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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we desire pity from others?

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I don’t know where the thirst for others’ pity came from.  Mike and I married at 22 and started experiencing hardship, both in our marriage and with work.  I also struggled with bulimia; Mike’s demons came from insecurity about his intrinsic worth.

Marriage with another sinner revealed a lot to me about how my natural coping mechanisms, developed those first 20 years of life were unhelpful for dealing with the real world, filled with other people who didn’t cater to my personal preferences.  But I didn’t have any other tools.

By God’s grace, we heard the Gospel at age 24 and met some genuine Christ-followers over the next decade.  I grew spiritually in fits and starts as I read my Bible.  Yet, God’s perspective was not IN me.  Every disappointment, trouble, and struggle in our marriage, parenting, work or the battle with my body surprised me.  Although we both had said ‘Yes!’ to Jesus at that first altar call, Mike and I tended to be more consumed by life’s dissatisfactions than intent in growing in the knowledge of God.  Many idols competed for our energy, focus and desires and won out.

Introduced to the Christian circle of women, I soon started sharing these ‘heart-aches’ and felt the sweet rush of another’s pity and understanding.  But like any sugar high, not only did the anticipated response from another NOT satisfy, it left an after-taste in my mouth.  You would have thought I would learn and abandon this craving to find comfort in someone’s sympathy about ‘how bad I had it!’

What happened, is that manipulating to get my pity ‘hit’ became a habit.  It felt MORE real to talk about our/my suffering.  My thinking grew warped so that I didn’t even want to share with someone a morsel or current feast of good news in our lives, because that might erode their view of how ‘pity-deserving’ I was.  This was SICK!   But there was a payoff.  The attention.  And the reverse pride of being so ‘noble’ in my suffering.  I would lament in a way that showed off how much I was praying for this ‘good thing’ and how I didn’t know why God wouldn’t answer it.

Okay, fast forward several decades.  At 60 and 61 Mike and I have seen more suffering in the course of time, as has anyone who has reached this age.  With Biblical perspective, we understand more clearly God’s purposes for preparing individualized suffering modules.  He designs all his training programs for his sons and daughters, in order to grow their holiness and pry their grasping hands off of this world.  One of his goals in trials is to increase our desire for the ‘real’ world to come, the world with him.

Reflecting on the benefit of suffering to my soul, I now desire to change how I talk about it to others.  I attribute this reversal in goals (from wanting a pity-hit to wanting to glorify God) to the care and tutelage of my Friend, the Holy Spirit.

Let me use the metaphor of a sandwich.  My previous sandwich, let’s name it the Pity Sandwich, contained a condensed but probably a bit exaggerated version of a current trial, held together by Pity-Attracting sandwich bread.

It was all about me.  Designed that way.  And like gossip, others actually probably enjoyed sharing a bite from it.  A bit of Schadenfreude appeals to us all.  And for that ‘entertainment’ they were willing to pay the price of sympathy.

Where was God in all that? Nowhere.  It was all about me.

My NEW sandwich I offer to people ONLY when they ask:

Friend:  How are you doing with school, Maria? (there have been pockets of suffering in the past 5 years)

Me: Thanks for asking!  I’m still getting pushback from my administration about XYZ, but I see now how God has his reasons for leading me through this valley of darkness.  These hardships have shown me how much pride I was harboring. I’ve also learned to depend much more on Him.  And that is all good!

The surprise in all this is that THIS kind of sandwich satisfies me far more.  And it honors God. And it proclaims some truth about Him to another person.

As I was praying through my Prayermate feed on my iPhone this morning, I came across these prayerful affirmations that I copied from someone a while back.  It sums up what I want to be about:

  • Since the gospel is the startling, but thrilling, announcement of what God has done for us in Christ, something that we could never do for ourselves, even with his help, then let us meditate on that. 
  • Help us rehearse this gospel, more than our dashed hopes for earthly plans, at a ratio of 100 to 1. And to talk about THAT more than our fears or how poorly we carried out a duty. 

Father, work this response in us so that it becomes automatic, like breathing. For our joy, your glory and for the hope of the world. Because of Christ’s life and death on our behalf. Amen!

 

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