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Archive for the ‘Overcoming’ Category

How do you read a story?

Novels are meant to be read page by page because the stories follow a progression, each page building on the action, tension and conflict of the page before it. That tension is important to keeping the reader engaged in the story until the end where they will see the growth and change of the character. For most people, skipping around or to reading the ending first would spoil the story.

As a young reader, I developed a bad habit. Whenever I reached a point where the tensions began to mount too high for me, I skipped to the end. I had to be sure the hero or heroine would be ok before I could continue. It didn’t seem to dampen my enthusiasm for the story, but rather it enabled me to cope better with the mounting tension. After reading the ending, the rest of the story became a giant flash back, enabling me to see how the characters arrived at the end. I saw details I might otherwise have missed  in the rush to get to that breath of relief at the end.

Unfortunately for us, the story of our lives isn’t like that. God seldom offers us the chance to see how things will end ahead of time. There is no easing of tension in the middle of the action. We have to learn to trust him THROUGH the tension and conflict without being able to see the resolution.

But he does make ways to help us understand and cope with the tension that is causing us to grow and change. Sometimes in the midst of our trials, he will bring others across our paths who have gone through similar experiences. As they share their stories with us, we see a glimmer of hope  that we can and will make it through. Those “mentors” may come in the form of a Bible character or a counselor. It may be an ordinary person who has survived extraordinary circumstances.

God also gives us hindsight to help us through our difficult places. The older we get, the more we can look back on our own Christian walk and see how the previous chapters of our story have worked out. We can see how God orchestrated the events of our lives to make us who we have become. These flashbacks help to remind us of his love and power to keep, heal,  deliver and comfort us through the remainder of the journey. He allows us to see how we’ve grown and changed along the way. It’s one important reason to keep a journal rather than trusting our memory alone.

Best of all, he walks with us,holding our hand or carrying us when we can’t cope with the tension of our lives. It’s a lot like the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness – their circumstances weren’t comfortable or easy, but they always had God’s Spirit with them in the form of the cloud by day and fire by night as well as his provision – the manna. He offers us the same hope that we will eventually come to the Promised Land at the end of the wilderness journey. The Lord will always be with us in the middle of our life story.

We will get through by learning to walk with him in the present, to watch for the help he sends along the way  and to trust him with the outcome. After all, He is a masterful author.

Can you cite some examples of how God has walked with you in the middle of trying circumstances?

 

 

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The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Reman

 

At first glance, the Book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love and loyalty. But when I began to dig further, I found a rich source of life lessons for dealing with emotional hurts.

As Dr. Reman’s quote suggests, unresolved grief can lead to other problems including depression.  Perhaps it was the sheer volume of Naomi’s grief – moving away from friends and family, then losing her husband and two sons in a foreign land – that caused her to lapse into such a deep depression. We know she was depressed because she tells her friends to call her “bitter” (Mara) when she finally returns to Bethlehem.

Because Naomi felt responsible for her two daughters-in-law, she may not have allowed herself to fully grieve the lthCAJAZKZFoss of her  sons. Her depression may have escalated into anxiety and desperation causing her to push the girls  back to their own families – to ensure that they would have a future and to relieve herself of the burden of responsibility.

When Ruth refused to go back, the weight of responsibility for the young woman’s welfare must have hung even more heavily around  Naomi’s shoulders. She truly loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, but in her depressed state of mind, Naomi couldn’t even imagine a solution. She became anxious and  desperate grasping at any small hope for a future for Ruth.

The Lord was orchestrating events for the two women in response to Ruth’s faith. He pointed her to the fields of Boaz, a perfect candidate to become the kinsman redeemer, a provision of Jewish law which ensured the care of widows and allowed the deceased family to retain their inheritance. But in Naomi’s depression she was unable to trust the Lord. When she realized Boaz could be a potential savior for herself and Ruth, she saw a glimmer of hope. But as time dragged on and Boaz didn’t follow through, Naomi became desperate and took matters into her own hands. She prostituted her daughter-in-law, hoping nature would take its course which would  force Boaz to “do what was right” by the women.

Because Ruth’s marriage to Boaz was part of God’s plan, there was no need for Naomi’s anxious and desperate measures. It would have worked out in God’s time with or without Naomi’s help.

God is in control of our lives as his daughters. Can you think of any times where you felt so desperate for something that you took matters into your own hands? What lessons have you learned about peace, rest and trust from these experiences?

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“Until the pain of change hurts less than the pain of staying the same, people prefer to stay the same.” Psychologist Richard Dobbins

In the real world, this is so true. 99% of people who come to know the Lord as their personal Savior, do so because of inner pain that hurts so much they cannot stay the same. Most people make health-related lifestyle changes for the same reasonthMBEN5S1D.

In the world of stories, this is true too – our characters and our plots are motivated by conflict. Both inner  struggles and struggles with the world around them move our characters to action, growth and change.

Consider the Bible account of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth, chapter 1. After losing her husband and two sons in Moab, the pain of remaining there was too great for Naomi. Even though her future looked bleak in Bethlehem, it looked even bleaker in Moab, so she packed up what she could and sold the rest of her belongings.

Naomi offered the same choice to her daughters-in law, although her description of life in Bethlehem was undoubtedly colored by her depressed state of mind. She painted it as bleak as possible, perhaps in an attempt to drive Ruth and Orpah from her. For Orpah, the move was too hard. She opted to stay in Moab. But for Ruth, the pain of remaining in Moab outweighed the pain of a bleak, uncertain future. She chose to return with Naomi.

Ruth’s choice piqued my curiosity – Why was it more painful to stay in Moab? Based on her family history,  it could have been an abusive past. Perhaps she had never known the love of a mother like Naomi. Most likely, it was a combination of factors. Whatever her reasons, the fact remains that it was too painful to stay in Moab.

In fact, the “pain of staying the same” was so great for Ruth, that she made a powerful, vehement vow to remain with Naomi until she died – a promise that was taken very seriously by the culture of that day and age. Understanding the depth of her determination to go with Naomi, leads me to believe the pain of life in Moab may have been life-threatening.

Naomi faced the pain of change with a grim determination that transitioned into deep depression the closer she got to Bethlehem. She told her relatives on her return to call her “Mara” which means “bitter.” Yet Ruth faced her pain of change  with determination and hope in spite of the bleakness of her choice. She was willing to do whatever it took to survive from the arduous work of gleaning to prostituting herself if necessary to ensure a future for herself and Naomi.

But it was Ruth’s attitude as she faced the pain of change that made all the difference. Because of her hopefulness, her dedication and desire to remain with Naomi, she became respected by Boaz as well as everyone in Bethlehem. Her ultimate wedding to Boaz was a joyful community affair.

Think about a time when crisis forced you to face a painful change in your life:

Did you choose to stay the same? Or did you choose to make a change?

If you decided to make a change, what kind of attitude did you display through the painful change – one of anger, depression and bitterness or hopeful acceptance?

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“So then, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us, too, put aside every impediment — that is, the sin which easily hampers our forward movement — and keep running with endurance in the contest set before us,”        Hebrews 12:1 CJB

Why does it feel like we never get anywhere when we’re trying to make changes in our lives? Probably because we always seem to take 2 steps backward for each step forward.

Lot’s wife in Genesis 19 is a great example of this. She hated living in the country so she persuaded her husband to move to the city of Sodom. After all, her husband was a wealthy man with flocks and herds. His servants could care for the critters and she could live the life of luxury she wanted.

City life wasn’t perfect either, but she overlooked the problems because she had the life she wanted. Until two angels came with a message to leave the city so God could destroy it. Lot’s family would be saved with one condition – don’t look back.

But even though she wanted to live;  even though she held her husband’s hand and fled from the coming destruction, the lure of her dream life beckoned to her. All her hopes and dreams were back in the city. Fear of the unknown future and feelings of overwhelming loss stared her in the face.  Even as she was pulled forward, she planted her feet in the ground and resisted the forward pull. Then she’d stumble and try to regain her footing, only to resist again. Finally, the forward motion against the grief in her heart hurt too bad. She gave in and actually looked back at what she’d left behind and she lost her life because of it.

Often, we know what God wants for us. We know the right things to do and how to do them. But  there is this resistance to our forward movement, pulling us two steps back for every step we struggle to take forward. We stumble and feel like we’re not making any headway. The past may not be perfect, but it feels safe because we know what to expect. And so we eventually give up the forward struggle for change.

Realistically, change will never be a straight line forward. It will be this up and down, back and forward kind of motion. But the key is to make forward progress – to take two steps forward and only one step back to reach our goals:

  • Acknowledge the resistance to forward movement in our lives. No, I don’t mean to look back on  the past and mourn for it like Lot’s wife. But we do need to recognize the effect of the past on our lives, so we can consciously find ways to  push forward against it.
  • Be willing fail. In our forward motion to grow and change, we will fail at times. Cultivate an attitude to get up and keep going to say, “OK, that didn’t work, let’s try something new.”
  • Set our eyes on the goal. That way, even if we fall down, we’re still pushing forward and will eventually make visible progress. Each time we push forward against the inertia of the backward pull, we’re strengthening our resolve to move forward.
  • Most important, hold the hand of the One who can help you make the changes you need to make in your life. That way, even if you resist, he can help you make forward progress.

We’re not alone in this life’s journey. All those who’ve gone before are cheering us on, urging us  keep moving forward, to live a victorious life in Christ!

Help me Lord to keep moving forward with my eyes on you until I reach the goal:  a life pleasing to you. Amen.

 

 

 

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“I will hurry, without delay, to obey your commands.”        Psalm 119:60 NLT

One of the pitfalls of being a writer is that it’s too easy to become distracted when I sit down to the computer to write – especially if  I feel stuck and am having a hard time crafting a particular scene.

Under the guise of “research,” I soon find myself surfing the Internet, looking for ideas to jump-start my creativity or I check my e-mail, just to see if a member of my writing group left a critique on something I submitted. Maybe I’ll just do a quick online cryptogram puzzle or work on marketing an article I wrote last week instead, because the ideas won’t come. Before I know it an hour has passed and I haven’t gotten any writing done.

It’s really called “procrastination” – putting off intentionally and habitually something that needs to be done. (Meriam Webster Dictionary)  And most of us do it at one time or another.

Writer Raymond Chandler had an interesting way to deal with his procrastinating side.  He set aside about 4 hours each day to write. Even if he didn’t feel like writing or was “stuck” on a particular scene, he would sit down to write anyway. He had two basic rules  during that 4 hours:  “A. you don’t have to write. B.  you can’t do anything else.”

Chandler’s “do nothing else” rule is kind of like a mental time-out for  chronic  procrastinators  Eventually boredom sets in and we do what needs to be done because there’s nothing else to do.

So here’s today’s challenge for all the chronic procrastinators out there: Choose one task from your to do list that you’ve put off. Set aside a block of time and implement Chandler’s rule – you don’t have to do that task, but don’t allow yourself to do anything else. No cheating!

Now, try applying that rule to your spiritual life. Is there something you know God wants you to do, but you’ve put it off? Like setting aside time for prayer or Bible reading each day? Or maybe helping someone else? Try applying Chandler’s “do nothing else” rule for that one thing until you can say like the Psalmist, “I will hurry, without delay to obey your commands.”

Father, help me make obedience a habit! Amen

 

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“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”        Romans 12:3 NLT

Saturday I spent the day at a local park for an event to raise money for local cancer patients – a Cancer Carnival. I took my books to sign and sell, hoping to be able to raise a little money for the human  trafficking victims to whom Daughter of Scarlet is dedicated plus a few other items to help raise money for the cause of the carnival.

It was fun to watch people stroll by the booth. Some had no interest in purchasing books at an event like the carnival. They walked by  in the sun, several feet from the shade of the canopy, barely giving the book table a glance. Others strolled by, glancing in to see what was there, before making a beeline for my niece’s Tupperware table.

But the ones who enjoyed reading came under the canopy and looked at the books, even picking them up to read the synopsis on the back. It was fun to watch their reactions when they looked at the back cover and then looked at me and said, “Is that you?” Then, even if they weren’t interested in buying a book, they usually stayed and chatted for a few minutes about books in general and sometimes about writing. I met several aspiring writers on Saturday.

I have to admit, I did get a momentary rush of pride when one sweet older woman looked at the books and got all excited. “It’s you!” she exclaimed. “I bought this book [Daughter of Scarlet]  and loved it. We chatted a bit and then she bought my other book before she left the table to wander past the other vendors.

I think all writers are pleased with that kind of recognition, although for me it also brings quite a bit of embarrassment as well since I have mixed feelings about pedestals and spotlights. When I began as a news writer 16 years ago, I felt like hiding under my desk when I realized people  actually read the things I wrote. LOL!

That embarrassment or feeling like my writing isn’t good enough is something I’ve had to work on over the years. Just as we’re not to think too highly of ourselves, we also shouldn’t think so little of ourselves that we avoid the spotlight when God places us there. It’s about being the person God created you to be, using the gifts and talents he gives you to the fullest and always pointing others to him.

Thank you Lord for the opportunity to point others to you through writing and word-of-mouth. Amen.

 

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“What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?”        Mark 8:36 CEV

Have you ever watched those programs about hoarding where people collect so much stuff they barely have paths to get through their houses?

At one time I might have commented, “Surely people don’t live like that!” But since then,  I’ve seen the reality up close. The first time, it was an elderly client who received personal care and light housekeeping services from the agency I worked for. Later, my husband and I cleaned out my parents’ home. They had amassed so much stuff, they really did only have a pathway to get through.  I lost count of all the unopened sheet and pillowcase sets we found, not to mention cases of paper towels and enough  3-pound cans of coffee to last for several years!

Perhaps this need to collect and save things evolved from their early childhood during the 1930’s Great Depression. But whatever  caused them to hoard, it eventually became a health hazard. Because of their age-related problems and all the stuff, they could no longer clean their house properly. All through the kitchen we found mouse droppings and packages of expired food which never got thrown out. The dust in other rooms had become almost toxic to breathe. Each time we returned from a cleaning trip, I ended up with an upper respiratory problem.

Thankfully, my husband and I have moved several times in our lifetime, which motivated us to sort through our possessions. We’ve tossed, sold and given away more than we’ve kept. And my daughters think it’s time to weed out stuff again so they don’t have to do it when we die. LOL!

They’re right too. True security doesn’t come from having stuff. It comes from knowing Jesus.

Father, help me to cut the physical and spiritual clutter in my life – to clear out those unnecessary things which only draw my attention away from you. Amen.

 

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