Compassion that Transforms

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”).   At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  (Mark 7:31-37)

Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?

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Deaf Chinese girl

It would be tough.   For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.

But there are other ways of feeling locked away.  I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16.  Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world.  She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her.  She isolated herself and did everything alone.

The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw.  And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.

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I’m speaking from experience.  As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had.  I hide behind them in fear.  I’m scared to step out and engage.

It’s interesting.  The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man.  The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan.  I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing.  Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power.   No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.

That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us.  Yet it’s hard to believe in.

In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college.  But she can’t bring herself to open them.  Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one.  She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them.  Because that’s what fathers do.”

Doesn’t this remind of of God?  He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.

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The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us?  Can we engage more fully?  I want to.  But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.

Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He touched his tongue.  That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell us to get better.  He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.

As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough.  I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better.  I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.

My problem is guilt and shame.

I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle.  (Warning:  this book contains rough language.)

It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame.  “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.  In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”

So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.

We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame.  We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.

Here are verses that are penetrating my walls.  I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Luke 6:36b
  • While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
  • He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
  • Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Cor 13:4,7
  • His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.  Lam. 3:22b-23a
  • As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  Ps 103:13-14

In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement.  Why were they so amazed?  Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed?  This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them.  A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation.  When you think about it, it IS astounding.

It gives me faith as I work on my character.  I can change, with Jesus’ help.  He believes in me.  His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart.  He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.

Here is one gift I’ve been given.  We now have a mature women’s discipling group!  We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.

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One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them.  We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses.  We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”

That is how God is.  He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful.  He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.”  That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.

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When You Feel Like You Can’t

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.  In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.  Mark 7:24-30

Have you ever had an “Invasion of the Flies” day?  One morning last week I woke up and heard this buzzing in the laundry room.  I pulled up the blind on the window there and saw thirty or forty flies congregating on the pane!  Bleck!  And this was in addition to other flies that had gotten in and were zipping all over the house.

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I became like a madwoman with the flyswatter.  At first, I executed calculated swats to take out invading buzzers.  But then I just started flailing the swatter in every direction.

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I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day.  But no matter how many flies I killed, when I’d sit down to do something, I’d see another one and go on the warpath again.

After awhile, I sort of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or something.  Outside it was overcast and dreary.   Inside I was wandering around for hours with a flyswatter.  I kind of got lost in this sense of defeat.

The “Invasion of the Flies” can be like life sometimes.  We want to accomplish things, but the obstacles make it seem impossible.  We get discouraged.

Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but how do we act when we feel like we CAN’T do something?  That’s what is compelling to me about the story of the woman from Tyre.  Everything pointed to her not being able to get help from Jesus.  She was a Gentile,  an outsider.  She knew Jesus wasn’t ministering to her kind.  (Of course, God’s plan was to include the Gentiles later.)  She could have felt like it was hopeless.

But instead of feeling hopeless, this woman had incredible faith!   What can we learn from her?

The power of being poor in spirit.  This woman reached for a solution that was far outside of what any of her friends would consider.  She must have been strongly driven.  She must have realized that she needed and wanted this more than anything else.  The aching of her heart would have eclipsed all other concerns.

So here’s the thing — it is only poverty of spirit that motivates us to reach out to Jesus in a radical way.

Are we able to see and admit how desperately we need Jesus?  I confess that I like to keep life civilized.  I keep my prayers civilized.  Sure, I pray for what I want, but I don’t visit that place in my heart where I am hurting and scared, where the need is screaming.  If I pray about that concern, I’ll have to revisit the scary emotions.  I’ll have to feel vulnerable.  More than that, I’ll have to open myself up to disappointment.  What if God doesn’t fix my need right away?  I’ll feel hopeless and discouraged.

But the civilized life goes further than that.  Most of the time I think, “I’ve got this.”  I do pray and ask God for help with it.  I do realize I need his help.  But I don’t think I desperately need his help.  It’s like, “I’m going to do this and that today.  Here are things I can do that should be effective.  Let me pray and ask God to be involved.  Okay.  I’ve done what I can. I’m ready to go.”

The more I’ve been meditating on this the past several days, the more I’ve realized how deceived and self reliant I’ve been, how desperately I need God in so many circumstances.  I’ve been praying more frequently, and in a more needy way.

There IS power in being poor in spirit.  It compels us to plead for the power of Jesus.

The power of believing in God’s goodness.  If I were this woman, I wouldn’t have tried to talk to Jesus because I would have doubted that he would be interested in helping me.   I certainly wouldn’t have pursued it further if he told me no. But this woman must have believed that Jesus had enough goodness in him to respond to her request.

I can use cynicism as a protection mechanism.  If I expect that people will let me down, then I can’t get hurt.  I’ve seen people who don’t care.  I’ve blown this up to expecting it from everyone.

I’m exaggerating this a bit, because I can believe the best in people.  But I see how my insecurities and protection cynicism can extend towards God.  It’s hard to believe that he will care enough about my small time concerns to exert effort to help me.

I forget that God is good.  Jesus is good.  The more we believe that, the more we will take our concerns to him with the faith that he will exert effort to help us.

The power of focusing on CAN, not CAN’T.  The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she was a Gentile.  She thought, “Well, Jesus is in town.  I have the ability go to see him.  I actually can ask for his help.”  When he turned her down, she still focused on the CAN.  She could continue to make her case.

As I get older, I still have the expectation that I can accomplish the things I did when I was younger.  But then I come face to face with a diminished energy level, mild health challenges, and bouts of moodiness.  It’s easy for me to get down on myself.

But last week, as I was hearing the voice that said, “You’re a failure,” I talked to God about it and heard the Spirit say, “God loves you for what you CAN do, not for what you can’t.”  And I realized that God created me with a certain temperament and abilities.  I may not be able to do as much as I used to, but there are things I can do, and I need to take joy in those things.

So I did what I could do, and it felt beautiful.  I went to the retirement home and played monopoly with the golden years guys.  I found a the components for a craft and put it together for kid’s Sunday School.  I called friends and family members and had encouraging conversations.

Satan wants us to focus on the CAN’Ts.  He wants us to feel defeated.

God wants us to focus on the CANs.  And just like the woman, it’s exciting to focus on the CANs, because we have faith that God can and will work with our CANs.

You know, everyone loves quoting Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

But let’s remember the context of that verse.  Paul said right before that, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

This verse isn’t talking about having the strength through Christ to run a race or do amazing things, although Christ certainly can give us strength to do that.  This verse is about having the strength to be content.  THAT is the goal.

There is power in contentment.  It keeps us from feeling discouraged and defeated.  It keeps us firmly in the province of faith.

A few weeks ago, while she was here for a stay, my longtime young friend Jacquelyn bought me a gift.

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I love this sign!   I put it on my shelf and look at it often.  It encourages me to focus on what I do have, what I can do, and to remember that life with God is beautiful.

We all have times where we face the “Invasion of the Flies” (and much worse), times when the obstacles make it seem impossible.  Let’s take inspiration from the woman in Tyre.  Let’s admit our desperation, believe in God’s goodness and willingness to help, and then do what we CAN do (with contentment).

You know, it’s only when we are in impossible circumstances that we have the chance to develop the faith that God is looking for.   Instead of feeling hopeless, let’s see our times of CAN’T as opportunities to learn to practice incredible faith!

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Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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But I’m Trying So Hard!

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’  . . .  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9

I’m the “Pharisee” in our family.   I feel like you have to go by the rules.  For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.

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Biking in Albuquerque

When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour.  That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike.  I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway.  But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.

What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people.  Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws.  They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law.  These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.

And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate.  According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow.  If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.

This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  (Lev. 15:11)

But it does seem like a good idea.  Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic.  And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous.  They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures.  You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.

Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased.  Something had gone way wrong.  His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.

Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?

We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.

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Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.

Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.

 

It was a wonderful visit.  We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.

You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices.   I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.

But in their teen years, things still went south.

I confess, I was angry and discouraged.  I had tried so hard to do the right things.  Why didn’t that work?

But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans.  God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.

God wanted me to seek to KNOW him.  And that is what I started doing.  I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day.   I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.

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And every day his grace was sufficient.  He supplied what I needed to raise my teens.  (By the way, my kids are awesome!)  I’m still learning to apply this today.

What is a Pharisee?  Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week.  I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing.  I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it.  I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!

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That’s what being a Pharisee is like.  We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.

That component is understanding God.  It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.

We’re trying so hard!  Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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Moments That Are Much More

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.  Mark 6:53-56

So many people.  So many needs. It got to the point where the only interaction Jesus had with many was when they touched the hem of his garment.

It must have been hard for Jesus to have limitations that he didn’t have in heaven.  In the spiritual realm, somehow God is able to pay attention to millions of people simultaneously.  Jesus could only deal with one person at a time.  Surely his heart was pulled to connect with each precious soul as he saw their face. Surely he longed for more time with each one.

Over the past few days at the wedding and on vacation, one thing that made my heart sad is that I didn’t have time to have a good talk with all my old friends and my family members.  I saw them, they were right there in front of me, but the clock ran out.

At the wedding we called for everyone who had been a part of our church to gather and pose for a picture.

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I got a HUGE lump in my throat.  So many individuals who are dear to me!  It was like my insides weren’t big enough to contain all the emotions I was feeling.

The same was true when I gathered with my family members who I don’t see very often.

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And then, as if my heart hadn’t been strained enough,  five of my good friends recently moved away.   You would think that as I get older, it would get easier to deal  with this.  But, I tell you, it gets harder!

I so much want to connect and make moments.  And when I am able to connect and make moments, I so much long to hold onto them.

It’s like this verse:  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end [of time].”  Eccl 3:11, NIV, God’s Word Translation

We feel the beauty, even the sanctity, of the moments God gives us.  But we are melancholy because we realize that it is only for a time that we have the beauty.  Somehow we know we are made for lasting happiness, but can’t experience it here on this earth.

Our hearts hurt!  Yet there is good news.  Jesus heals, just as he did when he was on earth.

I think part of his healing is giving us a myriad of good gifts, gifts that fall on us like rain on parched ground.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had many healing times.

There was healing as I saw dreams come true in the wedding of Devonte and LaJasmine.

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There was healing through every interaction I did have time to have.

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There was healing in being surrounded by love with my family.

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There was healing as I took in many scenes of nature’s beauty.

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There was healing in visiting my mother’s memorial.

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There was healing in being with my grandchildren.

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There was healing in having a “date day” with my husband.

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I could go on and on.

I use this verse a lot, but it’s so true: “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  (Hebrews 6:7)  God showers us with blessings, but we have to recognize them, we have to drink them in!  We can’t be so caught up in what is going wrong and what we don’t have that we miss being nourished by what we do have.  We can’t be so shut off to pain that we’re shut to the healing. 

We are to be “overflowing with thanksgiving.”  (Col 2:7)   Gratitude is a fountain that we can drink from time and time again.  We can make lists, take pictures, treasure things in our hearts.  These will help us remember, be thankful, and be renewed.  

And something uncanny happens as we do so.  Being thankful makes our little transitory moments last.  In a sense, we are holding onto them.  We are putting time in a bottle.  We see that the moments we wished could be more ARE more.

Going back to the story one more time, it would have been tempting for Jesus to minimize the importance of a person simply touching his cloak.

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He didn’t have time to love them, or build a relationship with them, or teach them.  But it was still big for them.  In their world of brokenness, they had a healing moment.  And I have to believe that although Jesus didn’t have time for more, God took what Jesus did and used it to keep on working in their lives.

It’s also tempting for us to underestimate the impact of our fleeting interactions with others.  But I see it like the loaves and the fishes.  God can take little and make it into much more.  He can create a positive ripple effect in our moments.  Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Cor 15:5)

We will always live with limitations on this earth, having not enough time or strength.  But Jesus offers us refreshment in the face of frustration.  He offers us power in the face of impotency.

And one day, in heaven, our hearts will be truly satisfied.

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Faith Like a Snowplow

Travel anxiety

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Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.  Mark 6:47-50a

Okay, here is a passage about fear.  The disciples were alone in the dark, getting blasted by wind.  Then they thought they saw a ghost and totally freaked out.

How easily we give into fear.  I found myself experiencing a lot of anxiety when I went on my trip. With the fatigue, the scramble of being in different places, and carrying a backpack instead of a purse,  I was so afraid I would lose something.  I constantly checked to be sure I had my wallet, phone, camera and meds.  I’d wake up in the morning and not see my thyroid pills and worry that I left them at the last hotel.  I’d sit in the car and feel my mood plunge because I couldn’t remember packing my camera.  I actually did leave my phone at my dad’s motel, but we were able to retrieve it.

Here are some places I went.

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Also, on my trip, I was also afraid of not feeling well.  I felt uneasy because my root canal was still achy and my toe was hurting.  Would they get worse?  What about other maladies I suffer from?  Would they act up?  I packed my backpack with every kind of cure for physical ailments — teas, pills and even my Nettie Pot!

Can you relate?  What makes you fearful or anxious? What are your props to keep you feeling secure?

Of course, it’s not wrong for me to keep up with my stuff, or to make sure I’m prepared.  But it is wrong to be ruled by my insecurities.  Let’s keep reading:

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  Mark 6:50b-52

Fear comes from having a hard heart.  We don’t understand about the “loaves,” the ways God has provided for us in the midst of scarcity.  And so we gather our own “loaves” and clutch them tightly.

On Sunday, we visited our sister church in Albuquerque and two of the campus guys did a lesson on Matthew 6.  One talked about verse 25, where Jesus told his disciples not to worry.  The campus guy’s point was, “The mind wanders to what the heart wants.”  In other words, our worries reveal what’s most important to us.

Yikes! That means that what’s important to me is feeling in control, having everything in place.

Instead, what should be important is focusing on God.  If I could just realize that he is what I really need to keep with me, much more than my phone or my emergency kit!

So this trip I started aggressively using my shield of faith.  I would picture myself wielding it, pushing forward in hope and pushing away all of my fears, worries and uneasy feelings.

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But after awhile, I decided I needed a bigger shield.  I needed something more like the snowplow of faith!

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The snowplow of faith is the knowledge that God is a loving faithful father who is with us, even when we can’t see it.

It’s the acceptance that we may have to go through that thing we fear, but when we do, God’s grace is sufficient and he will provide at the right time.

It’s crucifying the temptation to worry, be afraid or give into dejection. (Gal 2:20, 5:24)

How easily we give into fear.  The disciples in the boat freaked out because they felt vulnerable and defenseless.  I feel the same way without my stuff. (Lol — first world problems. I do have bigger fears I struggle with too.)

But then I keep thinking of Joshua and Caleb.  They were the only ones who made it into the Promise Land because they were the only ones whose faith was bigger than their fears.  They had faith like a snowplow!

Let’s fight to have the same kind of faith to make it to the Promise Land as well.

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Rest for the Soul

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.  Mark 6:45-46

Sometimes you have to get away to recharge. Ken and I just returned from vacation in New Mexico.  Some of the vacation was busy and filled with relatives, so it wasn’t necessarily quiet.  But it was nourishing to be loved by so many, and it was peaceful to be on the vast prairie of my family’s ranch.

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When Ken asked what I wanted to do on the last weekend, I said that I would like to be somewhere beautiful where I could be quiet and reflect.  So Saturday afternoon Ken and I went to the top of the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque.  There, we hiked to a place with an amazing view, and prayed out loud as we took in the majesty of God’s creation.   It was just what I needed to process the many things I’ve gone through in the past couple of weeks.

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The next morning I arose early, moved a chair to sit outside of our second story hotel room and had a long time with God while I watched the sun rise over the mountains.  I wrote down everything I was thankful for.  I connected with scriptures.  I could feel the tight places in my heart begin to relax.

It’s good to go on vacation and get away.  But we need more than that.  We need time in quiet places where we can be restored.    Jesus made this a priority.  I don’t know how he managed to stay up at night and pray when he must have been dog tired after teaching people and taking care of their needs all day.  But I guess he knew what he needed rest for his soul more than he needed physical rest.  Surely we are the same.

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