A Box of Faith

For we live by believing and not by seeing. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

The irony of the conversation escaped me at the time. I made note of it; then later when I sat down to actually write it out, the irony was no longer lost to me. I giggled to myself when I thought back to the day the conversation had taken place. I had been at work and was taking any spare empty boxes and reserving them for myself. I had written a note and placed it on them in a corner.

“Please save for Amy Martin.”

My friend Faith with her thick Nigerian accent and last name that frequently befuddles the television announcer when he announces it during ball games, walked over to me and placed her hand on my shoulder. She was an Olympian, she married an Olympian, their offspring play sports with Olympic-like prowess. I adore her and I have often said she has taught me more in my adult life about Jesus than near anybody else. She is also the sole reason I have even a slight interest in SEC football.

“Amy Martin, why do you have all of these boxes?” She says my name in such a way that it sounds like “Am-Me Maw-tin.”

“I might be moving. I mean if nothing goes wrong, I might be moving.” She looked puzzled.

I clarified. “Faith, I sort of expect something bad to happen or something to go wrong. I know I should have more faith but…but well…I need a lotta faith.”

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“I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.”

“Jesus say you only need a little. Like a mustard seed little.” She gently said back.

I had half braced myself for a Spiritual spanking on the hand, but Faith just patted my shoulder and said, “You’ve got the boxes and that’s a little bit of faith. You’ve got the boxes.”

With faith a paradox is created: not seeing is believing. I couldn’t see myself moving, couldn’t see myself in a new home, but I had just enough faith to gather the boxes. And then I had just enough to pack them. Those baby steps of faith turned into larger steps.

Sometimes I think I need to have it all, I felt that way about that move. I thought I needed all the faith from start to finish. But what I learned was that I just needed enough to take the next baby step. In trusting in the small, the King would help me to trust in the big.

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen….By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.… Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:1, 3, 6 NASB

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Perspective from a Dog’s Eye View

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:26, 29-31

It was first thing Monday morning 4 weeks into my new routine, birds singing their varied songs somewhere in the treetops just off my back deck, a cool breeze soothing the senses, and Pow! The Father dropped a word picture in my life as He often does if I’m looking with spiritual eyes.

I’d come to this new routine by way of a needy, black fur ball, Poppy, a charming little black Markiesje mix that had attached himself to me over these few weeks. A job out of the country for my daughter necessitated finding him a new home. It only made sense he’d come to live with us; he is our “grand dog” after all.

Poppy has quickly trained me to get up as soon as he dances circles on my bed just after sunrise each morning. He yaps and spins incessantly until I roll out of the covers and start talking to him, at which time he bounds to the floor and spins ever more aggressively as I try to throw on some workout pants and a t-shirt. We head to the kitchen with him following me – because one day he went ahead of me and I got side-tracked with laundry on the way to the kitchen – so now he herds me like a sheepdog to the back door.

IMG_7504Mr. Poppy spins ’round by the back door until I open it. When I let him out, he waits looking back at me impatiently, because in a scant 28 days he’s learned my routine: grab a cup and start the Keurig; gather up my Bible, journal, and pen; put cream and sugar in the freshly brewed coffee; and head out to my morning spot at our intricately designed cast aluminum table on the deck.

This particular day I was perched as usual on our deck high above the ground  facing my neighbor’s back yard. Poppy headed down to do his morning business, romp in the wet grass, chase squirrels, and sniff out and dig up moles. It’s a dog’s life!

Well into my cup of coffee, while notating something in my journal, I vaguely noticed a car engine crank up next door. Immediately Poppy sprang to action. Bark-bark-bark! He would eat up whatever the threat was. He dashed to the fence on that side of the yard, ears alert, scampering back and forth trying to get a better view, alarmed and aggressive to protect his domain. He was on flat ground and could not see what was going on. I, however, was 15 feet up with a totally different perspective on the scene. Having a perfect sight line to my neighbor heading out to work, I summed up the scene casually with no worries, while he remained ever vigilant and ever anxious for the next 5 minutes as the neighbor loaded her car and finally pulled out.

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Immediately I saw myself and my heavenly Father in this scene.

Earthbound as I am, I cannot not see and decipher certain earthly events correctly. I hear and experience alarming things that ignite a fear response or cause me to be perplexed and to not understand what is going on. I run my fence and yap at the “problem” just like Poppy. But all the time my Father is on His Heavenly “deck” and has a totally different perspective knowing and understanding things I don’t. He realizes this will pass quickly. It’s just a part of life. A higher perspective changes everything.

Psalm 55_22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken..pngAs much as I call Poppy and speak in a calming way to him when he’s upset, he still runs and yaps and gets anxious. And I am much that way with my Abba Father. I’m anxious, alert, wondering if He understands that something big is going on over there. Do I need to jump this fence and do something God? Are you not aware? Why are you just sitting there? What if this lasts forever? What am I supposed to do? Aren’t you going to do something, Lord?

Nothing. 

Many times that is my answer, just as it is with my sweet Poppy.

Nothing.

Poppy just needs to relax and keep chasing squirrels and having a good doggie day. And me? I also need to relax, to cast my cares on the Lord and just keep doing the things he gave me to do, being the one he made me to be, and walking faithfully through the unknown.

But that is not what we humans like to do.

We like to yap (complain), run the fence (go through life in a tizzy as we say here in Alabama), rankle our fur and perk up our ears (become obsessed with our issue), become alarmed, bark at people closest to us (out of fear no doubt), and aggressively try to protect our domain. All of these are signs of my lack of faith.

If Poppy could listen and understand my ways, trust them, and believe me to be true to my word to love and care for him, he could relax and not rile himself. As can we. The next time you find yourself in the midst of the Barking Dog Syndrome, turn to your Heavenly Father who is on deck, aware, and has it all in hand. Listen to Him. Seek to understand His ways. Trust Him. Take Him at His word that He loves you. He cares for you. Relax! No need to be riled up.

Cast all your cares on him, because he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
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Be Still

Be still and know that I am God.

I had forgotten to get gas. Again. I coasted to the gas station thereby further postponing a favorite Wednesday afternoon confection. Milkshakes would have to wait until we had the necessary petrol to get us to our shake destination and beyond. The Martin 3 were all set for milkshakes. We had just come from our usual milkshake purveyor whereupon we were informed that the “shake machine just went down.”

Milkshakes would be had, but first gas.

640px-shell_gas_station2c_opuc5a1tc49bnc3a12c_brno_28229As I set the pump to go, placed the nozzle in the gas receptacle in my van and began to pump, I leaned my weary back against the van and watched the numbers steadily move upwards. It had been a long day and even just a few minutes of peace propped against my van were welcome. Immediately the solidarity of my prop began to waver. Indicative of the wiggly occupants, my van gave way to the force inside.

“Be Still!” I commanded.

My youngest had an “itch.”

Again, “Be Still!” Again, protest from inside.

Garbled words I couldn’t make out beyond the itch issue and looking for something. The van continued to shift beneath my back, “If y’all don’t be still this the van’s gonna roll right away!”

Hearing the words from my mouth caused me to pause and look around. In my head I had planned to sound like a stern Mama who means business, one who would never entertain such frivolousness as a milkshake on a Wednesday afternoon. Out loud I sounded like a hypocrite with a tremendous Southern drawl. I knew it and my kids knew it. The lady at the pump facing me knew it.

“Be still.”

I hear this phrase often. He is not one to order folks around, and by folks I mean near anyone but the 3 Martin kids. So when he says this to me, I know my husband, Scott Martin, has reached the point of exasperation.

“I said Be still!” They’ve heard him say it to me multiple times in the course of their lives, so when I said it to them I suppose it didn’t really give them cause to act.

When I was a kid, my mama used to say the same thing. She has said on more than one occasion “You weren’t a bad kid you were just into everything. I couldn’t turn my back on you for a second.”

Not a bad kid. Not a bad adult, I just couldn’t, I just can’t be still, or at least that is how it sometimes feels.

Being Still requires much in the way of self-control. It requires that I am intentional about what I am doing, or not doing. To be still requires not just self-control but a concerted effort to do just that. To be still requires practice and patience, I am seriously lacking in the latter. Ninety-Nine percent of the time Scott Martin tells me to “Be Still” I am completely unaware that I am not “being still”.

girls_in_pewWhen I was little the “Be still” would often come when I was in church, it would be commanded as I received a hearty pinch on my shoulder from the church pew behind me. I recently learned that horses respond to pressure and release. In a sense I was the horse, Mama the horse trainer. That pressure on my shoulder was my signal to be still. To be quiet. To cease doing whatever it was I was doing. Evidently, horses are better learners than I because I still struggle with this one.

I spent some time a while back focusing on the Being Still. It might be because my Mama painted Psalms 46:10 on a 4 foot tall canvas that hangs in my living room, or the fact that my Husband makes that statement to me no less than five times per week, or perhaps it is because it seemed for a while that no matter where I went those words were chasing me. I’d be in a store minding my own business, doing my dead level best to stay on task and get a move on, when all of a sudden I’d look up and there it was, scrolled in some fancy font on all manner of surfaces.

Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It would seem I needed a reminder or several as it were, to Be Still. That prompted me to think and ponder on it. If I want my children to retain something, I do not have the luxury of telling them one time and it sticks. I must say it repeatedly. Sometimes I have to demonstrate what I want them to know or write it down. Often times, I then begin to rhetorically converse with myself about the monotony of having to repeat myself and how wearisome it seems. It takes me back to a time when Maggie Martin hadn’t been Maggie Martin all that long.

She was 18 months old when she got off a Greyhound bus on Good Friday Morning at the downtown bus station and her life with us began. From the very beginning food was, and still is, a big deal to Maggie, she is all about quantity. Quality, not so much. She’ll take a sub-par all you can eat buffet, over a smaller portioned gourmet meal any day. I reckon that is rooted in memories of when food was not always available or nutritious.

In the early days, I spent the first several years of her life attempting to repair her poorly nourished gut. It was one such occasion when I learned a valuable lesson. It was early, like dark-thirty early, like every morning before and every subsequent morning, she wandered into my room, stood on my side of the bed and in her toddler voice said, “I’m hundry. I want a tootie from Piddly Widdly.” (Translation, “I’m hungry! I want a cookie pexels-photo-89690from Piggly Wiggly.”)

As I did every morning I got out of my bed hauled my tired ol’ self to the kitchen and began preparing her daily oatmeal. The entire time she would protest.

“I don’t lite oat-milk, I want a tootie!”

She was letting me know, just like she did every morning that she did not prefer oatmeal, she would like to have a cookie. My rebuttal was always the same, “We don’t eat cookies for breakfast we eat oatmeal.” Everyday I would then sit down and feed her said oatmeal whereupon she would declare, “I lite it! I lite oat-milk!” My response was always the same, “Yes ma’am you do.”

She would then complete her breakfast and we would begin our day, long before the sunshine would. The battle won until it repeated itself again the following day just as it happened the day before. One particular morning I must’ve grown weary of the oatmeal versus cookie battle because I looked at her and said as I placed the prepared bowl of oatmeal on the table, “Maggie, what in our history together makes you think I am going to let you have cookies for breakfast?”

She just looked at me with her big brown eyes, eyes that had seen more in their 18 months of life than many adults have and continued on with her oatmeal protest. As He is accustomed to do, the King whispered in my ear. “Amy, That’s exactly how you are with Me.”

I realized in that moment that what Jesus was saying was there was nothing in our history together that dictated He is ever going to fail me. Nothing that set a precedent that would indicate He is not going to keep His word. Yet I often find myself in a tizzy of sorts, ceasing to be still and in doing so, not knowing that He is God; failing to acknowledge that He is in control.

Maggie had yet to understand that her days of worrying over food or lack of were over. She had yet to understand that she actually liked oatmeal and it was good for her. That as her Mama, I loved her and would consistently provide for her what she needed. By persistently putting into practice what I knew was true, I eventually convinced her once and for all.

I know because she no longer asks for cookies for breakfast, she asks for oatmeal and even makes it herself.

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Back to Basics: Faith

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“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. … By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. … 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.” Hebrews 11:1,3,6 NIV

It’s coffee time! Or tea! Or chocolate milk! Or… whatever. Grab you favorite morning treat and sit back, read, and sip.

I’ve heard it said that we tend to judge others based on their behavior, but we judge our self based on our intentions. I have found this to be true of myself. I intend to exercise and eat right every day, I intend to save more, spend less. I intend to write cards to people more often than I do. The reality is I often find stray cards around my house that have been half written in and never mailed. So I imagine I’m falling short in other areas too.

I intend to walk in faith when tough times come, too. I consider myself a woman of faith. Maybe you want to think of yourself as a woman of faith, too. You know the Word of God, you want to have faith, you intend to have faith, but when a crisis hits… hmmm. Do you walk through it in faith? Or do you find yourself so overcome with the tragedy or the unknown or the fear that faith flies out the window? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gone to church and heard people say in response to the turmoil, “I’m praying. Trust the Lord. He’ll get you through this.” And you walk away thinking That’s easier said than done!

It’s always much easier to say things than to walk them out. But we want to become women who “Walk by faith not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) So how do we do that? How do we have faith when we don’t have faith in that moment? If we dig in scripture and make a careful observation of God’s word we get some help.

pexels-photo-259027Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” What do you put your confidence in? Some things I have chosen to put confidence in over the years are my husband, a job, finances, doctors, my “good”-ness, truth, family – and these are just a few. Have these ever rescued me? No. I guess they’ve made my anxious heart quit racing a little at times, but they have never had the answer or the final say. There is only One worth putting our confidence in. Only one that we can be assured has the power to rescue.

Do we truly believe what Hebrews 3:11 says? “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Or is this another of those things that we want to believe? If we truly believe in the depths of our being that God formed the whole universe out of nothing, then, mercy, what could there ever be to worry about? The one who made it and spun it into motion is in control! Perhaps that’s our core issue. Because we can’t reason it out, we struggle to believe it.

436b8212d90f6d298b44b1df8e16a243-whirlpool-galaxy-black-holesI see articles on faith issues being “proven” by science. I know these are meant to calm our curious mind and help as we struggle with unbelief. But in reality, faith and science are on opposite ends of a spectrum. Science is based on what can be observed by the senses. But faith… what does it say? It is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Totally unobservable by the senses. Faith is based on nothing physical, but on everything spiritual. It goes against our rational 21st century technologically leaning brains. Faith is believing in the unseen, not the observable. But we will see the results after we walk in faith.

In the Gospel of Mark there is a story of a young man who was mute and had seizures. In desperation his father had brought him to the disciples to be healed. The disciples prayed over him, but to no effect. Cue the heralding trumpets… and our rescuer, Jesus, appears in the story! He has come to save the day, as He does. But not without a quick lesson. His first words are not words of healing, but a gentle rebuke, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” He chastises them for their unbelief! I wonder what He would say to me in many of my trials and unbelief (that I like to call “weak faith,” it sounds nicer).

But today I’m going to call it what it is: unbelief. In their unbelief the disciples wanted to heal the boy. In his unbelief the father brought the boy and “hoped” he could be healed. In our unbelief we come to Jesus and say the exact thing this father said, “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22 KJV) We desperately want Christ’s intervention in our life. We pray for His help, but we come to Him many times on shaky faith-feet just like this father, wondering if He really can.

possible-1060212_1280The story goes on… “And Jesus said to him, ‘ “If You can?” All things are possible to him who believes.'” (Mark 9:23 KJV) Jesus tells us flat-out, all things are possible! The condition on that possibility is belief, faith, trust in God that it WILL happen, not just that it CAN. In the next chapter of Mark, Jesus tells His disciples that “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” And Luke 1:37 says it the other way around, “For with God nothing shall be impossible,” (KJV) or as it says in the NIV, “For no word from God will ever fail.” Why are all things possible simply by our believing? Because we are a believing in a God who never fails.

And then comes the part of the story that we need to focus on to strengthen our faith. “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.'” (Mark 9:24 KJV) The father realized Jesus’ power, and he realized his own frailty, his lack of faith. This is where I live. I go for days or weeks at a time living life under my own power, doing the routine things that do not require the supernatural. (We can do that, you know? Live from day-to-day without the influence of God.) And then a storm, or trial, or problem comes along where I need God. And it takes that moment for me to realize God’s omnipotence and my insignificance and poverty of soul. At that moment I fall before Him in prayer confessing my total lack of faith and my inability to make myself believe. I believe Lord! Help my unbelief!

So there you have it one of two keys to having faith: ask God for it! So simple. Just ask God, “I choose to believe Lord, help me when I can’t make myself believe.”

pexels-photo-208278And the second key to having faith? It is found in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (NKJV) Our faith comes by hearing His Word. When my faith is weak, I go to His word and read it. And just lately I’ve begun reading it out loud because of this verse. If the Bible says “faith comes by hearing” then I want to literally hear it with my ears as well as hearing it in my mind when I read silently. And at the same time our enemy is hearing the scripture I’m building my life on, and he’s getting the message to “back off” because this is where I stand!

The other verse quoted above from Hebrews 11 reminds us that “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.” If we want to please God, we must choose to have faith. Do you desire to be a God-pleaser? Then it’s time to make a choice and act on it. My sweet husband says that faith is like a muscle, the more we exercise it the more it grows and develops. I’ve found that to be true in my life. As I’ve learned to take a good intention of having faith and turned it into a choice I act on to believe God in any situation, my faith has grown. God proves Himself true by the results, and walking in faith becomes easier year by year as my faith muscle grows.

So ladies, there you have it, some simple keys to faith: 1) Acknowledge our belief and ask God to help our unbelief. 2) Hear the word of God. 3) Choose to believe and act on faith. To believe or not to believe, that is the question. It’s your choice. Will you be a God-pleaser? As Joshua 24:15 says, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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Spectrum of Faith

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Years ago, I made a conscious decision to see the world the best I could the way my son Shelton does. To understand how he thinks and what he feels, to do my best to understand the world from his perspective. Years ago, the word autism became an everyday part of my vocabulary. Years ago I was devastated, there is no cure, there is no explanation. It simply just is and I was angry that it was our is.

early-diagnosis-autism-neurosciencenews-publicI felt I was armed with little in the way of resources, so I made the decision to learn and understand, to read and to inquire, arm myself with information and pray. I would, I have, I do pray. A lot. In the beginning I asked my King to take it away. Upon reflection of my past behavior, that tends to be my go to with King, just take it away and then I do not have to deal with it. Clearly, I avoid conflict. Clearly He does not seek my counsel on what I think is best for me. When He does not honor said request, I then become angry, indignant, and attempt to give the King the silent treatment. This proves to be a futile effort, rudimentary in its effectiveness. Eventually faith and trust give way. I accept the is, and I make concerted efforts such as the ones laid out above.

Now, many years later, my efforts are not always as intentional. One such instance happened a couple of years ago. I was scanning the radio stations when I heard an interesting talk show debate of sorts. The voice of the host, the lack of inflection and excitement despite the passionate subject matter, seemed vaguely familiar to me and I continued to listen. Over time, I grew to like the show host and co-host. Their discussions were informative and varied, but I could take them, or leave them, all contingent upon the next song played. My opinion and understanding changed entirely the day I heard them discussing how the parent of an individual with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) was told by a person of authority that this child was incapable of having a relationship with Jesus. In essence, the authoritarian told the parent to give up hope and not to expect from his or her child the impossible. I was stopped at an intersection, headed into Fultondale. That discussion marked me. It immediately gave me cause to listen. I turned the radio up and settled in.

I’ve also made a conscious decision to be honest, to be candid, if I’m gonna lay it all out there I ain’t even gonna try to lie. So here goes honesty, it marked me because if I am honest, I will admit the very thought has crossed my mind. It does not take a Rocket Scientist to figure out that a relationship with Jesus hits the top of my priority list for my children. It is often the answer to the rhetorical “Why I do what I do” or “What are we doing?” If I do nothing else in this life I want their relationship with the King to be better than my own. All of my children have professed a relationship with Jesus, each one fleshing that out as uniquely different as they are.

pexels-photo-207653Shelton, randomly just told me he loved Jesus and that was that. He isn’t such a big talker about it. He rarely gets emotional. Being the overly emotional and dramatic individual that I am, this is a concept I have difficulty with. As I listened to the radio that day the host divulged a fact about himself. He reported that he too was on the autism spectrum. He then debunked the entire theory that the individual in question could not have a relationship with Jesus. I ain’t even gonna lie here, I got out of my minivan elated, an extra pep in my step. Hope again prevailed and I carried on about my day a little lighter.

From that point on I was what they call “a dedicated listener.” Shelton most especially enjoys the show. To date my favorite was his reaction to the discussion that revolved around “Fiddy Cent” and his large donation to the Autism Society (fueled by his indiscretion at an airport involving an individual on the Autism Spectrum). Between Shelton and the host’s explanation on how it feels to be bullied when you are on the Autism Spectrum, I was enlightened. All I can say is, I had no idea. It was eye-opening.

It is now customary for us to listen to the show as we traverse the Alabama terrain going from place to place. On just such a day recently my wandering thoughts were focused on what my ears were actually hearing. It was a discussion on the emotional matters. The scenario being described, I’m familiar with. An emotionally driven and charged time of reflection, worship, prayer, a box (or twelve) of tissues scattered about the premises, crying and hugging and crying and more hugging. My emotionally dramatic self loves a time like that. I’ve been a puddle lots of times, but as my world has morphed into that of being the mom, and as my age has progressed and time has passed, those times are fewer and far between. It is not that I am no longer moved by the King, in fact I am more moved now than ever but those moments tend to occur more in private than in public. (There’s also the small logistical detail that my dry eyes do not as readily produce tears.) Over time though, I’ve come to realize, rarely was I weeping over that which should have grieved me. Rarely did I weep because I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God, or devastated by my own sin.

So as the host described such a scene and interjected his perspective of having not understood it. He made the following statements, “Statements of the Day”, maybe of the decade…”All that is emotion. There isn’t much in the Bible about emotions. There is a lot about faith. Faith is carried out dry-eyed serving day-to-day.” I wrestled with that one for the remainder of the afternoon. Those I saw may have even wondered where my mind was. It was here, camped out wrestling over that one, weighing what I know about faith and service against the stated argument. I even went to the recess of my memory and recalled a statement made by a friend of mine several years ago about how the King himself, hadn’t allowed himself to be dominated by emotion and feelings, how when He could’ve buckled beneath it He didn’t. In the midst of Lego sea creations, brain-builds of all sorts, hello’s and goodbyes, errand running and lunch I wrestled, and again the King said to me “What is your name?” He asks me that when He wants me to refocus, to gain a new perspective. Declaring my name gives me cause to pause and reflect. I’ve come to realize that emotion isn’t a bad thing; God made me to feel emotion, but it is not to dominate me. All that emotion doesn’t add up to faith. Emotion is not required for a relationship with Christ, faith alone is.

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Faith is carried out dry-eyed serving day-to-day.

The Day the Cows Came Home

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For reasons I do not know or have yet to fully understand – although I am somewhat convinced it has to do with dependency – financial struggles have been the baseline under which we as a family operate.

There has never been feast or famine, there has always been just enough. The summer months tend to be lean months for our budget, we barely make it to a vacation paid in full. As school starts up and the days shorten, the budget improves slightly and by the calculator-calculation-insurance-finance-53621time the Christmas season rolls around it inevitably proves to be more lean than its predecessor autumn.

We’ve learned to roll with it, define what it is, and in which season we are in. This serves to prime the pump for a miracle. There was a particular day last fall when I and the Holy Spirit alone knew the essential home item, toilet paper, was making its way to the last few sheets. As I took note of such need and asked the King to intercede I had no idea that He had just that day prompted a dear friend to purchase the biggest pack of Angel Soft my eyes had ever seen. Then in a fish and loaves kind of move, that toilet paper seemed to go on and on. When one roll was placed on the holder to either be folded or wadded (I’ve learned there are two kinds of people in this world – wadders or folders – I am the latter, a fact I find ironic as I am disheveled in most areas of life save the one).

The following month The Lord Jesus used various anonymous gifts to sustain us through those lean times: a gift card here, a “I’m cleaning such and such out, you want it?” and the such-and-such would be precisely what we needed. I would find myself recollecting “The Green Grape Story.”

grapes-frozen-fruit-summer-organic-115007.jpegMany years ago, before I knew what it was like to rely on God to provide, I heard this story. I listened and can still recall the details of, at the time, a very foreign concept to me. The speaker was conveying how her young daughter, had requested green grapes for her snack. The Mama knowing full well grocery and payday were a bit away, made no promises that green grapes would be in the near future. That afternoon when the Mama arrived home, someone had left a box of random grocery items for the family and there among the items was a bunch of green grapes. There are times of lean when I recollect the “Green Grape” story, and I am reminded that Jesus knows exactly what we need and delights in giving us good gifts.

The Angel Soft from Heaven has been just one of the tangible ways The King has met our needs, and on a recent Cow Appreciation day I was reminded of another. It is no secret that the Chick-fil-A (CFA for short) is a Martin family favorite. When given the choice, it is always a chosen eatery. As recent as the day before Cow Appreciation Day, I had to decline a request for lunch at the favorite restaurant of choice, noting the dwindling budget and sighting the “sandwich stuff” already at home in the Frigidaire. I reminded my children that we would be dining at home sans chicken and waffle fries. They reluctantly accepted my verdict and we made our way home. Early the following day I was perusing the internet, researching, investigating and figuring out just how to make that tight budget just a wee bit more flexible when I stumbled across the Cow Appreciation day info. As a veteran participant I knew the drill: dress up like a cow, get free food. When I made mention of it to my youngest she immediately said, “But we don’t even have a cow costume Mama but you do have that donkey one.” True, I contemplated, could I pass that donkey for a cow? Not likely. The bushy tail and oversized lopped ears are a dead giveaway. Perhaps we could make a cow costume. Perhaps, one but not the required five. “There ain’t no way” was my exact thought as I yielded to the incessant plea to just go see if we had what would be required to construct the costumes.

As we made our way downstairs I gave her the daunting task of finding white t-shirts. I knew full well we did not possess one, much less five tee shirts of coordinating colors. Our laundry piled high on a table makes finding a white shirt in in that pile more daunting than a two inch straw colored needle in a 75 foot haystack. In a matter of moments I had just what was needed for the base of the cow costume. A little more searching and a few minutes later I had a small remnant of scrap black fabric, I began to cut random cow spots.

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I expected to get no more than four or five spots but it was as if the fabric just kept multiplying. My scissors cut and the moment I looked away there was always more. The final spot was cut and I began to pin those spots in place. In a few moments I had constructed 5 costumes, cow ears and to my amazement they didn’t look all that bad.

As we arrived at our destination I marveled at how smoothly it had all come together, how the King knew the details, how He knew it would delight the hearts of the Martins to have lunch at their favorite. I marveled at how He provided in a most unconventional way. He knew I was capable of making the costumes, he expected me to take a leap of faith and at least make my way downstairs in search of supplies, and he knew I would be delighted to have an opportunity to craft and create with my youngest.

His word says that He will give us the desire of our heart if we delight ourselves in Him. (Psalm 37:4) I forget the delight part. I am all about the “give me” part, but the truth is when we delight ourselves in Him, He puts the desire in our heart and we can trust that desire is in essence His desire and He will use that for good.

The cows came home that afternoon, full and happy, giggling over bad jokes and puns that were “udderly” hysterical, having made a day of delightful memories. I marveled at how once again He who is good provided.

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Lessons From The Houdini Wienie

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We have a little wiener dog in our house. I’ve been told her breed name is dachshund but I have a hard time even saying dachshund much less spelling it, so a wiener dog she is. She can sing and say “I love you” but she is inconsistent and has to be in the mood to do so.

Two years ago, on Valentines Day, a give away, Craigslist, less than 5 pound, red satin bow around her neck, skinny red dachshund, became a part of our family. She was a good companion for our ol’ girl Lucy. All of a sudden the elderly, loner Lucy was forced into a daily exercise regimen, which included but wasn’t limited to squirrel chasing, bird harassing, dirt digging, and lizard and frog swatting. She was forced to run and play, her yard and porch no longer her sole possessions. The one time grazer Lucy was forced to complete and defend her daily dog food rations from the rambunctious, young, new comer. She even smiled more often. That little wiener pup added years to her life and life to her years. Two years to be exact.

8732679ce006bf1db00f83ca095d8b52-dachshunds-doggiesWhen the wiener came to the Martins she was named Harley. Such a manly macho biker name didn’t seem to quite fit her tiny, agile, red frame, so by way of blind vote proposed names like “Valentine,” “Miracle,” and “Little Angel” were passed over for “Pepperoni.” She is Pepperoni Sausage Dog. Pepper for short. Pep is short for Pepper and most days she’s just that, Pep.

Soon after she earned the nickname “Houdini Wienie” because she can escape from near anything with lightning speed. If not for her sparkly red cat collar (she would be furious if she knew she sported a mortal enemy cat collar so I dare not say it out loud) with a bell, we’d rarely be able to find her. She has a way of slipping into holes, maneuvering through tight spaces, and wedging herself into impossible situations. Scott Martin says this is typical weenie dog behavior.

It’s this masterful art that yielded me a new appreciation for her this morning and in doing so taught me a beautiful lesson. On Valentine’s Day of this year our beloved old gal Lucy died. Old age and years of good dog living caught up with her. Tears still fill my eyes when I think of that day. When I knew without a doubt that she was dying, I explained it to my children, the Martin 3, and watched them beg and plead for her to stay. How Shelton wept and wailed for his beloved friend who filled nearly every conscious memory he had. With Charlotte, quiet and sensitive, silent tears fell. Her only words were whispered in my ear that Lucy knew all her secrets and was a true and trusted friend. Maggie held Pepper tight. It was Pep’s behavior and whining which served as my confirmation that Lucy did not have long for this world.

My Mama says all the time there are things dogs just know. It was as if Lucy knew her job of training Pep to be a Martin was complete and she could peacefully depart. Despite the desperate pleas of her 13-year-old boy, depart she did, leaving the lone little Wiener to fill the gap. Since her departure I’ve come to some conclusions, loss and heartache seem to be the baseline lately, tears are a frequent occurrence. I’ve found myself thinking how stupid it is to cry over a dog, then the left brain kicks in and concludes the tears aren’t just over a dog. They are tears of grief. Grief over loved ones gone, childhoods morphing into adulthood, grief over circumstances and people not within my reach. Tears of cleansing and release. Tears of sadness and joy all rolled up into one.

This morning Pepper “Houdinied” her way into our bedroom while Scott and I were still in bed. He was sound asleep; me, not so much. The jingle of her cat bell, the only 23133796765_f1c7aa9828_bindicator of her presence. She quickly and carefully made her way up onto our bed and nudged Scott Martin with her cool, wet nose prompting him to roll over and give her the space and warmth she was looking for. I marveled at how something so small and weak could move something so big and strong. She was a mere 3 pounds, he weighs slightly a bit more than that. Scott barely missed a snooze when he yielded to her nudge. He rolled over effortlessly and she took her place beside him. I must admit I was in awe, I’ve tried all manner of techniques to facilitate such a roll over, I’m rarely as successful. Perhaps next time I’ll implement the cold, wet, nose trick.

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Lesson learned: God is big. I am small. I am but a small a part of His big plan, yet despite that, He moves on my behalf. In the days of late I’ve been talking to Him about how He moves. Maybe not how so much as why, or how it would seem at times, not at all. He is bigger and He sees the whole picture. I am but a finite part of that. Once I asked a friend out of desperation “But what if he doesn’t?! What if He doesn’t do what I’m asking Him to and spare her life?!”

I was well beyond the bargaining stage and was convinced that my prayers would go unanswered. My dear friend, calmly and simply said, “Well then you have to trust that He is saving HER from something worse than death.”

I have never doubted that in that moment she was speaking for Jesus directly to my ears. Giving me an answer He knew I’d need to recall time and time again. He knew when I asked Him why or how or why not, that I’d be transported back to that table seated across from my friend in Cracker Barrel.

292200695548_1Even now I am transported to that window facing table, the one under the yellow bathing suit, cola girl advertisement. When my thoughts take me there I am always reminded that He does move. He loves His children, and often when He moves, it is an act of mercy. In His mercy, He sees the end from the beginning and can be trusted to do what is merciful and right and always what is best. Isaiah 55:9 says “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” His ways aren’t just better, they are best.

 

God’s ways aren’t just better, they are best.

Faithful

People on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser as it erupts; R Robinson; 1948

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15

For the past couple of weeks, I have started this blog post and just stared at a blank page. This word “faithful” has been everywhere I have been and it seems like it has been in every verse I have read, but I could not seem to write about it… until today.

The word “faithful” is a strong word, especially when you are talking about the space in between the God of the universe and us. For us as believers to find God faithful, we have to have been through some “stuff.” To know down deep that HE IS FAITHFUL there has to have been some fire or a valley that He brought you through for you to know what faithful looks like or feels like. God’s word is full of promises for faithfulness but until you and I test Him, until we put our heart and life and future in His hands, we have no way of knowing what His faithfulness looks like.

I remember a day, eight plus years ago that His faithfulness became evident in my life. faithful-and-true-christian-poetry-by-deborah-annWe watched a family reunite and watched God redeem, restore and bless, but that meant that we had to let go of four precious kids as they returned home. God brought strength and comfort into our home and hearts. God breathed peace into our home and allowed us to welcome more children over the next several years. As each one prepared to leave, He was FAITHFUL to send that same peace and strength and hope into our home and hearts. We felt His presence and a sense of peace like never before because we looked for Him in those hard moments. We searched for His heart and sought His face when times were hard and HE WAS THERE…faithful.

I have been listening to a new song by Mercy Me called “Even If” over the last couple of  weeks and there is such a powerful line in that song “You’ve been faithful You’ve been good, all of my days. JESUS I will cling to You, come what may”. I can tell you that in my little corner of the world God is faithful, and He is good. I can read you the Scriptures that tell of His faithfulness, and I can also put that same Bible down and tell you time after time that He has been faithful in my life and how time and time again He blessed me in ways that I would have never seen if I had not been actively looking for His faithfulness. Not always easy, not always the way I would have wanted it to be, but His ways are higher. We each have a story to tell and our story reflects His goodness and His faithfulness. Prayers that He answers and blessings that He brings tell a story. There are hurting people right outside our doors that need to hear what He has done in your life and mine. They need to hear that HE IS FAITHFUL and that when we are empty He can fill us with strength and power to stay the course.

We are blessed as believers to have the opportunity to see God move and see miracles happen, the challenge for us is will we share them? Will you be bold and courageous enough to share your story with someone so that His story can be told? Lives are changed when real people share real hurt and heartache and when God is faithful to redeem and restore. Broken people loving broken people because only God can heal. We have the faith to walk out our journey because He is FAITHFUL!!!

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11

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Wheel of Faith

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Supper was finished… The kids had completed their dinner chores and scattered. Our conversation was light, the kind of good natured banter that Husband and Wife often share. We had been discussing the recent bad string of movies I’d chosen and brought home from the library for our date night viewing pleasure.

“That last one was awful Babe.”

He was right, the light-hearted romantic comedy, was in fact none of those things. No light heartedness, not very funny and the acting was subpar. I was quite glad I had not wasted a dollar-seventy-five rental fee; relief that I hadn’t washed over me.

“Yeah I know. It was really bad. I’m glad it was free though.”

I had nearly finished loading the dishwasher when I was forced to make another, more profound acknowledgement. The confession had come secondary to a familiar scenario that had just played out between us. He coughed and cleared his throat. I began to quiz him. Meanwhile, as he spoke I paused the dishes duties to assess him. In a move that resembled “Baymax” from Big Hero 6, I scanned systematically, beginning at the top of his head and making my way down to his tennis shoe covered feet. No overt physical findings detected.

Depending on who you ask I may or may not have begun asking irrational questions. Questions like, “How long have you been coughing?”

His response, “Uh, once.”

The interrogation continued… I wanted to know not only the frequency, but also the quality of the cough in question. As is customary his cooperation eventually gave way to annoyance and he put an end to my line of questioning. His tone of voice changed and he said, “Amy stop. I’m fine, I had to clear my throat. Good Grief.”

I apologized for my irrational behavior, quickness to jump to unmerited conclusions, and relentless interrogation tactics. He quickly offered his forgiveness.

As I placed the last of the forks into the basket, I said “You know I always think the worst.”

He gently, yet matter-of-factly said “Yes, you do. I think that’s partly why you struggle with faith.”

He didn’t have to elaborate, I knew what he meant. We’ve often discussed the fact that I struggle when it comes to matters of faith. Areas where I am to trust God for the seemingly impossible. Believing in faith is by far one of my biggest struggles. I wrestle daily with this one, and I am often left unsettled because I know that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

My man does not struggle in this area nearly as much as I do. In His infinite wisdom and grace, the King gave me a husband that has a tremendous amount of faith, and lives a life evidenced by it. He is a man that can be described as a “man of faith.”

I’ve often thought that if there were a chapter in his book written about his faith, it could boast all of the following headings… “Faith Big enough to Be on the Wheel of Fortune, Play it, and Win the Exact Amount of Cash Needed to Pay for an Adoption…” or maybe “Faith Lived Out by Throwing Caution to the Wind and Fulfilling The Meteorologist Dream…” or “Slow and Meticulous Ain’t the Same as Big and Dumb…” perhaps “He Can Do Almost Anything…” or maybe this summation “Follows Directions Well”.

It has been said that what you are thinking today will be who you are tomorrow. What my man of few, but profound, words was saying to me as I finished loading the dishwasher was that I tend to think the worst. I brace myself in preparation for the worst, even when the worst is in direct contradiction to God’s word.

God’s Word tells me over and over that He loves me, He is for me, He can be trusted. He gave His very Life for me. There is truly no greater love than that. Faith is simply believing that God will do what He has already promised He will do. Perhaps for me, the secret to faith lies in my thinking. If I believe God… If I trust Him… Then the product of that is the faith I’ve longed for. Perhaps if I change my thinking from the worst to the best, then that is the first step necessary to prepare me for the great things God has in store.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 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. Hebrews 11:1,3,6

Stay In It!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

We have heard it said so many times that, as believers, we are in a race. It’s a race that has many twists and turns. The terrain is sometimes rough and the road is long. We all face challenges as we are going through life. There are losses and there are gains. Jesus endured these same things to be the example for us as we are on this race that is set before us. We must look to Him, the founder and perfecter of our faith to get through the race. One version says that He is the author and finisher of our faith. If He is the author and finisher, that means He is writing the story. He is aware of where we are in the race at all times.

We have runners in our family. They love to run. My husband ran a marathon a few years ago. My daughter ran cross-country in high school. They have done sprint triathlons and 5k races. There are also others in our extended family who participate in these different types of races. They run for exercise. They love it. Depending on the type of race that they are preparing for determines the type of training that they participate in.  Intense, daily, endurance-type cross-training such as swimming or biking for the longer races. For the shorter races, running and conditioning several times a week. Regardless of the race, they have to stay in focus and keep their eyes on the finish that they want to accomplish.

running-runner-long-distance-fitness-40751The race that is set before you right now may be parenting a house full of children, or caring for an aging parent. It may be a major illness or the grieving process in losing a loved one. A wayward child. An unfaithful spouse.

Many factors can determine the outcome of a physical race and whether you complete it or not: being prepared, proper shoes, stretching, lightweight clothing, proper hydration and food.

We need to condition ourselves in our journey as believers:

  • Study God’s word. He says that we show ourselves approved by studying. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15
  • Pray earnestly, without ceasing. (I Thess. 5:17)
  • Don’t give up. Build endurance (Heb 12:1)
  • Be intentional in your spiritual life. Every. Day.
  • Trust God. Exercising your faith. It will strengthen you.
  • Look to Jesus. He is our kind and loving savior who is with us every single step of the way. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut 31:6

I love that before mentioning the race that is set before us, scripture refers to the great cloud of witnesses that are surrounding us as we are on this journey through life. It reminds us that we are not alone in this race. Many have gone before us and have just finished before us. Real people, with human strengths and weaknesses just like us that have left their examples to the value and blessing of living by faith. Read about these inspiring saints in Hebrews 11.

Honest confession. I don’t like to run. Period. My feelings are that the only good thing about running is that it is faster than walking.  I did do a 5k several years ago, but nothing else. I have stood on the sidelines and cheered them all on for years and wanted to participate, but I’ve never managed to stay in training long enough to do it again.  I’ve made excuses and let other things hinder me from participating in a race.

pexels-photoBut…I’m done with being a spectator. In a few weeks, I will be a participator in the race.  I am scared and intimidated and frankly, I want to go the opposite direction from where everyone else is going. But guess what! My family will be cheering me on at the finish line. They have encouraged me and have run with me and even pushed me at times when I thought about giving up. I have trained, probably not enough, but I am getting into that race with these guys. I’m getting stronger and more sure of myself. It has not and will not be easy, but I’m going to do it. My goal is to cross the finish line!

Keep on even in your race of faith, even if you don’t feel like it. There is a place where you get your second wind and push past the pain or the heat or the hard to breathe time. My husband says it’s there, but I haven’t gotten there yet in running. Some days life is very hard. Some days it’s easy and you wish it wouldn’t end. The struggle is real. But the reward of crossing that finish line and entering our eternal reward is real. I believe that those who have already completed the race that was before them are watching from heaven and cheering us on in our own race that is set before us. They will be meeting us at the finish line. As Rick and Bubba so famously say, “Stay in it!”

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