Planned & Noted

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“Remember the wonders He has done,” – Psalm 105:5a

Over the past six months, I have become a die-hard paper planner. I really mean it, a card-carrying plannerd. It started over the summer, in a response to that fact that almost my entire job revolves around digital media, and I needed to have something I could hold in my hand as a record of what was going on, beyond my iPhone.

So I ordered a planner, and discovered a community.

Paper planning, it turns out, has its own little corner of the internet: blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook groups (yes, the irony of paper planners celebrating their analog-style of keeping track of things on the internet has not escaped me). To me, the meticulous track people keep of their lives with their planners makes sense, it’s a way to demonstrate that something has been accomplished.

And I’ve been really pleased with my planner and all my efforts to chronicle my life on paper, until last Wednesday.

I was sitting at my kitchen table, finishing up the last pages of my homework for Bible study, when I came to the question: In the past 18 months, what kinds of things have come your way?

And my initial response was: I dunno.

That was it. I don’t know. Yes, I can flip through my planner and point to doctor appointments and meetings at work and time with friends, but big picture? What’s really happened over the past 18 months? Especially when it comes to spiritual things, like specific answered prayer? I’m not really sure.

To say that discovering this gap was an “Ah ha!” is too small of a description. It demonstrated that while yes, I was recording the busyness, I was missing the REAL LIFE things. What God has done, is doing, and will do. Now, I’m not saying we need to record all that all the time, but jotting down some things to be able to look back on seems like a really good idea to me.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

It’s Yours

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“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” ~ Ephesians 1:11-14

Last night, I had a really strange dream.

Now, given the fact that I’ve been taking NyQuil for several nights, in an attempt to beat the cold I’m fighting, that in and of itself isn’t that strange. However, that I managed to have a dream with a lesson in it, that seems a bit odd to me.

In the dream, I still lived in the house I do now. But the dream began in a completely different house, a huge, spacious mansion that I was visiting with a friend. I asked the friend if she wanted a tour. I showed her through the beautifully decorated rooms, the massive playroom filled with toys, and outside onto the sprawling deck the looked out over the Rockies.

So why was I showing someone around a house I didn’t live in? Well, apparently in the dream, the house was mine. I had inherited it, and all the furnishings. It even came with a bank account to cover taxes and insurance (yes, it was a very financially responsible dream). I told the visiting friend where I planned to put the furniture I currently owned, and how much I thought my little boy would love all the toys in the playroom. Yet, at the end of the visit, I went back to my much smaller house with the tiny yard. In spite of the fact that I had inherited the beautiful mansion years ago, I still didn’t live there.

My visiting friend couldn’t understand this.

“Why don’t you live in the mansion?” she asked.

Seems baffling, doesn’t it? Why in the world would I not claim what was mine? Yet, as we can see all around us, many people are not claiming what is theirs. Christ died for ALL of us, and many people walk right past the gift, the glory, the inheritance, because they think they don’t need it. They are perfectly content with the small, insignificant life they have. Even more tragic, they are exchanging the fleeting pleasures of earth for the majesty of eternal glory. And while they may not feel shortchanged now, they certainly will in the future.

Don’t ever forget, your inheritance in Christ is yours – all you need to do is accept it.

Represent

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“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” ~ Ephesians 5:1-2

Now that my son is nearly four, he has gotten to be remarkably verbal. Being around me all the time, he’s learned to talk…a lot (apparently I was quite the chatterbox as a child, according to my parents). But what’s really been interesting to hear as he grows is how much he sounds exactly like me. Tone, inflection, speech patterns, the works, sometimes when he talks to me it’s like hearing myself talk. The other day, he asked me to come help him with his Legos. When I asked why, he turned to me, and very patiently and deliberately said, “Because I asked you to.”
It was like hearing a recording of myself.

When he spills something, I often don’t even have to respond. He cheerfully says, “That’s okay!” and goes about cleaning it up. Since he spends all his time with me, his only parent, he says what I would say in whatever situation he’s facing.

He imitates the person he is closest to, and boy, does it ever show.

As believers we are called to be imitators of God. We are His children, and our lives should show the love the Christ demonstrates towards us. In I Corinthians, Paul instructs the church to “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). We are to look to Christ and His followers to know how to live.

In order to do this, however, we must be spending time with Him. So much time that His responses become our responses. Sometimes this is easy – we have time to think about what we want to say. Other times, in stressful situations, it’s much harder; our knee-jerk responses might not be quite as…Christ-like.

As you go about your day, can people tell whom you are imitating? Does it show? Who is it that your life represents?

Legacy

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“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” ~ I Corinthians 3:10-15

The other night at dinner, my little boy asked me very somberly, “Is my daddy exactly like Matthew’s daddy?” (Yes, that rips your heart out in person just as much as on the page.) My son really admires the dad of his closest little friend, and I could see he was trying to form a picture of what his own father acted like, and this comparison was the most logical one to his three-year-old mind.

We spent a long time talking; through dinner, a phone call to my mother-in-law for additional details, and throughout the next day, discussing about all the things my late husband had worked on as a mechanical engineer. My son was very excited to know that his daddy built a real racecar, had worked on a robot, and designed equipment for firefighters. He was impressed and proud of all the memories that I could share, and wanted to see everything we had at our house that his daddy left here for us.

I know as he grows older, I will share more of the intangible things – his father’s depth of character, passion to grow in Christ, and about the impact his life and death had on people for eternity. For now, my little boy just wants to be able to add to a conversation about who his dad is and what kinds of things he did; to be able to share stories of his own father.

Yet through all of this discussion, I was struck by the fact that the list of professional accomplishments my husband accumulated during his short career is finite – it’s complete. He will not be adding to this list, at least here on earth as we know it. His opportunities to impact this world through daily action have ended. Yes, his life has left an indelible mark and continues to influence, but they are only the reverberations of his accomplishments during his time here.

The same can be said for all of us. We have a limited time to do what God asks us to do in this life. When we come to the end of our days, our work will be tested by fire. The distractions and life’s busy, unnecessary details will burn away, and we will be left with the work we truly did for the kingdom of heaven. And the opportunity to add to that work will be at an end.

What are you doing, today, to answer Jesus’ call to take up your cross and follow Him? We are not all called to do big things, but we are all called to do something. Whether it is singing songs about Jesus with your little ones at home, donating an extra few dollars to the missionaries your church supports, or heeding the call to travel overseas, the time to honor God is now. You may not have tomorrow.

There and Back Again

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“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” ~ Proverbs 14:30

For the past several weeks (ahem, months), I have felt prodded to start writing again. Sometimes it’s very direct – someone will say something like, “Why aren’t you writing?” Other times it’s a gentle push, merely a thought darting through my mind, “Oh, that’s a good idea!” But the time flits by and I’ve continued to ignore the nudges. That is until they started arriving daily, and even I’m not thickheaded enough to dismiss too many.

It hasn’t just been wrestling with the writing itself. What I’ve really been grappling with is the fact that I viewed writing as a way of working through things, learning the lessons that being widowed brought about. And now I want to be done. Cross the finish line. Reach the goal. Complete. Check all the boxes, being widowed is rough, but let’s move on, shall we?

Well, as it turns out, that isn’t exactly how life works. And at the heart of things, I found that my wanting to be done came from a place of deep envy. Ironically, it wasn’t even envy of someone else’s life – I envied my own, past life. The life that I was supposed to have. There should have been an awesome husband in that life, and a sibling for my little boy. A boisterous, growing happy family. And while my little boy and I are really content, when I look around, it isn’t at all the picture I had in my mind when I first heard his heartbeat four and a half years ago.

But according to the wisdom of the Proverbs, that kind of envy rots the bones. Other translations call envy a cancer. And we all know the kind of widespread, but invisible, damage that cancer can do. My jealousy – even of myself! – hurts me, my little boy, and all the people around me. Through God’s grace, I must learn to let go of my expectation of what my present should look like, and embrace it as it is. With His help, I can make the most of what I’ve been given every day, and choose joy along the way.

So here I am, having gone there and back again, to quote Tolkien. And having returned, I bring a heart humbled and willing to keep learning.

Poor Master

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” ~ Luke 16:13

One of my neighbors recently got a new dog.

Now, in the neighborhood I live in, this isn’t particularly unusual.  It seems like just about everyone has a dog.  These neighbors already have a smaller dog (which stays inside the house all the time), but apparently they felt that a little dog wasn’t enough – they bought a Husky.

Now, it’s a beautiful dog.  A gorgeous, full-grown dog with a magnificent black & white coat and blue eyes.  However, it seems that what my neighbors didn’t realize when they bought just one Husky was that Huskies are pack animals.  And pack animals need company.

So when my neighbors are gone all day, which happens when they go to work, this great big dog is left all alone in his tiny backyard.

And he cries, and cries, and cries.  For hours on end.  It is both heartbreaking and incredibly annoying.

It’s heartbreaking because it certainly isn’t the dog’s fault that he’s been penned up in a really small yard with no company.  It’s his owners.  They are being poor masters of this dog, and the dog has no choice.

In American life, we generally don’t have a master, unless it’s of our own choosing.  We have the opportunity to work wherever we can find a job, to fill our time with whatever hobbies we like.  Sometimes we choose wisely, but sometimes we choose poorly.

We must be careful with what we allow to master us – because as this verse in Luke points out, you can’t serve two.  If we choose poorly, we will allow something to master us that will eventually lead to misery and heartbreak.  But if we choose to serve God as our one and only master, we will be given an eternity of joy.

Always remember, you have a choice in whom you serve.  Choose wisely.

Yours & Mine

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“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.” ~ Isaiah 55:8

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

Last night was a typical rowdy Saturday night at my house.  After giving my son a bath, watching a little Thomas the Train, and putting him to bed, I spent the evening watching something on Hulu, putting together a few scrapbooking layouts, and answering work emails.  Not a bad night, but certainly not what I had pictured my life to look like at this point in time (I had at least planned on not spending evenings by myself.)

I realize that by most standards, my life is pretty good.  Boring, at times, but really great at other times.  I am blessed with a home, family, and friends.  In fact, sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Wow, I have such a great life.”  Unfortunately, the snarky voice in my head almost always immediately follows that thought with, “Yeah, except for that whole part about having a husband who died.”  Which sort of kills the count-your-blessings moment, in case you were wondering.

I think so often we look around and think, “This isn’t what I imagined.”  The young couple who face the news of yet another miscarriage.  The medical tests that come back with confirmation that what they’ve found is cancer.  The mother in the hospital being handed her baby for the first time, and only to realize immediately that her child has Down’s Syndrome.

Painful moments.  And not ones we ever pictured happening to us.  Maybe someone else.  But never us.

We cry out to God, from the very depths of our hearts, “This isn’t what I wanted! Why me?  Why is this happening?”  Sometimes He answers; sometimes He comforts us with only His presence and no words.  He may explain to us why we are going through what we are during our lifetime, He may not.

Yet God promises that He has good for those who love Him.  These moments certainly do not feel like love.  They may initially feel like blistering pain.  When the nurse stood in the hallway of the ICU and told me my husband could die from the bacterial meningitis, I certainly didn’t think about how God was showing His love for me.  I kind of felt like He had taken the day off.  And yet He has demonstrated endlessly through my situation He unending love for me and my little boy.

Our ways are not His ways.  He promises good to us, and wants us to grow in the spirit.  Sometimes that is through gentle life lessons.  Sometimes it is through much more challenging, life-altering experiences.  I know to knock the rough edges off of me, I’m sure God feels like He needs to use a belt sander sometimes, instead of just a little emery board.  But He accomplishes what He needs to in each one of our lives, through whatever situations come our way.  I certainly don’t mean God causes us harm to make us grow, but rather than He uses tragedy to bring good about.  Which is something only He can do.

Whatever is hurting you right now, give it to God.  Cry with Him, mourn with Him, and allow Him to turn your tears and heartache into something beautiful.

Bloom

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“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” ~ John 15:4

In my house, I have lots of plants.  Over a dozen, actually.  I like the green and living appeal of having plants all over the place.

I have one, however, that is quite scraggly.  It was given to me as a housewarming gift, and it has kind of dragged itself along every since.  It doesn’t really respond to pruning, so I’ve just let it go whatever direction it feels like.  I make sure it gets water and sunshine regularly, because that seems like the most I can do.

Three days ago this little pitiful plant provided me with a surprise.  Drooping over and all, there are little pink blooms on the it.

Now, this was a surprise, because in six years the plant has never bloomed.  Not once.  And here, after taking care of it consistently (but not extraordinarily), it produced flowers.

I think it can often feel like this in our walk with Christ.  Sometimes His work in us can take many years, and we might not be able to see what’s happening.  But stick with Him, and He will produce fruit in our lives that will be a beautiful witness to others.

Monkey Mind

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“We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” ~ II Corinthians 10:5

My Bible study group has decided to spend the next several weeks using a study designed to encourage a contemplative prayer life.  Part of the purpose is to get to the point in prayer where God can speak to us, instead of just rattling off a list of wants to Him and going on with our day.

To be honest, I really struggle with quiet times.  I may be an introvert, but sitting down to quietly focus on prayer and study of God’s Word means suddenly my brain is running off in a million directions.  My friend Polly uses the phrase, “monkey mind” to describe it – that your mind is jumping all over the place, and I think that is a very accurate description.  My brain goes especially monkey mind when I’m trying to go to sleep, whirring and buzzing late into the night.

However, I can’t help but notice how self-centered my monkey mind is.  The focus is always me, me, me.  This is another reason that I think working on the discipline of bringing my thoughts under control when I pray is important – because it means the focus is no longer on me; it’s on God, where it belongs.

We are called to destroy the obstacles that keep people from knowing God and to take every thought captive.  Even though my brain isn’t thinking evil thoughts when it goes monkey mind, my distractedness is preventing me from knowing God better.  And knowing God is what we have been called to do, so I’m working to be able to do just that.

Evidence of Pain

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“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ I Samuel 16:7

Today’s post involves a bit of oversharing – sorry about that.

I am currently having a plantar wart removed from the bottom of my foot.  All home remedies have failed, so I ended up turning to the big guns and went to a dermatologist.  Yesterday was my second treatment – apparently it was thicker than the dermatologist initially estimated, thus forcing her to freeze it for a second time (and threaten me with the possibility of a third).  Now, the first time she did this, it was relatively painless.

Not so, yesterday.  In fact, by the end of the day, I was limping; it hurt so badly.  The doctor had told me to expect blisters with the pain, so as I reached the end of the day I was prepared to see some searing wounds, to go along with the pain.

Imagine my surprise when there was literally nothing to see!

My toe looked as benign as could be, with absolutely nothing to show for the fact that I was walking around with my foot flexed to avoid touching the ground with it.  I felt like such a wimp, that something could cause so much discomfort, and yet be completely invisible.

It brought to mind today’s verse, and the way we often treat other people.

Oftentimes, we only afford grace to those who we see as needing it – that their lives outwardly reflect the suffering they are going through.  But many times, people suffer in silence, living through difficult situations without a word of complaint – or a smidge of support.  We see that they have a nice house or good job, or any other trappings of success, and deem them unworthy of our sympathy.  They haven’t shown us enough evidence of pain.

But God looks at our hearts – and He knows what we’re going through.  He sees and understands our hurts and heartaches.  Even when it is invisible to all around us, He is deeply moved by what we face each day.  It’s why He sent His Holy Spirit, to follow after Christ returned to heaven.  God knew we would need help – and need it often.  He didn’t want to leave us alone.

Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re going through, God is there by your side.  He sees each tear that falls, and wants you to know that you are loved.

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