Stuck in the Middle

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Frederick Douglass

You know that excitement you get when you begin a new project? What about the sense of satisfaction when you finish one? Do you ever hear anyone say, “I’m so excited about working fifty rows of  K1 P1 ribbing?

For the non-knitters, K1 P1ribbing is knitter-speak for knit one stitch and pearl one stitch until you lose your mind. The stitch pattern makes a lovely edge for sweaters and hats, but it can be a little boring. It also takes a little attention to detail because you constantly switch the yarn from the back to the front to the back again. If you are just knitting a row, you don’t really have to think about it as your hands use muscle memory to just do it. The ribbing takes a little work.

Writing books is very similar. You are excited about the idea in your mind and start creating the character and their world. You look forward to finishing it and getting it published. In between the two lies the ribbing, aka figuring out how to get your protagonist from point A to point Z without losing your reader or your mind. It takes a little work.

Our spiritual lives are not really that different. When we first come to know Christ, we are excited and eager to dive into the Word and live the Christian life. It’s a great time. Then, we are also thinking about what it will be like when we get to Heaven and everything is complete and whole in Christ’s presence. In the meantime, life happens and we get distracted by daily tasks and demands on our time. Keeping our enthusiasm during the daily grind is difficult sometimes. It takes a little work.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Christians are a work in progress. We have been saved, but God is still working on us. The key word is work. It requires a struggle, but nothing good ever comes easy. The good news is that it’s not all up to us. God is working on us, and God will finish what he starts.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

There is no greater example of this than the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It takes time for the transformation to occur, and when the butterfly is ready to emerge from the cocoon, it has to struggle. The thing about the struggle is that it makes the butterflies wings strong so that when it is finally free, it can fly.

When you find yourself struggling in your daily walk, remember that God is not finished with you yet. Struggle means you are growing spiritual wings so that you can fly. Meanwhile, you can’t speed through the process like Adam Sandler’s character in Click. His remote control allowed him to fast forward through the parts of life he didn’t like, but in the end he realized that he’d fast forwarded through his life and missed a lot of great little moments. So, learn to slow down so that you can enjoy the little moments because that’s where life is really lived: in the middle.

Just Start

Part 1 of a Work in Progress (WIP)

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

My to-do list has lists at the moment. Sitting on my desk are ideas for four non-fiction pieces, an idea for a short work of fiction to use as a giveaway, and my blog post idea turned into a blog post series idea. Not to mention, today I began work on a website for my writing which has a to-do list of its ow,n along with sub-lists of lists. My head is spinning like the little blue circle on my computer that show up when I’ve asked it to compute more than it can compute. What’s a writer to do?

Just start!

That was the command Anne Lamott gave to her writing students in the book Bird by Bird. They wanted to know how to be published authors, and she said you have to start writing first. The thought of writing a novel, the thought of having my own website, the thought of spiritual growth and revival all sound great in theory. It is the working it out that slows us down. My first question is where do I start?

Just start!

The king in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had it right when he said start at the beginning. You have to start where you are. No matter what path lies in front of you, start from where you are and take a step forward. One of the things I learned about anxiety is that action is one of the greatest weapons against it. If you sit and think about something, you will begin to imagine all the worst case scenarios and begin a negative spiral downward until you are frozen in place. However, if you just take action, you are literally and figuratively one step ahead. It frees you to keep moving.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If you are moving, then you are making progress, which fuels you to keep moving. Our spiritual walk is just that, a daily walk. We have to get out of bed every morning and decide to walk. We have to start from where we are: sinners saved by grace. Then, we move forward a step at a time through whatever the day holds, whatever life’s journey holds. But, we don’t walk alone.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Isaiah 43:2

We have a guide and a companion who goes alongside us. So, there is no need to fear what might lie ahead. Our job is to take it one step at a time. With Christ as our Shepherd and Leader, we can’t get lost, although we might go down a rabbit hole or two. Just like Alice we get to the same place at the journey’s end, home sweet home. In the meantime… what is it you need to do?

Just start! Take it one thing at a time and enjoy the moment. It’s all a work in progress, including me.

Coming next week: Part 2 of Work in Progress… Stuck in the Middle

Changes in Vision

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

(Attributed to a variety of sources including Albert Einstein)

On March 25, 2021, I went to get in my car and noticed my irises had bloomed overnight. It’s always the first flower to bloom in that flowerbed, and it always takes me by surprise. Life can be the same way as many families discovered that day as tornado warning sirens filled the air all over the state. I am grateful that I woke up to see the same iris the next morning, still blooming despite all the storms. But, sometimes it takes a disturbance to help us see more clearly.

Seasons of Change

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11

My irises always let me know that spring is upon us. Unfortunately, it also brings turbulent weather and allergies. Anytime change comes upon us there is bound to be turbulence, but it is the shake ups that force us out of our ruts and makes us take a look around. Often we find things that need to be done. For instance, I already have a mental list of chores that need to be done around the yard now that I no longer have the winter weather as an excuse to stay indoors. Spiritually, both individually and corporately as a church, we need to take a look around as we come out of a turbulent season. What needs to be done? What needs to be done differently?

Assess the Landscape

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Matthew 13:30

First of all, we need to assess the landscape to see where we are. For example, I have two stumps and laundry pole that are getting in my way of maintaining my yard. I have been throwing around ideas on how to work around or remove the obstacles, but I seem stuck with them for the moment. Sometimes God leaves the obstacles in our way because to remove them would hurt more than it helped. So, I have to figure out how to work around them by mitigating their influence as much as possible. Usually that means maintaining the area around it so that weeds don’t overrun and keep me from doing what needs to be done. We live in this world, but we are not of this world, so we have to learn to work around obstacles.

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

John 15:2

At other times I have to prune with a passion. I have some dead plants and limbs that need cutting out before they become serious problems later. There are also weeds that need cutting down and maintained all season. Spiritually speaking, God often prunes with a passion. We need to be willing to accept His pruning and weeding so that we can be used in His vision for our church and our communities. It may require a new approach, doing things in a new way.

Find a Landmark

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Proverbs 28:18

When we lose our way, our first step should be to take a look around us and take stock of where we are. Once we assess the landscape, then we should look for a landmark to help guide us. For Christians, we need our moral compass set to true north: Jesus Christ. When we set our eyes on Christ, we gain a kingdom perspective. Instead of looking through rose-colored glasses, we are looking through Christ-centered glasses. A kingdom perspective will change everything.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.

(Attributed to Jessie Potter)

Adjust Your Course

When you know where you are and have identified where you want to go, you are ready to plot a course. Usually, this means adjusting your course. It means being willing to change. In the book Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight by Britt Mooney, the author talks about how this group of Christians said yes to God at every opportunity and how God blessed their ministry abundantly above what they imagined. But, they didn’t stop at saying yes to the vision; they took action and stepped out in faith. We have to be willing to let go of our limited perspective and get a God-sized vision. It won’t be easy, but the end results will be worth it.

What vision has God given you? What is the next step He wants you to take?

When the Bucket Meets the Road

October was a long month in some ways and way too short in others. I wrote 4 novellas, so every day I went to my first job, and then my second job, and then I came home to write a couple thousand words. I was happy to see November and was down to correcting the last two novellas to send to the publisher.

Driving home in the dark, suddenly there appeared a bucket in the road. Not your average bucket, but a heavy duty one. I couldn’t swerve or stop because of traffic; I had to hit it straight on. I figured it would hit and bounce, maybe ding my already dinged car, but no. It had staying power. It scraped and screamed on the asphalt and refused to break loose or break up, so I finally pulled over. I couldn’t see it and the side of that particular highway was not safe due to high traffic. Since all of my tires seemed fine, I waited for all the traffic to pass and then eased onto the road and drove to the parking lot of an empty building down the hill.

I finally found the offending bucket wedged under the front of my car and managed to pull it loose and toss it to the side. Saying a quick prayer, I got back in the car and headed home, thankful not to see any warning lights on the dash. I made it home without any further ado and went inside to finish what I had started.

It occurred to me that the incident is a lot like life. We are rolling along taking care of business when suddenly life throws a bucket at us. Whether it is a unexpected bill, an illness, a death, or just a bad day, it throws a kink in our plan and slows us down. We want to pull off the road and quit, but we still have to get home, so we have to deal with the problem and carry on.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

1 Peter 5:7-8

First, the Bible says to cast our cares on God. We weren’t meant to carry them around. God wants us to trust Him with our problems. The devil is trying to trip us up and throws whatever he can at us, even a bucket in the road, but God is on the throne and better equipped to deal with the obstacles at hand. God allows the obstacles and uses them to help us grow in faith and in character.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Genesis 5:20

The enemy and even people will make plans against us, but they cannot over throw the will of God. He has a plan even when it seems like nothing is going right. Joseph had to be sold into slavery in order for him to end up in the right place to save his people from starvation. We may not always know the purpose of the bucket in the road, but we do know God.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

God can use even a bucket in the road to teach us something, or even protect us from something that we can’t see. There might have been a potential wreck further down the road, or it might have just been a warning to slow down. Regardless, God can use it for our good if we let him.

So, when the bucket meets the road and you can’t avoid it, know that God will be there by your side. You need only to ask for His help and carry on. It’ll work itself out eventually. Stop stress eating because of poll results and getting angry over social media posts, God will work the bucket out however He sees fit. It’s out of our hands and that’s probably a good thing because we would have tried to save Joseph from being sold into slavery and look where that would have led.

What Motivates You?

The answer this week has been a palmetto bug, a missing filling, and a sick cat. I’m pretty sure none of those are on any list given by motivational speakers. Still pain and potential suffering are always strong motivators on a good day. However, at the time I couldn’t see the purpose in any of the events, but God does have a way of getting our attention. It all started one morning when I was brushing my teeth and seemed to go downhill from there.

33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

Proverbs 24:33-34

Earlier this week, a 4-week-old filling fell out of my tooth for no apparent reason. I was merely brushing my teeth, gently, when it was suddenly gone. The truth is the tooth had felt rough to the touch since I regained feeling the day it was put in, but I was just dealing with it, hoping it would smooth out over time. After all the dental work I had done this year, I didn’t want to go back to the dentist for a while. I was willing to make do, but when it fell out, the nerve was exposed. Talk about motivation to get back to the dentist ASAP! Now, it is smooth and comfortable, and I am grateful it is repaired.

The palmetto bug was a gift of sorts from Sassy, one of my cats. On the night I was trying not to disturb the exposed nerve of my tooth, the cats decided to stay by my side to support me. However, she decided to bring the entertainment. I remember her dropping something on the bed. I assumed it was a toy mouse because she does this quite often; however, the other cats soon got involved in the “hunt” for said mouse. At one point I turned on the light and looked myself because they were keeping me awake, but I found nothing. The next morning when I made the bed I still saw nothing. That night when I pulled back the covers, there was a palmetto bug. She had brought it up on the bed to play with and then lost it. I am now motivated to strip the bed and wash the sheets. I would have been tempted to put off the chore for another day or maybe week (Don’t judge!). Now, it is next on my agenda.

The same night my geriatric tomcat, who has IBS, woke me up by walking across me multiple times and whining in my ear. I tried to ignore him. Then, I heard the sound of a cat getting sick somewhere near, which motivated me to make sure it wasn’t on my bed. I got up and found the issue and proceeded to clean it up at 2:30 AM. However, it is better to clean it up when it happens than to find said places the hard way.

I didn’t realize it when it was happening, but all of these irritations were motivations to get up and get moving when I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep. There was the temptation to just deal with it tomorrow, but as the saying goes tomorrow never comes.

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

John 9:4

I know it is better to take care of issues as they come up, whether it is a bad tooth or just a task we don’t want to do. The same is true of the good things in life, like enjoying a sunset or using the fine china. We only have today, so let’s make the most of it. Let’s get those pesky chores done early and then go enjoy what the day may bring.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matthew 6:34

So, get the things you dread the most off of your list first and then go get a cup of tea or coffee, pet an animal or hug a kid, and do something you enjoy. Let God handle tomorrow. He’s better at it anyway.

All Things

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Jeremiah 29:11

In the movie Signs, an Episcopal priest has left the church following the death of his wife in a car accident. Her last words are an odd message that doesn’t make sense at the time. His son has severe asthma, his daughter is obsessed with leaving glasses of water all over the house, and his younger brother has returned after a failed professional baseball career. It sounds like his life has been cursed with bad luck; however, later in the film we see that all those negatives eventually save the lives of the entire family.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Like the priest in the movie, we all have trouble sometimes reconciling the concept of a loving God with some of the trials we face, but we have to remember that the verse does not say all things are good. It says God words all things together for our good. Sometimes what we think of as bad things are a means to our good.

For example, I spent a good bit of time complaining about having developed dry eyes as well as having a truck load of dental work suddenly needing done. Besides the money issue, my body reacts to the numbing shots by getting the shakes, and the dry eyes required using prescription eye drops. God worked out the money issue by sending an anonymous angel to pay for two dental crowns and providing a coupon from the drug company to make the eye drops affordable ($20 for 3 month supply). Yet, I was still complaining about having the issues at all until I realized they were actually a blessing in disguise.

First, the dry eyes required using steroid drops and another prescription twice a day, so I was constantly rinsing my eyes with medication. Second, the numbing shots have epinephrine, which has another effect besides the shaking: it tends to clear out my sinuses. Add to that the fact that we have had more rain than usual this year, and it adds up to the best allergy season I have ever been through, which also kept my immune system stronger. On top of that, my local honey provider had a “bumper crop” this past year, so I had access to honey which also helped strengthen my immunity and ward off sinusitis and sinus infections. Given the current state of things that was definitely a blessing.

Sometimes we are put in places or seasons of difficulty, and all we want is to get out of it. I am including myself in this group. Yet, maybe we should focus on what we have been given and asking God to use the difficult situation to be a blessing in some way. In the book of Judges, Gideon finds himself in a difficult situation, and God gives him what many would call strange instructions.

And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

Judges 7:16

When Gideon was faced with a battle that seemed insurmountable, God whittled his army down to 300 and told him to give each man a trumpet, a pitcher, and a lamp. With those three things, God won the battle for Israel. The sudden sounds and appearance of light sent the enemy into confusion so that they ran and actually killed each other. God took three household items and turned them into a way to take down the enemy.

What do you have in your hands right now? It may seem small and insignificant but God can use it for good. It will probably require some effort on your part; the army of 300 still had to show up with items in their hands and use them as instructed. Then God did amazing things; He worked it all for good to those who were called to His purpose. Right now I have a half-numb jaw, an abandoned house across the street, and a computer. I think I feel a mystery coming on; it’s probably better than what is on television.

August

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”

Augustus Caesar

The word august actually means inspiring reverence, supreme dignity, majestic, venerable, or eminent. The month of August is named after Augustus Caesar. I can see how some would connect the idea of majesty and dignity with a ruler of the Roman Empire; however, I am not so sure how it is connected to the month of August in Alabama.

August is usually one of the worst months of summer. For some it is terrible because it represents the end of summer and the return of the school year. For others, it is the ironic combination of humidity and drought conditions. How can the grass be so dry in some yards while everyone drips with perspiration from the level of moisture in the air and the blistering sun overhead?

For my mother, I am sure the month prior to my birth must have been even more unbearable. According to the doctor, I should have been born near the beginning of August, but I came around Labor Day. So, the term pregnant pause took on new meaning. The days must have been long and hot, and it was the height of canning season, which made it even hotter. I remember childhood summers washing and chopping vegetables under the pecan tree outside in order to avoid the heat of the kitchen as the pressure cooker pushed the thermometer even higher inside. Would it ever end?

Then came September with the promise of fall and cooler temperatures. For my mother, it meant the end of a long pregnancy. For me, in childhood, it meant the return to school. I loved school both for the books and the air-conditioning. I appreciated both because of August, because it had been a hot month full of picking and canning from sun-up to sundown. Now, I sat in a cool classroom and read, one of my favorite activities, all the more wonderful for its absence. I’m sure my mother felt the same way about the absence of us kids for a few hours a day.

To many people the entire year of 2020 has been an August, a trek through a wilderness filled with constant threat, but like all things this will pass. While the phrase is not directly traceable to a specific scripture, it is a biblical concept. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Everything on earth is temporary. It too will pass, no matter what it is.

However, there is a reason for everything. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So, while I wait for this August to pass, I also think about the purpose of this time. What is it God wants to do in my life? As Christians, what can we take with us into September or 2021 for that matter? What will we do with what we’ve been given? The world may have given us lemons, but the question remains: will we make sour faces or will we make lemonade? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting thirsty.

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”

Psalm 42:1

What Mean These Stones?

I collect stones from places I have been: a smooth stone from a wild beach, gemstones from the Rocky Mountains, or a colorful piece from a yarn expo in Atlanta. Each one brings to mind a memory of an adventure to new places. I keep them in a box that says, “Keep on smiling, the best is yet to come.” Occasionally, I take them out and smile as I recall the day I got a particular one though the trips were rarely smooth. Even bumps in the road can be reasons to rejoice or laugh about later. If nothing else, it gives us a story to tell.

As I was journal writing last night, I made a list of things I needed to do today. One of the things I mentioned was what am I going to write for my blog? This morning my Bible reading was from Joshua 4, and the question “What mean these stones?” struck home for me.

21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: 24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.

Joshua 4:21-24

In Joshua 4, the children of Israel have just left the wilderness and are crossing over the Jordan River to finally take possession of the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. God tells Joshua to pick 12 men ahead of time, one from each tribe, to pick up stones out of the river. When they get to the other side of the Jordan, they made a memorial out of these stones. Joshua tells the people that one day their children are going to ask what those stones are for, and they should tell them about this day and the miracle God performed.

In my margin notes, I wrote a personal summary: “God went before them and prepared a way.” In Joshua 3:4, it says God would go before them because “ye have not passed this way heretofore.” I have heard people repeatedly say “unprecedented” in referring to current events. We have not passed this way before. Other generations have dealt with adversity, but this is new to us. Yet, God is still going before us to make a way.

As we move forward into uncharted waters, what “stones” will we pick up to make a memorial for future generations?

The Surety of Adversity

Adversity Flower in Concrete

“Divine comfort is given that a man may be stronger to bear adversities. And temptation followeth, lest he be lifted up because of the benefit.” – Thomas A’ Kempis

Storm WarningI was listening to a CD of devotionals and heard an excerpt from Priscilla Shirer. She was repeating something I had heard her say in the simulcast where I got the CD. The idea that a storm is a given. You are either going into a storm, are in a storm, or are coming out of a storm. In any case, it will pass. Either the state of rest or the storm will pass as you move into the next phase of the cycle. Why? I think the quote above from Thomas A’Kempis spells it out for us.

When we are at rest, we soon forget who we owe the joy of rest and peace. Sometimes we even begin to believe that we earned the blessings we have received. We forget that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17, KJV). Storms come to keep us grounded.

Matthew 6:19-21 says:

 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

MistSometimes we must endure storms and suffer loss so that we will remember that everything on earth is ethereal, a mist that can dissolve as quickly as it came. We are merely passing through this world as well. As Christians our eternal home is Heaven where there will be no need of storms to remind us because we will be in the very presence of God.

How are we to live then, knowing storms will come as long as we walk this earth? Learn to ride the waves as they come. Be joyful in or out of the storms, knowing this too shall pass. Enjoy the blessings with a thankful heart and be thankful that in the storms we have the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Lay up for yourself treasures in Heaven through obedience to God’s Word. Then, as Paul says:

 “11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13, KJV).