Enjoying the Ride

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The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

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The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

Eight Ways to Have a Happier Household in Times of Stress

Life can be so stressful. While there are many wonderful times, there are also times that are not so wonderful–like when we take on more projects than we should, our calendars are too full, or we are assailed by several minor–albeit extremely frustrating–trials. If we aren’t careful, we can quickly find ourselves overwhelmed, which often turns us into…hmmm…shall we say not our best selves?

Unfortunately, these times generally affect our whole family. I remember hearing many years ago that I, the mother of my home, was responsible for the tone of my household. This seemed rather unfair at the time. But fair or unfair, it was true. We moms do set the tone for our home. If we are angry, frazzled, and stressed all the time, our kids will be, too. If we are short-tempered and irritable, often our entire household will follow suit.

So how exactly do we keep our households happy even when things are crazy busy? I feel a little hypocritical even writing about this because I am not the best under stress (just ask my family!) but I have learned a few things that do help a lot when I actually put them into practice. Here are eight things that have helped me to have a happier household when I am overwhelmed.

1.  Do not skip Bible reading and prayer time. This is often the first thing to go during stressful times even though it should be the last thing to go. Spending time with God helps us to keep a proper, eternal perspective and gives us strength for the day. Keeping this priority is critical during these times.

2. Be grateful. It is easy in stressful times to forget the good things. Taking a little time each day to express our gratitude to God and to our loved ones is like a balm to our soul, building our relationships and reminding us that there is more to life than this stressful moment in time.

3. Listen to hymns or doctrinally-sound praise and worship music. Listening to good music makes such a difference to me when I am going through a tough time. Music is so powerful. What we choose to listen to during these times can lift us up and help us cope or it can frazzle us even more.

4. Don’t let anyone manipulate your emotions. My dad told me recently that his dad used to say this to him. While I have been working at this concept for a long time now, I had never heard it put quite like this. Isn’t that so profound? What this means is that we shouldn’t let our emotions be driven by those around us. If our spouse is angry or our children are grumpy, this should not change our emotions. We shouldn’t let anyone have power over our emotions–even bad drivers on the highway and cranky clerks at the store! This is extremely difficult (at least for me) but when we can control our emotions instead of letting them wildly take over when things don’t go our way, it makes all the difference in the world.

5. Keep your home free of clutter. I know few people who aren’t affected negatively by a house that is constantly untidy. Clearing counter tops, tables, and dressers, washing the dishes, keeping up with the laundry, and sweeping the floor truly doesn’t take that much time and goes a long way in helping a family feel more peaceful–especially in times of high stress. I would like to add here that as a young homeschooling mom of four this was especially difficult to do! Every time I turned around a new toy or game was on the floor. But after several years of frustrating my husband over the clutter, the kids and I got in the habit of cleaning up every day before daddy came home. It took awhile to instill this new practice, but with some effort, it was possible and did really help!

6. Remember how fast time goes. If you have young children, you may feel like this time will never, ever end. Your days are filled with endless requests, duties, and demands. But trust me–all too soon, you will be watching your last one pack up their things and move away. You are just in a season. Before you know it, the next season will arrive, with its own challenges and frustrations. Remembering this during stressful times would always help me.

7. Examine your calendar. I can remember several times through the years with my family that I had to step back and evaluate our schedules. I would start paring it down until it became doable again. It is okay for your kids to be home doing nothing. In fact, it’s better than okay! It’s necessary for their maturity and emotional health. Don’t cram your schedule so full that there is no downtime and if you have done that, start eliminating things. As I learned from experience, your child will be just fine without the gymnastics, dance, or piano lessons. They will suffer no ill consequences if they aren’t on the soccer or basketball teams. Review your schedule with your spouse, determine your priorities for your family, and then, together, choose one or two of these things that fit best with your priorities and let the rest go.

8. Be careful of your high expectations. This was always a hard one for me. I not only wanted life to be perfect– I expected it! I can still find myself there if I am not careful. We have expectations for our spouses, our kids, our jobs, our homes. When they aren’t met we can become grumbly and grouchy. But when we can accept that life will not be perfect on this earth and lower our expectations, we can find contentment. True peace and joy are not dependent on circumstances. Instead they come when we accept our circumstances– knowing we are in God’s sovereign care–and we persevere through them.

There you go–eight things that have helped me! It seems funny even writing this as we are now preparing for an empty nest here in a few weeks. But I have learned so much in my parenting years. And, while I didn’t always put them into practice, when I did, they really helped! I hope that these eight things may have inspired you to make your home a happier place today.

Grateful or Greedy?

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Have you ever been around anyone who talks about Jesus like He is their own personal genie? Instead of a grateful heart, they have a greedy heart. Instead of wanting to serve Jesus, they want to get from Jesus. Instead of denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24), they want sunshine and roses and happy times and, believing this is what they deserve, they fully expect Jesus to fulfill their every wish and desire.

I finished out last year with reading Luke. When I came to verse 8 in chapter 23, it caught my eye. This is what it says–

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we read on, we can see that Herod had no interest in being saved from his sin, he was just glad to see Jesus because he had heard so much about him and he wanted to see a miracle done by him.

Oh, how often we can be like Herod!

So many of us only want to accept good gifts from Jesus. We come to Him selfishly, fully expecting Him to fix everything in our lives and to give us a happy, satisfying life here on earth. We want Him to fix our broken marriages, our rebellious children, and our dysfunctional families. We want Him to change someone or to give us financial stability or to whisper sweet nothings in our ear.

But this is not how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus is our Savior from sin. When we are saved from sin and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, nothing is ever the same again. Life becomes not about what we can get from Jesus but about what we can give to Jesus.

Instead of grasping for peace and joy and material wealth and supernatural answers to prayer, we should rest in God’s Sovereignty. Instead of using unbiblical methods and supernatural experiences to “know God” (I would argue that these do not lead us to knowledge of the only True God but are instead leading us to our deadliest enemy), we should read His word with a submissive heart that is ready to obey–no matter what the cost.

(Truly–I am astounded just how many believers are caught up in experiencing the supernatural. They want to hear Jesus speak to them or they want to feel God’s presence. But these teachings are not found in God’s Word but are, instead, based on principles of ancient Catholic mysticism. And, honestly, it is our human nature to be attracted to this type of thing because it makes us feel good and seems to be a much easier way to be “close to God” than what the Bible teaches.)

But there are few short cuts in this world and certainly none when it comes to knowing God. Knowing God means digging into His Word. Knowing God will mean denying ourselves. Knowing God will cost us.

This is not what most of us signed up for when we said a prayer one Sunday morning or at camp as a teenager. We came to Jesus because we expected Him to solve all of our problems and to make us happy and fulfilled. Like Herod, we were anxious to watch Him work miracles–hopefully in our own lives.

And yet this view of Jesus is so incomplete. Yes, He will help us. Yes, He will sometimes work in ways that astound us. But, mostly, following Jesus will be a hard and narrow path, full of rocks and twists and turns (Matthew 7:13-14). It means we will be hated by the world and even sometimes by those who call themselves Christians (John 15:19). It means we will give up our own personal dreams and purposes and happiness, in order to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21). It means we submit to being pruned and shaped as the Father wills (John 15:1-2).

This is not a popular viewpoint, is it? And yet, this is what we read in scripture.

As we grow in Christ, let’s be sure to keep a biblical view on what this really means. Let’s be in the Word, reading it in context to understand who Jesus really is. And let’s turn our backs on the vain philosophies of men and the deceitful workings of false teachers that are in abundance around us, wooing us with promises of short cuts to God through mystical experiences. Instead of being greedy and only caring about what Jesus will give us, let’s have a grateful heart and be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Instead of being like Herod, let’s be like Paul–

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

 

Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.

 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

There is a Reason

white dog

We have had a lot of rain here lately, but last week we had one bright, sunny afternoon. I decided it was the perfect afternoon to go for a walk. I ushered Macy, our Chocolate Lab, into the car, and off we went. Why the car? Because I now drive to where I can walk, because of two attack dogs that reside between me and my walking area. Just thinking about walking past the house where they reside fills with me fear. (You can read about this incident in my post Obstacles.)

I didn’t actually realize just how much fear until last week when I took that walk. I was enjoying the beautiful day when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I heard a dog bark menacingly as it rushed towards me. My heart started pounding, my hand gripped the leash tighter, and I could feel my whole body tense, as if preparing for an attack. I glanced towards where I heard the sound and saw that not only was it a rather smallish dog, but it was also enclosed in a fence, which meant that this little barking fiend was no threat to me or to my dog.

Now, I have never, ever been afraid of dogs before. Not like that. Sure, I never liked the mean, snarling ones (who does?) but I love dogs. It is frustrating to me that now I am filled with fear if I hear one on my walk.

My personal experience has led me to respond and react differently than I used to.

Personal experience has a way of doing that to us. I remember when this thought first hit me and changed how I viewed people.

It was Christmas Day many years ago and it was snowing. Unlike most of you, we never wanted white Christmases around here because that would mean Christmas without Daddy. We plow snow and people still want it to be removed, even if it is a holiday. It also meant a day of stress and frustration for me, as I have to take the phone calls.

I can still vividly remember one phone call from that day long ago. It was an elderly lady, recently widowed, who had no children. She was normally a very nice lady, but on this particular day she started screaming at me, asking why we hadn’t been to her house yet. I assured her that everyone was out working hard and that they just hadn’t gotten there yet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. She obviously needed to yell at someone and that someone was going to be me. I was so hurt and angered by that unreasonable call. But after I hung up and gave it some thought, God impressed upon my heart just how lonely and miserable she must be–especially on Christmas. How would I be if I was spending my first Christmas alone without my best friend and didn’t even have any children or grandchildren to ease the pain? Would I be tempted to lash out at someone, too?

I knew the answer was probably yes.

While this is not one of my favorite Christmas memories, it changed forever how I view people. I realized that people always do what they do for a reason.

This doesn’t change how we view sin, but it should change how we feel about the sinner–

That prostitute on the street used to be a little girl that was neglected and abused by her mother.

The gay man who lives next door was once a bright and hopeful little boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor.

The grumpy old man has had a lifetime of broken dreams and disappointments.

The lady who was absolutely unreasonable on the phone a minute ago just found out yesterday that her daughter has cancer.

Thinking through why people might do what they do fills me with compassion. What if I had grown up neglected and abused? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that it could be me walking the street? What if my life was filled with broken dreams and disappointments and I didn’t have hope in Jesus Christ, couldn’t I just as easily be labeled the grumpy one?

But for the grace of God, go I.

Right?

God’s grace changes everything. It fixes the broken. It heals the heart. It fills us with peace and joy despite the most tragic of circumstances. But most of the world does not know this.

Understanding that people are much deeper than what we see externally should not only fill us with compassion but also drive us to share the Gospel. We should never let unfounded, sinful arrogance keep us from loving others. We should never let an unsavory profession or a little grumpiness deter us from telling someone about Jesus. These people, underneath all of that gruff and bravado, are broken and in need of a Savior.

Of course, some don’t want to hear it. And from those, we walk away (Matthew 7:6). If they are hard-hearted and rebellious, we shouldn’t waste our time. But, let’s be honest, most of us never even get that far. We don’t find out if they are lost and searching because we are too scared or too arrogant to talk to them.

Oh, may our hearts be filled with compassion towards the broken and unloving. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. And it is quite likely, that given a similar life experience and without the light of Christ in your life, that you may be just like them. Thank the Lord for his loving-kindness in your life and reach out with the Good News that there is salvation available to all through Jesus Christ!

 

 

Socialism and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

chitty_film

It has come to my attention recently that there is a country that has been adopting socialism over the last number of years. At first, things looked brighter. But, eventually, in spite of the great promises this system makes to its people, it became very evident that this was not going to turn the country into utopia. In fact, the opposite is true. The people there are in dire straits. Socialism is tearing into shreds the quality of life the citizens of this country once knew. People die because they cannot get the medicine they need. People cannot meet their basic needs because the store shelves are empty. EMPTY. Even the food supply is scarce! Can you even imagine? I am not making this up. This is their reality.

And the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang just keeps coming to my mind. Have you ever seen it? When I was a young girl, this was my very favorite movie. I loved the crazy inventer, Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke) and the Candy Factory owner’s daughter, Truly Scrumptious (played by Sally Ann Howes). I loved Grandpa and Jeremy and Jemima. I loved the car that could fly! And I loved the soundtrack and can still sing most of the songs by heart. And then there is the super scary part where the family lands in Vulgaria–where the Queen hates children and has locked every last one of them up in the castle dungeon.

Does anyone remember what happens next? I do recognize that I may be the only person on the planet who loves this movie! Anyway...

The “Childcatcher” comes looking for Jeremy and Jemima. He can smell them. He creeps around looking for the hidden children. But he doesn’t find them. So he tries a different tactic.

He decorates his jail wagon with brightly colored panels so that it looks like a candy store. He changes into a colorful outfit and walks around the village, shouting–

Gum Drops and Ice Cream! Lollipops! All Free Today!

Jeremy and Jemima hear him and come running. He promises them free candy if they come into his “store”. Smiling from ear to ear at the prospect of free candy they enter the wagon. In a wink, the door locks behind them, the sides fall away, and we see the children riding away clinging to the metal bars and screaming for help. They have been deceived. They were gullible and fell for his evil trick.

Doesn’t this remind you so much of the Socialistic agenda? Outlandish, wonderful promises are made and, yet, if you look at this system realistically and historically, there is no possible way for the promises to actually be kept. In fact, if we take the time to truly think about it (rather than to let our greed for free stuff take over), we can see that it will destroy the country we love–and that it is just one short step to Communism from there.

I do not generally write about politics, but this scene from this old movie just keeps playing itself over and over again in my mind. How do we get people to see that their desire for free stuff is like Jeremy and Jemima’s desire for free candy? And that if we should ever take that step into the wagon of Socialism, it won’t be to receive free stuff but instead to be imprisoned in a horrible system from which there is no escape?

We have trained our young people to desire socialism. We have done this in a million ways–from training them to be self-absorbed and entitled to never training them to work hard and to think of others. Now let me assure you that I believe there are still many, many good families–both Christians and non-Christians– who have taught and are still teaching their children good morals and how to work hard. They are teaching them to think of others and to serve their fellow man.

But the fact remains that there are many who are not. And to these young people free equals good. They haven’t been taught to think through the consequences of their choices. Let’s face it, many aren’t even being taught to think at all.

But I guess many of us fall for a similar trick when we fall for sin. We see pleasure and easy money and fun and believe Satan’s lie that it won’t cost anything. But when we step through that door, the candy-coated walls fall away and we see the prison bars of addiction, debt, and obesity. Just to name a few.

Yes, we are all guilty of this to some extent. So it would be best not to be too terribly hard on our friends who think that Socialism is the answer to our country’s problems. It does look pretty good to anyone who hasn’t thought through how the system ends, looking at it both realistically and historically.

It’s important we think anything out to its inevitable end–whether it is a system of government or a choice to sit down at the gambling table.

Everything costs. We’d best remember that.

 

*If you are interested in reading further, here are two posts on two different countries and there Socialism nightmare: One article is here and another one is here.

Never Regret Growing Older

Never Regret

I could almost hear the little voices from the past. One child asking a question, another one needing a drink, all of them laughing and sometimes fighting. The normal family stuff. The large expo building I was in echoed with memories. Years ago, when the kids were all younger and we home-schooled, we had made many memories there as we set up for a big garden show each year.

I found myself swallowing a bit of nostalgia as I remembered. And, once again, I pondered this thing called time.

How could it possibly have gone so fast?

In a few weeks I will have officially lived for half a century. Half. A. Century. And yet, in my head, I just don’t feel that old. I was talking to a dear friend of mine who is turning 75 this year. And she said the same thing–she just doesn’t feel that old. Time just keeps passing, but inside we don’t feel like we are aging. Of course, while our minds try to fool us into believing that we aren’t really aging, our bodies seem to take great glee in reminding us that we certainly are. 

It’s funny. I used to think that fifty was so OLD. And I guess if you are reading this as a twenty or thirty-something you are thinking that same thing right now. But then there may be a few eighty-somethings reading this and to them, fifty doesn’t sound all that old. But maybe none of that even matters.

Maybe it’s how we redeem whatever time we have been given. However long that is.

I am not sure if it is my upcoming birthday or my realization of how quickly time passes, but the death of country singer Joey Feek last week really hit me hard for some reason. I never heard of her before her illness. I was not a diehard fan of her and her music. But her story showed up on my Facebook feed a few months ago and since then I’ve seen some of the posts on the beautiful blog her husband was writing as they walked through this journey of cancer.

And then on March 4 her life here on earth was over. She was 40 years old. She had two grown daughters and one baby girl, a 2 year old.

Around that time I had been starting to groan a little inside that my 50th birthday was moving ever closer. How could I possibly be 50? But her death stopped my negative thoughts and changed my perspective. I have had ten wonderful years with my family that she will never get. I have been able to watch my babies grow up. I have watched countless soccer and basketball games. I have had the honor of watching three of my four kids get married. And the excitement of hearing that my first grandchild is on the way. Joey Feek will never have those things.

Many years ago–perhaps when I was twenty-something, I was browsing through a Hallmark store and found a little plaque that said these words:

Never regret growing older
It’s a privilege denied to many

At that point, my 50th birthday felt like it was light years and a lifetime away. In fact, I doubt I spent much time contemplating it at all. But for whatever reason, I picked up that little plaque and it still sits on a dresser in our bedroom. And it has reminded me through the years of the blessing life is, no matter what age we are.

Oftentimes when I write a post like this, people will write and tell me that 50 isn’t so bad, so let me assure you that it is not the actual age that is of any concern for me. I look forward to this new era of my life. Instead, it is the fleeting nature of time that I am still working my brain around. It’s not that I am dreading what is ahead of me, it’s that I am stunned and a little saddened by what I am leaving.

It reminds me of when we decided to move out of the first home we owned. Even though we were headed to a wonderful, new house, it was still sad to leave our little rancher where so many wonderful memories had been made. It had been our home for nine years and had rung with laughter and crying and arguments. It had witnessed birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and a myriad of home school days. Even though we were moving to a home much better suited for the needs of our growing family, there was still a touch of sadness that hung over that day.

And that’s just how it is with change. Even good changes often bring a little sadness with them. But life is not stagnant and it does keep changing.

And so that means that my milestone birthday is just around the corner. But that’s okay. Because I am just thankful to be alive. Every day I am here on earth is an opportunity to serve my Savior and to love my family. Having the opportunity to have done that for 50 years is a privilege! And I guess we should treat it as such.

So if you, too, are reaching a milestone birthday this year, let’s do away with the black balloons and gag gifts. And, instead, let’s celebrate! God has been good and we have been blessed. Lord-willing, we will have more birthdays for which to thank Him.