Exhausted but Still in Pursuit

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Many of you know the story of Gideon. The Lord told him to go and fight the Midianites, promising victory. As a sign of this promise, the Angel of God instructed Gideon to put an offering of meat, bread, and broth on a rock. Before departing, the angel touched the offering, causing fire to rise from the rock and consume the food. Somehow, that miracle wasn’t enough to convince Gideon to follow instructions. He asked for two more signs. First a threshing floor remained dry all morning, while a fleece of wool was soaked full of dew. In a second test, the fleece was dry while the ground around it became wet.

Finally persuaded, Gideon amassed an army, but it was too big. Ours is the God of the impossible. A large army might have taken credit for the Midianite defeat, claiming that victory was by their own strength. The crowd had to be reduced. First Gideon told all who were fearful to go home. (And twenty-two thousand did just that.) Then he took the remaining ten thousand down to the water and watched them quench their thirst. Only those who drank by lifting their hands to their mouths, three hundred in all, were allowed to stay and fight.

God in his compassion assured Gideon of His plan one more time by allowing him to overhear a Midianite relating a dream and its interpretation—sure defeat of the Midian army by the hand of God through Gideon. Then Gideon did as the Lord commanded. By the blowing of trumpets, the breaking of torch-filled pitchers, and mighty shouts of faith, he and his band of three hundred secured the victory, pursuing their enemy army as they fled.

That’s enough of a story right there, chock full of important lessons:

·       God directs.

·       He asks the impossible.

·       He does the miraculous.

·       He is gracious when we ask for confirmation of his will.

That’s all I ever learned about Gideon until yesterday, when I read the rest of the story. Judges 8:4 teaches that, “Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.” There were more battles to be fought. The whole trumpet and jar thing was just the beginning. Eventually, but certainly not immediately, “Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years” (Judges 8:28).

Are you in the middle of a battle today, one that seems incredibly long and drawn out? Are you in a place where you are exhausted, yet must keep up the pursuit? I hope you will look at the story of Gideon and be reminded that, while God does indeed keep his promises, he may ask us to press on beyond what looks reasonable to us. May he give you the grace and strength to keep up the pursuits he has assigned to you this week!

 

Psalm 78

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I love to talk (and write) about trusting the Lord, worshipping him, honoring him. Today, though, my Bible reading covered the other side of the coin, the dark side, so to speak. The verses below, beginning with Psalm 78:40, point out what happens when we ignore the Lord our God:

“How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.”

I could try to pass these verses off as ancient history, a simple description of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, with no implications for my own life. I don’t believe that’s the only reason they are recorded in the book of Joshua, though. I can rebel. I can grieve him. I can vex the Holy One of Israel. How? I suppose there’s more than one way, but look at the very next verse. It’s the one that struck me this morning as an important reminder of what it means to serve the Lord.

“They did not remember his power—the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, the day he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan…”

The Israelites lost sight of the power of God. Despite all he had done, all the ways he had revealed himself, they abandoned their faith in him. They fell into fear and a frenzy of complaints whenever the going got rough.

God makes it clear throughout the Bible that he does not ever want to be forgotten or ignored. He is to be the center of our lives and of our thoughts every single day. Do we benefit from that kind of faith and trust? Of course, but that’s not the reason we are to keep him as our focus. We are to remember his power because that is what he demands, what he commands us to do. And when we don’t, we have rebelled. We grieve and vex him. We walk in disobedience.

These are hard words, but only if we choose to ignore them. The brighter side of this coin is that the One who created us, who created all things, wants us to be in close, continuous relationship with him. Joshua had that, and so can we.

Signs of Healing

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Crossword puzzles have become a part of my bedtime routine most evenings. I find that they engage my brain just enough to help me tone down all the other thoughts that clamor for attention throughout the day. A few nights ago, though, the very first crossword clue started me thinking about perspective.

The clue for 1 across was “Signs of healing.” The answer was five letters long. Since I had no idea what it might be, I took a look at 1 down. One down was easy and started with an “s.” So: signs of healing, five letters, starting with an S. Have you got it? I didn’t either. The answer turned out to be scars.

What? Scars? I’ve always thought of scars as a sign of injury, not of healing. I have scars on my belly now, three of them, serving as daily reminders that errant cells within my body demanded surgery. But signs of healing? Well, come to think of it, my body has healed. No bleeding or infection runs along those three little lines. And the small bald spot on my husband’s temple where a childhood fall required stitches? It poses no threat and causes no pain. It too has healed. So has the place on my father’s back where melanoma was removed half a century ago.

Perspective is a powerful thing. We all have scars, some of them physical, some emotional. We might look at them and think, “Why did I have to suffer such an injury?” But even if the scar itches or aches now and then, it is no longer a wound. We can choose to let those same scars remind us that, praise God, we have healed. In that choice, much of life changes.

Do we really trust God to carry us through all hardships? Our loving Lord heals our wounds and uses our troubles (often in ways we would not choose and may not understand.) If we can remember his intervention in our lives, then once we bear scars, they are indeed signs of healing.

 

Careless

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I learned to care less about what didn’t matter. (I hope that lesson sticks!) My list of things that matter is much shorter than it used to be. Past decisions, other people’s choices or opinions, plans that don’t affect me, social intricacies, small inconveniences… This doesn’t mean I care less about others around me, but rather that I am careful to conserve my mental and emotional energy for that which I can affect. My feathers don’t ruffle quite as easily as they once did. Computer problems? They look pretty small now. Traffic? Unexpected chores or needed repairs around the house? They aren’t so irritating any more. My “Type A” has slipped, and nicely so.

At times peace and worry warred within me, but peace won out every time. More than one friend commented that she could hear the peace in my voice. I could neither explain nor take credit for that. I began to journal all the “small” miracles that were sprinkled into my days.

  • A good friend, a nurse with very particular views about local medical options, raved about the doctor who would be doing my surgery, as well as the oncologist who would be assisting.
  • The depth and breadth of care and prayer astonished me. Friends and family near and far encouraged me with gifts, cards, texts, and promises of consistent prayer.
  • Just one hour of shopping and $50 yielded four simple dresses I would need after surgery when my body swelled.
  • More than one “chance encounter” led to times of prayer with someone who cared.
  • I was hit with an intense bout of the flu just two weeks before my surgery. How could that be a blessing? It allowed me to see the gaps in my recovery plan. I learned what to buy and how to prepare for several days of limited mobility.

Then the day of surgery came. It was successful. I had very little pain throughout the entire process, astonishing all my caretakers. Many of the post-surgical discomforts I had been warned to expect simply never materialized. No complications arose. No further treatment was prescribed. I am well, and I am changed.

  • I am living more deliberately. I’m more aware of the blessing of tasty food, a soft pillow, a hug from my husband, time to rest and recover…
  • I am expecting less of myself and of those around me.
  • I asked myself why I wanted to be healthy—to keep living—and I’m acting on my answers.

I don’t take my healing as the promise of an easy future. On any day, life can turn in either direction. The gift of getting to stay alive will not be without its moments of pain. And so, joy can only come from trust every single day. Circumstances, no matter what they are, just don’t cut it. Life changed in a moment last July. That may happen again. I have no promise of a similar outcome. I do have the promise of similar peace. So do you:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Next Week: Care More

And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless

Taking No for an Answer

model-planes-1566822__480I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in a God who heals. However, I also believe in a God who sometimes allows us to walk a difficult path for reasons we may never understand. Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, while asking for an easier road, proclaimed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” I am fully convinced that when God says, “No,” he is still a good God, he still loves us, and he is still in control. I asked God decades ago to let me keep all my body parts and specifically included my reproductive organs in that list. As I write, I am recovering from a hysterectomy. I also prayed fervently that I could have that surgery done quickly, sparing me a long period of wait and see. That was not to be. God did not give me everything I asked. He gave me many blessings and miraculous moments. It’s my great pleasure to describe them here, but please don’t misunderstand. Even if he had said no to every request I made, he would still be worthy of my trust.

I’ll start with an almost whimsical blessing. The second half of 2016 was packed with plans: A wedding in Florida, a wedding in Wyoming, a reunion in North Carolina, and a writers’ conference in California. My diagnosis changed all that in an instant. Despite my plan-ahead nature, and somewhat to my husband’s surprise, I’d never booked flights to Wyoming or California. All I had to cancel were a couple of hotel reservations. We could still go to Florida, but needed to return several days ahead of schedule so that I could begin the many doctor visits needed before surgery. We were almost finished with the expensive process of changing our return when I remembered that our American Express card offered a credit that would cover a portion of the fees. When I asked if we could switch to that card to complete the process, the agent on the phone said, “I’ve already run the other card. I don’t think I can make the change, but I’ll check with my supervisor.” After a long wait, she came back on the line and said, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m not able to change credit cards. The only thing I will be able to do is refund the full $400 in change fees.” Can I explain that? No, but I can tell you that call, which I made just ten hours after my doctor had called, became a reminder that God was going to carry me through this nightmare, no matter where it led. But wait, there’s more…

Our trip to North Carolina needed to be cancelled completely, and we hadn’t purchased flight insurance. I called the airline and explained my situation, expecting that this time I’d surely incur those heavy fees. I asked if there was anything we could do. The agent, clearly helping me from a call center on the other side of the world, did indeed show me where to apply for a refund (which was later granted.) But, get this, he quoted scripture (James 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”) and sang to me, “God will make a way…” Here I was, disappointed and in need of encouragement. Not only did I get my money back, but the Christian agent on the other side of the world preached to me. Weird, but wonderful.

Next Week: And Then We Danced