PARTY OF ONE: DEALING WITH LONELINESS

Standard

Several years ago, I took an informal poll on Facebook. It was answered anonymously and involved either a yes or a no answer to this question: Do you consider yourself to be lonely? Not all, but most of my Facebook friends have a strongly Christian background. Many attend sizable Bible-believing churches. A good number have matriculated through Christian schools and colleges. They’ve spent much time among kind and caring people.

And yet, the vast majority of the responders to my poll answered affirmatively to my question. Loneliness can weigh heavy. I know because if I were to have answered my own inquiry, I, too, would have answered yes. Does that surprise you? I mean, I have been actively involved in at least six churches/faculties, four of them being good-sized ministries. I’m living back in my hometown. I have over a thousand Facebook friends (my writing platform) and know over 95% of them personally. The rest of them are friends of friends who have requested to follow. The majority of my on-line pals have requested my friendship because I still feel awkward sending friend requests. (I’m improving with that a bit, though.)

How in the world could I feel lonely? Well, it happens. (And caregiving has not helped — though I wouldn’t change it.)

Well, here’s the good news. I looked up “loneliness.” The very first thing it said was that loneliness is considered normal. Isn’t that wonderful?? In at least one area, I’m considered “normal”! Everyone at some time or another feels lonely. And that’s not a bad thing.

As a matter of fact, lonely times of life serve some important functions. I seriously believed I would remain single. I had accepted that and totally embraced it due to the point God makes in I Corinthians 7:34-35.

The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

I threw myself completely into serving the Lord in my teaching and in my church. I do not say that with any pride. It was simply what I enjoyed. I needed to do it. And then God decided I needed a life mate with whom I could serve more effectively together than apart. Thirty-eight years ago this week, I became Mrs. Jon Mark VanderWier. And, if I do say so, we’ve made a pretty good team.

And here I hurry to note, I did not become more worthy because I married. God saw me as entirely worth dying for as a single girl. But He knew my ministry would be more productive in tandem with Jon. I had not felt overlooked before marriage. I must admit that I had periods of deep loneliness, but those were not wasted times. They were focused moments, growing times, character-polishing years. I am thankful I can look back and see how God used that period in my life. I value those days. I needed them.

Marriage doesn’t necessarily cure loneliness. Obviously a good marriage provides companionship, and I am blessed to have the best! Jon usually hits a good balance between goofy and serious. Too much of either one would drive me bonkers, so I’m grateful for his balance. We are honest with each other and enjoy serving together. God has honored us with wonderful children and in-law children, and six precious grandchildren. I’m honestly blown away. (And still so surprised I ever got married!) But even happily married people can feel lonely at times. It’s normal.

What I have learned is this: don’t fight feelings of loneliness. Learn from them. During my most alone days, I’ve found my heart much more sensitive to the needs of others. I’ve found more personal depth in the promises of Scripture. Some of my most creative ideas are born in solitude. Goals define themselves more clearly without the distraction of others. My perspective becomes more realistic. And I feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit more keenly. I find peace and quietness for my weary soul.

So, loneliness poses no problem.

The problem comes when I continue in loneliness. When I make solitude my constant habitat. When I dwell there as if I had no friend. Pity party of one.

God stated in Genesis, right from the beginning, that He didn’t intend man to be a non-social being. He created a companion for Adam, someone with whom he could chat about the day and dream about tomorrow. The book of Proverbs speaks much about the importance of friendship and of being friendly. After all, without others, I would have no ministry! The people in my life are my ministry.

And here’s the sweetest news. As God’s child, I’m never alone. God is my constant companion.

For He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5

I may have shared this before, but it bears repeating if I have. In my childhood, I knew an older lady named Miss Ellig. She was the sweetest soul. I remember asking her one day, “Miss Ellig, do you ever get lonely?” She had a huge grin on her face, and she leaned forward to give me her answer. “Linda, if I ever start to feel lonely, I put my thumb inside my other fingers like this and pretend I’m holding God’s hand!” It might have looked like a fist to others, but to her, it was a treasure. I’ve never forgotten that conversation. And I’ve even practiced it at times. God is always with me. He’s never ashamed to be seen with me. He never gets bored with my companionship. He is always interested in what I’m interested in. He gives me perfect counsel.

Loneliness? I used to struggle with it. And I do have periods of melancholy when I feel overlooked or left out. But I refuse to stay in that pond. I take hold of Jesus’ hand and swim for shore. I am exceedingly blessed by His constant, loving gaze upon me.

How incredible!

READ MY FACE: COMMUNICATING UNSPOKEN MESSAGES

Standard

“What’s wrong? What did I do?”

“Why do you have that look on your face?”

I’ve heard these statements more frequently from my husband recently. I know I’ve not been sleeping too well (which happens often), and the stress of four years of caregiving definitely shows on me. But I haven’t been upset. I hadn’t been able to figure out why he’s been asking more often . . . until today. I think I finally understand the problem.

Good news is that it’s not us, not me and not him. Bad news is it’s not going to change anytime soon. You see, I got a jaw splint a couple weeks ago. I’ve struggled for much of my life with TMJ. My jaw used to lock – which I’m certain my former students and my family would love for it to have continued doing. But these days, I‘m often embarrassed to eat in a quiet place because of my obnoxious jaw clicking. Both sides click, but, of course, not at the same time. Noooo, they have to double the “entertainment” by the right side popping just before the left side pops.

It pops when I chew.

It pops when I yawn.

It even pops when I give my husband a kiss! He thinks it’s funnier than I do.

Quite a few times I have chosen to stop eating, not because I’m full, but because I hate the incessant noise in my ears. Every. Single. Movement. “Pop-pop. Pop-pop. Pop-pop.” So, if I were to obey the maxim and chew every bite thirty times, that’s sixty pops per bite!! Unbelievably annoying. It eventually gets on my nerves to the point I quit. Not a bad diet plan, but frustrating otherwise.

Now, this is obviously not a life-threatening situation. It’s just, as they say, the way I roll. But recently, I’ve added a new layer of concern. I realized I’m clenching my teeth. Oftentimes, that includes my tongue and my cheek. And the clenching has been causing not only increased clicking, but also tooth pain and jaw soreness. I brought the issue up at a recent dental visit. My dentist is a gem. She’s not only a great dentist, and but also a Christian lady who has acted as a caregiver. She understands the pressure of providing longterm care in her home, specifically for those with cognitive impairment. She immediately understood my problem: stress. And she offered the solution: a jaw splint.

I do not like the answer. It’s majorly uncomfortable and makes me talk like I’m drunk! I have a tired face because of the new placement the splint causes. But, incredibly, it works! When I open my mouth — no click! Unfortunately, I must remove the appliance when I eat so the mealtime percussion continues. Eventually, the click should disappear even without the guard. The maniacal researcher in me has poured over on-line articles, but I’m still unsure how it functions. I do know that placing this silicone bracket snugly over my lower teeth magically draws my jaw significantly forward.

And that, my friends, is the problem. Whenever I have my mouth shut, my lower jaw thrusts forward. I already have a very small mouth – just trust me, you don’t need to stare at the picture – so the protrusion of my lower jaw evidently gives me an annoyed, ”I’m not happy with you” expression. And that is what Jon is seeing. I’m not doing it on purpose. Nor can I avoid it. Without smiling at all, I appear permanently angered. Poor guy has been seeing a disgusted face every time he looks at me.

You know the look. The pursed lips and lower jaw jutting forward. An ”I dare you” glare. Haughty. The ”don’t even” visage. And, “under no circumstances should you mess with me.” Humor won’t change that mood.

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes that look winds up on my face. But that’s honestly a rare occasion. And by no means would anyone consider it a permanent fixture. To be truthful, I mask most of my feelings with a smile. And I have much to smile about. I dislike getting caught off-guard with my emotions. (I’m not advocating that. See my former post.) Here’s the problem: my smile is temporarily broken. So when my husband sees what looks like a forced grin plastered on my face, he obviously becomes concerned. https://ironingthepreachersshirts.wordpress.com/2022/06/28/the-hiding-game-the-value-of-transparency/

I’m fairly transparent. Definitely a ”what you see is what you get” kind of gal. I want my face to indicate my mood. And I desire my countenance to radiate joy, not grudges. As a Christian, I’m blessed, and I want others to know it! The Bible talks about the source of a genuine smile.

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance Proverbs 15:13.

You see, the words I say communicate only half of my message. The rest of the story comes from my facial expressions. I’m truly concerned with the heavy use of texting technology these days. And I’m guilty. Much can be hidden in mere written words.

For example, consider this phrase: Wish you were here! The words seem friendly enough, with genuine longing for one’s presence. However, the same phrase can be said with sarcasm, with a smirk, or with a snide look. If I cannot see the face behind the words, I might fail to see the rolled eyes, grimace, or laugh. To be truthful, when the face and words don’t match, the statement is essentially voided. The words cannot be trusted. Facial expressions matter that much. They can change the validity of the spoken message.

For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Romans 12:37

I stand accountable for not only my words, but also for my attitude when I speak. And that attitude will be evident on my face. I must guard both. I want to be trusted. Believable. I don’t want to have even the appearance of hypocrisy.

A cheerful countenance is a token of a heart that is in prosperity. Ecclesiastes 13:26

I need to have a chat with my husband and explain my silly face. Poor guy shouldn’t have to feel like he’s in the doghouse all the time. I’m just having trouble smiling around the bulky silicone. And my resting face can’t rest at all. It’s a conundrum, to be sure. But he loves me. He will understand.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I think I’ll just make a big sign to wear: This IS my happy face!

CHARGE: FINDING POWER TO FACE THIS DAY

Standard

Yesterday morning, I opened a small cabinet I’d never noticed before in the church office. It was long, narrow, and high up on the wall above the audio equipment. My husband’s commanding preacher voice makes amplification in the 157 year old auditorium generally unnecessary, and more modern recording methods are used instead of the older equipment under the cabinet. So I guess it’s been a while since that area has been scrounged.

I was surprised to find a sizable 6 volt dry cell battery inside. It stood out among the snaggle of cords. With my normal curiosity about everything, I lifted down the battery and checked the expiration date. Unsurprisingly, it had lost it’s credible usefulness in 1994, so I figured it was safe to dispose of it.

I asked my husband what I should do with it, and his answer surprised me: ”You could use it for your blog.” Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? But how? What lesson was hiding in that old, dead battery? The question has been chasing several answers around my head for the past 24 hours. My direction for this week’s entry had been completely different until he asked me that question. I came home with the deceased powerhouse and set it on my stairs. And there it must remain until I have blogged my way through my answer.

What lesson do you find in the battery. Never are my lessons exclusive. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

But here’s my two cents worth. My salvation is eternal; my spiritual charge and power are temporary. Here I am, stuck in a physical body that wears down, breaks, and generally falls apart. It gets sick, deals with stress, needs sleep and vitamins, and grows overbearingly weary with it all. My mind finds it difficult to stay focused and untainted by worldly philosophies and enticements. Bottom line? In this earthly body, I struggle. I fight to do right. The good that I would, I do not; and the evil which I would not, I do. (Romans 7:19). In other words, I’m a mess.

But God made me, and He understands. He compassionately forgives me and removes the weight of my sin. He wants to give me a refreshing spiritual bath, allowing me to return to sweet fellowship with Him. Sin weighs heavy. However, at times I act as if I enjoy carrying my guilty baggage. Sometimes it’s due to not recognizing my sin; sometimes it’s unwillingness to give up my sinful habits. But, I have realized the weight of doing right feels much less than the weight of doing wrong. I must be more diligent in awareness of my sin and more quick in seeking forgiveness.

But forgiveness is not the only help I need from God. Every day I need renewal, refreshment, and encouragement. My power runs out and I need to be recharged. I’ve recently become aware of how often the Bible mentions this need.

Psalm 23:2,3 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.

Acts 3:19 Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength.

Romans 12:2 Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I cannot keep going without revived power from God. My battery runs low. My humanness makes rest a non-negotiable. My finiteness requires me to be renewed on a regular basis. I have limits on how much I can do.

I have physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations. My physical boundaries are usually more apparent than the others. Junior high health class taught us all about that. Not being careful to respect my health limits leads quickly to burn-out. Guess how I know that. Let me just say, experience is a hard teacher. And the path into burn-out is significantly shorter than the road out!

Emotional burn-out hides much better than physical. My spirit cannot continue to carry constant heaviness. I’d like to think I can hide my emotional weariness from people. However, hiding it cures nothing. The problem remains. I simply must find someone to help me carry the struggles of my heart and mind. God knows that. So He offers to be the One. He tells me to cast all my cares upon Him! (I Peter 5:7) And no one else can handle my cares as well as He can. He also stands as a Rock, my steady place. When my spirit is overwhelmed, I can lean on Him. He will never fail me. He acts as my shelter. When the stress of the day beats down upon me, I seek the cool shade of my high Rock. (Psalm 61:2,3)

But running out of spiritual energy poses another hazard. And this condition is the most dangerous. I may teach Sunday school, lead Bible studies, and give counsel to others, but I must not neglect my spiritual nutrition. Without it, I‘ll run dry. I open myself to temptation. To doubt. To discouragement. To quitting entirely. God never expected me to do life on my own. He truly desires to nourish me and strengthen my soul. He tells me to feast on His Word. My time with Him in the Scripture and prayer should be my banquet table where I fill up in order to do His work. His promises refresh me, His commands renew me, His Spirit works in me. He even asks me to come apart from other people and my responsibilities to rest with Him for awhile. He understands my frailty. (Matthew 11:28)

Mark 6:31 And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

Why do I not avail myself more fully of what He offers me? It would be so much easier with His enabling. I guess I need to pull up a chair and feast with Him until I’m completely full. I must plug into His Word at every opportunity. Until I’m renewed, refreshed, and recharged. Until I’m ready to face another day.

Recharging is free and always available. Isn’t God good?

And, now I can toss out the useless battery and pray I never resemble it!

“Lord, I stand in earnest need of Your complete and powerful recharging today.”

Spiritualpower

IN GOD’S BOTTLES: MY TEARS AND PRAYERS

Standard

“What makes something valuable?” That was the question I wrote on the whiteboard for my students to answer in their weekly journal entries. Having grades seven through twelve in my classes caused quite a variation in answers. I was pleased to recognize growing maturity in the upper class levels. Obviously, value isn’t necessarily defined by monetary worth. Quite often, something becomes valuable because of the sentiment it represents.

We usually put valuable items in one of two places: a safe place or a prominent place. One of my most treasured possessions is a huge, old, red, stuffed dog. His name is Gus. He stands about 2 1/2 feet tall, is missing an eye, and has a bald spot on the top of his big, fuzzy head. He can no longer sit up without being propped against a sturdier object. Though he means the world to me, I keep him downstairs with my stockpile of grandkid toys. He gets overlooked much of the time, but once in a while he gets carried around, hugged, or invited to the kids’ cafe in the corner. Those moments make my heart smile!

So what makes Gus so valuable to me? Well, many years ago, probably around the time I was entering my double-digit age, my very refined father left on one of his business trips. This one took him to Texas. Several days later, as I recall, we went to pick him up at the airport — back when you could meet passengers at the gate. I noticed the humongous red dog before I noticed my daddy. He had won that big stuffed animal during a contest of some kind. (I believe it was at a little carnival game.) And bless his soft daddy’s heart, he had carried that fellow all the way home on the plane. For me!! My father’s nickname (the only name by which his Chicago area family knew him), was Gus. So naturally, I named my new buddy Gus.

Gus had to stay home while I went away to college. But the rest of the time, Gus has lived with me. The bald spot on his head came about by my lifting him by his head. I guess if I’d carried him by one of his floppy ears, he’d be missing an ear.

Gus has grown dearer than ever to me now that my daddy has entered Heaven. Interestingly, at one point during his dementia journey, I gave Daddy an adorable, little, floppy-eared, stuffed dog. He named him Gus and carried him everywhere in the pocket we had attached to his walker. I cannot look at either of those doggies without thinking lovingly of my sweet dad That’s my treasure. And I plan to keep my Gus, regardless how tattered he becomes.

God, too, has some treasures. I know He values them because He keeps them in a special place in Heaven – in bottles. I have two bottles on my dresser. One is marked ”Tears,” and the other is marked ”Prayers.” They are visual reminders of God’s unique care for me.

God saves my tears in a bottle. Psalm 56:8 “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

I’ve mentioned tears in previous posts, but I make no apology for mentioning them again. [I’ve linked some posts below for your convenience.] Tears don’t receive as much respect as perhaps they should. Honestly, I’ve not used them as I could and probably should have for the past dozen or so years. I usually find myself withholding them or hiding them. Why? I have no good reason. No good reason whatsoever.

I know they are a gift. God has placed them within each of us as a way of dealing with our emotions. Tears don’t always mean sorrow, grief, or sadness. The tears welling up in my eyes right now as I consider the earthly loss of my daddy are not all from grief; they are also a joy over the blessing of good times experienced together and relief that he’s no longer suffering. Nothing else could express such a vast mix of emotions like a teardrop. Tears are not shameful. Not a sign of weakness. They act as a pressure valve to release the stress of what my heart and mind can safely hold. So why do I hold them in? Why, other than the red splotches around my eyes and lips, do I try to hide them? God made them. He sees them. He treasures and keeps each one. Never should I be ashamed to fill that bottle.

Jewish mourners used to save the tears wept during their grieving in a lachrymatory. They used these bottles to collect tears to be buried with the deceased as a sign of respect and honor. Oftentimes mourners were even hired to assist in the ceremony. I believe Jesus took my tears to the cross when He died for my sin. They were buried with Him, and the tears over my sorrow for sin have been wiped away by His resurrection. I’m also told in Revelation that He Himself will wipe away all my tears when I get to Heaven. I believe I will arrive there with flooding tears of joy. The joy will not disappear, but the tears will be gone. He will dry my eyes and welcome me Home. Revelation 21:4  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

God also saves my prayers in a bottle. Revelation 5:8 ”And four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” My prayers ”smell sweet” to Him which makes the fact I’ve used perfume bottles especially significant to me. But, sadly, I often find filling the tear bottle easier than filling the prayer bottle. I try to pray. And I do pray. But I could definitely pray more. I could pray with more urgency, more thought, more compassion. I could pray earlier. I could pray regularly. I could be praying so much that God would need a bigger bottle to catch them all. I‘m just being truthful. I could do better. And I will try harder to fill that bottle to overflowing.

God values me. I’m special to Him. I matter to Him. I am His treasure. He will keep my soul, my tears, and my prayers in His special spot. He will consider the day He calls me Home to be a precious day. I cannot wait to tell Him thank you. Today, I will tell Him I love Him and value our relationship as my highest treasure. I will try to honor His Word by my behavior and keep it in my heart to share with everyone I can.

It feels so good to be considered His treasure.

SCATTERED: Finding My Scope of Influence and Determining Worth in my Circumstances

Standard

I had a birthday last week meaning simply that I’ve completed one more lap around the sun. But what a year it’s been! Though I cannot claim to being physically stronger or more adept at the end of my 63rd year, I do believe I gained much wisdom. And, quite honestly, I’d much rather have the wisdom than the physical prowess. The need for right thinking comes in much more handy and more frequently.

So, here I am beginning my 64th year. And for some reason, I’m being drawn back to one of life’s basic questions: Why am I here? I‘m not trying to wax philosophically eloquent. It’s an honest question.

Consider this – God could have created me at any time and in any century, in any color, male or female, in any of the hundreds of countries around the globe, into poverty or riches, into abandonment or acceptance, with any educational aptitude, to any father and mother, surrounded by Christian beliefs or paganism. The countless possibilities blow my mind.

But God made me . . . me. Every factor of my birth and life was ordered by God, according to His wisdom and purpose. He didn’t form me and then accidentally drop me into the wrong country, in the wrong century, to the wrong parents. He had a plan for me, and He is currently working it out in every detail. He has “scattered” each of us across time and territory with an almighty intent. (I Peter 1:1)

Here’s another question to consider: Are the circumstances surrounding my birth or in any years intervening my birth and death an accurate scale by which to measure God’s love for me? Does an ”easy” life indicate more of God’s favor than a ”difficult” life?

I’m pretty sure you’d agree with my answer. Absolutely not. God clearly demonstrated His love for the world and everyone in it by His Son’s death on the cross. If I’d been the only person in the world or the only sinner in need of a Savior, Christ would have died for me. God’s love comes with no stipulations and no favoritism. It knows no limits and has no bounds.

I am here on earth according to one overruling purpose. God created me here and now and how for His pleasure in drawing me and everyone in my sphere of influence as close to Him as possible. The specifics of my life contain the best means of accomplishing this divine intent. I was made me to bring the greatest glory to God. (Psalm 139:13-17)

How does that work? Personally, God deemed that placing me in America in the very (very) late 1950s would allow me to touch the lives of my family, my friends and acquaintances, my neighborhood, my school, my dentist, my waitress, and my pharmacist with His love. My stature, my health, my education, my talents and even my lack of talents were designed to draw me into contact with those God intends me to influence. Likewise, God has created those around me to specifically influence me. To teach me. To cheer me and, at times, to disappoint me, in order to draw me closer to Himself.

When I view my life in that understanding, I feel pretty special. It helps me see every situation and circumstance as an opportunity rather than as a nuisance. This knowledge helps me view every person (EVERY person) through the eyes of God’s plan in their lives and mine. It places before me a duty to fulfill every day. I can regard nothing as an accident.

Personally, I have watched God reveal Himself in the most marvelous and, often, in unexpected ways. Sometimes He’s worked through the joys of my life; sometimes it’s been through the sorrows. Sometimes the purpose has been immediately obvious, and in others, the reason has been obscured. I know I do not fathom all God intends, even after the fact. I recently shared a poignant example of God’s goodness displayed through a difficult time. https://ironingthepreachersshirts.wordpress.com/2022/05/16/why-god-when-life-doesnt-feel-fair/

So now I’m here to tell you that I live every day victoriously, as a radiant beacon to all I meet, formally or informally. No matter what occurs in this 64th year of my life, I will enjoy and embrace it as a beautiful opportunity.

And, if I even had the nerve to say anything close to that, I’d be lying. I still buck against the situations God allows into my life when they do not deliver joy to my heart. Sometimes I feel cheated. Sometimes I feel worthless. Sometimes I feel burdened. Occasionally, sadly, I feel proud.

I am in great need of viewing my life in light of God’s will. God’s will for me, and God’s will for every single person I meet through the happenings of my daily life. It’s something I need to work on during this next trip around the sun. And I’ve determined to keep my heart, mind, and eyes open to the opportunities to minister and to be ministered to by the wisdom of others. It won’t be a natural response. Did you notice how many times I used the phrase ”I feel”? I tend to operate based on my feelings. That’s not best. I must continue to drench myself in the truth of God’s Word and let His wisdom wash the fear, doubt, and misgivings out of my consciousness.

How wonderful to realize God is in charge of everything. Truly, some come to mind whom I’m thankful aren’t making all these decisions. Certainly my name tops that list! But I trust my Heavenly Father. I rest with complete assurance of His goodness and wisdom.

Meanwhile, I need to get busy. I was made to bring Him glory, today, right here, at this exact moment. It’s why He made me . . . me!

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure, they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

THE HIDING GAME: THE VALUE OF TRANSPARENCY

Standard

Kinda silly, isn’t it? Maybe you don’t get caught in the ”Hide and Seek” game like I do, but I’m a champ!

I like to consider myself unquestionably down to earth and transparent. I certainly never developed my blog to be a showcase of my strengths. (Not enough material!) My ultimate goal came from a desire to tackle problem areas and share what I’ve learned through the fight. As I think back over the more than one hundred entries I’ve posted, I cannot think of even one in which the battle has ended for me. I have claimed no final victories. I can say, however, that I have been somewhat successful in winning an increasing number of daily skirmishes once I have recognized my weaknesses and begun to fight.

But that’s all I can ”brag” about. Truth be told, I’m still fighting way too many wars. I have always been and will continue to be a confirmed introvert. Add to that social malfunction the fact my self-esteem and self-confidence meters both register in negative numbers. Then consider how difficult it is for me to become an open book before the world about my struggles each week on my blog!

I assume in most cases, if I’m dealing with something, others might be dealing with it – if not now, perhaps in the future. At least I sure hope I’m not the only one who hasn’t reached perfection! The goal is to be relatable. However, truthfully, it’s much much easier to hide behind my keyboard and become transparent than to appear in front of real people, with actual eyes, ears, and . . . opinions. I can edit my blog posts; I cannot edit my entry into a room or response to comments and situations.

You know how some conversations stick forever in your memory? I had one of those long ago, probably in the early 1990s when we lived in St. Louis. I can hardly even call it a conversation. It was more a comment made in passing, a comment I had to accept as either a compliment or a slam.

The comment? Two church ladies stopped me in the aisle after a service and said this: “Do you know what we like about you? We like that you aren’t perfect. We see you make mistakes. You don’t deny them, but rather give us an example of how to handle them.”

I decided to take their note of my imperfection as a compliment. Of course, deep in my heart, I wanted to be the perfect pastor’s wife. However, there’s one tiny problem. I am not perfect. Not even close. I’m simply an ordinary girl. Some of you may remember my first blog piece. https://ironingthepreachersshirts.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/an-ordinary-girl/

So why do I continue to have this strong urge to hide my imperfections? Why do I want to appear I have my act so together? The answer isn’t hard. Pride. Easy answer. Hard pill to swallow.

I go to church concerned that I look okay. I care what others think. I care too much. I get asked how I’m feeling. I smile and say I’m fine. If I do admit to a problem, I do so with a smile, ending with the disclaimer ”God is good,” lest they doubt my faith. Oh, brother!

And at home? I know someone who needs a friend, needs a shoulder, needs a break. But spontaneity is not one of my strong points either. Someone might notice I haven’t dusted in eight months (well, not quite that bad!) or see last night’s dishes still in the sink. My carpet is nothing but stains. (And that is no exaggeration!) My hair is a mess from working in the garden – what if they see my gray roots?? Horrors! Oh, brother!

Spiritually? I want to have at least a small devotional time with the Lord so I can talk about the verse I read if it comes up. What if someone finds out that sometimes I have my Bible time in the evening because the demands of the day kept pushing it off for me? Oh, brother!

Now here’s how totally bad I am at trying to play Hide and Seek. This is really stupid. When I was a new bride, I became extremely unraveled when I went to the grocery. Want to know why? (This is embarrassing.) I was afraid I’d see someone I knew and they’d laugh at what I had in my cart! I shopped in high speed, racing to get my items checked out and bagged so I’d once again appear collected. Ooooooohhhh, brother!! I’m thankful to say I don’t have that problem any more. I just give my husband the list and send him!! I’m kidding. I can do it myself without fear of being evaluated.

You get the idea. My imperfections cause insecurity. As much as I truly want to be transparent, it’s hard for me. Age has matured me a bit, but it’s still a battle I wage. I still desire to measure up, to seem worthy and properly prioritized, to appear victorious over menial concerns.

Is that bad?

Other than calling it hypocritical, I have no specific Scripture in mind to classify it as ”bad.” The word I would use is ”sad.”

Sad because I miss out on prayers that others would lift on my behalf if they understood how badly I needed them? How can they pray if they do not know?

Sad because I exclude myself from the counsel of those who have experienced similar situations. I lose the opportunity to be challenged and encouraged by Scriptures they might share with me. I’m not speaking of continually hanging all my dirty laundry in the choir loft. But I need not hide what I’m battling when wise counsel and accountability could encourage me to make wiser choices.

Sad because, if no one else realizes it’s a struggle I’ve had, they might not come to me for help. I might miss out on a ministry opportunity.

Sad because I run scared, fearing others might find out I’m not excellent in dealing with life. I feel fake. I become weary by flying through life picking up all my loose ends.

Most sadly, I’m trying to impress the wrong person. My motivation rises not from being constrained by God’s love, but from trying to impress humans. Humans before whom I will never give an account. Humans who can never offer me ultimate victory.

And where is the real irony? The One that matters can see right through me. He made me. He knows me. He sees me. I’m completely transparent before Him.

And He still loves me. I don’t need to impress Him. Even with all He knows about me, He continues to wrap me in His love. As a matter of fact, my lack of being able to measure up caused Him to send His perfect Son, in love, to die for my sins.

He uses my failings to continually convince me of my need for Him. My goal should be to display my gratitude to Him by doing my best to please Him. And He gave me His Word and sweet friends to help me along the way.

So I’m declaring the game over. The porch light is on and it’s time to go home. I want to do a better job of being real, of being transparent. God will still love me. And I’m sure my real friends will still love me, too.

“Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” Proverbs 27:9

“Iron sharpeneth iron; So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17

PUTTING AWAY MY TOYS: HOW TO MATURE IN MY SPIRITUAL LIFE

Standard

The other day as I stared at the mesh bag of tub toys hanging in my bathroom, I happily recalled watching my grandchildren play with them. The younger ones, especially, could spend hours floating tiny duck families in circles, sinking little boats, and parading plastic jungle animals along the edge of the tub. I’ve saved several pumps from bottles of shampoo and hand lotion for them to squirt themselves and each other, causing the bathroom to echo with the joyful giggles only children can produce. I love the wonder and excitement even simple toys can bring to tiny tots. The kids usually groan when I bring out the ducky and circus towels, signaling time to pick up the toys, climb out, dry off, and get dressed.

A bit of good advice I was given early in my parenting was to give my children plenty of time to play in the tub. Though not always possible, I allowed them to spend an hour or more doing water activities every chance I could. Of course, it often required adding more water to keep them warm. But I’ve never regretted that time spent with them, watching them experimentally pour water from one container to another and slip-slide around the tub. Such precious memories. Oh, the stories of Noah’s ark, sharing toys (or not!), trains, and bubble beards I could share. But they will appreciate my not going into all the details. Gradually, however, the toys began disappearing from the water. The children grew up and the desire for activities outside their tiny bubbly kingdom started drawing them more quickly out of the bathtub. That carefree, imaginative, and innocent stage of childhood evaporated way too quickly for my liking (as did all the stages of rearing my children). But it was a normal and expected part of growing up. Fully grown children just don’t spend hours playing with plastic boats.

As I relaxed in the warm water and allowed these memories to wash over me, I began wondering just when it was I started packing up my own toys. At what point did the childish toys lose their attraction to me?

And, as usual, my ever-object-lesson-seeking mind didn’t leave off with that thought. I began pondering the childish habits I should have outgrown by now. Several tendencies came to mind immediately, immature attitudes and actions which are still struggle-points for me. I seem to fail repeatedly in the same old ways. Could it be I’ve never tackled those behaviors seriously? The excuse, “Well, that’s just the way I am!” fails to work. Of course it’s the way I am! I was born a sinner with sinful tendencies. God knew that and that’s why He sent Jesus to be my Savior. But He never expected me to continue giving in to these weaknesses. He wants to change me, to grow me up. I Corinthians 13:11 commands me to ”put away childish things.” The first step is recognizing the battles as they pop up, one by one, to catch myself before I blow it, and to humbly make things right when I fail.

At this point in my post, I was prepared to transparently list some areas – and there are plenty! – in which my behavior continues to be immature. However, God clearly directed me to a passage of Scripture that treats this problem differently: it lists exactly how a mature Christian should act. Instead of describing what not to do, God tells me how I should be conducting myself in every area of my life. So what did I do next??! I contemplated how I could incorporate these attitudes and actions smoothly into my blog entry. In other words, I attempted to make God’s Word fit into my plan. When I realized my foolishness, I was immediately ashamed. The rest of this post will not be my words: they’ll be God’s matchless words. They will be words I am challenging myself to read every day now. They will become my code of conduct, my measuring rod, for daily working on achieving an increasingly higher level of spiritual discipline. In Christ’s strength alone, I will be growing up. I will be putting away my toys. And I will become more Christlike each day. This list is long. I will never achieve perfection in my earthly life, but if I pick out a couple goals to work on, one at a time, by His grace, I can make spiritual progress in putting my “toys” away and becoming more like Christ.

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.


“Lord, please help me put away my covetousness, pride, laziness, superiority, insecurity, comparisons, deceit and other juvenile attitudes. Give me wisdom in where to begin in this quest. Help me to grow up. I know it’s what You want me to do.”

Grow up into Him in all things. Ephesians 4:15

SPIRITUAL PRUNING: LEARNING TO FOCUS

Standard

I hate pruning. Weeding doesn’t bother me. I have no qualms with yanking up those wild, overgrown thieves that crowd out desired vegetation. But pruning? Those tender young plants, leaves, and branches worked hard to push through the hard soil with every intention of eventually producing vegetables for our dinner. They have no evil desire to choke out other worthwhile plants. I feel rather sad when I pull up or snap off friendly, little plants.

So why prune? Why eliminate something that is not inherently bad?

Because, in spite of the probability of future produce, the superfluous sprouts deprive necessary nutrition, sunshine, and moisture from more productive plants. When I remove less efficient vegetation and decrease crowding from the rows in my garden, I am actually increasing what I will harvest. It’s the old ”less is more” principle.

I’m far from being a pro-gardener, but I have enough years of trial and error experiencce to know, though it goes against my nature, pruning works. When a garden is encouraged to put everything into the most productive vegetation, it thrives. The harvest is greater and the vegetation is heartier. So, I prune.

Pruning, in horticulture, means ”the removal or reduction of parts of a plant, tree, or vine that are not requisite to growth or production, are no longer visually pleasing, or are injurious to the health or development of the plant.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) So in my rookie manner, I closely examine a plant. I see some branches producing buds and others producing only leaves. Any stem not contributing fruit gets snipped off. That removal forces all the nutrients into the productive branch, thereby producing more fruit.

Please pardon me if I’m sounding like I totally understand what I’m doing. I don’t. As a matter of fact, one year we learned a gardening truth the hard way. But it earned plenty of laughs from our church members. Knowing any garden has strong spots and weak spots, my husband decided to intersperse the vine-type plants. That way we’d get at least some of each. And that’s the year we learned about cross-pollination. We literally had “cu-zinnies,” ”water-lopes,” and “canta-melons.” They were THE strangest-shaped vegetation I’ve ever seen! No taste, but they were crunchy. So I cubed as many as possible and dropped them into salads and such. Other than that, they were useless. That garden demonstrate a poignant truth regarding where to anchor our roots in life, but I’ll let you ponder the lesson in that scenario on your own. Back then, we were keenly disappointed; today we are wiser and get a good laugh out of it.

But what is the lesson taught by the pruning process? To me, it’s an ”ouchie” lesson. I’m learning that in my life, I tend to allow entirely too much time and energy to be put into non-productive activities. I see weeds as being sin. I can more easily and willingly work at their removal. But I honestly have difficulty removing non-sinful, but non-productive elements from my life.

God wants me to “be fruitful,” ”to bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) In order to fulfill that purpose, I must be willing to part with any activity or habit which thwarts my growth and productiveness. Technology of any kind can easily sidetrack me from purposeful action. I do tons of writing and research on-line. That’s what I do, and to the best of my ability, I use my skills to be a spiritual encouragement to others. But it’s easy to stray to less mind-stimulating sites: social media (one of my basic writing platforms), a puzzle, games, and such. True pruning of my character demands that I channel my attention onto the task at hand. Those other sites are not necessarily evil. But they can be thieves if I don’t limit my time. I also enjoy watching television with my mom, particularly the old Dick van Dyke Show. We recently discovered the Dick van Dyke station on Roku. Such fun and good laughs no matter how many times I’ve seen each episode. And, if I’m not mindful, so addictive as one episode rolls right over into the next! Prune, Linda, prune! Establish boundaries. Work with focus on goals.

Sports, crafts, entertainment, fitness, education, career, and such are not evil, but they must not detract from bearing spiritual fruit. I must not pour unlimited time into non-eternal, non-productive activities in my marriage and my home. Truth be told, I’m way too easily distracted by meaningless pursuits. Certainly, when approached with my purpose in mind, these activities can be a means of bearing fruit. For none of them, however, should I sacrifice time in the Word of God, prayer, church attendance, telling others about Christ’s love and teaching them the truth of Scripture. The devil is a nasty deceiver, a liar. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard him whisper in my ear that since I was doing ”spiritual writing,” it could substitute for my time with the Lord. Absolutely not. Nothing I could write about Scripture could equal the words of God Himself. It can be a tricky trap.

It’s all about prioritizing. And I sometimes find that really tough and even painful to do. But I know a proper balance is possible if I become an ardent spiritual horticulturist. I must continually be self-evaluating my life, adding sunshine and rain, light and darkness, nurturing and pruning where needed. It’s a full-time job, that’s for sure. It may involve some bold, painful snipping and sacrificing, but the harvest will more than reward my efforts!

I’ll try to tend my spiritual garden as carefully and prayerfully as I can. I will evaluate my daily activities and seek to eliminate or at least lessen the time spent with those which steal my time and energy from my life’s goal. I know when I see the harvest, I will agree with the old songwriter, “It Will Be Worth It All”!

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12

To every thing there is a season, . . . a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which us planted. Ecclesiastes 3:1,2

FEAR: WHEN LIFE FEELS OUT OF CONTROL

Standard

I‘ll start with a confession: I tend to be a control freak. I don’t necessarily want to be in charge of anything, but I want the ability to choose what circumstances affect my life and the lives of those I love. My happiness grows from seeing those I love happy.

My children, now parents themselves, still tease me about one line they were assured of hearing from me at least twelve times per vacation: ”Is everyone having a good time?” They pretty well understood if they were happy, then I was having a good time, too. As a mom, I understand that, in large part, I set the emotional thermostat in our home. I also recognize that I, in turn, get caught up in the atmosphere I‘ve created, so I work hard to keep the mood upbeat.

For me, it works like this: if I’m in a negative mood, the whole house and everyone in it tends to become sulky, complaining, and easily provoked. Then, everyone else’s bad mood fuels my negativity, potentially causing the family members to go silent, disappear, or take it out on one another. That further upsets me. My bad.

On the other hand, when I’m in a cheerful, singsong, all’s right with the world mood, the whole household seems to hum right along with me. That makes me even happier. And the cycle continues to purr along just fine. Those moments make beautiful memories.

I obviously prefer the happy house scenario. Always. If we are traveling, it translates into a ”happy car” scenario. You get it, don’t you? I simply desire everyone around me to be deliriously happy!

But I’ve also realized something else. I cannot always create happiness for those I love. As a matter of fact, sometimes I cannot even give myself a happy set of circumstances! Life can be hard. Hurtful. Disappointing. And I can’t fix it. For myself, for my husband, for my kids, or for my friends.

As a young adult long long ago, I hit black ice on the interstate during rush hour. It was later determined to be the longest patch of black ice on record ever in Indiana. The lady in front of me wiped out. The last thing I wanted to do was hit my brakes, a big no-no on ice. I was going slowly enough that I believed I could safely maneuver my vehicle around hers with a slight adjustment of my steering wheel. UNTIL the women stepped out of her car and stood directly in my path! No choice. I had to step on my brakes. As expected, my car went slip-sliding completely out of control, sending my hands literally flying off the steering wheel and into the air. I remember screaming and crying out for God’s help as I clamped my eyes shut. When I felt the car stop spinning, I peeked out. My car had spun in at least one complete circle, but I had passed the lady and her vehicle without a scratch. I can explain it no other way than to say God steered my car around the other driver that night. She was in my rearview mirror, and I was headed in the right direction. I reached my destination safely, though greatly shaken.

That was not fun. At all. (Probably wasn’t too much fun for the other lady either, but I didn’t dare stop to check!) I had absolutely not a shadow of doubt Who held the steering wheel at that moment. Yes, there’s an old song you’re probably thinking about right now. ”Jesus Take the Wheel!” Though it wasn’t written for me, it sure took on a special meaning to me from that day forward.

And I learned a great lesson from the experience. When Jesus has hold of me, He can be trusted to make everything else all right, too. I forget that truth way too often.

Yes, I hit the ice that night. Yes, my car careened out of control. No, I didn’t relish that “out of control” feeling. It scared the wits out of me. But God never ever one time lost His mighty grip on me. Not that night. And not any time before or afterwards either. No matter the outcome of any situation in my life – happy or dismal, exciting or devastating – God keeps me in His arms. He’s promised to never leave me or forsake me. Nor will He forsake my loved ones.

I remembered this truth last weekend on a trip to visit our kids. I watched my son bouncing across the deeper end of the motel pool with his daughter in his arms. She glowed with delight. (So did her daddy.) No way would that little girl have gone into the water without her beloved daddy holding her tightly and lovingly. She was frightened to pieces to get in the water alone. But when she knew her daddy had his arms around her, she gained courage to cross that pool. And she made it. And he never let go. In her daddy, she knew she had found her safe place.

No, I will not always be having a happy time in this life. Sometimes things get scary. I am not in control. I cannot change the circumstances that affect me or those I love. But I will always have a safe place in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father. I may look in life’s rearview mirror some day and have no clue how I survived.

But I will surely know Who carried me.

The blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby understood this sweet assurance when she wrote the following: ”Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o’ershaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest.”

Lord, may I feel secure and comforted to have your arms fully encompassing me. Please calm every fear of the unknown for myself and my dear loved ones as I contemplate Your nearness. Thank You for holding me close and never letting go.

For I the LORD will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

Isaiah 41:13

WOUNDED: DEALING WITH A BROKEN HEART

Standard

Injuries hurt.

Some injuries hurt worse than others. My grandkids tickle me when the first thing they want to do is show Mimi their newest booboos. Most often the ouchie is on a knee. As they work to balance on one leg, they lift the hurt knee to show me. Even if it never bled and is three days old, the wound usually requires a kiss and a Noah’s ark bandaid from Mimi’s medicine cabinet. I’m thankful the injuries are usually minor because, by the time the child has decided which bandage they want, they could be requiring a transfusion! I mean, which bandaid works best: an elephant or a giraffe? Or perhaps the dove. Oh, wait. I want the Noah one.

But some wounds are serious. No longer a minor casualty, the cuts, bruises, and fractures can run deep. They require treatment and time to heal. Occasionally, the injury necessitates intervention from a specialist or hospital. An adhesive strip Noah won’t fix it.

I’ve had all kinds of hurts: both minor and major. So have you, I’m sure. The minor ones heal and are forgotten quickly. But some have left ugly scars. The damage can last a lifetime.

Some injuries don’t appear outwardly at all. As a young teen, I broke my arm. After looking at the x-rays, the radiologist diagnosed a deep bone contusion. All I knew was it hurt like fury! This happened just before the required President’s fitness test in P.E. I’m not known for extreme athleticism, but I do tackle challenges with 100% of my ability. One part of the test was pull-ups. Oh, man. I tried to get out of it, but the teacher didn’t understand the seriousness of the injury. How could she? Even the doctor had missed it.

I did one excruciating pull-up.

The pain clearly indicated the problem exceeded the diagnosis. Mom was called and we headed back to the doctor for a second set of x-rays. My arm was fractured. It was an odd break called an ”occult fracture.” (The name of it alone kind of scared me!) In this situation, the bone breaks inside the bone. The damage remains undetected (at least in those days) until calcification starts building up around the injured area. With time and proper care, my arm healed just fine.

Hearts break, too.

In spite of all attempts to duck or dodge potentially hurtful situations and using all safety precautions, hurts happen. Avoidance is not always practical or even possible. Like physical bumps and bruises, some emotional injuries come from minor disappointments, soon to be forgotten. Others run deeper, leaving ugly scars and permanent damage. Sometimes a broken heart creates public empathy, while at other times, it must be bandaged in silence. I can look at a friend and see she’s dealing with a broken foot, but I cannot always diagnose a trampled, shattered spirit. The pain and attempts to heal remain hidden. Invisible, but quite real and throbbing.

I’ve experienced those wounds. I’m sure most, if not all, of you have, also. Broken relationships, in my opinion, rank among the most hurtful of hurts. When the friend or family member you implicitly trusted fails you. Turns on you. Walks away from you. The psalmist David clearly understood this hurt:

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. . . . For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then would I have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked into the house of God in company. Psalm 55:6, 12-14

How do I recover from such a serious wound? How do I return my life to the way it was?

Sometimes, prayer, forgiveness, time, and a close walk with the Lord minister a complete recovery.

But occasionally, regardless of all the spiritual salve heaped upon it, the wound remains. The hurt and damage never go away. Did the hurt of His chosen people mocking Him, despising Him, even crucifying Him disappear from Jesus’ heart? I believe not. And the hate continues to break His heart to this day. The wounds on His precious hands and feet closed, but the raw brokenness of His heart remains.

But I am not God. The capacity of my heart could never match His. So how do I deal with a broken heart?

I learned a lesson from the trees last week. A tree cannot outrun a tornado or oncoming, out-of-control car. It’s destined to remain solidly rooted in place and take the force of the blow. But, unlike us, trees have no capacity to heal their woodsy “booboos.” They have no innate means of healing from anything. Their wounds will always remain. So how does a tree keep from infection, from fungus and decay, from withering up and dying from its insults?

God created trees with a unique method of dealing with injuries received from wind, ice, and lawn mower dings. Instead of relying on healing, a tree seals off the damaged area, allowing nothing in or out. It compartmentalizes it. It does it all without an arborist’s tar applications. And then, in accord with how God made it, that tree covers the hurt with new growth. New, cone-shaped cells build upward in stacked rows to surround the blemish so the overall health of the tree remains uncompromised.

Isn’t that so cool?! And what a perfect spiritual application!

Simply put, I cannot permit past or present hurts to dictate my oveall wellbeing. Whether it’s an isolated situation or a chronic ache, I am not expected to continually deal with it. Though the pain remains, I can grow around it, not letting it stifle or infect my life. I can, and should, compartmentalize that situation, seal it off. Yes, it happened. Yes, it was serious. Yes, it hurt. But no, it need not ruin me. I don’t need to continue nursing the hurt, taking it back repeatedly to the hospital, so to speak. It was one incident. I have new and maybe exciting occasions to deal with today.

I grow. I take the next step I’m required to take. And I grow. And I remain usable, teachable, and fruitful. And I grow some more! The hurts come not to define or disable me, but to intensify the importance of new growth. Once I’ve done my best to deal with it, I’m to place that damage in a locked and sealed compartment. Go on. And grow on!

God’s not given up on me. By His grace and with His enabling, I won’t give up on me either. New growth opportunities surround me when I keep my focus on the One Who will never disappoint me.

Life can still be blessed. Bring it on!

This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13, 14