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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Low Branches

A friend of mine had two elf-sized helpers over to decorate her Christmas tree the other day. The thing that was so cute about it, she smiled recollecting, was that they were too tiny to reach anything but the lowest branches. Consequently, the ornamentation is somewhat (no, very) unbalanced; but the little girls took great delight in their handiwork, such as it was, because from their vantage point, it looked colorful and glittery and perfect.

I smiled as I listened to this story. Long ago, I hung a plaque on my bedroom wall which said simply, "Reach up as far as you can, and God will reach down to you" (author unknown). The apostle James said it this way: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8).

What a Savior.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Called Off the Bench

It's nice, and fits securely into our comfort zone, when we get to set our own agendas. Pursuing a career path; responding to a marriage proposal; even timing a pregnancy — all are situations which, as Christians, we can say "yes" or "no" to, calling on almighty counsel to guide our choices.

But there are other times when the Coach chooses us. Times when we are called upon to stand for or against something, and when we get right down to it, there's really only one right choice to be made.

Esther realized this. So did David. Jonah figured it out at crunch time, but better late than never.

Elisha asked God for a double portion of His Spirit (2 Kings 2:9-15) so he could pick up where Elijah left off. As I continue to "do the next right thing" in the current arduous task He has assigned me, I'm putting in a request for a double portion of His heavenly mind. I need to be able to think clearly under pressure, on my feet as it were, things which don't come easily to me.

And I need to remember that the players on the other team are made in God's image too, and He ultimately gets to decide who wins the game.

Winston Churchill summed it up nicely: "A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality."

He put his money where his mouth was, and stood up to Hitler.

Now that it's my turn to come off the bench, can I do any less?

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Fear That Said Its Prayers

Morsels for Meditation...: Obedience vs. Outcome

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fear That Said Its Prayers

When Dorothy Bernard said, "Courage is fear that has said its prayers," she must have been thinking of me. I'm not a wave maker, a rule breaker, or a boat rocker. But I do stand up for myself when I have to.

More importantly, I'd like to think I stand up for the underdog, even if it costs me.

Last week I blogged about a faith challenge that I'm in the middle of. So far this has involved having some uncomfortable discussions (for these I drew on the advice of an old friend who once promised God that she would place a difficult phone call, but He would have to do the talking), as well as many hours of thought and prayer. I'm not sure what else this trial will entail, but in less than a week, God has provided ample resources for the task at hand.

My prayer partner, Tina, and I were looking at some Scripture that speaks to this situation. In 2 Kings 6:15-17, Elisha's servant succumbs to fear when he surveys the vast army possessed by Israel's enemies. He cries out in desperation, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?"

To which Elisha replies, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

The servant's eyes are then opened to see multitudes of horses and chariots of fire surrounding the two men of God.

Just a little glimpse of His heavenly arsenal.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Obedience vs. Outcome

There seems to be some dispute as to who wrote the following prayer, commonly known as The Serenity Prayer, but several sources I checked credit the 20th Century pastor, Reinhold Niebuhr, with penning it in the 1940s:

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

My prayer partner, Tina, and I were discussing this heavenly appeal today in connection with a faith challenge I'm working through. This particular matter is of no small significance, and has me somewhat knotted up when I let myself think about it. Tina is a good listener and an excellent adviser, and she reminded me of this simple prayer as I kvetched about my problem. She also compared worrying to sitting in a rocking chair, i.e., using up lots of energy to get absolutely nowhere.

After Tina and I had finished praying over my "Goliath," the phone rang again. This time it was another friend with a Philistine giant of her own. I told her I really had no advice to offer (this being a legal and family matter), but pointed her to the One who does. We began reading and praying through various passages of Scripture that pertain to difficulties and threatening situations. Together we looked at 1 Corinthians 10:13, in which God promises not to give us more than we can bear; the story of Gideon, detailing the Israelites' victory over oppressors using a small squadron of men, torches, and clay jars; and the account of King Jehoshophat, where God's people were told simply to suit up and show up for battle, and God would do the rest. 

We also considered Isaiah 55:8: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" This reminded us that, as uncomfortable as life's curve balls may be, our Creator has a plan and we're not always privy to it. We're responsible for obedience, not outcome.

So I'm taking trembling steps toward resolution, knowing I'm walking in angelic and almighty company. It's also helping to recall past situations that have been gut-wrenching, muscle-building, and soul-stretching. I was pleasantly surprised to remember having survived several dozen slippery, unpleasant trials with hard-headed adversaries, only to come out stronger by the grace of God.

Why should this one be any different?

Check out Chris Tomlin's Whom Shall I Fear

For more like this, check out: 
Morsels for Meditation...: Fear That Said Its Prayers       Morsels for Meditation...: Called Off the Bench

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seasons

We're in the middle of a "Nor'easter" here in Havertown. The wintry mix has turned our autumn-colored foliage frosty white. Yesterday's crisp, dry leaves, heaped high atop the curbs awaiting collection, have morphed into soggy, limp piles of refuse.

In the midst of this terrible weather, our dear friend Anita has traveled north to watch her elder son marry. Several years ago, the cold winds of November howled as his beloved wife lost her fight with cancer. Tomorrow he will crush a wine glass as his new bride looks on from under the chuppah. They will begin life together as husband and wife, and the tears of yesterday will make tomorrow's rejoicing that much sweeter.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart..." Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

                                           MAZEL TOV, NEWLYWEDS!


For more like this, check out: 


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Shame Game

I've never been one to bleed all over the Internet, and don't want to start now. Still, it seems disingenuous to write a blog based on personal experiences without injecting some degree of transparency. That said, I've been having some tough days. Not feeling comfortable in my own skin. Magnifying mistakes, having to really work to remember my successes and good points. In short, beating myself up mentally. I hate days like this, where I feel everything I'm doing is wrong, like no one's buying what I'm selling. That old shame game just can't wait to get going.

It's up to me to send it packing.

This is not how God would have me act towards myself. At times I am too hard on others, so is it any wonder that I should shift the laser beam homeward when I fail to live up to my own expectations? And vice versa; it stands to reason, if I work on being kinder to myself, doesn't it follow that I'll be gentler with others?

I am a child of God, and God DOESN'T MAKE JUNK! This statement may not be original, but it sure is true. No one can make me feel unworthy without my permission, and I withhold permission!

To borrow an expression from my support group, "Act as if..."
"Act as if you're feeling OK, even though you feel rotten."
"Act as if you're competent, even though your mind is telling you otherwise."
"Act as if you believe in yourself, no matter how ill at ease you feel."

"Fake it till you make it" is another slogan from the same program, and has similar meaning.

One of the toughest parts for me is finding the truth in criticism. Sifting through the hurt and feelings of worthlessness that  suck me down like a whirlwind when I perceive someone else is displeased with me. I'm practicing the art of correcting mistakes without falling prey to self-deprecation. Recognizing areas I could improve upon without whipping myself for not doing them in the first place.

In other words, allowing myself to bloom without despising the inevitable weeds.

"... you are HIGHLY esteemed..." Daniel 9:23b

Friday, October 7, 2011

Breaking Even...

... that's what I feel like I've been doing lately, in most areas of my life. Financially, I've been somewhat stalled (!) since buying my new car last summer. Not that I regret it for one minute. It was long overdue, and it's been absolutely heavenly not to worry about start-ups and breakdowns. Still, my bank account took a hit and hasn't really recovered yet. The scale has been stuck at an unpleasant number for several years now, despite my increased exercise regime (I guess the old theory about an inverse relationship between food and weight loss must have some truth to it). My book has been rejected by two publishers. And I have the typical concerns for my children's health, education, and, most importantly, spiritual growth.

Psalm 42:5 says, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." When I look at my life, at the various waves coming at me from upstream, I sometimes get scared and discouraged. I let small matters like sticking doorknobs and chimney repairs get me down. Instead of cheering for myself and my family, I sink into a rut with walls which are very hard to scale. But when I stop to re-examine the facts - I own a new car; the scale hasn't gone down, but it hasn't gone up either, and my body's got to be better for the exercise; I actually wrote a book and submitted it to publishers; my kids are hanging in there, with all their struggles, and are right there paddling with me - well, it's then that I realize the Psalmist indeed has a point.

After all, better to be treading water than to go under...





Thursday, September 29, 2011

Better Things Part 2, AKA, Puddleglum's Save

Last night my son had a sleepover with his cousins and a friend. All four boys literally crashed in the living room for the night; I came down at 3 AM to find one sprawled on the couch, two in reclining chairs, and the fourth (who, by the way, is about 6'3") spread out on the living room floor. His long limbs were tangled up and his head was trying desperately to find comfort on a low-sitting massage chair. I took pity on the poor kid, and tried rousing him to come upstairs to sleep in our guest room. He politely begged off, stating that he was too tired to climb the stairs, even for better accommodations.

I found myself bowled over by the human condition. We sit around like people in Plato's Cave, enjoying our toys and trinkets, often oblivious to the fact that better things are ours for the taking. Or consider C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair, in which the Lady of the Green Kirtle (AKA the Queen of Underland) almost succeeds in convincing the three main characters that her dark dungeon-like world is really the only world, and Aslan's realm, just a fairy tale. Like Lewis's well-intentioned protagonists, we have hopelessly short memories and minds that quickly fall prey to clever arguments with enticing words. That's why it's so important to ally ourselves with Puddleglum-type people who speak the truth, even when that truth seems ridiculous or onerous in light of our present reality:


"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia." (Lewis, C.S. The Silver Chair. Geoffrey Bles, 1953)

I'll take a small serving of Puddleglum philosophy over a heaping helping of Underland hospitality any day of the week.


For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Better Things

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Autumn Rains and Abundant Showers

"Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil." Joel 2:23-24

We have had more than enough rain in the past weeks and months. Some days the Almighty has showered us relentlessly, drenching fields, farms and families...


... and other days just a small trickle, like tiny tears that cleanse even as they offer release.



Either way, we're getting WET!

So I took note of the above-referenced verse when I stumbled onto it recently. I love how God puts these dismal days in a good light. When I read this passage, I picture flowing fountains and waterfalls, and water parks that send jets of man-made rain to sprinkle my hair and lap at my toes.


"... your Father in heaven ... causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:46

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lockers and Notebooks...

Just a quick update (since I know all my "fans" ... or should I say "fan") are/is waiting with baited breath to see how the school year is going):

I'm really glad to be back at the middle school. Starting to feel at home again after a seven-year hiatus, and getting that "awwww" feeling from seeing the looks of accomplishment on sixth grade faces when I help them open their locker or organize their notebooks. A small thing like getting the hang of turning a combination lock can boost or deflate self-esteem big time (and our locks are pretty tricky, so that's no joke). It's really the underpinning of so much of the middle school experience, since they only have a few minutes between classes and can't carry everything with them. Little things can become huge roadblocks when they don't work right (just think of a dripping faucet or a "minor" car noise); at the same time, they facilitate the whole process when all is well. It's been fun to see the progression from day one, when all the kids were struggling, to the present, when the ones who have it down love to help out those who are still fighting with the metal monsters. 


I really like "mothering" all the kids, and feel good when I can do my part to alleviate the stress that I endured in school. Always felt behind the eight ball, and no one was more surprised than I when I succeeded. Always thought I had everyone fooled, that I really just knew how to "play the game" but deep down, had nothing to offer. If I can head that off in some of these little 11-year-olds and help them see they have what it takes, what a joy!

Excerpts from Matthew 18 on the subject:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: School Bells and Ink Quills

Morsels for Meditation...: Grade School Heroes

Morsels for Meditation...: Grade School Heroes Part 2

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sleep on It

Last night I dreamed I had to fill in as an anchor for a well-known TV newscast. The whole premise was ludicrous, since I was unschooled, unprepared, and completely unsettled. I made an utter fool of myself (and of course the station), as I floundered and flubbed my way through the longest 20 minutes of my life. The only saving grace was that I had failed to reach any of my friends to ask them to record the event for posterity.

The reason behind this disturbing dream, I'm certain, was that I went to bed with a heavy heart. Throughout the day, I had rallied God's forces on behalf of someone I love very dearly. I called half a dozen people and literally asked them to storm the gates of heaven. I went to sleep knowing helplessness and rose to discover joy, Joy, JOY!!! God had answered our prayers and then some.

Not all my requests are answered so speedily or completely. But I have learned that helplessness produces dependence, and dependence is the predecessor of trust.

"For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." 
(Romans 8:24, 25)


Sunday, September 4, 2011

School Bells and Ink Quills


I haven't blogged in awhile, but it's been for a good reason. Actually, a couple of good reasons. For one thing, I've started back to work (in a different venue - I've been reassigned to the middle school after working at our local high school for seven years). So I had meetings this week, which I'm proud to say I walked to (two miles round trip!), and learned some valuable stuff about the student(s) I will be assisting this year. It feels strange, even though I worked at the middle school for the better part of three years before moving to the high school, because there are so many new people and the building, for all intents and purposes, is new (having been under construction for three years now). Feels a bit like jumping off a cliff, if you want to know the truth. I have to keep reminding myself that the new school year always feels that way, it goes with the territory, and there are 30 million other people in the country feeling exactly the same way. Not all are as lucky as I am, having numerous relationships already at my worksite. And I only have to find my way around one building, as opposed to people who travel to different buildings routinely as part of their employment. Still, there's this part of me that's feeling anxious (not that you could tell). I just have to let myself feel and walk through and allow it. By this time next week, I'll be in a different spot. I know this from experience.
The other reason for my absence is that I've been putting the finishing touches on my manuscript. Yup! After several years of plugging away, I'm finally ready to submit my work to a publisher. It's exciting and daring for me to do something like this. I have to give credit to my former husband. He always encouraged me to write, even when I was doing much more important things like watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the seventy-fifth time (I tried to find a twelve-step program for my addiction, but they wanted me to promise abstinence, so I had to draw the line). Further back, my parents always supported my writing, even when I was a little girl. I remember plunking myself down in front of my dad's "state of the art" electric typewriter (OK, I'm old), and picking out the letters for a short story. I hunted and pecked my way through a number of pieces, and my folks went the extra mile of submitting one to a children's magazine. I got a lovely rejection notice to counter-balance my chest full of pride that Mom and Dad had faith in their aspiring author. They even took me to see the girlhood home of my writing idol, Louisa May Alcott. Mom and Dad, no matter what the outcome of my scribblings, thank you both for believing in me!

I'll keep you posted if there's any exciting news to report. I just feel really great about getting to this point. There were many times I wondered if I'd ever get it in shape to show a publisher, but it just goes to show, with God all things are possible.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Grade School Heroes

Morsels for Meditation...: Grade School Heroes Part 2

Morsels for Meditation...: Lockers and Notebooks...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Babies, Big and Small

Yesterday I got to cuddle a brand new baby. As I nuzzled his downy hair and silken cheek, I found myself reminiscing back to the days when my own children were infants. I pondered all the stages they've passed through while growing up. The tantrum stage, when just to take them anywhere was a Herculean feat calling for bravery, consistency, and a whip and chair whenever possible. The "why" stage, where everything is questioned, and the word "no" merely a synonym for "Let's have a two hour debate." That delightful hand-holding stage in which the parent is not only not an embarrassment (something I would've taken more joy in, had I known how quickly it would pass), but whose status ranks somewhere between George Washington and Superman. I thought of how many different people my children have been over the years, and how glad I am to have gotten to know them throughout all their changes.

Today I attended the re-commitment ceremony of my sister and her husband after 23 years of marriage. As they gazed into each other's eyes and promised to remain true to one another "again, and always," I rejoiced at the faith and stamina which have sustained them through plenty of trials, as well as much happiness. I looked at the faces of their three children, and thought what a blessing it was that they could be standing alongside two parents who have chosen to stay the course despite the unpredictable waves that accompany family life in a sin-stained world. I thought what a miracle it is that in this era of easy and commonplace divorce, these two imperfect, yet devoted, individuals have completed nearly a quarter of a century as husband and wife.


My mind wandered back to the new little guy whose feathery skin I caressed just yesterday. I smiled, thinking of the pride these new parents will take in meeting their child's newborn needs, providing just the right amount of stimulation, making sure wipes aren't too cold for a sensitive bottom, tucking his floppy head into a fluffy car seat cushion to prevent sudden movement. Then I pictured him as a wing-spreading preschooler and later, an acne-ridden teenager, who will need just as much support in a different way from parents who may feel over-burdened with life's demands. I know how challenging it is to give time and energy to my older children, who look so much less needy than they did as helpless infants. I intoned a prayer that his parents will make it through all the debris that life will throw at them, and that as he passes through each phase of existence, two sets of hands will be there to guide his steps and set him upright when he inevitably falls down. I prayed for the same staying power that has gifted Jo and Scott's children with a core unit they can always draw on to be available for this new little person.

I pray God's blessing on all our babies, big and small.

"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." Psalm 127:1

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Seasons

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rot, Dead Flies, and Other Unspeakable Things

This was written last December. I'm resurrecting it now, as I'm having some of the same emotions now that summer vacation is nearing its end. In a few weeks I'll be trading in my shorts for "business casual" and getting up at 5:30 again to go to work. I'm sure most of my readers will have no sympathy if I bemoan the return to work-a-day life, and really I'm not looking for any. What I am trying to do is psych myself up for another school year, and get back in the groove. I guess a little down time is useful for anyone, but I don't want to ever go on vacation from the Lord. He's just too important.


I knew I had hit bottom, as it were, over Christmas vacation, when I took sponge in hand and began cleaning out the refrigerator. This after sleeping late, breakfasting on a sumptuous meal prepared by my 18-year-old son, lunching at Dunkin’ Donuts, and rounding things out with a two-hour nap. I decided if I was to have even a shred of self-respect left at the end of my winter break, I must at least do a few household chores.

So, armed with basin, sponge and paper towels, I commenced scrubbing. And I do mean scrubbing. You need to know that this box hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned since … well, since the last time I did it. My initial plan was simply to tackle the remains of a gargantuan spill that had occurred around Thanksgiving (I had wiped up the worst of the mess when it happened, intending to give it more thorough attention when time allowed; funny thing is, time never did allow). In order to visualize the scene, you have to realize that my refrigerator door swings open 90 degrees and butts up against a wooden table ledge on which my computer keyboard rests. It’s complicated. Just take my word that it’s more trouble than it’s worth to manipulate the setup to open the door to its fullest extent, which would allow the removal of both veggie drawers. In this context, I pulled out one drawer completely, and the other to the fullest extent possible.
I realized quickly that the radius of my arm was inversely proportional to the amount of crud it had to reach. This led to a series of very creative positions in which I attempted to circumvent the part of the drawer that was stuck in position. Needless to say, the work was acrobatic and the end result, far less than perfect.

Clearly I had attempted this Herculean feat at least once since purchasing the appliance six years ago; that much was obvious from the remnants of baking soda accompanying the spill under the veggie drawers. (It hadn’t done the job, incidentally; the powder had morphed into mutant, snow-like clumps whose deodorizing properties had long since lost their battle against tuna, onion and ethnic holiday foods). In addition, I was dealing with some sort of sticky goo that had attached itself like fleas to a Saint Bernard. This job would require far longer than the ten minutes I had figured on.

The thing that annoyed me most was the way the task grew as I went along. Forty-five grueling minutes later, I was still scouring, hosing down, and complaining. The reason for the endlessness? Unforeseen complications. Everywhere I looked were disgusting memories of foods gone by. In this corner crumbs from our Christmas pie; in that cranny drops of dried milk stuck fast like chewing gum on a cold sidewalk. I even happened upon (those with weak stomachs, beware) a dead fly left over from our infestation last summer. The poor thing must have sought refuge from the swatter, only to meet a frigid end in our Arctic icebox. As a postscript, I must add that while fixing a snack later, I noted with chagrin that I had completely overlooked the cheese drawer! What this means is that more scrubbing awaits me even though I imagined my work was done.

Does any of this sound familiar? I would wager the vast majority of my readers have never found a fly belly up in their refrigerators. However, as Christians we must all be acquainted with the experience of frustrated cleansing efforts. How often have our attempts to beautify the externals been thwarted by the underlying problem of sin? We all try to look our best and talk a good Christian game, but doesn’t sin crop up anyway? Like the arcade game at the beach, when we take out one pop-up character with our mallet, two or three more show up immediately to take its place. This phenomenon is explained by Romans 7, in which Paul laments his inability to conquer sin in his life:

"I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:14-25)

Furthermore, no matter how “clean” we make ourselves, we can’t escape the fact that we are tainted by sin. Our cleansing efforts will always be insufficient to conquer the overall contamination that is our sin (Isaiah 64:6). The sin nature exists and has –no, had – a death grip on us until Christ applied His heavenly disinfectant once and for all (Romans 7:25).

One final note. I chose to throw out several items whose expiration dates had passed. This was hard for me, coming as I do from a frugal, Depression-era family which emphasized saving, storing and reusing. And truthfully, the foods still looked and smelled fine. Still, being a veteran of food poisoning, I trekked over to the trash can and wished them bon voyage. In like manner, we simply must realize that sin, no matter how appealing it may appear, can and will poison our walk with Christ until we ask Him to excise it.


For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Trapped

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 2

Today I have great reason to rejoice. I had a major falling out with a dear friend and confidante this past weekend. There were tears and harsh words aplenty, and I truly feared our relationship might never recover.
It's a terrifying feeling to see a structure which has been years in the making topple and almost fall to the ground, threatening to crash into a million pieces. Despite my efforts (inadequate at best and destructive at worst), rescue seemed hopeless. I had forced a confrontation at an inopportune time, and proceeded to shred that which was already in tatters. I despaired of being able to resurrect that which had, in less than 24 hours, gone from bad to worse to all-out code red.

Surely only a divine hand could prevent irretrievable disaster.

When all seemed lost, Providence pierced both our hearts, replacing the arrows of wounded pride and misunderstanding with Spirit-crafted sutures of compassion and forgiveness.

There's nothing for me to do but fall at His feet and marvel. The same mercy that promised Paradise 2,000 years ago to a criminal hanging on a cross beside Divinity stands ready to intervene daily in the mixed up world of a 21st century sinner named Thea.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound...

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean

Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 3



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Someday My Prince Will Come...and He Just May Be a Princess

Don't panic. I'm not about to rescind my pro-family, one-man one-woman marriage views in one keystroke. But now that I have your attention...

I heard the other day the statement that women are often waiting for Prince Charming, the White Knight, the Knight in Shining Armor - whatever you want to call it - to rescue and/or take care of them. The speaker made the point that this is an unrealistic and unattainable goal. As she spoke, I realized I used to hold the belief that once I was married, all my needs, both material and emotional (not necessarily in that order) would be met forevermore. I can remember praying that God would protect my husband so he could continue to protect me.    

As with any idol, once this one was yanked away from me (and after I finished  kicking and screaming), I found that God had every intention of meeting my needs in His own time and by His own means. In this case, the means was loving parents, siblings and friends ... and, after He had strengthened my shattered ego, myself.
Don't get me wrong. I don't consider myself a feminist as such. I taught my sons to hold doors open for women and carry packages for their mother. I think it makes sense for a body that's physiologically stronger, and often taller, to do the heavier lifting and reaching whenever possible. Just like I wouldn't expect a six-foot-four linebacker to crawl through an air vent to rescue a cat. I believe in following natural laws as God has laid them out, and some things that are considered outdated in our post-modern society are, in my mind, just common sense.

But what I have learned, in all humility, is that the mind and resources God has gifted me with can make me a princess to be reckoned with.

Oh, and by the way, this princess (and for that matter, every prince) is beholden to a King!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Exceedingly Abundantly (Ephesians 3:20)

This will have to be a really quick post, but I just had to thank the Lord publicly for His amazing goodness to my family today. I accompanied my older son to his college admissions meeting this morning so he could sign up for fall classes. At the end of the registration process, we were told to go to the cashier's office, where we were given a bill to be paid within 48 hours. Our next stop was the financial aid office, to see how we could offset the damage. When all was said and done, we not only didn't owe anything, but have more than enough left over to buy books!

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision such mercy and grace.


Now if I can only remember this the next time something goes wrong.     

"When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other." Ecclesiastes 7:14

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping My Side of the Street Clean

I recently had a dream in which I had found a lost wallet and was making arrangements to return it. In a surprising twist, the owner was unappreciative and implied that I had ulterior motives. I woke up livid.

In the following weeks, I encountered several real-life situations which somewhat mirrored my bizarre dream. I had performed kindnesses, and my efforts were met with disdain and accusations. Simply put, I felt hurt and angry.

When variations on the same theme – in this case, ingratitude – keep cropping up unbidden, I begin to figure God has His potter hands on me, chiseling away some edge or crack He means to smooth. Only I don’t much relish the refining process.

To understand how deeply I feel these sorts of sucker punches, you have to realize that I thrive on praise. Always have. I find it gratifying to meet a need and then get kudos for it. I’ve heard the assertion that every action, no matter how altruistic, springs from selfish motives. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but I definitely get a payoff from being a goody-two-shoes. The buzz I feel from being helpful is real and powerful.The flip side is, when my efforts are rebuffed, I may crash and burn.

With this understanding in mind, I’m pondering the ideas of gratitude and peacemaking. Let’s take them one at a time.

It occurs to me that humans very often behave this same way towards God. He has given to us “exceeding abundantly” (Ephesians 3:20) “all things that pertain to life and Godliness” (2 Peter 1:3); “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Yet so often our response to His blessings must wound His heart, as my experiences did mine. Christ lamented the fact that, of the ten lepers He cleansed in Samaria and Galilee, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). The others went merrily about their business, apparently taking for granted the life-changing miracle they had just received. I lived much of my life with just such a mentality, never counting my blessings, but railing against God when things went wrong. I fear this attitude is, alas, the norm in our entitlement-oriented society.

What to do about it? I have no original ideas. The only solution I’ve found sounds trite, but it really is a simple fix. Just say thank You. For anything and everything. Philippians 4:6, Colossians 1:12 and 3:17, and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 all instruct us to do that. Peace will follow, we are assured (Philippians 4:7). When we choose to have a thankful attitude, it feeds on itself.

When the inevitable happens, and our good deeds are ignored or rejected, we again have choices to make. We can either sit in judgment and crawl into a self-pitying hole, or we can try to be Christ-like. In one case, I prayed about the situation and ended up writing the person a note explaining how the unfounded allegations made me feel, while at the same time expressing thanks for some incidents in which she had been helpful to me. I suggested it would be a shame to lose each other’s good will over a relatively small matter. I did not apologize because I truly had done nothing wrong. I steered clear of taking unfounded blame, but did try to be a peacemaker. We have seen each other several times since the incident, and things remain unresolved. I have to confess my behavior has not been consistently Christ-like.

At the suggestion of my prayer partner, I'm attempting to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), i.e., keeping my side of the street clean. In nuts and bolts, this means acknowledging the offender when we meet and looking for small ways to be of service without losing my own self-respect. When I balked at the idea of smiling and saying "good morning" to this ungrateful person, my prayer partner mildly answered, "Smile at God. He'll appreciate your greeting." In other words, I mustn't lose sight of whose good will I'm seeking when attempting to repair damaged relationships. Because I developed a "peace at any price" mindset early on in life, I must remember that I'm not trying to make this person like me. My goal is Romans 12:17-19, doing whatever is in my power to live at peace, for the sake of my King. Even if the person who hurt me doesn't know I'm still doing them good turns, the process of deliberate well-doing in the face of injustice helps me let go of the bitterness and heal.

In a more recent situation, I confronted my boss about some unfair treatment. I reminded her (heatedly) of the many ways I had been an asset to our operation. My prayer partner again offered some solid advice on this set of affairs. She reminded me that my self-esteem doesn't depend on this employer's opinion of me; I serve a higher authority. If I'm pleasing my heavenly supervisor, it matters little whether my earthly overseer recognizes my worth. Again, it's up to me whether to carry a grudge or quit over the inequities I'm facing. I have a strong feeling the Lord wants me to stick it out and learn how to deal with these types of setbacks, rather than looking for greener pastures (all of which seem to come with some type of manure anyway).

As an experiment (and because Jesus suggested it in Matthew 5:43-45), I'm practicing loving my enemies and doing good to those who have hurt me. For one thing, because these people aren't out-and-out enemies. I reserve that extreme title for folks who wield guns or report lies about me to the government. No, these people come in somewhere on the continuum between Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. But even if I had to go up against a huge Goliath, God's advice would still apply. It worked for Corrie ten Boom against her Nazi captors; who am I to argue with that kind of success? Also, I have a feeling it's in my best interest (there go those selfish motives again) not to walk around with an Antarctica-sized chip on my shoulder.

The bottom line is, people disappoint us. We may try to be thoughtful, but sometimes our kindness goes unnoticed or de-valued. We will be less upset if we remember who we are actually serving. Hebrews 6:10 says it best: “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”  


Check out: Newsboys' "Let it Go"

For more like this, check out:  Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 2

Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 3

Friday, July 22, 2011

Business Meetings, AKA, Sleeping in Gethsemane

I slept through an important business meeting this morning. Actually, it was a conference call. The semi-anonymity this venue provided made it possible for me to feign attention for quite some time, until I woke to the rudeness of a dial tone buzzing in my ear.

Fortunately, I have a very understanding boss, who knows how busy he keeps me with appointments and servicing our clients. Although he has other workers who contribute more than I do to the success of our operation, he understands that sometimes I feel responsible for the entire weight of the firm. He just smiles and waits for me to come to my senses when I take on too much. Sometimes it takes a "wakeup call" like this morning to force me to prioritize. When I do slow down for a reality check, I always find my boss more than willing to go over my schedule with me and help me trim the fat.

I must confess this isn't the first time I've fallen asleep on the job. And, though I certainly won't get fired because it's a family business, my colleague, who also happens to be my sister, is probably none too happy with me. It fell to her to pitch our proposals to the boss, and it was she who listened expectantly to his feedback as I dozed. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion this little mishap may take me out of the running (for the time being, anyway) for that promotion I had my eye on. Although the perks from the higher position would have had been on hold till the distant future, they were worth waiting for: prestige, acclaim by my peers, and a personal "well done" from the boss.

After lunch, I felt another siesta coming on. This one caused me to arrive back to my desk late. I should have seen it coming. Eating a heavy meal in the middle of the day is always a setup for me, but I gave in to the call of the ice cream anyway. After snoozing through an afternoon assignment, I returned bleary-eyed to my computer and had to scramble to catch up on my backlog.

Another set of employees long ago also fell prey to the song of the Sandman. Their names were Peter, James and John, and, oddly enough, they answered to the same Boss that I do today. They, too, had trouble staying awake during decision-making times when unity was called for. They, too, failed to meet their responsibilities when time was of the essence. They, too, experienced their Boss's mercy when they failed to be "team players," and found Him waiting patiently with new sets of instructions when they finally got back on the job.

So what will I do tomorrow when my "colleague" and prayer partner, Tina, calls at 7 AM to pray? Will I sleep through another business meeting, or rise ready to serve my Employer?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Yeah, But..."

I was thinking this morning while chopping vegetables for my son's omelet, that he and my younger boy are right: I'm hard to satisfy.

Let me backtrack quickly. I'm delighted when they bring home a good report card. I'm thrilled when they buy me a Mother's Day gift, no matter how ill-conceived (though they usually choose well). And it tickles me pink when they take my advice (a rarity, but still).

What I noticed, though, as I hacked up yellow squash, is there's this part of me that always wants something I don't have.

What, you may well ask, does fixing an egg have to do with one's satisfaction level?

It's important to understand that my son is 19 years old, and pretty much knows what he likes and doesn't like. He's not a toddler that I have to play airplane with to get food into his mouth. In fact, he has a reasonably adventurous palate and eats a wide variety of items that would probably make the USDA's food pyramid stand on its head (or should I say point?). Furthermore, he had already agreed to a veritable cornucopia of greens, including onion, green pepper and tomato, in his omelet. To these I had added mushrooms, since he's relatively indifferent to them, and I figured he could pick them out if he wasn't in the mood today. So there was really no need for me to spruce up an already vitamin-laden breakfast with yet another veggie.

Still, I couldn't resist the urge to introduce something new, to embellish what he had asked for, to - let's face it - impose my will onto his stated desires. I wasn't at all sure he would eat the squash, and even considered the possibility that this last minute add-on might ruin the meal for him. Sure enough, he lined up every yellow cube nice and neat on a patterned napkin, complaining as he did so.

I once heard a well-known author and radio personality describe the phenomenon this way: you can't have hair flowing down your back at the same time it's in a braid. It can't be done. It's either tidily constrained or cascading freely. You can have either one on different occasions, but at the same time is ridiculous.

Yet, I am the master of "yeah, but."

"I'm doing my homework, Mom."

"Yeah, but why are there dishes in the sink?"

"I'm going on a date with a girl who's polite, hard-working, and goal-oriented."

"Yeah, but have you written that thank you note yet?"

I think this tendency is part of what keeps me from doing what I was born to do: write. Part of it is just plain old laziness and procrastination, but another factor is, if I'm clicking the keyboard I can't be cleaning the kitchen or checking email or having coffee with a friend. One thing has to be put aside in order to accomplish the other. Sometimes I have so many things tumbling around in my head that I get exhausted before I even begin one of them.

So ultimately, I guess it comes down to the "c" word - contentment. If I have two healthy, caring children who aren't striving to be Nobel Prize winners, I can choose to be content with the wonder of who they are.
If I spend two hours outlining a book proposal but the floor isn't washed, I can choose self-esteem over self-flagellation.

Because, when you get right down to it, Christ chose to give up His heavenly throne room - temporarily - in favor of a carpenter's shop.

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:5:8

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: "Yeah, But..." Part 2

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Endings and Beginnings Part 2

Been thinking about endings and beginnings. Again. As I posted a few weeks ago in my piece about Elijah handing off his baton to Elisha, it seems to me that endings inevitably lead into new beginnings.

I'm remembering back nearly 15 years ago when my life was upside down. I was newly separated, raising two young boys, and scared to death. At that time a friend who had survived a similar set of circumstances tried to encourage me. She said her life had come together beautifully, and she was sure mine would as well.

In my heart, I scoffed. I was certain this was the beginning of the end for my children and me. Little did I know, God was chiseling out a path for us to follow at that very moment. Like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, all I had to do was take one step at a time, and marvel as that narrow, cobbled street gave way to a city of splendor.

Last night I helped another young mom begin a similar journey. As we packed up her kitchen, I thought back to a day many years ago when I encountered this same woman in a local produce market. She had two youngsters in tow and was busy choosing edibles for her growing family. As I watched her, I felt downright envious. She appeared to possess everything I longed for - security, contentment, self-assurance - as she strolled leisurely through the aisles with her toddlers. Next to hers, my life seemed inadequate and depressing. Time has now erased many of the differences between us, and I felt privileged to take her hand as she began climbing this steep but manageable mountain.

Reflecting on that day so long ago, I gave thanks for the work the Lord has done in me. He has shown me time and again not to compare myself with others. When I still occasionally fall into that trap, I always get the same result. My situation seems either better or worse than the other person's; instead of walking alongside my fellow traveler, I mentally place myself ahead of or behind them on life's continuum.

Either way, we're on unequal footing.

This flies in the face of Scripture, which levels the playing field for all of us: "We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). In other words, we all pale in comparison to a sinless God, no matter how "together" we may seem.

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Endings and Beginnings

Morsels for Meditation...: Setbacks

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tantrum

Today I had a tantrum. It lasted maybe an hour and came complete with tears and a tirade. I basically told God I was angry with Him for withholding something that I was sure was in my best interest.

It's now 12:30 AM, about seven hours post-rant, and He is still choosing to remain mum on the subject.

I told Him I thought He was being unfair and unkind to me.

He didn't answer.

I declared that He was being mean in His method of handling (or rather, not handling) my request. I added that His strategy of dangling a carrot and then yanking it back (or so it appears to me, with my "see through a glass darkly" vision) is getting old. I told Him I had been down this road before with Him, and would prefer He come up with a different game plan.

Silence.

In desperation I called a friend, the same friend to whom I had confided my prayer request over the weekend. She calmly repeated her counsel from the other day, which in a nutshell is that God can't be confined to a timetable, and I needed to be patient and let Him work out His plan His own way.

I cried some more. I told her the ways in which God wasn't playing fair and how sorry I felt for myself. She reminded me that I've been inventorying my life in some areas, and that it made sense that some emotional "stuff" was "getting stirred up" as a result of that work.

I told her I had to go to work and didn't see how I could put on a happy face for my employer with eye shadow running all down my cheeks. She suggested doing some kind of rote activity like cleaning out my glove compartment before putting one foot in front of the other and showing up.

I took her advice and even managed to make small talk along with getting my job done (if my boss noticed my swollen eyes, she didn't mention it).

I'm not sure, but I think I sense the tiniest hint of a muscle developing somewhere inside of me. Not a bicep or a quad, but a waiting-induced, post-trauma (no, make that post-drama), labor-driven, nothing-left-to-do-but-hang-in-there bit of brawn. Not much to speak of, but something to build on.

Oh, and proving that God sometimes disguises Himself as His people, my dear friend called back to check on me later in the evening.

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

"No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Household Gods

My own take on Genesis 31:

I woke up sleepy this morning because last night I lost a battle with the TV god who lives in my bedroom.

What? You're not familiar with this deity? He sits atop an altar, AKA a dresser, and lulls me to sleep at times. Unfortunately, he has some bad habits and is very blatant about them. His language can be coarse, and his dialogue, well, let's just say peppery. He gets into some very improper subject matter, as he did last night, although he most certainly knows how to be a gentleman when he chooses. The sad thing is, it's hard to predict which side of himself he will present until he already has me lured in. By the time I realize he's in one of his crass moods, he usually has the hook around my neck, and it's almost impossible to break free.

I might not have gotten into it with the TV god if I hadn't been so wound up from all the time I spent with the email god. He had mysteriously reproduced inside my PC, and it was all I could do to tame his prodigious offspring and keep them from overpowering my hard drive.

The email god distracted me from fulfilling a promise I had made to the beef stroganoff god, who demanded I fulfill my obligation to him before church this morning. I therefore had to cube beef and chop onions instead of making my meeting with the makeup and hair gods, who cohabit in the bathroom. Of course, before walking out the door, I had to appease the clean kitchen and countertop gods, as well as the make-the-bed and put-away-the-laundry gods, who naturally took umbrage at the fact that they had to wait in line behind the choose-the-right-earrings-to-go-with-the-outfit god.

I'm happy to say I won the arm wrestling match with the walk-to-church god, who most certainly would have made me late if I had given in to him. This was a tough skirmish, as the walk-to-church god is in league with the exercise god, who's a pretty grueling taskmaster. I also did not give in to the paint-the-toenails god, although he tried to persuade me I couldn't be a serious worshipper in open-toed sandals with an untouched-up paint job.

I did take time, however, to feed the recycling god, whose open mouth beckoned me with a siren's song as I tried to dodge past him on my way to the appointment with the new car god (who, by the way, hasn't gotten over the fact that he has a fresh scuff on his dashboard, even though I promised him I would keep him in pristine condition, no matter what the cost to passengers who often mistakenly suppose a car is meant to serve their comfort and not the other way around). I also had to go out of my way to pay homage to the mailbox god, even though it's a holiday weekend and the bills won't go anywhere till Tuesday; hey, when a god summons, who am I to quibble over details?

Fortunately, the air conditioning god was on the job, or I might have had to visit another temple. As I've told him many times, I don't mind going, but I must be cool.

Now if I'm not careful, I may find myself beholden to the writing god.

Will I ever be free from this bondage?

If I spend more time with the Bible God, maybe I won't obsess so much over cheap imitations.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

While working with my first graders in Vacation Bible School this past week, as is usually the case, I learned something new. We were pondering the story of Elijah handing off his mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings chapter 2, and I noticed a circuit.

As Elijah's work was finishing, Elisha's was starting. Elijah's finishing made way for Elisha's beginning. Evidently God's people didn't need two miracle-spawning prophet whiz kids at the same time. I pointed out to my earnest six-year-olds that when the school year ends, summer begins, and when summer days lengthen into autumn ones, we pick up our lesson books again. History yields to and creates the present in much the same way that our youthful hair color gives way to the seasoned gray that bespeaks wisdom and experience (or so I tell myself).

It seems clear from the text that Elisha was reluctant to put on his predecessor's sandals. He pretty much grabbed hold of Elijah's cloak and refused to let him out of his sight, then told the sons of the prophets he met along the way to put a cork in it when they announced Elijah's departure was at hand. This scenario repeated itself three times, after which God more or less made a red carpet in the midst of the Jordan River to nudge Elisha to assume his new responsibilities.

I have a rough idea how Elisha must have felt. When I left my husband after 12 years of marriage, I was absolutely terrified. I felt like I was falling off a cliff in slow motion, dragging two preschoolers along for the ride. God saw to it that I had hands to hold in the form of my beloved parents, whom He guided to nurture me in those fearful days until gradually each submitted to the mortality that claims all of us. I have often marveled at His kindness in getting me ready for their departure bit by bit, growing my strength even as He depleted theirs. When the day finally came that both pillars had been kicked out from under me, it was as though a new, firm platform had been quietly assembled while I wasn't looking, and I could see through my tears that I was as ready as I'd ever be to cross the Jordan.

Like Elisha, I have found His almighty Spirit more than ample to meet the challenge.

For more like this, check out: 

Morsels for Meditation...: Endings and Beginnings Part 2

Morsels for Meditation...: Setbacks