Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Gift Called "The Present"

This article is dedicated to my pastor, Greg Davis, who's courage, transparency and spiritual maturity have impacted my life over many years, but most especially in the last year since he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He is currently cancer free but has been told that there is a near certainty that his cancer will return at some point.

On this particular Sunday, Pastor Greg was experiencing symptoms that could indicate a recurrence.  He shared openly with us in his sermon about the fear that had dug its claws into his soul and was flinging him about like a helpless squirrel in the teeth of a ravenous wolf (my analogy, not his).

As I took in the reality of what he was saying, God intervened in my thoughts with a visual that would burn itself into my soul in a most unforgettable way:  I saw a high mountain with a narrow path running along its ridge line.  On one side was a storm tossed ocean with waves crashing against the rocks.  On the other was a seething volcano, spewing smoke and lava.  What I understood of this picture was that the path along the ridge represented the present.  It was safe and full of peaceful beauty.  To deviate from the past was to plunge headlong into either the deadly rocks of the past or the fiery torment of of the future.

I was asked to share this picture with the congregation and afterwards, a young man who had heard my words, went home and painted the vision. I was truly stunned by the accuracy and vividness with which he portrayed this scene.  I had intended to paint this picture myself as I am an artist.  But I am convinced I could not improve on his fine work.

Artist: Mattie Houston, age 13
Allow me to explain this picture more:  We often fail to experience the abundant life God has for us because we are either absorbed in guilt, resentment and/or regret from the past.  The same can happen because we are anxious, fearful or worried about the future.

I once heard a quote that sums this up quite well:

“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift—that’s why they call it ‘the present’".

The past and the future are toxic to the abundant life God has for us.  God intended us to come to Him as little children, and one of the most enduring qualities of young children is that they live fully in the present, pouring their joy, energy and enthusiasm into whatever is happening at the moment, whether it is a a bubble, a silly face or a game of peek-a-boo.

Now don't get me wrong here.  As a therapist, I spend a lot of time helping clients deal with past hurts and future fears.  When the present allows us to take action to remedy the past (such as giving or asking forgiveness) we are to attend to that unfinished business.  Likewise, when the present provides opportunity to prepare for the future in a way that will facilitate something coming to pass that we wish to see happen, or to avert some impending disaster, we are also to attend to that.

What we are to avoid at all costs is to plunge ourselves into the past or future in a way that causes us to loose our focus on the present.

Our relationships are affected by this also.  In our families we often bring to bear our history with that person, causing us to assume we know exactly what they are doing and why and what they will do next because of their past behavior.  Bringing up the past and pronouncing the future are both signs of dirty fighting.

The truth is, that who we have been and what we have done often keeps us from being who we can be right now.

Therapy is a process that often involves leaving behind bad messages that we have received in the past and seeing ourselves as God sees us now.

Philippians 3:13
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

As for the was once calculated that only 10% of the things we fear and worry about actually occur.  What a waste of our life and energy!  The Bible uses the phrase "fear not" 63 times!

Romans 8:37-39
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Living in the present is our path to communion with him and peace in our hearts and minds.  We will find freedom from worry, fear, resentment and guilt.  When those things are not filling our thoughts, we are able to receive the abundant life God has for us.  Hallelujah!

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Well I finally did it.  After 35 years of running off and on, I got serious and ran my first marathon at the age of 56.  I had dreamt of this for so long and thought that when I finally crossed that finish line, after 9 months of training and 26.2 miles of blood sweat and tears, that I would feel proud and exhilarated.  “What an accomplishment this will be.  I’ll really be something now!”were thoughts I can only now barely admit to having.                  
The reality was surprising and confusing.  The minute I stepped across that finish line I burst into tears, (ok, to be honest, “balling my eyes out” would be more accurate).  “What is this?”  I was embarrassed and surprised by the emotional outburst.  The only other feeling I could identify in the moment was a profound sense of humility that I didn’t understand.

As I reflected upon my experience, I began to make sense of my emotions, which continued to surface any time I talked or even thought about my experience for some weeks after the race.  I came to understand that my humility came from the deep realization that something I thought had been a mostly solitary journey, had involved so many other people and that I could never claim sole credit for this accomplishment.  Also, that so many others had been on their own solitary journeys and here we all were.  We hadn’t been alone after all!

First there was my son’s girlfriend who started this whole thing one Sunday afternoon in June, by casually asking; “so, who wants to run the LA Marathon?”  My son instantly responded affirmatively.  “They don’t even know what they’re getting into” I thought, but I knew running a marathon had been on my bucket list for many years, so I reluctantly agreed.  Okayyy…..I’ll give it a try.  We’ll see how far we get with this.  And so it all began…

I didn’t even tell people my goal, because initially, I figured I probably would never get anywhere near that distance and I didn’t want to be viewed as a quitter.  But as the weeks passed I was adding ever-increasing miles to my runs.  I was seeing and feeling my body change and I began to dare to hope that I might actually be able to do this thing.

I began to meet and talk with other marathoners and their encouragement spurned me on.  My son and his girlfriend and I commiserated on our every changing aches and pains.  My son was especially good at researching the various strains and injuries and the best ways to treat and work around them.

I would be running to benefit St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, since my son’s girlfriend worked in their marketing department and she had been instrumental in their connection with the marathon.  It all took on special purpose and meaning when I learned that the grandson of a dear friend was diagnosed with leukemia.  He was probably one of the biggest motivators for me.  I knew this little guy was running his own endurance race and it made mine look like a walk in the park.  How could I tell him to keep fighting if I gave up?  I also owed so much to the many people who donated in honor of this brave little boy.  On race day I pinned his picture to my singlet and his bright eyes and smile told me to keep going several times.                                                                                                            
Ethan inspiration
I was also deeply moved by the many hundreds of volunteers and supporters who lined the route to hand out cups of water, or bananas and those who cheered for hours, holding up signs or pieces of cardboard glopped with Vaseline (to prevent chaffing… who’d a thunk ?).

The sympathetic medical aid worker who saran wrapped an ice pack to my knee at mile 22 relieved the knife stabbing pain enough to keep me in the race.  Bless you nameless angle of mercy!

The “carbo loading” homemade pasta and shrimp dinner my husband so lovingly prepared for me the night before the race and his waiting on me hand and foot during post-race recovery were testimony of the love and support he had lent enduring my long, frequent absences for training runs… I was not alone.

Rugged Independence VS. Accepting Help

Why tell you this whole story?  I think because something that God had been speaking to me for a long time, really hit home.  I had always embraced the rugged independence that our American Culture loves to nurture.  That day, I humbly acknowledged that I hadn’t done this alone and that, like it or not…I needed people.  God intended us to be, not dependant, in a weak or lazy way, but interdependent.

Galatians 6:2 says:  “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…”

We are to come along side and help those who are burdened.  But a strange paradox appears in scripture just 3 verses down. 

Verse 5 says:  “for each one should carry their own load”.  

Ok, so which is it?  Do we help and allow ourselves to be helped or do we carry our own load and make others do the same?  When we look more closely at the language we find the answer:  The “burden” referred to in verse 2 is an overwhelming burden that we are not able to carry.  God calls us to help carry these for one another, in the same way Christ’s work on the cross lifted the burden of sin for us.  We were unable to do anything about our sin, but Christ was able to do what we could not.

The “load” mentioned in verse 5 refers to our responsibility.  When we are able to fulfill and carry the responsibility for something, we are expected to do it.  I was responsible to put on my running shoes several times a week and head out the door and log my miles, but there were times I was lonely, discouraged, hurting and ready to give up, and someone would come along to encourage me.  When I think of all the volunteers who lined the route handing out water and Gatorade, I was aware that I could have never carried enough liquid on me to get me through the race.  They did what I couldn’t do for myself.  I also don’t think I had the heart to plug along for so many hours, but the cowbells and cheers and goofy signs of bystanders kept me smiling and a trickle of energy flowed into my long empty reserves that got me just a little bit further down the road.

Sometimes we get hung up on receiving help from others…especially if we are a helper ourselves.  Needing help makes us feel weak.  What if I had refused to accept those cups of water because I thought I needed to do this on my own without any help?  I most surely would have never finished that race and probably would have ended up in the hospital being treated for dehydration.

We Are Not Alone

I was also comforted and touched deeply that my suffering had not been alone.  I saw a commercial that played during the televised coverage of the race of a young woman shuffling painfully to her car.  She gingerly eased herself into the drivers seat and with a cascade of  “ow ow ow ow ow” managed to buckled her seat belt. 

“Wait a minute…how did “they” know what I felt like after the race…you mean, everybody feels that way after running a marathon?  I thought I was the only one who hurt that much, I thought surely I was the only one to be in so much pain”, I thought…

What a comfort to know that there were other’s who knew how I felt.  My pain was more common than I had ever imagined.

When we are in pain, exhausted and discouraged, why do we always think we are the only one who has felt that way?  Let us draw strength from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us and compassionately nod their heads in understanding. 

In my practice I have often been asked why God allows them to suffer more than they can seemingly take.  Sometimes my answer is: “so that you can learn to ask for and accept help!”  When you are overwhelmed, look around you for the outstretched hands and the untapped resources that you have been to proud to accept.  God expresses himself in community.  The Church was His idea because He didn’t just want us on our knees talking to Him, but also expressing Him through the help and comfort we give one another.

If you realize there is no one around you, perhaps you have cut yourself off from others for some reason.  With the help of a therapist you may be able to get to the bottom of that problem and begin to form some meaningful relationships.  All of us need to be part of a Church Fellowship.  I would strongly encourage you to pick a church and attend, and not merely attend but get involved so that you can not only make your needs known, but can be used by God to help and comfort others. 

Even as I complete this entry, I have a sense that I have missed important lessons here.  I want to reach out right now and invite you to comment and add to what I have said.  I love that this is unfinished, because….

I am not alone, and neither are you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Forgiveness: The Path to Freedom

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
—Louis B. Smedes

Sometimes we can find ourselves feeling weighed down by some indefinable “sludge” that seems to keep us feeling “stuck” in various areas of our lives.  When this happens, it is always good to take a spiritual/emotional inventory.  Could we possibly be harboring unforgiveness?
What is forgiveness anyway?
Forgiveness is releasing the bitterness.
§  “Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.”—Nelson Mandela
§  “Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” –Anonymous
§  “to accept the fact that the past can’t change.” Oprah Winfry 
It involves understanding:
§  I’m a sinner too, and God has forgiven me.  I need to agree with God.
§  We all sin out of pain and/or ignorance.  Can you empathize with even a small part of why they did what they did?  Remember, understanding is not excusing.
§  He is able to redeem, the most horrible of circumstances; I am not a victim.
§  Forgiveness comes from God.  He will help us forgive if we ask.
o   Remember:  “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
What forgiveness is not:
It is not always reconciliation.  Sometimes for physical or emotional safety, we need to maintain distance.  Pray about whether a confrontation that might result in reconciliation is appropriate.
§  “It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.” Louis B. Smedes
Forgiveness is not making the offense ok.
§  “When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.” Louis B. Smedes
Forgiveness does not remove the consequences.  Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to allow a person to experience the consequences of their actions.  Consequences are different from punishment or revenge.
Why forgive?
Forgiveness is essential to our emotional, spiritual and physical health. We cannot be truly free when we harbor unforgiveness.  It will affect or ability to love, live and be happy.
  • “Let all bitterness, …anger…and evil speaking be put away from you…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Be Still

Psalm 46:10:  Be still and know that I am God.

We live in a culture that extols ambition, accomplishment, achievement and many "A"s!  Yes, we make the grade... A+ to all of us over-achievers out there, working our hearts out to feel productive, worthwhile and useful. No wonder they call it a "type A" personality.

We can feel especially justified in our life-style if we are in some sort of ministry or helping profession.  There is such value in what we do.  But sometimes our passion runs dry; we feel empty and ...well....just plain exhausted.  And in the back of out mind we wonder why God feels so far away.

Could it be that we are missing a balance that God always intended for us? How much do we value stillness...taking time in our day to quiet our thoughts and just "be" with God?  I sometimes meditate on Ps. 46:10 when I have trouble turning off all the anxious "noise" in my head.  I was taught a distilling process with this verse that has often brought renewal and clarity to my mind.

I would like to share just a few of my own gleanings from this process.  I hope you will take the time also to still yourself and hear from God in this way.

"Be still and know that I am God".

"Lord, I am not you.  I do not control much of anything in this universe.  I am too small and finite and weak.  Forgive me for trying to control people and situations and all the resulting anxiety this produces.  I release all my cares to you and place you once again on the throne as God.

"Be still and know that I am..." 

Father, you are ever-living in the present.  You speak not "I was" or "I will", but "I AM". You are here in this moment...and I so often miss you when I am preoccupied with the past or the future.  I miss some beautiful gift you are holding out to me...some gentle nudge that will bring blessing to another and myself...some lesson that will direct and give me wisdom for the day.

There are meanings in these words, "I AM" that I can only begin to comprehend...your completeness, your self-generating power and your finality.  I am awestruck as I even stand in the doorway of such truths.

"Be still and know..."

Oh Lord, you are the source of everything I need to know.  You are direction for my life.  Why do I try so hard to figure out life for myself, or look to other, lesser sources.  You are the wellspring of knowlege that will teach, direct and enlighten me on my path.

Why do I keep thinking that I can know you without coming to you, or spending the time and effort to know you?  How can I wonder that my faith is pale and weak, when I have not even sought to know you well enough to know if you are trustworthy?  We are not called to trust a great, unseen one who may or may not help us ... one we have only been told is trustworthy.  We are called to trust our Daddy, who we know and love so intimately.  Who whispers secrets in our ears and shows us hidden treasures reserved only for his dear ones.  The one who has given us endless experiences of His tender faithfulness and care.

"Be still..."

What is it like to be still Lord?  I think it is peaceful.  But as a wise friend once shared with me, "it is peace like a river, not peace like a pond".  It as a crystal clear, slow flowing river that runs deep and whose surface is glassy. The seminal psychologist, William James (of Christian heritage) described a "stream of consciousness" (I remembered his connection to this thought by remembering the James River in Virginia).  Being still is not being stagnant, where all sorts of scum can flourish.  I rather think of stillness as ceasing to swim across or up the river ... to just allow ourselves to float quietly in the slow, peaceful current. He is the river and as we yield ourselves to it's current, we learn His ways.  The Message describes this as learning "the unforced rhythms of grace" (Matt. 11: 28-30).  As we still ourselves, the "noise" of our anxious mind quiets and only then can the "still, small voice" of His Spirit be heard...we are flowing with His current.


Here I am faced with a deep and terrifying question:  "Who am I....really?"  When asked that question, we immediately go to labels that define our activities....what we do.  God's love and acceptance of us has nothing to do with what we do.  It is all about who we are.  Can we envision our infinite preciousness to Him when we are doing nothing?  I have had a few periods in my life when I was without some of the positions that defined me the most.  I felt worthless!  Without that status, that role or identity, I scarcely knew who I was, and I certainly didn't feel very useful to God.  And if I wasn't useful, I couldn't possibly be of any real value.  Wow!  Is that a lie from the pit!  Even when I am still before God, I am nagged by a condemning little voice that says I should be praying.  How 'bout just sitting still to listen?   We must first learn to just "be"... present, valued and loved for our essence.  After all, He created us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Our activity: ministry, loving, helping, even praying should be an outgrowth of learning to just be who he created us to be and to be content to sit at His feet in His presence with an open heart.  There I am most myself and most His Beloved.

I am giving up striving for "A"s first and instead seeking the "B"s...being the beloved of my God.

I challenge my readers to commit to meditation, even for a period of time.  This is an exciting adventure that I promise will deepen your Spiritual life and prove fruitful beyond measure.

Now get busy and BE STILL!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Chains That Bind

My devotions this morning refered to Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace".  He sings:  
"My chains are gone. I’ve been set free 
My God, my Savior, has ransomed me.
And like a flood, his mercy reigns.
Unending love. Amazing grace.”

I played the song on YouTube, and as I listened, my thoughts hovered over a beautiful truth that has thrilled my heart with the immensity of it's chains are gone!  I can walk away from the chains that have held me captive to defeat, fear, anxiety and all manner of sin.  We are free to live the abundant life of liberty.  2 Cor. 3:18b says:  " where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."  

We have been given the liberty to choose.

  We can continue to sit in darkness in our chains like a familiar albeit miserable old coat, or we can shrug them off, rise and leave them lying on the floor as we walk out into the light.  There is a human phenomenon called "learned helplessness".  What happens is that if we experience failure repeatedly, we come to believe that there is no way to experience a different outcome and we cease to try...even when circumstances change that would have allowed us to experience success.  Women trapped in abusive marriages can experience learned helplessness and decline to escape their tormentor, even when an avenue such as a shelter opening is provided for them.

Sin can be like an abusive husband who torments us daily and convinces us that we have no way out.  Well, I have news for you!  God provided a way out through Jesus Christ.  His work on the cross loosed the chains of sin, fear and shame that keep us from living the free, abundant life God intended for us.

The power of faith

What is the key?  Why it is faith of course.  Our beliefs are infinitely more powerful than any actual circumstance.  Why does one blind person sit in dark loneliness, feeling worthless and pitiful while another has a vibrant joyous career and social life?  Faith.  Somewhere along the way, they came to believe that such a thing was possible for them and they began to walk according to their belief.  Were there obstacles and failures along the way?  Most certainly, but their deep belief led them to try again and again and adapt and find another way if possible.  But they would not give up. 

I am not just speaking of belief in our intrinsic value or our unique abilities, but of a belief that the work of Christ is finished and that we truly are no longer bound by our chains...whatever they may be.  When we walk according to His will for us, we can be assured that we will find strength to complete the good work He has begun in us.  It is only when we believe the lies of the enemy in that time of temptation that we fall and run back our old ways.  

Walking in freedom can be a very foreign, even scary experience.  We must take courage and hold tight to our Lord and Savior (and the hands of some dear friends who have gone before) and learn to walk, much like I am seeing my beautiful granddaughter begin to take her first faltering steps.  Sometimes she has to sit down, just because she gets so scared!

Eleanor Roosevelt said:  "Do something every day that scares you".  What an adventure life becomes when we live by those words!

Lord Jesus:
Give us faith to walk in the abundant free live you are offering us.  We refuse to listen to the voices of fear, shame, worry and helpessness.  We are free indeed!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Resurrecting an Old Dream

This morning my devotional talked about how God resurrected an old dream that had died for Elizabeth and Zacharrias.  After many years, God chose a point in time to fulfill that dream, even after all hope had died.

 My mind wandered back to a time seven years ago when God spoke to my heart and resurrected an old dream that had died for me.  My dream had been to become a Christian counselor.  I knew this required a great deal of education and had dismissed my dream on the assumption that I could never complete such a long term, rigorous goal.  But something was different this time.  God challenged my faith and I accepted this challenge.  This was the beginning of a journey that would broaden me, heal me, test me and grow me beyond anything I had experienced before this point.

The timing of this devotional was no accident.  I am still in the midst of this journey and have been in a place where there seemed to be an enormous amount of work with very little return.  I was feeling discouraged and wondering if I had somehow wandered off the path.

What a comforting reminder of Gods amazing ways.  The fulfillment of His will in our lives does not depend on our strength....only our willingness to obey and not shrink from His calling on our lives.
Are you feeling the stirrings of God's Spirit blowing amongst your graveyard of long-dead dreams?  Could it be that God is presenting you with the turning point in your life that will reveal all the fullness of purpose for which you were created.  Perhaps God has put you on the earth for just such a time as this.

Or are you the one who has been faithfully walking that dream, and find yourself in a dark valley of discouragement that you fear could be a dead end.  Remember the many stories of God's faithfulness along the way.  He has not left you....he will continue to be faithful and this is just one more set-up for God to show Himself merciful, powerful and infinitely able to be all that we need for the journey.  Do not shrink back dear brothers and sisters.  Press on and His glory will break through like the dawn.  Remember that building endurance is always part of the plan.