The Forgetful Heart

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water…So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”   Exodus 15:22, 24

As the Israelites passed through the Red Sea they saw the power of God’s Hand on full display. He held back the the waves to let His people cross, then destroyed the Egyptian army as it tried to follow in hot pursuit. Moses’ worshipful response was to lead them in song to celebrate a moment of great triumph and joy.

But, how quickly their excitement cooled. Within three days, the people started complaining. Not just fussing, either – full-on grumbling against their leader. and against their God. Granted, they must have been extremely thirsty at that point. But they had literally just seen a miracle from God’s hand on their behalf. Couldn’t they have shown a bit more faith?

I’ll be honest – I can catch myself in the same pattern as the Israelites. After experiencing a physical healing or improvement in my circumstances I’ll lift up all sorts of praise to Him. But when the next problem arises, my thoughts can  drifting back into worry again. What I’m actually saying to God is, “Sure, You just did this amazing thing for me – and thank You, by the way. But what about my issue now, or the next one for that matter? Will You still take care of me?”

God was patient with His young nation, showing mercy and faithfulness at every turn. But eventually His patience ran out. Because the people forgot how incredible their God was, most lost the blessing of entering the Promised Land. As for me, I don’t want to have a forgetful heart and miss out on the  blessings He has for me!

Fearfully Made? Who, Me?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”                      Psalm 139:14

At my women’s Bible study last night, we talked about how creative God is, and that He made us to be creative, too. When I asked the group to write down a couple of their gifts though, some seemed hesitant. They said it seemed like boasting to talk about their own gifts.

Do you ever feel that way? I can relate.

It’s definitely easier for me to notice another person’s gifts and talents than it is to focus on mine. It is much more comfortable for me to recognize others than to get noticed myself. Why? Well, I think the concern about boasting is one reason. There’s a second, less noble reason – I’ve had trouble accepting the gifts I’ve been given.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often compared myself to others. The habit started early on the elementary school playground, and over the years got rooted in my spirit. I used comparison as a way to measure myself: Gail can jump rope really well, so I should be able to.

The tragedy of thinking that way is not only how much pressure we put on ourselves, but how we discount our own abilities in the process. I was so intent on copying someone else that I lost track of my own unique set of talents and gifts. Though I didn’t have the athletic skills to jump rope like Gail, I could write and perform little skits for our class that she enjoyed, for example.

In Psalm 139, David gives us “inner comparers” a healthier way of looking at ourselves. His words seemed very bold to me at first, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” As if that weren’t enough to challenge us, David goes on to say that God’s “works are wonderful.” He means each of us!

Naming our gifts doesn’t have to lead to big ego trips. And it doesn’t mean settling for less than what someone else has. I’ve come to believe that God intended me and you to accept, celebrate, and use our own unique set of talents. I don’t want to insult the One who created me by dismissing how He made me. How about you?

 

Cold Thoughts

1447861572286-677988780“… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Phil 4:11

I’ve been having a bit of a rough morning – achy joints with a side of fatigue. That’s my Rheumatoid Arthritis experience in a nutshell. During this summer and even early fall, a combination of medications and more exercise has really helped me deal with it effectively. But now the temperatures are sliding, and I literally feel it in my bones.

I’ve occasionally wondered how this winter will be for me. And while the weather has stayed warm I’ve pulled that question out, only to tuck it away for later. Well, later has arrived. As I pushed through today’s morning routine, all sorts of twinges and throbs surprised me. Taking the dog out and making a sandwich, which last week had been pretty easy, were suddenly full of pain triggers.

By the time I sat down with my husband for breakfast, my mind was flashing back to last year, when wrist braces, ice packs and a steady stream of Advil were barely enough to take the edge off. It wasn’t long before fear was creeping around inside me: Is this winter going to be as bad for me?

The honest answer is, I don’t know. That thought didn’t cheer me up this morning. In fact, I could feel the stirrings of another question rising up – Why do I still have to deal with this? Actually, the answer to that is the same.

By God’s grace, I had the wisdom to ask my husband for prayer. And as he spoke, I could almost hear a voice whisper in my ear. It went something like this: Whatever the situation is right now, accept it and deal with it. That is where your strength will be.

Paul’s words in Philippians came pretty quickly to mind. He could have let the difficult, sometimes life-threatening circumstances he faced become reasons for fear and resentment. Instead, he chose to put his trust in God, and to let go of his anxiety. That decision brought him peace, and a continued strength to handle everything.

I know this winter will eventually pass into Spring. And I want to look back over the season with a sense of victory, knowing I took each day as it came, making the most of it no matter how I felt. A tall order! But Paul also said, “I can do all things through Christ.

 

Big Ideas

I have a habit of big thinking. Do you know what I mean? What starts as a germ of an idea quickly grows into a giant project: dinner becomes a three-course meal; writing a devotional turns into planning a book.

My husband has pointed this out to me, many times after I’ve just excitedly outlined my next project. He gently observes that what I’ve told him is too complicated. What I think he means is that I’ve gone off the deep end again.

His advice to me is to slow down and simplify – two suggestions that sound both wise and annoying in that moment.

The truth is, I like my big ideas, and I feel protective of them. They’re mine, I rationalize, and because they are important to me, everyone should respect them. Caught up in emotion, I see each plan as not only possible but realistic. I generate to-do lists and timelines with focus. And my mantra echoes Walt Disney – “If you can dream it you can do it.” But should I?

Goals, even lofty ones, can be good, I’ve reached a few myself. But somewhere amidst the dreaming and list-making, I need to make sure that they are the right plans at the right time. If I fast-forward into creating and achieving simply because “I want it”, I’m setting myself up for disappointment, or worse.

James 1:14-15 says “…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

The first time I read this verse I thought James was just using dramatic language for effect – ‘dragging away’, ‘sin’, ‘death’. But the more I’ve learned about my own heart, the more I see the truth and wisdom of his words. Looking back, I can see how often I’ve let desire breed a plan or dream in me that God didn’t call me to, and how it ended badly.

I need bring my big ideas to God to see what He thinks about them.

  • Father, is making a lavish meal Your best plan for my time”
  • Will writing a book bring glory to You or grow Your kingdom?

I also need to check my heart to see what my motivation is.

  • Why do I want to make such a lavish meal?
  • Do I really have the time or energy to write a book?

My husband, as he often is, was right. Slowing down and simplifying always leads to better ideas, whatever size they are.

Choosing Well

14476228613191120600505I’ve been snacking this afternoon on fun-size Milky Way bars. I bought the bag to have on hand for Halloween – we never get trick or treaters. I know this, yet every year I stock up on a few kinds of candy. It’s a joke in our house that I only get the kind we like, since we’ll be the ones eating it!

A friend muttered once, “I see nothing fun about candy bars this small.” I see her point. But I’ve come up with a kind of “candy logic” – the smaller the bar, the more of them I can have at one time. Sounds good, right? But what really  happens is that I end up eating more than if I’d just had a regular bar. The pile of tiny wrappers when I’m finally done is clear evidence of faulty math.

I always feel bad, both physically and emotionally, when I overindulge in candy. As my stomach gurgles, my inner healthy parent scolds me. Like a child literally caught with my hand in the cookie jar, I used to make an ashamed  vow never to overeat like that again. And I sincerely tried to resist – until the temptation for chocolate overwhelmed me again.

I know better by now than to make those kind of vows, because I’ll never be able to keep them. The truth is, I’m weak-willed and just not strong enough. And what goes for candy applies to any temptation I face. I used to get discouraged, even self-condemning, when I realized I couldn’t handle temptations on my own. So it was very freeing to find out that not only am I not supposed to fix myself, but that God wants to do it for me!

The Apostle Paul wrote that we are “be made new” in our thinking and attitudes. And that word tense says it all. I don’t make myself new – it’s God who works to make me stronger and wiser. That doesn’t mean I can just sit back and relax, though. My part is to submit to what He is doing in me, and even more importantly, to walk those changes out in my life.

Today, I’m deciding to limit myself to 4 mini-bars. But tomorrow, I might be faced with a temptation to skip my workout or to hold a grudge against someone who hurts me. How will I face those? I’d like to think that instead of making vows I can’t keep, I’ll lift up prayers instead. That’s where the real power to choose well comes from.

How To Be Single

A good friend of mine got married a month ago. It was a simple but lovely event, just like she and her fiance wanted. One of the things she insisted on was that there be no bride or groom side. Everyone who attended mingled, relaxed and joyful.

Hearing the plans unfold in the months leading up to the day was fun for me. Part of that was enjoyment of watching her get ready for an exciting new season of life. But I was also remembering her single life up until then – more specifically, how I admired the way she lived as a single person.

“… serve one another in love.”   Galatians 5:13

From the time I was in my teens, I longed for a companion – first a boyfriend, then a husband. That dream dangled in front of me like a carrot. Sad as it sounds, I lived my life waiting for the guy who would “complete me” to show up. In the meantime, I held myself back, wasting time. Worse, I missed a lot of opportunities to grow and bring blessing to others.

My friend chose a very different lifestyle. She gave her time to friendships, while showing care to family. And she invested in members of the next generation such as nieces and nephews, and youth at church. Watching her has often nudged me to question my self-centeredness, and to reach out more.

The proof of how much she has impacted the world around her came in the first stages of wedding planning. People with all sorts of talents – decorating, singing, cake baking and gown design, to name a few – offered to help her. She saved a lot on expenses, for sure. But more importantly, she got to see how many people truly appreciated her – they all wanted to add to her happiness!

We saw the newlyweds back in church a couple of weeks ago. They were beaming, as only a married couple fresh off their honeymoon can. Silently, I called them “Mr. and Mrs.” and smiled. She’s done already so much good for others on her own, and I don’t think that will change. In fact, if I know her, she’ll inspire her husband like she has me. They will truly be a power couple!

An Avalanche Of Praise

20151016_113609One of the first things I do most mornings is to take my dog outside. She has a great time sniffing around the yard, doing what my Dad has called her “doggy business.” As I follow her (she takes me for a walk, you know), I find my thoughts usually turning pretty quickly to God.

Stepping out into the air, especially when it turns colder, is a wake-up call for me as well as Marcie. And walking through our little piece of nature grounds me in the present moment. I can get caught up in admiring how tall the trees have grown, or taking in the variety of bird songs being sung.

The more aware I am of these details, the more quickly I remember the One who made them. And I realize that He created them for both His and my pleasure. That thought leads me to thank Him for the beautiful display of His love.

Sometimes my praise is quick and quiet, staying tucked inside my heart. But other times, like today, it gets spoken out loud. I started this morning by naming what I saw right in front of me – Lord, thank You for the sunny morning, and for the amazing colors of the leaves. Thank You for creating such lovely things for me to enjoy.

I could have stopped there, but I didn’t want to. After the sun and leaves, I wanted to thank God for the blue sky, and our big back yard, and our house. More and more items came to mind, and each one seemed to lead to another, like links in a chain. Before I knew it, Marcie and I were at our front door 10 minutes later.

This kind of “avalanche” of praise can happen for me during my prayer time, too. People, situations, hopes and fears all spring to mind, making it hard to find a good stopping point. And I don’t really want these times to end – they feel so intimate and precious.

It was an awesome way to start my day – and that is a praise all it’s own!

How about you – do you ever find yourself caught up in avalanches of praise or prayer?

The Power Of An Encouraging Word

IMG_20151003_123602You have the power to impact someone’s day for the better. It’s true – your words could speak into their life in powerful ways. Their mood, attitude, or even mindset could improve. They might feel more free to dream, or to take the next step toward achieving a goal.

Does that sound too dramatic? Maybe, but I can remember many times when a positive interaction turned my day around. I’ll bet you can, too. Wouldn’t you like to be that kind of person more often?

Take a look at this verse Paul wrote in the Book of  Philemon:

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”                                    

Wow – that’s quite a statement. We don’t know what Philemon actually said, but Paul clearly states what he did: he showed Paul love, he gave Paul joy and encouragement, and he refreshed Paul as well as others. Can you hear how grateful Paul is?

I wonder if Philemon even realized what a special thing he had done. I suspect he was just doing what came naturally and didn’t stop to think much about it. That’s how I’d like to approach the day – seeking out opportunities to minister.

Honestly, some mornings – this morning, in fact – I’d rather sit back and wait for someone else to offer me encouragement. It can be hard to reach beyond my neediness. But if I do, I always end up receiving my share of blessing. God is so good!

So how do we not only encourage, but refresh others like Philemon did? Here are some thoughts I had:

  • We can be good listeners first.

It’s been rightly called ‘The Ministry of Presence’. Giving our time and attention, to really hear what’s going on in someone’s life, makes them feel heard and acknowledged. That’s a gift in itself.

  • We can hold back on giving our advice.

Believe it or not, it’s better to simply nod your head in understanding at first than to jump into guidance. Though your ideas might be great, sharing them right away could very well pull them down instead of build them up.

  • We can remind them of God’s promises.

Scripture tells over and over about God’s goodness, faithfulness, power, and mercy. Hearing those promises stirs up hope to our hearts – and passing them forward can bring a new purpose to others.

The Fidgets

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” Psalm 116:7

I’m what you would call “fidgety” a lot. It may be partly due to being a Type A personality – I would rather be doing something than not. Or maybe it comes from being slightly compulsive. Whatever the reason, this trait is at best amusing, and at worst disruptive, occasionally both.

Just ask my husband how many times I’ve popped up from the dining room table during meals over the years. It’s like my body has been set on “alert” mode to take care of any needs or clear any dishes. This was kind of helpful when the kids were little, but not so much anymore.

The figets show themselves during conversations, while attending a concert or watching TV. Nothing big – just a kind of restless feeling. My brain joins in too, and reminds me of things I could be doing instead of sitting around. I’ve often wondered why I behave this way. Well, I’ve come up with all sorts of possible reasons – pent up energy, too much sugar, a mental tick. And true to a Type A, I have pushed to myself to change and “Just relax already!”

But God had a different plan to offer me, and this verse from Psalm 116 sums it up beautifully. His desire is for me to have rest and peace. Boy that sounds good, doesn’t it?

The second part of that passage says where this rest comes from. Instead of trying to take care of everything myself, I need to see how much God does for me. Slowing down to look at His blessings calms my body and spirit.

I still fight the fidgets for sure. But now instead of jumping up from the table every time, I take a deep breath and remember God’s got things covered.

When It’s Hard To Just Be Myself

I read a great post on the TheSeeds4Life blog, “Use What Talent You Possess” (November 7, 2015). It challenged us to “imagine a world where only the best in a certain area of interest were allowed to contribute.”  The post went on to argue that we all really do have a right to add our voices to the mix, whatever the level of ability or polish.

The blog also talked about our tendency to compare our work to someone else’s best work, and how we often hold ourselves back out of fear of being judged as inferior. The author encourages us to stop worrying about impressing the world, and to try and impact it for the better instead.

When I pictured that world of limiting thoughts, my first reaction was how discouraging it sounded. Negative beliefs like those lead us to immediately discount ourselves. We’ll always see our own unique talents, perspectives and ideas as less important than others. And what are we left with then? Trying to copy whatever has been named “the best”, working hard to reach some external ideal.

My second reaction was to recognize these beliefs in my own heart. I’ve not only had them, but for many years lived by them. For most of my life, I had a push-pull inside me of wanting to both express and hide my true self. The desire to embrace who I am warred with the wish to be just like everyone else.

As a result, I felt an odd mix of shame and frustration.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me looking at the accomplishments of others as a source of inspiration, or a way to learn more about an area of interest. It’s when I expect myself to measure up to anyone else, especially if they are more skilled than I am, that I dismiss the special contribution I could make as I am right now.

I want to be free to create and offer my best to the world, whatever that is. Are you with me?