Doubting His Grace

I always hear people say that God is able, that He is all-powerful, that he can do ANYTHING—nothing is too big for Him. And I have always felt frustrated, because I BELIEVE that, and yet my faith doesn’t always produce the results I want. A few days ago, I had the biggest light bulb moment as I was working through Beth Moore’s study, “Breaking Free.”  My problem is not that I doubt God’s power or ability… My problem is that I doubt his GRACE. I doubt that He could ever use me in any big and meaningful way. I doubt that He would choose or appoint ME for any special calling in His kingdom. I’m convinced He will wash His hands of me and find someone else who stays on track more faithfully than I do.

That’s it in a nutshell… I am arrogant enough to believe that I am the ONE person whose mistakes and imperfections are too big for God’s grace to handle—that I am the ONE person whose sins can’t possibly be COMPLETELY covered by Jesus’ work on the cross—that I’m the ONE person who has messed up so much that God has just said, “Forget her! I can redeem ANYONE— including murderers like Moses, David, and Paul and use them mightily for My kingdom… but NOT HER—she’s hopeless and not worth my time.”

That is arrogance, my friends. My way of thinking makes it all about ME, when in reality—EVERYTHING is all about God.  I will never do great things in life because of who I am or what I do or don’t do… I will do great things only because of who HE is and what HE does through me. Getting this truth into my very core will mean FREEDOM for me – and for anyone else who feels like they’re just running in place and getting nowhere.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness…” 2Cor 12:9

Cross & Clouds

(Photo credit: John H Wright Photo)

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Short Cuts Can Short-Change Us

English: No jaywalking restriction sign: An ar...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like to take shortcuts. If there’s a shorter path, an easier road, a quicker route—I want to be on it. Only recently have I begun to realize that I may be short-changing myself in the process. The other day, I was nearing the end of a power walk, and I was anxious to get back to my car a few blocks away. At the far end of our main street where I was walking, there are no crossroads for the length of several blocks. I saw the pedestrian crossing far up the road, and then I saw the diagonal short-cut (otherwise known as jaywalking) that would get me to my car so much faster. It’s a small town, and I’ve jaywalked more than I’ve followed the rules here, but something that day made me decide to do it the right way and not take the shortcut this time. I no sooner had made that decision when a car came spinning out of a gas station  parking lot—the driver not even pausing to look and instead looking down at a cell phone—and flew at breakneck speed through the exact spot where I would have been “jaywalking.” As I continued to walk toward the pedestrian crossing, my heart was still pounding a bit as I considered the “what ifs.”  But I was also blessed along the way by the sweet fragrance of lilacs along my path and the sight of two sweet little chipmunks playfully chasing each other through the grass next to me. As I walked, I was humbled by a sense of God’s wisdom. I thought about how many times my impatient need to take the “short cut”—instead of following God’s wise, but longer journey—has led me right into the path of danger.  Maybe not physical danger—but spiritual, emotional, or financial danger.  How many times have I gotten myself into a mess that could have been avoided? How often have I missed out on joy and beauty and personal growth because I cut corners and rushed into something instead of savoring the blessings and lessons God had for me along the path HE had picked for me? When will I learn to FOLLOW instead of foolishly running ahead?

Who’s Steering Your Canoe?

English: A canoe in the BWCA

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever try to steer a canoe from the front seat?  It doesn’t work!  All you do is exert a ton of energy to weave to and fro, and you get essentially nowhere.  If you’re smart, you’ll let the person in the back seat steer and guide the canoe while you just keep a steady pace.  Then, too, it’s also smart to put the strongest, most powerful person in the back – when you do so, you can actually feel the surge of power from the person behind you propelling the canoe forward while you take a break to rest your weary arms.  So…who’s steering your canoe in life?  If you’re floundering and exhausted, it’s probably because you (like me) keep trying to “steer from the front” instead of trusting God to do what He does best – provide guidance, direction, and incredible power to move you forward to the places He has called you to be.  Remember – “He’s got your back.”  Why do I keep forgetting that?!  No wonder I often feel drained and discouraged.  Today, God, help me put one foot in front of the other – keep a steady pace – and let YOU do the steering.

When the “Car” Blows Up

Result of a serious automobile accident

A few years ago, when I was bitter and angry that my life had seemingly blown up before my eyes, I remember a wise counselor telling me this story: “I had a car that was always in need of repair…I was always fixing something, patching something, wiring something on – it was always in the shop, and I was always aggravated, distressed, or stranded somewhere. Yet it never occurred to me to just BUY ANOTHER CAR.  Until one day, the whole motor just blew up in the middle of my driveway, and I had no choice but to start fresh with a new vehicle.  It only took a few weeks of peace and no problems for me to realize how foolish I had been… struggling and striving to hang onto something that was no longer working for me instead of just letting go of that disaster and choosing something new.” The same is true in our own lives.  At times our life can become such a wreck – either from own poor choices or from unfair and crushing circumstances – that we are just like that broken down car, limping along on our last leg, barely surviving.  We pray for relief, but things only seem to get worse…..But maybe that’s part of God’s plan to save us.  Instead of allowing us to cling desperately to the remnants of our broken life, always patching things up but never really healing, He may instead gently and lovingly allow our life to “blow up” in our face so He can give us something new and far more wonderful to move forward with.  Yes, sometimes our darkest, most excruciating moments go on to become our greatest victories. (Surely, we can look to Jesus as an example  – the greatest victory was gained through the ultimate pain and despair.)  So if you’re there in that darkness today, take heart and hold on….your “new car” may be waiting for you just around the corner.

Lessons from Happy the Hermit Crab

We had a tragedy in our family this summer.  A sweet little hermit crab named Happy, given to my daughter by her beloved kindergarten teacher, did not survive the molting process.  Perhaps because his “parents” (a.k.a. me and my husband) did not know that a hermit crab would molt.  And why didn’t we know?  Because we never read the directions that came with him.

I now know that the molting process for crabs is a very vulnerable time.  They shed their exoskeleton and are basically left “naked” and exposed—with no protection—for several weeks as their body changes and creates a new set of “armor.”  Those weeks are a time of tremendous growth and regeneration, but it is also a time when the crab is in his most fragile, vulnerable state. His only hope of survival is to seek refuge inside his shell or underneath the sand.  There, in that safe haven,

Blackeyed hermit crab (Pagurus armatus, armed ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

he can find rest and protection as he adapts to the growth and change that is happening in him.

Unfortunately…. Our family didn’t read the directions…so what should have been a time of growth and healing became a tragic disaster.

How about you?  Have you read the directions God gave you for YOUR life?  His directions fill the pages of the book He wrote to you. He reminds us there how to survive the times of “molting” in our own life – those times when our defenses are stripped from us and we feel “naked” and exposed to the harsh realities of this world.  Those times when our trials are so difficult that we cannot survive without help. His directions tell us to take refuge in Him:  Psalm 18:2 says “The LORD is my rock…in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”

As painful as your personal “molting” times are, God has a plan for tremendous growth for you as you work through those difficult seasons. But you can’t survive the process on your own strength — Read the Directions, and take refuge!

A “Child’s” Anxieties

School started a few days ago, and there was an air of both excitement and apprehension in my home.  My 9-year-old was the excited one, eager to get back to friends, fun, and a familiar routine.  My daughter, however, was not feeling so thrilled.  When I went to her room to tuck her in the night before school started, I saw her tiny little lip start to quiver and then the tears rolled freely.  She was moving from her small kindergarten school building to the “big school” for 1st grade, and she was terrified.  She was worried about how to buy milk to go with her cold lunch, where the bathroom was, where she would hang her backpack, how she would find her way to the library…. Her list of anxieties streamed out for ten straight minutes.  No matter how much I tried to comfort and reassure her, she just wouldn’t trust me that things were going to turn out just fine.  Finally, exasperated at my attempts to calm her, she yelled at me, “But Mom…YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!….I’ve never BEEN to 1st grade before!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!”  I suppressed a smile at her childhood anguish and calmly told her, “But I HAVE been there, sweetie…And I know that there are people who will help you every step of the way.  When the time comes to do the next activity, they will show you where to go and what to do when you get there.  They’ve got your back, honey. It will all work out.”  Finally, I felt her body relax as she melted into a puddle in my lap and the tears finally dried up.

I wonder how many times God sees the same frightened child in us and just longs to reassure us, yet we reject his comfort and doubt his ability to keep us safe through our trials.  How many times have we, in effect, screamed at Him, “But God….YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!…I’ve never BEEN through (a divorce, a foreclosure, a dying parent, unemployment, a scary illness, a spouse’s addiction, a new job, the pain of depression…etc.)!!  I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!”  And how many times do we let our anxious thoughts crowd out God’s reassurance: “But ‘I’ know what to do, my child.  I will be there to help you every step of the way.  When the time comes to take the next scary step, I will show you where to go and what to do when you get there.  Don’t worry, child.  I’ve got your back. It will all work out for your good.” 

If you are that worried child today… I hope you will trust, and let your Father comfort you.  Listen to His reassurance and melt into his arms and find peace.

If You’re Swept Up in the Chaos, Find Peace on the Shore

White rapids near Cheile Rasnoavei

(Photo credit: Horia Varlan)

A few months ago, my son and I stood on the banks of the river that flows through our area.  After torrents of rain had flooded it this spring, the river was rushing wildly with such force it was breathtaking.  My son periodically threw sticks and pine cones into the water, then stood in awe as those items were caught up in the swirling madness and swept away so quickly that it frightened us to think of the danger if a person ever fell into that rushing deathtrap.

As I reflect on that now, I realize that people fall into that deathtrap every day, without even realizing it.  Our world and our current culture are just like that mighty rushing river.  Society today moves at such breakneck speed—always on the move, “gotta go,” gotta do,” “gotta find” – always telling us we need to do more, be more, seek more, buy more, achieve more.  Is it any wonder that many of us feel swept away in the current, unable to get out of the swirling madness, barely able to keep our heads above water?  We watch our real dreams, the purpose and destiny God had planned for us, fly right past us as we rush by on this insane wave, allowing ourselves to be carried to some destination that will never fulfill us.

And yet, so few of us stop and ask ourselves, “Why do I continue in this madness?  Why do I stay in this rushing current?  Don’t I have a choice to get off?”  The answer is a resounding, “YES!” You can pull yourself out of the deathtrap that is exhausting you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You can instead choose to walk on the shore – God’s peace is waiting for you there.  You can’t hear His voice when you’re in the roaring waters, but you’ll hear his gentle, loving whispers if you’ll join him on the quiet paths where he always intended you to walk.

When our culture sweeps us up in its frenzied, raging madness, God holds out a million branches to grab onto — if we’re willing to grab on and save ourselves.  One of the biggest branches he offers us is the powerful word, “No.”  You don’t have to do it all, accept every invitation, solve every problem your friends bring you, serve on every committee, volunteer for every event, accept every promotion, take on every project, strive for every new gadget, or sign up for every opportunity that is offered to you.  That is the deathtrap of our culture today.  Choose wisely what you allow in your life.  Be discerning in what you say “yes” to.  Be mindful of the emptiness and insanity that “busyness” brings to your life.  Ask yourself where you feel most peaceful – in the rushing, unsettled waters – or in the restful, quiet refuge on the shore?  Then… resolve to grab the next branch and save yourself — before you’re swept away to places God never meant for you to go.

Lost in life? Stop and ask for directions!

David asks for directions

(Photo credit: toastforbrekkie)

We’ve all been in a car with a driver who was clearly lost, but too stubborn or too overwhelmed to admit it.  We probably stewed in frustration as he or she drove aimlessly, often in circles, passing the same street corner multiple times. Despite our impatient pleas to just stop and ask for directions, the person continued to insist that the destination had to be “just around this next corner.”

Or perhaps you have been that driver?

Do you ever wonder why?  Why is there such resistance to asking for directions when driving?  Is it pride?  Stubbornness?  Denial?  Laziness? Uncertainty about who to ask?  Fear of getting the wrong directions?

We could ask the same questions of ourselves when we refuse to ask for directions in life. When we get “lost” in pain and trials, it’s not our first instinct to pull over and ask for directions.  Instead, most of us will try to remain behind the wheel as long as possible, wandering aimlessly through the chaos, following the same unfruitful path, going in circles with no progress, and growing increasingly frustrated and discouraged.   

What new territory are you “lost” in today?  Did your loved one return from war a different person? Did you get the diagnosis no one wants to hear?  Is your child making choices that are painful to watch? Are you facing a financial hardship that seems insurmountable? Is your marriage falling apart?  Has an addiction taken over?  Are you fighting a depression that saps your will to keep going?

Guess what?  You’re not expected to have all the answers.  You’re not expected to know how to do this.  You’re in new territory.  You’ve never been here before.  Doesn’t it make sense, if you have not passed this way before, to simply ask for help from someone who has?   That “someone” is God.  He’s waiting for you at every corner and every gas station you pass on your painful journey.  He knows the territory you’re in better than anyone else.  He knows how to get you safely through it.  He knows what you need.  Will you continue driving in circles in your pride, stubbornness, fear, or denial?  Or….will you just pull over and ask for directions?

If you’d like to leave a comment or question on the blog, click on the “comments” link under the title.

Beat Head Against Wall. Repeat.

Brick Wall

Brick Wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve all heard the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Why are we so prone to beat our head against the same wall repeatedly before we finally decide to try something different?  Very often, the answer to that question lies in our propensity to base our actions on the way we wish things were rather than the reality of how things really are.

Living with someone who suffers from addiction and/or mental illness seems to magnify this “wishful thinking,” (and, in turn, the painful “head-banging” effect), but so can living with a workaholic spouse, a rebellious child, a battle with cancer, the loss of a parent, a financial crisis, and so on.  In the midst of these trials, sometimes our yearning for the way we think things should be or the way they used to be causes us to continue behaviors and attitudes that just don’t work in our present reality.  When we finally learn the art of acceptance, we will find the courage to try something different and experience very different results.

Eleven years ago, my then-fiancé and I went to Duluth, MN for the weekend.  I thought the trip would be a perfect release from the stress of our upcoming wedding, but it quickly became my worst nightmare as the first signs of Sean’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) reared their ugly head.  From the moment we drove down the hill into that city, he was alternately irritable, withdrawn, or agitated to the point of rage.  The city of Duluth was laid out in the same manner as a trouble-filled city in Bosnia, where he had served in 1999, and he was instantly triggered by nearly everything in his surroundings.

Last year — ten years after that disastrous trip and with much more knowledge and wisdom under our belt — we made a return trip to Duluth with our children.  Somehow, we expected things to go differently.  They did not, and we nearly packed our bags and returned home just hours after we arrived.  Why, after years of treatment and education about PTSD, did we get the same results we had ten years earlier?  Because we changed nothing about our behaviors in light of our reality.  We naively tried to experience Duluth as a “normal” family would, refusing to accept that things are not as we wish they could be.  Beat head against the wall.  Repeat.

Two days ago, our family returned from a wonderful  trip to what has now become our favorite summer destination – Duluth.  Why was it different this time?  Because we did things differently.  We gave Sean time to decompress upon arrival before we expected him to go out into the city with us.  We chose activities that kept him away from crowds and noise, and we gave up breakfasts together to allow him time to mentally prepare for the day.  The children and I understood there were some activities that Dad just couldn’t do with us – so we went without him and everyone remained peaceful.  In short, we finally accepted our reality and adjusted our behaviors to match it instead of continuing the painful struggle caused by our “wishful thinking.”

How about you?  Is there a hard reality in your life that you’re refusing to accept, leading you to continue in behaviors and actions that solve nothing or perhaps make things worse?  The solution lies not in beating your head against the same wall, but in knocking down that wall through the power of acceptance.  Life may not be what you wish it could be, but through acceptance you can create windows of new opportunity where confining walls once stood.

 

Resentments often get “Returned to Sender”

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

(Photo credit: Sybren A. Stüvel)

I once tried to send an email to my friend, only to have it repeatedly bounce back to me as “undeliverable.”  In frustration, each time it happened I would precisely retype the email address and click “send” again, only to have the same maddening results.  As the tedious process continued throughout the next couple of days, my anger rose proportionately.  A few days later, when I finally saw my friend again in person, I blasted him with my now full-on annoyance: “Did you change your email address or something?!  I’ve been trying to get a message to you for days!”  He looked at me with complete befuddlement and genuine innocence and said, “I’m sorry – I had no idea you were trying to send something to me.”

Isn’t it the same way with our resentments?  Think about the word:  RE-SENTment.  It implies that I am continually trying to “re-send” my anger, pain, bitterness, and vengefulness toward the person who has wronged me.  The problem?  Much like the email described above, my RE-SENTment keeps bouncing back to me with the cruel message, “Return to Sender.”  So all the venom I intended to unleash on the one who hurt me so badly instead bounces back and lands squarely on my shoulders.  I am the one who suffers.  I am the one whose pain grows deeper.  I am the one whose peace is stolen and whose life remains “on hold” as I stew in my anger and hurt.  And the most bitter irony?  The person to whom I was trying to “re-send” my pain is completely oblivious.  HE isn’t hurting.  SHE isn’t in turmoil.  HE isn’t losing sleep or peace of mind.  In fact, that person is probably completely unaware of how much I am hurting or how hard I am trying to communicate that pain to him or her.

So what to do?  One good option is to reach out to the person who hurt you in a spirit of reconciliation.  That doesn’t mean that what he or she did to you is OK.  It doesn’t mean that you will choose to continue to be in relationship with that person.  It doesn’t even mean that you feel completely ready to forgive the person.  It just means that you’re no longer willing to have your pain returned to you with no resolution.  You’re willing to take a step toward peace.  You’re willing to LET GO.

Of course, if it’s not possible to reach out to the person who wronged you, you can ALWAYS reach out to God.  When you share your pain with Him, he will never be oblivious.  He will never change His email address.  He will never allow your pain to be “returned to sender.”   Rather, He will open his arms and receive you, and He will absorb your pain for you.  As you relax in His grace and rest in His love, you will soon find that you have no bitterness, anger, or pain left to “re-send.”  Such is the power of a loving God.  Will you accept His peace today? Or will you continue to let your pain and resentment destroy only you?

If you’d like to leave a comment or ask a question, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the “comment” button just under the title. 

 

 

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