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When Waiting on the Lord is Hard

Waiting patiently has never been one of my best attributes.  My trouble started early on.  As a child, I always knew where my mother kept our Christmas gifts hidden, and I made it a point, with great regularity, to spy and peek at the stash.  I simply could not wait until Christmas.

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Following The Lord’s Will

For the past several days I have been contemplating the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane praying.   I’ve been struck by the words that scripture uses to tell us about the emotions of that evening.  I’ve combed through various Bible translations noting these words.

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How the Time Flies

I remember the moment so clearly.  I was a mom of three small boys ages 4, 3, and 1.  It was a beautiful spring day so the boys and I packed up the stroller to walk down to our park.  As the older boys ran and jumped and played, I pushed my giggling little guy on the baby swings.  Not meaning to eavesdrop, but being too close to avoid hearing, I listened in on a conversation between two moms.

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Searching for the Silver Lining

I am prone to negativity.  When my tongue is unrestrained it lends itself to complaining, biting sarcasm, and criticism.  How’s that for a dose of honesty?  Similarly, my thoughts can easily meander down the same pessimistic path.  I’ve needed to fess up to this less-than-Christlike attitude and confess it for what it is: sin.  I am prayerfully working on changing my perspective. Decades of pessimistic practice have made this a hard habit to kick.  But I am thankful that the Lord has opened my eyes to it and given me the opportunity to change.

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Blog Update

For quite some time I have been feeling the not-so-gentle-nudge to do something about this blog, Life in the Van.  I cover such a broad range of topics from faith to family to food, and in the blogosphere, that is no good.

Those of you who are interested in reading more about topics related to faith and family may not necessarily be interested in my recipe posts.  Conversely, those of you looking for new recipes may not be interested in hearing about my thoughts on matters of faith and family.

So, this past week, I fixed that.  I have a new blog up and running called The Gluten Free Gathering.  Here, I will be posting only gluten free recipes and other food related topics.

Life in the Van will remain the place where I share what the Lord has laid upon my heart.  I will be sharing matters of faith, lessons, and family topics as I always have.  If there are any cooking contest adventures, I’ll share those as well.  But soon you will begin to see all of those yummy recipes disappear from Life in the Van.  They will find a new home at The Gluten Free Gathering.

So, you have some choices:

Thanks to all of you who have followed and supported me in my writing venture.  It’s something that I truly love to do.

Does God Have a Plan?

Life has been busy and complicated of late.  Seasons like this sprinkle the timeline of our lives like snow (sometimes like a blizzard).  Busy doing what needs to be done…what has to be done.  Running to and fro.  Dealing with the challenges life has.  Aging parents.  Health concerns.  The future.  It seems as though everything else gets pushed aside.  Our good intentions become just that, intentions; things dreamed of or planned, but never coming to fruition.  The out-of-control elements of the day dictate its course.  Sometimes we simply feel like we are bobbing on the waves, being pushed to and fro, struggling to keep our heads above, at the mercy of the tide.

But then there is Christmas.  And there is Christ.  The reminder that the God of all the universe is mindful of me.  He knows of my struggle.  He knows my frame.  There is the reminder that through it all God has a plan.  He has a plan and purpose for all of the ups and downs of this life.  He is in control and always has been.  Nothing comes to pass in my life that has not already been permitted by His hand.  Permitted for His purpose, ultimately for His glory and my refinement.

And in the times where doubt grips my soul, in the moments where I wonder if God is there, is He hearing, is He seeing, does He know, I am reminded that God has always had a plan since the dawn of man, since His beginning, of which there was none.  He heard the cries of His people.  He saw their great need for redemption, and He knew the course that needed to be taken.  He always had a plan, and that plan began with Christ.

This Christmas I am reminded that God has a plan.  His plan not only meets the challenges of my day but my greatest need of all.  This plan to bring a Savior is the heart of Christmas.  It is the coming of Christ.  It is God in human form, coming to live among men, coming to die, coming to conquer sin and death, coming for me.

So if this season, be it the Christmas season or this season of life, has you wondering if God has a plan, know that yes indeed He does.  His plans are unfolding with each new day, with each new breath He gives.  He sees the grand picture and is piecing it together in His perfect timing, in His perfect way.

Let this Christmas be a reminder that God, who has orchestrated the redemption of  my soul, is working out His perfect plan in this day and the days to follow.

 

When Christmas is Hard: Cobwebs and Christmas Trees

Our family has always enjoyed having a real Christmas tree in our home.  There is just something about the fresh smell of pine that draws each of us in.  We typically frequent a local garden center to select our tree.  But one year we ventured out to a tree farm to cut down our own.  Unfortunately, I was unable to go because of a commitment at church, but my husband and boys joined my brother-in-law and his children on a tree-cutting adventure.

I remember the day well; it was very cold and snowy.  My husband and I rushed around to find warm clothes, gloves, and hats for the kids;  I was trying my hardest to get out of the house on time while looking somewhat pulled together.  We went our separate ways, which I must admit made me very sad.  I knew that I was going to miss out on some family fun.

Later that afternoon we all met up back at the house.  The boys were very proud to show me the tree that they had selected and cut down themselves.  It was covered in a blanket of powdery snow and tightly bound in netting.  We placed it into a bucket of water and left it out on the porch to dry for a few days.  In short time we prepared our living room and made room for our tree.  Each of us had waited with great anticipation for tree decorating day.

When we went to bring the tree inside we noticed a number of insects flying about on our porch.  Normally, there aren’t any bugs flying about on a cold December day in New Jersey.   We took a closer peek and found that our tree was housing quite a number of bugs.  After my husband broke the news to the boys that we were not going to decorate the tree that day, he asked me to meet him in the backyard.  He then told me that we needed to unwrap the tree and shake it really hard.  We did.  Then we began to bang the tree up and down on the stump.  Finally, for good measure, we tossed the tree around the yard a few times.  I can only imagine what our neighbors thought.  We live in a neighborhood where all of the homes are within close proximity of each other.  What a show we put on for them!  Regardless, we gave that tree a good shaking and hoped that we had evicted all of the insects.

The next day we set up the tree and enjoyed our decorating time together.  The tree was beautiful.  It was full, lush, and perfectly symmetrical.  It was just about the most perfect tree anyone could hope for.

Soon after our decorating day, I began to notice a few cobwebs beginning to form in various areas of tree.  I swiped them away as best I could.  I hoped that the lights and ornaments and all their sparkle would cover over the cobwebs so they wouldn’t be noticeable.  Christmas is supposed to be full of beauty and happiness and joy, right?  There’s no room for spiders and cobwebs.  However, every few days new cobwebs appeared.  I continued to brush them away.  I finally broke the news to the boys that the tree would need to go out to the curb the day after Christmas.  So, as promised, we undecorated our tree on December 26th.   Once all of the ornaments and lights were removed, we could clearly see the magnitude of the problem.  There were spider webs all throughout the tree, on every side, on the top, on the bottom, on the outside, on the inside.  Everywhere.   Our Christmas tree looked like a twisted scene from a scary horror movie.  We quickly sent the tree to the curb for pick up and promptly began cleaning the living room from top to bottom.

It’s was all rather funny…that is except for the small yellow spiders we found throughout the house for the next year.

Our cobweb filled tree serves as a good reminder to me that sometimes underneath all the glitter and lights of Christmas, something is hiding.   For many, sadness and loneliness are a regular guest at Christmas.  While most are busy laughing, smiling, and being merry, many people are left trying to swat away the cobwebs that keep reappearing.  Relational problems, financial stress, sickness, the absence of a loved one, and loneliness seem to be magnified during the holidays.  What should be a joyous season is often one of the hardest to endure for many.

This Christmas season I would encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to extend love to those who are struggling to swat away cobwebs.  We often know who they are, but in the awkwardness of the situation, we rarely reach out.  Take the time to embrace someone and acknowledge their sadness.  Share their burden.  Cry with them, encourage them, show them the love of Christ.  Open up your home to someone that you know will be spending the holiday alone.  Wrap a simple gift.  Make a homemade treat.  Invite someone to church to hear the good news of Christmas.  Remind someone that you will be praying for them.

I’m reminded that Christ came so that one day the sadness, loneliness, and hardships of this world would be no more.  He came as a babe to be victor over sin and to give us hope.  He came to bind up our wounds, dry our tears, and to save us from the depravity of our sin.  So while we share this life together where happiness and sadness mingle together, let’s be light, let’s offer hope, let’s extend love, let’s share Jesus to the people who need it most.

Surprised By So Much Sexual Sin?

Of late, the news has been dominated with story after story of accused sexual impropriety and misconduct.  It seems that with each passing day another politician, celebrity, or public figure falls from grace.  While the depravity of man in general does not take me by surprise, a naive populace does.  I find myself a bit dumbfounded as I hear of the outrage and shock that people have expressed at some of the recent revelations.  Please understand clearly:  I do not condone such behavior.  It is wrong and reprehensible.  But, my question is this: should this trend be surprising?

It shouldn’t.

How can a people who feast on a steady stream of salacious entertainment be anything but products of their feed?  We have become an impulse driven, desensitized people who know not the meaning of delayed gratification or restraint.  Our movies, music, and television shows are filled with gratuitous sex, casual and tawdry escapades, forced rape, and illicit encounters.  Our small screens have become private portals for pornography.  Somehow all of this has become entertainment, entertainment that reinforces the idea that the fulfillment of any and all of my desires is priority number one.

First and foremost, I believe in individual responsibility and accountability for our actions.  But having said that, our society has bred and nourished the depravity which we see.  It has become part of our culture.  We both condone and support it.  We are its financiers and followers; we are its audience.   We are its addicts whose insatiable appetites and lusts allow the beast to grow and flourish.  Were there no consumers of its offerings, no fixated eyes fueling its ratings, no exchange of money for such “goods”, the depravity would have no source; it would have no life.

Yet, pornography thrives.  Sex sells.  Freedom reigns.  Soft porn fills the sides of buses, lights up the city street, dances across our screens, and draws our eye in at the grocery check out.  It spills out into our classrooms and textbooks.  It reverberates through our ears in the music of the day.  It has become the norm.  It has become expected.  It has become the culture even for many Christians.

Do we actually expect that we will be immune to the effects of this steady stream of garbage?  Do we falsely believe that what we see and hear will have no ill effect upon us, our children, and our society as a whole?  I have long told my children this simple phrase:  “Garbage in means garbage out.”  If you fill your mind with garbage, you can fully expect garbage to come out.  It is that simple.

We live in a time where the ideas of purity, chastity, and abstinence are mocked and jeered at.  Its outspoken proponents are scoffed at and made to look as puritan fools.

So I ask the question again:  how is it that we are so shocked and taken aback at what we see and hear in the headlines?  How are we dumbfounded as to its roots?  How are we the least bit surprised that so many casually violate others?

As a parent I feel like I am at war.  I am constantly fighting against this depraved influence.  This depravity seeks to suck the very soul of our children away.  I can see many of my fellow moms and dads shaking their heads in agreement.  As our children grow and become more and more responsible for their own actions, I pray that they will make the right decisions to turn away.  That they will seek out God’s plan for their lives .  That they will take all that they have been taught and choose not to get sucked into the culture.  That they will draw on the strength of the Lord to turn away from filth.  Sometimes they will choose correctly and sometimes they won’t.  This should cause us to pray with great fervency for them.

Experiencing Peace In Times of Uncertainty

Life is uncertain.  Changes and challenges often rattle us to the core with little or no forewarning.  Sickness.  Brokenness.  Rebellion.   They’ve all stepped over the welcome mat and entered into our lives as uninvited guests.  They provoke us to fear and anger, bring disappointment and doubt, and cause us to fret and worry.  Can there truly be a sense of peace and calmness amidst the storms and trials of this life?

A few weeks ago I felt prompted to make an appointment with a cardiologist.  With such a long-standing bout of Lyme Disease and the full knowledge of its potential effects on one’s heart, I felt the need to get a baseline reading on my heart health.  It’s funny, sickness and testing are not foreign to me.  I’ve never experienced true stress and anxiety at the doctor’s office or during testing.  However, this all changed the very moment that I opened the door to the cardiologist’s office.  I was overcome with such a sense of panic, like none I had ever experienced before.  And, if you didn’t realize, there is absolutely no way to mask or hide anxiety at the cardiologist.  After my initial visit, the doctor arranged for a whole host of tests to be completed over the course of the next several weeks.  One by one I completed the tests, all coming back as normal.  The last of the tests was scheduled to be completed at the doctor’s office.  This last test did not produce such stellar results.  The doctor speculated as to the cause and requested further testing.

This normally strong woman simply fell apart as she left the office.   I emerged back home a blubbering mess.  For the remainder of the day I felt such a cloud of darkness hovering over me as the tears flowed.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t open God’s Word.  I didn’t recall the many verses I knew.  I didn’t remember God’s goodness.  Instead I chose to question, doubt, and allow the seeds of anger to spring to life.

The next day the doctor’s office called asking me to come in again for additional testing in a few days.  Once again fear enveloped me and held on with an intense grip.  Realizing my weakness, I reached out to a few friends asking them to pray for me.

With a few days to wait for my testing, the Lord laid these thoughts on my heart.  I’ll call them  “The Six R’s of Resting in God When Life is Uncertain,” and they have served as a good reminder to me.

  • Remember
    • Remember the many promises of God.  Call to mind the portions of scripture that you have hidden in your heart for moments such as this.  Rehearse them.  Recite them.  Reflect on them.  Repeat again and again.   Our God is a promise keeper.  He is unable to do anything less than keep the promises  that fill His Word.  Here are but a few:
  • Reach 
    • Reach out to the Lord immediately without delay.  He knows our troubles before we ourselves do.  He is concerned for us.  He is near to us.  We need only to call out to Him.  Push aside all the other voices of fear, doubt, and anxiety and come before the throne of the Lord.
      • The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18
    • Reach for His Word.  Read the familiar promises in His Word, but delve further into the scriptures to uncover new truths and promises that may have previously gone unnoticed.  Pray that the Lord would open up His Word to you in new and exciting and comforting ways.
    • Reach for trusted friends.  Be honest.  Take down the facade of strength and ask for faithful friends to uphold you in prayer.  Tell them in what ways you are struggling.  Share specific requests.  Set aside pride and ask for prayer.
      • For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. ” I Peter 3:12
  • Release
    • We are all human with God-given emotions.  Our initial response to hardship is not to celebrate.  If you are anything like me, I need to let out one really good and hefty cry.   God understands our frame; He knows our weakness.  Cry out to Him not in anger or frustration but as a child coming to their parent for comfort.  I literally envision the arms of the Lord wrapped around me.
      • For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”  Hebrews 4:15
  • Reflect
    • Think back and remember all that the Lord has already done for you.  Look back to past valleys and see how the Lord has walked with you through those times.  Remember His faithfulness.  Remember His strength.  Remember His goodness.  Let memories flood your mind.  I often marvel at how the Israelites second guessed God and His power.  They had gazed upon miracles with their own eyes, yet they doubted God.  In my own moments of weakness, I’ve realized how easy it is to forget what God has done.  His work at times can become a distant memory.  Bring them to the forefront of your mind.  Remember and reflect on all that He has done.  He has been faithful and will continue to be.
  • Resist
    • The evil one would like nothing more than to fill your heart with doubt, depression, and despair.  We leave these doors wide open when we turn away from our Lord during challenging times.   The moment we divert our eyes from our Father, the devil will be quick to catch our gaze and to fill our hearts and minds with blatant lies.  We will question the goodness of God, doubt His love, and question His sovereignty.
      • Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7
  • Rest
    • Find rest and peace in the Lord.  He alone is in control.  He alone is sovereign.  He alone cares for His children as no other could.  Hand this over to Him.
      • You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3 
      •  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 
      • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

So, can there indeed be peace in the midst of the storms and trials of life?  Without God, peace will be elusive.  But with God, all things are possible.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Spaghetti squash is one of my very favorite vegetables.  It is incredibly versatile and a great way to enjoy a spaghetti-like meal without the carb overload.   So last year I tucked a few seeds away and planned to plant them in the garden this summer.  My son and I did just that, and we’ve enjoyed watching that plant grow and grow and GROW!  It has spilled over the garden bed and fence and onto the driveway.  It has literally taken over the side of my house, as squash plants tend to do.  It’s beautiful, lush, and full of blossoms.

The other day my neighbor commented on the abundance and beauty of those yellow blossoms.  “You must have so many squash growing in that patch,” she said.

“Not one,” I lamented.

As beautiful and lush and full of blossoms as that patch is to the casual observer, there is something that has gone terribly wrong, for not one squash has emerged.   After doing a bit of detective work and research, I discovered that there is likely a problem with pollination.  It seems that the local bees are not doing their job.  Hmph!  So the likelihood of our family enjoying spaghetti squash from our own garden is slim to none.

Of late I’ve been tempted to yank the entire plant out of the garden.  It is simply taking up too much space and serves little use other than giving the false impression that my garden is flourishing and thriving.  It bears no fruit and has little benefit aside from its outer beauty.

Then there are my green bean plants.  I’ve lost count as to how many bowls full of beans we have picked and eaten.  The eight or so plants that I have continue to produce a healthy, useful harvest every week.  If you were to take a closer look at these plants, you would see plants that are far from lush and beautiful, and to the casual observer, one might assume that these plants are not producing fruit.  There are small weeds scattered about, yellowing leaves, dry brown parts, thinness, and evidence of damage from insects.   Beauty is certainly lacking.

Yet, when you stoop down and take the time to push aside the leaves and stems and weeds of these plants, when time is taken to look below the surface,  a treasure trove of beans awaits.  These plants, though outwardly not as attractive as my billowing spaghetti squash vine, have yielded much fruit.  Even though one would assume that a beautiful plant would yield a beautiful crop and a homely plant would yield sub par fruit, these plants have shown me otherwise.

Outward appearances can certainly be deceiving.

I suppose this applies to our world today.  How quick we can be to make determinations and judgements about people based solely upon what we see on the surface.  We often take little to no time to actually look past what we see. We assign good qualities to those with beauty and poor qualities to those with a humble or even rough appearance.  Superficiality is the name of the game in our society.

The Lord reminds us that the only way to truly know someone for who they are is by the fruit that they bear.   Appearances are of no value to Him, but the heart is.   In the busyness and craziness of life, we often leave little time to look at people at the heart level.

I’m thankful for the little reminders that the Lord sends to me through my little garden.