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WAITING IN THE IN-BETWEEN PLACE

Posted by on Jul 8, 2015 in Life | 1 comment

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...

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IF ONLY…

Posted by on Jun 4, 2015 in Faith | 5 comments

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...

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AT A LOSS FOR WORDS

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Life | 4 comments

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...

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

Posted by on Aug 5, 2014 in Life, Uncategorized | 5 comments

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...

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ACCEPTING THE “NEW NORMAL”

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Life | 6 comments

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”...

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DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING

Posted by on Feb 22, 2014 in Life | 6 comments

“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...

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GETTING PAST THE “WHAT IFS’

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Faith | 7 comments

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....

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THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Holiday | 3 comments

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....

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FACING YOUR FEARS

Posted by on Oct 26, 2013 in Life | 2 comments

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...

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“ARISE, GO FORTH AND CONQUER!”

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Life | 6 comments

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...

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