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!

 

The Waiting Game

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As I write this, I am in the middle of a rough month. Multiple friends and loved ones are facing deeply painful circumstances, and I am hurting with them. I’m praying for healing, wisdom, provision, direction… I’m also asking the Lord for encouragement, for them, primarily, but for myself as well. I don’t know yet how our Loving (but sometimes hard to understand) Lord is answering those prayers in the lives of my friends, but here are three ways he has encouraged me in just the last 24 hours.

A text: It read, “Thank you for praying for us. We will be fine!” That hurting friend’s proclamation of faith lifted my spirits.

A reunion: We went out for breakfast while out of town. The manager roamed among the tables, making sure her customers were satisfied. She paused at my table, and our eyes locked. We both froze for a moment, silent, thinking. Then we burst into hugs and tears, finally recognizing one another as dear friends who had lost touch for a decade. She gave Steve and me a brief recap of her life, ending with these words, “The last year was very difficult, but now I know why. It got me here (to a good place and a great job).”

A quote: I opened my web browser, and these words, saved in an old search, popped up, “Nothing touches the child of God without first passing through the will of God.” While I’ve been unable to find a reliable source for that quote, it’s very close to this one by Hannah Whitall Smith, “Not a trial comes except by His permission.” In other words, I believe, if we have heartache, our Lord has allowed that heartache. And if he has allowed it, surely he will see us through it.

And so, I have cried tears of both pain and of hope today. I’ve heard his still small voice say yet again, “Trust me.”

Remember to Remember by Beth Smith

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I love the old song, “Count Your Blessings.” The lyrics tell us to, “name them one by one” in order to see what God has done. It’s so important to remember our blessings and to be quick to thank God for them.

Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Do not forget. We need to remember God, who he is and what he’s done for us. In Psalm 77, David was in a really bad way. He couldn’t sleep. He said his soul would not be comforted. He asked such questions as:

  • Has the Lord rejected me forever?
  • Will he never show me favor?
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever?
  • Have his promises failed?

Haven’t we felt that way? I certainly can identify with David. After those questions, though, comes the word “Selah,” which means pause. Then, as if a light bulb has just gone off above his head, a change occurs, and David says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:11-14).

What a change in David’s attitude, his emotions and his outlook! We need our own Selah—a pause, an interlude to stop and consider who God is and what he’s done for us. Perhaps we need to write down our list of blessings so we won’t forget, or so that when we do forget, we can see that list and remember once again.

Even when we do forget about God and his blessings, he doesn’t forget about us. In Isaiah 49:15-16, God says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

That’s amazing! And here’s more good news, offered to you in the form of “homework.” I hope you will read Psalm 103, which begins, “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2). Look at the rest of the Psalm to see how many good things David lists. Since God never changes, those same good things, those benefits, are not just for David, they’re for us too.

Consider making a list of the ways God has blessed you. You’ll be glad you did.

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.

Care More

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When Steve and I drive to Galveston, one route takes us across a rather imposing bridge. That bridge looks overwhelmingly difficult and frightening as we approach it. Yard by yard, though, as we ascend it, it turns out to be quite manageable. Before too long, we are on the other side. This is how life’s difficulties look to me now. They seem impossible as we approach them, but in the moment by moment reality of facing them, they are doable. It was moment by moment reliance on our Lord that took me through this journey.

There are a few things I’d like to share with you, and remember myself, in order to better help any friends who walk this road in the future.

  • I never said, “my cancer.” Somehow those words, for me, meant owning something I was in the process of getting rid of. I said “my condition” or “I was diagnosed with” instead, somehow distancing myself from the evil within me. So, in the future, I will not say “your cancer” either.
  • A cancer diagnosis begins a surprisingly time consuming process of research, phone calls, and doctors’ appointments. It’s as good a time to bring a meal as the surgery/treatment phase.
  • That same busy process also becomes mentally overwhelming. I came to a point where I needed a week off from talking about my condition at all. I didn’t want it to begin to define me. My dear friends and family seemed to understand my need to change the subject or put off responding to their calls and emails.
  • A remarkable amount of current entertainment deals with death, or at least illness, and often cancer. Steve and I have even joked about the “Disney Death Syndrome.” How many popular kids’ movies begin with the demise of one or both parents, when, in reality, that is a very rare occurrence? How many children have, for years, harbored a fear of losing Mom or Dad because of the skewed perception brought about by even relatively wholesome entertainment? Happy movie recommendations were greatly appreciated both for my sake and for my husband’s. Two friends even brought by bags of carefully curated DVD’s.
  • Healthy food is a big help, and it need not be a complete meal. A few friends brought welcomed snacks and side dishes that were perfect additions to what others had provided.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything” is a great saying. “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” is a better saying. “Can I run any errands for you, or take you somewhere?” is terrific as well.
  • Cards, texts, and emails work better than calls and visits during those first exhausting days after surgery. Many of those who offered to visit in person or via phone wisely added, “if and when you are up for it,” making me feel more comfortable about turning them down if I needed to be alone.

And there you have it—the short version of my journal entries over the past two months. May you never have to walk this road, but if you do, may my words turn your eyes to the One who will provide all you need.

Next Week: Something lighter this way comes ( I promise).

The Rubber Met the Road

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On Wednesday, July 27th, the rubber met the road. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I read, write, and study the topic of trust.

  • Don’t worry, be happy.
  • Trust and obey.

Those lines are pretty easily said and done when life is rocking along. But what about when life is simply rocked? Stephen Covey is famous for saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” So here’s the end of my story: God is faithful. Everything I’ve read and written about trusting him in the dark times is true. Here, though, is the rest of my story.

First of all (pardon the nitty  gritty of this) I want you to know my symptoms. No, make that symptom—singular, and subtle. I had bit of spotting so faint I almost could have missed it, and certainly could have talked myself out of paying any attention to it. No pain. No abnormal pap smears. Just a bit of a blush when there should have been none. Steve and I were cleaning out bookshelves, and I “happened to” scan one that didn’t make the cut, just one final look before I threw it away. Here’s what the book said. Please make a mental note of this and tell every woman that you know: A woman with any abnormal bleeding should see a doctor. And so I did. (And I promise, that’s the last descriptive medical detailing you will read here.)

I started that Wednesday in in solitude, drinking Earl Grey with honey and randomly chose to read Psalms 116-118. I hope you’ll take time to read those chapters today. The passage I read included these verses:

  • “Truly I am your servant, Lord. I serve you just as my mother did, you have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:17).
  • “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done” (Psalm 118:17).

I’d never noticed that “mom” part before. In fact, it struck me as a little odd. I didn’t realize God was preparing me for the hours to come. Here’s what you should know about my mom. About 30 years ago, she had the same surgery I ended up having. A teacher, a speaker, and a writer, she is nearly 80 now and continues to be an ace at proclaiming what the Lord has done. Two hours after my Bible reading, the phone rang. Endometrial cancer, stage unknown. I’d need to have a hysterectomy before further treatment could be determined. I scribbled notes, trying not to pass out, hoping to get all the information straight. Then came one of the hardest moments of this journey.

I had to tell Steve that my biopsy showed cancer, but here’s another of what became a stream of blessings. He was home when that call came through. No waiting. No deciding whether or not to tell him the news over the phone. He was, my journal of that day says, “just as I needed him to be.” He held me, prayed with me, and helped me rewrite my scattered call notes so that I’d be able to keep all the doctor’s information straight. It “just so happened” (are you seeing a pattern here?) that all four of our kids would be visiting within a couple of hours. We were thankful for the opportunity to talk to them in person, even though it was hard to see those red-rimmed eyes.

Now you’ve heard the beginning and gotten a glimpse of the end. For the next four blogs, I want to talk about the middle, to “proclaim what the Lord has done,” to describe the creative ways God took care of me, encouraged me, and showed himself faithful. It will be far more uplifting than this introduction has been. I hope you will stick with me for the next several weeks, and that you’ll share my story with as many people as possible, because it’s always good to brag on the goodness of God.