Nikki’s Story

From my 2016 Journal. Twenty-five years ago, I volunteered to substitute-teach in a 4th grade girls’ Sunday school class at our church in Holland, Michigan. One girl in particular was rather recalcitrant, and I didn’t know how to handle her. So I was surprised at the end of class when she asked me to explain what salvation meant. I did not know at the time that she was a visitor.

I don’t remember what all I said, but I do recall reaching into my purse and retrieving a quarter. I held it in the palm of my hand and explained that salvation is a free gift that Jesus offers to us, just like I was offering her this quarter. She stared at it, puzzled. “It’s a free gift,” I repeated. “It’s yours.” Suddenly the light bulb went on, and she reached out and took it. “That,” I explained, “is what salvation is. All we have to do is receive it.” That day, Nikki accepted Jesus into her heart, and she taped the quarter into her Bible as a reminder of her decision. The following week her mother sought me out to thank me and to inform me that Nikki had radically changed since making this important decision.

Nikki continued to attend the church on up through high school, and one day her mother asked me for a favor. Her daughter was going to participate in a Chrysalis Retreat*—a time of intense spiritual growth—and she needed to gather letters from various people to encourage her on her journey. Of course I agreed to participate. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Tennessee, and we lost track of each other.

Imagine my delight and surprise this month when I got a message on my answering machine from a Nicole who said she was looking for a Karen who had written a letter for her Chrysalis bag. She said God was doing great things in her life, and she wanted to share it with me. She’d Googled my name, found my home phone number, and sent a friend request on Facebook. I was clueless as to who this person was until I called her back, and she relayed the story of the quarter. Then it all came back. Nicole—or Nikki as I knew her then—had recently watched the movie War Room and was in the process of creating her own prayer closet. She’d unearthed her bag and determined to contact each person who’d written her a letter to thank them for speaking truth into her life. What a joyful time of fellowship we had as we caught up on each other’s lives!

*chrysalis.upperroom.org/about

butterfly

Lessons from the Shingles

From my May 2016 Journal. Shingles, Day 9.When I came down with the shingles*, I had no idea what was in store for me in the days to come. But I determined right from the beginning that #1) I would have a positive attitude and #2) I would do my best to learn something from the experience.

With horrible nausea, I made two trips across town to the doctor, throwing up four to five times that day. Even with anti-nausea meds, I was barely functional. Finally the doc switched me to Phenergan. With one dose my life became bearable. I could tolerate the rash, the nonstop headache, the eye pain, and the loss of appetite. I thought of chemo patients and wondered how they tolerated such an assault to their bodies.

A book I read recently on healing mentioned that our perception of pain is related to the highest point of discomfort along with the final outcome of the ordeal (whether negative or positive). During the nausea, I thought I’d die. But as soon as it was under control, I suddenly thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” How interesting is that!

As for lessons learned, so far the only thing I’ve come up with is this:

Before this all started, I heard a question posed on the radio: Who are you? My super-spiritual answer was “a daughter of the King.” But that’s not what my honest answer was. My initial response was related to what I DO: I’m an inner healing prayer minister.

In this last nine days of inactivity, I pondered the question again. I was perfectly content at this point with not being capable of praying with people. My identity this week had nothing to do with ministry. I felt no loss as to who I was. I was too sick to care. Would I have responded, “I’m a sick person”? Is that my identity or my condition?

I am loved. That is enough.

And so I’m grateful:

  • For a husband who’s taken excellent care of me.
  • For the little kindnesses from friends—a meal, a card, a run to the pharmacy, a visit.
  • That my pain has been very manageable.
  • For doctors and nurses and pharmacists and medicine, and a country where such is readily available.
  • For flexibility to cancel appointments without loss of job security.
  • For a comfortable couch, soft pillow, warm blanket, and a kitty for company.
  • That I only have a mild case of the shingles (I’ve heard horror stories).

Day 19, A few observations:

  • Schedules and to-do lists have become irrelevant.
  • Pain management easily takes front and center.
  • Time takes on a different dimension. I’m nearing three weeks of time standing still. One day is like every other—bed to couch, to attempt to do something, to couch. If something gets done, that’s good. If not, oh well!
  • I’m grateful for beauty—the moon, the roses, the trees and grass that I can see through my window, and the sunshine on my face when I sit on the deck for a few minutes.
  • It does no good to try to rush the healing process. You’ll just relapse.
  • Going down is quick. Getting back up takes effort and time.
  • Sleep is necessary.
  • Spiritual disciplines decline in direct proportion to how sick one is. I can gauge my recovery process according to how much I focus on prayer.
  • You can’t teach another person the lessons you’re learning. It will just be information to them until they experience it for themselves. (This is true for everything in life I think.)
  • It’s okay to just be—sometimes that’s all you can do. But it feels quite unproductive—which is my inner default drive—to do, do, do, produce, manage my goals, serve others. It’s hard to serve others when you’re self-focused.
  • Multitasking is no longer an option.

Observation after 5 weeks: I don’t like to talk about illness once I’m through the worst of it. Leave it alone please; let’s move on to something else. You have it far worse than I do. I don’t want to be the center of your focus and attention. Why? Where is that emotion coming from I wonder?

After 7 weeks: Following the shingles, I had laryngitis for four days followed by a full-blown cold, and then I lost a crown while out of town. I’ve had to fight to stay positive, but occasionally I leak! When it’s obvious I don’t feel well and I can’t hide it, people will ask and comment. But when it’s not obvious, I don’t like drawing attention to myself. But expressing it somehow helps me feel better. I watch my friends who have chronic pain who can be matter-of-fact about it—especially if asked—and others who verbalize it constantly, all the while declaring, “. . . but I won’t complain.” When does declaring facts morph into complaint? It starts, I think, in the heart.

So I have to check my attitude periodically. It is easy to get discouraged when the endpoint is unclear. What helps is to refocus, go to the castle of my heart, if even for a moment. It’s like a reset button. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to fight against cancer or to come to the end of one’s life with no hope of recovery from illness or aging. No wonder people turn crotchety!

So, Lord, help me to pass this test and learn my lessons.

*Shingles: an acute, painful inflammation of the nerve ganglia, with a skin eruption, caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Mine attacked the right side of my temple in the trigeminal nerve and my right eye (where I’ve battled with flare-ups ever since). I’m so thankful for an excellent ophthalmologist.

Shingles 2

Peaches keeping me company

I’m a Recovering Pharisee

You will never understand the heart of a Pharisee unless you realize that he sees the plank in his eye as belonging to others (Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?)

eye plank

From my 2016 Journal. I am a recovering Pharisee. I identify more with the law than with grace, with Martha more than Mary, with the big brother rather than the prodigal son, with self-righteousness over God’s righteousness. Had I been at the synagogue the day Jesus healed the crippled woman (Luke 13), I would have been the Pharisee condemning Jesus for working on the Sabbath. Self-righteousness is my continual default. I cringe when I read this verse:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: (Luke 18:9 NIV)

Thankfully, I’ve come a long, long way in shedding my Pharisaical robes, but I’m not there yet—and won’t be until I get to heaven. Whenever I think that I’m “better than” I’ve crossed the line into self-righteousness.

So, I explore this thought:  If I choose the God path, does that make me superior to those who choose to resist God? My inner Pharisee says yes. But I know that is arrogance.

I am responsible for my own faith, my own choices, my own reactions and responses. I don’t know another person’s heart—not really. We are each accountable to our own master—be it God or Satan or money or pain. Since I’ve chosen God as my master, then I only answer to Him. It is not my job to judge another person’s choices or motives. I might know and recognize that they’ve chosen a poor master, and I can urge them to reconsider their choice, but they may be bound in chains and may not know that freedom is available to them. Why get upset and rage at them for not opening their eyes—when they are truly blinded by the god of this world and cannot see until the God of Heaven opens their eyes.

Lord, remove all stubbornness, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and feelings of superiority from my heart. Give me the heart of the sinner who beat his breast and begged God for mercy.

 

Am I Not Enough?

From my 2016 Journal. I’m feeling disgruntled today, agitated, pacing, complaining. Jesus invites me to sit with Him for a bit. “I’m weary of working with people whose hearts are closed. Soulmate is a mythical beast.”

“Am I not enough?” Jesus asks.

“Am I not enough?” the Holy Spirit queries.

“Am I not enough?” the Father says.

And my heart cries out “I want You to be. So why am I not satisfied? Why do I cling to the illusion that flawed human beings are capable of meeting the deepest longings and intimate needs of my heart?”

“It’s not fair to expect people to be God to you,” observes Jesus. “That’s idolatry.”

And so I repent.

Be Jesus to others but let go of expecting them to be that to you.

THOUGHTS, WORDS, DEEDS

Your life is a printout of your thoughts.

From my 2011 Journal. Since childhood, I’ve been taught that deeds are important—whether good or bad. Remember that little chorus, “O be careful little hands what you do”? Within the last 10 years, as I’ve been listening to people’s memories, I’ve begun to understand how much our words might have an even greater impact. (See Derek Prince’s book Blessing or Curse—You Can Choose.)

But after reading Surviving Death by Scott Degenhardt, I became convicted about how much our thoughts can impact the universe as well. For one thing, if you think something, it has the potential to turn into words, which often morph into deeds. (Ever notice how you can think about doing something, and then you decide to ignore it, and then all of a sudden you find yourself getting up and doing that very thing?) I marvel that a thought has that much power over my body.

I could quote the verse “as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 KJV), but somehow I’d come to believe that as long as I didn’t SAY something or DO something, it was okay. But here’s where I got convicted. I have found myself critiquing and then criticizing people’s choices in my head. I would never dare say something out loud, but I indulged the thought. What if we all had the ability to read everyone else’s thoughts? Would our thought life change?

Here’s the thing . . . thoughts are not really private. The God of the universe knows my mind. And sometimes my thoughts get expressed in my triggered emotional responses.

I am He Who searches minds—the thoughts, feelings and purposes—and the [inmost] hearts.  Rev. 2:23

God, by Jesus Christ, will judge men in regard to the things which they conceal—their hidden thoughts. Rom. 2:16

How does one confess a lifetime of guilt in one’s thought life? Sigh.

Thoughts pexels-photo-1485657

I DON’T HAVE TO . . . I GET TO

ToiletYears ago, Scott and I attended a concert at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga. I don’t remember now which groups performed, but the lyrics from an old Gospel song stuck with me for a long time. The refrain was “I don’t have to . . . I get to.”

Here’s a sample from my own list:

  • I don’t have to cook meals for my family . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to pray for people . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to clean the toilets . . . I get to.
  • I don’t have to love my enemies . . . I get to.

Another good phrase to use is:  Isn’t it great that . . . ?

  • Isn’t it great that we have dirty dishes? It means we have food to eat.
  • Isn’t it great that my hair is frizzy today? It means I have hair!
  • Isn’t it great that it’s raining today? It means that the flowers are drinking.
  • Isn’t it great that I have a toilet to clean? It means I don’t have to squat over a hole in the ground (seriously)!

Now your turn . . . 

VISION, LIMITS, AND OBITS

IMG_4641 (2)From my 2011 Journal. We’re teaching the life of Elisha in Momentum (Sunday school for grades 4-6), and our leader Lori challenged us to ask ourselves 3 sets of questions.

#1 Write down a sentence that describes the vision you have for your life.

That’s a tall order! I’m sure it’s changed over the years [and perhaps has changed since I wrote this 8 years ago]. At first I thought of the word “prayer” and then “service,” but I think even more than that, the word “obedience.” I’m more of a rule-follower than a leader. Another word that comes to mind is “peace.” All these words have been my pursuit since childhood. Can they be melded into one sentence?

My Vision Statement:  I will prayerfully pursue inner peace while living a life of obedience in His service.

#2 Where do you limit yourself? and Where do you limit God?

Unlike my youngest daughter, I don’t like change. I’m not inherently adventuresome. I limit myself physically. I don’t get outside as much as I’d like to enjoy nature. I’m content to stay inside where it’s sterile and comfortable. [I’ve since then deliberately made that change.] I limit myself when I doubt that God is working in another person’s life. I limit God when I cannot see the big picture or when I don’t ask for big things. I’m Elisha behind a plow, plodding along. I have no imagination that God has a much greater work for me to do. [Again, thankfully God has grown me in these areas.]

#3 Write out your own obituary.

Besides the stats of where I’ve lived and what I’ve done and who my surviving relatives are—I suppose Lori means for what character traits will people remember me. The truth? Or what I hope they remember me for? Okay, here goes. . . .

She liked things done her way. She liked simplicity and minimalism. She neglected exercise. And she had a terrible memory. She loved spicy food and anything African. She accepted people at face value and tried to learn something from everyone. She was hardest on her husband and expected more from him than from others—but she eventually relaxed on that one and decided to let God be his Holy Spirit.

She loved prayer, but never felt like she mastered it. She had a driving passion for purity, obedience to God, mind renewal, helping others come to emotional healing. She enjoyed writing—for herself—and used to crochet and cross-stitch. Mostly she enjoyed reading, and when younger, climbing trees. She adored her family. She enjoyed baking, but not cooking on a routine basis—especially for picky eaters. Using her resources for God was extremely important to her. She loved monkeys but not dogs, and she tolerated cats. Sunsets, rainbows, a full moon, cloud formations, and the African sky. She liked to work on the computer—especially when creating words on a page, and even data entry. But most of all, above all else, she LOVED GOD.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your responses to these thought-provoking questions.

Who’s in Your Driver’s Seat?

Drivers seat

Baby Benjamin and big brother Jackson

I have heard people use the metaphor that God should be in the driver seat of our lives—that God is in charge, and I can trust Him to drive this vessel anywhere He wants. But I’m not sure that’s accurate. If I were the passenger, I would have no say in where I go and what I do. He has given human beings a choice. I am actually behind the steering wheel. And so, though I am driving, His hands are on the wheel with me because He is inside me. When I fight against His direction, we begin to swerve and hit potholes and run off the road and wreck, but when I yield to His gentle pressure, He keeps me on the right path, going in the right direction. He can see up ahead where the detour signs are, where the roadblocks are. So I can trust Him when He suggests we take a break, find another route, or stop to help a fellow traveler. I cannot drive another person’s vessel for him/her (sometimes I wish I could!), but I can lend a hand with a flat tire or offer a snack or a drink of cool water to ease his/her discomfort.

Where do you see Jesus in your picture?

Small Bites

 

As I read the Scriptures, I find I can only chew on one small portion at a time. When I’m studying faith in Hebrews 11, it’s hard to focus on I Corinthians 13 and love. When I’m reading the Psalms, I’m focused on praise and thanksgiving. I have to trust that whatever bite I’m chewing on at the time is what my soul needs.

Sometimes my soul needs water because I’m thirsty (“as the deer panteth for the water”). Sometimes it enjoys dessert (the mountaintop experiences in life). But other times, a sip of bitter coffee (admitting I’m wrong) offsets the sweetness of forgiveness. Meat and starch for energy. I need it all . . . but I can only take (and enjoy) one bite at a time.

And so I lay aside the guilt that says I’m not praising enough, or I’m lingering too long over the coffee. I need balance. And I can trust God to bring into my life whatever He has planned for me to help me grow in my walk with Him.

What are you chewing on today?

Small bites 2

Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?