Monday, July 24, 2017

Shattered Dreams and Tattered Lives

Look behind the well groomed lives and painted faces, and you will see shattered dreams and tattered lives. No one dared ever imagine being there, most not even knowing how they got there. 

In every place I see despairing hearts and starving souls, some burying the pain so deep that they have reckoned the numbness to be happiness. The knowing seers are silent, not wishing to expose the horror of the fullness of the others' pain lest it become the final blow. 

Everywhere I see hidden sadnesses etched in the faces behind the carefully constructed lives. In each place,  seers offer prayers for these struggling ones whose dreams have been ravaged by the circumstances of life. 

See that one who struggles endlessly, not wanting to yet fully die? Look into that face and see the little boy or girl of five whose hopes and aspirations were brimming with life and hope.

Ours is not to know every story. Ours is not to see them as only in this time and space. Ours is to pray for them to be lifted by God's redeeming Grace.

His strength is made perfect in our weakness and He is close to the brokenhearted. 
Pray that they will taste and see that the Lord is good.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pain in Focus

Without medication, 80% of my waking hours are spent in pain to one degree or another. I say 80% rather than 100% because I recently started back to work one day per week and I noticed at the end of my second work day that I had hardly noticed my pain that day.  I am certain that the inflammation and pain was still there, but my mind was so focused on the tasks at hand that my pain registered as unimportant in my brain. If you find this incredulous or you cannot relate, think about how much harder you work out at the gym if your favorite song comes on you iPod or the gym starts playing music from the Rocky movies. This phenomenon has set the cogs and wheels of my mind in motion, meditating on my focus in life and how much I let distractions rule me.

As I said, my main distraction is pain because it is my constant friend. I spend a great de,al of time avoiding things that may or may not add to that pain, which in turn causes me to experience more pain rather than less pain because that is what I am dwelling on.  Let me try to give you an example. Right now, your foot is most likely gently resting on the floor as you read this. Your foot's nerve endings are receiving all kinds of data and relaying it to your mind, even more so as you become more aware of that foot's perceived sensations. As you think about this, your foot not only feels heavier as it rests there and you become much more aware of how that feels because that's where your focus lies. And it is the same with your pain, the more you dwell on it, the more you feel it.

So you're in pain and would very much like to not experience it; it's all very well and good for someone to tell you to focus on something else and you'll feel better.  While there is a great deal of truth to it, when you are in the throes of pain, sometimes you need a little help to refocus.  Recently, music therapy has come into vogue, and rightly so. Not everyone can afford or find a music therapist, but everyone can find some music that soothes their soul or revs them in order to refocus our thoughts. Apparently, what music works best is as individual as you are. While many music therapy session include immersion in or active participation in the music, etc., even having music in the background can help. I know that when I have the unpleasant task of paying bills or sorting through bank statements, I play Christmas music because it makes me smile. This won't be true of everyone....or even most people. When I am driving through heavy traffic in Atlanta, I listen to Gregorian Chants because I find the music very calming.

While thinking about using music as a distraction away from my focus on pain, it occurred to me that music is only one of many things we can/should do that have the happy side effect of alleviating our pains. As I said before, I started back to work and was very pleasantly surprised that I experienced a definite decrease in my perceived pain. Doing something for others, which takes the focus off of our self and puts it onto the needs of others often boosts our mood, which translates into less perceived pain. Any activity where we experience a state of flow, whether it is something as simple as pulling weeds or needlework as you intently focus on every aspect of that particular task, not only takes our mind away from our pain, but also is highly gratifying. This is perhaps the reason I enjoy cooking; not only do I focus on simply following a recipe, but I am drawn in by textures, aromas, and tastes. For my mother it has been her art, and sometimes, cleaning. I can remember as a child that if I were in an irritable mood, my mother would make me clean out my closet or drawers. Begrudgingly, I would begin and gradually I would become lost in the task as I discovered things I had forgotten or lost or remembered happy memories upon rediscovering some little trinket.

I also find focus when I am reading either Scripture or a good theologian. As my heart finds rests in His promises or wrestles with opposing doctrines or discovers even greater depths of God's great love for me, I find myself completely absorbed in these ideas as I mentally take them out of the box and admire them from all different angles. Books that are just barely outside of my mental reach that cause me to stretch and grow (the kind my dear husband recommends to me) are most likely to fully engage me. And, as I unpack new ideas, I find I carry them with me through the other areas of my life. I am reminded of several verses that frequently come to my mind when I am stressed, worried or in pain. They instantly recenter my thoughts to the proper place. Hopefully, you will find the same peace from them.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9
*As a disclaimer, none of this is meant to be used as medical advice. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Lent: Family Traditions

Family Traditions

Most all families have some traditions. Often these focus around holidays. While I was growing up, there was not a debate: Christmas Eve was at my grandparents’ home where a generous meal climaxed in the joyous opening of presents. Other families reserve the same week every year so they can vacation together, often at the same spot. Traditions protect relationships and help us remember how we are committed to and love one another as family.

The Christian family, also known as the Church, has done this since earliest years, and made these traditions into a church calendar. Though this dates back to the fourth century and earlier, some Protestants are a bit erratic in how it is celebrated these days as it seems a bit “Catholic.” However, in the early days, all of the church was “catholic,” that is, universal. There was no “Roman Catholic” church, just the Church universal. That is what we refer to when we cite the Apostles’ Creed on Sundays.

The Church calendar is built around two major seasons focused on the two major Christian holidays: Christmas and Easter. Most all Christians observe these. Many Protestants still include Advent, and at First Pres we celebrate with the Advent wreath being lighted by families on the four Sundays before Christmas. We, of course, celebrate Easter and even Good Friday is a holiday for most. But what of the rest of the tradition – the rest of our family calendar that calls us together to celebrate our ancestry dating back to Jesus? It is a little fuzzy. Different churches do different things.

So, a quick look at the main events. We are familiar with Advent where we anticipate the birth of Christ and His return by preparing our hearts. In the Christian calendar, however, Christmas is a season, not just a day. Guess what? It lasts twelve days (does this bring a song to mind?). It ends with Epiphany, a celebration of the visit of the wise men to see Jesus (remember: they weren’t present at the manger.)

The calendar takes a break until the Easter season begins. As Advent leads up to Christmas, so Lent leads up to Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The ashes placed on the foreheads in some churches represent the dust of which we are made and to which we return as we enter into a season of repentance and reflection as we prepare our hearts for Easter. This heightened awareness of our sin and mortality serves to help the Church family be more grateful for the redemption accomplished by Christ on Easter weekend. It also commemorates Jesus’ suffering as He fasted the forty days in the wilderness when He was tempted by Satan. (For folks who notice numbers, Lent is actually 46 days as Sundays are considered feast days and are not included.)

I find something special in remembering these days and seasons, sharing in my spiritual family’s tradition of nearly 2000 years. It keeps my focus on Jesus in these seasons and on all that He has done for me and my Church family. The next season is Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 1st), and often Christians give up something for Lent as a way of sharing in Christ’s suffering during His fast. This does not have to be food, but it might be media or other things that might distract us from our Lord.

Prayerfully consider how God would have you and your biological family connect to the traditions of your spiritual family this year.

~Timothy A. Sisemore

Friday, September 16, 2016

Reformation Day Musings

While most Americans' minds during October are typically filled with thoughts of cooler weather, bonfires, football, and Halloween, my thoughts always navigate towards the Reformation and the persecuted Church worldwide. I am still amazed at the courage and tenacity of Martin Luther as he took a stand against all of Christendom for what is one the basic tenants of our Christian faith. Martin Luther never desired a split in the Church that would result in so many denominations and factions. He did not want to leave the Catholic Church, but the teachings of doctrines such as penance and the supremacy of the pope were not and are not found in Scripture. Because Luther would not waiver from his belief in the Sola Scriptura, he was excommunicated and spent a good deal of his life in hiding while translating that same Scripture into German.  Martin Luther believed so strongly in the supremacy and infallibility of the Word of God that he was willing to die for it.  I often think about how I would respond if I were I asked to recant my beliefs in the five Solas. My desire and prayer is to stand graciously firm in my beliefs; I do not want to only run the race set before me, but to finish it as well.

We are living in times where we can hide our heads no longer as the real threat of persecution encroaches on our borders.  As you can see from the map below from Open Doors (, Mexico is now on the high risk watch list. Our concern, however, should not only be about our safety, but also the eternal safety of those who would desire to kill us for our faith in God. It is often hard to remember in the heat of the moment but ...there but for the grace of God, go I (John Bradford .)

We, too, were at one time enemies of Christ.  I am so grateful that God chose to love us in spite of our disregard for Him. The next time someone pokes fun at our faith or even someday threatens our lives because we are Christians, my hope is that we not only confidently and gratefully stand firm in our faith, but that we also see the other person's desperate need for God and that we were once that person.

"..that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.." ~ Phil. 3:10 ESV

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Drive-Thru Prayer

This used to be a joke, until I actually saw it in my neighborhood this week...people holding signs that said, "Drive-Thru Prayer."  Are you kidding me?!  I am sure that this church has good intentions (no pun intended) and they're seeking to minister to a needy and harried world, but have we really slipped this far that we're putting our prayer life on the same shelf as a Big Mac?  I confess that none of us pray the way we should or as often as we should, and I am not opposed to a ministry that takes time to pray for strangers.  I have seen a woman on the street corner with her own sign that reads, "I will pray with you," and I think that is wonderful. People often feel more at ease sharing their woes when they have some degree of anonymity. What bothers me most about the other sign is labeling the ministry "drive-thru." I need to think through this a lot more, but I am grateful that God can use us even when we have bad theology...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Music to My Ears

This morning I woke up cranky, unmotivated, and stuck in the downward spiral.  I was reminded that, like it or not, today I HAD to step down my steroid dose to a measly 2.5mg and worse still, that I must press on and not give in to pain and stiffness or it would overcome me.  Providentially in my email inbox was an article about surprising things that relieve pain and stiffness.  The one that caught my eye was listening to music.  Studies show that listening to music that you enjoy for one hour, whatever genre you like, lessens the sensation of pain. (Go ahead, google it.)  So, I put on my newly purchased headphones, turned on Pandora to Perry Como Radio (hey, don't judge), and headed out the door for a walk....begrudgingly.  Honestly, it worked!  Now, I was still mildly aware of my knees seizing up and my toes pulsating, but my step was quickened and there a was actually a smile on my face.  What?!  I don't smile on my walks any more; I huff and puff and groan, but smile?  Yes, I smiled.  I have always mentally judged people who walked or ran with headphones because of not being in the moment and experiencing the sounds of nature.  I do enjoy hearing the birds singing and the giggles and squeals of children playing, but today was different.  That music was what enabled me to not give up and press on.  It brought back happy memories, which in turn, brought happy feelings.  Give it a try!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Far Above the Noise of Life....

Those closest to me know that for quite some time I have desired to fully embrace I Thessalonians 4:11-12 by leading a quiet life and minding my own affairs.  Lately, the Lord has been reminding me of this in overt ways. On Saturday morning, I heard a talk on the silence of the mind and heart and freeing ourselves from distractions both external and internal in order to hear that still, small voice of God.  On Sunday morning,  the offertory song was "Gentle Voice" by Lee & Susan Dengler (lyrics below).  I think God is not just speaking to me; He's tapping my shoulder because I'm not doing much about it.

Distractions can come in so many different forms. We constantly have a surplus of information coming at us from all different sources and most of this information is superfluous to our walk in Christ.  Most of the news we watch does not genuinely affect or apply to our lives (not that we need to have our heads buried in the sand), is generally one-sided, and is largely sensationalized.  Even our Facebook newsfeed is only the bits and pieces that others want us to see and doesn't really help us to truly know a person.  And then there's the part of Facebook where suddenly everyone seems to think themselves (self included here) an authority, spouting out opinions & straw man arguments, and misquoting or misapplying verses of Scripture and changing the opinion of not one single other person.  Is this how we really get to know one another and build one another up in the Lord?

Distractions can come in the form of friends or family members over whom we worry, even when we seek to go to the foot of the cross.  Yes, we need to bring our loved ones to God in prayer, but most of us do so wringing our hands and worrying over them, desiring for God to answer our prayers for them in the way in which we want those requests answered.  Sometimes, those difficult patches in the lives of the people we are praying for (or ourselves) are part of the answer to our prayers because God uses all things to conform us to His image, not just the pleasant parts.  That worry or desire for God to answer our petitions the way in which we want them answered betrays a lack of yieldedness to God's sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. It is also distracting us from working out our own salvation with fear and trembling as in Philippians 2:12 by keeping our minds and hearts focused on someone else's business.

The list of things that distract us can go on and on and will vary with each individual but the solution will always be the same.  We need to root out those distractions in our lives and open our eyes, minds, and hearts to what God has placed immediately before us.  It's not going to be just about letting go of things that distract us; it's going to be cutting the ropes of those things that are binding us.  It will take work and more work, time and again because we are so weighed down with the cares of this world.

Personally, I am gradually saying goodbye to Facebook.  I say gradually only because I have a myriad of photos that I need to save first because that is the only place they currently exist and it will take some time to upload them all.  I have tried in the past to keep Facebook to just a few select family members, but friends kept finding me and before I knew it I was fully drawn in again.  This may not seem like a difficult thing to some, but for me, it's a HUGE distraction in my life.  I don't want that.  This past Sunday, one of our pastors asked us to close our eyes and think of a place that we consider the "good life."  I did so with no preconceived ideas and much to my surprise, my heart's desire was an Abbey, not because I desire to be Catholic but because I desire a life free from distractions in order to rightly worship and obey God.  I can lay aside some of these weights; I can place them at the foot of the cross.  Please watch and pray with me.

Gentle Voice

Far above the noise of life,
There’s a voice that is gently calling.
“Leave behind your cares and strife.
Come to me, I will give you rest.
Bring your fear, and bring your pain.
Bring your anger, and bring your worry.”
Do you hear the voice of Jesus
gently calling, “Come unto me.”
Gentle voice, so meek and mild,
Gentle words of understanding.
“You are my beloved child.
Come to me, I will give you rest.
Bring your grief, and bring your cares.
Bring you heartaches, and bring your sorrow.”
Do you hear the voice of Jesus
Gently calling, “Come unto me”?
Gentle voice so full of love,
Gentle words so rich in mercy.
“You are my beloved child.
Come to me. I will give you rest.”
~Lee & Susan Dengler

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Slow to Anger

Have you noticed how angry the world has become?  Even yourself; do you find yourself loosing your cool more than you would like? Is our anger justified?  I find that my impatience and quick tempered tendency is rarely justified. I have become increasingly aware of this and have begun to focus on striving more towards humility and forbearance and living my life more deliberately and proactively.

Last weekend I worked at a garden show as a vendor. The show was a lot of fun and we had great sales all weekend.  At the end of the event I was overtired, not just from working, but also from arthritis and carrying around the weight of my all too heavy body; still, there was an afterglow of a successful show.  As I exited the grounds. I stopped my car at a crosswalk to let two young mothers pass.  After they had passed and I proceeded, another car (two car lengths behind me) honked in agitation at the car in front of him.  One of the young mothers immediately assumed that it was me that had honked at her and yelled expletives my way.  Unfortunately, I immediately yelled back that it wasn't me (after having quickly thought of a few choices things that I could have yelled but decided to use a little prudence.)

I wish my initial reaction would have been one of compassion for a stressed out mom and prayer for her.  I cannot imagine Jesus seeking to justify or defend Himself.  Yes, but He was God made flesh, you say.  Well, I cannot see Mother (Saint) Teresa or Marva Dawn or Elisabeth Elliott responding the way I did.  You see, I know that for the non-Christian, this world is good as it gets for them; this is their "heaven."  Can you imagine? This world with all its horrors,injustices, and sufferings is the best some will ever have, not to mention being forever separated from God.  Can you not feel their pain and hopelessness behind their angry faces?  If we cannot offer them compassion and hope of a better path, who can?

So how am I working on this lifelong process?  First, I recognize my own past and present failures in the area and understand that I am no better than anyone else, leaning on and looking to God and His Word for guidance.  If I am able to show any mercy, it is because of the grace of God.

     There but for the grace of God, go I....John Bradford

Second, I am working on unplugging.  For me, this is very difficult.  Checking Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. has been an anxiety reliever (actually, it only wears the mask of stress soother, but that's another blog post waiting).  I have made it more difficult for me to access these social media sites by hiding their icons on my smartphone and iPad and by turning off their notifications.  I also have turned my phone to vibrate or off when in the company of others.

Third, I am trying not to multitask so that I am more cognizant of what I am doing.  Multitasking is seen as a desirable skill in this fast paced world, but I'm not so sure this is true any more.  To simultaneously perform tasks or projects is to live in a constant state of interruption, which often translates to a state of agitation for many of us.  This doesn't mean you should never do two things at once, but we should be more aware of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and whom are we serving through its accomplishment.  This singleness of mind is a skill that is fading quickly in our fast paced and sound byte saturated culture.

To take that one step further, I have been working on the discipline of reading a book slightly above ('s a LOT above) my level of comprehension.  My mind has been conditioned by the frequency of commercials and the brevity of Twitter tweets and Facebook statuses. I have, in a sense, been dumbed down by my own insatiable desire to be entertained (yet, another blog).

These are just a few steps I am praying through and working on to have a quieter heart and show more compassion.  For the sake of His sorrowful passion, I seek to show mercy.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Despair and Worry

Everyone who knows me intimately knows that I can be stubborn and whiny.  I would make a wonderful Israelite wandering in the wilderness.  I realize that doesn't make me a shining example of what a Christian should be, but before you brush me off, sit and have tea with me for a bit because you may find yourself in similar circumstances.  We may also come to realize that our position is more precarious than we think.

I have two sides; the sane side that trusts and hopes in God implicitly and the stubborn & whiny side that wallows in the mire of my circumstances.  Lately, I have been fighting to not drown in that mire, whining and crying all the while. This morning I chose to meet my husband at Panera to work on my Bible study while he worked on his on studies.  I dreaded this because for me to be in public at 7am and be both cognizant AND pleasant is a challenge and because last week's lesson just didn't seem very applicable for me (but then, I hadn't applied myself either).

As it turned out, the lesson so far has been just what I needed.  Our study this week is in the first few chapters of Numbers and points to what sparked the years of wandering in the wilderness and the denial of access into the promised land of rest.  It was their lack of faith in God to deliver what He had promised.  I remember as a child thinking that the Israelites must have been stupid to have seen the hand of God deliver them from the hands of Egyptians with huge miracles and then cower at the thought of taking Canaan, but aren't we just like them?  As an adult, I am struck by how serious God takes our trust in Him and our worship of Him as evidenced by the consequences of those infractions.

Sometimes, I find myself dwelling on my present circumstances and worrying, even to the point of despair. While this is not uncommon  in the life of the Christian at times, it is a dangerous place to unpack our bags and live.  The Israelites' lack of faith led to the hardening of their hearts and kept them from entering into the promised land of God's rest.  Hebrews 3 warns of this in direct reference to the faithless hearts and subsequent wandering of the Israelites:

  "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:12-13

This is not to say that the Christian will never fall and despair or find it difficult to trust God.  Even David, a man after God's own heart, had to talk back to himself as he struggled with faith.

  "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are in turmoil within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.  My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon from Mount Mizar." Psalm 42:5-6

David, when distraught, not only told himself to trust in God, but also began to recount God's past faithfulness.  As Christians today, it easy to get beat down by the world and become afraid.  It is during those times that we need to talk back to ourselves and not only remind ourselves of God's promises for our future but also His past faithfulness to us and our believing ancestors to keep our hearts from being hardened against Him.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Awful Truth

This morning I learned something about's not the hot tea that I adore; it's the sugar I dump in it. It's not the bubbles of soda that I crave; it's the sugar.  *face palm*  I am a sugar addict. This is no surprise to me or anyone that knows me. The problem is the withdrawals I experience and inflict on others when I attempt to break free. Now, before you message me about how to give up sugar without withdrawals, don't, please don't. In 1988, I went sugar free for a year and a half and it was glorious! I felt better than I had in.....well, ever....and my health was illness free during that time. Why did I go back to my sweet but evil ways? A hospital staff that insisted I eat ALL the food brought to me during my week long stay (I had just given birth and hemorraged due to DIC syndrome and developed Strep B). I protested at first, but in my weakness, I caved in to that hospital chocolate pudding which was sooooo much better than the limp meat that was on the same tray. I have tried numerous times to free myself from my addiction, but the withdrawal gets me every time. Do I want to never eat sugar again? Of course not. I just want to loosen the death grip it has on me, largely because my health needs to improve. I am 70+ lbs overweight, I have peripheral artery disease, I have bone spurs in my knees and feet, I have arthritis, I have fibromyalgia, I have asthma, and acid reflux that is out of control. I know what to do and how to do it, but pulling the trigger is hard. So, in baby step fashion, I am going to not drink tea that has sugar or any sweeteners of any kind in it. I will also not drink soda. Aaaccckkk! This will cut down on my caffeine consumption. During this time, I am not responsible, but do apologize for, any and all snarkiness. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Baby Stepping

I realize that I did not post much in 2015.  Honestly, 2015 was the darkest year of my entire life and I felt as though I had nothing to offer anyone in the way of blogs.  It was a difficult year, but it was also a time that saw me cling hard and fast to God and I survived. Last year is gone and this year is looking much, much brighter. Currently, I am trying to regain my house, my health, and my life.  I am reorganizing and cleaning out every square inch of our home, trying desperately to going back to taking good care of my body (not succeeding too well yet), and looking to become much more involved in Church.  It has nothing to do with New Years Resolutions or the date on the calendar, but rather there has been resolution in my life and this is when I have time and space to breathe and grow again.  I do hope to post again, but for now, I'm baby stepping my life back on track. I look forward to living, growing, and sharing!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Woodshed

This morning as I tried to get some extra sleep, my mind began to drift into worries large and small.  I prayed, but still mind kept returning to the little foxes stealing from my peace.  As I slipped into that half awake and half asleep place where fairies dwell, my dad came to visit me....Uh, oh!

My father was always a great and powerful force with which to be reckoned.  He never minced words when it came to those he loved because he knew that too much was at stake for wasted time, and he always seemed to go immediately to the heart of our sin rather than dance around the edges.  For that I miss him and wish I had not hid from him so much, because he loved each of us passionately....we just didn't always see it. 

In my dream state, my father saw me there wallowing in despair, trying to fix the problems of the world and my family in Christ.  He said to me,
"What difference does it make?! I'm talking about YOU and your walk before God.  Get up off your butt and walk with God."   
 My father was always reminding me that it doesn't matter what other people said or thought, my concern was to be my walk with God and to keep my eyes on Him. He had his eyes fixed on eternity and not the here and now.  Our problems and trials seem huge, but they pale in comparison to God and His power.  Are you weighed down with worry?  Keep your eyes heavenward, imagine how small these problems are in light of all eternity.  Get off your duff and walk with God.  Do what is right and what He has called you to do.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Church in Ruins

The walls of Jerusalem are in ruins.  Who will be strong and with me rebuild?

The state of the Church in America is quickly crumbling.  It is true that it has been morally declining for generations, but today I feel that its very foundations have been shaken because many of  those who are called to shepherd the sheep have themselves become as lost sheep.  In the church today, we are statistically no different from those outside the fold.  We are living as practical atheists, naming the name of Christ and yet serving our base desires.  We have taken on a form of godliness but denied its power.  It is truly a disheartening, frightening, and lonely time for the Christian who desires to serve God, particularly if our eyes are not on Him.  I realize these statements seem vague, but that is intentional as I believe this to a nearly universal situation.  I believe some of the solutions to be somewhat universal as well.

The first thing we need is compassion.  See past your fellow parishioner or pastor's sin and see the pain they must certainly be feeling.  I can tell you honestly, that if a person is a child of God and sinning, they are at war with themselves and with God and are in spiritual and perhaps emotional pain, sometimes to the point of physical pain no matter how hard they try to conceal it.  We must realize as well that it is ONLY the grace of God that keeps us from that self inflicted pain; apart from Christ we are dead.  We must be very careful to not sit in judgment; instead, we need to seek to rebuild.

We must also have courage.  If you  are seeing the state of the Church in America as crumbling, no doubt you feel isolated and have self doubts that plague you.  It is during these times that we need to take our eyes off our situation or fellow Christians and fix them on Christ, listening to His voice.  We are called to follow Christ, not other Christians. These feelings are not new to this age; many prophets and men/women of God felt completely alone in their pursuit of God.  That is one reason I love the Old Testament narratives, because I am encouraged by how God worked through those situations and saw the faithful safely through to the other side.  Know you are not alone; stand with me and rebuild.

We need continuity.  We must remain faithful in a faithless generation.  There must be someone who will stand and point the way so that others might live as well.  It will not be easy though.  Realize you will fall at various times and fall often.  If you find that you have fallen or strayed, no matter how far, fix your eyes on Jesus and run home, run hard.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins.  We must, however, press on in our faith. The only way we can do this is to take our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances and fix them on the author and finisher of our faith.  He is always faithful.  He never changes.  He is able to do all things.  It is time to rebuild.  Who will stand with me?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Wrestling with God

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. ~Gen. 32:24

Jacob had truly wrestled with God all of his life up until this point, trying force God to give him the life of his own choosing.  It was only when Jacob, physically exhausted and alone in the desert, surrendered to Him that God blessed him and changed his life forever. 

Each of us wrestles with God.  Each of us goes through desert times.  It is my prayer that I be yielded to God and never attempt to squeeze Him into my own neat little box of how things should be.  Watch and pray....

Friday, June 05, 2015

Taking Flight in New Directions

January 18, 1993....
Two nights ago Erin found an old pacifier and was truly heart broken because we didn't let her keep it.  I had to hold her the rest of the evening, but she went to sleep fine.  You could see on her face that she knew she wasn't supposed to have it.  There was a real inner struggle going on for her.  She wants to grow up but occasionally looks back.

In looking for a good photo for a Fathers' Day blog, I came across a journal we used to keep on your early years.  When I came across this entry, I must admit that it made me cry.  We saw your struggles and felt your pain then, just as we do now.  We know that you have difficult decisions ahead of you and that your desire is ultimately to please God and to grow in Him.  We also know that very often that growth comes with sacrifice and pain.  Just as we did throughout your childhood, we are praying for you, cheering you on, and are here whenever you just need an ear for listening or a shoulder for crying  It is a time for more growth and richer blessings than any of us can imagine. It's time for you to spread your wings and fly.  Don't worry about falling; God's got you.  Soar and see His beauty.  We love you and are so proud of you!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Fathers Day

Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. ~Exodus 20:12

Did you ever notice how there are no conditions tagged on to this, such as "if they deserve it."  Fathers' Day is difficult for a lot of people (as is Mothers' Day for some) because they feel their parent did not measure up in some way or abused them.  Bad parenting and abuse existed when the Israelites were roaming the desert and it still exists today.  It is sad, but it is true.  God was aware of it when he decided to making honoring our parents a commandment then, and He is aware of it today.  God is not asleep, nor is He on vacation. Honoring someone who has mistreated you or harmed you (or someone you love) is difficult at best, but harboring feelings of ill will towards a parent throughout your life is even harder.  God doesn't ask us to whitewash our problems or lie about our parents, acting as if everything is wonderful.  He wants us to bring the things that weigh heavily upon us to Him and seek His counsel in order to be free.

I loved my father, but I didn't always like him.  I hesitate to post anything about my dad because I do not wish to dishonor him, but I don't want my readers to think that my dad was perfect because he was not.  Below is an excerpt from a journal of mine as an adult:

Oct. 11, 2000....The main thing on my mind is my dad.  He has terminal liver cancer.  My feelings have been very confused.  At times I have even been angry with him for choices he has made that may have led to this (my father drank....a lot)  I have also had a great sense of loss of childhood almost.  I wish that my dad and I had been close.  I wish we had done fun things together.  I wish he hadn't yelled so much or called me names.  I wish he would have allowed me to be an individual with a mind of my own.  I wish he had been more godly - a strong, but gentle spiritual leader.  I wish he had been man enough to tell me that he loved me.  I wish he had treated me like a lady.  I wish he had respected my privacy.  I wish he had protected me from certain young men.  I wish he had practiced what he preached.  I wish I didn't feel like hiding from him.  I wish I weren't so much like him.... 

We all, from time to time, have at best very ambiguous feelings towards a parent, but our obedience to God is never contingent upon someone else's behavior.  We are responsible before God for our behavior and no one else's.  So how would honoring someone who doesn't deserve it look? 

First, realize that most parents really didn't want to make a mess of the live of their children.  We can only build with the tools we are given and some of us are better equipped than others.  My father, for example, was treated very cruelly as a child.  Those patterns, in small ways, were carried over into his own parenting style because those were the tools he had been given by his parents.  Did my father love & respect his parents?  You better believe it!  They were most likely doing the best they knew how as well.  While bad parenting that you received doesn't excuse the bad parenting you are now modeling, it does shed light on it so that you can know better where and how to correct it in your own life. 

Second, realize that God is not asking you to make that parent your new best pal or to blindly follow any advice or instruction that clearly goes against God's Word.  He asks us to respect their position and to honor them.  For some of us, honoring our parents will simply mean that we stop bashing him or her all over social matter how much we feel they deserve it.  That never solves anything.   Seek to understand and work through ill or ambiguous feelings towards your parent so that you both can move forward instead of stewing in your juices of anger or resentment.  As much as it lies within you, extend to them the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you desire.

Third, if you are able to only honor your parent in this one way, do this: pray for them!  Pray for their spiritual state and pray for your attitude toward them. Pray for healing.  We all need it. 

My dad was taken from us in 2006 and I miss him terribly at times.  Fortunately, I worked through my feelings before he died and I was able to let go.  For those who are still harboring resentment or ambiguity towards a parent, work through it before it's too late.  Carrying that baggage only weighs more heavily with the passing of time....

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aspire to Live Quietly

...and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. ~I Thes. 4:11-12

I have loved these two verses for many years and it has often kept me from butting in where I do not belong.  Lately, I have wondered how well I have lived by these verses after all.  I have thought long and hard about shutting down and deleting my blog. What keeps me from pulling the plug on this blog is that fact that so very few people read it.  My blog is largely for my benefit; it always has been.  I have used these pages as blogs were originally web logs.  Knowing that others can read it, however, has kept me from allowing it to morph into a diary of sorts for the whole world to see into my private battles.

But I wonder about Facebook.  My newsfeed is filled with people (self included) giving their opinion (sometimes quite forcefully and/or angrily), offering unsolicited advice, gossiping, bragging, and tons of negativity.  Don't get me wrong....I am NOT a Pollyanna, but I do wonder about my involvement in Facebook.  I have been a huge fan of the phrase, "Not my monkey; not my circus." since I first heard it, but it seems to me that I keep showing up at said circus as a spectator, gorging myself on other people's dramatic performances and clever tricks. 

Does this mean that I plan on leaving Facebook? No, I tried that, but social media seems the only way that I can keep in touch with family members and I do enjoy seeing old friends who live far away.  Frankly, I'm not sure what it means, apart from muting some of my negative newsfeed and "un-liking" some pages and leaning towards more substance & quality sites as opposed to ones that mirror bad reality TV shows. I also plan on more real social contact, so if you're free for lunch or coffee (tea) sometime and would like to chat, fire a message my way.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

For Our Daughter's Friends

I have not always been well liked by our daughter's friends.  In fact, there have been times that I have been both feared and hated.  For the most part, I'm okay with that.  You see, my job has never been to be their friend.  My job has always been to look out for the emotional, physical, and spiritual welfare of our daughter and that, in the past, has included her friends when they have been in our home or in our care.  I have been a parent first and a friend second.   I always told her friends that I would be the first to come their aid in a just fight (figuratively, of course)  and that I would also be the first to give them a swift kick in the pants when they needed it....again, figuratively.  Any wounds they received from me, I hope that now, as adults, they can begin to see that it was done in love.  You see, I don't care whether or not a child likes or loves me; I care that they are safe and on the right path.  I would rather someone be happy long term because they have chosen well than to have a fleeting, temporal pseudo happiness from wrong choices.  So, if you are reading this and you have been or are our daughter's friend, I loved you, cheered for you, cried over you (yes, I'm not the toughie you think), and prayed passionately for you....particularly the ones I fussed at.  I still pray for many of you....daily.  I watch from a distance, often only hearing news of you from you moms.  I hope you can see that I loved each of you, and while I would have enjoyed being your friend first, that's not what was needed.  Maybe you can't see that yet, but I hope that one you can and that there will be those who will watch out for and protect your children as well. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

There but for the Grace of God...

Years ago I regularly met with a small group of women to pray for our collective children.  We called that time Hannah's Hour, and often we grieved and cried over our children as much as Hannah lamented before God that she had no child.  We could see vividly the spiritual, emotional, and physical dangers that lay before our little ones and we prayed a hedge about them.  Now, that the years are past, I find myself praying with other women over our children via the internet.  Not all, but many, in one way or another are bearing the burden of a prodigal child and my heart breaks with them as I watch these teen or adult children spiral downward, making painfully harmful life decisions that can bring death and destruction. 
As a young parent, it can be easy to believe that if we bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord that they will not stray.  It is also all too easy to believe that parents of wayward teens have in some way spoiled or neglected their children.  Through the years, God has repeatedly shown me that this is not necessarily true.  Time and again I have seen that the parents of prodigals, more often than not, have indeed sought to raise their children right before God.  These are families that were not only strong in their faith, but they also deeply loved and nurtured their children, teaching them gently from God's Word at every turn.  So what happened?  What about God's promise?
Proverbs 22:6 is a general principle that holds true, but it is not an all inclusive promise with which to box in God.  Look at the Garden of Eden....God was the perfect "parent" and yet we not only disobeyed, but we also tried to blame God for our disobedience.  Was God at fault? No!  Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for churning out perfect kids, even if we are faithful and follow God's Word.  God is the only one who can break the power of reigning sin.
The good news is that this season for our lives is not the end of the story.  Again, God is both the author and the finisher of our faith and theirs.  Jesus will not lose any that the Father has given to Him.  From our earthly perspective, it may seem as though all is lost, but when we view all of eternity and keep our eyes of God rather than our present circumstances we are better able to see God's hand on us every step of the way.
If you know the parent of a prodigal, please do not be hasty to judge them.  There but for the grace of God, go I.  Pray for them as this is most likely the hardest, darkest season of their lives.  Do not ask them "why" questions or probe for any details that have not been freely offered.  Listen and pray...a LOT.
If you know the prodigal, pray for them as well.  Be loving without being enabling.  Teach with your life more than your words.  Be available and be ready for very tough and real questions. Point them to God without trying to be the Holy Spirit.
If you are the parent of a prodigal, again...pray.  Never, never quit praying.  Be prepared to receive your child with love when they do return, realizing that it may be a long way off or may come in small steps.  Remember the parable of the prodigal son?  The father saw his son a long way off and ran to him.  Again, be loving but not enabling; this is a tough tightrope at times.  Seek prayer from older Christians who are strong in the Lord.  You might be surprised just how many of them have navigated this same road in years gone by.  If you encounter criticism and condemnation rather than support, move on until you find the help you need. 
If you are the prodigal, run home and run hard after God. Even if you fear your family will not embrace you as the father in the parable of the prodigal, remember that your Heavenly Father is faithful to forgive you when you confess your sins. It is not too late and you are not too far gone for hope or God's love.  Pray and ask others to pray.  If you can find no one to pray or fear confiding in others, I am here; feel free to message me.  Run home and run hard after God.  You ARE loved.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lord, Make Me Like the Little Clematis Vine

By our mailbox, we have a Clematis vine that we planted years ago.  That first year that we planted it, the vine grew to the top of our little light post mail box and bloomed beautifully.  I was thrilled the following year when it sprang back and bloomed again without any effort on my part.  Some years, my health was very poor and I was unable to feed or water the vine or even pull the weeds from around the base....and then....the weed eater ate it...several years in a row, actually.  Still, every year it has come back and grown and bloomed no matter how much we neglected it or seemingly tried to kill it.  Oh, how I long to be like that Clematis vine.  Life knocks us down, the cares of life choke out our very life, and we ourselves neglect our own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.  Sometimes, like with our little vine, circumstances make it seem as though we will never bloom again.  Oh, that we had the faith of the little blossoming vine and that we would rise up and praise our heavenly Father who loves us!  We only need to turn our face towards the Son, waiting patiently for the refreshing rains which will certainly come.  God is faithful!

Psalm 30:11-12
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

(Note: this is NOT our vine.  I do not have any photos of our little faithful plant, but you can bet I will this year!)