A dear friend of mine passed away this past year. Her life was one of encouraging others. And in her dying she taught those of us who knew her how to die well.
The joy of the Lord did not depart her in pain and suffering but grew all the richer. In her passing she has inspired bolder living for Christ. In her life she made wise use of the time speaking into the lives of others and encouraging growth in Christ.
I am certain and more convinced than ever that we need to make wise use of our time here on earth.
God’s Word is our life and anchor. Every moment is an opportunity to flesh out His Word in real life – His Word is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. We need to be striving to enter into His rest (Hebrews 4).
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. We need to not allow sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking within our midst. Thankfulness, thanksgiving are the mandates.
What can you be thankful for today? (based on Ephesians 5: 1 – 4).
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5: 9 – 21.
So, as we go through uncertain days resting on the certainty of Christ let us consider how we walk, making wise use of the time we have. And let us consider how to make our eventual death fruitful, how to die well.
Henri Nouwen gives us this question to ponder, “the real question for me as I consider my own death is not: how much can I still accomplish before I die, or will I be a burden to others? No, the real question is: how can I live so that my death will be fruitful for others? In other words, how can my death be a gift for my loved ones so that they can reap the fruits of my life after I have died?”
Moving half way around the world from first-world-middle-class-America to third-world-Philippines certainly created uncertainty, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into, an excitement mixed with trepidation at the fascinating strangeness of the culture, weather, habits, ways that we were not versed in but willing to learn about. Staying FAT helped with that transition – FAT meaning Flexible, Adaptable, Teachable. This paradigm for facing challenges holds no matter what the circumstance.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
Psalm 119: 18 – 20
Staying FAT in this day of social distancing, self-isolation, health uncertainties, inconveniences gives us opportunity to practice our faith and apply God’s Word to the dailiness of our lives – to remember the truth found in 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 – truly we are jars of clay, cracked in many ways, deeply beloved by our Heavenly Dad. Yes, we face difficulties but we do not need to lose heart (although sometimes that is easier said than done. Depression is a very real issue and a whole other blog to be written about).
There is courage to be had remembering our eternal home awaits us. We can rejoice in our light and temporary trials and sufferings, in whatever we are facing. We can choose thankfulness in the midst of uncertainty (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can work out our own salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We can Fight the fight, no way else is right. In Jesus Christ we’ve got the victory. Fight the fight, look in to the night, we’ve got the army of Heaven on our side. Every circumstance in our lives is an opportunity to grow closer to Christ, to apply His Word to the dailiness of life. This is what He has called us to.
1 Timothy 6:11-12 Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…
In this day of uncertainty, I’ve had conversations with some about uneasiness they feel with what all is going on. Several times while listening, I’ve been reminded of a time I really struggled with anxiety and what I did to help me start getting a handle on fears that wanted to steamroll me. I’d like to tell you that story.
When I was a kid, I was fearful often. Especially at night. When I was around 8 or 9 my dad gave me a pocket knife. I used to sleep with that, blade open, in my hand, to ward off ‘the monster.’ I doubt I ever pulled it out from under my pillow when the monster came in, but holding it in my hand helped ease my anxieties.
Fast forward into my early twenties. I was home from college after being kicked out for trying to kill myself. I don’t remember what all generated these thoughts, but I know the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the need to cast all my cares on my Saviour, Jesus.
Since this seemed a hard thing for me to do I remember the thought coming to me to write my cares down on pieces of paper – one care per paper. I then took a paper sack and fashioned a basket with it which I pinned up to the top corner of the door frame to my closet. It served as a basketball hoop of sorts. I wrote each care on a piece of paper. Offered it up to God. Wadded the paper and threw it into the basket. I did not allow myself to retrieve those papers from that bag. I did occasionally take the bag down and burn it outside, papers and all. And when anxieties that I knew I’d casted on Him tried to resettle in my mind I reminded myself over and over that I had cast them on God and I did not need to carry them.
I think this principle is still effective. If there are anxieties that keep trying to weigh you down, cast them on God over and over again. He understands our human tendency to pick things back up. If you need to physically cast the care, do as I did. Write it down, cast it into a basket or a fire. Do it as often as you need to. Sometimes the physical act helps solidify the mental habit. It did for me.
It is comforting to remember that Jesus is our high priest. He understands our struggles. Let us strive to enter into the rest of Christ, remembering that His Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Remember, none of us are hidden from His sight. So, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4: 11 – 16).
Remember to stay humble in His watch care, asking Him for wisdom and guidance. He asks us to cast all our anxieties on Him because He does care for each of us who call on Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. We need to be sober-minded, watchful; knowing our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. We need to resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And what joy to know that after we have suffered a little while, God, our loving Abba, our God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5: 6 – 11)
I think in hymns and am so thankful I grew up singing hymns – they are a way to sing my theology. And I close this story encouraging all of us to sing and remember, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.
In this time of Covid-19, schools closed, activities limited, social distancing, in the uncertainty of future events like high school and college graduations, going off to college in the fall, working from home or finding yourself unemployed; it is easy for fear and anxiety to arise.
I’ve been meditating on rest and peace in Christ; remembering all He’s brought me through in previous hard and uncertain times of life. The other morning I awoke with Psalm 16 going through my head and I’ve been meditating on this passage for the past few days.
You Will Not Abandon My Soul
A Miktam of David.
16Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names onmy lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
It is comforting and reassuring to know God makes His path known to us and in His presence we have fullness of joy. If anxieties and worries try to invade, remember our loving High Priest wants to hear it all and asks us to cast our cares on Him. Spend time with Him daily, in His Word, in prayer, in quiet meditation. Cast, continually, your cares upon Him. And remember, He is our chosen portion and He holds our lot.
I used to teach creative writing to middle schoolers while I was living overseas. I had compiled a booklet of creative writing prompts for my students to use over the summer. Now that the schools are closed due to Covid-19, I am having my sons do 20 minutes of writing each day. They are using this booklet to provide a prompt for the day. I am sharing the 72 writing prompts with you.
WritingPrompts – 72 prompts for journaling
byBeth M. Symanzik – 2015 revised 2020
dedicated to my Creative Writing Students at Faith International Academy of Davao, School year 2014-15
copyright May 2015
A few words about creativity and journaling
Creativity is a God-given talent we should all be developing. God, our Father, is a creative God. Look around – notice the colours of the world – of nature, the various shapes, plants, animals. Notice people. Each person you meet is created in the image of God by God Himself. Amazing thought.
Creativity is a way in which you translate what you hear, feel, observe, experience, and/or think from something that’s inside you to writing creatively about the idea.
Keys to Creativity –
Develop a creative life style – take lessons or teach yourself art, calligraphy, music, dancing. Make crafts, woodwork, sew, garden, go to classical concerts, go to operas, ballet recitals, etc. Sing, work with clay, bake, do puzzles, do logic puzzles, doodle.
Martin Luther had this to say during the bubonic plague:
“You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.”
In 1948, C.S. Lewis wrote a paper titled “Living In An Atomic Age” after the atomic bomb was developed. I think his words ring true for this age of COVID-19.
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb (or COVID-19), let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
It seems a good time to dwell on Romans 8:35 – 39 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My blog is a personal challenge for myself to be vulnerable. I’ve always associated vulnerability with weakness. I grew up learning to hide shame and fear behind a mask of “I’m okay” only to have all that ripped off and healed through many events I encountered on the mission field and through reading authors like Dan Allendar, Mark McMinn, Brene Brown, Elisabeth Elliott, Brennan Manning, Augustine, Robert J. Wick.
I love Theodore Roosevelt’s quote “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Our family dared greatly moving overseas as a mid-life career change, taking children ages 12, 8, and 5 at the time half-way around the world, only to add two more into the family a little over a year later. I dared greatly, and continue to do so, in the continual, on-going healing from childhood sexual abuse. And there is a sentence that sparks a shame thought, “oh, you shouldn’t say that.” But it’s true.
As Psalm 145:3 states, “One generation shall commend Your works to another and declare Your mighty acts.” And I have many “mighty acts” stories to share. God is so faithful and so loving.
And I offer this blog as a story of hope, resilience, vulnerability and courage to others facing challenges living overseas, dealing with hurts from the past or currently, facing challenges to personal growth, etc… I encourage anyone to pick up Dan Allendar’s book “The Healing Path” and for those sexually abused, “The Wounded Heart” and read and reread.
I’ve learned to see God in every moment of life, every event, to be thankful, to praise Him in the good and the hard, to see ushering in His Kingdom in acts of daily life.
I’ve not arrived, I’m not perfect, and I keep falling uphill seeking Him first in all my ways (Matthew 6:33).