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Monday, July 29, 2013

Caterpillar

Yesterday after stepping on the scale, I decided it would be a good idea for me to walk to church. I never regret doing this, as most of the time God has some wonderful surprises laid out for me when I simply obey.

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." 
Psalm 27:13

This time, He placed a gorgeous caterpillar on my route. Let it be known that I am not a bug person. I shriek at spiders and anything with more (or skinnier) legs than I have. Having said that, I don't know why this fellow didn't repel me, but, in fact, I had quite the opposite reaction: I just had to pick him up.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1

This tiny creature had yellow-green fur, with a half dozen black, antenna-like projections emerging from various parts of his body. At first he resisted being lifted from his place on the grass, but when he saw I meant no harm, he acquiesced. Once in my hand, he immediately made a beeline (er, caterpillar line?) to my arm. This would never do. Having something crawling up my arm - well, that's just too bug-like. I gently restricted his path to my two open hands, at times making a slight "mountain" with one atop the other. When you consider the size of a caterpillar, my two overlapped hands must have seemed a big hurdle for the fuzzy little guy to overcome; yet he never shrank from the challenge, but calmly overcame the obstacles before him.

"For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock." Psalm 27:5

One thing in particular fascinated me. Having arrived at my destination, I tried to free his grasp and lower him into the church garden. While at first he balked at being examined by a stranger, now he clung to me for dear life. It was as if, once over the initial strangeness of being placed into another's care, he now realized the safety my hands afforded and had no desire to go back out on his own.

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple." Psalm 27:4

In retrospect, perhaps the reason I so readily handled this many-legged Lepidoptera was that I realized the potential he had for becoming a beautiful butterfly. Once affixed with wings, this critter would not consent to being held. I had one chance and one chance only to mingle my life with his, and I was not going to miss that opportunity.

"Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me." Psalm 27:6

When it comes to likenesses, I probably more closely resemble the moth than the butterfly. I too often overeat, ruin clothing, and generally make a pest of myself. However, if I yield to Him and consent to rest in the palm of His hand, might He not transform me into a magnificent, soaring butterfly instead?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bereft or Blessed?

Those are the emotions I'm swinging between now.

Our canine house guest, Tripp, just departed. Gone are the comfy pillows he snuggled on while I typed and he napped. Gone is the baby gate that was supposed to keep him out of the construction area of my house (it worked 75% of the time, but that story will have to wait for another post). Gone are his food bowls and the pleading look that materialized whenever they were empty.

I know I need to count my blessings when I get into a funk like this, and there are plenty of them. Opening a prayer guide packet this morning, I came upon Luke 6:38: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Ephesians 3:20, one of my all-time favorites, followed: "Now [God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..." Finally, Philippians 4:19 leaped out at me: "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus."

Still, I feel bereft.

I gave a talk at my Al Anon meeting last night about the ways God has provided for me over the years. I recalled the anonymous monetary gifts my husband and I received when he was in medical school. I described taking a blind leap of faith by leaving a job without having a new one lined up. My then-toddler son was accompanying me to my part-time job at a day care center, which helped with expenses while Mike was earning his medical degree. My little boy began acting out in order to divert my attention from the other dozen kids I had to manage. When my request for him to be placed in a separate class was denied, I regretfully left the position. A week later, the director begged me to return in a substitute capacity, where I was given more hours and, lo and behold, a separate class for my son!

Next, I recounted the financial terror I felt when leaving my husband, then finding just enough money in our joint savings account to pay my son's school tuition in advance. I looked back on my first job after becoming a single parent: how God used my sister to find the perfect work-at-home position that would allow me to care for my children; how I really shouldn't have gotten it because, in despair over my marital situation, I had to cancel the interview, thinking I'd never hear from the employer again. Miraculously, he still wanted to hire me, and we worked together for five years, just long enough for me to get my younger son into school so I could begin a full-time position with benefits. I recalled having a flexible weekend job drop into my lap, providing just enough money for the orthodontia my older son badly needed. I related God's most recent resourcefulness in having me stumble across a cache of jewelry and coins left over from my parents' estate, which has brought in much needed funds for an essential home renovation project.

And these are just the highlights! I've shared in the past how my parents and sisters have been an incredible source of blessing and support to my children and me. I might not even have a decent place to live or the wherewithal to fix it up, were it not for the exorbitant generosity of my family of origin.

Yet, somehow my mind keeps getting trapped in anxiety. As the bills for the kitchen project come due, my savings are taking a hit (the second major one after I had to replace my car two years ago). I'm questioning some past monetary decisions which I hoped would please the Lord, yet seem to have come back to bite me.

I don't want to go backwards. When I opened my talk last night, I remembered being driven by great financial worry as a young adult. For example, I used to buy huge quantities of sale items at the grocery store. Only later did I realize my behavior was rooted in the irrational fear that those things might never be on sale again. I didn't want to miss out or be caught short! I fretted over recreational spending in the same way I fretted over recreation itself when I was in college; somehow I must have thought every dime and every minute needed to be reserved for life's necessities, as opposed to its niceties. Balance lost out to business every time.

I don't want to go backwards. If I'm to avoid it, I must focus on the fact that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and (as evidenced by the steaks in my refrigerator), He's only too happy to share them with me.

"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." ~ Psalm 42:11

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Yeah, But..." Part 2

I've figured out why I want to grab for the brass ring in front of me - no matter how clearly phony it may be - rather than wait for the real thing to come along.


The answer is in the sentence I just typed: because it's right there for the taking. There's no waiting period. No painful self-deprivation. All I have to do is reach out and snatch it, get instant gratification, followed by regrets the next day (or the next hour, depending on how quickly reality sets in).

For me this phenomenon most frequently occurs with food. I want it NOW!  Whatever is going on around me isn't enough to keep me satisfied or stimulated, but this brownie over here, well, that looks interesting. Sitting quietly with my thoughts, trying to find another outlet for my mind or emotions, doing a task that's mundane but necessary - all these are alternatives, but not necessarily pleasant ones.

I did this with my marriage. How many people do you know who went through with a shaky wedding just because the marriage certificate was about to expire? I must have been afraid I'd lose him if I waited (and who wants to pay that fee again?), so let's act now and work out the details of harmonious living later.

I'm at a point in my life where I've had to decide between immediate enjoyment and perhaps indefinitely delayed fulfillment. I can tell I've made progress because I didn't share my excitement about the possibilities with everyone I know (just a select few who offered Godly caution and wise counsel). I kept my expectations reasonable (as best I could, given my flyaway personality).

And I prayed. I asked God what to do; He took His time, but eventually showed me in no uncertain terms that this was not right for me.

So now I'm living with, "Yeah, but."

"Yeah, but there's no other viable alternative that I can see. I've got a plate full of nothing if I don't chow down on these questionable offerings."

The answer needs to be, "So what?"

So what if I have to go hungry for a little while? What's the worst that can happen? I'll lose weight! So what if this man isn't interested or good relationship material? I'll remain single, as I have for 16 years, and God's provided "exceeding abundantly above all I could ask or think."

SO WHAT???

 "But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 1 Timothy 6:6-8

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

Wrestling



I wrestled with God - and lost.

Like the patriarch Jacob, I met God on the wrestling mat, asking Him for something I hoped was His will for me. I prayed and hoped and hoped and prayed. I consulted with other believers and prayed some more. I rationalized and tried to reason with God. I provided good, Godly explanations for how this might benefit His kingdom (in case He hadn't thought of them on His own).

Yesterday He answered, clear and unmistakable:

"NO!"

The good news is, I'm less upset than I thought I would be. In the past, letdowns like this have left me bereft. I guess I'm making progress since what I feel is more like, "Onto the next challenge. I'm disappointed and a bit annoyed, but my life didn't depend on it, so neither does my joy."

I've been reading of late about how the Israelite kings wavered between trusting God and worshiping idols. At times it seemed like faithful rulers balanced out adulterous ones. Gradually, though, the curve shifted to the point where idolatry and disobedience became the order of the day, with only occasional glimpses toward the one true God. The results were disastrous, with grown children following the patterns of their wayward parents, and the entire Jewish nation ultimately being uprooted into captivity.

"Let this not be said of me," I keep writing in the margins of my Bible.

A dear friend who taught me much of what I know of God's dealings with His children once postulated that God teaches believers a concept, then gives them a test to prove their understanding, like a classroom professor would do. In light of God's refusal to grant my request, combined with what I've been learning about Israel's kings, I'm thinking this may be one of those situations. Dare I hope I passed His test?



This morning a Christian sister called to thank me for a small gesture of friendship. As we hung up, I sensed she had more to say, but couldn't get the words out before the call ended. A few minutes later she called back to finish.

"You had once [read, a year ago] asked me to pray about __________________ that's been on your heart," she began. "I felt the Lord's leading to offer to pray for you now about that subject, if that's alright."

Was it ever alright! Little did she realize her prayers addressed the very issue I was now grappling with. I bowed my head with this obedient saint who had no idea she was engaging in divine warfare just by dialing a phone number. And marveled at the God who is never late but rarely early, who is able to hand a victory to His children, even when they wrestle with Him - and lose.