An Angry Spirit and Why We Must Deal with It

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

You will always be enslaved to a bad temper, rage, anger, and offense as long as you coddle the idea that you deserve to be angry and behave badly—or that this is “just the way you roll.” We credit that temper, sometimes with great pride, to our red hair, our family tree, our upbringing or social lot in life, and sometimes even our gender; but in truth, anger finds its place in a soul that has surrendered self-control to the enemy of our souls.  If it stays in us, it stays in us because we allow it a place.  Maybe up until this moment you thought you had no choice, but I beg to differ.  If you want to be free and find some peace to that unsettledness that drives you to boil over at every available chance, read on…

The devil wants you to always be exploding, brawling, quarreling, cursing, flipping people off, in others’ faces giving them what-for. It’s a rush of adrenaline; a high; a bizarre release of sorts for someone who’s got some deep unhappiness issues…a release that’s only momentary but doesn’t heal the anger. It becomes enjoyable to watch people be afraid of you or dreading you, and it makes you have a false sense of empowerment. It becomes the norm for you to think it’s ok to blow up on people only to come back later and say, “but I was just ticked off/didn’t feel well/had a bad day already/etc.; or somehow always shifting blame to the other person’s actions for one’s own unrestrained reactions.  How many abusers tell their victims, “…but I won’t let it happen again,” only to come back and do it again and again?

Yes, there’s an oppressive, controlling spirit that attaches itself to the person who just continually allows his/her temper to run unchecked. It will turn a home into a house of horrors, a school or workplace into a source of dread, and it will kill a thriving church. An angry spirit has a way of developing into iniquity that then transfers to your children and on down the line. Don’t be proud of that “(Your Surname) Temper.” If it runs in your family, you’d better find a way to end it in your generation!

Is it ok to get angry? Sure, it’s a legitimate emotion, and sometimes a little righteous anger will light a fire under us to make needed changes in the world around us. We actually SHOULD be moved by abuse, human trafficking, murder of the innocent, oppression, etc.; but only to the extent that God can use us to right wrongs, not so that we can go out and commit crimes against others in the name of being angry at what they do. Even when others provoke us, believers must remember that it’s not a war on the ground we’re fighting, but spirits of darkness in the heavenlies that compel humans to do the bad things they do. We are told in the Word to be angry but sin not. We are told not to let the sun go down on our wrath. It also says that anger rests (finds a permanent place) in the bosom of fools. We are to exercise self-control, and yes it can be done; but we have to invite peace into our lives and reject strife.

So what happens if you allow anger to find a welcome spot in your soul? At best, you’ll just be hard to live with. At worst, you may wind up in jail or dead, unemployable, alone, alienated, resented, or you may irreparably harm someone you love. Satan’s goal is always eventually to take you to hell, after he’s made your life hell on earth, with you and everyone around you miserable. He wants people to feel as if this is just who they are and that they can’t change. Yeah, it stinks when the soda pop machine steals your money. It’s normal to get aggravated, but not normal if you don’t stop till the machine is on its side with boot holes in it and smoke rolling out. It’s not normal to run people off the road just because you can’t control your anger over their perceived lack of driving skills. It’s not normal to terrorize people with your temper at ballgames, school assemblies, church, the workplace—and the saddest of all, in your home, where everyone should feel safe and loved. If you can’t deal with everyday minor inconveniences and issues without going into a cussing, stomping tantrum, you need help. If you don’t want to die of blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, or be caught up in some costly foolish act from allowing yourself to just explode at everything that fails to go your way, you need delivered from an angry spirit.  I think you know in your knower if I’m talking to you in particular.

Father, we live in an entitled-mentality generation who feels that we deserve to behave however we want to. Forgive us for feeling that we deserve to allow our emotions to become a sinful repetitive way of life. Father, forgive us for enjoying the little bit of power we feel when we bully or manipulate others through fear.  Forgive us for taking advantage of a reputation for being hot-tempered, to use for our own selfish ends.   Forgive us for the stress we have put on others around us and for the words and maybe even the physical altercations which took place because we failed to put a control on anger. It’s become a way of life for some of us and we aren’t sure we know how to undo it.  We cannot shut the door without Your help, so we humble ourselves before You and ask for Your intervention.

We reject the root spirit of jealousy that manifests as anger, hatred, bad temper, and abusiveness. We reject pride that says others aren’t as good as us or that we must always have our own way.  We reject rebellion, lawlessness, and a manipulative spirit.  Lord, would you cleanse our hearts; and pour the oil of gladness and the love of God into us?  Cause us to fall in love with Your nature and desire to emulate the good in You.  Would you help us to change? Us not being able to change is a lie from hell. You can help us. We release You to go to work in our lives and break everything off us which isn’t like You—even the strongholds that we enjoy being bound by. We ask You, in situations where health issues, mental health issues, medications, hormone imbalances, and the like are at work, reveal to us a strategy to manage the physical problems themselves which manifest as ill-temperedness. Heal our sicknesses and help us govern our life choices more wisely.  Father, we release and forgive those who have wronged us, so that unforgiveness doesn’t open us up to a host of bad spiritual repercussions.  Help us say no to what opens a door to violent behavior–the wrong movies, music, influences, or friends. In other words, don’t let us remain content and justified in behaving badly! Don’t leave us alone, until we have a Christlike spirit that knows the difference between a righteous passion for justice and a tendency to always get angry over all things that don’t go our way.  Father, we don’t need to just get better at stuffing down anger only to have it resurface in other unhealthy ways or all at once; heal us in the area of our soul that needs healing, so that anger dissipates rather than just temporarily going into hiding.  O God, show us the people to whom we owe an apology or restitution for the way we have allowed anger to injure our relationship with them.

For those of us with more dominating, aggressive personality types, help us to channel that passionate or forward nature toward good and not evil. Sanctify us and use even our personalities in a positive way to make a difference in this world and bring You glory. Bring balance into our lives so that we aren’t excessive.  Holy Spirit, we invite you into ourselves. Be the dove of peace that rests in our spirit. Displace the spirit of anger which was never meant to occupy the high throne of our hearts. Break up the fallow ground of our hearts and cause gentleness, meekness, peace, love, patience, and every fruit of the Spirit to begin to flourish where the works of the flesh once overran our lives. Baptize our every word, thought, and deed in Your pure love.

In Jesus’ name, we accept Your forgiveness and Your deliverance. We will continue to verbally reject every temptation to explode with anger every time it tries to manifest; over and over, until the habit of overreacting is broken. We will not die prematurely from an undisciplined life that destroys our health and well-being, and we will not allow our behavior to destroy our relationships. We take responsibility now to walk as children of the light! We walk as free people, not bound people!

Kids and Grownup Church–They Belong, Too

Our family was far from perfect, but I’m thankful to have been born into it. I was a church kid, born to one of those families who believed in gathering for worship…and not just on rare occasions or when something else more interesting wasn’t going on. Whatever else they did or didn’t get right, my parents/grandparents raised us to be Christ-followers, within a larger group of other imperfect believers and families.  They modeled putting God first, in their tenacity to carve out Sunday for the Lord’s day (they definitely didn’t confuse us with on-again, off-again faithful attendance).  My parents didn’t fight with us or threaten to ground us on the issue…it was just our way of life, so since it was all we ever knew, we kids weren’t really exploring other options. If I may, I would like to just transparently share a little about kids and “grownup” church, and why I believe it’s important that kids experience more than just the nursery and the children’s program alone; we tend to try to keep it all so separate that our kids aren’t integrating into a grownup worship experience. So to keep babies from crying or parents from having to teach a wiggly child to behave for a little while and reverence God’s house, we just never bring them into where there’s grownup church going on.

Parents don’t seem as motivated as they once were with exposing their kids to a very spiritual encounter with God. So when it’s going to put any kind of kink in the routine, or if there’s an inconvenience of any kind; or if it’s not a service where there are kids’ activities running in tandem; or if church night clashes with other activities they like to participate in, the whole family just stays home. And our kids can develop a mindset that church has to be all about entertaining them–if there’s no cotton candy or egg hunt or pizza or face painting–it isn’t really worth the investment of their time. So as soon as they outgrow the games, they just stop coming, period. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t the excuse for my parents to stay home from church at night or during revival. Oh, there might be a sick day factored in there once in a while, but they never kept me out of evening worship services and said it was because I needed my sleep for school the next day. They had me there even when there wasn’t something special just for the little kids. Even if we should have to leave a little early (maybe we did…I don’t remember), they still brought me. Worship wasn’t the obligation we had to hurry and get over with just so we could rush out to go do what we would have rather been doing all along. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of my church family from a young age, and you know…it was a healthy thing. So what was the benefit of my parents bringing me to grownup church, too, and not just kids church?

For starters, I learned a lot about Christians in the real world. I saw people who had to deal with some hard circumstances who didn’t give up. I saw others give up. I saw some quit and come back. I saw the saints and I saw the hypocrites. I saw church conflict, and when it was and wasn’t handled properly. I wasn’t shielded from any of it…and it taught me by example what to do and what not to do. I even saw sincere believers and family members whom I loved, who battled to the death with strongholds they wouldn’t break free from. I heard the way parents and grandparents prayed. I watched them forgive hard things. I saw them volunteer countless hours, hammer and saw, cook, serve, teach, sing, and just…be present.

And yeah, sometimes I got a little less sleep on a church night. It didn’t stunt my growth and I graduated in the top five of my class.

As a little girl, I fell asleep on the church pew and woke up in my own bed many a night. I got to stay back and see the things people miss who cut out early to catch their show on tv. I saw people get saved, get demons cast out, be healed, women shout their hairpins down. I remember watching my Grandma make homemade Communion bread, and I remember how that, as a small child, I knew it was serious that we not take the Lord’s bread and cup with unrepented sin or unforgiveness in our hearts. I took turns with all ages washing the saints’ feet (ladies in one room, fellas in another) in that old ceramic washpan, and sometimes the water got a little dirty in my little country church–and how that people often cried, rejoiced, forgave and made up with one another during that humble sacrament. I got baptized in a creek under an old bridge long before I attended a church that had a fiberglass baptistery. Sometimes I got taken to church when I had the sniffles or a cough…and when I did get sick (as kids will do), my parents didn’t hesitate to get me prayed for and even more importantly, they didn’t hesitate to lay hands on me and pray for me themselves. We had a special bottle of olive oil just for that purpose in our house! And they brought me to church…they didn’t just send me. I’m saying these things not to criticize or judge you if you’re a parent who’s raising your kids different from the way I was raised–but to encourage you to press in closer and let your kids have more than just a sterile, disconnected, indifferent, occasional relationship with the entire household of faith.

Don’t shrinkwrap your kids’ church experience in just the parts you think they should see. Please don’t opt to keep them home whenever the service isn’t tailored to their age group!  You’d be surprised at what a five-year old understands from a grownup preacher’s sermon, and what he or she picks up when it looks as if there’s absolutely no attention being paid at all. You’d be surprised at what your kids can come to understand about prayer, giving, serving, living with integrity, and sharing their faith.

Believe me when I tell you that world doesn’t dumb down what it shows kids now. Your elementary school kids have probably seen more on tv than you knew on your wedding night. Why, then, do we try to ration their experience of real faith in the lives of real people who need grace and redemption and patience with one another? Bring them to all the fun, memorable, age-appropriate stuff..they need that, too. But be thinking ahead to where you want them to be spiritually once they outgrow puppets and VBS.

Integrate them into a full, multigenerational worship experience. Let them know what it’s like to experience conviction, to get lost in worship, to pray in the altar for the Holy Spirit. Moreover, may they learn from watching how you worship and respond to the move of God, how you give, how you serve, how you interact with others in the church family, how you deal with hard times, and how you pray.  Please understand, I’m not undermining the value of children’s Christian education, at all.  I am grateful to be a member of a local church that has a phenomenal childrens program.  I’m just saying, your kids will learn more from watching your life than they ever could from just children’s church alone.  They need both.  They’re going to need to know how to bear up under persecution, how to live without compromising their moral ground, how to do spiritual warfare, and how to pray the prayer of faith when sickness, tragedy, or injustice happens. And make sure that, in spite of some occasional inconvenience, their opportunity to witness the church in all its organic guts and glory isn’t lost in just pacifying them with an electronic babysitter to keep them from being bored (yeah, they can make it for 90 minutes without the iPad and earbuds!).  It is, after all, us visiting God in His special place. He didn’t just leave us the key and tell us to lock up and turn off the lights when we’re done–He wants to come down among us. If we are excited about meeting Him there, and our kids catch the spirit of that excitement too, talk about some quality family time…

I was seven when I gave my heart to Jesus–and it was in a grownup revival service. I was ten when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit…at night, lingering long in the altar. In both situations, I was a child but yet I knew enough about the presence of God to experience hot tears flowing from a sincere heart who wanted to know Him. It changed my life. Regardless of what your denomination teaches about these things, I’m just sharing with you the precious experience I got to have as a child raised in a Pentecostal church. And just think…had my parents kept me at the house either of those nights, because I was young and because they wanted me in bed at a certain time, or because they reasoned that I would probably encounter Jesus sometime after I got a little older…I might never have made a decision for Christ that translated into a lifetime of rich, growing faith. It was just two church services on the timeline of my life; but oh, if I had missed them…

I’ve had my ups and downs spiritually, have made some good decisions and some unthinkably foolish ones; but I’m 52 and I’m still deeply, deeply in love with my Savior. This didn’t happen by accident. My parents steered me toward a relationship with God–very intentionally–and part of that involved raising me not just as an occasional visitor to His house, but a regular. It was all I ever knew. Sunday was His day, and very few times was it pre-empted for something else. And because I got to experience needing to exercise my faith, worshiping God in a setting of young and old, being encouraged to seek out my gifts and use them for His glory; and seeing the consequences of when things aren’t handled right by believers actually protected me. It kept me from becoming jaded from offenses and hurts and church splits and injustices–because unfortunately, those things happen. Your child needs to be conditioned to deal with the very things you wish they didn’t have to see.  I learned that men may fail you, mistreat you, withhold favor, betray you…but that God will not. Ever.

If you will live Jesus Christ before them, and be genuine in your faith, your kids will be ok even if they see others who don’t walk the walk. If you’ll value their spiritual growth as much as you value them making first string on the ball team, you are securing something even more important than whether they get skilled enough to win a sports scholarship and a free ride to college. Your kids need to be able to cope with life in a wicked, wicked world. They will worship somethingand if you don’t teach them and model before them how to put the Lord God first in their lives, you may lose them to the world system. If they see you indifferent about your commitment to Christ, don’t be surprised if they grow up completely detached from faith. It’s not going to be enough for your children to say, “Oh yeah…I believe there’s probably a God.” Or, “Hey, I might not be where I ought to be, but I still pray…sometimes”. The time to sell them on the value of that relationship is now, while they’re still impressionable. Your kids need Him for eternal life. They need Him, because drugs and alcohol and debauchery and pornography and crime and suicide are all waiting to grab hold of them.

Some of you prayed that God would bless you with children. Now that you have them, will you truly dedicate them to Him or will you instead teach them that life is all about what they can achieve and get and buy and own and collect and play? Will they encounter His presence or will their lives be all about getting numbed out by newest level of their favorite video game? Don’t raise them up not to know who their Father is, and don’t raise them not to know about a hell that’s to be shunned and heaven to be gained. it’s a matter of eternal life and death.

Being a church kid wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad thing to be. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

That’s all.

Strengthening Ourselves Against the Spirit of Offense

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Make a commitment to yourself and to God for this upcoming year not to be sidelined by a spirit of #offense. Some of you may get huffy on me even just reading that first sentence…but hold on and let me elaborate a little!

In my prayer time a couple of days ago, the Lord cautioned me that the enemy was going to launch an attack on the body of Christ in the way of offenses; an attempt to erode our unity. Not so much one big collective attack where everyone is hit at the same time by the same event, but many small instances. The old “death by a thousand cuts” strategy.

We live in a perpetually-offended society nowadays, and believe me when I tell you that listening to constant bad news on TV (true or not), listening to negative music, reading negative articles and books day in and day out can wreak havoc on your spirit man! That spirit of offense can get all over you if you don’t guard your heart! We worry more about our outward appearance being impacted by a lost culture, than we do about the inward impact of those feelings of entitlement, pride, arrogance, and yes, the tendency to get angry, hurt, and offended by everything that doesn’t agree with how we want it. People are ready to sue or to break ties or to ruin others’ reputations at the drop of a hat. And sadly, it happens even in church too.

So how do we cope and make it through the obstacle course of offense? By renewing our minds daily in the Word. By being honest with ourselves before God and recognizing what pushes our buttons. By praying protection over ourselves and our loved ones and inviting the Holy Spirit to change the atmosphere wherever we are—home, school, church, the grocery store parking lot, wherever.

Our minds are going be full of SOMETHING. We have to set parameters and say no to what the Holy Spirit cautions us to avoid. And even though we feel we shouldn’t have to be careful around others, yes, as believers we have an obligation to walk blamelessly before the world. We need to think before we act and do. And we need to arrest that spirit of offense when we feel it rising in us.

At some point over the coming weeks and months, you may feel the enemy say something like:

  • “You should just leave/quit/resign/divorce/part ways. You’re not appreciated. Your (spouse, job, family, group, ministry, church, etc.) ought to have to suffer a little bit and then they’d see how much you are worth.”
  • “They did that on purpose! Are you going to just stand there and take it?”
  • “God didn’t answer your prayers. He must not really love you after all.”
  • “So and so just gave you the stink eye. That person doesn’t like you.”
  • “They just did you wrong because you are (too young, too old, not beautiful, they’re jealous of you, not the same color as them; or they think they’re better than you).”
  • “Your church takes too hard a stance on that point of doctrine. They act like a cult. You should find a church that agrees with what you consider truth.”
  • “Who do they think they are to judge you for your choices?”
  • “They’re not the boss of you.”
  • “You should just go ahead and (hurt/kill) yourself and get out of the way.  That’d make them sorry.”
  • “That attitude can go two ways. If they’re asking for trouble, you know you can’t back down now.”
  • “If that person were really a Christian, he/she would (look, act, vote, participate, speak) just like you. Don’t trust him or her!”

Sound familiar?

Well friends, we have a choice. We can do the work in our prayer and study time to toughen up, or we can run around constantly wounded and on the defensive. People hate having to always tiptoe around one certain person in their lives! Don’t let that person be YOU! Remember that much of the time, folks don’t even know that their words were inappropriate or caused you to be hurt. And yeah, some people are not going to be fair with us—now or ever. The Word tells us to pray for, forgive, and love them anyway. Sometimes we have to do it (without gossiping about them behind their backs, by the way) from a distance—but near or far, God’s grace can enable us to shake it off.

Pray with me: “Father, I don’t want to be overly sensitive. I don’t want to stumble on the rock of offense, this year or ever. I don’t want to abort my mission or abandon a divine assignment You’ve given me over becoming hurt, mad, or offended at someone else. Jesus, some of your followers even abandoned You when Your words offended their sensibilities.  Please help me!

There are any number of opportunities in a day for me to have my feelings hurt, if I choose to. Crucify the drama queen nature in me! I reject that tendency to want to dramatize and rehearse and nurse and tell others about how this person or that organization or that race or this group was unfair to me. It’s hard, Lord. Sometimes people’s words and actions are downright intentional! I feel sometimes like people who don’t understand my pain are against me. But by Your grace I am rising above offense, in Jesus’ name.

Today I put on the whole armor of God. I protect my mind with the helmet of salvation, my heart with the breastplate of righteousness, my whole being with the shield of faith, my vital organs and private parts with the loinbelt of truth, and my feet with the gospel of peace. I have the Word and Your Spirit in my hand as a sword of defense from the attack of the enemy. You have equipped me to protect my spirit, soul, mind, will, emotions, and entire body. I will not leave the place of prayer improperly dressed to meet my day!

Lord, Your Word tells me in Matthew 18 exactly what to do when a brother offends me—it’s actually a good template for my other relationships too. It starts with personal communication, not a Facebook rant. I will handle situations the way the Bible tells me to. I will not assume that the other person automatically knows, and I will not read his or her every action or inaction as some kind of negative response! I will be civil but honest when these kinds of communications must happen. The object is restoration and forgiveness. Father, in this moment I release and forgive every person who has knowingly or unknowingly offended me!

Lord, I remind myself today that the enemy’s goal is collateral damage. A hit at me is intended to wound and scatter and render ineffective my whole circle of influence. The offense was a weapon not of flesh and blood, but unseen wicked spiritual forces at work. I can’t afford to see this attack in the natural! I will ask what the devil is trying to accomplish if I accept his bait—for that is exactly the post I can’t afford to abandon! I refuse to leave my family, my church, or my assignment over becoming offended!

Finally, I will exercise more caution in the way my words or decisions affect others. When I know I’ve hurt someone, I will man or woman up and go make it right. I won’t just let that person simmer and stew in offense. I won’t just write it off as the other party needing to grow up. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t; but God isn’t judging me on someone else’s actions. He judges me by how I handle things from my end! I will take the high road. I will at least initiate the conversation that opens a door to reconciliation.

And finally, Father, I thank You for not leaving me comfortless! In a fallen, unfair world, Your Holy Spirit consoles and gives me peace. In the name of Jesus, I go forth today declaring that I AM NOT A VICTIM! I WILL NOT LET THE DEVIL MOVE ME FROM WHERE GOD HAS ASSIGNED ME! I am a Psalm 1 believer who refuses to be influenced by the negatives of others—a tree thriving in rich soil, which bears fruit and whose leaves aren’t withered. I am not ignorant of the devices (strategies, traps) of the devil. I won’t miscarry my destiny because of a vagabond, offended spirit. I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Amen and amen!” 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

A Mosaic Kingdom

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I think of the kingdom of God like a mosaic. If you’ve ever viewed an intricate mosaic first from a distance, it’s beautiful and somewhat intriguing. But it’s quite a miracle of artistic expression that becomes more evident not so much at a distance but rather, as you get closer. How is it that thousands, even millions of tiny, imperfect shards of glass or pottery, tiles, or stones can form something so perfectly harmonious and beautiful? Those irregular pieces probably didn’t start out all crooked and cracked…they got broken when life happened. And yet here they are…mortared together to make a work of art.

You realize as you move close enough to touch that rendering just how unlikely a pairing all these dissimilar pieces really are. Different shapes, colors, textures, different angles, thicknesses, and size. Only a true artist with a vision could sort them all and then spread a mortar just thick enough to make each piece level off equally with its neighbors. A preconceived plan must be in place to allow that artist to keep everything in proportion, perspective, and depth.

We—you and I—are those jumbled, mixed up pieces. We all come together in all our brokenness, in need of the same love and healing, mercy and grace. His Holy Spirit is the mortar that holds us together and causes us to find our perfect fit in the overall picture. It’s a mystery, I tell you. Our circumstances, our fallible human nature, our life stories, our successes and yes, even our failures—bring us to the pile of shattered shards. Nothing about us individually seems to point to perfection or wholeness. Yet, He finds a place where even the most broken of us fits. There’s no piece that is unredeemable. There’s no piece He would call “damaged goods.” His blueprint is simply that we love Him first and then that we love one another. If we are yielded to His hands, He can create that “exceeding abundantly,” glorious, expectation-surpassing plan for our lives. We don’t have to be swept into the dustpan of lostness. Sometimes He has to reshape us a little to work us into the picture and that’s ok, too.  Sometimes He has to scrape off the residual mortar from our sinful past and our unhealthy associations, so that we can conform to His will.  He loves us too much to leave us alone–He can change wrong attitudes, clean up our habits, give us hearts able to love and trust again. He forgives our sins and tells us to go and sin no more.  He wants us to fit!

Every week there’s a lady who gets up and ministers during worship time, and her smile seems to indicate that life is perfect and that she has no issues. Don’t be fooled. She does not have her ducks all in a row, her i’s dotted, her t’s crossed. Sometimes she just has to worship in the midst of the messes of her own doing. Sometimes all isn’t well! She has jagged edges that don’t make her fit just anywhere. She has attitudes that need crucified on a regular basis. Oh yeah, you bet this gal can be a real piece of work some days, and her own shortcomings are a humbling reminder that she needs to cut the people around her a lot more slack too! The devil tries to tell her she is a phony and that she has no real value. She falls to her knees in the secret place and tells her God just how small and inadequate she feels to the task. She has to repent for her unyieldedness, doubt, insecurity, and fear. And yet. And yet He blesses her and says, “You belong. You fit right where I placed you.”

Only by His grace, and only in the setting of the big picture created by the Master mosaic maker, can this broken piece find a sense of belonging. Only bonded to other imperfect people by His Spirit does she find her life purpose. Only working hand in hand with and relying on other fragments in equal need of His grace does she find wholeness. She was not meant to be complete in herself, but woven into His grand design.

I am that frail earthen shard, and in His hands, even my imperfection is beautiful. I belong to something greater than the sum of its parts—the kingdom of God. Guess what? If you’re a believer, then so do you. Stop fretting about feeling as if you don’t belong. Stop postponing your relationship with your Father until such a time when you feel like you’ve got your act all together. Word: you are not going to be able to get your act all together! Let Him take you in all your brokenness and fit you—right now—into His perfect mosaic. He will fix what needs fixing. Together, He makes us a thing of beauty.

“You are the body of the Anointed One, and each of you is a unique and vital part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 (Scripture taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

Never Departing—Raising Kids with Values and Not Just Skills

arrows“Dedicate your children to God and point them in the way that they should go, and the values they’ve learned from you will be with them for life.”  (Proverbs 22:6 TPT The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

Your child’s real future isn’t in scholarship, it’s in #discipleship. Scholarship says, “I got it all because of ME.” Discipleship says, “yes I have talent, but even that is because of HIM.”

Praise the Lord for favor and open doors, for free rides to college, and I’m all for getting all the education and credentials we can; but please, Christian parents, don’t elevate your child’s talent above his or her spiritual well-being. If we teaching our children it is all about their earthly goals, we are teaching them to build on sand instead of the Rock. If their entire hope is tied up in their talent—their life plans formed solely around what their own hands can do–then their future is as fragile as one unfortunate sports injury or failed entrance exam. And what good would a scholarship be on the timeline of forever if that renowned college were to transform your child into someone who no longer believes there even IS a God? Celebrate that talent, but don’t make talent an idol. Don’t neglect the foundation in favor of making the facade look good. Want eternity for your kids even more than you want moments...yes, let’s want heaven for them even more than we want a degree from that prestigious university hanging on their wall! If we seek Him first and His righteousness, did our Lord not say that “all these things” (the things that the world would make the primary or sole focus) would be added to us?

I get grieved when I see once God-focused homes where the celebration is no longer on the children’s Jeremiah 29:11 future, but on exalting nothing more than skills and beauty and temporary achievements. Are your children discovering their spiritual gifts? Are they growing strong in their relationship with God, connected to stable children’s or youth church groups where they are fortified by other young believers and godly adult mentors? Are they being brought to see and participate in the move of the Holy Spirit in revivals, prayer gatherings, youth camps, and worship services, or is there never time or desire for those things because of all the other pursuits we have enabled? Do they hear prayer and the Word read in the home, or does God only receive honorable mention from time to time? Are the dreams they chase guided by godly wisdom and balance, or are we endorsing paths that lead far away from God by not teaching them to use those talents for His divine purpose? If we aren’t training them up in the way they should go, how can they stay on a path they were never taught not to depart from!

Lord, speak to our hearts today as Christian parents and recalibrate our focus. Forgive us for grooming our kids to grow up as unbelieving adults who were raised in lukewarm, powerless Christian homes rife with duplicity. You gave them to us as arrows; show us when the problem lies in our aim. You have blessed us with healthy, smart, beautiful kids–and we will teach them how to use their gifts to glorify You rather than to replace You.

Help us to train them to be as effective in fervent prayer as they are in the fast pitch; to tear down strongholds even better than they can sack the opposition’s quarterback; to be Esthers instead of divas; Solomons instead of just intellectuals; Davids instead of rock gods; Daniels instead of conformists. Help us to model in front of them a burning, living relationship with You instead of just a religious experience we once had. Help us not to have poisoned our kids with pride and self-absorption! Remind us to tell them often that we are pleased with them not just because of all they can do but rather, who they are in YOU! Help us not to live our lives vicariously through our kids, trying to recapture our own missed opportunities. We want them to be successful and strong, but O God, we want them to love You even more than we ourselves have loved you. We want them to rise and be the ushers of a last-day awakening, who use their gifts and talents and testimonies to draw people to the Savior!

We choose today to openly to put You first, and to teach them to put You first, too. We will guard our conversations in our homes, what we take into our gateways of eyes and ears. If You tell us we need to change some things, add or take away some things, we will not ignore Your voice! We will communicate to our kids that no matter what else they do or don’t become, we want them to love and serve You first and foremost. We will help them hone their skills, but will teach them to give You all the glory for what those skills help them achieve. We will instill eternal-mindedness into them, and we will live lives in front of them that back up what we teach. It will show in how we invest our time, our money, our affections. We will have great fun with them and laugh and make memories; and we will teach them how to have compassion, how to give, how to love with perfect love, and how to flee from temptation. We will teach them how to cling to truth, stand firm even when the world bullies them for what they believe, and we will teach them how to forgive and be forgiven. We will love them like You want us to love them–unconditionally–and will love them too much to let them be deceived and led by the devil away from their life purpose!

Help us to hear Your voice concerning our kids, Father. Your planned future for them is better than anything we could lay hold of for them on our own. As we trust You for that future, we will be good stewards of our little arrows; and by Your grace, they will grow to be arrows hitting not just any mark, but the actual destinies for which You handcrafted each of them uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully!. We consecrate ourselves, our homes, and our children today. Bless them, protect them, do great things through them, and let them never depart from You, in Jesus’ name.

(Adapted from my Facebook status, August 11, 2017)

Release and Renew: Prayers for Those with Heartbreaking Jobs

”I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NAS1977)

Be deliberate today in your pursuit of the goodness of God. I speak especially to those in careers where you daily see the ugliest side of humanity, or perhaps the most hopeless-appearing situations. Soldiers, law enforcement, social workers, oncology nurses/doctors, ministers, teachers, counselors, and others–at the end of your day you must find a way to disconnect from the despair, lest you become a casualty instead of a catalyst for healing and hope. You can find that in prayer. At the beginning of your day you have to coat yourself in the hope of the Word to shield yourself from what you’re going to encounter. You might say, “why aren’t you suggesting I pray for the people I encounter instead of myself? This feels so selfish. What about their problems?” I’m writing this today to help keep you strong enough to do the hard work you do. You can’t help others if you wind up taken out by despair. It’s time to gear up because we NEED you doing what you do. Please, stay strong! Take care of your spirit!

Our world is sad. It’s bad out there. There’s so much despair and so many wicked activities taking place. There’s so much sickness and tragedy and cruelty. So many children, elderly, weak, innocent who are preyed upon. So many people operating under demonic influence inflicting pain and suffering on themselves and others. So much ADDICTION.

I’ll be honest. I went through my Twitter feed earlier this morning and the bad news was exhausting. I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I honestly thought, “Death’s not such a bad thing…it’ll be a relief to leave this world and go on to heaven!” But then I remembered what Paul said about it being more expedient (needful) that he remain behind to help others instead of going on to be with the Lord. I want heaven. I want to go and be with the Lord and be away from all the madness for all eternity…eventually. But what I really want to do first is effectively hold back the worst of evil by collectively offering up effectual fervent prayer. I want to point others to Jesus and be someone who hammers signposts in the ground of life that show a lost world the direction in which to run to find hope. THE ONLY way I can remain objective is to have God’s Word tattooed on my heart and mind, and to stay close enough to Him to hear His voice. Otherwise I just disappear into the sludge of despair with everyone else who’s given up and is waiting to die.

So for all of you who are so bravely doing the jobs I could not do (or rather, don’t necessarily WANT to do), I just encourage you this morning to cover yourself. Even if you’re already well into your shift, there’s no time like the present to start. Pray with me:

“God, thank You for helping me survive all the situations I encountered yesterday. Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. Today I receive Your new mercy. Clothe me with salvation, with humility, with strength. Just like the “whole armor of God,” I put on my tactical gear. My head’s covered with salvation. My heart’s covered with righteousness. My tactical belt is truth…I can attach every tool I need to do my job to this truth. My feet are covered with peace. My shield is faith. My defense weaponry is Your Word and Your Spirit! That said, Lord, I’m getting ready to walk into the unknown today. I will encounter messed-up lives. I will meet hurting people. My heart will break over what’s not fair. Use me to make a difference, to be Your light bearer in a dark place. Help me to respond not out of anger, but with great wisdom.

Help me to do my best while I’m on the job and then help me to LET IT GO at the end of the day. Lord, help me not to carry these problems home to my family. I need my family and they need me. Help me to appreciate and be ministered to by the innocence of the home I’ve worked so hard to build and protect.

Keep me safe today, guard me against burnout; help me to strategize with the mind of Christ about how I can use my gifts to bless others and my strengths to help those who are in the place of need. Help me not to lose my sense of compassion nor my sense of duty to minister to the disparaged. I don’t want to be callous or insensitive when someone is needing treated gently. Help me to be just and fair with all people, even those who aren’t just and fair with me. Remind me that I represent YOU and can’t afford to let my words and actions go contrary to Yours. Help me not to think as the world thinks, but as YOU think about situations. Keep me from being jaded. Keep my heart tender even as you keep it from breaking in two at the things which also grieve YOU. In Jesus’ name.”

And at night (or the end of your workday, whenever that is 😉 ):

“Father, thank You for helping me to make it to the conclusion of another day. These burdens I bore all day long, these suffering people I worked with, the situations I can’t necessarily fix with an easy button…these worries and cares all want to come home with me. The memories want to invade my ability to wind down, to hear my spouse and children’s conversations, to keep me from the place of prayer and the much needed place of recharging and sleep.

But just like a set of coveralls, I choose to unzip the activities of the day and I step out of them. What I couldn’t fix today, I will deal with tomorrow, but for now I let it go. I’m not God–You are. I trust You to put things on hold, to keep the people I can’t help 24/7, to send others alongside to help, and to keep this world spinning on its axis for another day. In Jesus’ name I reject the effects of constant exposure to negative forces. I will not cope with frustration and sorrow by engaging in substance abuse or destructive relationships. I will seek out things that keep my heart pure and guileless, I will freely laugh at every possible opportunity, and I will give mindful thanks for the simple blessings You afford me, like a beautiful sunrise or the giggles of a small child.

I boldly declare that the helmet of salvation will keep my mind and protect me from becoming a walking case of PTSD. You are strengthening me, You are renewing my mind, You are restoring my innocence, and You ARE my joy, my strength. I will run to You and not be so “tough.” You’re the One I run to when I’m out of my league. It’s ok for me to be vulnerable in Your presence because You heal me and help me. I plead the blood of Jesus now to wash me clean, to cleanse the portals of my mind from what I need to let go of. Thanks now for blessing my family time, my worship time, my downtime and strengthening me to fight another day. I love You and trust You. Amen”

Cast Down, But Not Destroyed

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This is Dana and me, pictured just doing what we’d loved ever since 2001.  We logged thousands of miles on motorcycle rides and long road trips. Who knew that one seemingly uneventful night in October 2010, just miles from our home, it would all take such a frightening tumble?

 

 

In commemoration of God sparing our life on a cold October night, I’m expanding a little devotional I wrote in April 2011.  Most of what’s in here is taken from the piece, “Trust and You Won’t Be Crushed.”

It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 years ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle; and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer. There hadn’t even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn’t hear him speak and I couldn’t see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.

At first I couldn’t even talk, and it was so hard to breathe—I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture as well as a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to get to Dana but I couldn’t raise up; and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places. In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, reality began to set in about what had just happened.  The loud noise of onlookers and emergency workers was making me more and more uncomfortable as I struggled to get someone to tell me whether my husband was ok.  A couple knelt on the ground and asked if they could pray with me; and as they prayed, the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and I began to pray loudly in Him.  It sounded like an authoritative voice not my own was declaring boundaries around the two of us!  As the noise of urgency began to subside in His presence, I could hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me…“COVENANT.” And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, “Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!” A peace I can’t even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.

I’m told for a little while at the first hospital, Dana was conscious, and he was giving them fits; wanting to come and get me and take me home.  We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary’s.  I begged the paramedics to elevate my head.  I felt like I would absolutely smother to death flat on my back, and would feel that way for the remainder of the night.  No one would move me though, for fear of a spinal cord injury.  I was more afraid of suffocating than I was of being badly hurt.  Once at St. Mary’s, my stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder.  The only relief I had from the discomfort was to occasionally lose consciousness.  Then, as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to go into a CT scan, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, “Your husband is unconscious and has a serious brain injury. His brain has begun to swell. We’ll do what we can.” With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and there…am I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that’s exactly what I called out to her back as she was walking away.

For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving.  I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, “(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) 

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Dana, lying near death and comatose for 17 days after our accident. Swollen almost beyond recognition, he had multiple brain bleeds, and fractures throughout his body, and had developed the deadly condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. This picture was a couple of weeks into the ordeal…I couldn’t bring myself to photograph him at first, and wouldn’t again for at least another month.

That was a long first night in the hospital.  Eventually, by the wee hours of dawn, I felt like I could breathe again, but I would have to watch for the next several weeks as a machine did the breathing for Dana.  Angels on assignment kept vigil over him, as did family and friends around the clock for the first nearly three weeks.  I was too sick and injured to sit up with him for the first week or so, even though I stayed nearby and spent as much time as I could in his room.

There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can’t just think it or hope it…we have to hear ourselves say it—I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE.  I learned to say it out loud, and often, beginning that first night.  I stood on the Word and quoted Scripture as I stood in the gap, and prayed day and night over my husband.  When anxious or despairing thoughts tried to do war internally in my soul, I smiled on the outside in front of others; and I would privately share my sorrows and fears with Jesus.  I bet some folks thought I’d knocked my brains out on that pavement, when I’d counter the negative news with what God’s Word says… but I really didn’t care.  This was a battle for my husband’s very life.  The Holy Spirit cautioned me to set a watch on my lips.  Had I allowed myself to give voice to fear or unbelief, my actions would have followed.  Sometimes I actually wanted to let my vulnerability show, to cry on someone’s shoulder, but the Lord made me brave in the face of a lonely secret:  my words were declaring what I didn’t always feel in the natural!  Faith does it even when we are scared, friends.  And God proved faithful.  When pneumonia and infections came, He kept Dana from succumbing.  When acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) threatened to cause his lungs, one of which had already been collapsed, to just deteriorate and stop working altogether, God was there.  When Dana lay so long with his eyes partially open that the whites turned into what looked like pink sponges, God spared his sight.  Through blood clots, through huge wounds that were left undiscovered and untreated on the back of his head because of the position he had to lie in, through an unbelievably high fever that could have cooked his already-damaged brain, God kept him.  And when they had to bring the crash cart as he came out from surgery for being trached, God did not let him die.  When I had to sign consent for them to give him a special paralytic drug that totally disabled his functions so that his body would stop fighting the respirator, God gave me peace that He would keep Dana alive.  So many miracles that came, so much blessed assurance just in the nick of time.  I still marvel over how the Lord preserved my husband through the next six weeks without a bite to eat or even a sip of water in his parched throat and mouth.  He was tube-fed and intravenously hydrated all that time.

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Dana had to go 43 days with nothing by mouth. In this picture, he had not yet gained the ability to swallow and had to be fed through a tube in his stomach. We still had about 5 weeks to go before we could leave the hospital, and then another 5 months before we could move back into our own house.

When Dana regained consciousness in the second hospital, he couldn’t speak, but because he made eye contact with us and seemed to understand us when we talked to him, we assumed he was ok; however, when at last they capped his trach and he was able to speak,  it became apparent that the head injury was affecting his personality and his cognizance significantly.  He was hallucinating, saying things out of character, behaving not like himself.  I didn’t recognize the man inside the man; and I thank the Holy Spirit for holding onto me and numbing the pain of uncertainty of how long Dana would be this stranger.  His behavior begin to grow worse just as we moved him to the rehab hospital, and the brain injury made him very combative and angry and hard to handle.  Because he only slept for very short periods of time, so did I.  He acted at times like he despised me, but would go into an anxiety mode if I even left to step into the restroom.  He couldn’t even walk yet without a walker and a person or two at his elbows; but one night managed to get out of bed and wobble around on that walker, swearing he was going to find the exit and go home…in 6 inches of snow.  I had to lie to him (forgive me, Lord!) and tell him they bolted the exits from the outside after visiting hours were over…it was the only way to settle him down and make him go back to his bed!  At one point, the hallucinations were so bad, he even thought he was married to two different women at the same time–me and me.  He told me, “She’s good to me, but YOU are the one I love.”  Folks, this wasn’t a cake walk.  At times it has been downright scary and it took every ounce of faith I could muster.  If God hadn’t held us in His hand, we couldn’t have made it.  I only share these very private memories with you because I want you to understand what God’s brought us from, and how He kept bad situations from spiraling completely out of control. I knew from the start that there were ways this situation could’ve been infinitely worse…yet the Lord was merciful.

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Learning to stand—and walk—again. It was at times a very hard process.

The Word and our prayer partners kept me together as I stayed for nearly three months either right there with him or close by.  I only left Huntington to come home a few times to catch up my work, to get clean clothes, pay bills, etc., then right back to the hospital.  Until he was able to be moved to the rehab hospital in December, I’d stayed at a hospitality house. I’d come come home on a Thursday afternoon, work for 24 straight hours on the parts of my job that couldn’t be handled remotely on my laptop; and then Dana’s dad would drive me back (I was in a neck brace and a sling, so I couldn’t drive for quite some time).  At the rehab hospital, I was finally able to move into his room with him.  I just set myself an office up in the corner and kept working! And, friends and family kept driving the nearly two-hour drive to Huntington to those three hospitals. We had a steady stream of visitors.  I’ll never be able to thank them for being there for us…that they even cared this much for us moves me to tears.

On January 21, 2011, Dana was finally released from the hospital.   Even now, he remembers nothing about his hospital stays except for vague little bits the last couple of days or so.  Leaving the hospital was another chapter, and another time when trusting God was critical to survival.  I still was concerned about his healing brain and whether I’d be able to do anything with him if he had another “episode” like the night he tried to leave the hospital!  We weren’t able to go directly home.  We would spend the next four months in his dad’s den–him in a hospital bed and me on a couch beside him, because Dana was still in a wheelchair and walker and couldn’t climb the steps to our house.  He also still had to have his liquids thickened and his solids very soft, to keep from choking on his food from his damaged trachea.  God bless Joe and Thelma for persevering right there with us.  We couldn’t have made it through this without them.  Near the end of May, seven long months after our ordeal, we got to sleep in our own bed again for the first time.

Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, and couldn’t even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose, and running an insanely high fever for several days. He had multiple fractures, multiple brain bleeds, and a series of serious complications; but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, “No.”

Though it’s been at times a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 years for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us.  We have adjusted to a “new normal,” and part of it is to lighten up a little and find humor in what would otherwise be frustrating or difficult or just…different.  The head injury left Dana’s personality and behaviors a tad changed from before, but mostly in very good ways.  I think of it as “Dana’s personality—on steroids.”  😉   Dana has a childlike, literal faith that God can and will do exactly what He says.  I’ve watched the Lord transform a lukewarm/backslidden man who’d completely stopped serving God before our wreck into a mighty man of God who prays for hours each day, witnesses to others continually, and encourages folks to believe and speak the Word. (I will draw an exception here however, and I would be remiss in leaving this out:  when he had stopped professing faith and attending church before our wreck, he was still diligent to tithe and give.  He would repeatedly tell me on payday:  “Whatever you do, don’t forget to pay tithe and give offerings on my check.  I may not be living right but I won’t rob God!”  Could it be that, in the time where our lives hung in the balance, God honored a man’s tenacity in this small thing????). What God has done and continues to do in Dana’s life, inside and out, is quite miraculous.  We still confess and believe for the areas of restoration that are yet to manifest.  We believe that what still needs to become whole will be whole again– as our friend Cathy had confessed over us repeatedly, “nothing broken, nothing missing, nothing lost.”  We have surely come from a mighty long way.

And God proved to me that He doesn’t leave;  He didn’t leave me and He won’t abandon you, either!  Even on those days when you feel frightened, alone, ashamed of your personal struggles, numb to all emotion or crying uncontrollably, He’s there.  He watches over His Word to perform it.  Our job is to take that Word and keep speaking it over our lives even when there’s no evidence whatsoever yet that it’s doing a bit of good.  We are to speak it even when our hearts are hollow and the words seem to fall to the ground.  The answer will come if you and I will pray and not faint; or if we fall, we keep getting back up as often as it takes.  There were days when I was so overwhelmed that I wished I’d died that night on the pavement, but God restored joy to my life and a stronger faith in His faithfulness!  God helped Dana and me to emerge from a catastrophic situation to become more resolute in our faith, more devoted to one another, and hopefully better people for having persevered during this detour on our journey.

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10/28/2014 – Standing in the approximate area where our bike went down four years earlier. A sobering feeling of gratitude washed over me as we looked around this spot where God spared our lives! Even now when I drive through that area, sometimes emotion wells up inside me as I ponder the goodness and mercy of God.

I’m telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this.  It’s not a matter of if you’ll ever have to go through hard seasons, but when..and when you do, faith in God can preserve your very sanity.  Covenant relationship with God doesn’t mean you’ll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy.  It will keep you when you go through depression, through loss, through grave uncertainty, through the outright unfair happenings of life in this fallen world; and on the other side of your storm, God will pull out a mysterious parcel and hand back to you.  You will find that you didn’t lose your joy and innocence after all; He’d wrapped it securely in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and kept it from being annihilated by the tribulation of life.

Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six years later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God’s wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something beautiful…like a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.

“But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.”  Isaiah 50:7 CEV

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Thanksgiving–Making it a Holiday When We Truly ARE Thankful

Thanksgiving-DinnerBetter a bite of dry bread [eaten] in peace than a family feast filled with strife. Better to have a dish of vegetables where there is love than juicy steaks where there is hate. (Proverbs 15:17, 17:1). Holidays are challenging times! Unlike getting together to “watch the big game,” we sit opposite from one another at the table and are forced to have real conversations. For some, Thanksgiving‬ is a hallowed tradition‬ fueled by happy childhood memories. For others, it becomes a source of stress and a dread of having to be around difficult family members.

I would challenge you this week–if your traditions have become too painful, stressful, expensive, or cause arguments and hard feelings among your family–make some modifications that are conducive to PEACE‬! I knew a family once who hated cranberry sauce, but always opened a can and set it on the table because of tradition. Silly, huh? Well, how many times do we do that same thing but in other ways? Make some new traditions if you must…just make them good, easy, and worthwhile.

Make Thanksgiving a good memory for your family, rather than a dreaded event. Simplify your meal plans if that’s what it takes. You don’t have to serve a 250-item buffet to have a good dinner. Don’t create more stress by spending your whole month’s grocery budget on one meal. If you create an atmosphere of love and fun (and true gratitude) a dish of mac and cheese is as good as turkey and all the trimmings! And a meal eaten at a restaurant is not a crime, if that makes it special for your family–especially for the one who’s otherwise have to do all that cooking. I’ve even wondered before how fun it might be to just have sandwich fixings and just make an event of assembling a big submarine sandwich together…or a taco bar, or making pizzas together. No rule says it has to be about the turkey! Find what makes YOUR family feel thankful…and involved. Get creative about ways to get them around the table with you, rather than scattered into their rooms with their plates and an iPad. To do that, you may have to focus on family more than the food, and that’s really shifting your priorities in a positive way. What does it for your bunch? Singing and music around the piano? Board games? Old photo albums passed back and forth…reminiscent movies on the television…even decorating the Christmas tree together. There is some activity that will be fun that sets a spark of excitement for the years to follow.

Consider splitting the weekend to allow families a chance to linger longer. It’s called Thanksgiving weekend…and yet, we place a mandate on our kids to have to hurriedly eat and run at about 3 or 4 different houses, all on Thursday, to keep from causing hurt feelings. And someone will invariably get pouty…because no one actually shows up hungry when there’s a meal to have to eat every 90 minutes! (Remember the Andy Griffith Show spaghetti episode?) A lot of food gets wasted because families, unlike cows, don’t have two stomachs.  Let’s not place unreasonable expectations on our families.  It’s really not fair to them, or to us, when we use this holiday to force loyalty to our side of the family. It’s not always possible, but when the holiday can be coordinated to allow a fair amount of time that doesn’t put a damper on things, you be the in-law that makes it easy. I so appreciate my mother-in-law, Thelma Crum, for the way she always did this when she was able to cook.  She would do Thanksgiving with our family either on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday afternoon after church, so that her daughters-in-law could spend time with our own parents.  I’ll always be grateful for her wisdom in that.  People appreciate not having to play the “you love the other side of the family more than you do us” game. Word: a little advance planning can make this time a lot more memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t serve your kids a platter of prove-you-love-me-best…when divorce, marriage, grandkids, and other scenarios change the landscape of your traditions, adjust and you’ll preserve the want-to in your family. I can’t stress this enough–this week is your chance to shine to others as a beacon of being considerate of others’ feelings. If you insist on being the “favorite,” try being the most accommodating and easiest to please. That’ll earn you brownie points like no guilt trip ever could!

If this weekend or Thanksgiving Day is not the very best time, consider scheduling your feast on a non-holiday weekend; even or combining Christmas and Thanksgiving together isn’t even out of the question if it takes the stress and the pressure off everyone involved. When Dana and I wrecked five years ago, we had a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas in early February, an event that was truly marked by the gratitude each of these holidays embodies. If you have a loved one going off to war or fighting a terminal illness, plan the holiday to include him or her and do it sooner rather than later. Look at it this way, you are not anticipating the worst, you are extending your season of thankfulness even longer by spreading out the celebration to capture the most good memories you can.

Create an agreement not to argue! If there are hot-button topics that invariably cause bickering, agree in advance to have those discussions at a later time or not at all. Politics, your son’s eyebrow piercing, and the finer points of church doctrine are probably not good dinner topics. You already know what sets the powder keg off in your house, so man-up or woman-up and choose not to go there. Don’t use the Thanksgiving dinner table as a place to hone your sarcastic one-liners on your family. You don’t look more intelligent than the others when you have a snippy answer…you just look like a jerk! Don’t make them waste their holiday spending it with a jerk! Be nice just this once. It isn’t impossible. Pull your claws in for the sake of your family.  If you see a conversation getting a little too toasty, change the subject–or borrow that “par-lay” phrase from Captain Jack Sparrow and call a truce!  You’ve got all year to resolve the world’s crises…don’t try to do it today.  Enjoy some laughter.  (And may I also suggest–refrain from serving alcohol, those of you who normally do on this day.  Religious preferences aside, any libation, drug, or substance that causes ANY family member to get violent, moody, temperamental is NOT worth it.  Also, if you  have some who are recovering substance abusers, don’t wave the bottle in front of them and risk a setback.  Make an agreement that no one shows up intoxicated or leaves that way, if for no other reason, the safety and emotional well-being of the children of the household.  Please, don’t make this holiday a memory of the parents or older sister getting boozed up and making a scene. )

Finally, please don’t be wasteful. If Thanksgiving means every year you wind up with more leftovers than you can cram into your refrigerator, much of it later raked into the trash can, then it’s time to think outside the box…or in this case, outside the icebox.  Don’t cook more than you can eat in a couple days and share.  It’s so irresponsible to do so, especially if you’re doing it just to make an impressive display on the table.  You already know someone who won’t get enough to eat this week. If inviting that person to your table isn’t safe, practical, or possible, take or send some food to him or her.  Double blessing: send some food anonymously!  By keeping it low-key, you let God get the glory and you get the joy of being His covert agent of goodwill. Either way, just make sure no one goes hungry on your watch this week, even if all you are able to share is a peanut butter sandwich.  This is also a great way to teach your children about the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.  Kids love to give things…to allow them to help assemble take-out baggies of sandwiches or leftover pie is sowing some precious values into their young hearts.

I pray all of you will have a truly peaceful, blessed, uncomplicated Thanksgiving holiday this week. May God’s presence be felt in every home, and may you have more than enough. Love, light, and life!

That Your Prayers Be Not Hindered

praying handsWives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,  when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.   Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For,“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.  They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  — 1 Peter 3:1-12

 

I want to interject early on, that there is a difference between medical conditions which trigger certain behaviors, and spiritual conditions.  When someone is (or should be) under medical treatment and/or medications for such conditions, I would never advise you to stop treatment or counseling.  In fact, I beg of you to get checked out if you suspect you’re dealing with bipolar, depression, PTSD, or any other mental health issue that might make it easy for you to mistreat others.  The difference is, medication can help with a physical/mental condition–there is no shame in needing it–but if your problem is spiritual, you cannot medicate away a spiritual problem!  May all of us transparent with ourselves enough to know when sin is the root cause of our bad behavior–and may we aggressively do the work to get it out of our lives.

I also want to note that, this article can’t possibly take into account every single home’s unique issues.  I do want to, however, talk about just a few of them.  If these don’t touch on the particular problems, causes, and conditions in your own home, just know that I’m trying to touch a small area in a very broad issue.  Please, if you’re having problems, don’t just take my small blog post as an all-inclusive approach to dealing with them.  Consult with a qualified marriage counselor, pastor, mental health advisor, someone who can get into the finer points of your particular crisis.

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It’s not often that I start a devotional out with such a long passage of Scripture, but to condense this very important passage would not do any justice to the teaching topic I’m addressing this morning:  cruelty in the home, most notably, spousal abuse.

There aren’t many instances in Scripture where spousal abuse is recorded; yet, treating one’s family well–including (and especially) the husband or wife–is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures.  It’s important to God. Being kind to one’s mate should be a given, right?  Yes, it should be.  There are some things God shouldn’t have to come right out and get elementary about, and yet…  He had to spell out that we not have sex with animals, with our parents/kids/near kin, etc.  If you think that mankind is inherently good, well, think again.  The human heart, without God shaping it and molding it, is desperately wicked.  When mapping out a plan for godly living, yes, He got very specific.  He knew there would be a few delinquents in the bunch who might come back later and say, “Well, no one ever told ME that a person’s not supposed to do that!”

A Double Life

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:  For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.  James 1:8, 19-20

You cannot be cruel in your home and it not affect your life outside your home.  I knew of a man once whom everyone in the general public loved.  He was very charismatic, very accommodating to others.  He was the “open doors, help little old ladies across the street” kind of guy.  He was well respected in the business world and in the political realm; yet there was an elephant in the room.  When he went home at night, he left the nice-man suit in his car in the garage, and put on the monster costume.  He was a verbal abuser to his entire family, but especially to his wife.  It would eventually come out that on occasions he got physical with her, too.  She remained with him until her children were grown, reasoning within herself that it was ok, so long as he didn’t physically harm the kids.  Then, one day she and his children were well out of harm’s way, and everyone was shocked.  They couldn’t figure out what on earth would break up such a happy home.  Then, slowly, the stories begin to emerge about what was actually going on in that home.  The wife would confide, the kids would confide; eventually, what was such a carefully-guarded secret was all over the place.

If that weren’t a sad enough note to end this little story on, the man didn’t just go back to business-as-usual in his outside life.  With no one at home to take his frustrations out on, the monster costume was occasionally worn to work and out in the community under his clothes.  His stellar reputation went south, and though he was a man of means, he lost everything of true value.  Eventually even his financial prosperity proved to be tainted by the cruelty in his heart.

Abuse Isn’t Always Covert

Flip the situation and I’ll tell you of another.  I used to know a married couple that I absolutely hated running into.  They were friends of ours, and I didn’t dislike them, per se.  I was just always left deeply uncomfortable by the way the wife continually, and in every conversation, insulted her husband to us…right in front of him!  She would go on and on about foolish choices he made, and how if he’d only have listened to her, he wouldn’t have done them…or how he always did this wrong, or always failed in that area.  Her whole discussion would always seem to center on how superior she was to him in every way.  I could tell this man was resentful and deeply ashamed of what she was doing, and yet, the climate never seemed to change.  They had a rocky, on-again, off-again relationship.  It always felt good whenever we were able to finagle ourselves away from them!  Was that spousal abuse?  It absolutely was!

No Place for Abuse in a Christian Home!

Why am I sharing this in a devotional?  Because I see it, shamefully so, in Christian homes and not just in the homes of nonbelievers.  And yes, those stories abound as well of women who are abusers in the home.  Their outcomes are no better than this man’s.  And this situation I’ve shared with you is a secular story.  You’re seeing ones like it on the news nearly daily now.  There are countless big-time athletes and actors and celebrities who’ve lost their status because their abusive characters outside the workplace cause their employers to view them as a public relations risk.  No one wants to be associated with a bully or a thug, or even a jerk!  Even some of the best-looking actors in Hollywood have completely lost their heartthrob status when it came out that they were abusers of their spouses and families.

I wonder–knowing what an outspoken man Peter was–how and when he eventually came to the place in his walk with God where these teachings had lodged within his own heart!  Peter–the same man who wrote the above passage is the same hot-head who cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He’s the same fellow who denied Jesus three times, and other major debacles of character.  Yet, he apparently at least eventually got the revelation that God values self-control in a man (and a woman).  Jesus even showed up at his house at one point to heal Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and she rose up afterwards and ministered to them.  A man who has relationship issues wouldn’t call Jesus to his home to heal one of his in-laws!  He’d probably do anything that he could to keep Jesus from entering his home, for fear that Jesus would sense a spirit of offense there.  Peter’s writings here would indicate that, at least in time, he understood the necessity of one’s horizontal relationships’ being in harmony to positively open up the VERTICAL relationship with God.

I’m not writing this devotional to try to shame men into becoming walked-on wimps, and I’m not writing it to tell women that they have no voice and should just be door mats to their husbands.  I’m writing it to urge you to get your houses in order…because how you treat your family matters to God.  You will be judged for it.  The fruitfulness of your hopes, dreams, and prayers depends on it, too.  If you don’t particularly like being successful, being thought well of, being blessed, being whole in mind and body, then just ignore everything I’ve said…BUT!  If you do want to have a blessed, prosperous life where everything doesn’t go to pieces, then you need to respect the conditions for blessing that God has set forth in His Word.

Common Excuses We Use Not to Change

  1.  It’s just the way I am.  I inherited this temper.  So lame!  This is the laziest excuse to let one’s emotions run the show.  You are right about one thing…without God’s help, you really can’t change.  And if you inherited a short fuse, stop bragging about it!  It’s not something to be proud of.  If you have anger issues or a personality trait that is endangering the welfare of your family, be man or woman enough to admit it before God and before a qualified marriage counselor.  Don’t wait until the damage is beyond repair.  You may not feel that bad about it now, but at some point in time, you will reap some painful things for the pain you inflict on others.
  2. It’s his/her fault that I lose it.  My spouse sets me off with that mouth!  While it’s true, our spouses can lend to the overall problem, it is still up to you to control your own spirit!  Temporarily distance yourself if you have to, rather than engaging so heatedly into discussions that you wind up saying and doing regretful things.  Back off.  Take a walk.  Better yet, pray and get into God’s Word.  Take the initiative to arrange for pastoral and qualified family counseling if you have these types of issues.  Whatever you do, don’t let that volcano of hate and anger spew into your home!
  3. He/she knows I really don’t mean it.  We always cool off eventually.  I can promise you this:  when you say hurtful things to your children or spouse, they play over and over like a broken record long after the argument is over.  Don’t be the cause of your family having to deal with the sin of unforgiveness through repeated abuse on your part!  Nothing good can come of you causing your spouse and kids to develop hard, callous hearts.  It will tell on you, eventually.
  4. As long as no one at work, church, school, or our community knows we have these problems, it should all work out ok.  You see, that’s the lie Satan plants to keep us satisfied that we still have it all under control.  Remember, God’s opinion ultimately is the most important, and if you are disobeying His guidelines for the way you treat others, you are sinning, PERIOD.  Just because no one else seems to be observing the problem, doesn’t mean that they aren’t already picking up on the bad vibes.  People aren’t that stupid, friend!  Your spouse and children have body language and many other non-verbal means of communicating to the world that you are not treating them well, even when they are trying to hide their embarrassing secret.
  5. I came from an abusive background and I didn’t turn out so bad. I’m not nearly as bad as my dad/mom.  Are you kidding?  The very fact that your own family is repeating the same nightmare in another generation is a serious problem.  What if your children’s relationships turn out to be even worse than your parents’, just because you failed to deal with it in your own life?  Yes, it’s serious.  Don’t grade yourself on a curve against others who you perceive are/were worse than you are.  Examine your life against God’s standard in His Word, and make whatever changes you need to make to live a life pleasing to Him!  Proverbs says that when a person’s ways please the the Lord, He makes even that person’s enemies to be at peace with him/her.  Righteousness and a truly right heart will positively, even miraculously, affect your ability to get along well with others.  It is truth.
  6. I don’t feel well.  My health issues make me moody and my family knows it.  Yes, they certainly do know it, and they resent being the brunt of your frustration.  And if you want their prayers, love, understanding, and support, you will try harder not to let your personal pain affect your treatment of them.  The best way to have someone actually on your side is not to turn him or her into an enemy by being an ogre!
  7. I’m just talking mean to him/her.  Since I’m not name-calling or using foul language, it’s not really verbal/emotional abuse.  Baloney, friend.  You are not that deceived!  If the way you are speaking and behaving is causing abnormal fears, manipulation, torment, sadness, depression, suicidal thoughts, resentment, self-hatred, depreciation, insults, you are not behaving like Jesus!  Yes, sometimes we have to address issues in our homes.  Things need discussed, resolved, debated, corrected, at times changed for the better of everyone involved.  Sometimes we must be iron sharpening iron…you may be instrumental in discipline in your home, but you are not called to be a verbal axe-wielder in your home.  You can have even serious, somber, firm discussions with others without stepping into a spirit of strife.  Weigh every action and word against how Jesus would handle what you’re handling, and if you are emotionally scarring another person, you need to stop it, NOW.

Initiating Change Through Prayer and Honest Self-Examination

There’s no way I can possibly cram all the helpful elements to enhancing our spousal relationships into this little blog post, but what I will do is this:  I have included a couple of prayers for spouses whose anger issues are jeopardizing their marriages.  I am proposing not anger management, but anger crucifixion!  It’s time to take these issues to the cross, once and for all.

I do want to say this, as we end on a positive note:  today is a new day.  We can repent and apologize for the sins of our past, and start from this day forward to make better choices. I so respect Larry and Tiz Huch, television ministers, for their very transparent testimony of how God restored their marriage after years of abusive behavior.  We need to see more testimonies like theirs of couples who’ve overcome the past, forgiven, and gone on to have happy marriages.  I want you to know that there is hope for you too–but you must be willing to fight the real enemy, the devil, for it!  God is ready to meet you right where you are, and His grace is sufficient.

Husbands“Heavenly Father, I feel the pressure on every side to be in charge.  The hardest time I have holding it together is when I come home, because that’s where I want most to be able to be myself.  But Lord, I don’t like the man I see myself become when I’m around my family.  Forgive me for the horrible way I have let my anger leech into my homelife.  As the spiritual leader of our home, it says that I have spiritual issues of my own which need dealt with.  Lord, I don’t want to damage my children for future relationships!  I don’t want my wife to secretly despise me.  The truth is, I don’t know how to change and without Your help, I can’t change.  I ask You, in Jesus’ name, to break off any generational curses of parental and spousal abuse from my bloodline now.  Sever all negative ties between my family history and my own immediate family now.  If there is abuse in our lineage, let my family be the generation in which it is stopped.  Lord, shine the light of Your Word into my spirit man.  Chase the wickedness out of the corners of my soul where it loves to hide.  Father, if there is an indwelling of any unclean spirit in me or on me which influences me to verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse my wife and children, I resist it now.  I submit myself to You because Your Word says that if I will humble myself, submit to you, and resist the devil, he MUST flee from me!  Drive out every evil spirit that influences me to harm others and to harm myself.  Fill me up to overflowing with Your Holy Spirit and help me to recognize all open doors to evil in my life.  I go behind Your revelation of these things and I shut them, one by one.  In Jesus’ name, may every legal access the devil has to our home be deadbolted shut now and forevermore.  Father, as I repent and submit myself to Your Word, I will also repent to and before my family for the wrong things I have said and done to them.  Your Word says that anger rests in the bosom of fools.  I don’t want to be a fool.  I want to love my family the way You do, and to protect my spouse the way Christ shields and covers His Church.  If I cannot see substantial changes coming, I will be man enough to initiate marital counseling.  I will not hide our problems behind the guise of a Christian home, but I will get help and I will stop the abuse from perpetuating to another generation.  Help me to love like You love.  Thank You for forgiving me and extending Your grace and mercy over our situation now.”

Wives –  “Heavenly Father, You have heard my silent cries for help, and I know that it is not Your plan for my family to be harboring this ugly secret.  Verbal and physical abuse are not attributes of the Spirit-filled!  These ugly manifestations have no place in our home.  I look to You for wisdom to be able to be the thermostat of our home.  While it is not right for my husband to abuse me, I know that I need to recognize “triggers” that provoke outbursts.  I can’t always prevent bad moods and temper flares from occurring, but You can enable me to divert certain situations before they even occur.  Lord, forgive me for times when I nag or boss or belittle my husband.  Forgive me for sometimes not resisting the urge to push his buttons by inserting a little dig or subtle insult into discussions.  While it is wrong for him to mistreat me, it is equally wrong for me to dare him to do so.  I will set a watch upon the words of my mouth.  I will learn to give soft answers that turn away wrath, and I will set in motion a spiritual mood change in our home through praise and worship, thanksgiving, prayer, reading and speaking Your Word aloud, and through the cleansing of evil spirits from my household in intercession!  Help me to proactive in this area.  Help me to build up my husband’s spirit man and not to tear him down.  I repent of every time I have emasculated him through open insults, rebellion, and belittling him in front of others–especially our children.  Help me to have new-found respect for him, and help me to forgive.  Oh, Lord, how I need Your help there!  Cause my moods to come into harmony in ways that affect his moods more positively.  Your Word says that my lifestyle has the power to win him over to You just by the witness I live before him!  No amount of preachiness or nagging could ever influence him like seeing Your love pour out of me.  Help me to identify characteristics in my personality which might cause arguments (complaining, griping, negative words, insults, sarcasm, bossiness), and to put these things on the altar for good!  Make me that kind of woman, Father, so full of Your Holy Spirit that he cannot resist the pull toward You.  I will apologize to him for my shortcomings, and I will take the high road to reconcile whenever we have disagreements.  I will not assume that he can read my mind!  If I have concerns, I will speak gently to him about them and allow Your Holy Spirit to convict him in those areas.  Lord, I ask You in Jesus’ name to break generational curses that come into our family from my side of the bloodline.  Whether emotional disorders, addictions, abuse or being enslaved by those who abuse, or any other trap of Satan to perpetuate damage into our children, I stop it now by submitting our heritage to You!    Doors that You have made me responsible to shut, I will close.  I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, and I will not entertain the foolish advice of a broken world on how to conduct my household affairs!  I look to You, O God, and I pray that, should our marriage require counseling, that You will pair my husband and me with the right counselor(s) who can help us to heal and move forward.  And please, if remaining in our home is endangering the safety and well-being of myself and our children–if You see that my spouse is unwilling to be helped and will go on harming us–give me the discernment and courage to know when and where to flee for protection.  In Jesus’ name I ask, Amen!”

 

“I Wish,” Said She…

 

Hand Holding WishboneThe day had been a hectic one. Drenched in perspiration, blood pressure elevated from hours of one stressful event after another, she looked around at so much left undone. The woman thought of how anyone else’s life must be better than her own. Maybe a winning lottery ticket? She said in her frustration, “I wish. I wish I never had to work again. I wish I didn’t have to cook, to clean up messes, to work on the bills, to be piled high with responsibilities. If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish my feet would never be tired again. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”

As she mused what it might be like in different circumstances, she fell asleep sitting straight up on the loveseat. She dreamed of her words coming back to her, and getting everything she’d said she wished. ONLY…

She woke up to find herself much, much older. Her surroundings weren’t familiar, but the sounds and smells and uniformed staff quickly let her know she was in some kind of healthcare facility. It was a nursing home! She looked to her right and saw a wheelchair parked beside her railed bed. And she heard her younger self saying, “I wish I never had to work again.”

An orderly pecked on her door and addressed her as “Ma’am,” announcing that it was lunch time. He raised the head of her bed and placed a tray on her bed table which contained a plate of soft, unrecognizable foods, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of nutritional supplement. Once again, she heard her younger voice saying, “I wish I didn’t have to cook.” It all seemed so surreal. She couldn’t have gotten old overnight! A few bites of the tasteless food had her wishing she were in the kitchen, baking her mother’s heirloom biscuits. The orderly came back and collected her partially-eaten meal. She reached for a tissue to wipe her bed table clean, and he said to her, “That’s ok, Ma’am. I’ll clean it up.” Again, her voice echoed, “I wish I didn’t have to clean up messes.”

The time ticked by as if it were in slow motion. A volunteer came around, delivering mail to each patient. When the small bundle of mail was carried to her bed, she fumbled through to find nothing but junk mail, sale flyers to stores she could no longer visit, and a Medicare statement. “I wish I didn’t have to work on the bills, and to be piled high with responsibilities.”

Later on, after a nurse dispensed several medications and drew some blood, she announced that today was Visitors Day. Excited for any variation in this dull day, the woman sat up a little straighter as the nurse and an attendant gingerly helped her from the bed to her wheelchair. They placed a pair of shoes on her feet which looked as if the soles had never touched the ground. “I wish my feet would never be tired again.” They wheeled her into the activity room with other patients and their visitors. As she waited nervously, the clock suddenly seemed to pick up the pace. She looked around at perfect strangers and wondered where her own family was. At ten minutes before the end of visitors’ time, one of her sons came hurrying through the door, apologizing about how busy he was and how he’d been hauling his boys around to football practice. He seemed restless, as if he were relieved that he’d gotten there almost too late. In the awkward silence, the voice of her past came back again, like a prosecutor: “If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”

“I haven’t seen your father at all today. I can’t imagine where he is!” she said to her son. He looked at her with tired pity in his eyes and said, “Oh Mama, you don’t remember, do you? Pops has been gone about 3 years now. Heart attack. That’s when you came here to the nursing home. He took good care of you after your stroke, clear up until the day he died. I’m so sorry.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++

“I wish…I wish…I wish.” She was shaking her head and saying the words over and over, when a hand on her shoulder shook her gently out of her sleep. It was her husband, who’d gotten worried when he woke up and saw her side of the bed empty.

“What do you wish, Honey?” he asked. “What were you dreaming about?”

As her eyes adjusted in the dimly-lit living room, she was relieved to see the familiar chaos. Toys strewn on the floor. Bookbags by the door. A stack of bills. A calendar full of appointments and a long store list. As she stood to her feet (she could walk!), she welcomed a twinge of pain from having stood on them so long earlier in the day. All the things which had irritated her before were now welcome signs of life. Tears dripped off her cheeks as she whispered a prayer of repentance for having complained about her life. She truly had so much to be thankful for!

“I wish that every day of the rest of our lives can be as good as this one,” she said, taking his hand.

Do you allow the frustrations of life to rob you of your sense of gratitude? Sure, at times we all need a break, a vacation, a change of pace…but we mustn’t wish away the precious moments which are woven among the hectic ones. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Find the wonderful things about today; give thanks for and cherish them. Gladly accept the bitter just for the privilege of having the sweet, too. Remember, it’s a lot more painful to wish for yesterday than it is to wish for tomorrow. Make today count.

“Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.” (Psalm 90:12 CEV)