Emotions and the check-engine light

I’m tough on cars. I usually run them into the ground before I move on to the next one. The first car I ever drove was the family’s 1984 Oldsmobile station wagon. After that, it was my dad’s 1990 Chevy Lumina—torch red, beige interior. I loved that car. The Lumina was the car my brother and I shared through high school.

After the Lumina, a parade of less-appealing vehicles helped me get from point A to point B in my life. A 1984 Ford Crown Victoria LTD (that’s a story in itself). My mom’s little Saturn. A big old blue Buick. Until I could finally afford my own car—a 2005 Chevy Malibu, which I purchased in 2008.

Someday I’ll write a post on my car adventures. They have been many. But one thing remained constant with each vehicle I drove—I tried to take care of them. I drove them until they wore out in most cases. But if any lights ever popped up on the dashboard, I told my dad, or I took the car in for service.

I’m not a mechanic or a car expert, but I know enough about cars to realize that when the little engine light on the dashboard turns on, you’ve got a problem.

That’s a no-brainer, right? Of course, right. I would never ignore the check engine light on my car’s dashboard. If I did, I might get into trouble on a trip somewhere. Or I might cost myself a lot of money later on to fix a gigantic problem, when I could have handled it before it became gigantic.

It’s not okay to ignore the check engine light in my car. So why is it okay to ignore the warning signs in my emotional health?

That’s what emotions are, you know. They’re like check engine lights. And if you ignore them, they tend to make you explode (or implode, though I can’t tell you which is worse).

I don’t like emotions, especially the ones that make me cry. Emotions make me vulnerable. Open. Easy to hurt. Emotions turn me into a sappy mess who needs help, and I don’t like being that person.

But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with being a sappy mess. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Actually needing help is normal. God even knew that we would need help carrying our burdens and encouraged us to come to Jesus just as we are, baggage and broken dreams and exhaustion included, to let Him help us carry our load (Matthew 11:28-30).

But I don’t do it. In my mind, emotion equals weakness, and I struggle with pride. That being said, do you know how difficult it is to be a Feeler personality without allowing yourself to feel?

Talk about confusing. And it’s not just yourself you confuse. You confuse everyone around you too.

Emotions you ignore become hurt feelings and vicious cycles. They become something you stew over, something you can’t let go of, something you can’t escape. And you go from controlling your emotions to your emotions controlling you.

It’s a lot like your car, honestly. When you see that check engine light come on, you’re still in control. You decide whether or not to go in for service. You decide if it’s worth dealing with now or not.

But give it a few weeks. Maybe even a month. Or longer. And the simple problem that made your check engine light turn on has become a crippling mechanical issue that leaves you stranded in your driveway or in your office’s parking lot. Now you’re not in control. Now the damage is calling the shots.

Have you heard that hurting people hurt people? It’s true. And I don’t want to be that person either. I’d rather be a sappy emotional mess and be my honest self with the people around me that have everyone thinking I’m strong enough to make it on my own.

So how do you learn to deal with your emotions? Frankly, I’m still working on that. But one thing I know works for sure: Ask God.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

The Lord wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to approach Him with our problems, our questions, our doubts, and our struggles. And when we need help, He wants us to ask Him first, even if all we need is directions.

Ask Him to reveal to you where the problem is. Ask Him to give you wisdom in how to deal with what you’re feeling. God gave you emotions, and He’ll help you learn to manage them.

I don’t like dealing with my emotions, but I need to. Otherwise I’ll be bound to obey them instead of the other way around.

Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

We all owe someone something

Unexpected things happen all the time. You can plan and scheme and organize until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t guarantee that everything you want is going to happen the way you want it to happen. This past Saturday was my book release event at a local coffee shop in downtown Wichita. We’d been planning for months. We had everything worked out, and everything was going to be perfect. We were expecting big crowds and a lot of excitement.

Well, there were big crowds. But they weren’t there for the book release. Unbeknownst to me, the WSU Shockers decided to have a basketball game at the downtown arena at the same time as the book event, and there wasn’t a single place to park anywhere. I had to circle the block four times before I found a place about a mile or two away. It was my event, and I didn’t get there until fifteen minutes after it was supposed to start.

Needless to say, I was somewhat put out (to put it mildly).

But you know what? People still came. I was shocked and touched and humbled. Friends showed up to help with setup. Many made cookies and brought candy. And there were a lot of encouraging hugs and big smiles, and those were worth more than a big crowd to me. And it was a wonderful reminder for me that I have my plans, but God is going to do what He’s going to do in spite of my plans. And even though His way doesn’t seem better to me at the moment, it will be more satisfying in the end.

ZOM5QYEIMVToday’s verses are Job 23:10-14.

But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
but have treasured his words more than daily food.
But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind?
Whatever he wants to do, he does.
So he will do to me whatever he has planned.
He controls my destiny.

Maybe Job isn’t the best book to quote from, but you have to admit it’s accurate. Honestly, the only way Job could really understand all the horrible things that were happening in his life was to accept that God is God and He always knows best–even if it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we need to be humble enough to grasp it.

I struggle with this. I like making my own decisions. I like being independent. I don’t like having to rely on anyone else for answers or help or guidance or support. I want to make my own way and not owe anyone anything. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, but it’s completely impossible. No one can live that life. We all owe someone something. Isn’t it better to accept that the One you owe the most to is the Lord?

You don’t control your life. Your life is bigger than you are, and the only one strong enough to help you get through it is God. What you can control is how you react to events in your life. You can choose to see everything that’s wrong, or you can choose to believe that God has a plan and will eventually work it out for your benefit.

So where are you today? Are you in the middle of your master scheme that’s going perfectly? Or are you standing in the wreck of your carefully laid plans that have gone awry?

Take a step of faith and decide to trust the Lord. No matter how wrong things may feel like they’ve gone, God is big enough to find the silver lining for you. Just ask Him to help you see it too.

Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Have a conversation with God

How do you pray? Do you repeat memorized text by rote or do you read prayers out of a book? Do you use flowery language when you pray or do you pray the way you normally talk? Do you pray in Jesus’ name? Do you end with a hearty “Amen”? Do you only pray at church or do you pray over your meals or in your morning devotionals or at some other specified time?

Prayer is one of those things that Christians talk about a lot, but I’m not sure if that many people do it. And I’m not sure any of us really take it as seriously as God intended.

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s passage is Matthew 6:5-13.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
    and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
     but rescue us from the evil one.

This passage comes out of one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read for yourself in Matthew 5-7. The second part of this passage is more commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, and I’ve been in churches where everyone stands and recites the Lord’s Prayer, although usually that tradition takes place in churches that use a different translation.

It’s not that reciting the Lord’s Prayer is wrong. It’s a great tradition. But it was never meant to be a prayer repeated. The Lord’s Prayer is a guide, a template for what our prayer should look like. So if you’ve ever wondered how you’re supposed to pray, Jesus already explained it.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot this year, especially about how to let go of things. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a control freak, and worrying and anxiety tend to follow control freaks around. It’s so easy to worry about things you can’t control, which is ironic because worrying doesn’t give you any more control over a situation. It just lets you feel like you’re doing something about it, even if that’s only turning your hair gray.

I caught myself a few months ago when I was worrying about something. I thought to myself: “The only thing I can do is pray.”

Why do we wait to get to that point? The only thing I can do is pray? Guess what, folks? The best thing you can do is pray. I don’t know about any of you, but I have this weird issue where I’ll pray about something but I still try to take care of everything on my own. And don’t get me wrong. Sometimes that’s good. If you have the ability to change a situation and what you feel led to do agrees with Scripture, you should do it. But what about those times when you can’t do anything? What about those times when you can’t fix it? Why do pace the floor and fret before pray about it? Why do pray about it and then go back to pacing the floor?

Has anyone else been there?

This month, I want to study what prayer is because I want to remember why it’s important for me. And I want to get to the place where I stop worrying and fretting and pulling my hair out and putting my stomach in knots, even though I’ve already “given to God.” And the first fact about prayer that everybody needs to know is that it’s not some mystical, ethereal, fuzzy, emotional experience of faith. Prayer is talking to God.

If you want to recite verses, go for it. If you want to read out of a book, that’s fine. But how many friends do you have who you communicate with that way? My friend in England would worry about my sanity if all she received from me was a bunch of cute little rhyming stanzas. My paramedic friend would probably try to put me in her ambulance if the only words she got from me were written by someone else 100 years ago. Is that how you communicate with your friends?

No. Not if you want your friendship to last. If you’re talking to your friend, you just talk. You tell them what’s going on in your life. You tell them how you’re hurting. You tell them what you’re worried about. You tell them how they can help you. You tell them that you love them. You tell them that they’ve made a difference to you. You tell them they’ve made you a better person. You’re real with them. You don’t use language that’s not normal for you. You don’t use someone else’s words; you use your words. Otherwise, it’s not you.

So if you want to know what prayer is, it’s having a conversation with God. And if you’ve never done that, I recommend it. If you’re a follower of Christ, you have a unique opportunity to go into the presence of God and just talk to Him. Do we get that? Do we grasp how awesome that is? I cry just thinking about it.

So don’t throw away your liturgy or your cute little prayers about food or sleeping or whatever. Those are fine. Those are great traditions. But don’t let your traditions become more important than your relationship with God. If all you say to Him was written by someone else or is muddled by confusing language that you don’t even understand, you’ve missed the point. God already knows what you’re going to say, but the beauty about a friendship is that when you open your heart to someone who loves you unconditionally, you grow.

God already knows what you need. You aren’t going to surprise Him or shock Him or frighten Him. Just talk to Him. Talk to Him like He’s standing right next to you, and even though you aren’t going to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know, the act of your saying it out loud will change you.

Rack and Pinion Steering System

A tiny gear that makes all the difference in steering

I drive a 2008 Chevy Malibu LT six cylinder. I’ve always called it my God Car because of the amazing circumstances that allowed me to get it. My first car was a 2005 Chevy Malibu, which I owned for three weeks before I had a super exciting wreck. And God provided in some pretty miraculous ways to allow me to get the 2008 Malibu. When I got in July 2008, it had 17,000 miles on it, and since I drive more than 100 miles nearly every day, as of today, it has around 130,000. And it’s still amazing.

But the steering had started to make some funny noises, especially after I high centered my amazing car on a snow drift in my yard last winter.

Lawn ornaments by Chevy

Lawn ornaments by Chevy

I had the steering shaft replaced because of the original noise, and everything was good for a while. Until it started making another noise, but because I’m a minimizer and because cars just make noise sometimes, I didn’t think much of it.

And then . . . . on March 7 I was coming home early from a dentist appointment and just as I turned off K96 highway onto my blacktop road, my car stopped steering. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t turn the wheel at all. My first thought was that the power steering had gone out.

I was so thankful I had gotten off the highway because having no control of your steering going 35 with nobody around is a lot different than going 70 with traffic around you. The long and the short of it is, I got it home, and the steering came back randomly. My dad took it out and drove it around pretty crazily to get it to do it again. It hung up on him a few times, enough to convince both of us that it needed to go in.

So we took it to my mechanic, and he called me the next day.

Rack and Pinion Steering System

Rack and Pinion Steering System

The mechanic told me that a piece of the rack and pinion steering system had broken. And he’d never heard of an instance where a piece of this system broke and the driver wasn’t in an accident.

The whole situation really worked out, and I don’t subscribe to coincidence. Every piece of this puzzle fit together perfectly, even down to me having the $$$$ to replace the whole steering system in my car.

But I got to thinking . . . what exactly is a rack and pinion system? I’m not much of a car person. I know enough about them to be dangerous, and I know enough about them to get them started again when they won’t run . . . or how to diagnose small problems with them. So I talked to my dad (car guy extraordinaire) and I did some Googling. Thus the strange picture at the left.

See that small gear? The Pinion Gear? That little gear moves up and down on the Rack so the car can turn. And if that little gear wears out and can’t grip anymore (or breaks, as in my case), your car won’t turn.

Isn’t it funny that something so small can determine how you steer a car?

Today’s verse is James 3:8, but you should read James 3:1-12.

But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.

Our tongues are small things, but they have incredible power to hurt or help others. Just like the rudder on a ship or a bit in a horse’s mouth (or the pinion gear in a car’s steering system), your tongue can change the direction of your whole body or of someone else’s whole life. The words we say are powerful; they can damage, they can destroy, they can build up, they can encourage. And we don’t respect the power of what we say enough.

Just like that tiny gear breaking in my car’s steering system, my words can have disastrous consequences if I don’t grasp the full reality of how they can hurt someone else.

James 3:2 that if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. The tongue is the hardest part of ourselves to control. I know it’s difficult for me to watch what I say. I have a lot of opinions, and I usually think other people need to know what I have to say. But I’m not always careful in how I say it.

The long and the short of it is this: the tongue may be small, but it can change your whole direction if you let it. It’s powerful enough to keep you straight on course or send you hurtling into the ditch out of control.

So keep your words in check. Watch what you say. Respect the power that words have in your life and in the lives of the people around you.

And if your car starts making weird popping noises, have your mechanic check your rack and pinion system. =)