Don’t Get Sucked In

vacu-um (vak’yoom) n. 1 a space with nothing at all in it; completely empty space… 3 a space left empty by the removal or absence of something usually found in it; void:  often used figuratively~Webster’s New World College DictionaryFourth Edition

“Nature abhors a vacuum”~Aristotle

There have been times in my life when I felt like my soul was caught in a vacuum.  Ahead, I could see God’s light, His hand reaching for me, waiting for me to latch on so He could pull me out.  Behind me, there seemed a force that should not be stronger, but somehow was…pulling and tugging at my legs with a strength that was constant and persistent.  It only felt stronger because it was so near.  A household vacuum works much better at sucking up the dirt when it is placed close to the surface it is cleaning.  I believe Satan understands this well.

That tugging and pulling came from the world, my world: the people I surrounded myself with, the movies I watched, the stories I read, the activities that took up my day that in-and-of-themselves were not evil, if I had not let them crowd out God’s whispered pleas.

My daddy once said that he felt that for years he had been “playing” at being a Christian.  He felt like he was riding a fence between two worlds, dabbling at his spiritual life while keeping a hold on worldly things.  Once he believed that he had become more “serious” in his attempts to follow Christ, his world was turned upside down.  He became obsessed with Jesus like he had become infatuated with the many hobbies that took up his time.

I feel not just a physical kinship with my father, but also a spiritual one.  I love having fun, being entertained, visiting with family, learning a new skill, reading and obsessing about the next shining star that gets dangled in front of me.  This is what I imagine John was talking about in I John 2:15-17 (NKJV):

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world–the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

None of these things are wrong.  I’m not saying that having fun has to be a sin.  But when we let the world pull and tug at us…when we let it suck up all of our time and fill every available space in our hearts…I think we are setting ourselves up for letting it completely consume us to the detriment of our spiritual life with our Father.

Am I too busy to help out a neighbor?

Am I too busy to take a dish of food to the ill?

Do I walk a little faster by someone who looks like they might want to talk?

Do I spend hours reading a good mystery while my bible gathers dust by my bed?

Do I speed-dial my Lord, instead of having a good conversation with Him?

Do I let myself get too tired with daily activities that I feel I have an excuse not to attend a worship service?

Do I not practice hospitality because I don’t feel good enough about my life to share it with others?

Do I have time to just be still and know that He is God?

These are questions I constantly ask myself and I’m too often ashamed of my answers.  I am not perfect.  There is no way I can be! This constant self inventory can backfire on me if I look only at myself and my lack and not at what our Lord has done for me, which is more powerful than any “Hoover” Satan can put at my heels.

John 1:16 (NKJV) tells us:

“And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.”

Ephesians 3:19 (NKJV):

“to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We all possess a hope, if we hope in Christ…if we allow His love to fill us to overflowing, taking up all residence, leaving no room for hate and sin.

If I stop looking at myself and my every weakness and if I lean on His mercy and grace while I try to follow Him, I can rest at night knowing that I have been covered in His blood and that evil will pass over me.  I can rejoice in the fact that I have been buried with Him through baptism.

Romans 6:3-9 (NKJV):

“or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.  Death no longer has dominion over Him.”

What kind of a sucking, pulling sensation does that have on me…on you?  After reading that and letting it fill every empty space, knowing that God has provided the way and even the vehicle to take us there, how can we ever again be caught in Satan’s vacuum?  We are free, unchained, and carried on the wings of faith and hope.  Thanks be to God!!!

I’ve done many things in this life that I’m ashamed of.  I seriously doubt I will ever have the courage to do a tell-all, baring my every iniquity so that you can relate to me.  I have a feeling that you already do.  We are all human and if it were not for Jesus, none of us would have a fighting chance to make it out of this world with our souls intact.  We must hold tight to Jesus…He won’t let us get sucked in.

 

 

 

Never Say “Never”

 

This is a picture I took of my mother after she came home from working at the muffler shop.

 

All those little sayings.  Little gems sparkling in a glorious crown, encircling your head with knowledge, set in gold by those who loved you enough to pass them on.   They twinkle and glow if often recalled.  They tarnish and dull with age if forgotten.  This particular gem of wisdom came to me from my mother:  “Never say ‘Never’.”

My mother.  I watched her as a young girl, mesmerized.  I thought her beautiful, smart, and wise beyond what I could ever achieve.  Maybe all young girls think of their mother this way.  I don’t know.

I sat on the commode lid like it was a front row seat to the best concert in town.  I studied my mother, clothed in her frothy, peach-colored night gown with its matching robe, putting on her makeup.  Baby pink tiles surrounded us with a female hue.  Her mouth formed a little “O” as she put on a thick coat of black mascara.  Her lips pursed alluringly as she applied orange lipstick to her cupid-like lips.  I watched carefully as she strategically dotted on Estee’ Lauder’s Youth Dew cologne.  I didn’t know what she was getting ready for, but I sensed a ritual that I couldn’t wait to take part in.  She didn’t seem to mind my peering into her special time.  With only one bathroom for a family of five, privacy wasn’t something that you thought about much.  I quietly watched and learned.  My mother was the best teacher a girl could have on glamour.

Even when she went to work in my father’s muffler shop and had to learn to weld so that she could put on mufflers and tailpipes, my mother put on her full makeup. Her hair was done as if she was going to worship.  Her flannel shirt looked fit for Marilyn Monroe.  Her jeans were in style with the times, faded and flared in the leg.  Teenage boys praised my mother at school.  How many girls have a mother who can look like a movie star while putting stacks on the coolest truck in town?

It didn’t matter how disheveled she was going to get.  She knew it was a dirty job.  Momma came home every night, exhausted. Burns scarred her skin.  Grease and oil perfumed her clothes.  I learned what it meant to sacrifice and work hard for the welfare of the family.  When Daddy was diagnosed with a severe heart condition (which turned out to be a misdiagnosis) she ran the whole thing with what help she could get from the teenage boys they hired.

I felt a pressure to live up to my mother.  At the same time, I felt that I never would.  If she praised me, I was on cloud nine.  If she berated me, I was the lowest of lows.  Everything I did, or didn’t do, weighed heavily on my mother’s opinion.

One thing sticks out, of all the phrases spoken to me as guidance by my beautiful mother:  Never say ‘never’.

You know?  That is probably one of the truest statements a mother could  pass on to her  daughter.

I know it to be an accurate turn of words.  If you say you will never do something, YOU ARE BOUND TO DO IT!

Paul wrote in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (NKJV)

It’s like planting a seed…a weed, really.  You try so hard to aim your arrow at the heart of your problem.  You are focusing so hard.  But, where are your sights?  Are they set on things above, or are they so honed in to the very problem that you are trying to annihilate that you have blinded yourself to everything else?  Are you letting it pull you like a magnet by giving it so much attention?

We must lean on God.  I say this, knowing that I need it the most.  We must go to Him in prayer with the knowledge that He alone is in control.  It is true that we are His glorious creations.  So much good can come from a pure, gentle, and giving heart.  But “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour.”  I Peter 5:8 (NKJV)  Don’t you think that it is his wish that you become distracted with every flaw in your character?  Don’t you know that he wants you to be discouraged?

If you backtrack a little in Peter’s letter, he says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)  HE CARES FOR YOU!!!  Rest in His loving arms.  Pray for His guidance.  Ask for forgiveness and then release your grip on whatever is pulling you down.  Let God pull you out of that dark hole and revel in His excellent Light.

The Handoff

I used to run.  Not this attempt I call “running”, now.  Real running.  Real racing.  Legs pumping, goal reaching, side-stitching powering forward.  Definitely not the fastest.  Certainly not the best, but I loved it.

There were fears I faced: not winning, not pleasing Coach Felty (whom I wanted to please like a father), not doing my best.  The thing I feared more than these was the handoff; that part of the relay when it was your turn to hand the baton over to your team-mate.  What if I dropped it?  What if we lost precious seconds because of me?

We all have a handoff moment in our earthbound journey whether we run, or not.  There comes a time when we pass what we know, what we learned, what we feel to those whose turn it is to carry on the race.

I remember when my father was on his last stretch of the track.  I spent hours with him, caring for him, watching over him.  He sat in a chair at the table, unable to find comfort, afraid to lie down.  He wanted a cigarette in his hand and a piping hot cup of coffee in front of him to sip on.  It was never hot enough and the cigarette was rarely puffed on.  The weight of his sickness didn’t allow him to enjoy even these vices that used to bring him pleasure.  I wanted him in these moments to speak to me.  As I sang hymns to him in the dark, I waited for his words to me.  They never came.  He did teach me to play a domino game called Moon.  To my shame, I can’t remember how to play it.  I don’t know why it was ever important to him to teach me.

This thought came to me in the middle of the night, while I should have been sleeping.  It nagged at me until I got up and dealt with it.  I think we didn’t have a handoff moment.  I think Daddy was more like someone in the crowd, cheering or a teammate, running along-side me to encourage me to do better.  Daddy was a dream-chaser like me.  He taught me that I could learn to do anything I wanted by reading a book or finding someone to instruct me.  He taught me this by example.  He also taught me to love God.  I saw his struggles with being a christian.  I know he wasn’t perfect.  No one is, certainly not someone who loves life as much as Daddy did.  There is always that fence waiting to be climbed, torn down, or simply sat on.

Being the control freak that I am, I want to take charge of my handoff moment.  I want to tell my children now, while I am full of life and not distracted by pain or death some things that I need them to know.

  1.  I love you.  I love you all and I love you all the same.  I know children think that is something parents just say, really having a favorite, but this is my truth.  From the time I knew you were in my womb, I was thrilled.  When they placed you in my arms, they placed part of my heart right there were I could touch and care for it.
  2. I know I made mistakes.  I’m sorry.  I’m also sorry that you will make mistakes with your own children.  It is part of what makes us one of God’s creatures.  I hope that you know that even so, I never wanted to do anything, say anything to hurt you.
  3. If you don’t learn anything else from me, I hope you learn this: God loves you.  Yes.  You will screw up and make a mess of things from time to time.  It is never too late to turn to your Maker and ask for forgiveness.  He is never further away than a prayer, a earnest cry.
  4. I tried to keep your ancestors alive for you through the stories I told.  You may have tired of hearing them, but I hope you will remember.  I hope that you will carry them forward like a treasured heirloom.  Keep them and pass them down.

This is your baton.  Hold tight to it while you run your race.  Don’t forget to release it when it is time.  Your children are standing there, panting with excitement, waiting for their turn.  Their “track” may not be as easy as yours was.  The world is a scary place.  I don’t envy the environment they are being released to.  Let them see that you will meet them where they are and that you will be there when it counts. I see you, standing there waiting for me.  There are not any hands that I would want to pass my baton on to, more. God blessed me with three beautiful souls.  I know you will run faster than me.  That is why God put you where you are.  A good coach always puts the fastest runner last. Now, go!

“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

To others that may read this, other than my own children, I hope you take some thought about passing your own baton.  Maybe there is someone’s forgiveness you need to ask.  Maybe there is someone to whom you held a great love, but never told them.  Maybe you know a soul that doesn’t know Jesus and your heart aches with the Spirit’s urging to speak to them, to share the story of your Savior.

Not long ago, my mother told me that she, like me, had waited for some word or instruction from my father.  She honored his request to be cared for and to die at home.  This was at great cost to her.  In the 1980’s, hospice came about once a week.  My father’s cancer was quick in its work and my father suffered much because there was no one there who was qualified to monitor his pain medicine.  He was never put on morphine.  His pain was excruciating and Momma did the best she could.  They spent all their final time together.  She never got the words she craved.

After his passing, she searched the house, going through books and papers, drawers, everywhere she thought he might have hidden a last letter to her.  It was never found.  It was never written.

I believe flowers are better appreciated by the living than by the dead.  All the money we spend on funeral flowers to ease our own suffering could have just as easily be spent on flowers that they could have enjoyed.  Imagine your loved one receiving a beautiful bouquet of their favorite flowers with a note written in your own hand.  See, in your minds eye, them smile as they read your words, as they press their nose in to the soft, velvety petals knowing that they are loved.

We have the power to spread so much joy.  I pray that we will all take the time to honor that gift while God lets us hold it.  How do we best honor it?  By giving it away.

“And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 (NKJV)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (NKJV)

A Letter of Faith

My last blog post was dark.  It came from a very dark place.  My heart has been covered in a black mourning cloth…mourning things that happen…life…things that can’t be changed.

I am blessed beyond measure to be married to a wonderful man.  He loves me even with all my flaws.  He remembers me as I was and occasionally, gets to see a glimpse of that girl.

That girl loved God.  He was the guiding force for her whole life.  She was known for her faith.

What I said about my heart being dried up, not able to give…well, that was true.  I’ve pushed everyone away, just a bit.  When I felt vulnerable, I did something to get distance.  I had become one of those bitter women no one wants to be around.  I tried to hide her.  I put on my smile, one of my gifts from that girl I was.  I said, “I’m fine.”  I was the queen of FINE.

My prayer time was short and to the point; full of pleas for help and daily forgiveness.  I knew I wasn’t in a graced state of mind.  I didn’t fully engage in my worship.  It was too hard.  True worship requires openness.  Concentrating on God’s Holy Word was difficult.  The Holy Spirit had a constant battle on His hands.

Susan Ashton sang a song called, *”Grand Canyon”.  In it she sings, “I know that I’m a long way from where I need to be when there’s a grand canyon between You and me…”  That’s what it feels like when you shut yourself off.

*written by Wayne Kirkpatrick

I’m confessing this, to whoever reads it.  I want forgiveness.  I woke up this morning physically sick from the bitter gall I’ve been swallowing.  I want that girl back!

Thanks and praise and eternal gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the gifts of forgiveness and redemption.

I realize this is not a story, poem, or word of wisdom.  This is me.  This is my life.  This is my letter of faith to you.  If any wisdom can be gained from it, I hope it will be that you keep your heart open.  The heart, the soul, is a thing to be used.  Like silver, it becomes more beautiful the more it is worn or handled.  Don’t let yourself tarnish from the inside out.  It will eventually show.

Outside it is raining…a dark, dreary day.  Inside my heart, there is sunshine.  I am so blessed.  Every day, every moment, every loved one is a gift.  I pray that I will never slip into that dark place, again.

 

Newness of Life

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I recently found out that someone close to our family has been diagnosed with lung cancer.  This information, on top of my own mother’s battle with leukemia, lymphoma, and lung cancer over this past year, has left me thinking a lot about the disease.  I know many of you have dealt with some form of this rotting, wasting, life-eating illness either yourself, or with a loved one.  I realize the word itself provokes nightmarish fears for us and those we care about.  My heart aches with each mention of it.

The year I turned 45, I was given the diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia which had already enlarged most of my lymph glands.  I dreaded the diagnosis I would hear after one year of tests and a previous diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  A dark cloud hung over me as I celebrated my grandson’s birthday, my youngest daughter’s glorious fall wedding on top of a mountain in Arkansas, my 45th birthday, itself.  Thanksgiving was just around the corner.  So much life to celebrate.  I tried, but I was exhausted.

In between my birthday and Thanksgiving, I received a call from the surgeon who had done my biopsy.  It was late in the afternoon.  My friend, Marian had come to help me at my shop.  Unpaid, she worked and held me up.  When the call came and they insisted I come to their office that very day to talk to the doctor, I told Marian, “This can’t be good.”  She said, “I’m coming with you.”  And, she did.  We closed up shop and drove about an hour to get to his office.

Once there, the doctor very gently told me the lymph gland was malignant, but if you have to have cancer, this is the best kind to have.  “We caught it early”, he said.  He referred me to an oncologist who in turn recommended bone marrow biopsies.  This lead to a specific diagnosis of CLL and gave him a course of treatment to recommend.  Dr. Kirby, kindness himself, said, “You can get another opinion, but this is what I would suggest to a member of my own family.”  I told him that I believed that God was in charge and that this whole process had led me to him.  I talked it over with my family, did my research on the proposed drugs, and decided to go with the chemotherapy regimen.

Ignorance is bliss—isn’t that what they say?  I had done my research.  Still, I wasn’t prepared for what was on my bumpy road.  I sat in a recliner one week of the month for six months, tubes and needles feeding me poison and antibodies, playing card games with my oldest, pregnant daughter.  She drove all the way from Arkansas and spent those weeks away from her beloved husband to keep me distracted and upbeat.  My other children had jobs that prevented them from being there for every treatment, but they did many thoughtful things to give me comfort and were there for me when they could be.  My grandchildren were like a golden trophy held out for me to obtain and live for.  Once my course was set, I trusted God.

The poison went in and did its work.  It killed off the cancer cells, but was no respecter of cells.  It murdered the good ones as well.  I received shots to boost my white count.  They would rise weakly, only to fall flat on their faces.  They were pooped.  I had asked too much of them.  It was during this time that death started to look like my very near future.  Maybe I should have just rested knowing that heaven was on the other side, but I am a weak sinner.  I love life.  I love my family.  There was so much that I felt I hadn’t done.

I read a book and found out about a holistic clinic in Dallas.  They didn’t accept insurance because insurance companies won’t pay for holistic therapies.  I felt like hope was wrapped up in their treatment plan.  I was to detox and eat only certain foods, plus take supplements.  I was a good patient and followed their plan to the letter.  By the time I went back for my blood work at Texas Oncology, my blood count was finally out of the danger zone.  Finally, I could do things, normal things, like go the movies, stay in my pew if someone had a coughing fit in church, floss my teeth, go shopping, shave my legs without worrying about cutting myself.  It has never dipped back down.  I am still in remission.

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I wish I could say that I learned my lesson, that I take super-duper good care of myself, eat the perfect diet, do yoga and meditation, and pray…well, I do pray and I do half-heartedly try to be good.  But, that “loving life” thing keeps getting me.

Well, like I stated from the beginning, this has all been on my mind—a lot.  Thinking one thing usually leads to another and I’ve come to this conclusion, right or wrong.  I think that cancer is like sin.  There I’ve said it!  Just mull this over:  all of us, according to scientists, have cancerous cells dormant in our bodies.  It plays nice with all the other cells, pretending it is harmless.  Then, one day, you let the stress of business, children, marriage, or some other illness get you down and the evil cells say “Whoo-hoo!!!  It’s time to take over, boys!”

Our souls, pure from birth, develop cracks like our skin develops wrinkles.  Sure they are just tiny little cracks at first.  You can’t even see them.  Oh, but Satan is so tricky!  A crack is all he needs.  Just like cancer, or the opposing poison in my veins, he wants to take over.  He sees that crack and waits, patiently waits until you open it just wide enough for him to get his wedge in.  He works at it until he himself is in and BOOM, before you know it, the cancerous sin is trying to take over.  Keeping sin at bay is a lot harder than fighting off cancer.  A lost battle with either one is serious, but which would you rather lose—death to the body, or death to the soul?

How do you fight it?  Same as cancer, friend.  You get down on your knees and ask your God for help.  You let Jesus’ blood wash you clean.  And once He gets it out, you fill that space back up with Good.  Let God’s Spirit direct your path.  Stay on it. Stay in the Word.  And if you wander off, (like I, to my shame, do) you fall back on your knees.  God loves you.  He wants you at home, just like my family did.  He will be faithful to lift you up if you come to Him and worship Him.

I realize that all who want a cancer cure will not find it.  I know many battles will be lost, because let’s face it, we all have to go some way, don’t we? I know this sounds extremely harsh to the ear.  I am sorry. We may wish we could pick our fate, but all is not in our hands.  The good news is, God has laid out a plan.  He is the Kind Doctor.  He knows what will heal our souls.  Get out a bible, if you haven’t already done so, and see what treatment plan He has prescribed.  Then, follow His steps.  He will lead you to eternal life, where there is no sickness or dying.  Isn’t that the healing we all really need?

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelations 21: 4 (NKJV)

Romans 6:3-5 says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”(NKJV)

NEWNESS OF LIFE…personally, I like the sound of that!

Love to you all!

Author: Taken by James Smith
Author: Taken by James Smith