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?

From Martha To (More Of) Mary

I wrote last week about Martha and Mary, and admitted my tendency toward Martha’s mindset when I cook meals. Well, I was challenged to live that out as Thanksgiving approached.

I used to really get excited about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was more than just cooking – I loved all the prep too. The first stage, planning, would start right after Halloween. During the first couple of weeks in November I’d pour over cooking magazines for new recipe ideas. I didn’t really need to, since my husband and kids wanted pretty much the same dishes every year. But looking at all the pictures inspired me.

The next stage was list-making, and boy was I good at that part! I’d categorize and prioritize, cross-referencing ingredients until I had a full shopping list. Then I’d map out a schedule for cooking, baking and roasting.

Like a well-oiled machine, I set to work. Monday was cranberry sauce and chopping up veggies for the stuffing I made on Tuesday. By Wednesday evening, the pies were baked and the turkey was pre-cooked. Everything sat ready in stacked Tupperware containers, a checkmark next to every dish on my list. And I would feel equal parts satisfaction and exhaustion.

Last year, though, things changed. It was actually during my usual session of celery and carrot cutting when my wrists started to hurt. I decided to push through the discomfort, but by the time I got the stuffing together the enjoyment was fading. The meal came out about as good as others had, but I was in pain.  

This year I knew I had to scale back. But as I walked down the grocery store aisles lined with all sorts of mixes and packages, I felt my heart sink. Each possibility of a yummy thing to make my family and guests beckoned me. But I knew there would have been too much stirring, chopping or grating for my joints. Lifting up little prayers for strength, I kept walking.

Letting go of my old all-encompassing approach was hard. Not to be over dramatic, but I felt a sense of loss about making changes to such a familiar ritual. And I was afraid of letting people down.

I shouldn’t have worried. Because in the end, I felt better and that helped everyone have a better time. And I got to have more of Mary’s experience, which I should have been focusing on anyway. All in all, it was a good trade.

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.


Laid Low

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Earlier in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul shares how he prayed three times that God would remove some sort of problem, a “thorn in the flesh.” Verse 9 is the response he heard from God.

Have you ever felt like you’ve gotten the same answer from Him? I have.

A year ago this month, I first started feeling the symptoms of what I know now is Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had a flare up in my wrists as I cut up vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner. Over the next couple of months the pain spread to joints up and down my body. It took most of my energy to get dressed then sit in a living room chair all day.

During that time, I often referred to myself as being laid low – the description really fit. It was as if someone had hit the shut-off button on my life, which up till then had been full and busy.

I had important things to do: keeping our home running, ministry, part time work, etc, etc. There was no time for pesky interruptions!

My disease is more than pesky, as is your “thorn.” And I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Paul asking for complete rescue from trouble. My first instinct is to look for the quickest way out.

But my experience is that God often chooses to keep me in difficult circumstances much longer than I would like. To test me? Maybe, but I believe the bigger reason is more tender – to show me how strong I can be once I start leaning on Him.

This morning I realized that the weather in my city is definitely turning colder, yet I am somehow dealing with each day better – namely, a little less grumbling and a little more patience. I could say it’s just the medicine working, or my own grit. But Paul’s words whisper the truth in my ear- it’s God’s strength, not mine.

What’s your thorn? How has God strengthened you in the midst of it?