Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

INTERRUPTIONS OF THE JESUS KIND (Part 3)

She showed up to Bible study fashionably late, as they say, and made everyone aware of her presence. She seemed to know a little of what we were talking about. When I say “a little,” I mean she had her own version of the passage we were studying. I’m sure every time she spoke up, I cocked my head sideways in disbelief of the tangents she frequently took us on. She has a knack for hijacking conversations, interrupting discussions, and derailing dialog.

Who is she? Yes, she’s the woman from part 1 and part 2.

Truth be told, she seems to have her own version of life itself. She doesn’t live in the real world. She lives in her own fantasy world. Her world appears to be formulated by reality TV shows, sad songs, adventure movies, and bad theology. I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone quite like her.

When the gospel singers were performing a couple weeks ago, she came in late of course, sat down and commented out loud in affirmation of their music. When the song ended, she piped up and asked, “Can you sing the song about Elvis?”

Confused, they questioned, “The song about Elvis?” (I think everyone in the room was confused.)

“Yes,” she said, “you know…the one about Elvis?”

I was just about to interject and remind her this was a gospel group and they wouldn’t be singing any songs by Elvis.

Then she said, “Everyone knows the song about Elvis. Don’t you? It’s How Great Thou Art!”

Oh my! She’s an Elvis fanatic times ten. I sat in the back of the room, again, floored by the random, and way off thinking of that beautiful old hymn being about Elvis. The gospel group obliged and sang the song. Which is quite clearly about God. Not Elvis. And she sobbed through the whole thing. I wondered what in the world must be going through her mind.

I haven’t known how to navigate between my teetering thoughts of “This woman drives me absolutely crazy” and “Jesus would have loved her, invested in her, and spent time with her.” It hasn’t been the first time I’ve wrestled with professional responses vs. spiritual responses. It happens. I’ve questioned by responsibility, my role, and my obligation.

interruptionsInterruptions…they’re interesting for sure. We can easily get frustrated by them, blow them off, or even ponder their root. One thing I know, interruptions happen. And you never know when or where.

Last week the nursing staff found her. She was half-dressed, in the room of a man who was not her current boyfriend. She was unresponsive. She was rushed to the hospital where she passed away a few days later. It’s crazy to fathom. I saw her that day. She interrupted me a few times that day. She seemed fine. Until she wasn’t.

She was an interrupter for sure. When I thought I could get some work done, here she came to interrupt. When I was having a discussion with a staff member or resident, here she came to interrupt. When I was about to leave for the day, here she came to interrupt.

I guess in the end, her very life was interrupted. It’s sorta ironic.

At least for a while, I’ll look at interruptions differently. There could very well be something divine about them.

As I said in part 1 and part 2, I’m a work in progress…please interrupt me.

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INTERRUPTIONS OF THE JESUS KIND (Part 2)

interruptions

I walked in the building, went upstairs, sat down at my desk, and turned on my computer. It was early. It was quiet. Nobody was around. I was ready to bust out a few key things before my busy day started. And then…out of nowhere…there she was. Who is she? She’s the woman from part 1.

She pulled up a chair at the table beside my desk. She asked if I could look up a particular city on the computer for her. I’d never heard of it. I tried looking it up, but there was no city by that name. She fumbled around a bit, offered the same city, but a couple different states. She seemed a bit confused.

Clearly this was another interruption. Ugh!

Finally, after hitting a few dead ends, I asked her why we were looking this up.

“They found my son,” she said.

“Oh?” (I vaguely remember a few months back a conversation about not knowing where her son was.) If you read part 1, you’d have a hunch that I didn’t really want to engage her in a conversation because it might last way longer than I’d like it to. Plus, I was on a mission to get things done before the busyness began.

I have a hard time liking this woman. She drives me crazy. She’s nice. Kinda funny sometimes. She’s very, very complimentary and encouraging to everyone. She always has something nice to say to other people, which makes her sound delightful, right?

But… (Isn’t there always a ‘but’?)

She has quite a past…and present. She has a history of sexual abuse, assault, run-ins with the law, bankruptcy, etc. Since she came to our facility, she’s moved from boyfriend to boyfriend. She’s one of the poster children for the old country song “Lookin’ For Love in all the Wrong Places.” This maybe too much information, but she’s not “happy” unless she’s in the arms (or the bed) of a man. She’s the product of one bad choice after another. Hence my struggle. Even after being given wise counsel by me and some other staff members, she goes ahead and makes the bad choices anyway.

So, back to my “interruption.”

“They found my son.”

“Oh?” Looking at my computer, so she might take the hint that I’m busy.

“Yeah. They found him somewhere in the woods, dead, with a gunshot to his head.”

Okay…can you say INTERRUPTION?!?

My heart dropped. My conviction spiked. Five seconds ago, I didn’t want to give this woman the time of day.

I took my hands off my keyboard, spun my chair around, and fully engaged.

I wonder if God places these interruptions in our lives to see if we’re paying attention—not to the person or situation that’s happening—but to God Himself.

Could it be that God is saying, “Okay, I have something I want to accomplish in you and through you. Are you ready? Are you up for the challenge?” But we—in our own self-centered world—totally miss the opportunity.

Could it be that God is saying, “I want to take you on a journey. I want to teach you something profound. Are you willing to walk with Me?” But we—caught up in the busyness of self—aren’t fully engaged.

Could it be that God is saying over and over again, “Life’s not about you. It’s about Me. I want to use this interruption for My glory. I want to use this interruption to plant a seed. I want to use this interruption in ways that are beyond you.”

When I stop to think of the many times Jesus was interrupted, I certainly believe God may have a point here. Jesus’ teaching was interrupted when the guys lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof. Jesus’ travel was interrupted by the two blind guys on the side of the road. Jesus’ dinner was interrupted by a sinful woman.

One interruption after another. Why? God wanted to accomplish His purpose through His Son, Jesus.

I’m learning…slowly…

I want to be like Jesus. But, I also want that on my own terms, in my own timing, in my own way. Isn’t that ridiculous?

As I said in part 1, I’m a work in progress…maybe you should interrupt me.

 

 

 

 

 

INTERRUPTIONS OF THE JESUS KIND (Part 1)

interruptions

She always wants something. When I say always, I mean like all the time. Little things, big things, in between things. Always wants something. And more often than not, it’s something that takes quite a bit of time and effort on my part.

It’s a little bit of the nature of my job. I’m available. I’m glad to help (…usually). I have resources. I have access. I have “free” time.

My day usually includes many interruptions from various people asking for things from me. And these folks are sensitive of my time and job responsibilities, so their “needs” are usually easy ones. For instance:

“Beth, can you look up the number of the nearest pizza place?”

…Sure!

“Beth, is there any way you can print off my new patient forms from my doctor’s website?”

…You bet!

“Beth, do you think we could change the flowers on the centerpieces in the dining room?”

…Absolutely!

“Beth, the wreath on my door fell apart. Any way you can glue it back together?”

…I’ll be glad to!

Those interruptions are ones I can handle. Those requests are ones I don’t mind doing because I know I’m blessing someone who has a particular need or desire. Those things are fairly simple. And frequent. And usually pretty quick to accomplish.

But this one particular woman is an anomaly. She’s a challenge. As soon as I walk in the door, she magically appears…wanting something. I know if I engage her in conversation, my self-imposed 3-minute-limit to a conversation will easily turn into 13 minutes, or maybe even 30. I almost dread seeing her. Simply put, she can wear me slick with her frequent interruptions and requests.

I know what you’re thinking. “Beth don’t let her take advantage of you.” Or maybe, “Beth, if she’s intruding or getting in the way of you getting your job done, then you’ve got to say something to her.” Or perhaps, “Beth, don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to this woman.”

And I’d agree with you. And believe me, I’ve said and done all those things.

I’m a big Henry Cloud fan. I’ve read several of his books. In Boundaries, he talks about how homeowners set physical property lines around their land, and how we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what our responsibility is and what it isn’t. I certainly buy into all those things. And with this woman, I’ve “put up fences” here and there.

But I’m also a big fan of Jesus. I’ve read a lot about Him. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve camped out in the Sermon on the Mount for the better part of a year now. In Matthew 5:41-42 (NIV), Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” In the Message Translation (which is what I’ve used to study the Sermon on the Mount this last year or so), it reads this way, And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

Go two miles instead of one. Don’t turn away. Practice the servant life. Live generously. What a mission! What a challenge!

So…

Boundaries? Yes.

Servant life? Yes.

Which weighs heavier—boundaries or blessing? Which is more important—protecting or providing? Which is more like Jesus?

How many times do you suppose Jesus was on a mission to do something or go somewhere or accomplish something, but got distracted by someone else’s need? How often was He interrupted? How frequently did His agenda get rearranged or derailed by somebody’s request?

Yet…

He said, “…be generous with your lives.” (Matthew 5:16)

He said, “Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:48)

He said, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” (Matthew 7:12)

When I get interrupted by this woman, I find myself wanting to use Henry Cloud’s book as an excuse (or a crutch) for not helping her. But then I’m more convicted that I should use Jesus’ example to actually help her.

I’m a work in progress…don’t interrupt me.

 

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR

You know how they say, “Be careful what you pray for”? Well, whoever “they” are, they’re right.

Be Careful What You Pray for

Last week was a bit of a crazy week. Let me fill you in…

Years ago, I did quite a little bit of speaking at banquets, seminars, and retreats. But God suddenly (and not pleasantly) changed all of that for me. (Long story!) Since then, I’ve done a banquet here and there when I felt like I had God’s green light. I’ve been praying some in the last several months for Him to use me again, to give me opportunities to speak or preach if He thought that’d be cool. I’ve just been patiently waiting, not wanting to put myself out there publicly. Just trusting in His plan, His timing, His ways if He wanted to use me.

So back to last week…

My next-door neighbor texted me on Monday morning and told me his dad had passed away the evening before. I knew his dad as well and we exchanged a few texts and that was that.

On Tuesday morning, while on my walk, I was listening to a sermon (which is my usual workout routine—I know, it’s weird). For whatever reason (not coincidental as you’ll see later), I decided to walk a route I never take. Pretty soon I see my neighbor’s mom walking toward me with her dog. Yes, my neighbor’s parents live just down the street. So, as I’m approaching her I’m thinking, “Oh boy! I need to extend my sympathies to her, but I look like a hot mess, I’m not in the mood, I really don’t want to talk to her.” But…I did. I knew it was the right thing to do. So, I pushed pause on the sermon, took my headphones out, and we chatted a bit. She was a little teary and I could tell she wasn’t up for a long visit in the middle of the street. As we turned to part ways, I said to her, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” (Which…I meant…sorta…or not.) It was one of those comments that we say all the time. But do we really mean it?

We went our separate ways. But when she got about two driveways down, she hollered back at me, “Beth! Yes, there is! There is something you can do!” At this point I had no idea what that could be. We came back together, and she told me how she had been trying to get ahold of an old chaplain friend to do the funeral for her husband. She explained that they had quit going to church years ago and she simply didn’t know who to ask. I offered to get her in touch with one of the pastors at my church. She went on further to say this gentleman used to attend Antioch Community Church. “Oh,” I said, “that’s a great little church. Wonderful people there. Very warm and inviting. I’ve preached there on the occasions when their pastor has been out of town.” (Now, honestly, my intent in telling her this was to talk up this church thinking maybe she might decide to get back into church when the dust settled for her.)

She did a double take and said, “You’re a preacher?” And before I could say no and explain myself, she said, “Oh Beth, will you do Don’s funeral? You’d be perfect! You know us. It would really mean a lot to us.” And then here came the tears. (At this point, I’m thinking, “Oh my, what have I done?”) In my mind I thought it wouldn’t really happen. I thought she’d get ahold of her chaplain friend. I thought I’d be off the hook. I thought how I’ll never say the words, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” ever again.

I put back on my headphones, turned on the sermon, and went on the rest of my walk. Totally zoned out to what I was listening to. Totally having a serious conversation with God. “Should I do this funeral? I’ve never done a funeral before. Is this from You? Is this what You want me to do?” And again, the haunting thought revisited me… “Oh my goodness, what have I done?”

I knew I couldn’t sort all of it out on my walk, or make any determination, so I tuned back into the sermon that had been playing in my ears for the last several minutes, but I hadn’t heard a word of. Right then, this is what the preacher said, “365 days a year we get the opportunity to serve and love on people we encounter—those people God places in our midst.”

No joke, that’s what he said.

At that moment I knew I had to say yes to doing the funeral. But oh my! I didn’t know the first thing. All I knew was God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. (Firm believer in that now, by the way.)

As soon as I set foot in my front door from walking, my neighbor called and said, “Beth, thank you so much for agreeing to do dad’s funeral. Bless your heart. That’s awesome.”

I hadn’t agreed to anything, but there it was. I said, “Sure thing. My pleasure.”

I ended up doing the funeral. And when I say I did the funeral, I did the whole thing. Welcome, introduction, obituary reading, scripture reading, message, prayer…everything.

Curiously, a common thing among people who pray (myself included), is to miss the connection between what we pray and what happens next. When I asked God to use me again, to give me opportunities to speak or preach if He thought that’d be cool, I failed to connect these dots initially.

Here’s the thing…Prayer isn’t intended for us to convince God of what we think He should do for us. (Although we’d like to have it this way.) No, prayer is the method God uses to lay His heart over ours.

That’s it. That’s the deal. God moves, He orchestrates, He uniquely lets His desire be known to us. We just need to get ourselves clued in.

I guess we have two choices. Either be careful what we pray for or pray big, mighty things and make the connection between what we pray and what happens next.

And if you ever say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” pay attention, because God may be at work preparing you for the unexpected.

GREATNESS (re)DEFINED

When my youngest son was about 4 years old, he began doing the most random thing ever. I have no idea why or how it began. All I know is I witnessed it. A lot. Over several years.

Here’s what he’d do…

Arbitrarily he would run into the living room (out of nowhere it seemed), mount the top of the couch or chair or ottoman, raise one fist in the air and declare, “I am king!” Only it was dramatic, and proclamation-like, and more drawn out. Like, “I am kiiiiinnnngggg!!!”

And then that was it. He’d step down off of his “throne” and walk away rather indifferently.

I know. Random, right? Yes…and no…

I tend to think there’s a little part of each one of us that desires to be at the top—to be king or queen, to be the boss, to be in charge, to be recognized, to be praised, to achieve some sort of greatness. Some have this desire in very hidden and subtle ways. Others shout it from the mountain tops. (Or couch tops…whatever!)

If indeed we desire greatness, though, how do we get it? Where do we find it? When does it happen?

William Shakespeare wrote in his play Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” We could probably give evidence to support all three of those avenues to greatness. We know people who fit each one of those categories.

There’s an interesting verse way back in the Old Testament. When King David was old and in failing health, one of his sons did something similar to mine. No, he didn’t run into the living room and climb to the top of the chair. But in a sense, it was close.

King David was still on the throne, though he was quite aged. We read in 1 Kings 1:5 that—completely out of the blue—“Adonijah…exalted himself saying, ‘I will be king!’ So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him.”

Apparently, Adonijah was one of those who had a desire for greatness in a not-so-subtle way. It’s interesting…where we think we’d never do anything that gutsy or overt or brash, we frequently make moves to put ourselves at the top of the heap. Why? Again, it’s our inner desire for greatness.

Greatness (re)Defined

If I asked you what it takes to be great, you might say things like hard work, ability, intellect, money, fame, influence, charisma, the x-factor, etc. But what would Jesus say? Did He even care about stuff like greatness?

Jesus actually taught quite a bit about greatness. Only everything He taught sounded completely upside down. In the beattitudes, for instance, He said weird things like, “Blessed are the meek…” Meek sounds like weak. And weak doesn’t sound anything like greatness. And “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Poor? A far cry from rich, and doesn’t wealth translate to greatness? “Blessed are those who mourn.” You’re kidding! Mourning equals sadness. And how can you be great when you’re sad?

Though these statements appear to be upside down, they’re actually right-side up. A closer look at Jesus’ perspective and teaching on greatness not only support these statements He made at the beginning of Matthew 5, but give us a framework to truly define (or redefine) greatness.

You want to know how we get greatness? Where we find it? When it happens? Here you go:

Greatness (re)Defined:

  • Have a servant attitude. Greatness isn’t defined by the number of people who serve you, it’s defined by the number of people you serve. Jesus—as a guy who came to serve, not to be served—said in Matthew 20:26, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
  • Have a humble heart. Life’s not about you. It’s not about being in 1st place, at the top of the heap, being king or queen, in charge, recognized, or praised. In Luke 9:48, Jesus said, “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
  • Walk in obedience to God. Wow! This one’s not easy. Not even for Jesus. When the cross was imminent, He basically begged for any other way. A plan B…or C…or D perhaps? But at the end of the day, He surrendered His will to that of His Heavenly Father. Obedience was a big deal to Jesus. He said in Matthew 5:19, “…but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Love people. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, uniquely said that he could be great in the world’s eyes (or even in the eyes of the “religious”), but if he didn’t have love, he was nothing. Love was probably Jesus’ pinnacle teaching, even though it was taught mostly without using words. For Him, He lived it rather than said it. Along with loving God, He taught in Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

If you want to be great (…and who doesn’t?), I wouldn’t suggest running to the top of your couch and declaring it. (Unless your kingdom is my living room. If that’s the case it just might work for a hot second.)

No, if I were you, I’d opt for a more Jesus-like approach.

(re)Define your greatness. Friends, when we begin to think, and act, and live like Jesus we are indeed blessed!

UNNECESSARY DRAMA!

I hung out with a 6th grader a while back. Well, let me clarify, she just completed the 6th grade. That would be middle school. An age I don’t really care for at all. They’re squirrely as all get out. I barely survived my own middle school children. And I wouldn’t want to go back and relive those years at all. So, hanging out with a middle schooler isn’t really my idea of a good time. But this one happens to be related. Plus, she’s a pretty good kid. Don’t tell her I said this, but I actually enjoyed it.

Anyway…

I was hanging out with her recently and I asked her how her first year of middle school was. Was it better than expected, worse than expected, or just what she expected? She thought for a second, then said quite matter-of-factly, “It was worse than expected!” (That answer caught me off guard a bit.) So, I asked her to expand on that. Here’s what she said, “Well…In the 6th grade, it seemed to me there was so much drama going on all the time. And it just wasn’t necessary!”

dramaI laughed out loud for a second. And I agreed with her. But really on the inside I cringed. Do you know why? Because the preteen/teenager lying, manipulating, gossiping, bad-mouthing, superficial, immature, life-in-drama-mode, occasionally grows up into adult lying, manipulating, gossiping, bad-mouthing, superficial, immature, life-in-drama-mode. And guess what? It doesn’t get any better, prettier, funnier, or easier to tolerate when adults display unnecessary drama.

I hung on to her words, “It just wasn’t necessary!” I replayed that line over and over in my head. Man! I live in this world every day. A world where behaviors, words, actions, and reactions just aren’t necessary. Immature responses—not necessary. Lying—totally not necessary. Hate speech—straight up not necessary. Gossip—so not necessary. Manipulation for the sole purpose of getting what you want—absolutely not necessary. Life-in-drama-mode—very, very, not necessary.

Do you know what necessary means? It means needed, essential, crucial, vital. Do you know what my 6th grade niece was saying? She was saying all the drama she witnessed throughout her 6th grade school year just wasn’t needed. It wasn’t essential. It wasn’t crucial or vital.

I guess people who live in that dimension believe it is. I guess for them, drama gets them somewhere. It gets them something.

I can’t relate.

It got me thinking, however, if we all could put our personal drama aside and ask ourselves what IS necessary, how would we answer? At the end of the day, what IS essential, needed, crucial, and vital? If drama mode isn’t necessary, then what IS?

If you read the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, one might surmise that Martha just may have slightly lived in drama mode. When Jesus was at her house, she was distracted, worried, and upset about all the food prep she was doing in the kitchen while her sister Mary was at Jesus’ feet hanging on every word He said.

She barged in, came up to Jesus, and said, “Hey don’t You care that I’m doing all the work in here, while she’s just sitting there doing nothing? Tell her to get in here and help me!” (See? Sounds a little drama-ish, doesn’t it?)

Jesus responded back, “Martha, chill for a second. You’re all worked up over nothing. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the right thing.”

Did you catch that? Only one thing is necessary. Only one thing is needed. Only one thing is essential.

Maybe if we could put all of our own drama aside and ask ourselves what IS necessary, what IS needed, what IS essential, we’d consider what Jesus said. And yeah, maybe it sounds simple, but truthfully I think Jesus was in the business of keeping things simple.

What IS necessary? To seek Jesus. To listen to Jesus. To quietly sit at His feet and absorb and learn and simply be present where He is.

I’d much rather live in that world than a drama-filled one any day of the week.

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE BLEEDING OF NEGATIVITY

She fell backwards and hit the back of her head on the trashcan. The look on her face and shriek of pain said it all. I ran over to her as quickly as I could. She said she was fine, but that she “bumped” her head. She was trying to get up, I was trying to make her lie still. As I gently cradled my hand around the back of her head to comfort her and keep her as still as possible, I could feel the damp, stickiness. When the nurse arrived, I took my hand out only to find it full of blood.

Head injuries are that way. Because your head has a higher number of blood vessels than other parts of your body, wounds or cuts to the head and face tend to bleed more. The smallest cut can look like the worst injury all because of the bleeding.

I’ve noticed something lately about bleeding. Not about the kind of bleeding that comes from head injuries, but the kind of bleeding that comes from negativity. When something negative happens to us—when we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, when someone lies to us, when we’re accused of something we didn’t do, when we’re treated unfairly or poorly, etc.—it bleeds. And sometimes the bleeding seems much worse than it really is.

Bleeding of NegativityHere’s what happens…

When the “wrong” is committed, we’re hurt, we’re ticked, we’re frustrated, discouraged, or disappointed. But as the day or week goes on, the things that we previously found joy and fulfillment in, begin to look and feel stained or infected. The positive things we have going for us are suddenly not-so-positive. The effect of the initial wrong bleeds over into other areas of our thoughts, actions, behaviors, and experiences.

And the smallest cut (to our feelings or ego) can look like the worst injury (that permeates other experience) all because of the bleeding.

But how do we stop it? How do we put an end to the bleeding of negative thoughts that start in one place, but end up all over the place? How do we deal with the bleeding of negativity?

3 options come to mind:

  • FRAME it – (No, I don’t mean put a frame around it and put the negativity up on the wall for all to see. Because that’s ugly, and nobody wants to get sucked into that mess.) Think about it this way…A frame is a rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something else. So, in this sense, rigidly put a border around the negative thought. Keep it contained to the one incident or experience. Enclose it so the bleeding stops within the context of that particular negative experience only. Contain and surround the negativity by putting up a mental “frame.”

OR…

  • FREE it – It does absolutely no good to cling to the negativity. Like, NO GOOD. Sometimes we like to get a little mileage out of the negative experience. But to what end? The attention or sympathy it gets us? Be careful, because that tends to backfire. Pretty soon you’re simply known as “Negative Nancy.” In reality, clinging to the negative incident, experience, or thought does more harm than good. Again, it bleeds over into so many other areas if we let it. So, my suggestion? Set it free. Let it go. Otherwise…we bleed.

OR…

  • FOCUS it – Or maybe I should say RE-focus. Push pause for a moment. Take a step back. Acknowledge the wrong, the hurt, the circumstance, the negative thought. But do so in the light of the big picture. Redirect your focus to the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, you’re blessed. Looking at the big picture, the wrong, the hurt, the frustration of the isolated incident—though it bleeds over into other areas—could have been far worse. Focus on what matters. Fix your mind on the good. Dwell on the positive, the constructive, the encouraging.

If we don’t stop the bleeding of negativity, the bleeding of negativity will stop us. It will steal our joy. It will rob us of our attention, motivation, and purpose. But don’t let it! Frame it, free it, or focus it. In doing so, we form a coagulant that allows us to step over the incident and stop the bleeding of negativity.

 

WHEN THE STORMS OF THIS LIFE HIT

As I pulled onto my street and neared my driveway, I saw my neighbor backing into his drive to hook up his boat to his pickup truck. So, I pulled up right beside him, our windows side-by-side, to do a little catching up. Turns out he was soon headed to do a little fishing with his son at a local lake, then down to the Ozarks for the weekend. I reminded him that we were currently under a tornado watch until late that night, and the weekend looked like rain with the high temperature in the 40s one day and 30s the next. He’s a little on the crazy side, so my reminder of these things didn’t really faze him.

The cold temperatures are one thing. But a tornado watch? On a boat in the middle of a lake?

No thanks!

Oddly enough I’ve spent a lot of time marinating in the Gospels lately. Just a day or two prior I had read the all-too-familiar story of Jesus and His disciples on a boat, in a storm, in the middle of a lake. And had they had TV or radio back in the first century, perhaps they would have been alerted to a tornado watch as well.

I wonder if my neighbor knows this story?

The story goes something like this:

Jesus and His disciples were in a boat headed across the lake. It was smooth sailing for a while and Jesus—probably exhausted and in need of rest—fell asleep. Suddenly a huge storm came out of nowhere. The wind and waves caused the boat to take on a lot of water and the disciples were thinking the boat was gonna sink. They were freaking out. This was scary stuff. So, they went and woke up Jesus. (Because…what else are you gonna do when you’re on a boat, in a storm, in the middle of a lake?) Jesus awoke from His siesta and told the wind and waves to cut it out. And they did. Just like that, all was calm. (Can you imagine the dead silence as the disciples looked around, speechless, wondering what the heck just happened?) Then Jesus broke the silence with an interesting question. “Where’s your faith?” Or maybe it was more like, “Why don’t you trust Me?”

 

stormy sea

Ok, this is where we gotta step back and say, “hold up.” Why did Jesus ask this? What did He mean? Why did He ask about their faith or trust? There was a vicious storm out there. They literally thought they were gonna drown. What did He want them to do exactly? Sit back and ride it out? Bail water until it passed? Part of my thinking says they opted for the best alternative here. They could sit there freaking out in the midst of their storm, or they could invite God into it.

But…

I wonder…

Was the very presence of Jesus not enough for these guys? Was the company of God Himself not sufficient in their storm?

Then I wonder…Is it for us?

What would happen if instead of freaking out in the storms of this life, we stepped back and realized God is present? What would happen if in the midst of our own storm, we rested in the presence of the Almighty God? What would happen if we exercised our faith muscle? What would happen if we paused from fear and trusted Jesus?

I think maybe all too often, we just want God to act…to do something for us…to fix our problems…to come through in a big way…to take the storm away. It’s almost as if we’re saying His presence isn’t sufficient, it’s not good enough, or it’s not really what we had in mind. Like the company of the Almighty God runs a distant second to His fixing our problem.

Y’all, God may be trying to whisper to us, “I’m here. I’m present. Don’t freak out. Trust Me. My very presence is sufficient. I am greater than your storm…even if I don’t fix it.”

Maybe, just maybe this is what Jesus was hinting at with His question while on a boat, in a storm, in the middle of a lake.

THE BEAUTIFUL FEET OF BILLY GRAHAM

Most people don’t like feet. They don’t like other peoples’ feet, nor do they like their own. They’re smelly. They’re gross. They’re funky looking. They’re misshapen and calloused. Hairy toes, bunions, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, heel spurs, corns, warts, gout. See? The list goes on and on. Maybe God spent a little less time on feet than other parts of our body when He created us.

I’m not foot fan either. But one thing’s for sure…the late Reverend Billy Graham had beautiful feet. That’s right, I said beautiful. And I know this for a fact. How? Let me tell you…

The arena was packed. We were seated in the upper level. I had heard of Billy Graham as a kid growing up. My grandmother was a big fan, frequently sharing stories about him or his ministry that she heard or read. I reckon my parents were fans as well. And I suppose that’s why we went to hear him when he was in town about 40 years ago.

Since I grew up in a home where we went to church (a lot, because we were Baptists at the time), there was prayer, Bible studies, some type of ministry always being done. I knew who God was. I knew Jesus was God’s Son. I’d heard it all before.

But as I sat there in the arena that night (probably wishing I was anywhere else), the words of Billy Graham penetrated my heart. Somehow, someway, he connected all the dots I’d heard before. At the end of his preaching, he gave an invitation. It was an invitation to respond to the Good News he’d spent the last 30-45 minutes sharing. It was an invitation to have God be at the center of my life. It was an invitation to follow Jesus. It was an invitation to have a real, living, breathing relationship with the God who created me.

It was at that moment, I knew I wanted what he had. I knew I wanted to follow Jesus. I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like going forward, but I knew I wanted to spend an eternity in the presence of the Creator of the universe.

As the choir sang the classic, timeless hymn Just As I Am, Billy invited everyone who wanted what I did to come down to the lower level and stand in front of him on the floor of the arena. As I felt the tug on my heart to do so, I also felt the awkward, and uncomfortable fact that if I did, people would stare. My parents would find out. All the other people in the arena would know that Beth Armstrong just admitted she was sinful. That Beth Armstrong just admitted she couldn’t live life on her own. That Beth Armstrong needed a Savior.

I couldn’t stand the thought. There would be endless questions and discussions to follow and I wanted no part of that. So, I stayed seated. When the masses of people finally arrived on the floor of the arena, Billy invited them all to pray simply, admitting their need, asking God to take over their lives. Though I didn’t join the crowd in proximity, I joined them in proclamation. I prayed that prayer. I said yes to Jesus. I responded to the Good News. And I began a spiritual journey that night while seated in the suddenly-near-empty upper level of the arena.

beautiful feetRomans 10:15 reads, “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

Billy Graham preached.

Billy Graham was sent.

So you see…Billy Graham indeed had beautiful feet.

Though I have far less than perfect feet, I long for them to be even a smidgen as beautiful as Billy Graham’s.

WHERE IS GOD WHEN WE PRAY?

The room was full. Various people had gathered there that Sunday morning. Wealthy and not-so-wealthy. Infants in car seats and aged in wheelchairs. Giggly children and stern-faced, weather beaten old folks. Married, single, widowed. Some sang. Some whispered among each other. Others checked their phones, or just gazed with blank stares at whatever caught their eye…or mind.

One gentleman was holding his son. He always holds him. He’s a boy of about four years old. He clings to his dad until it’s time for him and the other kids to leave. While the congregation was standing, facing front, the boy—arms around his dad’s neck, legs dangling on each side—was facing the back. He was lost in his own little world. Or so it seemed. Sometimes his head was up, looking around. Sometimes it was gently leaning on his dad’s shoulder.

Then something interesting happened. The music stopped. The pastor spoke for a moment or two, then said, “Let’s pray.” Just about every head (of the still standing congregation) bowed on cue as if it were something rote or practiced.

But the little boy, still held by his father, with one arm wrapped around his dad’s neck, took his free hand, lifted it up above his head and pointed upward with his little index finger. He didn’t look up, he just pointed up. While the congregation, with heads angled downward listening to the prayer, this boy had his eyes open looking around and was pointing upward. He held his position for the entire prayer. When the pastor said, “Amen,” his little arm came down and wrapped it once again around his dad’s neck.

I didn’t bow my head during the prayer. I didn’t close my eyes. I watched. I was intrigued. I glanced around at the bowed heads. It was almost as if this boy was pointing us upward to our Heavenly Father. Yet we were missing it. Everybody in the room was seemingly downward focused. (Perhaps there was something interesting on the floor?)

I wonder…

Where is our mind when we pray?

kidup

Where is our heart when we pray?

Where is our gaze when we pray?

Where is God when we pray?

If we asked this little boy, I’m quite sure he’d point upward.

Sometimes a childlike perspective of God is all we need. After all, an upward glance every now and then sure beats whatever is on the floor.

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