Fighting Fires

From my 2016 Journal. I feel like I’ve been fighting fires for months—rows of houses are ablaze or burned to the ground, and I’m tired of holding the hose, climbing ladders, and rescuing people. I’m weary, and the fires keep spreading. I also see gleeful little gremlins throwing gasoline over the houses.

Lord, I need your help!

A strong wind blows the fire back on itself, and water from the sky douses the flames. But suddenly the scene shifts and my perspective changes. The water is actually coming from a watering can, and the blaze is no bigger than a campfire. I’m just a little ant, so everything looks enormous—unlike from God’s perspective. All my effort and fretting just made me tired.

And so I ask the Lord, “What is my role? Do You want me to hold fire hoses or stand back and watch you work?” I think of Moses who obediently went to Egypt, but it was God who did all the work once he arrived.

I’m tired before going to my next appointment.

“Just show up and obey My instructions,” He says. “And I’ll do the rest.”

That helps. I can rest in that thought.

God Appointments

Excerpt from Diamond Fractal

Sometimes God makes appointments for us that aren’t penciled into the calendar. One day I had a lot of errands to run, and as I thought through the best route to take for the greatest efficiency and gas consumption, Wal-Mart came up first on my list. I parked the car, grabbed a cart, and “accidentally” met one of our clients coming out of the store. The look on her face was priceless, as she exclaimed, “I just prayed ten to fifteen minutes ago: Lord, I need to see Karen or Minna right now!” She was in crisis mode as she was on her way to a family member’s funeral.

And so God’s business was done in a makeshift office (her air-conditioned car in Wal-Mart’s parking lot) as we prayed together and she released her panic and dread to the Great Physician. “God is so good,” she kept reiterating. Indeed He is! Later she reported, “The funeral was amazing! No terror or panic. Just peace. I cannot thank you enough for following the leading of God and being there. I don’t know what I would have done.” There are truly no words to describe the love, mercy, and grace of our Father in heaven.

Another day, I walked into the dental office a few minutes early and sat in the waiting room. Immediately, the only other person in the room (an African-American man) turned to me and said, “I hate being here. I’ve served in the military and I’ve jumped out of airplanes, but I’m scared of a little ol’ dental appointment.”

“Why are you so fearful of it?” I asked.

Pause. “I’ll tell you why,” he replied. “When I was a little boy, my father had to wear dentures, and I remember the awful pain he had to go through.”

“Why was that so fearful to you?” I asked again.

He thought a moment. “Because I could imagine the tools the dentist had to use to extract his teeth.”

“What were you imagining?” I asked.

“A chisel and a screwdriver.”

And so I asked him gently, “Would you like me to pray with you?” His eyes lit up, he grabbed my hands, and exclaimed, “Sure!”

“Just look at the picture of the tools and focus on the fear,” I told him. And then I prayed, “Lord, what do You want to show this man in that picture?”

Immediately he relaxed. “He took them [the tools] away!”

“And how’s the fear now?”

“It’s gone! Wow!”

And then we had the sweetest time of fellowship, as he shared about his ministry to special-needs adults with a Christian organization down the street. The whole transaction maybe took all of ten to twelve minutes, but it was just long enough for God to jump in and do His miracle in this man’s heart.

Why Do I Care What Others Think?

From my 2013 Journal. I sprained my pinkie finger this week and had to tape it to the next finger to keep it stable and from feeling shooting pain anytime I bumped it. As I stood in church yesterday during a clapping song, I was conscious of how I had to restrict my hand motions in order to compensate.

All I could think about was what people would think if I just stood there and didn’t participate. Later I began to reflect:

#1 Why do I even think people are looking at me?

#2 If they are looking, are they judging me?

#3 Do they even care? Do I?

First of all, I suspect most people are doing the same thing I am—thinking more about themselves and what others are thinking of them if they act a certain way. And, yes, I think they’re judging—because I do it—judge people for their actions, that is. But so what if they judge or not? If they care or not?

More than feeling self-conscious, however, I think about my motive to set a good example. If I don’t clap, am I giving someone else permission not to participate in group worship? Do I hear a “should” in there somewhere? I want people to know why I’m not clapping. I can’t just stand there and not do it! Why not?

Claire Fontaine in Have Mother, Will Travel says,

Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind, don’t matter.

How profound! It’s past time to let this one go. My worship must be God-centered rather than others-focused.

Judgmentalism

From my 2012 Journal. We tend to focus on different things at different seasons of our lives. For example, when our daughter Cindy took a course in human anatomy for her degree in sculpture, she couldn’t help but notice the shapes of different people’s noses, eyes, and hairlines. As a young mom now, I suspect she’s focusing more on toddler behavior.

Cynthia’s self-bust

I, on the other hand, learned to critique a speaker’s vocal quality and body language for my oral interpretation degree. Perhaps that’s what kicked into high gear last night when I attended an evening church service. I found myself distracted by what I observed on stage. The words to a song splashed onto the screen, the worship leaders stepped up to the front in unison, each dressed to perfection—except that I think one is too perfectI wonder what that rigidity looks like in her daily life? One dresses fashionably, I muse, but the fashion doesn’t suit her. Another is not petite enough. (What?! I just critiqued “the perfect one” as being too petite!) Arrggh! What’s wrong with my mind? I’m noticing the outward appearance, but inwardly, I’m critiquing: too perfect, too immodest, wounded, relaxed, etc.

I’m not God, and I can’t see into another person’s heart, so where do I come off having the right to judge and critique someone else’s inner soul? Yes, the externals give clues to the internals and, because of my counselor’s training, I’m getting better at noticing. But I don’t like the consequences. It’s distracting to my focus on worship. I’m not these people’s judge . . . or have I become one? When did I take on this role, and how do I stop it? It’s one thing to notice; it’s another to critique and then to judge.

So why do I do it? I think to myself, This person needs fixing! Yikes! What an ugly thought! That’s God’s job, not mine.

What if I focused on creativity and beauty instead of flaws? What if I celebrated our differences and our choices instead of our motives? Celebrated the colors on stage. Observed the style of clothing from a designer’s eye, appreciating the variety of shapes and sizes and textures rather than as a critique of a person’s character. I need to separate the physical from the internal.

So when does assessment turn into judgmentalism? Or pride? Or contempt? Or pity? Or concern? Or compassion? Have I created a standard in my mind for right and wrong that is different from God’s standard? God’s measuring stick is absolute (don’t lie, hate, lust, covet). My standard is a moving target based on cultural norms, a person’s age, historical time periods, etc.

And so I begin by stating an observation regarding externals:

  • She’s large-boned / He’s shorter than average
  • She wears high necklines / she has a plunging neckline
  • She has 4 visible tattoos / he has none
  • She wears tight-fitting jeans / he wears saggy pants
  • He has shoulder-length hair / she has short, spiky hair

It becomes an assessment when I draw plausible conclusions based on past experience or training. The assessment is not wrong IF I acknowledge that it is an educated guess:  it could be that . . . I wonder if . . . most people like this are. . . . But concluding (without knowledge) what’s in a person’s heart is presumptuous. For example:

  • She’s too skinny / plump because she’s on weight-gaining drugs, she was abused as a child, she has no self-discipline, she has a food disorder, etc.
  • She shows cleavage because she wants to attract men’s attention, she has a “wardrobe malfunction,” she grew up in an Africa village where it’s culturally acceptable, etc.
  • She has tattoos because she wants to fit in with her peers, because she wants to permanently remember an event, because she’s rebelling against parental restrictions, etc.
  • And so on and so forth.

This exercise of the mind morphs into sinful pride (The Elder Brother syndrome) when I begin to compare myself to another person and indulge in feelings of superiority:  I would never do that. . . I’m better than he/she. How sick is that!

I think about Zacchaeus the tax collector. How would I have judged him I wonder . . . a short, fat, greedy, mean, traitorous man? But Jesus sees into his repentant, hurting heart and begins a love relationship with him.

Visual: I see mobs of people milling around. Some are blind, others are crippled, and many are wearing arms in slings. Others hide behind facial masks, believing they’re safer that way; but their restricted vision prevents them from seeing the truth. They’re all dressed in filthy rags, covering painful sores. A pitiful lot.

And then I watch as a drop of Living Water falls gently onto one person. Like a drop of soap in a dishpan with oil, the ripples spread out and a path of clean is created. And more drops fall, and the people turn their faces skyward. Blinded eyes see, slings fall off, and crippled legs are straightened. But some are frightened by the foreign matter, and they run from the moisture . . . because water and dirt create mud streaks on their face, and they feel self-conscious.

And so I begin to let go of my judgmentalism. I now see their fear instead of their sin; their timidity instead of their stubbornness.

The rain is gentle and soothing and inviting. I allow myself to be bathed in it, cleansed, forgiven. I sense the sweet wooing of the Savior. And now instead of judgment, I feel sorrow for those who struggle, for I am one of them.

Suddenly the focus of my prayers change. I don’t pray for the person to have a change of heart; I pray for God’s mercy to let a drop of His Spirit fall on him/her. I appeal to God to pour out His love and woo the stubborn, judgmental heart—starting with mine.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

Should You Flee or Stay?

The shrewd man saw trouble and took cover; the simple kept going and paid the penalty (Proverbs 22:3).

From my 2012 Journal. I’ve often thought about how the Psalmist David fled from King Saul; but the 3 young captives Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stayed put and refused to bow before an idol at the king’s mandate. Corrie ten Boom hid Jews in Holland during Hitler’s regime, while others refused to harbor fugitives. What’s the right thing to do? Flee from harm’s way or stand your ground and take the consequences? What about Mary and Joseph? God could have simply put a miraculous, sword-proof shield around the holy family or made them invisible to the soldiers’ eyes. But God chose to remove them from the situation. He told them to flee to Egypt.

What would have happened if David had stood his ground and confronted Saul instead of running? Or if the Jews hadn’t gone into hiding? Or if Shad, Mesh, and Abed had fled the country?

When the Israelites were besieged by the Babylonian army, God instructed them not to resist—just surrender and go into captivity. Instead, the leaders and the people fought back, tried to escape, and hid—and many lost their lives as a result. Later, God told the remnant to do the opposite: stay put and not flee to Egypt. The key, I think, is obedience to the Spirit of God who knows what’s best.

I can’t say I’ve ever been in this situation, so it’s hard to predict what I might do. But I think about it. Have you ever experienced this dilemma? How did you choose and why?

If you refrain from rescuing those taken off to death—those condemned to slaughter—If you say, “we knew nothing of it,” surely he who fathoms hearts will discern [the truth]. He who watches over your life will know it. And he will pay each man as he deserves (Proverbs 24:11).

God Loves Me!

 “God created man . . . and God fell in love . . .” (Wes Stafford in Just a Minute)

From my 2012 Journal. That’s a stunning statement. In my head I’ve always known “God is love” and that God loves me. After all, we grew up singing, “Jesus loves me” and quoting John 3:16 “For God so loved the world . . . ” But were those just words, a fact, a piece of information, a truth with no questions asked, or a head knowledge only?

To say someone “fell in love” implies emotion and deep affection. There’s a difference between saying, “I know Scott loves me,” and “He fell in love with me.” I know about God’s agape love (sacrificial love; doing-the-right-and-moral-thing kind of love). But what do I know about His emotional love? Is it similar to what I feel for my girls or for my grandsons? I delighted in watching their every move as they turned over, took their first steps, spoke their first words. Is this how God feels toward me?

Somehow the thought that I’m a sinner stands in the way of accepting God’s emotional love for me. It’s time to take the label off.

I may be a corrupted or scratched-up CD, but I’m not a corrupted file. I’m fixable! (The world at the time of Noah—now that was a corrupted file!)

God loves the song that I sing. I’m his favorite album—scratches and all. He doesn’t get irate when I fail to perform at my best. He’s the originator, the creator of the CD, and He has a scratch-less copy on His hard drive. He made a perfect copy, and then Satan’s tools and my pride, stubbornness, and rebellion corrupted the music. Someday He’ll make another copy of me—back to perfect, good as new, and I won’t need the medium anymore. The music will play in the air, crystal clear, scratch-less.

God fell in love with me—my music—because He’s the songwriter, and He loves His creation. I came out of His heart. “Yes, Jesus loves me.”

2021 Update: After reading the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke, I have a new appreciation and understanding of God’s all-encompassing, unconditional, healing, gentle love. The thought makes my heart sing.

It’s Not About You

From my 2012 Journal. After a client processes a painful memory, often his or her response is, “I feel so much better” or “the pain is gone” or “I feel lighter.” So it’s a little startling when someone comes out of a session exclaiming, “Jesus is so wonderful!” or “God is amazing!”

These words remind me a little of the responses from those whom Jesus healed while on earth. I suspect more of them exclaimed, “I’m healed!” or “I can see!” or “I can walk!” or “My leprosy is gone!” Very few responded with “What an amazing Healer!” This is not a criticism, but an observation. We most often respond based on how something affects us. It’s human nature.

In 2009, Angus Buchan, a South African evangelist, had a heart attack while speaking to a large crowd, and he was air-lifted away to a hospital. Feeling helpless, he heard God say, “It’s not about you, Angus. You’re just the messenger.”

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said that at her funeral she wanted nothing to be said about her—only about Jesus. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I want to hear what people would say about me at my funeral. Even in death, apparently, I want the spotlight to be on me. I pray that by the time I die, I’ll be ready to fade into the shadows and put Jesus center stage. After all, it’s not about me, but about Christ and what He did.

Photo by Marcelo Jaboo on Pexels.com

People, We Need People

What most people call trials and tribulations, I call class time.

(Degenhardt in Surviving Death)

From my 2012 Journal. Can I be honest? It’s so much more pleasant being around people who aren’t uptight, negative, or angry all the time. But it’s those very people who help me grow! Yes, I’ve had my share of losses and grief and experiences that have taught me life lessons, but it’s people—with all their flaws and triggers and woundings that hurt and jab and poke and bump into me that have given me the most fodder for growth opportunities. The continual sandpaper has removed some of my rough edges.

A 2020 update. Something I’ve observed during this COVID year: As an introvert, I’ve not minded the slower pace and the forced distancing from people. I feel more at peace when I’m in my own little bubble typing on the computer, doing a jigsaw puzzle, going for a hike, or reading a book. Isolation makes me feel content, but it doesn’t make me grow. I suspect it’s the opposite for extroverts who are happiest interacting with people. Isolation forces them to face their inner landscape—and that becomes their opportunity to grow.

Lean into the uncomfortable and watch God work.

How to Make a Good Decision

From my 2012 Journal. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but once I did, following these protocols for making a decision has saved me a bucket load of embarrassment and regret.

  1. When faced with a double-bind, work through your feelings about each side individually, one at a time. Once you feel at peace no matter which side you choose, your solution will be much clearer to your rational mind. Emotions cloud your ability to choose wisely. (If you need help working through your feelings, give me a call!)

Example: If I choose Option A (accept a new job offer), I’ll feel some fear. If I choose Option B (stay with my present job), I’ll feel some regret.

  1. Want to know God’s will? Make no decision to move forward until you’re at peace about it first. Then you’ll be able to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Example: A classmate of mine in college felt great angst about his passion to become a missionary pilot. Somewhere he’d bought into the lie that God would never give him the desires of his heart; he was afraid that God was just testing him. It seemed obvious to me that it was God who had given him the passion in the first place, and I told him so, but I didn’t know then how to help him work through his emotions.

  1. Never confront someone, write a letter, or send an email or text while you’re triggered. You’ll say stupid things you’ll regret, and the cleanup from the mess you create will be harder and take longer. Always come to peace in your heart first, and then say what you have to say. (I’m speaking from experience here, folks.)

Example: I doubt if you need one. We’ve all done it!

It’s Not All About Me

Each man’s eternal rewards are proportional according to his faithfulness and not to his earthly recognition or the lack of it. (From a commentary on Jeremiah 33)

From my 2009 Journal. Though I grew up in a tribal village in Africa, I fear I now think more like an American—touting individualism rather than tribal values. So when I hear God’s prophetical words to Jeremiah: I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security (Jer. 33:6 NIV), I want to ask, “What good did it do Jeremiah to learn that God would restore Israel in the future?” He’d never live to see it. Why should he care how many descendants David’s throne will have when he (Jeremiah) is being hurt, mocked, and imprisoned? The future won’t affect him personally!

But there’s that thing called “hope.” This earth, this life isn’t all there is. There’s a bigger picture. I’m just one speck in the Grand Plan. I’m part of the Global Tribe. My part is miniscule, but important, in God’s eyes. It’s not all about me and only me. God was showing Jeremiah that his life was not in vain, that His calling on his life was important for the greater good.

Though I’d like to think otherwise, life is not all about me–or as my mother used to say to my preschool self: you’re not the only pebble on the beach.

Grandson Noah who needs more help than he thinks he does to navigate his world