A Serving of Servanthood

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:43

Crash! I heard the pounding of little kitten feet as 3-month-old Reese ran for safety from the lamp that shattered into tiny pieces across my dining room floor. I didn’t know what to do first. Make sure my precious, adorable, lovable kitten was not injured, scold her for getting on top of the buffet in the first place, get mad at my husband for leaving the lamp out, or laugh, remembering how we joked about that old lamp, hoping maybe one of the cats would knock it down. Mission accomplished. Except that, when it dropped, it was me and four kittens. So that meant that guess-who had the privilege of cleaning up the mess? Moi.

After completing a speedy body scan on Reese, I snapped a picture to send to my husband and fell to my hands and knees, ready to clean up the mess as quickly as I could. As I picked up larger pieces of glass, I found myself complaining, sinking deeper and deeper into self-pity. I didn’t have time for this. I had to make dinner so my son and I could leave in half an hour. Since I was alone, I had hoped to sit down and work on my writing for a bit while dinner cooked. Cleaning up a broken lamp was definitely not something on my list of goals for the precious amount of time I had free that afternoon.

As I crawled around the floor, however, the familiar feeling of guilt made its grand entrance. Didn’t I want the cuddly kittens? Didn’t I want to be a mom and wife, to take care of our home and make sure everything was safe and in order for my family? Didn’t I want to be the one to prepare dinners, ensuring my family was well-fed? I wanted to serve my family, so why was I complaining?

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Does It Matter What We Think? Not long after this incident I had another lesson in servanthood. Guess I didn’t learn the first time. We were invited to our friends’ house for dinner and I spent several hours that day creating a couple of desserts. When dessert was served, however, our host presented a delicious-looking pie. Immediately I felt frustrated and inadequate. God immediately asked me, “Tracy, don’t you want to know what it truly means to serve Me?” Yes, of course, Lord. Not five minutes after the pie was placed on the table I excused myself to the rest-room, a sanctuary where I could have a quick fit and then pull myself together in private. While in the bathroom my eyes were drawn to the shower curtain like metal to a magnet. The word “serve” jumped out at me. In that instant God showed me the real meaning of servanthood. He reminded me it’s not about how much time we spend on something or whether we’re appreciated or acknowledged for it. It’s in the act itself of doing something for the sole purpose of pleasing someone else, taking no thought whatsoever to ourselves. Just like Jesus when He washed His disciples’ feet. Just like Jesus as He lived out His entire life on earth. As we embrace this holiday season, let’s remember Jesus’ actions while He was here, and strive to be like Him, the servant who rearranges his/her thinking so we desire to put others’ before ourselves. To be the person who takes pleasure in picking up shattered pieces of old lamp from the floor, because in doing so, we are learning what it truly means to serve.

An Attitude of Gratitude

“A gracious wife brings glory to her husband.” Proverbs 11:16

The topic for the dinner event was grateful. I would’ve preferred to speak on fear, since we seemed to have an intimate relationship. Gratitude, however, was honestly something I focused on in November or when I struggled with my thoughts and intentionally expressed my thanks to God during my prayer time. I really didn’t know what I could talk about that people didn’t already know. What story did I have that they could relate to about being grateful that they hadn’t heard a million times already? As I began to prepare my talk, I thought it was a good idea to decipher the difference between gratitude and thankfulness. Guess what? The Greek work “eucharistos” is the same for both, thus clarifying for me the difference-There is none!

That was good news since I wanted to use a lesser-known Bible verse about being thankful for my talk. One that people would hear or read and say, “Oh, I never thought of it that way!” So, it was exciting for me (and, I’ll admit, a little hard to swallow) when I found that the word “eucharistos” as an adjective mean gracious or agreeable. “A gracious wife brings glory to her husband.” In other words, a thankful wife brings glory to her husband. As Joyce Meyer would say, “ouch, hallelujah!”

You see, this month I’ve been trying to focus on ways to express my gratitude to others, and wouldn’t you know, last week God showed me I had been forgetting about my family. Why is it that often times the people we’re closest to are the ones privileged enough to get all our leftovers? So, I found it funny (ha, ha, God) that the verse He led me to was one about our family.

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Does It Matter What We Think? I want you to think for a second about how this verse is worded. A gracious or thankful wife. What would come to your mind if I asked you to describe a nagging wife? I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long. That person is known as a nag because of a repetitive behavior that has come to define them. A thankful wife is not a wife who expresses her gratitude once in a while, but who has developed this as a character trait of hers. Purposefully. Intentionally. How can we do this? By thinking about what we’re thinking about. Make it a habit to express gratitude to our family members.

Are you single? Or perhaps you’re a husband, and therefore you think this doesn’t apply to you. Don’t worry, you’re in luck! The Bible tells us that Jesus is our bridegroom and we, the church, are His bride. The comedian and TV star Tim Allen recently said women might say they want to be happy, yet we always find something to complain about. I’ll admit, I was one of those women in the audience who initially laughed but then was struck after the fact that, wow, he’s right. That is true – at least for me. Since we often find something to complain about, let’s think how happy we’d be if instead of focusing on the negative we focused on the many things we are thankful for. Life would be great! Are you living in a way that brings glory to Jesus by being a thankful “wife”?

A New Journey

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power 2 Thess 1:11

“We’re about to get the next 1,000 readers.” ”Here’s the next step to take on your writer’s journey.” ”We’re about to start. Join me?” “Feeling overwhelmed?” These are just four email subjects I received in the last 24 hours. There are also two other phrases I’ve heard repeatedly lately. “You need a platform” and “build your email list.” My head is spinning just as I write this and I feel a dull ache begin to throb across my forehead. Oh, but I’m not done. Last night for the second time another new term reared its ugly head in my already overwhelmed brain during a rerun episode of Shark Tank. In order to be successful, it’s important to have “laser-like focus.” Oi. Where do I point my imaginary laser when millions of voices are screaming at me from all sides, all demanding my “focus” in order to be successful?

Last year I was given a great treasure. A book. I love books! Only this one was a hidden treasure. I love fiction, and this book was not fiction. I placed it on a stack of other books in my night table for future reading and proceeded to forget about it for the year, until I’d shuffle through the stack looking to see what might interest me at random times between books. Finally, one night I pulled it out and thought I should probably read it because it was, after all, a gift, and I did appreciate the gesture. I had no doubt it was a great book, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea-or didn’t look like it.

After dusting it off I read the title again. Wonderlust: A Spiritual Travelogue for the Adventurous Soul. That night as I read chapter one, my eyes were opened to the hidden beauty within these pages. The author, Vicki Kuyper, journaled through the years as she travelled to various places around the world, seeing God show up time and again in various ways in her travels. I was about halfway through the book and one night just after returning home from a writer’s retreat, when my mind was on overload about where to begin first, I read the chapter titled, Journey Toward Purpose. I figured I already knew my purpose, which was to write, speak and teach. I just needed guidance about where to start. Boy was I in for an awakening that night.

As I began to pray after finishing the chapter, God spoke something so completely opposite of what I thought that I didn’t doubt for one second it was His voice. He said, “Tracy, your purpose right now is not to scramble about trying to make money with your platform, it’s not which freelance job you can land first, and it’s not even trying to finish your next book so you can submit it to your top agent of choice.” Needless to say I was a bit taken aback, and of course, ready to argue. “No, Tracy, I need you to do something else right now. Something more important. Your purpose is to pray for your husband and your children.” God was telling me to put everything else on the back burner and focus my strength and energy on interceding for my family, specifically some things that will be coming up for us in the months ahead.

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Photo by Michael Heuser on Unsplash

Does It Matter What We Think? Nothing matters more to me than hearing the voice of God and obeying the call. I believe He called me into teaching. I believe He called me into writing and speaking. But I also believe He called me to be a wife and mother to these three, amazing people in my life. As a result, I know He will take care of all else while focus my laser-like vision onto my purpose for today. I also know my purpose tomorrow might be completely different. Maybe tomorrow He will tell me to focus all my energy on just loving others. Maybe it will be next week when God tells me again to bring my focus back to my platform. Maybe it will be next month. But I’ve learned that it’s ok. Like the disciples’ prayer above, I want to be found worthy of God’s calling for today, whatever that is, so I can fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith!

How about you? Have you had a deep desire to do God’s work, something you knew you were called to do, but had to put it on temporary hold to fulfill another calling?

 

One Thing I Learned from DC Comics

“For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job 3:25

Term: Parademon. Definition (taken from a comic book website, http://www.cbr.com): Genetically engineered, mindless soldiers. Ever heard of them? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either. Parademons are slave to Darkseid, DC Justice League’s arch enemy. My son filled me in on the important details about these half-man half-demon creatures when I told him I needed material for a blog about fear. And since many of my other blog posts have something about Marvel superheroes in them, I figured, why not make it fair and talk about DC this time, much to my daughter’s chagrin. If you haven’t noticed by now, we are a super-hero family through and through.

After finding a video clip on Youtube, I clicked the button and watched as Ben Affleck (Batman) made his action-packed entrance into the picture. I didn’t have to wait long for the parademon to rear its ugly face. These creatures seem to have the form of man but remind me of The Mummy-ugly, shriveled, translucent skin, sharp teeth inside ridiculously large mouths… You get the picture. In the clip, Batman held one end of a rope as a man dangled from the other off the top of a building, fearing for his life. When the poor man asked Ben-I mean Batman-what he wanted from him, Batman’s reply was one word-fear. He proceeds to explain, “they can smell it.” Who’s they? You guessed it. Parademons. You see, according to the comic, parademons actually feed on fear. That’s right, they FEED on FEAR.

What is fear?  In the book of Job, amidst all of Job’s seemingly endless sufferings, his friend shared a dream. “Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake.” (4:14) The Hebrew word for fear is pahhad, or “shaking” (n: “to shake”). Fear does crazy things to us, both mentally and physically. (Image below taken from dreadcentral.com-what a nice website name).

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Does It Matter What We Think? Take a minute to think about a time when you’ve been extremely afraid, or terrified. What kinds of thoughts were you filling your mind with? How did your body physically feel? I think the creators of DC knew what they were doing when they created these parademons. Have you ever noticed that when you’re afraid, if you let your mind dwell on the fear, the problem always looks so much worse than it really is? I mean, we could scare ourselves into believing our husband is having an affair every time he picks up his cell phone. Oops, was that out loud? Yep, that was me not too long ago. Because I let the enemy FEED on my FEAR as my mind dwelled on that one fearful thought. If I had continued on this path, eventually, as Job said, the thing I feared could have come upon me.

Here’s the great news. There is a way to rid ourselves of these parademons! 1 John 4:18 tells us, “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” If we don’t give them something to feed on, they will disappear. How do we do that? God is love, and if we put on the armour of God, we can withstand even the worst fears. Speak truth instead of lies, think about good things instead of scary, and know the Word, which will help you put your trust in the One thing that can save you from allowing even your worst fears to come true! Remember, that at the name of Jesus, EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. (Phil 2:10)

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How about you? I’d love to hear of a time when you allowed yourself to give in to thoughts of unrealistic fears, or a fear that your mind blew way out of proportion. Or maybe it’s never happened to you – maybe I’m the only one?

The Merry-Go-Round Mind

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life…Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:25-26

I love going on walks through my neighborhood. There’s this one place called the “wetlands.” When I was growing up, (I live in the same neighborhood as when I was younger), the road passed through a swampy area where various animals lived, including beavers who cleverly crafted dams for passerbys to enjoy. It’s so beautiful, especially in autumn when you can see beyond the wetlands to all the beautiful foliage. I always slow down there during my walks for a minute or two, but the other day was different.

I went for a walk because my mind was swirling and spinning about things going on in my life. Often it happens to me as work, writing, emails, phone calls, appointments, and school schedules all fight for the forefront. This day, however, I had really only one thing on my mind. Yet still my mind spun, around and around, like it was on a merry-go-round that had an explosion in the control panel, destroying the off switch.

As I started downhill on my way to pass the wetlands for the second time, I pumped my arms in an attempt to will my legs to catch up to the speed of my mind. I didn’t even realize this was happening, and yet as my legs went faster, my mind sped up. What a sight I must have been! As I approached the bottom of the hill, though, I heard that familiar still, small voice. It said, “slow down.” Slow down? My first response was no way. I can’t. I’m on a mission. I need to keep walking. And thinking. And walking. And thinking. But I slowed down. Ok, God. You know better than me.

“More.” What?!  It took all the strength I had but I forced myself to slow down even more. As I slowed my pace, I found my mind slowing as well. I approached the wetlands and that’s when I heard it. God was speaking to me through the sounds of nature. The birds sang, the crickets chirped, and God showed me something very important that day.

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Does It Matter What We Think? The thoughts that swirled through my mind on the walk that day were not bad thoughts. They weren’t evil, or unkind. But they consumed me. God showed me through that experience how important it is to train our minds to slow down and focus on Him and His glory, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a field of flowers, or the animals speaking into the quiet air. Jesus continues the verses above, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (vs. 28-29) God created these things for us to enjoy, but I would’ve missed it all that day if I didn’t slow down and jump off the merry-go-round.

Has God ever spoken to you through His natural creations? I’d love to hear about it!

Does Your Breath Stink?

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150:6

Nurses are always surprised when I give them my list of medications whenever I go to the doctor. Why? Because my list consists of a few natural supplements and nothing more. Overall I’m a very healthy person. Recently, however, I’ve had a little hiccup, or mini crisis, where my health is concerned. I say mini crisis because for someone who has struggled with their thoughts, to find themselves all of a sudden having a difficult time taking a deep breath throughout the day, what might be a small blip that needs to be ironed out can quickly grow into a full-blown panic attack.

“Just relax and take a deep breath.” Right. That doesn’t work when the whole reason for the attack is that you can’t take a deep breath. After some testing I was put on an “as needed” inhaler for “environmental” reactions. Whatever that means. And being someone who can’t think on the spot, I did not have many questions for the doctor when she called me with the results. I was just so relieved to hear I didn’t have lung cancer and that it wasn’t anything structural, (I know, I’m a bit over the top), that I neglected to put on my common sense hat.

Since then things have gotten sorted out (for the most part), but through it God showed me something amazing. (Why is it that we usually learn the greatest lessons from such difficult trials?) One Sunday in church during my struggle we sang a song, Great Are You Lord. It contains a verse that says, “it’s Your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You.” That’s when it struck me. God is breathing His own breath into my lungs, not my own! A week or so after that revelation was when the first panic attack struck. I had been having difficulty breathing and the panic attack didn’t help. God reminded me of the words to that song and I started to pray that He would breathe his breath into and through my lungs. As I meditated on that prayer, it didn’t take long for my body to respond to my confession!

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Does It Matter What We Think? How often do you take time to stop and just praise God for who He is and thank Him for all He has done? Maybe you believe in a God but have never thought about thanking Him for creating this beautiful earth for you to enjoy. For me, that’s something I’ve been consciously working on. As the days went by, God continued to show me things through this experience. My thoughts kept reverting back to the song we sang, and I realized that because I have God’s breath in my lungs, I can praise Him and thank Him. And in fact, I need to. It’s time to stop using my breath to speak negative thoughts and fears—in other words, “stinky breath,” and start acting obedient to the Psalm, “let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” I am filled with joy and love as I focus on praising Him and breathing His breath into my lungs.

Has there been a song that’s had a similar impact on your life? I’d love to hear about it!

The Grass is NOT Always Greener

“And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

What’s your problem? We all have problems. Even Paul had problems. Lots of them. When the Lord said the above words to him, it was after Paul pleaded with Him to take away his problem three times. The Bible never tells us exactly what Paul’s big problem was, but what it does tell us is that it must have been so difficult that Paul had to plead with the Lord multiple times. Think for a second what it means to plead. My teenage son twisted his ankle the other day and we made him rest it because it was swollen and very painful. All afternoon he begged and pleaded with me to let him get up and move around. This super-energetic boy desperately wanted to be anywhere but confined to the couch.

One morning recently, I felt like Paul. Once again, I found myself lying on my living room floor feeling sorry for myself, asking God, no, crying to God, “God, why are you allowing me to go through these struggles?” Ever ask that? “Why me?”

It didn’t take long for me to feel the gentle yet stern voice of God in reply. My husband comes home to his family every night. Both of my children have good use of their legs, arms, eyes, ears, and bodies. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. While God allows us to go through trials, and in fact we are promised them, I was reminded that we all have our own problems, and what I am going through must be perfect for me, because His grace is sufficient for me. Just like His grace is sufficient for you and whatever struggle you’re going through right now.

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Does It Matter What We Think? We all know the old saying, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” Did you know it’s actually one of the ten commandments? Now I’m sure some of you, like me, learned the ten commandments as young children and remember them…mostly. The important ones, like, “do not murder,” or “do not steal,” right? Did you remember the tenth commandment—”you shall not covet your neighbor’s house… nor anything that is your neighbor’s?” (Exodus 20:17) I’m sure you might argue that is in the context of his house, his wife, his animals, all his material possessions. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s erroneous to apply it to everything. Including our neighbor’s struggles. Just like my son, when he pleaded with me, I heard him. However, as a parent, I know what’s best for him. God knows what’s best for each one of us and He wants us to grow and develop into the perfect person to carry out His perfect work for us. And that means allowing us all to go through different struggles. James encourages the early church to rejoice when trials come because ultimately, they make us, “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:3) So I ask you again. What’s your problem? Allow yourself to rest in the fact that God knows your problem and His grace is sufficient for you to help you get through it. Don’t covet your neighbor’s problems, and just keep telling yourself that your trial is making you perfect and complete!

I’d love to hear from you: Have you ever wondered why God allowed you to go through a particular struggle? Have you ever wondered, “why me?”