Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
- Jonathan Swift

The Mystery of Faith

Do you enjoy reading mystery stories?

I do. My husband John thinks it's so weird, my kids think nothing could be more boring than the Masterpiece Mystery put out by PBS that I so adore watching on TV. But me, I find mysteries captivating and I'm always trying to figure them out.

Our Faith is filled with mystery.

There's no way we can ever totally understand God. I'm reminded of how we're told in Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV):

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There is so much we can not fully understand.

But would you want a God who could be fully understood by you? Wouldn't that make Him equal to you?

What do you appreciate most about the fact that you can't fully understand God?

For me there are two things: One being that I can come to Him when I don't understand life or what to do in specific situations. I can spend time in His presence, time adoring Him, time talking with Him, time reading His Word and waiting on Him. I've got to be candid; sometimes I leave those times with an answer of exactly what to do in a situation and sometimes it sure doesn't seem like I've received one. But in those situations when I'm still unsure, and I've got to act quickly, I just go with my best guess and leave the results up to God. I know that doesn't sound very profound, but it's the only way I've figured out how to make life work. This leads to the second thing I appreciate about a God who I can't understand; I can know that He will work out things in ways that I'm not able to comprehend so I don't have to get all panicky because I don't "get it". There's lots of stuff I don't understand, but I know God does and I can trust in Him.

So, what do you appreciate most about the fact that you can't fully understand God?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why do we act like some people are invisible?

Last night 2 of my sons and I watched a movie entitled Under the Same Moon together. Since they are both taking Spanish in High School, and this movie was in Spanish with English sub titles, I'd thought it would be a good experience. It turned out better than I expected since I really liked the movie. The movie provides a glimpse into the life of an illegal immigrant from Mexico and her family. It's a slice of life we may not routinely encounter.

In the movie the main character has 2 housekeeping jobs in people's homes. One of the homes seems to have rather nice people and in the other home the lady of the house treats her like a non person. This got me to thinking.

When I was working my way through college I worked for one year as a housekeeper in people's homes. I hated the way most of the people treated me (I remember saying to myself something to the effect that I was going to college so I didn't have to take jobs like this because I did not want to do this forever!) Because of this experience I always went out of my way to connect with the housekeepers in the facilities I ran and to make sure that they knew I appreciated their work.

But I've noticed that a lot of times people act like housekeepers are invisible.

I think we assume that people ignore housekeepers, or treat them like non-persons, due to feelings of entitlement. While that may be true in some cases, I think a lot of middle class, working people, behave this way because they are uncomfortable with someone cleaning their stuff, knowing about them on that level.

Why do you think we act like some people are invisible?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Unique grace

While at a seminar on Saturday I had the opportunity to hear an extraordinary woman share her story. As I sit here thinking about that session I'm hit anew with how unique God's grace looks for each of us.

What made the woman extraordinary was not that her story involved terrible abuse. In the course of my work, as well as groups in which I've participated that were devoted to my own recovery, I've heard LOTS of abuse stories. What made her so extraordinary is that she exemplified an old 12-step group saying more than anyone I've ever met. The saying being - Let go and let God.

She permeated peace. When we first got into the room it became apparent that the support staff at the conference center had rather messed up; her overheads, books & handouts were all mysteriously absent. But she just started sharing anyway; and did so in a relaxed, intimate (even though there were about 40 women in the room listening) manner. She mentioned that these things were missing but that every time she shares her story it's different so this must just be the way God wants it for this day. She was totally relaxed and at ease.

She started her story by sharing a few positive, lovely memories of childhood prior to sharing how things unraveled. It fascinated me how, although she had no spiritual instruction, she shared about remembering a day when she lie on her bed with her hands outreached and called out to God. God did the miraculous; this woman, at no point during her life, experienced bitterness toward those who harmed her. She experienced confusion and grief but no anger and bitterness. Watching her tell her story, I have no doubt it was true. God's grace for her meant she was spared the struggle with bitterness that every other abused person I've met experiences.

Although she had life experiences which could most certainly have been sensationalized; she never talked in that manner - she related her story in a simple, matter of fact manner. Honest, without Hallmark movie tidy conclusions.

She didn't come into an understanding of the good news until after she'd met her husband during college, they'd wed and then they both came to respond to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Later they both received a call from God into full time service and currently run a non profit group in Hollywood that ministers to street people and has a home for men, another for women and another still for women with children.

Although bad stuff happens in life to good people and bad people alike, still as I sit here remembering this woman's story, I'm grateful. Grateful that God is, ultimately, in control of the universe and will work things out to His purposes. Grateful that He is a God in whom I can trust.

What are you grateful for?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Can we love people and still be honest about sin?

Of course the flip side of this question could be "How can we show love and grace to people and NOT be honest about sin?"

I know, from personal experience, as well as from observing the lives of others, that sin hurts. That we can repent and God will forgive us, but sometimes our sin leaves scars. God hates sin because it hurts us.

None the less, the question still begs to be answered - As Christians, how can we in practical ways show love to people and still be honest about sin (in which these people may be participating)?

First off - you'll get no great all wise answer from me. So, if that's why you're reading, you can save yourself some time. But I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

I've been thinking about this because I just read about how the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) decided last month to adopt policies that disregard the long-standing understanding of homosexuality as sin. Last month, during the triennial gathering of ELCA’s chief legislative body, delegates voted 559-451 to approve a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in “life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships” to be ordained.

I know, if you read this blog often you'll say something to the effect that I just said how I don't think pastors should preach on political matters from the pulpit. I still don't.

However, I think this is a far cry from ordaining people to be ministers in mainstream evangelical denominations that are involved in an ongoing lifestyle that the Bible defines as sin. There's a difference between being a participant in a local church, and being the pastor or in church leadership. Leadership is always held to a higher standard. If a pastor is involved in any kind of ongoing lifestyle of sin I think the pastor needs to step aside from the job as pastor for awhile to find out how God wants to bring healing into his life; any lifestyle sin - ongoing affair with another woman, addiction to drugs, etc. I emphasize lifestyle sin because all of us sin every day. But there really is a difference between someone having a mess up and choosing to all out live, on an ongoing basis, in sin.

I'm guessing that many people agree with me on this (but if you don't - please feel free to say so) but the harder question is how can we minister love and grace and yet have a standard of a righteous lifestyle?

I think the key to ministering love and still having a standard of a righteous lifestyle is in relationship. Participating in an ongoing relationship of love, honesty and commitment gives you the arena to speak truth to one another regarding sin. I'm speaking here about close, intimate, relationships. I do not think a person has very many of these relationships, but I do not think we can be healthy without having some. I think denominations and church organizations must ensure that their leadership have these kinds of ongoing relationships. God created us for relationship with Himself and one another.

So now I've shared my thoughts on this, what are yours?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Does God's love make a difference?

Have you ever noticed that God’s love makes changes in us?

Lately God's been teaching me more about His love.

I think it all started with a prayer I prayed about a month ago taken from Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT):

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

I prayed this for myself.

Repeatedly over the past month God has shown me in His Word His great love for me. His grace and His mercy.

In the past I think I've unconsciously fallen into the religious trap of being afraid that if I emphasize God's love, grace & mercy too much I'll just go out and sin (I mean I'm forgiven anyway so why not?!) But understanding God's love has just the opposite effect - His love frees me to draw near to Him. When I'm connected to Him, He works changes in my life.

I've posted a few times of the areas I'm seeking God on in my life right now - refraining from complaining and overflowing with love toward those difficult people (and I gotta tell you, I think for some reason I've got way more of these folks in my life than the average person does!).

I was so blessed today to receive a note from my beloved husband. I haven't shared about these two specific things with him. But his note today told me that he loves me and is grateful for me (he always says wonderful things like this - am I blessed or what?!) and then he noted that he's seen a difference in me lately. He said he's noticed that I'm positive, praising and patient. Wow - now that's a God thing! I've known me for 49yrs and this is not a change I can produce on my own. Only as I'm spending time in Him can these changes happen. It is His great love for me that draws me to Him.

What’s God been showing you lately about His love?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How did we get so judgmental?

This is a question that resounds frequently whenever I'm around fundamentalists.

Did you notice that I used the pro noun "we" here? I did that because, doctrinally, I still see myself as part of that group. But it breaks my heart when I see the harsh, judgmental spirit that is prevalent within this group. I can't help but think it breaks God's heart too.

Why is it that we missed the whole joyous truth of the gospel that God loves us while we were yet sinners and died for us?! Why do we ignore the story of the prodigal son and all the Old Testament accounts of such sinners as David, about whom scripture says he had a heart for God?!

I'd be really interested in your thoughts on this.

I somehow think it's because of a few things: we do not accept the sinful part of ourselves and so can not tolerate the sin of anyone else (because it screams to us that we're just like them), we are grateful for all that God has done and so want to be holy for Him (rather than abiding in Him and letting Him grow His fruit in our lives), the gospel is just such good news that we can not really believe it so we are still trying to earn our salvation by being really good (and demanding that everyone else be good too!), and even though we are saved by grace and our spirits were re-born and we're new creatures we're still the same dysfunctional souls that were raised in dysfunctional families so the rigid-black-white-it's-all-easy-and-safe-religion appeals to us.

I could go on and on about each of these reasons (and may do so about each in future posts) but know that no one would want to read all that at once. Plus, right now, I'm really interested in getting your feed back on this.

Why do you think Christians, especially those in the fundamentalist camp, are so judgmental?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do you think Pastors should preach politics?

I'd be interested in your comments on this topic.

This subject has come to mind because I read today that on Sunday Choral Ridge Presbyterian church did vote for Tullian Tchividjian to stay.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the story in a very small nutshell:

James Kennedy was the pastor at Choral Ridge Presbyterian for 50yrs; then he died. In case you're not recognizing Kennedy's name - he's the guy who started that program "Evangelism Explosion" way back when. Six months ago the church brought Tullian Tchividjian to be pastor. Since then six members passed around a petition to get rid of him; their big complaints being that he didn't wear robes when preaching as Kennedy did and that he doesn't preach against political problems in our world. Ends up that on Sunday the church did vote to keep Tchividjian; but it was not a landslide vote.

I believe that Pastors should not explicitly preach about politics.

But, I enjoy differing views. So much that I even have listed on the right side here a blog post worthy of reading that has a different take on homosexual marriage than mine (an extremely well written post). So, please, share your thoughts on this question.

Our faith, our religion, absolutely affects our politics - it's a natural progression. What we believe affects how we live. However, I see the role of pastors as equipping Believers to live lives as disciples/followers of Jesus. Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT) explains it this way:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

I believe that as a person follows after God and learns to pray, study the Bible for herself, worship God and live a life of love - then the person will make the political decisions that she is supposed to make.

However, politics are important. How can we say we love God and not fight social injustice?

What do you think?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Are our Rights always a good thing?

Of course our rights as Americans are a good thing, but these same rights cause problems for the mentally ill in America and for those who love them.

If you've read this blog much, you've noticed that I have a heart for the mentally ill in our nation. From time to time I write on this topic with the goal of giving the reader a glimpse into their world. I believe many people have experienced very minimal contact with the mentally ill and so do not know much about their life experiences. My hope is that learning about mental illness, the people who suffer from it, and their families will help people develop insight concerning mentally ill people. Hopefully this insight will affect how you act in various situations, enable you to pray for the situations facing mentally ill people, affect how you vote, and how you give your time or money to organizations.

As Americans we have the freedom, the right, to live however we choose. Even if our lifestyle is what many would think of as odd or unusual we have a right to choose. The problem for the mentally ill is that, due to their illness, their judgment is impaired and they often put themselves in dangerous situations, but, because they have freedom to choose, nothing can be done about it. I've known several people who have struggled with this.

I can think of one family I knew who had a handsome, intelligent, talented 20-something year old man who is paranoid schizophrenic. His family would watch him stop taking his medication and become more and more paranoid and begin the downward spiral symptoms (in his case these symptoms were things like wearing gloves, refusing to eat food that he did not prepare himself, never allowing others to touch him) that the family has come to recognize all too well - but both themselves and any kind of legal authority was powerless to do anything about it. Even though early intervention is always healthiest for the young man and most effective, no one could intervene. Not until his symptoms had spiraled really out of control, could anything be done. Out of control for him was once when when he went to visit his mother and misperceived a situation to which he responded by beating her up, or another time when he attacked a clerk in a store. At this point law enforcement can step in. When he was clearly and actively being a danger to himself and others, then he could be taken to the psych ward of the local hospital and admitted against his will for up to 72 hours for observation. When dealing with someone as sick as this young man, typically he would end up on temporary conservatorship during which time the conservator would remand him to a secured psychiatric facility for follow up treatment until he adjusted to his medication and showed an absence of dangerous behavior. By the time the hearing for permanent conservatorship came around the young man had stabilized enough to be let off conservatorship, released, and the cycle would resume. The problem is that with each subsequent hospitalization, the young man's self esteem decreased, the amount of medication required to stabilize him increased and the outcome was he was a little less sharp each time.

I know a middle aged woman who is also paranoid schizophrenic and has been symptomatic for around 25 years. This woman had given birth to 8 children, none of which she has been able to raise. She has been assaulted on several occasions because she, due to her delusional thinking, regularly puts herself into dangerous situations. Sometimes she will visit her 83-year old mother and stay for a couple of days. She's a very difficult house guest because she tends to never sit down to a meal, drink vast amounts of coffee, smoke a lot, be up all hours of the night, continually be doing her laundry (the same laundry over and over and over), frequently talk about negative subjects such as those terrible so-and-sos who beat her up or how the bank is stealing her money. When her mother tries to get her to leave after a few days she becomes agitated and sometimes will begin to hit herself. The last time she visited her mother she grabbed at her mother to hit her her, but another person in the home intervened. Aside from moving to another location (and not letting the daughter know where she lives), there is nothing the mother can do.

This young man and this middle aged woman are typical of mentally ill individuals who are either treatment resistant or who do not take their medication. In another post I mention one group of legitimate reasons why people stop taking their medications (I'll save other groups of reasons for not wanting to take anti-psychotic medications for other posts).

I'm not abdicating that we should take the rights of mentally ill individuals away from them. I'm merely trying to make you aware of the problem. Give you a glimpse into their lives and how things work.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I want God to rain on me until I'm drenched

Do you wake up every morning excited?

Do you experience an expectancy of what God is going to do through your life today?

That was the question the Pastor posed this morning and it got me thinking.

One of the Bible references the pastor used was Galatians 2:20. I'm delighted with the way the 19th - 21st verses read in The Message version:

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Boy can I relate to this!

Too much of my life was spent working for God; wanting to please Him and wanting others to like me. But this passage is talking about a whole different way of life. A life where my ego is gone, where I have been crucified and God is working through me. The pastor made that differentiation today too - do you do good works for God or does He work through you.

I want God to work through me.

I want Him to rain down His presence and blessing on me until I'm drenched. Until everything about me is immersed in His presence, love and ability. So that I can say with Paul (writer of Galatians) that my ego is no longer central and the life I'm living is by faith in God.

This is a theme I've been thinking on a lot lately; so it's no surprise that here the sermon is about this today. It seems that there are a couple of things in my life that God's been urging me toward as I grow in this process of crucifying myself and living wholly for Him.

One of these is about the time I spend with Him daily. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I lose track of time. God has blessed me with the ability, when I'm involved in a project, or spending time with a person, to become totally engaged in the present to the point of losing all track of time. He's been putting a yearning in my heart to become that way with Him; not to just come a few minutes each morning and go through the outline of the Lord's Prayer and read the Bible for a few minutes; but to just spend time in His presence, becoming immersed in and delighting in Him.

The other thing is He's been showing me how small daily occurrences reveal my heart. The fact that I have not died to self becomes quite evident in how irked I get in those little annoying encounters that inevitably happen on an ongoing basis. People can irritate me so much! I know that on my own I can't have that love that transcends the rudeness, selfishness, or just plain annoying behavior that people display on a regular basis. I long to come to the point where I'm so drenched in His love that this love pours from me and covers over the other person's actions.

What's God been showing you in your life about being crucified to yourself and having Christ live through you?

Seized by the power of a great affection

As I was reading Brennan Manning's book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, I was captivated by this account:

"Over a hundred years ago in the Deep South, a phrase so common in our Christian culture today, born again, was seldom or never used. Rather, the phrase used to describe the break though into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was "I was seized by the power of a great affection". These words described both the initiative of God and explosion within the heart when Jesus, instead of being a face on a holy card with long hair and a robe with many folds, became real, alive and Lord of one's personal and professional life."

As I read these words I thought - I want that! I want to be seized by the power of His great affection. I want God real and alive in every area of my life.

How about you? Do you want to be seized by the power of His great affection?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Being Ready for the Tough Times

Have you ever noticed that some people are really prepared for calamity?

Financial analysts say you should have enough money set aside so that, if income stopped, you could continue for at least 3 months. There are lots of articles you can read on disaster preparedness; ways you can be safe and have supplies in the event of a natural disaster. While I think these ways of being prepared are important (I do both), I've discovered an even more valuable way to be prepared for the tough times in life.

This morning as I was reading in the Bible, I found that the words of Jeremiah the prophet, spoken so many years ago, that explained it perfectly:

God's Message:

"Cursed is the strong one
who depends on mere humans,
Who thinks he can make it on muscle alone
and sets God aside as dead weight.
He's like a tumbleweed on the prairie,
out of touch with the good earth.
He lives rootless and aimless
in a land where nothing grows.

"But blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
the woman who sticks with God.
They're like trees replanted in Eden,
putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
bearing fresh fruit every season.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (MSG)

Heat or drought does not harm a tree that is planted near a river since that tree has access to water. Such a tree can still bear fruit under undesirable conditions. If I trust God and stick with Him, no matter what circumstances come my way, I can still live productively.

I never cease to be delighted with how simultaneously profound and practical the Bible is.

What's something that you've been blessed by in the Bible recently?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fooling ourselves with Words

Here's a prayer by Avery Brooke, taken from Plain Prayers for a Complicated World.
It's a prayer that I pray today:

"Help us not to fool ourselves with words, God, with talk of being sorry when we are not sorry, with talk of sacrifice when we have no intention of sacrificing, with talk of action when we are too lazy to act.

Where our vision is dim, help us to see. Where our hearts are imprisoned by fears, release them. And when we see and feel Your truth, give us the courage to act."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The myth of having it all together

Have you ever seen someone who really looks like they've got it all together?

I used to be so impressed by those "perfect families", ultra professional women, or people who were super talented that I'd meet. But as the years have gone by I've come to see that no one is perfect. Everyone has faults. In fact, interestingly enough, the people who come across as perfect usually are the most messed up.

I'm so grateful that God doesn't demand perfection!

My heart rejoices as I read these words recorded in Romans 5:7-9 (NASV):

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

The good news is that God loves me (and everyone else too!) just as I am.

I am so grateful for His grace. In fact, it is precisely because of His grace toward me that I do not have to hide my faults and try to look perfect. I don't have to demand perfection from those around me either.

I really like the way Brennan Manning talks about this in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

"The mature Christians I have met along the way are those who have failed and have learned to live gracefully with their failure. Faithfulness requires the courage to risk everything on Jesus, the willingness to keep growing, the readiness to risk failure throughout our lives."

What are some experiences you've had with the myth of having it all together?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More lovable than I remember

Time was that I was discouraged in my marriage. It was because I'd fallen into a trap.

The trap is a common one, it's the I-love-you-based-on-how-you-make-me-feel-and-based-on-your-attributes-and-behavior.

This approach never works.

Whenever we get up really close and personal, and in marriage that happens in day to day living, we disappoint one another. Heck, I disappoint myself all the time. Everyone looks way better at a distance. We can keep our selfishness, irritability, and even low skills under control at a distance - but these all become crystal clear when living together. A lot of people would say that you just need to get to know your prospective partner really well before marriage and find someone whose faults you can live with. Although I will not totally disagree with that, I think the bigger issue is loving by choice.

As a Believer, I daily come before God and ask Him to search my heart, to show me my sins, and daily I seek His forgiveness. I live in constant gratefulness that God loves me just as I am. One of my favorite scriptures, Romans 5:8, is a reminder of this truth:

God demonstrates His own love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

In marriage, I get an opportunity to extend that same grace to my spouse. In 1 John 4:19 I'm encouraged to love as God has loved me:

We love, because He first loved us.

Not to mention that in 1 Corinthians 13:7 I learn these things about true love - that love:

bears all tings, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

The really cool thing is that I notice the more I participate in this I choose to love you just as you are approach, the more my spouse becomes more lovable than I remember.

What's something you're learning about Marriage?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ever think about the mentally ill?

If you are an average American, your answer to this question is - not very often.

I think about mental illness, and the people affected by it, rather frequently.

Partly because I ran secured psychiatric facilities for 9 years. Partly because I have a sister who is a paranoid schizophrenic.

Since this is a subject so near and dear to my heart, I'd like to do two things: Share some about mental illness and ask you for something.

Did you know that in 1991 the National Institute for Mental Health estimated that 2 - 4 million individuals in the United States are severely mentally ill? This sounds like such a divergent number but it's difficult to gather this type of data; my only reason for citing this number at all is to demonstrate that mental illness affects a lot of people.

If I could tell people any one thing about mental illness is that's individuals with mental illness suffer.

They suffer the symptoms of their illness, the estrangement and disenfranchisement of society and the consequences of their frequent poor choices. Medications, although they are significantly better than they were in the past, still have lots of uncomfortable side effects. The one group of side effects that many people have told me about is that their mind feels less sharp, it's difficult to concentrate, they feel drained of energy, don't feel like their real self, and their passion is gone. But it's a catch 22; without the medication they have all kinds of non reality based beliefs that their acting upon causes many troubles in their lives, and with medication they feel lethargic, dull and not themselves. Would you like to have to make that choice?

Just as with anyone else, all mentally ill individuals are not alike. But my experience has been that there exist some really common behaviors you will find for many individuals who either will not take medication or whose symptoms appear to be treatment resistant. Many of these individuals are up much of the night, talk on and on about negative things, have ritualistic behaviors (things like incessant washing of body parts/clothing/surfaces, or spraying everything with disinfectant, or needing to always walk in an incredibly specific pattern) that make it difficult for those around them. Sometimes they misconstrue people that they encounter out in public places, and so they respond according to their misperceptions in a loud, inappropriate manner. Due to their pervasive thoughts they miss social cues and often act in a manner that those around them find uncomfortable. On some level these individuals are typically aware of all this, yet don't seem able to control themselves totally.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) estimates that around 1/3 of the homeless population is mentally ill.

Ok so I've told you some information about mental illness. Now I'd like to ask you for something.

The next time you see a person who is acting way over the top not normal, think about this information. Remember that, although this person may be making your or someone else's life very difficult, the truth is that their own life is way more difficult.

So, go ahead and go out of your way to be as nice as possible to them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The cross I never expected

If you've been a Christian for any amount of time, you're familiar with the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV):

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Another thing you'll have noticed, if you've been a Christian for awhile, is that we often come to see scripture through the lens of our experience and sometimes that even means through our "religion". That's not always bad but sometimes it can be limiting. An example in point is this scripture; I've always read it to mean that I need to not put myself first and deal with whatever comes my way, that bad stuff just happens and that the bad or difficult stuff in life must be my cross.

But today the following excerpt from Brennan Manning's book "The Ragamuffin Gospel" captivated my heart and mind:

"Many of us are too haunted by our failure to have done with our lives what we longed to accomplish. The disparity between our ideal self and our real self, the grim specter of past infidelities, the awareness that I am not living what I believe, the relentless pressure of conformity, and the nostalgia for lost innocence reinforces a nagging sense of existential guilt: I have failed. This is the cross we never expected, the one we find hardest to bear."

I could relate to this only too well.

It's not so much the tough stuff in life that is my cross as my own failures. This view makes God's grace even more paramount.

The gospel is a God who sees me, just like in the story of the prodigal son when the father saw his son coming home while he was still far off, and rushes out to meet me. Not to cross examine me, lecture me or insist on a high motivation on my part; but to take me back just as I am and to love me.

What have you come to learn about taking up your cross and following Christ?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ordained steps

Are you going through things in your life that you don't understand right now?

Throughout my life I have periodically experienced those times when things happen that I just don't understand. There are times when I do what is right and see good results. But there have also been times when I've thought I was doing what was right but was not seeing good results.

It's in those hard times that I choose to remember that God is in control of the universe and He is working for my good, even when I can not see it and do not feel like it. I guess this when faith comes in; choosing to believe in God, that He is working on my behalf, even when I do not see it.

This is why I adore Proverbs 20:24 (NASV):

Man's steps are ordained by the LORD,
How then can man understand his way?

This verse reminds me that I only have the view in front of me but God has the whole picture.

What's a favorite verse of yours that you keep close to your heart to remind yourself of when things don't seem to be going well?

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's a matter of where you look for Hope

It's been 8 years since that fateful day. September 11 and the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, were the only two times the USA has suffered attack on our soil of such magnitude.

Interestingly enough I spent a large portion of the eve of 9/11 watching a movie entitled "Snow on Cedars". That movie depicts the prejudice many Americans had toward Japanese Americans following WWII. If only we could learn from those mistakes and not generalize wrong acts by some to be indicative of entire ethnic groups.

The truth of the matter is that, just as the Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (KJV)

Sin nature is in us all. Be it to want to have power at the cost of many human lives or to harbor hate so deep that it extends to those who have nothing to even do with the cause.

There is tragedy in this world. There is nothing we can say to ever make it all right, to ever remove the pain of loss. But I do take comfort in these words of Jesus:

I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world.
John 16:33 (MSG)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Enjoying the little things

Several years ago, when I was going through a separation and then divorce, I was SO SAD. My then-husband had dumped me right after my 40th B-day for a 29 yr old get the picture. But I knew that God was still God and wanted to bless my life. So, to combat the sadness, I started to begin every day with consciously thanking God for all the good things in my life; nothing was too small to be appreciated.

I learned some valuable lessons during those years.

I still rejoice in the small stuff.

Like the other day when my 16 yr old son needed money and came to me and asked if he could do some work to earn the money - yeah! I had two tasks I knew needed to get done but which I was not looking forward to completing so I passed them on to him with gladness. He did the work so he could earn money to go to out with friends. I'm grateful to have a 16yr old son who is willing to work for what he wants (at least some of the time!)

What are some of the little things you've got to be grateful for recently?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is this how you get swine flu?


Lately I've been thinking about God's love toward me and others. It's starting to become easier to extend grace to people as my own experience of God's grace to me has deepened.

Last night something happened where I saw a change in my thought process.

As I was driving my 15-yr old son, Daniel, home he told me about a man at church who had been trying to encourage Daniel in something good but Daniel found himself feeling angry. When I asked Daniel to tell me about it he explained that this guy is the other drummer for Sunday morning worship service with whom he trades off. Even if it's a week when the other one is drumming, both Daniel and the other drummer, as well as the rest of the worship team, always get to church 2hrs before the first service and practice. Daniel is aware that he is a good drummer but he can always get better. The man was telling Daniel that he should practice every single day. I asked Daniel if he'd explained about his schedule (leaves to school at 6:20AM, home after school & sports practice at 6:50PM, eats dinner with family, studies, goes to bed with only 7-8hrs until he's up the next morning) and Daniel said yes but that the man had explained his own busy schedule where he works all day and goes to school at night.

In the past I would have either told Daniel that he should be focused and practice every day or I would have said the guy is a rigid jerk. But this time I was different. I heard myself telling Daniel that the man just doesn't understand yet that God loves us right where we are at, just how we are. That we don't have to impress God or earn His love. That God wants what is best for us, that He actually wants us to take care of ourselves so of course He doesn't want Daniel, as a growing teen, to get less than 7hrs sleep each night. That Daniel is where he is supposed to be, doing what he is supposed to do, right now and he can rest in God. Daniel just looked at me kind of weird.

Are there areas in your life where you see yourself changing? Share about one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The best 3 books I've read this year so far

The Red Head over at says I'm a book worm. The truth is that she's right about that. It goes back to that Proverbs 27:17 thing about as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another; for me reading books are one of the ways that happens.

So, when I say a book is really good, it's being compared to a lot of other books. But hands down, the three best books I've read so far this year are: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, Daily Readings from Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, and Calm my Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow.

The Ragamuffin Gospel could sound elementary when I tell you what it is about - God's love for us. But this book has helped me grow in my heart understanding, my experience, of God's love for me and has freed me to love others.

I hesitate to mention a book by Joel Osteen since, for some goofy reason, so many Christians write awful stuff about this guy. As a basic rule, I try not to say bad stuff about people; if there's some preacher or writer or musician or whatever who is trying to do something for the Lord, I try to say good stuff about him or her. We're all in process (not to mention the whole thing about the log in our own eye mentioned in Matthew 7:3). There are a few reasons I liked Osteen's devotional book Daily Readings from Your Best Life Now; there is not only one short scripture reference utilized each day but there is a group of verses or a chapter listed to read as well, it tends to be very focused on a positive thing you can practice every day, it is encouraging. For someone like me who, as I've mentioned before, can have a tendency toward being negative, I benefit from feeding positive thoughts into my brain each morning. Now please do not think that by positive I mean sentimental or just-think-and-you-are kind of stuff. I mean positive in terms of our-God-is-great-and-let's-trust-Him-and-His-word.

Calm my Anxious Heart has had a dramatic effect on me this year. It's so good that it's one of those books I didn't want to stop reading. It's even got a companion Bible study with it that I was blessed to be able to participate in with a small group of women in my home. That experience has helped us all as we've gone through various things this year and drawn us closer together.

What are some of the best books you've read so far this year?

Wild Hopes

"Recast the earth, O Lord, and move our hearts with wild hopes."
-Robert Morneau

Monday, September 7, 2009

A new goal

In case you don't know yet, I have the defects of character of being negative, critical and a complainer. I assure you that my husband and sons are aware of this fact.

I'm so grateful that God loves me as I am.

Because of His great love for me, I desire to live a better way. So I've been seeking to complain less and practice gratitude daily. But today I decided to make it my goal to never complain at all. I was struck anew by Philippians 2:14 (NIV) today:

Do everything without complaining or arguing

It was not guilt that hit me as I read this scripture today. It was hope that hit me - I can, by the power of God at work in me, have a better life.

What's a new goal in your life?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Singing with the Saints

You know what I like best about church?

Getting to sing with other Believers.

Oh I enjoy the preaching too. I also enjoy singing on my own during my time with God during the week. But, there's something oh so sweet about getting to come together with others of like faith and be in the presence of God together and worship Him!

What do you enjoy best about church or Sundays?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The power of "with"

Have you ever suffered great pain?

Perhaps the loss of a child or spouse, a divorce, a job termination, bankruptcy....loss and disappointment can take all kinds of forms. But, if you live life long enough, one thing is for sure and that is that you will experience loss and disappointment.

Lori, over at "Persevere" (, had a post that got me to really thinking about how we respond to others who are in the midst of the pain of loss or disappointment. She posted this great video from the skit guys:

This skit powerfully demonstrates the power of "with".

I'm reminded of in Romans 12:15-16 (NIV) where Believers are instructed to:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.

God created us to be "with" one another.

But, if I'm candid, I do not find this easy to do. I've failed some of my friends miserably in this area in times past. Boy am I grateful for forgiveness; may I never fail to extend it to others! Sometimes I just have to fight this urge inside to quote a scripture or give a word of encouragement (only it's not encouraging if it's given for me instead of the person who's in pain) It's not always easy to just be with another person who is in pain. It taps into my pain and then I'm there experiencing pain with them.

It keeps coming back to the same old thing for me. It's not about me.

What are some experiences you've had, or things you've learned, about the power of "with"?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Who cares if I break

May this prayer of Kikos Kazantzakis
arise from my heart at at a passionate pitch of loving awareness:

"I am a bow on your hands, Lord.
Draw me, lest I rot.
Do not overdraw me, Lord. I shall break.
Overdraw me, Lord, who cares if I break?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Naturally negative

Naturally negative - that's me.

That's why I spend as much time as possible with my head stuck in the Bible, reading worthwhile books and surrounding myself with some people who are faith filled.

One of my favorite Proverbs is from the Bible; it's Proverbs 27:17 (NIV):

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

What's one of your favorite Proverbs and why?

By the way, the reason for this picture being used here is because, in my mind at least, there's a real comparison between negatives and me. Photos are just negatives until they go through a process to become photographs. I'm just negative until God's process in my life - via the Holy Spirit and the Bible, people He brings into my life, books I read, circumstances - brings about changes in me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Experience Life

"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
Soren Kierkegaard

Can't get away from God's love

Lately I just can't keep my mind off God's grace and love.

Most likely this is because I've been reading through two books by Brennan Manning - "The Ragamuffin Gospel" and "The Furious Longing of God". Both of these books center around God's grace and love. Brennan is somewhere in his seventies and he makes some statements that I came across today that really hit me.

One was that self improvement is an illusion. It makes us feel good but doesn't really work. The other was that if he had his life to do again, he'd simply live it by just doing the next thing in love.

I adore both these concepts!

Our world is filled with self improvement schemes; it feeds our neurotic souls that want to be in control. I keep coming back to Jesus' words in John 15:3-5 (NKJV):

3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

These words of Jesus are why I agree with Manning that self improvement can not be real. The older I get the more I see it as one of the banes of our age. It is only as I abide in Christ that any real change that is of value can happen.

I'm a type A personality; or at least I used to be. But the more I live, the more I see that all my planning and doing are not what it's really about. Brennan's concept of just taking the next thing that God brings into your life for you to do, and doing it in love, makes sense. This reminds me of when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment to which He replied:

37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
John 2:37-40 (NIV)

Also over in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 where it talks about if I could do all these wonderful things but did not have love it would not be of value. Then we see in verse 13 where it says:

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

To live my life loving God and loving others in ways that are real is what it's really all about. I can only do this through Christ in me.

What's God been teaching you lately about His love and grace?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wanting more

Patrick, over at Living Dangerously Group on Facebook, challenged me today to stay hungry.

He reminded me that it's been said that God does not come to us as food but as hunger. He also encouraged me to ponder the words of C.S.Lewis that "this hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth."

In my life I've only caught brief glimpses of this hunger. I've only experienced poverty of self for short bursts of time interlaced with periods of self seeking. But what I've experienced in those brief interludes leaves me wanting more.

What do you long for?

Wings to leap free

This is a prayer from John Kirvan's book God Hunger: Discovering the Mystic in All of Us that resonates with the desire within me to break free of what holds me back from God:

"Break open my heart
to make a home
large enough
to hold
the friendship
that you offer.
Give me wings
to leap free
of all that holds me
back from you."
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