The arrogance of worry

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I worry. A lot. I’m pretty sure I inherited the gene from my grandmother. I would have preferred inheriting her ability to make Kaldormer or spritz cookies. I’m really good at consuming them, though, so that should count for something.

The other day, I was listening to the Fernando Ortega song, “Let the Words of My Mouth“. A BEAUTIFUL tribute to verses in Psalm 19 and Philippians 4, it settles across my heart like the first morning rain of summer.

Fernando croons the following:

“Whatever is true
Whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely
Whatever is worthy
Think on these things
Think on these things”

The truth is, I DON’T think on those things. I think about unpaid medical bills, termite damage and needing new windows, the economy, social unrest, government, etc. As I was listening to the song, I realized just how arrogant those thoughts are. As if God isn’t big enough to handle everything. As if I am.

This morning, God fed me with these verses:

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5: 6-7 (NASB)

God WANTS me to cast my worry-gene anxieties on Him. Why? Because He cares for me. He knows what happens to me when I worry (I get sick, which leads to health problems, which lead to doctors and tests, which means I can’t work, which means unpaid medical bills…you get the picture). And when I worry, I can’t be a vessel for Him. I’m too filled up with me so there’s no room for Him.

My life becomes an inward focus that leads to an anxiety-filled outward reflection rather than an upward focus leading to a love-soaked Christ reflection. I sing the arrogance of worry’s mantra of, “Me, me, me”.

The question that kept rolling around me thoughts was: How can He do a good work in me and through me if I’m trying to do all the work myself? Or, even worse, If I’m so sick with worry that I can’t even work!

I need to trust Him to handle, well, all of it. Because He can. Because He cares.  Because God is bigger than ANY worry, especially mine.

I embrace tomorrow with my worry mantra behind me. A new song fills my heart:

As the dawning sun yellows the land,
I will place all my worry in Your mighty hand;

Make me Your vessel, Lord, humble and true,
Decrease me and increase You.
I pray thou would turn the song of me
Into a hymn of praise for Thee.

The Good Shepherd

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I love owls. All kinds from feathered to figurines. My house is a veritable parliament of owls, of the Harry Potter owlery variety (minus the owl droppings, of course). My hubby has placed a strict owl ban on our home. In his best Severus Snape voice, he announced, boldly, I might add, “No owl of any kind shall enter this domicile by order of the Husbands Against Owl Decor. If a new owl breaks through the restricted barrier then it shall suffer my wrath.” He crossed his arms, threw back his head and exhaled his hearty, “Mwahahahaha.”

I’ve been good about honoring the ban. Sort of. My office at work has, cough cough, a few owl things. But, shhhh, don’t tell my hubby.

I blame my love for owls on my mom. She, too, had an affection for the wide-eyed creatures. Her owls, though, screeched 1970s Home Interiors. Think macrame and metal in the not-so-lovely shades of burnt orange and split-pea-soup green.

I blame another owl addiction on my mom. We are both night owls. We love the night life. Not so much to boogie. But to read and think. My mind is most alive when the rest of the world slumbers peacefully. Lately, however, I’ve lost my ability to stay up late. I’ve been utterly exhausted. I don’t know if it has to do with the sickness I’ve been battling for two months, the weather, stress, or a host of other things. But last night, Lady Di and I discussed the importance of rest and what it can do for our health—physical, mental, and spiritual. We talked about how Jesus is our Shepherd and how He is corralling us into His pen early every night so He can watch over us and take care of us.

As I crawled into bed at 8:00 last night (yes, 8:00…don’t judge!), God planted the word “shepherd” deep inside my heart. Like a metronome, it penetrated the depths of my sleep, ticking off God’s perfect beat to His most perfect Word. My dreams carried me over fields and into flocks and promised me rest. Sweet, God-given, much-needed rest.

Until, of course, my cat with excruciatingly painful halitosis chose to lick my nose. The bad breath is her thorn. She would be too perfect otherwise.

As I crawled out of bed, God spoke Psalm 23 to me. One verse at a time. He paused after each thought and waited. He waited for me to respond. So I did. We conversed Psalm 23. And it was precious and eye-opening and beautiful.

I’d like to share with you a portion of our conversation.

Psalm 23 (NIV)

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd

You are my Shepherd, Lord. That means I am part of Your flock, not the world’s flock. Oh how easy it is to see the other flock and yearn for its seeming “betterness”. But the world doesn’t care about me. Not like You do. You take care of me and watch over me.  I know You are my Shepherd, because I hear Your voice because I know Your voice because I know You. Thank You, Father, for choosing me to be Your sheep.

I lack nothing.

That’s a sobering thought, Lord. Especially in light of these past couple of months. They have been brutal. The waiting, specifically. But see, I’ve been waiting for answers from doctors and not from You. When I look back on all the pain and sleepless nights, You were there, pulling me through, guiding me to trust You, showing me that I truly lack nothing. You provide for ALL my needs. Needs that are as small as a smile from a stranger on a tough day to a big one like the doctor saying, “It’s not cancer.”I have a home, a loving husband (even if he is anti-owl), a generous family, a good job, food in my belly, clothes on my back, and medicine that is slowly healing my physical pain. And of course Jesus. I have Jesus. Jesus is all I need.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,

Father, that’s what you’ve been doing these past few nights, huh? You’ve been forcing me to rest in the green, comforting pastures of my home. Because you know my mind never quits and that I try to fix who and what can’t be fixed. You know I am always thinking of what I should have done, should have said, what needs to be done, what I can’t do or don’t want to do. Or won’t do. You know the innermost workings of my heart and mind and that I ache to spend time in Your Word even though sometimes the most I can do is change into my pajamas and sit in my chair. You know the source of my pain even though the doctors don’t. Because You knit me together. You want me to rest so You can be You and I can be me.

he leads me beside quiet waters,

You lead, Lord. I follow. It really is that simple. Yet, I find it so difficult sometimes. When You called Your apostles, You gave them three words: “Come. Follow me.” And they did. They dropped everything and trusted You to lead them. And they encountered so many storms. Some literal, some metaphorical. But when they kept their eyes on You and trusted You, You quieted the storm and made the the waters quiet. You’ve been leading me through a storm lately, Lord. And when I stopped clinging to the boat and focused on You, you quieted the waters. And You know how I love the quiet.

    he refreshes my soul.

Oh Father, how you have refreshed my soul! I was feeling world-weary, weak-willed, and Word-wanting. You held Your staff, called my name, and drew me back into Your shelter. You cared for my wounds, healed me with Your Word, and lulled me to into heavy sleep with the warmth of Your embrace.

Thank You, my Father, for being my Shepherd. My Good Shepherd. Thank You for knowing me better than I know myself. For knowing when I need rest and then loving me enough to give it to me.

Of destinations and detours

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I’ve never been much of a planner. I tend to be a wait-till-the-last-minute person. Some might call it procrastination. I simply call it preference. I don’t like to get bogged down in too many details. To-do lists overwhelm me. I focus so much on everything that needs to get done that I can’t enjoy completing each individual task. I understand the need for plans and to-do lists. And God put plenty of people on this earth who are not only exceptional at planning but who receive immense pleasure from checking off or crossing out items on their lists.

My sister is a planner. And she’s a really good one. Have a momentous occasion coming up? She’s your gal. Everything from the invitations to the table decor to the entertainment will be thematically linked, of the highest quality, and have hours of thought behind its execution. Party planner extraordinaire. It’s her new middle name.

Me? Well, let’s just say, “Oh is that tomorrow?” is my middle name. Prime example: my hubby recently celebrated his 50th birthday. Pretty big deal, right? I threw together a swell shindig at Incredible Pizza complete with one-week-notice phone invites to two friends and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. My hubby still enjoyed the “party”. Personally I think it was the over-the-hill ensemble I made him wear. Either that or the all-he-could-eat pizza buffet.

I am also the person who, unlike everyone else in my family, doesn’t send out Christmas cards. Not because I don’t want to or don’t have time. I could make the time. I just forget. My “forgetfulness” over the years is evidenced in the four Christmas cards I get from family every year as opposed to the thirty or forty my sister gets. She remembers to send hers. Always.

This time of year, it’s easy to see the chasm separating the planners from the non-planners. Planners had their Christmas decorations up the day after Thanksgiving and several gleaming gifts under the tree. Us non-planners still have presents to purchase and bins of decorations nestled in the attic.

I accept my preference. Others may not, but I do. It’s who I am.

I’ve been watching people plan for upcoming trips to various locations. I’ve seen people book hotels, purchase plane tickets, reserve rental cars, fill carts with travel-size HBAs. Checking to-do lists, scratching off completed items.

Me? I don’t travel much. Meniere’s Disease makes traveling not so fun. But that’s OK. I’ve accepted that this is who I am.

And believe it or not, I am planning for a destination. I RSVP’d “Yes” several years ago. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

All our plans (or non-plans), all our destinations are but detours on the road to our final destination. The one where we get to meet our Father who so lovingly adopted us into His family.

God is a Master Planner, so He sent out His invitations when He created man. He even sent His Son to personally invite everyone.

My hope is for more people to RSVP “Yes” to Him, “Yes” to the only destination that matters, “Yes” to His plan, His will, His Word. It is the best “Yes” a person can make.

The date on His invitation is drawing near. Oh how I pray that few miss it.

Old and new

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The stillness of a fresh, new morning as it peels back the layers of night’s cover welcomes me into a comforting embrace of promise for the day. I fondly reflect on the memory of yesterday, a warm imprint on the pillow of my mind. But I can’t dwell there. I can’t curl up with yesterday and remain, stagnant, frozen, forever locked in a motionless existence. So I shuffle off the sleep of yesterday and welcome the wakefulness of today. The newness of now.

This season’s front-page “cans” and “wills” hang in the closet of hope, laundered and pressed, beckoning me to wear them with confidence.

I can do anything. I can be anything.

I try on the outfit, sucking in all my bloated doubt, begging it to fit. I search for my haphazard companion, Courage, and she is late. As usual. So I approach the mirror without her. Society’s preference for emaciated reflections goads me into removing the too-small apparel and relegating it to the back of the closet with last season’s must-haves. My closet bursts at it seams with unused must-haves. And then God’s assurance of Philippians 4:13 flashes through my head. His words drown out the hollow proclamations of the morally thin. “Listen to me, Heather. Put your trust in me, my child. See my face in your ensemble of can.”

I wrap His voice around me as I slip into His timeless cloak of wills.

I will do better today than I did yesterday. I will listen to my Father’s voice.

I approach the mirror again. And smile. Because He is Who I see.

His will becomes my will.

Will is rooted in strength. That same strength that is part of God’s whole-being commandment to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Perhaps that’s why the word is willpower.  Because it requires the strength of God to do His will. It’s hard to love. Jesus had to command us to love others, because He knew how unlovable so many “others” can be.

Despite the difficulty in whole-being love (something we CAN do with the Holy Spirit!), there’s something truly and magnificently beautiful about the simplicity of the new covenant.

The old covenant has been on my mind lately. Especially the fact that God carved His commandments in stone. I thought about all the rules we have today. Our rules are written, rewritten, deleted, and amended with the ease of a keystroke or the seeming apathy of a “Yea/nay” vote among clock-obsessed officials. And we follow the rules. Mostly. We don’t really give them much thought or connect to them on a personal level. We simply do them by rote.

We follow paper-thin rules, teetering on the edge of Wite-Out extinction (depending on the mood of the rule writer), more readily, more easily than God’s people followed His stone-carved eternal commandments.

I believe that’s why He sent us Jesus. He engraved the new covenant on our hearts, so we would be whole-being connected to Him, His commandments, His will.

“I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4:13)

I can, because He did.

Shame on you

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I love bags. Messenger bags. Tote bags. Book bags. All colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. I carry different bags for different things. My “Wednesday” bag houses Bible study materials for my small group.  My “Saturday” bag is devoted to those seven-hour jam sessions with the girls at the coffee shop. My “study” bag carries personal Bible study goodies. My “just in case” bag stores random things and possibilities.

There’s another bag, though, that most of us carry that we wish we didn’t. It’s our “past” bag. You know the one. It’s tattered, broken, covered in embarrassing destination stickers, and bursting at the seams with sin and regret. It’s the bag we shove under the bed or hide in the corner of our living room under a potted plant, hoping nobody will notice. It doesn’t fit in the overhead bin (not much does!) in airplanes, so we have to carry it. And after awhile, that burdensome bag can be quite heavy.

I was thinking about that bag the other day when I was in a store and overheard a mother tell her daughter, “Shame on you.” I don’t know what the daughter did, but I saw her reaction and recognized its paralyzing effect. Allow me to share a story from my past.

***

My second-grade principal towered over me, onyx hair glued to her scalp, arms crossed chest high— their first favorite position— and heaved a gusty sigh. She closed her eyes, pursed her wafer-thin lips and shook her head in disapproval. “You better explain yourself, missy.” She called all the girls “missy” and the boys “mister”.

Tears dripped from my eyes and my chest heaved in distorted rhythms. “I…I…I…”

“Yes?” She moved her hands to her hips—their second favorite position—and took two steps closer to my trembling body. Heat emanated from her, palpably and ferociously.

“I…”, sniff, breathe, sniff, “lied…”

“I know you lied. I caught you, missy, because you are a terrible liar.” She grinned and leaned back. I half expected her to laugh.

“Would you rather I was good at lying?” I was in the second grade. Sarcasm wasn’t in my grasp.

“Don’t you dare get smart with me, young lady.”

Uh-oh. Not young lady. Young lady meant I was in serious trouble.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was being smart?” I paused, twisted my right doggy ear around my index finger and contemplated, to the best of my second-grade brain’s ability, her negative use of the word “smart”. Smart was a compliment in my home and deserved a hug. Not crossed arms and a furrowed brow.

“Explain yourself. Now.” Her toe tapped in rhythm with my increasing anxiety.

I let it out. All of it. I told her how I had forged my friend’s name on the student council ballot but thought it would be OK since he told me he was voting for me. It was Texas. A man’s word is his bond. It wasn’t my fault he got sick the day of the election.

[Sidebar: The boy’s last name was Townsend. My seven-year-old spelling skills didn’t extend to last names, so I had actually written the name “Townsin“. Phonetically correct. Spiritually, too.]

“I’m withdrawing you from the race and putting this in your permanent record. You will never run for student office again.” She scribbled some notes on her acrylic clipboard. “Ten swats in my office after school plus one month of cleaning duties.” She pivoted on her clunky heels and stepped away from me. Two paces into her departure she stopped and looked back at me over her shoulder-pad. “Shame on YOU, Heather. Shame on you.”

***
The pain of that memory is as real for me today as it was so long ago. I got over the blistered backside and the nausea from cleaning toilets and chalkboards. I even ran for student council president in 6th grade and won. Without lying.

The biggest sting for me was the jagged knife across my emotional skin of the word “shame”. That word and all its accoutrements filled up my “past” bag. I lugged it through school and college and even included in my marriage dowry. I suffered under its weight, believing I had to carry it, had to bear the burden of all those past sins. Until I realized that’s exactly what Satan wants for my life. He doesn’t want me to let go of that baggage, because it keeps me buried under a shroud of lies and darkness, keeps me from seeing the brilliance of God’s illuminating Truth.

I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Hebrews 8:12

He forgives AND he forgets. Forever.

God held up His mirror and showed me shoulders hunched under the weight of sin. The mirror reflected my shame. Not Him: So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Remove the veil, my friends. See yourselves as God sees you. Stand up straight, because we don’t need to slouch anymore: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Christ’s yoke is my everyday, anywhere and everywhere bag. It stores my salvation. And honestly, it’s the only bag I need.

It began at a tree

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IMG_1719I often wonder what pre-sin freedom felt like. The complete and total peace of love, community with God, and the joy of simply being. The not worrying about waking up with bed hair or bad breath or crusty eyes because self-consciousness didn’t exist. Swaying to the twisting, twirling dance of truth. Knowing and accepting and saying, “It’s enough. You, God, are enough.”

Did Eve wake up that morning—you know the one where it began—fully rested and meander, naked and unashamed, through Eden’s canopy-lined pathways to discover Adam had prepared a breakfast feast? Did she laugh as Adam juggled figs? Did she put a daisy behind her ear and hum a God-kissed melody? Did she bask in the warmth of the young sun? Were the colors Crayola bright and the sounds Dolby clear?

I wonder how often she passed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Was it shrouded in darkness? Did she even notice it? Or did she so completely and totally trust God that the tree meant nothing and just living with Him, for Him meant everything?

As she pushed her way through the garden of life-giving branches and ran her fingers through their vibrant leaves, did she see the slithering serpent or hear him? Did he frighten her or was she merely curious about him? As he spoke to her, planting sinister seeds of doubt, did he grin?

Did the sin-seed sprout inside her, causing her to see the tree in the middle of the garden differently? Or did her lack of faith and trust transform the way she saw the tree?

Her once harmonious, stable life was thrown off kilter by an inharmonious tree.

Genesis 3 tells us that, to Eve, the tree’s fruit looked delicious. Fruit she had seen every day with no desire to taste. Because God was enough.

But the wild and shrewd serpent whispered poison into her ears and Eve suddenly had a craving for the fruit’s wisdom.

Sin disguised as delicious, wisdom-giving fruit.

Sin began in the middle of a garden. Sin began at a tree.

The tree that meant nothing changed everything.

Years later, God sent us a Savior, One who survived the serpent’s venomous promises and Whose eyes remained focused on a tree. A tree in the shape of a cross. A tree where sin—Eve’s, Adam’s, yours, mine—would be pierced, crushed, beaten, and whipped into Jesus. A tree where He, carrying the full weight of our transgressions, would be hanged, suffer and die. For sin. All sin. Sin that began at a tree.

The reconciliation had to happen where it all began.

You look just like Him

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My nephew is precious. Every day, he grows, morphs. Sometimes several days will lapse before I see him again, and I am amazed at how much he has changed. Whether it’s a mannerism or a look or even his height.

Could he be any cuter?

Could he be any cuter?

My sister and I are planning his first birthday party. Truthfully, the party is a celebration of survival. The adoption journey has been a tough one for the whole family, but especially for my sister and brother-in-law. You’d never know it, though, by looking into their eyes. They have nothing but love and tenderness for their son. He is a joy and has given them joy.

Any time people see him, they can’t help but smile.

How could you NOT smile when seeing such a beautiful baby?

How could you NOT smile when seeing such a beautiful baby?

People also say how much he looks like my brother-in-law. And he does. Except for the nose. He has my sister’s nose.

I started thinking about how, as Christians, we are adopted, too. Into God’s family.

  • God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:5
  • See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
  • So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17

He chose us. He sacrificed for us. And he looks in our eyes and pours out His love, mercy, tenderness, and grace upon us.

My hope is that when people see me in public, they smile and tell me how much I look like my Father. Actually, I hope they don’t see me. I hope they see Him in me. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).