Friday, December 31, 2010

Stones of Remembrance

Today is the last day of 2010. Tomorrow will be a new year, a clean slate, and a beautiful, fresh start.

During our ladies' retreat in Colorado, we talked about stones of remembrance in  Joshua 4. The children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years and in Joshua 1, it is time for them to inherit the Promised Land given to them by the Lord. Joshua commands a man from each of the twelve tribes to carry a stone up from the Jordan river, which the Lord allows them to cross on dry ground. When they have safely crossed, this is what Joshua says:

"And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."

As I reflect back on the past year, I have my own stones of remembrance: moments that shaped me, lessons that changed me, people who influenced me, and a God who never left me. As we usher in the new year, I hope you will join me in looking back on 2010 and celebrating and marking with stones of remembrance all the Lord has done. If you don't know my Jesus, there will be no better way to bring in the new year than to allow Him to be Lord of your life.

Stone 1: Ushering in last New Year with people who walked me through thick and thin in Colorado, my Alpha family

Stone 2: Doors to grad school shut. This was a direction shift for me. I feel unqualified to pursue the career the Lord has placed on my heart, but the Lord rarely calls the equipped. He equips the called. I am in good company. (Gideon, Paul, Esther)
Stone 3: Loving on kids in rough areas of Lubbock. It tried my patience, my character, and also showed me what God did not create me to do (be a school teacher), but it also broadened my understanding.

Stone 4: Moving home. This was humbling for a girl who always had a plan and is very achievement oriented. Another growing experience of resting in the Lord. So thankful for a family who supports me in pursuing my dreams despite a lack of clear direction.  I am blessed.

Stone 5: Renewed friendships. I moved back around people I had grown up with but been separated from for four years. These friends were a comfort and a reminder of who I am despite the rejection of the past two years.
Stone 6: A new church home. The Lord led me to Watermark just when I was feeling desperate for community. Not only that, but within weeks, I was placed in a community group with nine amazing girls and given a leadership position with a team teaching me Biblical leadership skills.

Stone 7: My passion restored. After my rejection from grad school, I had trouble writing. This year, the Lord has restored my joy and with that came reassurance that this is where He has both gifted me and called me.

Stone 8: Direction revealed. In September, I attended a Christian writer's conference where I met an author who set me on a course that will follow me into 2011. As of November, I am a student of the Christian Writer's Guild, pursuing publication and receiving one-on-one training and help from a Christian author. I have officially started my first novel. Stay tuned.

Stone 9: Family. I finished up my year with my siblings home from college and a family reunion in both Texas and New Mexico with both sides of the family for the holidays. I am blessed with family who support, love, and encourage me as I continue to seek career direction.

Stone 10: Above all, I learned this year that GOD IS GOOD (Nahum 1:7). I gained a stronger grasp on the concept of being still and waiting on Him, of understanding that He is the source of my identity and worth, of letting Him direct my paths, of trusting, of joy and peace and contentment, of understanding His all-consuming limitless LOVE, of fellowship and community. I pray you remember His goodness this past year and hold onto it in the new year.

Happy New Year from Texas,

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Memory

Merry Christmas from Chama, New Mexico where we are celebrating a Brandon family Christmas! We have a lot of fun traditions, but the story below is one of my favorites. As we celebrate Christmas, I am so thankful that Jesus is the reason. Otherwise, it would just be another day. What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Water-Walking Man

Every other Christmas, I walk on water.
With each excursion, a new cousin rising to maturity learns the dos and don’ts of water walking, marking their initiation in our family tradition.
            Snow piles up around the old hotel in a mountain town in northern New Mexico. Animal prints from wolves and deer dot the fresh powder. The Brandon cousins arrive en masse and add boot prints from the college grads to the smallest toddlers, delighting to ruffle the almost untouched snow. We trek down to the river, a frozen, twisting snake that winds behind the hotel and through the countryside for miles. Hunter, the youngest by far, struggles to lift his little legs, chunky boots and all, and place them right in the footprints left by the big boys walking just ahead.
            We have a system; one established when the first Brandon grandchildren braved the icy river back in 1994. Sharissa, the oldest, or Jonathan and Toby, the fearless older boys of the clan, tentatively lead the way. A booted foot reaches out, testing the frozen mass, judging the color of the ice and the water’s depth. We proceed in a linked chain, hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm out onto the ice and pick a direction to pursue, right towards the bridge and cow pond or left towards rapids and rising banks. When one falls through, the rest are right behind, doing everything they can to pull that cousin out. Falling in is inevitable and soaked feet a fact of life.
            We gather to celebrate Christmas all together in this snowy mountain town, doting grandparents, their four daughters, and their families. Our family’s heritage of faith dates back generations to the time Nanny and Popoo sang hymns and toted an old organ to their tiny church on the plains of West Texas. Just like we teach little Hunter and those before him how to walk on water, we must teach him what Christmas is truly all about, a tradition deeper than the river we love to explore. But after a day of walking on water, it is a lesson easy to teach.
            Hunter crawled into my lap the first Christmas he was able to walk on water. It was Christmas morning and the smell of food and noise of a big family filled the air. We talked and giggled about our day out on the river while he pleaded to go out later, eager to don his floppy hat and ski bib. And then we talked about the baby of Christmas and the water-walking man.
My cousins don’t struggle to understand becoming part of a family with a Father who loves them. They relate to Him. He’s the One who created the river they walk on and placed them in the family who links arms with them and says, “I won’t let go.”
            But unlike the unreliability of their older cousins, the young ones understand that Jesus won’t let them down. His grip won’t slip and He won’t ever fall in. Even when the ice cracks, their booted foot slips, and their feet and legs soak with icy water, the baby of Christmas, the water-walking Son of God never lets them go.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Love is a Verb

There is an old DC Talk song that says, "Hey, tell me, haven't you heard? Love is a serious word. Love is a verb." As I look back over the last year and my journey to understand the love of the Lord, I see the models He set in place through community and different institutions such as marriage and family to demonstrate the love He has for us. Over the next year, I want to look at the Lord's character more and the fact that not only is He a holy God who loves, but He IS LOVE. That is a staggering thought.

Over the last week, I have been convicted of the model of love that we practice as a culture. We tend to approach love as a feeling, the kind that draws us to a person, binds us to them, makes us enjoy being with them. All of that is good to feel, but as I have studied love as the Lord intended, I have come to one very solid conclusion. The way we approach love is not remotely the kind of love the Lord ordained. Exhibit  A would be our country's abnormally high divorce rate. And guess what have demonstrated no difference between your ability to "love" your spouse and the worlds. Point for the evil one there. Harsh? Yes. True? Unfortunately. Sugar-coating the truth does not make it any less real. In fact, it isn't loving you at all.

Here is what I have come to understand about love. It is without a doubt an action and not solely a feeling. Our emotion should be the result of actions. If we went into marriage with the mentality that we truly will love our spouse in sickness and in health, when they are grumpy in the mornings, or mess up the house, when they don't wash their dishes, or run late to every appointment, when they get angry, or are hurt and not acting like themselves, when they hit rock bottom and the only one to pull them out is you....those are the moments that test our love for them. There is a good chance that you won't even like them in most of these situations. But if our love is based on affection, it will run at the first sign of trouble.

Love picks that person up when they have hit rock bottom and points them to Jesus. It smiles at them when they are growling in the morning, it serves them when they don't clean up, it covers for them when they run late, and holds them accountable to do better, it is patient when they are angry but calls them to a "come to Jesus meeting" with the Lord about their attitude. It is sticking by them despite their imperfections and mistakes, and it is  NOT ALLOWING THEM TO STAY THAT WAY. It is speaking the TRUTH IN LOVE. You can't separate the two.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me." (John 14:6) "Whoever does not know love, does not know God, because God IS LOVE." (1 John 4:8) You can't separate what it is true from the action of love. Love doesn't mean accepting all flaws so we can be at peace and be one big, happy world. I have a very rude awakening for you...the world won't be at peace until Jesus comes back so you might as well accept that idea now.  Love means committing to them in spite of the flaws but helping them be better. Think of it this way. Most of us want the best for people we care about. We love them for who they are and we want them to be the very best version of themselves. "I love you for who you are, but I love you too much to let you stay that way." Love means speaking truth when it hurts, pointing them back to Jesus when they stumble, and standing by them even when they push you away for the latter. Trust me, it will happen.

I apologize if this is harsh. My intention is not to cut down but to encourage with truth. I believe God's word is very firm when it comes to what love looks like and for those of us who are Christians, I believe many of us have bought into the world's watered down version and are missing God's plan for us. It breaks my heart. I leave you with a final thought.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with ACTIONS and in TRUTH." 1 John 3:18

Learning His love,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dispelling the Darkness

I love creativity and though I do not condone all the concepts being communicated in the Harry Potter series, I must admit J.K. Rowling is the queen of creativity. In her books, she draws a very distinct line between good and evil, right and wrong. Her characters are forced to choose between what is right and what is easy. They are forced to choose a side. I wish that line was as distinct in real life. I realize that some of you are not Harry Potter fans, and this post is not a recommendation, merely observations of something I have learned while reading and watching this series. 

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, one of the biggest proponents of good, Professor Dumbledore, is killed by the bad guy, Voldemort's henchmen. Harry is devastated. The scene in the movie is absolutely gripping. The Dark Mark, a symbol placed in the sky over the spot that someone has been killed by Voldemort or his followers, is shot into the sky over the place Dumbledore now lies. The sky is smoky and oppressive. All seems lost. Their capable leader and hero is dead, and evil literally hangs over their heads in victory, taunting them. 

But one by one, the students and professors raise their wands into the sky, tears streaking down their faces and light glows from the end of the wands, casting dim pinpricks into the mocking mark. And slowly, the pinpricks grow as more and more wands point toward the offensive sign. The sky begins to glow and the Dark Mark is shattered, utterly diminished by the joined light from the wands.

This scene moves me. The director accurately portrayed the power of light over dark, even in moments where it seems the darkness has victory. The light is triumphant, and one pinprick is still powerful enough to shatter the illusion of darkness' victory. 

So here's the application. Please understand that I am not advocating Harry Potter or claiming it as Biblical truth. However, I believe lessons can be learned even from things never meant to be interpreted Biblically. Psalm 112:4 says, "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man." 

We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD as Matthew 5:14 says. Like the characters in Harry Potter, we must face darkness, shine a light on it, illuminate it for what it is, and dispel it. We have the power to do that because we are the light of Christ, a reflection of His glory! How awesome, is that?

It is easy to fear the darkness. Satan is the prince of darkness and the Lord has given him the ability to roam the earth seeking whom he may devour for just a short time (1 Peter 5:8). The darkness does have power. However, as a child of the Light of the World, we have greater power. So I want to leave you with two thoughts...

"The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1. The man after God's own heart wrote this. He knew the Lord was his light, and he knew that because of that truth, he could rest easy. God is in control. The darkness has NO POWER OVER YOU!. Don't fear. 

Finally, the Lord has won! We may be surrounded by the darkness of our culture but here is a sound promise from the Lord who loves you, "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard... and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:8-10. You have already beat the darkness, because the Light of the World has already conquered it and will one day return to dispel it completely. May we cast our wands to the sky, knowing that our pinprick can make a difference!

In His light,

Pictures belong to Warner Brothers, Inc.