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Growing Us… It’s Kind Of His Thing

“Trust the Lord and his mighty power.  Remember his miracles and all his wonders and his fair decisions. You belong to the family of Abraham, his servant; you are his chosen ones, the descendants of Jacob.”  Psalm 105:4-6

So for 2018, I wanted to choose an area of my life that needed some attention and work on it a bit… a place in my relationship with the Lord that could use some shoring up. The area the Lord showed me was in my ability to trust Him. It’s not that I don’t trust Him with things. I trust that He alone was able to redeem me. I completely trust Him with my salvation. He chose me. He adopted me into the family of Abraham. I trust Him for that. I trust Him with my eternity, hands down, without a doubt. But do I really trust Him with everything else, or do I think I am the better overseer of those things? If I am honest, really honest, sometimes I think I am better, or at least I think He needs my counsel. I bring Him these issues of concern, but then I want to advise Him on how to best meet my needs with those things. I mean, just in case He is unclear or unaware of my particular situation. You know… just in case. Because I know.

Here’s the thing, though. When you commit to growing in an area, the Lord is all too ready to offer up situations where you might actually do that. Grow, I mean. We’ve only just put a toe into February, and already I have had the opportunity to trust Him with some really BIG things this year. Three. Big. Things. All of which He resolved without my help. Each served to prove just how little I really do trust Him. Oh, I went immediately to Him with each of these things, knowing that the thing to do was to lay them at His feet and walk away. I did the first part. I laid each item right there. So close they could each have been touching His foot. But then I reminded Him what was at stake with each situation. I pointed out, with great clarity and sound argument, just what would happen if He did not choose to resolve these issues in the way I thought best. And then I sat right there next to the issues and waited for my next opportunity to advise my omnipotent, omniscient God.

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So picture it. There I sat, looking up at Him. Sitting at the ready to further advise the moment He needed a word from me. And there He sat looking at me, never once opening His mouth to ask for my help… just waiting for me to realize my mistake. My lack of trust. The absurdity that He would ever need counsel from me. He waited for me to get it. To realize that once again, I was not willing to fully trust in His ability to work together for good the loose strands of the situations I had brought to Him.

Eventually I got it. I did. As the fog lifted, the absurdity of what I was doing became apparent to me. I’d like to say that it became apparent before each situation resolved. I’d like to say that I was able to “Remember his miracles and all his wonders and his fair decisions.” At the time I didn’t allow that to influence my behavior. But hey, I still think I’m making progress. At least I am aware of my mistake. We are all about “raising awareness” these days, right? We can’t do something about an issue that we are not at least aware of, right? I’m counting this as a positive step.

How about you? When it comes to trusting in the Lord with those situations and people nearest and dearest to your heart… where are you? Maybe trust is not your issue. But you have an issue… Don’t kid yourself, we ALL have issues. Ask Him to show you yours. He will, and then He will work with you strengthen you in that area. Growing us. It’s kind of His thing.

I Am Inadequate

For the longest time after my mother died, the sound of an ambulance was like a kick to the chest. This was fairly problematic since I work at a hospital where ambulances and their sirens are a regular part of the scenery. But it wasn’t just that. Pictures of that night would just pop into my mind without any warning whatsoever.  My mom did not die quietly in her sleep. It was not a sweet goodbye with her family gathered quietly near. It was panicked and gut wrenching, and those pictures became a repeated reminder of how very inadequate I really am. For weeks and months those pictures just decided to appear at the most inopportune times.

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I didn’t know how long it would last… those terrible pictures. Those sirens. Oh, how I longed for the day when those pictures would fade from my memory. When the thoughts of my mom would be of better days when she was younger, healthier, happier. Because the only thoughts I had for so long were everything but that.

I don’t know the day when those sirens stopped messing with me. But they don’t anymore. I still remember every detail of the night my mom died, but the severity of it, the harsh edges are blurring a bit. Those pictures don’t visit me with such regularity now. There is a saying that tells us that time heals all wounds. It’s a lie. Time does nothing. It has no power to heal anything. It simply marches on, unwavering, without mercy or grace. But God… but God, who lives outside of time… holds the power to heal us. To soften those rough places and to bring us to a place of peace and rest.

The night my mom died, I realized just how completely inadequate I am. There I was… a nurse of nearly 30 years, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to save my own mother. Oh, the irony. How many people over the years had I been able to help and see them returned to health? But not my own mom. My nursing instincts kicked in well enough, but they were not enough. I was not enough. I stood in the room with my mom as paramedics worked on her. My feet were planted. Superman himself could not have moved me from that place. If my mom had to endure their attempts to save her, I was going to endure watching it.

I don’t know when the sirens stopped bothering me. But in His way and in His timing, God has brought me to a place of greater peace and rest. The truth is, I am inadequate. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why I need Him so much? Isn’t it in the face of our frailties that He becomes God Almighty? That He covers our insufficiency with His sufficiency?

Can you relate to any of this? Have you felt those sucker punches to the chest? Those feelings of inadequacy that mock you? You keep thinking, in time, things will get better. I hope that they do, but it won’t be because of anything time has done. That’s a sneak cheat of the enemy. If he can keep you putting your hope in time, then he’s got you forever. Our hope is in Christ. He’s the only one who delivers us from the pit and places us back on solid ground. He is the only one with the power to accomplish it. It gets better, but only because His promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is faithful (Psalm 36:5). He never leaves us. He never forsakes us (1 Deuteronomy 31:6). He is our Comforter and our Deliverer.  We really are inadequate, but praise be to God, He is not.

Three Honest Steps

One of my all-time favorite songs is a Loggins and Messina song called, The House at Pooh Corner.I’m partial to it because of my life long adoration of Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends in the 100 Acre Woods. The lyrics of the song take us back to simpler times, when the most difficult thing to deal with was how to get a honey jar loose from Pooh bear’s nose.

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Real life is much more complicated than the amusing trials and tribulations in the lives of sweet Pooh and his pals. Sometimes we wander so far from those simple times we fear we might never ever get back home again.

At one time or another, we have all gone off and done or said things we wish we could undo. In that way, we are all prodigals. Did you know that “prodigal” simply means: lacking restraint? I know I have lacked restraint in areas, and I am sure that you have, too. My husband might say I lack restraint when it comes to purchasing shoes. He might be right. Sometimes, though, our lack of restraint brings us real trouble we didn’t count on. We might not have gone so far as the son did in Jesus’s parable in Luke 15, but we have all decided to go our own way and found ourselves in a mess.

It’s during those times that we have a choice to make. We can continue down the path we have chosen, or we can return home to the Father. But how do we do that? Sometimes we come to believe that we have to stay on the path we’ve carved out for ourselves. This is the choice we made, and pride tells us to press on. That’s just bad information. Home is rarely as far away as we think it is. Returning home requires only one thing. Honesty.

The prodigal son in Jesus’s parable had to be honest. Initially, he had to be honest with himself. Luke 15:17 says, “…he came to himself”. Have you ever come to yourself? I have. Those moments are both trial and triumph. To strip away the lies we have told ourselves and embrace the bare truth about who we really are and what we are really doing, is big time. But it’s the first step in making our way home again.

The second step was all about the father. The son’s plan in verse 18 was to fall at his father’s feet, confess his sin, and beg forgiveness. The second step in the journey back is coming clean with the Father.

For the prodigal, going home and becoming as one of his father’s paid servants, meant he would have to come clean with others. I mean, it’s not like the servants wouldn’t know who he was, what he had done, and what was going on now. People talk. Going home meant getting honest with others, too. That would be the third step in the journey home.

The prodigal son had grown up with everything he ever needed provided for him. I’m sure those in his father’s employ would have traded places with the son in a heartbeat, but the son just could not see his own good fortune. For him, his fortune was out there somewhere, calling to him, and it was that voice that won out. We have all heard that voice before, and most of us have chased after it at least once. We have lacked the necessary restraint that would keep us on the path marked out for us. Some of us have chased that voice for quite a distance, but it really is just three honest steps back home.

The parable Jesus told doesn’t continue past that day of homecoming when the celebration was planned. I wish it did. We don’t know what day two or three or twenty looked like. I’m sure things were different. The son had learned some things, and likely the father had, too, in those days of waiting. I’m sure their relationship didn’t just pick up where it left off, but I’m pretty sure it was better. After all, it was honest and authentic.

Sometimes the very thing that keeps us following that voice of folly is the scenario we have written in our minds of what our homecoming might look like. How could it be okay? The Father couldn’t possibly be happy to see us after all that’s happened, could He? The son certainly didn’t expect the measure of grace his father showed him. How often do we, too, underestimate the love of our Father for us? Pretty often, I think.

We can’t go back to the house at Pooh corner. But there’s a real, merciful and gracious Father who waits without growing weary for our homecomings. No matter how long it’s been, or how far we’ve traveled. It’s just who He is.

Overwhelmed

If I were to list the challenges I have faced during 2017, you might find my list compares, in number and challenge, toe to toe with yours. How do I know this? Well, because of what James wrote in the New Testament. He said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2)

He didn’t say, “if” we face trials. He said “when”. And he said we are to count it all joy. All of it. Why?

“…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

We all face these temporary struggles. It’s just when they seem to pile on at the same time or seem to come at us down a conveyor like in the candy factory scene on the I Love Lucy show that things can get tricky.

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Our youngest son was in a car accident recently. That is not the kind of call any mother wants to get about her kid. Feeling terribly thankful that no one was seriously injured, I was still a bit emotional about the whole affair… and feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed. That was my word for the day that day. I tried it on several times and decided, yes, I was feeling overwhelmed.

It didn’t help that I began listing out the issues currently on my plate. As I played out this ridiculous scene in my head, I began to feel the crushing weight of it all. I began feeling that no one person should have to handle of this at once or in succession. There was no way I could be expected to handle all of this… stuff.

And then it hit me. While I FELT overwhelmed, I was not, in actuality, overwhelmed. I began to do a word search for the word “overwhelmed” in scripture, and found a situation where people were really, truly overwhelmed. When Moses had safely led the Hebrews on foot and on dry land across the Red Sea, God released the waters which then came cascading down upon the Egyptian army that was in full pursuit of them. The Bible says right there in Deuteronomy 11:4 that the soldiers were overwhelmed by the waters. They didn’t FEEL overwhelmed, they actually were overwhelmed.

What I understand about feelings is that they will lie to us. I may feel a certain way about a person or situation, but in my head, I know the truth is far different than what I feel. I have to take control of those false feelings and stand upon what I know.

Here is what I know.

  • I had a lot of tough things to deal with in 2017, but that is okay. God has created me to be a problem solver, and so I work each problem until I find a solution. And sometimes the solution is letting God handle that for which I have no clear solution.
  • I cannot afford the luxury of giving in to my feelings. I have to stand upon the truth in order to withstand the trials that come in this life. There are no trials that are unique to me, and I should not be surprised when they come. See? It says so right here: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)
  • And finally, I am made of good stuff. I stand as a daughter of the Most High King. I do not wallow or whine (much). It does not mean that I won’t struggle, but even though I am hard pressed on every side, I am not crushed. I am often perplexed but I am not in despair. I may be persecuted, but I am never abandoned. I am struck down, but I am not destroyed. (Paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
  • I am NOT overwhelmed.

As I start 2018, my plan is to give up the word, “overwhelmed” for a much better word. Because as I look at all that is likely to come this year, it could seriously become a theme. Instead, I believe my word for 2018 is trust. I will trust Him in my uncertainty. I will trust Him with plans.  I will trust Him with my family. I will trust Him when it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to meet my obligations. I will trust Him when I cannot see the way. I will trust Him to make a way.

As you look to 2018, what word is the Lord leading you to stand in faith upon this year? Don’t know?

Ask Him.

 

 

Five Years From Now

When we moved back to Birmingham several years ago, I interviewed for a job in my field of expertise. The woman conducting the interview asked me a typical interviewer question. She asked, “What do you want to be doing in five years?” With complete honesty, I said, “I hope to be doing this.” She was pleased with my answer. I got the job.

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But now that I look back on that day, I am disappointed in my answer. Like I said, I was honest. I was good at what I did, had trained hard and long for it, but did I really hope to be doing that same thing in five years? Here’s the truth. No matter how hard we try to stay the same, we will change. None of us will be the person we are today in five years. We will be better at our jobs, or we will be worse. We will be fatter or skinnier. Our talents will be more or less developed.  Our marriages or other relationships will be stronger or weaker.

And we will either be closer or farther away from God in five years… depending on what we do and how we invest. If I choose to seek God in prayer, worship, Bible study, and godly friendships, then I will be closer to God and stronger in my faith moving forward. If I drift away from my church, let those friendships that push me toward Jesus slide away, and find myself too busy to pray, worship, and spend time in my Bible, then I will be farther away from God in five years.

In life, there is no such thing as putting down anchor and staying put. We are either moving forward or we are drifting backward. We can allow the wrong influences impact us, and we will lose ground. We will eat too much, think less of our spouses, or fall away from God. We can gain positive ground by being very intentional about the influences that speak into our lives, and by doing so, we’ll find that we are in a much better place five years from now than we are currently.

There are some things in my life that I’m not too happy about right now. Like you, I have stress. I have worries and sadness, challenges and struggles. There are some things that I need to do today that will have an impact on where my life will be tomorrow and the day after that. I can chart a course for a destination with intention, or I can drift with very little effort and find myself in a disappointing place in the future.

I would answer that interview question much differently today than I did years ago. My answer today would likely not land me that job. I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now in five years. I don’t want my relationships to be where they are, or my depth of faith in God, or my talents to be at the same level. I want more. I want different. I want better.

So what does that look like? Well, for me… I am being very intentional about the people who speak into my life. I need people who are going to push me and challenge me. I need people to call me out and speak truth over me. Sure… sometimes it hurts a bit, but it’s how we manage to keep moving forward. I make myself pray and worship and seek the knowledge found in the pages of scripture. And yes, sometimes I have to make myself do it. And I am seeking out new challenges. Currently, I am a semester away from earning a Master’s Degree. It’s painful, for sure… teaching this old dog new tricks, but it will take me places that I have not yet been.

My point is this… it is pointless to say that I want things to be the same in five years as they are today (Even if today is really great). It won’t happen. I have to chart a course today if I want to move ahead tomorrow and the day after that. Otherwise, I’ll be drifting back, becoming less than, and getting nowhere good any time fast.

May God bless us as we move forward with intention in the New Year!

Change is Hard. Do it Anyway.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Whether it’s getting a degree, starting a business, growing a marriage, or losing ten pounds, change takes effort. One thing is for sure, the easiest thing we can do is to do nothing. It takes absolutely no effort whatsoever to remain just where we are. We have that situation down pat. Here’s the interesting thing. We often WANT things to be different, but we are resistant to implementing change needed to ensure things ARE different.

Most of us are afraid of change. It’s not that we wouldn’t like for some things to be different. We’d just like for them to be different without any effort on our part, and with every assurance that we will be safe and suffer no ill effects from said change. Sadly, that’s not the way we get to different. Getting to different involves a lot of venture. We have to venture out of our comfort zones and try. Every venture won’t lead us to the change we hope for, but no venture at all will lead us nowhere at all.

I’d like to lose about five pounds. Okay. Ten. As I type this, I have just sucked down a twenty ounce bottle of Mountain Dew. I had a donut from Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. And I just ate three mini Reese’s cups. Chances are, if I don’t make some changes to my diet, I’m not going to lose the weight I want to lose. In fact, I’m going to gain more. I have told myself I am going to make the change in January. I literally plan on eating my way into the New Year. But at least I have a plan for change. Who wants to start a diet in the midst of the holiday season?

Seriously, though, I know that unless I stop eating and drinking unhealthy things and start adding exercise back into my routine, I am likely not going to see the change to my waistline I hope to see. Today, sweet sugary goodness matters more to me than my waistline, and that is nothing more than a head game. But as I said, I have a plan.

Sometimes having a plan is the best first step toward making a needed change. First wrapping our minds around change helps a lot. We can imagine what it might look like for our situation to be different. Currently, I am imagining what it would be like for my pants to fit.

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My husband wishes that I would get out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off every morning… but my body and (mostly) my mind need a minute or fifteen to get used to the idea. I PLAN to get up… soon. After I’ve thought about it a little while. In time, and with a moan, my will pushes my feet to the floor, and I sit up. Change can be like this. It can be painful. It often requires a fair amount of convincing. The initial resistance can be tough, but change can start with just the idea of it. Sadly though, that’s where many of us get stuck. We like the idea of change, but our feet never quite hit the floor.

For real change to happen, we have to let go of old thought patterns. This is harder than we might think. Scientists know that thought patterns are actually hardwired into our brains. But here’s the good news, we can fix those. Just because we have always thought one way, doesn’t mean we can’t learn to think or act in another way. We just have to begin to think different-ly.

I can remember being terrified of the monkey bars on the playground at my elementary school. (I realize there have been precious few segues in this piece, but try to stay with me.) There were two ways of getting across. You either had to climb up on the very top and climb over, or you reached for the first rung and swung across, bar after terrifying bar. I was scared either way. Both options meant I had to let go of what I had so that I could grab hold of what came next. That’s kind of how change is. We can’t hold on too tightly to what we have and be able to grab hold of what’s next. We have to let go. What we have is familiar, comfortable in our grasp. But what if the next rung will bring us better or amazing?

I think you know the change you need to make. I know the change I need to make, and there’s no time like the present to start.

Change is hard.

Do it anyway.

Looking in all the Wrong Places

“Looking for love in all the wrong places,

Looking for love in too many faces,

Searching their eyes, looking for traces,

Of what I’m dreaming of…”

It amazes me that I can remember the lyrics to that entire song from 1980. I don’t even like country music, but it was what my parents listened to when I was growing up, so it was sort of force fed to me. I can recall lyrics to far more 1970s and 80s country songs than I care to admit. It’s a curse, really. I can’t remember where I put my phone, but hum a few bars of a Statler Brothers hit, and I’ll sing the whole song for you.

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I have no explanation for why this particular song ran out of the eighties and through my mind today. I do know that the premise of the song holds true, though. No matter what it is that we seek in this life, chances are, we are looking in the wrong place and often accepting weak counterfeits when the real thing seems out of reach.

When Jesus was here in the flesh and teaching people how to live, he knew there were things that we desperately wanted… things that would drive us to unbelievable lengths to obtain. He knew that we worried we might never have the very things we thought we must have, and that those things would consume our thoughts and actions. To set our minds at ease, He told us how to handle these desires we have. He said,

“Seek first, the kingdom of God, and then all these things will be added to you” Matthew 6:33.

No matter what it is that we want or are hoping to have, if we are looking anywhere besides Jesus, we are looking in the wrong place. I mean think about it. What if there truly was a way to have everything we ever wanted? And what if the way to get those things was in simply turning our attention to Jesus? Can it really be that easy? I mean, that’s not really all that hard, is it? It’s just a shift in our focus. A course correction. It’s not like the way to everything we want is at the finish line of a triathlon, or at the summit of Mount Everest. He didn’t send us on a quest to find the Ghost Orchid in order have all that we want.

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We just have to stop looking for what we want in all the wrong places, and find it all in Jesus. He wants us to want Him, first… and THEN all these things will be added to us… then. The problem, my problem, is that I don’t like the THEN part. I don’t much like waiting for what I want. I just want, and like a little child, I will fret, pout, and finagle my way to try and get what I want. I wonder what that must look like from God’s perspective. There He sits, holding literally everything.

Literally.

Everything.

He sits there holding literally everything, watching us run around like headless chickens trying to snatch and grab for ourselves what we believe we must have. It has to be a pitiful sight. I am embarrassed for us.

“But my God shall supply everything you need, according to his riches in glory.” Philippians 4:19.

He shall supply. It is already His plan to give to His children. He, who owns it all… shall provide- when we seek Him first. Seems like a sweet deal to me. No fretting, no pouting, no finagling, and no elusive Ghost Orchids. Just seeking Him, first.

We tend to complicate things. Jesus makes them easy. We should stop living an 80s country song. We should choose easy.