Crazed. Or Not. Finding Balance in the Midst of Extremes.

Digital display

There is a good kind of stress.

If you’ve always thought of stress as a four letter word in the plural, then this may come as a surprise. But it’s true. It’s even reasonable, once I stopped to consider it.

An environment with absolutely no stress is an environment void of stimulation or purpose. As human beings we need something to engage us. That something, to the scientists among us, is called “eustress” – a beneficial stress in just the right dosage to give a feeling of fulfillment.

Too little and we get bored. Too much and we get overwhelmed.

Balance is the key.

Unfortunately, life seems to try everything it can to send us in any direction except the one that leads to balance.

Take as an example of extremes these past 12-18 months. Not many people have been spared. You may be one who has had far too much to do: front line workers, parents juggling work and at-home schooling, caretakers trying to navigate a system that has been completely upended. Or you may be one who has not had enough to do: quarantined and alone with no visitors and limited chances to venture out. There has not been much middle ground.

I hope and pray along with everyone else that the slow return to a middle ground keeps progressing. And along the way, I am trying to learn what it means to find my own middle ground when the world around me is completely crazed, or completely not.

Either extreme can feel like a prison, and I’ve been in both. I’ve spent time strangling under the tangle of my to-do list and panicked over things left undone. I’ve also battled waves of crushing lethargy that come in the dark nights of an isolating depression. Once the scales start to tip one way or the other, it’s easy to keep spiraling in the same direction. Freedom comes only when I move back against the tide and seek balance. Recognizing where I am is the first step.

One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Timothy 1:7: For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of self-control. This tells me that when I start to feel trapped, powerless, and afraid, those feelings are not from God. God has given me the self-control and the strength to make any necessary changes. I can do it, even when it doesn’t feel as if I can.

The amplified translation drills down into the meaning of that last word “self-control” even further, to say it includes a calm, well-balanced mind. Do you see that word in there again? Balanced. No matter what is going on around me, the Spirit within me has the capability of maintaining a calm, well-balanced mind. My mind in turn can direct the self-control needed to keep from leaping to extremes. Exercising myself in this way is freedom – freedom to think, be and act how I choose regardless of what swirls around me.

This past year has been a severe example, but much of life will tip us one way or the other. If we aren’t careful, we can feel trapped under the confines of our own days. It’s up to us to discover the freedom God has waiting for us, back in the balance, even in the midst of extremes.

One Thing I Do: Forgiveness

Forgiveness brings hope

In her book on forgiveness, Lysa TerKeurst writes an analogy comparing forgiveness to having your legs broken in a car accident. You can forgive the initial incident, but there is also a process of forgiving just as there is a process of healing broken legs.

Reflecting on this, I had a thought that was revelatory to me: forgiveness brings healing; it does not undo what happened.

I’ve often wondered why, even after I have forgiven someone, I don’t feel like I have forgiven them. I have to remind myself dozens of times, “I’ve forgiven them. I’ve forgiven them. I’ve…”

If I’ve forgiven them, why can’t I move on?

Rainbow

I expected forgiveness to erase the pain, but it doesn’t. Forgiveness can’t undo what has happened. It can only point us forward toward the slow process of healing.

Here is what I am learning. I may be a new creation in Christ, but I have to remind myself of that. Paul said, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”

I never noticed until recently that little word “do.” After all, forgetting has always been a passive action for me. Forgetfulness is something that happens to me unexpectedly, not something I actively strive for. Who in their right mind tries to be forgetful? Yet Paul is saying this is something he does. He actively forgets what lies behind.

Sometimes I need to actively forget, too. When the emotions come, when the thoughts come, when the feelings come, I can actively remind myself: “This has been forgiven. I have given up my right to think about this anymore.”

I can choose to think about something else instead.

This is the healing process. It doesn’t undo what has been done. The ramifications of that will always be with me. No matter how much healing I go through, I will always walk with a figurative limp. I am a different person because of what has happened to me.

I bet you are too.

Forgiveness is like healing a broken leg

But different is not always a bad thing. I am also more compassionate, more understanding, and more insightful because of what has happened to me. I am stronger in ways I never expected. I am weaker in ways I never wanted.

I remind myself that Christ shines through our weaknesses.

There will come a time when Jesus will wipe away every tear. We will be a new creation in the fullest sense of the word – body, soul, and spirit. We aren’t there yet, but we have been given the Holy Spirit as a deposit guarantee of what is to come. It is with His help that we navigate this tumultuous in-between time. We wrestle with anger, hurt, frustration, and longing. We forgive, and then we remind ourselves that we have forgiven. We forget what needs to be forgotten because this is something we can do. It does not change the past, but it can change our future.

A bone that has been broken and healed is not the same thing as a bone that has never been broken. A heart that has been broken and healed is not the same thing as a heart that has never been broken. We cannot undo the breaking, but we can forgive and begin the healing.

~ ~ ~

This post first appeared at www.inspireafire.com.

Who Invented Dental Floss

I heard the comment once that conversations never end in ”I don’t know” anymore. Inevitably someone will whip out their cell phone and ask Siri, and the answer magically will appear.

This was certainly the case for me the other night when I was – you guessed it – flossing my teeth. Perhaps you’ve never wondered about the invention of dental floss before, but if you’re like me, you’re wondering now.

I grew up on the cusp of the internet era. I still remember card catalogs and microfiche machines and giant reference books in the stacks. A question like “Who invented dental floss?” was not something that just anyone could know. You would need to do research. Find an expert who specialized in the history of dentistry, read a dental history textbook, or visit a museum of dental history.

Today, any question I can dream up has an answer sitting in my hip pocket.

Well, almost any question. Ask Siri what the meaning of life is, and she’ll give you one of several snarky answers ranging from “42” to “I don’t know, but I think there’s an app for that.”

Depending on your question, an internet search may not be the best way to find your answer.

Perhaps as this new year has its beginning, you are also looking for a fresh start. An internet search can point you to a lot of excellent resources, ranging from organizing your closets to inspirational guidance, but if you’re looking for a deeper new beginning, you need to access a deeper source.

The Bible tells the story of Nicodemus, a scholarly man who, as a member of the Jewish ruling council, would have had every resource of that day at his fingertips. Yet despite all that access, the knowledge equivalent of today’s internet search engines, he apparently still had a question that remained unanswered. He came at night, perhaps afraid of public ridicule or worse. But he came. To ask the deeper Source a question.

Jesus talked to Nicodemus about new birth, a more radical new beginning than Nicodemus could even fathom. But it was a new birth that was available to Nicodemus, and it is available to each one of us still today. God promises that when we seek Him earnestly, He will be found by us. (See John 3:1-21 and Deuteronomy 4:29)

What are you searching for?

We cannot talk to Jesus face to face, but I have found that when I have an earnest question on my heart and ask Him to guide me, then He brings resources across my path that point me to the truth. It could be a piece of scripture that jumps out at me, a sermon crafted just for me, a song lyric, even an internet search result. Wherever they come from, those words resonate around the question in my heart in such a way that I know that regardless of the source, there is a deeper Source responding to me.

The answers we seek are not reserved for the experts, for the elite, or for those who have been granted access. Answers are available to me. And to you. And to everyone who asks.

Whatever new beginning you may be seeking, whatever question you may be asking, hold it in your heart and ask God to guide you to the answer. He has a way of curating what you need more powerfully than any search engine I’ve ever seen. Go ahead and ask.

And while you’re waiting for your answer, you can read about the history of dental floss here. Or here. Or…

There is so much information at your fingertips, my friends. Keep searching.

This post was original written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed!

Questions from God and the Devil, Part 1

I am a big fan of questions.

Except for when I’m not.

What I mean is that most of the time, questions serve me well. They allow me to engage empathically with others, they help me understand different viewpoints, and they teach me diligence in my thoughts and actions.

But sometimes the questions get out of control. Sometimes they keep me awake at night replaying conversations or inciting possible scenarios. Sometimes their incessant whirling brings such doubt and confusion that I could easily be led away to despair.

Then, questions are no longer my friend. Perhaps this has also happened to you.

The question that arose about all these questions (ironic, I know), is this: How can I tell if a question is good for me to think about or if it is one I should avoid?

I have three answers.

The first answer comes in even recognizing that there are some questions that are not helpful, and that we can choose to dwell or not dwell on a particular thought. The Bible tells us that we should take every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) That means we can think about what we are thinking about, and ask God for guidance in discerning what thought paths we should pursue. As simple as it sounds, pausing for a moment of metacognition – thinking about what we’re thinking about – can reframe our thought paths.

When I started to do this, I was shocked at the thoughts that were playing through my mind. The chatter was so familiar and incessant that I didn’t realize some of the patterns I was getting stuck on. I couldn’t even begin to tell if a question was good for me to dwell on until I first became aware of my thoughts and what questions were already there. That’s step one.

The second way we discern questions worth thinking about is through the fruit of the question. In other words, does dwelling on a particular question bring clarity and peace or confusion and despair?

This isn’t always black and white. Our thoughts are complex and we can’t always consider a single question and leap immediately to either clarity or confusion. Sometimes we have to walk through uncertainty as we seek our answers. Sometimes questions raise emotional pain that we do need to walk through and not avoid. But there is a different feeling to wrestling with doubt, fear, or sadness while seeking clarity versus the feeling we have when we are churning on a question that repeatedly plunges us into darkness. When dwelling too long on a particular question produces only increased anxiety, set it aside. It may be that the time is not quite right to consider those thoughts. We can ask God to show us when the time is right. He will bring resources across our path to guide us.

The problem with using the fruit of the question as our identifier is by the time we realize a particular question is leading us in a bad direction, we are already well down the path. While it’s a little helpful to recognize after the fact – perhaps we can at least not go any further! – it would be even better if we could distinguish a priori whether a particular question is a friend or foe.

I think there are ways we can. Once we have identified a detrimental question by its fruit, we can be cautious of that question in the future. When we recognize it creeping back into our thoughts, we can displace it with something else.

Steps one and two can lead to this preemptive third step: recognize the detrimental questions at their onset.

Additionally, and importantly, we also identify detrimental questions at their onset by recognizing the spiritual component to our thoughts. There are questions God asks us that we should spend time thinking about. Conversely, there are questions from the devil, or our own wandering mind, that we should avoid. Knowing which type of question is knocking at the door of our thoughts can help us identify whether it is a friend or foe.

The outstanding question, of course, is this: What are the questions God asks us, and what are the questions that come from the devil or our own wandering mind?

This, my friends, is a question worth pursuing.

So I am embarking on a Bible study to see what I can learn. The good news is that since the spiritual patterns of thought that began at the beginning are the ones still with us today, we can learn a lot by studying the questions in scripture. There is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes tells us.

In some upcoming posts, I’ll share what I am discovering. We’ll start with the very first question the devil asked… and the counter question from Jesus millennia later. Do you know what it is?

Coming After Me

Sheep & baby

This post was first shared at inspireafire.com. Enjoy!

Anyone living in my region has probably noticed the freak snowstorms we’ve had three of the last four Wednesdays. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.

Let me explain.

Winter

The other day I was listening to a video where Cory Asbury talks about his song Reckless Love. And no, watching the video wasn’t directly causal to why we’ve had a flurry of snow squalls, but stick with me. Cory talked about Luke 15, where Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd going after the one lost sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5).

Can you picture that sheep? Scattered, lost, possibly bruised and banged up. Most definitely frightened. Being swooped up by strong arms, and carried, safely, atop the shepherd’s shoulders.

I’ve seen lambs carried this way. They may let out a “baaa” at the sudden perspective change, but most of them look downright happy on their new perch, surveying the world from a whole new vantage.

I can tell you that I do not feel like that found sheep.

I feel more like I am being dragged kicking and screaming through the valley of the shadow of death. There are burrs in my wool, thorns in my path, and rocks bruising my feet. My bleating is closer to a death wail than the triumphant “baaa” of return.

Perhaps this is a sign that I am still running.

God warned the Israelites when he brought them into the promised land that if they turned away from the one true God they would be handed over to their enemies. An iron yoke would be placed around their neck (Deuteronomy 28:48). Destruction, confusion, anxiety, and despair would ensue. And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Contrast this with the yoke Jesus offers in Matthew 11: A yoke that is easy and provides rest for our souls. A leader who is gentle and humble in heart.

All we need to do is come to Him.

I don’t know why I seemingly choose the iron yoke time after time. Why don’t I let my Shepherd pick me up and place me on His shoulders? Why do I run bleating through the wilderness away from the One who can calm my fears and set me on the right path?

I don’t know why; but I know I do. And I am coming to know, deeper and deeper, just what it means for the Good Shepherd to keep pursuing me no matter how far or how hard I keep running.

God knew, for example, that there was a certain Bible Study I needed to attend. I wanted to attend, but another class conflict was going to allow me to attend just the first couple weeks.

Until it snowed. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And that was the week I needed to be there. That was the week I had people speak words into my life that I needed to hear. That was the week I had people pray with me specific prayers I needed to pray. That was the week I took one more step toward not running.

And one more step, I am coming to realize, is a big deal. Because Jesus may be gentle, but He is also relentless. He will orchestrate weather – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step. He will inconvenience others – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step.

He will come after me. He will come after you. And I may never look at an inconvenience the same way again.

I may be disappointed by a cancellation or a freak storm, but here is a new window into that same story: it could be that because of that very moment, someone’s soul is being saved. Jesus is lifting a lamb to His shoulders. Or at the very least, the lamb has paused, looked back, and is considering this gentle, relentless shepherd that is coming after.

Pentecostal Listening

Fifty days after Passover, Jews from all nations gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. On one very special Pentecost a little over 2000 years ago, the gathering Jews witnessed a never-before-seen event. With a sound like rushing wind and a visual of leaping flames, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. They began proclaiming the wonders of God in different languages. Some of the gathering Jews were amazed – “How is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language?” – while others laughed at them, thinking they were drunk.

Fire

How is it that such an outpouring of power could be witnessed by some as a great miracle and by others as drunken nonsense? The answer, I think, is that they heard different things.

God’s spirit has been poured out on all people, but not all people recognize the voice. Jesus gave the analogy of sheep that follow their shepherd when they know his voice. To the unbelieving Jews He said, “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27).

Likewise, on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to speak through the apostles. From the gathering crowd there were those who recognized the voice. They heard, each in his own language, the wonders of God being proclaimed. Astonished, they looked around, and in the neighboring faces they saw similar amazement. This divine encounter was not happening to them alone, but to everyone who connected with the words being spoken.

But there were others in the gathering crowd who did not share this amazement. Perhaps they did not press in close enough to truly hear. Perhaps they had hardened their hearts to not recognize God in their midst. Whatever the reason, it is not hard to imagine what they heard: the sound of eleven men shouting in multiple languages could easily be confused with drunken gibberish. They turned away from the presence of God and scoffed at the apostles, saying, “They are filled with new wine.”

The outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost was an inaugural event, but the outpouring of God’s spirit has never ceased. When the crowd asked Peter what they should do, he replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Bible1Did you catch that? The gift of the Holy Spirit was for them, and their children, and for all who are far off, including everyone whom the Lord our God will call. In other words, this promise is for us, too.

Whether the entire Christian faith is foreign to you, or you are a believer who struggles with confusing elements, don’t be too hasty to mock. If it sounds like gibberish to you, press in closer. Listen more intently. Read God’s written word, and listen to biblical teachings. You may be surprised to discover that through the tumult around you, God is speaking directly to you.

He is waiting to pour His Holy Spirit into every area of your life.

A Whole New World

NewWorld

It’s been a long time – too long! – since I shared some of my writing. Here is a recent post I wrote for www.Inspireafire.com. I think it speaks to the deep feeling of struggle we all must walk through… and the new place God is trying to take us. It is, indeed, a metaphor that at times feels very real.

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7)

The birth metaphor is more than a metaphor.

Yes, the process of birth is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and sovereignty. Grace because He is bestowing new life. Sovereignty because it is God who bestows it. Just as the baby does very little to usher himself into the world, so we do very little to experience rebirth. It is God who takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. It is God who calls us and leads us forth.

But that doesn’t mean the journey is easy. The metaphor, my friend, gets real.

Butterfly in Hands

Once the process begins, there are only two options. (Photo by J. Canino)

Physical birth changes the most fundamental aspects of your existence. The way you breathe. The way you eat. The way you engage with the world around you.

Spiritual birth is just as shattering. It may be true that the transformation is the result of something happening to you, but the effects demand a response from you. Once the process begins, there are only two options. You can push forward into new life, or you can retreat. The journey forward leads to life. The path of resistance leads to death.

Sometimes the path forward doesn’t seem like the best way. The journey itself is so dark. And every comfort you have ever known lies behind you. There is a loneliness and a disconnection you have never felt. You are being pushed and pulled and twisted until it feels like your insides are spilling out. What has happened? Everything was just fine! If you knew how to scream, you would, and your scream would be a cry of “Help me!”

The response is one of greater pushing, greater darkness, greater aloneness.

The path out, my friend, is forward. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the way; it turns out there is only one. And once God has gotten ahold of you, He will never let you go. He will push you and push you and push you until you feel your insides coming out. He will twist you and turn you and flip you upside down. He will cut you off from the very things that seem to sustain you. And all of that, all of that, is the path forward.

Desert flower

Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I don’t know what happens next, but I’ll tell you what I think. I think we come into a whole new world we can’t even begin to imagine. It may be a long journey, or it may be a short one. It may come in a single arduous stretch or a series of sharp contractions. The journey is not really our choice. But eventually the new world comes. We take our first breath in a way we didn’t even know we could breathe. We feel things we didn’t know we could feel. We see things we didn’t know we could see. How small and dark is the place we come from, compared to the place we go! In this new place we learn and grow and live in a way we could never imagine.

God will bring us there. He may be bringing you there right now. And if He is, if you look around and all you see is darkness, remember: Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Your eyes may be closed to the fact that an entirely new world is just above the crown of your head.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.

Oh, Nicodemus, Nicodemus. You will find out. You will feel it. You will feel what it is to be born even when you are old.

You don’t even know what it is to breathe. Until you take your first breath.

 

Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

Connected

Colored Pencils

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/connected. 

It was a long day of travelling followed by a harrowing drive through an unfamiliar city. I arrived at the hotel with thoughts only of food and sleep. Too spent to venture far, I ordered a cheeseburger at the hotel bar and sat down to wait. I was counting the minutes until I could retreat to my room when a man grabbed the chair next to mine and called for a menu.

“Where you from?” He asked.

When I responded, he proceeded to explain that he was from Nebraska and was travelling back and forth every week for the next couple months to a job site here. I never did determine exactly what he did, but I was surprised when a few minutes later, after he had placed his order and departed, I felt my spirits lifted. Sometimes the simplest of human connections can make you feel less alone.

The next couple days contained more driving, meetings, presentations. But, I’ll never forget when I finally arrived at the main event, and one of the organizers introduced herself.

“I am your buddy. I am here to make sure you have everything you need,” she said.

She escorted me throughout the day. She showed me to my presentation room, joined me for lunch, checked in on me during my meetings. What a simple and powerful message that sent to me: I’m glad you’re here. I’m here to help.

I was starting to sense a theme of this trip, but God wasn’t done with me yet.

I was safely through airport security and standing gate-side when a mother with two little girls laden with luggage hurried by. A dozen feet from me, a container the little girl was carrying sprung open, and markers flew through the air. Dozens – I mean dozens – of markers. They clattered to the floor, bounced on the tile, rolled in every direction. The look on the little girl’s face was one of complete shock; the look on the mother’s one of complete helplessness. I barely had time to register what had happened when the scene was nearly lost from view for all the people who rushed forward to help. Other passengers who had been standing nearby bent down. People who were walking by stopped. A pilot who was waiting for his gate stepped forward.

“Thank you,” the mother kept saying.

Within moments, the case was filled, the cover was snapped shut, the flow of people was moving again. The mother and little girl vanished from my view.

cleaning-cart

Every time I pass a cleaning cart I am reminded: God has connected us for a reason!

I made a last trip to the restroom before my plane started boarding. I was in the stall when I heard someone on the other side say: “Thank you for keeping this restroom so clean for us. You are doing a great job. I really appreciate it.”

I could almost see the surprise on the worker’s face through the bathroom stall.

Okay God, I get it.

All around us are a million ways that we can reach out to another. It’s so easy for me to focus on myself and the thoughts that preoccupy my day, but it’s not much harder to shift that focus ever so gently outward. It can be as simple as a casual conversation with a stranger. Or the comforting presence of being nearby in case you’re needed. It can be a physical act of helping when things come crashing down around someone. It can be a word of appreciation.

Look around. In the next few minutes, someone is going to enter your sphere of influence. A stranger on the plane. A coworker in the office. A family member on the phone. A friend who just popped into your mind.

Don’t let this moment pass. Give an encouraging word, a friendly smile, a pat on the back, or a quick note to say “I’m thinking of you.”

God has connected us for a reason.

The Blog Challenge

This blog was many months in the making. You might think that means it’s going to be brilliant, but you’d be wrong.

It started last November when a friend sent me a blog challenge. Considering my severe lack of regular blogging, this challenge was needed desperately. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me a deadline. So the challenge sat in my inbox along with several hundred other “to-do someday soon items.” Which reminds me of a great poster I saw today: Each week contains seven days, none of which are called “someday.”

Hence, several months later, it was still sitting in my inbox when I sat down to my Thursday writing session and the severe temptation to nap instead.

“I will let myself nap if I write for one hour,” I said.

Then I procrastinated nearly 30 minutes trying to find the email that contained the ancient blog challenge. This left me 30 minutes to write a blog containing the words cactus, friend, hike and a reference to Psalm 42:1.

Done.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what she had in mind, but I’m telling you, naptime is calling something fierce. You might even say that as the deer pants for streams of water, so my eyelids pant for sleep.

That, in case you missed it, was a bonus reference to Psalm 42:1. The proper translation goes more like this: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And I have perfectly and unwittingly just demonstrated my personal struggle with this verse. Let’s explore.

I’m more familiar with the well-watered deer of the deep woods or prosperous farmland, but I can picture a desert deer panting in the shade of a cactus. I can feel the dryness on the tongue, the burning of the sun, the blowing of a scorching wind. I’ve lugged enough bottles of water on dusty hikes to appreciate how sweet those cooling streams can be. So I can appreciate this image and the deep need and longing that is being depicted here.

The conviction comes in the rest of the passage. When I consider the things I long for deeply in my life.

I long for friendship. I long for love. I pant after peace and rest. This makes me question where I place God. Do I chase down time with God as dearly as I chase down time with friends and family? Do I crave time with Him as deeply as I crave time with a good book, or a good friend, or even a good bowl of ice cream?

I do, I realize, but only after all the other longings have left me wanting. When relationships let me down. When I hunger and thirst again. When I realize that even sleep doesn’t truly bring rest. Then I start craving for God to come and piece me back together.

Jesus knew what He was saying when He said “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13).

There are temporal needs in this world that can be met in temporal ways. We need water. We need food. We need friendship. But our deepest needs are not met by a reliance on the things we crave. They are met through a recognition of and a relationship with the One through whom these blessings flow. The difference is like repeatedly asking for a glass of water instead of asking for the wellspring.

I need to recognize amidst my scattered needs that there is an all-surpassing need that girds my pursuits. I need to recognize my longing for God. Then I need to spend time reading my Bible, praying, walking alone, or inviting God in for a bowl of ice cream. (I’ll help Him eat His.)

I need to recognize within my longing for that nap, that there is also a deeper longing for true rest.  Both are important.

Which reminds me, I’m well past my hour of writing, and still in need of that nap.