Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Battle For Our Thoughts

Several years ago, after spending a few hours shopping with my husband in an overcrowded mall, I was exhausted. He still hadn’t found the one thing we’d come looking for, so he parked me along with all our bags on a bench in the middle of the mall and asked me to wait for him while he continued to search for his special item. “I won’t be long.” He promised.
Neither of us owned a cell phone back then so if we became separated it would have taken us forever to find each other in that crowd!

I usually brought along a sketchbook or at least a notebook to jot down sketches or story ideas or thoughts if I were caught in a situation where I had to wait for any length of time. So when I reached into my purse and discovered no sketchpad or notebook, not even a little pocket New Testament for reading scriptures, alas! I experienced a brief moment of panic! 

I got over my initial disappointment and decided to make the best of the situation—after all, here was an opportunity to observe people. Observation could always improve my art and story-writing skills.
But after about three minutes of looking at a sea of ever changing faces going and coming all around me from all sides, suddenly they all seemed to melt together into a vast ocean and I grew bored and began to check my watch every few seconds with my husband nowhere in sight.  

Soon, like the never-ending wave of shoppers flowing by my bench, random negative thoughts passed right into my brain … “Mark sure has been gone a long time…I just bet he’s found some offbeat hardware store and gotten completely sidetracked by some stupid tools and forgotten all about me,” or “I just know he’s gotten hungry and gone and bought himself a snack and has left me stuck here with all these packages!” or “What if he ran into an old friend! --they’d never stop gabbing and I could be stuck here forever!!” One after another, the negative thought scenarios kept rolling right into my brain and getting worse and worse until I had completely convinced myself that my poor husband had been knocked in the head by a gang of thieves and then had his wallet stolen and that I needed to go and rescue him! 

Just as I began to gather my things together, my heart in a panic, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit ask; “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to rescue Mark!” My heart literally racing with fear.
“Sit back down,” said the Lord,  “He’s fine. You however need to learn to control your thoughts.”
The Lord then said to me, “You see all these shoppers passing by your bench? Would you allow these strangers to plop down beside you and whisper in your ear any kind of terrible lie about your husband?
I shook my head. “No, Lord.”
“Well, then why are you allowing the enemy to come into your mind and feed your imagination every kind of foolish notion about Mark to worry and stress you?”
None of those things you’ve been thinking are true!
“What should I do, Lord?”
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you!”
“But how?”
The Holy Spirit reminded me of another scripture verse: 
 “…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 10: 5)

The Lord said, “My child, when negative thoughts come to you, rebuke them! Take authority over them in the name of Jesus Christ. And replace them with thoughts that are true, noble, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy—meditate on these kinds of thoughts.”
As the Lord spoke to me I recalled the scripture from Philippians 4:8 that admonishes us to meditate on “these things.”
The Lord continued, “Resist thoughts that generate fear, stress and anxiety. Those negative thoughts come from the enemy. Resist his offer just as you would resist a poison drink from one of these thousands of strangers passing by your bench. Resist his lies in My name.”

As the Lord spoke the truth to my heart, I began to see how I had allowed the enemy’s lies, in the form of negative thoughts, to captivate my imagination, binding me in his prison of fear.
I settled down, thanking the Lord for rescuing me, and spent the rest of the time waiting peacefully for Mark to return. 

I wish I could say that after that day I became an expert at controlling my thought life and that the Lord never had to rescue me again! Although Jesus Christ said “My peace I give to you…let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” (John 14:27), there have been some days when He has had to come into my thoughts like He did that day at the mall and say, “What are you doing?” And I will have to confess, “Lord, I’m fretting over … or “I’m afraid of …” or “I’m worried about…” and so on. And then my faithful Good Shepherd never fails to chase every fear and anxiety away. He calms me with His word and fills me with measureless peace. I may not be able to change the situation, but God helps me to change my outlook.
After all, He is in control of my life, indeed, He upholds the universe by the word of His power, (Hebrews 1:3) and He reminds me that everything will work out for my good in the end. (Romans 8:28)

Every day until God calls us home we are faced with the choice to follow after the Holy Spirit or after our old sinful nature, (what the bible calls "the flesh,") (Romans 8:5). Our thought life is the battleground where Satan challenges us and tries to recapture our souls and lure them away from Christ. But thank the Good Shepherd who indwells us through His Holy Spirit! Christ is far stronger than the enemy. For when God’s children are powerless against their foe, the Spirit of the Lord comes to their rescue as He came to my rescue in the mall that day.
“When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19)

God wants us to be able to resist the enemy and rebuke him on our own. But he will not forsake His little lambs and allow them to be devoured by the evil wolf when we are tempted and go astray.
“God is fair and just; He corrects the misdirected,
Sends them in the right direction.” Psalm 25:8 MSG

Our Lord Jesus loves us with measureless love and His mercy knows no limits. He knows how frail and weak we are. His word promises that He will never let us be tempted beyond what we can endure:
“God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) MSG
His word teaches us the way we should go and He expects us to follow it. He indwells us to give us the power to follow His word. But when we come up short on the battlefield of life and the enemy gets the upper hand through our human weakness, God’s power is there within us to provide what we need to give us the victory. Whether it’s wisdom and discernment to overcome fear and negative thoughts, or if we need grace to bear some trial, strength to endure a temptation—whatever the need—our indwelling Friend and Savior is right there with us to help us fight the battle and give us the victory.
His love will never fail us. May we ever praise and glorify Him for His faithfulness!
*Heavenly Father, Thank You for giving us Your Holy Spirit to live in our hearts to lead, guide and protect us always. May we meditate on the good thoughts we find in Your holy word and follow after Your Spirit every day. In Jesus’ name.

Copyright © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved.
Unto The Least of These 
Scripture References The Message Bible (MSG) Copyright © 2002 by Eugene Peterson

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Perfect Mom

 “Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” 1 John 4:18

I had always wished I could be the perfect mom.
I wanted my two children to know that I would always love them no matter what they did, 
that I would always be there for them whenever they needed me, for whatever reason.
I loved pouring my life into them, volunteering at their schools and helping with all their special projects, encouraging their hopes and dreams, calming their fears, and praying for and with them about everything. 

One of my ways of loving my kids was to create unique gifts for them. Whether it was painting them a picture, writing them a poem, or their very own chapter book, or making them a birthday cake decorated with a special scene in icing, I would go to any lengths to create something that no one else could make for them just to show them how special they were to me.
I was determined that they would grow up knowing that they were unique and special, a one of kind gift not only to their father and me from God, but also to the world.
I tried to maintain this tradition even after our children had grown up and gone to college. 

So when our adult daughter announced her engagement one Spring, my husband and I were ecstatic! I could hardly wait to ask Faithy about her wedding plans and see how I could help with the decorations for the reception. Anything she wanted I was willing to do. 

But almost immediately I became ill with a stubborn sinus infection. I went to the doctor who prescribed the usual round of antibiotics. When this round did not clear up my illness, he prescribed another.
Four weeks later, I still was no better. My headaches had become so intense that some days the whole left side of my face would feel as though someone had thrown a vat of battery acid on me. 
Sometimes it would feel like someone was gouging a dagger through my temples, 
and other times it felt as though someone were pushing a hot poker into my left eye. 
The nausea was so intense I could not even talk on the phone---my husband Mark had to 
field all my phone calls. 
Forget about leaving the house! I was practically isolated by this illness except for medical appointments. I felt like a prisoner.

Finally, after more rounds of antibiotics than I can remember, the doctor ordered a CT scan. These proved I had NO sinus infection!  Then the good doctor ordered blood tests. These proved that I had terrible allergies that were “off the charts” in the words of my Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. Though he worked feverishly to eradicate my headaches to try and help me get ready for the upcoming wedding which was now fast approaching, nothing stopped them from coming. 
 Back in the spring, September had seemed ages away—then I’d had plenty of time to prepare. But now there were barely two months left to go and I was still having unrelenting pain and nausea.

The bridal shower now loomed on the horizon. My mother, who lived two hours away from us, was hosting it at her house which was in the same county where my daughter  attended grad school. 
I wanted so badly to be there for Faithy. I’d longed to create something special to go along with 
the gift we’d bought from her bridal registry. Not only could I not create a special gift for my precious daughter, now it seemed like I would not even be able to attend the shower! 
Yet how could I not attend?!  I was mother of the bride! Faithy would surely think I didn’t love her! Everyone would say I was a terrible mother!

“Lord,” I begged and pleaded every day, “You have to heal me! I have to get to that bridal shower, sick or not! What will Faithy and all my family think of me?!”
Then the Lord's still small voice whispered in my heart: “Faith will still love you 
even if you don’t go to her bridal shower: even if you can’t make her a special gift.”
“Still love me?” That thought had not occurred to me before. “Lord, Have I been
 afraid of losing my child’s love, my family’s love, if I can’t be the “perfect mom,” 
the mom who is always there for her kids no matter what, who sacrifices everything for them?”
And the Lord said, “Examine you heart. If fear is your motive, remember: There is no fear in real love! Love that has to be bought with good deeds is not real love. Stop worrying about what other people think about you! You are not perfect and never will be in this life so please get over it.

And sure enough, God did not heal me in time to attend the bridal shower, but Faithy understood 
and loved me anyway, as did the rest of my family. Just as God had promised.

My family kept praying fervently for me to be healed, as did my church and Pastor who came often and anointed me with oil just as the scriptures admonish in James 5:14.
Many churches were praying. I don’t know how many prayer chains I was on.
I think I wore that scripture out in James 5:16 that says “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
 I confessed every sin I ever did and then some just to make sure I didn’t leave any out because if there was anything I could say or do to get God to heal me, I was going to do it! 

But no matter what I did, God was not moved. “Lord, why don’t you just heal me! Tons of people are praying for me! I obeyed the scriptures to get anointed, I have confessed till I’m worn out—what am I doing wrong!”
And God said, “If there was a magic formula to healing, then YOU would be in control, but My child, I AM in control: I love you very much and have not abandoned you! Understand that healing is always on MY terms, and that I am healing you in My own way. Please try to understand and receive that your healing is a process, a journey. And I am with you in every moment on this journey from start to finish. I know the beginning from the end, I'm not punishing you, I'm refining your faith.”

Because of my chronic migraines, I could not read much at one time, but one thing that helped a lot during this difficult time was reading or listening to God’s word when reading was not an option. 
It blessed and encouraged me beyond anything to memorize scriptures in times of extreme pain 
when no pain killers were effective. Indeed, with a stomach that is intolerant of narcotics I needed something other than pain meds to mitigate such intense pain.
With one month left before the wedding, my neurologist suggested we try a migraine preventative. He said it would not start working for at least two weeks though. When I saw the list of possible side effects I wanted nothing to do with the little pills. But the Lord’s still small voice spoke in my heart, “Your fears will harm you far more than those little pills! Trust Me.”

“Lord Jesus, when You were on this earth You healed with a word and a zap! 
Why don’t You just heal me now like that? Why do You want me to take pills that could damage me?”
“Not so, little one!” Lord said. “Don’t you remember when I made medicine for a man born blind 
out of mud and my own saliva?” (John 9:6-7) Then I gave him specific instructions; 
“Go wash in the pool of Siloam;” afterwards, the man came back seeing. Now if I told you to put a paste of mud made out of dirt and spit on your eyes, would you not complain to me of every possible germ that might contaminate your eyes from that concoction? But not that fellow. He had faith. 
He just let me do what I did, and listened to My word and obeyed Me. 
Listen! It’s My word, coupled with your faith and obedience that brings healing. 
Let Me use what I want to heal you; let me do it My way. Trust and Obey Me is all I ask
just like that blind man.”

So I asked everyone to pray away all side effects and began to take the little pills.
A week later, I had a migraine so intense that Mark had to rush me to the neurologist’s office. The doctor then injected me with a pain med that I had a near fatal reaction to.
I lost physical consciousness but spiritually was in the Lord’s arms and I spoke to Him and said, “Lord, I’m ready to come home. I’m so tired of this unrelenting pain and that old “queasy king” day after day. It’s been so many months now.”
And the Lord said, “But Sweetheart, I’m not ready for you yet! Besides, Pain is not your true enemy. Doubt, Discouragement and Depression are. And you have a wedding to attend, remember!”
“How can I go?” I said, “I haven’t even had any strength to go shopping. The wedding’s in two weeks. I’ll never make it. These headaches, this nausea will never leave. I can’t go anywhere. I’m nothing but a prisoner. I can’t go on living like this!”
“Yes you can!” said the Lord. “Love never fails, My child, love never quits! You’ll go to that wedding, I promise! Live! Live! Live!”
Suddenly I felt hot all over. Mark was squeezing my left hand and praying fervently for me. The nurse was taking my pulse. I opened my eyes.
Everyone sighed with relief. “You had us scared!” the nurse said.

In the next two weeks several boxes kept coming in the mail. Filled with the faith of a child, Mark had taken it upon himself to buy my wedding clothes. He had never doubted that God would heal me in time for our daughter’s wedding.
He said he’d wanted to dress me like a queen for the occasion. He ordered all my clothes off the internet; my wedding dress, rehearsal dinner dress, shoes, my purses, wraps, and he even bought matching mother and daughter pearl necklaces and bracelets for Faith and me to wear at the ceremony. He had delighted in doing all this! And the amazing thing is that every item he bought was stunning and fit perfectly!

The week of the wedding was beautiful. One morning I woke up and for the first time since early spring I had no headache, no pain, and the “queasy king” had completely vanished!  I praised the Lord as I flung away "old queasy's" crown; the bucket I’d been carrying around since my headaches began. In my heart I knew I was healed. Our faithful God had heard all our prayers and had kept His word to heal me just in time for the wedding!  It was like I had been released from prison.

Later that week Mark took me to the rehearsal dinner and wedding. Everyone thanked God that I was able to come! They all remarked on how beautiful my wedding clothes were. All were amazed that Mark had done the shopping for me! Mark beamed with pride. He had never doubted that God would come through. All I could do was thank God for letting me be there for my daughter and keeping His promise to heal me in time to attend the wedding! 

My Illustration Faith & Scott used on Apple Butter Jars
   As I looked at all of the beautifully decorated tables at the reception I couldn’t 
help feeling sad that I had not been able to contribute anything except my presence. Suddenly my eyes fell upon some tiny jars 
neatly arranged around the tables. The tops looked vaguely familiar. I peered closer at them and noticed that one of my illustrations had been printed on the lids! Just then Faithy came up behind me. She hugged me and said, “Mama, I hope you don’t mind that we used one of your paintings for the jam jars we made as party favors.”  I felt like crying as I hugged her. She couldn't dream how happy she'd made me!

Nanny, (Mark's Mom), My mom, Christian (our son), Faith
As I thanked the Lord again for healing me, He whispered in my heart, “… all those years you were there for your children. 
Now in your weakness, your family has come through for you, through constant prayers and untold personal sacrifices on your behalf and they don’t love you any less for having been sick, for not being “perfect.” 
For true love keeps on loving even in times of weakness, and imperfection. It never fails, it never quits.”

 “Lord,” I prayed, “I always thought I had to be the perfect mom…”
And God said, “Love that has to be bought with perfection is not true love. Just like My love. It isn’t for sale nor can it be earned. It’s free and measureless to all who call upon My name. You don’t need to be perfect for Me to love you. That’s why I went to the cross.”
 As I looked around at the smiling wedding guests in their elegant clothes and listened to the soft music playing, the Lord spoke again: “Now you know what My love looks like. So just enjoy this party, even though you did not have to lift a finger to get here on your own. You did not have to work for the lovely gown or jewels you’re wearing, or perform any work to be healed. All were freely given!”


 I gazed at the beautiful bride in her spotless white gown and her adoring groom, smiling, radiant, filled with a love that echoed a love that knows no space nor time.
I saw in them a reflection of the Church and the Lord Jesus Christ at another Wedding Feast, one that will take place someday in Eternity, a time not measured in love; and I praised God for all the pain and misery I’d had to suffer, worth it, if only for that one moment, that vision, the lesson in God’s unbounded grace and mercy.
 Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of my children and the wonderful lessons about your love you have taught me through them. Thank you that your love for us is measureless and that we can’t earn it no matter how hard we try because we cannot earn what You’ve already freely give us.  For Your word tells us that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Help us understand and accept your free gift of love and mercy into our hearts. May we accept that we don’t have to earn your love or try to be perfect to be saved. In Jesus’ holy name. 
Thank you. Amen.

"The Perfect Mom" Unto The Least Of These; Copyright 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved.
Wedding Photo Credits: Shana Siler Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved.