Friday, August 29, 2014

Day Forty: Pay Attention to My Prayers

READ:  1 Kings 8:22-30

(22-25) Before the entire congregation of Israel, Solomon took a position before the Altar, spread his hands out before heaven, and prayed,
O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way.  You kept your word to David my father, your personal word.  You did exactly what you promised--every detail.  The proof is before us today!
     Keep it up, God, O God of Israel!  Continue to keep the promises you made to David my father when you said, "You'll always have a descendant to represent my rule on Israel's throne, on the condition that your sons are as careful to live obediently in my presence as you have."
(26) O God of Israel, let all this happen; confirm and establish it!
(27-30) Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood?  Why, the cosmos itself isn't large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I've built.  Even so, I'm bold to ask:  Pay attention to these my prayers, both intercessory and personal, O God, my God.  Listen to my prayers, energetic and devout, that I'm setting before you right now.  Keep your eyes open to this Temple night and day, this place of which you said, "My name will be honored there," and listen to the prayers that I pray at this place.

THINK:  What's your immediate reaction to Solomon's candid prayer to God?  Think about the statements Solomon makes and the things he asks God to do.  Are they things you could let yourself ask of God?  Or do they indicate a belief in qualities of God that you have not encountered or experienced?  Which qualities?

I'm a sucker for adverbs; so, immediately, I latched on to the words unswervingly and relentlessly and sincerely.  God unswervingly keeps covenant with those who sincerely obey him and he loves them relentlessly.  When I read that, I wonder:  "Really?  What does that look like?"  This time a year ago, I would've asked the same questions but they would've been asked rhetorically and sarcastically (see, 2 more adverbs). Now…I just want to see.  We did sincerely obey God in our current situation.  If the word of God says that God keeps unswervingly to the covenant He made and that He relentlessly loves those who are sincerely obedient, then why are we in this position?  What covenant is He keeping when He lets injustice prevail?  Of course, I realize that this is where the relentless love part comes into play.  Because God loves us so relentlessly, He will not give up on us until we are perfected until the day of Christ Jesus.  Everything is working toward that end, to include this situation we are in.  I also know that the covenant He made, that He is keeping unswervingly, is the one that says that we will get to be with Him in paradise so long as we are sincerely obedient to His Way.  Other than that, we are also guaranteed to suffer as Christ suffered because the world will hate us as it hated (and still hates) Him.  And, he's doing a pretty good job of keeping His end of the bargain on that one too. 

Finally, the only other promise I know that God has made us, regarding our current situation He made to my mother and that had to do with taking care of me during this ordeal.  Well…we've been cared for.  Immensely!  Even if it hasn't looked like I wanted it to or prayed it would. 

PRAY:  Read Solomon's prayer again, this time listening for what stands out to you as representing the lack of belief you noticed in yourself when you read the passage the first time.  Explore your reaction more deeply, paying attention to what it tells you about yourself.  Maybe you feel that you can bring to God only desires that are completely selfless, or perhaps you don't trust that he "relentlessly loves" you.  Share with God what you uncover.

Dear Heavenly Father, in a day and age when so much love we receive is conditional, it is often hard to believe that there is anyone out there who would love us just because.  It is even harder to believe that someone would give their lives in return for what could be nothing.  Your love is easy to doubt because we just don't see it these days.  Fathers leave.  Marriages break apart.  Nothing is permanent anymore.  I know this is not the way you designed the world to be, but that's how it is and it makes coming to you, in faith, very difficult.  It's much easier to believe a person we can see loves us because they are there to demonstrate it visibly and tangibly.  So much of your love for us seems to be based on faith and sometimes we just want "proof" - and no, because we woke up today is often not proof enough.  Because the sun rose in the east and set in the west, and there's no real reason why is not proof enough.  I realize that means that there are many things we take for granted, Lord.  So many things.  And yet…here we are.  And unless Jesus returns in the middle of the night, I imagine that today is going to go pretty much like every other day in my life, with or without the bumps and bruises.  With all this, it's hard to feel like, or believe, that you would answer a prayer that is not completely selfless because we know that we have done nothing to deserve you answering any of our prayers.  It's much easier to have faith in your answering a prayer that is selfless than it is to believe you will answer a prayer that only seems to benefit ourselves because you don't want your children to be self-seeking.  So, Lord, my prayer, tonight, is that you would help us with our insecurities that drive us to feel like we have to justify everything we ask for that is just for ourselves.  We will have what you give us, but, as a Father, as a Good Parent, you want your children to also ask for the things they want, as well as for the things they need.  Help us to step out in faith and pray for those things, trusting that you will hear us and that you want to hear those prayers.  Help us to ask and keep asking; to seek and keep seeking; and to knock and keep knocking.  Lastly, Lord, please, pay attention to our prayers. 
          In Your Son's Precious and Holy Name, I pray…Amen.

LIVE:  Ignatius of Loyola once said, "Everything that one turns in the direction of God is prayer."  No matter what has arisen in you during this time - irritation, fear, desire, disinterest, lack of trust in God - it can all be prayer when shared with him; it's all part of your conversation with God.  Notice how Solomon lets his anxiety and insecurity spill into his prayer to God, and allow yourself to do the same.

Day Thirty-Nine: A Dream Fulfilled

READ:  1 Kings 5:1-5

(1-4) Hiram king of Tyre sent ambassadors to Solomon when he heard that he had been crowned king in David's place.  Hiram had loved David his whole life.  Solomon responded, saying, "You know that David my father was not able to build a temple in honor of God because of the wars he had to fight on all sides, until God finally put them down.  But now God has provided peace all around--no one against us, nothing at odds with us.
(5) "Now here is what I want to do:  Build a temple in honor of God, my God, following the promise that God gave to David my father, namely 'Your son whom I will provide to succeed you as king, he will build a house in my honor.'"

THINK:  Read the passage aloud slowly again, especially verses 3-5.
  1. Listen for the words or phrases that stand out to you--perhaps one of these
    1. "build a temple in honor of God"
    2. "wars he had to fight on all sides, until God finally put them down"
    3. "God has provided peace all around--no one against us, nothing at odds with us"
    4. "here is what I want to do…in honor of God, my God, following the promise that God gave"

These phrases indicate that David lived an interactive life with God and that Solomon is attempting to do the same.  They also refer to David and Solomon's dream coming true.  David had wisely let go of his dream of building the temple, while Solomon was now taking the next step by implementing the dream.
  1. What dreams have you had?
  2. What dreams have you let go of or picked up?

I've had several dreams over the years.  For instance, in high school, I wanted to be a test pilot.  Then, I realized that it would be impossible because I had poor eyesight.  That was fine.  I gave that dream up.  Another dream that I had - when I was in 4th grade or so - was that, one day, I would marry someone who had a dark complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes.  That dream came true.  I've been married to that man for going-on-21-years.  Some dreams have come true; others have fallen by the wayside.  But, I am of the opinion that there is a difference between having a dream and just dreaming.  But, I also believe that either one can take the place of God in a person's life and, if that happens, then God has this uncanny way of making sure you know that if it's a dream from Him, it will happen in His timing, and if it isn't, it won't happen.  Of the dreams I've had (and still have) I don't know if I can tell you which ones are from God and which ones are not.  I figure, if it's from God, then it'll happen because nothing can subvert the will of God.  If it isn't, it won't happen. 

Perhaps this is why the verse of the 4 passages above that speaks to me is the last one.  I can honestly say that my goals have not all been so honorable as to only desire to honor God.  Some of my dreams have only been about bringing honor to myself.  But, at this time in my life, I'm learning that if it isn't about God first, it isn't going to work out.  He won't allow it.  As for following any specific promise, I've only felt like I've ever been given one promise (the promise of our third child), and that one has been fulfilled.  Other than that, I know we are promised Heaven and that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  These days, that's just about all I feel like I can hold on to without running the risk of latching onto a false hope and having it dashed on the rocks by a wave of disappointment.  And…I'm learning to be okay with that. 

Don't get me wrong.  I still pray and ask for what I want, but after being told "no" and "wait" so many times this past 3 years, I'm learning to trust that I'm going to get what God wants me to have when He wants me to have it or whenever He has adequately prepared me for it, and it for me.  He has to do it that way because, otherwise, I'd be running headlong after the gift instead of the Giver.

PRAY:  Talk to God about the phrases in the passage that hint at dreams you have.  Ask God to give you wisdom about whether you need to let go of these dreams or pick them up.  Ask God for vision and power to take your next step.

Abba Father, you have made each of us with our own special set of appetites and dreams and desires and wishes.  Only you can deliver unto each of us those things you desire us to have or those things that we need to help us grow into the people you want us to be in order to fulfill the purpose for which you designed us. Though it will be painful, strip away those things that do not conform to Your Will and Your Purpose for our lives.  Help us to see that there is nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a dream because You created us to be emotional beings.  But, help us, also, to see that we are led by faith and not by feelings, so we do not have to be tossed about on waves of indecision and fickle emotions and appetites, and we can bring our wills into submission to Yours despite how we feel.  Grant us an extra measure of grace to accept on faith those things we cannot yet understand and are not yet ready to see.  Remember that we are just dust and we are going to fall, and please be patient with us as we are all fallible, but we are trying. 

For the person out there tonight who feels like you have turned their back, I pray for peace.  Lord, you did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert to die, but you did it to prove to them that YOU were all they needed.  Help them to see that it is because You love your people that you lead them into places where they have to rely on You and You Alone, otherwise we never learn that You are all we need.

For people who feel like you are always saying WAIT and that their dreams are always being put on hold, I pray that you would strengthen their spirits.  They that wait on the Lord will renew their strength and they will mount up with wings as eagles because Your Word says so and Your Word does not return to You void.  That means, if you said it, it has as much as happened.  But you exist outside of time and space and sometimes it is hard to be so eternally minded when we live in such a microwave world.  Lord, we believe, only help our unbelief.

Thank you, Lord, for your LONG-SUFFERING.  You are forever having to be patient with us, and yet, you desire that none should perish but that all should come to you.  Thank you for not giving up on us when we are ready to throw in the towel on ourselves.  Thank you that we do not have to live in the past and thank you that tomorrow does not have to be like today because your mercies are new every morning and you will give us THIS DAY our daily bread.

In Jesus' Name, I pray…….Amen.

LIVE:  Relish the peace that God gives, knowing that dreams don't have to be realized today.  Maybe ponder and pursue your next step.  Put on the idea of readiness and see if it fits.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Day Thirty-Eight: God Feels the Pain

THE PASSAGE:  2 Samuel 24:13-17, 25 (EXPANDED PASSAGE:  2 SAMUEL 24)

(13) Gad came to deliver the message:  "Do you want three years of famine in the land, or three months of running from your enemies while they chase you down, or three days of an epidemic on the country?  Think it over and make up your mind.  What shall I tell the one who sent me?"
(14) David told Gad, "They're all terrible!  But I'd rather be punished by God, whose mercy is great, than fall into human hands."
(15-16) So God let loose an epidemic from morning until suppertime.  From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand people died.  But when the angel reached out over Jerusalem to destroy it, God felt the pain of the terror and told the angel who was spreading death among the people, "Enough's enough!  Pull back!"
          The angel of God had just reached the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  Davie looked up and saw the angel hovering between earth and sky, sword drawn and about to strike Jerusalem.  David and the elders bowed in prayer and covered themselves with rough burlap.
(17) When David saw the angel about to destroy the people, he prayed, "Please!  I'm the one who sinned; I, the shepherd, did the wrong.  But these sheep, what did they do wrong?  Punish me and my family, not them."…
(25) He built an altar to God there and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings.  God was moved by the prayers and that was the end of the disaster

READ:  Skim the expanded passage.  Now read the excerpt three times carefully.

THINK/PRAY:  Set the text aside and imaginatively replay the story, inserting yourself as a character in it.  Perhaps you will be one of David's elders, or David himself.
          What do you think and feel as you hear God's words of discipline?  What do you experience as you walk through this tension-filled and tragic day?  What do you see?  Hear?  Smell?  What questions do you have for God?  Are you angry?  Afraid?  Talk to him.
          As the end of the day approaches and you see God's interaction with the angel, what is that like for you?  When God's heart is changed by David's prayers, what thoughts and feelings bubble up in you?  Express them to God.

LIVE:  C. S. Lewis wrote, "[Each sinful act leaves a mark] on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure--or enjoy--for ever.  One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that, however angry he gets, he will only be laughed at.  But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both."  Are there any "little marks" on your soul that you haven't talked about with God?  Explore recent experiences, reactions, thoughts, and feelings you've had.  What do they tell you about what's inside your heart?  Talk to God about this, and make note of any action that you feel he is leading you to.

So…I don't really want to do the activity suggested by this week's reading.  Furthermore, even if I did do the activity (or rather, when I do the activity), I don't know that it's necessary I share with you what my "little marks" are for you to benefit from this blog.  Call it an effort to practice discretion in whether or not to participate in full disclosure or fear, but I’m not going to share all my little marks (though, admittedly, I've shared quite a few already).   But, I will share what has struck me about this passage.

God felt their pain.  God felt their pain, and David's prayer for deliverance or mercy was enough for God to stay His hand (or the angel's hand).  I don't mind saying that hearing that David's prayers for mercy being answered while mine weren't would've been grounds for me to throw a fit this time a year ago.  If God really felt our pain, why didn't he deliver us from our circumstances?  That would've been my prayer a year ago.  Honestly, that probably would've been my prayer as recently as 6 months ago, too.  Because, you see, when I feel pain, my first reaction is to recoil.  When I see others feeling pain, I want to rush in and alleviate it, if I can.  I realize that this is not always a smart move.  Sometimes people need to live in their pain because they need to know what the consequences are.  Sometimes people don't have a choice but to live in their pain because God refuses to move them until His purposes have been fulfilled. 

But there's one thing I've come to believe about suffering.  It doesn't matter the cause of the suffering.  It doesn't matter the delivery method of said suffering.  Anybody who is suffering - everybody who is suffering - has to deal with God over that suffering.  Some press in and draw closer to Him.  Some jerk their hand out of his and try to take back control of their lives.  Others turn their backs on Him.  Regardless, we all have to decide where we go from here (wherever our "here" is when the suffering starts). 

Maybe you are like me and wondering where God was when you were crying out for your deliverance from the injustice in the world.  Maybe you just wanted to catch a break just this once because all your life you've felt like you've always gotten the short end of the stick.  Maybe you are just tired of the "bad guys" always winning while the "good guys" always seem to come in second.  I don't know where you are in life right now, but I bet there's a good chance that you've wondered how God let it get where it is.  And if your life is just fine right now, I bet you can remember a time when you felt that way.  But…if you've neither been in either position, let me tell you - it's coming.  The question is:  what are you going to do with your suffering?  Are you going to let it make you bitter and dried up on the inside?  Or…are you going to let it do its transformative work, making you look more and more like Christ as time goes by?  Will you throw in the towel?  Or will you get up, dust yourself off, pick your gloves back up, and fight for another day?

My prayer is that you will fight.  His mercies really are new every morning.  And you only need strength for the day you are on.  You can hold on to yesterday's victories and you can't borrow from tomorrow.  You have to do the best you can with the measure of grace you've been given today. 

Dear Heavenly Father, if there is anyone out there right now thinking about quitting in whatever form that may look like for them (suicide, divorce, back-sliding), I pray that you would send someone their way to encourage them to hold on just a little while longer.  I pray that you would intervene supernaturally in such a way that they have no doubt that you have visited them tonight and they would be strengthened and comforted by the thought that "this too shall pass."  Show them that you do feel their pain, that you are intimately touched when they are suffering.  Show them that this was never your plan for your Creation, that you long to be in communion and relationship with us, and show them that you have made a way for them to come back into the fold.  I pray for anyone who is reading this who may be hurting and needs comforting.  You alone, O Lord, are the Great Comforter.  To who else can we turn when things have gone wrong.  You are the creator of the universe.  You knew us before we were formed in our mothers' wombs and you know every single hair on our heads.  You alone know exactly what it is we need when we are hurting.  Meet the needs of those who may be hurting tonight, Dear Lord, as only you can. 

I pray all these things in Your Son's Precious and Holy Name, the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Day Thirty-Seven: Loving Those in the Here and Now

READ: 2 Samuel 19:1-8  Read the passage aloud slowly.  Absalom had rebelled against his father, David, and took over Israel.  As David mourns Absalom, the people who defended him and brought him back with honor are listening.

          (1-4) Joab was told that David was weeping and lamenting over Absalom.  The day's victory turned into a day of mourning as word passed through the army, "David is grieving over his son."  The army straggled back to the city that day demoralized, dragging their tails.  And the king held his face in his hands and lamented loudly,
          O my son Absalom,
          Absalom my dear, dear son!
          (5-7) But in private Joab rebuked the king: " Now you've done it--knocked the wind out of your loyal servants who have just saved your life, to say nothing of the lives of your sons and daughters, wives and concubines.  What is this--loving those who hate you and hating those who love you?  Your actions give a clear message:  officers and soldiers mean nothing to you.  You know that if Absalom were alive right now, we'd all be dead - would that make you happy?  Get hold of yourself; get out there and put some heart into your servants!  I swear to God that if you don't go to the  they'll desert; not a soldier will be left here by nightfall.  And that will be the worst thing that has happened yet."
           (8) So the king came out and took his place at the city gate.  Soon everyone knew: "Oh, look!  The king has come out to receive us."  And his whole army came and presented itself to the king.  But the Israelites had fled the field of battle and gone home.

THINK:  Read the passage aloud slowly again.  David did what we often do.  He lived in regret.  He wanted what he used to have and what he couldn't now have.  As a result, he undervalued and discouraged the people who had stood by him and helped him.
1. Who do you identify with more:  David or the army?
2.  Consider their feelings:  David living in regret; the army feeling ignored and discarded.
3.  Consider their next steps:  David turning his heart to the people around him who loved him; the army speaking up and stating their needs to a hurting person.

If I am to be honest, I've spent a lot of time this past year-and-a-half moping and whining about what I don't have.  I've tried not to send the message that I thought I was the only person going through this.  I know that I am not.  But I am not sure if I have done a good job of making sure the people who love me know that I know what this has cost them.  I would say it.  But then, I would continue with my complaining and my pity party.  People have been kind.  Most people close to me cannot imagine what it would be like to be in my shoes.  And, to be fair, most of them are going through things I do not want to experience either.  But, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because I am in a somewhat "needy" position, I do not have resources to meet the needs of others.  Or, even easier than that, to fall into the trap the Enemy would set that would say that because I am in a needy position, I have the right to wallow in my pity.  Or, to check out of life because I didn't get my way.  To pack up my toys and go home until God lets me have my way. 


PRAY:  Pray for yourself and others, especially that they'll see and implement any possible next steps (for example, moving out of regret and valuing the people in front of them, or speaking up to someone who is devaluing others).

Dear Heavenly Father, help us to remember that, every day, we need you.  You are Sovereign and nothing can thwart Your Will being done in the lives of those who are called by You for Your Purposes.  When times get hard, and they most certainly will, help us to rest in the knowledge that all things do work together for the good of those who love You.  And help us to be patient and steadfast when what is good for us is not comfortable or when it is downright painful.  Show us those people standing with us whom we may have overlooked or slighted by our complaining and whining, and show us ways that we can be a blessing to those who have blessed us in our hard times.  Show us the reserves we have stored up, out of which we can bless others.  Help us not to be stingy with our gifts (spiritual, physical, emotional, or financial); trusting that you will take care of those who you have called to be generous.  And, help us to be good stewards of those gifts: not throwing them around aimlessly, but using them the way you would have us to use them, to bless others and to glorify your name. 
In Your Son's Precious and Holy Name, the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

LIVE:  Let your mind rest in glad appreciation for those who stand by you.  Ask God for opportunities to bless them.  Then in the dailiness of life, look for those opportunities.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Day Thirty-Six: An Absalom Moment

READ:  2 Samuel 15:3-6  (Read this five times.)
Then Absalom would say, "Look, you've got a strong case; but the king isn't going to listen to you."  Then he'd say, "Why doesn't someone make me a judge for this country?  Anybody with a case could bring it to me and I'd settle things fair and square."  Whenever someone would treat him with special honor, he'd shrug it off and treat him like an equal, making him feel important.  Absalom did this to everyone who came to do business with the king and stole the hearts of everyone in Israel

THINK:  "There are point in our lives (more often than we would like to admit) when we are attempt consciously or subconsciously to promote ourselves in unhealthy and selfish ways.  We puff ourselves up, brag about our accomplishments, and embellish the truth."
          "Absalom, the son of King David, promotes himself for selfish gain in front of those who came to the city gate.  The text says he "stole the hearts of everyone in Israel."
          "When are you most tempted to steal the hearts of everyone in_______________?  Think about your most recent Absalom moment.  Consider the roots of your temptation and how you might avoid it in the future."

I have to admit that there have been plenty of times when I have wanted to steal people's hearts by coming off as pleasing or by showing off my work.  In fact, I used to get my husband's hand and lead him through the house when he came from work just to show him what all I had done for the day so that he could tell me "Good Job."  I justified it by telling myself that if I didn't do that, he probably wouldn't notice.  Now…just so you know, I'm not that far off.  However, I heard a sermon several years ago that left me feeling rather convicted of those activities.  This sermon included the scripture that says that we are supposed to do everything as unto the Lord, and that we should be storing up treasures for ourselves in Heaven AND that it is better for God to promote us than it is for us to try to promote ourselves because Our Father who sees those things done in secret will reward us.

That being said, more often than not, I am guilty of fishing for compliments.  I have a tendency to downplay what I've done anyway, but when someone turns around and counters that with a compliment on how well I've done, it can feed the ego.  There have been times, I won't lie, when I have thrown out those statements as bait, just hoping someone would bite and I'd get my compliment "fix".  However, there have been plenty of times when I've thrown out that bait and never gotten a bite.  It's a bad habit that I still struggle with occasionally, but I am getting used to letting God honor me for being obedient to him rather than stealing His chance to do so by seeking out my own form of praise.

PRAY:  "Spend time inviting God to remind you that he loves you just the way you are, that you cannot earn his approval.  Welcome God to show you your true identity as his child, an identity that is defined not by what you do, but by who you are and to whom you belong."

Dear Heavenly Father, I know you do not make mistakes.  Therefore, there is not a single person on Earth who is not exactly how you intended them to be.  Therefore, we all have been designed to fulfill a unique person.  Lord, please help me and each person reading this to remember that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that you knew us before you knitted us together in our mothers' wombs, and to behave in a manner worthy of our divine calling, rather than sitting around complaining that we are not like "so-n-so."  You love us, and want each of us to know that and to experience the truth of that love deep down in our hearts and spirits.  Help us to know what that looks like and to trust it, walking in it daily, without fear of rejection.

LIVE:  "Ask a good friend to gently keep you accountable when you begin to promote yourself in front of others.  Be ready to accept your friend's input."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Day Thirty-Five: Reflections on Week 5

Well…what a week this has been.

It's back to school time for me.  My first of 3 fall classes began on Monday:  Psychopathology and Counseling.  As one of my required textbooks, I had to obtain the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition).  The book is about 2 inches thick and has just about every common diagnosis a counselor or mental health worker could come across.  It's pretty interesting, but I have to be careful that I don't read it looking for all the ways my family members and I match up with the descriptions I come across.  This could be hazardous to my relationships.  But even that thought makes me aware just how easy it could be, potentially, to use a book like this and begin to see people as a diagnosis rather than as a hurting person.  I hope this is not a trap I am going to have to worry about falling into, but I will certainly pray against it because there is one thing that my counseling education has always stressed:  beware of thinking you cannot or will not fall into a certain trap because that thing is not your issue.  That will be the very place where you have left yourself unprotected, and you will eventually fall.

A recurring theme for me seems to be discipline.  With the beginning of class, comes the need to be more disciplined about getting my school work done, and about watching how many activities I allow to fill my days.  Not only do those activities affect my school work; they affect my son's homework schedule as well.  The bad part about homeschooling can often be that, without setting solid priorities and sticking to them, it is far too easy to just go about life (just like in the summer) and put school on hold until tomorrow.  But, as we all know, tomorrow never comes.  For me, having a deadline of Sunday at 11:59 pm is fantastic because I always make that deadline.  However, I find that there are times when I have spent too much time out having fun and have to do homework on Sundays.  Just like this week.  This is going to have to change. 

I have been up entirely too late too many nights in a row since returning from Liberty University.  I am going to have to return in about 6 weeks.  I need to go back to the schedule I had before I went to my first intensives; otherwise, I'm not going to be ready to get up and get my day started at 8 a.m.  Another bad thing about staying up too late?  I don't actually make up for the sleep I lost.  It doesn't seem to matter if I go to bed at 10 pm or 2 am.  I am going to be up no later than 7:30 most days.  I do infinitely better on more sleep than less.  I know this…and yet, I've still been staying up too late.  This is going to have to stop.

Finally, the kids and I have not made it to the beach this summer.  We live 2 hours away from the Atlantic, or 40 minutes away from the Chesapeake Bay.  Sand, sun, and salt water are beckoning to me.  I am going to have to listen.  For me, there are not many  things more relaxing than the sound of crashing waves.  And sitting there watching my kids build sand castles, or dig in the sand to watch their holes fill up with water.  Or watching my daughter, the artist, carve animals out of the sand.  Those are just the best. 

So…Dear Heavenly Father, please help me to be diligent and disciplined this coming week, both for myself and my health, but also as an example to my children, for it is only by taking care of myself that I am at my best to take care of my children and to do the work you have called me to do.  In Your Son's Name I Pray, Amen.

Day Thirty-Four: Honoring Others

READ: 2 Samuel 9:8-13
(8) Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, "Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?"
(9-10) David then called in Ziba, Saul's right-hand man, and told him, "Everything that belonged to Saul and his family, I've handed over to your master's grandson.  You and your sons and your servants will work his land and bring in the produce, provisions for your master's grandson.  Mephibosheth himself, your master's grandson, from now on will take all his meals at my table."  Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.
(11-12) "All that my master the king has ordered his servant," answered Ziba, "your servant will surely do."
          And Mephibosheth ate at David's table, just like one of the royal family.  Mephibosheth also had a small son named Mica.  All who were part of Ziba's household were now the servants of Mephibosheth.
(13) Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king's table.  He was lame in both feet.

When you go back to the first part of the chapter you find that this story of Mephibosheth actually begins with Jonathan.  Jonathan was always a loyal friend to David and David wanted to repay that loyalty.  So, David was looking for a way to honor his best friend after Saul's death and this is what he chose to do. 

THINK:  Pause to become aware of how you relate to what is unfolding here.  Which character do you identify with, if any?  Why?

Initially, when I read this, I identified with Mephibosheth.  I have been the recipient of much kindness over the past year and a half, and have found myself saying, many times:  "Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?"  I'm not lame, like Mephibosheth, but I feel like I've got enough baggage to make anyone second guess taking on a stray such as myself. 

PRAY:  Read the story a second time, being aware of memories, thoughts, or ideas it triggers.  Read it one last time, listening for how the story's message about honoring others relates to what it in you today.  Spend time meditating on what you discover.

After reading the story a second time, I found myself thinking, "Well, who could I honor, in my current situation?"  I don't have much monetarily that I could pass on, but surely this passage can extend beyond monetary or material blessings.

Sometimes, it's hard to bust out of the habit of always being taken care of and into the habit of helping others.  It can be equally as hard to be the one being taken care of when you are used to being the one doing the caring for.  I have found myself in both situations over this past year or so.  I prefer to be the one doing the caring for.  Usually.  But, sometimes, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have nothing to give when you are in a situation where God seems to have taken "everything" from you.  What I’m seeing is that, though I don't have much, I still have myself, my time, compassion, patience, and kindness that I can give to others.  And, often times, those gifts can be even more valuable than anything monetary.

LIVE:  Ask God if there is something he is specifically inviting you to do based on your reading today.  Is there anything standing in your way of responding?  Explore it with God.  Talk to him about what holds you back form following him completely.

As I was getting ready for church this morning, I was thinking about this passage, and more-or-less, asking God to show me what it meant, or if there was someone that I could honor today.  I have to admit:  when I first read this passage, I had an idea of someone I could honor.  This lady is one that has been hard for me to get to know because, in my experience, she can be a bit on the clingy side.  Today, I had a chance to serve her.  And, there was a new family at our church (they sat right behind me in the church service), who had a child in my Sunday School class, that I was able to serve and greet.  My goal was to help them feel welcome.  I hope they did.  And I hope I wasn't the only one.  But, I was to be obedient to God's urging, whether He urged anyone else that same direction or not.

Dear Lord, help me to remember that my situation, my circumstances are never so dire that I cannot reach out and honor others by choosing to put myself on the back burner for a while.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Day Thirty-Three: God's Track Record with Me

READ: 2 Samuel 7:18, 20-23, 28-29

(18, 20-21) King David went in, took his place before God, and prayed: "Who am I, My Master God, and what is my family, that you have brought to me this place in life?...What can I possibly say in the face of all this?  You know me, Master God, just as I am.  You've done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are - out of your very heart! - but you've let me in on it.
(22-23) "This is what makes you so great, Master God!  There is none like you, no God but you, nothing to compare with what we've heard with our own ears.  And who is like your people, like Israel, a nation unique in the earth, whom God set out to redeem for himself (and became most famous for it), performing great and fearsome acts, throwing out nations and their gods left and right as you saved your people from Egypt?...
(28-29) "And now, Master God, being the God you are, speaking sure words as you do, and having just said this wonderful thing to me, please, just one more thing:  Bless my family; keep your eye on them always.  You've already as much as said that you would, Master God!  Oh, may your blessing be on my family permanently!"

THINK:  Read the passage even more slowly and deliberately, considering every word.  Listen for the line that resonates with you and read it again after you finish the passage.  Pause.  Consider any of the following issues, letting God nudge you.
 (1) In what ways has God changed you that you can be grateful for?
(2) What has God brought you out of?
(3) How has God been heroic regarding you ("performing great and fearsome acts, throwing out nations and their gods left and right"?)
(4) What would you like to ask God for regarding the future?

I don't know if I would immediately use the word "changed" so much as I would use "changing" because I can tell that God is changing me.  And not just me, but my husband and kids too.  Amazing, isn't it, how being in the middle of a crisis in which your hands are tied, that you find you have to let God do all the heavy lifting, while you do all the kneeling and praying?!  I also find it personally fascinating how I can keep falling back into old habits of wanting to take care of everything myself when I know that God's plan has to be better for me than mine.

God has brought me out of many things over the course of my life.  And though he has delayed in bringing me out of my current uncomfortable situation, I know that my deliverance is coming.  I don't know when it will be, but I do know that it is guaranteed, even if that means the Jesus has returned. 

There have been plenty of great and fearsome acts performed on my behalf over the course of this ordeal, I am sure, but I don't think that I will ever know - this side of Heaven - what they all are.  I don't need to see all that God is doing just to know that He has been working.  He is always working.  But, when I get to Heaven, I would like to ask God for the chance to see just how this ordeal we've been going through has helped others. 

There are many things that I would like to ask God for regarding the future, but aside from releasing my husband so that he can come home to his family, I don't know where to start.   So many things hinge on his being home that it's hard to even know what to ask for.

PRAY:  Pray through the above passage, innovating and personalizing your prayer according to the questions in the Think section.

LIVE:  Give this a try:  Consider the line from the passage that caught your attention and put it into a tune from a song you already know (or make a tune up, if you wish).  Sing that line and then sit in the quiet.  Sing it again and sit in the quiet.  Sing it one more and sit in the quiet.

I don't know how many of you that read this actually do the activities laid out in this book.  But this one would be neat to do.  God inhabits the praises of his people, so just imagine how much closer to him you could draw if you were willing to drop your guard, your defenses and worship God the way He deserves.

In order to pray effectively, you have to be willing to drop that guard too.  It takes guts to ask God for things most people don't want, or don't think or know they want.  You are entering into brand new territory when you do that (new territory for you, but not to God).  So take a chance.  Pray the Prayer of Jabez and ask God to bless you so that you can be a blessing to others.  And then, go be a blessing to people who really need it.  Then, be willing to hold up your end of the bargain.

On a more personal note:  The line in this passage that really stuck out to me was:

"You've done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are - out of your very heart! - but you've let me in on it."

When our ordeal started, I was mad about the accusation that was made against my husband.  We had taken this person into our home, poured out our hearts and did everything we could to make this individual welcome and safe.  Then, we were betrayed.  My mother suggested that maybe God was wanting to do a work in this person's life, and all I could think was:
 Did it have to be at our expense? 
Her response to that was:  Is He working at your expense or is He working through you?
My response:  "Well, it feels like it's at our expense since we are the ones suffering. 
I don't know what the other individual was going through at the time.  I do have a pretty good guess, but a guess is all it is, and mostly likely that's all it ever will be.  And that's fine. 

But as our situation goes on, I can't help but wonder what it is God is doing that He's not ready to let us see yet.  I know He has a plan and that He is working on it even as I write this.  My nearly insatiable curiosity prompts me to ask Him everyday for a glimpse into what He is doing so that I can "really know" that there is a point behind all of this.  Then, my faith reminds me that I don't need to see what God is doing to know that He is doing something and that it will be for my good, for my husband's good, for the good of our children, and their children, and everyone we come into contact with from here on out.  But…you know, I still want to know.  I still want to see.  But…if I did see, I know what I would do.  I would try to get my hands all over whatever it is He is doing.  I would try to rationalize and call it helping, but really it would be trying to exercise some control over the situation, and likely, in the hope that people would praise me for what I'd done.  I am convinced that is why God has let most of my grandiose plans fizzle before they ever really have a chance to get off the ground.  He intends to get ALL the glory for ALL the good that comes out of this situation, and He wants me to know that and come to terms with it.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Day Thirty-Two: Pain, Disappointment, and Heartbreak

READ:  2 Samuel 1:24-27

(24-25) Women of Israel, weep for Saul.
              He dressed you in the finest cottons and silks,
              spared no expense in making you elegant.
     The mighty warriors--fallen, fallen
              in the middle of the fight!
              Jonathan--struck down on your hills!
(26) O my dear brother Jonathan,
              I'm crushed by your death.
        Your friendship was a miracle-wonder,
              love far exceeding anything I've known--
              or ever hope to know
(27) The mighty warriors--fallen, fallen.
              And the arms of war broken to bits.

THINK:  Sometimes pain and suffering are the central emotions of our hearts.  We cannot avoid pain and suffering, but we can control how we respond to them.  David's reaction is to be honest and open about the pain rather than avoid it or pretend it wasn't there.
               What is your response to the heartbreak?  Do you think David's response is healthy?  Why or why not?  What thoughts and feelings go through you as David's honors the evil king in death?

My response to heartbreak is to question my worth.  I wonder if God just didn't love me enough to answer my prayer the way I wanted is answered.  Did I do enough?  Was I good enough?  Did I behave well enough?  Those are the thoughts that run through my head.  I've been advised by several people:  "Tell God what 's wrong.  He already knows anyway.  He's big enough to take it."  That's wonderful advice, but if it doesn't change the situation, sometimes it feels more like God's not really paying attention. 

PRAY:  Think of the pain and heartbreak you have experienced in your lifetime.  Maybe that pain is a current reality.  Though doing so may be difficult, spend time expressing your pain in a lament to God.  See him alternatively listening to you and reaching out to comfort you.  What does it feel like to be comforted?

Sadly, I do have some current pain.  In the sense of:  I do not really want to be in the middle of the situation I am in.  It is uncomfortable for me and I don't want to mess with this anymore.   But God has heard my prayers of lament and He has shown up and blessed me, just right when I needed it most. 

LIVE:  Live knowing that God is loving enough to listen to you and big enough to care for you in your pain.

Day Thirty-One: Honoring and Valuing Others

READ:  1 Samuel 26:7-11

(7) So David and Abishai entered the encampment by night, and there he was--Saul, stretched out asleep at the center of the camp, his speak stuck in the ground hear his head, with Abner and the troops sound asleep on all sides.
(8) Abishai said, "This is the moment!  God has put your enemy in your grasp.  Let me nail him to the ground with his spear.  One hit will do it, believe me; I won't need a second!"
(9) But David said to Abishai, "Don't you dare hurt him!  Who could lay a hand on God's anointed and even think of getting away with it?"
(10-11) He went on, "As God lives, either God will strike him, or his time will come and he'll die in bed, or he'll fall in battle, but God forbid that I should lay a finger on God's anointed.  Now, grab the spear at his head and the water jug and let's get out of here."

THINK:  Earlier in 1 Samuel, God anointed David to be the future king of Israel, even though Saul was still on the throne.  This man, overcome with cruelty, jealousy, evil, and insecurity, then repeatedly attempted to take David's life.  For many years, David hid from Saul's army.
          One night, David and Abishai sneak into Saul's camp, and there Abishai notices the perfect opportunity to kill Saul.  But David refuses.  David is so certain of God's sovereignty that he refuses to kill Saul.
          We all have enemies, big or small, and desire for them to come to ruin.  Yet ponder the interchange between Saul and David in verses 21-24.

PRAY:  Think of the people you consider your enemies.  Pray for them and ask God to help you honor them, even though doing so may seem impossible.

LIVE:  Seek out intentional opportunities to honor those who dishonor you and to value the lives of those who do not value you.

At this time in my life, I believe I am fortunate to be able to say that there is nobody that I hate.  I have had a hard time dealing with people who have made false accusations against us.  I have had a hard time dealing with the people who did not really defend my husband.  But, I cannot say that I hate them.  I do not wish ill upon them.  I do not hope that Jesus comes back before any of them should become saved (if they aren't already).  I do not even really wish for a retrial.  For as much as I want vindication, I do not really want it as someone else's expense, even though they didn't mind getting their false vindication at our expense.   But…that has not always been the case in my life.  There have been plenty of times when I have wanted the person who hurt me to pay for what they did to me.  But all that ever did for me was keep me in bondage to the person who hurt me and to the event that happened.  What it did was kept me from living a life of freedom that God calls His children to live. 

I wish I could say that everyone I knew was sitting in this same boat with me and that there weren't people in my life who felt the same way I do, but that would be foolish.  There are plenty of people who would take up our cause for us, and seek out the people responsible for our current situation.  I know because they've told us that they are merely waiting for the word "GO."  That word, I assure them all, will not come from us.  No good purpose is going to be served by our seeking revenge.  Vengeance belongs to the Lord.  So, regardless of how badly I've been hurt, I have to believe that God knows what He's doing better than me, and that He has an ultimate plan for this thing in our lives.  This plan, I am convinced, is one that will, if at all possible, end up with all possible parties being reconciled back to Himself.  Sometimes that means He has to bend us.  Sometimes that means He has to break us.  Sometimes he just breaks off a shard and glues it back into place.  Sometimes, He throws down the whole jar and so that He can be the one to put all the pieces back together.  BUT, He always puts everything back together and, when He's done, the piece is stronger than it was before.  And I know that, if I try to handle things, this will not be the base. 

I don't always understand.  In fact, I think I don't even understand 1/4 of the time.  But, the longer I walk this path, the more I realize that I don't have to understand it.  I don't have to explain it.  I just have to walk it.  And keep walking.  And keep walking, until He takes me home.

Day Thirty: And God Help You!

READ:  1 Samuel 17:31-40

(31) The thing David was saying were picked up and reported to Saul.  Saul sent for him.
(32) "Master," said David, "don't give up hope.  I'm ready to go and fight this Philistine."
(33) Saul answered David, "You can't go and fight this Philistine.  You're too young and inexperienced--and he's been at this fighting business since before you were born."
(34-37) David said, "I've been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father.  Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I'd go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb.  If it turned on me, I'd grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it.  Lion or bear, it made no difference--I killed it.  And I'll do the same to this Philistine pig who is taunting the troops of God-Alive.  God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.
          Saul said, "Go.  And God help you!"
(38-39) Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor.  He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor.  David tried to walk but he could hardly budge.
          David told Saul, "I can't even move with all this stuff on me.  I'm not used to this."  And he took it all off.
(40) Then David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

THINK:  What one particular event, character, or feature of the story stands out to you?  Take time to concentrate on that.  Are you drawn to David's courage?  Are you repulsed by Saul's disbelieving "God help you"?  Maybe you're surprised when David rejects Saul's armor.  Consider what your own reaction would be, and then consider how the characters in the story reacted.  As you meditate, allow God to show you more about yourself, him, and the way life is.

Of course, David's courage intrigues me.  But to be honest, what stands out to me in this passage is what he tells Saul.  "I've been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I'd go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb.  If it turned on me, I'd grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it."  Not many weeks ago, our newest Pastor - Mr. Ryan Cox - gave a sermon on James and referenced the part of David's life he spent as a shepherd.  He was "just" a shepherd.  So unimportant in the ways of the world that when Samuel went looking for a man to replace Saul - who had fallen out of favor with God - David's father, Jesse, didn't even bother to call him from the field.  He was the youngest of 8 and only tended sheep.  But, from this passage, we can tell that "only tending sheep" had served him pretty well. 

Many times, I overlook what I've been through, thinking that it's "just" me.  If I can do it, then anybody can; so, what's the big deal.  But, I'm coming to realize that the things I've gone through have prepared me for my life so far, and they will continue to do so for the rest of my life, if I learn the lessons available at each stage. 

I've always been surprised that David rejected Saul's armor.  Why on earth would anybody do that?  But, mostly that reaction stems from the fact that I have always tried to hedge my bets and make my life as safe as I possibly can.  Why…when you have a perfectly good set of armor, would you walk out onto a battlefield without it, to fight a person - a giant - who has slain every soldier that has ever come up against him.  What I'm learning about God, the longer I walk with Him, is that there is NO ROOM for a Plan B.  God's way is the plan.  Period.  He is THE WAY.  Putting on a suit of armor in order to satisfy some "just in case" notion is the same as telling God, "Yes, I know you SAY you've got this, but I think I should help you out some."  What arrogance!  What pride!  To think that God has so little control over a situation He placed us in that He would need us to help Him.  And if we needed to help him, would He be a God worth worshipping?  Couldn't we just find someone strong enough to help us if we couldn't do it ourselves? 

PRAY/LIVE:  Priest and author Henri Nouwen wrote, "Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from [the] waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says, 'It's me.  Don't be afraid.'…Look at him and say, 'Lord, have mercy.'  Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence that he is very close to you and will put your soul to rest."  (To read the rest of the story, see John 6:16-21)
          What do you feel anxious about, if anything?  What might happen if you shifted your attention" away from [the] waves" and "to the One who walks on them"?  What concrete thing could you do to help redirect your attention?

Admittedly, at this point in my life, I feel like I have plenty that I could be anxious about.  Oftentimes, I am, or rather, I have been.  FREQUENTLY.  At times, I have given in to the helplessness that threatens to overtake me, and I have spent the day (or two) whining in my bed about how much I can't stand the way things have gone for me, for my husband, and for our children.  But…God has been faithful.  We are not just making it.  Given the circumstances, we are thriving.  It's hard to make sense of it.  It's hard to believe the words coming out of my mouth even as I tell people that we really are fine, that we are making it.  But that's the truth.  God has not left our sides.  He has led us through this and we are finally to a point where none of us feels like this thing is going to define our lives.  Change them?  Yes, absolutely.  Change us?  How could it not?  But, define us?  No.  Defeat us?  Absolutely not.  So, when I'm done whining, I remind myself that I have been through hard times before (none harder than this), and I made it through, and had plenty of strength and faith to draw off of for later hard times.   I am convinced that this time will be no different.  But, this time, it won't be because I have gritted my teeth and just endured.  It will be because I have put my faith in the One who has been leading us through this ordeal and who will continue to see us through to the end.

Day Twenty-Nine: Is God Enough?

READ:  1 SAMUEL 8:1, 3-7, 9-10, 19-22

(1, 3) When Samuel got to be an old man, he set his sons up as judges in Israel…. But his sons didn't take after him; they were out for what they could get up for themselves, taking bribes, corrupting justice.
(4-5) Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah.  They presented their case:  "Look, you're an old man, and your sons aren't following in your footsteps.  Here's what we want you to do:  Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else."
(6)When Samuel heard their demand--"Give us a king to rule!"--he was crushed.  How awful!  Samuel prayed to God.
(7, 9) God answered Samuel, "Go ahead and do what they're asking.  They are not rejecting you.  They've rejected me as their King….So let them have their own way.  But warn them of what they're in for.  Tell them the way kings operate, just what they're likely to get from a king."
(10) So Samuel told them, delivered God's warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king….
(19-20) But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel.  "No!" they said.  "We will have a king to rule us!  Then we'll be just like all the other nations.  Out king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles!"
(21-22) Samuel took in what they said and rehearsed it with God.  God told Samuel, "Do what they say.  Make them a king."
Then Samuel dismissed the men of Israel:  "Go home, each of you to your own city."

THINK:  The Israelites wanted God, but they were afraid they'd miss out if they didn't have a king like the other nations.  They wanted to fit in with the other nations by having a king lead them and fight their battles for them.  Read the passage again, this time deeply feeling the determination of the Israelites and the disappointment of Samuel.
(1) Who do you resemble most?  (a) Samuel - being confronted by people asking him to make changes he believes are wrong, or (b) the Israelites - wanting him to be like others?
(2) If you chose a, converse with God about this as Samuel did:  What would you like to say to God regarding these demands?  If b, how would you finish this sentence:  I want to be like ____________.  If you continue wanting to be like a certain person, how might it cheat you out of what God wants for you?
(3) What would your life look if you trusted God to give you what you need, regardless of how odd that may seem when compared to other people's lives?

Personally, I have wanted to be more like Samuel but, in practice, I have behaved more like the Israelites. Many times, I've said that I wanted to be distinct, to have the kind of faith life that screams "I trust God more than I care what others think."  But the reality is: as soon as it starts to look like my life be heading in an unfamiliar direction, I get a little scared when my life starts to take a trajectory that I can't figure out, or if I can't make sense of it for myself or others.  I have wanted a life that I was different, but I've also wanted to be able to understand it AND explain it to others.  The longer I live, the more I am being shown that those two things are rarely going to coincide!  I am trying to be okay with that!

I don't know what my life would look like if it were someone else's.  I don't know what I'd be cheating myself out of either.  The problem is: I can be a little short-sighted when it comes to things like that.  I have a hard time being eternally minded.  I make plans for eternity, certainly.  However, I can't imagine what I would be missing out on.  That being said, I know that there are many things in my life that I would be missing had my life gone the way that I thought I wanted it to when I was younger, before I realized that sometimes it can be painful to follow God (like when you pray and pray for something and the answer is "no"). 

As for what my life would look like if I trusted God to give me what I need:  well, pretty much like it does now.  I've been put in the position of not being able to do anything about the position I'm in.  We were obedient to God, and it got us into a position that is unlike anything I've ever been in before, and the only thing I have to operate on is faith.  The only other alternative is to take matters into my own hands and grab back control of my life from God.  But I've gone too far down this road of faith.  I know where it leads, eventually.  I know that this is the only path of true reward.  So uncomfortable or not, I'm gonna keep walking this path.  I will come out on the other side.  I know that God did not lead my into the desert to let me die out here.  He just doesn't do that!

PRAY:  Be honest with God about any frustration of wanting to be like others or frustration with those who do.  Ask God to show you the advantages of trusting him more with these things.

Dear Heavenly Father, I know you hear the prayers of those who pray to you believing that you are God.  I know that I was praying to that same God when I asked you to spare me from the spot I'm in now.  And I know that you heard me, even though you did not grant my request.  I also know that you are faithful to deliver those who love you and are obedient to you.  Help me to remember this when I am tempted to complain that my life doesn't look like what I thought it would, or like everyone else's.  You have chosen this path for me, and me for this path.  Help me to walk it with grace and dignity and integrity, trusting you for every step, every decision.  Help me to remember that anxiety and worry and confusion are tools used by Satan to try to derail me from this path, to entice me to step away from your will and pursue my own path, my own way, my own will.  I pray that when I am feeling anxious, I would remember that you did not put that feeling there, that you did not lead me this far to leave me to figure the rest of it out myself.  Help me to remember when I am worried that you are not taken by surprise by anything that I am confronting or am about to.  When I am confused and striving to figure things out for myself, help me to remember that you are not a God of confusion, but of perfect order, and that all things work together for the good of those that love you and are called according to Your Will.  And help me to remember that, even though it is painful, I am smack dab in the middle of Your Will because I was obedient, and the only way to get through this is to continue being obedient.

LIVE:  While you sit in a quiet place, practice feeling okay being different from other people.  If you can, view that difference as special or chosen.  Relax with a sense of God's hand on you.

Day Twenty-Eight: Reflections on Week 4

This has been quite a week. 

I fell behind in my work on the devotional, which had me feeling rather guilty.  But just guilty.  I know I could've picked it up and just kept going, but I wanted to keep a system.  Sometimes, being so particular gets in the way of being obedient.  I need to learn to overcome.  As I tell my friend, Cristina, "there's ideal, and then, there's what you've got."  Of course, ideally, I would've just stayed in my room and worked on my devotional before I started my day.  When the week started, I could've caught up.  But playing catch up usually leads to feelings of condemnation or it makes me rush through what I'm doing and I don't really get much out of the time I spend.  Besides, God deserves better from me than just my obligatory "gotta get this done" attitude. 

Then, there's the news of Robin Williams' suicide.  I didn't know the man but, like many people, I grew up watching his stuff and having his comedy reach into my home.  But suicide is one of those things that just breaks my heart.  When I was in the. Navy,we had GMTs (general military training) every month.  One of the first ones I ever conducted was on suicide prevention.  My life has been largely untouched by suicide, though I do know someone who attempted to take her life once.  It was definitely a cry for help.  And shortly thereafter, she started getting help.  She had all kinds of demon as to deal with and, hopefully, she is still dealing with getting those demons under control. 

But what about Robin?  I don't know.  I have watched the news.  I've read the statement his wife put out.  But those words don't sum up the man.  How could they?  They aren't his.  Working on my Master's in Christian Counseling, I would love to have had the chance to talk with him and see what he was dealing with and how he was dealing with it.  But mostly, I would've loved the chance just to get to know him and let him tell me his story in such a way that he KNEW he had been heard and really understood.  Did he have that?  Was there anybody who was there for him in that capacity?  I sincerely pray there was.  And I sincerely pray he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

But today is supposed to be my time for reflecting on this week.  So, what does the suicide of a man I've never met and likely never would've, have to do,with me?  Well, folks, we are all connected.  Apathy on the part of one affects the whole.  We've all heard the catch phrase "Random Acts of Kindness."  This week, I had a chance to do something I do everyday.  Not really so random.  However, the response I got shocked me.  A young man waiting on me at place asked me how I was doing.  I answered, with a smile, and asked him the same question in return.  I do this all the time.  But, this guy was surprised that I was returning his kindness.  It made me wonder if I was the first or only person all day to return that kindness.  Why is that?  What has happened to common courtesy?  Or manners?  Or etiquette?  Why should people be surprised when some one holds a door for them?  Or returns a smile or a kind word?  What have we become that we are so self-centered or self-absorbed or busy or jaded to be polite?  To be kind?  To smile?

So…here's a challenge!  To borrow from one of Robin Williams' movies, Patch Adams, find someone you see everyday, someone who maybe seems to be having a hard time of things, and smile at them.  Every time you see them.  Whether you get the smile back or not.  See what happens! 

Countless stories have been told by people who did not  commit suicide be cause, they said, someone was nice to them the day they were contemplating committing suicide.  Because someone asked them how they were.  Because someone smiled at them.  You never know if you might be the difference in that person's life that day!

How about this:  spend the entire week just doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  See how it works.  See how you feel after a week.