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.

 

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?

The Artist

My daughter is a wonderful visual artist. Her main medium has been drawing, and she makes it look as effortless as breathing. I have a collection of little pieces of scrap paper that she’s doodled on. Some are designs she’s done freehand that remind me of the old spirograph kit I used as a kid – intricate and precise. Others are delicate flowers or human faces, all graceful arching lines.

A lot of people, including her dad and I, have asked through the years her if she’d be going to art school. So far, she’s said no, and I can respect that. For her, making art is a quiet pursuit, something that brings her enjoyment – and that’s enough.

I’m guilty of looking over her shoulder occasionally. So I’ve been blessed to see not only her finished work, but the process that goes into it: the concentration, the focus, the trial-and-error that goes into even the smallest of sketches. And then comes the satisfied look when she can call each effort “done.”

I wonder if she knows that other people enjoy her using her gift. The people who have gotten pieces from her, of course, but her Heavenly Father, too. After all, God gave her the talent and ability to create a picture out of thin air – surely He delights in seeing what she comes up with!

I’m reminded of Psalm 139, where David confesses to God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” David realized that everything about us is intentional by God’s hand, including our giifts. Our part is to acknowledge and use what He’s given us to build one another up.

Some may think that my daughter is wasting her gift by not showing it off. It might be nice if she decided to share her work a bit more. But I truly believe she is already using it in a way that honors God.

Fall

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I was never a big fan of Autumn growing up.

So many people go nuts about Fall in New England, and it can be a beautiful time. When the weather patterns and temps work together right, a blanket of glorious color lies over the hills. The pockets of reds, oranges and yellows remind me of fireworks.

I can say that now. But whatever enjoyment I had of Fall at that time of my life  was eclipsed by the awareness of what was coming next. Not even the anticipation of my birthday in October or the thought of Christmas could ease my dread.

These days, someone might suggest I suffered from Sunlight Deficit Disorder. That could be true. I do seem to have a sensitivity to cold temperatures and lack of sunlight. But I’ve come to see that there was more to my aversion to Winter than that.

As the variety of Fall’s neon shades gave way to the flat grey and white of Winter, I’d feel a sadness about the trees and plants dying. The grey bleakness would turn my thoughts to the animals and birds still outside, left without their usual food to eat.

Back then, I didn’t know God and His strength to protect through every season. I hadn’t learned about how He made the earth and His provision for all that live in it. As those truths sank in, some of the dread lifted.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you…In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind,” the Book of Job says.

I’m looking out my window this morning and admiring the last bright leaves as they flutter down from our trees. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not looking forward to Winter. But I accept it as a part of the larger plan. And nothing is more beautiful than that.

Getting Out There

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.                Isaiah 6:8           

Why is evangelism so hard for me?

If I had to state one reason (excuse), it would be:“I’m not gifted to do it.”

I know it’s true – the ability and passion to witness, especially to strangers, was not woven into my DNA. My attempts to reach out often include stuttering, and a nervously-voiced Bible verse – not a very engaging style. In contrast, I’ve watched as certain friends make evangelism look effortless, as smooth as silk.

For years, I’ve told myself that it’s better for me to just stay out of the way and let the professionals handle witnessing. After all, I might actually do more harm than good. But the longer I live as a follower of Christ, the less I believe that. And in light of Scripture, any other excuses I have come up with start to fall apart as well.

Jesus said straight out, “Go and make disciples,” and that Great Commission wasn’t meant for only the original eleven apostles.  Before that, David and other Psalm writers called God’s people to proclaim the greatness of our Lord.   

In other words, this is work we are all supposed to be doing. And if I’m not silver-tongued, so what? God wants me and you to open our mouths. Whether beautiful poetry or awkward phrases come out, He will use our words to reach the world.

Knowing that gives me butterflies in my stomach and, oddly, some reassurance. Because it means I can’t hide behind excuses, but as I timidly start to step out more, the Holy Spirit will be there to show me how.
is anything keeping you from being a witness in the world around you?

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? 

Facing Change

When faced with change, I become a foot-stomping toddler inside. Big or small, major crossroads or little bends, all of them bring the same words to my lips –

“I don’t wanna!”

Change scares me. It upends my carefully constructed SIMS world, where I know my children will be home by 8 pm and there are no problems larger than choosing which cookies to bake. This world by the way has only ever existed in my own mind, but I’ve always had a really good imagination.

Can you relate?

My aversion to change was cemented early on. Between my 11th and 13th birthdays, my parents separated and divorced, and our house in small-town Pennsylvania was sold, fragmenting my family into three parts. The breakup was a sidewinding tornado, tearing up my home and hurling us apart. When the dust settled, I was in Connecticut with my mom, suffering from emotional whiplash.

“I don’t wanna!” Can that be a life mantra? I tried to make it mine.

I am 52 now, and another twister is bearing down on the landscape. It wasn’t set off by divorce or a house for sale. This time it’s about kids growing up and away, and me having to adjust to new physical limitations brought on by disease.

But, change is change. So how can I quiet the toddler within?

I found this verse, Psalm 14:26, and it seemed written for me.

 

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress,

and for his children it will be a refuge

I love the image of a fortress here: strong and stable. He will surround and protect us. And God promises to be that for me and my family. When I’m caught up in the whirlwinds of change, I can focus on the seeming chaos around me or on the one who never changes.

So what scriptures help you face change?