Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where do thoughts come from?

I'll be the first to admit I overthink. Everything. All the time. My friend tells me I have a "google mind." Meaning when she starts a question I already have a list of topics in my head and it could go any direction from there.

The down side can be that in any given situation, whether real or not, my imagination can create the most bizarre scenarios. Once I realized I was an overthinker, I was able to curb it a bit. But given any situation, circumstance, or possibility my mind can run off with it in several directions and come up with a variety of options - real or not.

I remember reading about over thinkers and since then, I've been able to at least talk myself out of some of the crazy things that go through my head. But sometimes I wonder where all those thoughts come from. Do you?

In Psalms 19, David prays May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (NLT) The old KJV used "meditations" instead of thoughts. But whether we want to call it meditating or plain ole thinking - where do they all come from? And why did David say the meditations (thoughts) of my heart? He didn't say the meditations of my mind. I found that interesting. So where do our thoughts come from, our heart or our mind?

Something else I found interesting in this verse this morning is that David is combining his words and thoughts, his mouth and heart. Jesus told us that our words come from our heart - not just our mind. From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So what is your heart saying today?

As caregivers, we didn't get any exemptions here. But as for me - I know my heart and thoughts can be all over the place on any given day at any given second. Actually, my thoughts have run through all the activities I have to do today about five times already. With all that racing - and all the emotions we have to manage on a daily basis - how do we find any peace?

Once I see my mind has taken off and is carrying me away, I can stop. Take a deep breath. Refocus and proceed. It just takes a second to regather my thoughts - throw out the ones that don't match what God said; and get them all on the right track. Many days I have to do this over and over and over again. I don't know where thoughts come from. But I do know that anything can trigger a deluge of them. But I don't have to let my mind run off on those rabbit trails. Even in the midst of the cares of caregiving, I can keep my mind on God and His purposes. Even when it doesn't make sense.

Today I will make it my number one priority to keep my meditations on Him. While I am going throughout my daily tasks, I will purposefully turn my thoughts to His word and make it my priority. When my head wants to run away with what-ifs, I will reign it back in with His word. Today I will let His word reign in my heart. Will you join me?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Within Reach

I did a skit one time where I played the song "You're all I Need." I was lip syncing the words as I sang about God being all I wanted, but I kept filling my hands will all sorts of stuff. I was picking up a laptop, a video controller, books, cell phone, etc. while trying to reach out to Him as I sang. The point was that I was filling my hands with so many things and they were so full I could never quite reach out to Him - even though that's what my heart wanted.

As caregivers, our hands are full of so many things - and they are not just extras we choose (who has time for that, right?), it's stuff that has to be done. Every day is filled with tasks and chores that can't be ignored or put off until tomorrow and we can feel like our hands, minds, hearts and bodies are full all the time.

And while I'm all about carving out some quiet time for me and God - there are some days that just doesn't happen. Of course, my initial response is to condemn myself. I can overload myself with guilt quickly too with thoughts like:

If I was just more organized...
Why didn't I plan this earlier...
If  I was better at meal planning...
I need to keep up with housework better...
If I was just more disciplined...

If I am not careful, I can rail myself to death, and still be behind in my daily chores. I'm sure that's just me, right? The never ending, ever repeating chores of caregiving are enough to keep any one person busy all day - every day. Add to that so many who also have jobs, whether they work from home like I do or go out to work - it's easy to get on overload with very necessary things. We don't intentionally pick up things and fill our hands. It's all needed.

In my skit, I was picking up a lot of extras, and my hands were so full I couldn't juggle them to reach out for God, as much as I wanted to. But now I see that He is big enough to bypass the caregiver's full hands. He is always within reach.

He is so close to the caregiver that the tiniest whisper from our hearts brings Him running to our side. He really does hear us from our hearts. When we don't have the words to cry out, or don't know what or how to ask for - He still understands. James 4:8 says that as we draw near to Him - He comes closer to us. He understands the intent of our heart - and when we seek Him - He lets us find Him. (Jeremiah 29:14)

Today my thoughts will be on the nearness of God. As I go through today's chores and responsibilities, I will acknowledge, even if it's only silently, that His presence is right here with me. I'll meditate on how He hears the silent cries of my heart just as loudly as when I boldly cry out to Him. My thoughts will be about how He is always within reach. And once again I will rest in Him, will you join me?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Who are you?

I've been doing some studying and gathering notes for a project I'm working on. Last week, I shared a bit about it in a post. I'm looking at David and how he dealt with the enemies he faced. In my studies, I've gotten stuck in 1 Samuel 17 with the story of how David faced Goliath.

David just couldn't stand to see the enemy come out and ridicule, pester and abuse the people of God. The NLT says David asked, "Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?" I wonder if David was just in shock that no one stood up to Goliath before he got there.

David's brother asked a question of David when he heard that his little brother was asking what one would get for slaying the giant. His question was what are you doing around here anyway? He tried to put David in his place by degrading him and reminding him that he was just a shepherd. But the truth is that David's shepherd heart was coming out to protect the people of God just like it rared up to protect the sheep in his pasture.

David is going to tell Saul a little later on that when a bear and a lion came to take sheep, he would chase them down and take his sheep back and then beat the perpetrator to death! That same righteous indignation was rising up as he is hearing Goliath rail on God's sheep.

When David went out to meet Goliath, the giant asks, Am I just a dog that you come at me with a stick?  And when Goliath moved closer to attack, David ran to meet him. With one single stone and a sling the giant fell. Now it's Saul's turn to ask the questions, Whose son is this? 

The sequence of questions could look sort of like this:

  • David to the soldiers - who is this ungodly pagan?
  • David's brothers to him - who are you to be here?
  • David to Goliath - who are you to rail against God?
  • Goliath to David - who are you to come at me with a stick?
  • Saul to David - whose son are you? or who are you?
The most important part, I think, is that David knew who he was - and he knew who God was. He told Goliath, God will conquer you - and I will kill you. I like the way he said that! David is counting on God to take what he has in his hand, a stone, and put His force behind it so the giant falls to the ground. Once God has knocked the giant out and down - he knows he will cut off his head with the giant's own sword.

I think what gets me here is that God will do the conquering. I'll just follow up! Sometimes as a caregiver every day can feel like facing a giant. To say the caregiver's "plate is full" is quite the understatement. But I don't have to conquer it - I can wait and let God conquer the giants that loom over me - and then I can take them out! 

Today I'm going to wait on Him to take out the giants I am facing. I'm going to acknowledge that I have no strength in myself and that God's strength in me is more than enough to carry me through. And when someone asks or looks at me as if to ask, who are you?  I can answer with I am the child of the most high God Who fights my foes for me - and brings them to the ground so I can conquer them. I will wait for Him to conquer the giants in my land today - and then I won't nurse them back to health. I will wait on Him today to bring down anything and everything that rises up to tell me I am not good enough, and God is not strong enough. I will rejoice that He has arrived to live with me! (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT) and I can rest in His love. Will you join me?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hide N Seek

This morning during my devotions, I came across this scripture:  Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for You. (Psalm 8:10 NLT)

Immediately, I thought of Jeremiah 29:13 that tells us if we seek Him we will  find Him. I always told my youth groups that God doesn't play hide-n-seek well. He waits for us to seek Him and then He reveals Himself to us.

As a caregiver, I have felt sometimes like God was hiding from me; and at other times like He had completely abandoned me. My heart tells me it's not so - but it's how I have felt at times nonetheless.

It comes down to what I am going to choose to believe. Will I follow my hollow emotions that tell me He has abandoned me forever? If  I do, I may be found in company with the psalmist who said, Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will He never again show me favor? Is His unfailing love gone forever? Have His promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be kind? Has He slammed the door on His compassion? (Psalm 77:7-9 NLT)

I have to wonder if all caregivers have had this series of questions run through their mind at one time or another. I know I cycle back around to them from time to time. But like the psalmist, I wind up with the thoughts in verse 11 I recall all You have done, O Lord; I remember Your wonderful deeds of long ago. I will choose to agree with this verse and renew my seeking heart in Him.

I cannot deny that He has walked this difficult road with me. I cannot deny He has provided all along the way. I cannot deny I have seen His hand at work. And I cannot deny I've seen Him reveal His heart in mine.

For me, the key is looking for it; or seeking it. I have been so angry with God at times that I didn't want to look for Him or His works. I really didn't care. But He patiently waits for me to work through my rash emotions and crazy thoughts. And once I do - He's right there waiting for me to find Him - waiting to reveal Himself to me once again.

My goal becomes the same as it was BC (before caregiving) - to remain in a state of seeking Him. If we look for Him - we will find Him. It's about wanting to see Him in our day-to-day lives. It's easy to withdraw to the caregiver's cave and exclude God and everyone else too. But whether we have retreated to the all-familiar cave or have ventured out for awhile, if we choose to look for Him - He will be there. Right where we left Him.

Today I'm going to think about how He is so patient with me. He never throws up His hands and says, "I'm done." He waits for me - just like He wants me to wait on Him. My thoughts will be on how He continues to walk this road with me and how He has comforted me in the dark night of the soul. I will purposefully and consciously look for Him in my life today. Will you join me?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Abraham's Faith

So this morning I'm reading through Romans 4 about Abraham and his faith. In the 20th verse, it says his faith never wavered. Let me explain first thing - I'm no Abraham. I am honest and open about the fact my faith has wavered; and the first to admit I've totally lost it a few times along the way.

It makes it difficult to face challenges in life when we are indirectly (and sometimes directly) taught that circumstances occur because we don't have faith. Faith-ers have this distorted view that says if you believe hard enough and are good enough at it nothing bad will ever happen to you or your family. That just simply doesn't bear out in scriptures, as we've discussed here before.

If faith prevents difficult situations there's be no faith building stories like David and Goliath, Moses and the Red Sea, Joseph in prison, Paul and Silas in Prison or Jesus on the cross. That's just to name a few. It was in  the struggle we see their faith, not the fact that they believed to avoid it.

We hold on to the stories in scripture where we see God prevail. David took Goliath down! Joseph wasn't always in prison and did see his dreams come to pass. Moses crossed that Red Sea, Paul and Silas got out of prison and Jesus rose from the grave!! But each of them had to walk through the difficulty to get to the end. Even Job held on to faith in dire circumstances and even though God restored everything to him - he never got his first kids back. He suffered loss and clung to faith.

So as I am reading about Abraham's faith in Romans 4, all these stories are going through my head. The act of faith is not avoidance - it's the circumcision of the heart. Abraham believed God before the covenant of circumcision. Verse 11 says the circumcision was a sign of his faith. It didn't cause him to have faith, but was an outward demonstration of the covenant of faith.

In verse 20 where it talks about Abraham never wavering in his faith it says instead of wavering, his faith grew stronger. I know my faith has been totally redefined, especially since I got into this caregiving gig through great tragedy. I'll tell you I lost it altogether a time or two. But I always come back around.

While I cannot honestly say that I have not wavered in my faith during the trials of life, I can say I have seen my faith grow. Even though it's been totally redefined and may not look like I thought it would. I can say my faith in God (not just what He can do) is continuing to grow. If you'll take a close look - it's likely your faith is being strengthened too. Maybe it just looks like determination that says to God - I won't let go of You! even when we don't understand. Maybe it looks like running to Him to find answers that remain fuzzy. Maybe faith looks like tears streaming down your face asking Him why one more time. No matter how it looks - if you are still at his feet - you have faith.

Romans 4:20 says Abraham's faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.

So if you are still standing, even on wobbly knees. If you are still trusting, even with shaky heart. If you are still praying, even silently because words are gone. If you are still wondering and quietly seeking Him even if you didn't want to sometimes. Your faith is bringing glory to God; and I believe He is pleased.

Today my thoughts will be on how He finds pleasure when I pursue Him - no matter what life looks like from here. I'll turn my thoughts to the fact that He's still right here - and He has me in His heart - and I can't escape. My meditations will be on the fact that I don't have to work to please Him - He's happy with my faith, my trust and the fact that I am bound to run to Him. And I will trust Him for one more day. Will you join me?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What did you say?

Over the weekend I took a couple of hours to go through my big box of writing stuff. I've collected quite a few things over the years and have tons of unfinished projects. My goal was to get it all organized and get started on something...anything! I can now proudly say I have all my projects gathered together and somewhat organized, and I have 2-3 I am ready to dive into and get done. But among all my scattered notes, ideas and thoughts I found a study I had done that I didn't even remember doing.

It seems I've gone through the Psalms and looked at how the psalmists dealt with the voice of the enemy. I've started collecting my thoughts around this idea and the project is underway.

I've thought quite a bit about this the last couple of days and just last night it hit me - the enemy doesn't have a voice if we don't give him one. If we look at Psalm 3, David speaks of what the enemy is saying about him. Specifically - God will never rescue him!" (v. 2 NLT)

But David wasn't sitting around the campfire collaborating with a physical enemy. He was trying to stay one step ahead of them. He did not literally hear the enemy say those words. It's what he felt. Maybe it's just me, but those darn voices in my head can lead me way off track some days. No one is telling me I'm crazy, I can't do it, I'm going to fail, etc. It's my perception of what everyone thinks.

My enemy wants me to think that God is not going to rescue me either. He would like for me to give up hope, sit back on my laurels and stop trying to believe. He wants to sap our hope, trust and faith because he knows if we don't continue in our faith he'll have us backed into a corner incapacitated. The voice of the enemy has not changed over the years - it's still feeding us the same thing it was handing out to David all those years ago.

What I found interesting was David's response. He simply declared what God had done:

You O Lord, are a shield around me,
My glory and the lifter of my head.
I cried out - and He answered me...
I lay down and slept - I woke up in safety
for the Lord was watching over me.

And then he made his faith statement: I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.  Following that with a prayer: Arise, O Lord! Rescue me, my God! Then he finishes off the psalm with another declaration and a prayer:  Victory comes from You, O Lord.May Your blessings rest on Your people.

David silenced the enemy's voice in his head through prayer and declaration. He stated what He knew about God - even though he was seeing no direct action from Him. In the midst of the battle on the field and in the mind David says - You O Lord are a shield around me - the glory and lifter of my head! 

For the caregiver thoughts and emotions are ever eroding away at our faith. The day-to-day can be a constant struggle to keep our heads above water and not be swept underneath the tide. Even though we are not fighting a physical enemy specifically, the mental struggle can be incapacitating at times. The multitude of what-ifs and whys can wipe us out - and they can come often.

Today in the midst of the struggle I will declare with David: You O Lord are my shield - You are my glory and lifter of my head! My thoughts will be on how my choice to be a caregiver pleases Him. On how as I let love be the driving force behind why I am a caregiver - I look like Him. I do not resemble the enemy like he would like me to think! I will remind myself that the enemy's words are always lies - and God's word is always truth. I choose to embrace the truth today with my heart and mind and declare: He is my shield! He will protect my soul! He is with me like a mighty warrior! He will lift my head.   Will you join me?


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Macedonian Call

In Acts 16, Paul has a dream in which a man is pleading for him to come to Macedonia. In verse 10, Paul says he could only assume "God was calling us to preach the Good News there." (NLT) And they left immediately for the journey.

Once they got to Macedonia, there was good; and there was bad. They met Lydia - a true blessing. And then they met a deomon-possessed fortune teller who taunted them. When she came to know the Lord, her masters knew the loss of revenue they would suffer and caused a huge uprising against Paul and Silas and they were wrongly accused and tossed in a jail cell.

Of course, God worked even that out for good as when they praised Him from that dark, prison cell, He loved it so much He joined in with them! The earth began to respond when earth's praise met heaven's joy and everything started shaking and they were set free and many people were saved.

In light of the good that came out of that - it's interesting what Paul said about their Macedonian trip.  In 2 Corinthians 7:5, Paul says this: When we arrived in Macedonia there was no rest for us. Outside there was conflict from every direction, and inside there was fear.

What? THE Apostle Paul said that? When so much good was going on and so many were coming to know the Lord? Yes. Even though we have no record of his emotional journey to Macedonia, he reveals his fears to his readers later on. I'd have to say that in many ways as a caregiver, I feel conflict on every side and fear inside. A lot.

The next verse in 2 Corinthians 7 though says this: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We need more Tituses. Most of us in a caregiving position are not going to be blessed with a Titus, a fellow believer, who will come and encourage us today. But God is faithful and He's creative too - He will find a way to bring encouragement.

For me today, it was in finding the lyrics to a song I wrote back in 1988. Here are the lyrics:

Macedonia
When I fail at life's little problems
You are there.
When I feel like I failed the test,
You still care.
No matter how low I feel I go,
You're still there.

All the problems all the cares of Life
Don't change the truth 
You're still there.
Nothing depletes Your strength and power
For nothing can change your love
You still care.

Even in the darkest night
There's nothing to compare
For it's all broken up...by Your light.
The strongest night can't take away the truth
You're still there.
(C) November 29,1988 J Olinger

I have no idea what I might have been going through at the time. But now I know that there were many dark days in between then and today. I had not yet faced the darkest night of my soul. But two phrases stuck out to me last night when I came across this yellowed paper. One - nothing depletes Your strength and power and the other one - the strongest night can't take away the truth.

I have rolled those over and over in my mind since I found this sheet of paper. I have to say, it's stood the test of time. He is still strong and on the throne - my situation did not dictate His removal! And no matter how dark the nights may have been - His truth still stands. My situation has no bearing on the truth - His truth is still the truth.

Today I am going to meditate on these two phrases. And I'm going to rejoice in the fact that even if I live in Macedonia, (fears within/conflict without) His truth, strength and power are not only unaffected by it - but He continuously perfects them in me. I'll think about how His strength is made perfect, mature, and complete in my weaknesses. And I'll smile, because I feel so very weak - and I'll yield all of that to Him to work with today - will you join me?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Onward! (Wherever that may be!)

One foot in front of the other. How many times have I used that phrase to explain to people how I "do it"? Something just kicks in and you do what you have to do; and you just keep on doing it. I guess it is moving forward - or going "onward," but it can feel like we are going around in circles. Continuously. Never ending.

It can feel like everyday is the same as the day before with the exact same chores to do. You know the drill. There's bathing, transferring, dressing, feeding, transferring again, laundry, and ton of little chores to do that make the bigger ones easier. Eventually, even the little surprises become part of the routine. You know those things all too well too. There's case managers who forget to order supplies, or can't get the order right....ever, aides that don't show up the day you finally decided to go do something, or nurses trying to cram all her visits in during the last week of the month. Those are just a few of the things that I can think of off the top of my head. It sometimes feels (to me) like we face the giant every day.

David only faced one Goliath, Daniel only visited the lion's den once, it can feel like we face Goliaths and lion's dens every day sometimes. These are just a couple favorite Bible stories we like to share, stories where God made a victor out of a common person. There are other stories demonstrating God's sustaining power too. For instance, Noah only built one ark, but it took him years. Job was only sick one time, but it wasn't just a one day thing; and he never got his kids back. Gideon and Joshua faced battle after battle - there was never just one battle and it was over. Even David spent years running from Saul's spear until he finally became king. And of course there's Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers and spent years in slavery and prison before he ever saw the throne God promised. But all these faithful men walked onward in their faith no matter what they faced. We can too.

We can continue to move forward in our faith even though every day presents obstacles before us. Whether it is the one-time looming giant or sticking with the building of an ark, we can press on into Him. I'm not saying it's always (or ever) easy, but if these guys can hold to the faith in the situations they faced on a daily basis, we can too. Even if we don't see an end in sight. Just like God was there for them in whatever it was they faced, He's here for us too. And that's why we can continue to push onward.

It can be difficult since we can't see how our story ends yet. News flash: they couldn't either. We can read their whole stories in the matter of a few minutes and forget that they walked it out over years. But they held on to faith in Him. All those years in a dark dungeon didn't stop  Joseph from believing. As a matter of fact when he was dying - he told them they were to take his bones with him when they left Egypt. He never gave up hope - even in death.

Today my goal will be to stay focused on Him rather than my situation. My meditations will be on His ever abiding presence that does not leave my faith stranded. I can always trust in Him to keep my soul. I will turn my thoughts to how He continues to walk this walk with me - I don't go onward (wherever that may lead) without Him. We are inseparable. So today I will think about how inseparable God and I are - will you join me?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

When I Cannot See

It's been a series of events lately that has left me silent. As caregivers, I know you understand those times when everything piles up on you. As if caregiving itself was not enough. I take it all personally too - like we really don't matter.

I know it's a misread message, on one hand, but things like not being able to get my son's Jevity, aides quitting and not being replaced and then my van breaking leaving us stranded, eventually got to me. It seems like every situation screams you are not important!

Caregivers live lives that are different from every one else, we don't need anything to make us stand out from the crowd any more than what's normal for us. But as it all piled up over the last week or so I became recluse. And of course, the problem with that is that those thoughts running around in my head become more numerous, crazier and out of control.

I went from trying to figure out how to get out and buy groceries on foot along with pushing my son's chair to what am I going to do when I get older? How will I find a way to fix the van goes on to how will I pay for my funeral? and What will happen to Chris once I'm gone. That's just the top layer - the questions run crazy around in my head until I literally just can't see. Nothing makes any sense and I feel like I'm drowning in the sea of life. (Maybe it's just me.)

So my response is to find a scripture to hang onto but I've gone blind and deaf in that arena too. Until one particular one comes to mind. It's in Psalm 77. Basically about verse 10 the author starts wondering if God has forsaken them and if He has turned off His mercy spout in their lives. But then in verse 11 we find what we (I) need to do when I cannot see.... look back at what He's done.

So to get out of the funk, I started thinking about all the things God has done even though I'm blind to His doings today. I thought of how He's provided all along the way on this caregiving journey, how He has performed some wonderful healings in my family, how He has never left me alone - no matter how I feel. I've said it before - but He doesn't leave when life gets ugly.

Taking a few minutes to re-ground myself in Him has made all the difference, mostly in my attitude! If you are having trouble "seeing" today - hindsight is 20/20 - look back at what you know He's done in your life before today. It also helps me to speak it out loud. When I say what I know He's done out loud - it's like I'm reminding myself and it doesn't take too long to break into praise and thanksgiving. What a way to break off the chains trying to drag me under today.

Today I'm not going to think about what is going on right here, right now. I'm going to continue to thank Him for things He's done in my life before. My thoughts and meditations will be on Him - not my situation. How about you? Will you join me?