Saturday, June 22, 2019

He Calls Me Friend

Weird. Different. Inadequate. If I had a theme song, it would probably be “Which One of These Things Doesn’t Belong”, a song from a popular children’s show.  I’ve struggled with these feelings for most of my life. I think it stems from a combination of many things. I am biracial, so being only half Mexican, and only half Black, I never really felt like I fully belonged to either ethnicity. Then the fact that I am a huge introvert doesn’t help matters. Even though I now have a better understanding of who I am and why and have embraced my uniqueness, it still manages to make life difficult at times.  Social events and group interactions, for instance, are the death of me.  A few months ago, I had to attend a large company function. I was fairly new, and didn’t know anyone. I grabbed my breakfast burrito, and was relieved when I found a safe quiet corner behind a stairwell, where no one could see me.  My tranquil haven only lasted a short while, because one of my co-workers, who also happens to be an introvert, came and pulled out of my corner and forced me to join my other co-workers. While I was not overjoyed about this “rescue”, I felt good because a fellow introvert, and someone who understood my personality, made the effort to make me a part of the group.

Needless to say, having these “weird” personality traits does not make it easy to make friends. I do not have the gift of gab, which is ironic, considering my nickname is Gabby.  In groups, I usually remain silent, unless I feel very comfortable.  I am very blessed that the job the Lord put me in consists of a group of people (and a fantastic boss), who understand and appreciate my personality, and they have allowed me to come out of my shell in my own timing, in my own way. I think what made this transition so easy was that each member listened and valued me and what I have to say.  I think it’s like positive reinforcement: if someone truly listens and acknowledges a person, without dismissing them or changing the subject, the other person will start to feel safe, and will start to open up more.  That is how God is. He truly cares about His children, and He listens attentively. And the safety and security we feel when we go to Him in prayer, the more we open up to Him.  Sometimes it would bother me that I don’t have a lot of friends, and I know my husband wishes I had more friends. While I have always been content to do things by myself, there have been times I wished I had someone who really “gets me “and who I could share everything with. Yes, I have my husband, and he is my dearest friend, but the reality is, husbands don’t always understand the female persuasion. They don’t understand our bodies and the changes that go on; they don’t understand why our emotions are up and down and why we cry at the strangest things.  But as I get older and grow more in my walk with the Lord, I have realized that I do have a friend, the best friend anyone could ever have: Jesus!

I am constantly amazed at God’s goodness.  He is always there, and He is never far away.  Many times, when I am overwhelmed, and my thoughts are all scrambled and I don’t know what to do or say or how to pray, I start journaling to Him.  As I do, I feel immediate peace, and He guides me in the right direction.  He answers me, He comforts me, and He directs my steps. I am overwhelmed in knowing that He cares so much for me.  One of my favorite songs is “I Am a Friend of God”. I weep every time I hear the lyrics: “Who am I that you are mindful of me? That you hear me, when I call. Is it true that you are thinking of me, that you love me? It’s amazing!”  It is very amazing indeed! Taken from David’s words in Psalm 8, this song is a powerful reminder of what a wonderful friend God is to me.  He responds to me is so many ways.  When I am lonely or melancholy, He sends his creation, like birds or bunnies, to greet me on my walks to let me know He is still there. When I am feeling inadequate about myself or my sense of worth and purpose, He reminds me of why I am here, by way of a comment from a citizen I helped or commendation from my boss.  When I am struggling with a decision, He gives me confirmation by opening or closing the doors and giving me peace. The ways He speaks to me are endless, and I am blown away that He hears and cares about even the most insignificant thing I am dealing with.

God’s Word is filled with examples of how He hears and cares for us.  I am touched by how He responded to Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Sarah and Abraham. When Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, she conceived, and Sarah became jealous, creating a contentious situation. Because of Sarah’s harsh treatment of her, Hagar fled to the desert, all alone. She must have felt so isolated and overwhelmed.  She was an Egyptian slave, so she was away from her people and the home she grew up in. She was treated badly for merely obeying orders from her mistress: to go in to her master and conceive. She is pregnant and all alone.  In the desert. But God, our wonderful and kind Father, goes to her as she is sitting by a well, alone and hopeless, and speaks to her. After she tells Him what happened, He comforts her and gives her a prophecy about her son. He heard her affliction! He heard a lonely, wandering, pregnant young woman in the desert and He came to her to give her comfort and a promise! Then “she called the name of the Lord, The God Who Sees” for she said have I also here seen Him who sees me?” (Genesis 16). How comforted she must have felt knowing God saw her and thought so much of her to come in her time of distress and need!  And He comforted her again several years later. Sarah had again banished Hagar, this time with her son Ishmael. Hagar and Ishmael wandered alone in the desert, and their food and water ran out. She was despondent. She put her son under a tree and walked away so she wouldn’t have to watch him die. God heard her and Ishmael’s cries and He called out to her. He told her to “fear not” and He again gave her a promise. Her son would lead a great nation! And He led her and Ishmael to water, thus saving their lives.  (Genesis 21:9-20)

The story of Hagar is a powerful testament as to how God hears us and cares about us.  It strengthens my faith in knowing that God hears me too.  He listened and heard the cries of a dejected, broken-hearted, lonely, young slave girl in the desert. I know that no matter how alone, odd, or inadequate I feel, God is always right there, listening to my cries, and comforting me, as only a loving Father can comfort.  There may be times that I feel He doesn’t understand me, or isn’t interested my trivial concerns, or is too far away, but I look to His Word, and I and find stories like Hagar’s that remind me of how loving He is, how mindful of me He is, and that He calls me friend.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him?; And the son of Man that you visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels and You have crowned him with glory and honor.” - Psalm 8:3-5

Song: I Am A Friend of God

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Milestones


I hit a milestone this year: I turned 50.  As the day grew closer, I found myself anticipating the big one with some trepidation.  Growing up, my grandma would frequently refer to the “change of life” as the worst time in a women’s life, and she painted a bleak picture of menopause and growing older with scary scenarios of things like women’s uteruses falling out, horrible hot flashes, and emotional breakdowns. Yeah, fun times that I was not looking forward to.  I put a lot of what she said out of my mind until I turned 40, and those fears started creeping up again. I was in college at that time, and those persistent fears led me to choose women and mid-life crisis as a topic for my research project. I thought it would help me to understand and cope with the psychological and physical changes that were around the corner.  The things I learned from my research eased my fears, as I learned that a lot of it has to do with attitude and perspective. So that knowledge reassured me throughout my 40’s. But then I turned 50.

I tend to think and overthink things. That is my introvert and OCD mind. I think the hardest thing for me was realizing how short life really is.  Life expectancy can be 70 or 80, and I realized that I only have 20 or 30 years left, God willing.  When I look backwards 20 years, those memories seem like they only occurred a short time ago. The reality that life is only a vapor” (James 4:14) hit me hard.  I see that more and more people I used to know from different circles are passing away.  Some younger, some older, and the realization that tomorrow is not promised to anyone makes me appreciate each day on earth more. Another difficult thing for me was looking back and wishing I could rectify some of the mistake I made. The phrase “youth is wasted on the young” takes on new meaning for me. While I catch myself being dragged down with regret, the Lord reminds me that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I know God knows that I am but dust (Psalm 103:14), and I am not the same person I was back then.  He has given me wisdom, and He will use that wisdom for His glory.  I also take comfort that God restores the years the locust have eaten (Joel 2:25). He has preserved my life.  There have been many time that I look back and wonder how did I survive some of the crazy, dunderheaded, dangerous choices I made? God had His hand on my life and protected me for a long time, even before I knew Him!  He has provided for me abundantly, and gave me the desire of my heart, my wonderful husband, when I was 45. Who says God doesn’t restore and work miracles?  And since I have seen firsthand what God has already done in my life, I trust that He will resolve the things in my life that I am still waiting on, things that seem impossible to me, but to Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). I trust that He will continue to restore those years, fixing damage that was done by my poor choices and ignorance. 

With this new decade, I am learning that a lot of stuff doesn’t matter, and I need to live more simply and fully, and because I have Jesus, that means more abundantly. I find that I appreciate God’s natural beauty more. I would rather be outdoors with my husband, experiencing nature and wildlife, than wasting it on artificial, meaningless things.  Time doesn’t stand still for anyone, and every minute is valuable. I stopped sweating the small stuff. I stopped stressing about my appearances and caring what others might think (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”- Ecclesiastes. 1:2).  I don’t feel the need to be perfect anymore, worrying about matching my shoes to my outfits, concealing my tummy bulge, or worrying what people think if they knew I shop at thrift stores. I march to the beat of my own drum, and feel okay that I still dress like I’m in the 1970’s and 1980’s. And I started to embrace my gray hair.  I decided to stop coloring it about a year ago, for several reasons (time, money, health), and it has been liberating.   I like how the Contemporary English Version bible refers to gray hair: "Young people take pride in their strength, but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful.(Proverbs 20:29). If this isn’t a comforting scripture for growing old, I don’t know what is. There are many such scriptures in the bible that show God values older women and gray hair, and His opinion is all that matters. 

Turning 50 also made me see that I have to “let go and let God” more, and live that truth each day.  It’s hard sometimes, and I have to be reminded of that daily.  Whatever problem comes up, I tell God to take over, then have I peace for the day. But in the morning, I take up whatever the worry of the day is, and I start the cycle all over again. But God is faithful. And patient. I am so thankful for His patience with me. It seems that turning 50 gave me some gumption, because I made the momentous decision of packing up and leaving California, the state I was born and raised in.  It was not easy, but with a lot of prayer, support of Godly friends, and God opening the door to my new job, we made the move.  I had to really trust God with this decision, even when it seemed so scary, and especially when I encountered some resistance from people. I had to forge ahead and trust that God was leading the way. I had to trust my husband as leader and submit to him.  I am terrible when it comes to making decisions. Being OCD, I tend to ruminate over things until my brain is ready to explode.  So when I asked God for guidance so I wouldn’t make the wrong decision, I had to give up everything that was of me, and let Him lead the way. And He opened doors that my human mind could not comprehend.  From giving me the job that came out of nowhere, to leading us to an apartment that we could afford and was surrounded by His beauty, I could fully see His hand at work. But thank goodness for His patience, because the enemy started whispering doubts in my ear not long after we got settled in, and I started having second thoughts, a sort of buyer’s remorse for movers.  Getting caught up in missing my family and friends and old co-workers, being overwhelmed by the newness of my job and the unfamiliarity of my new surroundings; all this started weighing on me, and I had to rely on the Lord for strength.  One day, one of my new co-workers asked me how I was doing. She told me that she was impressed with my courage to make such a big decision, and I thought to myself, “I think I’m more nuts than guts to do this”.  But I thought about it later.  God has sustained me during this transition.  When I have moments of fear, loneliness or doubt, He is there, giving me strength. And loving me and caring for me and being patient with me when I go from praising Him for blessing me with my new job and apartment, to questioning Him if this was the right decision.

This year was a year of milestones.  Turning 50. Leaving a company after 10 years. Leaving my family. Moving to another state. Starting a brand new job. But God is faithful. I am reminded of Sarah in the bible (Genesis 12-18).  She had to pick up and leave with her husband Abraham to an unknown land when God told them to. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when they made this momentous journey; she was 15 years older than I am! She too experienced doubt when God told her she would have a child when she was in her 90’s, but God proved faithful. And even when doubt and impatience caused her to make an unwise decision by sending Hagar to bring forth the child God promised to Sarah, He still blessed her with the promised heir, and she is included as an example of faith in Hebrews 11:11.   I am so blessed that God put these examples in the bible. He gave us His Word to encourage us, strengthen us, and show us His faithfulness.  There is nothing new under the sun, and I take comfort that I can turn to Him for guidance as I continue on my journey, waiting and relying on Him as He continues to guide my steps and remind me of others who have been through the same thing I am experiencing.  There are many more milestones that I will encounter, and God will continue to be there for me every step of the way.



"Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you." - Isaiah 46:4

Saturday, February 24, 2018

It's All About Perspective


As I grow older, I am discovering, that in order to deal with life better, I need to change my perspective. Towards a lot of things.  Whenever I am dealing with some dilemma or stressful event in my life, I find that I am having frequent inner dialogues with myself, and I see that when I look at it from God’s perspective, and a more positive one, I realize that I have more peace, and the stress or tension leaves me.  When I reframe it from a Godly perspective, I get a peace that surpasses all understanding. However, this is not always easy to do.

One difficulty that I frequently have to battle with in this regard, is the area in which I live.  Before I got married and moved in to my husband’s apartment, I lived in a decent neighborhood in a very quiet complex, on a quiet street, with a garage and plenty of room.  Now I live in small apartment, in a not-so-good of a neighborhood, with homelessness, gangs and drugs, constant noise, and various criminal activity on an almost daily basis. My once quiet nights are filled with things like suddenly being awakened by cars speeding and burning rubber in the alley, sounding like they will come crashing through our bedroom wall, or hearing the sounds of someone outside our window, in a drug induced state, cursing up a storm, banging on trash cans outside our window.  Sometimes I fear for our safety, as my husband was once threatened by someone wielding a hypodermic needle because he accidentally kicked over his beer bottle when walking home from the store.  These things no longer bother me like they used to, namely because I changed my perspective.  When I would express fear, my husband would always remind me, pointing towards the heavens, that we are protected, and to give it to the Lord.  Then when I saw that my husband would witness to the homeless and drug addicts, I realized that this is a mission field, and God has us here for a reason. So instead of dwelling on the negative, and telling myself “I hate living here”, I found myself being thankful and content, knowing that one of my husband’s greatest passions is spreading the love and words of Jesus to people, and living here provides him that opportunity, and even more importantly, it is part of God’s plan for us.

I always get comfort when I go to the bible and see examples of others who experienced similar challenges.  Moses had to change his perspective.  When God told him He was going to send him to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses kept giving God excuses. Moses asked who is he that he should be the one to do it. He asked God what should he tell the people if they asked who sent him. When God gave him all the instructions, Moses asked what if the people wouldn’t believe or listen to him.   Then after God showed him the two miracles of turning the staff into a serpent, and turning his hand leprous then restoring it back to health again, Moses had yet another excuse:  he was not eloquent and was slow in speech and tongue.  By this time God was angry and asked Moses basically “who do you think gave humans a mouth and the ability to hear or speak? If I gave you a mouth, don’t you think I will give you the words?” Moses really needed to change his perspective at this point.  I don’t know about you, but if I saw a burning bush that wasn’t consumed, and saw God turn a staff into a snake, and then turn my hand white as snow with leprosy then back to health again, I would be pretty convinced that God was telling me to do something and that I better do it, now, no questions asked!  I think with all the evidence that God showed him, Moses could have shifted his thinking and said to himself, “yes, maybe I am not a good speaker, but God will give me the strength and courage and the right words to do this!” But it took Moses some time, and witnessing God’s might and wonders, to overcome his pessimistic perspective.  I love how God used people like Moses, with his negative and doubtful thinking, to make His plan known and to get it accomplished.   Moses’ example encourages me because it shows me that I am not the only one whoever struggled with negative thinking, and even though we might succumb to it from time to time, God can and will still use us.  It is also an example to us, that even though we don’t think we can accomplish something, or that our circumstances won’t get better, God will make us victorious, either by removing the obstacle, or giving us strength and hope to endure. Setting our sights on God, on the things above, gives us the perspective we need to persevere and be strong in our daily battles.

Changing our perspective from a self-centered one to a God-centered one can be a daily battle.  Some days are easier than others. Some days we need extra help in this area.  Reading God’s Word, listening to praise and worship music, praying, even if all we can do is throw up arrow prayers for the time being, helps so much in getting our mind right, and more in line with God’s.  When I find myself in despair over something, imagining the worst case scenario, I sometimes have to fight to change my perspective.  The “I can’t stand this small apartment” becomes “I love my cozy little home with my husband”. The “there is no hope for my prodigal and unsaved children” becomes “God has this and He’s actively working on them in His timing and His way.”  The “my job stresses me out” becomes “I am so thankful that God gave me good job with good benefits and good co-workers.”  The more I see things from God’s perspective, the less overwhelming life becomes, and the more peace and contentment sets in.  And the more I see and realize all the blessings God has bestowed on me, the more grateful and thankful I become for all that He has done.  

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The One Who Never Changes

Change has always been hard for me.  Whether it’s a new job, new living arrangements, or new season in life, getting acclimated to the “new normal” takes me a while. I remember after I finished grad school in 2013, I was out of sorts for a while.  I had been going to college every semester, spring, summer and fall, for 10 years straight, and then that season in my life to suddenly came to an end. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but before I knew it, I adapted, just like I usually do, and found something more valuable to meaningful to invest in: Bible College and church.  Some changes are sudden and some are gradual.  Some changes are easier to deal with; others are much harder to adapt to, like the aging of a parent, the loss of youth, health, and vitality, and the loss of important relationships.  Maybe you never completely adjust to these changes; you just learn how to deal with it, the best way you know how.  But it’s an inescapable fact: change is and always will be a part of life.  I can’t control what happens to me or around me, but I can control how I let it affect me, and I take comfort in God, knowing that He never changes; He is the same yesterday, today and always (Hebrews 13:8), and He promises to be there for me always, through any trial, storm, or change.

There are physical changes that face us all. As I get older, I find myself faced with the subtle changes that come with age: diminished vision, longer recuperating time from illness and physical exertion, and of course the vanity side of aging: more grey hair and wrinkles.  Then there are my health changes that seem to be getting worse with age, namely IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).  I have lived with this for almost 15 years, and it seems to impact the quality of my life almost daily now.  There are days that I look 5 months pregnant because of the severe bloating (thank goodness for loose and flowy tops and yoga pants), and the pain and discomfort becomes almost unbearable. In the beginning it was more manageable, but now I suffer from various levels of pain and discomfort about 85- 90% of the time now.  God bless my patient and long suffering husband, who has had to endure my numerous complaints, feeling helpless as to how to help me, but doing any and all he can to help alleviate my symptoms.  This condition limits many of my activities often, but my husband is so gracious and compassionate in enduring this, because my limits also impacts him.  The most powerful thing he does is pray for me, and this has helped me to endure the toughest of days.  Needless to say, this wasn’t a welcome change, it is my thorn that I have learned to live with, by the grace of God. I take great comfort in God’s words to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Change can also come in the form of lost relationships.  Sometimes friends will just drop out of your life for no apparent reason, or maybe there is a reason, but they just didn’t share it with you. Even though it may hurt for a while, you tend heal, and accept that they are no longer in your life.  Then there is the loss of a close family relationship that can be very painful, and you just never quite get over it.  Several years ago, when I was disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness organization, my brother, whom I was very close to, stopped speaking to me. It has been more than 15 years now, but I still miss the relationship we used to have. Perhaps though, more painful than losing the relationship of a sibling, is the loss of a relationship with your child.  It is painful for sure, and I don’t know if it will ever be restored, but I rest assured in the never changing nature of God, and I rely in Him, to understand my pain, and to comfort me during those immense moments of sadness. I take comfort in knowing nothing is too big or too hard for Him to fix, in His will, and in His timing.

Whatever change I am faced with, I hold on tight to my relationship with Jesus.  I have an unexplainable feeling of peace and security, knowing that He will never change. "I the Lord do not change." - Malachi 3:6. His word never changes, His attributes never change, His promises never change, and more importantly, His love for me never changes.  As I read through all of scripture, I see that His nature is the same throughout, from Old Testament to New Testament.  God is consistent and unchanging ALL THE TIME! When there is a change regarding my health, I trust that God, if it is His will, will heal me, in His timing, or He will give me the strength and the means to endure. If it is change regarding the loss of relationships, I trust that He will comfort me in my sadness, restore the relationship in His due time, or replace the lost relationships with new brothers and sisters in Christ.  God is faithful and unchanging and wants the best for his children. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” - James 1:17.  In this world of constant change and chaos, it it awesome to know that there is an unchanging, steady anchor, Jesus Christ, that I can cling to, and He lets me know that through every change, He is right there with me, and that I will be ok. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Worthless Things

A few weeks ago my husband and I were reading aloud from the bible from Psalms, when a particular verse made me stop and pause for a moment. It was Psalms 119:37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things and revive me in your way.” That verse has stuck in my head and I have continued to ponder on what the Lord wants me to learn from this. Worthless things. What worthless things does the Lord want me to turn away from? The first thing that came to mind was Facebook. Like many, I found myself on the addiction side, always checking it to see what the latest and greatest was. What I have found is that it can be a huge time waster. When I first signed up, it was a good way to connect and stay in touch with people, see photos, and be uplifted with an encouraging word now and then. But now, to my dismay, I have noticed it has become an avenue for people to promote hate, spread lies, negativity, and bad news. Instead of photos of the latest family outing, my news feeds are filled with videos of one person beating up or cursing out another, hate filled diatribes against our current president, current political figure, or the police. I started to think: is this some of the worthless things God wants me to stay away from? It certainly feels like it, especially since Facebook now seems to feel much like spam does in my email inbox.

One day it really hit me how much social media and modern technology has really taken over our lives. I was watching the recent miniseries about the O.J. trial (because during that moment in history, I was captivated like much of the world, wanting to know all the details). Watching it brought back a lot of memories; I was thinking back to that time (1994) and what I was doing with my life. I was raising 3 small kids. I was sewing, along with other crafts, making clothes for me and my girls. I was enjoying quality time with people, in person and on the phone. I took my kids to lots of fun places: zoos, museums, plays, and parks. I was totally engaged with life and people, and immersed in the moment. And that’s when the light bulb went off. There was no social media back then. People weren’t glued to their phones, forwarding the latest on the O.J. case, or holding their cell phones out recording every minute. I thought to myself, “wow, how far have we come (or degenerated) that we can’t leave the house without our cell phone?” We have become glued to it, and are always looking down, more engrossed by what is on that device than looking up and enjoying what is outside all around us. I started thinking about all the worthwhile things I could accomplish with my time, if I just stayed off of computers and social media. I could spend more time reading God’s Word and reading more uplifting and spiritual things. I could spend more time in prayer. I could start sewing and crocheting again. I could clean and organize the house better. I could improve my lackluster cooking skills. I could dust off the guitar and take up lessons again. And maybe I could finally take the harmonica out of the drawer and start learning how to play it. I would actually be able to enjoy just being in the moment, observing all the Lord’s goodness and handiwork, partaking in activities that would bring Him honor and appreciation, instead of missing it because I am glued to my device. Instead of looking down, I could be looking up. Hence, I have started to take a step back from social media, and limiting my time on it, and trying to make a more concentrated effort to be more engaged and in the moment, and hence, keeping my eyes worthwhile things.

Bitterness and unforgiveness is also a worthless thing that the Lord has shown me I have been wasting my time on. For years I have had some resentment towards my father for things he did or didn’t do while I was growing up. Harboring resentment did me absolutely no good; I had headaches, I would become upset when thinking about it, my stomach would be in knots, and I could tell my blood pressure would go up. Was this worthwhile, spending my energy holding a grudge? It took some time, but I am finally at peace. The road started a few years ago when I had to interview my father for one of my school papers. When I realized what his childhood was like, and that he didn’t have a positive male role model in his life, I realized my father did the best he could, with what he knew. He still provided for his kids. He still loved us in the way he knew how to. And now, I am very thankful that the Lord has granted him a long life so that I can finally appreciate and love my father in my adult years; it doesn’t matter how late, because it’s better than never. There are times that I still struggle with bitterness, because of certain people who cause problems in my life from time to time. I can feel the difference in my joy and walk with the Lord when I start brooding about the latest episode, and I have to force myself to cry out to the Lord “Oh create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalms 51:10. Bitterness and resentment can be very difficult things to overcome, and it is only by His strength that I can be successful. Jesus knew how difficult this would be, and I find comfort during times of persecution from my enemies in His words: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you would have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world! - John 16:33. I know that the Lord sees all things, and will work out any adversity against me; I just need to trust in Him, and not let any bitterness rise up in me.

The Lord has shown me another worthless thing that I have been spending my time on: regret. I have struggled for a long time with regret over past mistakes and choices. I spent a lot of time in my younger years pursing things that I see now were worthless, and I have a lot remorse for that. And because my relationship with my children has been strained lately, regret has been consuming me quite a bit. Wishing I could have done things differently with them while they were growing up, and even now in their adult years. I know these thoughts are from the enemy, and discouragement, shame, and regret are some of the most powerful tools that he uses to keep us down and from moving ahead in the plan God has for us. God is constantly reminding me that I have to “forget what is behind me, and strain towards what is ahead.” - Philippians 13:3. It is futile to look back; what is done is done, there is no changing that. But I serve a mighty God, and I know that He can restore the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). He can turn my past failures into triumphs, and He can turn my mourning into joy. God is forever doing a work in me, all for His glory, and that is a very worthwhile thing to be a part of.

So as I begin my journey of turning my eyes away from worthless things, I expect God to show me some spectacular things. I expect my walk with Him to grow even more, as I will have more time to spend in His Word. I will have more time to spend on extracurricular activities that will let me tap into the creative and unique being that He has made me, and maybe I will find some undiscovered and hidden talent. I will have time to really stop and focus on the beauty of all that is around me, which He has created for our enjoyment and His glory, and I will truly be revived in His way.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Work For a King

Sunday evenings are a little hard for me.  After a nice, relaxing weekend with my husband and family, reality sets in and I mentally and reluctantly prepare myself for the work week ahead.  I find myself wishing that I could stay at church all week instead of going to work, because of the safety and comfort I get from my church family, the sermons and bible studies.  Lately, a lot of people have retired from my place of work, and I catch myself envying them, wishing that I no longer had to work.  Once Monday comes and I get myself back into the swing of things and the daily grind, I get over this Sunday evening blues, and am back in full force, attending to my job with dedication and perseverance.  However, come Sunday, the cycle begins again.  I know I am in need of an attitude adjustment; my husband reminds me of this every Sunday when I start complaining.  Why do I dig in my heels on Sunday evenings and fight against it? I know we all have to work; that is what the Lord wants us to do;  and the bible says we can find great reward and satisfaction in work (Ecclesiastes 2:24). I am very grateful for my job; it is a good place to be, it is very rewarding at times, I work with good people, and it provides for all my needs. I know this regular, weekly grumbling session I do is something that the Lord wants me to work on, and it is a little bit of a struggle for me.

Like all workplaces, there is good and bad.  Right now we are very busy, and I find myself exhausted at the end of the day.  I work with the public, so that can present some challenges at times. There can be personality clashes or misunderstandings, so that doesn’t help things.  As in every office setting, there are things that are ideal, and some things that are less than ideal.  Instead of wishing that I could change them or that someone would do something about these situations, I find myself reaching out to the Lord for strength and endurance.  The scripture that gets me through the tough days is “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” –Colossians 3:23-24. I have this scripture taped to my computer to remind me of this when I find myself feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. When I stop and read this, the peace of Lord comes upon me to give me strength. 

I always like to find examples in the bible of whatever particular situation I am going through.  When I am enduring stressful work situations, I like to look at the example of Daniel.  Some people might think that they have a terrible boss, but I don’t think anyone could have had a terrible of a boss as King Nebuchadnezzar.  He was a powerful, brutal, and prideful king. One day he had an unsettling dream, and called upon all the wise men and astrologers to interpret it for him. When they couldn’t, he had them all killed. But Daniel was able to interpret his dream, through God of course, and when he did, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and “gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief administrator of all the wise men in Babylon” (Daniel 2:48).  What a promotion! But even with all the respect and advancement Daniel received from Nebuchadnezzar, he still couldn’t have been an easy boss to work for.  He was so prideful that he had a huge image of gold (about 90 feet high by 9 feet wide) erected and commanded that everyone bow down to this image when certain music was played.  If they didn’t bow down, they were to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace! When I really stop and think about the type of person Daniel’s boss was, it makes it easier for me to appreciate the fact that my work situation or boss is nowhere near what Daniel had to endure, And I am encouraged by seeing what type of person Daniel must have been.  When Nebuchadnezzar became insane and lived like an animal in the wilderness for seven years, it is believed that Daniel may have helped care for him at times. Years later, when Daniel worked for King Darius, he again made such an impression with his excellent work ethic, that Darius wanted to promote him, setting him above all the other kingdoms (Daniel 6:3).  As we sometimes see in our own work environments, jealousy set in, and his co-workers conspired against him and made trouble for him by deviously getting the King to sign a decree that praying in the open was punishable by death, death by lions to be exact.  Of course Daniel continued to pray, as we obey God rather than man. When the king found out, his reaction is a testament to the love and admiration he had towards Daniel: he was devastated. He fought with all his might to have the law reversed, and when nothing could be done, he had to follow through with his own law. When I read this story, I was so touched by how Darius felt towards Daniel.  He obviously felt sorrow and remorse, as evidenced by his not being able to sleep or eat. Very early the next morning, Darius rushed over to the lion’s den and cried out to Daniel, asking if his God was able to save him. He was so filled with gladness that Daniel was still alive and immediately had him brought up, and had the guys who conspired against Daniel throw in the lion’s den.


What an excellent example Daniel was.  He was a dedicated, loyal, and reliable employee. His bosses, great kings, greatly cared for him and respected him. And Daniel also cared for his bosses, not wishing any harm to come to them; he was also tactful, yet honest with them. When he had to relay the bad news behind the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he said “My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries!  (Daniel 4:19). Even though his superiors may have done some pretty terrible things, Daniel still was the model employee. He served the Lord first and foremost, and would not compromise his beliefs, even if that meant death. But he still treated his superiors with respect and honor, going above and beyond putting in a day’s work. He worked as he was working for the Lord, and by this, he was able to endure working in some pretty unfavorable circumstances, yet excelling in his duties as he did so. That is the kind of employee I want to be.  By Daniel’s faith, he was an excellent witness for the Lord to his superiors and his co-workers.  Because of his exceptional work ethic, he was considered trustworthy and was respected, and as a result, was elevated and given many responsibilities.   The story of Daniel reminds me that no matter how difficult my work situation may be, the Lord will give me strength to endure, and when I work as I am working for the Lord, I will be blessed in many ways, primarily, by knowing I am working for my King, King Jesus.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Putting Away My Rearview Mirror

Something that I have continued to struggle with is regret. Regret over past sins and mistakes. Regret over making unwise choices. Regret of not taking advantage of certain opportunities.  Regret of things that I could have done better as a mother when raising my kids as a single parent, and even now.  I find that these periods of regret are intensified when I visit the place I grew up or raised my kids.  Sometimes these feelings are triggered by a song from past seasons, or an old, familiar scent. I take a mental trip down memory lane and become melancholy, and start to wish that I could go back in time, to either relive “the good times” when my kids (and I) were young, or to go back and correct past mistakes. Self-condemnation comes knocking on my door, and becomes relentless. But is that the way God wants me to live my life?  To be held captive by regret, guilt, and condemnation? Doesn’t the Word tell us that He came to set the captives free? Free from whatever burden that may enslave us?

When I find myself in that dark place, the Lord has been so merciful and loving by bringing to my mind that whatever I have done, Jesus took care of it on the cross.  My past sins, He has forgiven me.  My unwise choices, He will restore the years that the locusts consumed. He also reminds me that some unwise or painful decisions eventually turned out to be a blessing later down the road.  For example, years ago, I had purchased a home, with the hopes of improving the quality of life for me and my kids.  I was still a baby Christian, so I didn’t seek the Lord in my decision to move an hour away from my mom and the city I called home for 30 years. I got caught up with the mentality that owning a home equates to being successful.  I loved having a big, spacious home, but the cost, upkeep and stress finally got the best of me, and I decided to sell it three years later.  Sometimes, when I am feeling discontented with our small living quarters now, I find myself looking back and wishing I still had that big home, but then I look at where I am at now, and I realize that I am in a much better place now.  If I hadn’t sold my home and moved to the city I am in now, I wouldn’t have found the church family that I have now. And, I wouldn’t have met my husband.  So things turned out much better in the end.

It is a little harder for me to overcome the regret of past sins. I think part of the reason is because of the religion that I was brought up in, living under the constant burden of guilt and shame.  I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and their stance on sin can be pretty harsh, with their discipline being very severe.  I was disfellowshipped, or shunned and ostracized, from this religion, which I had been raised in and a part of for 30 years, for being what they determined, an “unrepentant sinner”. Never mind that I had been heartbroken and depressed over my sin, and in tears when meeting with the panel of elders. They decided my fate, which ultimately soured my kids on religion and God, and sent me almost over the edge mentally and emotionally. But again, God was so wonderful, because he used this painful experience to get me to start seeking Him, the real Him, and I found Jesus, and became born again, and the chains of bondage to this religion was broken. Though my mind knows that I have complete forgiveness when I confessed my sins and accepted Jesus, I still battle in the heart with regret and shame, and it is a constant struggle that I am slowly overcoming, with His help.

As always, I find great comfort in finding examples in the bible of people who struggled with the same issues that I do.  Peter also struggled with regret. After telling Jesus he would lay down his life for him, it was only a few hours later that he denied Jesus three times.  Can you imagine how Peter felt after Jesus turned and looked at him after that last time of denying Him? It must have pierced Peter’s heart sharply, because it says “he turned and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).  But Jesus was so loving and merciful.  He forgave Peter and restored him when He reappeared after His resurrection. After asking Peter three times if he loved him and Peter responded in the affirmative, Jesus gave him three commands:  “feed My lambs, tend My sheep,  and feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).  I’m sure at times Peter must have felt regret and shame over his actions for the rest of his life, but he didn’t let it hinder him or hold him back from what Jesus called him to do, which was to shepherd, or pastor, His flock. He accepted Jesus’ grace and forgiveness, and he became a bold witness for Christ, ultimately dying for his faith, being crucified upside down.  Paul is another example.  I am sure he must have felt enormous regret over all the Christians he persecuted and killed prior to his conversion. He referred to himself as the “least of all apostles” and said “I am unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the house of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).  He referred to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), but he didn’t let his past hinder his future. He focused on what was ahead and on what was important: furthering the gospel, preaching it far and wide, and encouraging his brothers and sisters in faith with his eloquent and heartfelt letters to the churches. He said “but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ  Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). 


I am learning that in order for me to overcome my feelings of regret, I need to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and what he has done for me. He doesn’t judge my worth by my past mistakes or sins.  He has cast my sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). My life is not over because I have past failures. He is not done with me; He is the Author and Finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). As I was reflecting on it this week, the Lord reminded me that there is nothing good to be accomplished by looking back, and then he reminded me of Lot’s wife, and we know what happened to her when she looked back.  True, she was probably looking back because she was longing for the material things she enjoyed and did not want to leave that comfortable life behind, but isn’t that kind of what I’ve been doing? Longing for my younger years, so that my older self can make my younger self avoid the pain of costly mistakes, and make my younger years more easy and comfortable?  If they had been, I may not have been driven to seek the Lord, and submit myself to Him, because life might have been too good and comfortable and I would have been complacent living status quo.  I know that God uses painful situations and despair to get us to turn to Him, so that is another reason that I cannot live my life in regret, because God used my past failures to help me to be a better and wiser person now, so that I can perhaps share my stories and wisdom with someone else.  Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”, and this comforts me when I am feeling regretful over something. I think Paul was talking to me in Titus 3:3-7, when he said “we were also once foolish, disobedient and deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures”, but he reminds me that God, by his mercy, saved me, by the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”.  Oh, how great a comfort these words of encouragement are!