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Posts Tagged ‘Encouragement’

I bought a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider with the hope of someday celebrating a publisher’s decision to purchase one of my picture book manuscripts. The bottle resides at the back of an unused cupboard. Its top label is coming unglued. It’s stained. It’s dusty. It’s ten years old.

I am good friends with the first half of Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I told myself if I received 25 manuscript rejections, I would throw a party. I lost count somewhere in the mid-thirties and never had my party. But I still have my bottle of Martinell’s. And even though its drinkability died about seven years ago, the hope it represents has not. Hope deferred is still hope. It is hope prolonged…not annihilated.

I love Psalm 71:14, “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” It’s a statement. A resolution. A choice against odds. Hope needs to be a determined purpose because it is difficult to sustain when its fruit seems nonexistent. But ponder hope’s alternatives: despair, self-pity, cynicism, anger, depression.  As for me, I will always have hope. Micah 7:7 is similar:

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

Expectancy while waiting. Confidence that the One you trust will deliver.

I look forward to the day (soon, I hope) when Proverbs 13:12aHope deferred makes the heart sick” is no longer relevant to my picture book dreams. Instead, I anticipate the “b” portion of the verse: “…but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So the next time I’m at the grocery store, I’m going to buy a fresh bottle of Martinelli’s. Because I don’t want “a longing fulfilled” to make the stomach sick.

As for me, I will always have hope.

What are you hoping for?

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Have you ever known a young child with an imaginary friend? My daughter, Hannah, had an imaginary country. Dinka-Dinka, whose residents lived in lime green trees above hot pink grass, was referenced at her convenience:

Me:  “Here. Try this yummy broccoli.”

Hannah:  “I already tried it in Dinka-Dinka. I didn’t like it.”

*                *               *                *

Me (Smiling):  “Time to sleep!”

Hannah:  “No. It’s not bedtime in Dinka-Dinka.”

Me (Not smiling):  *Sigh.*

When she was in trouble, Hannah would threaten to run away to Dinka-Dinka, even packing her Pooh suitcase on one occasion. A scapegoat country. Good idea…for a three year old.

During difficult circumstances or when we’re in trouble, many of us would enjoy running away to an invented country where life is easy and operates on our terms. But competent doctors have a scary name for adults who habitually live in make-believe locations…schizophrenic. Many hurting people prefer more socially acceptable platforms for fleeing to imaginary worlds–including video games, the internet, movies, and fictional novels.

Although everyone relishes opportunities to “get away from it all,” the truth is, Christians do not need a fantasy location for escaping life’s harsh realities. We have an authentic one. Because Jesus became the scapegoat¹ (escape goat) who bore our sins and failures, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”² Through Christ’s blood “we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into the Holy Place.”³

We can boldy go to the Holy Place:

A safe, sane haven.

Immediate openings.

Direct access to the grace and place of God’s presence where there is mercy, help, “fullness of joy,⁴” and rest for the weary.⁵

Can you think of a better place to get away?

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¹See Leviticus 16

² Hebrews 4:16, NIV

³Hebrews 10:19, The Message

⁴Psalm 16:11, NKJV

⁵Matthew 11:28

Picture Source: Dreamstime

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Outside of the Bible, there are two quotations I have used as creeds for decades. One is Alexander Hamilton’s “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The other comes from a key chain I had in high school which featured a confident, dolled-up Miss Piggy proclaiming, “You’ve gotta go with whatcha got!” In the last year, however, I’ve added my own simple creed:

“Be fully present.”

Like many multitaskers, I spend too much of life physically present in one location and mentally in another. I feel like Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training–being poked in the chest and chastised by an irritated Yoda, “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”

© Nicholas Sutcliffe | Dreamstime.com

In our pressure-cooker culture, I’m sure some  of you can relate. Physically, you’re watching your child’s soccer game, having lunch with a friend, or listening to a sermon…but mentally you’re organizing your schedule, making a grocery list, solving a conflict, or editing mistakes. Almost everyone has difficulty sustaining focus for long periods, but consistently choosing to be in two places at once can create several problems:

1. Divided Focus Can Be Unsafe

While driving, have you ever missed your turn because you mindlessly headed in a routine direction…rather than toward your actual destination? Some tasks are too critical for mental multitasking. We trust childcare providers, airline pilots, knife-wielding surgeons, drill-operating dentists, and coffee-bearing baristas to be fully present.

2. Divided Focus May Be Sin if…

  • you’re attending to the voice in your head more than listening to your “neighbor.” That’s called selfishness.
  • …the cause of your lack of focus is worry. The Bible is clear, “Do not be anxious about anything.”¹
  • …mental preoccupation hinders you from doing “whatever you do”…” with all your heart.”²

3. Divided Focus Can Rob You

Being “lost in thought” prevents you from: embracing moments with your children, fully enjoying the company of a friend, entering deeper into worship, maximizing time spent in God’s Word, or maintaining peace of mind. Divided focus can rob you of life’s simple pleasures and keep you from being content…whatever your circumstances.³

I’ve been praying for the mind of Christ and working on being fully present, but I’m not there yet. Not. Even. Close.  I’m going to keep trying to live my creed for several reasons…but especially because my time as a full-time mom is more than two-thirds gone. I don’t want to lose out on memories with my children because my mind is preoccupied. I want to be fully present. After all, “You must be present to win.”

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¹Matthew 6:25, 31, 34; Philippians 4:6

²Colossians 3:23

³Philippians 4:12

Photo Link: http://www.dreamstime.com/free-stock-photography-pensive-businesswoman-rimagefree405679-resi3675470

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jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Even

in darkness

light dawns

for the upright…

Psalm 112:4a

Cancer. Rebellious children. Unemployment. Transition. Financial strain. Loss. Depression. Several friends and I recently discussed the number of people we know who are embroiled in adversity. None of us could recall a time when so many friends and family were facing darkness.

Most of us don’t comprehend the darkness created by suffering or uncertainty while we are busy surviving it. The Old Testament’s Job didn’t understand it. He brazenly informed God and misguided friends of his anguish, his confusion. Yet in the middle of his sufferings when he was “nothing but skin and bones,” when his breath was offensive to his wife, when friends had forgotten him, and when young boys taunted him;¹ Job made a bold statement, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”² Unwavering faith–despite his conviction that this same Defender had “blocked” his way and shrouded” his “paths in darkness.”³

During two of my blackest weeks, I was restricted to a hospital bed in the Cayman Islands. My tactful physician from the Grenadines warned, “If da clot in ya pelvis come loose den ‘BOOM,’ ya dead.” I embraced Psalm 18:28 and have returned to it often:

“You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”

Roberto F (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The prophet Daniel desperately needed darkness illuminated. He, and all King Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, faced execution unless someone could interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–without being told the dream. After God revealed the dream and its meaning, Daniel lifted words of praise including:

“He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells in him.”⁴

We may not know what lies in our darkness, but The Light does…and “at night His song is with” us.⁵ Our God “will turn the darkness into light before” us.⁶

jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Do you have an encouraging story or scripture for dark times?

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¹Job 19: 12-20

²Job 19:25 (NASB)

³Job 19:8 (NIV)

⁴Daniel 2:22b

⁵Psalm 42:8b

⁶Isaiah 42:16b

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When my dad was teaching me to drive, he advised me to “Back up only as far as is necessary to go forward. Backing up too much is how you get into trouble.”  Two separate scrapes in my van’s bumper testify to the wisdom in that statement. But I think I’ve remembered his words for thirty years because they comprise a good analogy for life. Some backing up is necessary to recall God’s faithfulness or to avoid repeating mistakes, but constantly dredging the past gets me into trouble.

There is a Japanese proverb that says:

“My skirt with tears is always wet, I have forgotten to forget.”

While it can be a struggle to forget wrongs inflicted by others, I mostly wrestle with forgiving my own sins or failures. Although my greatest opportunity for having a manuscript published is before me, I “forget to forget” dozens of previous rejections, and wonder if I should “ditch the whole writing thing.” However, if I am writing for God’s glory, I need to overcome fear, put my “hand to the plow,” and not look back.¹

After listing his prestigious religious accomplishments, the apostle Paul “remembered to forget” them. He did not want pride getting in the way of moving forward:

“But one thing I do:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

I press on toward the goal

To win the prize

For which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13b-14 (NIV)

I appreciate the word “straining” in Paul’s verse, because forgetting and pressing onward require strenuous effort. However, the alternative consequences are more agonizing. If I have “forgotten to forget,” then pride, bitterness, pain, and fear offer stagnation, slow progress (three steps forward, two steps back), or retreat. And focusing on the road already traveled obstructs my view of God’s new way ahead:

“Do not call to mind the former things,

Or ponder things of the past.

Behold, I will do something new,

Now it will spring forth;

Will you not be aware of it?

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,

Rivers in the desert.”

Is. 43:18-19 (NASB)

Even if an ill-chosen path abandons me in the wilderness, the fingers of God will carve a new one. And if the omniscient God of the Universe remembers my  sins no more,² what grace should I extend to others…or myself? I must “remember to forget,” and drive forward.

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¹Luke 9:62

²Isaiah 43:25

Photo: http://www.picturearchive.co.za/index.php/cms/contentview/action/view/frmContentId/150076/image/0/name/No%20MCs…just%20old%20car%20pictures/

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My strict, German-American grandmother believed that after disciplining your child, “you should be able to go off and sing a song.” I comprehend her point: Discipline out of love, not anger. But in fifteen years of parenting, not once has this soprano assigned consequences to a child and then felt like busting a melody. Wanted to scream? Definitely. Cry? Of course. Laugh at melodramatic antics? Sometimes. Phone a counselor? Possibly. Sing? Never.

You raised three beautiful girls and five mischievous boys, Grandma. After delivering punishments, what on earth did you sing? “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen?”

Yesterday, there was an FBI (Formidable Behavioral Incident) in my home. When it was over, I did not sing. I prayed. I analyzed my child’s actions and my reaction. At some point, Grandma’s “singing philosophy” resurfaced and I began amusing my brain by fishing it for “Fitting Songs to Sing After Making My Child’s Life Miserable for His or Her Own Good.” Here is my selection:

1. The chorus of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler:

    An analogy jackpot, crooning this chorus could provide timely parenting cues.

  • “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” – Stand strong on moral, character, or safety issues. Fold on exasperating non-issues such as a son’s Justin Bieber bangs that consistently bury luminous blue eyes (as a random, hypothetical illustration).
  • “Know when to walk away and know when to run.” – Keep a calm, in-control, poker face when disciplining…even when yelling, snickering, or sobbing beg introduction. If this isn’t possible, walk away and “deal” consequences later.
  • “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.” Avoid evaluating a child’s end-result character based on the current hand your dealt. Keep working; the “game” is not over yet.

2. Get Back Up by TobyMac  –

We lose our way,
We get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again.

    There is always hope for my child’s behavior. And my parenting.

3. It is Well With My Soul, Kutless Version-

    Reserving this hymn for particularly distressing episodes could offer comforting revelation that at least something is right in the world.

4. The ending of Billy Joel’s  Just the Way You Are

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

My children do not know Billy Joel’s song, but I think they would recognize its theme. After dispensing discipline, I have been unsuccessful in implementing Grandma’s proverb “to go off and sing a song.” But I have told my kids I love them…no matter what. And that’s a tune I hope they remember. 

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Singer Icon: Matma Rex, Wikimedia Commons

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