Candid Conversations

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – Jesus Christ

Comforting words to hear especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. My Mom used to quote this verse from John often. I didn’t fully appreciate her wisdom in reciting it, however, I was young and naive. I thought the world revolved around me and whatever I had planned. The thought of dying really never entered my thought much. Or at least not as much as my Mom. Sure, Jesus was building a room, or mansion, as some Bible versions quote, but that was SOMEDAY, not right now, not today. There was so much life I had in front of me. It was a good verse for older people, but not anything to think about in my teens, or twenties, or even thirties, really. Just a thought for a someday when I would be facing down a terrible disease, or walking side by side with someone who was. Someday.

But, today is part of a whole year in which the entire planet has been facing down a terrible disease. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, everyone has had to come to terms with Covid-19. And even though it is almost Christmas and we all are getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, facing the future still worries us, if we are honest.

So many people have been affected by this virus, either personally or through a neighbor of friend, that we can no longer pretend that it does not exist. I’ll be honest, I have seen so much divisiveness over how to contain the virus, that it has been the most frightening thing, instead of the virus itself. We really do need to come together and fight the virus and not each other. That being said, I want to have a candid conversation with you, right now, as we are all thinking of the sweet baby in the manger, singing our Christmas carols, baking our cookies and other Christmas treats, attending church, sending gifts, etc. Have you thought about dying? I mean, if we really think about it, that is what Christmas is ultimately about. Jesus came down from heaven to be with us, be one of us, but then take our sins upon Himself, so that He could return to heaven and get a place ready for us.

That is the Good news of the Gospel. Yet, if we are honest we all have this measure of fear about getting sick and dying. It’s scary, because we just aren’t sure what happens, maybe a little, but not completely. And honestly, no one likes being sick and suffering. Or at least I can’t think of anyone who does. We find comfort from Jesus’ words, that He is preparing a place for us. He wants us to be there, in Heaven with Him and our loved ones who have died before us. And He made it fair for everybody, not only those who have lived a perfect life or donated the most money or were nice to everyone. But, just that He would take on our sentence, and we would be acquitted, if we would ask Him to apply His payment on our behalf. It’s like racking up a credit card and having someone offering to pay it off for you, you just need to say okay.

I realize that is an oversimplification, but I think it puts the free gift of salvation in an easy to understand way. I do realize that we need to understand that we have debt, that we have fallen short of what God intended for man in the beginning, and have sinned against a holy God, which has separated us from Him, but we also must realize just how accessible God’s gift of salvation is for mankind.We did nothing to deserve it. It is all based upon God’s love for us, not getting extra credit on anything we have done.

There is so much anxiety these days and it is very easy to let ourselves get worried and let our hearts get troubled. We fear the worst, instead of hoping for the best. If we are honest with ourselves, it comes from our own fears about dying. We hear so much negative stories, that we all get fearful that we will get sick, like that person in a story we saw, and we will die. We get paralyzed by the thought of dying from some stupid virus that has the world on edge. The virus everyone is scared of and may or may not have been engineered in a lab as part of a great, horrible scheme. This fear doesn’t just sit by quietly, but rises up to manifest anger and hostility. Many think of anger as one of our primary emotions, but actually it is a secondary emotion. It stems from a hurt, or perceived hurt or threat. So whenever our well-being is threatened, we will often react out of anger. In other words, when we feel scared, we get mad. At others. At ourselves. At God.

I believe God has given a bit of a healthy fear of dying, so we will try to be careful and not jump out of planes without parachutes, but not so much that we live paralyzed lives, restricting ourselves to the point we lash out at others, like a caged wild animal. We cannot predict our own future, even in the best of times and situations. Life has many turns and twists that we do not see coming. But, God does have a plan for everything to work out. We can face anything with the assurance that God can be trusted. That what He tells us in the Bible. Some versions of the verse I quoted in the beginning of this blog, substitute the word ‘believe’ with ‘trust’ “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

Heaven is a real future for us, Jesus told us this, and even though we might feel a bit scared when we think about dying, we need to think about what Jesus’ promised. There is a place for us, He is getting it ready, for whenever it is our time to move in. The Covid virus has scared us, because for some of us, we had to face the big question- what happens if I get the virus, or what will happen to me if I get sick and don’t recover, that is die? Before the pandemic, people might not have given it much thought, but now they must consider this important question. And it scares them. This fear creates anger towards others, even God, but whether it is from a virus first appearing in China, or some other cause, we will all die someday. It is not something we can avoid. No mask or physical distancing will keep that moment from coming. The question is, Are we ready? Have we trusted in Jesus? Is is working on a room for you? I’d like you as my neighbor. -God Bless – Nancy

Doing Battle

We all know that the past several months have not been easy and more than likely you thought we would all be out of this much sooner. Back to normal. Back to regular. But in some parts of the world, we are still feeling the effects the global pandemic has brought us. At times we do not know what to call the feelings we are all experiencing. Is it stress? Yes. Anxiety? Yes. Fear? Yes. Frustration? Yes. We can identify many of those feelings and I have brought up in previous posts, how to limit the effects of those overwhelming feelings. Move away from dependence on social media and news, have a quiet time with God, read the Bible, get away and pause to hear from God. But, perhaps we have been overlooking the one feeling, the emotion that might seem unlikely; grief. See, grief can come in many ways, not just from the death of a loved one.

I was reminded of grief this week upon hearing of the sudden passing of a pastor’s father. My Mom passed away five years ago, so I have been well acquainted with grief that hits like a train. Like a tornado. It’s inescapable. It’s overwhelming. It hurts. And it changes everything in our world. It is something that simply cannot be undone. It’s final. Permanent.

Grief can be felt with any kind of loss. A job. A home. A business. A relationship. A reputation. A schedule. A normal life. We often experience this sense of loss and sadness that we can’t shake. We feel guilty for feeling sad over what seems such temporary losses. We know we can find another job, another home, another boyfriend or girlfriend, start another business, create another routine, start over. But we still grieve that which has been lost and what has been changed.

So, how do we deal with it? Well, much in the same way we deal with anxiety, fear, stress. We need to go to God. We need to pray. And we need to realize that the emotions we are feeling do not need to consume us and consume all our thoughts. We must choose our thinking. We must get back to capturing every thought and weighing whether or not the thought is truth or a lie. When we recall the losses in our life, we can remember the good, let go of any guilt, and remind ourselves that God is still in control.

We do not do this battle alone. God is with us and will answer our prayers, even when we are not quite sure what to pray. Sometimes the best answers to prayer I have experienced are after I simply cried out “Help! God I need you” Just a simple request when I’ve realized I am in over my head.

We also need to do battle for our thoughts alongside others. We can encourage each other. Open up to each other and share our personal struggles. The body of Christ should never shy away from a friend who wants to share their struggles. We are all broken vessels, needing God’s help. If we really think we have it all together, we are mistaken. And if anyone looks to Christians to have it all together, they will sadly see us fail miserably. Christians do not have it all together, we just know who to go to when we are overcome by sadness and grief. We do not need to stay in our sad, discouraged places. This is only temporary. Life will get back to normal, even if normal means change.

Caution or fear

Life is full of challenges. Too many challenges some days, but overall its our attitude in facing these challenges  that can either hold us back or keep us moving forward. Recent days have demonstrated just how quickly life can change. Lives can be disrupted by a small crown like virus. For some it produces no more than the common cold, for others, a serious medical emergency. But all lives have been affected to be sure in some manner or another.

Yet, time continues to pass, whether that time passes while we sit indoors, or as we venture out to our jobs and schools. Circumstances change, locations change, but time is always moving forward.  We can latch onto this forward movement, or resist it and try to drag our heels.We can either find the good in our circumstances or look for the bad in our circumstances, but we cannot change the fact that even if our world seems to stop, life does not. We get older, and hopefully wiser, as we experience life. As the saying goes, time marches on.

I’ve recently been considering how I address the fears that have cropped up since the pandemic, and found that, I have been letting my emotions have first place. I am, by nature, a cautious person. I make sure not to pull out into traffic without looking carefully. In fact, during my driver’s test, that was the one complaint of the tester, I was too cautious! I will agree to that, I’d rather be safe than crash my car. But sometimes too much caution keeps me from enjoying my life. For example, I’m afraid of roller coasters that turn upside down. I love fast roller coasters- in fact the faster the better- but, I’m just too cautious to go upside down. I’m cautious. But, someday I imagine I will get the courage to face this fear and go on one of those crazy twisty, upside down terror rides.

As the days have passed since the beginning of this pandemic I have noticed there is great debate over the seriousness of the pandemic, some toss all caution to the wind, while others are fearful of everyone and avoid everybody. I admit, at first I was scared to death and followed every update on the news. But, then I began to read more about the disease and also a book that challenged my faith. It made me realize how I had allowed my natural caution to turn into fear and here I was with this question posed at me by the author of the book, “Am I afraid to die?” Wow, that’s heavy for anyone to read in a book about helping your thought life. Thanks? for that, I feel so much better now.  Seriously though,that really put things into perspective. I do believe God has given us all a healthy fear of death, so we will be cautious and not hurt ourselves. But, we can allow this fear to control us and manipulate us.

It’s a good question to ask yourself, what am I afraid of? Am I afraid of all the bad news I hear? Afraid of being rejected? Afraid or being hurt? Afraid of failing? Anyone of these fears are normal, but when moved past the level of cautious to downright fearful, we have a problem. It freezes us from moving forward.We close ourselves off to others, and to God. Difficulties will always face us as a planet. There will be more pandemics, more floods, more wildfires, more famines, more earthquakes, more hurricanes, more betrayals, more hurts, more financial problems, more sicknesses and diseases that claim too many lives too soon. But what matters is how we process all of this. We can be filled with fear and resign ourselves to believe that God is a God who doesn’t care what is going on down here, or we can quietly, take a deep breath, pray, seek God’s face and not His hand, and trust. That’s it. Trust. All of our fear and worry will not change the outcome. This planet will move forward.Time will move forward. All the circumstances that cause us fear will disappear as quickly as they came. In the meantime, trust. God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. It is what I have banked my life on. God does not leave. God is with us even through this time of stress and anxiety. We can be cautious and wise, but not let fear get the better of us. God’s got this.

 

Going Through The Storm

                   Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you—1 Peter 5:7

We once lived next door to an amazing older woman. She had emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century from Hungary. She had come with her Aunt and Uncle but not her parents whom she had a difficult relationship with, as I recall her telling me. She was quite young, around six years of age and spoke no English. She had a hard time at first in school and with the neighbor boy who also did not speak English, but Swedish.

Why I consider her amazing  was for her take on life. Through every difficult situation she would explain all the difficulties facing her as she aged- her husband’s Alzheimer’s, her own declining vision, a fall that caused her a near fatal broken neck,  relationship stresses caused by her family obligations, and of course weather related storms that worried her. At the end of each discussion of her current hardship she would pause and exclaim; “But what are you going to do?” It was not so much of a question she posed to me as a calm answer to all that she was facing and had faced in her long life.

She had been through many storms in her life and she had this great perspective that there wasn’t anything you could do about certain situations, so why get upset. She didn’t avoid talking about her problems as though they weren’t there, she described them, faced them and decided she might as well accept things as they were. She went through.

I remember my Mom giving me similar advice; “This too shall pass” I always thought of it as kinda cryptic, but now that I am older and have been through the storms, I can now say my mom was right. When we are younger, it is hard to take the advice of our parents. We really do think we know everything there is to know about any given situation. But, given the current worldwide crisis due to the corona virus, I am beginning to get a slight glimpse into what the older generations went through and were forced to go through at young ages, giving them every right to know what they are talking about. They were strong and resilient, because they had to be. It wasn’t something they chose to go through. Oh we have had our own share of armed conflicts and large super storms, earthquakes, tornadoes in the late to early 20th and 21st centuries, but nothing on the global scale of the current COVID-19. Our lives have been disrupted and basic supplies are difficult to find. It is now that I recall my grandparents and even my parents stories of what it was like during World War II. Everyone received booklets that rationed items like, meat and sugar. people did not travel and my Mom told me of the air raids that often happened at night. If you were home you were instructed to turn out all your house lights and if in a car you would pull over and turn off the headlights. Apparently it was a regular occurrence.

So,as we are all a little anxious at this moment with our regular predictable lives on hold, let’s remember the words of previous generations. They went through and got through it. We cannot change what is happening, but in those moments when we feel anxious, we can be reminded to turn to God and cast all our anxieties on Him. Sometimes we cannot avoid going through hard times, we just have to. We can’t pretend we don’t have fears or anxieties when we do. It’s okay to describe our difficulties as my elderly neighbor use to do. But once we do, we can go to God and admit we need Him to calm our fears and still our anxieties. I know that’s what I have been doing. -God Bless – Nancy