But God!

(This article appeared yesterday in the Ashland (OH) Times-Gazette.)

I came to Phoenix, Arizona in January for a women’s clergy gathering. As is often the case, the experience was blessing upon blessing. My spirit soared. My faith was enriched. I made new friends—and not just the “pad my Facebook numbers” kind. I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

Instead of coming right home, I figured I couldn’t visit Arizona and not visit my mom who lives south of Tucson. During my visit she became ill which resulted in a diagnosis of pneumonia and five days in the hospital. We opted to continue her recuperation at home with in-home health care. To describe this time as difficult would be an understatement.

During her convalescence, my mom asked if I would be willing to stay with her—permanently. This is a plan we had discussed the year prior during another illness. Because of that conversation, my husband and I also had a series of talks. We began to make plans: I would take care of my mom and he would stay in Ohio to take care of his. 

On paper and when we spoke, these things made sense to us. Even still, Mom’s request felt like a punch in the gut. I hadn’t expected it. I still had things to do in Ashland.  I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

I have enough Bible under my belt to know when we say, “But God…” we are in essence telling him, “No.” Not a smart move. Telling God no negates all he wants and can do for us. The petulant child comes out of us. We stomp our feet, and pitch our fit. We tell God all the reasons why his plan isn’t good enough. 

My mom is the queen of pithy statements, homey proverbs. When she wanted to cut off our childish rants, she would say, “But me no buts.” I did a little research. That phrase has been around since 1709 when Susanna Centlivre coined it in the play, “The Busie Body.” These four words were used to cut off all objections.

In my experience, God has been good at cutting off my objections. When he nips my protestations, he uses my own words to redirect me to his power and plan. My whiny “But God…” becomes his “but GOD!”

A quick search through scripture shows how Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Jonah, and even Jesus knew the power of “but GOD!” Joseph puts the truth quite clearly when after suffering injustice upon injustice, he finally ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man, which puts him in the perfect place to provide for the brothers who left him for dead. “You meant to do me harm, but God used it for good (see Genesis 50:20).” 

The Apostle Paul understood this too. In his letter to the Romans he writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” When he writes about this to the Ephesians he lays God’s plan out quite plainly: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins (2:1); But God is so rich in mercy and he loves us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life through Christ (2:4); Therefore, you are not strangers, neither guests, but inhabitants of the city of The Holy One and children of the household of God (2:9).  

These are difficult days. Dealing with isolation, illness, financial devastation, can definitely bring out our worse whiny case of “But God…” Perhaps God, though,  is leading us individually and as a faith community into new situations that push us far beyond our comfort, far from where our own plans would take us. If we will surrender our plan, we open ourselves to power that is “but God!”

Imagine if you could interview the people I mentioned above, and ask them if they thought it was worth it to surrender their plans to God. They would probably tell you the journey wasn’t easy—but it was the best choice they ever made. 

Daily I’m learning to surrender my whiny protesting for my way so that I can find the power of “but God!” Need some extra power? Need a better plan? Check out what God can do when we but Him no buts.

In the Midst of the Storm

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I came out to the patio to write. I swept the patio. I fussed around the table. I decided to work on worship music for tomorrow’s online service.

I was doing everything but writing.

I pulled up the song, “Fear No More by building 429.” I found something to write about. I love this song. It fits my current situation. The lyrics of the song contain an image of Jesus holding us in a storm not of our own choosing. “This isn’t what I planned…” Chaos is all around but Jesus is with us in the storm.

As I listened my mind drifted to the passage where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat and a strong storm happens. Mark records Peter’s recollection: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-40, NIV)

Jesus is not holding the disciples when the storm crashes in on them, and they are terrified they are going to die.

Jesus is there. He’s been there all along. He has the power to still the storm around them…and within them. Their fear brought them to Jesus, but not for an answer. They came accusing him of not caring. They are angry because while they’re consumed with and by their fear Jesus is curled up, cozy on a cushion. They are infuriated at his selfishness: this is no time to sleep, man! Do something for us. NOW!

In Mark’s account, Jesus rebuked the storm. What an object lesson. Storm, be at peace. Be still. Jesus may have addressed the storm, but his message was for the disciples. And it’s for us also.

Do you feel like there’s a storm all around you? Are the walls closing in? Do you fear for your life…or your way of living?

Here’s my confession: I’ve been really mad at God. Life was going pretty sweetly for me. I was achieving goals. I was about to start my D.Min (or finish it). Nelson was finally getting some of his medical issues addressed. We were happy. It was sort of like a Sunday boat ride on the lake on a wonderful summer day. Weather perfect. Floating along. Cozy. Relaxed. Happy.

Then bam. And nothing was comfortable. I couldn’t find happy anywhere on my radar. Ripped from the familiar. Life as I knew it…as I wanted it…was gone.

And this isn’t the first time in my life. I don’t want to re-rehearse the litany of what I saw as injustices perpetrated by God upon me. Why give it to me just to yank it away?

Selah. (Period of reflective silence.)

Job: shall we take the good and not the bad?

Paul: I have learned whatever situation I am in to find contentment.

Jesus: I’m right here. Be at peace. Be still.

Paul again: God puts us right where he wants us. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Me: okay. I will trust that you are with me—even in the storm. I may not be in school for my D.Min, but I have a lot to learn. Right here. Right now. (That’s my prayer, so Amen.)

Hopefully Devoted: Melancholy 1-Tina 0

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It’s been a rough morning. A wrestling with God morning. An unhappy with my life morning.

I’m not sure I can convey how difficult it is for me to own that.

But I’m trying to read this book—I desperately need to—and I’m finding it hard to get past the title: No More Faking Fine.

My parents were alcoholics—faking fine is one of the inner-workings of a child growing up in that environment. You can’t reveal the family secret…to anyone! Every thing is fine.

My husband is chronically depressed. Most of the time he functions acceptably, but there are seasons when the melancholy threatens to pull him under and me along with it. I don’t want to draw attention to it—so I pretend, with my own smiling mask..every thing is fine.

I could go on, but there isn’t any need. Suffice it to say: today the melancholy is rocking my little boat and I’m not finding the energy for every thing to be fine.

So this morning, contemplating what in the world I could write about, I reach for my devotional, A Guide To Prayer For All Who Walk With God (The Upper Room), and start reading in the week of the Second Sunday of Lent.

First thing I read, “I’m weak and needy. Let my Lord think of me. You are my help and my rescuer (Psalm 40:17).”

And then, “Amidst the tumult of thoughts the world jars loose in us, does not the season of Lent quietly invite us to pause and take stock of ourselves? (John S. Mogabgab, Weavings, May/June 1995)

Perhaps that is what I am to surrender for Lent. Yay! I can still have chocolate. But I cannot fake being fine. Chocolate might have been easier to give up.

Prayer Thought: Fan the flames of your love in our hearts, O God. Breathe life into the dry bones of our faith. Buoy our sagging spirts. Restore the joy of our salvation. All glory is yours. Amen.

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Working With One Mind

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Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:1-5, NLT)

Work together with the mind of Christ.

Paul continues in this passage to describe how the mind and attitude of Christ demonstrated all the things he just required of the Philippians. His life was defined by humility, deference, surrender, and obedience.

Today the Christian church celebrates Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. It was not what they expected or wanted. They were looking for the one who would free them from the oppressive Roman rule: conquering and victorious. Instead he rode in on the peacemaker’s colt. They wanted an overcomer and they got a humble teacher.

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How different would life look if we gave up trying to impress each other, and gave up seeking our interests–put the interests of others first?

I hear it’s the best attitude for cross-bearing.

PRAYER: Humility, obedience, surrender. These are words that don’t come easy to mind, and even less to action. Help us take a step today, Lord, in the direction of having your attitude toward others, and ourselves. Amen.

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How Long Does Love Last?

The total number of days between Saturday, February 17th, 1979 and Monday, February 17th, 2014 is 12,784 days.

This is equal to exactly 34 years and 12 months.

This does not include the end date, so it’s accurate if you’re measuring your age in days, or the total days between the start and end date. But if you want the duration of an event that includes both the starting date and the ending date, then it would actually be 12,785 days.

12,784 days is equal to 1826 weeks and 2 days.

The total time span from 1979-02-17 to 2014-02-17 is 306,816 hours.

This is equivalent to 18,408,960 minutes.

You can also convert 12,784 days to 1,104,537,600 seconds.

I have been married more of my life than not.

I don’t think in terms of me, for I am we.

To say that my life has been blessed doesn’t even come close to how I feel. No one thought this marriage would last. No one counted on his fierce loyalty and commitment to commitment…or my keen awareness that while he is not perfect, he is perfect for me.

We have 35 years of memories and few pictures to go along with them. We have punchlines, but don’t remember the jokes. We have favorite places and lots of favorite foods. Two beautiful and amazing daughters and four delightful grandchildren.

And we have hopes and dreams for the future. Plans that include less work, more enjoyment, and a warmer place to call home.

We recognize that each day is a gift.

At the end of our wedding ceremony, we each took a red rose from a vase on the altar table and gave them to our mothers. Then we sang Henry Mancini’s song, “Sometimes.” Actually, I sang because Nelson got pretty choked up. It didn’t sound as good as Julie Andrew, but you’ll get the gist:

Then as now, I am aware that there are many people who have aided us in this journey, cared for us, prayed for us and with us. Thank you. You mean so very much to us.

And now to quote one of my favorite professors, and dear friend, who often quotes Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been–Thanks! To all that will be–Yes!” God bless you all.

No Temporary Solutions

I must be related to Abram and Sarai.

Think Old Testament…flannel graph…cut out story characters glued onto Popsicle sticks.

Just that one dimensional, predictable, and powerless.


This morning I printed out my resume, dutifully created and printed out a list of three solid and varied references, then headed over to a local temp agency. The one main difference between this agency and all the rest is that they employ individuals who have felony convictions.

I went with a smidgen of hope.

I left feeling stupid and hopeless.

Dear Employer, why do you ask for a resume and then ask me to fill out a novel length application? Just wondering?

The application booklet I began filling out did that very thing. It’s a frustration to me. We weren’t starting well.


I turned to the third page and began answering questions. With each I was given three choices and asked to circle one. I didn’t like the options. I wanted to add my own answers. For example: Do you prefer a job that is fast paced, moderate, or slow. Well, that depends…am I chasing chocolates like Lucy? I don’t want to stand around waiting for the next step. I want to be occupied, productive, but not chasing my tail. There was no option for this answer.

There was a question about supervision, whether I like to be micromanaged or left to my own. Well, that sort of depends on the job, too. My frustration was building. If I have a problem I want to be able to access a supervisor who can assist me in learning the job and doing it well. I need a supervisor who checks in and is encouraging. An “ata girl” goes a long for me.

Then there was a question about whether I preferred a job that was complicated…I can’t even remember the other choices because they weren’t the ones I would have chosen. I want a job that is challenging and that I enjoy. I guess that doesn’t really matter. Perhaps that is why America leads the world in job dissatisfaction.

When I apply for a job I want to talk to a recruiter. I want to be interviewed. Don’t stick me in a sterile office and then lock me into only three choices. Let me fill in the blank; tell you what I really want; what I really mean.

I was screaming all things in my head. I laid down my pen…actually it was one I borrowed from my husband. He must have used it at work (he works with graphite). My thumb, index finger and middle finger tips of my writing hand were quite black.

It made me laugh. First because it looked ridiculous (I quickly prayed I hadn’t touched my face), and then because I could hear him scolding me.


Why was I there? He had told me not to even start looking until after Christmas. I have plans to go visit my mom in Arizona for a couple weeks and my daughter was going to need me to watch the Red-haired Wonder Child over Christmas break. We would be ok financially until then.

But I felt like I should do something.

Sure God has a plan, but he will want me to do my part. Right?

Sitting there, I flipped through the rest of the application—ten more pages.

Nope. I wasn’t going to do it. I’m not sure how to describe it, but I knew with that to-the-bone kind of certainty this was not the avenue God wanted me to go down.

I closed the book. Put my things away and my coat on. I walked into the young woman’s office and told her: “Thank you very much, but this is not for me. I find your application redundant and the questions impersonal. I’m not interested in applying.” And I walked out. She seemed quite shocked as she accepted the application back.


I started talking to God as soon as I got in my car. That’s when Abram and Sarai came to mind. God told them what he was going to do. They felt like He took his time getting around to it, so they jumped in with their own solution. All one has to do is look at the troubles in the Middle East and realize that they stem directly from Abe and Sarai’s attempt to help God along to know that God doesn’t generally need our help to get things accomplished.

I have made enough bad choices. I don’t need any more negative consequences. I apologized to God for coming way too close to helping him out with his plan for me


NOW HEAR THIS!!! I am in NO WAYS saying that temp agencies are wrong, bad, or evil. On the contrary, I have encouraged people to utilize the services of these agencies whenever possible. They are great ways to get your foot in the door, create positive references, and acquire experience. Hooking up with a reputable agency can create a relationship that keeps the jobs and therefore the cash rolling in.

What I am saying is I realized I was trying to rush God and that’s a HUGE mistake.

God is never in a hurry. God is working even when you can’t see it or don’t feel it. His timing is perfect—trust Him! Wait on Him!

Jesus came in the fullness of time. When the time was “rightest.” Several times he reminded the disciples to keep quiet becuase the time wasn’t right for him.

Many times I’ve been befuddled by God’s timing. Foolishly I have lamented that God’s ways don’t always make sense. What I tend to forget is God’s ways are not my ways…or your ways—so of course they probably won’t make sense. We are finite, linear, and limited in our perspective. God is infinite, sovereign, omniscient. He really does know it all.

So I need to trust Him. I can trust Him.

Hard as it will be, there will be no temporary solutions to this long term problem.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Surrender

We started our study of Conrad Gempf’s book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah in our Sunday school class last Sunday. And as I suspected, we didn’t get very far, very fast. In fact, we only got through half of the introduction. Lest you wonder…this is a good thing. There was much discussion and participation. Our class has grown so much that we have to find a better way to squeeze us in–such a glorious problem!

So while I was studying and preparing for the upcoming class the topic of surrender was mentioned…but the way my mind stuck on it you would have thought that it was the main theme. Rumination at its best.

Surrender. Not a popular word. Somehow it has become the definition of weakness, of defeat. We don’t want to surrender to our enemies, our spouse, our boss, our grandchildren. And yet we daily surrender to our passions, our obsessions, our addictions. Go figure.

For a bit, I want to focus on what surrender means in the spiritual sense…at least for me.

Here’s the problem as I see it: we think surrender means giving away everything and getting nothing. And somehow in that process I get lost…the me that I am, is gone. If I surrender to my spouse I cease to exist and it’s only them. If I surrender to God…then there’s no me. And we can’t fathom not being. That’s why we fight death so fiercely.

Until we begin to understand God, this surrender thing makes him seem like some cosmic terrorist: why surrender? He’s just going to kill us anyway.

Our thinking is really twisted…thanks to the great deceiver and the work he’s been at since the garden. See, he started his number on the first folks, Adam and Eve–and primarily Eve. His job has been to distort God’s purposes and He’s really quite good at it and we’re really quite sucked into it. His opening remarks were to twist the words and purpose of God’s reasoning. “Did God really say that?” “I’m sure that’s not what he meant.” And then she bit and bought the apple.

What does this have to do with surrender? Everything. We think everything is ours and to get a piece of God we have to give it all up. As if to hold God in my hands I have to lay my stuff down. And there in, or in there, lies the problem.

Nothing I have is mine. It may be in my possession, but it doesn’t belong to me. Having trouble with that? I understand. I was dealing with my grandson on the concept just the other day. He was playing with a neighbor boy, who happens to remind me of Eddie Haskill (if you don’t remember Leave it to Beaver, go look it up on youtube). He’s older than my grandson and constantly tries to take advantage of his naivety. Especially when it comes to trading. (This is a boy concept which I don’t get very well.) Eddie-boy tries to grandson to give him something or things and in return gives him junk that he tries to pawn off as really great stuff. Grandson wants to be friends with Eddie-boy so he goes along with it.

This trading isn’t too big a problem until grandson starts to trade off the stuff that we have paid for (aka: of high value to us as it should be to him). That’s when I step in as the enforcer and put the kibosh to the whole thing. The last incident left grandson in tears and confused and me trying to explain. I wanted grandson to know that we provide these things for him so that he will have things to do and play with while he is at our house (daily). He is allowed to play with them and in some sense they are his things, but they don’t belong to him. He is also charged with the care of these things.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is how God sees things, too. He provides it all–but it’s still his. All he asks is that we acknowledge that and take care of it.

I think that was why the Rich Young Ruler (see Mark 10:17-27) had such a hard time when Jesus told him to sell all that he “possessed” and give it to the poor. He didn’t really understand who the true owner, possessor, was. He really bought the lie (of the evil one), and thought he owned it. He thought to give it, to surrender, meant that he would lose it all. As if to think that God really needed his possessions? I don’t need to own all my grandson’s toys. In fact, when he’s grown and gone, so will the toys. It would just be nice if he recognized the provision occasionally, but that might be a lot to expect from a seven year old.

But we’re adults and it seems to be what God is asking of us.

Could this be what Paul was saying to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2) when he describes our reasonable service/sacrifice as one that is living? He says God wants a living sacrifice. That is what is holy and pleasing to him. Too often we think we quit living if we surrender.

(I just had a moment…a thought…I was thinking about Abraham offering Isaac. There seems to be some parallels. Would God have allowed Abraham to kill Isaac? Or was he wanting to see if Abe would give, surrender his son–give back to God what ultimately was his anyway? Going to have to think on this some more.)

If you’re still reading along with me, then you have exceeded blogdom’s suggested word count and I thank you. Let me hasten to close…

Surrender is not to be feared or avoided. In many ways it reminds me of how I define confession: agreeing and owning what God already knows about me. Surrender is recognizing who truly owns everything and receiving it back as a trust–whether it’s my life, my money, my toys…you fill in the blank. I’m not, you’re not, the owner, but the steward.

And here’s a thought: God trusts you with his very best and treasured possessions. How will that impact your living?

Wondering and Wandering: Ah, Gentleness

“Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of the persons I know who model for me the depths of the spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness. Their eyes communicate the residue of soitary battles with angels, the costs of caring for others, the deaths of ambition and ego, and the peace that comes from having very little left to lose in this life. They are gentle because they have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their caring is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has ben stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.” From Healing of Purpose by John E. Biersdorf

The older I get the more I treasure the “gentle” people around me. They are like the softness of a cashmere blanket wrapped around us, warming us with soft caresses. I sat and soaked in that image for a moment and then went back and read the quote…not an adequate image. But isn’t that just like us? We want to the softness without the process.

Right now there’s a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial that left me needing a tissue the first time I saw it:

This of course reminded me of one of my favorite tidbits of literature: The Wisdom of the Skinhorse (“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams)
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

This proces and transformation are not something that we have to hunt for and try to accomplish all willy-nilly. Someone has offered to walk us through it, to teach us, to be with us all along the way:
Are you tired? Worn our? Burned out on religion? Come to me Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show
you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I
won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Jesus, the One we preparing to meet this holy season, the One who came as Immanuel (God to be with us), invites us to journey with him, to learn from him for he is gentle and humble of heart. Nothing much more humbling than the helplessness of a baby. Helplessness at any stage we might find ourselves.

Where does gentleness come from? From learning we don’t have all the answers, that we can’t do this on our own, and from learning to wrap our brain around how okay it is to be dependent.

We’ve already considered your IQ (imitation quotient), so now I’m wondering: how’s your GQ, your gentleness quotient?