IT’S NOT SUPPOSE TO BE THIS WAY

We had an unpleasant incident in the back yard a few weeks ago and I am left with an image I can’t erase from my mind.  Before I relate what happened, I need to remind you of our ongoing battle with squirrels.  While I still think they are fun to watch as long as they stay away from my house, they have caused so much damage that I feel like I am at war with a cute, furry enemy.  I understand they are just doing what squirrels do and I really would like to peacefully coexist with them, but they are continually tearing up the cushions on my patio furniture in order to line their nests with the stuffing.  Pretty smart, but costly to me!  When they are not doing that they are trying to find ways to chew their way into my attic or antagonize my dogs.  As a matter of fact, Max and Ruby are sitting on the back of the sofa next to me, barking loudly at a squirrel who is sitting about a foot away, separated by a window.  I think the squirrel is laughing.

And this is where the story begins.  Max and Ruby have chased the squirrels since they were puppies.  I have always just laughed at it because those squirrels are way too fast and too smart.  Ruby especially pursues them.  As you can see from the picture, she has a long vertical leap and would climb the tree if she could!  Whenever I let the dogs out, she runs for that tree hoping to chase a squirrel.  

A few weeks ago when I let the dogs out, I watched Ruby run for the tree as usual.  Then I heard the scream!  I didn’t know a squirrel could make that noise, but I instantly knew what happened.  At first it looked like Ruby had nipped its tail, and I thought it would get away as it continued to climb.  But then it dropped to the ground.  I quickly screamed for Jerry to come out.  Max was barking and Ruby was shaking the squirrel like a rag doll.  Miraculously both dogs remembered the commands, ”Drop,” and “Leave it!”  

The next part is the part that haunts me.  I stood over the squirrel, waiting for Jerry to come and do something, watching it gasp for breath.  As it did, its eyes looked right into mine.  I remember thinking, “This shouldn’t be.”  Even as I stood there I recalled the verse from Matthew,

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.  Mt. 10:29 NLT

 I saw the dying squirrel and so did God.  I wonder if He too thought, “This shouldn’t be.”  As I have ruminated over this incident, I keep going back to the Garden of Eden.  The world was perfect.  There was no death, no killing between the species and no murderous intent between humans.  There was no COVID, no riots, no dirty politics, no anger, and no hatred.  You know the rest of the story.  Satan came into the garden, and humans began doing what humans do.  They disobeyed God and sin came into the world, and with sin, death.  Before you put too much blame on Adam and Eve, let me tell you something I know to be true.  I would not have done better.  That forbidden fruit, those lies from Satan…they would have gotten to me too.

Sin and death.  We have seen and experienced so much of it these last months.  How blessed we are that God provided a remedy when He sent His Son to earth to pay the price for our sins.  If we accept this payment, we gain eternal life.  When our earthly life is over we just slip into our heavenly life.  Romans 6:23 tells us that the payment for sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ. 

The things I see on the nightly news?  They shouldn’t be.  And they grieve the heart of God.  If he cares about a sparrow (or a squirrel) that falls to the ground, how much more does He care about our human condition?  His answer?  Repentance.  That’s a churchy word that means we agree with God that we are sinners, we ask for forgiveness and accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, and we turn away from sin and follow Jesus.  

Repentance is the only remedy I can see for our country.  It will not come from a president or any elected official.  It will not come from Wall Street, our universities, or our entertainment industry.  It can come only from God.  I invite you to join me in prayer, for both personal and national repentance, asking God to send a new Great Awakening.  

Lord, we are a nation in trouble.  The blessings we have enjoyed have come to us not from our own goodness or superior wisdom, but solely because of your grace.  We have turned our backs on you and followed our own desires.  We have gone after that forbidden fruit, and it has left us broken and dying.  These things should not be. Please forgive our land.  Return us to you.  Heal us and help us to fulfill our destiny as a nation. We ask and believe in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.            

GOOD DIRECTIONS

Anyone want a refund on those black-eyed peas yet?  We are only one week into 2021 and already we need a do-over!  It feels like we have already made a wrong turn and have ended up right back into 2020.  It is hard to believe the events of the last few days.  This is the year things were supposed to get better.  If we could just endure 2020, make it to the finish line, turn the calendar over on January 1, things would be better, right?  And yet here we are with the brokenness of our world smacking us right in the face every time we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper.  Many of us have been praying for a revival, a new Great Awakening, but the world seems more sinful than ever.  Where is God when the world seems so dark?  Did we miss His directions?  

First of all, God is not bound by our human calendar.  He operates on His own timetable and the fact that our calendar has flipped over to a new year does not obligate Him to anything.  Secondly, God has His own agenda, His own plan.  If you read the Bible all the way through (and I strongly recommend that you do), you will see that God is moving all of history toward an end to this world.  I am not saying the end is today.  People have thought that we are in the last days ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, and we are.  There is no doubt that we are getting closer to the end of human history. 

In my last post, I shared a verse of scripture that has really spoken to me in these early days of 2021:

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!  Ps. 77:19 NLT

Every year I ask the Lord to give me a verse or a word for the year.  I have been trying to hear from Him and settle in on what He is speaking to me.  The scriptures that have jumped off the page at me are ones that contain the word “path” or “way” or “pathway” so I have settled on “path,” understanding that it contains the meanings of all three words.  I am loving the idea of Jesus as a way maker, the One who creates a path.  When we think there are no good options, he shows us a way we have never considered.  

Jesus tells us that He is the way (John 14:6), and we understand that He is speaking about the way to the Father, the way to heaven.  But when someone tells you the way, there is still the journey.  I might ask the way to get from Tulsa to Dallas, but I still have to make the drive.  I need to know where to turn, what towns to drive through, and where the rest stops are.  I need to know the road conditions.  Is there construction?  Bad weather?  I need to stay on the path and trust that the directions will get me to my destination, even though I will drive through a long stretch of highway that doesn’t look like Dallas.  If the person who gave the directions truly knows the way, I can trust the drive.      

So that is where we are now.  We are beginning our journey through 2021, without much of a road map, but the One who created the road has the directions.   He knows the path.  We may not know what is ahead, what will happen next week or next month, but He knows.  He will show us the way, where to turn, where to stop.  And when it looks like we are at a dead end, when we are out of options, He will show us a way; a way we never knew was there.

Fasten your seat belts! The road ahead may be bumpy!       

Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021!

Today is New Year’s Eve and we stand at an intersection between a year we never want to experience again and a year of unknowns.  We will remember 2020 as a year that would be hard to believe had we not lived through it.  Think about where you were this time last year, what you were thinking and feeling.  I think most of us go into a new year with hope and optimism.  This is the year I will—-you fill in the blank.  I will lose weight, find a new job, read through the Bible, run a 5K, find love.  Most of us set off on January 1 with goals, hopes and dreams.  We kiss our loved ones, watch fireworks and drink a toast to send off the old and welcome the new. Never at this time last year could we imagine a pandemic was on our doorstep.

As I have thought back over the events of 2020, I think the most amazing thing that happened was the shutdown.  The entire world stopped, became silent.  Commerce came to a halt.  Doors were shut and locked, even church doors.  There was no traffic on the street or in the air.  It was strangely quiet.  Can we just stop and look at that one aspect of 2020, the global shutdown?  What a remarkable event!  I do not know of another time in history when something of this magnitude happened except the Great Flood of Noah’s day (yes, I believe that really happened).  God silenced us, put us in time out.  People, WHAT does God have to do to get our attention?

I won’t rehearse all the other hardships and sadnesses of 2020.  We all lived through them.  But before we completely close the book on 2020, I wonder if you have questioned why, of all the times in history, you are living now, during this remarkable, unprecedented time.  It is a question worthy of taking to the Lord, because He tells us in Psalm 139 that He ordained every day of our lives before we were even conceived.  So what is His purpose for us, to be living during these extraordinary days?

That question brings me right back to New Year’s Eve.  What is His purpose for you and for me as we cross into 2021?  What will we be facing?  I want to share a verse with you, a verse I found the other day that really spoke to me:

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!  Ps. 77:19 NLT

I think some context is important here.  The psalmist is referring to the events in the Book of Exodus, when the children of Israel stood facing the waves of the Red Sea with the army of Egypt bearing down hard on them from behind.  God was about to provide a path for them to cross over, a path no one would have ever dreamed could exist.  

Like the children of Israel, we too are standing at a precipice.  The year 2020 is at our rear, and no one wants to go back to that!  But the uncertainty of 2021 lies ahead.  We thought things would be better by now.  We thought life would be more normal, that this terrible virus would have run its course, that all the unrest of a contentious election would be settled.  These are our choices: the Egyptian army of 2020 and the Red Sea of 2021.  But God.

God has a pathway, a way we have not seen before, a secret way no one knows about.  Today, in these final hours of 2020, will you ask God to show you the path He has for you?  And if you do not know God, I urge you with every fiber of my being to invite Him into your life to show you the path.  You might wonder how to do that.  It is simple, but profound.  You agree with God that you are a sinner (we all are), you confess those sins and turn away from them and ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life to guide you.  I would not want to go into 2021 without Him.

Jesus, I believe You are God and You died on the cross in my place because of my sin. Please come into my life, forgive my sin, and make me a member of your family. I turn from going my own way. I want You to be the center of my life. Thank You for Your gift of a forever relationship with you and for Your Holy Spirit, who now comes to live in me. I ask this in Your name. Amen.

PUTTING AWAY CHRISTMAS

Today I will begin the job of taking down all the Christmas decorations and getting the house back into its usual order.  This is a chore I always dread, and I have written about it before in my book Seasons.  I love Christmas and everything that goes with it: the lights, the presents, the music, the food… all of it.  I begin Christmas early, and this year I started earlier than I usually do.  I couldn’t wait to get the tree and all the lights up.  So what goes up must come down, and it is a backbreaking chore.  

I dread all the work that goes into putting away the decorations, but this year I dread it for a different reason.  More than ever before, Christmas has been a respite from the darkness of our world in 2020.  We have left our lights on all the time except for when we go to bed.  I have turned off the news and that has made me much more peaceful.  It’s been Christmas music and Hallmark movies, and thanks to YouTube, some wonderful messages from pastors I have discovered this year.  So putting away the decorations (and I sigh as I even write these words) seems to be a signal to return to what passes for normal this year.  An end to joy and a return to reality.

But every ending is also a beginning.  There is something energizing about getting the house all clean and free of the Christmas clutter.  It is a signal that a new year is just days away, and new years bring new opportunities.  Besides, returning to reality doesn’t automatically preclude joy.  That is a choice, and I choose joy!

I have been thinking a good deal about Mary and Joseph and all the characters in the Christmas story.  I have been especially thinking about the time they lived in.  That was a dark period for Israel as they were under Roman rule.  The government issued orders that were burdensome, especially the order to return to the place of one’s birth to be counted in the census.  So we also are under burdensome rules and recommendations in 2020.  Christmas was different for many of us, and travel has been difficult.  

But what a blessing it is to be living on this side of the birth of Christ.  The Jews who lived before Christ worshipped in their temple and synagogues, but when they left to return to their homes, they left God there.  Because God came to earth on that first Christmas, we don’t leave Him in our places of worship.  He is with us all the time.  Emmanuel, God with us!  I don’t think we really stop to consider how truly remarkable that fact is.  When we receive Christ as Savior, He comes to live inside us.  Jesus said in John 14:23:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

So when I put away the Christmas decorations I will not actually be putting away Christmas.  I am not putting God in a box.  Because of Christmas I can experience joy even in the darkest days.  And because of Christmas I can face an unknown 2021; God will be with me.  And so as I turn to this big chore before me, I resolve to keep Christmas.

I WONDER

I wonder.  I’ve always wondered.  What was it like?  What was it like for a teenaged Mary to be told by an angel that she would be the mother of God?  As I read the story I can understand her initial fear at seeing an angel, but then it seems that belief came to her quietly and naturally, as if she had just been waiting for a chance to say yes.  She had undoubtedly heard the stories from the scriptures…that one day a Messiah would come.  But did she ever really believe that He might come through her?  It seems that Mary received Christ so easily.  And that’s how it is for some people.  In their tender years Jesus comes to them and with a childlike faith they say yes.  God was giving her a privileged but difficult mission.  Mary said yes.  Would I?  I wonder.  

I wonder about Mary’s mother.  As a mother to three girls I’ve always wondered. How could she believe this story her daughter told?  And even if she did believe Mary, what about the gossip?  Hadn’t she done all the things a Jewish mother should do to bring up a daughter?  And here she had this nice marriage arranged and then this!  We aren’t told how she received the news, but as a mother myself I can put myself in her sandals.  You want to trust your child, but this story was problematic, even for one who knew the scriptures.  Maybe that is part of the reason Mary went to live with a relative.  Maybe it took Mary’s mother time to believe.  Would I have believed my daughter?  I wonder.

And what about Joseph?  We are told he was a good man, a righteous man.  I wonder about him.  Was he a man who finally had all his ducks in a row so he could marry and start a family?  Had he been waiting to get his carpentry business off the ground?  And finally, after he had found this young virgin from a good family, after he had paid the bride price and became engaged, she tells him that she is pregnant.  Since he is a virtuous man, Joseph decided to end the relationship quietly, but an angel interceded.  I wonder what it was like to be told that you would bear the responsibility for rearing God’s Son.  Joseph needed more confirmation, but he too said yes to God.  Would I?  When God interrupts my carefully made plans, am I willing to get in line with His?    

How I would love to have been on that hillside with the shepherds.  To be smacked right in the face with the glory of God!  And to be told about Jesus by not just one angel, but a multitude of them.  Sometimes Jesus comes to us in a dramatic and exciting way because we need to be told that way.  Ask Saul of Tarsus.  After the angelic announcement, we are told that the shepherds went “with haste” to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby.  Did they just go off and leave their sheep unattended?  Leave their livelihood vulnerable to prey, both animal and human?  Would I risk my financial security, trust God to take care of it while I share the Good News with others?  I wonder.   

I wonder about the magi.  Men of science, but seeking something that was missing.  Willing to go to great lengths and to pay a dear price to find the King.  I became a woman of faith long before I became a woman of science.  Would I have been open to the possibility of the miraculous after first being trained in the scientific method?  Or would I have wanted empirical proof?  I wonder.

But the One I wonder about the most is the baby.  Jesus.  The Messiah.  God who took on human flesh and came into our world as a helpless infant.  When the Father said, “Go,” did you immediately become an embryo?  What was it like for you, living and growing in the very womb that you created?  And how was it for you, equal with God, co-creator of the universe, to suffer the indignities of becoming a human baby?  To be cold and hungry?  To have your diapers changed?  I wonder.  When did you know that you were God?  At conception?  At birth?  When you were 12 years old?  When you began your public ministry?  And when did you know that your purpose in life was to become sin for me, to pay the debt I owed, to die a shameful death on a cross?  How could you love me?  I wonder.

My wondering is not doubt; it comes from a place of wanting to know Him better.  The Lord invites our wondering in Jeremiah 33:3

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.(ESV)

The New Living Translations says, “I will tell you remarkable secrets.”  I want to know His secrets.

I guess as long as I am on this earth I will wonder, but I’m not the only one.  One hot day in July of 1933, a folksinger named John Jacob Niles was attending a fundraiser in North Carolina for a group of evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the local police.  A little girl named Annie Morgan stepped onto a makeshift stage and began to sing.  She was dirty and ragged, but beautiful.  She also had a beautiful voice, and she sang a few lines of a folk song over and over.  From those few lines, Niles composed the Christmas folk hymn, I Wonder as I Wander.  It expresses my wonderings simply but beautifully:   

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

Oh No! More Waiting!

Every year at about this time, I begin to ask the Lord to give me a verse or a word for the next year. Last year I got a very clear word: “Wait. On. God.” It was very emphatic, like three distinct sentences. It was puzzling to get that word at the beginning of 2020.  “Wait on what, Lord,” I wondered.  I had no idea what was coming.  But it wasn’t too long until we were all waiting.  Waiting for the lockdown to be over, waiting for the virus to go away, waiting to go back to work, for the children to go back to school.  Waiting for life to return to normal.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I have to confess that I am not very good at waiting.  I hate waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for almost anything.  I don’t even enjoy getting my nails done because it takes too long.  So 2020 has been a real opportunity for me to learn lessons in waiting.  But I still don’t like it.

So as I have begun to pray for my 2021 word, I was hoping for something like, “The wait is over!” Instead the Lord has taken me to Lamentations.  Lamentations???  Really, Lord?  It’s such a dreary book and haven’t we lamented enough?  But the Lord wanted to give me a hopeful reminder In Lamentations 3:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; 
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.  ESV

This is a familiar, often quoted passage of Scripture.  In fact we even sing hymns with those words.  Think about it.  He pours out fresh blessings on us every morning and those blessings never come to an end.  Those mercies are specific to the day that lies ahead, and then tomorrow we get new ones.  I am reminded of the children of Israel wandering in the desert.  God provided fresh manna every morning, enough for the day.  

But then in the next verse, there is that word again.  Wait.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” NIV

I believe God is telling me that the time of waiting is not over, but I can have hope because His love never comes to an end, and His mercies are new every morning.  When we seem stuck in this sameness, God is declaring that because of His great compassion and love for us, He is doing something new every morning!  The word mercies in Hebrew is derived from the word that is used for womb, the place of the strongest love connection, that between mother and child.  Neuroscience studies have demonstrated that there are changes that occur in the brain of a pregnant woman that get her ready to respond to the cries of her baby.  Within just a few hours of becoming a mother, she can not only distinguish the cry of her baby from the cry of other babies, she can recognize what the different cries mean and respond accordingly.  She knows what her baby needs when it cries.  In the same way, our Father recognizes the cries of His children.  When we cry out to Him, He hears us.  He knows what we need and He responds.  God loves us, wants good for us, and even when it seems as if nothing ever changes, He declares that he gives us goodness every morning.

I have watched my friends this year, friends who have much to lament.  But they keep on going in the face of tragedy and adversity.  (You dear ones know who you are.)  Friends who have lost beloved family members, friends who are facing great hardships and uncertain futures, friends who have received devastating diagnoses from their physicians, and those who are waiting for an adult child to return from the far country.  They keep pressing on in their assignments from God.  I have friends who have been waiting for answers to prayers for years and they remain faithful.  The only way they can do this is because of God’s fresh mercies every morning.  We wait for God to move, but we wait with hope, with expectancy.  That is called faith.

In spite of all the hardships of 2020, I know that there were mercies as well, mercies we might not have received any other way but in our waiting.  As we come to the final weeks of this year, we are still waiting.  Waiting for a vaccine, a cure.  We wait for our country to heal, we wait for God to hear our prayers and send a Great Awakening to America.  We wait for a time when we can be with family and friends with no concern about a virus, when we can go about our lives without masks.  A time when we can return to school and work.  

We lament the losses of 2020 and recognize that the time of loss is not over.  But we can have hope because the God who loves us with great mercy and compassion is still in control.  We can face whatever comes in 2021 because of His great faithfulness.       

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

If there has ever been a year when we need a little Christmas, 2020 is it!  We have dealt with COVID and all the fear, sickness, and death that come with it.  The unleashing of this virus then set off a cascade of events that have left us reeling: the lockdown, jobs furloughed and lost, schools in and out of the classroom, racial tension, riots and looting, fires and hurricanes, a chaotic election season, and oh!  Murder hornets!  Did I leave anything out?  So as soon as the calendar turned from October to November I began thinking about Christmas decorations.  We are always early, but this year is the earliest we have ever had ours up.  Last night we even turned on the outdoor lights.  Because we need a little Christmas.

I suppose it is the lights that I love the most.  In addition to our tree we have lots of lighted garlands and wreaths.  Oh how we enjoy drinking our morning coffee in the glow of the Christmas lights.  

I’ve been thinking about light quite a bit lately.  Our Community Bible Study groups are studying the Book of John this year.  I have read and studied John many times, but the verses have leapt off the pages as if they are brand new to me.  And in the first few verses John describes Jesus as the light.  Of course I have long been familiar with the concept of Jesus as the Light of the World, but it has grabbed me anew and I keep coming back to it.  Why is that title so important?  

Light itself is essential.  Without it we cannot have life.  The very first thing God did in the beginning was to create light (Gen. 1:3) because the rest of creation was going to need it.  I know next to nothing about physics, but I started thinking about the properties of light.  Light travels.  It has the ability to pierce the darkness; but darkness cannot dim light.  Light attracts; it has a gravitational pull.  It causes growth and produces energy. Light changes the materials it shines on.  Light heals and purifies.  And Jesus does all those things.  He attracts us, and when we search for Him, we find Him.  He moves into willing lives and shines light on our sins.  He changes and purifies us.  He doesn’t leave us the same.  He heals us and causes us to grow in righteousness.

We so need the Light of the World to penetrate our dark world right now.  There is so much hatred and anger, so much polarization.  And so much corruption.  Light exposes those things that are concealed in darkness.  Mark 4:22 tells us that things that are hidden in the darkness will be brought into the light.

Next month we will celebrate Christmas.  When Jesus was born into the world as a baby, He came in an explosion of light that lit up the night sky.  The shepherds saw it, and after their initial fear, they were filled with such joy and hope.  The Magi were drawn to it and worshipped the new King.  That is why I need my Christmas lights.  They remind me that God is still on His throne and He still has a plan, that the Light of the World still changes hearts, and that the darkness will never overcome that Light.      

WE HAVE BUTTERFLIES!

 

Do you feel like 2020 has been a season of waiting?  Waiting for this pandemic to be over.  Waiting for a vaccine.  Waiting to go back to work or school.  Waiting to take a trip.  And waiting for this contentious election to be over.  Waiting.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like waiting in line, waiting in traffic, or even waiting for the clothes dryer to buzz. And I sure don’t want to wait for a Covid test or election results.  I know I can’t be alone in this.  We live in such an instant, fast-paced, everything-at-our-fingertips world that we have become conditioned to expect things to happen on demand.  So even waiting for the microwave to ding sometimes seems interminable.   We multi-task, we check off our to-do lists, and we become human doings instead of human beings. 

This year God has decided to teach me about waiting, about being still and quiet, and how to wait well.  Every year right around the beginning of the New Year I ask God to give me a Bible verse, a scripture that I can hang my hat on.  It is usually something that He wants to work into me, and it usually takes a year to do it.  But this year I got a word: “Wait.  On.  God.”  Emphatic, like three distinct sentences.  Wait on God.  And when God gave it to me, I knew it was from Him.  No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I heard it deep in my spirit.  When you have walked with God for a while things like that happen.  

But what did those words mean, wait on God?  I had no idea in January.  But as we all know, 2020 has been a year of waiting.  There have been many lessons for me about waiting.  The first one being it is okay to be still.  When you are a Type A, “Git-R-Done” girl, being still doesn’t come naturally.  But I learned the value in it.  And while the rest of you were cleaning out closets and baking banana bread (and those are good things) I was being still with God.  I spent time in the Bible, time reading, and learned a new way to journal His word.  And I have prayed.  A lot!  I learned that some of the things I thought were important really don’t matter very much.  I think I have grown stronger in my walk with Jesus.  Maybe He is preparing me for a new assignment, or maybe He is getting me ready to meet Him face to face.  He will reveal it in His own time.  The quarantine has taught me that we can spend a good deal of time waiting for the next big thing and miss the precious things that are right in front of us.

So what does any of this have to do with butterflies?  I was on my patio earlier today on a Zoom call (and haven’t we had a lot of those?)  It was a national prayer call, and the devotional theme today was about waiting.  Seriously?  It’s October and we are still working on waiting?  When God wants to teach me something He comes at me from all angles.  While I was on this call I happened to look around and see that we had butterflies.  Lots of them, fluttering around.  You might not think that having butterflies in your yard is very remarkable, but I was excited!  We have worked for those butterflies.  

Our butterfly journey began this spring when I was visiting my friend Sally.  She lives in a rural area, across the road from The Euchee Butterfly Farm and a garden area known as The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators.  Their mission is to restore plants native to the Oklahoma prairie and to establish habitats for Monarch butterflies.  We had already planted one little anemic milkweed plant (which is now flourishing), but after visiting with Sally we planted some Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers that just happened to be on sale at Lowe’s.  

As I was praying and looking at those butterflies (yes, my eyes were open while I prayed), it occurred to me how much of a butterfly’s life is spent waiting before it finally gets to soar.  It starts out as an egg that eventually hatches into a caterpillar.  The caterpillar eats and eats until it finally quits growing and then forms itself into a pupa or chrysalis.  And there it waits, but not passively.  God is at work transforming it in a process called metamorphosis.  Lots of growing and changing is taking place until finally, the butterfly breaks free and soon flies.  Then the whole process starts all over again when the butterfly lays eggs.  By the way, if you are ever tempted to help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, don’t do it.  The butterfly needs the struggle to develop wings strong enough to fly.  

Sometimes all we can do is wait.  Earlier this year when we were on full lockdown, I certainly felt cocooned.  But if we make good use of that waiting time, God will transform and develop us into the person we need to become for the next chapter of our lives.  Maybe He is developing our trust muscles.  It hit me today, that the God who planned so intricately for something as small and insignificant as a butterfly, has a plan for me.  He has a purpose in this waiting season.  The same God who cares about a butterfly cares for me.  And it is more than okay to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).  In fact, sometimes being still might be the most important thing we can do.           

THE POWER OF WORDS

When our girls were little we talked a good bit about the power of words and using our words to build up each other instead of tearing down or hurting each other.  I can remember teaching them the word, edify.  We would frequently tell one sister to say something edifying to another after she had used hurtful words.  This often produced unexpected results, like the time there was a long silence before the offending sister, struggling to find something nice to say about her sister, finally came out with, “I like your shoelaces.”  We take what we can get as parents.

 

I was reminded of this story Sunday after a chat with our new Youth Pastor.  Our church, First Baptist Jenks, is just now getting back to some semblance of normal.  While we were quarantining, Brandon Trentham came aboard to minister to the youth in our congregation.  I was eager to meet him because of his name.  I wanted to know if he was related the first teacher I had when I went to college as an adult, Bart Trentham.  It turns out that Bart is Brandon’s father, so it gave me an opportunity to share a story about his dad.

 

I had one year of college after high school back in the dark ages.  I won’t reveal the year, but it was so long ago that girls were not permitted to wear pants anywhere on campus, and we registered for class in the gym by going around from table to table trying to find an empty spot in a class to add to our handwritten registration card.  When I was 48-years old, I decided to go back and get the degree I never got.  Our three daughters had either gotten their own degrees or were still in college and thought I was crazy for actually wanting to go to school.  I had a good deal of trepidation about it myself.  My two biggest fears were (1) they would make me use a computer (we were still in the DOS era and I didn’t even know where the “on” switch was) and (2) they would make me do math.  Actually I ended up learning to do math on a computer, but that is a different story.  My heart was pounding as I walked into the registrar’s office at what was then Tulsa Junior College and registered for two classes.  I didn’t have to register on a computer!  Whew!

 

My very first class was Intro to Psychology and I loved it from the start.  My teacher was a young Bart Trentham who was an adjunct teacher at the time.  I don’t think he was Dr. Trentham at this time; maybe still finishing up.  (Sidebar; I had the BEST teachers at TJC!  Most of them very over-qualified.)  Bart was funny and engaging and made psychology come alive for me.  I was the annoying “non-traditional’ student in a class full of sleepy 18-year olds. You know, that adult who sat on the front row and kept asking questions.  One day, after I had asked a question, Bart paused for a minute and looked straight at me and said, Fran, you ask really good questions.  You ask Ph.D. questions.)

 

I can still remember the physical feeling that accompanied his words.  Ph.D.?  Me?  Could I?  It was like an arrow to my heart and a seed was planted.  Long story short, I did get that Ph.D.  As I was sharing this story with Brandon, he asked if his dad knew it.  I replied that I think he knows I became Dr. Carona, but I don’t think he knows his part in it.  As I thought about our conversation later in the day I realized that Dr. Trentham probably doesn’t even remember me.  Many years have gone by, and I was not an important part of his story, but he was an important part of mine.

 

This brings me back to the power of our words.  We can choose to use this power constructively, to build up and encourage, or we can use our words to destroy, to wound and shatter another person.  And words have a very long life.  I cannot even count the people who came to my office still wounded by words that were spoken to them as children.  We can use our words as Dr. Trentham did, to plant a dream, or we can use them to destroy dreams, to imply that one’s hopes and ambitions are impossible.  Are our words life-giving or life-draining?  Do our words inspire or extinguish?   Gary Chapman in his book Love As a Way of Life says our words can be either bullets or seeds.

 

And then there are the words we speak to ourselves.  Oh the lies we believe!  I spent many hours teaching my clients to challenge their negative thoughts that came to them so automatically, and replace them with words that are true.  If you have spent a lifetime listening to your own lies it is difficult to even know what the truth is.  The world is hard enough; we don’t need our own self-inflicted wounds.

 

The Bible has much to say about our words, telling us that the tongue has the power of life and death (Prov.18:21), and that the words that come out of our mouths should be for building up others (Eph. 4:29). When we must deliver a hard truth, we must do it in love and not harshly.  Do I always get this right?  Hah!  But I have a mental image I use.  I call it a criticism sandwich.  The bread slices are the soft words that go down easily, and the meat in the middle is the difficult part.  Begin and end these conversations with the soft “bread.”

 

And when you get the chance, use your words to inspire, to create a vision.  You just never know when your words can change the trajectory of someone’s life.  Use them carefully.

 

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.  1 Thess. 5:11 NLT

DON’T STAY STUCK IN THE SHOULDS

 

Today is September 1, and for me it represents the beginning of autumn.  The first of the BER months.  When everything seems new again.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees, the crisp, cool air, the excitement of children going back to school, football games, and pumpkin patches.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

 

But this is 2020 and everything is different and definitely not what I planned.  I should be over-the-top excited about Sooner football starting, but it’s more like, “Meh.”  We won’t be going to the games in Norman this year (if they actually have games).  Instead, we took the option of rolling our tickets over into 2021.  It isn’t because we are afraid of getting COVID, but rather because sitting in a stadium that is three-quarters empty and cheering through a mask just doesn’t sound like fun.  No tailgating, no Boomer Bash…the game day experience, like everything else in 2020, will be dramatically different.  Not like it should be.

 

This is the year the Sooners were scheduled to play Army as an away game.  Jerry and I should be going to West Point like we planned.  But not this year.  Cancelled!  How many events have been cancelled in 2020?

 

I guess the first cancellations that hit us, like everyone else, were the large-group gatherings.  We couldn’t go to church for many weeks, and we are only just now allowed to go back.  We couldn’t go out to a restaurant for weeks; in fact our only outing for quite a while was a trip to the grocery store.  Jerry and I cancelled our annual family trip to Rosemary Beach in the early summer.  We didn’t get to see our granddaughter graduate from high school.  We couldn’t be in the hospital waiting room while a daughter had surgery or a granddaughter gave birth.  You have your own stories of cancelations this year: weddings, funerals, school events, and family reunions.  Milestone events that were missed.  Things that should have happened didn’t.  Life should not be like this!

 

As I have been pondering these things on this September morning I am amazed at my own contentment.  I learned a long time ago that expectations are premeditated resentments.  I’ve learned not to be caught up in the “shoulds,” even when the “shoulds” are true.  It’s true: life shouldn’t be like this, there shouldn’t be rioting and looting in our streets, people shouldn’t hate each other, my grandchildren should be able to go to school in person and shouldn’thave to wear masks, and by golly, there should be football as usual!  But what should be isn’t, and staying stuck in the “shoulds” is a guaranteed recipe for unhappiness.  Instead I need to accept what is and learn to deal with it.  This has definitely been the year to roll with the punches.  And amidst all these cancellations, this uncertainty, I have peace.

 

That peace comes from knowing God.  The God I know created this world, and saw this year coming before time existed.  Nothing has taken Him by surprise.  He is our refuge, our safe place when all our familiar props have been knocked out from under us.  He is there when the world faces a pandemic, when we lose our jobs, when our stock accounts shrink overnight, when all our plans have been disrupted and even plan B doesn’t work.  He is there when the “shoulds” turn to “should nots.”  I can trust Him because I have walked with Him for many years and know Him to be faithful and true to his word.  Every morning I ask for new marching orders because I know my own agenda is not what matters and may be cancelled anyway.  So I don’t stay stuck in the “shoulds.”  I go to Him with what is, and ask Him what to do because He has a perfect plan for me.  Proverbs 3: 5-6 tells me what to do:

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.