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.

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What Others See in You

This blog was originally posted a few weeks ago on Inspire a Fire. See the original at www.inspireafire.com/others-see/.

Sometimes friends teach me things about myself I never knew.

Like apparently I talk with my hands way more than I realized. And I eat watermelon five times faster than any other food. (Keep this in mind if you’re ever feeding me in a rush.)

Maybe this isn’t exactly critical self-knowledge, but the point it raises certainly is. Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself.

Sometimes these things are negative. I need friends to encourage me when I’m frustrated, to tell me to snap out of it when I’m defeated, to remind me to be thankful when I’m not. But just as importantly, I need friends to give me positive comments. I need to hear about the strengths I overlook, the skills I take for granted, the gifts I should be nurturing.

I bet you’re the same. I bet you also need others to point out those things you overlook in yourself. And I bet your friends see more in you than you could possibly realize.

Girl in mirror

Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself. (Photo by Janet Beagle.)

God uses the people in our lives to help us find our way. But I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s not just our friends who see something more in us.

There’s Someone besides my friends who knew I would talk with my hands. Because He created them. There’s Someone who knew I would eat sandwiches slowly and watermelon fast. Because He designed me that way. There is, as Solomon wrote, a friend who is closer even than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Maybe Solomon was referring to our earthly friends, but his words are true of our ultimate Friend as well.

“I have called you friends,” Jesus said to his followers (John 15:15).

God knows us more intimately than anyone could possible know us. He ordained every one of our days before we were born; He created our inmost being; He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). God has told us things about ourselves. Listen:

  • You are loved and forgiven (John 3:16).
  • You are protected (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 32:7)
  • You are handcrafted for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).
  • You are made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • You are called to perfection (Matthew 5:48).
  • You are never alone (Matthew 28:20; Psalm 139:7-10).
  • You are surrounded by God’s perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
  • You are part of a family of believers dating back to the very first disciples (John 17:20-21).
  • You are being guided, even in your moments of confusion (John 16:13; Proverbs 3:5-6).
John 15:15 I have called you friends

Listen to the Friend who knows us better than anyone. John 15:15. Image by Janet Beagle

We don’t always know what happens next. If you’re like me, you have a hard enough time keeping up with what’s going on right now. But we can rest in the assurance that Someone else does know. And when we genuinely try to follow His direction, He will keep our feet on the right path.

We are called, right now, to fulfill our days with the work that is at hand. Everything we need has been planted inside us. We just may need a little help bringing it out. Take the time to tell those around you what you see in them. Listen, to what others see in you. Most importantly, listen to the Friend who knows us even better than we can ever know ourselves.

Sometimes friends teach us things about ourselves we never knew.

Come

Another of my posts recently made it onto another Christian devotional website.  You can start reading and link to this post below!

The best running advice I ever received was given to me before I became a runner.

For years, I secretly dreamed of being a runner. I wanted to be one of those people who could jog down the street while simultaneously talking to a friend. Some folks made it look so easy. Fun. Meanwhile, I had trouble holding a conversation just walking up a flight of stairs.

I had friends who were runners. Sometimes I even tried to follow their advice. Still, I failed. Until the day I received the ultimate running advice…

Continue reading at http://www.christiandevotions.us/viewblogentry/88.

Wild Trek

For many years now I have had this mental image from a favorite childhood book.  I would think of it at odd times while lying in my dorm room, or in my first apartment, or in all the apartments that came after.  It was an adventure novel of two men, braving the wilderness and struggling to survive against daunting odds.  It was the type of rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds-barred kind of wilderness adventure that – to the extent possible for young readers – lacked any hint of sentimentality.  Here were two men calling upon every shred of human ingenuity to survive against savage beasts, fierce elements, and harrowing terrain.

And then it happened.

One man was left waiting in a cave while his companion scouted ahead.  Despite all the hardships he had already endured, this man suddenly realizes that loneliness is the worst.  He manages to trap a snowshoe hare for food, but instead of killing the rabbit, this survival-toughened mountain man builds a small cage and gathers blades of grass.  This is the image that has travelled with me: even more than food, companionship is the greatest human need.

I recently endeavored to find this story.  I was pretty sure who the author was, and although I couldn’t remember exactly which book, I thought I would know it when I saw it.  I pulled all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books from my shelf – I even reread a couple – but the one I was looking for was not there.  I went to the library to expand my search, and as soon as I cracked the cover, I knew I had found it.  A couple hundred pages later, I was reading the words that had left such a powerful image all those years before.

“It seemed that anything was bearable as long as somebody or something was present to offer companionship.  No man was really sufficient unto himself; this loneliness was far worse than the hunger that gnawed at his belly.  Antray pulled his belt in, but he could not alleviate the gnawing in his mind as easily… Night came and he looked again at the rabbit.  He was hungry, hungrier than he had ever been before, it seemed, but he wasn’t lonely.  He’d save the rabbit…” Jim Kjelgaard, Wild Trek1

The Bible tells us that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  This passage undergirds numerous spiritual lessons, from an understanding of the Trinity to the strength of marriage vows bound between husband, wife, and God.  But here’s a more general underpinning: It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

God has sent each one of us on a rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds barred wilderness adventure.  But He never intends for us to travel alone.  The truth of this statement is what burned this story’s image so indelibly into my heart.  Haven’t you, too, experienced the power of companionship?  Haven’t you yearned for it, been blessed by it, shared it?

Thank God for the blessing of companionship.  Then look around you, and seek out opportunities to spread this blessing to others.

“But if we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching?  Why aren’t His hands healing?   Why aren’t His words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren’t His feet going?  Why is His love not showing them there is a way?”  ~Casting Crowns “If We are the Body”

 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:36)

 

1Kjelgaard, J. (1950.) Wild Trek. New York: Bantam Books

The Girl on the Other Side of the Bathroom

That’s how we knew each other, my suitemates and I.

Roomies

Last week was my second trip to my favorite writer’s conference. (Okay, so it’s the only writer’s conference I’ve ever attended, but still.)

We stayed in a residence hall with shared bathrooms between each pair of rooms; I wouldn’t trade those accommodations for anything. Walking through the bathroom and into the other room is a bit like stepping out of the wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis classic.

You knock. You step through.

And the people, the places, the stories on the the other side are just a bit magical. You meet people who (even in passing) have stories or comments or insights that touch your life. You find yourself thinking of them days later. Maybe years later.

Makes a person wonder, what doors are here in front of me that I should be stepping through? Look around… God may be tapping you to step forward.

One of the girls on the other side of the bathroom wrote a quick summary of our last night on her blog.  If you’re interested, check it out.

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name (3 John 1:14b).

 

An Epilogue to the Soup Story

Later that night, after the great soup escapade, I was sharing my story with a friend. “You know how my church has these Lenten suppers,” I began.

“Uh-huh.”

“And each week two people volunteer to bring soup.”

“Oh no,” she interjected. “You didn’t volunteer to take soup did you?” (Ah, she knows me so well.)

“Well… I really thought it was going to work this year.”

“Please tell me you followed a recipe,” she said.

Silence.

“Why?” She cried. “Why do you keep doing this to these nice people? I thought you liked these people.”

“I do!” I said.

“Then stop subjecting them to your cooking! Just stop volunteering. Believe me, they will understand.”

“But I want to volunteer,” I said. “I’m determined that one of these times I’m going to make something good.”

“Then follow a recipe! That’s what recipes are for!”

“Yeah,” I said, not convincingly.

“Or at least try making it ahead of time so you know it actually works.”

“Yeah,” I repeated. Meaning: not likely.

“Look,” she said. “That’s three good options for you. Stop volunteering, follow a recipe, or make it ahead of time.”

“I’m trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers,” I said, changing the subject.

“Really. You’re wondering what to do with the leftovers?”

“I’m not going to throw it out! I’ll doctor it up somehow to get it edible.”

“I’m sure you will,” she said. Meaning: just so long as you don’t feed it to me.

The next day I had a soup recipe in my inbox. Of course, I haven’t actually looked at it yet. But I may. I am determined that next year I will get it right. Last year my soup was flavorless, but soup-like. This year my soup actually had flavor, it just happened to be the consistency of slime. So if I can just combine this year’s flavor with last year’s texture…

Of course, the alternative is that I could wind up with the negative combination of flavorless slime, but we won’t talk about that.

Maybe I should look at a recipe.

Stay tuned for next year’s blog post on how I redeemed myself with the most delicious soup ever. Or else on the foolishness of stubbornly trying to redeem oneself in one’s own way. We know, after all, that we are saved not by the works of our own hands, but by faith in the One who redeems us. We, like sheep (or stubborn recipe-less cooks) have gone astray. Fortunately for me, even when I stubbornly fail and fail again, God patiently gives grace not only to me, but to those who endure my cooking as well.

For now, I’m just glad that someone else is bringing the soup tonight.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Cooking Tip #6: The Secret Ingredient

I recently discovered a secret ingredient even more important than cheese.

I know, I didn’t think this was possible either. But it’s true. And this secret ingredient is so unique, it is added not by the chef during cooking, but by the consumer right before eating. Here is the story of how I discovered it.

During Lent, my church hosts Lenten soup and sandwich suppers on Wednesday evenings before service. Each week, two people bring soup and the fellowship committee provides sandwiches. Last week, I volunteered to bring soup. I was determined to improve on my previous year’s contribution that tasted like soggy vegetables in water. This year, I had a plan.

That morning I swung by the church on my way to work. I dumped some rice in my crockpot along with cooked and seasoned chicken, vegetables, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth. It smelled amazing. I was so excited. For once, I was going to make something good. I fired up the crockpot and went to work.

That evening I bounced into the fellowship hall carrying visions of simmering soup. One of the other ladies was bringing my crockpot out of the kitchen, and the sight stopped me dead in my tracks.

There, in her hands, was an erupting mound of primordial goo. It was expanding even as I watched, bubbling and clawing as though trying to escape from the pot.

“I wasn’t… sure what to do…” she began, pot held at armslength. And then seeing the look on my face, “But it will be okay. Here.” She added the tiny can of leftover broth I had left on the counter and tried unsuccessfully to stir it. “There. See. That’s better…”

I stared at my masterpiece in horror. “I must have put in too much rice,” I said. And worse – the rice had cooked down to the consistency of paste.

Enter the rest of the evenings attendees.

“What kind of soup do we have tonight?” Pastor asked

“Um,” I said. “I was going to call it Italian Chicken, but it’s really more like a casserole.”

“Let’s pray,” Pastor said.

So we prayed, and then I bravely dug into my crock pot. If I was going to make these people eat my soup, then I was going to eat it too. I pried a spoonful from the pot with an audible “thwuck.”

And this, my friends, is where the secret ingredient gets added.

Glob of soup on a spoon.

My “Soup”

 

The first bite almost made me gag, and I’ve had years of practice with my cooking. But those people ate my soup without wincing, and even made nice comments.

“We appreciate you bringing the soup tonight,” they said.

“Your soup has a nice flavor,” they said.

“My father always said soup was good if you could stand your spoon up in it,” they said.

And I sat there thinking: Only the power of God could equip someone to say nice things about this soup.

I could learn a thing or two from these people. About humility. About gratefulness. About kindness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a).

“Be kinder than you have to be,” I read once. “Because you never know what the other person is facing.” I saw this demonstrated first-hand that night. They didn’t have to eat my soup. There were sandwiches; there was another pot of soup that someone else had brought. They could have ignored mine entirely. But they did not. They added a secret ingredient that made even my soup palatable.

Kindness.

Be kind to one another, Paul admonished (Ephesians 4:32).

We all have opportunities a dozen times a day where we could choose to be kind. It’s far easier to be busy, harsh, self-centered, negative, stressed… But whatever we’re facing right now, we are called to make a conscience effort toward kindness.

Take time today to be kind. And when your initial reaction is something other than kindness, please pause and remember that your situation could be worse.

You could be sitting down to a bowl of my soup.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another (Zechariah 7:9).