Saturday, April 28, 2018

Cease Striving

One of the hardest things there is to do is to do nothing. Right? We humans, especially in Western culture, have this notion that if we are not doing anything, we are unproductive and wasting our time. 

However, there is a wisdom and a peace to doing nothing. I am not talking about slacking off. I don't mean to sit cross-legged in a corner and let the world pass you by. What I mean is that the reaching, grasping, grabbing tendency that we have can actually end up with us losing what we so desire to have, like trying to keep a handful of sand by clenching it in our fists. 

It disappears. It slips between our fingers and spills on the ground. That is why doing nothing can be so wise. We try so hard to "make" something that we want to happen and we often end up making the opposite happen. 

Photo "Rows Of Butterfly Cocoons" courtesy of xura
at www.freedigitalphotos.net
I remember a sad story I heard once of a child who wanted to see a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Day after day she watched this little motionless sack sitting there in front of her, and one day, the thing started moving and a split appeared in the cocoon. She was thrilled, and yet she saw the struggle the butterfly was having inside its prison. She decided to help it escape, and pulled the split wider so the creature could get out. Sadly, although the butterfly was now out, it just sat there with wet, small wings. The body of the butterfly needed that squeezing to activate it to pump bodily fluids (that it had stored for this day) into the wings. They were flimsy and limp as a result, even after they dried, and they could not bear the butterfly's weight.... And a butterfly who cannot fly cannot feed on nectar and therefore cannot live. 

"Be still," said the Psalmist (46:10). What he was saying was to cease striving, and to stop trying to make things happen. They will happen when they are meant to happen. The butterfly - or that desired outcome - will emerge on its own. It does not need our help. We can trust that it will happen if it is meant to do so. We can let go of our tendency to put our oar in. We can know that God is in control.

When we cease striving, peace comes. We can accept what happens and enjoy the moments in between where we are and what lies ahead. We can let go of our "if onlys" and our "I can't waits" ... and live in the present. We will be where we are without losing ourselves in the past or the future. We can look for the little joys: the beauty all around us, our favorite sounds, the taste of good food, and the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot day.

We can live each moment to the full. But we don't have to strain. All we need to do is to courageously let go of our impulse to do it ourselves or to hurry it along, and instead to let go and stop trying so hard.

Stay in the present. The future will happen without our help.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

You lost me

I was in the middle of responding to a co-worker's question about my personal life. It had been a while since we talked and she was eager to hear about how things were going, particularly for my brother. 

I was telling her how well he was doing compared to the first of the year, when he was going under the knife to remove a section of bowel due to colon cancer. I have talked about the phenomenon of miracle after miracle that has happened before in this blog, so I won't repeat it all here. But the most recent miracle bears repeating - after his heart attack on October 25 and the stent operation he had (while conscious) on October 30, not only has his energy and endurance increased, but his kidney function has improved. 

Creatinine is one of the body's waste products that the kidneys are supposed to process, and a normal count in the bloodstream is a maximum of 113 μmol per liter (a μmol is a weight measure that is 1/1000 the size of that molecule, thank you Doctor Google... haha). The higher the number is, the less able the kidneys are to do their job. Earlier this year, my brother's numbers were close to 600 of these per liter (showing his kidneys were functioning at about 15% of normal). Now, they are at 225, or functioning at around 50%. 

His surgeon can't explain it. 

Of course believers know immediately what happened: God did it.

But as I was telling this lady about the numbers and saying that we knew what happened but the doctors wouldn't believe it - she was so interested and engaged and wanted to know what it was. So I told her it was "somebody bigger than you or I" - referring to God - and that's when I got "the look."

Her smile disappeared. Her eyes glazed over and she rolled them a bit (even though she tried not to.) Her whole attitude changed from interested and engaged to merely polite. She moved her body a bit farther from me.

In that moment, I knew that I'd lost her: I'd lost her interest and I'd lost her respect. I was "one of THOSE." Every negative experience she'd ever had with super-zealot church people - and I am willing to bet there was a lifetime of them - was behind that look. I've seen it before, and quite frankly, I've felt as she did before. It's not a good feeling to feel on either side of the fence.

Now, I get that some people are going to react that way. I get that. Some might argue that it was just "persecution" - but I beg to differ because persecution is what believers are experiencing overseas in anti-christian regimes - people literally losing their heads over it. But this lady's reaction - that almost gut-sick response - got me to thinking about the years of hurt (likely from judgment, shame and guilt coming from so-called Christians) that went into how she lost interest so quickly, and that makes me so very angry. Jesus' message is about love and acceptance, forgiveness and hope - and the people who had interacted with her had most likely given her nothing but the opposite. That kind of bigotry, all done in the name of God, really scorches my tail-feathers.

Photo, "Little Boy Covering His Face"
courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I've often thought about how the way believers talk actually excludes and shuns people who might otherwise flock to us. All those hallelujahs and amens ... the little turns of phrase we learn in the organized church ... they all seem to be part of the secret-handshake kind of we're-in-you're-out mentality. And the judgment!!  One wonderful man told me his story of how, as a child, a church leader asked him how he was. He replied, "Good." The man immediately said, "Oh no you're not. 'There is none good, no not one.' " And he quoted the Scripture reference to back it up. I know that that verse is in the Bible, but how he used it was as a weapon, not anything else. In that moment, because of his judgment and condemnation, he lost that little boy for the gospel. It took that child years to recover from that kind of rejection, which he consistently got from everybody in the church (how sad!!), and it took him several decades to be able to start to accept God's love for him - and that was only because God Himself took the initiative. And that is only one person. How many thousands are like him? How many struggle with rejection every day of their lives because they've been hurt by someone who claimed to represent God?

How many people - when we stand before the Almighty One - will say to us, "You lost me"? How many could we have shown love to, but we were too high and mighty to stop our holiness marches long enough to care for them? How many times were we too busy proving we were right, and jumping on every single cuss word or behavior we didn't agree with? Is that really necessary? (God's a big boy, He doesn't need our protection, and I am pretty sure His Spirit does a far better job than we can of convincing people that He's real...) 

I'm talking to me, too - I've done it! Intending to show we are different, to stand out in the crowd, we end up doing nothing but pushing people away by telling them what they SHOULD be doing, and condemning them for NOT doing it. Wow... How tragic is that!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Another night with the frogs

The title of this post has become a common saying between my husband and me over the last thirty-odd years of marriage. 

It refers to the story of Moses and the ten plagues, when God was in the process of freeing His people from slavery in Egypt.  One of the plagues - early on in the ten - was a plague of frogs. There were frogs everywhere: in kitchens, bathrooms, back lawns, roadways, and bedrooms - swarming everywhere so much so that you couldn't step anywhere or roll over in bed without a frog there. 

Never mind being unsanitary - it was downright nasty!!  So anyway, Moses goes to Pharaoh (the slave-driver king who was holding Moses' people captive) and says, "I can say the word and the frogs will go away." Pharaoh believes him - after all, he's turned the river to blood! "When do you want me to command the frogs to go away?" he asks the king.

"Tomorrow."

Not right now, not even in an hour. No - Pharaoh is too proud to admit that he has no control over the situation, and so he exerts the only control he thinks he has left. 

He chooses to spend another night with the frogs.

Photo "Green Frog"
courtesy of Elwood W. McKay III at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
People get comfortable with intolerable situations ... sometimes because it's all they know and they fear changing things and moving into something they fear more than the pain of the situation: they fear the unknown. WE fear the unknown. Even if it means spending another night with the frogs. Even if it means staying in that situation or continuing to think, say, or do things we know are going to be bad for us. We get stuck in the same old pattern, doing the same things with the same types of people, and making the same mistakes over and over again. We get locked into a repeating cycle and we want out, but ...

We know things will change if we do step out into a new experience for us. But we don't. 

Why? 

Good question - or is it? Does it matter why? I suspect there are as many reasons as there are people. The point is that we resist change. 

Change is scary. It really is. Taking that first step into the unknown is risky. It's one of the most scary things we can do. But if we don't take that step, we are stuck with the results we've always gotten - and we'll never know what might have been.

The few times I have taken that first step have led to such amazing adventures. I still have to fight the tendency to want to stay with the familiar - even if it's not all that pleasant.  But if the last two years or so has taught me anything, it's that the unknown with the knowledge and awareness of God's love is far better than fighting for space with those slimy critters - the frogs, I mean. :)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"I will build My church"

It's now been over two years since my husband and I decided to leave the organization that is commonly known as the 'church'. When I tell people that we don't "go to church" anymore, I often see raised eyebrows, and very rarely do I get anything but judgment. Sometimes, though, people are curious and want to know what it is like for us to not gather for services on Sundays and other days of the week. 

My first response is always, "A big relief, honestly." When they want to know more, I describe what we experienced more and more in the 'church' as we got more and more uncomfortable there ... how we would come home from service after service drained, frustrated, and angry. But I don't spend much time on describing that. Instead, I like to talk about what it's been like since we left: relaxed, peaceful, and (to use a Christian-ese word) edifying.

And the inevitable question comes. "How can that be without fellowship?"

When I get this question, especially lately, I chuckle.  They must believe - as I used to believe - that "fellowship" can only be experienced in the pew!!  Just like I used to believe that "worship" could only happen in the context of a "worship service" with an "order of service" and so forth. Such "fellowship" could only occur behind the Four Walls. It was predictable. It was stale. It was familiar .... and not in a good way.

Photo "Two Friends Spending Happiest Time Together" by
imagerymajestic at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
It's not like that at all. Since we have left the Four Walls behind, God has provided what we need for fellowship. No, we don't have cottage meetings where we meet specifically for the purpose of "fellowship." God sets up opportunities for us to get together with people of the Way. 

What happens when we get together is never structured. It's visiting with people who love us and who love God, and who realize more and more how deeply and unconditionally He loves us. When the visit ends, whether we have shared what God is doing in our lives or not, whether He is even mentioned or not, we feel uplifted ... and not worn out. Sometimes someone shares something that someone else needs to hear, but it's not hyped up with music or "atmosphere" - just plain and simple. And sometimes there is nothing that "happens" - and that's okay too. We share each other's company as an expression of love, and that in itself is ministry. And there is no pressure either way.

It dawned on me this morning that Jesus said that on this Rock (the statement, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God") HE would build His church. He doesn't use bricks and mortar. He uses living stones - believers - and THAT is the church He is continually building.  It's HIS church, not mine, not yours, not anyone's. His. 

He also said that wherever two or three were gathered in His name, He would be in the midst of them. I used to think that "in My name" meant "for the sole purpose of glorifying Me" - but now, I'm thinking more that it has to do with a common or shared belief in Him, and less to do with following a contrived script. 

I have felt Him "in the midst" when I was with one other person in a hospital room, or sitting across from someone in a coffee shop, or sitting down to supper with someone, or sharing a coffee or a breakfast with someone, or talking on the phone, or texting, or having a conversation on Facebook's private chat (or Messenger, if you want to call it that). This fellowship, whatever form it takes (and it's God who sets it up!) happens way more often than just once a week. And it is encouraging, strengthening, revitalizing .... and completely natural and effortless. 

Take, for example, a visit I paid to my brother in hospital last Thursday. We laughed, joked, and talked about little things that would only matter to us. I felt led to lay hands on him before I left to go home - and spoke to his kidneys and his pancreas to behave themselves in response to the upcoming stent procedure (because the stent procedure involves injecting with a dye which is hard on the kidneys and the stress could affect his sugars). My 'ministry' only took about a minute. And when I was "done," I told him I loved him and left to go home. (By the way, the stent procedure went great the following Monday. They put in two stents ... and the pain in his chest went away almost immediately ... and the kidneys and pancreas behaved themselves! He got home yesterday, able to take a full breath, able to walk at least three times the distance he could a week previous, and grateful for the opportunity to amaze the doctors yet again ...)

I like this Way better. Much better. Jesus is a great builder.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Turn it around!

Last week, I had the opportunity to go and visit my brother, who has been having a whole laundry list of physical problems. Angina, obstructive lung disease, kidney dysfunction (was at 15%), insulin-dependent diabetes, colon cancer (operated January 2017; they got it all!), gallstones (he has a bag draining his gall bladder because it was too dangerous to operate last January to remove it after his cancer surgery), and that's just the major stuff. 

I had gone over to his place to take him to an appointment and found him gone - and several phone calls later (finally one to the police, who found him) I learned that he had gone to the hospital the day previous. So I went to see him in the hospital. The doctors had told him that the blood test results were positive for the enzyme that is there in the blood after a heart attack. So yes, he had a heart attack, thinking it was angina. They told him he had a couple of "occlusions" - which means that he had blockages in a couple of his arteries.
They were talking about taking him to a better-equipped hospital so that they could do the stent procedure: inserting a small tube inside of the artery to allow the blood to get past the blockage.

Serious stuff - especially considering that the procedure involves shooting dye into the bloodstream in order to see what they're doing in there - and the dye is very hard on the kidneys. For him, with 15% function in his kidneys, it was dangerous. 

Before I left, I obeyed an inner prompting and went over to him. I laid my hand on his abdomen and spoke to his kidneys. I told them in Jesus' name to restore to function. For good measure, I also told his pancreas (which produce insulin and where diabetes happens) to behave themselves. 

When I called the hospital today, they told me that my brother had been to the other hospital for the procedure and was back in his room. I eventually got a chance to talk to him. 

Photo "Eagle In Flight" courtesy
of Jeff Ratcliff at
www.freedigitalphotos.net

He sounded wonderful - more energetic and chipper than I had heard him sound in many months. He said he felt better, and was actually sitting up in a chair when we were talking. He told me that his kidneys did not shut down; in fact, they were working better than they were before the procedure. His progress again astounded the doctors. 

A few posts ago, I talked about how prayer has been changing for me in the last couple of years or so. It's less about asking for things or praying "for" people, and more about deepening the relationship with my Father by spending time with Him. I also mentioned that Jesus didn't pray for people to be healed. By the power of the Spirit, He demonstrated the power of God - by speaking to the problem and commanding it to leave. Since I started doing the same thing, believing with His faith (and not my own), I have seen so many miracles happen that I've lost count. Some are "small" - and some are not. 

I don't say this to brag; I can take absolutely no credit at all for this. NONE!! It's all been Him. Even the faith I use to speak healing and wholeness into people is not mine. It is Jesus' faith (see Galatians 2:20 - "...the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.") And the only reason I'm sharing this now is because the knowledge and experience that God has given me about the authority He has delegated to us because of Jesus - has revolutionized the way I pray, the the way I believe, and the way I relate to Him, to myself, and to others. 

I want to encourage other believers to step outside the trap of "oh-please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please." Rather, we as believers need to step outside of the strain, grunt, and shout mentality and into the rest, relax and trust mentality. We need to know, really KNOW who we are, and rest in how much He loves us. We need to turn it around, to turn our thinking around. We commonly speak death and calamity on the people we pray for (and you have heard this happen as much as I have) by praying our fears out loud and giving God an escape hatch in case things don't work out (called "if it be Your will").  Instead, we can speak to the problem - just as Jesus did, and trusting in HIS faith - and watch in amazement as it obeys.

Because it will. It will. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Light

Earlier this summer, we decided to replace the doors in our house. 

It was no small change. The frames around the doors were so rotted that they also had to be replaced, so we thought that this was a good time to get doors that not only were more energy-efficient, but also more secure (with a built-in deadbolt) and that were attractive as well. 

We spent considerable time choosing a design that we could all agree upon, and finally settled on one that allowed us a bit more privacy (without the need for curtains) but that also let in more light.  It costed more, but the final effect has been so nice. 

The windows in the doors are partly made of pebbled glass - hence the privacy without the need for drapery (which also makes for more light) - but the edges of the glass pattern insert are made of beveled glass. That edging has had an effect that we did not anticipate: when the sun is shining through the glass, it acts like a prism, and we have cross-sections of rainbows in our home every sunny morning and every sunny afternoon. 

Photo "Heaven Light From Sun Behind Clouds"
courtesy of criminalatt at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Rainbows always speak to me of mercy - undeserved favor - and I remember the scripture in the Psalms that says something like, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness..." 

It's funny, but the more I stay away from religious people (and by religious people I mean those typical folks that believe "God is good, I'm bad; I must try harder"), the more I can clearly see the mercy and grace of God in everyday occurrences, the lavish, extravagant love of God, and the fallacy of trying to earn brownie points. I spent a lifetime trying to make God like me more, never feeling like I measured up, never feeling as though I was doing "enough" - and living life on that endless hamster wheel of fear, performance, and shame. Since taking time away from that system to experience God and who He is rather than the system with its rules and regulations and rigidity, I realize more and more the absolute non-necessity of "doing" anything to curry favor with Him.  I am ALREADY favored. I am ALREADY loved to the Nth degree! Just as I am, period!  

It never gets old. The wonder never dims.  In such an atmosphere, absolute freedom isn't an excuse to indulge in guilty pleasures (as some might fear) but an opportunity to develop intimacy with the Almighty One ... and all that means is that I get to spend time with Him without the need to ask for anything because everything I need is already mine in Him. And that includes fellowship, (again contrary to what some might think). God sets up His appointments with others of like mind, far better than I could, and exactly when I need them, to enhance my journey with Him.  It is not forced; there is no structure. What a great gift that is to one whose life was regimented and bound up in the whole notion of fear of what someone else might think. Or the terror that somehow I could damage what God was trying to do if I didn't do a good enough job at ... whatever it was. 

This life is like reveling in beams of sunlight in prisms through the glass - a joyful, grateful, peaceful appreciation of His love. No more cringing. No more hamster wheel. No more reliance on my own strength. Just rest, relax, and let Him shine.

There is always more mercy, always more love, always more light. Always.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Wrong Button

I spent the last two days trying to fix a problem on my computer. I have a mouse plugged in to the laptop (because I find the touch pad gets in the way of my typing, it activates and does things I don't want to do, like highlighting and deleting text I've typed). I was getting so tired of my own natural movements working against things I wanted to do.

I had disabled my track pad when I first got the new computer; set it and forget it, I thought.  But for some reason, the disabled track pad started working again two days ago, and so I wanted to re-disable my track pad. I had just replaced my laptop in June, so I forgot how to do this.  

I kept going to the Settings and was confused when the option to disable the touch pad (in other words, track pad) was not available. I tried every solution that worked with the older version of Windows. Nothing. Several restarts later, I tried going to the Microsoft page for answers. There it was - there was a function key on my keyboard that would do the job. Simple.

I tried it - and it worked. Period. Two keystrokes. Boom.

But it was what I noticed next that caused me to think about this situation enough to write this post. The function key that turned my touch pad off and on was right next to the function key that I frequently use to mute the sound on my computer. I mute the sound because sometimes I play some free Microsoft games that have sounds which are quite annoying. 

So I guess that a couple of days ago, I hurriedly muted my sound, and unknowingly hit this other function key by mistake. Mystery solved. I had hit the wrong button... and brought my difficulties onto myself.

It's so easy to do. I think I am doing one thing when I am really doing something else - like I think I am praying when I am really worrying out loud. Or I think I am being generous when I am really keeping track and expecting some sort of reward. Or I think I am standing for righteousness (whatever that means) when I am really being an obnoxious, judgmental hypocrite. 

I know, because for many years I regularly did those things - and sometimes I still do. But what I was doing was pushing the wrong button. The religion button. The "I'm better than you because God likes me" button. The "aren't I special" button. The "God's gotta listen to me because look at how much I do for Him" button. That's the wrong button. It's the button that makes it all about me.

The right button is - well - I have to be intentional and look for it instead of assuming I know where it is. It's called many things - Love, Grace, Faith, Acceptance, ... and did I mention Love? Not how much I love God ... if it depended on that, wow ... how shallow would THAT be? But it doesn't. What matters is that He loves me. And He loves everyone, NOT JUST me. He IS Love. Love oozes, no, POURS from Him because that's who He is. 

Photo "Decision-Making" by Stuart Miles at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
You see, my human nature wants to think I have something to do with how much He loves me. That's wrong too. 

His Love doesn't depend on what I have or have not done. It doesn't even depend on how much faith I have. "The life I live in the flesh," Paul wrote in Gal. 2:20, "...I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."

Did you catch that? He didn't say "by faith in the Son of God."  He said "by the faith of the Son of God." 

That's a game-changer for me. It's JESUS' faith! I live by JESUS' faith! What a radical, liberating, shame-busting revelation!  This idea jives with Eph. 2:8, 9 where Paul also writes, "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." (emphasis mine). 

The grammar here is important, because when Elizabethan language uses "and that" after a comma, it refers to the last thing mentioned BEFORE the comma.  So it is the FAITH that Paul says is not from ourselves. Get it? Faith is the gift from God. So that NOTHING I can do, no amount of faith I have is worth anything - it's all HIM. This revelation means we can speak with the authority that Jesus did to pronounce blessing, healing, and peace on people because He authorized us to do so. Because it's HIS FAITH. We don't have to depend on our own - because if we did, we could (and would) boast.  SEE how much faith I had! I prayed and that person was healed because of MY faith... can you see the fallacy?! 

Okay, I get it that "without faith it is impossible to please Him..." and all that. But really - where do you think the faith comes from? (Duh!) 

The revelation that it was not my own feeble faith that I could use (and I doubted that I had enough to do anything with it ... which is why "it" failed. Every. Single. Time) but that I was totally depending on Jesus' faith - revolutionalized my prayer life. This is "the right button."  For me, it was so very liberating and rid me of so much guilt and shame in my inner life.  I started thanking God for His unconditional, lavish love instead of asking Him for stuff. I quit praying for God to heal people, and instead spoke healing on them in the name of Jesus. HIS faith is what has been effective in so many instances I could name in the last two years. Not mine.

Focusing on intimacy with God in my prayer life instead of succumbing to the "gimmes" has also had another cool side-effect. As I meditate on His love, I see areas of my life changing. I don't judge as much as I did. I am more accepting of people's differences, and no longer want to turn them into carbon-copies of me. I care more about how some people get treated whose opinions and beliefs don't follow the majority, or whose skin colour just happens to be different from mine. I see injustices happen and I want to do things to educate people who behave this way, and show my support for those who are oppressed. 

By no means am I saying that I have arrived. All I am saying is that I spent decades hitting the wrong button and looking for complicated answers when all I needed to do was go to the Maker and find out what the right button was - and rely totally on that.  His Love. His faith. His grace. His. 

And that way, I don't get in my own way as much anymore. Go figure.