Sunday, April 30, 2017

Could it be any clearer?

When I read Jesus Calling this morning and one of the Scriptures was 2 Corinthians 12:9, I thought it would have been perfect to use with the blog I posted yesterday about my inability to make any real progress on becoming more organized and productive: 

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9, New American Standard Bible)

Then I turned to my daily First 15 reading, where I saw this title: "His Grace Is Sufficient." Of course, I knew the Scripture: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."  (English Standard Version)

I still wasn't prepared for what I saw when I turned to my third daily reading, The Upper Room. The title was "Diamonds in the Rough," and the quoted Scripture was: The Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (New International Version)

Did God read my blog??? It sure looks like He's trying to send me a message.

In Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young writes that our lack is "an opportunity to latch onto (Jesus) in unashamed dependence.  When you begin a day with inadequate resources, you must concentrate your efforts on the present moment. This is where you  are meant to live -- in the present." It is the place where God awaits.

From the Upper Room meditation, written by Marion Palmer of Australia: "God promises that His grace is sufficient for us and is, in fact, made perfect in our weakness. When at times we feel like our lives are like dry stubble, we can take heart in knowing that God's love, mercy and grace cover us and that we ... are made whole, precious and beautiful in God's sight."

In First 15, Craig Denison wrote: "We serve a God who turns our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. In his grace, all he asks of us is to have a heart open, willing and receptive to him. Our God is one who comes down to us and lays down his life that we might live through him. ... He has given up any form of personal gain to devote his entire existence to paving the way for us to have restored relationship with our heavenly Father."

The thing is, I know and believe this Scripture, at least it's how I understand God and Christ to view me. But it's not so easy to believe my husband and other family members, or my friends and colleagues in church, social settings and work, are so gracious and forgiving.

That is the stumbling block and the challenge. Can I trust what Christ says about God, that His grace is sufficient? Can I believe it is sufficient even when my shortcomings cause me to feel ashamed or less than or judged by others, or when I sense the tension or discomfort my shortcomings produce in my relationships with others?

It is very, very hard for me to trust God above my sensitivity to how others feel about me. And that's  a big source of the tension that keeps me from finding my best way. Am I really trusting God when I worry so much about what others think? But it seems selfish to not think of how my actions, inactions and shortcomings affect others, especially those closest to me.

But to read those three devotions just hours after posting about my weaknesses and inadequacies, I'm not sure it could be any clearer what God wants.

And so the journey to faithfully trust and obey continues.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

One. Day. At. A. Time.

I keep thinking I've FINALLY discovered what I need to know and will actually do to be more organized and prepared and productive and efficient. 

And each new program or routine quickly loses its luster, and I'm back to my old ways and wondering what happened. 

And I end up back at just for today. One day at a time. Progress not perfection.
Here I am again.

I'm not sure everyone has to keep it this simple. But experience and practice indicate that I do. 

Experience also suggests I won't give up on trying to find some perfect plan. 
Will I ever get it figured out? 
It seems I'll only know one day at a time.
In the meantime, these are some of the concepts and ideas that guide me and give me hope:
One day at a time. 
Progress not perfection. 
Focus on what I have, not what I don't have.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Pray, trust and obey.
Encourage and support.
In all things, give thanks.

"Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."  (Lamentations 3:22-23, New International Version)  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Then sings my soul

Just for today, I accept that my willingness and some level of ability to sing, unaccompanied, in various settings is a gift from God. I accept the gift by sharing the gift.

Maybe it's more of a calling than a gift. I just know that I love to sing praises to God. I love to encourage people. And I love when God offers opportunities for me to encourage people by singing praises to God.

My realization of God's role in this was heightened as I thought of situations in which I have been able to sing rather than cry.

Singing almost always makes me smile. Sometimes I sing and smile through tears, and God creates the beauty of prisms for me to view through. Another gift.

As I act on opportunities to share my singing gift to God's glory, He also helps me see other ways I can share His love. That's the key: Seeking His guidance on how to share His love. It starts with taking time to feel His love and offer my love to Him in return. That brings joy, which overflows in a smile.

But I seem unable to hold on to the joy unless I share it.

Sharing the joy of God's love can be as simple as smiling and offering a kind or encouraging word to a person I encounter as I go about my day.

Sometimes it requires more sacrifice. It can require going out of my way; giving up some of my time or money; relinquishing control of a situation -- all while maintaining an attitude of love, joy and gratitude.

Gratitude is another key. One way I express gratitude to God is by sharing an attitude of gratitude with others.

Among the songs that were able to overflow from my heart in recent times:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures here below.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise God, the source of all our gifts!
Praise Jesus Christ, Whose power uplifts!
Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness. Great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of  God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is  my story; this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long!
This is my story; this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long!

Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the roaring thunder:
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee:
How great Thou Art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee:
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!    

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Unfinished (again)

It's Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

Holy Week brings reminders that God's work to save me is finished.

So why do I feel unfinished?

I knew I would struggle to "finish" this Lenten season, and as I reflect on Holy Saturday, I see I finished nothing that I started for Lent.

On March 1, Ash Wednesday, I had written: I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.

One of the disciplines I pondered was to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions that first day in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.

As recently as the morning of Good Friday, I thought it was possible I would fill some more bags -- and reaching the goal of 40 did not seem unreasonable, although I knew I could also be satisfied to fill the equivalent of one per week (six). But before the day ended, perhaps after attending the Good Friday service, I was back to realizing I likely would not fill another bag.

(For the record, I just tallied what I had done all those days ago, and it's even less than I thought: One large paper bag and three and a half plastic grocery bags. I also took a bag full to Goodwill, and there's one other large bag that my husband and I filled together.)

And then, this morning, I TOOK THREE THINGS OUT of one of the bags I had filled!!! Later, I went shopping. I bought greeting cards, Easter trinkets and two hairbands. So, instead of getting rid of stuff, I bought more.

But I took three of the cards and the trinkets as I visited women who are in care facilities or homebound. One did not respond to my knock on the door, so I left the card and Easter cross at the front desk. The other two eagerly greeted me and we shared smiles and laughs and encouragement. One said my visit turned her day around as she was starting to feel discouraged. The other said my stopping by was perfectly timed, and I was able to retrieve her letters and magazines from the mailbox.

I'm not sure what to make of all that, but I am certain it was more important today for me to make those visits than to attempt to fill more bags with stuff I no longer need.

"Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:26-27

Meanwhile, I read the Upper Room and a Lenten devotional each day and unexpectedly joined a Lenten book study at church, but I lapsed on the disciplines of two habits I was trying to form. One involves putting even routine things on my calendar to help structure my day, and the other involves a spreadsheet that helps me set daily and longer-term goals and assess my  progress.

The lapse in the written disciplines came at the same time I realized I might not fill another bag, which was during or right after a weeklong trip to Houston and other parts of Texas. And as is always the case for me, I'm having a very hard time getting back on track with these endeavors. But I haven't given up.

As I wrote March 8: But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal. So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection." ... A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.

I also found myself hopeful that the spiritual focus of Lent would help me regain a sense of purpose or direction that has been missing even before I lost my job. While writing March 22, I was reminded of the importance of pursuing my passion. What came to mind then, as it has before, was that "my passion is to help and encourage others. ... I want to write. I want to sing, And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory."

By the end of the week, I had written it into a goal and had hopes of starting to take action I knew would  be required to achieve it. But all these days later, no real progress has been made and I have even found myself questioning whether it was a realistic goal.

Yet, this still seems true: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit. ....
Of course, I also wrote down this truth:  I have to live my life one day at a time. So, even though I wrote my goal down as something I hope to achieve for an event next March, I cannot take much time thinking about the results. I'll be busy enough planning what I need to do and then doing it.

That brought me back around to something worthy to let go of, and not just during Lent: Even as I plan and even if and when I take action, I cannot control the results. ... I tend to think of myself as a people-pleaser, which at least at first glance seems the opposite of controlling, but when I saw this in "Jesus Calling," I was convicted: "THIS IS A TIME in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. ... As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care."

Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship?

I've had unexpected, surprising and rewarding opportunities for fellowship. Many required me to get out of my comfort zone. And, as my faith grows, it's getting a little less uncomfortable to do so.

It's often a challenge for me to interact with others without meddling. I often have to ask prayerfully: Is this God's plan? Or is this just me trying to control a situation and do what I want to do? I never do it without praying, including a request that God stop me from intruding if it's not His will. Still, it's not always clear. And I'm very aware that it doesn't follow the rules of etiquette. But I also know that God's ways are not always our ways and don't always follow the rules of man or etiquette experts.

From March 31: I'm grateful to realize I'm also having more success at inviting others to join me. I just remembered another case in which I will follow through tomorrow. Reaching out, whether to invite someone to join me or to ask if I can join  someone else, requires me to face some fears and self-doubt, which I can only do by trusting in God. And He is always faithful to be present with me if I will allow him to.

By April 8, I was again more aware of my shortcomings than my strengths. Writing helped me to remember what I want and need to focus on: Purpose. Priorities. Passion. Persistence. Progress not perfection. Payoff. Production. Perseverance. Prayer. Praise. To the glory of God, by whom we know, via Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Self-doubt returned in force by April 12, this time regarding singing. I don't know how to practice to get better. I just go by instinct. Is that God's best for me -- and I just need to go with it and trust Him with it? Or am I being lazy and unfocused?

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8
As I'm trying to focus and wrap this up for 2017, I turn to what I wrote last year. I know I have done many worthwhile things spiritually as well as practically, but I still seem to be at this exact same place.

As happens at least half of the time for me when the contemplation of Lent gives way to the celebration of Easter, this is a year when I know I still have a lot of work to do. I don't recall Lamentations 3 as being a key part of the Holy Week liturgy in the past, but it has come up several times this year. And how grateful I am for it.  "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."   (Lamentations 3:22-23)

So, as I prepare to again celebrate the gift of God who gave His only Son to die on a cross  to pay the debt for my sins -- and did not let Him stay in the grave -- my heart is filled with gratitude but also, I pray, humility. Now if I can just take the next step, to obedience. Not my will, but Yours, Lord, I pray.

Maybe this year I will.

"God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"I can be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid or tremble, for the Lord goes with me. He will not fail or forsake me." (Isaiah 41:10)

Saturday, April 8, 2017


All things work together for good for those who believe ...  

I've seen this spiritual truth in new light. 

The strong cord of two people working together. Better together.  Together for good. And grateful to be working together for good. 

This awareness came to me as I thought about my continual  starts and stops. My inconsistency. 

Remembering what I want and need to focus on:

Purpose. Priorities. Passion. 
Persistence. Progress not perfection. 

Payoff. Production. 


To the glory of God, by whom we know, via Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Seriously, even on April Fools'

Things aren't always what they seem.

When I read on Facebook on Friday night that my church's pastor of 10 years was leaving, one of the thoughts that came to mind at seeing it announced that way was, Can this be true? As a friend who was with me suggested, since it was March 31, maybe this was an early April Fools' joke.

And I'm thinking, yeah, maybe. He does have a wry sense of humor. But I kept thinking, this is not something to joke about. Too many people would take it very seriously and might not be very forgiving.

But if it was serious, for it to be announced on Facebook just seemed "off," not right. And if it was a joke, something's off with that, too.

My friend and I couldn't decide what to make of this announcement, but we both decided we would pray about it. And we did.

I called my husband as I drove home and talked about it some. Times have changed, and maybe this is an OK way to make an announcement now. But it still didn't seem right that it was on a public page instead of something first just to the church.

It wasn't long before I was home. I went in the house. On the kitchen counter, I saw my mail, and, oh yeah, there's that envelope from the church. I recalled thinking, when I brought the letter into the house before I left for the evening, that they were probably asking for something -- money, maybe, or perhaps they have a position to fill. I realize I had made some assumptions when I saw it. So now, back home, I opened it, and sure enough, it was a letter dated March 30 in which my pastor said he was sad to announce that he was being moved to a different church.

So, I was like, OK, God, ha ha, I was just at a program on faith and anxiety and trusting God. And without a doubt, that already had put me in a frame of mind and spirit where I wasn't fearful or anxious about this unexpected news. I was just curious. And I was praying. My friend and I were  praying. We were like: We don't know what's going on, but we're lifting up Jim and April and our church and the church it says he's going to and everyone involved. And then when I got home and read this (and it was also in  the newsletter that had arrived via email), it was just clear that God was in charge.

I had it in my hands. I didn't open it. I think clearly, I can see, that was God's intent. I mean, it was in my hand and I did not open it. So, I think that timing was divine.

I know that when I write about these things, I need to be careful in determining: Why am I wanting to write about this? Is this of God? As I try to work past a multiyear bout of writer's block, my tendency is to hold back from fear or doubt about what people will think. I haven't regained my writing "voice" and I have more doubt than confidence about the merit of my prose. But with faith in God, I can be fearless before man.  So, I seek to pray and discern: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it positive?

I guess my point this time, as I wrote at the beginning, is that things aren't always what they seem. And that's OK. Yesterday provided many opportunities for me to practice and grow my faith. And it provided me another exercise for trying to figure out what I want to write about and how. (I think I fared better on the former than the latter, but they intertwine.)

I've still got quite a way to go in both endeavors! Gratefully, and armed with faith, tonight I view them without fear or anxiety.

I want God to find me faithful, grateful, on my knees (from the song "Find Me," that was part of today's First 15 devotional).