Friday, February 24, 2012

Believing He Rewards

Hebrews 11:6 says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

According to this verse, faith includes two parts: believing that God exists, and believing he will reward us when we seek him. 

Believing in God's existence, in my opinion, is much easier than believing he will reward me. To believe that God exists, I don't have to personally experience anything of God. I simply need to believe the faith stories that have been passed down to me, or the experiences of other witnesses.

But to truly believe he is saving a reward especially for me – because I do seek him – this is the most difficult part of faith. It requires a personal relationship with a loving Father God, and an experience of intimacy with him through the Holy Spirit. If we don't have this relationship yet or we don't connect with God on a heart-to-heart level, our faith is not complete. We are not able make righteous choices because we still think we have to take care of ourselves. 


When my heart connects with the loving Father who wants every good thing for his children... 

When it's just him and me and no distraction...

When the Spirit of God comes and draws me near...

When his logos Word becomes rhema word and it's so personal and specific and direct – and it's almost like we're looking each other in the eyes – and how could I deny his favor for me, muchless his existence and presence here??

My hope returns and his speaking to me is almost reward enough, but it reminds me there is reward to come. Not just a dumb medal, but rewards of character, justice, peace, love and favor for my posterity, and a life for my family better than we could've imagined.

I remember that my position is no longer as a worthless sinner begging mercy at the foot of the cross. My new position, because of Christ's shed blood, is seated next to him, above everything. That is my new reality if I so choose to believe it. There is nothing he couldn't do in and through me, and there is nothing he would hold back. Just like Cinderella, I've stepped over the line from rags... to royalty.

This is where I begin dreaming. It's where I begin setting goals and making plans. It's where I get out of the boat and find myself walking on water. 

The biggest step I took into the great unknown with God was in 2004 when I moved to the beautiful countryside of Vermont to work with at-risk teens. I had never lived out of the Midwest, and never been in charge of other people. I didn't know anyone there.

But when I sought God on the important things, like where he wanted me to use my skills and serve him, he made it so obvious I should go there. So I did. I set out for Vermont in my car, believing that God was going to reward me for seeking him.

Little did I know that on top of getting to disciple younger girls, I would be blessed and challenged by a wonderful church community, get to train dogs and puppies on the side, and get to ski in the mountains all winter. These were all dreams in my heart that only my Father knew. 

What a privilege it is to serve a loving God. If you know him, believe he rewards and step out in faith. You just can't go wrong!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Tribute to Grandparents

Growing up connected to your grandparents is a special thing. My sister and I were so blessed to live just an hour from ours – all four of them – and a great-grandma, too. We spent regular time with them.

It's amazing what we learn and who we become from our youngest years.

My sister and I also had elderly neighbors who took an active role in our lives, and another elderly couple mentored me while in Bible school. Grandparents – and grandparent figures – are such an important influence. They teach us from life experience, and they take voluntary responsibility in shaping us and loving us. Our relationships with them train us how to relate to and respect our elders.

Last year, my maternal grandma turned 80. All of us grandkids were encouraged to write down some special memories for a scrapbook. When you start writing it all down, you realize just how much you love someone! The following is my tribute to Grandpa Bob and Grandma Pokey.

When I walk into their house, the wonderful smell makes me feel relaxed, peaceful, free, and at home. I am sure that’s because it was a “second home” to me from my earliest childhood. It felt like home, but there were so many special things we got to experience there that we didn’t have at home. So, everything about their house felt a little bit magical. Grandma had a doll collection and real gnomes and wonderful old storybooks that took us to wonderful places.

It seems like we often forgot our pajamas, but we loved sleeping in Grandma’s cozy turtlenecks. Maybe the best feeling in the world is to snuggle up next to Grandma Pokey for a bedtime story. She is the best bedtime story reader of all time. So many good books; the pop-ups were our favorites. She passed down a love of reading to us, and now our children are reaping the benefits!

Grandpa Bob had the raspberry bushes. Picking them and eating them off the tip of my finger (or someone else’s) was a delight. “Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I will give you a big surprise!” Bedtime snackie-wackies often included raspberries – with half n half or soy moo.

Grandpa made that shed into a spectacular playhouse, carpeted and complete with dolls, a crib, and a kitchen. We loved playing in there. A simple thing, but little did they know that playhouse was a “school” for life as I know it now! I believe Grandpa and Grandma played a big part in teaching me the important things in life, including raising a family and running a home. Homemade food and gardening are aspirations I have now because of Grandma. She always had that “kids’ drawer” stocked and ready for us to pretend in the kitchen.

We loved playing in the backyard. We fed the ducks, watched the birds, trapped squirrels, picked beans, swung, ran through the sprinkler in our undies (or not), “tanned” on the back steps, and played in the plastic pool. Always fun and laughter. The grown-ups would sit in lawn chairs and drink iced tea from those plastic cups. When cousins came, there was happy playing with the old toys, running, sledding, giggling, sleeping in tents, fun at the lake, and bike rides to the root beer stand. Sometimes we got to swim in the pool at the golf course.

Grandpa is a man of few words, but very affectionate. He openly hugged and kissed Grandma and all the rest of us, and always made a point to say “How’s my girl?” when we arrived and “I love you” when we left. After the wood shop was built, the smell of sawdust became a source of joy. We got to help Grandpa sweep, stack, make believe, sand, and do woodburning projects as he worked. Grandpa had kites for flying and a toboggan for riding and built a swing for swinging. We were always having fun. He built a dollhouse for Kelly and me, along with cedar chests for keepsakes. When I got married, he built me a beautiful striped cutting board and a recipe card holder. When we got our first apartment, he built us a walnut bookshelf which now stands in our living room.

I remember helping Uncle Joel stack wood, which Grandpa used to heat the basement. In the evening we sometimes watched a movie down there while eating Grandpa’s popcorn. It was the biggest, butteriest bucket of popcorn I had ever seen! At Christmas we often watched The Grinch. One Christmas Eve, us girls were sleeping in the rose room and Jackie told me the Grinch was in the closet. To this day, whenever I sleep at Grandma’s, I wonder if he is really in there!

At Christmas we sang carols around the piano while Grandma played, ate her gingerbread cookies, played Crazy 8s, and had our very own stockings with our names sewn on which we opened in the morning. We put out the cookies and milk for Santa, and found the crumbs in the morning.

Of course, the best Christmas memory of all was the year us little girls heard the sleigh bells on the roof. We jumped out of bed to tell the grown-ups and then – right outside the window – we witnessed the real Santa Claus walk right by in all the snow. Inexplicable joy, awe, wonder, excitement. It all happened at Grandpa and Grandma’s.

Coloring eggs was fun and the Easter Bunny hid our baskets well. Most of my Easters were celebrated at their house. We wore our pretty dresses, hats, and purses with pleasure and got to hear Grandma play the organ at Mass. At the end of Mass she always let us come and play, too. What a thrill! We felt so special and important. Standing next to Grandpa in church was one of my first experiences of the holiness of God. Grandpa was so big yet seemed to bow so low. And though he was quiet, his deep voice sang so loud! I loved to stand next to him and sing to God as loud as I could, too. During the Lord’s Prayer he would hold hands with us, and then our whole row of family would join hands to pray. Grandpa and Grandma passed down their Christian heritage. They prayed with me some of my first prayers: Bless Us, O Lord and Angel of God.

Kelly and I took cozy naps in Grandpa and Grandma’s bed, and sometimes snuck in just to snuggle with them. Grandma’s hands were soft when she gave us baths and powder. Grandpa’s hands were big and rough, but also very loving. I remember the first time I held hands with Shane, I thought, “His hands are strong and rough like Grandpa’s.”

My appreciation for music came from my mom, and also Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa sang it to me since I was a baby: “K-k-k-Kati, beautiful Kati... she’s the one and only one that I adore…” Grandpa sang and Grandma played piano and taught me how to play my first tune: Hot-Crossed Buns. A springboard for the piano lessons and percussion days and choirs. They came to so many concerts, recitals, games, events, and horse shows. Grandma writes letters and cards for every holiday and calls for birthdays and April Fools and never forgets, and she sends coupons and comics to make us chuckle.

I don’t know how she writes all those letters and keeps all those diaries, but I have also turned into something of a writer and can’t seem to put down the pen. My first “diary” was kept in an Alf notepad when we stayed with Grandpa and Grandma for a week. She had us write down everything we did, and I still have that little notepad with the very big handwriting. It took a long time to write those sentences each night, but I was so proud of it. What an inspiration.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Pokey have done so many things to make me feel special and important, just by pouring out love and being themselves. I love them so much and treasure the moments – and the heritage – they have given me. I am extremely thankful that my husband and son are getting to know them, too. When I sit down and list all these memories, I am overwhelmed. I realize, they were such a big part of my childhood, such a huge influence on my life, and simply this: I have the best grandparents in the world!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When You're Tempted to Give Up on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day.

A day for single women to let go of expectations of being loved perfectly by a man,
and to rest in God's love.

Valentine's Day.

A day for married women to let go of expectations of being loved perfectly by a man,
and to rest in God's love.

Valentine's Day.

A day to remember what real love is, and where it comes from.

Valentine's Day. 

Just another day of being lied to, stepped on, and ignored by imperfect men.

Just another day of being understood, gently led, and attended to by a perfect God.

Valentine's Day.

A day to be enjoyed by all who are loved perfectly.


You live your life like a tornado.
Destruction follows everywhere you go.
And you have no plans to stop or slow. 

I will not let this bitter root grow in me.
I will not let you leave that legacy,
But it gets so hard when pain is all I see.

And every time I find healing, you're making a new mess.

And I am learning the real meaning of forgiveness.

And I tried to remove myself from your path,

But I keep on waking up in the aftermath.
So I pick up again and say I won't look back. 

And I will not let this bitter root grow in me.
I will not let you leave that legacy,
But this constant fight is breaking me.

And every time I find healing, you're making a new mess.

And I am learning the real meaning of forgiveness.

And it hurts when you hit at the hearts of the ones I love;

When everything you touch is rubble and dust.
And it gets so hard to know how to trust.
But I will not let that bitter root grow. 

 But it gets so hard.

And every time I find healing you're making a new mess,

And I am learning the real meaning of forgiveness. 

I could move and never send you a forwarding address,
Or I could learn the real meaning of forgiveness.

"Tornado" by Sara Groves

As reality hits, and the false image of Cupid falls pitifully off the window of our life... let's turn our gaze to the greatest lover of all:

"There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:13

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why I Love Hymns

Lately I just crave hymns. Old ones or new ones. Any hymns. I want to learn them and learn about them and teach them to my child, too.

Hymns are written poetically and often they have a story-like progression, each verse carrying us through a season of life, or a stage of faith.

When I turn on the Christian radio station, or worship at non-traditional churches, I don't hear many hymns. Mostly I hear praise songs. In these songs, you sing over and over things like, "God, you are so good. Your love is higher than the mountains and deeper than the ocean. God, your love overwhelms me. God, my life is yours."

These kind of lyrics can be really good for times of worshiping alone. When it's just me and the Holy Spirit and I just prayed about something personal and specific, sometimes just singing "All of you is more than enough for all of me" over and over is just perfect.

But in corporate worship, when we are all learning together the practice of expressing our faith and glorifying God, there's nothing like getting a little more clear by singing: "I have seen the face of Jesus – tell me not of aught beside; I have heard the voice of Jesus – all my soul is satisfied. In the radiance of the glory first I saw his blessed face, and forever shall that glory be my home, my dwelling place."

The lyrics with broad ideas satisfied me more when God seemed mysterious and vague. He was good, but he was so vague. Early in my faith life there was so much I didn't know about him. Now there is still a lot I don't know, but enough that I do know that is so worth proclaiming! I don't want to sing the line "how great is our God" in a million different ways. I want to sing about the deeper stuff, the reasons he is great and the reasons his love is so big.

I find these reasons expressed in great detail when I get to sing a hymn. Hymns are so meaningful. So eloquently and purposefully written.

My heart also learns so much from the words of hymns. I don't know many hymns yet, and I don't know much about hymnwriters, but I do know most hymnwriters were abnormal people in that their faith went through many trials. My heart is challenged by the expression of faith in the midst of trials, and the knowledge of why God is so faithful and wonderful at all times.

So, lyrics matter most to me. I would much rather sing a hymn with only a piano for accompaniment, than sing a song with a vague description of God accompanied by a big ol' worship team. Don't get me wrong, I am a music person and therefore musically picky. As a percussionist I don't like too many cymbals just for effect. I love a violin added, or a trumpet, and guitar solos and piano solos, and an unabashed singer with great harmonies...

BUT... lyrics still matter most.

The clearer the ideas can be expressed, the more explicit meaning the songs will have, and the more depth the worship experience will afford.

The problem with hymns is that many people associate them with organs. Organs and organists are becoming more rare everyday, and a lot of people (including myself) prefer other instruments to organs. I know there are people out there writing hymns today, but there are also people who are putting old hymns to new music... with new instruments.

And with that, here is one of my all-time faves. I hope it blesses you today!

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
originally composed by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my All shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like them, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate and friends may shun me;
Show Thy face, and all is bright.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure!
Come, disaster, scorn, and pain!
In Thy service, pain is pleasure;
With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee Abba, Father!
I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather,
All must work for good to me.

Man may trouble and distress me,
'Twill but drive me to Thy breast;
Life with trials hard may press me,
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, 'tis not in grief to harm me
While Thy love is left to me;
Oh, 'twere not in joy to charm me
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Take, my soul, thy full salvation;
Rise o'er sin and fear and care;
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
What a Father's smile is thine,
What a Savior died to win thee;
Child of heaven, shouldst thou repine?

Haste, then, on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heaven's eternal day's before thee,
God's own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close the earthly mission,
Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope soon change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Worth the Wait

Ever since the health problems started to emerge, Isaiah 40:29-31 started popping up everywhere:

He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak. 

Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
 but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.

I know this is a popular verse, commonly prescribed for any tired or sick Christian under the age of 35, but the number of times and places it has appeared to me out of nowhere is truly remarkable. E-mails from friends, prophetic prayers over me, sermons at church, a mentor's office filled with eagles based on this verse, the huge painting in my doctor's office for crying out loud. And the number of times we have spotted bald eagles since this all started has been ridiculous.

Well, it would be ridiculous coincidence if I did not have such a close friend in the Holy Spirit. I am skeptical about a lot of things, and there was a time I skepticized his movement in my life. But by now the Spirit has become recognizable, a welcome friend.

Yet each time he shows up, particularly with the promise from my Father for strength when I am physically weak, and for a restoration that would allow me to actually run and soar... well, I am still awed by the fact that God is indeed with me. Alive. Not dormant, but seeing me and moving and urging me to hold on. This story is not over yet.


The command is to hope in the Lord, and our God is so good that he attaches promises to his commands. In this case, the promise of strength and restoration. The very thing I long for.

This is so powerful. So empowering. Not just in an intellectual way, but in a spiritual rising up sort of way. The word of God, unlike any other literature, is active. It literally moves my spirit.

But in some Bible translations, the word hope is translated as wait. The King James Version says, "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength..."

Shane and I retreated over the weekend to a place of rest, a place where we could put our lives aside for a moment and actively seek the Lord. We need to take extra time for pursuing and seeking God's will in this phase of life, because big decisions loom over us regarding career direction and health care. It was a refreshing time, and God was faithful to answer when we intentionally gave this time to him alone.

The word I heard him clearly say was, "WAIT."

How did I know it was God? Because he emphasized "wait" with repetition.

First, Isaiah 40:29-31 was read in church. Every time this happens now, Shane and I just look at each other, laugh, and say, "Hi Father. Thanks for being here. We're listening." It's like he's sitting right there in the pew with his arm around us.

He is.

This time, Shane smiled and specifically asked me, "So, what do you think God is trying to get through to us through this verse?"

I thought about it and said it out loud, "He wants us to wait for him, to encourage us to keep waiting and expect his promise of restored strength in my body."

This Scripture wasn't talked about, just read. But in one of the next worship songs we sang the chorus, "So I wait for you... So I wait for you..." over and over. We laughed again as we sang to him.

After church we went out for lunch at LeAnn Chin. I do not believe in superstition and fortune-telling, but God knows that, and I believe he can redeem anything earthly to interact with his people if he has our hearts. The fortune in my cookie said the Chinese word and the English translation for "Wait."

And then, because we had a gift certificate for Coldstone Creamery, ice cream was our next stop. Sitting at our table, I looked up at a freezer filled with ice cream cakes and the big sign on the freezer door said, "WHY WAIT?"

I looked at it, and I spoke it out loud to my Father: "Because you said so. Because I trust you, and you love me, and you won't let me down. You keep your promise and you will give me strength when I am weak, and I praise you because you do. That's why!!"

Sometimes I think he just wants to stir us up and get us to shout it out, express our faith.

Shane looked at me like I was nuts. Then I pointed to the sign, and he understood.

I love walking with my Father. I love resting in the security of Jesus' love, knowing he's not some dead legendary teacher, but he's alive and with us.

This week may just bring my healing.

Or it may bring trouble, disappointment. But I know who I am waiting for, and he can be trusted.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Pleasure

This is what it means to praise him at all times, to set myself before him and count it joy.

I don't know what it's like to live in a brothel or hide in a basement. I don't know what starving to death feels like. I don't know this kind of suffering or the full kind of suffering, what Jesus experienced in full for all of us.

The little thing I know is pain, and sickness. The kind that comes back and refuses to go away. The kind that keeps me from relationships... from giving love. High-maintenance pain. The kind that changes our plans in a second.

But to hold out my hands every time and say that time is really his, not mine. The relationships and people are his to feed, not mine. To make my body truly a living sacrifice, laid out on the altar that is my bed, able to do nothing "productive" for his Kingdom. This is it.

This is life to the full.

Life to the full is not jumping up and down at Bible camp. Life to the full is not the American dream – marriage, career, kids, house, activities. Life to the full is not standing on the top of the mountain breathless or running the marathon.

Life to the full is a life laid out helpless, praising Jesus Christ.

If suffering insists on companionship, well come on then, let's get going.

Because he has suffered to the full, for me, and I am freed from that. Being with him is more, better even than being with my family. Always, he is with me. He will not let this time be wasted; his great purposes for my little family are more than I can see. Praise to Jesus, he is working out my salvation. He is providing money, providing friends, providing his living Word to carry us each day.

Each day we can look back and praise him for breath. Sight. Literacy. Each other.

I will praise him from my bed and I will praise him in my house and I will praise him outside of here. This is my pleasure, the boundaries fallen in pleasant places. This is my body, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is my spiritual worship. Again and again, he will receive my praise.

It is enough – more than enough pleasure – so much pleasure it's overflowing even in my pain. To have pleasure in pain? Only a miracle worker could make that happen.

More love to thee.