“You have not passed this way before”

I cannot fight alone, and I cannot be oblivious to his attacks. Continue reading

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And yet…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. Yeah, it was a Dickensian kind of year. Easily one of the worst of my life. And yet….

Starting off the year with a pink slip from my job, followed six weeks later with a pink slip from my husband pretty much ensured it would be a horrible year. Psychological tests put those kind of tragedies in the top ten list of things that rock a person’s world. The kind of tragedies that make one prone to depression, illness, stupid behavior.

And yet…I am still breathing. Still loving God. Still looking for the good in this life and for opportunities to add goodness to the universe. Still surrounded by loving friends and incredible family who lift me up when I cannot stand, who breathe life into my soul when I am bereft.

I pretty much just wanted to curl up and pull a blanket over my head forever. And yet…a precious friend offered me the use of her beach house for five weeks while I waited for him to move out. The peace I found each morning sitting by the water, reading my Bible and journaling, was a balm to my soul. Her gift got me through the hardest time I’ve experienced in years.

It was a year when I was supposed to test for my next black belt. The last thing I wanted was to be at my studio training–I wanted to cocoon. And  yet…I continued training–hard–and passed my sixth degree black belt test with honors. At 55 years old (easily the oldest on my squad), I worried that I would be a burden to my team. I prayed that I would more than pull my weight in what was the most physically grueling week of my life. One day while walking 16 miles, 10 of which included carrying a 350-pound log with my teammates, taking not only my turns but turns for others who faltered, I kept talking to God every step of the way. When I thought I could go no further, someone would step in to take my place, giving me a moment to catch my breath and recommit to the task. Six days of little sleep, less food, and nonstop activity actually energized me. Truly, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Still more “and yets” blessed me throughout the year. A last minute opportunity to go on vacation to Cabo right after the black belt test, courtesy of my brother, who knew I couldn’t afford it on my own. His generous gift of a week in paradise allowed my body to rest and my heart to begin to heal.

I got a new job, at 35% of my previous salary. My expenses, however, did not likewise reduce. And yet…my new boss loves the fact that I had started my own marketing agency earlier this year and gives me ample time to work with my Knockout Marketing Strategies clients. God continues to bless me with referrals and interesting work and never fails to meet my financial needs. One more “and yet”: working full time at Concordia University means chapel is available every single day. I walk to the next building for 20 minutes of beautiful time with the Lord, right in the middle of my workday. Not something I experienced in the ten years I worked at my last job =)

Other challenges beset me this year. Nothing hurts a mother more than seeing her children in pain. I found out that one of my sons had lost his housing and was sleeping in his car. Nearly 2000 miles away and without the financial ability to help, I was in anguish over his situation. And yet…I reached out to my brother, who (through the magic of Facebook!) reached out to his network. Suddenly, my absolutely amazing cousins–who I see once a decade if I’m lucky–responded with offers of housing from cities all over California. My precious cousin Joyce, herself in the midst of heartbreak after the death of her father, took in my son. Providence, thy name is family.

I was dreading the holidays as a single woman. Should I bother decorating? Did any of the traditions matter? So many happy people–where did I fit in? And yet…I did. I had a houseful for Thanksgiving–all my children and grandchildren, six dogs, and my closest friend and her family. It was raucous and wonderful. God showered me with joy and closeness to the people I love most in this world. Three weeks later I decided to honor my annual tamale making tradition, sharing my Mexican heritage with close friends.

Christmas was different, but different isn’t necessarily bad. I didn’t have the Christmas I’d had in the past, and yet…it was beautiful. I spent a quiet Christmas Eve with two of my sons, and then flew to Florida with one of them on Christmas Day to visit my daughter and her family. Walking on the beach every day for this entire week, spending time in quiet reflection and prayer, submersing myself in the love of family, has been the greatest gift I could have hoped for.

2016 was not the year I imagined I would have. I still hurt when I consider the loss of my marriage and the way my kids are spreading out over the globe–San Francisco, London (in February), and Florida. I still wonder what is in store for me in this uncharted future.

I have plenty more grieving to do, but I am convinced of one thing: God is the author of “and yet.” He continues to surprise me with the gifts of provision: love, support, encouragement, finances, meaningful work. I pray 2017 is a better year, and yet…I am content with whatever comes my way, knowing that I serve a good God, a good Father, the One who never forsakes me and always loves me.

Lord, grant that I never fail to recognize Your “and yets.”

 

Why are you here?

I have the privilege of working at a Christian university, and one of the perks is prayer with my colleagues. Recently, the leadership team took on a daily devotional regarding work/life balance (whatever that is!). We each took one day to expand upon that day’s message for the team, and I ended up with day 6. The devotional talked that day about the need to rest from work in order to concentrate on relationships with one’s family–particularly naming spouse and children. Of all the days, how did I end up with this one? And so I wrote….

When I first read this devotional, I had to ask the Lord, “Why me on this day?” I don’t have a husband. I don’t have small children at home. Of everyone on this team, I would be the one most likely to be overworking and forsaking all balance.

But I’ve learned the hard way that God speaks to me in the quiet places and more than anything else in the world, I long to hear from Him. There’s a story you’ll all be familiar with in I Kings 19, but it bears repeating. When Elijah ran away from Jezebel after she vowed to destroy him, an angel spoke to him, saying, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (v. 7). The journey that is not ordained by God will always be “too much” for us. When we feel that our professional lives have become too much, we need to stop…listen…respond.

Elijah was so overwhelmed that he hid in a cave; nevertheless, God brought him out to speak to him. But as Scripture tells us, “…the Lord was not in the wind” (v. 11); “…the Lord was not in the earthquake” (v. 12); nor was He “…in the fire” (v. 12). Instead, God called Elijah out of the cave with “a gentle whisper” (v. 12).

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 13) He asked. Clearly, God knew exactly why Elijah was there. But He wanted Elijah to stop and consider for himself. He wanted Elijah to have to carefully listen to that still, small voice. It was only then Elijah could see for himself what was in his heart—the fear and lack of trust that turned him into that cowering mess.

None of us has a Jezebel at our heels, but we all find ourselves running from time to time. We are breathless and overwhelmed, and we may pray for a huge expression of God—a rushing wind, an earthquake, a fire—anything to show us His magnificent power. Yet if we will rest from our running, it is then that He speaks in that oh-so-gentle whisper. The whisper that asks us to ruthlessly examine our motivations: “Why are you here?”

Let us sit quietly today—even for a moment—and really, really listen.

 

What am I?

I’ve added a new discipline to my devotional life. As I read through the Bible (right now I’m in Numbers, and it’s heavy lifting…especially for an egalitarian Christian woman), I’ve added a chapter a day from some other book. Right now, it’s Contemplative Prayer, by Thomas Merton.

What a read.

Merton plumbs depths of prayer in ways I’ve never considered, even after walking with Christ for almost 40 years. He’s risen to my top ten list of people I want to meet when I get to Heaven, as I can imagine sitting for hours (centuries?) just talking through the beauty and intricacies of the believer’s prayer life and the ever deepening understanding of who and what we are.

“What am I? I am myself a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have any meaning?” (Merton, p. 68). As I wander through this deeply challenging time of my life, I have asked God for its meaning. Merton provides a map for my wandering:

“Instead of a stoical acceptance of ‘providential’ decrees and events, and other manifestations of ‘law’ in the cosmos, we should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless into the center of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of his grace, his mercy and the light of faith” (p. 69).

As the writer of Hebrews reminds me, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, New American Standard Bible). There is a way out–it is through the arms of God. Only in Him do I find the strength and guidance I need.

Trials, even tragic trials, will come in our lives. There is no shame in being knocked down by the bitter winds of this world. But there is a way forward–a way to transcend the grief and confusion–when we remember we do have meaning, we do have purpose. As Merton notes, “…even the capacity to recognize our condition before God is itself a grace” (p. 71).

I am a word spoken by Him, and His grace is sufficient.

Hold my hand

Over the past couple of months, I’ve prayed diligently that I’d learn quickly (and permanently!) whatever I’m supposed to learn from these trials. One thing that has become painfully obvious is that I pretty much suck at accepting help. I’m great at helping others and (can you spell “hypocrisy”?) I excel at counseling my friends to accept help and “don’t steal my blessing” (ugh…).

Thank God for Exodus.

Moses did it all. From the banks of the Red Sea through the rock at Horeb, he was the go-to guy. And then came the Amalekites. “So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand'” (Exodus 17:9). At last, the mighty leader found his limits. “But Moses’ hands were heavy” (v. 12). He simply could not physically meet the needs of his people, “and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed” (v. 11).

Enter the lesson in accepting help.

“Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set” (v. 12). Even the mighty Moses–the guy who had seen God Almighty and led the Israelites out of Egypt–needed help. The task was simply too much for him, and there is no record of him arguing with Aaron and Hur, no indication that he pushed back against their help.

And there’s more: after the victory over the Amalekites, Moses’ father-in-law shows up. He’s impressed: “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel” (Exodus 18:9). But then he notices something. Once again, Moses is doing it all. “Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening? The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out…for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone‘” (vv. 14 and 18).

John Donne said it a few centuries later: No man is an island.

Even greater than my idiotic need for self-sufficiency is my passion for being squarely in God’s will. And so I ask God again to teach me and let me learn this basic and fundamental truth: the task is too heavy. I cannot do it alone. I must allow the Aarons and Hurs and Jethros in my life to love me, support me, and chasten me. Let me be like the Moses in Exodus 18:24:

“So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

Let me listen and do.

Be courageous and act.

I hate new year’s resolutions. I think they’re useless–what makes January 1st so special anyway? If you want to make a major change in life, just do it. Today. Whatever “today” happens to be. But I do use the calendar loosely as a guide for life goals. For instance, the past couple of years, I have concentrated on gratitude. I’ve asked God to help me be a grateful woman, and I’ve looked hard for reasons to be grateful regardless of my circumstances.

This year, I have felt a calling toward courage.

I spent time over the Christmas break meditating on my life–my spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and professional life. I asked God to show me where I need to change, to grow up, to reflect Him better. Painfully, I saw that even after nearly 40 years of walking with Christ, I still rely far too often on analysis, logic, and a fear of risk.

The good news is that God–when we give Him the reins and the freedom to act in our lives–kicks us out of the nest to fly.

King David had a passion for God’s house. He gathered literally tons of precious metal and jewels, exotic woods and stones, and drew up the plans for the temple. But God made it clear that David would not be the one to build the edifice. Instead, it would be his son, Solomon. In true humility, “David assembled at Jerusalem all the officials of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the commanders of the divisions that served the king, and the commanders of thousands, and the commanders of hundreds, and the overseers of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, with the officials and the mighty men, even all the valiant men” (I Chronicles 28:1). He announced that, although he “had intended to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God” (v. 2),  God had chosen Solomon to build the temple instead. He reminded the powerful group of leaders how he had been chosen by God to be their king, and proclaimed that now Solomon would lead the nation: “…for I have chosen him…” (v. 6).

David then says something to Solomon so powerful, it nearly leapt off the page during my devotions this morning: “Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be courageous and act” (v. 10). Even knowing that God had handpicked him for this work, Solomon needed a nudge from his dad.

Be courageous and act.

I’ve been mulling a rather large change in my life for several months, and I’ve analyzed the decision to death. My husband–a man who truly loves and listens to the Lord–has encouraged me to make the decision. One of my dearest friends–a godly woman of deep faith and prayer–texts me several times a week, telling me that she believes God prompts her to push me for the decision. And yet I stall…I weigh…I deliberate.

It’s not a world-changing project like building the temple for almighty God. It’s just starting my own company. And yet I know, because I am His precious daughter, He cares about the decision. He has a plan for me, even in my professional life. It’s so easy to turn to God for guidance in deeply spiritual matters, but my job? Let me get back to my spreadsheet measuring pros and cons, thank you very much.

Be courageous and act.

So God pushed me out of the nest. Two weeks ago, I got laid off after ten years with the same company. I’d been miserable for the past year, but I was firmly seated in the tree. Thanks be to God, today my fledgling wings flapped a few inches off the ground: LLC filed. EIN secured. Mailbox opened. Website content begun.

I started this morning’s devotional time looking for a verse that would uplift my son who’s  been struggling. I found one and sent it to him–and then God treated me to some uplifting of my own.

Who needs new year’s resolutions when you have a Dad like mine?

“Therefore”: what’s it there for?

I’ve been reading and rereading Matthew 7, and I feel like I’m putting together a puzzle that looks perfect–but I find there’s one piece still sitting on the table, unused. There’s another side to this puzzle, a perspective I fear I’ve neglected.

I love verses 7 and 8. Ask…seek…knock. Just put yourself out there. God longs to answer our questions, give us wisdom, open the door to righteousness. Don’t worry about figuring it out myself. Instead, just continually put my questions and my longings out there for my Father to respond to. He loves me so much and will never leave me without answers. In my confusion, He is there. In fear, doubt, anguish, or need, He is there.

He’s a good Father.

Verses 9 through 11 just get better. You know how you are such a good and loving parent? Well, if you think you’re great, just imagine how fabulous God is. Nothing we do as earthly parents can compare to the good He does for his kids. So far, so good. This vertical relationship is so beautiful, and my heart overflows with peace and love. It’s so easy to bask in this part of the puzzle. I am cared for and all my needs are met when I reach out to God in adoration and expectation.

“In everything, therefore….” Wait, what’s the “therefore” there for?

Yes, there’s another part to the story. Just like the cross, with its long vertical piece, there’s a horizontal piece. The piece that links me to my fellow man, the piece that is my responsibility, mine alone–to connect with other human beings and to be the hands and feet of my Creator.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you….” It’s easy to almost get spiritual whiplash the way Matthew yanks me back to earth.

Because He answers, gives, and opens; because He “gives good gifts”; because my vertical relationship with the living God is one of overflowing supply, I must “in everything” treat others the way I want to be treated. I must ascribe tremendous value to the horizontal.  My actions and reactions, therefore, must be godly. How can I possibly receive the beautiful goodness of my Father and then treat others with less than holy love? It would be hypocrisy of the highest level to joyfully receive His pure goodness and then dole out anything other than kindness, compassion, and harmony. He gives and I must give in return.

I don’t ever have a day where I think, “I should just be a pompous jerk today. I should mistreat people on the street, and take my loved ones for granted. I should ignore my children when they call, and be negligent toward my husband.” That, however, doesn’t stop me from behaving badly on far too many occasions. My focus is too inward, too concerned with my own needs, wants, laments…too quick to ask for God’s help without likewise looking for areas where I can horizontally reflect His goodness.

“In everything, therefore….”

So that’s what it’s there for: as a bold reminder that it’s not all about me and my needs. That I am Jesus to someone in my world, whether through a huge intentional effort or a simple smile on a hard day. The puzzle isn’t so hard to see clearly when I put the horizontal piece in.

It’s what it’s there for.

And the soul felt its worth

I had tears running down my cheeks tonight. I wanted to stand, to raise my hands in praise, but it was a little weird: I was surrounded by thousands, sitting in a large theatre in Austin, listening to a raucous rendition of O Holy Night, played by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The music was pounding, accompanied by TSO’s trademark fire and light show.

Not the typically reverent situation in which to find myself in the throne room of God, and yet his Spirit gripped me and I was overcome.

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining….” Oh, yes, Lord. I once was lost.

“‘Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” And now I’m found.

My soul feels its worth every single day, simply because you appeared. Had you not come, I would never have experienced real love. I wouldn’t understand the meaning of grace. I couldn’t feel genuine compassion, nor could I long for true justice. Because you appeared, my soul feels its worth, and I transcend the ugliness of a world that often turns my stomach and brings me to tears.

Because my soul feels its worth, I am a new creature…a transcendent creature. I am alive, and I yearn to be better in every dimension. Because I feel my worth, I long to transcend my petty concerns, my first-world problems, my lack of authenticity. My soul feels its worth, and that feeling–deeper than anything I can experience in the earthly realm–goads me to goodness, to seeing the worth in every other soul.

Because my soul feels its worth, I must transcend the vile self-talk that mocks my value and opposes your word. I must reject any thinking, speaking, or acting that denigrates the worth of another human soul.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….” I am so weary when I am apart from your will, Father. Yet when I remember that you appeared, I feel that thrill of hope, and weariness is banished.

“…for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Thank God for that morning of hope.

“Fall on your knees….”

Oh, Father. Let this blessed season find me on my knees, pleading for your will in my life, in my family, and in my country. Let me remember to acknowledge the worth of every soul–to see through your holy eyes, to sincerely and profoundly recognize the transcendent blessing of Christmas.

I got my first Christmas present a bit early. Truly, a night divine.