Sunday, February 28, 2010

God's ABCs

By Michele Rayl

It was January 2007, the phone rang with news from my doctor. They found the source of my headaches and dizziness, a malformation in the back of my skull which allowed my brain to sag into my spinal canal.

Denial. Somehow this would go away right? If I argued with the doctor perhaps she would offer a better diagnosis? At that time I was teaching 15 classes a week at the gym, home-schooling, counseling, and maintaining a home. There was no room for an illness like this.

What was God doing? Choosing to let my life walk down a road that I had not picked, to show me the hope of his glory and character in the midst of my chaos.

I remember one particularly hard day. I woke up feeling wonderful, a good night sleep without any interruptions. By afternoon my world started spinning so I layed down, assuming all would follow the usual path. I wouldn't be in bed for more than an hour.

An hour passed. So I started saying what I call the ABC's of God's character to pass the time. Some people count sheep, I count God's ABC's. Goes something like this:

“A” is for Almighty. “B” is for Beautiful, Beloved. It was an amazing time with God. A song verse even moved into my heart during the dizzy spells. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

It sounds like the perfect remedy right? Then I noticed a strong headache coming on.

"This is unusual. Dizziness doesn't normally run into a headache. This is not its typical pattern.”

“Will I be able to get anything done today?”

“How long this will last? What about home schooling? What if I'm at the mall and this happens? Or at church? Driving? What if I become a complete burden to my husband?"

See where the mind goes so quickly?

I went from my ABC's and a praise song, to a high speed chase down the

"what if" road. Racing down that road I met up with my old friend: fear.

Fear is not a friend because he is good to me but because I've had him over, entertaining him a lot lately.

You see, I had no business heading down my little “what if” road. The "what if" in life belongs to God. My future is his. His grace is sufficient for today and five years from now. But only when that day comes. No sneak preview.

I pleaded with God about my pain and fear. I wanted an easy answer, but I got a headache instead. 2 Corinthians 2 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”

It is now March 2010 and I wish I could say life has improved but it is worse. At least physically.

I now look in the mirror and do not recognize myself.

I feel like the person I was is dead. A new set of eyes stares back at me.

This woman is very different, but she is also stronger. She finally understands the mercy and love of Jesus. The cliches have come to life.

I look at this woman and realize there is goodness. I am a display of Christ's suffering and victory. It is a dim view but is still a glimpse of the goodness.

Please join me in meditating upon the ABC’s of God in our valleys. The friendship of mercy that meets us on the “what if” road and the God who comes alive to us in pain and loss.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do We Want Life Without Valleys?

By Caryn Rivadeneira

I live 16 miles west of Chicago. To find anything even remotely close to a “valley,” I need to head another 20 or so miles west toward the Fox River, to an area known as the Fox Valley. That we call this a valley would make anyone from a mountainous region laugh out loud. Because the Fox Valley essentially marks a spot where flat (former) prairie dips toward the mighty Fox and then immediately rises on the other side.

It is lovely. And, after driving through miles and miles of the flat doldrums of suburban strip malls (or farm land—depending on which direction you’re coming from), it’s a welcome scene. One that beckons a good look around and a deep-breathed, “Ah, beautiful.” But still, a real valley it ain’t.

As long as you weren’t being swept away by the river itself, if you were in the Fox Valley, you’d be fine. You’d never worry about getting up or getting out. You wouldn’t panic about being stuck there, too worried to face a climb up and over. If you wanted to get out of the valley, you’d simply walk up a slight hill. You might be a tad winded (maybe) when you got to the “summit,” but then you’d just get on with your life. As if nothing happened at all.

This is how I know the Fox Valley is different from other valleys in more than geography alone. When the Psalmist wrote, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps. 23:4), he knew a different valley. When he lifted his eyes to the mountains, wondering where his help came from (Ps. 121:1), he knew a different valley. And when he declared, “My help comes from the Lord,” that was a different kind of valley.

While I live hundreds of miles from any “real” valley, I know these valleys well. I’m guessing no matter where you live, you do too. These are the valleys we find ourselves in when life curves sharp and fast and we lose our footings, tumble down hillsides, into a sort of life-abyss. These are the valleys when our hurt and fear press down so hard that we can hardly lift our heads to seek help from the hills around us. These are the valleys where the darkness lingers, where the shadows creep and seep into our souls.

These are the valleys in which treachery is the only way out. In which escape means a steep, jagged climb—when we have no strength. In which rescue means facing dangers—when we have no courage. In which salvation means trusting God—when we feel forsaken. These are the valleys no one wants to be in.

And yet, what would our lives look like if we never faced that treachery, that rough climb or that salvation? Where would we be as women? As leaders? As children of God? Do we really want our lives to be without valleys—or with only Fox Valleys—where we never face hardship or have to search hilltops for God’s rescue? Do we want our lives to never be shaken or changed?

I don’t think so. A simple read through the Psalms will show you that the valleys are what shaped David’s life as a leader and a beloved child of God. A wise example for all leaders to follow.

Caryn Rivadeneira, author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. [link:], is a writer and speaker. Visit her at

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Air Sick

By Elisa Morgan

My husband and I had been talking about taking a trip. The kind where you fly over a LARGE body of water. Not for work nor for ministry but rather for fun.

We talked about the idea one Saturday morning before I left on some errands and when I returned, he’d booked the flight using our free air miles. You’d have thought I’d have been grateful. After all, he took the initiative, sat on the phone with electronic India and even got me an aisle seat.

But nope. Know what my first reaction was? Fear. Honest. I noticed this weird knot forming in my gut as I screwed my face into a “Let’s pretend I’m a really grateful wife thinking you’re an awesome husband” impersonation.

Why fear? I pushed past the “I’m leaving the continent where my kids live.” They are in their mid-twenties. It wasn’t that. Next came the dogs. Mercy…They would be fine. Then I hit the “Will email work there?” Of course it will - it’s not like I was going to the top of Mt. Everest. I liked my husband and looked forward to spending time alone with him, so that wasn’t it either.

What was the matter with me? So what was I afraid of?

Scratching just below the surface I discovered the obvious all-too-familiar answer: lack of control. Flying over a body of water – not just land – but a GIANT body of water with nowhere to land, brings up control issues for me. And just after the control issues appear, next comes a messy and undeniable fear. It’s not that I’m some kind of control junkie. I’ve WAY recovered from that addiction. It’s just that I have a hard time entering unfamiliar zones – especially for fun. (You see, when I’m leading, I’m in control so that’s much easier. It’s when I’m not in control that the fun begins. Do you like that play on words?)

About this time I was reading in Luke 8, the story of Jesus casting demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs. (By the way - why is it that the Word of God can be so well-timed when you’re not looking for it and then pretty much silent when you’re begging God to speak?) So the people are all amazed at Jesus and how he healed the man, when - WHAM! A line in 8:37 slammed into my thinking, “Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.”

They were impressed with the miracle and the healing but they were also freaked out that Jesus was sending their livelihood (the herd of pigs) off a cliff. Good stuff was happening – but at what price? A price they didn’t want to pay. They were overcome with fear and their reaction was to ask Jesus to leave.

Fear pushes Jesus away. My fear pushes Jesus away.

I take in what’s going on around me - sometimes not so good, sometimes quite lovely – and queasy-stomached with fear, I push Jesus away. I ask him to leave, to get into the boat without me.

Boat. Plane. Whatever. Each is a vehicle that moves us from one place to another. From familiar to unfamiliar. From known to unknown. We can go with or without Jesus.

Today I’m planning my trip. And I’m asking myself quite honestly: what really makes me the most afraid? Venturing into the unknown sky grasping my pretend joy stick of control or flying off into the wild blue yonder in one direction while “sending Jesus off” in another one?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Before You Call Your Pastor

by Gaye Clark

When life grows chaotic, a ministry morphs into headaches, or dreams turn into nightmares, call the preacher. I did and felt slighted by the initial response. Pastor George's first available appointment would be weeks from now.

I waited my turn. When that day arrived, I made one mistake. I told my husband about the appointment over breakfast.

Jim looked up with a devilish grin. "We okay?"

I reached over and squeezed Jim's hand. "It has nothing to do with us. It's about my Bible study. I've been waiting weeks to see Pastor George."

Jim went back to breakfast. "Uh huh. You know these hash browns are great, honey."

"You don't think meeting with pastor George is a good idea, do you?"

Jim shook his head. "I'm not going to talk you out of it, but what is it you expect the man to do for you?"

What were my motives? Once revealed, they turned my stomach. I wanted:

1. A pat on the back.
2. Assurance that the pastor knew more than just my name.
3. A means to lighten my load.
4. A pastoral answer to big questions that my ministry created.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend and husband. Though his response annoyed me, Jim had a point.

I thought of cancelling the appointment. Instead, I went to my prayer closet with my not-so-hidden motives. I carried those hideously unfair expectations to God and asked him for an exchange. God knows me by name; in fact, he wrote it in his hands.* He pledged that I can do all things through him. He has answers, resources, riches far beyond my ability to count.

I should have called him first.

I thought of Diane, my friend and ministry partner, who would accompany me. What would encourage her in that brief hour we would have with our pastor? Prayer.

I had squandered many prayer times with 55 minutes of explanations and five minutes of prayer, and I did not want to make that mistake again. I typed two pages with prayer requests and carried three copies of the finished product to the meeting.

When we arrived at the church office, George was not there.

"He's been delayed with several meetings running longer than expected," his secretary, Vonnie, explained.

A few minutes later, George arrived at the office. He opened the door wide and extended his hand. "Sorry to be late. Come on in, ladies. Good to see you."

As we entered his office, I noticed the next person for an appointment came early. What must it be like, to sit and listen to person after person, as they ask for recognition, assurance, and relief? I'd be exhausted at the end of the day.

George extended his hand to three chairs in front of his desk. "Tell me what I can do for you." He sat down in a chair and leaned forward.

I gave George his copy of my prayer requests and spilled out the speech just as I'd rehearsed.

"Well, George, I had planned to tell you all about the problems Diane and I are having with the Bible Study. That's when it became obvious that they are too big for you. They are too big for us, too. We need to pray. So I brought some requests."

George turned his attention to the paper. "This is great. Can I keep this? It will help me pray later as well."

"Diane and I will start our prayer time, maybe go back and forth a little, and when you catch up with us by reading and praying, then feel free to join us."

George's perplexed delight seemed obvious to me. I secretly thanked the Lord for my husband, the man of hard, but great, questions. We did talk briefly after praying through the requests, but in a different light than I originally planned.

George closed the prayer time with these words, "Lord, I thank you for the privilege of praying for Kingdom-building things with these two women."

As we walked out, the next visitor jumped up and looked anxiously toward the door. It made me wonder, what would happen if we sheep went straight to the top with our needs-to God first- then to the senior pastor if need be.

We often feel slighted if the senior pastor is not right there when we call him. We wonder if he cares about us, question whether he's a people person and whine about feeling unheard.

Meanwhile we bypass the God of all creation on our quest to meet with someone higher up the church organization chart.

Next time your pastor asks, "What can I do for you?", tell him you'd just like to pray. Then God would do something awesome in your church.