Enter the women! The women of the Bible that is. They are there, and they are an important part of God’s plan. Yes, I know that much of the Bible is written about men–kings and servants, rich men and poor men, good men and evil men. But in the beginning, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27.
Despite the current trend to try and eliminate “gender” from our society, it cannot be done, science proves that. If God had wanted only one gender he could easily have stopped creating after Adam. He specifically wanted there to be men and women. His divine design included both. We certainly would not have the Bible as we know it, or even the world if he had not created both.
So, let us begin at the beginning. Enter Eve. God had created Adam from the dust of the ground, then said it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) He put Adam into a deep sleep and removed a rib from him. From that rib, God created woman, Eve (Genesis 2:21-22) I think this may be more profound that we realize. God created man from dirt, (Genesis 2:7) but when it came to creating the woman, he did something completely different. Instead of scooping up another handful of dirt, he took part of the man’s body to use to form the woman. Was this because he truly wanted them to be a part of one another? Was it because he was creating something lesser than the man? Or was she the revised version, Man 2.0 as it were? Was she the newer model, offering more bells and whistles, making her the superior version? Part of me would really like to think that. But the other part of me believes that she was created from Adam’s rib so they would be almost two halves of a whole. Together, they created a new entity. They created a partnership of man and woman, which we call marriage, and from the marriage the man and woman created a family.
Eve takes a bad rap for having given Adam the apple to eat, but really, was he such a poor spineless thing he couldn’t think for himself? I don’t believe so, he simply did not want God to be mad at him, so he pointed the finger at Eve. The real culprit here was the snake, but that and the fact that neither Adam nor Eve took responsibility for their own actions is a story for another day.
Through the centuries many women have played important parts in God’s plan. Some are specifically named and others are not. Take Noah for example. Without his wife (unnamed) and his son’s wives (also unnamed) there would have been no re-creation of mankind after the flood. We are all descendants of Noah.
Centuries later enter Ruth the Moabite. The story begins with a Jewish family; Elimelek, his wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Killion. There is a famine in Israel and Elimelek moves his family to Moab where there is no famine. It is here both sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Within the space of a few years, all three men die. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. Ruth accompanies her, saying “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” In the end, she ends up marrying her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth is a woman of spotless character and true obedience. So much so that she gave her firstborn child to Naomi to raise as her son. What a rare form of goodness, obedience and love.
Somewhere around the same century as the book of Ruth was written, so was this next book. Enter Esther. Esther (also known as Hadassah) was a Jewish orphan being raised by her uncle Mordecai. She was an extremely beautiful young woman. King Xerxes (or Ahuesuerus) of Persia was looking for a wife and had posted throughout his kingdom his intentions, Several young women, including Esther were taken to the palace and placed under the care of a eunuch named Hegai. He took a special interest in Esther because of her modesty, innocence and true inner beauty. To make a long story short, Esther is picked as the queen but the king does not know she is Jewish.
The enemy of the Jews, Haman, was an honored noble of the king’s entourage. Haman tries to destroy all the Jews, but Esther and her uncle come up with a solution to put Haman out of the picture and prevent the massacre of thousands of Jews. Esther’s courage, love and family devotion, allowed her to take the steps necessary to save her people even if it cost her life. Ruth and Esther are two of my favorite books of the Bible. They contain romance, mystery, tragedy, comedy and a triumph of right over wrong, all revolving around each of these women and their time and place in history.
There are many other women, though they don’t have an entire book of the Bible accorded to them, they are important to the overall plan of God. Women such as Dorcas, Lydia and Phoebe who all played vital roles in growing the new church, after the resurrection of Jesus. I will tell their stories and more in another post.
Now, enter two of the most important women in the New Testament, the two cousins Elizabeth and Mary. One elderly, one very young, both giving birth to people who would change the world. Elizabeth bore John the Baptist, who was “the voice of one calling in the wilderness” the one who was sent to prepare the world for Jesus. And Mary, barely more than a child herself, upon being told she was to bear God’s son, praised God for the privilege and walked what was probably a very difficult path. She was pregnant and not by Joseph her betrothed husband. But she faced those trials anyway. As Joyce Meyers might say, she did it afraid. Even though she may have been afraid, she stepped outside her comfort zone to follow God. Such incredible obedience and faith
Not only did she appear in the Gospels as the young mother of the Christ child, she is notably there at the crucifixion of her son also. “The women” is the description we are given about a group of faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Enter the women at the tomb.
There were several of them, some named, some not that went to the tomb after the Sabbath to attend to the body of their Lord. One last time they would honor him. They had mixed their burial spices and were ready. The came to the tomb early in the morning. They knew where the tomb was because after the crucifixion, when the disciples had all gone into hiding, these women followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who procured the body of Christ and laid it in a new tomb owned by the same Joseph. They wrapped the body in linen cloths but could do no more as the Sabbath was about to begin.
These women, these faithful servants arrived at the tomb only to find it empty, and the stone rolled away. While the details of each gospel recording of this event are a little different, the main theme is the same. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of John the Lesser, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Salome the mother of James and John (sons of thunder)are named in the four gospels. God chose these women, not one of the apostles, to share the news of Christ’s resurrection with the others.
Throughout the Bible, there are many important women woven into God’s plan for this earth. I have only named a few, but there are many more, each with a distinctive role to play. I know that women have been told by society for many years that they are not as important as men. That simply is not true, not in the Bible and not in our society today. Both genders, male and female, play equally important parts in this mystery of life.
We too have a role to play, responsibilities to shoulder and work to be done to further the kingdom and to fulfill the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Have you found your role? If not, I suggest you seriously pray about it. The Bible says in James 1:5 “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” So go ahead and ask, God is waiting for you to call, but your cell phone won’t work for this call.
Its Easter. In my opinion, Easter is the single most important event in Christianity. It is the resurrection of Christ that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world. Christianity is the only religion whose savior died and rose again. So why aren’t we all decorating our houses and businesses and singing Easter carols and doing all the things we do at Christmas? I really don’t know.
Christmas had to happen so that Easter could, but shouldn’t we be celebrating Easter as much as we do Christmas? For most of us, we start celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, putting up our Christmas trees, and outside lights, and a blow up Santa for the front yard. Then, its off to the stores, to spend more than we can afford on gifts for everyone we know and their brother’s cousins. We spend weeks agonizing over what to buy for whom, how many parties we can fit into our schedule, and who to invite for Christmas dinner. Don’t forget putting together an impressive menu for Christmas dinner complete with fancy table decorations and place cards. Ok so now I know I’ve gone way past what most of do these days. I’m just trying to make a point. We go all out for Christmas and barely notice Easter.
I have always looked forward to the Holy Week celebrations, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I don’t remember from my childhood, much about any mid-week celebrations. But as a young adult raising children, I have very distinct memories. Palm Sunday was the day all the children marched around the church waving palm leaves and singing hosannas. As a part of the Altar Guild (ladies of the church who kept the sanctuary dressed and prepared for every Church season including preparing Communion on the appropriate Sundays), we changed the paraments on the altar to all white and gold. The colors of Easter. We did not do anything special for Holy Monday and Tuesday. Just this year, I heard Holy Wednesday is now referred to as Silent Wednesday as nothing in the Bible apparently reflects any activity for the Lord that day.
The main activities started on Maundy Thursday. This church service for that day was an evening service. It commemorates Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Peter of course didn’t want the Lord to abase himself by washing Peter’s feet. The Lord however explained that if he did not wash Peter’s feet, he could not be a part of Jesus’s ministry. Peter as always going from one extreme to the other then asked the Lord to wash his entire body. Once again Jesus explains that when a man has bathed, all he needs to do is wash his feet to remain clean. Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about servanthood.
Then the highlight of the week was always the Good Friday services. The church I attended was 1 mile down the road from the church of another denomination. However, the two churches got together and did a walk of the cross each year. One year it would go from my church to the other and the next year the same thing in reverse. Those who wanted to participate would meet at the starting point. A short prayer service was held. When it was over, a full-size cross was brought out. The group then joined in prayer and read scripture relevant to Jesus’s walk to the cross, I think it is referred to as the Stations of the Cross. Participants took turns in groups of 3 to 4 carrying the cross down the road. There were 4-5 stops along the route repeating the same process with different scripture. We almost always wore t-shirts that identified us as participants. At the end we gathered into the ending church’s sanctuary for a very short prayer service to end the walk. It was such an uplifting way to spend the day. Really made us think about Jesus’s journey.
Friday evening was the best. There was a wonderful service focusing on the love of Jesus for us. The service ended in silence and everyone filed out, except the women of the altar guild, who stripped the altar of all paraments, candles, flowers, communion cups all in complete silence. Holy Saturday was a time of personal reflection with no services. Often there were prayer vigils that you could sign up to pray during a specific time, so there would be 24 straight hours of prayer.
Then it was Easter Sunday. There were three services. My favorite was the sunrise service. A relatively short service almost always held outdoors, as the sun was rising. It was an amazing experience. The other two morning services were traditional Easter services and usually packed full. Something about Christmas and Easter brings people, who normally don’t attend church regularly, to seek out the comfort of God’s love on those two holidays. Then, its time for the secular celebrations and Easter egg hunts, lots of candy and a wonderful holiday meal filled with family.
So why is it that we approach these two holidays so differently? They are like the bookends of our faith. Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus with so much hoopla and barely make a nod to the death and resurrection of that same Jesus? For it is his death and resurrection upon which the Christian faith is built. Not only did he die and resurrect, but he stayed forty days instructing his disciples and preparing them to move forward without him. Then he ascended to return to his Father in heaven. Why isn’t this celebrated like Christmas? Maybe because the resurrection could not happen without the death of Jesus, and that is too brutal and horrific to allow us to celebrate like we do the birth of a new baby. Even though we may not sing Easter carols and decorate a month ahead of time, it is a time for rejoicing. After all, HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!
I’m not at all sure how I feel about surprises. I used to really enjoy them, mostly because they were usually good surprises. However, 2020 and now 2021 have been full of very unpleasant surprises.
Covid-19, of course, being one of the biggest and worst surprises ever in my life. Just about the time the world is starting to get a handle on that and get people vaccinated, a whole raft of new strains have emerged and it seems as though no one is really sure if the vaccines will work on all of them. This big ugly surprise keeps playing hide and seek with us. (PS I’m a 1B and on every list I can find and still can’t get scheduled. If anyone has any insight, let me know.)
We finally get past “the worst year” most of us have ever experienced, only to be met with 2020 2.0 aka 2021. Not only are more new strains of the virus arising, the weather had some very unpleasant surprises for us too. I live in Houston, which has generally very warm weather year round. Winter usually feels like fall would feel anywhere else. For the first time in many years (disregarding all the little snow flurries) Houston had a memorable snow event. The last one before this current storm was December 2017, and the main reason it was so memorable was that, surprise, surprise it followed on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. Prior to that, the most recent big snow event was 8 years before that. (Internet source, google search: ABC13 Winter Weather, Houston KTRK, Copyright 2021KTRK-TV) Along comes 2021 bringing one of the worst winter storms ever. Not because of the amount of snow, but because of the near zero temperatures. Water and power were out in many parts of Texas.
Now that may not sound like such a big deal to any of you who come from cold country and as my friend in Wyoming told me it was -24 where she live and they managed to maintain power and water! Way to cold for me. The reason it was a big deal here, is that municipalities either didn’t have a plan for this type of emergency or their plan failed. (FEMA offers some of the best disaster training for cities and counties that you can imagine. Perhaps someone will see the need for that now in Houston. )
At any rate, as I understand it, the water was frozen in the pipes and could not flow and the power needs overloaded the grid. I’m sure all of us have at one time or another been without either water or power or even without both at the same time. But it is not too often that those losses extend over several days (at least not in the dead of winter. Hurricanes, of course, are a different story). We forget just how dependent we are upon water and power. The worst, for me anyway, was that we could not flush a toilet without water or power.
Fortunately for me, I had spent the last 8-10 years in hurricane prone areas and so I had an emergency plan. Cook everything in your freezer, fill your car with gas, have enough bottled water on hand for a week. And check your emergency backpacks to make sure you have the supplies you will need if you must leave. Most gas stations ran out of gas as the roads were too unsafe to deliver gasoline to them. People panicked and bought all the water they could lay their hands on. Packaged ice made for great cooking water, especially when the boil water notice was posted. You can melt ice and cook (if you have a gas stove or bbq grill).
I live in an apartment complex and fortunately had access to a swimming pool where residents were bringing their containers to fill them up with water to use to flush the toilets. It is also amazing how dependent we have become on electricity to survive. I would have given a great deal to have had a gas stove or gas fireplace at that point. Instead, several days were spent getting out in the bitter cold to walk the dogs and then crawling back into bed to get warm. You can’t read, you can’t play games on your phone, you can’t check the internet (it goes down too when the power does). It is very disconcerting. It is extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything by candlelight.
However, I found there is one activity that rises to the top when everything is quiet and dark–and that is prayer. You can focus when there are no extraneous noises or distractions. You can really take time to speak with and listen to God when you don’t have to run to the next meeting or cook the next meal or deal with whatever else we have filled our lives. You can see God in the beauty of the storm and the gleaming white snow all around You can praise him for the warm blankets you have and a safe place to sleep. You can get so much closer to the kind of relationship we are supposed to have with Him. As I prayed, I found so many things to be thankful for even in the midst of the winter storms. I have a roof over my head, blankets on my bed, warm clothes, food in the fridge and water. I am blessed beyond all measure.
I know I have gone on and on about unpleasant surprises, but the flip side to that coin is the wonderful, unexpected pleasant surprises. I received one just yesterday. Many of you know my son passed away almost 7 years ago now. A few years prior to that he had been living in Oregon with the love of his life. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. He moved back to Las Vegas then down to Texas. When he left Oregon he left practically everything behind. One thing in particular was a beautiful frame with a picture of my dad in uniform and some of his personal mementos. I had spoken to the young woman some years ago and she assured me she would send his things to me. It just never happened, until now. Several days ago, she reached out to my daughter and told her she still had Sean’s (my son’s) belongings and she wanted to send them to us.
She did just that. Not only was the framed item I mentioned included but things I never knew my son had kept. Included in the things he kept were all the cards and letters my dad, my daughter and I had sent to him when he was living away from us. I knew he had a kind heart, but I didn’t know just how sentimental he was. There were mementos from races and concerts, and pictures of his two younger half-brothers, even notes from his step-mom. I was absolutely moved to joyful tears. The anniversary of his death is a little more than a month away and it is always a difficult time for me. However, having these wonderful items to sort through and put in an album will help turn my sorrow to joy. People say time heals all wounds, but they are wrong. It doesn’t. It just puts more distance between the event that caused the wound and today. C S Lewis likened it to an amputation. You can learn to walk again, but you will always know the leg is not there. That’s so true, there is a hole in my heart left by my son’s death even though I know he is safe in heaven and look forward to whenever God calls me home to join him.
In the meantime, I thank God for sending me this miracle surprise. One I never expected or even thought about. Thank you Lord for the gifts that you give us. You do indeed give us the desire of our hearts, even though we may not know what those desires were until you provide it. Bad weather may come and go, sorrows may occur and surprises may be happy or sad, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Psalm 86:5 says “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” Surprise, God loves you (and He loves me too).
Blood, Sweat and Tears was a large rock and roll group that was popular from 1967 to 1981. They disappeared from the music scene, for about 3 years and then started up again in 1984. They had a distinctive style of music that was a fusion or rock, blues and pop music. The band featured brass instruments and did lots of jazz improvisations. A style of music that can still catch your attention and get your toes tapping.
I am crazy about rock music. Not the hard or acid rock but the early rock and roll. It makes me want to get up and dance. Joan Jett said it beautifully in her song, “I Love Rock and Roll.” There’s a lyric in the song that talks about putting another dime in the jukebox and the record machine. I don’t know if many of you remember how prevalent jukeboxes were several decades ago. There were big ones in lots of restaurants, bars and clubs. In some of the restaurants, there were small juke boxes on each table. You could put your money in there and select the songs you wanted to hear without getting up. The big drawback was that you didn’t know how many other people had done the same thing before you and it might be a while before you heard your favorite songs. But waiting was easy while you listened to your favorite tunes.
For me it was always about the lyrics and the beat. Whether they were silly, maudlin or romantic, songs could say things that I had no words to express. I love how the music always told a story, and you could actually understand the words they were singing (usually). Oh yeah, there were no F bombs being dropped and no crude or lascivious lyrics and certainly no rappers threatening to blow up the world or kill all the police.
Most of all I love the danceability (is that a word?) of the music, that strong back beat that you hear in so many songs. For me to really engage with the music I had to be able to sing along and dance to it. When I was in my 20’s on my days off I would put on my favorite records–yes I did say records, those vinyl discs that went on a record player, if you were lucky you had a stereo. The records came in three separate sizes, 45, 78 and 33 1/3. The 45’s were small discs that held one song per side. The 78’s were larger but still only had one song per side whereas the 33 1/3 were the long play discs. You could put an entire album on those babies. The stereo had the place of honor in my house. Sure, I liked TV but I liked music a whole lot more. I would crank up the stereo and blast out my favorite tunes while I cleaned my house and sang all my favorite songs. It was amazing how fast I could get that housework done that way.
My kids grew up listening to this kind of music. I played music all the time whenever possible. I bought 8 tracks and cassettes and finally moved up to CD’s and then a Walkman. Wow, I thought I was on top of the technology world for music. It’s funny, as my kids grew older of course they found their own music style, most of which did not impress me in the least. The sad tale of the generational split. LOL. To this day though, my daughter can remember the words to several of “my” songs. And though our music tastes differ quite a bit, there are a few artists we can agree we really like. If you can spontaneously burst into a chorus of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” you have a picture of my family get togethers. Even my granddaughter and her husband know and love Jimmy Buffett. There are many things which hold a family together, and music can be a part of that.
My daughter and I both enjoy contemporary Christian rock. As a matter of fact, other than a few oldies, or some good country music, contemporary Christian rock and old-fashioned hymns are all I listen to these days. Songs can express emotions for which I truly have no words. The beautiful old hymns can ease my soul and soften my heart ache. I believe all good Christian music is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Life can be difficult to say the least. There are times when I just need to get on my knees or fully prone and let my emotions flow through. Often there are many tears that accompany a prayer time like this. Knowing the Holy Spirit is interceding for me is crucial to my emotional survival. Romans 8:26 says “In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” And I am so grateful that he does.
I need the Holy Spirit in every part of my life. I need the Holy Spirit in order to write this blog. I have simply not been able to write anything in several weeks. The political split that our country has been plagued with was at a fever pitch during that time. I promised I would not allow my blog to become a political forum so I felt completely blocked from writing anything prayerful. I am sincerely hoping that the madness of the past few months is retreating, and people will settle back into a more normal lifestyle. Although, I can hardly call it normal when we are still living in a pandemic situation.
Today, I am filled with the spirit of hope. Hope for our future as individuals, as Christians and as part of our great nation. The hope does not come from what may or may not be changing in the political arena and does not rest on who is in what office, or on anyone on this earth. Instead, my hope comes from Jesus Christ. When He ascended into heaven he gave us all the Holy Spirit to indwell with us. The Holy Spirit is our comforter. No matter what is happening on the worldwide front, my life as a follower of Christ is secure. You see, I may not know the end of the story, but I can see the next phase. The one where we “graduate” from earth to heaven. Paul expressed the way I feel these days. His letter to the Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Simply said living for Christ we are able to continue the good works of making disciples of all nations, but to die means we get to go to heaven.
For several weeks I was struggling with the concept of heaven. My finite mind could not picture how heaven could possibly hold all the trillions of people who have died before us. The logistics of it all is what caused my struggle. Regardless of what I may be able to understand, Jesus tells us very simply, “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I got to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2. There is a place for each and everyone of us who have accepted the gracious gift of salvation.
Jesus paid a very high price for us to be in heaven with him some day. Just like we do sometimes, Christ also struggled with the right words to pray on the night before his crucifixion. His struggle was so intense that the drops of sweat were like drops of blood. As Luke tells us, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44 I never realized that this was anything more than a dramatic description of Jesus praying. It is far more than that. Jesus did actually sweat blood. There is a name for it. Hematidrosis is what it is called, and it is caused by the blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands. The blood vessels can burst and then seep into the sweat glands, so that indeed the drops of sweat are bloody. The cause of this condition is extreme anguish. And Jesus was certainly suffering extreme anguish. He says of himself, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
The Bible tells us Jesus suffered all the temptations that we can suffer, but we certainly do not suffer everything Jesus went through. And He did it all for us. For in the end, He was obedient. He prayed earnestly for God to remove the cup of suffering, but then, like the dutiful son that He was, he said “Not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42.
As children of God, we too need to remember to be obedient. That doesn’t mean we have to suffer as Christ did, it means that we must listen for the voice of God or the leading of the Holy Spirit and be willing to follow. Follow wherever God leads us. We will walk down that road with him, and I picture myself doing just that while singing my favorite rock songs. Rock on!
Isaiah 43:2a “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…”
There are songs and poems about fear. There are stories and movies too. But no song, poem, story, or movie can make you feel the gut-wrenching emotion that is true, unmitigated, abject fear. Intellectually, I know that God is with me no matter what happens, but in the middle of such a shocking experience, my brain can only call out to God in terror. If everything could stop for just a moment, I would be able to breathe and think and I would remember that the Bible addresses our fears and reassures us in Isaiah 41:13. God says to us: “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do Not Fear, I will help you.'”
My greatest and probably completely irrational fear is dying a horrifyingly painful death in a sudden violent occurrence. Knowing that my time has come, and it is going to be ugly, and it is going to hurt. Strange as this may seem, there are several times in my life when I was in a situation so terrifying and overwhelming that I thought I was going to die.
One such time was on a white-water rafting excursion. It was early spring, and the rivers and the snowmelt made for what we thought would be ideal conditions. We had a group of foreign exchange students visiting us. We wanted to provide them with a unique, exciting adventure. Little did we know just how exciting this would be.
We piled in the cars and headed to a place just outside Marysvale, UT where we could access the Sevier River. We had our rafts, our oars, our wetsuits, and life jackets. We thought we were thoroughly prepared. What we didn’t know was that the river was running too fast and the National Parks people had not yet opened it up for rafting because it was too dangerous. Ignorance was not bliss in this situation.
We split up between the two rafts, 3 of the kids and I were in the first one, the others followed in the second. It didn’t take long to realize we could not control the rafts and we were hanging on for dear life. I was horrified that I had put these teenagers into such a dangerous position and if anything happened to them it would be on my head. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Suddenly the raft hit a large rock and I went flying forward out of it and into the freezing waters of the Sevier. I couldn’t breathe, the water was carrying me downstream beating my body against the rocks. In just minutes I could no longer feel my legs. I knew I was going to drown in this icy cold river, but not before my body would be beaten to a pulp. At just that moment, the raft caught up to me and I tried to grab hold of the side. Unfortunately, the raft ran over me and I got caught underneath. I don’t think I have ever been as scared as I was right at that moment. Hands (God’s hands?) reached into the water and grabbed my arms and I came up with my head out of the water and able to grab hold of the side of the raft.
However, the cold water was doing its job and my whole body was becoming numb. I knew I could not hold on much longer. I told the kids in the raft I was going to let go I couldn’t hold on any longer, I was no longer afraid. I had reached a point in this near-drowning that I knew I would be with the Lord, and I was sure that it wouldn’t be long before the cold took over and I would no longer feel the pain of death. With strength only granted by the grace of God, these kids pulled me into the raft. I was out of the water, but we had lost our oars. I had no idea how we would ever navigate to a safe place.
The promise that God made in the Isaiah 43:2 verse held true because within minutes the raft grounded on an outcropping on the far side of the river. One of the kids and I got out, my leg was gashed and bleeding. Before the other two could get out, the raft, without the extra weight, took off. The two young girls alone in the raft. Again, by the grace of God the raft ran by some branches from a bush sticking out into the river. They grabbed the branches and got out of the raft on the opposite side of the river from where I was.
Before long the other raft came by and saw what had happened. They had to go almost all the way down the river before they could find a place to get out, hike back to the vehicles, and rescue us. By the time we got to the hospital in Marysvale, my leg was bleeding profusely (it had to warm up enough to really bleed) and I was battered and bruised and had several broken bones in one foot.
Psalm 46:1-3 says it beautifully, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters rage and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” I thank God for his miraculous rescue of us all from the raging, foaming waters. Without his divine providence, I would have died that day.
I guess God just wasn’t finished with me yet. After all, if I had not survived and was not here, who would write this blog?
(PS I have never again gone white water rafting since that incident.)
Some of us have lives that are as smooth as silk. They flow from day to day with rarely a downturn to deal with. Others, like me, have lives that are complex and confusing. It often feels as if we have our own little dark cloud over us all the time. We are the ones who suffer from clinical depression.
Now, I am not talking about situational depression, where you suffer when a tragedy happens. That is what we are supposed to feel at that point. No, I am talking about a sadness that is inexplicable and overtakes you without a valid reason. Yes, I know there are medications that can be prescribed for this. However, I have been on those medications for many years and unfortunately, they are not a magic wand.
You see this kind of depression is a physical illness, an illness of the brain. There is some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it react the way it does, the medications do help but not always and not forever. Do I believe that God can cure this? Absolutely! But, for those of you who would tell me that if I pray hard enough or am a good enough Christian, he will remove it; I remind you that Paul prayed for God to remove the “thorn in his flesh” and God’s response was that His grace was sufficient for Paul. It is sufficient for me also.
Even so, this kind of depression assails my faith. It cannot rock me from the love of the Lord, but it can shake my positive attitude. The hard questions come flying into my mind. Those questions that have no easy answer. If God loves me why am I so sad? Why does God let bad things happen? Why doesn’t God stop the pandemic? Why do innocent children and sweet animals suffer? And my favorite, why doesn’t God punish those who are so mean and vile and vicious?
I have no answers for these questions, I wish I did. However, I do have faith. I have faith that God is with me no matter how deep the pit I fall into, no matter how bad I may think life is at any particular time. And I know that God has given us the Bible, his own Word, to help us through the trying times.
I have a wonderful little booklet of verses for women that I found at the Dollar Tree store. It is called the “NLT Bible Promise Book for Women.” It is just a small booklet but packed with wonderful scripture. If you did not know, Dollar Tree has a nice selection of Christian reading material. I often find small Bibles and other books to use as gifts. The booklet has verses organized by categories; wisdom, confidence, celebration, forgiveness, and truth to name just a few.
So, when I have these periods of depression, I like to keep that little booklet close by. And I go from category to category and read the verses for encouragement. These help to keep my focus on God and not on my feelings. Keeping my focus on God’s loving qualities, prevents me from drowning in doubt from the questions that I cannot answer. I long ago realized that there will always be some questions about God that I will not have answers to until I get to heaven.
There are lots of verses about being able to focus. Lack of focus often accompanies periods of depression. Read Proverbs 4:25 “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” One of my favorites is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable., whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Now there is a good list of things on which to concentrate.
I am sure you already know this, but the internet is a wealth of information about Bible verses. You can put in the search line “Bible verses about (almost any topic you can think of)” and it will bring back several lists of verses about your topic. While my little booklet doesn’t have a depression category, the internet does. And I will bet you know that the Psalms are one of the greatest resources for uplifting verses. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Crushed in spirit is such a good description of how one can feel in the throes of depression. Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Or Psalm 30:11 “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Imagine being clothed with joy. How amazing is that? One more, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
So, my advice is this: Turn to scripture, always, anytime, but especially when you are feeling the weight of the world and can’t focus. God’s word will calm your spirit and ease your mind. He will give you the strength to endure, the downtimes and he will rejoice with you in the uptimes. Wherever you are, God is there too. Remember, He is holding you in his righteous right hand and nothing can snatch you away from him.
What do you suppose these three things have in common? They all bounce!
Do you remember jumping on a trampoline as a kid? I sure do. That feeling of almost flying as you bounced as high as you possibly could was amazing. When was the last time you felt that free, that unencumbered? Very few things in life give you that feeling of freedom that defying gravity does. When you soar upwards then plummet down just to bounce back up again. Trampolines invoke wonderful memories for me.
Then there is our friend the kangaroo, a truly extraordinary creature. They bounce along at incredible speeds. Did you know that for short sprints they get up to 44 mph, and on longer runs they can maintain a speed of 25 mph for up to a mile. All these while they are carrying little ones in the big front safety pouch. My mind is like a kangaroo sometimes. Jumping from thought to thought. I’m not a very focused individual and as thoughts bombard my brain, I mentally bounce all over the place and usually at a pretty high rate of speed.
Finally, there are red rubber balls. One of my favorite old 60’s song is named Red Rubber Ball. The singer laments his inability to stay away from his cheating girlfriend and keeps bouncing back to her like a red rubber ball. I sometimes feel like this is how I interact with God. I wander off mentally, physically or emotionally. Then when I finally come to my senses, I go bouncing back to him. Of course, there are some days when I feel like a kangaroo jumping on a trampoline trying to catch a red rubber ball! So much bouncing around. So many distractions.
Strangely, a distraction can be either a problem or a solution to the problem, if the problem is focus. I can be focused on writing this blog, then a simple wrong set of keystrokes and I am super distracted as my entire first draft just disappeared. Now my focus is irritation with myself for not paying more attention and the fact that I now have to recreate everything I had just written. Talk about annoying. That is exactly what happened. Then when I was redoing the entire blog, I had one more idea of a place to look and I found the first draft, or at least most of it. Hallelujah!!
On the other hand, a distraction can sometime bring me back into focus. For example, I start my morning by reading my Bible, selecting a daily Bible verse to share on Facebook, reading a few of my favorite devotionals and spending some time on a Bible Study. This is my most focused time of the day. However, as the day wears on I begin drifting out of focus. I start thinking about meals for the day, chores to done, errands to be run or what the weather will do today. Then, suddenly something will catch my attention and I realize how far my thoughts have drifted and I am able to go back and refocus with God at the center of my thoughts and plans.
Matthew’s gospel tells us a wonderful story about distraction. Peter sees Jesus walking across the water from the shore to the boat in which the disciples are waiting for him. Peter is super focused on Jesus and tells Jesus that if he will order Peter to come out to him on the water, he will do it. And sure enough, he gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. Suddenly he was distracted by the strong winds blowing on the sea. He took his eyes off of Jesus and was frightened. He started to sink and cried out “Lord, save me!” And of course, Jesus did. But he asked Peter a very important question. “You who have so little faith, why did you doubt?”
How well can we answer that question? Why do we let distractions take our eyes away from the Savior? There’s another great scripture (actually there are 1000’s of them) in the Bible about how to focus. Also, in Matthew, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Matthew 6:33. And the same words are echoed in Colossians 3:2 Philippians 4:8 gives us an expanded version of the same thought, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Truly, if we keep our eyes on Jesus and our thoughts on heavenly things, life might just smooth out a bit for us. After all, if we are thinking about God and heavenly things, we don’t have any room to worry, about anything–which we are told we shouldn’t do anyway.
There is a verse in Matthew that asks us if we can add even a single hour to our lives by worrying. And the answer, of course, is no. So why do we worry? Well, partly because when our thoughts are bouncing all around we lose focus. Philippians 4:6 tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So try to stop bouncing around; get off the trampoline, stop chasing kangaroos and give that red rubber ball to your dog. Stay focused on Jesus, he is “the way, the truth and the life” John 14:6.
There is a very old song (my parents generation so we’re talking a really long time ago), called Goody, Goody sung by several different artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. It a song about someone getting what they deserved. The refrain goes like this:
“Hurray and Hallelujah, you had it coming to you. Goody, goody for her, goody goody for me I hope you’re satisfied, you rascal you.” Now I always thought the words, instead of I Hope You’re Satisfied, were, You Got What You Deserved.” When I went to verify it, I found the correct wording, but it really doesn’t change the message of the song at all. The original lyrics were much more polite than my assumed lyrics. Its still all about the jilted lover rejoicing over the heartache her ex-boyfriend is now suffering, just like she suffered. Sounds like a very justified emotion don’t you think? I don’t know about you but I have been guilty of feeling that way once or twice in the past.
However, the Bible tells us those feelings are not what God expects from us. Instead of rejoicing over their misery we are supposed to love them and pray for them. I recently heard a sermon where the Pastor said much to the effect of, we should pray that we will see them in Heaven. Now that’s a powerful request. Do I really want to see certain people in Heaven? And if not, why not? Was their alleged crime against me so bad I would wish them thrown into outer darkness, for ever? Seems a little harsh doesn’t it?
The Bible says we should not rejoice when our enemy falls, see Proverbs 24:18 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls. And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Which I always thought meant you just don’t have a party over it, but you can feel “justified, as in he got what he deserved.” Wrong! If you look at Matthew 5:44 which very plainly states, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Wow! Really? Yes really. You know what happens when you pray for those enemies, you are blessed. Seems counter-intuitive, but it happens just the same. Actually praying for those who persecute you allows to you release all of the negative feelings involved in disliking someone. The more you pray, the happier you become. Now that is not the reason we are supposed to pray for them, but it is a by-product of that prayer.
I have become very intentional in praying for my enemies. I pray for people from my past, I pray for people in my present and I pray for those groups of people so full of hatred they are willing to take drastic measures to destroy us. As a Christian, our enemies are not always just people. Our enemies become concepts or beliefs held by others. We are attacked and maligned for our beliefs, but told we must accept and tolerate every one else’s beliefs. If we don’t we are labeled intolerant and narrow minded. I think the only thing narrow is the road to Heaven. Matthew 7:13 says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Part of the problem is that Christianity doesn’t fit into today’s culture. The Bible holds to certain absolute truths. In today’s culture truth is situational and individual. And I just don’t understand that at all. Just because someone chooses to “believe” that the moon is made of green cheese, doesn’t make it true. And conversely, just because I believe what the Bible has to say about sin and its consequences does not make me anyone’s enemy. It is not I, who will be judging anyone for we are told distinctly, in many verses, that judgment is not ours. I like the way Luke 6:37 says it best. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven.”
The point is that when we pray for our enemies, and if they repent, they will no longer be our enemies. So we probably will see them in Heaven. Now I know its easier to just believe they will not enter Heaven and think, well they got what they deserved. I can tell you I fervently praise God and thank him that I have not gotten what I deserve. My life was a mess for a long time, but instead of turning his back on me, God loved me back into his arms. And he can do that for our enemies also. So you see it is the Lord God himself who will judge each and every one of us. And he is an amazingly forgiving God. So don’t think you know what he’s going to decide for each person. That person you so smugly thought you would never see in Heaven, just might be the one greeting you at gates.
The human brain is an amazing thing. I learned a new word today. I think I may have heard it before, but I now know what it means. The word is neuroplasticity. Isn’t that a fantastic word? It just sort of rolls around in your mouth when you say it. New-Row-Plaa-Stis-City. That’s the closest I can come to phonetically spelling the word. Picture in your mind, a switchboard operator (from many decades ago) sitting in front of a massive switchboard with wires being endlessly pushed in and pulled out and you have a mental image of neuroplasticity. The word neuroplasticity is broken down into two parts, neuro referring to the neurons in the brain and plasticity which refers to the ability of the brain to reshape and categorize information. “Well”, you say, “isn’t that lovely, so happy you shared that; however, what does that mean and how does it apply to my life?”
So glad you asked. Neuroplasticity basically controls the learning process. It is the brain function that allows us to form and break habits. It describes how the brain takes new information and files it away in our brains. This function can also take old information and re-categorize it allowing us to look at the information from a different perspective.
Annnnnd…..this is important why? Because this is how we learn new habits and unlearn (so to speak) less appealing habits. For example, you may want to create a habit of reading your Bible first thing every morning. Your habit now is to just get up and start getting ready for the day. Every time you actually take time to read your Bible first thing, the stronger the signal becomes in your brain. Repeat the process enough times and reading the Bible first becomes a habit. Conversely, each time you don’t repeat a process, the signals in your brain for that process become weaker and weaker and soon the old habit gets replaced by the new habit.
Obviously, this is a huge over-simplification of the process of neuroplasticity, but you get the idea. Interestingly enough, there is one part of the habit-forming/unforming process that isn’t accounted for with neuroplasticity. It’s the will or desire to change the habit. Is it possible, some unpleasant habit you have feels almost impossible to change? This is where desire comes in. The brain is capable of doing it, but do we really want to change a particular habit?
Luckily for us, most habits are just that, habits. We become used to way we do things and they become rote and nearly meaningless. Even a good habit can become sterile if we don’t actively think about what we are doing. Surprisingly, your quiet time with God can turn into just another checkmark on your to do list. Imagine, here you are ready to spend some time in prayer and contemplation. Within seconds, literally, your mind starts darting around thinking about everything else you have to do that day. You realize you haven’t been actively praying at all.
Developing the habit of focusing on just the current action, is difficult in our distracting
world. Your time with the Lord needs to be more important than anything else you have to do. The Bible tells us in Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is not the only place in the Bible where we told to seek God first. Look at 1 Chronicles 16:11 “Seek the Lord and His strength, seek his presence continually” (that means ALL the time). One verse that I particularly like is Psalm 14:2 “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” Do we actively seek after God? Top on my list is Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” That is a tall order. Let us use these marvelous brains that God gave us to seek him with all our hearts and minds. We are never too old to learn. Continue to read uplifting books, including your Bible. Don’t let the climate of our culture determine how you live. Follow God’s word and do his will, seek his righteousness. Open yourself to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and live like Christ is coming back tomorrow. Make every minute count.