In Times Of Waiting

nclock-02-00_33714_mth

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him…it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”                Lamentations 3:24,26

How are you at waiting? I think one of our biggest challenges in life is waiting well. Think about it – so much of our daily life is spent waiting for all sorts of things. We’re forced to slow down until it’s our turn at the grocery store checkout, or to get a haircut, or talk to a “live” customer service person on the phone.

Then there are the bigger things we have to wait for, the requests near to our hearts that we’ve been lifting up to God. We may believe He’s heard us and that He has a good plan. But we can struggle if there’s a stretch of time between praying and receiving.

Waiting is going on in our house this morning. My son is waiting for news from a college he applied to. My husband and I are waiting for news about a family situation. In both cases, getting the answer feels like an urgent necessity because we really want resolution.

Well, I have to confess that I am not very good at waiting. If I’m not careful, my attitude can sour from one day to the next, and I’ve been known to whine during times of long heavenly silences. God knows I need growth in this area – and He’s been providing ample opportunity for me to work on it.

Two major emotions swoop in to make my waiting time difficult – fear (What if God doesn’t give me what I want?), and impatience (I need to do something right now to move this along!). In those moments, I focus on myself and my wants.

So how does God want us to wait instead? In Lamentations it says “quietly”. In other places we find descriptors such as “in expectation” (Ps 5:3), “in hope” (Ps 33:20), and “patiently” (Ps 37:7). All of those are positive and peaceful, no sense of rushing or worry. What a relief that would be! And what a difference from my usual reaction.

Waiting well seems to come down to trust. God already knew what I’d be asking for before I said anything, knows what’s best for me, and is working whether I see evidence of it or not. The question is, do I lean on God and His word, or my own understanding (what I see or feel at any given moment)? Can I let God be God?

Today my goal is to stay close to God, and to re-focus on Him as many times as I need. His promises may not include getting everything I want, but they offer His goodness and grace. Maybe this time of waiting can become a chance to worship God instead of questioning Him.

 

Morning Stretches

girl doing stretching exercise clipart

The first thing I do every morning is a quick assessment of how stiff my joints and muscles are after a night in bed. Then I launch into a set of stretches to warm up. Today started out no different. But as I wiggled my fingers, an unexpected prayer popped into my head:

“Father God, let my hands do work for you today.”

I smiled a little at how cheesy that thought sounded. But then another one came while I did some jaw-loosening movements,

“Let my tongue speak things that will bless you today, God.”

I started to suspect that these “popcorn” prayers were not coming from me. Maybe they weren’t so cheesy after all! As I continued through my routine, I kept my ears tuned for more, and I wasn’t disappointed –

  • With my shoulder rolls came: “Let me not take on burdens that aren’t mine to carry.”

I’ve got a tendency to carry other people’s problems on my own back. The load gets awfully heavy. Better to let God show me how to help someone without becoming too caught up in their life.

  • With my arm raises: “Let me reach for You today for what I need.”

It’s easy for me to seek out the opinions and advice of other people. That can keep me from receiving God’s wisdom. Better to lift up a prayer and wait for His perfect answer.

  • With my neck turns: “Let me look for You wherever I go.”

I sometimes attempt daily life all on my own. It isn’t long before I feel lonely and worn out. Better to include God in my plans and decisions, so I can walk with more confidence and peace.

  • And you can probably guess what went along with my eye exercises: “Let me look on wholesome things.”

I don’t always monitor what I’m watching or reading carefully enough. And those outside influences truly can bring me down. Better to take a moment to make sure than an article or show will add value and build me up.

Along the way, I was reminded of the book of Ephesians in the Bible. The last part of chapter 6 is known as “The Armor of God” section because Paul connects the different pieces of a warrior’s armor to attributes that belong to Christians. The first verse in that passage says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His might power.”

However I think of it, the bottom line is that I have to connect myself to God each day – it’s His power that carries me through. By the time I finished my stretches this morning,  I felt a lot more equipped for the day, both physically and spiritually.

What’s your way of connecting with God each day?

A Different Kind of Christmas

 

poinsettia

As my husband and I shared a little time at the breakfast table this morning, I asked him for prayer. What began as a quick request turned into an emotional moment as I poured out some of what was stored up in my heart. I’m grateful he was willing to not only listen, but respond with grace.

My starting point was asking if he would be okay with me buying cookies for Christmas Eve this year instead of baking them. Boy, was that question hard for me to say out loud! Baking is one of my favorite ways to usher in the holiday season. But my joints just can’t handle stirring and all the other movements involved. Being stubborn and independent, I’ve tried several times and paid dearly for it.

My husband’s honest answer was that he’d prefer no cookies to store bought. I totally understood his view, and was kind of relieved to hear it. But even so, I felt a twinge of sadness – a feeling that’s become all too familiar over the last year or so.

I realized that cookies were not the only Christmas tradition that was shaping up differently this season. Stockings will be smaller, as will our tree. We’ve been to busy to pull out the box of decorations yet. And since the kids are older, there’s less excitement in the air. All those are part of a natural progression, I guess. But each one feels like a loss to me.

I came across a great article this morning by Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PHD, that talks about accepting change. In it, she shares her own extremely challenging experience. Here’s one point she made: “It’s natural to have feelings of sadness, to grieve over the loss of something, to feel angry about your situation, or to place blame. You have permission to feel that way, but only for moments.”

Those words really resonated with me, because I can easily get stuck. Grieving is definitely part of the process of accepting change, but it’s only one the first steps. I have to move on to look at the present realistically, and the future hopefully. I can’t do that on my own, though – my mind and will are too weak.

Thankfully, I have a God who knows each change I face, and who wants to help me navigate them. The Apostle Paul called Him “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…” From his early years as a Pharisee to his missionary trips, Paul experienced change on a daily basis, and not always for the good. But God was always faithful to pick Paul up and lead him forward.

I take great encouragement from Paul’s story, because it reminds me that change can lead to really positive things. So while my family’s Christmas traditions are shifting away from the expected, I’ll try to concentrate less on what I’m losing, and more on anticipating what new blessings will come. ‘Cause God is always good!

More Wisdom From My Dog

1450192879733-255601174

Yesterday I wrote about my efforts to simplify the holiday season and to keep my focus on the most important things. Well, I quickly realized that those two things are vital to my life all year round.

As I said, I’m always busy. That fact has been cause for both complaining (“Look at all I have to do!”) and boasting (“Look at all I’ve been able to do!”). A hectic pace used to energize me. Now it exhausts me, though. The change partly comes from health concerns that have recently developed. But I have to wonder if years of rushing around have actually contributed to those issues.

Simplifying is not easy for me after having such a busy and complicated lifestyle for so long. I needed to find ideas and inspiration. And so I’m returning to my resident expert on the subject – my dog Marcie. After all, she is the most laid-back member of our household. Sure enough, I’ve already picked up a couple of lessons from her:

  • Stay in the moment.

    At 10:30 am, Marcie is usually lying in a sunny spot on my bed, dozing peacefully. At 10:35 am, she is barking frantically and trying to jump out the window at the mailman. Once the threat has passed, she settles back down on the covers like nothing ever happened.

She doesn’t multitask. Her attention is totally focused on NOW, with no carryover from one minute to the next. I, on the other hand, try to think ahead so far in advance or rehash the past so intently it’s like my body and mind are living in separate time zones. Can I reorient my focus to experience what’s happening in this moment instead?

  • Concentrate first on the basics.

My dog has a pretty short list of needs, and they direct her day. Yes, she gets excited at the possibility of treats like walks in the park or meat drippings drizzled over her food. But for the most part, she’s quite content with the bottom line being met.

She knows what’s most important, and her priorities are always clear. My days, however, are cluttered with to-do items and goals that really don’t line up with my priorities.

You know, for a quiet dog Marcie sure has a lot of wisdom to share in this area…

Simply Christmas

heart-shaped-giftbox-blue

At this time of year, the word “simple” takes on a whole new and challenging meaning, doesn’t it? It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday activity. In fact, we can see the busyness as unavoidable, as if it is just another part of the season. We complain about the fatigue we feel while pushing through it, almost looking forward to January 2nd when things settle down. And if we’re not careful, we can even miss the celebration entirely.

For a lot of years I embraced the annual nuttiness. I’m always busy, as most of us are. But as late November approached, and my to-do list grew, so did my excitement. I’d kick into high gear, humming Christmas carols while doing the extra cooking and running around. To me, the hectic pace was a reminder of the special days that were coming soon.

I have to admit that my mindset in those holiday seasons was pretty worldly. My thoughts were honestly more about decorating and baking than recognizing the wonder of Advent and Christmas. And, not surprisingly, I was becoming less and less joyful as time went on.

The idea of simplifying started to sound better and better to me. Just a glance at my overflowing daily planner was proof of how complicated I had been making the end of the year. But simplifying the holidays wouldn’t easy. I had made activity such an important part of the season that I didn’t know how to pull back without losing some of the enjoyment.

Actually, the first step in the right direction came through an idea my husband had to start buying World Visiongifts for our family. That ended up simplifying in some wonderful ways.

Buying all our presents in one place and online pretty quickly won me over. The whole process was less stressful, and gave me some opportunities for quiet time. I found moments to devote to worship and give thanks for the real blessings of the season.

As I did that store hopping and shopping, my thoughts were all about other people, and I guess, myself too. I hope so-and-so likes what I got for them…

Choosing donations to give in the name of family members gave the process a deeper and richer meaning. Instead of getting enjoyment from pleasing others, I got excited about getting others involved with helping to do God’s work around the world.

Letting go of some long-held routines and rituals has been tough. But the bottom line for me is, this season is meant to be simple. It’s a celebration of what really matters: Jesus was born, a gift of love sent from His Father in Heaven to us! I don’t want to miss any more of the party.

 

Christmas Program

 

Decorations001

It’s that time of year again – our annual Christmas program is tonight, followed by a cookie reception. Can you really have enough cookies this (or any) season??

The production is a little smaller in scope than in other years. But the same excitement and passion has gone into the preparations for it. I have a bit part in the show, so I needed to sit through a few of the rehearsals to run my song. I was impressed by not only the efficiency of each practice, but by how generous everyone was.

What I mean is that there seemed to be a real sense of respect between all the people involved. It was clear that every role was considered important, from the directors to the cast to the crew. Whatever gift a person has had to contribute has been welcomed – each has added a vital element into the whole.

Watching this group of brothers and sisters reminded me of that verse from

1 Peter 4:10 that says, ”As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” To me, the verse is a reminder that we all have talents and abilities, and all of them are needed. If we hold back from sharing them, we’re not taking care of something precious God has given us. We’re also withholding blessings from each other.

I so appreciate how people of different ages, giftings and, yes, even cookie preferences, can come together to create an offering of praise to God. Seeing that confirms how we truly are a family, and will make tonight even sweeter for all of us.

The Battle is the Lord’s

As I was out with the dog this morning, the song “ The Battle Belongs To The Lord” ran through my head. I think a combination of physical and emotional struggles brought it to mind. I’ve always found comfort in lyrics like,

When the enemy presses in hard do not fear;

The battle belongs to the Lord

Today as I hummed my way through the verses, the words led me to think about how God can and wants to handle our battles. Specifically, how He wants me not to fight my own battles, but to lean on Him. The Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe will use that power to help me – that’s a spirit lifter right there.

But then a further thought hit me: God has known every battle I’d be facing from before I was born. He knows the resolution of each struggle and how He will lead me there. Plainly put, God’s got it covered! God declared this truth to His young nation of Israel, and repeated it often.

For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”                              Deuteronomy 20:4

So, what’s left for me to do? Trusting in my Heavenly Father. Simple, maybe, but far from easy for me. Too often I make my own battle plan instead of waiting on His. Then, full of myself, I grab whatever weapon I can find in the moment and rush into the fray.

Things turn so much better out when I let God be the commander, and give praise for His presence on the front lines of my life!

And we sing glory, honor,

power and strength to the Lord!

 

Still Letting Go…

Sunset Picture

“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”                                     Psalm 91:5

It’s been a few days since my daughter took off on her newest adventure – 13 hours on a bus on her own to visit family. She got there just fine and has been having a great time, which I’d been praying for. Though I stayed behind, this week is a journey of sorts for me as well – starting on the drive home from the station.

Before her bus even pulled into the station, my husband and I had taken the on-ramp to the highway. I tried hard not to keep looking at the dashboard clock, but my thoughts kept jumping back to her waiting at the station- Is the bus boarding yet? Is it heading out yet?

In the midst of all that fretting, I had a little out-of-body experience. What I mean is, I think God helped me step back enough to get a clear look at myself. And what I saw really troubled me. Not only because I was being an overprotective mom, but because I recognized this behavior as my default setting.

Fear certainly can be a helpful emotion, reminding us to prepare for challenges and keep alert in certain situations. It can be a tool that helps us protect ourselves and those we care about. But there can be a point when we listen too much to our fear – when we give it too much power over our thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I let fear become dominant in my life. It’s whispered in my ear and colored my thinking. It’s entered into all my decision-making. The result? A small, timid approach to life that has held me back. How many adventures did I miss out on? And worse, how many have I kept my kids from having?

It was that last question that really haunted me on the way home from the bus station. And it’s the one I’ve been pondering all week. As a mom, I want my kids to be safe, to be aware and alert as they venture into the world. But I think instead of equipping them to soar, I may have been unintentionally clipping their wings…

 

Letting Go

clipart-best-clipart

Last night, we dropped our daughter off at the bus station for a trip to visit her grandmother. One day a couple of weeks ago she came downstairs and announced she had bought the tickets online.

I was excited that she would be spending time with my mom – they are both artists and really love hanging out together. But then she told me about the actual bus ride: 13 hours long, overnight, with 4 transfers along the way. I really tried to keep cool, I really did, but a gulp did escape my lips. And she heard it.

“It’ll be fine, mom,” she said with a hint of annoyance, “I’ll just sleep.”

“Uh huh…” was my witty response.

“Don’t tell anyone about how long it is,” she went on, “I don’t want to hear everyone say how bad it’s going to be and worrying about it.”

Uh huh…

Okay, here’s the thing – my daughter is 19 years old. She has a good amount of common sense and is quite capable of handling herself. Unfortunately for her, she also has a mother who has lifted worry to an art form.

Over the last few days, my rational brain has waged war with my fertile imagination. Most of the details of this trip pushed my overprotective mom buttons, which are easily set off in the best of times. I pictured all the bus stations, conjuring up all sorts of possible situations, all of which gave me an upset stomach. Isn’t it funny that I went straight to the negative?

As my husband and I headed home from the bus station, I stared out the window, devastated. A familiar feeling of grief came over me, thinking about my daughter. At first I assumed it was fear at the idea of my daughter heading out into the night alone – that was certainly part of it. But I quickly realized there was a deeper issue bugging me.

That’s when I got a clear message – not a voice, exactly, more like a strong sense – that this week was for my daughter to go away, and also for me to let go of her. In that moment I had to admit yet again how tightly I hold on to the people I love, especially my children, and how tough that makes it for them to embrace life.

I have a feeling that this week I’ll be doing a lot of praying about this habit, this need in me to make sure everyone is safe and happy all the time. For one thing, it’s an illusion. I’ve never even had control of my own life, let alone anyhttps://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SZOO-7iqCXEone else’s. And really, who am I to think I know what’s best for anyone?

We sang the Graham Kendrick song Who Sees It All yesterday in church that says, “God sees, God knows…” and He does. He knows my daughter better than I do, that’s for sure. So I need to back off and let Him work in her, and let her take her own journey, wherever it leads.

I’m glad to say that I had enough peace to actually fall asleep last night. God provided a good friend and a warm cup of chamomile tea to soothe my nerves. And this morning as I wait for the call that she arrived safely, I need to trust God and use my imagination to picture all the fun she’s going to have this week!

Share The Work, Share The Joy

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.”     Ecclesiastes 4:9

I just got home from a Ladies Christmas Brunch that our church held this morning. Almost 80 women came – many of our ladies brought friends, including me. The room was full of delicious food to eat and yummy cookies to swap. Most importantly, the air was full of shared conversation and laughter.

I was blessed to be a part of the team that pulled it together. I say blessed because it was really a privilege to see the germ of an idea blossom into such a beautiful event.

My part was offering my hands and feet, so to speak. And each tablecloth I put on and every muffin I baked added to my enjoyment of the brunch. I invited a couple of people to come too, and it was fun to tell them about it. So in some ways, the anticipation of today was almost as special as this morning!

My friend who spearheaded the brunch expressed her delight at so many others helping her. Last year, she and only a couple of others did all of the work. This year, she had a pretty big crew, and was so grateful to us. But I think all of us on the team are grateful that we got to share the work with her. Because we ended up sharing a lot of joy along the way, too!