chances, of never letting go or giving in. My life became a life of absolute control, and I lost my childhood whimsy, my delight in the possible. I embraced fear and I became paranoid over anything or anyone that might cause me pain or suffering.

Of course, I grew up, and with growing up, you begin to experience other types of hurt, other types of trauma. I never realized how much I gave up that day -- facing death -- fearing death. I never realized that my life of carefully ordered steps and monitored control was a way for me to feel secure, to feel safe. I walked through my life, living in isolation, and making choices that were carefully considered (agonized over). I was miserable, I was miserable.

As I lived in fear of everything, I stopped seeing possibilities, and instead, I only saw negative consequences. Everything had a "rub" to it. People were dishonest. People hurt you. People did stupid things. I withdrew from life, and I lived inside myself. After all, it was only inside of myself that I could be certain I was safe, I was secure.

It is interesting to reflect back on those experiences, to see the choices that were made and the actions that resulted. I am all about outcomes, and as a researcher, I look to outcomes for interpretation and analysis. I enjoy seeing the patterns, the connections, and determining what was the cause and the effect. I think it is because my brain is wired to solve problems, to seek resolutions, to find answers. As such, whenever I study the past, I learn great insight that can be used by me (and Lord willing, by others) to improve or enhance the future.

This is why the words in Romans 8:28 speak directly to my heart.

And we know that God causes everything to work together
for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

They remind me that God has a unique and wonderful plan for each and every single child. He has something special in mind for us, and He wants to work those plans out for the betterment of His kingdom. It is therefore paramount that each child of God come to learn and understand his or her own giftedness. We all have a responsibility to the Body of Christ to do our part, to play our part, as it were (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:27). It is up to us to seek the Lord for wisdom and guidance, to discern through the Holy Spirit our place within the body, our role, and to discover how can we fulfill our function in the church.

One of the ways a new believer can come to learn more about their gifts is to take a spiritual assessment test. It is best to take these as part of a discipleship class whereby a teacher or pastor can help to explain the Biblical context of the gift and how that gift works in the Church. You can find these online too. Some are better than others. They are also different depending on the church affiliation. A Pentecostal website might have more gifts or a different ordering of gifts than say a Baptist or Lutheran website. I have used a couple of different ones. I think by using various types, you can get a full picture of how the gifts work in an organizational setting.

Once you have a firm understanding of your gifts, both natural and spiritual, you can begin to see how you can influence the Church. I believe that our gifts can be used in more than just ministry -- but rather -- we can use our gifts in every area of our life. I have found this to be true with my own gifts. I use my natural and spiritual gifts at work, at church, at home, and at school. I use them all the time because they are a part of me, they are what make me unique.

Today is a good day, and I am sitting here getting ready to write a major research paper. The research is done. I have to write up the findings, and I have to present this paper to my classmates and my Professor. I am so ready for this paper to be done, for this class to end. I want to finish the summer strong, to go out with a big BANG if possible. I know that this next week requires dedication and focus. I know that without the Lord's hand on me as I write, nothing of good, of value will come of the work I am to do -- I am called to do. I lift my voice now and I cry out to Him to guide my hand, to inspire my mind and my heart, to think critically, and to allow Him to speak through me as I type. I confess with my mouth -- to God be the Glory forever and ever -- Amen!

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