Posted in focus on faith

Christmas Tips from a Reformed Scrooge

I used to hate Christmas. I know, you’re not supposed to say, “hate.” As a matter of fact I never allowed my kids to say it. How about strong dislike! Definitely seasonal dread. Not at all what it is intended to be.

Why did I dread Christmas? I was caving to culture-pressure; concerned about costs; and leaving Christ mostly out of the process. Those three factors added up to some miserable Noels!

Now if you were to ask my kids or even my husband, they would say that our Christmases were wonderful! Lots of gifts. Decorations. The annual tree-chopping with a frosty tailgate picnic to follow. Mounds of goodies. Parties. Family gatherings. A turkey the size of a Volkswagen. The family/friends hockey game. Games, Poppycock. Movies.

So what was my problem? I wasted a lot of energy on “creating” the ideal Christmas; I worried a lot about the cost of it all; and frankly, I didn’t trust or even consult the Birthday Boy for most of it!

Thankfully, that was then and this is now.

What’s changed? I have. And, to be fair, circumstances are also different. I’m older. My kids are launched and have kids of their own. Christmas for grandparents is far less stressful than Christmas for parents. The last thing I want to do is toss pearls from this lofty height and add to the seasonal guilt already weighing some of you down.

But may I encourage you?

If you dread Christmas, even just a little, stop a minute and pray. Right now. A simple cry-of-the-heart prayer. Something like, “Christmas is coming again, God. HELP!”

That’s a good place to start – with Him. It was His big idea after all.

Then brew your fav hot drink, grab a pen and paper, and jot down whatever comes to mind as you think ahead to Christmas.

You might write:

Shop for gifts,

Order gifts online, Crochet afghan for sister,

Make cookies for the cookie exchange,

Book photographer for annual family pix, Coordinate clothes for photo shoot,

Shop for clothes,

Make jellies for co-workers,

Chop tree,

Hang lights,

Decorate house,

Send Christmas photo-cards,

Host office party,

Sing in Christmas cantata,

and much much more.

GIVE IT TO HIM:

Once your list is done, put your pen down, put your hands on the list, close your eyes and ask God for guidance as you consider everything beneath your hands. Visualize His hands over your hands and, as much as possible, give it all over to Him.

Open your eyes. If your drink is still hot, have another sip.

GET RID OF IT:

Now look at the list again and cross off anything that is inspired by ego, competition, or social media bragging rights. Good-bye afghan, jellies, office party!

Years ago I removed “chop tree.” I dragged home the little artificial tree from my Sunday School class – stuffed it in the trunk of my Honda on Dec 21, lugged it into my living room, plugged it in and grinned like Scrooge. I bought a vastly reduced Christmas tree in the after-Christmas sales a few weeks later.

I also stopped risking life and limb and frostbitten digits “hanging lights.” My neighbor stopped the very next year, giving me the credit and thanking me for freeing him from something he only did to compete with me.

GIVE IT AWAY:

Take stock of what’s left. What can you delegate? I can give “cookie baking” to our 11-year-old granddaughter who loves to bake. “Shopping” went to my husband who thinks he’s Santa anyway. This made our kids very happy because Dad always buys them what they want; I would buy them what I could afford! Not nearly the same!

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

Once your list is shortened and you have carved out a smidgen of margin, consider using some of that time to play a game with your kids, take a snowy walk under the stars (God’s light display!), decorate some gingerbread and use it as an excuse to meet a neighbor, or simply take a nap!

Christmas doesn’t stress me out any more. I do less and let others do more. I stay away from social media so I won’t be tempted to compete. I make sure my neighbors know the real me so they don’t judge me by my light display, or lack thereof. I play more. Laugh more. Rest more. Buy fewer gifts and give more money away. And I focus more on Jesus!

May your Christmas be simpler, better, and something you can look forward to this year, and always. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Posted in minimal moments

Go Big or Go Home. Says Who?

Go big or go home. It’s the mantra in Nashville and Hollywood. It’s the clarion call to working women from Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In. It’s the hope of athletes and Olympians. This message has trickled down and seeped into the hearts and minds of us all.

So I ask…”Says who?” (or whom? Whatever!)

Some people you and I know personally are “big.” Kudos to you. But most of us aren’t. Not being big can feel like we’ve somehow failed or under-achieved or even quit.

Some people we know are intentionally not big, never wanted big, chose small, or just wound up small and are happy. Kudos to you too.

Last weekend I flew on a small airplane (four other passengers) to a small town in northern Alberta. I thought I was going to a small event but 225 women showed up so by their standards (and mine) it was big.

A first draft of this blog was handwritten as I flew and as soon as I landed, I lost the courage to post it. But God had other plans.

One of the first people I met was the “missing” brother from a famous country band. Three brothers started singing together as teens and their talent and drive took them to Nashville and the top of the charts. They got BIG. But when I saw a photo of the band recently I noticed there were only two brothers.

The sound man at my event was a local, a husband and father of three young kids and his day job was IT. He looked familiar ( I attended a live concert several years ago when there were still three brothers in the band) and a few questions revealed he was the missing brother.

“What happened?” was my (possibly rude) question.

“My wife and I wanted to come home,” was his gracious and courageous answer.

He told me they had been home three years so I asked how he felt about the decision now. “I’ve never regretted it,” he said with a smile.

In other words, he chose “small.” He achieved the big dream and it didn’t fit him or his family very well so he chose a new dream.

Meeting him gave me the courage to share my own truth:

I have been on the road speaking since 1999 and I have had a few “big” moments. Some of my peers who began speaking at the same time or even years later are now BIG. Kudos to you. Sincerely.

In my field as a speaker, big is large audiences, wide acclaim (people drive several hours to attend your event), more invitations than you can possibly accept, top dollar, publishing deals and many books, huge blog following, TV and radio spots or even your own show, world-wide travel and more.

I think you can figure out what small is on your own.

I believe small is God’s dream for me. Small just fits me better. I can do small without the chasing, the driving, the madness, the climbing, the people-pleasing, the selfies with “big” people, the crowded calendar and airline gold status, the FB posting of where you are and where you’re going next, the marketing, the jumping-through-hoops that are always flaming, the online products and ever-bigger blog following, the new and fresh ideas ever day…the lonely hotel rooms, the cities you’ve visited but can’t remember being there, the people you’ve met who’ve poured out their heart to you but you’ve forgotten everything about them, the panic attacks, the thousands of FB “friends” that are not real friends, the stress of delayed or canceled flights, the numbing exhaustion, the hordes of people who admire you mostly because they don’t really know you, the missed celebrations and crises back home, the texts from your kids and grandkids asking when you’ll get home … wow! I didn’t know I had so much bottled up angst but there it is humble reader — my rant on why big doesn’t work for me.

Does that mean that we “small” people don’t have the talent to be big? Maybe. But not always. The “missing brother” had enough talent and I have plenty of evidence to indicate my speaking gift is sufficient.

Choosing small means we don’t have the will. Those of us who choose “small” do not like the price that must be paid to be big. Small works for us. Small fits.

Choosing small in one area creates space for other big things–family, health, spiritual wholeness–that might get overlooked or sacrificed or ignored, or postponed or devalued or lost while you are chasing big.

Five years ago when I flew home from a Rah-Rah conference with a head full of ideas and a plan to write my next book about “simplifying your life” I discovered my husband of 30+ years was inches away from burnout.

God whispered a new dream into my heart. Or perhaps it was the dream that was always there but I was too busy chasing to hear it.

“Gerry needs a wife,” said the voice in my head. I put down my author’s pen. I made other changes. I have a few more to make. It has taken almost five years for me to fully embrace God’s newest dream for me but in the end, instead of writing about simplifying, I simplified! I chose small. And I don’t regret it.

Posted in focus on faith

Gift Envy

My biggest insecurity when God called me into ministry as a speaker was that I didn’t think I had anything worthy to say. Telling people I was a hypocritical sinner who had “faked faith” for years did not seem like a topic likely to inspire!

On top of that, my natural ability lay in telling funny stories, not in Biblical exegesis. It seemed to me that making people laugh was near the bottom of the list of necessary talents required for ministry. Bringing Scripture to life with in-depth teaching in a contemporary style was where I needed to be, I thought. In short, I suffered from Beth Moore Envy.

Rick Warren cautions us about “gift envy.” It is tempting to look at the gifts of others and wish we could be like that. For the first year after my call to ministry, every time I prepared talks for a speaking engagement I questioned my gifts and wondered whether I should try to be more like Beth Moore. I would open the Scriptures and try to harvest deep truths–and in no time at all I would be miserable and discouraged. I had no insights, for the Word was still dead to me because I was battling unbelief and succumbing to crippling doubt.

In the midst of this trying season, I had been asked to speak at a weekend retreat in another province. I had, of course, agreed to this since that was the “deal” between God and me: If someone called, I would go. This obedience to go in the midst of my own debilitating doubt was to be my pathway out of the wilderness. 

I knew that my message, the only message I was qualified to give, had to be the truth about my wilderness trek. 

In desperation, after hours of fruitless attempts to prepare, I gave up. I put on my shoes and went for a “slog” (the closest I ever got to being a runner was my slow jog.) Slipping along the muddy running path along the river, I called out to the still invisible silent God for help.

And He met me there. He met me at the place I least expected but should have known He would. He met me at my point of need. 

Just be yourself and tell the truth, I heard. Like the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet did what she could, God was asking me to do no less. And no more

That weekend, I spoke about my wilderness experience and my Beth Moore envy. God instantly released me from the paralyzing grip of that envy as soon as I broke the conspiracy of silence and confessed it. 

In the midst of feeling incredibly inadequate, completely unqualified, and dreadfully unspiritual, God was calling me to do the very thing He calls each of us to do–to do what I couldI could talk. I could go. I could tell the truth. What did I lack in order to fulfill that calling? Nothing. The enemy had seeded all those negative thoughts in his attempt to keep me silenced and useless. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

  • Are you ever tempted to try to be someone else? To copy your hero instead of sharing your story, your gifts, your experiences, your failures?
  • Have you ever held back what you could have offered because you think it’s not quite right or not enough?
  • Are you so convinced you don’t have what it takes that you are afraid to step out or reach out with what you have?

Maybe you need to head out for a “slog” and listen for that still small voice telling you to do what you can even if you think it ain’t much. Say yes and watch Him use what you give to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.

Posted in minimal moments

Minimal Moment — does anyone still Spring Clean?

Is the concept of Spring Cleaning outdated? I don’t know anybody younger than me who does it. Growing up, it was an annual ritual.

  • Beds were dismantled, bed frames scrubbed, mattresses whacked and aired outside.
  • Walls and baseboards were washed.
  • Cupboards were emptied and scrubbed.
  • Closets were cleaned out and unused items were purged.
  • Area carpets were taken outside and thumped soundly.
  • Wood furniture was waxed.
  • Silver was polished.
  • Wood floors were stripped of wax and rewaxed.
  • Doilies were removed, washed, starched, ironed and returned. Oh my, yes!

Nowadays, we don’t spring clean. We move.

If we don’t move, we try to keep up all year long when our jobs, kids, and social media release us for a few moments.

If you are ready to grab your home by the throat and show it who’s really BOSS, keep reading. Sue Anderson, a professional organizer and friend, asks Six Great Spring Cleaning Questions that do not include rubber gloves in her latest newsletter; I would like to share these as today’s Minimal Moment.

  1. Have I used this lately? If you haven’t used or worn something lately, chances are you’re not going to use or wear it anytime soon either!
  2. Are you really going to do that project? We all buy things we think we’re going to use for this or that but we never really get around to using them. If you haven’t used something as planned, and it’s been hanging around for an extended period of time, it’s time to let it go!
  3. Do I even like this? Notice your entire physical and mental response to this question as you ask yourself this about each item. When your entire being lights up at the thought of something, you should hold on to it. When you find yourself trying to talk yourself into why you like something, those are the items that should go.
  4. Does it serve a purpose? As you look through your stuff, be realistic with yourself about whether or not something serves a real purpose in your life. If you’ve had something sitting in the very same spot for more than 12 months, chances are it’s not serving any purpose for you and should be donated.
  5. Would someone else benefit from owning this item more than I do? This is usually the question that helps push people past the point of holding on to things they are having a hard time letting go of even though they know they don’t need it. There are TONS of people out there that need your stuff. (See The Stuff Stop.)
  6. How many of this item do I have vs how many of this item do I really need? If you have 20 pair of blue jeans and wear the same 2-3 pairs all of the time, you probably don’t need 20. (We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.

Visit her, sign up for her newsletter and order her book, The Truth about Clutterhere.

Posted in focus on faith

How do I help a friend who’s lost her faith?

How do I help a friend who’s lost her faith? I recently posted four hard questions from a blog reader and asked for your input. I will share your answers along with my thoughts below.

Before you can help her (or him; let’s say “her”), you need to know that even though she may feel like her faith is gone, her Saviour is not. For example: the air you breathe on a windy day is visible by what it does to the flags that snap overhead but it is quite invisible on a still day. On both days, the oxygen content is the same.

What the spiritually dry Christian interprets as “lost” faith is often dormant faith. Faith that feels dead, looks dead, doesn’t move. It isn’t dead. It’s just inactive, ineffective and under-utilized. The wind of faith is temporarily stilled. What gets lost isn’t Jesus, it’s the what-Jesus-does-when-He’s-active-in-you.

The most important thing you can do for a friend who feels like (or insists) she’s lost her faith is give her hope. Hope that her faith is not dead. And neither is God. Hope that the God she once knew is still there, even though she may never have the same relationship with Him again. Hope that there is a way out of dryness. Hope that everything she is going through will have purpose and meaning. Any or all of the above will be beneficial.

Let’s take a look at the four hard questions because these are questions you need answered if you want to help a friend who says her faith is gone. Blog reader’s input is in italics. 

1) How do we provide a safe place for those in a spiritual desert?

  • Begin with honesty and sharing when you were dry. The best place to start is with transparency about your own struggles with doubt or dryness. Eighty percent of believers experience at least one period of dryness so we can assume you’ve had yours! Admit it! Immediately you will have built a bridge of understanding; you’ve been there too and you get it.
  • Go first–share honestly about present struggles not only “once forever ago.” In my experience, the reason I kept silent for years was because no one ever admitted to being in a season of dryness “right now.” It was always, “been there, done that, all better!” If you are open about your own “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” right-now moments, it will open a door for honest communication.
  • Listen with discernment. I jump to solving all too often [and this can] make the person sharing [their dryness] feel like a problem to be solved instead of a person who wants to feel understood. Spiritual dryness is not the result of one small incident. It is the result of long, slow spiritual drift caused by 10,000 pricks of sorrow, loss, betrayal, fear, pain, insult, missed opportunity, demotion, rejection, jealousy, anxiety, abuse, and more that weigh on your soul, eventually resulting in separation from God. If you listen with discernment you can identify some roots and give gentle direction, sympathy, and comfort.

Let’s say you have not been spiritually dry, then pay careful attention because a season of wilderness may be in your future. Let your dry friend know that you can learn from each other as you walk through this together.

2) How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?

  • If you have ever felt lost or alone, share it with them…and hopefully they open up. We encourage them by demonstrating they are neither lost nor alone. Spend time with them but not with the intention of repairing the brokenness. Just be friends. Take in a movie, a coffee, a walk, some food, a road trip…hang out!
  • Take time to listen. Relate. Pray. All good.
  • Connect them with other believers who will walk with, not fix. Invite them to life-giving or restorative opportunities but do so in a way they don’t feel pressured. I mentioned to several friends that I was planning on attending a Freedom Session bible study. Some of them signed up too. We are journeying to wholeness together!

3) How then do I help others who are in spiritual wilderness?

  • ‪Listen to where they are so you know how to pray. Not just know HOW to pray, but know that you CAN pray. This might be your first indication that your friend needs your prayers. I don’t pray for all my friends on a regular basis but if one of them indicates spiritual dryness or loss of faith I begin to pray with focused purpose.
  • Sometimes they aren’t done with the wilderness, sometimes they’re complaining but still comfortable. Sometimes they’re not ready to reach for help. Oh this is SO discerning! When I first began to come out of wilderness (instead of head deeper into it) I started to be honest with people. Looking back now I don’t think I really wanted to pay the price to come out yet because I was still so terribly afraid of God–I wasn’t ready to give Him access to my life and will. I was mostly just complaining. Thankfully, people gave me grace, space, friendship and prayer and they walked with me as I stumbled Godward.
  • Do not be silent, but admit to self, God, and another person where you are and God will give you words and ways to help others through your testimony. The message here is that God will not waste YOUR wilderness. He will help you use your story to encourage and bring hope to others.

4) What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

  • When someone is sharing, do not interrupt, do not give advice, just honor them with eye contact and a good listening ear. If you have not been through a season of dryness, be quick to listen and sloooowww to speak. I did not ever think “wilderness” would happen to me and prior to experiencing it, my advice would not have been much help. There will likely be other issues that contributed to your friend’s spiritual drift, be sensitive to the process and pray for wisdom.
  • ‪Ask God for a heart of compassion and to see yourself in the same place if not for the grace of God. Honestly it could be you. Or me–it WAS me!
  • Connect them with other believers who are full of grace and truth. Your friend may have drifted away from Christian community. If they are willing, invite them in to small circles of caring.
  • Allow them to share their experience without explaining away the struggle. Do not minimize or overlook the spiritual and emotional wrestling that is undoubtedly a part of your friend’s wilderness season. Swallow those glib answers and perfect Scriptures. They’ve heard them and possibly memorized them already! Just listen.
  • If you are in a position of leadership (this includes parents, grandparents, mentors, and friends), teach people how to do “authenticity with all, transparency with some, and intimacy with a few.” Not everyone has the discernment for details! 

Thank you for your input via social media and real talk. I pray some of these answers will help you help someone else who is looking for hope in the midst of their sandstorm of unbelief.

Posted in focus on faith

Four hard questions about spiritual dryness

Openness begets openness. I have permission to share the following from a pastor’s wife who came through a season of spiritual dryness. She asks four questions I need help answering. Maybe you can help? (my comments are sprinkled throughout)

I read your blog this morning on Facebook and had to take a moment to write to you. I love how transparent your are! You are never afraid (oh yes I am! But thanks.) to tell us where you are, I know there was a season where that was not the case, but I love that now you are so open. I too wish that all women in ministry could also be an open book.

Ministry can be so discouraging and lonely. It is so easy to hear how things are going in other churches and to then question, why isn’t my church like that? We get so caught up in what we think is success.

I have been in that same place (people in ministry keeping the conspiracy of silence concerning their struggles), the place where I so hoped no one saw me. I hoped that my clothing would blend in with the wallpaper and that no one would even know I was there. I wanted to rejoice with my friends over their successes, baptisms, number of members, people growing in their walk with the Lord.

I so wanted to be happy but oh I was struggling.

asked God why couldn’t my church be the same? Why couldn’t we be baptizing hundreds of new believers? Or why were we here struggling in this little church plant? Why couldn’t my husband be called to pastor a mega church? All of those things ran through my mind.

At times I wanted to get up on a chair and just scream!!! Other times I just wanted to fade away into the woodwork. That time was so dark and lonely.

God did carry me through that dark time and has led me to a place where I am happy again. (YES!) I am finding new energy for ministry. I am excited to see what new door God will open this week and I am spending more time in prayer seeking that time with Him. I look forward to seeing my church family and I rejoice with them in their victories!

I praise God that He did not let me go, that he led me through the dark time and back into His light! I know I will have other seasons where I feel alone, however, having come through this dark season I know God will be there too.

(Okay, here are the first two questions…) I wanted to write to you because in my darkest moments I felt that I could tell no one! I felt that no one could ever understand just how I felt. Reading your book and now your blog reminds me that other’s feel just the same. My question is how do we provide a safe place for them? How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?

I remember attending [a conference for ministry couples] when I was at my very lowest and while it was so good to get away from home, away from those lost and lonely feelings, it was also so very difficult. I did not seem to find the people who might feel just like me. (this makes my heart ache) All I heard was how terrific everyone else was doing. All I heard was how “successful” they were.

(And here are the second two questions…) I know now that I was not in a place where I could recognize another person’s pain. I had built up too many walls and could not see over them. So how then do I help others who are there? What can we do to provide that safe place? What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

I wish I had the answer.

(And yet, you do have the answer, or at least part of it, right here…) I guess what I am saying is that we need to continue to be sensitive to those who are struggling. If I could help another church planter’s wife or pastor’s wife through a lonely season then all of my struggles would be so worth it!

Thanks for all you do! You inspire me to keep on! (And you do the same for me!)

How would you answer these 4 questions?

  1. How do we provide a safe place for them (spiritual wanderers)?
  2. How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?
  3. How then do I help others who are there (in spiritual wilderness)?
  4. What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

Help me out with your feedback here or on Facebook. Answer one or more from your experience or wisdom and watch for future blogs with your answers compiled. 

Posted in focus on faith

Shatter the Illusion

While I was writing my first book, I attended a party with many others in ministry. When asked what was keeping me busy these days I explained that I was working on a book about the spiritual wilderness. When asked why I chose that topic I explained that I had experienced a long drought in my faith and the Lord had called me back into relationship with Him.

The next question, not surprisingly, was, “When did this occur? Did I know you then?”

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to be truthful and said that the wilderness was quite recent.

I may still be in it,” I continued.

If I could have captured on film the shocked looks of the faces around me I would not have to say another word about why wanderers keep quiet and don’t risk breaking the conspiracy of silence. I have to wonder, is it because so many of us struggle with doubt that the subject of unbelief is so threatening? …

Even though I was tempted to gloss over the truth and talk about the wilderness like it was all wrapped up in a tidy bow years ago, I knew God had called me to be honest. The reaction I received was not unusual or even unexpected but it affected me.

I want to be liked. I want people to respect me. The look I saw in some eyes didn’t encourage me to continue being honest. If anything, my mind screamed, “Keep quiet you fool! Can’t you see they don’t want to hear this?”

He has called me to tell the truth about my wilderness and so I am….

Where do you get the courage to break the conspiracy of silence? You get the courage from knowing who God is and what He is doing in your life.

  • You’ve experienced a wake-up call.
  • You realize that your false god is no longer adequate.
  • You recognize that God is pursuing you.
  • God wants to extend His grace to you, like the prodigal son He wants you to come home.
  • You must take the first step of trust, like Peter. and “get out of the boat.”

This is real faith. This is a faith you can live with. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

I continue to be as honest as I can about where I really am in my faith. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I “feel” close to God and some days I don’t. Some days I “see” His work in me and around me, some days I don’t. Some days I “know” He is real and personal and always pursuing me and some days I choose to believe that by faith.

Breaking the conspiracy of silence in the church shatters the illusion that keeps so many people out of church. It lets them know we are real, normal, sometimes struggling, sometimes victorious, but mostly honest.

Posted in focus on faith

Come out with your hands up!

None of us like to surrender. The very word suggests defeat. We want to win, not give in!

However, in God’s paradoxical economy, what we see as “winning” might be “losing” in the long run. Spiritual winning only comes through the gateway of surrender. This is one of the valuable lessons learned in the wilderness of spiritual dryness.

The wilderness wanderer has to admit that she has lost her way, then to further admit that the most probable reason for it is because she stopped following God and followed her own heart, her own mind, her whims, her best laid plans….

There is a big difference between the way I thought when I was in wilderness and the way I think when I am surrendered to Christ (a place I still stumble in and out of on a daily basis!). Perhaps you can relate to one of these ways of thinking:

Surrendered thinking is the opposite of wilderness thinking.

  • Wilderness thinking says, “Maybe there is no personal God. I haven’t seen Him or heard from Him in a long time.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “I choose to believe in the God I can’t see or hear.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God can’t love me because I have wasted so much of my life in this wilderness of unbelief.”
  • Surrendered thinking says,” I choose to believe that the God who sent His Son to die in my place paid too dear a price to give up on me yet.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God will hold me accountable for my wasted potential and I will never be who I could have been in Him.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “God is the one who orders my days, perhaps He has brought me through this experience in order to prepare me for a ministry I never would have chosen on my own.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “I am unfit to serve Him in ministry.”
  • Surrendered thinking says: “God is in the redemption business and He will send me out to minister to other wanderers, to point them to Christ and to give them hope. Broken people minister to broken people.“

Trust is essential to surrender. Choosing to believe that God loves you is the first step in learning to trust Him. “Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature,” writes Rick Warren. He adds “surrendering is never a one-time event. …There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is moment-by-moment and lifelong….It will often mean doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.” As we surrender, by choice, over and over, we change the way we think.

For every message of defeat that Satan sends into the heart of the recovering wanderer, there is a message of hope from God. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Posted in focus on faith

What’s the difference between dead and dormant?

My husband and I were in California in the late 1990s and we took a drive down memory lane. The last stop would be an acreage near Modesto where we had lived more than a decade earlier. That property had been covered with fruit trees of every description. Delicious fresh fruit was available to us every day of the year. For people from a northern climate where fruit was scarce and small, this was paradise.

A six-foot high chain-link fence enclosed the entire property but another wooden fence divided the grassy area around the house from the orchard and outbuildings in the back half. Those fences were heavy with grapevines.

The orchard produced everything from figs to kumquats. Pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, apples, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, persimmons – you name it, we had a tree for it. Beside the house was a rose garden that provided a fresh bouquet of vibrant color every week of the year. Wisteria vines covered the veranda, offering their heady fragrance in summer. It was idyllic.

When we returned, more than a decade later, we arrived at the tiny rural settlement where the acreage was located and turned onto the street where we had once lived. But something was different. We didn’t recognize anything. What we recalled was not there. Thinking we were on the wrong street, we idled one block over and tried again. Nope. The house wasn’t there either. Eventually we drove through the entire community and returned to the street where we had begun.

Driving up to the place where our old Eden should have been, we got out of the car, camera in hand. We had planned to take a photograph to show our kids who were too young at the time to remember much of their years there. The property in front of us had no security fence. There was no vine-draped veranda. The rose garden was gone. The outbuildings were gone. There were no citrus trees in front of the house. No orchard out back. No lawn.

In fact, there was neither tree nor grass on the entire property. What remained was a rundown house, badly in need of paint and a new roof. Where the veranda should have been was a sagging front stoop. The shabby house stood in the middle of an acre of dust so fine it was like dingy baby powder. We still could not believe this was the place we had once lived and thought we were mistaken until I saw something.

A little boy was sitting in the dust in front of the house, watching us with vague interest. He was pushing a toy truck back and forth along an imaginary road. His truck had scraped away just enough dirt to reveal a small patch of pavement — what was left of the circular drive in front of the house – hidden under the powdery dust. I felt sick. This was the place all right but it looked like it had been hit with a 10-year drought or a tornado or both.

“Let’s not take a picture,” I said. “I don’t want to remember it this way.” Gerry agreed and we drove away, our day suddenly cloudy and dull. We didn’t talk for a long time as we retraced our passage back through the Silicon Valley and over the mountains towards the Bay area.

We felt wounded. …

When my husband and I were finally able to talk about how such a complete transformation could take place, our best guess was that after we left, the new tenants must have stopped watering. In Modesto, where it does not rain for half the year, grapes, almonds, tomatoes and a bevy of other produce are grown in abundance due to a system of canals that provide the needed moisture. Without irrigation, very little can survive the long summer drought. But the soil is so rich in nutrients that one can grow almost anything – as long as it gets water.

We knew that within the dusty wasteland of our acreage was the potential for great abundance. We knew that the entire place could be restored to its former beauty. God knew the same thing could happen to me in my wilderness by the addition of life giving Water and the tender care of the Gardener’s hands. The potential was all there but for lack of water, it was invisible.

There is a difference between dead and dormant. Take heart, fellow wanderer, what seems like death is only a season of dormancy. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Why is this good news?

Dead means done. Over. Kaput.

Dormant means asleep. In waiting. At rest. Will rise again.

After several years of thinking my faith was dead I felt hopeless. When I began to experience tiny urgings from God, I was surprised to discover that my “dead” faith was coming out of hibernation.

Yes by yes, I came out of dormancy and the fruit began to grow again. Every yes was a decision to trust God and to do what He asked.

 

Posted in focus on faith

What does true love look like?

Tammy called in the middle of the night. She was hysterical. Her husband had abandoned her and the baby. I went over to her house and made tea. She wept as we talked and prayed. Just over her shoulder, on the mantle, was a gilt-framed portrait of the couple on their wedding day. They were astonishingly beautiful – like celebrities. Four years later, Tammy was still gorgeous even though she had gained some weight. When I asked her why her husband had left her, through her tears she repeated some of his last words to her: “You don’t look like you did when I married you.”

The night Tammy told me her husband’s shallow, spiteful comment, my thoughts immediately flew to another couple I know. A couple whose marriage, now more than 25 years old, stands as a beautiful example of undying love.

Kyle and Cheryl started dating in high school. Their first date was when Kyle asked Cheryl to be his grad escort. Four years younger than him, this was Cheryl’s first date. Kyle’s too. She was the only girl he had ever been interested in. She finished high school while Kyle was away at college. One year after she graduated, they celebrated a summer wedding. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Connie, Caroline and Lisa, three (of seven) sisters, sharing some laughs in March 2007

The story of Kyle and Cheryl is really the story of Kevin and Caroline. Caroline was my little sister.

[Kevin] joined [Caroline’s] father in business in their hometown and they bought a house next door to Caroline’s parents. They took to married life like it was second nature. Caroline worked [at the bank] and kept up with her old friends. Kevin played ball and hockey with the men’s teams. Together they camped and fished, went to movies and ate Chinese food at their favorite café. One year later, in the middle of the night, their future changed forever when Caroline had a grand mal seizure.

The tests began and the diagnosis came in. Caroline had a brain tumor. It was inoperable. The specialist told Kevin that Caroline had between two and five years to live. But he added, “I have one patient with a tumor like Caroline’s. She’s still here. It’s been 20 years.” Kevin grasped that hope like a straw and held it.

The doctors recommended surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy, as much as she could stand. Twice, Caroline’s hair fell out and returned. The first time it came back curly. The second time, it came back wispy and thin. Caroline was taking so many drugs to control her ongoing seizures that Kevin had to keep track of them for her. It was all so confusing and very frightening.

The years began to roll by. Caroline stayed home and Kevin arranged his work schedule so he was home for lunch every day. Caroline always made his lunch – a tuna sandwich – by herself. It took her 30 minutes. After they ate, they played a hand or two of Rummy before Kevin went back to work. He made supper when he got home around five. They ate together, watched their favorite television shows and went to bed early.

And the years passed. Eventually, Kevin stopped playing sports and fishing as it got harder and harder for Caroline to leave the house. He taught her how to use the computer and she spent many happy hours playing Solitaire and other simple games. He built her a tray on which to do puzzles and she did hundreds of them. Kevin did all the shopping, even for his wife’s clothes. Years later it was discovered that Caroline’s cancer was completely gone. However the residual scar tissue in her brain required continued seizure-control drugs. These drugs changed her physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. She became forgetful and repeated herself. She had a hard time understanding plots in movies and books. She seldom cried but sometimes laughed inappropriately. She forgot the names of her nieces and nephews. And everything she did was at a snail’s pace.  

After 23 years, Kevin had to put Caroline in the local nursing home when she fell and broke her hip. It was an excruciating decision. She did not want to go but he could no longer care for her at home. He felt like a traitor but he had no choice. The drugs had swollen her body to twice its normal size and she needed the help of mechanical lifts and professional caregivers. Over the next few months Caroline almost slipped away. Kevin thought he was losing her; he was despondent. She could not speak or move, was fed by tubes, and barely recognized him or her family. Every spare minute he had, Kevin was at her side. Slowly she began to rally as her new home became more familiar.

A year later, she was up and around in a wheelchair, joking with the nurses and teasing the staff. She became the classic “teacher’s pet” of the nursing home. Kevin no longer had to spoon-feed her so they ate all their meals together in the dining hall with the other residents. After they ate, Kevin pushed Caroline back to her room or to the common room if she had visitors. Seldom sitting, Kevin hovered near her chair. He would brush her wispy hair, gently caress her arms and every few minutes, kiss her somewhere on her face. Always laughing at her silly comments – some the result of drug-induced confusion, some truly funny quips – Kevin brought sunshine into her world. Careful always to guard her dignity, he answered her every question, no matter how often repeated or how simplistic, with kind clarity and a smile. Caroline knows she is loved. And she is grateful.

Kevin is one of my heroes. He is the best example I know “with skin on” of God’s undying love. Caroline isn’t the girl he married if you compare photos. But she’s every bit the person he fell in love with on the inside. And he has never once forsaken his promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health. As God promised the Children of Israel, and us, the children of the new covenant, through His prophet Jeremiah: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you (Jeremiah 31:3).

Undying love. It is the kind of love that looks past our outward self and sees our inner beauty. Undying love does not abandon us in our wildernesses. (end excerpt)

Caroline took her last breath almost two years ago, held by Kevin and Chelene (their miracle child, now grown and married with two children of her own). She was loved with an undying love.

True love not only looks different, it sees us differently than we see ourselves. Jesus promises us He will love and cherish us, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and not just “until death us do part” but beyond the grave. Caroline is being held and caressed in the arms of Jesus now. Kevin did a good job of preparing her.

If you have drifted away from God, lost touch with God, feel abandoned by God, are disappointed in God, or just royally ticked off at God please think about this love story. It is both true (factual) and real (possible) and it is a beautiful picture of God’s true love, His undying love, for you.