Marginally Speaking

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits.  Other times, God gives us an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction.  That happened for me this week.

If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decided, while reading Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath, to turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I made that decision just two days ago while sitting right here on this futon doing my Bible study. I blogged about it then went through my day.  I got home Tuesday night, played all my turns on Words With Friends, checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then turned off my phone a bit before 8.

I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed, so I sat next to my husband on the couch, crocheting and watching “Bizarre Foods” (I only recommend watching this show if you would like to curb your after dinner eating — yuck!).  We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness.  Then, I crawled into bed and, as usual, settled in to read.

Typically after an evening of watching TV and constantly checking my phone, I can read for thirty to sixty minutes before falling asleep.  Not Tuesday.  Nope.  I got into my comfortable position, opened my book and made it through two or three pages before I had to surrender to sleep.  I slept hard.

Then, I woke up around 7:15am.  Usually, the first thirty to sixty minutes of my day are spent in bed checking email, messages, Facebook, etc.  But it was 7:15, and I had made a commitment to keep the phone off until 8am, so I crawled out of bed, showered, made my breakfast beverages, and dressed for a day of Bible study, teaching and tutoring.  Around 8,  I checked messages, emails, etc. I noticed that I had missed a call, so I messaged the friend who had rang me, talked to my husband for a few minutes before he left for work, then settled in to prepare for Bible study.

The phone rang.  The same friend called to explain why she had called — to talk through the fact that her day was not going the way that she had planned.   She’d had an interruption that was causing her to spend an extra two hours on the road to retrieve an item that had been left on our campus.  I commiserated with her then hung up to go back to my Bible study about margins.

I started reading then thought to myself, “You’re dressed.”  Yes, that’s right, I was dressed and ready to leave for Bible study and I didn’t have to leave for another 30 or 40 minutes. I turned back to my reading.

“You know, you could  get that item and meet your friend half way.” That one wasn’t me.

How do I know?  Because I argued back, “but I’m supposed to be at Bible study in half in hour.”  I went back to my reading.

“What would happen if you were late?”

“Well, I’m always late.” Yes, I picked up my phone, made arrangements, and started driving.

So, here’s my analysis of what happened.  If I had not decided to add in a margin to my life — some white space — by turning off my phone from 8p to 8a, I might have still been lying in bed when the friend called.  I would not have been dressed. I would have been reading Facebook posts and playing WWF.  I wouldn’t have had the space in my day to drive twenty minutes to help her out.  But, I did make that decision.  I did put the margin in my life.

And the very next morning after making that decision, God provided a tangible reward — an opportunity to use that same time, the time I’d been filling up, to help a friend.

You might think that my friend is the only one who benefitted. Not true.  The whole time I was driving I was thinking to myself, “Really?  You’re gonna respond to my decision that quickly? You want to affirm this decision that strongly?”  I was flabbergasted. I was stunned to notice God working in my life in such a way.

And here’s the nugget, guys.  I noticed because I wasn’t face-down into my phone. Yes, this is hugely convicting and embarrassing.  I have spent far too much time in my phone.  I’ve known this.  I just didn’t want to make a change.

And, I’ve got to be real honest here and say that it’s been just as hard as I thought it would be.  After 8pm last night, I kept mentally reaching for my phone to check for messages, see if everyone was ok, or if I’d missed anything.  I had to continue to remind myself that I had already turned it off for the night and that everyone would be ok without me for twelve hours.

The hardest part, however, wasn’t the lack of checking in, it was the awareness of all the thoughts I have routinely shoved down by occupying myself with my phone.  With my phone turned off, lots of ugliness creeps to the surface — regrets and questions about how I have parented/continue to parent, worries about finances, personal insecurities, and all sorts of stuff I have chosen not to think about.  With my phone down, I can not ignore these nagging concerns.  I am forced to look them in the face.  It’s not pleasant, guys, to look at all that stuff.  It makes me feel yucky.  I don’t like feeling yucky.

Last night after I put my book down, I closed my eyes because I thought I was ready for sleep. I was tired, but as I lie there trying to sleep, the ugliness started playing out on my mind screen.  “Ugh,” I thought, “why!?!?!?”  I felt overwhelmed.  In desperation I said to God, “Is this real?  Is my memory real? Please replace these images with what is true!”

Did you see that?  I didn’t shove the images down.  I held them up to God and asked for His reality check.  Why was I able to do that? Because I’ve put a margin into my life.  I’ve left some white space, expecting that He will step in and fill it.  I am acknowledging that the story I am writing is rough and needs the hand of the Master.  I need Him to speak into my life — to offer encouragement, correction, and guidance.  I haven’t been leaving room for that.  I’ve been writing all the way to the edge of the paper.

I’m a mere two days in, guys, but this change is so important that God is already dramatically stepping in.  It’s like He’s been standing by waiting for the opportunity.

 

I Samuel 3:10

“Speak for your servant is listening.”

 

 

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Re-thinking Sabbath

Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.  

I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind.  I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.

So, today I sat down and turned to page one.

But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.

Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath.  “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice.  I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship.  However, sabbath is not church attendance. 

I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance.  Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work.  Again, I fully support this notion.  I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling.  However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work. 

So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting.  I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding.  I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me.  It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt.  Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him.  This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week.  God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day.  See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided.  Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.

We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.

Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors.  Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.”  They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”

Well, of course I need rest.  And of course I should trust God.  But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself.  After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”

Whoa.

That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute.  God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh.  His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm.  Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.

Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good?  Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.

Are you bent on turning, too?  “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.

Re-think it with me, won’t you?

 

Hebrews 4:9

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

Return to the Lord, re-visit

This post was written days after Easter in March 2016. Since then, I’ve been on many mountaintops and into far more valleys than I ever saw coming. It’s the rhythm of life, and He continues to be faithful in April 2019.

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

Hosea 6:1

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday by going to the gym, shopping with my husband, and going out to dinner. All day long family and friends sent me their well-wishes. If ever I felt loved, yesterday was the day.  I was flying high and enjoying every minute of celebration, but you know the saying, “what goes up, must come down.”

Today is not my birthday. I woke to my typical aches and pains; maybe they were even a little worse than usual after all my merry-making yesterday. I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment, then traveled to meet my in-laws for a birthday lunch. It was one last glimpse at the mountaintop before I got a long look at the valley.

About a hour ago, a phone call signaled a continuing family conflict, the taxman affirmed what we thought would be bad news, and then the baking project I was working on didn’t yield as much as I was hoping it would. Three strikes and I plummeted off that mountain of Easter/birthday love into the valley of “how am I going to fix this mess?”

In frustration I cried out, looking “to the hills from whence cometh my help.” God, why do you seem so far from me when just yesterday you seemed so close?  I mean, didn’t I celebrate Easter two days ago with shouts of “He is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia”? Didn’t I go straight from celebrating Your victory over sin, death, and the grave into a virtual love-fest? Why is my faithfulness so fleeting? Why Am I so quick to forget your goodness?  Why do I think that the God of the Universe, who willingly sent His only Son to die for my sins, won’t also walk with me through family difficulties, financial trials, and a tiny little thing like mis-sized cinnamon rolls?

Because I am bent on turning. When the road gets a little rough, I assume I’ve got to get tough. I don’t often consider that God has placed a rough road in front of me so that He can assure me of His presence and provision. I forget that He has carried us through sickness, joblessness, tragedy, and loss to much better places than we ever thought possible.

Just this morning, a mere nine hours ago, I read in my Bible study of Hosea the words posted above, that “God has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us.”  I read that way before the triple threat of a mere hour ago.

Jennifer Rothschild asks in the Hosea study, “What is the greatest affliction God has placed or allowed in your life?” I listed a few things that have been quite challenging. Her next question, “Can you see how that wounding has been part of greater healing?” My response? “Absolutely.”

Can I see how the situations placed before us right now might be part of greater healing? Yes. Do I wish that they weren’t happening? Yes. Do I trust God enough to watch and see how He works even in these difficult times? Obediently, at this moment, I say yes.

I refuse to lose hope just because I am sitting in the valley after a delightful trip to the mountaintop. I’m not going to fashion a golden calf. I’m going to trust that God is still working, just like He was Sunday and yesterday. I’m going to to believe that any bumps in our path have been crafted by Him to draw us closer to, not further from, Him. I’m going to believe that although right now we seem wounded, in just a little while He will heal us.

And won’t He just do it.

In My Weakness…

Yesterday I was lying on a bed at my physical therapist’s office.  She takes over an hour with me every time I visit.  She finds me in the waiting room; she watches me stand; she watches me walk; she leads me to a room, then watches me sit.  She asks me how I am —  what are my presenting symptoms.  She listens.  She types what I say on her computer, compiling a record of my health and my progress. As I stand again, she assesses my posture and my spinal alignment. As I lie down, she feels my pulses and checks the position of my joints.  For over an hour her hands are on me.  She applies pressure to my skull, to my vertebrae, to my ribs, to my organs, to my back, to my hip.  And the whole while that her hands are on me, we are talking. We talk about family, about faith, about health, and about the body. We’ve been doing this since November.  More than any other practitioner I’ve ever met, this woman knows me.

Since the very first appointment with her, I have felt very comfortable in her presence. I feel like my body is being cared for, and even ministered to, every time I am on that table.  What’s more, is that my spirit seems to be ministered to as well.  Marcy, when she places her hands on me, says that she is ‘listening’ to my body.  I believe, after many hours on that table, that God uses that physical connection to forge a spiritual connection.  And through that spiritual connection, He often impresses His truth upon me. I have written about this before (hereherehere).  Perhaps because I am still for a complete hour, perhaps because Marcy creates an atmosphere of ‘listening’, or perhaps because I am so open and receptive to the possibility of healing, I receive from Him while I am lying on that table.

Yesterday, less than a week into my experiment of living without NSAIDs, I bundled up and drove thirty minutes across snow-covered roads because I believed that Marcy’s touch would be helpful.  I wasn’t wrong.

Somewhere during that hour on the bed, I was sharing with Marcy about some students I had been working with this week, and I heard myself saying, “You know, I feel like I do a lot of complaining about my pain, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I have right now, if I wasn’t in this current physical state.”  Right at that moment I remembered the words, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Marcy didn’t say those words.  I didn’t say those words. I just remembered them.

Later yesterday, as I was driving home in my car, I remembered those words again, “my power is made perfect in weakness,” and I began to think of my low batt. analogy.  I love it when I am fully charged — I feel like I can conquer the world.  I charge through life in my power shoes, kicking butts and taking names.  In fact, try not to laugh, when I was in my prime, I jokingly told my students to refer to me as “the great and powerful Rathje”.  Ok, laugh.  We always did.

I don’t love being at low batt.  I don’t feel like I can conquer the world.  I have to sit down a lot.  I move slowly — very slowly this week. I cannot kick any butts or even remember many names.  Yet in this posture — this posture of sitting, lying, walking — I am able to see the opportunities that God is placing in front of me.  They aren’t glamorous.  They aren’t highly visible.  But they are life-changing.

This morning, I searched Biblegateway for the verse that had been on my mind all day yesterday.  I found it in this context:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I’ve been praying, pleading with God, way more than “three times,” that He would heal me, but I find myself saying, “Lord, please heal my body, but more importantly, change me.  Don’t let me go back to my soldiering ways. I would love to be free of pain, but only if I have fully learned everything that you want to teach me.”  The pain sucks, kids. It really does. Especially this week. But living a life that fully relies on me sucks even more. 

I’ll be over here on the couch, icing, and being thankful that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

Just add this to the pot

So, do you know what simmering does?  It cooks slowly and gently so as not to damage.

Yesterday, a lot of ingredients were tossed into my brain.  I was thinking about pain and illness.  I was wondering about healing. I encountered the idea of spiritual warfare.  I read about pride, identity,  and temptation.  All of these ingredients were sitting there in my brain, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Often, the recipe is clear — knead, bake, slice, serve. But yesterday, I had no idea what I was ‘making’.  Probably because I wasn’t intended to ‘make’ anything at all.  I felt the nudge to put the pot on simmer and walk away.

Sometimes I do this in our house.  I have a lovely crock pot that I fill with a pale chunk of pork or chicken, a couple tablespoons of slimy olive oil, some sea salt and other dry pungent spices.  I turn the dial to ‘simmer’, and I walk away.  It’s lazy cooking, yes, but’s it’s pretty effective.  Those ingredients, which look less than appetizing at the start, start to simmer, and as they do, they give off a pleasing aroma that fills my house and greets my husband when he walks into the house after a long day.

So, yesterday, as I was taking in some thoughts that were less than pleasing — pain, illness, temptation, spiritual warfare, pride, sin — instead of tossing them all into the trash, I decided to allow them to simmer for a while.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.

While they were simmering, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a half an hour or so.  Then, I submersed myself in the warm bubbling waters of the jacuzzi.  I showered, dressed, then drove to meet with two students in a neighboring town.

I drove home, ate some dinner, watched some television, crocheted, read, and went to bed.  And the ideas were still simmering.  I didn’t open the pot to stir.  I didn’t turn the heat up or down.  I just let them cook slowly and gently.

This morning, the battalion met to continue in our study of Hosea. I think I was hoping that I would be able to open the crock pot and see that all the ingredients were ‘done’ simmering.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, as they continued to simmer, I observed this sisterhood that I have been plunked down into.  I watched as they cared for one another — observing a swollen toe, praying for an ailing husband, applauding successful surgeries, and joining in to sing together.

Today’s topic was the idea that we often wander from God because we don’t truly know Him — really know His character and appreciate His love for us.  We acknowledged together that we are “prone to leave the God we love,” and learned together that this is because we know of God, but we don’t fully know Him.

Yet, in spite of our wandering ways, God continuously pursues us.  He puts obstacles in our self-destructive paths so that we will turn around and wander back toward Him.  Sometimes when we are redirected in this way, we get close enough to see His face beaming with love for usHis beloved.  And if we can get our eyes off the distracting shiny objects long enough, we can look into His eyes and see ourselves reflected there.  And that, my friends, is when we get a glimpse at our identity.  Not our estimation of ourselves in relationship to our peers, but our true identity as children loved by God.

I think I’ll let that simmer a little longer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Jeremiah 31: 3

Divine Intervention

After a weekend away, I started my morning slowly — putting some things away, thinking through the tasks of today, and generally shuffling around avoiding my Bible study time.  Why was I avoiding it?  No particular reason.  Just out of the flow.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in several days again.  A few things got in my way — an appointment here, a symptom flare-up there, a weekend trip to see the in-laws. And I find that when I get out of the routine, it is a little difficult for me to jump back in.  It’s like merging into traffic.  I’ve got to find an opening and just move in.

So, finally I did.  As I mentioned last week, I am studying the book of Hosea with my Bible study battalion.  The book is all about God choosing us, even though we are bent on pursuing other ‘gods’.  He didn’t choose us once, but He chooses us continuously.  It’s not over and over again, but perpetual choosing.  Even though we are perpetually wandering, perpetually looking around at all the shiny objects, perpetually taking our focus off of Him.

He is The. Faithful. Love. of our lives.  Period.

So, small example — He loves me and is faithful to me even though I was inconsistent in my Bible study and daydreamed during church yesterday.  (I’m telling you, this pastor’s wife is far less than ideal.) He’s so faithful that today when I picked up my Bible study, He had the page turned to a huge example.

(I know I’ve written before about how, in some ways, I am thankful for the health issues that I have.  Although I am often uncomfortable, fatigued, and frustrated with running from one doctor to the next, I have been granted an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and enter this new chapter.  In fact, I’ve been slowed down so much that I can do nothing else but sit in amazement at His provision during this time.)

The Big Example — the very first words on my devotion today, I kid you not:

Therefore, this is what I will do:

I will block her way with thorns;

I will enclose her with a wall,

So that she cannot find her paths. Hosea 2:6

Now of course, this passage is talking about Gomer, the unfaithful wife who wandered off to other men.  It is also about Israel, who wandered off to worship other gods.  However, it is also about me.  That’s how the Bible works.  It is, as it says, “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  And those words this morning cut through my foggy stupor to say, “Hello, Kristin, are you ready to sit down and hear this story about how I loved you enough to block your way with thorns so that you couldn’t continue to follow your butt-kicking, name-taking paths? Are you ready to hear again how much I love you and that I am able to keep you in this pattern of life so that you will make time to fit me into your routine?”

I mean, yes. Yes, I am ready. If I didn’t get caught by that scripture, I would’ve gotten caught by the first question that the author posed,

Can you think of any ‘thorns’ that God may have put in your path to slow you down and make you think twice about something you were doing? 

Maybe some people can get slowed down by hearing a song on the radio, listening to a sermon, or having a good talk with a friend over coffee.  Me?  I need industrial strength slowing down.  I wasn’t about to turn around of my own volition.  I had to be stopped dead in my path by the thorns of chronic illness.  I had to be relocated to a different home, state, and lifestyle.  I needed a re-boot.  Or should I say a re-built hard drive.  I needed a next chapter. 

And because He loved me, He gave it to me. And just like Gomer, even though I have been pursued and claimed, even though I have been given a new identity, I still sometimes try to go back to my old soldiering ways.  I mean, I’m still human.  And He knows that.  So, he perpetually pursues me and reminds me that He has called me by name and that I am His.

Jeremiah 31:3

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Yes, yes you have.

Bent on turning

Why am I amazed every single time that God reveals Himself.  I mean, He does it so often, you would think I would begin to expect it. Yet, I am always surprised.  Consider this.

Way back in November, my Wednesday morning Bible Study battalion started discussing what we would study next.  Several studies were suggested, so we considered each of them as we made our decision.  Right before Thanksgiving we decided to study Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything.  Well, that was November, and then Christmas happened, and I forgot all about what we would be studying.

God took me on a journey through December that landed me in January, longing to turn back to my good practices of Bible study, prayer, and blogging (read my post ‘Turn at any Time’).  In fact, this idea of turning starting churning around in my head last January when a couple of friends and I were meeting once a week for what I’ll call ‘prayer talking’.  Each of us was embracing the idea of repenting, or turning.  We were deciding together that we had been walking the wrong way and that we were willing to turn around and walk back toward God.

Actually, I just took a scroll through my previous blog posts and saw that like the thread of ‘healing’ that I mentioned yesterday, there is also a thread of repenting — of turning.  Perhaps you, like me, find yourself learning the same lessons over and over again.  Learning and forgetting.  Straying and turning.

So, when I joined the battalion this morning to start our study, the one that we chose last November, I could hardly keep myself from gasping when our leader paraphrased Hosea 11:7: My people are bent on turning away from Me.  Yes, Lord, I am!  I am bent on it!  And you see it!  You’re speaking to that tendency in me!

God used Hosea to speak to this tendency that is common to humans.  He knows us!  He knew that we would take his love for granted, that we would wander to look at any little shiny thing that caught our eyes.  He knew that when we did this we would feel guilty, helpless, unloveable and beyond hope. So, He gave us Hosea.

Hosea was a man of God, who sought out Gomer, a prostitute, and continued to love her despite her unfaithfulness.  This, my friends, is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with us.  God, who is God, seeks out unfaithful humans and continues to love us!  He keeps both sides of the covenant!

Hosea is a love story, friends.  It’s a tale of the unconditional love of God for His people. A love that pursues the wanderer. The kind of love that steps into squalor to find us.  It’s a story of  God’s love that is bent on turning away from anger in order to save us. A love that welcomes us back and embraces us.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled…

return to the Lord…

I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them… 

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;

they shall flourish like grain.

Hosea 14, selected verses

Now, come on, why wouldn’t we want to return?

Try Waiting in Silence

I don’t usually know what I am going to write about before I sit down.  Today’s no exception.  I find the time in my day and then sit down at my desk.  I read a devotion and then start moving my fingers over the keys.  Today, my devotional book, Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope, which I am reading through for the second time, directed me to Psalm 62.  I read the Psalm and then turned to what Beth had written about it.  About half way through her page, she told me to go back to scripture and read aloud verses 1-2 and 5-8.  If you are so inclined, you could read them aloud right now:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Since, as of yesterday, I am getting back to writing my blog, perhaps this verse is a fitting reminder of where I started eighteen months ago. I had just committed to taking six months to be still and wait.  I, a self-proclaimed butt-kicking, name-taking soldier, had agreed to put down my weapons for a season in order to recover from some battle wounds.

In fact, if you recall, my injuries had rendered me useless to the soldiering business.  I hadn’t surrendered willingly, but had been pulled from battle per executive order.  I would like to say I left kicking and screaming, but in reality, by the time that I was summoned from my position, I was too exhausted to utter much more than a whimper of acknowledgement.

I was plunked down in this little house by the river with a laptop, my Bible, and nothing but time. If you’ve been reading with me for the past eighteen months, you know that my journey to recovery has been slow and circuitous. I have made progress in fits and starts, proving, time and again, that I am no longer fit for battle.

Nor was I ever intended to be. I wasn’t called to fight or conquer or even defend.  I was called to wait in silence.  I was called to run to my refuge, seek my shelter, and find my salvation in the Rock.

Now, it might seem that seeking shelter means taking myself out of the war entirely.  Not true.  I can enjoy shelter in the midst of chaos, in the midst of trial, in the midst of downright warfare.  I won’t be oblivious to the turmoil that surrounds me, but I will be safe, secure, and held.

For a very long time, I thought it was my job to keep peace, to quiet cries, and to overcome the enemy.  And, boy did I try.  And fail.  In fact, I would say that my efforts to fight battles that were not mine actually caused more harm than good — to myself and others because the battles were not mine; the war is already won.

That’s why I have permission to wait in silence.   If I am busy soldiering on, I miss the action.  But if I watch and wait, I “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).  How do I know this? Because I’ve been seeing it.

I wonder if in your stillness you are seeing it to….

The overflow of the heart

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..”

Matthew 12:36

Well, didn’t that just stop me in my tracks this morning? I got up, brewed my tea, made my smoothie, and sat down to my Bible study thinking, “It sure would be nice to blog this morning…” I usually read my Bible study first, you know, so I don’t go off all half-cocked spouting nonsense as I have been wont to do.  I try to ground myself in Scripture before I let my fingers fly, hoping that they will be directed toward His purposes, at least a little bit.

But didn’t He just step into my process and say, “Well, you know, not many people can speak about careless words quite as authentically as you can, dear.” Oy.

Ok, ok, I admit it.  I have spoken a few careless words. Ok, fine.  I’ve spoken a few careless words every time I have opened my mouth. I just love to hear myself talk, apparently.  So things just fly out of me!  All kinds of things.  Careless things.  They fly out of my mouth so quickly I sometimes surprise myself.  When I say, “did I just say that out loud?” I really am asking out of disbelief.  I shock myself.

Sure, sure, over the years, through some very difficult ‘learning opportunities’ I have acquired an ability to filter.  Sometimes.  But often, a thought pops into my head and out of my mouth before I even know what happened.  I have tried and tried and tried to control my tongue.  But here’s the thing.  The problem isn’t with my tongue.  It’s with my heart.

Matthew asks, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Have you ever met someone who truly has a pure heart?  I actually have.  Perhaps you know someone like this.  They have something kind to say about everyone, in every situation.  And, guys, they aren’t being fake.  They really mean it!  They have compassion, understanding, patience, and true humility in their hearts. So, when they open their mouths, the words that come out are compassionate, kind, understanding, patient, and humble.

If you listen carefully to my words, you will occasionally hear kindness and sometimes compassion, but often what you will hear is judgment, cynicism, distrust, and impatience.  Our mouths reveal us for who we really are!  And, in my case, it can be downright embarrassing!  I really want to think the best of people.  I really want to be encouraging, but I look at a situation, toss it around with what is inside my heart, and out of my mouth comes what I am thinking.

So, what can I do? There is only one solution — a heart transplant.  Or at least reconstructive surgery.  God has been in the business of remodeling my heart for going on fifty years.  He’s done some miraculous work, actually.  That’s why I am, at times, able to open my mouth and offer encouraging, compassionate, and thankful words.  However, the full remodel won’t be done for quite some time, and occasionally I get trapped in one of the back rooms that haven’t been touched yet.  If you try to talk to me when I’m in there, I’m likely to spout frustration, anger, and even hate. It ain’t pretty.

I’ve got to learn not to walk into those areas alone.  When I go alone, all I can see are the problems — the holes in the wall, the stained carpets, the mold, and the broken windows.  But, when the Designer comes with me, He shows me all the work that He’s already done — He’s poured a new foundation, He’s demolished strongholds, He’s got a plan.  When He comes with me, all that frustration, anger, and hate melt away.  All I can see is His goodness and compassion — His ability to rebuild what was once deemed condemned.

At those moments, my heart is full of hope, love, and understanding; when I see the transformative power He has had in my life, I am able to humbly speak that transformative power into the lives of others.  However, when I wander off on my own, my heart gets full of fear, anger, and resentment.  And in those moments, if I’m careless enough to open my mouth, I’m likely to regret it.

Sounds like a simple problem to fix, doesn’t it?  Remind me of that later today when you hear me say something careless, will you?

Red-letter Day

Yesterday was what I like to call a red-letter day.  In fact, if I still kept a paper calendar I would get out a red sharpie and circle July 23, 2015 so that I would not forget it.

It started first thing in the morning.  I worked with my first student, who is autistic.  Just a few weeks ago it was difficult for him to describe any object beyond its color — usually black or blue — and its shape — typically a circle or a square.  Yesterday we looked at a small picture of a pile of nails.  I took the picture away and asked him what he had seen.  He said, “nails”,  of course. When I asked him what they looked like,  he said they had a circle on the top.  “Yes, good!” I said.  “What else?”  “They are sharp on the bottom.”  “Yes!”  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for my little guy, it’s a pretty big deal.  He used a complete sentence and he moved beyond his generic descriptors to something more specific.  That, my friends, is worth marking on the calendar.

It didn’t stop there.  My second student has been known to be quite noncompliant — to the point of refusing to work, day after day after day.  Yesterday appeared, at first, to be another one of those days, but for some reason, we started our session with some talk about her toys and she began to work with me.  We were moving forward slowly in our lesson when one of the supervisors joined us to do some ‘pacing’ — this happens quite often.  The more senior members of the team come and interact with the students to push them a bit and determine how to best tweak their lessons for the most impact.  The supervisor asked me to do a task with the student.  I wasn’t quite sure of the method, so I invited her to show me her ‘special way’ of using the materials.  I was so glad that I did this — she made several changes in the setting and the climate of that lesson.  She worked with the student for about fifteen minutes.  I watched, took notes, and learned a whole lot about how to work with this difficult little peanut.

I had two more students before I left for the afternoon.  Walking to my car, I checked my phone for messages and emails.  We had been exchanging information with the financial aid office at our daughter’s university.  They wanted to verify some information we had submitted, so we had sent documents back and forth over the last few weeks.  It was exhausting and tedious, but we kept at it. When I saw an email from the officer we had been working with, I opened it to find that the school had decided to give her another huge chunk of grant money — so much, in fact, that she will not have to take one of the loans that she had been approved for!

Then, I received a text from another daughter who said that an employer had contacted her out of the blue and wanted to interview her over the phone — that day!  The position is almost a perfect fit for this particular daughter, her skill set, and her interests, and she hadn’t even applied for the position!

And the news kept coming!  It was like it was my birthday and people kept arriving with gifts that I wasn’t expecting — healing for this person, encouragement for that one, resolved conflict here, restored relationships there…

Late in the afternoon, my husband arrived home from work with the day’s mail.  He was carrying a package from my mother — I had mentioned that my rubbermaid containers kept disappearing, so she sent me a whole new set!

I am telling you, it was a red letter day!

So, I grabbed my dog and my phone and headed out for a walk.  I called my mom to thank her for the gift and I started telling her about all the good things that had happened yesterday.  I kept saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!”  She said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but just think of all the time you have spent praying for these things.  God says, if you ask for it, He will answer. I know you weren’t expecting Him to answer all in one day, but He answers whenever He wants to!”

Yes, He does!  Sometimes the answers trickle in so subtly that we might not even realize that they are answers to prayer.  They can slip by me unnoticed, and I take them for granted.  But, when He overwhelms me with answers all in one day, I can hardly ignore His work.  It took my breath away.

This morning, I did my devotion which I always follow with writing in my prayer journal.  I follow a pattern called PRAISE — Praise, Repentance,  Acknowledgement, Intercession, Supplication, and Equipping.  When I got to the Supplication section I recalled all the prayers I had written for ‘my people’ over the past several months.  My mother wasn’t wrong — they have been many.  I never doubted that God was hearing them; I never doubted that He had my people in the palm of His hand.  But it sure was wonderful to sit in amazement and watch so many answers all in one day.

Matthew 7:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.