“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 my reflection in the bathroom mirror–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….”  

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!

A Simple Faith: Connecting-the-Dots As God Intends . . . .

A pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better.  Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying.  Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness.  If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.

Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure.  When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated.  I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my Client perceives their problem(s).  What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.

It is our response to what God says, that determines
how accurately we “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.

Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways.  It was a book containing a collection of letters about faith, written in the 1700’s by John Newton*.  Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:DSC02073

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.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .

The wisdom of Newton’s Amazing Grace has continued to resonate from generation to generation.  What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God.  It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:

 “Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance. (p.116)

Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied.  It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith.  These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,

  1. “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness.  Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
  2. “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .”  I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .”  I  must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.”  However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason.  Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God. 
  3. The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.”  When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God.  There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart. 

The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people:

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.”   As we continue to walk in simple faith we discover rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.  

All to His Glory!

 *Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.

The Richness of a Spiritually Healthy Life . . . .

 

I learned early in my walk with Jesus, that God uses what He will to direct us toward the path we might otherwise miss.  Case in point: inspired by my last post, “A Healthy Death”, I started thinking about how a biblical view of healthy living differs from the secular view of today.  Several days into writing on this topic, I came down with a miserable flu that then morphed into a severe bronchial and sinus infection–the irony of it was difficult to ignore!

So, what is a spiritually healthy life and how does it differ from what secular culture teaches about healthy living? Where secular culture judges the state of our health by what can be seen or empirically measured, God’s primary concern is with our spiritual health.  (This is not to say such things diet and exercise do not matter to God.  Certainly we are expected to be good stewards of what He has provided for us–including the care of our bodies.)  Also, while secular culture is far more concerned with an outwardly healthy self-esteem, God’s concerns go far deeper as He examines our hearts.  Proverbs 3:7-8 provides a simple formula that effectively hits at the basics of what God prescribes for living spiritually healthy lives:

A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .
A spiritually healthy life enriches the soul . . . .

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.   

In practical, spiritual terms this breaks down as,

HUMILITY + FEAR/RESPECT FOR GOD + RESISTING WHAT GOD HATES (SIN) = A SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY LIFE THAT ENRICHES THE SOUL

So what are some of the earmarks of a spiritually healthy life?  The first one might surprise you, but I learned its truth when I first began counseling:

  1. A spiritually healthy life is often messy as it reaches out to others.*
  2. Lives daily in relationship with Christ through prayer and seeking to live out the Scriptures.
  3. Maintains an attitude of gratitude for God’s Presence, Provision and Plan for our lives.
  4. Recognizes that while life is not problem-free, steadfastly trusts in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  (James 1; Hebrews 12)
  5. Bears good fruit that honors God.
  6. Looks for the good in others by loving and forgiving deeply.
  7. Takes sin seriously in self and then also in helping others.
  8. Rests fully in Christ.
  9. Speaks truth in love as a reflection of God’s Grace.
  10. Is not long impacted by adverse circumstances . . . .  Just as a compass takes a few moments to adjust when a shift in direction is made, a spiritually healthy life can make whatever adjustments necessary to navigate toward the Hope we share in Christ.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
Psalm 34:12-14

All to His Glory!

*I learned early in my career that many times, those outwardly perfect families and individuals are covering deep pain or insecurities others know nothing about.

On Giving Thanks In All Things . . . .

God has proved Himself faithful through the ages and continues to speak to those who seek Him.  That is why, I encourage every Client I serve to get into the Scriptures for themselves through Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  One of my favorite passages we visit is recorded in Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God offers hope to a generation that had forgotten Him:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13

In these weeks and months, as our family has journeyed the cancer trail with our son Luke and then our beautiful Shannon, the challenges have been many.  Certainly, fear has been a constant threat–the thought of losing either (or both) of them have weighed heavily on our hearts.  Yet our faith has been strengthened as we have watched them persevere in trusting God at every juncture.  Since Shannon’s surgery, nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago, we have watched as Luke has gained strength daily but not knowing what was in store for Shannon.

As we have waited for the results of Shannon’s tests, I have thought about the faith of three men who lived long ago, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.   When ordered to bow down to an image of gold or perish in a fiery furnace, they refused to obey the king.  Their response to the kings order, before being thrown into the fiery furnace, bore testimony to a faith in God that saw beyond this world:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  
Daniel 3:16-18

Shannon and Luke--in all things giving thanks!
Shannon and Luke–Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Yesterday we rejoiced at the wonderful news from Shannon’s pathology report.  Her cancer has been determined to be at “stage one”, so she will remain under observation, but will not have to receive further treatment.  You can bet that many tears of relief fell as the dread of further treatment was lifted from our shoulders!  We are certainly grateful for God’s gracious answer to all of our prayers and yet . . . I pray that we never lose sight of His continued faithfulness to us throughout this trial.

This season of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) has drawn us closer together as a family and to the Shepherd of our hearts.  Many have entered in to bless us with countless prayers, acts of sacrifice and kindness that humbled us all.  Reflecting on all of this, Shannon asked this question a few weeks ago: “If all of this hadn’t happened, what would we be doing?”  The answer chilled us–we would probably be busy and worried about things that really have little significance in the greater scheme of things.

As we move into the New Year, my prayer is that we never lose sight of the lessons learned through this trial.  Certainly, cancer is ugly, horrible stuff.  Yet, in the midst of such ugliness, we have learned to count our many blessings as God has proven Himself to be faithful.  I extend my prayer for those of you who read this.  No matter what you are facing, give thanks to God for the opportunity to deepen your faith; with every breath He grants you, give thanks for His glorious grace!

“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

All to His Glory!

Faith Breathes . . . .

 

This morning I woke up in a panic . . .

my chest pounding hard within . . .

that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach . . .  

fear gripping my heart as I struggled to take a breath . . . .

Does that ever happen to you?  Sometimes the source of what causes such a panicky state is identifiable–in my case, it was “seeing” hundreds of golden spiders lowering themselves toward me in a dream.  But such panic can hit without warning and without a cause that is readily apparent . . . what then?  Having had to confront my own personal issues with fear and anger–yes, the two are often related–and having worked with countless others in the Counseling Room, I have learned:

WHEN FEAR (OR ANGER) GRIP THE HEART, FAITH MUST BREATHE DEEPER STILL.

Faith breathes?  It may sound a little crazy, but hear me out.   In the Counseling Room, when talking about dealing with fear or anger as Christians, we look to the Scriptures for guidance.  Many times we talk about how to walk by faith (not just by sight like the rest of the world does) and learn to view tough times as opportunities trust God more.   In Chapter Two of his letter, James concluded,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”* 

Thus, according to James, it is as faith is worked out in our lives that the evidence of genuine faith is revealed.

The Bible also commands that we be a thankful people before our God and King . . . thankful no matter what our circumstance.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18 encourages,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Now, here is where breathing ties in with faith:

One of the best ways of energizing faith, when overwhelmed by on-going problems or facing the unexpected, is to take a deep breath as you mentally stop whatever you are doing.   As you take in that first breath (making it as deep and long as you can), mentally turn to God and give thanks to Him for His love.  Continue on that vein (recalling every wonderful thing you know about God from the Scriptures) with every breath:

Thank You God that you love me–even when I do not feel or deserve it.

Thank You that You are with me–even though I feel totally alone.

Thank You that You have a plan and a purpose for my life–even though I cannot fathom how this fits into what that might be.

Thank You God for being faithful, even when I fail You . . .

Thank You, thank You, thank You–that You are my God of HOPE!

After reading an article on How to Breathe Properly, written by Karen Lee Richards–patient advocate and co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association– I was struck by how our physical breathing and learning to breathe spiritually are similar.  Richards wrote.

“Breathing affects virtually every part of the body.  It oxygenates the body, revitalizing organs, cells and tissues.  Breathing properly:

  • Fuels energy production
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Eliminates toxins
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Improves bowel function
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation

As important as breathing is to our bodies faith, as it is applied with every spiritual breath we take, is every bit as beneficial.  With every spiritual breath we take, faith fuels our spiritual energy.  Faith improves and narrows our spiritual focus as the toxicity of sin is eliminated through repentance.  Also, as faith is lived out, our spiritual immunity is strengthened as we honor Christ in our lives.  Every spiritual breath we take improves . . . yes, even our bowels(!) as it reduces stress, tension and anxiety.

In the article, Richards differentiates between shallow chest breathing (what sufferers of chronic pain do to minimize pain) and slow, deep abdominal breathing. Richards says, “Shallow chest breathing makes people feel tense” and can induce symptoms that include “mental fog, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, feeling numb and more.”  Yet with slow, deep abdominal breathing, ‘feelings of calmness” are the resulting benefit.

Just as how we breathe impacts our bodies and perceptions, faith as it is applied (or not) also affects our bodily functions as well as our minds and hearts. 

In the final chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage believers living in perilous times to run not from difficulty, but to instead run to the One they loved and served.  Paul wrote to remind his fellow believers that our strength is not in ourselves; that our battle strategy is to stand by faith against evil as God works out His perfect plan through us:

“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 devils 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.”

No matter what your circumstance, you can know and trust that our Sovereign and Good God will provide the strength and wisdom you need to honor Him with your life.  NOW . . . READY . . . SET . . . BREATHE!DSC01298

All to His Glory!

 

*James 2:26

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!