Tragedy

 

Tragedy. Grieving. Right now, in my world, they feel almost tangible.


Last Friday morning, on her way to work, Angie, a 39-year-old mother of four boys, lost her life in a car accident. In an instant so many lives were stopped in their tracks, worlds turned upside down, hearts broken. We live in communities of large families and tight connections, so this tragedy really did seem to touch everyone. We ourselves are shocked and grieving, and our hearts break even more as we feel the grief of her husband and boys, her siblings and parents, her close friends. Her funeral is today.


Today, January 17th, also marks two years since Owen Weaver passed away. Did you know Owen? Our “small town superhero”? Contagious smile and real joy despite physical handicaps. It has been two years, but the grief is still very present. Especially for his family, forever changed by his presence and every day feeling his absence.

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It doesn’t take much looking around to find difficulty and heartache. We have it in our own circles: devastating illnesses, ongoing fights against addiction, and all sorts of troubles of varying degrees, but all with their own kinds of pain. These things are hard! Hard for us to deal with in our own lives, and hard as we try to comfort others. So many times we don’t know how to act or what to say, especially in the face of great tragedy and sorrow like Angie’s family and the Weaver family are experiencing. We want to communicate our care, but we are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, of somehow making the pain worse.


I am not an expert at any of this, but I have learned that it is better to acknowledge the pain in others than to ignore it because of our fear of messing up. Often it is as simple as following Paul’s advice from Romans 12:15, “…weep with those who weep.”


Today I weep with those who are weeping for Angie and her family. I weep with those who are so deeply missing Owen, especially his family.


And as I weep, I look to Jesus for comfort. The Bible tells us that He wept (John 11:35). He wept over the death of His friend, Lazarus.


Read the story…
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’
When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
Jesus wept.”
John 11:17-35


My sister pointed out to me a few months ago, that Mary, the one who had loved sitting at Jesus’ feet, stayed home instead of going out to meet him like her sister. Martha went to him, but Mary stayed home. In our grief, we have different reactions. Some of us are quick to go to Jesus, ready to be with Him, even though we don’t understand why He didn’t do what we know He could have done to fix things and prevent all this pain we are feeling. Some of us stay home. In our grief and suffering, we just can’t go there. Look what Jesus did. He called for Mary. Martha told her, “The Teacher is here, and is asking for you.”


Jesus promised His disciples later in the book of John, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18 KJV)

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Psalm 34 tells us, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 CSB)


Real hope, real comfort, real healing is found in Jesus. It’s OK to ask why-Martha did. Mary did. Even Jesus did. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB) We are told he cried this out with a loud voice.


Death hurts. Pain can be blinding and stop us in our tracks. We don’t understand, and we often feel betrayed and angry.


Right in the middle of all that, the Lord is near, and He is calling. He feels our pain, like He felt Mary and Martha’s pain. He weeps. He comforts. And one more thing, He promises glory if we will just believe.


After He wept with Martha and Mary, we know that He called Lazarus back to life. He is the resurrection and the life. He said to Martha in John 11:40, “Did not I tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Yes, Jesus raising Lazarus from death was glory. We don’t get that same miraculous, right now happy ending in many of our losses, but, if we believe, we will see glory. It might take a long time to get there, but it will be worth it.


When tragedy strikes, when life hurts, go to Jesus, let Him be near. Bring your questions. Believe.

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God, we hurt. We weep. We need You to be near with Your comfort. Please help us in our grief to hear you calling us out of our house. You want to weep with us and speak to us and show us Your glory. I pray that You would be present in a beautiful and powerful way with those who are today experiencing such heavy grief. I pray that You would show us how to care for them. We cry out with the praying father in Mark 9:24, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'” We believe. Help our unbelief. Our prayers are in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

-Leah

Keeping the Streaks

What does a 16 year old girl do when her parents take her to hang out with family friends in a cabin without cell service or wi-fi?  With no other teenage girls?  It probably depends on the girl, but if it is Lisa, she joins right in, playing cards and board games, playing in the snow, and even participating in laser gun wars.  But when she finds out her dad is heading to town on an errand, she gives him her phone to take with him and asks him to “do her streaks.”  Being the mother of teenagers, I am familiar with streaks.  If you aren’t, here’s an old-lady explanation:  as best I can figure, streaks are records for keeping in contact through social media.  You send and receive a message of some kind every day and watch to see how long you can go without missing.  One of my boys had a 200+ long streak. The messages don’t have to be long or even interesting.  Sometimes they might just be a scribbled “S,” (which stands for “streak” if you were wondering).  The important thing is to keep on sending and receiving them.

It is a new year.  Many of us have been thinking about the things we want to do better in 2020.  One of the biggest difficulties with healthy habits is keeping them going, being consistent.  Have you ever tried to do something every day?  It is a challenge.

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I have been thinking about that concept of “daily.”  The prayer Jesus taught to His disciples includes a request that God give us “our daily bread.”

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. …”  Luke 11:2-4

I have heard those words way more times than I can count, but it wasn’t until I was listening to one of Pastor David’s sermons last year that I made the connection between “daily bread” and the manna that God provided for the Israelites.

Remember, when they were traveling around in the desert, a place where finding food could be challenging, God provided this mysterious food substance every day, “daily bread”.  “The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin.  The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar.  They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves.  And it tasted like something made with olive oil.  When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”  Numbers 11:7-9  It was miraculous.  It was nourishing.  It was daily.  After a while though, the Israelites got tired of the daily manna.  You might say it became more of a daily grind than a daily miracle.  They wanted something else, and they complained.  Numbers 11 tells us about this.  Let me summarize by saying that they got what they wanted, but it didn’t really turn out to be a good thing.

I see some parallels to our lives.  Jesus said we should ask for “daily bread.”  He also said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4: 4).  He compared himself to the manna that God provided for the Israelites.  “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’” (John 6:32-33).

Jesus is the bread of life, the Word of God.  He is what we need to live and be nourished.  Connecting to Jesus is like manna.  It is miraculous.  It is nourishing.  It can be daily.  Jumping back to the Lord’s prayer, it seems like maybe it should be daily.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

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How often do we forget how truly amazing the opportunity to spend time with Jesus is?  How often does it become more of a daily grind than a daily miracle?  Guess what?  That’s human nature.  I love something C.S. Lewis said about starting with duty and changing to desire. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the actual quote, but his point was that the exercise of a healthy spiritual habit leads to a changed heart, a heart that delights in the habit as an act of love for God.  I have struggled over the years with whether daily devotional time should be on my “to do list.”  I don’t want it to be a motion that I go through, devoid of meaning.  On the other hand, it is important to me to consistently spend time with Jesus, and if it isn’t planned, there is a lot lower likelihood that it will happen.

The streaks idea struck me-I am just keeping my streaks with Jesus!  Part of it is the consistency and the daily, but underneath is the desire for connection.  I am building a foundation for that all-the-time togetherness that I have referenced before, like Brother Lawrence the 3rd century monk whose writings inspired Practicing the Presence of God.

My challenge to you is to get into the habit of daily connection with Jesus, even if it is brief.  Use a short devotional, sit for 5 minutes of prayer, read a Bible passage, dedicate your morning commute-you choose what seems like it will work best.  (The YouVersion Bible app will even count streaks for you!) And don’t give up if you lose your streak.  It’s OK to start over.  Remember the verse from Lamentations?

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

That’s the awesome thing about God-He never loses His streaks.  He is always connecting.

Happy New Year!

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God, thank You for the amazing opportunity to connect with You.  Thanks that You have promised that when we seek You, we will find You.  When we call, You always hear and answer.  You are what keeps us going; You are our daily bread.  Please give us the desire to meet You every day.  Help us to be intentional about setting aside time for You.  Speak to us and enlighten us.  Change us.  Make us like Jesus.  Thank You for Your consistency, that You never forget or get too busy to be with us.  We pray in the name of Jesus today and every day.  Amen.

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– Leah

Burnout

I’ve been thinking about burnout. It is a hot topic in medicine these days. Estimates from January, 2019, indicate that more than 40% of physicians are experiencing burnout, which the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines as a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. Of course burnout is not unique to doctors, and it seems to escalate for many during the holidays.

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One suggestion I have heard for preventing or recovering from burnout is to “know your why.” Don’t lose sight of your purpose. Remind yourself that there is a reason for that in which you are investing yourself, and not just any reason, but a reason that really matters. This is having vision. Vision fights burnout.

Let me tell you about my friend. We were sitting together last week, talking, and she mentioned that her job is hard. Trust me, her job is hard! She is a social worker for adults with special needs, and she finds herself a part of some difficult stories, trying to bring stability and resources so individuals can function and flourish. She cares, and that adds to the burden of her work. On top of that, she works in a setting that often reminds her of her own son, who passed away almost two years ago. This is a set up for burnout! But let me tell you what she said as she spoke about her work. She said that it is important to her to maintain her connection to the special needs community and to keep her family connected there also. She wants to give her experience and effort to help others the way she received help when she was caring for a child with special needs. She keeps at it, even in difficult times, because she has vision and purpose.

Here’s another example: another friend of mine has recently moved with her family from one state to another. Like any transition, this has had some trauma attached to it, and has necessitated some re-defining of her vision. This week, because of connections she has made since she has moved and because of her training as a dental assistant, she was able to help out when a kid had a dental injury. On the surface, she felt that it was a small thing, but when she thought about it later, she realized that it was a sign that she is where God wants her to be, doing what God wants her to do, and that a new vision is developing! Go away, burnout, there is a purpose!

One more story. There is a lady who is fostering two boys. She and her husband are providing a home and love and food and safety. As you might imagine, it is rarely easy. Not only do the children have issues from their past experiences, there is the whole uncertainty about how long they will stay. Will they be with them for Christmas? What will happen to them next year? Just the place for burnout. But what keeps this couple being a family for these boys day after day? They have vision. There is a purpose for what they are doing. It matters.

The Bible talks about vision. Proverbs tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish:” (Proverbs 29:18). I read as I was studying this that the Hebrew word for perish is a word that was also used to describe a woman’s uncovered hair in the wind, blown in all directions. I sometimes feel that way, pulled here and there and not sure I am going anywhere.

Jesus noticed people living that way. In Matthew 9:36, we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Ever feel harassed and helpless, not sure where to go, lacking vision? There is a Good Shepherd that wants to lead you beside still waters, restore your soul, lead you in right paths for His name’s sake. He wants to give you vision and keep you from overwhelm and burnout.

Your life has purpose. You are here for a reason. Don’t get discouraged. Ask Jesus to show you the vision, and keep your eyes on it. There will surely be challenges and hard times. The prophet Isaiah said, “Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:20. He wants to lead you and use you. Get a glimpse of the vision! Know your why!

I love the lyrics to the song “Thrive” by Casting Crowns. “…We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive. Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible!”

Especially during this holiday season, let’s not lose our vision and fall prey to burnout. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let’s remember why. Our big picture vision is to live “for His name’s sake,” like in Psalm 23 and for His kingdom to come in us and in our families and in our communities and in our world.

Another song…

We Are The Reason

As little children

We would dream of Christmas morn

Of all the gifts and toys

We knew we’d find

But we never realized

A baby born one blessed night

Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

We were the reason

That He gave His life

We were the reason That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live

As the years went by

We learned more about gifts

The giving of ourselves

And what that means

On a dark and cloudy day

A man hung crying in the rain

Because of love, all because of love

We were the reason

That He gave His life

We were the reason That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live

I’ve finally found the reason for living

It’s in giving every part of my heart to Him

In all that I do every word that I say

I’ll be giving my all just for Him, for Him…

We were the reason

That He gave His life We are the reason

That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live…

He is my reason to live

 

God, thanks that You are our reason to live and that You provide us with purpose and vision and power. You help us thrive as we follow You. Would You walk with us, especially during these days that bring stress and busyness? Would You point us in the direction of the vision You have for us? We want to see You and hear You. Protect us from being overwhelmed and burned out, and help us to share hope with those around us who are feeling that way. We can never say enough to thank You for being Emmanuel, God with us.

 

Football Banquet

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In our family, we like football.  For some of us, that is definitely an understatement.   Take Jack, who is basically all football all the time.  He takes his stance and runs plays up and down the hall, plays Madden ‘19 like nobody’s business, and wears nothing but his Ohio State jerseys to school.  He even called me for delay of game one morning because I was cooking breakfast instead of hiking the imaginary ball.  Then there is Marco, who just wrapped up his 8th grade football season, coming back after a clavicle fracture to play four of his best games yet.

Last Sunday night was the junior high football banquet, where we dined on pizza and celebrated the season.  The coach spent some time talking about each player, and as I mentally recapped his comments last week, some life advice jumped out at me.  Mind if I share?

Be a leader.  If you heard coach say anything at the banquet, you heard this.  He praised several of the players for their leadership and told more than a few that they need to be better leaders.  He said he wants all the players to be leaders, and he explained that he means learning the skill of encouraging their teammates and inspiring their best efforts, especially when things aren’t going very well.  That’s something we all should be reaching toward.  We need to be the voice of kindness and encouragement that lifts others up.  This is important all the time, but vital when hard times hit.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds…”

Jesus was very clear that if we want to lead, that means serving, and He was the perfect example of servant leadership.

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Get strong and put your time in.  Our boys spend a lot of time working out during the off season. The coach emphasized this over and over, pointing out how the effort invested in getting stronger translated directly into more confidence and success on the field.  Once again, we can apply this to our own lives.  As we discipline ourselves to “put our time in” developing spiritually, we get stronger.  That always pays off in better performance in the “game of life,” and even yields rewards that last for eternity.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. … be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”  I Timothy 4:8,15

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Grow. One thing about 7th and 8th grade boys is that they are growing.  Some of them feel pretty small, and the coach just encouraged them that they will grow.  People grow at different paces, but we all grow. When we feel frustrated by lessons we are still struggling to learn or areas where we need improvement, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be patient.  We are still growing.

2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever!  Amen.”

 

Stick with it. It is important to the football program that the kids keep on playing.  The coach pointed this out, and made it clear that everyone had value on the team.  Here again, what great advice for us!  Don’t give up or drop out.  You matter!

Romans 12:4-6 “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

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The coach personally spoke to every player at that banquet, congratulating them on their accomplishments and telling them where he wanted them to focus their efforts.  It was so fun to watch!  It might be a little picture of how it will be for us one day when we meet our Coach face to face. Let’s keep our focus and seek His kingdom so we can hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23

God, may all these things be true of us. Teach us how to be leaders, especially during difficult seasons. Let us be diligent and disciplined to spend time in prayer and in Your presence so we can be strong.  When we get discouraged, remind us that we are still growing.  And may we stick with it as we follow You.  You are our reward.  

-Leah

Soccer, anyone?

Jack gets the soccer ball from his opponent, dribbles a little as he scans the field, and then passes the ball back to one of the defenders. That player turns the ball and passes it to his own goalie, as the other team rushes toward the goal, looking for an opportunity to take the ball back and score.  You can hear a few gasps and even a chuckle from the sidelines.  The parents cheering for the other team think our team has made a mistake and are hoping their boys can turn it into a goal.  Our goalie passes to a defender, and on goes the game.

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This is a scenario we have seen before. When our U9 soccer team has a good lead, our coach has the players pass and make sure everyone has touched the ball before they try to score.  We weren’t sure if we should expect to see this during a tournament, though, since the total points scored helps determine the tournament ranking.

But, we weren’t too surprised. Coach has let us know that he cares more about developing skills and teamwork and sportsmanship than about winning games, even tournaments (!).  He is looking at the bigger picture.  Sometimes the instructions he gives to the players don’t make obvious sense from the perspective of a moment in a game, but those players do what he says.  They trust that he knows best and that he has a plan.

So you can see where I’m going with this. We have a Coach Who sets up plays and gives instructions.  He knows far more about the game than we do.  He sees beyond what we can see as we battle through the moments of this present game.  He cares about developing a team, not just individuals.  He cares about our character and that we learn to play well.

’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ “ Isaiah 55:8-9

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Sometimes we question the wisdom of how we are instructed to live, paths we are directed to take, decisions we are led to make. They don’t make sense in the light of our goals, and sometimes they even seem like going backward.  It is at those times that we need to remember the communications we have received from the Coach and remember that He knows best and that He has a plan.

I think of the often quoted words from Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ “   Remember to whom Jeremiah was delivering this message from God-a people who were in exile.  They were the losing team, down with no obvious chance of catching back up.  Their Coach said, “Don’t worry.  Trust me.  I have a plan.”  Look at the  verses that follow verse 11, “ ‘Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…’ “

Another story to help us get this message…

One day I planned to take our dog to walk at a local park. I loaded her up in the back of my mini van and headed out.  The drive was less than 10 minutes, but that dog cried and whined the whole time she was in the van.  She didn’t like being there.  I think if you could have asked her, she would have wanted to head right back home.  But the thing I was doing that she didn’t like was the way to get her to something she really enjoyed-a long walk in a new place.  She had to endure a little discomfort to get to the joy.

Thankfully, we are not dogs. But there are definitely times we find ourselves in uncomfortable and even painful situations, unsure where we are headed.  We have the benefit of being able to hear from the Driver and to know that He is trustworthy.  He has told us we are heading somewhere good.

Paul knew it. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18.

Peter knew it. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power forever and ever.  Amen.”  I Peter 5:10-11

You can know it. Trust the Coach.

By the way, the only way you got on the team was because He paid the fee. You couldn’t afford it.  He wanted you on His team, so He paid a crazy high price to give you the opportunity to sign up.  (“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  I Peter 1:18-19)

He gave you that uniform to replace your dirty clothes. (“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…”  Isaiah 61:10)

He has promised to supply all that you need to play. (“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  II Peter 1:3)

Jack’s Coach Travis doesn’t yell at the team. They know what he wants them to do because they spend lots of time with him at practice, and they are familiar with his voice.   We need to be spending time with our Coach, reading the messages He sent, letting Him teach us along with the team, listening and learning His voice.  He loves us.  His plan is perfect.  Let’s follow His directions and trust that He is taking us somewhere amazing.

 

God, thanks that You are so beyond us. Your love is incredible.  Your sacrifice for us is more than we can comprehend.  Help us to be committed players on Your team, practicing, listening, trusting, obeying.  Help us to work together with our teammates, and help us to encourage them.  Teach us to look beyond this moment and live with our eyes on You and on eternity.  Pour Your grace on us.

-Leah

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Opportunity Knocks

Have you ever wished you could be two places at once? I have. In fact, I find myself wishing that fairly often. A few weeks ago I was trying to decide whether to go away for the weekend with my husband and son #3 or to stay home for the weekend with son #1. (Son #2 had other weekend plans.) I was pretty torn. I really did want to be both places, and I kept going back and forth in my mind, finding it difficult to make a decision. What made the difference for me was remembering something I had read more than a year before in Bob Goff’s book, Everybody Always. Bob said that “some opportunities come with expiration dates.” I grabbed hold of that at the time I read it, and it inspired me to stop waiting until I had everything caught up and together and to start writing. 

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The phrase had popped up again when I impulsively stopped at Suter’s produce stand on their last day of business and came home with 15 dozen ears of corn. I explained to my startled husband that this was an opportunity with an expiration date. If we wanted corn in the freezer, we needed to make time and act.

 
And then it hit me! The answer to the dilemma of what to do with my weekend. Son #1 is a junior in high school. Spending time with him is definitely an opportunity with an expiration date. When I looked at it from that perspective, the decision was clear and I felt confident.

 
As I was seeing things as “opportunities”, and I noticed them cropping up all around. Because I stayed in town that weekend, I had the opportunity to connect with a family that had recently moved here from Guatemala, welcome them and assist their 8th grader with getting started in school. I knew of them from Anteneh, a Bluffton University student from Ethiopia who I had had the opportunity to meet several years ago at a fundraiser we were having after a trip to Ethiopia. That trip was quite the opportunity, and I had almost missed it because I thought I was too busy and couldn’t leave my job and family to go.

 
God gives us so many opportunities. He wants to use us to live His love, to touch people. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the demands of our days, work and stuff management and keeping up appearances, that we let the expiring opportunities slip by.

 
The Apostle Paul had some advice that applies here, “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

 
We need to live each day with our eyes open for God-given opportunities. We need to choose what is important over what feels urgent. Could I even suggest that we be praying for opportunities? Paul had this prayer request, “At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ…” Colossians 4:3.


Another thought that has helped me over the years when I have tried to sort out how to best spend my time, is a saying of Pastor Jim’s. “People before projects.” People matter. And frankly, all people have expiration dates.

 
God promises that what we invest into people will reap a reward. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Galatians 6:9-10

 
Some opportunities come with expiration dates.

 
People before projects.

 
Join me in looking for the best way to spend the opportunity called today.

 

God, You amaze me with how You weave stories together and place people in just the right places at just the right times to carry out Your work. Thank you for the opportunities You have given us, and for the ones You will be giving. Help us to see them and make the most of each one. Give us Your perspective as we live each day.  I re-pray these words for myself and everyone who reads this:

And this is my prayer that (our) love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help (us) determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ (we) may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1:9-11

 

-Leah

Image result for this is my prayer that your love may abound

 

Trash Talk

At my house, we have a trash drawer. I don’t mean a junk drawer, although we have one of those too.  This is a drawer in our kitchen specially designed to hold a trash can.  When you want to throw something away, you open the drawer, put in your trash, and then shut it.  I suppose this is to keep the trash can out of sight and keep the kitchen tidy.  For the most part, it works pretty well.  The glitch comes, as you might expect, when the trash can is full.  As is human nature, we tend to overfill the trash can rather than empty it.  I’m guessing that this is a common happening in many homes.  The difference with the trash drawer set up comes when you shut the drawer on a trash can that is full beyond its limits.  The garbage overflows into the back of the drawer where it keeps the drawer from closing correctly and becomes difficult to get out.  It turns a routine chore into something a little more time-consuming and aggravating.Image result for trash drawer image

 

From my perspective, the best approach is obvious. Empty the trash can when it is full.  Simple.  Another option is to leave the trash can full, but leave the drawer open and hope someone else empties the trash.  The third scenario, the shove-the-trash-down-and-shove-the-drawer-shut option, is unfortunately an all too common practice at our house.

 

The other day, as I was extracting trash from the back of the drawer, I was thinking about how this is similar to something that happens inside of us. We all have trash, attitudes and actions that need discarded, that keep us from being the best version of ourselves (to borrow a phrase from Matthew Kelly).   When we think of the yucky stuff in our hearts, we can all agree that it piles up just like the trash in the kitchen.  And over and over, we are faced with a decision.  Do we empty the trash, or do we push it down and try to hide it?  It’s not going to go away by itself.  And just like the trash in my kitchen, the longer we procrastinate and the more we try to close the drawer so people can’t see it, the worse off we are.

 

This seems pretty obvious, and sounds logical to me. It’s easy to agree about the generalities of keeping your inner self clean, but I took it a step further.  I have been pondering specifically what trash I have, and what it means to address it before it overflows and stops things from working the way they are designed to work.

 

I have been thinking of the instruction given by Paul, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2).  It surprised me to find the same words used by Jesus in a well-known passage, Matthew 11:28-30.  “ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ “

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Humble and gentle. Gentle and humble in heart.

Too often, I find the opposites in me: proud and harsh. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of my trash can be attributed to pride and self-centeredness.  Ouch.  I’m also pretty sure that there are lots of times that I ignore those attitudes and the thoughts and actions that flow from them, pushing them down and closing the drawer on them so at least they feel hidden.

 

What does it mean to empty my inner trash? How can I get rid of proud and self-centered and become more humble and gentle like Jesus?

 

First of all, I have to see the trash. In today’s world, we often go through our days in survival mode and at a break-neck pace, fulfilling demands and putting out fires and sometimes missing what is important because there is so much that feels urgent.  In that framework, it is pretty hard to notice when I am acting or speaking out of pride and with my own interests first.  Paying more attention to what’s going on inside me as I go through the day is a necessary step to seeing where there is trash to empty.  I think it is helpful to think of some triggers to remind me to stop and evaluate the status of my internal trash can.

 

One trigger is when I start to see other people’s trash. Jesus’ message, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5), is great advice about remembering to look for trash in yourself.  For some reason, no matter how busy I am, I do find time to notice things that other people could improve.  My goal is that when I find myself thinking about what’s less than perfect in someone else, I take that opportunity to find and empty my own pride and self-centeredness.

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Another trigger is found in the words of Jesus I mentioned earlier. Jesus said that if we are in need of rest, we should learn from Him, the One who is gentle and humble in heart.  When I start to feel frustrated or worried, that is the opposite of rest.  Those feelings are usually an indicator that I am not living in the Jesus way of humility and gentleness and that there is trash to empty.   When I find myself frustrated or worried and lacking rest, I want to pause and find the trash in me and move it out.

 

So, how do I get rid of the trash? Yes, first I have to see it, but how do I change it?  The great news is that I don’t have to do it by my own will-power.  Take it from David, a man who had some trash that needed to go.  Psalm 51 records his prayer that God would clean him up.  In verse 7 he says, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” and in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”  The way to get rid of the things need discarded from inside me is to let God do it.  If I am willing and ask, He does the cleaning. Sounds too good to be true, but try it!

 

My sister reminded me of a song we used to listen to in the 80’s, by David Meece. I had forgotten all about it, but the lyrics are just right for trash removal…

Replace It With Your Love

David Meece

Where there’s hate give me love
Where there’s pride make me be humble
Where there’s pain don’t let me feel resentment deep inside
I want You to make it right

So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

When I’m tired lift me up
When I’m weak, Lord, don’t let me falter
But if I fall, don’t let me harbor bitterness inside
I want You to take it out

Lord, I’m just a man who wants to be like You
Living in Your perfect love in everything I do
So now I’m yielding I’m yielding all to You
To take out every wrong I feel inside
So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

If you have time, listen to the song :).

 

Just like emptying the kitchen trash, emptying the heart trash is a job that we get to do over and over again, and making a habit of doing it instead of putting it off makes life smoother and better.

 

Jesus, thanks for Your words about being humble and gentle. As I go through each day, help open my eyes to my pride and self-centeredness. Remind me to take it to You and let You replace it with Your love. Thank You that You love me in my mess and that You empower me to become clean.

-Leah

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