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Miracle not Merit

Miracles aren’t based on merit.

Everyone has reason to hope.

These words came to me as I was pondering the number of people I know right now who are counting on a miracle. Some for health issues, others for improved finances, and more for a singular difficult life circumstance to be changed.

I am also waiting for something about which I have been praying specifically for a year and a half. I was talking to God about my request again a couple of days ago and shortly after that made a fairly poor life choice. Almost immediately I decided God will never honor my prayer because of my sin.

That’s when he struck my heart with the words above. If a miracle is based on my behavior, it really isn’t much of a miracle. Then life would always be good as long as I am good and I would be controlling everything. And although I really like having control (topic for another day), that would be a ridiculous and exhausting way to live. It also minimizes who God is and the awesomeness of supernatural intervention.

I contemplated those words and as they sunk into my very soul, the very obvious answer that I am not the recipient of a miracle based on my own merit became real to me.

Miracle as defined by dictionary.com is: 1 an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

2 such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.

Supernatural. Meaning I can’t, He can. Also meaning He doesn’t need me to make it happen. I recognize the power of prayer and the important role that so often plays in the result of miracles day after day. I’m simply saying miracles don’t hinge on my own tally of good versus bad behavior.

As with all gifts from God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, miracles are given by grace alone. As was the greatest gift of all–Christ himself.

Letting that message through to my brain and heart is very freeing. It’s all in God’s hands and there is no better place for a person’s desires to be.

If you are waiting for an answer to prayer or a miraculous intervention, let these words permeate you and live in hopeful expectation.

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Wisdom from the Hammock

Lacy pattern of green leaves with deep blue sky filtering in between. That was my view recently when I lay in middle son’s hammock. Above me were branches of three different types of trees (I can name only the popple and oak). I swung quietly and studied them as though I were again a 10-year old with few cares in the world. I had forgotten to grab a blanket but found myself wrapped in the peace of just being. Stopping the noise, chaos, and cares of everyday life to become a part of the beauty surrounding me. I breathed more deeply than I have in a decade.


In that silence and dappled light, thoughts that I’ve been turning over in my head finally had a quiet space to land. Mainly thoughts of perfection and performance. I resist the label perfectionist with a wrestler’s tricks and movement, yet I can’t deny the performance-based foundation I have created for myself in so many ways.

I’m an achiever. Which makes me valuable to others in a lot of areas but also weighs very heavy on me. Nobody can perform THE BEST all the time. And trying to do so is ludicrous. Striving to meet temporary goals is exhausting and leads to disappointment and self-condemnation. It takes away from true life. And quite honestly those to whom those traits are most valuable don’t fit the category of core people in my life. Hmmm. Seems a life change is in order.

True life is that time spent deeply with those I love and who love me back with fierce commitment (the core people!). I am beyond blessed to have a husband, kids, parents, in-laws, and friends who fill that category to overflowing again and again and again. Sometimes I’m a rockstar at showing and giving back that love and time. And sometimes I get distracted because I’m so busy in another area of my life working so hard for that incredibly-best outcome.

God has pressed convictingly on my heart in 2017 about this issue. The choice is unbelievably simple. All those I love ask is that I be present. What has been an ongoing internal wrestling match is starting to become a natural choice. I now clearly see that where I felt conflict, I, in truth, have created my own conflict. 

I woke this morning a little heavy of heart. But this time, before my mind started ticking about how to positively control everything for an excellent outcome, I heard God ask me, “How would you feel right now if you weren’t immersed in A, B, and C?” And I smiled. Jesus fixed A, B, and C for me long before I took my first breath. It’s gonna be a good day. And I’m living some of it from the hammock.

Undone

I’m simply undone. The church I attend semi-regularly has a first Sunday of the month evening worship service that I say I really love but haven’t made a priority in several months. Tonight I pulled myself together 20 minutes before the start and headed out.

I asked God for an answer to a specific prayer on the 5-minute drive. It’s a prayer I’ve been asking off and on (more off than on) for the past 5+ years. I haven’t really been serious about receiving a response from Him because to get one requires something of me. And I’ve been really reluctant to know the outcome of this one. Anyway, question asked on the drive and kind of forgotten as I took my seat.

Sunday night typically has really good worship music. Tonight was no exception, but none of the music was really impacting me. In fact, I had to mentally remind myself several times about where my focus belongs. At some point during the service, I mentioned to God that if He were looking to get a hold of me tonight, the music was going to have to be something really meaningful to me. And I suggested in my heart that it should be something I really like and probably as moving as The Agnus Dei.

The night proceeded. I was touched by the readings, the prayers, the fellowship, and by the music (a little). At the close, the attendees were reminded this was the last Sunday evening service ever. And the worship team closed. With . . . The Agnus Dei.

Total heart silence on my part. Barely able to sing the words. And then I realized God was answering my 5+ year prayer. With the last song. Likely chosen by the worship team days before. On a night when I didn’t even anticipate going to church. Bam. That’s just how God is. I am not random. You are not random. We are forever in His thoughts and He loves us through words and songs and every individual way imaginable.

The answer He shared with me tonight is not one I am thrilled with. In fact, I wrestled with Him a little on the way home, lightly arguing that I meant I wanted better music and that part really wasn’t about answering my prayer. I gave up pretty quickly though. It’s not remotely arguable. He reached out and touched me without a doubt.

What’s next? A whole lot of trust. Because this step isn’t going down without my leaning on him for every footfall. It requires mental, physical, and spiritual commitment of more than I can put forth on my own. Good thing He’s God and I belong to Him. He told me so on a quiet Sunday night in a small town church during their last Sunday evening service.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zTgUVugjcWI

 

 

The P Word (and its evil twin)

Perfectionism. I am not a fan. The first 7 letters are enough to cause me instant angst. Perfect. Nobody has managed that in over 2,000 years. And yet, we strive and reach and make ourselves crazy. I have a friend who is very pleased to call herself a perfectionist. I’m quite worried about her actually. You can’t possibly be a perfectionist and enjoy the little things in life at the same time. So as I ponder how to share with her that I think her attitude is akin to walking the plank, I’m jolted by a realization of my own.

I may not welcome perfectionism into my heart, but I am surely well-acquainted with her sister, “Performance-based Worth.” Ah. The dagger strikes. I can feel as smug as I like over disdaining perfectionism, but my performance meter is drumming up a party beat.

It’s been an extensive battle. And battle is really the only word to describe it. For the first four decades of my life, I felt like a failure unless I was the very best at whatever was the flavor of the day. Academics, athletics, best friending, work, etc. The problem with this, of course, is that no one can be the best at absolutely everything. So I felt pretty rotten a lot of the time.

In my forties, I started to realize I had really wasted a ton of time measuring myself not only by what I was doing but also by how well I was doing it. Safe to say God had been trying to get my attention for a really long time but I was just too deep into weighing, measuring, and groaning to expand my view to match His. As I began to open myself to the thought that I maybe had some personal thought processes messed up, God showed me quite clearly that nobody thinks about me nearly as much as I think about myself and certainly no one else is assessing my every move to figure out if I’m worthy of their time and attention. This concept was freeing.

 A couple of years ago, I lost track of God’s wise teaching  and ended up not really liking much of anything and finding every day really hard to get through. Life was good all around in general, but I was only counting the failures. God clearly spoke to me that it was time for a serious change. No more worth based on performance.

What is a girl to do when the framework she has spent nearly 50 years developing needs dismantling? Get on her knees, that’s what. And as always, God came through. Wholely and completely. He led me to His own words over and over again of how much He loves me and finds me worthy simply because I Am His. So simple; so amazing and awesome.

I wouldn’t say I’m 100% cured, but I surely am aware of when I find myself trying to earn, rather than accept, my place. And I know to let go and surrender the “I can do everything myself” attitude before it gets entirely out of hand.

There is more than one reward to living this way. Peace. The supernatural kind that only Christ can give to any of us who stop flailing around long enough to receive it. I have a new P word in my life and it’s the best reward I’ve experienced yet.

Restless Heart

Not the ’80s country group. My own heart.

It doesn’t happen everyday. I’m often clicking through life just fine and then–bam!–I awaken the next morning restless and, quite honestly, a little unlikeable.

I know immediately I’m “off.” Edgy. Wanting to stay isolated but too bored be alone. So I start looking for something to fill me. And nothing satisfies. I move from thing to thing, not really accomplishing anything. Social Media can serve to distract me in the short run, but by day’s end I’m frustrated and critical of myself for all the time wasted.

This cycle repeats every few weeks. It never lasts long but it wrings me out both mentally and physically. And judging by the way my family scatters when this phenomena strikes me, I gather it’s no picnic for them either.

Today was such a day. It bled into this evening and I’m now sitting here wishing for a do over. As that is not possible, I turn my brain cells toward figuring this out. 

The answer is immediate and oh so simple. It’s my focus. When I put my eyes and heart on only myself, I end up in a dangerous place. Self-serving, self-sufficient, and the all-consuming selfish. I lose sight that I am created by God and for God and His purposes. I haven’t forgotten about him this week, just have been sliding him into the backseat instead of handing over the steering wheel. 

Big sigh of relief when I discover I don’t have a cyclical mental disorder. This is so fixable. Immediately fixable. So I turn my head and heart to My Best Friend Ever to obtain clarity and peace. As usual, he does not fail. And I’m no longer failing either. My head and heart are at peace and I’m looking forward tomorrow because I know I’m restless no more.

Can we find a friend so faithful? – From the hymn What a Friend we Have in Jesus (my Grandma Gobel’s favorite by the way) written by Henry Crosby

Kissing Anxiety Goodbye

Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety – Alli Worthington

Yes. That.

A-n-x-i-e-t-y: An abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear over an impending or anticipated ill.

Who wants to have that? Not me. And yet I did. Do. A couple of weeks ago I realized I have been living in an ongoing state of anxiety for months. Some of it I can trace back to a heavy workload and a few twists in the road of life that have taken me by surprise. But the state of extreme anxiety in which I found myself clearly has a lot more buried beneath the surface. Basically, I’ve been wrapped in a chokehold of ever-increasing destructive thought patterns. A self-imposed prison of sorts.

One thing I had immediate conrol over is recognizing that a medication I have been on for several months could be the culprit inducing some of these false feelings. For better or worse and without consulting a medical professional (something I don’t advocate), I went off the pills cold turkey. I felt relief within a couple of days. But not complete relief. And that was a total downer because it meant I needed to face myself. Again. That’s when I went searching for the rest of the problem.

Notice the tail end of the anxiety definition above: “impending or anticipated ill.” I have no such things. I have no reason to believe there is impending or anticipated trouble of any kind and yet I have been living as though I am one tiptoe away from disaster. As I examined these tentacles of dread, I discovered they aren’t carrying truth. Just anxiety. For the sake of anxiety. And to keep me mentally and emotionally tangled up so as not to live in peace.

How to reset myself? I wrestled with that for a little bit. Then I came face to face with the same truth I’ve encountered many times. The truth I don’t like to admit. I have a problem trusting God. I know and believe His words and promises, but I continue to have trouble flat out trusting Him. Even though He has seen us through some real disasters. Time and again. Faithfully. Do I really think that one more misstep on my part is going to put me so far out of His reach that He won’t save me again? I really don’t. Yet I have been living like that is exactly what I believe. Sad. Simply sad. And unnecessary. I know better.

Enter Alli Worthington’s wise words above: Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety. So true. Again, so simple. When I look back over the last several years, there are times of crisis where I have absolutely thrived and seasons of plenty where I have choked on fear. The difference is in the approach. When my eyes are off myself and I am giving thanks and praise to the one who deserves every bit of it, life is navigable and joyful. Hopeful and peaceful.

After months of unfounded fear and a few tears, I am again choosing gratitude. It’s only been a day but that nasty elephant on my chest is gone. And my soul is quietly trusting.

Peace I leave with you.

My peace I give to you.

I do not give to you as the world gives [thank God, emphasis mine].

Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. John 14:27 (HCSB)

Sheep pasture.jpg

 

 

 

 

Blogging, An Unexpected Spiritual Art

I started blogging in August of 2013 as a response to a difficult life situation. The point was not to dwell or get lost in the difficulty but rather to remember to be grateful for life and all the marvelous things that still held true.

I blogged almost every day for the remainder of that year, using my words to count my blessings. Counting blessings sounds so cliche, yet is so true when one considers the many things for which to be thankful and so important to a truly healthy life and perspective.

The tough season and the catharsis of public writing changed me in ways I did not foresee. In some ways, I am quieter, more thoughtful, and definitely more careful. Not bad qualities. Just different. And sometimes they don’t feel like they fit my skin. But skin adapts to the shape of the body eventually and I am more comfortable with myself today.

The greatest good of that season and today is the spiritual shaping that is taking place. Some days the change happens through a gentle rub. Other days have felt like a chisel against hard clay. But the beauty that comes forth is worth the touch, no matter the depth of the pressure applied.

The truth is, Christ has changed me. Graciously and mercifully he has changed me into someone who looks for the good. Some days I don’t feel like looking. Other days it’s harder to find things for which to give thanks. Those are often the best days because they require some extra effort. And that is the difference. I am making the effort.

Some of you shake your head about what I believe or my words make you uncomfortable. Or you misunderstand what I’ve written and I have to work through my own discomfort of sorting out what I could have said better or wondering if writing is worth my time, even when I know it is.

As I close out 2015, what I know for sure is that I am meant to write. Whether my blog gets forty or zero views in a day. Whether anybody believes in what I have to say. Whether or not you find yourself nodding along quietly. My words have been my stepping stone from darkness to light and a reminder to trust in Jesus every single day.

May you find your hope in 2016-Cindy

  
PS: To all of you out there who have continually encouraged me – Thank you!

Of Locusts and Asian Beetles

Honestly the only downer of our late autumn warm weather is the plethora of Asian beetles that seem to spring from nowhere and everywhere all at once. Hard to enjoy a few quiet moments on the porch with them landing in the cuffs of my sweahirt and climbing on my shoes–let alone alighting in my hair.

A few Sundays ago it was another unseasonably warm day. Despite my best efforts and prevention, the spotted creatures drove me from my porch again. That particular day was the thickest I have ever seen them. Asian beetles to the left, the right, before, behind, above, and below. And all trying (and succeeding!) to gain entry to my home. I joked to one of my friends that the experience was reminiscent of the plagues of locusts and flies in Exodus.

The return of those sorry little bugs today reminded me again of the plagues. I thought about what awful experiences those must have been. Take my beetle troubles and multiply them by 10,000 and you might get the start of the picture.  As an aside, I’m fairly certain they didn’t have screens in those days.

The word “locusts” also reminds me of two other verses in the bible. Two truths that I am seeing come true in this present day:

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust.

My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you and my people shall never be put to shame. Joel 2:25-26

When I started this blog in 2013 it was during a time I categorize as a great trial for me and my immediate family. I wrote through (and sometimes because of) that pain and misunderstanding and truly wondered if life would ever be the same again. 

It isn’t. A person can’t go through a tremendously difficult situation and come out the same. In the midst of it all, I struggled. And out of that struggle came shape. Not one I’m entirely comfortable with because I am warier and more suspicious. But what I gained from the experience is worth my life.

I learned to trust God. To really trust that I am not random, forgotten or uncared for. I have a purpose, a mission, and a method. And when the winds of doubt blow hard, I can think back to those really difficult days and know the truth.

Today I see and stand on the truth of Joel 2:25-26. The years the locusts have eaten are being restored day by day, moment by moment, step by step. Not all has been restored as it was, but we have plenty, we are satisfied, and we praise and glorify God for holding us steady in trial and blessing us in ways we could not have foreseen.

We are not put to shame. The restoration continues and I am awed.

  

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On Overcoming Fretting

I am simply so grateful. Cold toes stretched out in front of the fire. Scary book and cup of tea to my right. Dog below the foot of the recliner. And–wonder of wonders–I’m the only one in the living room right now. It is q-u-i-e-t.

More surprising than my male-dominated household being currently soundless is the quiet I find within myself. I am ridiculously (in a good way) at peace. I am also astounded.

You see, I have myself in a fairly unhealthy life pattern where I am working too much, eating things like cereal and Oreos for meals, and constantly fretting. Oh how I hate that word! Fretting. It just sounds fussy and needy and tiring. And yet, fretting I have been. (No wonder I’m alone.)

The truth is I do have a tough workload at the moment (yes, the moment) with some tight deadlines. So being a little stressed would be acceptable. But this over-the-top wallowing in busyness and counting all the things I am not getting done is simply a time waster and also bad for my mood. Which not coincidentally is bad for everyone at home. (Did I mention I’m alone?)

So tonight I faced my fretting. And I realized that 24 hours in a day is just not going to cut all that I have going on right now.There is only one answer. I have to let go and be okay with releasing my grip because there is no other way to be healthy, enjoy life, and do good work. Now the ugly part that I’m reluctant to share is I also realized that I only fret when I really groove on this awful “I’m too busy” cycle. If I’m fretting, I have to recognize that means I am also being short (read: unkind) with people and I am not attending to the needs of others with the attention they deserve because I am too busy thinking about ME. Wow. I don’t like that. Or admitting it. But it’s true.

That’s how I arrived at peace tonight. By facing the selfishness and saying, “God, this is not what I want. You made me better than this. I’m sorry.” So simple and yet it has taken me weeks to get here. Or, truthfully, perhaps years.

I started blogging just over 2 years ago to remind myself to be grateful, to count God-given blessings publicly, and because I generally enjoy writing. You’ll notice fewer posts this year than last. I guess the fretting overtook me to a point where one of us had to go. I’m glad it’s me still in the living room. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have company.

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