DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING

“Just do the next right thing.” That is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. When I faced getting on with life after my husband’s death, I was often paralyzed with grief and anxiety. Frequently, my first thought of the day was, “I can’t do this.” It helped to break my day into manageable pieces by thinking of what was the “next right thing” to do. Sometimes all I could handle was: Get out of bed. Take a shower. Make coffee. Eat breakfast. Small tasks, strung together, got me through the day. Elisabeth Elliot agrees with me. In her book God’s Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light, she wrote, “Do the next right thing” is the best piece of advice she ever had. “It works in all kinds of situations and is especially helpful when we don’t know what to do. The doing of that next thing may open our eyes to the next.” My daughter Aimee explained how doing “the next right thing” helped her and her husband Andy when they sensed God leading them to move from Grand Rapids, MI to Toledo, OH. “It began with a discussion during dinner one night. Once we decided to move, the next right thing was to put our house for sale. Next, once the house sold, we quit our jobs and moved into Andy’s parent’s basement in Toledo in December 2003.” The next right thing was for Andy to make the rounds at all the schools to drop off his resume and get his name on the sub list. Andy subbed regularly as an elementary school teacher for the next year and a half. The schools all loved him, and called whenever they needed a sub. There were promises of a job, but nothing ever materialized. During the summer of 2005, Andy agreed to help his friend Sam with their church’s Junior High. Sam was impressed with Andy’s rapport with the kids and asked a question that turned out to be life-changing: “Andy, have you ever considered that the reason why you aren’t getting a teaching contract is that God wants you to work with kids here at church?” The rest is history. Andy was offered a part-time position teaching grades 3-5 at Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg, OH. He later told me, “I prayed that I would get a teaching contract, thinking I could make a difference for the 25 kids in my classroom. God had a plan so much bigger than I ever dreamed. I get to touch the lives of 1,500 kids every weekend by teaching the Bible! I can’t think of anything better to do.” Within a few months, Andy was given a full-time position on staff. Today he is the Campus Pastor at Cedar Creek’s South Toledo campus. Aimee is also on staff there part-time. Doing the “next thing” opened the door to the “next thing,” and brought them to the center of God’s will for them. Years ago I attended a Write-to-Publish conference at Wheaton College. The Rev. Ray Pritchard encouraged those of us seeking God’s will for our writing with these words: “If you don’t know the will of God for your life right now – it’s because you don’t need to know it right now. But when you need to know God’s will for you, you will know it. If God is God, this much is true.” I recited those words many times that year. I was cut to a 3-day work schedule for an extended time and was feeling financial distress as a result. I spent much time in the Word and in prayer, asking God for direction. I sent out resumes and had a couple of interviews, but when nothing materialized, I assumed the “next right thing” was for me to continue to get up and go to work each day. I eventually returned to full-time status at work and remained there until my retirement last year. Now that I am retired, it helps to manage time and choose priorities by asking myself, “What is the next right thing I need to do?” Today the answer was simple: Write a blog about…the next right thing. TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Whether you are earnestly seeking God’s will for your life or simply trying to make it through a demanding day, ask yourself, “What is the next right thing I need to do?” It may just lead you to the next thing, and then the next…God bless as you seek His will for you. Until you know the “Big Picture,” ask Him to show you the next right thing – then do it....

GETTING PAST THE “WHAT IFS’

Some of the biggest battles I have ever fought never happened. I have spent too much time and energy in my lifetime focused on “What if?” scenarios that never materialized: • What if (you name it) happens? • What if (fill in the blank) doesn’t happen? I can conjure up worst-case scenarios at a moment’s notice. Can you relate? Our “What if?” questions are usually followed by “What will I do?” questions. The end result is anxiety over things that are out of our control. It is as productive as a dog chasing its tail. When I resumed my career as a social worker in 1988, after a time-out to raise my family, I argued with my soon-to-be supervisor Betty about her decision to hire me. I was afraid she was offering me the position because she knew me outside the workplace. I had received a number of promptings to apply for the job; it was part-time with flexible hours – a perfect match for my family’s needs. Jon and I discussed the pros and cons. We prayed for wisdom. We agreed that it seemed God was leading. I dropped off my resume as an act of obedience, but I truly thought the position was beyond my credentials. I was confident I would be turned down, and that I could return to my comfortable life as a homemaker. Waves of nausea rolled over me as I walked out of Betty’s office. I was unable to convince her I wasn’t qualified for the position – I got the job. Immediately the “What if?” questions began to flash across my mental screen. My biggest concern was, “What if we soon realize this job is bigger than me, and that Betty made a mistake hiring me? What will I do if she has to let me go?” I could only imagine the humiliation that would involve. As it turned out, I loved my new job! It was challenging, but meaningful. I grew personally and professionally as I was stretched in ways I would have never thought possible. The following year, my husband was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. My mind raced into the future: “What if Jon dies? What will I do if I‘m left as a single parent?” Jon and I agreed that I should seek full time employment to prepare me to take over supporting the family in the event of his death. My employer allowed me to move into a full time position as a Certified Addiction Counselor. It was my dream job, but once again I struggled with feelings of inadequacy. “What if” and “What will I do” questions swirled in my head. My husband died less than two years later. I was left to single parent our girls, who were eleven and thirteen years old at the time. It was every bit as hard as I feared it would be, but with twenty-two years of hindsight, I see that God gave me everything I needed to face my worst “What ifs.” Remember, He provided the job I would need before we had any idea what the future held. Once again, I grew into a position that stretched me every which way. It was one of the most meaningful times of my career, and truly, of my life. At times I still struggle with the “What ifs.” Years ago, when I shared my fears with a friend, Gail gave me a fresh perspective. She said, “What if that thing happens? And what if it’s wonderful?” I had only considered the negative possibilities. Now when I run disastrous scenarios through my head, I end them with, “And what if it’s wonderful?” How about you? Do you have your own “What ifs?” Do you worry, “What will I do?” Find encouragement in the words of Elisabeth Elliot: “God is not the God of what might be; He is the God of what will be.” Take hope in God’s promise: “…your strength will equal your days…The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:25b, 27 NIV). TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Listen to your self-talk. Identify any “What if?” questions. Share you fears with trusted friends. Ask them to pray for you. Consider that the outcome of your worst fear may just be wonderful. Trust that God will give you whatever you need for whatever lies...

THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

Call me crazy, but I can’t wipe this smile off my face. It’s the most wonderful time of the year – it’s Christmas! Don’t judge me, but my house has been decorated since before Thanksgiving. The tree was up, and lights were strung throughout the house days before the smell of turkey wafted in the air. My excuse was that my grand-kids, Grace and Emma, were coming. But the truth is, I love a month of Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season, and I love to celebrate Him! In the frozen North where I live, it’s dark until after 8 AM. The first thing I do in the early morning – after putting the coffee brewing – is plug in all of my lights. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Just as the gospel of Jesus Christ sheds the light of God’s love into our hearts and lives, Christmas lights dispel the darkness of December mornings. Beautifully wrapped presents are under the tree – tokens of love for family and friends, to be sure, but also symbolic of the greatest Gift ever given: “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine). The Nativity is the focal point of my living room from the beginning of Advent. Its place of prominence reminds me where my focus should be amidst holiday preparations and celebrations. The angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). The decorations on the tree – angels, wise men, miniature nativities, lambs and stars – tell the story of Christmas. Also hanging on the tree is a cross to remind us that while Christ’s birth is worthy of celebration, His death was the reason He came: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15) That truth hit home the year I used an old hymnal for my morning Advent meditations. As I meditated on the joy-filled carols, I realized that the next grouping of songs was for Good Friday and Easter. Jesus was born to die. The music of Christmas is everywhere: in my house, in my car and in my heart. It is all a reminder of the angel choirs that sang that first Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) The popular song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” speaks to the longing we have to be with family during the holidays. Although it’s a secular song it, it hints at a bigger truth: Because God has put eternity in our hearts, we long for the day when wrong will be made right and we will gather with loved ones in the very presence of God. Until that day, let us celebrate Christmas, not just as the most wonderful time of the year, but also as the most wonderful birth that ever was. What a birth! What a Savior! Today’s Challenge: There are reminders of Christ in our Christmas traditions. Ask God to help you be mindful of them; then share the meaning with your children and grandchildren. It is the most wonderful time of the year – celebrate...

FACING YOUR FEARS

I was frozen with fear. I was sweating and the room was spinning. In the distance I heard people shouting, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” I wasn’t on the second-story of a burning building – I was at the end of the diving board in my college swim class. I would never have taken the class if I knew the final exam involved a jump off the high-dive platform! Just call me acrophobic. Heights have a tendency to paralyze me. I would have done the crawl of shame off the diving board if I wasn’t afraid that any movement would cause me to plummet into the abyss below. Other swimmers grew impatient behind me. My classmates below continued their chant, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” When  reality hit that the only way down was off the end of the board, I screamed, “Cow-a-bunga!” and hurdled myself into midair. I cannon-balled into the deep end of the pool, pushed off the bottom and came up gasping for air. I passed the class, but more than that, I surprised even myself: I did it! I faced a gigantic fear! I have also struggled with arachnophobia. If you told me years ago that I would ever get past my fear of spiders, it would have seemed the impossible dream. However, when my children were small, because I didn’t want to pass my phobia on to them, I prayed that God would take the fear from me. I don’t pretend to be fond of spiders, but today I am willing to settle for peaceful co-existence – if they stay outdoors. If they venture into my living space – all bets are off – I whack them on the head with a shoe, something I couldn’t have done before. Did I mention that I am also techno-phobic? Thirteen years ago, I felt nauseous whenever I walked past the computer that had sat on my desk for more than a year. Having hopes and dreams of someday being a published writer, I signed up for a “Computers For Dummies” class. I hung on the instructor’s every word: “This is a mouse. Move the mouse.” I followed up with more advanced classes. Once again, I amazed myself: I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for. I am still learning, but I’ve come a long way from my first computer class, and…I am a published freelance writer. This summer, with my daughters at my side, I faced my techno-fear again, and upgraded to an iPhone-5. I am having a blast with it. Tomorrow I will face yet another fear: updating my computer. (Pray for me!) I am trading in my 9-year old pc for a Mac. The room isn’t spinning (yet), but the question is still in the back of my mind: Can I do this? The answer is: Yes! I can – with the help of a knowledgeable friend. Facing our fears can be scarier than snakes – just ask Indiana Jones – but it is also empowering. When you do something you thought you never could, a world of possibilities opens up before you. You begin to ask yourself, “What else might I be able to do?” Living in fear is not God’s plan for us: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity (fear), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV) If you have a fear that needs facing, here are some suggestions that might help: • Talk about your fear with someone you trust – somehow it takes away some of the power that fear has over you. • Pray – ask God to help you to overcome your fear. Ask Him to do what seems impossible for you to do on your own. • Get help – there are probably knowledgeable friends and resources available to assist you. Don’t rule out getting professional help. • Remind yourself of past victories over fear and of accomplishments you never thought possible. • Extend patience, grace, and mercy towards yourself as you work through this process. Give yourself the time you need to get past this. Face your fears. You are capable of much more than you give yourself credit for. As a matter of fact, you just might amaze yourself! Today’s Challenge: Do you have a fear that is plaguing you? Refuse to submit to it any longer. Take the first step to face it today. God bless you as you do. I am praying for...

“ARISE, GO FORTH AND CONQUER!”

At 5 AM, the alarm jarred me from a deep sleep. My mind raced ahead into my day with rapid-fire images of the multitude of responsibilities that waited for me at the office – and when I got home at night. My first thought of the day was, “I can’t. I can’t do this…I don’t want to do this.” That scenario played out for what seemed like a never-ending cycle. That was certainly the case in the first years after my husband died, but it was also a familiar theme of the last decade of my career. I was ready for retirement ten years before it became a reality. When I look back, I wonder how I made it through. Then I remember… My work as an Addiction Counselor, Social Worker, and Hospice Grief Counselor was meaningful and rewarding. The problem was that there was just too much work to be done, and not enough time to do it. The fact that I circuit-rode a five county area, often in wintry weather with hazardous road conditions, didn’t help. Even a rigorous self-care program was no match for the level of stress I experienced.  What helped me through? I started each day by the side of my bed, on my knees, with this simple prayer: “Lord, Show me your will for me today and give me wisdom and strength – and willingness – to do it.” After a shower, I listened to Praise & Worship music as I put on my make-up. It helped turn my thoughts in the right direction. Once my morning routine was complete, I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to my favorite chair to spend time with God in earnest. After reading a portion of Scripture, I chose a verse to personalize and write as a prayer in my journal. Deuteronomy 33:25, 27 might look like this: “Lord, Thank you for your promise to give me strength equal to whatever this day holds. Let me feel your everlasting arms underneath, holding me up.” After my time with God, I was ready to “Arise, go forth and conquer!”* Just as my iPhone needs recharging each day, I still need a spiritual recharge before heading out into my day. I may be retired, but I am not ready for the rocking chair! Now that I have time and energy, I am pursuing my dreams of expanding my speaking and writing ministry, Holy Ground All Around. I need God’s wisdom and strength as much as I ever did, so I still start each day with time with God. Do your spiritual batteries need recharging? Do you ever wonder how you will make it through the day? Allow for time with God – even 10-minutes in the morning will help get your eyes off your problems and onto the solution. God is with you and for you. He will give you everything you’ll need to face the day ahead. A few minutes alone with Him will enable you to “Arise, go forth and conquer!” Today’s Challenge: Set aside at least 10-minutes for time alone with God. Read his Word. Ask Him to show you His will for you; then ask Him for wisdom, strength – and willingness – to do it. * From “The Passing of Arthur” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 1859 –...