Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Way of Escape

Temptation.  It comes in all shapes and sizes.  It comes at us from every direction.  It comes when we least expect it.

Last Friday, the "God's Daily Promises" email I receive asked the question "How do you avoid temptation?".  It quoted this scripture: "She came and grabbed him by his shirt, demanding, 'Sleep with me!' Joseph tore himself away." Genesis 39:12 NLT. 

Sunday's message?  It was from this very same section of scripture, regarding temptation, standing firm even when no one is watching, and God providing a way of escape.

Just a hour or so later on Sunday afternoon, I was helping to provide a service for residents of a physical rehabilitation facility and once again, in the course of the message, temptation and a way out was referenced. 

The icing on the cake was my devotional on Monday from "Jesus Calling" which said in part..."Keep your eyes on Me!  Waves of adversity are washing over you, and you feel tempted to give up.  As your cicumstances consume more and more of your attention, you are losing sight of Me.  Yet I am with you always, holding you by your right hand.  I am fully aware of your situation, and I will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear.  That devotional was taken in part from I Corinthians 10:13 which says:  "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

It's always been my observation that when a 'theme' crosses my path, two, three, four times, esepcially in a short period of time, there's a message God wants me to take hold of.  As I come to the close of this 29 day fast, I can't help but think that the message is 'you'll be tempted out there...tempted to fall back into idolatrous patterns...but stand firm.  There is a way of escape.  The past 4 weeks you've had the strength to resist because you centered your focus on Me.  The path on the other side of this fast is no different.  Keep your eyes on me.  I am faithful.  I am with you always.  I am your way of escape.'

So, when March 1st comes around, how will I be different?  What discoveries have I made that will impact my walk going forward?   Here are just a few...
  • I've learned some of my temptation triggers.  It is easier to avoid temptation than resist in the midst of it, so I need to practice being aware of where I am and what I'm doing. 
  • More temptations compete for my attention than I realized.  It is easy to lose focus and I do NOT have the strength to do this under my own power.  I need God's power to stand firm. 
  • I can only possess that power and use it fully when I am engaged with Him.  A regular time to meet with Him, talk, listen and absorb His Word is imperative and I will guard it fiercely. 
In 2 days, this self imposed fast will be over, but I will not be rushing to jump back into old routines.  There is a peace in handing over control.  There is a comfort in uncomplicating life.  There are still other idols to knock down.  But I know that when temptation rears its head, it's not an automatic defeat.  I have a way of escape.  The exit may not be easy to see or to access, but I have Someone to point the way.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    Dance of the Trees

    Dance of the Trees

    The forest floor is littered
    With leaves of brown.
    The nests above, long abandoned.

    The wind sounds hollow, haunting,
    And pushes past me
    Looking to stir up trouble.

    Instead, the trees greet it playfully
    Slender, twisted trunks
    Swaying gently back and forth.

    Graceful boughs grasp at the sky
    Others lean backward as if
    Being dipped in a graceful tango.

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    The Lost Art of Personal Communication

    Observation #3 - fasting from Facebook may not be hard, but I'm surprised and saddened to find it makes for a lonelier existence. 

    On January 31st, I posted that I would be signing off Facebook with the exception of the occasional blog post, for the next 29 days.  I wished a happy birthday to all those celebrating in February since I wouldn't be able to do that on the actual day - I confess I have no idea when most of my friend's birthdays are without the aid of Facebook - and I also mentioned my fast from sweets and my determination to check email much less frequently.

    Perhaps there was a misunderstanding.  I'm wondering if friends thought I was removing myself from all contact, because calls, emails, and even texts have been very few and far between.  Maybe some didn't see my post and continue to write to me on the site thinking I'm ignoring them.  Or maybe, just maybe, when I was constantly on Facebook, I didn't realize that those other types of communication had already dwindled off.

    Anyone remember the good 'ol days of writing letters?  Or at the very least, sending a paper card through the US mail other than during the holidays?  How about using your phone to talk on instead of as a gaming device, alarm clock, web browser or whatever apps are capable of doing these days.  Even emails have given way to texting, Facebook messaging and Tweets.  Why is that?  Our interactions have become shorter and shorter.  Facebook statuses can't exceed 420 characters, a standard text message can't exceed 160 characters, and Tweets are 140 characters or less.  

    I recently found a card my mother sent me.  She died from breast cancer that spread to her lungs and eventually her brain, more than 25 years ago.  To see her handwriting, and read the words of encouragement and pride that were in that card brought tears to my eyes.  There was a connection there warmer and more personal than any email she might have sent had it been around 25 years ago.  It was a piece of her. 

    Last week, a sweet, thoughtful friend sent me a kids' valentine card in the mail.  It brought a smile to my face after a tough day.  It only took her a minute I'm sure to sign it, put a stamp on it and stick it in the mail...but those few seconds made my day. 

    A co-worker has been working from home for some time after suffering from some health issues that make it difficult to come into the office.  Every week or so, I give her a call.  We chat about her health, what's going on in the office, what's not going on in our 'love lives' or the weather.  We're not solving global warming or world hunger, just making a human connection - real voices that communicate concern, share laughter, offer encouragement.  Before we hang up, she always says 'I love you my friend, you're the only one who calls anymore.'  Guess she's out of sight, out of mind for most.  It breaks my heart.

    Last night, I went to church for a brief meeting.  One of the women there was a friend I haven't talked to in some time.  We chatted in the parking lot so long, I suggested we go to grab something at a local diner.  We talked until midnight.  She's been going through a lot of tough times - things that you don't post on social media, but things that need to be shared to have the prayer support of friends.  Sometimes, you just have to sit down face to face.

    As I've been experiencing the loneliness of my Facebook fast I realize several things.  First, I unplugged, but I'm waiting for people to reach out to me.  I need to do some reaching out of my own.  Second, now that I'm aware how much of my socialization is coming from Facebook, I see how impersonal many of my interactions have become.  Third, there's no reason that the absence of a web site from my online vocabulary should cause me to be lonely.  I'm going to dig out my writing paper, encouragement cards, and a few pens.  At least once a week, I can invest 44 cents in a friendship.  Better yet, I can certainly carve out an hour here and there in my busy schedule to sit down with a dollar cup of coffee and have a conversation...live and in person. 

    I'm excited at the prospect of resurrecting the lost art of personal communication, and I hope it's something that I will be able to make part of my regular routine.  I'm sure if I PLAY Words With Friends a little less so that I can HAVE words with friends a little more, my life will be the richer for it.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    The Substitution Principle

    A few days ago I said I'd be posting an observation a day that I've gleaned from my fast.  Yes, well, best laid plans and all that I'm afraid.  I've had plenty of observations, just haven't had the motivation to sit down and write them out.  Perhaps it's because they show me for who I really am and that's often not very pretty.  Regardless, I'm back on track with one today.

    Observation #2 is the substitution principle...when something is removed to create a void, something else comes along to fill it up.  "Duh" you say.  Maybe so, but this is my blog, so work with me here.

    I was married for 31 years before the divorce became final a little over a year ago.  Unfortunately, the marriage was never a good one.  A union for all the wrong reasons, there were many cracks in the foundation.  Over the years, those cracks became gaping holes.  The void created by my husband's lack of love and attention was filled with shopping and food.  Things that gave momentary pleasure and seemingly filled the empty spaces in my life, but they were empty too and brought unpleasant consequences with them.  The hollowness in my soul created when his harsh words tore down my dignity and self worth was filled with self doubt and self loathing as the lies took root and grew to fill the darkness - a substitution even more insidious and dangerous to my well-being.

    But that was then and this is now.  While it shaped who I was for a very long time, I'm learning through God's grace and patience, that He is the only thing that can truly fill the empty spaces.  I wish I could say "lesson learned" and check it off my list, but I am human and often make the same or similar mistakes many times over in the process.  Trying to purge some of the substitutions is one of the reasons I'm on this 29 day fast.  Idols of various kinds have sprung up in my life like dandelions.  A single, innocuous little yellow flower one monent, the next  it seems to have infiltrated the entire lawn.  Initially, I didn't think of the things I'm fasting from as substitutions for God, but in one way or another, they are.  I look to those other people or things for fulfillment, comfort, worth, satisfaction and a host of others emotions

    Sometimes substitutions aren't intrinsically bad, but even the good ones fill the gap in the wrong way.  For example, I mentioned that my divorce was a little over a year ago, however, my husband walked out four years prior.  During that long separation, my grown daughter got her own place in another state.  Then my son began driving and, with his new found freedom, was rarely home.  Suddenly, my house was a very quiet, empty place.  I threw myself into work and church.  If I wasn't home, if I wasn't sitting still, maybe I wouldn't have to be alone with my thoughts.  Work and community outreach became the substitution for family.  Neither of those things were bad in and of themselves - in fact, if you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I have found a real purpose and calling in leading the outreach ministry at my church.  Still, for a long time, there was no balance. 

    I started thinking about the substitution principle a few days ago when a friend said in an email, "I bet you're so productive now that you're not on Facebook!".  I sat at my computer desk and looked around.  A suitcase remained unpacked from more than a week before.  Dust covering the furniture could be written on.  Clothes were folded on the couch but not yet put away.  A pile of ironing sat in a basket in the corner.  Productive?  Not quite hardly.  My mind began to run through all the things I'd done over the past week or so that had kept me from getting things done.  Nothing.  I hadn't gathered paperwork for taxes, hadn't written my community outreach newsletter, hadn't done much housework, hadn't even read many pages in the books I had set aside for this time.  What had filled all those hours I was saving by not being on Facebook?  Television. 

    Although I'm not one to watch much TV, I was suddenly in front of it for hours at a time.  Tired, unmotivated, and totally vegged out.  Generally if I take the time to watch a program, I'm multi-tasking - going through mail, clipping coupons, ironing, etc.   But not the past two weeks.  You know the principle - a body in motion tends to stay in motion, but a body at rest tends to stay at rest.  All I had done was swapped a computer screen for a TV screen and it was worse because instead of at least interacting with someone on the other side, I was being fed a steady stream of mind-numbing, unimportant, junk.  One idol swapped for another.

    At least I'm beginning to see the time-wasters for what they are.  But what will I do about it?  I intend not to turn on the TV in the first place when I get home.  I can always fill the silence with talking to God.  Never before have I had so much time to pray.  And frankly, I'm going through quite a time of testing on a number of fronts, so never before have I had so much to pray about.  I can also curl up with a Good Book.  It's not a bad thing to pull a novel off the shelf, so long as I've spent some time reading my Bible - don't want to substitute one for the other after all.

    One last thought about the substitution principle.  There is good substitution when God's substitution principle is applied.  It's the one in which Jesus died on the cross, taking on my sin, my mistakes, my shame, all my junk that had created a huge void between God and I, and filled it with Himself.  It was the ultimate substitution and the only one I want to fill the empty spaces of my heart, mind and soul.  A void filled with Jesus is one that is filled with peace, love, grace, mercy, strength, and all things good.  John 10:10 says "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  Now that's the kind of substitution I can live with...how about you?

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    The Chocolate Bunny Idol

    Now that I've been on this 'fast' a full 10 days...a third of the way...I've made some observations.  There's not enough time for me to list - or you to read - all of them in one sitting, so I'll share one a day.  I give them to you in no particular order except to say that some don't seem to have any deep spiritual meaning on the surface, but still, I'm discovering strengths and uncovering weaknesses, so at least for me, it's all valid intel.

    Observation number one:  I miss chocolate.  Period.  I don't believe we've ever been separated this long since...well, since we were first introduced - most likely in my toddler days..  And THAT was a very long time ago.

    Chocolate and I, we have this love-hate relationship.  I love it, and it hates to see me smooth-skinned and thin.  Seriously though, stepping away from sweets has been the second most difficult thing I've done the past week and a half.  Wow...put in those terms it hardly sounds like the eternity I feel it's been!

    On the other hand, while it is obviously a weakness of mine, I found that I have incredible strength.  As someone who loves to bake, chocolate is all over my kitchen.  In fact, in the past 10 days I have baked one of my 'famous' homemade chocolate cakes with homemade chocolate icing for someone's birthday, and a batch of sugar cookies garnished with caramel, white and dark chocolate and sea salt for another friend.
    From those things I've taken not one taste.  Not a lick of the spoon.  "Don't torture yourself" I hear some saying..."purge your house of it".  I could do that, but life is wrought with temptations - big and small - and we cannot live our days in avoidance.  I need to be able to stare it in the eye and say, "God is in control of my life, not my desires".  If something isn't good for me, I need to learn to walk away.

    Don't get me wrong...in 20 more days, I may in fact have a piece of chocolate.  But it won't be the over indulgence it might once have been.  For starters, I suffered through a 3 day headache as I literally withdrew from sweets.  That's a sobering situation.  Nothing should have such a hold on me that I have to have physical pain from it...that's an addiction.

    I started this journey to remove some idols I saw being set up in my life.  Anything that reaches addiction status is an idol for sure.  Reminds me a little of that chocolate idol in Veggie Tales "Rack, Shack & Benny".  If you're not familiar with this classic, it's based on Daniel 3 - a portion of scripture that God has put "in my way" at every turn for a number of months now.  The story (short version) is about three of the Hebrew men taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar.  They were given new names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  The king created a 90 foot high image of gold that all were to worship, but these three men refused.  Word got back to the king and he summoned and questioned them.  They stand firm with these words from Daniel 3:16 - 18 "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  Upon hearing those words, the king orders them to be thrown into a furnace which he has heated 7 times hotter than usual.  The men are tossed into the furnace - the heat so strong it kills those who throw them in - but 4 men are seen walking around in the fire unconsumed.  The king shouted to them to come out and is so impacted by how they have been protected, he warns everyone that if they say anything against the God of these men, that person will be killed.  

    So I do miss chocolate, but I do not "love the bunny" enough to keep it an idol in my life.  I am willing to surrender that desire for one so much more important and life-giving...desiring after God.  Psalm 103:2 & 5 "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    True Rest

    There's the faintest light behind the shades pulled down over my bedroom windows.  Dawn.  I open an eye and see the time.  The alarm won't go off for another hour, but now that sleep has been disturbed, I can't coax it to return.  I roll over and hug my pillow, desperate to get a few more moments of rest, but a million things begin to invade my mind.  This is not how I want to start my day.  Lord, quiet my thoughts.  I begin to pray.  Instead of complaining about sleep lost, I try to be thankful that I have awakened to another day, safe in my clean bed and warm house.  I praise God for my senses that allowed me to view the light, hear the faint ticking of the clock, smell the wood burning in the fireplace of a neighbor's home, feel the softness of my cat's fur as she rubs her head under my chin, hoping to rouse me so I'll feed her.  What else am I thankful for?  I think about heading downstairs to heat the water for a cup of tea.  I'll pull a bowl out of the cabinet and fill it with Cherrios, slice a banana over it, and add some milk.  Thank you Lord that I have a kitchen stocked with my choice of cereal, fresh fruit and milk...that I can turn on a tap to fill my kettle for tea.  How many of my neighbors have enough food on their table?  How many in this world have the luxury of walking into a store with dozens upon dozens of options just for their cereal bowl?  Or a dozen choices of milk?  How many will have to walk miles to a well for water instead of  descending down a flight of stairs?  And if I choose not to drink it from the tap, I can just open up a bottle because I've chosen to pay for what is essentially free!  How silly is that?

    My mind is no longer on sleep.  I begin to think of friends who are going through difficult times.  With their kids.  Their spouses.  Their jobs.  Their lack of jobs.  Their health.  So many to pray for, how can I fit them all in?

    Now I'm up, making that breakfast I thought about.  I by-pass the computer without hesitation and put my mug and bowl on a tray table as I curl up on the couch with my devotional and Bible.  "Come to Me and rest.  I am all about you, to bless and restore. Breathe Me in with each breath."  Today's devotional is based on Matthew 11:28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

    I thought rest would come with sleep, but true rest is here.  In His Word.  At His feet.  Laying my burdens down before the day even begins.  Being in His presence shows me clearly how I am blessed.  Beginning my day with thanksgiving has chased away the doubts.  He has been faithful to provide.  He has a track record that is perfect.  He will be faithful going forward.  Asking Him to meet the needs of others has taken my mind off of me.  THIS is how I want my day to begin.  Fully focused on Him.  I read on in my devotional "Lift up empty hands of faith to receive My precious Presence.  Light, Life, Joy, and Peace flow freely through this gift.  When your focus turns away from Me, you grasp for other things.  You drop the glowing gift of My Presence as you reach for lifeless ashes.  Return to Me; regain My Presence."  Amen

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    29 Days

    A week or so ago, I opened my Jesus Calling devotional and read "Worship Me only.  Whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god...Break free from this bondage by affirming your trust in Me and refreshing yourself in My Presence...I rejoice when your mind turns toward Me.  Guard your thoughts diligently; good thought-choices will keep you close to Me."  I was convicted because I know that there are certain things and people in my life that approach idol status.  I don't worship them in the traditional sense, but my mind and time are too often occupied by them.  I've often thought that if I meditated on God's word with the same attention to detail that I put into writing or reading emails or Facebook statuses, I would be in a much better place.

    The following Sunday, my pastor spoke on something that brought the "idol" thought back to the surface.  He told us about a study in which participants were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements "Life is fair" and "many of my friends have a better life than me".  The participants then described their Facebook activity.  After allowing for certain variables, the study found "the more hours people spent on Facebook, the stronger was their agreement that others were happier".  

    It was the age-old "grass is greener" issue ramped up by technology.  Maybe you don't compare homes, cars or vacation destinations, but you've felt the sting of not being invited to the 'event' everyone's talking about, or no one ever acknowledges your posts or comments, leaving you feeling ostracized and alone.  Sometimes Facebook is like high school all over again.  For me, the problem stems from that feeling of worth I sometimes get when a lot of people "like" a witty status or funny comment I've posted.
    I'm like Sally Field accepting the Oscar "You like me...right now, you like me!"  It's not wrong to be encouraged, but if my self worth begins to come from a thumbs up on Facebook instead of from the God who created me and loves me whether or not I'm popular with my friends today...well then, I'm setting up an idol in my life.

    Add to all these musings, the feeling that I was losing control over a particular issue.  I have struggled with my weight for years, winning small skirmishes, but never the war.  Slowly, eventually, it creeps back on.  More than a year ago, I started losing again, working out, feeling a little better about myself when a series of things happened.  Injuries, family issues, the holidays - there were many excuses for falling out of my good habits and back into old patterns.  But the bottom line was, instead of turning to God to fill a void, heal a hurt, calm my nerves, I turned to food when I wasn't filling my time with idle game play and chit chat on the social network.

    Then a week ago I had a very clear, very pressing thought.  I needed to fast.  I needed to spend an elongated time separating myself from things that were beginning to rob me of time spent with God, as well as robbing me of my health and well-being.

    I wrote a Facebook status telling friends it was my intent to stay off the site for the month of February with the exception of a few brief moments to post any blogs I might be moved to write.  It was immediately met with more than a dozen comments - from good luck, to I should join you, to you'll never make it - my sister's sweet words of encouragement!

    I also posted my intent to check personal email just once a day.  I think that declaration may have been over zealous.  Given the amount of communication I have regarding work, ministry, etc., 2 - 3 times a day is more realistic, and I have to admit, still a huge reduction in the number of times I normally check it.

    Lastly, I've purposed to use this fast to go God about feeling out of control with my eating.  Sweets are off the table.  For a baker like me, this maybe the hardest thing to give up. 

    So, that's the thought process behind the journey I've put myself on for 29 days - and after just 5 days, I've already learned a lot about myself.

    I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it's been to stay away from Facebook.  Those who really needed to contact me have texted, emailed or called.  When I'm tempted to visit the site, I pray for someone instead.  However, I've failed miserably with regard to email - logging on 6-8 times a day.   When I shared my struggle in this area with my pastor, he gave me practical advice.  "Think of it as regular mail...you don't run out to your mailbox every hour - you check it once it day."  So simple, and yet, I haven't given up control just yet.

    What I have found is that temptation is greatest when I have nothing to do.  But "nothing to do" is really not true.  I'm in the middle of half a dozen books I need - and want - to finish.  There is a newsletter I need to write, a book I'm working on, but most of all, a God who's waiting on me to take the time to converse with Him.  That's really what this fast is all about after all.  Surrendering control and giving up idols so that I can concentrate on what's really important in this life.  I picked the perfect month too.  No, not because it's the shortest, although hey, it IS a leap year - but because my devotional seems to speak to it on every page.  The theme for the month is Psalm 105:4 "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always."  And just today, the devotional was based on Romans 8:6 and Psalm 46: 1-2...it said "Seek My Face, and you will find not only My Presence, but also My Peace.  To receive My Peace, you must change your grasping, controlling stance to one of openness and trust.  The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My Hand."

    I was shocked to realize how often I look to grab something fast and easy to eat at home.  Donuts, brownies, even a cookie had become a 'quick fix' because I wasn't willing to wait for something of substance.  It may sound silly, but that's been a big "a ha" for me because I can easily make the connection with how I've been living lately - getting a quick technology fix instead of sitting down with my Bible to dig into something of substance.  Facebook status versus devotional...instant message versus time in prayer.  Like I quoted my friend Renata saying recently "we make time for the things we want to do and make excuses for everything else."
    So do you have any idols taking up residence in your life?  As you can see from the ones I've pulled off my shelves and out of my closets, they don't all look like golden calves.  Power, money, pride, self image, technology, maybe even something seemingly good like exercise - "whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god."  It's my prayer that this 29 day journey will lead to new behaviors, restore some old healthy ones, and will rid me of excuses for not digging deeper with the One who said "you shall have no other gods before Me."  I'll let you know what I continue to learn along the way...and just maybe you'll be encouraged to join me.

    *photo credit - http://blog.ourchurch.com/2010/01/26/the-10-commandments-of-social-networking/