All Things…Good?

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And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God,

to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

I’m not real wild about artichokes. At least, I didn’t think I was. But that was before our son, John made a gluten free, fully loaded Mediterranean pizza for us. It had marinated artichoke hearts and olives and spinach and feta cheese and it was incredible. So now, I think, I do like artichokes. It’s possible that my opinion on artichokes came from a time when my husband surprised me with dinner. He threw some ingredients together, we still don’t know what to call it except, NEVER AGAIN. He mixed artichokes with tuna fish and cream of mushroom soup and tomatoes and a bunch of other things that just happened to be in the cupboard. Truly a case of “its the thought that counts” because that was the worst dinner EVER! I thought for a very long time that artichokes couldn’t be good for anything after that.

This verse doesn’t tell us that all the things that come into our lives are good. We all know that difficult times come. What this verse tells us though, is that God can take the things, the ingredients of our lives, if you will, and make something wonderful of it. I don’t like all the things that come into my life, probably you don’t either, but I like the idea that God the master chef can create something incredible, something good, something beyond our wildest hopes and dreams out of those ingredients when I can’t.

God can take the “all things” of our lives, the hurts, the failures, the brokenness, the addictions, the symptoms, the illness, the disease, the broken relationship, the lost dreams and shattered hopes and cause them to work together for our good. He has the recipe that can turn all of our messy ingredients into something absolutely incredible, if we will let Him.

Merciful Father, how humbling it is to know that You are so aware of all the ingredients that have come into my life. Some by my choices, some not. Either way, You promise to take them and turn them into something good. Something I can’t even begin to imagine. Use my life as You will, make of it what pleases You, turn the ingredients of my life into something good and something usable so that others can see and know that You are good. Thank You. Amen.

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Give Me Life

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I have been greatly humbled, Lord Jehovah;

give me life according to your word.

Psalm 119:107

Pain, lack, limitations, broken relationships, financial pressures are all humbling experiences. I tend to have emotions that run the gamut from fear to peace and back again.  When my emotions try to get the best of me, I turn to the Psalms. The writer’s of these psalms wrote of their emotions, our emotions. They, too, knew what it was like to be humbled by circumstances beyond their control. They understood the emotional upheaval it can cause. These are some of the emotions expressed in the psalms:

fear, joy, abandonment,

betrayal, despair, sadness,

blessedness, joy, gladness,

pain, grief, anger, fear,

anxiety, guilt, shame, reverence

What I find so interesting about the Psalms is that most of these psalms relating humbling circumstances and painful emotions end in praise. Somewhere in there, there is a turn, an and yet… or a but.. and the psalmist breaks out into praise and a purposeful, intentional, looking at God. So, if they can do it, we can too, when circumstances are causing our emotions to run amuck.

“The Psalms challenge our shallow experience of God. How deficient we are in expressing everything to God – our joys, sorrows, frustrations, and fears. God wants us to tell him everything. Every emotion and every experience can be the context of worship when expressed to God.

The Psalms are the prayers of Christ. As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have prayed these regularly. The Psalms would shape his faith and practice. Even more, every Psalm speaks of Jesus. In his humanity, he fully experienced every one of these emotions-complete identification with humanity. What greater reason could we have to make these prayers our own-patterning our prayers after them!

The Psalms teach us what it means to experience God with our whole being in every circumstance. We discover that true prayer involves speaking to God in every situation and with every emotional expression. To close part of ourselves to God is to fail to worship God truly and fully. God wants the expression of all our heart – mind, will, and emotions – in every situation to be an act of worship. Only when we fully embrace all we know, feel, and do and express everything to God – the good, bad, and the ugly – do we truly worship!” *

I think this is where the but… or the and yet… came in. The psalmist felt free to express his emotions to God, the good, the bad and the ugly.  And when they acknowledged these painful emotions and prayed them out, worship exploded inside them. They were revived.

When we are willing to tell God of our difficult emotions during trying times, He hears, He cares, He isn’t judging us, condemning us for feeling that way, or even turning aside until we get over ourselves. He is waiting patiently, knowing that in the end, His word will have its perfect work in our life and we will be revived according to that word.

How truly grateful I am that I can bring my emotions to You. I don’t have to hide them for fear You will be angry with me. It is so good to know You love me enough to be my “dumping grounds” where I can dump my feelings while, together, You and I sort through them. Your word has revived me so many times in the past, and I know Your word will continue to be my source of life in good times and in bad. Thank You for Your word and the life it brings me. Amen.

 

*I found this excerpt on theocentric.com.

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Evening News

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I’m overwhelmed with sorrow!     

sunk in a swamp of despair!

I’m like someone who goes to the garden to pick cabbages and carrots and corn

 and returns empty-handed,    

 finds nothing for soup or sandwich or salad.

There’s not a decent person in sight.     

Right-living humans are extinct.

They’re all out for one another’s blood,    

 animals preying on each other.

They’ve all become experts in evil.     

Corrupt leaders demand bribes.

The powerful rich make sure they get what they want. 

The best and brightest are thistles.     

The top of the line is crabgrass.

But no longer: It’s exam time.     

Look at them slinking away in disgrace!

Don’t trust your neighbor, don’t confide in your friend.

Watch your words, even with your spouse.

Neighborhoods and families are falling to pieces.     

The closer they are—sons, daughters, in-laws—

The worse they can be.     

Your own family is the enemy.

But me, I’m not giving up.     

I’m sticking around to see what God will do.

I’m waiting for God to make things right.    

 I’m counting on God to listen to me.

Micah 7:7-8

Although this was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, it reads like today’s news. When I first moved to Vancouver from Montana, I was struck by the news at night. One channel from Portland had an hour program and the first 30-40 minutes were devoted to listing the robberies, rapes, murders, etc. They would tell what neighborhoods the crimes happened in and being new to the area,  I would wonder if that was anywhere near me.  My husband was still in Montana and I was here with our son for several months before Bruce could join us. These news stories put fear in me. So I just stopped watching. If the world was falling apart all around me, I’d just as soon not know about it. Have I mentioned before that I am quite fond of denial?

I can’t keep myself from seeing and hearing about the evil things taking place in our world. I am surrounded by it and it is my duty, I think as a Christian, to be light in that darkness. I can’t do that if I pull the covers over my head and think it isn’t happening.

Whatever the events that are bringing fear into your life, into my life, God isn’t ignoring them or us. He hasn’t pulled the covers over His head and chosen to live in denial.  He will make things right, in His time.

There is a “but” in this verse; a turning point in the prophet’s news report. He claims he is not giving up, he is going to stick around to see what God will do.  That strikes me as a good plan. Wait and see the deliverance God will bring. We don’t have to live in fear, no matter the news, no matter the diagnosis, no matter the destruction that is around us. Our God hears our prayers and we can count on that.

Heavenly Father, the news is often scary, the diagnosis is overwhelming and fear rises in me at times. I know I don’t need to fear, but sometimes, I forget that. Would You remind me to fear not? Would You help me to wait in faith to see what only You can do? I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Whoa, There Pony!

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For we all stumble in many ways.

If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man,

able to bridle the whole body as well.

Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

James 3: 2-3

When I was a kid, I wanted a horse more than anything. My uncle, who raised horses, offered to give me one, but I couldn’t have one because of my father’s allergies.  So, my mother gave up hours on a Saturday, every Saturday,  to drive me to Westheimer Stables so I could rent a horse for one hour. The drive took one hour each way and my mom would settle in and read a book for the hour I rode.

Ever ride a rented horse? Well, I’ll tell you how it was for me, regardless of the horse, they had two speeds. Leaving the stable, the horse walked at a snail’s pace. Nothing I did, no amount of kicking or coaxing would speed up that horse. So, for the first 50 minutes of my hour we walked slowly away from the stables. It wasn’t so exciting, but it was a horse and I loved it. What really made it worthwhile though, was the second speed which came the moment I turned that horse back to the stables. What took 50 minutes to walk, took less than 10 to run! Again, nothing I did would slow that horse down. No amount of pulling on the reins phased the horse at all. Those 10 minutes were a highlight of my week!

What I learned when I had my own horses is just this: simply putting a bit in a horse’s mouth doesn’t really control him. There is more to it than just that. A horse can harden his mouth against a bit so much so that it doesn’t hurt him at all when it is pulled on. He can also raise his head up high enough that the bit that was meant to control him loses all effectiveness because the angle of his head gets the pressure of the bit off his mouth. A horse learns, however,  with proper training to submit to the bit and drop his head down into a place where the bit can gently lead and guide him.

Likewise, we can harden ourselves against doing and saying what is right. We can develop a hardened heart towards someone that has hurt us and use that hurt as an excuse to hang on to unforgiveness and allow bitterness to take root. When we do that, we stumble. We can also raise our head high enough in haughtiness and pride that we are unwilling to yield our mouth and control our tongue. When we do that, we stumble. We all stumble and this verse tells us that a lot of our stumbling starts with our mouth and the things we say. The word tells us elsewhere, that the words that come from our mouth start in the heart. A heart that won’t yield itself to the gentle leading of the Spirit of God is just like that horse that refuses the leading of the bit. When we don’t yield, we are about as useful to God’s purposes as that horse is to the rider’s purposes. We can go our way or we can yield to His.

Almighty God, how ugly I can be when I don’t yield to Your ways and Your desires for me. How haughty I can become when I want to do things my way. I have felt the pressure of the bit You place in my mouth and oftentimes, I have just raised my head higher. Please forgive me. Help me to yield to Your gentle leading, Your gentle hand on the reins of my life as I submit to You and Your will. Help me to use my words to bringing life and healing and not judgment and condemnation, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Has Everyone Gone Postal?

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If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go

Psalm 91:9-11

I was at the Post Office the other day, standing in line waiting to mail a package when someone behind started grumbling. He complained that he was standing in this line to ask a clerk a simple question and some man just cut in front of all of us and began asking the clerk for help.  I didn’t see the man cut us, I was busy texting on my phone. Others saw it though, and within a few moments, 5 or 6 people had joined in the grumbling about this man cutting us in line. Their voices got louder and louder and then instead of grumbling to each other, they began yelling at the clerk and the cutter. I kept my head down, hoping to stay out of this, get my package mailed and make a quick exit. The yelling continued and the clerk apologized, the cutter finally turned around, looked at everyone and went back to his business. A man behind men said loudly enough for all to hear, “I wish I had a rock in my pocket, I would throw it at him”. To my surprise, others thought that was a great idea and commented that they wished they had something to throw!

It gets stranger still. Finally, the cutter left, the clerk began helping other people and the line began to move. As people were leaving the post office, each one of them turned to the person near them and wished them a great day and parted as though they were old friends.

I was amused, angered, and totally perplexed by this. How rotten does a person’s life have to be that someone cutting them in line, slowing them down for probably what – three minutes –  could start this kind of mob reaction? Then turn and be BFF and see nothing wrong with what they had just been part of?

I never felt unsafe in there; I never for a moment considered that anyone would get physical, but of course, I never would have imagined seeing grown up people act like that in a Post Office. And right before Valentine’s Day! Sure didn’t feel the love in that place and odds are, some of those people were probably mailing off packages of love to someone!

I am grateful that in these days when people are on short fuses and bad behavior seems acceptable and hurting others is apparently ok, that I have the protection of the Most High God. I have made Him my refuge and He promises to keep His angels around me and not allow evil to conquer me. That same promise if for you, too. There is comfort in that isn’t there?

Lord, You are my refuge, my safe place in a world that sometimes doesn’t seem so safe. You are my shelter and I thank You for the angels You have put around me to keep me safe, thank You for the angels You have put around my family. I pray for those people in the Post Office, I pray that You would meet them at their deepest point of need and heal their hurts and help them to accept the love You have so freely given and may they in turn, be able to pass that on.  In Your name, I pray. Amen.

Good Gifts

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We love, because He first loved us.

I John 4:19

For Valentine’s Day at work, I helped a group of kids make a present for their mom or dad. We used old decks of cards and made a book called, 52 Reasons I Love You. Each of the 52 cards had a reason on it. It was a difficult project and a number of kids didn’t finish. But for the ones that did, it turned out to be a great gift for someone special.

I made some also. I made one for my husband and one for each of my four children. It was good for me to do this, making these books, thinking of reasons why I love each and every one of them made me look at them intently and purposefully and record what I saw and what I loved about them.

Did you know that the Bible is the book God wrote to tell us why He loves us? He tells us to what extent He went through, will go through to shower us in love and how much it means to Him that we are His beloved.

It would take a lot more than 52 cards to spell that out for us.

So, why do we love Him? This verse tells us we love because He first loved us. But I wondered while making these books, how many reasons I could come up with for why I love God. And wouldn’t it be a good exercise to start that list? To put me in remembrance of all that God means to me, all that He has done for me, all that I believe He has in store for me. Even if I could, there probably would not be any reason any greater than that He first loved me. He loves me.

I think that healing in whatever form in our lives need healing begins when that thought really sinks down into our heart. When we know that we are loved, completely, unconditionally, never-endingly and when we come to trust in that love especially when we feel totally unlovable. Maybe my next project will be a book called “______ Ways God has shown His love to me”.  How about you, do you have reasons that could go in that book?

Heavenly Father, to think that You love me is mind-boggling. Sometimes it is just so much more than I can comprehend and sometimes, I don’t even think about it. How awful is that? Please forgive me, for taking Your love lightly, for dismissing it at times when I feel unlovable, for choosing to feel unworthy of such love when You paid such a tremendous price to declare me worthy. Thank You for seeing me in my sin and in all my unlovableness and loving me anyway. Help me to let that truth truly sink down into my heart and help me to spread that truth to people who need to hear it, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Facing the Fear

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…Fear not…

Genesis 15:1

When my loved one’s diagnosis came and the ramifications started setting in, I found myself wallowing in fear.  To my credit, I did bring to my remembrance scriptures that addressed fear such as “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” and “fear not”. How many times is fear not written in the Bible? Actually, I just looked that up and the answer is 365.  I guess God knew fear would be an issue for us. To my discredit, I have been anxious, losing sleep, overeating, tense and at just plain ol’ overwhelmed.

Then I remember who I am – a child of God and I began addressing the fear. While fear may be a natural, even expected reaction to a life-altering diagnosis, it is something God went to great lengths in His word to tell us that we don’t need to be afraid. From Genesis to Revelation, God tells His people to fear not. Some reasons given are:

He is with us.

He is for us

He wrote the book and He knows how it ends.

No weapon formed against us prospers.

He never leaves us.

He answers prayer.

He performs miracles.

He comforts His people.

He guides His people.

He loves us.

He has good plans for us.

He is our Great Physician.

His rod and His staff comfort us.

He leads us in paths of righteousness.

He didn’t give us fear, He gives power, love and a sound mind.

There are so many more reasons. Trials come and go, but the word of God stands forever. We will, by the grace of God, make it through this until the day healing is complete but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make it through without giving fear any place in our lives? This diagnosis did not surprise God; He knows exactly what is going on and He is well able and willing to see us through to health and wholeness.  I do not need to fear.

Lord Jesus, how well You know my inclination to allow fear to swallow me up at times. Thank You for Your exhortations throughout scriptures to fear not. Steady us as we go through this. Lead us in the path of healing that is right for us and give us courage, grace, wisdom and peace. I ask in Your mighty name, Amen.

My Eyes Are Open

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Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2: 9-11

Puppies are born with their eyelids tightly shut. You probably know this. They don’t start to open until around 14 days. This is a built-in safety measure designed to protect the eyes which are still developing and extremely fragile from things that would harm the eyes – such as dirt or pathogens or even too much light for their eyes to handle. So when the eyes are a little more able to deal with life, they open. A child asked me one time, why don’t we just open the eyes for the puppy?  I had to explain that until the eyes are ready to see, it would be harmful to force them to see.

Denial works a little like that. To some degree, it’s a healthy defense mechanism, protecting us from a truth we aren’t able to see and process. At some undefined point, however, it turns from being a healthy defense to an unhealthy one. At some point, good health demands that the eyes open.  Good health demands that we face those things that are so easy to hide from.

Someone I love got a diagnosis the other day, the kind that feels like a kick in the gut. Our heads are spinning; we are trying to wrap our brain around it, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s not life threatening, only incredibly life-altering and comes with no easy fix. We are developing strategies to better prepare ourselves for the reality of this diagnosis. Looking back over the past months, I see evidences that point to this diagnosis. Evidences I chose not to see until now when I have no choice. The doctor has spoken the words; I can’t pretend I didn’t hear them. Denial is no longer working in my favor. My eyes are open.

In the space of about 3 days, I went back and forth through the stages of grief – shock, denial, anger and acceptance. I may continue to do that for some time, but right now at this moment, I am grateful for the diagnosis. Grateful to know what we are dealing with instead of trying to ignore symptoms.

The verse above tells me, assures me, that at the name of Jesus every other name that is named must bow its knee. It’s good to have a name, a diagnosis, even better to know that that name will bow its knee to the name of Jesus. I choose to believe that while this may very well be a righteous diagnosis, there is a more righteous prognosis than what the doctor offers – Jesus, our Physician, will have the last word, this diagnosis has a name and that name will bow its knee to the name of my Healer, Jesus.

Jehovah Rapha, You are our healer. You are the Great Physician. Thank You for the doctors You are using in our lives and thank You for Your word which keeps us strong. Be our peace through this trial, our comfort, our defender, have the victory here, have the last word, show Yourself strong in our lives, I ask in Your mighty name, Amen.

 

Snow Day

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Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 

Psalm 51:7

I am homebound today for the third day in a row. Snow has closed schools and many business here in the Pacific Northwest.  The snow has covered everything, blanketing the good, the bad and the ugly in white. Clean and vibrant white. It is beautiful. I lived in Montana for 25 winters and took snow like this for granted or at times, wished it away.  I remember a scene, though, that stands out in my mind.

Our neighbor had several acres of land and he was fond of vehicles. Broken, rusted, old, new vehicles (trucks, cars, farm equipment) and just pieces of vehicles. Actually, I don’t know that he was fond of them, only that he collected them. His yard and pasture were a veritable junkyard. We didn’t have neighborhood associations then (probably still don’t in that part of Montana) so his treasures could accumulate to his heart’s desire.  Ugly is an understatement and I passed it every time I went to town, took kids to school or came home – there it was in plain sight –  the neighborhood junkyard. Until it snowed.

Snow transformed the junkyard into a glistening, sparkling exquisite collection of sculptures. I would be in awe of the transformation as I drove by. I was surrounded by beautiful snow-covered nature scenes – mountains, trees, and creeks, but this scene seemed the most remarkable simply because of the transformation. Mountains are always beautiful as are trees and creeks, but a junkyard, well, not so much. Until the snow made it a work of art.

I imagine my heart something like this junkyard before I accepted God’s freely offered forgiveness for my sins.  A collection of junk that could only be described as ugly. A collection I would rather no one saw, including me. After accepting His forgiveness, I see my heart more like the snow-covered sculpture I marveled at in Montana. What a transformation!  How awesome to think that my sins have been forgiven, I have been cleansed and now my heart is whiter than snow. Not because I am sinless, but because my sins have been wiped clean. I have a clean and vibrant white slate for a heart and much like the junkyard that was transformed into a thing of beauty, God transformed my heart into a work of art He could gaze upon. He doesn’t have to turn away from seeing my heart because He freely cleansed it for me. He washed it whiter than snow!

What an amazing gift forgiveness is, so totally undeserved. I am so grateful that You saw my ugly, junkyard condition and chose to free me from it. Not just by covering it with snow, but by cleansing me and wiping away my sin from before Your eyes. I need that washing daily. Thank You for forgiving me, for loving me in spite of my sins and wanting to gaze upon me with love and acceptance. Thank You for the blanket of snow You keep me covered in.  Amen.

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Who Owes Who?

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For if you forgive other people when they sin against you,

your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 

 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6: 14-15

My husband surprised me with a new van.  Not brand new, but new to us and 11 years newer than the van I was driving. One day, a father was dropping off his children at work, saw me get out of the van and commented about it.  I told him how my husband had surprised me with it and he said how nice that was of him. To which I added (and I’m not proud of this) – well, he owed me.  The man looked shocked. Let me explain:

For several weeks, we were vehicle challenged. We went back and forth from having two that worked and one that worked and one day, neither one worked. My husband was frantically trying to keep us rolling, working on one and then the other. Most of the time he handled it very well, but then there were times, when, let’s just say, I wanted to run away from home.

Once he determined to give up totally on one, he began searching for another vehicle we could afford. He was back and forth to the car dealership and test driving cars and all during this time, I was under the impression he was getting the vehicle to replace his truck which is the one that died. I say, under the impression, because at this point, we were no longer talking and my opinion was not solicited. The tension in our home was escalating and the cold war between us raged on.  When he finally showed up with this van and said it was for me, I should have been elated, I’m sure, but I was still angry at not being asked my opinion about financing a vehicle. I did, however, drive it and thank him.  But I felt justified in saying he owed me based on what he had put us through because of his stress level over all of this.

So, back to my story, the father says, “well doesn’t everybody owe somebody?”

Of course, the father was right and I felt ashamed of my attitude.  Everybody owes somebody and I owe many somebodies. How gross of me to see it any other way. I have been forgiven of so much by my husband and by God and for me to withhold forgiveness to anyone is well,  just plain old gross. I repented and chose to begin the practice of forgiving others immediately and letting go of anything I may feel they owe me, because I know that what I owe has been forgiven by God.  I say “begin the practice” because I am a long way from accomplishing this feat but I am purposing to do this one day at a time, or one minute at a time, if need be.

Lord, how awesome it is to know that my sins are forgiven; that You are holding nothing against me. As my slate is wiped clean, help me to wipe clean the slates of those that I believe have harmed me. Help me to forgive freely and graciously, just as You have forgiven me. Thank You for my new van and a husband who would work so hard to keep us with transportation. Forgive me for holding his sins against him. I choose forgiveness, help me to offer it freely. I ask in Your gracious name, Amen.