Repost: Medicine

“If you use a rescue inhaler two or more times a week, your asthma is not well-controlled and you should talk to your doctor.”

When I heard the words of this TV commercial as a college student, I laughed. “What are they talking about? I use my inhaler every day and my asthma is totally under control! That’s ridiculous!”

But a few months later, when my doctor started me on the very medication that commercial was advertising, I realized how wrong I was. “The important thing” she said, “is that you take it every day, even if your symptoms aren’t bad – it needs to build up in your system in order to be effective in preventing asthma symptoms.”

And she was right. I can now count on one hand the number of times I use my rescue inhaler every year – and the times I have to use it are only because I’ve been neglecting my daily medicine.

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Around that same time, having recently committed my life to Christ, I was spending time every day reading a devotional, journaling, and praying. My relationship with God was growing and I was learning what it meant to do everyday life with Him.

But then one day a friend said to me, “It’s great that you’re doing that, but be careful you don’t get legalistic about it!”

As a student at a Christian college, “legalism” was a four-letter-word. The last thing I wanted was for my relationship with God to become about regiment and rules! I didn’t want anyone to think I was just doing it because that’s what “good Christians” did or to show that I was somehow better than them. I know my friend meant well, but for me this was the beginning of the end.

I started missing days here and there. Then weeks here and there. College life was busy and the homework was endless. Pretty soon I got a boyfriend and an internship. Which turned into a husband and a job and full-time ministry life. Oh yeah, and then we had kids.

During those years, my time with God and His Word came in fits and spurts – when I was working on lessons, doing Bible study homework, or when I knew I needed God’s help. It was my rescue inhaler. I knew the daily dose would be better, but I didn’t really have time and besides, I didn’t want to be legalistic about it. If I wasn’t really feeling it, I didn’t want to force it.

By the summer of 2012, though, I was struggling – gasping for air because the ‘rescue inhaler’ wasn’t working anymore.

That was when my friend Kathleen approached me about joining an online accountability group for women who were committed to spending regular time with God before starting their days.* It sounded crazy (and maybe even legalistic), but I knew it was time for a change, so first I laughed at her (I’m NOT a morning person) and then I signed up.

And it was exactly what the doctor ordered:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8)

It turns out I desperately needed this medicine!

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When I started my new daily asthma medication all those years ago, I had trouble remembering to take it, so I made a note and taped it up on my dorm room wall. It may have seemed a little silly for a 22-year-old to need this, but I had to start somewhere! I knew it would eventually become habit, but for now I had to force it.

The funny thing is that once I saw the benefits of the medicine and how much it improved the quality of my days – I didn’t need the reminders anymore! Taking it just became part of my daily life.

No matter how much I didn’t want to force myself to spend regular time with God, I had to start somewhere. So even though I dreaded the thought of getting up early (or even worse – putting aside my to-do list and going to bed early), I set my alarm and just did it.

And once I saw the benefits – how much it improved the quality of my life and my relationship with God – my perspective changed. I still need an alarm (yep, still NOT a morning person), but when I go to bed at night, I actually can’t wait to get up because I look forward to my “Jesus time” so much!

Yes, even if my ‘symptoms’ aren’t bad, I still take my (almost) daily dose. The effects may not be immediate and visible, but I know God’s Word is being built up in my system. It may have started out as a regimen, but now it’s my life. You can call it “legalism” all you want, but it’s my medicine – and I don’t know what I’d do without it!

*www.hellomornings.org

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Repost: Risk

As a family, we believe that life is meant to be an adventure. When our kids look back at their childhoods, we hope that they will not only see a highlight reel of outdoor adventure experiences, but also be convinced that every day life also holds the potential for great challenge and thrill!

Thus far, our plan appears to be working. Maybe a little too well…

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Unfortunately, along with every adventure comes risk. Yes, we do a lot of fun stuff, but it never comes without the chance that someone will get hurt. We’ve certainly had our fair share of bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes, and, of course, the tears that come along with them.

But one of our other great ambitions as parents is to teach our children the value of choice. We operate, as Tim calls it, on a “challenge by choice” basis – meaning if you don’t want to participate, that is your choice. But if you do choose to participate, you must understand that “risky activity may lead to potentially painful consequences”. You may get hurt, but you must understand that you took that risk!

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So, when you decide you want to try ‘snowboarding’ on a plastic sled down an icy, hard driveway, you may experience quite a thrill! But you also may end up falling flat on your back – OUCH!

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And making yourself a snowbank-chair where you can get a front-row seat on your sisters’ antics is never a risk-free activity…

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After over 20 years of being a member of the body of Christ and actively serving in this body, I’ve learned that ministry is never a risk-free activity. Getting involved in what God is doing in the hearts and lives of others can be thrilling – there’s nothing like witnessing God on the move and knowing you were a part of it! However, the adventures of serving God never come without possibility of painful consequences.

After all:

You may be taken advantage of. Having a heart that is willing to serve wherever, whenever is key. But since those hearts are few and far between, that often gives you a fast forward to the top of the volunteer list. Others may even decide you’re so willing and so good at what you do, you must not need them anymore (and *poof* they’re gone!).

Your efforts may go unnoticed. The majority of ministry happens behind the scenes and the time, energy, and heart that you pour into a person, group of people, or task may never be recognized. You may never be thanked or honored – in fact all you may ever get are complaints because…

Someone may disagree with what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it. No matter how confident you are, it’s still no fun to be told you’re wrong. Though most critics are well-meaning on some level, there’s a strong possibility the good you are doing will take a back seat to what they think you could be doing better. And speaking of people…

You may be hurt by someone you serve or serve with. The church is full of broken people, which means your chances of exposure to brokenness (and therefore hurt) in ministry are right around 100%.

You may mess something up. Since you and I are among those broken and flawed people, we don’t always make the best choices. Even those of us who diligently strive to seek and obey God in our ministry activities still have our judgment clouded by self and rush and fear every once in a (short) while. In other words, this one’s a guarantee!

You may even find out it’s not your gifting after all. Those first steps of getting involved in a ministry are often hindered by the nagging questions of “What if I’m not good at that?” or “How do I even know what I’m good at?”. Yes, there’s at least a small possibility that all the effort and time and energy you poured into a specific ministry may feel like a waste when you find out it’s just not your thing.

And finally, your ministry may appear ineffective. Since most of God’s work happens in the heart – in the deep places of the soul that are not visible to the general public, and since God isn’t in a rush like we are, the probability of you seeing that immediate, visible ‘fruit’ you think you need to see is low. Even if you are seeing some ‘results,’ they will rarely feel proportionate to the effort you’re putting in!

As parents, we recently added a new ending to this much repeated family phrase. It now goes something like this: “Risky activity? Potentially painful consequences. Totally worth it.” When I say this to my girls as they’re deciding whether or not to try something (or more often after the tears of failure or injury have ensued), I’m reminding them that the experience of adventure trumps the “OUCH!” that might happen as a result.

When I accepted Christ and then committed my life to ministry, I was ready for adventure! I knew I would be ‘stretched’ and ‘challenged’, but my naive self had no idea the kind of risk I was taking! I can safely say I’ve experienced everything on this list – and since I’m not done yet, I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

But it’s been totally worth it! Even knowing that one person came to know Jesus or grew in their relationship with Him – and that I was a part of that – makes it worth all the pain on the other side. As 3 John 1:4 states: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Other than the joy of knowing God ourselves, there is no greater thrill than the experience of seeing others come to know Him – or know Him better!

Yes, you may be taken advantage of and your hard work may never be appreciated. Yes, the critics may arise and the relationships might get tricky. Yes, you will make mistakes and it may even feel like you’re wasting your time. But it’s your choice. The risk of bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes – oh yeah, and the tears that come with them – is real, but I think you’ll find the adventure is totally worth it!

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Repost: Ration

(Originally posted October 2015)

It’s a scary time of year for parents. Not because of the spooky costumes or creepy decorations, but because we voluntarily dress up our children and walk them around the neighborhood collecting buckets full of sugary treats, knowing full well what this will lead to over the next few days and weeks:

“Can I have a piece of my candy now?”
10 minutes later
“Can I have another piece of my candy now?”
Please?
“Does ‘one piece’ mean only one big piece or can it be three small pieces?”
“That’s not fair! She got to have more than me!”
“Can I have a piece of my candy now?”

Although as parents it may be tempting to just get it over with and let them have it all in one sitting (or just eat it ourselves), the magnificent sugar-high and subsequent (but no less magnificent) sugar-crash of a candy overdose just isn’t worth it! We know that the best solution is to ration it – a few pieces a day not only extends the holiday fun, but also teaches our children a valuable lesson.

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I’ve struggled with irrational fears for most of my life. Maybe it started with my cousin telling me there were snakes at the bottom of my bed or maybe it was when I started sneaking into the back of the living room at night when my parents were watching “Unsolved Mysteries”. Regardless, my overactive imagination tends to get the best of me.

The day I found out I was pregnant with our first child was a high beyond all highs. I was finally going to be a mom! But nothing could have prepared me for the crash that was soon to follow.

As an information junkie, I wanted to know everything there was to know about pregnancy and babies. I joined online pregnancy groups and read every article I could find. And my excitement about being a new mom quickly turned into a barrage of horrifying “What if?” scenarios. I couldn’t wait until Ada was born so I could stop worrying.

Ha ha ha.

By the time our second daughter was born, fear had not only overtaken my parenting, but the rest of my life as well. I was in constant “control-mode,” believing that if I even let go for a second, something bad would surely happen to my babies, my husband, or myself.

Looking back now, I realize that my irrational fears were the result of an unwillingness to ration my thoughts. Whenever my mind drifted to one of those “What if?” possibilities, I allowed it to stay there as I tried to come up with ways to prevent it. And then, to make matters worse, I unequally portioned even more of my thoughts in that direction by going to the internet for information.

Although I still struggle with this on occasion (I may or may not have checked the bottom of my bed last night), I have made the choice to more effectively ration my thoughts.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I’m not sure my “What if’s” will ever completely go away, but instead of giving in and stuffing my face with them, I can choose some much healthier options. The more I spend my thoughts on my God and everything that He is (He is noble, He is right, He is pure, He is lovely, He is admirable, He is excellent, He is praiseworthy!), the less I will be feeding my fears.

This doesn’t happen naturally. Philippians 4:9 goes on to say, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

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Just like rationing our kids’ candy may take some effort (or some earplugs – see quotes above and repeat at least ten times a day), “rational” thinking must be “put into practice”. When I expose my mind to God’s word in the morning, it helps me think about Him more throughout the day. When I listen to Christian music, I get lyrics of trust and hope and faith stuck in my head (even if the song annoys me). When I talk regularly with my wiser, more ‘experienced’ sisters in Christ, they speak truth into my life that I might not see on my own.

“And the God of peace will be with you.” God promises to be with His children always – His presence is not contingent on us putting these things into practice. But I’ve found that my experience of the peace that comes with His presence may very well be affected by it. Rationing more and more of my thoughts toward Him sure does minimize the tantrums, freak-outs and crashes I would otherwise experience!

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Repost: Room

(Originally posted October 2015) 

When I took my driver’s test in 1994, I received two point deductions. The first was for stopping at a yellow light (go figure!) and the second was for leaving too much space between my car and the car in front of me at a traffic light. Yes, believe it or not, too much room can actually be a problem.

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Last week I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Haiti with Tim and another couple from our church. From the moment of our first boarding call at JFK, it became clear that this trip was going to be quite a challenge for this introverted highly-sensitive-person. In other words, my personal space bubble was about to get popped.

As we left the Port-au-Prince airport parking lot, drove through the city, and visited several places throughout the southern part of the country, I learned something from the Haitian people that I won’t soon forget: You have more room than you think.

When we got into our rental car, it was parked in a spot that seemed mathematically impossible to exit. If it was up to us, we would have sat around and waited until some other cars moved. But our friend Almando, who was driving, knew better – he knew we had plenty of space (and he used every centimeter of it) to maneuver the vehicle out of the spot. We couldn’t believe it!

After leaving the airport, we spent an expected couple of hours in Port-au-Prince traffic. At first I was kind of freaking out – the absence of lane lines, traffic lights and stop signs was making me feel a little uneasy! There were cars, vans, buses, trucks – and pedestrians everywhere and I was sure we were going to see accidents all around us.

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But we didn’t. Because drivers in Haiti know: You have more room than you think. Being in traffic like this on a regular basis has caused them to come to a greater spatial understanding. They know exactly how much space their vehicle takes up and exactly how much space they will need in order to merge or pass. They know that there is room – even if it doesn’t look like it.

A couple days later, we had the opportunity to attend a church service in Cherette, a smaller village about 100 miles from Port-au-Prince. Before the service started, Tim, who had been there before, told me that this fairly small church sanctuary would soon be filled with about 300 people!

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And he was right – those benches filled right up and even though it was crowded and hot, we worshiped God together. We were greeted over and over again and welcomed with so much love as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Although as guests we were given chairs to sit in that day, I couldn’t help but notice the benefit of the benches – because in the space where three people might sit in chairs, six or even seven might fit on a bench. Therefore, there’s always room for more.

So maybe that closeness, maybe what seems like a lack of personal space, is actually more “roomy” than we think. Maybe our “chairs” and “lanes” and all of the “space” we seem to have here is doing us a disservice – maybe it’s actually causing the room for others in our hearts to shrink. Maybe too much room can be a problem.

I’m a big fan of my bubble. I like to stay in there and do my own thing and live my own life and only let in the people that I want to let in. But as I know Jesus more and more, I see that He was constantly making room for others – especially the others that no one else wanted to let in. He poured out His love and mercy on them so that they would know that there was space for them in His kingdom.

I’ve got plenty of room. It may not look like it at first glance, but the truth is that I have more room than I think. And even though the closeness of that “bench” style life could get awkward and uncomfortable, if it means I’ll have the opportunity to slide over and show someone that there’s room for them in God’s family, I’ll take that over the chairs any day!

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