Avoid

If there was a term for the “fear of parking” I would have it. In addition to my nyctophobia (Bring on the sunshine – or at least a flashlight!), arachnophobia (Spiders are not friends), and public-toilet-o-phobia (Ew.), I also have a paralyzing aversion to finding a parking spot in a crowded place. Tight spots, backing out into traffic, and “Do I need quarters for that meter?” are not my thing.

In most of the places I frequent, I have multiple oversized parking spaces available to me and I can almost always find a pull-through. I avoid the smaller lots at crowded times and if I’m in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Street View” allows me to choose the coffee shop where parallel parking will not be required.

Last weekend, I took my 12-year-old out for a special lunch while her sisters were at their swim meet. We dropped Tim and the other two off, agreed on tacos, and were excited when there just happened to be a taco place we’d never been to just a couple of miles away! Unfortunately, I forgot to check the “Street View” and as we drove down Route 30 toward Wayne, my blood pressure started to rise. This location was going to require busy-street parking on a busy holiday-season-Saturday and I don’t do busy-street parking, especially on a busy holiday-season-Saturday!

When we missed the place on our first drive by, I stopped at the next light and was at a crossroads. Surely there was another place we could get tacos with easier parking – even if it meant a longer drive? We had all day, after all 😉

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Parking may not be on your phobia list, but we all have things we avoid because of fear. Memories of prior trauma associated with that thing or the mental images of future discomfort that might result push us to run in the other direction or at least stay parked where we’re at.

Four times in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared as messengers from God to people, and all four times they prefaced their message with the same phrase:

And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:12-13)

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:29-30)

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:9-10)

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20)

The repetition of this phrase makes sense – I’d be freaked out, too, if some supernatural figure suddenly appeared and started talking to me! The Greek word for “fear” in all four of these verses is “phobéō” which means “to fear, withdraw (flee) from, avoid”.* So, in essence, the angels were saying “I may be scary, but don’t run away!”

But they were also saying, “The message I’m bringing may be scary, but don’t flee from it.” A baby born to an old woman? Another baby conceived by the Holy Spirit? A birth announcement made to shepherds rather than royalty?

For Joseph especially, he had every reason to run in the other direction. Rather than an actual appearance, Joseph’s angel showed up in a dream. How could he be sure his mind wasn’t just playing tricks on him? And even if it was true, was he qualified to be the dad of the Messiah? Yikes! And most importantly, marrying a woman carrying a child that wasn’t his might expose him to ridicule and rejection by his own people.

There’s an ounce of fear that prefaces every step of obedience and that fear often causes us to avoid it – or hang a right and drive clear in the other direction! It’s not our usual “phobias” per se, but the little things: social awkwardness, loss of comfort or security, opening ourselves up to criticism, having our weaknesses exposed, and the good old possibility of failure or frustration.

The instruction to “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is less a condemnation on the feeling of fear, and more a charge to not let that feeling put you “to flight”.* If we’re listening, the Holy Spirit is constantly whispering our next steps in our ear – it’s how He works. Like Joseph, we may have reason to question: “Was that really from God or just my own thoughts?”. We may have a dozen reasons to believe we’re not qualified and we may have very legitimate concern about the criticism of others.

But, man, that Kalua Pork taco with Pineapple Chipotle Salsa, Cabbage, and Korean BBQ Sauce (and the smiling company across the table)? Totally worth it!

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P.S. For almost 20 years some very wise, trusted people have been telling me I need to publish the curriculum I write for Youth@Hope so that others can use it. And for almost 20 years I’ve avoided it because of my fear of it not being “good enough”. But on Monday afternoon, I hit that “Submit” button for the first time. And now I wait. And I’m kind of freaking out. Pray for me!

*https://biblehub.com/greek/5399.htm

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Wait

The Desilets family countdown is in full swing – only 196 days until summer vacation begins!

No, but really, our 7-year-old will gladly inform you that there are exactly 21 days remaining until Christmas. The decorations are up, the neighborhood lights (or light shows) are twinkling, and the smell of ginger cookies is in the air. The big day is coming soon!

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Waiting is hard. Whether you’re 7 or 77, any delay in receiving what you want or think you need is frustrating! Checkout lines, ticket lines, traffic lines, and restroom lines. Sign in, take a number, and we’ll be “right with you” – “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” The spinning wheel of a bad wifi signal, a video that won’t load, and, seriously? Two-and-a-half minutes of ads?! They said they would call you tomorrow – and that was three days ago. You know they saw your text, so why aren’t they writing back? The next phase of life, surely it’s going to get easier… And it seems like we’re always waiting for food 😉.

Most of our day-to-day waiting has an estimated end time, but it’s the unknown stuff that gets to us. Change seems slow, another day goes by, and the wheel keeps spinning.

In our fast-paced, fast-forward culture, waiting is hard – but waiting on God is even harder. We’re used to pushing buttons and making things happen, so when a situation falls outside of that ability, we get antsy. We know God has the ability to influence change and we trust that He is willing to use that power on our behalf because He cares for us. But about 99.9% of the time, we have to wait.

We’re all waiting on God for something – and we should be! The Bible is full of examples of faith-filled people asking for and expecting God to act. Through this asking and expecting, we take a posture of humility – surrendering control and admitting our need for Him. But sometimes we forget that in that surrender, we’re also waiving our right to speed up the process.

In Romans 15:4, Paul states that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” When we think of our favorite Bible stories, we see a highlight reel of crisis points and miracle-moments. But like a movie or television show, we’re only seeing the “important” parts necessary for the story and don’t think about the significant amount of time between those events.

When you add up the numbers, you see that the Bible is full of hundreds of years of waiting. You see the 13 years between Joseph’s dreams and their fulfillment, the 14 years between David’s anointing as king and his appointing as king, the 40 years Moses was a shepherd in Midian before he returned to Egypt, and the 60-something years between Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s meat and his time in the lion’s den. We forget that Abraham was 75 years old when God said, “‘I will make you a great nation’” (Genesis 12:2) and then not until 25 more years passed that Isaac was born. Where were you 25 years ago? Can you imagine waiting on God for one thing for that long?

It turns out there was more waiting than happening in the Bible and our faith-filled heroes lived their mundane, everyday lives in the in-between. Day after day they woke up, did chores or jobs, cooked meals, ran errands, and went to bed. I bet they even had to wait in lines (and they didn’t even have phones to distract them!)

But maybe the waiting was where things were happening. I want God to fix my problems, but maybe He’s doing most of that fixing in the times where it looks like He’s doing nothing. The waiting is where my heart is either softened to a place of trust or hardened to a lack of it. The waiting is where my motives are revealed – am I waiting on God to be who I want Him to be or am I waiting on Him to be who He is? If I’ve asked God to grow my faith, He’s going to make me wait – because it’s in the waiting where my faith does the growing.

As an adult, I’m not counting down the days until Christmas, but I certainly will be doing some waiting over the next few weeks! I can’t get everything from Amazon so there will be lines, and living in the same town as the largest mall in the country means one word: traffic. I’ve been challenged by my advent devotional this year to “learn to wait” by intentionally keeping my phone in my pocket during these situations.* The minutes might feel like an eternity, but I’m sure the waiting will be good for me!


*https://biblehub.com/timeline/
*https://www.thecommonrule.org/advent-edition

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Value

Turkey. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry sauce. And don’t forget the stuffing!

Only this year I did skip the stuffing – or at least the stuffing balls my mom made. Which apparently contained bacon and were apparently amazing (according to the reviews around the table). But I passed them up. Because of onions.

Over the years of my life, my brain has taken in the taste, smell, and texture of these pungent vegetables, processed the emotion those senses triggered, and concluded that I do not value onions. Which means that when I see them in a dish that is offered (or even if I can’t see them 😉), I will turn up my nose and walk right past. Yes, even when there’s an opportunity for bacon.

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As humans we place value on things. Woven into human intelligence is the necessity of determining value because we cannot and should not value everything the same. Our brains take in information from our five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. We process that information and the emotion it triggers. That processing helps us determine what we prefer or don’t prefer and, over the long term, what we value. We then assign value by the action we take toward that thing.

Woven into every human-to-human interaction is the ability to assign value. When we are in the same space as another person, we automatically take in information from our senses – mostly what we see and hear (or possibly smell). We notice the external factors of a person’s appearance, race, economic status, family, and relationships. We observe their job or role, their talents, personality, intelligence, and maybe even what we’ve seen on their social media feed.

We process that information and the emotions it triggers, determining that person’s value according to us. We then assign value by the action we take toward that person. Whether we are conscious of it or not, in every interaction we have with another person, we are assigning value.

In Jesus’ day, much like our world today, the combined actions of multitudes of humans with multitudes of other humans led to the assigning of value to people. The circumstances, appearance, and visible actions of a person put them in a category. Based on that category, how they were to be treated was established.

In Jesus’ religion-based culture, value was determined by a person’s faith or connection with God. And the religious leaders of the time, specifically the Pharisees, emphasized human effort as the way to attain and sustain this connection. Their “rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor.”* To them, this was the definition of “faith” and a person who would or could not comply, was devalued as unable to have “faith”.

The tension between these religious leaders and Jesus is noted repeatedly in Matthew’s gospel. As you read, it’s clear that Jesus intentionally interacted with people who could not or did not carry the Pharisees’ “load” (Matthew 23:4) because of their circumstances, appearance, or visible actions. In each case, He assigned value to these devalued people by making a big deal about their faith – or their potential to have faith.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ first one-on-one interaction mentioned by Matthew (besides with John the Baptist and the disciples) is with a leper who, having been outcast from participation in faith activities because of his condition, showed evidence of true faith by saying “‘you can make me clean’” (8:2). This is followed by another one-on-one with a non-Jewish centurion, after whose confession of faith Jesus points out, “‘with no one in Israel have I found such faith’” (8:10). During an urgent trip to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter, Jesus stops to point out the faith of an “unclean,” outcast woman (9:22). Though many would have viewed people with disabilities as a nuisance or burden, Jesus welcomed them and called attention to their faith (9:29). He assigned faith-value to “tax collectors and sinners” (9:10) and children (19:14).

By seeking out, calling out, reaching out, and touching people who were not considered able to have “faith,” Jesus assigned value to them. He raised them up and raised their value, making them the example of true faith – which was not a heavy load, but a rest-filled trust in Jesus and His power as the Son of God. Their value was not determined by their external circumstances, but by their heart-and-mind connection to Him.

There’s one part of the Thanksgiving meal I certainly did not skip over this year:

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I value pie. All the pies. Just knowing there was going to be pie for dessert resulted in action on my part: I purposely reduced the amount of dinner that I ate in order to save room for the largest socially-allowed amount of pie I could take. Yum!

We live in a society that values pie. We value our people. I value the people who, when I see or hear (or smell) them, they trigger all the positive emotions and therefore I gravitate toward them. I will easily give up other things and pass by other people in order to spend time with them. I assign value to them by making eye contact, smiling, giving them my attention, asking them questions, and being genuinely interested in their responses.

It’s great to have pie, but maybe saving so much room for pie makes me miss out on bacon. As a believer, I have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit empowering me to see people – to not just take in what I see or hear from them, but to see the faith-value of every person I share space with. I have the ability to see every person as a highly valued intentional creation of God, made to know and be known by Him.

When I assign value to people I might have otherwise passed by, I have a chance to show them how valuable they are. I can’t heal people like Jesus did, but maybe by welcoming someone into my space and listening with my face, by learning their name and referring to them by it the next time I see them, by asking questions instead of talking about myself, and by embracing the awkwardness that always comes with valuing others, I can be part of a miracle.

*https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/matthew/23.htm

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100%

It was a blessing to grow up in Vermont. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I had the gift of knowing everyone in my small town, attending a school with only 25 students in my grade, and seeing some of the best fall foliage in the world right out my back door.

But mostly, it was the maple syrup. Pure Vermont goodness on my pancakes, drizzled on a bowl of freshly fallen snow, or molded into candy form – what a treat!

And a treat it was – because real maple syrup is not any cheaper just because you live where it’s made. Most of the time, our waffles were coated with good old Aunt Jemima maple-flavored syrup. You know, corn syrup mixed with some high-fructose corn syrup, water, caramel color, and “artificial and natural” (notice the artificial is listed first) flavors. Oh and don’t forget the sodium hexametaphosphate 😉

100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup doesn’t even have a list of ingredients. Because it is the ingredient! There’s no corn syrup, colors, flavors, water, or sodium hexametaphosphate. There is nothing but the syrup itself. Because 100% is 100%.

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Serving others is a 100% necessary part of life with Jesus. We follow His example by giving our time, energy, and resources to enrich the lives of others. We use our God-given abilities to spread the good news of His love. We make our contribution, no matter how small, to keeping the body of Christ functioning and growing.

We tend to think of “serving” as something that goes against our self-centered human nature. But for many of us, it only serves to boost our pride.

It feels good to do good (and that’s a good thing!) But under the surface, there’s some high-fructose corn syrup getting mixed in – because one of the reasons helping feels good is because we’re doing it. Being on the helping side feels good. Being on the receiving side can feel embarrassing and even humiliating.

Our friend Peter knew this well.

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (John 13:1-5)

What Jesus did in this passage was a common thing. Feet traveling in sandals on the non-paved streets of that day were dirty. And dining at a low table without chairs meant eating your meal up close and personal with someone else’s feet. It was customary for feet to be washed before the meal and this task was usually performed by a servant, or a wife might wash her husband’s feet, children might wash their parents’ feet, or a disciple might wash their teacher’s feet.*

So when Jesus, the teacher, got down and started washing His disciples’ feet, this became a very uncommon thing and Peter decided it was not right. If anything, he should be the one washing Jesus’ feet – not vice versa!

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
(v. 8-9)

Serving in our human eyes looks a lot like Aunt Jemima. We put in the effort and then God sprinkles in some of His “natural flavor” and makes it awesome. But that’s not the case! We may think we’re the ones doing the washing, but we’re actually the ones having our feet washed.

“But I did the work,” I protest, “I used my hands and my arms and my feet!”

And God says, “Did you give yourself those hands? Did you give yourself working, healthy legs and arms that allow you to move around and do things?”

“But I mustered up the energy to do the work!”

“Did you give yourself that energy? Did you give those plants and animals the air, light, earth, and water they needed to grow to become the food you ate to gain that energy?”

“But I made the choice to serve!”

“Did you arrange it so you could be born in the place where you were born at the time when you were born so that you could have the opportunity to serve in that way? Did you give yourself a brain that enables you to make choices like that?”

It’s all received. 100%. We can’t lay claim to any act of service and there is no place for even a drop of pride. Every act of service I perform is something I’m receiving. I am only the receiver, never the giver. Every time I’m helping someone, it’s not because I did anything to earn that position – it’s only because God allowed me to do it and because He gave me the ability and strength to do it. 100% is 100%.

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As a long-distance runner, I carry these things called “gel packs” with me – because when you’ve been burning up energy for over an hour, your body needs a boost. After trying a few kinds and not liking the strange flavors or the complicated lists of ingredients, I decided there must be a better way!

Then my mom introduced me to “Untapped All-Natural Athletic Fuel” made with – you guessed it – 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. I did some research to figure out what else they added to the syrup to make it “athletic fuel” but I found nothing – and that’s because they added nothing! It turns out maple syrup naturally contains all the “minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins” needed to give you that “strong kick when you need it” along with “sustained fuel” for the miles ahead.**

I gave it a try on my next long run and it worked! I finished the last three miles of an 11-mile race in what might be my record 5K time. Goodbye raspberry-mint-chocolate-salted-caramel goo 😝 Running is now my excuse to down a full ounce of 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup in one swallow!

Using your time, body, and abilities to serve can be life-sucking and the chances of burnout are high if you’re leveraging any of it on your own contribution. But seeing every ounce of your service as something you’re receiving is exactly the energy you need to keep on keeping on. It’s a beautiful thing to have your feet washed by Jesus and every time you serve, you get to experience just that!

*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Jesus-Washes-Disciples-Feet
**https://untapped.cc/

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Layers

I love a good storm. I’m no meteorologist, but when there’s some excitement in the forecast, you can bet I’ll be on my weather app, staring at the radar and hoping we’re going to get at least one good flash of lightning and a solid crack of thunder!

But a couple of years ago, I got caught in a storm I wasn’t such a big fan of.

It was SERVE 2017 and I was running an errand with another leader. As we drove toward Ludlow, Vermont, I noticed the sky was getting unusually dark for that time of day. The wind was picking up and just as we got into town, the rain began pounding down on the windshield – or wait, was that really just rain? No! It was hail!

Thankfully, we happened to be at our destination and were able to park and ride out the storm there. I couldn’t decide if I was more excited to experience this rare weather event or more worried about the damage it might do to my car!

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Hail is a ball of ice that falls from the sky – but it doesn’t start out as a ball of ice. A droplet of water vapor inside a cloud above freezing level turns to ice. Gravity pulls the ice particle down below freezing level, where it collects a layer of water. Updrafts in the storm then force the particle back up above freezing level, where the water freezes and becomes a coating of ice. Gravity takes over, the process repeats, and depending on the storm, that single particle can collect enough layers to become the size of a softball or grapefruit!

Serving God should be simple. As purposeful creations of an all-knowing God, we’ve been shaped to serve. Each of us has been gifted with a unique combination of personality and passion, along with a knack for certain tasks. And as believers, God’s own Spirit within us further enables us to confidently make our contribution to the building of His Kingdom.

But serving God gets complicated in our culture. We’re forecast-checkers, constantly evaluating our position in comparison to our fellow servants, and often the signs point to: “not qualified,” “not talented enough,” or “not as good at that as __________”. Believing we’re not enough at our core, we let gravity and updrafts take over and help us accumulate layers – layers of “more creative like her” or “more outgoing like him,” “more generous like him,” or “more organized like her”. We’ve seen God use “those” people, but us? We’re not quite there yet.

The book of Judges tells the story of Gideon, a not-so-hero-ish guy who served God in a very heroic way. Suffering under incessant attack from the Midianites, God’s people were reduced to starvation. Desperate, they cried out to God for help, and as He always did, He called forth a rescuer to save them.

“Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!’… ‘Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!’” (Judges 6:11-12, 14)

Confused by this calling, and wondering if the Lord had made a mistake, Gideon asked: “‘How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!’” (6:15) The reply he received, though, confirmed there was no mistake: “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (6:16)

After giving in and agreeing to go, Gideon did what any good military leader would do – he gathered troops. 32,000 of them to be exact. He may have been “weakest” and “least,” but with 32,000 layers surrounding him, he might have a chance!

But the Lord thought otherwise and said to Gideon, “‘You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, “Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.”’ So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.” (7:2-3)

And, as if losing that many layers wasn’t enough, the Lord then sent home 9,700 more! Seeing himself as “not enough,” Gideon thought he needed to be “more”. In Gideon’s mind, the definition of “mighty hero” was grapefruit-sized hail, but in the Lord’s eyes, it was “Go with the strength you have” (6:14). He didn’t need all those layers!

Here’s why: “When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the [Midianite] warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords.” (7:22) The bad guys ended up taking themselves down! Gideon ended up being celebrated as a mighty hero – not because of his ability to accumulate layers – but simply because he said “yes” and stepped forward in obedience.

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Every time I serve, I think, “You must have picked the wrong person!” because I never see myself as enough. But when God leads me to serve, he’s not expecting me to be anything more than I already am. He doesn’t need my layers. In fact, all those layers end up doing is producing damaging false confidence, so He’s in the process of melting them away. God is constantly working to reduce me down to the original “me” He created – who, believe it or not, is already enough!

Any reason you feel disqualified or inadequate is null and void. You are incredibly valuable to God’s Kingdom and every contribution you make, no matter how small or weak, is substantial just because it came from you. You don’t need to become a “mighty hero” – you already are one!

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Monsters

They lurk in the shadows, waiting to appear out of nowhere. The sight of their enormous teeth, snarled hair, bulging eyes, and outstretched claws makes you jump out of your skin. Just the thought that one might be hiding in your closet or under your bed is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies!

Monsters are a regular sight this time of year. All you have to do is drive around your neighborhood or turn on your TV and you’re in for a scare. I love fall, but I’m always glad when this monster business comes to an end on November 1st!

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Some of us have monsters that stick around all year long. Mine is named “Sleep Anxiety”. From the time I was old enough to understand the benefits of sleep, I have struggled with occasional insomnia. In fourth grade, not getting enough sleep meant I was never getting into college. In college, it meant I was never graduating college. And since then this monster has continued to hide in my closet, waiting for the night before I’m running a race or speaking to a larger-than-our-youth-group crowd the next day.

He’s a tricky little monster, Sleep Anxiety. He always stays nicely under my bed and lets me fall asleep just fine, but just a few minutes later, he jumps up and roars, “Wake up!”. A feeling of panic spreads through my whole body and I’m overcome with fear. I tell him to go away and he goes back under the bed, but the game has just begun and it won’t be long before he jumps out again. And again. And again.

Over the years, I’ve tried everything the experts recommend. I avoid caffeine, even decaf, after 10am. I follow the same ‘wind-down’ routine every night, avoiding screen time before bed. I tell myself all the positive thoughts about how the next day is going to be fine, no matter how much I sleep. I pray and declare the truth that God is in control and that He will do what He wills the next day, no matter how tired I am. I’ve tried medications, but things like Benadryl and Melatonin have the opposite effect on me (I see flashes of light and instead of just waking me up, the monster yells my name 😱!)

When it comes to this type of situational anxiety (or any of the many other “monsters” that keep us up at night) we are instructed to “let [our] requests be made known to God,” (Philippians 4:6) thereby “casting all [our] anxieties on him” (1 Peter 5:7). We’re encouraged to set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely” (Philippians 4:8) by following Paul’s example of “tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I’ve tried for many years to do these things, but my monster has remained. And that’s because I thought if I “gave it to God” and “thought good thoughts,” I would get what I wanted. I thought if I pretended hard enough that the anxiety wasn’t there, I’d expose the monster as a fake, and like the movies, say “Aha!”, pull off the mask, and then go to sleep in peace!

But it turns out that’s not what those verses mean.

“Tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” can only happen when I first accept the reality of my anxiety in any given moment. When I “cast [my] [sleep] anxiety on him,” I’m surrendering my attempts to control it or make it go away. And when I “let [my] request [to sleep] be made known to God” I’m giving up any rights to the outcome of that request. Giving it to God doesn’t mean that I’m going to sleep – but it does mean that every time I wake up, after the initial panic, I will experience a conscious moment of His peace.

The only kind of scary movies I can watch are the “scared silly” variety. In my favorite Halloween special, “Open Season: Scared Silly,” Elliot, a mule deer, wants desperately to go on a camping trip with Boog, his grizzly bear friend. Unfortunately, rumors of a “Wailing Wompus Werewolf” prowling around in the forest have caused Boog to delay the trip indefinitely. In an attempt to “cure” Boog of his fear through exposure, Elliot gets his friend, Ian, to dress up as the monster. Elliot pretends to summon the werewolf with an “interpretive werewolf dance,” but, because Ian’s costume is so good, Elliot ends up becoming convinced that the Wailing Wompus Werewolf is real, too!

As the plot plays itself out, you, as the audience, know that there never was a “Wailing Wompus Werewolf” in the first place. All sightings of the monster have proven phony – no one ever had any reason to actually be afraid! But in the final scene, as Elliot and Boog are sitting around the fire on their long-awaited camping trip, who should appear behind them, but the real Wailing Wompus Werewolf! It wasn’t just a legend! Having grown in their confidence and overcome their fears, though, Elliot and Boog quickly befriend the monster with an “interpretive werewolf dance” and find out he isn’t scary after all.

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Our monsters are real, but their power is weakened when we embrace their reality and, as Dr. Caroline Leaf states, switch from “positive” thinking to “quality” thinking. We have the ability, in any given moment, to do an “interpretive exercise” – to acknowledge our outside pressures and circumstances and the feelings and responses we are having as a result. When we are honest about our monsters, we weaken their power and make room for more conscious moments of God’s peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

*“Detoxing Your Mind: An Interview With Dr. Caroline Leaf” (Elevation Church YouTube Channel)

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Stir

Cool days were made for warm drinks and “cool” has officially arrived! A couple weeks ago, I was regretting taking the air conditioners out of our bedrooms and now I’m pulling out my winter parka and wondering why summer seems so far away. 😭

In our family, fall means it’s time to put away the popsicles and ice cube trays and bring out the hot cocoa! The perfect after-school treat, our girls love to mix up a cup of smooth, rich, chocolate goodness – complete with mini-marshmallows, of course. 😉

The only problem is, when it comes to hot cocoa, our eyes seem to be bigger than our stomachs and more often than not, I find mugs half-full of no-longer-chocolate-looking muck sitting around. Occasionally, these mugs make their way into the refrigerator, but they end up getting left there because a cup of gray-ish colored milk with the chocolate all sunk to the bottom is anything but appetizing!

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Last week I wrote about temptation and the battle between doing what we feel will satisfy us in the moment and doing things the way God has commanded. It’s been around since the beginning, it’s a part of our every day as human beings and, as far as we know, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Thankfully, our God has not left us to fight this battle alone – we have His very presence with us and our greatest chance at having victory over any given temptation is a simple acknowledgement of this. He isn’t there to sit back and watch me fail, He’s there to help, and giving Him space in my head in a moment of struggle is considerably more effective than relying on my own willpower.

Unfortunately, it’s the space in my head that’s the problem. Not only do I have a brain full of theories and ideas, I’m surrounded by a world offering me an endless supply of more, and what the Holy Spirit has to offer tends to settle down to the bottom of the mug!

As a church, we’ve been studying the book of Matthew and learning how we can “Live and Love Like Jesus”. In reading along one Sunday, I noticed that Jesus’ words in His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) were not just a list of wise teachings – every one of them was a correction on the common practices of the Jewish religious leaders of His day. The Pharisees were all about the outward show, human praise, and, when it came to sin, the letter of the law. Rules, judgment, and punishment were the ingredients to their ‘success’.

But if you start breaking down what Jesus said, you’ll see a common theme: trust.

A person who trusts the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) knows only He can make a person rich in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)
A person who trusts the Savior (John 1:29) can “mourn” over sin because He brings “comfort”. (Matthew 5:4)
A person who trusts the Almighty God (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) isn’t grasping for power and control because they know He already holds it all. (Matthew 5:5, 6:10)
A person who trusts the Bread of Life (John 6:35) knows they can be satisfied only with the things of God. (Matthew 5:6)
A person who trusts the Judge of all the earth (Psalm 9:7-8) acts with mercy because they know He is the only unbiased authority. (Matthew 5:7, 21-26, 43-48, 6:12-15, 7:1-5, 12-14)
A person who trusts the Lover of their soul (Zephaniah 3:17) doesn’t set their affection on anyone or anything else, because they know He is enough. (Matthew 5:8, 27-30, 6:19-24)
A person who trusts the “arm of the Lord” (Isaiah 59:1) doesn’t need to create division, take revenge, or avoid hardship, because they are a member of His kingdom. (Matthew 5:9-12, 31-32, 38-42)
A person who trusts the Good Shepherd (John 10:10-11) forms their entire lifestyle around His ways, not just the actions that are seen by others. (Matthew 5:13)
A person who trusts the Light of the world (John 8:12) isn’t afraid to make the reason behind this lifestyle change evident, because they know others need Him, too. (Matthew 5:14-16)
A person who trusts the God of truth (Numbers 23:19) doesn’t pick and choose between His commands because they all reveal His heart. (Matthew 5:19)
A person who trusts God for security (Psalm 16:8) can speak simple, honest truth because they don’t live in fear of pleasing people. (Matthew 5:33-37)
A person who trusts the All-Knowing God (Hebrews 4:13) doesn’t need to be seen doing good things because they know their Father has a clear view of their heart. (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18, 7:15-23)
A person who trusts in His Name (Exodus 3:14) doesn’t need to make a name for themself. (Matthew 6:7-9)
A person who trusts their Provider (Psalm 34:8-9) doesn’t live in fear, but simply asks God for what they need. (Matthew 6:11, 25-34, 7:7-11)

If you’re a human, I bet you can find whatever temptation you struggle with on this list. We’ve all got a little Pharisee in us, which means we fight against the very same pride-gripping, kingdom-building, satisfaction-seeking, divided-heart tendencies. And like the Pharisees, our human nature tells us the weapon in this battle is more control, more rules, more threats, and more punishments.

But Jesus’ words point us to trust, which is a much better strategy! When I acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence in my moment of temptation, I’m not inviting Him in so He can tell me something about my sin, I’m inviting Him to tell me something about Himself. I could list every reason something is sin and predict every possible outcome, but none of that will be as effective as a simple reminder of why I can trust Him instead.

Last week I went on a 10-mile run… and didn’t bring my earbuds. I almost went back to the car and got them – was I really going to spend almost two hours running without the distraction of music or a podcast? It seemed crazy, but the space in my head was feeling full, so I decided it would be good for me.

I started out praying for other people, thinking, “I can still be productive!”. But a few minutes in, the Holy Spirit took over and began an hour-and-a-half long counseling session (for free!) and dug right down to root of a particular sin-struggle in my heart. And rather than hearing the voices of “Something is wrong with you!” or “You need to fix this!”, I heard “You don’t have to live in fear.”

Trust in the unchanging character of our God doesn’t just materialize in a moment, it must be stirred up daily. Our ability to give Him space in our heads during a time of temptation happens because we intentionally give Him space in our heads when we’re not in a time of temptation.

It’s all too easy to get stirred up with His love and faithfulness for a day or a season, but then stick Him in the refrigerator, assuming we can just pull the mug out whenever we’re ready for more. But it’s the daily stirrings of time in His Word or the stillness of time alone with Him that keep His richness up top!

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This “Chocolate Milk” analogy is not my original, but was taught to me by the one and only Tracey Paradis – my teacher, mentor, and friend who never stops reminding me that trust is the way!

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