Not Alone

Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers J.R.R. Tolkien

In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the battle of Helms Deep looked grim as the enemy surrounded the only entrance and there seemed no hope for victory. It was a long night, but at dawn, Gandalf arrives with reinforcements just as he promised. The Bible is full of God’s promises to His children, but sometimes we have to wait for it to be fulfilled. The waiting time can see like an eternity, but if we keep our eyes focused on God, we will always have hope.

When we are waiting, it is easy to get distracted by the world around us. For example, in 1 Kings we find the story of Elijah who has just prayed down fire from Heaven and wiped out the prophets of Baal. When he hears of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah feels like he is alone in a battle he cannot win and he hides in despair.

14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away…18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

1 Kings 19:14, 18

After some rest and nourishment, God tells Elijah that he has seven thousand who are still loyal to Him and that he is not alone in the fight. From our vantage point, we might wonder how Elijah could go from boldly confronting the prophets of Baal to hiding and whining, but it is often after great victories that the enemy will attack us with doubts. Winning a tough victory takes a lot of energy: physical, spiritual and mental. We need to remember that like Elijah we are not alone.

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

Psalm 68:11

Being a writer is often solitary work, but I am not the only one writing the word God has given. He has many other writers, each with their own message to share. Writing groups allow writers to share and encourage one another so that we know that there other people who have been through some of the same issues and some who have had success. By sharing our stories, we build each other up. The trick is to find the right community for you.

Besides finding a like-minded community to offer support and accountability, we also need to ensure that we also take care of ourselves. First, we need to rest because we are more vulnerable if we are tired. Also, we need to make sure we have proper nourishment because hunger is another point of attack. Finally, or maybe firstly, we need to pray so that we are connected to our true source of energy.

Once you have strengthened yourself, then it is time to get back to work. If we sit idle too long, we are subject to remaining idle, which can lend itself to wallowing. This weekend I battled another round with those pesky fleas, which included wrangling two angry cats into carriers and to the vet followed by a thorough cleaning of the house. I took Friday and Saturday off from writing this blog as a result, but I rested, I ate, and I went to church. Now, I am finishing my assignment. So eat, rest, and pray, but don’t wallow. If you lay down with dogs, or cats, and wallow you just wake up with fleas. So, get up and get back to work. It’ll make you feel better.

Redefine

Everybody likes makeovers and shows about makeovers. There is just something satisfying about seeing a before and after photo, whether it’s a person or a house renovation. We just like to see something spruced up and revitalized. Given 2020, most of us would like a makeover for the year. There’s just one catch: In order to have a makeover we have to be willing to let go of the old.

18 Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Personally, I reject the phrase “new normal” as most people apply it these days. I prefer the word redefine. My world has changed in recent years but not because of the pandemic. There are different seasons in our lives due to changes in age, job situations, relationships, and health. There are mountains and valleys. When a new season comes, we have to let go of the old so that we can enjoy the new. If we want to enjoy the colors of fall, we have to put away the shorts and flip flops of summer.

The same is true spiritually speaking. Growth can be a painful process sometimes but the blessings far outweigh the negatives. We can sit around and whine about what we don’t have, or we can be grateful for what we do have. Look around and I’m sure we can find reasons to thank God. We shouldn’t let what isn’t steal the joy of what is.

When we are tempted to complain about how different things are at the moment, we need to take a moment to grieve what has passed, whether it’s a loved one, a job, or even a dream. Then, we should take stock of what we have and where we are, and dream a new dream. Give it all to God and let Him make something new out of it.

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

God only wants the best for us, but sometimes that means giving up something we think is good in order to have what is best. The key is learning the fine art of letting go so that we can hold on. Let go of whatever is not of God, and hold onto our faith.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.

Philippians 3:13

So, as we move into a time of giving thanks, let’s be mindful of what we have and open to the new things that God will do. Let God redefine us so that we are more like Him tomorrow than we were today.

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.

Daily Benefits

Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.

Psalm 68:19

Modern society frequently is obsessed with stuff, never content. We often complain about what we don’t have because we forget what we do have. For example, I had needed my house to be switched from a fuse box to a breaker box, partially because I couldn’t add a plug to move my refrigerator or add a dishwasher until it was replaced and reallocated. When it was finally completed and I could move my fridge, I was so excited because I could finally finish some projects and reattach the water line for filtered water dispenser. Every time I went in the kitchen and used the dispenser, I smiled. Soon, however, I noticed other things I “needed” in the house. My joy started to dissipate because I was focused on what I didn’t have instead of with the things God had already given me.

Psalm 68 says we are daily loaded with benefits from God. Loaded means stacked high, overflowing, more than we need. Every day God gives us benefits that we take for granted, starting with getting up in the morning to a new day. I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media about 2020 being such a horrible year, and I have been prone to agree with them, yet God gave us another year, which is not a gift everyone was given. Most of the people complaining still had what they needed for every day survival. Above that God gives us little blessings as well, but we can only see them if we look for them.

So, take a moment and look around at what you do have. If you can read this, then you probably have a roof over your head, electricity, and electronics. Think back over your day. Did anything good happen? Was there a kind word, a door held open, a chat with friends or neighbors, the love of a pet, or just a ray of sunshine on a drab day? We look at the news and social media and think about all the bad things out there, but do we look at the good things? If you dig a little deeper, you can find stories of neighbors helping neighbors, people trying to meet needs and giving of themselves. The good is still out there.

When you feel yourself overwhelmed by all the bad news and negativity, turn off the television or social media and take out a piece of paper and a pen. Make a list of things to be thankful for in your life. Start with where you are sitting and look around. What do you have here and now? Start with the four walls around you and then move further out into your neighborhood, your country, your world.

I bet you can come up with at least 5 things to be grateful for; actually, I bet your paper can’t hold all the benefits God has given you if you really think about it. Maybe start a gratitude journal. The enemy wants us to focus on perceived needs which are usually just wants in disguise, but God says meditate on His word (Joshua 1:8) because it will keep us focused and grounded on what is true.

What benefit are your grateful for today? I am grateful to have access to a dentist but even more grateful I don’t have to see him again until next year. I am grateful the rain gives me an excuse not to mow the yard. I am grateful for a little furball who snuggles close and purrs even if she emits warmth like a heating pad on a hot summer day. I am grateful for a car that keeps moving even though mechanics warned me years ago that I needed to replace it. I am thankful for a God who gives daily blessings even when we complain. How about you?

A few of my favorite things:

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

Reset Button

Do you ever wish that life had a reset button? You know like when your computer starts not working right and you just turn it off and back on to reset it. There is usually a reset button on most electronics. It allows equipment to stop, recalibrate, and restore itself to working order again. Actually, we do have a reset button of sorts, but it doesn’t correct our situation; it corrects our perception of the situation.

Seattle SunriseI have a friend who is not a big fan of Christmas but loves New Year’s because it is the chance to start fresh. However, you don’t have to wait for New Year’s Day for a fresh start. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” God’s mercies are new every morning, so we have the chance to start each day fresh. But, we don’t even have to wait for a new day. We can start new at any moment. All we have to do is stop and pray for God to refresh our spirits and renew our minds.

Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” When we renew our minds, we often gain a new perspective on the situation. It is often said that prayer doesn’t change God or the circumstances as much as it changes us. It is a change in perspective, the difference between seeing something as a crisis and seeing it as an opportunity.

In March of 2018, a line of storms hit my area, including a tornado that struck Jacksonville, Alabama and Jacksonville State University. The community could have wallowed in self-pity or hopelessness; instead they rallied around each other. My church, along with others, took it as an opportunity to share the love of God through feeding workers and those in our community without power. People from all over flooded the area, helping people clear the debris and meeting basic needs.

Reset ButtonWhen we are faced with challenges, we can sit and complain and wonder why me, or we can look to discover what God is trying to teach us in the moment. A slow car in front of us when we are running late could be keeping us from being involved in an accident or getting a speeding ticket. A power outage might give us a renewed sense of appreciation for what we do have. When we are having a bad day and nothing seems to be going right, we just have to take a moment and look for the blessings around us. It can reset our perspective and our attitude so that we can make the most of whatever situation we find ourselves. The reset button is always available; the trick is remembering to use it.

 

What a Difference a Day Makes

I was watching a television movie the other night and the main character talked about how life can change in a matter of minutes. We often think of it as something terrible happening, but it can also be a turn of circumstances for the better.

Some mornings start out on a negative note and we often dismiss the day as shot, something we must endure until it is over. Then, even a small event can turn it around. The sun can peek out after a torrential downpour followed by a rainbow. We suddenly feel lighter, even more so when we get a glimpse of sun after nearly a week of rain and storms from recent days.

I had high hopes of today being a good day, a productive day. Then a series of unfortunate events sent me into a downward spiral, fearing another day swallowed up in a cloud. I took a moment and tried to get a new perspective. The character from the movie was inspired by the concept of life changing in a moment to take a chance for something great. This is the key to joy. Looking for the opportunity to see God work in the moment and to take a chance on Him. But, with God, it is never really a chance because He was in complete control of the situation all along.

 

 

Obstacles vs. Opportunities

As I wrote in an earlier blog, perspective is everything, especially when it comes to attitudes. I have often found that if I change my perspective, I can change my attitude. For instance, a slow car in front of me may make me irritated and in a bad mood, but if I think about it being God’s providence, then I can lighten my mood and maybe even work up some gratefulness for unknown mercies, such as avoiding a potential wreck. When things happen that don’t go according to our plan, we see them as obstacles in the negative sense. For instance, a little while ago I started writing a blog post, but didn’t save the working copy. Usually auto save in Word will at least save a copy that can be restored, but I walked away for 10 minutes and my computer froze without Word even attempting to save what I had written. I had a choice:  I could curse the computer and get upset, or I could start over and see it as an opportunity for something better. I opted for the last choice, which culminated in an example for another blog idea I had jotted down in my bullet journal.

We often get a plan in our heads without consulting God as to what He wants. Those plans rarely come to fruition, but when they do, it is usually not to our benefit in the end. God’s ultimate purpose is to have a relationship with us. He wants us to depend upon Him and not the things of the world. He sometimes has to put up obstacles to keep us from going the wrong way, like a parent putting up a baby gate. Sometimes he puts up obstacles so that we can strengthen our faith through working our “faith” muscles in overcoming the obstacle. Sometimes he puts up obstacles so that the only way out is reliance on God. We can do all things through Christ, not through our own efforts. We must start with dependence on God, which is easier said than done.

This week I have been in a constant waiting mode. I haven’t been able to make plans in advance because circumstances kept changing on a day to day basis. I have had to let God have the reins and work on what I could that day. I tried to use it as an opportunity to do what God had given me to do that day instead of worrying about what needed to be done tomorrow or next week. That is how we should live…one day at a time. “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).

I am trying to start out each day focusing on what God wants me to do today and leave everything else in His hands. I’m not saying I succeed at it, but I am trying, and that is all we can do. So, stop worrying about tomorrow and just deal with today by putting it in God’s hands and see what He will do with it.

One Step at a Time

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by something on your To Do List? You know it needs to be done, and there may even be a deadline approaching, but you just can’t seem to get started? I have several of those projects staring me in the face. Some days I procrastinate, and some days I can’t even bear to think about them. Today I had great plans for tackling at least one of those projects but was diverted by a problem with my car that took up over half of my morning. One of the biggest issues is planning to do it all, or most of it, in one day. That approach rarely works because of days like today, so we should take a page from Nehemiah’s playbook.

Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. It was a daunting task that two other groups had failed to complete. Nehemiah approached the problem differently than the other groups, and that approach can be applied to any project. First, he started with prayer. There was nothing he did that wasn’t preceded by prayer. Next, he looked at the project objectively from every angle to see what needed to be done. Then, he designated out sections to different groups. Finally, he followed through despite obstacles and opposition.

Starting with prayer is always good advice for any situation we may encounter, but sometimes we don’t think about in when doing practical everyday tasks. God wants to be involved in even the smallest details of our lives.

Looking objectively at a daunting task can be overwhelming at first, but until we get all of the details down, we won’t know exactly what is required or the best way to approach it. It is like cooking a recipe. You need to know what ingredients you need for the recipe to see if you have them all in the kitchen. If not, you need to add a shopping trip to the list.

While you may not have other people helping you with a task, it still helps to break things down into smaller jobs. That way if time is limited, you can still accomplish part of the job. Progress of any kind is still progress.

Finally, it is just a matter of not letting the world and everyday problems get in your way. You have to keep working until the project is done. It may take longer than you first thought, but it doesn’t matter as long as it gets done.

Take advice from Nehemiah and tackle big tasks one step at a time. Don’t let naysayers get you down. Focus on the goal and keep moving. Let God lead and he will help you through step by step until you get to the finish line.