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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.

Victory and (Momentary) Defeat

I’ve spent the last several weeks in Joshua and Judges, courtesy of the fanastic first5 ministry. Today was the video wrap up of both chapters from the historic old testament.

 

Joshua is a book bursting with the 12 tribes of Israel claiming victory after victory against the immoral people who occupied the land God had promised to his chosen people. Again and again, Joshua leads the Israeli soldiers as they slay armies and capture cities. Inheriting the promised land is less about sitting down to receive a gift promised and more about downright bloody work.

Unfortunately, God’s people make the poor choice of not entirely cleaning up the land. They allow some of their enemies to live counter to God’s directive. It isn’t long before Israel begins to engage in the corrupt practices of the people who held the land before them. Many of them turn their backs on God entirely, ultimately serving false gods they have created with their own hands.

While God opens His own hands again and again for us, many times without us having to do anything, the stories of Israel’s conquests portrayed in Joshua is a reminder that obedience toward God leads us into claiming and living in his promises. Not long after, Judges reminds us that disobedience can lead to disaster.

Krista Williams themed this weekend’s first5 message on being a woman of conquest rather than a woman of compromise. I too desire conquest over compromise and can see the relevance of Israel’s victorious conquering of nations and then sliding into complacency and compromise as a parallel to my own life.

Following God means being fully obedient and when I am not, understanding there are consequences. That doesn’t mean God isn’t still good and, in particular, good to me–just that I have some unpleasantness to live through based on my own deliberate poor choices. I am unfortunately in a season of repercussion at this moment and feeling the pain of the people of Israel who sat on their laurels a little too long after victory.

The good news for me is the Word of God clearly shows the hope that exists for me, not just in the future but also today, this very moment, as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. God sees my restored heart, rather than the messy outside visible to the rest of the world.  And He clearly shows me through Joshua and Judges when it is necessary for me to pick up my sword and when I need to be still.

Joshua 1 9.jpg

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!

Wasted Anger (Subtitled: All the Not So Pretty Little Ponies)

I just spent the better part of 4 hours being angry. Angry because I felt unappreciated, slighted, and misunderstood. Add the emotion of feeling like a failure to the anger because when I tried to put words to the situation, I didn’t do an adequate job of explaining the problem or standing up for what I meant.

I was right. I am absolutely confident of that. So why do I feel so, well, yucky? Part of it is simply letting my emotions overwhelm me and run away with my attitude. I sometimes forget that my emotions are like a pack of wild horses. I have to break them, tame them, and put them back in the barn. (Okay, for you true horsey people, I maybe didn’t get that quite right but I’ll believe you’ll accept the analogy.) Tonight I didn’t tame anything. I reacted. I let my emotions run wild. Unfortunately when I let that happen, the outcome affects my thoughts, my words, sometimes my actions, and definitely other people. Not my best self for sure.

The other reason I feel yucky? The time spent letting my “hate mustangs” run my life was a complete waste of time. I was in the company of others and while I didn’t complain or even hint anything was amiss, I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I could have. I was preoccupied with thoughts of . . . well . . . me. Ick. Yup. True.

And then I was pulled out of myself. Someone I care about shared news of a struggle they are currently enmeshed in. It’s a true difficulty with no set outcome but is likely to be disappointing and create some ongoing hardship.

Suddenly the fact that I had been misunderstood and perhaps misused on one day of my life wasn’t such a big deal anymore. In fact, I feel a little silly. Again, the issue was real. The problem was in how I dealt with it.

When I finished the conversation with my saddened friend, it didn’t require a bit, bridle, or lasso to get my horses back in the barn. They trotted in willingly, heads down, well aware of their emotional overreaction.

So now what? I get to start over. That’s the only good part of messing up. But it is a promise – 

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

One thing about that? I’m not going to wait until morning to hit my reset button.

  

but compared to the things in life that really matter, the event was small potatoes. My emotions were quickly put back in perspective when I was reminded of the things in life that are really difficult and the people who really matter. People, if you are angry, feeling slighted, unappreciated, let go!

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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Resetting My Focus

I am restless. Restlessness, at least for me, equals dangerousness. When I allow myself to become restless, I become impulsive (at best), difficult for everyone else (at worst). I know when I’m prone to restlessness, but I rarely do anything to prevent it and just wait to see what the impending storm looks like once I’m in the midst of it. Not a very smart choice and certainly worth getting ahead of. 

So why don’t I? Because it takes effort. And once I feel the seeds of restlessness starting to sprout, the last thing I feel like doing is making any effort beyond what gives me instant gratification. Ugly but truthful.

I was restless last night, itching to start “something.” Fortunately, I didn’t feel well. Yes, this was fortunate because I didn’t have the energy to create any real chaos. Instead, I went to my “go to” music and read a few chapters of Beth Moore’s A Heart Like His. This helped. Not because Lincoln Brewster was singing and Beth Moore is a brilliant writer (although she is) but because it forced me to change my focus and take my eyes off myself.

I woke up a little less restless today but still wavering on the brink of making myself and others miserable. What to do? Instead of turning completely into myself, which is where my compass was pointing, I decided to set my thoughts aright. This was difficult. Do I love Jesus? Yup, I do. Do I always want to choose him first? Sadly, no. I’m selfish enough to not necessarily gravitate to Him and His ways on Round 1. And, by the way, going the long way around causes me and others a lot of discord along the way, so it’s really a no-brainer that I need to give up my natural path.

Anyway, I planted my feet and faced the restless beast that torments me. And while I wanted to fight, I also wanted to give in, give in to that center that allows me to take whatever direction I want, no matter what. (Yuck, right?) But instead I calculated what’s been missing that put me into this mood, this ride to nowhere good. 

Ready for the answer? It’s pretty simple. I lost my gratitude. I lost living in daily thankfulness no matter what. It’s a bad, bad place to be. There is so much in life for which to give thanks. Not always obvious things. In looking back at my 1,000 Gifts List (okay I only made it to 253 but I didn’t start until August) from 2013, here are a few things for which I found gratefulness:

  • Bare feet
  • Ripening tomatoes
  • Holding hands
  • Cousins
  • Grandma’s quilts
  • Stargazing
  • Tears to wash away poison and pain
  • The smell of ironing (I know, I know, but I like it!)
  • That my husband grocery shops with me
  • Hair appointments (I actually had this one twice!)
  • A black purse I forgot I had tucked away in the closet
  • Fishing

We are surrounded by things, people, and circumstances for which to be grateful. Start counting – You’ll be amazed at the change it brings.

I’m no longer restless today, therefore no longer dangerous. And simple gratitude made the difference. Incredible!

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Empowered ?

Empowered, according to Webster, means to give power or authority. What about those of us who need to receive empowerment? Where do we find it?

Only Daughter and I started an online bible study today called Made to Crave. The point is that relationship with God is what we crave above all, and by accepting and maintaining that “right relationship” (my term), we can transform our not so desirable cravings into desire for Him. (Forgive me Proverbs 31 Ministries for totally botching that synopsis of your wonderful online bible study.)

The study includes a word of the week, and–you guessed it–this week’s word is empoweredI don’t know what to do with that word. Inner strength I understand. I have that, and I use it. A lot. Especially when life gets messy. Brain power I understand. I can think my way around and through just about anything.

But I don’t understand empowered. I examine the word from every angle but I can’t grasp what it means for me. Since it’s given, do I need to wait for somebody to give it to me? That doesn’t feel right. Certainly I should be able to pull myself up by the proverbial boot straps and empower myself, right? Wrong. At least I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.

By lining up priorities, basing them on my relationship with Christ, I will become empowered. Even on days like today when I can’t find my purse or my coffee cup and I’m too tired to use that brain power I was bragging about.

Stay tuned. At the end of 6 weeks, we can all find out if I have a better understanding of what it means to be empowered. Oh, and check out the attached video. It might make you cry, but it will also set off a spark of empowerment.

 

 

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