Friday, November 25, 2011

"Hating" and "Occupying the Land"

He's right, you know.  Having kicked a meth habit, he sat in my office and politely recoiled at my words of congratulations for his strength of will to overcome the highly addictive drug.  "People say that - but really it's that you have to hate what you are doing so much that you say, that's it.  I'm done."  

'Hate', hmm, I have to admit, I hadn't thought of that motivation.  But he's right.

I got up and actually ran around the block today.  And, although I had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner last night, I didn't gorge.  The reason?  I hate the way I feel being "out of shape," having packed on a few extra pounds over the last few months.  

When my child was young and she would use the word "hate" I would say, "hate is a strong word - use the word 'dislike.'"  But sometimes a genuine change in ourselves has to come about through a hate of the choices we have made and a real grieving over not doing that which we know to do.  James, the brother of Jesus, told us if we know the right thing to do, and don't do it, then it is sin. 

We tend to relate easily to the physical realm - things like the effects of abusing our bodies with destructive substances or even overeating or a lack of exercise or sleep.  But that which is true in the physical realm also has application in the spiritual realm.

The choices we make everyday - whether to not to pick up our Bible and read what God would say to us, or whether or not we seriously make a focused effort to pray have an effect on our souls - just as real as the choices we make for our minds or our bodies.

In Deuteronomy 32:47 we read, "These instructions are not empty words - they are your life!  Be obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River."  At this point in history God was speaking to the children of Israel before they crossed over into the promised land. But the principle of what He said is just as true today.  If we do what the Bible tells us to do, we will have a full and meaningful life full of purpose and meaning.  Do notice that I did not say an easy life - but a very good life.  

So, sometimes hate can be good - good in the sense that hating to do the wrong thing - whether it affects my body, mind or soul - can propel me to do that which is right and good and all the great experiences that come along with those life-giving choices.  And ultimately those choices affect all those around me for whom I care deeply.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Captain of Our Soul

"Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  My victory and honor come from God alone.  He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.  O my people, trust in Him at all times.  Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge."  Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

We live in a world that subscribes to the theory that we are the captains of our own destiny.  While there is certainly consequence for our actions and we are responsible for our own choices and decisions - to think that we create our own future is false.  If we are blessed with health, a nurturing family and prosperity - it is by the grace of God.  Our good choices along the way certainly help but no one has control over to whom we are born, and what country we are raised.  We do not control a million circumstantial elements in our lives that impinge upon us.  We can only control our response to such circumstances.  All of this is stated as a precursor to dissecting the cultural thought process that if were are the captain of our souls we must make things happen.  Such an attitude can easily lead to selfish pursuits like pushing our way to the top for the sake of being number one and a host of other self-centered things.  In other words, if we are the "captains of our souls" then it is all about us.  And that where that line of thinking goes haywire. It is never all about us.

What I love about the above Psalm is that it models quietly waiting before the Lord and understanding that the battles in our lives will be won by the strength and power we find in Him.  There is such great relief when we realize our destiny is not all about what we do, but what He does from within us as we trust in Him, wait on Him and seek His direction.  He is a God of refuge who can be trusted with every hope, dream and desire in our hearts.  Oh, Jesus, the captain of our souls. 

"Yes, He knows what is best for me.  My environment is of His determining.  He means it to intensify my faith, to draw me into nearer communion  with Himself, to ripen my power...Yet let me believe that , if difficulties remain, it is that I may learn to trust Him all the more implicitly  - to trust and not be afraid."  - Mrs. Charles E. Cowman - 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Morning Reflections After Surgery

"But as for me, I will sing about your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.  For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.  O my strength, to You I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love."  Psalm 59:16-17 (NLT)

My husband has been enduring an increased amount of physical pain in his back for the past couple of years.  He underwent a series of medical procedures prior to the decision of surgery, for other methods needed to be exhausted before the risks of surgery were considered on a  man in his "vintage" years.  Although he was in tremendous pain, especially the last few months, I would have to name that section of our life together as "the best of times and the worst of times."  Of course when someone is hurting so much, it is just terrible to watch and not be able to ease the physical suffering. That is the worst part.  But the best part is the sweetness of spirit and genuine appreciation that was shown and expressed toward God and for one another and the people in our lives.  My husband's faith in the Lord's goodness stayed strong.  There are some great memories of walks we took in a garage sale wheelchair we found and he restored (complete with oak arms).  The walks and little inclines in our neighborhood sidewalks gave me some much needed physical exercise.  He benefited from getting out in the fresh air and we explored streets and cul-de-sacs we hadn't visited since the houses were built some years ago.  The encouraging words and short visits with people along the way brightened those days and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  Since we were new to this wheelchair thing, we looked pretty silly on one trip to a large grocery store as my husband had me push him in the wheelchair, and he put his feet up on the shopping cart and reached up to steer it.  It made kind of a long train to which one six year old looked upon with wonder and said, "ah - awesome!"  Each time I felt a little self-conscious about looking a little out-of- place (not about the wheelchair, but about the "wheelchair train") I'd look at my husband and he was just smiling and enjoying being out and exchanging cheerful words with the other shoppers.  I just love him, I thought, and then we'd move on. That was the "best of times" part.

And so when surgery was imminent, we realized things could go really well, or not.  We acknowledged that God is good, whatever way this goes, holding on to His promise to be with us always.  Our dear family helped us with many practical things and our circle of family, friends and spiritual family held us up in prayer and we definitely felt that reality.  The surgery going well was a real gift.  I was made mindful that others who at a similar place in life do not have the same outcome and sometimes the mystery and workings of God are hard to grasp.  I was reminded of the Scripture that tells us to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."  I have to say the people in our lives do this very well.  Being in ministry we often are in the place of weeping with others for life has many challenges and difficult times.  But for now in this time and this place, it is a time for rejoicing and we are appreciative of this gift of health at this time. Recovery in such matters goes on for some weeks and months, but each day is a present and we can say with the Psalmist, "O my strength, to You I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


On Halloween night I watched, with my husband, a film about two strangers surviving a plane crash is the extreme north and how the survival skills of the young native woman saved her pilot’s life. Her acts of kindness using her life skills of surviving in very low temperatures and blizzard conditions given for this man who hadn’t been, until this point, very nice to her, were very touching.

I awoke the next morning, thinking, I am waking up in a warm house. Many people wake up in places where they are cold as soon as they wake up. Many people live in locations where it is hot and muggy and sweaty when they start that day. The experience of waking up made me thankful. Furthermore I didn’t wake up with the flu that is going around. Nothing like feeling terrible to incite thankfulness for feeling good, don’t you agree? And so I realized, in the big scheme of things, this is a great day. I’m comfortable and I am not throwing up.

That movie was a very little thing, but, as I have discovered that in cultivating a heart of thankfulness we often learn that the little things in life are really the big things.

And when we realize little things are actually big, our capacity to become more thankful expounds.

The coffee that someone else prepares for us smells better, the snuggle from a child becomes sweeter, the mere voices of people that we love – even, or especially the wailing of a baby can be the sweetest music on earth. Things did not change – we changed. Our ability to appreciate our circumstances and be thankful has been increased.

And, as we are considering how we can become more thankful, what I have really become cognizant of is that the brightness of something good in my life is often brought to light by the juxtaposition of something either dark or bland right next to it.

There is a wonderful painting by John Singer Sargent of young girls lighting a candle inside of paper lanterns.  The colors in the paper lanterns absolutely glow - it is very apparent there is a flame inside.  If you put your hand over those lanterns, however, one notices how dull and drab the color around them really are.   It is precisely those somber colors that make the colors in the lanterns come alive.  If the whole canvas were bright and colorful, the lanterns would not appear to have fire in them.  They would lose their brillance, there would be no vibrancy. 
And so in this context, I’d like us to dare to think, what good things – things for which we can become truly thankful, have been brought to light by the somber, drab or boring things in life? Put another way, what good things (that we can now be very thankful for) were brought about through something difficult? 
No doubt the joy we feel over the good in our lives is made possible by going through the hard stuff.  Experiencing that contrast can make our capacity to be thankful go through the roof!
So while I thank God for all the good in my life I am reminded that my perspecitve has been shaped by the pain He has allowed me to undergo at times.  This strengthens my faith, helps me trust Him more and gives me hope.  Because nothing that I go through is merely random.  It may take awhile for me to see good coming out of a bad situation.  But God is the great conductor of life's orchestra and someday every note will fall into place and we will all stand and listen and the magnificence of it all will take our breath away.  Thankful.