What If You Thought?

In the movie, Casablanca, Vichy France’s prefect of police (Captain Renault) tells his men to “round up the usual suspects” when a Nazi officer is shot. That famous line is something I tell myself:

“Karen, whenever your thoughts go wild, round up the usual suspects.”

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For a long time, I thought my usual suspects were fear and worry because those negative emotions robbed my joy, woke me up at night, and prevented me from stepping out of my comfort zone. Then I realized my thoughts were the culprit, instigating all kinds of wild imaginings especially over my kids’ safety.

What if my toddler chokes on a hotdog? What if a stranger steals my kid? What if my teenage child gets injured in a car accident? What if my husband and I die, who’ll raise our kids?

My children grew up, but the wild imaginings continued. I felt more vulnerable with age, and realized how little control (if any) I had over the well being of others. I’d also witnessed enough tragedy in the news and among friends to justify my what ifs.

I told myself worry and fear couldn’t prevent bad things from happening. I told myself worry and fear were a waste of mental energy if these trial weren’t going to happen. I told myself fear is not from the Lord. But all that self talk didn’t help because I’d failed to recognize the source of my worry and fear.

Finally, someone listened to my wild imaginings and said, “You need to capture your thoughts so you’ll experience God’s peace.”

Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?

I understood the impact thoughts have on our moods, words, and actions. I’d often told my children, “Think happy thoughts.” I’d quote Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

So what was I thinking?

If I was going to capture my thoughts, I had to recognize my malicious thoughts so I could round them up at the first sign of goosebumps or dread. When a fearful moment arrived, I envisioned minuscule soldiers stationed in my mind—arresting that terrifying thought before it got out of hand. No visitation allowed. I refused to let my mind entertain that thought.

 

police-306317_1280But the nagging thoughts hollered:
What if your negative thoughts are valid?
What if your worst nightmares come true?

That’s when I mustered my second defense. It wasn’t enough to capture my thoughts, I had to renew my mind by reading God’s Word. Then, I challenged myself. “You like to dwell on what ifs. Think about this:

What if you controlled your thoughts instead of allowing your thoughts to control you?
What if you believed God is able to do more than you can imagine instead of focusing on your wild imaginings?
What if you believed God’s promises to provide, comfort, and guide you instead of wondering how you’ll cope?
What if you trusted God’s sovereignty instead of worrying about the future?
What if you believed God’s grace is sufficient even in your worst nightmare?
What if you believed that nothing—no sin or failure—can separate you from God’s love?
What if you believed to be absent from the flesh is to be present with the Lord?
What if you gave thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you?

Would these thoughts, these mind-blowing truths, alleviate your worries and fears? Would they free you to live? If so, round up the usual suspects–even in this moment!

 

Images: Pixabay.com

 

 

Self-Condemnation not Allowed

You’re a horrible person. When will you ever learn? How can God love you?

Those are some of the nagging, ugly voices in someone’s head who wrestles with Self-Condemnation. They’re stuck. Unable to let go of their mistakes and sin. Or they view themselves as an ongoing failure.

I’ve been there, and I wonder. Did Eve live in condemnation because she listened to Satan instead of God, and ate the forbidden fruit?

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  • Did Eve justify her sin and continue to blame Satan?
  • Feel bitter towards Adam who blamed her when God confronted him?
  • Beat herself up whenever she thought of that fruit which was pleasing to the eye, but didn’t live up to Satan’s promise?

Or did Eve recognize God’s grace and praise His name? Aware that God could have struck her dead and taken another rib from Adam to create another, more perfect woman.

Instead, the Lord loved Eve and sought her while she was hiding in the garden. He listened to her explanation. Then—despite Eve’s guilt—God sacrificed an animal to provide skins to clothe her. And He promised that one day, her seed would bruise the head of Satan.

Did she receive God’s forgiveness…and forgive herself…even though she bore the harsh consequences of her actions?

I regret words and actions that happened decades ago. But there’s no place for loathing myself or living in self-condemnation. It’s also not good to overlook our wrong behavior with a flippant attitude that “nobody’s perfect.”

Even so, the enemy loves to wag his finger and lying tongue at us.

You’re a failure. Nobody loves you.
How many times will God forgive you?
You’ll never reach your goals.
You’re a horrible excuse for a wife and mom.

The only way to stop the lies—and condemnation—is to take our every thought captive. Then squash negative thoughts and emotions with God’s Word as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to transform us.

Barb Ravling’s book, Renewing of the Mind Project, helped me. It’s filled with introspective questions to reveal what we think and believe about God, ourselves, and our circumstances. She also provides tips and ample scripture—God’s Truth—so we can gain victory over our negative emotions and debilitating habits.

  • “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 8:1)
  • “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35)
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9)

Condemnation is an insufferable place to live. So is bitterness, anger, worry, stress, and emotional eating. Barb Raveling says, “If we want to be victorious over our habits and emotions, we need to take time to renew our mind.”

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After all, self-condemnation is “condemning someone God loves very much…even in this moment…YOU!”

 

Do You Talk to Yourself?

I’ve been absent for a month—meandering in the wilderness.

I won’t ask if you missed me but, if you haven’t noticed, my last three blogs were guest posts. I value what each of them had to say, but I also shared their words because I had nothing to say.

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Spiritually depressed, without apparent reason, I wondered if I’d ever blog again.

Have you been soul empty? Lost the joy of the Lord?

Earlier this summer, I warned readers of Taking a Vacation from God which can lead to spiritual apathy. That wasn’t my case.

Spiritual blindness sprang up overnight. Blinded to the cause, I begged for a lifeline out of the miry pit.

Read my Bible, but His Word didn’t register.
Prayed, but my words fell flat.
Went to church, but the manna only nourished me for an hour.

I couldn’t blame my current circumstances for life was sweet. Or a lack of spiritual meat because I’d been studying God’s names; in awe of His love for me.

So I waited for the cloud to pass. My only hope in Him.

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Then Pastor Joe referred me to the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The author said the cause of spiritual depression can be someone’s temperament, physical ailment, or unbelief. But another cause can be a reaction after a great blessing or exceptional experience such as Elijah in 1 Kings.

Made sense. After weeks of preparing a talk, He Knows My Name, my spiritual high came crashing. Is that how astronauts feel when they return from celestial heights to Earth?

What’s the cure? According to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Psalm 42 is the antidote.

The Psalmist, King David, is depressed by his circumstances, but instead of commiserating, he talks to himself.

“We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to talk to us.”

Lloyd-Martin explains. “Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. They start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.”

Do you listen to the voices in your head? Is the main voice talking your Self?

We need to learn how to handle ourselves.

“You have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be be disquieted?

You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.

Remind yourself of God. Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Ending on this note: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.

Is this cure sure?

Well, I wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t found the joy of the Lord even in this…..

 

Wilderness  photo: www.JennyWredePhotography.com

Depressed woman: Pixabay

 

 

 

How Do You Handle A New Normal?

My friend could walk and feed herself a year ago.

She could hug her husband, hold her grandchildren, use her mobile phone, drive a car. Pull the bedspread over her shoulders when she was cold at night.

Now Vicki’s life is a new kind of normal.

Physical therapy, medical appointments, caregivers, pain pills, temporarily living with her husband in their married daughter’s home, learning to walk by faith and not by sight.

Doctors predict improvement, but rehabilitation is a slow process. There are never guarantees in life, but there is gratitude. And Vicki is the first to praise God’s mercies and provision in this new normal.

My friend, Terrie, and I visited our mutual friend. A married couple also came. We gathered around the dining room table to eat pancakes, talk, laugh, listen, pray. Tried not to cry.

But it was no small matter—and I doubt it went unnoticed—that a stranger sat among us. The caregiver tried to be inconspicuous as she fed Vicki, waited for her to chew, and swallow. Wiped her mouth and held a glass of orange juice to her lips.

Before we left, Terrie offered to massage Vicki’s feet with lotion.

Vicki smiled. “That’d be great. Thank you.”

Terrie sat on the floor in front of the wheelchair. She removed Vicki’s tennis shoe and compression sock. We mentioned the blue polish on her toenails. My eyes watered (thus the blurry photo) as I watched my friend gently massage and caress Vicki’s feet and the calves of her weak legs.

I thought of the woman in the Bible—who’d been forgiven much—washing Jesus’ feet with her tears; drying them with her long hair.

Did my two friends view this foot massage as a humble, sacred moment?

I snapped a photo to remember how quickly life can change. A visual reminder that no act of kindness is too small if we want others to know that we care.

I wondered how Vicki felt, confined in a wheelchair, allowing people to feed her and massage her feet. Did she swallow her pride? Mentally beat her breast, ‘Why me, Lord?’ Or did she feel loved and cherished?

I can’t speak for Vicki—and wouldn’t share her thoughts if I knew—but I can say this.

From the time we met, this soft-spoken woman’s been a prayer warrior. I’ve seen her rely on the Lord Jesus to sustain her in previous trials, and her stalwart faith hasn’t changed.

Vicki told us that her grandson called her “a Bible-reading Grandma.” She can’t hold her Bible now, but God’s Word upholds her.

For years ago, Vicki chose to immerse herself in scripture. She learned to trust in a sovereign God long before this storm blew into her life. And by God’s grace, she will not be moved even in this.

Are you Spiritually Thirsty?

While I was visiting my folks in Texas, my grown daughter Jenny took this photograph of my mom’s kitten. He had a crippled leg and dragged himself up to the edge of the water bucket so he could drink.

The photo made me think of John 7:37,38 when Jesus stood and cried out saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'”

Are you spiritually thirsty? There’s only One way to quench your thirst. So take the time this week to drink.

 

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Photography: JennyWredePhotography

Why Words Matter

Love my morning coffee.

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Yesterday, however, I grimaced after the first sip. Too much Half n Half.

The flavor overpowered the coffee. So I brewed more coffee. Poured it into my mug to dilute the Half n Half. Didn’t help.

At the end of the day, a mug of cold coffee sat on the patio table where I’d left it.

That evening, I noticed there were two similar cartons in my refrigerator. Turns out I’d poured Whipping Cream instead of Half n Half into my coffee.

Words matter.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used or bought something without reading the words on the label. Ever tried Unsalted Pretzels? I still have them if you’re interested.

Lately, people need Google Translation to figure out what I’m saying:

Me: “Hey, I’m going to Home Depot for groceries.”
Friend: “You mean Holiday Market?”
Me: “Didn’t I say that?”

I don’t mind poking fun at myself, but,

Words Matter. They’re more than letters and phonetic sounds.

Just look up “word” in a Bible concordance.

  • “A harsh word stirs up anger.”
  • “How delightful is a timely word.”
  • “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.
  • “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”

Add mouth or tongue to the word search; you’ll have a field day.

I wonder how many words are in the English language?

file000278512533As a child, whenever someone bullied me, I’d respond, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

This rhyme worked about as well as rubbing my rabbit’s foot for good luck. But I’m no longer a child; my skin is thicker.

I’ve spoken, heard, written, and read more words than I can count. Good. Bad. Some words I can’t spell or define, but I know that….

Words have the power to ignite wars, civil strife, family feuds. And crush individuals.

Words also have the ability to challenge, inspire, and heal.

We get to choose our words.

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Years ago, my friend’s husband was brutally murdered by three male strangers. They broke into her home—intent on stealing—and were surprised by her husband’s presence. I won’t say more.

Justice was served. Those men were condemned and sent to prison. However, it didn’t alleviate my friend’s heartache.

So she prayed and sought the Lord for counsel.

Eventually, she wrote each of those condemned men a letter in which she shared the Gospel of Christ. 

She included the words: “I forgive you for murdering my husband.”

One of the men wrote back. He said he’d been praying for a sign to know he’d been forgiven.

Her words were like a balm to that man’s soul. His words made my friend weep for joy.

How is it possible for a grief-stricken widow to rise above her sorrow and share the Gospel with condemned men? How was she able to forgive?

By God’s grace, and a willingness to obey God’s Word.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28.)

Christ’ Words, not mine.

And His Word matters. Even in this…especially in this …volatile world.

Are you Afraid?

You’ve felt it, right?

Skin tingling, warm neck, heart palpitations….

Compliments of FEAR that rises in your belly even though your mind tries to be rational.

My daughter used to scream whenever she saw a spider on the wall. Using a tissue, I’d grab the innocent, unsuspecting creature, and flush him down the toilet.

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“How can you do that?” she’d ask.

Because I’m not afraid of spiders.

I am, however, afraid of falling from great heights.

A few weeks ago, my husband offered to buy me lunch at Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. Instead of driving four hours, he wanted to fly me there in a two passenger (tandem seating) Citabria. Otherwise known as a taildragger plane.

“It’s only a two-hour flight,” he said. “It’ll be fun!”

Flying, fun? I had a panic attack before I got into the plane.

It’s not that I don’t trust my husband as a pilot. He has thousands of flying hours. But there’s something about sitting in a small area (behind the pilot) with a few inches of light-weight materials (metal, wood, fabric) between me and 3,000 feet of space that makes me….AFRAID!

However, I wanted to be courageous.

While Husband flew the plane, I made myself smile and repeat the Bible verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I can do this…even this.

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I also listened to a podcast on anxiety.

The narrator’s soothing voice instructed me to, “Place both your feet on the ground.”

That’s the problem. My feet aren’t on the ground.

“Breathe deep.”

Smells like jet fuel.

“Close your eyes. What do you hear?”

The loud rumble of a single engine with a propellor which I pray doesn’t quit in midair.

Such were my anxious thoughts while my sweaty hands clung to each side of the plane. Not unlike the way I cling to the metal cage of a ferris wheel. As if that would cushion my fall!

When the plane finally landed near the Pacific Ocean, my husband mentioned the breathtaking scenery we’d flown over. I couldn’t comment. I missed most of it because my eyes were squeezed shut.

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As for lunch, I didn’t have an appetite. I stared at the menu, wondering, How much is a bus ticket home?

Do I hear laughter? He who is without fear cast the first stone.

Fear is first mentioned in Genesis when Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (3:10)

God knows our propensity to be afraid.

Afraid of objects. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of change.

Afraid of death, man, failure, rejection.

And yet, whenever fear is mentioned in the Bible, scripture reminds us that in every situation—even death—God is always present and all-powerful.

Therefore, we will not fear though…..

I know this to be true. And “the truth,” Jesus said, “will set you free.” This includes freedom from worry and fear.

That means I must habitually renew my mind by immersing myself in God’s Word in order to know the truth.

And then cling to Truth regardless of sweaty hands.

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Otherwise, I’ll fly through life with my eyes closed. Unable to enjoy the journey.

What makes you afraid?

Magnified Wonder Guaranteed

Christmas is past, but the memories are imprinted on my brain like the home videos of my children throughout the years.

 Whenever I watch the video tapes of Christmas morning, my children didn’t run into the living room and grab their presents. They inched forward with wide eyes and gaping mouths as though they were in a dream.

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Colorfully-wrapped boxes, stacked like nursery blocks, surrounded a brightly-lit Christmas tree where sparkling ornaments dangled from pine-needle branches.

 A large stuffed animal or a bicycle parked beside the tree might as well have been Manna from Heaven.

Even stockings hung on chairs triggered awe as nimble fingers pulled out candy canes and tangerines.

Now that I’m an adult and my children are grown, I miss the Christmas magic that transforms a common room into Wonderland.

And yet, I expect Heaven will fill me with the same child-like wonder~~Only Magnified~~when I leave this earthly vessel and enter into God’s glorious presence.

Will my face glow in adoration? Will I be Son-struck by the nail-scarred hands of the Prince of Peace? Will I weep for joy the Lamb of God bore my sin and died for me? Will I raise my voice with angels and sing God’s praises?

Like the words from a song by Mercy Me…I Can Only Imagine.

20140103_115656However, I do know that God, who created and foreknew me, will conform me into the image of Christ, the first-born among many brethren. (Romans 8: 29)

My Spiritual Inheritance is more than a casual hope or wishful thinking. (Ephesians 1:14) I’m assured God’s Promise of eternal life is guaranteed.

My oldest son remembers a Christmas when he asked for the latest gaming system: a Nintendo 64. Oh, how his eyes shone as he unwrapped several Nintendo 64 video games.

However, store supply did not match consumer demand. There was no Nintendo 64 beneath the Christmas tree. No way to play the video games that day.

My son’s heart sank, but he trusted a mother’s promise that he’d receive the Nintendo 64. My son knew I loved him, and intended to keep my word. So my son felt assured he would receive his gift. And he did!

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As we head into a New Year, my prayer is that God will increase our faith to trust Him more even when circumstances and our wavering hearts try to persuade us otherwise.

Be assured, God is trustworthy. He intends to keep His promises!

So let us run the race with endurance and enter into God’s daily presence with the awestruck wonder and joy of a child on Christmas morning.

The Last Time

School is over. My son, my youngest child, graduates from high school next week.

As I spread mayonnaise onto a piece of bread, I realize this is the last sandwich I’ll make for my son to eat at school.  No more brown-bag lunches filled with sandwiches, chips, and sliced apple.

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Only the Lord knows how many hundreds of school lunches I’ve prepared when I multiply them by three children. My son offered to make his lunch, but years of habit evolved into my morning ritual.

Last evening, I attended our last High School choir concert. While my eyes were fixed on my son’s clean-shaven face, I remembered another concert years ago. The elementary-aged children held battery-operated candles as they sang. Well, most children held them. My third-grade son used his candle to sword fight with the boy next to him.

Today my son’s strong body towers over me. His deep voice is reminiscent of a Bass Cello. I love to hear him sing. So when the choir sang the last note in the last song of his last concert, tears clouded my vision.

My son isn’t obsessed with last moments. He’s ready to raise anchor and leave shore, bound for new horizons. I’m excited for him, but this melancholy mom cradles last moments.   

What emotions swept over Jesus when he ate the last Passover Meal with his disciples?

Jesus knew it was their Last Supper. “The time has come for me, the Son of Man, to enter into my glory….Dear children, how brief are these moments before I must go away and leave you!” (John 13:31-33)

Although Jesus had warned his disciples this day would come, they panicked:

“Lord, where are you going?”

“Why can’t I come now, Lord?”

“We haven’t any idea where you are going…”

It may have been their Last Supper, but it wasn’t the end of their relationship with Jesus.

 “Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

For three days, the disciples were derailed by their circumstances…the trial and death of Jesus. They ran and hid. Peter denied knowing Christ. They might have lost all hope for tomorrow if not for Jesus’ words.  “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” (John 16:22)  

True to His word, Christ was resurrected and appeared to them before he left them and was taken up to heaven. And his disciples were “filled with great joy.”

Likewise, our sorrowful moments…even the last ones…can become joyful when we trust Jesus and keep our eyes on Him. 

Not What but WHO

The house is robed in darkness when I slip away from the warmth of my bed and my slumbering husband. I’d rather brew a cup of tea and pray than toss and turn.

I weave my way through the dark and around the furniture until I find the kitchen light. While tea leaves steep, I notice my hungry cat waiting at the back door.

Open a can of food for her, open the Bible for me.

I’m not a morning person, but I love the silence where God is able to speak without interruptions.

If only I can keep my mind from distractions. My year that began slow has picked up speed. The winds are changing.

I tell myself “rejoice in the Lord” because my joy is not based on What is happening in my life, but WHO is ever present.  

El Roi, the God who sees me, even in the dark while I sip tea.

How odd…or is it…that I open my Bible to Psalm 143 where my words were once scrawled in the margin: February 2001: anxiety attack and winter depression.

What happened long ago that caused me to underline emotions that King David experienced: “persecuted, crushed, overwhelmed.”

I can’t remember why those emotions held me hostage, but the solution remains underlined.

“I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the work of Thy hands. I stretch out my hands to Thee; my soul longs for Thee as a parched land.” (verses 5,6)

On that winter morning, I lived in dark places. (vs.3)

But I knew then…as I know now…the ONE True God who could and would …

·        Revive me.

·        Teach me.

·        Deliver me.

And bring my soul out of trouble.

Even now, as I write these words, night has slipped away. Daylight is here. And on my window sill, a cross with the words from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…to give you hope and a future.”    

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If anxious thoughts woke me, they are gone.  Not because my circumstances changed, or God fixed my problems overnight.

My soul is at rest because the Lord is my hope and refuge.

And He never changes…not even in this.