Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Weeds

WatchOutForWeeds

In first grade my teacher gave my class a science project. Each student planted a sunflower seed in soil in a Dixie cup. It was our task to water our seed every day until it sprouted. Then came the exciting part. Each of us took our fledgling sunflower and planted it at our own home. Each week we were to report on the progress of our plant’s growth in class. Before releasing our plant into our care, my teacher issued us a warning: “Watch out for the weeds.”

My mom helped me plant my sunflower in our garden, and for days I lovingly tended it. But the novelty slowly wore off. I would water my plant but only after being reminded. One day my mom pulled me aside. “How’s your sunflower doing?”

“Fine.” I looked down at my feet feeling a twinge of guilt.

“Have you been watching out for the weeds?”

“Yes, there are none. And my plant is getting really big.”

“Okay, that’s good.” my mom said. “But pay attention to choker weeds.”

“What’s that?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

My mom explained that a choker weed slowly grows around a plant, often undetected for awhile, and eventually chokes the life out of it.

I promised I would pay attention.

My six year old self was much more interested in reading books than playing outside. I kept telling myself that I needed to take care of my sunflower. I really liked it and was proud of it. I thought about it a lot. It was growing tall, and the flower was going to bloom soon. I knew that eventually I would get sunflower seeds, and I loved sunflower seeds.

One day I ran home after school to check on my plant. It was dead, and I was devastated. My beautiful sunflower lay on the ground, shriveled and beyond help. A choker weed had been the culprit. My mom pointed it out to me. In my haste, I had not seen it before. In my neglect, I had not nurtured my sunflower properly.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
~Proverbs 4:23

Like plants in a garden, our hearts need to be nurtured. Everything we do flows from it. We need to live in the Light. We need the water of God’s Word. We must also watch out for the weeds, especially choker weeds. Bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are subtle at first and can remain undetected for awhile, but if allowed to grow, they will choke life from us. We may even notice them, but decide to ignore them. After all, others have hurt us and deserve to be treated poorly. In reality though, we only hurt ourselves by allowing their presence.

We thrive in life and leadership when we consistently invite the Lord to examine our hearts, and trust Him to remove the weeds. Living a life of love requires vigilant care of our hearts.

Today I am still not much of a gardener, and I do very little yard work. I am thankful my husband takes care of the mowing and watering. It’s my self-appointed job to take care of the weeds. As I pull weeds, I ask the Lord to reveal any weeds that need to be removed from my heart. I want to remain free from the destruction of choker weeds.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and love. Help me to be diligent with the weeds of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, so that they do not affect my heart. By Your Spirit, equip me to recognize their presence and take action to remove them. I want to be an example of Christ to the world with a heart free to serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Wind

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Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved windmills. My heart would soar at the sight of a scene from Holland with a charming windmill surrounded by tulips. Today I am still delighted by windmills, including the looming white giants that dot hillsides and other landscapes where wind is present. Regardless of the type, when I’m around windmills I have feelings of awe, wonder, and peace.

Windmills come in many shapes and sizes, but the purpose is the same: To be moved by the wind to generate power in order to accomplish a task. The task may be to produce electricity, saw wood, pump water, or, as in the case of my beloved Dutch windmills, grind grain. The common factor, though, is wind.

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I want to be a windmill. I want my life to be powered and moved by the wind. Before you raise an eyebrow at my statement, it’s important to know that wind is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

At the time of creation, the Holy Spirit hovered like wind over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came as “a rushing, mighty wind,” breathing life into the Church (Acts 2:2). In an earlier scene, Nicodemus asked Jesus what He meant by being born again, and Jesus explained.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

There are two important characteristics of wind—direction and speed. The windmill is affected by both. The windmill sets neither the direction or speed of the wind, but rather is responsive to it.

My heart longs to be responsive to the wind of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is life-giving and produces spiritual growth. He seals our relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. He can be grieved by wrong choices. He is unstoppable and dynamic like a hurricane, yet gentle and refreshing like a cool summer’s breeze.

I want to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead for my life. May I never set my own course and make decisions based on my human intellect alone. I want also to follow His timing. May I never rush ahead because of eagerness or impatience. And ultimately what tasks will be accomplished? To glorify the Lord on this earth and to do His will.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:25, NLT).

Following in every part of our lives is a lofty but wonderful pursuit. We thrive as we allow ourselves to be carried along by the Holy Spirit. It certainly isn’t easy or natural. It takes mindfulness to say “yes” to the Lord and reject the tendency of our human nature. We must evaluate ourselves often by asking, “Am I surrendered to the flow of the Spirit or am I fighting against Him?”

I want to be a windmill yielded fully to the Wind. What about you?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit to guide my life. Help me remember that He dwells in me and empowers me to live for You. Let me be aware of the Spirit’s presence. May I have a willing heart to follow His direction and timing for my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Loving and Leading with Grace

the-21-rules-of-this-housesource: choosinghomeschoolcurriculum.com

This is a picture of the rules posted on our fridge during my child raising years. “The 21 Rules of this House” was the centerpiece of our home. I added a few extra rules for good measure, along with a consequence chart for offenses.

I was a stickler for rules when my kids were young. I had an intense desire for order, believing that there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Schedules were created to follow strictly without exception. Someone could drop by our home at any time of the day or night and find a clean and well organized house with angelic children (in my dreams). If I had my way our home would have resembled a private boarding school rather than a loving safe haven.

Through the school of hard knocks (a nice way of saying that I often felt like I was going crazy), I have come to the understanding that, while rules and high expectations are important, loving and leading others well require continual grace.

For some reason, the Babcock kids had difficulties with Rules 12, 14, and 18; however, Rules 13 and 20 rarely were problems. Looking back, I wish I had given more grace.

The Ten Commandments are the cornerstone to a godly society. Why are they so difficult to follow? Adultery and murder are not tempting to me, but keeping the Lord at the highest place in my consciousness and actions, as well as guarding against envy are constant struggles.

The Apostle Paul described the human conflict in the book of Romans.

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).

We wrestle with knowing that God’s law is holy and good, and actually following it. The only remedy for our inability to perfectly master the law is grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Grace is undeserved favor. Even though we cannot possibly be good enough to achieve perfection, the Lord extends kindness to us. He desires His best for our lives. Love for us is His motivation.

As recipients of God’s abundant grace, we are instructed to practice grace with others.

In preparation for my granddaughters’ visit this summer, I decided to post a new list of rules on the fridge. You will notice that 21 rules have been pared down to six, and the rules are more general. There is no consequence chart, either. Time out is the only consequence, followed by hugs and affirming conversation.Our Family Rules

For me, our new list of rules represents life lived with grace.

What does practicing grace look like to you at home? With those you lead? In your circle of friends?

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the grace You have poured out on me. As the Shepherd of my Soul, You gently lead me in Your ways and re-direct me when I go astray. Teach me to love and be kind to all people in every circumstance. May my life honor You and be a blessing to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Be a Victor Not a Victim

winner

Take a look at these words: victim and victor. They are similar in spelling, but so very different in meaning. The word victim originates from the Latin word victima, meaning “sacrificial animal.” It was first recorded in 1490-1500. The word victor also originates from Latin, but from an earlier time in the 1300s. It is derived from vincere, meaning “to conquer” (dictionary.com). The two words represent a difference as vast as night and day.

A victim is pictured as helpless, like a lamb led to slaughter. A victor is pictured as a seasoned warrior who wins after fiercely fighting a battle. Which one do you relate to more?

I am not a victim. Yes, terrible things have happened to me. Yes, traumatic events have affected me. However, they do not define me. By the grace of God, I refuse to allow them to rule the way I live. I am a victor!

You do not have to be a victim either. Your parents may not have been there for you growing up. People may have abused and harmed you in the past. You may have experienced hurt and disappointment that you should never have faced. But don’t get stuck there. Don’t look back at others and blame them for where you are today. Even if your offenders aren’t ready to acknowledge the pain they caused you or to participate in the work of reconciliation, don’t allow them to keep you from moving forward.

You do not have to be like an injured animal, constantly licking your wounds of regret. Neither should you be an ostrich, avoiding and ignoring the difficult areas of life. Nor should you be like a hyena, laughing and pretending that all is well. (I know…I’m taking these analogies way too far!) Instead take an honest look at the things that should not have been and invite the Lord to heal you. Accept responsibility for the unhealthy choices you have made as a result of brokenness and trust the Lord to restore you. Surrender yourself to the Lord, relying on His Spirit to empower you to thrive.

Your identity is based on what the Lord says about you as His dearly loved child, not what others say. You can live and lead with confidence, knowing that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you (Romans 8:11). He gives you the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Our early Church leaders faced great persecution, and yet they lived as victors rather than victims. Their faith-filled perspective inspires us today.

Our great power is from God, not ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked does, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7b-10).

…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Don’t settle for living as a victim. Stand firm in the victory that is yours through Jesus Christ. You are a victor!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You take the ashes of my life and make them beautiful. I praise You that no matter what I have faced in the past or face right now, You work all things together for my good, because I love You and am called according to Your purposes. Help me to have faith in You above my circumstances. Help me to live as a victor instead of a victim. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Character, Faith

A Portrait of Perseverance

Uncle Al

I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad growing up. When I was little, he was busy pursuing his educational and career goals. My parents’ marriage ended when I was nine years old. Divorce was never an option my dad considered, and the break up devastated him. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my parents lived 3,000 miles apart. I got to visit my dad during the summer and every other Christmas.

Before I go on, you need to know that I’m not pointing a finger of blame. As a parent of grown children myself, I know what it’s like to do the best I could with the skills I had. Nevertheless, I made mistakes and those mistakes caused them pain. However, causing pain was never my intent, because I deeply love my kids. I also understand we are all broken people trying to make sense of a broken world. Jesus is the One who heals the damaged places of my life and gives me purpose. When I tell aspects of my story, it is not to wallow in the past as a victim, but rather to pass on insights I have gained along the way.

As a child and teenager, I missed my dad a lot. I looked up to him and longed for him to know me. Even though I didn’t get the time with him my heart desired, my dad imparted some important lessons that influence me today. Perhaps his greatest example was in the area of perseverance. In fact, when I think about the quality of perseverance, my dad is the first to come to mind.

The youngest of 14 children, my dad was the son of Chinese immigrant parents who settled in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Grandpa Chin died when my dad was a boy, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Education was seen as the key to social and financial success. My dad faced discrimination, and was subjected to more stringent requirements than other students. He had to worked twice as hard as everyone else, but he didn’t give up, and he reached his goals.

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In the midst of my dad’s graduate program at the University of Oregon, he and my mom found out that I was on the way. My dad took responsibility, married my mom, and welcomed me into his life. He continued his academic pursuits, spending long hours in the lab conducting research. He would come home in the wee hours of the morning and leave again after a few hours of sleep. Dr. Alan Chin earned his Ph.D in Physiology in 1970. My brother was born the next year.

My dad rapidly climbed the ladder of success. He became internationally known for his research and was involved in early studies on the physiological effects of stress. We eventually moved to Southern California, where my parents invested in real estate. After buying and selling condominiums by the beach, we moved into one of the first houses in an area where movie stars and other famous people soon resided. Tragically it all ended when my parents divorced. Within a few years, my dad had lost everything important to him—his family, wealth, and health.

While my dad’s hard work and achievements are remarkable, I respect even more his ability to persevere in rebuilding his life after all was lost. He trusted Christ as his Savior, and surrendered his will to the Lord. My dad recovered from the brink of death and personal devastation with a stubborn determination to honor God.

My dad re-established his career, married a godly woman, and raised a family together. They had four biological children and adopted four children from the Canadian foster care system. At the age of 76, my dad still has teenagers at home. The path of obedience to the Lord has not been easy, but my dad continues to persevere. He will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

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As God’s people we are called to grow in faith through perseverance. We know we will encounter challenges, problems, obstacles, trials, and tribulation. Perseverance is more than not giving up. It also involves persistence in doing well, bearing fruit, and running the race set before us. As we rely on Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered with hope and thrive in the midst of adversity. We are able to hang in there, because we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We keep on keeping on, because we are always triumphant through Jesus Christ.

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…Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:2-4, 12).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being my steadfast Rock. I confess that when life gets hard, sometimes I feel like giving up. Help me to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Because of the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. In the same way, help me to persevere knowing that I will have victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Joy Comes with the Morning

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Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

My grandpa passed away earlier this month. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a gentleman who was active and well respected in the community. I also learned that one of Life Choices’ long time monthly supporters lost his battle with cancer. In addition, people who are dear to me are struggling with serious trouble in their relationships. My heart has been heavy with loss, grief, and concern.

In the midst of difficulties, I have to remind myself that sorrow will not last forever. This verse in the Book of Psalms keeps me grounded and hopeful In Jesus. It is comforting to know that what is now will not always be forever. There are better days ahead, even when I don’t see them!

In her devotional book, Jesus Always: Embracing Joy, Sarah Young writes “Sadness tends to duplicate itself along the timeline—convincing you that you’ll always be unhappy. But this is a lie! The truth is, all My followers have infinite Joy ahead of them, guaranteed throughout eternity.”

When you think about night, what comes to mind? At night, the darkness is present and it is difficult to see without a source of light. In the Bible, night often represents a time of adversity, despair, and overwhelming confusion.

Thankfully, night is not a forever condition. In Alaska during the December winter solstice, there is as little as two hours of sunlight. That’s a lot of night! But, even there it isn’t dark forever, and families find ways to celebrate the shortest day of the year with lanterns.

As a little girl, I was an early riser. (I wish I were like that now.) My parents’ rule was that I had to stay in bed until the sun came up. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed and looking out the window waiting…waiting…waiting… impatient for the dawn. It was arduous to gaze into the dark. I thought the daylight would never come, but suddenly the sun rose slightly above the horizon. I was free from the restraints of night!

If you are currently in a dark season of life, take heart. It will come to an end. The dawn will arise, and scatter the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, NLT, emphasis mine).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always near, even when I don’t sense Your presence. Help me during this dark season of life to keep hope alive. As I weep during the night, comfort me with the knowledge that joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Art of Acceptance

kitten

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is one of the most popular prayers today, and was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s. It has been used as an inspirational saying for wall hangings, posters, and digital images around the world. People are familiar with the first part of the prayer, and may not realize there is a second part.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer communicates beautiful simplicity of faith. It offers hope of a life lived in peace and surrender despite difficulties. Simple truth, but not easy to practice.

One thing I have been learning about myself lately is how important it is for me to be in control. Since childhood, I have developed a pattern. No matter how overwhelmed I feel inside, I do not allow it to stand in the way. Sometimes the internal battle is intense and it requires God’s strength to help me do what needs to be done. This strategy has served me well (although there are also some unhealthy results that I’m working through).

Since experiencing the armed invasion of my home four months ago, I have struggled with anxiety attacks and flashbacks. It is lessening in frequency as time goes on, but when they appear there doesn’t seem to be any trigger, showing up from nowhere. My tendency is to fight. I get frustrated by the interruption, but my ability to push forward doesn’t work. It only makes things worse.

So I am learning the art of acceptance. Rather than resisting, as soon as I feel anxiety I acknowledge its presence. “Oh, here you are again. Something must have triggered you. It’s going to be okay.” I invite the presence of Jesus and practice relaxation techniques. Strangely, acceptance removes the power from anxiety. It removes the power from other hardships, as well.

Acceptance of the hardships we face does not mean we are being complacent, ambivalent, or resigned. It does not mean we ignore, minimize, or pretend. Rather, acceptance is the conscious choice to relinquish control and have faith in the Lord. It is the determination to surrender to His Will.

We do need wisdom to determine whether we should make changes or accept things that cannot be changed. Many situations require a combination of both.

With aging bodies, addiction, disability, chronic illness, and terminal illness, we do what we can to promote health, but we cannot heal ourselves.

In relationships that are strained or broken, we own our part for the hurt we have caused, change our unhealthy behaviors, and do what we can to promote reconciliation, but we cannot change the other person or make them participate in the reconciliation process.

In the realm of leadership, we must be diligent to prayerfully develop strategic plans, work hard to realize goals, and make adjustments as necessary, but we cannot control external factors that impact outcomes.

We trust the Lord for courage to change the things that can be changed. We trust Him for serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed. As we do that, He helps us enjoy the pathway of peace.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
~Psalm 121:1-2

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.