Stay Warm!

In previous blog essays, I have exhorted us to stay connected, stay salty, stay put, stay watchful, etc. This week, as I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew, I came across this prophecy by Jesus about the dramatic end of the age before his return, and it inspired me to consider our need to stay warm.

(I’m also writing this on one of the coldest days of winter so far, so that also might be part of my motivation to pursue this theme! 😊)

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 24:10-13).

The implication of this part of Jesus’ prophecy is that we as his followers are not to allow our hearts to grow cold, no matter how frigid the environments that surround us. We are to stay warm. Warm toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, warm toward the people in our lives, and warm—I dare say even hot— in our passion for justice and mercy.

Allow me to clarify this: we must keep in mind Jesus’ warning to the churches in Revelation against lukewarmness:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold (invigorating, refreshing) nor hot (healing, therapeutic); I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15, AMP).

I’m not talking about lukewarm here. I’m talking about the maintaining the right temperature. Warm like the first cup of coffee or tea in the morning that goes down and fills our innards with comfort and readies us for the day. When my coffee sits too long and starts to cool, it’s gross. I won’t drink it until it is warmed up again. (I really appreciate my microwave.)

And I’m not talking about the refreshing, invigorating kind of cold either Jesus mentions in Revelation. I’m talking about the cold that gets into our bones and makes us stiff, frozen, and stuck.

When reading the exposition of prophesied events in Matthew 24, it is tempting to focus on the timing and not the communicative intent of the Savior. Any time Jesus’ disciples would try to get him to reveal the times and seasons for cataclysmic future events to occur, Jesus never took the bait. He always clarified that though the Father had given him all authority, this didn’t extend to the timing of things. Only the Father knows the timetable and holds the master plan, which Jesus will execute in his authority as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Therefore, even if we are convinced that the extended prophecy of end-time events in Matthew 24 (of which I’ve only quoted a small portion) corresponds with what we are seeing in the news or on social media, we can’t be sure.

Jesus says in various places that rather than being concerned with time, we need to be concerned with our hearts, our behaviors, and our actions. But especially our hearts, because out of the heart flow all of the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Maybe we are the generation who will see the end of this present system of things, and maybe not. But either way, we will be held to account for the condition of our hearts and how we live accordingly.

We must not grow cold. What are signs of growing cold?

Lack of zeal for the word of God for an extended time. Wickedness. Unforgiveness. Injustice toward the poor, widows, and orphans all indicate hearts that are growing cold. Refusal to submit to authorities that God has ordained can freeze us out. Disconnection from his church and living in isolation have a chilling effect.

Like the charcoal briquette that is scattered too far from the center of the flame will quickly grow cold and useless, this happens to us if we move away from our spiritual family. We must stay close to our brothers and sisters, however challenging this may be at times. Our survival truly depends on it.

lit bonfire in closeup photography
Photo by Benjamin DeYoung

 We are to extend warmth even to our enemies! Paul exhorts us in Romans not to seek vengeance upon our enemies:

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom. 12:20).

This Scripture implies that by staying warm toward those who are cold toward us, our warmth will transfer to them and convict their hearts. It is hard to stay mad at someone who insists on showing grace, love, and forgiveness from a warm heart.

This may be a challenging concept for us, especially if we are caught up in a millennial focus, that everything in the church and the world is just going to get worse and worse, and there’s little to be done about it. As Bill Johnson points out in his brilliant When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, this belief system requires no faith, and no courage. And I would add, no warmth. This philosophy can cause the most noble of hearts to grow cold.

Instead, we can embrace our mission to serve Christ by serving others and keep the heat on in our own hearts each day. We do this through consistent time in Scripture, through fervent prayer, through steady fellowship, through ministering gifts of healing and deliverance, and through giving generously. By all of these means we keep ourselves close to the flame and have plenty of warmth to share with others.

Stay warm, very warm my friends!

Grieving with the Head and with the Heart

This is an article I wrote on the blog in 2018, and it was also published in Sharing Magazine. It is based on John 11, the fascinating story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But the miraculous resurrection is not my main focus; my focus is on the different ways that Jesus ministers to Martha and to Mary. We know from other stories about them that these two women have different personality styles and priorities. If you are going through any kind of grief process, I hope this will speak to you in some way and bring you comfort and reassurance that Jesus sees your need whether you’re grieving with the heart, the head, or both!

Ruth E. Stitt

I find the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (in John 11) to be one of the most fascinating, exhilarating stories of the Gospels. Of course it is!

A beloved friend of Jesus is dead for four days, his body beginning to decompose, and Jesus calls him back to life. His friends remove his grave-clothes and he has another chance at life as a regenerated human being. This event foreshadows in Scripture the resurrection power that Jesus promises will call us back to him at the time the Father has appointed. Lazarus eventually died again but will rise again when Jesus returns. We will die once, and we who have trusted in Christ will rise with him when the trumpet sounds. These truths from the story are powerfully comforting and meaningful.

But there are other meanings to be applied from the story as well. One of these…

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Alone with Jesus in the Crowd

Have you ever been in a worship service or at a conference, looked around and decided everyone in the room was having a wonderful spiritual experience except you? People are getting blessed and healed all around you it seems, and there you are, feeling alone, empty, uninspired, passed over.

I have experienced that feeling. It is painful. Sometimes we just don’t know how to connect to the source.

But we must never believe that we are forsaken. He doesn’t change, and he doesn’t forsake. Sometimes we’re just hindered for some reason from experiencing his presence or receiving his blessing.

I have found comfort studying the stories recorded in the early Chapters of the Gospel of Mark. These stories prove to me that in the midst of the maddening crowd, Jesus sees the individual heart, and he responds to individual need when we approach him in desperate faith.

These chapters contain constant reference to crowds. Jesus, at this point in his ministry, had become quite famous in Israel and drew large crowds wherever he went. This made it much harder for him logistically to move around and get his Father’s work done.

Until I got this insight, I never understood why Jesus so often told people he’d healed or delivered from demonic control to keep the miracle quiet. Wouldn’t you think he’d want them to broadcast it far and wide? After all, miracles are pretty good for publicity when you have a message you want to spread, as Jesus certainly did.

But Jesus understood that all things were happening in God’s time, and he was concerned with always being perfectly in step with the Father’s will. Talking too much at the wrong time would only impede his progress in the long run.

On one of these very crowded occasions, Jesus was walking through a town in the region of the Galilee, “and all the people followed, crowding around him” (Mark 5:24). We are told that a nameless woman pressed through the crowd to come closer to Jesus. She had been suffering for years with constant bleeding. Many doctors had drained her resources dry without helping her. Endometriosis? Cancer? We don’t know, and neither did she. No one could give her a diagnosis or a cure for 12 years!

If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you’ll know that there are lots of laws and instructions about dealing with bodily discharges, including blood. They automatically rendered a man or woman ceremonially unclean. Women were isolated in quarantine during their monthly periods, unable to fellowship with others for a full seven days. But, the law continues,

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period” (Lev. 15:25).

Imagine the loneliness and pain of this woman! She had been labeled unclean for a full twelve years, excluded, an outcast from her community, because anyone who touched her would become unclean also.

As this stricken, unfortunate woman approached the Savior, the narrator takes us inside her mind, where she believes, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed” (v.28).

We don’t know how she has come to believe this so strongly, but she does. And she touches that robe. And she receives her healing instantly!

Her faith was rewarded, and Jesus knew it! He hadn’t intentioned a healing at that moment. He didn’t even know who had received it or what had happened. He just knew that something had flowed out from him to an individual in that crowd, and he needed to connect with that individual.

He asks his close disciples and they laughed at the idea of figuring it out. That tells us just how tightly packed the crowd was.

I must directly quote this part, so perfectly stunning it is:

“Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’ (Mk. 5:33-34).

Woman with the issue of blood Bible study chapter art

With all of those people, she pressed through and got the healing she had needed for so long, and even more. She also received Jesus’ blessing and his public declaration of her new freedom. She needed no longer feel unclean, ashamed, or unworthy to take her place in the family of Israel.

Scripture comes to life so poignantly here, doesn’t it? It helps me to trust that whatever I may be feeling, or whatever persistent issue has seemed resistant to prayer, Jesus knows me. When I approach in my brokenness and need, his virtue and healing power will extend itself to me.

Jesus has compassion on crowds. But Jesus extends himself in extraordinary ways to individuals too. When we draw near in faith, he responds with supernatural mercy and favor.

Birthday Message from “The Velveteen Rabbit”

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.”

Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?”  asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” *

_____________________________________________

I recently celebrated a birthday and received from a beloved client a beautifully bound edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the classic of children’s literature. Somehow, though surrounded by books throughout my childhood, I missed out on this particular story.

It is clearly much more than a sweet story for children. When I shared the passage above with some friends of similar age (60-something) at my birthday gathering, we all got tears in our eyes and then laughter broke out as we acknowledged how our “hair has been loved off,” our eyesight has diminished, our joints are too loose or too tight, and we even feel pretty shabby some days.

What comforting words from this Skin Horse! How we need to be reminded sometimes that it’s not the stuff the world sees on the outside that defines our value or beauty. As the Apostle Peter instructed the godly women who were followers of Jesus,

  Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

According to the Skin Horse, and according to the Scripture, those whose lives are consumed with love and grace toward others–even though it costs a lot and wears us down with time–carry a beauty that can’t be denied.

This makes growing older an adventure to embrace rather than a tragedy to endure.

Maybe this Horse had read the Bible. His description of those who become REAL is a good match for the Bible’s illustrations of those who become holy and whole. They give and receive love easily, and don’t make unreasonable demands of others. They will suffer harm to themselves rather than strike back and demand their rights.

These are sturdy people who don’t “break easily.” There is strength and resiliency. These people aren’t hard and brittle; they remain soft and pliable.

If you read to the end of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you find that after comforting his small person during an attack of Scarlet Fever, the rabbit is thrown away because he has become germ-infested. But there is a resurrection! He is raised to life! And because he had become REAL through his love, he is transported to a meadow where he can frolic with other real, living, hopping rabbits who are healthy and free.

What a picture of our promised resurrection day! This life is a testing and training ground for love. Those we love are instruments of God to help us become REAL. The real deal. Maybe worn out at the end, but never ugly, “except to those who don’t understand.”  The final reward is eternal realness and eternal life.

*Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1922.

The Velveteen Rabbit by [Margery Williams, William S. Nicholson]

Dayenu (Revisited)

(This blog was written at Christmas 2 years ago, right after the birth of our beautiful Autumn Olivia. We celebrate her 2nd birthday tomorrow! How thankful I am, for this amazing child and for Jesus, the ultimate gift, and for many bonus gifts on top of it all. Share with me in this reacquaintance with the Jewish concept, “Dayenu.”)

This Christmas day I am overcome with gratitude. Our family has welcomed into this world a new child, Autumn Olivia Stitt. Born on a Monday, which according to the old poem means she is “fair of face,” and she certainly is. Perfectly innocent, absolutely loved, a testament to the goodness of God in giving us life, abundant life. It’s true that a baby changes everything.

Today we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, the one who truly changed everything!

At church on Sunday I learned of the Hebrew liturgy and song called Dayenu, which means It would have been enough. The gist is that at Passover, as the story of God’s deliverance, miracles and provision is told, choruses of Dayenu are sung to God, acknowledging his extravagant goodness. It would have been enough if you had just sent judgment on the Egyptians for their mistreatment of us. It would have been enough if you had just spared our firstborn. It would have been enough if you had just taken us through the Red Sea. It would have been enough if you had just given us the Sabbath, or the manna to eat in the wilderness, or the Promised Land to claim for our own. And so on.

This is how I feel about how good God has been to me. It would have been enough that you rescued me from the foolishness of my youth. It would have been enough that you sent your Son to save me and give me the hope of eternal life.  But you have given me so much more. Gifts and talents to share with others. Life in a nation where we are still free to pursue life to the full, work hard and build wealth, and enjoy the fruit of the land. Friends who are more than worthy to be called friends. Children who love and serve you. And now another generation of babies to love and train up in the Lord. And then, of course, dogs!

Dayenu, dayenu.

It is enough. It is more than enough. It is so much more than enough.

I’ll end with a hearty “Merry Christmas” and these words from “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes:

I’m caught up in your presence, I just want to sit here at your feet

I’m caught up in this holy moment, I never want to leave.

I’m not here for blessing, Jesus you don’t owe me anything

More than anything that you can do, I just want you.

 ______________________________________________________________

Dayenu.  Jesus, you don’t owe me anything.

As the deer…

I have recently been chronicling some of the changes wrought by our move to the Hill Country. One of the true blessings is looking out the back windows and seeing deer grazing. Sometimes there are just one or two, sometimes a half dozen or more.

We delight that we are living so closely and harmoniously with wild things–songbirds, squirrels, and these deer that are among the loveliest of God’s created things.

My husband Rick decided to start feeding them. At first he thought he could do some sort of psych job on them. He thought if he fed them food especially for them, they wouldn’t eat the shrubbery we are planting to beautify the place. The joke is on him, it turns out. They eat the corn he puts out, and they’re also happy to eat the geraniums as salad to go with it.

He’s made a ritual of it. He walks out with a red scoop of deer corn in his hand. He spreads it out on the ground and then bangs on the scoop to alert them that it’s suppertime. A la Pavlov, he believes that he is conditioning the deer to come find the food when they hear the thud on the bucket. Neutral stimulus becomes conditioned stimulus.

It seems to be working! Whereas they would keep a good distance away when anyone was outside, now they come into the yard and stare at us while we’re standing out there.

As I was in worship and prayer this morning, this image of the deer coming to feed in the yard came to mind. I thought first, of course, of the well-known Psalm that speaks of our longing for God:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Psalm 42:1).

This is a marvelous metaphor: The believer is like a wild deer, who must spend its days seeking food and water, and finds provision and rest once it finds the right source.

Deer, while agile and quick-moving, are pursued and eaten by many predators, including humans. Believers are like a deer in that they are often prey for the enemy.

Jeremiah lamented that Israel had stopped following God’s ways and receiving his provision and protection. He wrote,

“Her princes are like deer that find no pasture; in weakness they have fled before the pursuer” (Lam 1:7).

Without submitting ourselves to his watchful care and leadership, we wander around the metaphoric wilderness searching in vain for an adequate supply of daily bread and places to hide from danger while we eat it.

But when we humbly embrace our desperate need for God, we find our way into his daily care for us. Like those deer, who were skittish and untrusting at first, we become bolder to approach and ask for his help.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Deer are swift and graceful. When we follow in his footsteps, we too become nimble and sure-footed, instead of trying to navigate on our own and stumbling through life:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).

I’ll close by citing another image related to deer that brings the analogy to another level. This is Isaiah’s prophetic promise to those who seek the Lord wholeheartedly:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow”
(Isaiah 35:5-7).

We are given the opportunity to live in God’s order, a spiritual and natural habitat where we can truly flourish and be unafraid. There is healing, new sight, new sound, restored movement and speech. Living water in springs and streams. No longer afraid of monsters in the night.

Praise the Lord for his wonderful gifts of goodness, mercy and tender care.

The Beautiful Law of Gleaning

(This was one of the first essays I published on my blog, in April 2018. It comes back to mind during this harvest season. It shows the heart of God toward the poor, the broken, the weary, the hungry. He wants those with an abundance of material or spiritual fruit to share with others, figuratively, leaving some produce available on the vine or the tree or the ground. The application to our modern world are yours to discover….)

Many Christian believers find aspects of the Law of Moses found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) unjust, archaic, or just plain baffling. This is because it is nearly impossible to contextualize some of the laws found there to our modern lives and beliefs. For instance, the laws regarding ritual purification, or the harsh penalties prescribed for infractions that today barely get a slap on the wrist.

Amidst some of these difficulties, I find beautiful the laws of gleaning, statutes that are set like gemstones in the midst of commandments that are rather oddly arranged at times. For example, between a commandment to eat the entire remainder of a fellowship offering, and the simple dictate “Do not steal,” is this gem:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:9-10).”

This on first glance might seem imprudent or wasteful. Shouldn’t we always seek to maximize our profits and make full use of all our resources? No, apparently. Though God commends saving, thrift and resourcefulness, it matters more to Him that his people look beyond their own needs or profits. They must be willing to provide for the needs of others they can reasonably predict, of course, especially within their own families. But going another step, God’s people are to intentionally leave a portion of the proceeds of their labor available to a needy individual who might happen along the way. The poor or foreigner must find something left behind that will sustain him.

pexels-photo-789555.jpeg

There’s no guarantee this will happen. In the case of agricultural fruits, there’s a chance that the remainders will go unclaimed and just rot on the ground or dry up on the vine.  In modern, monetary terms, there’s a chance that leaving money on the table could limit our bottom line. But that is not to be our concern. When we hold back from greedily grabbing up all of the fruit, we are acting in obedience to the Law of God, and this carries its own reward.

John the Baptist hinted at this principle and its centrality to the advancing kingdom of God he was announcing. Preaching a baptism of repentance, he instructed them to demonstrate their repentance through true acts of generosity, giving away extra food or clothing (Lk 3:11). To contextualize this to the Church age in which we live, the Apostle Paul admonishes the believer not to steal, but to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28). Yes, we are supposed to take care of ourselves, so we do not become a burden to others. But that is not enough. We are to work hard enough at whatever work God has given us to do, so that there is extra on hand to share with those who are in worse circumstances.

I think this also has application to non-material fruits. If we learn great truth through our study or reflection on the Scriptures, or through our life experiences, we ought to be looking diligently for the opportunity to make it available to those who might show up in our lives. Who knows when you or I might be the person with a word for the weary, someone we had no idea was coming? Can we have such abundance of the fruit of the Spirit that we always have plenty for ourselves, plenty to share with those we know and love, and even plenty to give to the one who shows up at the door uninvited.

This is the beautiful law of gleaning.  It releases a spirit of freedom and generosity in those who practice it, and sustenance to those go out to glean in the harvest fields.

A Time for Everything

My last blog told the story of our eventful and somewhat trying transition to the Hill Country, and the outcome that made all the waiting worthwhile.

Today I find myself at another moment of decision and transition, this time regarding my professional and ministry life. With so many interesting options presented to me, what to choose?

Wouldn’t you know that Holy Spirit responds perfectly, bringing Scripture to life as I just “accidentally” happen to find myself in Ecclesiastes this morning.

This book is avoided by Christians sometimes because of its seemingly cynical, depressing message. I happen to love Ecclesiastes for its realism. It describes so well the age-old struggle to find a life of meaning, purpose, and joy that honors God, and what it feels like to come up short of that goal.

The Preacher who authored the book (King Solomon) doesn’t cut to the chase. He gives us in gritty detail how and why he comes to see much in life as meaningless and “chasing after the wind.”

He tries everything. He tries study to gain greater wisdom and knowledge than any other person on earth at the time. He works hard on this pursuit only to find, “the greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18).

He gives pleasure a try, going after happiness and fun. Wine, women, song, and dance.  No deal’ it doesn’t satisfy. “What good does it do to seek only pleasure?” (2:2)

Next, he gets busy building homes and planting vineyards, gardens, and parks. Being a rather brilliant individual, he engineers irrigation systems for all of them. He adds livestock and precious metals to his lavish estate. In order to keep all these things running, he enlists the help of many servants. To serve his own sexual desires, he lies with countless wives and concubines.

He exclaims, “I had everything a man could desire!” But it didn’t satisfy him.

Palace staircase stock photo

He didn’t cut to the chase, but I will. After spinning his dark philosophy he lands on two notable conclusions.

Conclusion #1: “There is nothing better for people than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (3:12).

Conclusion #2: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad” (12:13).

There you have it. Enjoy the life and work God has provided. Love and obey him in everything.

I’m not a king, and my desires are much simpler than Solomon’s, so I speak the truth when I say that I have all I need, and pretty much all I want. I feel truly blessed, and I’m convinced that the life God has given me is far from meaningless.

Sometimes I’m chasing several things at once, but I don’t spend time chasing after the wind! I aspire to enjoy each day with gratitude and do my best to live in a way that is pleasing to him, and not just to myself.

Allow me to jump to Chapter 3, the most famous portion of the book of Ecclesiastes, partly because of the song by the Byrd’s, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which directly quotes this biblical text. I’ll copy the passage here for your reference:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.
(3:1-8)

The overarching message is that at any moment in our journey through life, we can discern that it is time for a particular activity.

Time, time, time. A commodity we can’t restore once it is gone.

Now that I’m settling into my new home, there are of course some domestic projects to complete to make our home as peaceful, comfortable, and inviting as possible. But we have time to let this unfold at an unhurried pace and enjoy the creativity of the process.

The more time-sensitive decisions relate to work and ministry. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been multifaceted in how I use my time and talents. I rarely do only one thing at a time. I’m usually doing some combination of counseling, supervising, teaching, writing, playing gigs, leading worship, teaching the Bible. That’s just how God made me, and so I don’t fight him on it.

I’m also used to being quite autonomous. I’m a hard worker, but not a great employee. I set and seek to maintain my own standards in whatever work I’m producing, so it’s difficult for me to have to conform to someone else’s standard at the same time. If the standards or rules of engagement of an employer come into conflict with my own, I have developed the confidence to choose my own, come what may.

Last week I was told that I have to increase my availability to seek clients significantly if I want to keep my current level of employment. I get it completely; they want more productivity for the same price. I work for a for-profit company, and the level of clinical engagement that has worked well up until now is no longer sufficient because of recent changes in the company’s financial outlook.

The other option, short of leaving entirely (which I’m not inclined to do, because it would mean abandoning clients I have come to care for very much), is to go to hourly, and work only as much as I wish. I’m very glad that’s one of the options. The downside is that I’d lose my benefits.

I asked my wonderful big sister to weigh in. She confirmed for me that if it’s a problem that a little bit of money can solve, that I should go after my greatest joy, and not let something like health insurance be a hindrance! I can find more money somehow if I need it, but I can’t replace time once it’s gone.

I have opportunities to play music with dear friends, complete a couple of books that have been in the hopper for quite a while, get involved with worship and Bible study in my local community, exercise regularly, and even do a bit of private practice where I’m again sitting in the same room as the person with whom I’m talking! What a concept!

So, back to Ecclesiastes, and this dreary preacher in one of his rare moments of inspiration. Here is an inventory of the time I am living through, and how I will both enjoy the life God is giving and honor him through it.

If there’s a time to plant and a time to harvest, I choose to do some of each. I’ll plant new things, and harvest things that have been in the ground or on the tree and are ready to pick!

If there’s a time to kill and a time to heal, I’ll pick the healing, thank you very much.

If there’s a time to tear down and a time to rebuild, this moment is for rebuilding.

If there’s a time to cry and a time to laugh, I will respond with whichever the moment requires.

Ditto on the time to grieve and time to dance.

If there’s a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones, I’m mostly gathering them (there are thousands on our lot) to move them to other places where they will be more pleasing.

If there’s a time to embrace and a time to turn away, I’ll embrace those who come near to share life with me in this special season and turn away from those prone to arguing and stirring up strife.

If there’s a time to search and a time to lose, I’ll do some searching for things that got misplaced during our long moving process. (e.g., I’ve got about a dozen pairs of earbuds for my phone and can’t seem to find a single pair!) I’ll search for new friends, new joys, new ways to serve and grow.

If there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away, I’ll keep what “sparks joy” (thank you Marie Kondo) and throw away (or more likely, give away) things that no longer do.

If there’s a time to tear and a time to mend, I reckon I’d like to do more mending than tearing.

If there’s a time to be quiet and a time to speak up, I will be quiet about SELF and all its nonsense. I’ll speak up about the amazing goodness of God in all of its many manifestations!

If there’s a time to love and a time to hate, I can’t think of when I’ll have time to hate.

If there’s a time for war and a time for peace, that’s an easy one. You know what I’ll choose. You?

I hope you find my analysis of Ecclesiastes edifying. The clock keeps ticking. Like me, maybe you’ll find that this is a perfect time for finding out what time it is.

pocket watch at 3:55

The Hill Country

This has turned out to be a year for me of laying claim on some new territory, in the spiritual and the natural, in the personal and professional.

My husband Rick and I have made a move from the Houston area to the beautiful hill country of central Texas, between Austin and San Antonio. While Houston is a place of wondrous diversity and opportunity, it is also a place of endless urban sprawl and a lot of everything. Too much sometimes.

The hill country, on the other hand, still has a rural feel, a wildness without curbs and straight lines in every direction. The boundary lines are softer, more textured, inviting exploration. The sheer beauty of the landscapes stirs and inspires my heart.

It has taken some faith to get here, and a lot of waiting and wandering, with our little dog in tow. Because of COVID and economics and miscellaneous calamities that have affected everyone, we have faced seemingly endless delays, awaiting the day that we would move into our new house and begin to make it a home.

We sold our home in Montgomery Memorial Day weekend, almost the minute we listed it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the buyers (who offered $10 K over asking), needed to move in by July 15. They were between homes, staying in temporary lodging with small children, and needed to get settled. Having been told that our home in the hill country would be ready by mid-July, we vacated the house and had movers put everything on a truck on July 14.  We closed with the buyers the next day.

We told the movers we would let them know within a week or so when to deliver our possessions. For a daily fee, they would store our things on the truck until we were ready. They wound up holding on to them for a full month before the builders agreed to let them bring the truck to the house and store our belongings there. This is not a typical way of doing things, but this has been far from a typical year in the construction industry or any other.

On July 15 we headed to our first Airbnb destination in Wimberly. I have used Airbnb quite a few times in the last few years—in Great Britain, Ireland, California, Boston, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and various parts of Texas. I’ve enjoyed the social aspect of it and have met so many wonderful hosts and fellow travelers. I love the concept and have found my stays in peoples’ homes so much more interesting than staying in hotels. So, Airbnb would be our means of finding lodging while we waited for the go-sign to move into our newly constructed house. We thought it might be a week or two.

Little did we know at that time that our move to the hill country would require 10 separate moves over 3 months. We bounced around to various locations, some that fit our needs better than others. Because my job is all on Zoom, accommodations had to include reliable Wi-Fi. And because I am a therapist, there had to be some privacy for sessions, a space where I can be alone, where Rick can’t hear the conversations. Sometimes Rick had to wear noise-cancelling headphones and watch the captions on TV hile I facilitated a group on the other end of a one-room tiny home! And we had our dog, Maggie, so all accommodations had to be pet friendly.

At one point, my daughter and her boyfriend flew in for a visit that had been planned a few months earlier, and we found a place with extra bedrooms, so we could have a family gathering. My son and his family came too. That was a happy high point—albeit a rather pricey one.

I spent countless hours online searching for the next place to go. We spent many thousands of dollars on housing because the builders would say, “two more weeks” or some such vague promise like on “The Money Pit,” so we were reluctant to book something long-term and more affordable. Most rental property owners require non-refundable payment for the whole stay up front.

Somehow, I managed to keep my job going, seeing clients and running recovery groups, sometimes on porches, in closets, or sitting up in bed. Thankfully there are virtual backgrounds on Zoom so I could maintain some image of professionalism!

Two weeks ago, after the tenth move, I finally had had enough. My nerves were frazzled. I was angry and stressed, eating too much sugar, not sleeping well. I ran out of steam. Uncharacteristic of my accommodating nature, resiliency, and adventurous spirit, I stated to my longsuffering husband, “I’m not moving again. I’m not going to do it. If I have to pitch a tent in the back yard of our house, I’ll do that, but I’m not getting online to find another place to go.”

He looked at me like I was nuts, which I kind of was. I had a doctor’s appointment that day in San Antonio. Seeing how serious I was, he told me he’d get on the phone and see what he could do while I was gone.

By the time I got back to our last Airbnb, he had gotten permission for us to move into the house. FINALLY, the water company had installed our septic tank and grinder pumps (that had been purchased in February!). They hadn’t been fully tested and proven, but the house was habitable. I guessed the builder’s representative was convinced that I had run out of patience and created a lease document to allow us to move into the house rent free before closing. As I write this our closing is just a few days away.

We are more than blessed to have finally landed in such a lovely place. I am in my study getting ready to see a client, Maggie is lying outside the doors, and Rick is puttering around while he drinks his morning coffee.

What have I learned from all of this? Many things. Thankfulness at a whole new level. Deeper patience when things don’t go as planned (which is most of the time these days for all of us). Graciousness and forgiveness toward those whose incompetence, arrogance, or poor planning cause hardship and inconvenience for so many.

I’ve seen the faithfulness of God. I’ve decided that most of the uninvited hard things I face are more like inconveniences than true problems. Having been a therapist for almost 30 years, I’ve learned to discern true problems from the issues of life that simply require making decisions and taking action. Addictions, abuse, marital failure—these are true problems. All the rest I consider debatable.

Nevertheless, the Father cares about me. He upholds me, whether I have serious problems or more minor issues of life to resolve. He lets me know when it’s OK to say I’ve had enough and start holding others accountable for keeping their agreements.

The LORD has given me a deep-seated desire to serve him and obey him from this new place. I’ve been reading through the Bible this year, and happened upon this in Deuteronomy 8 just last week:

“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills…When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God…He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…”

I’m not saying that our sojourn resembles the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. But I have sensed the LORD’s provision throughout. We have metaphorically eaten his manna and drunk his water from the rock. He has led us into a land and a time of abundant life.

We have confidence that he has led us to this place “for such a time as this.” We don’t know all that he has in store.  But we believe that we had to face some waiting and some opposition before receiving his promise, and that he was able to form in us a greater obedience and carefulness to follow his will.

Rick climbed up to the attic a few days ago when I had just gone to bed. He came to the bedroom and told me to get up, because he had to show me something. He said it was worth getting up for. This is what he found, written on one of the joists:

We don’t know who wrote this. For some reason I don’t want to know. I want to picture some workman who sensed something supernaturally about the home, or about the people who would live in it.

This Scripture is from King Solomon’s dedication of the spectacular temple he had built in Jerusalem, that would hold the Ark of God’s covenant, and would host the holy presence of God.

We agree with this dedication and blessing of our own house as a house where prayers will be prayed, and God will hear and respond from heaven.

Thank you for reading the story. We welcome you to visit and fellowship with us in this wondrous hill country!

Let Us Run

I’ve never been much of a runner, though I can understand how it could become a satisfying daily habit —the endorphin rush and all. For me though, it could usually be said that if you see me running, something or someone might be chasing me, or I’m trying to get out of the rain.

But the biblical metaphor of running appeals to me very much. Particularly, my attention has been drawn lately to the references in Hebrews 12. This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.

After reminding the reader of the many witnesses to the life of faith mentioned in Chapter 11, and admonishing us to cast aside every sin or “encumbrance” that might hinder us, the writer prompts us to:

“Run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

The King James calls Jesus “the author and finisher” here.  I like the NLT’s simpler handling of the phrase, “Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.”

Here’s the picture. Jesus ran his race first, perfectly, and then calls us to show up and run.

How is it that we are qualified to enter such a race? Only because he qualifies us. Because he ran it first, he opened the way for us to follow him.

It’s a bit like the PGA golf rules. I have a fairly limited knowledge of the world of golf, but I know that the pros really want to win major tournaments, not only for the singular wins and prize money, but because it gives them automatic admission to future tournaments for which it can be hard to qualify.

Jesus went beyond Phil Mickelson—he not only demonstrated his own qualifications but allows us to compete on the basis of his big win!

When we embrace the challenge of following Jesus into the race, he even outfits us. He gives us the Jesus t-shirt. He gives us the Holy Spirit’s breath inside us. Without this, we’d fail before we even got started.

So, we start running.

I started running this race around 1983, and have been running it ever since, sometimes quickly and strenuously, sometimes slowly and steadily like the old turtle, and mostly somewhere in between. Staying with the pack, not too far ahead of most or lagging behind.

I’ve accomplished a few things in this life. I’ve stayed married to the same man for a heck of a long time. I’ve earned a few degrees, played a lot of gigs, and have taught and counseled and helped some people.

Nothing else comes close to the satisfaction of simply knowing that I’ve stayed in the race with Jesus. I haven’t quit. And I salute all of you reading this who have also stayed in the race. It’s not easy.

.Jesus is the one on whom our faith “depends from start to finish.” Running alongside our friends just sweetens the pot.

How do we keep going? It is exhausting. Sometimes we just want to sit on the sidelines and watch others for a while.

But Jesus gives us no place to sit out. Even if we have to pace ourselves while we chug some water and regather our inner resources, we must keep running.

And there he is ahead. His eyes, his strength and grace, his loving encouragement. His example. He cheers us on. He reminds us that there’s a prize at the end, and this gives us the perseverance we need.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is a life of discipline, so it is fitting that the rest of Hebrews 12 is all about discipline. Don’t despise it, the author says. Remember that you’re disciplined because God is a Father, and good fathers discipline their children. “God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness.”

The more we practice God’s discipline, the better we become at running with him. Jesus qualified us when he saved us, so we don’t have to earn our way into the race. But once we start running, he trains and coaches us so that we become better runners. Swifter, stronger, focused, clean, and free.

people running on gray asphalt road during daytime