Words from the Past

Every now and then, I like to share something I have learned from someone who is no longer with us. Men such as A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, D.L. Moody and others, left behind a treasure chest filled with nuggets of wisdom that God gave to them. Whether it be through their preaching, writing or through others who watched them walk with God, we have access to these nuggets. 

I became a Christian at the age of twelve. Within a few years of that I began writing. I dabbled with stories and poems, but what I wrote most consistently were journals. I have been keeping my thoughts and my prayers in those little lined books for many years. Every now and then, I look back through the pages and it surprises me, how much God has used my writing to teach me about Him and about my place in His world. 

I came across this piece I wrote on September 21, 2012. Since it references fall, I thought it appropriate to publish here for you to read. I was going through a very difficult time in my life at that point and was getting counsel from a godly counselor. We talked about my vision of what I thought life would look like at this point and how in reality things didn't line up. He gently told me that in order to move on, I needed to put that vision to death. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

At the same time, I was also reading Ann VosKamp's work, One Thousand Gifts, in which she refers to those situations in life that we never wanted or expected as ugly-beautiful. It is amazing how God can bring all these scattered pieces together and give us an acutely clear perspective.

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fall leaves

At times loss can be beautiful - ugly-beautiful.

This season, fall, trees begin a transformation of loss. Their leaves, once green and supple, change in color and become dry, even crispy. 

Gradually, they let go, both the tree and the leaf.

The tree, in its God given wisdom knows that it will bloom again; its stark branches will feel the excitement of new growth.

Does the leaf know its life is over?

Does it accept the loss of the tree and the giddiness of the wind to send it wherever it desires?

Does it breath a sigh of relief when its final resting place slowly swallows it down and it is remembered no more?

There are aspects of my life, I need to let go of. I need to quit clinging and let those leaves fall silently to the ground. 

That is the only way for new life to begin.

(Written by Amy D. Christensen - 9/21, 2012)

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Even though I am at a different point in my life than I was when I wrote that, I believe it still holds true. Don't we all have leaves in our life that we are clinging to, challenging the wind to tear them from us? Yet, each season has a purpose and we need to know when that season has passed and we must let God create newness in our lives. I know it is hard, but God knows what is best and how very much He cares for you.

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
— Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus
— Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

 

 

Three Little Commands - Give Thanks

I thought it appropriate after the climax of the political campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump, to bring things back to scripture. And how fitting that the series I've been doing on three little commands, ends with this powerful statement:

...in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast upon us. Sometimes it seems this day gets lost after the decorous celebration of Halloween and the the onset of the hectic preparations for Christmas. However, I believe it is a holiday of great importance. If we allow it to not get lost, Thanksgiving can be the perfect spring board into the Advent season.

Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull .

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

Thankfulness is sometimes slow in coming. There are always things to be thankful for, but that doesn't mean it is easy for us to turn our minds away from our difficulties towards the things that we can be thankful for, or even more appropriately towards the One from whom all blessings flow.

Life can be a trial. Maybe you just found out you have breast cancer and your husband told you he's leaving you for another. Perhaps you just discovered your thirteen year old daughter has been having sex resulting in a pregnancy and your son started doing heroine. These things are real, folks. Sometimes life brings difficulties one at a time; a pace that is manageable, however, there are times and lives that are full of nothing but difficulty. How do we give thanks when we are careening down a one way street the wrong way?

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

I brought this verse up a few weeks ago. Whether you are a Christ follower or an agnostic; a Muslim or an atheist, this verse can be taken to heart. With so much media input it is easy to get focused on the bad - murder, suicide, mental illness, disease, bombings and death permeate our news feed and therein lies the problem, we are feeding on the bad, rather than feasting on the good.

So, how exactly do we feed on the good? One bite at a time. Much to my hubby's chagrin I am always asking him, "What are you thankful for?" It is especially pertinent when things are stressful at work, or we are having issues in the family or he is just feeling like he has nothing left. As much as it drives him crazy, it does help his mind to move from that which is bothering him, to He that is!

I have always felt that gratitude changes the attitude, but it wasn't until I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp that it really came home. Here is a little description of the book on Goodreads with links for purchasing. (I do not receive any kickback for recommending this book, I just think it is a fabulous book that everyone should read.)

And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully...

Just as a child learns to walk, one baby step at a time, we can learn to be thankful, one bite at a time. Did you take a hot shower this morning? Thank Him. Did you eat today? Thank Him. Did you get to turn up the thermostat? Thank Him. Did you drink clean water? Thank Him. Are you breathing without help? Thank Him. Are you on an oxygen machine? Thank Him for that technology to help you breath.

The prayers we weave into the matching of socks, the stirring of oatmeal, the reading of stories, they survive fire.
— Ann Voskamp

I love that! The fire is the trial of life, but our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and petition, survive any fire that life throws at us.

It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us..
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully....

Is it dark where you are? Does it seem impossible to find anything to thank Him for....then be thankful for Him. You are not alone. He is with you. He will always be with you.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving day, why not try each day to keep a record of what you are thankful for. Use a small notebook, a sticky note pad or a calendar page. On the date for that day write: I am thankful for....and start listing things. Maybe you only write one or two things, but those are things you weren't thinking about before. If your mind starts going down that path of difficulty, write more things you are thankful for. Turn, turn, turn and be thankful. God will always meet you in that place.

Feeling a Little Anxious?

I have always been a bit of a "nervous Nellie". When I was young, the first few days of each new school year were often a challenge. My stomach would get tied up in knots, I'd assume disasters were going to take place as soon as I got on the school bus and I would feel desperately lost until I could connect up with familiar faces. When I went to college I battled home sickness fiercely until I settled in to a new routine with new friends. I still struggle with anxiety before doctor or dentist appointments. I worry over my kids and my grandson.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Anxiety is prevalent. We pace the floor over scenarios that may never take place. We begin waiting for bad stuff to happen. It seems that as I age, anxiety has once again taken a front seat on life's journey. If we look at the number of people taking anti-anxiety medications I'd say I am not alone. 

Life is stressful. Being married, having kids, working a job can all add stress to life. That stress builds when marriage is hard, children rebel and the job expects you to do the work of three people instead of just one. As if that is not enough to get our fight or flight motor revving, then we find out a parent is severely ill, a friend has died, our hairdresser found a new job and there is a lump where there shouldn't be one. 

I cannot tell you what to do when you feel anxious, because I am not a qualified counselor. As Christians we sometimes throw out verses expecting that they are a miracle cure. If you just think on this verse all your anxiety will melt away. God's word is not Calgon. Some of you may remember those commercials....a frantic woman living a real life, but when the stress is too much she just sinks into a hot tub sized bath full of Calgon bubbles and her cares slip away! If only it was so easy. 

We do have some control over what our minds are thinking. At this point in my life I do not take anti anxiety meds. But that doesn't mean I never will. Many elderly people take anti anxiety medicine to help them, not only feel less anxious, but get to sleep at night. So don't be anti medicine. There are times it is right and good. However, if you are on meds, but still feel mastered by anxiety, work with your clinician to find medicines and counseling that enable you to still live life to the fullest. 

If you are like me and anxiety pops up from time to time, but is not debilitating, often just changing our focus will chase the anxious thoughts away. Here are some ways to redirect our thinking:

1. Scripture - while God's word is not Calgon it is a powerful mind changer. Granted, it is the work of His Holy Spirit in our lives that brings about change, but the Bible is an important tool in that work. These are a few of the Scriptures I ruminate on when I am feeling anxious:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:4-9 (NASB)
3 The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.
4 “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.
— Isaiah 26:3-4 (NASB)
Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.
— Psalms 27:14 (NASB)
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
— Psalms 34:1-5 (NASB)
1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.
— Psalms 121

There are many more scriptures about His peace and His care for us.

2. Think about it - This may sound counter intuitive, but thinking about why we are feeling anxious, might help us to recognize the source or sources of the anxiety and lead us to ways of dealing with it. If I am anxious about an upcoming dental appointment, I usually find that I just need to not think about it until it happens. Life is busy enough I can do that, but if it is a more complex problem like just finding out you have cancer, then it might be better to process that with your spouse, pastor, friend or counselor. Talking about a difficulty can make it easier to bear and make you less anxious. I write, of course. I have journals filled with my anxious thoughts, my prayers to God and my gratitude for all He's done.

riding a bike

3. Get active - Sometimes when you are anxious, the last thing you want to do is do something, but activity can lessen anxiety. Gardening, taking a walk, doing the laundry, mopping the floor and going for a bike ride can all help clear your head and move your anxiety to a back burner. If you really want to blow that anxiety out of the water, put on some good music while you are mopping or baking and dance. Lift your hands up to the One who made you and who gives you the ability to breath and move.

Pixabay

Pixabay

4. Be thankful - Ann VosKamp's book 1000 Gifts is her discovery of the healing and worshipful effects of gratitude. 

And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.
— Ann VosKamp - One Thousand Gifts

5. Prayer - God's word tells us to "pray without ceasing." I find the more anxious I am the more I need to be in the posture of prayer. That doesn't mean I need to be face down on the floor, although I have assumed that position many times, but my heart and mind need to always be aware that He is near and I can talk to Him at any time. 

The most effective treatment of anxiety I have found is to not dwell there. It is a normal place to visit, as we are fallen humanity so in need of His grace and mercy, but He has provided a way to rise above this flesh we live in, we just have to work it out. Sometimes that means taking a walk, writing in a journal or talking to a friend. Sometimes that means going to a counselor or a clinician and getting medication to help slow that roaring motor inside of you down. If you are not sure how severe your anxiety is, please seek out a professional, either your family practitioner or a counselor as they are better able to determine your health needs. 

If you regularly deal with anxiety, leave me a comment and tell me how you try to curb that feeling in your life. I'd love to hear your input.

 

 

   

Get Out the Gardening Tools!

This month I have been talking about the idea of growth; growth in our faith, families, friendships and our diets. As we draw near to the end of the month I'd like to look at tools that we can use to help grow the gardens that we tend called life. When I decide to do some work in my flower beds I get out my gardening tools. I put on gloves, pull out my kneeling pad and gather my pocket pruners, trowel and cultivator. For bigger jobs I might need a shovel or a full sized rake. I pick the tools according to the job I am going to do. Our faith needs to be tended in the same way and we need to seek God's wisdom for the appropriate tools to bring growth in our lives. The following are just a few of the tools I use to grow my faith.

gardening

1. Bible study. In my belief system the Bible is God's written word to humanity. I go to His word to learn about His character and to read the history of the nation of Israel and the church. Often people are intimidated by the Bible saying it is too difficult to understand. Others believe the Bible to be full of contradictions and fairy tales. Still others feel that the "religion" that is based on Biblical belief to be harsh and legalistic. I feel that in order to have a better understanding of something or someone I must do research myself. If I want to cook, I don't just watch cooking shows. I have to actually buy the ingredients, get out the tools, mix it together, turn on the stove and put it in. Growth in any area requires a genuine interest in learning and having an open mind about the subject in question. When I go to God's word, I want to learn. I want to know Him more. I want to delve into His deeper layers. If I want to know more about my azalea bushes I need to read about them. If I want to help them to grow and flourish I will learn what is best for them. If I want to grow and flourish in my Christian faith, I go to the source. He knows what is best for me and He wants to see me flourish.

2. Other authors. There are many good authors who write about topics that can help us grow. Many of these authors have educational and experiential backgrounds that have given them knowledge of life and how to live it responsibly. They also have the Holy Spirit who has given them Godly wisdom and insight.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
— 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 (NASB)

Sometimes I will choose a book based on a study of the Bible such as Oswald Chambers' Our Ultimate Refuge: Job and the Problem of Suffering. Or I might choose a book based on the author's reputation for biblical teaching, like Ravi Zacharias' The Grand Weaver. I have also heard of books through my friends including One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. My other personal favorites include authors from years ago such as A.W. Tozer's The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience or Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray. Any of these books or other books by these authors and many others provide added wisdom and knowledge about God and the Christian life that will help us to grow.

3. Fellowship. Webster's dictionary defines fellowship as "a community of interest, activity, feeling or experience." My husband and I currently do not attend a church regularly. We had been regular attenders at a local evangelical church for many years. We enjoyed the community of people who had interests in faith like our own and we raised our girls within that community. Unfortunately last year we learned a devastating piece of news which caused us to leave that fellowship. Having been without regular interaction with others who share our faith we feel a sense of sorrow and loss that watching preachers on Youtube cannot fill. While we do intend to eventually find a fellowship again, this experience has caused me to realize just how important a community of believers is to the regular growth of our faith. We know that no fellowship where people are involved will be without difficulty, but community is what God desires for us as we walk in this world. We can learn from each other and we are also supposed to be there to help others in their pain and difficulties.

4. Circumstances. I shared with you earlier this month one of my own personal stories of growth. I believe that God uses the circumstances in our lives to mold us, teach us and help us to grow. That being said we do have a choice as to whether we do grow or not. God isn't going to force us. Part of growing is taking ownership, not only of my beliefs, but of my thoughts, actions and reactions to the circumstances I find myself in. I have found in my own life that obedience is key to growth. When I am struggling with something, say my relationship with my spouse and God shows me an area I need to bring under His authority, I pray that He will help me to make the better choice. When I do make that choice (and I don't always) then it seems as though God opens up a deeper layer of Himself to my spiritual understanding. Growth happens when the choice is made to obey what God is speaking into our lives at the moment. That doesn't mean you won't struggle with the same thing again tomorrow, but it does mean that today you made the choice to grow.

God is capable of causing us to grow in many ways and the ways I mentioned above are a few of the things He has used in my life to bring about growth in my faith. In the comments section below I would love to hear your stories of growth, or some of the tools God has used to bring growth to your garden.