Am I Looking at Me?

IMG_4640Two years ago, I wrote about the murder of my Japanese maple.

Murder sounds melodramatic, but that’s how I felt when someone chopped down my tree. “Too close to the house; gets in the way of the footpath.”

Foul words spewed from my lips. I stomped away from the scene of the crime. No one dared follow me. Friends assured me, “I don’t blame you. I’d be mad too.”

Self-justification didn’t make me feel better. I was broken afterwards, knowing if someone pushes the right button—I’ll turn into Gollum.

I only bring this up because I’m resting in the cool shade of my yard while two squirrels cavort among the trees. Birds swoop down to drink from the bird bath. All’s well with my world and my soul.

BUT, push the right button with a critical thought, a fearful what if, a broken sprinkler head, a chopped down Japanese maple—and my happy world evaporates like a desert mirage.

Circumstances pushed my buttons last week. I was stretched like taffy beyond my comfort zone. God’s grace enabled me to control my behavior, but I was mentally having a nuclear meltdown.

And yet, I want to reflect an inward peace that doesn’t vacillate with my circumstances.

So if God’s Word tells me to trust Him even in this—then I need to believe Him. For my life experience has proven over and over and over again, that God is faithful. There is no circumstance where He is not present.

As a believer in Christ, His Spirit dwells within me. When I seek God’s face, He is kind enough to show me the reality of His manifested presence.

Only, too often I’m preoccupied—thinking about me and my circumstance instead of Him.

He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord!” (Isaiah 26:3 TLB)

Do I believe it? If so, I’ll trust the Lord and think of Him often. That’s the key to perfect peace, resting in the cool shade of God’s protective hand when life heats up. Or buttons are pushed.

I mentioned my murdered Japanese maple that led to a broken spirit. Would you believe that same tree has been resurrected? It’s sprouting from the small stump that was left in the ground.

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I laughed, and praised the Lord. He doesn’t hold my mistakes and meltdowns over my head. He uses them to teach me and change me.

Unlike Jack’s magical beanstalk, there is no hallelujah pill that will make me grow godly overnight. The only Miracle Grow is the Holy Spirit working within me, to mold me into the likeness of God’s Son. 

If removing a Japanese maple helps me grow, then chop away, Lord!

What circumstance in your life, is God using to make you grow?

How to Face the Unknown

New Year’s Day

House guests are gone, house is a mess, and … much too quiet.

I flip through the familiar dog-eared pages of 2013. Each week is marked with hand-written appointments and events that defined and filled twelve months of my life.

As I hang up the 2014 calendar, the days are numbered, but unspoken for…filled with possibility.  

Not knowing what tomorrow brings is like traveling uncharted waters. I can be excited, make plans, hope for the best, but who knows?

 

So many prayer requests come to mind; people waiting, hoping the New Year includes a …

·        Baby

·        Job

·        Promotion

·        Home

·        Restored health

·        Marriage

·        Grandchildren’s welfare

 

For some, not knowing … if these things will come to pass … invokes anxiety.

Others know change is on the horizon, and that stirs fear.  

So how can I face a calendar of unknowns, or the thought of current difficulties never ending?  

By remembering the people in the Christmas story who experienced fear, and how God responded.

 

 

Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”  (Luke 1:30)

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)

“And the angel said to them (shepherds), Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

       

What seemed like scary circumstances was the means for something good to happen.

 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

 

This same Jesus, knowing He’d die on a cross to save people from their sins, and that His disciples would undergo horrid circumstances, assured them, 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

 

Peace depends on my relationship with Christ, not my circumstances.

Can I wrap my mind around this FACT instead of getting tangled in my FEELINGS?

I can face the unknown because I know Christ. 

And He says, “Do Not be afraid.”     

Even in this…..

Haunted by Ghosts of Regret?

231 Do the ghosts of past regret haunt you with the words “If only?”

When Daylight Savings Time ended last Sunday, the sun rose at 6:35 a.m. instead of 7:35 a.m. because I set back my clocks by one hour.

If only I could change my past that easily by switching back the hands of time.

Hindsight has taught me many lessons, made me wiser.

Even so, I’d like to go back and change poor decisions. Sometimes, I wonder how life would be now if I’d made different choices.

There are also things I wish I’d done…..

For two years, I promised myself I’d visit an elderly friend. But she lived “so far away” and “life was busy.” By the time I went to her home, she had passed away.

 IF only I had known….

Regret is difficult to avoid…   

If only I had taken a different path,

If only I had made better choices,

If only God hadn’t allowed that circumstance,

If only I had known then, what I know now.  

But living with “what might have been” paralyzes me.

Before Paul was an apostle of Christ, he persecuted Christians. The memory of watching Stephen being stoned to death must have made Paul cry, “If only I had known Christ then, I would have ….

Paul experienced remorse over his actions: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

But he received the peace of God. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Read Romans 7:15-8:1)

“If only” didn’t hold Paul captive to the past.

Instead, he believed that he was loved by God, saved by grace, and forgiven.

And those facts enabled Paul to say, “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Read Philippians 3:8-14)

Like Paul, we get to choose where our mind dwells.

“Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things…..and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

                  The only “if only” anyone should regret……is not knowing…..the God of peace.

When Fear is the Driver

“Watch out for deer.”

My palms were sweaty pools while my 17-year-old son drove along the curved, rural highway. There were no guard rails, only pine trees growing on the edge of the foothills.

As we came to a hair-pin turn, my right foot pushed against the car mat.

“Speed limit is 25 M.P.H.”

 I tried not to be a backseat driver. I tried to relax, enjoy the journey. But no amount of caution on my son’s part could loosen my death grip on personal safety.

As the foothills became mountainous, and we arrived to Lake Tahoe, I was exhausted—anticipating danger that never came.

I was born with a fearful nature.

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Growing up, no one told me twice to avoid hazards. Life came with a warning label, and I complied. Being a safety patrol leader and Girl Scout taught me to be safe, and prepared for emergencies.

When I got married and had children, fear deepened. What if” something horrible happens to them? I have to keep them safe.    

Converting fear into faith is a continuous, nail-biting lesson.

When the world news fans my fear, I remember…..

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1, 2)

When my mind entertains what ifs, I remember….

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

When I’m faced with the unknown, I remember…

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 I remember, but I need to BELIEVE.

God knows the human tendency to be afraid.

Throughout the Bible, when God called people to action, He assured them, “Fear not. I am with you.”  

Even so, people often succumbed to fear rather than BELIEVE GOD.

When I gave the car keys to my son, it was a vote of confidence. My anxious behavior suggested otherwise.

When I was “born again,” I gave God authority over my life…trusting Him to guide me and be present even in the storms.

But when fear detours me from following God, or resting in His promises, I’m saying,

I don’t trust you. I want to be in the driver’s seat.

And that attitude gets me nowhere, except a path of misery.    

What is your first response when you’re afraid?

 

 

 

The C Word

Heard the C word again; the one that fills the human heart with dread.

The C word that forces me to “lean not on my own understanding”

But rest in a sovereign God.

He tells me surgery is scheduled, but the doctor’s optimistic prognosis doesn’t slay the inner demons swimming in the back of the mind:

What if ?

Dwelling on the problem instead of the Lord,

Feeds FEAR and makes it grow into a gIANT   that only faith can slay.

“For the Lord your God will hold your right hand saying to you, ‘Fear not. I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

  • Fear not, even if it’s cancer.
  • Fear not, I will hold your right hand.
  • Fear not, I will help you.

I cling to that promise like a blanket and fall asleep, one ear listening for the phone to ring.

And it does ring, waking me up just as dawn appears on my horizon and bird song fills the air.

A weary monotone voice greets me from a thousand miles away where skies are blue, but not for him.

I feel the weight of the world on his shoulders as he waits for his wife’s operation to be over, and the lab results to show good news.

Words stick in my throat as I search for the right thing to say.

“May I pray with you?”

Instead of holding warm-blooded hands, I grip the cold metal of my cell phone and …

  •  Plead to the heavens on his behalf.
  • Pray to the Lord who is an ever present help in times of trouble.
  • Claim God’s promises that are true.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

If only I could crawl through the phone, and sit beside him. Show that I care beyond words. But I can’t.

So I hang up and do what I can.

  • Bow my head and pray some more.
  • Sound the trumpet so my fellow saints will pray too.
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit who dwells within my friend to do what I can’t.

Be his strength in weakness;

          give him grace that is enough,

                 guard his mind with the peace that surpasses human understanding.

Even in this ……

Truth Be Known

243Woke up depressed, but I have to go to jail, share the “hope that lies within me” with women inmates.

Can’t give what you don’t have?” Satan taunts me.

I get on my knees where the battle is won, and pray God’s Word aloud. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)

Then I go out of obedience, not because I feel like it.

The jail tank is empty. Most of the women are asleep in their cells. I sit at the metal table and pray until a young woman joins me.

I confess my foul mood; explain I had to pray for the desire to come to jail. But I’m confident that as we read God’s Word and fix our minds on Him, our moods will change even if troubles remain.

Tears trickle down her cheeks. Woman admits she woke up thinking she should read her Bible, but didn’t “feel like it” which made her feel guilty. Knowing I struggle helps her know she’s not alone.

I assure her that Jesus struggled with mental anguish just before he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had to pray and focus on God’s will rather than his own feelings.

So we open our Bibles to Luke 22: 66-71 and read about the trial.

The Council of elders confronts Jesus, ““If you are the Christ, tell us.”

Just like Satan tempted Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Just like Satan taunts me. “If you’re a jail chaplain, where’s your hope?”

Just like Satan accuses the inmate: “If you don’t read the Bible, you’re bad.”

How does Jesus respond to Ifs.

Sometimes He quotes scripture.

Sometimes He asks questions.

During the trial, He states facts. “If I tell you, you will not believe.”

Again, they ask Him, “Are you the Son of God?”

“Yes, I am.”

Jesus condemns himself with his own words,

Because they feel that anyone who claims to be the “Son of God” is a liar or a lunatic.

They don’t believe Jesus is telling the truth when He claims to be Christ the Lord.

But disbelief doesn’t change the facts.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Believe it, or not.