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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do Over


When I was in tenth grade, I failed math.

It blindsided me.  I took advanced math classes; as recently as seventh grade I was taking eighth grade math. Then, suddenly, my math proficiency ended. 

I stumbled through ninth grade Geometry, barely getting by in tests and homework.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask the teacher for extra help even though I desperately needed it.  The few questions I asked were met with answers that confused me.  Relief came when my report card showed I had squeaked by with a C.

Then tenth grade came, and with it Algebra II.  It was still an advanced class; most other students in my grade were taking either Algebra I or Geometry.  From the first day I struggled.  The class progressed too fast; I couldn’t keep up.  I made excuses: my teacher hated me, I missed a test, I didn’t get the homework.

The truth was that I was out of my league.

Nights at home doing math homework ended with me crying at the kitchen table, my dad growing frustrated with my inability to understand.  He went to college for engineering, not teaching mathematics to emotionally fragile teenage girls.

Despite my father’s help, I was failing.  It became clear that amidst the As and Bs, I would also receive an F on my report card.  It was mortifying.

F meant Failure. 

My parents intervened.  It was decided that I would no longer receive a grade in Algebra II.  I would audit the class for the rest of tenth grade and take it again in eleventh grade, when most of my classmates were taking it.  In the meantime, a math tutor was hired to catch me up on the fundamentals I missed.

During eleventh grade, I hit the ground running, and aced Algebra II all year.

I better have.  I took it two years in a row.  Go ahead.  Ask me anything about Algebra II.  

On second thought, don't.

A few years ago our church small group read Philippians 4:13, which says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." We talked about what this verse means to each of us.  Some said that it means that Christ strengthens us to get through rough times.  Others said that Christ is present in every second of our lives and that he gives us strength to do everything.  One woman joked that she used to think it meant that she could keep adding tasks to her schedule and that Christ would give her superhuman strength to complete them successfully.  We all laughed at that.

True to form, I didn’t say much.  I didn’t really know what it meant. 

Today, I know that it means that without Christ, I can’t do much of anything.  He gives me the desire and the tools needed to do life.  I might still fail, but he gives me the strength to carry on, to pick myself up and start again.  A do-over, like I had in math class.  It may require a lot of personal effort, but I can find the strength to work through it with Christ at my back, my front, and on my sides. 

His strength never weakens; we may lose sight of it for a time, or we may think we don’t need it, and repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  Eventually when we fall it might take us a while to find Christ’s hand in life again, but it never goes away.  There is always a lesson to learn.

Christ gives me the strength I need to get through every day.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he gave me the strength to get through my math class disaster, as he has every single day before and since then.

For me, this revised verse is true: I can do all things, over and over again if needed, through Christ who strengthens me.  Don’t I know it.

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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Birds

Spring is here.  The sun shines, the bees buzz, the trees and flowers bloom and accessorize the neighborhoods and streets all around this place.

The birds chirp and flit around, busy as can be doing whatever it is birds do.

They have not a care.  They worry about nothing.  They swoop and zoom over our heads, twigs and pieces of dried grass and string in their beaks as they search out the perfect place to build a home for the season.

They do only what is necessary for their own survival and act only according to their own instincts.  They don’t have the capacity, at least we don’t know of any, to worry about where their next meal will come from, if their nest will stand the thunderstorm that will shake the tree behind our house.

When the tree is cut down, they will pick up and build another nest in another tree.  They won’t worry about where they will find the resources they need to build it, just as they didn’t worry about how they would create the one they had just lost.  There will be no remorse for the devastation they experience.  There will be no sadness, no tears.  Only forwardness, the future.

I am happy I’m not a bird.  I like having choices about how to live, to help others, to do better, to learn and to be a child of God, even when life feels burdensome sometimes.

But still.  To not know another way to be.  To know no evil or confusion; only what I am meant to do.  This is appealing.  And to fly.

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“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing?  Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow.  They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.  Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25-34 (NLT)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Off Track


I was derailed.

A little off, a little overwhelmed, a little bit more complain-y than usual.  This was a period where I was annoying myself.

The worst part was that nothing much was happening.  Life was chugging along as usual.  I just went off the grid a little.

Each day was like trudging through mud.  It would start off smoothly, my feet firmly on the path.  As the day wore on, my footsteps veered off – one in a ditch, one on the road.  Headway slowed.  The end of every day yielded weariness, the disheartening feeling that the day was no better than yesterday.  Troubles accompanied me despite any attempt to leave them behind.

Nothing alleviated the heaviness.  Prayer, quiet time, praise music, Bible study, church, accomplishing tasks, spending time with loved ones, helping others, writing, exercise.  These things would work for a time, but the unease always leaked back in.

I felt removed from God, without a net or a guide, lost in the wilderness.  God was listening to my prayers, but I heard this response: Mmmm hmmm.  I’ll get to you in a bit.  I’ve got something else going on right now.  You’ll be all right.  Try to figure it out yourself.

Which is silly.  God doesn’t have limited time or will to take care of any of our needs – he never leaves.  But I was bereft and confused.  Everything was going along wonderfully, and then something shifted.  Was this a test?  A learning opportunity?  I couldn’t figure out which one.  Time after time I gave my control to God, and prayed that my will would become his.  But it wasn’t happening.

One day while reading online articles and blog postings, the fever broke.   A stranger’s “What Would Jesus… Blog?”  A friend’s “Killing the Proverbs 31 Woman…And Other Impossible Standards.”  A favoriteblogger’s online memoir.  The next day at Bible study, women recited scripture they had memorized.  The realization that for months, the book of James was in my life through Bible study and sermons at church hit me like a brick and I read it again; God was telling me something.

Clearly God is not far from me.  I was blind, turned away from him.  I had let this world’s life take hold of my soul – I had not guarded God’s word in my heart.  The result was struggle, unease, heaviness, confusion.

It is amazing what God can do in our lives.  Perspective can change in an instant; words from the Bible can jump out and snap us out of our self-imposed prisons.  Time can heal the damage we have suffered.  Scars that remain from the injuries we endured remind us where we were, and we become stronger and wiser. We just have to be aware, listen, and tip our faces to God’s light.  Every day, again and again.  We can get back on the path.  It will take time and effort, but the path remains, and he is always waiting for us to find it.

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Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.  Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.  These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.  Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.  He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1 (NLT)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pray For Me


I hear this a lot.  Pray For Me, I am having surgery tomorrow.  Pray For Me, I have an appointment with the cancer doctor.  Pray For Me, I don’t know how to deal with my drug-addicted son.  Pray For Me, my grandmother died.  Pray For Me, I can’t get pregnant.  Pray For Me, I lost my job.

When people say Pray For Me, I do it.  It may be silent, and it may be short, but I pray.  If someone asks me to lift them up in prayer, I imagine the request coming from God himself; the prayer will be heard.   Plus, my conscience won’t let me get away with saying that I’ll pray and then not do it.  Only God and I know if I am lying if I don’t pray, and that’s good enough for me.

It helps when we know that others pray for us.  Everyone likes to know that others are thinking of them. Whether or not prayers are answered, praying for another person is an act of love that rarely goes unappreciated.  When people hear that you’ve been praying for them, their faces light up; their smiles show that they have received a gift, and the gift is welcomed.  It is, after all, the gift of appealing to God on their behalf. 

And because I am who I am, I would be lying if I didn’t also include that the appeal of praying is that prayer is free, flexible and always fits.  I don’t have to weigh pros and cons about helping another person by praying.  There are few repercussions from praying. I don’t have to really put myself out there if I am uncomfortable with acting.  I trust that God will take my prayers and use them to his will.

I know – I am soft, a huge wimp.  No Crusades are starting with this gal.  I am no Joan of Arc.

Despite the belief that God hears our prayers, and the overwhelming evidence that he responds to them through miraculous means, and despite the ease of praying, I rarely ask others to pray for me.  I am a reserved person who has a history of difficulty opening up to people, but I believe With God, All Things Are Possible, and I have left my pride at the door in so many other areas of my life.  I feel utterly transparent sometimes.  So why is it so hard for me to ask others to Pray For Me?

In my closest circle of prayer warriors, we have shared some life-altering stories.  We have shown love to each other in many ways, but mostly through prayer.  We pray each other through difficulties and share how the knowledge of those prayers has helped.

But I hold back.  I make excuses.  My problems are not really problems; they are just complaints.  My life is pitiably sheltered and free from trauma.  I compare the relative ease of my life against my sister’s difficult one.  And yes, I judge others who say Pray For Me for every hangnail and bad haircut.  I don’t want to be that person. 

And yet there is a bigger reason why I don’t ask others for prayer.

Sometimes I don’t want to share.  I don’t want to be that open.  I carefully select what I want the world, even my innermost circle, to know about me.  I hold it in; I swallow it down again and again.  I can appeal to God myself; that way, no one else can judge me the way I have judged so many others. 

I am not utterly transparent.

It is humbling to realize that you lie to yourself.  It is confusing to figure out how to unravel the knots you have tied yourself up in, even unwittingly.  It is hard to find the path that you have blindly strayed from.

And when those are the issues you see in the mirror, it is almost impossible to admit out loud that you need prayer, that you need others to appeal to God on your behalf.  You might even feel as if you don’t deserve it.

So, please.  Pray For Me.  I will do the same for you.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16 (NIV)