Whispers of God . . .
Musings on God in Life
Published monthly columns
by Mark P. Gonzales
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT TENDER CONVERSATIONS
With seasons of family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up quickly, it’s no secret that unresolved hurts from years gone by can leak out, or maybe even explode when we get together. In a perfect world with perfect parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandkids, aunts, uncles, and cousins, that wouldn’t happen. But we don’t live in such a place with such people, do we? So, it’s okay. Your family is not the struggling exception.
The fact is, we’re all downcast sheep with hurts and wounds, just as Jesus saw in the multitudes who had gathered to hear His heart that day on the mount where Scripture records His most famous sermon, beginning in Matthew 5. I learn so much every time I stroll through it, including how He structured the message! Now don’t lose me here.
The way He touched and began to heal so many hearts that day in how He unfolded His heart to them, is a great template of how we can approach those icky conversations we need to have with those who have hurt us, who we have probably hurt as well. The good news is that it is a pretty simple three step approach that He used that day, which you can use to help heal the hurts in you and around you in others. The bad news is that it is hard to get up the courage to start the conversation. But you can do this. Really. So, here’s the very important sequence for a healing conversation in three words:
Jesus saw their hurts and wounds and began His message by comforting them with what we now call: The Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… those who hunger and thirst.” This is how you start that difficult conversation. Acknowledge their hurts, and your own. “Look, I know we’re both hurting and that I have my fair share of contributing to the hurts. May I just say how sorry I am for apparently hurting you so badly, even though I’m not sure how I’ve done so or to what degree. I love you and am hoping you can help me see how we can heal our relationship.” Something like that helps soften both of your hearts before you move on to
After comforting them, Jesus then affirmed them: “You are the light of the world . . . You are the salt of the earth.” That’s good stuff there! You are the light in the darkness when you walk in the room, and the spice in the chili to make things really interesting, but you’ve just let your hurts, wounds, and bitterness mud up you light and keep your spice in the pantry. You can say: “You are so special to me and to so many others, and I yearn for our hearts to heal toward each other.” Then you can get more specific with your praise and affirmation of them as a person. Once you’ve done that, as best you can in the midst of your own hurts, this groundwork of humility and grace lays the foundation for the
Jesus then began to reveal the blind spots they had that were hurting themselves and others so much. “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” This is where you can start to gently begin to share hearts and compare notes of what has happened or what was said that caused the breach between you and the loved one. This is not mutual accusation. This is mutual exploration. It is trying to find some common ground of understanding, and clarifying, and most importantly, forgiving. We all share the responsibility of forgiving because we are all parts of the problem. Let’s never forget that.
This is God’s humility, grace, and love at work, my friends. And it is the only thing that heals.
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT TRANSFORMED LIVES
“Oh no, not again, Dad.”
“I think I just saw one. It’ll just take a couple of minutes,” he reminded his kids as he pulled off of a lonely highway. He loved taking the roads less traveled on their family vacations.
“Honey, would you hand me a plastic bag?”
As he stepped out to walk back a bit to find his treasure, the kids couldn’t help themselves this time: “Mom, why can’t dad have a regular hobby like everybody else?”
“Yeah, like sports, or working on cars, or gardening or something? It’s embarrassing when our friends come over and ask us about the gazillion caps on the walls of our garage.”
“Well, this is a hobby that means much more to your dad than you think. Maybe it’s time you hear why. Look, he’s about back. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Yup! I’ve got another good one!” he said as he waved the carefully sealed baggy.
“Dad, that’s one of the most disgusting ones yet. Who knows how many cars and trucks have run over it, or animals gnawed or peed on it!? Why in the world do you collect these filthy caps off the road and take forever to work out the stains and clean them up? Just order some new ones online!”
“You really want to know?” he asked as he pulled out to start down the highway again.
“Yes!” they said in chorus.
“You think they’re ready to hear it, honey?” She nodded.
“Okay. Well, way before you two were born and before your mom and I even met, I was a road cap.”
“What do you mean you were a road cap?”
“Well, without getting into the gory details, I got into all kinds of trouble with drugs and alcohol with some friends who were just as messed up as I was. Then we got into breaking into places and stealing things to pay for our multiple addictions, until we finally got caught.”
“Caught? Uh, did you have to go to prison?”
“Actually, yes. For a little while. I was angry. Wounded. Broken. In painful bondage. Feeling totally forgotten and left to rot in prison then, and on the streets later. And that was when I began to realize had badly I had trashed up my life. I was a road cap.”
“But then I began to think about a couple of other friends who would invite me to go to some kind of church thing with them every now and then. They did it for years and I’d just laugh them off. But they weren’t into drugs and crime and prison, or anything close to that. So I decided to find them and ask them for help. They were delighted to see me, shocked that I was finally asking for help, and they began to walk with me, encourage me, and tell me about their walk with the Lord Jesus. And to make a long story short, the more I got to know the Lord, the more He cleaned me up.”
“So, the caps?”
“The caps are a reminder of what I once was, but how the Lord loved me enough to pick me up, clean me up, and still work on my messy spots. He never gives up on me, and I never give up on the dirtiest cap I find. Those aren’t caps on our garage walls. Each one is a constant reminder to me, of me . . . a trophy of the loving grace of God, not just for me, but for anyone. And that’s why I collect road caps.”
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT RESTING IN HIM
Have you noticed how the 23rd Psalm is one of the most often used passages of Scripture in funeral services to remind us of the comforting heart of God? Rightfully so. It is a beautiful passage with poetic depth and breath. But it also gives us a marvelous portrait of God as our “watchful Shepherd,” which can be such great comfort in the midst of all the Covid confusion and chaos we are experiencing at every level of life. But there’s a problem . . .
Depending on our upbringing, the idea of God watching our every move may have been spoken to us as a threat with a “You better be good, or else!” kind of vibe. How sad. But I have great news for you. The verses in Psalm 23 clearly paint a “I’m watching so that I can protect you” vibe that is the exact opposite of the scowling supervisor image of God that so many people mistakenly have. No, my friend, He is our watchful Shepherd . . .
He makes me lie down in green pastures. Why? Because we run ourselves ragged with crazy schedules, ridiculously long “do-lists,” and frenzied decisions we have to make in our fast paced, over-choice world. Plus, as one speaker put it: “Human beings are the only species that when they get lost, they run faster.” But these are the times when God whispers: “Come away, My son, My daughter. Let’s find a meadow to eat and rest a while. Ahhh….”
He leads me beside still waters. When our hearts and minds turn into boiling seas from life’s frequent storms, that is the time to let Him lead us to still waters, to still our souls, to better hear His guiding whispers. As the Lord says in another Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
He restores my soul. These quiet times above are when the Lord restores and heals our ravaged souls which are constantly under attack by so many angry and damaging remarks, accusations, arguments, betrayals, solicitations, seductions, and philosophes in our graceless world. These are the tragic consequences of selfish and sinful hearts that not only impact our lives, but the lives of those around us. Which is why we need a Savior.
He comforts me in valley shadows. Whether it is in the multiple valleys of our lifelong journey and even in the “valley of the shadow of death,” He is always with His own . . . right beside us . . . inside of us . . . to calm our fears and take us through to the other side of our struggles, and the other side of our transition from this temporary life on earth, to an eternal life in heaven, to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
With a Shepherd like that, I am totally good with being a lamb, always under His watchful eye and often nestled in His caring arms. I don’t need to know everything He’s doing or even understand His ways . . . because I am learning to trust Him . . . and learning to cherish being on a “need-to-know” basis so that I don’t have to carry all the extra weight. That’s not my job, anyway. It’s His. So, I can rest in Him and be sent out to do things in Him. Whenever He says. Whatever He says. And all the while He’s keeping watch. Because He loves me. And He loves you.
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT BEING COVID-WISE
In a perfect world, everyone would agree on everything in total clarity, as we ride our unicorns and dance on rainbows. Instead, we have a real world with widespread disagreement, little clarity, no unicorns, and water vapor rainbows. So why are we so angry, critical, and reactive to all the disagreements about Covid info, stats, protocols, politics, tests, and vaccines? The short answer: fear, grief, and especially distrust.
Fear of the future and the unknown doesn’t need much explanation, but it does bear mentioning that when we are fearful, thinking and acting rationally typically go out the window. The same thing is spawned by our universal grief and its five stages (denial; bargaining; anger; depression; acceptance) over losing a very familiar way of life with the coming of Covid-19. In short, with fear and grief at play, we can’t easily think or act straight, thus, the tremendous lack of clarity. Which brings us to DISTRUST!!!!
As I’ve been reading, watching, talking, and working through so much conflicting information about Covid-19 from so many sources, at the end of the day, it is pretty apparent to me that it all comes down to who do you trust, or NOT!!!! So, here is my humble offering of how to try to get a bit of Covid clarity about who or what to trust.
Politicians and Parties. Are your views on Covid issues driven more by your reflexive trust in your chosen politicians and party, and your passionate distrust of the other guys, or by medical professionals and agencies whose training and focus are on health issues? (Be brutally honest with yourself on this one.)
Professional Media. To what degree are your views on Covid issues fueled by the degree of your distrust in news media and your belief that they are driving a particular agenda?
Social Media. When reason has been largely displaced by emotion in decision making (as most will admit is at play in political elections and life in general), to what degree are your views on Covid issues based on presumptuous and even ignorant rhetoric on social media?
The FDA and CDC. To what degree do you trust or distrust these two agencies staffed by health care professionals whose focus is to do their best to issue recommendations and policies that would best protect the public at large? If you distrust them, which of the non-medical sources above have impacted your view of these medical agencies the most?
Medical Consensus and Dissent. Now it gets a bit tougher when we admit that not all medical professionals agree on how to assess, interpret, and draw conclusions from tons of research, data, and stats regarding Covid-19, vaccine options, and effective protocols. But what else is new? Professionals in disagreement is true in business, investing, diets, education, church, law enforcement, law, government, the Supreme Court and so on. And how do we make rational decisions in the face of disagreements in these arenas? We typically go with the consensus opinion, gratefully comply, and take the minority dissenters with a grain of salt. Unless we are into . . .
Conspiracy Theories. The FDA, CDC, corporate boards, government officials, school administrators, church leadership, and the like, deliberate hot issues (often and appropriately behind closed doors) until they can come to a consensus (rarely unanimous) decision regarding policies that impact those they serve. If we trust them, we accept and comply with their policies. If we think they are conspiring against us (severe distrust), then we don’t. So, regarding Covid-19, what would be the source and basis of your belief in a conspiracy theory?
Quasi-clear decisions. It might help to remind ourselves that many decisions in life are quasi-clear, not crystal clear, and so it will be with your Covid decisions on masks, social distancing, quarantines, vaccines, testing, etc. That’s okay. Take a deep breath. Now, consider . . .
Agreement and/or Accommodation. All married couples soon discover they will never agree on everything, and hopefully they learn to graciously accommodate their spouse’s extra sensitivities as needed. We will continue to find ourselves at that crossroad with each other in our country, every day, in the months, and maybe even years ahead. While we may not be able to trust each other enough to agree, I hope and pray we can trust each other enough, and think clearly enough to accommodate as many of the protective Covid protocols as our consciences will allow. As the good book says, let’s love and serve one another.
Our Skew Normal
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT OUR NEW COVID-CRAZY WORLD
After writing about our Corona-coaster and our National Grief the last two months, now that we’re down the road a bit together in this radically changed world, I’ve been trying to get a feel for what the new normal might look like. Actually, right now I am thinking most of us may already be seeing it, but we either can’t quite articulate it, or if we can, we may just not want to say it out loud. It’s a bit scary. But that’s why it’s probably best to get it out and start talking about it, so here’s my emerging take for us to consider:
The new normal is, and will most likely continue to be, a constantly twisting, turning, and checkerboard kind of thing. In short, it will be a “skew normal,” which is kind of an oxymoron when you stop and think about it.
The word “normal” typically refers to the idea of familiar activities, accepted responsibilities, and fairly predictable routines and rhythms of life that are pretty well agreed upon by the population in general.
Pre-Corona, all the above was supported by granite pillars of life such as work, school, church, government, agencies, stores, restaurants, and tons of entertainment options, recreational outings, and sporting events to enjoy. Even our personal, annual calendar revolved around the cultural pillars of the start and end of the school year and various sports seasons. Now, all those things have become skewed, as those granite pillars have morphed into Jello and can no longer support our sense of “normal.”
In addition to that, every day we are all dealing with hefty things like the COVID-19 spike… reopening strategies… sanitation practices… new ministry platforms … financial uncertainty… protests galore… uncontrolled riots… racism rhetoric… business closings… family tension… political mudslinging… oh, yes, hunger, fear, frustration, anger, depression, sin and fierce disagreement about our best next steps culturally and individually. But, don’t despair, my friends. There is hope. Great hope. There is a light in this darkness.
You see, during sunny days and smooth seas, a lighthouse is pretty much ignored by seafarers as it blends into the landscape as a lovely bit of décor, while its life-saving purpose is largely ignored and forgotten. It is only when the skies get dark and the seas get rough that the real reason for the lighthouse emerges and is greatly appreciated as a guiding light to safety and security.
In our case, as we try to adapt to the dark and stormy “skew normal” in our land and lives, the Lord Jesus really is our only true Light of the World. While He’s been a nice bit of spiritual décor in prior seasons of brightness, plenty, and normality, it is His real purpose as our Savior that is coming into focus now. That’s why the Bible says:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It’s really true. He’s really true. And the more you find your sense of peace, safety, and security in Him, the less your boat will be tossed about in the skew normal that lies ahead as the watchmen on the masts cry out: “Lord, ho!”
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT COVID-19, RIOTS & RACISM
As I write this to meet deadline, we have been seeing a couple of weeks of protests, riots, and looting erupting all over the country right in the midst of a nation, no, make that a planet, trying to cope with multi-layers of the medical, social, governmental, and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you ever imagine we would find ourselves seeing so much turmoil across the country here in the United States of America? What do we make of this, and what can we do to cope with all of this, much less fix it?
While we all know there are no quick and easy fixes, there are a couple of things that have come to my heart as I have been watching, praying, and talking with others about this new world in which we find ourselves.
First of all, although we are seeing tons of finger pointing, accusations, chanting, and diatribes in the streets and in media about what the “real reasons” and “key issues” are, and while there is definitely a dimension of truth there, I am thinking we are missing a bigger and deeper point: We are, and have been, a NATION IN GRIEF for a very long time. May I invite you to think with me a minute?
Remember the shock we felt during and after the attacks on 9-11? We were coming to the stunning realization that we really can’t protect ourselves from attack nearly as easily as we thought we could, and a cloud of grief, like the cloud of dust from the fallen towers, began to descend on us at the sense of loss of our national security.
Then, we had the near economic collapse in 2008 with multiple layers of greed, fraud, and presumption that exposed how financially vulnerable we really were as a nation. And another cloud of grief descended on our weary souls as we started to work through the loss of our sense of financial security.
This year, COVID-19 has radically exposed our medical vulnerability and the loss of our sense of security regarding our health, as well as our jobs, income, lifestyle, and over all future. All of this, together with our grief over systemic issues like racism, political impasses, and corruption in all sectors of our society, makes it no wonder that we are seeing the eruptions in the streets. Does this justify them? No. But it helps explain them.
In short we have had grief, upon grief, upon grief, upon grief, upon grief – which includes all four stages of grief like denial, bargaining, anger, and depression before we can come to the fifth stage of acceptance of our losses.
So, how do we deal with this cumulative sub-layer of national grief with its anger, despair, insecurity and hurt?
At a most basic level, maybe we should think about a time when a dear friend has lost a loved one and was consumed in overwhelming grief. Most of us know that is not a time to try to reason with them . . . nor tell them to look at the bright side . . . nor tell them they have many other things to be thankful for . . . nor say, “You shouldn’t feel this way.” And we certainly don’t berate, accuse, or belittle them for not being reasonable. They can’t be. They’re not supposed to be. Having said that, we do, however, do what we can to protect them from self-destruction and from destroying others in their grief. And we try to do so with gentle firmness and compassionate hearts, even if we don’t fully understand or share their grief. That’s what helpful people do.
Life has been and always will be an extremely mixed bag of blessings and hope along with tragedies and grief. There are times to speak and rejoice with each other about the bright side of things, and other times to cry and pray with each other about the dark side of things, all of which helps us heal. Bitter envy, ridicule, neglect, accusation, and destruction do not.
This is why we have a Savior. This is why we need one. Gracious compassion, kindness, reassurance, and hope are not our natural response to the long term systemic grief that we are seeing so clearly these days. They are supernatural qualities that come from above, and can come in abundance, IF we have the prayerful, humble heart to receive them and share them. So, let’s try to help each other, not hurt each other, my friends. We have a long road ahead.
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT COVID-19
So, welcome to the new Corona-crazy world! Has this been a dizzying and sometimes frightening roller coaster ride or what? And when will it be over? Actually, shall we be honest? This ride will never be over. The virus will eventually subside, but things will be different from here on out, everywhere. It was not a couple of towers being toppled in one city—catastrophic though that was. It was and will continue to be national economies, social systems, governments, schools, businesses, churches, clubs, restaurants and families being impacted everywhere. Things will never be the same, so let’s talk about that.
First, it is good to talk about the menagerie of feelings we’re all having. Denial only helps us a bit in the immediate shock of an unexpected circumstance. Now that the shock is subsiding for most, musing and even venting out loud is much healthier, and the safest place to do that is in the presence of the Lord in prayer. He can handle whatever you have to say. And He can settle your heart. From there, it is still wise and mature to talk with a counselor, pastor, mentor, spouse, and a trusted friend as often as you need to. Don’t try to do life alone, my friend. That’s what pouting children think they want to do.
Second, about that ride . . . while it will never end, it will gradually change. The spiked highs and lows will settle down to a few jolts, twists, turns, rattles, and shakes like any good roller coaster, and don’t forget, life actually IS a roller coaster – always has been, always will be – though the last few months have been a rougher one. So if you are still feeling pretty Corona-crazy, it’s okay. You are not alone.
So here’s a good focal point that may help:
Going back to the things the way they were is not our goal – going forward to something better is our goal.
What is that something better? With all the challenges we will be facing in the months and even years ahead, we will get to learn how to strap in, embrace the adventure, and even raise our hands with exuberant screams with all the rise and falls before us. And that’s why we have a Savior. And people are noticing that more than ever. . .
Did you know that during the Corona crisis, there’s been an upward spike in Bible sales? Churches are having more people listening to their Livestream worship services than ever attended their church? Giving and service projects are going up, not down? The Lord is with us my friend, and He cares, so here is my gift to you . . .
If you’ve been enjoying this column over the years, in addition to them, this Corona era has spurred me to create a free 3-minute daily devotional video (Mon.-Fri.) called: “Helping You Hear God,” that I will send to your email (click “Subscribe” in the red box at markpg.org), or you can find on Facebook (search for Mark P. Gonzales). Each brief video will give you a better and better glimpse of what God is really like, and how much He really loves you. And there is no better way to ride life’s roller coaster, especially this Corona-coaster, than that.
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT JOYFUL EASTERS.
So many colors come to my mind when I think of Easter . . .
Yellow is one of the first. Probably because as a small boy back in Austin, Texas, yellow baby chicks were the thing to do around Easter in those days. Do they still do that?
Pink is usually next as it seemed as though every little girl under the age of ten would wear a cute little pink dress for Easter Sunday.
Greens and blues, the pastel kind, were not far behind however as Easter apparel for teen girls and older women usually included these colors along with the ones above. And come to think of it, I believe there was a time baby chicks came in those colors as well!
Dyed Easter eggs would brighten up all of these colors to make them easier to find for all the little ones enjoying a good old fashioned Easter egg hunt.
And then there is Easter red. Red? Aren’t you thinking about Christmas or Valentine’s Day, you may ask? Yes it’s true that red is the highlight color for those two holidays, but in the deepest sense of Easter, red would be a great highlight color as well. Why? Two things . . .
The heart of God. Most people realize that we Christians set aside time every year that we call Easter, to commemorate, appreciate, and celebrate the fact that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to earth to live and die on a cross as a way for us to enter into an eternal relationship with Him. Astounding!
The blood of Christ. What most people may not understand is that when the sinless God-man called Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be crucified and spill His innocent blood, in the unseen spiritual realm, that is what will cover, pay for, and cleanse us from our sin, IF we enter into a spiritual, personal covenant relationship (like marriage) with Him.
I know that the idea of being washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ might sound pretty messy. After all, blood is one of the toughest stains to get out, right? But we’re not talking about being cleansed on the outside. We’re talking about being cleansed on the inside. The blood in your veins and arteries is actually cleaning you from the inside out, constantly! And the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse you from the inside out, spiritually. Amazing.
And by the way, I’m not saying we have to jettison our pastel Easter palette. But I am saying let’s not ever forget heart red and blood red as we celebrate Easter.
Grateful for the cross and empty tomb,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT FORGIVING OTHERS.
In my forty years of pastoral ministry, I have noticed that most of us don’t quite understand how forgiveness actually works. We give it a shot by saying things like: “Well okay, I’m sorry,” or, “If I offended you in some way, please forgive me.” The first is a lame statement, and the second is just a masked way of saying, “If you were so overly-sensitive to be hurt by my little thing, then I’m sorry.” Just doesn’t work, does it? So, let me see if I can get you started in seeing what forgiveness really is . . .
“To forgive is to set the captive free, and discover you were the captive!”
“What!?” you may ask. Okay, hang with me here. In Matthew 18, Jesus stunned Peter by saying we are to forgive people “70 times 7,” (a figurative way of saying, “all the time,” and “every time”). Then, after telling a story, Jesus also says that if we don’t forgive, the heavenly Father will allow us to be metaphorically tortured like the unforgiving servant in the story. Wow. So, let’s crystalize the point:
When we fail to forgive people (“I will never forgive ______”), the Lord allows the natural consequence of bitter blaming (an emotional cancer) and resentful gossip (a toxic gas) to hold our hearts and lives captive in what the Bible calls “the snare of the devil.” We are so blind to this; we actually think we are holding the other person captive with our disapproval or even hatred until they come to repent first. Wrong.
If that were true, then you would remain in captivity until the other person got their act together, right? But God has a better way:
First, we are to instantly forgive like Jesus did: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (“Wounded people wound people.”) Second, and harder, is to forgive like Joseph forgave his brothers (Genesis 50) for intentionally selling him into slavery! This can only be done on the supernatural level, for sure, and in a nutshell, that can only come from two confessions in this sequence:
Confessing to God personally. I John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Starting here is crucial as we let the Lord reveal to what degree we may have contributed to the wounding circumstances. When we own it and confess it vertically first, He cleanses us, leads us to forgive the other person, and settles our heart to then humbly confess that to one another. If we approach another without this, we make it worse.
Confessing to others privately. James 5:17 tells us: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Being set free and healed from unforgiving bitterness comes when we start with fervent prayer, and THEN in the resulting spirit of humility, we ask for, grant, and receive each other’s forgiveness in His mercy and grace. When we do, Jesus smiles, Jesus heals us, and our captive hearts are set free! If we don’t, we will stay chained in tortured bitterness
That’s a quick peek at the subject, but if you want to hear more, check out my website at markpg.org. Life is too short to be bitter!
Getting set free with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT CHILD-LIKE TRUST.
As I write this in early January to make deadline, I still have fresh memories of a Christmas celebration like we’ve never had before. Our three sons have grown up, married lovely young ladies who love the Lord like they do, and between them we have two incredible grandsons and four amazing granddaughters. Our oldest grandson, 11, and three of the granddaughters, 3 year old twins and their 3 year old cousin, were able to join us this year — oh, and they brought their parents with them, too. Boys I get, so I had my usual blast with my grandson, but those 3 year old girls . . . well, it was a whole new thing for me.
First, I’d tell you their names, but it doesn’t really matter because “they” were not with us on Christmas. Instead we were graced with “Ana,” “Elsa,” and “Moana,” and later “Ariel” and maybe some other princesses – I can’t keep up. We’re talking beautiful dresses, singing the songs, dancing and twirling, and my sweet wife (who finally has some girls to dote on) made sure we were well stocked with tiaras, bracelets, necklaces, scarfs and the like. It was a princess party kind of Christmas! Never did that before. And I couldn’t stop grinning.
But here’s the second thing. There was a big, constant challenge for me during those three epic days: regular invitations to enter into their magical little girl worlds. Hmmm, never did that before either.
“Papa Mark! Will you have tea with me?”
“Papa Mark! See my ballet steps?”
“Papa Mark! Let’s tuck in my baby.”
“Papa Mark! Want to come into my castle?”
“Papa Mark! Let it go, let it go . . .”
“Papa Mark! Can you skip like this?”
My wife had to help me. I learned. I smiled. I laughed. About 1.5 seconds after each invitation, I was taken in by our little princesses. Wrapped around their little fingers, to be sure. How could I resist? Their joyful hearts, sparkly eyes, and fanciful minds are princess parties waiting to happen wherever they go. And I love that.
As I think about their future, and my grandsons with their equally mesmerizing inner worlds, I pray they never lose that sense of wonder. Yes, the princess and super hero things will drift away as they grow, as they should, but I pray that they will continue to explore their worlds and their Lord with an equal sense of wonder that we should always allow for and cultivate in children. Let’s not try to “grow them up” too fast. Jesus often pointed to the children around Him and said: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Hmmm, maybe going to princess parties is helping me more than I think!
Twirling and singing with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT CONSTANT CHANGE.
Welcome to 2020! My– how things change!
So while we don’t yet have flying cars like Back to the Future forecast in the eighties, on the other hand, did you ever imagine that most of us would be carrying around Star Trek communicator/computer/camera combos in our pockets called cell phones? Not to mention Star Trek electronic pads, and voice command gadgets to play music, dim lights, and instantly search for any information on any topic on the planet. Amazing. But also dizzying, right?
In fact, studies tell us that the waves of change will not only continue, but they will be bigger and even more frequent than they are now! Surf’s up! Don’t drown! And don’t dismay. Let’s talk.
First, let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that for most of us, change is hard. More studies show that only about 3% of us LOVE change. How exciting! How exhilarating! Bring on those waves! The bigger the better! Let’s ride those puppies!
In some things I am like that, but in other things, I am with the other 97% who need more time to adapt to changes: early adopters (16% need a few weeks); early majority (36% need a few months); late majority (another 36% need almost a year); conscientious objectors (16% will not accept change). Good to know in schools, churches, the workplace, community, etc., right? So, now what?
Secondly, after knowing and admitting this reality about ourselves, start setting your heart on learning how to surf those waves of change. Literally surfing Hawaiian waves might look ridiculously easy on TV, but it takes years of coaching and practice to make the constant micro-adjustments on those slippery boards while riding a wave of water that can kill you!
Changes in life can kill your heart, soul, and joy for the future if you try to “stand firm” and resist those waves. You’ll get bowled over, dragged along the coral reef, sliced up, broken up, and spit out on the beach if you try that. On the other hand, when you choose to learn to surf them instead, well, get ready for a whole new rush and excitement in life! Just take your time to learn—get some coaching — practice regularly — and before you know it for some, a little longer for others, you’ll be singing Beach Boy songs every time a new wave of change shows up!
Surfing with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT DAILY CHORES.
As I write this in my youngest son’s cozy office in his and his wife’s lovely Colorado home, I keep sneaking a peak out of one of the many large windows in his lodge-like home at the breath-taking beauty of a Rocky Mountain range laced with sun-splashed snow, including the local majestic landmark known as Pike’s Peak. Wow.
And yes we went skiing on Tuesday and just returned from snow-shoeing through a mountain forest on this Friday afternoon, so I am still basking in the unmistakable presence and whispers of God through it all. Ahhh . . .
But there has been another tremendous attraction for me during this 5-day getaway to be with my family . . . my two year old grandson, Finn! I’d offer you a couple of dozen pictures of him along with our other four amazing grandchildren, but alas, there’s this space issue for this column. So permit me to give you a glimpse or two . . .
Since my arrival in his home on Monday, I have watched Finn tirelessly do something most of us would almost never expect in any child, or teen for that matter: joyful chores! Really.
Yes, I know that to most families, a joyful chore is an oxymoron, but this boy loves to help his mommy and daddy, not just at the beginning, but all the way through the end – cooking, cleaning, whatever. He is such a finisher, if he is showing me his little train set, he’ll bring me all 18 railway cars, two at a time, until I have the whole set! Then he’ll do it again.
But one of my favorite things is when mommy and daddy ask him to throw away some stray papers off the floor. With pure focus in his little eyes, he will scour the room and put every last scrap in the trash, then, with his well earned triumph, he will spin around, put his tiny hands behind his back and saunter off with an unmistakable spirit of joy at a job well done! I love it. I am amazed . . . before my very eyes I see a mountain sized wonder: a boy and his joyful chores.
You know, when it comes to my every day chores, I think God will truly smile if when I grow up, I can be more like Finn.
Tolerating my chores with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT HEAVY HEARTS
A missionary and a volunteer geologist were visiting a village in India to help them solve a very common problem in much of the world – the lack of clean water. The villagers were having to walk many miles every day just to bring back a very small amount of useable water to try to live on.
As they walked the area in and around the village, just a short mile away the geologist spotted an area that he thought might be a small former creek bed in this dry and dusty land. So, they followed it toward some rocky hills a few hundred yards away until they came to a large depression in front of a small cave opening. The problem was the depression was filled with all kinds of garbage, since it had been the local dumping ground for the village for longer than anyone could remember.
Checking the formation more closely, the geologist suspected that somewhere in that cave could very well be the original source of the water that once supplied the creek they had been following. So, they rallied the villagers to begin the hot, hard, extremely smelly, and dangerous work of clearing out the garbage dump that had also become the home of poisonous snakes and diseased rats.
After several days of work, they were finally able to enter the cave and begin to clear it out until one day, astonishingly, water began to bubble up from a small underground spring that had been buried for years by the cumulative mounds of garbage. With it all removed, the water flowed, the creek was filled, and an ample supply of fresh water was now available for all the nearby villages!
As I think about this in the context of all the churches, pastors, and people I have the privilege of working with, I can’t help but make the connection that all of us, this guy included, have areas in our lives and hearts where we’ve allowed garbage to be dumped over the years. Life is hard. We get hurt, lost, wounded, and then get drawn into a myriad of ways to try to numb ourselves to the pain. Distractions, amusements, and escapes that morph into all kinds of addictions then ensnare us in lifeless, joyless seasons of emotional exile. We’ve plugged up the spring well of love, peace, and joy we were in when, or if, we gave our lives to Christ!
So, why not grab a trusted family member, friend, pastor, mentor and/or counselor to help you dig a bit and clean out some heart garbage, my friend? Life doesn’t have to be a parched and joyless land. The Lord has so much to gush through you, not just for yourself, but for all of those around you as well!
Digging with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT TOUGH DECISIONS.
Though my dad went home to glory several years ago, in many ways he still lives on today in the impact and wisdom he left in my heart and life. One of the many things he poured into me as a young teen that I have often remembered and practiced the last fifty years to my benefit, but also often forgot to my chagrin was this:
“You know, son, you can learn one of two ways in this life: through the school of hard knocks using the trial and error method, or through the school of wise counsel by learning from other people’s errors. It’s your choice, but tuition at the school of hard knocks is far, far more expensive.”
Wow. What was even more impactful to me than that truth itself, was the fact that my dad, though not perfect, did his best to live that way. I have vivid memories of how many people he would talk to and how much research he would do before pursuing a major project, like building a home for our family—twice, or making a big purchase, like a car or a color TV when they first came out. Of course, it drove my impatient little heart crazy that he took so long to make the purchase or start the project, but that just gave him the opportunity to teach me that “Impatience can be a very expensive character trait, son.” But back to the two schools . . .
With three full grown sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren under 10 years old now, Lindy and I are watching them go through both schools in their life journey, just as we did . . . and still are. Really, you might ask? Aren’t you firmly and exclusively enrolled in the school of wise counsel by now? Uh, no. And why not? Well, because we are still human, and we still have blind spots and wounds from the challenges of life that sometimes jump start us into the trial and error school that gives us more hard knocks and wounds. The only good part of that is that it at least helps us give our offspring more breathing space to bounce in and out of both schools as well. Ahh, such is life.
Be that as it may, we still make ourselves available to offer them a bit of counsel here and there, and we still continue to seek out counsel for ourselves, especially from up above. The Lord is our Wonderful Counselor, you know. And when I think about how much we wince when we see our kids or ourselves paying high tuition costs in the school of hard knocks instead of heeding counsel, I can only imagine how much He winces when His children do the same. But, He is still . . . always . . . right there for us . . . willing to whisper in our ear . . . and save us a lot of pain.
Trying to listen more with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT FEELING TRAPPED.
The other day my lovely wife, Lindy, was listening to a wonderful radio preacher and later reminded me of a classic story he shared about elephants and their single ankle rope on a small stake that amazingly keeps them from running off from the fair ground.
The story involves a passerby asking the nearby trainer why the elephants simply would not yank it out with their obviously superior strength. The answer is that the same size rope and stake had been used on the elephants since they were much younger, smaller, and weaker, when they really were not able to pull free. They were, therefore, conditioned to believe they would always be unsuccessful in their future attempts to break free, even though at some point they had grown big enough and strong enough to do so. Kind of sad, but a great story, isn’t it?
Is that really true, you may ask? I wanted to know that as well. So, with a little digging, I discovered that, while it is indeed true, there are some additional and equally insightful factors beyond the conditioned response.
One story cited accounts of elephants who did break the bond of the rope and stake when a fire broke out. Another cited elephants who would break their normal bonds when they wanted to rush and meet another elephant that had been taken away and now returned. Still another concluded that, as long as the elephants were fed well, kept amused and never abused, there was no reason for the intelligent creatures to even try to break away. Thus, the mere hint of restraint was enough to keep them in place.
So, knowing that Jesus loved to use parables to help us in our lives, I started thinking: “Okay, Lord. What can I learn from all this?”
One takeaway that comes to mind is to keep asking myself if any of the limitations or fears I feel today are rooted in my assumption that my limitations of youth are still at play in my life, even though I have outgrown them, but never realized it. Hmmm. What a subtle prison!
Another is to ask myself if I have a habit of waiting for a fire to erupt before I try to break out of an area of bondage. Hmmm. Maybe I should ask some people I trust if they see any ropes and stakes in my life BEFORE a fire breaks out.
Or, how about this . . . Have I settled for far less achievement and destiny because I let my failures in earlier years convince me that I should be content with lesser goals, since I would never be capable of those attempted dreams, though I’ve grown bigger, stronger, wiser, and potentially more resilient? Hmmm. If I am continually seeing myself as weak and feeble, then I am in serious danger of getting stuck right there. Trapped again!
One last question: Has the ease of my fair ground life, regular feedings, amusements galore, and former successes kept me from experiencing greater heights and freedoms? Yikes! Another prison!
Hey, why don’t we access our growing strength in the Lord and break free of our little ropes and stakes, my friends? There is far more life beyond the fair grounds!
Breaking free with you,
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT REDISCOVERING LIFE.
I am getting a fresh look at small things in this life, especially when I hang out on the floor with our grandkids, four of the five under 2 years old and an extra sharp 8-year-old grandson. Life looks very different from four feet lower than I am used to viewing it, plus, there is something about being on the floor with them that helps me remember all the small things they are discovering from down there . . .
Chair and table legs. Adult knobby knees. Stray dust bunnies. Electrical sockets, with holes! High, no, very high ceilings. Dogs at eye level. Lots of cabinets. Oh, look, drawers too! Electrical cords.
And then there’s the joy of watching them be so amazed at small and simple things like . . .
Ice cubes. Toilet paper. Trash can contents.
Dog food. Squeezing Jello. Pouring out milk.
Tasting everything. Discovering fingers. Pointing fingers. Poking fingers. Sucking fingers. Cardboard. Window blinds. Dropping peas. Making snot bubbles. Squinting eyes. Forming words. Licking glass doors. Grunting. Rolling. Waddling. Throwing. Cuddling. Giggling. Fighting sleep. Pulling hair. Poking noses. Stretching ears. Wiggling toes. Stumbling. Falling. Crying. And making all kinds of noise, especially when they are together!
Lindy and I love it, and every time we think of them and what they are discovering in such small increments, it makes us smile. And then I remember . . .
No matter how old we are, we will always be children of God, and as His children, I believe He takes even more delight in us as we stumble through the small things in life, than we do with our grandkids. With a busy summer with the kids and grandkids at home more, there will be a ton of small things—good and bad – that will be filling the hours, days, and weeks ahead. And they can drive you crazy, or they can lead you to a fresh reminder of the delight of being on the cutting edge of discovery . . . and being a kid again . . . WITH your kids. And every time you do, God will smile, too.
Giggling through the summer with you,
Nests and Nestling
HEARING GOD’S HEART ABOUT EMPTY NESTS.
While they are having a house built out at Babcock Ranch, Lindy and I are getting to host and house one of our sons, his lovely wife, their 9-year-old son, and their 18-month-old daughter for a few months . . . PARTY TIME!
Yep, our empty nest has been reactivated, recharged, reinvigorated, and reenergized!
And we love it! We really do. But, like every good party, there are messes and challenges that are part of the glorious package, especially for those of us in the Fall season of our lives.
Our restful, autumn lives with gently falling leaves of gold, have now been pretty much trumped by four other lives bursting with blooms of springtime color and spectacular summer rains! How quickly we forget our earlier years of zesty child rearing once the pace and rhythm of life slows down. So now,
What was quiet, now is not.
What was orderly, now is not.
What was routine, now is not.
What was predictable, now is not.
Thank you, Lord!
Why do we love the disruption? Because it is a refreshing change for us, and we love seeing our kids and grandkids on the constant and cutting edge of discovery each day. Granted, we get all that in spurts as careful-not-to-interfere grandparents – nowhere close to the 24/7 dynamic the young parents face – but we get to observe the spectacle much more closely in this brief season that they are under our roof. What a gift. The blessings – which far outweigh the minor lifestyle disruption – are already starting to pour in. For example . . .
Watching and fielding our very perceptive grandson’s steady flow of honest questions on just about everything, is fascinating as we see his mind rapidly spinning and processing not just the words in our answers, but the tones, pace, thoroughness, and attitude in the way we share them. Hmmmm . . . . As for our 18-month-old granddaughter . . .
Watching her progressively warm up to us with innocent trust has been touching our hearts immeasurably – like yesterday when our daughter-in-law dropped by my office and carried her wee one in to say hello. As they got near, the little princess raised her toddler arms to me and said: “Up?” – which I couldn’t resist – and the moment she got nestled in my arms, she burrowed into my shoulder to cuddle a while. Ahhhhhhhh . . . a wee bit of heaven on earth!
So, our nest and our routine will be tattered for a while, and we couldn’t be happier. We are building memories and creating bonds that will bless us for years to come. God is so good. And by the way, His delight will be far greater whenever you raise your arms to Him and ask: “Up?” . . . and then nestle into Him for a while.
Creating a nest for nestling,