Monday, May 28, 2007

The fruit of a blog

I just returned home from a Living Proof Live Conference in Boone, NC where I met, for the first time, a fellow LPM blog sister. We had commented on one another's posts several times, then followed one another's individual blogs, and before we knew what had hit us, we had decided we were going to meet and go to this conference together! (Now for those of you with the mother instinct wondering if we had lost our minds, we probably had. You're absolutely validated in your thinking and I need a good mothering now and then. Well, maybe more than that :) ). BUT, when the LORD has spoken, He has my 'yes.' So Abby and I took the leap of faith to connect in Jesus Name as sisters in Christ, and met in Boone on Friday before the conference started! What a blessing I received in her!

Girlfriends, if Amanda could ever have known the fruit of her obedience in the creation of the LPM blog, I'm sure she may have just fallen off of her chair never to return to the blog world again. I suspect the bigness of our God may have just blown her right over. It would have me.

My weekend shared with my Beloved Jesus and this precious new sister has yet to be processed, so I'll spare you the suffering of trying to read something that I have yet to articulate to myself. In short, our Glorious Father was majestic in His holiness. He is ever increasing in His beauty to my mind and heart. And He surely got the praise.

As for Abby and I, we began to show such similarities, we decided it to be a little scary, and tried to ignore them for the last hours of the conference. She is a treasure in this generation, and a friend that I am honored to now walk alongside. The sweet aroma of Christ is all over her, and she has an obvious mark on her life for His glory. God already has, and will continue to, call this young woman to do a mighty work for His renown.

What else I learned this weekend:::::
1) If it can be helped, don't go into the weekend on 3 hours of sleep. The triple shot espresso you get at Starbucks beforehand doesn't help.
2) The 'comforter' included in our bedding set by our 'hotel' more closely resembled a loin cloth.
3) Because of this, Boone, NC can feel like Antarctica, even if you're doing your best to cocoon in the loin cloth comforter.
4) Boone, NC is in the Boonies.
5) The LPM website did not include a warning for this conferences' travels. I suppose the following would have been beneficial: "Dear sister, for those of you who don't know what those large elevated rock-like objects lining the curving road near the conference center, we wanted to let you know that those are called 'mountains.' The road to the conference center is an uphill winding road, so we advise you to grip on to the steering wheel for dear life, and not look down at the sharp cliff to the left of you. Have safe travels and leave extra travel time for those of you who are novice mountain drivers."
6) Don't even think about being able to use the restroom or get a Coke on Saturday...b/c the 15,000 other women already did. Lol!
7) Last conference, my friends and I deemed 6:15 am as the safe arrival time to beat the line crowds for Saturday's session. It wasn't :( So Abby and I decided we'd be there around 5:15 am in order to beat the crowd. (What can I say - we're visual learners and like the up-front interaction). Not only did we beat the 'crowd,' we beat any car in the streets of Boone that morning, the opening of McDonald's, any lights being turned on in the entire convention center, and we are sure that we even beat Beth's arising for her morning Jesus time and hair fixin.
8) Wear waterproof mascara.
9) Hibernate the week before. Your body will thank you this weekend as you will get no sleep.
10) For those of you concerned about missing out on your morning exercise routine for the weekend, have no fear! Attending a LPL conference is more than adequate exercise for your temple as you are involved in constant stair climbing, jump up and down worship, and knee-slap laughter that leaves you with sore abs.
12) I will close with a shout-out to my Boone sisters: "If you're 'asher' and you know it, clap your hands. If you're 'asher' and you know it, clap your hands. If you're 'asher' and you know it then your face will surely show it; If you're 'asher' and you know it clap your hands." We give you much praise Jesus!!

Waiting in line outside on Saturday morning around 5 am. Oh wait, there was no line! HAHAHAHA. But we did enjoy a sunrise and the beautiful stillness of Jesus all to ourselves.

Kelly S. - a fellow blogging sister, found me! She has been an absolutely precious sister to me and nothing but a blessing. I was able to come to Boone through her extra ticket! And if you have the privilege of getting to know her at all, you'll know that she is an automatic hero in the faith.

Abby, Beth, and mine and Abby's Jesus cry-fest.

Monday, May 21, 2007

My hair 'ain't' cute

To say that my life is in a season of change and transition right now is an understatement. Girlfriend, if there was ever a thing my heart cringes at, it would be change. Jesus is taking me all over the place spiritually and geographically. Let me just say that it's been a wild ride, and my hair ain't cute from the whirlwind of change (pardon my 'ain't' usage). We turn left for a moment, and we're taking a speedy sharp right the next. Nothing is consistent around me. I can't even partake in my weekly feast at Casa Grande anymore due to a move to another part of the city, and there's nothing that will make me pout like a loss of quality chips and salsa.

I just know that the light of His burning lamp marking my path these days must look like a firework display in the unseen heavens. Or maybe a spinning disco ball light show. I keep picturing Jesus smiling at the wondrous display of His changing lit path for me. I picture Him upon His great Throne, leaning over, and keeping the angels in awe of what He decides to do next to get a little glory. Just wait he must think to them, with a twinkle in His eye, on the edge of His seat as if He didn't already know the plan. As if He can't wait to see what happens next. I think that He just might...I think He is thrilled about the adventure, and begging me to throw my hands up during the roller coaster ride (I love roller coasters).

I'm thinking here lately that He is loving me loving Him as my absolute Rock. I'm thinking He is longing to show off how much of a consistently faithful and unchanging God He is. I'm thinking His face is the One He wants me to seek, while my external world is changed, shaken, and titled beneath me. I'm thinking He might be giggling a little bit when I am tempted to turn to another aspect of my life, and He then allows it to be removed or changed before me. I'm thinking He might just have Had his hands on His hips here recently reminding me that He is my Always and Forever.

So I'm still running. A little "weary, yet pursuing" (Judges 8:4). Pursuing Him because He is all that is worth chasing after. Chasing after Him because He is the only one safe for me to be in pursuit of. In my propensity to be extreme, anything else I turned to at this time would surely fight to be a false god of stability. He does not change though, as He is the "Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shifting shadow" (James 1:17). My strides may be a little shorter at times, my knees a little wobbly, and my hair wind blown from the changes unraveling at rocket speed past me as I continue onward. But He is the One whom my gaze must be fixed upon. His face I seek to behold. The Author and Perfecter of my Faith, I will trust. He is my Prize at the end of this race. And with much praise, I love that He is the unchanging biggest fan over my life, still standing at the finish line, beckoning me to draw nearer to Him.

Thankfully, His mercies are new every morning. And with just as much gratitude, my heart confesses and draws strength from the equal truth that He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

Precious Lord, I revel in your love for me. I cast myself upon the altar of your unchanging Truth and cling to You. You remain LORD, when all else fades. You ARE, when all else is not. You are the Great I AM, and I am not. Thank you that You are my Covenant Keeper and the Stronghold of my Life. I run to you sweet Jesus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Minus 22,000 and then some

I know I have posted twice within a 24 hour period, but I just had to get this one off of my heart or Jesus was not going to let my spirit rest. With my former post speaking of my need for sunscreen, my spiritual heartbeat will not leave me alone. I know I just referenced Gideon in ‘Because He said so,’ but hang with me because 1) I LOVE the OT and 2) I will get stuck in a passage for days on end feasting on its riches. It’s just what He gives me the grace to participate in…so I’m creeping along the early parts of Judges. Hence the bond with Gideon lately.

Judges 7:1 – 2: “Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.”

Sound familiar? Nope – I don’t mean that the name Jerub-Baal should remind you of your best girlfriend. I am referencing the fact that twenty-two thousand men left Gideon before battle against the Midianites. (Nice timing Lord?!) If you keep reading, you’ll discover that the LORD says in verse 4 that there ‘are still too many (people)’ and leaves a group of only 300 men to join Gideon in fighting the Midianites, further removing those who could have assisted Gideon.

To be blunt and honest, I need you to know that I want Jesus so badly for you that I hope this happens to you if that’s what it takes. I hope your ‘twenty-two thousand ‘men’” are stripped from you so that you will know the LORD your God is God and He alone saves. “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her... (vs. 1). Deuteronomy 8:16 tells us that the LORD led the Israelites in the wilderness that He might humble them, and that He might test them, to do good for them in the end.

Sweet sister, sometimes the LORD removes all tempting sources of security other than Himself so that He can be your Stronghold and Rock. Sometimes, He graciously removes our bible study leader, friend, parent, or mentor from a moment in our lives to mercifully keep our affections, awe, and applause transfixed on Him alone. Sometimes, He’ll strip away the areas of self-sufficiency, self-dependency, self-provision, and self-confidence in our lives to open our eyes to the fact that He Himself is all we need (I hope He does this always…) and that we are equipped in Him for everything we need for life and godliness. Sometimes, you are forced into a desperate-looking situation because He wants you to be desperate for more of Him.

I want you to know and love Jesus so badly. I want more for you than the current ‘this.’ If it takes a season of the Lord removing the “22,000” other areas of support (even be it wonderful and godly things), I beg you sister to find Him in your ‘Gethsemane.’ Do not believe for one second that the LORD your God has forsaken you when he leaves you with a “300” (which may look like nothing or no one on the outside), He has given you an Audience of One - the LORD. I pray you may find it as a tender invitation from your Redeemer to know Him more. To know His strength, to know His might, to know His glory. To know Him. It’s the privilege of a lifetime dear one and He is beckoning you with a nail-scarred hand to seek His face. It is for you.

Father, may our hearts be a stage for you to come and be glorified upon. Your Name and renown are the desires of our heart. Remove the '22,000' if that's what it takes dear Jesus. For 'Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty...Yours is the dominion...and You exalt Yourself as head over all." We love you Father.

Sabbaths at the beach = possible bad idea

I went to one of my favorite places today - my home beach of St. Simons Island, GA. I love this town, the people, the giant live oak trees, the weather, and the undeniable feel of community. But I rested in the embrace of the waves and the sand today. And by 'rested,' I do mean rest. I'm still recuperating from finals, graduating from Ga Tech, and moving, so I am only now embracing the land of the living. I have been taking a serious sabbatical, and could not be enjoying it more.
It was quiet at the beach because it was a weekday and the kids aren't out of school yet. I quieted my heart and begin to experience the endless awe I always do when I stare out at the majesty of His grandness. I walked the beach for a while not knowing whether to stare out at the waves, or look like a goof with my face plastered to the sand beneath my feet. All I could keep thinking about was "How precious are your thoughts to me, O God...if I should count them, they would outnumber the sand." He keeps me humble here at this place, and I love Him so dearly for that. I poured my heart out to the Lord, who He is to me, who I want Him to be to me, who I need Him to be to me, my worries, and how much I love Him. After listening to the seagulls sing, the waves crash against the rocks, and the fish splashing up from the water, I was not going to allow them praise my Maker more than me! For goodness sakes! So I joined them! A little later, I went for the sun-bathing.
Now I need you to know that being raised on the beach all my life, we just grew up without the use of sunblock (I know - go and deem me a horrible irresponsible person now...I'll understand!). We didn't really burn, and only got darker because of the Cherokee Indian blood that us kids have from my Mom's heritage. So I put on some tanning oil, turned on my Jesus tunes, and went for it. Yep....some near hour later I woke up.
I have a lovely 'bow' mark on my back that adds quite a nice look to the red color I have on it. I decide to just 'flip' to the other side. ZZzzzz.....yep. Another near hour later, I woke up. I would like to blame Jesus for giving me such peace and rest in Him that it caused me to fall asleep out there. However, I am of complete wrong-doing. I will face the consequences of my sleepy hours in the sun without sunscreen. And when I got home, I had a older sister in Christ, Amanda at babybangs, post a blog that confirmed my need of deliverance from tanning oil.

So I confess to all of you ladies now: I, Shelly Elizabeth Bland, hereby declare my need for sunscreen. I choose to love my skin and give it the desired layer of covering it so deserves. I release my tanning oil and acknowledge that it will not make me happy :) I choose life! (Or at least for my skin cells, right?!). I choose less wrinkles because I get enough of them from Jesus laughing. I choose a frightful look of paleness and will do my best to honor this much-needed commitment. For those who can continue to learn from my story, see the pictures below. I went to dinner with two good girlfriends of mine at a Mexican restaurant tonight (Random information about myself: I think I could eat chips/salsa each and every day). Note that I am shades darker than them both. This is what 'not to do!'
Turning in my 'Hawaiian tropic' wanna be name-tag :)

Alexa, Jessica, and me on our 2nd round of chips and salsa

Jessica and I at 'Bubba Garcias' (gotta love that name)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Because He said so

Me, myself, and fear were ‘threshing wheat in a winepress’ this week. I didn’t realize I had been until the Lord tenderly exposed an area of fear in my life. Due to a recent decision He has led me to make, He is leading me to walk in an area bigger than myself (praise Him, because that would sure be dull, pitiful, and absolutely horrid if it were 'all about me'). But apparently, somewhere in the humbling call to serve Him, Mr. Fear thought it necessary that he make his arrival. Just call me Gideon, and unfortunately, my 'Midianite' enemy was myself. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy are we not?

Gideon, son of Joash, is ‘threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites’ in Judges 6. God had allowed the power of the Midianites to prevail over the Israelites, and they had thus been camping against them, destroying their produce, and leaving no sustenance for the Israelites. Gideon, probably scared, and simultaneously trying to preserve some food, is threshing wheat not on the threshing floor where he normally should be, but in a winepress.

An angel of the LORD then appears to Gideon, saying “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior. "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian. The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" But Lord, "Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family. The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

I love it. I love Gideon’s story because I shared his weakness this week. I love my powerful LORD stooping down into my ‘winepress’ closet of fear, calling me by a name that marks who I really am in Him, and commanding me to walk in the direction in which He has sent me. I love that the LORD calls Him a mighty warrior before He really is one. I love Gideon’s ‘But sir,’ because I think Jesus has laughed at similar such words spilling forth from my unbelieving heart. I love that I see the particular name of God, ‘LORD,’ appear over and over in this part of His Word. I love that Gideon reminds the LORD that his ‘clan is the weakest…and that he is the least’ in his family.’ (As if He didn’t already know.) It seems to me that it gives the LORD more room to show off.

Just here lately, I reminded the LORD that I am the ‘least,’ and the ‘weakest’ once He had been clear that I follow Him on this new path. I proposed my ‘but Lord…’ while He followed with a tender and stern voice to remind me that I am a ‘mighty warrior.’ Because He said so, I’ll believe it. Isn’t that reason enough?

I refuse to believe that my LORD is not with me merely because ‘this has happened (vs. 13)’ (By the way, what is your ‘this?’) I believe that ‘this’ has happened instead because He actually is with me. I believe He wants to use the platform of our hearts as a stage for His radiant glory. I believe I’ll take that privilege. I believe I’ll accept my name as ‘mighty warrior,’ hold my shield of faith up, and wield my sword. I believe I’ll not allow fear of the enemy to keep me hiding food in a winepress, and sow it by faith instead. I believe I’ll walk in the truth that I am a ‘mighty warrior.’ Maybe I haven’t stepped foot into the heat of the battle yet. Maybe I’m a little ‘weak’ looking in the perspective of the enemy. Maybe my family is the ‘least.’ But my God said that I was such, so I'm going to take Him at His Word. I pray we can start acting like the mighty warriors we are dear sisters. Because Your God is The Mighty Warrior and LORD of Hosts.

By His grace and resurrection power, I've left the winepress, put on my armor, taken a stand, and started walking. Why you might ask? Because I'm a mighty warrior - He said so...

Monday, May 7, 2007

I have seen His goodness and glory.

"For I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

I have clung to this verse for years now. And by cling, I mean you might as well write the thing on my forehead, because that's where it needed to be. The death of my Dad, loss of all material possessions, strongholds, addictions, loss of temporal sources of security, withdrawal from Georgia Tech, despair, and more, marked some of my college years. I was reading last night in the beginning of Judges, and I wanted to weep at what Jesus had done for me. You see, there was a new generation that took possession of the promised land that had never witnessed the miracles the Lord had done to bring the Israelites to that point. They'd never eaten the manna, never fought a battle against a giant, never cried out to the Lord, never beheld His glory atop a mountain, never walked across a divided sea, never lived the miracle of their shoes not wearing out for a 40 year desert journey, never had the privilege to 'be strong and courageous, to trust that the Lord 'would not fail them.' Their fathers had, but they had not. And it was then that I realized the gift my Lord had given me. I realized that I'd rather partake in the battle and experience defeat, so that I could actually know my Victorious Warrior, my God who is Mighty to save. I'd rather know Him as a Shepherd, leading me with the pillar of his cloud by day and fire at night to my promised land, than already be there solely because of my heritage. I'd rather have the privilege to have His Word be absolute life to me, and experience death without it, than my life experiences allow me to breathe apart from His very breathe coming off of those pages. This is exactly what some of my college years have been for me. On the inside, my walk across that stage felt like the scene of David breaking out in dance after the ark of the LORD was carried only six steps (2 Samuel 6:12-14). Six steps...and praise. For He had given me Himself to carry in this temple of mine. As the ark carried the tablets of stone of God's Word, God had graciously written His Word on the tablet of my heart.

My weekend was fun, exhausting, emotional, and full:

1) I picked my sister up from the airport on Thursday. While standing at the baggage claim, I got a phone call from Wheaton letting me know that I'd been accepted into the masters in biblical exegesis program. (Jesus miracle for sure). Yep - I got some strange looks from others when I started jumping up and down. My sister thought I'd won the lottery ( if I actually play.)
2) My Mom and brother came on Friday, and we jetted off to enjoy a nice dinner.
3) My inability to fall asleep from the night before started to kick in on Friday. I'm not sure why it took me until 4 am to fall asleep - maybe I had the pre-graduation heebie jeebies? So, when I called the hotel to make sure they would hold our room since we would be getting in rather late, I instead said "Yes. I was just calling to confirm my late arrival." My sister starts cackling in the background, and I end up hardly able to speak while laughing at myself. Like, she's going to know whether I'll be late or not! Like, she would even care. Like, I need her permission to arrive late.
4) Sleep was not an option the 2nd night either. Apparently, my family decided that I needed to be graced with the presence of their snoring chorus all night!
5) I woke early to curl my hair before I left for the ceremony. Since I considered the cap to be about the dorkiest looking thing in the world, my bloodshot eyes to have the ability to scare anyone, and the bags under my eyes to hold any tears that might fall, I was depending on some good hair and my beloved black high heels to get me through the day :)
6) Yep. It decided to drizzle that morning. In other words, my curls looked more like I was trying to bring back the fashion of the 'tease.' Bah humbug...
7) The graduation ceremony was at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta near the CNN Center and the Olympic Park. I walked by myself, high heels in hand, to the dome because I had to be there earlier than my family. I stopped mid-track when I got right outside of it. I was standing on holy ground: only months earlier, I had joined 17,000 other college students, worship leaders, and teachers at Passion 07 in reckless worship to the One True God. We had joined hearts and mouths to confess praises to my Adonai and Savior. I stood there, paralyzed by His Spirit falling afresh on me, overwhelmed by His faithfulness and glory. I hadn't realized in January that months later I would be walking those same grounds again to enter the building of my graduation.
8) I took a nap twice during the ceremony because of its horrid length. But I had no adrenaline problems when I got to take the stage. I shook hands with good 'ole President W. Clough, strolled across, and apparently acted as if I'd just entered the Miss America pageant with my continuous waving and smiling to my family. I was too excited to quit even when I passed them, so I decided to just keep going with the act as if I knew any of the other fans! lol....
9) Lunch went by fast, but it may have been because we were in a fancy shmancy place that served me a portion the size of my wrist (okay - slightly exaggerating). But I wanted some Krispy Kreme afterwards I was still so hungry!
10) The day ended with some quality 3rd row seats at the Braves game with my brother and sister. I do love me some baseball.

The celebration is still going on in my heart. I'm still trying to process the finality of what just happened, and I suspect it will take a while. Because of my dear Jesus, the One who has brought me 'thus far.' He is my Stronghold, and my Life. He is my Deliverer and my Portion. He is my 'yes.' I love Him so...And though He may have dialed my spirit in the early college years to 'confirm my late arrival' for graduation (it took 6 years), I know that nothing is untimely in His kingdom calendar. I wouldn't trade it Jesus...I wouldn't trade it. Six steps...

I've been waiting a long time to shout this praise

My brother (being too cool to smile), me, my sis, and Mom

At the Braves game

Chipper Jones

My sis and I

Kissing Georgia Tech goodbye in my Mom's goofy hat :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Stick a fork in me...I'm done!

I, Shelly Elizabeth Bland, have hereby taken the last final of my undergraduate career. (Pause...and clap for Jesus). Now, other than the fact that I accidentally put down the name 'Richard Simmons' as the artist of a painting for my art history final, they all went okay. I'm sure he may have appreciated his extra deemed talent that I gave him. Well, there was also that game of 'Eeny, meeny, miny, moe' that I played on my scantron for a different final, but I thought the filled in bubbles did have quite a nice design when I got done. Hehe

This week has been full of goodbye's, hugs, worship at my last college ministry event, and a senior luau for my sorority. One of my sorority sisters also got married on Saturday and it was absolutely beautiful. I truly heard the dance floor calling my name at the reception. I couldn't hurt its feelings and leave it empty; no one had yet made it feel significant and worthy. So, I and my brown stilettos took the privilege. We bonded. and the dance floor. It didn't matter much that I didn't have a guy friend to dance with me when there were eventually 30 sorority sisters out on the floor.

My sister comes in tomorrow. I cannot wait. Friday, my Mom and brother will arrive. They want to go to the Varsity. Sigh! Seriously Mom - could we be any more like tourist?? For now, I'm just trying to quiet my soul before the Lord and take in His faithfulness for having brought me 'thus far.' How am I going to make it across that stage on Saturday when I cry my mascara slap off, or break out in praise, when I think about His goodness over these years?

Kristian, me, and Alex after the last college ministry event. These guys are incredible worshipers for the Lord.

Tiff, me, and Holli...official Alpha Delta Chi alumni!

Netty, me, and Kristen at the wedding.