Goals – do I set any? or what!

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Part of my family is entrepreneurial.  My son and his wife run on-line businesses.

Recently during Thanksgiving Shay, my daughter-in-law mentioned that as soon as they returned to Tampa she would be heading off for her annual 24-hour-away solo planning meeting to evaluate the year, set business goals, and create strategies for working toward those sales and growth targets.

No matter which industry you’re in (I taught secondary school French for years), planning is essential.  You can’t just wing a project and expect the same kind of outcome that is attainable through measured steps.

Since October, I’ve been searching for a Biblical goal, a Jesus-centered capital-G goal for my life (or this next year), one that transcends the narrower aspirations such as building more muscle mass, acquiring proficiency in Spanish, spending less time on my phone/with my laptop, eliminating rushing.

What drives my desire for ONE Holy-Spirit-powered goal?  Chronic anxiety, occasional feelings of being unsettled or splintered, and a struggle to hand over fears.

I’ve been trying on different goals for size.  Such as:

  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal 5:6b)
  • Breath mantras about God like: “His good, my peace”
  • Creating a habit of noticing beautiful aspects of life and creation and thanking God at the moment.

Monday of this week, I finally confessed to Mike all my anxieties ‘du jour’ and asked him to pray for me.  It was cyber Monday, and with Christmas approaching I was feeling VERY scattered, like Martha running around the house, as she attempted to multi-task her way through the day.

Then Tuesday morning, during my quiet time the Holy Spirit dropped THIS thought into my heart:

  • Since I am going to be spending the majority of my life (read: forever!) in heaven with the Triune God of the universe….
  • Since I am IN FACT an adopted daughter of the Father as well as Jesus’ little sister……

…should I not be PRACTICING MY ROLE, MY LINES for living eternally right now?  After all, in one sense, I already AM ‘above. It’s not like I need to pretend some thing that isn’t true. For we read in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae:

Colossians 3:1 Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus’ little sister!  This thought captivated me. Yes, I AM His sister.  Then came the empowering breath of the Spirit:  “Well, Maria, if you ARE Jesus’ little sister, how about starting to ACT like who you already are!”

There it was – my goal. So simple. It claimed me.  Immediately and at various times yesterday AND today, I have been reminding myself:  ‘You’re Jesus’ little sister.  So, act like it Maria!’ That prompt is all I have needed to send the anxieties running.

How have I translated my eternal identity into concrete living?  For one, I immediately have taken a deep breath and relaxed.  Jesus never rushed. I certainly won’t be rushing in heaven. Might as well start practicing moving at HIS pace now, on earth.

The corollary to NOT rushing is taking time to be with the people I encounter during the day.  Yesterday that looked like: noticing and engaging gently with an impatient man in the grocery check-out line ahead of me at Kroger.  Today, it was sitting in my car for 30 minutes chatting with a friend after we picked out granite for our new house.

All I seem to need to pull back from stress is to say out loud to myself,  “I’m Jesus’ little sister.” And Holy Spirit calm settles on me.  Then I look up to see whom I might encounter.

The cool thing is that yesterday at lunch time Mike texted me writing that he had just prayed again for me to feel less scattered.  I rejoiced to share with him how the Lord had used his prayer for me.  Then I reminded him that he also is Jesus’ younger brother.

Does God care about the little things?

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“Oh, He is too busy running the world to care about this little issue of mine!”

Have you ever been politely put off by someone pretending to be humble?

Here’s the Truth – our God LOVES to take care of ALL our issues, cares, problems, burdens.  “Cast ALL of your cares on Him, for He cares for you!”  1 Peter 5:7

I’ll tell you a story about one of those ‘little things’ that my Father took care of yesterday and the bigger take-away.

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  We’re living in a rental house with a small frig. Family arrive next week to share the holiday.  I had been fretting on my inability to do any food prep and baking ahead of time due to the size of our freezer section.  Mike to rescue! He seconded my suggestion about buying a chest freezer NOW (instead of waiting until we move into our new house).  Relief!

Home Depot here in Huntsville had a sale. The freezer fit in the back of the Subaru. Mike set it up and turned it on. Monday, I happily purchased the $40 frozen organic turkey, along with some wild-caught Sockeye on sale, also frozen.  Placed them and some bacon in the new freezer.

But the next morning after working out in the garage, Mike reported that the turkey felt soft when he checked it.  Oh, no!  It had been solid as a rock when I purchased it the day before.  My mind flashed to all the rigamarole it would cause us, especially Mike, to have to load the freezer in the car, take it BACK to Home Depot…..et cetera. And when would he have the time to do that?

By God’s grace, I knew immediately what to do:  I handed the entire mess over to the Lord.

“Father, you tell us to cast ALL our burdens on you.  Handle this, please. You know I just spent a bunch of money and that I need a freezer. And how I had planned to do some baking this afternoon.  Help!”

Finishing my quiet time, I bundled up for my walk and prayed on and off during the 30 minutes. I continued to have a steady confidence that this was one of those tests and that the Lord would come through.  Entering the house, I hung up my jacket and took out my phone.  Following Nehemiah’s example, I formulated another quick prayer as I punched in the number for Home Depot, asking God that the manager would be in the store this early (8 am).

He was!  But first I had to go through customer service.  I really hadn’t wanted to explain the situation to the gal on phone duty, but she asked before connecting me to the manager.  Her empathetic response reassured me, “Oh, how awful! Of course, I’ll put you through right away to Drew.”

Drew grasped my situation immediately.  Asking a few questions, he assured me that he would send a replacement over as soon as possible.  By 9 am, I had a new freezer humming in the garage.  And praise be to the Lord!  Per Google, my turkey which had been kept cool over the past 18 hours but not frozen in the defective appliance, could be safely refrozen, if within 3 days.

With joy, I texted Mike to share the good news of how quickly God had worked. Furthermore, by 3 pm I had placed one baked item in my new and fully functioning freezer.

What about that corollary or bigger take-away from this on-time grace?

It’s this:  like all of you, Mike and I have a BIG need that we have committed to God.  We pray every day, asking for a resolution as well as the strength to endure and trust him in the meantime.  And our Father has seen fit to tarry.  Frankly, some days it’s a real struggle to hold on by faith to his promises as well as to remind ourselves of all his past answers.  We intentionally rehearse his goodness as we read about him in his Word and see hourly and daily evidence of his love.

So, in his very rapid handling of our freezer problem, I see reassurance from a loving and kind Father that he really does care about us. Through this quick supply of grace, it is as though he is reassuring us that he IS indeed at work in our big need. But that in his perfect wisdom, he has planned a wait.  So, we await HIS timing and continue to pray.  But not frantically, not desperately.

Oh, by the way, the next time someone thinks to put me off with a quip about God having more important things to do than handle a problem like a defective freezer, I’ll confidently say:

The one and only true, living and loving God cares about ALL that concerns me, AND you, AND the nations at war, AND the environment, etc. And compared to his GREATNESS, and from his point of view, all these problems are little items!

Is Jesus enough for me?

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Elkanah had it right!  Do you remember his question to his wife, the wife he loved most, the wife who was barren? This was the childless wife, Hannah, who wanted to have children of her own.   The OTHER wife, the fertile one, ‘her rival’ as the text renders it, used to taunt her sister wife about her lack of kids.

One year, when the entire family made their annual trek to Shiloh to sacrifice and worship to the Lord, Elkanah addressed Hannah’s sadness and said:

……“Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons? 1 Sam 1:8

We women often smirk at Elkanah’s remark, belittling him for his apparent oblivion of Hannah’s desire to be a mom.  Justifying our reaction we also point to the heightened value of children in that culture and concomitant stigma assigned to those unable to bring forth life.

I thought of Elkanah this morning when I lingered over Charles Spurgeon’s morning encouragement:  Spurgeon’s am thoughts – 27 April 2019

Specifically, he writes about God:

  • He can supply you with all, or, better still, he can be to you instead of all.

When I read that, I stopped and immediately thought of Hannah’s husband and his response to her sadness. Could it be that Elkanah is a type, pointing to Jesus, not only the provision-supplier but THE provision Himself?

Convicted, I suddenly saw how I tend to go to Jesus more for what He can give me, rather than simply for Himself as my satisfaction.  That is to say,  I go to Jesus to get ‘bread’ – my specific stuff that I ‘need’. Recently those needs have centered around:

  • guidance about how to live as a newly un-employed woman, sprung from a life of hustle and rush
  • direction about what to do with my English language videos I’m producing since I don’t ‘have’ to make money now
  • help and encouragement for family members and friends who struggle with suffering, fears and doubts

But this is a new thought. Maybe Spurgeon and Elkanah are saying: Yes, for sure go to the Provider for what you need. Always.  But don’t stop there. Think bigger! Ask for what lasts, for you and for those whose needs you lift up.

Could it be that our various necessities have an expiration date, that they won’t EVER be enough, lastingly?

That, the temporary provision is going to have to be replaced with still more short-term supply, ad infinitum?

That Jesus offers not just the daily, hourly particular nuggets of grace, but Himself, the Bread, the Water, the Light, the Life that really satisfies?

These are new thoughts.

Maybe we really CAN trust Jesus when He says: Seek primarily, most of all, before anything else, the Kingdom of God and my righteousness. (Matt 6:33)

For then, THROUGH Him, IN Him, BY MEANS of HIM we can see how to think about everything else.

Elkanah was speaking more truth than I ever have given him credit.  I’m going to put his name on my list of people I want to meet in heaven.

 

Achsah’s wisdom toward her husband and confidence in her father – a model for us

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Joshua 15: 16-19

Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.  When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?”  She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.

Achsah is one confident daughter.  She knows what is necessary for a secure future with her new husband Othniel – land with easy access to water.  She knows who can provide, her dad!

Here are the facts leading up to her in-person request of her good father, Caleb:

  • Caleb offers Achsah, his daughter, to the man who subdues and occupies a certain town.  This city is located in the midst of the territory Joshua gave Caleb in recognition for Caleb’s decades of faithful service.
  • Othniel (Israel’s first and future judge-to-be after Joshua’s death) steps forward and handles the challenge, winning the hand of Caleb’s daughter.
  • Achsah is wise and ‘suggests’ to her husband that he ask his new father-in-law for a field.
  • We draw the implicit conclusion that Othniel accepts his wife’s suggestion and goes to Caleb with the request.  Apparently Caleb deeds over some land.
  • We learn a few verses down that the land Caleb gives his son-in-law is actually desert (‘land of the Negeb’)
  • Finally we read that Achsah saddles a donkey and pays her father a visit.

Now let’s look at the dialogue between father and daughter.  Caleb is direct.  As soon as she dismounts, he asks:  What do you want?  Achsah doesn’t mince words: Give me a blessing.

She then requests springs to water the land Dad has given them.  Employing the language of ‘blessing’, she humbly communicates that she doesn’t DESERVE what she wants, but that it would be GIFT.

She spells out just what kind of ‘blessing’ she has in mind.  She and Othniel will need access to life-giving water if they are to farm successfully and support their family and servants.

The good father immediately complies and gives her TWO springs, the upper and the lower springs. Achsah did not specify just what kind of springs they needed.  She left it to her dad to decide what was best.

Achsah’s confidence in her father impressed me.  When her husband comes back with the news that Dad had given them a parcel from the Negeb, Achsah doesn’t grumble.  Nor does she berate her husband (“Why did you settle for THAT kind of lot, you dummy.  It’s desert!”)

She saddles up and goes to Caleb, trusting in his fatherly goodness and generosity.  And Caleb satisfies her request.  He indeed blesses her with ownership of the entire springs, not just one spring.

This example of a wise young wife and faithful daughter shows me both how to act toward Mike, my husband whom God has called to lead our family and toward my good Father who owns ALL.

Husbands respond positively to gentle suggestions.  They appreciate wise and gentle counsel from their wives.

Fathers love to give good gifts to their children.  Our Father in heaven, of whom Caleb is a shadow and a type, is always ready to respond profusely to His kids’ needs and requests.

Lesson? Let us approach our Father in heaven with confidence since Jesus has done the hard job to rescue us, His rebellious children, from well-deserved eternal judgment.  May it NOT be said of us that ‘we have not because we ask not’.

Do you know anyone who has named her daughter Achsah?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Lessons from the Shadowy Valley

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Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:4-9 (NIV)

Mike and I are beginning to come out of a LONG trek through the wilderness, a journey without much light or clear vision. For the past 4-5 years, Mike has felt stymied in finding enough satisfying, suitable and value-adding work.  His original business plan when we moved to western North Carolina in the summer of 2013 aborted.  Another enterprise got off to a good start and then stalled one year later.  The door that God DID keep open these years of desert wandering has been as the tech reporter for World News Group.  But the work, as God-glorifying and useful as it was, left him with unexercised analytical skills and isolated from incarnational, face-face-face community. He grew depressed and increasingly beset by some irrational fears.

But thanks be to God, who provided a good biblical counselor and subsequent understanding and clarity to both of us.  The result? We are leaving western North Carolina shortly, something neither of us envisioned when we moved to these beautiful mountains.  But our good Shepherd, our constant guide and driver along the meandering ‘straight’ path He calls ‘good’ (see underlined verse above), has brought us within sight of a new city where we can settle.  The next God adventure awaits.

What have we learned in this God-appointed long trial and trek in the Valley?

  1. God gets our attention in adversity.  Neediness forced us to plow beneath the surface of His Word, unearthing treasure.  We grew hungrier for our daily reading through the Bible, year after year. We each started writing down in a notebook what we noticed in our readings and then sharing them at ‘Happy Hour’, while I was fixing dinner.  Discussing each other’s observations, unanswered questions and insights drove Scripture further into our hearts.  We now know experientially that man does not live by temporary food and comfort-providing stuff, (those good gifts God provides that come with the potential to become what we most value), but by God’s living Word.
  2. We each individually battled daily temptations to WORRY and FEAR.  We still do, but we have grown quicker to repent and remind ourselves of the Truth about who God is and what He says in the Bible.
  3. We practiced enunciating specific, measurable God-requests.  So many people prayed for us on and off these past 5+ years.  When you ask others to lift up your needs before God, you have to articulate well just what you do need.  Why? So you can recognize God’s provision when it comes and so you and the ‘pray-ers’ can properly THANK God for hearing and acting.
  4. Since early December 2018, we began keeping a prayer notebook.  We set it up like this: one page per day with a vertical line to make two columns:  Mike’s needs and Maria’s needs.  We each articulate and explain what is on our heart and our mind, for instance, a dreaded task to do, a burden or a fear.  I write each of them down in measurable detail.  Then we take turns praying out loud for one another.  My favorite part of this process is to look back to yesterday’s needs and see which ones God has already answered!  Then we praise our good God.
  5. A final lesson that we want to retain is this:  wilderness paths along which the Spirit leads us are prescribed by God as His good plan to conform us to His Son.  The trials are part of God’s curriculum designed to make us like more holy.  For what purpose?  to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. Eph 1:6 Berean Study Bible.  Why do we want to hold fast to and not forget this fact about struggles, this truth, this component of God’s School of Discipleship?  So the next God lessons don’t catch us by surprise or alarm us.
  6. We also want to continue this habit of daily praying together.  Not only do we see tangible documented evidence of God at work, but that sacred space with Him has provided a safe place for Mike and me to invite the other into some of the dark corners of our hearts. Our marriage benefits from that practice.

Providentially as I meditated on how to record my thoughts for you, this timely meditation by 19th-century the famous English pastor cycled through again:

Charles Spurgeon’s morning devotion for 8 March

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:22

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: he has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it.

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Vitamins and minerals against anxiety

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You will keep him in shalowm shalowm* whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3 (*Hebrew for perfect peace)

Years ago, in our 20s, Mike and I sold Amway products.  One item that we whole-heartedly promoted was their top-of-the-line vitamin and mineral supplement named Double X.  I’m not sure what the X stood for, but whatever it was, twice as much good stuff was packed into those green little shapes.  Double X was pricey, even back then. We grew accustomed to budgeting for vitamins.  Daily exogenous micronutrients still form part of the healthy way we cook and eat.

With school starting this month, I’ve engaged in the ‘good fight of faith’, pondering how to resist the temptation to worry.  For me, it’s always about ‘having enough time’ to give to those extra-curricular activities important to me like writing this blog, reading and creating my ‘English without Fear’ videos.

One of my go-to-verses to battle fear and worry is the one above from Isaiah.  Original Hebrew or Greek words always draw me in.  So, when I read that ‘perfect peace’ is really shalowm shalowm, I rejoiced!  You all know that shalowm is far more than peace and tranquility; it includes welfare, contentment, soundness, health, quiet and safety.

Who doesn’t desire all that?

So, what’s the catch?

Oh….just the habit of keeping our thoughts FIXED on God.  That’s all.

Right!

But just as the Spirit of God brought my Isaiah fighter verse to mind, so, too, he brought a devotional that same night. The author penned almost as an afterthought that for every thought we invest in regrets or excitement or discouragement concerning earthly, transitory details, we ought to commit 100 times as much of our thought life to ALL WE HAVE IN CHRIST!

I have to confess that I don’t even apportion 2 to 1 of my thoughts and emotions to what Jesus has given me!  The writer’s exhortation not only pulled me up short but has stayed with me all week long.

So how do we DO what he recommends?

One technique I’ve used in the past, occasionally, is to go through the alphabet, letter by letter, and just praise God out loud for all the words I can think of about Him.  I do this on hikes with Mike when we can go for long stretches of time without talking.

For example:

A:  Father, I’m so glad that you are always available, that you have adopted me into your forever family, that you are always the same, that you have altered my reality by giving me new life, that you adore me, that you arrange all the details of my life, that Jesus argues with the accuser that He has taken care of my sin problem.

I just point out as many things to God as I can think of beginning with that letter.  And then I move on to the next letter.  Sometimes halfway through the alphabet, I’ll add another deed or characteristic that I’ve already prayed about. No matter.

What other ways can you think of that we can think about God’s good eternal gifts to us?

Of course, I haven’t mentioned ‘the trust you’ part, but I see my praises for his deeds and attributes as ASSUMING a trust in him.

Father, may you give us your grace to rejoice and be glad in who you are and who we are because of you.  Thanks to Christ, Amen!

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