Misguided Anticipation

Pray | 
Father, may I learn to submit my hopes, yearnings, and prayers over and over for your will, not mine. Amen

Jesus entered Jerusalem when huge crowds were in the city for Passover. After experiencing Jesus and hearing of his teachings, healings, and miracles, the crowd went wild upon his entry. Many recognized and celebrated the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But to fully understand what Jesus’ entry meant was not something they could comprehend. The Israelites had been long-suffering, waiting, hoping for injustices to end, and it was looking like the time had finally come for a new ruler. Coats and palm branches flooded the path as joyful shouts of “Hosanna!” filled the air.  

Read |Matthew 21:6-11

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered,

“This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Reflection | 

It’s easy to be a little judgmental of this fickle crowd, celebrating Jesus and whooping it up one moment, but within days dispersing and calling for his crucifixion. This was a hopeful people, enthusiastic as they anticipated so many wrongs to be made right. They believed liberation and freedom were about to be upon them, and they were expecting things to unfold in ways they could understand only from their worldly perspective.

As much as we might believe we are different from these people, I’m not so sure we are. We may see or experience Jesus work in some way and we get excited. We might be hopeful as we whisper, “Hallelujah, something is going to happen now!” And then, it seems it doesn’t. Our expected and hoped-for outcome isn’t fulfilled (at least in our eyes). We might not be yelling, “Crucify him!” but we may turn away from Jesus, thinking our hope has been misplaced.

Is there an area you’ve been longing for Jesus to make right? Is it possible we might have misguided anticipations or understanding of what God is doing along our path, or the path of someone we love?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

Hello NEW YEAR – Day 3

Pray | 

Lord, you know the number of hairs on my head, have seen my days, and have made a way for me. May I truly trust you this year.  

If you have left the previous year with joy in your heart and contentment in your soul, then rejoice and be glad in that! Or maybe you find yourself walking a new path this year that’s difficult, lonely, has traces of regret, or looks uncertain; maybe joy just isn’t coming easily. In our jobs, churches, and daily living we are shoulder to shoulder with ones who are in really good places as well as ones who carry heavy weights and shed quiet tears. If the latter is you, take heart because splashed all over the Bible are good and true words that call us to lift up our face.
Read |

Isaiah 43:18-19
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the dry land.

Lamentations 3: 22-24
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Revelation 21:5
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We have a tendency to ruminate on regret, anger and frustration, and no one’s better at beating ourselves up over the former things than our own selves. But God tells us not to dwell on the past, his word says to put our eyes forward to look for the new thing he is doing. If we’re lost in a wilderness or walking in a dry land, God says he’s making a way and creating streams. Do we perceive it? And God loves us so much, has such compassion that even when it feels like we are, we cannot be consumed by grief, anger, heartache, disappointment, or fill in the blank. In addition to all of that, believe it or not, his compassions never fail, his mercies are new, waiting each and every morning; we can hang on, he is indeed faithful to make everything new.

Consider pausing to assess how you’re really doing before pushing through this first month of the year. What do you believe you need from God and others to move through these days?

Hello NEW YEAR – day 2

Pray | 
Father, as I consider the days before me, help me to establish my plans in your wisdom. 

There’s just something about a new year and a fresh calendar with big empty squares. There are birthdays and anniversaries to mark, possibly vacations to plan. Meetings will creep in, events, gatherings, and on and on until before we know it the days are full, our minds are busy, and the months can feel cluttered. In our busy and full lives, in a culture that values doing more, it can be a challenge to stay intentional with our time. It can be even more difficult to leave some blank squares to create breathing space, rest, and quiet to listen for the still, small voice of God. 
Read | 
Proverbs 16:3, 9; James 4:13-15; Proverbs 27:1

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:9
In their heart’s humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. 
Reflection | 

There are many good things, places, and certainly people that need our time, and planning is good, for if we’re simply blown around by the wind, waves, and whims, not much is accomplished. So, in planning our days, we should consider wisdom, balance, and intention. Even then, there is a call to hold loosely to our calendar and schedules, because we do not know what will happen tomorrow, despite what is written in our planners.

The truth of this life is that our days simply don’t always go as we think they will – plans get scratched off and new ones penciled in an instant. This year I’ve witnessed a dear friend walking through a vey difficult diagnosis, there have been unwanted and unwelcome struggles in the lives of people I love, and still triumphs and new paths for others. You likely find your own circles are similar. The reminder here as we begin anew is to be intentional with our days – to work, serve, and play, to both show up and slow down. Let us be – or get – comfortable with spending time with the Lord and his Word, to be quiet, and also to listen. This new year, let us establish our plans with wisdom as we fill our calendars, and may we not be in a hurry to leave the King’s presence ~ Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Consider the past year, do parts of it feel like it slipped through your hands? Could you be more intentional or wise with your days this year? 

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church.

This & That on a January Morning

This morning as I sit to capture my thoughts, they bounce around from this to that, and instead of paragraphs my mind delivers bullet points that look like this:

Read more books and record what you read
Over Christmas, our daughter Erin talked about the list of “Books Read” she’d created. What a great idea for someone like me who can’t often recall titles even recently read! The new year is starting strong in the reading department, I’ve completed two books and am halfway through a third; quite the variety thus far and I highly recommend all three. If you have books to recommend please comment, I’m hoping for an extensive “Books Read” list for 2022!

Drink more water
Two things – it’s obviously so good for the body, but also at age 56 I see it in the mirror when I’m not drinking enough water. Those little wrinkles in my face smooth out a little with good amounts of water. So I’m logging my water now to help me drink enough ~ my kidneys, brain, digestive system, and face are ever grateful.

Christmas cards
I just dropped the last few in the mail this week. If you’re on our list then you know I’m not exactly famous for being early (or even on time) with cards, and I a l w a y s write a letter. I didn’t write one this year, but it’ll be back next year. There’s something sweet about reading Christmas letters that arrive in our mail, I usually save them until January and then sit down with coffee and savor the capturing of updates and stories. I do love Christmas cards.

Be intentional with the Calendar
Schedule, and keep open, those squares with intention. Plan with priority.
It’s easy for me to fill up our calendar with this and that and then kind of just run out of days and weekends. This week I’m scheduling time to sit quietly with God, and check with our family, to see who and what is put on my heart. It doesn’t a l l need to be so planned, I definitely need to leave lots of squares for spontaneity. But for me, the urgent and lollygagging on my part can push out the important. Many years ago, our friend Kerry Thomas said, “We can’t manage time, only ourselves within time.” That’s some wisdom right there.

Declutter
We moved into our home 17 months ago, and yet there are some unpacked boxes that remain lining a wall in the finished portion of the basement. Our bedroom closet, once dreamy with space, has had to accommodate new additions and not enough subtractions to the giveaway pile. I’m out of hangers, so it’s time. The kitchen cupboards and laundry area are in need of a purge. It’s time to clear the things I’m keeping but don’t need. And in keeping with the intentional idea, I’m thinking, “Buy less this year”, that could also keep things more simple.

Birthdays
Get back to it. In the switch years ago from the wall to the Google calendar I’ve lost the art of really keeping track of birthdays. Maybe I go back to hanging a calendar on the wall? Maybe someone has a birthday app to suggest? Either way, this girl wants to up her game in this area.

Cheers to the New Year and to the this and thats, intentions and inspirations for the upcoming squares on all of our calendars which will fill our lives this year!

Losing color, looking limp, and barely hanging in there • • •

Have you been there friend?

This plant has looked tired and worn down most of the last year. I’ve almost given up on it too many times to count. When I finally gave it some dedicated attention I realized it literally had no roots; it was just sitting in soggy dirt. “No wonder it’s so pale and lifeless.” I thought and I finally threw it away.

But in a last ditch, heart inspired, rescue and recovery plan I snagged it back out of the trash and whispered, “Let’s try this again”.

Incredibly it did just that.
After a lifeless year, it’s coming back, I see new, fresh growth!

The old soil was wet and a little moldy. I dumped it out, washed the pot and put in fresh stuff. I tenderly placed it back in the pot labeled “grow”, and moved it to a new window.

And so lessons appear from the tired, fading plant ~

• let’s check our soil. What are we sitting in? Is it saturated with the wrong stuff?

• what am I rooted in? Do I even have any roots, or am I simply sitting on top of moldy soil in a pot I didn’t choose, falling over from time to time?

• do you need a fresh perspective? Do you need to change the window you’re looking through?

• and just in case you need someone to whisper this to you, here it is, “Hey there love, let’s try this again.”

Lessons in the Layoff

I remember the day well, October 7, 2019 — I was at my sister’s for a ten day stay with my nephew while she and her husband went on a mission trip to Macedonia. Kevin texted with the news that he had been laid off. We were fourteen hours apart, my sister was about to leave for the airport and I just wanted to go home. Teary and in disbelief I grabbed a notebook and wrote down everything he said; my mind was scattered and I knew when we hung up I would forget all the things he said. Severance, amazing. Benefits continued, blessing. Call our financial advisor, good idea. Hiring coach provided, wonderful. But even in hearing this I still had many tears, a few sobs and a little panic.

Lesson One — Lean in and listen
Feeling a little unsettled, Kevin had been praying about his job for awhile, and he reminded me that the last word he had heard from God was to ‘Stay put. Stay on this path.’ Okay we did that, but now what? Kevin said he planned the next day to be a time of fasting; he would go into a state park with his bible and a notebook, walk and sit in the quiet and seek to hear from God. Of course — lean in and listen for God. I knew at that moment we would be okay because Kevin wasn’t going to go forward in his own strength or wisdom, though he has much of both, he was going to be still and lean not on his own understanding.

Lesson Two — Go visit your Father
I waited the next day for the fast to end and Kevin to call. I tried to not rush him through what he was saying but I was anxious to hear what God had said. What’s next? I was wondering. Where do we put our feet? What do we do now? I couldn’t wait to hear what God said.

And here’s what God spoke to Kevin’s heart, I’m glad you’re here spending the day with me.

Of course. The Lord was happy his son had come to spend time with him, to be near his Father; that Kevin knew who to go to before any decisions or directions were taken.

Though I hoped for a billboard with a map in the woods that day, what we got was far better; the reminder that sometimes God wants us to just come and visit. He wants to know we love him for him, not for what he delivers. Can you imagine if your kids never just snuggled up with you, climbed in your lap, or if they only called when they needed something from you? Once again, I felt a peace wash over me, God is with us, we’ll be okay. The what, when, where, why and how could wait. God had led us to this job six years ago, and now it was gone, but we didn’t feel abandoned. Confused maybe, but trusting still.

Lesson Three — Its okay to not understand
When we moved to Michigan from Indiana for this job, I didn’t really understand it. We had just launched our last one to college, alongside a few close friends. I had planned to enter the empty nest season with walks and wine on the porch with one of my best friends who lived around the corner. But alas it was not to be. Instead I would move 80 miles away to a very small, but adorable and historic, town. And as it turns out our time here has turned into one of the sweetest blessings of our lives.

Six years ago I said I don’t understand this move, it’s not what I imagined at this point of my life, but I trust it. I was sometimes lonely that first year, but I also had peace. And so it goes again — this is not what I expected at this point of our lives either, it’s not what I would choose, but I trust it.

I’m leaning in, listening, visiting my Father, trusting and peaceful as we enter this next unforeseen season. It’s not what I expected, but I do have peace and I still trust what’s next.

Three Lessons in Such a Time as This

“What remains after a storm is what we learn in the middle of the storm”,
this was from a teaching in mid-March from Lee Cummings of Radiant Church and has stuck with me in this COVID-19, quarantine, lock-down time. Back in March we didn’t really have any idea how long, or to what extent this “storm” would affect us. Or what it would reveal about us…about me. But I’m learning a few things…

Worship & prayer fatigue?
In March, beginning each day with a live stream prayer & worship time was exactly what I needed, it was centering and filling; calming to my soul. But on Monday of week 7, I watched my husband slowly climb out of bed and suggested that maybe we just sleep in. To which he responded by starting the coffee and getting the service pulled up. (So much for sleeping in!) That morning’s prayer addressed a fear that had crept in and by having it revealed, I had the opportunity to replace it with faith and trust; I would have missed all that if I had given into the fatigue of the morning rhythm we have established. Is it possible I had become tired of praying and worshiping daily?

I am a jealous God
In another message Pastor Lee said God is “exposing and dismantling the idols of our culture”. Well…and also my own. As our retirement account plunged day after day, after day, I found myself panicking a little. As investments were going down, anxiety went up. So where do you put your hope and trust, Sheri? Where does your peace come from? Ahhhh….an exposed idol. On some level, my peace and hope for our future was reliant on our retirement fund. Now, it’s good to be wise and plan for sure, but if that’s where my peace comes from then I have put my faith in something that can be snatched away quickly. I’m grateful this was revealed within me. As things are stripped away, can I still give thanks for that which remains? The answer is now yes.

Cast off every weight and hindrance
…they began to throw the cargo overboard…On the third day, they threw the ships’s tackle overboard with their own hands. Acts 27:18-19
When the cargo and tackle was loaded on the ship, it was needed and necessary. But there came a point where they had to rethink the load. So the challenge in this teaching was to think about any weight or hindrance, not so much sin, just unnecessary perspectives, mentalities, comforts and such that we don’t need right now. This was valuable for me; we have some big things coming up and I discovered I was clinging to thoughts, ways, and comforts that could make the journey more difficult. In identifying these, I’m able to work on offloading that which has potential to weigh me down unnecessarily.

Still learning and growing over here. Sometimes I take my eyes off the one who commands the waves and calms the storm and put them on too much media. Sometimes I feel the weight of the collateral damage of this time for so many and I feel weary and unsteady. But I am learning in the middle of all this, and when this storm is over I’ll be grateful for the lessons that will remain.

I would LOVE to hear what you’re learning in this time. Consider leaving a comment, maybe we can all learn from each other.

Be wise, see you soon.

Day 37 Quarantine Observations

Keeping a morning schedule and rhythm has helped
Each morning we’ve been streaming a prayer and worship service that has been grounding and good. The pastor likened it to back when the first thing to happen each morning was a fire being lit in the kitchen to warm the house for the day. This practice sets the posture of my heart for the day. And then I need to set that posture again the next day, and the next and the next. Manna for today.

Leggings have become a staple
I’m not saying its a great idea, but its what we’ve got over here. I’m not as interested in maintaining myfitnesspal calorie counts or logging weigh watchers points; I should, but I’m not. It may take a minute to work my way back into jeans, but I’m not beating myself up about it.

Exercise matters
Whilst wearing my leggings, getting on the treadmill, doing a workout, or walking outside is a game changer every time I do it. Obviously good for me physically, but exercise is doing its job in the emotional and mental departments as well. Gold star for this little gem called exercise.

Empathy for all
We’re under similar restrictions yet in different situations. Though time is constant, we seemingly have much of it on our hands, while others surely feel they have less. More obligations exist as working from home, managing the education and supervision of kids, now out of school and/or daycare, is a daily reality. Some are working more shifts, longer hours, are more at risk. Some are suddenly & unexpectedly out of work, some families are looking at low or empty checkbook balances, alongside some who are still getting paid and for moment, experiencing financial peace. Its all of this and more. Some are feeling squeezed by all the togetherness under their roof, some are doing this thing solo and might be feeling isolated. Awareness of others’ positions is good. Empathy for all is important; I believe everyone is just doing the best they can.

Grace upon grace upon grace
There are varying thoughts, manners of precautions, levels of anxieties, frustrations and volumes on voices regarding COVID-19. There are disagreements, varying expectations, disparaging remarks (from every which angle of this), hopes, fears and more. I need to let grace abound, covering my own heart and flowing out. Every. Day.

Connecting in creative ways
We miss our people. One of my besties lives up the street, I walk past her house a lot (in an exercise way, not a creepy way), and not sitting across from her is hard. Family trips have been cancelled, gatherings now happening over the computer instead of homes, parks, churches and restaurants. Like you all, we’re making the best of it — we’ve played games, cleaned out closets, had dinners and happy hours together with our family and friends. Next up – download Catan so I can join my kids and my friend Barb who are playing virtually.

Showers, hair, cooking and more…
Happening in varying degrees and it’s fine.

Few Things are Needed

Bam – we’re suddenly real close to the busy holiday season! We’re on the edge of running here and there, creating  l o n g  to do lists, decorating, gathering, traveling, baking beckoning, cards to send, carols to sing and bathrooms to be cleaned…..

About this time last year, in a gathering of young moms I meet with, there was a challenge to insert our own name into this verse, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, indeed only one.” (Luke 10:41-42) I’ve found this challenge to be very clarifying over and over, and now might be good time to take a preemptive strike so I don’t end up worried and upset about many things in the next several weeks.

Here’s how this played out for me last year at this time…

As someone who cares a lot about the details, I can get stuck – like the day Erin was coming home from college, actually simply stopping home for a short visit on her way to a weekend with friends; she had two friends from school traveling with her. Though she wouldn’t even be spending the night, I wanted to dust her room and get many other things done before their arrival. As she & her friends edged closer and closer to home, I suddenly  thought, “Oh my gosh, they will be here right at lunch! I should make them a homemade meal, college kids don’t get many home cooked meals! BUT also I have these other things on my list….how can I do it all?”

Feeling the urgency to get many things done (for college students who would be here for a short time and  likely wouldn’t notice), I quietly heard in my head, “Sheri, Sheri, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed.” That caused me to pause and I quickly grasped the clarity needed, “Right, a meal. That’s what is needed.” All the other things became insignificant and I focused on getting a meal ready for Erin & her friends. When they arrived we had a really peaceful and focused time during their visit– in which they enjoyed the soup and likely didn’t notice if I had vacuumed or not!

As we journey through these upcoming holidays, if we find ourselves worried, upset, overwhelmed, maybe cranky and tired, may Luke 10:41-42 run through our minds and clarify our moments. May we find peace in the few things that are needed, and indeed find the only one that really does.

See (and be) a Helper

While driving on a stretch of interstate recently I saw several cars pulled over onto the median on the other side of the highway. As I drove by I saw a car smashed against a bridge support and people running to the vehicle. Running so fast, to someone they didn’t know, to help.

In a time where divisiveness, being rude and mean is easily recorded and splashed before us, it’s easy to believe we’ve lost our good nature. It might seem that a thin veil covers a deep well of a negativity; that an angry outburst, from even the most mild-mannered among us, could happen given the right topic, time or forum.

As we marked 9/11 a few weeks ago I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. Do your remember his mother’s wise and calming words to him when he was a boy? On that sunny September 11th, in the midst of unspeakable evil that unraveled before our eyes, we were encouraged to tell our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to “Look for the helpers.” There were so many helpers in the rubble, in the air, on the ground, in the stairwells, on the street, on the phone…they were everywhere.

I heard those very words in my head as I watched several men running toward the highway accident; there they were, the helpers. My heart lifted and my spirit was reminded that it is our very natural nature to be a helper. We instinctively run to our fellow man in need.

There are many helpers all around, we need to look for them…and we need to be one. When have you last seen a helper? Or have you been a helper? Would you share it in a comment? Your story might just lift someone else’s heart and renew a tired spirit.