For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.—2 Corinthians 4:15
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How to Find God’s Grace When It’s Lacking
Robert and I are caregivers for his 90-year-old father. As I mentioned last week, on October 10, he fell backwards all the way down a flight of steps. Fortunately, he didn’t break anything, but he’s still in the hospital from complications that developed after the fall.
Because he was put in rehab and expected to improve with therapy, we didn’t have help from other family members with his care the first week. But, the improvement only lasted a day, then he seemed to lose ground rather than gain strength. By the end of the week, he needed total care, and his condition is changing little.
The first week, when we had full responsibility, God’s strength and grace were amazing, maybe even supernatural. In every way, we experienced the Lord’s strength carrying us through the week.
We were exhausted, however, and very grateful when family came from other towns and states to help. They filled in for the weekend and stayed with us during the second week to help out as needed—both in the home and in the hospital. We were graciously and abundantly blessed by family.
However, a strange thing happened in my life. The second week, when we had plenty of help, I didn’t experience the same level of grace that I had the first. I was more on edge internally, fought constant headaches, had less peace within, and less patience with those around me.
Some of that could be attributed to accumulated fatigue and long term stress, but it seemed bigger than that.
I identified my problem in church, during the third verse of the hymn “He Leadeth Me.” As we sang “Lord, I would place my hand in thine,” I saw that during the first week, my focus was on the Lord. I was constantly aware that I was learning to lean on Him. I placed my hand in His and I kept it there.
In contrast, during the second week, my focus slipped. I was thinking about what I needed to do, planning menus, and interacting with house guests. None of that is bad. In fact, it was good—except that it became my focus.
In order to stay in abundant grace, I need to be deliberate in placing my hand in the hand that gives me grace. When I don’t, I begin relying on myself. My hands get busy and my focus follows.
It’s clear that, without God, my strength is not adequate. He is with me all the time, so His strength is always available. I am the one that takes my hands out of His.
When I recognize my dependence on God, His grace is sufficient. I need to constantly lean on Him and keep my hand in His.
We’re beginning week three. More family is coming and will be staying with us, so I’ll be tempted to be distracted again. But that is true of life every day, isn’t it? It’s a gift when He helps us see so clearly how much difference it makes when we stay connected with Him.
If you’ve found God’s grace lacking in your life lately, I’d suggest you focus on the giver of grace, slip your hand in His, and purpose to keep it there. That’s my plan for this week and the weeks to come. Life is much more pleasant when everything doesn’t depend on me!
Question: What do you do to be intentional in keeping your focus on the Lord during busy, stressful times?
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To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.—1 Peter 3:8
The Secret to Maintaining Harmony During Crisis
When stress and fatigue build, relationships are usually strained too. It seems inevitable. However, this week, I’ve experienced the opposite, and it has been refreshing.
On October 12, we returned from a ten-day speaking trip. We were exhausted from time change adjustments, a busy week of speaking, and a thirteen-hour return trip. A day of rest seemed a must.
However, we returned to a 90-year-old father who had fallen backward down the steps and was dependent on us for his care. Consequently, for the past 10 days, our lives have revolved around all-day stays at the hospital.
Hospital vigils are wearing even on the best days. Tending an elderly patient who is confused, in pain, and unable to care for himself or communicate clearly compounds stress and fatigue.
Everything is in place for relationships to be strained and tempers to flare, especially since other responsibilities also demand attention.
However, in the last ten days, instead of tension, the relationship between Robert and me—the only care-givers on the scene—has grown sweeter and more tender. We haven’t been impatient with each other, much less getting short or angry.
Consequently, in the midst of the stress, fatigue, and ongoing uncertainty and demands, life is sweet. I feel secure and loved.
I’d like to say this is normal for our household–that we’re always in harmony in the midst of stress and uncertainty. But it isn’t so. I’m loving the change and have asked myself what is different this time.
I see two reasons why things are going so well between us.
1. We’re more concerned about each other than about ourselves.
To spare me, Robert has taken the brunt of staying at the hospital with his dad all day long every day. I’ve relieved him only when he had responsibilities elsewhere that he needed to take care of.
Likewise, because of my concern for him, I’ve done everything I can to serve him and make his life easier and more pleasant.
In short, we’ve loved each other more than ourselves.
Without a trauma to get our attention, we tend to be more aware of our own needs than the needs of each other. Self-centeredness destroys rapport. Other-centeredness does wonders for a relationship, especially when it’s mutual.
2. We are desperately aware of our need for God.
We need the Lord’s mercy and power for Dad’s healing. We need His strength to be known in our weakness, physically and spiritually. We also require the Lord’s wisdom for the many decisions we face. The list goes on. I think the constant awareness of our dependence on the Lord is the foundational reason we are enjoying each other in the midst of stress.
We often remind each other, “God’s grace is sufficient.” We gain peace as we remember that He is with us and we are not alone.
We are learning to lean on Jesus. I haven’t sung it for years, but recently I find myself constantly singing the chorus “Learning to Lean.”
Jesus is our source of righteousness, peace, and joy. If we lean on Him, we will have harmony in our relationships.
What I don’t understand is why it takes a crisis for me to be cognizant of our total dependence on the Lord. Intellectually, I know that without Him I am nothing, but I don’t always lean on Him throughout the day.
Jesus is with us always, and He wants such fellowship with us. I hope I can make a lifestyle of leaning on Him without needing a crisis to drive me to His side.
Question: How have you learned to walk in awareness of your moment-by-moment dependence on the Lord so that you consciously lean on Him?
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If you stay busy thinking about right things, the devil won’t be able to fill your mind with wrong things. -Joyce Meyer—Joyce Meyer
Beware of the Smudge on the Wall
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a little black smudge on the wall, food on your shirt, or fingerprints on the window, once you see an imperfection, it’s hard not to notice it any time you look in that direction. Our eyes tend to focus on any imperfection.
It’s the same way with the people around us. Once we see something that is not like it ought to be, that feature stands out. Maybe that person talks too loud, is always late, or consistantly brings up the negative side of a situation. Once we notice it, it becomes more irritating every time it happens.
Or it could be something more serious. Maybe you just learned that your daughter Susie is sneaking out at night.
This issue needs to be addressed and resolved. However, when we’re in the midst of the problem, that’s all we tend to see. The little black spot demands our full attention, and we no longer see the clean wall around it.
The smudge grows out of proportion, darkening our view of the person. Instead of seeing a delightful daughter—whose wrong choices are creating problems—we forget the positive things about Susie and see only trouble.
In Philippians 4:8, God tells us, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Everybody has redeeming qualities. If we can remember the things that are honorable, commendable, and worthy of praise about the person that is causing us grief, it will strengthen us to respond in a way that will encourage them. It will increase our chances of bringing healing and righteousness into the circumstances.
In the case of the daughter, correction would also need to be applied, but restoration of the relationship is much more difficult if the black spot continues to be our focus.
None of us are clean. We all have smudges. Furthermore, we can’t help but notice the spots on those around us, especially those we interact with a lot.
But we can help what we focus on and beware of the smudge. We can choose whether to look at the little smudge, or at the good all around it.
Question: Have you experienced the life that results from having someone look beyond your black spot and remember commendable things about you—when you knew that they knew the ugly truth? How did it make you feel?
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Our relationships with those close to us are often impacted by the expectations we have of them. Recently, during a short trip, I realized how much expectations influence my outlook of life.
The last weekend in September, we traveled north to southern Indiana for a wedding. As I anticipated the trip, I wished the wedding was a little later so the autumn leaves would be in full color. I consoled myself by reasoning that leaves won’t be pretty this fall anyway, because the summer has been so hot and dry. With brown leaves instead of red and yellow, I won’t miss anything, right?
At home, leaves on the dogwood trees turned brown early and many have already fallen to the grown without turning their familiar bright red. This year, the the big sycamore that dominates our back yard has already lost half its leaves. The ones remaining are dull green with a dreary hint of yellow.
Consequently, I dismissed the hope of pretty scenery and just looked forward to seeing family and a beautiful wedding. I had zero expectations for a beautiful show of color along the road.
However, about thirty miles north of us, there were a few small patches of yellow and then some red. There weren’t many. They weren’t big spots, maybe just a limb on a tree, or a small sumac bush beside the road. But they were, for the most part, bright. Each cluster of color thrilled my heart and brought a smile to my face.
Further up the road, the splashes of color in the treetops increased in frequency and in size. They shone all the brighter because they were nestled in against a background of green and the expected browning leaves. The gray drizzle that fell didn’t even dull their beauty.
I realized after we got home that my discarded hopes had been realized. I didn’t see the hills ablaze with signs of autumn, but my heart had been lifted and satisfied by the splashes I did see.
If I had held expectations and hopes for hills covered with bright color, I would have been sorely disappointed. But I didn’t have any hope for such a display.
Because I had no expectation, my enjoyment of the bits of color was heightened. Each sighting was like receiving a beautiful bouquet—just for me.
After returning home, I was enjoying memories of the trip and several instances came to mind of times when I had had expectations of friends and received less than expected. I was disappointed, even hurt in one incident, because my expectations weren’t met.
In each of those situations, if I had not had expectations, I would not have been let down, and might have even been encouraged.
Consequently, I’ve decided to lay down my expectations of others. Life will have many more pleasant surprises when I’m not looking for them. Likewise, instead of hurt, disappointment, and possibly anger in relationships, I’ll be full of joy and gratefulness for little blessings.
Leaving aside unspoken expectations will make life and relationships brighter and more colorful. I can stand that.
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