In His Mind

I was in His mind before the world was made. I was in His mind, before the plans were laid. I was in His mind, before He came for me. These words are from a song my sister and her friends wrote over 40 years ago.

              Knowing I was in Jesus’ mind makes Good Friday and this weekend awaiting resurrection so amazing.

              Jesus knew me, little old me born at the end of the 1950s. Who would grow up in a small town in the middle of New Jersey. Who would live around the country. Who would marry an amazing man named Jerry. Who would love and work with people with disabilities.

              I was in His mind even though He knew I was someone who would sometimes say something wrong and offend someone. Who would look so often for satisfaction in something other than Christ. Who would forget life is not about me and put my own desires and needs first. Who would say I want to glorify God, yet still hope others would notice me too. Who would miss or overlook opportunities to speak His truth to others, because I feared what they would think of me.

              His knowledge of me included knowing I was one who would carry a grudge because someone said something wrong or didn’t live the way they spoke. Who would seek the praise of others rather than the praise of my God. Who would say one thing and do another, who would use my resources in ways I wanted to. Who would waste some of the precious commodity of every breath and minute He gave me. Who would misapply His words. Who would avoid sometimes seeking His face and will. Who would argue with his timing. Who would . . .

              Yet knowing all this, and so much more—He had me in His mind when He created the world. When He came as a baby. When He willingly endured the cruelty, the mocking, the abuse, the slander, the jabs and spits, the agony. When He drug that rough cut tree on his bloody and battered body, up the hill to Golgotha knowing it was His last hours as Son of Man and soon He would be separated from His Dad. When He carried my guilt so I would not die for my sins. When with great grief, separated from His Father for a time, He was crushed beneath the weight of my guilt.

              Again, for who?

              For me, the one who would never fully understand the reality and depth of the love that drove Him. One who would sing worship songs and read the Scriptures without the words truly penetrating my heart. One who would confess the same sin over and over before finally allowing His Spirit to gain control of that area. One who He created and loved as if I were the only one who mattered.

              Thank you, thank you, thank you my God, my Lord, my Savior for having me in your mind . . . because You love me.

              Thank you for that terrible and wonderful cross, and the power it still holds 2000 years later!

              Oh, and in case you missed it – He had you in mind too!

Rooting for Change; In My Yard and My Heart!

An oak tree stood tall in our front yard, planted by the builder nearly three years ago. This was the standard tree most of our community received. As the neighborhood grew, so did concern about how invasive and troublesome the oak tree roots would become.  

One of our neighbors offered to oversee a tree planting project for our community. He negotiated a deal with a landscaper to remove trees and replant a tree of our choice from an approved city list. Jerry and I joined in on the project, choosing to have our oak replaced with a Christmas Palm. We learned that palm trees are better suited for this area as they grow roots that go deep down, reaching for the source of water.

Little did I know God was orchestrating a bigger project than the tree in our front yard. As I was preparing for bed one night, I thought about a person I know. I questioned why does everyone else seem to love and respect this person so much, and I don’t? What’s wrong with me?

I sensed God mention comparison and jealousy. If this person knew my thoughts, they would look at me incredulously and ask, “Joan, what are you thinking? Why on earth would you compare yourself to me? I am nothing.” But it doesn’t matter if that person knows. The problem is me.

To be sure I didn’t miss the point, God brought another example to mind of a situation in which I feel I am odd man out. As much as I’d like to blame this on other circumstances or people, the issue again is me. I desire recognition and acknowledgment.

Prayerfully pondering both scenarios, I saw the root is pride.  

That’s when God took the visuals I saw throughout our neighborhood all week and showed me what bad roots can do.

Even though our oak tree didn’t seem to grow a lot in size since we moved in, that was only the surface view. To remove our tree and many others, the workmen needed strapping and a powerful pickup truck. Once the trees uprooted, we could see how wide the root system had spread. At some homes, the roots infiltrated the irrigation system, and neared the sewer lines. The roots were growing toward the homes, and would, over time, disrupt foundations.

Each relatively young tree required an incredible amount of force to uproot. Even after the tree left the ground, some broken roots rose from the hole.

Then it came to me: my roots have been growing a lot longer than three years. Roots connect what is seen to the source of nourishment. Some are good roots going deep down, the way the Bible tells me to live. Others are more like the oak, going wide and affecting me in ways that may be destructive.  

When I display jealousy and pride, they are facets of anger. Their roots have grown into a tangled mess. They are invasive and influence my thoughts and my perspective on relationships and activities. After confessing these to my Lord, the hard work begins, uprooting them.

I have a picture of what that means. It will not be pretty, and I suspect they won’t leave as quickly as if a truck yanked them out. But I am excited about the fresh growth to come when I replace those roots with genuine prayer and care for others and Christlike grace.

Lord, every time I walk past our new palm tree would you give me root check please?

Photo by Camille Brodard on Unsplash

What’s Your Secret?

On a recent trip to another city, I checked in to the hotel while Jerry was unloading from our van. Miss V, the front desk clerk, recognized my name from an earlier phone call and greeted me warmly.

I asked if I could see the room before completing the paperwork. Even though a room is identified as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, there is a wide range of interpretations. I always like to check the room first to be sure it will meet our needs.

Miss V gave me the key and pointed me in the right direction. Thankfully, the room worked for us. I went back to the desk to tell her and complete the process. She struck up a conversation with me, asking if I was traveling with my mother (oh how I wish for one more time to travel with her). I told her I was with my husband.

She asked how long we’d been together and expressed awe when I told her we recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. Miss V congratulated me and asked, “What’s your secret?”

You’d think I’d have a ready answer since I write and speak about marriage. But I pondered for a few minutes and then replied, “Grace. An enormous amount of grace.” I shared we are both keenly aware we married humans, who make mistakes, just about every day! By sharing forgiveness with one another and keeping our expectations realistic, we have lots of opportunities to give and receive grace daily.

Miss V shared with me she is going through her first, and hopefully only, divorce. She told me she was dating someone because she needs love. But she hoped the divorce resolved quickly, because she believed “in the eyes of God I am still married and should not be dating.” She continued to say she wanted to, “do it right.”

I agreed with her that getting her relationships and priorities right in the eyes of God is a critical foundation for a good relationship and marriage. She shared an example of how grace could benefit her now in her relationships.

I invited Miss V to visit my blog and read some of my posts about marriage. I don’t know if she did or will. Miss V if you are reading this, I’d love to connect with you again, please email me.

What about you, my friendly reader—if someone asked you for the secret to marriage, how would you reply? I want to hear your ideas!

It Doesn’t All Fit. . .Or Does It?

After experiencing his own disability, a friend commented, “Disability alone is a part-time job.”

          I’ve done time studies in the past, with little success. Because my word for 2021 is focus I knew this was something I needed to try again. To move from frenzy to focus, I had to gain control of my to do list and my schedule.

          I counted the hours I have available in a week, minus sleep. I wrote out the tasks and responsibilities I have each week, and an approximate but realistic amount of time each item requires. I tried to include everything, even the time I work puzzles on Sundays, or just relax watching a classic TV show.

               And do you know what I found?

               It wasn’t what I expected.

               I have 3.75 untapped hours every week! Granted, that’s only two percent of the hours in a week. Yet, the point hit home. In most weeks, I have the time I need, and even a bit of margin.

               This revelation caused me to ponder why I feel like I can’t get it all done? Is it poor time management on my part? Surely this accounts for some. The actual thief of my time, I am convinced, is whining, and complaining, both to myself and to others. Often, I spend more time thinking or talking about what needs to happen than I spend doing it!

               My Focus2021 goal for March: To act and do what God has given me the strength and privilege to accomplish, and to do it without whining and complaining.

Photo by C Technical on Pexels.com

               And what will I do if I encounter a day or two where I can’t get it all done? I will exercise balance, choosing to set one something aside for a limited time to accomplish that which requires a little more from me. The following week I will pick it up again and, if needed, temporarily set something else aside.           

Off to do with gratitude, what is on my plate today. What about you? What do you find to be the greatest stealer of time in your day?

Puzzling Lessons

My cousin visited last week and brought a 1000-piece puzzle for us to do. It’s a picture of a village in Italy sitting on a rocky coastline. We spent most of the day chatting as we sorted out the edge pieces and organized the remaining pieces.

Convinced we had all the straight edges; we began building the frame. The bottom of the puzzle went together, just like it should. But the three other sides did not. The skyline had a few gaps. The two sides had portions that fit together, but not fully.

We searched again through the 900 remaining pieces in vibrant colors. We found three or four straight edges, but none of them completed the frame.  

The next step involved careful observation of the links already made to see if we misconnected any. We did. Carefully disassembling the partial frame, we rejoined pieces, so the right side and top border now formed a solid frame. It took longer than we expected.

But that irksome left side was still missing one piece. We wondered how hard it could be to find one last straight piece. Our conclusion–very hard! We gave up looking for it and tried to move on to work the inside of the picture.

It is hard though, for me to let things go. Even as I gathered like colors for the inside, I was still puzzling (pun intended) about that one piece. We wondered if the missing piece made it in the box at the factory. The box arrived tightly sealed. Assuming the pieces were in a plastic bag, I took the lid off while sitting on the couch. I quickly found out there was not a bag as pieces flew all over the couch, floor, and my legs. I picked up all I could find and believed I had them all.

We thought it might be prudent to take the couch apart, sweep under it, and search once more. We found two additional pieces, but neither was an edge.

I asked myself out loud, with Jerry and Andrea eavesdropping, what is the spiritual lesson in this?

Thinking about how much time I focused on one piece, it reminded me of Jesus’ parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep. One is not insignificant to Jesus. Perhaps in my Focus 2021 year I need to think about one person He wants me to invest in. If I spent the time investing in one person, as I did one puzzle piece, it could make a Kingdom difference.

I also thought about how quick I am to say I trust God, but honestly, sometimes I wonder if he left something out in the plan for my life. I feel he hasn’t given me everything I need to complete the assignment. I complain, whine, and seek answers all over the place.

When I stop, take a breath, and reevaluate the situation, I often find that I misunderstood, or misapplied the information I had. I thought I was following God’s lead, but I see a place where I stepped out on my own and now the remaining pieces are all a little off.  

That is a sign I need to stop. It’s time to talk to God and discern where I went off track. Was it deliberate sin on my part? Did I get distracted? Did I miss hearing God’s voice? Whatever the reason, I need to deal with it and move on.

In other puzzles, by the time I finish, I find the missing piece. For this puzzle, it was when I (my cousin had gone home days ago) got to the last 200 pieces that I saw it the straight edge among the others. It turns out I always had everything I needed. It was a matter of putting the pieces together in the way the Master Designer created them. It may be a minimal and subtle difference, but one that matters. Both in a puzzle, and in life!

Breaking the “I Love You” Ice

“I wish there were someone like Joan in Indiana.”

            Jerry prayed those words as he returned home from a disability ministry conference we both attended. I was blissfully unaware of his thought or prayer as I flew home to California.

            For six years we attended the same gathering. After the meetings, a group of us hung out, played games, and built friendships.

           Prior to this summer we shared a rare phone call, but always about work/ministry issues and always made and received from our offices. God answered Jerry’s prayer with a reminder: the phone worked between Indiana and California. Four months later, he gathered the courage to call me after hours. He didn’t declare any feelings. We simply shared updates of our lives, and ministries, and laughed together.

            That August call morphed into phone dating. Rapidly the frequency changed from random, to weekly, to daily, to several times a day.

            As the calendar turned to February, I wondered what to do for Valentine’s Day. We were two-thirds of a country away and still figuring out our relationship. His secretary, thank you Connie, prompted him to send me something.

            I made two cookie bars in the shape of hearts. From a specialty bakery, I purchased a cookie in the shape of a phone receiver. I laid those out with the phone between the two hearts connected by a string. My sappy note said something about our hearts being connected through the phone. I mailed it, praying it would arrive intact.

            When a package arrived for me, I found a card and note. I glanced first at the signature, hoping to see “Love, Jerry.” But love was not there. With the card was a large, frilly, heart-shaped box of chocolates. The unusual part was the heart was not hermetically sealed in plastic, as is typical.

            I opened the box of chocolate and found a sticky note, “I was sure you would want to share. You would wouldn’t you?” And one or two pieces of chocolate were missing.

            That alone made this a Valentine’s Day to remember, but it got better. That weekend when we talked, Jerry haltingly said, “I think—I might—be falling in love with you.” The words every girl longs to hear?

           “I love you too,” I replied.

Hearing my response emboldened him to say with confidence, “I love you.”

            Phew! The love ice broke.

            This year we celebrated our 27th Valentine’s Day together, thankfully no longer through the phone lines. I still share my chocolate with him, and “I love you” is one of the most frequently used phrases in our lives.  

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