Hot Coffee, and Meningitis


“Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food, but God has given us wit, and flavor, and brightness, and laughter to enliven the days of man’s pilgrimage, and to charm his pained steps over the burning marble” ~ Sydney Smith

Today, my coffee is hot, strong, and soothing. Today, my husband told me there are 3 men out with meningitis at his work. Today, one of my daughters told me she is on the honor roll and getting props from the high school principal. Today, I am almost out of laundry detergent. Today, another daughter has an interview for a new job. Today, I need to write a letter of apology.

Life is a series of good and bad, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain. We all know this. In many ways, life may seem like a spinning roulette wheel. Where will the ball stop? What chance circumstance will come our way next? Better duck, the wheel is still spinning.

But are our lives’ experiences a matter of pure chance, or is there something more? Is there an unseen Hand behind it all, directing our steps, bringing us situations designed to shape our character, and above all else showing us, by and by, that even in the midst of our most dark and confusing seasons that we are LOVED?

“The poor and needy are seeking water when there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the wild olive; I will set the cypress in the desert, the plane [tree] and the pine [tree] together, That men may see and know and consider and understand together that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” ~ Isaiah 41:17-20

So, after hearing more and more about our little rural area and the threat of meningitis getting closer and closer to my friends and loved ones, I warned my kids to be careful and not share food or drinks. I read that frankincense essential oil may help, and I decided to clean my house. (Little note for you, my readers, there are many nasty things going around, even without the threat of meningitis. Be safe, be careful, and love your loved ones.) I’m also going to be adding some frankincense oil to my homemade hand soap, just in case. 🙂

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Come Undone


“Hey you, out there in the cold

Getting lonely, getting old

Can you feel me?

Hey you, standing in the aisles

With itchy feet and fading smiles

Can you feel me?

Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light

Don’t give in without a fight.” ~ Pink Floyd

Sometimes, after the pep talks end and the encouragement fades away, we are left alone in the dark; brittle, empty, and afraid. Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves and realize that our painful  situation is still going strong and we have nothing left to give. Sometimes, we find that we are not enough. What then? When reality smacks you in the face like a giant tidal wave, no amount of self-help, Oprah’s book club, pop-psychology will save you.

To borrow a quote from the movie Speed, “Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?” (Oh the irony of using a movie quote when I’m talking about facing reality, right? Seriously, sometimes you just have to poke a little fun at yourself.)

OK, so maybe not every situation is as life-and-death as that….but yours may be. Your situation could have you sweating bullets, or sweating because of literal bullets. We live in a very angry world. It seems no one can even state an opinion these days without bringing down a firestorm on their heads. You’d better not say something that someone else doesn’t like. You’d better never make a mistake. Further, you’d better never even suggest that there might be only ONE truth and that it is a Person named Jesus and that he died to save every one of us angry, opinionated, offended, fault-finding, hypocrites. I have realized as I go through life that it is the easiest thing in the world to say one thing and then do another when we come down to the sticking place. But I’m getting off track now talking about Jesus…..Oh wait, no I’m not.

So anyway, Jesus……because he is really what will help us all out here (as in our lives in this world), not more of our own opinions…… Jesus…Name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us, Blessed Redeemer, Living Word…….In the midst of very personal and painful trials with my own family, my loved-best-in-the-world, my children, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my dearest of dear friends…I have had to camp out at the feet of Jesus and just weep on more than one occasion.

The funny thing is that from the outside, people have many opinions about the reasons we all hurt, the reasons someone else hurts, or you, or me (SOOO many opinions!!); but we’re all kind-of just winging it as we go. I mean, no offense to you planning, careful types. I know you’ve worked hard and you know where you want to go. Good for you! 🙂

But, let me just say, as a non careful-planning-type someone who knows, that plans unravel and stitches come out, threads holding you to other people fray and tear, buttons get lost and zippers break. Sometimes, many times, our best laid plans are just not enough. Sometimes we get the thing we’ve wanted, and sometimes we don’t. Quite often, in fact, we don’t get the things we want. Many times we get the thing(s) we never wanted instead. It quite honestly seems to be horribly, cruelly unfair.

So, there you are, sitting in front of the blank wall of disappointment, where all your hopes and dreams have been crushed by a giant, undeniable “NO”. And yet, failure teaches us. Pain molds us. Disappointment tests us. We cannot grow without it, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Without “NO”, there is no reason to change or improve. “No” hurts us deeply. However, “No” is not the final word written in our story.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-22 Amplified

In our own lives, it will take each of us a good deal of time and thought and study to learn about the promises of God. We all have our own dreams and plans. Since we can’t honestly say that the purposes and motivations behind those plans and dreams are 100% godly, it behooves each of us to find out what God’s plans are for our lives and how they differ from our own often-frustrated plans….and how much God’s plans surpass ours in every way. 

Of course, a lot of us will say our own “No” here. We don’t believe it, and we don’t trust it…..but since we’re chatting as friends here, let’s call it truthfully what it is, this big “No” of ours:

We don’t believe GOD; and we don’t trust GOD.

There. I typed it out. You read it. No lightning has struck us. It’s not like it was a big secret anyway. 😉 A big part of the reason why we don’t see the fulfillment to the many promises of God is that we give less credence to the power, integrity, and intentions of the Maker of the Promises than we do to Starbuck’s when we order a drink at the drive-thru. In order to get past this stuff (and move on up, to the east-side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky as it were….you were singing along too, weren’t you?)….In order to set foot on the Promised Land instead of only hearing about it or seeing it from very far off, you and I have to grow up. (This post is taking me literally months as I stop and think about each new thought and walk some things out in my own life.)

You and I have got to quit playing at being followers of Christ, and actually take HIS lead and follow. Long ago, before Twitter or Facebook or any other ironically-named “social” networking site, there was such a thing as being a follower of Christ. The men and women who followed Jesus Christ were just like you and I. They had their own plans and hopes and dreams and families and heartaches and jealousies and livelihoods, etc…etc… Yet, each and every one of them was told to lay down his or her cares, take up their cross, and follow Christ.

When I was little and I would hear those stories with a child’s understanding, I thought they were basically left with the clothes on their backs. In my mind I saw this odd group of people trailing along in the desert wearing different colors of tunics and some sort of head coverings, like the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Their families were left behind. Their responsibilities were left behind. Basically, I thought Jesus asked them to beggar themselves and become outcasts. In my mind all I could picture was the loneliness, sacrifice and going without and being in want. I’ve heard it preached this way many times. Usually the follow-up example would be the rich young ruler, then riches were labelled a bad thing we all had to give up, and the collection plate would be passed.

Of course this kind of reasoning flies in the face of verses (from the NIV) like:

Psalm 23:1 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

OK, calm down. I’m not spouting heresy here. Just be patient with me. 🙂 Some people are called to leave everything behind and follow Christ into a deep jungle, or a burning desert, or the urban inner city, etc. Not everyone is called to do that, however. In the Bible, Jesus had 12 disciples and there were many others who followed along at different times. They eagerly listened to the challenging and beautiful words of the Carpenter from Nazareth and then brought those words back to their lives and families. They returned to their responsibilities and loved-ones and God-ordained places. They reached out to the people around them every day, their neighbors, friends, and family. They gave their possessions and time and talents and even wealth to the cause of Christ. Spiritually, we are ALL called to set as priority one: Jesus Christ.

No, Christ doesn’t need our money. Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1) The people we share the world with, on the other hand, have just as many physical needs as we do ourselves. Therefore, we are presented with a very practical, no nonsense way of showing the love of Christ to the people we encounter every day. People need bus fare, rides to work, babysitters, help around the house, a hand to hold, a meal, a few bags of groceries, a shoulder to cry on, our knowledge, our skills, our time. As indicated by the verses above, our recompense isn’t only waiting for us on the other side of the grave. How does all of this fit in with the concept of coming undone and trusting God to fill in where we’ve fallen apart? I’m glad you asked. 🙂

 

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. [Isa. 40:5.]” ~ John 1:14 AMP

We, being so spiritually needy and helpless, needed someone to show us how we were supposed to put the laws and principles into living, breathing action. Much in the way a kindergarten teacher has to show their students how to hold a crayon or pencil, even to the point of physically molding the child’s fingers around the instrument, we all need to be shown how to do new things by someone who has already mastered them. Jesus came to show us the practical application of the Word of God, himself being the Word in the flesh.

Jesus came to walk it out for us. He came to show us what love actually looks like in human form. He became 1 Corinthians 13. He gave up everything to come down here in the mud where we live. He protected and taught. He served and healed. He befriended. He forgave. He took us by our sin-stained hands and raised us up. He gave us hope and a chance for a new beginning. Jesus invested himself in us. Now that is someone you can trust. Let’s look at a snippet from one of the verses above again.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. [Jer. 6:16.]” ~ Matthew 11:29 Amplified

When you’re feeling broken, you need someone to be gentle. When you’re grieving, you want tenderness, not a lecture. While I was figuring out how to say what I was figuring out for myself these past few months, I stumbled upon a Bible study about Jesus (which you can find here)In this study, a lot of emphasis was placed on Jesus’ character. The attribute I want to especially look at here is his gentleness.

“Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in and with Whom My soul is well pleased and has found its delight. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim and show forth justice to the nations. He will not strive or wrangle or cry out loudly; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering (dimly burning) wick He will not quench, till He brings justice and a just cause to victory. And in and on His name will the Gentiles (the peoples outside of Israel) set their hopes. [Isa. 42:1-4.] Then a blind and dumb man under the power of a demon was brought to Jesus, and He cured him, so that the blind and dumb man both spoke and saw.” ~ Matthew 12:18-22
In the previous chapter, Jesus bids us to learn from him and tells us that he is gentle. In the next chapter, we have the two pictures of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Then immediately after this there is an extremely bruised and smoldering individual who is brought to Jesus. So we can watch him. We can see if he will do what he says he will do. Jesus healed and restored him. Once again, Jesus shows us with his own actions all the things that God’s word has been telling us. He is his own proof.
So, maybe today you are feeling bruised, mistreated, and misunderstood. Maybe, like a smoldering wick, you feel that your own abilities, patience, strength, and importance are used up. Perhaps you feel forgotten. Perhaps you feel like the world has thrown you away. I want to tell you that God sees you. Jesus died for YOU. You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. God has not forgotten you! The breaths you take right now as you read this are no mistake, like someone somewhere just left the TV on and you happened to be in the room.
This life of yours has meaning; YOU HAVE MEANING.
If you are hurting, let me just tell you as someone who has hurt as well, deeply, and come out on the other side, the other side of hurt does come. In the meantime while you are still in the valley, still taking shallow breaths and gritting your teeth against the pain, taking one day at a time, hoping against hope..Remember there is a gentle Savior who walks right along with you. He will sustain you, and he will lead you eventually out on the other side. Keep your eyes on this gentle Jesus. He is our best hope and comfort in this life. He is true to his word. He is able to lead you through and out of any valley you may be facing. One day, Jesus will lead us gently out of the final valley, and we will be home.

“Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. [Ezek. 37:27.] God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. [Isa. 25:8; 35:10.] And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new. Also He said, Record this, for these sayings are faithful (accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy) and true (genuine). [Isa. 43:19.] And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life. [Isa. 55:1.] He who is victorious shall inherit all these things, and I will be God to him and he shall be My son.” ~ Revelation 21:3-7

How to Befriend Your Spouse


“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ~ Mother Teresa

First of all, yes, those cookies ARE quite adorable. You can find the recipe and many more stunning ideas at Make Me Cake Me. What a talent to appreciate, especially for those of us with a lack of talent in that particular direction. I can cook and bake, but my creations lack that cuteness factor. Sigh.

Now then, back to our show…

Many of you might think a blog post about befriending someone you live with, seeing day in and day out, sharing everything with from money to a toilet seat, is kind-of ridiculous. Now, hold on there, not so fast. Being married is unfortunately NOT always the same thing as being friends. Who has time for friends anyway? It’s a rough world. We’re all just holding on my our fingernails here. Who has time for friendship with their spouse, let alone anything as far-fetched as romance.

There, there, no one is here to judge. We’re all walking in the same forest here. Sometimes all of us get a little lost. No biggie. There is always Someone who not only has a map, but IS the map. God is always waiting for us to turn to him when we feel like we’re stuck in molasses swamp, or worse, headed for a cliff. All of us can get out of whack when it comes to the way we relate to those around us. Nowhere is this more painfully apparent that in our close relationships. When we get out of whack, or spouses feel it the strongest. Sometimes, as we drift away from relationships, stressed beyond comfortable by our own choices (ahem), our spouses may seem like strangers invading our space instead of trusted friends and lovers as they are meant to be.

To tell you the truth, sometimes, it’s just not happening. Sometimes, we see the slack-jawed, drooling, morning breath having face next to us by the harsh grey light of morning as we are serenaded by our alarm clock buzzer and think “Ugh not you again! ”  He snores, or she does. (I actually do the loudest snoring in my house. Groan) He leaves the seat up. She never fixes what I like for dinner. Why does he always hang out with that friend? Why is she so messy? On it goes. The quirks become bones of contention that choke the life right out of our marriages.

What, then, is the answer? How do we get ourselves back on track so we can enjoy the kind of home life that’s better than any romance movie can offer? We need LOVE, in steady, un-relenting, persevering, forgiving, gracious, my-cup-runneth-over doses. How do we do this realistically when there are soooo many sources of bad advice in book, internet, and real live person form? Advice can run from the manipulative, where we figure out how to trick our spouse into giving us what we think we want; to the doormat approach, where we let them do as they please, never confronting in love or expecting to be treated with respect; to the bullying our spouse into doing as WE please; to the two separate lives in one house approach. All of these methods will lead us down the path to a fulfilling alienation, separation, and death of our marriages, whether or not it actually ends in divorce.

The answer for this lack of ability to achieve a thrilling, fulfilling, lasting love that all of us long for is to turn our attention back to the One who created our hearts in this shape in the first place. God is Love. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us what, exactly this means.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody).
Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way,for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth].
For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).
But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.
For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13 (entire chapter) Amplified
So, for those of us who missed it the first hundred thousand or so times you’ve heard this often misquoted passage quoted or seen it, embroidered on pillows, printed on posters, etc, etc, this passage tells us about God. I recently learned this for the first time myself. Think about that for a moment. Who wouldn’t do just about anything for someone who treated them this way, right? WOW! For my part, I felt very silly for not realizing this passage was about God all along. I thought it was like that infamous Proverbs 31 woman, who’s list of amazing and unimpeachable qualities has been used improperly to beat women over the head for a long time. (It’s not about that at all though, but that’s a topic for another blog post. 🙂 )
I hope one day, when I walk those golden streets in heaven I will finally be able to grasp the amazing scope of the tapestry of the Bible and how it all ties together and points to God, even in its most inscrutable (to me) passages.  Here’s another passage which, surprisingly to me, ties in with 1 Corinthians 13 perfectly. (You can read the entire chapter here.)
“Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency,
Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies),
Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness,
Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].
And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]
Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” ~ Galatians 5:19-26
Originally, as this post was coming together, I had only thought as far as the “fruits of the spirit” bit of that passage. Just now as I was looking at it though, it occurs to me that that long list of nastiness before and after the “fruity” part is, unfortunately, what many of us bring to the banqueting table, instead. How many of us, from time to time, have felt our spouse was our enemy or rival instead of best friend and ally? The bad news is that we all have a past full of misinformation, bias, prejudice, hidden agendas, scheming, hurt, betrayal, and on it goes. We didn’t have the extreme advantage of Adam and Eve in the garden: fresh, clean-states, fully able to love with no past or guilt to get in the way. Fast-forward to now, we are further from God’s original design in our hearts than we are from our first ancestors in time. Look again at that passage! Therein lies the answer and help we all so desperately need.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]” ~ Galatians 5:24-25 Amplified
The answer for all of us is Jesus Christ himself! God made us, and He made us to be with other people. He made us to be in pairs, families, communities. God made us for relationships. Jesus Christ came to redeem not only our souls, but also reconcile us to God and one another.
“There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
 
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 NIV

Run On Your Face


“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” – Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Sometimes in a race, the glorious competitors have inglorious moments. Sometimes the supreme athletes trip and fall. Olympians have bad days too; but what sets a champion apart from every other athlete? Maybe those who win aren’t the most talented or the brightest stars in the sky (take that however you like and you will surely be right). Maybe a winner is simply the one who keeps going? Maybe the champion gets up again, even if he/she has to hobble the rest of the way? Maybe sometimes a race is won by crawling the last stretch. Possibly you can only win if you choose to crawl the last bit. Sometimes, all we can do is crawl, barely moving, injured, heartbroken, weeping, bleeding, shattered both physically and mentally. Help is near, and relief is in sight; but not just yet……not just yet… Right now, it seems too cruel that you would be expected to get up with your hurts so fresh, your humiliation so current, your failure so complete. I have faced this situation numerous times, naturally; we all do, and have, and will. One time, in particular, comes to mind, when I was 22.

I was in the middle of my marriage falling apart, outnumbered and out-gunned by my in-laws on every side. I was a confused, whimpering, cowardly, cringing, craven mess! I was used to someone else taking care of things. I had a toddler to think about; and I wanted someone to just FIX IT. My ex has mental issues that blew us all out of the water right around the time of my birthday. His poor family didn’t know what to do either. At one point our frequent marital spats were blamed, at another point, I was. However, writing truthfully about past hurts is difficult. Honesty doesn’t always allow us to remain solely the victim, good, well-intentioned, and put-upon. Looking back, I know that I was not to blame for the abuse or the mental breakdown. There was a history of “off-ness”. I didn’t always help with my own choices and attitude, though. One thing became apparent over the several years I dealt with my ex’s mental fluctuations: the mind is a mystery even in this day and age. How much of a person’s behavior is choice, or hormones, or mental imbalance? How much of our wits are a result of past choices and their consequences? This is not going to be a post about mental illness. (I am absolutely not qualified to write that post. I am absolutely qualified to tell you about what I went through, however, so I will.)

The particular incident I wanted to relate was a quite memorable encounter with my brother-in-law, whom I was staying with at the time. He and his wife took me and my toddler into their home. There is always a lot of friction when someone does this. The negative bits of everyone’s personalities often “outshine” the positives because of the inevitable stress of living with someone else who is unfamiliar and doesn’t have the same priorities or worries as everyone else. I recall sleeping a lot, which did not endear me to my in-laws, let me tell you. I was depressed (did I mention my toddler and I were newly released from a battered women’s shelter?), and I was also newly pregnant. I suspected at the time, but felt so overwhelmed already that I was avoiding actually dealing with the possibility. The queasiness coupled with the stress of the situation took 15 lbs off of my weight. I don’t recommend using that particular diet plan, to be honest. 🙂

One day, tired of my complaining and crying, and no doubt longing for his home to be his own again, he confronted me. He laid out some steps I should take to start picking up the pieces of my life and take care of my daughter. I continued to whine and cry and bemoan my fate, when finally he lost patience with me and threw away the paper he had been writing on for me. He basically said “Fine then, don’t listen to me! I’m done trying to help you!” Well, it hurt a lot, and for a moment I decided he was just a hateful person and didn’t understand why none of it was my fault, and the constantly rehearsed stream of why-mes started up in my head….BUT suddenly, I realized that I didn’t have to like what he was saying for it to be right. I realized I had no other options and that he WAS actually taking his time to try and help me. Even after I had this begin to dawn on me, it was actually physically painful for me to get up, go to the garbage, take out the paper, and walk back to him and ask me to help me. My shredded pride was a tough thing to choke back while I was still so hurt and angry. My wounded emotions screamed as I did it, BUT I DID IT ANYWAY.

No, of course, there were a lot of rocky patches as I used my own wobbly decision-making abilities and determination to struggle up the long hill toward self-sufficiency. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, and it was several years before I could finally break free from my rocky marriage; but it was a start. I faced down my own pride and hurt feelings more times than I care to remember, and still do, and will, gosh darn it, though I hate to even type that!

Sometimes, moving forward means we can’t just sit forever in one cushy hospital bed, or hidey hole, or friend’s house, or relative’s home and nurse your wounds forever. Sooner or later, we must all stand back up, even if we have to crawl for awhile first. Crawl, if you must. Weep if you must. Fear if you feel fear, but do not ever give in!

“You whom I [the Lord] have taken from the ends of the earth and have called from the corners of it, and said to you, You are My servant—I have chosen you and not cast you off [even though you are exiled].

Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.

Behold, all they who are enraged and inflamed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; they who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you but shall not find them; they who war against you shall be as nothing, as nothing at all.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you!” ~ Isaiah 41:9-13 Amplified Version

It Is Well…


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul. – It Is Well with My Soul, hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

 

I feel for you. Maybe your day is going a direction you didn’t plan for, or you are feeling the dull thud of disappointment inside right now. I feel for you. Let me give you a little background… Today started off quite well. It’s my husband’s birthday. He’s sleeping in because he works at night. The older kids are off to school. The 2 little ones and I are enjoying a peaceful morning…but then…

The 4 yr old started calling in that tattle-tale tone “Mooooooommyyyyyyyyy! Look what the baby did!” I look up from my coffee. It’s not pretty. The baby has thrown her breakfast over the floor. Did I mention I fed my kids sweet rice with cinnamon, sugar and milk? Yeah, it’s not pretty.(Did I seriously expect something different? Come on it’s a toddler with a bowl of potential nasty-mess.) We shall be referring to this in the future as Rice-Pocalypse. Then, after I am just getting over my pity party for that, I decide I would treat myself to a bathroom break and getting dressed in daytime clothes before the kids get home from school. I think indulgent thoughts sometimes. I get the occasional wild hair. Well, you can stop shaking your head because I was appropriately humbled and chastened. When I returned to the living room, feeling quite accomplished and ready for whatever the day might bring, my toddler one-upped me yet again. My desk, you see, is a staging area for all kinds of wonderful things. Usually, I will admit, it is a class action MESS! I recently cleaned it. BUT my precious notebook with tenderly scribbled notes for a pet children’s story lay open precariously close to my cup of warmed-over coffee, as did my keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip back in time to the moment before something truly terrible happened and live for a blissful moment in the ignorance and innocence of that moment. However, as I faced the sweet, brown puddle that was growing on my desk, seeping into every nook and cranny and POURING out of my keyboard when I turned it at an angle, I came to a hard realization. All the heel-clicking, no-place-like-home wishing, time travel to the time of Morlocks and Eloi, or plugging my ears and saying “lalalalalalala” would help me. I don’t know if it was the coffee in the keyboard or the growing stain of it soaking into my precious story, but something inside of me sprang a leak and it started to trickle out of the corners of my eyes as I tried to sop up the mess. Again, I felt sorry for myself. Again, I grudgingly admitted that this could have been prevented. The crush of disappointment for the day I hoped for was heavy on my chest. I did a stand-up impression of Eeyore for a few minutes. But then, words gradually came into my mind that I have heard a million times at church and funeral services: “It is well, with my soul.” 

It is often ridiculous to me when the “peace that passes all understanding” comes my way in insane situations. While I was cleaning up the soul-sucking coffee spill, my kids were fighting with the door of the movie cabinet and the toddler was asking for food, when her breakfast had only just been distributed across the floor, mind you. All of the above was done at high decibels, I might add. Still, I felt the words “It is well, with my soul.” God really has a quirky sense of humor sometimes I think. Naturally, I tried very hard to remember if I’ve prayed for any kind of personal character growth and maturity for myself lately. I always have a very fuzzy memory when it comes to things I decide to do that will be good for me.

So, in spite of the hurricane that blew through my morning, much of which I could have prevented myself, I find that it IS well with my soul. He’s got my whole mess in His hands. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), even in the middle of a fit. He’s not going anywhere, and he can get me through anything I face, whether it is a serious tragedy or just the day to day million straws that break the camel’s back kind of days. In the words of one of my very favorite preachers, I had to get on with it already. I cleaned up the mess and shut down my computer because my keyboard may be headed for that ever-growing pile of electronics in the sky and wouldn’t work a lick. I also put My-Lady-mess-a-lot down for a blessed, blessed nap. Now I’m typing this on hubby’s computer and enjoying a bit of respite as I am reminded that God’s got this. The world continues to spin and my life with it. Time to put on the big girl panties and be thankful.

God is, nonetheless, very, very good.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Pie in the Sky, and Why You Should Try


“If you run, you might lose. If you don’t run, you’re guaranteed to lose.” – Happy Birthday to Jesse Jackson (born on October 8, 1941) 

Ahh Fall! I love this time of year! It has always spoken to me of hearth and home, gathering in, and, naturally, being thankful that we have been kept alive all this year. It also makes me think of all the opportunities we have been given. Some opportunities have gone by the wayside, and rightly so; some, however, we should not have let pass us by. Making dinner for a sick friend, making time for our loved ones, making up, making amends…sometimes we can’t see the grand purpose of our lives through the day to day survival and routines. We miss out. We miss opportunities.

I’ve blogged about missed opportunities before (https://freeatlastww.com/2012/06/21/in-the-palm-of-your-hand/ , https://freeatlastww.com/?s=opportunity …), but my main point today is those “pie in the sky” opportunities. If something just seems too good to hope for, many times we settle for something we are worthy of, in our own minds. We think of ourselves as less than, so we accept a life that is less than. I read an article recently that talked about the way our relationships damage us and make us see ourselves as unworthy. This makes us much more likely to tolerate people who mistreat us, because, hey, that’s all we’re worth, right? Why should we hold out for people who respect us, when we don’t respect ourselves? That’s a topic for another blog, perhaps. 🙂

Personally, I have had this burning desire to write books for as long as I can remember. I’ve taken many side roads along the way. There have been times when I felt that I was kidding myself. (I can’t write, I’m wasting my time, etc.) The desire remains inside of me to write and become a published author. I can always improve, naturally; but my love affair with words is going strong. I expect I will always have this dream, because it is part of me. I expect you may also have a “pie in the sky” dream. Are you pursuing it? Are you working on it? Have you given up? No dream is too big. Men have walked on the moon, cured numerous diseases, fed the hungry, improved the quality of life, made fortunes, composed sonnets….on and on it goes. Sometimes, we may be really gifted in a particular area but still have a niggling dream somewhere else too.

A few months back, I had the privilege to stumble upon a video of Sir Anthony Hopkin’s waltz entitled “And The Waltz Goes On” being performed by André Rieu & His Johann Strauss Orchestra. It brought tears to my eyes. To think that this had been composed over 50 years ago, yet remained largely hidden all this time. It’s been quite a while since I saw the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, but I remember feeling the same sort of lifting in my spirit. How beautiful to not only dream your pie in the sky, but to finally be able to take a big bite!

Pursuing your dreams means a lot of work, and tears, and skinned knees, and falling on your face, and praying, and praying, and praying some more. I’ve had times where I realized I’d gotten a little too fixated on the Amazing Jessie, complete with fanfare. I had missed the point of my given dream. There IS, you see, a Dream Giver. He sits on high, high and lifted up, shining in the light of His Glory… God isn’t just some grumpy finger-wagger though we often make Him out to be. He isn’t a genie we can make wishes on, or a magic flute we can play whenever we’re unhappy. God is majestic, benevolent, all-knowing, forgiving, and GIVING. God gives us our gifts to give to others as well as to lead us back to Him. 

For my part, I feel God speaking to me through the motives of my characters, as well as their fears, failings, and triumphs. A musician might hear God in the harmony of notes, the precision and order of a well-played riff or chord. An architect might study the designed alignment of structures and see intent in the weight they can bear, their resistance to fire and earthquake. There is a seed of God in everything. It is sometimes difficult above the tumult of pain and suffering and injustice to see and hear His symphony, yet it is playing for you and me right now. God’s song of love for us has always been playing. 

Maybe when your “impossible Dream” comes to mind, you can remember that this dream was given to you by One who makes ALL THINGS POSSIBLE. Perhaps this dream is the song he sings over YOU. You are not alone. 

Today perhaps you should look again at this Pie in the Sky. Remember the flavor, the spice of it. Remember that aroma as it wafts again your way. God’s love for you is never failing. He is wooing you through the notes of this song, the nuance and specificity of your dream. Nothing can get in between you and His love for you. Nothing can keep you from the fulfillment of God’s gifts in your life. Nothing.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

The Day of Small Beginnings


“Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser (excerpted from the poem Elegy in Joy)

A seed, an egg, a single living cell, a word, a look, a thought….big things start with small things. A small thing can make a huge difference.  For instance, consider a lion cub, small, warm, golden, vulnerable. One day this cub will grow and become a threat, dangerous, a killer. Beautiful, still, but not longer vulnerable, warm and golden, but now a serious challenge. This cub is now a king! Many things in our lives, both terrible and benign, begin with something insignificant.

If we set bits in the horses’ mouths to make them obey us, we can turn their whole bodies about. Likewise, look at the ships: though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the helmsman determines. Even so the tongue is a little member, and it can boast of great things. See how much wood or how great a forest a tiny spark can set ablaze! ~ JAMES 3:3-5 AMP

It behooves us all to pay attention to the small things, the beginnings. A great deal of time and hard work, and hard work over time, is needed to bring great things into reality. Grand empires, dynasties, monopolies, legacies, every thing you hope to accomplish or possess under the sun, every wish, every hope, every promise….well, you get the idea. 🙂 The trick is to see the potential and draw hope from it, instead of seeing the immensity of the mountains you have to climb on the way there. Even Mt. Everest is conquered one well-timed step at a time. Our choices today shape our tomorrows.

As much as personal responsibility and choice are lauded these days, it is perhaps also wise to consider the choices of God. Ever the cheerleader for the underdogs, God chooses us often when we feel the least able to accomplish the impossible dreams he sets in our hearts. We are, if we will be courageously honest, admit that we are small, wretched things, riddled with weakness, misconceptions, infirm in our minds, biased in our opinions, unbalanced in our preferences and life choices. A quick review of the history of the world will tell you all you need to know.

 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:25-29

Perhaps, instead of being impatient with slow starts and small beginnings, we should be encouraged, not because of our own amazingness or ability, but because God, in his unsearchable wisdom, by his unfathomable prerogative, has chosen small things, has blessed small things. God’s real glory and immensity is best seen when our pseudo-substitute glory isn’t in the way. When we are no longer distracted by our opinion of ourselves, whether for good or bad, we will be able to truly look up from our position as objects of grace and mercy at the vast Majesty that is God. Small things are not remarkable in and of themselves. Their worth lies in something far outside of themselves.

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
 
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!” ~ Psalm 8 

Are You Blowing Off More Than Steam?


Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

“Impossible! That will never work for me! I could try that, but it would never make a difference! You don’t know my situation. You don’t know my wife. You don’t know my husband. You don’t know my sister, boss, brother, mother, father, friend, neighbor, co-worker……” Have you ever said these things, or thought them at least? There are a great many promises and precepts of God in the Bible. He lays out the moral and spiritual cause and effect pretty succinctly for us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Knock and the door will be opened. Forgive and you will be forgiven. These are statements in the Bible. We have heard them since childhood. The problem is that we know but we don’t really act like we believe it.

For example, I know that if I put God first and set my mind on him, I will have an inner peace in spite of whatever is going on around me. Because of this, I will be a nicer person, less hostile, less defensive, harder to offend, kinder, more patient, more like Christ. But, I get “distracted”, entertain negative ideas in my head, criticize people and institutions instead of praying for them; I complain, argue, stew over past hurts, get jealous, feel rejected, abandoned, etc. It tends to snowball. So by 9 a.m. I am all worked up and my intention to put God first in my mind is back somewhere in the dust of my train wreck of “doing things my way”. My way stinks. It’s even in the Bible.

“I WAS [ready to be] inquired of by those who asked not; I was [ready to be] found by those who sought Me not. I said, Here I am, here I am [says I AM] to a nation [Israel] that has not called on My name. [Exod. 3:14; Isa. 58:9.] I have spread out My hands all the day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts–A people who provoke Me to My face continually, sacrificing [to idols] in gardens and burning incense upon bricks [instead of at God’s prescribed altar]; Who sit among the graves [trying to talk with the dead] and lodge among the secret places [or caves where familiar spirits were thought to dwell]; who eat swine’s flesh, and the broth of abominable and loathsome things is in their vessels; Who say, Keep to yourself; do not come near me, for I am set apart from you [and lest I sanctify you]! These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence but will repay; yes, I will repay into their bosom.” ~ Isaiah 65:1-6
When it comes to people, I find it so hard to remember how much bigger God is than it all, yes, even than the seriously difficult people and circumstances in my life. We all have them, we may even BE them (we can be honest, it’s just friends here).  When I dredge up old hurts or things from people’s pasts, I’m engaging in a fruitless exercise. Much as I might wish otherwise, there IS no time travel. I cannot go back and call anyone into account. I do not have the ability or the authority. Would I want someone dredging up my past? Um, no thank you please. When I try to figure it out or “self-help, positive think” my way to a better, happier life, it’s like all those people so many years ago who tried to get advice from the dead or sacrifice to idols. Self is a massive idol, after all, so big we fail to see it many times. When I “distract” myself, it’s not by accident. I’m actually just acting out what I believe, deep down: I know better than God. The point I want to make though, in relation to blowing things off is this: when we make statements like the ones above about things being impossible, we call into question the very character and nature of God. If we deem the hard hardheartedness of someone as greater than the love of God, then we haven’t grasped yet that God is not only a God of power and love, but of reconciliation.
“Therefore if any person is [in-grafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of the divine favor [now offered you] and be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness].” ~
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
So basically, after we get a good mind-scrubbing, we are left with this: God is the Creator. He makes things, and he makes things NEW. When we choose to look at people through the lens of their past, or our past, we discount God’s role as Creator and re-Creator. He doesn’t just patch us up. He is in the process of restoring us to the amazing purpose he had at the very beginning of things. Because I am being made new, I can trust that God has been working, is working, and will be working in the people and situations around me, just as he is working in me. When I have this firmly set in my mind, I can have peace knowing that God’s good plan includes some painful scrubbing of all the scrapes I’ve acquired, the diseases and infections that have set in on the inside of my spirit. Sometimes people can be a mirror. Nothing bugs a gossip like a gossip, or a know-it-all like another know-it-all. (That hurt a little for me too.) When I am able to keep myself from judging the inside of someone, which I cannot see, I allow God to show me some pretty amazing things like grace and mercy, peace and truth. God, after all, CAN see our insides. Many times when we see a stubborn, black lump, he sees a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be revealed. Moreover, when we give God his proper place it frees us from a lot of responsibility to “fix”, aka stew and fume and criticize (we are so clueless sometimes, aren’t we?).
An awful lot of expense (ie the suffering of Christ) has gone into God being available to us, because of us turning our backs on him in the first place. Ever generous, ever gracious, he has prepared a vast banquet for us, to share in his goodness, the majesty of his bounteous love and plain awe-inspiring self. Stop thinking of the burnt porridge and look at the table in front of you!
“Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].” ~ Philippians 4:6-8

The Wind in Your Sails


“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American writer and aviation pioneer, 1906-2001)

There are times when being a Christian seems to entail a great deal of goal-setting and to-do list making. IF we pray without ceasing; and have faith to move mountains; and love our enemies; and bathe once a day at least; and speak to other Christians with songs, hymns and spiritual songs; and only wear a suit and tie or dress to church; and never swear; and wait until you’re married; and never judge our neighbor;  and on the list goes…..then we can be a good Christian and cross those things off our be-a-good-guy/girl list. Somehow, though, we never seem to remember all the things we are supposed to do, or do them well or often enough. We get bogged down with the serious metaphysical and theological questions of life, and we forget what it’s all about in the first place.

“But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires. If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.] Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” – GALATIANS 5:22-26 AMP

Yes, we want to work on improving as individuals in general and become more like Christ specifically; but Jesus did not come to die to bind us with rules and regulations that we could beat ourselves (and each other) over the head with when we failed to follow them exactly. Jesus came to free us and to help us along the way as we become sanctified through cooperation with his work in our lives. Jesus came to give us life!

“So Jesus said again, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that I Myself am the Door for the sheep. All others who came [as such] before Me are thieves and robbers, but the [true] sheep did not listen to and obey them. I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His [own] life for the sheep. [Ps. 23.]” – JOHN 10:7-11 AMP

If we spend too much of our lives weighed down with the supposed rules and regulations of what a Christian is supposed to do, then we miss out on the JOY, which is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) Without this strength, our days are flat, dull, and empty of meaning. All the to-do lists in the world cannot make up for the hollowness of our accomplishments. Jesus’ own life was filled with turning aside from his routine, pausing, waiting, reaching out a hand to offer a healing touch, giving a word of comfort, of hope. His goal, you see, was people. You and I, those around us, both friend and foe, celebrities, drugstore clerks, the renowned, the forgotten; we are the goal, the prize Jesus died to win.

“Christ lived his life to bring hope, and died to become the bridge to ultimate love and joy and freedom and fellowship. Our lives can find fulfillment in taking hold of nothing less. So, the next time you find your joy taking a backseat to your ability to measure up, remember it’s not about what you can do, but about what Christ has already done.

But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake. Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), And that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him, not having any [self-achieved] righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law’s demands (ritualistic uprightness and supposed right standing with God thus acquired), but possessing that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ (the Anointed One), the [truly] right standing with God, which comes from God by [saving] faith. [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body]. Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own. I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. So let those [of us] who are spiritually mature and full-grown have this mind and hold these convictions; and if in any respect you have a different attitude of mind, God will make that clear to you also. Only let us hold true to what we have already attained and walk and order our lives by that.” – PHILIPPIANS 3:7-16 AMP

Taking Off the Training Wheels


“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Today’s post was inspired by my cousin’s Facebook post of a picture of her daughter joyfully riding her bike for the first time without training wheels. First-time accomplishments are like that, exhilarating. I’m sure there have been many firsts for you as well; first driver’s license, first car, first place of your own to live, first morning of being married, being clean and sober, being debt-free, paying off a loan, first time you successfully made your favorite dish, first date, first kiss….and on it goes.

If growth and change happen as expected, no one stays in diapers forever. (Shout out to all those toilet-training moms and dads out there.) There is something wonderful about the first page in a new chapter of growth. We were meant to grow, to change, to improve, after all. We can’t remain the same with nothing new in our lives forever. If we do not change, it comes to us all the same; and our refusal to change from one life season to the next makes the life changes that much more difficult to accept. Every challenge (crisis, job loss, break-up, piece of bad news, piece of good news, major life opportunity, health diagnosis, etc.), every change we face in life is an opportunity for us to change. How do we approach the challenge this time? What we tried the last time did not work. How do we figure this out? How do we overcome this thing that comes back to haunt us again and again no matter what we do? We grow and we change and we mature into the men and women God would have us be.

A tender young seedling has to break free from the shell that surrounds and protects it, leaving itself vulnerable to the outside world full of seed-munching animals and extreme temperatures. Then there is a struggle against gravity, through the dirt that presses down on it before it can break out into the sun and air. Likewise, a child learning to ride their bike has to push their body to learn a sense of balance as well as the strength to pedal uphills and away from unfriendly dogs. They have to persevere through all of the scraped knees and elbows until they reach the day when they are ready to ride without help of either a parent or their training wheels. There is so much more you can accomplish without those beginner’s props. There is a lesson here, Kids.

1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love, contains a couple interesting verses toward the end, verses 11 & 12,

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.  For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].

If taken out of context, it might be difficult to figure out what God is trying to say here (not that I’m convinced I truly have it all figured out either myself). Previous to this pair of enigmatic verses, the text talks about how our imperfect knowledge will one day be complete, all of the blanks will be filled in, and our imperfect understanding and confusion about different things will fade away as it is replaced with the actual story on everything from the first word in Genesis to the last word in Revelations, and everything else as well. The final verse of this passage, which follows these two, tells us that love is greater than anything else, even faith and hope. Now, I’m no Biblical scholar (officially anyway), but these verses appearing inside the famous love chapter is a significant thing. (Feel free to add your thoughts on this in the comment section.) Once we take the training wheels off of our bikes, it would be ridiculous for us to continue to act as though we have no freedom or ability. We are missing the point of freedom and maturity if we behave this way in life as well.

Psalm 131:2 is yet another verse that has made me scratch my head. It reads:

“Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.”

This verse was kindly explained to me as a teen but I did not really understand it in much depth until I became a mom. When we adopt the very common perspective that God is our giant catalog store in the sky, we go to him only when we need something. When we don’t get what we want exactly when and how we ask for it, we often sulk and pout and basically act like a nursing infant who sees his mom as the lunch wagon only. As we develop, and we go through the uncomfortable-for-everyone weaning process, we learn to see God as more than his gifts and we can actually have a relationship with him. We also learn that even when we are not getting our prayers answered exactly when and how we would like them to be, God still loves us and has our ultimate good in mind. We can sit calmly in his presence and trust him. Good stuff, right?

Isaiah 1 concerns a conversation God wanted to have with the nation of Judah, which could also represent many Christians’ struggle to actually follow Christ in word and deed. The issue was that they had gotten so comfortable with their unholy lifestyle that they forgot that the many hardships faced by them were largely a result of their own choices, both individually and collectively. Their predicament was compounded by the fact that they continued to falsely believe all was well and God was being unreasonable. We all tend to grow accustomed to our own bad behavior and justify it to ourselves. Meanwhile as we begin to reap the harvest of the seeds we have sown we think God is just being a big meanie. We need to wake up and realize that our lives don’t have to be this way. We can change at any time. We first must acknowledge that there is a problem. We first must admit that we are in the wrong. We have to realize that this place where we are is not the end of the line. There is more for us to experience; there is room for growth and change.

Psalm 92:12-15 states:

“The [uncompromisingly] righteous shall flourish like the palm tree [be long-lived, stately, upright, useful, and fruitful]; they shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon [majestic, stable, durable, and incorruptible].
Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God.
[Growing in grace] they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap [of spiritual vitality] and [rich in the] verdure [of trust, love, and contentment].
[They are living memorials] to show that the Lord is upright and faithful to His promises; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. [Rom. 9:14.]”
There is no reason for us to give up on our chance for change and growth, no matter what our age, ability, or circumstances. If the Creator says that something is possible we should not doubt it. This doesn’t simply refer to some pie-in-the-sky hope that one day our fat, lazy spirits will be caught up in a cloud of don’t-you-worry-your-pretty-little-head in glory. We can take heart that He is able to help us continue along the road, strengthening us as we struggle against the powers and principalities of the world (Ephesians 6:10-18) as well as against the sinful “Old Man” that fights against us the entire way.
“For this reason we also, from the day we heard of it, have not ceased to pray and make [special] request for you, [asking] that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things–
That you may walk (live and conduct yourselves) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing and increasing in and by the knowledge of God [with fuller, deeper, and clearer insight, acquaintance, and recognition].
[We pray] that you may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, [to exercise] every kind of endurance and patience (perseverance and forbearance) with joy,
Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints (God’s holy people) in the Light.
[The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,
In Whom we have our redemption through His blood,[which means] the forgiveness of our sins.”
God’s will and best intentions and plans for us hinge upon us continuing to grow and improve as we become closer and more like Christ. This benefits us as well as everyone around us. As we mature and change we are more and more able to step into the calling God has put inside each one of us. We gain new insight the more we are able to put off our old selves that only drag us down, and put on the renewed selves that Christ died to give us. Our lives become more exciting as we become privy to more and more of the vastness and wonder of God and his immense and unreachable love for us. our relationships improve as the goodness that is Christ oozes out of us and goops up everyone we encounter in our day to day lives. No, it is not a perfectly safe life, anymore than Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is a safe lion, but it is good, and we will never walk it alone.
“THEREFORE LET us go on and get past the elementary stage in the teachings and doctrine of Christ (the Messiah), advancing steadily toward the completeness and perfection that belong to spiritual maturity. Let us not again be laying the foundation of repentance and abandonment of dead works (dead formalism) and of the faith [by which you turned] to God,
With teachings about purifying, the laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment and punishment. [These are all matters of which you should have been fully aware long, long ago.]
If indeed God permits, we will [now] proceed [to advanced teaching].” (verses 1-3)