No Easy Answer

As with many others, I am shocked and saddened for the people of Uvalde, Texas–a place I had never heard of before Tuesday. There are no words that are adequate to help the wounded hearts in that town. I wrote a post of May 25, 2009 that expresses a lot of how I feel. Just a few months after the original post, my husband passed away unexpectedly and I was left with lots of questions and no easy answers. But love certainly helped me recover and take one step in front of another while grieving.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

I could easily talk about all the reasons I think this happened–none of which make sense in light of the carnage–or all the things we need to do in the United States to keep this from happening again. But I will not in this post. The fact is there are no easy answers for the wounded right now.

The following is my facebook post on May 25, 2009

In the past month individuals I love have lost loved ones–some to suicide, some quickly and unexpectedly and some because of long, lingering illnesses. There is no easy way to say goodbye to the ones we love. It is even harder when you don’t have a chance to say goodbye, to tell them how much you love them, how proud you are of them, what a privilege and blessing it has been to know them. It’s hard to let them go after you have watched them battle their demons and finally come out stronger, healthier, and looking forward to what life has in store for them.

There is no magic answer, no quick cure for the pain, nothing to make it all better. We just hold on tight and let the ones left behind know we love and care for them.

The fact is death is a part of life: unescapable, final, an end of all you have strived to accomplish. But as a Christian, I believe that death is but the beginning of a new life of love, worship, and adventures with God. This body is just a vessel housing my spirit, waiting for it to be released to a far better place, in my real home with God. And while I selfishly want to stay here for a while yet, I realize that the day will come when this life as I know it will cease and a new, far more exciting one will come.

But for now for all of those who are grieving, take solace in knowing you are loved by a God who knew sorrow at the loss of His son and who carries our sorrows with him. You are loved by your family and friends who sorrow and grieve with you and for you. No, there are no easy answers, but you are loved deeply by God. And sometimes, love is is the only thing to see you through.

Hidden Potential*

When they were first married, my son and his wife purchased a home that was a short sale. When they first brought me to see the house, it was somewhat difficult to look past the dirt and junk. There were piles of toys, clothes, and miscellaneous items that had been left by the previous owners.  In the bathroom, the tub surround was full of crayon scribbles and the toilets were in dire need of a good cleaning and disinfectant. In the basement the refrigerator still had food in it, and the smell was rank when the door was opened. Even trash had been left in the kitchen can.

The outside had ivy growing unchecked around the entire foundation. The large back yard was full of weeds and shrubs that had been allowed to grow wild, not to mention a pile of cinder blocks that served no useful function that we could see. Dead trees had fallen and the decaying logs were lying on the ground.

Most people would have walked away after seeing the first room, and indeed, at first I just saw all of the surface issues. But on a deeper, second look, I could envision the possibilities they saw in the home. As they worked hard at making the house into a home, a beautiful picture emerged.

Everything was sorted and either thrown away or given to the thrift store. The walls were cleaned and painted. Hardware was stripped of years of grime and coats of paint and looked new. Hardwood floors were sanded and sealed. Broken windows were replaced, and ivy was pulled. Suddenly the house was living up to its potential. It was not an easy task and took hard work and perseverance.  

Just cleaning the refrigerator and stove were huge chores. My daughter-in-laws’ Dad and Mom literally took them apart and cleaned them piece by piece. As layer after layer of dirt and grime was washed away, the stove and refrigerator became clean and sparkling. After all was finished my son and his wife had a home that showed its true character. Underneath all the junk was a jewel waiting to be discovered.

All of this made me think that it is a wonderful thing that God sees beyond our flawed selves to the beautiful people we can become. He takes lives that are broken, used, abused, and discarded, and makes them into something beautiful. Sometimes it entails a lot of hard work as God cleans up the garbage and throws out the bad things in our lives. Sometimes it means that God takes us apart piece by piece, stripping us down to our bare selves so that he can bring out our true beauty. Sometimes it means pulling out all of the weeds and dead, rotting timber in our lives so that we can grow something beautiful.

When God sees us, he sees the hidden character beneath and when we allow him to do his work in us, suddenly the hidden jewels shine forth. I am so thankful that God looks past the surface to see the potential. Aren’t you?

*originally posted April 4, 2011 on CWRN blog.

Worry Warts

This past week I was able to vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I have been two other times with my friend, who swears it is her happy place. And I believe her. She makes a better guide than most of the employees since she has been there so often! For a newbie like me that is a blessing, because she doesn’t get lost (unlike I would) and knows shortcuts to take through the parks.

Normally, I would be walking with her ahead of the vacation so that I am not utterly exhausted at the end of each day. About three weeks out, I was having a problem with my foot hurting, but assumed I needed new shoes. So I went to my favorite store and got fitted for my shoes. I picked out a cute (as much as tennis shoes can be cute) corn yellow Hoka shoe and was so excited. But alas, my foot still hurt when I walked.

I exchanged those favorite-colored shoes for another expensive pair of recommended walking shoes, and still had difficulty. Of course, by then I figured it wasn’t the shoe and would have gone back and traded for the Hoka’s again, but they were already gone!

I had a vision of wearing a boot the entire time for a stress fracture (which I have experienced three times before), and I was bummed at the thought. All I could think about was that maybe I needed to rent a scooter and how much that was going to cost and how inconvenient it was all going to be. I fretted about it for the two weeks I had to wait to see my podiatrist. When I finally was able to see my podiatrist three days before leaving, I was relieved that there was no fracture.

Now you need to understand this about me. It is an unwritten rule that I am always the one to get something weird. All my friends and family know it, and no one is surprised by it. It is almost as universally true as my waiting in line–even if it is the shortest line, it takes the longest time.  

Apparently, I had seed warts (as opposed to plantar warts) growing inside a callous on the side of my foot. Who knew such a thing existed? I didn’t. But it must be more common than I think because the doctor knew right away what it was. With just a simple excision they were out, and my foot immediately felt better.

Small steps compared to some I know.

Just wish I had known two weeks prior and then I would have been more prepared for all the walking we did at Disney World! And I would have saved myself a lot of what if scenarios. Fortunately, I was able to walk (with some resting in between) and did not need a scooter, although it was tempting on some days!

Isn’t life like that sometimes? It throws you a curve and your plans seem to go awry. But then just when you think you are going to need to make big adjustments, a solution is there for you. We get so fretful and imagine all the what ifs and in reality, there is a simple solution.

The Bible says so many times “fear not” and “do not worry,” but I find myself doing it anyway. What about you? What things do you worry about and make much bigger than they are? The reality is I should have just given it to God and let my worry go. Whatever the outcome, be it a stress fracture or a seed wart, He has got it covered.

The Last Week

Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash

Today is Palm Sunday, but for Jesus it was a week that was just beginning. Palm Sunday is a day that many churches celebrate with waving of palm branches, emulating the people of Biblical times who proclaimed “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” while he entered Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey. It is a day when I will be speaking to a group of individuals at an Assisted Living facility. As I wondered about what to speak on, I realized that, of course, I need to speak about the last week of Jesus’ life.

All four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, share the triumphal entry. When Jesus came to Jerusalem the crowds were already being stirred up by the disciples and started chanting together “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” You see the crowds welcomed him thinking he was going to be their earthly king. They were expecting a Messiah who was going to deliver them from the Roman rulers and establish the kingdom of Israel once again.

In fact, they did not recognize that they were actually fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

But that same crowd who cried out “Hosanna,” cried out “Crucify Him” when they realized that their dreams were not coming true. So let’s talk about Jesus’ week and the things he did after his triumphal entry.

Jesus honored his Father by visiting the temple.

The first thing we see is Jesus going to the temple. And what does he encounter there? The outer courts were filled with people who were taking advantage of those who came to celebrate the Passover. By selling sacrificial lambs and doves at inflated prices, they were taking advantage of people. Jesus was angry with a righteous anger. It led him to turning over tables and scolding the merchants for their greed and dishonesty, even accusing them of being a den of thieves. (Matthew 21:12-13)

Even while anticipating his death, Jesus did things for others

 Jesus continued to heal. The blind and deaf came to him at the temple and he healed them. He had compassion on the servant who had his ear cut off by Peter, and he healed him. Despite knowing he was facing his death at the end of the week, he still had compassion on the afflicted.

Jesus still taught, sometimes in parables, and sometimes in illustrations, but he used every opportunity to teach his disciples and followers.

He taught in parables still–the parable of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats. He taught about the signs of the end of the age. He taught about the greatest commandment, as well as the seven woes. He taught about prayer as he prayed for himself, his disciples, and all believers.

Jesus honored others with praise.

We read of his visit in Bethany where he was anointed with a costly perfume., possibly by Mary the sister of Lazarus. While she was criticized by others for wasting this costly perfume instead of selling it, he praised her for her act of worship. He pointed out the sacrifice of a poor widow’s offering as something to be praised, rather than to be proud and self-righteous in your giving.

Jesus was still pursued by the Pharisees, who sought to entrap him in any way they could.

The Pharisees questioned his authority when they asked by whom he did his miracles. They tried to trap him by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar. And finally, they tried to find any way they could to take his life.

Jesus spent the Passover with people he loved.

Jesus knew his time was short, but he chose to spend it by washing the disciples’ feet and sharing one last supper with them. Jesus comforted his disciples after the news that he would be killed. He also took the opportunity to talk to them about the coming of the Holy Spirt and the work of the Spirit.   

Jesus chose to have his disciples with him while he went to pray in the garden, even though they slept while he prayed. And as he was greeted by Judas’ kiss, he did not falter in his determination to do God’s will.

Jesus stayed true to his mission

Throughout the false accusations, the mockery, the beatings, and the actual crucifixion, Jesus did not waver in doing God’s will. Knowing that the worst part of all was taking on our sins and becoming the sacrificial lamb by the shedding of his blood, Jesus still stayed faithful and resolute to his purpose.

So that is how Jesus spent his last week here on earth. But the good news through it all? Sunday’s coming!

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” – Matthew 21:1-11

Help My Unbelief

Recently I have been wondering why I ever thought I could retire. I have been trying to avoid taking money out of my 401K until I hit 72, but in all honesty with today’s inflation I am thinking that may not be possible. I went to the store today to buy something to make a dessert for my home team and was shocked when the items cost $18—just for one dessert made with Jell-O and strawberries. Like many individuals on a fixed income, I worry about having enough money to meet my daily needs, let alone all the things on my “want” list.

The past couple of weeks have been a little rocky for me. Without going into detail, let’s just say God and I have been having conversations about the depth of my faith and trust in Him. But recently as I was reading the story of the widow and the oil in 2 Kings 4:1-7 it reinforced what God has been telling me all along. Trust me. I will meet your needs.

Sometimes I feel like the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. In Jesus’ encounter with the young boy’s father, the man said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  Jesus replied, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”  And then the father said something that most of us can identify with on occasion, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Are you filled with doubts? Do you sometimes wonder if God has left you alone to cope with life the best you can? Do you feel like you are abandoned and there is no hope?  Satan wants us to buy into these lies.

Photo by Tony Eight Media on Unsplash

God is faithful and true. He cares for us. He wants us to believe and trust in Him. When we do, we can watch Him at work in our lives. Believe. Sometimes it is the simplest things that are hardest to do.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Chariots of Fire

Do you ever have those days when you think, “I have no clue what God is doing.” I look at the world around me and sometimes I feel so defeated. I see so much hatred and strife, and so many spiritual battles of good vs. evil. I feel like I should be out there doing something and yet, I am not experiencing clear direction from God. Yes, I do have direction to love others, develop fruit of the Spirit and keep on having faith, but sometimes I feel that God has something in store for me that I just have not recognized yet! Have you ever been there? Have you ever questioned God and wonder why he hasn’t shown himself? The response I keep getting back is: Trust me, I have it covered.

Not long ago I was reading 2 Kings 6:6-23 and God reminded me that He’s got it covered. The Arameans were in a war against Israel, and God used the prophet Elisha to protect the king from harm. When the king of Aram discovered that Elisha was telling the King of Israel battle areas to avoid, he decided to take matters in his own hands and sent a strong showing of his troops to surround the city of Dothan, where Elisha was staying.  When Elisha’s servant went out and saw the troops, he came back to Elisha, saying, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” I imagine we are a lot like that servant sometimes. We wring our hands and cry out, “What shall we do?”

Elisha replied for the servant not to be afraid because, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The Lord then opened the servant’s eyes to see that the hills were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. God had not left them unprotected. The story ends peacefully as Elisha struck the soldiers blind and led them to the King of Israel. The king was gracious to them and spared their lives and the raids on Israel’s territory were subsequently stopped.

I take great comfort in the fact that we are surrounded by a mighty army of God. Metaphorically speaking, sometimes I am like Elisha’s servant and do not see God working and I feel paralyzed because I feel like the world is winning this battle of life. I just need God to open my eyes so that I can see it. But that is where faith comes in. I need to remember God is aware of my needs, and he is faithful. But sometimes like Elisha’s servant, I just want to be shown the army of God around me.

 What about you?  Do you feel sometimes like there is a skirmish raging around you and you are not sure of the outcome? Do you think you are alone in this battle of life and all is lost? Take comfort. God has not left us abandoned. We may not have the literal privilege of seeing the hills full of horses and chariots of fire, but we do have the assurance that God is at work on our behalf. Sometimes we just need to pray for God to open our eyes to let us see the chariots of fire, and then remember the battle belongs to the Lord.

Songwriters: Brian Johnson / Philip David Wickham

Battle Belongs lyrics © Bethel Music Publishing

Being Me and the Perfect Life*

Do you ever wish you had someone else’s perfect life? Have you ever thought your life would be better if you could just have their talents and skills, their perfect family, or their awesome job?  Sometimes it’s easy to envy others when we think they have the best personalities, the most talent, and other attributes we admire.  Frequently we get into the comparison game and come up the loser.

The fact of the matter is while we are busy envying someone else’s life, that very same person may be envying another person, too. When I was younger I could sense something wrong in a relationship with a close friend. I couldn’t put my finger on what was going on, but it seemed we were losing our closeness and I was stymied as to what I had done that would make her avoid me. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, I confronted her. I was stunned when I heard her say she was jealous of my ability to make friends easily and I had a boyfriend, while she struggled to build relationships. Feeling badly about her relationships, she had started to avoid me, especially when I was with my boyfriend.

But the REAL fact of the matter was that I envied her for her sense of humor, her close-knit Christian family, and her obvious musical talent. Once we were able to talk about our feelings and recognize that God made us unique individuals, with our own strengths and weaknesses, we abolished the barriers we had let build over time.

Being much older and somewhat wiser now, I have learned to recognize that God has made each of us unique and equipped us with different gifts. Our families, communities, belief systems, and temperaments have all factored into making us who we are.  When we learn to recognize our personalities, and learn to understand our strengths and weaknesses, we can come to a greater understanding of ourselves.

I am learning to be content with who God made me to be and to recognize I need to work within my strengths. I have also learned to acknowledge my weaknesses and not be afraid to ask for help from those who are strong where I am weak. I am finally allowing myself to be me, flaws and all! That doesn’t mean I am not continually trying to grow and thrive in my environment, but it does mean I have given myself permission to not be perfect. (Which is a good thing, because the Good Lord knows I have a long way to go!)

There is a reason God doesn’t want us to be envious of others. When we start comparing ourselves to others and becoming envious of who they are and how they live, we find seeds of discontent being sown.  Envy can lead to bitterness and selfishness. (James 3:13-18 deals with this very subject.) When we focus so much on others, we forget to focus on the One who created us.

Being me. I am the only one who can be me. Being you. You are the only one who can be you. God can use us both. For today I am content being me and realizing that while life isn’t perfect right now, someday when I am with my heavenly Father, it will be!

Have you learned to be content with who God made you to be? Have you learned to let God use you through both your strengths and your weaknesses? Or are you still wishing that you had someone else’s life?  I don’t know anyone who has a perfect life. But there is peace that comes from embracing who you are (imperfections and all) and giving that to God to use.

*originally posted on September 6, 2011 by Linda Wallace cwrn.org website (no longer published).

Bittersweet Days

This evening will be bittersweet for me. I am going to the Alumni Homecoming banquet at the college I graduated from in 1974. (I know–I am truly getting old!) The reason it is bittersweet is that the college is in its last year of existence. When May arrives, the last graduating class will receive their diplomas and a school that has been in existence since 1956, will merge with another college. Like many Bible colleges the financial burden of staying open, the pandemic, and the lack of incoming students have created the perfect storm, causing hard decisions to be made.

Unfortunately I have seen several Bible colleges close in the last decade. I could cite a multitude of reasons why the majority of Bible colleges are struggling to remain open. Some of the reasons are valid, some of them are not. But that is not really the purpose of this post.

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My Independence Day

Today we celebrate America’s Independence Day with picnics, food, time with family, and fireworks. A multitude of people celebrate without recognizing the great sacrifices that were made in order to gain autonomy from Great Britain. We need to remember the lives that were given, the homes that were burned, and the families that were forever changed when America made her bid for independence.

Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

While I love July 4th, today I want to talk about my own personal Independence Day. It is a day I still remember vividly even though it was many years ago. I came from a good home, but not a home where we learned about Jesus and made faith a foundation. My life changed when a neighbor volunteered to send me to church camp. I had absolutely no idea what church camp was, nor did I understand why I was chosen to be sent since there were six of us children in my family. But God had a plan for my life and he used MacGomery Christian Camp to set me on my path to independence.

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I Love You More

When I was growing up my parents were not good at saying “I love you” or giving out hugs. It really wasn’t until my early 30s that I started hearing those words when I would come home for a visit. Do not misunderstand me—I knew my parents loved me, they proved it over and over by their actions. But they did not say it until I was older. I am not sure why it changed, but I remember being surprised the first time my mom actually said “I love you” when she hugged me goodbye. Those were words I treasured because I did not hear them very often.

When I was in high school, I remember going to my friend’s house and she would say to her mom, “I love you” and her mom would always reply, “I love you more.” I would longingly think how nice it would be to hear those words. They really were not a contest about who could love the most, but an affirmation that their love was deep and abiding.

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