The Weather, Reality, and Life

How’s your weather today? It’s bright and sunny here. Birds chirp. Bees buzz. Sounds like a warm day, right? It is now, but early this morning it called for long pants, long sleeves, and a light jacket!

Appearance isn’t always reality.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We smile and laugh–all blue skies and golden sunshine. But our reality? It’s a downpour of fear, worry, and anger that only washes away our trust and peace.

Hmmm… Should that really be our reality as followers of Christ?

Let’s consider Paul’s reality as given in his 2nd Corinthians 11:23-28 “resume”:


PAUL

~ Servant of Christ Jesus ~

Experience:

  • Imprisoned repeatedly
  • Shipwrecked 3 times
  • Adrift in the sea 1 day/night
  • Flogged numerous times
  • Lashed 39 times on 5 occassions
  • Beaten with rods 3 times
  • Stoned 1 time
  • In danger from robbers, countrymen, and unfaithful friends

Characteristics:

  • Exhausted
  • In pain and without sleep
  • Hungry and thirsty
  • Cold and in rags
  • Given a “thorn in the flesh” to foster humility

Aim:

  • Concern for the church
  • Concern for the sake of Christ

As close as I come to Paul’s trials is being seasick once on a cruise ship. Lord, have mercy! My trials are nothing compared to Paul’s, so you’d think it would be easy for me to maintain his aim. Yet, am I continually concerned about the spiritual health of the church and my fellow Christians? Am I content in my circumstances and more concerned about others and the glory of Christ?

Paul wanted something, too. He wanted that thorn in the flesh, thought an eye problem, to be removed. He asked God for its removal three times and all three times God said no. In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul records God’s words as,

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul submits to God, saying,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s trust in Christ gave him a perspective that focused beyond his present circumstances. He realized when he had nothing, he had everything–he had Christ.

As we face our trials, may we also trust in Christ and be strong in Him. That will bring real peace, and–in the midst of storms–a bright, sunny day in our souls.

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Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies (Deconstructed, and So Much More)

This morning I was supposed to get a lot done.

My plan was:

  1. Get up early!
  2. Make Chocolate-Oatmeal-Peanut Butter No Bake cookies (!!)
  3. Get started AND FINISH a languishing manuscript submission.

That’s not how the morning went.

I got up about an hour late but was downstairs in 30 minutes. Awaiting me were a couple last-minute dirty dishes from last night, which I quickly washed, albeit with a grumble.

Then I started to combine the ingredients for the cookie bars in the saucepan. At the same time, I decided to feed our dog, Teddy. And to let him out. And to throw a few things down to the washer. And…

Well, you get the idea, right?

When I got back to the stove, the butter was definitely melted, so I added the cocoa, and sugar.

It’s VERY IMPORTANT to know that at this point, the mixture is to boil a precise 2 minutes. That is very critical to the outcome.

Hmmm… That would be a problem.

Right at that moment, our sweet very senior dog had finished eating and wanted to go outside. I let him out and started to measure the peanut butter.

I was finishing up two jars of peanut butter. One was a natural peanut butter and all of the oil had been incorporated into the peanut butter used earlier, as it was a very hard, sticky, glob. Even so, I pressed on. Next, I measured the oatmeal.

Sigh…

My kind husband, who loves his morning oatmeal, had mistakenly bought the 1-minute Quick Cook version. Finely milled. Powdery. Bleh.

Oh well… I measured 2-1/2 cups of the oatmeal and added the peanut butter and oatmeal to the mixture. Then a real interruption occurred.

BARKING!

We may have a friendly furry terrier mix old dog, but he still has a very intimidating bark. And there he was–at the very edge of our upper yard, poised and ready to strike, and barking at our NEIGHBOR who was out early fertilizing her holly trees.

I called Teddy, but his hearing being a bit impaired, he didn’t flinch.

Bark–Bark–Bark!

As I ran up the little hill, my neighbor came into view, and she smiled. Then she admitted she was afraid he might run over and bite her. I calmed her fears and he came over, wagging his tail. I said he just takes neighborhood security very seriously but, overall, is very friendly.

She laughed and we discussed fertilizing, early jonquils, and the mischievous ways of chipmunks. Then Teddy and I slowly made our way back inside.

That’s when I realized I’d left the cookie bar mixture on the stove–ON MEDIUM HIGH–AND HAD NEVER STIRRED IT.

Trust me, this is NOT something you want a picture of.

Stiff, dry, clumpy do not begin to describe it. Individual drop cookies were out of the question. Instead, I “turned” it into the 9″ x 13″ pan. Thud. I “spread” it out (AKA attempting to flatten it and gingerly piecing it together).

What a stubborn, broken mess~when it should’ve been glistening and soft and warm and wonderful.

Sadly, how just like me!

My plans. My agenda. My desires. Had I missed out on the most beautiful time in my highly ordered morning? How many times have I pushed ahead on my own? How many times have I looked critically at something or someone? What an ungodly and broken sinner, I am.

Then I tasted it. What a surprise!

It was sweet! It was CHOCOLATEY! It had texture! Sure, it wasn’t the smooth, soft texture of the correctly made version, but it was what it was–and it was still good.

God does that with my life (and I hope He you recognize Him doing that in your life, too.) He uses convictions to bring me to my knees with tears to make me understand more deeply the reality of Christ’s sacrifice for me. He shows me breaking sunlight through heavy grey clouds to remind me of the resurrection.

When I think about God–about the holy and awesome and unchanging God who cares for me and for you–I am undone. I cannot begin to fully understand the magnitude of His character. How He makes stars and explodes them. How He orders planets, times the jonquils, and designs the perfect whorl of petals on the dahlia. Like David in Psalm 8, I ask,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him?”

We serve a God who is LOVE. In a month overawed with love, remember that.

Our God makes beauty out of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

…to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Our God makes good out of trouble. (Romans 8:28)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Our God grants peace in distress. (John 14:27)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.Our God does all He can to bring us to make us more like Jesus.

Our God brings purpose to hopelessness. (Ephesians 2:10)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Our God brings life from death. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:11)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Because He loves us. (John 3:16, Romans 8:35-39)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because HE LOVES us.

 

 

Squeaks, Creaks, and Clicks and Other Unusual Sounds

The view from my desk looks out onto the deck and across our back yard. I love the natural light, the birds, the trees–even all the fallen leaves like reminders of blessings at this time of year. Today, I was happily typing along on another project (an inexorable book submission proposal) and I kept hearing the oddest clicking sound.

Does your house make funny sounds? Our house is an older one, so funny sounds do echo about now and then. Certain floorboards creak an achy “Hello” when I walk over them. One light switch in particular makes a loud, grouchy CLAP when I switch it on like it would much rather continue sleeping in darkness. Even our newer washer and dryer call out their own version of a Revolutionary War song each time a cycle ends. It’s a rollicking time!

But this was a new sound. Of course, at first I thought it was a drip in the sink. Nothing stirring there–not even a soap bubble. Was our family’s furry friend chewing on squeaky toy or a crinkly Hershey bar wrapper? No, he was dozing in the sun on the hall rug.

Still the clicking continued–and so the plot thickened.

Into the kitchen, I went. Yes, I’d completely turned off the gas on the stove after heating my lunch. (It was vegetable soup–wish you could’ve joined me!) The clock on the shelf was quietly ticking, definitely not clicking.

I headed back to my little desk, flustered and out-of-ideas, and sat down in the chair. My eyes drifted out across the narrow deck, to the ivy,

AND THERE HE WAS!  (And then he wasn’t.)

img_3248The cutest little chipmunk ever. (Aren’t they really all cute and little!) I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine the little imp, just to the right of the fern, nestled in the leaves, and looking straight at me, for he turned and dashed right into the ivy in a blink. Guess he had been carrying on an in-depth conversation and telling tales of the best nut storage spots and the latest news from the acorn beds–all with no one attentively listening. That’s rather sad really.

There’s a listening time that could be even sadder though–for each of us. There have been times I’ve missed “the still small voice” of God, as I busily made my own decisions, pursued my own designs. Ever found yourself in that same position?

Now I’m not equating God or Jesus with a chipmunk, even though the Maker did create them. It’s just that finally locating that click-happy, verbose chipmunk made my ears perk up.  It made me remember that sometimes I need to look and listen–

to REALLY LOOK–at God’s Word and

to REALLY LISTEN–to the words of Jesus Christ.

“Come to me…” (Matthew 11:28)

“Abide in me…” (John 15:4)

And that brings us to a beautiful promise: “…rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:29)

I don’t know about you, but I could really use some rest for my soul!

Every concern. Every worry.

Every dream. Every desire.

Every minute. Every hour.

Every day. Every night.

Come to Jesus and receive His promise.

Abide in Him and know His rest, His peace.

Thank you, Lord!

(And thank you also, Lord, for intriguing sounds and bashful chipmunks that bring out thoughts back to You.)

“He Restores My Soul”

IMG_3198.jpgOur home has a small but lovely back yard and a wooden deck. I love the sound made when I walk across that wooden deck. Don’t know why! There are big maple trees towering overhead that offer bounteous shade and a sprinkling of autumn’s fall leaves. There’s a little table and two chairs, perfect for a quiet conversation. (We could enjoy some time together there, couldn’t we?) There’s a bench where I like to spread out my tea, my Bible, and my laptop. Here and there, flowers bloom in large pots. A rosemary bush scents the air. It’s beautiful to me. 

There’s just one problem:

When on the deck, there is NO internet connection!

(Cue thunder and threatening music.)

This might not seem like a terrible turn of events, and—in the big picture—it really isn’t. But at the moment, it was.

First, I grumbled, but of course, that didn’t do any good!

Then I decided to be pro-active and tried to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the internet booster out onto the deck. Sadly, the connection lines weren’t long enough. Technologically foiled!

So I took the only option there seemed to be. I closed the laptop and just sat there–on the bench, sipping my mug of hot tea.

img_3199

Have you ever felt like God just lit up His will in neon lights right in front of you?

Well, there weren’t any neon lights on the deck, and there was no special message in the Cape Cod towns written on my mug. It was Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer; it flooded my mind, especially verses 1-3:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Last week was close to overwhelming (although I’m sure it wasn’t the “valley of the shadow of death” David writes of in verse 4 of Psalm 23). I did, however, feel like I was barely keeping my head above water. Have you had weeks like that? Not that I wish that for you, of course, but I hope you can empathize! The activities were mostly good ones, but they were numerous:

  • Work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Meal prep
  • Bible study
  • Walk the dog
  • Run errands
  • Clean bathroom
  • Paint upstairs trim
  • Purchase fall plants
  • Plant fall plants
  • Pick up ordered items
  • Help a friend
  • Tutor students
  • Do laundry
  • Entertain friends
  • Write letters
  • Make phone calls
  • Do Sunday school preparation and
  • Clean rug (Our dog got sick on our family room rug—bring on the baking soda.)

There were some hard decisions in there, too. Throughout the week, I had prayed and prayed for direction and for peace, and I prayed that wordless cry of the soul that wells up from deep inside you, accompanied only by tears.

But this was different. There were no tears now.

I sat.

I took a deep breath of fresh air.

I watched a small nuthatch at the bird feeder.

I watched a hummingbird seek out one of our last geranium blossoms.

I felt the soft breeze drift over me, gentler than cashmere,

I heard the rustling tree branches overhead.

I heard the plunk of hickory nuts falling on and rolling down our neighbor’s roof.

I smelled the sweet, complex scent of my tea. (Sloane Tea’s “Heavenly Cream”—seriously!)

I released the worry and stress I had worn like accessories, increasingly added throughout the week.

I loosened my grip on my list of self-imposed “to-do’s” and thought about what was really most important—to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and to love my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22: 34-40)

Now this isn’t brain surgery, but once I took my eyes off that list of self-determined to-do’s, I could sense the complete sufficiency of Jesus which superseded the whole list. Decisions and priorities became clear.

The Lord restored my soul.

Only then, did I come back inside, jot down some notes, and then pop back out and snap a couple photos.

Now it’s time to give my Mom a call and text a couple of college students. Then, I’ll make a second attempt at rug cleaning! The laundry, painting, and planting can wait for another time.

May the Lord restore you, too, dear friend!

For Deeper Insight. . .

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Mass Market Edition - By: W. Phillip Keller I heartily encourage you to check out A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller.

It’s an eye-opening book that unpacks the 23rd Psalm in an accurate, contextual, and most meaningful way. (It is also undoubtedly one of my favorites!) It makes a wonderful gift at Easter or anytime.

It’s available in many formats. Here’s the link to read more about it and purchase it at Christian Book Distributors: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller 

Recycling: It’s Not Always What It Seems

Early in the evening the other day, I headed over to our town’s area recycling center. The back of our Subaru Outback was filled with three overflowing bins. One held plastic, a second held paper, and the third held a combination of steel, glass, and aluminum. I’d made the trip many times before and it was always pretty straightforward. Therefore, I fully expected to unload and sort the recyclables and be back home before dark.

Well, remember that verse in Proverbs, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps”? (16:9) In a nutshell, that’s what happened! (more…)

Thursday To-Do’s and Too Many Tabs

Do you head out the door to work most mornings? Today is my one day off from work this week. Ahhh… I awoke at the usual early hour and was thankful for a warm shower and a calm morning. Then I remembered:

It’s my ONE day off!! And we are moving in ONE month!

I intended to get busy, but before I could make a To-Do list (my normal house management modus operandi), I noticed that our dog, Teddy, had gotten sick on the living room area rug. That trumped making a list and was definitely Job Number One. Soon, the rug was clean and Teddy seemed fine.

On a roll, I put away some clothes carelessly heaped on the floor in our bedroom. Then I washed a few dishes, stamped a letter to mail, and made a couple of phone calls. Next, I sorted through and organized some papers and made list of other papers I needed to find.

Now, I’ve had my share of rapid breathing, walking in circles, and even tears when faced with disorder and chaos. But there I was, sipping my morning grapefruit juice and listening to a favorite speaker’s message on the local Christian radio station, and in that moment, I felt a sense of peace and order even amidst the chaos on my kitchen counters and the piles of yet-to-be-packed boxes lurking in the basement. And no, my eyes weren’t closed! Only God can do that. Only the peace of Christ passes understanding and lists our vision above the chaos and despair.

So today, I will NOT make my normally overwhelming To-Do list. I will NOT fret over the number of tabs I have open on my laptop. I will NOT stress over the myriad things to do, pack, mail, or write. I will simply hold on to the anchor of my soul spoken of in Hebrews 6~the person and saving work of Christ~and strengthened by the peace He gives me~by that right relationship with God through the cross and the tomb~I will do the next thing. (John 14:27)

That anchor, that peace can be yours, too. Let’s purpose to hold onto Christ, our soul’s anchor, come deep trouble or high water. Let’s remember Jesus’s words, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)