Grounded… again

photo credit: emaze.com

“You’re grounded!” I don’t remember hearing those words when I was in high school — probably too much time has elapsed! But then again, I pretty much towed the line during those years. After all, my mom was a teacher, and if I ever did anything out of line, she heard about it pronto! University was different… but my parents weren’t around then when I did some “grounding-worthy” things!

Last week, though, being grounded took on a whole new meaning. My husband, who has always been quite active (runner, bicycler) experienced shortness of breath. He is also one of those who avoids doctors like the plague… and so when HE wanted to have this checked out, I knew something was serious.

After numerous tests to rule out anything heart-related, a CT scan revealed a blood clot in his lung. He started on blood thinner before we even left the hospital! We go back next week to get the results from a whole battery of blood tests to hopefully pinpoint the cause.

“No flying/traveling for three months,” said the doctor. In other words, “YOU’RE GROUNDED!”

Back in June I shared about a number of detours we had been experiencing during the time before arriving and then once we were in the US. Preparing to leave the US to return to Thailand wasn’t without some crazy complications as well (like my husband gashing his leg with a chainsaw two weeks before our departure)… but those are stories for later.

Once we returned to Thailand, we began the process of getting visas and making plans to visit some of the folks over in this corner of the globe who we hadn’t been able to see because of how COVID had put travel on hold for a few years. Now, thankfully, things are opening up and so we were eagerly looking forward to resuming travel and making numerous visits…

… but then we get the “YOU’RE GROUNDED” verdict.

Hmm… makes me wonder what in the world the Lord is doing!?!

This brings me to yet another meaning of being grounded … being grounded in the truth of God’s Word… and what He has to say about life when things seem to go all kerflooey.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and for good and not for evil or disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29: 11 (ESV and NLT)

Those two weeks before we left the US, beginning with the chainsaw accident and continuing with having our Philly to LA flight cancelled, having our credit cards blocked because of fraudulent transactions, being singled out by the “sniffer dog” at the LAX airport, and then accidentally leaving a laptop on the plane in Tokyo, breaking my toe when I collided with a suitcase in the middle of the night in a hotel in Bangkok… all of those things surfaced intense feelings of discouragement, despair, being overwhelmed, feeling like a failure.

In a word, they threw me off kilter. I definitely was NOT grounded! My wise husband reminded me that Satan used a similar strategy with Job: the ole one-two punch of having one thing after the other go wrong. His blood clot is one more attempt to throw us (me!) off, to blur our (my!) vision instead of being focused on the Lord and how He can use even blood clots to remind us of His love and how He is still in control.

And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.

Romans 8:28 (AMP)

Kind of ironic… in June I wrote that “as a follower of Christ, my final destination is heaven. This time on earth is a journey that God Himself is directing… and so if He chooses to have me zig and zag to get to my final home, then so be it!”

Those words are just as true today — as we’re processing what the Lord has in store for us while we’re grounded once again — as they were back in June. And as we cling to, focus on, and remind ourselves of the truths of God and His Word, may we seek ways to encourage one another to keep hanging in there when life throws us some punches! Then — together — we can continue to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life!”

Summertime… and being tethered

My love for being on the water was birthed as a young girl growing up where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Swimming, sailing, water skiing — Ah! Bliss!

My grandparents had a big home right on the Bay. They lived on the ground floor and rented out the upper two floors plus two more apartments in a “garage” building out back. The courtyard had an outdoor shower — a somewhat-futile (!) attempt to keep the apartments a bit less sandy — and also a picnic table and a tetherball for guests to use. When we kids weren’t on the beach/in the water we would often be batting around the tetherball.

It’s a simple game… one person hits the ball in one direction, the opponent hits it the other way. Whoever is the first to wrap the ball, which is attached to the pole by a long rope, around the pole is the winner.

I just want my life to ever be entwined with You

Tethered to Your heart….

from the song “Tethered” by Phil Wickham

This song was new to me when I listened to it earlier this week. But the image of being “tethered to [God’s] heart” has been swirling around my mind ever since then…

Lately it seems my life has been batted around in circles like a tetherball — somedays making progress, fixing my attention upon the Lord, having a (basically) good attitude, being encouraged and positive. But other days… feeling my “opponent” is going to emerge the winner.

The “detour” we’ve been on these past weeks had an additional S-curve thrown in when my husband tested positive for COVID several days ago. Now, in addition to caring for my father-in-law (downstairs) I’ve been running up and down the stairs to care for my self-quarantining husband (upstairs). And I thought I was tired before!

True confession: during this time, I’ve binge-watched a Netflix series and pigged out on ice cream and chocolate — not the best ways to deal with stress, but there were those moments when I felt overwhelmed and at the end of my physical strength, times when I felt I deserved to indulge!

When I would think about being “tethered” to God … being “entwined with [God]” those thoughts would help keep me going during this crazy time. That imagery encouraged me to think of how firmly I am “attached” to God — not because of anything I do or don’t do, not whether I’m tired or refreshed, not if my attitude has been good or raunchy– but simply because of being His child, born of His Spirit when I was a university student.

In those childhood tetherball games, I remember how sometimes the ball would wind in one direction, unwind, then wind again — umpteen times! The victor finally emerged when the ball was no longer moving, but rather had wound so tightly that it was one with the pole.

The songwriter goes on to say:

What more could I desire

What greater thing to treasure

I’m convinced there’s nothing better

Than living in Your love

Caught up in the wonder

Of being in Your presence

Of knowing such a friendship

To be with You, my God

And everything I am

God, I throw into Your hands

Phil Wickham, “Tethered”

May that be the state of my heart... firmly entwined with my Savior, being one with Him, no longer being batted around by who-knows-what (!!!) in this life. And may we come alongside one another to help still the back-and-forth batting of “balls” that can knock us off our “game.” And by doing so, may we together have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

The power of ONE…

credit: ronda-isms.com

I came across some wise words today…

One tree can start a forest;
One smile can begin a friendship;
One hand can lift a soul;
One word can frame the goal;
One candle can wipe out darkness;
One laugh can conquer gloom;
One hope can raise your spirits;
One touch can show you care;
One life can make the difference.

Be that ONE today.

The past few weeks, as my father-in-law has been diligently working with occupational and physical therapists to regain mobility after surgery, I’ve seen yet another facet of the power of one… the difference an individual’s determination and perseverance make.

Dad will be 93 in August, and yet his therapists have often remarked how his “stick-to-it-iveness” surpasses that of others half his age! He won’t quit but keeps pushing himself with the goal of returning to the way he was before a fall (nothing broken, thankfully!) led to surgery (for a pre-existing condition) that led to several weeks in a rehab facility and then coming home and adjusting to new capabilities and limitations… at least for the time being!

And that’s where the power of one comes into play… none of us can do the hard work of recovery for him: not the therapists, not his children (which includes my husband), not even yours truly — although we all wish we could do something to help, to make things easier for him, to make sure he doesn’t fall or somehow injure himself. Sometimes our “helping” actually has the opposite effect, to be honest. We can get in the way, especially when we project our own ideas on him.

The power of one has also been evident when observing the difference a phone call or visit can make. Or having something to look forward to.

The book of Proverbs — often referred to as “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible — says that “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Or, more poetically, “Winsome words spoken at just the right time are as appealing as apples gilded in gold and surrounded with silver.” (see Proverbs 25:11)

What we say matters. Really. Our words have the power to encourage, to build up, to bring hope and refreshment… or they can destroy, tear down, sow discouragement and discord. Sometimes it’s better to not say anything than to say something harsh or hurtful… and then live with regret because those words can never be unsaid.

A smile, a hand, a word, a laugh, a touch… all of these can, as the wise words shared earlier, begin a friendship, lift a soul, frame the goal, conquer gloom, show you care.

May we all seek to be the one who makes a difference in someone else’s life… and as a result, together we can have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

Detours…

Oh, we were SO excited to finally be visiting the States!!! Three years of only seeing family and friends on Zoom or WhatsApp calls, wanting to give real IN-person hugs, looking forward to pigging out on corn on the cob and other summertime favorites…

Detour #1 came when I tested positive for COVID several days before we were to leave Thailand for the US. Prior to that we had been jumping through numerous hoops in our annual visa renewal process. Every year it seems another hiccup emerges as we navigate the necessary bureaucracy. My husband needed an affidavit from the US Consulate “proving” that we’re married. No problems there! Then we needed a letter from our Thai bank verifying we had sufficient funds in place for our particular kind of visa. No problem there — almost! The bank was closed because of COVID. Thankfully, the very day we needed said document it was open. But then I tested positive…

Detour #2 came once we got to the States. (As an aside, the day before flying both of us tested negative for COVID, which gave us “permission” to make the long journey homeward.) A few weeks after arriving in the US my father-in-law had a fall. Thankfully, nothing was broken! But the fall surfaced a pre-existing condition that required surgery… then rehab… then returning home and in need of care. My husband and I then became caregivers. Not exactly what we had foreseen for our time in the States.

More than once in the “COVID season of my life” it became evident that God was wanting to help me realize I’m not in control. Duh. Why on earth did I ever think I WAS in control of anything?!? And so I had thought I pretty much had a handle on that reality… until this most recent event. Now, all our plans to visit family and friends all over the US (normally we make a 5-6 week road trip for that purpose) got thrown out the window. And once again I was reminded that I’m not in control.

“… your agonizing, unplanned detour is not a waste — not if you look to the Lord for His unexpected work and do everything in His name.”

John Piper in Solid Joys, May 25th

Yes, this is a detour in our plans… and yet we are SO very thankful that God arranged for us to be in the States at this particular time! We’ve been learning a lot in our new roles, both we as caregivers and Dad learning his new capabilities and limitations. And yet, as Piper says, this detour is not a waste but rather an opportunity to engage in “unexpected work” that, in all honesty, can at times can be challenging, frustrating, and confusing. But ultimately, GOD is the One in charge of where we go, what we do… ALL of our days! And so we rest in knowing that HE is in control… and then the “unexpected work” actually becomes something quite rewarding. A privilege.

We keep having detours… like days when the internet isn’t working and I get bent out of shape because I can’t do what I need to do– when I want to do it. (Harkens back to the ole “being in control” theme, wouldn’t you say?!) Or when the car battery dies… or when I struggle with a critical spirit because of unrealistic expectations of others… or…

Ultimately, as a follower of Christ, my final destination is heaven. This time on earth is a journey that God Himself is directing… and so if He chooses to have me zig and zag to get to my final home, then so be it!

As I remember this truth, then I can’t help but have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life!” But I forget this from time to time… and so may we help each other to remember, to keep things in perspective, to keep our focus on the One who can keep us on the right path.

Doubts

Doubting Thomas by Carvaggio

Our family lived in Romania for a number of years. The churches there designated the Sunday after Easter as “Thomas Sunday,” a day to remember the disciple who had doubts about the Resurrection. He wasn’t present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, and so when they told him this good news he was skeptical:  “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”  (John 20:25)

A week passes and then, when the disciples are together again, Jesus shows up and tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”  (John 20:27)  Thomas did what Jesus said… and believed. 

Doubts are a normal part of life, not just for Thomas, but for ALL of us. And yet God invites our questioning, seeking, skeptical hearts to honestly share with Him our concerns. And then, like Jesus graciously did with Thomas, He shows up and helps us in our unbelief… helps us to see Him as He really is. 

Sometimes it helps to verbalize what we’re grappling with to another person. We may not have all the answers, but often a listening ear, a caring gesture can be “just what the doctor ordered.” In the midst of our doubts, our fears, our confusion there is someone who truly does understand and care… our Savior and our God.

May God encourage your heart… especially if you are feeling like Thomas these days! And together, may we have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

GOOD Friday??? a robber’s perspective

I’m a criminal.
I deserve to die. I’m getting what I deserve with this cruel, painful death.

And yet this man beside me…
∗ He’s no criminal!
∗ I heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Who is this “Father” He’s talking to? I don’t see anyone in the crowd that he’s beseeching…

And then the others, those gawking at our agony, those self-righteously judging us, those who by their very consent are agreeing to our guilt…
∗ Aren’t some of them the religious rulers of this land?
∗ Is this what their religiosity looks like?
∗ Why do they taunt this man? Why do they seem to hate Him so?

Why do they say among themselves, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One”?
∗ What are they talking about?
∗ What do they mean that “He saved others”?
∗ What do we – what do I – need saving from??

And this claim to being the Christ of God, the Chosen One… why would that doom this man to death, this excruciating death? He
hasn’t done anything that deserves death – not like me.

Even the soldiers are calling Him “King of the Jews.”
∗ And yet they mock Him with that title.
∗ There’s no respect in their insults. If He indeed is a King, He surely doesn’t look like one as He hangs bleeding, disfigured here beside me.

And what does it mean that He is “King of the Jews”?
∗ If He is a King, why on earth is He being killed? What crime did He commit?
∗ He’s getting what He doesn’t deserve – I’m getting what I do deserve.

This makes no sense.

If there truly is a God….
If this man is the Messiah, the Chosen One…
Then it hardly seems fair…

I’m about to die, just like He is.
I can’t do anything now to erase, to change my past.
I can’t do anything good, as I hang here in agony, to try to win His favor…

If He is who He says He is, is it enough to simply ask Him…
to ask Him to remember me when He comes into His Kingdom?
I’m not even sure what that means, but it evidently is important enough that He willingly – yes, willingly – is going to die for it.

Jesus, remember me.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

Luke 23: 43

May the reality of what the robber on the cross experienced become true for you as well.

THOU my vision???

A few weeks ago I was mulling over how to respond to the question “What is one area you would like God to grow you in this year… and why?” The old Irish hymn Be Thou my Vision somehow immediately came to mind.

Be Thou my vision… my best thought… my wisdom… my true Word… my battle shield… my sword for the fight… my dignity… my delight… my soul’s shelter… my high tower.” An Irish saint named Dallan Forgaill used these images, which were later translated and put into verse, to express his prayer that Christ will be our vision.

When life is confusing and full of challenges; when I feel overwhelmed or inadequate or insecure; when conflicting emotions make me second-guess myself or others — or even God… oh, how desperately I need for HIM to be my vision, my focus!

When my mind conjures up worst-case scenarios; when anxious thoughts cause fear, panic, wrong thinking; when memories from past failures and mistakes vie for attention… how desperately I need for GOD’s thoughts to rule my mind!

When faced with decisions; when wondering how to deal with the uncertainties of life; when life isn’t as black or white as I would wish… how desperately I need GOD’s wisdom to direct my paths!

God’s Word, which is both a shield and a sword, is what I need on a daily basis. He is the source of my dignity. He is my delight. He is my shelter and the high tower where I can find refuge.

The song ends by saying…

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

That’s why I answered the question “What is one area you would like God to grow you in this year… and why?” with “I want God to grow me in having HIM be my vision — in whatever I’m facing in life.” Because then, and only then, will I be able to not get sidetracked. Whatever happens — or befalls, as the old Irish poem expresses it — GOD will be the One who enables me to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

Magnify???

photo credit: margotandersen.com

The first time I heard “Revelation Song” was in our little church in Romania. I was captivated by the haunting melody and the simple words that drew my heart and mind into the presence of the Lord. I had no idea until a few years later that it was actually written in English by Phillips, Craig, and Dean (all three have juggled dual vocations as both pastors and recording artists for more than two decades).

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain

Holy, Holy is He

Sing a new song, to Him who sits on

Heaven’s Mercy Seat.

Holy, Holy, Holy

is the Lord God Almighty

who was and is to come

With all creation I sing Praise to the King of Kings!

You are my everything, and I will adore you!

Out of the blue this week I “happened upon” the story behind this song. One of the songwriters shared, “In uncertain times it’s easy for us to focus on the uncertainty of life and the things that we’re afraid of. In a sense, magnify whatever it is that we’re going through.

The Bible says, ‘Magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!’ (Psalm 37:3)… The unique thing about God is that when you magnify Him, instead of seeing flaws like you and I do when we look in a magnifying mirror, we actually see the greatness of God and we see the longsuffering, the mercy, the gentleness of our Lord.”

Hmm… made me think about the things in life I am currently magnifying/focusing on. One thing is hearing some hard news about health challenges facing a loved one. Another is decisions my husband and I are faced with as we plan a long-awaited trip to see family and friends. Add to that other decisions regarding job-related responsibilities… and then restoring a relationship that has been fractured… and then…

Whatever I start focusing on, magnifying in my life has the potential to derail me. I can start obsessing about all the what if’s, why’s, when’s. My joy is robbed when God’s rightful place as my focus is usurped.

Which brings me back to the songwriter’s reminder to

Magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!

Psalm 37:3

Choosing to refocus on God restores perspective, gives hope, provides peace. It’s how to not be anxious:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 4-8 (NLT)

I’m not sure how all the unknowns in my life are going to play out, but I DO know that I can entrust them to God… and that’s how I’ll be able to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

The best… or the worst???

photo credit: chelsey.co.nz

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light,

it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,

it was the winter of despair…”

So begins Charles Dickens’ epic novel A Tale of Two Cities. Set in London and Paris, the novel chronicles the lives of several characters in the years leading up to and during the French Revolution.

The parallels to our current world/life situations — 163 years after Dickens’ novel was published in 1859 — are striking. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to agree that these past two years have been the best and worst of times. After all, in the midst of the ambiguity, uncertainty, and restrictions that we have grown somewhat accustomed to we HAVE been able to see God at work on our behalf. More than once I personally have reminded myself that God IS in control, that I CAN trust Him with all the unknowns of life. We can even see Light and hope — when incredulity and Darkness don’t drown them out, which, in all honesty, happens to all of us periodically.

There has been despair… and yet the keys to navigating the difficulties of life boil down to

  • knowing the end result
  • asking for wisdom
  • praying in faith

Sounds a bit simplistic, I must admit… but this brings me back again to Dickens: “… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

Throughout life — daily, moment by moment — we are faced with choices. Do we ask God for wisdom… and then follow through in obedience? Or are we more like the foolish man in Matthew 7:24-27 who builds his house upon the sand, hearing God’s Words but not putting them into practice? When our perspective gets skewed, do we stay stuck in that rut… or do we listen to a brother or sister in Christ who lovingly points out where we may have gotten off track? Are we open to input from others.. or are we using excuses to avoid necessary communication?

“My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up in you the power of endurance. And then as your endurance grows even stronger, it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.

And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and He will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures, but He will overwhelm your failures with His generous grace.”

James 1:2-5 (The Passion Translation)

When we look back on this time in our lives, may it be characterized by being an age of wisdom, not an age of foolishness; a time of growing in our faith, our perseverance, our maturity; a time of recognizing that God graciously, generously gives us the wisdom we need to navigate life’s challenges; a time when God overwhelms our failures with His generous grace.

And that, my friends, is how we can have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

Monkeys?!? Really?!?

Living in the tropics is, to put it mildly, an adventure! But needing to take precautions to ensure NOT having monkeys enter your room?!? That’s a new one!

And yet on vacation one morning, as we went to breakfast, we heard a lot of commotion coming from someone’s room. Sure enough, some monkeys had opened the unlatched balcony door and were feasting on the contents of the mini-bar. Snack items and Cokes were considered fair game for these hungry primates.

I’m guessing that the occupants of the ransacked room had either 1) forgotten to latch the door or 2) figured it would never happen to them. After all, who ever heard of a monkey being able to open a door… let alone get inside a refrigerator and open cans?!?

Hmm… sounds like a familiar refrain in life… “It [fill in the blank with whatever ‘it’ in your life this conjures up] could never happen to ME!!!” “These instructions/directions don’t really apply to ME… just to everyone else.”

God’s Word is full of examples of individuals — and even nations — who figured that what He was saying didn’t really apply to them… just to the other guy. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden. They find themselves in a blissful paradise with all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. They had everything they needed. God tells them they can feel free to eat from any tree in the garden except from one, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Three guesses which tree they ate from.

God told them that IF they ate from that particular tree they would die… but an Enemy distorted what God said and made them think that surely that wouldn’t happen to THEM! And yet that one act of “it- could- never- happen- to- me” ushered all of creation into a downward spiral we still see impacting us today, a spiral that can only be reversed by

  • first… acknowledging our own tendency to do things our own way apart from God
  • and then… by accepting God’s provision to right the wrong, namely recognizing that He provided the “out,” so to speak, by having His Son die for us.

Adam and Eve are but one example… and they’re at the beginning of the book!

But how about the “it-could- never- happen- to- me” scenarios, things like…

  • I’ll never hear that diagnosis (like cancer or COVID or….)
  • My job is secure. I don’t need to worry about financial issues.
  • Our marriage is great! I can never imagine anything changing that!
  • Of course I’ll be hired. Look at my experience, my resume…
  • We did everything right raising our kids, so of course they will follow Jesus.

Unless we heed the precautions that God outlines in the Bible, the “owner’s manual” for followers of Christ, we can just as easily find our lives ransacked as the unfortunate vacationers whose room was invaded by hungry monkeys. And when those “it-could-never-happen-to-me” things occur, how can we cope apart from having Someone to cling to and rely upon, Someone who consistently loves and “grows” us, Someone who knows us better than we know ourselves?

Whatever situation you find yourself in today, may the reality of knowing God transform it and give you hope. And as we come alongside one another, may we have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

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