Preparing for storm season

Preparing for storm season is part of life in Kansas. Powerful storms and tornadoes are usually the first thing that comes to mind whenever people think about my beloved home state. Even when I was in Ireland, once people realized where I was from, the first thing they asked about was if I had experienced storms.

It was either the tornadoes or The Wizard of Oz. No, I don’t have a dog named Toto. No, I don’t have ruby red slippers. Sorry to disappoint.

Tornadoes are scary things, which is why preparing for storm season matters. I’ve never been in a tornado per se, but I’ve been close to them. I’ve seen them from a distance, and I’ve felt the frightening stillness that proceeds one. I’ve witnessed hail that broke windows and shattered vinyl siding. I’ve seen torrents of rain that washed away roads and drowned wheat crops. And I’ve walked in the debris and rubble of the aftermath. Powerful, dangerous, deadly—tornadoes pose a terrifying threat to people who aren’t ready for them.

But what if you are ready?

In the last ten years, tornadoes have started venturing out of their traditional habitat, the central plains and Midwest. States like Missouri and Massachusetts and Alabama and Georgia have started seeing tornadoes more frequently, and the damage they do is unprecedented. Why? Because few in those parts of the country have ever experienced a storm like that before, and preparing for storm season isn’t something they think about.

In May 2011, an EF5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri. Officially, 158 people died, and more than 1,100 people were injured.

Four years earlier, in May 2007, a gigantic EF5 wedge tornado struck the small Kansas town of Greensburg and leveled 95% of it. The tornado itself was wider than the town. Eleven people died.

Instagram image storm season prepIt was a similar-sized tornado, although the size of the cities was vastly different. So how can one city have seen so many die while the other only a fraction? That’s not to minimize the deaths of 11 people. Any death is tragic. But what made the difference?

There were many reasons, but I wonder if one has to be that the Joplin tornado of 2011 was only the third tornado to hit the city since 1971. That’s three tornadoes in 40 years. Greensburg, on the other hand, probably has at least one close call per year.

People in Greensburg were prepared. They had shelters, safe places, basements. They listened to the warnings and knew what to do and where to go. They were ready.

You can’t expect people who’ve never experienced a tornado to know how to withstand one.

Trouble is natural

Preparing for storm season is a great idea, but we don’t face tornadoes every day. Those aren’t the storms I’m talking about. Jesus told His disciples that facing trouble and storms in this life is something they should expect (John 16:33), and that holds true for us today. So many times, Christians think that life is going to go well for them. We expect to enjoy blessings and good harvests and problem-free lives, and to a certain extent, we are supposed to expect those things. But not from life.

Expect good things from God, but there’s no good thing that comes from life (James 1:17) . Anything good in life is from the Lord directly.

Instead, we’re supposed to expect trouble (1 Peter 4:12). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for storms. This truth shows up in Scripture over and over again. Think of Jesus’ story about the two men who built houses (Matthew 7:24-27). The foolish man built his house on sand; the wise man built his house on the rocks. And when the storm came, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Storms will come in our lives. There’s no escaping them. So instead of denying that they’re possible or trying to outrun them, isn’t it better to prepare for them?

Preparing for storm season

Build your life on a solid foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10). When you’re putting down the bedrock of your life, be sure you’re building on unchanging truths. God is good. Jesus saves you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. And He’s working everything for our good and His glory, regardless of what it may feel like right now. If that’s your foundation, no storm can collapse it. Sure, the wind might rattle the glass, but your house will stand.

Nahum 1:7Have a safe place to run (Nahum 1:7). Storms hit us in every moment of our lives, and we need to be ready to run to God for help. Throw your worries to Him. Let Him carry the weight of your burdens. Stop trying to carry it yourself or stand up against the wind on your own strength. Rest in His strength.

Hear His instructions and obey (Psalm 32:8-10). God has given us the Bible so that we know what’s right. He teaches us how to live, how to be blessed, how to be wise. But many times, we just hear and don’t put what we’ve learned into practice. You have to do both (James 1:22).

Storms are scary

When the sky goes dark and the wind starts to blow, when thunder is rumbling so loud that it shakes you, it can be terrifying. And you can feel alone. But don’t. Because you’re not. And preparing for storm season means you don’t have to be afraid.

Life works the same way. If you’re a Jesus-follower, storms are going to fall on you. But you don’t have to be afraid of them. God’s already given you everything you need to withstand them. You just have to use it.

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There’s something better on the other side

The light in my upstairs landing burned out a few months ago. A burned out light bulb in the city is one thing. The ambient light from outside often illuminates the inside of a house enough to see by, but out here in the country? Everything is always pitch black, until there’s a full moon.

Burned out light bulbs have always been interesting to me because they don’t look much different from a new light bulb. At least with the old incandescent bulbs, you could shake them to hear if the filament was dislodged. But with the new curlicue bulbs, I haven’t figured out how to look at one and determine if it works or not.

They look like they should work just fine, but when you actually try to use them, they’re broken.

bulbToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Have you ever realized how broken our world is? Maybe it looks fine on the outside, but in practical use, nothing works the way it’s supposed to? It’s one thing to know it. It’s something else to experience it, to watch your friends experience it, to see the pain and the suffering it causes.

Just turn on the television. Just listen to the radio. Spend an hour talking to someone at work or at school or at church. Everybody’s broken, but the world is more broken than any of us.

It’s so sad because God designed this world to function in a certain way. He put processes and rules and laws in place when He created it, and while all of those processes and rules and laws are still working, they have to use pieces that are falling apart.

It’s like our own lives, our relationships. Two perfect people would never find themselves on opposite sides. They’d always understand what the other was saying, and they’d never try to hurt each other. But nobody’s perfect. So in this world, our friendships and relationships of all kinds have to be built with imperfect materials.

We’re all insecure. We’re all afraid. We’re all jealous. How do you build a lasting relationship when the base materials you have to use are only good for tearing things apart? Maybe you could build a beautiful home with a horrible foundation, and maybe it will look perfect–but the first storm that comes along will bring it crashing down because it doesn’t work. It was broken from the start.

There are days when I know God can fix anything. There are moments when I believe that God is the restorer and can mend hearts and relationships and families and friendships. And I don’t doubt that. I’ve never doubted that. And I’ve seen Him do miracles more than once.

But is our world really worth fixing? Have you really thought about that? I mean, it would be wonderful if He did, but if you read Scripture, you understand that the way everything is falling apart isn’t a surprise. If you know the Bible, you know this global rebellion against God was coming. Maybe it’s not what God wanted for us, but it’s what has to happen before He can come back.

It’s so tempting to get attached to our lives here because they feel real. The taste of the coffee in my cup, the feel of the sunshine on my face in my upstairs office window, the smell of the apricots blossoming in the orchard. But it’s not real–not by God’s definition. It will all pass away in the end, and if I’m not invested in the things that are real, I’ll have nothing.

This world where we live isn’t our permanent home. It’s nobody’s permanent home. We will all live somewhere in eternity, but there are only two choices. And if you don’t choose one, that means you’re automatically choosing the other.

Jesus is real. Faith is real. Love is real. And the souls of the people around you are real. That’s what you should be investing in. You can spend all your money and all your time working to achieve a status or a goal the world says is admirable, but if God doesn’t say it’s worth it, it’s not.

Don’t get caught up in living in this world. Christ-follower or not, you’re not long for it. Not in comparison to forever.

But don’t be discouraged either. Our world is broken. People are broken. We’re all falling apart physically, emotionally, mentally. Nothing works the way it was supposed to, but that’s because this world isn’t our home. There’s something better on the other side, and that’s worth believing in.

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Never write a letter when you’re sad

I’ve always heard that you should never write letters when you’re angry. That’s really good advice, because when you write a letter and you’re hacked off about something, your letter ends up matching your mood.

Now, granted, I recommend writing letters when you’re that upset. I just don’t recommend sending them after you’ve written them. For me, writing my feelings down helps me process. If I’m upset, I really just need to sit and write about it. Then, usually, I feel much better. But you’d better believe that document is subsequently destroyed.

But have you ever heard of not writing letters when you’re sad? I never thought about that until recently. I’m also a corporate communicator for my company, along with a marketing copywriter, so I was ghostwriting a letter for one of our executives. I sent it along to my boss to proof before it went to the requestor, and the note came back: “This is so sad! Did you write this when Katie left?”

Any of you new followers, Katie is my best bud. The other half of my brain. Almost literally. And in July, she hopped the pond to do amazing work in video ministry around the world. But she’ll be gone for two years. And, yes, she had just left before I wrote that letter.

I thought that was kind of funny. And then, you know what I did? I went and did it again. Katie got an opportunity to come home basically for a weekend since she was “in the neighborhood” doing some filming in Haiti. So I got to see her! Day made. But then she left again. Of course, she did. She had to get back to work, and so did I.

And I happen to be in the middle of a series of character posts on my book series blog, Morningstar, to promote the launch of my debut novel. So I was noodling a few days ago on one of the characters, just scribbling some thoughts down. I sent them to Katie, and she informed me that I am no longer allowed to write anything after she leaves…. because it’s just too sad. Yup. I’d done it again. That silly character post was so full of angst and heartache …. it’s actually kind of funny.

I didn’t even know I’d done it.

And that got me thinking about how I really handle sadness and grief. How do I react to it? What do I do? How do I manage it?

And, just being honest, I don’t necessarily know if I manage it at all. I don’t like drama. I don’t like emotionally overwrought reactions. They’re uncomfortable, and they make other people uncomfortable. And there’s just nothing worse than having snot running down your face when you’re trying to have a real conversation, you know?

But grief and sorrow and sadness are things you can’t run away from. If you try, they’ll eventually catch up with you, and they’ll be exponentially worse to survive. Christians are really bad at this. We think everything always has to be happy. We think even the worst things in our lives need to be celebrated. We think bad news should be cause to rejoice and shout hallelujah.

And you know what? That’s true. We have every reason to be happy. Even the worst moments in our lives are worth celebrating, but not because it’s bad news. The point is that bad news shouldn’t stop us from celebrating in spite of it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sad.

There’s nothing wrong with grief. Or sorrow. Or sadness. Not when it’s needed. Not when it’s what you feel.

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Life on earth is broken. Bad things happen. People die. Kids get sick. Families break up. Jobs get lost. Friends leave. And all of that just plain sucks.

There’s no getting around it. And trying to convince yourself that something horrible makes you happy? Trying to get your broken heart to rejoice when your life is in scattered pieces at your feet? That’s not healthy. That won’t help you. And I truly believe it’s not what God wants.

God knows when you hurt. God knows when you can’t take one more thing. And He knows you haven’t lost faith–you just need a minute to remember who He is. And that’s okay.

Recognize that you may be sad now, but you won’t be sad forever. And the sooner you let yourself be sad, the faster that day will get here.

So if you’re hurting today, if you’re sad, don’t hide it. Don’t run away from it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of it. Believe me, all of us have been there. And if you need to talk to somebody about it, do it. If you need a write a letter, do it…. just don’t send it. 😉

aamilne_lucky

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fix your thoughts on what’s going right

I don’t mean to eavesdrop. I really don’t. Sometimes people’s conversations just pop out at me. And I generally try not to pay attention because you can’t generalize. You can’t (well, you shouldn’t) judge a situation based on a small exchange you overhear between two people.

But some conversations strike you as so strange you can’t ignore them. That’s what I heard yesterday morning.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

That question wouldn’t normally stop me. It’s not that unusual of a question. But when it’s coming from a motherly figure to her little girl, I had to take a moment to process.

Why would a mother ask her child that as they’re walking out of church? First off, I might be wrong. It might be an aunt. It might even be a grandmother for all I saw of the woman’s face. But either way, coming out of Kidzworld at NewSpring Church, why would you steer the conversation that direction?

If you aren’t from Kansas, you probably don’t know about Kidzworld. So let me be the one to tell you it’s a children’s ministry that makes you want to be a child again. Let’s be honest, grown ups, there aren’t many things that can do that. Kidzworld makes me wish I was a kid again. Children come out of this crazy ministry with life lessons and examples of how to use them in their schools and in their homes, and if you ask them, they’ll tell you exactly what they learned. It’s ridiculous!

And, honestly, that’s what I thought this mom was asking. And that’s why I stopped to listen because there’s nothing more exhilarating to be able to hear a  little kid explain a biblical principle in his or her own words.

What was the best thing you learned today? Or what was the lesson about today? Or what did you learn in Kidzworld today?

But no. That wasn’t the question.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

Again, I’m trying not to be judgmental. I could be jumping to a wrong conclusion. There could be a perfectly rational and logical and reasonable explanation.

What I think upsets me more than anything is the question of whether or not that’s my reaction to life. When I talk to someone, older or younger or peer, is my first thought to ask them what made their week rotten? Am I quick to jump to the negative? Do I direct the conversation to what’s wrong in life instead of what’s going right?

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:8.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

How often do you fix your thoughts on what God is doing in the world? And when I say fix your thoughts, I mean focus on it. I mean take a moment to sit back and think about all the amazing, miraculous, incredible things God is doing around the world and in your own life.

When was the last time you did that? I wish I could tell you I did it more often, but I don’t. I get too busy with life. I get so crazy running around trying to get so many things accomplished on time that I don’t take the time I need to reflect on what God is doing. And as a result, I stop seeing what He’s doing in my life and instead start seeing all the things He’s not doing that I wanted.

People have called Philippians 4:8 a filter for your mind. It’s the verse you’re supposed to use when you’re thinking about anything. Run your thoughts and your conversations through the filter of Philippians 4:8 and see if they hold up.

I’m not saying that we should live in denial. We can’t ignore the fact that the world is broken. We can’t ignore the fact that our lives aren’t what they should be or that we make mistakes. That’s true. All of those things are true.

But there are other true things.

God loves you enough to sacrifice for you. God wants a relationship with you. God cares about what happens in your life. He cares about the choices you make.

All of those things are true too. So why don’t we focus on those things instead of how broken the world is? Why don’t see how much God loves us instead of how flawed other people are? Why don’t we start a conversation by asking what’s the best thing God did for you this week… instead of what’s the worst part of it?

It’s more than a filter. Philippians 4:8 is a lifestyle, and it’s not as simple as seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s not about optimists and pessimists.

It’s about making the choice to fix your thoughts on the parts of your life that make God happy and leading others–your friends, your coworkers, your children–to do the same. It won’t make the broken parts go away, but you’ll realize that the broken pieces aren’t as much of an obstacle in your path as you think because all you’ll see is how big God is in comparison.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When bad news has to happen

It feels like I can’t turn on the television or the radio without hearing bad news. Is it just me? Or has the world suddenly gotten darker in the last few weeks? Because it seems to me like more is wrong in today’s world than has ever been wrong before.

People dying. Churches fighting. Towns rioting. Leaders whining. Countries invading. No place feels safe. No person can be trusted. Innocents murdered. Children slaughtered. People starving and frightened and lost.

I try to stay positive. I try to remember that God is in control, but it’s hard to look on the bright side when everything I see is pitch black dark. And then–more bad news. Death. And the worst kind–the kind that could have been prevented but wasn’t because someone was careless.

Breaks my heart. And there’s nothing I can do to fix it. You can’t fix things like that. And you can ask why till you’re blue in the face, and the only answer you’ll get: “Trust me.”

Welcome to the life of a Christ-follower. It’s not all sunshine and daisies. It’s frustrating. Heart wrenching. Because you know the world wasn’t supposed to be this way. You know how things were designed to work. And all you can do is watch the world fall apart and wait for the end to come.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

And then, I read Mark 13:5-9.

 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. When these things begin to happen, watch out!

It’s easy to lose hope when so much bad is happening. It easy to give up when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or the climb has gotten too steep. But there’s something we all need to remember.

No matter how bad the news is, no matter what dark, horrible things happen, we can’t forget that God really is in control.

Yes, these things must take place.

Did you catch that in the passage above? Jesus is talking about a host of really horrible things, explaining to the Disciples what is coming for Israel, and He tells them that all of it must happen.

Why? Why must it happen?

I don’t presume to know why. And nobody–not even Christ–knows when. But we can know for sure that it’s soon. It’s right at the door, as the passage says above.

There has always been bad stuff happening. There has always been bad news. But the news seems worse now than it’s ever been. But don’t you find it at all comforting that it has to happen? No matter how bad the news gets, it’s not a surprise to God. And even though it may be bad news to us–even though it might break our hearts and tear us up inside–that doesn’t mean God can’t turn it around and transform it into good news.

God’s in the business of transformation.

So don’t be afraid of bad news. Hold on when you get the phone call no one ever wants, when it feels like you’ve done everything right and nothing is working. Don’t lose it when you realize just what a horrible state the world is in. It has to happen. It has to get worse before it can get better.

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

God’s truth is our anchor in life

Why do ships need anchors? I’m not a boating expert at all, but I would assume everyone knows why. When a ship wants to stop and not move any further along its course, it has to drop its anchor so the water won’t carry it away.

Water never stops moving, and it’s teeming with all sorts of invisible currents. The water you touch at one moment is completely different from the water you touch the next. It’s always moving and shifting, and it carries everything that isn’t weighed down along for the ride. So if a ship doesn’t want to move, it has to drop an anchor that will keep it in place.

Have you ever thought that life is a little like that? Life never stops moving. It’s full of invisible forces you don’t always understand that are pulling you along whether you want to go or not, and if you don’t have something to hold you down, you’ll be swept away.

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Hebrews 2:1.

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.

I don’t know why people struggle with truth so much. Maybe it’s because we really can’t wrap our minds around the concept of an absolute. We really can’t. We are eternal beings, but since we haven’t experienced an absolute eternity yet, we can’t understand what it will be like. So when it comes to absolutes like truth, we can try our hardest but I’m not sure we’ll actually understand it like we understand other things. Like the way language works or like the way an engine works.

But even if we can’t understand truth on the same level that God does, we can still recognize it. You know the truth when you hear it, especially if you are a Christ-follower and you have the Holy Spirit whispering in your heart. The Bible is true, and God gave it to us so we’d know how to live.

So why is it so difficult?

Well, how good a listener are you? I’m not as good as I could be. Did you ever take those standardized tests that measured your listening as a child? I don’t remember what my score was, but those tests were hard. You couldn’t necessarily trust what you saw on the page, and you had to listen to what the teacher said if you wanted a passing grade.

Funny how similar life can be to tests, isn’t it?

Just because you see something or hear something that you think is a good idea doesn’t make it right or true. You have to compare it to what God says, because what God says is always right and true. We have to remember. We have to pay attention. We have to listen.

God’s way, the right and true way, will act like an anchor in our lives. When this broken world and all its problems try to sweep us away, the truth will help us stand.

So know what God says. Listen to what He says. And do it. If you don’t, the storms of life will blow you down. Sure, the storms of life may still beat you up a bit, but when they blow themselves out you’ll still be standing.

 

Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Putting pieces back together with hope

It would have been the day after Thanksgiving in 1992 or 1993 when I watched my dad pull an old clear glass ornament out of the ancient, dusty box we stored our decorations in. I’m not sure what possessed him to do it, but we had a bunch of old garland just lying in the box. And he magically got the top off the ornament (it seemed like magic to me) and stuffed it full of garland. Then, he put it all back together, and what had been a blank, empty ornament ball had become a brand new ornament.

I snapped this photo in 2013, 20 years later, and that ornament is still hanging there. On the same tree. Yes, I tend to be a bit sentimental about my ornaments, but this one was special, mostly just because my dad made it out of scraps. The old ornament wasn’t worth much; it was just an empty globe. And the garland wasn’t anything special either. It was heading for the trash can probably. But my dad saw what it could be.

Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 24:14.

In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul.
If you find it, you will have a bright future,
and your hopes will not be cut short.

Like no other time of year, Christmas is a time of hope. We sing about it, and we send Christmas cards with little sayings about hope and such all scribbled inside. But what is hope really? And where does it come from? And why does it matter?

I posted yesterday about fools and mentioned the book of Proverbs. Well, we’re back there again today, but the point of this verse is wisdom–finding wisdom means you find a bright future where hope never dies. The writer here is actually continuing from a previous sentence where he’s talking about how eating honey is good. Like honey, wisdom is sweet.

Wisdom is one of those priceless things you can’t buy, and you won’t discover it by accident either. It’s something you have to ask for many times. And the rest of the time, it’s something you have to learn. You don’t get wisdom overnight. Kind of like eating a honeycomb. Have you ever tried to get enough honey out of eating honeycomb? I always ended up with more wax then honey. The honey was great, but it took some effort to reach it.

Wisdom is like that. And once you have it, wisdom changes your entire perspective on life, on yourself, on God, on others.

So where do you get it? Well, the best place is from God. That’s the best place to get wisdom. Ask God for it. Read it in the Bible. Listen to the Spirit when you’re praying. Take God at His word, and wisdom will just come.

When you accept God’s perspective on things, it’s not that you ignore the world’s brokenness. Following Christ isn’t about living in denial about where we live and what our purpose here is. It’s that you have so much grace in your life that you can’t help but extend it to others around you. It’s that you can see yourself in other people, your sins and the consequences you had to face in the lives of people around you.

Your life might be a wreck, a shattered pile of splinters and glass shards and good intentions gone wrong, but that doesn’t mean your life is over. It just means you need some glue. You may have made every mistake in the book, you may have let everyone you know down, or you may have committed what you consider an unpardonable sin, but there’s nothing that you have done or that you could ever do that would make God love you more or less than He already does.

Wisdom is seeing the broken pieces and putting them back together anyway, trusting that God is going to do something with it.

That’s what this verse means to me. If you have wisdom, your hope never dies. Your hope never stops because God doesn’t. Even if all you have to work with are broken pieces, God can still make something beautiful out of it, something that lasts, something that changes other people.

Remember that, this Christmas. Wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, find God’s wisdom, and once you find it, you can start putting the pieces back together with hope.