Author: fathomingheaven

About fathomingheaven

Wife, mom, doctor (the philosophical kind), amateur photographer, and blogger...oh, and most importantly, a follower of Jesus. :)

Where 2 or 3…Sleep

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Not long ago, our pastor preached on Matthew 18:20, a passage he argued is often taken out of its intended context of reconciliation and misplaced into the context of prayer. It’s encouraging to be reminded of the truth that our prayers are not dependent on the faithfulness of flawed fellow humans. Because how often have we brought our burdens to our community of believers, requesting their prayers, only to have those requests fall on deaf ears, or get lost in the shuffle of daily life or the litany of other requests that occupy their time and attention? But God hears and responds to our prayer, no matter who joins us in them. This is evident throughout scripture, actually. For instance:

  • Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • Romans 8:26-27: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Still, if you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to respond with an air of resentment…misplaced, though, because let’s be honest—unless you’re that lady from War Room, you’ve probably dropped the ball on a prayer request or two yourself. I know I have.

So how should we respond when we are disappointed and when our prayer warriors let us down? Fortunately, Jesus Himself offers us some guidance on that. In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus shared His burden with Peter, James, and John, saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Then He asked them to keep watch and pray. And did they? No. Instead, they fell asleep. Even John—the beloved disciple and the one who may arguably have loved Jesus the most. And not just once or twice did this happen, but three times! But Jesus recognized that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Scripture also tells us that the disciples’ “eyes were heavy” and that Jesus left them sleeping and continued to pray. Finally, after they’d slept through the entire ordeal, Judas showed up to turn Jesus over to the authorities. And Jesus woke them up and said, “Rise! Let us go!”

I see Jesus doing four things in this passage:

  1. He asks his friends to pray—and more than once. He doesn’t give up on them, just because they’ve let him down.
  2. He understands their weakness and weariness. He recognizes that their failure is not a result of them not wanting to pray or not caring. He sees that their eyes are heavy.
  3. He continues to pray, even in isolation. He knows that the Father hears and answers prayers—whether we are joined in those prayers by our fellow believers or not.
  4. He doesn’t give up on the disciples. Even though He does eventually allow them to slumber, he wakes them up when it’s time to go, and summons them to join Him.

My hope is that you and I will take our cues from Jesus when faced with our own disappointments, and that we will remember, as God does, that we are all but dust (Psalm 103:14).

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Dear Younger Me

I recently saw a post to a Facebook group I’m part of about a 20-year high school reunion. I glossed over it, figuring that the post was for another graduating class, because I’m not that old—but then it dawned on me that I AM that old! My 20-year high school reunion is supposed to be THIS summer!

Well, a lot of people have been posting pictures and life updates to the group, but one in particular brought up the fact that she was hesitant to attend a reunion because she was treated poorly in high school and didn’t really want to see those same people. Her post set off a number of responses (78 at last count), many from people with the same experience. Then there was one response from a girl who was hesitant to attend a reunion because she had been one of the ones doing the mistreating and felt a lot of regret over it. The proposed theme of the reunion is now “Kind is the New Cool.”

All of this is to say that I wish we could all have gotten along better back then, done great things in school, made great memories, and avoided the regrets that so many seem to have. And then I figured, now might be a great time to pen one of those “letters to my younger self.” What would I say?

  1. Own who you are. There’s no point in pretending to be someone you’re not. If people don’t like who you really are, then they don’t really like you anyway.
  2. Portray confidence. If you do, it will translate into REAL confidence. How? I’ve found over the years that three things help: smile, eye contact, and posture (and it also helps to know and accept your identity in Christ!).
  3. Develop your strengths. Try out for the debate team, or speech, or apply to work for the school paper. Stop lamenting about the school plays or the Concert Choir you weren’t chosen for, and find something you excel at.
  4. Go for it! Don’t just go to a week’s worth of cheerleading training—actually try out for the squad…Or for the fast pitch softball team…Or swimming…or cross-country running. And if you don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world. At least you’ll know, instead of always wondering whether you could have made it.
  5. Look outside of yourself. Instead of feeling alienated from others (usually the popular kids) who don’t want anything to do with you, forget about them. Instead, befriend someone who looks lonelier than you. Be the answer to someone’s prayers for a friend. And when all is said and done…
  6. Forgive. I can’t imagine any of us made it through school without ever getting hurt. Someone, whether intentionally or not, will have said or done something unkind or thoughtless or insensitive. Remember that kids don’t always know better. And when they do, it is sometimes a symptom of something else that’s going on—consciously or otherwise. We may never know someone else’s whole story, but we can respond with grace and compassion. Forgiveness is a freeing thing—don’t let bitterness and resentment control and imprison you, or steal your joy. Let the past go and start fresh.

As I continue to reflect on the advice and wisdom I would give my younger self, I’m sure I’ll come up with many more nuggets. In the meantime, how about you? What would YOU tell YOUR younger self?

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Our Turn

Luke 12:35-36

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,
like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet,
so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”

Well, Tijge’s first tee-ball season is in the books. I don’t know that it is a sport he will pursue any further, but the season certainly taught me something. All of these kids were playing for the first time. They knew little to nothing about the game, but some definitely had some pre-conceived notions. One little girl in particular comes to mind. She was all decked out at the first game, with her pink bat, pink helmet, and matching black and pink glove. And she was ready to play. I think in the end, she was disappointed with the slower tempo of the game. I remember one of the first games, while the team was in the field, when she asked the coach, “When will it be our turn?” You see, in her mind, their “turn” only came when they were up to bat. It didn’t even dawn on her that she might get more action in the field. After all, when a team is at bat, each player spends most of their time on the bench. And often, it’s players’ fielding performances that can win or lose the game. But on the surface, the field seems quiet, subdued—like a waiting game.

I wanted to somehow convey to her the idea that this time spent playing defense, and seemingly waiting, was equally as important as time spent on offense. It didn’t take but a hot second for me to see the parallels between being a 5-year old on a tee-ball team and being a Christian in today’s day and age. How so? I’m glad you asked.

For starters, don’t we always want to be where the “action” is? We want to be in the spotlight, at the plate, hitting home runs, getting noticed. We don’t realize that the real, hard work of the Christian life often happens in the quiet, slow, behind-the-scenes moments—when we don’t feel at all important. We beg for God to put us in the game—Come on, Coach, I can do it!

But in truth, God may (and probably is) doing something extremely powerful and valuable during the waiting. He may be doing something in you—culling sin, developing gifts, igniting passion. He might be doing something through you. He might have someone who needs to see you handle those times of waiting with grace, humility, and purpose. He may be preparing you for the world beyond the waiting or He may be preparing the world for YOU. Can you imagine?

As we wait though, in seeming limbo, we sometimes lose focus. Like 5-year old tee-ball players, we need constant reminders to get into ready position, to watch for the ball, to support our teammates, to stay vigilant—READY. When we aren’t ready, we can miss opportunities to make huge contributions to the team, to the Kingdom. We must stay present, focused, and engaged, even when it seems like our role is small.

Finally, when we do make the big plays, I think that there is a very real temptation to bask in the limelight, to take the credit, and accept the glory. Just as in tee-ball, where success is a team effort, we can’t accomplish much in this Christian walk without the help and support of God and our fellow sojourners.

So now, when I’m tempted to ask God, “When is it my turn?”, I try to hear Him reminding me that it is my turn, now and always. The question is, my turn to do what? And if I can find the answer, I can make the very most of this life. And so can you. So let’s get in ready position, because it’s our turn!

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Look Out!

Psalm 5:3

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

Have you ever gotten to the point in a situation where you thought, “Well, it’s out of my hands now—all that’s left to do is pray.” The tone always seems a little bit fatalistic, doesn’t it? And then, there may be other times when you pray, but you pray for small things, easy things…things you’re most likely to get or to be able to ensure on your own. But you pray, too, just in case. Or perhaps you pray big things, but not really believing that they will happen, or even that they could happen. It’s just too big, too much, to impossible. Except it’s not.

Luke 1:37 states very simply that “nothing will be impossible with God,” and the other Gospels echo this statement. In Jeremiah 32:27, God Himself says, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” And of course, the answer is NO! But I (and perhaps you) keep living and praying as though God is not all-powerful. But around the first of this year, I began occasionally and “coincidentally” coming across Psalm 5:3, in which the psalmist declares, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” The more times I read it, the more I really started to hear what it was saying…expectantly. So I looked a little deeper, past my NIV, and read some different translations of this word that had caught my attention, and I learned what a great word it is, in the Hebrew and in other translations, as well.

The word is translated as “eagerly watch,” in the New American Standard Bible. The King James Version translates it, “look up.” The International Standard Version states, “I will watch for your answer.” But my favorite I think is Young’s Literal Translation, according to which the psalmist states, “At morning I set in array for Thee, and I look out.” This says to me that when you set your requests before God, you’d better get out of the way and be ready for Him to do a mighty work.

I have definitely been guilty of praying little prayers, doubt-filled prayers, last-ditch prayers, lip service prayers, double-minded prayers…you get the picture. But I for one don’t want to do that anymore. So from now on, come hell or high water, when I fold my hands in prayer, I will see this reminder on my wrist to pray big, to pray expectantly, to pray believing…and when I open my eyes, I’ll be ready for Him to answer—and I’ll look out.

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Ice, Mice, and the Lessons They Teach Us

About nine months ago, we moved into a new house and inherited an ice machine. That was exciting in itself, but even more exciting is the kind of ice the machine produces. It’s soft and porous, a little crunchy but not too much so. You can actually bite a cube in half with your front teeth! It does wonders for my oral fixation, but it is much less suited to my TMJ. While this condition has laid dormant for some time, this newfound ice-chewing habit of mine has caused my symptoms to flare up. They extend beyond jaw pain at this point, causing horrible earaches as well as sharp headaches throughout the left side of my head (I’ve even begun to wonder if they aren’t migraines). And yet, I sit here munching away. I’ve even been known to delay my bedtime routine some nights just so that I can eat a few more pieces of this marvelous confection. All of this, even though I am likely driving myself to one day need a titanium jaw replacement—and that is not a good thing to have to have replaced!

The whole thing reminds me of a research study I once read about, involving a bunch of lab rats (or mice, I don’t recall). These rats were placed in cages containing buttons that, when pushed, would allow them to directly stimulate the pleasure centers in their brains. What the researchers found was that the mice would literally pleasure themselves TO DEATH! They wouldn’t eat, or sleep, or do anything else. It seemed so sad and pitiful.

But my ice fetish got me thinking, aren’t we all a bit like those lab rats? It seems that many of us could identify something that might compel us to pleasure ourselves to death—literally or figuratively. It might be something that in itself is relatively benign, or it might be something highly destructive. It might be something that affects only ourselves, or it might affect our friends, families, colleagues, and communities. It might not reach MOAS (Mother of All Sins) proportions, but it might.

In any event, recognizing our own weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities should awaken us from our delusions of self-righteousness. It should give us a frame of reference from which to reach out to one another in our shared humanity. And from this place, we can reach out in grace, and compassion—and yes, in accountability, but first and foremost, in LOVE…because after all, didn’t God first love us? (1 John 4:19).

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Even the Swallows

Psalm 84:2-4 (NASB)

“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars,
O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You. Selah.”

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Many essentials in life can be gleaned from the Bible and from the Berenstain Bears. Today’s post is no exception. You see, in the story “God Bless Our Home,” Papa Bear reminds us all of the Biblical truth found in Psalm 84:3:

“…swallows built their nests of mud in the rafters of the garage. Papa had to duck when the swallows came swooping in to feed their babies. But he didn’t mind.
‘As the Good Book says,’ Papa explained, ‘Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself.’”

Well, God bless Papa Bear! He has much more patience than most of us! I can’t say I really appreciated this aspect of the story (or the Psalm) until we moved from town to the country—which is apparently where swallows live. And I have to say that those mud nests are DISGUSTING. Even worse is the bird poop EVERYWHERE! And to make matters worse, they dive bomb your head. I’m hesitant to even let visitors approach our front door, for fear that they will get attacked and then sue us over our angry birds. We’ve tried all kinds of tricks to encourage them to nest elsewhere, but they will have none of it.

I think that the Psalmist presents us with both a literal and a figurative illustration through the verses above. From a literal perspective, I’ve just realized after reading the surrounding context that the altars of God (in the Temple courts, perhaps) were the sites of swallows’ nests—and therefore their excrement! And yet, He welcomed them!

Turning to the figurative application of Psalm 84:3, there may be a reason that it is God’s care for the sparrow that often makes it into the songs and sayings of Christendom, rather than the swallow. You see, sparrows are small and insignificant, often going unnoticed. But I’ve never thought of them as pests or nuisances, and would never consider them gross or malicious.

And of course, God does see us and love us—no matter how small or insignificant we might be. He notices our plight. But do you know what else He does? He sees us, loves us, and offers His gift of salvation to us—not only when we feel small and insignificant, but also when we are disgusting, sinful, malicious, destructive, filthy, and rejected by all. We know this because of the thief on the cross, whom Jesus promised paradise with some of His last words. I’m convinced that, had Judas repented, God would have welcomed him home as well. Quite possibly, even Satan himself could have found forgiveness and redemption, if he’d only accepted it.

And that’s the Good News of Easter—that Jesus accepted the punishment for our sins, and rose from the dead to defeat death and hell on our behalf…even if we are but nasty little swallows!  May we all celebrate together today that He is risen indeed!

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His Glory Revealed

I don’t cry very often, thanks to some well-dosed antidepressants, but every now and then I still have my moments. What landed me in that place the other night might surprise you. I had been waiting for some medical test results, and I received them earlier in the day. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” is what the nurse said. This might be a relief to many patients, but to me it represented one more failed attempt at an answer—and with no answers looming on the horizon that I could see.

Chronic pain and illness—some treatable, some not; some diagnosable, some not—has been my plight for years, and it’s one I try to endure with some semblance of grace. But sometimes one more symptom to add to the bray just feels like more than I can handle. You know?

Well, I’ve allowed the Spirit to comfort me in the past through verses like these.

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

But the other night, the passage that came and kept coming to my mind was John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

I guess the reason I’ve never connected this story with my own is that Jesus chose to heal this blind man. And if we look at God’s glory as healing, strictly speaking, then I guess it might never apply to me. But even when our paths and journeys differ, God’s glory can still be seen, can it not? Regardless of what we face, God can use our circumstances to reveal His heart.

  • It may look like renewed compassion and empathy for others who suffer.
  • It may look like the encouragement you share with and receive from others.
  • It may look like a strengthened faith in God’s sufficient grace.
  • It may look like God walking alongside you—carrying you when the road becomes too long.
  • It may look like you walking alongside a fellow sojourner—helping them to bear a burden that is too heavy for them to carry on their own.
  • It may look like peace that passes understanding, in spite of swirling turmoil.

I could go on, I’m sure, but I hope you get my point. Chronic pain and illness are my cross to bear (and that of many others), but your struggles (or your friend’s, or your neighbor’s, or your colleague’s, or your sister’s) may be very different. They may include losses, addictions, hurts, sins, you name it. But they are no less usable by God, for the display of His glory—if we will allow Him to use them.

Look for God in your circumstances—chances are, you’ll find Him.

Lenten Blossoms

Through the Glass

During our Spring Break Orlando trip, we spent a day at Animal Kingdom. I had never been, but had heard great things. But at the end of the day, it was just a zoo. True, one where you could see a Komodo dragon, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, but still. At this zoo, some of the animal habitats were pretty elaborate. Some were designed to look authentic and some were designed to look intentionally inauthentic. I mean, really, how many Bengal tigers really live on the palace grounds, lounging by a decorative fountain? But I noticed that even the “authentic” habitats fell short. Often, we were looking through glass that kept catching the reflection of the people and lights on the outside. When we weren’t looking through glass, our view seemed to always be marred by a water bowl, or a mesh fence, or some other manmade contraption.

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You know what I kept thinking of? 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)—

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

My understanding is that Paul was speaking here of a reflection in a mirror. But the verse loses something in our day, because a reflection in a mirror is pretty true to life. But it wasn’t so in Bible times. They hadn’t perfected the art of glass or reflection, so things were pretty cloudy—like seeing your reflection in a pair of sunglasses. It’s just not the same, is it?

To me, this verse foreshadows the greatness of heaven. We might notice here that it’s a beautiful day, but compared to heaven, it’s downright dingy. We can’t imagine it, because we don’t know any better. But we need faith and hope to believe that there’s something more, something amazing, waiting for us beyond this life. And then, we won’t have to hope or believe anymore. We’ll see and we’ll know—and not dimly, through the glass.

Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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31

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs of praise.”

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You might guess this is a birthday post, but I am NOT 31. That ship set sail a while ago. It’s also not my waist size—that’s another ship that has long since sailed. What it is is the number of pairs of pants that Laredo has in her closet. It’s absurd, really. The only reason I know the number is because one day Laredo said to me (that is, screamed in the middle of a meltdown), “I don’t have ANY pants to wear!” So I counted them. And it dawned on me that she has a problem with discontentment, and a distorted discontentment, at that. It sets in early, doesn’t it?

And it seems to follow us throughout our lives if we’re not careful. Someone will always have more clothes than us, or better clothes, or a bigger house, or a fancier car… And. On. And. On. But what fund is that? What good does it do to constantly compare our lives with someone else’s? None, right?

So what’s the solution? Well, I know it sounds simple and cliché, but I believe the answer is GRATITUDE. When we focus on the good things in our lives, on our blessings, large and small, it really helps to brighten our perspectives. I know because I’ve tried it—and it works! The more you practice gratitude, the more natural it becomes, and the more it becomes your first response. I’m grateful that I get to begin this year from a place of gratitude and contentment, looking forward to whatever God has in store!