Clothespins and B.O.

Journal 2005 Visual: 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.

Possessions

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.

Word for the Year 2021: Handicap

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)

My biggest disappointment is not being able to taste injera ba wat (Ethiopian food)

For further reflection:

I checked out the Scriptures (RSV) and found the following words: Nose 12x, Nostrils 14x, Smell 20x, and Odor 43x. I even found a blog on the subject: Just a Thought . . . God’s Nose (constantcontact.com)

Critical Spirit

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.

Unripe Fruit

From my 2013 Journal.

Recently, I broached a subject with a friend about an issue I’d noticed in her life. Her steely hard, plant-the-feet-in-the-ground, defensive posture, and irrational response all told me this subject was a trigger, and I needed to back off. She’s obviously not ready to receive my input, and so I have to let it go.

I know her heart desires truth, but she’s not ready to face her pain. And that’s okay. It’s God’s job to gently woo her to Himself and prepare her heart to be willing.

Don’t pick unripe fruit!

Taking the Scenic Route

From my 2015 Journal.

I ran roughshod over a client’s will today in an inner healing prayer session, and God gently rebuked me with the thought:  “Sometimes you push toward the goal and miss what’s on the way.”

I admit that I’m a very goal-oriented person, going pell-mell through life, trying to meet deadlines, and I miss the fun in the process. Think road trip. If there’s a time crunch, take the freeway. But the scenic route is more relaxing, candy for the soul. The trade-off, of course, is more hours of traveling, more expense, and potentially missing out on what’s waiting for you on the other end of your trip because you took so long. But the process is part of the adventure.

I understand now how my work with the souls of clients can do more harm than good—that I can inadvertently traumatize them. Yikes! But then I must give myself grace—gaining experience is also part of the process.

I feel like I’m holding the reins of a team of highly charged horses, but Jesus says, “Be still.” How am I supposed to win the race if I calm the horses?

And again I hear, “Sometimes you push toward the goal and miss what’s along the way.”

My inner drive (my horses) need help!

Jesus says to give Him the reins. He lets the horses charge around the track to release their pent-up energy. Then we can begin a more controlled, deliberate walk around the track (or in this case, plow the field—because you don’t need racehorses on a farm!)

Which do you prefer—highway or scenic route?

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.

What’s Your Grid?

From my 2012 Journal. Once I learn a perceived truth, I tend to filter all of life through that grid. For example, when I first learned about the benefits of homeopathic care, I shunned all allopathic doctors—until experience taught me that each has its merits for curing diseases.

One day I had a conversation with a gentleman who declared that the key to a child’s emotional health lies in his relationship with his father. This may be true in some or even in many instances, but not in all. It struck an emotional chord with him, however, and he began to take on some “shoulds.”

I’m currently reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert—a book on the subject of poverty and how not to hurt the poor in the midst of generous attempts to help. What strikes me is the matrix through which the authors view the subject—not that it’s wrong—but that all the verses and arguments are from one premise or topic. For example, the authors pose the question: Why were the Israelites sent into exile? “Idolatry” would be my immediate answer. But the authors concluded: because they didn’t properly care for the poor. Well . . . maybe . . . and that certainly could be part of the answer, but it’s not the only one (See Leviticus 26).

If I were writing a book about idolatry, I’d focus on that topic only and ignore the issue of caring for the poor. Or if I wrote a book on children or women or finances in the Bible, I’d examine all the Scriptures that pertain to just that topic. It’s normal to focus on one topic at a time—it’s all my brain can hold anyway—but I think I may develop tunnel vision in the process.

Grandma grid: My grandsons are the best!

Early in my ministry, TPM (Transformation Prayer Ministry) became my grid for all inner healing needs. While I was reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, I started to view life through that filter. The founders of Temperament Analysis, Arno Profile System see every emotional solution through the grid of temperament needs.

Here are some grids for the topic of addiction.

  • The theologian calls it sin: stop doing it!
  • Solomon says it’s unwise: look at the consequences (Proverbs 23:29-35).
  • The counselor wants to know motive: why are you doing it?
  • The doctor suggests it’s a chemical imbalance: let’s help you detox.
  • The family says: you’re hurting me; you need help.
  • The addict says:  I’m not hurting anyone but myself and I’m fine.

Whose grid is correct? The study of psychology, boundaries, codependency, temperament, TPM, or any other system or method (including a set of doctrines)—these are not the authentic answers to human needs.

So here’s where I struggle. Because of my profession and training, my grid tends to be too narrow. The worst part of it is, I’m always thinking, “You could be fixed . . . if only you had the set of keys that I have in my possession. These keys could help unlock the doors on your pain—but either you don’t want to use them, or you don’t know that they exist.” Truthfully, however, my tools are plastic. Jesus is the Master Key; only He can unlock every door. Only God sees the whole picture all at once. He knows every answer, nuance, and issue.

A 2021 Update: I’ve since added HeartSync Ministries to my toolbox. But even this grid is imperfect. Only Jesus has the perfect toolbox.

What’s your grid?

Do you want to get well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV).

From my 2012 Journal. The story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda intrigues me. This place was a hotbed of sick folks. Did Jesus heal anyone else there that day, or did He single this man out? The Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus approached him first or if the man spoke first, but it says that Jesus SAW him there and LEARNED that he’d been in this condition for years.

Astonishingly, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” What if the man had said, “No”? How foolish we would have thought him. Of course he wanted to be well—that’s why he was at the healing pool in the first place. Yet, the question isn’t quite so odd as one might think. It’s human nature not to like change—even if it’s good for us. We do a lot of “choice” work in our ministry: Are you willing to let go of your anger? Are you willing to feel the pain? Are you willing to explore why you’re medicating with alcohol?

I don’t recall any record of Jesus asking anyone else this same question, Do you want to get well? Normally the hurting person initiates the request for healing (remember blind Bartimaeus?). A client is in my office because she’s made the choice to seek healing. I rarely approach a stranger and ask if she wants to get rid of her pain. Sometimes I’ve tested a person’s sincerity by asking, “If there was a way for you to get healed, would you want to know how?”

The crippled man’s answer is also astonishing. Instead of replying yes or no, he jumps to the defense. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7). (Implied: Duh, of course I do, but I don’t know how.) The Healer is in his presence, but the paralytic is looking to another source for pain removal. (“And how’s that working for you?” we sometimes ask a client.)

People go to counselors and doctors and friends and give their excuses and complaints about feeling bad, when all along The Master Healer is waiting for them to turn to the Him–the only one who has the power to heal.

Do you want to get well? What’s your excuse for not pursuing the Healer?