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Stay Where You Can See Me

My pastor recently preached about the storm on Lake Gennesaret in which Jesus walks on the water, then Peter walks out to Jesus, but turns his attention to the storm and begins to sink. One of the lessons from that sermon was: If it gets so dark that you can’t see, remember, just because you can’t see Jesus, doesn’t mean He can’t see you. As long as He can see you, you are going to make it.

This is absolutely true, but it got me to thinking about when we would go on an outing with our boys when they were little. When they were infants and toddlers, they were always in a stroller or a shopping cart. When they were children, they walked with us, but had to hold our hands. When they got a little older, they didn’t have to hold our hands, but they still had to stay right beside us. Eventually our boys were old enough to be allowed to put a little distance between us and them in a store, but I always told them, “Stay where you can see me.” While the traditional advice is, “Stay where I can see you,” I chose the inverse because, in my way of thinking, if they could see me, I most likely could see them too, which ensured their safety.

One difference in parents and Jesus is that He can always see where we are. Scripture even refers to God as El Roi—the God who sees. David praised God in Psalm 139 for knowing where he was at all times: “You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me.” As parents we try our very best to keep our eyes on our children at all times, but if they are to learn any independence, we have to let them out of our sight from time-to-time. Unlike human parents, God never loses sight of us, even when we stray from Him.

One similarity between children and followers of Christ is that when we get comfortable with our situation, we can get distracted by things around us, like Peter’s storm or a shiny toy, and take our eyes off the one who’s looking out for us. Like a lost child, this can lead us into situations we are not equipped to handle. Storms and distractions are going to come in life, but if we commit ourselves to “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Heb. 12:2a, NLT), we will be able to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And…run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12:1, NLT).

Jesus can see you. Stay where you can see Him.

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What I Know

I know what post-partum depression feels like. Fortunately, it was brief and I had support, but there’s a real disconnect there. What should be a time of joy is devoid of emotion and desire.

I know what anxiety feels like. It’s over-planning so that nothing goes wrong. It’s over-thinking so that every last possibility is thought through. It’s dreading doing fun things away from home because it’s way outside your comfort zone and your normal area of control.

I know what it is to experience panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, and stress/tension-induced migraines. They are painful, and nauseating, and frustrating, and debilitating, and frustrating, and confusing. (I noticed the repeat of the word “frustrating” in editing and decided it would be more appropriate to leave it!)

I know the thoughts that go through your mind when the doctor runs all the tests and the blood work is fine, but he leaves the decision about medicating up to you.

I know how important it feels to seem to have it all together.

I know how it feels when someone you care about attempts suicide. It makes you wonder what you could have done to help them and what they could have done to help themselves. It infuriates you that they didn’t consider how you would feel if they died. It scares you to no end that they might succeed next time—because there’s often a next time. And then it makes you ashamed that you got mad at them, because you know it’s much bigger than rational thought can account for.

I also know the damage that is done from the idea that praying and reading the Bible and having more faith will fix everything. Don’t get me wrong, my Jesus can fix anything. But, we are in these mortal bodies, and, sometimes with mortality comes difficulty. We know so much more now about science and medicine than we used to, which why we see so many more babies make it out of the NICU and cancers in remission, for example. But, often, emotional challenges and mental illness are treated like they’re a spiritual issue or something people should just get over. Many of these challenges can be managed with spiritual guidance and natural remedies, which are great resources, but I am so very proud of my friends and others who seek counseling/psychiatric care to support them. And I can’t speak highly enough of those who have utilized the gifting and wisdom of their doctors and the medication they prescribe to aid them in managing these difficulties.

The recent suicides of celebrities have brought this issue back into the spotlight, but let’s not forget that there are people around us struggling every single day just to keep going one more day. And they’ll be there next week and next month when it’s not in the headlines. Let’s do our part to remove the stigma of mental illness.

 

Romans 8:31-39, NLT

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Celebrating You!

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This is a day to celebrate! And you are the guest of honor. Maybe you have already changed diapers or chauffeured kids to school or balanced the bank account or started your work day. Congratulations! You, dear sister, are fulfilling your purpose. God is using you this very day to have an impact on His Kingdom. He has created and chosen you, and you alone, for this. No one else can be you or fulfill your calling.

Genesis 1:27 tells us we are created in the image of God Himself. 1 Peter 2:9 describes us as “chosen,” “royal,” “holy,” and “God’s very possession.” That means you! Regardless of how anyone else sees you, or how the world says you should be, this is how God sees you and how He enables you to view yourself.

The Lord’s instructions to the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:1 apply to you, too:  “Listen to the Lord who created you…the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.’” Even on those days when you feel like you don’t measure up and no one cares, know that you are His. When you make mistakes, or you barely check anything off your to-do list, know that you are His. You may never be famous, and your name may never be well-known in this world, but always remember that the One who matters knows your name and has called you by it.

And in those times when you grow weary of trying to meet expectations, be reminded that it is worth the effort to “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Choose your work wisely. You do not have to do everything people ask of you. There will always be someone who is disappointed in you for something. Many times, you may find you are disappointed in yourself even more than anyone else is, but the Master you are serving adores you and will reward you for doing the work He has called you to do. Fulfill your purpose and your calling each day.

So, Royal Princess, change those diapers as unto the Lord! Chosen Daughter, love your husband as unto the Lord. Holy Sister, sing, dance, work, drive, play, study, worship, teach, etc. Whatever your calling is, do it with the knowledge that the Sovereign Lord has called you by name, as he did Queen Esther, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), and you will receive your inheritance as your reward.

Teens in Church

Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason teenagers leave the church is because grownups assume they’re all bad and accuse them of misbehavior on a regular basis. Would you want to go to a place where people stereotype you? Isn’t it supposed to be the place where everyone is accepted? What if the teen actually is a bad kid—how is scolding them going to help? And if they’re not a bad kid or doing anything wrong, how does it encourage them to continue on a good path if they’re lumped with the rest? Is this the “Church” Jesus founded?

Here’s an idea: if you’re concerned about teenagers’ behavior, talk TO them—not AT them.

You just might find out that they are honors student-athletes, who have attended “your” church for over a decade, have been saved for more years than that, have been baptized (in water & the Holy Spirit) and are just on their phones because they’re waiting on their parents to wrap up one ministry before moving to the next—so they do, in fact, have a good reason for being in the hall.

Or you might find out that they have come to church without their parents because they need somewhere to feel accepted.

They might even need you to lead them to Jesus—instead of the exit.

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers don’t need loud music, flashy lights, and advanced technology to come to church. What they do need is: sincerity, the truth of the Word (not feel-good, surface-level soundbites), to feel wanted when they are there, and to feel missed when they aren’t. Not so different than any of the rest of us, huh?

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children'” (Matt 19:14, NLT).

I’m of the opinion that this applies to teenagers too, so let’s stop fussing at and about them, and let them come to us. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll stay with us.

Tips for a Lasting Marriage (Part 1)

This being my 20th Valentine’s Day with my husband, I want to share some of what I think makes a marriage last.

Work
Marriage takes effort, and it’s worth working and fighting for. Every situation is different, but in most cases, marriages can survive—and thrive—with real effort. As Philip Stanhope said “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And as Colossians 3:23 (NIV) says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” If there was ever anything worth working at with all your heart, it’s marriage! I’ve seen couples come back from seemingly hopeless situations—through prayer, counseling, and WORK! You chose to be in love with your spouse in the first place—keep making that choice, even when it’s not easy.

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Refugees in My Backyard

I have seen a lot of decent, God-fearing Christians sharing their views on the Syrian refugee situation. In attempting to decide if the United States should allow people from Syria who could possibly be ISIS operatives into the country, many use scripture to back their opinions, yet still find themselves on opposing sides.

I see a lot of merit in the wisdom (or attempts at it) from the Matthew 10:16 campers: “‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’” What I can’t figure out about this one is how doing nothing for these refugees makes us shrewd and innocent. As Edmund Burke said,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I also see the sincerity—at least I think that’s what’s being attempted—from the Matthew 25:44-45 folks: “‘Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?” ‘And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”’” What I can’t figure out about this one is how it suddenly applies more to the refugees from Syria than it does to the folks sleeping on the benches downtown.

While I’m sure there must be a way to reconcile these two passages, I haven’t been sure what that looks like. Then I came across this passage in my timehop today from 4 years ago. “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:21-24 NLT

Suffering? No thanks! Most Americans have no clue what true suffering really is. And do good, even if it means suffering? Not interested! Those kind of things are going to put us way out of our comfort zone. Those kind of things are going to mean sacrificing a meal once in a while and giving it to a homeless veteran, or cleaning out a couple of outfits from our closets for a family whose home has burned, or inviting a shut-in to our homes for Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s start with those things. There are people in our own backyards who need our help today—they also needed it yesterday and last week and last month and last year. Whether it’s helping folks in our home mission field or opening our doors to people from a dangerous war-torn nation, we very well may find ourselves suffering for their sakes. But we can follow the example of Christ who left his case in the hands of God and suffered for us.

I still don’t have all the answers for this situation, and I in no way believe that I have set an example of helping the less fortunate. But, frankly, I don’t think any of us have the right answer—so now I want to present for your consideration a lengthly passage that came up in my Bible study class tonight:

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Gal. 5:16-26, NLT, emphasis mine).

Let’s be sure that in all our good intentions, we don’t find ourselves fighting the wrong battle. The Enemy will do anything to bring division among believers. If we can’t have discussions about this that are characterized by peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control, but bring quarreling, dissension, provocation and division instead, we shouldn’t even engage in the conversation.

When God’s Voice Sounds Like Geese

Here I am in a place of transition. I have just left my full-time job of 11 years to work from home! I have no doubt the Lord ordered my steps in this, but as with any change, there is a lot of new data to digest about the job and the impact it has on all other areas of my life. Also, my baby boy, who was nine months old at my college graduation, has just applied to my (and my husband’s) alma mater, so I am anticipating this transition as well.

Our family is no stranger to change, as you can see by this basic timeline of the early days of our family.

1996: Met.
1997: Married.
1998: Had our first son. Husband graduated college.
1999: Moved to Texas. I graduated college.
2000: Had our second son. Moved to Colorado.
2002: Moved back to Tennessee.

As much as our lives were in transition those first six years, they have remained basically constant the last 13. Though I did change jobs once, we had our third son, my husband obtained his Master’s degree, and we faced a number of challenges, we have—for the most part—been in a nice comfort zone of relative stability.

But lately I have been asking the Lord what He is up to. I am trying to understand what His plans are and what He expects from me at this point in our journey. I am certain that He is using this time in my life to stretch me or grow me in certain areas, though I’m not entirely certain what areas or how.

So I was seeking Him about this this morning.

Then I heard geese.

I am the last one in our family anyone would consider a nature enthusiast, but those geese got my attention. The lovely thing about working from home is I can hear geese, and when I hear geese, I can go outside and see the geese. While that’s nice, realizing this benefit is not what God wanted me to see from them.

The moment I saw them, I was reminded and knew with everything in me that I don’t need to know what God is up to anymore than those geese need God to explain to them what to do when October and cold weather come around. They flew in perfect formation, and went exactly where they were supposed to be going, because that’s what He created them to do. I am well aware that humans are far more complex than geese, but there is still a lesson to be learned from them. If the God of all creation cared enough to give a plan and purpose to the geese, He certainly cares enough to do the same for us.

Matthew 6:25-27 (NLT) sheds some light on this: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

The bottom line is: TRUST. The same God who created the geese and gave them their purpose can be trusted to reveal to us what we need to know, when we need to know it—but not a moment before. In the meantime: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matt 6:33, NLT).”

[And just in case I needed further proof that the Lord was speaking to me, He certainly provided it. I had already typed up the above portion of this, and shared it with my husband. I was even thinking I’d post it, but hadn’t. I decided to do a little work and my Bible study lesson for the day, and I would get around to posting later. Well, I suppose that was just the Lord proving He knows best. My lesson today is from Beth Moore’s “Daniel” study. The topic is “While I Was Still in Prayer.” AS Daniel was seeking the Lord on behalf of the people, the angel Gabriel interrupted with a message from God (see Daniel 9). Isaiah 65:24 (NLT) promises, “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs. I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” Sometimes He interrupts and answers prayers through angels, his Word, other believers, or a vision—but today, for me, it was geese.]

Me and my eldest at my college graduation

Me and my eldest at my college graduation

Pumpkin Bread

This is one of the most requested recipes I make. When I married my husband, his family gave me the cookbook their little church in Iowa Park, Texas had had made for a fundraiser. This is the recipe of a saint who was featured in that book, dear Sister Francis Battle. I make it for covered dish events every year. It is so easy to make because you mix all the ingredients in the same bowl. The recipe gives instructions for two loaves, but I also make mini loaves and muffins (just remember to reduce the cooking time). Every Christmas I give mini loaves to the senior adults who attend the chapel service my husband pastors at a retirement complex. They love it and have come to expect it.

Pumpkin Bread

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