Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Staying alert so we know how to pray

Wichita is an interesting city. In the past, thanks to the multitude of aircraft manufacturing facilities here, we have all enjoyed something of an economic bubble. So when the rest of the country is scraping the bottom of the barrel financially speaking, we aren’t usually as bad off. Granted, the terrible economy still affects us but it doesn’t seem to be as bad as the rest of the country.

And we’re centrally located in the heart of the Heartland, where wholesome old-fashioned values are still worth something. Some have called Kansas the buckle of the Bible belt. And cost of living is probably the lowest of most other states. Life is harder here, though, than in other states; you have to be tough to deal with the climate and other aspects of living in a state that’s 90% sky. But overall, Kansas is pretty much bubble. And Wichita, though it has its moments, is the kind of place you can live and shut out the rest of the world pretty easily.

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:18.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Being alert is an exhausting task. It’s difficult to accomplish in simple communities, but if you try to stay alert in our world today? With governments and the threats that are active today? Yeah, not so easy.

But I find it ironic that in the Age of Information, where even toddlers know how to operate an iPhone, we are less informed about life in general than ever. It seems to me that the more we have the ability to know, the less we actually learn. Maybe it’s because we take it for granted that the information will always be available to us at the click of a mouse. I don’t know.

But I do know that if we are lazy and don’t take the initiative to be aware of what is going on around us, we’re going to be in a world of hurt, especially as believers. As followers of Christ, we are called to know what is happening in our life, in our family, in our country, and in the world as a whole. Why? So that we can participate the best way we know how, so that we can help people who need help, and so that we can pray specifically for the needs of others. And if we don’t know what others need, how can we pray?

I’m guilty of the generic “God be with so-and-so” types of prayers, sometimes because I’m too emotional to pray out loud what I’m really feeling. But mostly because I’ve been too indolent to find out what’s really happening in the situation.

And I’ll admit that I don’t pay as close attention to local or world news as I should. I don’t watch television. I don’t read the paper. As a journalist, I can hardly bear to listen or read anything that’s out there, mainly because I know the way it’s supposed to be done. Unbiased and true. Reporting the news instead of manipulating it. But every news organization in the world has become a marketing organization. There’s no truth reported anymore. It’s all spin. But even in all the spin, there is a grain of truth. And it’s my responsibility to know what’s happening.

I need to be alert so I know how to pray. Specific prayer is better than generic prayer for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates how much you care about what you’re asking for.

Ephesians 6 is one of those iconic chapters that has been quoted in just about every topic and subject in study, and if you have the chance the read the whole thing, you should. Actually, I recommend reading the whole Book of Ephesians. it’s not long. But Ephesians 6 is where you find the text about the Armor of God, though in the Message version it doesn’t actually reference it as armor.

It’s easy in the types of lives that we all live right now to forget that we’re in a war. Living in the bubble of the Midwest where we still have plenty to eat and cars to drive and clothes to wear and entertainment to distract us, it’s easy to forget that the world is in chaos.

As believers, it’s our responsibility to be aware. Because even if we can’t do anything about it, we can ask God to take care of it. And God has proven that He responds to the prayers of His people.

Ephesians 6:13-18 (The Message)

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Wake up. Open your eyes. And get ready.

Wheat almost ready - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Who needs a paycheck?

I’ve been praying for my neighbors because we are hovering on the edge of one of the most amazing harvests I can ever remember. The wheat has never looked so beautiful. The photo for today comes from a week or so ago, and since then most of the fields around my home have turned almost completely golden. There’s no sight like it on earth.

Now if we can just hold on for a few more weeks with no major storms, no major floods, Kansas could have a very good year. And about time too. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good harvest in these parts.

I think farming and writing are very similar in some ways, especially when it comes to harvests. Because in both professions you can pour your heart and soul into what you do and never see a positive financial return. You can farm and farm until you’ve planted acres and acres of every crop, and (at least in Kansas) one bad storm can wipe it out. It has nothing to do with your dedication; it’s just life.

Writing’s the same in some cases. I realized the other day that I’ve been writing for almost 20 years, and I have yet to see an actual return on any of it. Granted, I only started letting some of that writing out into the public eye in the last five years. But still. If you run the numbers, you can get discouraged pretty quickly. And then you stumble into a verse like today’s?

Wheat almost ready - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat almost ready – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 6:38.

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

How does that work? I can honestly tell you that I’ve worked my fingers to the bone writing since I was a child. My dream since childhood was to be a published author. And I haven’t cut corners. At all. I’ve never expected a free ride, and I’ve dedicated every free moment to it. Even my vacations have been an opportunity to pursue writing.

So according to this rule, the rule of sowing and reaping, I should get back what I invest. And I should get back more of it. This is a law of nature that God created when He made the world. Newton figured it out too; for every action there is a reaction. Cause and effect.

So where does Jesus get off telling me this today?

Farmers plant fields and harvest crops, unless you live in Kansas. Then, generally, you plant crops and harvest dust. Much like writers write books and harvest disappointment when no one wants to buy their work. Am I wrong?

I’m only being partially facetious.

I would be right, yes, if Jesus were only talking about financial returns. I can’t really speak to farmers because I don’t farm (unless you count weeds), but when it comes to writing there is something more satisfying than being paid for your work. And that is when your work touches someone else.

No, I haven’t published a novel yet. But you’re reading this blog post, aren’t you?

No, I haven’t received a financial return on anything I’ve written, but I didn’t really start writing to get rich and famous. I started writing and telling stories because it was an outlet where I could share what God has done in my life. And so much more important to me is communicating that truth to other people, whether it’s in blog posts or articles or short stories or novels. And maybe I haven’t written anything that’s made money. And maybe I never will. But if you count up the people I’ve been able to share my story with through words, that vastly outweighs a paycheck of any kind.

I’ve invested 20 years of my life in writing, in learning how to tell stories, in sharing what God has taught me through words. And I can tell you, the returns I’ve seen, while not financial, are greater than what I originally invested. I’ve given my life to writing, and I’ve watched God take that and make it into something bigger than what I could have imagined, not only being a blessing to people but encouraging others to start sharing their story too. And that’s worth more to me than almost anything.

So whatever you’re doing in your life today, remember that the whole principle of sowing and reaping applies. It really does. It just may not pay off in the way you’re expecting. If what you’re doing in your life honors God, you will see a return. That’s a promise. So don’t give up.

Who needs a paycheck anyway, right? … Like I said. Partially facetious. =)

Apricot blossoms - SAfe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Why are we here?

I’ve been in a pretty dark place for the last two months. There have just been so many issues, so many things happening, so many upsetting circumstances, so many sad moments. Don’t get me wrong; I believe it all happens for a reason, but it can be very difficult to remain positive and uplifting when everything around you is crumbling.

Slowly but surely, it feels like things are starting to brighten up again. Sort of like what happens when spring really hits and little flowers burst out along the lines of the dead branches of trees. It’s that little reminder that life goes on and everything has a purpose and God has a plan.

But that’s not to say the difficult times won’t come again. On the contrary, with the world in the state that it’s in, dark moments seem to hover constantly, just waiting for the opportune moment to drop on all of us. And on those days, I need more than a few happy little flowers to brighten my perspective.

Apricot blossoms - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Apricot blossoms – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 11:33-36.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

If you have a moment, you really should read all of Romans 11. One of the things I love about Paul is that he references existing Scripture, and Romans 11 is a great example of how the Old Testament and the New Testament complete each other. Just in this passage alone, Paul quotes both Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11.

Can we really know what God is thinking? Can we really grasp what He’s doing?

Well, to a certain extent, I think we can understand His motivation. If you are a follower of Christ, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. So you have direct access to God, which gives you an inside track to what God is planning (as long as you’re listening, mind you). But even if you can understand God’s motivation, I don’t think we can ever grasp the fullness of what God is doing in our lives. Because even though we’ve been made right with God, we are still human. We’re still flawed. We’re still limited. And God isn’t any of those things, and many times His decisions won’t make sense to us. So we just have to trust His heart.

If you think you know enough about what God is planning to tell Him what’s what, I’ll leave that up to you. But I can tell you that I don’t know enough to be giving God advice. I don’t know enough to be giving anyone advice. That’s why this blog is all about the Bible instead of just what I think about the world in general.

And even though I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot for God, I haven’t given Him nearly anything in comparison to what He’s given me. So I don’t dare get into the mindset that God owes me anything. How could I even think that when He’s done so much for me?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.

Can any one of us claim something like that? No.

I get so wrapped up in my daily life that I forget what really matters. I get so discouraged by my failures and my flaws. I get so disappointed by people and the way they treat each other. But here’s the deal, guys: That’s life.

Our lives are broken. Stuff happens. And God is bigger than any of it. He’s big enough to take all that bad stuff and turn it into something beautiful. Because it’s all for His glory anyway. And that’s why we live: for His glory.

So don’t let the darkness of this world get you down. And don’t let the shortcomings of people around you make you doubt that God is working. (If nothing else, that should be a confirmation of it.) And if you need more than a few cheery flowers to help you remember that God has everything under control when your world is spinning, remember why we’re here.  

We’re here to praise Him. We’re here to acknowledge that He is the One who matters, that He made everything, that He will be until time doesn’t exist anymore. Earth is just a stepping stone, a temporary stop on the road. And when our time here is done, we’ll all move on to something else.

Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Staying sharp

A knife can only cut something so many times before it gets dull. When I was growing up, we had sharp knives that we used to chop onion or celery, but they were so dull they did more smashing than cutting. I remember that my mom took them to be sharpened once, and when they came back we had to be very careful when we chopped with them.

What is interesting about knives is that you can’t expect to sharpen them using a material lesser than what they are made from. Anything less than the material they’re made from, and the knife will cut through.

Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Two tea cups in the cabinet – Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:17.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m a pretty independent person, and I’m an introvert to boot. So I’m not one of those people who runs around looking for new friends all the time. I’m not against making new friends, but it’s not my first priority.

And although there are times when I love to be alone, I recognize fully that I need people around me at other times.

No one person is an island. We weren’t created to be on our own all the time. God made us with the concept of community in mind. We need each other. We need each other to keep each other honest, to help us stay accountable to the promises and the choices we’ve made, and to help us get up again when we fall down.

There’s another verse that I blogged on some time ago about how two people are better than one because when one falls down the other can help them up. And that’s very true. But what kind of people are you choosing for your friends?

That can make a major difference in how you live your life. Friends are a huge influence. The people you spend your time with will determine a lot about you and about the choices you will make.

Friendship is just like trying to keep a knife sharp. If you choose a friend who is at a different place in their walk with God than you are and you decide to make that friend the closest one in your arsenal, you’re going to struggle. I’m not trying to be snobbish here. This is just a fact.

If you have one knife made out of steel and another knife made out of wood, what’s going to happen to the wood knife? The wood knife is going to be destroyed, and the steel knife will only get duller.

But what happens when you put a steel knife with a steel knife? They sharpen each other. They turn out better than they were before you started sharpening them. That’s what happens with friends who are walking with God the same way you are. You can point out the places where you’re struggling. You can help each other understand (or at least deal with) the things God is doing in both your lives. You can encourage each other to keep going.

Iron sharpens iron. Steel can’t sharpen itself. It will just get duller and duller. And it will cut through anything of a less quality material, but if you match it against more steel, it will be stronger than it was before.

If you want to maintain a solid biblical walk, get yourself a solid biblical friendship and hold on to it. There will be times when it’s not fun, especially when you need to admit you’ve done something wrong, but more often than not, you’ll build a relationship with another believer that will last through your lifetime on earth.

There is nothing more awesome than staying out with a cup of coffee and a friend you know you can trust, encouraging each other and reminding each other that God is still working even if you can’t see it right now.

The importance of focus in balance

No, you’re not imagining it. The photo I picked today is blurry. But I was clinging to the back of a horse with no saddle, and it was difficult enough to get my camera out of my pack and hold it straight forward without losing my grip, let alone try to get it out of manual mode and into automatic. So … the image is blurry.

But this is the “road” to Esfuerzo II, one of the Kekchi villages I visited on my last trip to Guatemala. You can kind of see one of the buildings at the top of the hill.

On the road to Esfuerzo II - Peten, Guatemala

On the road to Esfuerzo II – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:13.

A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit.

I’m talking about perspective again this morning. I know I talked about it yesterday, but yesterday was more about focusing on the solution instead of the problem.

This morning, I got to wondering about how exactly you’re supposed to find the solution to think about in the first place. How can you be cheerful when nothing is going the way you think it ought to be?

Well, much like choosing the settings on your camera before you take a picture, you have to choose what parts of your life you’re going to focus on before you make a decision to be grumpy or glad.

I had an exciting experience yesterday that taught me a lot about focus. I woke up at my usual time 5:45 a.m. and rolled out of bed, but as I rolled over and sat up, the room kept rolling. It was truly the most disorienting sensation I’ve ever experienced. The room just kept spinning and spinning. Finally I got into a position where it stopped, but I still felt light-headed and weird. So I made it downstairs and sat down, but the moment I leaned back in a chair, it flared up again. So I leaned forward instead, and that made it worse! I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.

So I did what any self-respecting, independent woman with a high-profile corporate job would do. I called my mom. =)

So mom came out and got me, and she took me to the doctor. And it turns out I managed to catch a virus that attacks the fluid levels in my inner ear, which is what controls my balance. So I got a great big steroid shot (yay) and some motion sickness meds, and I feel much better today.

But while the world was spinning, there was only one thing I could do to get it to stop. I had to focus on a point straight ahead of me and keep my head level. That was it. Nothing else would stop it. No other movement or position would allow me to walk straight. I just had to focus on one point and not move from it.

I’m sure you probably see where this is going.

Our world is spinning out of control. No politician or political party can stop it. No congressional initiative can stop it. No educational grants or school loans can stop it. We’re all walking around in a culture that’s circling the drain, and we lose a little more of our future every day. And it’s no wonder we’re all grumpy and sad and bitter. Because we keep focusing on things that change.

When I was in the middle of these dizzy spells, if I tried to focus on something that was moving, it just made the dizziness worse. When I was clinging to the back of that Guatemalan-sized horse, if I tried to focus on the destination, I wouldn’t have been ready for the road under the horse’s feet, which was rocky and uneven and threatened to dump me off if I weren’t paying attention.

You have to focus on what you know isn’t going to change. You have to focus on the person who is going to figure it out.

In these instances, I had to focus on the butt-ugly wallpaper in my living room. And in Guatemala, I had to focus on the horse, when he gathered his muscles, when he relaxed, when he climbed, when he descended.

It’s the same way in our lives.

When everything is falling apart, focus on what the Bible says about God. That’s He’s good. That He has good plans for us. That He knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. He doesn’t change, and He will be the one to figure it all out.

That’s what you focus on. And when you can focus on that, the gladness will soon follow. You’ll be glad because you don’t have to worry about taking care of everything. You won’t have to worry about things you can’t control anyway, and that’s a tremendous weight off your shoulders. And when you’re glad in your spirit, it won’t be long before the rest of you is glad too.