Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Survivor’s guilt

Now that Kansas has experienced the first real storms of the season, that must mean spring is officially here. But what a way to ring in the season! From what I can gather, by yesterday morning (April 15) there had been 121 reported tornadoes in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Texas and Kansas. Most of those in Kansas.

I was taking shelter at my parents’ house in Wichita, so we got to watch a lot of the storm on the television, and there were times when there were eight tornadoes on the ground at one time. Some of those tornadoes stayed on the ground for upward of 30 minutes. Some of them were a 1/2 mile wide and were preceded by 3-inch hail. The meteorologists were having to cut away from covering dangerous thunderstorms because of the number of tornadoes wreaking havoc on the state. We had some close calls. One tornado passed within seven miles of my home in Haven. And a completely different tornado passed within five miles of my parents’ home in Wichita. All within a few hours of each other. And I know people who had much much closer calls, as in two blocks. Only a few people were injured, and no one died. But I know people who lost their homes.

And while I’m very thankful that neither my house nor my parents’ house (or my grandparents’ house) sustained damage, I can’t help but wonder why. We were all prepared. We were all ready and waiting. The tornado in Reno County was heading directly toward Haven, toward my house, toward my friends living there, and then it just turned. Just shifted north and went up toward a different community instead.

The same thing happened in Wichita. The tornado was on the ground, heading directly for my parents’ house. We were in the basement, poised to jump into the furnace closet. The trusty meteorologist said we had five minutes to take precautions–and then the tornado shifted east and devastated a lower-income neighborhood of southern Wichita instead.

Why?

Maybe this is going to sound terrible, but if the tornado had come and wiped out everything I own, it would have been all right. I was prepared. I was ready to lose everything. I’d had a conversation with God that morning about it, that if it needed to happen it needed to happen and that I’d trust Him no matter what. I was all ready to lose my home. So how do I deal with the fact that I didn’t lose anything but friends and other people did?

Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 139:16.

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

It’s so hard to get stuck in today. It’s easy to focus on the events of yesterday and today, and it’s even easier to obsess about what might happen tomorrow. So it’s difficult to fathom that God knew everything before any of it started.

He knew that on April 14, 2012 I would be huddled in the basement of my parents’ house listening for the rain and hail to stop to signify the moment we needed to jump into the furnace closet and cover our heads. And He knew I’d be sitting in my upstairs office on April 16, 2012, wondering why my house is still standing pristine and untouched while so many other people weren’t as fortunate.

He knew this before He even created the universe. And that blows my mind. Every moment of my life was written before a single day had gone by, before days even existed. And while this verse isn’t exactly about trusting God, not in the way of Romans 8:28, I still think trust is implied. Because if God has known the whole story of our lives since before the universe even existed, isn’t it a good idea to trust Him with everything?

I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, but I don’t have a problem trusting God when bad things happen. I struggle to trust God when good things happen. I have a hard time believing Him when other people get hurt or when other people lose their lives. I’m a fixer, and I’m a doer, and the fact that I always seem to survive things is difficult for me because I feel like it would be better if I experienced the devastation instead of someone else.

But the fact remains that God knows what’s going on. He knew my property and my family would get through the storms of April 14 unscathed, just as He knew other people wouldn’t. I don’t know why. I don’t understand, and I’m probably not supposed to. But what I do understand is that He knows what He’s doing. He always does. And there’s never anything that happens that doesn’t have a purpose.

Bad things may not be His will for our lives, but He can always take the bad things that happen and make them good. He’s big enough to do that. And feeling guilty because you survived something other people didn’t won’t change it. The best thing to do is trust Him. Who knows? You may be able to be a blessing to someone else, whether you lose everything you own or not.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Love in spite of success

Life is backward. Have you noticed that? Not like Benjamin Button backwards, but so many times we think we know everything there is so know and we discover that we really know nothing at all. We think anger will solve a problem when we really need to be kind. We think our knowledge will solve an issue when we really need to trust someone else. We think we have reason to mourn when really we have reason to rejoice.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

The fact that Scripture has to tell us to do this is evidence of how screwed up the world is. You’d think this would be common sense, wouldn’t you? When someone is happy, be happy for them. When someone is sad, be sad with them. But so many times, this isn’t what we do.

I’ve seen people who are supposed to love each other fall apart because one of them succeeds and the other fails. I’ve watched friendships deteriorate over this. And I don’t understand. Because if we love each other, we should be happy for each other. We should rejoice when the people we love experience success or see their dreams come true.

But so many times, it doesn’t happen that way. When someone we love succeeds, we get jealous. We feel envious of our friends who we love because they have found something we haven’t yet. Or because they have achieved something we feel they don’t deserve, and we get angry because we feel like we do deserve it. And when friends can’t support each other, the friendship falls apart.

Why is that?

The whole chapter of Romans 12 is about how to live. And for me, the main verse is Romans 12:9.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

If you really love someone, it doesn’t matter what happens between you, you will always love them. If you love someone with the kind of love that God has for us, it won’t matter if your friend fails or succeeds, you can’t love them more or less.

For me, this is one of the big tests of love. Because it’s easy to love someone when they fail. Maybe that’s just me speaking. But that’s the way it works for me. When someone stumbles or falls and they need help, it’s easy for me to love them. But what happens when they succeed? What happens when they achieve everything you wanted for yourself and you get left behind?

Can I love someone even if they get everything I wanted? Can I love someone when I’m struggling to make it from day-to-day and they get to move on to bigger and better things?

Rejoicing for a friend who has achieved your dreams while you have to stand still is difficult … unless you love them. And then you are so deliriously happy for them that you hardly even realize that the world is telling you to pout.

So how do you get that kind of love?

You choose it.

Love isn’t some flowery ethereal concept floating around in the void. It’s not a feeling that just swells within you. It’s a choice. And choices aren’t easy to make, but once you make them, you have something to stand on.

Sometimes that kind of love doesn’t make sense, but that’s the kind of love we are supposed to have. Not pretend love. Not fair-weather love. Not convenient love. Real love, that loves in spite of failures or successes.

Ivy in autumn - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The dangers of arrogance

Arrogant people bother me. How about you? And I’m not talking about confident people either. Confidence is different than arrogance. Confidence is a surety of self or action or perspective; arrogance is bragging about it.

Ivy in autumn - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Ivy in autumn - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Habakkuk 2:5.

Wealth is treacherous, and the arrogant are never at rest. They open their mouths as wide as the grave, and like death, they are never satisfied. In their greed they have gathered up many nations and swallowed many peoples.

Have you ever met an arrogant person? Someone who is so boastful, so proud of their accomplishments that he or she can’t stand to sit at home and just be? Boastful, proud people usually have to go out and tell other people all of their accomplishments. And they never stop because they can never get enough attention or fame or credit or influence. And they’re never satisfied, just like death.

Why is that? Have you ever tried to get into an arrogant person’s head? Sometimes I can understand why they feel the need to be arrogant, but most of the time I don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I’m just not a very confident person, but I can’t imagine being arrogant about anything, especially if there is a lot on the line.

I was curious about some of the phrasing in this verse, especially, the arrogant are never at rest. What does that mean? Well, I looked at it in the Amplified Version, and this is what it says: “restless and cannot stay at home.” I wasn’t really sure about that, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it’s probably true.

Arrogant people are constantly busy running around, getting involved in other peoples’ lives and business. They aren’t content to stay home and be. They have to stay busy. They have to stay active. They have to stay visible. And they have to interfere. At least, that’s the way the ones I know behave. And they have to do all that because if they don’t (in their mind) people will forget about them.

So really, arrogance doesn’t stem from confidence. It stems from insecurity.

 So what does this mean for us?

Well, no one likes an arrogant person. Let’s just be honest about that. Arrogant people rub everybody the wrong way. So it should be our goal to not be arrogant. And again, I’m talking about being confident because there’s a difference. Although, I’ve met some confident people who act arrogant, and while their arrogance is somewhat founded because they really do know what they’re doing, it’s still not pleasant to be around. You can be humble and confident at the same time.

So what about dealing with an arrogant person? How do you manage that when you really just want to pop them in the nose?

I’m a strong believer in second and third and even fourth chances for people I don’t even like. If you’re someone I love and you do something that hurts me, sorry to tell you but you’re still stuck with me. That’s just the way friendship works for me. But if someone I’m not really friends with does something against me, usually I’m still okay with forgiving them and giving them another opportunity to show me that they aren’t like that all the time.

So when I run across an arrogant person, I try to look past the bravado and the facade on the outside and see the hurting person underneath. I try to encourage them to be themselves. I try to help the insecurity go away, because if you can eliminate the insecurity, the arrogance fades too.

But there’s only so much you can do and you have to be careful. It’s just like a relationship with someone you’re trying to help get out of a sin. An arrogant person can drag you down. More often than not, arrogant people have gotten me into situations where I have to bail myself out. Why? Because I thought I would give them a chance to prove that they really did know what they were doing … and it turned out that they didn’t.

All that to say, trusting an arrogant person can be dangerous. Being close friends with an arrogant person can be harmful. Not saying you shouldn’t be friends with them (if you can stand them), but just remember that someone who is walking around talking about all the great things he or she can do or has done doesn’t mean that he or she actually can accomplish what they say.  

Give arrogant people a chance. Love them for who they are. Encourage them so that they don’t have to feel insecure about whatever it is they feel insecure about. But if they don’t listen, if they don’t hear, step back. Get out of their lives. Because arrogant people really are like death: they’re never satisfied, they’re always greedy, and they won’t care who they take down with them.

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Training to reach the top

If you haven’t worked out at all, can you climb a massive staircase at a dead run without passing out? If you can, you’re tougher than I am. Either that, or you’re not asthmatic. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to jump into difficult physical circumstances if you haven’t prepared yourself for them. That’s why people train for marathons. That’s why those crazies who climb Mt. Everest have to set up base camps along the way to acclimate to the altitude.

The photo I picked for today isn’t a very good representation of the temples at the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. To really grasp their enormity, you kind of have to be there. But I will be the first to tell you that the steps leading up the front of all of them are killer. Most of the steps you can’t actually climb just because the temples themselves are so old, but the rickety old wooden stairs that have been built on the sides aren’t much safer. They’re certainly no less steep. 

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Stone steps at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 5:3.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Encountering difficult circumstances in life is inevitable. We are going to run into problems because the world isn’t perfect and we aren’t perfect, and we’re all going to make mistakes, we’re all going to sin, and we’re all going to come up short of where we want to be. But when we reach that point, we have the option of pressing forward or giving up.

Giving up means that we’ll never learn anything. And every trial or difficulty in our lives is there to teach us something. Pressing forward is a challenge always, but at the end of the day you will have learned something about yourself and something about God too.

What’s really amazing, though, is that once you get past a difficult spot in your journey of life, the next time a similar problem comes up it won’t faze you. Because you already saw what God did the first time you went through it. So you aren’t afraid of taking the challenge head on.

Like training for a marathon. Like acclimating to a high altitude. When you press forward through difficult circumstances, your faith will increase in strength, and the next time your faith is challenged, you won’t falter. But if you give up in the middle of the fight, you’ll never learn the lesson you were supposed to learn. And you’ll keep experiencing the same problems over and over again until you do.

My first real job out of college was at a library. I loved my job, and I loved the people I worked with. But it really didn’t pay very much. I did okay for a year, but by the second year, my finances were starting to get a little thin because cost of living had gone up and my hourly rate had stayed the same. And by the third year, well let’s just say I wasn’t sure where my groceries were going to come from. I had a couple of options. I could stop giving to my church. I could stop providing for those less fortunate than me. But I felt like God was really calling me to do those things. So I didn’t stop.

Looking back on it now, I’m not really sure how the numbers make sense. Because I shouldn’t have been able to afford to live. But God provided for me in ways that I don’t know how to explain during that time in my life. And He did it so many times that there is no doubt in my mind that it was Him. So now? Well, in the circumstances that I’ve run into in the last two years at my new job when I run across an expense that I know God has put there, I don’t hesitate. Because I know He’s going to take care of me. He’s done it before.

Problems and trials are difficult. But do we really learn anything when life is going our way? Can we really understand something God is trying to teach us when we’re comfortable? I don’t think so. People aren’t wired that way. So at times, we need to be shaken up. We need to experience some difficult circumstances so that we can learn what God wants us to learn, so we can live the way He wants us to live, so we can handle what’s coming.

Climbing the steps up the temples of Tikal is difficult. It’s draining. It’s exhausting. It’s rough even if you don’t have asthma. And those steps are all you can see for a long time. But  it’s worth it because of the view at the top. Trials and problems in life are no different.  

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Worshiping bad news

How do you handle bad news? There are a couple of different ways you can look at bad news, but when you get right down do it, bad news is bad news. It means sickness. It means difficulty. It means loss, sometimes of a relationship, sometimes of a life. Bad news comes in different forms, from people to messages to experiences. But no matter how it comes, it always comes.

We can’t escape bad news because we live in a broken world. And most of the time we can’t change bad news because it’s outside of our control. What we can change, is how we react to it.

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 112:7.

They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.

Whenever I run across a verse like this that starts with an anonymous “they” I always want to find out who the verse is talking about. And doubly so in this instance because “they do not fear bad news” is a “they” I would like to know more about. Because if someone doesn’t have to be afraid of bad news, I would like to know what they are doing to be that way.

To find the answer to that question, you have to go to the beginning of the Psalm. Psalm 112:1 says, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.” That is the “they” from verse 7. Actually the whole Psalm is talking about how the people who fear the Lord are benefited. What their lives are supposed to look like.

Do you know people who are driven by fear? They’re the people who always think the worst. The glass-is-half-empty types who can imagine the worst case scenario for even the best circumstances. Maybe you know someone who lives in a constant state of anxiety. Maybe that’s you. It’s not fun. Not at all. It controls your thoughts. It controls your actions. It keeps you pinned down in terror, projecting your worst nightmares come to life. And maybe you think you’re protecting the people you care about, but in reality you’re just driving them away. Fear is never a quality that makes someone a good friend.

And there is so much to fear in our world.

We live in a dangerous place. Even those of us “safe in the United States” can come up with myriad dangers that can control our lives. Car wrecks. Cancer. School shootings. Some people fear that they will lose their jobs, and in this economic climate it’s not unlikely. I know many people who have lost their jobs, especially most recently with Boeing pulling out of Wichita. Not old people. These are people with families and mortgages, not old enough to retire but probably not young enough to find another career path.

So how can you handle that kind of bad news without anxiety? How can this verse be true? Because at first glance it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You fear the Lord so you don’t have to fear bad news? Is that what it’s saying?

When I first read this, I thought what I usually think. This fearing the Lord isn’t the same as fearing bad news. In this context, fear of the Lord is more like reverence or worship, according to the Amplified Version. But what if it is the same concept? I don’t speak Hebrew, so obviously I don’t know. But what I do know is American culture. And Americans are good at revering bad news. Because it creates drama. It creates action. It shakes us up, and those who are not affected by the bad news get a show. Or they are entertained. As a culture, we worship bad news.

Even some believers worship bad news in a twisted way. They don’t like it when it comes, but they focus on it. Bad news arrives (because it always will in our broken world), and it stops us in our tracks. And we zone in on it and refuse to move on. And even though we hate it and even though we would give anything to make it go away, we stop and build an altar to it and make daily sacrifices to it. We worship our bad news.

Guess what?

You don’t have to.

When bad news inevitably comes, recognize it and keep moving. You don’t have to stop and build a monument to it. It’s okay to recognize it, but don’t stop your forward momentum. God has us all on a path and wants us to move forward. But so many of us get stuck in a rut mulling over our bad news day after day until we don’t even remember what God had planned for us to begin with.

Bad news can only stop you if you let it. The more you fear it–the more you worship it–the weaker you’ll be and the more time you’ll waste.

Fear God. Recognize that God is the one who can get you through your bad news. Focus on Him. Not on your circumstances. Not on your situation. No on your frustrations. Bad news will come. It always does. But don’t fear it and don’t let it throw you.

You don’t have to be afraid of bad news.