My new favorite word

On the night of his arrest, Jesus sat at the table with his disciples for the last supper. Toward the end of his time with them, he said the following.

(John 15) “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”

In John 15 ( and I have not included all of it), Jesus says the word remain ten times. It is that important. This is how I use it. When I am having a bad day or when things are not going according to Sarah’s plan, I try to remember, remain in Jesus. It brings extraordinary comfort to me. It’s like having loving arms there to embrace you whenever you need them. Think about it, feeling alone when you are frightened or sad is the worst possible emotion. Remembering that Jesus wants you to remain in him and be close, changes everything for the better.

You are not alone. There is someone who has your back while holding you in the tenderest of embraces. Do you remember being held as a child? Feeling then that nothing could possibly harm you in this protected position? Jesus wants you to have that feeling whenever you need it. “Remain in me,” he said. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Remain. One word that holds so much power, so much comfort and so much promise. “Remain in me,” he said to them. He told them that he would be leaving soon but that they were not losing him. All they had to do was to remain in him.

Remember this word – R E M A I N. Imprint it on your brain. Tattoo it onto your heart. Think of it often. Remain in His love. It will change you. It will lift you up. It will bring you joy. God bless.

 

Living in the consequences

Even as a fairly new Christian (one year), I know intellectually that God doesn’t answer all of our prayers. And yet, there is a small part of me deep inside that wishes an exception be made for the newbies. That God would want to encourage us by answering all of our prayers, at least for the first year. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Surprise! Not really.  You’d think that if you prayed sincerely, did all of the right things, helped others and thought about God more than anything else, maybe He would help you out. It doesn’t always work that way.

As I find myself once more in a place of unanswered prayer, I vacillate between being upset with God and promising to stand in faith that maybe some day this prayer will be answered. His timeline, not mine. If you haven’t already figured it out, God’s timeline is often very different from our own.

In my current situation, there is something else going on. Our Pastor spoke about it last week. Sometimes you feel like God is not only not listening to you but that he’s nowhere to be found. You are suffering, you are praying, but to no avail. Relief doesn’t come. Why?

It’s called “living in the consequences”. It may be consequences due to your choices or (and this is a big “or”) someone else’s choices. Think of the families of the Orlando shooting. They did nothing to deserve the place of misery they now find themselves in and yet there they are. And God did nothing to stop it.

Yesterday I wanted to stop praying altogether. I spoke with a Christian friend about it. She told me I mustn’t give up. That’s exactly what “the enemy” wants us to do. Anything to get us away from God. I started thinking about all of the really good people I know who are currently “living in the consequences”. Why should I be immune?

It’s not a new concept but I had never heard it described that way before. I like it. It’s simple and comprehensible.

So here I am, living in the consequences like so many others. Keep praying. Keep the faith. God knows what is in your heart. He may not respond in your time frame, but He will respond. God’s love for you is eternal and unfailing. Never give up on Him. God bless.

Free Will – Blessing or Curse?

As a child I didn’t have free will. All my decisions (ones of any consequence) were made by my parents, especially my father. He was “head of household” on steroids. I soon figured out that acquiescing to the powers that be was the way to go. On the rare occasion that I tried out my own free will, I was either punished for it or simply overridden. I remember my father coming home from work one day and telling the family that we were moving to Fresno, California. “I’m not going,” I said with all the grown up determination that I could muster. “I’ll stay here!” Well, you can imagine how that went. We moved despite my protest.

I was the “good girl” and obeyed the rules of the house, even the difficult ones. I remember one night being so mad at my father that as I climbed the stairs to go to bed, when I was past his range of vision, I stuck my tongue out at him with all the anger I could spew. It felt good, especially because I knew he couldn’t see me.

As I grew into an adult, I soon realized that the choices my parents used to make for me were now mine to make. Young adults find this incredibly liberating. I can stay up as long as I want! I can watch anything on television! I can eat whenever I want and whatever I want! This is awesome! Until reality hits. Wait! You mean I have to get a job in order to eat and put a roof over my head? I have to pay my electric bill, phone bill and credit card bills by myself? That’s not fair!

God gave mankind free will so that we could choose love over hate, kindness over meanness, charity over selfishness. In His great wisdom, he knew that if we were created only to be good, without free will, we could not choose love. If there is not another option, there is no true love. And love is above everything.

But free will comes with responsibility. We must accept the consequences of the choices we make daily. Sometimes we choose poorly. Have you ever been there? I have,  and once at the expense of my sanity, my nuclear family and my happiness. (See my book, “For Dear Life”) If we make a bad decision, can we choose again? Yes, most of the time. If you kill someone, obviously, that cannot be undone. But if you make a poor choice, like agreeing to do something of questionable legality or morality, you can change that decision before it’s too late.

We make numerous decisions every day. Most of them are of little consequence. Some are more substantial, like the ones that involve other people. The world won’t care if you choose to wear the red shirt instead of the white one, but if you have the opportunity to help a friend and you don’t, then your sphere of influence has grown and more people will be impacted.

Be thoughtful in the important decisions that you make. When you do the right thing over the wrong thing, you not only feel better about yourself, but you change the world, little by little, in a positive way.

God bless.

Unanswered prayer

You’re a new Christian. You are filled with hope and the promise of great things to come. You now have an ally in your corner that you didn’t have before. You walk with a certain confidence. It’s almost like having a 300 lb bodyguard at your side 24/7. After years of walking around unsupported, you are now ready for anything. Or are you?

It’s true and even reasonable that when you first become a Christian there are expectations of good overcoming evil and right conquering wrong. In general, an air of optimism prevails. And then something happens that throws you off track. You’re sucker punched by events that you didn’t see coming. What was that? I thought I was protected from the negative. Shouldn’t I be immune from liars, evil-doers and pain?

It might seem naive to the average person, especially the long time Christian, but to someone just beginning their journey, it feels like a bonus that automatically comes with taking that first step toward Jesus.

It has been just under a year since I joined the flock. I know that all prayers are not answered, even those pitched with the utmost religious fervor. God doesn’t always give you what you ask for. Why not? Aren’t you deserving? Of course. But the specific answer eludes me. I don’t know why. I do know that when we pray for something, we are unable to see the big picture that God sees. Maybe if we got what we wanted it would prevent something much better from happening. Haven’t you ever prayed for something that you didn’t get? And then down the road,  you realized and were grateful that your prayer went unanswered because things turned out much better than they would have had you been given what you wanted.

At the time, it seems like God is ignoring you, or worse, punishing you. But – but – I believed! I read my bible! I prayed often and with an open heart. I trusted Him. What happened? Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Your most sincere and heart-felt prayers aren’t always answered. Sometimes the bad guy wins (at least for the short term). Accept it and move on.

What, as Christians, can we count on with respect to prayer?

1. Sometimes your prayers will be answered

2. Sometimes they won’t be.

3. Sometimes you will ultimately get something better.

4. God will see you through it, whatever “it” is. When you’re on the other end of an unanswered prayer it can be tough to believe that God is working things out for your good or that He is with you every step of the way to provide comfort and peace in your darkest moments.

He’s not a genie in a bottle, nor is He Santa Claus. He is God, our Father in Heaven, here for us, loving us, helping us, unfailingly. And couldn’t that be considered the greatest answered prayer? I believe so.

God bless.

Go with the flow – or not?

When you hear the phrase, “Go with the flow”, what comes to mind? When I was in my 20s, that was a common expression. I used to think it was sage advice. Don’t fight it, relax and go with it. You’ll only become stressed and raise your blood pressure unnecessarily if you try to swim upstream. EST had a saying, “It’s best to ride a horse in the direction that it’s going.”

Have I become a rebel in my old age? Perhaps. Think of some of the biggest achievements in history, (e.g. abolishment of slavery) or the battles that were won (e.g. Revolutionary War). Had those individuals chosen to “go with the flow”, then their achievements would be non-existent and many battles would not have been fought. The status quo would have prevailed. Is that a good thing? In the case of our greatest achievements, the answer is a resounding “No!”

In my current stage of life I am inclined not to “go with the flow”. The idea of it sounds like giving in to me, the equivalent of “don’t make waves”. Should we go along with the majority position even when we  disagree? What if the majority’s values are radically different from ours?

I’m not really much of a rebel. Under certain circumstances I might even choose to go with the flow, but certainly not in all cases, probably not most. I’m more inclined to stop, check in with my thoughts and beliefs and then move in my own direction, if they were not aligned with the “flow.”

Where did the expression come from? It was first known to be used by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who wrote “most things flow naturally” and in his opinion it was better to “go with the flow” than to try and change society. That would definitely be advantageous for an emperor, right? No subversion, no mutiny, no government overthrow?

Definitions:

To not have a particularly strong opinion on something and thus follow the majority.

Do what other people are doing or agree with the opinion of others.

Where do you stand on the “go with the flow” issue? I cheer for those who stand up to the majority when in their mind wrongs are being perpetrated. (Remember Hitler?)

If you are with a group of friends wondering where to go to lunch and everyone chooses Carl’s Jr. and you would prefer Marie Callendar’s, I think going with the flow would make sense and prevent you from appearing contrary or selfish. But what if the crowd is suggesting something completely abhorrent to your moral sensibilities? The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

Whether you go with the flow or march to the beat of your own drum, do it with integrity and conviction. Evaluate the situation and then commit. There is nothing wrong with going with the flow if the flow is going where you want to be!  :))

Who is your god?

You may believe in a supreme being but where is your attention going? What takes priority in your life? Where does your energy go?

It’s worth pondering. You may believe in God but whatever controls your thinking, comes first or devours your time is arguably the real god in your life.

Some examples:

Money: For you, the most important thing in your life is making money. The more money you make, the more “successful” you believe yourself to be.

Possessions: By acquiring more material possessions or “toys”,  you believe you will be more important and impressive in the eyes of the world.

Being “beautiful”: Creams, excessive exercise, cosmetic surgery. You believe that external beauty will gain you more friends and admirers.

These are just three examples of what can become your god. It’s where you mind goes most of the time. It’s where your energy goes and a lot of your money. Wait a minute, you say, what’s wrong with wanting more money, having more things or looking better? Nothing, as long as it doesn’t become your ultimate goal in life.

If you are a Christian, you know exactly whereof I speak. God is #1 and everything else falls beneath Him in value.

Money, possessions, physical beauty or whatever is currently your god – does it bring joy? Does it make you happy? More importantly, will it last? The simple answer is “no.” All will be gone one day, no matter how hard you try to hold on. The happiness it brings you now is short lived.

If God is not #1, then who do you turn to when your life goes south? When tragedy hits or you are overwhelmed with sorrow, where do you find comfort? Some people only turn to God in times of trouble, as if they don’t need him when life is going well.  It’s like the relative who only calls you when he/she wants something. How does it make you feel?

I have always believed in God but it wasn’t until I became a Christian that I took a serious look at my life and where my attention and heart were going. Now it’s an easy answer, God. He is the real thing, the only thing I can always lean on, seek in times of trouble and pray to, knowing that He hears my every word. He will either calm the storm I find myself in or calm me so that I can weather the storm.

Where is your attention going every day? On something substantial, real, eternal and unfailing or on the things of this Earth that will never fill the void inside you?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:21.  Your choice. God bless. :))

Fear of Flying

I think most of you know that I am not a fan of flying. As the saying goes, “If God had intended for man to fly, he would have given him wings!” Well, it doesn’t work like that, does it? Thousands of people fly every day, be it in a small twin engine or a large commercial jet. Flying is a major mode of transportation and for many, a popular one.

On the flip side, I am a big fan of traveling to places I want to see in a fraction of the time it would take  to drive there. For example, Portland, Oregon – 2 hours flying vs 17 hours driving! And then there are the more exotic destinations – Europe, South America, Africa, etc. Places I want to go to but must get on an airplane to get there. Thus my dilemma. How to resolve?

I have researched the basic safety of airplanes. I have spoken to people (including crew members) who fly all the time without fear. I am in awe of these people. I will fly when I have to in order to get somewhere I want to be but to make it a way of life or a career, no thank you! Are they crazy?

Here are some fun facts about flying:

1. No other form of transportation is as scrutinized, investigated and monitored as commercial aviation.

2. Flying is proven to be the safest way to travel.

3. Turbulence will not bring the plane down nor will it tear off the wings!

Blah, blah, blah is what I hear. I try, I really do, to enjoy the whole flying experience. There are even moments when the flight is smooth, the sights out the window (Oh, I must have a window seat to make sure that the plane doesn’t catch fire!) are breathtaking and I think of God and the beautiful world He created. And then we hit some turbulence – big turbulence, and my blissful demeanor becomes one of sheer terror.

I had heard of people like myself who hate to fly and were given medication from their doctors to better endure the experience. Hmm. Let me look into that, I thought to myself. I did and now I take one low dose of Valium before getting on the plane. The last flight I took (2 days ago) I did just that. It calmed my nerves so much that when the turbulence hit, I glanced out the window (note the word “glanced” – I did not say “jerked my head around so fast I lost consciousness) and thought “Yes, it is indeed quite bumpy out there but somehow I’m not frightened. I actually don’t care what happens.” What?

Ah-ha! Here is my solution! It’s not 100% foolproof, however. There was some major turbulence that lasted seconds during which my nerves fought their way to the surface but it was mere seconds and I quickly recovered my equilibrium.

So, if you love flying or fly without fear, I salute you with great admiration. If you are a scaredy-cat like I am, give thought to a mild sedative. We need all the help we can get, right? Happy flying! :))

 

When you don’t get to know why

I have always been the kind of person who felt most comfortable when I knew (and generally understood) what was going on around me. The why’s of something. If I understood why something happened, I could respond appropriately and take the next steps if required. Not knowing why or not understanding was the equivalent of crazy making for me. What do you do with yourself when something happens and you can’t explain it? How do you react? How do you move on?

Some people prefer not to know why. “Ignorance is bliss,” right? Not in my world. I have always wanted to hear the truth, even the unpleasant, raw, disturbing truth. I don’t care how bad it is, just don’t lie to me. I raised my children this way. Tell me the truth. You won’t be punished for it.

My sister would probably say this stems from my desire to control. If I know, if I understand what is going on around me, I can deal with it. I can better respond to my immediate environment. There is probably some truth to the control theory.

Do we always get to know? No! Do we just have to live with not knowing sometimes? Yes! I might even say often.

I’d like to think that I have gotten better over the years. I have learned how to let go of things that I don’t understand. I stop trying to make sense of it and after a while like lint on my shirt I brush it off and forget about it.

People are complicated. Sometimes they don’t know why they do certain things or feel a certain way. How can we expect an explanation if even they don’t have one?

What’s the solution for people like me who want to know the whys – who want desperately to understand? Accept as one of the immutable laws of the universe that you don’t always get to know why. Surrender and move on. Let it go. By continually trying to figure something out that has no clear explanation, you will only tie up your brain which could be put to much better use on a task more productive and meaningful. It’s like beating your head against the wall – to what end? Did it solve the problem? No!

Life is an adventure, filled with all kinds of happenings. Some are wonderful, some challenging, some prickly and some devastating. When you get to know why and understand, be grateful, act accordingly and go forward. When you don’t, let it go and go forward anyway. Life is too short to bang your head against the wall, right? Just repeat after me,  “It’s all good.”  :))

The desert experience

No, I’m not talking about a weekend in Las Vegas or a vacation in Palm Springs. I’m speaking about something much more significant and life changing. In last week’s sermon our pastor spoke of the challenging times in our lives. The times when things aren’t going according to plan – our plan of course. You’re experiencing roadblock after roadblock. You’re facing a serious health challenge, major disappointments, bad surprises. He referred to this as a desert experience, similar to the one the Israelites faced when they wandered in the desert for forty years. He then stated that humans are always either coming out of a desert experience, in the middle of one or about to enter one. You might say these three circumstances make up the human condition.

Not a feel good lesson. I walked out of there thinking,  I’m not currently in a desert experience and haven’t just come out of one, so that must mean one is ahead of me. I had to admit that I haven’t been in one for quite some time. I count myself fortunate.

Sure enough, Sunday, in the middle of the night, I was awakened out of a sound sleep by a strong feeling of nausea. This is highly unusual for me as it has been many years since I’ve had such symptoms. Use your imagination for how I spent the remainder of the night. All day Monday I felt on the verge, even though the main symptoms had passed. I didn’t eat for 40 hours! It took several days to feel confident enough to eat normal food. Miserable, right? No question. But desert experience? Not much of one.

Then other things started happening and now I find myself fully in the desert. What’s next? What can you do when things go south?  1) Pray. That’s always a good choice. Asking God for help allows you to feel that you’re not in this by yourself which is incredibly comforting. It also gives you hope that a solution is out there and available to you.  2) Give thanks for what you have and for the blessings that have been given to you in prior desert experiences.  Being grateful for all the good in your life not only pleases God but changes your perspective from “Poor me. Life is miserable,” to “But I still have (fill in the blank) and (fill in the blank) and people who love me. Maybe I’ll get through this soon.” The good news is that the desert experience isn’t eternal. It has an end. You don’t stay in it forever.  3) Lean on friends and family. I’m a big proponent of group therapy because it helps you to realize others have the same or similar problems as you do. You were not singled out for this challenging time or this misery. We have all been in the desert, more than once. Use the support systems that you have. It can lessen your load significantly.

This is life. It’s what we signed up for. It means good times, neutral times and challenging times. Take solace in knowing that you won’t be there forever. Trust God. Have faith that you will endure. Know that your life will be good again. Take a deep breath and give thanks. :))

 

Spellcheck

Upon re-reading my last blog, I noticed two spelling errors that despite several edits, had slipped by me. “Tenants” should have been “tenets” and “meeted out” should have been “meted out”. Much to my chagrin, the blog went out with these clear mistakes. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time. Spellcheck didn’t catch them because these are actual words, spelled correctly. Had they been misspelled, auto-correct would have caught them.

That started me thinking. What if our lives had an “auto-correct” function? What if when we messed up, in word or deed, it would be automatically made right on the spot? A little like going back in time a few minutes, or a “do over”. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Maybe. What if our mistakes teach us to become better people? What if they lead us to greater understanding, improved relationships, higher levels of consciousness? Am I really making a case for human error? Yes, I think so.

I’m going to omit from my discussion human error that leads to the death of innocent people at the hands of someone entrusted with their safety. I would prefer to eliminate that altogether if it were possible. But isn’t it true that we all learn from our mistakes? No, unfortunately not all of us. But let’s hope that most of us do. And when we learn from them, we generally become more aware of our actions and their consequences. We ultimately become better people.

Think back on some mistakes you have made, ones that had consequences with weight to them. How did it alter your life and did it change you in a positive way?

Some missteps in our lives have consequences that are irreparable. A broken relationship where the other person is not willing to forgive and forget. These  are tough lessons with a big price to pay. Your life will never be the same.

We have no control over other people and how they will react to us when we have hurt them. It takes maturity to own up to our mistakes, ask for forgiveness and hope for the best, knowing that we may ultimately lose. Then we have to move on,  wiser if not happier.

How can you learn lessons in life if you never mess up? Do you learn when you do everything right? Of course not.

So, what did I learn from the spelling errors in my latest blog? Instead of reading it back four times, make it five or six. But do you know what? It will happen again anyway. Some mistakes are unavoidable. We are human, and that’s what we do. We mess up. Try to keep the big mistakes to a minimum. You’ll ultimately live a better life.