Fear of Blank Calendars and A New Year’s Verse

Afraid.

That’s how I feel.  Maybe it’s pessimism or a sort of realistic pragmatism, but pulling out that blank calendar for the new year, all those empty spaces soon to be filled to overflowing with notes, events, appointments, due dates, and reminders, makes me nervous in an awkward and embarrassed kind of way.  It’s the kind of fear that you want to hide and cover over with nervous giggles and by abruptly changing the subject.

I’m no believer in superstition, and yet I battle this one mysterious fear-mongering belief that if the first few weeks of the new year begin poorly, I’m in for doom and dismay for the next twelve months.

Like the year I threw up on New Year’s Eve as a teenager.  Even I knew that seemed like a bad omen.

Truth be told, I don’t look at that empty dayplanner with excitement and anticipation about all the unknowns in the coming year.  I don’t like surprises and the unexpected makes me nervous.  I’d rather see the pages filled out in advance so I can brace myself for the ride with all its twists, turns, high rises and low points.

I guess I’d be a failure as a mountain climber or an adventurer of any kind.  I’d never really look forward to what’s over the next peak or around the next bend in the road.  Instead, I’d likely be trekking backwards, always back.  Even if the ground were difficult, at least it’d be familiar.

It’s a foolish thing really, this fear of mine coming so soon after Christmas.  The consistent message of the Christmas story, heard in the prophecies of Isaiah, the announcements of the angels, the pronouncements of Almighty God, is “Do not be afraid.”

All year I flip open my Bible to these words, returning again and again to take comfort in the promise of an angel to a virgin and the host of heaven to shepherds keeping a night-watch in the fields.  God with us.  Fear Not.  Do not be afraid.  Emmanuel has come.

And then I sit just days after Christmas staring at this white-paged calendar, worrying and fretting anxiously, preparing for the worst instead of expecting the best.

How quickly I forget the promise and stumble into this now-familiar pit.

And I need to stop.

I don’t want to be a backwards-traveler, confined by foolish superstitions and held captive by the sin—yes, sin—of fear and worry, refusing to trust my Almighty God who carries the the whole world in His palms and who loves me so passionately and lavishly that He’d sacrifice His Son to spend eternity with me.

It’s uncomfortable at first, awkward like a baby stumbling through those first few steps.  Maybe it’s even unnatural, me learning slow to walk by faith, letting go of the comforts of the known within my white-knuckled grasp.

So I’m choosing this week to meditate on a verse that reminds me to be excited about the new work of God in my life, the blessings and beauty He has in store for the year ahead.  I’m reminded to take joy in the promise of a new year in His presence and in His care.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland
(Isaiah 43:18-19).

Weekend Walk: A Wayward Cat

We have a wayward cat.

He started dashing out the door for periodic jaunts around the neighborhood long ago.  Whenever we found him crouched in the woods with his bright eyes shining back at us, he’d run into the house and hide for an hour or two under the bed.

Those experiences in the wild scared him to pieces.

Still, he ran away again.  And again.  Today’s adventure is the longest he’s had.  Escaping this afternoon, he’s still not home and it’s long past his bedtime as I write this.

We can never understand why he leaves.  He’s clearly terrified of whatever is out there in the wild.  He’s clearly spoiled here in our home.

And yet he runs.

A man once told me that once a cat experiences the smallest bit of life in the wild, you can never successfully keep him indoors again.

It made me wonder if the prodigal ever thought about running away again after he’d returned to life on the farm and celebrated his homecoming.

When Jesus told the woman, “Go and sin no more,” I wonder if it was as simple as that (John 8:11).  Did her memory of extravagant grace sustain her?  Was it as simple as walking away or did she have to fight for change, falter, repent, and run to Christ again and again?

Paul described exactly this struggle in Romans 7.  He did what he didn’t want to do.  He didn’t do what he knew he should do.  This is the continual battle with our flesh.

Like the hymn writer said, we’re “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Why do we wander?  Why do we dash out the door at the slightest opportunity and leave the safety and provision of God’s care?  Why risk treacherous territory rather than rest in His love?

After all, as soon as our cat did return home (at 4:00 a.m.) he ran in from the rain to our dry house and was greeted with a can of tuna fish.  You’d think he would understand that home is a better place to be than gallivanting around the woods in the rain sans tuna.

Paul made our choice clear in this same way and that’s my verse to meditate on this week:

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

You’d think given the choice between death on the one hand and life and peace on the other, this decision would be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, though, we slip into flesh-thinking so easily—-choosing to dwell on worry and anxiety, jealousy, fear, anger, bitterness, selfishness, greed, and more—everything that leads to death.

This week, let’s focus on having a Spirit-governed mind.  We must choose not to let our thoughts run wild into flesh territory.  We must choose if we want life and peace.

How do you take control of your thought-life?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Weekend Walk, 08/04/2012: Under the Olympic Lens

I know many of you probably complained about Olympics spoilers this year.  You already know by early afternoon who won the gold medal, but the official television coverage doesn’t begin until after dinner.  It’s pretty hard to be surprised by the results and maybe you hate that.

Not me.  I purposely look up the competitions to find out who won before I dare sit down to watch the actual sport.  It helps me mentally and emotionally prepare to relax and enjoy or fret and face disappointment.

Thus, I knew in advance for the women’s team gymnastics competition who would win.  And I knew which of the girls bounced on their landings or wobbled on the balance beam.

With all of that tension and stress out of the way, I started to enjoy the show, until I noticed the cameramen.

After flipping and twisting and flying into the air, every gymnastics competitor hopped down off the mats and hugged each of her teammates and her coach, trying to act reasonably normal despite the fact that massive cameras with lenses the size of my head were no more than a foot or two from her face.

The photographers were so intrusive.  None of the girls had even one second post-competition to themselves to recover or hide or be herself.

When she’s smiling and high-fiving after a job well done, that’s not so bad.

But when you’ve made a massive mistake that could cost you and your team the medal you’ve trained for most of your life, well, that’s horrifying to me.  Instead of cheering on the gymnasts, I found myself mentally screaming at the cameramen.

“Go away.  Give her some space, will ya?  Good grief, she’s a 16-year-old child who just needs a few minutes to get over a huge life disappointment.  Would it hurt you to take pictures somewhere else for a while and give her some privacy?”

Then the commentators would drone on and on about what she did wrong, how she angled this incorrectly or spun too far or fell off balance here.  They had diagrams and replays and slow-motion analysis.

People have a way of never forgetting our mistakes or perpetually defining us by our errors.

Yet, God always offers forgiveness to a truly repentant heart.

It’s beyond our understanding, then, that our omniscient God, who knows every darkest secret of our mind and heart, can push our mistakes and sins out of His memory.  This week, I’m meditating on passage all about this absolutely amazing grace:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:8-12).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Weekend Walk, 07/21/2012: Grace Gifts

My older daughters just walked out the door to swim lessons while my toddler and I are here at home.   I can hear her singing in the other room as I sit and type about this week’s verse.

My daughters and I have been talking often about finding “their thing,” their God-given gifts and talents, the set-apart uniqueness that God lovingly placed in their hearts and minds even before birth.

Is it ballet?  Is it art?  Piano, singing or some other musical instrument (my one daughter wants to play the tuba)?  Is it swimming or soccer?

Hence the swim lessons and ballet classes.  It’s why I sit next to them on the piano going over notes and fingering.  It’s why I’m still waiting to hear from one girl whether she’s signing up for ballet in the fall or holding out for spring soccer.

With one daughter, the problem isn’t what—it’s how much.  She’s artsy and crafty, a lover of stage performances.  She wants to play the piano and the flute, sing, act, get her pointe shoes in ballet, excel at school, and be an artist.

It’s my middle girl that I check in on often.  I don’t want her doing activities just because her older sister is doing them.  She needs to find her own way, her own passion and joy, and then work hard to develop skill.  She CAN do many things, but what is it that stirs her soul?

We were alone a few days ago and she announced from the back of the minivan (where it seems most of our conversations take place), “I know what I can really do, Mom. I can make people laugh.  I think I could be a magician when I grow up and tell jokes and funny stores to make people laugh during my show.”

Hmmmm.  How do you nurture a gift like that?

It’s still a process of discovery.  After all, they’re little still, and we’re searching and figuring out what treasure God has placed in them.

And this is a treasure hunt for all of us.  1 Peter tells us that we have all received a gift from God.  He didn’t skip over you when handing out presents from his spiritual gift and talent bag.

We have a responsibility, though, to use these gifts to serve others.  No hoarding them or hiding them or using them only for our own benefit or glory.  God’s goal is to unite us in service to one another.

Not only that, but we are “stewards of God’s grace.”  That means when people look around and wonder where God’s grace exists, if it exists at all, they should see it in us—in the spiritual gifts He has given us and our faithful service to use them.

That’s what your crafty, artistic flare is.  Or your creativity.  Your musical talent or your compassion.  Your generous spirit of hospitality or your athletic discipline.  Your wisdom.

The gifts God has given you are deposits of grace in a world desperately impoverished.  So, let’s meditate on this verse for the week and ask God to help us be faithful stewards of His grace, in whatever form He has given it to us.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms
(1 Peter 4:10 NIV).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 06/16/2012: Happy Father’s Day

Hiding the Word:

Happy Father’s Day weekend!

One of the things my husband and I have learned (and perhaps are still learning) in this whole parenting life is that each of our daughters is a unique original.  Her gifts, talents and weaknesses don’t mimic her sisters’.

They don’t respond to the same discipline strategies either.

With our youngest, we’ve discovered that even the slightest remonstrance, a serious look and the word no, can catapult her into deep sobs.  She’s just that sensitive.

The other night, she was perky and giggly at bedtime instead of the tired and obedient toddler we’d prefer to see at 8:00 or 9:00 or even 9:30 at night.  Even her older sisters complained.

My husband called her out of the room and she emerged with a sheepish grin.  He looked her in the eye and practically whispered the words, “It’s time to sleep.  You need to go into your bed quietly. No more playing around or talking.”

She bawled.  It was perhaps the most tragically despairing cry I’ve ever heard.  So, he scooped her up and hugged her, stroked her hair and promised that he loved her, but that she needed to obey. Slowly, she progressed from sobs to sniffles to calm and toddled off to her bed . . . laid down quietly . . . and went to sleep.

Aren’t you thankful that God our Father has compassion on us, knowing exactly the grace, the guidance, the blessing, the provision, and the discipline we need?

Here’s a Father’s Day verse to meditate on this week that reminds us of God our Father’s abounding love for us:

‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 NIV)

Weekend Rerun:

The Writing on The Wall
Originally posted on October 5, 2011

 ”There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake”
(Ecclesiastes 7:20, Good News Translation).

My two-year-old created a masterpiece with a purple marker and a piece of paper.

Then she made a masterpiece on my kitchen wall.

I caught her standing back to admire her mural, giggling with pride.

Walking her back to the paper, I reminded her where art belongs without yelling or even raising the volume of my voice a decibel.  She took one look at my stern face, listened to my firm “no” and burst into truly remorseful tears.

I scooped her up to hold her, but she ran out of the room and I found her lying face down on a pillow, pouring out heavy sobs of brokenness.

All because she had made a mistake and done something wrong.  All because she wasn’t perfect and because I had to correct her.

Surely we all can shrug our shoulders and say, “We all make mistakes sometimes.”  Some of us can even get theological about it and quote “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But then there is that moment when you need grace because it’s not “all” who sinned or “all” who made a mistake.

It’s you.

It’s me.

Please don’t tell me you missed that part of the blog where you discover I’m not perfect.  The part where I sin.  The part where I have a bad attitude sometimes.  The part where I make silly mistakes and stupid decisions and act like I’m in an I Love Lucy episode.

And every time I’m the one in need of grace, I react like my two-year-old—-run away, bury my face and sob.

Grace sounds so wonderful when you’re explaining it to someone else or extending it to another. But when you are the one who needs grace, oh, how painful it is sometimes

Grace addresses sin.  Forgiveness always requires a wrong.  Erasing always requires a mistake.  Strength always highlights weakness just like perfection always reveals imperfection.

Admitting that we need a Savior requires personalizing the message of redemptive grace.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake” (Good News Translation).

So, that means we’re doomed to imperfection sometimes?  Guaranteed to need forgiveness?  Certain of mistakes and assured of being wrong occasionally (or often)?

Yup, that’s us.  That’s you.  That’s me.

So, when we mess up, we can engage in the horrors of self-condemnation.  We can become weighed down by shame and guilt—

that we are a mess
that we’re stupid
that we’re an idiot
that we never do anything right
that we deserve whatever punishment we get
that God can’t ever use someone so broken

Or we can accept the gift extended to us by a God who specializes in forgiveness. As Emerson Eggerichs wrote, “Mistakes can’t be undone, but they can be forgiven.”

But how do we move on after a mistake?  How do we walk humbly, yet not live paralyzed by shame?  How do we serve gratefully rather than withdraw altogether, unworthy as we are? How do we let the past shape us and not destroy us?

David experienced this same struggle.  He was a godly king turned adulterer and murderer.  Faced with the magnitude of his sin, still he continued serving on the throne of Israel, still he wrote Psalms of praise to God.

It wasn’t easy.  In Psalm 51:3, he says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”

But David acknowledged the need for grace, accepted forgiveness and moved forward in joy.

He brought to God the only acceptable sacrifice: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).

God doesn’t desire our brokenness because He rejoices in our shame or needs our degradation.  He wants us to remember that He is God, not us.

We can begin to feel perfect, strong, capable, worthy in our own strength. But if we really are all those things, then who needs grace?  Who needs a savior?  Our worship and ministry can become tainted with self-exaltation. It becomes all about us and not at all about Him.

But when we accept grace, we acknowledge that we’re never worthy, not now, not ever.  Thomas Merton said,

“God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness.  And to laugh, after all, at the preposterous ideas of ‘worthiness.’ ~Thomas Merton~

Yes, we advance in His love.

We don’t need to be shamed by our sin, by our foolishness, by our scattered-brains and accident-prone clumsiness.  We should be humbled.  We are reminded that even though we are not perfect; He is.  Though we are not good enough; He is always sufficient.  Even though we are never worthy, He is worthy of all our praise.

And so we ask Him to forgive us.  We accept His grace.  And then we, like David, ask him to help us move on.

David prayed:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.   Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you”
(Psalm 51:10-13).

We pray this as well.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 04/28/2012

Hiding the Word:

We had plans. Big plans.

It was pirate weekend in Yorktown Virginia and the annual book sale at our public library.  Add in my niece singing the lead role in an opera, church, and a birthday party and you had a full weekend.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that after two of my daughters spent time on the couch this week with fever and vomiting that the third would get sick, as well.  I sent her to bed Friday night with the beginnings of a fever.

This morning, she emerged looking bedraggled and ill and asking, “Do you think I’m better yet?”

Her skin, fire to the touch, clearly said otherwise, but I humored her with a thermometer test.  103 degrees.  “No, babe,” I said, “you’re pretty sick.”

Then there were the tears of disappointment, trading in a weekend of fun for a weekend of ginger ale and napping.

It’s one of those lessons you just can’t learn often enough in this life–that you can plan and schedule and postulate, but God has the prerogative to interrupt your agenda and alter your plotted course at any time.

Even when you know it’s for the best, that His design for you is better than you can imagine and what ultimately comes to pass is for your good, still it’s nonetheless disappointing in the moment.

For us, these interruptions are sometimes minor losses and daily annoyances; sometimes they’re the source of great sorrow and bitter grieving.

Regardless of their magnitude, we can all learn to pray as Jesus did, kneeling in the garden and submitting His will to the Father’s.

“Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b).

It’s the verse for this week, to contemplate and memorize.  Maybe it seems short, but it’s truth is powerful and perhaps a little painful.

Weekend Rerun:

He Rested

Originally Posted on April 26, 2011

“And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done”
(Genesis 2:3 ,NIV).

For months, one week in April glared off my calendar menacingly.  My husband and I focused all of our attention and energy on getting to that week and getting through that week—appointments, birthday parties, wedding, special church services, meetings, and holiday activities piled on top of our normal schedule.

I had the individual events in my calendar circled in different colors multiple times so that I wouldn’t overlook any one of them.   When people asked us about May, our eyes glazed over uncomprehendingly.  May?  What’s May?  As far as we were concerned, finishing April was the goal.

I’m sure you have weeks on your calendar that look like that, too, an overload of busyness, and you hold your breath in anticipation of it, stress when you think about it, and dream about making it through.

But then our week was done.  The last event finished.  We survived.  We drove home.  We rested.

It sounds so easy, really, to say “rest,” and yet for me rest takes great effort.

I’m physically incapable of napping.  Instead of sleeping, I lie awake thinking about all the things I should be doing instead of sleeping.  By the time I finally give up and throw back the covers in defeat, I’m frantic about the wasted time and move faster through my to-do list to make up for it.

I feel guilty for leisure, embarrassed by free time, and apologetic for fun.

Accepting help or taking a break feels like failure and an admission of weakness.

There’s something else at work here beyond just an addiction to adrenaline.  Oh, how I hate for it to be true, and yet digging down deeply enough reveals its ugly presence—-pride.  Truly, it feels good to be needed.  It feels important to be so busy.

When I run around in a breathless pace, doing, doing, doing all the time, I act as if the world depends on me to function, as if me sitting down for 15 minutes would create cosmic meltdown.

And that’s why God, from the very first week of creation, instituted a Sabbath rest.  It wasn’t for His benefit, as if the Almighty God who created a sun, moon, and planet with the power of His words grew weary and needed to sleep.  No, the Sabbath was not for God.  Instead, Jesus “said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

He created a day of rest for you and me.  It’s a reminder that the universe can exist without our involvement and labor.  It’s a re-ordering of our perspective, so that we remember it is God who is essential and not us.

So often, we forget that our jobs, our families, our ministries, our relationships, our everything depend not on our ability, but on God’s power.
We stress about meetings because we think everything relies on how well we present ourselves.
We plot out conversations because we think the outcome depends on the words we choose.

We think.  We plan.  We do.  We fix.  We busy ourselves.  We worry.  We analyze.  We lose sleep.

God knows the pride that burrows itself into our hearts; the tentacles it wraps around us as we seek fulfillment in accomplishments, in tasks completed, in people depending on us.  I’ve written it before and yet need the reminder of my own words:

I’ve seen many women engage in Busyness Battles with each other.   We ask each other what seems like such a simple question, such as “What have you been up to lately?” or “Have you been busy?”  Then, like a Wild West shootout, we breathlessly list our every activity in an effort to “out-busy” the other woman.  The prize?  The personal pride that we are more stressed than the woman we are talking to.  Don’t be embarrassed to concede defeat and say, “Well, I’ve been focusing on de-stressing. On Sunday, I watched a movie with my family and then read some of my book.” You may have lost the shoot-out, but who wants the title of “Most Stressed Woman” anyway?

I read this week that Craig Groeschel, in his book Weird, recommends a to-don’t list.  It’s a tool for those like me who find inactivity takes effort, to help me choose sitting on the deck while my daughters color with sidewalk chalk over doing laundry or choose pushing my baby girl in her swing and listening to her giggles turn to belly laughs over planning church programs.

This isn’t about rules, regulations and law.  It isn’t about Pharisaical hypocrisy and legalism.  It’s about rest and rest is about a humble stepping aside and the placing and continual re-placing of God in control of our lives.

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For further thoughts, check out:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King