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Friday, January 28, 2011

There's Bad News and Good News

This morning I received some bad news through an e-mail from a sweet friend.

Then I got some good news through a Letter from an even better Friend.

Bad news first.

I found out that a dear friend is once again struggling with a crippling addiction...one we had hoped he had been delivered from....one he had stayed clean from for a long length of time...one he must defeat in order to live victoriously...a dangerous one.

This was discouraging news because I could sense from the e-mail that hope is tiny right now, defeat looms large. It's discouraging because by the time you've struggled with something so big for so long you begin to wonder if it's ever going to end. You wonder if you have what it takes. You wonder why it doesn't seem to get any easier.

Bad news. 

But then I read the good news. Well, at first it may not seem like good news, but I know the end of the story. So it is good.

"Thus says the Lord God of Israel:
'Let My people go...'"
Exodus 5:1

And Pharoah said,
"Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice
to let Israel go?
I do not know the Lord, 
nor will I let Israel go."
Exodus 5:2

"Let more work be laid on the men,
that they may labor in it,
and let them not regard false words."
(said Pharaoh to the taskmasters)
Exodus 5:9

So Moses returned to the Lord and said,
"Lord, why have You brought trouble
on this people?
Why is it You have sent me?
For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name,
he has done evil to this people;
neither have You delivered 
Your people at all."
Exodus 5:22-23

Then the Lord said to Moses,
"Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh.
For with a strong hand he will let them go,
and with a strong hand he will
drive them out of his land."
Exodus 6:1

"Therefore say to the children of Israel:
'I am the Lord;
I will bring you out 
from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
I will rescue you 
from their bondage,
and I will redeem you 
with an outstretched arm
and with great judgments.
I will take you as My people, 
and I will be your God.
Then you shall know that I am 
the Lord Your God 
who brings you out from under
the burdens of the Egyptians.
Exodus 6:6-7

Deliverance was no easy accomplishment for the people of Israel. They couldn't deliver themselves. Moses or Aaron couldn't deliver them. And Pharaoh wouldn't just let them go. In fact, the more Moses tried to convince Pharaoh to release them from their bondage, the tighter he held on and the worse life got for the captives.

It tends to be that way when we try to escape from our places of bondage too. Whether we're chained to the refrigerator, a bottle, an Internet site, a person, or a piece of plastic that fits so nicely into our wallet, it's not easy to get free.

In fact, we can't free ourselves. There is no person, book, self-help program, weekly meeting or clinic that can truly get us free either. Those things can do their part, just as Moses and Aaron did, but they can't sever the chains that bind us.

When God sets us free, it's usually when we've reached the bottom, cried out in desperation, stopped counting on anyone or anything else, and put down all our own devices. That's when He steps in and does something bigger (think Passover, packing up with the Egyptians' blessings and possessions, and high tailing it out of there!) than we'd ever expected. He amazes, astounds, and truly puts the enemy away (think drowning in the Red Sea). Then, when we're really free and we're looking back at the debris dumbfounded, we can't help but scratch our heads and acknowledge, "He is the Lord my God who brings me out from under the burdens of my captor" (think Exodus 6:7 above).

Bad news? If you're held captive by something, whatever that may be, it will not be easy to get out. (Please don't buy into the enemy's lies - that you're the only one who can't get out, that it's impossible to get out, that you're doomed.) 

Good news? We have a big God who is faithful and able to bring us out of the most debilitating places of bondage. He will not give you up. Don't you give up either.

And so I'm not giving up on my friend. I'm praying for God to do a mighty work in his life. Would you please take just a moment to pray for him too? God knows who he is; he belongs to God. But he needs to be set free from his captor. Please pray for him and his family. Thanks so much sweet friend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Didn't Mean To!

My kids know that one of my big pet peeves is the response, "I didn't mean to." Now I'm ok with this common excuse if, say, an otherwise observant and considerate person very accidentally bumps into someone they truly were unaware of. For instance, if you've been standing in line at the librarian's desk all by yourself and then you engage in conversation with said librarian and meanwhile someone very quietly comes up and stands right behind you and when you turn around to go hunt for your book you quite accidentally bump into this stealth line stander, that is understandable. At that point, an "Oops. Excuse me; I didn't mean to bump into you" would be quite appropriate.

But if I were to tell my English-major mother, "Oops. I didn't mean to write such a long run-on sentence in the paragraph above," that would not be acceptable. To me or my mother. (Neither would that sentence fragment, by the way.)

When you've been taught something, warned about something, made aware of something, you don't get to use the excuse, "I didn't mean to."

When you have spell check, calculators, online dictionaries, and printed directions at your disposal, you don't get to explain away your mistakes with, "I didn't mean to."

And when you're given plenty of time, ample resources, huge doses of encouragement and assistance, and even special allowances, you just can't throw all that grace back in one's face and say, "Well I didn't mean to."

Because my response will always be (just ask my kids), "It's not enough to not mean to; you need to mean not to."

Fortunately for me, while my retort may come off sounding somewhat intolerant and ungracious, the Bible actually backs me up on this one.

Let your eyes look straight ahead, 
and your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
and let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:25-27, NKJ)

My translation? "Mean to or mean not to, but be intentional and not apologetic."

My kids have gotten in trouble for everything from not meaning to leave their clothes in the floor to not meaning to not say good morning. Just how do you not mean to not say good morning?

But truthfully, I've used this excuse in some lousy ways too. I've not meant to skip my daily Bible reading, not meant to leave someone out, not meant to lose my temper, not meant to watch television instead of working, and not meant to eat so much. Maybe I really did mean to do just the opposite in each of those cases, but I must not have meant it enough -- enough to actually follow through, stick to my plan, and do the thing right.

The Bible teaches us not to pave our paths with good intentions, but to walk in heartfelt obedience instead. We need to know the path of righteousness and, by the grace of God and out of love for Him, stay on it. 

According to Proverbs 4:26, we're wise to think about what we do and say carefully, ahead of time. We should establish a plan for how to live and intentionally carry that plan out. We need to know our weaknesses, our tendencies to pull to the right or the left (Proverbs 4:27), and make some plans to steer a straighter course.

For me that means I have to make a more concentrated effort to be considerate of others (I can get a little self-absorbed), to stay on task (I'm easily distracted), to eat healthy foods (I gravitate toward fats and more fats), and to speak quietly (my voice tends to rise as the conversation goes on). And when I mess up and veer to the right or the left? Then I need to steer clear of "I didn't mean to" and fess up to my mistake. I need to own my flaw and get back on the right path with a sincere apology.

I just want my daughter to mean not to leave her dishes in my office for now. But in the long run, I'm hoping I instill in her that not meaning to just isn't enough of a reason for repeated offenses. We've got to get serious and mean not to. Otherwise our lives just turn into one big, lousy excuse.

If you are to follow the advice of Proverbs 4:26 and really "mean not to" do the things that keep tripping you up, what will that mean for you? What have you been making excuses for that you just need to get real about and address head on?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Prayer Request

I've been a little sporadic on the blog scene recently because I've spent a lot of time taking my husband back and forth to a doctor in Tucson. Today we go back again, this time for surgery.

So I simply ask anyone reading today to pause and say a short prayer for James:
  • For skill and accuracy from the surgeon
  • for tenderness and compassion from the nurses and staff
  • for smooth travel to Tucson and back
  • for patience and tenderness from me
  • for a quick recovery.
Thanks so much for your prayers. They are the most important thing you can do for us.
Bless  you!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Imperfect Waiting; Perfect Timing

How many times have we all sat in a Bible study or Sunday school class and agreed that yes, God's timing is perfect? We nod our heads and remember back to all those times when we have waited and prayed and anticipated, only for God to delay the answer to our requests until just the perfect time. And we concur that it is good, very good, just as it should be.


The truth is, I hate waiting for God's perfect timing. It's absolutely no fun to wait and wait and wait, to almost give up and then somehow be re-energized enough to wait some more.

In the waiting I get confused, dismayed. I try to figure out where things went wrong, what I did wrong, what I could do differently, why others don't cooperate, how I could speed things up, if God really even cares, even notices.

But while I'm doing all that stewing and fussing, God is...good, still in control, working His perfect plan, growing me up, working in places I can't even see, orchestrating a much more thrilling story with a much more amazing ending.

Such was the case with Joseph while he continued working in a government prison day after day, year after year, for a crime he hadn't committed:

"But remember me when it is well with you, 
and please show kindness to me; 
make mention of me to Pharaoh, 
and get me out of this house. 
For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; 
and also I have done nothing here that 
they should put me into the dungeon."
(Genesis 40:14-15)

Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph; 
but forgot him.
(Genesis 40:23)

Eventually Joseph did get out of that dungeon, in God's perfect timing. And the Bible tells us nothing of Joseph fretting or worrying or growing anxious or despondent. Maybe he didn't. But in these few verses I see him doing what I often do while waiting on God -- trying to fix the situation himself, trying to move things along, trying to help God out. And yet, at least for now, it doesn't work.

I can only imagine that as the days passed immediately after Pharaoh's birthday party when the butler was reinstated just as Joseph had predicted, that Joseph waited day after day with a fading hope. 

I've experienced that fading hope, too. Haven't you? When some little something happens and you think, "This is it! This is the key that will finally unlock the door!" 

But it's not.

Because ultimately God alone holds that key.

Here's the bottom line. I don't like the waiting. I don't think I ever will. My husband who is lying flat on his back with extreme back pain will surely concur that the waiting is absolutely no fun. It's not even pleasant.

But I still love the fact that I can trust my God in the waiting. I can know that He is working, even when I can see absolutely no evidence of any progress. He is good and He is with me in the waiting.

And one day, in one fashion or another, He will move. He will make things happen for my good.

Then it came to pass, 
at the end of two full years,
that Pharaoh had a dream...
(Genesis 41:1)

Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh,
saying, "I remember my faults this day.
When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, 
and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard,
both me and the chief baker, 
we each had a dream in one night,
he and I.
Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream.
Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there..."
(Genesis 41:9-12a)

Ah, God's perfect timing. For Joseph would be released just when Pharoah was in need of a little wisdom, a little divine intelligence. And Joseph would go from the jail keeper to ruler in one amazing leap. And we would all take notice of this young man's dilemma, his lengthy wait, and his divine deliverance for years to come. And we would be encouraged. And God--not the butler, not Joseph, not luck, not smart manipulation--would be glorified.

May God chip away at our imperfections as we wait...and wait and wait. Waiting is no fun. But may He receive loads of glory when, at just the right time, He reveals His divine plan. It's always worth the wait to receive God's perfect timing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That's Some Wild Beast Alright!

Remember the story of Hester Prynne and her Scarlett Letter? Because she had borne a child from someone other than her husband she was required by her Puritan community to wear the red A on the front of her dress as a constant reminder of her sin.

I would need a green J.

Pure, unadulterated jealousy (now there's an oxymoron for ya!) is one of my constant foes. I have to fight it off most every day and I hate to confess how many times I've lost the battle to this green monster.

According to Genesis 37, part of my daily Bible reading for this Tuesday, that same green monster landed Joseph, the favored son of Israel, in the bottom of a pit before he was eventually sold into slavery. His brothers had had it up to here with his uppity dreams, his rainbow robe, and his incessant tattling. But undoubtedly the final green fur ball that made their own green monsters come alive was the favor he consistently received from his dad, their dad.

And that's usually the final fur ball in my nasty, monstrous behavior as well. Someone else, well-deserving or not, gets something I long for desperately.
  • a fellow forty-something mom finally loses her "baby weight" while I'm still stuffing my face trying to get rid of mine 17 years later.
  • another mom/housewife/freelance writer gets her book published by a real publisher who gets on her band wagon and toots their horn for her while I'm still tooting my own for my self-published books.
  • my friend's husband takes her on a Caribbean cruise while mine takes me to Tucson.
  • my long-distance friend downloads pictures of her grand house with acreage and a pond and I sweep my whole back yard with a broom in 10 minutes tops.
  • my other Facebook friends post their splendid weekend plans - hike the Grand Canyon, run a marathon, shop til ya drop, mani-pedi, you name it - and I read all about it in between trips to the laundry room.
Oooh! Do you see the green goo oozing from these examples? And obviously it doesn't take much to turn me from a pleasant beigey pink to a startling green. Deplorable, that's what it is!

Please tell me you occasionally battle this ugly green monster, too. Maybe not over the same petty jealousies that lurk inside of me, but don't you get a little green with envy every now and then?

Here's what I think causes this pea green monster to lift its ugly head and breathe its foul green breath into my nostrils:
  • My own insecurities. On the days when I know who I am and whose I am I tend to stay a lot pinker. Princesses aren't intimidated by others' crowning achievements, but princesses who have misplaced their own tiaras are!
  • My ungrateful heart. When it's been a while since I've counted my blessings I tend to operate like I have a negative balance. All it takes is a quick look in my own blessed account to see that "my cup overflows."
  • My unbridled ambition. The desire to be the best I can be is no problem. But when I start desiring to be the best anyone can be, the best there is, the best in the world, bwa ha ha! ...now that's a tiny little problem... you think I'm exaggerating... sadly, you don't know me very well... it's really sad...
  • My desire to please. Others, that is, not God. When I turn my allegiance from pleasing God to pleasing others I turn into a very bad-behaving Miss Congeniality who's happy as long as everyone is fawning over me but miserable when someone else is getting even an ounce of the attention.
Oh my word, I can't believe I just told you all of that, all four of you! But they say confession is good for the soul, so...

But I didn't just confess all to get a little relief from my green hue. I don't want to settle for a pale green instead of a gory, dark olive. I want to rip that green J off my chest once and for all. So here's what I plan to do:
  1. Rejoice daily in who I am in Christ Jesus. He made me just so for His purposes. He has great plans for me too. They may not include trips to the Caribbean or a pond in my backyard, but He's been taking me on a wild and thrilling ride for over 40 years now and I wouldn't trade it for anything. He is my Beloved and I am His.
  2. Count my many blessings, name them one by one. A grateful heart is sweet and pink. That's the goal.
  3. Aim for one thing only, to please my Lord. No selfish ambition or vain glories. Instead I'll strive for the applause from an audience of One. 
  4. Celebrate others. Sometimes it may take a little effort on my part, but when I jump in other peoples' parades and toot my horn for them instead of for myself, it gets easier with every beat of the drum. I'm going to be glad for the friend that loses weight, enjoy those photos on Facebook, and send my friend off on her cruise with a cheerful "bon voyage!" 
If you have a little green monster that comes out (or rises up within!) occasionally,  maybe these little tips will work for you too.

Before I leave, here's what I thought was humorous about my reading today:

Now when they (the jealous brothers)saw him (Joseph)
afar off, even before he came near them,
they conspired against him to kill him. 
Then they said to one another,
"Look, this dreamer is coming!
Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; 
and we shall say,
'Some wild beast has devoured him.'
(Genesis 37:18-20)

Some wild beast indeed!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's In a Name?

Life has been a little out of whack lately because my husband's back has been extremely out of whack. Turns out he has a couple of ruptured discs and may be looking at surgery very soon. That's why this past week I spent a lot of time looking at books and magazines in waiting rooms (ER, neurosurgeon's office, MRI office, pharmacists, etc.) instead of looking at my computer screen in my office. Oh well... God is in control.

That's why this morning I'm going with the passage I read from Psalms, with the hope that it will jump start my day onto a better track. I know it will because God moves in when we praise Him! And He is worthy to be praised!

I will praise You, O Lord, 
with my whole heart;
I will tell of all Your marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in You;
I will sing praise to Your name,
O Most High.
(Psalm 9:1-2)

  • I will praise Jehovah-jireh because He has provided all our needs, including good friends, a trustworthy doctor, money to pay for medicine (since there's been a glitch with our insurance), and compassionate EMTs who started a morphine drip here at the house before transporting James to the ER.
  • I will praise El Elyon because we can trust that He is still in control when everything else feels out of control. He has not been taken by surprise with any of our latest events.
  • I will praise Jehovah-shalom because He has given us peace in the whirlwind.
  • I will praise Jehovah-rapha because He alone is able to heal James' back. Oh how we need Him!
  • I will praise Jehovah-shammah because He has certainly been with us every step of the way. I know He was with me as I drove back and forth to Tucson with my carsick passenger several times.
  • I will praise El Roi because He knew what was wrong with James' back even before the MRI showed it to the doctor. He is the God Who Sees and when can trust Him to see all that we are going through.
  • I will praise El Shaddai because He is sufficient to carry our burden, to ease our pain, to give us strength, and to grant us rest. He is more than enough.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow. He is good.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Meeting

I had a meeting this morning -- me, myself, and I. We talked some things over and got nowhere fast. We had some great ideas, but I shot them down pretty quickly because I know myself pretty well and I knew they wouldn't work for me either.

After a while, I conferred with my mother. I liked what she had to say, but knew her ideas would work better for someone like her and not so much for someone like me. As for myself, I'd have to give her suggestions some more thought, but I don't see me having much success with her plans.

Next, I brought my friend into the discussion. She's usually pretty wise and also knows me pretty well, sometimes even better than I know myself. Like my mom, she gave me some good suggestions for solving my dilemma, but I don't know if I can make her ideas work for myself.

In the end, me, myself, and I continued on with our deliberations even after I had excused my mother and my friend from the board room, telling them to simply let me work this one out for myself.

Then, there was an "ahem...." from the back of the room -- a quiet, almost unnoticeable movement from the dark corner of the conference room. Had I invited someone else to the meeting and forgotten to acknowledge them? As for myself, I thought there was no one left in the room except for me.

"Excuse Me," said the quiet and gentle voice from the shadows. "We talked for a few minutes over breakfast this morning. Remember?"

I thought this over and barely remembered that indeed Someone else did have breakfast with me. But that was a breakfast meeting, a sort of friendly social thing, if you will. It was time to conduct the business of the day now. Hadn't He left already?

"If you'll remember, I gave you a Word this morning," the shadow said to me, still gently, but a little more insistent that I listen.

"Well," I responded hesitantly, "I remember You said a lot of things, mostly about Abraham and Sarah and Isaac. And then there was that stuff about Peter and his mom. Not much that had to do with me, as I recall."

"Think harder," the voice responded. "Actually, all that stuff about Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Peter had to do with you, too. But I think I recall you actually perking up and listening about the time I spoke to you from the Proverbs. Do you remember now?"

I thought to myself, trying hard to remember if anything He had said had really resonated with me. Then it came to me.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths."
Proverbs 3:5,6 - NKJ

And I got.

"God, is that you? Are you still here? I didn't realize You were going to stick around for the whole day. I'm not really used to running everything by anyone besides me, myself, and I. But I guess we could give this new arrangement a shot."

I stood up and walked around the boardroom table, pulled out the chair to the right of mine and patted the leather upholstery. Why don't you come out of the corner of the room and come take this seat beside me. I'd love to hear what you have to say on my little problem.

"Actually," said the One I'd met for breakfast, "I'd like to take your chair if I may. Why don't you sit here and let me conduct the rest of the meeting?" He pulled out the chair, the one I had so graciously offered Him, and waited for me to sit myself down in it.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
   don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God's voice in everything you do, 
everywhere you go;
   he's the one who will keep you on track.
Proverbs 3:5,6 (The Message)

I bet you're waiting to find out what I did next. Instead, why don't you ask yourself, what did you do next?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Presence of the Lord...even in this place

Imagine my impatience and irritability with Abraham this morning as I read that he had once again caused an international scuffle by presenting Sarah to a king as his sister and not his wife. Will he ever learn? Must he keep committing the same ridiculous errors?

His repetitive mistakes remind me of the University of Arizona kicker, Alex Zendejas, who disappointed U of A fans week after week with wide kicks that clearly missed the narrow margins of the field goal. Or the goofy teenager Sue on my favorite (read only) TV sitcom "The Middle" and her weekly wearing of her Cross Country hoodie. Or my dog's incessant whining every morning as I let him out of his crate and into the back yard. Won't they ever learn?

Of course, it also reminds me of my own tendency to leave the vanilla out of every cake I bake, my daily habit of bumping into my bed's foot board, and my...um...much more serious repetitive sins that I won't give you the details on.

Truth is, we all have a way of repeating our errors while others shake their heads at us and wonder why.

But here's the part of today's story in Genesis 20:1-18 that jumped out at me today.

I discovered why Abraham repeated his error. You'll find it too in Genesis 20:11:

And Abraham said, "Because I thought, 
surely the fear of God is not in this place; 
and they will kill me on account of my wife."

Did you catch why Abraham made an unwise decision, why he acted deceptively as he did, why he lied, why he behaved foolishly, why he caused his wife to sin, why he almost created a huge problem?

Because he acted out of fear. Specifically he feared that because this king and his people didn't fear God then the "fear of God was not in this place" and so God couldn't take care of things.

Guess what? I've done that very same thing. I've assumed, mistakenly, that God can only work where God is revered and prayed to and honored and known. 

But God was not limited by Abimelech's ignorance of Him. In fact, God spoke very clearly to this godless man in a dream and the godless man hopped up early the next morning and acting accordingly. Abimelech, in fact, acted with more full on obedience than Abraham did. 

What does this mean for you and me?

It means that we often blow it when we are acting in fear, specifically the fear that God can't possibly "handle this one." Why would we assume such a crazy thing? for the same reason Abraham did. We assume God can only work where He is visibly in charge and honored.

Fact is, my God can work anywhere He pleases. And He does so, every day, every minute. God is not constrained by my lack of faith, someone else's lack of knowledge, or even someone's disdain toward Him. He is not bound by any human emotion or attitude. He is God, God Almighty.

So enough repeats already. I don't think we'll find Abraham trying to pass Sarah off as his sister again. So let's you and I learn our lesson from Abraham's mistake too. Let's not let fear cause us to behave in an ungodly fashion, to doubt God's ability to handle the little hiccups in our lives. Let's take the "risk" of trusting God even where He is not honored and feared. He can handle it. I'm sure of it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It Doesn't Have to be That Way

Does Scripture intersect with your life on a regular basis? I hope so. I'm referring to those times when you're reading the Bible like you do most every day (because I do hope you're reading it most every day -- it just works best that way...) and something from It's pages jumps out and tackles an issue that either you are personally going through or you've just read about or someone in your life is going through.

Those are the most personable, most intimate and most amazing encounters we have with God's Word. And I think it can happen most every day if we're really seeking God in the pages of His Word with open and eager hearts.

That's exactly what happened this morning.

I had just read an e-mail update for the Happiness Project, a web site that I'm giving a shot, but haven't really determined yet if it's for me. Mostly I'm just keeping an eye on it to see how Gretchen Rubin handles our universal search for satisfaction, something I've studied and written a little bit on lately. But this morning she introduced me to another author, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, who has written a book entitled The Truth About Grief.

In her book, Konigsberg debates the validity of the five stages of grief as originally outlined by Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying, published in 1969. Long story short, Konigsberg says that these long-accepted grief stages were based on poor evidence and don't really characterize grief as experienced by most people. In fact, Kubler-Ross based her grief stages on people who were facing their own deaths, not those who were grieving the deaths of someone they loved and lost. And yet, most of us probably learned these 5 stages of grief sometime in a college psychology class and have assumed ever since that anyone who loses a loved one will experience them, including ourselves. The stages, largely held as factual stages by many counselors and psychologists, are:
  1. denial, 
  2. anger, 
  3. bargaining, 
  4. depression 
  5. and acceptance.
I find Konigsberg's research and book fascinating because it proves a sad point: that to often we base our expectations for behavior on faulty or dated information. Konigsberg's book is not a Christian book, from what I can tell, and I don't really know what her religious beliefs are, but I appreciate the fact that she was willing to test and defy a long standing theory because it just didn't ring true with her.

But Rubin's e-mail and Konigsberg's theories got me to thinking further. As a Christian, do I really have to behave according to the patterns mapped out for me by popular psychology? The answer is a definitive "no." In fact, much of the Bible expressly directs me, a believer in Jesus Christ, to think, feel, behave, and speak completely contrary to the ways that are natural.

I'm not debating the fact that grief is a process, but I don't think our grieving process has to follow the same formula as that followed by most of the world. Nor do we have to follow the same processes when we've been offended, hurt, rejected, belittled, or mistreated. We don't have to follow the same process as the rest of the world when we've been praised, awarded, and applauded either. We are, in fact, supposed to take a different path in almost every behavior known to mankind. 

This morning I read:

There are many who say,
"Who will show us any good?"
Lord, lift up the light of Your
countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart,
more than in the season that their
grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace,
and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, 
make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4:6-8)

And therein lies the reason that we don't have to grieve that way, suffer that way, retaliate that way, get puffed up that way, become depressed that way, or do anything else "that way." Because He alone is the one who does us good. He lifts up His countenance upon us. He puts gladness in our hearts. He makes us dwell in safety. He gives us peace. 

Jesus makes all the difference in the world. And because of Him, we can be different from the world.

Will we grieve? Yes, but not as one without hope. Will we stumble? Yes, but we do not have to stay down. Will we get angry? Yes, but the sun doesn't have to go down on our anger. Will we be offended? Yes, but we don't have to retaliate because He has our back.

Because of Jesus, life is different.

Here's my bottom line for today. Don't be so pulled in by the 5 steps of grief, the 8 steps of forgiveness, the 4 steps for dealing with anger, the 4 stages of marriage, the 10 steps of parenting, or any other steps, whatever they may be, that you honestly believe it has to be that way. It doesn't have to be that way. 

Jesus should make a difference in our lives. How has He made a difference in yours lately?

Just today I was confronted with a situation where I probably should have been offended, but quite honestly, because of Jesus, I wasn't. I didn't even know I should have been until the person who had said something "offensive" came and apologized to me out of the blue. I was able to tell her honestly that I had never taken offense at what she had said, but I accepted her heart-felt apology any way. And I knew that Jesus had spared me the offense. He made a difference in how I handled a little piece of life.

How have you handled life differently because of Jesus? I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

That Ugly Four-Lettered "O" Word

About the time we turn two we decide that the word "obey" is an ugly word.

"Put the cookie down."

"No! My cookie!"

"Obey me right now and put the cookie down."

And there's the rub. We want to please our parents, obey them, but we also want. that. cookie. Or the toy or the TV show or the boyfriend who isn't a believer or the right to stay out as long as we want or the house we can't afford or the money we worked so hard for or the approval of others or to fit in or the sweater just like the one hanging in our closet or ... the cookie. We're back to that blasted cookie, the one that isn't on our diet.

But the fact of the matter is there is no way around obedience, not in the Christian life. In fact, that's what walking with Christ is all about...obedience. When we obey it's like putting one foot in front of the other and traveling on down the path in the right direction. When we disobey we're either standing still and going nowhere or we're backing up and digressing. Maybe we're even veering off the path and heading in the wrong direction.

I love to study Abram who later, because he was obedient, became Abraham. Why? Because while Abraham was usually obedient, he wasn't always. His life is a portrait of the difficulty of obedience.

Today I read Genesis 11:1 - 12:20 and just barely got into Abraham's journey. But here's what I've already discovered.

Obedience may seem like a gamble, but it's really a sure thing.

The more we obey God, the easier it actually becomes. And blessings always result from obedience. Maybe not immediately, but God does always bless obedience.

Notice one interesting thing from today's scripture with me real quick. Here are some interesting out takes. See if you notice a subtle progression. I'll italicize what I want to draw your attention to:

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
"Get out of your country, from your family 
And from your father's house,
To a land that I will show you."
(Genesis 12:1)

So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, 
and Lot went with him. 
And Abram was seventy-five years old 
when he departed from Haran.
(Genesis 12:4)

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 
"To your descendants I will give this land."
(Genesis 12:7a)

And there he built an altar to
the Lord, who had appeared to him.
(Genesis 12:7b)

So Abram journeyed, 
going on still toward the South.
(Genesis 12:9)

(all italics are mine)

Did you notice that at first God only spoke to Abram? At least that's the way it's divinely written. We have no evidence that God appeared to Abram when he was first asked to obey Him. He just spoke to him--perhaps audibly or perhaps just to his heart, like He most often does when He speaks to you and me.

Then, when Abram had obeyed God and picked up his family and moved away from his home, God appeared to Abram (Genesis 12:7). At that point, Abram worshiped God -- acknowledged Him and reverenced Him -- and continued on in his journey of obedience.

And that's how obedience works. I'm not saying that if you obey God He'll appear to you. But I do believe that He will make Himself more known to you. He will reveal more of Himself to you and more of His plans for you. He'll reward your obedience with a little more light on the path, a little more hope, and a little more assurance.

For me, first steps are always the hardest. Until I come to the final step, that is. Those are hard quite often as well. (Think Abraham and Isaac and the living sacrifice...) But first steps require we move out into the unknown. First steps are unsure, unsteady. We're not even sure most of the time if we heard Him correctly. I bet Abraham wondered if he'd heard God correctly as well. Those events I just pointed out happened in the span of nine verses in Scripture, but they probably happened over months or even years in real life. I'm sure he had days when he wondered if he'd made the right move too.

But here's what we learn from Abraham's life today:

Obedience may seem like a gamble, but it's really a sure thing.

When we're young, immature, the word "obey" seems like an ugly four-lettered word. But in reality it's a good thing. In God's economy, obedience is the surest way to please God. In fact, Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith is it impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." At first glance it may appear that all you need to please God is a little heart-felt faith. But as you read on through Hebrews 11, you find that true faith is always demonstrated by complete obedience. Faithful obedience pleases God.

Obedience may seem like a gamble, but it's really a sure thing.

When is it hardest for you to obey God? First step? Further down the road? When difficulties hit? When your zeal wanes? Or last step, when the final request demands your all?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can't Sleep?

I love how practical the Word of God is. Today's reading landed me on one of those extremely practical, everyday sort of precepts:

If you want a good night's sleep, you need a good God. And fortunately, we have one.

Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
"There is no help for him in God."
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me;
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Psalm 3:1-6
Now most of us don't actually have tens of thousands of people against us.

Unless President Obama or Sarah Palin or some other controversial politician happens to be reading.

But there are certainly times when we, like the psalmist, feel like we might as well have ten thousands against us because the one or two who actually are against us are making enough of a stink for thousands more! In fact, there are days when we feel like the world is against us:
  • those days when more than one appliance breaks at a time.
  • those days when both kids are misbehaving
  • those days when too many bills show up at the same time
  • those days when someone misunderstands our good intentions and gets it all wrong
  • those days when we miss something important and there's no going back and fixing it
  • those days when someone refuses to forgive us for something we totally didn't mean to do
  • those days when we suddenly find out our name has been drug through the mud by the gossip vine and now it's too late to clean up the mess that's been made
And when we have such days, we often have similar nights:

  • nights where we toss and turn and can't relax
  • nights where our minds are racing 90 to nothing
  • nights where one disturbing dream after another leaves us anxious and unrested
  • nights where we just want to move on to the next day so we can fix the thing
  • nights where we cry into our pillow
  • nights where we watch each hour arrive on our clock until we finally fall asleep a couple of hours before we must arise.
 Lest we think this is no big deal, let me give you a few facts about insomnia:
  1. Insomnia affects one out of three people at least sometime in their lives. My bet is that occasional insomnia is experienced by most everyone.
  2. Senior adults are more likely to have problems with sleeping than anyone else.
  3. But even children can suffer from insomnia.
  4. Women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men.
  5. Those who suffer from insomnia are more likely than average to become addicts of some sort.
  6. Insomnia costs US businesses over $150 billion in absenteeism and low productivity each year.
  7. Sleep loss affects our judgment and emotions more and more over time.
I've had sleepless nights and you probably have too. Most of the time if I can't sleep, it's because I'm worried about something. Just like our psalmist, I'm feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, fretful, and anxious.  I hate those nights. Especially the ones where I don't seem to be able to turn my mind off. Instead it's racing from one problem to the next, leaving a trail of unresolved frustrations in its wake. After a few hours of that type of night, my problems have grown out of proportion and loom over me bigger than ever. As is the case with the psalmist, my few dilemmas have turned into "many."

But the psalmist sleeps.

How's that? Because he realizes that while his problems may be big, his God is bigger. While his enemies may be against him, his God is for him. While his enemies may throw sticks and stones, His God is a shield for him. And while the problems "down here" may seem to be multiplying and growing, from up there on God's holy hill they are put back in perspective.

The psalmist sleeps.

How's that? He lay down and slept because he knew his God would fight his battles and he didn't need to, at least not during the night. And when he awoke he knew that his God had sustained him and would continue to carry him the next day.

I think most insomnia is probably caused, or at least the cycle is begun, by fretfulness, anxiety, worry. Would you agree? Sometimes I'll get in a pattern of bad nights, but most of the time that pattern began with one or two nights when I tossed and turned as I tried to hammer out some looming issue.

But I've found a few solutions for occasional insomnia, beginning with the principles we learn in Psalm 3:

  1. Read at least a short passage from the Bible before lying down to sleep. Or recite a memory verse or two you're working on. There's nothing better to fall asleep on than the Word of God.
  2. Say a short prayer. I don't use bedtime for my "big" prayer time because I tend to fall asleep in the middle of that sort of prayer. But I do end the day by checking in with my God one more time, usually thanking Him for what He's done and praising Him for how He showed Himself to me that day.
  3. Keep a notepad and pencil on your bedside table so you can jot down things you think of that you "need to be sure to do." Those are some of the things I can lose the most sleep over if I don't write them down so I can lay them down.
  4. When troubles start brewing, take them immediately to God. Don't try to mull them over; it will only cause you to awaken more and more. Instead take them straight to Him and leave them with Him.
  5. Ask God to protect you in your dream life. Satan's favorite battlefield is our minds. While he can't read our minds, he can certainly shoot flaming arrows into them. And when we sleep, our minds are just like battlefield camps where weary soldiers have laid down to rest. Unless we prepare the camp with some sort of defense, he'll attack us in our dreams. So that's why, especially if I've been having bad or disturbing dreams as of late, I'll ask God to protect me from Satan's darts as I sleep. Then I'll make an extra effort to fall asleep meditating on the Truth.
  6. Create and stick to a calming bedtime ritual. Mine simply includes washing my face and brushing my teeth, putting on comfortable and fresh pajamas, getting some water to have by my bed, reading for a little while and lying down to sleep. But you may also want to take a bath, listen to soothing music, drink a glass of milk or some herbal tea, or do some stretches.
  7. Learn some good relaxation techniques for when they're necessary. I learned a long time ago to relax my body, one area at a time from my toes to my head. You simply lie very still in a comfortable position and concentrate on relaxing your feet first. Give it a little time until you feel like your feet are sinking into your bed. Then move up the body one area at a time from calves to knees to thighs and so on, until your entire body feels like melted butter. This isn't some sort of New Age mumbo jumbo; it's just relaxing the body, nothing more. It works for me.
 Here's to a good night sleep for all of us tonight! After all, we've got a good God.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Promotion (with benefits)

What do you do?

What is your vocation? I chose those words carefully because I realize many of us would get stumped by "what is your career?" or "what do you do for a living?" simply because we don't get paid much or anything for what we do. Also, many of us get paid for doing one thing, but we'd really consider our vocation, our chosen life's work, to be something completely different.

So, what do you do? (I'd truly love to know... you can tell me in the comment section. Hint, hint.)

What do you do, Kay?

Well, thank you for asking. I'm still a full-time mom and homemaker, but also a minister to women - through my writing, teaching, speaking, mentoring, etc.

Obviously, what I do doesn't pay much. But it's still my vocation.

As He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, 
He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, 
and his brother Andrew. 
They were casting a net into the sea, 
since they were fishermen.
Matthew 4:18

Now we know where this is leading. Simon and Andrew are fishermen now, but that's all about to change. They're literally minding their own business and Jesus walks into their lives. 

I was minding my own business when I was 22 and just finishing up my degree in journalism. I was applying for public relations jobs with non-profits, healthcare organizations, large corporations, my own university, and PR firms. Although none of those jobs were panning out, I suppose I would have eventually landed one except Jesus walked into my life too and said the exact same thing He said to Simon and Andrew:

"Follow Me," He told them.
Matthew 4:19a

Quite honestly, I snapped into line and followed Jesus just about as fast as Andrew and Simon did. Probably for the same reason they did too -- no one else (no fish?) was biting. Actually I don't know whether Simon and Andrew were having a stellar day at sea or if they were sinking beneath the waves of bad luck, but they indeed dropped everything and followed Jesus.

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Matthew 4:20

I'm sure they had no idea what lay ahead of them, hindsight being what it is and all.

But here's the interesting thing. Let me give you rest of Jesus' line from that passage.

"Follow Me," He told them,
"and I will make you fish for people!"
Matthew 4:19b

Do you see what Jesus was offering? I'm not sure they could have identified the allure (get it...allure...a lure...fishermen...hee, hee!) of Jesus' promise at the time, but something about what He enthusiastically guaranteed struck a chord with these men. 

Jesus was offering to elevate their vocation.

I'm going to type that one again:

Jesus was offering to elevate their vocation.

They were still going to be fishermen, but now they would be fishing for men, for souls, for lost sheep, for children of the King. It probably appeared to some that they were taking a detour in their profession - walking away from their boats and nets and steady income. But in the end, in the real end, as in Revelation chapter 4 verses 10 through 11 end, they were getting a promotion.

Same vocation, elevated position and responsibilities.

I'm the kind of person, I regret to confess, who has always wanted to be important. I have this unyielding hankering to be significant, to matter, to be crucial to the big picture. If I try to feed that need the fleshly way, and I have, I end up doing things like bossing people around, hogging the limelight, talking too loudly, arguing until I get my way, etc. Ugly stuff.

But when I let God feed that need, things go a lot better. That's why Psalm 90:17 has been one of my favorites for years:
And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And do confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:17

The Psalmist, like me, wants his work to matter. He wants what he does to have some significance, some importance, some lasting value. And he knows that God alone can give him that kind of influence.

Maybe I seem to have jumped around today. This has been one of those topics where I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure I'm getting my message out very clearly. 

Here's the bottom line. Whether I'm a housewife, a teacher, a nurse, a writer, a mother, or a fisherman, Jesus can elevate my vocation to one of worth and significance. When I turn that line of work over to Him, He may redirect me a little, give me a few additional challenges, broaden my scope, or even intensify the struggles, but He'll also give my work a little permanence. He'll undoubtedly cause me to focus more on people than on the craft. And He'll surely require me to "bring my faith to the office" as they say. But in the end, He'll make my work count...and count....and count.

I left behind my original career plans over 20 years ago. It hasn't been easy. I'm making wayyyyy less money than I originally planned to. I haven't earned any great titles or accolades. And instead of a corner office with a view, I have one in my home right next to the laundry room . But I'm doing what I was called to do...and I love it.

Has Jesus changed your plans any? Looking back, would you say He elevated your vocation? When you really think about it with eternal perspective, would you agree that His call was a promotion and not a demotion? 

And I'm not saying you have to have had the same story as me. Maybe you're still in the classroom when you had planned to go into school administration. Maybe you put your career aside to be a fulltime mom and homemaker. Maybe you left your chosen path to accompany your husband on his. Or perhaps you've switched careers completely midstream, laying down "your nets" and picking up a pen, a scalpel, a textbook, or a paint brush. 

The real question is "Did Jesus come along and say 'Hey! Follow Me and I'll make you fishers of men!"

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Different Kind of Parent

I've heard Beth Moore say on several occasions that becoming a parent was the most soul-baring, soul-invasive event that she has ever experienced. I think she even talked about how "exposed" she felt as a new mom.

I can't really relate to that. I'm not even really sure what she's talking about. Maybe I'm just not that deep.

But I have experienced the raw difficulty of parenting. In fact, I would easily say that raising my two children (and they've been relatively "easy" children) has been the hardest task I've ever been assigned. Hands down. In fact, I'm finding that some of the most difficult parts have occurred in these last few years of parenting as my children enter into adulthood and prepare to fly the coop.

Parenting is tough.

"Enoch was 65 years old 
when he fathered Methuselah. 
And after the birth of Methuselah, 
Enoch walked with God 300 years 
and fathered sons and daughters. 
So Enoch's life lasted 365 years. 
Enoch walked with God, 
and he was not there, 
because God took him."
(Genesis 5:21-24)

At first glance you might assume I've picked a really insignificant scripture to focus on today. But when you put these few verses into context, you find that Enoch is mentioned in a sizable list of fathers who had sons and lived a long time. But no one else in this list is said to have "walked with God." And that's what makes Enoch worth looking at.

I don't know if Methuselah was a particularly difficult child or if Enoch was just an extremely humble and wise man, but something caused this dad to do things a little differently. He chose to involve God in his life. He chose to talk with God, consult with God, seek God, listen to God. I have to assume that all those things are included in "walking with God" because I know he didn't literally walk with God; he just did life with Him.

What kind of parent am I? Am I the kind that purposefully walks with God? Or am I just like most other parents? Am I just trying to wing it the best I can? 

If you apply the math from this list in Genesis 5, I think it would be fair to say that 2 out of 10 parents actually walk with God. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Methuselah, nor Lamech are said to have walked with God. (Granted Adam did for a while, but my bet is that shame and guilt kept him from seeking God much after he had been banned from Eden.) But Enoch and later Noah are purposefully described as men who "walked with God."

They were different kinds of parents in a string of guys who evidently just did the best they could.

If we walk with God, we also are a different kind of parent than the majority with which we are surrounded. I'm not saying that arrogantly. It's just a fact.

But here's what I know about walking with God as a parent.
  • It means my kid sometimes won't get to do what other kids are doing.
  • It means I'll make some unpopular decisions.
  • It means I'll look awfully old-fashioned.
  • It means I'll take the time to talk about spiritual things with my children, oh my!
  • It means I'll spend more time on my knees and in the Bible and less time in magazines, talk shows, and self-help books.
  • And it means my prayers won't be for my children's comfort or happiness so much as they will be for their growth and holiness.
So the question I ask myself today is, "Where would I fall in a similar list of women if God were to put my name into His holy script? Would it be said of me, 'and Kay walked with God?'"

What about you?

Here's what I do know. God liked it that Enoch walked with Him. He liked it that Noah walked with Him too. He blessed them. He chose them for unique things. He did good works in their lives. I want that. Don't you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A New Year, a New Way of Doing Things

In line with my decision to live a more purposeful 2011, I've decided to make a major change in my blogging this year.

I don't know if you've noticed, but I feel like I've lost my way a little on my blog in recent months. I've lost my passion, my direction, my commitment level, ... my voice. I hear that one of the keys to good blogging is to be somewhat predictable, to deliver day after day the same type of posts so that your readers know what to expect. I've done just the opposite of that. Some days you get recipes here, sometimes you read deep theological treatises, occasionally you get humor and sometimes you get the dredges that I scrounge up from the bottom of my brain.

No more.

I'm starting out on a new path today. New because it's not the one I've meandered onto somehow, but old because it's the one I meant to be on to begin with. I'm starting back where I intended to be about a year and a half ago when I began this blog -- on the narrow path, the one less traveled, the one that gets lonely and hard and challenging at times. I'm going back to the ancient path, where the good way is. And I'm going back to encouraging my readers (and myself) to walk that path with courage, conviction, and joy.

And here's how I'm going to navigate this path...

With the directions that are clearly given over and over for how to walk the ancient path...

By walking through the Bible.

For years I tried to read through the Bible with no success, but a few years ago I finally managed to succeed at it. That was a pivotal accomplishment for me. It truly transformed the way I read the Bible, how I appreciate its breadth and its depth, how I handle it, how I breathe it in and out. I love reading the Bible through. It has become a yearly journey and I have no plans of giving it up...ever.

I didn't make it all the way this past year. Truthfully I'm still back in November's readings. But I'm going to finish it up while I start it all over again too. And this time, I'm taking you with me. If you'll go.

You don't have to read your Bible through, too, but that's what you'll be getting here:

I'll simply be blogging my reflections on a portion of my daily readings as I read through the Bible in 2011.

(This is the Bible I'll be using this year. It's a new one for me. 
Click on it to get ordering information if you're interested.)

Each day (Monday through Friday) I'll post a short (another goal for this year!) meditation on a portion of scripture that I read in my daily Bible reading. I'll be reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs each day, so you could get something from any of those areas of scripture. It may still have a different flavor each day too: sometimes thoughtful, sometimes questioning, sometimes humorous, and other times more somber. I could write a poem, link you to a video that coincides with the scripture, play you a song, or write a prayer. I prefer to keep a little creative license. But have no doubt, we'll be walking through the scriptures on this blog. That's what 2011 will be all about.

This may not be your cup of tea. If not, I hope I'll still see you around occasionally. You might at least give it a try. Or this may sound just like what you were looking for to begin with. I hope so. I think it's a good path to take for this year. Hopefully it will keep me focused and heading in the right direction anyhow. I'd love your feedback as we go. And I'd love some company on this trail!