Do you ever show up in the wrong theater, using the wrong script?

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And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21 ESV……for I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The fear started a few days ago.

After receiving a confrontative response to some back-and-forth communication I had initiated, I knew I had to seek peace with someone in my life.  Listening again to my initial audio message, I saw how I had led off in a rambling indirect way that this person had found very off-putting.  I’m learning that she is very direct.  In contrast, my approach had followed a stream-of-conscious, “I’m thinking of doing such-and-such and wanted to run it by you.” She misheard my rambling words and took them in a way I had not intended. Her swift aggressive response stunned me.

I called her several times before we connected and did my best to mend the rift, apologizing for my way and my words.  I think we’re back to a kind of equilibrium. But the exchange, very uncomfortable for me, left me sobered, chagrined and battling fear.

Early the next morning, I laid out before the Lord all that had happened and asked him to settle me and bring me peace.  What was I afraid of? I told Jesus, „I don’t trust myself to think next time before I speak.  I am afraid that I will NOT be able to communicate with clear and precise language.  I’ve been known to say LOTS of things I later regret.  I’m not good at pausing to choose my words well.”

The Lord tackled the very existence of my fear.  First, he reminded me that I don’t belong to the Kingdom of Fear anymore. As Paul writes, For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Colossians 1:13 NASB

What does darkness represent? Fear and uncertainty!  The dark hides scary and dangerous situations.  Satan loves to suggest and then stoke tiny fear thoughts within us until they dominate our minds. But if we remember that now as ‘new creations’ who ‘live and move and have our being’ in Jesus’ Kingdom, then we can relax knowing that the air we breathe contains not one fear-molecule.

As I journaled, I saw how I’m going to need to practice noticing each time a fear pops into my mind. Since that morning I’ve been asking myself, “Maria, is that a fear thought about something happening today?”

If the answer is ‘yes’, then that’s my cue to confess it and turn back to the One I am called to trust that day.

If it’s just a hypothetical future scenario that scares me, then I’m predicting what tomorrow’s God-directed script will be. And I have NO perspective from which to see the entire cast and what has occurred up to now. I’m just living in my skin.

Each morning, we meet the Lord in prayer and receive our assignment for the day.  Yes, there is a daily plan in Jesus’ Kingdom theater.  We are to look to our Director for his cues and play whole-heartedly the role He has assigned to us.

Frankly, most of the time my day feels like I’m just ‘improving’.  I don’t know what comes next. But trusting in my Holy Spirit coach, I proceed as best as I can. There’s no need to worry, because all of us in the Son’s cast can be assured that in the end all will work out according to the Lord’s good plan. 

So, why are we plagued by reoccurring fears?  I think that this practice is but a holdover from one of the old scripts we used to follow when we played bit actors in Satan’s show.

But that was before our rescue and transfer into the new Kingdom. We are indeed new creations with roles to play/live out.

As I lay down to sleep each night, I’m trying to remind myself that tomorrow’s scenario is nothing I can predict. God is so creative and is using all that happens today as part of tomorrow’s plan.  My perspective as one of numerous ‘beloved bit players’ is so limited that to worry tonight about what might occur tomorrow is stupid and a waste of time.

My assignment is to rest and trust the One who gives his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

Adding to my spiritual toolkit

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Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will_______…… Habakkuk 3:17,18 ESV

Anne and I have been talking about one’s particular, received identity that Jesus gives if we ask him.  If we listen to Jesus, open to what he communicates over time, he will guide us to know that specific distinctiveness we bring to every part of our lives.  As in: ‘Maria, child of God by grace, called to BE a _____.’

Out of that identity, flows purpose.  Since God intentionally created each one of us as one-of-a-kind family members and gave us life in a specific time and place, it is not unreasonable that he calls us to BE a certain person. Jamie Winship and others teach Christians how to hear and receive one’s particular identity and calling.

Something Anne wrote in a text this week has gotten me thinking.  Not looking forward to traveling during Thanksgiving week with a baby and 3 children, she found a way to deal with her anxiety. 

What works for her is to describe the scenario that has her anxious. Then, as she looks that square in the face, she reminds herself that her identity as ‘nurturer’ is something she can continue to ‘work’, no matter what.

That is not to say that she nurtures out of her own strength and wisdom.  She depends on the Lord for his supernatural, ongoing presence to be with her as she brings life to whomever she is with. Whether in the ‘best of times’ or the ‘worst of times’.

I like this approach.  It provides space to be real with God and then to acknowledge that our ‘work’ does not change, no matter the circumstances.  Anne can always nurture someone, even when she herself is undergoing trials.

Ever since I read the Winship book and listened to his trainings, I have been thinking and praying through what I believe is my Jesus-given identity.  Tentatively, I believe I am ‘gently provoking beacon’.

I’ve been a ‘provocatrice’ since my teen years.  Pop used to say, “Maria, you’ve got to stop pulling wings off of flies!’  He meant that I needlessly (and with a mean spirit) stirred the pot, saying things to people to provoke a reaction.

That’s the destructive side of this identity.  But over many years, Jesus has slowly gentled me.  Provoking someone to make them squirm is far different than using a question to stimulate an interest in God.

When I researched the etymology of ‘to provoke’, I found that the Latin root means ‘to call forth or stimulate the appetite for….’

That is something I DO practice. A lot. But gently, and often with a thought-provoking question. My desire is always to shed light on some aspect of God, that might be new to the person.

What encourages me is that the actions that follow from my identity are not constrained by circumstances.

At first, I wasn’t sure if ‘worst-case-futurizing’ might be healthy, but now I see the wisdom in Anne’s approach. She doesn’t dwell on that picture. She simply faces it, I think, and concludes, ‘Well, if that’s the worst, I can still be who God has called me to be.’

Applying this approach personally, I foresee that identity-prompting actions will also shift my attention away from possible circumstances and back to the present and to the person in front of or next to me.

Father, fortify me with your grace to do as Anne, recalling that mindful of my identity, who I am and what you call me to do are gifts.

Another tool to fight fear

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Humble yourself……casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV

My mom used to say, “Maria, most things we worry about never come to pass!”

I know Mom believed that, yet she still struggled with fear and worry. As do I.

If we Christians look simply at the low probability of our fears coming to pass and don’t find peace in statistics, then surely with God’s presence, character and promises we will be free from anxiety. One would think. But I don’t think that is the case for most of us.

Sunday, at church Katie shared something that is helping her to let go of worry and fear. One of our pastors’ wives mentioned it in a Bible study and Katie has passed this nugget of freedom onto me.

“Worry is assuming the worst outcome.”

I have been turning that thought over and over in my mind since Katie blessed me with this definition. Notice she did not use the verb to ‘imagine’ the terrible.  To assume is a much stronger action. It’s to take as true, as real, as FACT, even.

I am beginning to notice just how often fear thoughts drop into my mind.  Maybe that’s normal for all humankind. What troubles me is the ease with which I accept those projections as true and start to worry.

After my week with Anne in El Paso, I am consciously practicing catching myself each time this happens. And I am learning to respond with:  I reject you, Fear!

These depressing visions of the future spring from my imagination. An imagination I have trained to assume the worst outcome.

But rational thinking would pause and ask:

  • What is the statistical probability that this is happen? Telling the truth helps.
  • And if ‘it’ DID come to pass, what would be the implication? Would it really be that awful? Habakkuk faced the possible reality of food scarcity and forecast his reaction in this worst-case scenario.

The Holy Spirit is helping me move toward freedom from fear IN Christ. For example, this morning, the verses below popped into my Prayermate feed.

The righteous…..they do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to care for them. Psalm 112:6-7 NLT

I wrote this in my journal:

“When bad news comes or a major problem arises, instead of assuming the worst outcome, I choose from this day forward to assume a God-directed good outcome.”

The situation or the problem might have a harmful effect, but I am daring to opt for believing God when He says that His grace will be sufficient and that He is working ALL circumstances for long-term good for those who love God and whom He has called.

Although I am 65, it is NOT too late to change my modus operandi. For far too long I have kept myself in that waterless pit of fear that Bunyan referred to as the Castle of Giant Despair.

I’m not afraid of that mountain!

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Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him!  Zechariah 4: 6-8 NLT

What looms as an impassable mountain in your life these days?

For us, it’s been getting Mike and Steve’s mom from Seattle to Asheville.  She’ll be 94 mid-month. After a hospital stay in July, she has had to use a wheelchair to supplement her former total reliance on a walker.  When she did not bounce back after three weeks in rehab, she realized she could no longer live independently in her retirement center.

The ’mountain’ facing all of us has been her recuperation and emptying out of her apartment in preparation for her move back East, near Mike’s brother Steve and his wife. In August all that loomed large. I felt totally overwhelmed by what lay ahead. 

But now, this first week in November, the mountain has grown smaller. Steve and Mike, the brothers and Eve and I Mom’s daughters-in-law have been working out one detail after the other.  Mom has remained pretty cheery despite the emotional stress of leaving the Pacific Northwest where she has lived for over 50 years.  But downsizing with all the  letting go of possessions, some yellow with memories, has been painful.

When I read God’s words this morning, I felt the power and truth behind them. I DO trust the Lord that before too long Mom will be settled into her new surroundings, with the circumstantial mountain in distant view. 

Yet, I recognize that the Lord will bring us face to face with other seemingly insurmountable issues.  I want to hold on to the Bible’s supernatural facts to fight the fear that likely will come:

1) No power of mine will avail in difficult circumstances.

2) The Holy Spirit alone is sufficient for the situation.

3) With God, what looks like an imposing obstacle will become as gentle as a rolling green meadow.  

One of the Lord’s overall principles and promises is that we are NOT to fear scary things. Isaiah 8:13 records this truth: It is the Lord of armies whom you are to regard as holy. And He shall be your fear and He shall be your dread.

Father, help us to order our fears.

And cause us to remember that when we deal with frightening circumstances, we can be peaceful for you have said that you will be with us as we walk in those valleys filled with menacing shadows.

May I honor you as I take you at your word, trusting your goodness and power.

Will my enemies ever depart?

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You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 NASB

I had set aside Saturday morning to do a guided meditation on Psalm 23.  Question number three was: Do you feel anointed, set apart?

I thought I understood the context of this Hebrew word from years of reading through our Bible.  Hasn’t it been kings who were anointed?  In our age, it’s we Christians who have been set apart by God for holiness.  My mind sped to Ephesians 2:10:  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. NASB

When I deep-dived into the Hebrew for ‘anointed – dashan’, I stepped into an entirely different world. For sure, kings have been anointed or appointed for certain roles. The prophet Samuel anointed first Saul as king and then his successor David.

But the first meaning for this Hebrew term staggered me. My Hebrew reference did not mention king-naming but how God ‘fattens’ his people.  Anointing oil moistens our heads, enriching us, prospering us, satisfying us, accepting us.  Look at this context from Proverbs 28:25b, The one who trusts the Lord will prosper (be made fat, be oiled up, be anointed) NASB

Lavishing joy-filling abundance on us is what George Mueller meant when he wrote: “ I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.  The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul in to a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished….I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation

What else is in Psalm 23:5 besides oil running down over our heads?  Yes, food, drink and the best company make up that banquet feast spread out for us. Yes, in the presence of all our enemies.

For me, my enemies, my ARCH-enemies are my fears, primarily anxiety about the future. I don’t imagine I’m much different from you.

I know I’m sinning against God when I try to control the future by imagining and planning for possible scenarios. Realistically, I don’t think I can stop myself from flirting with the temptation to figure out and then limit what scares me or fills me with dread.

But as soon as I catch myself falling prey to that fear trap, I can draw back and confess it to Jesus. Because our world 1.0 is broken, full of sinning people(us included) and much evil, enemies will always surround me. What I have taken away lingering in Psalm 23 is the ever-present feast available to those Jesus has anointed.

My practice so far has been to acknowledge the fear, tell the truth about it to Jesus, and ask for his cleansing. Then I make a 180 and direct my attention to the good food prepared to nourish me.  The Lord’s table will never run out.  His helper, the Spirit, keeps the nourishment coming as long as I show up hungry and thirsty. Night or day.

Here’s a glimpse of what fellowshipping at the King of King’s table looks like. Put yourself back in Solomon’s days.  You’re a regular at his table.  The stewards bring in great platters of warm and cold food. Wine flows freely. Nothing runs out because of their attentive service.  The kitchen doesn’t close.

And those deputies provided food for King Solomon and all who came to King Solomon’s table, each in his month; they allowed nothing to be lacking.1 Kings 4:27 NASB

This is our privilege as well. As adopted children, ‘fattened’ and welcomed at the generous table, our God provides constant care for our bodies, our spirits, and our emotions so that we are set up to flourish in his kingdom. Despite the presence of enemies.  Prosperity with enemies still out there is not mutually exclusive.

Feasting on and with Jesus while all those fears linger outside the banqueting house can be my and your reality.  Let’s turn our eyes back to Jesus and his good gifts.

Fighting fear, one breath at a time

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As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…Job 27:3 ESV

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22 ESV

Fear, discouragement and shame are Satan’s weapons of choice because they usually work. We look around us, take in our circumstances and listen to Satan’s false interpretation of events. For good reason he’s called the liar, the deceiver.

Over the past weekend, Mike and I retreated to a cabin in the woods of North Georgia.  We spent four days resting, restoring, reflecting and hiking.

Thanks to our newish daily practice of using biblical apps to meditate on God, I’m beginning to notice more often each individual breath I take in. This growing morning routine of observing my intake of oxygen causes me to know that at that moment, all I need, all my body has to have is this next breath.  And the Lord is providing it.  I am 100 % dependent on him. He alone will decide when I no longer need that physical sustenance.

The secular world has used meditation and mindfulness for years. What is different for us as Christ-followers, that is those who aspire consciously to abide in union with Jesus, is that we use Scripture as the content for guided meditations.

A few days before our trip, the speaker in the Encounter app Mike and I use mentioned that each breath is a gift from God who knows just what our body needs, moment by moment. As obvious as it sounds, I had never consciously connected God with each inhale.  Most of the time, I breathe without thinking.

While section hiking the Appalachian Trail with Mike, God gave me plenty of time to pull back from fear.  When the trail became less steep, my mind would wander forward into the coming days.  All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit would alert me to my fear-filled thoughts and I would ‘run back’ to Jesus who inhabits my very breathing. I’d confess my sin and huddle closely to him, breathing in thanksgiving and exhaling fear.  It was during our last full day, while hiking up to the summit of Blood Mountain, that I actually began thanking God each time I caught myself worrying and projecting.  Each fear thought became a trigger to return and enumerate with gratitude the Lord’s numerous blessings to me. I realized that I can’t multi-task.  I can’t nurture fears while naming the gifts God provides. 

For me, this ordering my thoughts, this submitting them to God to govern is new.  That is why I keep talking about this recently-acquired spiritual discipline of biblical meditation.   All the uncertainty regarding my mother-in-law’s care weighs heavily on me. I realize that I have become an expert in ‘futurizing’, that euphemism for ‘worry and fear’. My best friend Joyce has rightly named it for what it is.  This projecting into the days ahead is also sin.  I know, for the Bible teaches, that each time I indulge in fretful imagining of what might happen, I grieve the Holy Spirit who is in me.

This morning, something struck me from Hebrews 13:20-21: ‘May the God of peace…..equip you with all you need for doing his will…’ (NLT)

“Oh”, I mused, “you really are preparing me for the future!”

A daily ‘spiritual retreat’ of 15-20 minutes has become a precious part of my morning routine.  I am learning to be present with Jesus. This early meet-up is where I hand over all that concerns me and my family. Then I arise once again, to follow closely on his heels. I imagine myself often stepping on his heels, so near to him I want to be.  I don’t believe he minds.

Scarcity or Abundance?

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I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10

I was watching a teaching series from the Identity Exchange called, “Become what you Believe”.  Jamie Winship pointed out how contrary the world sees and handles resources.  Scarcity is one of ‘pillars’ of those who DON’T acknowledge or who don’t live in the Kingdom of God.  The creed goes like this: ‘We don’t have enough, we are not enough, we don’t do enough, we aren’t smart enough, we don’t have enough time or information or…..  This ‘List of Lack’ or scarcity feels endless.  What a depressing message.

The other framework and place to live is God’s.  He is the God of abundant resources. And there’s no end to what he can and does provide.  His resources and abilities are beyond anything we can dream or imagine.

Jamie says that when we begin to fear, that’s a clue to our operating out of the world’s scarcity model. Fear can actually serve as a helpful signal, telling us to stop and figure out just what we are thinking. Whether we are afraid of a menacing bully, or a scary disease or how off the rail our children seem to be, at the bottom of each fear is this idea of ‘not enough’ or scarcity.

I’ll give you a for instance.  This morning, I started to tighten up when I received a text from a very dear friend.  It turns out that she and her husband will be passing through our town in November and would love to see us.  I looked at the dates. Any other time, I would have been excited.  But given what we have on the calendar right after this possible visit, my first reaction was anxiety, another name for fear. What was I afraid of?  That we wouldn’t have enough energy to turn around and be available to extravert and love those arriving 2 days later.  That might sound weird to you.  But we are introverted and ‘need time to replenish.’

Do you see how I was thinking? My thoughts and conclusions had their basis in this scarcity model.  By grace, the Holy Spirit reminded me of God’s abundance.  In my fear-filled scenario I was running ahead and assuming that we would have deplenished our energy balance.

I stopped myself and began to journal. I recognized this finite thinking layered with overtones of lack and privation. Here I was actually belittling the INFINITE God who formed me, who created me. This gracious Father who graced us with new hearts and free access to him by means of the Son.  And our Father expects us to stay connected, to abide in the Infinite Son, the source of all our supply.

Thanks be to God for his timing in giving me, through Jamie’s reminders, a new way to recall the resources that are mine as a Kingdom child. Furthermore, who am I even to predict that we will feel depleted?  I’m no prophet.

Besides, I mused: these potential back-to-back visits (and everything else!) is NOT up to me. I can no more manufacture energy than I can time.  No, Jesus calls us first to BE what we are, the ‘called-out ones’.  Then we are to BELIEVE and TRUST what He teaches us in his Word about his ‘enoughness’ to care for us.  Then we are to REST and RECEIVE the endless divine supplies, as we need them in the moment.

Scarcity’s sister is the lie that shouts (or whispers), “It’s all up to you!”  Thank God, that is not!  To fight the lie, we are to recall the Savior’s past rescues and provisions and then trust him to keep providing, to keep satisfying us.  For if we stop and rest and look up and EXPECT his provision (i.e., open our mouths) he promises to fill us.

Not to give us more than what we need, nor less. Just the right amount to keep us dependent on him.  Since he created us, he knows the measure of our emptiness and just what we require.

Curious, isn’t it, that as soon as the Lord provided this teaching via Jamie Winship, I now have a practical exercise to test out whether I actually DO believe what I have learned. 

How to live if you are an Afghan Christian

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As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36 NIV

Followers of Christ in Afghanistan these days live with terror. All Afghanis must feel threatened, especially those who desperately want to flee Kabul.  But to be Christian in Afghanistan these days is to have a bulls-eye painted on your back with neon colors. As in other countries where believers are persecuted, neighbors know just who has accepted Christ and left the majority religious community, whether Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu.

Each morning as I read reports from Open Doors or hear the news, I try to imagine how I would feel. Just how I would deal with the pressure of impending death at the hands of the Taliban? How I would live with the fear that comes simply from being Christian in Afghanistan?

You’d have to live as though you were already dead!

That’s the only way I can think to reduce the tension, live with the stress.  Whether actual death comes today or tomorrow or next week, soon you’ll be with Jesus.  With that mindset, that you’re as good as dead, you’d have nothing to lose by helping other Christians, of spending yourself for neighbors, of even telling your executioners about Jesus.

We Christians SAY we believe that God sovereignly plans our birth and our death and everything in between, but I can’t say that I live that way, functionally.  I know I hold ‘my plans’ too tightly.

This morning I lingered over Psalm 31.  Verse 15 fit my reflections about the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.  “My times are in your hands…” NIV. I’ve read that the Hebrew word for ‘times’ can also refer to events or seasons.

Jesus knew this dual reality.  He considered himself dead to the world, and alive to his father.  How else can we explain his calm warmth during that last supper, the very night he was betrayed? Psalm 31: 5 proclaims, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” NIV.  Jesus gasped out these very words from the cross (Luke 23:46). And Stephen who was martyred likewise committed his spirit to Jesus.

I’m asking myself, “Maria, how would your life change if you gave back each day to the Lord, leaving it for him to do what he has planned.  Paul mentions, ‘not counting his life dear’ (Acts 20:24).

I’m not ‘there’ yet.  But thinking about the persecuted church, and especially Afghani brothers and sisters right now, challenges me.  And that is good.

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Matthew 16:25 NLT

The pattern of spiritual attacks

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As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6-7 NLT

Almost 20 years passed before I recognized Satan’s spiritual attacks. Of course, I had heard of spiritual warfare and read Ephesians 6 multiple times, and I could see Satan’s hand in life’s suffering.  But a new awakening to spiritual reality took place half way through the most severe religious persecution I had ever experienced.

As soon as I arrived at Carolina Day School in Asheville, North Carolina, the harassment started.  Middle school parents believed stories their children, my French students, passed on, about how I was ‘proselytizing’, how I (an evangelical) crossed myself during class, as do Catholics.  I fervently sought other jobs, clamoring to get out of there, but God kept me at this school.  It was awful.

Cousin Terry gave me a promise to cling to:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

I asserted that fact over and over, many times in a day as I walked to the copy room or bathroom.

I understood external suffering from outside, but I had never been conscious of the dark world’s incursions into my thought life.  I had always assumed that I was she who gave birth to discouraging notions and feelings. They were products of my mind, or so I had always reasoned.

But half way through my tenure at this school, about six years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to a new facet of spiritual reality.  I was about to travel with other teachers to a conference.  Very demoralized about my French teaching and how students and parents reacted, I didn’t want to go.  Two nights before our departure, I experienced what I’ve heard termed, ‘the dark night of the soul’.

My despair over teaching spread to every part of my life.  Not only did I not think I could or should continue teaching, I saw myself as incapable of being Mike’s wife, of being a grandmother, of continuing to manage our week-to-week finances, even of preparing meals.  So convinced that these changes were true, I awoke feeling unable to carry on with my life. Not suicidal, but in total despair and without hope. Someone or something had flushed my normal enthusiasm down the drain

I don’t know the exact moment God draw back the curtain, but it was later that same day. Suddenly, I knew!  These weren’t my thoughts; they belonged to the devil!!!  Relief flooded my mind and heart.  As fresh energy for life flowed back in, I felt strengthened and enthusiastic once more.

I partook of the conference and even acquired some new ways of engaging students.  I returned to my classroom, feeling ready to carry on.  Praise be to God.

That event and what God taught me propelled me on to enjoying the best three (and final) years of my French classroom career.

Five and half years later, I still experience AND recognize occasional attacks.  But not always do I identify their source.  I still have fallen for the lie that they are MY thoughts and feelings.

The other night turned out differently.  After at least two hours of sleeplessness around what I affectionately call “pee o’clock”, I fell into a nightmare.  Just before the alarm sounded, I was praying in my dream, “Help me! I am under spiritual attack!”

Fifteen minutes later, although tired, I eagerly sat down with coffee, Bible and my journal at hand. As I had been feeding the cats and making the coffee, I quickly recognized what had occurred. With the dream still fresh, I replayed my fearful, desperate cry for rescue against this enemy.

As I started to write about this, God took me in a different direction, his application surprising me. I had spent part of my awake time, worrying about all the self-assigned tasks for the coming week and my desire to have more ‘Maria time’. What God brought to mind turned out to be a picture of my prevailing sin as a bed of smoldering coals.

I hoard time for Maria, and am aware of this top manifestation of my sinful selfishness. Suddenly, I pictured Satan blowing on these coals of ‘Not enough time for Maria’.  Small flames of discouragement had flamed into strong fire during my awake worry time.

What is interesting is that over the past couple of months, I have actually relaxed more about ‘time’, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. More and more, I have let go of the need to get stuff done.

Thanks be to God, I saw my nightmare for what is is, a desperate dark ploy to keep me tied to Satan’s lie.

I immediately dumped cold water, dousing those roused embers. And Satan fled.

Then I wrote in my journal a version of Paul’s account of his take-away in God’s Holiness School.

Paul wrote:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

I composed this:

I have learned to be more content each day.  I know what it is to have little time and what it is to have plenty.  I am practicing the secret of being content in either case, whether I have ‘too much’ to do or the day looks wide open.  I can trust Jesus to provide just what I need for what he has pre-planned for me to do.

In other words, it’s okay to be weak, to be needy, to not have enough time.  As a needy little child, I can safely trust my Father to give me what I need. I’m not wise enough to know about the day ahead.  But he is!

Let’s love well and enjoy safety

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Since today is Valentine’s Day here in America, let’s focus on God’s command to love one another.  I’ve always known that being well loved is a gift, but this week I saw how practicing love toward others is also a gift. I’m beginning to think that loving others well, something that often includes ‘bearing’ or helping to carry another’s burden, is a kind of protection against one’s own fear and churn.  It’s been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. So, to fight fear we need to focus on love.  God’s love for us and ours for others.

My second offering to you today is a slim example of why ‘not worrying’ when we can trust Jesus is such a relief.

May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow….. may He make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy….1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

February is ‘Heart Health Month’. We all know that proper nutrition and lots of cardio benefit our hearts.  But God also has a sure remedy to strengthen our hearts.  That is to practice loving one another each day.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it!  Just how can loving others improve my heart condition?  Because it means copying Jesus’ interactions.

Practicing this love thing can be painful at times.  Especially since the logical place to ‘train’ my heart is with my family.

I don’t have to tell you how challenging that is.  To treat someone the way Jesus would involves humility, patience, gentleness and keeping my mouth shut when tempted to blurt out a barb.

I don’t work in an office anymore, but if my family doesn’t provide enough ‘exercise’, there’s always my church family. 

God’s ‘School of Love’ provides one long continuing education program meant to condition the heart.

February 10

….do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 ESV

We don’t have to be ‘preppers’. Mike and I used to live in Western North Carolina. We occasionally heard tales of locals stockpiling food and supplies in case of future invasion or calamity.

Jesus is an anti-prepper. He teaches that when believers are dragged in front of government officials hostile to the gospel, we don’t have to plan what to say.  The Holy Spirit will speak give us the appropriate words.

Then in verse 23 when describing the end times, Jesus again does not counsel packing food or clothes, but simply commands: But be on guard.  The Greek verb ‘blepo’ means ‘to pay attention, to understand the times’.

What a relief to know we don’t have to worry, to be anxious, to make contingency plans!  How would we prepare anyway? Too many eventualities to think about. Jesus presence is enough.

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