What’s Inside of You?

In a church that Dave pastored, one deacon was a kindly older gentleman. He was always respectful in his conversation, and he supported Dave’s ministry at the church. I don’t recall ever hearing him speak an unfriendly word, even in our sometimes loud and vocal business meetings.

I became friends with this man’s daughter. We had lunch, went to conferences, shopped together–the things friends do. One day, over lunch, I mentioned how much I admired her father and how kind he was to our family. What happened next sent shock waves through me.

My friend’s face melted.

I watched as her face went from happy and smiling, to a total meltdown of grief, anger, and tears. Not sure why what I said had caused such a reaction, I kept silent and give her time to compose herself.

“If you really knew my father,” she bit out, “you wouldn’t say that. My father is the most cruel, vile, ungodly man I have ever known.”

Wait, now, what?

As I sat in shock, staring wide-eyed at her, she continued, “He treats my mother like garbage, constantly belittling her, storming past her when he comes in the house without the first word. More than once he’s thrown his dinner plate across the room because something on it didn’t sit right with him. He is an angry, angry man, and I almost hate him. And he treats me with the same contempt, as if he’s angry at my existence.”

I apologized–for what she was feeling, for not knowing, for her mother’s pain. Lifting her hand to silence me, she reminded me I was not the one who had caused all the pain, and I did not need to apologize, that she just wanted me to know that what I saw was not real–that her father was not the man inside that he showed the world.

I learned two lessons from that encounter.

First, I learned we don’t know the heart of a person. This man who had made such a positive impression on me was not at all the man he portrayed. I don’t know what had caused his angry responses to life, but the people who were the closest to him saw a hypocrite—a man who was evil in one setting and fake in another.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Does God see the same person the world sees? Do the people who should receive the best of you get shorted, while those on the periphery get a fraud who is trying to keep them from knowing who you really are? While I understand that the root of bitterness can grow in our hearts because of misdeeds against us, we should deal with life responses according to God’s Word and not based on how others treat you. The temptation to hurt others because others hurt you is great, BUT GOD… He is bigger than all hurts, bigger than our personality bent, and bigger than any reason we have to behave ungodly. Do you have unresolved anger and bitterness? I’m so sorry for your pain. Please call someone today who can help you give that over to God and allow Him to begin the healing process.

I also learned that we don’t know the pain in the soul of a person. As Christians, we should be ready at all times to offer comfort when we learn of another person’s hurt. Eventually, I got around to saying the right words–I’m so sorry for your grief and anger; I am here if you want to talk about this; can we pray right now that God will help ease some of this pain you are experiencing? These precious, aching souls will cross our paths, and it’s important to offer a comforting word, hug, or prayer.

What’s inside of you? Are you in pain? Does life just get overwhelming sometimes until you can no longer hide and the words spoken into your pain blow your facade apart? Do you have a friend you can call right this moment and let them help you through whatever is hurting you? Call them. I am praying for you at this moment.

2021 – Time to Clean House

This morning, my thoughts have been on the new year, which will be here in just a few short hours. I’m not big on resolutions, because I never keep them. Why deal with that guilt, right? But, having said that, there are a few goals I would like to accomplish. 

The house. The longer we live here, the more cluttered it becomes. I’m at the point where I fear we may be heading in the direction of ‘hoarding.’ Gracious, the stuff we’ve accumulated over nearly 45 years of life together! Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with my pictures. I have lots. A couple years ago, I scanned and cataloged the pictures I had thrown into boxes. Now they are sorted into containers by year. I did cull them a bit by giving BIG boxes of pictures to our kids, our siblings, and other folks who I felt would get pleasure out of them. Still, even after that process, I have three shelves of cataloged, boxed, and protected pictures. They tell the story of our lives, before we were married and our many married years. Get rid of those pictures? Actually, I think I’ll hold on to them awhile. What I will do is appoint a picture guardian for a future date, to be determined by lots of factors, mainly my death. No, those pictures aren’t going anywhere for a while (God willing!).

My dishes. A couple of cabinets and dish chests boast dishes of bygone days, when entertaining was a big part of our lives–serving dishes, casserole dishes, “fancy” dishes my mama gave me. Also, a set of Christmas dishes (I had two; gave one set to our daughter) and two sets of China (had three; gave one to our daughter).  We don’t entertain so much anymore, and those dishes haven’t been used in several years. I think “maybe” I can dispense with a few of those. Maybe.

Clothes. Closets, drawers, storage boxes filled with clothes–of several sizes. How long will we continue to hang onto those clothes that no longer fit (but may someday)? The space these items consume! I can get rid of some clothes and never miss them. The problem is that as I clean out and am reminded of these items, I think to myself that it’s just such a nice piece of clothing and maybe I can wear it again; so back in the keep pile it goes.

You see my dilemma? And that doesn’t even begin to cover everything. Christmas and seasonal decorations, office supplies (yes, office supplies in abundance!), books–y’all, I have at least eight Bibles!–art supplies, craft supplies… And that’s just my stuff. It’s a lot, I tell you, and somehow I must steel myself to clean out some of it, to begin uncluttering our lives. Someday we will have to move out of this large home into a smaller one, and it won’t all fit. I don’t want to get to the point that I have to make rush decisions about the life I’ve gathered around myself–the “things” I’ve loved and that have filled my days.

My husband and I were discussing this recently, and we arrived at the realization that what we have, what we love, what was so important for our lives may not be as important to the folks who must someday clean it out. If we don’t take steps to clean it out and dispose of items as we wish to the folks we would love to have those things, they may just get chucked out a window into a dumpster and hauled away as trash. 

So, 2021 will be the year of deep cleaning and re-assignment of much of that which fills our attics and closets. It may not be easy to do this, but it really is necessary.

What about spiritual cleansing? What do I need to discard in 2021, what do I need to give away?

A biggie here–Anxiety. WAY too many mornings I’ve awoken (awaked? awakened?) with anxiety pressing in hard on my chest. It takes a few minutes to shake the pressure from my soul. I struggled with anxiety for most of 2020, and I won some mighty big battles against it because of God’s faithful and favorable presence. For this, I am thankful. In 2021, my goal is to begin earlier with the positive God-thoughts, to speak aloud the promises of God before I go to sleep and as soon as I awake each day. It’s the best way I know to ease that anxiety. Also, it works! The victories I experienced in 2020 help me to know that greater blessings are ahead in 2021 if I keep this daily goal in mind.

Anger. 2020 was the year of anger for me. Not a burning, righteous anger as much as just being plain mad at what is happening in our lives and in our world. Most of those who know me know that I have strong feelings about the subject of what politicians have done to our country this last year. I won’t go into detail because that’s not the point of this post. Suffice it to say, my anger took away moments I could have been doing something beneficial for my family, myself, and God’s kingdom. I have repented of the unrighteous moments of anger, and my desire is to pray more and fume less in 2021. May it be so.

Despair. Despair… It took me until the final month of 2020 to see this, but I finally understand that our lives are on the path chosen by God, for many purposes: to rely on God more heavily than our own understanding; to love despite all the disappointments thrown in our path; and most importantly, to realize that this life, this very life that God has placed on us is for His glory, to show the world that NO MATTER WHAT, He is in control. What we have experienced and learned from the experiences is to be shared with those who travel the same life situations. Cancer, loss, unexpected and painful events–everyone has their own list. What we do with that list tells the world what we think about God. Do we love Him like we say we do? Does the world see that? 

Christianity is not a one and done process. The day I asked Jesus to be my Savior, my walk began. That walk will continue until the day I step into His presence. Growth never stops; we never reach the point of full maturity on this earth. Each day is a new opportunity for us to learn more about God by allowing Him to work through our circumstances.

With God leading, I believe by faith that I’m up for the challenge in 2021. I pray I am. Already I know of events that will take place in 2021 that will bring challenges. 

But God.

Happy New Year, y’all. May God bless you and bring you peace.

Morning Prayer

Father, I don’t know why You chose this way for Dave and me, and I can’t testify that I always accept it with grace. Some days, I do accept what “is” with a shrug of my shoulders and a quick sigh. Other days, it just feels like a heavy weight, and my soul sighs long; stuff just feels hopeless.

Whatever.

Please just continue to give us grace to be faithful to Your calling, even though we don’t understand it all. Because You are faithful, Father. Always faithful to us.

We each have our specific calling from You. Help me cling to that, and help me remember You are in control of it all; and You don’t make mistakes.

Thank You, Father. I love You.

The Hole in My Soul

Folks in my current age bracket grew up in a society where God was mostly recognized and honored; we had a healthy respect for Him, even in homes where He was not regularly worshipped. Our home was like that. As kids, my siblings and I went to summer Vacation Bible Schools. We did the yearly Easter visit—mostly to show off our new clothes. Sometimes we did the Christmas visit, especially to the annual Love Feast at the Moravian church around the bend. Other than that, we didn’t do church. The habit of our household was to sleep in late on Sundays.

But inside of me, in the very center of my being, I knew there had to be more than that. I had this terrible, lonely—almost suffocating–emptiness that couldn’t be filled with records or clothes or anything that I thought I just had to have. I remember hearing BJ Thomas sing, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and knew I’d never live another week if I didn’t have that record. So, I bought it. I listened to that song over and over for about two weeks. And then, I found something else I needed if I were to live through the next week.

Nothing lasted.

I was left at the end of each quest still searching for that one thing that would permanently fill my soul. Looking back, I see that this was more than just teenage angst; it was a burning desire placed inside of me by a Holy God to know Him and embrace His son Jesus as my Savior.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t searched for God. I remember that as a child I would lie in the grass and look at the clouds and all the beauty around me, and I just knew Someone big had made all that. I just didn’t realize how personal that “Someone” could become in a life.

In the summer of 1972, just after I graduated high school, a friend told me about Jesus. I was in a time of crisis, and when this friend shared Jesus, it was literally as if the light turned on inside of me. Indeed, it had, because when I heard about Jesus, I understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the only thing that would fill my empty, lonely soul. Once I understood that Jesus was the answer to all my need and that only He could take away the sin and anguish I felt, I asked Him to be my Savior and take control of my life. That is exactly what He did; and in the days that followed making that decision, I knew that I’d never need anything else to fill that gaping hole. The Holy Spirit moved in and sealed every crevice of my fractured life and brought me hope.

If you know anything of my life after Jesus, you know that it hasn’t been a smooth ride. That’s another story for another time. What I want you to understand is that God has never left me alone. The peace of Jesus still guards my soul. The Holy Spirit still moves and guides as I navigate the challenges of this world.

His love amazes me. Before I was born, He loved me. Before anyone told me about God and His Son–and by His design–my heart was already searching for Him. He has filled the empty places.

He can do the same for you. Jesus really is the answer. He’s not promising that you won’t experience difficulties—He did, after all. What Jesus promises is that He will never leave you, never forsake you. He is what makes each day better, no matter the circumstances of our lives. I pray you have trusted Him for the salvation and peace only He can offer, and if you have not, I pray you will.

Victory!

On Sunday, November 22, 2020, Dave had his final proton beam treatment for prostate cancer. The doctor assured him he was leaving the Center prostate cancer free, and on his way out the door for his last time, he rang the Victory Bell to signal his recovery. Because we can’t see it with our eyes, have faith in the words of the expert that there is no more cancer. Praise be to God!

What can’t you see? What is happening in your life that requires you to exercise your faith? We believe by faith the words of a doctor who is an expert in his field even though our eyes can’t see it, so what is keeping us from trusting in the Sovereign God, the ultimate expert? If God says it will be, then it will be. If God tells us to keep trusting, even though the road ahead is pitch black, we can believe Him to keep us in the middle of that road.

We don’t know God’s timetable for the answers to our challenges, but we know God; by faith, we must move forward. 

Life disappoints, people disappoint, our worlds might suffer hit after hit. No fun. At. All. It’s okay to cry for the disappointments and mourn the losses. Jesus cried. Just remember to surround your life and your prayers with faith. Dry your eyes, move forward, and show the world what trusting in a faithful God looks like.