Sunday, September 29, 2013

Elephants, George Bailey, Elijah...and me

In this blog, as in most of them, I share the real and for true parts of life I struggle with. I do this in an attempt to help others, for the enemy would have us believe we are alone in our struggles...that if we were more spiritual it would somehow all be okay. (The enemy is a liar, by the way.)

Today's random thought started this morning while reading an article in an exercise magazine written by a young woman who admitted that her entire life had been ruled by her weight. I shook my head as she detailed events she had skipped and moments missed simply because her thoughts were consumed by how much she weighed. My heart went out to her, not because I deal so much with my weight (thanks diabetes for that much) but because as I read, I realized I, too, am ruled by my own "elephant in the room." For me, that elephant comes in the form of financial worries, but it is an elephant all the same.

This elephant controls everything I do. His name is "How much does it cost?" He has caused vacations to not be planned, dinners never made, parties not given or attended...and let's don't even start to think about Christmas and birthdays because the weight of that elephant grows with each passing thought of their arrival. He's an ugly elephant, even as elephants go. Like most pachyderms, he has grown with age...and evidently, elephants have an extremely long lifespan because I see no hint that he plans on going anywhere.

All this was on my mind as I entered church today. Those around me sang and my mind's eye was filled with the "elephant" that sat on my wallet...make that sat on my chest, making it hard to breathe. When would this elephant go away? 

As will happen, my mind ricocheted to a scene from "It's a Wonderful Life." You know the one, where George Bailey grabs the post off the stair railing as it comes off in his hand and kisses it for joy because he has come to realize how blessed he truly is...then my mind wandered to the scene earlier in the movie, before Clarence the angel makes his appearance. It's the part where it appears Potter has won; George, who has been so positive before is overcome with worry and rants, "This drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator! Why did we have to live here in the first place and stay around this measly, crummy old town?...Everything's wrong."

I'm afraid I'm a lot closer to George "pre-angel visit" than I am to the "post-angel" one. I wanted to be more like the happy George who didn't care what happened because he knew now how truly blessed his life had been. Still, inside I was frustrated, confused, and just generally in a frump. That elephant shifted his position, but he still sat clearly on top of me.

My mind then wandered to Elijah. (Hey, who can figure out why or how my mind works!?!) I thought of the old widow who had made her last batch of bread because "that was all there was." Yeah, God! That's what it feels like. I spend my life looking at what I have and wondering or worrying because I know that when this is gone, there is no more till next month. This is all there is! 

Then I remembered the rest of the story. You all know the one. Elijah comes to a widow and asks her to fix him some bread,  basically asked her to give all she had. That widow let him know that this was all there was, but then she made that small cake of bread for him anyway....and there was still plenty for more. That oil and flour didn't run out. She had all she needed, for her AND her child.

All this "thinking" went on during worship, and now it was time for the pastor to finally start talking - as if God hadn't already been messing with me enough already. When our pastor stood up to share, the message was aimed right at me. In a nutshell, the main idea was that we all must deal with FACTS, TRUTH, and OUR INTERPRETATION. Facts - that's what other words, my elephant. Truth - that's what God has to say about things. Our interpretation - what am I going to do about it. Which will I believe?

Our outlook is determined by what God says. While the "reality" of our elephant wants to shut us down, we can know that there is a truth that is bigger than the facts of our situation. Yes, there is a TRUTH that is bigger than your elephant!

The pastor left us with a homework assignment. We are to write in a little chart whatever the "Facts" are that we are dealing with. (He didn't say our "elephant" but I knew that's what it was.)  For me, I wrote, "There never seems to be enough." In the second column, we are to search God's Word for what HE has to say about this. That would be the TRUTH column. The third column may prove to be the toughest...."Which will I believe? As he reminded us today, what we believe in our head, we say with our mouths. What we believe in our heart becomes what I do.

I don't know if you have an elephant that has come to live in your house like I do, but if so, I invite you to join me in this exercise. Perhaps by the end we'll be more like the happy George Bailey. Our elephant won't seem so huge anymore. Maybe we'll even find that it is gone completely....and we can live life knowing that our God is MORE than enough...and there's always plenty of whatever we need, no matter what that need may be.

So here's to elephants, George Bailey, Elijah...and us. Good luck to us all on our "homework" as we attempt to eat our bite at a time, make that one word from God at a time.

1 Kings 17:7-16

The Message (MSG)
7-9 Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought. Then God spoke to him: “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.”
10-11 So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”
12 She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”
13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”
15-16 And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Did I mention I hate hills?

This is a repost of a blog from 2010, but it came to mind again today as I attempted to run up "Mount Kill-a-miss-donna" not once, but two times! (Do not let the picture fool you! This hill is a killer!!!) In honor of making it up that hill, I am posting this blog once again. Hope you enjoy this more than I did that hill!

Okay, I know that as a runner I'm supposed to love hills. I've participated in races where the course was described as having "gentle, rolling hills" and let me tell you whoever wrote that lied! There was absolutely nothing gentle about those hills. They went on forever! And even though the race doubled back to the start, I still haven't figured out how I wound up running uphill both ways! I live in South Mississippi for crying out loud! Where are all these hills coming from?!?

I hate hills. I'm not exactly what you'd call poetry in motion when I run anyway, but when I encounter hills, things gets downright ugly! My heart starts beating out of my chest, my face gets flushed, I start sweating so hard I look like I got caught in a sudden cloud burst, and I run SLOW!!! I hate hills...have I mentioned that before?

I can't be the only one who struggles with hills. Why, even the writer of Psalms 121 said, "I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?" The King James version says, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." I used to think that verse meant I looked up to God in some sort of spiritual utopia. Then I read the verse in other versions and realized the author was calling out for help! Seems that he wasn't looking forward to having to take that hill either!

Still, I am coming to realize what most runners already know, hills build strength. Seasoned runners look at hills as an opportunity to become stronger and therefore, faster. They know those hills will eventually benefit them and allow them to win the race!

Life is full of hills, chances to become stronger than what we are. The question is, will I look at those hills/trials as a good thing? Will I choose to remember during the battle uphill that somehow God is going to use this for my good and His glory? As my heart is pounding and every part of me hurts feeling as though this trial will never end, can I keep going? Will I look back at hills past and remember that God is faithful and never leaves me nor forsakes me? Will I look at this trial as yet another chance for God to make me stronger so that I can run the race set before me? Will I learn to give thanks even for those "hills"? If so, it could really change the way I look at life! Those hills serve a purpose!

In Romans 5: 3-5, this is described for us. "There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"

The rest of Psalm 121 tells me how I will be able to do all this: "My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." I'm not running up this hill alone. He is there to hold me up, even to the point that I can almost feel his hand on my back gently encouraging me to go on. He does not ask me to do anything that He is unwilling to do with me. He's taken this hill before and He came back to help me do the same.

Can't say I'll ever learn to love hills, but maybe I'll learn to not dread them quite so much from now on. Perhaps the urge to quit and sit down won't seem quite so attractive now. After all, I've got a race to run, and I want to run it well....for I'm running for the prize! I want to hear "Well done" when my race is through.

More encouragement for the "Hills of Life".....

Hebrews 12: 1-3 (Message translation): "Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!"

Isa 40:31 (NIV) But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Phil. 3:12 - 14 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Acts 20:24 "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

Matthew 25:21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

Getting tired yet?

Today I went for a long, just-me-and-God run for the first time in a long while. As I ran and prayed, a lot of my co-workers came to mind. This goes out to all my "teacher friends" out there...

Unless you are a teacher or in a field like it, you don't understand how tough this time of year can be. I've been teaching now for over 14 years and this is ALWAYS my toughest season. We've been in school long enough to start to get on each others nerves and the weather is changing so the kids get restless, there ALWAYS seems to be a full moon, and thoughts of Halloween and candy are beginning to hit the stores and imaginations of children in every classroom. It is always at this time of year that I begin to wonder why in the world I went into teaching in the first place! 

After many years of dealing with kids bouncing off the walls, parents who are exhausted because they've been working and playing taxi driver and homework helper for a few too many weeks, and first report cards looming on the horizon, I have learned that if I can just hang on till mid November, it will all get better. Candy will be gone, some sports have slowed down, kids are finally realizing they actually have to DO the work to get the grade, and we all have Thanksgiving and Christmas to look forward to.

This season shouldn't surprise us, but it always does - perhaps because it can be so wearisome. You see, teaching, like so many other professions, is a seed-planting industry. At first each year, we must break up the fallowed (fallow: 1. Plowed but left unseeded during a growing season: as in fallow farmland. 2. Characterized by inactivity) ground. This alone is hard work. Students have spent all summer having fun. (I joke and tell my students I just know they rushed home after pool parties all summer so they could diagram sentences!) We have to loosen up the soil again, remove the thorns that have cropped up, and get them ready for planting once again.

Next we begin to plant the seeds and we wait. Right about now we are exhausted from all that "breaking up" and the "thorn removal" and we've put in the seeds for the first crops, but all that is staring back at us is dry earth. It takes an act of faith to believe that in the future, a harvest will come. But we're already tired. Did I forget to mention that we are those parents who are pulled between work and practices and helping with homework at night, too?  
Teachers plant and plant and plant, then water, weed, and tend...but before we can truly see the harvest, the year is over and the students move on up to another who will tend what we have planted and plant a little more. (If this doesn't make you want to go hug a teacher, I don't know what will!)
But we have a promise from One who never lies. We will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Galatians 6:9-10 (MSG)
So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up, or quit.

So to all my teacher friends out there. Don't give up. God sees your work and He is in charge of the reward.....We work for Him and He can be trusted to do what He said He would do.

Don't give up my friends...November is on its way. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The football mom...

It is my favorite time of the year because, simply put, I am a football mom. 

Maybe a more accurate description would be that I am a CLUELESS football mom. Try as I will, I cannot seem to understand the game. The other day my son was chattering away after practice trying to tell me that Willie wasn't working or something and they'd had to redo some plays. After about 5 minutes he looked at me and said, "You haven't got a clue what I'm talking about, do you?"

"Well, once I figured out that Willie wasn't some new kid on the team, I started to sift through the information a bit." Yeah, I'm clueless. (I now know that is the weak-side linebacker...I'm learning.)

Being clueless doesn't keep me from enjoying the game, however. In fact, my son told me he met a friend's mom and she said she knew me. I said, "She does?" 

"Yeah, she asked weren't you that mom that yells at the games. I told her, yeah...that was you." 
I guess I stand out.

I do love watching my son and his friends play. In fact, we went to see my son's team versus one of his best friends' this past Friday night. Later on they were spending time together. During the evening, his buddy asked if I'd enjoyed the game. I paused and answered truthfully, "I'd have enjoyed it more if you two had gotten to play more."

You see, we had won 38-0, but since both boys are only sophomores, they didn't play all that much this weekend. It was fun to jump up and yell, but not nearly as much fun as it would have been if I had been yelling for them. It occurred to me at that moment that I don't love winning nearly as much as I enjoy watching them play the game they love.

That's when it hit me. I wonder if that's not a little how God feels when He watches us doing what we love....what He created us to do. It doesn't matter if we're the best there ever was, or even if we make mistakes. He doesn't really care who wins or loses the game, He simply loves watching the joy on our faces when we are doing what He created us to do. God delights in us.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It says that God delights over us and sings....or maybe, just maybe, He yells like this clueless mom shouting "GO! GO! GO! That's MY tiny baby boy out there!" It doesn't matter if we "win" or "lose", He just loves watching us doing what He created us to do. God delights in YOU. 

If that doesn't make you want to go out there and "play" your best, I don't know what else will. 

Have a blessed week, my friends....and occasionally take a moment to stop and realize, you are loved by God. He's cheering for you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Still chewing....

Yesterday I posted that I was "chewing" on a verse that was giving me pause. It's that whole mustard seed faith verse in Luke 17 and today I woke up with it on my mind. Well, that's not exactly true. I woke up with coffee on my mind and wishing that I could sleep a couple more hours. (In the words of my husband, why can't Labor Day be Labor Week....but I digress.)

After a cup of coffee, or three, I did, however, find myself chewing on that verse from yesterday. I am still trying to figure out what happened to my faith! If God said He gave it to me and basically a little dab will do ya, then why am I not seeing it more evident in my life?

Of course as will happen in the morning, the clock hands spin faster than they do toward the end of the day and before I knew it I had to put my thoughts away and hit the showers, get the kids up, pack lunches, make breakfast - typical mom morning kind of stuff. At one point I went to my daughter's room to wake her and discovered that she STILL had not cleaned her room. For the past two weeks she's told me, "I'm going to do it today." Evidently "today" is some new time of year that we haven't experienced yet because the room still isn't clean! Today it even smelled kind of funny. I walked away from my daughter's room feeling quite frustrated.

It was about this time that my son came running through the house half dressed to get to the laundry room. How many times have I told him to take his clean laundry to his room? I'd even taken some there the day before! Why was he still making this mad dash to the laundry room all the way across the house? My frustration started to build.

It's usually about this point that I feel that "nudge." You know the one. The one that is the Lord getting your attention. I could almost hear an audible voice say, "It's frustrating, isn't it." 

Yes, Lord, it is! I'm not asking for anything difficult, but my teenagers still seem to be struggling to get the basics on a regular basis...and I can't possibly trust them with the big stuff when they still haven't gotten this...and I get it. That's what it must be like when You look at me, God. I still haven't "cleaned my room" and I haven't taken care to put what You've already blessed me with in its proper place. I'm still struggling with the basics. Whose got time to talk to sycamore trees when they are still not done with the last thing they were told to do?

Is it possible that the reason I'm not seeing more evidence of my faith is because I still haven't finished the last thing God told me to do; I still haven't done the basics?

Looks like I've got some more chewing to do on this verse. Please feel free to chew along with me. Maybe by the weekend we'll finish a small bite.

Luke 17:6-10 (Msg)
But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.
“Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Misplaced faith

Faith. Do I have it?

Today I've been chewing a particular Bible verse; you probably know the one. It says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you." One version says,  “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it." Now I'm not too up on agriculture or gardening, but I know that a poppy seed is TINY! 

Another verse, Romans 12:3 mentions faith as well. 
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (Emphasis mine)

Now it's these two passages that has been troubling me all day. If all I need is a poppy seed sized faith and God has given it to me, why am I not seeing more miracles? Why am I still struggling in so many areas of life? Where is my faith?

That's when it hit me. I must have misplaced it! It doesn't surprise me. I misplace my keys all the time. I spent 30 minutes tonight looking for a check that came in the mail. I constantly misplace my glasses...they are usually on top of my head. I have even misplaced my son. Well, technically I thought he was with his dad and his dad thought he was with me. (Thank heavens for his Sunday School teacher kept up with him till we returned.) Misplacing things is easy for me....keeping up with them is what gives me trouble. I'm just so easily distracted!

When I finally find what I'm looking for, it is usually under a pile of "stuff." It may be junk mail or school papers or even dirty laundry. It can even be good stuff - but if it's covering up what I'm needing, it's still just STUFF! My life is full of STUFF!

Seems like I go back to the Bible story I referred to in my last blog, Mary and Martha. Jesus looked at Martha (who was probably looking for something under the stuff or at least taking care of the stuff) and Jesus reminded her that only one thing is needed...and it wasn't stuff. 

So I've decided that since God said He gave me faith (probably a little bitty thing since I couldn't handle anything really big....think Will Smith getting the noisy cricket in Men in Black) and since that is more than enough, I must have misplaced it somewhere. I must have misplaced my faith.

I think I'll spend the rest of this week looking for it. If you happen to see it, could you please give me a call? (Maybe the next blog will include more on this topic...unless of course I misplace it.)