#Holy Week · #Plagues · Spirituality

Three Plagues

I laughed out loud when I read my friend Christy Bass Adams’ post about chasing a mouse around her house one quiet evening. You can read it here at her blog, Learning As I Go.

We once had a similar experience chasing a baby squirrel around the house. It faced the same consequences as the mouse in Christy’s story, which involved being on the wrong end of a BB gun.

Last week we found evidence in our kitchen that some mice had been playing around in the drawers and nibbling on my dark chocolate in the pantry. Fortunately, we did not have to chase any around the house but caught three in traps Keith set out. Yuck!  I threw out and cleaned everywhere I thought they had been. Our kitchen is now booby trapped for any other creatures that dare come in.

A few months ago we had our annual infestation of lady bugs, which love our white frame house. I was sweeping up dustpans full every day, so we finally set off some bug bombs in the attic. That resulted in hordes of ugly black flies which fell drunkenly all over the floor and on every surface in the front of the house. More sweeping and vacuuming. Ugh.

Lady bugs, flies, and mice — what next? I am feeling like we are in the middle of a Biblical plague.

God sent the plagues to the Egyptians to try to convince Pharaoh to allow the Hebrew slaves to leave. Working through Moses and Aaron, God wanted to show Pharaoh how powerful He was.

Yet, throughout the months of the ten plagues, God protected the Hebrews from the worst of them. They did not have to endure the swarms of flies or the deaths of their livestock. He warned them before the plague of hail so that they could bring in their animals and make sure they were not out in the fields. And when darkness settled over all of Egypt, the Hebrews had light in their homes.

Most famously, God told the Hebrews to kill a lamb and put its blood on their doorframes on the night of the Plague of the Firstborn, when the Angel of Death would come to take all the firstborn sons and animals. When Pharaoh’s own son died, his heart was finally moved and he conceded to allow the Hebrew slaves, their families, and their livestock to leave.

From that time forward, the Jewish people have celebrated Passover, commemorating the Death Angel passing over the homes of the Hebrews and sparing their sons, and the release of the people to freedom.

Jesus and his disciples were having their Passover meal when he broke the news to them that it would be their last one together. As we celebrate Holy Week at our churches, many of us will be having Communion to remember this important event in our story as Christians.

I love the symbolism found in the Passover meal and the Last Supper. Just as the Hebrews were set free from their slavery, we have been set free from sin. When Jesus took the bread and cup of wine and shared it with these men and women who had spent almost every day with him for the last three years, he explained that he now represented the lamb that was sacrificed for Passover. Just as the blood of the lamb protected the Hebrews from death, we are saved by the blood he shed.

As I take the cup and unleavened bread this year, I am reminded that God will not let the plagues overcome me. When those days come that bring circumstances more serious than flies and mice, I have the confidence that I do not have to go through it alone.

Holiday depression · Spirituality

Finding Joy

Words of Joy are all around me as I plow forward into 2021. My fellow writer Kay Whately is planning on delving into all the verses in the Bible related to joy on her blog. I received a festive mug from my friend Lisa that proudly proclaims Joy across the front. And on one of my few shopping trips before Christmas, I picked up a cute decoration for my kitchen windowsill of three smiling snowmen, each holding up a letter for JOY. They have greeted me each morning as I stumble in for my morning coffee.

With all these reminders, why does JOY seem out of reach?

I felt joy when I directed Handel’s Messiah in my tiny kitchen as I baked pound cakes for Christmas. My heart swelled with the glory of the music and the anticipation of the approaching holiday season. But December 25th came and went and the lights and decorations were put back in their boxes and carried to the attic. The cold rain has begun and a gloomy Covid winter stretches before me. Our country continues to be divided and the hate and finger-pointing never cease. I’m struggling to catch hold of joy.

I picked up a book from my shelf by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, and this quote jumped out at me:

My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet. (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

I let that roll around in my head for a while and I thought about how closely love, joy and peace are bound to each other. It’s hard to have one without the other, kind of like bacon, tomatoes and mayonnaise. They are listed as the first of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If I concentrate on these other areas — being more patient, kind, gentle and self-controlled – will joy follow? If I focus on loving more, will I become more joyful? If I put feet to my peace by writing a note to someone or helping at the food giveaway, will I feel happier?

Joy seems to show up when I’m not looking for it, hiding behind the clouds or under a blanket of weariness. It nudges me when I dare to hope that tomorrow will be brighter and teases me when I let go of the circumstances I can’t control and trust God. When I start to recognize the Holy Spirit living inside me, it sneaks its hand out and gives me a high-five.

Today the sun is out and peace, love and joy have slid in. Just in case, I left the smiling snowmen out on my kitchen window. I need their reminder to keep looking for Joy to show up when I don’t expect it.

Christianity · Daffodls · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Daffodil Strength

My daffodils are here and they give me hope.

Years ago when we first moved into our old house, we began transplanting daffodils around the yard. Patches of them grew in the woods around us, leftover from the days when tenant houses were there. I think of them as wild, although I don’t know if daffodils actually grow wild. I like thinking about awoman planting them outside her little house a hundred years ago, when it was just a swept dirt yard with chickens and children running around. Did their cheerful yellow faces give her hope as well?

 

These little daffodils are not big and showy, but they are tough and consistent. They push their heads up when the ground is still hard and frozen, as if determined  to come up no matter what the weather. Usually they make their appearance toward the end of February, but they showed up early this year since we have had such a balmy winter. Their bright sunshine color and distinctive aroma announce “Spring is coming!”,  even though we still face possible snow and ice.

In this age of noise and bluster, the little daffodils remind me of people I know that are strong in their quiet ways. I think of my friend Tiffany who struggles with Cerebral Palsy.  Just getting out of bed and putting on her clothes is a challenge each day as she deals with muscles that don’t cooperate and braces on her legs and a walker that she hates. Yet she doesn’t give up and comes to work each day with a smile and a laugh. I think of another friend who was recently widowed. She has that lost, fragile look of someone fighting through grief, yet she forces herself to get out of the house, put on some makeup and face the world. That is true strength.

Tiffany and me at Christmas

What botanical urge causes the daffodil bulb to decide it is time to bloom when it is sleeping underground, even as the temperatures dip and the snow comes? A scientist could explain it to me, but to me it is a mystery.  In the same inexplicable way, people push through hard times and survive against the odds, pulling their strength from deep within.

In Ephesians 3, Paul tells the readers of his letter that he is praying for them to experience the power that only comes from Christ in their “inner being”.  I like the New Living Translation:

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Notice that God’s resources are unlimited and that through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do whatever is before us. Too often I don’t take advantage of this power in my life. Unlike that little daffodil flower that is being pulled up by a desire for the sun, I don’t let myself be pulled and led by the Holy Spirit. But notice verse 17 – that “your roots will grow down in God’s love and keep you strong.” The daffodil spends all year building up its resources underground in order to bloom for a few weeks. Our strength must come from putting down the roots we need, securely anchoring ourselves in God’s love.

I’m thankful for the daffodils that promise Spring and for the people in my life who inspire me each day with their courage. And I’m thankful also for the Holy Spirit in my life, promising strength to face life’s struggles.

 

Back to School · Christianity · grace · Spiritual warfare · Uncategorized

Go Away!

I started back to school this week, my 17th year as a media specialist. I’m in a school I love with a great staff, a new principal who is excited and collegial, and students and families I have come to know and love. After 17 years I feel like I should know what I’m doing, yet each year I start out the same way, overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I hit a place just as school is starting when I feel so overwhelmed with everything to do and all the expectations I put on myself that I have a little breakdown. Thankfully, I had it at home, not at school!

I wonder sometimes if others feel this way. I know that most teachers are anxious and nervous the first day, no matter how long they have been teaching, but my feelings go beyond just apprehension and anxiety. I struggle with deep feelings of “not being good enough”. In many ways it is like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, something that I struggle against all the time. No matter how much positive feedback I get, I always hear that little voice at the back of my head whispering,  ”But what do others really think of you?”

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, a very thought provoking read. Chris Bailey is a young man who is obviously very smart and self assured and has done well with his first book, yet in the last chapter he admits that he too suffers from negative thoughts about his abilities. He writes that this is how we as humans are wired and that studies show that most people have a running inner dialogue that is self critical and often condemning. The trick iso learn to forge ahead despite what our inner critic may be saying.

The old image of the angel and devil on opposite sides telling us what to do is not so far off! I have learned to constantly remind myself that the negative voices in my head are not from God – in His sight I’m forgiven for all the dumb stuff I’ve done and said, and He doesn’t keep bringing it up like the “Devil” voice. I’ve even gone so far as to actually yell at that voice (when in the confines of my car!) saying, “In the name of Jesus, Go Away!!”  Try it, it works!

I have to constantly remind myself that God loves me just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to prove to Him that I’m worthy or “good enough”. Although this seems basic, I still need to fill my mind with these thoughts instead of the ones that pull me down and keep my from becoming all that God wants me to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity · grace · Uncategorized

Broken Pieces

The Grand Strand 

I recently had a nice trip to North Myrtle Beach with some good friends. I grew up coming here to the Grand Strand before it was covered with high rise condos, and I love the wide beach and swimming in the waves of the Atlantic.

This stretch of beach is not the best for shelling, however. By the time the shells have landed on the hard sand, they are broken in pieces and line the beach as the waves bring them in. Finding a whole shell is pretty rare.

As we walked along the beach, I thought about how the shells are like so many people I know who have been broken by the pounding of life. Divorce, addiction, depression, deaths of loved ones, job loss, mental and physical illness, and the day to day wear and tear of life crush us down. We become like the shells on the shore, with parts of us cracked and torn.

Sometimes other people’s brokenness can cause us pain, as when I step on a jagged shell.

But God in His infinite grace restores our broken edges. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34:18:

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

If you are feeling broken today, remember that God is extra close, that He loves you and wants to see you whole again. Our hard times change us, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can be like the sea glass that sometimes washes up on shore, with its edges soft from the constant tumbling on the ocean floor. Instead of jagged edges that hurt both ourselves and others, we can become something beautiful that can be used by God.