Smell the Roses

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When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses? OK, I know, roses don’t have much of their beautiful fragrance anymore. But the idiom is still true. Do you take time to enjoy the moment?

Some ways I have ‘stopped to smell the roses’ lately, might give you some ideas of things you can do.

I go to a women’s gym three times a week. I started to go to do what I can to prevent osteoporosis which is common in my family. But I can become so focused on keeping my heart rate up and working hard, that it feels like hard work and not any fun. That’s when I take a breath and look for ways to enjoy what I’m doing. I start learning a new calisthenic exercise with the group. I pay attention to feeling muscles that I didn’t know I had, stretch and contract. I concentrate on my breathing to just enjoy the inflow of fresh cool air.

When we drive our car, I watch the sky. Recently we saw a very unusual opening in some gray clouds for glorious sun rays to shine through. You’ve seen scenes like that too. Right? Stop and marvel.

A friend likes to take a little stroll in the evening, look the moon or stars, and feel the breeze on her skin. I enjoyed a walk with her recently. I seldom go out after sundown. I will think about doing that more often now.

Since I’ve started sketching, I’m always looking for something that is pretty or unusual to photograph. I keep those lovely pictures, so I have reference photos to sketch later. I enjoy those images over and over again until I’m ready to capture them on paper. Later, I have the original and my rendering to enjoy when I don’t have to be concentrating on something else.

The other thing I have noticed is that it doesn’t take a long time to be refreshed by one of these ‘smelling the roses’ occasions. Often it is paying attention for just a minute or two, yet the effects can last for a long time. I remember them later and let them put a smile on my face again.

When I am falling asleep at night, I let scripture passages I’ve memorized play on my mind. I often get an insight into those verses that I don’t see when I’m focusing closely on learning the words.

Psalm 23:2-3 was one of those recently. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” He makes a place for me to lie down. He doesn’t push me to the ground and tower over me like some big bully. He knows when I need to lie down and urges me as a good shepherd to lie down in green pastures. Still waters may be dressed in a cloak of diamonds with the birds soaring overhead. Like a good sheep, I should stop and enjoy the breeze, watch the clouds, enjoy the company of others who also need to rest. In all of this He restores my soul.

 What a treasure it is to our souls when we take the time to enjoy what God has provided for us!

The Ordinary

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I’ve come across a few different articles recently about people feeling ordinary and seeing their work as ordinary. Here are some of my thoughts about ‘the ordinary.’

We usually see Bible characters as full of excitement, anointing, heroic acts, and outstanding visitations with angels and God himself. Yet these events were just moments, days or occasionally periods of their lives. But most of the time life was ordinary.

Noah lived 500 years before he had his three sons. Then God told him to build the ark and the flood happened when Noah was 600 years old. A year later, they were able to leave the ark and resume their ordinary life. He died when he was 950 years old. Now that is a whole lot of ordinary days!

Sarah was the wife of a wealthy shepherd. But for most of their lives she was a barren wife making a home for Abraham in the wilderness. She lived 127 years. She had a few extraordinary days when she was in Abimelech’s palace after saying Abraham was her brother instead of her husband. And her pregnancy and delivery in her old age were extraordinary. But most days were ordinary.

Now since God created us and usually gives us 70 or so years in this life, what are we to do with all the ordinary days?

Work– a part of our ordinary life

We know the redemption story. We’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer. We have quiet time with our Father. And we still sin. We still have ordinary days filled with rush and waiting, frustration and needs, repetitious work.

Paul says that God is not far from each one of us.  “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”- Acts 17:2

I think it comes down to how we see our ordinary life.

For me, the key is in Colossians 3. In verse 17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” And verses 23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Emily Jensen in Risen Motherhood wrote, “It might be mundane to fold laundry. But it’s extraordinary to do it patiently with joy and a heart of love. It might be mundane to sit on the couch and read another book to a whiny four-year-old, but it’s extraordinary to show kindness and mercy to an undeserving sinner. It might be mundane to fill the fridge with groceries, but it’s extraordinary to praise God for his provision. Our everyday moments might be ordinary. But when we accomplish them while displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they reflect our extraordinary Savior.”

If we see every task, every challenge, and every conversation as an opportunity from our Father for us to be a channel of His love and mercy, even the ordinary will seem more worthwhile. Of course, we won’t manage that all the time. We’ll fail to express God’s grace, but we get up, brush ourselves off and begin in the next moment to be His channel for this broken world.

C.S. Lewis said, “. . . behind that toil of yours is God. It is He who is working through that brain of yours. It is He who is toiling through that hand of yours. It is He who is moving out into that expression through every honest task you ever tried. There is not a thing you do then whether in shop or home or office, but will begin to flash with a new meaning and seem as if it were worthier to be done.”

Our goal should be to more often do our tasks for Jesus instead of for our own glory or to please someone else.

Our ordinary days will have eternal repercussions and eternal rewards.

Rest – a part of our ordinary life

We have some ordinary days for rest. We need rhythms of rest. We need times for extra rest after times of extra activity or when ill or when burdened by cares. And rest is God’s gift to us on those ordinary days.

Some people feel any rest is time wasted for God and His kingdom. They seem to feel it is only activity that God can bless.

I think it is interesting that after God gives the commandment to have a Sabbath day of rest, He says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Ex. 33:14

If we just stop working, but our minds and hearts are still full of struggling and worry and fear, we still don’t have the rest God intends for us. He desires that we lay down our fretting and trust Him, then our rest is sweet and refreshing.

So when we have an ordinary day that gives opportunity for more rest than usual, we should rest and thank God for the refreshing He gives. Lay down our burdens and refuse to fret. God gives us time to rest, too.

Psa. 23: 2-3, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. Her restores my soul.”

In an article I wrote to women serving in the nations I wrote, “We never know when some ordinary day will become an extraordinary day. Mary was visited by an angel on an ordinary day. Jesus called his disciples on ordinary days. Those days were pivotal not only for those people, but for multitudes through the ages. An ordinary conversation with a neighbor could change the future of the people you serve. Many great things start from a small beginning.”

Take a moment to consider:

Am I looking my activity on ordinary days as opportunities to be a channel of His love and mercy?

Am I doing all my tasks as though I were doing them for the Lord? If I do it that way, how will it differ from my usual way of doing it?

Can I accept my busyness and my rest as both pleasing to God when done at the right time and the right way?


To read more I’ve written about The Ordinary see:

Ordinary Woman and Ordinary Bread

Mystery

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Years ago I remember JB Phillips wrote a book, Your God is too Small. Recently I’ve been thinking about that concept again.

Is my God too small?

God seems to shrink when we are too busy with other things to spend time with Him. It’s not that He has shrunk, it’s that other things seem to have grown in importance. It is like looking through the wrong end of binocular lenses.

God seems to shrink when we allow the world’s way of looking at Him to affect our vision of Him. When they scoff and say, “Really? Do you really believe in a God that. . .?”

God seems to shrink when we allow sin in our lives that takes our eyes off God and puts them on some appetite or interest that we know God doesn’t approve of.

God seems to shrink when we forget we have an eternal destiny.

Seeing the big picture

I want to see God in all his majesty and power and love. I have decided to spend as much time as necessary in the book of Ephesians, to expand my understanding of God. That book exalts the big picture of God, His plan, and His purpose for life. I’m beginning to memorize Ephesians. (That may well be a project for the rest of my life.) As I try to remember the verses, my mind and spirit are stretched to absorb the meaning of the words.

Mystery

The first word that caught my attention was the word mystery. Mystery is defined as, “Something not understood or beyond understanding.” In Ephesians chapter one, Paul uses mystery to describe God revealing the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. God kept the mystery of salvation until the time of Jesus’ sacrifice once for all for our sin. If the devil had known this secret that was hidden in mystery, he would not have killed the Perfect Sacrifice. C.S. Lewis mentions this in the Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe.

Deut. 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

There are secret things (mysteries) that belong only to God. He has not told us, nor does He have to tell us everything. He keeps some things secret from us. But there are many things that He has revealed to us. We are to search these out. Know them. Share them with our children. Knowing all that He has revealed to us is meant to help us do His will.

From there, I began to look for what I can know. What has God revealed? And how should that influence the way I live?

God chose us

God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, chose us. I do not need to know how He made the choice. That’s above my pay grade. All I need to absorb is that I am chosen. It is not because I am anything special or better than others or came from a godly lineage. It has nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with Him. You are chosen, too.

According

According is used several times in chapter one. Here they are: “according to the purpose of his will”, “according to the riches of his grace”, “according to his purpose”, “according to the counsel of his will”, and “according to the working of his great might.” According means, “In conformity with”. All that God has planned and has done is in conformity with His purpose and will and power. Nothing happened of its own accord or like a pendulum set in motion or just to make me happy. This reminds me, I am not the center, God is. Was every bad thing that ever happened or will happen in my life His plan for me? Again, that’s above my pay grade. What I can know is that His purpose and will, definitely will be accomplished.

So as I consider these big themes, I want to consider what they mean to me. To be chosen means that God has a plan for me that fits into His plan and purposes. I don’t want to take my life in Him for granted and miss the joy He’s planned. I also don’t want to be putting myself down and keeping my eyes on what is negative. I want to have the eyes of my heart open to God’s plan.

I want to see what is according to His plan, purpose, and power. Our culture wants everything according to what is considered modern, tolerant, and popular. Most of what God has purposed will be in direct opposition to our culture. I want to be on God’s side of the plan.

And for me, mystery means I don’t have to come up with my own reasons or opinions about the plans of God. I can say I don’t know and yet trust God does know and has it all taken care of.

Let’s take Paul’s admonition to Timothy that “All scripture is God breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Take a moment to consider:

Is your God too small? Have you let things of this world shrink God in your thinking? Will you let God reveal himself and his purposes to you?

This is the first of some devotionals on Ephesians.

Overgrown

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Do you ever feel you are just peeking out at life? Are lots of different things crowding out the life you really want? Are you longingly looking past obligations you have created for yourself Or perhaps  obligations others have put on you? Or maybe, your fears are keeping you from seeing real life? Maybe it’s time to do some weed whacking, even if they are pretty leaves.

One of the prompts for my art challenge this month was, ‘Overgrown.’ I’m practicing making a small ink drawing every day for a month.

In order to manage sketching every day this month, I had to plan ahead. Last month I chose the images I wanted to try to sketch. This meant I wouldn’t spend my ‘art’ time, scanning images.

Then I planned time in my day to do a light pencil sketch and also when I would actually do the ink work.

This is not an obligation or expectation from anyone else. It is a challenge I set for myself. Nothing bad will happen if I fail to ink every day. I don’t get demerits or a summons to court or even ridicule from my peers. It has been a good exercise in choosing my obligations. I have found creative ways to keep my commitment without missing out on other important things in my life.

Though this is an obligation of time every day for a month, it has rich benefits for me personally. First, it is helping me in time management. It is also helping me get comfortable with the lovely pen my husband gave me over a year ago. I am learning to control my hand-eye coordination better every day. This whole experience is helping me grow as an artist.

Not every obligation is like this. There are obligations we have not put on ourselves. We no longer have a parent looking over our shoulder and pointing out our shortcomings. But we may still be letting those sharp criticisms or harsh judgements crowd out the joys in our lives. Are there ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ in your life that keep you running in your hamster wheel? Have you ever asked God if those are obligations He wants you to continue to fill?

Perhaps your parents, either say or imply that since they paid for your education, you should be climbing the corporate ladder. You may have done that for a number of years while you saved and invested your money wisely. Now you are married and have a baby. You long to step off the ladder, do some commission work from home and enjoy your child’s formative years. Even if it means you won’t be adding much to your treasure in the bank, you could be gaining great treasure in helping your child be successful in life.

Our fears may keep us from enjoying life as we were meant to. We can be peeking out at life from behind our mesh of fears. For many years I would not speak in public because I was afraid I would fail. That hasn’t been a problem for a long time now. Yet there are still times when I could speak, but prefer to just watch from the sidelines.  

Recently my fear of not having done anything really worthwhile with my life has allowed a weed patch of disappointment, discouragement, and resentment for all the hard work I put into endeavors that have apparently not produced any fruit.

I’m ready to do some weed whacking. How about you? Are there commitments in your life that are suffocating the life out of you? How about fears? Are there some that you can recognize, call by name, and kick out?

God helping us, we can clear the rubble so that we can build for eternity.

Making Peace or Keeping the Peace

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Have you ever thought about the difference between making peace and keeping the peace? Someone I love mentioned that it is possible to keep the peace, but not be a peace maker. There is a subtle, but important difference in the two terms. And we can easily think we are peacemakers when we are really just keeping the peace.

Jesus tells us peace makers are blessed. In the Sermon on the Mount He said peacemakers will be called sons of God. He came to bring peace between God and man. But Jesus was not a peacekeeper. He was anything but that! He drove out the money changers from the Temple and He was always pointing out the fallacies of the Pharisees’ rules. If He had just gone along with the Jewish leaders, He could have kept the peace and not been crucified. But then he would have missed the point of his living among us.

Making peace with others

Have you ever thought, “If we do these chores in a different way, it would be easier on everyone.” Then in the next instant realized, “But since we’ve always done it this way, better not rock the boat.” That’s keeping the peace.

This kind of peace keeping can lock couples and families into hurtful behaviors. One member of the family can make the emotional toll too high for anyone to even make suggestions of change. They may control by ridicule, criticism, emotional outbursts, or stonewalling. These responses may kill a relationship quickly or very slowly like water eroding a rock.

I always saw my dad as a peacemaker. But on reflection, I think he was more of a peacekeeper. He did not like confrontation, so he would bear with situations long after others knew change would make his life better. His keeping the peace allowed a status quo where God couldn’t make a lasting peace in that situation. However, in another way his peace keeping was good. We never had the grumbling and complaining I’ve heard in other homes. He saw no reason to voice irritations and disrupt the peace unnecessarily. If he could do something to help, he did. If he could ease someone else’s frustrations by calm words, he did. Peace was the atmosphere around dad most of the time.

Making Peace can be internal too.

I hate to make phone calls to agencies. I’ve been afraid I couldn’t explain what I needed or wouldn’t have all the information they’d want or wouldn’t be able to understand their accent. My helpful and kind husband usually offers to take care of that kind of call for me. I’ve been peaceful in my ‘fear.’

While we were in the US this time, there was a major problem that required an ‘official’ call to an agency that is characterized as gruff and unhelpful. But I was the one with the information that needed to be dealt with. We were running out of time before returning to Malaysia. Mike was out doing some other chores. After I tried to use the internet to solve the problem, I realized there was no other solution except for me to make the call. I prayed about it and asked my sister to pray for me too.

When my husband came home, he was shocked to see me on the phone with an agent, dealing with the problem! “Not Diane! Not with them!” Yes, it was true! God was merciful. The three agents I had to speak to were all kind, understanding, and helpful. I would have missed a huge blessing if I had tried to keep my peace instead of making peace with my emotions. This doesn’t make me want to make any and every call. But I am now at peace that I can make calls when necessary.

Take a moment to consider:

I will look for other ways I’ve been peacekeeper instead of being a peace maker. Can you think of areas in your life where you need to take the step to be a peace maker? It may mean some temporary disruption, but in the end, you will have made peace in that area.