Taking it to the source

So, my dad owns an older home in the country and has as his water source a spring. The spring is located a few hundred feet away from his home and provides water for not only his house but also my brothers and a neighbor. Now, before you think to yourself, wow! spring water that I don’t have to buy from a little bottle or have delivered by the jug!, Must be sweet. Well, it isn’t all that free sometimes for my dad. There is this long pipe that runs down the side of the road he lives on, under his driveway and into the house. Quite often, this pipe springs a leak somewhere along its length.The only way he can tell when this has happened is for his water pressure to drop and puddles start forming along the road and driveway. The only way to fix the pipe is to first locate the source of the break. This is not as easy as it might sound, for water from the spring runs down a hill alongside the road. The break could be nearer to the spring or further down the piping. It is a matter of trial and error (digging up dirt along the sections of pipe) to find the break. Once he finds the location, the source, he can fix it, and restore his water supply to his home.

Lately, I have been feeling, like many of you, like there is a break in my flow of peace. It is not difficult to find the location of the break, just take a look around the current world situation and it is easy to identify the cause, the source. We feel like chaos and anxiety are winning in the battle for our minds and souls. We are stressed and uneasy, we are feeling insecure and unsure of even making the basic decisions. I sympathize with parents of school aged children who must make decisions about the school year. School administrations are right in there with attempting to decide what to do in the best interests of their students and teachers. We feel confused. We read up on the virus and on the recovery rates, we search for answers and we search for peace in the chaos.

On social media and news feeds we are bombarded with many sides of the same story. Which view is right? Which view is wrong? Is there a right or wrong? Or are we all victims of a greater plot to disrupt our unity as humans so that we see each other as enemies rather than men and women who are created by God in His image? We are seeking truth, but finding more chaos. We are looking for a source for truth, a source for peace. It feels as though our water pipe is broken and we are all parched, thirsty, craving pure spring water that will soothe our weary, tired and parched souls and minds.

Even the most highly respected pastors and ministers of the Gospel are feeling this anxiety and lack of peace. The current situation with the pandemic and violence and confusion happening surrounding the protests for social justice cannot be ignored while Christians pretend it is not there. There is a leak in the pipe. We cannot ignore the problem, but can we seek a better way to deal with it all?

I believe there is. Recently, I have been spending time reading some great books by some great Christian writers that deal with this mind and spiritual battle that is going on in their lives as well. What I have taken away from it is this, we can live in this chaos by re-framing our thinking and focusing on Jesus, our source of peace. See the world and the problems of the world are not going to just disappear.We live in the tension of a world that is groaning and grappling with chaos as it longs for the day when everything will be set right again. Jesus told us that there would be trouble in this world.  But He also told us that He was giving us His peace, the peace that was sure and lasting, not the peace the world gives( John 14:27). If you haven’t read the Book of John before, or if it has been awhile, it is a good place to start to calm your chaos. It will remind you and help you understand just who Jesus is and what He taught. He came to earth as a man, fully human, and He knows what we are feeling. He felt pain, suffering, grief, anger, disappointment. He knows well what we are all going through right now. One thing to remember is He often went off by Himself and prayed to God. Theologians sometimes grapple with this concept, after all Jesus is God, part of the Trinity, so why did He have to pray, was He talking to Himself? True, He is part of the Trinity, father, son and Holy Spirit, but each is different in role, and He, Jesus, was seeking to do the will of the Father, so communication was important.

Which brings me back to my final point, and one which I am personally trying to incorporate in my daily routine. I have been challenged and convicted about how much importance I have given to social and news feeds in my daily life. I check my phone before I go to sleep and first thing in the morning and I’ve realized it is too connected to my day. It feeds into my anxiety and chaos. I am deciding to leave my phone out of my bedroom at night while it charges. It is too addicting to check it every time it dings. It seems to be one source in my life that has been feeding my anxiety. My husband has decided to stay off of face book for a while because he has realized it changes him and how he views others. Often our phones are what keeps fueling the leaking of our peace as a society. We can easily find something to upset us, or something to which we disagree on with on our news feeds and social media. Our phones are always with us, feeding this anxiety, non stop. For you it might be your tablets, or laptops or TV. Or maybe the radio or podcasts you listen to as you commute. The basic question to ask yourself is what am I letting into my thoughts? What am I giving my allegiance to? Is it helping me, or hurting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I giving it greater significance than God? Is it making me a better person? Or a bitter, angry, anxious, stressed out one? As a Christian am I reflecting God, or the world?

The source of our anxiety might be the pandemic and social unrest, but are we adding gasoline to the fire by what we are fueling our minds with? To get back to my water pipe analogy, what are we doing that breaks our peace? Are we taking a sledge hammer to our flow of peace by what we devote ourselves to? Are we passively letting the media tell us what to think and believe? Are we letting ourselves be anxious? Are we truly searching for the source of peace?

Its easy to find the leak, its worry and stress, and we can make it worse, as I tried to explain, but what are we doing positively to fix the broken flow of peace in our lives?  In a world that seems out of control,this is something we have control over. Just like my husband and I can choose to put some distance between the chaos that is being fed through our need to be in constant contact with media, and replace it with quiet , you can as well. To stop and give God space in our lives and in our thoughts. To meditate on God and His word. To pray and to be quiet enough to hear God speak.

 

Was it you?

Some days we can let our circumstances get the best of us. And our emotions. We get tired and we get cranky. On the outside we are adults, but on the inside we can act like an unruly two year old. We want our way, and when we don’t get it, we get upset.

The recent events of the world have stretched me and tried my patience to the point of my becoming that unruly two year old.  I feel bad for feeling bad, which makes the situation worse, it seems. I have been the queen of self- criticism before, and on a particular, hot, tiresome August day, I acted both as a temperamental toddler and a self-critic. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I had been fighting the constant battle of my thoughts. If you read my last blog, you know that I addressed fear versus caution in the midst of this pandemic. Most of the time, I can keep my perspective and my focus on Christ and the things that matter, rather than on the fears that continually get fueled by what I see and read. It is easy to give into fear, especially when you’re worn out and tired.

So, there I was, exhausted, worn out, stressed and alone in a gas station bathroom. I had had enough of it all. The worries of the pandemic, the fears of moving into new chapters of my life, the pressure of resuming my seminary classes after a summer break, the disappointments and disagreements between family members, and the late hour. I felt my eyes well up with tears, but I didn’t want to let myself cry. I’d have to walk back through the store portion of the station, and didn’t want to face anyone, even a stranger with my red eyes and running mascara. I quietly told God I wanted to give up. I’ve had enough. I  knew that much of what had been happening in my personal life was a spiritual attack from the pits of hell, but I was just tired of fighting it.

In those moments of frustration and desperation, it seems like the most logical thing to say or think is to cry “Uncle”. Our faith is being stretched so much. We just want to throw in the towel and tell the Devil he’s won. We’ll stop trying to make a difference in the world. Just look out for number one, forget others, Isn’t that what the world tells us to do? Why go against the current? Why speak up for the truth? Why follow God? Why keep going to school to answer God’s call to be a pastor? How many war wounds and battle scars are enough God? I just wanna give up God, it’s not worth it anymore, can you help me God? If not, I’m giving up!

But, you were there. And you made a difference. I never saw you, might not ever meet you. But I know you had been there and must have listened to God’s voice, that still, quiet voice, to leave me a note in the bathroom that evening. It was such a clear message from God, that in my two- year tantrum mindset,  I tried not to see it. I was just so fed up with everything. I know God it was really a note from you. An answer from you, not just from a person. You are pretty intentional, and you intended for me to see that little piece of folded paper.

There it was, a handwritten note, slightly damp from the water of the sink from others who had seen it, while they washed up. It was written in colored pencil or ink, and some of the writing from the back side of the paper had faded. But there was no doubt about the message; “Jesus loves you so very much” Simple. To the point. And not even a memorized Bible verse. Just the reminder I needed that late evening at a gas station bathroom. I recited in my mind the words over and over again as I walked back out into the parking lot. Jesus loves me. So. very. much. Not just the simple Jesus loves me this I know, of the familiar kids song, but different, personal, and just what I needed to hear from God.

So thank you, who ever you are, you made a difference in my world and hopefully in the world in general. Thank you for not giving up in telling the world that yes, in fact, Jesus does love them so very much. Maybe you were a child, who forget their handwritten picture on the sink earlier that day as you washed your hands, or maybe you were a teen or adult, who knew to hear God’s voice and share the love you know with the world who does not know of God’s love.

We all have a part to play in Christ’s kingdom if we are Christians. Don’t give up and throw in the towel. Your action might be small, like a little piece of paper on a sink. But you make the difference in the world.

The world is desperate for answers, for peace, and for love. God has all that, and He is offering it freely. We all need to encourage each other about God’s love for us. Of His truth. Of His peace He offers. Of His hope that does not disappoint. Of His answers to prayer, that sometimes come in the form of little notes left on sinks.

Maybe you are looking for answers, be sure not to overlook those little quiet voices, reminding you to look to God for those answers. Be quiet enough to listen so that you don’t miss them. They might come in the form of a little, folded, love note from God. God hears you.

Something Good

We all want it. We are all looking for it. No, its not toilet paper,but we want something good in this world that currently seems spiraling out of control. This new normal that we find ourselves in is stressful and scary at times. What we took for granted, like full grocery stores shelves, seems like something from ages ago. Did we really have stocked shelves? Did we really have jobs we drove to? Did we really get together with our friends and families any time we wanted to? Did we really dine out and go to school?

This good we experienced will be here again as history has shone us. In the meantime can we find the good that still there? Yes, I believe we can, but we have to look for it. I know many of you reading this probably have been negatively impacted by the pandemic in serious ways. Most people have only been inconvenienced. I have a bit of understanding in what some of you are going through as a parent new to staying home with your children and homeschooling them. I stayed at home for all of the years my children were in school and even home schooled for a year. What I’ve learned and can share with you is this;1) Enjoy these moments as your kids won’t always be home with you, 2)When you feel like pulling out your hair, take a break and seek out a quiet place for five minutes.3) It’s okay to let your kids entertain themselves with the t.v or tablet. 4)Homeschooling made me realize just how much schooling can get done in only two to four hours a day- there’s a lot of wasted time at school.5) I learned as my son learned from my homeschooling.6) If you’re married and both of you are working from home, enjoy this time together and allow time in your work schedule to sit down and eat together or cook a meal together. We are all so busy, that we often do not have time to spend together.7) Pray. Do not neglect to pray for others who are having an even more stressful time.8) Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.8) Find out who might need extra help in your neighborhood and offer it.9) If your college age kid is home, remember they are still doing their coursework- do not load them down with projects and chores and treat them like adults- they are. 10) Call and check on older relatives and friends. 11) Encourage your children to video chat with their friends if they cannot get together in person. 12) Video chat with your friends. And as I mentioned before; Look for the good.

It is easy to get overwhelmed and watching too much of the news feeds will tend to make us even more nervous. But try to find something good about your day. I have been so encouraged by my neighborhood in how they have helped each other out. I have seen so many families out for walks and scavenger hunts, laughing and enjoying time together. I have met couples when out walking- from the safe distance of six feet- that I did not know were my neighbors. Normal life used to include watching commuters drive past my house in the morning and returning to their garages where they parked their cars and closed down their garage doors, before I could even see who was inside. It has all brought us closer together as a community. And although we have been told to stay apart, we have actually grown closer together as a neighborhood, community and hopefully as a country as well. Adversity has a tendency to do that when we can look for something good and reach out to help others.

I would be negligent if I didn’t mention that for many of your this isn’t a good time. You are struggling financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Please reach out to others who are willing to help. Many churches are offering online services, words of encouragement and prayer daily. They are also able to help if you need food and financial help or if you just want someone to pray with. If you are in a threatening relationship and the stress of the situation is driving you or your significant other over the edge, law enforcement is still available as are caring organizations who will offer safety. Please reach out. If you feel you are going to go over the edge yourself and harm your children, walk into another room or outside until you can calm down and seek out help. Many faith based organizations have trained counselors who can speak with you either over the phone or online to offer help and advice.

For those of you who want to help, pray and ask God where He needs you and keep up with social media posts that are often posting opportunities to help in specific ways. Sometimes we can be the good others are looking for. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and this seems like opportunity to demonstrate just that. -God Bless Nancy

Prayer

“Rejoice always, pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NIV)

A short, simple verse but one packed with so much more. Do you struggle to rejoice always? Me too. Some days I’m only able to tolerate life, far from rejoicing about it. Life is a struggle at times. Situations stress us out. People stress us out. A new school year stresses us out. As a parent I have felt the fear and sadness from dropping my children off at school. Would this be a good year for them? Would they make new friends? Did I pack a lunch they will like? Did I remember to sign all the papers I was supposed to for the registration? Am I going to miss them while they’re at school? What am I going to do while they’re at school? My routine is all messed up now.

Well, you might think this is something I dealt with when my children were in elementary school and that it’s long past me now. But, no, this is actually my thoughts this morning. Except for the lunch part. I’m sure they packed their own today. My daughter is the teacher now, but I still get excited for her first day of school with her new kindergarten class. And I still stress over whether my college age son has everything he needs as he starts his junior year. And yes, I miss them a lot. And my schedule has to change as I figure out what to do now that they have returned back to college and to their apartments after a summer with them here. Being a parent means you will always worry and stress about your children, no matter the age. It comes with the job.

So, this morning I want to remind all the parents out there to remember prayer. Pray for your students and their friends, their teachers, their schools. And pray for yourself as well. Parents need prayer too. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for prayer for yourself. My Husband knows how the new year of school can be stressful for me and he knows to pray for me. If someone does ask you for prayer, please do it. Don’t neglect the request or put it off for a “to do” later, just stop and pray at that moment. In fact, we should always be in a prayer moment. That is what it means to pray continually. All through the day.  -God Bless- Nancy

Nothing

The server worked efficiently and silently as she placed the large platter on the table. As I focused on the newly placed plate, other platters followed, each one more joyous and amazing than the one before. I have to be honest, it was the largest most decadent piece of chocolate cake I have seen. The chocolate cake looked like a mountain of chocolate goodness. It was extra chocolate. As I stared at the huge dessert, that was the equivalent of two normal sized full sized cakes, my mind started to panic. After several different desserts had been placed in the center of the large round table, the server announced  that they were all a gift from the chef who’s child was a student in my daughter’s class. He appreciated her as a teacher and wanted to show it through offering this generous gift.

It was very unexpected and after the server left, those of us at the table began to share our thoughts. We all had had feelings of panic and concern before the server told us it was a gift. We all had wondered who had ordered dessert and who was going to pay for it. None of us at the table were used to such extravagance. We are not fancy people who regularly dine at pricey restaurants. It was not a usual place for us to go out for dinner, but my daughter had received a gift card that she wanted to share with us. The gift card would not cover all seven of us in the party, so we had all decided before how we would split the bill when it came, and now there was going to be this add- on charge for dessert. Needless to say we were all very relieved when the server said it was a gift. We would wash dishes if we had too, but we were glad we didn’t need to.

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment of panic, when you wondered how you would pay for something? Something you had not planned for. You are unprepared and do not have a means to pay. A similar experienced happened to my husband and I many years ago while driving through Pennsylvania. We had made a wrong turn and ended up on the ramp to a toll road and could not turn around. The toll required was change only, no cards, no bills, just coins. It did not have an attendant. It was a large basket to catch the toll coins. We did not have any. We had not planned on being on this road. We could not move forward because of the bar across the highway and we now could not back up because a car was tight behind us. Then it happened. The person behind us got out of their car and put coins in the basket. The barrier arm raised and we were free to proceed. We thanked them and were on our way. Someone paid for our travel on that road, so we would be free to travel, that is to be allowed to travel on that road.

It is nice when someone else pays. It is even nicer when we really need them to pay because we can’t pay. I have been reminded lately of just how much Christ’s payment on the cross means. It means I don’t have to keep on trying to pay for something I could never fully pay. Paid in full means just that, in full. There is nothing more I can do to pay for something (my sin) because it is already paid for. Once for all time. Hebrews 10:14 says, “ For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Yet, at times I  see so many people, myself, included, who feel bad and allow guilt to push them to keep trying to do better. Now, doing better and improving our actions and attitudes is a part of growing in our Christian walk, but trying to change in order to earn a right standing before God is fruitless, rather than fruitful. It is what religion is, trying to reach god or perfection, or nirvana or doing good karma. But, that is not Christianity. Christianity is Christ coming down to save us, not us trying to reach Him.

     There are little habits we all have that we wish we didn’t. I worry and stress too much and the more I worry and stress the more I start to feel guilty for worrying and stressing. And then it leads to a feeling of failure, like I can’t change and will never change. My mind reminds me of sermons I have heard before “that anything that isn’t by faith is sin”  and then the guilt piles higher and higher like that over sized  piece of chocolate cake at the restaurant. Now, I could try to fix myself, get busy trying to do more good and trying to make myself look good, hoping I will replace guilt with contentment with my accomplishments. But, it will be short- lived. It is only when I acknowledge Christ paid for all of it, once, for all, that I can relax and allow God to work on me in His timing and in His way. He will make the changes in my attitude and help me grow in my Christian walk. As the writer of the Book of Hebrews adds;  ” This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.I will put my laws in their hearts,  and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.15-17, NIV).   Writing the law in our hearts and minds refers to the Holy Spirit living within the believer. He enables us to live out this Christian walk. Allow Him to lead you and heal you of those things you are trying to deal with on your own. Christ paid the toll so to speak, we need only to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to travel on the journey before us. But first we must acknowledge that we can never earn it, trying to reach God through good works or religious duties, nor do we need to let guilt overwhelm us and force us to keep on trying to earn it even after its been paid in full. Paid in full, let that sink in for minute. Nothing else will be able to add or subtract from that. 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