Best Laid Plans to No Plans

I had this week all mapped out. Who I was meeting, where I was meeting, and how I was getting there. In  12 hours, God decided “Mmmmmm, NOPE!” It ALL fell apart. Which leaves me with a wide open week. ….just sitting here, God. You have a plan for me, I’m sure… *tapping fingers and humming a tune*….

In case you haven’t picked up on this I’m wrong again.  Faith is sitting here waiting for God to show me what to do.  “God will give me that open door.”  But BELIEF means that I’m not sitting here like a bump on a log.  During the Bible study today I was tasked to read Romans 4 in its entirety. Verses 21-24 gave me a jolt.

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I like this version. In many versions of the Bible, the word persuaded is used instead of convinced.  I prefer the word convinced, because it’s final.  If I’m persuaded to start exercising and lay off the doughnuts and Diet Dr. Pepper, then my sneaky brain just as easily becomes UN-persuaded. But if I’m convinced, then I’m determined. It’s final.  If I’m fully persuaded that God can do it, then I’m still leaving that ever-so-slight sliver of unbelief.  But if I’m fully convinced, then I KNOW it, I FEEL it, and I HOLD onto it. To me, persuaded is at a level of faith. Convinced means I totally and unequivocally BELIEVE all that God can and will do for me.

So, now to apply what I’ve learned.  I have to get moving with a direction. He’s got this.  Now comes the hard part.  It’s like the walk I took with my adorable Lab, Axel.  Axel is a friendly 2-year-old dog who has grown up on our 5 acre farm doing fun puppy stuff unencumbered.  Because we’re getting ready for the move, I’ve been taking him to a local park and walking him on a leash around the pond.  Yesterday, he caught a scent of something that got his motor running. He followed that scent for about a third of a mile.  He was so excited! He was SO excited with the scent, that he never raised his head to see around him. He completely walked past two mallard ducks who were the cause of scent.  Missed it.  It reminded me of how I can be so focused on having enough faith in God, that I don’t look up. I have faith in the gifts that God has given me, but not enough belief to fully see what those gifts could accomplish.  How many mallard ducks have I missed?  Now that I’m on the scent, I’m not going to miss it if I can help it.

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Faith…

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve cried lots of tears for lots of different reasons.  I didn’t struggle with faith during it all. But I found  myself saying, “I’m not going to ask God why. It’s His reason and His business.”  The other night I watched Chris Stapleton sing this song, and found myself crying again.  “Don’t go asking Jesus why. The answer belongs to the By And By.”  You don’t have to say the words. God knows the feelings already. Every one of my tears are numbered.

As with everything God leads me to, it all comes back in circles.  I started a new Bible study with Beth Moore. I’ve done other studies, but lately she is really grabbing me by the collar and shaking me. I didn’t realize how much of a slap upside the head I needed.  For those who don’t know, Beth Moore studies are in-depth word studies with a lot of dissected emotions.  Believing God is the study I chose.  Naturally, God smacked me with the word “faith” today.  Beth informs us that the Greek word pistis is used in the New Testament to define assurance, belief, faith and fidelity.  She says, “Where I use the phrase believing God, you can think of it interchangeably with having faith in God.  I prefer believing… because it has a far stronger implication of action.”

If I lost you, let me bring this back again. Faith and Belief are identical.  Synonyms. But Belief has more weight.  Having faith in God is not as strong as BELIEVING that God is, was, and always will be.  I had faith over the last two weeks that God was in control, that He knows what he’s doing. But if I had truly BELIEVED, then I wouldn’t need to voice that question of why.  That hurts. Let’s just go ahead and rip off that bandage (and I’m talking figuratively because yanking my bandage off HURTS!)  I have faith that God exists.  Completely.  What I need Hebrews 11:1 for is to rationalize Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Saying 3 parts of 1, and BELIEVING in 3 parts in 1 is…. well… it’s just beyond my comprehension

And THAT led me to my devotional reading of the REST of Hebrews 11.  I got gobsmacked!

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Yup.  I’m in that “as some are in the habit of doing” category.  I have to Believe Him when he says “GO BACK TO CHURCH!”  And that encouraging one another? Yeah need to work on that too.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: faith is understanding where I am right now, God is in control. Belief is knowing that I have to take a step, and God still is in control. Faith is sitting on my butt. Believing means I have to move forward and do some stuff, and THAT is what being a Christian is supposed to be all about…. isn’t it?

A Treasure Hidden in a Jar of Clay

Day 2 of the “30 Days of No Complaining and No Bragging.”  I was just taking a headcount of all the things I complain about.  Top of the list: my body. Besides the double-wide hips, I also complain a great deal about what most people feel: joints that creek and hurt, and all the aches and pains that come with your body growing old.  So when my Bible study today focused on 2 Corinthians chapter 4, I was smacked upside the head. I just LOVE God’s ever-handy Biblical 2 by 4!

 

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The first 6 verses of chapter 4 makes me raise my eyebrows and gets my soap opera juices flowing. The apostle Paul goes to TOWN on some unknown people (I’m sure they knew who they were as soon as they saw what he wrote in a Biblical version of a FaceBook post!)  But, that’s not what we’re going to focus on today.  You can go ahead and read that on your own.  Just get out your concordance and break out the popcorn, cuz it’s quite a show!

 

We’re talking about old, creaking, painful joints with hair either falling out or growing in really weird places.  We’re looking at parts of us that used to work really well a few days ago, but now they just can’t seem to get moving. We’re going to look at verses 6-18 today. Paul writes that we are all “treasure in jars of clay.”  What is important is what’s inside of us, but the container that holds that is either already broken, or weakening with age.  God made us this way.  If you leave a clay jar out in the weather, very soon it’s worn away.  What is left is the stuff that is inside us- good or bad.  God owns what’s inside me, so I know that treasure will be just fine.  So, what about that clay jar?

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Paul reminds us in verses 8 & 9 that things are going to be tough on that old jar.  We just need to hang on to that treasure, because that is what will bring you joy.  We’re afflicted.  Scared. Worried about being forgotten in our old age, or people will attack us when we’re weakened.

Don’t forget, the word “but” erases everything that is said or written before it.  All of that stuff happening or that will happen to this body will not be for eternity. Rheumatoid arthritis hurts. Cancer is painful and heart wrenching. Diabetes is difficult physically and emotionally. At some point in our lives, we ALL will be bed-ridden.  Just facing up to all of that future just makes you want to close your eyes.  BUT that is not the end.

Read this next part, but replace the “we” and “our” with “I” and “my”. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

 

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Just let that sink in for a minute.  There’s that ray of sunshine you see coming out after a scary storm.  That’s the feeling you get on that first day you open your windows after a long, hard winter.  That’s the reason you see some people who are fighting cancer or recovering from an amputation still smile.  Because the jar may fail, but the spirit shall rise.

Sometimes I’m not always fond of my jar of clay.  But I totally dig spending time with other jars.  Some of us will compare cracks, and some of us will share our treasure… and I will try my best to focus more on the latter.

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30 Days of No Complaining and No Bragging…

So recently I saw a challenge on Facebook to go an entire month without complaining. It’s supposed to give you some kind of epic change in your life. It can’t hurt, so I think I’ll try it. But, my husband has reminded me recently of a second vice I have- bragging.  Sometimes when I get happy, I like to share. Darling husband says it comes off like I’m bragging.  So, if I add that to my challenge, what does that leave?  I know EXACTLY what it means. I have to take myself out of the picture.

Whether complaining or bragging, I’m putting myself and my emotions as the center of the conversation. I become ego-centric.  By taking away those two most fruitful areas of my selfishness, it allows me to focus on others, people who deserve to be built up.

So here’s Day 1:  I’m going to talk about people who are inspirational to others, but may not know it.

tarantula   Like my one friend who loves spiders. Not just ANY spider, I’m talking about big ol’ man-eating giant tarantulas.  Ok, so they’re only about the size of her hand.  But when you look at the pictures, the “ick-factor” jumps up as high as a 5 story building.  I don’t want to say she doesn’t care about people saying bad things about her spiders, because she’s a human being who has feelings. But she cares so much for those spiders, that she shares them with others who come to her home, and on her Facebook page.  I’ve learned so much from her, that I have actually found the photos of her spiders to be quite beautiful.  She has taught me to change my point of view, and that is pretty nice.

 

There’s this other friend of mine, and she is probably the bravest person I’ve ever met short of the soldiers who have seen battle.  She recently moved to another state. Now, for some people like me who move frequently, that’s really nothing to notice.  Consider this: she has lived in the same state her entire life.  After all of her children have grown and gone off on their own, she and her husband packed up and moved.  Far from what she had known.  And she’s 52 too.  Yeah. Let that sink in a little bit.  That’s like Moses kind of moving. It’s like Peter getting out of the boat kind of faith.  THAT is amazing.  She is showing others how stepping out of your comfort zone because you feel that’s your path is scary, but it can be accomplished.  She’s a great example of bravery and faith.

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I know some pretty incredible people. Some of them work with special needs kids, and though they’re tired at the end of the day, they still get up every morning with a smile and a hug.  Some of my friends have built their own businesses. One of them even moved her entire business to another state, lock, stock and barrel.  Some of them are inspiring others to become healthy and are training others to be fit.  I often wonder how they can smile while sweat drips from every pore, knowing that they’ve either taught 3 other classes this morning and MUST be exhausted, or have 3 other classes to go and still maintain their motivation through the rest of the day.

Reading back over what I just wrote, I have to wonder if talking about others doesn’t have a taste of complaining and bragging.  Part of the task of being a Jesus follower is to make sure you build others up.  So, to those I just mentioned, keep up the great work.  You are affecting lots of lives.  You may not be thanked every day, but I mention you in my prayers often.

And to those who I haven’t mentioned, don’t worry. I’m praying about you too…

Finding Myself

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My whole entire life I always felt like I wasn’t right. I didn’t look like everyone else. I didn’t think like they did most of the time.  I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and that feeling went everywhere with me.  While growing up, I used to sneak out of the house on Sunday mornings and go to church.  Going to church wasn’t forbidden, I just happened to get up before everyone else and felt the need to go. (Ok, let me confess. I just wanted to eat the banana bread the ladies had out between Sunday School and the 11 o’clock service and I didn’t want to share with my 9 other brothers and sisters!)  But it’s what happened AT church that led me to so many directions.  The lady who led the Sunday School was an incredibly loving, kind, and generous woman. Unfortunately, her son didn’t quite live up to her level of righteousness. He was a bully and said things often that would hurt me to the core. Her lessons didn’t heal the pain, but they gave me something else to focus on. I never stopped going because that woman was telling me things that were important- but I just couldn’t figure out why they were so important.  I believed in God with all my heart, but this Jesus thing was just too complicated. I didn’t get confirmed in the church because I felt like it wasn’t my time, even though I was always sorry I hadn’t.

Jump ahead to today.  I’m still searching for what my job is supposed to be on this Earth.  The last week of the Bible study was intense and really racked my belief system.  Let’s face it, the books of Job and Revelation are like The Walking Dead kind of dreadful stuff.  You REALLY have to search to find something positive out of all of it.  Up until today, I hadn’t seen the benefit of those two most important parts of the Bible.  The part of Job that means the most to me is the ability to see that the journey is not the important aspect, it’s what happens in the end.  Going through tough times is horrible while it’s happening, but when you look backwards, you see the old you.  The you that doesn’t exist anymore. You’re standing there as a new person. Tougher you. Stronger you.

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I didn’t get confirmed in the Lutheran Church. I didn’t even say the prayer of forgiveness when I was doing all kinds of stuff that was not only bad in God’s eyes, but was causing me more pain.  I had been married 4 years and we were stationed in Germany with the Army.  My friend Jenny asked me to do a Bible study with her. Why not, I had nothing else to do.  She gave me the book, and the tapes, and we met at my house once a week.  About the third week in, I was listening to Kay Arthur talk about how she had been at the lowest part in her life. She talked about being in a hotel room, and how she got down on her knees and begged God to forgive her for all the horrible, terrible things she had been doing.  I don’t know why, but I was sobbing. I felt this pressure in my heart, like I had never felt before.  I went down on my knees, and said the same prayer she did. Just to be sure, I got in a hot shower, and said it again. “Dear God, I’m not doing what you want. I’m not being the person you want me to be. Please forgive me, and let me be new. Jesus, PLEASE come into my heart, and let me live forever in You.”  I changed, in that I began to see things in the Bible that I hadn’t seen before.  But it wasn’t the complete change that I needed to make.

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We moved to Savannah, GA, and my husband got called away for a deployment. I began searching for a church that would bring me closer to Jesus.  I visited the First Baptist Church one Sunday. With a very young baby in the nursery, and a 3rd Grader in the pew next to me, I felt the pull on my heart again when the preacher called if anyone wanted to come to the alter and lay everything at God’s feet. I left my son in the pew, and went to the alter. Again, said the prayer, but this time I cried because I knew I needed to make the final change.  Two weeks later, I was baptized.  This was the marriage ceremony that showed the world that I loved Jesus.

Now every TRUE follower of Christ will tell you that walking with Jesus isn’t easy.  We have lots of distractions.  Lots of reasons to not do what God wants us to do, and lots of ways to it hide from the world. But God knows. Always.  The thing I want to leave you with is this:  who we are is not dependent on what others perceive.  Who we are is what God sees.  This is where that “Judge not, lest ye be judged” thing comes in. To find yourself, you have to let God show you. And when you find it, then you have a job to do to let others know who you are.

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Who I am now is not what I was, although my past is important to understanding the direction I’m going. But I have this one truth: I’m no longer looking for me. I’m instead going to look for the person Jesus has in mind…

The Scariest Thing… Ever…

Everyone is getting ready to Trick-or-Treat. Scary ghost stories about right next to Snoopy and The Great Pumpkin.  For some odd reason, we as a collective body, have decided that it’s entertaining to see people suffer.  But what does it truly MEAN to suffer?

Everyone seems to think that they suffer like no other human being. My pain is deeper than yours.  You stub your toe, and the next morning you still feel the pain, and instantly groan and moan about how you have “probably broken it” to everyone who will hear.  There are so many levels of suffering, and it’s difficult to realize that what we are feeling is nowhere near the shallowness or depth of another. Is a mother who has lost her infant suffering less than a mother who lost an adult son or daughter?  Is someone who has been robbed suffering more than a person who lost his/her entire life savings?

I’ve been grappling with this since starting this week of The Quest with Beth Moore. This week, we tackled Job, and let me tell you, some parts of it were well below fun level.  The heaviest moment came when we tackled with the surface realization that God gave Job to Satan. Just handed him over.  Job was COMPLETELY innocent.  God just handed him over to show Satan that he was wrong.  So Job lost all of his stuff. That’s too bad.  Then he lost all his sheep. Wow. Hope he had insurance.  Then he lost all of his kids and grandkids and servants.  Dang! That sucks!  Wait for it… God then let Satan take Job’s health. Wait- WHAT?!  So, then Job’s wife loses her faith in God. And he has lost his place as a pillar of the community because he’s covered with yucky pus-filled and oozing boils and nobody wants to be around him.  The final blow is probably the most painful.  His three “best friends” decide to give extra long speeches.  Without end, they blame Job.  And they JUST. KEEP. TALKING.  One guy, Elihu, decides he’s so smart he can even talk for God.  Cuz he’s just one of those kind of guys who knows everything. They don’t stop until God actually steps up and tells them to shut up. Throughout all of this, Job doesn’t curse God.  The closest he gets is when he says it doesn’t really matter what happens in this life, because good or bad we all die anyway.

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God gave Job and his friends a real what-for.  Basically, He said, “Who the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do YOU THINK YOU ARE?”  You should read it. He really gives those guys a smack down. Job 38-41.  Read it in Liam Neeson’s Zeus voice. Pretty cool stuff!  Job gives the most heart-felt apology, so eloquent and humble that I just wanted to give the old guy a hug.  It was then that I had my moment of clarity:  Job was only apologizing for himself.  Not his friends who were being idiots. Not for his wife who gave up on God.  He said he was sorry for saying things he didn’t understand.  That’s pretty amazing.  The guy who did nothing wrong, apologizing for not understanding.  Let’s just add some icing on the cake here- God yanks on the friends, and tells one of them  “you knuckleheads should count yourselves lucky you have Job.”  They were only spared getting zapped with lighting or swatted like a fly by Job praying for them.

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Now for the epic topic: what kind of God would intentionally hurt people?  God does let bad things happen to good people.  And good things happen to bad people.  The most important thing for ME to remember is true suffering- like Job’s suffering, or the suffering of a parent who has lost a child- is beyond what I can comprehend.  I know now that I can’t just give you words, explanations, or platitudes.  I can give you what Jesus said I needed to give you: a hug, food, and a shoulder to let you talk.  I can be there the day after, the year after, and the decade after should you need me.  You will never hear me say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Because I’m not going to challenge God, and you don’t need to hear that.  I will pray with you for God to bring you through this difficult time. And I will probably find one or two hymns or songs to help your pain.

See, the suffering of someone may be about the growth or journey for that person, or it may be so those of us on the outside can learn about Jesus’ teachings about loving one another.  Because let me tell you, stepping up to give a hug to old, pus-oozing, and depressed Job would take LOTS of faith and whole lot of Jesus in my heart!  To those who are suffering today, my heart aches for you. Truly.  Please, please, please, have patience with me if I say the wrong thing, or don’t say what I should.  I’m learning from you, just like God planned.

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May all who read this have ears to hear, and eyes to see…

A Name Isn’t Just a Name…

Stinky. That was what I was called in elementary school, and it didn’t go away in middle school or high school. I earned the name because I didn’t bathe like I should’ve.  While doing today’s Bible study, I was forced to face up to that part of my past that caused the most pain and tears as a child, an adolescent, and an adult.  It’s very difficult in this culture to avoid the anti-bully mentality and the victimization of society as a whole.  For the first time, someone told me to take ownership of how I caused those names to be used.  It was my choices that led to someone else causing me to cry.  It is so easy to place all blame outwardly, and not deal with our own causation. When I wrote the words, I felt this huge relief.  I have finally left that in the dust. Tears and all.

With each step of this journey, I’m turning to face each and every aspect of what has caused me fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression.  I’m opening the door, speaking the name of the emotion that has rotted in that room out loud, and then walking away with the door open.  I wish I had done this long ago, but I realize I didn’t have “they eyes to see, nor the ears to hear.” Matthew 13:16

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Just recently I spoke with my favorite counselor regarding this blogging journey.  She spoke to me about how some people are sitting in a big rotten stinky pit of gunk (I’m not going to use her full descriptive narrative- needless to say it involved bits of corn… eww)  We have been in this pit of gunk for so long, that we can no longer find a way out of it, and we begin to believe that we belong there. We feel like we deserve to be there, so we sit there, wallowing in our own misery.  Tears fell from eyes like never before when she said those words.  She was describing ME!  And with that very moment, I realized that this blog is important for me to get out of my pit of gunk.

This Quest, and the feelings that I put on this blog, are the ladder and rope to get me to safety. I will admit to all I’ve done wrong, to pray for forgiveness from those I’ve wronged, and to resolve issues to ensure I don’t continue to do wrong. For today’s task, I’m taking back my name. Because my name holds a history of ups and downs, positives and negatives, good decisions and bad.  Hello. My name is Sandy Sonju Cutchin, and I am God’s child…

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