• Posted on January 16, 2012

about the worst that could happen

You have all these thoughts about what’s the worst that could happen. These thoughts, they’re meant to comfort you. Calm you. Reassure you that life is as it should be.

You volunteer with a youth group. You love these kids as your own. You give them rides, you give them counsel, you give them love, you give them a huge part of yourself. You worry about them some, sure, but you remind yourself that life is as it should be. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe one of these kids could die, that would be the worst thing. Or maybe he could die right in front of your eyes. Maybe you could try to save him. Maybe you could fail. That would be the worst of the worst.

But life is as it should be, and it’s one of those passing thoughts, something so awful you don’t entertain because it’s so far away from normalcy. Those things don’t happen.

And then it happens. The worst of the worst of the worst that could happen actually happens, and all those other things you thought could never happen become a possibility. You walk around in a daze, expecting at any moment people all around you to just drop dead.

You can’t focus on work because you’re convinced at any moment your boss and coworkers and friends are going to call out and need help and you, unable to help one small child, will be unable to help them. You will fail again.

You can’t go to the grocery store, because the kids left unattended on aisle nine are dangerously close to death at any given moment. Their parents are three aisles over and if any of these children suddenly has an attack of something fatal or slips and falls, you’re the only one around to help, and you know you can’t do it because you couldn’t do it before. You’re filled with rage, because these parents should know better than to leave their children unattended with only a stranger nearby. These parents should know that stranger can’t protect their kids. These parents should know what’s the worst that could happen.

You deal with it for years. You get counseling. You progress and regress. You get married. You live in a constant state of fear that every time your husband walks out the door, he won’t make it back. You have to text him one last time, to let him know you love him. You worry your text message will be the thing to distract him, make him wreck, kill him.

You have a stepson. You fight a constant tendency to overprotection. You casually eye everything in his room in case there’s anything that could fall and hurt him or topple over in the night. Every time he coughs, you ask yourself if it’s a normal, productive cough or something insidiously more.

You are dictated, start to finish, by irrational fears and inconsolable rage that have all been confirmed since one of those worst things that could happen actually happened.

You get a book that shakes you up. It asks, what’s the worst that could happen? These things snowball as you remember, angrily, the worst that could happen. The book says, now see it through. What happens next?

You’re furious about that one. What happens next is you get severely, suicidally depressed. What happens next is you argue with God, fight with God, yell at God and accuse him of withholding his mercy and grace and love and miracles and healing and power. What happens next is you live life in constant fear of what happens next.

But then you keep going. What happens next is God tells you following him isn’t easy and definitely doesn’t feel perfect. He reminds you that even though you can’t save anyone, he can. God tells you if he wasn’t in the business of saving people, he wouldn’t have saved you. You feel a slight tinge of freedom in knowing that this isn’t dependent on you, that you are not responsible for saving people.

What happens next is God tells you he’s sorry you’re hurting, he’s so very sorry because this isn’t how he created the world but the world is this way all the same. He tells you this is his good plan, a good plan for redemption not only for you and for what you’ve been through, but a redemption plan for all the people, and you get to be a part of it.

What happens next is God doesn’t give up on you and you don’t give up on him. You grow closer to God than ever before. You grow wiser to his ways. You grow more grateful for his grace. You find each day slightly easier to surrender to his control. And even though, years later on the anniversary of that date, you still sit weeping at the memory of the sorrow and pain, God is still using that one worst that could happen to make the most beautiful things happen in you.

What happens next is you build an altar to God in honor of that time in your life, that worst that could happen. You anoint it with your tears and offer a sacrifice of your fears upon it as you tell God, “I trust you.”

And you know, you really finally know, there’s only one God who can take the worst that can happen yesterday and turn it into the best that can happen for you today.

  • Posted on January 06, 2012

about pray•o•dexes

Early this year in 2011 I wrote a post about Pray•O•Dexes, a specific type of prayer box I made for myself and many friends. Some boxes I sold, some I gave away, and some have been sitting in a cabinet for the past nine months.

I know some of the boxes have been useful and some have merely collected dust (and that’s okay). I’ve used mine consistently since last April, and I’ll tell you–it’s made a huge difference in my prayer life. It reminds me to pray over specific people and situations, helps me organize my prayers so I don’t feel overwhelmed with praying over every need all at once (or “forgetting” someone), and keeps me focused during my quiet time.

For some reason, the boxes have been on my mind the past few days. Then I received an email from a lady interested in the process I used to make the boxes. So, rather than keeping it to myself/ourselves, I’m posting it all here.

Note: I always get big craft ideas but am somehow missing the craft DNA to execute them properly. Certainly craftier people than me would have made them more efficiently, but I love my box, so that’s okay. Just keep in mind you want to make something you’re not going to get tired of seeing every day. So anything too outlandish or too plain might get a little “old” after a while.

You can use any size box/card you want, but this is what I envisioned, so this is what I did: Continue Reading

  • Posted on January 01, 2012

about the lord’s prayer, part iii

[You can read Part 1 here.]
[You can read Part 2 here.]

and forgive us our trespasses – As much as I may joke and other people may contradict this statement, I do not think I’m perfect. That said, I do occasionally start getting a little too big for my britches (well, literally and figuratively). And without fail, God uses each of those big-britches opportunities to show me how very small I really am. It’s called humility, and it’s a recognition of ourselves through God’s eyes.

When I first started walking closely with God some four-and-a-half years ago, he didn’t convict me of everything all at once. The major, glaring acts of disobedience were acknowledged right up front. But then he gradually revealing other things to me, like music and software piracy, speeding, or gossiping. I guess somewhere along the way I thought, “Okay, now he’s brought all these sins to light and I’ve changed my ways and that’s it.” Not that I thought I didn’t still sin, but I thought I was aware of all my sins. That I may still gossip, but I know it’s wrong and genuinely repent and seek strength in turning completely from the sin.

Ha, how often I mislead myself!

God still convicts me of sins I never noticed or recognized as sins. They may or may not be “new” sins, but they’re sins I never recognized as any form of disobedience.

What’s more, in addition to revealing more sins to me, God is teaching me to have joy in my conviction of those sins. One day, after a particularly hardcore lesson about my behavioral and attitudinal response to, well, every single thing God tells me, I was filled with the most extreme joy. God hasn’t left me down here to try to figure it all out on my own. He loves me enough to mold me, to teach me, to discipline me. He hasn’t, nor will he ever, written me off or given up on me. My sins are many, and I stand next to Paul, who called himself the greatest sinner of all. I think he too said it joyfully, not in a celebration of our disobedience but in a celebration of God’s desire to free us from our disobedience.

as we forgive those who trespass against us – Now the other side of the coin.

Just as much as it’s going to happen that we’re going to sin, it’s going to happen that people are going to sin against us. I’m not talking about someone casually saying something that hurts your ultra-sensitive feelings or someone exposing your insecurity simply by doing what they always do. I’m talking about people who actually act very un-Christlike toward you. Perhaps anti-Christlike would be a better choice.

Because of my current circles of relationships, the amount of people who fall into that category are few and far between. Yet at the beginning of 2011 I found myself in a situation where only about two people were left standing beside me. What God taught me through that was how I must rely on him only. That anyone and everyone else will, at one time or another, fail me. And that’s okay. Because he won’t.

So, keeping him in perspective, he gave me opportunities to love people who have hurt me deeply, and each opportunity looked a little different from the other. The overarching lesson was, “Never stop loving.” Regardless of actions, regardless of emotions, regardless even of whether the person is a believer or not, we can never stop loving. And true, if you consider that often our hurt and anger at people is due as a result of, and not in spite of, our love for them.

There’s a reason Jesus says we should pray for forgiveness of our own sins first and then aid in forgiving others. Because if we can recognize God’s grace in forgiving our multitude of sins, we’re more capable to show grace to others. And grace doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what anyone has done to us, because our sins against God are invariably worse. We can forgive because we were forgiven.

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil – Interestingly, so often our temptation to despair or give the Devil a foothold begins with a thought. It snowballs, gains momentum, and quickly one negative, defeating thought turns even the strongest believer into a disaster. But if we can catch it and recognize it, we can stop it.

In years past I learned the power of speaking the Word aloud, especially when my thoughts attempted to overtake me. I had a couple go-to verses memorized and ready to recite at a moment’s notice. Did I forget this lesson? Perhaps.

A couple weeks ago I was sitting with a dear lady, an amazing woman of God. I told her about my struggles this year with fear and defeat and insecurity. She told me to close my eyes and silently count backward from ten. I began, and she asked, “What is your name?” I paused, said, “Rebecca,” and realized my thoughts had been interrupted. I know I stopped at the number seven, but was it right before seven or right after seven? I have no clue. The point: speaking out loud can interrupt even the most deliberate of thoughts.

God has already equipped us with everything we need to combat temptation and deliver us from evil. Sure, he’ll keep pulling us through, but we can use what we already know, what he’s given us, to stop our thoughts in their tracks.

That said, living a Christian life is fighting a constant battle. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have verses about putting on the armor of God. You don’t need armor to go play in a happy little meadow. You need armor when you’re going to war.

So we equip ourselves with the Word he’s given us, we prepare for battle by wearing the armor he’s given us, we learn to recognize it and stop it within the ability he’s given us, and we let him do the rest.

Amen. – And now it’s a new year. I have a thought that twentytwelve (because I like the ascetics of writing it like that) is going to be the best year for us yet. My prayer for this year is to retain these lessons he’s spent almost thirty years teaching me and at least one year really driving home. Because life is like the cumulative exam–you build off previous lessons to understand the next lessons.

Thank you to those of you who have shared 2011 with me in one way or another. Here’s to the lessons of 2011 and the lessons in store for us this year.

  • Posted on December 31, 2011

about the lord’s prayer, part ii

[You can read Part 1 here.]

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – Simply put, the majority of this year I was paralyzed by fear. I have a tendency (Okay, more than a tendency. What’s a word like “tendency” that means “completely obsessed with”?) to be very black and white. Anyone who knows me will testify to that. This also, not a good thing. I’m so black and white, I often can’t see all the beautiful shades of grace that cover them. Many times I, resultantly, am left with a distorted form of legalism that dictates my every move. The biggest problem with that is when it’s time to make a decision, or, um, not make a decision.

Basically my mindset says, “Okay, if I go this way, I might be disobeying God because of this thing. If I go that way, I could possibly disobey God because of that other thing. If I stay the way I’m headed now, it too might be a level of disobedience.” I was so horribly afraid of disobeying God, I couldn’t move in any direction. And the ultimate fear came in knowing that not moving could too be a disobedience.

See how this could make someone crazy?

Repeatedly God told me to relax. I’ve got Bible story after Bible story I read that affirm how God’s plan is perfect and his power bigger than anything I could ever do. My aunt shared a story recently about another family member who once told her, “I can’t make a mistake.” Not meaning she was perfect, but that nothing she could ever do would ever be a “mistake” in God’s eyes, for he uses all things for his plan whether we perceive them as good or bad.

Maybe this sounds elementary, and writing it, it feels like a “duh” moment. I could tell you stories from last year and the year before when God tried teaching me this same lesson. And I get it for a moment but then it somehow slips away and I’m once again left afraid of doing something wrong.

This too affects not only second-guessing everything I might do but also everything I’ve done. “Was I wrong to do this? Did I hear God right about that? That must have been a wrong move. Now he’s upset with me. Now that door of opportunity is closed because I made that wrong decision.” It feeds back into my fear about the future.

God’s name is holy, we talked about that yesterday. Moreover, he is holy. He is set apart. His is bigger, stronger, better than we give him credit to be. I firmly believe that almost every incorrect perspective we have in life stems from our inability to understand the sheer magnitude of God’s power and the reach of his intricate plan.

Really, when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we acknowledge his will while recognizing that it will be done on earth. It’s not whether or not he can complete his will on earth, but whether or not we will see it, appreciate it, and glorify him as a result.

Give us this day our daily bread – Okay. This is the hard one.

I’d say I’ve literally been praying this prayer for as long as I can remember, probably since Pre-K. And now, 25+ years later I’m finally understanding what it means.

The understanding began a couple years ago with study of the Elijah story and resulted in a raven tattoo this year to signify God’s power in providing for us daily.

I’ve written several times this year about God’s promise to provide for us through this year in a miraculous way. And he’s done it in ways you may or may not believe even if I told you. We’ve always had a house and transportation and clothes and food. And maybe we haven’t had as much as we wanted of some things, but we have never been without. It’s pretty incredible.

I say that knowing that I have never been as constantly stressed about one thing as I have about our finances this year. I literally worried myself sick until I couldn’t sleep and my entire body ached. It hasn’t been pretty. There God was, providing for us day after day, giving us our promised daily bread, and I wanted my yearly bread. I wanted a guarantee that he’d provide for us the following days or weeks, as if remembrance of his past provision wasn’t guarantee enough. Ironically, I was writing a chapter in the book about this very topic while stressing 24/7 about our own daily bread and whether or not God would come through again.

I’m not going to get fully into my security issues, which is what a lot of this stress exposed–that my security was in guaranteed financial stability and not God. That’s the simplified version.

A well-timed devotional recently struck me with one powerful line: “Once you have become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down.” How the hell could I be thankful for the issue that caused me more anxiety than I’d ever known? How could I be grateful for constant financial despair? Tons of ways, really, when I really started thinking about it. Here’s a couple:

• Because I am uniquely positioned to see the power of God’s daily provision in a way some people may never know. Because people who have more money see less need for God in some ways or have their eyes closed to the characteristic of God who wants to be the only thing we rely on daily. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently sinning with their money, but they may never see God provide the way we have.

• This should be the most freeing thought and realization yet. For a very long time, I was in a mindset that I had to be the one to care for me. That I had to do the laundry and cook and clean the house. And, later, that I had to get a job to pay for the things I needed. And that if I want things done, I have to do them because no one else will. Of course that turned into a lot of pride, thinking I was the one who brought this money home and I cared for myself and I paid for myself. I will mention I had many loving family members who helped provide and I don’t negate that or take it for granted, but overall I always felt that everything I have I earned.

And now to think, God is showing me that not only can I not do everything and provide everything I need for myself, but he can and, praise God, he will. This is the realization that should make me give up the fight, not in a hopeless, “I quit,” sort of way, but in a hopeful, “I’ll step back and let you do your thing,” sort of way.

I’ll end today with a little snippet from the book, something I wrote months before I actually ever fully grasped it:

“Be happy with what you’ve got. Be thankful for your daily bread rather than desiring your weekly bread or your lifelong bread. Be thankful for the breaths and heartbeats that have sustained you throughout the day rather than desiring perfect health for a lifetime. That we have enough to make it through today is enough for today. We must learn to praise God for meeting every need as it arises. And if he should so choose to bless us with more than we need today, we praise him then, too.”

——-

[Look for Part 3 tomorrow.]

  • Posted on December 30, 2011

about the lord’s prayer, part i

Is the year gone already? That’s a joke, I think. It’s been a long year, a hard year in many ways, and an extremely blessed year in others.

I like things organized, concise, and structured. So as I’ve continuously reflected over “major themes” of the lessons God’s taught me this year, I try to make them as orderly in my mind as I can, as if maybe I can grasp them better if they’re grouped into a pretty little mind map. I like to think God’s got a book of charts on me, time lines and flow charts and bullet points and color-coded themes of life.

I’m willing to bet he doesn’t, but it’d be really cool if he did. Also if he let me peek at them now so I can understand what on earth (or heaven!) he’s doing and why he’s put me in certain situations and etc., ad nauseum.

So then if I had to have a thesis statement for the multitudes of lessons God’s taught me this year, for better or worse, I’d have to say I learned the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Er, maybe not “learned,” as in past tense. Maybe more like, “gradually understanding a minute aspect of God’s character, as outlined by the Lord’s Prayer.”

You with me? Basically it looks a little like this:

Our Father, who art in heaven – Here’s the realization he’s driven home several times that almost reduced me to a weeping mess in the middle of multiple church services. God is our Father, we know that, we say that, we overuse that perhaps without realizing the magnitude of it. If we are believers in Christ, God looks at us and sees Jesus. The fancy church terms would say something like righteousness imbued to us. What that means is when he says, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased,” that’s us too. He is “well pleased” with us, not because of anything we’ve done but because of the grace and faith he’s given us to follow him.

(God’s Fatherly characteristics are dramatically more in-depth than that, but this is specifically the lessons he’s revealed to me this year.)

Hallowed be thy name – My NLT Bible translates this as, “may your name be kept holy.” The word “holy” is a constant lesson God’s been teaching me for years, and he continues to show me more. Was it Cheez-its that had the commercial about how they get all the cheese flavor into one little cracker? That’s what the word “holy” means to me. Not a Cheez-it or other delicious snack cracker, but so full of meaning you have to stop and think, “Wow, how did God get so much meaning into that one little word?”

The name of God, and Jesus as well, is relatively meaningless to most of our current society. At best it’s a slogan on a bumper sticker or a clever SNL skit and at its worst it’s a casual expletive or a well-publicized mockery for personal gain. Several events of the past few months have really got my attention about the way we all view the very names of God and Jesus. I’m tempted to go on a rant here about people’s Christmas soapboxes, but I’ll refrain.

Earlier this year I was plagued with a question for which I still have no answer: “What can I do to help restore the name of God and Jesus in our nation?” I repented for any time I’ve taken his name or his character for granted or exploited my faith for personal gain.

This too includes a wariness to ever publicly announce, “God told me to do such-and-such.” I mean, he does, and I wouldn’t be where I am right now if he didn’t. At the same time, that’s a bold statement and, upon making it, we must be sure God truly is telling us this thing. Furthermore, we must be prepared that whatever the such-and-such is, it may not result the way we expect it to result. Jonah, for example. He got pretty pissed off when God didn’t destroy Ninevah as he’d said, ignoring the bigger, more beautiful picture of the over 120,000 people who repented and returned to God as a result of his prophecy.

Thy Kingdom come – This one was a double-edged sword I regularly used on myself, and not in a good way. I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve heard several others express similar feelings. As believers, we gradually understand more about the temporal aspect of this world and the eternity of the coming world. The idea of a place with no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more separation from God is so appealing we tend to obsess over it.

I literally began praying for God to just come soon, just come soon and end all this suffering. One year, two years ago, I was begging God not to come soon so all my beloved, unbeliever friends would have time to follow him. And this year I was so overcome with despair and discouragement, I just wanted to be done with this world. I’m weary of it. And instead of finding my strength in God everyday, I prayed for him to just come soon. Yes, this is a bad perspective. When we’re told to pray for God’s Kingdom to come soon, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus meant.

Then God hit me over and over again with this one vital lesson: be a good steward. Of everything.

That day, the day we all get to celebrate with God in heaven and a new earth, that day will come soon enough. Where we are now is a unique opportunity to bring more people to Jesus, to show Christlike love, and to minister in a way we can’t do in heaven. We shouldn’t spend our lives biding our time until we get to heaven, but learning to be the most obedient, most Christlike people we can. We must be good stewards of every moment, every relationship, and every opportunity while we can.

We must find the balance between looking forward with excitement to our eternal life without neglecting the stewardship of the opportunities we have in this life.

——-

[So I wrote a lot more than I expected, of course. Part 2 will be up tomorrow.]