A Neighborly Day in This Beautywood

One of my heroes in life is Fred Rogers .  Naturally, I was excited about the new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” that came out last summer about Mr. Rogers’ life.  One of the quotes that stood out to me most in the movie was:  “Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships.   Love, or the lack of it.”

Fred Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and his vision was to serve through the medium of television.  He believed that all human beings have value, should recognize their own value, and should treat others as valuable.  In fact, his reference to his television “neighbors” was Scriptural in nature and can be found in the Golden Rule: to love your neighbor as yourself.

Once, Jesus was approached by a lawyer and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

I think that’s an inherent question in many of our hearts and souls.  Who is my neighbor?  If I can qualify what a neighbor looks and acts like, then it seems easier to follow the golden rule, especially, if my neighbor looks and acts like me.

Jesus challenged the lawyer by telling him the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A man, beaten, robbed, and left for dead, is passed by and disregarded by two important and prominent men.  A third man, a Samaritan (despised by Israelites), stopped and helped him, bandaged his wounds, and paid for his room and board while he healed. At the end of the story, Jesus turns the questioning back on the lawyer:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”  Luke 10:36 ESV

I can almost imagine the lawyer reticently replying:

“The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:37 ESV

Suffice it to say, that lawyer went away challenged in his thinking about who qualifies as a neighbor. This was probably not the answer he was expecting, and maybe not the answer he wanted.

Although showing compassion to our “neighbors” seems like a simple enough concept, it can be challenging and uncomfortable.  I believe most people naturally fall into one of two categories:  1) those who have a harder time showing mercy and  2) those who show mercy easily, but without boundaries.

I think the first of these categories is the one that most people think of in regards to the Good Samaritan.  After all, two men, respected by their community, passed the injured man, not bothering to even acknowledge him.   Often those who are suffering are not lovely.  They can remind us of things we don’t want to think about: poverty, grief, or pain.  To stop and help makes us acknowledge those things we would rather leave unnamed.  Helping might even lead to our own vulnerability, or at least our own discomfort.  Still, the Lord commands it, and showers us with His mercy so that we can in turn dispense mercy to others.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood…

On the other hand, some are so merciful, they hardly know where to stop.   The Good Samaritan didn’t go overboard.   Caring people can get so consumed helping others, that they may not set proper boundaries, and therefore get overwhelmed and burned out.  I am encouraged to see that although the Samaritan helped the man in significant ways, he really went on with his life afterwards.  He paid an innkeeper to care for the injured man and said that he would come back to check on him.  He did not cancel his work engagements for the week.  He did not move the man into his home for the next six months.  He did not offer to buy him an all new wardrobe.  He did what was needed in the moment.  He offered compassion, kindness, and tangible help to a man who was suffering. Mercy, even to our neighbors, can have boundaries.  Doesn’t that make showing mercy seem much less overwhelming?

Pause:  Find a quiet place to read the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37.  What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take a personal inventory.  Is it difficult or easy for you to show mercy to others?   God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Is it difficult for you to show mercy to yourself?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, think and pray about how you might begin to change this.

Next:  Keep your eyes open this week and wait for the Lord to show you someone to whom you can show mercy.  Neighbors are all around us!

Love is a fruit of the Spirit and, for the believer, really is at the root of all things. Love leads to compassion and action.  May you be encouraged and blessed as you find your “neighbors” this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

The Spark of Curiosity

Recently, I had the unique privilege of observing a room of 6 and 7 year olds give class presentations.   One little boy gave his presentation on his favorite Star Wars toy.   He pulled his BB-8 figurine out of his back pack and held it aloft as he spoke to the class.  As soon as his presentation ended, numerous little arms shot into the air to ask him questions about his toy.

“Does it talk?”
“No,” he replied.
“Does it do anything cool?”
In answer, he took it to the table and demonstrated how BB-8 could spin around like a top.   Eight little bodies sat watching in rapt attention.
“Is it heavy?” one of his classmates asked.
“No, not really,” he nonchalantly answered, “Do you want to feel it?”
BB-8 subsequently made the rounds through little hands testing his weightiness.

Can you imagine how different seminars and board room meetings would be if adults were allowed to behave this way during presentations?  “Can I touch it?”  “Can I hold it?”  “Does it talk?”

Children experience the world through their senses and are primarily led by curiosity.   Then, sometime after childhood’s wide-eyed wonder, we become boring adults full of to-do lists and skepticism.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Perhaps this is why Jesus warns:

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Luke 18:12 NIV

How might a child receive the kingdom of God?  They receive it with fascination and awe, ready to embrace and accept it without the cynicism and uncertainty with which adults often struggle.

“Come here guys, look at this bug!” Even the dog is curious.

Curiosity and wonder are God-given gifts, to explore and enjoy his creation.  He delights in our creativity and discoveries.  We are, after all, made in His image, and He is the Creator.  As Creator, He gave us His entire creation to explore and investigate.  The discoveries seem never-ending.  No matter what field of study, there are always new discoveries and “breakthroughs”: in Genetics, in Neuroscience, in Astronomy, in Paleontology, and in Technology, and those are just a few in the fields of math and science.  Musicians learn their craft through curiosity, pushing their instruments to new sounds, new movements, and new pieces.  Teachers are at the front lines of curiosity, igniting the love of learning for new generations.  No matter what field of study excites you, chances are curiosity led you there.

As healthy as curiosity is, it can also have a negative side.  For instance,  click bait on the Internet thrives on our curiosity and the desire to know.  Curiosity drives us to rubber neck at the scene of an accident.   Addictions often begin with simple curiosity.

What if we could recapture our sense of innocent curiosity and wonder once again?   What if we could see the universe through the eyes of a child, wanting to unabashedly discover the world?  The Psalmist felt some of this wonder himself as he wrote:

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8 NIV

The wonders of God never end.  We cannot reach the end of discovery.  Like a favorite book that you never want to finish,  each page turn leads to a new discovery.

Once, at a conference, I heard John Piper speak about heaven.  He likened knowing God face to face and spending eternity with Him to climbing a mountain range.  You reach the top of one mountain having thought you’d seen it all, only to discover there are endless mountain ranges in front of you left to discover.  His facets and depths are unfathomable.  He is too great for us to wrap our minds around.

Pause: Take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Think of the last time you stood in awe of God’s creation.  Picture that scene in your mind.

Renew:  Like the children in the classroom, we experience the world through our senses.  Think about how you primarily experience the world: is it visually, audibly, or kinesthetically?  How can you encourage your own  or your children’s sense of awe and wonder?

Next:  Give yourself permission this week to be curious.  Get out and experience creation.  Explore with wonder like a child.

May your curiosity lead you to new discoveries, and may you be filled with awe like a child.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

The Blame Game, Gas, and Grace

It was a typical Monday morning, and I was running late.  Between getting my children and myself ready in the morning, I seem to never have an extra minute to spare.  I hastily climbed in the van and turned it on.  With dread, I noticed that my gas gauge rested on E.  

A wise woman once told me that, when things go wrong, people intrinsically blame either themselves or others.  Well, I can admit it:  I am usually an “other blamer.”  In this instance, my husband got the full brunt of my blame, since he had been the last one to drive the van.  “Why didn’t he fill up the tank?!!!,” I thought.   If he had been sitting next to me at that moment, I’m sure he would have gotten an ear full.

Since I didn’t have time to stop for gas without being late to work, I drove on the fumes of denial, hoping the gas warning light would not come on.  Unfortunately, halfway to work, it lit up.  I called my husband, told him the situation, and asked if he thought I had enough fuel left to make it it to a gas station after work.  He calmly stated that it would be fine, reassuring me that the van had plenty of miles to go before it ran out of gas. So, I switched my focus to work, not giving it another thought.

After work, I remembered that I needed to fill up.  I got back in the van, turned the ignition, and started calculating which gas station was closest.  Glancing at the dashboard, I did a double take. My gas meter now read “full”.  There were only two logical explanations:  either my car’s meter was reading incorrectly or my husband had come and filled up my tank while I was at work.  I called him, and, yes, with our boys as witnesses, my husband had come and filled up my tank.

A full gas tank, thanks to my husband!

 As surprised and grateful as I felt, I was equally ashamed for the anger I had felt towards my husband that morning.   I began thinking about this scenario and realized  that I often treat God the same way.  I cry out to him for help, but often inwardly blame him when I’m stressed that things aren’t working out.  I can get frustrated that He won’t answer my prayers in the way I want and in my time frame.

I’m certainly not the only one with this problem.: Israel, of the Old Testament, was the same way. God longed to care for His chosen people, but they continuously found ways to be angry and disobedient.   God promised to provide for them, but they tried to get their needs met through other means (namely, Egypt).  Still, in the midst of their rebellion, God had Isaiah proclaim to Israel:  

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;  therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!  Isaiah 30:18 NIV

I’m so thankful for the long, enduring mercy of the Lord.  He consistently comes to His people’s rescue.  He longs to show compassion, kindness, and mercy. He enacts justice.

During times of fear and frustration, it’s easy to misread the intentions of others – even our loved ones.  Clearly, I misread my husband’s intentions and was quick to blame him for forgetting to refill my tank.  In the same way, we often misread the Lord’s intentions.  Just as my husband reminded me how much he loves me by coming to my rescue, so the Lord shows love to His people by rescuing them through Jesus.

Pause: Take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Meditate on Isaiah 30:18.  What about that verse stands out to you?

Renew: Spend some time reflecting on how you respond in times of stress and frustration.  Are you a self-blamer or an other-blamer?  Do you find that you misread others’ intentions when you are in this state?  How does this affect your relationships?

Next:  Take time this week to intentionally notice and journal:

  1. When others go out of their way to show you mercy and grace.
  2. Times you notice the Lord is showing you grace and mercy.

Focusing on these areas will change your perspective on your relationships – both with others and with God.

Do you find yourself waiting on the Lord right now? Then, Isaiah 30:18 says you are blessed.  He longs to show you mercy and grace and bring justice. Keep waiting on Him.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

Asking for What We Need

Whether or not you’re aware of it, you have developed strategies for how to get your needs met. You began developing these strategies as an infant. “If I cry, someone will come feed me.”  From our first moments, we are designed to use our voices to be heard and to get our needs met.

As we grow, our strategies evolve.  A preschooler might say, “You gave her a cookie; that’s not fair.  I want a cookie too.” Already, in a few short years, we learn not only how to get our needs met but also how to manipulate the situation to get the desired outcome.  

The most effective way to get our needs met in relationships is simply to ask.  Although it seems easy enough, asking for what we need can be hard to do, even as an adult.  It can leave us feeling vulnerable, because it opens the door to the possibility of being told no.  The word “no” often feels like rejection.

Being able to ask for what we need in relationships is a topic that comes up often in couples counseling:

“We’ve been married for 10 years, shouldn’t he know by now what I want for my birthday?”

“I want him to come up with a surprise for our anniversary.”

“I wish she would hold my hand more often in public….”

Have you asked your spouse for those things?

Very often, the answer is no.  Although it may seem that your spouse should know what you want and need after years of marriage, often, they just don’t.   Even loving spouses are not mind readers.  In most loving relationships the partner does care about his/her spouse’s needs.  If those needs are communicated in a clear and respectful way, meeting those needs can be a joy for the partner.

In some relationships, it may not feel safe to ask for what you need.  If you have been in a toxic or abusive relationship, there is a good chance that you have learned not to ask at all, because you won’t be heard anyway.  However, in safe, healthy relationships, where there is love and respect, expressing needs and desires is a key to the growth of trust and intimacy.  Not only can we learn to advocate for our own needs in safe relationships, but our loved ones will also grow to better understand us.

This topic is relevant to parenting as well.  Often we hear parents say to their screaming toddlers, “Use your words,” or to a teenager, “Talk to me with respect!”  Parenting is an effort in training our children to be able to regulate, have healthy relationships, and become independent human beings.  Learning to appropriately ask for what they need is a huge part of that process.

My youngest son and I playing at the creek.

Parents love their children and desire to care for them and respond to their needs.  When my child asks me for a hug, I am happy to comply.  In the process of asking and receiving, children learn that they are heard – that their voices and needs matter.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, that our Heavenly Father cares for us in the same way.  He desires to give His children good things and encourages us to come to Him with our requests.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

In John 14, Jesus says that if His disciples ask anything in His name He will do it.

John 14:14 ESV

Unlike a spouse, parent, or friend, the Lord really can read your mind.  He knows your needs better than you know them yourself.  Still, He encourages us to come to Him with our requests.  He longs to hear our voices, our needs and desires, and He’s the best listener there is!

Pause: Quiet your mind and body.  Meditate on the verses above.

Renew: Before one can ask for what they need, it is important to first recognize what that need is.  Spend some time identifying any needs in your life that you want to bring before the Lord.

Next:  This week, pay attention to the strategies you are using to get your needs met in relationships.  When you find that you are resentful over needs or wants that have gone unmet, consider how you can best reach out and ask for those needs in the future.

May you be encouraged today to come with confidence before the throne of God, your Heavenly Father, to ask for what you need.

Pause, Renew, Next!

What Lies Beneath: Buried Garbage

I made a creepy discovery this week.  On the floor of the carport lay a half burned, half chewed, little girl’s shoe.  This is eerie for a multitude of reasons, the greatest of which is that I have no little girls.

It didn’t take long to track down our dog as the prime suspect in this little mystery.  Our dog only scratched the surface of it, however, because this particular mystery has layers.  To dig a little deeper, we will need to go back in time 40-50 years.

The property on which we live has been in my husband’s family for over thirty years.  Before it belonged to our family, the property served a very different purpose.  It was the site of some untoward business dealings.  Although some of these uses remain a mystery, we know that it was used as a kind of back-woods biker bar. There were some interesting characters who spent time on this land.  The house and establishment on the land burned down decades ago, and it was later bought by my husband’s parents and revitalized as a home and farmland.

Peace and quiet as the sun sets on our backyard.

Standing in our backyard, one would never imagine that the land was once used so differently.   It has been renewed, redeemed, and is a haven for growing little boys.  Still, if one looks closely enough, there is evidence of what once stood here.

Last spring, we had a small forest fire on one side of our property.  The fire was easily extinguished and no one was hurt.   Afterwards, when surveying the damage, we discovered that the woods must have served as the previous owner’s personal landfill.  We uncovered mounds of old soda cans and beer bottles, small drums of oil, old food containers, rotting carpets and other cloth materials, and glass jars of all sorts.  Imagine anything that could remain intact buried for over forty years, and we found it buried in those piles.   Nature had covered it over so effectively that we had no idea the extent of the buried garbage.   So we find ourselves back at the beginning, with a burned shoe, retrieved by a dog, decades after it was discarded in a garbage dump.

I find this a poignant allegory for life before and after salvation.  The before versions of our lives are also a little untoward, with growing garbage piles of sin.  Maybe, before Christ, we tried to bury our garbage out of the line of sight of others.  Maybe we didn’t even recognize the garbage for what it really was.  Maybe, like my dog, we misguidedly believed that the trash was actually treasure.

Either way, when Christ saves and redeems us, he does a radical transformation.  Gone is the old.  We are new creations.  He revitalizes the landscape of our souls, rebuilding and establishing new growth.  He doesn’t just re-purpose old boards, he demolishes old strongholds all together, casting a new vision of purpose.  Like my home, there is a spirit of peace that comes and takes up residence where chaos once reigned.

Still, sanctification takes time.  The old man and the new man are at war, and the battle rages in our minds and bodies.  Paul references this war in Romans 7.

 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  Romans 7:21 – 23

If in Christ, we are new creations, but we find our old, sinful patterns lurking just below the surface.  All it takes is a little temptation or stress (or a small forest fire) for the old patterns to make themselves known.  Disposing of the garbage and allowing the new to reign is the crux of the battle, isn’t it?

Thankfully, we are not left to deal with the old garbage on our own.  Romans 8:11 promises:

 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  Romans 8:11 ESV

That is a promise full of hope!  The Holy Spirit is at work, bringing life where there once was death.

Pause: Quiet your mind and body.  In your mind’s eye picture the landscape of your soul.  What was your “before Christ” picture and what is your “after Christ” picture?  If you have not yet allowed Christ to come into your life and redeem it, contemplate what that would be like for you.

Renew: Reflect on what is in your garbage dump.  What are the old patterns and ways that rise to the surface when you are stressed, tired, or tempted?  How does Romans 8:11 give you strength in battling those old ways?

Next: Throughout the next few days, take time to think about how your life is being changed as you grow in Christ.  Ask others who have taken an active role in your life and in your faith journey to tell you how they have seen you change over time.

May you be renewed and revitalized as you walk with Christ.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Growing Gnarly Roots

The redbud tree in our front flower bed

 In our front yard, between the rosebush and the daylilies, grows a Redbud tree.  For one week in the spring, our Redbud tree flowers gloriously, bursting into beautiful purple blooms.  The rest of the year, however, it is a rather ho-hum kind of tree.  You wouldn’t know this though by the way it procreates.  It produces so many seed pods, they practically look like leaves falling off of the tree!  

Thus, we find baby Redbud trees growing everywhere: in the yard, in the flower beds, and even in our gravel driveway.   A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided it was time to do a little yard work and started cleaning up my front flower beds.  My battle with the baby Redbuds began.  Their roots reached not just down into the ground but also horizontally, making it almost impossible for them to be uprooted. To pull them out required a shovel and good old muscle power.  I worked out a system: pulling, digging, pulling, digging, and pulling some more!  It was a really great workout routine.  The back of my legs were sore for a few days afterwards!

These little Redbud saplings have an important concept all figured out: to grow and thrive, it is essential to establish a root system.  A secure root system defines the life of a tree.

We often hear people talk about being ready to “put down roots.”  Usually this means they’re tired of moving and are ready settle down, to plug into their new home and community.  There is a grounding quality to being “rooted.”  It makes us feel safe, stable, and established.

Perhaps this is why, throughout Scripture, there are many references to being rooted.  Let’s take a look at three of them together: 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:3

It’s all about location, location, location!  Want to thrive?  Find a good location!   Want to grow strong, healthy, and yield fruit in season?  Plant yourself next to life-giving water.  Trees flourish when they have access to a constant water supply.  

Jesus says that through Him, we have access to living water and will never thirst.  The water He gives will become in us like a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.  (John 4:14-15)  If we are rooted in Christ, and His Spirit lives within us, then we are already overflowing with the very water we need to grow!

Ephesians 3: 17 b – 18  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together, with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  

Paul’s prayer is that God’s people would be rooted and established in love.  It’s possible to be rooted in anger, grief, envy, or self-righteousness.  Or maybe like bitterness, they become rooted in us if we allow them to take up residence.  But Paul prays that God’s people would be rooted in love.  Just imagine how well-nourished and established we could become, if we were growing roots in soil of love.  It makes me think of a far-reaching forest.  Silently, underneath the forest floor, a vast root system is growing together, a web of roots establishing the forest.  That is what the church is like, when in love, we have the power to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  Colossians 2:6-7 ESV

In Colossians,  Paul again writes of being rooted.  This time, he says that we should be rooted and built up in Jesus himself.    In this way, our faith is established.

Establish: set up on a firm or permanent basis

My own tiny greenhouse

One of my favorite spring and summer activities is gardening.  Last winter, I received an heirloom seed company magazine in the mail and ordered seeds in the middle of winter.   I started growing my seeds inside, long before the first frost. I watered them,  placed them in the sun, and watched them grow.  They grew slowly at first and then picked up speed.  By April, they were outgrowing their tiny containers.

What if I had not transplanted them into the garden when it was time?  They would have been unable to grow further, because they could not have established a robust and healthy root system in the place they were designed to flourish.  According to Colossians 2, we are to be rooted in Christ, allowing us to be built up and our faith to be established.  Then we too will flourish!

Pause:  Spend a few minutes outside or near a window.  Allow your body and mind to calm as you enjoy nature.  Take a few deep breaths.

Renew:  Take time to think about seasons in your life and in your faith where you have felt deeply rooted.  What was it like to feel established and plugged-in?  If you have not experienced that, what do you think has kept you from being able to put down roots?

Next: Pray or journal this week about ways that you can be rooted in love in your family, community, or church body.

Let’s grow some gnarly roots that will not be easily uprooted – with streams of living water, in love, and established in Christ.

Pause, Renew, Next!

 

 

To Be Known

 

“We all are born into the world looking for someone looking for us.”  Curt Thompson, founder of Being Known

Mom and baby bonding time!

A few moments after my second son was born, I found myself somehow alone in a room with him (a miracle in a hospital).  Just minutes before there had been a rush of doctors and nurses. Then suddenly, we were alone. There he was, all wrapped up like a fragile, little burrito.  I could finally gaze at this little being, who had been growing inside of me for nine months.  

I examined his sweet, tiny face, and began talking to him.  I don’t remember what I said to him, but I do remember that there was an immediate response.  His little head and eyes immediately turned toward the sound of my voice, and he looked me right in the eyes.  In that moment, it seemed as if he was saying to me, “I know you, I recognize your voice. You’re my Mom!”  

That is our design plan.  We’re created to come into the world, ready to connect, to be loved, and to be known.  It’s not a want or a desire.  It’s a need, starting at birth and carrying throughout the lifetime.

To be known is a sacred thing.   We all know countless people but are rarely known by them.  Being Facebook friends or college acquaintances doesn’t satisfy our deep need for relationship.  In fact, some people are friends for years and never really feel known.  Being known requires an intimacy that is sometimes hard won, pushing through vulnerability, conflict, and insecurity.  It can only happen inside of trustworthy relationships, where we feel safe to be our authentic selves.

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.   I Corinthians 8:2-3

While I was pregnant with my son, I knew him in a sense.  He spent nine months growing in my womb. I was aware when he was awake and moving.  I knew that he was a boy, and I even had a general time frame for when he would be born.  I had some parenting knowledge and experience.  As the verse above states,  I imagined that I knew something, but I did not yet know as I ought to know.  I didn’t yet know all of the important aspects of my son’s identity: what he would look like, his personality, his quirks, his faults, or his strengths.  

After I gave birth, the knowing process expanded, because I could see and touch him.  I began to understand my son in a new way.  I became available every minute of every day to caring for his needs, understanding his rhythms, learning his sleep schedule, and even being able to discern what his different cries meant.  As he continues to grow, I get to know him in deeper and richer ways.  

How amazing then, that Paul promises, “if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”  We love Him, and we are known.  It’s that simple.  Our Heavenly Father is intimately aware of our comings and goings, our thoughts, our needs, our desires, and our passions.  Even in a marriage of 50 years, a spouse cannot read the other’s thoughts.  By contrast, God can not only read our thoughts, but He knows our thoughts before we’ve even thought them.  He can recite the number of hairs on our heads. That is a level of knowing far beyond what our finite minds can comprehend.

It’s comforting that God knows us fully, but is the process of knowing all one sided?  A few chapters later in I Corinthians, Paul speaks to this, saying: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  I Corinthians 13:12

Just as I loved and knew my infant son intimately, but he could not respond in kind, so we on this side of heaven cannot fully know our Father.  What is now 2 dimensional, as in a mirror, will one day be 3 dimensional, face to face.  One day, we will not just be known; we will know fully.   Our God-given need for connection will be met perfectly.    

Pause: Meditate on the verses above for a few moments.  Is there a particular verse that resonates for you?  

Renew:  Think about a relationship in which you have felt really known and understood.  What set that relationship apart?  How do you experience being fully known by the Lord?  

Next: Being known can sometimes feel vulnerable, particularly if you have been hurt in relationships.  Focus on one close and safe relationship in your life (with your spouse,  a friend, or family member) and contemplate one way you can work at allowing that person to more fully know you.

May we revel in being loved by a God who desires to know us.  I hope that thought leaves you feeling treasured today.

Pause, Renew, Next!

This Round Goes to the Minivan

“Did you see the dead snake in the driveway?” my husband asked me one night last week as I cleaned up from supper.  “No,” I replied. “Oh,” he answered nonchalantly, “well, there’s a dead copperhead on the driveway.”

What?!!  I put down the dishcloth to go look for myself, and sure enough there lay a dead copperhead smashed in the driveway.  My husband later told me that he had seen it dead in the road that morning as he drove to take our son to school.   Since I left before him, we concluded that I must have hit it with our van on my way to work that morning.

In the nine years we have lived on our property, we have never found a venomous snake.  We’ve seen just about every other kind of wildlife: lizards, mice, skunks, wild turkeys, bats, chimney swifts (in our chimney), deer, rabbits, black snakes, and coyotes.  This summer, we even found tree frogs taking up residence in our pool, but we’ve never seen a copperhead! Discovering one so close to where my children play caused me great concern.

I took four curious boys out to inspect the snake and had an impromptu teaching moment on snakes, death, and the shape of a venomous snake’s head.   I realized as we stood on the driveway, looking at the snake together, that I had managed to kill that snake, completely inadvertently.   I had never even seen it, yet my van had crushed it. The threat was eliminated effortlessly.

This makes me wonder how often threats are lurking close by, and we are completely unaware.  That morning on my way to work, I’m sure I was contemplating all of the stresses of the upcoming day, but a copperhead was surely not one of them.  Though there had been a potential threat, I remained oblivious.

The psalmist, in Psalm 91, writes of very real threats, close at hand, but focuses on the protection the Lord promises to those who love Him:

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. Psalm 91:11-13

In this case, I did trample the serpent, with my van, soccer mom style.  Take that!  Round one to the minivan!

John Piper once famously tweeted, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

What else may God have been up to that day that never was brought to my attention?  A near miss on the highway? A potential credit card fraud?  

Like a naive child, I navigate through life completely unaware of the many ways that the Lord protects me from harm… and rightly so!  As God’s children, believers are commanded not to live in fear.  Just as a child wanders obliviously in a parking lot, with their able parent holding their hand and navigating them safely to their destination, so we should be learning to recognize danger but not living in fear.  Children trust wholeheartedly, knowing they are loved and protected by their parents.

The psalmist writes:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”  Psalm 91:4a

A mother hen uses her wings to protect her little ones – from danger, rain, and to provide warmth. In Psalm 91, we are also invited to run and hide in the safety of our Father’s wings.  Let His promises bring you comfort today.

Pause: Find a quiet moment, in a quiet place, and read Psalm 91.  Read it over slowly 2 or 3 times.  Are there any verses that stand out to you?

Renew: Choose one verse in Psalm 91 that provides you with reassurance and courage.  Read it aloud to yourself and pray it over yourself or a loved one. Continue to meditate on this verse throughout the day, bringing it to remembrance as you go about your daily tasks.

Next: Pay special attention this week to the ways that you see God moving in your life.  This may be in the form of protection, but it could also be encouragement or answered prayer.

May we have eyes that are open to see His Kingdom at work around us, and may we walk in courage and assurance, knowing that we are loved and protected!

Pause, Renew, Next

 

Thoughts, Thighs, and Toll Booths

You’re at a play date, listening to another mom tell stories about her child.  As you listen to all of her parenting accomplishments, you begin thinking, “Man she’s really got it all together.  Her kid is really succeeding and seems like he’s on the fast track for honors classes.  Am I doing something wrong?  My kid ate an earthworm last week.”  Suddenly, you’re hit with a blast of anxiety and insecurity that came seemingly out of the blue.  

These thoughts are called ANTs – automatic negative thoughts.  We’ve all got them. They can come at any time, any day, and particularly when we are feeling vulnerable.  Granted, not everyone struggles with the same version of ANTs.  Maybe your negative thoughts are about your job or school performance, about your body, whether people like you, or maybe all of the above.

Our thoughts have real power.  What we think affects our bodies, our feelings, and our behavior, thus affecting our relationships.  Our thoughts affect our very brain structure in the form of neural pathways.  There are billions of neural pathways in our brains, being built and strengthened every day.  The more we think about a subject, thought, or memory, the more we are forming well-worn pathways in our brains.  As we practice new thoughts and habits, new pathways are formed.

A single negative thought may not be too detrimental, but consider what might happen if you continued to think that thought for days, weeks, or even years.

Imagine a 15 year old adolescent trying on a bathing suit at the mall.  She happens to notice (in that awful dressing room mirror and under that awful dressing room lighting) that she has cellulite on her thighs. “Oh no,” she thinks, “I can’t wear this kind of bathing suit.  I can’t believe how fat my thighs are.  I’m going to have to cover up somehow at the pool party this weekend.”  This experience has formed a memory and a  little seed of shame, but otherwise her life is unaltered.

A one-time thought is like walking through the grass.  If you stroll though the grass one time, no one can tell you’ve been there.  But what if the girl continued thinking badly about herself for the next month, following new thigh slimming exercises on Pinterest, and researching how to achieve a thigh gap. Maybe she has started comparing herself to other girls at school or to pictures on Instagram.  

Dash walking through the flower beds

Now, a neural pathway is forming.  My dog walks the same path through my flower beds every day (don’t get me started on that).  He has worn away a little path.  I think this illustrates how thoughts can form pathways in our brains and in our behaviors.  The most traveled paths become the most well-worn and easiest paths for our thoughts to travel. 

Stop coming up ahead!

Now let’s imagine this girl grows up, gets married, and starts a family.  She is now 40 years old. What if those negative body image thoughts have continued for the past 25 years?  It would be safe to assume that these pathways are now super highways.  When it comes to negative thoughts, these superhighways inevitably lead to toll booths – where we begin to pay. Because she is ashamed of her body, perhaps intimacy with her husband has suffered.  Maybe she won’t allow photos to be taken of herself when she is wearing shorts or a bathing suit.  Now her kids have no pictures of their mom from their last  beach vacation.  Maybe she limits the kinds of foods she will let herself eat or the kinds of clothes she will  wear.  Maybe she makes negative  comments about her body, and now her daughter has begun to think similar thoughts.  It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?

How do we combat these thoughts?  Recognizing them is the first step.  Start paying attention to what you are thinking and choosing to believe.  If you notice there is a particular ANT that shows up frequently, you might prepare to do battle. Gain an arsenal of true statements that you can tell yourself when this thought shows up.  For example:

  • “My thighs have some of the largest muscles in my body, and they provide stability.”
  • “My husband loves my body, and I will try to love my body too”
  • “God made me in His image, and He loves me just the way I am.”

The hardest thing about fighting negative beliefs is that you believe them. Finding someone outside of yourself can be crucial to help discern what is true and what is faulty thinking.  Look for some good accountability and encouragement partners who can speak truth to you when your thoughts are getting the best of you.  Sometimes bouncing reality off of a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor is a very healing thing.  For believers, Scripture is paramount in fighting negative thoughts.  God’s word is our ultimate source of truth.   Find verses that speak to what you are struggling with, and write them down in places where you will see them frequently.  

Spiritually, our thoughts are a real battle ground.   2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive to obey Christ.  The enemy would like nothing more than for us to believe and obey the ANTs, because he is the father of lies.  Let’s get ready to do battle and choose to believe what is true.

Pause: Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Exhale slowly. Contemplate Romans 12:2  (below)  How does it speak to you?

Renew: Apply Romans 12:2 to your thought life.  What is a negative thought that has been coming frequently lately?  Ask the Lord to renew your mind regarding this thought, replacing it with what is true, and good, and acceptable, and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Next:  Spend the next few days examining your thought-life.  What are the ANTs that show up frequently?  Find scripture verses that you can quote back to those thoughts when they come.  Make 3×5 cards of these verses that you can carry with you or put in the dashboard of your car as a reminder.  Get creative!

Learning to recognize truth and speaking it to ourselves is so powerful.  May the Lord help you discern what is true and pure and lovely, and may you meditate on those thoughts this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!