But I never traveled alone ….

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Hong Kong island from the Aberdeen side, 2006

Yesterday during my conversation with my long-time friends Belva and Maureen, I realized something positively and powerfully true: in the four times I’ve flown alone to Asia and back, and the one time with my younger son, I never WAS alone.

Trip # 1, crossing the Pacific roughly eleven hours after I heard the news that sent me online to book a flight, on the phone to call my friend Julia to hopefully connect with her  parents in Hong Kong,  and then hurriedly to the bedroom to pack a suitcase, I  tried to keep my  heart and mind at peace  by reading Brendan Manning’s book “Ruthless Trust.” He wrote, “ For me and many others, Jesus is the revelation of the only God worthy of trust … The promise of his (God’s) presence and the presence of his promise ….” I prayed all the way for safety and  health for my daughter-in-law  and newly arriving over two months too early granddaughter. Was I alone? NO! God’sars of promise and peace wrapped me on that flight, and HE proved his promises are faithful when 1) I easily found Julia’s mother in the airport and 2) Elsa arrived safely and never developed a serious complication in the seven weeks she was in the NICU. I counted 21 miracles on that trip! You may think  miracles are only things like raising the dead and restoring seeing eyes  to the blind, but when God arranges  three successive apartments to stay in on an island with mile-high rents and hotel room costs, a complete Thanksgiving dinner when the best you were  hoping for was turkey sandwiches at a deli, and warmly welcoming people – strangers who became friends –  in a church in Kowloon,  I call those miracles.

Trip # 2, crossing the Pacific again, this time to mainland China and Thailand, on the   I remained in good health and relative clarity of mind  despite the 35 hours without sleep. On my return trip  with what I thought was plenty of time  to  transfer in the airport  in Hong Kong, I was able to pick up my bags (which couldn’t be checked through), check them through security, go outside the terminal, go back into the international side of  the terminal, go through security again, check my bags, go through security again, and get an iced tea at the Starbucks  right beside  my gate with a whopping eight minutes to spare before  boarding  the plane!  Was I alone? NO!

Trip #3,  again to mainland China and Thailand, no issues  going, but coming back I flew from the interior to another mainland airport where, surely, there would be signs in English and English-speaking workers who could direct me to the van to get to the ferry to get across the harbor to the airport.  Uh,  wrong. I exited the terminal to a parking lot  filled with vans with nothing but Mandarin characters on them. Just as God says in Isaiah 30: 21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” And that’s exactly what happened, when God provided an airline pilot from Taiwan, walking behind  me, to guide me to the van that went to the ferry terminal. Was I alone? NO WAY!

Trip #4, the trip  that Orbitz almost  cancelled due to a  flight change by Korean Airlines, thanks to the 24-hour flu bug I caught, I was able to talk directly to Korean Air and salvage my  trip by leaving a day early, with the added benefit of staying in a hotel in Seoul to rest up, have lunch, and exercise in the hotel gym. On the way back I was  blessed with an extra day to stay with dear friends in Chiang Mai, get a  birthday massage, and hear an incredible story of God’s power and providence. Was I alone, ever? NOT EVER!

Trip $5 to mainland China with my younger son, with (again, we thought) ample time to arrive in Beijing and catch our flight  to the interior, we met  an impossibly long line at immigration, surely too long for us to get through and catch our flight. BUT a cleaning woman directed us (and how did she speak English and see our predicament??) directed us to go through the diplomaticl ine. Then when the inter-terminal train  zipped right past the terminal we needed  and deposited us at the next terminal, again Isaiah 30:21 in the form of a Chinese university professor  behind us, traveling back home (to the same city we were  heading for) from teaching in Texas, who helped us navigate security and find the train that WOULD take us  to the terminal we needed. Then when Satan broke all Heck loose at the next security checkpoint, we  still made it to the gate in time to  board  just before they closed the boarding.

Oh,Rose, why do you ever doubt God’s love and PRESENCE? I can almost  hear my eternally patient Heavenly Father saying,”Tsk, tsk, my beloved daughter, how many times  do I  have to pull your  hide out of the fire before you WILL TRUST MY LOVE FOR YOU and THAT MY PLANS ARE FOR YOUR GOOD???

 

I actually got word from God back in 2013 through an intercessor at a Healing Room – and NOT  the intercessors I was praying with – that said, “I’m trying to bless you. You have to LET me!”

Okay, 1) I must be a slow learner when it comes to my heart catching up with God’s  truth and  2) the sons of Korah said it more poetically than I just did:

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.   Psalm 42:1-11 NIV

I share my all-too frail humanity with you all,  with someone else who, like me,has a hard time catching your heart up to God’s truth, to encourage you that GOD WILL NEVER LET YOU WALK ALONE! Even when you may be physically alone and in dicey circumstances, GOD IS  WITH YOU! Remember WHO  walked in the fiery furnace WITH Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He is the same today for you as he was then with them!

This is NOT just the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking couldn’t have gotten me out of any of these troubles or created any of these miracles. GOD DID!

Put your hope in God, for yes, you will yet find reason to praise Him!

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Roller Coaster Mama

 

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The Coaster Kid with California Screamin’ in the background

With chagrin I share this today. I had no idea 16 years ago when I wrote it that I was speaking prophetically to myself. Today I tell myself, “Teacher, teach thyself! Listen to and learn from the One who taught you this!”  Twice since then the floor has suddenly, catastrophically fallen out from under me on my life ride. Is what the LORD showed me decades ago still true? Yes! Is Jesus still my secure floor, my “ride buddy,” and is God’s Word the restraint I need? Yes, humbly, and yes, gratefully, God is STILL God, and I can buckle into Him alone to find security in the “Mad Mouse” ride we call life! And to myself: this ride ain’t over yet, so hang on to Jesus, Rose!

From time to time, people who have children in college or way too much time on their hands figure up the current cost of raising a child and broadcast it across the Internet.   Whatever the figure, it’s always enough to make young would-be parents scan their checking account and think twice. I’m glad I never thought to count the dollars-and-cents cost of having children, or I would have missed the bargain one e-mail pointed out: “For your investment, you get to finger-paint, play hide-and-seek, blow bubbles, catch lightning bugs, and never stop believing in Santa Claus. You have an excuse to keep reading your favorite bedtime stories without embarrassment, watch Saturday morning cartoons without shame, and wish on stars. You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever, and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost.”   The bottom line of all the tallies and figures is this: The best thing to spend on your children is time.

Mothers typically spend lots of time “doing” for their children: driving them to T-ball games and dance classes, decorating special cakes for birthdays and making costumes from boxes and Styrofoam for class plays, scoring for the soccer team and bringing ice and water for track season, sitting through so many piano recitals that you hear “Für Elise” in your sleep, surrendering your kitchen and your clean house to be a den mother for eight little Cub Scouts, and walking marathon distances door-to-door to help sell Girl Scout cookies. You do these things to enrich your children’s lives and give them opportunities that equip them for their future, and to let them know they matter to you. All these hours are time well invested.

From the time he was three, my older son wanted to be the first man on Mars, so we slept out in the backyard to be sure we didn’t miss meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We sent him twice and drove him once to Alabama for Space Camp. I gave up my freezer to science fair projects, saw “Star Wars” at the theater 23 times, and – before the days of one-hour developing – found a photo lab that would develop in an hour photos of the space ship model Eric had completed just three hours before the entry deadline for a “Destination: Mars” competition. Eric worked on NASA projects four summers during his undergraduate years. Then he met Emily and decided to become a linguist instead of an astronaut. His goals changed, but all the “Star Trek” sheets we bought and pizzas I made for sleep-over Science Olympiad study sessions were not in vain. Those times we invested in his life were time invested in love, and they’ve brought a great return on our investment.

So you get involved in the things that matter to your children. If you’re lucky, none of your children want to grow up to be crocodile handlers! What do you do, though, when your child wants to be a roller coaster designer? That’s right: you ride a lot of roller coasters.

Faster than a Ferris wheel, More powerful than a merry-go-round pony, Able to leap a spilled snow cone in a single bound –I am Roller Coaster Mama!

His father is at least partly to blame for this. He’s the one who cajoled me into riding “Montezuma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was three months pregnant with our second son, Ethan. It was either that loop-the-loop, or the vacation when Ethan was six months old, when we unknowingly set up our tent trailer by a lovely grove of trees that turned out to be within screaming distance of a roller coaster. It ran – click, click, click, aaahh! – till one in the morning, which was about the time Ethan finally went to sleep.

Since then, I have been on or listened to him recount the statistics of so many thrill rides that I can tell a corkscrew from a cobra roll and a boomerang from and out-and-back. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain don’t even faze me. I have spent five straight days in the “happiest kingdom on Earth”, and now I know it’s true that there is such a thing as too much happiness. I’ve plummeted 121 feet straight down on Superman. I rode in succession The Medusa – no floor – and The Viper – no more fillings in my teeth. I can say “linear synchronous induction motor” and sort of know what it means. I hardly flinch when Ethan exults, “It goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in four seconds!” I’ve pulled g’s, caught air, free fallen, been looped, banked, and double-helixed. I’ve hung suspended from tracks and haven’t even screamed on outside loops, with the only ill-effects – other than serious motion sickness – being a cracked rib from a wooden coaster on Mission Bay, and several urgent trips to the chiropractor.

The truth is, though, I have a love-hater relationship with roller coasters. They ceased to be totally fun to me when motherhood gave me good sense, or keener awareness of my own mortality, or a combination of all the pains in the neck, literally, I now have. Oh, I can manage anything Disneyland  or the State Fair can throw at me, but Magic Mountain is another story. I prefer steel coasters to wooden ones, because the ride is smoother, they hold you in more securely, and I’m less likely to crack or dislocate something important. Still, I did not get a warm fuzzy when Ethan reassured me that the Viper was easy to ride because it’s heartline roll – a 360 degree spin something like tumbling in a clothes drier – would rotate my body but keep my heart in the same place. It did – it started out and stayed in my throat!

Why do I subject myself to this physical and mental abuse? Because I love my son, and experiencing thrill rides is important to him. I really do want to share a part of this part of his life, so I’ve had to learn some coping – or survival – skills for riding roller coasters.

FIRST – I SECURE MYSELF TIGHTLY IN THE RESTRAINTS

 Restraints are your friends, even if they are uncomfortable. On a thrill ride, G-forces and centripetal forces propel your body in ways and at speeds God never intended them to go. This is what coaster designers and enthusiasts call “fun”. Unrestrained fun can kill you, so I snug those belts tight and make sure my head isn’t going anywhere the rest of my body isn’t.

SECOND – I BRACE MY FEET, OR CROSS MY ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE

 Part of the fun of a roller coaster, so they tell me, comes from the sense of instability and insecurity that heightens your senses and sends those “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through your brain and body. When I crest the first hill on Superman and plunge down that more-than-vertical drop, I press my feet into the floor for all they’re worth. It doesn’t make the ride safer or shorter, but it helps me feel more stable and keeps my seat in the seat. If I’m riding a suspended coaster where there is no floor, or if the floor will at some point drop away, I always cross my ankles, so my legs don’t whip wildly around on the loops and snap turns. At least it gives me the feeling of support, and I know my feet won’t be thrashing around at the mercy of centripetal force.   I watch the riders while I’m waiting in line, and I’ve seen where their feet go. My mother always told me it was ladylike to cross your ankles – but I also know that feet don’t painlessly fit in your mouth after you’re four months old, and knees are really hard to repair.

 THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Riding with a buddy on a wooden coaster is a smart idea: another body helps to keep you from slipping and sliding. I generally ride with my husband or our son, but if they want to ride in the front seat of a roller coaster, I opt to ride alone behind them, and I opt to pray. I want the Lord beside me. The truth is, even if someone is riding beside me, I still pray!   Psalm 91: 9-12 is a standby when I go to amusement parks: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I love my husband and our son and would rather sit next to them than ride alone, but I also want as many angels as possible crammed in that car with us!

FOURTH – I CENTER MY FOCUS                                                                                                            

Here is where my approach differs radically from that of the rest of the family. The males ride coasters with analytical minds and cast-iron stomachs. They’re absolutely electrified, keeping their eye open and anticipating the snaps, loops and dives, so they can lean into the curves. They just don’t comprehend that in me, anticipation produces anxiety, and my eyes looping all over everywhere set my inner ear spinning and my stomach churning. I know that the odds are overwhelming that I will be alive at the end of the ride. Coaster designers do have to factor in maximum and minimum G’s, friction, velocity, centripetal forces, and human anatomy when they design rides. My brain knows that, but that knowledge never seems to reach my emotions and my stomach.

I have to attack my panic on two fronts. First, I’ve learned to WILL myself to think of positive truths when I ride. Yes, I am hurtling over a precipice which is, according to the park brochure, “the nearest sensation to throwing yourself off a cliff,” but I have timed this ride while standing in line, and I know the first drop takes just 3 seconds to the bottom; then it’s only a four minute ride from there to the end. That is also truth. I CAN be at peace for four minutes. I can put all those natural childbirth classes to use here and choose to relax and breathe calmly.

Second, to keep my inner ear and stomach contents from sloshing around, I’ve learned to focus on one spot directly in front of me (even if that spot is my white knuckles on the safety bar or an imaginary spot on the tip of my nose if my eyes are closed). It’s like the way a dancer or skater spots when doing spins. Granted, these two procedures thwart the intention of the coaster designer, and the whole purpose of thrill rides, to drive me to the brink of terror and nausea. But MY purpose in riding is to contribute to quality family bonding AND get off the ride in one coherent piece, so I don’t really care that I miss half the fun.

This brings me to my last coping skill – KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I can’t bond with the family if I’m hugging the toilet in the ladies’ room. I won’t be pleasant to be around if my neck is frozen in some picturesque, but painful, pose. I ride what I think I can handle without unreasonably taxing my back, my capacity to use mind over instinct, or the angels who have to ride with me. I try to discern when to say “no,” and to say “no” without guilt. I try to recognize when I can say “yes,” take a deep breath, and trust that the amusement park is as interested in their insurance liability as I am in my safety.

Lately, I recognize this has broader practical application in my life. For mothers in particular and women in general, if you’re part of a family, or if you have relationships at all, life often resembles a roller coaster. Can anyone else identify?   Take a typical day. It’s 7:40 a.m., and I need to drive Ethan to school by 7:50, then get 45 miles across town to take my mother grocery shopping, run errands along the way to make it worth the time and gas involved, start home before 2:30 so I can use the carpool lane on the freeway, make dinner, and get to Bible study that evening with a dessert to share. But this is the day the garage door opener won’t open. No panic yet. Between the two of us, Ethan and I manage to shove it open. Mental note: drive back home to call garage door company before hitting the freeway. Pray with son and kiss him goodbye. Drive back home, make phone call, and leave a message for husband to let him know what’s going on. Remember to stop by store I don’t usually frequent to get almond butter and rice milk that Mom can’t get on the west side of town. Hit the freeway. Make it intact to Mom’s, to learn that her medical monitor just arrived and she can’t understand the directions. Help her put on the monitor, run test recording, call the monitoring company, re-write directions for Mom so she can do this on her own, take her to lunch, as it’s now noon, take her to store. Realize it’s next to impossible to start home by 2:30, so kiss carpool lane goodbye, gird my loins for battle, and kiss Mom goodbye. Drive to discount store for errand, find what I need, discover they only have two checkout lanes open and lines a mile long. Look at watch and remember that son did not take house key, so he can’t get into the house if he gets home before I do. Madly put everything back (what would Jesus do?) and dash out of store, into the freeway frenzy, to hopefully get home before son does. And so on . . . . Have you been on that ride lately?

Up, down, whip, drop, snap, loop, squashed by four g’s, panicked by those negative g’s when nothing’s supporting me, light speed through the curves– does this sound like your life, too? How are we supposed to cope positively, calmly, with roller coaster days and thrill ride weeks?   It seems to me the same survival skills I put into play when I’m riding a coaster apply emotionally, spiritually, and practically in my daily life. I’m sure none of these principles is new to you, but looking at spiritual truths through a different context helps me remember and apply them in my life. Lets’ re-examine those coaster survival skills again and see if they fit in life as well.

FIRST – SECURE YOURSELF IN THE RESTRAINTS

Most accidents on roller coasters happen when riders ignore safety mechanisms. When riders ignore the lap belt, they pay the consequences. Don’t do what the sign at the station says to do, and you will become a statistic. I am not above the law of gravity. Neither am I above the laws of God. If I live in a way that is foolish, selfish or reckless, I will certainly be thrown for a loop when life takes me for a ride. Just as there are safety systems on a thrill ride, God has given us safety mechanisms – guidelines and wisdom – that are meant to secure us and keep us from harm, especially through the ups and downs of life. Consider this advice, for example:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”      James 1:19

What protection for the emotional well being of our lives and our families following this simple instruction gives! My hands – what I do – and my tongue – what I say – would remain safely inside the vehicle of what’s helpful and good at all times

Thrill ride designers keep safety mechanisms simple to use. If you just do the dos – one click, one pull, hold tight – you’re good to go. God gives us similar simplicity in his safety mechanisms for our lives. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two steps:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31

Think for a minute about what your life would look like if you just “buckled up” with those two do’s. Love holds us securely through the dips and drops in life.

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. “ Joshua 23:8

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

If I’d hold fast to God and do the loving thing in everyday circumstance, my heart would remain secure and stay where it belongs when life spin-dries me in a heart-line roll. One click –love God – one pull – love others – hold on to God, and we’re good to go.

SECOND – BRACE YOUR FEET, OR CROSS YOUR ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE.

In daily life, that “fight or flight” reflex is not a 50/50 toss-up. I know I lean heavily toward “fight.” Flailing feet aren’t safe on a roller coaster. Flailing attitudes and words aren’t safe in life.   When I’m stressed, my foot frequently ends up in my mouth, or I figuratively kick the person next to me with hurtful, thoughtless words.   That’s why it’s wise to press into the support around us, even when life’s running smoothly, to give us the stability that strengthens peace and self-control within us. Your family will appreciate it, since the riders sitting next to you are the ones who bear the brunt of your flailing.   My family has no clue how many crazed tirades they’ve been spared when I do think to press into the support around me.

A primary source of support is – or is intended to be – our family, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that you may not be able to look to them for support when they’re part of the corkscrew.   We all need people with whom we can be genuine and open, people who will love enough to push back with truth and encouragement when we need it. We need people we can count on for practical help, too. That’s why it’s wise to make a floor to brace yourself through a Bible study, small group, prayer partner, or support group. One of the first things we did when we moved was to search for a small home group through our church. The group we’re part of is consistently there for each other with very practical help through illnesses, house repairs, picking up kids at school when a car breaks down, shoulders to cry on, victories shared, and keeping each other accountable.

Even before you look to other people for support, plant your feet firmly on the faithfulness of God . . . for :

“. . . the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.                                                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:26

God designed us to need each other, to be needed, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ for each other. It’s our function as parts of the same body to support and encourage one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In thrill ride terms, be a supportive floor for each other.

THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Sometimes people fail you, and the floor you trusted in completely falls away without warning. Sometimes your floor of support can’t be there in the moment to brace you – like when you’re alone in the car with just that teenager and toddler, the alternator quits, and your day spins off in a double helix.   That’s when an unfailing buddy is vital to keep you from sliding. Invite God along for the ride to keep you from cracking a rib, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – perhaps even physically speaking. God does intervene in circumstances, but more importantly for me, he intervenes in my thoughts, giving me a healthy, proper perspective that keeps me from sliding when I’m ready to panic.   God never leaves us to ride alone.

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”    Psalm 139: 5-7

God’s presence in our lives is security, confidence, and power. Knowing God is on the “coaster” with me straightens the curves and lowers the drops – as well as my blood pressure. Psalm 16:8 is a promise to hang onto when I’m pulling G’s:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

FOURTH – CENTER YOUR FOCUS

 Choose to think on positive truths. There are generally several things true in any situation. Increasingly I see how important it is for me to choose to focus on the truth that leads to positives like compassion, peace, and faith. I may be powerless over my circumstances, but I have power over my attitude and thoughts. Many of the stressors in my life lose their power to produce stress if I choose to relax, be flexible, and shift my focus. Just saying, “Well, Jesus, what’s this about?” instead of spouting, “What in the world am I going to do now?” actually reduces my anxiety level, and I’m sure it protects my brain chemistry as well. That has a practical effect on my body and my day.

“. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                                                                Joshua 24:15

I can focus on the positive truth, and choose whom I will serve in my response: God, or my anxiety and agitation.

When the apostle Paul advised the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:1-2), he wasn’t urging them to deny reality and live in some fantasy land. Choosing positive truth and re-setting your focus changes, practically, how you respond in everyday situations. Recently I was on my way to our Tuesday morning women’s study. I teach, so I need to be at church early to set up my class. I had some time, but on this day I happened to leave just as a school bus stopped a block down from our house and put out its stop sign. It was a handicapped bus, so I waited, and waited, and waited as the mother and driver loaded a child on the bus. As I sat there – choosing not to fume – I decided to shift my focus. I didn’t know a handicapped child lived on our street. I prayed for her, for her mother, for their family, for the bus driver who so patiently helps this child every day, and for the teachers who invest their lives working with special needs children. It was true that I’d sat in the same spot for five minutes, but which truth was more profitable, both for others and for myself – not being five minutes further down the road, or spending five refocused minutes in prayer? Choose to focus on the positive truth.

Set your focus on one spot that will not change. That’s the way to keep your balance and settle your insides in a loopy world. Where is that unchanging spot?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”   2 Corinthians 4:18

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”     Hebrews 13:8

FIFTH – KNOW YOUR LIMITS

I don’t have to take every ride. I create many of the loops and drops in my life by taking on too much, or by assuming something is my responsibility when it isn’t, or by letting myself get sidetracked (and isn’t the Internet helpful in that department?). I can choose to say “no” to some thrill rides and still be a supportive, encouraging mother. Good judgment, not guilt or compulsion, should tell me when to say yes and when to say no in life, too. What can I wisely take on? What can I let go? What SHOULD I let go? Let me name a few of the rides I’ve created:

Mind-Bender: Trying to reason with a tired two-year-old

The Enforcer: Proving to my husband I’m right about wasting electricity when he always leaves the radio on in the garage while he works in the back yard

Temptation Station: When the budget is tight and I really shouldn’t buy anything but necessities, but I allow myself to walk into Dillard’s, lured by those clearance sale signs, just to look around.

Avalanche Alley: Trying to accomplish just one more thing in the five minutes I have before I need to leave for an appointment.

Ooooh – cobra roll! Here comes a stress headache! Do any of these sound familiar? On a regular basis, it seems, I have to remind myself, “Don‘t go there; don’t even get on this one if you don’t want an argument or problem that’s more stress than it’s worth. I’m not taking this ride today.”

Sometimes , though, you have no choice. Life just drops you onto a thrill ride you weren’t standing in line for. When that happens, I need to realize I have my limits, but at the same time I also need to recognize that, for a Christian, life isn’t about my limits. No matter how scary or negative the situation, Philippians 4:13 is always in operation:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Since the limitless Jesus gives me strength for the ride and the power to love, to pray, to choose, and to center my focus on him, I can handle the coasters that circumstances put in my life. Through Jesus, I can be at peace for the next five – okay, two – okay, for the next one minute – when an upset to my life takes me on a heartline roll.

Sometimes life goes along smoothly; some days bring a little “wild mouse” like an upset schedule. My usual rides lately are “Time Bandit” and “Mind Eraser”!   But life can seat you on more serious rides. You may suddenly careen down “The Financial Funnel” when a layoff comes along. Life-threatening illness can drop the floor out from under you faster than “The Bottomless Pit.”   Life does not give you a map of the park to help you prepare for the next coaster. You don’t know when life is going to twist you through a corkscrew roll. But you can have stability, confidence, and sound perspective that will help you handle the drops and loops with peace, and maybe even with joy.

So Lord, let me be a roller coaster mama! With your help, I won’t panic, hyperventilate, lose my lunch, or scream. I’ll buckle into love for you and others – even the ones who put me on the roller coaster. I’ll look for a supporting floor of friends and groups to push into, so I don’t kick anybody riding with me. I’ll ride with a buddy through prayer so I don’t slip and slide. I’ll center my thoughts on positive truth. When it’s within my power to choose what I get involved in, I’ll be wise about my choices. When it’s not within my power to choose, I’ll hold onto God’s strength and whooeee! l believe I’ll at least survive, if not enjoy,  the ride!

(Parenthetically – God has faithfully been beside me as He was with Daniel when he faced roaring lions, as he was with David when he stood before Goliath. People may not understand the stands  I’ve taken in the last nine years when, literally, the Devil has raged and roared against me, or why I’ve chosen to stand, but I  MUST stand for and with GOD and the sanctity and truth of God’s Word if  I’m going to stand before Him at the Judgment with any integrity at all, and even then, my only defense is JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS, the Savior and Lover of my soul!

Detoxing Spiritually

In doing some writing and editing for a biologist in the last two weeks, I’ve  seen serious parallels between toxins in our bodies and toxins in our heart/mind/spirit/attitudes. Toxins in the body destroy  tissue and organs and compromise our physical health, especially as they build  up over time.  Our blood deposits excess wastes and toxins in organs like the lungs, kidneys, heart, pancreas, liver, colon, or other locations. There the toxins “hide” and do their damage.

“Whole-body inflammation refers to chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation. Mounting evidence suggests that over time this kind of inflammation sets the foundation for many serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Recent evidence indicates that whole-body inflammation may also contribute to psychological disorders, especially depression.”       drweil.com/reducing-whole-body-inflammation

Like waste sites that must be cleaned up before safe building can begin, we need to clean up our bodies before we begin building and rebuilding good physical and even mental health. I strongly suspect the same is  true  in our spirits, emotions and attitudes/thoughts: toxic thinking and believing can accumulate in our spirits and emotions over time, with results just as deadly and degenerative as inflammation and toxicity in the body. I  imagine we all  are aware  these days that what and how we think influences how we feel.

“If you have a tendency to over-react to stress, it could be due to changes in your brain brought on by negative thinking. Negative experiences are stored in the brain by the amygdala. The thalamus is responsible to sending sensory and motor signals to the rest of the body but it does not understand that negative thoughts aren’t the same as real danger.  As a result, our bodies experience real stress symptoms of rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a state of heightened arousal.  Stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect your likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia and mood disorders. The problem is that our brains are good at learning from bad experiences but bad at learning from good experiences.” drweil.com

Rapidly triggered release of chemicals like cortisol can affect your mood for an entire  day,  and  your memory of those moods can linger and accumulate for years.

Okay, so we know industrial wastes and – yikes – even prescription medicines in our waterways, pesticides and herbicides on crops and in runoff,  recreational drugs, smoking, and alcohol put physical toxins into our bodies. What are, and what puts, spiritual toxins  into us? God’s Word is pretty clear about what  “toxins” we need to KEEP OUT of our hearts/minds/spirits, and with what we need to PUT IN to cleanse and protect ourselves from the deterioration, blinding, bondage and poisoning of “toxic thinking/feeling/acting”:

Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. Psalm 37:8

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a footholdGet rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4: 26-27, 31-32 NIV

Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. Proverbs 10: 18-19 NIV

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6: 14-15

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister  (see Ephesians 4:  26-27) will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ (let’s call it name calling/reputation destroying with any words) will be in danger of the fire of hell.Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift….You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5: 21-24, 27-10  NIV

Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand! It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean.” Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees had their feelings hurt by what you said?”  “Every plant which my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up,” answered Jesus.  “Don’t worry about them! They are blind leaders of the blind; and when one blind man leads another, both fall into a ditch.” Peter spoke up, “Explain this saying to us.” Jesus said to them, “You are still no more intelligent than the others. Don’t you understand? Anything that goes into your mouth goes into your stomach and then on out of your body. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make you ritually unclean. For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. These are the things that make you unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should—this doesn’t make you unclean.” Matthew 15: 10-20 NIV

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5: 43-48 NIV

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:  19-21 ESV

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4: 17 NIV

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. James 3: 14 ESV

In our physical bodies, toxins can come from within our body, too. Stress, infections, changes in the body’s population of good bacteria and even rupturing of cells also can raise toxin levels in our bodies. Fortunately, the body CAN cleanse itself of toxins. Our bodies have biochemical “cleanup workers” that know how to detoxify each of our cells . To  help our  body cleanse, we can also take  supplements and cleansing herbs, colonics,  saunas, steam baths, foot baths, exercise, deep breathing, and prayer/meditation and other stress relievers.  Here are more spiritual “toxic take outs”, coupled with what we should put into ourselves to “detox” emotionally, mentally, attitudinally, spiritually:

 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4: 25

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Colossians 3: 7-10

Yes, none of us hasn’t stumbled or sinned in some of these ways. Not one of us can, on our own, truly “be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” THAT’S WHY I/WE NEED  THE ATONING BLOOD AND FORGIVENESS AND POWER INSIDE US OF JESUS!  That’s why I need a Savior, why I can only trust in Christ’s Righteousness to cover me, and why I try to be quick to confess my sins/wrongs/stupidity and make amends when, yes it happens, I hurt someone,  even unintentionally (as it is with me, because I never set out to hurt anyone)

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

Yes, yes, yes,  let’s all take out the toxins that “inflame” our heart, mind, spirit and will, starting with recognition, humble honest confession, and repentance, and put in the “anti-inflammatories” that quench that destructive fire! And here are  the anti-inflammatories Doctor Jesus prescribed for us in the “BE attitudes.” Talk about a cleansing detox!

“Blessed are the poor in spiritfor theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn (my insertion,I do mourn when I recognize I’ve sinned, or when I see someone stumble in Satan-induced spiritual blindness), for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek (humble) for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousnessfor they will be filled. Blessed are the mercifulfor they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakersfor they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousnessfor theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 3-16 NIV

 

Boy I needed to be reminded of this today, and I just found a note I wrote years ago quoting some of Brennan Manning’s book “Ruthless Trust, “ which I read on a trip to Asia, as I recall, going to do childcare at a missions conference . Wish I still had a copy!

“Trust, the winsome wedding of faith and hope…. Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes our message.” (p.88) He cites 2 Corinthians 3: 2-3 that God’s message is written on the tablets of our hearts. “We must deduce everything we know about God from what we know about Jesus… For me and many others, Jesus IS the revelation of the only God worthy of trust,” (p. 89) “The promise of His presence and the presence of His promise.” (p. 94) “What does lie within my power is paying attention to the faithfulness of Jesus. That’s what I am asked to do: pay attention to Jesus throughout my journey, remembering his kindness.”(p. 97)

May God cover all of us His children with His powerful Hands and Love today and give us courage to honestly confess,  genuinely repent and  let Him take  out the toxins in us., put in His cleansing, and help us say that we are HIS and live like we mean it!

 

A  “…BUT…” to pray: LORD God, I freely admit I can’t live up to all the things I know I should put into my life and make my BE attitudes, and yes, I need YOU to help me see and cast out the toxic ideas, attitudes, feelings, assumptions, and flat-out dumb  actions  in me. I can’t do it on my own, BUT HOLY SPIRIT, YOU CAN do it in me as I yield mtyself to You, so I ask You now to tell me _______________________ and show me _________________________ and take it all OUT of me,  and  show me _______________________ and  tell me  ____________________ that YOU WANT TO put into me  out of Your self, Your love, Your purposes,  and Your powerful grace. In Jesus’ name, Loving  Father God, amen, and Holy Spirit, please amp up the volume so I can hear you as I’m listening __________________________________________.

 

Shake Off the Snake

FOX 10 me with snakeI had no idea in 2012 that I’d be on the TV news in more difficult days than when this photo was taken. Dusting off one from my blogspot posting days, and yes, the serpent is still trying to get me to bite on offense, but I won’t take his bait or, prayerfully, let him envenomate me with accusations and lies, both of which I’ve had to “shake off” with truth in the last month. My words come back as reminders to me, and I pray they minister to you. Um ….  when we gave our lives to Jesus, this battlefield IS what we ( most of us naively, unknowingly) signed up for.

Seventy-five unsupervised and rambunctiously excited kindergarteners sat in a circle on the concrete floor in the echoing auditorium, hands reaching out to touch the St. Helena Mountain king snake I held about five inches behind its head as I walked around their group. This lithe little snake had enough and told me so – snap – in the flesh between my thumb and index finger.

Great – now I had an angry snake latched painfully firmly to my hand and wide-eyed children still waving “I want to grab you” hands. All I could think to do was try to shake off the stressed snake, hide my bleeding hand, and put the irritated reptile away. It worked, until five feet later when the still-agitated snake still told me I wasn’t retreating to it’s transport quickly enough and nailed my hand again.

“This isn’t the job I signed up for,” I thought as I came back into the room with a cuddly by comparison hedgehog in my gloved hands. But it was exactly what I signed up for, though I never realized when I took the job at he Zoo that being bitten was an occupational hazard inherent in inspiring Zoo guests to amazement at the adaptations in wildlife. My praise to Jesus, I came to no harm from that serpent’s two bites, and the next day the marks were as good as gone.  No other snake in the programs collection ever bit or attempted to bite me.

I never dreamed being bitten by the enemy was in the job description when I gave my life to Jesus, either. No pastor or priest ever gives the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. Beloved of God, go in peace, and now you have a target on your back,” but it’s true. The day I gave myself wholly and forever to God through Jesus, I crossed a line and took a side that makes the Devil more than slightly agitated.  The Bible describes him as a thief, serpent or snake:

The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  Revelation 12:9

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus speaking) have come that they (we) may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

How does the snake latch on to us? The devil’s venom is lies and offense: he lies about our identity, accuses us and bring up condemnation as though the Blood of Jesus isn’t more than enough to truly wash away and cleanse us from all sin, injects us with offense when someone wrongs us, and plants fear that God isn’t faithful to His promises, as though His Word isn’t powerful and God is a liar with less than overwhelmingly loving and good plans for each of our lives.

When Peter in his first letter to the church exhorted believers to humble themselves before God, cast their anxiety on God, and be self-controlled and alert, he likened the devil to a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, and he was doing it then and still doing it now to believers. Peter doesn’t end on that note of warning, but concludes by saying, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”  (1 Peter 5:5-10)

I remembered the snake incident at the Zoo today in a rush of recognition that, of course, the devil isn’t happy that I’ve forgiven a betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for his salvation. I must have a huge red bulls-eye that reads, “bite this one” on my back. Well, of course we’re targets, and the more damage we do or will inflict on the devil’s plans through our forgiveness, unrelenting love, faithfulness, and praise to God, the more irritated and madder that “adder” will get. But then which do I want: to fall into bitterness to placate the devil and anger my Father and Savior, the Living God, or would I rather anger the devil and please, obey and honor God?

The apostle Paul encountered the devil in the exact form of a poisonous snake on the island of Malta when the ship carrying him to Rome ran aground in a severe storm.  Paul’s companion and physician Luke recounts the incident:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.  Acts 28: 1-7

And thanks to Jesus, the Devil may bite, but he can’t inflict any permanent damage on us, either, when we choose to believe God’s Word and love are true and faithful:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. .. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample on the great lion and the serpent. “BUT I’ll “shake off the snake” of accusations and fear from the lying devourer and just tell the serpent taking aim at me to “TALK TO THE HAND!” By that I don’t mean mine, but “THE HAND OF JESUS, THE HAND THAT BEARS THE SCARS OF THE NAILS” that drew the Blood that paid for my complete forgiveness and forever righteousness in Yeshua the Messiah, the conquering King of Kings.

The seventy-two (disciples of Jesus, whom he had sent out to do his work) returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He (Jesus) replied,” I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  Lord God, I never wanted to become a target of Satan’s anger, but being on your side means I’m not on his. I know that means he won’t be happy, BUT I know that means you WILL ________________________________________________ because YOU PROMISE TO ______________________________________________________________________. As I shake off the snake, today I tell him “Talk to the HAND who delivers and conquers, gives me authority to command you to submit  and who writes My name on His hand and heart in Heaven! In Jesus’ name I  shake off the snake and the lies that I _______________________ andI embrace God’s Truth that I AM the Lord’s beloved!  Praise God,amen!

“You Will Hear a Voice Behind You…”

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Ethan and I in Nanning – we made it!

Sometimes, sometimes God’s Word rings true right in the middle of real life. It’s always true, of course; I just don’t see it in action up close and personal every day, but at Christmas in 2014, God certainly proved his Word – and his Love – very true to me.

I flew my younger son Ethan with me to China to spend Christmas with my older son, daughter-in-law and the two grandchildren. Ethan had never been to China before and I thought it would be a fun way for him to see where his brother has worked for the last ten years. I’d taken four trips over there by myself, and yes, on the last two I had run into several snags in airports, but God had orchestrated help for me. Ethan was going to get to see God in action, and I was going to get a powerful reminder!

We flew into Beijing to catch an in-country flight to another city, arriving on a large. full plane early in the morning. We had about 90 minutes between planes, which I thought was adequate time to transfer, that is, until saw the line at the customs station in the Beijing airport. Ahead of us in line were roughly 200 people! It would take a small eternity to clear customs, and at 6:30 in the morning ….

A woman pushing a cleaning cart came up behind us as we were eyeballing the roadblock of people in front of us, and seeing our confustion, suggested in her limited English that we go through the diplomatic line over to the right. Could we do that? I decided it was worth a try, so, clock ticking,  we walked over to the  diplomatic line. A family was in front of us, and the father was methodically handing over eight passports to the agent. Sloooowwwwly the agent looked through them and stamped them, and sloooowwwly handed them back. At last we were next, and there was no problem evidently with us going through that line, even though we weren’t diplomats, when I showed the agent our departure time.

We sped off to the inter-terminal train, hoping to quickly go from Terminal B to Terminal D. The train zipped along to Terminal C, people exited, doors closed, and then the train zipped right past Terminal D to Terminal E! Whaaat???!! We had no choice but to exit the train, and ahead of us was yet another checkpoint. Beginning to feel flustered and anxiety creeping up in me, we began walking toward the checkpoint when a voice in perfect English behind us inquired, “Are you going to Nanning?”

I turned to find a young Chinese woman walking toward us, smiling. “Yes, we are,” I replied, amazed that of all the cities she could have named, she named the one we were going to. She walked withs through TWO checkpoints: the one into the terminal and the one on the other side of a stairway to catch the train going back toward Terminal B. She was a Mandarin instructor at a university in Texas and just happened to be from Nanning!

That wasn’t the end of our trials in departing the airport, and I will spare you the cliff-hanging terror of the accident when a bottle of taco seasoning my son was carrying as a Christmas gift flew out of one of his shoes as the FOURTH security team looked through his backpack, shattering and spilling spices all over the floor. (Frankly, this has been the story of my life for the past seven years!) Suffice it to say they held the gate open just long enough – and I’m talking ready to roll the jetway back – for Ethan to run to it and all of us board the connecting flight. Whew!

As we plopped down in our seats on the plane, a verse from Isaiah ran and leaped on the jetway of my consciousness: “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” Isaiah 30:21-22 NIV

Praise God, praise God, from whom all blessings flow …. I absolutely knew God had directed two people, perhaps women who didn’t even know him, to help us make our connection that morning.  Four years earlier I’d faced a similar dilemma when I arrived at another airport in China, this time on my way back home,. I needed to catch the bus to the ferry that would take me to the Hong Kong airport, but what met me in the parking lot was a sea of vans whose only signage was in Mandarin. Behind me was a voice on that morning, too, asking me if I needed to find the bus to the Hong Kong airport ferry, and who should God have sent that morning but a pilot for Air China!

If you look back to my posts in 2013, you’ll find one that’s titled “God of my steps and mis-steps.” Boy, have I taken some mis-steps since then, out of sheer grief that sometimes rose like a tsunami to drown me. I would much rather tell you that I’ve trusted God serenely with my whole heart, but in all honesty, and because I’m sure someone else who’s goofed, staggered, and fumbled their way  through grief or PTSD needs to hear this, GOD has remained completely faithful to me despite my staggering!

Some days I still do, finding it hard to believe even now that a person I trusted completely would prove utterly untrustworthy, BUT God is trustworthy in spite of my wavering trust in him.

I quote Charles Haddon Spurgeon from a sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, July 23, 1882:

I invite you to notice first of all THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God find men when he declares that they shall hear a word behind them? First, he finds them with their backs turned to him. This is clear enough, if you remember that the word is to be heard “behind” them. The sinner has gone away from God, and God calls after him from behind. He has turned his back upon his true Friend, his best Friend, his only capable Friend, but that Friend does not therefore change his temper and resent the insult; nay, he is provoked to a love more pleading and persuasive than ever, and calls to him to come into the right way. After having transgressed wilfully and wickedly, the rebel now distinctly turns his back on God and truth; according to the Lord’s complaint, “they have turned unto me the back, and not the face.” He turns his back on the law, on the gospel, on mercy, on eternal life. He turns his back on the adoption of the great Father, on pardon bought with the blood of Jesus, on regeneration which can alone be wrought by the Holy Spirit: he turns his back upon holiness, happiness, and heaven. He turns away from sunlight, and wanders down into deeper and yet deeper night, striving to get away from God and holy influences. Yet the Lord follows him, and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his ear, as if love resolved that he should not perish if wooing could win him to life. The wanderer seeks not God, but his God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him. What matchless grace is this, that God should thus call after sinners when they openly renounce his rule, and flee from his mercy.  http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1672.php

This reminds me of one of my favorite songs, both in English and Chinese: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not; Thy compassions they fail not. As Thous hast been, Thou forever will be.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

I wonder how much different my life might have been, how many potholes and how much quicksand I might have avoided if I could have done just that: trusted in the Lord with ALL my heart? Oh, people advised me to, but the problem is, nobody tells you HOW to do that, and the people telling you TO do that have very likely never gone through gut-wrenching tragedy to give you some helpful advice. Well, I have gone through it, and I’m still alive, and God is still showering his goodness on me despite all the (probably, definitely) needless angst and craziness  in my life since 2009. THAT is the message I have for you, dear someone who feels like a flop and failure for not being able to pull yourself up all by yourself and nobly trust in the Lord with ALL of your heart:  “Yet the Lord follows him (YOU), and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him (YOU), “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him(YOU) to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his (YOUR)ear, as if love resolved that he (YOU) should not perish if wooing could win him (YOU) to life.”

As the trite saying of the 1970’s went, God ain’t finished with YOU yet! I don’t know what you’re going through. Some light is shining in my life at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, and I’m deciding maybe God wanted good for me all along! That’s who God is: goodness, love, mercy, kindness, power, provision, grace.

BUT God is also HOLY, Righteous, a Refiner’s Fire, PURE, and we do ourselves a mischief if you and I don’t remember that God is not to be trifled with in terms of the way we live our lives when we know better from God’s Word. So here is the rest of the passage from Isaiah 30:

Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. Isaiah 30:22-24 NIV

Pretty graphic warning, isn’t it? I am/you are to regard everything we cherish, value, fear or reverence above God Almighty as unclean, unholy, un-holdable, untouchable, not to be done, thought, said, valued, or worshiped.

You are radiant with light,
    more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered,
    they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors
    can lift his hands.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
    both horse and chariot lie still.

It is you alone who are to be feared.
    Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
    and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
    and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them;
    let all the neighboring lands
    bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers;
    he is feared by the kings of the earth. Psalm 76: 5-12 NIV

In our “God is our buddy” culture that I see all too often in the church in America, we need to remember that the voice we hear behind us speaking in mercy is also a voice of PURE Holiness from the ONE who has a right to judge every useless thought, word, attitude and action, and let us, sisters and brothers, live our lives wisely and care-full-ly in REVERENCE and Holy Awe, too, of the incredibly just and righteous God we dare to call Father.

A “…BUT…” to move: Today, God, show me how you’ve been there for me before. Remind me of the times you broke into my life with your love and guidance, even when I wasn’t looking for you: _____________________________________________________. And show me, please, yes even this: show me YOUR HOLINESS so I have the proper respect and awe of you, Olam El, Everlasting God Almighty ___________________________  In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, please, speak to me know in a way I can hear and understand. Correct me where you long to and need to, and lead me in YOUR righteousness to make YOUR way plain before my face __________________________

Long-Distance Love

Long-distance grandparenting – ouch! Sadly it’s the norm for many families today.

Some families move across town, some across the country, and some across the globe.

Our only two grandchildren live literally on the other side of the world. Our son and daughter-in-law work for a non-profit humanitarian agency whose home leave policy is three months at home for every year on the field. Most families in their agency save up leave to come home for an entire school year. For us that year was last year, ten months packed with intentionally made memories large and small, from camping at the Grand Canyon to geocaching in the parking lot of our neighborhood drugstore to just plain babysitting so our son and daughter-in-law could have real “date nights,” a hard-to-come-by commodity when they were on the field.

So much fun meant so much heartache saying good-bye. Though our grandchildren were only three and six, they knew they were going back to another far-away country and culture. The anxiety of leaving family spilled out of our grandson’s heart, eyes and conversations during the final month of their home visit: “Grandma, I wish we could stay here with someone until Mommy and Daddy are finished with the work they have to do.”

“You can stay with us!” my heart cried silently, protesting the words coming out of my mouth, “I know, but you’d miss Daddy and Mommy. I’m sure your friends there have missed you, too, and can’t wait to see you again!” Over my heart’s objections, true love told me I needed to do something to help our grandkids make the transition, so through my tears I wrote a poem – with a bow to Dr. Seuss – to tuck into their carry-on bags along with toys and treats for their 32-hour journey – a fun surprise for them and therapy for a grieving Grandma’s heart!

I’ve been blessed to visit them three times since, to see where they live and share in some of their adventures and favorite places in the towns they’ve lived in. I am so proud of my son and daughter-in-law for providing love, grace, shared faith, strength and the stability of love for both of these kids we share in family love, wherever they are!

back on good bed at Suan Bua

Home is Where the Love Is

On the grandkids’ moving day, they were scared to move away,

So Grandma called them on the phone to say, “You’ll never be alone.”

“No matter where the road may wind you, know my love will always find you.

If you move to Timbuktu, I’ll still come visit you.

If you fly to Zanzibar, my heart won’t think that is too far.

If you’re as close as Nacogdoches, I’ll come hug you so ferocious!”

“If you wake up in Jingxi, you both mean the world to me.

Take the bus back to Nanning?  Call on the computer and we can sing.

I’ll send you packages in Key Largo, even though it’s farther than Fargo.

If you drive to Jodrell Bank, my love will fully fill your tank.

If you stop in Honolulu, my love won’t stop; it will pursue you!”

“Ride a camel to Kyrgyzstan, and I’ll still be your biggest fan!

If you get hot in Madagascar, Gram still thinks you’re cool – just ask her!

Sail a boat to Truk or Yap? My heart won’t even need a map.

Cruise the Strait of Kattegat? My heart always knows where you’re at.

Stuff your backpack for Hong Kong? You’re carrying my heart along.

Forget you in Ulaanbaatar? No way!  My thoughts are where you are!”

“Across the globe while you are sleeping, I’m awake; you’re in love’s keeping.

When I sleep and you’re at play, your hearts are just a dream away.

Around the world we’ll rendezvous because I think the world of you!

It’s true, no matter where you dwell, your Grandma loves YOU. Can’t you tell?

From east to west, Cape Town to Nome, where family love is, there is home.”

Mr "Good Wrench" and "Good Advice"

Sorry all that this is just a quick glimpse into what the Spirit said to me Tuesday, August 15. Driving to work I heard Lysa Terkeurst and Amanda Carroll on KLOVE radio, Lisa talking about her new book Unglued and about ratcheting our anger when we’re repeatedly offended. 

Oh, Eureka! Exactly what my beloved did over 34 years and more of our life together: put his arm to the wrench and ratchet down on the nuts of anger, bitterness, contempt, offense, unforgiveness, wounding, and self-preserving seeking on the tires of his life, so tightly that he can’t let go of his wounded emotions and cultural-norm “look out for yourself” choices. No wonder he’s stuck!

A very able engineer, he always warned me and our sons not to let a tire dealer use the pneumatic wrench to snug down the bolts on the nuts of our wheels too tightly, or we’d never be able to break them loose if we had to change a flat on the road. Ah, but beloved, you did just that, and I almost did until I saw the lies I was believing about your motivation in the things you said and did, and started believing that you DID love me in the ways you could. 

Oh, the PNEUMA of the Holy Spirit to break free the lock-down on our “lug nuts” and fix our flats, give us re-treads or just plain new tires to keep us moving in God’s direction and purposes! This may be a copyrighted phrase, BUT I praise ” Mr. Good Wrench” Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do the releasing for us what we can’t do ourselves if we let him!

And the “good advice”? Disclaimer: I am no one’s Savior, I’m heartily glad Jesus took that role upon himself, and I surrender that right and role to him. I was wondering, though,  how Jesus would have responded in the Garden of Gethsemane to, and how our lives now and forever would play out if Jesus took the advice of, some solid psychologists and counselors who ought to have been there in his agony instead of the snoozing Peter, James and John. Can you hear their advice to him, like the advice given to me?

“It’s time to look out for yourself.”
“Do what’s best for you.”
“Take care of yourself.”
“You can’t change them. They have their own free will.”
“You need to establish healthy boundaries for yourself.”

And the best one, the one I hear caregivers say at the preschool every day : “Just walk away.”

How would YOU have counseled Jesus to respond in his situation?   What if he had? Aren’t you glad he didn’t?

I AM!

So flying in the face of what sounds “right” is our fully functional, not dysfunctional, Lord and lover of our souls Jesus.


Here’s the world’s best “. . . But . . .” to pray:  I was lost in my selfishness and self-seeking frantic attempts to validate myself and find love, and I’ve wounded other people in the search, BUT JESUS YOU DIDN’T WALK AWAY! You thought of me and gave yourself, and in YOUR GIFT I have validation and amazing love now and forever! Jesus, Mr. Good Wrench, put the arm of your love on the lug nuts of my anger and bitterness over ____________________________ and break me free, change my heart, fill me with the penuma – air- breath – of the Holy Spirit so my heart is free to love ________________________________.