OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

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Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

I THINK I’M DONE

When I started this blog a little over a year ago I felt pretty strong, pretty confident, and I had fantasies of writing something that would, in some small way, touch someone. My greater goal was to help people who felt unlovable to realize that they were lovable and loved by a God who treasures them, quirks and all. The only way I felt that was possible was from the other side of my own doubts. And to be honest, I lasted longer than I thought I would.

I don’t think I can do that right now. I have no doubt that one day I’ll start writing again, but it’ll definitely take more than I’ve got right now.

A few weeks ago, I posted Are We There Yet? I think that’s a fair enough question.

Most of the trouble is that I’ve always tried to be a good girl and never ask for much. I tried o be a good student, a good employee, a good Christian. I learned at a very young age that I was not much more than an option.

I don’t recall what I did wrong, but my mother told me she’d made a call to the orphanage. The only thing I understood about the orphanage (which we actually had in our city) was that it was where children went when they didn’t have parents. She told me someone would be by later to get me. They’d put me in a dark room and feed me when they felt like it.

I waited quietly until it was dark enough to know grown-ups weren’t at work anymore, which also meant someone hadn’t come to take me to the orphanage. I asked my mother if they were still coming to get me. She simply said, “They must have forgotten about you. They’ll probably come tomorrow.”

i never went to the orphanage. I continue to live with my mother, which was probably worse than the alternative.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced that I was unlovable and insignificant enough to be easily forgotten. At best, I was tolerated. But that tolerance was very conditional, and I was constantly reminded with, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

I didn’t like it, but I had no where to go so I couldn’t leave. And I didn’t leave until the day before my 21st birthday.

My point is this: When you grow up without grace  or mercy, there’s no way you can recognize it when you see it. Even if you could, you can not accept it when you’ve believed that you’re something to be tolerated.

I thought I had made progress, that I had more confidence in God’s word. But I know now that I haven’t. I was starting to come to terms with the limitations after my open-heart surgery. I kept looking for the good after I wrecked the car in January. I trusted God to provide when we had to replace a new furnace in February. I even tried to remain optimistic when I wrecked my shoulder at the end of March. And somehow, we’ll find a way to pay the taxes we owe to the state.

But if God knows me so well, doesn’t he know that I am not that strong? My body had already betrayed me enough, but to have to live the rest of my life with the pain and limitations of a permanently dislocated shoulder? How does that glorify God? To be so perpetually broke that the kindness of really generous friends and my husband’s family barely scratches the surface of our debt because more debt is piled on than we can dig out…how does that glorify God?

So I’m angry and confused. I feel foolish for trusting God because there are plenty of people who are looking at me and wondering why they should trust him if this is what a Christian life looks like.

So here’s the deal: I can not write anything encouraging or motivational right now. This post is concrete evidence of that. So I shall keep all of my thoughts inside my pretty little head until I can be nice again. Besides…if I don’t like it, i can always leave, right?

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.

In Disney’s Aladdin, just before jumping off the side of the building in the marketplace, Aladdin reaches out to Jasmine and asks her, “Do you trust me?”

In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage’s character asks Diane Kruger’s character, “Do you trust me?”

Good question. And it seems that God has been asking me that a lot lately. I thought last year was a “challenge.” (A word here which means it stinks and I do not want to go through it, but I don’t want to sound like a whiney Christian who thinks she’s the only one who has problems.)  I was optimistic that this year had to be better. It was time for God to give me and my family a break.

Instead of a break, it seems more likely that I’m about to get a breakthrough. I know that sounds like a clever line from a televangelist, but I’m actually hoping that this year’s challenges will produce something really good – not like getting a star next to my name for getting an A on my spelling test in the second grade kind of good. A glory to glory kind of good. Let me explain.

We started 2019 waiting for our car guy to get back to us with an estimate to replace the driver’s side mirror I’d managed to destroy. The morning of January 4th, I caught a patch of ice and completely lost control of the car, which was obviously a total loss. I called my repairman to let him know that the mirror was the least of our concerns now. That second car had made things so much easier for us, and now it isn’t worth more than $200 – even with front tires that are less than a month old.

In February, in the middle of a cold, cold Minnesota winter, John woke me before he went to work to tell me the furnace wasn’t working. He’d left a message with a local plumbing and heating company to call me so i could be home when they were available. We had the choice to repair the furnace for “a lottle” (that’s a little, but more), but there was no guarantee it would last long. Or we could replace it for about $4,000. Note that if we had $4,000, we probably would have already spent it on a used car.

Early in March, a friend teased that I must have made someone mad and they’d signed me up for the Problem of the Month Club – kinda like the oh-so-popular Fruit of the Month Club, only more expensive and a lot crappier. And now it seems as though there’s a new sort of bonus round called “But wait! There’s more.”

So…new furnace…no problem! We’d just refinance our mortgage and pay that bad boy off. Now, I’m all for finding the humor in any situation, so I granted that for March, the stress of refinancing our home so we could pay off the new furnace would count as our “Problem of the Month”.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

Now, March isn’t over yet, and today I am typing with only my right hand. Last week, I stopped by a convenience store to get a fountain drink for $1.07 before work. I stepped outside and was seriously calculating the risk of stepping off the curb because, fun fact, I’d fallen at this store about three years earlier. And just that easily, I lost my balance, failed to find anything to hold onto and the full weight of my body pinned my shoulder against the door. I appreciated the very nice men who came to help me up and make sure I was OK. I also apologize to them for using the only four-letter “F” word that came to mind – and word of the hour was not “Fine”. The good news is that nothing was broken, I didn’t need surgery and as of March 1st we’ve had medical insurance.

But wait! There’s more.

I’d already made an appointment with our new orthopedic doctor to examine my right shoulder, which was convenient because it meant I wouldn’t have to wait so long to see her. This was especially fortuitous when that morning, around 4 am, I bent over to pick up something and felt pain that took my breath away. That’s when my shoulder dislocated. So we’ll start April with a visit to a specialist.

But here’s what excites me the most: Over the past couple of weeks, my prayer has changed. I had started out with the usual plea for God to help ease my pain and give me a good report from the doctors. Give me the strength and encouragement i needed to get through this.Then I thought, Wait. Why am I asking for the things God has already promised? Unlike me, He already knows how this is going to play out. I and the medical staff were the only ones who didn’t know.

That’s when my prayer became a prayer of genuine gratitude as I recognized God for who He is. He’s loving, compassionate, faithful and absolutely sovereign.And for the past few days, I’ve had only the lyrics of Mercy Me’s “Even If” on a perpetual loop in my head, my spirit taking constant encouragement from The Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

85a3bbd960542bc7687561576708b29eMy trust in God precedes an infilling of joy and peace that, in turn, allows me to overflow with hope. And the best part is that it’s not dependent on my power, which is usually somewhere between Go Team God! and a poor imitation of Lucy crying because Ricky won’t let her be in the show. Again!

No, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that will give me hope. All I have to do is trust.

However, trusting isn’t easy for me. In fact, I have a really hard time trusting, and God is fully aware of every reason why. He’s been incredibly gentle and patient with me. He may lead me to conviction, but never to shame.

ba81239008fe119c47efbadd069e220aRight now, it’s been a day since I wrote the paragraphs before this. I’m not as gung-ho and positive as I was yesterday. I’m frustrated and discouraged about a few things. But my prayer is still that I would have the eyes to see my circumstances as my Lord sees them; a heart to love those who currently are getting on my last nerve; and the grace to to understand that all the things that I see as trials are actually opportunities to strengthen my faith and help me move from glory to glory instead of laying down in aisle nine and having a hissy fit – if for no other reason than the fact that it gets harder every day to get back up!

I’m quite tired of feeling sorry for myself and being disappointed with other people. I’m tired of feeling hopeless and defeated. And I’m tired of shying away from God’s hand when he asks, “Do you trust me?”

I truly sense that God is “relieving” us of the things that we’ve had blind confidence in. In three short months, He’s “relieved” us of a car, a working furnace and the little physical comfort I did have. None of these things have been anywhere near affordable for us. In fact, it’s all so much like the Minnesota winter we had this year. It seemed that the snow never melted in between snowfalls. The mounds of snow just seemed to get higher and higher, and we knew it couldn’t last forever – but it certainly seemed possible some days,

After the loss of our car, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you trust me?”

I suppose so.

After we got the bill for the new furnace came, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but you’re starting to push your luck now.

After I fell and ended up in the ER, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but can we be done now? I’m kinda tired and broke!

It was then that I began praying to have the eyes and heart of Christ. If I could have that, I know it would be so much easier to trust Him.

So do I trust him?

In John 6:66-69, Christ’s disciples had a choice to make: “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

I trusted Him today. I suppose I can trust him tomorrow. Even if!

WHAT IS TRUTH?

img_4770This morning, I  turned on my phone and found this amazing photo. I love the colors and the way the light seems to emanate from its center! And the best part was the caption: In the heart of Maui’s forest. (Or something like that. Honestly, I absolutely cannot remember where I found it now and can’t confirm it’s full title and cannot remember what app it was in. If it’s yours, let me know and I will make amends. Really!)

After taking in its beauty and appreciating the fact that this photo was taken somewhere exotic, I thought, with some disappointment, that it was very likely Photoshopped.

Not to worry! When I was in school, I learned about a little something called “suspension of disbelief.” This allowed me to accept that this may not be an authentic representation of the sun burning through a tree in the heart of a forest in Maui.

Furthermore, I realized that the photo could have been of the sun burning through a tree in a field in Idaho, and I couldn’t prove otherwise. And that was fine with me because I enjoyed the photo so much that I was willing to accept that I’d been misinformed. After all, a photo of a tree in Idaho wasn’t much to get excited about, and who would really expect that such a wonder could be found in Idaho anyway.

So what it came down to was this: I had a picture that I liked and truly could enjoy it independent of it’s actual setting. And there was absolutely no harm in that. If I show it to people, they’ll get the same story you just got. I don’t really know and I don’t really care; I like it anyway.

But where does that suspension of disbelief stop being not only appropriate, but also irresponsible and unacceptable? I thought back a few months to a photo I saw on Twitter of a child crying behind a fence, apparently another victim of the current administration. The caption below it referred to a specific event. One reader shared her indignation over the situation, probably securing it as a truth that she would share at the water cooler at work the next day. The next reader, however, pointed out that the caption to the photo was incorrect. The photo actually was from a similar event under a Democratic administration.

Personally, if I were as educated about politics as I probably should be, and if I wanted to debate the issue (which I don’t!), this would be a significant determination to make. Very simply, it doesn’t matter enough to me to go to Snopes and verify it. (That is, if Snopes can still be trusted to be accurate.) What I found interesting, though, was the next reader’s comment to the naysayer: “It doesn’t matter.”

It didn’t matter to that reader that the photo and caption didn’t go together. He was so  incensed by the current administration that he was willing to accept and support this post as true – in spite of facts that proved it was false. Nor did he seem inclined to offer anything to confirm his position. Suspension of disbelieve was apparently effective for him in political matters, as well.

I think this is where suspension of disbelief needs to reach its limit.

We have an unbelievable amount of information available to us in a moment! Want to prove that Mary Ann and the professor were not mentioned in the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island? Just go to your phone while you wait for your appetizers at Applebee’s. (By the way, they weren’t.)

When I was in school, the access to information was limited and it took a weekend at the library to just get your sources for a paper. But at least there seemed to be some agreement in our sources. It made high school debate far easier than I imagine it would be today. Today, competitive debate must be a frustrating matter of validating the authenticity of a source and its authority on a matter as much as actually convincing the judge that your point is valid.

We can no longer accept that something is true just because it’s been written or said. Nor can we accept that the source is valid and qualified. Imagine Kim Kardashian telling everyone on Twitter that eating too much yogurt was bad for your health. Now, if she wanted to convince everyone of the advantages and disadvantages of bubble butts and having children with a rap star, I’d be willing to listen – if I were interested.

I believe we have a great burden to be discerning about the information we accept as truth and at least determine the value we give it. We also have a responsibility when we choose to share this information as truth. Are you sharing a pretty photo with honest disqualification or are you sharing a photo with an incorrect caption of crying children with everyone you know and suggesting that the current administration is just like the government who designed and carried out a massive genocide?

The Twitter commentator was wrong. It does matter.

1df3c18682ea9f107605b56d7bd2b703At the trial of Christ, Pilate said, “What is truth?” To a child of God, truth becomes infinitely more important. Suspend your disbelief to enjoy a pretty picture or enjoy a science fiction movie. Choose to believe unqualified and unsubstantiated political facts if you want. But for the Christian, truth is clear and non-negotiable. It cannot be bent or compromised

And this is a scary place to be. Religion is rife with misunderstanding, poor translations, socially misused quotes. We’ve grown up hearing that money is the root of all evil, which is ironic because Jesus talked about money quite a bit in the New Testament, advising us to be wise in the use of money and means to prosperity – enough so that some preachers have made a lot of money selling books on how to claim your own prosperity in the name of Jesus. In fact, the Word tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” The bottom line: Money is fine. Making money is fine. Using money is fine. Just be careful about how you feel about having money.

right and almost rightChrist was was very clear about truth. In John 14:6  Jesus declared,“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The way is narrow, the price of entry was high but paid in full by Christ, and entry is difficult: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25 NIV. And, no, this doesn’t negate the point I made about money earlier. It’s simply that someone will not enter the kingdom of God with wealth – unless he believes that Christ is who he says he is – the Son of God. And God has a lot to say about what we meditate on, how we’re to live and what we should believe.

In keeping with the topic of ambiguity, I offer this:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Ironically, there’s a great deal of debate as to who said this. It’s up to us to be discerning. Do the research, check your sources, question everything if necessary.

And if you want to enjoy a picture whether or not it’s altered and if you want to embrace a political opinion regardless of documentation, go ahead! That’s on you. Just be cautious when it comes to the things you believe and embrace when it comes to the kingdom of God because the truth matters.

 

 

Did the Grinch Steal Your Christmas?

I usually start out the holiday season (the no-I’m-not trying-to-be-politically-correct – from-Thanksgiving-to-New Year “holiday season”) like this:

elfI want the house to look festive. I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to watch all the classic Christmas movies from A Christmas Story to Die Hard while I’m curled up on the couch with my family, a warm blanket and a big bowl of popcorn. I want to play Christmas music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter to the Muppet’s’ unique take on The Twelve Days of Christmas or (my personal favorite) Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey. I want to write the coolest Christmas letter to our family and friends, and get it mailed early!

But my Christmas letter turns into a New Year letter. If I hear Harry Belafonte sing Twelve Days of Christmas one more time, I’ll scream. (Actually, If I have to hear anyone stretch out “five go-old rings” through seven verses, I’ll scream!) My husband and I are too tired to stay up for a movie, and I’ve barely seen my daughter since the beginning of school break. The cookies and candy? Well…I’ve got the ingredients but got lost on Pinterest looking for the right recipe. And the house? Not bad, but the spare room is full of boxes – at least the ones that got into the room. One of the cats is using a partially-emptied tote for a bed and an unfinished wreath rests against the table by my chair. The cats seem to enjoy the way the fake needles massage their coats as they walk through the middle of it.

I am not Martha Stewart.

I think I love the idea of Christmas; but to be completely honest, Christmas really, really stresses me out! My husband and I have yet to go into the season with any money set aside for gifts, and John and I have gone through 21 Christmases with very different ideas on how much we should spend. And gift-giving of any sort gives me anxiety because I could never buy the right thing for my mother. (It’s okay – I’ve talked to my therapist about it.) I’m confident that most people probably have someone like that in their family; and if they don’t think they do, then they’re probably that person.

One year, I thought I had it nailed! My mother told me she would like one of two books – Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne: My Life as a Woman or the newest book from Robert Schuller. I chose Robert Schuller’s book because I thought it would be inspirational. When she opened it, she was quiet for a bit, then she set it aside without a word.

“Did I get the right one?” I asked.

“It’s fine.”

“You said you wanted that one or the one by Roseanne Barr, right? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Well, I wanted Roseanne’s book.”

No “thank you” at all. I’d failed again. That sort of track record leaves you a little anxious about getting anyone the “perfect” gift.

I am not Santa, either!

grinch and maxAll of the “forced festivity” is enough to turn a girl into a Grinch! You’re buying things for people you wouldn’t ordinarily buy something for – Secret Santa’s, the mail carrier, the paper carrier, the woman who does your hair! How much is enough? How much is too much? If you get it on sale, does the original price count or does the sale price count? Are you re-gifting something  to the person who gave it to you last year? Does it count if it’s handmade? Do the bag and card count as part of the price or not? What happens when you get a “surprise” gift and (naturally) have to find a gift of equal value to reciprocate? What on Earth made anyone actually think you liked ceramic turtles?! (Well, you’re a bona fide collector now, Sweetie! You’re welcome.) Your kids – bless their little hearts – understand that you can’t afford the latest electronic doo-hickey. They’ll just ask Santa for it. Fine! Maybe Santa can pay for the new tires we need for the car, too!

There are three groups of people my shriveled Grinch heart really goes out to:

  • The introverts who are expected to spend all their free time in the foreseeable future in the company of extroverts.
  • The hostesses who end up stuck in the kitchen cleaning up after a big family feast that took two days to prepare and 20 minutes to consume!
  • Those who are trying to work their way through the holidays while bearing true substantial loss of a family member. (This is a special group that has a place in my heart like no other and deserves the dignity of being mentioned but not included in an honestly superficial rant like this.)

Is this really what Christmas is all about?

first christmasNo. No, it’s not. We know this going into Christmas, don’t we? Cognitively, we know it’s about the fulfilled promise of God and the baby in the manger. Even the folks who only go to church for Easter, Christmas and the occasional baptism or wedding know what Christmas is really about!

But we fall for the guilt, pressure and commercialism every year, don’t we? No one wants to be left out during a gift exchange, even if we don’t need another thing and probably won’t score anything all that special anyway. Is it any wonder we end up at least a little disappointed when we go into Christmas feeling like Elf and finish feeling like the Grinch. The version of the holidays that we buy into has the potential to rob us of our joy.

For me, the worst part is that I let it happen. I could set a monetary limit and stick to it. I could tell my friends and coworkers that I prefer to not participate in group gift exchanges because I don’t want to take on more debt. I could budget my time the same way by carefully choosing which get-togethers I prefer to attend, then balance them with the time I need to be alone with my family at home. At least my generation is beginning to appreciate the freedom of slow cookers and ready-made dishes that allow us time to spend with the ones we love – or are at least related to. Stressful food preparation no longer defines our womanhood. Much.

Christmas is about God offering “tidings of comfort and joy”, and here I am worn out and bitter. It’s about hope, but I’m freaking out about how much debt we’re accumulating. It’s about peace, and I’m cranky. It’s about liberation, and I feel trapped by social constructs. It’s about pardon, and I feel indebted. It’s about inclusion, and I hear story after story of family strife.

wreath crownChristmas is about eternal matters that cannot be measured or limited, and my focus is on resources that are finite and exhaustible – time, money and energy. I allow these things to take priority in my life while I struggle to keep alive a now, very small corner of my faith.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll find some balance that will allow me to enjoy the best of the holidays. Bless all of you who come alive and are in your element during the holidays! Personally, I’m relieved that Christmas only comes once a year. It comes and it goes. But the Kingdom on which the birth of Christ is built is with me all year long.  Now, that is a gift worth keeping!

“What is the scent of water?”
“Renewal. The goodness of God coming down like dew.”

Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water

4bb5ed66f2b2af7ef3be8d4887869ce0

I can’t do everything I want to do right now. Sometimes, I barely have the resources to do what I must do. Both energy and money seem to be in short supply. It frustrates me to feel so limited. I’m tired and I’m weary.

I make a list of things I think I need: more sleep, more money, more time, more energy, more patience, more support, more faith. I need a break. We all do from time to time, right?

Do you think Jesus ever needed a break? All. The. Time! How else could he have slept through a storm tossing his boat in a storm as we see in Matthew 8:24?

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.”

Everywhere he went, people wanted his attention, his company. They wanted to hear his voice, to be encouraged, to be healed, to get healing for someone else. The Pharisees were around the corners waiting for a chance to trip him up in some discrepancy in his teaching. And we think it’s hard to hear, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!”. Even his own disciples vied for a seat next to him in Heaven and had to have the meaning of his parables and cryptic pronouncements carefully explained to them in the simplest terms occasionally.

And I think Jesus was generally a pretty neat guy to be around. He was the man you wanted at your wedding, the guy you invited to stay in your home. He had God’s favor on him. I’ve often considered what his laugh must have been like. After all, this was Emmanuel – God with us – the embodiment of love and joy itself. His laugh must have been full and infectious!

So, yes, I’m sure Jesus needed a break from time to time – just like we do. And we hc6f92e248fe1cf9e96afc65972332acaave access to the same source of renewal that he had available. The same God who got Christ through his ministry, death and resurrection is the same God who is ready to renew our spirits, our minds, and our bodies.

So lift your head and ask your Father to enlighten, strengthen, mend, bind, heal and revive you for His glory. He’ll give you the break you need today. In fact, challenge Him to send something your way that shows you that it is uniquely for you – something that will make you smile and know it’s from the Father who knows exactly what you need!

And remember…it doesn’t have to be perfect to be powerful, and it doesn’t have to be pretty to be progress!

 

LET IT GO!

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Of all the four seasons, I enjoy Autumn most of all because it’s the season that welcomes everyone back into their home to spend longer evenings with family, friends or a good book.

Hal Borland was an American author, journalist and naturalist. (No, he’s is not the brother of Al Borland from “Tool Time.”) I like to think of him as a “season specialist.” He found a way of finding wonder and wisdom in the different seasons and the constant transformation of nature.

Now that we’re officially in Autumn, trees have been in a glorious survival mode for a few weeks already. But what a amazing show before Autumn is done!

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Did you know that leaves don’t just fall off? Growing up, I assumed they did – I mean, it is FALL after all. Leaves, in fact, are actually pushed off by the tree. It’s the only way the tree will survive the winter. We could learn a lot from trees.

Right now, trees are letting go of anything that would make survival during winter harder. If they were to keep their leaves, the added weight of the snow would break their branches.

We don’t know what Winter will be like here in Minnesota this year – when it will start to snow, how much it will snow, how much snow will melt in between snowfalls, or when it will stop snowing for the season. That’s how seasons often are – we have some idea of what to expect, but we can never be certain, can we? The only two things we can be certain of is that Winter will begin and Winter will end. Although that sounds simplistic to the point of being condescending, we often seem surprised by its arrival and disappointed that it’s not over soon enough.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

8f0ca2121e047e9f93401eea082fd846We each have seasons in our lives, as well – some easy, some challenging; some pleasant, some painful. I believe there are a few truths of seasons, whether in nature or in our personal lives.

They’re inevitable.

They’re temporary.

They’re transformational.

But most of all, they’re transitional. Just as Autumn is sandwiched in between Summer and Winter, the season you’re going through will pass in time. (True, it might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass!)

The key to surviving your particular season is to let go of anything that doesn’t help you through it. What are you holding onto that you need to let go of in order to survive the challenging season ahead – a season of financial change, a season of poor health, a season of grief, a season of busyness, a season of disappointment?

Let go of habits that are robbing you of your time and energy. Release people from your unforgiveness. Delegate responsibility. Ask for help. Free yourself from unrealistic expectations. Use paper plates! (Not all changes need to be grand and philosophical, you know.)

Take time to find beauty in your season. It’s there somewhere! Even in the midst of death in Autumn, trees look like blazing flames atop a match, the leaves change color and fall to carpet the Earth in gold, red and orange.

Autumn also provides a new view. Hal Borland recognized that “October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.” The season in which everything seems to die also allows us to see everything that was obscured by foliage during the summer!

So while seasons are an inevitable part of nature and our lives, they can be survived. Beauty can be found in those changes. And, ultimately, what lies dormant will bring forth life in its time. All we need to do is prepare for it, be patient as we move through it and trust that this season may just be what we need to see God’s faithfulness in the next season.

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“One day you will look back on this season and know that you are truly blessed, and not because things were perfect but because you found perfect grace in the worst of it.”

~Morgan Harper Nichols

 

 

 

PAIN IN HIS PLAN

I’ve struggled with this post. I even deleted it after I posted it once. I worried that it was too whiny. But it’s honest, and I know I can’t be the only Christian out there who has felt this way. And I know that God can use times like this to draw us closer to him. So here goes….

The last month has been a lesson for me in trusting God and God only. My husband had been unemployed for over two months and had failed to qualify for unemployment benefits yet. I was out of of options and found myself in a situation that I absolutely could not manipulate, adjust or change at all. And I felt I had no one to turn to because I wanted to honor my husband and not shame him, but he was quite frankly contributing to my sense of helplessness. That left me alone with God to be my comfort and help. Which is fine, except that I really needed to hear someone tell me everything would be fine.

So I prayed for my husband to overcome whatever was holding him back from doing what he needed to do for his family. I prayed for myself to have peace and patience while I waited. I prayed for God to make a way. I was holding out hope that not only would my husband finally get qualified for unemployment benefits, but that we would receive the lost weeks of benefits as well. I knew God could make a way, and I hoped that He would be abundant since our resources were thinning out quickly. (It’s comforting to have money as a back-up plan, isn’t it? But God was weaning me from depending on anything but Him, it seemed.)

Well, God didn’t show off with abundance; it was more like daily bread. My husband got approved for unemployment, but only for that week going forward.

I struggled with this for over a week. Knowing that I had no control over the situation, I had trusted my husband to do what he could. Now I love him dearly, but in this moment, he wasn’t really hadn’t been a source of comfort. For two months, he allowed the situation to deteriorate. I had continued to put my trust in a God who promised He could redeem situations. When He gave sufficiency instead of abundance, I felt let down. I felt like God didn’t want to do what I knew He could do for me. I questioned His love for me. I had needed to see His power, His blessing, His unquestionable presence. I desperately needed to know that He would take care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself and I didn’t have anyone else I could rely on, and I felt He had done only what He absolutely had to in order to be faithful.

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But, His provision had been sufficient. The next need was for full-time employment for my husband. Again, God answered with sufficiency. He will start a part-time job with no benefits in a week.

Through all of this, I’ve asked God to help me see things the way He sees them – me, our resources, my family, our situations, Himself. I believe He’s doing that, but it’s painful. God’s showing me that his grace is sufficient, and that “sufficient” isn’t a bad thing. But more significantly, He’s knocking down the support beams I built myself in order to make room for the support beams I believe He wants to provide – stronger and more dependable, more eternal. But demolition is painful and scary.

afb1629838ea1fc4119011f85ba367eaAll the support I’ve depended on throughout my life has been shaky with a poor foundation, but I’ve clung to it desperately because it is all I’ve had. My trust in others has been tenuous at best. My trust in an intangible God who shows grace always and anyway? There’s the challenge. But what an amazing foundation to build my faith on if I can only hold on during the necessary demolition!

 

ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED IN GOD?

I wish my faith in God was more consistent. I struggle with putting my confidence in Him because I can’t seem to separate how I see Him and how I see other people.

When you’re in relationship with people, you need to trust them. And people can be so disappointing. We’re not perfect, we’re often selfish, and I think disappointment can be expected. But what do you do when you’re disappointed in God?

It seems so wrong to admit that I’m disappointed in my heavenly Father, but I am. I’ve been trusting Him to come through in spite of the failure of anyone else. I’ve believed that He could redeem what’s been lost. I’ve tried to trust that He could not only meet my needs, but exceed them. Yesterday, I was relieved to learn that He met my needs, but that was it.

I’ve been at a low point, needing to see God work in my life. I’ve prayed fervently for even a small hint that I could count on Him to take care of me when I felt no one else was. That’s the way it should work, right? Even if the world fails you, you can trust in God when you’re His child?

Consistently, His word tells us to take heart and be confident in Him. We’re told that He will never leave us or forsake us. Then why do I feel so disappointed in Him?

I think my disappointment comes from having a different idea of what I need than God has.

Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds me that “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

This requires me to make a shift from trusting in what God can do to trusting in who God is. For me, the two have been the same. If God loved me, I reasoned, He wouldn’t let me be uncomfortable, scared or depressed. He would meet the needs I believe I have – namely, financial.

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The needs I see for myself are physical – food, shelter, employment, clothing. I see bills that need to be paid. But God’s thoughts and plans are higher and longer-term than ours. My thoughts are also far more self-focused. I don’t know what His plans are, but I’m certain they’re far more extensive than mine. They may even require my discouragement in order to get me where He needs me to be – as opposed to where I want to be.

I also need to change how I see myself. I’ve been so focused on how entitled I was. And because I felt entitled, I was disappointed. I can’t let disappointment define me or someone else. God hasn’t called me to pass judgment or to sentence someone else for disappointing me. He has called me to have a heart after His own, one that requires love and forgiveness. And it requires that I trust in His plan even when I don’t understand it or it doesn’t seem to serve my needs.

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DROWNING IN DOUBT

I’m so glad the Gospel includes the disciples.  Especially Peter.

I had a “Peter” week last week, and what a roller coaster it was! My last post was bold and brave. The next evening, I cried in doubt and insecurity. Where I had been confident of God’s provision, I became anxious. Where I had felt strong, I became insecure.

Long after my work-week bedtime, I stayed up crying, frustrated with God and His timing. Long-story, short, our family is struggling financially. My husband has been unemployed for a little over two months and his unemployment funds haven’t been released to him yet. We’ve been relying on what little retirement funds he had to pay bills that were already mounting heavily for us. We have no savings. His retirement is the last of our financial resources, and finding employment suited for my husband has become a challenge.

I’ve been trusting God to help us,  believing that He will provide. I would love to say I have a steadfast faith, but I don’t yet. Although I’ve found that I’m far more resilient than I have been in the past.

So Wednesday I stepped out of the boat in faith. I decided to focus on Jesus and trust in his word to see us through this trial. I wouldn’t focus on my circumstances. My faith was strong, and I wanted to be used mightily by God to encourage other children of God to be strong, too. By Thursday night, I was frustrated and, honestly, a bit angry with God.

I had been trusting that not only would our needs be met. I even dared to believe that we might actually experience abundance. Now, I was simply hoping that we would get the unemployment funds that my husband was entitled to. What kind of God withholds what little is owed to us? Where’s the victory in that? How does our lacking provide a testimony to His greatness? Why wasn’t my faithfulness being rewarded? Does God even care?

And as I sat in the dark of my living room, crying, doubting God, I began to sink into despair just as Peter sank into the sea when he looked out on the intimidating waves. ‘This is ridiculous,’ I decided. ‘Who was I to think I could step out in faith and not drown? Look at all that surrounds me!’

Fortunately, Christ is patient with our doubt. He is patient and compassionate when we act like Peter. Peter was the first to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, the messiah. He was bold and outspoken. He stepped out in faith and then sank. He vowed to never deny Christ, then denied him three times. He defended his Lord with a sword only to learn that Jesus didn’t approve of his methods. He believed in Christ’s divinity and then heard, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’

But! But Jesus knew Peter’s heart and saw his potential. In Luke 22, we find Christ understanding Peter in ways that Peter doesn’t even see himself:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (31 – 34)

What I love about this passage is not just that Jesus knows that Peter will fail him, but that he knows that Peter will “turn back” and strengthen his brothers. He knows that Peter will repent and return. And He knows that upon his return, Peter will be strong enough in his convictions and faith that he will encourage and strengthen his brothers. After he denies him. He doesn’t count Peter out for failing Him; he counts on Peter’s return.

I think our great Intercessor knows that we will fail Him. He knows we’ll step out in faith, only to step back in fear and self-preservation. He also knows that we have the potential to develop resilience and come back to Him stronger. And he never stops loving us. He always welcomes us back with compassion and forgiveness.

I think if Peter had had a second opportunity to walk to Jesus on top of turbulent waves, he would have given it another shot. I also think he would have started sinking again – although not as soon as he did the first time. So today I pick myself up, dry my tears and humbly repent and return to my Savior – still wet from the water, but a bit stronger in my faith as Christ reaches out to pull me up saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 31)

And, like Peter, I am returning to my blog to encourage you to not give up faith. It is my prayer that each time we fail, we repent and return stronger in our faith. I pray that we allow God to work through our weaknesses and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, empower us to soldier on. Jesus is there to immediately reach out His hand to catch us. We have only to call out to Him.