Dentists… and snakes???

Dentists rank right up there with snakes on my “things I MOST dislike” list. And so when I started having some pain a couple of weeks ago, I kept hoping against hope that it would get better. Thankfully, I have a super dentist here whom I trust implicitly. She knows my sensitivity issues, is extremely patient and gentle, and so when the first course of action (taking antibiotics to knock out a suspected infection) didn’t work, she then consulted with the “crown specialist” to see if drilling out the old filling and putting on a temporary crown would do the trick.

Nope. Didn’t work.

Which meant a root canal. YIKES!!!

Thankfully, the “root canal guy” was extremely attentive to his hyper patient — at the slightest flinch he shot me up with more painkiller — and so I was able to endure the treatment… and it was successful.

This “adventure” got me thinking about sin. Crazy, right?!? But stick with me…

Sin is anything that hinders us from having a right relationship with God. It can be an inward, unexpressed attitude (thought) or an outward, deliberate act. It often manifests itself with being more interested in “me” than others. It skews our thinking, destroys relationships. It masquerades as being rational, tolerant. It often looks good and inviting, and yet results in death… spiritual death (severing our relationship with God) and eventually physical death.

The only way to deal with sin is to root it out… to not ignore the warning signs, pangs of conscience. Left “untreated” — like the tooth pain I was trying desperately to ignore — sin is disastrous.

I wonder how often God nudges me about a poor attitude that I have… and I rationalize, put off dealing with it? How often my words, spoken in the heat of the moment, have scarred a relationship? How my impatience and unrealistic expectations have distorted how I view myself and others? How… ??? The list goes on and on.

The endodontist (“root canal guy”) knew that in order to rid my tooth of any further chance of infection he would have to do some pretty serious digging (drilling) and cleaning. He balanced his concern for my comfort with the necessity of doing a thorough job. He didn’t quit until he was convinced the root was clean.

God is like that, too. Sometimes, as He’s “digging” around, exposing sin in our lives, it hurts. We may want to avoid dealing with whatever the issue is. We may rant and rave and bad mouth Him… but He’s boldly, gently balancing His commitment to eradicating anything that hinders our relationship with Him with His love for us. He knows what pain is all about — after all, His only Son died a brutal death so that you and I can have a relationship with Him.

And ultimately, that’s how we can have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

en + courage = encourage

photo credit: http://www.thegatewaychurch.info

If I were an artist I would draw a picture of someone who is overwhelmed, exhausted. Someone feeling hopeless, abandoned, isolated, invisible. Someone lacking confidence. Someone at the bottom of the proverbial barrel staring into a black void.

BUT… they would be receiving an infusion, an infusion of courage.

That’s what it means to encourage

en (prefix): to cause (a person or thing) to be in the place, condition, or state named by the stem word

+ courage (stem word) : the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear; bravery

= to cause a person to have the quality of mind or spirit that enables them to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear; to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope ; to spur on

source: Dictionary.com (app) and http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

One of my favorite Bible persons is David, a shepherd boy who had a most unlikely friendship with the son of the King. David and his friend Jonathan– at different times in their lives — embodied what it means to encourage someone.

Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.

I Samuel 23:16

But David found strength in the Lord his God.

I Samuel 30: 6b

Two separate incidents… In the first, David is being relentlessly pursued by Jonathan’s father, King Saul. David and his men had been on the run trying to evade this madman, this monarch who at one time had valued David for his bold slaying of Goliath, had made him his bodyguard, had been comforted by his harp-playing. Saul’s jealousy of David became an obsession that led to irrational behavior.

Being pursued by someone David endeavored to honor and respect — after all, Saul was anointed by God to be king — was exhausting… physically, emotionally, spiritually. At just the right time, his friend Jonathan took the initiative to find David and help him find strength in his God. Jonathan reassured David that there was nothing to fear. He reminded him of what they both knew would someday be true: that David himself would one day be King over Israel.

Several years later, David finds himself in another precarious situation: he and his men discover their wives and children have been kidnapped, their homes burned to the ground, their possessions taken. They wept until they had no strength. And then David fears again for his life, this time from his own men who were so distraught by what had happened that they wanted to stone him. Again he’s exhausted physically, emotionally, spiritually.

In the first incident, God sent a friend to encourage and fortify David.

In the second incident, David went straight to God.

Sometimes we need someone else to buoy us up as we face life’s challenges. Someone who knows us well enough that they take the initiative and show up when we need a reminder to refocus on what we know is true. Someone who reassures us that we need not fear… that God is our strength, that He is all we need. Someone who is willing to speak the truth to us, regardless of how we may respond.

Other times we are able to find all that we need when we go straight to God on our own.

Going back to my picture of someone receiving an infusion, an infusion of courage… that’s the end result in both instances: being infused with something that enables us to face whatever difficulties are in our life, whatever uncertainties, whatever hurts. Being inspired with courage and hope. Being motivated to not give up, to keep pressing on. Sometimes God uses others to accomplish that… sometimes He’s all we need.

And YOU, my friend, just may be that someone — that Jonathan — in another person’s life this week.

And that is how together we’re able to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life!”

“Little” things…

photo credit: Dreamstime

The entire message took less than two minutes. Fifty-seven seconds of a video recording of church bells and twenty-seven seconds of greetings from my friend. I was perplexed at first… why was she sending a recording of church bells??? But then she explained… she had remembered that prior to our moving from Romania I had mentioned that I would miss hearing the daily ringing of church bells, something that had been a part of our lives the 19 years we lived there. And so… she sent me church bells.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. (ESV)

Worry weighs us down; a cheerful word picks us up. (MSG)

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. (NIV)

Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. (NLT)

Proverbs 12: 25

A good word, a cheerful word, a kind word, an encouraging word makes us glad, picks us up, cheers us up. What we say can be “just what the doctor ordered” to lift someone’s anxious feelings. My friend’s message spoke tenderly and powerfully to my heart: I’m thinking about you, Mary! I remember something that was meaningful to you! I care enough to take the time to let you know!

There are oh, so many! opportunities for us to come alongside one other these days! “Little” things we say or do can communicate to others how our lives are intertwined and help dispel the feelings of isolation/loneliness that have become so prevalent. “Little” things can demonstrate that we’re wanting to learn from and support one another, that we’re wanting to be intentional in building one another up and being there when times are hard as well as easy. “Little” things can convey that we are looking outward, not focusing on our own circumstances/needs/desires/frustrations but rather being attentive to others around us.

What if you — and I — would be intentional this next week in considering how to encourage at least one person??? As my friend demonstrated, it doesn’t necessarily mean a huge time commitment. It just means letting someone know you’re thinking of them, remembering them, letting them know you care.

And as we do this, together we can have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life!”

Return to sender…

card copyright MMXIII Snafu Designs, Inc.

My heart sank when I picked up the mail. I had sent birthday greetings to a dear friend my husband and I had met after moving from communist Romania to Vienna, Austria. He, like my mom, had always encouraged me to write, and so I was eager to share with him about launching this blog. In the card I told him how “it took a pandemic for God to kick me in the pants and get me in gear to do what you, Mr. Petersen, had encouraged me to do YEARS ago!” I closed our greetings with “I wanted to tell you that YOU are a big part of my inspiration and courage in pursuing this goal! Thank you!”

And so seeing the envelope stamped RETURN TO SENDER caused my heart to sink.

My words were too late.

Our friend had died the end of January.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. (ESV)

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. (MSG)

Proverbs 3:27

I remember reading this verse as a new Christian. I thought to myself, “Well, if I can say something to encourage someone, if I can do something to help them… maybe that’s one way I can apply this.” And so I started trying to incorporate this principle into my life: whenever I had the opportunity to say or do something to encourage others/to build them up, I would endeavor to do so.

I wish I could say that I have consistently applied this ever since… but, like lots of things in life, I’m still learning. Still practicing.

Getting this RETURN TO SENDER envelope in the mail was a stark reminder that I still have a LONG way to go in learning to NOT put things off… to act NOW when God nudges me to say or do something. I was too late for Mr. Petersen… but what about today? How might I encourage someone today?

ALL of us need to hear a kind word, to be affirmed in who we are and what we do. Just imagine the difference it would make if everyone were lavish with their words and acts of kindness! If we would “not withhold good from those to whom its due, when it is in [our] power to do it.” If we would take seriously the fact that “[our] hand is God’s hand for that person.”

And as this becomes more and more natural in our lives, I would imagine that we truly will find joy in the journey of this thing called “Life!”

Me?!? …. A thief?!?

Most people who know me would NOT characterize me as a thief! BUT… there was the time when…

We were still living in communist Romania — now in a one-room apartment, having endured life in the dorms long enough! Many things were rationed during that time: flour, sugar, oil, eggs, meat. Our ration coupons didn’t do much good if said item did not arrive in town that month, but at least having them gave us a glimmer of hope!

A “perk” of living in the student housing complex was that we were also able to have coupons for fresh milk. One liter every few days. We’d leave our glass milk bottle, with our room number hanging by string around its neck, at the entrance to the building in the morning. Sometime during the day the milk would be delivered.

BUT… more often than not, there were more bottles awaiting milk than that day’s allotment, which meant someone went without. Which meant people often “switched” the tag from their empty bottle to a bottle full of milk. Which meant, in a word, stealing.

AND… more often than not, that “someone” going without was us!!!

Enough is enough! And so one day, when I found our tag laying on the floor, I simply removed someone’s else’s tag, put our tag on a full bottle of milk, and then went upstairs triumphantly with… yes, someone else’s bottle of milk! No one was going to swap OUR bottle today and get OUR milk!

I set about boiling the milk (it wasn’t pasteurized back then), eagerly looking forward to enjoying the spoils of my chicanery.

BUT… in my haste, I poured the not-yet-cool-enough milk into the glass milk bottle and…

It broke!!! The precious milk went down the drain.

I’ve often thought God has a great sense of humor. This was one of those times in which He reminded me — with a touch of humor (and humiliation) — that stealing never pays.

Why do I share this story? Because it emphasizes that sometimes, when we find ourselves in pressure-cooker type situations, we may do — or say — things that may be out of character. When I had that overwhelming, enough-is-enough feeling I reacted by trying to regain control of something that normally would not have been an issue.

I’m wondering how often — especially in this pandemic-crazed world we live in — ALL of us have had these kinds of experiences?!? Experiences that have surfaced something in us — or those around us — that is out of character. Experiences that have shocked us and made us wonder who in the world we are. Experiences in which we said or did something that is counter to how we would normally respond.

One thing this has taught me is to be kinder, gentler with myself. After all, I am NOT a thief!

AND… to be kinder, gentler with others.

And as we do that, I’m guessing that we just may be able to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

Learning to be thankful…

photo credit: alamy stock photo

One of the most important lessons I began learning (“began” because I’m still learning!) when we lived in Romania under Communism was to be thankful. In everything. NO exceptions. 

We initially lived in Caminul 14 — the only housing option available to us at that time as foreign students. Our tiny, narrow dorm room had two twin beds, each with a desk and chair at the end. If either of us leaned back in our chair we’d bump the other! A sink completed our little home — the bathroom was either down the hall (for men) or up two flights of stairs (for me and the other foreign women). I remember washing our clothes by hand, hanging them on a line above our beds to dry… being irritated by the drip, drip, drip that interrupted our sleep.

I had a terrible attitude… complained to my young husband (we’d only been married three years); grumbled about our colleagues who lived in Vienna—who had hot water and electricity ALL the time, plus a washing machine AND clothes dryer; questioned why in the world God had sent us there. My wise young husband had us do a Bible study on coveting, which helped me see that wishing for/wanting something that others had and I didn’t was, in a word, sin. Coveting. Yuck. 

And… one of the primary results of a covetous attitude is discontentment.

As a practical application to help deal with this attitude we started a daily habit that still is a part of our lives… over 40 years later! Every night before we go to sleep we review the day and think through all the things we’re thankful for. Short little sentences. Not asking God for anything. For example, “I’m thankful for a good talk with Katie.”  “I’m thankful for finding cheese at the market.” (that was a BIG deal back then!!!) “ I’m thankful our families are healthy.” 

Some nights, the only thing I could honestly say I was thankful for was that the day was over.

But… what began to happen was that throughout the day I would “interpret” whatever problem or inconvenience I encountered through the lens of thankfulness… and what a difference it has made! I’m not done learning this lesson, though. This COVID season of life is providing ample opportunities to continue learning… and practicing being thankful!

May we all develop hearts of thankfulness… and together grow in our ability to have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

Ugh… not again…

I started writing this July 27th … when, the previous week, we had received word that ALL domestic flights from our city to the capital were suspended. Since September 1st, however, a handful of domestic flights are once again in service. And yet an eerie silence has ruled the sky, which at one time was teeming with both domestic and international flights. At that same time (back in July) bus travel to the capital was also be suspended.

My response… I’m beginning to feel trapped. Stuck. Again.

For the thirteenth time (not exactly sure when the counting began), a nationwide Emergency Decree has been extended. From August 1st to September 30th. And then there have been regular “rumors” about when our part of the country will be reopening for tourism, when vaccines will be available, when schools can go back to in-person versus online instruction.

Ugh. Here we go again dealing with uncertainty and the feelings of dread, fear, hopelessness that accompany it…

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

There’s a lot of truth packed in that little proverb. I was talking with a friend in the US this morning who excitedly shared about an upcoming visit with her brother. Having something to look forward to, to plan for is proving to be such a boost to her morale! It is helping her see beyond the challenges she’s facing at work, the upheaval associated with a myriad of changes simultaneously bombarding her, the grieving of life-as-she-knew-it to something yet to be defined.

I guess that’s partly why I’m struggling. Those “looking-forward-to-it” things have been few and far between these days. Life has been a series of putting plans, desires on hold… for a LONG time now.

And yet… I think God is wanting to show me how I can incorporate glimmers of hope, so to speak, into my life. For instance, I can TAKE the INITIATIVE and get together with a friend for coffee (thankfully, cafes and restaurants ARE open!). Instead of wallowing in my frustration at not being able to visit with family (for two years already!) I can CHOOSE to be THANKFUL for zoom calls, emails, Messenger chats that are enabling us to keep in touch. I can BE HONEST with God and with others regarding how I’m really doing instead of trying to put on a bold, happy face.

Yes, I need to be honest with God, to pour out my heart — my longings, my frustrations, my fears — to Him.

What might you be able to incorporate into your life this week to combat the inevitable “hope deferred” kinds of feelings? How might you bring hope to someone else? We’re all in this thing called “Life” together…

… and together, may we have joy in the journey.

Remembering my mom…

My mom died five months before we moved to Thailand. Today is the seventh anniversary of her death… and so I’m in a nostalgic, reminiscent frame of mind. For years she had encouraged me to write… and so here I am, finally aspiring to something she saw in me. This new venture, this blog, is dedicated to her.

I was still processing her death, grieving when we arrived in Chiang Mai. Add to that the already challenging mix of adjusting to a new culture, language, climate and… well, it was hard. Beyond hard. One of the things I became acutely aware of now that she was “finally home” with the Lord was that my biggest cheerleader, the person who always believed in me, encouraged me was no longer audibly rooting for me. Her voice had been silenced, her impact preserved in a treasure trove of memories.

One day, when I was having a particularly rough day, it seemed the Lord was saying,

“Mary, I’m here for you. I’m your biggest fan. I always have been – and I always will be!”

In an intellectual, theological way I KNEW this was true… but now… I guess you could say I was experientially learning what God had been communicating all along in His Word:

“I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen My grip on your life!” Hebrews 13:5b (TPT)

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” Isaiah 49:16 (ESV)

“I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3 (AMP)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Romans 8:31 (NIV)

In a very real sense, ALL of us need to be reminded that God is rooting for us and wants to see us grow and prosper. No matter what time of day or night, HIS voice is ready and eager to reassure us of His love, His faithfulness, His commitment to us, His ability to make possible those things we deem impossible.

You know what’s interesting, though? Even though I no longer “hear” my mom’s voice of encouragement, God often uses others to speak His message of hope and healing to my heart. Be that someone this week for someone else… and together, we’ll have joy in the journey of this thing called “Life.”

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