The pendulum has swung wide for me recently on life events, and there have been moments in the stormy times, I’ve lost sight of the other side. Because stresses and griefs tug at the heart even through the elation of miracles, I’ve had a time of it. Yet the recent warmth of personal kindnesses and encounters threatens to thaw the icy numbness that settles and resettles in my arms.
I will highlight a few, but not all, of the weekend warmths God sent my way. On Saturday, a friend and marathon runner committed one of her many miles she runs to praying for our family. She says she likes to pick a friend and devote a mile to them in prayer. I’m humbled, honored. and grateful.
Sunday I received a “random” message from an out of state friend who I have not been in touch with for months. Among many other encouraging words, she said, ‘I am praying that the Lord carry you through the storms and calm the waves. May you always remember that the Lord is in the boat with you and that because He is, you will make it to the other side. When the Lord went into the boat with the disciples, he said to them “let us go to the other side“. There was no doubt that they would make it to the other side.even in the storm…even though they were afraid when the storm came…because Jesus was with them and He knew they would make it, it was not yet His time. It is hard to Trust in the storms that shake us, but Jesus says “Do not be afraid, Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth….” ‘
Again on Sunday (after church and a deeply satisfying nap) I did some catching up in the “Breathe” Bible study (by Priscilla Shirer) that I am in, on making room for the Sabbath, boundaries, etc. After discussing boundaries and margin, Shirer quotes Brad Lomenick, respected innovator and leader of the Catalyst Movement in America as saying several things about the powerful concept of ‘margin’ in several areas of life, including this quote, “Margin in our friendships creates significance and impact.”
If there’s anything new I’ve concluded about friendships over the past year or so, it’s that in my own strength, I might be able to encourage and pass along the love of Christ to someone on occasion, but any consistency is lost on me without some margin in my life for such efforts. To have margin requires that I set boundaries. To set wise boundaries necessitates time in prayer to be sensitive to what parameters I need in order to keep the proper things in their place, and to be guided to friendship as the Lord would lead.
Hebrews 4 says “for the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.” Entering into a “rest”, or a cessation of normal activity, and especially to focus on God, counters the physical world and is the beginning of true freedom and blessing.
Oswald Chambers says, “are these things crushing us? Are they badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.”
Today, I was blessed with a friend who I haven’t seen for weeks coming by my place of work just for a quick hug. And then blessed again with a good ole chat with my mom, who I will never stop needing. I’m touched in those moments and more recently by many around me who get off the merry go round of their normal activities and in effect, say, ‘Let’s go to the other side. I’m with you. And, oh, yes, there IS another side and we’re headed there together!’ I’m so thankful to God because He sends those who would speak His Words, and actively care the way He does. That is what points to Him and reminds me what I momentarily forgot about the other side.
Last fall I was well into a dark and difficult season of my life in which I needed to cling to every scrap of hope just to function. I longed for a time machine to jump in and travel to a few years from now and skip this season. Since that didn’t happen, I did the next best thing and purchased several bags of beautiful bulbs and crammed them in every available flower bed and pot around the house. Other then the times I was buoyed with the lifeline of empathy, encouragement and time out with family and friends (who are cemented in my personal hall of fame), my “recreation” centered on bulb catalogs and wondering what mile marker I would be passed when each variety bloomed. Bulbs symbolize what God, in His Divine Providence, is doing in the hidden realms that we don’t see. Yet for those who love Him, He is faithful to work all the intricate details out and use them for His glory and our good. He is a master weaver of our circumstances, even though we can’t see the finished tapestry yet.
Amaryllis gave me just what I needed during the dead of winter to hold me over until spring and outdoors. It was fun to buy several and share them with some family and a mentor who has stood staunchly on faith and determinedly propped me up a few times, as well. Our faith filled prayers for God’s glory to be evidenced in difficult circumstances are synchronized as we tend to our amaryllis bulbs and watch their beauty unfold.
His creation of the flowering bulb holds striking symbolism of my faith and trust in Him even when I can’t see what He’s doing. Even the bulb, itself, holds symbolism. While it is in the cold, dark, earth, it finds it’s sustenance from within to send forth the new growth. While I am in the dark trial, I must find strength from my inner most core; i.e. the Lord and His Spirit and the comfort, direction, and even sure promises that I can only get from time spent alone with Him
Friends warm hearts, evoke smiles, and build up souls. I’ve recently enjoyed some particularly warm words and sweet times with friends. It feels like an emotional sun bath after a spell of rainy weather. Though there may be many in the bigger tent of acquaintance type friendships, I am referring to sweet and personal friendship; i.e. the kind that endears and fills the “love tank”. At the inception of friendship is some kind of commonality, random though it may be, and the time it takes to discover it.
Then when two or more hearts make this discovery, words are spoken that settle into a heart, find their place, and no matter what fractures may come, the healthy heart will hold onto the good, and ascribe the most positive motives possible to friendship blunders.
When the blunders occur, and they will in all of us called human, there may be a time to question or confront. As with any other conversation between friends, it is personal, and a preference of private, rather then public should be assumed.
Humility, smiles, hugs, (and maybe even chocolate and coffee) are great accompaniments to any such planned conversation, or a good idea for a follow up, which is an important cusp to transition from possible tension to sweet rejuvenation.
This gregarious and humble camaraderie deepens the roots of a friendship, and harmony and amicability are all but pulsing in each tete-a-tete. Both heartaches and victories are shared with lavish empathy. Here we feel freedom to breath, to speak, to be oneself just as we have in our friendship with our Lord, Jesus. (Acts 17:28) Here, pretext melts and love, empathy, and yes, definitely laughter reign and are freely reciprocated.
The old saying holds some truth, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” And, “When we do the hard intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life.” Do you have friends with whom you feel safely tucked in love and forbearance? Can you laugh at yourselves as well as weather a rebuke? If so, treasure these friends as a divine gift. The hard work of friendship has a divine calling on it straight from the scriptures. Are you willing?
When hope lingers slow and the mountain stays the same
words mean little minus public acclaim
When hypocrisies loom bold
and love waxes cold
When you live too many days
under friendly fire haze
And what was real
is denied by hearts of steel.
When friends join the throng
of the popular traitor’s song
it may hurt
but you learn – don’t dessert.
When vision is blurred
And your cries obscurred
Steps grow weak
and hands work meek
Fears grow strong
and doubts come along
God is there, rising up
to fill your cup.
When the promise is broke
and love wears a cloak.
Hate wins a round yet
angels rush to surround.
When the swords come clanging
Radicals at the door banging
or to your children say goodbye!
But you’ve taught them well
They won’t choose hell.
They close their eyes
and wait to meet you in the skies.
Storms may gather
but God would rather
we look to Him, not the storm..
Jesus is worth every trial
there’s no room for denial
His love grows more dear
with every year.
Regardless our circumstances
and the uninformed glances
He won’t waste our affairs.
He sees, He hears, He cares.
There is something about a good posture that can make us or undo us. Recently our youngest daughter competed in a couple of queen pageants. In the first competition (last spring), the parade car she had arranged broke down and she ended up walking in the parade separate from the other contestants. For a while, we were unaware and were left to wonder what had happened when the queen candidates went by in there cars and there was no Hannah. Then, at the recent talent contest of her second queen pageant, the curtains were drawn back on the stage and we, her family, did not see her in the row of girls sitting on the stage. We wondered what had happened this time, as their entertainment began. After a minute that seemed much longer, someone spotted her in the center of the row of girls. The difference was her posture. Being a typical tall girl, she often unconsciously slumps her shoulders; however, that night she had beautiful posture and carried herself very elegantly.
Similarly, when we “stand firm” in God’s truths, the enemy doesn’t see us, but God. Though his roar may be deafening in our ears, he can’t have the victory over us as long as we are standing firm in the truth of God’s Word. He may wreak serious havoc in our lives, but he can’t mess with our souls. As Jack Graham says in his book “Unseen”, ‘When we feel helpless, standing in the face of too-big, too-daunting circumstances, we must remember that it is actually God who does our fighting for us.’ We need to be on guard and watch ourselves, but know Satan’s days are numbered. As long as we stay with God and stand believing his Word, ours are not. As Moses told the Israelites when Pharoah’s army was upon them “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation He will provide for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet.” (Ex. 14:13-14 HCSB)
The first important accessory to wear while standing firm is the Belt of Truth. In Bible days belts were worn to keep the robes pulled in and to hang weaponry on. Now days we wear them to keep things up and in as well, and sometimes we hang an important key ring on a belt or belt loop. It is imperative that we live a life bound up in God’s truths while pursuing holiness and honesty and keeping our eyes trained on Christ. The Breastplate of Righteousness was made of heavy material and designed to protect the vital organs. Our vitality is protected by Christ’s righteousness, which is purity and living rightly, made possible only in Christ. To continue to walk in sin obliterates the breastplate and leaves us dangerously vulnerable. Our footwear is the peaceful submission we have in knowing that God is our Savior and, though we are going to have trials and hardships, we will have His presence and power in them and on through eternity and this is the good news we must keep telling. Our footwear should mobilize us to keep testifying to God’s goodness, first in saving us to eternity and always in His presence and guidance in our daily lives. Like the author of “Unseen”, I absolutely treasure the steps taken toward me by friends, mentors and Bible teachers along the way. The steps of encouragement, reconciliation and counsel take time, prayer, humility and thoughtfulness, sometimes rare commodities these days. “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!” (Romans 10:15 HCSB)
Another mandatory accessory is The Shield of Faith. Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”. In Bible days the battle shields curved back on the sides and were designed to cover the front and sides of the body. They were not designed to cover the back, since soldiers advanced in a forward direction only. Our shield coverage is in believing God’s promises, of which there are thousands, and in not taking one step backward into unbelief, doubt or the discouragement that we are often surrounded with and sometimes indulge in. Relying solely on God’s truth is how we fend off the fiery darts of Satan. When soldiers were under attack, they not only used their shields in defense, but would link their shields together in order to make progression. As Jack Graham said, “Sometimes when our faith is flagging, we need to link our shield with another whose faith is flying high. It is often only in the context of such unity that we find protection from the enemy’s assault.”
The Helmet of Salvation is extremely important. It is simply deciding to let God’s truth override any of the lies of the enemy that come into our heads. It may take a little time to dislodge a lie of the enemy that is tailor made for our situation or our weakness, but it is imperative. Again quoting Jack Graham, “….every sin we’ll ever know can be traced back to a single, errant thought….all ground given to Satan is given first and foremost between our ears.” He says there are five key danger zones for these errant thoughts to occur: 1) on the heels of spiritual victory; 2) when we’re alone (because we are built for community); 3) when we’re tired; 4) when we’re in church (Satan loves to cause misunderstandings, unfulfilled expectations, disappointments, complaining, gossip, backbiting, pride, etc. to flare up in the body); 5) when we’re attempting something great for God. Oswald Chambers refers to entertaining thoughts that don’t line up with the Word as “wool gathering”. Satan may not take us out of the game and that may not even be his goal, but if he can cripple us up, even with just one errant thought that festers, he has accomplished much. Instead, “We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4b-5) How I love the friends and mentors who are humble and who value friendship over pride by forbearing and persisting in good communication.
The last “accessory”, which is indispensable for defense, is the Sword of the Spirit. Ephesians 6:17 refers to the Word of God as the Sword of the Spirit. The Word is living and active, sharper then any two edged sword. (Heb. 4) Though a sword is a weapon both for offense and defense, because of the victory Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross, all we have to do is stand firm and protect the ground Christ already gained for us. Our challenge is to gain an appreciation for the Word as our two edged sword of defense. We can do this by reading it daily, thinking about what we have read, writing and sharing about it, praying the promises and truths personally into our lives, and living according to it.
When life gets a little too busy or sad, I find comfort and joy in a few favorite things. The lyrics from the song, “These are a Few of My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” portray the distractions I enjoy lately. The song was sung by Maria to the von Trapp children during a thunderstorm; and the lighthearted lyrics and melody were a purposeful diversion from the undercurrent of terror during the time of Hitler’s rise. I am thankful for the diversions I find in my favorite things.
“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”
So here are a few of my favorite things….
A stack of books, a few current cards (I keep a whole box of special cards and memorabila under the bed), a journal, a few pillows and a lamp! There might be chocolate hidden in there somewhere.
both laughter and tears shared with friends
So what favorite things do you think on when “the dog bites”? “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things.” Phil. 4:8
I’m going through a season of storms, changes and stretches in my life, and so are several of my friends. Looking back I know that God put many details in place in my life in preparation for this time. That He did this and impressed several scriptural promises on me beforehand gives me confidence as I walk this path. Just as I take shelter in a physical storm, I often take shelter in stormy life seasons. I allow myself the privilege of being hidden in Christ in more meaningful ways then times of “clear skies”. Making time for deeper and more personal Bible study, reading, journaling, prayer time and worship are all helpful during life storms, even if I have to give up on something I normally make time for. Just as in a physical storm I might not put myself in the same places as in clear weather for practical and safety reasons, so in a life storm I allow myself to pursue supports that are helpful and loyal, and am cautious about places that may be hurtful.
Other then my sweet and dependable family members, who I do not take for granted, and especially my husband who prays often while he drives during the day and who is a great listener, God put other supports in place. They would include prayer warriors, those who encourage, concerned and empathetic listeners, good church leaders and teachers, a generous friend or two offering their skill sets, and a mentor who pours herself into exhorting me and believing in me when I need it the most. She often asks me to choose her role for the eye of the storm, and if it’s possible she fulfills it. All of these supports are just the vessels God has used to pour out His love. They are special, very, very special, but they simply point to a personal God who seems to be saying through them, “It is Me! I am with you in this storm.”
Oswald Chambers said (Aug 12 “My Utmost for His Highest”), ‘There are stages in life when…a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in Him.”
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He didn’t suddenly run out of energy when he asked Lazarus’s friends to remove the grave clothes. He wanted them to be a part of the burden bearing and therefore the bonds that come about from shared burdens and the joy that comes about from answered prayer and miracles. What is needed in the storm are supports that get us through. And, interestingly, this is a mutual need and blessing. What supports has God put in your life to get you through stormy seasons? Do you see Him in them? How do you provide support for your friends when they are in a stormy season?
I recently “liked” a blog post on facebook that talked about the grace God gives us when we need to step back momentarily from a church body and heal.. It sometimes appears God does give more grace in those situations then we give each other, even if we are partially or completely at fault. Like the blogger, I have felt God’s comfort and healing in short “time out” seasons, have experienced God deeply in private worship and devotions, have felt His presence in the “mundane”, have felt His love and healing in the sweetness of my family members, family events, and a few friends who are willing to fellowship on an intimate level, found deep fulfillment in seeking my husband’s approval in our home and family as his helpmate, and felt God’s guidance as I move back into corporate fellowship refilled with grace received and grace to extend.
So my “like” was definitely one of acknowledgment and understanding that sometimes God leads us to a change. But the deepest spiritual blessings in my own life have so far come about by trusting Him within the hard places, knowing we’re all just a bunch of messed up folks in equal need of grace. As a dear friend and mentor said, ‘Why add the problems of others into the mix we each already have going on inside us?’ Because I serve Christ, I am not free to do anything but follow Him. I am His bondslave trying to follow where He is leading me. It is sometimes through fiery trials which He uses to refine. It is often in places where I have absolutely no choice but to trust in Him and His promises. It might be in places of loneliness, humility or misunderstanding, especially if my focus is on myself. It is often in places where He would have me be bold for Him without knowing the response. It definitely includes places that are tender and broken. Where He leads me is never just about me!
Oswald Chambers said in ‘My Utmost for His Highest’, July 12 devotional, “Am I building up the Body of Christ or am I looking for my own personal development only?…To fulfill God’s design means entire abandonment to Him….My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace, Not even blessing, but Himself, my God” and in the July 15 devotional, “I am a debtor to everyone on the face of the earth because of the Gospel of Jesus; I am free to be an absolute slave only….Quit praying about yourself and be spent for others as the bondslave of Jesus. That is the meaning of being made broken bread and poured-out wine in reality.”
What a revival we would have if we really lived like this. A portion of Matt Redman’s, “We Could Change the World” lyrics say it well, ‘Could we live like Your grace is stronger Than all our faults and failures?… Could we live like Your ways Are wiser than our understanding? Could we live like this? Could we live like this?…..We’re saying, “yes, Lord, yes, Lord!”…What else could we say, what else could we say?’
We are all debtors to something. What are you a debtor to? I want to hold onto God’s Word and the promises He has confirmed in my heart. My feelings and others’ opinions may or may not align with those Truths, but I am a debtor to God and His truths!
This week I am expressing thanks to God for a new job. Since the last of the seven chicks have now graduated from the Pine Valley Home School “nest”, effectively closing that nearly 30 year chapter of our lives, I decided (with the encouragement of my husband) to seek a secretarial/clerical job, which is what I did right up to three days before my first childbirth. With my “retired business teacher”sister’s help in constructing an appropriate resume, I set out on the quest for a satisfying new venture that might afford us private healthcare and a tad more wiggle room in the budget. About two weeks after dropping resumes here and there, and preparing to follow up on a couple leads, I got a call from someone I go to church with who runs a family business wondering if I would be interested in a secretarial/clerical job. I had not made them aware of my job search, assuming the family members continued to cover those positions. But God had placed the only person at church I had mentioned the job search to in a position to learn otherwise and make some strategic connections.
I am now in my third week of being trained among a sweet multi generation Christian family who continue to grieve and feel the loss, in myriads of practical and emotional ways, of the family patriarch who passed away on Easter Sunday. In fact our entire church family and community keenly feels the loss of this Godly man. It is a remarkable blessing that the endearing family matriarch is brought into the office by one of her lovely granddaughters who is now providing live in care for her. With slow determined steps and a walker this matriarch continues in at least part of the weekday office role she has done for many, many years, despite being nearly swallowed up in grief from her husband’s recent passing. She adds her own unique touch of humor and quickly finds empathetical reasons to defend me in any mistakes I make, making me feel like she would’ve done that same thing, even if I know better. Not that anyone would’ve been critical, mind you.
I know it will be months before I feel confident in some of the tasks I am learning. Meantime, I am thankful for patient people who enjoy chatting and humor interspersed with productive work. I have learned three particularly relevant tidbits: strong magnifiers are a must for zip code directories and phone books, locking the office keys in the office first thing in the morning while stepping out is not wise, and dry wall mud tape is not calculator tape. Shucks, I had unearthed a gargantuan roll of it, too. I wonder if we could make it work?