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!

The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

Spiritual attack and renewal

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Before we moved to Asheville I wasn’t aware of being under spiritual attack.  As a lover of God’s Word, I should have been!

1 Peter 5:8

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My first years at my school in Asheville his weapon of choice took the form of parental complaints to the principal. This year, he dialed up the discouragement knob.  I’ve been aware for the past 3 years that complaining, gratitude and contentment are connected. When I complain, I invite unhappiness.  So recognizing the grumbles and replacing them by cataloging blessings has been the approach I’ve PRAYED to employ. Intuitively I knew that gratitude could defend me when mildly demoralized.

The enemy turned subtle; however, the attacks intensified.  He selected a foreign language departmental meeting to resurrect a familiar conflict between those who employ a grammar-based approach to teaching and those (me) who advocate a comprehensible-input method.  I felt like giving up.  The effort to advocate for proficiency over accuracy loomed exhausting.  And I fell into low-level depression.

But God….had sovereignly scheduled a fully-funded conference for me and 7 other colleagues to attend.  Zip enthusiasm. Nada!  I was seriously contemplating giving up teaching after this year.  Two nights before my scheduled departure, the demons descended in force. Could have been just one, but it sure felt like a host of them!

The effect?  I stayed awake most of the night, feeling the energy for any of my roles drain away. Whether managing the day-to-day family budget, facilitating a monthly women’s group at church, writing blogs, or especially my job. Fear filled me and sleep was alien.

But God….revealed the next morning during my time with Him that this was a new form of spiritual attack. That startling insight alone made the difference and carried me through the day.  My resolve to FIGHT grew back.  By the next night I actually felt some enthusiasm growing for the trip.  Then insight.  I could see that God had ordained this conference IN ORDER to refresh and energize me for the next phase of life.  And in order to remind me to depend on Him.

And energize me He did.  I sought out workshops led by advocates of the comprehensible input way of teaching foreign languages. The old mojo flooded back.

That vicious and evil feline tried once more that night of conference day 1. I awoke at 2 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. He repeated his destructive sword parry the following night as well. OVER-WHELM-ING did everything loom. All the changes to shift my lesson focus back on a proficiency track seemed impossible GIVEN the obstacles I played over and over in my mind’s eye.

But God….countered with Truth.  He reminded me that if He planned this trip and allowed me to undergo the attacks to toughen me up, then He will lead me each day as I create and plan new lessons.  I don’t have to have all the answers or specifics in place for the rest of the year.  He is enough.  After all He is my ever-present Provider.  So I do what any of us must do in this world, as temporary New Creation sojourners in a yet-to-be redeemed world:

  • we walk WITH Him, hand in hand, keeping our eyes on the One who creates and sustains

Whew!  Glad I’m not in charge.

Deut 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

 

One New Year’s Resolution –

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As we approach January 1, I’m prayerfully thinking through where I am spiritually and where I want to be.

To that end, I turn again to John Piper. This 67-year old pastor and teacher is probably my # 1 hero in the faith.  He has shaped my theology the most through his sermons and writing by teaching me:

  • That no sparrow falls unless God has willed it
  • That God wants us to be glad and joy-filled

(a link to his website is to the right)   John Piper’s ministry

A brief explanation of the two points is in order:

First – the fact that God controls the details about sparrows is to say that He is sovereign over every thing that happens in the entire universe, whether invisible or visible.  And He controls all in a way that doesn’t change His nature of GOOD, HOLY, LOVING, JUST and CREATIVE God (to name only 5 of His myriad of attributes).

Second – God created us to be filled to overflowing with gladness, joy and happiness about the right things – HIM, His actions, His saving grace, His promises and His plans for us.

Being happy in God is another way of saying ‘glorifying’ God.

John Piper explains that the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s very FIRST Q and A to be:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever

 

Piper explains that since only ONE end is mentioned (not two), changing the AND to BY does not alter the meaning.

that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. 

It seems that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.  And the corollary is that our degree of satisfaction in God increases when we let others know how happy in Him we are. 

My goal, therefore, for this New Year is to practice glorifying God by enjoying Him as well as His gifts.

Obviously, this is easier said than done.  Why is that?  Because I live on a diet of junk.  Just like one’s taste for vegetables has to be nurtured and developed, so, too, must I cultivate a ‘taste’ for God-things, for holiness. 

 

Far too often I’d rather –

  • Check the internet than pray
  • Read the paper instead of my Bible
  • Think about how I’m going to lose 3 lbs and NOT how I could invite a lonely person to dinner

What’s a self-absorbed tech-preferring gal going to do? 

Well, I only have one idea – perhaps you can suggest others:

In the vein of Ann Voskamp, I’m going to keep thanking God for all His wonders.  That implies that I am going to notice and catch these marvels, these gifts, and the myriad of God-sent little pleasures. To that end, I will pray daily for Holy Spirit help to prod me, to remind me, to get me out of myself and look up and around.

A link to her book

Taste and see that the Lord is good – Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

 

The Logic of Love

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Logic won out the other day in our household.

My husband sometimes puts me up on a pedestal by thinking that I am ‘the more Godly’ of the two of us. (imagine THAT kind of argument:  “ No, I’m worse than you!  Here let me prove it to you….”)

He sometimes indulges in a kind of self-pitying spiral of feeling bad about himself. One evening last week, I nailed him with an undeniable deductive argument that was both valid and true.  He had to smile in spite of himself.  I was truly Holy-Spirit inspired, because I don’t think I would have come up with the proof myself.

My reasoning was this:

God only gives good and perfect gifts.

God gave me my husband.

Therefore, my husband is a good and perfect gift.

Now I’m not saying my husband is without sin.  I’m using the term ‘perfect’ to mean 100 % suited for me in every way, sent to bless me, to aid me in my sanctification.  I know, ‘sanctification’ is a fancy Christian-ese word. What it means is the process that is meant to “rub off the rough areas of your personality….train you in humility….give you practice in self-less living…..strengthen your submission muscle to make you teachable to God”

You see, learning to love Michael is helping me grow in holiness for, “….. without holiness no one will see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14b

So no matter how difficult it gets living with another person, knowing that my heavenly Father picked him out for me, from before the creation of the universe, helps me accept more easily all that happens between us as coming from the hand of God.  This reasoning softens my approach and keeps me praying in the midst of a disagreement,

Thank you, Father, for this painful encounter.  You mean this for my good.  May I see this as ‘gift’ and respond in the way you want me to.  Guide me. And bless my husband.  Thank you for him.”

I don’t always reason through like that.  In the heat of emotions, I can feel sorry for myself and get a chip on my shoulder with the best of you.  Remembering that God is in control of ALL that comes to us keeps my conclusions from veering off into ‘untruth’.   It’s also humbling and painful to think that God may be allowing my hurtful, sharp and ‘irrational’ remarks to wound my dearest friend for his own good.

Thankfully I can report, that the Holy Spirit is causing both of us to see and regret more quickly the pain we cause one another.  We are learning to repent and ask each other’s forgiveness within the same segment of the day, often within 30 minutes or fewer.

And more broadly speaking, why does God allow such sin?  One reason that I can see, is that the reconciliation Mike and I experience after hardness of heart is the sweetest sensation we have ever felt.  I think we are meant to taste and see in those moments the wonder of reconciliation with the Creator of all things, our Father and Eternal Logos.

So on this start of Thanksgiving week 2012; I give thanks to God for His gift of Michael Francis Cochrane.  “Je t’aime fort, mon petit ours!”

Rendez-vous in Canada

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God graciously answered many prayers last week.  He is far more faithful to perform His word than I am in trusting His word.

On Thursday and Friday our family made our way to Toronto for Uncle Steve’s wedding.  Steve is my husband’s younger brother.  Turning 52 this month (October 2011) he finally graduated from bachelorhood and became one with Eve, my new Canadian sister-in-law.  As a married couple, they are no longer Eve & Stephen, but a new creation in Christ.  The adventure begins!

If you follow this blog you know how God has been teaching me about trials.  Paul challenges us to look at troubles and afflictions with gratitude instead of the way we humans normally respond.  He writes in Romans 5: 3-5(amplified translation),

Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.    And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of] character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.  Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.

The Greek word for troubles or trials is ‘thlipsis’. The purpose of this pressure or distress is multifold.  Through problems and adverse circumstances, we come face to face with our helplessness and dependence on God.  He helps us SEE that He is enough as our resource and that HE alone is trustworthy and that in Christ we can do all things.   Learning experientially that God suffices is worth more than gold.  Unfortunately, the only way we ‘get this’ is by living out our inadequacy and being forced to depend on God. Probably like you,  I don’t relish problems.  I want to know that all things are working out according to my desires.

Last weekend, Air Canada chose to strike during the busy holiday weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving.  I ended up fretting more than trusting God.  Both of the travel days that our kids and grandkids were making their way to Toronto, I did NOT rest in the Lord.  I just wanted them to get there.  I personified ‘angst’.   I did not cling to bible truths and promises.  I complained to my heavenly Father.   But thanks be to God who blesses us with the gift of repentance and the reminder that in Christ there is no condemnation.  So multiple times those two days I asked for forgiveness and for help in trusting Him to work out the circumstances gone awry.

And our two young families eventually arrived.

The rest of the weekend was lovely.  The weather cooperated.  The little ones did well despite NO routine and missed naps.  We had time to hang out with family and catch up on lives.  And Eve & Stephen were happily united.  Here are some pictures.

The blessing of Academic Freedom

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May I never take for granted the gift of academic freedom to teach French the way that is best for my students and for me!

I am blessed to teach in a private school that supports me 100 % in how I choose to teach both French & Logic.

What this means for me is that as I learn through what I read and listen to, I can tailor content to fit my students.  I adjust throughout the week.  As a result, I feel free and affirmed as a professional. I derive immense joy at this unconstrained ability to grow with my students.  In addition, my content in French is driven by my students’ imaginations and interests as well as my own.

For example, after 8 ½ years of using TPRS™ (teaching proficiency through reading & storytelling), I now feel both skilled and competent to go into class and do the following two activities.

a)   As an opener or warm up, I can have a conversation in French with any of my 3 levels of class (French 1, 2, 3) that is both comprehensible to them and personal.  We talk about their weekend, their interests, and their problems.  They learn new vocabulary as the conversation meanders.  I write essential words on the board as the conversation progresses.  Curriculum does not constrain or drive my classes.

b)   As my planned activity, I can go into class with one sentence and let this slim basis for a story grow where it will, emerging from my students’ input.  They then embed and adorn that sentence with themselves and a story emerges that is tailored to that particular class

For example, my sentence last week with my French 1 students was:  “Laura’s grandparents were still living”.  Laura was a character they had made up in the previous week’s story.  Going into this class, I had a phrase in mind that I wanted to teach them the following day (they have the tendency to _____).  But first we had to develop this fictional grandpa and grandma.

This couple became Bob & Cherrie who were both 2 feet, 2 inches tall.  Bob, a former soldier, turns out to be addicted to video games in his old age.  Cherrie, a former buyer for a clothing store, is depressed by Bob’s habit and turns to vodka.  I flow with the kids, making sure to make everything comprehensible. I work the details, so that the new words and details are repetitive enough to stick in their long-term memory.  They provide the personal interest, because the details are theirs.  I learn new words (had to look up how to say “addicted to”) so it’s good for me.

Another example of the blessing of unconstrained curriculum is what has happened when a French teacher in Mulhouse France contacted me.  We have set up a loose exchange between her students learning English and mine.  The other day she sent papers they had written about some pressing issues in America and asked for my students to respond.  I have the time to formulate a plan and work that into my lessons for the following week.  We can spend class talking about issues of immigration and ‘the American dream’ and what French teens might think.  If I had to follow a weekly plan imposed on me from the administration, I would have to let that go.

The methodology and thinking behind TPRS™ guides my daily activity, but in a non-constrained way that allows for expansive growth and unlimited possibilities.  I can do whatever I want as long as the French is comprehensible, repetitive and interesting to my students.  I can incorporate music, history, the Gospel, vignettes from my life, random stories from the paper, ANYTHING as long as I make them comprehensible and repetitive.

I am a very satisfied teacher.  Thank you, Jesus for giving me a passion for language and leading me away from the shackles of textbook teaching.  Thank you, Summit Christian Academy for believing in me and supporting me.  Thank you, Michael for working a job that is not your cup of tea but provides income so that I can work in a private Christian school.  Thank you, Blaine Ray for birthing this method and fellow TPRSers for fleshing it out and sharing unselfishly.

My prayer – Lord, keep me grateful.  Keep me growing.  Keep me depending on You!

 

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