WAITING IN THE IN-BETWEEN PLACE

I hate waiting. I am more of the instant-gratification type. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always march to my drumbeat. Can you relate? Whether it’s waiting to find love, start a family, buy a house, get a degree, land the perfect job, or finally retire, most of us have had to wait at an in-between place for our hopes and dreams to materialize. As a matter of fact, I’ve done time in each of those in-between places – and I know I’ve seen more than a few of you there! It’s easy to get discouraged in an in-between place. Our faith may even be challenged when God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers in ways – or as promptly – as we think He should. The trick is to learn to wait gracefully in the in-between places. Here are a few suggestions that may help: • Accept that in-between places will happen. Melody Beattie wrote, “Sometimes, to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between…Being in-between isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. It will not last forever. It may feel like we’re standing still, but we’re not. We’re standing in the in-between place. It’s how we get from here to there.” (The Language of Letting Go) • Pray for God’s help to weather this in-between place with grace. The Serenity Prayer has helped many to accept life on life’s (God’s) terms: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr • Write a plan and make yourself accountable for working towards it. Define your dream and identify concrete steps you can take to achieve it. Ask a friend to hold you accountable for taking reasonable action steps towards your goal. Celebrate your progress with them. Adjust your goal and expectations as necessary. • Hold loosely to your hopes and dreams. Take whatever steps you can to reach your goals, but trust the outcomes to God. It may help to pray with your hands open, palms up, as a gesture of surrendering your hopes and dreams to God’s care and wisdom. • Trust that God always has your best interest in mind. A friend once pointed out a person in the crowd she had a crush on in high school; he had obviously seen some decades of hard living. She said, “There’s the best answer to prayer I never got!” While it may not always be as obvious why God did not allow a dream to materialize, take God at His word: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Are you in an in-between place today? Take heart: God is with you and for you. As you wait for your hopes and dreams, wait on the Lord: “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your ways to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…” (Psalm 37:3-7a). TODAY’S CHALLENGE: If you are in an in-between place today, wait patiently – and gracefully – for the Lord to direct your...

IF ONLY…

Have you ever lamented, “If only (fill in the blank)”? Most of us can probably think of something we longed for – and prayed for – but didn’t get. If only…those words speak to the ache in our hearts when life does not turn out the way we had planned. Martha and Mary, friends of Jesus, uttered those very words in their grief, after their brother Lazarus died. The story is found in John 12. The sisters had sent an urgent message to Jesus, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick” (V.11 NLT). Their thought was, “If only Jesus would come, he would heal our brother.” It’s interesting to note what Jesus did next: “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days” (V.5). What? He stayed where he was…for two days! Anyone who has dialed 911, and then waited for an ambulance to arrive, knows how long a minute can seem when you are by the bedside of a loved one with a life-threatening illness or injury. No doubt Martha and Mary took turns leaving Lazarus’ bedside to search for a glimpse of Jesus coming down their street. Their anxiety must have ramped up with every minute of his delay. More than once, they probably released their frustration with exclamations of, “Where is he?” At his delay, they may have wondered, “Doesn’t he care?” When Jesus finally showed up days after Lazarus died, both sisters greeted him with, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Vs.21, 32). Onlookers remarked, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (V.37). How about you? Have you prayed long and hard for something, and you are asking those same questions: Where is God? Doesn’t he care? He could easily answer these prayers, if he wanted to…Why doesn’t he? Are you beginning to despair? Are you ready to give up on your hopes and dreams? Most of us have a mile-long “If only…” list. There are lessons for us in the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus: • Keep the faith: After saying, “If only,” Martha added, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask” (V.22). No matter how long we have waited for a response from heaven, we can have faith that even now, God is able to give us whatever we ask. • Never doubt God’s love: “So although Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days.” At times, God’s delays may cause us to question his love, but we can remind our selves that nothing can ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:35). • Remember that God’s purposes are greater than just for our comfort or pleasure: “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this” (V.4). It helps to remember that God works in everything for our good and to his glory (Romans 8:28). The more painful the loss, the longer the trial, the harder it is for us to see that at the time. • Believe in God’s power to resurrect dreams that have died: “Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out…” (Vs.43, 44). If your dream is God-given, he will resurrect it – in his time, and in his way – so that he will get the glory. • Share the stories of God’s resurrection power in your life: “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (V.45). There is someone who needs to hear your story of God’s deliverance and redemption in your life. Share the hope that is found in Christ today. If we can learn anything from the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, let it be this: We serve an all-powerful God, who loves us, and has a wonderful plan for our lives – even now, when it seems that all is lost. When we do say, “If only…” may it be, “If only we could trust him more!” TODAY’S CHALLENGE: If you are despairing over hopes and dreams that have not materialized, lay them at the feet of Jesus. Pray for the faith to trust him more. Whether or not life goes your way, praise God for his love. Tell others about his...

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS

I was at a loss for words. Those who know me can appreciate the weight of that statement. I am a wordsmith by trade. As a writer and a public speaker, words are my medium of choice. Normally, putting words onto paper is like falling off a log for me. However, this past year was anything but normal for me. As a result, I have found myself struggling to string words together in a meaningful fashion – my last blog post was August 5, 2014. Some days, just writing a grocery list was a challenge. Multiple layers of change and loss in 2014 caused major tectonic shifts in my life that left me feeling as if I’d been hit in the head with a baseball bat. If you’ve ever taken a significant blow to your head, you know what I’m talking about. It takes awhile to realize what just happened, and it will take time to regroup and carry on. I’ve been here before: the inability to concentrate, restlessness, a lack of motivation, and forgetfulness. I would find these symptoms alarming if I didn’t recognize them for what they are – “just” grief. I say just grief, because grief comes with the package of loss and change: There is no way around it – you just have to go through it. With God’s grace and the help of friends, I have found my way through deeper grief in the past; I know that this too shall pass. It helps to understand a couple of things about grief: • There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Every person grieves in his or her own way. Your feelings are your feelings – don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way. • There is no timeline for grief. Grief is a process; it takes time. Be patient with the process, and be gentle on yourself as you make your way through it. I have been doing everything I need to do to move me along in this process: I am taking time to read God’s Word and for prayer. I’m using my entire support network, getting rest and exercise, and making time for fun. I’ve kept my expectations for productivity at a lower level. It’s working – I am well on my way through this latest time of grief. The fog is lifting. I am finding my words once again – this blog is evidence of that. If, like me, you are relieved to see 2014 in the rear-view mirror, let us enter this New Year together with hope – not believing that there will be no more loss or change in 2015, but believing these things: • Our lives are like shifting sand, but God never changes. People will continue to come and go, and situations will change, but God is the one constant we can rely on. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He is with us and for us. • God is faithful, sovereign and always good. Remembering His faithfulness in the past will help us to trust Him with today’s troubles and our fears for tomorrow. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-23 ). Although we may not see it in our present circumstances, we can trust God’s plan is for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). • God will supply what we need, when we need it. God has never failed on one of His promises. He has promised: “…and your strength will equal your days…The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:25,27). No matter what losses we may face in the coming year, with God’s grace and each other’s help, we will make it through to the other side. Believe that. TODAY’S CHALLENGE: If you are in a time of grief, give yourself permission to be there, but also take what steps you can to move on. Talk to God and at least one trusted person about what you are going through; then do one thing that will help you to feel better, i.e. have lunch with a friend, go for a walk, read a good book, include some humor in your day, etc. Above all, hang on to the hope that things will get better, because they...

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT UNTIL IT’S GONE

It’s amazing what we take for granted. We have all been guilty at times of taking loved ones, the air we breathe and the water we drink (and bathe in!) for granted. It’s no wonder we say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Residents of the City of Toledo, Ohio know this all too well. They woke up this past Saturday, August 2 to this Urgent Warning (LINK) on their television screens: Do not drink or bathe in city water. Do not boil it. Do not give it to your pets. Do not wash dishes in it. Consuming water can result in nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea; it may cause liver damage. Bathing in city water may cause skin irritation and rashes. A large algal bloom (LINK) on Lake Erie near the city’s intake station caused a toxic level of microcystin to be released in the water. For those who did not have a supply of bottled water on hand, there was no coffee that morning. With showers off-limits, personal care became a challenge. There was no breakfast at Bob Evans or McDonald’s, as restaurants were forced to close citywide. It came as no surprise that there was soon a run on bottled water in every store in town. While for the most part calm heads prevailed, there were also shoving matches as people raced to stock up. The water they took for granted the day before was now a scarce and precious commodity. Rumors of price gouging surfaced. Soon shelves were bare, and thirsty people had to drive as much as an hour away to purchase water. Heartwarming stories emerged of neighbors helping neighbors. Churches and agencies made water available to those in need. Two days later Toledo’s mayor gave the “All Clear” signal in a news conference; tests showed the toxins were now at an acceptable level. While things have more or less returned to normal, Toledo residents are now keenly aware of the importance – and privilege – of having a safe water supply. This week as they drink it, cook with it, shower in it, wash dishes or fill their kid’s swim pools, they will not take clean water for granted. What are the things and who are the people you take for granted? Let the news out of Toledo prompt us to be more mindful of all that we have to be thankful for. Who should we thank? “Every good and perfect gift is from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The Apostle Paul told us we should “…always be giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Let’s thank God today for our families and friends, our homes and churches, the freedoms we enjoy, the beauty of creation, even the air we breathe…and the water we drink. Let us be more intentional about appreciating what we have, and less focused on what we don’t have. Let’s count our blessings, not our problems. Let’s hug the people we love while we can. Let’s be slow to take offense and quick to extend or ask for forgiveness. Refuse to let “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until It’s Gone” be the theme song of your life. Commit today to not take anyone or anything for granted. TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Identify who or what you have taken for granted. Count your blessings – big and small. Thank God for each one. Be intentional this week about appreciating and showing appreciation for all that you...

ACCEPTING THE “NEW NORMAL”

There are defining moments that forever change the course of our lives. A choice we – or others – make, a phone call received or a diagnosis in a doctor’s office can alter our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Some defining moments are wonderful: You marry the love of your life; you land your first big job or buy your first house; you become a parent – or grandparent. Life is never the same. Other defining moments hit our lives like a train, sometimes without warning. We are left to figure out how to accept and live with the difficult “new normal” imposed on us. I was hit by what felt like a runaway train when I sat with my husband in a doctor’s office and heard his diagnosis: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Jon died less than two years later; my life was dragged down the tracks for years to come. Much of my life was shaped by that experience. I am who I am today because of it. The same is true for my daughters. We learned what it means to depend on God and trust Him in our most painful times. I am currently adjusting to a “new normal.” Recently, I sat in a doctor’s office with someone dear to me, as they received the diagnosis of cancer. Once again, it’s time to practice the things that helped me through difficult times in the past. Here are some things that can help us cope when a “new normal” changes the course of our lives: • Draw closer to God through His Word – Spend time in God’s Word daily. Lay yourself down in the Psalms; find comfort and strength there. • Search out God’s promises – Memorize ones that speak to your need. Write them on sticky notes, and place them where you’ll see them throughout the day. • Pray – Each morning, begin the day pouring your heart out to God. End each day by placing your cares in God’s hands. Thank Him for seeing you through another day. • Keep a journal of meaningful Scripture and of your prayers (and answers to prayers!) – This will help to open your eyes to God at work in you and around you. Here’s one of my “life-ring” Scriptures: “…and as your days, so shall your strength be…The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33:25,27 ESV). • Use the Serenity Prayer – “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Read and meditate on the full Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (Clink for link). • Ask for the help you need – Others will want to help you, but you need to let them know your needs. This is not the time to carry the load by yourself. We were made to do this life together! • Accept the help offered by friends and family – You cheat others out of a blessing if you don’t allow them to help. (Think of how you feel when you’ve met a need for someone you love.) • Practice self-care – Eat healthy foods. Get adequate rest. Exercise to reduce stress. Say “No” when you need to. • Include humor in each day – Although you may feel like there’s nothing to laugh about in your situation, laughter is still the most cost-effective medicine available. Laughter has many proven physical and mental health benefits (Click for link). Seek out ways to bump up your daily intake of humor. • Take one day at a time – While a certain amount of consideration of the future is necessary, obsessing about what might happen only increases your anxiety level. Jesus gave this advice: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV). Although we may feel out of control when hard times come, doing what we can empowers us as we work towards acceptance of our “new normal.” Whatever your current situation, know that your times are in God’s hand; with His help and the support of prayer, family and friends, you will make it through. TODAY’S CHALLENGE: If you are working towards accepting a difficult “new normal” in your life, choose just one of the suggestions mentioned above, and start to practice it today. For those of you currently in one of life’s sweet spots, you can use these suggestions to help prepare for when (not if!) your next “new normal”...