“Looking Outward and Upward”

This is a post that was previously written in April of 2013. I had talked to someone about the book mentioned in the post and felt God nudging me to repost it. Maybe someone needs this encouragement today.

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“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – C.S. Lewis

I told someone yesterday that I was convinced the universe was against me this week. Today I feel selfish and foolish for saying that. Yes, this week has been stressful. It seems that everything I tried to do went in the exact opposite direction that I had planned. Every single day held a struggle. (You know it’s bad when more than once a day someone looks at you and says “Are you okay? You look tired/stressed/wore-out/sleepy”)

So I prayed. I prayed for understanding. For a way to step outside of these things going on inside of me and just realize that they aren’t as bad as they seem.  A way to strengthen my faith once again. When compared to what has gone on in our country the past week, I knew that what I was dealing with was insignificant. But at the moment I just couldn’t pull myself away from my little pity party.

So this morning, I read the quote above from C.S. Lewis. I loved it! Then I recalled someone telling me about a book that C.S. Lewis had written in 1942, called The Screwtape Letters. I thought the name sounded very odd and wasn’t sure it was something I would want to read. I didn’t think much about it again until today and so I looked it up on Amazon. As it goes, there is a “senior devil” and a “junior devil”. The senior’s job is to teach the junior how to turn his “patient”, a newly saved Christian away from God, whom he refers to as the “enemy”.  The letters to his new student, describe perfectly  what you are to do if you do not intend to live your life as God has planned.

I began to read some quotes from it. This one in particular hit home with me:

If this fails, you MUST fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.”

Exactly what I had been doing all week. I was questioning God’s plan. I was turning my gaze away from Him and looking inward instead of outward and upward. Upward toward the One who holds all the answers. It’s easy to worry and stress over the things that are out of our control. I know that more than once this week I threw my hands up to the sky and said “How much more do you think I can take?!” I feel horrible for having done that. But in the moment, it was what I was feeling. I realize that I am not here to question anything. I am a servant of God. I am here to love Him. To love those around me and to spread kindness and comfort to others. To share His word and my faith. It is a constant work in progress. It’s not easy, I have to admit. Sometimes the easiest path is the one that takes you down a road of anger, pity and tears. But where does it lead? Nowhere. It’s a dead end. The hardest road is the one that causes you to look at yourself through God’s eyes and see where your thoughts truly lie. Then take that road anyway, brush yourself off and simply trust. I guarantee that road is not a dead end.

I think The Screwtape Letters will be my next read. I’ll let you know how that turns out. And if anyone has read it I’d love to hear what you think!

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“More Like Jesus”

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“Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

I’m sure you have read this quote before. We aren’t to judge someone unless we know what they are going through. I seemed to be surrounded these days by people who are going through some type of crisis. Emotional, physical, mental. There are times when I can’t leave myself off of that list either.

I’m not sure where I would have been three years ago without the support of my now husband, my daughter, my family and my God. I’m really not sure where I would be today either without them. But what about those who have no one? What about the millions who suffer from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks, depression, feelings of hopelessness or anger? Those with complicated pasts and painful chidlhoods? What if they have nowhere to turn? My heart breaks for these people. My heart aches for those who have been tossed aside simply because they aren’t strong enough to handle the everyday stresses and emotions that seek to tear us down.

The world tends to turn its back on these people. There tends to be a fear of being around someone whose life isn’t wrapped up in a neat little package. I read a quote once that said “don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you do.” I think the same applies to people who handle life differently. Don’t judge someone because they handle life differently or aren’t as strong as you. No one can possibly understand how complex the mind works, and how your emotions or the past can run you over unless you have experienced it yourself.

I am blessed to have wonderful people around me. I am blessed that my mother took me to church as a baby and that I never strayed from there for very long. I am blessed to know love and to be loved and to know God. But to some this is a foreign concept. There are those who were never hugged as a child, never told that it was okay to cry and show emotion. Never comforted in times of sorrow or praised for accomplishments. Never given a bible or told the story of Jesus Christ. Chances are you know someone like this. It may be that person who sits in a cubicle next to you who never has a kind word. It may be that extremely insecure friend who can’t stay in a relationship or constantly picks the abusive, manipulating partner. Or it may be that student or friend of your child’s who acts out for no reason other than the need for attention.

The truth is there are all kinds of kinds of people in this world. Are you accepting of their faults and kinder than necessary or do you judge and walk away?

A few weeks ago, our pastor did a sermon on the characteristics of Jesus. There were 60. I hadn’t intended to use this when I started writing but God led me to it. It seemed appropriate with what I had already written. Here are few to help us understand what others need of us:

  • Patience is showing tolerance and fortitude to others, and even accepting difficult situations from them and God without making demands and conditions. (Matthew 27:14; Romans 12:12; James 1:3,12)
  • Kindness is practicing benevolence and a loving attitude towards others. (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Goodness displays integrity, honesty, and compassion to others, and allows us to do the right thing. (Matthew 19:16)
  • Gentleness is the character that will show calmness, personal care, and tenderness in meeting the needs of others. (Isa. 40:11; Philippians 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Thes 2:7)
  • Fairness sees a situation from the viewpoint of each person involved and not just ours. It seeks the best, just, equable solution, even if it hurts us. (Matthew 7:12)
  • Friendship is the companionship and closeness we are to have with one another. It is the commitment to help form the character in others. This is not to be feared but embraced, even when it hurts! (Proverbs 27:17)
  • Dependable is being constantly reliable and trustworthy. It will allow us to continue in our commitments even if it means personal sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 4:2; Colossians 1:10)
  • Generosity allows us to give to others because God has given abundantly to us. It is the wise use of stewardship and the attitude that all I have belongs to God and knowing we are the caretakers for His purpose. (Deut. 16:17; Matthew 10:8)
  • Encouragement will lift, support, and help others up through difficult circumstances, all from God’s perspective. (Psalm 119:28; Psalm 143:3; Matt. 3:17; John 14:1; 1 Thes. 5:11–14)
  • Attentiveness will recognize the value of other people by giving them listening ears, respect, courtesy, and total concentration. This means paying attention to others, not just listening to our own needs and desires, and also giving genuine contemplation to God’s Word. (Hebrews 2:1)
  • Compassion will feel the pain and plight of others. It will enable us to convey a deep feeling of love and concern that moves us to meet their distresses, struggles, and needs. (Job 29:13; Isa. 40:11; Mark 1:41; Luke 19:4; 1 Peter 3:8)
  • Supportive is to come along side others, sharing our strength and courage in their afflictions and troubles. (Galatians 6:2)

And the most important:

  • Love will enable us to appreciate our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and, of course, our family, and others around us. Love is taking the initiative to build up and meet the needs of others without expecting anything in return. (John 13:1; John 15:13; 1 Corinthians 13:3)

Be an unexpected blessing to someone who probably feels as if they don’t deserve it. Be the answer to their prayer. Be the answer to someone who hasn’t even prayed for an answer. All it takes is a few kind words, some time, a shared prayer.

Be more like Jesus today.

“Two Years”

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WordPress just informed me that today is my two year anniversary with them. Two years of being a blogger. Never really thought that was something I would be. If you had told me that, I would have laughed. Two years….

Two years ago, I jumped into the blogging world not knowing what I was doing really. All I knew was that my demons were chasing me and I needed a way to bring something positive to my life through photography and writing. Last January, I dreaded the turning of the calendar. I didn’t want to see that month come into focus because two years ago, it had been the worst month of my life thus far. But I survived it.

This year, I didn’t even really think about it. My transformation continues and this time around it didnt seem so bad. (So far…the month is only half over!) The phasing out of anxiety isn’t a quick process by any means. I’m sorry to say that for those who are going through it but it’s an honest truth. If I were to put a different spin on it though, instead of calling it a “phasing-out” process, I could say that the “transformation” God is making in my life isn’t a quick process. More so, it has been the beginning of a new relationship. That’s really what it’s all been about..and any good relationship takes time to build a solid foundation.

Just as when you meet someone for the first time and you start dating, you get to know that person. You learn as much as you can about them and you want to spend as much time with them as possible. You begin to like them more and more because of how they make you feel. You feel warm and fuzzy inside and begin to feel yourself falling in love. You can’t imagine your life without this person and feel like a part of you that has been missing for so long is now making you whole. You see your future together and you commit your life to theirs.

I have been lucky enough to have all of that happen to me and to fall in love (and recently become engaged to) a wonderful man that God brought into my life. Even better news is that I can have all of that through a relationship with Christ also. Although I already knew who God was, I didn’t begin to fully know Him until this totally new relationship began two years ago. As I leaned on Him more and more to get through the days that were dragging me down, I began to crave more of Him. I wanted to know more. I prayed, read scriptures, listened to worship music and began to live my life more as He would want me to. I still have a lot of work to do, but I have changed in so many ways.

Open your heart today and allow yourself to have that relationship with Him. No matter where you are in your life or in your walk, it’s never too late. It may take you two months or two years but trust during that time that God is working on you and keep focused on Him and how He is changing your life for the better.

 

“In The Middle”

“Somewhere between the wrong and the right
Somewhere between the darkness and the light
Somewhere between who I was and who You’re making me
Somewhere in the middle, You’ll find me” – Casting Crowns

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And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you – Psalm 9:10

I often find myself in the middle. I can be so close to where God wants me to be but something holds me back. I can’t always offer a full surrender. It’s that part of me that still wants to be in control. That part of me that hesitates because I can’t see what is ahead and what the outcome will be. This has a lot to do with being an anxiety sufferer/worrier and if you are one as well, you know that we have a need to always know what is going to happen in order to be prepared for whatever arises. I laugh at myself for this because it is completely irrational and not at all in line with how a Christian should think. Thus, I am in the middle.

As the song I quoted above goes, “Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control?” God is trying to make me into the person I am meant to be but sometimes I halt the construction. I let Him get me, where? To the middle. Often times just past the middle. And then I restrain. I have “deep water faith in the shallow end”. I can stand at the edge of the water, feet still planted firmly on the ground and say “sure… I have faith” but if I’m not willing to step into the deepest part where I can’t see but only trust, then where am I?

I don’t want to start the New Year in the middle. So today I am shooting for just past the middle and see where I end up in the coming year. If you find yourself caught somewhere between who you are and who God wants you to be, or who you used to be and who you want to be, remember that He is always near. He loves you no matter what and He will never stop trying to bring you closer to Him.

I wish each of you a happy, healthy and blessed New Year and pray that you seek God and find Him in everything you do!

“Wherever You Are”

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As I listened to the words of a song this week, one verse in particular stood out to me:

“He’ll meet you wherever you are”*

Never think that God is out of reach because of where you are in life. Literally or figuratively. He will truly meet you anywhere. At 3 a.m on the bathroom floor (true story), in the street, on a mountain, down in the valley, the frozen food section at Walmart, in your car (another true story), even at your desk at work.

He will meet the sinner, the drug addict, the weary and the broken hearted. He will meet the orphan, the widow and the shamed. There is no one outside of the reach of His mercy and grace.

All it takes is the simple uttering of His name. Cry out to Jesus.

*Third Day, Cry Out to Jesus

“The Calmness”

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The sun has not yet risen over the water but the sky begins to lighten in its wake. The waves gently lap the shore and my feet sink slowly into the smooth, glass-like terrain that the water creates as it retreats back.  The pull of the waves leave a beautiful impression upon the sand. It is another form of our creator’s artwork. His art isn’t framed and hanging in a museum. It is beneath my feet, within my eyesight and felt in the wind.

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As I walk and wait for the multitude of colors to appear with the sun, I think about all that is troubling me. The thoughts and emotions that crisscross through my mind and down into my heart are threatening to steal the peace I am searching for here. I push it away and it creeps back. It is true that the ocean can calm the mind and soul but only briefly. I search for more.  A permanent peace. One that won’t abandon me once my feet leave the sandy shore.

I continue to walk as the sky begins to produce a warmer glow. My thoughts progress into tangled knots and tears begin to flow. I look upward in a desperate plea. My shoulders slump and I hang my head. Suddenly I feel a Presence. I look to my right and my gaze falls upon Him. He walks alongside me in all of His glorious wonder that outshines the sun emerging from the water. “What troubles you my child?” He asks, as if He is not already aware of all that weighs heavy on my heart. As we walk, I speak to Him aloud about my fears, doubts and anxieties. He slowly nods, His hands clasped in front of Him and His eyes filled with compassion and understanding. It is as if we are two friends having a simple conversation. The heavy burdens begin to lighten but they are still there. “How about I take those for you?”, He gently suggests. I hesitate. Can I relinquish control of them? Can I truly say Thy will be done, not mine? And can I leave them with Him and not ask for them back when I feel uneasy about not knowing what is ahead?

His hand rests upon my shoulder, His eyes penetrating into the depths of my soul. I surrender. I suddenly feel a calmness that I have never felt. My shoulders no longer carry the weight of a thousand burdens and my steps become lighter as the water laps at my feet. The sun has shown itself fully as it hovers over the water. I take in the sight of the different shades of yellow, pink and orange. I turn back to my side and there is no one there. But the calmness remains.

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I find a spot to sit in the sand. I let my senses take over. The sight of the sunrise is breathtaking. The smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing to the shore surround me. I look upward once again. This time not as a desperate plea but to simply say “Thank you”.

 

 

 

 

“You Survived”

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What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” Mark 9:23

 This morning as I was opening a book that I carry with me, a piece of paper fell out. It was a copy of an email from a dear friend of mine. As always, the words were beautiful, inspiring and encouraging. I hadn’t read it in a while and one sentence caught my attention :

“The battle is over but the memories will have to be rearranged to the back of your mind and this is where God’s gift must be fully internalized…………………..YOU SURVIVED.”

This was a while before the full-on panic attacks had started and she was speaking of another time and another battle but I realized that it could easily be used in the terms of that struggle as well. As with any type of situation that causes us grief, pain, disappointment or fear, the lingering thoughts of that time will sometimes resurface and pull you back into a place where it seems as if you are reliving it all over again. This is especially true of anyone who has faced anxiety or panic attacks. We all know that the memories of the way that moment felt are what cause you to stay in a constant state of fear.

You really do have to rearrange those memories to the back of your mind. It takes a lot of will power and a ton of faith but it is do-able. I am proof. I think often of the worst days. I don’t let them linger very long though. I shuffle them back to where they belong and replace them with praise for the One who brought me through the fire, refined and strengthened.

If you are struggling, if your battle is all uphill, I encourage you to simply call out His name. Let Him show you how mighty and powerful He is.

And if your battle seems to be over, yet the memories are haunting you, replace them with thoughts of praise and thanksgiving. Prioritize your thoughts and bring God to the forefront. Remember that with Him, YOU SURVIVED.