Saturday, January 26, 2008

A word for the MIddle.

I posted this on Kerrie Hubbard's Caring Bridges Website.

I thought that many of you might encouragement from it... The following is a quote:

I just wanted to write to all of you who are in this battle with Kerrie. I think we need to remember that the hardest part of any race, of any assignment, of any chore -- whether we are talking marathon or 7K, Reaching the WORLD for Christ or teaching the three year old Sunday School class, cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina, or just cleaning my bathroom.

The hardest part is the MIDDLE.

That's because in the beginning we have gusto. Enthusiasm. The excitement of beginnings. The hope of accomplishment. Hope for change. Hope for success. That kind of energy lasts a while. At least until we realize what we've gotten ourselves into. And then, when that first burst of enthusiasm wanes, we find ourselves with nothing but a mess.

Sore feet.
Stinky refrigerators sitting at the curb.
Piles of clothes to sort.
Walls stripped of plasterboard.
And our arms feel heavy
And our legs cramp.
And we are hungry.

That, my friend, is the middle.

And that's when most of us want to take ourselves to the curb and give up too. "Maybe the garbage guys'll take me!"

We want to sit down.
Soak our feet.
Call the Maid Brigade.
Change the goals to fit the reality.

Sometimes, we even want to quit.

But the middle is always just before the end! It precedes the last half. The finish. The last lap.

And sometimes, when we are sweaty and stinky and sore, we must keep our eyes on the bell lap.

Let me put it this way. When Kerrie was riding up the HORRIBLE Hills of Washington, as we rode our bicycles across the state, I said this to her...

Keep your head down.
Don't even look at how far it is to the top of the hill.
Pick a spot, just up the road a tiny bit, and FOCUS ON IT.
Pick a sign, a reflector. Even a weed.
Say to yourself, "I can make it THAT FAR. And THEN, I can decide if I want to quit."

Keep your breathing even.
Calm your nerves.
Find your rhythm.
Don't let yourself be distracted the the HUGENESS of the hill. Watch the ground, the gravel, the ants as you pass by.
Keep your eyes on that tiny next step, and push toward that simple step.

It holds true for every task. Remember, the MIDDLE is really the hardest part.

Whether you are in the middle of your own hill.
Or you are in the middle of your prayer for Kerrie.
Or, in Kerrie's case, she is in the middle of a battle for her life.

The MIDDLE is the hardest part.

Where all of us, are most tempted to quit.

Remember the middle is JUST BEFORE THE END.
Keep your head down.
Don't look at the size of what is left.
Find your inner calm in Jesus.
Keep your rhythm.
Don't panic.

And you too can ride to the highest hills.

If you can just make it through the middle.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Honestly, Really?

I'm reading in the book of 1st Samuel. Of course, most of you know this is the story of Israel getting and losing their first king. The prophet Samuel first anoints Saul as king. But Saul has some serious problems. He thinks that he knows more about what is best for him than God. When God says, "Kill them all," Saul thinks it's better to keep the best things for himself. So, he keeps the sheep and cattle and even leaves some of the enemy alive. When Samuel says, "wait for me to offer the sacrifice," Saul decides that he can do the offering himself --after all his men expect it!

Saul specializes in disobedience.

So, most of us agree with Samuel's famous comment, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." And when Samuel announces that the kingdom has been taken from Saul and given to someone else, we understand why.

We never liked Saul much anyway.

But when it comes to David, things aren't much different, really. Even though he is introduced as "a man after God's own heart." He has some serious problems of his own. One, in particular, I never noticed until last night.

Here is my observation: If you took a blue pencil and underlined all of David's lies in the book of 1st Samuel, you would find that most of the second half of the book is BLUE.

He lies to a priest about why he is out and about. He lies to an entire city by pretending to be 'crazy.' He lies to the king of the Philistines, saying that he's raiding the towns of Judah, when in fact he is destroying entire towns and everyone in them in order to support himself and his men. He lies to the men of the king, promising that he's going to help them destroy the Israelites.

I think the root of the lies come from this phrase, "Someday, Saul is going to get me. The best thing for me to do is to escape to the Philistines." (I Sam 27:1)

Do you see it? David stopped believing that God would deliver him. His fear made him decide that he had to save himself.

Fear can do that.

So, he began to lie. David began to believe that unless he protected himself, God would not or could not protect him. And lying became second nature to him.

Now obviously, David isn't perfect. And he has some wonderful qualities that are shown all through his life.

But letting fear take root in his heart gave birth to sin.

I'm paying attention because the truth is a tough thing for me. I want to be absolutely honest with myself and with others. But it's hard. I struggle with it. David struggled too. And when I think about it, fear is what motivates me too. I'm afraid that the truth will make people reject me. I'm afraid that the truth might hurt someone, or make someone angry, or get me into trouble. So, I lie. I'm afraid that God can't deliver me from uncomfortable or difficult situations.

But I think it's a battle worth fighting. What about you? How honest are you? How do you deal with dishonest people? Is it important to you?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I am not what happens to me.

I've just finished the book of Ruth, and am on to 1st Samuel.

But for you, I just want to park at this sentence in Ruth. It is spoken by a woman who has left her home during a famine. She's gone somewhere else with her husband and two sons. While away, her husband and both sons die, leaving her alone with two daughters-in law.

Hearing that there is now food at home, Naomi heads back home. Only one of the two in-laws goes with her. And when she hits town, she says this interesting sentence, "Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. ... The LORD has afflicted me."

Now, the story is not really about Naomi, and most teachers bounce right on to Ruth's story. After all, it's a lovely romance about a poor outsider who marries the rich relative. Who wouldn't move on?

But Naomi's word's struck me.

Did you notice? Naomi has let what happened TO HER, become her identity. Her name, Naomi, means pleasant. But Mara, the name she chooses means bitter.

Okay, so she's had a really rough time of it.

But where is her focus? She's stuck on what's missing. What's happened. AND, she is blaming GOD for it all. "HE HAS AFFLICTED ME," she says.

I'm thinking, she could have come back with this as her focus. "At long last I am home. I have a daughter-in-law who loves me so much, she won't leave me. I will end my days with my family around me, in my own land, with my own people."

Instead, she says, "I am one who has loved and lost."

It would be like us saying these things:

"I am left." (her husband left her)
"I am infertile."
"I am a bad habit."
"I am multiple sclerosis."
"I am incest."
"I am lost my job."
"I am failure." (I missed a goal)

Truly, we are NOT what happens TO us. And, unlike poor Naomi -- who has suffered enormous loss -- we can choose to be grateful people, men and women who are overcomers. People who say these kinds of things:

"I am loved by God."
"I have been chosen to mentor rather than mother."
"I am an overcomer."
"I am a survivor."
"I am learning."
"I am reframing."

Though God, in the scripture, makes no comment on Naomi's expression to her old friends, I would have to say this:

If you look at yourself as no more than what happens TO YOU, you give away all opportunity for change and growth. No wonder Naomi was bitter!

Think about it.