Category Archive: Relying on God

Like a Tree

As we drove home the other day I saw this striking live oak tree – arms and elbows all akimbo. It struck me as very beautiful.

How did those branches twist and turn as they did?

I read that oak trees don’t usually have a single, straight leader after branching begins, but spread out into several large branches. Given enough room, they tend to be as wide as they are tall, but growing conditions have a larger effect on this than species alone. An oak growing in the forest will be tall and thin like its neighbors, while oaks growing in large, even spacing along a planted row are short and wide.

The reason oak branches are not very straight is because the leading bud rarely grows. Instead, stems grow out around that leading bud in an alternate or spiral pattern, with no two branches coming from the same node. The result – a crooked shape.

Obstacles–those single buds that don’t grow into straight branches. But what those obstacles do is create a shape that is artistic, unique, and quite beautiful.

Isn’t that what God does in our lives? He desires that our roots go deep into the soil of his incomprehensible love; that we trust him in every circumstance of life; and that we continue to bear fruit for his kingdom.

Obstacles change us as we work through or go around them with God’s help. Most of us carry battle scars of one kind or another. But in His love, our God molds us more into His image. He promises that…

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:8 NLT

Let’s encourage each other in this time of turmoil. Rather than worrying, let’s trust the God who will always be with us. Let’s continue to bathe our roots in the water of His love and care.

I encourage you to build connections with others who will encourage and strengthen you. Join a small group to study the Bible and pray together (even if on Zoom, as we’re doing!). Find a church with safe options where you can be fed with the rich abundance of God’s Word. These are some of the ways that help us not to be bothered by the heat or worried by drought, and to keep producing good fruit.

I just found a cute children’s song whose lyrics express this well.

I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water. Trusting in the Father to keep me strong. I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water. Trusting in the name of the Lord.

The deeper the roots grow. The better the fruits grow. The blessings bloom out for all to see. The deeper the roots grow. The more of my life shows That Jesus is the Lord of me, Lord of me.

Integrity Kids

How can I encourage you this week? Pray for you?

Fires, Fear, Faith

California fire season is usually in September and October. But 2020’s fires started early, with about 400 wildfires and 5700 “incidents” (https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/) in the past week. Don and I have kept in close touch with our neighbors here, sharing updates with each other as we receive them.

We are right on the line of an evacuation area (we’re in the SCU Lightning Complex), but haven’t been told to leave as of yet. Should you need it, there’s a good evacuation map at https://nifc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=69fca73a82df4fefa7c0e48b66d0899d&extent=-123.2395,36.6849,-119.5618,38.1032

I’ve felt anxious, always watching for the next bit of news. Wednesday night I had a hard time falling asleep. Tears have been near the surface, and sometimes have fallen. Thursday I couldn’t concentrate, but kept watching for news, and registered for notification in the event we are ordered to evacuate.

We heard Thursday that Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, where I’ve spent a good bit of time at retreats and then at writers’ conferences, had been evacuated and was in danger. Some of our family have been evacuated from that area as well, and are safe.

Meanwhile, food, meals, writing–it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else while we wait; yet life doesn’t stop. We have our “go bags” pretty ready; and my computer bag is next to my desk so I can pack my laptop quickly in the event the fire moves toward us.

According to San Jose Fire Chief, as of Sunday morning they expect winds, light rain, and possibly more dry lightning strikes–something we sure don’t need right now! Praying God will light up the world over the ocean rather than in the forests!

I am calmer now, but seem to go in cycles of fear and then release, recognizing there’s nothing we can do except be prepared and pay attention. So far, the fire seems to be moving a bit farther from us. My brother and sister-in-law have offered us a haven if we need to leave.

And we’re certainly not alone. Floods are pounding the South and East of the United States. Hurricane Marco threatens the Gulf Coast, closely followed by Tropical Storm Laura, which has already impacted Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and is expected to slam Cuba on Monday.

I hurt for the many who have lost family members, homes or structures. It’s good to grieve, to weep with friends, to sit and listen to their pain. Even Jesus, who was perfect and knew He would reverse Lazarus’ death, wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved the loss of their brother. But after He listened and wept, He called Lazarus forth out of that grave!

We are so grateful for the many who are praying for us, and for California.

  • Grateful for yesterday’s report that Mount Hermon is okay at this time. All staff are safe.
  • Twin Lakes Church’s Camp Hammer is partially burned. Some of the cabins are still there and the forest is evidently still lush and green, and all staff are safe. May God bring beauty from the ashes!
  • Grateful for loving family and friends.
  • Deeply grateful for our firefighters, as well as those coming in from other states and even other countries to help fight these massive fires; for the sheriffs and police who are helping people evacuate, working long hard hours. Thank you to each of you. We are praying for you.

Earlier this week a dear friend recommended we read Psalm 36. Yesterday I read it aloud for our morning devotions, tears coming to my eyes. What a precious scripture!

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies… How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings …

Psalm 36:5,7

I have been through several major challenges in my life and, while it’s taken time to work through those issues with God, He has never failed me. And He will not. Tim Keller said Jesus didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t suffer. He suffered for us so when we suffer — and all will! — He can REDEEM it!

Crises such as these do remind us of what’s most important–our relationship with God, family and friends. An old friend used to say the two things that last are God’s Word and people! If you’re not sure of your relationship with God, I encourage you to read John 3:16-18 and Romans 10. I welcome any questions you may have.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-18

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I John 5:12

California and our nation, you continue to be in our prayers.

When Anxiety Invades

We knew there was an accident on the freeway. Highway 17 is a very curvy road over the mountain between San Jose and Santa Cruz. But the radio announcer had said it was about a five-minute wait through the accident area. We should still be on time for Don’s eye exam.

However, after we were in stop and go traffic for 20-25 minutes, we were routed off the freeway.

“Good,” I thought. “We’ll bypass the accident and get on the freeway on the other side.”

Meanwhile we called the optometrist and explained the situation. They would still see Don if we could be there within about 20 minutes of his appointment time.

Back on the freeway, I spoke into the phone.

“We’re back on the road. Should be there within 20 minutes.”

Suddenly Don said, “Get off here. We’re in Los Gatos.”

“What?” Los Gatos was on the way back home.

“We didn’t bypass and continue. They turned us around and we’re back on Highway 17, going home.”

Oh my. Once again we called the optometrist and explained we couldn’t get past the Summit, that we wouldn’t make the appointment. They were kind enough to reschedule Don for an appointment yesterday, Saturday.

We left home one and three quarter hours before his appointment time, for an hour’s drive. Traffic seemed to be moving well and I thought we’d even arrive early. Suddenly brake lights flashed red in front of us.

We never did learn the reason for the stop and go, but felt terrible knowing we had to call the doctor’s office AGAIN to say we would be late. Once again they agreed to see Don if we could get there within about 20 minutes of his appointment time.

Both of us were tense. I was driving, knowing his eyes would be dilated during his exam. All of a sudden I relaxed, knowing God was in control.

“Honey, it’s going to be ok. We may get there and we may not, but it will be all right.”

We got there 20 minutes late. Don had a bit of a wait but was able to have his eyes examined by a very gracious optometrist before we turned for home.

Maybe we need to find local doctors since we’ve moved away from Santa Cruz. But we do like our doctors over there.

The significant thing to me was the sudden reminder that God wasn’t surprised by our traffic challenges, and that we could trust Him whatever the outcome.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:7

We face a lot of anxiety these days–traffic accidents, family challenges, fear of illness, loneliness and isolation, concerns about how school will start and when we can meet together in our churches, protests, riots, and political differences even with those we love dearly.

That’s a lot. But God is Our Father. He loves us unconditionally, without reservation, and He wants to bear our burdens.

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:19

What do you need to give Him today? Can I pray for you? I’d like to be an encourager in this time of new challenges.

Be blessed in the love of Our Father today!

How Do I Deal with Separation Anxiety …

I took my Sunflower Butter and raspberries to the checkout counter, where a tall, lovely African-American woman greeted me with a big smile. We chatted for a minute and I said something to which she responded, “I’m on your team there.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is woman-in-gray-sweater-3214751-2-683x1024.jpgPhoto by Ralph Rabago from Pexels

Prompted internally, I said, “And the biggest team I’m on is Jesus’ team.”

“Me too girl! I don’t wanna miss that team!”

Her joyful response prompted me to say that I thought she might be. We parted with big smiles and anticipation of seeing each other the next time I’m in that market.

With Shelter in Place we have fewer opportunities to communicate with others, to encourage them and be encouraged by them, to laugh together, to enjoy a shared moment that brings sunshine to both our souls.

Most of Don’s and my interactions have been with each other and our sweet Paigey; and occasionally with a family member we see, or an individual in a grocery store. I notice that with our masks on, shoppers look less at each other.

Perhaps because we can’t see each other smile.

Perhaps because we’re trying to keep as much facial distance as possible between us. 

So when we relate to someone, like a cashier, over our masks, eyes meeting, it is a gift. We are made to be in relationship. We need each other. We need to find ways to connect despite our social distancing, which separates us, increases anxiety and depression.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is depression.jpg

At PsychCentral, Paula Durlofsky, PhD writes about ways to combat the emotional impacts of social distancing. I have edited and added my own comments to some of her points.

  • Record your feelings like a reporter – just the facts. This helps calm the emotions and allows us to reason more clearly.
  • Make a plan for reducing your distress, whether that is watching a funny movie, taking a walk or a warm bath.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading and listening to the news. A radio talkshow host told one listener who was feeling depressed that if she stopped listening to the news for four days she would feel considerably better. Wise counsel!
  • Eat well-balanced meals, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid damaging coping strategies like alcohol and drugs.
  • Enjoy the times you can have with family. Playing board games, watching movies together, taking walks, and talking through your day all help reduce stress levels and enhance your relationships.
  • Stay connected via social networking sites and virtual platforms. Zoom and FaceTime can provide opportunities to see the other’s facial expressions while we hear his or her voice.
  • Spend time in nature, hiking, going for a run or bike ride.

And  I would add:

  • Make prayer and Bible reading a part of your daily life. In this pandemic we are not alone. We have family, friends, people of faith with whom to connect; and more, we have the God who is always Present and who loves us unconditionally. Reading the Bible helps me cope with some of those depressive and anxious thoughts that rear their ugly heads. Praying helps me give them to my good good Father – even if I have to do that multiple times a day.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 NLT

What strategies are you using to deal with or prevent depression and anxiety?

 

Wait–I Will Take Care of You

I recall a time when one of my staff members (let’s call her Betty) tried to stab me in the back in any way she could. She didn’t like it that I actually expected her to work! Because Betty was good friends with the company president and babysat his children, I was limited in how I could respond to her.

During that time I felt attacked and quite lonely. Just about every day I ordered a salad at McDonald’s, then parked in the lot across the street from a huge, beautiful oak tree. There I read the Psalms and prayed, asking God to resolve this issue, to guide me, to give me His grace to deal with Betty and her undermining. And it seemed every scripture, every word to my heart said “Wait. I will take care of this.”

To wait on God means to pause and soberly consider our own inadequacy and the Lord’s all-sufficiency, and to seek counsel and help from the Lord, and to hope in Him (Psalm 33:20-22; Isa. 8:17) … The folly of not waiting for God is that we forfeit the blessing of having God work for us. The evil of not waiting on God is that we oppose God’s will to exalt Himself in mercy.

John Piper

So I waited. I did require that Betty, who handled payroll, be transferred out of my department and into Accounting. Soon after the accounting manager discovered that this woman had paid herself three extra weeks’ vacation. Once the President learned she had stolen from him, Betty was fired immediately.

So waiting on the Lord was exactly what I needed to do and He resolved the issue, as He had promised.

But Betty’s termination was not the most significant outcome of my wait. God was doing His own work in my heart at the same time. I needed to recognize my inability to handle this situation, and entrust it to God. I needed to trust that if she turned all the other managers against me, my Father still had a plan for me. Had I tried to resolve this on my own I really would have missed the “blessing of having God work for me” (Piper).

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor (woman) called, and the Lord heard (her); he saved (her) out of all (her) troubles.

Psalm 34:4-6

How often do we try to fix things on our own? We are such a self-sufficient culture. We avoid asking for help if at all possible. But in so doing, we miss seeing God at work on our behalf, and also miss the joy of seeing others come to our aid, of working together for a solution.

Oh, troubles will continue until we meet Jesus face to face. But that incident was a specific reminder to me of God’s watchcare over me. And now, with a pandemic, physical distancing, and national/global chaos, I try to remember His faithfulness in the past. His character does not change. His faithfulness remains in every situation.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.

Lamentations 3:21-26

So, when in a difficult time, wait. Talk to God about your concerns. He loves you infinitely. You may need to talk to a pastor, counselor, or friend. Then wait with patience. Wait with expectation. Wait with praise. Wait with grace.