Repost: Perception

(Originally posted October 2016)

“CAUTION: PRIMITIVE TRAIL – DIFFICULT HIKING” The signs placed along the Primitive Loop of the Devil’s Garden Trail at Arches National Park serve as a warning to inexperienced or unprepared tourists. But to my experienced and prepared, ready-for-adventure self, they might as well have said “You MUST go this way!”

After seeing the majority of our arches for the day on the main trail, my friend Sue and I made a right at the sign to go the long way and complete the loop. There was only one arch on this trail, but there would be way less people and way more fun!

As we approached the sign for the Private Arch spur trail, though, the fatigue was beginning to set in. It was hot out there in the desert and we still had a long way to go – was the extra mileage worth it to see another arch? We decided that since we had come this far, we might as well, and set off on the trail.

Just then, another hiker, who was returning from the arch, walked over to us and asked, “Are you going to Private Arch?”

“Yep,” we answered.

“Okay, well you need to be careful,” she said. “You’re definitely going to lose the trail, it’s not marked well at all!”

Sue and I looked at each other like with that “Yikes – maybe we shouldn’t do this!?” kind of look.

“Is it far?” we asked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty far,” she replied.

Knowing it may not have been the best choice – we embarked on the trail anyway, agreeing to be careful and make sure we were staying on the trail.

The trails in Arches, like many hiking trails, are marked with “cairns” – small rock towers that signify each turn or change in the trail. On this “primitive” and less-maintained trail, the cairns were fewer and further between and some of them were just a scattered pile of what-once-was-a-tower. Since the last thing you want to do in the middle of the desert, when there’s very few people around, is get lost, we took it nice and slow.

After just a couple minutes, though, we got to a point where there were no cairns. There was a sandy trail off to the left, but the footprints looked old – or were they just wind-blown? We decided this must have been what our friend was talking about, so we stopped and, for a solid few minutes, looked all around the area, making sure we weren’t missing anything.

Our search came to an end when we heard the voices of another group of hikers who were, of course, coming toward us along that sandy path. Duh. We then followed that path, thinking we still had a long way to go and just a few steps later almost walked into the sign saying we had reached Private Arch. The entire trail was about 1/10 of a mile and took just a few minutes to hike!

We still can’t figure it out – did we look that clueless? Or did she just get really lost and feel the need to warn us?

Regardless, here’s what happened. We let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our attitude – and therefore our action – in it. This was an obvious and short trail, but we almost got lost because we let her perception cause us to question our judgment. We stressed and worried about something that, if we hadn’t run into her, we would have had no reason to stress and worry about!

Perception (what we hear, see, or think we know about a situation) does not always equal reality (the whole truth or most likely outcome of a situation). Many times, our perception of a situation leads us to say, “I can’t because…”

“I can’t have that hard conversation because…”
“I can’t forgive that person because…”
“I can’t ask that person for help because…”
“I can’t talk about my faith around that person because…”
“I can’t reach out to that person because…”
“I can’t spend time alone with God on a regular basis because…”
“I can’t apply for that job because…”
“I can’t get out of this relationship because…”
“I can’t tell anyone what happened to me because…”

We let our perception (the “because”) determine our attitude and action (“I can’t”).

David was the youngest son in his family. During this time of fairly constant battle and war for the Israelites, some of David’s older brothers were sent to fight in the army. David, probably in his late teens at that point, was a part-time musician and part-time shepherd boy – and according to 1 Samuel 17:15, his dad’s part-time errand-boy. Since he wasn’t fighting in the battles himself, his dad sent him to check on his brothers and bring them some food.

When he arrived, though, David found the circumstances to be less than ideal. The opposing army, the Philistines, had issued a challenge: The winner of this battle would be decided by a one-on-one, to-the-death duel! Their chosen fighter was a man named Goliath. This approximately 9-foot-tall giant “had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.” (1 Samuel 17:5-7)

As he was talking with [his brothers], Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. (17:23-24)

To David, what was happening in this last verse scared him more than the giant himself. Goliath was waiting for someone to step forward – but no one was volunteering. And not only were they not stepping up, they were running in the other direction! They were letting their collective perception of the situation determine their attitude and therefore their action in it.

Their perception was:
“If he’s that tall, he must be more powerful than me!”
“If he can carry all that weight (his coat alone weighed 125 pounds), he must be incredibly strong!”
“If they chose him, he must be an exceptionally successful warrior!”

But maybe David saw something else. Maybe instead he thought:
“Just because he’s tall, doesn’t mean he’s powerful. It just means he’s tall.
“He may be able to carry all that weight, but what if that weight will actually slow him down?”
“Just because they chose him to be the ‘big scary guy you guys don’t want to fight’ doesn’t mean he’s actually a skilled warrior.”
Maybe David looked at Goliath and compared Goliath’s size to God’s – instead of his own.
Maybe David realized that Goliath might not be as scary as they thought.

And guess what? He was right. One rock in a slingshot and he took him down. Goliath was expecting a hand-to-hand sword fight and this attack blindsided him. Maybe Goliath just underestimated David’s abilities, but if he really had been such a great and mighty warrior wouldn’t he have seen it coming or found a way to fight against it? Maybe he wasn’t so powerful after all.

Maybe our perception of the giants in our lives – those “I can’t because’s” is not always correct. Maybe they look big and scary. Maybe we’ve heard that they’re big and scary. But there’s a good chance our perception of their power is causing us unnecessary stress and anxiety. Our perception of the situation is determining our attitude and therefore our action in it.

A few days later, as Sue and I were reaching the turn-around point of a hike in Hidden Canyon, we ran into a pair of hikers who, again, offered their advice:

“Are you headed to Observation Point?”

“No, we weren’t planning on it,” we replied.

“Well, you should totally do it, it’s the best view in the whole park and you’re like a third of the way there already!” they said.

“Hmmm,” we thought. “This was supposed to be our easy day, but if we’re already a third of the way there, maybe we should do it. We wouldn’t want to miss out on the best view in the park!”

As we started up the trail, we could see this area that we were sure was the “top” of the trail and we thought, “Yeah, that doesn’t look too bad!”

Well… a solid few hours and almost 2000 feet of elevation gain later, sucking in our last drops of water, having NOT worn our hiking boots that day, we finally reached Observation Point.

Yes, the view was outstanding, but unfortunately, we had again let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our course of action. If we had done what we easily could have done and pulled out our handy-dandy park guide, we would have seen that this was not a good choice! We would have seen that the “⅓” we had already hiked was, in reality, more like “⅛”! We would have read that this was a “strenuous” 8-mile round-trip which we were not prepared for. We could have made the choice to pause and see the reality of the situation, but we didn’t.

The reason David was able to see the truth about Goliath was because of His close relationship with God and therefore His ability to see things from God’s perspective. David knew that – worst case scenario – even if Goliath was the “champion” they claimed him to be – that God was still greater. He knew that even if he died in this battle, it was still better than doing what the rest of the army was doing – living in defeat without even taking one step towards trying.

With every “giant” situation you have in front of you today – there’s going to be a worst-case scenario (or multiple almost-worst-case scenarios) that come to mind. You can let those perceptions determine your attitude and your course of action (“I can’t because…”) – or you can pause right now and ask God for His perspective.

Maybe He’ll show you that those giants aren’t so scary after all!

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Repost: Chains

(Originally posted September 2016)

Exciting. Unusual. Bold. Risky. Hazardous. Uncertain.

I’m a big-talker about my love for adventure. It began when I was a camp counselor in high school and I’m still a firm believer in the power of overcoming fears and pushing through obstacles while being surrounded by nature.

The problem is that when it comes down to it, I’m also a big scaredy-pants! Not only do I have a fear of heights, but I’m also afraid of spiders, bugs, snakes, and the dark. The only thing I have going for me is a fierce sense of perseverance and pride in being ‘adventurous’ – so I rarely let my fears stop me.

On one of our last days in Utah, my friend Sue and I set out to hike to Hidden Canyon, one of the “chain” hikes in Zion National Park. With every step up from the base of the mountain, I was getting more and more excited about this adventure – a cliff trail so narrow they need to give you chains to hold onto? This was right up my alley!

When we finally reached the cliff section, I took hold of the first chain and began making my way, hand over hand, up the trail. To my right was a slick, steep drop into the canyon below – and to my left, some nice, safe, strong metal links to ease my fears.

After a few minutes, though, I had a moment. One of those life-defining moments where you have to stop in your tracks because you hear the Holy Spirit speak so clearly: “Umm… really? You are a healthy, athletic, experienced hiker! Clinging to these chains is actually making this hike MORE dangerous for you. Be confident in who you are!”

As I stood there and thought about it, I realized how silly it all was. Yes, if a sudden gale-force wind appeared or some maniac came barreling down the path, I may have been in danger, but it was true – my dependence and focus on the chains was putting me at a higher risk to lose my balance or even trip over my own two feet!

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul, writing from prison, said this to his audience: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Not wanting them to be discouraged by his chains, he instead encouraged them with his absolute confidence that God was at work and would continue to be at work in their lives.

Later on in the letter, he again reminded them that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (2:13) Not only was God doing His work in them, but it was for a purpose. Paul was thoroughly convinced that a constant shaping and molding process was happening in the lives of all believers in order that they might “do good works, which God prepared in advance” for them to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Why did Paul say these things? Because he wanted them to have the same confidence. He wanted them to continue boldly in their mission – even if it was unusual, risky, hazardous, and uncertain. He wanted them to know that they were not on their own in this adventure of faith – God was not only at work in them, but He had uniquely prepared each of them for this purpose.

Being a follower of Jesus can’t be defined as anything less than an adventure – because when you have the God of the Universe working inside of you to fulfill His purpose, that means things like overcoming fears and pushing through obstacles become a part of your everyday life!

And I don’t know about you, but for some reason the chains of insecurity almost always feel safer than standing up and doing the things I know that God has already prepared me for me to do. I prefer to cling to the “Well, I’m not really sure if God wants me to talk to that person, so I should probably wait” or “If I don’t confront that situation, God will just work it out” or “I’ll probably just screw it up – surely He can find someone else to do it!” It may look like faith, but really I’m just putting myself at even greater risk – not of falling – but of missing out on the adventure.

No matter how old you are and no matter what you’ve been through – God has used every one of your circumstances and experiences thus far to shape you for whatever is coming next. He’s developed in you strengths, skills, and gifts that will enable you to do whatever He’s asking you to do.

So today you and I have the chance to choose confidence – to let go of the chains and stand tall on the fact that that He has done good work! Of course we are constantly dependent on Him and His leading, but we must also learn to trust in the work He’s already done.

When I let go of the chains on the Hidden Canyon trail, I was surprised to find that my fear of falling actually lessened. Sure, the chains were there if I needed them, but guess what – I didn’t need them I walked confidently to the end of that section of the trail – enjoying it instead of holding my breath.

I can’t even tell you the number of times the Holy Spirit has brought this memory to mind over the past few weeks. He has given me opportunity after opportunity to be brave and just do that thing He has placed in front of me in that moment. Man, it’s scary, but it’s all about the adventure, right?

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Repost: Gradual

(Originally posted May 2016)

Last summer we had the opportunity to visit one of Tim’s favorite childhood spots – Sand Bar State Park in northern Vermont. This park, built on the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain, offers a very unique and memorable swimming experience.

The water in this area, which would normally be around 150 feet deep, was naturally filled over time with sediment from the Lamoille River as it drained into the lake. The resulting wide area of shallow water makes the swimming area perfect for small children (and people like me who don’t like to get wet!).

As you take a few steps into the water, your brain automatically expects it to get deeper, but you keep going and it barely seems to change at all. It’s a crazy feeling to walk a hundred feet off the shore and still be only a few feet deep!

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Last week I had the incredible opportunity to attend a children and student ministries conference in Atlanta, GA. One of my favorite sessions was led by Pastor Andy Stanley as he shared about how the church saved his life.*

In his message, he explained that it wasn’t one message, one program, or one person that made the difference for him – but rather the cumulative effect of many years of being influenced by his church as he grew up. Andy shared that the church informed his conscience and view of God, showed him that his life had purpose, helped him form lifelong friendships, gave him a window into God’s activity in the world, and taught him generosity.

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Some of my earliest childhood memories have to do with church. Every Sunday, even in the crazy infant and preschool years, my mom would pack us up and we would spend all morning singing Bible songs, going to Sunday School classes, trying to stay quiet in church, and hoping it was a “coffee hour” Sunday (because that meant one thing: baked goods.)

As I reached my late teen years, though, I began to see a Christian world outside of my small-town church and became increasingly discontent with where God had put me. I saw newer worship styles, heard more relevant messages, and met people my age who shared my beliefs. I suddenly felt that for all those years I had been missing out, so I wanted out.

But, 20 years later and now, as a parent myself, I, like Andy Stanley, look back and realize that God used that imperfect little congregation to save my life! It wasn’t one dramatic drop-off into the deep-end moment – but gradual, step by step, week by week, almost imperceptible changes in my growing heart and mind.

So thank you, First Baptist Church of South Londonderry, for informing my conscience and my view of God. Thank you for teaching me the same Bible stories over and over again and for making me memorize John 3:16 and Psalm 23. Thank you for teaching me that, “Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above; Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love”** and for showing me that it was possible to forgive just as I had been forgiven.

Thank you, First Baptist, for showing me that my life had a purpose beyond myself. Thank you for telling me the stories of men and women who gave their whole lives to serving God – and for encouraging me to take steps toward that life. And thanks for letting the students take over that service that one Sunday where I gave my first message 😉

Thank you, First Baptist, for faithfully putting your tithes and offerings in those little envelopes so that I could go to summer camp, where I met people my age who loved Jesus, too. Thank you for giving so that I could be surrounded with friends who showed me what a personal relationship with God could look like at my age.

Thank you, First Baptist, for teaching me that “Jesus loves the little children of the world,” and for showing me pictures of a world in need – not just to open my eyes to their plight, but to show me that I could do something to help.

And thank you, First Baptist, for planting in me seeds of generosity that helped me understand that love was meant to be given away.

In Ezekiel 47, the prophet is shown a vision of a river, flowing out of the temple – the place where the Spirit of God was known to dwell. As he is led to walk through this river, he points out that after 1,000 cubits (about 1/3 of a mile) the water is only ankle-deep. Then after another thousand it’s still only knee-deep. After another thousand it’s now waist deep. And then another thousand cubits later, the water is finally over-his-head deep.

Like walking into the Lake Champlain sand bar, the depth increase would be so gradual it would be almost impossible to feel the difference from one step to the next. But over time the river grows to fullness and in the end it “enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” (Ezekiel 47:8-9)

As Spirit-filled believers, we have rivers of life flowing out of us – and when we pour into the lives of children and students, we have the potential to save lives. It may not feel like you’re making a difference because the effect is so gradual – I’m sure there were times when my Sunday School teachers thought that nothing was sinking in, but it was. The fresh waters of the Spirit flowing through people like you into the hearts of the next generation has the potential for so much life.

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You don’t have to be a superstar, you just need to show up. You don’t need to create the best church, you just need to be the church. You don’t even need to work directly with kids if they’re not your thing – you can give financially to ministry activities, support parents, or just be an example of what it looks like to be a growing follower of Jesus.

The love and support of an active, involved local church congregation could change everything for a child. It did for this one and I will be eternally grateful.

*Andy Stanley, Orange Conference 2016, “Save A Life”
**”Wide, Wide As The Ocean”, C.A. Miles, 1914

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Repost: Up

(Originally posted September 2016)

​Two years ago, Tim and I made what we think might be our best purchase ever – a 1998 Starcraft Venture Pop-Up Camper. We call it our “Home Away From Home” and we love every night we get to spend in it! At almost 20 years old, though, this well-used (and well-loved!) camper is a bit of an undertaking to set up – especially in the dark.

Which is what we were attempting to do on our first camping trip of summer 2016. Having arrived at the Delaware Water Gap KOA after 9pm, we knew we would be setting up after dark – but we were up for the challenge!

At one point, as we were wrapping up the process, Tim said to me, “Mandy, can you come over here?” He sounded really concerned. And I was really concerned because if you know Tim, you know that him being “concerned” about anything is really rare!

I walked over to the side of the camper he was on and he said to me, “Run your hand along this aluminum edging.” Before I even touched it I got a shock in my hand (OW!) and then when I actually did touch it, I could feel a vibration.

This was very strange, so we began walking around the camper, touching all the metal edges (Really, it seemed like a good idea at the time!) And yes, every time you touched any of the aluminium rims of the camper, you would get a shock and then feel a vibration.

At this point, panic was setting in. Our camper was somehow producing electricity and we were supposed to sleep in there! This couldn’t be safe! The mom in me was like, “There’s no way I’m letting my kids sleep in this camper tonight!”

Unfortunately, though, we didn’t have much of a choice. So we began looking all around, above, and underneath the camper for some sort of answer. Tim even asked one of our neighbors to come over and see if he could feel it, too – you know, just to make sure we weren’t losing our minds.

“Nah, I don’t feel anything,” the man said. And as he walked away, I said to Tim, “That’s it. We are officially crazy. We are your crazy campground neighbors who pull in late at night and believe their camper is mysteriously vibrating! We need help.

We all need help. We might not need it all the time and some of us might need more than others, but we all need help. Sometimes we need practical help – none of us are super-people and that extra hand or wisdom-filled guidance from someone who’s done it before can be life- (or sanity) saving.

But more often than we like to admit, we need real help. We are humans living in a broken world filled with other humans, so problems are a guarantee! Our struggles may look different, but everyone has them.

The question is: When you have problems, where are you looking for help? When a struggle rears its ugly head in your life, what’s your gut reaction – where do you go first?

We have four options:

1) Look inside yourself. This is everything we’ve ever been taught in Disney movies, music lyrics, and in social media quotes – “The strength is within you! The answers you seek are within yourself! You are strong! You can handle this!”

2) Look to other people. If you’re like me, your first reaction when you are upset or stressed is a dire need to tell someone about it. Most of the time you just need someone to listen to your rambling – and sometimes you really do need some advice.

3) Look to stuff. This one, unfortunately, is the number one “gut instinct” for most of us, even if we don’t realize it. Social media, games, Netflix, food, alcohol, drugs – you name it. I know my phone is a wonderful little distraction – when my eyes are on that screen I can forget about whatever it is I don’t really want to be thinking about!

4) Look up. The last option is to look outside of yourself, outside of other people, outside of this world, and do what David did in Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

God is not only all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful – He’s also deeply interested in helping us. He’s deeply interested in being your source of help. He’s just waiting for you to look up to Him. Looking down inside yourself, looking to others, or looking to stuff may be good options, but they’re not what’s best. The best and most helpful first thing we can do when we’re struggling is look up to God – and to make looking to Him become our gut instinct.

When Tim and I were trying to figure out our camper mystery, we had done all those things. We looked within the camper, we looked around the camper, and we asked someone else for help – but nothing was working. The thing is, we should have looked UP first! Because, as we found out later that night, our campsite was located under these:

There was so much electricity moving through those lines, we could hear it! With that much power directly above us, no wonder our old aluminum-rimmed camper was picking up some of the current!

Everyone has problems, but not everyone looks up to find the power that will truly help them. God has unlimited power to help you with everything – from the smallest of your daily worries – to the deepest of your issues – even issues that you don’t even know exist yet!

The truth is that the root of all of our problems is sin – not because we deliberately want to cause ourselves and others pain – but because instead of looking to God to be our help, we’re constantly looking to other things. We sin because we think it will help us feel better, look better, or be better.

But there’s good news because 2,000 years ago, God Himself put on human flesh and came to help. He willingly gave His life, dying a punishment kind of death to save us from ourselves.

Criminals in that time and place were hung up high – on crosses on hills – because their death was meant to be a visible warning to others. They wanted people to look up at Jesus and fear – but what they didn’t know was that looking up to Jesus on that cross would be the greatest rescue and the greatest healing and the greatest help in the history of mankind.

Have you come to the end of yourself? Have you exhausted all other options and realized He is the only answer? And if so, is looking up to Him your gut instinct every time life gives you a shock? God is available and He’s got plenty of power to offer – so look up!

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Telltale

Adventure is our family’s middle name, so when we’re presented with the opportunity to try something new that involves the outdoors, we say Desi-“Let’s Go!”

In September of 2015, we were invited by our good friends, the Vallette’s, to join them for a day of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Though a couple of us struggle with motion sickness, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to spend a day on the water!

As we set off from Green Point Landing, we couldn’t wait to get our sea legs on. The girls had a blast exploring the boat, Tim kicked back and relaxed, and though my eyes were “on the horizon,” my attention was on everything else that was going on – I had no idea sailing was so much work!

At one point, I overheard Amy remind her teenage son, who was taking his turn at the wheel, to “Watch your tell-tales!” Though I had never heard of “tell-tales” before, I looked up and immediately knew what she was talking about: Attached to the fabric on either side of the sail were tiny green and red tapes, just a few inches long, that danced in the wind as we moved along.

From my land-lubber understanding, these “tell-tales” are so named because they “tell” the sailor a “tale” about the sail’s position in relation to the wind’s force. When sailing upwind, the sail must be trimmed to a certain angle in order to catch the gusts properly and make headway. If both “tell-tales” are streaming straight back, the sail is “in good trim” and progress will be made. But if one side is hanging down or fluttering, the jib is “out of trim” and a slight adjustment is needed.*

Tell Tale 4-01

For the disciples, following Jesus was a lot of work. His ministry wasn’t contained to one place, which meant constant movement and travel. His ways weren’t conventional, so mental stamina was required for them to adjust and obey on the fly. And as we know from their stories, emotional energy was required as their faith was regularly being put to the test.

After a particularly challenging assignment in which Jesus sent the twelve out in pairs to towns and villages in Galilee, they “gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30) He listened to their stories, but also noticed that “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat”. Though they could have given their report and moved right on into more ministry, Jesus instead said: “‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (v. 31-32)

Jesus knew that the demands from this point on would be endless and there would be potential for them to fill every second of every day with ministry. But He also knew that in order to continue making headway, they needed a break from the demands and some time for their energy to be restored – especially if there was no time to eat! Even Jesus didn’t want to deal with a bunch of hangry disciples!

In his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” author Pete Scazzero points out that, “We are called to lay down our lives for others (1 John 3:16). But remember, you first need a ‘self’ to lay down.” Giving something away requires having a grasp on it first, and giving my ‘self’ away requires me to have a grasp on what that ‘self’ is. And part of knowing what I have to give away is knowing how I can restore what I’ve given away through self-care.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.”** Self-care puts wind back in our sails and gives us the energy to keep pressing on loving others in an upwind kind of way. When I sense an emotional meltdown approaching, it’s a telltale sign that it may be time for some self-care. I keep a list next to my bed: Have I been spending quality time with God? Am I getting enough sleep? Have I had a significant chunk of alone time in the last week? Did I make time for exercise today? When was the last time I read a book or watched a show just for fun? The answers to those questions usually reveal that my sail position needs to be adjusted!

If you open your Bible and look up the verses quoted above, Mark 6:30-32, you’ll find they are the opening verses of a story you may know well: “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand”. In their attempt to sneak away, “many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” So much for that “down time”! And of course “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (v. 33-34)

The boat ride was all they got and I think if you asked Jesus, He would have said the boat ride was all they needed. The (possibly still a bit hangry) disciples went right into another time of ministry and right into another testing of their faith – but also right into another life-giving miracle.

In my tendency to overcorrect, I often crank the wheel right past self-care and all the way over into self-serving. I was born selfish and when I give myself an inch, I’m tempted to take a mile. And I’ve noticed that the same indicators exist in the other direction – my emotional meltdowns, impatience when little things don’t go my way, and overly critical spirit are telling me a tale that all I seem to care about is myself and it’s time to give some of that self away.

Tell Tale 5 (1)-01

I’ve never found myself at the wheel of a sailboat, but I’ve spent plenty of time steering motorboats and there’s no such thing (at least in the boats I’ve driven) as ‘autopilot’. You can’t just let go and assume the boat will go straight – it’s a constant process of small adjustments requiring you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times!

Making headway as a follower of Jesus requires the same hands-on-the-wheel attention. There’s no cut-and-dry rule for the exact amount of “self-care” or the exact amount of “others-care” we need to get our tell-tales to align. The path our boat takes may look more like a zig-zag rather than a straight line, but that’s because it’s a process. Jesus knows me better than I know myself, He’s always with me, and I can trust in His navigational skills!

Speaking of indicators, when I fall asleep in the first five minutes of the season finale of my favorite show (and it’s the wedding episode I’ve been waiting years for!), it’s a telltale sign that I’m not getting enough sleep and it’s time for something to give. May is here, the school year is winding down, and I’m overdue to shift my brainpower over to prepping for our Youth@Hope summer SERVE trip. I’ll repost some of my favorites from 2016/2017 over the summer and be back re-energized with new ideas for the fall!

*https://www.thoughtco.com/trim-the-jib-using-telltales-2915477
** Parker Palmer, as quoted in “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” p. 35

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Cheese

Summer is almost here (for real this time) and I can’t wait. The school year is coming to a close and soon we’ll be traveling and adventuring the days away!

One of my favorite things about traveling is visiting historical sites. The old buildings and artifacts are cool, but mostly I am fascinated with the faces. Old photographs draw me in as I stare into a person’s eyes and wonder what life was like for them. I’d love to go back in time and ask them some questions: Were they satisfied with their life? What did they believe about God and their purpose? And most importantly, why weren’t any of them ever smiling? Was life really that hard?

In 2018, when a camera is held up to our faces, it’s almost instinct to “Say cheese!”. But when people in previous centuries posed for a portrait, curving their lips and showing their pearly whites was not their first reaction.

Since happiness is currently our culture’s highest aspiration, we prefer to be portrayed in photographs as cheerful. But in the past, a smile in a picture came across as goofy or even inappropriate. It was preferred, rather, that one appear dignified and noble.

Author Mark Twain was quoted saying, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.” Though today we capture our own image on a daily (or maybe more than daily) basis, having your photograph taken was once a rare – possibly once in a lifetime – experience. If this was the only portrait ever taken of you, it was important to represent yourself and your legacy well!

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The people in old photographs aren’t the only people I have questions for, I also have some questions for David about Psalm 139. This beautiful song begins with 18 verses of admiration for God’s intricate work in creating human life (“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” v. 14). These words are foundational to what we believe about God’s intimate knowledge of human beings (“You are familiar with all my ways” v. 4) and to our understanding of the constant presence of His Spirit (“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” v. 7). The closing verses of the Psalm (v. 23-24) bring it home as David asks God to continue to deepen their relationship by searching and leading him.

But as I’ve used this Psalm in messages or studies over the years, I’ve had to say “Read Psalm 139:1-18 and 23-24” because verses 19-22 don’t seem to fit. After elaborating on the value of human life, David suddenly switches his tone and says this:

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
   Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
   your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
   and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
   I count them my enemies.

What’s up with that? David, my friend, you could have done me a huge favor if you had just skipped this part!

As Christians we love to do what I do with Psalm 139 and skip the parts that make us uncomfortable. We know our sin is all forgiven, so it’s easy to lump it all together as one and believe it’s all taken care of as one. When we sense conviction from a pastor’s message, a fellow believer’s correction, or even a critic’s ounce-of-truth assessment, we prefer to skip over it, and put on our “Praise God! It’s all forgiven anyway!” smile for God and others.

But no one’s believing that cheese.

Believe it or not, David’s rant in Psalm 139:19-22 is a natural progression from the preceding verses. If the value of life is so great that God would “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13) and have “all the days ordained for me… written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16), then the “bloodthirsty” (those who would try to take that God-created life) are enemies of God. And if David was to be after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), then the “thoughts” of God were to become “precious” to him (v. 17), making the “bloodthirsty” his enemies, too.

Verses 23-24 are then the next step in that progression:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.

Not only were the “bloodthirsty,” who wanted to take a physical life, enemies of God, but the sin in David’s heart was just as dangerous. If David’s thoughts were going to be in line with God’s, he needed to accept that the sin in his own heart had the potential to be as “bloodthirsty” and life-threatening as those who were hunting him down. Aware of the deceitfulness of his own sin, David asked God for the wisdom to help him see it.

When I look at my children, I acknowledge that I would go to any length to protect their lives from harm – an enemy of theirs is an enemy of mine! But as a child of God, wonderfully woven together by His careful hand, would I go to the same lengths to protect myself from the sin that threatens me? Part of valuing myself as a creation is hating anything that tries to damage this creation.  

Lumping my sin together as ‘all taken care of’ without asking God to search my heart and dissect that lump to reveal “any offensive way in me,” is like looking into God’s camera and giving Him a “silly, foolish smile”. Ignored sin can’t become hated sin and sin I’m not fully aware of can only become my enemy when I drop the cheese and allow Him to show it to me.

Speaking of my children, since the day they were born, I’ve been obsessed with taking photos of them. Getting all three of them to look at the camera and smile at the same time is a little easier now that they’re older, but it used to be nearly impossible. There were times when it took 20 or more attempts to get it right… and then I would end up using the first shot I took anyway! You know why? Because the longer they tried to hold their fake smiles, the cheesier they got.

CHEESE (2)-01

We can’t fool an all-knowing God with our fake smiles, but the longer we hold them up, the more we fool ourselves. Putting on a happy face has become instinct in our social-media-driven culture, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that our sin is “all good”. But every day we have the opportunity to drop the cheese and ask God to be brutally honest by showing us an accurate portrait of our hearts:

God, I want my heart to align with Yours and in order for that to happen, I need to see my sin for what it really is. Search me today, point out any offensive way in me, and lead me in Your way everlasting. Amen.

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Cards

If you asked what I would like for Mother’s Day, I would say, “To be outside on an adventure with my family!” But since this Mother’s Day was 50 degrees and raining, I had to settle for second best: Games with my family. A little healthy competition is good for the soul – and our cabin fever!

On the table this Sunday were rounds of Flinch and Ticket to Ride. I love these games because even though there’s some luck involved, the overall results come down to strategy and decision-making, which are skills I want my kids to develop.

Part of the strategy in these games involves deciding whether or not to block another player from making a move. If I’m playing against an adult, I don’t hesitate (although they’re usually the ones blocking me). But with my kids I think twice.

If there’s a “7” out in the middle and I have an “8” in my hand, I have the option to play it or not play it. Knowing the child to my left has an “8” on her stack and has been waiting for several rounds for that “7” to appear so she can play that “8,” I have the choice to hold back so that she can make her move. But I also have the choice to play my own game, thereby blocking her (and dealing with the inevitable tears).

Or say my selected train route goes through Duluth and Winnipeg, which is where the child to my right also happens to be headed. There’s only one direct rail between these two destinations, and I’ve already collected the four black cards needed to secure it. If I play them, I’ll block her (and prepare for immediate emotional meltdown). Or I can let her have it and sacrifice the points.

I want my kids to succeed. I want their strategies to work out. I want their decision-making efforts to be rewarded. And I hold in my hand the ability to make it happen. But forcing the cards to fall in their favor on this turn may be presumptuous. I may think I’m helping them now, but there’s a chance I’ll only set off a string of circumstances that, in the end, will cause them to lose the game!

So, yes, I play my card. And yes, I take the route. Because there ain’t no way this competitive Mama is gonna let them beat me, especially on Mother’s Day!

ADVANTAGE 2-01

Being a mom is harder than I expected. When my toddlers tripped and fell, a hug and simple affirmation that they were going to be okay was all they needed to bounce back and start running again. When other preschoolers were mean to them, I could remove them from the situation and redirect their attention. When we prayed, we thanked God for animals, sunshine, and friends and asked Him to help us have a good day.

But middle school is a whole new game. Social and emotional wounds cut much deeper, the bullies can’t be avoided when they’re in your classroom all day, and that “relationship with God” status moves from “simple” to “complicated”. No one could have prepared me for the helpless feeling of holding your sobbing child after a hard day at school, or, even worse, realizing that your child may be struggling but isn’t willing to talk to you about it. Or when you sense something developing in their personality that makes discipline anything but cut and dry.

As a parent and an adult, there are cards I hold in my hand and there are days when everything inside of me wants to play those cards. I want to see my kids succeed. I want to see things work out for them. If there was a magic button in front of me that could guarantee them a win at every turn, I’d be tempted to push it. But chances are, I wouldn’t be doing them any favors.

In Numbers 13 the people of Israel, after being freed from 400 years of captivity and slavery in Egypt, were about to enter the land the Lord had promised them. Spies were sent in to scope out the situation, and though two of them came back with a report of “We can certainly do it!”, the rest said “We can’t!” and the people rebelled (Numbers 13:30-31). The result of this rebellion was a new promise – 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Word of this sentence brought about a sudden change of heart:

When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”

But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah. (Numbers 14:39-45)

Though their God held every card in His strong hand and could have given them every advantage in battle, He wasn’t about to force the situation. A win at this point was no guarantee of victory in the end and His plan for them was a process. The Promised Land was not the goal, the trust in Him was, and they were going to need 40 years of wandering to develop it.

My God has the ability to give my kids every advantage. He has the ability to make things go their way and force wins at every turn. He has a magic button.

But He doesn’t push it and I can trust His example. When I presume that what my kids need is for me to force my cards for their win on this turn, I go ahead of God. When I act on my own reactions to their pain rather than listen for His lead, I may be setting off a string of events that leads to greater loss in the end. Yes, I can protect, yes, I can help, and yes, I can advocate, but I’m not their Savior – Jesus is.

ADVANTAGE-01-01

It would be great if I could end this by saying both girls won their respective games, even though I didn’t help them, but they didn’t – I won them both! (Happy Mother’s Day to me!) I’m sure a day is coming when they’ll be able to take me down, but for now I’ll enjoy my moment of glory 😉

In his poem, Trust in the Slow Work of God, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, “Don’t try to force [it], as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow”. No matter how much we don’t want to see our kids hurting, the pain, frustration, and stress they experience are part of the process. And the trust they’ll develop in Him, rather than in us, will be worth every tear!

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