Monday, September 29, 2014

...then comes the after (what next)

After the hard...that's what I've been reflecting on all week. What about the season that comes following the difficulty, the suffering or trial just experienced? Then what? I've thought about my typical reactions, my default in that place called next. After some introspection, I don't like my typical choices. What I've discovered is that I tend to default in two ways.

When life is good again, I tend to "coast." I take a deep breath; and just ride through life. While this isn't all bad (the Lord wants us to enjoy being in the spacious places where He graciously brings us following our distress), it easily becomes spiritual-laziness on my part. Lazy, because I put everything on hold to just ride this new wave, and that can even extend to my relationship with the Lord. I've just come through such an intense time of needing Him, of clinging to every Word, that I will sometimes "go on vacation." After all, "I deserve it, look what I've just been through." (That becomes my entitled mentality.)

The Lord warns against this. All through Deuteronomy His call is to remember. Over and over, He warns the Israelites to "watch yourselves, lest you forget the Lord your God..." Following years of wilderness wanderings, during which they must have wondered if there would ever be an end, God brings His people into their land, the spacious place. Even then, the end is not in sight, not yet. To claim the land He is giving them, they have to fight some pretty significant battles (doesn't this sound a lot like the hard we experience?). They fight; they conquer; they obtain; now, comes a season of REST. But, the Lord specifically urges them:

Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grand sons. Remember... Deuteronomy 4:9-10a.

Instead of coasting, God instructs:
Keep on keeping your soul healthy in all diligence. In other words, don't quit doing what you've been doing to preserve your spiritual growth. More than ever, in this new season, gather Scriptures like you would gather a fall harvest, to prepare your heart for the next season of life's struggles. Not only that, keep after "the list" from a couple weeks back (see "A Monologue on Experiencing Hard"). Stay at it. Persevere in steadfastness of spirit.

Never forget what you've learned. Now's a great time to journal, to process all that God taught in the hardships. Record how He ministered to your soul. Jot down the ways He intervened in your story. See where your God heroically "brought you out of the day-of-your-distress and rescued you, because he delighted in you (Psalm 18:18-19)." Even when it felt like He wasn't there, look back and see how He carried you through.

Tell your story (especially to the little ones in your family). Someone once told me the most important thing you can ever give your children is the faithfulness of God. Rehearse it to them over and over and over again. Never tire of telling those who will come after us, the greatness of our God. Our society is losing story-telling, and consequently, we are losing our Big God. When God is small, we leave behind a faithless generation.

Remember, remember, remember! That is the what next.

Oh, yeah...I said I tended to default in two ways, and "coasting" is just one. You'll have to come back next week; can't have this be too long... In the meantime, "lift your eyes to the Maker of the mountains you can't climb (Bebo Norman, I Will Lift My Eyes)" - He is more than enough!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Reason Behind THE HARD

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
1 Peter 4:1-2.

A conversation returned to me after I wrote the earlier "monologue on hard." It is another mental reminder we ought tuck away in our proactive arsenal to have handy when life throws us a curve ball.  I remembered this conversation as I was reading the above verse that discusses Christ's sufferings. First the conversation, then the explanation, and, eventually I'll give you the take away.

Soldier-son invited Soldier-friend to come hunting. Then, Soldier-son had to go out on some unexpected military exercise, leaving Soldier-friend in our care. We loved it! Not only was he a great guy, but it was an honor to GIVE BACK to one who GIVES CONSTANTLY to our country. At any rate, said conversation took place as I was delivering Soldier-friend back to the airport. We began discussing a class on leadership he had been taking, and some of the leaders they had studied. One such leader was former head of the Red Cross, Bernadine Healy (have to admit, I didn't know of her). Apparently, 9/11 occurred under her watch, and when she arrived at the Pentagon, she found the Red Cross totally lacking, to which she controversially made some major changes mighty quick. I made this flippant remark that went something like this, "I suppose that corporations in the midst of crisis, just like humans, find things at the heart that are lacking. It seems during the hard times the yuck in us all rises to the surface, and we discover things about ourselves that 1) we don't like, and 2) need some changing." That's not a profound statement; it's just experientially true to me.

Then I read the above verse a couple days later. Jesus never sinned. This is a fact we know and theologically believe (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). We, believers, definitely know sin; but, we are to have Jesus' mindset. Which was? See the verse below:

Have this way of thinking in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The mind of Christ. He died to His rights. Submitted Himself to the Father. Humbled Himself. Served mankind by becoming my sin unto death.

I'm to have the same mind. Die to self. Submit myself to the Father. Humble myself. Serve others in obedience to the call of God.

What gets in the way? I do. My rights. My human desires. My wants. My way. My will. 

Jesus suffered not to cease from any sin on His part, but to take my sin. When God allows the hard to occur in my life, the YUCK in me does rise to the surface. Then, as the sweet Spirit of the Lord opens my eyes, and reminds me that I am to receive Christ's payment, even for this sin, it puts me in a position for Him to clean away the YUCK. Now, I can walk forward with the right mind...not living for myself, but for Him who became sin for me.

Take away: Sometimes (not always is this the case), I need the hard to show me my sin, so I might walk rightly with my Savior, having His mind regarding life.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Monologue on Experiencing HARD

Last week, when I mentioned Ebola-hard, it wasn't my intention to invalidate any other hard. There are all kinds of hard.  Here are other descriptors for HARD: Divorce-hard; Rebellious-child-hard; Cancer-hard; Murder-hard; Rape-hard; Spousal-abuse-hard; Child-abuse-hard; Car-accident-hard; Recovery-hard; Military-deployment-hard; Pregnant-Out-of-Wedlock-hard; Sick-child-hard; Not-Enough-Money-to-Pay-the-Bills-hard; Time-crunch-hard; Out-of-Work-hard; Break-in-hard; Robbery-hard; Car-jacking-hard; Beheading-hard; Persecution-hard; Imprisoned-hard; _________________(fill in the blank)-hard... Hard is hard. Life is made up of peaceful moments, when we can catch our breath; and hard moments that take our breath away (and we have to be reminded to breathe!).

All of life's hard moments catch us off guard; and, our ability to deal with them when they occur feels inadequate. This is how I measure STRESS/HARD/TRAUMA.  In fact, here's a little scale to measure your stress:

The difficulty of my experience (on a scale of -10 to +10 with -10 being harder than I could ever imagine/my worst nightmare come true, & +10 being a piece of cake/I can breeze through this) + the availability of my resources to cope (also on a scale of -10 to +10) = my HARD.

How I measure my STRESS is entirely personal. I can't relate to yours; you can't relate to mine. That was the thing about Ebola-hard, it came as a surprise; hitting in an unexpected force. The resources to manage it were also inadequate (culturally, academically/mentally, occupationally, environmentally, spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically). Ebola was HARD just waiting to happen. But, so is every other kind of HARD...

What do we do, then, on the other side of HARD (both sides)? I think it's worth taking a look at how we can be proactive for those times when HARD hits, so that the richter scale doesn't take a -20 nose dive, causing my world to cave in, crumble, and leave huge faults. Now then, keep in mind, there's no way to predict the measure of our hard. As I have already said, just by virtue of the description, difficulty & suffering always catch us off guard. Yet, we can keep a few things handy, that can help us in the time of need. Most of these are fairly simple. Let's look at the "before side of hard."

Expect hardship. The Psalmist warns us that our Good Shepherd will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Paul (the Apostle) & James (the Brother of Jesus) also warn us there will be trials (Romans 5:3-5 & James 1:2-4). Peter (the Disciple) tells us not to be surprised/caught of guard when trials hit (1 Peter 4:12).

Know that our suffering is for a season. Peter calls that season "a little while," though while we're in the midst it "feels" like forever! Yet in the scope of our eternity, yes, it is a little while (1 Peter 5:10). The thing to keep in mind is that there will be an end to our hard.

God gives us grace to breathe in the midst and equips us with His divine power for the need of the moment (2 Peter 1:3). This reminds me, in the middle of trials, learn how to breathe. Our heart rates tend to sky rocket, causing all manners of physical ailments in the middle of trials - learn to take some deep breaths randomly though out the day, just to settle your heart, and stay physically well.

Remember that all trials produce in us a post-traumatic-growth. Paul says so, James says so, Peter says so, Jesus says so, I am taking that to the bank. My favorite verse with this in mind is 1 Peter 5:10...I'm counting on my hardships to do this in me: "perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."

Maintain a close community. God never intended for us to isolate. He intended that his children would be a family, and do life together. It's why we can't "forsake the assembling of believers," however that looks for you. We need each other: encouragement to persevere, to remain steadfast, to maintain perspective, to pray for one another, to be hospitable and care for each other when times are tough, and there isn't energy to fix a meal, or clean house, or do laundry. We need to have safe places to vent, to emote, to be our messy selves without condemnation or fixing. It was never good for man to be alone...

Educate yourself in whatever form of STRESS you are experiencing. Nothing is as difficult or scary once there is some understanding.

Take mini-vacations to lay down beside those still waters and have your soul refreshed.

Feed yourself in healthy ways...but most of all in spiritual ways. Don't neglect any form of FOOD.

Develop your own theology of suffering... You undoubtedly already have one (whether you think you do, or not); but is it the right one?

I've known trial and pain. I've known fear and uncertainty. I've experienced the grip of anxiety. I, too, get hard. Experience has taught me some of the above. I'm a little better prepared for next time. Here's what I understand most: When I've suffered for whatever season God calls me to, when I go through the fire, He will be THERE (just as He has been every other time), and when I come out I will more purified than ever before. I won't want to ever repeat what I've experienced, but I WILL BE THANKFUL for it. 

This is TRUTH. These are the perspectacles I will wear...EVERY TIME!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ebola is an Adjective.

Having just spent the last few days processing through the difficult months in Liberia, as the Samaritan's Purse missionaries battled Ebola (along with the DART members deployed to help - the Disaster Assistance Response Team), this is my morning to debrief myself. It's one of my best methods, as I write out what's on my mind.

Here's what's been popping up in my head since yesterday. Ebola is an adjective. Yes, it's a disease, and a horrific illness. I'm not minimizing the NOUN that is Ebola. However, for the Liberia Team, Ebola has become descriptive of the word HARD; even the word STRESS; and, it can even be paired with TRAUMA. Here's an example of Ebola as an adjective: This has been a most difficult season for us; well, it has been "Ebola". Just hearing the word, and if you were connected in any way, you simply nod. You know what that means. You know what you've seen, heard and smelled; you know the internal fear that threatens to choke; you know the numbness of putting one foot in front of the other and doing what has to be done to survive; and you're aware of grief at the deepest levels. There's no time to process Ebola-hard. You keep breathing, and holding on to threads of hope.

I've never experienced Ebola-hard. Not really. I'll have to admit, I'm a chicken (with a capital "C")! I'm glad I haven't had to do so first hand. However, I was privileged to walk with those who have, and in a big way been honored to be present as the stories poured forth over days of debriefing. I've walked away with a firmer resolve that our stories matter. I say it a lot. I've said it before: Our stories matter. My story matters. When the experience of ebola-hard is in a lull, and we have permission to step out, move away, and look internally, it's the telling of my story that will make a difference. As I have permission to share my story, without the platitudes ("just trust God") or the desire to fix ("if you'd only..."), then I can heal from the death card Ebola-difficult dealt me (death of my ministry, death of friends, death of a dream, death of the culture I became immersed in, even death of my naivety).

It's a lesson we all have to learn. In the telling of our stories, we find God-in-the-midst. We see Him present, at a time when He certainly felt distant. We remember the little things, when His hand poured forth a miracle just when we needed it: in the form of a Bible verse that sustained, and a sign of sickness being turned to health, or encouragement from a team member who shares frozen blueberries from home in the middle of Africa, instead of keeping them to herself. As others have said, "Just because it's hard, it doesn't mean God's not there." As C.S. Lewis closes one of his Narnia books the comment is made about Aslan, "He's not safe, but He's always good." That's what telling my story helps me remember. All of a sudden, God becomes the hero in the middle of Ebola-hard. When He does, I will find my soul being restored. Of course, it's a process. It takes time. God knows that, too. So He's good at "making me" lie down in green pastures, beside still waters, so He can finish restoring my soul. He loves me enough to give me that...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Medicines Available for Achy-Hearts

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be the last first day of school for this year. All week I've mulled over the "letting them leave" perspective (you must read last week's blog if you haven't). It put me in a reflective funk, as I relived the first days of pushing my kids out of the nest. At the time, it seemed like such a cruel thing to do, not just because it hurt my own  heart; but it was hard on them, too. Yet, every baby bird that's ever soared has been taught how to fly, then let go. Any attempt on my part to hold on is nothing more than a heart-issue of idolatry. (Ouch!) So, the Lord impressed on me, way before the day came, that I needed to hold those children-He-gave-me loosely. If I didn't let them fly, not only was it an idol-issue; but, it would suffocate them. So, for my own growth and theirs, as well as for His glory, each child, when ready, left us.

I thought back to the day we drove away from Stephanie (our oldest), while she stood sobbing on the curb at Grand Canyon University. At that moment, college-by-video seemed the best option. I was ready to put her, and her luggage, back in the truck and forget doing college-a-9-hours-drive-away. My husband stayed strong (until he got in the car), unlocked my arms from my child, and hauled me away (I might, or might not, been kicking and screaming, I don't remember). He's the one who has always had the best practical sense in the family.

On the drive home, the ever-present ache-in-the-soul found some good medicine. Grabbing a new pair of "perspectacles"  (by letting them leave, I allow them to receive) was only part of the prescription God gave me to put in my cabinet. There were a few other things that helped. Let's take a look inside some of the Lord's home remedies.

The second thing everyone should have available is chocolate. (What? You weren't expecting God to be so "unspiritual" when prescribing meds for achy hearts?) Chocolate is always a good idea, as is coffee (but for different reasons, and at that time I didn't drink coffee...gasp!). Caution: you can eat too much chocolate, and it has an addictive propensity. So there is a warning label on the chocolate medicine bottle. "Eat in moderate doses, and only when needed." I didn't know the reason why I craved chocolate on that particular drive home, but at our first stop, I grabbed a big old bar and wallowed in it. Perhaps it was the distraction, perhaps it was a placebo affect, but, seriously, it helped. Chocolate is great comfort food. Here's what I discovered years later. There is this essential amino acid that is plentiful in chocolate called "tryptophan". Basically, what tryptophan does is produce in us a chemical that aids in a sensation of "satisfaction." It's like an anti-depressant in a chocolate bar. I highly promote Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.++

Then, as I was digging through my purse, I found a message on cassette tape someone had given us. (I know, I'm dating myself: videos, cassette tapes...) We decided that might be a good distraction, even though we weren't feeling entirely spiritual. Oh, my! God new what we needed in BIG DOSES. The message was titled Super Sheep; Ken Davis was the speaker. If you know Ken Davis, you know how funny this man is; though, I highly doubt that message was nearly as humorous as it seemed that day. Because our emotions were planted on the surface, we not only laughed and got a good chuckle, but we laughed until tears were streaming down our cheeks. God knew. He knew how healthy that kind of laughter would be. He reminded both of us of this fact: when life is serious, laughter truly is good medicine. It's a way of releasing the pressure valve caused by the battle between our negative experiences and our limited resources to make a difference. In fact, God gives us biblical permission to laugh, even when laughter seems to be the last thing you want to do. That day, the Lord showed me anew, amidst the hard-of-life, God really knows what He's saying when He gave us these words:

"A joyful heart (also translated "merry," or "quick to laughter") is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22)." 

May this simple verse be our Word-for-the-Week. May we all, amidst the sorrows, find a way to be merry in the middle of hard. It's a great starting place.


P.S. For your convenience, here's a list of some of my top ten funny YouTube videos (following the guideline of "morally excellent" & not in any particular order). Let me just say, Tim Hawkins is always a good idea, along with chocolate.

1. It's Not About the Nail

2. The Wife Song

3. The Mom Song

4. Stop It!

5. A Home School Family

6. Delilah

7. Hand Sanitizer

8. Mom Goggles

9. Aging Rockers

10. Tim Hawkins on Movie Time

P.S.S. Of course, you were expecting prayer to be in the medicine cabinet, so I won't neglect to add it. That's a spiritual given. I prayed harder than ever...I met with a group of moms (just like me), and we prayed for one another's kids. These women over the years were my go-to prayer warriors. Sometimes they wrapped words around just what I was needing to say, but couldn't. Often they came with more truths from Scriptures to pray over my young adults that added to my perspective.

P.S.S.S. Then, I learned to drink coffee about the time #3 went off to college. Coffee clears my cloudy mind. Coffee and Jesus go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I sure do hear Him speak more clearly after a good cup of coffee (& when it comes to coffee, I am no snob). In other words, coffee helps you find your face, so you can put God's prescribed perspectacles on each and every morning.


++ Ok, to be honest you can find tryptophan in healthy things, as well: oats, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, chick peas, bananas, fish, poultry, red meat, eggs, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, & peanuts. I believe God chooses to give me permission to default to chocolate.