Sweet Sleep

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But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    you are my glory,

the One who lifts my head high.
 I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain.

 I lay down and slept;
   yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.

Psalm 3: 3-5

I love the sound a sleeping child makes – the rhythmic melody of their breathing. When my kids were young, I would check on them at night while they slept. Standing in the dark, I would listen for that sound that reassured me that they were ok.  When I couldn’t hear the sound of their breathing, I would watch intently until I saw the up and down movement of their chest at they slept. I can’t do that anymore; they have grown past the years of mom checking on them. But not past the years of mom wanting to be reassured that they are ok.

It’s probably every mother’s desire that her kids are ok and beyond, but there comes a time when we can’t kiss their boo-boos away and make it all better when things aren’t ok.

Gratefully, I know someone who can. What greater peace can I have as a mother than to know that the Lord is watching over each one of my children and grandchildren as they sleep? He is a shield around them and when they (and I) cry out to them, He answers. He hears their rhythmic breathing and their quiet sobs and knows the deepest longings of their hearts and being moved with compassion, He acts on their behalf.

When my children were young, we said this prayer every night:

Be near me my Father, 

I ask Thee to stay,

Close by me forever

and love me I pray.

Bless all the dear children

with Thy tender care.

Prepare us for heaven

to live with Thee there.

Amen.

That is still my prayer for my children and my grandchildren.

I know He hears, I know He is watching over them,

I know He keeps them in safety.

I don’t have to hear their rhythmic breathing or watch for the rise and fall of their chests as they sleep.

Because I know the One who does! 

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Born in a Manger

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When I lived in Montana, I had an old barn on the property. It housed chickens and provided shelter for horses and goats. It was filled with bales of straw and had a rope swing hanging from the high beam. My daughters loved to play in that old barn. It probably wasn’t terribly sanitary despite the hours I spent shoveling out unsanitary things; animals being animals and doing what animals do. I would never have called it clean. Certainly not company ready clean. Certainly not clean enough for a baby to be born in, other than a colt. And definitely not clean enough for the Savior of the world to be born in.

That poor innkeeper, so many years ago, had no clue that on a certain night, his barn would be the birthing place of Jesus. Even if he had, could he have cleaned it enough?

The day that I asked Jesus into my heart, I hadn’t done any cleaning in the manger of my heart. It was dirty and even if I could have cleaned it, it would never have been clean enough for Jesus to be birthed there. But when I asked Him in, He came. He came into my mess and made no demands that I clean up first. He just came in and brought His peace and His love and He accepted me – mess and all and set up residence.

Isn’t that a wonder? God could have had Jesus born anywhere. The world, the universe was at His beck and call and He chose a place few of us would consider worthy of our presence, much less the presence of His beloved Son.

The beauty of Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to meet us where we are. And most of us, if we are honest, would admit that where He met us was far from clean, far from worthy and yet, when asked, He came in.

I hope you have an increased wonder of the Savior who came into our world to set up residence in our hearts this Christmas season!

 

pic credit:  Diane Reid

Shoulders

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders

Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

This song by for King and Country has been stuck in my head for days now. Usually when that happens God is trying to tell me something. I have a list right now, it’s not short, of things that concern me. Things that if I didn’t give them over to God every few moments, would consume me. They wake me up at night, they are my first thought in the morning and they dog me throughout the day. I try hard to not let this show on my face, come out in my words, but it’s there and I see it and hear it. Probably no different than any one else going through a difficult patch. One line in this song that stands out to me is this:

I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders

I don’t see the answers; I seldom do. But I know they are out there. Maybe a moment away, maybe days away or maybe months away, but they are there. Waiting is hard work for me. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it – waiting and working? But for me they go together hand in hand. I have to work at keeping my thoughts in control, I have to work at choosing peace, I have to work at letting go and not having answers. It wears me out! But I have tried throwing tantrums and they don’t work. I have tried taking matters into my own hands and that doesn’t work so well. I tried denial for a very long time and while it did work for a while, it didn’t work all that well. So now that I have looked this situation square in the face and seen it for what it is, now that I have let go of the things I can’t change and thrown my temper fits, I have nothing left but to wait and trust that God is lifting me up on His shoulders ever though I can’t see it. He is pulling me through even though I can’t see that either. I do know this – the day will come when I will look back on this episode of my life and say with certainty – He was there all along!

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Who’s Job Is It?

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 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.

You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.

You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.

We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.

It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.

Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.

He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!

Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.

Saving is all his idea, and all his work.

All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.

It’s God’s gift from start to finish!

We don’t play the major role.

If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!

No, we neither make nor save ourselves.

God does both the making and saving.

He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

Ephesians 2: 4-7  Message Bible

Left to my own devices, I could be a stagnant mess, a worrier, a control freak, a hyper-vigilant fix-it-all person. One look in the mirror, one honest look tells me that I couldn’t fix myself much less anyone or anything else around me. It’s good to know I don’t have to play the major role in fixing my life or anyone else’s for that matter. Jesus took that role; He saw me when I was a terrible mess and reached out a hand and I have been clinging to that hand ever since. Well, mostly ever since. Ok, actually only when I find myself stumbling and know I can’t get up on my own. In spite of what I know about my failings and His grace, I still let go of His hand way more than I should, thinking I’ve got this when in actuality, I don’t. I never did. I never will. I need His grace every minute of every hour of every day and I am so grateful that His grace is available to me and that He showers it upon me and there is still plenty left over to shower upon you in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it? Isn’t that awesome?

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Gardening… Again?

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“The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News,

and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  *

Matthew 13:23

 Gardening season is upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. Neighbors are out working up their soil and planting seedlings. And so am I. I don’t have a green thumb but I try almost every year. I think I will learn from my mistakes; this year I will do better. I have discovered that I am really good at starting things and pretty bad at seeing things through to completion. I imagine the harvest; the juicy ripe tomatoes, the cucumbers turned pickles, the fresh strawberries. Problem is that between the planting of the seed and the harvesting of the seed, there is a season that I call work. There’s pruning, weeding, watering, fertilizing, pest control, etc…  and in the heat of the summer, egads, I would rather be at the river.

God’s word is likened to a seed. A seed that needs to be planted, weeded, and watered to grow and produce the harvest in our lives that make our lives meaningful. Whatever laws we may be able to skirt around, we can’t skirt around the law of seed-time and harvest time. The problem comes when we fail to realize that between those two times, there is a season that is easy to overlook. The season of weeding and pruning and watering. I can’t read the Bible once and put it back on the shelf like I can other books and simply move on to the next book and have the seeds that were planted while reading it come to harvest. I water these seeds by the daily reading of the Bible.

I can purpose  now to water the seed of God’s word in my life daily but daily I have to make the decision all over again to do just that.

A decision that is simple to make but simple also to not make.

I know because I have been guilty of not making that decision numerous times. Then I wonder why peace and joy seem so difficult to find. If I want the harvest that comes from the seed of God’s word, I have to tend to it. It’s that simple. That means I may have to turn off my phone or computer or tv for a little bit. I may have to say no to some things in order to say yes to this thing.

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 I think it comes down to this: what kind of harvest do I really want in my life?

 

* this from Jesus

pic credit 1: biblefunforkids.org

pic credit 2: familylifewinners.com

 

 

 

Does He Even Have a Name?

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As he (Jesus) stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn’t worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery.

Luke 8:27

He was somebody before the demons victimized him. We aren’t told his name or what his life was like. But I would like to humanize him if possible. I suspect he was a man of significance; a significance he didn’t even recognize. Oh, it might not have been financial, though it could have been. Maybe it was influence; maybe he was a man that people respected, looked up to, enjoyed knowing. Maybe he had a wife and kids and a nice livelihood that enabled him to provide for them. We aren’t told these things.

Whatever his life was, it wasn’t anymore. Whatever his influence may have been, it was no more. The Bible tells us that he had so many demons tormenting him that they were referred to as Legion (Legion being 6000 Roman soldiers). So either Satan had a lot of unemployed demons just hanging out or this man’s significance had alerted Satan that something needed to be done to stop him.

So the torment began. The Bibles says that in the early stages of this torment, the townspeople could restrain him. This implies to me that he must have tried repeatedly to remain in the town he called home among the people he knew but he was dangerous to them and they sent him out – repeatedly. At some point, he was no longer able to be restrained because of his strength but it reads like he settled into the tombs and no longer attempted to go home.

And there he was when Jesus showed up. This man who had lost everything had finally succumbed to the voices that played in his head – the ones that said – it’s pointless, you will never be ok again, you will never be among your friends again, your old life is gone, you will never be loved again, never have any influence again and as for significance – forget that.

But I think there was an ember of hope in him. He was naked, he was miserable, he was cutting, but he didn’t commit suicide. Something in him wanted to live, wanted to believe that there was hope for him and when Jesus came into his path, that ember of hope fanned into a flame. And Jesus delivered him from his tormentors!  Epic win! Certainly not the biggest epic win Jesus would bring about but a noteworthy and life restoring one.

Regardless of the torment,

regardless of the length of time the torment has plagued you,

regardless of what you may have lost because of the torment,

Jesus is greater! 

The battle isn’t over until Jesus says it’s over!

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You’re on Guard Duty

My blog friend Ben, has yet another encouraging word for us, thanks, Ben!

Another Red Letter Day

Listen to me. Never let anxiety enter your hearts. ~ Jesus (Luke 12:22 TPT)

How do you guard your heart?

As I scanned through Luke 12 this morning, I was struck by how many times in this address, or this collection of addresses, Jesus gave instruction on what I would consider emotional control, or emotional intelligence.

The chapter starts with,

Don’t fear those who may want to take your life, but nothing more. (Luke 12:4 TPT)

Followed closely with,

The one you must fear is God (5)

A few paragraphs later we have,

Don’t worry about defending yourselves or be concerned about hot to answer their accusations. (11)

Next Jesus tells them,

Be alert and guard your heart from greed and always wishing for what you don’t have. (15)

Still further down the page,

Never let anxiety enter your hearts. Never worry about any of your needs, such as…

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The Story I Tell Myself

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When I am afraid, I will trust in You.

Psalm 56:3

… “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

This is from the book Wild, written by Cheryl Strayed. If you didn’t see the movie or read the book, it is the story of a woman who embarks on a journey of healing by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. I haven’t gotten to the end of the book, I hope it ends well, but this passage stood out to me.

Fear – we have all felt it at some time or another and, if truth be told, fear has doomed many a journey. Perhaps that is why we are encouraged in the Bible over 365 times to fear not. Our journey matters to God. If Cheryl is right and fear is born of a story we tell ourselves, then it behooves us to examine the story. What are the lies we have bought in to? What are the tapes that play through our mind that lead us to fear?

Recently, my life took several turns I did not anticipate. Turns that were not of my choosing or in my control. My response, among other things, was fear. Fear of the future, what it would like, how would I manage in the “new normal”? Oh, I know God will take care of me, I know He holds the future, but still the tapes played on in my head.

After many sleepless nights, I developed a new strategy; I told myself a different story. I played different tapes. I purposefully focused my thoughts on some aspect of God’s character, or repeated a Bible verse over and over again, or just told God of my fears and concerns. I wish I could say it was easy; it was not. The story I tell myself had developed a power of its own but I persisted. Nothing changed overnight, but as the nights became weeks, I found that I could switch channels easily and drift off to sleep knowing that my fears were groundless in the light of God’s unfailing love and character.

Nothing in my present circumstances has changed. My days are still uncertain but my nights are restful. My journey hasn’t changed anymore than Cheryl’s changed simply by overcoming fear, but I know now that it isn’t doomed.

What are the stories you tell yourself? Do they help you on your journey or do they cripple you?

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Affect or Infect?

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Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help

and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.

But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.

 

Jonah 1:5

 When I read this the other day, my first reaction was, of course he was sleeping. Doesn’t it always seem like the person that creates the havoc can be oblivious to the impending wreckage? Sleeping away while others are scratching their heads and cleaning up the mess? Jonah was running from God, these people on the boat didn’t know Jonah or Jonah’s God, the storm hadn’t been predicted by the newscaster, the ETA for the ship had been announced and the people were settling in for what should have been  a safe little boat trip to Tarshish.  But then there is a twist in the tale; Jonah happened and the storm happened because of Jonah and the people were now freaking out because  the storm happened because of Jonah running from God and all this time, Jonah sleeps through it.

It is so easy to think that it is all about me. I think that lots of times and surely Jonah is thinking that here. I don’t want to do things God’s way, I don’t want to hear what He has to say, it is all about me and so I will just run far, far away. I don’t get in a boat and try to get out of dodge, no, I don’t have to do that, I can just be busy, too busy, too focused on me and what I want to stop and consider God’s plan for the moment. Or worse, I can consider God’s plan for the moment and decide that my plan trumps His. After all, it is all about me, isn’t it? Or is it?

The problem with that thinking is that we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. Our lives touch and intersect with others, planned or unplanned. Others that may know nothing about our issue with God or even care. But our lives have the power to affect others or to infect others. Jonah’s clearly infected others this day, almost to the point of death and he was so wrapped up in his drama that how he touched their lives no longer mattered.  Sad commentary for a prophet who had dedicated his life to speaking God’s word to people’s hearts.

Whether we are a prophet or a teacher or a mom or a friend, daughter, employee, sister…. our life touches others either for good or for not so good.  Ignoring that doesn’t change it.  Sleeping through the wreckage is only an option for so long. Sooner or later, the mess catches up with us.

Jonah owned up to his responsibility for the storm and you probably know the rest of the story. He is thrown overboard, swallowed by a great fish and then deposited safely onto dry ground.  God calms the storm and the people on the boat were carried to their port safely. Jonah was given a second chance and this time, he carried out God’s instructions.

My takeaway from this is just this: there is no storm, regardless of cause, that God cannot quiet. Even if the storm is of my own making, it doesn’t change God’s love for me or His willingness to rescue me. Or you.

That’s good news, isn’t it?

 

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