On Dealing With Fear and Bullies . . . .

This is the second in a series of posts featuring spiritual lessons God taught me through my family.  Over the years these stories have been helpful to many a Client; I share them now in the hope that they might also encourage you. ❤️

There is much talk about bullies/abusers in the world today, but bullies have been around since the beginning.  It was their fear of bullies, that resulted in Israel having to march around in the wilderness for forty years*; and Goliath (of David and Goliath fame) was nothing more than an oversized bully.

Of our three children, Amy (our middle child), was the most fearful. Amy was afraid of (or was resistant to) such things as:

  • Volcanoes. When we received orders to move to England, our then four-year-old middle asked with serious intensity in her voice: “Are there volcanoes in England?” (All these years later, we still laugh that if we’d received orders to Hawaii, we would never have been able to get her on the airplane!)
  • A boy in our village named Christopher Blackman.  I doubt that Christopher (who was probably about 10 and DID have a bad reputation) had any idea that our little Amy had stopped going to the village shop for sweeties (candy) because she was afraid he might be there.  Also, he probably was unaware that she immediately hid herself behind a garden wall or bushes if she saw him when walking home from school.
  • Pick-pocketers.  After traveling into London on a train, we heard an announcement warning that pick-pocketers had been active in the area that morning.  Amy clutched the little purse I had made for her tightly against her chest as she said, “They should make them wear uniforms so we can tell who they are!”
  • Learning to write–because she knew she wouldn’t be able to write as well as her sister–Amy resisted the pressure to learn to write.)

    Amy

Yet despite her fears, Amy could also be the most courageous.  When she saw a smaller classmate being bullied, she took it upon herself to stick up for them.  On one such occasion, Amy was quite surprised when the bigger kid (not Christopher) knocked her down.  Fighting back tears, Amy got up and yelled passionately, “I FORGIVE YOU!”  (I heard later that the bully looked quite embarrassed as he slunk off!)

When I learned about the incident I was both stunned and proud.  I had to admit that Amy’s response demonstrated a special courage and biblical wisdom that I lacked.

COURAGE defined: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

True courage demonstrates moral strength to withstand danger despite our fears
as we take our stand against evil.

God chose to teach our family a deeper lesson through Amy’s second fear: Christopher Blackman.

BULLY defined: “a blustering, browbeating person . . . one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

Our youngest, Luke (about 2 1/2 years old at the time), was notoriously friendly toward anyone he met.  While taking Luke out to the local playing field in his stroller, Luke reached out to Christopher–who I had no idea was THE Christopher Blackman!  Soon after, Christopher began showing up by our garden wall calling out for Luke.  Having found out WHO the boy was, I kept Luke inside at first.  But I remembered what Jesus taught about dealing with enemies in Luke 6:27, 28,

Luke
with Christopher Blackman

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

As we (Amy and I) began to pray for Christopher, something unexpected happened: God softened our hearts.  I began to see that Christopher genuinely held a special affection for Luke–who Christopher called, “Lu-key”.  As I made some inquiries around our village I learned that Christopher was in foster care and was waiting to be placed in a special school. (He had been put out of the village school because of something he’d done.)  We reached out to Christopher’s foster parents and learned that because his foster mom was quite ill with diabetes, she put him out of the house after he’d had his breakfast each day to roam the village.  I realized that Christopher was showing up at our garden wall, because he was lonely while all the other children were in school.

What happened next is really kind of a blur.  We began by allowing Christopher into our garden and it wasn’t long until he became a special part of our lives.  I cannot tell you how long it was before Christopher and a couple of his friends began attending church with us.  Looking back, I do not recall even a hint of Christopher’s bad reputation being expressed in our time with him.

You may be wondering about Amy in all of this?  Well, she now says that Christopher probably DID push her down, sat on her and pounded on her back one day before he became a special part of our family.  But when she saw how he liked her little brother and saw our genuine concern for Christopher, she was okay with it.  Besides, even as a child, Amy said, she “figured that it was what Christian families were supposed to do!”

Soon after we returned to the States Christopher started at his new school.  We wrote back and forth for a while but then lost touch with him.  After all these years, I still wonder what he did with his life and would love to see him again.

So what did I learn from my children about dealing with fear and bullies?

  1. To take sin seriously–my own included–in difficult relationships.  Romans 12:9 says, “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  God is both sovereign and good and worthy of our trust.
  2. To faithfully pray for my enemy.  I have learned that by doing this God keeps my heart soft. Praying for my enemy also opens the door to miracles, as God also can work in the heart of the bully/abuser.  James 4:7 hits the mark with this counsel: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  3. To trust God to provide courage to resist being run by my fears. By standing up to bullies/abusers (and asking others to pray where needed) the sin is exposed for what it is.  The wisdom contained in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare, lends powerful encouragement to all who seek Christ’s help:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when (not if) the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then . . . .”

Ephesians 6:10-14

After 25 years of counseling, I have learned (where bullying/abuse is concerned) that prayer and getting help (be it in the church or by calling on the civil authorities) to stop the pattern of abuse is the best course.

To allow the sin of abuse to continue without addressing it,
encourages disrespect in the heart of the abuser toward the one being abused.
To call for outside help often forces the abuser to face the ugliness of their sin.  

In the end, there is opportunity on both sides of the relationship, for spiritual growth to take place as God works in both hearts.

All to His Glory

*Press here–> Joshua 5:6, to read the text.

A Passion to Build Upon . . . .

 

In my last post I asked this question, “What’s Your Passion?”  It is a question that has been on my heart since entering 2017. Figuring out what I am passionate about (and the motivation behind that passion) has been a healthy challenge for me.  I decided to pass it on to you–What are YOU passionate about?– in the hope that you also would be challenged to identify your own passions.

In that post I wrote about a developing passion of mine: writing.  I say, “developing” because I really don’t think of myself as a writer at all.  For me, writing is difficult, often frustrating work that continually morphs from one idea to another.  I keep at it (and all of its frustrations) because of a mysterious “something” that happens when all those thoughts–those bunny trails of ideas–finally begin to tie together and I can finish my post. I write because it’s a calling–it is what I know God would have me do.  It has become a “developing passion” as He has opened my mind and heart to the thoughts and ideas I am privileged to pass on to you. 

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . ."

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden . . . .

After publishing that post, I was forced to dig deeper into why I am passionate about certain things.  

Finally I asked God to help me
not only to identify my own passions,
but also to grasp the influences that drive them.
That is when I gained the wisdom and perspective
I was looking for.

It was as if He opened a gate into new insights that go far deeper than I imagined, fulfilling what King Solomon was referring to when he wrote about relationships:

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12

God has given us relationships so we can help one another through life.  Two are better than one!  But, when it comes to facing difficulty, we need God’s strength and perspective to provide the wisdom we lack. I share these insights into my personal passions, in the hope that it will encourage you to go deeper in understanding your own.  I am passionate about (not necessarily in this order):

  1. PEOPLE–People matter.  I am passionate about listening to people, especially when they are hurting, because I know it helps to be heard.
  2. GOD–God saved me from myself for Himself–He heard my cry for help!  In the nearly 50 years since then, He has proven to me His faithfulness in difficulty as well as in times of ease.
  3. SCRIPTURE–Probably my deepest passion is connecting hurting people to a faithful, caring God, with the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures.  I see miracles all the time as God faithfully ministers to the hearts and minds of those who seek Him.  It is an addiction that I hope will never leave me.

Only now am I beginning to see, that the foundation of my passion for writing
has been built upon my love and passion for people, God and Scripture.

But there’s a problem with passion; it can lead us into darkness when left unchecked.  I have known such darkness many times, times when it appeared there was no hope remaining . . . when despair ruled and sickened me with fear and anger.  So how are we to avoid the passions of others that swirl around us without getting pulled down with them?  Many times we are tempted to distance ourselves . . . to turn our backs for whatever reason.  But when we do that, we lose the window of opportunity God has opened for us–“to love as He has loved us.”

Instead of abandoning others in distress, God calls us to submit ourselves to Him as we first examine our own hearts.  This passage in James chills me to the bone with it’s truthfulness, yet it reminds me to keep my own passion in check as I love others by following God’s lead:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires
(your passions) that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill.
You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know
that friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason
that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us?
That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.'”
James 4:1-6

To listen and act in the love and humility of Jesus is what Christians are called to.  In these times of uncertainty I am saddened when I see blind passion assuming the worst of others with differing views.  Whatever your passion, I urge you to:

  1. Go to God with thanksgiving for His love and mercy extended on the Cross through His Son.
  2. Give thanks that His plans ARE being worked out in these uncertain times as you confess our own struggle with fear.
  3. Ask Him to help you look for the good that is being accomplished despite the turmoil–sometimes even because of the turmoil!  (Believe me, there are amazing things God is doing if you take time to look!)

So dear friend . . . what’s YOUR passion?

All to His Glory!

True Thanksgiving . . . .

When Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day in 1863, he was not thinking about feasting or relationships between Pilgrims and Indians.  At the time Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, this nation was in the middle of a bloody Civil War that would last another year and a half.  The Battle at Gettysburg– the largest and most devastating of that war–with total casualties numbering over 50,000–had been fought. Three months later, when this Proclamation was declared, the process of reburying the thousands of bodies that had been shallowly interred on the battlefield had begun but was not yet complete.  Even so, Lincoln recognized the blessings bestowed on the United States while in peril. In a time filled with uncertainty, we can learn much from President Lincoln’s perspective as he recognized God’s hand of grace and mercy during the perilous times of a country at war with itself.  That Proclamation included the following:dsc03086

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added . . . (so) that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed . . . to invite and to provoke . . . aggression (from other nations), peace has been preserved . . . order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.  Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship . . . . Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field . . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union . . . .”*

There is much that can applied to our own times as we contemplate Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

  • True thanksgiving is not about what we are thankful for but WHO we are thankful to.
  • True thanksgiving remembers God’s grace and mercy extended in countless ways despite our sin or our circumstances.
  • True thanksgiving is meant to be a lifestyle rather than a yearly occasion.

While writing this post the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, came to mind.  Written more than two centuries before Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, it captures the essence of what true thanksgiving is meant to be about to this day:

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Words: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), 1636
trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), 1858

As President Lincoln said, we have much to give thanks to God for.  We also have much to repent of–fear, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lack of mercy for the suffering of others.  As we observe Thanksgiving in repentant faith, we can look to the future with the same confidence and hope as the Apostle Paul:

“Now to Him who is able
to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

Ephesians 3:20-21

All to His Glory!

*To read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in full see:      http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

Soul Work: Rx for the Weary Heart . . . .

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”

Matthew 5:6

We find ourselves weary and discouraged as what was once “unthinkable” has become common place.  Even so, I am grateful to report that God continues to impact the hearts and minds of those who hunger and thirst for His perspective on their lives. With every problem faced in the Counseling Room, I marvel at God’s faithfulness as He consistently brings forth meaningful Scriptures that:

Come to Me . . . find rest for your souls.

Come to Me . . . find rest for your souls.

  • Challenge and direct according to Client need,
  • Shine forth hope and light to encourage each one forward and, above all else,
  • Inspire heartfelt repentance and thanksgiving for His truth spoken in love.

Understandably, there are times when tears are spilled.  Yet anyone who passes by my office is more likely to hear peals of laughter break through the walls as God ministers as only He can do.  The best part for me?  Is listening and reflecting on what God has shown them since our previous session through their Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  (It is then that I take notes!)

Last week, Matthew 11: 28, 29 came to the forefront while working with several Clients; each one was uniquely touched by Christ’s tender call:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.”

It is an invitation that is also a command– “Come . . . COME TO ME . . . and I will give you REST.”  Jesus makes this appeal to our weariness as He:

  1. Acknowledges the burdens that go with living life on this earth,
  2. Calls us closer to Himself to help bear our spiritual and earthly burdens,
  3. Sets the example of gentleness and humility of heart we are called to emulate, and (finally)
  4. Speaks to our deeper need of soul work where we discover rest in Him.

SOUL WORK*. . . what is it and how is it accomplished?  I write this not as any sort of theological expert. I am a sinner saved by God’s mysterious and wondrous grace through faith in His Son.  After more than four decades of walking by faith, with the Scriptures and God’s Spirit shepherding me through many a trial–plus encouraging others in the Scriptures for twenty-five years–this is what I have learned:

SOUL WORK is:
That deeply mysterious work only God can do
as we open our hearts and minds to Him.

Scripture gives much instruction about our hearts and minds:

Proverbs 4:23 is one of those verses that warn us to guard our hearts:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”
 

(NASB)

In Luke 6:43, Jesus taught that what we store in our hearts is reflected by our actions as well as our words:

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,
and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

As culture teaches, “follow your heart”, Jeremiah 17 admonishes–

“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
(Verses 9, 10)

While we are responsible for what we store in our hearts, Jesus calls us to go deeper in our relationship with Him. In Matthew 11 He urges: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” 

So what is this “yoke” Jesus urges His followers to take?  I appreciate the perspective of seventeenth century commentator, Matthew Henry** who wrote:  

It is a yoke that is lined with love.
So powerful are the assistances He gives us,
so suitable the encouragements,
and so strong the consolations to be found in the way of duty,
that we may truly say, it is a yoke of pleasantness.
The way of duty is the way of rest.”

To embrace the loving kindness of Christ’s invitation, though scary at first, is to discover the pleasantness of rest found only in Him.

SOUL WORK is not something we strive for;
it is worked out as we yield our hearts and minds
to God’s Sovereign Goodness.

So how is it begun?

  1. Prayer . . .
  2. Confession of fear, anger, pride, resentment, you name it . . .
  3. A willingness/determination to trust God no matter what your circumstances.

For me it required desperation.  As a new Christian I wanted to please God: but there were mountains of garbage stored deep in my heart that kept tripping me up.  Over time, I noticed that King David (said to be, “a man after God’s heart” in Scripture–despite his many failures) exposed his heart to God more than anyone else in the Bible.  I resolved to pray every portion of  the Psalms of David that mentioned the heart.  The day I got to the end of Psalm 139 was my “Day of Reckoning”.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Verses 23 and 24)

I remember terror gripping me as I contemplated praying David’s words.  I vividly imagined myself, laid out on an operating room table and the scalpel God held poised to open my chest.  I wanted to run . . . yet remained transfixed.  As I contemplated the painful rawness of being totally exposed, I prayed the words anyway:

“Search me, God . . . open me up and do what only You can do to make me whole.  
Cleanse me . . . please . . . that I may find freedom in YOU.”  

I braced for the pain of my chest being opened and my sin ripped out of the crevices of my being–but there was only silence.  I continued to wait until finally . . . I realized that God is far gentler and kinder than I ever imagined.  Slowly, I relaxed my grip on my fears as relief flooded my mind and heart like never before.  That marked the beginning of what has continued for a lifetime: learning to trust Him only deep within my soul, in good times as well as in bad.

No matter where you are or what your circumstance, Christ’s invitation to enter His rest awaits your response.  He has a plan and purpose for your life that will likely include heartache and confusion.  Yet, as you learn to trust in His Sovereign Goodness . . . that elusive rest found only in Him will be yours.

I pray that you will be encouraged by the Apostle Paul’s vision and prayer for all who trust in Christ Jesus:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you
with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
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 . . . .”
Ephesians 3:16-18

Do you hunger and thirst to go deeper in your walk with Jesus?  TODAY is the day to answer His call to trust Him more and yourself less!

All to His Glory!

*I found very little when I googled the term soul work except for this article (actually it’s only the first bit of the article–the rest is blocked from non-subscribers of Christianity Today): http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may-web-only/real-transformation-happens-when.html
**To learn more about Matthew Henry I found this site helpful: http://www.truthfulwords.org/biography/henrytw.html

FOUND . . . .

Is it possible to be lost and not know it? After my husband retired early this year, we camped across the United States and back, traveling close to 15,000 miles.  Without a doubt, we made numerous wrong turns in our travels, sometimes driving for several miles before realizing we were lost.  One advantage we greatly appreciated on the road, was having a GPS to help us navigate.  Rather than getting panicky or upset when we missed a turn, we learned to rely on “Hilda” (our name for our GPS) to help us return to the route we were supposed to be following without having to “back-track” the entire distance.

"Is this all there is?"

“?????”

Other ways we can be lost without knowing it are:

  • When we seek fulfillment by setting goals, achieving them, and then find ourselves looking around and wondering, “Is this all there is to life?”
  • When we put our faith in people and they let us down.
  • When we doubt God’s Sovereign Goodness and think He has abandoned us.

More shocking in our times is the lostness being manifested in a wanton disregard for human life:

  •  Of people who appear outwardly dead as they inflict as much pain and suffering as they can on others, before taking their own lives;
  • Or the lostness of those who champion the “right” to slaughter our unborn children.

John Newton, author of the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, understood the depths of such lostness.  Having been involved in the slave trade for many years and as a younger man led a life full of debauchery.  Newton also knew the joy of having been saved out of that lostness by the love his Savior, Jesus Christ:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am FOUND; was blind but now I see.”  

John Newton, 1725-1807

I too can relate to Newton’s joy of having been FOUND.  It has been 38 years since I understood the wretchedness of my sin and knew that, before a holy God, I deserved hell.  It was the worst day of my life . . . but it also was the absolute best day of my life after surrendering all to Jesus.

So what does it mean to be FOUND?

  • I normally think of it as an adjective: to come upon unexpectedly or after a search.

When I looked it up in my dictionary, however, I discovered that it means much, much more as a transitive verb:

  • FOUND–to take the first steps in building; to set or ground on something solid (a base); to establish (as an institution) often with provision for future maintenance.*

To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be more than simply discovered and then set aside.  
To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be established with design and purpose
in something (actually, SOMEONE)
outside of ourselves.

God has been kind in reminding me of these truths through two new Clients.  One has been established in her faith for many years, but struggles with the pain of a divorce and the challenge of raising her children on her own.  The other is very new in her faith and comes in every week excited to ask questions and to share what God has taught her as she has done her Journey Notes.  BOTH were encouraged and downright excited when we explored Colossians 3 this week.  Here’s what it says in part about being FOUND in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

Feeling lost or deserted?  Are you overwhelmed by whatever challenges you are facing?  Or, are you bored with your life and question God’s purpose for ever putting you here?

The question we must to consider is: Where is Christ in your life right now?

  • Is He merely a distant idea that floats in and out of your consciousness?
  • Is He at the foundational core of all that you care about?
  • Or is He somewhere in-between?

I have found much encouragement and direction in this prayer written by the Apostle Paul, and pray that it will do the same for you:

“I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strengthen you
with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have power, together with all the saints,
to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love.”

Ephesians 3:16-18

All to His Glory!

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Mere Chance . . . or God’s Glory?

“Seeing is believing.”  It’s a common phrase, thrown around without much thought.  Three little words that leave no room for negotiation or qualification.  But is it true?  Looking online for other perspectives on this question, I appreciated Brandon Stanton’s response.  Stanton, author of the enormously insightful blog, “Humans of New York,* responded to the question of the veracity of the phrase, “seeing is believing”, with this observation:

dsc02552

What do you see?

What’s something about the eye that most people don’t realize?  The eye doesn’t see. The brain sees. The eye just transmits. So what we see isn’t only determined by what comes through the eyes. What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we’ve seen before.”

In other words, our perceptions are impacted by our past experiences and overall mindset.

Certainly, in Jesus’s day, seeing was not necessarily believing.  There were many who heard Him teach and witnessed many of the miracles He performed, yet never embraced Him as the Christ.  When it comes to faith, unless the heart is open to conviction and being changed, seeing is not necessarily believing.

As my husband and I traveled this year, I was continually struck by how our perceptions influence what we “see.”  This was most strongly brought to my attention during a group tour.  (You know, one of those–“See All of Europe (without sleeping) in 17 Days” tours.)  Actually, our trip was intense but it was great.  We saw and experienced all that we had hoped to (and then some!)  The bonus for us was traveling with 32 people we had never met before.  Traveling together on planes, trains, tour buses and boats for nearly three weeks enhanced our experience immensely.

But there was one aspect that I struggled with during our shared journey. As we traveled we enjoyed amazing weather–everything we had read urged visitors to bring an umbrella, because it rained a lot everywhere we were going.  Yet, in the nearly three weeks we traveled together, it rained two mornings!   Sadly, the most common response to that gift were remarks about “how lucky” we were.  When I pointed to God as the source of that blessing, I largely received blank stares.  To be fair, I don’t know how many in our group were Christians, so I’m not condemning them.  However, it is not uncommon in “Christian circles” for some to bear tribute to “good luck” for the blessings in their lives.  This may may seem trivial, but in a secular world that has increasingly marginalized God, IT MATTERS!

Consider the perspective of Apostle Paul as he wrote to Believers in Rome:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men,
who suppress the truth by their wickedness–
since what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
His eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God,
they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him,
but their thinking became futile and
their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 1:18-20

How do you respond when you watch a sunset?  I invite you to slow down and consider the perspective Scripture provides:

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
    the skies proclaim the work of His Hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
    where their voice is not heard, 
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-4

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26

So, what do you see when you look at the sky?
Mere chance . . . or God’s Glory?
If it’s the glorious evidences of God’s handiwork that you see,
then PRAISE HIM with all of your heart!

All to His Glory!

*Humans of New York“, sensitively features ordinary people Stanton meets on the streets of New York City,“one story at a time.”

She Was Brave . . . .

Bravery:  a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
WordNet Dictionary

Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well.  My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.

Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th.  I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,

“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.” 

There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades.  But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave.  This is not to imply that she was never fearful.  It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people.  Here’s an early example:

She was brave . . . .

She was brave . . . .

My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven.  All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”.  Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard.  Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off.  I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom.  Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!

Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were.  Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side.  Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought.  When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture!  As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety!  Embarrassed by my fearfulness,  it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.

Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.

When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook.  Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:

“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!  
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”

That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY!  So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.

In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before.  In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.13442057_10208969039816875_678463191_o

God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared.  Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.

When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence.  This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there!  She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind.  When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,

“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there.  I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind.  I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”  

Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment.  Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.**  We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things.  When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.”  Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.

Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together.  Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart.  Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.”

I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!

*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.