Spiritual lesson from a botched colonoscopy

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Our Father has a sense of humor.  Even with colonoscopies.

It was the dreaded 10-year purge by puke-worthy prep liquid ritual of aging.

D Day – 2:  give up my beloved fruits and vegetables.  I started to feel ‘OTHER’ when I dined with my colleagues at school.

D Day – 1: no food after 11:59 am.  I stayed in my classroom during ‘lunch’ so I wouldn’t have to WATCH my colleagues enjoy their food.  Pity party continued all afternoon.  Got home and endured my Purge Cocktail. Happily chugged 32 ounces of water right afterward as directed.  Looked forward to warming some vegetable broth (I’m vegan for 18 out of 21 meals a week) to nurse AFTER that my ordeal.  Only to find out that the reason they restrict one to chicken broth is that it’s LIGHT colored and my veg broth is DARK.  And dark colors are ‘verboten’. Nothing but peppermint tea for me rest of evening.  Meanwhile, Mike enjoyed his dinner.  And wine.

D Day – my only consolation for the double horror of round 2 of the prep liquid is that ‘At least I won’t have to do this for another 10 years!’.  Famous last words.

Matthew 6:25-27  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Once my morning beverage was behind me, the ‘what ifs’ taunted me.  I listened for a while:

  • The doctor who was to do the procedure had told me that he lived in Asheville and commuted the 45-50 minutes to my local hospital.  ‘What if he is sick?  or has car trouble?  or there is traffic? If he can’t make it in, they’d have to RESCHEDULE me!  And I’ll have to drink that stuff all over again!’

I fought that fear with facts about God’s providence and control over every single molecule in the universe.

The worry gremlins probed again:

  • ‘What if there is a tree that has fallen down in the middle of the night, after all that rain?.  It might block our egress off of the mountain onto the 4-lane to the hospital?’

Again, by faith I reminded myself of who God was, meditating on His command:  Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)   Whew! Once down the hill, I thanked our good God.

We arrived at the hospital on time at 7:15.  All went well.  The staff was friendly and competent.  The doctor poked his head into the prep room to greet both of us.  The procedure went well from my point of view.  Quicker than both Mike and I expected I was wheeled back into the prep room.

Then the ‘bombshell’.   “You weren’t cleaned out enough.  I could not complete the scope.  I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule you. Soon.”

Rats and double rats!  That’s putting it mildly.  I responded to the gastrointestinal expert with something a little more reflective of how I actually felt.  I had not anticipated this possibility.  In fact, I had not even WORRIED through this scenario.

As Mike and I were driving back up the mountain lane to our house, I contemplated yet another round of this ‘hardship’. Suddenly I saw the absolute futility of worrying about possible negative outcomes.  A chuckle escaped.  Mike looked over at me in the passenger seat, eyebrows raised.  I explained:

“Michael, you and I worry about different things.  But worry is worry, no matter what flavor.  I suddenly see that I wasted energy angsting over what might occur to cause me to have to go through that awful prep, all over again.  I think God is showing me that I cannot predict anything, so why should I bother mucking around in possible negative futures?  He’s sovereign, one way or another.  Better just to relax and trust Him.  Usually what I worry about never even comes to pass.  And if He has an event planned for me, then He will provide the grace to enable me to live through it.  Today, apparently, was more TRAINING that I needed.  He’s trying to teach me NOT to worry, but to rely on Him.”

Mike nodded in agreement.  He recognizes that each day contains these kinds of lesson plans. Part of God’s daily spiritual ‘workouts’ to make us more like our Big Brother, Jesus.

But do you know what?  There’s a happy corollary to this pattern of God’s, His unpredictability in some things.  He has unimaginably good and joyful plans for us, too:

1 Cor 2:9 (NLT) That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So….what did I learn from this to-be-repeated unpleasantness?  Simply that there is absolutely NO good reason to worry.  May God help me remember that!

 

 

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

What do you do when your belt gets tight?

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Tight Belt

My husband has extolled belt wearing for years. Being cinched in provides instantaneous body awareness.

 

My spiritual Belt of Truth provides the same corrective feedback.

Each morning as I don battle dress, I linger over that Belt of Truth, Jesus’ filtering grip designed to allow only true beliefs in my inner being.

But it’s not uncomfortable. No, Jesus proffers His ‘inner-self support’ as relief from the chains we would otherwise wear.

Before realizing I had been gifted at my new birth with a Jesus Belt, I unconsciously dressed in ordinary and bewitching chains. You know what I’m talking about – that default worldly thinking we assume is normal. The chain links go by various names such as:

  • Choose your own identity and meaning
  • Seek others’ approval
  • Pursue your bucket list
  • Amuse yourself now
  • Work off your guilt your own way

But Jesus has promised a much lighter load, crafted to fit comfortably, one that He Himself promises to bear, provided we stay attached to Him.

Despite starting the day with the correct belt comfortingly reminding me of Jesus’ presence, by noon I was squirming, aware that something was pinching. Sitting at my computer, finishing schoolwork from the previous week, I fretted over personal tasks and NOT ENOUGH TIME!

That false god called “Enough Time for Maria” was competing with the Almighty for supremacy. I caught myself grumbling while resenting time constraints. Snap!  Ouch – my  Jesus Belt tightened.

What made my belt prick? I had allowed ‘unbelief’ into my core to dilute my happy trust, contentment and peace.

Quick Holy Spirit conviction brought my confession of this sin of unbelief and repentance. I had to flush two of Satan’s favorite lies:

  • God is not sovereign over your life (for me – the day’s hours and their passage)
  • God is not good

Once I confessed and trusted God’s promise of sure forgiveness, my Jesus Belt felt comfortable again. Thank you, Father, for giving me such a life-saving Belt of Truth.

Shaky assumption for what will make me happy

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The King was a praying man, after all hadn’t Zechariah mentored him well from God’s word?  And as long as he prayed for favor in Judah’s battles against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunim, his armies prevailed.  His and Judah’s successes became the talk of the world that even the Ammonites paid tribute, aka protection money, rather than fight.

But then…..Uzziah grew complacent and tired of having to ask God daily for this and that.  As the writer of the book of 2 Chronicles explains,

16 But when [King Uzziah] was strong, he became proud to his destruction; and he trespassed against the Lord his God, for he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah

The rest of the story is pretty dramatic.  The priest in charge, Azariah, confronted the King, reminding him with a strong rebuke, that God forbade anyone but the priests from burning incense in the temple.  As King Uzziah exploded into rage, incriminating censor in his hand, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  In hindsight, it would have been better for Uzziah to continue in his daily dependence on God’s strength, rather than crave his own strength.  His desired independence, what he thought would make him happy, led to his downfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my assumptions when I pray.  At the bottom often of my anxiety is the fear that God is going to withhold what I want, what I know/think will make me happy.

Isn’t there always something we are asking God for, something that will make us more content, happy, complete, and peaceful?   But what if we are wrong in our assumptions?

Mike and I have started watching Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

In this 1946 Christmas movie, George Bailey has finally earned enough money to take the trip of his dreams.It's a wonderful life

 

 

He longs to break out of the claustrophobia of his small hometown, positive that the wide world holds what he wants.  But the unfortunate timing of his dad’s death delays the trip. One set of unexpected circumstances leads to another, until he is maneuvered into staying put in Bedford Falls, the very future he worked hard to avoid.

His unrealized dream of travel, to be followed by college and then a profession of building modern structures never materializes.  He had always projected certainty that his version of the future was best for him.  Apparently his dad had repeatedly expressed hope that George, as oldest son, would accept his offer to take over the family’s Building and Loan Association.  In an offhand remark that wounds his dad, George dismisses 40 years of laborious efforts to secure loans for many of Bedford Falls’ working class families.  This is not the career or the life that George wants.

You can watch the movie again, if you have forgotten what George learns in the end.  But what I realized in thinking about King Uzziah and George Bailey was that often our assumptions about what will make us happy are not correct.

My thinking seems to go like this:

  • I want X (for example, a different job)
  • Why?  Because when I think about X, I picture a more content Maria.
  • But I’m afraid that God won’t allow X to happen.  There’s no guarantee that He will bring about X, even if I pray fervently in faith. (might I be……trying to manipulate God???)
  • If God does not grant X, then I won’t be happy

But what if the TRUE scenario is this:

  • God alone knows what will make me happy/content/’better off’ as He defines it.
  • What if what I THINK will make me happy, my X, actually is bad, dangerous, painful or somehow disastrous for me?
  • After all, isn’t God omni– good/loving/knowing/powerful/wise/holy/giving…..
  • Why should I think that I know best?  that what I think I want IS best?

So, are we not to pray for what we want?  Are we just supposed to resign ourselves to….being miserable?

That’s bifurcation, the fallacy of a false dilemma.  It’s not an either/or situation – My will = happiness versus God’s will= misery

(Could that false idea come from Satan?)

When I get scared that maybe God WON’T give me what I want, here’s the promise I fall back onto:

Psalm 84:11

“No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

  • good = pleasant/excellent/valuable/appropriate,  Hebrew word Towb
  • upright = authentic (with integrity),  Hebrew word Tamiym

When I think of how to be upright, I picture myself looking UP at God, and not at what I want.  I don’t have enough information to know what is best for me.

upright

I’ll still ask God and pray for what I want, but I’m learning to hold those requests loosely.

What is your experience in wanting something really badly and then finding out it was NOT what you thought or (worse yet) it turned out to be harmful?

 

 

 

 

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

Lies that fuel worry

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Sleepless in Balsam

Sleepless

That was me – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights.  Couldn’t turn off my mind from pursuing one thought after another.

Nothing bad, just the possibility of another job for next year.

And it wasn’t a sense of joyful anticipation that fueled my thoughts, but a chewing on the pros and cons.

Relief finally came via reminders of Truth.

  • When I woke up Saturday morning REALLY tired despite lying in bed for 8 hours, the Holy Spirit gently chided me that I had failed to take advantage of Almighty God’s loving command to cast all my cares on Him.
  • Christian Community provided more light on what was True.

Anne and Wes were here for the weekend.  Listening to Anne describe her thought process on one of her issues (and what turned out to be a lie she had swallowed) helped me see some presuppositions I, myself, had accepted as Truth.  As it happened for Anne, finally admitting to a trusted Christian friend one of her ‘facts’ (aka –  an unsubstantiated belief), she was able to see, in the light of day, what her friend was able gently but rationally to point out.  Her account of thinking incorrectly helped me to look at what I had accepted as fact.

Here are were a few of my irrational thoughts mixed in with half-truths:

  • Those who are good teachers LOVE the field of education and teaching
  • I don’t love teaching but I enjoy some aspects of it
  • Therefore, I must be a fraud
  • Furthermore, I should not, AT MY AGE, attempt to move into a new educational opportunity
  • Something new might involve MORE work and a greater time commitment
  • I’m basically lazy anyway
  • Therefore, I would again be FAKING energy and interest that I don’t have in an interview

Listening to Anne gave me pause.  Maybe not ALL of my assumptions are true!  Maybe it’s irrational to compare myself to the best in my field.  Maybe my ‘good enough’ is sufficient for God’s purposes where I am.  Maybe where I am has less to do with teaching/educational work, than with being present for my ‘neighbors’ in my daily community.

Good Enough

One new thought prompted another as Anne shared from her life.  Maybe Satan is the source of some of these assumptions in order to discourage me from investing energy in my work life.  Hm – that hadn’t occurred to me. I default to believing that my thoughts have their origin in me.

And maybe it’s not about being good enough, or the best or wildly enthusiastic.  Maybe it’s about being faithful today, where I am, with what I’ve been given to do.  And to do IT with His power and wisdom and energy.

A comforting image came to me as I laid down for a nap on Saturday afternoon.  It was of the relief and ordinariness of just being a sheep in the Father’s fold.  Just a good sheep.  Voilà – my new ambition.  “Maria – just be a good little sheep!”

sheep So that is what I aspire to, this day.  Not to invent/create/or pursue my own goals, but to follow my all-sufficient Shepherd.  After all, He promises that as one of His sheep:

  • I will lack nothing
  • I will receive sufficient rest, energy and strength for the day
  • I will be directed, not for my sake, but for the honor of His name and character as the Good Shepherd
  • I will feast on royal food and be anointed with family oil reminding me of whose I am EVEN in the midst of enemies

Finally, to ensure that I clearly understood my Father in this matter yesterday, the Holy Spirit guided my podcast listening to a sermon in which the pastor taught from Romans 8.  The verse that was for me was verse 14:

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”

Working backwards, I reasoned thus: Since I know that I have been adopted into God’s family and am a co-heir with Jesus, my brother, then ipso facto, the Spirit DOES lead me.  The Greek word is ‘ago’ (Strongs # 71) and it can mean COMPEL, DRIVE, BRING.  Much stronger words, then ‘lead’, wouldn’t you say?

If God is sovereign, then I can trust Him to drive me or keep me where He wants me.  And concerning this other job possibility I WILL turn over the next card and do what is at hand, this day, but I will pray to remember NOT to pre-occupy myself with the future.

Can anyone relate?

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

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