What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

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And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV

I lead a weekly ESL conversation class on Zoom. Typically, four of us meet for an hour.  The two women are Mexican and our one gentleman lives in Argentina.  They are strong intermediate-level speakers.  We have come to know each other and enjoy this mid-week hour as friends.  And I know they appreciate being able to practice their English.

As a language coach, I propose the weekly topic. Yesterday’s question or theme is the title of this blog.  ‘What do you want people to remember about you and how you lived your life?’ I wasn’t sure if my three friends felt put-off or startled when I sent them via What’s App the question to consider. They approached the subject with enthusiasm and we ended up learning a lot about each other’s cultures and approaches to death.

What’s interesting about this topic is that one of my sons is currently reading a leadership book for Christian men about creating a vision for oneself as well as for one’s family. He mentioned one of the suggestions was to do this very thing, to start with the end in mind. Just how DO you hope people will assess your life once you have died?

Happily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as Christians. The Bible provides many possibilities that are pleasing to God. The verse at the beginning of this post is one that continues to linger in my daily thoughts.

The way the apostle John condenses and communicates Jesus’ commands struck me about 2 weeks ago as a wonderful life purpose.  What pleases God is for us to rely on Jesus and love people as our Lord did while on earth.

Actually, the first part, ‘trusting Jesus’, is the main command. I am to depend on him for power to love people well.  Active love, how I treat people, is costly because it involves investing resources such as time, energy and money.  Added to that is my attitude, how I bring patient, studied attentiveness to someone in order to understand their needs and the manner in which they feel respected and valued.  I can’t do any of that in my own strength. That is why relying on Jesus is paramount.

I wish I had paid attention to John’s exhortation when I endured ongoing bitter attacks from a student at my last school. I tried to respond with love and patience, but out of my own reservoir. It got to me.  Many days I headed to school absolutely dreading French class with this gal. Her animosity and her dad’s displeasure with me lasted a year and a half before she graduated from the middle school. 

Five years later, I feel clear now on just who is my power source to obey. And in fact, I got to put my money where my pen is.  Yesterday, I realized that my mother-in-law who lives so far from us needs some TLC. At 93, she has been hit with one medical situation after another.  She said to me yesterday over the phone, ‘Maria, why is all this happening to me now?’  Thank you, Father, that your Spirit got my attention.  I booked a flight this morning for next week.

Wrapping up, what is it that I want on my tombstone?  ‘She relied on Jesus and loved her friends and family well.’  No, that doesn’t include ‘neighbors’ like my former student.  But I think that if I can mature in believing and depending on Jesus to love those who make up my family and my circle of friends, the spillover effect will extend to others the Lord places in my life.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

I killed the ‘red lizard of sin’!

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If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Matthew 5:30 ESV

Until last week, that talkative ‘red lizard of Sin’ continually plagued me.

Did you ever read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis? It’s a short book and very compelling. In one scene, an angel confronts a man who has died, described by Lewis as a ‘ghost’, someone who had rejected God and heaven. On this ghost of a man’s shoulders chatters a lizard, unceasingly arguing for the mildness of sin that he, the reptile, represents. 

This angel advises the confused ghost-man to kill the red lizard who whispers all the more persuasively to the contrary.  The lizard argues that the man most assuredly can manage him, that’s he quite tame, that what he suggests the man indulge in is not that bad.  

The angel doesn’t argue with the ghost-man or with the tempter. He simply offers to kill the Red Lizard himself.

The ghost-man cringes out of fear, anticipating pain and the loss of his pet sin.  But he yields to the angel who slays the reptile, thus liberating him.  I won’t spoil what happens next.  Read the book!

Like the vacillating ghost-man I have felt the forceful propaganda of a similar red lizard.  The Spirit himself finally convinced me that I had to sever something I had created because it was causing me to sin.

What was that sin?  An out-of-balance preoccupation with something material that often shoved Jesus out of his primary place in my thought life and heart.

I wrote last week about the project I started in 2018 to build a business helping language learners with English.  Nothing sinful in and of itself.  But starting and building an online presence tapped into pockets of ambition and pride deep inside of me that became disordered. 

Last week when I posted my blog, I had resolved to wait on God to see what he wanted me to do.  Within 24 hours of hitting ‘publish’ I knew what I had to do, what HE wanted me to do.  Since I was continuing to obsess, I had to take drastic action.  I truly wanted to be FREE, to tolerate NO interior drive that competed with Jesus.

So, I killed it.  I severed it, this on-line presence.  I knew that I did not have the power to tame it or change my thoughts and feelings.  Just as we clean up our phones to make more space, I had to eliminate the largest ‘file’.   

I called up Go Daddy, the tech company hosting my website, and told them to cancel it.  The tech support guy reassured me that it would remain active until the subscription period ran out in 5 months. 

“No, I want you to kill it now.  It’s a trigger for me.”  I’m sure he didn’t understand.  But he proceeded to read me the statement declaring that if he shut down my website, I would lose everything I had created. I replied, “I understand and accept that.  Please just do it.”

Just like that, three and half years of content disappeared. I purposely chose not to back up anything. Then I contacted Mail Chimp and did the same thing.  With this service, I had been writing and sending out helpful teaching tips, follow-up extension activities and how I had used each video in my on-line English class.  Now that was gone, too.

What did I feel?  Nothing. Just a sense of blahness.

But by the next morning, by grace, while lingering over scripture and dialoguing with Jesus in my journal, I started to feel light, free and cheery.  I knew I had done what was right for me.

It’s taken me two years to reach this point. I’ve wavered and talked to Mike and family members ad nauseum about feeling a love-hate relationship with English without Fear.  Making weekly content has felt burdensome. Yet at the same time I have taken pride in what I offered weekly to the language learning space. The burden grew as I felt or imagined that my subscribers ‘expected’ new videos on a regular basis. The continual wrangling with my thoughts and feelings weighed me down.

Am I sorry I started English without Fear?  Nope. I learned a lot about video production. I made contact with English language learners around the world who have enriched my life.  My faith deepened and I grew in my understanding of what sin is.  I don’t want anything to compete with Jesus and the first place he occupies in my life.

As Graham, my son, reassured me.  I can always start something similar again, if that is God’s will for my me.  He doesn’t waste any experience, but repackages it for his purposes.

My yoke or his yoke?

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

I visited the bathroom too near early morning so that I couldn’t fall back asleep.  Instead, I lay awake thinking.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve been obsessing a bit on an old matter I thought I had already dealt with. It started like this.  The day after Christmas I met with a local Hispanic pastor whose church wants to offer ESL (English as a second language) classes as a ministry.  I’m very excited about this project since I know I can make a difference in some local women’s lives.  The Lord has given me years of experience teaching French and now English on line since I’ve been retired. I use the best method available, one that is based on research about how people acquire language. I don’t use the traditional tools of grammar pronunciation drills, but employ the intuitive approach of teaching with comprehensible input.  I describe it simply as ‘Mommy Talk’.  Nothing intellectual there.

It wasn’t the idea of starting up this ministry that kept me awake.  No.  But what happened, given this new endeavor, is that I resurrected the issue of creating content for my YouTube channel ‘English without Fear’. 

I initially began creating simple videos for English language learners in 2018, with the idea of turning it into a business after leaving the classroom.  Later, I realized I didn’t want to make this a money venture, but continued producing content as a way to ‘bless’ the language-learning community. Unfortunately, I started to feel ‘obligated’ to keep producing a weekly video. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I wavered back and forth about letting it go, because it felt burdensome, like a self-imposed ‘should’. Through counseling and much prayer, I closed the door on that project, producing my last video in early October of this past fall.

That is until I uploaded another one last week, the final week of 2021.  I justified going back to this activity by linking it with the forthcoming ESL classes. ‘My videos might be useful to my future ESL students!’, I reasoned.

But it’s been too much for me.  Not in terms of time or energy, but in emotional space.  Like a magnet, I have felt the irresistible pull to think about it, to plan the next episode. But my thoughts have gone back to being irrational. ‘My YouTube followers expect new content!’  

When I am honest with myself, creating these videos still feels like a task, a ‘half to’.  Not only do I not like feeling obsessed, I don’t like thinking about anything more than Jesus.  When other matters crowd out my meditations on the Lord, I feel drained.

So, this morning I journaled to Jesus: ‘I’m exhausted still struggling and debating ‘do I’ or ‘do I not’ make more videos? I feel my mental energy being sucked away from you, Lord. What do you want me to know?’

I then continued with Bible reading.  A few minutes later, I remembered something I had recently read in Oswald Chambers. He had advised waiting and not ‘doing’ whenever you felt doubt about a proposed course of action. That thought felt like a strong suggestion from Jesus.  So, I took it seriously and committed to wait, at least another week, before thinking about this question again.

Then came another thought.  Trevin Wax had quoted John Stott in a piece, “Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the Kingdom of God.”  That certainly affirmed my involvement teaching ESL to local Hispanic women in a church setting.

Finally, advice from my friend Mabel made its encore appearance in my conscious thoughts.  She had shared a two-fold very useful way for deciding where next to invest one’s energy. Ask yourself:

  • What do you love doing?
  • What can you do that no one else is doing?

That’s easy.  I DO enjoy helping people acquire language the natural and best way.  And no one else that I know of in Huntsville is teaching ESL this way to Hispanic gals.

But plenty of people around the world make video content in simple and slow English.  I think Jesus wants to keep me walking with him, bound closely by his lighter, tailor-made, energy-providing yoke, rather than the one I tend to craft for myself.

A new year, a new word

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For this is the will of God, your sanctification.…..1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

I’ve never chosen a ‘word’ for the new year, have you?  One of my principals, Marilyn Lane, introduced me to this concept at our first meeting of a new calendar year when teachers had returned to prepare for the new semester. Since this was a Christian school and we were a small faculty, we always began our morning with prayer. I don’t remember Marilyn’s particular word she chose, but the concept, as yet untried, has stayed with me.

Something interesting akin to the ‘word of the year’ ritual happened to me this past July, 2021.  A letter of the alphabet chose me!  Let me be more accurate. It wasn’t a single letter which happily invaded my life, but two: the prefix ‘re’.

It happened like this.  Regina and I met for a quick retreat and connect time in a town equidistant from her home and mine.  I had been struggling for some time with feeling both driven and unsettled due to an unplanned, abrupt retirement from teaching French mid-year when Mike accepted a new job here in Huntsville.  I did not know how to adjust to being at home full time.  I could have sought out another teaching job but I had actually longed to leave the classroom and pursue language interests in other more freeing and flexible ways.  The problem was I had not prepared emotionally or mentally for this transition.

I knew I was in crisis when Regina and I caught up and I shared from the heart.  That’s when my new friend re dropped into my life.  What do I mean?

During our short time together and with Regina’s patient and probing questions, the Holy Spirit gently began to invade my soul with the fresh breeze of God’s truth.  Words and concepts awakened, encourage me and gave me peace. They all happened to begin with ‘re’. I listed 31, but here are just a few. She and I both caught God’s ‘wink’, when we noticed that Regina’s name just happened to begin with ‘re!

  • Retreat
  • Release
  • Restore
  • Reset
  • Return
  • Repent
  • Rejoice
  • Revive
  • Retire
  • Rely
  • Receive

The six months’ worth of the Spirit’s counsel through ‘re’ truths have brought growth and healthy change in how to think. I can now say I am no longer driven, having set boundaries in my week in order to savor being with God and other people, as well as read for pleasure.

Now, on the cusp of a new year, some other words, not a prefix though, have percolated to the level of conscious thought. I recognized the process when ‘Purification‘(sanctification, holiness) emerged. I realize that THIS is something I want the Holy Spirit to work in me.  I’m weary of being an alloy of faith and works as well as a mix of part reliance on Jesus and part on me. I am praying that my longing and desire to be whole and genuine grow so that the pure trust and pure love and pure peace ratios increase.  Don’t some of us accept the cost we have to pay for 100% pure extra-virgin olive oil?  

That first ‘p’ word started me musing about other words that begin with the letter ‘p’, such as peace, patience, power, privilege, poor (in spirit), placed.

So, this year I’m embracing not one word, nor a prefix, but a letter of the alphabet and biblical words that begin with it.  We’ll see what the Lord Holy Spirit does next in my life.

Is it ‘okay’ to retire?

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What do you have that you did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4: 7 NIV

…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKVJ

Mike and I have been praying and planning about when he should retire.  I left my full-time teaching job in March 2019 when God moved us here to Huntsville.  Mike has continued working full time as a senior systems engineer.

Now, for many reasons, he wants to retire. This is not a decision we are rushing into.  Prudently, we have met with financial advisors. It does appear that Mike can stop having to work for income. What a privileged position that the Lord has granted us!

One quality I appreciate in my husband is that he is not a workaholic.  Western culture and especially America in the 21st century appear to esteem endless work.  Most men we know boast in how long they work each day. Putting in hours at night or over the weekend appears to be a badge of honor.  Mike is counter cultural.  He likes time at home with me to talk, think, read, exercise and pursue other interests.  His identity is not tied up with his productivity at the office. I’m so glad.

If God indeed grants him to retire, he’ll be 65 and 4 months. Assured of the financial viability of this change, I see Mike cautiously allowing himself to enjoy looking forward to the day when he can exercise more choice in how to invest time and energy. Instead of needing to support us through full-time work, we are now talking about ‘energizing joy’ as a way to choose how to invest his God-given talents, gifts and experiences.

But he is still hesitant to take anything for granted. The other night as we started chatting and fixing dinner, Mike mentioned how he didn’t want to be like that prosperous fool in Jesus’ parable. (Luke 12: 13-21) You know the scene Jesus depicted, that of a prosperous man salivating over his vision of tearing down his barns to build a larger storage facility to protect his wealth, his retirement.

I reassured my hard-working husband with this observation. His eagerness to acknowledge all that we have as God’s gifts to enjoy and steward, to be received with thanksgiving, points to a healthy fear of the Lord.

Mike has endured decades of ‘thorns and thistles’ in his work.  He has endured those times by God’s grace and experienced periodic days of satisfaction, but no real joy.  I think the idea that we should ‘find our bliss’ in our work sets up many for disappointment.  Work is for feeding your family, providing a useful service to society and other important reasons.  If you enjoy your work, that is icing on the cake.

Should retiring people feel guilty for enjoying some God-given peace and ‘prosperity’? No!  Read what the Lord teaches his people who look to him, who trust him, who follow him:

Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands…..Deuteronomy 30:9 NIV

God promises that there are times of refreshment and prosperity where thorns and thistles do not get the upper hand.  This is what I believe retirement can be.  I am encouraging my earnest, hard-working, precious husband to look forward with hope as he trusts the Lord with this next phase.  There are times when our Father delights to give us work that yields abundant harvests, satisfies us and meets needs of other people, all for his glory and the spread of the kingdom.

Do you resent or accept your ‘boundary lines’?

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The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely, I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. Psalm 16:6-7 NIV

Where Mike and I lived in Western North Carolina, we frequently would pop into a gift shop on Main Street called, Pleasant Places.  We bought our squirrel-proof bird feeder from these nature-loving owners and always enjoyed chatting with them.

This morning I was thinking of David, who joined the top ranks of ‘Who’s Who in Israel’s History’, who penned this Holy Spirit-inspired truth about his boundary lines. That led me to reflect on my life.

I started out my young adult life with a desire-fueled goal. At age 18 I already knew I loved learning and speaking other languages as well as adapting to new cultures.  I calculated that the most adventure-packed international career I could choose would be the Foreign Service, also known as the State Department.  I was fully aware of how challenging it would prove to be selected.  So, I chose to apply for an ROTC scholarship to help fund college, knowing that five years of military experience as an officer after graduation could make my candidacy more appealing

I even majored in Russian and Russian Studies to increase my value to the State Department. But my intended trajectory completely changed when I met Mike that summer after graduating and getting commissioned as a new second lieutenant.  He and I had been assigned to the same basic officers’ course for the Military Intelligence branch. Within 6 weeks I found myself saying ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal and we were wed in April 1980.

I chose life with Mike over my original career path, thereby changing the trajectory of the rest of my life. Do I regret that quick decision?  No, not in the least. Do I ever feel sad when I survey remaining longings for overseas living adventures?  Yes!

But I can say with heart-felt conviction that my boundary lines, much narrower than I imagined I could want, have been good for me. The Lord really does know what he is doing.

The most significant example of how God’s plan turned out far better for me comes from early on in our marriage.  We were 24 and were confronted with the gospel message for the first time. We might have heard what Jesus did in the denomination we grew up in, but not in a compelling way.  This presentation clearly and immediately drew us to respond with a hearty ‘YES!’ to God’s offer of salvation, lordship and forever fellowship.

I know that without Mike, I would have stopped going to church.  I never attended an Episcopal church my four years at the University of Virginia. Yet, there must have been a flicker of authentic Holy-Spirit desire in me, for meeting Mike who did attend church faithfully, intrigued me. I joined him each Sunday morning for church and brunch afterwards.  As long as I was with him, I went willingly.

But I know that had we only dated and parted as friends in December 1979, I would not have continued going to church on my own.  Services frankly bored me.

Furthermore, I would have likely continued along my self-centered, sexually-immoral, career-focused path with little thought about church or the things of God.

What would my life be like now, at 64? I do believe I’d be a believer as I am now.  But I am grateful for four decades of following (erratic as it has been for long periods) Jesus.  I don’t doubt that eventually God would have gotten my attention. Probably in a painful way, like an inconvenient, unwanted and shaming pregnancy. Instead, he had drawn me with ‘cords of kindness’ through that quick decision to join my life with Mike’s. 

I keep going back to my ‘pleasant’ boundary lines. I trust God, and especially when he has written in Psalm 84:11 ‘No good thing do I withhold from those whose way is upright’.

When those inevitable wistful dreams resurface, when I envy others for getting to live overseas and speak other languages, I remind myself that:  HAD IT BEEN A GOOD THING FOR ME, then the Lord would have ordained it.

Are you looking forward to heaven?

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The righteous one will live by his faith. Habakkuk 2:4

The other day Mike and I mused about the pleasure that comes from looking forward to an event. ‘Half the fun is the anticipation’ goes the old adage.  And that can be true.  But sometimes we’re actually disappointed, for what we pictured in our mind’s eye didn’t come to pass the way we hoped and built it up to be.  On the other hand, who hasn’t been pleasantly surprised when something they pictured as being just ‘ho-hum’ surpassed their expectation!

As a general principle, I find that the days leading up to something I imagine to be favorable are generally the best part. When we were preparing to move to western North Carolina, to fulfil our dream of living in the mountains, the months leading up to that June 2013 move date cheered us. We were full of energy just dreaming, thinking and planning for it.

So, why is it that we Christians don’t live with that kind of joy-filled anticipatory sense of excitement about life in the new heavens and earth with God? It can’t be because we don’t know what it’ll be like.  The Bible shares many scenes, images and metaphors of forever life in the Kingdom of God. 

It’s a shaky reason to say ‘It doesn’t seem real’. As a young adult, the summer before leaving to start college, I could hardly wait to head off to the University of Virginia.  I had studied the course catalog and read all the literature.  I formed an image in my mind about what it would be like.  I counted the days until mid-August.  Up to that point in my life, going off to college was the most exciting thing I had ever looked forward to.

How did my four years turn out? They were not at all a happy time.  My freshman dorm roommate and I ended up not speaking. I struggled with bulimia and my dating experiences weren’t all that satisfying. But the pleasure of looking forward to this new phase of life brought much joy.

Applying our natural desire to ‘have something to look forward to’, we Christians should be far less restless and discontent than those without the hope of Christ. Our Bible plainly lays out what awaits us when we leave this life.  Charles Dickens affirmed this reality, having penned words uttered by Sydney Carton as he climbed the steps to the guillotine, It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

You might push back and argue, ‘But we really DON’T know for sure what heaven is like.  No one has come back from the grave to tell us!’  I’d respond, ‘You’ve forgotten Jesus!’

Nevertheless, granted that no one credible other than Jesus has returned, we still should enjoy anticipating our bright future.  As Habakkuk affirmed and Paul repeats: Christians are believers who live by faith.  That is, they trust Jesus’ words and his deeds. 

How can we ‘rev’ up our excitement about our certain future?  By pouring over the ‘brochures’, those biblical passages describing what awaits.  How enthused would I have been had I not studied the available literature about my future college back in the ‘70s’?  The more I pictured my soon-to-be life, the more excited I grew.

God has given us the faculty of imagination.  Let’s use it to increase our gladness and our peace. One day what we take on faith will soon be sight.

There’s been a ‘heat’ wave and my leaf is still green!

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Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He is like a tree planted by the waters that sends out its roots toward the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes, and its leaves are always green. It does not worry in a year of drought, nor does it cease to produce fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 Berean Study Bible

Are things ‘heating up’ for you? Is trouble brewing?  We’ve just passed through that feast day when families gather, some happily and some reluctantly. Often mixing with those we don’t regularly see except at Thanksgiving can produce sparks that ignite as surely as rubbing two sticks together.

When Jeremiah’s words popped up in my Prayermate app earlier this week I lingered a while connecting God’s words with what Jim, our associate pastor, had emphasized on Sunday. Wrapping up this fall’s Sunday School journey through Paul’s encouraging letters to the Thessalonians, Jim emphasized our absolute need to meditate daily and deeply on Scripture.  His exhortation included imploring us to pray for our pastors and missionaries that they would do the same.  For how can we hope to endure as believers and encourage others in the faith unless we……stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NIV?

Last Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, I saw first-hand the blessing in standing firm, a growing ability due to years of lingering leisurely over God’s word. So, what happened?  Just some ordinary ‘heating up’ right before our families arrived that could easily have thrown me for a loop.  Satan lost this skirmish to manipulate circumstances toward his evil plans.

We had hosted friends for 2 nights the weekend before Thanksgiving and I was tired. I had a day and a half turn-around time to get the house ready, to stock the kitchen and catch up on some tasks foregone during our friends’ visit.

Even when our friends were with us, I continued feeding on God’s word.  Company, cooking and other tasks weren’t going to stand in the way of what I look forward to. I always need time each morning to reset with Jesus.   So, on Tuesday morning, after reminding myself that ‘God’s got this’ and ‘He is my sufficiency’, I set out for Kroger’s, my favorite grocery store, to gather all the food we needed for the eleven of us.  A shortage of baggers, time needed to hunt for one-off items and a plethora of holiday shoppers stretched my normal 45-minute shopping trip to 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Only by grace, could I practice patience, frequently reminding myself that ‘All this serves my eternal good’.  I was even able to rejoice when I maneuvered that overflowing, heavy cart toward my car, for I thanked God that it wasn’t raining! Furthermore, no egg cartons fell off nor did cherry tomatoes make a break-out run from their plastic homes.

The Tampa family was due to pull in between 4 and 5 that afternoon.  After putting everything away, I wanted to get the Coq au Vin prepared and set to ‘warm’ in my Instant pot so I could be free to enjoy these dear ones.  But another probe from Satan materialized. The chicken stuck in the Instant pot and started to burn.

I immediately unplugged the pot and released all the steam that had built up. As I transferred this rich chicken-wine-mushrooms and thyme goodness to a regular pot on the cooktop, I reminded myself, ‘This, too, serves my eternal good’.

In the past, I’ve given in to self-pity many times when situations heated up.  But thanks to the Lord and his word, my leaf remained green.  Rising early to feed the cats and make some coffee, I refocused on Jesus and refreshed myself each morning in God’s word while our families slept to at last 8 am.

A week has passed since Thanksgiving.  Looking back, I can see how God showered so much grace on us, including protecting Gizmo, our kitty escape artist.  I found out later that in the confusion of 4 extra adults and 5 kids, he did manage one time to get out the back door. Somehow, someone succeeded in catching him and returned him to the house. Grace!

This morning, God added a PS to last week’s grace. Our microwave popped, hissed and went on strike, refusing to re-heat my coffee.  My first thought flew right to God and the grace he showed in delaying this microwave failure by one week.  We used that microwave SO much preparing, heating, melting, reheating food and liquid as we feasted all week.  Furthermore, ALL the appliances, the gas fireplace, central heat and the hot water worked perfectly.

What encourages me more than God’s grace is how I see the blessing of this practice of slow meditative Bible reading. Fruit such as confidence in God and his promises, patience and self-control come easier.  I rejoice in God’s goodness.

It’s easy to see what I care most about

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“LORD, see my anguish! My heart is broken and my soul despairs, for…..? (fill in the blank) Lamentations 1:20 NLT

I’m writing this toward the end of November 2021.  Many people all over the world feel overwhelmed and live in life circumstances fraught with turmoil.  This sentence fragment could easily introduce someone’s lament today.

What are some verse completions that would fit?

Here’s what came to mind when I made a list…..

My heart is broken and my soul despairs because….

  • Covid feels like it’ll never end
  • Rude speech seems to be the norm
  • Our country seems hopelessly divided
  • Our politicians are self-centered
  • Too few governments take global warming seriously
  • Education today is deplorable
  • Racism seems to be permanent
  • My spouse has left me
  • My children don’t want to hang out with me
  • The cancer has come back
  • This mental illness my mom suffers from seems interminable
  • My dad shows no interest in the Lord
  • I still can’t find a job
  • No one understands how I feel

I’m sure you could add to the list.

But what did the author of Lamentations write? What caused him so much pain?

Drumroll……

His own personal disobedience to the Lord!

The sentence concludes with: ….for I have rebelled against you.

It’s not how I would have finished the verse.  The contrast between this man’s heart and my heart couldn’t be greater.

I focus most of my days on me and my activities. In sum: my little world of what and whom I care about.

You’ve heard it said that a useful evaluative tool for what you find important is to examine your checkbook or credit card statement to see how you spend your money.  If that is true, then food is way up there in importance, for my monthly grocery expenditures are pretty high!

I actually think a more accurate picture of what matters most to us is what we talk about.  What are the gripping go-to issues that spill out of our mouths when we’re with others? 

I think I bring up the latest on Covid, the number of cases, views about masking and not masking, being vaccinated and not with people I encounter.  In view of what pains our rebellious ‘lamenter’ most, what tends to grab my attention is what the Bible calls ‘vanity’, those fleeting and ephemeral matters.

‘Hold on a minute!’ you might say.  ‘My mom just died from complications with Covid.  That is no small matter!’  Of course, it’s no small matter.  But Jeremiah, or whoever wrote the book of Lamentations, no doubt also lost friends and family members in that harsh siege of Jerusalem.  Yet, his heart is what bothered him most of all.

That is why this verse models a better place to invest my strongest emotions.  How much better for you might it be if ALL that I was most concerned about became the state of my heart.  As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, “Let your gentleness be known to all. The Lord is near.” Chapter 4:5

You don’t care about my opinion regarding…. politics, or Covid, or even the best way to cook.  And who wants to hear my fears about our country or the world?  Besides they just show a distrust in our sovereign and good God.

May I tend the garden of my heart first! My relationship with the One whom I call Lord has to take first place in my thoughts, my heart and my words.

Are your expectations robbing you of joy?

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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” (Attributed to Francis of Assisi)

Mike read this quote out loud to us the other night. I couldn’t find any attribution to it on line, but no matter.  Whoever said it, I bless, for it gave me pause.

He and I talked a bit about what it would be like to live expecting nothing. For instance, upon awakening, the electricity to light and warm our house would be pure gift. Everything that worked and started up right away from the shower, to the coffee pot, to the phone to the car, all added blessings. Walking with no pain.  Arriving on time. Peace in our neighborhood. Mental clarity. Restful sleep. Fingers that work. Safety while worshipping. Harmony in relationships. Clean water. Glasses that enable me to see. Pain medication. The list of gifts extends.

Tuesday, Vera, my 9-year-old granddaughter and I were scheduled to connect by Zoom for a French lesson. But Graham texted about 5 minutes before our start time to say he was trying to get the internet back on.  I kept the Zoom room open, but 20 minutes later he sent an update.  “No internet possible today. Repairman will come out tomorrow.” So much for our French lesson.

When I shared what happened with Mike, he responded, “Wow, I am so glad this didn’t happen when were took care of the girls in October and I worked from their house!”

I realized how we had taken functioning internet for granted. Had this situation occurred while our son and his wife were away, Mike and I would have had to scramble to figure out what to do. Sure, he could have looked for a Starbucks that allowed customers to sit inside and use their internet. But their download and upload speeds are not necessarily fast.  Besides, Mike hosted several online collaborative meetings, totally inappropriate in public spaces.

Just that one brief reflection caused me to see how much we both take for granted. Just remove any one of those blessings, and watch how we respond.  Ah yes, the power of unmet expectations to poison our mood.


So, I ask, is it possible for us to arise each morning and receive the day ‘naked’, not counting on any created thing to ‘work’ or ‘respond’ a certain way?

Only one thing, one person is worthy of ‘counting on’ and that is our triune God.  We make a prideful assumption when we expect something to work, someone to treat us well and act like they always have.  Add to that the expectation of not meeting up with any roadblocks or obstacles each day.  That is no recipe for enjoying life.

Holy Spirit, keep me practicing this kind of reflection!

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