A “180” Of Faith

543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, he had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt.  The disciples laid their cloaks on the donkey for Him to sit on and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks and palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all been there and have experienced the reality of that roller coaster.  We interpreted something differently and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed his praises as he rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things he was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He DID show up, and He DID deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept that God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  He had a plan far greater that was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different.  But God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have often been in difficult situations and was banking on the many promises of God.  I was believing that He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  I watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who I thought He was.  I look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of my enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving me alone to fight for myself.  It doesn’t take too long thinking these things that I end up angry because He doesn’t care enough to take care of me.  In my own way, I go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  I start letting my doubts or anger from unmet expectations drive my perspective and end up choosing to set free the worst of myself rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but that God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that’s the truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember how their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans and trust in the fulfillment of His.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!

Why Can’t You Let It Go?

shutterstock_251283712There is a very familiar song from a very popular movie that continually tells us to “let it go.”  Not a bad thought considering how many things in life seem to take us down in one way or another.   We are hit continually with circumstances beyond our control – jobs, family issues, health issues, even the political climate – all of it can just wear us down to the point we truly feel like we cannot get up one more time.  After all, why get up when life is just going to knock you back down again?  That seems like a very valid question, doesn’t it?  Of course it does, until you remember something all people of faith forget:  Our circumstances may be out of our our control, but they are never out of God’s.

I have written a lot about the struggle with trying to control everything in our lives, to mitigate the effects of the world around us.  We save to avoid financial collapse.  We work out and eat right to avoid illness and disease.  We go into professions that we don’t want to be in because they provide stability.  We do all kinds of things to keep from being at the mercy of the elements.  The truth is we can do everything perfectly and think we are prepared for (and protected from) almost anything, but we aren’t.  I’m not saying it doesn’t help, but saving won’t prevent a financial disaster if the conditions are right.  Eating right and exercising won’t keep you from getting sick.  There are people every day who are examples of perfect health who suddenly drop dead from a heart attack, or find out they have cancer or some other dreaded disease.  We don’t want to consider it, but it seems we really are at the mercy of the elements.  Or are we?  How do we walk through this life, bombarded with situations that shake us to our core or bring us to our knees?  How do we keep moving when things fall apart?  How do we press on, when we’ve been betrayed or let down by someone we love?  How do we lift our heads when we lose jobs, homes, or even families?  How do we actually let it go?

We tend to hold on to things; it is in our nature.  We even hold onto things that are harmful for/to us.  How many people remain in terrible relationships because they can’t let go?  How many jobs do we stay in because we can’t let go?  How many places do we live in because we can’t let go? We like the familiar, even when it’s bad.  We like to be in control, or have the illusion of control.  Sometimes the illusion of control is more powerful than actually being in control.  We mix up those two things often – actual control vs the illusion of control.  We rationalize our hoarding of things or relationships and then wonder why we feel so bogged down, stressed out or depressed.  shutterstock_218214685God never meant for us to hoard things in this world.  He never wanted us to put down roots here when our forever home is actually with Him.  “Yeah, yeah, but that’s just a nebulous concept when I’m living in the NOW.”  We really struggle with letting go of anything!  The things we consider “good” in life (money, secure jobs, good relationships, homes and possessions, etc.) are hard to let go of because we think if we “let it go” that means we lose it.  The things we consider “bad” (money, secure jobs, bad relationships, possessions we’ve acquired, etc.) are hard to let go of because they are familiar and serve a purpose for us – even if that purpose is less than desirable.  What we have is what we know, and we don’t like to consider the unknown.  We don’t want to consider that letting go means everything might change.  Letting go of the “good” means we lose and letting go of the “bad” means everything will be unfamiliar.  After all, either way, what if we let it go and then don’t make it?  What if we don’t survive? What if, what if, what if?

What if?  Therein lies the problem.  We don’t know the “what ifs,” but as children of God we know that HE does.  He knows what is around the corner and tells us over and over to trust Him even though His ways are not our ways.  As people of faith, we talk a good talk but our “what ifs” paralyze us and keep us from letting go.  We can’t let it go because we don’t trust the One in whom we claim to place our trust.  The truth is that it is impossible to let go without having trust in something higher than ourselves.  That is true not just for people of faith, but for everyone.  We tend to make our decisions from a place of emotion rather than a place of reason, but God wants us to look at what He has said/promised to us and then trust Him to keep His word.  Trust is not an emotion; it is a decision.  We can trust and let things go, even if we are fearful or apprehensive.  We can have faith even though our knees are shaking.  We can decide to let go and trust, even when we may feel like it’s crazy to do so.  Trust (or faith) and fear are not mutually exclusive.  We can let go and be afraid.  We can let go and be sad.  We can let go and feel all kinds of things, but we cannot let go without trust.  No one can – people of faith or not.

shutterstock_299434214Life is difficult.  We were never promised it would be easy, but it can be rich and fulfilling if we can learn to let things go.  When we learn to let go, we also learn to embrace.  Hurts that we have endured through various means or people can cripple us forever if we let them.  People who have let us down, angered us, treated us poorly or unfairly, or rejected us completely don’t have to diminish us.  Situations that have (or are) less than perfect don’t have to destroy us.  We don’t have to hold onto our grudges or hurts.  We don’t even have to hold on to our expectations that have gone unfulfilled.  We probably need to readjust those expectations anyway.  We, especially as people of faith, have a problem.  We hold ourselves in such high regard that we feel like we have a right to hold onto our anger and hurt.  We think so highly of ourselves that we feel entitled to NOT let things go.  We think it is our right to make sure everything is eventually evened out in our world and that we are treated fairly, and we spend a lot of our time, energy and resources to ensure it happens.  I have news for you: making things “fair” is not your responsibility.  Do you know what IS your responsibility?  Loving God, loving each other and letting things go.

The key to being able to let go is in rationally, reasonably and logically taking God at His word, in spite of our emotions or our desire for control.  It isn’t an easy thing to do, and I struggle with it continually, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.  Emotions are powerful things that can drive us into all kinds of states.  They are volatile and yet they are a very real part of who we are and how God created us to be.  Every emotion we experience, God himself has experienced.  Every betrayal and hurt, every anger and fear, He has experienced them all.  Yes, in the fleshly manifestation as Jesus Christ, He had to deal with every emotion we have dealt with – or ever will.  He was betrayed by those He trusted, his closest friends.  He wept with sadness and grief over losses during His earthly life.  He was terrified in the garden of Gethsemane as He looked at what He was going to have to endure.  But you know what?  He let it go.  He let all of it go and died for us anyway, in spite of how He was treated or how we would dismiss Him today.  He loved us even though He knew we would often reject, disobey and even hate Him.  How was He able to endure such emotion and still press on?  Because He knew the truth and rested in it.  He knew He had a higher purpose and the end result was worth it all, regardless of how he felt emotionally.  When we are able to live from a place of knowing the truth and being willing to walk in it, regardless of how we feel, THAT is when we are able to finally trust and let go.

So I guess I will leave you with what I desire for myself as well as all of you.  I pray we all can step back and realize just what we give up when we are afraid to lose what we already have.   BlessingStop trying to cling to the familiar or to your desire to see that others get what you think they deserve.  Quit holding onto your wounds as badges of honor and be willing to let the wounds in your heart heal.   Let it go.  Open your heart and let go of the pain from those who didn’t love you and embrace the One who does.  And when the circumstances in your life start overwhelming you, or you feel that need for revenge start to rise within you, let it go.  It isn’t worth it.  We were never meant to carry around the weight of the world with us.  We can do exactly what God’s word says in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.”  When we do that, we can still see the sun, no matter how the storms may rage around us.  We can say, with great assurance, “Here I stand in the light of day.  Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Blessings!

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!

When a Storm Rolls In

This is a bit of an unusual (and lengthy) blog post, but one I must share.  I write a lot about faith and the fact it is never easy because it goes against the grain of our human reasoning and emotions.  I’ve also said many times that although it is challenging to walk by faith, it is also liberating because it frees us from having to always know the “whys” of circumstances in our lives.  All of these characteristics of faith are true but when a storm rolls in, our faith can be shaken now and then by the raging winds.  It is also when a storm rolls in that we see amazing examples of faith displayed.  When WE exemplify true faith, we don’t always notice it because we are in the process of walking through something.  But when others exemplify it, that’s something different.  It is something glaring and, dare I say, glowing.  It not only encourages us; it strengthens us.

Some of you have been aware of the journey of my dear friend Sandy and her fight with cancer since 2012.  She is the epitome of what it means to be a fighter.  She’s endured continual treatments and also several surgeries where they’ve taken organs (and pieces of other organs) in an attempt to remove all the tumors.  They’ve gotten close a couple of times, but still it returns.  As of this writing, things are not looking good for her, and the doctors are running out of treatment options.  Is this a terrifying thing to consider?  In our humanity, the answer is “yes,” but in our faith, we embrace life and every moment we have – whether it is only for a short while or years to come.  God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t understand.  He knows the “storm,” and He is the Master of the wind.

So back to Sandy and her family.  Through all of this ordeal, no matter how dire or frightening the circumstances have been at different times, they’ve exemplified a faith that lives!  To read the many CaringBridge posts is to read something that sounds like the great heroes of faith that are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.  She and her husband Scott do not write what they think they are supposed to say or feel about things; they write exactly what they believe about things.  It has been, and still is, amazing to me.  Walking this journey with them as friends, singing partners (we used to sing in a quartet) and brothers/sisters in Christ, has been a strength, comfort and encouragement to me and many others.  It has deepened my own faith and been a continual perspective changer as I, and others, go through our own lives.  What amazes me is that in Scott’s post last night, he apologized for continually asking others to help bear their burdens when he/they have been “oblivious” to everyone else’s respective struggles.  What?!  He mentioned that God tells us to “bear each other’s burdens,” and that he/they have fallen short in doing so.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  What Scott failed to realize last night is that through the sharing of their journey (good, bad or ugly), they have continually helped the rest of us through our own struggles.  They have born our burdens even without knowing the circumstances.  That is the beauty of walking by faith.  It allows others to see God at work in the lives of His children – IN SPITE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES!

Today is a stormy kind of day, and this is a stormy period for Sandy, Scott, their four girls, and the rest of us that love them.  They are in need of your prayers and positive thoughts today as Sandy is set to endure yet another risky procedure.  We pray for God’s will in this and everything else she is facing, though we hope His will coincides with our own “wants.”  I simply ask you to take a moment and pray with us, and to continue doing so whenever this family comes to mind.  God IS faithful!  He is faithful even we aren’t.  He has promised to “never leave us nor forsake us,” no matter how dark it may look when a storm rolls in.

Blessings!

P.S. Though it is lengthy, I am pasting Scott’s post from last night below, but if you want to read an amazing story of real faith, go follow Sandy’s journey on CaringBridge.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/sandylbrooks

“By Scott Brooks – 12 hours ago

Well, it has been an interesting (and exhausting) few days. But first, let me update you on the last week and a half. Sandy was released from UCSF Parnassus Hospital (late) on Tuesday evening, 4/26. Shortly after we arrived home, the supplies for her home I.V. infusion of antibiotics arrived. We had been trained while still at the hospital, how to connect and disconnect the I.V. lines to the port she has had since 2012. A nurse comes to the house once a week to remove the needle and reinsert a new one, but we can handle the changing of the medications.

So for the last week and a half, twice a day on 12 hour intervals, Sandy has been going through the routine. It takes about 2 1/2 hours in the morning because there are two medications, and about 1 1/2 hours in the evening when there is only one. She is feeling generally “better,” but is still having an occasional low-grade fever. Her nausea has subsided, but we’re really not sure if that was a side effect of the oral chemotherapy she was on last month, or a product of the infection affecting her system. We finally have a name for the condition her doctors have been attacking for the last few weeks: Empyema with Thoracic Fistula. But it’s basically an abscess that is trying to make its way to the surface of her skin . . . which, unfortunately, it is now very close to doing. And that’s bad, it seems.

We had a follow-up appointment yesterday with the infectious disease doctor who saw Sandy while she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. Of course, she asked about the progress of the condition. My assessment was that the coloring was less “angry” than when she was in the hospital, and less widespread, but that the actual protrusion of the swelling was, in fact, worse. When the doctor examined Sandy, she looked at me with this stunned expression and said, “Wow, I would agree with your assessment 100%.” Score one for the layman. She was obviously concerned by what she observed and took a photo on her camera, to share with the other doctors, particularly the surgical staff, who are on the team treating Sandy. She expressed the opinion that while the I.V. antibiotics are a good thing, and the right thing to do right now, they would never be a “cure” for Sandy’s infection. As a consequence, she wanted to consult with the others to determine a course for Sandy’s immediate treatment.

Our appointment was at 9:30. During the appointment, she said she would email Sandy’s Surgical Oncologist. We went downstairs to submit some lab work, and then walked about 3 blocks away to grab a bite at a little hole in the wall called the Wooly Pig Cafe. (Great Shanghai BBQ Pork Sandwich!) We had no more than ordered and sat down until my phone rang. I walked outside onto the sidewalk to take it so as not to disturb the other diners. It was the Surgical Oncologist’s office. They wanted to see Sandy today in her surgeon’s office at 1:00. I asked if we couldn’t just work it in yesterday since we were already in San Francisco, rather than having to make another trip, but the Office Coordinator said the surgeon was out of town at a conference, so it would not be possible until today. The time was 11:17 a.m.

I want you to take that in for a moment. In a process which probably took less than an hour, Sandy’s Infectious Disease doctor communicated with her surgeon (who is such a “big deal” at UCSF that he only holds clinic on Wednesday, and Sandy only saw him, personally, twice in the 10 days of her most recent hospitalization), who was out of town at a conference, who took the time out of what he was doing to look over her message, contacted his office, and fit Sandy in to his first-day-back schedule the next day, and his Office Coordinator then contacted us to set up the appointment. That’s impressive! It’s also sobering.

Meanwhile, back at the appointment with the Infectious Disease doctor . . . Sandy’s most recent blood work showed her, again, to be anemic. It was encouraging that her white counts were still good, but the reds just were not where they needed to be. She suggested that Sandy have a discussion with her local oncologist in Pleasanton, about the possibility of getting another transfusion. So while Sandy was downstairs doing the lab work I mentioned earlier, I was calling her oncologist to leave a message that we needed to have that discussion. 

I had no more than walked back into the Wooly Pig and sat down until my phone rang again. This time it was Sandy’s oncologist’s office in Pleasanton. Her scheduler met my “Hello?” with, “This is ________ from __________ __________ ____________ ________________. You guys need to get over to the hospital as quick as you can because they’ll need to get Sandy’s blood for a ‘type and cross,’ and her transfusion is set up for 2:00.” After I gathered my thoughts for a second, I realized what had happened. With no discussion at all, based on the earlier lab reports, Sandy’s oncologist had ordered the transfusion and her scheduler had set up everything with the hospital . . . in Pleasanton. We were in San Francisco. I told her the situation and that there was no way we could be there by then. She said that if we missed this window, they would not be able to fit Sandy in for days. I assured her that we would do the best we could, but that it would be at least 1:00 to 1:30 before we could get back to Pleasanton. She told me to just do the best we could and hope they could still get Sandy in when we got there.

We quickly finished our lunch and after an administrative snafu with the UCSF Campus Parking Police that cost us fully 45 minutes (and shall not be further discussed here), we were on our way back to Pleasanton. Traffic was not horrible, but not great, so we arrived at the hospital in Pleasanton a little before 2:00. When we arrived at the Outpatient Lab Admitting office, where we had gone the last time Sandy had a transfusion, they looked a little confused. But when we mentioned a few of the details, they sort of snapped to attention and shredded all the red tape. Sandy was in the Pre-Op ward in a bed by 2:07.

Then began the long and tedious process of waiting. Wait for the lab work to be done. Wait for the blood to come. And then the big wait: the transfusion itself. They gave Sandy two units just as the last time. The Pre-Op ward closed down at 7:30, so they had to move Sandy to the Post-Op ward to finish up. It was about 9:30 p.m. when we left there and we were home before 10:00. We had left our house at 7:00 yesterday morning. We had to be back to San Francisco today for a 1:00 appointment with the surgeon, but Chloe was coming in to Oakland International for a surprise (to Sandy) Mother’s day visit at 8:45 a.m., so we left the house again this morning at 7:30.

The speed and ease with which her appointment with the surgeon had been scheduled, led me to suspect the possibility that she could be admitted today after he examined her. I didn’t have much idea what might be his course of action, but the speed and ease with which those cogs turned, told me that Sandy had his attention. And when you’re talking about a surgeon, that never speaks well of the patient’s condition. Accordingly, we came prepared for a hospital stay. 

After the usual array of interrogatives from first, a medical student, then a collaborating doctor, and then finally her surgeon, we had a course of action a little after 2:00 this afternoon. We were to go downstairs where Sandy would be receiving a CT Scan, after which we would return to the 5th floor where Sandy would be admitted in anticipation of draining the abscess. If you think this sounds somewhat like a rerun of a few weeks ago, you’re not alone. There are, however, some very significant differences this time.

Sandy’s immune system has significantly recovered, allowing for the procedure without the great concern for catastrophe that surrounded the doctors’ deliberations a few weeks ago. The abscess itself has now progressed — largely because Sandy’s immune system has recovered — to the point that something now must be done in order to avoid a very nasty skin rupture and the complications which could go with that. There is still the risk of “seeding” the cancer elsewhere in her body, but the reality is that the present infection just takes a higher priority than that risk.

So now, to the procedure itself . . . Tomorrow morning, they will install a drain to relieve the pressure in the pocket of infection that has formed. This will be done by an Interventional Radiologist, so it will be under local anesthesia rather than general. It is a pretty minor procedure, really, so there is very little cause for concern as to the procedure itself. They will want to keep Sandy for at least 24 hours to observe her to be sure that all the potential complications are ruled out. Because of the location of the abscess, there are a variety of serious complications that could already exist and would be revealed by relieving the pressure in the abscess. These are not “likely,” but “possible.” It is possible that the abscess has eroded into her stomach, so that draining the abscess would open up a channel into her stomach — obviously, not a good thing. It is possible that the abscess could have perforated her diaphragm so that opening it up might result in a collapsed lung — also not a good thing. These are the sort of things that need to be discovered in a controlled environment, so they’ll keep her until they’re satisfied that none of the potential crises are likely to present themselves. But again, as of right now, that looks like sometime Sunday. We’ll certainly keep you informed of her progress.

For the moment, Sandy is as comfortable as she can be. She is not in any more pain than usual. She has better energy today than she did yesterday, presumably because of the transfusion last night. And her spirits are good. She is a fighter and is up for whatever her doctors feel is appropriate.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not tell you candidly that some of the best doctors in the country are still scratching their heads about what to do once the infection has resolved. Her surgeon does feel that the infection is a result of cancerous activity, so that will still remain after the infection is gone. In his words, “It’s in a challenging area,” involving a lot of internal organs as well as the chest wall itself. It’s complicated. And when a top-notch surgeon says it’s complicated, it’s a sobering thing.

I would be even more remiss if I did not remind you of what so many of us already know and believe. None of us are going to survive this life. Sandy knows that. I know that. And you all know that. It may be cancer, or infection, or a car wreck, or a volcanic eruption, or a massive coronary that takes our life, but one day we all will die unless Jesus returns for us first. For a child of God, this is a conflicting truth because we have an innate instinct to cling to life, but a confident hope that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 

For the moment, it may appear that the cancer is winning and that Sandy and her physicians are losing. But we know the Great Physician, who is able if He so chooses to heal Sandy and restore her to full health. That same Physician has the power and ability to superintend the thoughts and actions of her earthly physicians to her best advantage, and we are convinced that He has positioned us where we are because it is where Sandy may receive exactly what she needs. In any case, Sandy has a future . . . an eternal future. And until her more immediate future becomes clear, we will strive to be as Job and adopt the attitude, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

I have often asked you all to pray for us and I know that you have done so, as many of you have testified. But now I want you to know that I pray for you, that your faith might stand, and that the strength of the Lord might sustain you in the uncertainties of not only our circumstances, but in those of your own — of which we have been so selfishly oblivious. Please forgive us. We have so often unburdened ourselves at your expense, asking you to bear our load, but never taking yours upon us as the Bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens. Jesus has used you to strengthen and encourage us. We pray that, in His wisdom, He has supplied your need as well, in spite of our failure to be for you what you have been for us. He is a great God, and a loving Father.
We will update you as soon as there is more to know. In the meantime, trust that we are in God’s hands, that He is good, and that He is intensely invested in the good of His children. There is . . .

More to come,

Scott”

Change Is a-Comin’

As we start the new year, social media is a buzz with all kinds of things to help us reach our new year’s goals and resolutions.  There are websites, apps, and all kinds of other things to feed our addiction to improve our lives or ourselves – even if it is only temporary.

shutterstock_2175852582015 brought with it a lot of changes that have made me a better person.   God has worked through every situation, whether it seemed (to me) to be good, bad or somewhere in between.  It’s easy to look backward and see how things have changed us or made us think differently, which SHOULD help us as we look forward.  We don’t have to make sense of everything as it is happening, but rather we can be free to live in the moment and experience life as it happens.  Is it good to plan?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should become so concerned with planning and trying to figure things out that we miss everything that is working together for our good.

When we are experiencing difficult times, it is natural for us to expend all kinds of energy trying to make things better or easier, when we would be better off simply breathing through it and taking from it whatever lessons we need.  I’ve had things happen this year that have disappointed me beyond explanation or what I can truly express.  There have been things in every area of my life that have been painful and disappointing, but there have also been things in every area that have been beautiful and brought me great joy.  It all depends on where you choose to look and HOW you look at it.  When we look at our difficulties as an opportunity to reveal the truth about a person, situation, job, church or anything else, we become open to growing and changing through those difficulties.  Thankfully we get to make these choices daily on whether or not we will grow or shrink.  We don’t have to wait for the “New Year.”

shutterstock_257497339Inevitably, most of us take a time to reflect on the passing year and on what we hope for the next one.  We consider the mistakes we made or things we could have handled better.  We think of the opportunities we let slip and times we should have stood up when we didn’t.  Then we start making plans for how we will do things differently in the new year.   No matter the specific change we want to make, we determine to become a better version of ourselves.  I’m not saying it isn’t a noble endeavor to begin but somewhere along the way, we start to slip and end up back in the same old rut, year after year.  I must admit, it’s just easier to go along with the status quo than to get out of our comfort zone and develop a new habit…or a new me.  Every year I have great intentions for the new year, but often fall short because life happens, or at least that’s what I tend to say.

It’s time for me – for all of us – to expect more.  It’s time that we start following that still small voice within, no matter where it leads.  I am certain there will be changes in my spiritual walk because without it, no other changes will be accomplished.  For me, everything starts with where I feel God is calling me to be, and yet knowing it is only half the battle.  This year I need to not only listen, but then draw fully on His strength to carry out the things I know I need to do.  That’s the piece I sometimes miss because I take His will and then start making MY plans for how it will be accomplished.  This year I need to KEEP listening past the “what” and put faith in direction for the “how.”  Waiting and being patient do not come naturally when we are feeling desperate for change, but forcing the timing of that change can backfire on us and stall our progress.

shutterstock_15726439Change is going to happen for all of us this year.  It may be small change or it could be larger than we can even imagine right now.  For me, there are already changes in process that I did not see coming and, quite frankly, are not happy about.  It happens sometimes – circumstances take a turn and we are faced with decisions we’d rather not have to think about, especially when the only options we can see are ones that make us figuratively (or literally) sick to our stomachs.   It is like a rollercoaster that just keeps going until it comes full circle back to the station.  We ride it up and down, through the loops and around the corners, without really any control until we end up back where we got on.  The interesting thing is that once we get off, it’s up to us whether or not to get back on it again.  We can keep doing the same futile thing over and over, speeding down the tracks but getting nowhere, or we can walk away down a new path.  Sometimes neither FEELS good to us in the moment, but one will most certainly lead us nowhere but around the same track.  It’s time to get off the ride and get on with our lives.

So as we all look at where we are in light of where we have been, let us stop promising to change and start resolving to listen to that still, small voice within.  If we will pay attention to where God is leading us instead of where we are planning to go, rest assured the path will be revealed.  Yes, as the song says, “change is a-comin’, but everything’s gonna be alright.”

Blessings!

Forgive me for my rant….

shutterstock_144638720I am human…and this post proves there are times when I don’t feel very happy or inspirational. It seems like sometimes the things that are most personal to us get stirred up in new ways.  Lately there has been an over-abundance of baby-related things in my world and, quite frankly, I’m a little tired of it.  There have been babies being born everywhere I turn, and although I am TRULY happy for these families and mom’s, I sometimes find myself thinking “If I have to listen to one more story or look at one more picture, I am going to scream!”  Yep, I know that sounds selfish.  Yep, I know I should remember they are just sharing their excitement.  I even got to be involved with some of the situations recently and they were great blessings to me.  Unfortunately, I am suffering from a little bit of overexposure.  What follows is just my opinion and how I see things.  Others may disagree and that’s fine.  I’m just sharing one perspective on a very complicated societal issue.

There is a debate that has been going on for years between people who have children and people who don’t.  Companies are often more flexible with schedules for those who have children than those who don’t.  Family friendly policies, even though I agree with them, do put people without children at a disadvantage.  It is not only acceptable, but encouraged, for parents to take time off or make arrangements to attend school programs or meetings for their children.  They say it’s important (and it is) and they need to be able to attend.  I have no problem with that, however, what about things that are important to the childless?   We have lives too, and just because someone doesn’t have children doesn’t mean they should be expected to work harder, stay later or give up what’s important to them outside of work.  Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t “free” to drop everything at a moment’s notice either.  Just because we don’t have children doesn’t mean our days are more leisurely or less filled with activity than those who do.

shutterstock_157009427My husband and I were unable to have children of our own, and the adoption process proved to be so expensive and mentally taxing that we decided against it.  We looked at surrogates and infertility options, but in the end decided that having children of our own was just not a path we were supposed to walk.  It was a painful decision, and although we don’t have kids, I have tried to stay neutral on the subject up until this point.  Mostly, I never wanted to be perceived as one of “those” women who couldn’t handle people around them having children.  I’ve swallowed my pain and attended countless baby showers.  I’ve spent countless dollars on gifts for birthday parties, graduations, and other milestones for kids we know…yes, sometimes because it is expected.  I’ve put on a brave face when coworkers have paraded their children through the office or brought their newborns in for a first visit. I’ve listened to pregnant women go on and on about their bodily functions or the “woes” of pregnancy as I tried to be polite and supportive when sometimes I just want to say “shut up.”   I’ve dealt with the sadness that comes when I’ve had friends move on to having children and then no longer have time for me.  I’ve felt left out in my own family because everyone else was able to have kids, and then they developed a bond around shared experiences with them.   I’ve sat quietly in a group of people who are talking about all the things their kids are involved in or telling funny stories about things the kids have done.  I’ve tried to engage in the conversations but eventually just get up and walk away.  Recently I’ve even watched friends becoming grandparents, and now I get to relive the exclusion all over again.

shutterstock_135260795Mother’s day is bittersweet for me.  I am so grateful for my own mother but it is also a reminder of the fact I will never have someone call me “Mom.”   Our church takes time every Mother’s Day to honor all the women of our church, whether they have children or not.  I have to admit, I don’t like it at all.  I understand the thought process that only honoring mothers can cause hurt feelings in those who are unable to have children or have other situations that make it difficult, but I just see things differently.  First of all, it’s MOTHER’S Day, not Women’s Day.  It doesn’t make me feel better to stand up and be recognized just because no one wants to offend those who are childless for whatever reason.  It makes me feel uncomfortable.  It makes me feel like everyone is looking at me with some kind of pity…like including someone just to keep them from feeling bad.  So instead of feeling honored, I feel embarrassed, and the worst part of it is that I can’t even step outside for a moment while it is going on because I know I will be labeled as one of “those” women who are oversensitive to the issue.  I suppose it’s a catch 22, but in my opinion, if you want to pick a day to honor all women, do it on another day.

I guess it’s all just been harder lately, which has made me realize even more just how much of an outcast I feel sometimes because of the fact I don’t have children.   I’m tired of hearing things like:

  • “If you had kids you’d understand.”
  • “It must be nice to have time to do whatever you want to do.”
  • “Now that I have kids, my life finally has such meaning.”
  •  “You think you’re (whatever)? Try having kids!”

I have always loved working with kids and I always thought I’d have some of my own.   I am thrilled for the people around me who have been able to experience motherhood and fatherhood, and really do love seeing the precious little beings they’ve brought into this world.  I’m not bitter and, over the years, have found ways to embrace the advantages to not having children.  And yes, there certainly are some!  My point is that our society still seems to look down on people who do not have children, like somehow we are defective or selfish.  It is so important to remember there are just as many facets to being childless as there are to being parents.  The reasons for being childless are not as simple as either not wanted kids or not being able to have them.  It is a much deeper, much more personal and complicated situation that has its own set of joys and pains.  And to view us as being less complete, less of a family, or less loving because we don’t have children is one of the greatest pains of all.

shutterstock_182363273So back to my recent baby overload…this too shall pass and I will be back to attending showers and birthday parties just like I always have.  Give me some time and I’ll be glad to listen to stories of every little thing your kids do or say.  Believe it or not, I really AM interested.  It’s just that sometimes…just sometimes… I simply need a little time to step away and wash the salt back out of the wound.

Blessings!