I had a God-orchestrated event today. A lady in upstate New York somehow found my name on the Internet and called me about her suicidal daughter who had just moved to our town. The young lady had set the date to take her life and was putting her affairs in order. I gave the mom our local suicide hotline number, the name of a counseling center in town, and permission to pass along my phone number. Four hours later, the daughter called me. We talked and prayed for almost two hours. At the end or our session, with hope in her voice, she said about her suicide date: “Jesus says it’s about life, not death.” Wahoo!
Now here’s the subtle irony. God orchestrated the entire event. All I did was pray and God showed up. He even gave me the gifts and training to know what to do, but Satan’s little lies whispered in my ear, “See what you did? You just saved a life! Aren’t you good?”
Immediately I recognize the voice of pride. I’m Atlas, brawny enough to hold up the world, while others are puny little ants crawling on its surface. [How sick is that!?] Soon those biting ants swarm over my arms and legs, and when I set the “world” down so I can scratch, I discover I’m not balancing it after all. There’s a power source, an air current beneath, making it twirl and dance. I had actually been blocking the airflow when I stepped under the sphere. Sheepishly, I realize the orb is not the world after all, but a toddler-sized, lightweight beach ball.
Now what to do with the ant bites? I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins . . .”
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Isa. 40:13 NIV)
It’s laughable to think we can counsel each other—apart from God’s wisdom. And even more preposterous to think we could counsel God.
Journal 2008. In my prayer ministry, I help people work through their triggers, born out of unresolved hurt and lies believed in their memories. In my Bible reading this morning, I note that human nature has not changed over the centuries.
THE SCENARIO: When the children of Israel approach the Promised Land to oust the local residents, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh declare they want to settle instead on the east side of the Jordan. Leader Joshua relents, as long as their fighting men help their brothers (the other 9 ½ tribes) conquer the land on the west side. And the tribes agree to the terms.
Once the men fulfill their duties, Joshua sends them home in peace. But before they leave, the 2 ½ tribes build an imposing altar on the west side of the Jordan. They’ve done a good job, their character is commendable, and all is well it seems. But then they get slammed.
And when the Israelites [the westerners] heard that they had built the altar . . ., the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them (Joshua 22: 11-12).
What! Driven by FEAR, the western Israelites accuse the eastern tribes of rebellion against God. Where did this fear come from?
TWO TRIGGER MEMORIES:
First, they recall the Baal of Peor incident when they played the harlot with Moab women who caused them to worship Baal and 24,000 died of plague (Num. 25:1-9). “If we turn from the Lord,” they conclude, “we’re all toast. God will get us all” (v. 18). From all appearances, any altar except for the one at the temple was contrary to God’s instructions—IF the altar was for the purpose of sacrificing animals
Second, they remember Achan—when the whole nation got punished for one man’s sin.
Israel rebelled many times, but apparently this one lesson stuck. A healthy fear of God and the consequences of sin is not a bad thing, but their fear made them jump to false conclusions.
THE DEFENSE. Meanwhile, the 2 ½ tribes push back in defense:
The Mighty One, God, the Lord! HE knows, and let Israel know! We’re innocent of rebellion (v. 22).
THEIR TRIGGER: “We did it from FEAR.”
Really?! Same emotion as their accusers, but for a different reason. Fear that “someday your kids will say to our kids: What have you to do with the God of Israel? There’s a boundary [Jordan] between us, and we’re scared your kids might make our kids stop following God. So . . . we built this copy of the real altar—not as a place for offerings, but to be a witness between us and generations after us.”
Ironically, their fear-based decision to protect themselves backfired. Later we read that those 2 ½ tribes drifted away from their roots. That altar was ineffective and did not produce the desired result.
Acting out of triggers can produce unwanted consequences. How much better if both sides had sought the Lord first and worked through their fears before they acted. If the easterners hadn’t built that altar, the westerners wouldn’t have risen to war. Sounds like we could learn a thing or two from the ancients.
Journal 2005. While I obsess over what I’m going to wear at my next school reunion, my mind hopscotches over the years to comments such as:
You’re going to wear THAT?
Are you pregnant?
What an ugly lime green dress!
What were you thinking!
Your skirts are too long.
Those colors don’t match.
You could be pretty if you would just . . .
Why can’t you dress like . . . ?
Frumpy Missionary Kid!
You look like a cowgirl.
You wore THAT at your wedding?
You have no sense of style.
Let me fix your makeup.
How powerful words can be! Even when I dress up, I feel frumpy on the inside. Lord, have mercy on me if my words have ever hurt another person.
Why should other people’s opinions matter? First, I guess they want me to care. And I do—to a certain extent. But sometimes I don’t. I can’t live my life by other people’s standards. Who gets to decide, anyway, what is fashionable or ugly? What’s fashionable may not look the best on me. While teens and pre-teens go through their identity decisions, their wardrobe choices may look strange to me, but they fit into their culture of acceptance.
I find I shop best when I have someone along to give an opinion. Why don’t I trust my own judgment? My family would say it’s because I don’t have good taste. But why does one person get to decide for another what clothing is acceptable or not in society? Who gets to decide what’s in and what’s out?
Do I dress to match who I am on the inside? Or do I dress to cover up what’s inside? Maybe some of both. I dress comfortably—I learned that initially from my mom but reinforced it through experience. If I’m uncomfortable, my focus is on self. On the other hand, if I dress casual when the situation calls for formal, I stick out. My philosophy is to try to blend in and avoid extremes.
The visual: I’m on a stage in the center of a spotlight, and the audience is laughing at me. But then I hear, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” The spotlight fades, and a strong beam shines into my heart revealing the impurities as well as the lighter spots where truth has entered. Better to be more concerned about getting rid of the dark spots than worrying about the body, which is now hidden in shadows.
Clothing is just an outer shell, but if it draws attention to itself instead of to the light inside, it may be time for a wardrobe makeover, both inside and out. Perhaps I should ask the King of Kings about His opinion rather than my family’s or my peers’.
A 2022 Focus. My insecurities about clothing choices have faded with the healing of hurtful words. I now understand that comments reveal more about the heart of the person who said them. But I also acknowledge the benefit of a second opinion when I go shopping. Anyone care to go with me?
Journal 2005. We are working with a lady who has D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and is involved in a charismatic church. She had been through numerous experiences of so-called deliverance—all very dramatic and theatrical. She allowed the demons to jerk her around and use her body, and when we commanded them to quit, they didn’t. That’s when we discovered the reason: she liked the theatrical nature of her experiences. After we dealt with that emotion, and she agreed to let it go, it was easy and undramatic to tell the demons to depart. No jerks, no manifestations. She was amazed it was so easy. And then her very telling comment: A lot of what I thought was God’s doing was actually demons. Hmmm.
I think Baptists have a correct doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but other groups have experiential knowledge of Him. I want both.
Journal 2005. At the beginning of the century, an infected tooth sent inflammation raging through my body. I didn’t know the source at the time, and it took three doctors to help me get it under control. Vioxx makes my ears ring constantly, and I’m about to try Celebrex instead. I wonder how I’ll respond to it. Right now, I’m relatively pain-free—as long as I don’t overdo. Hands, feet, eyes, and back are the weakest.
I want to record my journey with pain, and I start while I’m feeling fairly well. I know my perspective will progressively change over time—just as emotional healing changes us inwardly. Right now, I want to avoid pain. It gets in the way of my to-do list, but I don’t want to be dominated by it.
I don’t want to be a whiner or a complainer. I don’t want to be a baby, but I also am no hero when it comes to pain endurance. I’m quick to run to relief wherever I can find it. I don’t want the attention or focus to be on me, but when I’m hurting, I need to let people know so that they don’t expect too much of me. I pretty much want to be left alone to my misery. Chronic pain vs. temporary seems different, however. If it’s temporary (like a cut finger or the flu), I’ll tell all. If it’s chronic, I’ll keep my mouth shut unless I know a solution.
I don’t want my life to revolve around my health. But if I were sick with cancer, it would have to. That’s where my focus would lie. In my emotional healing journey, I’ve allowed myself the luxury of focusing on the pain so I can get through it and past it. Why am I so reluctant to do the same with the body? It’s so temporal—yet it is the vessel God gave me by which I function. What good does it do anyone if I’m in bed? Guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
A 2022 Update. Today I am off all medication and doing much better. Unfortunately, in 2016 a bout of shingles attacked my right eye, and I’ve battled flare-ups once or twice a year ever since. But I’m not in pain, so all is well. I’d prefer not to have to learn any more pain lessons, please.
Journal 2005Visual: We all have a lot of stinky stuff inside our hearts. And we walk about with clothespins on our noses so that we won’t (or can’t) smell ourselves. But others smell us, and they’re repelled. Eventually, the clothespin pinches hard enough that we remove it, or we start to sweat and it slips off, and when we smell ourselves, we don’t like it. I think God sometimes removes the clothespin, and we blame Him or others for the stench, never realizing it comes from or own b.o.! So, we have a choice—keep the clothespin on our nose or allow ourselves to smell and get motivated to clean up with God’s help. Freedom is not having to wear a clothespin on one’s nose because the inner aroma is now sweet.
Lord, in Your sovereign timing, would You remove the clothespins I’ve been keeping on my nose? And once removed, will You help me get rid of the stench and fill me with Your fresh air instead? Lilacs and cinnamon and peppermint and guava nectar and mangos and freshly baked bread, and sweet air after a rain and roast beef and rose petals—but mostly lilacs.Amen.
2022 Update. I’ve changed my mind about the statement “I think God sometimes removes the clothespin.” He never violates our will. It is our choice to leave the clothespin on, and He waits patiently for us to remove it before He can clean up what’s inside.
Journal 2005. I remember my very first box of 64 crayons with a pencil sharpener on the side—a special gift from my beloved Grandpa Peterson, sent all the way across the ocean into the hands of a little girl whose mother taught the Africans by writing with her finger in the silky soft dirt. I guarded this treasure, arranging the colors by hue, gently returning each one to its proper slot, chagrined when I realized I had to peel back part of the paper in order to sharpen a crayon, and disappointed when it didn’t duplicate the original point.
When I pulled out my box of crayons at boarding school, someone borrowed them, leaving some crayons broken or misplaced. First, I got angry. They had no right to do that—even if done by accident. I felt disappointment, sadness, and Loss.
Possessions provide joy or creature comforts and can be great tools for accomplishing things for the kingdom. But holding onto them too tightly reveals what’s in my heart. Why do I feel so violated when someone touches my things? Am I too attached to them? Should I take care of my possessions? Of course. But I should not be in bondage to them. Eventually, I realized possessions are worthless in eternity. They are gifts from God for use here on earth, and if I recognize their source, I can hand ownership back to Him. I’m simply a steward of God’s possessions.
And so, Lord, I release that pristine box of crayons into Your hands. Break the bonds that hold me to it and color me a beautiful sunset instead.
I confess I have an abysmal sense of direction, and it’s getting worse with age. I Googled “bad sense of direction” to get some tips for improving my odds and collected maps for cities I frequent. Every day for the first month, I studied our local map, trying to memorize street names and cement a visual mind map to guide me. What a useless endeavor! Apparently, I am incapable of thinking and driving at the same time.
When I read a blog by someone who unashamedly labeled his poor sense of direction a HANDICAP (and many people resonated with his plight), I concluded I cannot change my brain enough to warrant shedding my trusty GPS. So, there you have it—one Word for the Year tossed in the trash, and I needed a replacement.
Following my recovery from Covid in November 2020, I decided to chronicle my journey with another hidden HANDICAP—loss of taste and smell. First, I tried the famous burnt-orange trick that went viral (useless) and sniffed three different essential oils three times daily for the suggested smell training ritual. For two weeks I quadrupled my intake of zinc. Nothing.
I spit out my first cup of coffee, tasteless as water. When I tried sniffing freshly ground coffee beans, a disgusting malodor greeted my nose. At least I’m smelling something, I reasoned, but this annoying odor lingered nonstop for months. Everything smelled the same: smoke, pizza, cat litter. I became the designated dirty-diaper queen for my youngest grandchild.
In the first three months, I burned up three frying pans because I couldn’t rely on smell to alert me. I no longer dared leave the kitchen during the simmering process. I lost what little interest I had in cooking or making menu decisions. For the first time in our 46 years of marriage, I didn’t care if I ate my husband’s bland-diet preference over my spicy palate. It all tasted the same, so what was the point?! I now had to rely on him to inform me if meat had spoiled or the seasoning wasn’t right in a casserole.
One day we decided to treat our grandsons to ice cream. As we approached the drive-through, I asked the 10-year-old what he thought I should order since I wouldn’t be able to taste it. “Cheapest thing on the menu, Grandma!” he said. Smart kid! And later, his 7-year-old brother asked, “Why eat anything at all?” I explained that food fuels the body, but regrettably, I had begun to choose peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches over healthy salads. Growing our Tower Garden felt pointless.
With the loss of eating pleasure, I learned to tune more into how hunger felt instead of eating what I craved but, disappointingly, I lost no weight. Eventually I began to differentiate between salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, but could taste no nuances of flavor. I put hot sauce on everything, trying to elicit a little zing for the tongue.
I tried hard not to complain but failed miserably and so began a regimen of gratitude for my other four senses. When I finally got tired of hearing myself complain, I asked God for a better solution and stumbled on Isaiah 65:5b: These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (NLT)
And that’s when He gave me this idea: every time I smelled that repulsive odor, I would think about the stench in God’s nostrils and pray for someone. It helped refocus my attitude.
By August I noticed a subtle shift in relinquishing the malodor and enjoyed a hot curry Indian dish. Coffee became my gauge for progress. I went from gagging to tolerating a quarter cup, to drinking half a cup if I held my nose during the brewing process. I jumped in glee when I got a whiff of burnt toast. Someone claimed if you didn’t get your smell and taste back after nine months, it would be permanent. Oh, Lord, I hope not! I was into my ninth month and counting . . .
In September, someone suggested I try fascial counterpressure (whatever that was!). I found a practitioner 30 minutes away and promptly made an appointment but returned home with no noticeable results and fewer dollars in my wallet.
In October, I read Numbers 11:1-9 where the Israelites complained about eating manna every day. They missed their pungent fish, along with the flavorful cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. I could relate! I used to fault these people for their ingratitude, but now I felt convicted over my similar lament. I so missed the diversity of flavors. I wanted to discover the sweetness of holy manna and be thankful for what I had instead of grief over what I’d lost. How could I learn to leave Egypt behind and embrace the promise of a new land?
I continued to struggle with my attitude, complaining about my loss. I had an appointment with food three times a day, and three times a day I had to face the keen disappointment of loss of pleasure. Five times in Numbers 15 the phrase “an odor pleasing to the Lord” caught my attention. I couldn’t smell, but God could; and I wanted my attitude, thoughts, and deeds to be a pleasing odor in His nostrils.
It was like I was holding onto the end of a rope connected to taste and smell. Letting go of the rope didn’t mean I wouldn’t eat; it meant letting go the pleasure, the drug. When I dropped the rope, I watched in astonishment as it retracted like a tape measure into the food. The flavors were still there, but they were no longer tied to me. They don’t belong to me and therefore have no power over me. Now I can pick up food, examine it, see it, feel its texture, and experience it. It is what it is.
Over a year later now, I have adjusted (mostly) to my hidden handicap, and I rejoice in every whiff of smoke or incremental change in flavor. It’s okay that I can’t smell dirty diapers, but I sure do miss my coffee!
Oh taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (PS 34:8 KJV)
Journal 2010. One Sunday at church, I could feel something in my heart jabbing—scornful, critical, and judgmental—toward the man worshipping in front of me. Convicted, I closed my eyes and watched a visual unfold in my mind as I tried to refocus on the singing.
I saw myself walking down the central aisle in a heavenly church, dressed in a spotless bridal gown. As I reached the platform where God sat on His throne, His “train that filled the temple” enveloped me. Then He gently turned me around to face a great throng of worshippers, all dressed in similar white garb. I was no more special than anyone else in the audience. The man I had judged was just as pure, forgiven, and covered by the blood as I was. We were fellow travelers, fellow strugglers.
The lights dimmed low, but a spotlight picked out this man moving toward me. He extended his right hand of fellowship and reconciliation, and then he reached for Jesus, and they exchanged words of intimacy. I realized then that God had used him in a special way—unique to him, and I heard God say, “Let each esteem others better than themselves.” My self-righteous, critical spirit toward this man dissipated.
Why am I so taken aback when someone I hardly know comments, “You are so critical!” What words are coming out of my mouth that are hurtful, analytical, cutting, or nit-picky? Is this how others see me? Really? Ouch! Lord, change me!
I have never taken kindly to criticism. We “perfect,” one-on-the-enneagram people like to think we never do anything wrong. We aren’t rebellious, vindictive, or cruel on purpose. We want to please and placate and follow and do right all the time. “Miss Goody Two Shoes” is our nickname*.
Being a critic, however, can be both a blessing and a curse. The gift is I can quickly discover what’s wrong and try to correct it. Some children throw a party if they get 99% on a test, but not me. I focus on the one I missed and want to know the correct answer, so I can get it right next time. The “curse” is that it leaves no room for grace or for seeing the good in people. Is that behavior temperament-driven or woundedness—something inside that craves attention, achieving goals, or pleasing a professor? I don’t know where the roots are.
Unfortunately, this habit translates into observing character flaws in my loved ones. I was a cheerleader when my girls were learning to walk but became their worst critic when they didn’t perform at school according to my expectations. I hear God’s Spirit gently whispering to me: “Room for growth.” Instead of looking at a person as a complete, finished, having-arrived performer, celebrate how far he or she has come. And instead of seeing how far short they are of the bar of perfection, the paradigm shift is to see how much room they have to grow.
I’m not sure this takes care of every critical thought, but it’s one piece. Perhaps it will give me space to be less than perfect. I have room to grow.
If we could see ourselves as other see us . . .
If we could see others as Jesus sees them . . .
*Being called Miss Goody Two-Shoes was originally a compliment, not a derogatory term. “Goody” was the little girl’s name in the story, not a description of her behavior.
A 2021 Update. I’ve worked diligently over the past few years on curbing my inner critic. I hope and pray I am a kinder, gentler person both toward myself and toward others. And if I am the recipient of criticism, I am quicker to forgive and not put up a shield of defense. I can only hope and pray that those I’ve hurt have found healing for their own souls. I’m truly repentant.