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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Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How you think determines how you act

Okay, readers. Confession time! Not out loud if you don’t want to. But to yourself. Name one person (just one) who you absolutely can’t stand.

And, go!

Did someone come to mind? If you don’t have anyone in mind, you may not get out enough.

What do you think about that person? When that person comes to mind, what do your thoughts look like? Are they sad? Are they bleak? Do you sag in your chair just thinking about them?

Do you get angry? Do you want to just punch them in the face the next time you see them? Or are you more the type to just passive aggressively ignore them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone without you having to cause conflict?

If you’re like me, you have people in your life who drive you insane, but since you don’t like conflict, you’d much rather just ignore them until they go away. People like that don’t really hurt anything. They’re just there. They get dramatic and cause issues, but they have their uses too. You just try not to have to deal with them, and when you do have to deal with them, you do your best to get done and get out.

But what I’ve discovered is that the more I dislike someone, the more my thoughts turn against them too. My heart, my attitude, turns against them and before I know what’s happening, I’m not satisfied with just being passive aggressive. Instead, I start treating them badly. Unfairly. Rudely.

And that’s just not right. And it’s certainly not honoring to Christ.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

It’s difficult to live with difficult people, but we always need to remember that we may not be as easy to live with as we think we are. Everyone has their quirks. If we didn’t, if we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but that works both ways. Which is better? Treating someone badly? Or treating someone badly because they bother you?

How I think about someone drastically affects how I treat them, how I respond to them, how I speak to them. I read something somewhere that said you laugh more easily at things people you like say. I’ve found that to be true.

I’m not saying that we need to drop everything and live our lives for foolish people. That’s not a good idea. But what we do need to start doing is controlling our thoughts better. That’s where I struggle. My brain runs constantly. I can’t shut it up.

Maybe I can’t shut it up, but I can redirect it. I don’t have to think bad thoughts about people who bug me. I can choose to focus on their aspects that I enjoy. And there has got to be some aspect of them you don’t despise.

Can’t find it? Stop being so critical for a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. You aren’t perfect either.

How you think affects what you do. How you think about people affects how you treat them. So be careful what you let your brain think about. Don’t focus on the bad things about people, especially people you work with or people you live with. Focus on the good things.

Granted, there are times when things need to change. Sometimes situations can reach a place where something needs to be done. But in general you don’t always have control over that. Most of the time, you are where you are, and they are too.

And in that case, it’s either learn how to live with them or forfeit your testimony. Because I can guarantee if you’ve treated someone like garbage because they bother you, they haven’t seen Christ’s love in your life.

One of the horses that carried our team to the Kekchi village Esfuerzo Dos in Peten, Guatemala

Can I trust God with my dreams?

I am not scared of horses. I like horses–just from a distance. I didn’t grow up around them, so I wasn’t used to them. Since I really hadn’t had any experience with them, I had no reason to trust them. So when I ended up hiking through a Guatemalan jungle some time ago and I was given the option to ride a horse or walk, of course I chose to walk.

And if any of you know the story, you’ll know I ended up riding anyway. I’ll be the first to tell you I did not want to get on that horse. I had absolutely zero faith that it could support my weight. I had absolutely zero confidence that I was strong enough to stay on it or that I had enough balance to stay upright.

But I ended up on the dang horse anyway. And you know what? It did just fine. And so did I. The horse got me to the village, and then when the time came to get on another horse (that’s a whole different story in itself), I wasn’t nearly as hesitant. Why?

Well, the other horse held me up just fine, and I didn’t have a problem riding it. The other horse had shown me it was trustworthy.

Maybe that’s a lame example, but it’s what I think about now when I think about how I trust God…. or how I don’t trust Him.

One of the horses that carried our team to the Kekchi village Esfuerzo Dos in Peten, Guatemala

One of the horses that carried our team to the Kekchi village Esfuerzo Dos in Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Isaiah 12:2.

See, God has come to save me.
    I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory.

I was talking with my best friend the other night about trusting God and what that looks like in our lives. There are so many areas in my life where I don’t have a problem trusting Him. But then, there are a few places where I just can’t let go. I want to hold on to my own plans, my own expectations, my own dreams and not let Him take over. Probably because I’m afraid He’ll take them away and not give them back.

What’s the reason for that? Why do I trust God in so many areas but not in those few? Well, to put it simply, God has already shown me that He can be trusted in those areas. He’s shown me that He can be trusted to mend broken relationships. He’s shown me that He can be trusted to never forsake us. He’s shown me that He can be trusted with my finances. And, most recently, with the coming release of my first novel, He’s shown me that He can be trusted with my dreams.

But that’s the thing. He’s shown me. Eventually I had to come to a place where I handed those worries and fears over to Him and let Him have His way. And when I did that, He proved to me (over and over and over again) that He is faithful and trustworthy to do what is best for me.

Granted, it didn’t always look like it would be what was best. Honestly, there were times when I was absolutely sure God had completely lost His marbles. But looking back now I can see exactly what He was doing. I can see His fingerprints all over my life, leading me to where I am today.

I know why I am afraid to turn over those areas of my life to God. All that remains is convincing my stubborn heart to let go, to pry my pointed fingers off the edges of those dreams and turn them over to the Lord of my life. It isn’t easy. If it were easy, I would have done it years ago.

So if you’ve got dreams you’re holding on to, don’t beat yourself up. Believe it or not, I really think it’s normal to want to hold on to your dreams. But the truth about dreams is that they will never become reality as long as you hold on to them. The truth? You have to turn loose of your dream and hold on to God, the only one who can make dreams come true.

Ask yourself. Would you rather huddle around your small little dream and keep it safe where you can control it? Or are you willing to let it become bigger than you? It’s a scary thought because as long as our dreams are small, we can manage them. But God doesn’t give us dreams as pacifiers. They aren’t cheap plastic toys He throws at us to keep us from fussing.

God gives us dreams so that we can accomplish amazing things for Him. We were created to bring glory to His name, and we can’t do that if we’re trapped in a prison of our own fears.

God is worthy of your trust. Think about all the times He’s come through for you. Think about all the things He’s done for you, things that shouldn’t have been possible, things that defy explanation. Now think about that area of your life that you’re holding back from Him. If God can provide for all the other areas of your life, don’t you think He can handle that one too?

Don’t let your fears control you. Don’t let what you don’t understand discourage you. God has a plan, and He’s working it out. And because He is good all the time, you can trust that His plans are good. So don’t be afraid to trust your dreams to Him, especially the dreams you think have no chance of coming true.

The Pink House at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

A Kansas driver with Florida plates

Identification is important. We carry government-issued IDs to prove who we are and that we have a license to drive a car. You carry a library card to prove that you have a right to check out books. You carry a passport that identifies you as a person who can exit and reenter countries. You drive a car with a license plate that tells what state you’re from and even what county.

Well, the latter is true if you’re driving your own car. If you rent a car? Not so much. Example? Today is our last day in Miami, and we needed a car when we arrived here on Tuesday. So we rented one (a manly Nissan Versa … hamsters included). This car has Florida plates, but the driver is from Kansas. So we’re out on the highway with all the other millions of people who live here, and because of our Florida plates they think our driver knows how to get around in this city. Well … they’re wrong. I’ll let your imaginations fill in the gaps and just say it’s been an exciting couple of days.

Everyone carries identification of one sort or another. But not all identification that we can see is real.

The Pink House at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

The Pink House at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

The verses for today are Matthew 7:21-23.

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

This is Jesus speaking, and even as a child, this set of verses chilled me. I struggled with my salvation when I was a young teenager because I just wasn’t sure that God had saved me, and every time I would see this verse, I would get really scared. Because how did you know for real if you were saved? What did it actually mean to do God’s will? I thought I was doing it, but was I really?

If I had read this verse in the Message as a child, I might have found some comfort because the context is a little clearer.

Matthew 7:21-23 (The Message)

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance— isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Serious obedience. Not just a show but doing what God says to do in Scripture. That’s how you can identify yourself as a Christian.

It’s so easy to sit back and see preachers on television or people doing good deeds all over the world and instantly put them in the Christian category, but I don’t know their heart. Granted, because I don’t know their heart means I can’t say they’re not a Christian; but by that same token, I can’t say they are either.

What matters is that I can say I am.

I don’t want to be that person who presents an image of Christ on the outside but on the inside is only interested in what “being a Christian” can get me. I don’t want to be that person who uses religion to rope people in and manipulate them. I don’t want to be that person who puts on a show. None of that is about Christ, and none of that really makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

Doing what Christ says is the only way to help others. Obeying the Bible. Listening to the Spirit and doing what He says. And being serious about it. Loving others and loving God, and then not only will you know for sure that you are a Christian, but others will know too.