Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #4: You search the Scripture, yet you refuse to come to me.

John 5:39  “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

I used to think I needed to carry my Bible with me to school.  I thought that's what good Christians did.  I gave up.  And sometimes, as I grew older, I heard about men and women who kept a Bible on their desks or in their office.  Having a visible Bible let people know they were Christians.  It was a way to witness.   

Sometimes the Bible acts as a prop.  You put it on the coffee table.  You keep it in your backpack.  You place it prominently on the desk.  It symbolizes Christianity.  

The thing is, I never actually heard about these very good Christians actually reading those Bibles, except maybe a few verses a day.  And that's a problem.  

We memorized passages.  We explored apologetics and knew how to argue for certain doctrines.  We carried the Bibles to church and learned where all the books were.  

We certainly didn't read entire books at one sitting.  We didn't read for the stories.  And we didn't read to know Jesus.  

And in this, we're a lot like the Pharisees, who search the Scripture because we know it'll make our lives better and even give us eternal life, but we don't see that every story, every law, every piece of instructions, points us to Jesus.  And we get so busy being good Christians--or feeling bad about not being good Christians, that we even forget to talk to Jesus.  Or listen to his voice.  Or look around to see what he's doing all around us.  

When we read the Bible, really sit down to read it, we find out who Jesus is.  Who he really is.  What he sounds like.  What he does.  How he treats people.  Sometimes what he does is totally unexpected.  It's not always the way we would respond or react.  It's not always what he would do. 

And I'm just thinking that one of the most important things we can do is read the Bible and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Word of God.  It always points to Jesus. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #3: Would you like to get well?

John 5:6  When Jesus saw [the man] and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Would you like to get well?"

Some stories seem so obvious, until you slow down and start thinking about the context.  In this story, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to celebrate a holy day and makes a side trip to the Sheep Gate, by the pool of Bethesda, a place where sick and lame people wait.  The theory is if the angel of Lord stirs the water, the first one in the pool gets healed.  It doesn't say that in the passage, but I've heard this description in many, many sermons.  

At any rate, Jesus stops and speaks to a man lying on a mat, and it's clear the guy has been there a long time.  Now, Jesus is God, and he knows everything, but I'm guessing the guy looks pretty awful.  Think about it.  He's been lying on this mat for days, weeks, maybe years.  His muscles are probably wasted away, and he's probably lost weight.  Hygiene has to be an issue.  Shaving.  Washing.  

And Jesus asks him, "Would you like to get well?"

The thing is, the man doesn't say, "Yes."  He doesn't say, "Are you kidding? Of course I want to get well?" 

His mind is so focused on the pool and the need to get in the pool that he doesn't even consider another possibility.  He's stuck.  He can't move.  And getting well is beyond the realm of possibility for this man.   

He's forgotten, or he doesn't know, that Jesus is the Healer. He's forgotten, or he doesn't know, Jesus strengthens legs that can't walk and gives sight to eyes that can't see.  He's forgotten, or he doesn't know, that Jesus casts out demons and restores lepers.  He's forgotten, or he doesn't know, Jesus gives life to the dead.

And so when Jesus asks, "Would you like to get well?", the man answers, "I can't get well.  I can't get well because no one helps me get into the water when it bubbles up.  Someone always gets there before me.  Why even try?"

And then Jesus does the impossible.  He tells the man to stand up, fold up his mat, and walk away.  And instantly, the man is healed.  He gets up and wraps up his things.  For the first time in a long time, the man can move. 

And that's a great story, but it's Jesus' question and the man's response that intrigue me the most, because I think we're a lot like the man.  

Not that we're lying on mats, unable to walk, but many of us are wounded or broken emotionally, broken by circumstances and people and our own messed up choices, and, as a result, we're unable to move forward with our lives.  At least in certain areas.

And Jesus comes along and asks us, "Would you like to get well?" And we say, "We can't."

All my life I've started new things with bursts of energy, powerfully.  And then I get bored.  Or I get frustrated.  Or I set the challenges so high that I can't possibly do as well as I hope to.  And then I finish slowly or I don't finish at all.  Sometimes I avoid finishing because I'm not ready to move on.

I'm stuck.  I'm lying on my mat, dreaming of the day when I can walk, even run, with strength.  But I think to myself, this is just the way I am.  I don't think anything will ever change.  Sometimes I even like this.  I love daydreaming.  And I'm good at researching ways to start things.  Do I really need to follow through?  Sometimes I drift through life passively, and I've gotten flexible at dealing with all of life's ups and downs.  That's a good thing, right?

And yet, dreams and hopes of walking, moving forward with life, haunt me.  And I want to walk.  But I can't. And now Jesus comes to me and asks, "Would you like to get well?" and rather than say "Yes!", I say, "Well, it would be nice, but I've been like this for so long that I don't think anything will change, and it isn't that bad down here on the mat, watching other people run.  I'm able to help them!"

Walking and running take work.  Learning to move requires risk.  I could fall.
Or I can trust Jesus to do the impossible.  To strengthen me.  To equip me.
And yes, I could fall, but I'm not alone.

Sometimes we need healing because someone has hurt us.  We know God wants us to forgive, but what does that look like? And so relationships exist on life support.  Jesus comes and asks, "Would you like to get well?"  And we answer, "Well, sure, that would be nice, but it's just not possible.  My husband's been like this for so many years.  If I forgive him, he'll hurt me again."  

Or we've lost someone, and the pain of that loss is just too great.  And Jesus comes and asks, "Would you like to get well?"  And we answer, "I'm not sure I want the pain to go away.  I might forget my loved one."  And we lie on the mat and mourn.  

Whatever the pain, whatever the wound, whatever the situation, even if it's something that's totally our fault, and we're racked with guilt and shame that keep us lying on the mat, hiding from other people, Jesus wants to heal us so that we can move on with our lives and build healthy relationships.  And Jesus wants to heal the shame and strengthen our hearts.  Jesus wants us to move with him, to follow him, to serve him by serving others.  And we can't do that when we're lying on our mats.  

This year, our Life Group has chosen words that represent our goals for the year.  For many of us, these words represent some healing.

I chose "focus" because it's time for me to get serious and to finish some goals.  It's time to step into the life God has for me.  To stop getting distracted by all the stuff going on around me.  To stop avoiding the tasks God has set before me.  I need healing from fear of failure and fear of the unknown.  

Several women in our group chose "peace" as their word.  Jesus wants to heal their anxiety and their fears.  Others chose "trust."  One woman chose "breathe."  She needs Jesus to enter into the chaos of her life and to strengthen her.  Another chose "roots."  Another chose "stillness."

Whatever it is, we chose those words because of something we long for Jesus to do in our lives.  And before he can do that, we need to him to heal the brokenness.  

And Jesus comes along, and he asks us, "Would you like to get well?"  Too often, we answer, "We can't get well.  It's impossible."

But Jesus is the great healer.  
He heals broken relationships.
He restores hope and life.
He closes wounds.

He strengthens hearts and souls so that we can stand, so that we can pick up our mats, so we can walk, even run.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #2: If you only knew . . .

John 4:10  "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

This morning I'm sitting in bed, with my laptop, reading the Bible from YouVersion.  I'm not a huge fan of reading online since I love writing in margins and circling words, but lately I like reading the New Living Translation and I don't actually have a copy of that in print.

I like the NLT for a few reasons.  First of all, it's easy to read, and second, it takes familiar passages and makes them a little fresher.  Finally, in the case of stories, like the ones in the book of John, it makes them seem more current.

So I'm sitting in bed, reading John 4 for my life group.  This is the story of the woman at the well, and I know this story backwards and forwards.  We're supposed to share something meaningful, and I think to myself, "Maybe I'll find something meaningful here.  It's a pretty good story."

In essence, Jesus takes the direct route from Judea to Galilee.  Makes sense.  Except that the direct route leads them straight through Samaria, the land of the hated Samaritans.  And most Jews took the long way to Galilee.

The thing is, Jesus doesn't hate the Samaritans.  He loves them.  Like he loves the Jews.  Like he loves us.  But that's another discussion entirely.

Jesus stops to rest at a well, and his disciples go into town to buy some food.  And while they are gone, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  Again, this isn't such a big deal except that Jesus has just violated two significant cultural norms.  First, Jews do not talk to Samaritans.  And second, men do not talk to women.  And I love this because Jesus isn't limited to cultural norms.  We can learn a lot from this example.

Jesus behavior surprises the woman, and she asks, "You're a Jew, and I'm a Samaritan.  You're a man, and I'm a woman.  Why are you asking ME for a drink?  Why are you talking to me at all?"

I don't know the tone of her voice.  If she was surprised and curious.  Sarcastic.  Timid.  But she asks.  I suppose she could have ignored Jesus altogether.  But she doesn't.

And here's where it get interesting for me today.

Jesus says, "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water."

Clearly the woman doesn't know what living water is because she then starts talking about ropes and buckets, proving Jesus point for her.  And for us.

"If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you were speaking to, you would ask for that gift, and I would give it to you."

If we only knew all that God has for us, the gift he wants to give us, if we only knew Jesus, if we experienced his love for us on a personal basis, and we understood his plans for us, we would ask for God's gift of living water that would satisfy our hearts, fill us with peace and joy.

But we're more concerned with ropes and buckets.  We're more concerned with the things we think we need in our life, the problems we need to take care of, and less concerned with what God wants to give us.  Because we don't understand.  We don't really know the gift God has for us, and we don't really know Jesus, who longs to give us this gift that meets our most important needs.

And so we don't ask.

If we only knew, we would ask, and we would receive.  And God's gift would satisfy our deepest longings.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Daniel Fast Day 20: The End

Today is the last day of a 20-day Daniel Fast, and if you know my history with fasting, that's a pretty big deal.   Basically I don't fast.  And when I've tried, most of them ended early.  I had a headache.  I couldn't concentrate.  I got irritable.  I forgot and started eating.  (Yes, that happened more than once.)  

And so it's a little weird that I'm sitting here reflecting on the fact that the fast is nearly complete.  I'm definitely not bragging, even though it might sound like it.  Not with a history like mine.  

I've tried to figure out why the Bible assumes fasting.  And it does.  It doesn't say, "If you decide to fast . . ."  Not, it says, "When you fast . . ."  

Basically, I came up with a few reasons, but ultimately, this is about obedience for me.  The Holy Spirit has been nudging me toward fasting for some time now, and it just seemed good to do what he suggested.  (It always is a good thing, but sometimes I hesitate.  And sometimes logic gets set aside in favor of faith.  

And so now we're at the end, and when I typed the words, they sound so final.  Tomorrow we return to "normal" eating, whatever that is.  And right now I'm thinking about what that should be.  

Given that our diet has been totally healthy and mostly delicious and we haven't felt deprived most of the time, I want to reflect on the significance of this fast.  I mean, fasting means giving something up, normally food, and it involves some sacrifice.   

Certainly there's been a sacrifice of time.  Preparing tasty food and inventing menus and recipes to fit the specifications of this eating plan take time.  And creativity.  And then there's the clean-up.  I've been a big fan of the pre-made meals you can buy at Costco.  

But, we've eaten breakfast every day.  One day we even sat down with Caitlin and had oatmeal together at the dining room table.  We have healthy foods in the cabinets.  And when I buy fruits and vegetables, we eat them before they go bad.  All those are good things.  

And we've had dinner, although sometimes that consisted of rice cakes and peanut butter and raw veggies on the side.  We've discovered brown rice crackers, and we like them.  

Still, it's not about that.  This isn't just an eating plan.  We had spiritual reasons for fasting.  Here are some of the spiritual benefits:
  • Just as I've become more aware of the food I eat, I've also become more aware of the Holy Spirits voice, prompting me to pray, prompting me to forgive, prompting me to spend time in God's Word.  
  • Additional preparation and planning has kept me focused.  Not just with meals, but with other areas of my life.  I'm waking earlier.  I'm more organized.  
  • I have recognized unhealthy patterns in my life.  Certainly, I have recognized unhealthy eating patterns, but others as well.  Right now we're considering whether or not we want to resume drinking coffee, for example.  
Definitely this is a different type of fasting, and I'm still reluctant to stop eating for an extensive period of time.   (I think I'm good with a day, but I'll have to hear from God on this one.  It really isn't what I think I can do in my own power, but what God asks me to do in his power.)  

Apparently Newbreak is planning an all-church fast during Lent so I'm excited to revisit fasting again.  Not sure what I'll give up then, but we shall see.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #1: In the beginning was the Word . . .

Sometimes I know exactly what I want to study when I lead a Life Group.  And sometimes, I really have no idea.  We discussed reading a book.  We discussed doing the sermon series.  We discussed doing a serious study.  And all of these are good ideas, but none of them jumped out and said, "Pick me!"  

And then the group grew.  Really big.  And we wanted to choose something that everyone could do.  So that everyone could participate and share.  

And so we decided on a novel idea.  We're going to study the Bible.  

I'm the leader so I picked the book of John.  One of my favorite books.  (I understand the power of collaboration, but unfortunately, I had focused on planning my curriculum at SDSU instead of collaborating with the group.)  

I chose the book of John because the knowing Jesus is essential to following Christ.  Sometimes we take for granted that we know the stories in the gospels, but we forget to look closely to Jesus, listen to him speak through the books, and to hear him as if he is speaking to us.  And so I wanted to choose a Gospel.  And John is my favorite.  

Our goal is to know Jesus.  Not just know about him, but to know him.  To trust him.  To learn to listen to his voice, to love him, and to follow him.  

In John 10, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd.  He says the shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out, and when he brings them all of the pen, he goes on ahead of him, but his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 

We want to know Jesus’ voice.
Why? So we can follow him.  No matter how many distractions we have in our lives. 

Jesus is God, and that’s why we must pay very careful attention to what he says.  Hebrews 2 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  So that we don't lose our passion, our focus, our desire to serve him and obey him.  

We think we won’t, but we do. 

When we’re not worshiping God on a regular basis, when we’re not spending time in our faith community, when we’re not reading the Word of God, when we’re not talking to God, our passion for God wanes.  And we begin to put other things ahead of following Jesus.  

And over time, we don’t even recognize Jesus voice.  And if we don’t recognize his voice, we won’t even know how to follow him. 

John 3 tells us that God sent Jesus, and that the “one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.”  This is the reason we need to listen carefully.  This is the reason why we want to pay careful attention to the Word of God through Jesus.  

When we hear the term "Word of God," we tend to think of the written Bible.  But for the people of the first century, “word” was much more auditory.  They associated “word” and “voice” with hearing and not reading. 

So when John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us," the people he is writing to think of the words of the prophets they hear in the synagogue and commit to memory.  Jesus embodies the spoken word of God.  They can see those words.  They can watch those words move and act and respond with love.  

They can see God' glory, "the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” and for the first time, they can really know God.  

Of course, we can't "see" Jesus physically, but as we read, as we meditate on God's Word, as we discuss it with each other, we will begin to recognize God's glory, his power, his love, and we will increasingly recognize his voice as he speaks to us.  

We will benefit in other ways as well.  

In Psalm 119, the phrase "God’s Word" is used interchangeably with the words "law," "precepts," and "commands."  The psalmist tells us that God's Word
  • Keeps us from sin
  • Preserves our life
  • Strengthens us
  • Can be trusted 
  • Gives light
  • Gives understanding
In Psalm 19, David reminds us that God's Word
  • Revives the soul
  • Makes wise the simple
  • Gives joy to the heart
  • Gives light to the eyes
  • Is more precious than gold, sweeter than honey 
As so my prayer, as we read through John, is that we will long for Jesus, that we will  recognize his voice and follow him, that we will say with the psalmist, "My soul faints with longing for your word . . ."  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Daniel Fast Day 14-16: The Wall

It's 5:00 in the morning on Tuesday, and I'm thanking God for waking me on time.  I still have some lesson planning, and I want to get out of here by 7:15.  Plus, I need to make oatmeal.

But I haven't written in a while, and I think I need to.  Mostly because I want to remember The Wall.

Most of my posts have been personal.  Things I'm seeing about myself.  Or they have talked about fasting.  And mostly I've been sort of spiritual and reflective.

On Thursday, which I think was Day 13, I had a fabulous day.  The first day of school.  I drove to SDSU, a little nervous, would I connect with my students?  I prayed a lot, asking the Lord to fill me with his Spirit and empower me to teach.  I encountered several obstacles, but the Lord gave me wisdom to deal with them, and then I stayed around and ran into several of the TAs from last semester.  Definitely a great day.

And then Friday I hit the wall.  I decided I was done fasting.  No, I didn't quit, but I was done.

And the thing was, I still didn't miss meat.  I still didn't miss coffee.

I wanted to have a piece of dessert at the end of the day.  I wanted a small slice of bread.  I wanted a glass of wine with dinner.  I wanted someone else to cook me dinner.  Planning and cooking vegan meals takes a lot of time.  And I wanted to throw off the restrictions.

And so I didn't read my Bible on Friday.  Or on Saturday.

And then I got into a fight with Duane.  (Yes, we still have arguments.)
And then Cheddar ate rat poisoning, and I freaked out.  I worried, but I forgot to pray until late in the evening.

On Sunday, I spent a lot of time reading the Bible, praying, and journaling, telling God what was going on, and asking him for forgiveness and wisdom and peace.

I realized my spirit was empty, and I longed for God's Spirit to come in and fill me.  I can't do that myself.  Only the grace of God allows me to be something more than just me.

I also realized that fasting, with the restrictions and the time-consuming preparations, had ceased to be about seeking God and more about living a certain lifestyle.  And that's always the danger.

Sometimes we get to involved in being Christians, going to church, living "godly" lives, that we forgot to seek God and follow him.  The thing is, we will live godly lives as we follow him.  The two lives look very similar from the outside, but from the inside, they couldn't be more different.

So on the outside, I was fasting, but on the inside, I was merely following a set of rules.  Fasting isn't for rules.  It's for surrender to the living God.

And that's what I did on Sunday morning before church.
Sunday was a much better day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 12

YouVersion reading for Day 12 of the Daniel Fast:  2 Corinthians 1

I think I never learned to make friends when I was a little girl.  Oh, I knew lots of people, but that's not the same as being friends.

Over the years, I've learned that making close friendships requires a little effort and a lot of openness.  And that's not easy if you're super busy with "stuff."  It's also not easy if you don't like being honest about your life, if you want to look like you pretty much "have it all together."

And that was me.  Busy.  Nearly every night of the week, with church, church meetings, church events, and school events for the kids.  When I had a night off, I just wanted to crash in front of the T.V.  Even when I would have preferred to spend time with people, I didn't have the energy to organize get-togethers.  

And although I knew I wasn't perfect, I didn't want to expose my imperfections to the world.

So I joined Life Groups, but I didn't really make connections, and I worked in ministries, but no one knew me.  People liked me, but I didn't have true friends.

Duane and I did get invited to large parties, but we didn't mingle well and so usually declined.  And so we waited for someone to invite us to their home for dinner or coffee or dessert.

The thing is, we were lonely.  And we weren't alone.  Apparently other people were waiting for an invitation.

I bring this up because last night, nearly every woman in my life group said she joined because she wants to form friendships.  Some have friends outside the church and really want friendships with women who share their faith.  Others just want to have friends in the church.

I say it all the time, because I know it's true, but we need each other.  We need each other when things are going well, and we need each other when we're in crisis.  And the thing is, we never know when the next crisis will show up.

But this isn't just about crisis care.  Close friends challenge each other to live more authentically, to be more like Christ.  They remind each other of God's love.  They encourage one another to take risks.  They comfort one another in disappointment.

We learn from each other's experiences.  We learn to live for God as we watch others live for God.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul begins to tell about the struggles he and his fellow travelers have walked through, and he says, "We are confident that as you share in our suffering, you will also share in the comfort God gives us." He continues, "We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact, we expected to die.  But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead."

As I see my friend, who I know, who I see suffering, walk through difficulty, and as she draws her strength from God, I learn to rely on God in my own life.   She doesn't hide her pain from me.  In fact, she shares it.  She shares her doubts and her fears and her prayers.  And so we grow together, and we praise God together for deliverance.

These are the types of friendships I long for.  These are the kinds of friendships that build the church of Jesus Christ.

It's not easy to build these kinds of friendships.  They take time.  They take effort.  Sometimes they're uncomfortable.

But they're worth it.

My question for the day:  What am I doing to build and strengthen these friendships in my life?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 11

YouVersion reading plan for today:  James 1

We're officially more than half-way through the fast now.  I don't feel deprived by eating our super restricted vegan diet--except when I'm super hungry.  Yesterday afternoon we had a long to-do list that took us to the hospital, to Sam's, and to SDSU.  We didn't stop to eat until about 2:00 in the afternoon, and at that point every fast food joint looked incredible.  I think I was even craving McDonald's, and I never eat at McDonald's.  But the rest of the time we're eating amazing food.  I don't think Daniel and his friends ate this well when they were following their special eating plan.

At least some of the Newbreak men doing this Daniel Fast switched to juices only this week, and then next week they'll switch back to the no animal products, no sugar, no bread.  Duane and I opted to stick with the same plan for the whole fast, but sometimes it feels like cheating.  If I don't feel like I'm giving something up, if it isn't a sacrifice to eat like this, is this really a fast?  

At the beginning of the fast, my research on Daniel Fasts found several different versions, and I came to the conclusion it wasn't as much about the food as it was about the commitment to seek God.  Still, I can't help but think I should be suffering a little bit.  I have no point here, but I do think about these things.

I mentioned that our first stop yesterday was the hospital.  We visited a woman who just got out of ICU.  Honestly, I used to dread hospital visits, especially if I didn't know the person well.  My friend Rodney loves hospital visits, even when he doesn't know the person.  So does Duane.  They just believes that prayer matters.  Not that I don't, but . . .

I just thought I needed to be able to say something profound and encouraging, and I don't always come up with those incredible things when people are sick.  Sometimes God heals, and sometimes he doesn't.  Always, he asks he us to "count it all joy" when we go through suffering.  Apparently I have a thing about "suffering."  At any rate, it's not always good to say things like that during hospital visits.

Fortunately, I have found that hospital visits don't really require me to do anything besides pray.  Still, I don't normally volunteer to visit people unless I know them.

In this case, I do know the woman.  I met her close to ten years ago when she and her husband first started attending the church.  We were about the same age, and her oldest and my youngest were the same age.  I never got to know her well, but we ran into each other at unique times in her life, when she was struggling with one thing or another.  Most of the time it was her husband.

And then her husband got sick.  And then he got well.  And then he died.  Now she's in the hospital with pretty significant problems, and she's dealing with Medi-Cal because she has no private insurance.  And of course she's not working because she's in the hospital and so she's not earning any money.

The New Living Translation puts James 1:2 this way, "When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy."  When life turns crazy and hard, when you experience hard times, God also gives you a chance for a unique kind of joy, the kind of joy that comes from walking through difficulty and depending on him.

Our friend has had nothing but suffering for the last four or five years, and she's tired.   She's wondering when life will get easier, and I don't have any answers.  And so we listened, and we prayed.  And we left, and she's still dealing with all the problems.  And intense pain.

She's not alone.  As I write this, Duane just got a phone call because another friend has learned she has breast cancer.

There is no promise of "easy" in James 1.  Only of joy and endurance and patience and maturity.  And wisdom.  And a crown of life.  Oh, and he tells us that we'll all fade away like flowers.  No matter who we are, we will all die eventually.

We prayed for our friend before we left the hospital.  Of course we prayed for healing, but mostly we prayed for peace and rest and strength and wisdom.  Even if her health problems miraculously went away, she still will cope with the loss of her husband and the day-to-day of raising and supporting two kids on her own.  She told me most of the time she acts like everything's okay, but really coping with the reality of her loss just keeps getting harder.

None of us knows what's in store for us tomorrow.  Our friend didn't plan for her life to turn out like this.   I think I could say this for a lot of other people I know.  Their marriages are crashing.  They've lost jobs.  They're lonely.

And even some people who look like their lives are all together?  They're not happy either.

I'm trying to think of some point that ties all this together.  The thing is, life doesn't always tie together neatly.  And so we choose to live as "prized possessions" of the living God, or we choose to live on our own terms.  We choose to take advantage of the opportunities for joy, to grow in our suffering, or the suffering wins.  We can seek God, we can be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry," obeying God's word, or we can simply get mad at God for allowing us to suffer.

I have a lot of things to pray about.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 9

Ah.  Good day.

Today I woke up without a headache, excited to go to church.

We ate our oatmeal, and I added cranberries instead of dried apples, plus a touch of nutmeg.  It's fun to be creative.  And I read Matthew 6, talking about prayer and fasting.  And Isaiah 58, about seeming to seek God, but complaining and pointing fingers and oppressing others.  And I asked myself, what does oppression look like in the 21st century?

And I went to church and struggled with harmonies, but prayed instead of panicking.

And I got to talk to so many people, and I just have to say, I love the people in Santee.  I'm so incredibly grateful that God allows me to attend church here.

And I love the hunger for God and community in this little church.  I long for God to meet each and every one of these individuals.  I long for God's Spirit to move here and transform lives so that we can all go out and show God's love to the people around us, who don't know God.

And after church we went to Evolution, a vegan fast food joint, in Banker's Hill.  Yes, a vegan bacon cheeseburger.  I don't know that it tasted like a hamburger, but it tasted good, and I didn't have to make it.  And we ate outside because it's 80 degrees in San Diego today, and I'm thankful for good food and for warm weather and sunshine.  I'm thankful for a husband who loves me and likes to spend time with me.

And then we drove home and I opened my email to find a message from a friend whose marriage is in trouble, and my heart broke.

This is why we fast.

To know you and to make you known.  (Isaiah 26)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 8 - Without God's Spirit inside me, I'm not as nice I might seem.

It's been a few days since I posted, but I am happy to report that the headache is mostly gone.

On Thursday, I had to be at SDSU at 9:10 for new Teacher Associate Orientation.  One of my internships allows me to play a role in mentoring these new TAs.  I hadn't slept well that night, and when I woke up, my head hurt nearly as badly as it had on Tuesday, and I got a slow start.  Plus, I needed to pick up bagels and coffee from Einstein.  It looked like I wasn't going to make it on time, and I really started to stress out.

I asked Duane if he could pick up the bagels to give myself a little more time to get ready, and he graciously dropped what he was doing and left in my car.  In less than five minutes.  Which is pretty spectacular.

I got a call maybe fifteen minutes later.  Duane told me the car was gassed and suggested I meet him at Einsteins and he could hand off the bagels to me and swap cars so I would make it on time.

Fortunately I had finished getting ready and had all my books ready to go.

As I drove over, I could feel my stress level rising.  I sat a light for far too long.  The car in front of me drove too slowly.  I waited for pedestrians to cross the street.

And I got irritated.  Apparently Duane stopped to get gas.  I know he meant well, and it was true my car was mostly on empty, but I didn't have time for that.  I needed to get moving.

A week of headaches had taken its toll, and I had nothing left.  No grace.  No kindness.  No good will.

Wow.  Nearly a week of fasting had come to that.  Instead of thanksgiving for a husband who dropped his work to help me get to school on time, instead of relief that I wouldn't run of out of gas (and it really was a possibility), I was annoyed.

And if you're reading this and wondering how I could be so thankless, I am too.  I could just chalk it up to a bad headache, and I'm sure that played a role, but that doesn't take away responsibility for the bad attitude.  Confronted by weakness and my tendency to get really ugly, I wondered how I could face a group of new TAs with a smile.  I'm an  introvert by nature, and when I'm in a bad mood, I'm really awkward with new people.

At that moment, driving over to Einstein's, I did the only think I could do.  I began praying, asking God to forgive me for my attitude and to fill me with his Spirit.  That's the only way I could face the day.  On my own, I'm not as nice as I might seem.

And I suppose that's the deal.  It's obvious that I need God's power when I'm running on empty or I've got a headache or I think I'm over my head.  But I need God to live inside me even when it's not obvious.

Fortunately, I was in a better mood by the time I got to Einstein's.  But not by much.  I prayed and fought that anxious feeling all the way to SDSU, arrived at 9:11, which isn't bad, and got to the orientation on time.  Tired and with a headache, but pleasant.

The headache dissipated by lunchtime.  And mostly hasn't been back.

Fasting's not easy, but it forces me to depend on God.  To talk to him.  To ask him for help.  I suppose that's a pretty good thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 5

My headache never let up yesterday.  My shoulders and the back of the neck throbbed.  YouVersion reading for the day was Psalm 119, and none of the words made sense.  I gave up.  Presumably caffeine withdrawals last longer than I thought they would.  

Jason came over about the time I closed my Bible and my eyes, hoping for a nap.  He has a project due today and thought he might work more effectively at our house than at his.  

We talked, and he knew his project wasn't hard, but it required that he choose an academic journal article to summarize and analyze.  He browsed the databases, looking for just the right article.  I empathize with the task of finding journal articles.  You want it to fit the assignment.  Really well.  No sense getting penalized for choosing an article that doesn't apply.  And you want it to be an article that you can understand.  Seriously, some academics write in another language.  One that I don't understand.  And optimally, it should be something interesting.  

I generally go through about 20 articles to find one.  And I print ten of those out.  And I read and I vacillate and my stomach gets tense.  

It's sad when you realize that you have passed down your perfectionist tendencies to your children.  

But I am not on the verge of a major breakdown, and eventually I suck it up, choose an article, and get to work.  By lunchtime, Jason was ready to call it quits, and he packed up his bag to go home.  I walked over to him, placed my hand on his shoulder, and prayed for him silently.  

I also offered him lunch, which usually gets my kids to stick around, and when we were done, we sat and talked about what he was feeling.  

I struggle with depressive feelings sometimes, but not like this.  Always I know God loves me.  I know that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how bad things turn out, God still cares.  I might suffer, but I am not alone.  

It's like Jason lives in darkness, like he only sees flashes of light, and those flashes are so far away they only offer hope to other people. He lives in a world of "if only."  If only my parents hadn't taught me at home.  I would have friends.  If only I had  gone back to El Paso.  If only I had gone up to CSU LA.  If only . . . 

No hope.  No God.  He doesn't like himself, and he doesn't understand why anyone would ever like him.  

And finally, I said, "I wish you could see the world the way I see it.  And I know you think I'm delusional, but I wish you would surrender your heart to God."  

We talked a little more, and then I got up and took a nap.  My eyes just couldn't stay open anymore, and the room was spinning.  

I woke up after an hour or so, and we talked about the journal article he chose.  "You've got the ideas," I said, "Now just brainstorm a little on paper to get them into writing."  He took his puppy and went home.  I got a first draft of his paper a little bit ago, and I imagine I'll see him soon to go over it.  

I love Jason.  His pain causes me pain.  
But Jason's not the only one living in darkness.  

I think this is why God sent Jesus.  He saw his children, his creation, walking in darkness, and he wanted to show them the way to light.  

I wish the headache would go away completely, and honestly, I feel much better today than yesterday, but I'm grateful for the reminder to pray for individuals I know.  For people I don't know.  

Hopefully I'll write more today about Psalm 119.  I do love that psalm.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 4

I woke up with a headache today.  Again.  This is getting old.  I don't think this is caffeine related since it's been three-and-a-half days since I had coffee, but who knows.  Duane still has a headache, and it's been over a week since he last had coffee.

And I'm tired.  My shoulders ache, and I want to crawl back in bed and sleep again.  So I'm sitting on the bed with the computer open, pretending to read the paper, pretending to read Psalm 119, and pretending not to watch the news.

I finally turned off the television and started typing.  Sometimes I think blogging is like going to confession.

Last night we had friends over for dinner.  We planned this over a month ago, before we knew we were fasting. I made a spinach and strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette and pasta with sauteed garlic, onions, and red pepper, plus asparagus.  Duane grilled chicken for our friends.

It didn't feel weird, and I didn't miss the chicken.  I also didn't miss having dessert.

Our adult son Jason got to the house right after our friends left.  He drops Cheddar, his puppy, off at the house when he goes to school.   I could tell he was having a bad day.  Honestly, he's been having bad days, and it scares me.  He complained about how he didn't have roots, how not going to school affected him.  Most people, he said, have friends from growing up.  I got defensive and thought better of trying to defend myself.  He apologized and gathered his things to leave.

Before he took Cheddar and went home, he said, "Mom, it's not getting better.  And I don't see that it'll ever get better.  I just want to quit trying."

My heart breaks as I write this because I feel so helpless.  There literally is nothing I can do.

And so we pray.  And I woke frequently in the night praying for him.  Praying all kinds of things. Praying for his safety.  Praying for his moods.  And mostly praying that God would reveal himself to Jason.  Or Jason would cry out to God for help.  Or something.  I don't know.  Anything that would change things for Jason.

This is why I'm fasting.
I suppose the headache doesn't actually matter.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Daniel Fast Day 3: Fasting and Blessing and Gladwell

Today I read Daniel 1 as part of the YouVersion reading plan for a Daniel Fast.  I thought about skimming the passage.  After all, I pretty much know the story and had glanced at it yesterday morning.  Instead, I read it directly from YouVersion and chose the New Living Translation, just so it wouldn't seem too familiar.

To summarize, Daniel comes from an extraordinary background.  When Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem and commands his chief of staff to bring bring back the most educated men, who are also strong and good-looking, Daniel gets chosen.  Nebuchadnezzar plans to train and indoctrinate these men to serve him.  What's a sure-fire way to take over a country?  Get the inhabitants of that country to speak your language and adopt your culture, your gods, your way of thinking.

And Daniel says, Not so fast.  I'll serve you, but I'll keep my own God.

And as part of that commitment, he asks the chief of staff for permission to observe a special diet, consisting of vegetables instead of the food from the king's kitchen. And I don't know how many captives from Jerusalem were there, but three other men join him in this request. I also don't know why Daniel didn't want the king's food.  Some commentators have speculated that the meat must have been sacrificed to idols, but the Bible doesn't say.

The chief of staff hesitates.  If Daniel and his friends don't look as healthy as the other guys, he knows his job (and maybe his life) will be on the line.

So Daniel says, "Just for ten days. If we don't look as good as the other guys, we agree to eat your food."

But God blesses Daniel for his commitment.  And at the end of the ten days, "Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king" (verse 15). After that, they ate nothing but vegetables for three years, the entire course of their training.

And God honored Daniel's commitment.  He gave them "an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom.  And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of dreams" (verse 17).  These men demonstrated greater wisdom, greater understanding, and greater intelligence than any of the other men.

I might be wrong, but I think this wasn't as much about the food as it was about Daniel's commitment to seek God during a time of distraction.  Eating the special diet reminded him that he was different, that he served the one true God and not the god of the Babylonians.

And certainly, when we fast, we're thinking about food, what we can eat, what we can't eat, and hopefully we're thinking about why and responding with prayer.

So simply fasting does not guarantee God's blessing.  Commitment to seeking God doesn't guarantee extraordinary blessing.  However, it does position us to receive from God and to be used by God.

God's story included this extraordinary blessing.

A few days ago, I wrote about my response to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.  Essentially, I like guarantees.  Hard work plus talent/intelligence equals success, respect, acclaim, honor, opportunity.  It's the American way.  Equal opportunity for all.

But the truth is, we all have different talents.  We all have different interests.  We are born in unique times with unique opportunities.  And certain people get more opportunities than others.  My parents didn't send me to Europe to perfect my French, which I had a unique talent for, but they sacrificed their own desires to provide me with piano lessons and violin lessons, and they encouraged me to read and embrace learning.  I could have been born in Cameroon, where most children only get a primary school education.  I got to go to college.  Twice.

And we position ourselves for blessings and opportunities as we seek God and serve him wholeheartedly.  The thing is, those opportunities might not be the ones we would choose.  Right now I'm thinking of Jim Eliot, a missionary who felt God call him to Ecuador, murdered by the Indians he came to share God's love with.  Definitely not the opportunity he would have chosen.  And come to think of it, I don't think Daniel and his friends chose to go to Babylon.

Some years ago I read The Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and and John Eldredge, and they highlighted a very important point, which is that we like to think we are the lead characters in our stories, but the truth is that we all play a supporting role in God's story.  He writes our characters and gives them the opportunities that further his story, his plot, his plan to reconcile the world to him.

I've rambled a bit, and I need to finish this up so I can go on with the rest of my day.  Fasting is not a magic bullet.  Completing the fast doesn't guarantee any specific outcome.  It doesn't guarantee answers to my prayers.  It doesn't guarantee extraordinary opportunities or understanding.

Fasting positions us to hear to from God and equips me to serve him through the opportunities he provides.  But it's not just about the food (or lack of it); it's humility and learning to live dependent on God's power and not my own.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Daniel Fast: Day 2

Yes, I know Day 1 and Day 2 are posted on the same day.  Technically, I wrote Day 1 on Day 2, but that's because I hadn't quite decided to write anything.

Yesterday we went shopping for Daniel Fast food, and I want to say that eating a vegan diet is expensive.  In the end, I think it'll be about the same because we won't be going out, but I did spend a lot of money at the store.

We ate oatmeal with dried apples, raisins, pecans, and almonds for breakfast.  And some pomegranate tea.  And I had a banana.  And then I made spaghetti for lunch with a salad.  For supper, we had celery with peanut butter and blueberries, more blueberries, and baby carrots.

We both have slight headaches, and I'm hungry all the time.  Plus I keep having to use the bathroom.  I don't know if it's because I'm drinking more water or because I'm losing water weight from not eating processed foods.  I suppose it doesn't matter.

I remember to pray in the morning, as usual, but I forget to pray throughout the day.  I really want to learn continual dependence on God.

Today we read 1 Chronicles 21:18-27.  In this passage, David sets out to make an offering to God.

If we go back to the beginning of chapter 21, we see that David completely disobeyed God by taking a census of the fighting men in Israel, and God brought terrible judgment on the whole country in response to David's sin.  God gives David three choices for the punishment: 1) Three years of famine; 2) three months of being war; 3) three days of plague.  David chooses the plague, and seventy-thousand men died.

David mourned for his sin, and begged God for mercy, stating, "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted?  Why are you punishing all of them?  Please--let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people!"  God lifted the punishment and commanded David to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

I don't know who Araunah the Jebusite is, and I don't know why God sent David there, but when David offers to pay him for the threshing floor, Araunah says, "No, take it. It's my honor."  And David says, "No.  I will not give the Lord a sacrifice that costs me nothing."

In other words, a sacrifice has to be sacrificial.  It needs to mean something.  If fasting is easy, it's not a sacrifice.  I could fast cigarette smoking, but that wouldn't be a sacrifice because I don't smoke.  Never have. Don't plan on starting.  But to give up coffee?  That's a sacrifice.

Still, it's not a huge sacrifice.

And I'd just stop with that, but I clicked on additional content after I read today's Scripture, thinking I'd get another passage, and instead I got teaching that I really wish I hadn't read:
During this fast, build an altar and lay a sacrifice on it that honors God. It will cost your convenience, your comfort, and it will also take some serious willpower and commitment. What will your sacrifice be during this fast? Make sure it's a sacrifice that will cost you something. Make your commitment in writing and share it with a friend who will hold you accountable to your commitment. Pray for God to show you what He wants you to sacrifice.
Hmmm.  I don't even know what to sacrifice.  I don't want to sacrifice anything, to be honest.  Isn't food enough?  I'll have to think about this.  

Daniel Fast: Day 1

First, I want to go on record and state that I am not a fan of fasting.  Self-deprivation is hard.  For that reason, I don't fast very often.  In fact, I can remember more times when I started a fast and gave up than when I actually completed a fast.  And so I tend to avoid fasting altogether. 

Also, I struggle with the logic of fasting.  What does it actually do?  Does changing my eating habits actually motivate God to act in my life?  I've studied fasting and what people say about fasting, and of course it's about prayer and surrender, but it's hard to pray when your stomach is growling and you have a pounding headache because you haven't eaten.  And I know it makes us more in tune to what God's voice.  And so on and so on.  A few years ago I fasted out of desperation for my son, and this was a powerful experience, but even now, I think that doesn't make sense.  I've read the Scripture.  I've even written about the importance of fasting.  

But that doesn't mean that I do it.  

As I closed out the year, I began to think about things I want to do differently in 2011.  I want to practice spiritual disciplines.  I want to follow Jesus' examples.  I want to learn to be dependent on God and his power  instead of my own strength (or lack of it).  And I began to think about fasting.  And I mentioned it in a blog post.  

Duane sat next to me as he read that blog, and he mentioned that men's ministry is doing a Daniel Fast in January, and he's thinking about doing it.  Actually, he mentioned that to me about a week previously, but I really wasn't interested in fasting at that time.  This time I told him that if he wanted to do the men's ministry fast, I would do it with him.  Seriously, if Duane went on a Daniel Fast, and I didn't do it with him, he would end up not eating at all.  

Depending on which website you resource, it's based on Daniel 1 or Daniel 10, and it lasts for ten days or twenty-one days.  

In the first chapter of Daniel, Daniel and his friends are taken into captivity, but they don't want to consume the food provided for them.  Instead, they beg the chief official, saying, "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink."

In Daniel 10, Daniel begins a fast in response to a disturbing vision.  He mourns for three weeks and eats "no choice food; no meat or wine . . ."  He also uses no lotions, whatever that means.  

And the way it's interpreted today, Daniel Fast is essentially a vegan diet.  No animal fats, meaning no meat and no dairy.  No sugar.  No coffee.  No wine.  Basically, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains.  Nothing about lotion.  

That's another problem I have with fasting.  The "rules" for the Daniel fast vary according to websites.  Yes, the basic idea is the same, but these websites have very specific rules, and I begin to wonder on what basis they made these rules.  

At any rate, I want to fast.  I want to follow Jesus' example.  And his instruction.  And I'm glad Duane and I are fasting together.  

I thought about not writing about this fast in the blog.  I'm not sure I think fasts are supposed to be kind of private.  In the end, I decided to record my experience with this Daniel Fast as well as my doubts with fasting and what God does in the process.  Also, I imagine that I'm not the only one who struggles with fasting.  And so, here I am.  
I made a list of things I want to pray about during this fast:
  • Spiritual renewal.  For myself.  I want to get back to basics.  Love God with heart, mind, and strength.  
  • Jason's revival.  Honestly, I love my son so much, and his hopelessness breaks my heart.  I just want God to step in and reveal himself to Jason.  
  • Newbreak Santee - spiritual growth.  By that, I mean that those who attend love God increasingly, and that many are drawn to Christ through the ministry of this church.  
  • My life group.  Direction.  Growth.  
  • My family.  Duane.  Jason.  Kirsten.  Caitlin.  And Patrick.  He's not really family, but he feels like family right now.
I'm following a Daniel Fast Bible reading plan from YouVersion.  ( is a free online Bible in multiple translations, and you can put it on your smart phone if you want.)

Today is Daniel 10.  As mentioned previously, God gives Daniel a disturbing vision about an imminent war.  The crazy thing about Daniel's visions is that he knows what's going to happen, but he can't change anything.  And so he begins to mourn, and he begins to fast and pray.  

At the end of his fast, actually 24 days later, he sees another vision.  This time a great man, dressed in linen, with a gold belt and eyes like flaming torches and arms and legs like bronze appears to Daniel.  The man's voice sounds like multitudes speaking.  Only Daniel can see the man, but the others around him are terrified, and Daniel fall to the ground.  

The man touches him and speaks to him, saying, "Stand up and don't be afraid.  Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them."  

So, essentially the man set out to see Daniel as soon as Daniel began fasting.  It took him over three weeks because he ran into a little spiritual warfare with the Prince of Persia.  

And I don't think I'll be seeing any terrifying angels, but I do want to gain spiritual understanding.  I do want to humble myself before God.  I do want God to hear me.  I don't understand fasting, and maybe that's my problem.  I want things to make sense, but the spiritual things of this world don't really follow my logic.  

And that's all I've got from this passage.
Seeking God - focused on him.  Humility.  
Maybe that's enough for today.  

Friday, January 7, 2011

Outliers and Significance and Humility

On Wednesday morning, I sat in bed with my computer open, and the blog post page on my computer screen.  Really, I had nothing to say.  Nothing beyond, I'm lazy today and don't want to do anything.  I've already said that.  More than once.  And I didn't feel like getting dressed.  And I didn't feel like walking downstairs to get more coffee.  And I had a headache so that seemed like an excuse.

So I browsed the internet.  Waited for people to email me.  Which they didn't.  And I ate some cheese, which is pretty much all we have in the refrigerator except for some Clementines.

And then I decided that I wasn't going to suddenly get a burst of energy so I should go with it and read the book I'm assigning to my students.

We are asking them to read Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that explores the story of success.

Our American culture tells a few stories about success.  One story glorifies talent and intelligence.  We like to measure intelligence and use it to forecast success.  Of course she's famous.  She sings like an angel.  Or, we all knew he would make it big--he's so incredibly intelligent.  The other story is more democratic, and it tells us that any person who works hard enough can pull himself or herself up by the bootstraps.  In this story, success is available to anyone.  America is the country of equal opportunity.

The outliers are the ones who success uniquely.  They're not like everyone else.  They're smarter.  They're more talented.  They work harder.

We like these stories because they help us feel good.  They make us feel like we're in control of our lives.

Gladwell acknowledges that intelligence, talent, and hard work are valuable, but he suggests that other factors may be more important, such as ancestry and family situations make a difference as does when we were born, both the year and the month.  And then there are unique opportunities that present themselves without regard to intelligence or talent.  That doesn't seem fair at all.  What if I don't get the same opportunities as someone else?  That's not "equal opportunity."

By the time I finished the book, I felt like tossing it in the trash, quitting school, and finding a secretary job.  What's the point?  Does it even matter what I do if my future is already mapped out in front of me.  After all, I'm fifty years old, and I haven't accomplished much yet.  And I'm sitting on my bed in my pajamas eating cheese because I'm too lazy to go to the grocery store.

The next morning, I spent over an hour journaling about my response to this book.  As Americans, we like feel-good stories about success and hard work and personal responsibility.  We like thinking we can manipulate the results and guarantee a good outcome.  And if we can guarantee a good outcome, we can predict a bad outcome.  Someone just didn't try hard enough.  He's not smart enough.  She can't sing well enough.  Apparently we are what we are.  Some people are lucky.  And some people aren't.

We like predictability.  We like guarantees.  We like control.  And Gladwell's book argues that our narratives about success aren't entirely true, and we aren't really in control.

But of course God is in control.  We can't guarantee someone will see our hard work, our intelligence, or our talent.  We can't guarantee how people will respond to the things we do.  Sometimes they misunderstand what we say or what we do.

We used to think real estate was a sure bet.   And that didn't turn out so well.  People lost large fortunes when the market turned upside down.  Friends lost houses.  Duane planned on working at U.P.S. until he was 60.  He didn't plan on his both shoulders failing him.

We can't guarantee good health.  We can't guarantee a strong economy.  We can't even guarantee life.

We want success.  We want to be outliers.  We want to live extraordinary lives, but the fact is that very few people do that.  (If we all stood out, then no one would stand out.)

And let's say we actually achieve some degree of success, we eventually die and then people forget all about us.  And so what's the point?  As Solomon so masterfully put it, "Meaningless! Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!"

And so I journaled, and as I asked myself a few questions, once again I came to the conclusion that Solomon was wrong.

First, I asked about the nature of success.  Certainly, wealth and fame fit the criteria as do professional satisfaction and respect from your peers.  But what about a healthy marriage?  What about kids who love us?  What about deep friendships?  These are successes we know about, but often we don't know the people we have touched, influenced, given hope or encouragement.

Next, I asked myself why I wanted to be an outlier.  Why do I want to be unique or special?  Do I want to be admired or respected?  Do I want people to listen to me?  Or is there something else?  Something I want to achieve to give myself personal satisfaction?

And I don't know the answer to that question.  I think I want to be seen, to be valued, by somebody, for who I am or what I've done or what I can contribute.

And then I remember, I stand out to my Father.  He sees me.  I am significant to him.  Jesus says even the hairs on my head are numbered.  And so the most important thing is not that I stand out to others, that I look for ways achieve success by the world's standards, but that I please God, that I praise him, that I seek him, and that I love others.

Next, I remember Philippians 2 and the example of Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, who made himself nothing and came as a man to serve and to suffer and to die.  And because of this, "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name . . ." (2:9).  Paul says we need to embrace the mindset of Jesus and honor and serve others humbly.

Peter says we should humble ourselves under God's mighty hand, and he will lift us up in due time.  And that means something different for each of us.  Those unique opportunities that present themselves to certain people?  God is in control of that.  I may never achieve the things I dream of, but if I don't move forward toward them, I will never know what might have happened.

And essentially, the results aren't the point.  Outlier status isn't the goal.  Success isn't the end.

We journey.  We learn to love God.  We learn to love others.  We learn to live in a way that's pleasing to the one who made us.

And I'm thinking about these things today as I go about my work. Who do I want to please? How do I prioritize my life?  What's most important to me?  Are those the same things that are important to God?