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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Optimist

I was sort of a gloomy little kid. My cynical phase started in elementary school and never really ended.

Meanness, betrayal, ugly truths revealed by education, the news, personal experiences of how horrid people can be – all these things caused me to regard the world with general wariness.

People are mean. We’re mean. We delight in watching train wrecks, love counting the bodies.

My husband consumes world events. He sits at the kitchen table with his iPad and tells me what’s happening. He asks “Did you hear about…?” My answer is a vague Sure, sometimes No.

Ugliness, fighting, senseless killing and other tragedies: these are uncovered, dissected, examined every day. More bombs dropped, literally and figuratively. It’s become a competition to see what Big Important News Story can get the most entertainment miles. It’s happening; every angle is covered. Tomorrow will bring another thing to be outraged about – that’s a guarantee.

My husband can examine a news story, understand the relative importance of it, hold onto its entertainment value for a second, and let it go. I scan a news item and immediately descend into a rabbit hole of moral, philosophical, and cultural repercussions. It's hard to find my way out. I read sparingly.

Recently I had a conversation with some friends about how social media is turning into a forum for opinions and editorials. For every news item that gets its time in the spotlight, thousands of people are ready to spout their opinions. It’s not what I signed up for, to learn which of my friends are for or against gun control, which presidential candidate they support, what civil rights issue is most important right now.

I signed up on social media to see pictures, to hear funny life experiences, to chat and to connect. That hasn’t changed for me.

I wondered if I have my head in the sand, that I shut my eyes to keep the bad stuff out, that I am na├»ve and stupid and silly for staying away from bandwagons, that I am missing The Big Parade. I care about things that happen in the world – I’m not cavalier about them. But I also don’t wring my hands and worry about them – I can figure out what I can do to help, and sometimes it’s to pray and continue to live this life, to love God and love others.

Then my friend said something that reoriented my perspective:

“Man sinned in the garden. Sin was defeated on the cross but we live with it until Jesus comes again. Evil has its 15 minutes. Jesus wins. The end.”

I am a Christian. I believe in this truth, that God has a plan for each of us, for all of us together. Terrible things happen because of the sin in this world. War and famine and terrorism and hate – they are all the same to God. They aren’t what he wanted when he created this world, but it’s what people have started, and his plan allows us to be redeemed by Christ, to live in a perfect world that is forthcoming.

No evil is bigger than God’s good. I believe that he planted this truth in me, which is maybe a reason why I don’t jump onto bandwagons. I don’t have to figure out why the world is as it is today. I know why. The things that are happening are terrible for sure, and things to come are worrisome, but I believe that good will prevail.

I will stay away from meanness, from the terrible things that people do to each other. I will scroll past fantastic news stories, and refrain from engaging into discussions about the issue of the day. This world is broken – I don’t need to read a hundred articles to understand this, and I don’t want to have conversations illustrating just how bad things are. It breaks me down, focusing on the bad stuff, and I was not created to be broken down. I was created to be a light to shine in this world. To pray and to live this life.

I have hope that God will do what he promised he would. My role is to proclaim this hope.

Maybe I’m not so gloomy after all.

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No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.
Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is unhealthy, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.
Luke 11: 33-36
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All the Stages of Life


The past few years I have known great change, yet it creeps along so subtly that it is only during moments of slowness and reflection that I realize just how different the landscape looks now.

My children are teenagers, vastly different people than who they were not too long ago. They change daily. Our home is fifteen years old, in need of everything new. My body is slower and weaker; I have to be more careful.

Connections with others have changed or are lost. Loved ones are gone now, after periods of illness or infirmity which seem to last a long time in suffering but in retrospect are only months or weeks long. Formerly strong attachments to others have weakened and fallen away.

Other relationships have deepened; marriage and friendships grow stronger through life events that test bonds. New conversations are shared within established relationships, drawing us even closer together, making life sweeter and more grounded.

During all these changes, the Lord has been with me through it all. I am grateful, because change is hard. I need something solid to rest upon. I’m not afraid to admit it.



God is with us all the days of our lives, even when we don’t know him. He watches out for us, and has unique plans for each of us. He waits for us to answer his call – he has infinite patience! He cries in sorrow when one of us turns our back on him. He wants us all to know Jesus, to be saved, but he will never force us to accept his gift.

This kind of grace is unknown to us on earth – not one of us is as selfless as God, ready to let others in our lives grow in directions that go against what we want for them, what we think they should do. We hang on as if our happiness depends on how they conduct their lives.

We each have been given a life of our own. We are given different bodies, gifts, and circumstances that we must figure out how to use to craft a way of life in this world. We each have choices to make that are ours only.

When I think about what God has given me, instead of reflecting on all the ways that my life has changed recently, I am thankful. Thankful for this life that was made to fit me perfectly. Thankful for the choices I have been given, even though some have been difficult. Thankful for arriving at this point in life and faith - it hasn’t been easy.



There have been some things that I could have done without. Some wounds take a long time to heal, and some sorrows are hard to ignore. Even today, I could be more charitable, more helpful, softer with my words and gentler with my attitude. I’m not done yet.

I have no doubt that God will be with me during the rest of my life and all its stages. I have no doubt that there will be more of the growth that has brought me here, even though I sometimes miss it while it’s happening.

At the end of this life, I hope to still be able to look back and say Thank You to the God that saw me through it.

Every single stage.



Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34



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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pondering the Direction



How do we combat the things in our lives that try to pull us away from God? Do we hurry without lingering to obey God’s commands instead of allowing ourselves to be swept away by the world? It’s so easy to go with the flow.

Until the flow turns into a waterfall. A whirlpool. A steep drop-off. Sometimes, the flow ends abruptly and we end up sitting in the middle of a desert.

In each of these scenarios, we are at the mercy of whatever swept us away. Who knows what the end point will be?

Satan attacks God’s strongest warriors, I’ve learned. Those who have strong faith are constantly under spiritual attack from the devil’s schemes. An army of heaven’s soldiers is always fighting for our souls. It’s an abstract thought for a very real world.

The whole business wears me out. I don’t have the strength to stand on my own. I rely on God’s army to back me up, but sometimes, I’m too overwhelmed to fight or to hurry to obey God’s commands. Evil comes too fast, and I always seem to have one hand tied behind my back. So I sit down and wait for the danger to pass.

The thing is: the danger doesn’t pass. It is always there, inching its way closer until it takes control.

We all have areas of weakness where the enemy takes aim. Physical or mental health, relationships, personal tendencies – we all have soft spots. Sometimes they change or multiply. None of us is fully shielded from danger all the time.

I have to assume that not one person on this earth is immune to the strength of Satan’s attacks. None of us is God, after all. Even Jesus was tempted to stray from God. The stronger we are in faith, the more underhanded are the techniques used to fight against us. Satan can even use our own perceived strengths to make us blind and arrogant. We don’t even know that we are being overtaken.

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil,” says the Bible (Eph. 6:11). God’s armor: his word, Jesus’ blood, the Holy Spirit, our faith.

At times I find myself – like the psalmist – pondering the direction of my life. Am I going in the way that leads to the Lord? Or have I become tired and complacent, allowing the world to sweep me away? Worse – am I relying too much on my own strength to carry me through the battle, becoming blind to my own weaknesses?

Only when I am fully anchored to God can I live a holy life. From the smallest seed of faith, I have learned that I can do nothing on my own accord to live the life God intends for me. My weaknesses are too great – I am only one soldier fighting against Satan’s army of evil. But with God’s word, Jesus’ salvation, and the Holy Spirit, I can be victorious, refreshed and ready to fight without lingering.


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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Comfort

I’m all about comfort.

I like a state of ease and contentment, free from pain and worry. We are all like this. We seek the familiar, what makes us comfortable.

Comfort can be a dirty word in the Christian faith – “Get out of your comfort zone!” is a popular command. The idea that if we are comfortable all the time, we aren’t growing in Jesus is emphasized. If you’re all about comfort, you aren’t doing it right.

We can forget that in our zeal to live like Paul, to boldly enter into each day for God no matter the consequence, that God seeks to comfort us. He wants to assuage the hardships in our lives. Further, we are to embrace that which he gives us in every situation, even the comfort that eases our tension, and pass it along to others using our holy gifts of care, compassion, and love.

A full definition states that comfort is a strengthening aid, one that brings assistance and support, or consolation in time of trouble or worry. Solace. I hope to be that for someone – I seek it. God is a comfort to me in this way. I’d like to be this for others, if it’s possible. We are encouraged to do for others as God has done for us.

Comfort is also defined as a feeling of relief or encouragement. One of my main goals in life is to understand others. To relate and to share. Life on this earth is full of trial and worry; when we know others who either share our experiences or love us enough to weather the storms with us, we are comforted by their presence. We feel – dare I say – blessed by God, who gave us others who get us. We are encouraged by them to keep on keeping on. In turn, we encourage and promote others’ feelings of relief when we share our experiences with them.

The definition of comfort goes on: contented well-being. A satisfying or enjoyable experience. One that gives or brings comfort.

These are all things that God gives us. These are not bad things.

We can all swing the other way when it comes to comfort – we can ignore the needs of others because they don’t fit into the schedule for the day, for our lives. I’m certainly not promoting this level of comfort that cocoons us away from others. Although sometimes it’s tempting.

But when we look at what God does for us, we can’t help but want to do this for others, to share his glory and goodness and our faith – how did we get here? Look - I am just like you, scared and unsure and uncomfortable of my purpose here. But God shows me, and he will show you, too. It isn’t always easy and enjoyable, but I have learned to seek him during the hard times, and he has – impossibly – made them comfortable. He has comforted me in my grief, and he will do that for you.

Comfort is not a bad thing in this life, when seen from a godly perspective. We can use what God gave us to comfort others, building relationships and being a light for him. It might not always be comfortable to reach out, but when we know that we are being used by God to bring a feeling of ease and contentment to others? There’s not much better than that.

Dear God,
You have comforted my heart and my soul and my mind many times over.
I seek to pass this care onto others who come into my life.
Please give me the opportunities to share your comfort.
Thank you. Amen.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

No Time for Planning

Ask anyone on the cusp of a major life decision when they’re going to take the leap, and you might hear one of the following:

I’m not quite there yet.

I’m not ready.

I have to get my ducks in a row.

The planning stage is still in effect, the time for execution not yet arrived.

I get it. I say it when I’m buying time before taking the plunge in any direction. Often my reasons for putting things off to the future are because of procrastination instead of planning, but let’s not split hairs.

Sometimes, the great leap into the unknown with no planning involved can be magic. For all of the times I’ve said “I’m not ready yet – I’ve got to prepare,” I’ve said at least as many times “What the heck – let’s do this!”

And that’s why I have two children.

Some things, when aren’t planned, work out beautifully.

Many life circumstances happen whether or not we are ready. Taking pains to plan our next move are wasted when a timeline is sped up or eliminated. During these times, we have a choice to go with what happens and embrace a new situation, or fight against it and spin our wheels.

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One day Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. There he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were throwing a net into the lake. They were fishermen. “Come and follow me,” Jesus said. “I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Then Jesus walked a little farther. As he did, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat preparing their nets. Right away he called out to them. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men. Then they followed Jesus.

Mark 1:16-20 

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Can you imagine leaving your job instantly to follow some dude walking down the street who called you to him? That’s exactly what these disciples did. They were successful business owners, too, not a couple of jackwagons out casting a line into a pond on their day off. They certainly had plans to keep their fishing business thriving, and they left it all to follow Jesus. And, by the way, the life of a disciple wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, either. It was hard times.

And they embraced it.

This lesson isn’t lost on me. Embracing what comes my way is better than fighting it in the long run. Life changes when plans shift, and if we allow it, resilience kicks in and we figure out how to handle our new situation. Sometimes we drag ourselves through it kicking and screaming, but that’s no way to live. We learn more and do better when we make the best out of what we are given.

And if we believe in God, we just might see his hand in every step we take.

I believe that God has called me to do certain things in this life. He created my path – one that I can’t see clearly, but I can navigate it with his help. The decisions I make come from past choices, and he guides me according to them.

Sometimes I’ve planned these choices, been ready for them. Sometimes, not so much. Some of the outcomes from these choices are wonderful, expected.

Sometimes, not so much.

But along this path, one thing is certain: I am learning about who God is, and who he made me to be. Not who I want to be, not always who I’ve planned to be.

When Jesus calls us, we might not have time to plan or figure out how to follow him – we just follow him. With his help, everything falls into place and our actions are right. No amount of earthly planning makes up for the perfection of God’s will and his glorifying love. 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Sleeping Warrior

In the middle of the night, when I sometimes wake for the bathroom, a drink of water, a sudden noise, a change in temperature, or for no reason whatsoever, my mind wanders.

It lands on all the things that plague me, the little doubts and worries that pick and poke at me during daylight hours but that are normally dissipated by strong reason and rationalization, confidence and assuredness. When I have all my faculties, and I can clearly choose not to sweat the small things.

It could be a financial concern, a strained relationship, something I said that might be construed as offensive, something coming up that I am not ready to face, all the work I need to do the next day – these are the things that I think of late at night when my mind is open and vulnerable.

Years ago these things would keep me up all night. I would stew and worry and think and think and think – all to no avail. Nothing can be done in the wee hours, no solution carried out while the world is sleeping. The idea that nothing could be done right then would be added to my list of worries.

It's not like that so much anymore. Though these thoughts still spring to mind upon waking, I have grown enough to be able to banish these thoughts more readily.

I realize that Satan parades these things across my mind when I am weak and prone to attack. He preys when I am weak – chooses the parts of me that are exposed – to strike at first.

The realization makes me angry – how dare he do this? I have done nothing to deserve his attacks. I am not in a war here. Why doesn’t he pick on a terrible person, someone who brazenly lives with no shame or fear or conscience, someone who is more easily destroyed because of the choices he or she makes? I’m just living my life, making errors like everyone else – I am not so special.

But I am special. I am God’s child. I am a warrior, even when on my back, groggy and soft and at my most vulnerable.

Satan has picked off the weak already. They are of no concern to him, and easy prey. He will fight viciously for my soul, battling it out in my room – in my mind – in the middle of the night. He relishes the fight, because he knows I am hard-won. If he can get to me, he has won a mighty victory.

In those moments soon after Satan tries to assume power over my mind, I fight back. Not with fists or weapons, but with prayer. I turn from plaguing thoughts and pray to God to take them. I tag in God by throwing at him the cares and concerns that the devil tries to burden me with, and ask him for my next move. And just like that, I am protected.

In the middle of the night, when I am weak, I can still fight. I can summon the name of God and thank him for all he has done. Satan has no power when compared to the power that God wields in my life. God fights for me, alongside me, before me, and after me – I believe this wholeheartedly.

When I eventually fall asleep after Satan's attack, my last thought is on God’s goodness.  My faith is strengthened for another day; this particular battle has been won.



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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Coat



Have you ever had a time in your life where every Bible verse you read seems to echo in your mind? This happens to me pretty often. It’s like that old Sunday School trick where you open the Bible randomly, close your eyes and point on the page – God always has something specific to tell you in the verse right under your fingertip.

Sometimes it’s not just every verse that applies. It’s every blog post, every image, every song heard that screams at us to focus on God at that point in life. To turn to him. To get back on the path.

Usually this happens during a place of suffering. Whether tangible or nebulous, warranted or unexpected, self-imposed or involuntary, we struggle in life. And we have to get a grip on the struggling to move on.  When we feel the weight of life – and often, our own sins – acutely, it’s like a smothering coat, one not easily removed.

We come across those words, those images, those melodies, and at once we realize that we are being stifled. We become impatient to shed our heaviness.

But sometimes, instead of shedding it, we cover it up with a heavier coat. We rationalize our behavior. We shift blame. We point outward instead of inward. Or we continue in our behavior, pretending that we haven’t done anything wrong, ignoring the problem and kicking it further down the road.

It’s hard to face responsibility. We get stuck in patterns of behavior that are difficult to change. We don’t even know how to change them, we are so entrenched. So we go on, acting as if we haven’t done anything wrong, not aware that our heavy coat is keeping us from moving forward and experiencing the warmth of the sun on our shoulders.

When I am weighed down by sin, I search my brain for lessons I’ve learned. What past experiences are similar to this one? What did I do to get through it? Sometimes, I am still wearing a particular coat I thought I had shed and I work to undo the fasteners before moving onto the next layer. It might be a way of thinking left over from an old set of beliefs. It could be that I haven’t really been aware of how I’ve been living lately, and it’s hardly godly.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what I have learned from who I have become. I need God’s clarity to know what to do, what to focus on, how to proceed. My life is in his hands. I trust him to put me back on the path, to shine the light on my face.

But first, I need to get rid of that coat.

Dear Lord, forgive me today of my sins. They are many. Please help me to see clearly my next steps, and give me the wisdom to see your path. Thank you, Amen.


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