Lessons from the Weak Side

Recently, Brad told me that every time he speaks with a friend, within moments the question comes up: “How is Brenda?” My short answer: God has been working remarkably in me. Thus, for those of you who need to get about other business today, feel free to carry on. 🙂
For those of you who want the longer answer, please feel free to linger a bit for God has, indeed, been working remarkably in me–both physically and spiritually. Physically, I sleep better, think clearer, and function at a higher lever than I have in four years! I have learned so much about the role of diet and herbal supplements than I could have ever imagined. I have also learned that healing takes time. Time to rest. Time to laugh. And time to wait on God.
True, God does heal instantly. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Yet at other times, God chooses to heal in a longer, more circuitous route. And upon this journey, I have learned so very many precious lessons.
As a matter of fact, while I spent time reading and meditating on Matthew 8 this morning, I couldn’t get over how many people Jesus instantly healed. My puzzled heart couldn’t help but inquire, “Why, Lord? Why did you heal all of these people immediately–from those who exhibited great faith to those who simply wanted health to get health? Why them, Lord, and not me? Did I do something wrong? Am I doing something wrong?”
And then I wrote this in my Bible: “Speak your truths across my heart, Lord, that I may hold them with conviction.”
In verse 17, Matthew quoted Isaiah the prophet as explanation into Christ’s workings, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” The word here for “illnesses” is the Greek word, astheneia, which means infirmity or weakness.
Weak and infirm. Yep. Sounds a lot like my life.
“So tell me again, Lord…why did you instantly take their infirmities–their weaknesses–and not mine?”
Well, guess who else besides Matthew liked to use this word?
Paul.
The difference is, however, that while Matthew used this word to describe the suffering of those whom Christ healed, Paul used this word to describe himself.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
“If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30).
Weak and infirm. But only physically.
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Christ’s power in man’s weakness.
God’s sufficient grace.
I can’t fully list each and every precious lesson today. I can only give you God’s perfect response to the questions of my slightly stinging heart: “Immediate health or deep and abiding lessons–would you trade?”
My answer: no.
“Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”            (2 Corinthians 12:10).

No God Like My God

As I continue to meander through the book of Psalms, the Lord continually blesses me with the timeliness of His Word.

“I shall remember [pay attention to] the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember [pay attention to] Thy wonders of old. I will meditate on [speak to myself of] all Thy work, and muse on [murmur to myself of] Thy deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God?” (Psalm 77:11-13).

These words spoke deeply to my heart this morning simply because they call me to think higher about my situation than I have been, or possibly have even wanted to.

Over the past month plus, I have experienced what seems like a relapse within a relapse. My primary ME/CFS relapse began this past January, but I had made strides–in a rather up-and-down fashion, but strides nonetheless–back to health. Toward the end of October, however, I underwent a setback and, although I’ve had little blips of soundness, I’ve essentially had a grueling battle on my hands ever since. Loads of sleep, or just resting. Very minimal walking. Incoherent thoughts. Inability to write. In short, coping.

When I spend my life in “cope mode,” I have relatively little capacity to do more than exist and tend to my basic needs. Yet as I read these verses this morning, I knew that God was stimulating me to focus and raise my eyes to “the hills, from whence my help comes.”

Today–even if but for a few moments–I needed to remember God’s goodness to me. His faithfulness. His lovingkindness. His compassion.

My life–my very breath–relies on His possession of these qualities. My heart and my faith cry out for this truth. I desperately need for Him to be a God of such character. For if He is so, I can rest in whatever plan He holds for my life.

When Moses asked God to reveal His glory, God concurred. And as He did so, He proclaimed His character:

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6b-7a).

My God, the One who is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” pronounced Himself to be compassionate and gracious, so He remains. Slow to anger? Even still. Abounding in lovingkindness and truth? Absolutely. Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin? Without a doubt.

If the character of my God is thus, how can I not trust His heart toward me–regardless of the path He leads me down?

Verse 13 of Psalm 77 reminds me that God’s way is holy. Sacred. Set apart. Therefore, although my path may seem a wasteland, wallowing in a state of neglect, God’s Word informs me that this simply cannot be true. If I walk on this path with my God, then I tread on holy ground.

God does not see this time as wasteful, He sees it as sacred.

I rest in the presence of a truly great God.

“For the sake of Thy word, and according to Thine own heart, Thou hast done all this greatness to let Thy servant know. For this reason Thou art great, O Lord God; for there is none like Thee, and there is no God besides Thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (2 Samuel 7:21-22).

A Blessed Thanksgiving to You

With Thanksgiving Day ever so quickly approaching, I wanted to pause and wish you all the very blessed of Thanksgivings.

Aromas of baked pies fill every crevice our home affords, while laughter fills hearts, and gratitude our souls.

Our darling daughter has returned to the fold for a few quick days, so our home-heart brims to overflowing with the sweetness her presence brings. My husband returns from the church early and pitches in on all the cooking prep work, laughingly exchanging discourse with his beloveds, yet frowning disconcertingly when his lemon curd filling flops. Even my son considers his opportunities to serve or to simply share in the free-flowing interchanges. My heart joyfully enlarges to encompass the completeness of our little family circle.

Even I pitch in. Toasting gluten-free bread slices for our stuffing. Simmering cranberries. Assisting Josh with pre-baking the sweet potatoes and Amanda with the pies. Then I rest. Every action still costs me something, and I measure them cautiously.

Tomorrow will bring about the bustle of preparing a full turkey meal and our tiny clan will expand to include friends, who will become our honorary family members. For the truth remains that a family is simply what you make it to be.

You may be wondering how we will manage to host a Thanksgiving dinner with my health as such. It’s simple really. Anyone in my home for a holiday becomes family, and if you get tired when your family comes around, you just go lay down. Family works like that.

My wish for you, my friend, is that as you busily prepare for your holiday, you will find time to pause and consider all the Lord has given unto you. Enjoy life’s biggest blessings, treasure its smallest, and consider God’s lovingkindness in your heart.

Have a truly Blessed Thanksgiving. -brenda-

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindess is everlasting.” Psalm 136:1

What He Has Done for My Soul

Josh came bounding into the room. “What are you reading, Mom?

“I’m intrigued by Psalm 66.”

“Why?

Why, indeed.

First of all, you should probably understand that I don’t have a Read-Thru-The-Bible plan. I simply read until I feel God’s Spirit has supplied my daily bread. I find this approach richly satisfying as His Word nestles in and makes itself at home in my heart and mind, stirring me to meditate and absorb until my spirit is assuaged.

Two days ago Psalm 66 penetrated my rather foggy mind and set my brain awhirl.

In my Bible, each psalm has a brief descriptive phrase serving as an introduction. Under the words Psalm 66, it states Remember What God Has Done. Expecting a psalm of praise, therefore, I am not disappointed. For the first nine verses, words of adulation and tribute positively dance across the page, concurrently lifting both my mind and morale. My heart soars.

But then verse 10 strikes. What is this?

“For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou has refined us as silver is refined.”

Verses 11-12 continue to fine-tune the process by which the Lord allows and ordains His servant to be refined. And it’s not a pretty sight. “Brought into the net…an oppressive burden upon our loins…men ride over our heads…through fire and through water.” Yikes. None of this sounds at all pleasant.

And verse 12 concludes:

“Yet Thou didst bring us out into a place of abundance.”

Isn’t that neat? God tries the hearts of His children, but after He has accomplished His refining process, He brings each of His beloveds into a place of abundance. Essentially, after miles across the desert, He shepherds His children to an oasis, where the water runs flowingly and the spirit draws refreshment. Abundance.

The psalmist then expounds for three verses in his song of praise of how he longs to sacrifice to God. Burnt offerings of fat beasts. The finest of his flock, reserved and set apart for God.

But all of this simply leads us to the verse that intrigued me so deeply that day.

“Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell you of what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16

Sweetness! My God, who possesses unbounded love for each one of His creation, does what He does–allows what He allows–for the welfare of my soul. My soul matters infinitely more to Him than does my temporal well-being. My soul compels His inclination, His conviction and His action. My soul. His lovingkindess.

I am humbled.

“Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His lovingkindess from me.” Psalm 66:20

How to Make God Chuckle

A little boy walks up to his mom and disgustedly announces, “I will never marry any stupid ole’ girl!” Suppressing her smile, the mom inquires, “Well, who are you going to marry?” “Awww. Doncha know, Mom? I’m going to marry you!”

You know why we find this amusing, don’t you? Because we sense that this son feels safe in his mom’s love, we also sense that he will indubitably grow up and marry a lovely young lady of his own. While his mom, with all her good-humor, realizes that, in spite of his determination to the contrary, her son would, in all likelihood, marry one of those abhorrent creatures called a girl.

But I think we also find this amusing because we see a touch of ourselves in the scenario. We petulantly cross our arms over our chest and tell our Father-God what we will not–never-ever, under any circumstances–do. I know. I have a list.

I will never live in a city. I made this at some indiscriminate time in my youth. Perhaps, as a rural girl, the thoughts of city life was intimidating. Not only did I go live with an aunt in a suburb of Chicago shortly after high school, but I have made my home in one of our nation’s largest cities since 1986. “Now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired,” (1 Corinthians 12:18).

I will never go to India. In my early career years, I worked under the supervision of a derisive Indian man. Unimpressed with how this man treated the women who surrounded him, I made my vow. Although I have yet to make my trip, God has graciously given me precious Indian friends, and I would welcome any opportunity to visit their homeland. “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations,” (Psalm 57:9).

I will never get married. Having never had the example of a godly marriage set before my eyes, I determined that it would be better to just stay single rather than face the hardship of a horrendous marriage. Not fully comprehending the joy that I was missing, I decided that being a single missionary was more my cup of tea However, after almost twenty-six years of a near-blissful union, I would venture to say the nail’s been hammered in the coffin of that attestation. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” (Ephesians 5:31).

I will never have children. You would think that after marrying the man of my dreams, I would wholeheartedly welcome the idea of having babies with him. Nope. I was frightened. Knowing that abuse tends to beget abuse, I was afraid that I would perpetuate the chain with my own children, and I would rather go without than bear that horrific burden. Thankfully, God understood my fear and tended my heart, so that by the time I read the results from that little at-home test I was truly thrilled to await God’s tiny gift of wonder. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” (Psalm 127:3).

I will never homeschool. I’m pretty sure I thought homeschooling was a little too “fringe” for me. I preferred to become obscured by normalcy rather than be one of those “weirdos.” When it became apparent, however, that our daughter needed assistance that could only come from someone lovingly committed to her, God brought my heart to be “all in.” I soon discovered an unexpected blessing, which I would not change for the whole world. I also found another way to honor God. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).

I will never have a cat. I simply have no explanation for this. I didn’t want one. Our neighbor offered our kids a free one. I acquiesced. Story over. “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good, (Genesis 1:31a).

What may seem like a list of “nevers” is more accurately a record of my fears, willfulness and immaturity. Meanwhile, I thought I was being confident, mature and self-assured! Over the years, God has honed me, and I am very loathe to make a “never” statement. (I hate to eat my words!) It’s also an account of God’s graciousness toward me. Like a loving Father, He, no doubt, had to stifle His own little chuckle over my vehement assertions. But also, like a loving Father, He reached past my willfulness, taught me His truths, and helped me grow past my need to predetermine my own parameters. And I’m one thankful cookie.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Wrestle Not

When I was growing up, Iowa was a wrestling powerhouse. Dan Gable was reigning supreme over his dominant University of Iowa wrestling program, and boys from every nook and cranny across her sun-swept farmland fought wholeheartedly to earn the right to go to the State Tournament, which my brother did.

In my small town, wrestling meets packed the venue in a way which rivaled the all-American football game. And despising the role of cheerleader, I gained the coveted position of Mat Maid, which earned me access to all practices and meets, both at home and away. I saw many a match, and loved every one of them.

In spite of all the action I was able to witness, there were many a thing which I did not see. For example, I never saw a a wrestler in the 185 lb. division throw-down on a poor kid in the 98 lb. division. Everyone, to a man, grappled only his assigned opponent. In addition, I never saw a wrestling match take place off the mat. This competition was always conducted openly out on the mat. Finally, I never saw a match occur without a referee, who saw that both combatants, and their coaches, abided by each and every rule, wrestling fairly.

Not only that, but, with the exception of the occasional troublemaker, the spectators never encouraged behavior outside of that which was sanctioned.

That’s simply how the sport was honored…no bones about it.

Interestingly enough, the Bible uses wrestling as the sport to which we need to compare our behavior when we are at odds, or in “war mode.”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:10-12

I cannot even begin to tell you the freedom these verses have brought me over the years!

First and foremost, verse 12 tells me the “who” and the “why” and everything else fills in the blanks. That little word “for” starts the whole explanation: I wrestle not against flesh and blood. I don’t wrestle other humans! My opponent is clearly defined: I wrestle against the dark forces of this world. I do not behave honorably in any way at all when I start taking out my aggression on any of God’s precious children.

You don’t know how many times the reminder of this verse has bailed out my bacon! Sister So-and-So says something that riles me wrong. Not my problem. She’s not my enemy. Brother So-and-So says things about me that aren’t accurate. Not my problem. He’s not my enemy. I have only ONE enemy, and a fellow brother or sister in Christ is not it. From the moment this verse reaches my recollection, my freedom comes sweeping through my heart, chasing all bitterness aside.

Furthermore, my struggle takes place in the heavenlies…not on an earthly realm. If I would put as much effort into my prayers as I do in my feelings, I would indeed be more than a conqueror. Sadly, I can’t even begin to tell you how often I have spent vain emotion on things and people rather than on combating my true enemy in the only way that will truly and eternally succeed: on my knees. And then, of course, my actions follow those emotions, and I behave in a way that brings dishonor to my Lord and Savior.  (Shame on me when I do that!)

Finally, it’s imperative that I acknowledge my need for the strength of the Lord–for the might that only comes from Him. I generally only do that when I recognize that my battle is not of this world and not with those of this world. When I think it is, I just go get it done myself. (Bad idea, by the way.) But when I stop and become aware of eternal spiritual truths, then I can rest in God’s covering and, ultimately, in His government of the whole affair. He will hold each person accountable for his actions–I don’t have to–and He will cover me as long as I walk in His truth and stop trying to beat up His other children, which He frowns on.

And as a bonus feature, let me tell you one last thing. If, in the process of working things out, you happen to mention your little pickle to someone who encourages you to behave in even the smallest way outside of the parameters set by God in His word (i.e. gossip, responding in kind, getting what you deserve regardless), then that person is one of those “occasional troublemakers” I mentioned earlier. They are not behaving as one of that “great crowd of witnesses,” they are acting as agents for the enemy. Kindly disregard their input and get out of their presence lickity-split. Take your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, and even tell yourself to “knock it off” if you have to. But, whatever you do, make sure you live and think in a way that is for Christ’s glory and not your own.

Living for Jesus in a way that brings Him glory is a battle. The question you have to ask yourself, though, is do you want to be an athlete training for a prize or the neighborhood thug? A ranked wrestler would never risk his goal by underhanded means. Fight your true opponent. Wrestle only in the arena. Trust God to stand as the Judge of all. Bring God glory.

“O give us help against the adversary, for deliverance by man is in vain. Through God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our adversaries.” Psalm 60:11-12

God’s Magnificent Revolving Door of Peace

We live in a society that is often compared to a hamster wheel. Everybody’s running on that thing and getting nowhere. Even after expending tons of precious energy, a person is left stuck in a cage, absolutely spent.

I don’t live that way. Not because I wouldn’t if I could, but because frantic racing is a bit beyond a woman who spends eleven hours a night in bed, and nine or ten hours the following day resting in a recliner or a comfy chair. Nope. Borderline impossible.

That said, however, the hamster-wheel pace can be just as frenetically lived out by the sedentary as well as the active if their hearts are unsettled. Even a health-inhibited inactive person, who allows anxiety to exercise dominion over peace, can have a life every bit as frantic as her healthy, energetic neighbor. (And that stress? Boy, that’ll do you in every time!) Likewise, an active go-getter, who keeps her eyes fixed on Jesus, can live an extremely peaceful existence.

The true difference is not the outward activity, it’s the inward heart. And, great gravy!, I have certainly had my experiences of wrestling with the tortures of a worried heart! I shudder to think of my attitude then, but when I had my initial onset of ME/CFS, I certainly got perturbed. (When I had enough energy to accomplish this feat!) I struggled to believe that I, who obviously had so much to offer my little world, would be rendered so incapacitated!

Over the years, however, I have learned what it means to “keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I have found that if I stay my course, I am more victorious in my littleness than I would have been had God allowed me to continue in my large-lived willfulness.

And do you know what else I have found? I have found peace, not as the world filled with all sorts of medical knowledge has to offer, but a peace that causes my heart to not be troubled nor fearful. (See John 14:27.) A peace based on the understanding that God, whose very character is lovingkindess and compassion, cares tenderly about every aspect of my life. And how sweet is the peace that is based on the goodness of the Lord.

Oh, sure, the enemy likes to come along and rock my boat. At the beginning I chased doctor after doctor to no avail…especially as medical research has yet to offer hope to the ME/CFS patient. It was at that point that I determined to not be as the lady with the “issue of blood” (Matthew 9:20), who had spent all her money on doctors, yet still was unwell and unclean. I wanted to be as she was in the story when she desperately reached out to Jesus in faith. I realized that God, who knew all my struggles, would meet me and minister to me simply because I was His darling daughter. I chose to allow Him to work out His perfect plan in me regardless of the cost to my health, my pride, or my acceptance by society. This became my free-will offering.

Even a month ago, when I went to the doctors for the first time in years to check some new symptoms, that niggling fear came back. Was I doing everything I ought? Was this disease, indeed, to be taken as lightly as they presumed? Where should I go next? What should I do? Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn’t just fear but anger. And both needed to be dealt with. Anger and fear left free to roam in a Christian’s mind will be her undoing. Never, ever doubt that!

So I remembered what my training had instilled in me: put to death the fleshly attitude, stop being intimidated by the waves, and focus back on the compassionate and victorious face of my King and Savior, Jesus.

And do you know what happened next? The voice of the enemy stammered and stuttered! Where was his confident mocking and jeering? Although my circumstances hadn’t discernable changed, I wasn’t the one vanquished! As a matter of fact, because my heart and hand was wholly entrusted to Jesus, I was the one who was “more than a conqueror!” In that moment, I knew that my small action of trust had brought true delight to my eternal Beloved. Though I didn’t see it with my outward eyes, my heart knows He smiled. 🙂

This is where my revolving door analogy comes in (since you were probably wondering!). Every time I stay my course and simply push through, I am compelled from peace to victory to delighting God’s heart, which brings me back to peace again. Then, of course, I go on to victory to delighting God’s heart. And my joyful little world revolves around His anchoring of my life.

Some may think my life looks like little more than that of a hamster: a small life existing in a small world, with nothing more than a wheel to keep me occupied. If I believed that, I would perish. However, each opening in my revolving door offers an exceedingly more stunning view of God’s grace, mercy and faithfulness. Every vista that befalls my eyes is more gorgeous than the one before. A life filled with such serene beauty towers above that hamster wheel of frantic activity. Such a breathtaking panorama can only result from God’s magnificent revolving door of peace.

“By this I know that Thou art pleased with me, because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me.” Psalm 41:11