Heartbroken

I first saw her face several months ago.  I have only seen it once in the flesh but her image has played over and over in my mind. 

We met while I was with my daughter helping to celebrate the 13th birthday of one of her closest friends.  My girlfriend had planned a fabulous girls’ weekend in downtown Toronto for her daughter and her daughter’s friends.  I was deeply honoured when I was given the “Mrs. Burston is cool, she can come with us” award!  We had a blast getting all dressed up and going out to dinner at a FANCY restaurant.   My girlfriend, who is a Red Seal Chef, and an amazing one at that, was able to give us some much needed guidance with the menu.  We were as proud as could be as we watched five girls, who have been friends since kindergarten, conduct themselves as such fine young ladies.  Mind you once we got back up to our hotel room they happily reverted back to their mischievous behaviours.  Not wanting my baby girl to grow up too quickly I was equally as proud to see a room full of 5 very silly girls.

The next day we went for walk through the streets of Toronto.  The area we were in was quite tame in comparison to other areas of downtown yet it was still an eye opener for young girls, and older ones, who have spent very little time in the city.  The street artists were amazing to watch.  Some have the talent to have paintings in an Art Museum yet here they were trying to entertain us with hopes of making enough money to eat later that day.  As we walked I kept a very close eye on my daughter.  Wanting to ensure her safety yet allow her enough space to explore and have fun with her friends – it is a very tricky balance.  At one point on our walk we had the opportunity to listen to an individual whose thoughts on God were sadly far from the truth.  The girls were a little surprised when I went back and asked him for a copy of the books he was giving out.  He happily gave them to me not realizing that my motivation was simply to prevent him from giving them to someone who didn’t know the truth and might be lead astray by the lies he was proclaiming.  And then I met her.

I say I “met” her, yet in reality we have never met at all.  I saw her, she probably didn’t see me.  She was standing in a store front window in between two other girls.  I’m not sure why she has stood out in my mind more than the other two but she has.  Perhaps it was her look of awkwardness as she danced to the music.  Perhaps it was her face that told me she would much rather not be dancing provocatively in front of all these strangers.   I have often wondered if she was thinking the same thing that I was thinking at the time.  “How did this happen.  What brought her to this place?”   At that moment my heart began to break for her and she became permanently etched in my mind.  I believe the Lord has laid her on my heart for a purpose.  I pray for her regularly and hope that I will continue to do so till the day I die.  I fantasize about the day that I’m walking in heaven and a girl comes up to me and says, “Do you remember me?  I’m the one you prayed for all that time.  Look what God did!”  That is going to be a wonderful moment!

What breaks our hearts?  My prayer has been to have my heart break for that which breaks the heart of God.  Do I weep over those going to a lost eternity?  Am I broken when I see a young girl devalue herself because of the lies our culture has fed her?  Am I angry when Satan has ripped a family apart by divorce?  I sure hope I am and when I am not I pray I will feel the pricking of His Spirit as He calls me to be His hands and feet.  I don’t want to stop at simply being heartbroken.  Brokenness is useless if we stay there. 

Isaiah 6:8  “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’”  God give me the strength to say, Here am I Lord, send me.

 

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Is your giant too big?

I watched a miracle happen last night.

Many years ago my husband and I decided to send our children to a Christian school. We believe in the mission behind Christian education and have been thrilled to be part of a school that’s sole purpose is to raise up a generation that Shines for Jesus. We take a step of faith every year that God will meet our tuition need and God has proven His faithful every time.

For the past number of years I have had the privilege of sitting on the Board of Directors of this great school. I have to be honest; I haven’t always seen it as a privilege. That being said, I am convinced that God placed me there for a purpose. I am not sure how much value I actually bring to our board table but I do know the incredible lessons that the Lord has taught and is still teaching me while I sit there. There is nothing greater than having a front row seat as God’s hand starts to move and you begin to see the His plans unfold.

Last night we had a meeting with our school community. A meeting that, if the enemy had his way, could have seen us all leaving with our heads lowered in defeat. That did not happen. You see our meeting was about a financial crisis that our school is facing right now. Due to a variety of different reasons beyond our control we are facing a budget deficit significant enough that it could cause the school to close. The message was that we need to raise $25,000 in the next thirty days and an additional $75,000 in the next 90 days. It felt like we were staring directly at the walls of Jericho.

Part way through the meeting I felt the need to step out and pray. A fellow board member and I went out to the hall and began to ask God for unity and peace to come over our school community. Something my friend had said in her pray caused me to think of the Israelites as they stood on the edge of the promise land, Numbers 13-14 tells the sad story. Here was a group of people who had witnessed unbelievable miracles. Every morning they wake up to the miracle of food, literally sitting at their door step. Their eyes gaze on the cloud by day and fire by night that guides them. They watched as Moses came off the mountain with his face glowing because he had been in the presence of the Almighty. They knew first hand the power that their God had, like no other nation before them. Yet, Numbers 13 and 14 is still there.

I have always wondered what would have happened if the Israelites had actually listened to Caleb … “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” 13:30 There was no hesitation in him. He knew who his God was and that was all he needed to know.
Unfortunately, the Israelites chose to listen to the other ten spies… “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 13:31 Do you realize what is being said here? Caleb is saying ‘We should by all means go up… for GOD will surely overcome…” while the others are saying… “We can’t go up…. for the giants are too big for GOD.”

Our $100,000 giant looked too big for us but… GOD will surely overcome. Each family was asked to write down what they felt they could give or raise. As another board member and I tallied up the numbers we started to see the beginning of His miracle. Our small group pledged over $62,000! I don’t know what God has planned for the rest of the need but I do know that He has a plan.

We all have our “promise land” story. That thing that God is asking you to do that seems impossible to our human eye. The reality is that it is impossible when tackled without Him. But God isn’t asking you to go face your giant alone, He wants to know if you think your giant is too big for Him. My giant isn’t too big… is yours?

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Learning to Walk by Faith

After a long, self imposed, hiatus I have finally made my way back to blog world. I admit that I had to reread my post on boasting in my weaknesses to remind myself why I am here. So with sore heels (I am the master at digging them in) and stiff fingers, I once again find myself sitting in front of my computer doing what I dread.

I thought that the easiest way to begin my struggle again would be to introduce you to my latest Bible study. Three weeks ago we opened our home to a group of ladies. Our group ranges in age from early twenties to; well let’s just say not-so-much-twenties anymore. Together we represent five different church denominations. We have some who have been following Christ for many decades and there are those who are a few months along this beautiful road of grace. Yet, with all the differences that we bring to our group, we bring many things that are the same as well.

The most obvious one is that we are all women! There is something about a Ladies’ Bible study that just isn’t the same when the company is mixed. There is a mutual understanding of each other, we just GET it. However, we also bring with us many distractions. We could be preoccupied by the child or children that we have left home for the evening. It could be our endless to-do-list that we feel is swallowing us and nobody else seems to notice. Perhaps it is our appearance, after all let’s be honest, we women can be quite critical of each other even if we don’t want to be. For me, it’s my hospitality. I question whether my home is clean enough, does is smell nice, have my children used the guest washroom lately because that can be disastrous! Then I worry about the food. Is there enough, does it look nice, better yet, does it taste good! Is the coffee too strong or too weak, is there enough selections of tea. I mean seriously! The list is endless and quite ridiculous! We begin our evening with an effort to close those distractions down, even if only for an hour and half.

We were not far into our conversation on our first night we when discovered that we have another similarity. Struggle. We all struggle. The struggles are all different but they are there nonetheless. Some of our struggles are rooted in deep heartache and pain. Some of them have been born out of frustration. Some have found us because of our overwhelming sense of loneliness. Perhaps it is the struggles that have drawn us together?

Together we are learning how to WALK BY FAITH, using a study guide by Jennifer Rothschild. I encourage you to go to her website and read her story. If anyone is qualified to teach others how to walk by faith, it is Jennifer Rothschild.

As we embark on our journey together our goal will be to learn this one truth. “When I choose to walk by Faith and not by Sight – no matter how hard life is – I can simply say, “It is well with my soul even if it may not be well with my circumstance.”

I pray that we will learn together that it can be well with my soul even if it is not well with my circumsances.

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Stop the noise…

My mind’s eye pictures a little child with a long stick hanging over their right shoulder. Tied to the end of that stick is a bulky red and white plaid handkerchief. The child’s head is laid low, being sure to avoid eye contact with any other human that may come across their path. If you were able to see their eyes you would see damp eyelashes and dusty streaked cheeks that give a hint to the pain they feel inside. But of course we can’t see their eyes, because the pain is part of what they are trying to hide.

Have you ever felt like that child? Ever had that desire to simply walk away, even if only for a moment? To silence the world?

Those things in our life that have brought us immense joy in the past can become noise that is added to the already noisy world around us.

For some it may be a job that is now more stressful then it is pleasurable. Perhaps it is a marriage that is more challenging then you had anticipated. It can be loved ones that require us to give of ourselves when we feel exhausted and depleted of our ability to give. Or what about the friends we hold so dear that have let us down. It can even be the ministry to which God has called us into.

There was a time that I thought I was truly alone in my desire to run. But I have come to realize that there are a lot of us walking on this road with a stick over our shoulder. There is a crowd of people out there with heads laid low, avoiding eye contact with the world around them. They sit in our churches every Sunday morning and come to our offices five days a week.

How does it happen? Why do we want to run? What causes us to run from a relationship, a situation or our work for the Lord? How long does it take before we eventually start running from God?

The answers to these questions are extensive and underneath each answer is a life that feels broken. The pain can sometimes simply be a minor abrasion that in time will heal. But all too often it can be a fatal wound.

The enemy takes joy in making our world noisy; causing distraction. Keeping our “heads laid low”. You see, when our heads are low we are not looking up. We need to lift our dampened eyes and tear streaked faces to the One who has promised to never leave (Deut. 31:6).

The answer is not to run. The answer is to drop to our knees and the key is to stay there! When we are in His presence the noise will cease. It is in His presence that we will find the perfect perspective.

Take a moment and allow the words from Matthew West’s song STOP THE WORLD to penetrate your heart.

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boasting in my weaknesses

II Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

This is not one of my favourite scriptures, or at least it never use to be.

The dictionary defines weakness as helplessness; powerlessness revealed by an inability to act. Ponder those words for a moment.  Helplessness. Powerlessness. Inability.   Why would someone want to be described by, let alone boast in, such negative adjectives?  I know I don’t, or at least I never use to.

I love spending time talking with God but I don’t often hear Him talk back.  Sure He reveals Himself to me when I study His Word and through messages that I listen to but I seldom actually hear Him.  I don’t mean the audible voice that Moses heard from the burning bush (Exodus 3:4) or even the gentle whisper spoken to Elijah (I Kings 19:13).  It’s more like the Shepherd’s voice from John 10:4.  Over the past three days I have had to stop and listen to that voice.

In order for you to understand the significance of what God has being drilling into my head for some time now you will need to have a little bit of background as to who I am.  So I’ve decided to write you a letter.

Dear Reader,

My name is Susan.  I am thirty-something years old.  I have been a wife for over 15 years and I am mother of four amazing children.  My husband and I decided before we even had children, that I would be a “stay-at-home-mom.”  I love what I do.

If I were to attempt to describe myself, I would use such words as; independent, driven, focused, perfectionist, strong willed, opinionated, dogmatic, and determined.  You have probably noticed a consistent theme.  One of my favourite sayings at one time, was “You have the right to your wrong opinion.”

I am also a very private person.  That sounds kinda funny seeing as how I’m disclosing all of this to virtual strangers.  I have spent many years building a fortress around myself, always making sure that the exterior walls looked strong impenetrable to the outsider.  Very few are welcomed into my inner sanctuary and fewer still have been allowed to stay there.

These characteristics have served me well in many of my endeavors.  I love a challenge.  Whether that challenge is debating an issue until my opponent finally realizes the error of their ways, or whether it is tackling a construction job in our home that seemed to be impossible.  You will often hear me say that nothing is impossible it is simply a matter of figuring out how to make it happen. 

I have been known to place very high expectations on myself and I tend to measure others with the same yard stick with which I measure myself.

Although I recognize that I am more than simply all I have written above, for the purpose of this letter this is who I am. 

Cautiously,

 Susan

Now that you have a little background perhaps you can appreciate my lack of love for II Corinthians 12:9.  I have a strong distain for weakness, in myself or in others.  Although this personality of mine brings with it some benefits when used as God intended it also poses a serious problem.  Pride.  (I feel as though mine is being attacked even as I write these words).  God hates pride (Proverbs 8:13) Now I have a conflict.

As you can see, God had some work to do if He was going to make me fit for service.  The journey has been a long one.  For awhile it was simply one step after another.  Then, about three years ago I came to the foot of a mountain.  Perhaps someday I will share more about the beginning of the climb but for right now I want to share, actually I feel compelled to share, the more recent part of this climb.

This blog was actually the beginning of this particular part of my journey.   I am not a writer.  Not only am I not a writer but I hate writing! Give me a podium and a microphone or a room full of strangers and ask me to share my passions and I could talk for hours.  Just don’t ask me to write.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Foremost, is simply that I don’t do it well, and I have many from my past that will testify to this fact.  So, when God pressed upon me the idea of writing a blog to go along with my ladies Bible study, I wasn’t all that excited about obeying Him. 

Recently I was given a confirmation that my writing abilities were not exactly stellar.  I didn’t disagree with this point.  My reaction was to ask God what the purpose was to this entire exercise.  Instantly I heard, “Because My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”  I couldn’t argue with that, so I said I would obey.  That was day one.

Day two was yesterday.  I was given a wonderful opportunity to do a radio promotion for a marriage seminar that my husband and I are coordinating.  This should have been what I like to call a “no-brainer”.  Speaking is not usually a challenge for me so a radio interview should have been as simple as talking on the phone with a friend.  It wasn’t.  I was a wreck.  I couldn’t understand what the problem was.  My emotions did not match what I knew about myself to be true.  I like to ask God questions, I do it frequently.  So about 10 minutes before I was to be on the air I asked him, why?  Why was I feeling this way?  What purpose could this possibly serve?  Instantly I heard, “Because My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”  What could I possibly say to that!  I have to admit, I did remind Him that I really don’t care for this whole weakness thing, but I chose to obey.

It seems that I am a bit slow at getting the point because day three is today.  Wednesday is a day that I can dedicate to working on whatever I need to accomplish without the interruptions that children can bring.  I have a busy family and there is a great deal that is required in order to make our household run smoothly.  Today would be a great day to get some of that stuff off my list.  On day one I told God that I would obey, that I would write, but then today came along.  Writing takes an extremely long time for me and all I could think about was the list of chores that I would rather accomplish.  I hate writing so much that washing floors and doing laundry is way more fun in my books!  As I was driving my kids to school this morning we were listing to the local Christian radio station.  One of the frequent speakers came on to share a 30 second blurb on what life worship means.  I’ll give you one guess as to what scripture he chose to share today.  Once again my Father’s voice so clearly said, “Because My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”  I was left with no choice.  My laundry is not done but my post almost is.

I think I’m starting to get it.  This journey we are on is not about us.  It’s about Him.  I’m still not a huge fan of weakness but I am learning that I have a choice.  I can choose to walk in my strength; I can even walk in the giftings that He has given me.  He will not receive this as worship to Him because my pride will creep in and God has a distain for pride.  I can also choose to boast in my weaknesses and know that it is by His strength alone that I walk.  This is true worship.  I pray that my worship will always be true.

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…plus God

I will never forget the swirl of emotions that tore through my heart the moment the doctor said, “I don’t know what is wrong with him.  It’s obvious that there is something going on but I don’t know what it is.  You need to get him to another hospital.  I will call ahead and have them waiting for you when you arrive.”  As I write these words, tears begin to fill my eyes and I can feel that same fear rising within me.

He was our third baby, our second son.  I remember when I was expecting our second child.  I worried that I would not have the capacity to love this new baby as much as I loved our first-born.  Now, as the mother of four, I can confidently say that as each new gift of life was given to us, I discovered a love so deep that at times it scared me.  As I held my sick 3 month old son my greatest fear began to grow in my heart.  I loved him so deeply that the fear of losing him overwhelmed me.

I have been a believer for most of my life, having come to know the Lord as a child.  I grew up in a Christian home and received most of my education at a Christian school.  I even studied theology for my post secondary education.  I really thought I had this whole “Christian” thing down pat.  Then I became a mom. 

Like all moms, I marveled at this new creation that I had been blessed with.  This new little person was mine, or so I thought.  It was all I ever wanted out of life.  My goal ,for as long as I can remember, was to find a wonderful man who would love me forever and have a house full of kids.  By 2004, I had everything I wanted; a home, a wonderful man to share it with and three beautiful children.  I was content, so long as nothing disrupted my plans, then everything would be just about perfect.  Then I woke up on September 8th, 2004.  God was about to step into my “perfect” world and ask me the one thing that terrified me the most.

We arrived at the larger hospital and just as our doctor had said, they were waiting for us.  We were immediately taken into an isolation room, but we were not told why we were there.  My prayers had begun a couple of hours before when I realized that my infant son was ill, but now they became much more intense, almost panicked.  A new doctor came in and started talking to us about the next test they wanted to do.  It was a spinal tap.  The fear that had threatened me for the last few hours began to drown me.   I now knew what they were looking for.  

I really should have known better.  My entire life has been built on the understanding that God is in control and that He has a plan.  But you see, knowing this was really the root of my fear.  This was my son’s life we were talking about now.  I loved him more than I loved my own life.  If I could have been the one sick, I would have traded places with him in a blink, but I could not.  This was out of my control.  Everything in me began to plead with God, “Not my baby boy, please don’t ask this of me.”  And then something happened that I’m not even sure I have the ability to describe in written language, but I will try.

We moved to another room to start the test.  My baby looked so tiny as he lay on the hospital bed.  I remember saying to my mom later that, as I looked at him, I had never seen fear in a child’s eyes the way I saw it in his that day.   That’s when I stopped pleading with God.  I had never felt God’s presence this intensely before.  I now understood the peace that passes comprehension that Philippians 4:7 refers to.  Although His voice was not audible, I very clearly heard Him speak into me, “I love him more than you do.”  My fear left.  I looked at my son and began to sing, “Jesus Loves Me”, the song I sang to him everyday while he grew inside my body.  Then I prayed the pray that I told myself I would never pray.  I said… (this is harder to write than I expected),  “Okay, God, he is yours.  I know you love him more than I ever could, and if you need to take him home, then please give us the strength to walk this road.  I can’t do this without you.”  It was the hardest prayer I have ever prayed, but strangely it was also the most freeing. 

In Tozer’s chapter on God’s Immensity he talks about two kinds of faith; nominal and real.  “…nominal faith is faith that accepts what it is told and can quote text after text to prove it.” [pg. 18]  But real faith “… is faith that depends upon the character of God.” [pg. 18]  Most of my Christian walk has been walked in “nominal faith.”   That Wednesday evening in September, God was asking me if my faith was real.  Could I look to His character and know that no matter what happened in the next few moments, hours, days,  I could truly say, “God, I love you more.”  Was I willing to let go of my son’s hand and still hold on to my Father’s.

When we think about idols in our cultural context we tend to think about those things that are tangible, materialistic.  It’s easier to recognize when I have put my need for “stuff” or my job, before God.  What about those relationships that He has blessed me with?  What about my spouse?   My children?  My friends?  Do I have everything I wanted …plus God, or is God my everything?

 Tozer explains it well when he says, “God may send it all to you and let you have it.  But it is always with the understanding that He can take it away again and you won’t grumble.  You still have God, and God is all.” [pg. 35]

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt. 16:25,26

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God is Infinite…

I like containers. I really like containers that I can see through, you know the ones. You can buy them in all sorts of different sizes and even different colours. So not only can you organize by size but you can organize by colour as well, it’s a beautiful thing.

Something happens to me when I walk down the aisle that displays all those wonderful boxes of order. I get excited as I start to think of all the things that I could do with them. I can create a toy car box and a Barbie box. Then I can get a bigger box for Barbie accessories, after all accessories and Barbies do not belong in the same box. There is the really big container for dress up clothes and a smaller coordinating one for the dress up shoes, which for obvious reasons can not go in the same box as the clothes. There are puzzle containers, Lego containers, paint containers and craft containers… the list is endless. I even have a container for my unused containers! They are all see through but just in case one container should get confused with another container they are also all labeled, this helps to minimize disorder.

I like order, thus my reason for liking containers. I like to have a firm grip on my surroundings and my life in general. If I can put it in a box then that means it is tangible for me. I like the idea of having a very structured life but the realities of being a mom of four has caused me to simply “like the idea”. I think that perhaps my busy life has caused me to like containers even more, they give the appearance of control.

You are probably asking yourself what this could possibly have to do with God’s Infinitude? Well, you see I have come to realize that I have spent a large part of my Christian journey walking around with God in a container. It’s not like I put Him in a small container, it was pretty big, but it was a container nonetheless. And so begins our journey…

So what does “God is Infinite” really mean?

Growing up in the church I have developed a certain language, so to speak. One of the common phrases in that language is “God is Infinite”. It always seemed basic enough to me. It simply meant that God didn’t have an end, He just kinda went on forever. I looked at it like space we can’t see the end so it just keeps on going. But that was about the extent of it for me, I never gave it a lot of thought really. God was bigger then me and that was all that mattered. I am only now beginning to realize that by having such a narrow and unexplored view of God’s Infinitude I have put Him in one of my nicely labeled boxes.

Tozer states, “‘Infinite’ means so much that nobody can grasp it, but reason nevertheless kneels and acknowledges that God is infinite. We mean by infinite that God knows no limits, no bounds and no end. What God is, He is without boundaries. All that God is, He is without bounds or limits.” pg. 4 He goes on to give examples of things that we label as ‘boundless or without end’ things such as wealth, energy, space, time, matter and motion. I just finished saying that there was no end to the number of uses for container! But there is an end for all of these things. Money can be counted, regardless of how much there is. Energy is measurable. My containers are not without their limits. “… “boundless”, “unlimited” and “infinite.” These words describe God-they don’t describe anything but God.” pg. 4 I was so happy that Tozer began this study by telling us we couldn’t possible understand what infinite means because I was only a couple of pages in and my head was already spinning!

I love C.S. Lewis’s illustration, “…if you could think of a sheet of paper infinitely extended in all directions, and if you took a pencil and made a line an inch long on it, that would be time. When you started to push your pencil it was the beginning of time and when you lifted it off the paper it was the end of time. And all around, infinitely extended in all directions, is God.” Wow, what really hit me at this point is the fact that I am smaller than a pin prick on that pencil line, yet God has chosen to have a relationship with me.

I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah’s vision. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Is. 6:1 Isaiah goes on to describe how the Seraphim called out and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” vs.3 Like Isaiah I can only say, “Woe is me for I am undone…” We have no words to explain the awesomeness of God. Our meager minds, as remarkable as they often seem, do not have the ability to grasp His infinitude. Yet in spite of this God is calling us to go deeper. “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not the things that are on earth.” Col.3:1,2

I am looking forward to our “Journey Into the Father’s Heart”. The jewels are going to be out of this world!

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