Monday, June 18, 2012

Everybody Has a Story

Twenty-one years ago today, my life profoundly and completely changed. I was “born again" – given a new, spiritual life – a life given over to Jesus Christ.

I awoke the morning of June 18, 1991 in a cold sweat, screaming under my breath from a horrible nightmare. Before I tell you the details though, I think you need to know a little of what my life before that morning was like.

I grew up feeling invisible. My parents both worked outside the home and when they were home, we often spent our time together in front of the TV. I had no local playmates until around junior high. I had three older siblings, but my half-sisters were 20 years older and my brother was 10 years older and he was the clearly favored child. I tried to get my parents’ attention by staying out of trouble and getting good grades, but their attention was fleeting, my achievements seemed empty, and I was desperately lonely.
Me in Kindergarten
By the time I became a teenager, I felt a need to “find my destiny.” I nearly died at five months old of some mysterious virus. I thought my survival somehow made me “special.” I longed to figure out what great thing I was supposed to do with my life. The pressure I put on myself to achieve was often overwhelming. Every new school year was a chance to make a fresh start. But two weeks in, I was still the same bossy, selfish, crybaby that I had always been. I was powerless to change myself.

Every week, my parents and I attended a church that gradually became spiritually empty to me. Everything was based on “doing.” So going to church just reinforced my perfectionist tendencies to try harder and be good. I had started seriously searching for God from about junior high on, but I kept running into dead ends and couldn’t really find anyone who could explain their belief in God to me that was any better than my “everybody goes to heaven” philosophy.

Confirmation Day 
By the time I was 20, I was bullied relentlessly, betrayed by three close friends, and broken-hearted from a bad choice of boyfriend. I started investigating New Age philosophy (a belief mostly centered on achieving nirvana through bettering yourself), but worshiping self just left me more confused and isolated. I often prayed to my version of God at night, but I was never really sure He was listening.

Then, between my junior and senior years of college, I met Beth, a ‘90s hippie and not the kind of person I normally hung around with. But one night there was a tornado warning near campus and we got talking about life. She asked me what I believed about God. I told her that I thought God was out there somewhere and I was trying to find a way to get to Him. I said that I thought everyone went to heaven except maybe a few really bad people. The more I talked, the less it made sense, not only to her, but to me! She explained how Jesus’ death on the cross was personal – that He died for me, for my sins, personally. She also explained Satan and hell and quoted Matthew 12:30 – “He who is not with me, is against me.” I knew that the way I was living could not be construed as being “with God,” but I also didn’t like the alternative!

That night, my mind accepted what she was saying, but my heart was not quite there yet. About a week later, I had the nightmare I referred to at the beginning. I dreamt that I was signing a contract with a devil in disguise. As I was signing my name, I saw horrible things – people being torn limb from limb and vile crimes being committed. Then I saw the number 666 being engraved in my hand in blood. I knew that was the mark of the devil. I tried to get away, but the person the contract was with grabbed my arm searing my flesh. The room went black and that’s when I woke up. My first conscious thought was “I need Jesus!” I rifled through my desk to find a pamphlet Beth had given me that explained that finding peace with God was as simple as believing that the God who made me had sent His only Son, Jesus to die on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I simply needed to confess those sins and trust Him to take over my life. I prayed several times, begging God to forgive me.
My Baptism - October 20, 1991
That was an amazing day. I know it sounds cliché, but when I looked out my window that morning, everything seemed suddenly brighter and more in focus to me. It really was like God had peeled scales from my eyes and that I was seeing clearly for the first time. That was the great turning point of my life.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s my story – at least one significant portion of it. Everybody has a story. You don’t have to be a Christian to have a story. Maybe you were abused as a child or survived a long illness. Perhaps you married young, or late, or multiple times, or not at all. Have you lost a loved one? Adopted a child? Achieved some fleeting greatness?

What’s your story? Have you shared it with anyone? I think one of the great faults of our American society is that we often hide our stories. We walk around making judgments of people we know nothing about. We assume the homeless man was lazy or the CEO came from a wealthy family or the young African-American male is violent. Yet, we don’t know a thing about them. We don’t know that the guy who cut us off in traffic this morning was driving his wife to the hospital so she could deliver their first child. We don’t know that the cashier was crabby this afternoon because she was up with a sick child all night. We just make snap judgments about people and cop an attitude. I’m guilty of that.

Sharing our stories would have a profound effect on our culture. We would be less isolated and judgmental; we would be more open and far more willing to show grace to others if we knew their “stuff”. The more I interact with people, the more I see how much we desperately need to know each other’s stories. They encourage us, correct us, motivate us, counsel us, and inspire us.

So, what’s your story? Who will you share at least a piece of it with today?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without written permission from the author. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tilling the Soul

I apologize for not blogging for a few weeks, but I need to confess something. I’m…a gardener. It’s actually worse than that…technically, I’m a Master Gardener (that's really just a fancy way of saying I took several weeks of classes on gardening and did some volunteer work). When spring arrives, I am outside planting, pruning or weeding. And this year I have a new yard to play with!

My current project is planting my first ever vegetable garden. As an adult, I’ve never had a yard that enabled me to plant vegetables before, so I’m pretty excited about this; so excited that I bought twice the number of seeds that I needed! I’m experimenting with a pallet garden (below) since it takes a near miracle to grow anything in Indiana clay.

Waiting for the seeds to sprout!
All of this planting has gotten me thinking about how many parallels gardening has to life. Did you know that Jesus used a few gardening illustrations in several of His teachings? In Mark 4, He compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed telling the disciples that the smallest of all seeds grows into the largest of all garden plants. He cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit in Matthew 21. In John 15, He explains that the key to bearing fruit is staying connected to the vine (Jesus). So, what has gardening taught me about life so far?

Renewal = Hope
I think there are few things in the natural world more exciting than that first sprout of green pushing its way through the soil in the dawn of spring. It’s a sign that things are coming alive, being renewed, and becoming what they were meant to be. This is the essence of the Christian life! The morning I met Jesus, I remember looking out the window and feeling like the trees looked greener, the sky was bluer and the people walking down the sidewalk looked more animated than ever before. It was like turning on the windshield wipers of my soul. Everything was new and fresh. After the cold gray of winter, spring is my yearly reminder that as a Christian I have an eternal hope. Regular renewal of my spiritual life is keeps that hope fresh.

Weeds Must be Killed
I hate weeds. I hate them because they are so prolific and it doesn’t matter how much mulch and weed preventer and hand-pulling I do; they find their way into my garden. It’s just like sin in my life. It’s always lurking just below the surface. A harsh word chokes my reputation as a believer; an ulterior motive destroys my good deeds; idleness steals my time with the Lord. Sin chokes out our spiritual life. This is why it is vital for me to kill the weeds of sin in my life while they are small. I know too many people who let the little sins grow into big ones and it destroyed their lives. I am starting to figure out that a little Bible reading and prayer tills my soul just like a gentle rain shower – and it makes the sin (and the weeds) a little bit easier to remove.

Growth Takes Time
When you plant something, you just can’t wait for it to reach its fullness. You want to see big, perfect flowers the second the plant is in the ground. You want the tree to shade the patio or the bush to fill in that space in front of the central air unit. You want vegetables to keep the grocery bill low. But things don’t grow in the real world the way they do in Farmville. The same is true of spiritual maturity. I want to be the mentor or the evangelist or the seasoned counselor now. I want to “arrive.” The good news and the bad news here are the same: we’re never going to “arrive” on this side of heaven. That can be a blessing because it takes the pressure off. God gives me grace! And it's far more than I deserve. I must learn to accept His grace – and then give it to others, too!

Those are just a few things I have learned from gardening. Do you garden? If not, I'm giving you an assignment: plant something. I don't care what you plant, but put it somewhere you will see it every day. As you watch it grow throughout the season, think about your spiritual life and where you are on your journey and where you would like to be. Then quench your thirst, fertilize your soul and watch your life blossom into the person God made you to be.

How does your garden – and your soul – grow?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without written permission from the author. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Dance

I recently finished an excellent 26 week class on the spiritual disciplines. We used Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney as our textbook, which I would highly recommend. We learned about Bible intake, Scripture memory, prayer, journaling, fasting, worship, serving, stewardship, silence & solitude, evangelism, discipleship, learning and perseverance. In most cases, we spent at least one week learning about the discipline and then another week practicing it. I would say that for the most part, I stepped out of my comfort zone, did my homework and learned a lot.

However, if I’m being completely honest with myself, my practice of the spiritual disciplines has not really improved all that much and I’ve been wrestling with why that is. My answer may shock you. Are you ready? I don’t love God enough. Yes, you read that right. It’s true. If I really loved Him, I would want to spend time with Him. I would long to spend time with Him. Instead, I am unfaithful. I spend plenty of time watching TV and playing on Facebook and reading books, but I am not spending time with my God. And I wonder why I’m struggling with practicing the spiritual disciplines? I have the knowledge. I know what the spiritual disciplines are and how to practice them. I just don’t do it.

Ironically, the one thing I need in order to cultivate a greater love for God is…to practice the spiritual disciplines! It is through Bible intake that I get to know my God better. It is through prayer that I communicate with Him. It’s through worship that I learn to take my focus off myself and put it on God where it belongs. The disciplines are a little like dating. The more I spend time on them, the more I fall in love with my Savior. And the more I love my Savior, the more I want to practice the spiritual disciplines!

It’s a dance. When you dance with a partner, you generally dance in a circle and one step leads into another. I take God’s hand and He leads me into a gentle waltz or maybe a lively two-step. Sometimes, it’s a tempestuous tango. I dance, but fight Him all the way. I fight Him because I’m too lazy or too distracted by other partners. Sometimes I just dance alone. I even think I look fantastic doing it…only to realize that while I’m showing off, Jesus is quietly standing there in the middle of the floor patiently waiting for me to come back to Him.

So, what should I do? I can continue showing off only to find myself exhausted; I can choose to sit at the table, stubbornly refusing to dance (which will probably only prove that I was never the right partner for Jesus in the first place); I can choose to dance a tango and fight him all the way (gee, that sounds like fun); or I can take His offered hand and let Him lead and see where He takes me. Hmm…it’s not that hard to see which one of those is the best choice, is it?

It comes down to this: when my desire to grow in Christ becomes greater than my desire to be entertained, I will grow in my walk with Him and our dance will be beautiful and freeing. Until then, I may be entertained, but I will also find myself exhausted, empty, weighed down and alone when the music ends. Freedom sounds a whole lot better than that.

Do you hear the Savior calling, “May I have this dance?”

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It’s All About the Timing

After a month of blogging, I have learned that it requires at least two things: good ideas and timing. For the last two weeks, my timing has been really off, which is why I have not posted. I had several great ideas for Easter related posts, but in most cases, I didn't finish writing them in time. It doesn't make much sense to post something about Good Friday on Easter Sunday. I see now why another blogger suggested having several blog posts already written before I started blogging to keep a flow going. She was really talking about timing. Fail.

Timing is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s great and leads to a chance meeting. I think back to how Dave (my husband) and I met at Timber-lee Camp in East Troy, Wisconsin. So many things went into the timing of that: when I became a Christian; not getting a graduate assistantship and needing to take a summer job; staying on at the camp in the fall and working with Dave on the weekends. Had any one of those things changed, we might not be married. Of course, I could also count the fact that I didn’t die from some mysterious virus when I was five months old, or that I wasn’t seriously injured or killed when I almost fell off a roof while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in high school.

I may not have become interested in writing if Mrs. Czechvala hadn’t given me an A+ in 6th grade on a limerick I wrote about a frog crossing the street.

I may not have become the owner of a very affectionate orange cat if my friend Leslie’s cats had been nice to her in the brief time she owned her.

I may not have become a Christian yet if I had gotten the prestigious job I wanted on campus between my junior and senior years of college. Instead, I got a job that actually paid more and I worked with a lot of Christians – and one of them led me to the Lord.

Of course, timing has a dark side too. Why did my grandmother have a stroke when I was 16? Why did my husband lose his job and remain unemployed for several months a little over a year ago? If my sister-in-law hadn’t been a lifeguard at one time, would she still have gotten the melanoma that killed her?

Timing is what makes things funny or sad at a particular moment – comedians and dramatic actors know that well. Sometimes we affect timing and sometimes others or circumstances affect timing. In the end, it all seems to work out, though, doesn’t it? I believe that’s because God is sovereign, meaning that He is in control of all things. Nothing happens without a reason. I can look back on many events in my life and see now why they happened the way they did. Some I’m grateful for; some, not so much. But it’s a comfort to me to know that things don’t randomly happen. So I guess, if I look at it that way, I’m always right on time.

How is your timing? How have different events in your life shaped you? Have some of the bad things turned out to have a good purpose at some point?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Be Quiet


What emotion do you feel when you are surrounded by silence? Relief? Peace? Fear? Are you ever actually surrounded by silence in your life?

I have spent the past three Sunday afternoons in silence at a local arboretum. The weather has been fantastic in the Midwest, so part of me just wanted to get outside and enjoy the unusual warmth. I also love God’s creation and seeing little bits of Him in His handiwork. Creation is like us looking at a painting and seeing a little bit of the artist in it. We learn things about the painter from observing his work. When I spend time in God’s creation, I get to know Him a little better. I see His orderliness, His sense of humor and His flair for the dramatic. Have you ever stopped to look at the intricacy of a tree leaf or the amazing colors displayed in a sunset? Really look?

The main reason I decided to spend time in silence these past weeks was to connect with God better. I don’t often take enough time to listen to God throughout the week. I usually do all the talking. (Does this surprise anyone?) Sometimes, I just need to be quiet and listen.

Silence, though, can be intimidating. In fact, in America, I believe that tuning out silence is an epidemic. For many, our fear of silence is why we always have the television on or why the radio goes on the moment we start the ignition in our cars or why we sleep with a fan. Perhaps it’s not really the silence we’re afraid of as much as it’s ourselves that we’re avoiding. We are comfortable in our shallowness. We don’t want to go deeper because deeper means being vulnerable and open and we don’t want to get hurt.

There are lots of things that God talks to me about in the silence that I don’t want to hear. Sometimes He gently rebukes me about some sin in my life or urges me – again – to do something that I’ve been neglecting. However, there are other times when He whispers a kind word of encouragement or just tells me how much He loves me. If I’m not taking the time to get quiet and listen to Him, I can’t change the stuff He wants me to change, but I also can’t hear His heart of love. I am slowly learning not to resist silence.

What would you encounter if you decided to be quiet? Would God remind you of someone you need to forgive or someone you hurt? Maybe the silence would allow you time to work out your doubts or ponder your next step after your dreams have been dashed. Maybe He wants to encourage you or show you something wondrous in His creation. Maybe He just wants to say, “I love you.”

Whatever God has for you, don’t avoid the silence. Embrace it. Make time for it. Incorporate it into your life as a regular practice. Psalm 62:5 says, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone, my hope comes from him.”[1] Our hope comes from God; shouldn’t we take some time to at least thank Him for that? Find a place where you can rest and open your heart to what God has to say to you. You will be blessed.

If you took an hour to be silent with God today, what do you think He would say to you? Why not take a walk and find out?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

[1] New International Version 1984 (NIV1984) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One More Day with Jesus

On March 2 this year, I reached a milestone. As of that day, I have walked one more day with Jesus than without Him. I have lived as a Christian longer than I lived as an unbeliever. Why is that so significant to me? Here are a few reasons:

Grateful for Perseverance

There's a song by Hillsongs Australia (1992) entitled, "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" that has this line, "Jesus, lover of my soul/Jesus, I will never let you go." I get a little twinge when I sing that line. Can I really sing that with integrity? Will I really hold on to the end? Will there be a time in my walk where I think there's a better alternative? I don't know. But I do believe in the "perseverance of the saints," meaning that those who truly belong to the Lord will persevere to the end. So if I am truly His, I have nothing to fear.

In any case, I have somehow managed to stick with Jesus for more than 20 years now - despite losing friends who didn't understand my choice to follow Him; despite the woman who led me to Christ subsequently turning away from the faith because of Christians who treated her unkindly; despite messing up relationships with family members who were right to question my early legalistic brand of Christianity; despite hospital visits and financial trials and nagging doubts and my husband's unemployment and the pain of watching our sister-in-law lose her battle with melanoma.

Why did I stick it out? Even though I was a "Little Miss Goody Two Shoes" before I met Jesus, my life still felt empty and dark and unstable without Him. I longed for life to make sense. When I met Jesus, it did. It didn't mean the pain went away or life got easier, but it meant having someone by my side to guide me and love me unconditionally and talk to when I needed a friend. I think the bottom line is that whenever I thought about giving up on Jesus, I couldn't think of a single thing I would gain from doing it...and a whole lot that I would lose.

Longing for the New Earth

One more day with Jesus also means I'm one day closer to living in the New Earth. Eternity can seem pretty scary regardless of your destination when you think that it's FOREVER. That's a very long time. When I first became a believer I remember being really freaked out about heaven. I wasn't sure that I wanted to be anywhere FOREVER. But over the years, I've heard more teaching on the New Earth and how we get to live in a totally restored and renewed earth. Now that's something I can get excited about! 

There's so much of the world I haven't seen, and likely won't see before I die, but when it's restored, I can see it all and take all eternity to do it! And I get to do it with Jesus and Christians from all over the world - some that I have never even met! Who wants to see the Grand Canyon? Hawaii? Europe? 

In that day, the Son will be our sun. His glory will light the whole earth. Jesus Himself will prepare a special place for each of us.  Personally, I'm hoping mine includes a gorgeous garden full of flowers bursting in bloom and a quiet babbling brook leading to a lazily lapping lake. And I wouldn't mind some mountains and a peaceful forest in the background. I can't wait!

An Opportunity to Grow

One more day with Jesus also means I have another opportunity to grow and mature and live the way He wants me to live. I love Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV), "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil." What a grace each new day is! Every day, I have one more opportunity to sit at the Lord's feet and listen. I have one more day to love Him better; one more day to serve; one more day to pray; one more day to worship; one more day to learn and grow. Today is a day that I can choose to move forward with Jesus.

If you are walking with Jesus, what are some of the reasons you are glad to have one more day with your Savior?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why I'm "Minding My Matters"

I love to play with words; can you tell? You don’t have to know me long to know that I love crossword puzzles and word games. One of the best characteristics of the English language (yes, it does have some redeeming qualities) is the ability we have to engage in word play – and I simply couldn't resist the urge to include it in my blog’s title.

What is Minding My Matters about? I want to work out spiritual truth in my life. I’m in theological overdrive and I need to talk about it. There are not many things I enjoy more on this earth than a long conversation that goes deep, and deep into the night. You know what I’m talking about – the conversations you have with your best friend…or the total stranger sitting next to you on a plane. With all of our technological advances, we’re longing more and more for personal human interaction. Yet, we often sacrifice depth of relationship for convenience and speed and stuff that we really don’t even care about.

What are some of my “matters” that need working out? I want to live my life with more intentionality and focus, but I am so easily distracted. I want to trust God more, but all too often I trust in my own striving first. I want to defeat the monster of perfectionism, but unless I hit “publish,” the perfectionism is still winning. (I’m really hoping for a small victory, right now!)

Of course, sometimes those late-night conversations drift into the less serious side as well. Maybe we’ll talk about the joy of harvesting vegetables you grew with your own two hands. We could touch on what I’m learning from my cat. Or perhaps we could wonder at the sheer vastness of a clear night sky.

Whatever the conversation, let’s agree to have it. Grab your beverage of choice, and let’s sit down once a week (give or take) in this virtual world, and chat (I write, you comment). Let’s be honest and vulnerable; encouraging and respectful. Let’s grow into the people God made us to be. We’ll laugh and cry and maybe even argue. But let’s decide right now that we’re going to work out the things in our lives that need working out and start enjoying the good stuff.

Will you join me in “minding our matters”?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without permission. However, linking to this post is encouraged.