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...

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”...

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....

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...