It Doesn't Matter How Things Seem

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A few days ago, Jason and I were tracking a storm via two different weather apps on our phones.  Our goal was to find a window of opportunity to take Barnabas out for a short hike without getting caught in a storm.  Both apps were giving us the same information:  a storm was brewing and would be passing through within a half hour or so.  A single glance out the window caused me to believe the reports.  It was dark and ominous looking.  Yup, I had no trouble accepting a storm was on its way, and from the looks of things, the downpour would hit soon.

Then, the strangest thing happened.  Within five minutes or so, the clouds dispersed, and the sun shone brightly in the sky.  Well, so much for that.  We rechecked the weather apps, but their forecast remained the same.  I looked out the window again at the clearing sky and squinted against the bright sunlight, convinced the weather forecast was—once again—way off base.

Suddenly, I heard a noise and glanced out the window again.  It was pouring.  The sun was still shining, but rain fell in buckets.  I stood with mouth agape wondering if I was imagining the kooky weather, but I wasn’t.  First, it looked like it was going to rain but didn’t.  Then, it looked like it wasn’t going to rain, and it did.  Sounds a bit like life, doesn’t it?

Often, the things that look good aren’t, and vice versa.  The job that seemed like a dream turned out to be a nightmare.  That perfect someone wasn’t so perfect after all.  The vacation we looked forward to for months came and went, and we feel less relaxed than we did before we left.  The diet that promised amazing results made you crazy for weeks, and in the end, you felt worse and had gained weight.  What’s up with that?

The psalmist David could relate.  In Psalm 40, he pours his heart out to God about the troubles he’s facing.  He begins the psalm in enthusiastic praise to God, but as disappointment surges forth, his prayer takes a different turn, and we see how David thought things would be different for him.

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation. Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
— Psalm 40:8-11

David gives an account of all the things he’s done right.  “I’ve done your will.  Your law is in my heart.  I’ve preached to others about you.  I’ve not kept your works to myself, but I’ve declared your love and goodness to others.  I’ve done all these things for you, Lord, so why are you punishing me?  Why are you withholding your mercy from me?  Don’t I deserve better?  I don’t get it.”

Preach it, brother David!  I feel your pain.  When we’ve done the right things and expect the “right” results, and things fall through, it’s easy to get discouraged and confused.  Things seem like they should go a certain way, but seldom do they ever go the way we think they should.  And that gets frustrating!  To us, dark clouds mean rain and the presence of the sun signifies the absence of rain, but God sees things differently.  After all, He created the sun, the rain, and all of creation, so He controls them.  He can do whatever He wants, just as He can in our lives.

I’ll admit, sometimes it seems wrong—cruel even, but that’s when we have to remember that it doesn’t matter how things look or seem.  It’s the truth that matters, and unless we learn to cling to that truth in life, we’ll forever be disappointed.  This is a lesson I’m learning firsthand, and let me tell you, it isn’t easy.  But through it all, I believe God is increasing my faith and teaching me to believe beyond what these eyes can see and this mind can comprehend.  And that means I’m becoming more like Him.  For that, I’m incredibly grateful God doesn’t work things out the way that makes sense to me.

What Do Emotions and Technology Have in Common?

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Most days, I love technology. What a blessing to type these words from the comfort of my office (and sometimes my bed or sofa) and send them worldwide with the push of a button. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. And sometimes, it’s downright frustrating. For me, technology is only a blessing when it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. When it’s not behaving, well, that’s a different story.

I was reminded of this last week when my printer had a meltdown. I was working on a project that should have only taken a few minutes. No big deal! But, for some reason, my printer decided it would not cooperate. At first, it was laggy. Then, it threw up random warnings that didn’t make any sense. Finally, it gave me a big, red exclamation mark, and I knew it was NOT happy with me. To quote Winnie the Pooh, “Oh, bother!”

Deciding I would not panic or get frustrated, I calmly opened the printer settings to see what the problem was. The big, red exclamation mark glared across the screen with these words: “Load paper. The paper tray is empty.” Normally, that would be an easy fix, right? If the paper tray is empty, all I would need to do is add paper. Duh! One problem—the paper tray was full. There was plenty of paper in the tray. So, now what? I opened and closed the drawer a few times, hoping it would signal to the printer that I had done as it requested. No luck. I turned the printer off and on again, hoping to reset everything. Nope! I rebooted the entire computer. Still, that stupid red exclamation point stared at me, challenging me to figure out how to fix a problem that didn’t even exist.  At this point, I graduated from Winnie the Pooh to Charlie Brown, “Oh, good grief!”

Finally, I did what I should have done to begin with—I called Jason. He, too, was baffled by the situation (which made me feel a little better), but soon, he concluded that the computer and printer were out of sync and needed to be reconnected. A few minutes later, everything was up and running, and my new nemesis—the red exclamation mark—was nowhere to be found. I finished my printing project and could finally move on to my next task. I can’t tell you how much time I lost because technology lied to me.

Unfortunately, I often receive the same treatment from my emotions. Let me tell you, they are the biggest liars of all. Regularly, they try to convince me that no one loves me, no one cares what happens to me, my work is in vain, I’m not good enough or strong enough, and on and on. Story after story. Lie after lie. They hound me day and night with their dramatic tales and heartfelt cries. And a lot of times, I believe them. I buy into the story they’re selling.  After all, if I feel like I’m a loser, then it must be true, right?

Just as my lying printer did last week, my feelings often signal problems that don’t even exist, which leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. By responding to their lies, I work myself into a tizzy trying to fix things when, the truth is, there’s nothing wrong. There is no problem! My emotions only want me to think there’s one so I can nurse my imaginary wounds and drown my sorrows in over-indulgent food. What’s up with that?

I read once that emotions are indicators of what’s going on in our life, but they should never be dictators of how we respond. Amen to that! Sure, my feelings may tell me that God’s “tray” of grace is empty, but I know that’s not true. His mercies and compassion are new every morning. My emotions may tell me that my energy reserves are gone, but the Bible tells me that if I wait on the Lord, He will renew my strength.  In short, my friends, feelings can’t be trusted. They lie. . .a lot!

The next time your emotions throw up a red exclamation mark, don’t fall for it. Trust what you know. Trust the truth of God’s Word. Put your faith in what God has said not in what your heart may feel. Remember, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (a lot like my printer). Don’t fall prey to its lies. You are in control of your feelings. Show them who’s boss by going to the One who can solve all your problems. Turn it over to God and allow Him to direct you to the truth. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my printer and I need to have another heart-to-heart, and this time, I’ve brought back up!

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
— Jeremiah 17:9

Out of My Comfort Zone

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This weekend brought in a flurry of wintry weather in my area. The rain/snow/sleet mix began Saturday evening and continued until late Sunday afternoon, turning to rain overnight. According to the forecast, the rain is supposed to continue all day today (Monday). Our first winter storm of the season!

I didn’t mind the weather. It allowed Jason and I to have some quiet time together and to decorate our house for Christmas. And since we were fortunate enough not to lose power, the precipitation didn’t affect us much otherwise.  

Barnabas, on the other hand, was not a fan of the wintry mix. He didn’t appreciate the howling wind that kept him awake. He didn’t understand the constant tapping of the sleet against the windows. And the white blanket of cold, icy snow covering the ground mystified him. But the worst of it was the crashing of the sheets of snow and ice as they melted and fell from the roof, causing our confused canine to run from window to window barking at some unseen enemy. “Danger! Danger!” Bless his heart!

The poor pup was out of his comfort zone. Way, way beyond his comfort zone. I get it. I understand exactly how he felt. For him, the discomforting circumstances only lasted a few days, but for me, the process seems endless. I am thrilled that Jason and I have been called to the mission field in Wales, and part of me is excited about this new leg of our journey. That being said, there is also a large part of me that is running from place to place “barking” at some unseen enemy.   My normal has been turned upside down, and I no longer recognize my life.

The previous portion of my journey included being an integral part of our church services and enjoying the weekly fellowship with my church family. I worked on books, devotions, and videos. I poured my heart into my weekly Bible lessons for my Ladies’ Sunday School class. I made a difference in the lives of others. And it felt good. I enjoyed using my talents for the Lord and doing all I could to make others feel blessed and encouraged. I appreciated the sense of belonging I felt every time I entered our church. It was my home away from home.

But now, everything has changed. We are in a different church every week (often every service), and while many of those churches have been friendly and inviting, they weren’t my church. Because of our schedule, I have little time to work on my books and videos. I am still writing my daily devotions, but the number of unsubscribes and unfollows over the past few months causes me to question if I should even bother. My days consist of housework, paperwork, and schedules, and frankly, I’m bored. There’s more to accomplish than I can get done, but none of it is bringing meaning to my life or helping me to feel like I’m bringing meaning to the lives of others. It’s not that life is terrible. It’s just not what I imagined it would be. I’m out of my comfort zone, and my unease has opened the door to many spiritual attacks from the enemy.

You would be amazed at the junk Satan has been telling me. And unlike his usual tactic of whispering his lies in my ear, this time, he’s downright yelling at me.

“Nothing you do matters. You’re worthless.”

“You are unloved and unappreciated.”

“You are making so little of an impact on the world right now that no one would even notice if you were to disappear.”

“You’ve tried for years, and look where’s it’s gotten you. Face it; you’d be better off to quit while you’re ahead.”

“If God were calling you to the mission field, do you really think you’d be so miserable? That doesn’t sound very loving of you or your Father.”

I thought I was fighting off the lies fairly well until I had a complete meltdown this weekend (and I’m not talking about the snow and sleet). Suddenly, all the lies came crashing into my soul at once, and my calm facade crumbled. I couldn’t put on a happy face anymore, and I sobbed like I haven’t sobbed in years. Hopelessness and helplessness oozed out of me with every tear as I realized I hadn’t been dealing with the lies of the enemy. I had merely been sweeping them under the rug—ignoring them in the hopes they would go away. But they didn’t. And while under the rug, they had turned my heart bitter and my attitude sour. I was suddenly at the point where I could understand if no one else wanted to be around me because I didn’t want to be around myself.

And now, here I am. Spent. Broken. Discouraged. But somehow better. I’m thankful God allowed my attempts to run from the enemy’s lies to unravel and opened my eyes to the truths of His Word. I’m relieved (and a bit stuffy) after crying out all the frustration that had been festering in my heart and mind. It’s almost as if a wall between the Lord and me has been torn down, and I can finally see Him again, reach Him again.

At the same time, I feel like the baby bear in a video I recently saw on social media. The mama bear climbed a steep, snow-covered slope, and the baby followed in her wake. But time after time, the little one stumbled and slid down the hill, losing ground. At one point, the poor thing slipped so far down, he descended past the point where the two bears had begun their ascent. Determined, he started again, retracing the steps he had previously taken until he finally reached his mama who had been anxiously looking on from the top of the slope.

Yep, I’m just like that baby bear. I have stumbled, slipped, and slid, and right now, it almost feels like I’m at the starting point of my Christian journey. I can sit, whining and complaining about how I should be further along, or I can keep climbing. It worked for the baby bear, and I have an advantage. While his poor mother couldn’t do anything but watch helplessly from above, my heavenly Father can help me climb. He will give me the strength I need for every step of the journey, even those residing outside my comfort zone.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.
— Psalm 37:23-24