“No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . . “

When I woke up this morning, it was the first time in ten days that I felt no pain in my head.  In fact, I only remembered my accident after glancing at myself in the mirror at my reflection–though improving after passing so many days . . . oh my, what a shiner!  This week has been full of lessons about gratitude, humility and the difference they make in how we navigate our lives:

LESSON ONE:  Last Monday, while visiting my daughter and her family, I took a bit of a tumble.  Okay . . . truthfully, it was more like a crash and burn on concrete . . . SPLAT.  I counted it a blessing that I could pick myself up and made my way up the stairs–nothing broken except maybe my pride.  I kept an ice pack on my head and laid low for several hours, but was grateful to enjoy a good finish to our visit.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

LESSON TWO:  On Tuesday, I was no worse from my “tumble/crash” so was grateful to fly home with my husband.  As we traveled I saw several reports in the news about a study done by the Pew Research Center’s findings titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”  According to the report, while Christianity still dominates the American religious identity at 70 percent, “dramatic shifts” have taken place as “people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.”  (USA Today)  I watched an interview featuring a thirty-something year old man, who was “raised in the church” but who “had no need” of “religion.”  None of this was a surprise to me, in fact, it confirmed what I have witnessed in my own community.  What caught my attention though, was the countenance of the young man who was interviewed–I saw a joylessness (a spiritual deadness) that weighed heavy on my heart.

Reflecting on the report, I shuddered as I wondered about the correlation between such spiritual deadness and the horrific violence being reported around the world.  It was then that I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his final letter to his young friend Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,
rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.

 II Timothy 3:1-5

How are Christians to respond to such a world?  We are called to love others when given the opportunity, as Christ has loved us, in grateful humility–

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for the ungodly . . . .
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:6, 8b)

LESSON THREE: Wednesday morning, we woke up to the news of a deadly train derailment that occurred the previous evening.  Eight people were killed and hundreds injured.  The reports were grim, however, one bright spot stood out to me.  It was a tweet from one of the survivors at the scene,

"No wallet, one shoe, so grateful . . . ."

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful . . . . “

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful….”  

As I processed the words of the tweet, I was surprised when I realized that tears were welling up in my eyes–what was that about?  It struck me that sometimes it takes our being stripped of everything we hold dear–truly humbled--that brings us to the point where we are grateful for the gift of our lives.  But here’s the proverbial “rub”:

What is the focus of such gratitude?

Is our gratitude simply for life itself?

Or, is our gratitude extended to the Giver of life?
Is there a difference?
Absolutely!  

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines gratitude as, “Having a due sense of benefits received; kindly disposed toward one from whom a favor has been received; willing to acknowledge and repay, or give thanks for . . . a grateful heart.”

The problem is:

♦  When there is no appreciation of favor having been extended to us by a merciful God, we end up serving ourselves (or others) as we fulfill what has become popularly known as our, “bucket list”.  

♦  With that, the benefits of gratitude and humility before a Holy God are totally lost on a world that is self-focused rather than esteeming God as Creator.

So what is our call?

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship,
with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  
Hebrews 12:29,29
(ESV)

LESSON FOUR: Remember that “tumble/crash” experienced on Monday?  On Thursday morning, I was shocked to see a dark purple “shiner” around my right eye when I looked in the mirror.  (Remember, I hit my head, not my eye!)  Also, the shooting pains in my head were increasing, growing from those sparklers used to celebrate special holidays to an ice pick.  Pride started to creep in when I thought about the Clients I had promised to see that day–should I cancel?  I remembered the Thessalonians 5 passage that encouraged me on Monday, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances . . . .”  With that, I started to put my makeup on extra thick–hoping they would not notice.

Of course, they did notice . . . but God was faithful in blessing both Sessions.  However, towards the end of the second Session my head started to throb.  I called my doctor; he sent me to the Emergency Room where I was immediately humbled when told, “Anyone in their sixties who hits their head needs to have a CT-scan.”  I was also told, “The idea that being fifty or sixty is ‘the new forty’  is a lie–period.”  I was too miserable to argue.  Thankfully, they found no fractures or blood clots formed so I was released to go home.

Since then, I learned that the flight may have exacerbated my symptoms.  In any case, even though I did not hit my eye when I fell, I did enough damage in my head to cause the internal bleeding to move to the soft tissue around my eye.

So what have I learned about gratitude and humility from all of this?

  1. l am grateful for how the accident caused me to slow down enough these past ten days to begin thinking about their importance before God.
  2.  I guess it all boils down to the reminder in Lesson Three: “No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . .”  If God is the focus of our gratitude, our response will keep Him at the center of what we think, say or do.

All to His Glory!

When The World Around You Crumbles . . . .

I saw it in her eyes . . . a glazed fatigue that said she was just barely hanging on.  After stowing her backpack under the seat in front of us, she settled next to me with her 17-month-old daughter and a paper cup filled with a large scoop of ice cream.  Perhaps seeing the concern in my face or . . . just needing to talk, she said softly, “We have been flying for the past thirty-six hours . . . from Kathmandu.”  Having watched many reports of the devastating earthquake all week, the only thing I could think to say was, “Welcome home.”

Popular 200 ft. tower landmark in Nepal, gone in an instant.

As she fed her daughter spoonfuls of ice cream (the only thing the worried mother could get her little one to eat on their long journey) she talked about her experience.  She and her daughter had flown to Nepal to attend her sister’s wedding.  When the quake hit, my seat mate was the only one in the house–the rest of the family (including her daughter) was out in the back garden.  She said several times, “I thought I was going to die,”  before adding,  “My only comfort was in knowing my family would take care of my daughter.”  

Thankfully, she survived.  But I could tell she was still reeling from having seen the world she had known since childhood literally crumble.  She described “the wind that seemed to form with the quake”, filling the air with all sorts of dust particles that made survivors prone to eye and respiratory problems for days after.  Over the next three days, she and her family “camped” (along with countless others) in an open-dirt area with no power, water or even a blanket to form a shelter.   Finally, she and her daughter were admitted to the American Embassy, where they stayed two more days until a flight out was arranged for them.  (Her comment here, “I have never been more grateful to be an American citizen!”)

She spoke softly about the historic sites as well as the majority of the city being flattened.  To help me appreciate the significance of what she had witnessed she said, “Imagine the White House in Washington, DC, being demolished in just a moment . . . that is the magnitude of what has happened in Nepal.”  

How does one respond to a story such as this?  It took some careful thought before I responded with, “During times when I have felt like my life was crumbling, the Bible has provided me with the strength and courage I needed to continue moving forward.  Psalm 139:16b is one of my favorites,

‘All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.'”

A gentleness settled across her face as she said, “I know that what you are saying is true, that God can often bring much blessing out of tragedy.  That is what I am clinging to right now.”  We spoke for some time about the blessings that could come out of the catastrophic shift that had taken place.  Soon, as her little one finally relaxed and fell asleep in her arms, she also closed her eyes and drifted off in exhaustion.

I watched them as they slept, grateful for the privilege of hearing their story as they traveled this final leg home.  I thought about her husband,  waiting at the airport, hungry to see that his wife and daughter were truly alive and safe.  Sitting there I also thought about how “life” can crumble around us in a myriad of ways–relationships broken, dreams squelched, a devastating health reversal, missed opportunities never to return . . . .  The truth is, life on this earth is full of danger.  I remembered the words of Psalm 46, where I have found comfort in the midst of trials:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
(Verses 1-3)

There is no tower we can build that will be high enough, nor any wall we erect that will be broad enough to keep trouble away from our door.  Only God can provide the comfort and shelter we need during such storms.  I love how the rest of Psalm 46 draws us ever closer to the God who is our only Hope and Sure Shelter:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(verses 4-11)

When the plane finally landed she opened her eyes and smiled–HOME!  They were finally home!  Doing what I could to help, I gladly held her little one briefly as she gathered their few belongings.   Then, almost in an instant, they were gone.  Only when they were finally out of sight, did I realize that I would never forget her–even though I never learned her name . . . .

All to His Glory!

Christian Joy Is Not Man-Made . . . .

There is a difference between “joy” as it is experienced in the world and Christian joy.

  • Joy in the world is much like that of happiness contained in a helium balloon.  Such joy can appear to be almost wondrous as it floats high into the sky.  However, the enjoyment is only temporary as it drifts out of sight and ultimately “pops” as circumstances change.
  • Christian joy is not tainted by adverse circumstances or the actions of others.  Christian joy is instead filled with the hope and wisdom of faith in Christ Jesus.  

    Christian Joy is not man-made

    Christian Joy is not man-made

If you are struggling with circumstances that are out of your control, or are trying to make sense of the hateful ugliness being reported in the news, then I encourage you to stop and consider the wisdom of James.*   In his letter directed to, “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,”  James sought to encourage and exhort God’s people living in uncertain times (times similar to our own) to persevere in their faith to discover the “pure joy” of an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.  What is the essence of Christian joy?  Here is what James says:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brethren,
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS . . .
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work
SO THAT YOU MAY BE MATURE AND COMPLETE,
NOT LACKING ANYTHING.”
James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine.)

The first time I read James, I thought his call to “pure joy” was some sort of weird, masochistic invitation to delight in suffering.  (You can bet I kept a wide berth between myself and James for quite some time!)  However, after going through some personal trials of my own, I remembered James and went back to discover the blessing I did not appreciate before. That last bit, about needing to persevere in my faith (trusting in God’s goodness rather than allowing hurt or disappointment to darken my perceptions) hit me like a fresh shot of sunshine that suddenly burst through a massive bank of dark clouds.  As I thought about God’s goal for my life–to work out a mature faith within me–all the defenses I had erected in the past to protect myself crumbled.  I realized then, that the joy James described was what I wanted too.

But, how exactly is Christian joy to be worked out?  Is it just a matter of “keeping a stiff upper lip” and trusting that everything will somehow work out?  Thankfully, I kept reading James and found the answer to my question:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault . . . .
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

James 1:5-7

So, what is the essence of Christian joy and how is it even possible in the world we live in?

  • To rejoice in trial means that we refuse to doubt God’s Goodness as we seek His wisdom by faith.
  • Christian joy refuses to give way to fear but is strengthened as we resolve to stand in faith.
  • Christian joy is not naive but rests in knowing that the things of this world are only temporary, that our Hope (and therefore our joy in Christ) is eternal.

Christian joy is about going deeper in your faith to gain maturity.
It stretches beyond mere ascent to belief in Christ,
as it determines to embrace the benefits of maturity God affords under trial.  

No matter what you may be facing, James directs us to rejoice in the sure knowledge that this is not all there is.  In essence, James is calling you and I to step out of ourselves (like Peter stepped out of the boat so long ago) to gain a maturity of faith that is out of this world.  So-o-o-o-o, what are you waiting for?  Give thanks to God for His Goodness as a mature faith is worked out in you . . . .

All to His Glory!

*An  interesting side note: James was a half-brother to Jesus yet only refers to himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (James 1:1)

Perspective on: “A Healthy Death . . . .”

“Perspective is everything.”  I don’t know where I picked it up, but it is a phrase I find myself repeating a lot these days.  Yesterday, as I prepared to make the half-hour drive to attend the funeral of my friend Pat, I remembered back to when she told me she had cancer, two and a half months ago.  (Even then, that conversation was so remarkable that I decided to share Pat’s story with you in, A Healthy Death.)   In that conversation, still shaken by the news of Pat’s battle that had been ongoing for three months, I found comfort and blessing as Jim (Pat’s husband) told me how they had decided to pray,

“This is what it boils down to, Kathie,
we are praying for HEALING or . . . for A HEALTHY DEATH!”  

Since writing that post, I have thought often about writing its follow-up . . . hoping to write to you about Pat’s miraculous healing.  Yet inwardly, I also wondered, “If You decide to take Pat Home, Lord, what would You have me write?  What exactly does a healthy death look like?”

As I drove to the funeral home, all I could think about was the pain of separation being experienced by Pat’s family and friends.  It was good to greet and feel the hugs of friends I had not seen for many years.  It was also amazing to see the crowds of others, whom I had never met, but who also had been touched by Pat’s life.  As I watched Pat’s family offer comfort and reassuring hugs to all who came, I was struck by how they reflected the love and strength of the One carrying them.  This, I realized, was my first lesson on what a healthy death looks like–the Body of Christ ministering to one another.

The Service for Pat began with this simple story:

Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity.  In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

I was struck by how very much the Christian walk is about pilgrimage–then and now.  The pain of death is nothing new.  However for Christians, the sting of death has been taken away, because of the Hope we share from this life into the next.  In fact, the second lesson on a healthy death, relates to it’s uniqueness to the Christian faith.  There is no possibility of experiencing a healthy death apart from the saving work of Jesus in the heart, mind and soul of the individual.  

During the Service, hearts were ministered to as some of Pat’s favorite songs and hymns were sung. I found the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures shared to be strengthening and uplifting.  Certainly tears were spilled and will continue for some time, as we remember Pat.  However, as we rely on the Hope embedded in the Resurrection of Christ–promised to all who trust in Him–we are strengthened to persevere on this journey and into the next.  What the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 reflects our third lesson on a healthy death: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

This morning, I thought about Pat as I remembered the words from an old hymn:

” . . . and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on!
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on!”*

The thought of Pat presently experiencing such freedom brought fresh delight to my soul.   This rendition of Fernando Ortega’s, “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a favorite of mine.  I offer it to those of you who may be suffering loss or who are facing uncertainty in your life right now.  What does a healthy death look like?  Take a moment to reflect on this question as you marvel in His Wondrous Grace.  Truly . . . PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16b

All to His Glory!

*What Wondrous Love Is This, Author: Unknown, first published 1811.

A Faith That Soars . . . .

It was one of those rare moments when all the pieces fell into place in one full swoop.  We were in the Counseling Room talking about faith.  My Client, having grown up in a loving, Christian home, expressed her longing to regain the “warm fuzzies” of the faith she enjoyed in her youth.  Presently in her early thirties, and having made choices in her young adulthood she deeply regrets, I could see that she was at a spiritual crossroads . . . unsure of the direction she needed to go.

Suddenly, this question wafted out of my mouth and across the room before I even had time to think about it, “Lisa, tell me everything you know about eagles . . . how do they learn to fly?”  Looking at me quizzically, it took her a moment to begin processing the question that appeared to come out of nowhere.  Rephrasing it slightly, I again asked, “What do you know about how eaglets learn to fly?”  

Obviously wrestling with the relevancy of my question to our discussion on faith, Lisa replied, “Well . . . I don’t know . . . I . . . .”

I leaned forward, sensing a growing excitement that the Lord was about to reveal something really special to us.  As I did, I remembered the words of Isaiah that describe God in all of His majesty as He surveys His Creation:

Transfer 5 1012

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
Isaiah 40: 22-23

As I thought about God observing us from on high, I measured my words carefully, “Lisa, an eagle’s nest is very large, comfortable and safe for the newborn eaglets.  But as they grow, their parents remove the comfortable stuff to get them to begin to exercise their wings and learn to fly. In fact, they also limit their food by holding it high above them so they have to reach for it.  Lisa, eaglets that do not learn to fly cannot survive.

Thoughtful, as she reflected on our previous conversation about faith, Lisa responded, “Are you telling me, that to continue to long for those warm, fuzzy feelings I enjoyed for so long is somehow wrong?”

I looked at her and felt a smile working outwardly across my face as I said, “Lisa, faith is so much more than a feeling!  God wants MORE for you and I when it comes to growing a mature faith.  God wants you and I to implicitly invest ourselves into knowing the Scriptures and rely on His Holy Spirit– whether the feelings are there or not!”

As I spoke those words, they came at me in a new and fresh way.  For so many years I have listened to Clients struggle with what they call, a “disconnect” in their faith.  Many yearn to go back to those “warm fuzzy” days in their walk with Christ.  They mourn their loss of the feelings that had accompanied their faith before the ravages of “life” assailed them.  In all the years I have sought to walk by faith, it never occurred to me what a detriment to faith our feelings can be.  In no way do I mean to assert that feelings are bad.  However,  I do believe that to measure the strength of our faith by our feelings is a grave error.  The litmus test of a mature faith that pleases God, boils down to Jesus’ declaration recorded in John 14:15,

“If you love Me you will obey My commandments.”

As Lisa and I continued to talk, the concluding verses of Isaiah 40 opened yet another door in my mind, shedding light on the kind of faith every servant of Christ should ascribe to:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40: 28-31

 A faith that soars cannot rely solely on feelings– such a faith
comes dangerously close to becoming self-centered rather than focused on Christ.
Just as eaglets must trust their parents to learn to fly,
a faith that soars must also learn from the loving obedience of our Savior.
 

In those final moments in the Counseling Room, the walls fell away as Lisa and I considered the limitless possibilities of a soaring faith . . . .  No matter where you are right now in your faith, be encouraged–God has a plan and purpose for your life.  No matter what you have said or done in the past, resolve to look to Christ rather than to your feelings as you make choices based on loving obedience to Him.  You may not realize it immediately but I guarantee, your faith lived out in obedience will enable you to soar beyond your feelings, to a glorious eternity with Him.

All to His Glory!

Good Friday . . . What’s So “Good” About It?

The water was perfectly still as we passed the lake yesterday afternoon–reflecting the heavy layers of dark and foreboding clouds that filled the sky.  The scene struck me as being very appropriate on this day of remembrance–Good Friday–when Jesus was crucified:

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.”
                                                                                                     Matthew 27:46-50

Picture taken by Heidi Viars~~

During the candlelit Good Friday service at my church, there was a wooden cross draped in black erected in the center of the Sanctuary.  Many Scriptures were read and hymns sung, as candles were snuffed out one by one.  It was as if we had entered into the events of that awful day . . . events that were the fulfillment of a prophecy written hundreds of years before:

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

 Good Friday . . . what’s so “good” about it?

Sunday is coming!

Safe

Kathie at hisglorysm:

Need encouragement? Then be blessed by the assuring reminders of God’s tender mercies extended to His people. (Life is hard, but Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is coming!

Originally posted on Wings of the Dawn:

march 31st sunrise 031

No matter how deep the pain you endure,
The presence of God, your Healer, is sure.

No matter how strong the snares that you face,
The power of Christ has conquered the grave.

No matter how lost you might think you are,
The love of your Maker is never far.

No matter what troubles threaten to harm,
Today you’re safe in His strong, loving arm.
~
Psalm 91:1-4 (NASB)
 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”
 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
~march 31st sunrise 058

(Pictures…

View original 7 more words