What I Really Want

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”                                                                                           Psalm 37:4

This verse from Psalms is possibly the most misunderstood verse of Scripture. I have heard many believers using this verse as a kind of magic formula to get whatever they want, be it health, wealth, a new car, a nicer house, whatever. But note that it doesn’t say, “He will give you what you desire,” it says, that “he will give you the desires of your heart.” From my understanding, based on both other scriptures and my own experience as a believer, if I delight in the Lord, – if He is my focus, my source, my life, my everything – then he changes my desires. If I am focused on Him, I no longer crave the temporary things that I chased after before. As I delight myself in Jesus, He gives me a divine perspective. (See how everything keeps coming back to that?) I begin to desire things like more intimacy with Him, to know His will and to do it. To walk with Him – to run with Him, to make Him smile, to make Him laugh with sheer pleasure. I find I want to be the child He delights in, not a child that tries His patience or grieves His heart.

This became very clear to me one day as I was sitting by the lake at our house in Port Huron. It was a beautiful morning, and I was enjoying the sunshine, the water, and the light breeze that caressed my cheek. I was praying through the “Temple Prayer,” that is, the system of approaching God as His people did in Old Testament times. I had recognized the sacrifice at the “brazen altar” that was required in order for me to enter God’s presence – the sacrifice that Jesus provided when He died on the cross. I had stopped at the “laver” to “wash” – confessed my sins and accepted the cleansing from His blood. I had taken in the light from the candelabra – the Holy Spirit – and asked Him to fill me. I had eaten the “shewbread,” that is, read the Scriptures and taken in their spiritual nourishment. And finally, I was coming to the “altar of incense” and offering my sacrifice, via playing my harp and singing His praises from the depths of my heart – offering the worship that is like incense to Him.

As I finished one of the most passionate, intimate love songs to the Lord, I closed my eyes and visualized stepping into the Holy of Holies – the most sacred place. As I did so, something happened that I will never forget.

The wind picked up, and as I felt it blowing through my hair, I heard all the strings of my harp vibrating at the same time, some louder than others, then fading as other notes were highlighted. This music was more than beautiful. It had an other-worldly quality that I can’t describe. I thought, I really am in the Holy of Holies!

I was afraid to open my eyes, partly because I wasn’t sure what I would see, but mostly because whatever was happening, I didn’t want it to stop. As the strange melodies continued, I could easily imagine them to be the fluttering of angels’ wings.

Then the thought occurred to me: If I’m really in the Holy of Holies, I can ask God anything I want, and He will give it to me! What an opportunity! I could pull out my prayer list (my wish list) and start asking.

But at that moment I couldn’t remember a single thing on the list! I began to pray, but all I found myself saying was, Lord, please … please, make me what You want me to be! That’s all I want. And that really was all I wanted at that moment!

Now I’ve thought of a lot of things since then that I could have asked for, and many of them are really good things. But I know that at that moment, when I was unmistakably in His presence, I was praying the ultimate prayer. He had given me the desire of my heart, and I have been asking Him for that ever since.

Prayer: Lord, as I delight in You, give me the desires of my heart – the desires You want me to have. Help me to stop wasting my time and my prayers on lesser things. I want to be all that You created me to be, and I want my life to be lived for You, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Perspective on Alzheimer’s

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

The above verse is one I had known for a long time, and at one point I had even considered myself to be a patient, gentle person. But when my father began to show signs of dementia, I began to suspect that I was possibly not the nice person I had believed myself to be.

When Dad first started showing signs of short-term memory loss, it was something neither of us was ready to accept. He reacted with his own form of denial. When asking me to repeat myself, instead of saying, “I forgot what you just said,” he would say,  “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.” Having frequently just come from a day of teaching and dealing with seemingly inattentive high school students, I found myself getting irritated. Why should I bother to tell him things if he’s not paying attention? I would wonder, being in my own state of denial. Deep down I knew there was another problem, over which he had no control and which was only going to get worse with time. I would repeat the statement with a little more intensity (Pay attention this time!) feeling my own level of stress beginning to rise.

Bible verses about patience and kindness and compassion only added guilt to my emotional state, which was already being stretched to limits I was not used to. There were starting to be times when my sweet father could sense my frustration with him, and I’d see tears in his eyes. Knowing I had hurt him broke my heart, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a handle on my own emotions.

One day as I cried out to God, “I can’t do this!” I found myself having returned to Square One, as the basic truth of the Gospel came back like a long-lost friend.

Of course you can’t do this, the still, small Voice whispered. That’s why I‘m here. 

Oh yeah, I thought. Duh. I confessed the sin of trying to deal with the situation in my own strength and asked the Lord to please help me.

The first answer to that prayer came in the form of an official medical diagnosis: my father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This revelation confirmed that it wasn’t that Dad wasn’t paying attention to what we were saying, he genuinely couldn’t retain it. Still, there were days that even knowing this fact, I felt the impatience, like lava churning underground, disturbingly close to the surface. I continued to ask the Lord for help in behaving appropriately, even if my feelings were being irrational. The fact was, my dad was still one of the sweetest, kindest people on the planet, and he deserved my respect as much as ever, and my compassion even more.

Then one day, in a seemingly unrelated moment, I heard something said that resembled a line in a play I had worked on in college many years ago, triggering a mental recitation of the entire scene. It occurred to me that, had I continued in theater, I would be repeating the same script night after night for as long as the play ran – twice a day if there were matinees. I felt the creativity of the Holy Spirit nudge me with an idea:

Treat Dad as if you’re in a play. I chuckled at the thought.

The next time we were together, Dad began asking me the usual questions, and instead of getting irritated I thought, I know this scene! OK … and playing the actress, I would say my line, wait for his line, and continue the predictable dialogue to its predictable conclusion. Then, when a few minutes later Dad asked the same questions again, I’d treat the conversation like a rehearsal, sometimes experimenting with different inflexions and deciding which one was best.

As the disease progressed and Dad was no longer fighting it, he allowed himself to revert to the level of a little boy – a sweet, adorable little boy that delighted everyone and that everyone wanted to take care of. He was fun-loving in the most child-like ways, and whenever he told his corny jokes that we’d all heard multiple times, we would all laugh together, not necessarily because the jokes were new (far from it) or all that hilarious, but because the warmth of divine love filled the room.

As long as I have been a believer in Jesus, there are still times I need reminding – I can’t do this Christian life by myself. Sometimes I can’t even pinpoint when I let go of the Lord’s hand and started to try going it alone, but the important thing is the coming back. He is more than ready to help, in ways we could never have dreamed up on our own.

Prayer: Lord, how often we need reminding that we can’t do the Christian life in our own strength! Thank You for being more ready to help us than we are to ask for help. Thank you for interrupting our attempts at self-sufficiency. Thank You for being willing to make Your home in our hearts and live Your life through us. We give You free rein, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Angels in Traffic?

“For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”                                                                                                                     Psalm 91:11

I could have died that night, but I guess God wasn’t ready to call me home just yet.

I was heading home after a music class for refugees, having dropped off two of the teens. It was after 7:00, and I was hungry and impatient to get home. I was playing a CD of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s songs in an attempt to focus on more spiritual things than dinner. There was one car ahead of me at a major intersection, and when the light finally turned green, it just sat there. After about five seconds I gave a couple of light taps on my horn. Still the car sat there. I figured someone was texting.

I was about to honk again a little louder, when a large emergency vehicle that I had neither seen nor heard came barreling through the intersection. I started to shake, as I realized the car I had been so impatient with had quite possibly saved my life.

As I cautiously continued on my way, the next song on the CD came on:                                                                         “He Will Hold Me Fast.”

I cried the rest of the way home.

Prayer: Lord, You hold our lives in Your hands. Help us to trust You and not be impatient when things aren’t going as fast as we think they should. Since we know neither the Big Picture nor the unseen dangers that threaten us, help us to take momentary delays as divine speed bumps that keep us safe. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

God’s Got a Better Idea (So, What Else Is New?)

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”           James 4: 13-14a

Each year my Arizona sister Susie and I have our “sisterly adventure” in her RV. This year was a particularly special occasion, as a family reunion was taking place in Carmel, California.

Susie knows the West far better than this Kentucky girl, and I was anticipating checking things off my bucket list that I hadn’t even thought of putting there, as Susie revisited some of her favorite places. Both of us were looking forward to spending three days with the zany “east-of-the-Mississippi” cousins we knew and loved, as well as many West Coast relatives we had never met before. On the way we practiced singing with harp and guitar for the family talent show.

After the first couple of nights I was getting signs of an impending cold. I was in denial at first. I couldn’t be getting a cold! We were in 100 degree desert, in June, for crying out loud – Who gets a cold in the summer? Is that even legal? 

Coming to some hot springs, Susie assured me that a couple days of soaking in hot mineral water, along with all her herbal concoctions would make me all better. However, two days later my voice had completely disappeared. So much for singing in the talent show. Add to that a bad cough and pink eye in both eyes. (That would make a nice first impression.) I kept thinking, This can’t be happening! I texted a couple of praying friends. One responded, “I’m going to pray that you get well FAST.”

I knew enough to text back, “Unless God has a reason for me to show up silent and hideous…” But I couldn’t imagine what that reason might be.

The morning of the reunion we left the hot springs just two hours away from Carmel at about 10:00 A.M., thinking that would give us plenty of time to get settled in before the 5:00 reunion.

WRONG. We had failed to factor in Murphy’s Law. We ended up arriving nearly two hours late. (Thanks, Murph.)

As the family members got in a big circle and said a little about themselves and how they were related, I managed to croak, “I’m Ann, Lewis’s youngest daughter. I’m usually a talker. Tonight I’ll be a listener. I am not singing tomorrow night.” I was mortified.

One cousin and new acquaintance came up to me immediately after the introductions and pointed to my necklace. “I see you’re a believer. I just want you to know I’m praying you feel better real soon.” We sat down, and I enjoyed listening to her testimony.

One of Murphy’s Laws is that the more you need sleep, the harder it is to get. All that night I thought back over the preceding day and every Murphy’s Law minute. I found myself composing a little ditty to the tune of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme:

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of sisters wild and free,/ Who set out in a motor home to join their family tree./ A “desert rat” and a “southern belle” felt good to be alive/ When they left the desert hot springs for a two-hour drive…[ominously sarcastic] A two- hour drive…

Fifteen verses contained every glitch we had run into, from the construction in the middle of nowhere that delayed us twenty minutes – twice – to the winding, pot-hole filled road through the desert, the detour to a walk-in clinic in another city, only to find the clinic closed until the end of July, the search for another clinic, the two hours spent there, finding the Monterey airport (which, contrary to what our GPS told us, is not on Airport Road!) to rent a car with some very unfamiliar features, realizing the doctor had forgotten to call in one of my prescriptions, and the drive through downtown Monterey rush hour traffic (in a new-fangled car and a 26-foot RV!) looking for another pharmacy.

The next day, figuring songwriting was also a talent of sorts, I wrote out the words and figured out the chords.

At the gathering that night for the talent show, Susie and two of my cousins sang the song while I played the guitar. They sang clearly and with great expression, and the group laughed heartily at all our mishaps that had seemed so terrible the day before. Several people asked for copies of the lyrics that night, including a cousin-in-law whom I had just met the night before, who for years had managed a singer whose name you would recognize. (I would have loved to know about him when I was an aspiring songwriter in the 80’s!)

It occurred to me that the family got much more enjoyment out of the more personal “Ballad of Susie and Ann and the Family Reunion” than they would have from any of the songs we had planned to sing. So I guess the laryngitis had a purpose, besides making me a better listener. I haven’t yet figured out the purpose for the pink-eye, unless it was God’s dealing with my vanity… again.

The next night we were rushing around before the final dinner.

“Come on!” I nagged Susie. “We’re gonna be late again. And I am not writing another song!”

Prayer: Lord, as much as we’d like everything to go our way, we know deep down that that would be pretty boring. Thanks for Your divine “creative writing,” and all the stories we can tell about times when You had a better idea. Help us to keep a divine perspective, so we don’t mar Your plan with bad attitudes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  

 

Elijah in the Age of Distraction

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”                                                                                                                         I Kings 19:11-12

God’s voice isn’t necessarily loud and dramatic, as we see in this passage of Scripture. But in the same way, Satan’s attacks aren’t necessarily violent and obvious. Read a similar present-day account, and if the shoe fits, may it be the last thing you read today:

The young man wanted to hear from God. He took his smartphone, read his text messages, checked his voicemail, and looked at his pictures. But the LORD was not in the smartphone.

He took his laptop and checked his emails, Facebook, and Twitter. But the LORD was not in the laptop.

He turned on the TV and checked the news, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. But the LORD was not in the TV.

Finally, the young man turned off the technology and sat in silence. And in the silence, there came a still, small voice …

Prayer: Lord, we know that the battle for our souls takes place in our minds. Help us to clear out the mental clutter and make room for You. Help us daily to tune out the world and  focus on Your still, small voice – to hear, to understand, to remember – to have Your divine perspective. Then help us to heed and obey what You tell us, in Jesus’ name and for Your glory. Amen

The Friends I Didn’t Know I Had

“… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”     Romans 12:5

“Come with Me,” Jesus said. “There are some people I want you to meet.”

Heaven is an indescribably wonderful place, and the best part of being here is seeing Jesus all the time! It still boggles my mind that He knows the names of every one of the millions of people here, as well as every detail about their lives and personalities. He is always introducing me to people He knows I will enjoy, and the fellowship never gets old; in fact, it gets sweeter with each passing day.

This particular day He was inviting me to gather with a group of souls to hear “God stories” and enjoy the fellowship of a brand new circle of friends.  I didn’t know why He wanted me to meet this particular group of saints, but knowing He had His reasons aroused my curiosity, and I knew I was in for a treat, one way or another.

As I stood in the archway, watching this bunch interact, it was hard to tell why they were together. I tried to guess what they all had in common. Some seemed older and more experienced; others seemed childlike. Some were quiet and thoughtful, others gregarious, some more serious, others with a hair-trigger laugh. But as I looked carefully at their eyes, there was something there that I had learned to recognize. Even the childlike ones had that certain wisdom that was a by-product of past suffering. That look revealed lessons learned, as well as the ability find a reason to be grateful to God for every experience, whether pleasant or otherwise.

Suddenly one of them spotted me. His face lit up, and he exclaimed, “She’s here!” They all let out a cheer, as though this were some kind of reunion. I was confused. I had never seen these people before in my life, and yet they were welcoming me like a long-lost friend.

As usual, each of them had a story to tell, and their stories were almost as varied as their personalities. The common thread seemed to be health problems in their earthly life, but they ranged from injuries in auto accidents, to hemophilia, to cancer. I was still mystified. OK, so they’ve all had health problems, but who hasn’t? Why is this particular group of people together, and why did Jesus invite me to join them?

Jesus did know how much I have always loved “God stories,” and these folks had some great ones. Healing came miraculously at times, but most of the time it came providentially, such as when a car crash occurred right across from the hospital that had just received new blood supplies. The child who had battled cancer at such a tender age had seen the prayers of her church answered as her treatments succeeded beyond expectation, and she had even lost her fear of needles. She later went on to be a compassionate nurse, spending all her vacation days taking medical mission trips. One of these people had even left a belief system that disallowed blood transfusions two days before he needed one during surgery, and his life was extended by over twenty years because of it. It was during this extension of his life that he came to know Christ as his savior and led most of his family to faith.

I was enthralled with their stories, and still curious why they were so eager to tell them to me. Suddenly I was aware that Jesus was standing in the doorway again, radiating that smile that always fills me with deepest joy.

“Have you figured out why you’re here?” He asked. I gave him a sheepish grin and shrugged. “They wanted to thank you,” He said. I looked at all their smiling faces, and it began to sink in.

“OK, you’re all set,” the nurse’s chipper voice broke into my daydream. She carefully removed the tape from my arm, slipped the needle out, and lifted my arm over my head. “Drink extra fluids this afternoon, no strenuous exercise, and don’t lift anything more than two pounds,” she added, wrapping a red bandage around my elbow. She helped me to my feet, making sure I wasn’t dizzy, before inviting me to have some juice or water and something to drink.

I took her up on the extra sustenance, but passed on the stickers that I used to wear proudly after every blood donation, the ones that say, “Be nice to me. I gave blood today.” I didn’t need anyone to be extra nice to me. I was happy just thinking of friends I had yet to meet, and all the God stories I had to look forward to.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank You for saving us through the shedding of Your blood. You gave everything for us, and now You have told us to give our lives to one another. Thank You for Your promise that no gift is forgotten. We look forward to seeing the fruits of our giving, if not here, in the hereafter. In Your precious name, Amen.

The Vanity of Vanity

Do not love the world or anything in the world.        I John 2: 15a

It was a typical morning. Marty was sipping his coffee and checking his phone for the day’s news stories. I was sipping my coffee and getting ready to take the dog on his morning walk. This was the time I usually prayed, as the early morning solitude was perfect for talking to God, my phone got left at home, and the dog was happy, thinking I was talking to him. It was also typical that a multitude of things were vying for my attention. Of course, since I was still sipping my coffee, I thought I may as well take a quick look at my emails – checking for prayer requests.

Off at the side of the screen an image flashed of an absolutely gorgeous dress. If not the most beautiful dress I had ever seen, it was definitely in the top five. Royal blue (my color!), neither tight nor baggy, just flowing gracefully. The model even had my hair, so if I blurred my eyes or covered her face with my thumb, I could see myself wearing that amazing garment to the next wedding. Or ball. Or coronation…

Desire took hold. I showed the picture to Marty, whose opinions on women’s fashion is usually somewhere between indifferent and comatose, and even he did a double take and said, “You should get it!” without even knowing the price. As it was, the dress was on sale, and the price ridiculously low. I would gladly have paid three times that much. I knew the dog (not to mention the Lord) was waiting, but I thought, This will just take a minute, and clicked onto the site.

Of course, the “just a minute” takes a little longer if you have to set up an account, but I typed in my name and email address and created a password at record speed. I then went on to place the order but was told that the password I had just entered and confirmed was “invalid.” After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I clicked on “Forgot my password” to have them send me what they thought it was, only to be told that my email address was also invalid. By this time my mood was, shall we say, not exactly prayerful?

Then the Holy Spirit, or maybe it was just the voice of common sense, told me that my prayer time had again been sabotaged, and I was getting emotionally upset over not possessing a dress that an hour ago I had no idea existed!

My prayer time that day included some meditation on the sin of vanity.

Prayer: Lord, we are so easily distracted by the world and its “treasures.” Help us to set our minds on You and to have the divine perspective to know that true treasures come from You. In the name of Jesus, the greatest Treasure of all. Amen.