A Personal God

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20 NIV

“God will meet you where you are in order to take you where He wants you to go.”Tony Evans

A Montana January, below zero with wind screeching and threatening my very life around my rusty, tin can trailer. Oh how it rattled the roof and windows! Pipes frozen. Coffee can for … A local truck stop gave me water. 24 years old.  Newly divorced. Barely a high-school graduate. Out of money. Lonely. Hungry. Punishing myself. Believed I deserved it.

Government assistance? Nope.

Godly assistance? Yep.

Through tears, I asked Jesus to come in and eat with me. Please, Jesus, speak to me. I have a 25 cent box of macaroni and cheese, coffee and tears. Mice had invaded my home and I could hear their scratching and squeaking throughout the night. One (I hoped only one) skittered across me while I was sleeping. At least I had heat from an old gas stove. But, please Jesus, be with me.

I wish I could say everything turned to rainbows and stardust. It didn’t. It was only looking back that I could see Jesus was with me and not as I expected. No knight in shining armor. But I was comforted and encouraged to take wobbly risks. I met people that offered opportunities. But really, inside, I was panicked, bottomed out, numb from fear and unaware of all the positive things happening each day. One foot in front of the other. More macaroni and cheese. Helping and holding hands. Others’ stories of survival from Christians who survived the Great Depression to a Viet Nam Vet with PTSD. They fed me spiritual and physical food. I even got delicious cookies and comfort from a motherly Christian woman! They showed me my strengths. They laughed and soothed. They helped with the water and mice problem. They gave me books, hugs, phone calls (no texting back then and I’m forever grateful). Now I do this for others. I bet you do too. A personal Savior.

Musings

We have a personal God. He dines with us. He comforts us. He renews us. He lets us share in his kingdom. He lets us help one another. He died for us. I know of no other religion that has a personal, sacrificing God who “will never leave me nor forsake me.” Never the way I think he should.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Your ways are mysterious. You teach us to pray for each day only. Today’s bread only. You take care of the rest, even when we’re overcome with shame, fear and doubt. Redeem our painful times for your honor. Remind us that dependency on you is a very good thing. Remind us to ask, seek, knock. Thank you that you dine with us.

Amen.

Try Hard (Don’t Make it)

“Stop striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NASB

“Belief in God and trusting God—the difference is enormous!”

The Christian life is difficult. The non-Christian life is difficult. For the Christian, suffering is only for a time-a moment compared to eternity. The choice, you would think, would be easy.

The most dark and frightening time in my life was when I was a full-time caregiver for my husband with Lewy Body Dementia. However, the dogs needed their walk, horses needed their feed, water and care every morning. This was Christmas time, the last Christmas my husband would be in his own home. My goal was to have everything as nice, loving and normal as I could for him. Lots of striving involved. So, with my husband settled in his recliner, I threw on my winter garb, got the dog leashes and set out for our walk. There’s a little park across the street from my home in my rural town and Christmas lights were sparking on the cabin and large fir tree there. The dogs were digging in the snow and displayed their snow beards with doggie enthusiasm and doggy wags. The horses whinnied and nuzzled me and each other–oatmeal Christmas cookies. And there were diamonds in the snow and the icicles sparkled like blue topaz. The stars above were just as marvelous-winking their approval. It was warm. No wind. For that short time, I was beloved. Embraced. Hopeful. Glimpse of Paradise. Breath of Heaven. I was still. No striving. God. Me. Creation. And God was exalted with great awe and tenderness. I did not sit down and chant or recite a Bible quote. Speechless wonder and thanks were mine. It carried me through my husband’s erratic illness and death.

Most translations of Psalm 46:10 say, “Be still and know that I am God.” But my controlling ways recognize “stop striving” so much better. Caregivers strive. Young parents strive. Elderly strive. We all strive at some time. Recovering Black Sheep/Scapegoats strive to be good. The smart ones know that God causes the growth and faithfully do what’s in front of them. No striving.

Musings

Striving, and the world encourages this, will not guarantee success. Striving will not necessarily reward you and if it does, it’s fleeting. Striving is bad for our mental and physical health. The temptation to strive and strive some more is there every day. Yes, I have work to do. Yes, I have responsibilities. I don’t have to strive. The outcome is God’s. I can depend on my Father for my future. Seems risky. However, my way has humbled me into knowing His way is best.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you for our future, especially our future with you. Let us immerse ourselves in the wonder of you and your creation. You called it good. Let us trust you. No matter what we face, we just need to know that you are God and dependency on you means no striving. No matter the media blasts, headlines, threats and hyperbole of this world, we don’t strive. We trust you.

Amen.

Boredom or Threshold?

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

“Life is never boring, but some people choose to be bored.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Boredom is a great enemy of black sheep types. I don’t need to explain. Just a fact.

Overcome a relationship problem? Check. Done. Overcome a bad habit? Yes. Some celebration. Handling boundaries with a mother-in-law? Done. Finish a demanding work week? With bells on. Got the kidlet’s math grade up? With celebration. Ran a marathon? Finished fourth. Puppy is potty-trained. Whew!

Then the letdown. Boredom. Daily, sometimes annoying, never-ending tasks. Life. Most of life. No major problems. No self-scrutiny. Health is good. Food on the table. Everyone is healthy and caring. Bills are paid. Regular stuff we take for granted. What a blessing! Or is it?

When I read the New Testament, I read the wonderful, impactful, hopeful stories of drama, insight and healing. There was also boredom, hissy fits and dailiness. Most of life then, too. Dirty, dusty roads before the next village. It took days to get from place to place. Preparation of meals. Washing dirty feet. Four days travel until Lazarus’ resurrection. Sitting by the well in the hot noon-day sun before asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. Three days before Jesus’ resurrection.

Could these empty, boring times be the threshold of something new? It may not be dramatic. It could be peace and the joy not of this world that Jesus promised. A little taste of heaven. It could be a time of rest. It could be a time for praise and thanks. One thing for sure, something new and marvelous held in a spirit of love and curiosity is the attitude to have. Something specifically designed by our Father just for you!

Musings

Most of life is the daily, repetitive and, let’s face it, boring tasks. The Bible and Jesus’ ministry used the daily lessons of salt, light, bread, water, planting and harvesting to demonstrate power and a wonderful spiritual life. Grateful! No tragedies. No dramas. A threshold of rest, thanks and curiosity. Openness.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you for our daily bread. Thank you for what we call boredom that may be a threshold to a newness in us and others. When feeling bored and restless, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from Evil. May we be curious and expectant with openness and gratefulness.

Amen.

Fire Your Parents

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” Matthew 6:8-9 NIV

“So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,

30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30

“The black sheep blazes the trail for other family members to follow when they finally see the wolf.” Unknown

I was having a real bad morning sick in bed with thoughts all over the place with grief over my deceased husband. My intense and difficult childhood and adolescence became entangled with my grief. Grief does that. Childhood issues that aren’t addressed and healed keep us spiritually and emotionally crippled, blocked at especially vulnerable times. Childhood damage happens because, as little children, we didn’t have the skills, knowledge and understanding required and the damage sticks like Gorilla glue while causing storms throughout our lives. The damage continues to harm our children and others. Generational.

A still, small voice entered my heart and mind when I was nursing wounds from my childhood still sick as a dog. It said, “Fire your parents. Replace them with me, your Father.” And I have. My new Father embraced me Like the father of the Prodigal Son. This was the starting point of real healing and forgiveness. It brought me through many tears with new friendships, understanding and peace. It taught me that no human could ever provide the love I need. Only the Father can. Counselors, pastors, books new people were guideposts to love and welcoming. A new family.

And the abusive cycle is broken. No blame. No destructive behavior. No addictions. Some forgiveness.

Musings

We forget that we have a Father in heaven who created us, is with us, counsels us and gives us a purpose. He wrote the instruction manual. More importantly, he loves us perfectly. No human can or should love us perfectly. Was our past fraught with pain, fear and shame? Yes, absolutely! Our Father in heaven does not deny or minimize this. He helps us to overcome evil with good, break the cycle and live in newness and with purpose. Gently. No recriminations. No recycling of our pasts. No shame. No secrets.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you that you adopted us. Thank you that we can shout or whisper, “Abba!” “Daddy!” It is a marvelous thing to come home to you and reach up with arms and hearts like a little child. Help us to blaze a trail of love for others because you first loved us. Help us to feed each other. Help us to heal one another.

Amen.

Born Backwards

Feelings

“For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” Psalm 116:8 NIV

“Sometimes we are called to proclaim God’s love even when we are not yet fully able to live it.” Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

I was born backwards, you know, butt first. I’ve been doing things that way for way too long and still have that tendency. Put my coffee table together, frustration, then read the instructions. Yes, I became pregnant and then got married.  Ran away from home, then sought out a counselor. Tried many worldly things like striving for money, perfection, acceptance and then had a (spiritual awakening) breakdown leading to Jesus. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Another typical Prodigal Son, or daughter scenario.

Feelings were a huge part of my problem. Waiting to “feel” like cleaning the bathroom. Waiting to feel like going to work. Waiting to feel like getting counsel. Waiting to feel like going to class. Waiting to feel like loving my teenager. Waiting to feel like paying the bills. Bill collectors don’t care one bit about your feelings. Waiting to feel like becoming and being a Christian. What if Christ waited until he felt like going to the cross? We’d be dead in our sin. No hope. Paul said, “the most pitied.”

Now some good news. First, feelings are not facts. I chose daily to love my husband though, at times, I didn’t feel like it.  I’m sure he didn’t feel like loving me either many rocky times. We had a wonderful and imperfect relationship.  I chose to budget my money. My income stabilized and increased. I chose to love my son by listening, supporting his athletic efforts and his education. Even better news! I received marvelous feelings of warmth, appreciation, gratefulness and most of all, love. Absent feelings come back too. Sometimes despairing ones when I feel God isn’t with me. Feelings are not facts! He’s always with me.

Musings

Love is a verb. Feelings are not. Feelings require no action, they’re passive, they destroy and place blame, if not managed and understood. I feel like drinking. I feel like hitting you. I feel like complaining. I feel… On and on it goes. Love is also patient. Loving and wonderful feelings come to those who act lovingly, even when the situation is not as we hoped. Most of life is not feelings. It’s action and the good feelings come—sometimes right away and sometimes it takes years.

Prayer

Dear Father,

You have great feelings for us that we can’t comprehend. You love us and never leave us, no matter what our fickle feelings shout at us. Thank you for the gift of feelings. Thank you that Jesus showed us how to love regardless of feelings. Thank you that Christ despised the shame and looked forward to the joy set before him. May we do the same.

Amen.

Tell Me More About That

Listening with Your Heart

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

“The time is always ripe to do the right thing.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I confess. I’m not a good listener. I’m better than I was but I have a long way to go. Every time I show up in my life, no matter the circumstances, there’s a listening opportunity. My marketing career depended on listening. I couldn’t solve a business problem without active listening. The most difficult listening experience for me is listening with my heart and not just my head. The new heart God gave me. This takes presence. This takes self-awareness. This makes the other a priority. This takes humility. No rushing in with a Bible quote, preachiness or answers.

Jesus asked many followers, “What do you want me to do for you?” Most wanted physical healing. Some tried to trap him with clever questions and setups. Some worshiped at his feet speechless with tears. Some sneaked in at night hoping to not be seen. God in the flesh asking me what I want him to do for me. Astonishing!

I have asked him for healing, relief from financial burdens, success, relief from grief, abolishment of shame. I begged for relief from grief when my husband died. I begged God to take away my addictions. Take away the loneliness, please.

I didn’t ask Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” I came close and fear of being a missionary in a third world country filled with cannibals and becoming possibly their dinner, overcame me.  Slammed that door shut with no further listening and lots of excuses: I’m too old. Not enough money. Fear for my life, actually. Comforts of home gone. No listening whatsoever. Door slammed shut with no trust that God has perfectly designed my role for him.

What if I listened to God and he did say that? It’s always a good idea to inquire, “Tell me more about that.”  And listen with my heart. When comforting a bereaved person, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Tell me more about him or her.” When comforting a skinned up child or dramatic adolescent, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Tell me more about that.” Heated argument with a significant other. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Tell me more about that.” I learned this from a tax lawyer and atheist, of all people. God works in mysterious ways.

By the way, I have not been called to be a missionary. I have been called to show up each day and listen, serve and be open. I miss the mark, at times, on this too.

Musings

This quote came from my daily reading today. I think it ties in beautifully with listening with the heart. “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Prayer

Dear Father,

You listen to us all the time with a loving, open heart. You only do what’s right for each of us, even when we miss your mark, even in our misunderstanding, even in our pain, even in our loneliness, even in our grief. So we timidly ask, “What do you want us to do for you?” “Please tell us more about that.”

Amen.

Shake the Dust Off Your Feet

“If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” Matthew 10:14 NLT

“Cruelty is cheap and easy.” Brene Brown

Not everyone deserves you. Not everyone will like you. Many will gossip about you. Some will try to use you. Some will use you as an emotional garbage can. Some, like crabs in a bucket, will climb right over you. “Hurting people hurt people,” the saying goes. That doesn’t mean you are someone’s punching bag.

My father and step-mother were very successful in their careers and church. Money and status were theirs. They taught me a powerful, humiliating and painful lesson.

My husband and I were invited to dinner at their house. My dad grilled steaks, wine was served and the table was lovely. Then my step-mother proceeded to gossip and denigrate my sisters, their spouses and children. “How can he be a manager of a car dealership? How awful! “How can it be acceptable to have tattoos?” “How can she be so overweight?” “Their house is so small; are they financially strapped?” My father heartily agreed and participated in this cruel, gossipy and destructive conversation. Expensive steak and wine turned to sawdust in my mouth. Tears crept out of my eyes. A huge painful lump was in my heart and throat. If they talk about my siblings this way, just think what they’re saying about me, my spouse and my children. The very people that are supposed to love you.

My husband and I looked at each other. We got up, went to the car, said not a word and drove away. We sadly shook the dust off our feet. We embraced each other. Promised to never, ever do this to anyone! Two senior adults that were members of a local church, golf club, Meals on Wheels, chose to rip the heart and soul out of their own family members. Is this rare? Sadly, no. Many of you have experienced this to a greater or lesser degree. Cheap and easy. And not true.

By the way, and I was there when he was dying, my dad’s last words were, “I’m so sorry.” Tormented with pain and regret.

Musings

Shaking the dust off our feet means no drama, no arguing, no threatening, no explaining. Doesn’t do any good anyway. But more importantly, do not make another’s cruelty yours. Do not let it live in our heart and soul. It’s not ours. It’s theirs. Pray over it and Let Go and Let God while moving on to others that are receptive with love.

Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 

Amen

Words

‘Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”’ John 6:68 NIV

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NIV

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 ESV

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Genesis 1:3 NIV

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. I beg to differ. Words are powerful! Angry words. Hateful words. Gossip. Lying. Demeaning words. Shaming words. They are powerful. They destroy souls, from little children to vulnerable adults. I bet, no matter how healthy your family is or was, you’ve got word wounds. These words lead to resentments, addictions, self-loathing, isolation, discouragement and other damaging behaviors. James speaks of the tongue as unruly and a fire. Apparently, according the Bible, they bring death. Did you know the word sarcasm literally means to strip off flesh?

Then there’s God’s words. Life-giving, peaceable affirming, encouraging, comforting, inspiring and there’s disciplining too. If it’s a harsh critic or judgmental voice, it’s not God’s. We need to talk to ourselves as we would a dear friend. Several times a day I call myself something that’s discouraging or untrue. Do you too? Someone once said, “You cannot do to me what I can do to me.” Words.

Musings

Our words give life or take it away. “As a man thinks, so is he.” And so we speak. May we speak inspirational words, comforting words and loving words to ourselves and each other.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Amen.

St. Augustine’s Prayer

Self-Rejection

“I will give thanks to You, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 NASB

“It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.” Abraham Lincoln

We live in a fascinating world and a fascinating time, even with all turmoil. Contemplating all of God’s unique and magnificent gifts, too many to count, strikes me with more than awe and provides a comforting presence. A snowflake is not like any other. A star shines differently than another. An autumn leaf is painted unlike another leaf. They are awesomely and wonderfully made.

No one looks like you. No one has your talents and gifts. No one. No one shines like you. You are awesomely and wonderfully made. I don’t know you yet I check your websites and joyfully humbled with your accomplishments and gifts! I know and trust God’s word that you are awesomely and wonderfully made. His word has never been wrong. He cannot lie.

And yet we reject ourselves. Here’s some of the piercing and discouraging traps:

Envy. Yep, really hate that one. It feels dark and well, icky! Usually caused by our comparison to another and always deficient. Always the cracked foundation of gossip. I’m no movie star, spiritual leader or athlete but God helps me shine. (I’m not envious of politicians. I can scratch that one off my list).

Fear. The most destructive and possibly the root of all the Enemy’s tools. Risk? I think not. Reach out? Tired. Maybe another day. Give? Nope. Hanging onto every nickel.

Old tapes. You know the ones from the past that we play over and over and over and lacks one blessed ending? Not the good ones. You have a Wonderful Counselor with much better tapes.

Doubt. Of ourselves and God. Giving others more power over our self-image than God who made us. Breeds insecurities and divisions.

Musings

A rehab counselor asked a group he was counseling, “If I say yes to the alcohol, what am I saying no to?” Additionally, “Am I operating out of fear or love?” It’s never neutral. If I say yes to self-rejection, I’m saying no to confidence, strength, peace, vocation and rejecting God’s handiwork. If I’m operating out of fear, the result will be tragic—no love for myself or others. If I’m operating out of love for myself and God, I’m open to God’s personal purpose for me. God’s purpose is always “abundantly more than I can ask or think.” We grow into it. It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Help us to really take in that we are awesomely and wonderfully made. Put it so deep into our very soul that each day is an adventure with you. Help us to thank you for this even though our feelings shout no and our enemy sneers at us, accuses us. The Enemy is a paper tiger put under Jesus’ feet.

Your son is beautiful beyond words. Your spirit is invisible yet “causes all growth.” Like little children, we are joyfully dependent on you now and forever and grateful for our purpose in your kingdom.

Amen.

Homecoming

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 ESV

“Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.” Henri Nouwen.

Homecoming is a big deal where I live. It’s a little rural town, about 350 people, and eight-man football. It’s full of celebration with a band and parade and rousing cheers! We recently got stadium lights and so proud of this accomplishment. Just showing up at the game I feel welcome by the fanfare, camaraderie and single purpose. By the way, we were state champions in 2020. This may not mean home to you at your particular season of life but it’s so “homey” to me. Home changes as we change.

Not all homecomings are nice. Not all homecomings are cozy. Not all homecomings are affectionate. Not all homecomings are safe. Some invite us to their homes to show off material possessions or positions of authority. Some invite us to judge and compare. Some have a hidden agenda. Welcoming it’s not.

Some of us had a home that was full of turmoil, absent parents, rigidity, punishment, shame and worse. Who in their right mind comes home to that? Calls it home?  Feels welcome? A roof over our heads, if we were lucky, place to sleep, eat, but home? It’s hard to be at home when it’s unsafe.

I had a grandma that taught me many things, welcomed me, played games, told stories and possessed warm hugs. She was safe. It was not my home yet it felt like it. Her 850 sq. ft home was built by my grandfather during the Depression. They did not have running water, electricity or heat then. Knowing their tremendous challenges, I am amazed. My grandmother taught me by her example how to be a grandmother. How to invite others with safety. Feeling at home.

Jesus makes a home in our hearts and our minds where we are safe, whether commuting, working, grocery-shopping or playing with the kids. We can tell him anything and everything. We might as well because he knows anyway. If we are truly at home, we are safe Others are safe. It’s not the latest TV, expensive food, glamourous trappings that make one safe. It’s the heart. Cliché but true. “Home is where the heart is.” Miraculous changes occur.

Musings

Notice that Jesus knocks. He does not force, cajole, shame, bully, preach, entice or threaten. He asks. He eats with us. He sets the standard. He’s home. Our eternal home. “We have passed from death to life.” He brushes away shame, fear, insecurities while affirming great love for us. Now. Eternally. Safe. We look forward to the final Homecoming where he wipes every tear from our eyes and gives us a crown.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you that you’ve made your home in our hearts and like the Prodigal Son, we are embraced and welcomed by you for nothing. Help us to welcome others into my home and your home. Remind us that “we have entertained angels.”

Amen.