Friday, December 12, 2008

Secret Sisters Reveal

This fall, I dipped a toe into the "Secret Sister" waters for the very first time. The result? A soaking. I was drenched in God's humor and washed anew by a special sister's Grace.

Before unveiling my adventure, here is a link describing what Secret Sisters is all about in case you don't know.

Secret Sister Adventure Begins
"Yes I would like to participate". I am handed a half sheet of pink paper with the standard questions: name, birthday, anniversary, likes, dislikes. I go home and fill out the first part. I put the pen down and ponder the rest. Favorite foods? Hum. Not enough space. Hobbies? Definitely need to finish on the back - not enough room on the front. Favorite Scripture verses. Could write a book - a very good thing indeed. Done. I place the form in my lesson book. Note to self: hand in next week at Ladies Group.

The next week I pick a half sheet of pink paper with someone else's info on it out of a box and someone mysteriously picks my name out of the box. It's all a surprise! Shh - don't tell anyone who your Secret Sister is. But I can't let rules be rules. So I begin to believe I know who picked my name. Don't ask me details (listening to the wrong voice in my head now) but I convinced myself that my Secret Sister is the same Secret Sister I have been assigned to. Still with me?!

Days passed into weeks and at Church on Weds and Sundays gifts are secretly placed at the back of the Church. The fun had begun. I received an anniversary card in the mail from my Secret Sister. What a surprise! I had forgotten I was even asked my anniversary date on the pink paper. I compared the handwriting on the card to the handwriting on the half sheet of pink paper I picked from the box and was further convinced I knew who my Secret Sister was.

In the next three weeks I excitedly plot and plan gifts and surprises for my Secret Sister, all the while concentrating more on what my Secret Sister is wearing, just so I can match her gifts to her color palette. Yes, I address her spiritual needs through Scripture presented in a compilation book which I send her. I knew she would love this book because she is writing a book of her own and this book will give her that quick jolt of inspiration in the morning or be that quick pick-me-up in between morning devotions and dinner preparations.

Did I pray for her? Yes. In the first few weeks I did. I knew she was new in town, new to Cornerstone Church and adjusting. I knew we had a lot in common and that she and I would be life long friends. How could we not? After all, we were forming such a bond. At least I thought we were. I stopped praying for her after those first few weeks went by.

I began listening to the wrong voice in my head.
I was listening to my own assumptions. I was hearing what I wanted to hear. I was listening to me. No, I did not hear the still small voice of the Lord which was insisting I pray for the "Secret Sister" who was most likely praying for me though not buying me gifts or sending me cards to let me know she cared. The same still small voice that was saying, "Be quiet."

And I ignored God's chastening and my husbands godly advice. See, what I have not explained yet, is the fact that the Secret Sister designated to send me gifts, letters, etc. had not sent anything since the anniversary card. And that was the reason for my discontent. It was right about then that my prayers stopped ascending heavenward for a Secret Sister that had not even been revealed yet.

And since I was steadfast in my assurance that I knew who my Secret Sister was, I became bitter because I had not heard from her in awhile. There were no gifts for me, no cards in the mail. Instead of praying for my Secret Sister and seeking the Lord about how I could serve her, I decided to sin. I didn't stop buying presents for my Secret Sister, but I did become bitter and wrongly disappointed in many ways. I questioned the Lord as He continued convicting me during my morning devotions, "Why should I buy her gifts if she doesn't take time to acknowledge me? Why doesn't she share her trials if that is the reason for her absence in my life?" Again, I thought the Secret Sister I was buying gifts for was the same person that was supposed to buy gifts for me. Still with me?

I was so wrong. So terribly wrong. And I regret my sinful fleshly behaviour.

In preparation for our annual Women's Fellowship, I volunteered to send email invitations to all the ladies and requested they RSVP with the type of covered dish they would bring. So I got a call from a girl in the group named Lisa two days before the party. She asked me what she should bring. I simply said, "A vegetable dish". Then our conversation flowed and we began talking about Church and other things (we had gotten to know each other pretty well in a previous conversation so we had lots to chat about).

Soon, our conversation moved to the Secret Sister experience. Ugh. A floodgate opened and I shared my disappointment about my Secret Sister. I justified if my Secret Sister was having a hard time or sick or having a financial problem, didn't I need to know so I could pray for her? I felt my Secret Sister owed me that much consideration. Just like sprinkling confectioner's sugar on a cake, I dusted my words with a tiny bit of compassion for my absent Secret Sister. And you know how sometimes the sugar wafts a bit on the air and a small hint of it lands on your lips? And you lick it? And it tastes good. And so in the same way, I licked my lips as I experienced a tiny bit of sweet justification for my "being forgotten".

However, the flavor of my intentions was anything but sweet. That which I had not swallowed was my pride. Complaints announced. Gossip created. The fallout begins. The stench of my words and the foul intention of my heart no doubt filled Christ's nostrils. A spirit of pride in me spewed, ejected, and vomited while the demons smiled. Attending Cornerstone Bible Fellowship for seven months and making leaps and bounds in my faith has just come to a screeching halt. The angels in Heaven no doubt began a prayer vigil.

Lisa listened and in her wise manner guided me back to Scripture. For one ember of sin is often the start of a bonfire. And wise Lisa held high the candle snuffer because she knew the Word of God puts every fire out.

"Lisa, are you my Secret Sister?" I suddenly asked her. I don't know why I asked her that, but suddenly I was experiencing paranoia! She didn't answer, and then I asked three times in succession. "You shouldn't ask who your Secret Sister is!" That was the last thing she said before she changed the subject. "Christina, my Secret Sister has not sent me anything, not even a card." Silence. The saying I complained about not having shoes until I saw the man that didn't have feet hit me between the eyes in that split second. I felt really stupid. And sinful.

I should have stopped talking then but I forged ahead,"Lisa, aren't you going to be embarrassed to meet your Secret Sister at the party? What are you going to say?" Lisa replied, "I am going to be glad to know who my Secret Sister is. I am praying for her." Conviction. I tell Lisa she is a better person than me. Because I have not arrived with that type of grace or kindness yet. I was wrong. I was selfish. But I was honest. Painfully so. But honesty never does right a wrong. And so I still dwell in the lie I have created. And again, I ignored the voice of the Lord, "Be quiet."

On and on I droned. I was disappointed in the person who picked my name and who chose to participate but was not responsible in following through with their commitment. I felt justified in judging. I felt worthy of putting my standard of performance on someone who I did not even know. I continued to plead my case that I understood that that person may be having issues but I wanted to know so I could pray for them. I lied to myself because it was all about me and nothing about them. Yes, I would have prayed. But my real motive was to be acknowledged. Guilty. So very guilty.

We hung up and then she called back while I was in the kitchen and she told my husband, "I changed my mind. Tell Christina I am bringing a meatloaf."

I am telling you about the meatloaf because it was not really important what she was bringing in the eternal scheme of things - but - I found this out later. My husband Vinnie answered the phone when Lisa called back the second time. He told Lisa, "Lisa, I love you. Please encourage Christina about this Secret Sister thing. She really needs prayer." But Lisa had already been doing so.

Believe me, the Lord was working. That was so out of character for my husband to respond sensitively to someone he does not really know that well. It was the Lord's love conveyed in that second phone call. God was preparing my heart through the phone for a confrontation and a spiritual bath for me.

That nite in bed my husband and I talked about my bad attitude. He told me God was going to allow me to have the proverbial "egg in my face" splayed for all to see unless I confessed my unlovely behavour about this Secret Sister thing to Him in prayer. I listened. I began to feel the stirring of conviction for sharing my disappointments with Lisa. Then fell asleep.

Secret Sister Reveal
We were told to bring a Christmas gift for our Secret Sister and we would introduce ourselves at the party. Ugh. I admit I did not care. During the worship music I determined to hold my Secret Sister accountable and confess my sinning against them. I felt sure the person I would hand my gift to would be that person. I felt sure this person would hand me a gift and make a lame excuse for not being a part of my life since the anniversary card.

However, God worked me over during the Christmas songs and "Breath of Heaven" brought tears to my eyes. The Lord was in that place as my Secret Sister's granddaughter Mercy danced in circles to the music, with her hands held high until she fell from dizziness. She then got right back up and spun and spun with a smile on her face. She smiled the entire time.

I was broken. I was so horribly ready to fall apart. The Secret Sister I had been buying gifts for all along is named Honor. And I felt anything but honorable as before my eyes her granddaughter danced the dance of joy. The dance of abandon to the Lord. The dance David danced. Honor. Mercy.

Soon after I approached Honor with her gift. She was so excited to know I was her Secret Sister. She had no idea I was her Secret Sister. None. Nada. Zilch. We discussed all the gifts I had given her through the weeks and how much she enjoyed them and then she left with her daughter Honor Jr and granddaughter Mercy. She was not the Secret Sister assigned to me after all! So who was? The question lingered as I walked back into the throng of women chatting amicably. The voice of my enemy, "So maybe Honor just blew you off after all. If not, your Secret Sister may be here and igoring you and you will never know who it was to begin with!" crashed into my heart. I accepted the lie. I figured I'd get my bags and go on home.

Lisa approached me gift bag in hand. "Hello Secret Sister!"

The room and everyone in it disappeared. Lisa again, "Hello Secret Sister!" "No! No! No! It can't be!" I thought she was kidding or just decided to take over that role to possibly - make me feel better? No. It was true. She was my Secret Sister all along. I was shocked and shamed. One big ball of shock and shame. My brain truly ceased to function for a full 10 seconds.

At once we both laughed. The awkwardness subsided. The Lord intervened. The understanding of God's precious gift of Sisters took center stage as we bonded in a new way. Realizations rose to our lips as we talked together loudly at the situation God had humorously allowed. The gifts in her hands were forgotten. The disappointment was forgotten and embarrassment took its place.

Allow me to share the irony. In our conversation two nights prior to this Secret Sister Reveal, Lisa had shared her journey of learning to trust the Lord for her financial needs since the Secret Sister Program began. Lisa and her husband have five kids. She had been trying to find a job. She was preparing to face the fact that they would not meet their rent that month and had even discussed with her husband the possibility that they may have to head to a homeless shelter. Not that the Church would allow that to happen, but it did enter her mind.

She shared that basically "in the eleventh hour" God gave her a job. She was surrounded by supportive behind-the-scenes saints. God answered their prayers in so many ways. However, she had spent many nights on her knees in prayer and had shed many tears while travelling through this financially challenging valley. All while wearing many hats - wife, Mother of five, job seeker, daughter, sister, friend. She was praying for me, though gifts were not purchased, cards not sent. Her prayers were the precious gifts I needed most. Her godly character humbled me. I apologized and she said I did not have to. I apologized anyway. Four or five times just to make sure she heard me - the first time.

Then we laughed. And laughed. And laughed. I ribbed her a bit because I pointed out that she had been sticking up for herself in our previous conversation! And we both knew how it felt to not receive monetary things from our Secret Sisters. But she already knew that the prayers were most important and I knew I would never be the same. Gratefully, I knew I was forever changed. The lesson learned that day was immense. Yes, I would have liked to have received a card from Lisa as my Secret Sister telling me she needed prayer. But, the lesson was, I should have already been praying for her. I confessed in my heart that in my pride I felt entitled to that knowledge, possibly as a way to excuse my love of self and love of things material. I was so sorry. So very sorry.

Lisa then presented me with a beautiful gift bag of yummy smelling lotions and gels. She said she had attempted to glean details regarding my favorite things from our conversation of two nites ago (she had lost the 1/2 page of pink paper with my details on it long before). She also bought me a smoothie maker which blessed me because it is something I had wanted for sometime but would not splurge on.

The True Meaning of the Season
There was a sweet fragrance coming from our end of the room and it had nothing to do with the vanilla sugar scented bath and body lotions that Lisa had given me. The fragrance was in the humble giving and accepting of those gifts. It was God's timing. He no doubt watched and laughed with the deep belly laugh that only comes with true comedy. We had entertained not just angels unawares, but assuredly the entire Kingdom of God was laughing with us. We were rejoicing then, not only because of the fact that Lisa had just landed a new job, but because Lisa had purposed in her heart to bless me despite the fact that I did not deserve it at all.

I don't know if she arrived at that decision to bless me easily. I will never know. I personally know myself well and know that I would eventually do the right thing, but not without kicking and screaming at the throne room doors of Heaven. My sinful, fleshly, self-absorbed personae is far too well known to me.

I am grateful and humble that Lisa had already forgiven me for my ungrateful heart - possibly long before the Secret Sister Reveal - or our phone conversation. I made Lisa promise that she would be the one to break the news to my Husband Vinnie. I knew he would laugh and eventually stop telling me, " I told you so." I wiped the egg off my face along with my tears which had fallen not from sadness, but from the laughter my Secret Sister and I shared in our precious time together that nite.

In Summary
There was joy abundant in Lisa's giving the nite of the Secret Sister Reveal. Joy but also with that joy a blaring reminder to me that I did not deserve those gifts at all.

However, the giver decided in her heart that she wanted me to have them because of love deeper than a human heart can express. That love Lisa displayed was only possible because of the Lord.

The Lord came to this earth for the same reason. 1 John 4:9 states, "By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him".

Lisa chose Christ. Yes, she was saved by faith (Christ) but she is also living by faith (Christ). I am glad my Secret Sister was revealed. Some believe secrets are meant to be shared. Others feel secrets should remain secret. I choose the former in this case.

The morning after the Secret Reveal, as I was still contemplating the events of the night before, an email landed in my Inbox. It was a Max Lucado daily devotional which ended with this verse: Phil 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus".

God's comfort through His Word always makes me smile. And His timing perfect. Always. For He knew when I accepted the Secret Sister adventure, I would not just dip my toe in those waters. No, He knew I would be showered - from head to toe. A shower of blessings from my Secret Sisters. And a shower of God's mercy for Sisters standing on God's Word. God honors His promises. And today I stand on the promise of Phil 1:6. Wash us afresh O Lord I pray!

And so Merry Christmas. And happy, joyful New Year Secret Sisters one and all. For we truly have been drenched by the love of God. We are fully immersed in our passion for Christ. The water's warm...don't just dip in a toe Sisters - Get Wet!

I'm glad I tested the Secret Sister "waters" this winter for I will never be the same. And that is something to celebrate! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Financial Management - Hebrews 13:5

Many people who read the Bible are quite familiar with Hebrews 13:5. We quote it easily. It is a popular Scripture verse and undoubtedly all would agree comforting. However, what caught my attention today was the entire verse. See, I too knew the second half, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." This is God's promise straight from the throne room. And He states "never" not once, but twice just so we don't miss His vow!

And if you look up the word "forsake" in the dictionary most often one can find "leave" listed as a synonym for forsake. So in essence, God is repeating Himself! On purpose, people. On purpose.

And so why I mention this popular place in Scripture is that in my devotions this morning the Lord directed me to Hebrews 13:5 - the entire verse, which I realized for the first time - offered much more than God's promise (as if that were not blessing enough!)....

The entire verse, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

I so desperately needed to hear that today! I undoubtedly was handed a pearl upon reading the first part of Hebrews 13:5. I refer to this first portion of Scripture as a pearl because like the pearl in the oyster, the first part of Hebrews 13:5 is an unexpected gift. It is precious and just like a pearl - revealed at just the right time.

Allow me to expand on that comparison. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks: as a defense mechanism to a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside its shell, the mollusk creates a pearl to seal off the irritation. These small particles or organisms enter the animal when the shell valves are open for feeding or respiration.

And so - just like the oyster, we often choose to be vexed by the Word rather than surrendering to the potential God has hidden in our shells. If only we would surrender to the Word and not fight it!

I am so happy to tell you that today I chose not to rebel but to submit to God's Word (though quite convicting and a charge to say the least!). However, like the mollusk which ingested something foreign, I ate my Daily Bread (which is foreign to my natural sinful man condition). And as a result of reading all of Hebrews 13:5, my eyes were opened to the first part of Hebrews 13:5. I saw this venture into my Bible today as an opportunity to take in sustenance which God will one day produce in me a pearl.

Yes, I know that though I may temporarily fail in my flesh, I will one day enjoy spiritual victory! In the case of the pearl, its very existence is due to its irritating that which it inhabits. What enters the oyster is actually of an extremely vexing nature! And in the same way, if the Word didn't charge and challenge us to change - and at times irritate (okay I said it, but I say that respectfully), we would not grow. And the result - so few precious gems in this world!

I began searching all of Hebrews and was blessed to realize one key word in Hebrews. That key word is the word "better".*

Christ is better than the angels (Chapters 1-2)
Christ is better than Moses and Aaron (Chapters 3-6)
Christ has a better priesthood (Chapter 7)
Christ has a better covenant (Chapter 8)
Christ has a better sanctuary (Chapter 9)
And Christ gives His people a better life (Chapters 11-13)

Christ gives a life of faith - Christ offers us heavenly pearls at a great price - His life. According to Wikipedia, The Parable of the Pearl or the Pearl of Great Price is a parable told by Jesus in explaining the value of the Kingdom of Heaven, according to Matthew 13:45-46

You will understand what I am saying if you have made the choice to repent and surrender all to the Lord Jesus. I have made that choice (Romans 10:9-11). Now I must heed all of Hebrews 13:5 as I am not only saved by faith but I must live by faith.

Lastly, I know the writer of Hebrews made it a point to remind us to follow our spiritual leaders. If we do, we will love the brothers and sisters (v.1), help strangers (v.2) and prisoners (v.3), live above lust (v.4) and covetousness (vv.5-6) and not be led astray by false doctrines (v.9).

*Reference pgs. 822-823 Nelson's Quick Reference Chapter-By-Chapter Bible Documentary by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Lord, today I surrender my will and ask for Your will be done for my finances. If I take back the worry or fear, I know You will never leave me nor forsake me, but gently bring me back to the beginning of that verse. I will undoubtedly be reminded - I am a pearl which has forever forsaken that cold, ugly old oyster shell. I now sit securely in the palm of Your nail-scarred hand. I am precious in Your sight. I am Your beloved. I am pressing ahead. Never looking back. Thank you for Hebrews 13:5 - all of it. Amen.