My Quiet Place of Strength

In God’s hand, a yielded weakness has greater power than an unyielded strength.

Because of my daily struggle with ME/CFS, I often live out my life in baby steps. Take tonight’s taco dinner, for example. Yesterday I browned and spiced the meat. This afternoon I prepped the cauliflower to steam for my “rice”. Finally this evening, I will pull it all together to serve buffet-style as a tasty meal for my family. (And they will do the dishes. Bonus!)

Managing a lifestyle around a frequently debilitating health issue requires loads of thought and planning. Absolutely everything I do comes with a trade-off. If I do “A” I cannot count on doing “B”. My life gets plotted and lived out in segments of days rather than just today. What I hope to accomplish tomorrow must get accounted for in today’s activity as well as the day following.

Can you imagine how discouraging and small my life must seem at times?

I’ve thought about this several times lately as our home has become a bedlam of activity. First came the demanding renovations, followed this past week by the stop-everything-and-pick-up-the-house-and-quickly-vacate mode of open houses and private showings, all while tackling some packing.

Or rather…Brad tackles the packing.

I rest and regenerate between activities.

We’ve discussed this–my beloved and I.

God has given to each of us our strengths and weaknesses–and then He paired us with each other in the most wonderful and remarkable of ways. My husband, thankfully, just happens to have enough energy for the both of us–God’s gift to him (and me!).

The odd thing about strengths and weakness and human behavior is that we tend to do one of two things: 1) evaluate others on their strengths while we evaluate ourselves on our weaknesses, or 2) the other way around.

I tend to view my husband through his assets (probably best for the marriage that way!). I see the energy he brings into the required busyness of renovating, selling and packing a home. And then I see myself on my comfy brown couch. He hustles and bustles. I sit. He takes care of business. I lounge.

Quite the discouraging disparity, don’t you think?

Well, I suppose it would be if God didn’t have a say in the whole thing.

But His word speaks. And, boy!, did it encourage my heart this morning! “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning (repentance) and rest you shall be saved (delivered, set free!); in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘” (Isaiah 30:15a).

God has greatly used ME/CFS to cause me to “walk humbly before my God.” I literally can place “no confidence in the flesh.” After years of striving against what was happening to my body, I have learned to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, follow Him in quiet trust and rest in His plan to set me free (either on earth or in heaven–she said with a grin!).

This is my “in the pocket” place.

This quiet nook of a restful, trusting heart is my strength–God’s gift to me.

“I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only” (Psalm 71:16).

A Valentine’s Day Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Brenda,

It’s me–a much older you. And today is Valentine’s Day.

Your beloved Bradley has spent the morning and some of the afternoon on this holiday of romance cleaning the pool, fixing some electrical boxes, and other odd jobs around the house.

And you’re okay with that.

As a matter of fact, you don’t feel slighted at all.

For after 28 years of marriage, you’ve learned a few things about true love.

I know that right now you feel a bit disappointed if he doesn’t make you “feel special” on certain holidays. (Remember that birthday when he had to work and you stayed home and did laundry–and cried because it didn’t “feel” very birthday-like at all?) You’re over that.

Today won’t have cards.

Or chocolate.

Or jewelry.

Or a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

Today–a Saturday–will have chores (you did laundry), perhaps a little relaxing conversation later (after he finishes preparing for a memorial service he’s officiating on Monday), followed by a Valentine’s Banquet at church. (I know you think those aren’t “very romantic” right now–but you’ll get over that, too.)

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

You and Bradley have walked through a lot in 28 years. As a matter of fact, you’ve covered the downside of the wedding vows.

“…for worse…”

“…for poorer…”

“…in sickness…”

You even walked victoriously in Christ through the temptation of “…forsaking all others…

And, boy, have you learned.

Well, first you have learned that you didn’t have a clue when you stood before God and witnesses and uttered those words. In vain, did you think that those times wouldn’t–couldn’t–enter such a love story as yours. Surely you thought your marriage would consist of all the betters and richers and in-healths that a true romance could hold! (By the way, you may want to focus on understanding the true love found in God’s Word more than watching the fake romances playing out in movies. Just a hint.)

But certainly you have learned that the richest part of your lives and marriage has come simply because you did walk through those rough times.

You’ve learned that “worse” is only as bad as an un-Christlike attitude.

You’ve learned that “poor” is only a condition relative to an ideal.

You’ve learned that “in sickness” allows God to humble you so that you can give as well as receive love with joy.

And you’ve learned that fidelity is a godly choice that you get to make–and that sin doesn’t lie in the temptation, but in the choosing of sin. (And you don’t.)

So don’t get discouraged or disappointed, dear one, if certain holidays don’t “feel special.” Or if Bradley happens to let you down in that area. (After all, he is an imperfect man, o imperfect woman.) Focus instead on learning to serve him with joy. Don’t examine too closely the things he does or doesn’t do. For in reality, the greatest joy in your married heart will result from spending your days (all of them, not just certain holidays) considering and acting on how to serve as a blessing to him–your very, very beloved Bradley. Your true love.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant aroma and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Puttin’ On Some Attitude

I’m just going to come out and state it boldly: I can’t choose my health, but I CAN choose my attitude!

Now, I know people who are going to say, “Oh, yes, you can choose your health!” (I can hear you already!) So let me clarify: I can make choices about my health, but ultimately I cannot make myself well. If praying for God to heal my ME/CFS and making lifestyle choices would do it, I would have this thing nailed! I haven’t been able to accomplish this feat because God is the one who maintains ultimate control of this tool He is using to mold and modify my life and heart.

My attitude, however, is another story altogether! I can choose gratitude. I can choose love. I can choose joy. I can choose all kinds of wonderful things. I get that choice! On the other hand–should I prefer, I could choose entitlement, unforgiving, crankiness, or a whole host of not so pleasant attitudes. I still get that choice.

A tactic that the enemy of our souls likes to employ is to strip us of our choices. If he can rob us of our understanding of this, he can keep us spiritually depleted. If he can keep us depleted, he can keep us defeated. We will cease to walk in all who God is creating us to become…which He intends, by the way, to far surpass any current situation.

In light of this, what attitudes do I want to choose to put on then? While the ugly ones have a pesky way of sneaking into my life, I much prefer the attitudes that make me look like Jesus, of course!

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-15).

God’s Face -> Cutthroat Decisions

“In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy [age 16], [Josiah] began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images” (2 Chronicles 34:3).

To my never-ending delight, I get to enjoy the role of mother to two pretty nifty young adult children. And much like young king Josiah, they have faced the challenge of growing up in about as un-Christlike a culture as you can find. Whereas Josiah’s father, Amon, endorsed that culture by choosing to do “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 33:22a), my husband and I have tried our level best to choose, and to encourage our children’s choosing, of God’s highest–even in the small, unseen places which don’t play out on the big-screen of life.

Thus our little family has marched on, trying to evaluate our choices in light of God’s Word with a longing to stay sensitive to His Spirit’s direction. To the encouragement and conviction of some, and to the amusement and bewilderment of most, we don’t watch certain TV shows, go to certain movies, indulge in certain video games, nor read certain books. We don’t judge others, we simply try to judge our actions through God’s eyes. Imperfectly? You bet! But we’re in there swinging!

It should come as no surprise, then, when either of our thought-filled children come to us to talk about past choices–to wonder if they missed the boat in regards to the pleasures and delights this life has to offer. Or to ponder future choices–to consider what those will cost in light of past decisions. As many of their friends embrace all the cultural options available to even Christian youth, my children cannot help but speculate on what they might have lost out on, and will they continue to “miss out” if they maintain their trajectory.

The answer is yes. They have missed out on what our culture has to offer, and, yes, they will keep missing out if they stay their course.

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Christians who love Jesus and determine to seek His ways do NOT get to play both sides. We cannot serve God and indulge our flesh. We do not get to explore all the allures of our culture and maintain spiritual purity. We cannot sate our soul with societal pleasure and the fulfilling joy of the Lord.

And wise parents won’t allow their children to believe they can.

Furthermore, wise Christian parents will train their children when they are young to seek God’s face and act on God’s guidance.

You will note that as King Josiah sought the God of his father, he felt compelled to take action and purge his kingdom of the things which provoked those around him to serve their cultural gods. He didn’t just not participate–he went on a seek and destroy mission!

Seeking God will do that in a person, for to truly encounter God’s face will result in decisive cutthroat action. As a matter of fact, if we don’t find ourselves tearing down cultural idols in our lives, perhaps we should wonder if we’re really seeking God’s face.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

The Who of the What and the Where

I know. I know. I’ve been sadly MIA. My humblest apologies. I’ve been facing the end of the school-year “stuff” of a homeschooling mom, my daughter graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta (Road trip!), and we’ve had a church intern move in for the summer (with another one moving in today for a few days). So when I’m not trying to tackle all of these issues, my ME/CFS drives me to bed. I think I’ve spent the past month either rising up to face each event by God’s grace or down for the count, with nothing in between…and definitely no energy combined with coherent thought left to enable me to write. But that does not mean that I haven’t been thinking!

Actually, now that Amanda has graduated and has started to put plans in motion, one subject has arisen which (I think) bears commenting on. You see, she’s been out there hustling: putting in applications, interviewing, volunteering at the church, and applying for community college. (Plus, she helps around the house, adding her simple and sweet touches everywhere.)

As she steps away from her college routine (which she loved!) and returns to her home, she has to keep in mind that, as a Christian, she does not go backward. Although she has come home, God still calls her forward, which means He has a next step–a next purpose–for her life. She moves onward.

But to where?

And how does she know?

Hard questions? Sure. But I can’t help but remember a quote I heard years ago: “It’s easier to steer a moving car.” So, with encouragement and exhortations from her dad and me, off she goes. Applying on-line or in store. Making the rounds. And, without a doubt, praying.

Although her next job will indubitably fall in the entry-level, get-me-through-college, whatever-it-takes-to-pay-the-bills category, God does not treat it as something He will discount. He has a plan and a purpose for this next phase of her life, just as surely as He had a plan and purpose for her years in bible college.

But God’s plans and purposes quite often differ from our own. We tend to think of where and what when it comes to jobs, while He always considers the who, as in, “Who will be your future co-workers?” “Who will need the unique testimony and witness that you alone bring?” “Who needs your distinct light?”

God did not send His one and only Son for whats and wheres; He sent His one and only Son for each of the “whosevers” flooding your life. The lost sheep. The one.

And so we pray, not for God to place Amanda at a where doing a what, but that God would place her in the life of a who…a very special who, whom God loves very much.

“For the Son of man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish”  (Matthew 18:11-14).

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What God Came to See

Like all normal parents, I suppose, I relish the joy of watching my child succeed in any venture. When she was in high school, I loved watching my daughter dance or act or sing. I delighted in hearing the applause and accolades just for her. As for my son, I savor each hoot and holler when he triumphs in a sports endeavor–of which there were many in football. This baseball season–not so much.

Nope. From that point of view, his baseball season has been painful. While praising our son on one hand, his coach rarely puts him in a game, which has served as a point of confusion to us all–especially since he’s a good ball player. And I’m not sure it helps too much when other parents come to us and voice their own confusion. While it does comfort us to know we’re not just imagining a skill level he doesn’t possess, it also kind of just “bums us out.”

And I know, that as parents, we do not stand alone in this.

Many parents have walked this path before or alongside us–and many will walk it after.

Yesterday I was able to go watch my son’s baseball game. (For those of you who know me, or who follow my blog, you know this does not come easy.) While I did, indeed, watch his game, I did not for one moment watch my son play. Drained from the exertion it took to go to the game, I immediately went to wait in our car as soon as it ended.

Expecting a disheartened baseball player to slip into the back seat (especially since we gave up four runs in one inning and lost the game), I was surprised when a joyful son took his place instead, immediately inquiring as to my health with his very first words. As a matter of fact, the three of us chatted and goofed around all the way home, simply enjoying the day together.

But yet I could not help those feelings of hurt from arising–all the wonderings of why coach continually excluded my son from playing. Although I have told myself–and others–time and again, “It’s okay; I’m not raising a high school baseball player, I’m raising a man of God,” I could not suppress those disconsolate emotions from raising their ugly little heads.

I finally reached a conclusion: one month–just one more month of baseball. I can do that. Just one more month.

How self-defeating is that?

Then this morning, God spoke a new understanding into my heart. A joyful, illuminated understanding! One I can’t wait to share with you, because if you haven’t felt this as a parent–if you desire God’s highest character in your child–you will.

The greatest thing my son has to offer his team is NOT his bat or his glove–it’s his character. Yet godly character does not prove itself when things are hunky-dory. Godly character proves itself when life doesn’t go as planned–when it’s painful, when you’re getting your nose rubbed in the dirt. Those situations serve God’s greater plan–the witness and testimony that support the words of a Christian. Even a teenaged Christian.

A current statistic says that 70% of teenagers raised in church will walk away from their faith once they graduate from high school. (For a great blog on this, read http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/ .) Think about that. Look at your youth group, Christian high school, or, in this case, Christian baseball team, and calculate how many of those teenagers will still serve Christ a year from now–or two–or…

With this in mind, I see that that the truest gift my son can give his team is the way he lives out his faith when the cards aren’t dealt his way. His attitude when coach doesn’t call his name. His encouragement for his teammates when they get to go do what he deeply longs to do.

Learning that God is still good and still God despite painful circumstances stands strong as a lesson one can never embrace early enough. Likewise, choosing a God-honoring attitude–not a self-indulgent one–brings a far greater joy to God’s heart than all the playing time in the world.

So, what do you think God (his heavenly Father, the same One who said, “I will never leave you”) came to see at my son’s game yesterday? I now know, He came to see a living testimony. While all the parents watched to see a son on the field, He came to see eternity taking root in a young man’s heart.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (I Samuel 16:7).

A Helpmate Suitable

For years I struggled with my ability to uphold the image of the “perfect wife.” Childhood abuse, the death of my mother, and my dad kicking me out at seventeen had all led me to stagger under the load of seeking perfection. Unattainable though it may have been, I could not relent on that inner desire to achieve this idealistic vision of myself. So I did what any other red-blooded, American woman would do; I bought magazines.

There on those fanciful, glossy pages I found tips to improve everything! Better organizing skills. Better decorating plans. Better housework tips. Better me. Which all boiled down to one thing: I obviously needed improvement. So I tried harder. Failed bigger. Despaired greater.

Stop.

Gasp for air.

Repeat cycle.

One day, though, God sent me the most lovely gift, wrapped up in Scripture, and simply waiting for me to open its life-giving freedom: the story of God’s creation of woman:

I love the Old King James' wording best: "a helpmate suitable."

I love this phrasing best: “a helpmate suitable.”

I love picturing those precious Bible stories, watching as the details come alive in my mind. In this story, I can absolutely “see” Adam spending wonderful time with His Creator and God. Their playful interchange as Adam views an ostrich or camel for the first time, or perhaps Adam’s awe when he meets a lion or elephant face to face. Possibly a dejected look crosses his face as he realizes that God had created each animal both male and female, yet for him…no, he had not female. He was simply man. Alone.

Then I see my God, already understanding that Adam desperately would need his female–his “like,” gaze lovingly and thoughtfully into Adam’s eyes, reassuring him that this need had not gone unnoticed. Out of all creation, God had already conceived in His mind how He would fashion a “helpmate suitable” just for Adam.

“A helpmate suitable.”

Just for Adam.

The loving reality of this idea struck out across my brain and penetrated deeply into my heart. God loved my husband as dearly as He loved Adam. In His love, God had given me to Bradley as assuredly as He had given Eve to Adam. All I had to be–ever again–was “a helpmate suitable” for my beloved! His match. His completion. His wife.

Breathing new life into my hungry, wifely soul, this truth rumbled straight across my being, leaving its freedom positively dancing across the landscape of my life. No more did I need to strive to be the perfect wife for every man; I only needed to be the perfect wife for MY man! The helpmate suitable for his needs, his personality, his design.

Out went the overexertion and despair. In came the joy and freedom.

Bradley’s wife. His companion. His “helpmate suitable.”

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32).