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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Log Slide Overlook

*This post is dedicated to Jeff Eiden, who, one day on the side of a sand dune, was a shining example to me of God’s heroic love.

My sister, Leah, and brother-in-law, Jeff, have a cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan not far from Lake Superior. A few years ago, we spent Thanksgiving there together. One morning, we loaded up in their minivan and made our way to an area of the lake called Log Slide Overlook. This is the place at the top of the sand dunes where loggers moved logs from the top of the dunes down to the lake for transportation. The view from the overlook is breathtaking. I remember standing there with Jeff and my nephews, looking down and being awestruck by the beauty of the lake. All of a sudden, I realized that Jeff was gone. I looked all around, and I couldn’t see him anywhere. After looking all around for a few minutes, I started to get worried. Then, almost as quickly as he had disappeared, there he was again. When I asked him where he had gone, he said that he had gone all the way down the dune to the lake. He said, “You should try it – it’s beautiful down there.” Well, I am always up for an adventure, so I started getting excited. After I had taken one or two steps down, Jeff said, “Be careful. It’s not that easy to climb back up.” So, thinking that I should just see what I was getting into, I took the couple of steps back up. No big deal. I had this.

Off I went. Going down the dune was SO much fun! I would put my foot down, and it would slide. Put the other foot down, slide some more. I gained more joy with each slide of my foot. Slide, slide, slide. Super fun! When I got to the bottom, WOW. I was at the edge of the lake and surrounded by the sand dunes. The view from down there was even more incredible than the view from the top. I was filled with joy and captivated by the wonder of it all. 

I wish I could tell you that the story ends there with all the joy and wonder, but that wouldn’t be the truth. All that joy and wonder soon began to fade as I started to attempt to make my way back up the dune. Attempt. Yes, you read that correctly. I will say that I started out with strength and determination. I put my foot in the sand, and guess what? It slid down. Just like before. Only this time, I didn’t want my foot to slide down. I put the other foot up in the sand. It slid down too. Foot up, slide down. Other foot up, slide down again. And this was the way it went. I was working so hard and making very little progress. Very. Little. Progress. I was determined though. My family was waiting for me up there. Step up, slide down. Step up, slide down.

At this point, I might mention that according to the caution sign at the top of the overlook, the dune is a 500 foot climb with a 300 foot gain in elevation. Did you catch that? There was a caution sign. Oh my. The things I get myself into.

There I was, climbing and climbing. Exhaustion began to take over. All joy – gone. All wonder – lost. Enter feelings of exasperation and anxiety. I was overwhelmed. So, I stopped. I stopped. I sat down. I was about halfway up, and I quit. I got out my cell phone, called my sister, and said, “I can’t make it back up.” To make matters even more interesting, she asked a couple of questions and quickly determined that I was hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is caused by a low level of glucose, which is your body’s main energy source (at least that’s what it says on the Mayo Clinic website). I had only eaten an apple for breakfast several hours earlier, and I didn’t have enough fuel to get me back up that dune.

I hope you can picture this scene. My family at the top of the overlook. Dana sitting in the middle of the sand dune with probably 250 more feet to climb. Out of energy. Shaky. Weak. Overwhelmed. 

As it turns out, we have a hero in my family. At least, he sure was a hero to me that day. Down came Jeff armed with a bottle of water and a Clif bar (how appropriate, right?). There are tears in my eyes as I’m typing this. That brother-in-law of mine knew what I needed and moved beyond the knowledge of my need to action. He stayed with me while I put into my body what was needed to provide energy. He encouraged me. He believed in me when I had already quit. Guess what? It worked. 

I finished the bottle of water and the Clif bar. I got up. And I stepped and slid the rest of the way back up that dune with my faithful rescuer by my side. He didn’t rush on up the dune ahead of me. He stayed with me, providing the encouragement that I needed. And I made it. What a joyful reunion it was at the top of the overlook!

So, you might say, why am I telling you all of this? I have been reminded of this experience on a couple of different occasions this week. I found myself in a situation at work that seemed very much like this sand dune. Trying, trying, trying to make progress, but for every step upward, there was a slide downward. It seemed like the harder I worked, the bigger the mess became. It was a sand dune moment. 

I have struggled with my weight for pretty much my whole life. About 10 years ago, by God’s grace, I lost 60 pounds. For the most part, I had managed until a few years ago to keep most of that off. But today, I find myself in the struggle. One step upward, one slide downward. A sand dune moment.

So, here I am in the middle of the sand dune faced with a long climb ahead. How about you? Have you had any sand dune moments lately? Are you climbing, but not really getting anywhere? 

This morning, my question to God was, “What are You trying to teach me in these sand dune moments?” I’m not sure I know all the lessons I’m supposed to be learning, but I will share some encouragement (just in case I’m not alone on the dune).

Call for help. Sounds simple, right? Why is it that we struggle so long without calling for help? Sometimes, maybe the best thing we can do is stop and call for help. Our Father knows what we need and moves beyond the knowledge of our needs to action.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)

“The LORD says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them.'” (Psalm 91:14-15, NLT)

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

Increase your spiritual energy. In sand dune moments, it could be that we are lacking in the main sources of our spiritual energy – the Bread of Life and Living Water. Time at the feet of Jesus will give us the strength that we lack on our own. We can’t make it up the dune without Him.

“Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” (John 6:35, NLT)

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.'” (John 4:13-14, NLT)

Get up and keep climbing. Persevere. Once we have called for help and refueled, we have to just keep climbing. Jesus is near to us. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and He will make the climb with us, offering hope and encouragement through His Word. 

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NLT)

If you see someone stuck on a sand dune, help them. Maybe you don’t relate to this today. You’re not having a sand dune moment. Do you know someone who is? Reach out to them. Point them to the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Believe me, it will matter so much.

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Dear Father, You see us. You know when we struggle – when we are trying hard, but not making much progress. You see the steps upward and the slides downward. So many times, we struggle and struggle without even asking You for Your help. Forgive us for that. Will You please come to us on these sand dunes and help us? We are so aware of our need for You. Give us the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Fuel our spirits. We bring our exasperation, our anxiety, our striving, and we lay all of it at the feet of Jesus. Please exchange it for peace, joy, and hope. Give us the spiritual energy we need to get up and keep on climbing. We know that with Your help we can make it up this sand dune. Help us, Father, to look around us and to encourage others who may be experiencing sand dune moments. Thank You so much for Your love for us, Your help, and Your provision. Amen. 

-Dana

Quicksand

Ever feel like you are in over your head? Like you’re fighting a losing battle, and the situation is too hard, too much, and you are certainly not enough? Of course you have. We’ve all been there at one time or another and to one degree or another. Some of us feel this in our daily lives, that overload and stress from expectations we place on ourselves or allow others to place on us. Sometimes it hits much harder. A painful relationship, a serious illness, a toxic work environment, the death of a loved one. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable or unbearable.

I recall one such time in my life. The situation was difficult, it certainly was not what I had expected/planned, I felt like I was flailing and failing. I was worried about how it would play out for my family. I was hurting. As I stood in church, singing the closing song, my mind suddenly went to Mary. I thought about how she had been asked to do something very difficult.

Let’s take a minute to read the details…

“…the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38 (NRV)

So a young girl, probably a teenager, gets the news that she has been chosen to carry Jesus. This is a great honor, but not without cost. She surely understood, at least to some extent, that this was going to change her previous life plan and cause some suffering. I love what she said as all this was dawning on her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She was willing.

I thought about Mary that Sunday morning in church, and I realized that I had also been chosen. In a way that was very different and yet somehow similar, God had chosen me to be in the difficult place in which I was finding myself. I was also being given the opportunity to “carry Jesus.” It was not the way I had envisioned it would be, and there was brokenness involved, but this was where God had placed me. My heart responded, “Let it be with me, according to Your word.” And then I sang with the congregation,

And I will fall at your feet

I will fall at your feet

And I will worship you here.

I will worship You, right in this hard place. It was a powerful moment in my life, a change of heart. I was right where I was supposed to be, and my role was to worship.

This reminds me of Bear Grylls. Ever heard of him? He is the survival guy that is forever putting himself (voluntarily, which is crazy!) into survival situations, and then demonstrating how to get out alive and in one piece. I once saw him in quicksand. He let himself get sucked in until he was good and stuck. The muck was up above his waist. From his quicksand pulpit, he emphasized the key to escape. Do not struggle and fight. All that does is drag you down and get you more hopelessly stuck. Apparently what is deadly about quicksand is not so much getting swallowed up but being immobilized and exposed to the sun.

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I love the analogy here! When we find ourselves in something sticky and challenging, immobilized and overwhelmed, we should not struggle and fight. We need to calm down and be still. David had learned this even before Bear Grylls. He wrote what he had heard, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 One translation reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

The default reaction if you are in quicksand is to panic and try to get out. The default reaction in challenging situations is similarly to worry and fret and try to make a plan to get out. We need to remember that the better way is to surrender, to “let go and let God.”

Many times when I am talking with people about difficult times they are dealing with, they mention the Serenity Prayer.

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God, grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference

Maybe we can expand on that:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. God, help me to accept that You have a plan and that You are able. I don’t have to struggle to change my circumstances. Teach me to rest in You.

The courage to change the things I can. Give me the courage to say “Yes,” to what You are doing and to let myself be changed by it. Help me to change my mindset from stuck to still and to learn to worship.

And the wisdom to know the difference. Show me when my effort is moving me toward You versus when my activity is just adding to my frustration and immobility.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:1-3

-Leah

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All I Have To Be

“We are all called to the sacred task of being ourselves.” Those were words spoken at our church recently by a visiting missionary. They resonated with me, mostly because I have spent the greater part of my life wishing to be someone other than who I am. If I’m called to the sacred task of being myself, then wishing to be someone other than who I am is a serious problem.

Have you ever felt that way? I’m guessing that I’m not alone. From childhood, I’ve been plagued with these nagging thoughts that I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not ____________ enough (fill in the blank with just about anything you can think of). I’m not enough. I’ve struggled with looking at the people around me and wishing to be as _____________ as they are (again, fill in the blank). 

In the years I was growing up, my sister was the object of my comparison most of the time. Some of you are fortunate enough to know her. She’s pretty great, right? Being her younger sister, I was captivated by her. And every time, I measured myself against her, I came up short. She was prettier than me. She was skinnier than me. She was smarter than me. She played the piano better. She read faster. She learned more. You name it, she did it well. And instead of celebrating her successes, I resented them because I thought they only highlighted my inferiority.

I remember having so many conversations with my parents through the years about this very thing. They were wise and saw this crippling thought pattern that was developing in me. They explained over and over that I wasn’t created to be the same as my sister. They loved me through my mess and tried to encourage me to be comfortable in my own skin. As much as they tried, I really wasn’t convinced.

As a young adult, my focus expanded beyond my sister to others around me who I perceived to be better, more talented, smarter, prettier. I found myself constantly comparing myself to others, constantly measuring myself against what I saw around me, and constantly coming up short. This mindset became a way of life, and it was debilitating. Maybe it’s why the Bible says –

“But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (2 Corinthians 10:12b, NLT)

I needed to know the truth in this area, and God, in His great mercy, has been teaching me some truth that I would like to share. In full transparency, I haven’t mastered this truth, but I can claim progress by God’s grace.

God is the standard of measurement. Other people are not. Instead of looking around at others to measure my success, failure, value, or worth, I must look to God as the standard. Now, when I do that, I will definitely realize that I’m not good enough on my own. But when I understand that because of the price that Jesus paid for me at the cross, I am covered in His righteousness, it changes everything. I am a child of God, blameless before Him because of the sacrifice of Jesus, and I am eternally loved.

“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:5-8, NLT)

Comparing ourselves with others is hazardous to our spiritual and emotional health. As I was pondering comparison this week, I realized a very simple truth. When I compare myself with someone else, I very rarely break even. More often than not, I will either consider myself superior to or inferior to the other person. Both conclusions are dangerous. If I decide I’m superior to that person, it is prideful and self-righteous. I will look down on them, mistreat them, and fail to love them well. If I decide I’m inferior to them, it causes resentment, feelings of failure and inadequacy, and it can paralyze me. I would argue that it’s also prideful because it charges God with not doing a good enough job when He created me. It’s a subtle accusation that I think He could have done better.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’ How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ This is what the LORD says – the Holy One of Israel and your Creator: ‘Do you question what I do for my children? Do you give me orders about the work of my hands? I am the One Who made the earth and created people to live on it. With My hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command.” (Isaiah 45:9-12, NLT)

I can find joy and contentment in being who I was created to be. When I was young, I was an avid Amy Grant fan. She sang a song that to this day, makes tears well up in my eyes. Honestly, when I hear it even now, I remember that little girl who wanted so badly to be like her big sister and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t manage to do it. The lyrics of this song were a healing balm to that little girl’s heart, and it has taken years for me to begin to understand the truth in them. 

When the weight of all my dreams is resting heavy on my head,

And thoughtful words of help and hope have all been nicely said,

But I’m still hurting, wondering if I’ll ever be the one I think I am, I think I am.

Then, you gently re-remind me that You made me from the first,

And the more I try to be the best, the more I get the worst.

And I realize the good in me is only there because of Who You are, Who You are.

And all I ever have to be is what You’ve made me.

Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan.

As You daily re-create me, help me always keep in mind

That I only have to do what I can find.

And all I ever have to be, all I have to be, all I ever have to be

Is what You’ve made me.

I’m learning that God created me just the way He wanted to. He gave me the personality, the character traits, the talents, the physical attributes, the intelligence, and the interests that He wanted me to have. None of it was by accident, and none of it was a mistake. I am who He created me to be. I don’t need to look around me to determine my value. I need to look up. My worth is in the One Who fashioned me and loves me beyond my imagination.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, You are still with me!” (Psalm 139:13-18, NLT)

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.(Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)

For me, this learning has been a journey, and the truth is setting me free. I hope this truth resonates with some of you, too. You are God’s masterpiece, created by Him just the way He wanted you to be. This week, let’s ask God to help us to avoid looking around us to see how we measure up and to find our value by looking up to our Creator and understanding that He does all things well. “We are all called to the sacred task of being ourselves,” and all we have to be is what He’s made us to be. 

Dear Father, would you forgive us for those times when we have compared ourselves to others and considered ourselves superior to them? Forgive us for the pride in our hearts that looks down on and mistreats others who have been created in Your image. Would You also forgive us for the times when we have compared ourselves to others and considered ourselves inferior to them? Forgive us for accusing You in our hearts of not creating us well and for not making us the way that we think You should have made us. Will You help us this week to stop looking around us to find our value and affirmation? Help us to look to You and to the truth in Your Word to understand who You’ve made us to be. Keep us from the trap of comparison, and help us to celebrate the successes of others instead of letting their successes make us feel inferior and inadequate. May we look at all of Your image bearers (including ourselves) and know that You do all things well. Thank You for creating us in just the exact way that You wanted to, and thank You so much for loving us. Help us to share that love with others. Amen.

-Dana

Keep an Even Keel

People are fascinated by shipwrecks. There are songs and movies and books immortalizing details of the sinking of the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald, as well as many other nautical disasters. Most of the time if you want to see what’s left after a ship sinks, you have to be a diver, but this summer, my family was able to see two Lake Superior shipwrecks on a glass-bottomed boat tour. One of the sites showed remains of the Herman H. Hettler, a wooden steamer that sank on November 23, 1926. The ship had hit a reef, and after it sank, it was a hazard for other ships traveling in the area, so several years later, it was dynamited. Of course, the ship itself is no longer in one piece, but we were able to see remnants, including the commode and bathtub from the captain’s quarters!

One thing that we could see well as we passed over the site, was the ship’s keel. 102 years later, after a hitting a reef, sinking, and being dynamited, the keel is still there. Prior to this, I didn’t know much about keels. Actually, a few weeks before our trip, I had been contemplating the phrases “even keel,” and “smooth sailing,” thinking of them as they apply to how things go for us on a day by day basis. I didn’t have any sense at all of what “even keel” meant in a nautical sense. Now that I have a seen a keel, the concept is even more meaningful.

The keel is like the backbone of the ship; it is the piece that runs through the center of the hull from front to back (fore to aft?). The components of the bottom and sides of the boat all connect to the keel.

When one thinks about what “even keel” means, balance and steadiness come to mind. A calm unruffledness, regardless of circumstances, an ability to roll with the punches. “Even keel” is about the boat. “Smooth sailing” is about what is going on outside the boat. Smooth sailing is great, and given a choice, I will choose it over stormy seas every time. But even better than smooth sailing is that internal peace that keeps my boat from rocking too much, even in high waves. The key to that steadiness is what lies at the center of my life, the keel of my boat, if you will.

It reminds me of a picture that Jesus painted about how the stability of a house depends on its foundation. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Life keeps making waves. To me, the waves are like negative emotions-feelings of fear or anger or depression or worry or inadequacy, among others. And even though I have built my life’s boat around Jesus, I don’t always have that inner peace and stability that I crave. I am too often pushed around by how I feel and exhausted by trying to stay on course. I think the key is to live centered on my faith and focused on eternity, and to re-center and re-focus when I start to wobble. To consciously turn my attention back to Jesus and stop watching the waves rolling in.

People have been working on this for centuries. Brother Lawrence lived at a monastery in the 1600’s. He made it his goal to spend all his moments connected to Christ, whatever he was doing. He talked about communicating with God even in the mundane, and since he worked in the kitchen, his mundane was peeling potatoes. Peeling potatoes, washing dishes, whatever his task was, he would remind himself to re-direct his thoughts to God. This is simple, as in “not complicated,” but not simple as in “easy.” The book The Practice of the Presence of God that records his thoughts and conversations on this subject is powerful, especially in that it reminds us that living this way takes practice.

The outcome of staying focused on Jesus, is a greater awareness of His presence, and His presence is glorious. This may just be what Paul means when he talks about “the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I don’t have much (or any) hope for keeping an even keel on my own, but when I realize that the keel of my ship is Jesus and when I repeatedly work on staying connected to Him, glory happens.

Clear back in the fifth century, St. Patrick (yes, the guy who gets us pinched if we don’t wear green on March 17) prayed,

“Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.”

Jesus said He wants this glory for us. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me.” (John 17:24)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Life is not always smooth sailing. There are big storms and windy weather, and it can get pretty choppy. May we center our lives on Jesus, and practice re-connecting to His presence no matter what we feel. May we experience the “even keel” life and inspire others to do the same.

God, thank You for being my center, my foundation, my keel. When my emotions have me feeling off balance and distressed, help me to remember the truth that You are stable and strong. Help me to connect to Your presence and experience Your glory.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

-Leah

You Feed Them

A few years ago, I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Uganda with a team from America World Adoption. We spent about a week there teaching and loving on precious children, most of them being orphans. It would take more than one blog post to share all that I learned from that trip, but this week, I want to share with you one of the things that God taught me that has remained with me and become part of my heart.

I didn’t have to be in Uganda very long to become overwhelmed by the great need that exists there. I could list facts and statistics for you, but the truth is, those numbers will never grip your heart in the way that looking into the eyes of an orphan with HIV will. There’s something about being there, face to face with tangible humanity, that cannot be expressed in figures and percentages. When both of my hands were holding on to the hands of little ones who have experienced more heartache and loss in their short, young lives than can be imagined, and I looked around me only to see so many more just like them, I began to understand what being ‘moved with compassion’ means.

As I returned to our living quarters after spending a day working with these precious children, sensing the great need and my inability to even make a dent in it, I opened my Bible and read this passage.

“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.’ But Jesus said,  ‘You feed them.‘ ‘With what?’ they asked. ‘We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!’ ‘How much bread do you have?‘ he asked. ‘Go and find out.‘ They came back and reported, ‘We have five loaves of bread and two fish.’ Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.”  Mark 6:34-44 (NLT)

This was a special moment for me because I was approaching this passage with a new understanding of what it means to be completely surrounded and overwhelmed by the needs of others. Walk with me through this passage as I share with you what our Father taught me that evening in Uganda.

1) Jesus is compassionate.
He sees people in their need, and He has compassion for them. Their needs, both physical and spiritual, are not unnoticed by Him. He doesn’t just see their needs, but His compassion moves Him to intervene. Notice, though, that His compassion first moved Him to teach them many things. That was where He started – with their spiritual needs. 

2) The disciples were compassionate.
True disciples of Jesus are also aware of the needs of others. They don’t turn a blind eye. They also feel compassion and long to see these needs met. They know Who to go to for help. Notice here though, in direct contrast with Jesus, their focus was not on the spiritual needs, but on the physical needs. Sometimes, we become so overwhelmed by physical needs that we forget that a person’s most desperate need is spiritual.

3) Jesus said, “You feed them.”
What?! Can you just imagine the disciples’ faces and their reactions? I wish I could have been there to see it! Jesus was asking them to do the impossible. They were face to face with a massive need, they had turned to Him for help, and He shocked them with three simple words. You. Feed. Them. It was a call to action. He was tasking them with something they could not possibly do on their own. But you see, He wasn’t asking them to do it on their own. Let’s keep reading.

4) Jesus asked them to identify what they had and give it to Him.
What do you have? Go and find out. Jesus was asking them to take an inventory. You don’t even begin to have enough to meet this great need, but what DO you have? Are you willing to give that? Will you take what is enough for you and be willing to give it up for the sake of others and their needs? Will you trust Jesus with what you have, believing that He can still take care of you too? Will you subtract so that He can multiply?

5) Jesus took what little they had to offer and multiplied it.
This is the greatest part. He took their meager loaves and fish and blessed them. Then, the miraculous happened. That little bit of food multiplied and met the massive need. It didn’t just barely meet the need. It exceeded the need. Everyone ate as much as they wanted, and there were leftovers – a lot of leftovers! Incredible, right? 

Here’s the truth – God can meet needs, both spiritual and physical needs, without our help. He is so much more powerful than we can even imagine. Many times, though, He chooses to use us to help. I am still filled with wonder over that. What He asks from us is that we give what we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Have you ever felt that way? “Lord, what I have is so small, and the need is so far greater.” That is the best place to be! That is the perfect place to watch what God can do. When we say in that moment, “Lord, I don’t have much at all, but You can have it. Take these loaves and fish that I’m offering to You and use them as You will. I am willing to give what I have,” I believe that is a fragrant offering of worship to Him. He takes our little loaves and fish, He blesses them, and then He multiplies them.

This isn’t just true in a place like Uganda or on a hillside with 5,000 men and their families. This is true in the mundane, everyday-ness of our walk with God. 

“Lord, this person I love doesn’t know You. I can’t open their eyes to see their spiritual need. But I am bringing You my loaves and fish – my testimony, sharing the things You’ve done in my life, explaining the Gospel in the best way I know, talking about what I learned in church this week. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply? Please use what little I have for Your purposes and Your glory.”

“Lord, that family that just lost everything in a fire is in great need. I can’t replace their home, their possessions, or their peace. But I am bringing You my loaves and fish – my $25, my extra groceries, my prayers, my time. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply? Use what little I have for Your purposes and Your glory.” 

“Lord, my church needs nursery workers. I can’t care for all the children every week, but I’m bringing You my loaves and fish – a few hours of my time once a month. I’m willing to subtract. Will You please multiply and use what I’m giving for Your purposes and Your glory?”

Are you starting to see what I saw that night in Uganda? I should have warned you – it will change you. It changed me. I still see needs all around me, and many times, I hear gentle words whispered to my heart, “You feed them.” I’m learning to identify what I have, surrender it to my Savior, and then watch to see what He can do. I’m so grateful that sometimes He lets me be part of what He’s doing in the lives of others. What an undeserved privilege that is!

Father, I pray that as we walk with You this week, You will open our eyes to the needs around us. Help us to be compassionate, and help us to ask You for Your help when we see others in need. As You speak to our hearts, show us what we have that You can use, even if it seems small and insignificant to us. As we willingly give You what we have to offer, will You please bless it and multiply it to meet needs and to demonstrate Your love and power? Thank You for choosing to use us. We know that You don’t need us to meet the need, but in Your love and mercy, You let us be part of what You are doing. Let this become the habit of our lives – giving You our loaves and fish. Amen.

-Dana


Let There Be Light

Last week I found what I had been looking for – a framed photo of light shining into a forest. I had discovered a similar piece while we were on vacation in August, 2017, and purchased it, planning to hang it in my new office. But the office completion was delayed, and before I could get the picture there, it found its way onto my bedroom wall. I love waking up and seeing the sunlight pouring through the trees, making the grass of the forest floor such a vibrant green. Last week, back at Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I was able to find something similar for my office. They had many beautiful scenes available, but I kept going back to the ones featuring the sun breaking through.

Life can seem pretty dark at times. Sometimes a pitch black of grief, despair, or depression, like when they turn all the lights off in Ohio Caverns and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Sometimes dark and foggy confusion that keeps you searching for landmarks, slows you down, and stresses you out. Sometimes overcast and gloomy, like a heavy mood or anger. Sometimes there is a shadowy darkness of evil, sinister and almost palpable.

There is something so beautiful and alive and comforting about light, especially sunlight. And there is something like sunlight that shines into our lives and lifts us out of dark places. I’m sure you’ve had those moments, where you sense the warmth and the glow of light entering your soul.

Wouldn’t it be great to have that energy present all the time? To live in the light and never have to deal with darkness?

Check out God’s message to His people written by Isaiah:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-

When you see the naked, to clothe them,

And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

And your healing will quickly appear;

Then your righteousness will go before you,

And the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

With the pointing finger and malicious talk,

And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;

He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

Like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:6-11

There are many instances in the Bible when we are told that God is light, and to be close to God is to be in the light. What I love about these words from Isaiah is that we are given some insight into things we can do that will result in more light in our lives. While the actions listed vary in scope, encompassing work towards ending oppression, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, and even being present and available to your family, they all involve focusing on others with the intention to meet their needs. When we need light the most, when we are hurting, struggling, stressed, angry, confused, we get relief and healing by serving others. This really works!

I remember Sheila Cupples, who had been fighting cancer and dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments for years. She started her own campaign which she called “Find A Bigger Problem,” encouraging people to stop looking at what they were going through and find a way to help someone else who was suffering. Specifically, she invested herself in helping women in Nigeria who needed treatment for HIV/AIDS. Serving others turned on a light for her that carried her through her cancer journey with a grace that was inspiring, and she was intentional about sharing this “secret” with everyone she could, so they could find a way to reach outside themselves, serve others, and feel the same light.

One winter Wednesday a few years ago, Becky McClelland met me at her door when I stopped to pick up her grandson. She smiled and handed me a package – roasted cinnamon sugar nuts that she had made that day. In the middle of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, she had taken time and energy to make something to give. I can only assume that besides the way that touched me, the making and the giving brought Becky some light in a dark time.

Maybe you find yourself in darkness right now, anywhere from cranky to nearly immobilized by something that seems too heavy to bear. Maybe not, but if not, you can be sure the time is coming-it is part of life. Join me in committing to fight against your darkness by reaching out. Make a list of ways you can do that. Maybe even use Isaiah’s words as a template.

Loose chains of injustice-sponsor a child and write them a letter, spend some time learning about a social issue and pick some way you can work for change https://ourmissionispossible.org/

Set the oppressed free, break every yoke-volunteer at a drug rehab program or for an organization fighting human trafficking

Share your food with the hungry, spend yourself on behalf of the hungry-donate food and/or time to a local food pantry or make a meal to take to someone who is sick

Provide shelter for the poor wanderer-help out at a homeless shelter, check out what Habitat for Humanity is doing near you and join in

When you see the naked, clothe them-ask a teacher you know if there is a child that needs a hoodie or a coat, and buy it

Be available to your own family-play a card game, plan a family dinner, write a note of encouragement, put down your phone

Stop pointing your finger and stop malicious talk-this speaks for itself (ouch!)

Meet the needs of the oppressed-visit at a nursing home, mentor a younger person, go on a service trip https://be2live.org/

You make your own list. Don’t be held back by thinking these things are too big; it’s OK to start small. But start. And continue. Watch for the light breaking through your personal darkness and illuminating the darkness of others. Feel the healing and strength and energy.

Image result for isaiah 58:8 images

Jesus, thanks that You are light. Because of You, I don’t have to live in darkness. Still there are dark moments and days in my life. Please give me the strength to recognize the darkness and use it as a reminder to reach out rather than retreat. Bless and multiply my efforts to serve others, and bring light to others through me. I pray for each person reading this, that they will see You and Your light, that they will know that the You are stronger than any darkness, that they will open up and give, especially when they find themselves in a dark place.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” Psalm 89:15

-Leah