Monday, September 30, 2013

A New Outlook on Stress

I have no stress in my life. 

I know...crazy, right?  I can hear you groaning, thinking, "I wish I had no stress in my life!  How is that possible?" Well, let me clarify--- I have no stress in my life right now.  And because of that, I have changed the way I look at stress.

I actually used to thrive on stress.  It's how I got things done.  Somehow, the pressure energized me---or so I thought. But I got to a point where I realized that my loved ones---and myself--were suffering the fallout.  I was short tempered and anxious.

A little more than a year ago, I was working about 30 hours a week at a job at which I now work 45 hours a week, trying to hold on to a dying business, and in the process of moving.  I was definitely stressed!  And I was in a period of spiritual dryness.  I felt like I was coming apart.

Once we moved, a lot of the stress lifted.  We were in a better place-physically and financially. Though still in a period of spiritual dryness, I realized that I had a lot to be thankful for. God blessed us immensely, more than we ever thought possible with our new house.  My job was one where I got to help a family member and he helped me by giving me this job.   It wasn't what I thought I'd be doing at age 52, but I found that I was content.  And contentment is the first step toward living stress-free. From there, I found that several things contributed to my new nature.

Step #1: Find contentment where you are.  Find it; don't expect it to come to you.  Choose to be content. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance...I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Phil 4:11-13). You can choose to be resentful of where you are, wondering when your turn will come, when you will see the word God gave you come to fruition. You can live in turmoil, or anger because this isn't what you signed up for. Or because you had to put your plans, your dreams on hold so you could support someone else's dreams. Or you can choose to be content, regardless of your circumstances. it's called maturity. Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14)

Step #2:  Learn to say no and let things go.
About 6 months ago, I went from having a part time job and a dying business to full time work and a dying business.  A few months ago, I gave up my business.  The little money I made in my business wasn't worth the time I was putting in after my job.  I have been actively involved in community theatre for years, but realized that getting involved at this point would cause over-committment.  As much as I loved my theatre friends and my creative outlet, I knew I had to give it up--for a time.  Not forever.  That's the beauty of community theatre.  You can go in and out of it as you like.  I do it for fun, and if I'm stressed out it's not fun.

We tend to feel obligated to "do," and feel guilty for saying no.  Then we begin to resent the very people we are helping. I've learned that my contentment, my peace, my joy is worth more to me than simply appeasing people.  Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37).

Step#3:  Slow down!
Remember that Simon & Garfunkel song, "Feeling Groovy?" --- "Slow down, you move too fast! You've gotta make the morning last, just kicking down the cobblestones, looking for fun and feeling groovy!"  They say hello to the lamp post, they watch the flowers grow.  How often do we take the time to do that?  Just look at traffic - everyone is in a hurry!  Everywhere we go, people are hurrying through life. Slow down.  Take a deep breath.  What's the hurry?  Why wear yourself out?  Just what are you after anyway?  But you say, 'I can't help it...I can't quit. (Jeremiah 2:25 The Message)

Step #4:  Learn to rest 
Because I wasn't going out to rehearsals, I was spending my evenings at home. We had been in our house about a year now, and we were settled.  I was content and not committed to any shows.  I wasn't really involved in anything.  I was resting. It felt good. There was a quietness in my life, yet a restlessness in my soul.  I was still in that period of spiritual dryness, but I always felt God's presence.  I knew He loved me still and always would. But I longed for what I once had-that closeness.  Even though I was quiet, I wasn't still. My cry, my prayer, my song became, and still is, whenever I feel anxiety and restlessness, "Be still, oh, my soul!"

I rested physically, but I still had unrest in my spirit.  I listened to Audrey Assad's "Restless, " in which she sings, "Still my heart; hold me close, and let me hear a still small voice.  Let it grow, let it rise into a shout, into a cry...I am restless, so restless till I rest in You!"  Music is how I get close to God. So I sang my way through the chaos in my soul until I found my rest in Him.  Find rest , O my soul, in God alone.  My hope comes from him (Psalm 62:5)

Step #5: Declare it!
 Before I actually was living stress-free, I started declaring it.  "I have no stress in my life."  I'm not saying that I "named it and claimed it."  It was more that I realized,  "I really have nothing in my life that should cause me stress, so there is no reason I should feel stressed."  It just made sense to me. 

It felt strange, at first, to be saying this.  After all, I used to be a person who thrived on stress (hah!).  I didn't fully believe it.  I was used to complaining, not speaking positive thoughts!  But the more I said it, the more I believed it.  We can speak death over our lives, ("Oh, I'm so stressed out! I just can't handle any more! I never get a break!") or we can speak life. ("I really have nothing in my life to be stressed about, so there is no reason I should feel stressed. And when stress comes, I can choose not to let it rule my life.").

This weekend I put over 200 miles on my car going back and forth to the hospital.  I attended a funeral of a dear friend yesterday.  And I've been dealing with some personal issues. On the outside, it looked like a lot to deal with.  But I truly never felt stressed because I chose not to let the situations and circumstances reign.  I chose to focus on my Father in Heaven.  I chose to cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).  I was tired, but not stressed. When I started to stress over something that I needed to do, but couldn't find the time to do it, I had to let it go or ask someone else to do it (Ask for what you need??? That's another day's blog!). 

I know, I know.  "You don't understand, Mary.  You don't know what I'm dealing with right now." No, I don't.  But God does. And He wants you to be content.  We will encounter stress in our lives.  But we don't have to let it rule our lives. Look at your life and ask what you can let go; how you can say no. Slow down. Rest in Him. And listen to your words-speak life, not death.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:63)

Blessing Along the Path, 

Restless (Audrey Assad)
Feeling Groovy (S&G--look for the Smothers Brothers!)

In repentance and rest is your salvation
In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hand it Over!

My husband had intestinal surgery yesterday  (He's fine; thank you for asking). But here's the thing.  From the time he told me the scheduled date until the minute I talked to his doctor after surgery, I had this feeling--an irrational fear-- that he was going to die in surgery.  He didn't, of course,  thank God.  

I knew it was a ridiculous thought and also knew where it came from-the pit of hell.  I've had minor surgery myself, and I've had loved ones who have undergone major surgery-much more intense and serious than Brian's intestinal surgery, and never once did I ever have that thought. I had to wonder why I felt that in the back of my mind. It wasn't like I dwelled on it.  Just every now and then, it would surface to the forefront of my mind.

It was fear.  I was afraid that he would die. And if he died, I would be alone.  How would I get by? How would I live?

I had my "Princess Warriors" (my bible study group---that's what we named ourselves) pray for him.  I asked friends to pray.  He was on the prayer list at church.  Facebook friends prayed.  Family members prayed.  I even met a wonderful woman of God in the waiting room and we prayed for one another and our loved ones while they were in surgery. He was definitely covered in prayer---if prayer was snow, we had a blizzard!  I think I only told one person about my fear.  Because I was so embarrassed to admit that I had this fear.  And I didn't want the enemy to gain any more ground by admitting my fear...which made me fear even more!  

I tried to hide it.  I tried not to give in to the anxiety and the fear that kept creeping in...then creeping out when I said, "NO!  I already have the victory!  Because of the blood of Jesus, we are protected and healed.  I will not accept this!" It's like Black Bear, Private Eye was sneaking into my mind! (see earlier blog for Black Bear, P.I. explanation)

It's crazy how one thought of fear can turn into turmoil and chaos in our minds. And crazy thinking, chaos and turmoil don't come from God.  I kept telling myself that he is in capable hands.  We prayed in the hospital for the surgical team.  Brian was at peace. So why wasn't I? Why did I have this niggling fear that I never had before?  Why couldn't I truly and completely trust God with my husband's life?

I was pondering that thought, ready to go to bed and "sleep on it."  Maybe God would give me the answer in a dream, or in the morning.  

Then, God gave me a picture of a bandit (yes, a bandit, not a robber--an old fashioned bandit) robbing a woman travelling alone and saying, "Hand it over!"  The accosted hands over her life savings, all that is meaningful and of worth.  Jewels.  Gold coins.  Family heirlooms.  It's all there in a velvet pouch.  And unless that woman wants to die, she hands it over.  Loses everything that is important to her, but keeps her life. Those things can be replaced.  Still, everything she had was in that pouch.  How will she get by?  She has no money, no place to live, nothing tangible to remember her parents, her grandparents.  What will she do?  She feels alone.
Then, I got another picture.  A parent-a loving parent, catching her child stealing. Stealing candy from the candy drawer before dinner.  The child has candy in her mouth, and plenty more in her hands, which she holds behind her back, as if that is a perfectly natural position.  She is trying to hide the facts, but there is no hiding.  She is caught, "red-handed."  

"Hand it over,"  Mom says, as she holds out her hand and tries not to grin. It's not that it's funny. It's more that Mom is humored by her child's determination not to admit her crime when it's so obvious.  The child tries to act as if she doesn't have anything, but knows that eventually, Mom will win.

God showed me that I am that bandit's victim and I am that child.  The difference is that the bandit is satan...the thief who comes only to steal, and kill and destroy (John 10:10), and "Mom" is my loving Abba-my Heavenly Father, who longs to gather me and give me peace and comfort (He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart-Isaiah 40:12).  Mom says "Hand it over" for the child's own good-to teach the child self-restraint, obedience and trust.  Satan demands that we "hand it over" when he sees us travelling alone because that's when we are most vulnerable.  When we try to travel the path alone.  When the fear creeps in.  When we are afraid to admit that we are afraid!  That's when he hits us.  We know it's unreasonable, the crazy thought we are thinking, but we can't seem to get the thought out of our head! Even after we say all the right verses and do all the right things.  And we certainly can't tell anyone this.  So we isolate.  We may not physically isolate, but we keep our secret and allow it to fester. We put on our church face, and say, "Praise God, I'm great, thanks.  How are you?"

God wants to teach us to trust Him.  To "hand it over" to him.  It's for our own good.  And if we give him the "candy" that we thought we wanted---the empty calories that will only satisfy our immediate appetite, but leave us hungry for more---He will give us a seat at the banquet table.  We will be safe, still and comforted in our Father's love.  He has taken me to the banquet hall and His banner over me is love (Song of Solomon 2:2). If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land, but if resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. (Isaiah 1:19-20). Go to God---eat.  Give in to satan---be eaten.

Don't travel alone.  Take Jesus with you.  Better yet, follow Him where He goes.  Rest in Him. Draw your comfort from Him.  Hand it over--your fear, your doubt, your insecurity, your guilt, your shame, your secret.  Declare your victory in the Name of Jesus! And reach out to someone you trust.  Don't let the enemy make you feel like you're crazy, or stupid or ridiculous.  Any time you have those thoughts, know where they are coming from.  Tell a trusted friend, someone who won't diminish what you're feeling, and ask them to pray.  If you need a trusted friend, email me.  I will pray and I won't laugh at you or diminish your emotions.  Whatever you tell me will remain confidential.  

Hand it over-to the loving and trusted hands of God.

Song of the Day:
Hand it Over (Keb 'mo')

You've GOTTA see this! These guys are a hoot!  And humor really diffuses fear!
5 Ways to Kill Fear (Skit Guys)

Blessings Along the Path,

Friday, September 27, 2013

Over the Rainbow: A Tribute to Debbie Kirsch

Yesterday,  I lost one of the best friends I ever had-Debbie Kirsch.  Debbie wasn't my best friend in the typical sense.  We didn't talk on the phone every day.  We didn't go out shopping or have a girls' weekend away.  In fact, months could go by and we wouldn't see or speak to each other. But Debbie had a way of becoming your best friend-everyone's best friend. I think it was because she believed in you. So you believed in her. Debbie had more friends than anyone I knew, and everyone was her best friend.  And Debbie was everyone's best friend! But it never seemed as if anyone got jealous because there was more than enough Debbie love to go around! She had a way of making every person feel important-to the world, and to her.

Debbie battled lung cancer for several years, and fought the good fight. I'd like to take a sidebar today from my usual post, to pay tribute to my dear, dear friend. To my usual readers:  You probably don't know Debbie, but today's post is for those who may not typically read my blog--for their healing and encouragement. These are posts taken from Facebook.  I guess I could find the biblical parallel here, for my daily readers who know that I write sort of modern day parables--I guess you could say that Debbie was a bit like Jesus--He is everyone's best friend and everyone is His best friend!   And there is more than enough of Him to go around! Oh, to find that quality in others that we see and they don't-the one that can only be drawn out with patience, love and encouragement-that's what Debbie did for each of us who knew her-what a privilege to have that gift! May we all be like that.

For the Hexagon Community:  Please make sure you see and listen to the links at the bottom. The Annie cast grew to hate this song, but may you always think of Debbie when you hear it. And of course, there is the rainbow for the Wizard of Oz cast-that magical rainbow!  And anytime you feel sad, this blog will be here in the archives. And please...share this on your Facebook page as a tribute to our wonderful Debbie!

Our community family suffered a great loss this morning when our friend, Debbie Kirsch, passed away. She has been battling cancer for several years now, but she was so determined to live on, all of us assumed she would be here for many years to come. If you knew Debbie, you believed in her...including her obstinance. She insinuated herself into our family, often turning my children against me -- but just for sport (and to prove she could). She was all things to community theater in Mendham: creative genius; chief inspirer; delegator extraordinaire; head noodge. She is the reason our daughters love theater. I met her as Mr. Bumble, performed last for her as Mr. Bumble, and always knew my talents were a bumble compared to hers. No one will ever be able to take her place. And the final joke is on us -- now hundreds of US are reaching for the tissues. Well played, sweet friend. (Glenn Thompson)

Today my heart is breaking. I say goodbye to one of the most amazing woman I have ever known. My mentor, my director, my friend, Debbie Kirsch. Words cannot express what she has done for me in the past 5 years that I have known her. If it weren't for her and her faith that I could get up there and perform and sing and be all those "blonde" characters, I wouldn't have the confidence i have in myself today. Confidence to push a little further and dig a bit deeper. courage to believe in my talents...I know I not only speak for myself, but for the hundreds of adults, teenagers, and children that she has touched. Hexagon Players is no Broadway, but it is our family. We all accept each other and have grown so much and in so many ways. We have made friend ships that will last a lifetime. We have reached goals and found dreams that otherwise would've never been possible. Thanks to Debbie and her love of musical theatre and family and friends, we have all been able to have our dreams come true! You were our core, our heart, the best! Debbie, my heart will always hold a special place for you and any time I stand on a stage, paint a backdrop, or watch a show, it will be you I'm thinking of... I love you Deb!!!! (Gina Clavelli)

I am so saddened to hear about the passing of a woman who I so fondly looked up to. She was my mentor, my friend, my director, and one of the sweetest people in the world. She never failed to keep us all smiling or having fun or to come see us in other shows. She was so dedicated to Hexagon Players and she was a great inspiration to me. From Peter Pan, to Children's Letters, to 13, to Annie, I will never forget her smiling face and her love for all of us. I loved her so much and I am so sad to have to say goodbye. Rest in Peace Debbie Kirsch and like Glenn Thompson said, now we're the one's wiping our eyes. I love you♥ ...
(Sara Giacomini)
(I love Nicole's comment): Very Nice Sara... we actually all looked down to her  ... but she was a true inspiration! She knows u loved her... She loved all her children... Young and old alike
Rest in peace Debbie. I know that the angels are leading you in. You were an amazing mentor and you inspired me to be the best performer I can be. You had faith in me when I was so young and you always supported me in everything I did. I loved you so much and I am so saddened to have to say goodbye to such a beautiful person. I love you. (Sara)

My heart has broken a bit more today... I felt you leave this world in my soul... I felt your goodbye... my dear friend, Debbie Kirsch... I will miss your smile, your laughter, your heart, your kindness, your love, your encouragement, your loyalty... I will miss the magic we made on stage despite what seemed like impossible odds... I will miss everything.  ...Every performance has been and will be dedicated to you. You were a pillar of strength. I love you.I'll always love you, Debbie... I live to make you laugh and smile. You always make me smile. We've created some fantastic shows together... priceless memories. Cannot even describe the joy I feel knowing you have been a part of my life.(Nicole Spadafino)

Words cannot even begin to explain the impact this woman has had on my life. She was so dedicated and loyal and really a great inspiration to every person she met. She fought so hard for the past few years and I know that she will always be looking down on me  I love you Debbie Kirsch and you will always always be remembered in everything I do (Kaitlin Quann)

Just found out that a good friend and amazing stage director died today. Debbie Kirsch will always have a dear place in my heart. I so wish I could've had the chance to tell her how she brought a floodlight into a rather dark time in my life. (Jennifer Bliss)

A sad goodbye to an amazing woman, Debbie Kirsch. I am so grateful to have had her in my life these past few years. She reignited my love of musical theatre. I am honored to have worked with her. Debbie influenced so many people through her love and dedication to Hexagon Players. She will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Debbie. I love you and will always remember your warm smile and hearty laugh. You now have the best seat in the house to watch all those performances. (Lori Quann)

I miss my friend (Cathy Malmstrom)...(and Glenn Thompson's response): Four words and you made me cry, Cathy. We'll call the tissue trick "Kirsch' revenge".

Debbie was such a good friend I remember the first time she came to audition for Hexagon. Over the years we worked on so many plays together and had many laughs and good times. (Nancy Bay)

I was amazed by her dedication to the productions, but more so to the children. I will definitely miss her!  I was privileged and blessed to know her for the short time that I did. She certainly was an inspiration to me, and to those who worked with her, especially the many talented youngsters who she helped hone their talents in her productions. Many have gone on to bigger and better things in the theater world.(Brian Flaherty)

My dear friend, you will be missed by all who knew you and loved you. Memories of all that we shared through out the years flood my heart and mind, make me smile and laugh (and tears) . We've been through the good times, the bad times and everything in between and we made it through because we had each other! You will always be with me! (Andrea Yelllin)

My very happiest memories of living in Mendham will forever and always be my involvement with the Hexagon Players. Sadly, today, the final curtain has come down on the earthly life of our beloved director, Debbie Kirsch, who has been bravely battling cancer the last few years. Her life was cut short way too soon, but the number of lives she managed to profoundly touch during her life, adults and children alike, many of us can only dream of doing in a lifetime twice as long. Thank you, Debbie, for EVERYTHING, especially the magic. Whenever I see a rainbow, I will always think of you. Through our tears and heartbreak, we take comfort in knowing you have found Solla Sollew, or Never Never Land, or whatever that lovely place is over that rainbow, where we know the Sound of Music will never, ever die.... We hereby give you a standing ovation.....(Mary Riker Kornick)

Wow, well said, Mary.  And finally, my parting words to Debbie:
She fought the good fight. She ALWAYS fought the fight, good, bad or indifferent. Once she made up her mind, nothing would move her! Debbie lived for theatre and I can't even imagine how many lives she touched in her life, how many kids she caused to love musical theatre. Anyone who worked with Debbie became family. Although she never had kids of her own, she loved every kid she ever worked with. She saw something in each kid and had a way of drawing it out--she did that with adults too. Miss Hannigan changed my life and it was because Debbie knew I had more nastiness than I knew I had..well, maybe it's more like she allowed me to let that side out! And for someone who never wanted her picture taken, I have to laugh at all the pictures of her on Facebook! What a wonderful woman. She will be greatly missed because she was greatly loved.  I love you Debbie! I hope you're flying over the rainbow with the bluebirds!

Tomorrow (Annie): For Debbie
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
I Can Only Imagine (Mercy Me)

(Just a note:  I would LOVE comments, but I think you have to have a Google+ account to comment.  If you want to create an account, please feel free to comment!)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Obey the Signs

"I can't drive slow."

That was part of a conversation between some of my co-workers.  Someone had gotten a speeding ticket and went to court for it the day before.  They were discussing how to correctly speed and get away with it.  Yes, that's right.  How to correctly speed. Apparently, you don't speed in the left lane unless you want to get caught. To properly speed, you should drive in the right lane.  I don't understand the reasoning, but this person gets away with it.  I guess because the left lane is for passing, it's more obvious if you pass in that lane???

When asked how fast he was going, the person who received the ticket told us he was going 85 in a 65. "Oh, I go 100 in my car," bragged Michael (not his real name--we need to protect those speeders!), yet another speeder.  "I can't do that in my truck, but in my car I can."
"What?" I exclaimed. "100???"
"Yeah," he replied.  He had an audience now.  "I can't drive slow!"
"Yes you can," I told him.
"No, I really can't."
" CAN.  You just don't want to."
"No, I really can't." He had convinced himself that he cannot drive slow!

I was telling my friend, Judy this story later that evening.  She said, "It's interesting that you say that, Mare. Because I am aware that I drive too fast and I know I have to slow down. I tried it tonight and I even thought, 'Maybe I'll start tomorrow.'  How bad is that?"

"Well, you drove fine in Hershey,"  I told her.  Judy and I had gone to Hershey, PA in the beginning of August to a Joyce Meyer conference.  She drove; I navigated. And because she drove, she literally drove everywhere. One night, we were leaving the stadium, and I noticed that she was in the left turn lane, but we needed to turn right. I told her this, but she couldn't move over--there were way too many cars (all from the conference; hadn't they learned kindness in there?).  So she had to turn left onto a four lane highway which didn't seem to have anyplace to turn around.  We had sat in traffic for a long time and we were hungry.  I was becoming impatient with her patient and careful driving and told her to just pull a u-turn.  "On a four lane highway?" She must have been glad at that moment that she was driving and not me.  Because I continued..."Well, if I was driving, I would have just pulled a u-turn.  You could do it-you have to be quick." She didn't think that was a good idea...I don't know why.

I was convicted of my driving habits that weekend and when I got home, I started paying attention to the speed limit signs, the "No Left Turn" signs, and (ouch) the "No U-Turn" signs, instead of saying, "Oh, I didn't see that," because it was more convenient for me to ignore the sign than to obey it.  Exactly WHO was I saying that to anyway, when it was only me and God in the car?  You can't lie to God.

Webster's defines a sign as "a posted command, warning or direction."  A sign is placed on the road for our direction, warning or command...that's right...command, not suggestion.  We don't get to choose how fast we'd like to go.  We don't get to decide if it's convenient for us to not make a u-turn or left turn.  Someone has decided that it's not safe to do those things. Those signs do not just pertain to others and not us.  They are public.  That means for me, for Judy, for Michael, and for you. If we observe the signs, it will go well for us.  If we don't, we get speeding tickets.

I guess you could say that the bible is our spiritual sign. It is filled with directions, warnings and commands on how to live a righteous and joyful life.  The Lord, our God gave us commands so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised...(Deut 8:1).  We are told to observe the commands of the Lord, your God, walking in his ways and revering him.  For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land...(Deut 8:6-7)...this land is described as plentiful, where the Israelites would lack nothing (Deut 8:9).

Further, they were warned not to forget the Lord, your God; that if they didn't observe the commands, things may still go well for them, because they are in a plentiful land, but they would become prideful and be destroyed. (Deut 11-20).

When we do not observe the signs, whether they be physical roadsigns or spiritual signs--giving in to bad habits or sin, being self-centered, self-absorbed and self-serving, we diminish the authority over us.  There is an umbrella of authority in our government, whether we like it, or agree with it, or not.  They are the ones who placed the road signs where they are-for our protection and safety.

There is also a spiritual umbrella of authority in God our Father.  When we observe his commands, when we walk under the umbrella of His authority, in Truth, walking closely in His ways, we revere him.  We have a healthy fear of God.  But when we come out from under that umbrella, we risk losing our way.  We get caught in the storms. We risk the safety of our relationship with Christ.

The first time we walk in disobedience, we begin to revere him a little less.  Each time gets easier and takes us further away from Him.  Eventually, we notice that "Hey, nothing bad happened.  I can get away with this.  I just need to do it in the slow lane, not in the obvious fast lane-the one where I'll get caught." Our hearts become prideful, and we boast about how we "can't go slow."  We risk walking...or driving down the fast lane of destruction. It's a slow process; one sin, one disobedient action at a time.  Don't "wait until tomorrow," like Judy thought she might like to do (note:  Judy did NOT wait until tomorrow.  She was late for her appointment and the world didn't end!).

God does allow U-Turns; just be sure they are not the illegal or unsafe ones.  Make the U-Turn in a safe place-in Christ Jesus.

Blessings along the path,

Worship Song of the Day: It's not a Kid's Song!  But wait till you see these kids worshipping God! We should all come to him like children!
Trust and Obey: Hillsongs Kids

This is just fun and funny!
Funny Roadsigns

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Black Bear, Private Eye, Inc.

"Oh my gosh, there's a bear!....There's a bear....there's a bear..."

I was apparently the only one of the four of us (Husband Brian, Psycho Dog, aka Foxy, and Normal Dog, aka Lucy) who saw it.  We were moving upwards on a seemingly well-traveled double track path (although we did not pass anyone on our way), when we came to a "fork in the road."  The trail markers told us to bear to the left (excuse my pun).  But ambling down the other path, which went straight, was a black bear.

Now, black bears are common in the woods of New Jersey, and are, apparently, not harmful.  They scare easily and all you need to do is make a lot of noise.  They're like snakes...and mice that you find in your home...and big hairy jumping wood spiders..."They're more afraid of you than you are of them."  Yeah, right! Just HOW, exactly does anyone know that?  I've heard that for years and I often wonder who goes about measuring fear quotients in mice, hairy jumping wood spiders, bears, and people! At that moment, I'd venture to say my fear quotient was matching, if not exceeding that of the bear, since I noticed him before he noticed me and I had longer to be afraid, thus raising my fear quotient.

At any rate, here comes this bear and how is it that I was the ONLY one who noticed it?  Aren't dogs supposed to have a keen sense of smell?  Why didn't they smell it?  What world was Brian in that he didn't see this big black thing coming toward us?  I mean, the thing was only 10 feet away...ok, it was probably 100 feet away, but it may as well have been 10 feet!

I made my announcement rather quietly because I didn't want to startle anyone.  And because I was so scared, that only a small voice came out! And I guess I forgot the making noise rule.  I thought if we remained quiet he might not see us.  After about 15 minutes, which was actually about 5 seconds, but felt much longer, the bear saw us, stopped and retreated.  Brian caught a glimpse of it as we were making our left turn and the bear was putting it in reverse.  The dogs never even knew he was there!

I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Mr. Bear was following us, as if, A) He would actually follow the trail to do so, and B) He was a murderous being with a vendetta against humans.  I knew it was ridiculous, but nonetheless, I kept peering behind me (remember, I'm the one who always brings up the rear?).  I kept  feeling like I was being followed.  Black Bear, Private Eye, Inc....spying on the Flahertys and reporting their route back to Bear Headquarters.

The Word of God has a lot to say about fear-it tells us to fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 41:9). To put our trust in the Lord, because He has given us not a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and a sound mind. (1Tim 1:7). I have given you the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (Luke 10:18-20).  It actually mentions bears too!  David killed bears and lions with a slingshot. (I didn't have one of those with me, but I do carry a bear whistle now).

Did you get that picture of Black Bear, Private Eye, Inc?  Well, satan is a bit like Black Bear.   He may try to follow us, to taunt us, to destroy us. He sends his minions and demons out to spy on us-they hide behind the trees along the path of this thing we call life and entice us, quietly reminding us of our shortcomings, faults and sin--like those creepy trees in the Wizard of Oz. They report back to Black Bear Inc. Headquarters, where satan sits in his corner office, The Chief Operating Officer, pondering his importance and power over the world. He sends them out again:  "Follow the Flahertys.  See where they go. Mix up the trail signs.  Cause them to go deeper off the path, into the dark woods of their souls. Do not bother me again until you have succeeded."

But here's the thing.  He is more afraid of us than we need to be of him.  He should be.  When we have the Spirit of God living in us, satan is defeated. The name of Jesus causes him to stop and put it in reverse. The path we follow is the one that Jesus walked before us.  The one that the Lord has set before us.   Do not turn to the right or the left.  Keep your foot from evil (Proverbs 4:27).  God is fighting for us.

Corporations fail.  Corporations fall.  Satan may think that he has an impressive corner office right now-he is the king of this earth, after all.  But one day his corporation will fail.  It will fall. It will collapse when the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Messiah returns to rule and reign. Until then, we have been given the authority to push back the darkness by calling on the Name of Jesus. It's as simple as that.

So when the tauntings come, when the accusations come (all of which sound an awful lot like our own voice in our own heads), when the trials come, we need only call on the name of Jesus.   Black Bear Inc. will not prevail.

Still, bring a bear whistle with you when you go in the woods.

Blessings along the path,

You MUST listen to this awesome song!!!
Darlene Zschech: In Jesus' Name

Trail map and information about the Cooper Mill/Black River Trail (yes, BLACK River)
Cooper Mill Trail, Chester, NJ

The Gift of...Pickle?

What are some of your spiritual gifts?  Encouragement?  Exhortation?  Helps?  Administration? Serving?  Teaching? Giving? Prophesying?

I have the gift of pictures.  That's right---pictures. I suppose it could be called the gift of Encouragement or Word of Knowledge or even Prophecy. Visions.  I've moved in all of those through pictures.  Let me explain.  Sometimes I see this very vivid picture in my head.  Just a still picture.  Or it could start as a picture and the more I tune in to it, the more I see.  Sometimes it's a word.  For instance, one time I was praying for a woman and I felt that the Spirit of God was telling me that she was "Park Avenue's Finest!"  I didn't know this woman, but I told her what I had heard the Spirit tell me.  She started to cry!  Oh no, I thought, what did I say?  Apparently, this woman had grown up on Park Avenue, but it was the total opposite of the Park Avenue that we know.  She was ridiculed all her life for living on Park Avenue.  This simple word brought healing to this woman.

Another time, in a prayer group, I got the word "pickle."  Pickle???  Oh, Lord, I thought, I am NOT saying that. These women will think I'm nuts!  But I knew most of the women very well.  They were my friends and they knew that if God gave me the word, pickle, He would also supply the explanation.  So I was obedient and said, "I don't know, but I'm getting the word...pickle."  I think they did look at me like they had just eaten a know, that puckered up look...Huh?  Pickle?  Then Lana laughed.  She told us that she had been to a pickle bar recently and was amazed at how many different kinds of pickles there were.  The whole pickle prayer fiasco turned into a session of learning and understanding how God uses all of us in a different manner according to our gifts and we are all so different and unique! ...Each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:7)

Yesterday, I shared about my spiritual dryness and renewal.  During my wilderness or whatever you want to call it, I did not experience any of my spiritual gifts.  I had all but forgotten them.  Then I ran into my friend, Nancy (also of the pickle group), whom I hadn't seen in a very long time.  She asked if I was using my gifts, and I told her no, I haven't had an opportunity.  Truth was, I wasn't in a spiritual position to use them.  I was spiritually dry at the time.  

I've only recently been restored, renewed.  And in the past month, it's like everything has been flooding back in!

Last week, I received a picture while praying for someone in my car.  I was on my way to work a few days later, and  I was thanking God for bringing these gifts alive again-these gifts that I let lay dormant all these years.  I apologized for and repented of allowing the beautiful gifts that he gave me to just lay there. He showed me a picture of a Christmas tree with an unopened gift underneath.  And a little girl playing with all these wonderful toys, while the gift lay under the tree.  I didn't really know what was in that box.  It was wrapped with a bow, very pretty, but completely forgotten.

I started making things up about what's in the box-clothes--practical, yet the toys are more fun....a locket, with God's signature on was just Mary's imagination trying to figure it out.  What was revealed to me later was that what's really in the box always changes--it's what we need at the time to minister to those who need it---it's God's grace.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us (Romans 12:6).  There is no real tangible picture of what's in the box, because we can't put a tangible label on the contents.  

He gives us many gifts-some are spiritual gifts, some are talents, and some are the gifts of the Spirit, which we ALL have. The point of the picture though, is that the gift is always there.  It's beautiful---the most beautifully wrapped gift, and the contents are exactly what we need, but so often we overlook it or ignore it in favor of something more desirable to us-something that might give us temporary satisfaction.  Something that's easier to put together than what's in the box.  Something that tastes better than what's in the box.  Something that feels better or looks better on us than what's in the box. But the box is always there, just as God is always there.  The box is always under the tree, because it's like Christmas all the time if we soften our hearts, open the eyes of our hearts and allow God to enter those rebellious, scary parts of us which deny or ignore the gift.  We're afraid, we're tired, we're comfortable, we're lazy...whatever...but God doesn't move.  

He just waits.  He picks up the gift when we are ready and hands it to us.  He says, excitedly, "Go ahead!  Open it! You're going to love it!  When I saw it, I thought of you!  I HAD to get it for you!"  "It's perfect for you!"  Think of how we would disappoint him if we say, "Oh no, I can't."  or "Take it back.  I can't accept this."  Or worse, "I don't like it.  Can I exchange it?  Maybe get a gift card?  This way I can just get what I want."  Oh, I don't ever want to say that to Him! 

May you always be open to receive the gracious gift of Jesus.

Blessings along the path,

Song of the Day:
For you Country fans, here's a song for you
Jessica King: The Gift of Grace

Stream of Consciousness-pickle--Christmas--gifts---
Legend of the Christmas Pickle

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Have Great Plans For You

I have been spiritually dry for a loooooong time. Like years. I don't even know if spiritually dry describes it.  I felt almost dead inside.  I just didn't care.  I didn't want to connect with anyone at church; I didn't even want to GO to church; I only went because of Brian.  If left on my own, I most likely wouldn't have gone.  Prayer?  Pretty much non-existent.  I didn't even seem to know how to pray when I tried.  When I picked up my bible, it was just words. I dreaded people asking me to pray for them because I wasn't sure I even knew how anymore.  The words just wouldn't come. I cried out to God to give me the "want to" because I didn't even have that!

Then I went to a Joyce Meyer conference.  It was my fifth one.  I never tire of Joyce!  I started to get some of that excitement back.  I was enjoying worship with Matt Redman, and Christy Nockels, and it was during one of Matt Redman's songs (link is included at the end of this blog) that I heard this voice say, "Mary..."  Oh, I knew that voice.  It was the voice of the Holy Spirit calling me, wooing me.  He wanted to speak. So I listened.  He spoke to my spirit and said, "I have great things planned for you."  Really?  

He reminded me of a ministry he'd given me 15 or so years ago.  I hadn't even been THINKING of that.  He told me that He hadn't removed the anointing.  He hadn't forgotten me and hadn't forgotten what He told me all those years ago.  He had great plans for me, if only I would soften my heart, open my heart to hear what He wants to say.

It was the breakthrough I needed. Of course, I bawled.  And I wrote in my notebook. As fast as I was writing, He was giving me more.  If we listen for the voice of God, He will speak to us.  Sometimes, it's just a word.  We have to trust that word and He will give us more.  I find that if I just start writing, He gives it to me.  I don't think, I just write. Because it's not about my creativity at that point.  It's not about getting the words right.  It's about tuning out the distractions and tuning in to Him to hear what He wants to say. He will speak to us if we invite Him to.

I went home on a spiritual "Cloud-Nine."  It was back.  The fire had been rekindled.  I couldn't just conjure it up on my own.  I tried that.  It didn't work.  Yes, I could have sat down with my bible every morning and read the (dry) Word out of discipline. I could have gotten out my prayer list and gone down the list with a bless this one and bless that one. But I don't think God wanted that. He didn't want my rote prayers.  He didn't want me to pray if I didn't really believe.  He doesn't need our prayers and our quiet time.  That's for us.  

Has God told you something and it hasn't come to pass?  How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O Lord my God...(Psalm 13:1-3). Why would you give me these gifts and not an outlet to use them?  He has not forgotten you. 

Or maybe you are spiritually dry, like I was.  You might even be good at pretending, like I was.  You've tried everything.  You've called out to God, and wonder why He isn't answering.  You might wonder why He wouldn't give you that fire in your belly like you once had.  Why wouldn't God want you to have a fire that burns for Him, when you truly desire it?  You've gotten on your face and repented.  Nothing.  Silence.  Where is God? Why O Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

He hasn't moved.  He is still where you left Him. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters...He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16, 19).  Because He delighted in me...He delights in you!!!

Consider the Psalms.  Many of them begin with a lament but as the psalmist works through his issues, he comes out on the other end-praising and thanking God and telling us of the wonderful attributes of God.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I compromised.  It's a slow fade sometimes.  You compromise once, it's easier to compromise a second time.  The further I got away, the further I was drawn away.  I was always aware of the presence of God.  I never doubted that He still loved me.  But He allowed me to choose.  And too often, I chose the ways of the world. We cannot live in the ways of the world and live in the ways of the Kingdom.  We have to choose. 

I'm so grateful for my "wilderness" experience because I knew what I was missing and longed for it.  And I now have a maturity I once lacked...and a desire, a real desire to help others along the path.

Blessings along the path.

after that song, Christy Nockels sang one of my favorite songs, which caused me to hear God even more clearly

On the Trail With God

Last week, my husband, Brian and I and celebrated our 12 year anniversary by playing hooky from church to go on a long hike.  It was a beautiful fall day, and we decided to tackle the "Grand Loop Trail" at Jockey Hollow National Park. It's 6.5 miles, so we packed a lunch, set our mind to a several hour hike along with our Australian Cattle Dog, Psycho Dog (aka Foxy, aka the Smart One) and the Golden Retriever, Normal Dog (aka Lucy, aka the Pretty One).

Most trails we hike are single track, and Psycho Dog typically wants to be in the lead.  Since Brian is her "person", he takes her and I take Lucy (I'm Lucy's "person").  This means that more often than not, I'm relegated to bringing up the rear, so I can't usually see much more than about 2 feet in front of me.  Brian is my announcer-"Joggers coming."  or "Hikers coming with two dogs."  This means, "Put the dogs onto a very short leash and pull over."  because Psycho dog doesn't like most people or dogs, and Normal Dog acts as if she has never seen anyone ever before and is thrilled to make human or canine contact.  They both need to be reeled in.

I told Brian at one point last week when he alerted me to something like tree roots in the path, that I can't see more than two feet in front of me, so even though his commentaries were seemingly silly and needless, I did actually appreciate them.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have known what was ahead.

It was at that moment, on the trail, that I realized that is exactly where God wants me.  If I am to follow God-I mean, really follow Him, it means that I most likely won't know what to expect until it happens.  He desires for me NOT to know the outcome of a circumstance or a situation.  Otherwise, why would I need to trust in Him?  What would I need faith for?

My husband's proclamations were not unlike those of God-all I needed to do was to walk behind him, look at the trail right before me, and listen to what he says.  To trust that Brian would alert me when I needed to know what to expect ahead.

God is like that.  In Psalm 119:105, the psalmist states, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path."  Most of us have heard some teaching at one point or another in our lives on this verse; something like "How far does a lantern light?  Not far-just enough to light where you're putting your next step.  That requires a lot of faith!"  True---but there is more that verse, that psalm.  First, it's a very long psalm-176 verses!  Try memorizing that one!

I started to count how many times the words "precepts," "laws," "words," "decrees," "promises," "commands," "ways," or "righteousness" appeared in that psalm.  I lost count, but noticed something else instead.  With the exception of maybe 2 or 3 verses, EVERY VERSE uses one of those words! The whole psalm is about taking delight in and coming under the authority of God!

Whether it is lighting the path before me, letting me know that the trail continues this way; walk in it, stay close to God so you don't get lost...or whether it's trusting the Voice ahead to alert me of who or what is coming my way, and maybe I need to confront it, maybe I need to get on a short leash with God and pull over...the bottom line is that His Word and His Ways, His Precepts and His Promises, His Commands and His Laws are there to help me (v173), to give me delight (v174), to sustain me (v175), to deliver me (v153, 170), for my understanding (v169), for my salvation (v166) as I walk the path with my God.

He is near (v151).  How could I want to be anywhere but close?  Why would I choose to know what lies ahead when it is more pleasant and peaceful to know what lies just in front of me? It's far more exciting to enjoy the journey, knowing that my Protector will alert me of what I need to do when faced with opposition!  That's called trust.  He will give me what I need when I need it.  That's called grace.

For you NJ Hikers-try this:  Although it's 6.5 miles, we actually did it in just over 2!

Grand Loop Trail

Worship Song of the Day