Archive | November 2014

A family gathers

We’ll be together tomorrow, a group of diverse souls who just happen to be related to each other.  We’ll bring our potluck dishes, as we’ve never been a family prone to the traditional menu, and we will be thankful for our many, many blessings. We will eat and visit and play games and possibly nap.  And we will love.

While we have faithfully gathered year after year, it hasn’t always been easy to be together.  There were years where the atmosphere was somewhat tense, undercurrents of the unresolved flowing beneath our attempts at pleasantries with the occasional awkward silences that accompany strained conversation. Difficulties between parents and children, sisters and brothers are inevitable, I suppose in every family, if much time at all is spent together.  So I am particularly thankful this year that we have weathered the storms that often drown families, scattering them amongst the waves where they are continually tossed and never find the calm waters of love and acceptance and forgiveness that we have found.

Our mother is 85 years old and will be the center of the gathering.  There is no greater delight for her than to have her children near.  She has watched us grow, graduate, marry, divorce, rejoice, suffer, and relocate to further away than she would have liked.  She watched as we struggled in our relationships with our father and each other, and experienced the joys and sorrows of our developing relationships with her.  We shattered her dreams countless times, I’m sure, yet each time she simply formed new dreams and loved us all the more.  I believe her to be central to the wholeness our family was able to find, not because she was highly educated or learned in the emotional or psychological needs we had, but because she prayed.  Passionately.

She’s loved us equally and maintained high expectations of the kind of people we should be – respectful, honest, and good.  And while having the same expectations for each of us, she also has very unique, one-of-a-kind relationships with each of us.   She knows us in a way we do not know each other, and the same is true of how we see her.  She has revealed herself to us in different ways at different times for different reasons. Should she respond to me or deal with me exactly as she does one of my siblings, I would be disappointed or frustrated, feeling that she didn’t really know me.  If she had the expectation that I would always treat her exactly as a sibling may, I would feel the pressure of having to perform in a way I am ill-equipped to do.  Our relationship would become uncomfortable and empty of understanding.

Sometimes it hasn’t been easy for this family of God to gather together.  There’ve been misunderstandings and difficulties because we are so different in so many ways.  Undercurrents of the unresolved have become storms that scattered many.  Sometimes it has been tense and uncomfortable, with many an awkward moment.  Often we’ve tried to pressure others to be just like us, arrogantly thinking our way surely must be best.  Yet we are a family He calls to gather together.

I am thankful I have a praying mother.  And I am thankful that I have a Father God that is big enough to have high expectations of what kind of children we will be while also enjoying unique relationships with each of His children.  He loves us equally.  He knows each of us in a way no one else does.  He reveals Himself to us in different ways at different times for different reasons.  He responds to us differently and deals with us differently, all without any contradiction of Himself.  He puts no pressure on us that we must all perform in the same manner.  He is God and is true to His word that He will make us – each of us – what we ought to be as we seek Him.

Now may the God of peace, Who is the Author and the Giver of peace…strengthen (complete and perfect) and make you what you ought to be and equip you with everything good that you may carry out His will; while He Himself works in you and accomplishes that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen     Hebrews 13:20-21

 Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

 

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Mourn with those who mourn

Today a mother mourns.  Her mourning is intensified by the fact that her circumstances have been broadcast to the world with millions weighing in, giving their uninvited thoughts, opinions, and judgments.  She mourns a decision made that withholds a comfort she sought.  She will continue to be in the spotlight to a certain degree, people clamoring to know what she thinks and how she feels and what she will do next. But when the noise stops and all is quiet, she is alone mourning the loss of hopes and dreams for this life that she loved.  No matter his choices, good or bad, she loved him and she longs to see him and touch him again.

Across town, only a few miles away sits a woman who mourns.  She doesn’t know the family in the news and her picture and story are not in the headlines.  Her business was burned to the ground by people she didn’t know, angry about circumstances she couldn’t change, and she’s lost a dream she built and her only means of support.  She looks at her children with an aching love that fears she will not be able to feed them and worries about how she will protect them from such a heartless world.

A young man awakes today exhausted from yielding to emotions that seemed too intense to control.   He sees the news reports and the realization sets in that innocent people are suffering losses they didn’t deserve because of his choices.  He regrets his actions and mourns the loss of his own innocence, no longer a child but a man who has purposely lashed out at people he doesn’t know because of his own frustration, his own pain.

Another man mourns the loss of the life he had before that fateful day.  Whether his actions were right or wrong, his life and the life of so many others will never be the same.   The decision meant to set him free rings somewhat hollow as he knows his every move will be scrutinized, his reputation permanently altered. The future that once looked so promising now seems tainted and uncertain.

As I watched the news this morning, those images formed in my mind.  I don’t know all the facts and certainly don’t know the people involved.   But I found myself mourning, experiencing a grief and sadness for people I don’t know caught up in a maelstrom that I cannot make sense of.  I asked God “What can I do?  What do I pray?  How do I, from the comfort and safety of my home, help these who are in such desperate circumstances?”

Mourn with those who mourn.  Romans 12:15

We mourn with those who are hurting.  It’s not about our opinions of what is right or wrong, who is to blame and who is innocent.  It’s about the love of God that transcends our humanity and loves us in spite of it all. His love is not offered to only those who do good, but to all. We are to be the vessels of that love and pour it out on ALL.  We cannot pick and choose who deserves it and who does not.  It is not earned, but a free gift to all who will take it.

What could happen today if rather than involving ourselves in heated debates, social media outbursts, or political rants, we set aside our opinions and we prayed?   Pray for them, ALL of them, and know that somehow in all that is the mystery of God’s ways, He is working in their lives as we agree on this one thing:

He is their Hope, their Healer, their Comfort, their Salvation.

Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good.  Romans 12:21

Pray that they will find Him in the midst of their pain and confusion and fear.  This is the good that will overcome the evil.

 

Tell a story

She sat on the bar stool with anticipation in her eyes as her Grandmother began, “Let me tell you a story….

Without going into all the details, the above mentioned child was my daughter and she was three years old. She had taken her grandmother’s pin cushion, removed all the straight pins and needles and placed them in her grandfather’s bed pillow.  All of them.  When Granny found them, she wanted to explain why this was not good by relating the story of when her daughter lost a sewing needle in the carpet and she stepped on it.  It really was a big deal as she had to go to the doctor to have it removed.  She told my daughter how she must be careful with pins and needles as you never know who might get hurt.  She finished by asking her if she understood.  Without skipping a beat and again with much anticipation in her eyes, she simply said “Tell me another story!”  Totally missed the point….  We all had a good laugh.  Sooner or later she would understand. In the meantime, we made sure the pins were out of reach.

I’m thinking of poor Ezekiel today.  God gave him an important message to give to his people and even while telling him he must go He included the fact that the people wouldn’t listen.  They will miss the point.  I’m not sure how enthusiastically I would have proceeded with this command.  Why bother if no one is going to listen? What’s the point if they don’t care about the information being relayed?   How will I make sure they don’t miss the point??  Gotta give Ezekiel an obedience award for this one!  His message was a hard one:  there are consequences for rebellion against God.  But if they would listen and heed his message they would hear the heart of the message:  God loves you and will save you.

We are supposed to be telling a story to the world.  The story of the magnificent love of God in sending His Son to save us.  It’s the most wonderful story in the world yet many will not listen.  They don’t care to hear it.  Some listen as if it’s an old fable, a nice story but certainly not life-changing.  And while knowing the response of many in this world, God still commands us to go and tell everyone we can.  It’s easy to get frustrated in this endeavor.  It’s hard to deal with the dismissal of the uninterested or the ridicule of the mockers.  Part of the story isn’t fun:  we are all sinners.  But for those who listen and heed, they hear the heart of the message:  God loves them and will save them.

The best and most effective way to tell His story is to tell yours.  What has He done for you?  What has He brought you through?  How has He helped you?  How has He delivered you?  These are the stories that people listen to.  Oh, not all will care about your story.  Some will dismiss it, some will misinterpret it, some will miss the whole point.  But some will hear and lives will be changed because God will use your story to reach the hearts of the lost and hurting.  Someone needs your story.  They’ve gone through the same kind of experiences that you have and are desperate to find hope.  They’re walking around wounded and your story of survival is just what they need.

Our hesitation sometimes lies in our fear that we won’t be able to explain it all, we won’t be able to answer all their questions.  And that is true.  We won’t be able to explain God to the natural mind in a way that it will satisfy.  We won’t be able to answer all the questions about the “whys” of this life.  But He didn’t give us that responsibility.  He will do what He alone can do when we are willing to go.  We have no power to affect a person’s spirit.  He does the work.  Our part is to tell of Him.

We hesitate again, not wanting to share our mistakes, our rebellion, our sin.  Yet one of the greatest experiences on earth of the redemption that is ours is in that moment when sharing our mistakes helps another person out of theirs, and they find the very same forgiveness and freedom we have found.  This is one of the many ways that “…all things work together for good to those who love Him…”  (Romans 8:28), and well worth the risk our pride takes in telling what we’ve done.

So tell a story.  Yours.  Someone needs to find God through you.

 

Pressure points

A pressure point (tender spot) derives from the meridian points in traditional Chinese medicine and in the field of martial arts, and refers to an area on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effects when manipulated in a specific manner.  Exaggerated accounts of pressure-point fighting appeared in Chinese fiction and became known by the name of “Death Touch” in western popular culture in the 1960s.  While it is undisputed that there are sensitive points on the human body where even comparatively weak pressure may induce significant pain or serious injury, the association of this type of pressure with notions of death is controversial. 

There are several types of pressure points – each is applied differently and each creates a different effect. “Pain points”, for example, use tendons, ligaments, and muscles; the goal is to temporarily immobilize the target, or at the very least, to distract them.  “Reflex points” produce involuntary movements, for example, causing the hand to release its grip, the knees to buckle, the target to gag, or even to be knocked unconscious.    (Wikipedia)

Remember the definition of retreat?  One of the purposes of pulling back from a battle we are not winning is to re-examine the strategy our enemy, the devil, has formed against us.  Knowledge of how he is armed and his battle plans helps to position us to counteract and overcome his forces.

We must acknowledge that the enemy knows our weaknesses.  He knows just where to apply the pressure to bring about pain.  His goal is to immobilize, distract, cause involuntary movements or knock us unconscious if he can!  His desire is to make us feel as if we cannot survive his manipulation in our lives.  So it makes sense that we must first acknowledge that we have weaknesses and be willing to identify them.  This can be very hard.  I don’t like to admit weakness. I don’t like to admit that someone can push my buttons and cause me pain.  I don’t like to see how I respond almost involuntarily to the pressure applied to a sensitive area.  But I do.

Once identified, I must find out what the word of God says about my weaknesses.  I must determine to fix my focus on His power to save, help, and deliver me.  I must take my position and stand in faith.  Taking myself through this evaluation of the enemies accuracy in hitting my pressure points, I realize that every attack he makes is an attempt to get me out of my faith stance; to cause me to be immobilized by the pain inflicted or distracted by doubt – the opposites of faith.  Once I understand this underlying motivation, I am more prepared for the onslaughts ahead.  My focus is no longer what the enemy is doing, but rather to feed my faith even more in the hard times.

I love that God gives me simple lessons many times.  Simple is good.  As I look back on the years of studying and learning, it’s like one of those connect-the-dots pictures.  One thing leads to another and the numbers and the lines begin to reveal what was initially hidden.  As I was meditating on the importance of standing in faith to be victorious over the enemy, God connected the next dot:

Faith works by love.  Galatians 5:6

If the enemy’s tactic is to affect my faith stance, he must, at the very foundation of his motives, be after my love walk first.  He applies pressure to the sensitive areas to provoke me to respond in a way that is not initiated from the God-love that resides in me.  Any faith stand I think I am taking is a feeble one if it is not based in His love towards others – even those the devil uses to inflict this pressure.

It’s all about His love.

This is a lesson I taught several weeks ago at Tuesday morning bible study.  God brought it back to me as I was facing my inward struggles in my quiet time at the recent retreat:  I live on the defensive.  I have moved beyond blaming anyone else for the things that have hurt me in the past; forgiveness has been given.  But my defensiveness was formed by my past experiences and I have several very sensitive areas.  When pressure is applied to any of these areas, I often respond in a way that is less than the love God requires.

Learning to stand up for myself wasn’t easy.  It took many, many years.  However, standing up for myself when necessary should be a confident expression made through love.  Love is not touchy or fretful or resentful… 1 Corinthians 13:5   It should be full of faith in God as my Defender.  Trusting Him to defend me frees me to love.  Living in His love and letting it flow through me guarantees the victory in the battles.  Faith works – accomplishes the goal – by love.  Because Love has already won.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let’s take a walk….

…just you and me.  Where shall we go?  What shall we see?”

I don’t remember the title or the author, but that was the beginning of a children’s book that we read over and over and over to my little brother many years ago.  My older sister had gotten him the book and may very well remember more of the rhyme and the story.  That small part is all that stuck in my brain, and it rose in my memory today as I took a walk around the beautiful retreat grounds.  Paths winding through the old homes, quaint benches in lovely settings under the trees, a wonderful place to walk quietly alone, just me and God.  Where will He take me?  What will He show me?

My mind reviewed the sessions we had yesterday and today, and I am satisfied.  My grammar wasn’t perfect and my enunciation went awry a few times, but I said what He gave me to say.  I feel that emptiness that comes after pouring out the results of weeks of prayer and preparations, but it’s a good emptiness.  I hear Him say “Well done.”  I know it’s not about me, it’s about Him and His working through me.  But I am happy because He can only do what He wants to do in me and through me when I cooperate, and I did.

We long to feel happy and satisfied at the end of our efforts.  The beautiful part of a “retreat” is to pull away from the struggles of life and regroup.  We hope to learn something useful so that when we return we will make headway in the fight.  The bible very plainly says there is spiritual warfare taking place and we are somehow involved in it.  But too often we find ourselves focused only on the battles. We’ve studied and are determined to be strong and fight the enemy!  We take our “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”  and picture ourselves as if we are wielding Excalibur, driving the demons away with our loud proclamations of scripture. Please understand, I DO believe that we are to use the word of God in every situation.  But in studying Ephesians 6, I discovered that the word translated sword in our English bibles was actually a Greek word that meant dagger or knife, probing our conscience and subduing the impulses to sin.  And while we are instructed to “take” this dagger, it is being wielded – used effectively – by the Spirit on US, not the enemy!!

We were never called to fight the enemy.  We were called to stand.  We were instructed to put on the armor and lift the shield of faith over all.  ALL.  This shield is not like the one Captain America carries.  One of the reasons we get so tired in our faith is because we see it as a small shield that we must constantly be moving to deflect the ammo coming our way.  The shield Paul described was a thick, heavy shield that was large enough for a grown man, fully clothed in armor, to stand behind and be hidden. Even if we see our faith shield in this way, how often are we sticking our necks out, peeking around the shield to see if God’s taking care of things rather than standing firm, assured that God will come through on His many promises to FIGHT FOR US?

Maybe this isn’t a season of battle for you.  Maybe you are like me and don’t sense much happening on the other side of the shield right now.  We peek around “God are you there???  Isn’t it time to get going??”  We tap our fingers in impatience, anxious to be moving forward.  On my walk today, He assured me He is busy with my steps (Psalm 37:23).  And He reminded me that patience has a work to do.  Patience is working to perfect and develop me so that I will lack nothing.  (James 1)  So I am planting my feet firmly in my faith that He is at work.  I will be patient.  I will stay in faith.

Where will He take us next?  I don’t know.  I just know it will be good.  What will He show us next?  Again, I don’t know.  I just know it will be good and useful and satisfying.  And worth the wait.

Retreat

The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy and highly productive which makes the fact that I write this from a lovely garden cottage, removed from the familiar routines for a few days, all the more delicious.  Ahhhhh……  Funny how it takes concentrated effort to make myself relax.  I love that this particular schedule includes hours of time to be still and enjoy the surroundings and I am determined to do so.  Just earlier as I had time alone before dinner, I found myself automatically thinking of all the things I would be doing when I return home.  Really???  Stop!  Be here.  Now.  It will all still be there when I get back.

I was thinking about the word “retreat”.  Defined in a military sense most often, it brings to mind images of soldiers turning back, running away from the battle lost, hoping to survive, regroup, and come up with a better strategy to defeat the enemy.  The definition in a Christian context is a reflective time for prayer and meditation with the goal of reconnecting with God at a deeper level.  I find both definitions applicable for me today.

I have a wonderful business where I get to take things of sentimental value and turn them into keepsake items.  It is very rewarding work which fulfills much more than my creative desires.  It blesses those who receive the pieces which is an even greater reward.  Long hours at the sewing machine day after day, however, can make my back muscles so tight that it actually hurts to relax.  Several nights lately I’ve lain in the bed for a long time before sleep could come, just waiting for the muscles to give in to the comfort of my pillowtop bed.  The work was complete, but my body wasn’t willing to release the tension.

While my everyday life isn’t outwardly filled with conflict or difficulties but is actually rather simple and easy at this time, I find that I am still struggling within.  I’m not relaxing.  As I prepared the message I will bring to the ladies over the next couple of days, God gently began to uncover the roots of some of my tension.  My mind made the excuses as to why those things are still there, why I had been unwilling to release them.  This did not deter Him.  It is time.

It is time to pull back, having every hope of survival, regroup and find a better strategy to defeat the enemy.  Time to look deeper into the work He has finished. Who knew when the leaders selected the theme for this year’s retreat that it would speak to my heart: Keep Calm and Armor On!

Perhaps you need to retreat.  You may not have the opportunity to get away to a secluded location, but He is waiting right where you are.  Take some time to reflect.  Pray.  Meditate.  Reconnect.  Walk with me over the next few days and let God uncover the source of the struggles.  We’ll find a new strategy and face the enemy with renewed confidence.

Relax.