You don’t have to live life alone

I spent last weekend hanging around people who speak my language. I have so many friends, so many wonderful encouragers that God has put in my life, so many incredible people who mean the world to me, but last weekend, I got to spend time with other people who write down what the voices in their heads are saying.

No, we’re not psycho. We’re writers. And we’re all a little weird. I’m just being honest. And while I adore my friends and family here at home and around the world (people who I know love me), I don’t always like to talk about writing with them. It’s not that I don’t want to share. It’s just that writing means something different to me than it does to them.

My brother is an engineer. He’s freakin’ brilliant, and he loves all those complicated engineering type things. He loves talking about them too, but many of his friends aren’t engineers. So he refrains from talking about it so that everyone can participate in conversation. That’s the same thing a lot of writers do. If you know someone who writes, they may not talk about it all the time for fear of coming off as a complete psychopath, but if they’re serious about their craft, it’s all they think about.

So it was really nice to be in a giant room full of writers because we were all on the same page. More than that, this conference is for writers who believe in Jesus, so not only are we wired the same way, we all write for the same reason–to glorify the Lord. Being around so many people who “just get me” was such a blessing, and then this morning I ran across a Psalm that reminded me I don’t have to go looking for a writer when I need someone to understand me.

bench-couple-love-people_1534x1023Today’s verses are Psalm 139:1-6.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

God gets you. You know that, right? He made you the way you are, so He understands how you’re wired. It’s comforting for me because my brain is so very strange. It’s good to know that God understands how the circuitry works.

Everyone feels isolated at some point in their lives, and that’s normal. But if you’re a Christ-follower, you don’t have to live life alone. God will have put people in your life who love you. Maybe they don’t always understand you, but they love you anyway. They’re there for you. Don’t take them for granted.

But more than that, God understands you. He knows your heart. He knows your thoughts. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing or what you’ve done or what you will do, God knows you and loves you and wants to have a personal, face-t0-face, one-on-one relationship. Imagine that! Having the God of the Universe for a friend! You can’t beat that.

So don’t trick yourself into thinking you can hide from God. It doesn’t work. You don’t want to hide from Him anyway. It’s just kind of silly to even try. And don’t convince yourself that you’re on your own either. You’re not.

The next time you’re feeling lonely or misunderstood, tell God about it. He’s always ready to listen, and He always wants to hear from you. He likes your ideas, and He believes you’re worth listening to. So what are you waiting for?

Nobody is a lost cause

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in this life alone? Like you know that God is there, but He seems content to watch you struggle through frustration after frustration just so that you’ll learn something? I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve been there before. Deep in my heart I know that it’s not true and God will always take care of me, but in the dark moments when I’ve had enough, I’ve definitely felt abandoned. Or even targeted.

But is that really who God–and by extension Jesus–is? Is He really the distant, unfeeling deity in the clouds who would subject His followers to challenges and obstacles and stand back and watch them stumble and fall without interceding? Wouldn’t it be nice if He’d just offer some means of figuring out why you have to go through all this crap? Wouldn’t it be awesome if He’d just show you what you need to learn?

Guess what? He has.

Hanging-off-a-cliff-edgeToday’s verses are Matthew 4:18-20.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

When I was little, I thought it was really odd that these grown men would just leave their jobs and follow after this random guy who called out to them. It didn’t seem very practical to me. After all, if they didn’t know the guy, they couldn’t know if he were leading them into some kind of trap … you know, like where they’d be knocked out and have their kidneys stolen or something.

But Jesus wasn’t just some guy. And Peter and Andrew had already heard of Him (honestly I think there were few in the area who hadn’t heard of Him). But Andrew, Peter’s brother, had already met Jesus and decided that He was indeed the Messiah. So they knew who Jesus was and what He was up to when He called them out.

This passage tells us a lot about Peter and Andrew, but it also tells us a lot about Jesus. Jesus called the disciples by telling them He had something to teach them–something different than the trade they already knew. How to fish for people–how to lead others to know God.

It’s not that they were joining a super secret club where only the elite have access. You realize what these men did for a living right? They were blue collar workers, to put it mildly. The Bible actually calls them “unlearned, ignorant men.” Jesus wasn’t calling the brilliant. He was calling the everyday people, and He still is, because we still have a lot to learn. And fortunately He has a lot to teach. And everyone is invited.

He wanted to teach these men how to live life with Him, how to see God in the everyday moments, how to trust God in the tough times, and how to seek God first with everything in their hearts. And we have an example of how to live and what to believe through what these men learned in following Jesus. We have the Bible, God’s own Word handed down to us through the generations.

The truth is that we aren’t alone, and God isn’t just lounging around in heaven watching our struggles like Earth is one giant reality TV show. Neither is Jesus. And neither is the Holy Spirit. All three of Them are active and alive, vivid participants in our world and our universe.

The thing about Jesus is that He never changes, and if He wasn’t exclusive back then, He’s not exclusive now. He doesn’t play favorites, and He won’t ever turn anyone away who comes to Him. Jesus was open to those who were seeking, to those who wanted answers, to those willing to hear the truth. He doesn’t see status, wealth or education. He just sees a willing heart.

That means no matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done, Jesus wants to hear from you. No matter how you’ve screwed up or how many people you’ve heart or how many times you’ve let people down, you can’t commit a sin too deep that Jesus blood can’t wash away.

That means nobody is a lost cause.

Alone isn’t always better, especially when it comes to worship

When I’m tired and stressed out, the last thing I want to do is be around people. When I’m running behind on my deadlines and have so many unresolved issues in my own life, the last thing I want to do is talk to people about their lives.

With everything that’s been going on in my life–between work and sickness and family issues–I hadn’t been to church in about a month. I realized it as I was pulling into the parking lot yesterday. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I’ve managed to get myself over committed again. Some of it is my own doing. The rest of it is someone else’s doing (hence Friday’s post). But no matter who is responsible, I still have too much work to get done and not enough days left in 2014. Even as I was parking the car, I was thinking maybe I’d have opportunity to slip out early so I could get some work done.

Well, God took a 2×4 to my thick skull today and reminded me why I needed to be at my church today. Because hiding doesn’t help you manage your tiredness and your stress, and focusing on your own unresolved issues often makes them worse instead of better.

700879_77376177Today’s verse is Colossians 3:16.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

I spend most of my 45-minute commute every morning talking to God and singing along with the radio or my own personal mix of music. And that’s good for me. It helps me get my focus right. It helps me remember that my life isn’t about me and that God has put me where I am for a reason. But there’s something different about being in a group of people all singing together or all praying together. It’s important to do it on your own, but when you’re one voice among many, all talking to the same God, it becomes more real somehow.

I’m sure I’ve realized this before, but standing in worship yesterday with an auditorium full of other Christ-followers, all singing at the top of our lungs–it helped me remember that I’m not in this fight alone. And maybe that’s a silly thing to realize, because it’s something I already know. But when you lock yourself away, it’s easier to forget that you are surrounded by a community of people who believe the same way you do. People who understand you better than you think.

And instead of worrying about my problems and my issues and my deadlines and all the things that I am responsible to do, I just stood in awe, lifted up by 1500 voices (or however many our auditorium holds these days) all telling God how great He is. And all I could think about was how I hope it made Him happy, how I desperately wanted Him to know how thankful I am for my life and my family and my priceless friendship with Him.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do. But what really matters in the end?

It’s ironic, really. I didn’t want to go to church because I had too much to do. But I went anyway because I knew I needed to. And when I got home I finished three major things that I’d been trying to get done all last week. That should teach me something.

I’m so blessed to have a wonderful church. No, it’s not perfect, but no group of people is. What’s important is that it’s where I’m called to be right now. If you don’t have a church or some place you can go to worship–and I mean really worship–please do yourself a favor and find one. And once you find it, go. Yes, life is busy and frantic and stressful, and it’s getting ready to get worse with the holidays approaching, but the more time you spend alone on your own deadlines and problems, the more you focus on them and the less you focus on just being in God’s presence.

It’s the one place I can really be still. Where I can’t find words and I don’t worry about it because with Him I don’t need them. Where I don’t try to hide because He knows me inside and out. And, yeah, I can worship in my car on my own, but when you’re in a group of people all focusing on God and all telling Him how wonderful He is, your problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

It will seem like a hassle. It will seem like more trouble than it’s worth. It will sound like work. But going to church where you can worship God in a community of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is never a bad idea, no matter how busy you are. Take the time to do it. Get your focus off yourself, and put your focus where it belongs–on God.

Your problems won’t go away, but you’ll see them for what they are–opportunities for God to show you just how wonderful He truly is.

Lonely chair on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Did God create us to live life alone?

Have you ever talked to a stranger and discovered you had more in common than you expected? I’m truly an introvert, so I don’t do extremely well in talking to people I don’t know. But I’ve had conversations on airplanes, in elevators–brief snatches of talk with waitresses in restaurants–and in those moments, I’ve been stunned at similarities or common points of view I’ve shared with them.

I really believe God brings people with like minds together without their knowledge frequently, and it’s up to us to figure out what we have in common. But the greatest and possibly most damaging lie our enemy whispers in our ears is that we are alone, that no one understands what it’s like to be you.

Lonely chair on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Lonely chair on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:24-25.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Why is it important to have community in our lives? I hear people ask that often. Why is community important? Well, why is it important to know you can trust your next-door neighbor? That’s an obvious question. You want to know that your next-door neighbor has your back, that he’s watching out for suspicious activity around your house, that he’ll be there to make sure your home doesn’t burn down if you’re on vacation.

Having a spiritual community is no different. No matter how independent you may be, you still need friends. You still need people around you to keep you on the right track, to steer you in the right direction, to smack you on the head if you twist off and try to do something stupid. Nobody is strong enough to make it through life alone, and God doesn’t expect you to.

If God thought you were strong enough to survive life alone He wouldn’t have made so many people around you.

Yesterday I got another opportunity to remember just how awesome God is at putting pieces together. I watched a room full of strangers–these people had never met each other before–find common ground and forge friendships in mere moments.

Why is that important? Why does it matter?

Well, how would it make you feel if you bravely explained your life to a room of strangers and they all looked at you like you’d sprouted another head?

Conversely, how would you feel if you did the same thing and two other people–people you don’t know–express that they’ve had your same experience, that they’ve shared your struggles, your fears, your failures? I don’t know about you, but finding people who’ve experienced what I’ve experienced makes me feel like I’m not a lost cause. If someone else knows what it’s like to live my life and they’ve survived, maybe there’s hope for me too.

That’s God’s power in community. He brings people together from all walks of life, people who should have nothing in common, and they discover they have everything in common. He brings us together to help each other through the hard times in life, to support each other and encourage each other when life gets hard.

No wonder Paul warns us not to avoid gathering together. Growing up I thought that was a passive aggressive way to make me feel guilty for not going to church every time the doors were open, but that’s not what it means. What it means is don’t shut God’s family out of your life. Don’t isolate yourself because you think you aren’t worthy or you think no one will understand you. I guarantee you’re wrong.

Someone else out there has experienced your same trouble. Someone else out there could benefit from learning what God has taught you.

Do you have a community? Do you have people in your life who hold you accountable, who pick you up when you fall down, who laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry? If you haven’t got one, look for one. Pray that God shows you where to find one, and He’ll open doors you didn’t even know existed.

We were never intended to live life alone. So stop trying.

An orchid in the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God works with us to help us figure life out

Do you believe God knows what He’s doing? I do, but that still doesn’t stop me from wondering what the heck he’s thinking sometimes. I’m so very grateful that He’s there putting pieces together because it’s times like these that I can’t see the big picture. All I can see is the damage.

An orchid in the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

An orchid in the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 8:28.

And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

I had been planning to post a Psalm today, but this verse was featured prominently on a site I frequent. And it seemed appropriate to focus on it today. I know so many people going through difficult times right now, and in the midst of all those trying circumstances it’s tempting to think that God has walked away. But that’s just our enemy trying to discourage us.

This is one of those verses that everyone uses and everyone knows, and I honestly hesitate to use those kinds of verses. But just because they’re popular doesn’t make them untrue, and this is reassurance I needed today.

God’s got a plan He’s working on, and that plan is going to be good and bring good to the people who love Him.

The Amplified Version actually says it this way: We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.

God being a partner in their labor. I’ve never seen that before, and that actually changes my view on this verse a little. Because it’s easy to think that God has this distant and powerful plan already in place that all of us fit into like puzzle pieces on a card table. And it’s easy for me to envision that He just puts the puzzle together.

But if God is a partner in our labor, working things out, that’s personal. Partners work together. Side by side, hand in hand, face to face. He’s not just sitting at a table piecing our lives together. He’s in our lives, building our lives one brick at a time alongside us. He doesn’t just snap His fingers and life happens, though He could. He gets His hands dirty and works in our lives.

Have you ever thought that way? I haven’t. I don’t know about you but working side-by-side with God to figure my screwy life out sounds like a good idea.

He already knows what’s going to happen. He’s seen the last page. He knows the last line. But we don’t, and time moves differently for us. His being available to help us through life a moment at a time isn’t for His benefit; it’s for ours.

Whatever you’re facing today, God has a plan. No matter how you’re struggling, no matter how you’ve been hurt, no matter what you’re afraid of, no matter aspect of life you don’t understand, God’s working it out, and not from some distant point where you can’t access Him. He’s right here with us, offering to work alongside us to help us get through the difficult times.

Challenges help us grow, so embrace them. Hurt feelings suck, but God’s plan is more important, so shake it off. Loss can be devastating, so take the time to grieve but move forward, holding God’s hand.

He hasn’t left us on our own, and He won’t. God is good, and so are His plans for us, in spite of what our enemy may be whispering in your ear today. We don’t have to stumble around in the dark hoping to find our way. God’s waiting for us to catch up. So keep your eyes open, keep your heart open to Him, and jump.

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t let solitude become a security blanket

I’m an independent person. I always have been, from the time I was a little girl. I don’t need much to make it through in life. I’m not really the sort of person who requires socialization or a circle of friends. It’s easy for me to be on my own, and by that token, it’s easy for me to isolate myself. I live like a hermit anyway, alone in the middle of nowhere. And now I don’t even have a cat to talk to, as they’ve all either died of old age or got carried off by owls or coyotes.

And while I like the quietude of this lifestyle choice, sometimes the silence lies and tries to convince me that I’m isolated because I’m alone. And there’s a big difference between being isolated and being alone, between being independent and being lonely. I don’t necessarily think that isolation is bad. It just depends on your motives. But if you’re going to live a life that’s solitary–and even if you don’t–you need to be aware that lies get louder in silence. And you need to remember that even if you enjoy being on your own, you still need people.

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lonely tree in the southern field behind Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I’ve been running wild the last couple of months. Actually, running wild is sort of a constant with me. I’m always dashing from one thing to another, rarely standing still. But that’s me, and I’ve got a lot of plates spinning. So for the last few months, I actually haven’t been able to go to church. I’m fortunate to attend a church that streams their services live, so I’ve watched when I had the opportunity. But streaming online isn’t the same as being there in person.

I got to go this weekend. And being in the service, surrounded by friends and family in the blood of Christ reminded me just how much I need people. When I’m on my own, busy and bustling back and forth from crisis to crisis, it’s easy for me to think that I’m okay without sharing life with people. I’m functioning just fine, after all. But there’s more to life than just functioning. There’s more to life than just surviving. God didn’t put me here to just make it through another day. He wants me to thrive. He wants me to grow. He wants me to live.

And while I prefer the silence sometimes, silence isn’t always conducive to growth. And you can’t experience real friendship if you don’t invest in other people. It’s a risk, yes, because people are people. But it’s worth it.

Pastor posed a question in his message yesterday, asking us to think about the people who’ve loved us the most in our lives and what our lives would look like without them. That’s difficult to even think about. And my first thought was that I didn’t have a whole lot of people who loved me like that, and that’s when I realized I’d been shutting myself away too long. Because that’s a lie.

I started making a list of people who’ve loved me, who’ve made a difference in my life, and needless to say it’s very very long. It was much longer than I expected it to be. I have been very fortunate in my life to have many, many people come alongside me to support me and love me more than I deserved. But when you get so busy with your nose to the grindstone, it’s easy to forget the people who’ve invested in you.

So for the rest of this month, I really want to focus on friendships and relationships in life and how important they are. Granted, I’m not going to change the way I live, unless God tells me I need to. But I don’t have to shut myself away from people. Living a quiet life is good. Having quiet moments is essential. But when the quiet changes from a refuge to a security blanket, you’ve got a problem.

Don’t cut people out of your life. If you were sufficient on your own, God wouldn’t have made other people. And, yes, God is sufficient for you as your friend, your maker, your God, your Lord. But if it was just supposed to be you and God going through life without any other interaction with people, why are there people around you? God designed us to invest in each other. So don’t run away from it. Embrace it. Yes, that means you’re taking a risk. Yes, that means you’ll have to give up some time alone. But what are you really here for?

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What friends are for

Do you ever feel the need to be alone? I’m not talking just getting away from people. Even the most extroverted person needs some quiet time every now and then. I mean alone, like you cut ties with everyone you knew. Alone, as in by yourself with no one around you.

Why is that? Why do some people feel the need to shut others out and try to shoulder their burdens by themselves? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I’m afraid that people will think I’m weak.

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

School house window – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:3-4.

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings 19 is an interesting chapter. It follows one of the most amazing Old Testament stories in the Bible, when Elijah challenged Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was real, Baal or God. Elijah called fire down, and the prophets of Baal just made idiots out of themselves. And all of Israel that had gathered there declared that God was the true God and that they would worship Him.

It was a high moment in Elijah’s life. But, of course, that made Queen Jezebel pretty angry, and she threatened to kill Elijah.

Whenever this story comes around, most folks will focus on the fact that Elijah crashes. After experiencing a mountaintop day with God, the next day, he crumbles into a useless heap in a cave and has a pity party.

Or people will talk about God asking Elijah what he’s doing there. Or people will focus on how God spoke to Elijah, not in the wind and not in the fire but in the still, small voice. But as I was reading this morning, something stood out to me that I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before.

Verse 3, at the very beginning of the story, tells us that Elijah fled for his life and left his servant behind before he went on alone.

Maybe that’s not significant. But it popped out on the page at me today because I am constantly doing the same thing.

I live on a mountaintop pretty much. My life is amazing. I get to see God doing awesome things just about every day. But it’s not uncommon for me to take a tumble and have a bad day either. I’m human. And I’m emotional enough, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, that I can end up pouting under a broom tree asking God to kill me.

And on those days, I don’t want anyone to see me like that. So I leave people behind and go off and figure out how to handle my emotional breakdowns all by myself.

Is that the right thing to do? I don’t really think so. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with taking quiet time to get your heart and your mind right. There’s nothing wrong with taking alone time so you and God can get right again. But that’s not what I’m talking about. And that’s not what Elijah did either.

Elijah didn’t want his servant to witness him being less than perfect. This is the same servant who got to see his master be bold and daring just days earlier. This is the same servant who not only got to see Elijah call fire down from heaven but also rain, after it hadn’t rained in three years.

Elijah knew he wasn’t living up to the expectations God had for him. Why else would he tell his servant to stay behind while he went on alone? Elijah wasn’t wandering off to get his head straight. He was going off to beat himself up, to tear himself down, to rip himself apart. And he was too proud to share his feelings with anyone else because he was afraid of what they would think of him.

Maybe I’m putting words in Elijah’s mouth. But that’s what I do.

I’m still working through this. I’ve always been a loner, the kind of person who has to fight through challenges and struggles on my own. But God is beginning to show me that being alone isn’t always the best thing. He’s given us friends for a reason, to keep us accountable, to make us laugh when we don’t even feel like smiling, to love us on the days when we really can’t stand ourselves.

The simple truth is that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and refusing to be honest about that with other people will only hurt our relationships, even if you’re just trying to protect them from your screwups.

God didn’t allow Elijah to be alone. He sent an angel to take care of him. And after God was through talking to him, he sent Elijah on several tasks, ending with appointing a successor, Elisha. They traveled together, and Elisha never let Elijah out of his sight.

God’s given us friends for a reason. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather friends, the ones who are only with you on the good days. I’d be willing to be that everyone has a friend who would do anything for them, whether they know it or not. Those friends love you for who you are. And on those days when you feel like crawling into a cave and asking God to kill you, instead go to those friends and tell them what’s wrong. Let them listen, and don’t worry about what they think of you.

Most likely, they’ll just listen. And they’ll love you anyway. That’s what friends are for.