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Smoked!

smoke curling against a dark background

 

If you’re looking for peace, you might want to think twice about buying a
rental property. I purchased a lovely (or so I thought) piece of real estate
a few years ago. I was certain it would be a good investment. But there was
one problem—my beautifully decorated, upscale condo smelled. The odor
would come and go, and it was hard to pin down exactly where the smell was
coming from. I hired plumbers to check out P-traps and toilet seals, furnace
repair technicians to look for dead animals or improperly installed equipment.
At one point, I was certain I had fixed the problem only to discover
that the smell had returned full force. No amount of household deodorizer
could cover it.

Everything visible had been checked. So the problem, I reasoned, must
be lurking behind walls or beneath the floor. My youngest daughter suggested
with a hint of a smile that perhaps a bad fairy was hiding somewhere,
cutting wind. Hmmm . . . I hadn’t thought of that.

Finally a plumber sent smoke bombs through the pipes and, lo and
behold, smoke started billowing from the walls of the closet in the utility
room. When the closet was ripped out, the plumber found the culprit—a
pipe that had been improperly installed. Amazingly, it had escaped the notice
of the builder and the city inspectors who signed off on the new construction.
For four years it lay hidden behind the walls, spreading a noxious smell
through the vents.

What’s the point of this smelly story? Simply that hidden problems can
steal our peace. When we allow sin and weakness to lurk in our hearts, they
will sooner or later make their presence known. It’s far better to deal with
them openly and honestly. Otherwise, the Lord may need to lob a few smoke
bombs our way in order to reveal the source of the problem so we can finally
face it with his grace. More

 

The Best Antidepressant

A graphic of a Bible protecting a homeRecently a reader contacted me to tell me how one of my books had encouraged her. After reading her note, I was the one who felt encouraged. Despite suffering severe economic hardship, she seemed buoyed by the way God kept speaking to her. She cited Psalm 91:14: “The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’” Then she went on to cite Psalm 3:3: “You, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.” Holding on to this one passage from the Bible, she said, had done more to keep her anxiety at bay than the most powerful antidepressant.

For two years her husband has been without work. Her own income has also been drastically depleted as a result of the recession. Together, they have been barely scraping by. Despite their struggles, she says she is excited to see what God has in store for them not after their trials but through their trials.

Her words buoyed me because I happened to be in a funk, anxious about what was happening in the life of someone I love. She reminded me that God has made a promise we can count on. He will indeed rescue us. He will be a shield around us to protect us from the enemy.

No matter how hard life gets, keep resisting the devil, who will try to bring you down by whispering faithless, fearful words into your ears. Stop listening to him, but keep listening to the Lord, whose Word holds true no matter what or who is pulling you down.  More

Get Me Out of Here!

A scared faceI love the scene in the movie Young Frankenstein in which the young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, is about to enter a room where the monster he has created is held. Here’s how the scene unfolds:

Dr. Frankenstein: Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature, and I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life. No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door.

Inga: Yes, Doctor. . . .

[Dr. Frankenstein goes into the room with the monster. The monster wakes up.]

Dr. Frankenstein: Let me out of here. . . . What’s the matter with you people? I was joking! Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?1

Why include this crazy scene in a book about peace? Think of it like this: each of us has made decisions that we believe are blessed and directed by God. The choice to follow Jesus no matter what. The decision to become involved in a particular ministry. Often we make these decisions in the midst of experiencing God in an almost tangible way. But then we come down from the mountain to live out daily life. For some of us, the choices we make may eventually lead us into monstrous troubles. What then? Do we rush for the door, determined to get out no matter what? Or do we take our problems to the throne of grace, trusting that God will lead us? Today, let’s gather up every trouble or care that has come as a result of doing what we said we would do and bring each of them straight to God, laying them at his feet and asking for his help.  More

1Young Frankenstein, screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (20th Century Fox, 1974).

What’s Important

A roast chicken. Image courtesy of apolonia of freedigitalphotos.netRemember the story of Martha and Mary? Jesus had brought a boatload of disciples to their home in Bethany, and Martha was irritated because her sister wasn’t helping with all the work involved in entertaining guests. But when she tried to get Jesus to take her side, he surprised her by saying, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

If I had been Martha, living in that day and age, I might have been tempted to conclude that Jesus was like most men, clueless about how much work it took to feed and provide for guests. But that interpretation doesn’t really wash, because Jesus was no hidebound first-century male. So what else might be at work in the story?

Here’s how Augustine interpreted it, imagining what he would have said to Martha if given the chance. “But you, Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarrelling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”1 More

(Image courtesy of apolonia of freedigitalphotos.net).

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1 Quoted in the July 29, 2011, readings, taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, 4 vols (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1974), divineoffice.org.

Worrying Out Loud

A little girl looking worriedJen burst into the room, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t stand my life!” she exclaimed.

Wondering whether her daughter was suffering from hormone overload or something worse, her mother asked what on earth was wrong.

“You!” the daughter shot back.

Probing further, it became clear to my friend that her teenage daughter was in a state of high anxiety. Pouring out her fears, this young girl told her mother that she was worried about school, anxious about a grandparent in failing health, concerned about the family business, wondering whether there would be enough money for college and whether the economy might collapse. She just couldn’t handle it anymore.

“But, honey,” my friend said, “you don’t have to handle it. Don’t worry about Grandpa. Your dad and I are taking care of him. And our business is doing well. I promise there will be enough money for college. The economy isn’t great, but it’s getting better. What made you so upset about all these things?”

“You!” came the emphatic reply, once again. “You’re always complaining about the business, about Grandpa’s health, and about how terrible the economy is!”

My friend was stunned. She hadn’t realized that her words of complaint and concern had been driving a stake of anxiety into her daughter’s sensitive heart, causing her to worry about issues that no thirteen-year-old should have to deal with.

When it comes to complaints, none of us have a clean slate. But perhaps we can take this story to heart, realizing the power that words have to erode the peace of those we love. Today, let’s ask the Lord to place a guard on our lips, so that whatever comes out of them builds up rather than tears down.  More

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When You Feel Inadequate

A woman looking upward to a lightI’ve been writing books for many years. Despite what you might think, it doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. What hampers me most is my lack of faith. Face-to-face with a blank computer screen, I have a mini crisis of faith each morning, certain that I haven’t got a thing to say that’s worth reading. I’ll send e-mails, make phone calls, walk the dog, pay bills, eat a banana—anything as long as I don’t have to start writing. Finally, when I can’t dodge it anymore, I’ll open up the latest file, see where I left off, and ask God to help me. After a while, the writing usually begins to flow.

For most of us, life is full of such miniature faith crises. We doubt we can do what God has called us to do—to show patience to our children, understanding to our husbands, skill in our work, wisdom in times of trouble. And we’re right. We don’t have enough of what we need. So we stall and make excuses and try to dodge our responsibility, which only increases our anxiety.

To be human is to be inadequate. It is to be limited. It is to be weak in many respects. When we look at our deficiencies, there’s ample cause for concern. But instead of training our eyes on our weakness, we need to train our eyes on God’s strength and on his promises to love and provide. So today, as always, we come before his throne, asking him to fill our emptiness with his fullness and to trade our weakness for his power. Today we take a small step of faith so God can give us his strength.  More

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Don’t Shrink Back

A woman flexing her arm musclesSometimes I feel like the incredible shrinking woman. Some big, hairy problem comes stomping onto the scene, and I feel too tiny to stand up to it. Instead of holding my ground, confident that God is with me and will never abandon me, I start looking for the exits. But often there are none. And I, little person that I am, have to stay in place and learn how to trust God in the midst of my difficulties.

When it comes to facing up to trouble, many of us are experienced escape artists. But when escape is not an option, we may be tempted to try other strategies, taking refuge in things that promise to soothe or counter our pain. Here are a few of my own favorite strategies: eating, buying, blaming, complaining. Funny that none of these ever bring me real peace. Sure, brownies are soothing, but they don’t stop me from worrying. Buying things works for a little while, until the novelty of the latest purchase wears off. And blaming and complaining just spread the misery.

So what does help? Here are a few simple things from my list: (1) having a regular prayer time; (2) talking things over with friends and asking for prayer; (3) interceding for others, which takes my mind off myself; (4) using the wisdom God gives to deal with the problem at hand; (5) time, since some problems can only be dealt with by outlasting them; (6) doing everything with as much faith as I can muster.

Even if you have only a little faith, decide to put it to work. To grow strong, faith needs exercise, much like a muscle that grows larger when it’s challenged. The next time a big, hairy problem comes stomping onto the scene, resist the temptation to run. Instead, face it with the faith you have, asking God to reveal his power through you.  More

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Fighting for Peace

A word graphic of "Fighting for Peace"In October 1941, in the midst of World War II, Winston Churchill famously advised students in Harrow, England: “Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”1

The previous year, in June 1940, Churchill had rallied his people in a radio broadcast: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Then he added a postscript, heard only by the aide to whom he whispered it: “And we shall fight with the butt end of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got.”

Fortunately for England and the world, the great tide of evil was pushed back, the Germans were defeated, and peace was restored. Had Churchill and others not stood in the breach and refused to give up despite the odds, much of the world would have fallen to Nazi domination.

Oddly, peace is something you can’t have without a willingness to fight for it. That’s true whether we are fighting through obstacles that keep us from experiencing God’s peace, or whether we are defending the rights of others. Trying to maintain the peace by avoiding conflict at all costs will only erode it. We need to value peace enough to be willing to defend it when necessary. How do we do that? One important way is by heeding the words of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8, niv).   More

1 Winston Churchill, (speech, given at Harrow School, Harrow, England, October 29, 1941), quoted in Churchill by Himself (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 23.

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Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

A man walking in a dark tunnel with a light at the endLast summer I felt like a magnet for trouble. A series of problems with a vacation property I own were conspiring to turn one family’s stay into “the worst family vacation ever.” As a part-time landlady, I enjoy creating memorable vacation experiences for people. This just wasn’t the kind of memorable I had envisioned. I cringed at the thought that the story of their week at my place might enter their family lore as the worst vacation ever. To ease the sting, at the end of their stay I gave them a check for half the rent, thereby turning the most profitable week of summer into a sizable loss for me. Ouch!

Then a problem cropped up with one of my children, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Then my elderly mother started having difficulties. Then something happened with my other daughter. On and on it went—a great, rolling tumbleweed of trouble heading my way.

One thing about nonstop trouble is that it can help you put life’s difficulties into proper perspective. Yes, I felt bad that my renters thought they were renting a three-bedroom condo when it was only a two-bedroom condo, and that a previous renter had walked off with the pots and pans, and that the maids forgot to leave the sheets, and that the toilets backed up, and that the plumber was expensive, and that I had to make two sixty-mile round-trips to the property, and that I didn’t get any writing done that week. But at least the sun was shining the whole week and the pool worked and the beach was lovely and nobody died. After a while, you learn how to find a little brightness in the cloudiest of skies.

What troubles are you facing right now? Ask God to help you see at least a little bit of light in the midst of them—not the kind that emanates from an oncoming train, but the kind that comes from perceiving the daylight on the other side of the tunnel.  More

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What Do You Believe?

A white-throated sparrow perched on a branchJoan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles her grief in the year following the unexpected death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne. Perhaps the bleakest moment in that chronicle is when she quotes her late husband, stating with hopeless finality that “no eye is on the sparrow.”

Though she probably didn’t intend it as an insult, the words jumped off the page at me like a slap. It was such a blatant contradiction of everything I believe to be true. Later, it occurred to me that Didion’s statement sums up our own struggle as people of faith. When life is bleak beyond imagining, what do we really believe? What do we think is going on? Either God’s eye is on the sparrow or it is not. Either God really has counted every hair on every head or he has not. Either Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about when he spoke of God as a loving and forgiving Father or he did not. It’s as simple and as hard as that.

When life is going well, it’s easy to assert the truths of the gospel. But when we are overtaken by crushing sorrows or mounting difficulties, what do our hearts tell us then?

Most of us can remember times when God came through for us in the midst of great difficulty. Let’s not forget the evidence of his faithfulness when new challenges arise, giving in to fear rather than drawing on faith to sustain us. Let’s let times of suffering strengthen us rather than weaken us, trusting that God knows how to get us through. More

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