Safe at 18mph

Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side, bear patiently, the cross of grief and pain ….. In the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, give me Jesus. Hovering between sleep and the first dawn of day, those songs made paths through my memory. To understand it would require being my passenger last night as I left shopping to drive home. It wasn’t the blowing wind or icy roads that caused my car to rebel against the steering wheel and meander outside the pattern of my control. The snow was only part of the problem, the other was a defect somewhere between the wheels underneath and the steering wheel in my hands. Under 18 miles per hour, was a justifiable speed and the car stayed within tolerance, but at 20 it was out of control. I pulled into a parking lot and waited to be rescued by my husband Tim, and son Jeremy. The story continues today, but when I woke up with those songs flowing through me, I realized this is not the end of the lesson.

This wasn’t a lesson in why I shouldn’t be shopping or overspending or out joy riding in less than congenial weather. God and I had that discussion as I held the steering wheel with white-knuckle force, coaxing and begging the car to stay in the lane where I directed it. “God, if you just get me home safely, I promise I’ll never drive again.”  Silence. “OK, how about this, God? I will stay home and not go anywhere, ever.” Chuckle. “Seriously, God. Do you see me here? I’m scared to death and you’re not helping.” Ponder. “OK, God, just get us all home safely. That’s all I want. Nothing more – just keep me on track and get us home safe.” Agreement.

Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side. Life is like that car last night. There was a track, a purpose, and when I concentrated with laser focus and no excessive speed I stayed within tolerance without straying. How often have I lost focus and strayed outside the path I know was chosen for me. I didn’t hear an audible voice of God, like in Isaiah 30:21 “You will hear a word spoken behind you, saying, “This is the correct way, walk in it,” whether you are heading to the right or the left.” But similar to those interludes between appeals to God while braving the drive last night, I knew God pondered my choices.  Instead of getting ahead of God and slipping outside His boundaries, I should have acknowledged the truth of 2 Samuel 22:31 “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless;…” and repeated for us slow [rebellious] learners In Psalm 18:30 “…he shields all who take refuge in him.”

I will always have a tendency to bargain with God. “Please do this, God. It would get me out of this situation.” Remember this? I had it written for your benefit in Psalm 130:5 “I rely on the Lord, I rely on him with my whole being; I wait for his assuring word.” How about you rely on Me this time?

It doesn’t end. Whether bargaining, arguing, or leveraging, I’m guilty of trying to help God out – kind of like suggestive selling. “God, please show me your path, but I think I can figure out the first part, I just need you there to make it happen.” God assures me that he’s listening but in Proverbs 3:1-3 he reminds me “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart…they will bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you…”. My favorite part of any day is learning something new. Why doesn’t that translate to absorbing the scriptures like Isaiah 48:17 where God clearly says “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

Last night, I didn’t learn that cars break down, that they must be kept under control or they wander aimlessly, or even that there are times when promises I make to God are not worthy of an answer, but instead are based on my circumstances at the time. God didn’t want me to promise to never drive again. What he wanted was for me to realize that “In the morning when I rise, when I work throughout the day, the world is fast asleep, He wants me to say “Give me Jesus.” Psalm 31:24 “Be strong and confident, all you who wait on the Lord!” That’s all he wants of me – be strong, be confident, and wait on him.

My sincerest of prayers were answered. My son arrived home safely, we arrived home safely. Only one frustrated driver sped by me, his horn futility blowing.  The car is now waiting for a tow truck, eventually to be repaired and back on the road.  Like us, right? Here’s the path, let’s get on it. Psalm 59:16: “I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.”


Worse Before Better

I’m taking a poll here. Does anyone else organize by first throwing everything in a pile and sorting their way out? A lifetime ago, when I was a stay at home mom, I stumbled onto that technique and it has never left. Worse before better.  One day in an organizing frenzy I was up to my armpits in seemingly generations of clutter when a friend came to the door. Panic! This friend kept an immaculate house, my mother’s version of immaculate, and I couldn’t let her in. In fact, I quietly scurried through the mess and hid far from sight until she drove away. It seems like the arduous task of sorting and organizing begins at worse, before it gets better. I’ve revisited that scene many times in my mind and this morning I recalled it again.

These past months of unstructured planning have destroyed any hope for even a few symbiotic tasks to be completed on schedule. In fact, there is no schedule – no due date, no prioritization of work, no interactions with team members, no adverse effects if I don’t meet expectations. No schedule, no expectations, and up to my armpits in out-of-control clutter. Our pastor, Frank Snyder, taught something that refutes the idea that there are no expectations. Even when we have no regimented schedule with specific demands and stated requirements, we have opportunity for success. Joshua 1:7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” Don’t get sidetracked…Watch out! This will get worse before it gets better. Sorting, examining, and prioritizing through the clutter is an grueling task – but there’s a promise of honorable results.

Maybe that doesn’t resonate with you, but here’s what it means to me. Last week, yes, it’s been 5 days since I first realized that God was dealing with me in this new non-working period in my life. He impressed on my heart that all my good intentions are like our weather in Michigan. They go from cold to tepid, from slightly blustery to blizzard, from joy of potential to despair of lost opportunity. I’ve been reading The Story and how the best practices of each king impacted a whole nation. Most of those best practices were selfish, ungodly, and unwise leading to bondage and destruction. But then there were kings like Hezekiah. At the description of him, I stopped and thought, this is what I want to be confirmed in my life. 2 Chronicles 31:20-21 Hezekiah did what the Lord his God considered good and right and faithful. He wholeheartedly and successfully reinstituted service in God’s temple and obedience to the law, in order to follow his God.”  Here was motivation to organize my thoughts, organize my priorities, and organize the clutter that’s evidence of an undisciplined, unstructured pattern.

I went to every room in my house, gathering the remnants of projects, scattered notes, and half read printouts, things I started but didn’t finish and dumped them on the floor in my home office. Worse before better. A glance at the rubble on the floor was like opening a book on my life. In that moment, God gave me insight into why focus is so difficult, planning is abstract, and it’s a struggle to reach Finished!’

An Open Book - blog for 1-28-2013 In reading Proverbs 2:1-5 in the Message translation renewed my hope in pleasing God with my plans when they are based on His purpose. “Good friend, take to heart my counsel and what I’m telling you… listen to Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding. Make Insight your priority, don’t take no for an answer, search for it like it’s treasured gold. Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours; you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.” Insight, wisdom, understanding are better.With God looking over my shoulder, you’ll find me sorting through the clutter, asking for insight to establish a schedule, set priorities, and be successful.  I again thought of this when I got to Proverbs 2:7-8 “He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”

Insight – Success – God’s stamp of approval on our path from worse to better.

What we own

Have you ever had a blue day… maybe not dark blue, but not the sunny sky blue that lights up the sky and feels like summer. It’s more like the gray blue that’s tinged with sadness and mutes all joy.  It’s not unusual for blue days to slither through places we visit multiple times in a week:  the gas station, grocery, other stores, church, workplace, restaurants and other places where people meet and greet.  It’s common to hear complaints, see people in subtle conflict, or witness unforgiving anger.  After while, all those circulating emotions suffocated the happy out of me. You know that last straw; that last nerve; that hair-thin filament …well it broke.  I stopped letting all those situations rent temporary space in my head and I started to own those feelings projected by others until my own attitude was affected.  Stop!  Just stop it! I don’t own those issues; I sure don’t need them. Proverbs 17:9 says “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” All those episodes had nothing to do with my close friends, but some of the conflict was between friends, most of them working together.  What if instead of griping about a situation, and gossiping about someone who isn’t there to defend themselves, that displaced energy was used to actually solve a problem? Love covers over an offense.  I’d rather own an attitude of love.  Proverbs 10:12 makes that same statement, but with a little more audacity. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

I was lamenting to Tim (my husband for those who don’t know me) that I was buried in such negativity everywhere I went. It seems that there is unrest everywhere and petty grievances turn into little earthquakes that erupt in dissension. My positive attitude was getting a little tarnished and crinkled around the edges. Sad.  I was reminded of a Psalm chapter 37, verse 4  “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Are the desires of my heart to be dragged to the pit by attitudes and actions of people?  Or could I focus on the uplifting acts of friends like Marcia Thompson who put together little packets of ideas for performing random acts of kindness; or the ministries expressing love, respect and value of each other.  I was treading dangerously close to losing perspective and forgetting about all the good things because I was surrounded by too much negativity.  I read a letter from someone who I reported to years ago, but have stayed in touch with who recently visited India. On his list of 12 lessons learned,  he observed “Evil is everywhere looking for an opening into our heart.”  No matter where we travel, the enemy of our souls is waiting for an opportunity to slither into our lives and infect us with poison. If this happens, and it will, Stop!  Just stop it! and remember the instruction of Ephesians 4:26-27 “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 foothold.”  I am thankful for people who turn thoughts into actions and bad situations into victories.

Reading the story from Tom’s trip to India taught me something about ownership. There are many things in life that we don’t have to own: complaints of others, their criticisms, their ridicule, and their attitudes.  What we do own is our own attitude and what we harbor in our hearts.  Remember the cycle. What we put into our minds becomes a thought, a thought seeps into our hearts, our hearts produce the actions. I don’t know about you, but I want to own the thoughts that produce good actions.  Remember what we own as Proverbs 23:7 tells us, as we think in our heart, that’s how we really are.  Our Pastor Frank Snyder has repeated to us over and over you can’t do right if you don’t think right.  We need to own right thinking.  Let’s skip through a few verses in Philippians 4 “Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Let all people see how gentle you are. Do not worry. Learn to pray about everything. Give thanks to God. The peace of God is much greater than the human mind can understand. Be at peace. Keep your minds thinking about whatever is true, whatever is respected, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever can be loved, and whatever is well thought of. Be thankful for everything.  Keep on doing good deeds. The Lord gives me a reason to be full of joy. “

Let’s own this day and make it full of joy and as Philippians 4:9 says “God Who gives peace will be with you.”

If I could see …. by Amy Grant

What God has joined . . .

Open letter to my precious, loving husband. Today we celebrate 43 years of life together. I can’t imagine life without you. “For better – we’ve had better; for worse – we’ve had worse” and that’s how to live the storybook life.

The first years were like being in a canoe – paddle one side, then the other – not often synchronized, even a few capsized moments, but still managed to stay afloat. We progressed to speedboat status working at jobs, working on house repairs, working on relationship repairs, raising 3 kids, driving them to sports, church activities, and then to driver’s training which meant later, pulling them out of ditches at 2:00 am. In our boat, often skimming the water – but still floating.

For richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, until … we’ll, we haven’t reached that ‘until’ moment.

Now we’re sort of in a row boat, we need both oars in the water to keep from aimlessly going in circles. You complete me, I complete you – synchronized, together, still afloat.

We joke about the miracle of sticking it out for 43 years, but there’s probably a little bit of miracle in there somewhere. Maybe my dad was right. When he said he tied the knot so tight there’s no way it would work it’s way loose. Or maybe it was our Sunday School teacher who said don’t get the idea that divorce is an option because that opens the door to it. Or maybe we’ve stayed together out of stubbornness or maybe it’s genuine care for each other, acceptance of our polar differences, contentment, seeing the best in each other, supporting each other when our world starts to crumble, appreciation for the little acts of kindness as much as those that are significant. In fact after all these years it must be love. For the next 43 years, let’s repeat the practice.

I love you, Tim. Thank you for loving me back. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ”

Thank you for the HUGE bouquet of flowers – 43 to be exact.  1474674_10202921166491524_1535715415_t  I am honored to be your wife.

Love forever,


It’s Today!

“I hoped and prayed … and it didn’t happen.”  I read those words from a friend and instantly felt the draining emotion of that message. I prayed so hard and nothing.  Anyone who has built up hope, worked toward something, and lived in anticipation of it knows the empty feeling left behind when the result is nothing.  I’ve been there; have you ever felt the unsettled, discontent of unfilled hope.  Even if you are a “glass is more than half full’ person, it feels like the glass has been pierced and all the good stuff has drained away.  When I have days like that – or weeks – I remember Job.  His catastrophes happened thousands of years ago, but his emotion of loss was the same.  In Job 6:8 he prays “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for…” Can you imagine the hopes of Job?  Keep reading and it becomes evident that Job was weary.  Job 6:11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?”

It’s so easy to look at circumstances and lose perspective.  Looking outside at what we didn’t get is a like a wide snare waiting to trip us up so we push all the positive things to the outer edges and live in the swirl of defeat.  Just say no! Ask God to show you how to replace the feelings of loss with new inspiration for escaping despair. All God asks is that we be willing to be willing.  2Corinthians 4:16 talks about that “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Do not lose heart. Reach out in expectation being absorbed in hope and comforted by it.  Take a step forward to get back on track with plans ahead.  2John 8 “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”  You might feel rewarded even today, but if not today, then don’t lose hope.  2Corinthians 4:1 explains that “through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” We each have a ministry and a purpose. We can’t live for ministry while we live in defeat. Hebrews 3:13 has some wise advice for us “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.”

It’s Today, my friends. Let’s build each other up, encourage one another. Let’s keep discouragement from entering and gaining a foothold.   I ran across a similar topic in Ephesians 4.  Toward the end of the chapter are some instructional words.  “Do not give the devil a foothold. …Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Psychologists tell us that those of us who have brains and have the ability to think ahead and make choices are the ones who take the path of least resistance. We gravitate toward doing what’s easiest. Losing hope and becoming discouraged are easiest.  Let’s gain new insight, stronger resolve, and do not let the enemy of our souls win this battle.  Ready for a little more from Job? Highlights from Job 11.  “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.  You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”

Ready for today?  Ephesians 3:20 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,”

Let’s get out there! Let’s go to the rock!

At the heart of ‘Change Me’

To get the new year started there was an insurgence of the One Word theory. If you didn’t catch it on television or through social media, the premise is to choose one word that becomes your guiding influence, your doctrine to live by throughout the year. Since I don’t make New Years Resolutions this idea appealed to me because it was like having a snap-in piece of the puzzle I was already working on. In the past, I’ve chosen favorite words that speak to me; some would define them as call to action words. I define them as words to live by. Words like integrity, wisdom, knowledge, joy, understanding, patience, love, persevere, faith, discernment. I like the way Proverbs 16:21 sort of pulls them all together “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. One online community group posted the question: If you had one word to live by this year, what would it be? The responses were often accompanied by why the contributor chose their word. There were so many meaningful words – why not make a poster to frame and hang in the space above my desk? I couldn’t think of a reason not to – so here’s the result of the 46 words contributed by members of the LinkedIn group Inspirational Leadership, Management and Engagement – People Discovery.

Ten years ago I was watching a Joyce Meyers program where she said, “Sometimes I need a word from the Lord.” You know? Sometimes I need a word from the Lord. In fact there are deep chasms in my life that will be satisfied only with a word from the Lord – infusions of words from the Lord. When I chose my One Word to live by for 2014, I knew in reality there would be more than one word touching my conscience and enlightening my spirit. My word, discernment, acknowledges choices and decisions. Some days don’t you just feel like you need a word from the Lord? Do you ever stop what you’re doing and say right out loud “This is just not right. I’m getting nowhere. OK, Lord, here I am totally lost for what to do. Change my attitude, sooth my frenzied emotions, change my heart.” This morning in our church service a young man whose life emulates his heart for God sang “Do you still feel the nails every time I fail….Am I causing Him pain…then I know I have to change.” Have you ever prayed, ‘Lord please change me’ and really mean it? Have you considered the dynamics at work in a sincere prayer like that? Consider these two comparison verses to understand the battle that’s unleashed when we pray, ‘Lord, take the person I’ve become and change me to be the person you desire me to be. ‘

When we seek to have a heart like God’s, be assured He is looking for us too, to strengthen us. 2 Chronicles 16:9For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” So smooth sailing. Right? Not at all. The enemy of our souls descends on us with perfect aim, targeting the place in our life most vulnerable to breaking. Our family, our job, our finances, our hobbies, our friends …. Take a look at 1 Peter 5:8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This is not a cute cuddly lion we love in Disney movies; this is the vicious lion that has long sharp teeth capable of tearing a leopard or cheetah to shreds, but normally kills by strangulation. “Your enemy the devil … seeks to devour.” Devour pretty much ends all good intentions. The devil will attack us in the place we care most about, the place that has our heart. The battle between good and evil is fought every time we pray, “Lord, give me a heart like yours.” I’m convinced that God created us with a need for relationships so we can help each other, pray for each other, and encourage each other over the rough patches of loss, illness, grief, and sadness. Ephesians 4:20-30 talks about how to live but I’m especially drawn to these verses “be made new in the attitude of your minds; put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness; be kind and compassionate to one another”.

I received a word from the Lord this morning. When Pastor Al cemented the truth that if we are not wholly committed to God, we will crumble. My word for the year, discernment, becomes even more essential to living life inside God’s plan. Last week, in one of my Bible readings, I found this verse and it was like water poured over a parched and withering plant. Ezekiel 36:26-27I will plant a new heart and new spirit inside of you. I will take out your stubborn, stony heart and give you a willing, tender heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit inside of you and inspire you to live by My statutes and follow My laws.” It might not speak to you the same that is spoke to me, but it was like hearing Jesus say over roaring, gusting winds “Peace be still.”

Do you need a word from the Lord? Tell him. He’ll lead you to it if you ask.

What do you do with an Anakite?

Have you been facing giants in your life? Sometimes I feel like that. It isn’t a huge, overbearing human giant, it’s more situational. A decision to make that has consequences, a financial burden, a problem that’s just too complicated to sort out, a loss that’s left an empty place where a relationship used to be. Giants, my personal Anakites. I’ve noticed that my giants start appearing on Sunday night – just before Monday, especially after a weekend that had just the right mix of progress, fun, and faith. That’s when it happens – FEAR. My mind starts chiding me with what-if you can’t; what happens if; how are you going to resolve; you can’t do that! Those Anakites are huge to me.  Zig Ziglar asks what fear is and he defines it as False Evidence Appearing Real. Let that sink in for a minute. False Evidence Appearing Real. If I were a detective I would be looking at the evidence, not the emotion framing my situation. Isn’t God bigger than any of my giants? Do I really want to expend energy on fear when faith is where God works?

Back in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s people faced giants that made them appear like grasshoppers – and they and won.  Chapter 1:28-31 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”  Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

David defeated Goliath.  1 Samuel 17:32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Then look what happens in verses 45-47 Goliath, in a split second, right on time, is defeated!  “ David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty … This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands …and the whole world will know that the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” Then David’s giant moved to attack him and David, wearing no armor or shield, ran to confront him. He took out his sling and stone and slung it with such force when it hit Goliath’s forehead the stone knocked him dead.  In verse 50, David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

There are other stories, like in Joshua, where God drove out the giants that were against his people.  But that’s a story for another day.  Here’s the point, none of those victories would have happened without the people doing a total makeover of their FEAR and turning it into FAITH.  False Evidence Appearing Real? That’s what the great deceiver, the enemy of your soul uses to cut your faith to shreds.  Let’s listen to Isaiah 48:17 instead  “This is what the Lord, your protector, says, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you how to succeed,
who leads you in the way you should go.” So how can this possibly apply to our story today? Well – those giants we face?  Yes, the ones that seem dark, huge, and insurmountable?  The bill on your desk, that life altering decision, that project that seems too difficult to complete, that deep sadness that never leaves you, yes that one. There is no answer to why we go through these trying times, but there is no value in letting fear consume us when faith is the attainable solution. In these trying times, faith, not fear is where our focus needs to be. Today, I’m saying to those giants – get off my path, stay away from me, because there might not be instant relief, but in the background God is working everything out for good, because I love him.  

James 1:12  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Do not fear: