Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THAT ONE WORD

I knew what I was being nudged to do. Give it away. But the practical side of me screamed NO. It's been another lean month. My mind kept rehearsing various expenses in the coming days and weeks ahead.

I felt sick inside when the opportunity literally passed me by. But it was the right decision -- the responsible thing to do. After all, we had a stack of bills needing to be paid. Groceries to purchase. And on and on.

But that nagging feeling lingered. Why didn't I give it away? What was the real, underlying reason?

I told myself, if God really wanted me to give the money away, He could provide me with an envelope to place it in. I looked around the seats next to me and on the floor by my feet. I sighed with relief when I saw no envelope.

After the service, I stood up and inched my way to the exit. There, on the ground inside the doorway sat an envelope. Crisp, white, unused, like a neon sign flashing in front of me.

I casually stepped over the white paper and continued on my way, all the while realizing what I had done. And my intentional disregard to what I knew I had been called to do pierced me.

I went home feeling completely awful about myself. Why didn't I give the money away? If I truly believe God is my Provider, why did I hold on so tightly to His provision?

TRUST. It all comes down to that one word. It's a daily decision, and one I'm slow in learning. Trust God and His goodness.

Later that day, I ran to Him. "I'm so sorry. I should have listened. I should have followed the prompt to give. I was scared. I'm scared a lot, Lord. I don't see how this is all going to play out. I want to trust You completely, but I still don't know how to do that."

That afternoon He revealed it had nothing to do with the cash in my wallet. It had everything to do with my progress in this TRUST journey. He wanted me to see I still have far to go.

The next day I received an unexpected package in the mail. My niece had a sign made for me with that one word, TRUST. She told me how much she loved the rough spots in the background. How fitting, she commented, because God wants us to learn to trust Him in the rough seasons of our lives.

She was so right. The sign sits above my door, a daily reminder to TRUST. That one word. It changes everything.

"I have held many things in my hands, and I lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."
~Martin Luther

"Worrying doesn't change anything, but trusting in God changes everything."
~Author Unknown


Copyright 2014 by Julie Cowell.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TRUST ME

"THOSE WHO TRUST IN THE LORD FOR HELP WILL FIND THEIR STRENGTH RENEWED. THEY WILL RISE ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES; THEY WILL RUN AND NOT GET WEARY; THEY WILL WALK AND NOT GROW WEAK." ~Isaiah 40:31, GNT

No one had prepared her for this. True, she knew it wouldn't be an easy trek. And to be honest, her dreams had been all about the mountain peak and the panoramic views. Little thought had gone into the demands it would place on her.

But the steep climb as the air thinned had her wondering, was it really worth this much agony and hard work? The weight of her pack on her achy back side added to her disheartened mood and fueled her doubts.

She paused mid-stride and inhaled as deeply as she could, then reached for her canteen dangling on her backpack's frame. She was parched. Though the mountain air at such high elevation felt cool to her skin, the sun's uninhibited stream along this long stretch of the trail felt relentless. Beads of sweat on her brow were wiped away by her dusty sleeve, the same fabric she'd occupied for days.

Another high step over rocky terrain brought a new wave of pain to both feet. Blisters, now popped from the constant friction, would need tending to when she stopped for the day.

Her guide rested his hand on her shoulder. He'd been silent, respecting her need for peace and solitude. But the same wisdom that told him when to remain quiet also prodded him to speak words of encouragement when the time was right. "You can do this. We're getting close, less than a half a day away. TRUST ME, it'll be worth it."

She looked up into his face, his leathery tanned skin and eyes that seemed to dance with excitement. He didn't even look tired. But it was different for him; he'd made this trip many times before.

She looked down at the path beneath her, shaking her head in disbelief. I can't last that long, she thought. I don't know if I can take one more step.

"Come on! You can do this! TRUST ME."

She glanced at her guide again, feeling the crimson rise in her cheeks. Had he read her discouraged self-talk? Maybe it was written in her expression and posture.

"You've come so far. Don't give up now! I know you're in pain. And you're bone tired. But you have to TRUST ME. If you don't go all the way to the top, you'll regret it the rest of your life. Once you're there, you'll realize it was worth every ounce of effort and all the pain you're enduring."

His words sank in deep. She put one foot in front of the other, slowly at first, then worked her way up to a respectable pace. Though the pain was intensifying, it was no longer her focus. Now, all she could think about was the prize awaiting her.

Hours later, she stood at the top, bent over by exhaustion and the weight of her pack. Releasing the straps, she let it fall to her side, and stood straight, breathing in as deeply as the altitude would allow. Then, eyes open wide, she took a good long look all around her. Nothing could have prepared her for the beauty surrounding her on every side. She laughed in victorious delight, then hugged her guide with a renewed strength. Nestling onto a large rock, she sat down and drank in the view.

Copyright 2014 by Julie Cowell.

For those of you on a rugged and painful journey right now, may I encourage you? Don't give up! Our Guide is right there with you, encouraging you on. So am I. Remember, the harder the journey, the richer the treasure that awaits you if you stay the course. And here's His promise ~

"NO EYE HAS SEEN, NO EAR HAS HEARD, AND NO MIND HAS IMAGINED WHAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Saturday, September 20, 2014

MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE

There's that message again. and I can't seem to reconcile it to this life. "God never gives you more than you can handle." Really? And I wrestle because, yes ~ He does allow circumstances that push us way beyond our ability to cope.

I have read that verse, studied it backwards and forwards. Hoping I will see what they see. And in searching for one misquoted promise, I stumble on another I know to be true.  "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." (1 Corinthians 10:13, The Message) 

It's talking about temptation. God won't allow us to be tempted beyond what we are capable of enduring. This tells me he strengthens our resolve. But he doesn't bubble wrap us to protect us from all the crummy things this world can throw our way.

If God allows us to experience moments that reach beyond our capacity to cope, what does that tell me about a loving God? It can feel like a contradiction.

But it's not. The more I journey with God, the clearer I see. One of the most loving attributes of his character is his Father heart that allows us to face some pretty harsh and unbearable stuff. It is ONLY on these rugged paths we are able to encounter him in ways that can blow our minds with his goodness and take our very breath away.

There is a holy beauty of our all-powerful God we can become intimately acquainted with on these grueling trails. Because we NEED him at the very core of our being. We long for a fresh encounter that will somehow encourage us to press on, believing it will be worth it in the end.

Yes, I believe God gives us way more than we can handle. But he doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves. He comes alongside us to teach, encourage, strengthen, and heal us in places we didn't even realize were broken. This is the work of our loving Father.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
~C.S. Lewis

"Blessings alone do not open our eyes. Indeed, blessings by themselves tend to close our eyes. We do not come to know Him in the blessing, but in the breaking." 
~Chip Brogden

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TAKE CARE

"Caring for our seniors is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. Those who walked before us have given so much and made possible the life we enjoy." ~John Hoeven

We jumped in with both feet, my husband and I. From the get-go, it was sink or swim. For months, long days stretched into the nighttime hours as we pressed to prepare our home for their arrival.

Vacating our house was bittersweet. Honestly, I don't miss it one bit. But the process of shedding so much of our old lives was painful at times. Perhaps it was the physical exhaustion of hard work and the constant to-do lists that empowered us to ride the emotional waves of change.

Moving my folks into our house was daunting. Quick decisions on what the smaller space would accommodate equalled those we'd just stumbled through in the remodeling process. Family and friends know how I agonized over every decision. Would they like this color of paint? Texture of carpet? Choice of kitchen cabinets? But to decide which of their possessions made the cut? I had to defer to my more level-headed family members who were better equipped to make snap decisions.

It's been almost four months since my parents changed their address to our own. There isn't time to share all the emotional highs and lows they've experienced, and how my husband and I have allowed ourselves to shadow their unpredictable roller coaster ride. Their sense of loss has been profound. Too many times I have found myself in tears because I found my mom crying. I have felt a rash of anger overtake me at the unexpected outbursts of one or both. Time after time, their moments of frustration, depression, and defeat have wormed their way into my spirit and wreaked havoc. On the flip side, witnessing their smiles and fleeting sense of joy and contentment has felt like a healing balm on my own soul.

This shouldn't surprise me, this shadowing of emotions and experiences. Isn't this how my role as a parent as often played out? When our children are happy, I'm happy. When they hurt, I hurt.

Today, I realized I am free of this! I can love my parents ~ my kids ~ my spouse, without shadowing their every mood and experience. Does it mean I care any less? Not on your life.

It means I can take care of myself and honor my own journey and experience apart from theirs. And here's where it gets really good ~ in the process, I will be strengthened and better equipped in my roles as daughter, mother, wife, friend.

Today I read, caregiving can shave ten years off your life. CAN. Not WILL. Today's epiphany, which I believe to be truth, must have practical application. My journey into discovering what that looks like begins here and now.

I will share every morsel and nugget in hopes it speaks to someone else. This caregiving journey, it's a call to "love in action". I forget this in the midst of all the dailys. But "love in action" has got to be one of my highest callings. It begins with caring for myself ~ so I can, in turn, care for others. And maybe, just maybe, my smile and joyful countenance will be contagious.

"A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health." ~Proverbs 15:30

"Perhaps in receiving we heal others, in giving we heal ourselves." ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

HANDS THAT WORSHIP

How I worship reveals so much about my relationship with God and what I believe to be true. Am I just paying Him lip service as I sing lyrics of praise? Are the words truly a reflection of my heart? Am I living each day, moment by moment, engaged ~ to some degree ~ in worship? Is my daily round a to-do list or an active form of worship? How can I cling to my self-absorbed ways and personal agendas and still worship? Aren't they a contradiction?

When I pray, am I truly conscious of who I am praying to? Shouldn't that knowledge bring me to my knees? How does God feel about my casual expression of worship and prayer? Is it an affront to a holy God? Should I be satisfied with what appears at times to be too superficial? Should I think it okay to gather with hundreds in worship, and see cell phones buzzing, friends conversing, and people watching other people? Is this what worship should look like?

I want a deeper knowledge and experience! I want to know what it means to truly worship. I want to enter His courts with heartfelt devotion and praise. I want my inside to match my outside as I partake in songs of praise. I want it to sink in so deep, I lose myself ~ completely lose myself ~ and be overcome by His presence.

I want to lift up holy hands in praise and adoration, and to be mindful of Him as I use those same hands to do my tasks. I want hands that reach out, hands full of His grace and His love, that don't hold back, afraid to give too much. No, I want hands wide open, hands that say, take all of me Lord, all that I have. It's yours, I'm yours. Worshipful hands.

I want a prayer life that never hits the pause button. Prayer life that stretches way beyond me and my own little wish list. Prayer life that fights for the lives of others. I want a prayer life that blows my own agenda away. A prayer life that is consumed with Him and His will. A connection with God so intimate that my desires fall off the radar.

Lord, I bow to You, amazed I can come into Your presence. Tomorrow may look different than this moment. I may find myself once again consumed with self and the distractions of this world. But I pray not! I want You, more of You, deeper knowledge of You, a closer walk with You. One day, I'll find myself kneeling before You, bowed down in Your glory. And for eternity, I'll be worshipping You. I want it to be a natural response, one I've lived while on this earth.

The truth is, how I live my life, day by day, moment by moment, reveals the degree to which I worship my God. May I not be found lacking.


Copyright 2014 by Julie Cowell.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

STRENGTH, DIGNITY, AND A GOOD LAUGH

"She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." ~Proverbs 31:25

Life has been a bit crazy these past few months! I haven't had the luxury of just sitting at the feet of Jesus and savoring my usual quiet time.

I think that's okay.  I've been busy learning to put into practice all those luscious teachings I've  soaked up over the years. I feel my body growing stronger as we prepare our home for my folks to move in. Though the grunt work is tiring, I have loved the lessons on various home repairs. I may even ask for my own set of tools this Christmas!

Most days, I am dog-tired as the dinner hour rolls around. Some evenings, I'm too tired to shower. I have served up more to-go meals then I will ever admit to. And if I could, I'd skip the coffee mug and opt for an IV caffeine drip.

Despite all this, I  have had the energy to fret. Worry. Wrestle. Honestly, I have feared the dawning of this new season. Will I feel trapped as I take on the role of caregiver? Will I grow frustrated? Impatient? Even resentful? These are the thoughts that bounce around in my mind as I tackle jobs I'm really not wired to handle.

The negative emotions are an outflow of the flesh. And all are potential reactions I know I'm very capable of. Been there, done that!

But my heart's desire for this season looks so different. A passion to serve, to make this last chapter in their long lives a grand finale ~ this is what I am aiming for. And I think, if I can do this well, there's no limit to how God can use me.

I wish I could say that I start each day before dawn in a rich time alone with God. But the truth is, I'm too tired! My quiet time is spent sleeping. I reach for a nugget in His word here and there to sustain me. My prayer life is no different, haphazard and messy.

But what I've noticed in the process is how God will bring a timely word ~ a simple message ~ and it will sink in deep and replay over and over until I find I actually get it.

Proverbs 31 verse 25 hit the bullseye. And I believe it is my theme for this new season of mom and stepdad occupying our home while I provide care. "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come."

"She is clothed..." What you wear is a choice, no matter how busy you are! Everyday we make the choice what to clothe ourselves in. I have God's power inside of me that enables me to dress myself according to the needs of the day.

"With strength and dignity..." At first, I picture strong arms, lean body. But when it's coupled with dignity, I detect a much deeper strength, an inner resolve and power to do the right thing no matter what. Dignity tells me I can rise to any challenge with my head held high as a servant of the King. Nothing He asks me to do is undignified or below me.

"She can laugh at the days to come." By far my favorite part of this verse, it says I don't have to be overwhelmed in the process. I can have PEACE, JOY, and even a good LAUGH! It's part of the whole package ~ this radical, unexplainable peace and joy.

I caught a glimpse of it the other morning. My day had begun roughly, and my heart was already racing with anxiety before my feet hit the floor. Then, BAM! Out of nowhere, I felt it. This totally unexpected JOY washed over me, unlike anything I've ever experienced. I believe God was telling me, "This is what I have for you as you walk this road with your parents." JOY. Unexplainable. Unexpected.

There will be seasons and assignments that, from the outside looking in, appear too difficult. Too messy. Too risky. But I can already see, they usher in blessings too wonderful to miss.

Let's be real. God assignments are often hard, challenging, stretching, even painful. But He never fails to equip us if we let Him. As I ponder all the unknowns, I realize it's all part of the Abundant Living package. Comfort and ease won't get us there. We have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work.

I can do this! So can you.

"He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy." ~Job 8:21


Copyright 2014 by Julie Cowell. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

LISTEN UP

What else, Lord? What else is going to happen?! My mind replays a list of events unfolding in the past few days. The most recent stares back at me as I glance in the mirror, a pool of blood taking residence in my eye. It's a stark and ugly reminder of what stress can do to the body.

There has to be a better way! Honestly, I already know it. At least my mind knows it. But living the truth I know? A whole different thing.

This retraining of the mind and learning to live what I know, it's hard. When circumstances create even more resistance, it feels downright impossible.

"Don't worry." I chant two simple words in my mind over and over. Willing them to sink in and take root. But those two words, they seem to only float around in my thoughts, then evaporate. As though the worries in the moment are too big and powerful to be brought down by just two words.

Until I open to Matthew chapter six. And there it is, plain as day. Don't worry ~ about your life, what to eat, what to wear, or what tomorrow will bring. "Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" That's Jesus talking! Oh, how I long to do more than just listen up. I want to live these two simple words ~ DON'T WORRY.

It hit me again as I just happened on Luke chapter ten as part of my daily reading. And though the name Martha is written on the page, it's my own name I hear as I continue. "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..."

I look out the window over our kitchen sink. Birds are gathered on a feeder, delighting in a meal they didn't worry about preparing. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

I've tried, Lord! I wanted to give up worrying for Lent. But I've failed so miserably. Why is this so hard?

"You are worried and upset about many things..." My mind recalls my list, a mile long and ever growing. People, problems, puzzling circumstances ~ all coming together to drive me to that place of worry.

Lord, I'm tired. Then clear as day, I see the remedy for my list. TRUST. How short I fall in trusting you, Lord, even though You've proven time after time to be faithful.

"Only one thing is needed." One thing. My One constant. If I look at everyone and everything on that worry list with His name stamped across it, surely I can learn the better way. Trust. Let go. "Seek first His kingdom, and all these things..." He's already got it covered.

Lord, I see! But how do I change? I've spent a lifetime dancing to the rhythm of worry. "Mary has chosen what is better..." I see, Lord. It's a choice. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.

The broken down car in the driveway and bills piling high, they're no match to God our Provider. People I love walking difficult paths, they are safely cupped inside His hands. Daily uncertainties and tough transitions, they are no surprise to Him.

I breathe it in ~ trust, choosing what's better. I exhale ~ worry, stress, and doubt ~ toxic pollutants I was never meant to allow in. Inhale trust, exhale worry. A new rhythm. A new way of life. A choice.

"I tell you, do not worry..." Listen up! But don't just listen. Choose.

Friday, March 7, 2014

TRANSFORMATIONS

I walk through our empty home, the walls barren and lifeless. Some stand in their skeletal form, simple wood frames waiting their transformation. The sound of my footsteps echo as I make my way from one dusty room to the next. A few cardboard boxes remain. They are the last bit of evidence of the memories we made under this roof.

I can see it as it once was, walls covered with pictures, all furnished and cozy. I hear the voices of our kids, the laughter, a few tears, music playing in the background, our pets scurrying about.

Most of the items that filled our home were recently sold at an estate sale. I watched as people I'd never met before purchased our trinkets and treasures. From furniture to fine china, it all had to go.  The hardest to relinquish was my grandmother's piano. So many memories are woven into that one object. Easter baskets nestled on top of it when I was a little girl. My grandmother's hands, and the music they made. The first time I heard my son play a song he'd learned in school, a melody that sank deep into my soul.

Our house is just a shell now, a work in progress until my parents move in. The transformation of an old house is never pretty.

As I stand in an empty room that is crying out to be filled again, I realize this isn't just about a home remodel. It's a renovation of my life as well. I am being transformed too. It hurts to be stripped of securities, tangible memories, items I used to pour so much of my love and energy into. But there is purpose in the process. Walls of resistance are being torn down. Old ways that no longer serve anyone are being discarded. Just like our hundred year old home, I'm being prepared for something new. What will the end result look like? Only the Master Architect and Designer can see the final result.

Demolition and reconstruction are messy, painful and unnerving. They always cost more than we expect going in, but the end results are worth it. My house and me, we have much in common.

"The same Jesus Who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation."
~Adrian Rogers

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ASHES TO ASHES

Ash Wednesday. I've never really practiced Lent or honored this day. But why not? Does this day -- do these next forty days -- present me with a unique opportunity to become a present...a gift to my Lord?

I think of Ash Wednesday and my mind fills with words that feel like gravel in my mouth -- religion, legalism, sacrifice. How do I experience this beauty from ashes without drowning in religiosity? Religiosity doesn't save us, it confines us. Legalism doesn't free us, it binds us. Sacrifice done only for the sake of the calendar, birthed out of duty, isn't necessarily a gift from the heart. And isn't that what the heart of Lent should be?

So how do I jump into Lent this Ash Wednesday and know it will be meaningful? How do I breathe love into these next forty days? Is it really about giving up chocolate, caffeine, or my favorite TV show?

Lord, how would you like me to honor this day and the season of Lent? I cry out to Him, because isn't it supposed to be all about HIM? I pray for a sacred list. What I get in return is a love letter.

"Give me more time -- in fellowship and in prayer. Give me your early mornings and spend time with Me."

Really, Lord? Am I not supposed to give something up?

"Give up your habit of worrying. For the next forty days, choose to not worry about anyone or anything. Give up worrying."

Worry? But it comes so naturally to me. It's as easy as breathing. I've always been a compulsive worrier. Are you sure you don't want me to give up chocolate or TV??

My heart knows better. So I make the decision to give Him my early mornings, and to give up my addiction to worrying.

It's my love letter back to Him.

"Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. with thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God."
~Philippians 4:6

"You hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for Your answer." 
~Psalm 5:3