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Friday, May 29, 2015

A Little Rest, Please!

Tuesday was one of those days when I really didn't feel well.  My stomach was a little iffy, and my head throbbed all day long.  I went about my day as best as I could and accomplished what I could get done, but by the evening hours, I was completely spent.  Jason spent nearly an hour rubbing my neck and shoulders in an attempt to alleviate my headache, but I fear all his hard work was in vain.  It seemed that headache was not interested in being relieved.  So, I decided the best thing to do was to take a couple of pain relievers and go to bed, even if it was only 9:00.

Unfortunately, life has a way of not always turning out the way we hope or plan.  About the time I was dozing off, Tippy decided she wanted to come to bed.  She knew the routine.  She went outside to go potty, came in and got a little bit of water, then trotted over to my side of the bed and began to whimper.  Frustrated (not necessarily at her but at the interruption), I threw back the covers, scooped her up and placed her on the bed beside me.  "Let's try this again," I said as I crawled back under the covers and tried, once again, to find that "just right" position where my head didn't feel like it was about to explode.

But it simply wasn't meant to be.  Interruption after interruption.  Two phone calls.  Several text messages.  A knock at the front door.  Oh, and let's not forget Jason's late night bass lesson and Tippy's decision that she would actually rather stay out in the living room with her daddy than come to bed with me.  Cue doggie whine, take two!

After nearly two hours of interruptions, I had had enough!  I was tired.  My head ached, and I wanted nothing more than for everyone to be quiet and leave me alone so that I could sleep.  I needed some rest BIG TIME!  So, I sent Tippy on her way to the living room, closed the bedroom door, turned the ringer down on my phone and snuggled in for what was left of my "good night's sleep."

Some days we're just tired and weary, and we really need to rest.  Even Jesus knew that it was necessary to get away from it all every now and then and take the time to renew both body and spirit. But in this day and age, it seems almost impossible.  With job demands, relationships, housework, financial burdens, and a myriad of other responsibilities, we find it difficult to take some time for ourselves to rest our minds and bodies.  And sadly, even when we do finally break down and try to rest, life won't let us.  Instead it bombards us with interruptions and annoyances until we're sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Isn't it good to know that no matter how busy we get or how much life throws our way, rest is always available through our Lord?  Jesus said, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)  No matter how stressed or frustrated we may be, we are invited to come to Jesus and leave it all behind.  No more worries.  No more cares.  Jesus invites us to lay all our cares down at His feet and to be at rest.  He is waiting with open arms for us to snuggle into His bosom and relax for a while.

Leave it all behind, and take a few moments to rest in His presence.  I guarantee you it will make a HUGE difference!

This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it. - Psalm 32:14

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why We Shouldn't Trust Our Feelings

Making the transition to a healthier lifestyle is hard work!  And it's not about the deprivation or having to give up some of my favorite things, though I'll admit that was difficult during the first couple of weeks.  It's the roller coaster ride of detoxing and cleansing that is necessary to get the body where it needs to be.

I've been working towards a healthier me for three and a half weeks now.  The first week and a half were horrible.  I craved everything in sight.  My head ached so badly from caffeine and sugar withdrawal that I thought I'd go crazy.  Every muscle in my body seemed to hurt, and I was so very tired.  Still, day after day, I'd tell myself, "Don't cheat.  Keep going.  Keep doing the right things.  In just a few more days you'll be on the other side of this, and you'll feel so much better.  Don't give in, Dana.  You can do it."

And I did, and you know what?  On the other side of that initial detox and withdrawal, I did feel so much better.  I awoke in the mornings refreshed and renewed.  My attitude was brighter.  There was a spring in my step.  The headaches had gone.  The body aches were only those that resulted from the exercise my body was unused to.  Above all, I was happy.  For the first time in a long time, I felt good.  Not only that, but I lost four pounds.  Awesome!

Unfortunately, at the end of last week, I hit the next wave of detox.  You see, the first detox was my body ridding itself of the toxins that were simply floating around in my system.  Because I've been eating so healthy and exercising regularly for the past few weeks, my body has begun to burn fat, which is good and bad.  Good because that's what I want it to do.  Bad because toxins are stored in fat, and when the body burns off the fat, all those toxins are released into the body, which again tries to rid itself of these negative substances.  In other words, detox round two.

For the past several days, I've felt horrible again.  The headaches and body aches are back.  My stomach has been alternating between queasy and crampy.  Two of the four pounds that I lost reappeared.  But the worst of it is that my attitude and outlook have gone south. . . big time.  I mean, seriously, I was working so hard and making so much progress only to feel as bad or worse now as I did before I began.  And I admit, I had myself questioning whether it was really worth it.  My feelings were telling me it was time to quit and to comfort myself with a huge piece of chocolate cake which I could wash down with a nice refreshing Pepsi.

I felt bad.  I felt discouraged and frustrated.  I felt like all my effort had been in vain.  But while those feelings were very real, they weren't all true.  That stretch between my first and second detox showed me that I'm on the right track.  It gave me a sneak peak at what was awaiting me once I finally got myself back in shape.  It showed me that my efforts had not been in vain.  The healthy lifestyle was working, and my body, though currently making me miserable, is doing what it's supposed to do.  It's getting rid of the bad in order to make more room for the good.

So, you see, while my feelings said that it wasn't worth it, that's not true.  I simply haven't reached my final destination yet, and I can't abort the entire journey based on one stretch of bumpy roads.  Besides, I've come too far to turn back now.  I've already made it through the first round of detox, and from the way I'm feeling today, I think I'm nearing the end of the second.  If I stop now, I'll only have to go through all of that again, the next time I try to embark on a new journey toward better health.  I don't want to retrace those steps.  They were difficult enough the first time.  No, I'm in this race until the end, and I'm happy to say that the Lord has helped me through this.  Despite feeling bad, I was able to continue my daily exercise and my new healthy eating patterns.

Have you ever put your all into something only to be met with disappointment or frustration?  Ever asked yourself, "Why bother?"  If so, then dear friend, I urge you to finish out this journey.  Don't stop now.  Your efforts are not in vain, and things will work out as they should in the end.  Just remember, this isn't the end yet.  Keeping doing those things you know you should do, and do them with a smile, knowing that your reward is soon to come.  Hang in there, and whatever you do, don't trust your feelings.  They can definitely lead us astray.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58

Monday, May 25, 2015

I Remember; I Remember Not

Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have sacrificed so much in an effort to defend our freedom.  It is a time to honor our troops, both the living and those who have passed on.  It is a day of celebration for our great country and the principles on which it was founded.  And Lord willing, we will never forget what our freedom costs.

The word "memorial" is mentioned 31 times in the Bible, and the application of a memorial is written about several times in addition to that.  For instance,  Malachi 3:16 speaks of a book of remembrance, and there were several times in the Old Testament where holy men built a special altar to God as a memorial of a particular promise or event.  From these many references, we can be assured that there are some things God does not want us to forget.  He longs for us to remember His faithfulness and His mercy.  He encourages us to remember His promises and His commands.  Yes, there are definitely some things that need to be remembered.

However, there are some things that do not.  We do not, for example, need to remember our past failures and mistakes.  Learn from them?  Yes.  Dwell on them?  Absolutely not.  By dwelling in the past, we can't fully live out our future.  Remember Lot's wife.  Even though she knew Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked and being destroyed by the Lord, she simply could not refuse the urge to look back.  Just one more look.  What could it hurt?  Well, I would tell you to ask Lot's wife, but you can't because a pillar of salt can't answer questions.  Her inability to let go of the past cost her her life, and it can cost us the same.

In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul said, 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, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Did you catch that?  Forgetting those things which are behind.   If anyone had a past to be ashamed of, it was Paul.  How many years of his life did he spend as an enemy of Christ and murderer of Christians?  But when Paul met the Lord on the Damascus Road, he became a new man.  Old things were passed away and all things became new.  Paul understood that he couldn't live in the past or spend his days dwelling on his past mistakes.  He needed his strength for the present and the future.  He couldn't afford to waste it on the past.  Instead, he remembered what was important, learned from his mistakes, and went forward.  We need to do the same.

Some things need to be remembered and others do not.  Let's be careful in deciding which is which.  A memorial to God's goodness is always in order; however, a memorial of mistakes is not.  Let go of the past and press on toward the future, carrying with you only those things that truly matter.

Friday, May 22, 2015

An End To the Unraveling

My poor quilt is in desperate need of being replaced.  Unlike many people I know, we do not have seasonal sheets and bedspreads.  In fact, we only have one bedspread, which is actually a quilt.  Neither of us like traditional bedspreads or comforters.  They're too fluffy and cumbersome.  No, we much prefer quilts.  The problem with quilts, though, is two-fold.  One, they're often more expensive than comforters.  Two, they're usually a bit on the flimsy side which means they don't hold up for very long.  Our existing quilt has been with us for probably seven years or more, so it's held up pretty well.  But I must admit, it is definitely starting to show its age.

A few months ago, I was browsing through one of my favorite thrift stores and came across a bolt of material that would be perfect for a quilt.  It was the right material and the perfect colors for our bedroom.  Not only that, but it was an excellent price.  Praise the Lord for thrift stores!

Unfortunately, that material has been sitting in my office until earlier this week when I determined I could not wait any longer to begin making our quilt.  I measured out the material, created a plan for how I wanted to design the quilt, cut out the necessary pieces then remembered that I needed to wash the material before I begin sewing.  One, washing the material will take care of any fading or discoloration before I go through all the effort of making a quilt with it.  Two, washing and drying the material will give me an idea of how much shrinkage I should expect, which is important when choosing a backing for the quilt.

I threw the material in the washing machine yesterday, and when I went back to transfer it to the dryer, I discovered quite a mess.  The material had not faded, I am happy to say.  From what I can tell, it didn't shrink much either.  It did, however, unravel. . . big time!  Yes, every edge was frayed, and long strands of material knotted itself into a tangled mess.  I guess I should have seen it coming.  After all, it was one of those types of materials.

As I thought about the material this morning, the Lord brought to my mind a verse that Jason preached on Wednesday night at church. James 1:21 says, Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.  Now, you're probably wondering what in the world that has to do with my material, right?  Well, it all boils down to that word "engrafted."

Engrafting is essentially the practice of adding something foreign to produce fruitfulness.  For example, engrafting is used in horticulture when parts of one plant are infused with another plant in hopes of creating a healthier, more productive product.  Skin graphs and bone marrow transplants are types of engrafting.  It is the process where something is added to the original product in order to make it better.

As I thought about this engrafting, I realized that this is essentially what I'll be doing when I put my quilt together.  The front material, while beautiful and tear resistant (think dog toenails), has a tendency to unravel at the edges.  The back material does not have that problem.  It's not the type of material that unravels.  So, once I sew the edges of the two together, I no longer have to worry about the quilt creating a tangled mess out of its frayed edges.  By engrafting the two pieces together, I am creating a better, more fruitful product:  a quilt that is strong and that doesn't unravel.

In the same way, when we engraft ourselves to the Lord and to His Word, we are much less likely to unravel.  Sure, we may still find ourselves tossed about in the dryer of life.  After all, living the Christian life is no guarantee of a pleasant walk or a lack of troubles.  It is actually quite the contrary. But the difference comes in the engrafting.  You see, when the lost start to unravel, they have nothing to hold them together.  We do!  The Lord will bind to our frayed edges and keep us from coming completely unraveled.  He will see us through whatever we may face, and He alone has the power to keep us from falling apart. . . if we are engrafted in Him.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stiff-Necked People

I must admit that today I am one of those stiff-necked people the Bible talks about.  Well, sort of.  The stiff-necked people in the Bible were stubborn and set in their own ways.  While that does sometimes describe me, today's stiff neck is one of a different sort.  As many of you know, I have a lot of spinal issues, and it isn't uncommon for my back, neck or shoulders to be out of sorts.  However, some days, the pain and pinching seems magnified.  Today is one of those days.

My neck was a bit stiff when I awoke this morning, but again, that's not unusual.  After a round of Pilates, my joints felt loosened, and my neck seemed to move easier.  Jason spent a few minutes rubbing my neck and shoulders before he left for work, and when he was finished, I was convinced that my neck was better (or as good as it gets).  However, within just a few minutes, an entirely new stiffness grabbed hold of my neck and has refused to let go since.  The only relief I have found is to lie back on a pillow, but I can't exactly get much work accomplished that way, now can I?

So, I've had to rearrange my schedule a bit to allow for periods of resting my neck and doing various neck stretches.  It's not exactly been fun, but the way I see it, it wouldn't be any more fun if I was experiencing the stiff neck of which the Bible speaks.  While I wouldn't necessarily be in physical discomfort, my spirit would certainly be in pain.

Stiff-necked people are stubborn and hard to get along with.  They are only content when they're getting their own way, and even then, they are fussy and moody.  Ultimately, they are unhappy.  Nothing is good enough.  Nothing satisfies.  They are a miserable lot, even more miserable than those of us with spinal issues.  In short, we don't want to be like that.

We can't exactly help it when our spinal alignment goes wonky, but we can prevent our hearts from doing the same.  Relax!  Let it go!  God has everything under control, so there's no reason for us to stress about it.  Let's keep our hearts open to the Word of God and tender to His loving touch.  After all, it's bad enough to have a pain in the neck, but it's much worse to be one!

Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you. - II Chronicles 30:8

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Standing At a Crossroads

Living the Christian life is rarely easy.  Take, for example, when we're standing at a crossroads of decision.  Do we turn left or right?  Which way is the Lord leading?  Sometimes it's obvious, but most times, it's really not.  And often, despite a multitude of prayers for direction, it seems that God is silent.  And so, we stand at the crossroads and deliberate.  Right or left?  Stay or go?

Jason and I are there.  In fact we've been there for a while now, but recent events have led us to seek the Lord's will with increasing fervor (and no, this isn't about moving).  The way I see it, we have two choices:  wait for God to miraculously place an opportunity in front of us or take action and seek out opportunities that may be awaiting us.  Wait or act?  The problem is that we don't know which of those choices is the right one. After all, the Bible teaches that there is a time to wait but also that there is a time to act.  So, which is this?

On the one hand, I hate to think that we're sitting here praying and waiting, and all the while missing out on a blessing that is just around the corner.  Could our frustration and unsettling feelings be the Lord prompting us to take action?  It could.  I've seen it before in my own life, and unfortunately, by the time I recognized it for what it was, I had spent nearly a year and a half in total misery.  I don't want to do that again.

However, I don't want us to make the same mistake Abraham made.  In Genesis 12, God told Abraham (or Abram, at the time) to go to the land that He would show him.  God led Abraham to Canaan and promised him that he and his children would inherit the land.  In short, God said, "Abraham, you're home now."  Yet, only a couple of verses later, we find that a famine came to the land, and Abraham packed up his bags and headed down to Egypt.  It was there that he and Sarai lied to the Pharaoh and brought trouble to the land because of their deception.  Trouble that could have been avoided if Abraham had stayed where God had put him.  After all, there is no evidence that God told Abraham to leave.  He could have wanted Abraham to stay put, despite the human logic that said, "Hey, there's a famine.  We've got to get out of here."  You know?  In fact, when Abraham left Egypt, guess where he went?  Yep, right back where God had told him to go to begin with.

A famine of sorts has reached our household, and we have a decision to make.  Wait or act?  I just don't know, so dear friend, I am asking for your prayers.  This is a situation that is very dear to my heart and one that needs to be resolved one way or another.  Jason and I want, more than anything, to be in God's will.  If He wants us to wait, we will wait.  On the other hand, if He's waiting on us to make the first move, we need to know that.  Please, friends, help me pray that the Lord will make His will clear to us and that He will grant us the grace and peace to accept whatever He commands of us.

I realize that today's post was more of a prayer request than a devotion, but I truly feel it is where the Lord was leading.  I, personally, had another post in mind, but the Lord kept leading me back to this.  So, it is what it is, and I thank you in advance for your earnest prayers on my behalf.  God bless you!

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. - James 5:16b

Monday, May 18, 2015

This Too Shall Pass

Last Friday, since Jason only had one small morning job, we decided to take the dogs out for a long hike.  The weather was beautiful.  The dogs were hyper.  I was stiff from spending too many hours at the computer.  Yes, a hike was definitely what we needed.  However, one never knows exactly what to expect from any given hike.

For example, we didn't expect to see a rather large rattlesnake stretched out across the road as we made our way down the gravel trail.  He was big, and he looked mean.  In one way, I was fascinated.  I had never seen a rattlesnake that wasn't on television or behind the protective glass of a zoo exhibit. To see him out on the trail, slithering his way around, coiling up and looking ready to strike at anything that made it angry, was all a bit exciting.  It was also terrifying.  I hate snakes!

Neither did we expect to see a brutal murder.  Mitch, as usual, was leading the way, bounding off into the woods on either side of the trail anytime he felt there was something which needed to be explored.  On one such exploration, he came across a giant turkey.  His enormous presence in the turkey's space sent the poor bird flying.  At first, I laughed.  After all, it was a comical sight (and sound) to see this turkey try to fly out of the woods away from Mitch.  I stopped laughing, however, when I realized that Mitch wasn't watching the turkey. He was watching the myriad of scurrying poults (baby turkeys).  Jason and I both screamed at once, "Mitch, no!" but it was too late.  He had already chomped down on one of the poor things.

As Jason pulled Mitch away from the writhing body and the other scattering birds, I marched over to the side of the trail and turned my back, tears filling my eyes.  Unfortunately, even with my back turned, I could hear the pitiful cries of the injured poult.  I felt sick, and I didn't know what to do.  I had no idea how badly the bird was injured, so I felt it was best to just keep going and let the mama bird come back to take care of it.

Mitch continued on down the trail as if nothing had happened.  I can't blame him for that.  Unfortunately, since the curse, that type of behavior is only natural.  Kill or be killed.  Dog eat dog (or turkey).  This being the case, I couldn't bring myself to reprimand him.  After all, he had dropped the bird once we called him down.  He had obeyed.  The problem was that our command was a bit too late.

It took quite a while for me to get the image of that horrible event out of my head and to finally stop the ebb of tears that flowed down my cheeks.  But, as I mourned for that poor family of turkeys (whom we discovered on the way back had actually lost one of their own that morning), I was reminded of a few things for which I am supremely thankful.

1) Though we, as Christians, sorrow when we lose a loved one, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.  Because of Christ and His supreme sacrifice on the cross, we can rest in the knowledge that we will see our saved loved ones again.  We can have peace in knowing that they are not suffering any longer, which brings me to the second thing for which I am thankful.

2) There will be a day when there will be no more pain and no more tears.  In that day, the lion will lie down with the lamb and the dog with the turkey.  There will be no more death, no more senseless brutality.  The world will, once again, be as God intended for it to be.

3) When Mitch startled the mama turkey, she fled.  She flew toward the skies, leaving her little ones to care for themselves.  I am so thankful that my heavenly Father never leaves me to fight the enemy alone.  He is always by my side, fighting for me, with me and even through me.  He adds His strength to my own, ensuring victory, or at the very least, escape.  No, never alone!

As we walked back to the car on Friday, I wiped one last tear from my eye and commented, "Nature is cruel."  Yes, it is now, but it won't always be this way.  As the Bible says, this too shall pass.  And what a day that will be!

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. - Revelation 21:4

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Very Present Help in Trouble

For those of you who don't know, I have, once again, begun a journey toward better health, and I am determined to not get distracted this time.  I have weight to lose, energy to gain and hormones to balance, so I can't afford to not see this thing through.  I began my journey last Monday, and I am already seeing some improvements, but that's not to say that the road has been easy.  I must admit, however, that it has been easier than I anticipated, if you don't count the withdrawal headaches from caffeine and sugar.

Unfortunately, yesterday the cravings came on with a vengeance.  They literally woke me from my sound sleep and promised me joy and pleasure beyond belief if I would just give in and have a few naughty treats such as soda, junk food and processed food.  I groaned in frustration when I realized that I had already made plans to go to the grocery store that day.  It was easy to avoid the naughty foods at home because they no longer lingered in my house, but with the cravings already pulling at me, I feared my willpower would crumble in the midst of all the goodies the grocery store had to offer.

Instead of fighting myself and my cravings, I decided to talk to the Lord about my predicament.  I told Him how much I longed to fulfill those fleshly desires to eat food that wasn't good for me, but I also confided that I longed even more to be happy and healthy so that I could serve Him better.  I prayed for strength to withstand the pull of sugar, caffeine and other processed foods as I made my way down the grocery store aisles.  I even pleaded with Him to take the cravings away so that I wouldn't have to deal with them at all.

Well, He didn't take away the cravings, but He did give me strength to resist them, and that's not all.  Before I left the house, I sat down to do my daily Bible reading, and the Lord gave me the verses I needed to carry on in victory.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. 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 1:12-17

Of all the passages I could have read that morning, the Lord had saved this one for me.  These verses reminded me that I am not the only one to face temptation and that I need to be aware of the source of such temptations.  They helped me to see that my cravings were a form of lust, aka sin.  Then, verse 16 records God's words to me, "Do not err."  In other words, "Don't go there, Dana.  You know better."  Lastly, the passage reminded me that good and perfect gifts come from above.  Good and perfect gifts like natural whole foods that fuel and energize the body.  Those are the things I needed to be focusing on.

Even though the cravings remained and are still haunting me today, I was able to go to the store and come home again without even thinking about putting something "naughty" in my shopping cart.  While the cravings were still there, the temptation wasn't.  Those verses lingered in my mind, and instead of mourning what I couldn't have, I was thankful for all the fresh fruits and vegetables that I was able to procure.

Psalm 46:1 tells us, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Yesterday, once again, He proved it to me.  Recognizing my weakness, He gave me the very verses I needed to keep me strong.  He gave me the strength to bypass so many tasty treats without so much as a sigh of regret.  I called, and He answered.  I asked for strength, and He gave me so much more.  Isn't that just like God?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Hammer and the Nail

The hammer is an amazing tool, isn't it?  In fact, it's probably the only tool that I know how to use correctly, albeit my aim still leaves much to be desired.  Need to hang a picture?  No problem.  Grab a nail, beat at it a while with the hammer, and there you have it!  Or how about fixing a broken piece of furniture?  Believe it or not, I once bought a small desk at a steal because it was a bit unsteady.  I took it home, pounded a few nails into the back, and the desk still works beautifully today.  Several years ago, my sister was kind enough to buy me my very own tool set, but I must admit, the only thing I've used more often than the hammer is the tape measure.  (And some of the items are still unidentified in my mind.)  I love my hammer!

But as the workman (or workwoman), that's easy for me to say.  Of course I love my hammer.  It makes my job easier.  It saves time and effort.  It is the perfect tool for accomplishing certain tasks.  Who wouldn't love such a device?

Well, the nail, for one.

Let's face it, the nail probably doesn't appreciate the hammer anywhere near as much as I do.  To it, the hammer is cruel and relentless.  It is harsh and wounding.  When the nail spies the hammer drawing near, it doesn't shout in elation but rather recoils in fear.  "Oh no," it cries, "not again.  Please, no more.  I can't take the abuse anymore."  What the nail fails to realize is that without the hammer, it has no purpose.  Hammers and nails go together like peanut butter and jelly, and while the hammer can prove itself useful in other tasks, the nail cannot accomplish its goals in life without the striking of the hammer, for they are both tools in the hand of the workman.

Many times, we feel like that nail, don't we?  When the hammer of crushed dreams, financial strain or job stress begins its incessant pounding, we cry out, "Not again!  I can't take it anymore!"  But what we fail to realize is that without those circumstances, we can never become who it is that God wants us to be.  We cannot accomplish our goals in life, for it is the hammer of circumstance that molds us and makes us into vessels fit for the Master's use.  We, along with our circumstances, are tools in the hand of the Carpenter, and He is creating a masterpiece--one that requires time, patience and a good bit of pounding.

In the meantime, don't curse the hammer.  It's only doing its job.  Everything's going to be okay.  Trust the Carpenter.  He knows what He's doing.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's the Use?

Today was chore day around my house.  I hate chore day!  I'd much rather be writing or reading or even running errands.  But chore day is the worst for me because it's the day I have to do all of those tasks that seem completely pointless because I'm just going to have to do them again in a few days.

Take, for example, the flea combing that I did on my dogs this morning.  Yes, I should be doing it daily, especially now that we're full into the summer weather, but I can't bring myself to do it.  So, I finally got around to doing it today.  I tediously ran that tiny little comb over every inch of my 90-lb dog, pulling out loose hair, debris and yes, fleas.  Then, not five minutes ago, I found him outside, rolling around in the grass, picking up yet more dirt and fleas.  Growl!

Then there's the floor upkeep.  During shedding season, I should certainly be running the broom over the floors daily, but you know me by now.  I am not the world's best housekeeper.  Not even close!  So, it's probably been a couple of weeks since I last corralled the dust bunnies and vacuumed the rugs.  Now that I've done it, there is definitely a difference, but I already see dog hair accumulating in the corners and loose grass from a certain 90-lb, yard-rolling canine marking a clear path from the back door to my office.  Seriously?

After that, I did the dishes and wiped down the kitchen, knowing all the while that I'll be fixing dinner in a just a few hours and making another big mess that I'll have to clean up later.  Honestly, what's the use?  No wonder I put off these chores day after day.  It seems like all that effort is in vain.

But what I'm discovering is that putting off the inevitable is not really helping at all.  In fact, it only makes matters worse.  It takes me three times as long to do each chore because I've allowed so much mess to accumulate.  If I would keep up with the chores and do them on a regular basis (as I know I should), I would actually make things much easier on myself.

The same can be said of those little spiritual chores that must be done regularly.  You know, those chores like paying attention to the thoughts that are spinning around in our heads, staying in a constant attitude of prayer, keeping our pride in check, denying our flesh, listening for God's voice and direction instead of plowing ahead with our own plans.  Those things!  Just like house chores, these tasks can seem tedious and pointless because they must be done over and over and over again, but if we allow them to accumulate, we're in for some serious hard work.  Yes, the battles need to be fought daily, but each time we fight them, we gain strength for the next battle and learn how to better face the current foe.  Plus, just like the house chores, I think we'll find that keeping on top of things will make each day a little easier.  I don't have to conquer all of last week's chores today.  They're done and gone.  All I have to deal with today is today's tasks.

Hmm, I guess my parents were right.  If we don't put off today's messes until tomorrow, life really does run smoother.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to fold some laundry, another one of those tasks that is never done.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58

Monday, May 11, 2015

Um, A Little Help Please!

I read an account this morning of a young boy who was responsible for caring for the family sheep.  Each morning the boy would go out and find a particular sheep with its head caught in the fence.  Deciding to find out how this sheep continued to get stuck over and over again, the boy watched from the house window.  As the sheep grazed, he drew closer and closer to the fence, until eventually, he would force his head through the fence in order to graze from the other side, not realizing that his head wouldn't come back through the fence as easily as it went in.  I guess the little fellow was too focused on discovering whether or not the grass truly was greener on the other side of the fence to realize that he was headed for trouble.

The part that got me was that the same sheep got stuck time after time after time.  You'd think he'd learn.  You'd think after getting stuck for the tenth time, he'd wise up and say, "You know what?  That grass is good, but it's just not worth it."  But, no.  He didn't seem to get it. . . and neither do we.

As the author recalled this story from his childhood, he commented, "For my valiant effort I was often kicked and, to make matters worse, the little bugger never once came and thanked me afterward; he would just run off. . . As you can imagine, I wasn't overly fond of the sheep, but I still found myself doing the same thing each day hoping for some recognition from the sheep and getting none."

How many times, dear friends, has the Lord, our shepherd, had to help us out of another mess that we got ourselves into?  And how many of those times did we simply run off without a word of gratitude, only to go right back and stick our head through the fence again?  We're no better or brighter than that crazy little sheep who never learned his lesson.  We, too, allow discontentment to set in and wonder if the grass truly is greener on the other side of the fence,  And we, too, become so consumed with what we want that we fail to heed the danger we're placing ourselves in. . . even though we've been down that very same road before.  Thank goodness for the Shepherd!

To read how the man cared for the ignorant little sheep in spite of his dislike for the critter is heartwarming, but you know what touches my heart even more?  Despite my sheep-like behavior of wandering off and getting myself into trouble time and time again, my Shepherd still loves me.  He doesn't just care for me or put up with me.  He loves me!  Go figure!

And, friend, He loves you too.  No matter what you've done or where you've been, the Shepherd loves you and is willing to help you out of the mess you've gotten yourself into.  He's done it for me more times than I can count, and He'll do it for you.

May I suggest, however, that we learn to keep our heads on our own side of the fence?  It's just better that way!

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. - Psalm 23:1

Monday, May 4, 2015

What Time I Am Afraid. . .

I often say that my life is never dull.  Well, last Thursday was certainly proof of that.  It started out as any other day.  Got up and packed Jason's lunch.  Fixed and ate breakfast.  Did my devotions.  Showered. Wrote my blogs and worked on some other office work.  Had some lunch, then spent some time outside while editing my latest book.  From there, things took a drastic turn.

After bringing in my stuff from outside, I settled myself at my computer and started making the edits I had penciled in for my book.  I was so immersed in my work that I drowned out just about everything else.  However, when the sound of a siren grew closer, I snapped out of my writing trance and realized that it sounded as if the siren was in my neighborhood.  Then it abruptly stopped.  Weird!

Unable to contain my curiosity, I pulled my curtains back and peered out my office window.  Then my knees began to shake.  The road in front of my house was lined with police cars as far as I could see in both directions.  Blue lights were flashing everywhere.  Connecting streets were blocked off.  And dozens of police and SWAT team officers were marching down the street with huge rifles in their hands.  It was like a scene out of a movie, but my pounding heart assured me that this was no movie.  This was real!

I ran around and started locking doors while calling up Jason.  "There's something bad going on in the neighborhood!" I cried, peeking out the window in the foyer.  I described the situation to him and said in my trembling voice, "I'm so scared."

The scene outside the window continued for several moments.  The police officers called to the criminal through a bullhorn, demanding that he come out of the house with his hands up.  I don't know how long it was before he finally came out.  For me, time was standing still.  But the criminal was read his rights and placed in the back of one of the police cars.  After that, it took hours before the scene of the arrest was free of police officers.

From what we later discovered, the man who was arrested was wanted for several crimes, most of which were drug related.  Wonderful!  A wanted felon just three doors down from my house.  That's just fabulous!

As Jason and I discussed the events of the day, I said, "I knew this neighborhood was getting bad, but I had no idea it was this bad.  I wish we could move.  I don't want to live here anymore.  I just don't feel safe."  I meant every word, but Jason reminded me of something that my fear had caused me to forget.  God is in control, no matter where I live.  Whether I live in my current neighborhood or out in the woods somewhere miles from the nearest neighbor, God is in control.  He can protect me from anyone and anything if He so chooses.  I am never alone!

Does that mean that I no longer want to move?  No.  There are a number of reasons I would love to be able to move to another location, and yes, safety is one of those reasons.  But I am reminded that I do not have to live my life in fear, locked up in my house, afraid to walk to the mailbox or go for my morning prayer walks.  I cannot allow fear to control me.  That's wrong.  Remember, God said that He did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (II Timothy 1:7)  A sound mind is one that is not ruled by fear.  A sound mind is one that trusts in God's provision and protection.  A sound mind doesn't advocate taking unnecessary risks, but it does urge us to live life to the fullest, and we cannot do that if we're locked inside, fearing the world and all the baddies out there.

The psalmist said, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" (Psalm 56:3).  I would like to say the same.  How about you?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Don't Stretch Yourself So Thin!

Over the years, I have received numerous e-mails and comments that a particular day's blog post was exactly what that person needed to hear.  "That's just what I was going through.  How did you know?"   Or, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today."  That, my friend, is God because I don't have a clue what most of you are going through.  I don't know what battles you're facing, nor do I understand what's going on inside your mind.  Shoot, I don't know what's going on inside my own mind half the time.  But, I do try to heed God's voice and direction in my blog posts, and the result is that good people often receive the encouragement they needed to face the oncoming day.  Praise the Lord!

Today, however, it was my turn.  As I read through my morning devotions in Charles Swindoll's book, Come Before Winter, I just had to shake my head and say, "Wow, that's me.  He's definitely talking about me."  This is what he had to say:

. . .Perhaps you can identify rather easily with Jonah.  This hasn't been your all-time-spiritual-high-plateau year, right?  You've dodged and ducked, squirmed and squeaked your way through one Tarshish trip after another.  But no more.  You're tired.  Exhausted says it better.  Swallowed alive by your circumstances says it best.  You feel oppressed, guilty, overused, and underdeveloped.  You're not that old. . . but you've run a long way.   Few moons but many miles.  A subtle whisper in your ear says, "You're through.  Finished.  Burned out.  Used up. . . "

Exhausted?  You have no idea.  Overused and underdeveloped?  Now there's the understatement of the year!  I had a goal for 2015, and that goal was to be the best "me" I could possibly be--to put my all into everything I did.  I wanted to grow spiritually, strengthen my marriage, improve my health, spend more time on my writing and so much more.  Now, the year is already one-third over, and I haven't accomplished any of that.  If anything, things have gone downhill rather than improving.  Where does the time go?  What happened to the energy?  How can I possibly be so tired yet have accomplished so little of my yearly goals?

To answer that question, I think back to a couple of weeks ago when I was tempted to write a blog posts entitled, "You Want a Piece of Me?  Too Bad. There's None Left!"  Since this year began, it seems I've had people asking for favors.  "Can you help me with this?"  "Since you're so good at this, we thought you were the perfect person for the job."  "Hi there.  I know we haven't talked in a while, but I need a favor."  And the thing is, I want to help.  I want to be a true friend.  I want to be there when a friend or family member needs my aid.  But for whatever reason, the past four months have been spent "being there" for others and "helping" with their responsibilities, all the while neglecting my own.  And the neglect has taken its toll physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.

Perhaps you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Out of a heart of love and generosity, you give of yourself time and time again, but all the while, your own goals and responsibilities are going unfulfilled.  What do you do?  What do I do?  First off, I know I need to freshen up my ability to say, "I'm sorry, but no, I can't help you today."  It's hard for me to say "no," but unless I do, I'm never going to get my own work done.  Besides, I know that my true friends will understand that I had to say "no" because I have other obligations to attend to.  (Despite what many seem to think, I don't sit at home and eat chocolate all day while watching television.)

Secondly, we need to find some balance. There is a time to do for others and a time to do for ourselves.  We need to learn the difference, and that comes through prayer and guidance from the Lord.  If you remember, there were several instances in the Bible where Jesus tried to get away from the crowds.  Didn't He want to help them?  Sure, He did, but He understood the importance of balance.  We need to learn the same.

I hope you understand that today's post was not intended to make you feel sorry for me or to make anyone who has asked for help from a friend to feel guilty or ashamed.  That's not it at all.  It was more about a realization that God gave me this morning through the words of my devotion and one that I felt He would have me share with you.  

Jonah ran from Ninevah because he didn't want to do the work the Lord called him to do.  I, on the other hand, would love to be able to do the work the Lord has called me to do.  But even though I desire to do the work, I'm still running from it by allowing so many other things to take up my time and energy.  And in that way, I'm no better than Jonah.  I'm not doing the work, and frankly, I'm tired of running.  I'm ready to get back on track.  After all, it's the Lord's work that I'm eager to do, so it's time to get busy doing the right things, not just good things.

Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:21