Year in Focus: Get Still!

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From Oswald Chambers:
“Whenever God gives a vision to a Christian, it is as if He puts him in “the shadow of His hand” (Isaiah 49:2). The saint’s duty is to be still and listen. There is a “darkness” that comes from too much light— that is the time to listen. The story of Abram and Hagar in Genesis 16 is an excellent example of listening to so-called good advice during a time of darkness, rather than waiting for God to send the light. When God gives you a vision and darkness follows, wait. God will bring the vision He has given you to reality in your life if you will wait on His timing. Never try to help God fulfill His word. Abram went through thirteen years of silence, but in those years all of his self-sufficiency was destroyed. He grew past the point of relying on his own common sense. Those years of silence were a time of discipline, not a period of God’s displeasure. There is never any need to pretend that your life is filled with joy and confidence; just wait upon God and be grounded in Him (see Isaiah 50:10-11).”
There is so much to glean on this paragraph. Here’s what jumps out at me:
-There’s a darkness from too much light.
-Never try to help God fulfill His word.
-The years of silence were a time of discipline, not a period of God’s displeasure.
-Quit pretending life is sunny—wait and be grounded.

God put me in a job I never would have picked for myself. I was a caregiver for five years for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the years I came to treasure her and the lessons I learned about depending on God. But I started out with a grumbling spirit—arguing often with God about what a waste of my time and talents this job was. She didn’t want me there. Never said my name. Was cross and cantankerous on a daily basis. What on earth could be the point of this?

I learned to wait. I learned a new selflessness. I got still. I listened. I saw God in new ways. Providing care became a passion. Anticipating someone else’s every need became my delight. I was in tune with God and another person and it changed me—for the better and forever.

This time of incubation prepared me, readied me, as moved back into church ministry. Before the caregiving time of learning, I was a broken mess. That time of learning didn’t magically put the pieces back into place. No, my restoration resulted in the creation of a whole new creation.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, ESV)

What discipline is God using to make you new? How is he reshaping your life into something new he can use?

Get still!

Lenten Thoughts: Restore

(This reflection was written in 2009.)

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A few days ago, my husband and my grandson went grocery shopping. One of their favorite stops is the “day old” cart by the bakery. The grandson spied an individually wrapped cornbread loaf. He had to have it and grandpa obliged. The problem was that by the time they got to the car the bread had been pulverized in its wrapper. Abandoned as inedible, the crumby remains sat seemingly unwanted on the kitchen counter for a couple days.

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Fast forward a few days, my wonderful husband and cook made a pot of venison chili. On a whim I packed the crumby remains to eat for lunch with my chili. When it came time for lunch I opened the wrapper and dumped the crumbs into my chili. As I ate, I think I might have purred, it was just that good.

I had come very close on a couple occasions to throwing out the crumby mess. What was I going to do with them? They no longer appeared to have any purpose. They didn’t look good. I imagined that their inability to seemingly live up to their original intended use made them useless. Now isn’t that just the way we think?

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How many people have we almost thrown away because they no longer appear to be living up to their purpose? How many lives wait desperately to be reclaimed and restored but experience none because their lives are messy?

A few years ago I interviewed for a position with a local ministry. One of the board members conducting the interview, who was aware of the “messiness” of my own life, asked if I had been restored. It was a tough question to answer then. It still is. I know I’ve been redeemed—that was God’s work. The rest, well, it may take more time. But it will be as sweet as the cornbread in my chili.

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Rebuilding with Nehemiah, Chapter 4, Day 5

Friday: What to do with the Whiners
Text: 12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”[e] 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.
14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:12-14, NLT)

SP Neh 4 frustration wall

They were surrounded. The situation looked and felt grim. And I’m imagining there were many who were feeling hopeless.

So Nehemiah recruited more people to protect the vulnerable spots. And then he called them to remember.

“Remember the great and glorious God who has called you to this task, who has protected you and provided everything you need.”

“And remember why you are doing this. This is no mere exercise in futility. We’re not looking to win a beautification award. No, we are building this wall to protect ourselves and make a better life for our wives and children.”

SP Neh 4 Remember stone

We read the stories in the Old Testament where the people were called to remember what God had done. They rehearsed and reminded themselves regularly. Then when they found themselves in a difficult situation the truth was not a far off concept, but one upon which they could depend.

The same holds true for the writers of the New Testament. Paul was clear on this with the Philippian believers. “It’s no hardship for me to write of these things again,” he told them. He knew the power of remembering what God has done and what he promises to do.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to feel surrounded and hopeless. Remember God. Remember he has called you to the task. Remember he promises to not just give you life, but joy.

WP Neh dev 4-5 thrive

Book Review: Lost & Found–Sarah Jakes

I hadn’t even made it out of the introduction and I was already in tears and convinced I would probably need to purchase a whole case of this book. For sure, I wanted to share it with my grown daughters who had experienced many of the struggles Sarah describes…and grown up under the microscope of being a pastor’s daughter.

This story is so much more than just the recounting of a “PK” gone wild…it is the truth of the gospel: there is grace. A contemporary Christian artist puts it this way:
You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far
That you can’t get back when you’re lost,
Where you are is never too late, so bad, so much
That you can’t change who you are,
You can change who you are (Who You Are by Unspoken)

The level of courage that Sarah Jakes demonstrates as she shares the gritty details of her choices and how far she feels she moved away from what she knew and the grace that could save and sustain her seems to come from someone much older than just twenty-five.

This book is gift of hope. Hope for the one whose made devastating life choices, and hope for those who love them.

When I started reading I purchased a little pad of sticky notes and started writing down the points that stuck out to me. I gave up somewhere in the second chapter–there were just so many. This would make an excellent women’s study, broaching topics and examining feelings that often stay hidden and do so much damage.

Sarah makes this statement in her conclusion: The chapters of my life I’ve shared with you within these pages reveal some of my darkest hours and most painful disappointments. But as a broken window acts as a prism, filtering sunlight through its cracks I hope that you can see the many beautiful moments of color dancing within my rooms.

I recommend this book very highly and am proud to have it on my bookshelf.

I received a copy of this book to read from the publisher in return for my review.

Restored

Our Sunday School class is studying this book:

The lesson this week was about the healing of the woman with the issue of blood. (See Mark 5, Luke 8)

I started the class by saying we were going to talk about a woman with an issue. They laughed. Then we moved on to talk about how miserable life was for this woman–cut off from all relationship because of the illness that had deemed her unclean for 12 years.

In a very desperate move she travels 30 miles to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She makes this arduous trip alone. But that’s probably better. That way she could slip in and slip out.

Or so she thought.

Jesus wasn’t going to let that happen.

She thought she was sneaking up on Jesus. Like Jesus didn’t know where to be for this encounter to occur. Talk to the woman at the well (see John 4) about that one. Remember, Jesus “had” to go to Samaria. Yeah, he did…to meet up with her. And it was no mistake that Jesus was walking down a crowded street right when she was plotting her move.

So before she can slink away, Jesus lets it be known that he was touched. The disciples are like, “There’s a surprise Jesus. Perhaps you missed the crowd?”

But it was a different kind of touch. It was a touch of faith. And while it could have been a touch that left him unclean…it was a touch that drew power from him. And he wasn’t going to let his power be stolen.

He pressed the issue. Who touched me?

Caught. If she thought she knew desperation before…she was in for a huge surprise. Imagine it: everyone in the crowd who had happened to touch her her or anything she touched was now unclean. This could turn ugly really quick.

Instead of running away, she falls before Jesus, tells him the whole story, and then waits for the other shoe to drop. Life had been harsh and unbearable for her. And now, now it might be over.

Instead she hears a word that she never thought she’d hear again.

Daughter.

I wonder if she heard anything else.

Daughter.

A word that denotes relationship. She came for healing and came away restored

Isn’t that just like Jesus? He gives us what we really need.

This has always been one of my favorite stories. But yesterday as I got all choked up when I came to the part about restoration.

I don’t know how your life has been, but I know the preciousness of being restored. And for me it has come in bits and pieces and today brought another piece. And when I read the email that invited me into a deeper level of restoration a voice resonated in my heart.

Daughter.

And I was reminded who was in control. And I wept. And I laughed. And I praised God.

There are many healing miracles recorded in the gospels. And I’m glad. But it’s the miracle of restoration that touches my broken heart. And what’s really cool to me is that is waiting for each of us to reach out in faith to touch him.

Book Review: Rearview 7 Hours

Rearview: 7 Hours
Mike Dellosso
121 pages

Unsettled. That’s how I felt when I finished reading this book. I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down. I felt like I was watching a movie, you know the kind, where you yell at the TV screen, trying to tell the actors not to go down in the basement or up in the attic.

My family teases me that I use the word “intense” too much—but this book was intense. Not in an action packed sort of way, but I was aware of the clock ticking. No, come on, no more delays…time was running out.

Perhaps it was just the offer itself. Yeah, I think that’s really it. What would you do? What would I do? Chose seven hours to go back and relive, add seven hours now, or just die. People say you can’t have regrets and going back to change things can change more than you want to change. And could you live with that? One thought that grabbed my mind and heart was this: “If hope was good medicine, regrets were a disease, a viral infection that invaded every cell of the body and spread its poison, not at once but over time, gradually building toxicity until the whole of the life affected was consumed. (p. 86)”

The main character, Professor Dan Blakely, was very relatable. His feelings, frustrations, and fears made sense. He had it all, life looked like it was coming together and then someone wants to rip it away.

This was the first book I read by this author. He is an engaging storyteller. I know this, it will not be my last.

To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, please mention as part of every Web or Amazon review that Tyndale House Publishers has provided you with a complimentary copy of this book.

Book Review: Unstuck

Unstuck
Your Life. God’s Design. Real Change.
Arnie Cole + Michael Ross
Bethany House Publishers, 2012, 265 pages

I was looking forward to getting this book to read. Then I got it. My first impression was not good. The authors stated that their approach to getting unstuck was not found in a quick fix or formula, but they proceeded to describe steps for the process. The steps initially felt like a veiled formula. I decided to keep reading, and I’m glad I did. It became very clear that the authors were emphasizing process and relationship. I was also reminded that most of us don’t get stuck overnight, so we should realize that getting unstuck will indeed take time.

Each section of the book began with a list of concise goals that the authors intended to accomplish. I found this very helpful. The good news is that they did a good job of meeting their goals. Perhaps this is just a personal pet peeve of mine, but I have always disliked going to a workshop and having the leader identify goals, but never come close to meeting them. To the authors’ credit they demonstrated integrity in this issue.

One of my concerns at the outset was that the book, because of its foundation being based in a survey that was taken by the authors, was going be too statistically focused for my liking. What I found to the contrary was a nice balance between head oriented material referring to the study, and personal stories. This balance is such that it would result in the book appealing to either mindset. There is also a nice assortment of quotes to support their findings and their stories. Many of the names are recognizable, lending a sense of credibility and connection both to and beyond the material.

Another strength that I found in this book was that it was plainly written, without a lot of Christianeze or assumed common religious language. While this would be appealing to either unchurched folks, unbelievers, or those new to faith, there wasn’t a sense that the material was dumbed down, so it would still make sense and get the point across to believers who found themselves stuck in one way or another. With that in mind this book would be good for the new believer just starting their faith journey and wanting to understand the Word. It would be great from the perspective of preventative material so that they might be sparred some of the frustration of being potentially stuck in the future. There is still enough impact of the material for the stuck, static, and status quo believer.

The third part of the book puts the ball in the reader’s hand. It invites the reader to plot his/her own course toward a spiritual breakthrough. While the steps described sound like a formula, it is presented in such a personal way that the relational component came through very clearly. By including pages that resemble a workbook, the authors’ remove some of the natural tendency to put off doing the suggested work and reflection and instead create the opportunity for the reader to get right to work. It should probably also be noted that the book is formatted to be read (and digested) on a daily basis (each chapter gives a daily scripture reading and question). The chapters also close with a statement about what their research revealed and an encouraging nudge.

I think the thing that really sold me on the book was the way they seemed to tie everything up at the end. They have been emphasizing the importance of improving one’s relationship with God, especially as it is related to the Word. They share at the minimum we need to be reading and engaging the Word at least four times a week as the foundational component of getting and staying unstuck. They finish by describing the four critical elements of spiritual growth: knowledge; prayer, faith and action. I believe that these parallel the things that God himself requires of us, loving Him with all our heart (faith), soul (prayer), mind (knowledge) and strength (action) (see Deuteronomy 6:5). Anything that helps us understand and move deeper into relationship with Him is a good thing. This book does that in a very clear manner. I’m really glad I kept reading.

I recommend this book. Read it. Share it.

(I received a free copy of this book to review from Bethany House Publishers.)

Coming out of the corner

Coming out of the corner

When you were a kid did you have to stand in the corner for punishment? I don’t think I did. I got my fair share of spankings. I was sent to my room. Only one time did I ever miss a meal. I was grounded as I got older and remember losing car priviledges, too. But I don’t remember my nose stuck in the corner. Oh, and there was no such thing as a time out chair in my house.

So as an adult, who is almost fifty-five, today feels very odd to me.  Recently,  I completed the final phase of punishment for a crime I committed ten years ago. I was not the kid who got in trouble. Never even got a speeding ticket. A friend made the statement that my worst crime was probably the way I cooked meatloaf.

Before I recieced my sentence, I completed a psychological evaluation to determine the likelihood of my reoffending. I was deemed low risk for reoffending. A PSI (pre-sentence investigation) was also done and it supported the Psych eval. So when it came time for my sentencing, the judge ordered me to spend sixty day in county jail, pay a $500 fine, and serve five years on community control (aka probation). Additionally, this crime automatically carried a ten year period of community registration which came with its own restrictions. This final component has been the mostndifficult for me. In many ways it has been like being in a prison without bars, because of the legal restrictions and the self-imposed shame. There wasn’t a single day in that ten years when I didn’t feel some level of judgement, real or imagined.

Today the bars are gone completely. All phases of that original sentence have been completed. It seemed very fitting that the sun should be shining the day it was all done, because I certainly feel like I had come out of a very dark place.

Putting someone in time out, whether it is in the corner or in prison, can provide the separated individual an opportunity to reflect and plan. My encounters with people seems to reveal to me that much more time goes into the planning than into reflection. The plan may be as simple as how not to get caught again or to exact revenge on those the “prisoner” blames for his or her incarceration. As for me, there was much  more reflection than planning. I have spent a lot of time, both in therapeutic counselling and journalistic reflection, thinking about what got me into the place where I made such devastating decisions and what I need to do to be sure I don’t ever repeat those mistakes.

So now I’ve crossed into a new place. In some ways life doesn’t look any different than it did a few days ago, but I can feel the difference.

Sunday morning in worship we sang the chorus, “Trading My Sorrows.” It starts out by saying!
“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord…I’ll say yes Lord…” I get that. I have exhausted myself. Ten years of shame carrying can do that to a body.

I was trying to explain this feeling and the “change” to a friend.   Never having walked this path she just couldn’t wrap her brain around the difference. She has only known me for the past four years, so she didn’t know the pre-crime Tina. She couldn’t understand what difference a day would make. This isn’t the first time we had this conversation, either.  So once again, I tried using a current example to help her see.

There has been a job advertized online and in our local paper for a counselor position at the local drug and alcohol counselling center. There is licensure requirement listed. I have a counselling degree and experience. I could do the job. Last week I wouldn’t even considered applying. What makes the difference? Two things. First, I have completed my sentence. That means something. And through the process I re-established my credibility and I have the references to support that. They are the same references I would have had last week, but now it’s their word and my action. Even more than that, I have hope. And that is poweful a thing.

What I know for absolute certain is that I am out of the corner.  I sometimes wonder if the paint was wet in the corner where I stood.  Or perhaps someone stuck a “Corner” tag on my back when I was reflecting too deeply to notice.  I wonder this because there are some people who treat me as if I still belong in the corner.  Good therapy has helped me in handling this.  I just remind myself: they can’t put me back there unless I let them.  And all their fretting about my being “restored” is about them.  I don’t have to try and carry their stuff–I have enough of a load of my own to deal with thank you very much!

So I’m going to kick around and enjoy a little fresh air and freedom.  No more corners for me!

Day Sixteen: Boredom’s Cure

(Sorry for the lapse.  Computer and then internet issues have sought to sabotage my commitment to daily writing.  Thank you for hanging in there with me.)

Being bored has never been a good thing. When I was a kid, if I told my mom I was bored, she would gladly find me something to do…and it was never pleasant. Remembering this, I did what all mothers do: I passed the same trick along to my children, foster children, and grandchildren. The mere threat of my finding something for them to do generally cured any malaise.

So what about me? How as an adult do I do battle with boredom? I began by considering the antonyms for boredom, as suggested by dictionary.com: amuse; thrill, enrapture. Hmmm. The last few days I’ve been amusing myself with my new Nook Tablet. I have enjoyed learning its intricacies and capabilities. That has been good. Thrill? Not big into thrills. I wasn’t blessed with an abundance of curiosity or daring. I’m not even sure I’ve thought of thrill in a positive light for a very long time. Lately all I can think of is saying that I’m not thrilled about something or other, usually about feeling like I have no choices. My time doesn’t seem to belong to me. I don’t have any pocket money to blow. What would I do if my time were my own? Would it be thrilling to make a few choices? To say no when everyone expects me to say yes? Hmmm.

Enraptured. Now there’s something to think about. I just dashed over to dictionary.com again to check whether I really knew what the word meant. To me it’s an all encompassing kind of word. It’s a feeling of being lost in something. It’s an experience engaging all my senses.

One of the actual definitions is: to delight beyond measure. And therein, as my mother would say, lies the rub. I’m not feeling much joy these days. I can’t tell you why or when joy took a hiatus, but I’m definitely missing it.

So I turned to the scriptures to find my cure. First stop, Psalms. Now I realized I was feeling like David in Psalm 13. He was one depressed dude. But in the end he returns to the source of his faith. Later he reminds himself in Psalm 37 not to worry about how good the other guy has it but trust in God who will give him the delight of his heart. Finally I landed in Psalm 51, where David writes: Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. I had trouble finding the verse. I put in several different combinations and each one included: the joy of my salvation. Now that little difference may not jump out at you, but it spoke volumes to me.

Do you wear glasses? I do. I started wearing glasses when I was 40. I’ve always had trouble with my eyes (4 corrective eye muscle surgeries before I was 9), so I was familiar with the ocular device where the doctor asks you to consider which lens is clearer, “This one or this one? This one or this one? This one or this one?” This part of the examination seems to take forever, and some of the differences are so minute that they’re practically indistinguishable.

That’s what I started thinking about as I considered the difference between “my salvation” and “your salvation.” How much difference can one word really make? For me, in this case, a huge difference. As I reflected, I realized that I was once again at that place where I want things the way I want them. I had been relying upon my wisdom, my strength, my salvation. Interesting side note: I just spelled that slavation–as if doing it my made me a slave to my self and didn’t provide what I needed most: salvation from the only one who can truly provide it, now and forever. No wonder I had lost my joy.

I wish I could say that I have determined three steps to reach my goal of restored joy. Wouldn’t that be nice? Right now, all I can muster is a determination to seek after God and his salvation through greater dependence on the word and more time in direct communication with him in prayer. And trust me, I’ll let you know where that gets me. Shalom.