I will not be shaken

“I keep the Lord always before me.  With Him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.”  Psalm 16:8

Are you aware of God’s constant presence with you?  If He was sitting next to you, whispering to you, would you hear Him?  If He stood behind you and gently pulled a strand of hair to get you attention, would you notice it?

Over the summer, I bought my girls each a tree frog.  When it was feeding time, I went to feed them live crickets.  In doing so, I removed the top lid from the terrarium and placed it on the ledge the terrarium was seated on.  I had only noticed one frog when I began to place the crickets inside.  I just figured the other frog was under the moss.  When I went to put the lid back on, as I picked it up I noticed something had fallen off the lid.  I quickly realized it was a frog.  I screamed and jumped backwards, dropping the lid.  Yesterday, I was met with a similar fear of a small reptile.  As I was eating breakfast with my kiddos, my daughter began to get my attention and was pointing down at the table within one foot of my plate.  When I realized that she was pointing at a lizard, I jumped and screamed creating quite a bit of excitement and adventure in catching the lizard.

You may say, what does the presence of God have to do with tree frogs, lizards and a screaming woman?  Actually it has an interesting perspective and parallelism.  You see, in either case – the instance with the tree frog and with the lizard – I did not see the small creature right away.  I was not expecting either to be within my personal space and when I did notice I was very startled.

It can be the same way with God.  When we are not attentive to our relationship with God, we may not recognize His presence or His call to something He is wanting us to do or say.  When we finally realize God is there, we may become startled, especially if He is calling us to something and we are headed the other direction.  On the other side of the coin, we may not have a relationship with God and are shaken by many things in our lives, especially in moments of struggles.

The very essence of it is that God is always with you and it is your attentiveness to your friendship with Him that is the key to all things in your life.  God has paved the road in front of you.  He has constructed the scenery along the path and He is directing you.  It is your awareness of Him along your journey that creates the peace in the adventures of the joy filled moments and the painful moments.  Being aware that God is on the journey with you carrying your baggage when they are too heavy and running carefree along the countryside when there are none to carry prepares you so that you won’t be surprised, but filled with peace and excitement.

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Although He is always near, God does not force Himself into any of our lives but if we nurture a relationship with Him and know He is “at [our] right hand, [we] shall never be shaken.”  Even in the biggest trials along our journey, we will not be overcome.

Are you nurturing your friendship with God, tuning in your awareness to His presence?  Will you notice when God taps you on the shoulder or whispers to your conscience?   Are you prepared for the unexpected or will you be startled?

When the unexpected comes to visit, fear may stop in to visit as well but it can turn into peace knowing that God is present guiding you in all things.

Just say YES

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Luke 1:46-47

Have you had intentional or unintentional moments when you did not say yes to God when He called you to something?  Have you brushed that feeling off, that little nudge to help the person on the side of the road or the homeless person at the corner?  Perhaps you keep telling yourself you will write that book, talk to your friend about going to church or serve in that ministry you keep being asked about?  Sometimes I think procrastination and fear of stepping out of our comfort zone are Satan’s favorite in keeping us from saying YES to God in the moments He is calling us.

What if Mary procrastinated or just didn’t feel comfortable saying YES when St. Gabriel told her she was chosen by God to carry and deliver His son.  What would that story look like?  Would the Bible end at the Old Testament?  Would Christmas even be a day of celebration?  What about Easter?  What about us?  What would life be like for us sinners?

I think it’s interesting to look at salvation history if Mary had not said YES, if she had not trusted God and His plan for her.  Seriously, could you imagine the fear she must of had, being so young and told that she would be the mother of God’s son?  The fear of potential shame of being pregnant and not for the one she was betrothed to?  In our world that’s a scary thought and would be considered a heavy burden.

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In this perspective of Mary’s YES, I think about the many times that I have said NO out of fear or I procrastinated something that perhaps God was calling me to do.  I wonder how much richer life would be if I said YES and trusted God at least 75% of the time when He is nudging me.  I honestly wish I could just kick FEAR to the curb and didn’t make so many excuses of why I don’t have time to do something except put it off.  As I’m writing this, I’m procrastinating writing two other pieces because I’m afraid of what others may think about it.  In fact, my plan as my day started in prayer was to spend my day writing.  I found so many menial tasks to do today and didn’t pull my laptop out until 8 pm.  At that point my mind is restless and ready for bed.

Some time ago, I noticed an elderly man on a chilly morning sitting near the curb in front of a department store.  I felt this nudge to give him some cash and then began to talk myself out of it.  I could feel this sense deep within me to help him out.  I drove by where he was and lowered the window.  Gave him the cash I had.  The smile on his face and the words of blessings that he spoke told me that this was a God moment.  I’m not sure what that little bit of cash was able to do for this gentleman but that wasn’t for me to know or understand.  I was only to say YES to the feeling in the pit of my stomach to do something that would make some difference in God’s plan.  What if I had just kept driving?  Would God have nudged someone else?  Would that person have helped him out?  Would that poor elderly man been able to get something warm to eat or drink?  What if this man was the face of God calling me, calling you to compassion and mercy, love and kindness?

When St. Gabriel came to Mary, did she know or understand God’s plan?  Or did she just trust that God knew what He was doing and she was His humble servant?  I’m always astonished by Mary’s model of trust.  She is one of the greatest example of trust alongside Abraham in my opinion.  This Christmas as we celebrate, let’s take a minute to thank Mary for her YES and ask Jesus for the courage to resemble the trust that His mother had in accepting God’s plan for her, for Him and for us.  Without her YES – would we be celebrating Christmas, would we celebrate Easter, would we have eternity to look forward to?

Have you noticed the sprinkles decorating your faith

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life…” John 14:6

With the holidays coming around the corner, many of us will be making some yummy goodies.  Some of them may be sprinkled with little candies for decoration or added flavor.  You will bake and decorated them with either joy or stress of trying to bake them with a ton of other holiday things to do.  Either way those who delight in them are filled with sweet joy as they admire and taste your delicious and beautiful holiday treats.

Making holiday treats sprinkled with decorative candies is a way that many people celebrate and share their love during the holidays.

So what about our faith?  Are there times when God sprinkles your life with sweet grace decorating your faith and trust in Him?

The past few days, I have seen so many simple graces sprinkled upon my faith guiding me to trust in God’s divine will in my life.  These sweet sprinkles have come in several different ways to remind me of His presence and His hands in all that is surrounding me.

Just the other day, I found myself praying for guidance in a circumstance in my life and when I was calling out to God, I received a message from a sweet sister in Christ that began with “Lord, thank you that you are near when I call upon you.  Today, I cry out to you for help…”

Today, I hear the song by Pat Barrett “The Way (New Horizon)”, not once but twice on the radio when I got into my car.  The sprinkles began to pour out two days ago when the verse John 14:6 was playing in my head reminding me that Jesus is my way, truth and life as I lean on Him and the Word of God, placing my trust in His hands.

You may ask what does this have to do with baking and sprinkles?  Often I think we walk through our journey of faith going through the motions of going to church, reading our Bibles, may be doing some Bible study.  And often as this is intermingled into everything else in our lives, we don’t realize the sweet decorative sprinkles God is pouring out in our faith through reminders of His presence and His will in our lives in some of the small things that align with where we are in a moment.  Being open to seeing, hearing, feeling God’s presence reveals a beautiful, decorative faith of trust.

I’m often amazed at the little things that remind me of His presence, His love, His protection, His promise and His mercy.  God hears every word we say.  He knows every thought we have.  He knows our circumstances, our pain and our joy.  And just when we least expect it, He sends us little sprinkles to reveal Himself in that present moment, decorating our faith with His love.  Just as in baking for the holidays, we may be in a joyful moment or a stressful one but His decorative sprinkles will always fill us with joy and delight as He shares His love for each of us, His children.

Listen to the lyrics in the song by Pat Barrett, “The Way (New Horizon).”

Find yourself in the minefields often?

Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.  Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”   Ephesians 6:10-17

Ever feel like you are at war?  Fighting a battle you feel you can’t win?  Do your battles tend to be with people?

I work in an environment that is primarily men.  In fact, I spend about 95% of my time around men at work.  Often times they humor me with their comments.  One day, we were sitting talking and they began to laugh and started describing images of me putting war paint on under my eyes.  I often do go to battle for these men as they are my direct reports and as their leader, I do my best to be their voice.  Although I thought it a funny image, I later began to reflect on that image of putting on war paint to go to battle and what do I put on to fight my personal battles in my life.  I’m not sure war paint is the answer.  Seriously, what purpose would that solve if you weren’t using it to camouflage yourself as you try to sneak up on the enemy?

Almost every day, we are faced with battles in our lives.  Sometimes those battles start the minute we open our eyes until the time we go to bed.  So how do we best fight these battles?  In Ephesians 6:10-17, I think we are given the perfect recipe for fighting the war – putting on the armor of God.  We may not see that armor as being effective if we don’t realize that our battle is not with the person beside us, but our fight is “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”  Until we realize that key point, we talk until we are blue in the face, shout as loud as we can, resist doing kind things, and in some cases retreat in silence and solitude.  The flesh and blood placed in front of you, the one you are struggling with is not your enemy.  In fact, God placed that person in your life or allowed that person in your life for some reason.  I guarantee that.

When I begin to unpack Ephesians 6:10-17, the first thing I notice in verse 10 – “Draw your strength from the Lord.”  That first verse tells me that the key to putting on the armor is to first trust God in your weakness and let Him be your strength.  In verse 14, St Paul tells us to gird our loins in truth, to prepare and strengthen ourselves in God.  He also tell us to be clothed with righteousness as a breastplate.  In the book of Wisdom 5:16 it says that God will “shelter [the righteous] with His right hand and protect them with His arm.”  So put your armor on, prepare yourself with God’s strength, His truth and allow Him to protect you by wrapping His arms around you.  In verse 16, St Paul tells us to hold our faith as a shield, protecting us from the arrows.  When it feels like your struggles are piercing you and the arrows are coming from every direction, hold on to your faith – trust in your Heavenly Father that all things work for His good.  Finally in verse 17, he tells us to protect our heads with the salvation delivered by our Lord and use the Word of God as our weapon.  Being Catholic, I look upon that last verse twofold.  My sword, is both the Word found in the Bible and the Word made flesh found in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus through His death, our salvation.

black steel helmet near black and gray handle sword
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What I find in Ephesians 6 is that when I place my trust in God, allowing His strength to prevail in my weakness and Him to cover me in His arms, my faith burns like a fiery shield as I walk through the battle with the body and blood of my Lord and the love letter of my Heavenly Father lighting the darkness as I trod the battlefield of my life.  Our battles will be numerous and the field will be treacherous, but if we fight with the right armor and the right weapon, we will always be victorious.  Our God is a good God and His purpose in our lives is far beyond the battlefield.  The battlefield is where He strengthens us because it is His strength that we draw on to win the wars in our lives.  Next time you find yourself in the minefields, put on the “armor of God” and pick of the “sword of the Spirit.”

 

Where is your focus when the wind is strong and the water is deep?

“The wind is strong, the water is deep;  My heart is heavy and my mind won’t sleep; Oh can you heal, my fear it breathes; I need to know if You’re the shadow I can see;  I wanna run to You when the waves break through;  I wanna run to You and not turn back;  There’s no turning back;  Nothing in my past; My eyes are on You again; Can’t see nothing at all; But Your outstretched arms; Help me believe it; Though I falter; You got me walking on water;  The ocean’s singing, the song of grace; But if I’m honest with myself, I am still afraid….”  Walking on Water by NEEDTOBREATHE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh49C6vxB40

Ever felt like you were on the mountaintop of life and then stumbled, falling into the valley?  Or perhaps you were walking on water and lost your focus as life hit you from nowhere and you began to sink?

Sometimes our faith may be tested and we lose focus.  Our trust in God may falter.  The things we feel we have overcome and conquered find there way back into the cracks of our inner being, leaving us breathless, hurt and afraid.  The great thing about our faith is that God knows we are going to fall off the mountain or sink to the bottom of the deep waters but He is there each time to pick us up.  God reveals this to us in Matthew 14:27-32.  Upon Jesus’ command, Peter begins to walk on water towards Jesus, but when he becomes afraid and takes His focus off of Jesus, he begins to sink and cries out to Him, “Lord, save me!” and “immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him.”  When we take our focus off of Jesus when the storm frightens us, we may falter but He will stretch out His hand each time and lift us back up.

Today I found myself reflecting on my own moments of faltering as life hit me like a train.  The things I thought I had overcome and put beside me knocked me into the deep waters.  The strength and trust I felt I had built up over the years, began to crumble like a wall that had been hit by a wrecking ball.  This song “Walking on Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE and the passage in Matthew 14 speaks to my heart so much in this season of faltering and losing focus when life feels out of control.   It leads me back to the truth of my faith, that even in the moments that I feel helpless, God is there sorting everything out, calming the storm as He lifts me from the depths of the sea of self-pity, fear, doubt and whatever other feelings that are surrounding my core of His grace and love.  Of course, as I watch this unfold I see my faith and my trust strengthen a little bit more.  In Isaiah 43:2,4 I am also reminded that as I “pass through waters, [He] will be with [me]; through rivers, [I] shall not be swept away.  When [I] walk through fire, [I] shall not be burned, nor will flames consume [me]… [I am] precious in [His] eyes and honored, and [He] loves [me]…”  His truth breathes life into me as He reminds me who I am in His eyes and how to depend on Him in the storms of my life.

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Dear friends, what will you do when the storms hit and the walls begin to crumble?  When the winds are strong and the water is deep, will you focus your eyes on Jesus?  Will you turn your back on your past and walk on the waters of life into His outstretched arms as He calms the storms in your life?

The roller coaster of life

“I command you be strong and steadfast!  Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

Have you ever rode a roller coaster?  Have you stood in the line watching it go up and straight down, twisting and jerking those riding, while they scream to the top of their lungs?  Did you stand there in excitement or a part of you fighting fear of the sudden drop?

black and white roller coaster
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I think life comes at us often like a roller coaster.  As we watch from the sidelines, we anticipate what may happen and some emotions begin to form within, most often fear of what may happen on the ride.  Once you are strapped in your seat, you are secure by that of mankind.  Then the ride begins and you build yourself up with excitement as you begin to climb to the highest point.  Then it hits as you are at the top for a split second, fear of the unknown of what may happen as you descend rapidly.  Once you reach the bottom, you realize it’s not so bad and your safety belt held.  You are secure.  As the ride continues, you get twisted and jerked here and there and continue climbing steep tracks and descending.  After the ride is over, you are exhilarated.  You did something very daring, but most of all you placed your trust in the security of your safety belt and the human engineering of the roller coaster.  You can also look at it from the perspective of freedom.  On the coaster, you let go and felt freedom from your own control as you had no where to go but where it took you once it started down the track.

One can compare this to life and our relationship with God.  On the roller coaster, we are placing our life in the security of man, the designer, construction crew,  the quality control and maintenance of the coaster and not ourselves.  In life, through FAITH, we place our life in the security of God.  Of course, we have to hop on the coaster of life and let God be in control of the highs and lows, the twists and jerks.  Sometimes we may be challenged greatly as the descend takes us directly into a twist and flips our world upside down.  Even in that moment, He still has you on the track guiding you through to the next.  As you are at the bottom, He begins to prepare you for the ascend to the top, to the space freely created to accomplish His will in you, to trust Him when you begin to descend again.  The wheels will remain on the track.  As you trust in the security of His love and His Word, you will remain planted, grounded in Him.

I find myself often faltering from my trust in God.  Usually it is in that split second that I realize life has just challenged me and I’m about to descend into a twist and turn, I begin to rely on my human nature of taking control and doing everything on my own.  Sometimes, it’s not until I get halfway down the sudden drop when I realize, God is in control of this and as long as I place my trust in Him, I will stay on the track and life will not fall apart.  I know I will falter that is my nature.  But if I realize at some point down the slope, that God has this and I’m in the security of His hands, then I have still won the battle.  God will always be there ready to keep me on the track and safely secure in the seat of the roller coaster of life.  When He delivers His message of assurance through His Word or another’s reflection, it is overwhelmingly exhilarating.

How does God’s thrill ride compare to man’s?  How exhilarating is it?  Do you want to ride it over and over again?

Are you carrying your cross with joy?

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Mark 27:34

Are you carrying your cross with joy?  Where do you place your trust, in yourself, or God?  Do you try to maintain chaotic control or do you allow God to maintain perfect control?

The other day, a dear friend, reminded me of bearing my crosses.  I had allowed anxiety and fear to settle in.  In doing so, I was not allowing Christ to help me carry that cross.  I was relying on my own ability to carry it.  I was not carrying it with joy but with anger.  What she sent me to read was a reflection by Gus Lloyd iterating how bloody Christ’s cross was and that ours is also not pretty or easy.  All the same, we should imitate Christ as we carry that cross and allow Him to help us.  Over the years, I have had moments where I carry the cross with joy and moments when I don’t.  When I look to the cross, to Christ and lay down my struggles at the foot of the cross, He gives me the strength and the overwhelming joy to carry it.  That is an amazing feeling.  So, I ask myself why do I still try to maintain my own chaotic control and try to carry it on my own?

My first response would be I’m human and I’m going to falter, especially to my old habits of self reliance.  Another response I ponder on is that when I falter, my faith becomes stronger.  In the midst of that struggle in my self reliance, God sends someone or something to remind me that it is He who I should look to as I carry this cross.  Although it may still be a dirty, ugly cross, He will bring me “across the finish line” with joy running through my heart and soul, the joy of Christ.

It is not the cross that we should focus on but it is the one who is beside us within us that is bearing the weight of that cross.  This is the focus of joy, not sorrow; happiness, not anger; trust, not anxiety.

Today as I read the Gospel reading with my girls, Mark 27:34 hit me like a train as it was my second reminder to not rely on myself but to pick up my cross with the love of Christ and carry it along side Him with all the splinters, rough edges, dirt, and blood.  This is where my life shines and bears fruit.  This is where my heart sings and rejoices.  Today, I am filled with this reminder that my cross is where Christ delivers me and my relationship with Him is strengthened.

Are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Christ?  Are you prepared to surrender your self will, self reliance?  Are you ready to be filled with overwhelming joy and grace as you carry your cross, allowing Christ to bear the load with you?