An Opening Bloom

Many years ago, I was having lunch at a famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and experienced flowering tea for the first time in my life. If you aren’t familiar with flowering tea, it is exactly what its name infers. It is normally a mild tea that contains an actual closed flower in it that, when steeped, opens and blooms. It makes for a truly gorgeous cup of tea.

With the recent deaths of both my mom and dad, it has been a challenge for me to not close myself off to things around me. When we endure trouble and difficult times, it is so easy to curl up and just want the world to stop for a while.  Believe me, I get it! I realized yesterday morning that it has often felt like I am waking up from a very long dream but paralyzed in some way.  Today, however, I can’t help but think about how God has provided so many things in my life to help keep me putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only an inch at a time some days.  Throughout all the turmoil, He has continually been walking me through every single moment of every single day. So what does this have to do with an interesting cup of tea?

Flowering tea cannot be done with cold or even cool water because the flowers just won’t bloom. It takes extremely hot water to cause them to open up and reveal their colors. I can’t help but think of how this is also true of our lives and the trials through which we walk. Sometimes it takes enduring extremely difficult and even painful times for our hearts to open and begin to bloom again. Sometimes it is through the heat that we are forced outside the shadows and into the light. If asked, most of us would say we much prefer comfort to pain, yet pain is a result of growth. There is a pendulum that swings between the growth from pain and the healing of comfort, and both are needed in their respective times. Too much pain in life and we will collapse; too much comfort and we will atrophy. If we give up in the middle of the journey on which we walk, we may never see what could have been.

Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged, stressful effort or activity.”  We’ve all had at least some measure of experience with endurance. Enduring, by nature, will wear you out, but there is something beautiful that happens when we push through life’s pains and find the stamina to keep going. When we endure, we are gifted with golden moments in time that we would never experience if we just gave up. Sometimes these moments come at the end of a journey, but often they come all along the way. God not only has a way of strengthening us through ways we could never imagine, but He also provides respites for our weary souls as we travel onward.

Recently, I shared with someone that sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest (instead of the forest for the trees). It is easy, as a person of faith in times of distress, to say God is in control and we know He is working everything out for our good. Although true, that perspective is like a view of the forest. It is great to step back and remember that God is always making a way through our situations and emotional turmoil, but it is just as important to sometimes step forward and take notice of all the little trees that make up that forest. Those trees might be the people in our lives, organizations to which we belong, the beauty of nature, a text from a family-member or a late-night conversation with a friend. For me, there has been a grove of trees in my life over recent months within the church I attend, and I would venture to say that most of the people involved haven’t a clue of their impact on my journey, or how God has used them as a salve to some of the broken places in my heart. I look at these individual trees with wonder in my heart tonight. I am in awe of how my Heavenly Father continually weaves together a net of His grace to hold me up through individual people and experiences. Yes, the forest of His overwhelming love and grace in taking care of us is a beautiful scene to behold, but each of the trees that make up that forest are unique and special when you look a little more closely. It is in the balance of these two perspectives that I fall to my knees in gratitude to the One who knows the end from the beginning and how to handle every turn of the path along the way.

God is good even when life isn’t. Joy and happiness may be related but they are not the same. We read in James 1:1, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You might be wondering how that is even possible! This isn’t about being happy in our trials, but rather finding joy in the fact that our trials are evidence of God working in our lives. Just like an athlete who endures the stress and pain of training so he or she can run a race with maximum strength and efficiency, God is allowing our trials to strengthen us to run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is this perspective that allows joy to flow through us even when we are struggling. We read a few phrases later in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James is referring to what he said in verse one about understanding our trials from a different perspective, that we should (and can) find joy in the assurance God is working in our lives and strengthening us. If we can’t seem to be able to do that, then we simply need to ask God for wisdom necessary for that higher perspective, and He will give it to us.

The best thing any of us can do is to recognize God for who He is and to understand who we are in light of that truth. He is worthy not only of our praise and worship, but also of our trust and faith in the way in which He is directing our paths or the paths of those we love. Storms may rise but we so often need to simply be still and let God move. We need to have a conversation with ourselves that reminds us of the truth that God is in control and there is no need for worry. A dear friend recently shared with me the words to an old hymn, and although the poetry of the original lyrics is so beautiful, it is the message the writer is giving to her own soul in times of distress that moves me to tears and inspires my heart. I share them with you in the phrasing I speak them to myself today. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side. Patiently bear the cross of grief or pain. Leave it to God to put things in order and provide, because in every change, He will remain faithful. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend will lead you through the difficult and painful paths to a joyful end. Be still, my soul for God has taken it upon Himself to guide the future as He has the past. Don’t let anything shake your hope and confidence. One day you will see and understand the mysteries you have now. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He lived here on earth. Oh soul, be still when dearest friends depart and everything is darker in the valley of your tears. Be still and then you will better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul and remember from His own fullness, your Jesus can replace everything He takes away. The hour is growing near when we will all be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow will be forgotten and love’s purest joys will be restored. When change and tears are past, we will all finally meet and be safe and blessed.”

Whether we are walking through times of distress, grief or pain, there is beauty in what God is doing in us and through us. There is a purpose in the fires through which we walk, and God is always working through the searing pain that flows around us. Every trial we endure is as that glass of flowering tea, and the extreme heat we may sometimes feel will destroy us is the very thing necessary to set us free to bloom. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I pray for stillness for your soul, that it is reminded we can rest in the arms of our Father and trust Him. We can feel a blessed security not only in His promises, but in the truth that neither He nor his promises will ever change because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is overwhelming when our souls are stilled and our vision is cleared. I am so grateful for that clarity, and I cannot wait to see the bloom of the flower this season of life brings forth.

Blessings!

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!

Sacred Prejudice

shutterstock_790179607A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it.  If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read.  (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians).  There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me.  A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.”  It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right.  There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination.  It’s sad, but it’s also true.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things.  There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith.  It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group.  It’s just part of the journey.  I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him.  If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses!  My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word.  Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one.  Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking.  Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance.  Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times.  I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees.  They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical.  They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.

As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors.  It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men.  The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time.  I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill.  We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. shutterstock_737645134 I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie.  Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not.  In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true.  This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.”  By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision.   Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test).  Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now.  Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor.  Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.

My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance.   Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them.  Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today).  As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives.  Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position.  You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.

shutterstock_305140991The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28).  Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us.  Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us.  God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways.  Different is not worse.  Different is not less.  Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are.  Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Take another look at that list and tell me what you see.  There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it.  It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people.  He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature.  He commands us to love as He loves.  In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us.  The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching.  One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

shutterstock_1020186199What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days.  Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion.  He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word.  He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love.  He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us.  Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance.  He is concerned with our hearts and our character.  We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates.   After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.

So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier:  Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches?   Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it.   There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did.  Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life.  Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance.  Bitterness is sure to follow.

Blessings.

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!

The Eye Of The Storm

shutterstock_1182832180We’ve all heard, seen, or even experienced being in the eye of a violent storm.  We’ve watched hurricane coverage on the news and marveled at those broadcasts that occur while the “eye” is passing over.  Things change drastically in the eye of the storm.  Raging winds calm down, torrential rains stop, and the dark clouds break to reveal the warm light of the sun.  It really is a beautiful pause, but the reality is that the storm is far from over.

In life, we encounter all kinds of situations and circumstances that begin to beat relentlessly on us.  It could be in a relationship, job, health crisis, church or spiritual upheaval.  When we are faced with extreme storms in our lives, our behavior often resembles that of someone caught in the midst of a literal storm.  We battle and struggle to keep our footing in the raging wind and rain.  We learn the direction in which to lean so that we have less chance of getting knocked totally off our feet.  We adapt as the elements around us change so that we can survive with the least amount of damage to us or what we hold dear.   Survival instincts are heightened and our scope of priorities seems to become more focused, and then it happens; there is an eerie calm that comes over us and a peace that allows us to breathe.

IMG_3002I said earlier the eye of the storm is a “beautiful pause,” because that’s all it is – a pause.  This temporary period of peace and calm is simply a chance to take a breath, gather yourself back together and think clearly for a little while.  It’s a moment in time in which we are reminded that there IS life out there beyond the storm.  It reminds us the sun is still shining and takes us to a place of hope that can strengthen our resolve in the face of knowing there is nothing we can do but endure the impending return of the storm.  This eye is where I find myself right now.  Standing in a place of peace, being reminded of how beautiful life can be, and creating an even deeper appreciation for every other time of calm when the storms weren’t raging.  In this place of peace, it is easy to see clearly the path behind and to gain perspective on the path ahead, even though I cannot direct it.

Facing the second half of the storm is inevitable when standing in the eye.  The peace and calm can be deceiving until we consider what is headed straight for us.  Survival is not guaranteed, nor can we be certain we will come through unscathed.  We may lose many things we hold dear before the storm is past.  We may find ourselves faced with decisions that require us to let go of what we have in our hands in order to hold to the things that might literally save our lives.  It may not be what we want, but if God did not open up an “evacuation route” before the storm hit, then our only choice is to do our best to lean into Him no matter how scared, discouraged or depleted we may become in the process.  He promised He would never leave us and that all things will be worked together for our good.  He didn’t say “most things,” or “some things;” He said ALL things.

Being in the eye of my current storms has provided both perspective and peace.  There is a shedding of things that don’t matter and a refocusing on the things that do.  Am I certain of what else is coming?  Not at all.  Am I certain the things I hold dear will be preserved or preserved in the way in which I wish them to be? No, I am not.  The storm is not over, but I am reminded that I know the Master of the wind.  I know the one who has the ability to say, “Peace, be still” to the raging storm and it will obey.  The best thing I can do is trust the One who is already working things out.  I know He will answer every question in His time and will sustain me through the remainder of this storm.

IMG_2995Sometimes we need the perspective that only the storm can bring.  We can become so complacent in our “ruts” in life, often assuming we will always be able to maintain the status quo.  We float through our days, almost mindlessly at times, and when the storms roll in, we are suddenly more alert.  We may be scared or disrupted by what is happening, but we are no longer able to be oblivious to what is going on around us.  We may endure the shakeup in our routines that come when the storm hits.  We may have seen it coming and tried to make preparations for riding it out, or it may have hit us without warning.  We struggle and react from a survival instinct, and it isn’t easy, but then the eye of the storm moves overhead.  It is then that we have that pocket of peace where we can take a deep breath and be reminded of what it feels like when there are no storms on the horizon.  We can be refreshed and even strengthened in these beautiful moments of perspective.

The eye of any storm is temporary.  It is wonderful and provides the much-needed calm we crave after battling everything that is bombarding us, but it is still temporary.  As a person of faith, the eye is a gift that reminds us God is truly in control.  It is a chance to turn our eyes back to Him and focus on everything good He has promised us.  It is a chance to reflect on what He has already brought us through and be grateful.  It is an opportunity for us to set in our hearts that He has not brought us this far to let us down.

Even if the storm causes you to lose things you wanted to keep, don’t give up.  No one said life was going to be easy.  As a matter of fact, our Father in Heaven told us trouble is a certainty!  “I have 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.”  (John 16:33)  This world is full of broken people, including you and me.  We are imperfect, and it doesn’t matter what positions we or others hold, what status we have in life or even the background from which we came; we all struggle.  You may be struggling with the stages of your own storms right now.  Don’t give up.  Even if the storm changes the landscape, don’t give up.  Most of us are creatures of habit and will do anything to keep from losing the stability of our routines.  We will go to great lengths to dig in our heels when God may be trying to move us forward.  This fight we put up internally is sometimes the exact reason we need the storms.  My grandpa always said, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  That’s great advice and we should never react out of fear or even being uncomfortable.  I read a quote earlier this week that said, “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to move forward.  He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you.  Trust the transition, God’s got you.”

shutterstock_319293815If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.  Be steady and listen for God’s direction, but then be willing to do what He leads you to do, even when you know He is leading you into an area you’d rather not go.  But if you are genuinely seeking God’s will for your life, don’t take any path off the table.  We cannot seek His will or clarity in direction but then tell Him which paths we will not take.  And if He is answering your prayer for clarity but you keep creating your own noise that is making it impossible to hear, then He may allow storms in to shake your priorities back into focus.  He will bring you through the first half of the storm into the eye where everything falls into place, and you gain the perspective you need in order to not only survive the storm, but to come out with gratitude for the clarity.  My prayer for you is the same as it is for me, that we breathe and press on with courage and total trust that all is already well, even though we can’t see it yet.  No matter what the landscape looks like when the storm is over, I pray we can find joy and peace in having made it through, and have a renewed sense of strength and clarity in learning what is truly important and what is not.

Blessings!