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?

Interruptions

From my 2015 Journal.

The Plan: The family is gone, so I can work all day on editing Simroots, a magazine for AMKs (Adult Missionary Kids).

The Reality (no kidding!) I counted:

            21 phone calls

            69 texts

            64 emails

            5 pieces of mail

            1 person at the door

            6 visits to my office

            0 Simroots

By the end of the day, I felt exhausted!

Visual:  I’m on a train with my bags packed, briefcase in hand, ready to move toward my destination. But every few feet, the train jerks to a stop. Sometimes people get on and some get off. Sometimes I step off in frustration from the discomfort of the jerking, but I dare not wander too far for fear I’ll not be on the train when it finally breaks free and starts moving again.

By the end of the day, I haven’t even left the station! What to do? I go inside the train station and find an indoor pool (don’t ask) and try to relax and unwind. But I’m still unnerved by the motion of the train. Being a task-oriented person, I prefer a bullet train—fast track, no station stops. I feel agitated, unsettled, irritated . . . certainly not at peace. If I’d known I was on a defective commuter train, I could have adjusted my expectations and been fine with it.

No, this is not the first time I’ve experienced this.

The related Memory:  While desperately in need of a nap when my baby was sleeping, the neighbor boy across the street relentlessly pounded away on something in his front yard. I’d just fall asleep when he’d pound again, jerking me awake. Irritated is too soft a word for what I was feeling!

Instead of praying that the boy would stop (I tried that), I could have prayed for supernatural rest. Instead of getting irritated that I wasn’t getting Simroots done, I could have turned my attention fully to the interruptions. And I could have stepped off the train and asked Jesus to tell me when it was time to get back on. Even if the train leaves without me, I can always catch the next one.

A 2021 Update: I have since learned that I’m more productive if I ask the Lord for direction first about what tasks He wants me to accomplish that day and in what order. When my mind is set, I then ask Him to hold the interruptions, except for those that come from Him. Then once a month I climb aboard a bullet train, a scheduled Karen Day with no interruptions allowed.

How do you feel about interruptions?

I Want to Be in Control

From my 2012 Journal. I’ve had a recurring nightmare of being lost and unable to reach my destination. Perhaps my brain is trying to process my unresolved fear of searching for my next classroom in the maze of a two-story American high school after attending a small boarding school in Africa. Or the roots are in my preschool panic when I couldn’t find my dad in the tall grass while hunting guinea fowl together. There is something in all of us that wants to be in control of our lives, and we don’t like the feeling when we’re not.

I have no desire to be in charge of a PTA, a church, or a nation. I didn’t even like being in charge of my own kids when I was parenting. But I do want to be in charge of my own classroom as a teacher, over my own food choices, over my schedule, over my own body, and over my finances. I don’t like it when others violate my will.

So what do I do if I’m under someone else’s jurisdiction (a boss, a parent, a policeman, the law of the land)? I might respond negatively or positively according to whether or not I agree with them or whether the mandate is reasonable or not. If I’m serving a boss who is irritable, unpredictable, overbearing, or unkind, it takes effort and poise and grace and an abundance of God’s Spirit to submit to his or her authority.

But what if I serve under a person whom I highly respect and adore, who is gracious, kind and polite and loves me back? How would my attitude be different? You’d assume I would respond with ease but, sadly, I still fight to be in control.

I serve a perfect Master. What keeps me from responding well to Him when He gives me orders? It’s an on-going struggle for me to submit—until I face my fears of feeling lost or out of control—and that’s when God steps in and brings safety and comfort, just like my dad did when I cried out to him in the jungle grass.

On the Subject of Music

From my 2015 Journal. I was raised on the great hymns of the faith at church, Gospel choruses at boarding school, Pioneer Girls camp songs (thanks, Miss Pat), and my mother’s favorite Gilbert and Sullivan record albums. (I memorized all the lyrics to “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” by the time I was 10.)

We had no electricity in our little African village, so record players had to be hand-cranked or run on low-quality batteries. I wasn’t exposed much to secular music or American culture until I was in high school.

Is it any wonder, then, that I struggle with contemporary worship music here in the USA? As hymns have been tossed out of our churches like old, worn-out socks, I find myself also tuning away from Christian radio stations and gravitating mostly to classical music when I’m alone in the car. Unlike the repetitious lyrics (I kid you not, I counted 38 repeats of one phrase this Sunday*), my preferred music soothes my soul and draws me upward.

I try not to judge you for your taste in music. Life would be boring if we were all alike. My eldest daughter sings along to every tune played over the intercom at Wal-Mart (there was music playing?). I respect your desire to listen to what matches your mood and gets your foot tapping and draws you into worship. But I prefer music that makes my soul relax. Am I weird? Is this temperament, personality, or a cultural or generational footprint that stamped itself on my soul?

As the music wars play on, I ponder what kind of music we’ll hear in heaven.** What will God’s voice sound like when “He quiets me with His love and rejoices over me with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)?

I do know that our churches would do well to vary their worship styles to draw more people in—from different generations, yes, but also for different temperament types. Not all of us are sanguines. We melancholies need something different for our souls. Just sayin’. (Though I’ll make an exception today and let you sing “Happy Birthday” to me.)

*A 2020 update. Recently our worship leader addressed the repetition issue. He explained that some people need positive reinforcement to solidify a truth in their heart—the same principle but opposite effect of writing lines for punishment at school (I speak from experience). For those of us who already know this particular truth, we can use the extra time praying for those who still need to hear it. I can now give more grace to my fellow worshippers instead of harboring a critical spirit.

**I just finished reading Imagine Heaven by John Burke, amazing accounts of near-death experiences. These people were incapable of describing the sound of angels singing or the thousands of human voices in many languages blended in harmony. There will be no music wars in heaven!

A God Event

From my 2013 Journal. A few years ago I bought a granny-type bicycle with roomy baskets over the rear tire. It’s ideal for quick trips to our Kroger just four blocks away. One day when I wheeled my loaded grocery cart out to my bike, I realized that I’d overshot my basket capacity.

I knew my husband had to leave the house early the next morning to pick up a co-worker at the Nashville airport, drive the 45 minutes back home to pick me up, drive to Chattanooga, pick up another co-worker, and then we all planed to head on to his former boss’s funeral. Reluctantly, I called Scott to see if he could come load the groceries into his car.

Though hurting and grumpy, Scott playfully followed me home, while I groused that I felt like I was being stalked! Scott couldn’t hear it, but from my bicycle’s vantage point, I noticed a funny noise coming from the front of his car. When we discovered a large spike embedded in the tire, Scott raced to Firestone just before the place closed for the day to get it patched.

If we’d woken to a flat tire the next morning, the whole day’s schedule would have been a disaster.

Thank you, Lord, for orchestrating this event in spite of our poor attitudes!

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.

Character Flaw

From my 2013 Journal. I’ve always pictured Joshua, son of Nun, as a flawless character. But the Bible records one mistake that he made—a treaty with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). Not an evil thing, not a disobedient decision, but a neglectful act: he forgot to consult with God.

This is a scary thought to me. I don’t (usually) blatantly sin, disobey, or rebel against God. But how often have I been neglectful, and—horrors—deceived. It happens to all of us. Joshua was one of the best—a man of faith, courage, and integrity. If he could be deceived, who am I to claim it will never happen to me?

Once Joshua realized his mistake, however, he rectified it.

  1. He confronted the deceivers.
  2. He kept his oath.
  3. He found a creative way to redeem his error.
  4. He learned from his mistake. He listened to God the next time!

God responded, “Don’t be afraid,” and then He gave the Israelites great victory over their enemies. God listened to Joshua’s prayer to make the sun stand still—a once-in-history experience.

There never has been a day like it before or since when the Lord listened to a man (Joshua 10:14).

Joshua’s story gives me hope. My mistakes do not have to define me or bind me.

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

A Lost Fitbit

From my 2015 Journal. With spring in the air, I grabbed my camera and set off for a walk in the woods with my Fitbit (a Christmas gift from my husband) secured to my shoelaces. At one point I left the path and tramped through some weeds to get a close-up photograph of a bird-shaped branch. When I returned to the path, chagrined, I discovered my shoelaces were untied. Though I retraced my steps, regrettably I could not locate my fitness tracker among the heavy, wet leaves. How could I admit to my dear husband that I’d lost his thoughtful gift?

I finished the trail and returned to the cabin where I was staying with some friends. They could tell I was upset, but I just shook my head when one of them offered to search for my missing device. “Impossible to find,” I said. But she insisted, so I told her the general direction I’d gone. About 20 minutes later, she returned with my Fitbit in hand. Astonished, I said, “How did you find it?”

“I just asked the Lord to tell me when to look down,” and when I heard, “Now!” there it was lying in plain sight on the path!”

This incident is a reminder to me that I am in God’s hands—every little detail of my life. If I had not found my device, His character would not have changed. But the blessing of finding it confirms that I’m His spoiled child. He delights in giving me good things.

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?