Disappointed By God?

What a week! How many times have you reached the end of a weekend and though that to yourself?  This past week really had me up, down and sideways, which always makes me step back and look at things differently.

shutterstock_1196187574I’ve thought a lot this week about hoping and wishing for things.  There was a situation in my personal life that looked like it was going to work out better than we had expected, but then it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped or wished.  It seems to be the way of life for us, and you’d think we would learn to not expect anything at all.  After all, it would be easier to not hope for anything and be pleasantly surprised, than it would be to think something is going to work out and have it fall through.  Does this sound like days, weeks, or even years you have experienced in your own life?  When I consider the possibility of abandoning hope or expectations that things will work out, it flies in the face of what I have believed.  I’ve always believed God is working everything out for my ultimate good, but what happens when you feel let down over and over until you stop asking for things?

There are a lot of televangelists who tell us we can ask for anything from our Heavenly Father, and I agree that’s true.  We have every right and privilege to ask, but we must remember that sometimes the answer is wait, and sometimes the answer is no.  Just because we ask for it, doesn’t mean it is best for us.  Sometimes what is best for us is something totally opposite of what we ask.  In theory, and as people of faith, we know this to be true but it can be so incredibly defeating and discouraging when it happens over and over.  It is certainly easy for me to start looking at things differently and question why I even ask in the first place.  I start becoming a spiritual “realist” and soon I’m not asking for anything anymore because I’d rather not be disappointed…again.

shutterstock_137512043When my situation came up this past week, it looked like God was doing something above and beyond for us, but then it didn’t happen.  Do you know what that made me think?  I started thinking “here we go again; God must be disappointed in us to dangle this out there and then yank it away.”  I was totally disappointed in God and it temporarily undermined my trust in Him.  Yep, my so‑called faith took a tumble into the abyss for a little while.  But why?  Because my perspective was out of whack on two points:

  1. Our initial problem had actually been resolved far better than we thought possible, and I was thrilled, but then came the possibility for even greater things. When those things didn’t happen, I developed “spiritual amnesia!”  I no longer felt the same gratitude and excitement when my initial prayers were answered. Once a possibility for more existed, it shifted my mindset into hoping and wishing for what I believed was greater or better.
  2. The possibility of greater things was something I attributed to my impression that God was going above and beyond, instead of realizing the enemy could be using this extra aspect to distract me from being grateful for already answered prayers. And it worked.

Once I began thinking negative thoughts about who God is and who I am as His child, everything started to tumble down the rabbit hole right behind it.  I didn’t stop with being disappointed over the present circumstance, but rather continued ruminating on every disappointing circumstance in my life – now or in the past.  I became overwhelmed and depressed.  I told myself I was going to become ambivalent in my prayers and requests to God.  You can imagine the thought process: “If I just ask for things but then don’t expect anything in the answer, I won’t be disappointed.”  I started thinking maybe that’s how God actually wants me to view things – unexpectant and ambivalent.  I have to admit, it was simply another depressing thought, because I couldn’t see past the darkness in which I was tumbling.   The truth is “unexpectant and ambivalent” are the opposite of “trust and certainty,” but in my darkness I could not tell the difference.

shutterstock_401236261Gratitude does not come easy in the storms of life.  When we start jumping to conclusions about what God is or isn’t doing in any given situation, instead of leaving things in His hands and trusting Him to do what is best for us, we often end up disappointed.  The majority of our issues, however, come from thinking that the “best” means the most lucrative or easiest.  Our definition of “good” and “bad” are based on what we can see with our own eyes, or ideas, but God has the vision and perspective of eternity and knows every aspect of our situations.   My uncle used to say, “We don’t really want to trust God to take care of us because what if He doesn’t take care of us like we want to be taken care of?”  I think that is more accurate than most of us would like to admit.  God doesn’t want us to get so conditioned by life that we lose our passion, joy and peace.  He doesn’t want us to ask Him for things and not care what the answer is.  He wants us to be content in the outcome of our requests as a result of understanding who He is and how much He loves us, not because we simply stopped expecting anything from Him.

Look, God knows we are human and that we are going to experience disappointment, hurt, betrayal and many other emotions.  He also knows it is our tendency to let it overwhelm us.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 and it simply says, “Jesus wept.”  Lazarus had died and when Jesus got to the tomb and saw his sisters and other friends weeping, it moved Him to the point of tears as well.  Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet He still wept.   He also understood that death here is temporary.  He knew, better than anyone, that life continues for His children in Heaven, and yet He still cried.  Why?  Because knowing the outcome of the story doesn’t mean you don’t cry at the sad parts.

shutterstock_563555992 As people of faith, we know that eventually everything works out for our good, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal with tears, discouragement, anger or depression along the way.  What matters is how we keep walking in spite of it.  It doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we are so tired or discouraged that we curl up into a ball to try and catch our breath; what matters is what we do with that breath when it returns.  Will we use it to perpetuate the darkness around or within us, or will we lift our voice like Paul and Silas in prison and praise the One who loves us and has promised to take care of us?

For me, I don’t want to be blinded to all the good God is doing (or allowing) in my life because of my inability to let go of what I think is “best” for me or my loved ones.  I’m not saying it will be an easy thing to do or a perspective that will be easy to maintain.  I’m just saying, there is no other way to truly experience the peace that passes all understanding and to live the abundant life He offers us.  It’s time to change our definition of what “abundance” truly means.

Blessings!

Yesterday Once More

shutterstock_1255117942Although I might be dating myself with that song-cue of a title, I want to share something very important with you about an issue that is affecting more and more of us, an issue that is leaving families hurt, lost and confused about what to do or where to turn.  This issue is the condition called Dementia, and it not only affects older people but people of all ages.  They are even finding new strains appearing in young children.  I know this is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but it is one to which many of you can relate.

Dementia, in any form it manifests, is devastating.  I know first-hand, because my dad, who is the most brilliant man I ever knew, has now been walking this journey for a number of years.  As a result, so have the rest of us.  This disease doesn’t just affect the patient; it sinks its teeth into every relationship surrounding them and wreaks havoc in the lives of everyone who loves them.  If you had told me it was possible for my dad to struggle like I’ve seen him do in recent years, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  Yet, here we are.  Some days it’s yesterday all over again, and other days it’s a brand new world.

Anyone who has been affected in one way or another by the devastating aspects of any form of dementia – either as patient or care partner- can relate to the myriad of challenges, frustrations and griefs that become a part of every day life.  I heard others talk about having a loved one with dementia, and my heart always went out to them, but the truth is that I had no clue about the depth of what they were walking through.  That all changed when this disease hit my own family.

golf non dadDementia is an umbrella term, under which fall a large number of different types of the disease.  Alzheimer’s, for example, is simply the most common type of dementia, but there is Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, Vascular Dementia, and a host of others.  Dementia is not a memory problem; it is brain failure.  Just like any other organ can fail, the brain can experience failure.  Where that failure first manifests itself will determine the functions that are the first to begin diminishing.  My dad did not start out with memory problems.  You could ask him about things and talk with him, never knowing there was a problem at all.  We did however start to notice he was starting to struggle with problem solving, or things involving processes or sequencing.   We saw the signs but never recognized them.  We just blamed it on not knowing technology or being tired and stressed.  Because he didn’t have any trouble with remembering people, events, stories or anything else, it never occurred to us in the beginning that he might have an actual issue going on.  We were wrong.

It wasn’t until things really got noticeable with Dad that I began researching dementia and what to do.  By God’s grace, I stumbled upon a 3-minute video of a woman named Teepa Snow, and I was captivated.  (Here is the video that started it all: Teepa – Communicating with a person with Dementia  ) Immediately I knew I was in over my head, but I also felt a huge relief that someone could make aspects of this disease so easy to understand, (and with a great sense of humor to boot).  I immersed myself in her videos and website (www.teepasnow.com).  I took webinars and attended a wonderful Care Partner Series that was a cross between a class and a support group…twice!  Teepa, and the way she imparts coping mechanisms and techniques in how to walk this journey, absolutely changed the trajectory of ours.  Did it stop the disease? Nope.  Did it change the grief and constant changes that come with brain failure?  Nope.  What it DID change, was greatly reducing the feeling of isolation that comes when your world shrinks as you care for a loved one with this disease.  What it changed was how we viewed this disease.  It provided ways for those of us who love Dad, to offer support for him, and each other, in ways we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

shutterstock_316304594As of right now, there has not been a single survivor of this disease.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We have found ways to mitigate some of the effects of it, but it still remains a 100% fatal condition.  That may sound harsh, but it is the reality.  There is no currently no cure.  We have done a great job in this country highlighting all kinds of diseases and raising money for research, but this disease falls through the cracks sometimes.  Maybe it’s because it is often a private battle that still contains a stigma that causes people to be afraid to discuss it openly.  Maybe it’s because people who would normally be out there raising money for the cause are far too busy just trying to survive from day to day as they care for their loved ones.  Whatever the reason, we need to get busy doing all we can to raise money for research, while raising awareness and educating others, so that we can reduce the stigma associated with this disease.

My Dad is still the most brilliant man I know, and every so often I get a glimpse of that same man during a visit or conversation with him.  Underneath the looping conversations or behavior is still an amazing, loving, funny, demanding, professional and successful man; it just takes a little more to see past the surface now.  Most people who encounter those with brain failure seem to focus so much on what the person has lost in functionality, but I agree with Teepa that we need to be focusing on what someone can still do!  When we focus on the skills and abilities that remain in a dementia patient, we are able to bring out the person they’ve always been.  Unfortunately, that also means letting go of what we expected or how we think things should be, and embrace what is right in front of us.  Now that I think about it, that’s not a bad way to live our lives anyway.

Blessings!

NOTE: I will be participating in the “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” on October 12, 2019 in our local community.  I have never been one to ask for financial support for a cause, but this one is near and dear to my heart, as it is may of yours as well.  If you can make a donation to join the fight for Alzheimer’s first survivor, it would be so appreciated.  It doesn’t matter if it is one dollar, it absolutely makes a difference!     Thank you! 

Deanna OLeary’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s Page

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’m sitting here on this “Silent Saturday” evening, reflecting on all that went on the weekend that Jesus went to the cross and died for all humankind.  There is always such focus on Good Friday and even Holy Thursday, but we often just skip over the day that is referred to as “Silent Saturday,” a day that Jesus spent silent in the tomb before rising.  It was a strange day for His followers, and it feels that way again to me today.

shutterstock_177898622Silent Saturday for the followers of Christ was a terrible day.  The previous day, their Savior had been brutally beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and had died a horrible death on the cross.  The people who had believed in Him were crushed, scared, and worried about what the future would hold.  They heard Him promise that He would rise again on the third day, but they doubted it.  The Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, but if they believed His promise with all their hearts, they would have been waiting expectantly at the tomb on Sunday to see it happen.  Instead, they were afraid.  It was extremely silent for them.  Fear hovered over them while darkness hovered in the tomb.  Waiting is always the hardest part.

There is something about silence and darkness that makes most of us uncomfortable.  The disciples were hiding for their lives.  How discouraging it must have been to wonder if everything they had sacrificed for Christ and all they had believed to be true would end like this – huddling together in fear of what would come next.  As I sat here pondering how difficult the silence was for the disciples back then, I realized how hard it is for me over 2000 years later.

shutterstock_675753925All of us have experienced our own personal versions of “Silent Saturday.”  We face times when we have lived from a place of faith in God and His promises, and hold tight to our relationship with Jesus, believing what He has said, even when we sometimes don’t fully understand it.  We follow; we believe; we trust.  We marvel when we see God’s hand working in our lives or the lives of those around us, but then we find ourselves in a Silent Saturday.  We pray for God’s guidance or His help, but it seems He is silent, so we assume He is gone and start to question what will happen to us in His absence.  We feel scared, helpless, and if we are honest, we sometimes feel betrayed, as if everything we have done has been for nothing!  Where is God?!  Why won’t He answer me?  Why won’t He help me?!  The longer the silence, the more scared or disillusioned we become.  Depression sets in and we huddle down and start trying to figure out what we should do next to protect ourselves, because obviously God has let us down.

The past few months in my life have been filled with terrible events and great losses and griefs, and they just keep coming.  It is a strange season of life, and I have said to those closest to me, “If God were merciful,” or “I wish God would just be merciful and…,” and then I would add whatever I felt that would be to the end of that statement. Yesterday I uttered those words again and then it hit me: When I make those kinds of statements, what I am really saying is “God is NOT merciful.” That realization hit me right in the heart.   The same thing happens when I say, “I wish God would be gracious and…,” again, fill in the blanks at the end of that statement with whatever it is you think should happen in a given situation, or with what you want to happen.  I guess I just never thought about the fact that when I start stating what I think would be merciful or gracious, then I have put my knowledge and opinion above that of the One who knows everything and is working everything for my good.

shutterstock_712494409The disciples were already confused and fearful when Jesus was arrested.  They watched Him willingly lay down His life when they knew He had the power to strike back at those who were harming Him.  Surely they felt like their entire world was falling apart and the future was too dark to see.  Jesus was dead and in the tomb; Darkness set in and the silence became deafening.  What I always found interesting was that Jesus had told them multiple times what He was doing and why He was doing it, but they just kept missing it.  (Matthew 16:21 and 20:17-19) The problem wasn’t that they hadn’t been told, but rather that they never fully understood – or didn’t want to understand.  Jesus even told the disciples “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) How many times has the same thing happened to me because I was blinded by my own ideas of what should happen, based on an incorrect interpretation of what God has said to me through His word? Just like the disciples, sometimes I can’t get out of my own way to see His.

In times of great trouble, grief, fear and worry, we often search for meaning.  We search for answers and guidance.  We search for shelter and comfort.  We struggle against the silence we are experiencing, and then start doubting everything we ever believed.  The longer we wait, the harder it is to keep the darkness from overtaking us and reducing us to terrified people, hiding and just hoping to survive.  I know it happens, because I am living it myself, right now in 2019.   I am drowning in fear and pain in my heart and soul, and the longer this darkness lasts, the harder it is to not lose faith.  The longer it is quiet, the more tempted I am to believe this is what life is going to be like forever, and that maybe I was wrong in what I believed.  In a nutshell, Silent Saturday stinks!

Most of you have seen the holy week quote that says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”  I’ve always looked at that as a reference to the miraculous resurrection that secured my eternal life as a believer, but today it suddenly meant something else.  Sunday isn’t just about my salvation, but about the resurrection of hope and faith in me (and in us).  There is a “Sunday” coming in my life where I will see God move in ways that are impossible for me to understand right now while I am in the midst of silent but excruciating pain.  The marvelous truth about my Silent Saturday is that no matter what I feel, it doesn’t change the fact that God is working things out behind the scenes.  He has made deep and abiding promises to me, and He doesn’t have to keep repeating them in order for them to be true.  On the other hand, sometimes I need to go back and read those promises again, and read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that I remember they are true.  I need to remember it so that I can breathe in the silence and still have sight in the darkness.

shutterstock_74847238I am so grateful the original Silent Saturday didn’t last, and on Sunday morning, the grave burst open and Jesus walked out ALIVE!  But this year, I am also grateful to remember that the Silent Saturdays of our lives don’t last either.  I’m not saying these seasons of life are easy, by any stretch, and we are all in different places of faith at different times.  But just as the disciples could have benefited from reminding each other of the truth, and holding each other’s hands in moments when the fear or sadness was too much to bear, we can lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us (and us for them) as we trudge through the difficult times in life.

For the disciples, Friday was shocking and devastating, Saturday was silent and incapacitating both in action and in their hearts, but Sunday changed EVERYTHING!  I read a statement that said, “Good Friday was the worst Friday until Sunday.”  There is such truth in that statement, and the same holds true in the challenging times in our lives.  When we experience tragedy or trouble, there isn’t anything good about it in our minds.  We are left in places where the silence is deafening, and we are gutted with incapacitating fear or grief.  We have to wait, and doing so makes us wonder and feel like the silence will never end, but then we finally step into the sun of a new day.  Things start becoming clear and we see the proof that God was working even when we didn’t see it or didn’t understand.  We then rejoice, celebrate and are changed by what we have witnessed.  God has promised us that our trials and testing of our faith is for our good.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Fridays” beat us down, “Saturdays” leave us reeling, confused, and grieving, but when “Sunday” comes, we can finally see good in our trials and the strengthening of our faith through the silences.  So on this resurrection Sunday, pause and thank God not just for everything He did so that you can live eternally, but also for all He does to constantly resurrect our faith and hope as he works all things for our good.  We can’t see what He has in store, and waiting is definitely the hardest part, but He knows that when the night is over, He is going to knock our socks off!  Joy comes in the morning, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Blessings!

Love Or Just Celebrating It?

Here we are on Valentine’s Day 2019, a day on which many people celebrate love, but what exactly does that mean?  Is it a day where people truly step back and think about what love is, or is the focus on what they get or what kind of display of affection their significant others do for them?  I remember working for a company that announced over the loudspeaker the names of everyone who had received a delivery during the previous 30 minutes.  It went on all day long!  Over the years it began to feel almost like a contest of how many times your name would be announced, as if it was some indicator of how much you were loved by others.  What started as an easy way to organize deliveries for a people within a large company became a source of pain for so many people whose names weren’t called multiple times or maybe not called at all.  My point is, what should we celebrate when we think of love?  We should celebrate the traits of what it means to truly love others.  1 Corinthians 13 tell us the true nature of love:

img_6962“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We like to quote those verses or turn them into wall hangings, but so often they become exactly what they shouldn’t – decoration.  The more we look at things, the easier it is to stop seeing them.  It is easy to get caught up in the trap of saying the right things, but not living them.  It’s easy to get lost in our own desires or how others aren’t acting or reacting like we think they should.  Once we start down that road, it leads nowhere positive.  Look at the beginning of that same passage of scripture:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

 We like to jump to the section that so beautifully describes the nature of love, but skip over the first few verses that tell us we can be the most eloquent, gifted, generous person on the planet, but if we do not have love, then we are NOTHING!  Let that sink in for a moment.  (I’ll wait…)  It’s quite a statement of what happens when we get so focused on ourselves and start thinking everyone else is wrong or are doing things wrong.  We start expecting things and then get upset when we don’t get them.  It is one of the many reasons why Valentine’s Day has become such a commercialized day of supposed romance.  Society keeps trying to define for us what love looks like, and we just keep absorbing that view.  We need to stop.  We need to get back to truly loving each other, and we need to do it every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

shutterstock_65540413In a time when we are more divided than ever in so many realms, it is good to remember what Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”  We should look different, act different and BE different.  That doesn’t seem so tough when you think about loving those who love you and treat you well, but when you consider loving the people who have mistreated you, judged or slandered you or a host of other things, it can be a daunting thing to undertake.  It isn’t easy to love the unlovable or those who mistreat us, but I just keep thinking about how much Jesus loved us – even while we were (or are) unlovable.  Philippians 2:5, it tells us, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  Yeah, there is a LOT that could be said about that, but when it comes to love, we are to view love the way He viewed love.  And yes, we are to love even those who mistreat us.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be mature and complete, as your heavenly Father is mature and complete. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Being mature or complete is a tall order, but if we are to follow in the steps of our Father, we have to be willing to set aside our pride and love genuinely.

shutterstock_114296290So on this day of love, I will leave you with this: Let us go out into this world with love and kindness.  Let us stop being so quick to judge each other and instead pray for each other and lift up those around us.  Don’t try to pull the weeds in someone else’s garden, but rather cultivate what you want to grow in yours.  Love in ways that far exceed your words, even if those around you do not do the same.  Love in spite of your expectations.  Love in the midst of pain.  Love when you are on top of the world, or when it is crashing down around you.  Love completely, not for what you get but for what you can give.  We did nothing to deserve God’s incredible love and He did not reserve it for only the “worthy.”  He loved every single one of us in spite of ourselves.  Love because you have been loved.  Bless because you have been blessed.  Forgive because you have been forgiven.  And remember just because God made it that simple; He never said it would be easy.

Blessings and love to you and yours!