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.

What’s Your Excuse?

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV).

From my 2009 Journal. Jeremiah was a PK (Preacher’s Kid), for his father was a priest. One day God spoke directly to him—I assume in an audible voice. It’s pretty heady stuff to be chosen by God!

But Jeremiah’s objection to this calling reflected his fears: “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (1:6).

What excuses do I make for not following God’s command: she’s too hard to love; he won’t listen; I can’t because . . . ; I don’t know how; I don’t have time; I don’t have the money. . .

God’s answer to Jeremiah (and to me):  Don’t be afraid because I AM with you.

The antidote to fear is experiencing God’s presence.

I feel a connecting point with Jeremiah. When God called me to the ministry of inner healing prayer, the only reason I said no to my fears and yes to God was because I had a strong sense of His presence. You can read all about that story in our book Diamond Fractal.

Praying for the Sick

From my 2009 Journal. I get a little confused when I hear others pray and teach on prayer for the sick. Chrissy claims the blood of Jesus “by His stripes we are healed” for anyone who is sick and expects instant physical healing. She had a little crisis of faith when her father passed away. One pastor says it’s weak praying to say, “If God wills” because we shouldn’t be asking for healing unless we know it’s His will. What if, he says, the illness is “unto death” and we don’t know the person’s heart? What if he/she needs to let go of rebellion before God wants to heal him/her? How can we ask if we don’t know what to ask for?

Maybe it’s God’s will that all be healed, but Man still has a will and a choice as to how he treats his body, and God is not obligated to override his choices. I can’t ask God to make a person choose something, but I can trust God to know how to get a person’s attention like He did for Jacob or for Jonah.

Somewhere there must be discernment in our prayers for the sick. The biblical author James says to pray for the sick, and the elders of the church should anoint with oil. Should we do this for every sniffle?

Sometimes I think we’re so focused on physical healing, we forget to pray for the spiritual. Jesus often mentioned the faith of the person who asked for healing. The disciples healed many sick after the resurrection. Did they stop to ask if the person wanted healing or what was preventing their healing?

Maybe our prayer for the sick could be, “Reveal to X anything that is preventing his healing, give him courage to face his pain, may God be honored through his responses and reactions, and heal his body if it will give God greater glory.”

I take comfort in the fact that God knows my heart. He can interpret my words and intent and use them for His glory. He knows me well enough to know what I believe and mean.

2020 Update.  I find it interesting to look back at how I struggled 10 years ago. Those questions no longer burn in my heart. It’s not that I have fewer questions; it’s that I’m more content with not knowing all the answers. I just ask and let God sort it out.  This past week a dear friend and prayer warrior had a massive stroke. The church gathered together to pray for her, but our emotions were conflicted. We wanted to see Mary Lee fully restored to health, but we opened our hearts and hands to release her to heaven. We trusted God to do what was best. Today she is dancing with the angels, and I’m okay with God saying no to the cries of our heart to give her physical life back.

photo of woman lying in hospital bed

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

BOXES OF PRAYERS

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations (Mark Batterson in Praying Circles around Your Children).

From my 2009 Journal. As I continue to struggle with the concept of prayer, I can see myself seated in the middle of a room, conversing with Jesus. A large number of boxes line the periphery of the room. What are those? I wonder.

Boxes 2

“They are your prayers,” He says. “You had a question about them?”

How did He know? (Well, duh. He knows everything.)

“Yes,” I say. “I want to know what good are they?” They’re in files, categorized and maybe even numbered, but here they all sit, here in my mind. What good are they? I can go to a box, pull out a file, read what I wrote, but so what?

“Would you like Me to take them off your hands?” He asks.

“Sure. You’re welcome to them.” I have no clue what He’s going to do with them, but I agree.

Several angels enter and start picking them up, loading them onto carts, and removing them from the room.

“So now what?”

“Just sit and talk to Me,” He says.

“What shall we talk about?” I ask.

“Anything we like,” He responds. “Got anything on your mind?”

Nothing comes to mind.

“Okay,” He says. “Want to play checkers?”

Really?! This is the answer to my question “What good are they?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Explicitly,” I reply.

“Then don’t worry about it. The angels know what to do with them.”

I watch as one angel pulls out a file and reads the contents. He laughs. Is he mocking me? Was it a silly little prayer that I tucked into that folder?

“Not at all!” responds Jesus to my thoughts. “It’s giving him something to do. He has an errand to run and delights in fulfilling my commands.”

“Your commands?! But that was my prayer!” I exclaim.

“But you gave it to me, didn’t you? You said you trusted Me with it. Now it’s mine to do with as I please. Some of the prayers will get dispatched immediately. Others need to stay in the box a little longer—it’s not time yet. A few of these files don’t belong there. We’ll sort them out and discard the redundant ones and the soiled ones. (We will replace those with clean copies before they’re dispatched.) A few we’ll just toss in the fire if you don’t mind.”

“Mind? Of course not! I trust You to figure out which is which.”

“Good,” says Jesus. “Your move.”

I mull over what He’s just told me. “So I don’t need to figure out what to pray or write down? Just do it, file it, and keep handing the boxes off to You?”

“Yep, that’ll work.”

“Jesus . . . thank You.”

“You’re welcome. You still have a question?”

“Yeah . . . does a bigger folder get more attention than a smaller one? For example, if I pray for someone once, it creates one sentence on one sheet of paper and makes one skinny file. But if I pray for someone daily, their folder gets stuffed and may even need a filing cabinet to hold them all.

I sense at once that no single piece of paper gets lost. But . . .

“So what’s your question?”

“Do You give preference to bigger files?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“What would happen if this room burned down and all the boxes were gone?”

“It would feel like a waste.”

“But what if one paper survived? What if it was made of an incorruptible material?”

I raise my eyebrows.

“What if that one item was your heart? Prayers are important enough, but it’s your heart that I care about even more.”

“Wow!”

And all this time my focus was on how many prayers I prayed, how long I prayed, what I prayed—all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos.”

There’s no should in a love relationship.

What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

clock

Relationship with Adult Children

From my 2009 Journal. I’m still learning what is appropriate and what isn’t in relationship with a newly-adult child under our roof. Is it reasonable to expect our daughter to pick up after herself in family living areas? To help with the dishes? With cooking? With cleaning the house? And if she chooses not to, when is it permissible to speak to her about it? I realize communication at this point can be tricky. My expectations and desires for a neat and tidy house must be subservient to maintaining relationship. Therefore, I am far more tolerant of mess than I would be if I were still trying to train her.

Living in a dorm situation she discovered firsthand what it feels like to have a roommate who never assists in the kitchen. So when she came home from college, I was delighted to hear of her intentions to help out more in the kitchen. But if she’s too tired to help out for a couple days, why do I hold her to her good intentions? Why do I feel resentful when I return home to find breakfast dishes still in the sink? So she slept late that day, worked the entire day, and ran out of energy before the work was done after supper . . . I do not fault her, but I do have to figure out why I feel what I do and what is an appropriate response.

VISUAL: As a young mom, I had three girls in a wagon, and I was pulling with all my strength, trying to get them to follow me. If I tried to get them out of the wagon to assist or to walk on their own, they whined and cried “We’re too tired!” and then they pushed and shoved and fought each other. What am I doing wrong?

How did a friend of mine get her children out of the wagon and behind the thing or in front to help? I don’t know. I just know that I have to quit pulling. It’s time I drop the wagon handle and walk away. There’s work to be done. The trick now is not to become resentful or nagging or whining myself.

The trouble is when people in the wagon get comfortable there, they begin to expect you to bring their food to them and clean the playpen for them. But now they’re old enough to clean their own area . . . and they don’t, and I trip over the toys and have to clean around them. It’s a perpetual issue with a husband too (sorry Scott). Relationships are messy!

I feel so many times like a Martha. Lord have mercy, and God forgive me!

So . . . I can “whistle while I work.” Praise God that I have two arms and two hands. Praise Him that I’m not in a wheelchair and unable to stand at the sink. Change my attitude and enjoy the brief time I have with my daughter. What’s a little mess matter when I can have her company. She’ll soon be gone and I’ll miss her.

On Losing Weight

From my 2009 Journal. This Sunday I watched a particularly well-padded lady at church who loves to move to the music. I’m fascinated to watch human flesh respond this way in motion. Why does this mesmerize me? I feel sorry for the lady, but in truth I feel sorry for me. Here she is, obviously enjoying the joy of the Lord and (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the people around her are watching. I feel like slapping myself for my rudeness in staring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: “If she only knew what she looked like . . .” Is that what people say when they watch me? If I don’t like what I see in the mirror, why should others?

I confess my fascination, my rudeness. Why am I not very tolerant of obesity? Why so critical? Is this self-righteousness? There’s always someone who is heavier than I am, and I’m envious of those who are thinner. I don’t like the numbers I read on the scale. I want to lose some weight, but why? To fit my clothes better? To feel better physically? To feel better about my looks?

The one I want to explore is Reason #3. Is this vanity? Where am I getting the belief that thin is beautiful, that I’ll look better in the eyes of others if my underarms don’t jiggle or my stomach is flat?

Though I’d not say I am obese, I do know I’m not at an ideal weight at the moment. What would motivate me to give up one thing in order to gain something else? My strongest drive, and the only one I think, that would work to help me lose weight, is to believe that it would please my Savior. But is that true? He loves me no more, no less, if I’m fat or thin.

What I do know is that obesity is often a symptom of a heart need. It’s just that an obese person’s issues are visible, whereas the issues of a thin person may not be. When I’m judgmental of people who are overweight, I fail to address my own hidden hurts.

Ok, now that the issue is out on the table, what do I do with it?

I’m currently reading Bill Thrasher’s book A Journey Into Victorious Praying. He states, “God wins His greatest victories in the midst of apparent defeat” and “God uses the needy moments in life to prepare us for His work.” And when anticipating temptation, “think ahead and ask God to give you a prayer burden to pray each time you are tempted to go back to your previous lifestyle . . . Make it a prayer that will damage Satan’s kingdom as God answers it” (pp. 33-35).

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t talked to God yet about my desire to lose weight. Oops.

As I pray, I hear Jesus say, “Step into the light. The mirror and the camera don’t lie.” First I have to come out of denial, acknowledge the truth, and confess my vanity. And then I ask God to reveal to me what’s really in my heart. I am willing to stop filling the empty place with food and I ask Him to fill it with something of Himself instead.

I can now see the church lady in all her beauty, loving God in full abandon. God knows her heart. It’s no longer about me.

Chocolate

On Growing Older

From My 2009 Journal. I asked my mom one day what it’s like to grow old. “Growing old happens so slowly you don’t notice it” she said. But when you look back through photos or the pages of a diary, it’s startling to see the contrast. You expect to look young in your school yearbook photos. You’re supposed to look like a child or teen. The change from child to adult is drastic.

From ages 25-50+, however, I felt no different. Adult is adult. But now when I look at those early adult photos, I realize how young I really was. Enough time has passed that I can see the huge changes that have taken place in my body, and suddenly I feel dissatisfied. Age has never bothered me before. Why now? What am I seeing? I see the squareness of my face and the wrinkles in the neck, and the post-pregnancies stomach.

Do I need to go back to my Bill Gothard notes and stand in front of a mirror and admit I don’t like the way the Lord made me? The funny thing is, when I look in the mirror, I don’t actually see it. It’s when I look at those early pictures that I notice the contrast. Why do I suddenly feel ugly? Why so obsessed with the physical,  the outward appearance? I know our bodies are wasting away, but what of the soul? Am I growing more beautiful on the inside? Or uglier? How can one tell? It’s intangible, hidden. I think I’m growing. . . .

Okay, here’s the visual of what I’m feeling. Age is like a rose. The unopened bud is childhood and the full bloom is middle age. But now I’m at the stage where the petals are starting to droop and wither. It’s the second half of the life cycle. Soon the petals will begin to detach and flutter to the earth. How do I feel about that?

I see the tree in our front yard, heavy laden with pink blossoms till a storm comes and shakes them all to the ground. And it literally rains petals. It’s breath-taking, beautiful, soul-filling. They’re pretty on the tree, yes, but it’s an emotionally moving experience watching them flutter to the earth. My soul and spirit can soar even if my body can’t. Age has its own beauty, and I am content.

 

Pink flowers 2

Green Bananas in the Classroom

From my May 9, 2009, 9:09 am (for real!) Journal. I feel sorry for students who have to live through a teacher’s first year in the classroom. I’d like to apologize to any of my 1977 Berean Academy students reading this blog.

One of my students read on my Facebook page that I’d be visiting her city this week. She wrote back to say, “I only live half an hour away!” So I invited her to visit my hotel room for the afternoon. While reminiscing about those years in the classroom, I made the statement that I was a bad teacher. “That’s a lie,” she declared. “Maybe you were inexperienced and uninformed but not bad.” I appreciated the affirmation, but it still felt true in my heart.

After we parted, I thought back to my teaching experiences at Berean and at two community colleges and decided to list all the good and bad memories that were stuck in my brain from those years. I suppose I could go to each of these memories and issues and deal with them one by one, but I think I need to start with the big picture—my view of myself. I felt tall and rigid on the inside, trying to appear bigger and older than I was in order to stay in control of my classroom so the students wouldn’t run all over me.

I felt like a shepherdess trying to herd her sheep or goats that were running in all directions, and I didn’t know how to corral them. I wanted to be like my teachers who had good classroom discipline and not like others who let the students run the show. I hear myself saying a lot of words to these sheep, but not all of them are paying attention. I’m trying to teach, but they’re self-absorbed, busy eating, or wandering off.

In those days wasting time, in my opinion, was about the biggest sin one could commit. I was a master at planning, organizing, and accomplishing, and I expected my students to follow suit. One day I remember making a false accusation to one of my students about the use of his time, and his retort had stung. What did I conclude about myself at this point? That I’m just an ignorant teacher? That I don’t really know my students? I felt shame and embarrassment, and his words left me feeling like he’d snared me in a steel trap.

Because the teeth only caught my clothes, in my mind I can shed that article of clothing and wriggle free—but that doesn’t take away the emotions. I need to apologize: “You’re right; I accused you falsely. I don’t know what you do with your time outside of class.” The teeth unclench, but the student is still wary. He doesn’t know if he can trust me. And so I have to be wary around him now. I don’t like this feeling.

I see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves trying to woo the wolf. He’s gentle as he coaxes and encourages. I could have done that with this student. Instead, I clammed up and clamped down to protect my ego.

My picture of the shepherdess with her sheep now changes. I can woo and call and encourage instead of chase and run after and herd. And how do I feel now about myself as a teacher? I’m no longer hiding behind a teacher’s desk. I’m sitting beside the students, encouraging and mentoring them.

Was I indeed a bad teacher? No. Just a girl trying to find her own way. I’m sad that I didn’t know then what I know now. Life is such a learning process, and we sometimes leave damage in our wake of inexperience. But each of us must process our lies and wounds from our childhoods. I pray my students will have the grace to forgive me when God brings to light any pain I’ve caused them.

I was so green back then, like an unripe banana. Why do we allow green bananas in the classroom? I know everyone has to start somewhere, but we don’t ripen till we go through the process. God is ripening me little by little and, hopefully, I’m becoming sweeter as I stay closely attached to the tree stem. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll be mature enough to be plucked; and should I become overripe, there’s always banana bread!

bananas

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. Ps. 90:12

From my 2016 Journal. I hear of causes, movements, meetings and appeals for help that I could join. But I have limited resources, time, dollars, and energy. Each money appeal, request or event that crosses my path has to be filtered through these considerations. And I must check in with the Commander-in-Chief before I move on it—even if it’s a good and worthy cause.

A friend recently sent out an appeal on Facebook to gather items to be donated to a local charity. The words I heard in my head were “I should do that in order to fulfill God’s heart for serving the poor and needy.” It makes no logical sense to admit I feel guilty for not doing it, so I know it’s trigger-based.

Guilt and shame and “enough” are nailed to the cross, so what is in my heart that wants to hold onto this “should”?

VISUAL: Shoulds are a heavy burden to carry—like an unwieldy, large sack of potatoes. If I don’t carry it, I think, who will? Since the potatoes are my responsibility, I can’t hand them over to Jesus. For example, He can’t diet or exercise for me or walk a casserole dish over to my sick next-door neighbor. That job is mine to carry out.

“True,” Jesus says. “There are certain things you were created to carry, not Me. So here’s what you can do. Put the sack down and empty all the potatoes out onto a tarp and let’s sort them together. First, throw away the bad ones (the lies). Now sort the rest into types, colors, sizes, or any way that makes sense to you.”

So first I sort them by kind—russets, red, fingerlings, etc. Seeing different colors and sizes is easier from there.

“Today we’re going to make a stew,” He says. “We don’t need a whole sack full of potatoes. Nor do we need every kind. Only pick up what you need for right now this morning. This afternoon you’ll need a different kind.”

Whew! This feels much more manageable now.

After seeing this visual, I was able to slow my thought processes down. I cleaned house thoroughly, ran to the grocery store, got the car washed, and filled up the gas tank—all with a feeling of peace. Next I drove almost three hours through heavy traffic to attend a funeral and drove home at night. Only in the last half hour did I begin to feel tired. Thank You, Lord, for teaching me to set down my potato sack! Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to go through my closet for gently-used clothing to donate to the homeless shelter.

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