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.

Where two or three aren’t gathered

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20 KJV).

From my 2011 Journal. Every Monday morning I meet with a small group of ladies for Bible study and prayer. And every Sunday I join hands with my Momentum team, and we bring our requests before the throne of God. And many times I’ve begun a prayer session by quoting Matthew 18:20, reminding God of His promise to join us.

We’re all guilty of it—quoting and applying Scripture out of context—but it startles me when I discover I’m the guilty one! The actual context of this verse is regarding confronting a person who has wronged you and forgiving them and getting witnesses and declaring he’s wrong. It really has nothing to do with a prayer meeting!

Is it still true that God is “there” when two or three are gathered together? Of course! But He’s just as much “there” when there’s only ONE of us in one place! I just don’t think I should use this verse as a proof text for something it isn’t.

What verses have you been guilty of taking out of context?

clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-45842

I Have a Question

From my 2011 Journal. My husband says he’s going to inscribe on my tombstone my favorite question: How does this make you feel?! My skill as a counselor is often based on how effective my questions are, so I’ve started taking note of some of God’s questions in the Bible, for He is a master “questioner”! Obviously He didn’t ask them because He didn’t know the answer, but rather so His clients would examine themselves and face whatever they were feeling or believing, or trying to avoid or hide.

To Adam:

            Where are you?

            Who told you that you were naked?

            Have you eaten of the tree?

To Eve:

            What have you done?

To Cain:

            Why are you angry?

            Why are you sad and dejected?

            If you do well, won’t you be accepted?

            Where is your brother?

            What have you done?

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

            What is this discussion you’re exchanging between you as you walk along?

To the disciples after the resurrection:

            Why are you disturbed and troubled?

            Why do such doubts and questions arise in your hearts?

To Mary at the tomb:

            Why are you crying?

To Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee:

            Peter, do you love Me?

What question is Jesus asking me today?

Question mark

Self-Righteousness 101

beauty salon

Photo by Delbeautybox from Pexels

From my 2015 Journal. It was time to find a new hairdresser. Mine was located on the other side of town, her prices went up, and I wasn’t always satisfied with her work. I wanted to find someone closer and cheaper and more consistent. So on the recommendation of someone in our neighborhood, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest salon, appointment at 9 a.m.

I arrived at 8:59 a.m. and the place was locked up tight. Maybe the owner was in the back. No problem. I can wait one minute. Or two or three . . . or four or five. Eventually, a lady sauntered over from the parking lot and unlocked the door. I moved closer. “Did you want to come in?” she mumbled?

Well, duh!

No greeting. No explanation as to why she was late, why she wasn’t there ahead of her clients, place unlocked and ready to receive customers with a smile. Phones were ringing, and off she went while I sat on a chair and waited, apparently no a/c on yet in the July heat. I was hot in more ways than one!

A couple minutes later, another worker moseyed in, put down her purse, opened up her iPad (really!?) and then I calmed down when I realized she was putting on some music for the establishment. Watch watch, wait.

Finally at 9:10 a.m. Miss #1 looks up from her computer and asks, “Are you Karen?” (Hmm. I’m the only one in the shop. Were there others expected? I suppose she could have assumed I was a walk-in. Still no explanation why they’re late.)

Miss #2 calls me to her chair. She’s friendly, sweet, asks questions, not too chatty. I like her. But I’m still steamed that she’s not professional enough to arrive on time and respect my schedule.

The price is right, the haircut fine (as far as I can tell), and I like her as a person. (I had no further interaction with Miss #1, the manager.)

So what’s wrong?

I need to tell them how to run a business, I fume inside. How do they expect to maintain customers if they can’t act professionally?

And so I leave the premises and ride around the neighborhood, praying as I go. I don’t want this angry emotion. It’s unprofessional! And so I hand Jesus the ball of fire that is burning in my palm. And He smiles. He knows there’s more. I know there’s more. What is underneath this anger? Is it disappointment? I have no time crunch. Why should I be upset about wasting a few extra minutes in my day?

“It’s because they’re so unprofessional,” I whine to Him. “I wouldn’t do that. I always arrive well ahead of my clients. What would they think of me if I showed up late without an apology like these two ladies did?”

And then, “Oh!” I exclaim in chagrin and embarrassment. “I know what it is. It’s self-righteousness—the ‘I’ syndrome.” Ugh. What an ugly word.

What does self-righteousness look like? I see myself wearing a large, shapeless, colorful but gaudy dress. Not too shabby, I think. It has color, it hides my unsightly curves, it’s functional.

“Would you be willing to let Me have it?” Jesus asks.

“Uh . . . okay, but I’ll be rather unclothed then.”

I pull the garment over my head and hand it to Him. And then wait. And wait.

I know that when I give Jesus something, He often likes to give me something in return. “Well, aren’t You going to hand me robes of righteousness instead to put on?”

“Nope,” He replies.

I’m a little taken aback. Isn’t that what Scripture says?

“I already gave them to you . . .” He softly answers “. . . when you accepted Me into your heart.”

I glance down then at my body and gasp. I am clothed in a dazzling white, sequined wedding gown, “adorned as a bride for her husband.”

Chagrined, I realize I had thrown a gaudy shift over top of my beautiful gown. Not pretty. “I’m so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me for disrespecting Your gift.”

And so I think back to the ladies at the shop. It no longer matters that they came in a few minutes late and didn’t have the people skills to greet me warmly at the door. Perhaps this is my new mission field.

Postscript: I have since found a phenomenal hair stylist. Her name is Cindy Harris and she has a PhD in hair design (I didn’t know there even was such a thing!) I highly recommend her for all your makeover needs.

Cindy’s Total Image Salon located in Oasis Salon, 745 S Church St, Suite 301 in Murfreesboro, TN.

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Mountaintop Experiences

DSCN3170 wilderness mountain

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17)

One day Peter, James, and John, closest earthly friends of Jesus, climb to the top of a high mountain. They’re dirty, tired, sweaty, hungry, and thirsty. The journey is long and arduous, and they are clueless as to why Jesus is leading them here. It’s nice to be away from the pressing crowds, though, where it’s quiet and they can feel the wind and have time to think about all that’s happened so far. It’s a high mountain, and it takes all their energy to climb, and they wonder when they’ll ever reach their destination. The privileged three might miss their families, but it’s exciting to be singled out to spend quality time with their Rabbi.

And then it happens—Jesus’ transfiguration, meeting biblical heroes Moses and Elijah, the enveloping brilliant light cloud, the very voice of God in their ears. It’s overwhelming, it’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying, it’s unique in history.

But this mountaintop experience is not meant to be the norm—in spite of Peter’s suggestion to create shelters for the three of them. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they are not permitted to share it with anyone—at least for now. This is a “between me and God” holy moment—it’s nobody’s business but theirs. And there’s a purpose for it—maybe to strengthen their faith or to give them courage or enlightenment. Maybe Jesus is bursting with excitement and wants to share His true story experientially with His best friends.

And now it’s time to come down from the mountain. They can’t live there, but it’s now part of their story that shapes how they think and feel. They are different for having experienced it. And when the time is right (after the resurrection and not before), they will be given permission to tell others—it’s a testimony—both theirs as a witness and a verification of who Jesus is.

What mountaintop experience have you had? Did you tell someone, or have you kept it between you and the Lord? Why?

 

A DAY OF DELIGHT

Ben and MeFrom my 2015 Journal. Three-year-old Ben spent the day with me while his mom was out of town and big brother Jack was at school. Together we unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, emptied all the trash, shredded a ream of paper, lined up all the toy cars and trucks, assembled some puzzles, read some books, and played games together. He learned how to climb up the ladder at the playground, snacked every hour, and went potty frequently, needing some help still with getting his pants up and down. I let him do everything he could by himself—until he asked for help, and then I eagerly stepped in to proffer my assistance. We made messes, we picked them up. I told him over and over again how much I loved him.

This whole day was spent in deep delight as I watched Ben’s skills improve, his joy in the playtime, his eagerness to help me do housework. “I’m a big boy!” he’d declare periodically. And when he remarked, “I love you, Grandma,” my heart burst with joy.

Was this little tyke really helping me? Could I not have loaded and unloaded that dishwasher in half the time it took for him to decide where every piece of silverware belonged? Did I really need his help emptying trash cans? The answer, of course, is no. And he often needed more assistance than he gave in return. Sometimes we had to clean up the messes that he made while attempting to help.

As I reflected back, I saw this special day through the eyes of my Father in Heaven. He graciously allows me to “help” Him, I make messes that He has to help clean up. And I need Him a whole lot more than He needs me. But a day spent with Him is a deep delight to us both.

Go, Preach, and Baptize

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19 KJV)

From my 2011 Journal. My childhood was immersed in the culture of evangelism.  My missionary dad preached in remote villages of Nigeria and established a church. My mother’s medical work and reading classes were all for the purpose of getting a foot in the door for evangelism. We MKs (Missionary Kids) could quote the Great Commission forward and backward (in King James of course). Many of our hymns and choruses reflected the missionary calling: “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “The Ninety-and-Nine,” and “Rescue the Perishing.” Preachers berated us for staying in our “holy huddle” and not reaching out to the lost. Bible school professors instructed us on how to knock on doors and “draw the net.”

One Sunday I sat guilt-ridden through one more passionate three-point evangelistic sermon on how each believer was required to “Go, preach, and baptize.” I may have had opportunities to share

Paul baptized

My brother’s baptism at Kent Academy

my faith, but I had never preached to or baptized anyone. Feeling triggered, I wondered how this Baptist preacher would feel if I, as a woman, actually offered to stand in his pulpit and preach . . . or asked to take his place in the baptistery. I began to push back against the notion that evangelism was the only viable gift of the Spirit. Was the Great Commission given only to men? Only to the Apostles? Was I being disobedient if I have never dipped anyone?

What if discipleship is what God has called me to rather than evangelism? Maybe I’m a Dorcas or a Ruth. Maybe I have the gift of mercy rather than exhortation. It’s time to stop our shame messages and learn to work together as a body—each with his or her own gifts.