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.

Who’s carrying your burdens?

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Give your burdens to the LORD…..Psalm 55:22 NLT

I met with my counselor on Tuesday this week. We explored why I’m still struggling to decide whether I continue an endeavor or cut it off.  I’ve been ‘wishing and washing’ for more than two years, not able to make up my mind.

When I started my YouTube channel, English without Fear, in March 2018, my goal was to replace my classroom teaching salary through providing compelling, intermediate-level English stories that could benefit both English-language learners and teachers. I produced videos and materials for free to build a following, hoping eventually to convert some of them into paying clients

When the Lord suddenly moved Mike and me to Huntsville, I left my classroom job teaching French.  Due to Mike’s salary, there was no longer a need for me to work.  My purpose for having started this YouTube channel and website evaporated. I kept it up, however, out of a sense of pride for having begun it and for the identity it gave me. I also viewed it as a type of voluntary contribution to the language acquisition community. But my feelings toward it vacillated.

At the end of my counseling session, Teresa challenged me to pray in a way that had never crossed my mind.  She suggested I ask the Lord, ‘What would YOU have me do with my life, since you have planted me here in Huntsville?’ That’s a much broader, open question. It actually excited me.  Maybe there’s a new adventure God would have me take up, something I’ve never imagined, but one that he has been preparing me for all along. Up until now, I’ve only prayed for wisdom about continuing to invest time and energy in this ESL tool I started back in North Carolina.

Recently, God reminded me of the verse at the beginning of this post.  Hence, I’ve been thinking of Sherpa guides. I can imagine climbing a perilous Himalayan peak, tightly tied to my guide.  Using only climbing poles, my back is weight free. If the ascent challenges me, my guide takes the lead. Other times, I walk beside him, securely attached to my moving stronghold.

Isn’t that a picture of how our Christian life is to be? No anxiety should burden us if we keep casting each one on our guide, the Holy Spirit. Paul picks up this reality in his letter to the Philippians. Because the Lord is near, we are privileged to keep handing over all worries.

Wouldn’t it be a stupid sight to behold, a mountain climber loaded down with all his heavy baggage and struggling to keep up with the Sherpa guide who burden free hiked along?

Yesterday morning when I journaled, I wrote to Jesus, asking him to show me what he wants me to do here in Huntsville. I asked him specifically, ‘What do YOU say about…?’ and I listed all the ‘chosen’ activities I do during the week.  Then at the gym, the Holy Spirit brought to mind James’ advice:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. James 1:5-6 NLT

I thanked the Lord for this promise and reminded myself that if I trust him to provide wisdom, to respond to my prayer, then I don’t need to keep thinking and deliberating.  Especially if he truly is my divine Sherpa guide on whom I have off-loaded this issue that has perturbed me on and off for 2 years!

I’m excited to see where he is leading me, what he is going to open up for me. If I count on him to keep being God and to continue his faithful pattern of how he cares for his chosen sheep, then I can rest in his promised provision of wisdom and insight.

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!

How to face false reality

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What do we do when Satan projects false, fearful future scenes that we can’t eliminate from our racing minds?  The only antidote is right thinking about who God is and His promised supplies for whatever confronts us.  Here are two of my recent ‘daily devotional bites’ as I call them.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV

J.I. Packer in A Quest for Godliness writes how God protects us, “often allowing one evil to touch our lives in order thereby to shield us from greater evils.”

So, what do we do when we FEAR ‘lesser evils’ with their potential pain?

Two of my friends struggle with fear of something bad happening to family members. Familiar with that favorite weapon of Satan, I turned to Paul’s example for help.  Transparently, he models how to face potential dangers and evils.

He learned to think correctly about God. Hardships taught him that God’s ‘dynamis’ (power, abundance, influence, resources) and His grace are always more than ENOUGH to enable one to bear pain, not asking for its removal.  He describes how this divine power and grace take possession of and live within believers.  For God has given a perpetual supply of supernatural help to all His children.

Let’s turn our backs on fear.

**

for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. 2 Cor 12:10 Berean Study Bible

Yesterday, I talked about how to handle fears of potential evil and suffering.  That each time Satan predicts false future realities, we need to remind ourselves that God’s power and grace are enough.

For decades Paul practiced this kind of thinking until he had ‘LEARNED to be content’, to delight in hardships (Philippians 4:11)

Content or to delight in are the same Greek verb, ‘eudokeo’. Other meanings are: to be ready, favorably inclined, of good courage, and willing. When God announces that He is ‘well-pleased’ with His Son, Jesus, He uses the same verb.

For Paul, what was the happy outcome?  What did he learn? He grew skilled in transforming a dread or fear picture (nurtured by Satan) into a cause for rejoicing. He knew that strength was coupled with any future hardship.  Thus, he rested easy in his mind.

Brothers and sisters, let’s practice this way of thinking as well!

Is God behind all this global suffering?

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News agencies world wide report droughts, floods, murders, homelessness, job loss, disease and more.

Christian organizations such as Open Doors post pleas for prayer:

  • Unprotected, Christians murdered in Nigeria
  • West Africans suffering from Fulani, sickness and little food
  • Locusts in East Africa destroy crops
  • Daily assaults on Christians in Asian country

Is all this suffering from God’s hand?

I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the true word of God. I thus accept as fact what God teaches, that nothing happens outside His sovereign will. (some thoughts about ‘two wills’ of God)

Isaiah 46:9-10  I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

I am thinking, thinking a lot these days and reasoning from what I know, from what God says in His Word. He doesn’t answer all my questions, but there is enough truth for me to ponder and think clearly.  He expects me, as one of His, to apply my mind. ‘Think on these things’, Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8.

I know that all that has befallen me in my 6 decades: the bad, the painful, the shameful, the sicknesses, the sin, the blessings, the rescues, the deliverances, the joys, the ‘pleasants’….all have been planned for my good, to bring me to Jesus (rescuing me from the right judgement of my guilt and fair eternal penalty) and to make me holy like Him.  If God is God and if He is good, wise, all-powerful, faithful and loving, then He has good reason, good purposes for what He does.  Whether I see His reasons. Whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t struggle with that anymore IN MY OWN LIFE. 

But recently I’ve been thinking those who are REALLY suffering in the world, in what we call the 3rd-world areas. (Is there a ‘second-world’ label??)

My pain and struggles have been those of an advantaged American born in the second half of the 20th century.  Past and present – far more people have been and are overcome by poverty, hopelessness, violence, hunger, sickness, disastrous weather and terrorism.  Does God work all those imagination-defying ‘awfuls’ to bring SOME to Christ and make THEM more like Jesus? Are these conditions His tailored will for their lives, just as my circumstances are for me?

That is what I have been wondering.  And it’s a new idea for me.

Not for a moment do I think this is merely an intellectual exercise, that God intends for me just to ponder logically when I read of 3rd-world suffering.   Why not? Because all through the Bible, God’s people are commanded to take care of and provide for the down-and-out in our reach.

  • Deut 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.

In just the week that this topic has been on my mind, my conclusion is that somehow, in God’s wisdom, those who are His, those whom He is calling from each people group, He has placed in the designed location, time and circumstances best suited for their hearing and responding to the Gospel.  No, He doesn’t condone violence and oppression of the poor. But He does ordain what is at the ‘moment’ an evil for a greater good since He KNOWS has PLANNED and will bring about the eventual outcome. All through the Bible we read that His hand is behind droughts (think Naomi and Ruth), slavery (Joseph to Egypt) leprosy (Naaman), murder plots (Esther and the Jews), imprisonment (Paul and the Philippian jailor).

I choose to hold fast to what I know is true about our God.  I have learned that He is trustworthy.  I don’t have to understand or see His reasons to accept that what breaks my heart will one day be the cause of my praise for the resulting beauty of his Grace revealed.

In the meantime, may He keep my heart soft both to call on Him for justice and relief and to be part of His provision.

When God doesn’t answer

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Are you waiting for God to show you what to do? Who among us is not living with uncertainty or facing an impending decision?

One of my daughters-in-law is considering ‘officially’ homeschooling her 3 kids in the fall when the new school year begins.  Currently supervising and experiencing poor on-line assignments planned by classroom teachers has prompted her to provide alternative educational activities that enrich and suit each of the three children. The kids have settled in nicely to the new content and its rhythm.  All should be tranquil, right?

Unfortunately, at times, like we all do, she falls into churning about the future, details swirling unsettled in her mind. No peace and no answers, yet!

I’m experiencing similar quandaries:  what should I do about the English without Fear videos I create? Continue, produce fewer, abandon?  And what’s with my Spanish experience?  Daily I work on my own language acquisition. Beginning Spanish lessons for my grandkids via Zoom continue. But, but….what does God have in mind for me, ultimately?

Even though I KNOW that there is a time for everything, even though I KNOW that no one is forcing me to decide the future of my English and Spanish activities, I find myself indulging in analyzing pros and cons of how I spend the time God allots me.

Aren’t we two gals a microcosm of the world, both now during Covid19 times and in the past.

Reading Psalm 77 (NLT) this morning showed me a better way to face all our unknowns and handle decisions.  The psalmist Asaph is in a bad way.  He needs God for some dire situation:

  • I cry out to God; yes, I shout – v 1
  • I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help – v 3
  • I’m too distressed even to pray – v 4b
  • Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? – v 7
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? – v 8

No answer.  God is silent.

But Asaph doesn’t give up. Nor does he continue to stress himself out with: What about this, what about that? What shall I do, especially since God doesn’t answer me?!!!!!

Through the Holy Spirit, God mercifully prompts Asaph to start thinking about all the ways God has come through for him in the past:

  • But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. – v 11
  • They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. – v 12

And off he goes.  Asaph never returns to his issues, his problems and the decisions he needs to make.

You know what this sounds like?  It’s just what Paul tells us WE should do in Philippians 4: 4-8.

In encouraging the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul assumes they all have problems and decisions to make that could weigh them down with anxiety. After reminding them to name what they are glad about in Jesus who is near them, he says:  openly present all your needs to God, thanking him for his care.

Notice that Paul does NOT explicitly say: ‘God will immediately give you the answers and resources you need.’

I think Paul would say if you asked him: “But what about…..?”:

  • ‘But of course, God will provide. But until he does, his immediate answer and gift to you is supernatural, unworldly peace. Not a peace based on answers for your particular situation.’

Yet, Paul does not leave them to fight deep groove of worry.  He offers a practical way to PROTECT these anxious, weak and struggling Christians.  Paul commands them to shift their thoughts to all that is TRUE, NOBLE, RIGHT, PURE, LOVELY, ADMIRABLE, EXCELLENT and PRAISE-WORTHY.

Isn’t that what the psalmist Asaph shows us by switching his wakeful thoughts to God’s past actions?

Psalm 77 is great because we don’t know the dire circumstances burdening his life.  Therefore, we’re free to adapt it to our own peculiar churn and inner distress.

I admit though, that this is hard for me to do!  I seem to prefer the familiarity of worry even though I know it harms me.  Shifting my thoughts takes an act of the will.  I have to turn my back on temptation, pray for help and set my mind to reflect on all the ways God has come through for me and my family in the past.

Yes, I still don’t know about my ‘future when it comes to teaching English and Spanish.  My daughter-in-law doesn’t have answers TODAY about homeschooling in the fall.  But we don’t have to be slaves to our as-of-yet unmet needs.  We have a good Father who doesn’t change. He’ll provide wisdom when it’s time. We can’t imagine or picture WHAT new information he’ll send our way, at the RIGHT time, that time when we SHOULD choose a course of action.

For now, for today, I want to remember that my Father’s will for me is a peace that goes beyond having answers and information.

Power to obey Jesus

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What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

What do you do with 30 seconds?

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Six of us sat at the table Wednesday night at church.  As those gathered to pray together, we had broken off into small groups.  One by one we shared what was weighing us down, what we were desperate to hand over to God through the prayers of our sisters.

One gal asked us to pray that she would put to better use those small pockets of time in her day. Her default response to 30 seconds here and 2 minutes there has been to pull out her phone and check social media while she is waiting – whether in line at the grocery store, or for the light to turn green.  She confessed to knowing full well that exchanging the ‘free’ moments for scanning her social media go-to spots does not give her LIFE!

This confession could have been all of ours’; in fact it is!  Who doesn’t turn to her phone for a quick dopamine hit? I know I do.

Our sister already knew a better use of those moments.  She suggested that she could read Scripture (also on her phone) and/or pray. Both options would clear her mind of fluff, re-center her and give her something edifying to share with the next person she meets.

We prayed. For her and for us.

That was Wednesday.  Yesterday, Saturday, Mike and I headed out in the car for some errands. As we were driving to the first place, I told Mike about our Wednesday night praying for redeeming those fleeting free moments. I mentioned that as an addicted feed-scroller, I prayed that for me as well.

Mike pulled in to his barbershop.  I stayed in the car while he dashed in to make an appointment for later in the week.  Without thinking, I pulled out my phone to check……..Instagram!

But the next second, before I could tap on the icon, my Friend and Counselor, the Holy Spirit said, “Wait a minute, what were you just telling Mike?”

Convicted! How quickly I had forgotten.

Thanks to God’s timely reminder, I put down my phone and picked up with a strategy to think about God.  I used the alphabet to enumerate some of the gifts He has already given me:

A – You made me ABLE to hear and believe your Word.

B – Your presence is always BESIDE me, BEFORE me, BEHIND me, and BETWEEN me and danger.

C – You CHOSE me before you created the heavens or the earth.

D – You are bearing my burdens this DAY.

E – You have EQUIPPED me for today’s duties.

F – You gave me saving FAITH to trust you and your word.

I think I reached the letter J by the time Mike returned to the car.

Using this alphabet structure to enumerate some of God’s gifts to me is easy.  Another use would be to name an attribute or quality of God for each letter. Or maybe using the letters to pray for a friend. A for Anne.

What was the result of how I spent these 3 minutes?  I felt calmer, cleaner, more relaxed. And I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this use of the time pleased my Father.

Do you have a way of thinking about God and His Word that is your practiced default for those sleepless periods in the night or the ‘in-between’ moments of the day?  Share with us.  And may the Lord be pleased and glorified by our thoughts.

Phil 4:8 (NLT) And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

 

 

One of God’s gifts I was ignoring

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For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Driving my granddaughters to school through Tampa rush-hour traffic this week has made me extra cautious.  Plus, I’m driving my son’s new car and I don’t want to damage it. En route to school yesterday morning, my speed just happened to be under the 70 mph limit on Interstate 275-S where the traffic was flowing before all the congestion hit. As a police car passed me on the left, I remarked to 10-year-old Chloe, “Obedience brings blessings.  You don’t have to worry about being pulled over if you obey the speed limit!”

I didn’t share the REAL reason I was traveling a bit slower.  It had nothing to do with avoiding a ticket and unnecessary stress. Nevertheless, I put in a general plug for obeying God.  The REAL reason to heed this traffic law is that I’ve been thinking differently about obeying God in the past 2 days. I’m starting to wonder that maybe our Father’s commands are actually a GIFT, a BLESSING, as opposed to a restriction God has imposed.

As I grow older and my cohort of friends is  aging; as I have grown children in their 30s with their own children; as the Holy Spirit shaves off some of my self-centeredness, sensitizing me to the pain and suffering of those around me, I find myself caring and praying A LOT.

But as God has grown my desire to pray for more people, a concomitant self-imposed burden has emerged.

Years in Bible Study Fellowship back in Virginia taught me to pray for specific needs in a way that is measurable.  Instead of asking God to ‘bless John’s work’, I’ve learned to detail just what John’s tangible need is and name it, asking God’s help WITH the ‘it’.

My prayers now look like this: Father, please guide John to soften his tone with his co-workers so that they and he cooperate better and carry out the assigned task at hand.

Why all the detail?  So, I can know when God comes through and then have the specifics to thank Him!

What then is the burden?  Just that I have fallen into thinking that if I don’t pray specifically WITH all the pertinent details, then my prayer is less effective.

I know what you’re thinking!  Am I not forgetting the comforting promise about the Holy Spirit’s help?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Now that I have given you background, I want to share how marvelously the Spirit came to my rescue yesterday!  There’s a situation in our life that feels complex and overwhelming. Monday evening our granddaughters were in dance class.  While I waited for them Mike and I chatted briefly. He shared a setback over the phone.  After we hung up, a wave of dismay rolled over me as I tried to place this news into the context of God’s promises.

Thank you, Father, for the time TO think, to know where to hang this new piece of data according to what is TRUE about You!

Here is what the Lord did. He gave me insight having to do with obedience!

My obedience is not something I think about much. But on this occasion the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ many teachings NOT to worry.  The Spirit then brought​ to mind​ divine commands​ penned ​by Paul & Pete​​r​,​ reenforce​ing the Lord’s lessons::

Cast ALL your cares on Him, for He cares for you! 1 Peter 5:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Here then is how my mind worked to bring me back out of this tight spot after hearing Mike’s report.

“Oh, I am supposed to OBEY my heavenly Father.  And He tells me to hand over every single care TO Him. What a relief!  Here you go, dear Father, take this new development in this season of painful suffering and do what is best.  Amen”

Simple and easy.  I picked up my Kindle book, reading while I waited for the girls to finish. Each time my mind drifted back to the dark, tight spot it’s like I shook it off and reminded myself: “My Father is handling this.  I am to obey Him and leave it in His hands.”

The night that followed, I woke up a couple of times to gray mist seeping into my thoughts. But by the power and reminder from God’s Spirit, I quickly swept them away with this assertion: “I’m obeying my Father, so I am not going to think about IT!”

Just as with any new habit, this change in reflex will take practice over time.

But already, I FEEL the lightness. The bottom line is that I am to obey my Father. Yes, I will continue to pray daily with thanksgiving. Once. And then obey Him by leaving the matter with Him.​

I wonder what other commands our Father has given that might actually be blessings!

 

Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 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.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

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