You Are Not Forgotten

As she was talking I noticed the soft flow of tears from the corner of her eyes. It was not an ugly cry, just a slow leak of tears to wet her cheeks. Why was she crying? She had just lost a loved one and was recounting how she was feeling. Sad, angry, hurting, but calm and peaceful. Why? She knew her loved one was in Heaven and it gave her peace and hope, but she admitted she has moments of anger and frustration.

I have been in her shoes before, when my mom passed four years ago. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I still get angry and overwhelmed with sadness. Grief is a process and takes time to go through. It is not an overnight process. It takes time to heal, but in all of it, God is there. It doesn’t always seem like He is, but He is. So, today I just wanted to offer a word to encourage you. I know many people have hurts that they are processing through. The world is a hurting place. We feel hurt. We hurt others. Others hurt us. We live in a difficult world full of hurting things. Things like death, disease, injury, financial problems, breakups, divorces, abuse, accidents, job losses, failures. The world is continuing on a downward spiral until Christ’s return. Now that I’ve bummed you out even more, let me now offer encouragement.

So, how do we deal with all this hurt? Does God even care? Sometimes we might not think He does. Like He’s just walked away from His creation and said, “Well, there you go, figure it all out, I’m going on vacation, see you later when I return.”  Sadly, some believe this is how God created the universe, that He just started the evolution process and walked away. But, this faulty theology is not the truth. God created the universe and all creatures, even you, and He is very much involved with it.

And He is involved in our lives, even when it doesn’t seem that way. He promises to be with us. In Matthew 28: 20 Jesus says,  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV).  In Joshua 1:5 God promised Joshua “I will never leave you or forsake you” (NIV). If you’ve read the book of Joshua before, then you’ll know that God said this before Joshua was to lead a group of rebellious people to the promise land of Israel. It was not just an easy trip. It had its challenges. There were battles to be fought and people died.  In chapter 5 God asked Joshua to have all the men circumcised. We can only imagine what the guys must have been thinking about Joshua. They probably were not very excited about that. And not to mention the pain involved.  It must have hurt. In chapter 7, Joshua had to deal with the defeat at Ai, because one person disobeyed the direct command not to take the spoils for themselves. People were killed because of one man’s selfishness and Joshua had to deal with it. And he doubted God too, even asking God why “Did you bring us here to the promised land only to destroy us?”. You can read this for yourselves in chapter 7:6-12. Joshua had heard directly from God, but he found himself hurting, confused and doubting God’s intentions. Later, after the disobedience had been dealt with, God gave Joshua victory in defeating Ai. We can read it now and see how it all worked out. Chapter 7 was a problem, chapter 8 we find the outcome. It would be nice if we could fast forward our lives, or turn the pages ahead to see how every difficulty was going to work out, But. well we can’t. I could go on about the Book of Joshua and how God was with him, but I just wanted to point our that God was still with Joshua, even in the difficult stuff. He does the same for us today. He hasn’t changed.

Do I have all the answers as to why we face hurts and challenges in this world when God could take them away? No. We could drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out the whys all the time. But, let me challenge you today, as I have to remind myself on a daily basis; God is for you. He has not forgotten you. He is with you. ALL THE TIME. Even in the bad stuff, the hurting stuff. Sometimes you just have to hold on to God’s promises with white knuckles, when everything in you wants to doubt and throw away your hope. Hang in there, YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN. Believe it, repeat it out loud, even through the tears or anger. God is for you. He loves you. He’s invested in you at great cost to Him (Jn. 3:16). God Bless You- Nancy

Choosing…..

Okay, I admit I did it again. It was too easy. There it was, glaring back in the glowing blue light of technology. I tried to scroll past, but found myself scrolling back up to what I had quickly passed by. It was one of those unexpected things in my otherwise boring routine day, but…. I did it… I fell for it….. the old comparison trap of social media. So there I was staring at the details of another person’s life and their new awesome job. But what made it so different than all the other posts? It was MY job, or I mean my DREAM job. The one I would like, or so I thought. But how did they get it? It wasn’t even someone I really know, just a friend of a friend of a friend who hit like or something. So, why did it bother me? I scrolled past the post again and saw another post below in the feed. It was an invite for me  for something. And I kept scrolling. So there I was still stewing in my thoughts, my terrible critical and fault finding thoughts. If you have never been jealous of others and found yourself critical, then well, I applaud you. You probably won’t understand my ramblings on this post. But, I’m just trying to be real here. I’m not perfect, just growing in faith and walking it out everyday. So, if you’re tempted like me at times, you’ll probably relate to the feelings of jealousy and even indignation when we see others getting what we want, what we deserve (according to us), and we might even hear our own thoughts tell us “It isn’t right, it’s not fair!, WE are the ones who should be getting this blessing from God!.” Of course we know these thoughts aren’t great or even biblical, but we think them anyway. Why? Well, for one we are humans living in a fallen world. But second, it’s because we are trying to follow somebody else script. What do I mean?

Well, we all have this idea of what we think our lives should look like. We might even have role models we look up to or have even mentors. We look at their lives and decide, that we too want to do what they do. So we create a script for our lives that we think we can follow. And by following it, we too will arrive at the same place they have with the perfect job, perfect ministry, perfect family, perfect car, perfect house, perfect body, perfect gear, etc. Of course, if you’re my age, over time you realize that life happens and our perfectly written script adjusts over time. But what bothers us the most, is when someone takes a line of OUR script. We feel robbed when they get it and we don’t. But the real problem here is not them, it’s us. The script we carefully crafted, as it turns out, wasn’t really ours, but theirs. God has created us uniquely and individually. We are not like others. We are different. And different is okay. It is good. We have to choose to accept ourselves and the life God has given US.

It all begins with our thinking and what we choose to think. 2 Corinthians 10 :5 tells the reader to “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). Thankfully, we can do this and we do this probably without realizing it. There is a part of our brains that acts as a kind of holding tank, where we choose to either accept the thought or reject the thought that is coming into our minds. When we accept a thought it becomes a part of our mind and we can build upon it and grow it into a larger thought. It’s really pretty fascinating how powerful our minds are. We are the jail keepers, if you will, to decide what we are thinking about.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about how we think and making choices. Many of you may have seen the familiar Joshua 24:15 verse on plaques. “As for me and my house…” Well, right before Joshua’s famous proclamation he says,  “Choose this day whom YOU will serve”(NIV). The Israelites gathered before Joshua had to choose for THEMSELVES whether they would follow idols or follow God. It wasn’t just about Joshua’s choice, he put the ball in their court, and they had to choose what they would do. Follow God or follow idols.

The last example I can think of to relate to choice is found in Matthew 14: 22-31. The story of Peter walking on the water. Peter was brave and left the boat to walk towards Jesus, who was out there walking on the water. Peter was doing great until he started looking more at the waves and the wind and less on Jesus. So he began to sink in a panic and Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter before he sunk. When Peter is safely back on the boat, Jesus asks him why did you doubt? Why did you have so little faith?  Tough questions no doubt. So, as I was looking up this passage I noticed something new. The NIV version says it like this, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid” (vs. 30). So, how do you SEE the wind? We see its affects, but not the wind itself. Peter was looking at the effects of the wind and took his focus off of Jesus. And he got scared. He put his attention on the wrong thing.

Which brings me back to my own focus and attention. As I continued my scrolling that day, I went back to that little insignificant invite and hit accept. I realized, that this was my script to follow, to chose what God had given me. Not someone else’s choice, but my choice.Not someone else’s script, but mine. The dream job I thought was my dream job, wan’t really meant for me, it was meant for them. I was too busy looking at the wind, to see Jesus. My challenge to you today, is this: Are you looking at the wind? Or staying focused on Jesus? It’s your choice. God Bless- Nancy

Feeling the Burn…..Out

“Feel the burn”  Have you heard that expression before? It’s usually used in connection with a work out to indicate your muscles are working and stretching and getting into shape. It’s not a nice feeling, but usually if you’re in an exercise class or in a team sport, that’s what the instructor might say to keep you motivated. Well, let’s consider what feeling the burn looks and feels like in other parts of our lives. Do we recognize the burn and burn out in our emotional lives? Maybe you have heard of burnout in first responders. After seeing so much trauma, these brave men and women can experience burnout, where they are no longer able to have the same level of compassion and empathy for those hurting and they distance themselves (emotionally) from traumatic situations.But if you are not a first responder, would you recognize your own burn out emotionally, spiritually, and physically?

Recently, my husband and I took a much needed trip for the two of us. It was to be a time of relaxation in the warm sun, after an unusually cold winter season. It was also to be a time of relaxation for me after a stressed out time with leaving a job and starting a Seminary program. I was feeling stressed out and knew I needed a break, a chance to reset my my direction, and seek God’s direction. What I hadn’t realized was just how much I was stressed, until a perfect stranger told me, “You NEED to take care of yourself.” She emphasized the word “need” and placed her hand on my shoulder as I left our meeting. Her words really sunk down deep. I thought I was taking care of myself. I was trying to eat better, trying to exercise, trying to walk more, trying to drink more water, trying to pray more…..Notice the word trying.  I thought this is what I needed to feel better. And they are all good things to do for ourselves. But this stranger, the one I had trusted with raking bamboo sticks over my tensed shoulders, recognized just how tense and burned out I had become. As she rolled the warm bamboo over my shoulders, I felt pop, pop, pop. My muscles were so tense, she was actually having trouble. But it was her words that stuck with me. I knew I had been stressed, but failed to recognize how stressed out I was. I did not recognize my own emotional burn out. But it showed up in my physical body as a result of the stress I was trying to deal with on my own.

And that’s where the real answer and the real problem lies. Even though I know I need to trust God, I still try to fix my own problems.. and everyone else’s. I try to be all things to all people. Today I was reminded of God’s offer of rest. It’s from Exodus 33:14, “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest'” (NIV). In this passage God and Moses are having a conversation. Moses had come down from the mountain with the first of the Ten Commandment tablets, only to find the Israelites dancing around an idol they had made. Moses, in his anger when he saw this crazy scene, threw down the stone tablets, breaking them to bits in the process.Moses had lost his patience with the Israelites. You could say he was a bit stressed when he took the idol, smashed it,  ground it up into a powder, mixed it with water and made the people drink this concoction. (Ex.32:20) But, God wasn’t done with these crazy rebellious people. He still wanted them to go to the Promise Land and He wanted Moses to lead them. Moses was asking God to go with him. To show him what to do and to reassure him that God was with them as they traveled. God’s answer was “Yes!, “I will go with you AND give you rest”. Awwwh, this is the rest I need! The rest that God gives, the rest that lets God lead and for me to follow. The rest that is secure in knowing God is with us, right there in the middle of everything. This is my challenge to get rid of my own burn out and stress, allow God to lead and accept His rest. May it be yours as well. -God Bless Nancy

Can We Talk…..

Lately I’ve been thinking about social media and how its shaped our lives. Wait… don’t scroll by and assume I’m bashing technology and media. I’m not. But, I’m really wondering if we can still talk. I mean, has the art of conversation disappeared? And I’m not talking about sitting around and just talking, but being social, you know, the social of social media.  The sharing of our lives with others. The pictures, the updates, the good stuff. And might I add the “real” of our lives, not the perfectly staged pictures of our lives. And I’m not talking about younger generations here, but people closer to my own. It seems to me they can be the worst offenders. Social media can be a great way to keep up with others and share your life with them. We do not all live in the same town or same state or same country anymore, so keeping in touch through media is a great way to stay connected.

But, I’ve been noticing over the last few years how awful some social media sites have gotten. We have reduced it all to political ads and one liners. We’ve all shared those cute cat or dog videos, or nice encouraging phrases or Bible verses, but really it seems its gotten to a whole new level recently. It seems like we all try to find that perfectly succinct phrase that is like a check-mate. It’s not encouraging; its just like boom! That’s it! The answer to it all, the drop the mic,  the “I’ve topped you all in my comments here!” And I’ll be honest, when I read those, I think, “Wow, are they mad at me? or wow that sounds like they are talking about me.”  Some suggest if you read posts like that and feel guilty, maybe you’re harboring unforgivness or something. But really, can we as imperfect people really have the perfect anecdote to life? Why are we trying to outdo each other all the time? Do we really think we are better than others?

As a Christian, being accused of thinking I’m better than others comes with the territory. That is, a whole lot of people think that’s how we (Christians) think of ourselves. But… the reality is that’s not not what the Bible teaches. Philippians is a great book of the Bible to read if you want to understand how we should think of ourselves. Here’s just a part:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4, New International Version).

So, there you have the real answer, from the Apostle Paul… be humble, think of others better than yourselves, don’t be vain, conceited or selfish. But, wait a minute, why WAS Paul writing this to a bunch of people in Philippi? I mean there wasn’t social media back then? Well, as advanced as we become, the problem of human nature is still the same, whether its the first century or the 21st.

So my challenge in this new year is to not drop out of social media, but make it better, by sharing life with each other, not to impress others, but to share what God is doing in our lives, to reach out when we need encouragement or prayer, to ask for help, and to offer real hope, the real anecdote, found in Christ, not one liners or cute memes. Let’s not ghost each other or even leave social media. Let’s keep those connections to each other, and let’s talk. -God Bless- Nancy

The Right One

Decisions. Are you good at making them? I confess that I am not. Decisions can be as simple as choosing a side with your entree, or as time consuming as selecting a mattress, college degree, spouse,home, or job. I mention time consuming because these are the things and people we should choose only after careful consideration, because they are big investments and longer lasting ones than a side of potatoes or fries. But… there are no perfect people or perfect jobs, or even perfect mattresses. If you look for everything to be perfect you’ll probably wind up disappointed. Some times there are not perfect decisions. We might think we’ve found the perfect job, only to realize it wasn’t the right one for us. That happened to me recently. I thought it made sense to take on a new job right after I graduated and I also thought why not pursue my grad school at the same time. It made sense in my mind, but it wasn’t right for me and I soon resigned from my position. I’m still in the process of deciding to keep on course with my graduate degree or stop, but I trust God has a plan and it will work out for my good, which ever decision I make. I might make a mistake, but there is good to be found even in the mistakes.

We are all finite creatures who can and will make mistakes. But we can trust God, who, unlike us, is infinite. He is omniscient.  He can use our own failings to grow us and for our good. Romans 8 :28 is a favorite Scripture and for good reason. I believe God can work out all things for our good. He can take our bad decisions and find something good to glean from them. We shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions, but step out in faith and trust in God, and not in ourselves. In the big picture of our lives, God is using all the elements of our lives, the good, the bad, and even the downright ugly, to create in us an image of His Son and fit us for Heaven. Sometimes, I think we are much harder on ourselves than God is when it comes to making decisions and failing. God understands we fall short, but He offers grace to us. He can and will work out all things for our good.

So while I contemplate my next step, I have learned the best thing to do is to pray continually when I have a decision to make and  to stay focused on God and His Word. I’ll keep you posted. God Bless-Nancy

 

 

Being (a) Present

For many years my Husband and I would pack up our snacks, our stuff, our presents, our kids and load our mini van up to the brim for the trip home at Christmas. It was hectic, tiring and stressful at times. I remember once when we were stuck in a blizzard driving across the country. We were stuck for two days outside Buffalo, New York until the roads were cleared and reopened. Another time we couldn’t find any room at the inn, and were forced to drive some 20 plus hours straight through instead of stopping for the night. Despite all of this we tried to make it home for Christmas to visit mine and my Husband’s parents and grandparents. Looking back now, I am thankful and grateful for those crazy times- all of it- including the car sick kids, multiple bathroom stops,  numerous diaper changes accomplished on the seats of our minivan and even all the spilled fast food drinks, fries, chips and ripped up paper pieces that our daughter liked to decorate the van with.

The best thing with all of these trips is that we were together and we could visit our parents for Christmas. Sadly, as the years have passed, we’ve lost some of our loved ones and we can no longer visit them at Christmas. So, as I reflect back, I am thankful for the struggle and stress of the past, driving so often to visit family. When young families are in the thick of raising kids, its hard to see a time past that, but it arrives and soon we find ourselves without our loved ones to visit and our kids all grown up. Life is never static, it is a constant change and we have to learn how to move through the changes. It isn’t easy, and to do it well we need God’s help.

Maybe you’re dreading visiting families. with all the traveling by air or car and needed a reminder from me that its worth the struggle. Or, maybe you’ve been too busy to think about Christmas. So, let me talk to you too. See, you can be with others this Christmas, but not present. You might not have to drive far to be with your family and friends this Christmas, but you’re not really enjoying being with them and spending time with them. We all try to buy the right gifts to give. Some can afford big extravagant gifts, while others cannot. Some might spend hours hand making gifts. Others might spend hours shopping and choosing the perfect gift, and standing in long lines at the store. But let me tell you the secret of it all. People would rather spend time with you than have a present you stressed over.

The best gift you can give is yourself. The fully present self. The put- down- the- cell- phone -and -talk- with others self. I think it’s easier to give presents than give ourselves, but giving ourselves is the best gift. Need an example? Well, its Christmas, and what is Christmas about? Answer: Jesus. “For God so love the world that He GAVE His one and only SON that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16, NIV) God gave us his son; a person. This is the WHY we celebrate Christmas and give gifts in the first place, because of the gift given to us. So why not take His lead by giving yourself this Christmas to others. Spend time with those you love; talk with them; play with them, put down the cell phones and close the laptops, turn off the Tv’s. And BE PRESENT. God Bless- Nancy

Giving Good Gifts

So, how’s that Christmas shopping going? How many times have you heard that question this year? It seems like it is a common question this time of year as we approach Christmas, a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by exchanging gifts with our families and friends. But maybe the real question should be; how are you at picking out gifts? I find that the people who procrastinate at their Christmas shopping are the same ones who struggle to figure out what a good gift might be. They fear giving the wrong gift, so they put off their shopping.

Thankfully, God knows how to give the best gifts. of course the first and best is His Son Jesus, but also there’s the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. There are many self tests out there to help you discover your spiritual gift. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a good list of these gifts as does Ephesians 4. These good gifts are for the benefit of the church, to grow it and build it up. But, there are other gifts that God gives. Our natural abilities and talents that helps us to do our vocations and hobbies.

Recently I was reading an article that suggested parents should not recognize or celebrate their children’s natural gifts and talents. Instead it was suggested that parents should encourage their children to work hard and excel at everything. All it takes is a little self determination and everything is possible. Well, I  believe that God creates each person individually, I mean look at your fingerprint- there isn’t another one like it. Our natural talents are meant for us and is a part of who God made us to be and should be celebrated. We as human beings are unique and specially created by God. We are not cookie cutter.

Sometimes, I think we can forget this. We try to be or do something we are not. We are trying to use a gift that doesn’t fit, because, well, we don’t have that gift. It is a fake it till you make it philosophy, but it’s not long and we can become frustrated trying to do something we were never meant to do in the first place. We should always operate in what we have been gifted in. It is the right gift. The right fit. The good gift from the ultimate gift giver.

I was reminded of this today. I am responsible to use the gifts I have been given, not try to use someone else’s gift. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit and it’s a struggle to figure out how to make it fit. In the end, it’s a choice to select to do what I am gifted to do and not try to do everything.God Bless -Nancy