First Fruits

God evaluates my generosity by what I keep, not by what I give away. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

Back in fresh-organic-fruits-basket_1426-486.jpg2007, our church was beginning a capital stewardship campaign. After much prayer and asking God to unify Scott’s and my hearts, we each came up with the same amount to give. It felt very ambitious for us, but we trusted that God was able to help us fulfill our commitment. Next we had to decide how much to give in that morning’s offering. Scott suggested 10% of our pledge—the first fruits of our promise. Gulp. There went the money we’d been setting aside for our daughter’s wedding reception. But, in faith, we obeyed.

Journal 2007. I’d like to suggest to God how He can replace those funds for us, but I think He’ll figure out how to care for our needs without my help! And, so dear Father, in faith I write our check this morning with open hand and heart and trust You to bless it and multiply it and use it for Your kingdom.

I recall years ago when God asked Scott and me to give Him our roof-repair funds that we’d been saving up. It wasn’t until after we obeyed God’s prompting that Scott’s aunt offered to pay for a new roof for us. That experience was a faith-builder.

On the way to church this morning, I laughed out loud as I tuned into Irwin Lutzer’s sermon that began with, “Today I’d like to talk to you about giving a sacrifice to God that seems extraordinary.” It felt like God’s handprint of blessing on our decision. God’s timing is delightful.

Fast forward three months. I know God was smiling as He gifted us with in-laws who asked for the privilege of providing a reception for Cindy’s wedding.

It really is a waste of time to wrestle with God. When He says, DO or GIVE or GO, it’s much more productive to simply obey and move on and leave the results to Him. It’s like storing up treasure in heaven. I want as much in that heavenly bank as I can put into it for my retirement from this earth.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

The Day My Hero Died – On Releasing Grief

Ten years ago, on November 17, 2007, at 8:30 a.m. I got word that my dad was unconscious and at death’s door. By 11:10 a.m. I was on an airplane headed for Sebring, Florida, arriving at the nursing home at 6:30 p.m. Dad was unresponsive but alive. God gave me a special gift that night. I was 53 years old and had never before witnessed the dying process. Kay Breid, an MK friend from boarding school in Africa, was one of my dad’s caretakers and had been sitting by his bedside all afternoon. Kay coached me on what to expect. At 10:30 p.m. my precious daddy slipped quietly, peacefully into Jesus’ arms. I could almost feel the brush of angel wings. A holy moment.

Wednesday, November 21. I’ve shed no tears in the last three days. I don’t know why. Too much activity, too many decisions, visitors, family. Or is it that the suspense and waiting are finally over? I remember talking to a friend one time shortly after her husband died, and she called this initial season of grief “the blessed numbness before the pain.” Or is it God’s peace that’s carrying me?

We buried Dad on the day before Thanksgiving. I made sure there was a hanky in his outer pocket and a toothpick in his inner one (two things Dad always had in his possession). My mother was distraught. My own tears began to flow at last, but my sorrow for Dad was pain-free because of the hope we have of seeing him alive in his heavenly body. He was at peace and so was I.

The next day we flew Mom home to Tennessee with us for a while to rest and recover from the trauma. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese food in the Orlando airport.

That first week, I couldn’t seem to get back into a routine. It was like I was deep in the ocean with choppy seas above me.

November 26. As long as I stay well below the surface of the ocean, things are calm, peaceful, serene, and beautiful. But isn’t that escapism? How would it feel to rise to the top? Overwhelming. Bumpy. Desperate. How long may I stay down here? Emotionally, it feels too hard to surface. I’ll have to struggle and kick and survive and gulp seawater and flounder. Down below I can breathe and enjoy the fish and the coral in the pristine water.

What am I afraid of, Lord? I am willing to go to the top.

Quickly the scene changes. I find myself in shallow water. I can stand up, walk or wade toward shore. The sea is no longer threatening. There’s beauty in the sky and on the beach. I’m on solid ground.

Reality is not so scary after all.

November 28. I’m memorizing my mother’s face. How long does she have on this earth? One year? Ten? How precious this time is with her. Can I sear it into my brain? Is it only a week ago that we buried my father? [Mom died 14 months later.]

November 29. A priceless gift—or is it a gift from a Price?! Jim and Jean (Price) Cail sent Mom and me a breath-taking gift—a framed photo of my dad and mom taken a week and a half before he died. Mom and I cried together.

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“You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved – Lionel

November 30. I took a walk in my neighborhood, trying to release more grief. My Daddy was gone. I was excited for him; not so much for myself. And in my grief, a curtain parted slightly so I could catch a glimpse into “heaven.” There stood Jesus and my daddy (in his vigorous youth) in bright white light. I wanted to run to his big strong frame, to my earthly hero, and throw my arms around him and tell him how much I missed him.

But he looked at me and said, “I’m not your daddy anymore.”

Startled, I turned to Jesus and asked, “Is that true?!”

“Yes,” He responded. “In heaven there is no marriage and giving in marriage. Relationships are not the same up here.”

“But I need my daddy!” I cried.

And my earthly father turned and pointed to Jesus. “He’s your father now. I was given to you only for a short while—your stay on earth.”

“But what about your daily prayers for me?” I protested. “I NEELionel SegerD them.”

“It’s okay,” responded Jesus. “They’re all safely stored up here in boxes. I know where each one is, carefully logged and categorized. And now it’s time for you to become the next generation of prayer warriors.”

Quickly, I deposited prayers of my own into each of my own boxes: for my children and their spouses and their children and my great-grandchildren to come. My prayer for each of them is III John 4 that my daddy used to pray for me: that his children would walk in truth.

On Dec. 9 Mom celebrated their 60th anniversary with a special cake. I think Dad would have liked that. It made me smile.

On Sabbath Rest

Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’ (Exodus 31:13).

When I was a child, my parents had strict rules about what we were permitted to do on Sunday: No work, no traveling, no board games, no knitting, no lawn-mowing, no shopping, etc. etc. We were told that we were keeping the Sabbath day holy or “set apart” as a day of worship. But when I discovered that the fourth commandment actually referred to Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, I became quite confused.

And then I read this verse in Exodus that says the Sabbaths (plural) were intended for a sign between God and the Jews. Does this mean that, as a Gentile, I need to keep the Ten Commandments, minus one?

To confuse the matter even more, we’re told in Colossians 2:16 (NIV): Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

In 1989 when we moved into our house on 8th Street in Holland, Michigan, I noticed a drain in the center of the attached garage. One benefit of garage drains, we were told, was for Dutchmen to be able to wash their cars on Sunday without being seen by their neighbors. Apparently judgment was alive and well!

One day as I was pondering this subject, I came across this quote: “Rest is not something one does; it is Someone one knows” (Yashanet.com). Jesus is my Sabbath rest! That means that I can be in a perpetual state of rest. I don’t have to wait for Day #7 for a forced time of inactivity or cessation from work. My soul can be at rest 24-7 if I live by faith, obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, place my cares in God’s hands, and stay connected to Him. This removes the guilt of trying to figure out what is or what isn’t classified as work.

Is there a physical law of nature that says we benefit from a day of rest? Yes, of course. My body belongs to God, and I’m to take care of it in a healthy way, not abuse it or overwork it perpetually by choice or by drive or by emotion. Working for the kingdom can be stressful but peaceful. Resting can be hard work too. A forced rest due to a broken leg or a hospital stay can be less than peaceful. It’s the heart attitude that determines how well we rest.church-in-the-middle-of-the-field_1088-86

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art.
I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.

 

The Responsibility Backpack

Responsibility (n): a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of; a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation

Responsibility is a backpack. It’s light if nothing is in it. But if another person inserts a nature-climbing-backpack-mountain-cloud_1320-154load of rocks, it feels like there’s nothing I can do, except carry it. I may release resentment, but I’m still carrying the load because the person is unable to do so right now. Tired. Tiring. Willing—because I have no choice, but hard nonetheless.

Oh, I could take the backpack off and lay it down, but that’s not really an option. Remember: “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” But that thought doesn’t help. The rocks are still heavy on my back. “Let Jesus carry it” doesn’t cut it either. I believe He’s the One who put them there in the first place! It’s my responsibility.

Why do I feel like I need to bow my soul in sympathy when a hurting person bares her heart to me? When a natural disaster occurs? When someone is dying or sick or depressed? I don’t want to be blasé about it, but I also can’t carry the weight and the pain for another person.

But it’s when I feel something that I spring into action. If I don’t feel, does that mean I don’t care? If I don’t care, will I spring into action? Is it a trigger or a prompting of the Holy Spirit?

What am I believing? That I need to curb my emotions and inner joy when I’m working with depressed and wounded people? It would be like joking at a funeral parlor—disrespectful of the mourners. But in the process, I weigh down my own soul.

The Scriptures say, Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) AND Each one should carry their own load (Gal. 6:5). So which is it: carry my own or carry another’s? When I’m praying with someone, I’ve agreed to take their load for a bit, but it can get heavy after a while.

So . . . when a person I’m ministering to hands me her burden, it’s okay if it’s only a backpack or a lunch basket. But when she hands me a boulder that I’m unable to lift, I can’t just walk away and say, “Sorry, that’s your problem.” Instead, I can stop, ask the person what she wants to do with her boulder, and then pray for God to lift it for her.

Or . . . if a person hands me her backpack, after a while I can hand it back to her and say, “I can’t carry it for you anymore. You carry it, because when it’s in your hands, you can then make the choice to hand it to Jesus instead.”

As soon as I come to the end of the trail, I can put this backpack down. But then I must pick up another and start down another trail. There’s no break; no rest in between. And not many rest stops along the trail.

Jesus says, “I can carry you as well as your backpack.”

And so, dear Lord, I ask today that You carry me. I am weary, tired, worn out, weak. I need a blessing today, a miracle, some cool clear water to refresh me.

Jesus says, “I am your Sabbath rest.” And that is enough.

(From my 2007 Journal)

A Caged Bird – On Rights and Privileges

Alone time is a precious commodity for an introvert like me, so when it doesn’t happen, I can feel resentful—like it is a right or something. But I know it’s not. So what’s the difference between a Right and a Privilege?

A right = something universally available (ex: oxygen).
A privilege = a luxury (ex: pure water).

Luxuries can quickly turn into perceived rights. Take cell phones, for example. Before we had instant connections with our loved ones, we had to wait until we returned home from the grocery store to make that landline call to Mom or Dad. And in my grandparents’ day, they had to walk next door if they wanted to communicate with their neighbor. Is a cell phone a right or a privilege?

My mother did not care for pets. It was only after much pestering by her kids that she consented to having a dog or a cat in the house. But one day she decided she wanted a bird, captured from the wilds in Africa. It was not a domestic bird. It didn’t deserve to be confined after living a life of freedom. It had lost its rights. Did it resent being stuffed inside a confined space, unable to extricate itself?

Am I that bird when I don’t get my desired solitude–resentful toward those who box me in, interrupt my schedule, or crowd my  emotional space?

Jesus asks, “Are you willing to be caged if I ask it of you?”

I want to say yes, but I’m uncomfortable all scrunched up in a ball, confined by a metal cage.

Jesus freedom_318-116635asks again: Are you willing to be uncomfortable for Me?

“Yes,” I say, “I’m willing. . . If that’s what you’re asking of me.”

And I watch in amazement as the metal bars drop away. The cage was my own sin of resentment for not getting what I believed was a right.

Now I’m free of the cage, but I’m still confined to my own home. Like the bird that escapes its cage, it’s free to fly around the house, but it still longs to be outdoors, free to fly and roam and explore or at least free to make the choice to stay in the house if desired.

I find I’m in a double-bind. I want to open a window and let the bird fly out of the house and return to its natural habitat, but I know it would make my mom mad if I did. Lord, I need help here.

And I watch as God’s large hand enters the home and the bird rests on His finger.

I sing because I’m happy;
I sing because I’m free;
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.

So I now know the process to peace:

1. Release resentment.
2. Relax and let God take of my worries, problems, or pain.
3. Relish His care and sing!

But there’s a residual emotion: I still long to be free. Responsibility is sometimes a hard or heavy load to carry. It would be easier to lay it down than to carry it. But that’s a topic to explore on another day.

What privilege do you mistake for a right?

On Regaining Peace

Journaling is one of my favorite ways to process my emotions. Here’s an entry from 2007 when I was teaching at a junior college.

I’m really struggling right now. I’ve lost my joy and I’ve lost my peace and I don’t know the way back. I have a bad attitude about teaching. I’m angry, resentful, proud, defensive, hurt, stressed, and just trying to tread water and not drown. I’ve had to let go of other areas of responsibility in order to survive. My friends say I sound depressed.

A VISUAL: These students are in a race and I’m their coach. I can encourage them, call from the sidelines, or lead them from out front. But if they choose to stop running, I can’t force them to continue. I can’t hold each of them at the same time and drag them along. While I’m helping one, another is lagging behind. I get them to help each other, but it’s not enough. They keep sitting on the sidelines and complaining that it’s too hard. Others stay in the race but can’t figure out where the path is and they keep wandering off into the marshes. Others are so far behind that they’ll never catch up and so they get discouraged. Some keep stepping off the track to care for business on the sidelines. Distractions abound (illness, deaths, winter weather, family stressors).

Meanwhile, my boss is yelling at me that I’m not trying hard enough. It’s my fault if I don’t provide the running shoes, hold their hands, stay with them till the sun goes down.

And me? I’m wearing myself out trying to be in ten places at once. I’m working day and night to keep the pace for the good, motivated student runners and still spending time running back and forth to grab the laggers. I can’t do it all. I hear my boss yelling in my ear, the runners wheezing and gasping at the effort, the ones in front complaining that I’m spending too much time in back, and the ones in back complaining I’m out front too much. I’m angry, tired, discouraged and ready to have this race come to an end.

What to do? I’m ready to listen, Lord.

Now rainclouds are forming overhead. It’s about to storm. I am at fault. I have not bathed my classes in prayer. I have not prayed for my students by name. I have not consistently blessed my classroom. I have asked for help for myself, but I’ve been too tired, distracted, and preoccupied to give it all over to God. I keep complaining, griping, crying that it’s too hard, too impossible a task that God has put in front of me. Now I sound like my students!

And so, first I repent for my neglect of my spiritual disciplines. I’ve lost my way, and I can’t keep the students on track if I don’t have the right focus.

So God gives meCave Waterfall another VISUAL: I’m a tour guide in a cave. I can point out the beauty along the way, and I’ll give my lecture to those who keep up. I can wait for a few stragglers to catch up before I begin lecturing, but if they are talking in the back and not listening, or if they turn back to the entrance of the cave because they got too tired to keep on going, I have to let them go. It’s their choice if they don’t listen. And it’s not my fault if they are physically incapable of keeping up. I can provide a wheelchair, but unless they get someone else to push them, they’re stuck. I have six people in my group who need wheelchairs! What is my job? To keep teaching, keep lecturing, keep pointing the way with my flashlight.

I become discouraged when I discover that only 8-10 out of my original 20 make it to the beautiful waterfall at the end of the tunnel. The strugglers have missed it!

Do You feel this way, sometimes, Lord, with Your children? Is that why You continually charge us to be overcomers?

And so I realize that it’s the company’s responsibility, not mine, to make sure the spelunkers sign a waiver saying they are physically and mentally fit for the journey BEFORE they enter the cave. Now that I understand it’s not my fault and that I’m doing all I can do, what do I do with those in wheelchairs that the company requires me to get safely back to the entrance? If I leave them in the cave, it will be pitch black. It’s then that I notice permanent lights along the path. They will have to wait there alone until we send for help, or they can join another tour that’s returning to the entrance. I am at peace. I have done all I can do with the resources I have. 

What do you do to regain your peace?