Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Confessions of an Idolater

Did you know that I found happiness in West Virginia????  I did!  I took a photo of it, see?

Ed and I were visiting favorite friends in Morgantown, West Virginia which included the football game of the year for the Mountaineers.  I saw this when we got gas...and I had to photograph it.  I knew it would be coming to a blog near you soon.

I started this series and acknowledged my idolatry here...but I stayed pretty benign and safe with my confession.  But I bow down to the idol of security and comfort (details to follow).   To review, the main idols in our lives that can manifest in a myriad are:
  • power/control
  • approval/affirmation
  • security/comfort
I admit it!  I don't necessarily go after highs or to feel spectacular...I just don't like to feel bad or uncomfortable.  I did not return to school until 46 to finish my undergrad (while working full time) and then went straight to graduate school (leaving an income behind) getting my Master's one month shy of my turning 50.  Scholarly work is solitary work...a lot of writing and reading.  And I would get anxious under the pressure...and I did not like that feeling.  Eating curbed that feeling...and I could do it while writing or reading!

After grad school, I had to develop my career, which means you go to boot camp.  For me it was doing outpatient therapy with children, adolescents and families in inner city Cleveland (an hour away), putting in 60 hours at least eacg week with immense pressure to meet productivity of billable hours. I would get home around 9:30 at night to follow with several hours doing paperwork.  I noticed I would experience a small woosah by stopping at Swensons for a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake without leaving my car before digging into regurgitating therapy progress notes.

Eventually, I got into healthcare and a job that had been on my radar since I interned there. I was working in a premiere center where the performance bar was pretty high.  Weeks into the job, my father was diagnosed with terminal six months he was gone.  I had to perform (I was still in proving ground) despite the horrible feelings of grief and loss.  But what seemed like harmless calming with carbs had now become a stronghold  in my life.

I did not notice this when I took this photo, but do you see that evil creature in the corner of the window where you place your order?  I did not notice it because I was focused on the happiness.  In the same way, I did not see that I was becoming enslaved with worshiping security and comfort...seeking it through other ways than finding those things in Christ alone.  Not only have I allowed this stronghold in my life, but I have also crushed the heart of God when He wants me to worship Him only...  He is not only worthy, but He also knows that He can meet my need for security/comfort.  He's so clear on this!
Come to me all who are weary and beaten down, and I will give you rest.  Matt. 11:28
From the ends of the earth will I cry unto You: Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2
Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the right time.  Casting all your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you.  I Peter 5:6-7
When my anxious thoughts multiply in me, Your consolations delight my soul.  Psalms 94:19
So at the end of this series, it comes down to the conviction and gentle guidance the Lord has laid on my seek Him and Him only...casting my idol I continually renew my mind with His word.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Road to Bethlehem

Another person unsolicited told me they love reading my blog...

Humbled...I have no idea how much exposure it has...but God is using it...and I've been neglecting it.

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a big fan of Ann Voskamp's writings and blog.  I purchased an advent "wreath" handmade by her son, Caleb.  It was so fresh, I could smell the shellac when I took it out of the box last year.

Adding a candle for each day in December, it leads the donkey, Mary, and Joseph to the manger.

Another new advent tradition has been reading these 3.5 x 3.5 sticky notes from Ann you can download here.  Reading one a day has made a huge difference this Christmas...

I know many our experience desperate circumstances when this season emphasizes cheer and "troubles will be out of sight."  I sent a set of these to an incredible friend of mine who is hurting because I knew how they were helping me.  I've had my share of heavy, loss-laden Christmases. Mind if I share one?

I will believe in God's grace for
impossible things today.
Because no situation is more hopeless than
my Savior is graceful.
And no personal choice that
muddied my life can ever trump
the divine choice to wash my life clean.
That is always the secret to unwrapping
the biggest, greatest, grandest gift:
believe that the love of Jesus is in
the place where I don't expect it.

And THAT my dear friends is TRUTH!  Let's remember Bethlehem...where it all began...

...and let it lead us to the Greatest Gift.

PS:  My 31 days will finish before the end of the year...I'm waiting on God's timing for the next post as it is a difficult one.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Go or Be Dragged!

I'm down to my last three days in my series...and there is still so much left unsaid.

One consistent theme that has God keeps bringing back to is suffering.  Another beheading was broadcast yesterday. A couple was burned in a kiln as they were falsely accused of blasphemy for desecrating the Quran.   An off-duty policeman and father was shot and killed down the road.

And I have a very very dear friend who is experiencing multiple losses...

I sit here in my living room.  Ed is reading humorous emails and watching Monday Night Football.  And I contemplate how short life is...and how little time we really have to make a difference.  In light of that, what is really important about a football game or all the trinkets waved before our face during the commercials?  To coin a phrase in the news of late:  What difference does it make?

I remember a book written by Max Lucado called Traveling Light.  I've never read it but the title is intriguing.  I wonder how much we carry around or we allow to drag us around, because we refuse to let go.  This year has been about letting go...releasing...and practicing humility.  Trust me, I'm still in the beginner's class...

So what have I been learning to unload?

  • Judgment and resentment
  • Self-reliance
  • A critical spirit
  • The burden of others' opinions
  • Irrational guilt, perfectionism, and legalism
  • My idols (which I have to do daily...sometimes moment by moment...trying not to fondle them)
And how can I do this?  Only by grace...grace that comes from renewing the mind.  Reminding myself that I have blind spots and faults of my own that I cannot see.  By praying Psalm 19:12-14:

Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (ESV)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Lesson from Ebola

I heard on the news tonight that the United States is now Ebola-free.

Our area made national news when one of the nurses treating the Ebola patient in Dallas, Texas who died, traveled home to northeast Ohio, later testing positive for Ebola.

Volunteers at the hospital stood vigil and asked the two questions photographed above to every person entering one of the hospital entrances.  A task force was formed.  Every precaution was taken.  One little virus posed a huge threat to all of us.  It was hard to wrap my head around how something microscopic could be so dangerous!

And yet, isn't that what Paul talks about in Galatians how something so small affects everything?
A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.  Galatians 5:9 (NIV)
And yet daily so much fodder invades our hearts and minds that endangers our spiritual health.  What do you listen to?  What do you participate in?  What takes your focus, your time?  Does anything have a hold of your heart, something that appears benign on the surface, but is indicative of an idol crying out to be worshiped?

We cannot renew our minds unless we are vigilant about the covert ways the world will try to conform you into its mold.  This is particularly true in a society where wrong has become right and evil has become good.  It's those little things...the little foxes as stated in Song of Solomon...that spoil the vineyard.

So what are those little things...nearly microscopic...seemingly benign...that can destroy our spiritual health and our effectiveness with others?

You know I write this...because I need the reminder!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Just a Lazy Old Dog

So, I took my own suggestion and spend a "half day in prayer..."

I looked at two excellent devotionals...both from The Navigators:  Daily Discipleship; Daily Holiness with Jerry Bridges.  (You can get both of these in your email daily by signing up here.)

The focus of the article by Jerry Bridges was on knowing your enemy.  He stated that our culture is a major enemy that wars against our Christian resolve, and the enemy of Satan is real...BUT...the greatest enemy lies within us.

I was profoundly hit by a 2 x 4 when I read what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 26:41 as stated in The Message:
Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without knowing your in danger.  There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God.  But there's another part of you that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.
Ow!!!  What a visual!!!!

I participated in a live webinar Sunday night for Open Doors in honor of International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I heard Nik Ripken talk about the many Christians severely persecuted in Somalia.  I heard an Ellie Davidian, born and raised a devout Shiite Muslim in Iran, now Christian serving the persecuted church of Iran speak of the imprisonment of women for their faith, how the government will trap Christians by posting phoney Christian pages on Facebook for Christian Iranians to "like," and how the greatest pressure on the Christian churches there is making it illegal for services to be spoken in Farsi, the native language of Iran.  Mosques and Quran use only Arabic.  In 60 countries all over the world, 100 million Christians are experiencing extreme and severe persecution...

While I am here lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire...

What a mind renewal!

May my heart and mind be focused on those things that break your heart.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Do You Want an Intense Renewal?

It's November 1...a high of only 40 degrees...and the sparrows foraging at my feeders are all puffy to keep warm.

Saturdays are precious to me.  Most Saturdays do not require me to get up to an alarm clock and immediately do the shower-put on my makeup-dry my hair-get dressed routine.

I went through The Navigators discipleship curriculum known as The 2:7 Series decades ago.  One concept we practiced was "a half day of prayer."  It is basically about spending some lengthy, uninterrupted quiet time with the Lord...putting a stop on our busy lives for a season.  I have done this multiple times and it has always been so rich in changing my perspective...renewing my mind.

You can download this publication free here...but one point that Lorne Sanny makes really hits home to me as a reason for doing this:
Like flying over the battlefield in a reconnaissance plane, a day of prayer give opportunity to think of the world from God's point of view.
That's what I need...I challenge you to take some time this weekend.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Time for a Reset?

I am still astounded at the energy drain I am still feeling from the Caleb series.  I had no idea...  Anyway...

Over the past few months, however, I have been moved to give and pray for the persecuted Christians in Iraq under the heavy hand of what is known as ISIS.  I find myself more connected with groups as Samaritan's Purse and Voice of the Martyrs.

Recently, I heard an interview with Gracia Burnham.  I had read her book, In The Presence of My Enemies, but had never heard her speak.

Gracia and her husband, Martin, were Philippine missionaries for 18 years in a town north of Manila.  Celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort on Palawan Island, they, among others, were kidnapped May 27, 2001, by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, with ties to Osama bin Laden.  They were captives for a year--starved, persecuted, forced to walk long marches in the jungle, and experiencing disease--when a military rescue was attempted after a delivery of a $300,000 ransom to the captors failed to secure their release.  Gracia's husband was mortally wounded in the rescue.

But as Gracia spoke in this broadcast 13 years later, she talked about what an amazing reset it was for her really see herself for who she was with the capacity to hate and covet others' food...and instead of losing her faith, she clung to the only thing she had...Christ.  She spoke of God's goodness.  She knew Martin was in heaven.  She was grateful that she was spared so her children would not be orphans.  It is hard to imagine that God would require more of a faithful couple who left the American dream to serve Him in the Philippines.

What would you (or I) be willing to lose to obtain the deepest love for Christ...not because of what He can do or give...but just for who He is?

Is it time for a reset in your relationship with Him?  We are entering November.  Much of our focus is on gratitude.  Do we know the kind of gratitude and thanksgiving that Gracia was able to see after her suffering ordeal?

Please, Lord, renew my mind and heart...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When It Is Time to Rest

I presented this week to staff at the agency that serves Caleb...who has been featured in my blog the past 6 days.  I had this presentation scheduled several months ago -- long before I heard about the "write 31 days" challenge.  Coincidence?  I think not...

But it has been exhausting to relive such pain...and I also believe that the enemy hates when we are engaged in activity that glorifies God and is on the offense.  And tonight, I am tired.

Now...I could be worshiping the idol of affirmation/approval and plow through and write another article tonight...but my heart would not be in it.  Instead, I renew my mind and listen...
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  Genesis 2:2-3
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  Psalm 116:7
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.  For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-15 
 So tonight my hands are quiet and restful...and I rejoice in all that God has done for me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Conclusion

I believe wholeheartedly that following Christ means a pathway of bends in the road, so we cannot see what lies ahead...but trust Him one day at a time.  I had no idea whatsoever what lay ahead when Caleb was born...but Jesus led me all the way.

After the hearing, I knew the decision would move at the pace of bureaucracy, and it would be months until I heard if we had prevailed or if we did not, which meant we would have to appeal to a higher level.

It was amazing the peace I had after that hearing.  I hardly thought about the decision.  Here was the timeline:
  • November 1997 - Caleb was hospitalized in Pittsburgh
  • January 1998 - Caleb went into a re-opened group home near me
  • March 1998 - Informed funding for those services would cease April 1; filed due process through Ohio Legal Rights Service against our local county board of developmental disabilities
  • July 1998 - Feature article about case appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • August 1998 - Administrative hearing; then hearing before the county board members
It was December.  I was sitting in a conference room waiting to meet with folks running Caleb's group home to talk about a behavior plan or something.  Kevin, Ron, and Heidi walked in and congratulated me.  For what????

I had not heard yet.  But the board members reversed the superintendent's decision, and Caleb would continue to get residential services just minutes away from me.  I would remain his mother, guardian, decision-maker, advocate, case manager, and his constant.  Caleb would be assured of a life of safety, contentment, and functioning to his highest potential.

So back to Genesis 50:20:  
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
So how did Caleb's autism and this decision affect the lives of others?  I don't have enough time, but here are a just a few ways.

  • A new group home was created based on Caleb's needs making openings for 3 additional guys to have a place in a residential setting.  (There are long waiting lists!)
  • Caleb's needs created 14 autism specialized classrooms in our local school district.
  • Because of my experience and my job, I was able to walk beside a parent during her two-year journey with her son to fight this same fight. 
And I could go on...

I still hurt daily and yet the tears are what create the rainbows I've experienced to see God's hand on Caleb's life.  Without the renewal of God's word and leaning totally on Him (and not following after the idols of power/control, affirmation/approval, and security/comfort), I would not have made it.

But as the Psalmist wrote, "Surely the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes!"

Monday, October 27, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Part 5

I sat around a large table, next to my attorney...and the county board superintendent sat on the other side, next to his attorney.  All witnesses, including myself, were under oath.  There was a wonderful feature article in the Cleveland newspaper about this case.  At this point, my hands were wide open and I knew just as Abraham laid Isaac on the had I placed Caleb on the altar of God's will.

The Sunday prior, our pastor preached on Nehemiah 4.  I remember it was incredibly powerful!  And somehow the pastor referred to the story of Joshua and Caleb in an illustration and stated boldly, "Caleb has a great God!"  I wrote it in the margin of Nehemiah 4.  I had also underlined passages in that chapter that spoke directly to me about the opposition I would soon face.
They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.  Nehemiah 4:8 (NIV)
 Don't be afraid of them!  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes. Nehemiah 4:14b (NIV)
Our God will fight for us! Nehemiah 4:20b 
Was that sermon a coincidence?  Absolutely not!  And I had my Bible laid open to Nehemiah 4 during the hearing.  God whispered peace to my heart through His word.

I had no agenda but what was in Caleb's best interest...and what was God's will.  None of our witnesses had an agenda different than that.  Caleb's neurologist testified as expert testimony without charging a dime.  All of us had only one thing to present...the truth. And the rest was left in God's hands.

Tomorrow...the verdict and the conclusion.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Part 4

After several months, the county agency providing supports to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families no longer wanted to pay for Caleb's intense programming.  At one point it was costing $300 per diem.  As the superintendent said to me,
"I'm not interested in taking care of your son so you can take Caribbean cruises."
It was cruel and a slap in the if that was my plan!  I wanted three things for Caleb:  to be safe, able to function, and contentment.   That was impossible given Caleb's inherent issues in a family home (plus we were doing it alone).  Even his neurologist (a MAJOR autism expert) concurred that Caleb's needs were beyond the capacity of any family.

With the help of Ohio Legal Rights Service, I sued the funding agency who wanted to stop services.

Out on a limb for what was best for Caleb...the stakes were HIGH.  If we lost...if the agency could prove that Caleb no longer needed these services...I could lose custody.  But just as the pioneers traversed an unknown land...filled with dangers they could not predict...I refused to be deterred because my focus was on what Caleb needed, not me.

To fight for your 9 year old son to live outside of his home is so counter-intuitive as a mother.  I prayed for guidance and peace and confirmation that I was doing the right thing.  Secretly, I wanted a sign.  God brought one that renewed my mind and gave me amazing peace.
Sunday noon, after church.  Pulling into the driveway after church, I noticed a baby sparrow on the ground beneath a nest that had been built on the ledge of a 2nd floor window air conditioner at the house next door.  Getting the ladder out, the bird was placed back in the nest -- but the mother quickly kicked the baby bird out.  I called the park service to get some advice.  The naturalist on the phone told me if the baby had feathers it was probably time for the baby to go...that it was best to let nature take its course.  Then he said, "Do not worry...that mom's job is not over.  She will continue monitor the baby on the ground to ensure its safety from harm."
I hung up in tears.  God had used birds before to speak to me.  God had given me a tremendous gift of a new perspective, a renewal of my mind, convincing me that beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was part of His plan.  I never looked back.  That did not mean, however, that it did not hurt.

And I embrace the verse:
What is the price of two sparrows--one copper coin?  But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it...So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.  Matthew 10:31, 33 (NLT)
Isn't God's word powerful?

Tomorrow -- the legal process begins.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Part 3

Mea culpa to my readers...yesterday I came home from work exhausted and went to bed I apologize.  Back to my story...

Despite my quest to help get Caleb all I could that would serve his attainment of his highest potential (and at the same time to defer my pain and at least pretend I had some control), while Caleb obtained the best services and education possible at that time, his autism  was swallowing him whole.  At age 8, my darling boy was still nonverbal, incontinent, becoming continually agitated, becoming aggressive, becoming destructive.  He was no longer safe, no longer functioning, and definitely not content.  I did not know how to help him.  My marriage was over.  I had no idea the price my daughter had paid as Caleb took my entire focus.

Eventually, my mother and I drove him to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, part of the University of Pittsburgh that had a psychiatric ward for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and psychiatric manifestations.  He was now a danger to us and to himself.  He was admitted for 30 days for further assessment, adjust medications, and make programming recommendations for increased opportunity for success at home and at school.

Caleb's autism we now knew was extremely severe.  His issues were inherent; part of his underlying disability.  There were three things that he desperately needed to make sense of his world and to not be in so much distress.  They were:

  • A controlled environment
  • Behavioral programming
  • And structure and predictability
He did not come home to me.  The county re-opened a closed group home (it had been a convent at one time) with one-on-one staff where the environment was controlled, structure could be provided, and they could begin behavioral programming.  This was in January.

My heart was crushed with excruciating pain of a mother who felt helpless...hopeless...
But the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. --Psalm 34:18 (ESV)
And He was...

Until tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Part 2

I wanted those days back...but they were gone forever.

Normalcy was out the world became about fighting to get Caleb services, trying to keep a child safe who had no fear and very little sense of pain, advocating for him to be included as much as possible with other children, and trying to manage a child with whom I could barely communicate.  I had this highly active child who was often agitated and all my interventions seemed to fall flat and not make much difference.

When I was carrying Caleb, I knew he was a boy and named him Caleb due to Numbers 14:24:
But because my servant, Caleb, has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. (NIV)
Prior to his birth, I prayed that Caleb would be different...envisioning him as a man of God not afraid to be in the minority by proclaiming his Lord. How do I get my arms around this?  Lord...this was not what I meant when I prayed Caleb would be different!  Often I would have to renew my mind with:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the hidden place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one ever came to be. Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
I took my grief and channeled it into advocacy and activism...getting linked up early to others who were in the same boat only further down the river.  That is, other parents of children with disabilities...many who were also Christians.  I was a sponge soaking in all I could about Caleb's rights, the special education system, learning a whole new language, and understanding autism.  Often I used this to defer my sadness...but what I did not know was that God was preparing me and Caleb for so much more.

In time I would be able to say the same as Joseph:
You (Satan) intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
More tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Renewing the Mind in the Middle of Painful Change - Part I

Honestly, I don't know if I can write this...  It began 25 years ago (and hasn't ended), but yet, it is still so painful.  Without this story, however, my life would be drastically different.

I gave birth to a beautiful little boy, Caleb, in January 1989.  He stole my heart and life could not be better.  I had my happy little family:  mommy, daddy, my girl, my boy.  He was bright...interactive...smiled easily...affectionate.  But by 18 months, there was reason for concern.  He had lost his words, he was falling behind developmentally, he became more agitated and harder to know how to parent him.

It wasn't until he was four that we were rescued from the quicksand of "developmental delay" only to face the 40,000 feet high mountain called autism.

I could only remember the prayer I had prayed before he was born:
For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him.  Therefore I have lent Him to the Lord, for as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.  I Samuel 1:27 (ESV)
 Yet, I was crushed...grieving and craving for the time back when all seemed right in my world.  I needed control.  I needed security and comfort.  I needed approval...reassurance that I had not failed as a mother.

I was broken.  (continued tomorrow)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Renewing The Mind in the Middle of Change - An Example

When it comes to keeping a right perspective in the middle of changing circumstances...I think Joseph in the Old Testament is under appreciated.

Reviewing the story in Genesis for this post, it blew my mind!!!!!  None of his circumstances were due to bad choices, sin, or anything that was his fault!

Check this out:

  • Joseph was deeply loved, favored by his father, Jacob, as he was the "son of his old age." 
  • Joseph's brothers were deeply jealous of him enough to want to kill him but instead, sold him into slavery to Egypt.  They let his father think he was dead.
  • Joseph is enslaved but the Lord is with him.  An officer of Pharaoh, Potiphar, makes Joseph an overseer in his household.
  • Potiphar's wife...she thinks Joseph is hot and pursues him with a vengence.   It gets so bad for Joseph that he has to run away from her leaving his coat in her hands.  
  • Potiphar's wife tells Potiphar that Joseph tried to rape her.
  • Into prison goes Joseph.
  • After some time, Potiphar in his anger throws his cupbearer and his baker into prison. The cupbearer and the baker both dreamed dreams they could not understand.  Joseph interprets them, indicating that the cupbearer will be lifted out of prison and restored to his office in 3 days.  Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him.
  • The cupbearer is restored!...but he forgets Joseph (Joseph, who?)  And Joseph remains in prison.
  • Joseph remained in prison two more years then Pharoah dreamed a disturbing dream that no one could interpret.
  • The cupbearer says to Pharoah..."Oh yeah, there was this guy...Joseph, I think his name was..."
  • Joseph interprets the dream warning Pharoah that while there will be 7 years of a bumper crop in Egypt, it will be followed by 7 years of famine.
  • Pharaoh makes Joseph head of his entire house and gives Joseph full authority over who could set foot in Egypt and who could not.
Now, even though things seem good for Joseph right in the world did he maintain a right perspective?  Here he is living high on the hog...and the most natural thing for Joseph to do is to be braced for the other shoe to drop...given his track record.

Eventually, Joseph's brothers come seeking to buy food from Egypt...along with his avoid starvation.  Joseph has the final say whether they will be saved from starvation because God had led him to this point...through ups and downs...disappointments...sufferings...misunderstandings...lies of others.

When his brothers realize it is Joseph...they are fearful realizing it is time their bills have come due!

But instead of being filled with contempt, resentment, bitterness, and anger...Joseph has been able to keep his mind renewed maintaining God's perspective in his reply:
Don't be afraid.  Do I act for God?  Don't you see, you planned evil against me, but God used those plans for my good, as you see all around you right now--life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I will take care of you and your children.  He reassured them, speaking to them heart-to-heart.  Genesis 50:20 (MSG)
Tomorrow, I'll begin to tell you a personal story...of how God intimately renewed my mind through a very difficult time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Renewing The Mind in the Middle of Change

God was very wise when He created seasons.  They remind us that change is an inevitable part of life and that we must pass through them.

Some change feels positive, feels good, is welcomed, but that is not always the case.  We all have stories of coping with uncontrollable changing circumstances that we could share.  A loss of a job, a divorce, a broken friendship, moving to a different state because of your spouse's promotion, contracting a serious illness or injury...

One of the most powerful books I have ever read was about a father/spouse/son who lost his mother, his wife and a daughter in one single car accident...three generations.  Jerry Sittster goes to the places others dare to admit they go when wrestling with such a life alteration event in his book, A Grace Disguised.

I don't know what you may be going through today, but I do that there's always a greater we may see or one we may never know until the other side of eternity.

I think of a verse that has helped me through the tough stuff over the years...
But He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.  Job 23:10 (ESV) 
but the challenge for me has been to get out of thinking about me to renew what I know about my Lord and Savior's character and that my purpose is to bring Him glory.  And sometimes it is monumental in helping others, as was the case in Joseph's predicament, which we will talk about tomorrow.

God so desires that we not worship power and control, but fall on Him for the meeting of those needs.  At times, He uses some life-altering circumstances to remind us.

Until tomorrow...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We Interrupt This Series...

To wish a very happy birthday to my Arthur (far right) and his siblings.  It is his second birthday.  They were all together on their 1st birthday party at the breeders; they went to families all over Ohio and Pennsylvania.  It was so fun to meet them all!  You can read more about the party here...

Arthur is a true blessing in my life.  One of God's gifts that brings joy every day...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Voice of Truth

It was the Summer of 2005.  I had just finished my undergraduate degree in social work from Capital University, able to go to school full time while working full time.  But I knew graduate school was not optional.  To go, I had to quit my full time job and incur debt a year-and-a-half at a private graduate school.

My head was spinning with doubt and what if's...  You know the kind.
  • What if I cannot find a job?
  • What if I flunk out?
  • You are foolish to be going to graduate school at this age and incurring debt.
  • Social workers don't make much money...who are you fooling?
  • You think this is what God wants you to do but once'll be wrong.
Now you could say that was doubt...but it was also the idol of comfort and security screaming to be worshiped.  I was walking away from something I security.

I worked for a printing company and in my final weeks before grad school started.  I often took lunch in a relaxing place and listen to music on my iPod...shuffled.

This song came on, tears flowed, my mind was renewed, fear subsided... 

I finished graduate school eight years ago, have worked steadily since graduation, and God has blessed me doing with a dream job with work that I equate to serving Him.

Do not bow down to the idol of comfort and not let fear take over what you know to be God's truth.

Trust me, I have to do this daily...daily!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autumn Drowsies

It seems to be getting dark so early -- and we have not changed the clocks yet.  Here it is, 7:30 pm and my eyes are heavy...wanting sleep.  Tuesdays are my longest days at work.  I am  in major transition,pde  as I re-enter the five-day work week, after a beautiful two-week vacation.

Part of this is the beauty of autumn...the time of flannels and sweaters...drowsily rocking us to sleep so we are hibernated during the season of winter.

Whatever...maybe I'm just sleepy...sleeepy...sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy.

I thought it wasn't fair to talk about the practice of gratitude without providing some tools to do so.

Ann Voskamp provides a multitude of printables, tools, et al., here that you can sign up for to access downloads.

Forgive me for my brevity today...I am in the trenches now. (smile) So I will print out this quote by Elisabeth Elliot and rejoice in the work God gives me to do.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Yoga Part

Oh yes...the yoga part of gratitude.

Our department at work dresses up for Halloween.  As of right now, I have my hat...but need to find a pair of brown yoga pants.  I am grateful for online shopping.  But I digress...

So what does yoga have to do with gratitude?  Both take practice.  I'll let my social work friend, Brene' Brown, explain.
It would be reasonable to say that I have a yoga attitude.  The ideal and beliefs that guide my life are in line with the purpose of yoga.  I value mindfulness and breathing.  I even have yoga outfits.  But, let me assure you, my yoga attitude and outfits don't mean jack if you put me on a yoga mat and ask me to stand on my head or strike a pose.  As I'm sitting here writing this, I've never practiced yoga.  I plan to change that between now and the time you're holding this book in your hand, but to date, I've never put the attitude into action.  So where it really matters--on the mat--my yoga attitude doesn't count for much.  
In the same way, we can read books on gratitude and talk about being grateful, but where it counts most is in the trenches, where it really counts...especially with others watching.  We can't pull it off, because we don't practice it.

So what does it mean to practice gratitude?  How do you do this?

Ann Voskamp practices by continually looking for things to add to her 1,000 gifts list I mentioned t yesterday.  Gratitude journaling is also a way to practice.  Prayers of thanksgiving or reading the Psalms or other areas of Scripture filled with prayers are helpful.

Practicing gratitude and praise does not mean that you will always be happy all the time, but you will cultivate a renewed mind, along with a steady, consistent current of joy deep within that will stabilize you in the middle of the most chaotic circumstances.

Try it!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Yoga and Gratitude

I'm regularly involved in creative work inspired by Kim Klassen and my fellow creative friends.  Recently, Kim challenged us to take a walk, slowly, taking the time to gather items from our walk...natural treasures.

These were some of mine.  And while I gathered mine, I also gathered an inventory of the amazing gifts God has given me every single day...

Ann Voskamp wrote her bestseller One Thousand Gifts; I read it three years ago, and it still impacts me.  She was challenged to make a list of 1000 gifts which transformed her life.  She writes:
My list of naming God-gifts lies open on the counter.  All I can see, think, is that my whim writing of one thousand gratitudes, the naming of the moments--this is truly a holy work. In naming what is right before me, that which I'd otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible.  That space that spans my inner emptiness fills in the naming.  I name.  And I know the face I face.  God's!  God is in the details; God is in the moment.  God is in all that blurs by in a life--even hurts in a life.  GOD!  Naming these moments may change the ugly names I call myself.  

If you want to renew your mind...if you want to change your perspective...if you want to rediscover joy...stop, be in the present, and look for the myriad of ways God lavishes you with little love gifts that we ignore, pass by.  I don't know how God puts up with my indifference to His goodness some days.

But He is so wise.  His Word tells us to give thanks not only because He is worthy, but because He also knows that doing so brings us even more.  Himself.  And in the joy of His presence, we are changed.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness.  Let the whole world know what He has done.  Psalm 105:1 (NLT)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
 More later...the yoga part comes tomorrow!