On Love

Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you—never let it fail. (Hebrews 13:1)

God loved me when I was most unlovely, and He loved me before I loved Him. In turn, I want to radiate God’s love to others, no matter what they are like or how they treat me. But how does one do that?

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My Visual:  I see a thick steel cable stretching from the cross to the end of time. And I am walking on a platform beneath this cable, but I cannot fall off because I am harnessed and hooked onto the cable with a permanently sealed brass ring. Nothing can release me from God’s love or His covenant (Heb. 13:20-21). I may slip or stumble, but the cable from me to Him is strong. I will not fall. I am safe.

An obstacle in my path might try to prevent me from moving forward, but God can remove it for me. Or my brass ring might get tarnished and I’ll need to polish it with prayer. I may get distracted on my journey, but sometimes it’s okay to stop and look around and rest and see the beauty and the scenery around me. I get so focused on my goal that I forget to do that sometimes.

And now I see that I’m actually on a moving platform. It’s God’s job, God’s timing, and His decision as to when to move the platform forward and when to make it stop still—because my concern is not the end goal (I can’t see the end anyway because it stretches to eternity). For now, I have a job to do—rest when He says rest; keep alert when He moves me forward; look around and enjoy the scenery; fight the good fight, keep my spiritual armor on at all times.

Suddenly I see myriads of other cables—each person is hooked to his/her own, each on a separate platform. I can reach out and touch several people. One is on a steady platform, and we spur each other on to love and good works. Another one is afraid. Her platform is wobbly, disconnected, unstable, and she keeps looking down. I keep encouraging her to take the next step and to put her faith in the cable. Another one accuses me falsely of knocking her off-balance. I remind her to refocus on her own cable. Help me, Lord, to love well each one in my sphere of influence.

Let us continue to invest our lives in people even though we may not see immediate results. (Missionary Sam Goertz)

A Chance Encounter?

A friend of mine once challenged me to be on the lookout for God-sightings throughout my day. This one didn’t take much imagination on my part to see His footprint!

July 2007 Journal. Scott and I are attending managers’ meetings for Moody, and I had Bookstore 2some time to myself. I was praying that God would give me an opportunity to minister to someone this week, but little did I know that He’d planned something special for me this afternoon.

I wandered down the street and into a two-story bookshop, found a secluded corner and plopped down on a comfy couch to read. Before I got to page two in my book, a young couple sat down in the seats next to me. Within two sentences of greetings, she began to tell me that they’d just gotten word that she’s pregnant and that she was feeling both excitement and fear. She said she felt like she was in a dark place.

I asked her if she’d like me to pray with her, and she agreed. Immediately, God gave her a visual of Himself being in the dark room with her, and she no longer felt alone. The anxiety left her.

A chance encounter? Hardly. She said she’d been praying for an answer to her fear for the last 24 hours and hadn’t slept all last night. God heard her prayer—and mine.

Have you had a God-sighting lately?

 

Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?

Faithful till the day I Die – Lessons from Joshua

mountainThere are few major characters in the Bible whose character flaws are not mentioned. Joshua happens to be one of them. He was on Mount Sinai with Moses AND he was in the tent of meeting with him when Moses spoke to God face to face. In fact, Scripture says that when Moses left that tent, Joshua did not leave. This young man, son of Nun, quietly ministered to Moses for 40 years as his right hand man. He observed firsthand how God interacted with his 80+-year-old mentor, and he learned his lessons well in how to trust and have faith.

I wonder if Joshua ever struggled in the beginning with jealousy over Moses’ chosen leadership role? And later did he think, “No way would I want that job!” But God rewards his faithfulness and places him in that very position after Moses dies. I wonder if he knew he was being groomed for this job?

Can I be faithful in the role God has placed me, trusting that it’s all for a purpose–no matter how long it takes?

Commercials, Commercials!

One of the best gifts Scott ever gave me was my own rRemoteemote control for the TV. (Yes, ladies, that’s true love.) He even put my name on it! I guess he got tired of my complaining about the commercials. My favorite buttons are mute and fast forward.

Have you ever noticed how many commercials appeal to our bodily functions and needs? Take this medicine (and listen to an ad nauseam* litany of side effects), wear this clothing (so you can be accepted by the in crowd), try this diet (mainly a first-world issue), fix your sexual dysfunction (I won’t even go there). Drives me crazy! How can I keep my right focus intact when the world’s messages are clearly skewed toward the body?

I am a spirit; I have a soul; I live in a body.

We spend thousands of hours and dollars on trying to make our bodies healthy and fit and good looking. This is not to say that neglecting self-care is acceptable, but what would happen if we paid as much attention to our soul/spiritual needs as we did to our bodies? And what if networks were required to have sponsors who provided a balance of appeals to the whole person?

What would those commercials sound like?

Send me a link to the best TV commercial for the soul. Go ahead . . . I dare you!

*in case you’re wondering, ad nauseam literally means “to the point of sickness.” How’s that for irony?

A Mountaintop Experience–Glimpses into other worlds

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I don’t have an imagination large enough to picture what it must have been like for Moses to encounter God on Mt. Sinai or to enter into the experience of Peter, James, and John who saw a glimpse of God’s glory atop the Mount of Transfiguration or to identify with Isaiah who had a vision of the Lord “high and lifted up.” I have friends who report having seen angels and others who’ve had a near-death experience.

Why does God allow some people to see visions, to see the “other world,” to have a deeper sense and understanding of and insight into the spiritual dimension?

Wouldn’t  mountaintop experiences like these change a person forever? You might think after such an event: I’d never sin again, never doubt, never have another fear. But it’s not so. At some point we have to return to base camp and live in the earthly realm where we experience hurts and triggers.

There were a million Israelites on the journey through the wilderness, but God CHOSE only one through whom to communicate and commune. There were 12 disciples, but Jesus CHOSE only 3 to see His glory. Out of all the prophets, only one records an experience similar to Isaiah’s.

God CHOSE for me to grow up in a remote village on the continent of Africa and to answer His call on my life at an early age. But He did not choose to give me the gift of sight into the spirit realm. He chose me to minister to wounded and abused and hurting people—me!—who has experienced so little hurt in my life. Me—a vessel offered to God for His use. No special talents or gifts, just average in skill, intelligence and energy being used by God so that He gets the glory. I just have to be faithful.

Would I really want to have been in Moses’ shoes? To catch a glimpse of God’s glory but then have to follow through and lead a bunch of rebellious, griping, thirsty, murderous stiff-necked people through the heat of the desert? Would I be willing to follow Jesus to martyrdom like the apostles? Or grind through a life of rejection and abuse as a prophet? I will not envy the mountaintop experiences of these giants in the faith. God has given me what I need now and prepared me for what He wants in the future, and that is enough.

I want to be faithful for life, not to falter when my body fails me or my mind quits working. I want to be faithful till I draw my last breath, at which time I will be able to see at last into the spirit realm and experience the Lord in all His glory, high and lifted up. I’m happy to wait for my mountaintop experience.

What kind of experiences prepared you for your work for the kingdom?

Burnout with Care-taking

Following the death of my father in November 2007, we brought Mom home to stay with us for awhile. Here’s a journal entry from that time 10 years ago.Grave Stone Mom 1

January 8, 2008. The Christmas holidays have done me in, and I’m trying to recover from burnout. It’s not a pleasant place to be when others are depending on you. But I must practice what I preach and take care of myself before I can successfully care for others.

In my self-righteousness, I criticize others for allowing themselves to get into this position, but now I find myself wallowing in the same mire.

Interesting that I just recently attended a seminar on being a caretaker for the elderly. The first thing that was emphasized was to take breaks and take care of yourself. And I failed to do that. I failed in the first rule of thumb, and now I’m paying for it.

Can I give myself permission to recuperate without feeling guilty? Without accepting the accusing fingers that I’m not giving others the time they need? How does a counselor maintain distance? Once you become the counselee’s only lifeline, you get accused of abandoning, neglecting, ignoring, being selfish, and blamed if their needs aren’t being met by you.

Where does my responsibility to myself, my family, my friends and my counselees begin and end? Balance and priority. It’s easy enough to tell someone else what to do and how to do it. Harder to practice what you preach.

The key? Listen to Jesus and listen to yourself. Obey God no matter what. And then find out what it is that you’re feeling, what’s driving you to this point. I failed to do that during the seven weeks Mom came to live with us. And so, belatedly, I’m going to try to work through this.

First, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between child-care and elder-care.

  1. You can tell/train a toddler. You must give dignity and respect to the elder.
  2. A child may not understand. An elder can (if she has all her faculties).
  3. Both are driven by emotion.
  4. A child needs more supervision. My mom needed more diversion.

And that, I think, is where I felt the push-pull. I became Mom’s sole source of diversion. Mom is an out-loud thinker and therefore, by default, I became her primary target. Because I’m an inside thinker for the most part, I can’t function too well with the distractions of chatter that expect a response. I have a hard time focusing and thinking about my task at hand. I spent much of my time reading to her, playing games together (Scrabble and Rook), or doing crossword puzzles.

Mom could not enjoy the TV or movies because of her macular degeneration. She missed her independence at home with her CCTV (a device that enlarges print). And so I became very attentive to her need to be listened to. Her one and only diversion was to listen to books on tape—her default if I was preoccupied.

I love my mother, and I’d do anything for her. I felt sorry for her loss of her husband, her home in California, her forced move to Florida. I felt bad leaving her alone or not including her in all the family activities, and so I isolated myself with her sometimes while the family watched TV.

Where did this feeling of responsibility or obligation come from? Because she is a guest in my home? Because she’s the weakest link right now in our family? Because I feel sorry for her that she’s trapped in an old person’s body with poor eyesight, in someone else’s home? Funny. . . Mom never complained or criticized me. So what was driving my behavior and emotions?

Visual:  I’m carrying Mom on my back. I get tired and have to put her down to rest. I keep carrying her past the point of my exhaustion. And I shouldn’t have because then, if I fall, we both get hurt.

Today I lay my burden down—not a burden in a negative sense, but as in a load. From off my shoulders, I set down my mother, my children, my husband, cooking and house cleaning, friends, counselees, and my entire to-do list. Today I give myself permission to rest.

January 9. I feel 100% better after resting yesterday. I have my energy and drive back. Sometimes mental rest is as important as the physical.

Word for the Year 2017

Years ago, one of our pastors encouraged the congregation to select and focus on a Word for the Year. This little discipline has been life-changing for me. Each December, I begin by asking the Lord for a word and then brainstorming ways I can apply this goal throughout the year. For example, the year I chose the word “Word” I read through the Bible in a year and wrote 365 birthday cards or encouragement letters by hand. Some of my other words over the years have included Prayer, Food, Hike, Adventure, and Unplugged. This past year, I chose Neighborhood.

We have lived in this house in this subdivision for 17 years—the longest I have ever lived in one place, yet I could not have told you the names of the people who lived on my own street. Sure, people are busy, mothers work outside the home, I don’t have my kids to make instant connections for me anymore, and I had my hands full already with ministry opportunities, travel, and church responsibilities. But I knew it was time to set aside my excuses and get to know my neighbors.

The first thing I did was to create a map of the 30 houses on our street (plus one cul-de-sac); then I went door-to-door introducing myself and exchanging names and contact information. I worked hard at memorizing names as I prayed daily for each home. Out of this endeavor, we gained four new ladies for a Bible study I’m in. I received a note “You made my day” when I randomly distributed chocolate chip cookies and cards to the ladies on Mother’s Day. I passed out homemade cinnamon rolls in the fall and Christmas candy to a few who were at home when I rang their doorbell. We invited several couples over for dinner. I took a home-cooked meal to a new mom, and exchanged ethnic food all year long with a Kurdish family. I brought goodies and greetings to two new arrivals on the block and said good-bye to another just after getting to know them. Because of my interest in a widow, I was the first person she told when she was diagnosed with cancer. And the most fun of all was inviting all the ladies to a spring and fall tea, hosted by Renate, who, I discovered, has the most spectacular gift of hospitality.IMG_1513

Focusing on one word a year helps to establish a habit. I may not put this much effort into staying in touch with my neighbors in 2018, but I have built a foundation for future connections. It’s a ministry, it’s a blessing, and I know that the more I give, the more I receive.

What word would you choose for 2018 and why? Next year I’ll tell you mine.

The Christmas Thorn Bush

Journal 2007. Celebrating an American-style Christmas in Nigeria had its challenges. Because the pagan nationals worshiped the rocks and trees, we shied away from erecting a Christmas tree in our home. But one year we persuaded our parents to cut down a thorn bush on which we hung our popcorn strings and homemade ornaments.acacia_2568527

This week I find myself in a situation where I may potentially run into someone who pricks me every time I get near her.

Jesus says, “Put an ornament of blessing on the projecting thorn!”

Thanks, Lord. I can do that.

Gifts to Men

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8)

When Jesus returned to heaven, He gave gifts to men. I’m not sure exactly what gifts the Apostle Paul was referring to, but it got me to thinking. When He chooses one person to have a good voice and another to excel at math, it’s a gift. As children, we wanted equal gifts, and we wanted what our peers had. As adults, we want what our family, friends, or neighbors have. We want life to be equal and fair. I suppose everybody struggles with this on some level.

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Imagine it’s Christmas morning and Jesus is handing out gifts. Are you jealous of what your brother or sister got? Why? Perhaps theirs is the thing you wanted and didn’t get or you didn’t like what you got.

But I look down at my gift and discover it’s tailored just for me. It’s exactly what I needed. It’s perfect for what I wanted. I’m delighted with His choice—because He knows me and He knows my heart. He created me, and He knows what will give me pleasure. But even more than that, He knows that I’ll use the gift that He’s given me to minister to others in order to bring Him glory. And in this way, my brothers and sisters can benefit from it. And then they share their gifts with me, and I benefit.

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)

Gary Chapman has made popular The Five Love Languages, one of which is “gift-giving.” Giving is not my first love language, so I would do well to observe how the Father does it. God is an extravagant gift-giver. I cannot give Him anything in return that would equal His gifts. Therefore, it is never an exchange of gifts (like we tend to do at Christmastime). I am the child handing Him a dandelion, when He has given me a botanical flower garden. He even made the wildflower that I’m offering to Him.

But . . . just as I delighted in receiving a dandelion from my [then] two-year-old Grandson Ben, offered in love and innocence, God delights in me when I offer to Him my gifts—not just in gratitude—but out of love. I choose to give Him my heart, and His heart melts, just as mine does when Ben or Jack give me something of themselves, like a picture for my bulletin board.

Ben 2017

Nativity by Ben Wallace, age 5