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Is it Love?

If it doesn’t cost me anything, it isn’t really love.

During the most recent Bible class I taught, I challenged my class with the above statement.  It is my restatement of this quote from Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm:

“The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that costs me something, I am expressing love.”

I am still pondering  if my restatement is true to Mr. Keller’s intent.  I know I find his statement very challenging.  More importantly, I am examining whether my statement and Mr. Keller’s are true to who God is.

I have learned a lot about loving people.  I nurture, support and give of myself unconditionally to my children.  In thirty years of marriage, I learned that love was a choice and not a feeling.  I learned to put someone else before myself, to respect another person’s needs, feelings and preferences above my own.   In two and a half years of caring for my husband through cancer treatment, I learned how to pour myself out for another human being with no expectation of reciprocation.  Through friendship and sisterhood, I learned to accept people as they are, mostly, and to be a light in their lives that points to God.  In thirty-eight years of walking with God, I am learning God’s love is unsearchable and unmatched.

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  1 John 3:16

To express love, according to Mr. Keller,

I must be deliberate,

I must act,

I must do it for God or for someone other than myself,


it must cost me something.

I must be deliberate.  Love is, indeed, a choice.  It must be intentional.  There is no such thing as accidental love; accidental affection, generosity, or compassion, perhaps.  To choose to love another person is to decide actively that I will provide for another person’s need or desire or best interest, freely, without reluctance or resentment.  If my will is not involved, then I am not expressing love, no matter how much the recipient of my haphazard activity feels blessed, no matter how much God may use my accidental endeavor to bless another.   Crumbs falling from the table that the beggar may grab before the dogs get to them do not come from love.

God gave me free will for this purpose–that I would choose to love Him and follow His example in love.

“Beloved , if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  1 John 4:11

I must act.  Love is an action, not a feeling.  In fact, I can love another and not feel affectionate towards them.  My heart must be willing to act in another person’s best interest, but I can love another and have difficulty with how they behave toward me.  I can love another and still my relationship with them is broken.  However, I cannot love a person and continue to harbor ill will towards them.  (Matthew 5:43-48)  God’s perfect law of liberty is love.  It frees me to love the unlovable, to do what is best for them in spite of how I feel about them, just as He loves me.

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”  James 1:25

I must do it for God, or someone other than myself.  When I act in the best interest of another by my choice, if it serves my interest in any way, it is not love.  I may be acting with affection, I may be sharing with kindness, I may be giving to satisfy a need, I even may be blessed because I act with the desire to serve another, but if I accept a benefit from it, if I gain from it in any way, it isn’t really love.  It may not be a bad thing, it may be a very good thing, but it is not an act of love if I gain anything from it–self-esteem, financial or material gain, social stature, or good will.  This is the place where I get stuck.  I want human credit for the good deeds I perform.  I want the feel-good experience and the pat on the back.  True love, though, is truly selfless.  True love knows its only reward comes from God Himself, and knows His recognition is more than enough.

“…it [love] does not seek its own,…”  1 Corinthians 13:5b

“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”  1 Corinthians 10:24

It must cost me something.  Love is sacrifice.  It requires that I be ‘worth’ less after than before I give it away.  When I truly love, I pour out on another what I would have given to myself.  And I feel the loss.  I know that I am less in some way.  Whether it be time or energy or money or affection or patience or kindness or food or clothing or shelter or discipline or example, whatever I give selflessly, if I know what it costs me and I do it anyway for the benefit of God or for the benefit of another human being, it is an act of real love.  If I give out of my surplus, out of what I don’t really need, out of my wealth, if my serving does not challenge me in some way, it is not an act of love.

I need only to look to God Himself for the example of true love:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:5-8

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Deliberate–emptied Himself”

Action–“humbled Himself”

Selfless–“while we were yet sinners”

Sacrificial–“died for us”

God is good.  God is love!

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.”             Psalm 73:25

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  1 John 4:8

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Friend of God

When I was younger, much younger, I suppose I was typical in that I believed I was in control of my life.  Decisions and plans for my life, not just the direction it would take but the details of the choices and plans, were mine and mine alone, I thought.  If I added people to my realm of responsibility, they would certainly have an impact on my decisions, but I was still in charge.  I chose to major in math in college.  I enabled myself to finish college a year early.  I chose to marry at age twenty-one.  I chose to work part-time so that I could be the keeper of our home.  My husband and I chose to delay having children for a few years.  Looking back at these choices I can see wisdom and maturity in them.  They were not bad choices.

My faith in and understanding of God, however, was immature, even infantile.  I assumed as long as I towed God’s line, He would go along for the ride with me.  My Co-Pilot, ready to take over if I failed.  What I didn’t know when I dedicated my life to Him was that I gave Him permission to pilot my life.  At His insistence, I was strapped into a passenger seat in the back.  God doesn’t need a co-pilot.  I had no clue where He was taking me, but I assumed I knew where I was going.  After all, I had a plan.

The ancient Hebrews had many words for faith, words derived from other words, as well, that are used throughout the Old Testament.  It was a complicated, multi-layered concept for them.  No wonder mankind still is trying to distill the meaning of true faith in God.  I found a list* that narrows things down a bit for me.  I am no Hebrew scholar and present this list only as a means to stimulate thought.

“Amen”–This is the word for “believe”; it gives the picture of one leaning on God.  It is the word of basic faith, a faith still in its infancy.

“And He took him [Abram] outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’  And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’    Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  Genesis 15:5, 6

“Batach”–This is the picture of a wrestler bodyslamming his opponent to the mat; usually translated “trust”.  The wrestling faith of spiritual adolescence when a believer has just enough knowledge of God and His Word to experience spiritual conflict.

“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.  But You, O God, will bring them down to the pit of destruction; Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days.  But I will trust in You.”  Psalm 55:22, 23

“Chasah”–This is the picture of a rabbit seeking protection in the cleft of a rock from a pursuing wolfpack.  Fleeing for refuge, it is the faith of spiritual maturity; one who understands that the Lord is his Fortress, his Stronghold, his Shield, his Deliverer (Psalm 144:2).  One who relies on these attributes of God for spiritual safety to the point of acting boldly and confidently.

“Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.  I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.  He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me.  Selah.  God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.”  Psalm 57:1-3

“Yaqal”–Usually translated “hope”, it is the picture of applying a healing salve to a wound, trusting under pressure and extreme pain.  This is the faith that heals the spiritual wounds of a godly warrior who is advancing on the enemy.

“Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.  Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.  This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I will have hope in Him.'”  Lamentations 3:19-24

“Qawah”–This is the strongest Hebrew word for faith and is usually translated “wait”.  It is the picture of frail, easily broken strands woven into a cord that cannot be broken; the patient endurance that comes from weaving God’s promises, principles and doctrines found in His Word into an unbreakable faith.  This is the faith of a friend of God.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.”  Isaiah 40:31

At some point, I realized I was in the back of the plane of my life, not that it came to me all at once.  Gradually, I realized I was not the pilot, then I realized I wasn’t the co-pilot either.  I wasn’t in the control tower.  I wasn’t even the flight attendant.  I was a passenger.  There were things I could do to make a mess of the flight since no security door exists between me and the cockpit.  More than a few times I have taken the wheel, and He lets me.   After all, I had proven I could make wise choices, choices that honored Him.  Why shouldn’t I be in charge of my life’s flight plan and piloting?  Thankfully, He stays close by, because I eventually realize, every time, I have no clue what I am doing.

I really like the picture of weaving the thin, frail strands of God’s promises, principles and doctrines, which individually are important but incomplete, into a cord of faith that cannot be broken.  This process takes time, effort, skill, strength, experience, and trust to accomplish.  I find myself at a time in my life now where I am waiting on God to move me to the next leg of the journey.  While we are refueling, I remember His promises, the principles of being His servant and the Biblical tenets of my belief in Him, and I slowly fashion them into a faith I know I can rely on.  It is laborious, tedious work.  But, more than anything, I want to be a friend of God, a passenger in my own life, following His instructions and His leading, trusting in His ability to take me safely where I need to go, on the best route possible.

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ and he was called the friend of God.”  James 2:21-23

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

*The information about the Hebrew words for faith comes from  As a whole, I do not endorse or recommend the site because of overt doctrinal errors it contains.

Did He Know?

Last week I witnessed the brightest full moon I think I have ever seen.  A “blue” moon, the third full moon in a single season, it was clear and extremely bright.  So bright, it was difficult for me to look at directly.  I live in a neighborhood full of trees and the shadows the moonshine cast were ethereal and romantic.

I am used to seeing such nighttime beauty.  Here in New England, when snow covers the ground, moonshine of any intensity is reflected off of the snow, sometimes so much that it doesn’t seem like it is night.  Last week was the first time I remember thinking the same thing about a summer moon.

I commented on Facebook about the beautiful moon and received several comments from my friends agreeing.  I have Facebook friends from coast-to-coast.  This thought occurred to me:  Did God know, when He set out on the great design of this universe, that humans like me would appreciate the ability to look at the moon and know that a friend one thousand miles away from me could look at the same moon at the same time and also enjoy its beauty?  Was it part of His plan to provide opportunities that would appeal to the romantic side He gave to me?

In many a love story, characters separated by distance classically use the moon as a focal point of their love.  It is the same moon, in the same sky, in the same universe on which to fix their gaze and remember their beloved who they hope is doing the same.  It is difficult to be separated from those I love.  As a human, I need focal points for my passions and reminders of my loved ones.

“O Lord, how many are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.”  Psalm 104:24

In wisdom You have made them all,” that would seem to answer my questions.  The degree of detail my God plans and executes in His creation is mind boggling.  He designs every single created object to function in specific ways, from the tiniest cell to the sun itself.  For me, He provides for all of my needs, even my need for romanticism.  For loved ones who are separated by distance, He provides a beautiful object in the sky on which to focus their emotion.  No one who believes in the Creator can deny the gift to romance He provides through the moon.

His great love for me moves Him to think of even the smallest things in my vast list of human need, even romance that nurtures my heart and encourages me to be more than I have been for the sake of another.  I must be careful not to extend my ideas of human romance to God, but His act of providing for me, for all of us, even those who eschew Him, (Matthew 5:45b), in all of the big and small ways, and His design of a place for me to live that nurtures me in too many ways to count, are but the opening acts in the greatest of love stories.  My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs are paramount in His mind as He designs and creates every detail of the universe.  And, He provides for me, from before the time He formed the earth, (1 Peter 1:17-21), the Son, His Son, whom I need as my redemption to rescue me from myself.

“Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, And His greatness is unsearchable.  One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.  Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And I will tell of Your greatness.  They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.”  Psalm 146:3-7

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.


I love music.  I never have too much music in my day.  I am at home a lot and I very often have music playing, usually at full tilt volume on my Bose.  If you call me or come by my house, are certain that I am home, but I’m still not answering, then I can’t hear the phone or the doorbell because I am enjoying some tunes.  If I am on the road in my car, I am most likely singing along to whatever I am listening to.

Music speaks to my heart in a way no other medium does.  It soothes, it calms, it validates my soul.  I love poetry, and poetry set to music is beyond comparison to me.  If I could give each day of my life theme music, I would.  Now that I live alone, I am free to listen to any music I choose, whenever I choose, and it brings me so much joy.

Because music is a strong conduit straight to the center of my heart and mind, I have to be very careful what kind of music I listen to.  I was a rock-and-roll girl, not the heavy stuff, more pop than hard.  No more.  I now realize the messages were hurting more than helping me.  The words matter.  What they say, how they make me feel, what they encourage me to do matters.  It is harder to “walk in the Light” (1 John 1:6) when the song I am listening to claims that I need to do whatever feels right to me.  For me, it is now Christian music all the time, with occasional light opera love songs thrown in.  For the record, rap is not music.

For most of my life I was a news junky.  If the television was on and I had the remote, it was tuned to a 24-hour news station more often than not.  I watched endless coverage of the  O. J. Simpson trial and moment by painful moment of the September 11th attacks.  I wanted to be informed and prepared, for what, I am now uncertain.

Now, my television is rarely on.  I may watch a total of ten hours a week of television, most of it not even news.  It became noise in my life, like the less than wholesome songs I once enjoyed.  Noise that distracts from what is good.  Noise that pulls my heart away from God.   So much of this life seems like noise.  Much of it is not evil in and of itself.  Jobs are necessary, important, family is a blessing that needs constant nurturing, team sports are healthful mentally and physically.  Many things, though, can become noise in my life if I let them.

I find it interesting that Paul focuses on categories rather than specifics in his encouragement in Philippians 4:8:

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Paul gives me the lists of things to avoid in Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the things that are not only noise but are capable of keeping me from my heavenly reward if I practice them.  There is, though, more to following Christ than avoiding evil.  There is the doing and the thinking.  He gives me eight column headings to use:  True, Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, Good Repute, Excellence and Worthy of Praise.  If a piece of my life does not fit into at least one of those descriptions, it is not for my dwelling on, not worth my time, simply noise.

The more deliberate I am about shutting down the noise in my life, about culling out anything that distracts me from walking with my God, the more content I am, the more centered and steady my days unfold.  The more conscious I am of what threatens to pull me away from God, the more prepared I am to resist its tug.  The more I fill my life, my mind and my heart with what is pure and lovely and true, with what is undeniably godly, the less room there is for noise that distracts me from what endures for eternity.

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

As Clear As Muddy Water?

My mother had several phrases she used often, colloquialisms that made her point but required me to think to decipher her meaning.  “As clear as muddy water” was one she used when she wanted to let me know I wasn’t making sense.  Sometimes, I was confused by these phrases.  I am a plain-speaking kind of girl.  I much prefer for someone to spell out to me what they want to tell me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about transparency.  It seems I have a knack for laying bare parts of me in a way that others find difficult to do themselves.  I receive many comments about my writing and teaching appreciating my ability to expose what lies deep within me.  Honesty is a big deal with me.  Dishonesty inhibits every form of relationship known to God and man.  I have been lied to by people I trusted and loved, and I do not like it.  I feel violated and abused.

Dishonesty impedes my relationship with God.  Yes, God knows all, knows the content of my heart and mind before I tell Him.  His Spirit searches my heart and His own heart.  (1 Corinthians 2:10)  It is a tremendous blessing that His Spirit can know and interpret what lies deep within me before I am able to decode it myself.  But God wants me laid bare before Him, of my own volition with no pretense, no mask.

God gave me the gift of sharing my heart.  When I was very young, though, I learned, painfully, to be careful to whom I exposed it.  The scars run deep.  The freedom to share my heart completely, safely, is what I miss most about marriage–someone to share my heart with, who I know will cherish it and treat it lovingly.  The trust between a man and a woman committed to one another in love and in Christ is the greatest gift any two people can share.

I am thankful for the ability to share my heart, to be transparent.  It is a characteristic I share with God Himself and it is humbling.  He shares so willingly, so consistently with us.  Imagine God talking directly to Abraham when He stops him from sacrificing Isaac.  God pours out His blessing on Abraham, straight from His heart, knowing the blessing will cost Him dearly in sacrificing His own Son. (Genesis 22:12-18)  In the ten commandments, God does not mince words about who He is and what He requires of Israel to be in a relationship with Him.  (Exodus 20:1-17)  He spells out in great detail what He wants from His people–their hearts, their love, their devotion, their obedience.

And yet, I think I can fool God.  I think if I give the appearance of devotion to God I am satisfying Him. I think if I pray with the right words I don’t need to be open with God.  I think if I sacrifice anything in service to Him I don’t need to be concerned with what He really wants from me.  I think if I fool myself it is okay to fool God, too.  My dishonesty, my failure to be transparent with Him, my unwillingness to lay my heart bare to Him will destroy my relationship with Him.  I hurt myself and injure the heart of our loving God.

When I withhold my true self from God, from anyone, I think I am protecting myself.  I don’t like feeling  vulnerable.  I don’t like knowing anyone has the power to hurt me so deeply.   Vulnerable, though, is the only way to relate to God.  With His heart exposed is how He has related to man through the centuries, from His blessing of Abraham to His disciplining of a disobedient Israel to His righteous anger at the horrid abuse of His Son.  God deals with man clearly, lovingly, honestly.  His approach to me even now is the same.

Transparency with God is essential to my spiritual well-being.  King Saul’s mistake was to pursue his own heart rather than God’s heart.  (1 Samuel 13:13,14) The prophet Samuel warned the people and Saul, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.”  Saul was more concerned with pleasing the people and the resulting boost to his own ego than with honoring God with his whole heart.  Saul blamed the people rather than admit his disobedience.  “To obey is better than sacrifice,” (1 Samuel 15:22) because true obedience, obedience in heart and body, brings us unmasked and without pretense before God, because it demonstrates pure devotion to Him.

God chose David, son of Jesse, to replace Saul calling him “a man after His own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14)  David would go on to commit egregious sin and suffer horrid consequences because of it.  But David, unlike Saul, came clean with God when the prophet Nathan confronted him. (2 Samuel 12:13)  He laid himself bare before God in humility and trust (Psalm 51), went on serve God as King of Israel in spite of great heartache.

Some people don’t appreciate transparency; oddly, they don’t trust it.  They think it must not be real, that there is an ulterior motive.  I live in a world full of jaded people.  Such comrades make it more difficult for me to be clear and exposed in this life.  The habits of self-preservation and skepticism are reinforced often in my daily life–if I bring them into my relationship with God, I lose touch with Him.

Struggling with transparency is part of the human condition.  I am no exception.  The more transparent I am with God, though, the easier vulnerability to anyone else becomes because I know I am secure with the One who matters most.  Intimate, honest, and safe define the abundant life with God,  not “clear as muddy water.”

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Of Beams and Veneer

I live in a house that was built in the 1960’s.  Structurally, it seems to be in good condition.  A previous owner installed a steel beam in the ceiling of the downstairs family room to facilitate the removal of an obnoxious support pole.  Besides enjoying the aesthetic the beam now makes possible, I often feel a sense of security knowing that beam is in place, fully engaged in doing the job for which it was designed.

Over the years, we have put many thousands of dollars into rehabbing the veneer of this house.  We replaced all but two doors.  All of the flooring, except for the ugly green shag carpet downstairs in the aforementioned room, is new.  The windows work well, so they are still the originals.  The siding, well, it’s still there, but we painted it a few years ago.  The kitchen and bathrooms are newer, but now the bathrooms need to be rehabbed again.  If you own any kind of building, you know the to-do list goes on and on.

We tend to treat our bodies much like we treat our buildings.  Renew, rehab, renovate what can be seen and touched.  Try to keep the veneer as pleasing as possible.  Sometimes we will go a little deeper and build muscle, improve the nutritional quality of what we eat, control the intake and outflow of calories.  For most of us, though, these activities are about keeping the outside looking good.  I found myself squinting at the computer screen a few months ago, but it wasn’t until I noticed the wrinkle forming in between my eyes that I went to the eye doctor for a new glasses prescription.

In the Sunday morning ladies Bible class I teach, we are studying about The Good Shepherd.  Lately we’ve been walking through Psalm 23.  “He restores my soul.”  Any sheep is completely dependent on its shepherd for survival and thriving.  Sheep are dumb animals, incapable of shepherding themselves.  They are unable to restore themselves if they become cast, that is, on their backs.  The image I see is of a shepherd-less flock of sheep gathered around one of their own, trying to figure out how they are going to get their buddy back on his feet.  They are not able to help their friend and just stand there.  It soon becomes pathetic and tragic.  A cast sheep that is not restored dies, sooner or later.

In despair, in moments of deep hopelessness, my spirit is cast down.  Just like the cast sheep, I am unable to get up on my own, powerless to lift myself out of danger and set myself back on my feet.  I need a spiritual shepherd to help me.  The Good Shepherd who created me and all that I see and cannot see, who authored the script of the human heart, who loves me more than I will ever comprehend, who paid for my redemption, is the only shepherd qualified to help me out of my miserable predicament.

Not that I don’t try to rescue my soul.  Entertainment, recreation, work, self-help books, self-indulgence, and mind-altering substances are famous and oft used antidotes for the despairing heart.  I think of them as sheep gathered around me trying to take my mind off of my troubles while I slowly die.  Valiant attempts but completely ineffective for my soul’s rescue.  It is wasted effort to dress up the veneer of a discouraged heart.

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing.”  Luke 15:4, 5

When I am separated from Him because I cannot get up, my Good Shepherd, the very Son of God, comes looking for me until He finds me.  If I allow Him, if I am aware of Him, He will pick me up and return with me on His shoulders, rejoicing!  Not upset or angry or irritated with me.  Genuinely rejoicing that I am found and back where I belong.  I am restored!

I have been in a place of despair a few times in my life.  Knocked off my spiritual feet and unable to get up.  Not thinking clearly.  Confused as to whose voice I should heed.  Numb from extreme anxiety, paralyzed by fear.  Frantic because I know I am spiritually exposed and vulnerable.  Grasping for anything that will soothe my heart and help me feel whole.  I close my eyes and wish it would all go away.

I hear the Good Shepherd call for me; I open my eyes and see Him.  Unlike a sheep, though, I don’t always recognize Him.  I’ve been away from Him longer than I thought, and I forget how much He loves me.  His voice sounds familiar, but I am not sure I can trust it.  To let Him help me, so simple but so hard because I have to confess I messed up when I took my eyes off of Him, because He says I must declare that I need, and want, His help.

To be spiritually restored is a precious event.  Out of great love, He restores me so that I will follow Him.  He knows that following Him is what He designed me to do.  To follow the Good Shepherd is a privilege beyond comparison, the only activity where I am completely at ease.  To be the object of His rejoicing, the focus of His love and concern, is humbling and empowering.  To remember I am not capable of shepherding my own spirit is essential to my spiritual well-being.

When I follow the Good Shepherd, I know that my spirit is doing the job it was designed to do, like the beam in the ceiling of my family room.  I know I am secure from evil, free from the worry that life will throw something in my path that will take me away from Him.  All I have to do is follow where He leads.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27, 28

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

When All You Hear Is Your Hurt

I am not an overly emotional female.  Oh, over the years I have had my moments.  But ask my friends and they will tell you I am a “steady Betty.”  They come to me for reasoned, calm advice.  I don’t suppress the female side of me, but God gave me the ability to see life in full context, to see potential outcomes, to reason out the pros and cons, to see how His hand works in the big picture of any day as well as in the story of human history.  This gift adds balance to my female side ( ever look up the origin of the word ‘hysterical’? ) and enables me to manage my emotions successfully most of the time.  Being an introvert, one who processes internally, helps as well.  I look like a person in control.

Yesterday, though, was a different story.  I have been dreading this week for several months.  Wednesday is the second anniversary of my husband’s death from brain cancer.  Last year I planned a vacation for this week and was in beautiful Florida with many distractions and new visual images to help me block out the memories.  This year I couldn’t think of any place to go.  In fact, it seemed God was encouraging me to stay close to home.  I have been fairly successful this summer at keeping the memories of my husband’s last few weeks where I want them.  They serve no good purpose and tend to paralyze me mentally and emotionally.  I am all about forward movement in life right now and I have no patience for anything holding me back.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling okay.  I fixed my breakfast, sat down to eat and began to pray.  And the dam burst.  There was no warning, no stopping it, no getting out of its path.  One advantage to living alone is no one sees these moments, no one’s eyes reflect back to me how truly devastating they are.  But, there is no one to hold me, either.  Just me and God.  I prayed and so wanted God to take control, to deliver me.  I wanted to know His urging, His path for getting me out of this flood that threatened to drown me.  He left me in it, though, all day long.  He didn’t let me drown, but all I could hear was my hurt.  The flood washed over me in waves that tossed me from heartache to heartache.  Every thought came from my sense of loss.  From moments of self-pity to moments of deep anger, I bounced through the torrent.  The temptation to escape, to try anything to numb the pain, was great.  This morning I woke up on the beach, still in one piece, but wondering what was the point of my wretched adventure.

On my Facebook page I quote each day from the Psalms.  I am up to Psalm 116 and yesterday’s entry, which I posted before the dam broke, was verses six through nine:

“The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.  Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. 

For You have rescued my soul from death,

My eyes from tears,

My feet from stumbling. 

I shall walk before the Lord

In the land of the living.”

God gave me a guidepost, His hand to hold through the tumultuous day.  He gave me a reason to resist temptation, courage to meet the challenge, assurance that I would survive.

I’m not sure what the point of yesterday’s experience was, or is, or will be.  I may never know.  Maybe my psyche needed the release.  Maybe writing this blog entry, perhaps for you, was the point.  Maybe there will be a time when I will need the memory of this experience to help someone else, or help myself, through another wretched adventure.  Today I am okay, almost back to “steady Betty.”  Maybe I needed the reminder that waiting for God’s timing of deliverance, of anything, is worth the day’s trouble.  That clinging to faith matters.  That trusting Him is not without purpose.

Trusting God–the greatest challenge of my life.

Psalm 4:5  “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And trust in the Lord.”

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.