Thursday, April 13, 2017

Focus and Peace



I need to tell you a story.  It's important.  (and i should really be getting ready for work right now, so please excuse the typos.)

Anyone who knows me could probably tell you that i am a pretty positive person.  Some people might tell you that i am a sickeningly positive person.  The name Pollyanna comes to mind.  I'm very very optimistic as a general rule.

Interestingly, last week, and in recent weeks, i have spent a lot of energy encouraging a specific friend who has been going through some very tough circumstances, to "focus on the Lord," instead of those circumstances and to trust Him and believe Him instead of believing the very convincing negative messages that have been being forced into my friends attention.  I think that a couple of times, my friend really wanted to tell me to go mind my own business for a while and let people be angry and depressed if they want to be.  But i didn't.

Stay with me...i little more prep work here...

In recent months, my super hero and i have been working on some lifestyle changes that have included some financial stress.  And as i am prone to do, i have been very positive about it all.

Until Saturday.

On Saturday, as part of an ongoing effort to trim the edges of our budget where it can be done, i was having a conversation with a customer service representative for our wireless phone company.  Our cell phones are our home's only means of communication with the outside world.  We don't have a land line or cable or broadband, nothing.  We use our phones to connect our computers to the internet, the whole nine yards.  So our phones are very necessary ... and our phone bill is pretty bloated.  It's bloated mostly because of an installment plan that we agreed to a couple of years ago, so that we could have brand new, top of the line, smart phones without having to do the smart thing, and just buy them.

Anyway, i've already trimmed the fat off of that bill as much as i can, and all in all, we're getting a pretty good deal, have a great plan, and it's fine.

But this customer service person......she told me that she could give me unlimited data and lower my monthly bill by one hundred dollars!!!!!!

A hundred dollars sounded really good to me, and after questioning the agent for a long time, attempting to sniff out any hidden hijinks that might be going on behind the scenes, i agreed to the change.

You might not believe me now, but the important part of this story doesn't have anything to do with our phone bill.  All those details are just fluff.  The important part of the story is this:  i got SO HAPPY about that $100.  For whatever reason, i had gotten really focused on this financial fat trimming, and when this $100 break came up, i was absolutely on cloud nine.

And this was my downfall.

Yes, that's right.

See, focus is important.  And focus on circumstances is bad for you, even when it's focus on happy circumstances.  Because circumstances are just circumstances.

But truth...TRUTH lives on a different plane than our circumstances.

Here's how that became extremely plain to me in a matter of a few hours.

After experiencing this giant happiness boost over a phone bill, i ran some errands and came back to my house to work on some online freelance work i've been doing.  You know, on my computer, which i connect the internet to through my cell phone.  And when i attempted to make this connection, it wouldn't work.  IT WOULDN'T WORK!

I tried to stay calm as i again contacted my phone company to find out what was going on.  Long story short, that new plan i agreed to had a catch i hadn't considered, and after a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, the second customer service agent got our phone plan reversed back to the plan we had earlier that morning, the one that was fine.

But i wasn't fine.  I was completely undone.  And completely undone is not a state of being that i am accustomed to.  I am accustomed to rolling with the punches, taking things in stride, having peace in the midst of circumstances.

When i say i was undone, i mean it.  You can ask my super hero.  I spent HOURS in tears.  It wasn't hormones either.  It was all about my focus.

Because whether the things we see seem good or bad, focusing on what is temporal and of this world, will kill us.  The things of this world will all pass away, but what God says is forever.  (loose translation of Matthew 24:35.

Even if you don't believe in this stuff, believe what i'm telling you, ok?  It's true.

Sometime mid afternoon on Saturday, everything became crystal clear when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart about my focus.  After i had spent the previous week(s) telling my friend to focus on God instead of circumstances, i had learned the same lesson in my own life, but different.

Happy circumstances are great, but they cannot be where my joy comes from.

In that moment, when the Holy Spirit made things clear to me, and i chose to say with my mouth, "God wins," my way of reminding my heart and giving my prayer to God that He's in charge, and I know that His ways and His intentions and His outcomes are what i'm committed to...in that moment, i felt instantaneous change.  I went from complete basket case depression (over $100...good grief), to peace.

The Bible calls that the peace that passes understanding that guards your hearts and minds...

If i didn't say it yet, this is the lesson:  focusing on circumstances, even positive circumstances, is death to your soul.  Your focus must be on the only being Who is all powerful and always loves you unconditionally.  His words are what matters.  Everything else is just stuff.  Stuff is nice sometimes, but it's nothing compared to the peace of God.

Well, that's it.  I hope i told the story well.  And i hope you get it.  It's almost Resurrection Day.  And if you know the real meaning of that day, this will mean all the more to you.

Love to all my peeps. ;)  Time to get ready for work.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

the timeline of a life of impact

I recently read someone say that one of the reasons that we don't do the really courageous things is because we are afraid of death.  (really loose translation from a small portion of a book called The Supernatural Ways of Royalty by Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton)

If you are a Christian, you believe, at least in your mind, that this life is not the end of your life, and hopefully that what you do in this life contributes to God's bigger picture and plan for mankind.

But each of us...especially in the United States...we want a nice house and white picket fence, 2.5 kids and dog....and to live happily ever after.

Or something like that.

Our picture of a life of success is all about us.  And not about anyone else.  Certainly, not really even for Christians, about God.  It's kind of more about God and how He makes MY life better.

And i'm not even entirely dampening all of that...God cares about people and loves people and wants good things for us....no good thing does He withhold from them who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).   So if i have a point, my point is not that we're all bad for wanting to have nice things.

My mind and heart have been wrestling around with these concepts, about not being afraid of death, or not allowing an unknown fear of death to keep me from doing the things that my heart wants to do.  It's not just exactly a fear of my heart beat ceasing, but also the fear of death of my own image of my self's importance.  Many of the things we think we should do but don't do, we don't do because we're afraid of what we imagine another person or persons might say or think about us when we do it, When we do something out of the ordinary that reveals that we have passions and vulnerabilities that are outside of the accepted picture of success.

Moses wrote a psalm (did you know this?  i did not realize this).  It's Psalm 90.  I've been reading it for a couple of days...no it's not that long, and i don't read that slow.....i just have needed to soak in it or something.  I have probably read this chapter of the Bible many times in the past - and just sort of skimmed over it.  It's honestly a little confusing.  But i read something different this time.  Moses recounts the amazingness and power and scariness of God and then He says, "teach us to number our days." And he talks about how short our lives really are.  And how when we're gone, we're really gone.  Like a blade of grass that withers and dies.

Now this sounds depressing, right?  But i don't think it is.

Think about this.  Moses spent the first 40 years of his life being someone he wasn't and then running away from Pharoah.  He spent the second 40 years of his life watching sheep.  He didn't lead the Israelites out of Egypt until he was EIGHTY.  And that's the beginning of the only part of Moses' life that most people take any notice of.

What i'm thinking is that maybe when Moses was 80-something, and he was in the middle of the desert with a million recently freed slaves, he started to see the importance of a non-normal life, given over to God.  And he started to see that a life that counts for God is not about the 40 or 80 or 90 years that one person might be on this earth.  It is about the contribution of one's life to the plan of God and the lives that will come after.

The ironic other side of this lesson i am learning or trying to learn is that He's not interested in our age as much as we are.

Looking at a few important life timelines...

Paul, the Apostle - finally stopped persecuting Christians when he was roughly 34 years old.  And in my mind i think that he just started being the Apostle Paul after that.  But he didn't.  It was 15-17 more years before he really started rockin' things.  All of those letters we call the Epistles that we read and take instruction and encouragement from...he didn't get started writing those until he was almost 50, and he didn't really get to writing until he was in his 60s, i.e., right before he gave his life for telling people about Jesus.

Moses - he only started to catch on at age 40....he got started rocking things at age 80....and followed God for 40 more years.

Corrie ten boom - she was an unmarried woman, living in her father's home and working in her father's business until the age of 52 when she and her family were taken into a concentration camp.  After the concentration camp, Corrie spent her time and life devoted to the healing of the hearts of former Nazis, and she didn't write her life-changing book The Hiding Place until she was 79.  She continued to write and to minister for more than ten years after that, before she died.

Pick someone whose life impacted and inspired you and google their life's timeline.  You might be surprised to find that they weren't born as a hero.  They were born just like you, as a helpless baby, and becoming the person you admire did not happen like magic.  These people are not the super heroes in the comics, just born with amazing abilities.  These are people who struggled and had sorrow and who God had great patience with to mold them and form them into the person whose life's impact is still impacting you long beyond their earthly death.

Back to my point...if i have one....i think Moses, when he wrote and prayed that prayer, was getting hold of the idea that his life is a contribution...  "establish the work of our hands," he prayed.  Loose translation:   please let the work of my hands mean something to the work of God.  Let my hands do what is important to God.  Because this life is short, and i want it to mean something to my Creator and His plan, not mine.

Friday, June 17, 2016

that Thursday

It has been a couple of weeks now, since one of several groups of violent storms that came to my area of the world, bringing flooding and winds and electric poles broken in two, and other wind, rain, and lightning-born natural demonstrations of destruction, began at approximately 5pm, just as work let out, on a day that has come to be referred to in conversation, as "that Thursday."

 Everybody has a story about that Thursday And everybody who's hearing those stories, knows which Thursday that Thursday was, because they have a story too...as do I...

That Thursday was not, as you might expect, a dark and stormy night. Not at all. I was in the office all day, but i remember it to be a cool and sunny day. Imagine that. Our area had been weathering and recovering from the effects of very generous rainfall for more than a month, and since the weather had been so nice for a couple of days, I was caught completely by surprise when the sky turned dark at about 4:30 on that Thursday.

And then it really was a dark and stormy - evening, i guess.

Now, please understand.  This is East Texas, where the rains don't always come, but when they come, they don't come lightly.  They generally come with lightning and tornado watches, or possibly with hurricanes.

I have driven in weather.  I have driven in pounding rain, in the dark, down the same narrow, winding, hilly roads through the woods, over and over again.  And i am pretty good at it by now.  To be honest, my only real concern is generally the less than exemplary actions of the drivers with whom i share those narrow roads in the rain.  People get crazy when there's water on the road.  I don't know why.

Because of this, when i got off work, and it was pounding rain, at 5:00 pm on that Thursday, I waited in my car, in the employee parking garage, for a few minutes, thinking i would let the people who are in too big of a hurry to notice the rain, get on their way.  But when i entered the roadway, i knew immediately that this had not done me as much good as i hoped.  This is because ... well, it was that Thursday.

Somehow, in the few minutes it had been raining, the roads were already collecting dangerously large ponds of water, and the water was moving, like a rushing river.  The wind blew hard, horizontally from the left, and then, in seconds, it changed direction and blew hard horizontally from the right, changing the direction of the rushing river roadways and making the lanes and everything else very hard to see.  The ditches were more than overflowing, most people were not moving fast, and the sky was just stinking scary.

Let me tell you something.  I got scared.

Stinking scared.

"Turn around.  Don't drown." they always tell you.  But i was afraid to turn anywhere.  If i stop, i might not go again, and if i turn off this road, i can't tell where the bottom is.  No way, i'm not turning around.

That evening, driving home, i prayed a scripture more earnestly than i have ever even considered that scripture.  I prayed, "Yea though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, i will fear no evil..."  And i was pretty sure i really was driving through the valley of the shadow of death.

It occurred to me later, and a little bit at the moment, that my prayer and my heart were definitely not in sync.  While i was saying the words, "...i will fear no evil..." i was fearing a whole lot of evil.

I made it home.  I didn't flood my car...or myself, as i had imagined a hundred times during my drive.

When i got out of the car, i was shaking.  I sort of stumbled into my house, so thankful for my house.  And a few minutes later, as i stopped to be thankful for making it home safely, i just burst into tears. I cried for a long time, and it was a few days before i was willing to drive again.

And i've thought about that day a lot, largely because i was so fearful.  I'm not accustomed to being fearful.   Fear requires way too much unpleasant mental energy.  I don't like it.  Ever since i was a little girl, and i was afraid of some imaginary creature under my bed, i would face it.  I remember turning my head down (with my feet safely under the covers of course) the side of bed to where i could look under my my bed and yell at whatever was down there...satisfying my mind that i was safe.  I don't like fear.  I don't like scary movies.  I just don't do it.

Jump ahead to today, when in my reading, I came to the source of my prayer from that Thursday:  Psalm 23.

And as i read it, i realized why it might be really helpful for me to remember this Psalm from the beginning instead of the middle.  It starts with the words, "The Lord is my Shepherd.  I shall not want."

Doesn't that make you feel more at ease than "..though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death?"

It does me.

The Lord is my shepherd,
shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.