It all happens between the bookends

Are you a peace seeker? I already know you said yes. We want peace in the world, peace in our communities, peace in our relationships and peace for our own hearts. But when we’re suffocating under anxiety, there is no peace. Where can we find peace? Here’s a clue. It doesn’t come from within when we are overwhelmed by “What-if” producing anxiety. There’s this verse in Proverbs 12:25  that spells it out pretty clearly: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad.” Not to sound like a repetitive commercial, but you might recognize this mantra:  If you get the inside right, the rest will take care of itself.  As it turns out, that’s a true statement.  Go back and let Proverbs 12:25 sink in a little bit.

Our lives are lived between the bookends. Do you have morning and evening rituals? These are the bookends of your day. Maybe your morning routine is well practiced and regimented, but ending your day is more fluid. How you invest yourself at daybreak and before the lights go out at night have an impact on your anxiety level. If you want to escape anxiety, protect the first part of your day and protect the last part of your day.

Bookend your morning to rise and shine. Psalm 112:4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.Bookends of your day - purchased element from canva

When you jump out of bed in the morning, or even if your jump is more like removing tar from the sole of your shoe, plant this thought in your mind. This is a good day and I’m going to protect it. Think about morning. Do your feet hit the floor and your next action is to turn on the news? Really? Why? The world will continue to churn whether you stand by and watch it or not. Here’s your first bookend. Protect your morning – at least the first half hour. Instead of the news, peace-seeker friend, feed your spirit with truth, light, and joy through prayer, meditation, reading scripture or a devotional. During the day, there will be time to catch up on the news – if it’s really your priority. Trust me on that.

I have a friend who was being treated for depression. Over the course of a few months it became apparent that addiction to watching the news was contributing to deep despair, anxiety and depression. If this describes you, Stop!  Stop it!  There is nothing good happening in the news today. The Center for Disease Control says this “Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.” Don’t be trapped inside a statistic like that one.

Protect your morning. Psalms 63:1 “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You.”

Bookend your evening with peace enhancing practices. Psalm 65:8 “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”

Then let’s talk about preparing to sleep at night, the companion bookend. Winding down, isn’t a cliché, it’s a process. Start at least a half hour before lights out. Do something that calms your soul. Read, listen to music, diffuse essential oils, meditate, you get the idea. Many times I drift off to sleep praying for people I love and people I don’t know at all, but have heard of their plight and ask God to shelter them and give them special heaven-sent blessings. I shouldn’t be surprised then to wake up praying – like God put a bookmark in my prayer. Other times I read the Bible or another book that calms my mind and lifts my spirits.  Never waste the last half hour of your day pouring fire into your brain – like watching the news. But it’s a habit. Yes, yes it is. And it breeds anxiety.

Protect your evening. Psalm 16:7 I will praise the Lord who guides me; yes, during the night I reflect and learn.

Your life is lived between the bookends of your day. Protect it by surrounding your hours with a peaceful start to your morning and calming end to your evening.

 

Escape Anxiety – Shield your mind, Guard your heart, Protect your day

You (God) keep in perfect peace the people who maintain their faith, for they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

The day and the night are both Yours, God — You fashioned the sun, moon,and all the lights that pierce the darkness Psalm 74:16

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, your consolation brought me joy. But the Lord will protect me, and my God will shelter me. Psalm 94:18-19, 22

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Watch out! Destiny ahead.

Yesterday, as I read comments on my blog, I realized that anxiety is familiar to many of us. I was asked how I overcame the pull toward depression that often buddies up with anxiety. I’m neither a counselor or advisor, but I can offer support and talk about the path I took. Everyone reading along will have to evaluate, sort out, and decide if any of these acts will help you.

I realized I was in trouble when I found myself spending hours in the day walking from room to room in my house, accomplishing nothing. Looking back, I know I was feeling trapped, but at the time, I just knew I was afraid. My mind was in turmoil, constantly circulating ‘What if ..?’   I read a number of books that ‘advised’ things like join a gym, spend a weekend at a hotel, or take a vacation, well you get the picture.  One of my reasons for anxiety, was finances. Young mom of 3 children. Not the climate for lunch with the girls, let alone a weekend away.

In reading, though, I discovered the effects of anxiety and understood that it could lead to depression – I was bordering on it; heart problems – sometimes it felt like an animal sitting on my chest; skin eruptions – after never having acne as a teenager, at age 25 I was suffering with it; digestive issues – I was overwhelmed with them already. No matter how many times I read the book of Philippians which maps out the path to peace, it didn’t help.  Not then, but there’s a reason for that.

Fortunately for me, a close friend told me about professional counseling and I found a woman whose expertise in family counseling got me started on the right path. The first thing I learned is that ‘Change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different.’ I was always devastated by changes that came as a surprise – and this might sound familiar – those changes were outside my control.  Anxiety is produced when the situation we’re in is outside our control. And guess what! Every moment ahead of us has potential for change. “Change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different.”Watch your actions, they become habits.

There is more to the story, but just for today, if you struggle with anxiety and you fear change, remember that change is the one constant in our lives.  I read the book of Philippians and even memorized it, but it didn’t bring me peace and I had no joy.  You might wonder why the book of Philippians had a neutral effect on my peace. It’s because I read it, but didn’t believe it and sure didn’t put it into practice.  I know better now and over the next few days, I will share a little more of my story.  In the meantime, let’s claim the promises of the God who created us.  Jeremiah 31:3 says “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

A good place to start is right where you are. Turn off the news and stop obsessing about ‘What if…”. Many times, the roots of anxiety are deep into things we need to stop doing rather than what we need to start. In this moment, what are two things you need to stop doing? Give them to God – out loud, verbally, open-handed, drop them in your worry box and slam the lid. Remember this, because you will have an opportunity to envision slamming them into that box every time they try to pull you back into the anxiety pit. Practice this one thing over and  over. It’s the prescription for peace in Philippians 4: 8-9 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

The shared quote has been attributed to a number of people, but I’m going with Frank Outlaw, the late founder of Bi-Lo Grocery stores. If you examine it closely, it has its roots in scripture. Just to avoid any wrong impression that this is my direct quote, let’s go with Mr. Outlaw. “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” -Frank Outlaw

Now I lay me down to sleep … that’s a start

Do you pray? No, really. Do you pray? I’m not thinking of the simple ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ or ‘Bless us oh Father and these our gifts’, although that’s a start. I’m talking about praying to the almighty and holy God who is omnipresent (everywhere at all times), omnipotent (all power to do all things), and omniscient (all knowing of all things at all times). I mean praying to that God.

Do you ever wake up praying? Many of us have made a habit of praying as we tuck our thoughts in for the night. ‘Now I lay me down to sleep …” It’s like creating a comfortable nest for our last moments of the day. “It’s just you and me, God. This is what I want to tell you now because tomorrow is coming up pretty fast.” Prayer, a simple heart to heart conversation with the creator.  Isaiah 40:28 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” He will not grow tired of me no matter how often I talk to him.I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.

Please pray … Think for just a minute. In just the past week, have you read those words? And in that moment, didn’t your heart melt and fill with compassion for the person who needed, right then, to know that someone was asking God for favor? Psalm 6:9 says “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Some years ago, I was introduced to a structured method of prayer. ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. I could say that’s God’s ordained structure, but that would be pretty presumptuous because I don’t see any place in scripture where God says, “You must pray in steps 1, 2, 3 or I won’t hear you”.

Please pray … When someone asks us to pray, we don’t have to worry about whether we have the structure in place and follow prescribed rules. This is what the Bible says about praying.

Come clean before the Lord. If you know you have anger, resentment, envy, any unconfessed sin in your heart, God can’t hear you. This isn’t my rule, it’s God’s. Psalm 66:18 “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Be sincere and stay faithful. Hebrews 10:22 “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

It’s OK to tell God what you want. Please heal … Please spare the life of …. Please send someone to help … Please give them a job … Please be near to this family … God I don’t understand, please help me accept …. Please bring comfort …. They need peace, Lord, please fill their heart with peace …

Ask for the right reasons and with the right motives.  James 4:3 ”When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Jeremiah 33:3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Be thankful for God and his omnipotent power. Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Expect a miracle. God is still in the business of making miracles every day. He doesn’t have a Magic Kingdom, he owns the Miracle Kingdom and He has the power, the glory, and majesty to do what is best for everyone. 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.” Please God, do this …. Or something even better!

Something to think about – Expect a miracle, because when we go before the Lord and pour out our hearts to him, don’t we often expect a miracle? Even some of the smallest things turn out to have the biggest impact. We don’t know what God has planned, but we know that nothing catches him by surprise. Psalm 135:6 says “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” Then why ask?

We pray because we worship God, we acknowledge His awesome power. We pray because it is our privilege to enter his presence and talk to him as a child to a Father. We pray because we have faith. In Proverbs 1, Solomon tells his people that their life is in the condition it’s in because they have not honored God, worshipped him, or recognized his power. Notice the comparison in these few verses of Proverbs 1.

Proverbs 1:28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.”

Proverbs 1:33 “… but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

There are books written on the subject of prayer, and if you want recommendations, I can provide them. What we’ve read here is at the most elementary level of prayer. Why do we pray? The reasons are limitless. But one reason could be because we seek peace that only God can give. John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

to be amazing, just start

I don’t quote people very often. I feel that in some way, I’m taking credit for their articulate way of conveying thoughts when I write them as my words – even though I give the author full credit.  Today is one of the days that I have to share the words of another. If you know me, you understand why I’ve been diagnosed with Information Junkie syndrome. I read! Blogs, magazines, books, labels, and yes – I’ve been known to read junk mail, just because it’s there. I read the Bible and at least one, usually more pages of a devotional every day. Someone once referred to me as a human sponge. Hmmm…only true to the extent that once saturated, I have to be wrung out. You see, as obsessed as I am with reading, that obsession carries over to sharing what I’ve learned. I’m sure 90% of what I share in email gets deleted before opened – not everyone has the same obsession that I have. Perplexing as that may be.  (OK that was where you laugh.)

But back to my story and what I read today that caused me to read and re-read the few paragraphs in Seth Godin’s blog. “If you set your bar at “amazing, it’s awfully difficult to start. The only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that’s where you are. For now. There’s a big difference between not settling and not starting.” I don’t remember how I happened to read Seth Godin’s blog, but when it comes to social media he’s a pretty smart guy.  This is how Wikipedia describes him. “an American entrepreneur, author and public speaker.” Well that’s certainly characteristic of about one million breathing people today.

Just prior to reading that, I had been focused on Colossians 2.  I wish I could copy the entire chapter here, but read with me a few meaningful highlights – then go back and read the entire chapter for yourself.  Think of this as The blog of the Apostle Paul. Seriously! I am certain he had a blog. He wrote these words in a letter because as he says in the very first verse, “Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone.” Scattered throughout the remaining chapter are these encouraging lines. “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God…. My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given…. Live out your faith in the Master….be deeply rooted in him….do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! … grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.”  Much of the chapter is missing from that paragraph. But it spoke to me.

Have you ever listened to a speaker’s challenge to have the life you’ve always wanted or been given advice on how to assure your future, do work you love, enjoy each season of life, and make your life amazing? Are there any other kinds of messages shared from a platform? As Seth Godin said,  “We can’t start at amazing and amazing has no chance if we don’t start.” That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked.  Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul – the ultimate encourager – counseled in his blog, Start living in faith, what you already know to be true.  In Colossians 2:19 Paul says “God is the head and we are the body.” With God as the head, we can be amazing – but we have to start.

I hope this raises you up for today and for always.  Ephesians 3:20 I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Amen.

I haven’t posted a song for a long time, but today, here’s You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban https://youtu.be/aJxrX42WcjQ?t=3s

What to do when there’s nothing you can do…

One of my closest friends posted this on Facebook, “It’s hard being so far away when things like this happen.” I can relate. Can you? When someone we love is thousands of miles away and we can’t go to them, helplessness is its own form of trauma. Waiting through a medical procedure, wondering but hoping the prognosis isn’t as bad as once thought. Standing by while decisions are made about ‘what happens now’. Fearing the outcome of attempts at reconciliation. I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty powerless when I want to do something but there’s nothing I can do.
 
There is something I can do though. Psalm 103:19 plainly says, “The Lord has established his throne in heaven; his kingdom extends over everything.” While I’m on the sidelines, helpless and powerless, God is on the throne in heaven taking care of everything. Psalm 33:13 “The Lord watches from heaven; he sees all people.” Even with 20/20 vision, there’s a limit to what I can see. Even though I care deeply what happens today and in the future, it’s God who sees with eternal perspective.
 
I know all about promises in the New Testament like Mark 11:24 “I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” And you’ve probably memorized, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name …”, but there’s a part two in that verse. It continues, “… so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13 That last part sort of scares me sometimes. Does it scare you? I can ask God for anything. I can believe He will give me what I ask for – but do I trust Him? Trust means recognizing who is responsible and being confident enough to let go, release whatever it is from my grasp and believe it will be taken care of in the best way possible.
 
“Lord take this, I want these specific results, but God I trust you, by your miraculous power to work everything out so you are glorified. And Lord, I know that the end result might not look the same as what I had in mind, but my confidence is in you because you know the eternal value of every minute detail. I release this to your omniscient discernment. Thank you for caring about me personally even though you have the entire world to watch over.”
 
David knew the relief and joy that came from whole hearted trust in God. Psalm 33:21 “Our hearts rejoice in him, for we trust in his holy name.”God isn't going anywhere
 
We can’t be everywhere. We can’t see everything. We have each moment and that’s all. Jeremiah calls God, “The Lord God who rules over all.” Daniel said of God, “He who has in his control your very breath and all your ways!”
 
What if this moment you could relinquish this burden you’re carrying, this fear that grips you, this deep sadness that’s overwhelming you to the ‘Lord God who rules over all and has control of your very breath and all your ways’? God isn’t going anywhere. He’s waiting to be your everything.
 
Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Friends: the ultimate collectable

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like without friends? I’ve lived and worked in enough places over my lifetime my collection of friends is as variegated as a tie-dyed shirt. Those friendships also vary in intensity, depth, and splash. Past friendships have been folded into the deep lining now, but they are still nestled there a product of fond memories. Other friendships are vibrant today and provide intermittent bursts of happiness just by ‘being’; some friends are silently aware, transparently supportive.  A few friendships are the subtle, sustaining relationships that are solid and unmoving. Have you ever had a friend who, even though there are years between meetings, you seem to pick up right where you left off in your relationship?  It’s like an invisible bookmark saves your place.  Friendships! Some shallow, some deep –  all important relationships. 3 John 2

I started thinking a lot about how blessed I have been by my friendships.  I remember hearing from the time I was able to say the word ‘friend’ that to have friends you first have to be a friend. That’s probably how I started my cherished collection of friends.  While reading the book of Job, I noticed the role his friends played in his life.  I was heartsick when I noticed the deterioration of Job’s friends as his calamity mounted.  The more discouragement and loss Job experienced, the more he needed his friends, but look what happened!  In the first part of Job, he has supportive friends.  Job 2:11 “When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him.” But as Job’s life continues to plummet, his friends become frienemies.  Job 12:4 “Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer. I am a just and blameless man, yet they laugh at me.” Job 16:20 “My friends scorn me, but I pour out my tears to God.” Job 19:19 “My close friends detest me. Those I loved have turned against me.”

Amazing Job!  He is my hero because after all that, look what Job does in Job 42:10 “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!”  Job prayed for his friends – his frienemies.  Forgiveness and I’m sure Job prayed for God to bless them despite their treatment of him.  I remember the longing for true friendships in another life – King David’s.  Instead he recounts his vulnerabilities in Psalm 25:2 “My God, I trust in you. Please do not let me be humiliated; do not let my enemies triumphantly rejoice over me!” And again he recognizes God’s approval of him, but laments in Psalm 41:11 “I know that you are pleased with me,  for my enemy does not triumph over me.”

Job has been one of my heroes for other reasons, but knowing the rejection he went through when he needed to be accepted and encouraged, puts him a few more chinks higher on the hero scale.  After reading Job, I had to study a few more places to find out how to be a great friend, one who supports, encourages, inspires, and lives true friendship out loud.  YAY!  I found shareable truths about beautiful results of friendships.

Proverbs 18:24 “A person who has friends may be harmed by them, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 17:9 “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”  Luke 15:6 “he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me …’” then a few verses later – Luke 15:9And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me…” Be happy with me…celebrate with me…be thankful with me…that’s what friends do.

One of my favorites – 2 Corinthians 12:19 “Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you.”  Wow! Everything we do – dear friends – is to give you strength.  We can’t get much more definitive than that.  And how can we be that friend? It starts with a relationship with God and his son the Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in our relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”

Today, know that you are loved, you have friends, and your reward today is in relationships. 1John 4:11 “Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” And then there were friends.

But wait! There’s more!

OK OK I get it! When we hear those words, don’t we think ‘Please spare me the lame commercial!’? I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume most everyone who reads this is a friend from Michigan, or in a state with similar weather patterns. As I look outside, the sun is frozen on a horizon of slate and crystal. The number 27 glares at me from the thermometer and I think that it’s a nice number for age, but as an outdoor temperature it’s dreadful.
Winter comes to the north. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were outside in shorts and t-shirts with temperatures flirting with 80 degrees? How I want that weather forecaster to announce, ”But wait! There’s more!” That puts a new perspective on those words, doesn’t it? I want more sunshine, more warm temperatures, more dry roads for easier travel. “But wait! There’s more!”
Let me be completely transparent here about weather. I love living in a state where we have four distinct seasons. I love the way the browns and greys of winter stubble morph into brilliant greens in the spring. I love the gradual warming of frigid mornings into warm summer days. I love to look across a field and see heat shimmering above growing crops on acres of farmland. In autumn, I love the vibrancy of nature in the trees turning from green to yellow, red, and gold. I even love winter with its frosted windows, blankets of snow and icicles glistening along rooftops. I love all of that – and if I could hibernate like some of our Michigan animals, I wouldn’t even mind the snow mounds, days so grey the sun’s rays are completely obscured, and ice covered roads, impossible to traverse. We are not hibernating animals though, are we?
Winter! Is here in Michigan, it’s in Wisconsin, it’s pummeled the eastern and southern states. If you live in the northern hemisphere – winter is here and it’s not going away anytime soon. What to do with that ….Numbers 6-24
We usher in winter with Thanksgiving. Did you know that even in David’s day they had thanksgiving? Look at Psalm 147:11 (Message) “Sing to God a thanksgiving hymn, play music on your instruments to God.” Can you hear it? Later in that same chapter he appeals to his people to “Worship God! Praise God!” because of what He has done for them. You can read the chapter for yourself, but here is hope for your heart if you dreading the lingering winter. “He blessed your children, keeps the peace at your borders, he puts the best bread on your tables. He spreads snow like a white fleece, scatters frost like ashes — who can survive his winter? Then he gives the command and it all melts; he breathes on winter—suddenly it’s spring!” Psalm 147 (The Message)
Survival provisions for winter are obvious: a few extra food supplies, emergency flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, phone numbers within easy reach, ice melter, snow scooper, dry gas, blankets, water, de-icer, snow brush, COFFEE (I had to throw that in there). What about spiritual survival provisions for winter? Perhaps even more important is to go over the list of items we need to preserve our spirit, add to our faith, and keep us sane through months of containment. Start with recognition like this verse in Psalm 74:17 (Message) “You [God] own the day, you own the night; you put stars and sun in place. You laid out the four corners of earth, shaped the seasons of summer and winter.”
In God’s sovereignty, he created winter. Being thankful for it starts the creative process of making winter a time of restoration, instead of a prescription for destruction. Take stock of your spirit enhancing provisions. Good books, devotionals, colored pencils or highlighters, all occasion cards or blank cards, paper just for writing notes to yourself or making lists, an ample supply of postage stamps, access to addresses, good coffee, hot tea, and of course hot chocolate. Those are just ideas to promote winter in your conscience now so it grows to the essence of blessing, not a distillate curse.
You know there’s a perfect prayer to help us through the composition of our days whether the glow of summer or the afterglow of winter: Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV) “I pray that the Lord will bless and protect you, and that he will show you mercy and kindness. May the Lord be good to you and give you peace.”