Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.  

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.  

MEAN GIRLS

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to a radio conversation about cyber bullying and the effects it has on our children.  The speaker noted that the smart phones our kids are carrying act as real time barometers of their self esteem.  So I thought it might be time to resurrect a piece I published a while back.  By the way, I never did find Glee.  Glee, if you are out there, please reach out to me.  I want to ask your forgiveness.

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice.  Everyone knows that what little girls are made of, right?  But here’s a dirty little secret that every woman knows deep down in her heart.  Girls also have the capacity to be some of the meanest creatures on earth.  Having been a girl myself, being the mother of three girls and grandmother to seven, I have seen more than my share of mean girls. And I know what it means to be both the perpetrator and the recipient of this type of bullying behavior.

 

Usually this mean girl drama is over by the time we get to be adults.  Hopefully by then we have become secure and comfortable in our own skin.  We don’t have to jab or bully someone else in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about who we are.  We become less clique-ish and more open to accepting people who are different from us. And we no longer feel the need to get even for what we perceive as slights.  But occasionally, mean girls grow up to be mean women.  And sadly they produce mean daughters.

 

Let me tell you an unflattering personal story that has haunted me all my life.  When I was in Jr. High, I had a big slumber party one Friday night.  I invited every girl in our circle of friends…except one, a girl with the pretty name of Glee.  I didn’t think she liked me (She probably had a good reason!), so I was determined that she would be excluded.  It hurt her. I wonder now if I missed an opportunity to get to know her better.  I might have missed out on a real friendship.  I’m so ashamed of my behavior, but I have paid for it over the years.  Every time one of my daughters was slighted in some way, I thought of Glee.  And today, when my granddaughters are bullied or left out, I remember Glee.

 

When I was discussing this topic with my daughter, Amanda, she reminded me how far this mean girl business goes back in history.  All the way to Sarah and Hagar, her maid.  You can read the story in the 16thchapter of Genesis.  They are both guilty of dishing out the meanness, but it culminates with Hagar running away because Sarah mistreats her so badly.  However Hagar cannot run away from God.  While she is in the desert she has an encounter with El Roi, the God who sees. God saw her pain and assured her of His love and care for her.

 

What a comfort when our children or we are being bullied.  God sees.  If you daughter is being harassed or left out, God sees.  If there are mean girls in your office, your neighborhood, your social circle, or even your church, God sees.  Go to Him with your hurts.  But the God who sees is also an admonishment.  We can’t get away with mistreating others.  God sees.  When we are too exclusive, God sees.  By the way, we are still paying for the hostility between Sarah and Hagar today. This mean girl stuff leaves a lasting legacy!

 

Writing these words has made me realize that I have a long overdue apology to make. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have located a woman who might be the Glee from my school days.  I have reached out to her for confirmation.  If she indeed is Glee, I intend to tell her how very sorry I am and ask for her forgiveness.

 

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Genesis 16:13 (NIV).

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4: 31-32 (NIV).

PAIN: GOD’S GIFT TO US

Pain.  All of us experience it.  And we all try to avoid it.  We run from it.  Or we find ways to numb it.  What if the most important thing we can do right now is find out how to live with pain, to walk through it instead of trying to walk around it?

Did you ever think of pain as God’s gift to us?  He created us with the ability to sense pain, to feel it.  We were created with pain receptors all over our bodies.  Simply put, pain works this way.  A painful stimulus (extreme hot or cold, a cut or gash, a twisting of a ligament or muscle, a fracture or break) stimulates pain receptors.  These pain receptors send a message to the brain. The brain then sends the message down the spinal cord and to the appropriate nerves that tell the body to do something. Move your hand off the hot stove! Quit running on the sprained ankle! Stop the bleeding! If we didn’t have the ability to experience pain, we could damage our bodies even more.  We wouldn’t take care of our wounds.  

Psychological or emotional pain works in much the same way.  When we are hurting, something is wrong.  We need to change what we are doing to make the pain stop.  We may need to quit doing the same thing and do something different.  In some cases we may need to move while in other cases we may need to be still. Pain should get our attention.  It should make us stop and ask ourselves what we need.

The body has two kinds of nerve fibers: fast pain fibers and slow pain fibers.  Fast pain is a sharp pain.  It is localized; we can tell where it is.  And we respond to it quickly.  But immediately after the fast pain comes the slow pain.  It is more diffuse, an ache.  Slow pain can last a day, a week, a month, or even become chronic. Sometimes there are things that can be done medically to stop the pain.  The doctor may say, “I can make you feel better, but in order to do that I will need to remove the source of the pain.  You need surgery.  The surgery itself will be painful, but you will recover, and hopefully be pain free.” But there may be other times when the doctor tells us nothing can be done.  We must learn ways to live with the pain.

When people come to see me, they are in pain.  That pain may be a crisis (fast pain) or an ongoing chronic pain.  They may have found all kinds of ways to deal with it, but those ways aren’t working.  They may have tried numbing the pain with substances or activities, ignoring the pain and telling themselves it doesn’t matter, or they have tried various strategies to avoid feeling the pain. But the source of the pain is still there.  So we may need to perform a “psychological surgery.”  (Don’t Google it; I just made that up.  But hopefully you get the idea).  We need to find the source of the pain, examine it, and figure out what to do with it. We do psychotherapy, and just like physical therapy, there are days when therapy doesn’t feel very good.  But hopefully we will get to a healthier place.

I tell my people to look for the hidden gifts in their pain.  What is God trying to teach you?  Where is He leading you?  Maybe that pain is a gift to get you to the place you are meant to be.  He may have a gift for you that you wouldn’t have gotten any other way.  There are days that are going to hurt, but you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.  You lean into God and press on.  Every trial has an end, and when it is over you may realize it was God’s gift to you. You wouldn’t want to live through it again, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but you also realize it was one of your most precious times with Jesus.  Your life is different.  You wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.    

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  Rev. 21:4

LOOKING BACK AT AUTUMN

Today I have re-visited an excerpt from my book, Seasonsand brought it up to date.  Even though we are very early in September, the title will make sense as you read on.

 

Looking Back at Autumn.  What a strange title for the beginning of September. This Labor Day weekend has still been as hot as blue blazes here in Oklahoma, and we can only dream of cooler temperatures and falling leaves. But it will come, although not soon enough for me.  So this morning I will drag out my fall decorations and transform my house from summer to autumn.

Autumn has always been 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; pumpkin patches.  I can almost smell a cigar box from my grandfather’s drug store filled with a new box of Crayolas and number 2 pencils.  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.

As I think about the seasons of my life, I realize that my autumn days are winding down.  I would like to think I am in early or mid-autumn, but the reality is that I’m more toward late autumn.  At any rate, winter is coming.  Just as autumn is my favorite season of the calendar year, I think it has been my favorite season of life.

Autumn is a time for reaping what we have sown. I must have sown well, because I have a wonderful family, a career that I enjoy, good friends, and most important, a relationship with God.  Autumn is a time for us to count our blessings and give thanks to our Lord. It is a time to reap the bounty and celebrate.  Did you ever notice how many fairs and festivals there are in the fall?  Something inside us just naturally wants to celebrate the goodness of the life we have been given at this time of year.

But as I write these words, I am aware that autumn is also a time to let go.  Just as the trees lose their leaves in the fall, we begin to experience many losses. From something as vain and trivial as the loss of firm skin, to the profound loss of life, we must let go.

In the autumn years it is time to take stock. What is the legacy we want to leave behind?  Have we accomplished everything we hoped to do?  Are there still items on our bucket lists?  Are we ready for winter?

There are so many rapid changes in autumn.  A tree that was barely changing color a few days ago may be a vibrant orange today.  So it is in the autumn of life.  Change happens quickly.  As I write these words, I think about how many changes Jerry and I have gone through I the past few years.  Life can change so quickly.  A few years ago I didn’t think twice about long days of walking through European towns.  Now I wonder if my knees would let me do another trip.  Jerry was fine one day and gravely ill the next. Two grand children are now married, two are in college, and we only have one grandchild left in elementary school.  Changes.

Autumn is a time for shorter days and longer nights. Some days I feel like I don’t get as much accomplished as I used to.  I go to bed with my unfinished to-do list swirling in my head.  I need more rest than when I was younger.  But I have also learned at this point in my life that some things just don’t matter very much.

While I write, I am watching a squirrel outside my window, working feverishly.  He is probably trying to find a way to get inside my attic so he can stay warm this winter.  Don’t get me started on squirrels!  But I wonder as I watch him, “Have I put away enough for winter?  Have I prepared well?”  Most baby boomers are concerned with their retirement incomes, but preparing for the winter of our lives goes beyond money.  Have I invested enough in my children and grandchildren that they will be with me in winter?  Have I taught them everything I want them to know?  Are there friendships I need to preserve?  Have I taken enough care for my body?  Hopefully I will still need it for a while.  As I watch the animals prepare for winter’s blast, I need to think about how I want to spend the winter of my life.  I would like to age well and exit gracefully.  What will I do with my days?  Can I still make a contribution in the winter of my life?  As I contemplate retirement from my psychology practice, I want to be very intentional about how I spend my time.  I don’t want to fill up every day of the week with activities, however worthwhile those activities may be.  I want some time just to be.

As I ponder these things, I will be grateful for this beautiful early autumn day.  They say we will have rain and cooler temperatures today.  Thank you, Lord!  I will enjoy the bounty of family and friends.  And I will give thanks to the One who provided this good harvest.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians6: 7-10 NIV).

 

 

 

THE DRIFT

A good deal of my clinical work is done with couples on the fault line.  Their marriage is in trouble and they come in to see me.  In a best-case scenario, both individuals truly want to save the marriage.  Sometimes only one party does, but often one person can save it, but it’s going to require changing the dance.  The worst case is when one or both come in only to check the box.  They can later say they tried counseling but it didn’t work. Let me make it clear that coming in and merely sitting on the couch is not trying.  You have to be willing to do the work.  The statistics on marriage counseling are not that great and here’s why. Most people wait until it is too late. My wisest couples come in for yearly marriage check-ups.

A conversation I frequently have with my couples is one I call “The Drift.”  I take them back to the days when their relationship was new. We all know how wonderful that falling-in-love feeling is.  During that time you amplify all the positives but turn down the volume on those things on which you disagree, flaws, and potential areas of conflict.  You ignore red flags.  “Isn’t it great we like the same music.  I love his family.  We have the same goals.”  You get the idea.  When your love is new you are close.

 

 

But then life starts to happen.  You have bills to pay, children to care for, a house and yard to tend, and besides, you are tired.  If you are not careful, the relationship starts to drift.  You end up far apart without even realizing it.  He’s absorbed in the television while she sits on the couch doing Pinterest.  They don’t go on dates any more.  She may go out with her girlfriends and he may play golf with his buddies, but they have forgotten how to have fun with each other.  The Drift has set in.

 

 

So my job is to help couples begin building bridges back to each other.  One of the first things I recommend is a bit of advice a very wise pastor shared with our church many years ago.  He said couples need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.  So once every day, you and your spouse need to spend about 15 minutes talking alone, even if you have to lock yourselves in the bathroom to do it.  Believe me, if your kids see you trying to have some couple time, they are going to do everything they can to get your attention. But one of the healthiest and most loving things you can do for your children is to demonstrate that next to God, your marriage relationship is the highest priority.  So at this point couples tell me they don’t have anything to talk about.  That’s because they quit talking long ago without even realizing it.  Or the only type of talking they do is shop talk (Did you remember to pay the mortgage?  What time is soccer practice?), or spite talk (Do you need an explanation here?).  So I suggest that they tell each other three things that happened during the day, and HOW THEY FELT ABOUT THOSE THREE THINGS.  That last part is the most important.  I want to introduce sharing feelings because that is a doorway to intimacy. Sometimes I have to give them a list of feeling words, especially the guys.  Then once a week, couples need a date night.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; going for an ice cream cone counts.  Again, this is done without the children.  Find a sitter or trade out with another couple.  This is necessary caretaking for your marriage.  Finally, once a year the two of you need to get away by yourselves. A good book that will help you with communication, problem solving, and other necessary marriage skills is A Lasting Promise.

Think of your marriage as a bank account.  In your account you make deposits and withdrawals.  You want to build up a good amount of deposits (good will, good experiences) to get you through those lean times.  Often when couples come to see me they have been making heavy withdrawals without much in reserve.  Their marital account is depleted.  So we have to find ways to begin making some deposits.

I have Vince Gill on my mind and in my ear because we just went to one of his concerts.  He wrote a song called Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Awaythat musically describes The Drift.  You can watch a very young Vince Gill, complete with mullet sing it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlUGTof2TWU

The lyrics are powerful:

A wounded love

Walks a real thin line

And no communication

Will kill it every time.

 

 

Wow!  Is your marriage on a “real thin line?”  Good marriages don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.  And a good marriage invites another Person into their union: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm. 127: 1-2.

Do marriage on purpose. Tend your relationship carefully.  Beware of The Drift.  You want your marriage to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

NECESSARY LOSSES

Dropping Off at College: Freshman Year

 

This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media.  Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college.  There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures.  Keep them coming!  These pictures are always bittersweet.  I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child.  There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are.  We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another.  And oh how we hate that letting go.  It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go.  I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development.  These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.  

 

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go.  Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins.  You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands.  Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds.  But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins.  Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds.  And you are very suspicious of this stranger.  He might not have your best interest at heart.  So you refuse the offer and keep your coins.  But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.

 

At the heart of letting go is loss of control.  We think if we hold on we can protect and keep.  But control is just an illusion.  We only have control over our choices, not the outcome.  We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway.  As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning.  You do your best as a parent.  You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries.  You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But the window of time for this training is brief.  When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast.  And it goes by even faster with grandchildren!  We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with.  They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do.  I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?”  Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful.  Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless!  Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special!  You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.  Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing.  We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)

 

There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come.  A look in the mirror is a reminder.  I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift.  But oh how I hate losing firm skin!  Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss.  We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound.  I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!

 

To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Ecc. 3: 6.

 

Dropping Off at College: Sophomore Year

 

 

HYDRANGEAS AND QUIET TIMES

 

I have to give my sister credit for this one.  We were talking on the phone a few mornings ago.  She is in New York visiting her daughter, my niece, Jacque.  Apparently the part of New York where my niece lives (Long Island) produces hydrangeas in abundance.  I can’t even get mine to bloom!  My sister told me that Jacque went into the yard one afternoon to cut some hydrangea blossoms, and brought them into the house and put them in a vase of water.  They quickly drooped, and by the next morning they were gone.  That is when my sister gave Jacque a tip our grandmother had given us. She always cut her roses in the morning and quickly put them in the bucket of water she carried.  Jacque followed this procedure the next morning and the hydrangeas lasted for days.

 

I became curious about why this technique works so well.  I’m so glad I live in the Google age, because one can research anything. And I can’t pick up the phone and call my grandmother anymore.  It seems that early morning is the best time to cut flowers because they have had the benefit of a cooler night and their stems are full of water and carbohydrates. As the day heats up, flowers lose moisture, their stems are less firm, and the blooms become limp.  They have a hard time recuperating when they are cut and brought into the house.

 

So as my sister and I were talking about our grandmother’s advice, she pointed out the parallel of having a quiet time early in the morning, before the day heats up.  I know my day goes better when I start it with the Bible and a conversation with God.  And many times, if I don’t do it in the morning it just doesn’t happen. There are too many distractions during the day.  I am reminded of the last part of Proverbs 8:17: those who seek me early shall find meThere are other places in Scripture that encourage us to be still and alone with God before our day gets hectic. 

 

I knew there had to be a physiological reason why God would tell us to seek Him early.  So again I did a little research on one of my favorite subjects, the brain.  I found out that our brains are actually bigger in the morning!  Researchers using MRI scans found that the brain shrinks during the course of the day, returning to its full size the next morning.  What causes the brain to shrink?  Dehydration!  Just like hydrangeas, the brain loses water during the day.  And at night our brains rehydrate.  Think of a sponge.  When it is dry it is not nearly as big (or useful) as it is when it is fully hydrated. One theory of this mechanism is that fluids from the lower parts of our bodies are redistributed when we are lying down.  Another explanation is that the time of day has something to do with hydration.

 

Our brains are about 85% water, and brain function depends on having that water.  Water is necessary for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters, and essential for removing toxins.  When our brains are fully hydrated, we are able to think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.  We are more alert.  And who knows this better than the God who created our brains. Maybe that is why he encourages us to seek Him early, when we can concentrate, when we can fully attend His word, when we can hear Him.

 

Isn’t our God amazing?

 

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” – Psalms 5:3

 

 

 

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

 

It is well with my soul. There are some days…some seasons in life, when that is that is all you can say.  But it is also the best you can say.

 

It Is Well With My Soulhas long been one of my favorite hymns.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spaffordfollowing the drowning deaths of his four daughters that occurred when the ship they were on sank.  That is really all I knew of his story, but after doing a little research I discovered that he had one traumatic event after another throughout his life.  Yet he could write this beautiful hymn that has helped sustain so many of us in dark days. I love the theology of this song…that no matter what happens in this world, I can know for certain that this is not my home.  I am just passing through, and one day I will live with Jesus in Heaven.

 

When you are stripped of everything in this material world.  When life slams you in the face and you didn’t see it coming.  When you have endured months and even years of a trial that seems to have no end, when life seems hopeless, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Because really, that is all that really matters.  It is the most important thing you can ever say.  When the 6:00 news alternately makes you scratch your head or shudder in fear, when the only voice you have is your one little vote, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  When the doctor gives you a dreaded diagnosis, when you have run out of treatment options, when the miracle you prayed for seems like it is not going to happen, is it still well with your soul?   When you feel forgotten, rejected, and alone, do you know all is well with your soul?

 

When life is good, when you have the world by the tail, when you have love, health, and prosperity, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Sometime I think it is harder when things are going well.  I remember a friend I used to have when we lived in another city.  I have lost touch with her, but occasionally I wonder how she is doing.  When I knew her she was happily married, had great kids, lived in a big house, and had a job she loved.  One day I tried to talk to her about Jesus.  About her soul.  She told me that her life was good and she didn’t want to rock her boat.  Somehow she had the idea that if she let God into her life she was signing on for trials.  I’ve thought a lot about that and in all honesty she may have been right. God doesn’t just save us and leave us where we are.  He wants to refine us, to make us more Christ-like,  But she would have walked through any future trials with a God who loves her and has a plan for good for her.

 

I can tell you in my life, my biggest growth spurts have occurred as a result of trials.  That is where my faith has grown.  I haven’t had a Horatio Spafford life.  In fact, over all I would say life has been good.  But there have been days, seasons, when I had to come right up to a hard truth: I am not in control!  There have been times when I have had to say, “Not my will, but thine.”  And then I’ve had to let go and trust in God’s goodness.  Even in those dark, scary moments, I could say, “It is well with my soul.”  If life gives me the very worst it has (Oh and I hope it never does!  The mind can conjure up some horrible situations,) even if I am stripped of everything, I know it is well with my soul.  This is not the end.  I have a home in Heaven with Jesus, who will make all things right.

 

Can you say those words? It is well with my soul?  If not, I hope you will consider what the Bible has to say.   God loves you and has a plan for your life, but there is one thing that separates you from God and that is sin.  Welcome to the human race, for the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And to make bad news worse, the Bible tells us that the price for our sins is death.  That is what we deserve; but God has given us the free gift (we didn’t earn it) of eternal life because our sin debt was paid by the death of Jesus.  Horatio Spafford said it well:

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

 

If you are not sure that all is well with your soul, I urge you to settle that matter today.  Payment for your sins has already been taken care of.  Just talk to God from your heart.  You might pray something like this, although the words are not as important as the intent of your heart:

 

“Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

If you have prayed that prayer, then you can sing along with Horatio Spafford and millions of other Believers: It is well with my soul.

 

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THE WORD THAT IS GUARANTEED TO MAKE US UNHAPPY

There is a common word that all of us use multiple times a day that is guaranteed to make us unhappy. It’s a word we need to drop, or at least question when we hear ourselves using it. The word is should, and we need to quit using it as well as its cousins, shouldn’t, must,and mustn’t. There is even a little psychology joke I tell my clients: “Quit shoulding all over yourself!”

 

Here’s the thing…much of the time we are justified in our shoulds.  The world shouldbe a fair and peaceful place.  Children shouldbe safe and loved.  We shouldall be able to reach for our dreams.  And the fact that these shoulds aren’t reality might ignite a righteous anger in us that serves as fuel to do what we can to change the world.

 

However I am thinking about the shoulds that are much closer to home.  My son should quit using drugs.  My wife should be faithful.  My boyfriend shouldn’t lie to me.  My best friend shouldn’t have betrayed me.  I should get a promotion.   My ex should pay his child support.  My spouse should get a job.  I should find my soul mate.  Other people should “like” my posts.

 

Those are some of the big shoulds.  Except for that last one.  But there are others that occur on a daily basis that frustrate and anger us.  My husband should pick up his socks.  My teenager should study more.  My grade schooler should brush his teeth without being told.  My daughter should get up on time.  My spouse shouldn’t spend so much money. And the list goes on and on.  I can think of dozens of them, and you probably can also.

 

If you recognize any of these should in your own life, let me give you some good news.  You are right!  Your child should brush his teeth, your wife should be faithful, and your daughter should get up on time.  But clinging to these shoulds is only serving to hurt and frustrate you. And the shoulds keep you stuck.  Shoulds are expectations, and expectations are often premeditated resentments.  Even if our expectations are realistic, holding on to them too tightly keeps us keeps us bound to an ideal that might not ever materialize.

 

What do we do when we keep banging our heads against the wall of shoulds?  I have found that one of the most helpful things I can do is to pray the Serenity Prayer that recovery groups use.

 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

 

This prayer helps me tease out the things I have the power to change from the change I can’t control.  I remind myself that I can’t change other people, I can only change myself.  When we let go of our own expectations and move into acceptance, often the world opens up for us.  We learn to accept whatisinstead of being upset about what isn’t.  We can’t move forward when we are still clinging to our idea of what we must have.  When we let go of our should and musts, God moves.  We get a reality even better than the one we thought we shouldhave.

 

Letting go of our shoulds also makes room in our heads for positive thoughts.  That space that was full of negative, angry, and hostile thoughts opens up and allows us to think more creatively.  We see solutions and possibilities we were blind to before.  We learn to experience the moment and enjoy the journey instead of wishing we were already at our destination.

 

I know this is easier said than done, but you can get there.  It takes practice.  I still have to ask myself what I have the power to change in a given situation. And I have to remind myself that I am not in control.  But there is a God who is in control and I can trust his plans to be much better than my shoulds.

 

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