New Things

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See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.                                                                                                 Isaiah 65:17

 

This verse is full of hope and promise, and now is a perfect season to explore it. So let’s dive in:

See…”

Realizing the truth that God has a plan is comforting in itself. But just think – not only is He in control, He is generous to share His plan with us. And it gets even better: we can actually be a part of the work.

“…I will create…”

Our Lord is amazingly creative. He loves both making new things and making things new. Do you see the difference? That means we can always find signs of His hand in and around us. It’s important for our spiritual health to take the time to look for His handiwork.

The former things…”

God is giving us a glimpse of the world to come, a bigger picture. Meanwhile, we are still living in this world – one full of care and even hardships. But in God’s view, those situations that cause us such pain are temporary. That can be hard to believe in the midst of struggle, but one day we’ll all be able to look back with clearer vision.

“…will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

This isn’t the only place in scripture where God promises to forget. Hebrews 10 says it’s our shortcomings that God will “remember no more.” He has the power to remove and separate us from our sins. Why show us such mercy and grace? Quite simply because He loves us.

This year, I want to spend more time soaking in scriptures like this. They keep my focus less on any of my current troubles and more on my powerful and wonderful God. I can’t think of a better way to start 2017.

 

Weather Watching

 

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One of my favorite TV networks is the Weather Channel. I usually tune in for a few minutes while I get my breakfast ready, and longer on an active day. Part of the draw used to be the hosts and the format of the AM show. But some restructuring happened a couple of months ago – now it’s more straightforward forecasting with different members on the team.

I’m still tuning in, though. So there must be another pull for me. I’ve been thinking about it – I mean, am I really that interested in meteorology? I’m not even that scientifically minded, so most of the explanations they give just go over my head anyway. “It’s raining because it’s a rainy day,” is more my speed.

So what’s the draw? Well, I’ve come to realize that the biggest reason I watch the Weather Channel is to know what’s going to happen. Sounds obvious, right? In one way it is. But let me restate that one phrase  with more emphasis: to know what’s going on.

I will be the first to admit how much I like to be prepared. I wrote about that a little in terms of holiday dinners – how I’d plan, then prep for days ahead of time. Yes, it made for a good feast for the table. But that routine – making the shopping list, mentally rehearsing the schedule, etc – also fed my need to be in control.

So what does this have to do with the Weather Channel? Well, seeing a map of the entire country and hearing what weather is coming over the next few days gives me that same sense of control. If I know what’s headed our way, I can start planning and preparing for it. Do I need to do extra shopping? (bread, milk and chocolate of course) Do we need to get the shovels out and ready?

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Being prepared for a special meal or a storm is important, no question. A certain amount of planning keeps us stocked and safe. The trouble is when I lean on advance info and my own planning for a feeling of security. I think the mental process goes like this:

  • hearing about an upcoming situation
  • jumping into planning for the situation
  • satisfaction I’ve prepared for the situation and all possible impacts it will have
  • Yea me!

But when I approach things that way, I’ve forgotten one important thing – I’m not in control!!

How do I find the balance between prep and providing for myself? It has to start with God’s Word. There I’m reminded that all things are under His control, and that He is the One who will provide my security through those things. The Book of Psalms is full of promises He’s made to us:

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”   46:1

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand.” 121:3-5

A winter storm is headed up the East Coast this weekend. Last I heard it won’t hit us that hard here in CT. But I haven’t checked in with the Weather Channel yet – I’ll get to it later…

The New Will Come

 

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”                                                                          2 Corinthians 5:17

 

This verse is talking about how when we accept Christ as our Savior, God starts to renew us from the inside out. But these words take on a new meaning for me as I think know over the changes I‘ve faced these last couple of years.

Before that, I was quite happy to be nestled in familiar routines. My daily schedule, my meal plan, even the ministry I did at church reflected my desire to stay firmly planted in status quo. Change, as I shared before, was always unsettling, a negative experience. With a mindset like that, God didn’t have much room to work!

As I look back, I see a list of both expected and unplanned circumstances that came my way.

Physical, emotional and financial issues have hit, some in combination. And most of them were things I never would have asked to happen. Can you relate?

In a way, it would be understandable for me to feel overwhelmed, even angry – and believe me, I’ve gone that route a few times. But when I do that, my vision is narrow. What I mean is, I get so wrapped up in whether a change feels good that I don’t bother to ask if the change could ultimately be good for me. After all, one of God’s promises is that He works all things for good, right?

Okay – I can see that, for instance, in the case of my daughter graduating from high school and spreading her wings. It’s bittersweet for me, but definitely healthy and right for her life. But what about my RA diagnosis? How could that be considered a good change? Well in itself, it isn’t. RA can be challenging and painful – an unwelcome change. But when I think about all the adjustments I’ve made, like a healthier diet and more consistent exercise, I have to admit that positive, even beneficial things for my body are taking place because of having the disease.

It’s not easy for me to make such a big turn in my thoughts. But I’ve realized lately that hoping to live without being touched by any changes is very unrealistic. Even more importantly, I miss out on the new things that God wants to do In and through me. This year, my first major goal is to pray for my Heavenly Father to give me a heart that can let go of the old and look for the new He is bringing in. A tall order, but I think He’ll honor it.

NOTE: Just a quick FYI that I’ve decided to change my blogging schedule from every day to 3 times a week. Look for my newest posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays now!

Mistakes & Mercies

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”   Isa. 43:18-19

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good: my joints weren’t as stiff as over the last few days, and I was somewhat rested. During my morning stretches, I felt led to thank God for His “new mercies”, so that I could really start the day fresh. Well, before I finished flexing my feet, I realized that I’d forgotten a family member’s birthday. Not by just a day or so, either.

A cold splash of embarrassment hit, followed quickly by shame, a familiar one-two punch for me. Then it wasn’t long before other goof ups I’d committed paraded in front of me. And I’m not sure which was worse – how I judged myself, or the judgement I assumed others have had about me.

If someone else were to share a struggle like this with me, I’d probably say something like: “Even if you did make a mistake, you’re being awfully hard on yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t going to change anything.  Make it right as best you can, then let it go.”

That sounds like pretty good advice. So why is it so hard for me to follow? Part of the reason may be low self esteem, or looking for worth in what i do. But I think another part of it is a lack of faith.

In many scripture passages, I can find God’s promises about this very type of situation:

  • He forgives our sins

he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…” 1Jn 1:9

  • He removes our sins

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12  

  • He forgets our sins

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”      Is 43:25
It seems like God has a lot more mercy on me than I’ve had on myself. And as His child, I need to concentrate more on what He says than how I feel. Yes, I’ll send a card and maybe even make a  call to express belated birthday greetings. But then it’s time to move on to those new things He’s doing!

In Times Of Waiting

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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.

 

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!

 

Expect The Unexpected

I heard the conductor of our local orchestra use this phrase to promote an upcoming season: Expect the Unexpected. He was talking about concert pieces, of course. But I‘ve taken it to heart in terms of substitute teaching, and really, my overall mindset.

Flexibility is definitely one of the skills I’ve had to learn as a sub. And that trait is not part of my natural gift mix. I like being able to prepare in advance for an upcoming situation – that gives me a sense of confidence that I can handle whatever happens.

Luckily, my first couple of assignments matched up pretty well to what I imagined. But then I ventured into doing PPT days. A PPT is basically a teacher/parent meeting during the school day that lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. What that means for me is that I travel from room, going in “cold”. I have no idea of what activity or subject the class might be doing when I walk in. As you can imagine, I found that set-up nerve wracking at first. Every time I approached a new door my anxiety would spike.

The thing that finally helped my stress levels was to embrace the not knowing. Because the truth is that no matter how much prep I do, I can’t predict what will happen once I step into a school. I’m truly at their disposal. The only real way for me to get ready is to decide to stay focused on the present moment. Then I can respond effectively to any concern or need.

Sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn’t it? I sure think so. And the lesson has been as challenging to learn in my daily life as it’s been in subbing. Being a list maker and a planner, I can find my security in organization if I’m not careful. But that kind of security is fleeting.

Proverbs 3:26 says, “For the Lord shall be your confidence, and shall keep your foot from  being taken.” What a great reminder for me of what to lean on and where my security lies. I have no control, but God does. I don’t know what will happen once  any given day, but He’s already seen and prepared for everything.

So I’ll expect the unexpected from life. But I can expect God to walk with me through it all.

 

Letting Go

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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!

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.

 

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.