Stand up, let go, move on… Look Up

We all have those memories of regret. You know, the ones where we wish we could go back and change something we’d done. One of mine happened when I was in fifth grade. I’m still not even sure why I did it. Peer pressure. Trying to be cool. Just acting a fool and not thinking. Whatever the reason, I made up a short poem about one of my teachers–one of my favorite teachers. It was a cruel poem, a hurtful poem.

And he overheard it. I will never forget how he looked at me when he took me aside to talk about what I said. I knew he was hurt, and yet he made it a lesson. And it was one I will always, always remember because he didn’t deserve the unkindness I’d shown. Later I would learn that it didn’t really matter if the person deserves an unkindness or not. Pettiness, cruelty and ugly words are never okay.

Recently the hubby and I started watching a PBS series called, My Mother and Other Strangers. It’s set during World War II in a small town in Northern Ireland where the Coyne family and their neighbors try to come to grips with Americans who are stationed nearby.

One of the episodes this weekend centered around the trial of one of the Hanlon boys, a family well known to the townsfolk as troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells. At the start, the Hanlons are out fishing for eels on the lough. The problem is, it’s illegal for the villagers to fish for eel because a large corporation has exclusive rights to them. When the law stops them, one of the Hanlons punches the constable… and hence a trial ensues.

But Mistress Coyne (the mother from the series’ title) is an Englishwoman, and she’s recently read a book about how the right to fish eels was stolen from the local Irish fishermen. So, during the trial, despite her own previous run-in with the Hanlons, including one in which she pulled a gun on them, she feels the need to stand up on their behalf. Though she’s threatened with jail time and contempt, she successfully convinces the court to let her speak, and she gives an impassioned plea for the fishermen.

The Hanlon boy is convicted, despite Mistress Coyne’s speech, but she does move the court to reduce the sentence so that he doesn’t serve jail time. All of the men are jubilant, shouting thanks to Mistress Coyne. But when the elder Hanlon approaches her, she scolds him. She tells him that she spoke up not for his son but for all of the fishermen. And she says that she knows his son was, in fact, guilty of the charge of striking the constable, but that what she did was for justice and not for the Hanlons.

Philippians 4_13

God’s timing never ceases to amaze me. I needed to see this episode. I needed to remember that sometimes, standing up is more than any one person or any one thing. To put it more simply, “Do what is right, because it is right,” which is a line from another favorite movie of ours.

This past week, I stood up. I spoke out against an incident that I can only describe as bullying. And I didn’t do it because the victim was right. Whether she was or wasn’t really didn’t matter. Ganging up on a person, especially when she can’t offer a defense, is wrong. It’s easy to wrap ourselves in faux virtue and say that a person deserves what she gets. It’s hard to offer a defense for someone when you know she’s in the wrong.

My actions last week cost me some things. But I realized the next day that it had only cost me a little bit. I gained a lot more. I recognized something about myself and my circumstances.

That sometimes, the best thing to do is to walk away.

That walking away doesn’t make me weak and doesn’t make me a coward.

That it doesn’t mean I’m not cut out for greater things.

That, in fact, the exact opposite is true. I am cut out for greater things. Because God never closes one door without one day opening another.

Matthew 10_14

This week, the hubby and I will sell our current home and close on the purchase of a new one. When we moved here almost ten years ago, this was supposed to be our “forever” home. He was retiring, and we were looking for our little spot of paradise to enjoy. A few years ago, everything changed for us. We stood up for something we firmly believed was just. And there were costs.

We were sued.

We lost friends.

We lost my husband’s right to enjoy something he loves.

But God works best in those moments.

As Ann Voskamp describes in her book, The Broken Way, “Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart is broken open.” Through this experience, my husband and I have grown in our marriage. We’ve grown in our relationship with the Lord. And I’ve also, in part because of this, discovered a calling on my heart for sharing my faith journey with others.

Matthew 10_14 (1)

As I was packing this weekend, I came across two notes from the priest who was the pastor of my church as a child. The first was written when I was just a little girl, when he responded to a letter I’d sent him. I was upset about a friend who lived down the street from me. She was a wild child, always getting into trouble and sometimes trying to get everyone else into it, too. The other girls in our neighborhood didn’t want to play with her. They didn’t like her and made fun of her. I was torn about what to do. Father reminded me to be like Jesus and to treat everyone with kindness. He reminded me to do the right thing.

The second note was a thank-you from him, written just last Christmas. I’d sent him a gift and told him about my fond memory of his guidance so many years ago. He told me that he’d used that gift as the centerpiece for his Christmas mass, to remind his parish to be more like Christ.

Do you see? Nothing is wasted with God. Everything has a time and a purpose and all of those are magnified through Him.

Sometimes we must stand up.

Sometimes we must let go.

And sometimes we must move on.

And always we must look to Him who provides and will multiply everything to His greatness.

Isaiah 40_26 (1)

Love and blessings,

Olivia

Advertisements

The Master Planner

Depositphotos_181440864_original (1).jpg

You know, we humans are a funny bunch, aren’t we?

Think for a moment, if you will, about the things that we as believers trust to God. We trust Him with our families. We trust Him with our daily safety and well-being. We trust Him with the salvation of our very souls.

And yet . . . how many of us trust Him with our schedule?

I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and I think I might have a hunch about why this is. Consider that if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that we have little control over the health of our family, over our own daily safety and over the fate of our souls. Perhaps that’s why we’re ‘okay’ with letting God cover these things; part of us whispers that we can’t do much about those, anyway.

But we probably reason, albeit subconsciously, that when it comes to things like our finances and our daily schedules, we’re capable of handling those. That’s okay, Eternal God and Runner of the Universe . . . I can handle my calendar. You worry about something else. Something bigger. 

I first came upon this idea of trust God with the everyday some time ago. Catherine Marshall wrote about her sense that God desires us to turn to Him for every detail of our lives in her books Something More and Beyond Ourselves. I remember being intrigued with this notion; the Creator and Ruler of all that is, seen and unseen, wants to concern Himself with what I make for dinner? With my grocery shopping?

There’s plenty of scriptural evidence to say that He does. We really only have to look at the gospels and at how Jesus lived to see that He was interested in the smallest details of life. Peter’s mother-in-law is ill, and He heals her. Friends run out of wine at their wedding, and He supplies the very best. He speaks easily of sweeping floors, of planting gardens and of organizing day laborers.

But what does this look like in real life? Does it mean that we sit down with a blank date book and wait for God to fill it in, the way He apparently chiseled the Ten Commandments for Moses? I don’t think so. I think–probably–there are a few ways we can begin to turn to the Almighty for His input.

First, when we make plans, we should begin with prayer. We intentionally turn over our weeks, our days–our hours and minutes–to He Who rules them anyway. That way, once we begin to set up our schedules, we’ve already taken a position of submission.

The second step can be a little more difficult to learn. It’s a matter of daily trust. This is something about which I’ve begun to be more intentional. (Or at least, I’m trying.) When plans I’ve made change, I don’t fight it–even it’s disappointing or irritating. I try to trust that He who knows everything just might be protecting me from something I can’t see–or making possible something much more wonderful than I can imagine.

It might sound easy, but it’s not always. Take, for instance, a few weeks ago when I waited all day at home for a repairman who was supposed to perform maintenance on our air conditioner. He didn’t show up, and when I called the company, they claimed that they’d called me, although my phone had never rung. That happened twice more, on two other days. I wasn’t particularly happy, but at the same time, I had committed to trust God with my schedule. So I took a deep breath and muttered, “There must be a good reason.”

I don’t know what that might be, except that being forced to stay at home wasn’t a bad thing. I accomplished more than I might have otherwise. I was able to allow my daughter to use my car. Was I protected from some unknown harm? I don’t know. I’ll never know.

A big part of this trust and submission is being content in all circumstances. It means, as Paul says, giving thanks no matter what. It means not being angry or annoyed when plans change, or when things don’t work out as we think they might–or should. It means saying, “My plan was good . . . but God’s is better.”

This is a daily discipline. It doesn’t happen quickly. But if we ask God to help us see His hand in everything and we make it a practice to offer Him dominion over the details of our lives . . . we’ll find that peace follows.

Matthew 10:30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Yes, I deserve this.

This morning, as I was scrolling through social media, I came upon this article written by Maria Shriver. It was about deserving and how we react to that word, to that idea. And it hit upon a sensitive part of me, something I’ve struggled with for decades now.

thomas-quaritsch-673043-unsplashMaria talks about being raised in a world of expectations, and I get that. My parents brought me up with the same ideology: from whom much is given, much is expected. There was the basic courtesy (we never referred to my parents with pronouns–it was always Mommy and Daddy, not her and him), as well as the commitment to service to others and to hard work.

Still, my upbringing wasn’t really where I developed my complex relationship with the idea of deserving something. That came later, when my husband, children and I began attending a non-denominational, evangelic church. There, where I was part of the leadership of the women’s Bible study, the indoctrination began. It was subtle, but unmistakable: as humans, we are the lowest of the low. We deserve the pits of hell, degradation, and punishment. Often the preacher would marvel that thanks to Christ, we don’t get what we actually deserve. Sometimes he sounded a little disappointed when he said those words.

I was in my early thirties when we were part of that church, but apparently, I was still impressionable, because in the nearly fifteen years since we left that body, I’ve consistently fought against the damaging dogma I was taught there. When I hear the word deserve, I still cringe, and my knee-jerk reaction is to claim that I deserve nothing.

I’m not saying that there isn’t Scriptural basis for the idea of the sinfulness of man. However, focusing on that alone and not seeing the evidence for the other side of the coin is an affront to God.

God created us. In the beginning, He created everything, and in Genesis 1:31, after He had created humans, man and woman, He saw that it was very good. This is God declaring us GOOD. He didn’t say that lightly; it wasn’t the same way you might tell a friend, “No, we’re good here.” This has deeper meaning. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Throughout history, God redeems His people, time and again, up to and including the incarnation of Jesus. As Paul points out in Romans 8:2, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Think about this. Do you really believe that God would send His only, beloved son to secure the salvation of a bunch of depraved humans who were without any value? No. God loves us–even when we might be unlovable–and although our sin might separate us from Him, that sin does not mean there is no good in us. We are still the created works of a perfect God, who is Love Incarnate. 

Over the centuries, we’ve twisted and corrupted that idea, until many believers fall squarely into two camps: those like the evangelical believers of my experience, who see nothing good in humans at all, and those who don’t recognize any sinfulness of man at all. Neither one is exactly on the right track.

I know that Jesus came because we needed to see God. We needed to experience Him walking among us, to understand how deep the Father’s love for us. Sin had–and continues to–separated us from God. But sin had not made us bad. It does not make us undeserving. It does not make us unredeemable.

So . . . what is it that I think I deserve these days? First of all, like Maria Shriver, I deserve the respect of others, particularly of my husband and my children. I deserve to be able to move around in this wider world without expectation of harassment, sexual or otherwise. I deserve a break every now and then. I deserve to protect my own sanity and well-being in whatever way I must, assuming that doesn’t infringe on the needs of anyone else.

Like everyone else in the world, I deserve healthy relationships, laughter, love and the expectation of a future.

So today, and for the coming weeks, I’m going to be mindful about remembering that I am loved beyond measure by the God who created me and then declared His creation very good. I’m going to walk forward, knowing that He wants good for me, because He has paid a high price for me. And I’m going to embrace the idea that I deserve all the wonderful things He has prepared for me.

And so do you.

Building Memorials

joeri-romer-169-unsplashSome years ago, my husband and I were part of a group that met every other week to support each other in our spiritual walks, to study the Bible and to discuss religion, beliefs and our struggles. We were a covenant group, and much of where our ministry is today grew out of those years of close relationship with people we know God chose to be part of one another’s lives.

Ben, one of our group, once spoke about the importance of establishing memorials. He pointed out that in Scripture, people often set a stone where something important had happened in their lives–like Jacob in the spot where he saw angels climbing to heaven. That idea made an impression on me, and it came to mind again this week.

I often write here about money. That’s a bald statement of fact, and honestly, it’s not surprising; part of the ministry God has called us to is about walking in the way of His provision, learning reliance on Him and trusting that He will provide. I’m real good about writing out the feelings of worry and anxiety over money, mostly because my default when I’m struggling is to write about it. But I haven’t been so great about writing the other side.

This, then, is my memorial, my monument to the amazing, awesome and extraordinary ways God provides for us. I need to write this, much the same way as we should build memorials–because there will come a time when I might forget, and I can look back to be reminded that God is real, He is for us and He wants all the best for us.

God has always provided for us, but we haven’t always been paying attention–nor have we always been necessarily wise with what He has given. My husband and I both came into marriage over three decades ago with money hangups and misconceptions, the way many young couples do. It has taken years to cope with that and to understand the nature of God’s economy.

The first time I had an encounter with God’s supernatural way of providing was years ago in New Jersey. To help supplement our income, I was providing childcare to my dear friend, who not only paid me but also gave me a sweet gift at the end of each week. Talk about feeling appreciated! One week, it happened to be a Target gift card, and the amount was for $25. It was a timely gift, as we had made plans to make an overnight trip to Gettysburg, and although I was pretty sure I could eek out gas money and we had a free hotel room, I knew buying food was going to be a challenge. Not only that–one of the kids needed a new pair of play shoes.

The day before we were supposed to leave, I went to Target with my gift card to buy what we needed. I had some money in my account, but it was supposed to be for groceries the following week. Still, I knew I might have to rob Peter to pay Paul for a short term. I got what we needed for our trip–and the total was a little over double the amount of my gift card. Taking a deep breath, I handed the gift card to the cashier and then waited for the new total.

“You’re all set,” she announced, handing me the receipt and the card. “And you still have $10 on this card.”

Confused, I sputtered, “It was only for $25.”

The clerk checked again. “Nope, that covered your total amount and you still have money on the card. Have a nice day.”

I was flabbergasted. When I got home, I questioned my friend about the amount, and she was adamant that it was only $25. She gave me the receipt to show me.

Were we starving that day? Was this a make-or-break situation? No . . . but still, thirteen years later, I remember it. I believe that day was a step on the path in which God was leading us, a way to show us that God cares about every part of our lives.

It wasn’t the only example, but I want to share a few more recent occurrences.

Fast forward to this past February. Book sales had dropped, and so had donations to the ministry. We’d had some unexpected expenses. I had some bills looming, and I didn’t know how we were going to pay them. All of my royalties had already hit for the month. I was at an author event, and I knew once I got home, I was going to have to make some hard decisions.

I stopped at our PO box on the way home from the event. I didn’t expect anything but bills and junk mail. But there were two envelopes I didn’t recognize. One was from the Honest Company, and it contained a check for $10, part of the settlement in a recent class action suit. I sighed and thought that at least $10 was better than a bill.

The other envelope was also about a class action suit, and I frowned as I tore it open. The letter indicated that this was something about medication my husband used to take–expensive meds–and when I glanced down the sheet of paper, my breath caught.

It was a check for a little over $2,000.

I leaned over on the table there in the post office and cried. God is so good. He. Does. Provide.

That check didn’t solve our budget issues–but it got us through that month and the start of the next one. The totally unexpected check I got a few weeks back that allowed me to pay bills for the beginning of June didn’t solve everything either–but again, it was enough for what we needed then.

At one point in the past year, my husband noted that he’d thought once we committed our way and our path to God, He would make sure we had plenty–that we’d get some kind of large stipend to help supplement our ministry and household costs, since we were giving everything to Him.

That hasn’t happened, and I think I know why. If God had given us a $10,000 grant to help fund our costs, even if we didn’t mean to, we’d begin relying on that fund instead of on God. That would become our idol, our safety net. Instead, He is constantly and continually turning our eyes to Him. He wants us to be child-like in our trust and faith, to know that He is the author of all, and self-reliance is not part of His plan.

I’ve written before that we as a people have built safety nets into our lives and called them by names like life insurance and pension plans and savings accounts. These things are not evil, of course, but they can be hindrances to our spiritual life if we make them idols, if we trust them more than we trust the Almighty. And although I don’t have any of those things in my life now, I’m not pointing fingers, believe me; I am all too prone to slide backwards into depending on something other than God.

That’s why these memorial reminders are so crucial.

If there is one overarching lesson I’ve learned in the past eighteen months, it’s that God is More. He is more than any box we humans try to construct around Him. He delights in surprising us, and He loves nothing more than to bless us in ways we would never expect. The most dangerous thing in the world is to believe we have a handle on God; when we do that, He will almost without fail do something extraordinary.

Last night, we went to see The Incredibles 2, and I was reminded of a scene from the first movie. Mr. Incredible, who is keeping his super abilities undercover, is in his driveway and turns to see a little boy on a tricycle, staring at him.

Mr. Incredible says, “What are you waiting for?”

The boy replies, “I don’t know Something amazing, I guess.”

That should be us. We should be a people of bated breath, waiting for the next time God acts, in total trust that what He does will be More. It will be incredible. It will be amazing.

I’m trying to remember to be filled with hope and expectation. I hope you will be, too.

The Ministry of Showing Up

Danny and I have a lot of favorite movies, but one near the top of the list is Open Range with Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, and Annette Bening.  Costner was a gun hand with a rough past, and throughout the movie, he is consistently struggling against that former life while at the same time feeling that he’s not worthy of anything better.  In one scene, Bening tells him, “I’ve seen who you are, Charlie.  The way you looked after that boy, and the respect you give boss.  They might be little bits, but they’re enough for a woman who looks.”

Not long ago, my boss, Mr. T, received a letter in the mail.  In it the man recounted that he’d recently stopped by a funeral on his way home from work.  He said his wife had looked askance when he told her, stating about the deceased, “You didn’t even know them.”  But he recounted the story of some years earlier when Mr. T. showed up at his mother’s funeral.  My boss didn’t know the deceased and was only an acquaintance of the man who wrote the letter.  But it had made a very strong impact on him, just the act of Mr. T. being there.  And so he decided that day to pay it forward in a sense.

My boss told me, “There’s a ministry in just showing up.”

One of the things I’ve noticed since I started attending a Baptist church with Danny is how often pastor reminds the congregation of sharing the gospel with others.  It’s not something I remember hearing much in the Catholic church, although I know there were many ministries which did that very thing.  I’ve often wondered, how is one called?

When I was a little girl, I drank my Grandma’s bottle of holy water.  I don’t remember her exact words, but whatever she said made me think I was going to become a nun.  Our priest often asked the parish to pray for people to hear and receive the calling, because of the shortage of those entering either the priesthood or the sisterhood.  I never really understood what that calling was, and so eventually I just figured I’d never received it.  Case closed.

just as much (2)

But I’ve chewed on what Mr. T said about “the ministry of showing up” a lot lately.  Especially since my dad died.  There is no way to measure the comfort received by the presence of those who were at the visitation and the funeral.  I will cherish the recollection of the moment my eyes fell upon each them and the solace that seeped into my soul.  So many family and friends came from far away, some of them we hadn’t seen in years.  Mechanics who hadn’t worked with Daddy in years stopped by to relate some story about him.  I was so surprised when the father of a girl who had lived next door to us as kids showed up.  He told me about how Daddy had let him move in with him for a few months until he and his wife had gotten married.  I’d had no idea about that, but it gave me something new to remember when I think of my father, and no price can be placed on that gift.

On the day of the funeral, I was seated at the front, mentally going over my eulogy when I looked up and saw Mr. T and his lovely wife walking into the room.  He’d hired a temp to catch the phones and had driven four and a half hours to be there.  But he’d shown up, and I just cannot find the words to express my gratitude for that.

It may be that “the calling” I was expecting as a child isn’t at all what I thought it was.  Maybe we are each called daily, in ways we cannot even fathom, to become the conduit for God’s enduring love and healing.

Twenty years ago, my sister died suddenly.  It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Danny’s family.  We’d flown our small Cessna, arriving just in time before the weather closed in.  When we found out about my sister’s death, the only way to get me home quickly was a commercial flight the next morning.  Danny would follow later in his plane as soon as the front pushed through.  Early that Friday we arrived at the mostly vacant terminal, and there at the gate to my flight was a man my husband knew.

Bob West is a sports writer in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, and Danny had met him in association with the museum he built there.  He told Bob about what had happened and that I would be flying home alone.  A few minutes later, we boarded, the plane empty.  I took a seat, and Bob took the one next to me.  If he spoke during the flight, I don’t remember it. Conversation would have been difficult in that moment anyway. But he was there.  The presence of a stranger beside me was like a bolster for me as I prepared to face what seemed unthinkable.

I hadn’t given it much thought until today, but I have no idea where Bob was flying from that morning.  It was Thanksgiving, and he has a wonderful wife and children.  I imagine work had kept him away, but he was about to get home to his family.  Whatever the circumstance, however the machinations of the world, he was given an opportunity that day.  And he took it.  He took a seat beside a broken-hearted person who just needed his presence.

just as much (3)

What’s remarkable about all of these stories is that the person called didn’t have to do anything extraordinary.  Sometimes, not even speaking a word.  Yet the impact of their company was stronger than anything they could have said or done.  Just being there was enough.  Just the simple act of showing up.

But it’s more than that, too.  Because when someone shows up for you, you then become aware of the opportunities you have to do the same.  I hope there haven’t been many where I ignored the calling.  Just a week after Daddy’s death, my husband received a call from a friend who’d lost his daughter.  And he “showed up” for him, listening and speaking and paying forward the same gift he and I have so often received.  What a humbling blessing to receive that calling!

We reap what we sow in life.  And I want to be the person who shows up when someone has a need.  A phone call.  A smile. Holding open a door.  They’re little things, but they’re important to the one who looks.

just as much (5)

Sunday at church, pastor talked about Jehovah Roi, the Lord who sees.  And if God sees all, that doesn’t just mean He sees the bad in us, but also the potential for greatness.  And He knows the needs of our hearts.

just as much (6)

For my last release, I did a lot of research about alcoholism and the twelve steps.  One of the things I learned about recovery is that for many people healing is found by helping others–sponsors for addicts and also addicts themselves.  They receive something powerful in the process, and it’s part of the foundation of the program.

Are you hurting today?  Is there something weighing heavily on your heart?  Have you lost someone?  It may be that a chance to “show up” for someone else will cross your path.  Look for it, because the blessing of taking advantage of the chance the Lord places before us is real.  I know that the days I struggle most with the recent loss of my dad are days of great opportunity.  They’re little things, but they’re enough.

just as much (7)

God bless you all,

Olivia

Only when necessary

This weekend, we had a garage sale to help raise money for our ministry, The Community Chaplain. Wonderful friends and ministry partners had donated furniture, clothes, books and other goodies for us to sell, and with help from my husband and our daughter, I set up everything and settled down to make sales.

It wasn’t exactly a booming success. We had customers, but in the mysterious nature of these sales, sometimes what is in great demand one month doesn’t move at all later. Still, every little bit helps . . .

We’d hoped to do this a few weeks ago, but here in Florida, the rain has been so torrential that we had to postpone until June. As I sat watching people browse, more than one remarked about how warm it was, how much the sun was beating down on us. I responded that after so many weeks of rain, I was thrilled to see the sun and the blue skies.

A few minutes later, everyone else had wandered off, but one man continued to go through our rack of clothes. I brought over a bag to help him, and he said to me, “This is a benefit sale, isn’t it? You have some kind of God thing? A church?”

I confirmed that the sale was benefitting a ministry, and he nodded. “I thought so. You have . . . something. People were complaining, and you were cheerful. You were looking at the bright side, and you were so nice to them, even when they weren’t.” He moved to another pile and added, “I don’t go to church. Maybe I should. But I don’t.”

Laughing, I assured him that going to church isn’t necessary to knowing God. But as our conversation went on–and after he left–I was utterly convicted by his words.

“Preach the Gospel, and if it’s necessary, use words.”

For centuries, that quotation has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though there is much rigorous debate about whether or not he might have said it. However, who said it is not as important as the meaning of the phrase. The point is that our actions–how we live our lives–often speak more loudly than anything we might say, particularly if those actions contradict our words.

I’ve known self-proclaimed Christians who use pious words before they go out and drive with the sort of selfish recklessness that compromises themselves and others. I’ve heard people within the church speaking with cruel judgement about others. I’ve known pastors and priests who, behind the scenes, deride church members who miss Sunday services or who don’t participate much, and I’ve heard those same leaders make mean-spirited, disparaging comments about those outside the church.

I’ve seen first-hand how hurtful and unkind Christians can be–to both other Christians and to non-believers. These are the same people who will quote Scripture moments later.

Let’s face it: none of us is perfect. We are not called to be perfect. But if we’re believers–followers of Christ–we carry an additional responsibility. Being a Christian doesn’t give us any free passes–on the contrary, following Jesus means we have to act with more humility, more kindness, more grace and definitely more love than the rest of the world. We can’t just say it: we must act it.

And it’s more than striving to be Christ-like. There are times when I am so down-hearted that I know it permeates everything I say and do. I’m so incapable of seeing a way forward that I can’t pretend to believe the light might shine again. It’s reflected in my attitude, my speech and even in my posts on social media.

God doesn’t expect us to be Mary Sunshines all the time, pretending that everything is roses and rainbows, but He does call us to be people of hope. That means that even when I can’t see the path, I have to live within His hope.

We are pressed but not crushed,
Perplexed but don’t despair.
We are persecuted but not abandoned.

I could expound for hours on the importance of hope and trust, but if I don’t live it out, those words are meaningless. William J. Toms noted, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”

I’m trying to be more mindful of this. It reminds me of how some companies demand better behavior of their employees when the workers are wearing uniforms or name tags with the business name. Those employees are representing the company. In the same way, we who bear the mark of Christ–whether that is a cross we wear, a T-shirt with a slogan, a bumper sticker on our car or simply the read acknowledgement of Him have a responsibility to be act out grace and love on so extravagant a level that those around us ask, “Why? What makes you act like that?”

Let our actions be so infused by outrageous love that no one can ignore them. Live out Christ without speaking on a daily basis. Preach the Gospel . . . but only use words if absolutely necessary.

Fix My Eyes

Psalm121

The other day, my husband and I were talking, as we often do, about this incredible, terrifying yet ultimately blessing-filled journey God has set us upon. I said to him, “You do know that what we are doing right now is about the most outrageous, shocking thing left in the world, right?”

It’s true. In the twenty-first century, there aren’t many outrageous actions left. What were once conventional taboos–sex, relationships, career choices, religious claims–it’s a world of anything goes now. But what is still the stuff we don’t tend to discuss in polite company is money. And the idea of choosing to live a life without security or the safety net of savings, investments and insurance is simply unheard of by many.

So what we’ve been doing for the last eighteen months–living without a dependable income and relying on God’s provision for nearly all our daily needs–that’s craziness. It’s the question most people ask Clint first when they hear about The Community Chaplain.

“Wow. That’s amazing. But how do you live?”

I’ll be honest with you . . . the last few months have been very touch-and-go, and even now, as I type this, there’s more uncertainty than assuredness when it comes to basic things like housing, food and utilities. I’ll be even more painfully open–I haven’t handled it well.

Living for God and trusting that He will provide sounds like a lovely fairy tale to those of us who believe in His goodness and love, and who may have been raised on stories of missionaries and other men and women of God who made the leap into total reliance. And there are times when I know–I know–that He is with us and has marvelous plans for our family, plans we couldn’t even begin to imagine for ourselves.

But there are also times when I can only see the looming phone bill or car insurance payment, the due dates edging closer and closer . . . or days when Clint needs to go see someone who is in desperate need of him, and we don’t have enough to both eat and fill the gas tank of his truck.

There are Saturdays when he comes home from the Community Garden floating on air, because people turned out to help and plants are growing food for us to share with the hungry and it seems to be working–and other Saturdays when Clint returns home dejected because animals are eating the plants and we can’t afford the fencing to keep them out. Or we can’t take the next step because we don’t have whatever is needed–top soil, seeds, or a wheelbarrow.

Donations to the ministry have been few and far between lately. What used to make up the gap isn’t there. But the needs still are: Clint is still ministering to as many if not more people. He’s providing, he’s visiting, he’s leading studies and worship. The work doesn’t slow when the funds do.

Those are hard times.

A few weeks ago, Cate finished her first year in Maine, where she attends Unity College thanks to the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Her car is in bad shape, and she’d been advised by more than one person to sell it and use the cash for a plane trip home. But she was unwilling to give up on her little car, so together with her brave sister, she drove it all the way south to central Florida.

During those days, Clint and I were both nervous wrecks. We were not only worried about what might happen if they broke down alongside the road; we knew that there was nothing we could do to help them if they did. It was enough to give a mom an ulcer.

But guess what? Thanks to prayers and the goodness of God, they made it, and that car is still running. Miracle.

There are other miracles happening around us, too. We saw a dear friend literally die–his heart stopped–and when we went to the hospital the next day, there was no doubt the prognosis was grim. Words like ‘decision’ and ‘choices’ were being murmured by hospital staff. But now, less than three weeks later, that same friend is home, and he is walking, talking, laughing and recovering. Miracle.

Our uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall . . . again, the doctors had some difficult things to say. Hope wasn’t an idea that was being encouraged. But now, as he continues the treatment, he’s doing amazingly well, still working, enjoying his family, and living. Miracle.

This week, as I did housework, my mind fell as it often does to the nitty-gritty of things. This is how much is coming in. This is how much absolutely must be paid. But as I did, I heard God. He often speaks when I’m doing mindless chores–probably because I’m more open to hearing Him.

Stop focusing on the need and focus on the Giver. 

And it clicked. I’ve been so preoccupied with trying to make ends meet or scrambling for solutions when they don’t that I’ve fixed my eyes there, on what we desperately need, rather than on God, who wants to provide for us. I’ve taken my focus from the good and the possible and moved it to the fear and the what-ifs.

God never tells us to worry more. He never says fear now! He never says–stop praising me and work the problem. On the contrary, what Jesus says most often is–be at peace. Fear not. Stop worrying. Stop fussing. Look at me. Trust me. Lean on me. 

Not long ago, I was joking with my daughter about going to London to research the next two Anti-Cinderella books. She laughed and said, “Oh, yeah? And just where do you think you’re getting a grand for that plane ticket?”

I told her that I live in a world of possibilities, and we both chuckled, because we’d been talking about some pretty grim realities before that. Shortly thereafter, I felt God telling me to make a list–to write down my wish list of things or situations I’d dearly love but can’t imagine being able to do.

When I did, it wasn’t long or extraordinary. That list included things like a new vacuum, because our 11-year-old one is dying and held together by duct tape. It also included mulch for our yard and shelves for our front room.

It’s crazy to write a wish list when you have $18 in your bank account and twenty-two days left in the month, isn’t it? But what I realized was that this world of possibilities–that’s where God wants me to live. He doesn’t want me looking at the lack–He wants my eyes on Him and on the abundance that is at hand.

I need reminders. I need to be told daily to lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help–the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

So if you’re reading this and you know me, I ask you to do that–to message me or email me or post on my Facebook page and remind me. Fix your eyes on the Provider, on the possibilities, not on the lacking.

And pray for me, as I do for all of you.

The Community Chaplain is a non-profit ministry that provides pastoral support to those who might otherwise not receive it. You can learn more about The Community Chaplain here

Donations may be sent to The Community Chaplain, PO Box 195631, Winter Springs, Florida 32719 or through our dedicated PayPal button: paypal.me/TheCommunityChaplain

For more information on The Community Chaplain, you can check out our website, visit our Facebook page (and The Community Garden page!) and sign up for our periodical newsletter.

And prayer support and encouragement is always appreciated!