Monday, August 18, 2014

Here and Now

Before starting as a volunteer for a crisis phone line in my local area, I went through in-depth training with a class of peers. Part of that training involved keeping callers focused on the reason the called, or the crisis they were experiencing in the here and now. Sometimes doing so takes focused effort on the part of the phone counselor, but it is vital in order to fulfill the purpose of the phone center.

As a crisis center, we are just that; we are there to support callers experiencing a current crisis. We are not a professional counseling service, though we can provide referrals to excellent counselors if the caller is interested. We are not there to re-hash with callers, over and over, something that happened in their lives 30 years ago. Our main concern is to ask, "How are you doing TODAY? What's going on TODAY?" Then we go from there, and form a plan of action to help each caller make it through their "here and now" crisis.

This weekend, I've done a good bit of thinking about living in the here and now in my own life. Just so happened, when I opened up today's reading in The Language of Letting Go by Melodie Beattie, the first paragraph addressed just that; living in the here and now. Imagine that.

Today, let's talk about living in the here and now. Not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, but focusing primarily on TODAY, and the benefits of living that way. Let's begin with not dwelling on the past.

Here is a scripture familiar to some of us: Isaiah 43:18-19 in the Revised Standard Version reads, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."

When we dwell on the past, we are not tapping into what is around us in the present, nor what is available for us in the future. Our time wastes away when we replay, over and over, former failures, long-ago losses and past pains.

Recently I faced a situation in my own life where I had to pray for help letting go of the past. A former partner of mine passed away, suddenly and at an early age. I felt grief when I learned of this, but also felt confused at my grief. You see, I suffered worlds of verbal and emotional abuse in my relationship with her. I finally broke up with her for the last time when she became physically abusive. I have experienced vast amounts of inner healing in the years since that relationship, but still had a painful, wounded place inside me. I wondered why I was grieving someone who hurt me so badly.

I hadn't noticed I was carrying that open wound until the news of her death stirred up my emotions and memories of her, memories of that relationship. So I journaled, prayed, and cried until I came to the realization that I needed to FORGIVE her and move on. A lack of forgiveness can keep up bound to the past, as painful as that past might be. I prayed and asked God to help me truly forgive her and move forward with my life. God is working on me; it hasn't been an instantaneous thing, this forgiveness and healing... but I trust God's process.

"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old."

Another hangup we can encounter is that of worrying about the future.

Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 6:27, "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Also, Philippians 4:6 encourages us: "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."

If we worry about tomorrow, we are not paying attention to things we need to handle today. And believe me, I'm talking to myself as much as to anyone else. If I get tangled up, worrying about how I will pay bills, I will not be focused on doing my best at my job where I earn the money to pay bills. If I fixate on my future dreams, goals and callings, I might not notice ministry opportunities - people to help and to love - that are all around me right here and right now.

That's another area I'm learning about, in myself, these days. I grew up hearing a lot about finding my CALLING... and finding your calling is a good thing... but I submit to you that your calling is not your someday future... your calling is what you function in TODAY, in the here and now.

At the crisis line, we ask callers, "What's happening in your life that had you call us today?" I encourage you to STOP... just pause... take a breath... and take look at yourself.

Where are you?

What is going on around you?

How are you feeling?

What is God saying to you right now?

...Because THAT is your "here and now."

In closing, I encourage you to read the book of Esther in the Old Testament. Esther was an ordinary girl who ended up in a very extraordinary position. She was able to work from that position of power and influence to rescue her family and her people, the Jews. However, she reached a crossroads where she had to make a decision, and was given a crucial message that pushed her in the right direction. Esther 4:14 reads, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

"For such a time as this." What are you called to TODAY?

May God bless you as you walk in the here and now. He's doing a NEW thing, even NOW... do you not perceive it?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Count the Cost

Today let's talk about God... God's nature, God's character, things like that. I would like to share a few concepts that stood out to me while I read today's portion of the One Year Bible.

Nehemiah 9:8 reads, "You have done what You promised, for You are always true to Your word." Isn't that wonderful? God ALWAYS fulfills His promises. No ifs, ands or buts. Always.

In our individual daily quests to be more like the One who made us and loves us so deeply, it strikes me that keeping our own promises would be a good step in that direction. So let's dig into what goes into making promises, and how to keep them to the best of our abilities.

In my relationship with Lena, we make "pinkie promises." Sure it's silly... but when one of us offers our pinkie, between her and me, that is sacred. It's cute and all... but a pinkie promise between us says, "I seriously, truly GUARANTEE you this is true and I will keep my word." Pinkie promises are not to be messed with! :-)

One principle to which we should hold when making promises is the idea of counting the cost. Luke 14:28 says, “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?" According to this, we should think about whether we are able to fulfill a promise before we make it.

We should not throw our words around... to impress people, to get forgiveness, or even out of strong emotion; for example, because we feel sorry for someone and want to help. Don't promise it unless you can provide it. Empty promises are worth no more than the wind that carries them.

Keeping promises is also of great importance when we consider promises made to God. Ecclesiastes 5:4 says, "When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him."

My desire is for God's character to show in my life. I mess up sometimes; say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing... but my desire to show Christ's character is deep. I ask forgiveness and move forward. The same is available to you.

So let's count the cost and make good, solid promises. We will become more like God when we do this, and grow closer to Him while we seek to please Him and to know Him better.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hello, Hello...

My cat Leroy... that's his line... he says it at night, wandering through my apartment, like he is lost and alone in the dark. I mean, it's a version of "meow," but it really does sound like, "HELLOOOOOOOOO??"

Anyway, hello to anyone reading this. Been awhile. Haven't felt like I had anything important enough to write and publish. What I say today isn't important or anything, either; just though I'd post a blog. Just for the heck of it.

So, here goes. This weekend, I'm supposed to be meeting one of my two recently-discovered sisters. Not sure it will really happen; this is still sort of unreal to me. Meeting this girl is going to bring this really fictional-seeming story into the light and it will become something real and actual. Kinda freaky... but I will follow through and see if we can actually make time-and-place plans and hope we hit it off. We already have kind of become friends, messaging on Facebook. It's just the face-to-face thing. Kinda nervous... kind of unsettled.

This "extra family" chapter in my life has made me realize one thing for sure: I SO appreciate my FAMILY! Extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents... because not ONCE did I ever go around any of my family wondering what they would think of me, whether they would like me, whether they would accept me. It was just a given; I was a PART, we all belonged there, and everybody was ok just as he or she was. Period. Now I'm faced with potentially meeting NEW family... people who have always been my relatives but whom I have never met and, until a year or so ago, had never known about. Now I'm going to wonder, "What do they think of me? Do they like me? Do they think I'm snobby/quiet/nerdy/fat/pretty/etcetera?" Never had to do that before.

I met a "new" aunt last Sunday. She was really nice. I made a point not to say much beyond what was asked of me. Then I wondered if that had seemed aloof and snobby. I am totally my worst critic. The afternoon went well; I should just leave it at that and not overthink stuff.

What else, what else... I've kind of pulled in a little. Before writing this, I reread my last post and it sounded like I was starting to do that even back then. I have not been to church in months. God and I are fine; I'm not at all insecure about that relationship. I just got tired of going to church; didn't see a point in it, so I... stopped. Probably I really just "paused," but I have not been in awhile. I will probably start again at some point. Now, though... I just have no interest in the whole dog-and-pony Sunday routine. Blah.

Lena has not gone either. We've talked about it; I wanted her to go on her own if she wanted to go. I wanted to know I would not feel abandoned or anything else crazy like that. She has had many of the same sentiments I've had about Sunday morning church and so the two of us have been staying home.

I still read my Bible, about as much as I have for awhile now. I talk to God. God talks to me. I'm okay.

The job interview I was hoping on... did not pan out into a job. So I'm still at my same job. I make a decent rate per hour; I just have so much to pay out each month, it's sometimes barely enough. But God is providing and I'm getting by.

We didn't go to Pride this year, either. We agreed, we were both bored with it; the same-ol' same-ol'... I wonder if Lena feels as unsettled in GENERAL as I do, lately. I'll have to ask her that.

Go somewhere new, hope for something better... I feel like I've spent my life from High School on, chasing the end of the rainbow. I want to move. I don't expect anything to be drastically better that here; I know that this world is what it is. Everywhere is pretty much the same, making allowances for weather and culture variances. Bosses are assholes; coworkers are irritating; family is, simultaneously, treasured and annoying; landlords are pricks; churches are full of imperfect people just like me... etcetera....

I don't know what I'm looking for, exactly. I would love to be able to point my finger and say, "THIS!! is what I want in life! This, right here!"... but I'm learning as I grow... there are few ultimates in this world. Even in the Christianly-promised afterlife... the Kingdom of God... I have been taught we will still have jobs, still have work, still have... life.

Eternal life. Heh...

I wish for eternal ESCAPE... something better than just plain life. I mean, I prefer life to death, of course... but... just life?? That doesn't seem too exciting to me.

Any thoughts on this, anyone? I'm all ears, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Until another time, then! :)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Life These Days

If I seem to have fallen silent lately, it‘s because I‘m sorting through a lot in my head.

Some changes are going on in my family of origin. Plenty of hurt being flung in all directions.

I feel scared some, lately.

My happiest moments are spent with Lena, and there are not nearly enough of those moments.

Work is sometimes stressful. I do have interview number 3 soon for a great new position with amazing pay. Feeling pretty good about my chances there, but still nervous.

I kind of want to hide out for awhile, thoughI realize that is neither practical nor possible.

I need to dig into what I know is a safe, secure hiding place... the arms of my Savior and the truth of God's word,

So glad it's Sunday for a good many more hours, and I can relax and rest my mind.

I'm grateful for Easter and for Jesus. I just feel like I'm standing on an unsteady place with wind whipping around me... and I'd really like something strong to hold onto.

Maybe part of the lesson here is for me to sense and trust that Something Strong is holding on to me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Walking Dead

Got your attention? Thought so... but this is not a blog about zombies. This blog actually tells a story of what God can do when a person is dead... and I'm going to take this angle on it: dead with no hope. Dead and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Dead and believing you are not even worthy to bear the title of "living."

Have you made mistakes, made bad choices, done things that were wrong? Then this blog is for you. Have you ever had a sinful thought or a bad attitude? This blog is for you.

Which, in reality, means this: this blog is for ALL of us. Romans 3:23 declares, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The Greek word here that is translated "sin" literally means, "to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong."

And doesn't that about cover it? We have all sinned. You, me, everybody.

In his book Choose Your Addiction (found here), J. Charles Roberts cites Newton's Law: "...for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or consequence." So all of us have sinned, and sin has a consequence. Romans 6:23 says that the wages, or consquence, of sin... is death.

So we've all sinned, and are all facing the consequence of death. Some believe that death means an eternity in a fiery hell. I would like to submit to you a view of that statement from a different angle.

While physically living and breathing, I have felt dead before. I have felt helpless, hopeless, filthy, miserable, ashamed and utterly dead. I have been in circumstances from which I saw no way out; no light at the end of the tunnel; not even a tiny exit to try to squeeze through. I have felt deplorable and felt no reason to go on living. I felt... dead.

Have you ever felt that way?

It's a miserable place to be, with no light and no hope.

I read a story today that led me to name this blog "The Walking Dead." The story is found in Ezekiel chapter 37. The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision. Here are verses 1 - 3:

"The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones become living people again?' 'O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, 'You alone know the answer to that.'"

Is there any hope at all for you when you feel like nothing more than a pile of dead, dry bones? Dead bones have no energy; no initiative; no... life.

But God is the creator of life. God can do things that, to our limited human minds, are completely impossible!

Let's keep reading in Ezekiel: [Then he said to me, "Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, 'Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! ...Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'" So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then... muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies.... Then he said to me, "...Speak a prophetic message and say, '...Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.'" So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet--a great army."]

How amazing is that?!? Not a weak pile of reassembled bones, pasted together with a glue stick, but a great army!

The bones in this story represented people "...saying, 'We have become old, dry bones--all hope is gone.'"

YET God restored them to life, completely, in every way!

Friends, that is HOW GOD ROLLS. He can - and will - do these things for you:

*He will bring together your scattered, dry bones and reassemble them into the body they once made up. In other words, He will gather the fragments of your broken dreams, your shattered security, your torn hope and the life you used to have. And He will attach them all together as they should be.

*He will cover those bones with muscles, flesh and skin; He will not just put together the skeleton of your life and walk away. He will give you strength, protection, and endurance.

*He will put BREATH into your body and cause you to STAND! He will give you life, vitality and renewal. He will renew your hope and give you a fresh passion for life!

Let me finish a verse I quoted the beginning of earlier. Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, BUT THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE!"

Maybe you feel dead today. The good news is, you don't have to STAY dead. There are NO conditions to fulfill in order to receive God's gift of life and renewal; you need only to ask, and believe.

I pray renewed hope, healed wounds, and restored life for YOU today. In Jesus' name.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Be Still

I have two sweet little nephews, ages 7 and 8. I love them both with all my heart. They are actually less than a year apart in age, and I love being their aunt. They are smart, creative, talented and handsome. They also have sharp, witty little senses of humor. They're a lot of fun to be around and I love "my" little guys.

Now. As much as I love them both, I do not like to be with both of them in a car at the same time. They will joke, laugh, nag, pick, fight, cry, drive each other crazy, just about drive ME crazy... and will not BE STILL. If they would just be still, at least sometimes... and be quiet, at least sometimes... but they're just kids, and that's how they roll.

Have you ever been around overly-excited little kids? Those of you who are parents or who have children in your families know exactly what I mean. They can run like wild little firecrackers - which is FINE at the right place and time – but sometimes you just want to tell them to BE STILL.

God has to deal with us in that way sometimes. Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God." God wants us to be still and trust Him. But what exactly is "being still?" Why do we need to be still? And HOW, in this world we live in today, do we learn to be still? I have studied some on those questions and will share with you what I have learned.

What exactly does it mean to be still? Psalm 4:4 says, "Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent" or, as the King James puts it, "commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." The Hebrew word used in this verse means literally, "to be silent, be still, wait, be dumb, grow dumb." In other words, HUSH. We can practice being still by simply being quiet.

Psalm 46:10, which I quoted earlier, tells us to "Be still and know that I am God." The Hebrew word used here, "damam," means "to sink, relax, let drop." Here we learn that being still can involve letting go of all our striving, stressing and worrying. Let go of the anxiety in your situation. We are told to just relax and "let it drop." Let go. Relax. Be still.

In the book of Mark, Jesus stopped a wild storm by telling it to be still. The Greek word used here means, again, "to close the mouth with a muzzle; to stop the mouth, make speechless, reduce to silence; to be kept in check." So again we see that being still involves being quiet.

How do we "be still?" By being silent. By letting go. My keeping ourselves and our mouths in check, and waiting.

WHY should we be still? One reason is that we stay safe. Psalm 4:8 says, "In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe."

When we relax and let go of our tenacious grip on life, Psalm 46 tells us God is honored. What's more, we are protected. When we "let go" and be still, we experience God's presence and protection. Psalm 46:11 says, "The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress."

Thirdly, when we are still, we can reach a place of deep peace. When Jesus commanded the storm to "be still," Mark says, "the wind ceased and there was a great calm." When we are still, we can experience God's "great calm."

So why should we be still? We are kept safe, we are protected and we are calm when we are still. I have listed just a few reasons; the Bible gives many more and I invite you to study more on that for yourself.

Finally, the "how." We live in a crazy, busy, bustling world these days. How do we break free from that cycle to achieve this stillness? I can personally say, sometimes it seems impossible... but with God's help, stillness is possible and within reach. The Bible offers us answers for every question we might have, so let's look into how to be still.

II Chronicles 20 alludes to "being still" as a choice or a decision. A prophet tells God's people, "Take your positions; then stand still and watch the LORD’s victory." In other words, plant your feet. Stand STILL. And watch God fight for you!

When we decide to be still, we stop everything we are doing. In that resonating zen-like space, God’s capacity to work is unlimited. Jesus gives a great example of this in the story of blind Bartimaeus, Mark chapter 10. It says Jesus stood STILL...

"...and said, 'Tell him to come here.' So they called the blind man. 'Cheer up,' they said. 'Come on, he’s calling you!' Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 'What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked. 'My rabbi,' the blind man said, 'I want to see!' And Jesus said to him, 'Go, for your faith has healed you.' Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road."

I submit to you that God works in stillness.

Be still. Rest. Wait. Isaiah 40:31 says it best; "those who WAIT on the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint."

I say to you today, "Peace, be still." Be quiet. Let go. Plant your feet, stand strong, and wait. Then watch God work on your behalf.