Focus. As I sit here contemplating this word, the brain fog sets in, and my weary eyes begin to blur the words together on the page. After looking at definitions and synonyms for this word...after reading verse after verse, my mind fractures into countless rabbit trails. Oh, the irony!
Focus is a word that is both a noun and a verb. We may focus on something to "bring it into view" as it becomes the "central point of attention", bringing both verb and noun together. (See what I did there? No? Well, you see I took the two definitions...oh well, never mind).
Focusing on this word brings to mind the One-Word Challenge. I have participated in doing a One Word Challenge for many years now. Some people call it by a different name. But the idea is to pick one word to focus on for the entire year...usually sometime in late December. Many who choose to do the one-word challenge look for a word that sums up who they want to be or how they want to live.
I, however, tend to look at it a little differently than most. Picking a word and becoming that word is not my goal. Instead, I choose to begin praying each year in December that God would show me the word HE wants me to focus on. This was not a New Year's resolution but a year-long one-word journey. As I focused on the word throughout the next year, God would reveal to me the things He wanted me to learn in relation to that word, creating a change in my heart and my life.
This One Word thing takes discipline and focus. Interestingly enough, FOCUS was my word in 2014. So, I went back through my journal in search of an entry on the word, and even looked to see if I had written a blog post about it thinking it would be helpful now that I was writing about it again. There was not one post on the blog, nor anything further in my journal about the word beyond the entry in December stating that it was my to be my word for 2014. Apparently, and I might add ironically, I had lost my focus. Perhaps I need to refocus on the word in 2021.
Oh but wait...that same year I had chosen a verse to go along with my One Word.
It was my life-verse, Matthew 6:33.
But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
There it was. This verse "brought into view" the "central point of attention"...the very One I was to focus on. I went back through and looked at the articles I had written on my blog that year and I could see it...everything I had written was focused on bringing glory to God...seeking His righteousness and advancing His kingdom in my writing. Maybe I didn't lose my focus after all...because the point was that I was not to meditate on the word focus, I was to focus on the Word...His Word.
Wow! My brain is tired from all the wordplay. But I kind of love it when the rabbit trail takes me back to His Word and to the gentle way He leads me. I'm so thankful that He is patient enough to lead me into a new understanding of this word...albeit 6 years in the making.
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
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So this is the third week in our conversation about identity here at Pretty & Wise. I've been thinking a lot about this word...identity. So I began to do a few online searches on the subject.
Searching for Identity
I did a search on Facebook with the hashtag #identity and was amazed at the number of posts. Many of those posts were personal. Quite a few posts I saw were from people who had done a DNA test and found that they were from a different cultural group than they had been raised in and were intent on embracing the culture of their newly found 'identity'. There were posts from life coaches telling you how to be the best 'you', you can be. Many posts were political, social, and cultural. And yes, some were about finding your identity in Christ...or with Christ. Frankly, there were too many #identity posts to read through them all.
I did a search on Amazon and discovered there are 70,000 books listed with the word identity in the title. 70,000 books!
I googled the word identity and it came up with 812,000,000 results.
We seem to be obsessed with this word. Obsessed with finding our own identity, whether as an individual or as a collective people group. There seems to be an innate desire within, a longing, to want to understand who we are...or whose we are.
Whose You Are
Can we really know who we are if we do not know whose we are?
The hubs and I used to tell our kids(teens at the time) three things every time they left the house without us.
"I love you, don't be stupid, and remember whose you are."
They needed to be reminded every time they left the house that we loved them, we expected them to make good decisions, and to remember that they were ambassadors for not only the Idle name, but for Jesus Christ. They knew that it meant they were expected to be mindful of their upbringing as they made decisions about who they were with and what they were doing. They were to be mindful of what it meant to be an Idle. And most of all they were to be mindful of their choices in light of their relationship with Christ.
When we remember whose we are, we discover who we are.
We find the truth of who we are in God's word and through His son Jesus Christ. When we put our trust in Him it changes everything.
"But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God." ~ John 1:12 NLT
As children of God, we find our true identity in His son Jesus Christ. This makes us joint-heirs with Christ...to share in His suffering in order that we also might be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). For God so loved the world...you and I...that He sent His one and only son to die for the sins of the world...for your sin and my sin. There is no greater love than that of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. He loves us! We find security in knowing Whose we are. The longing gives way to belonging.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis tells us,
“Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him."
Lewis reminds us we have to let go of ourself, in order to find our real self. You can't save your life if you have not first lost it. If it hasn't died, it can't be raised from the dead.
"For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." ~Colossians 3:3
Letting go of self can be hard. While the Bible tells us that we are new creatures in Christ, we still have that struggle with the flesh. We have to let go of some of the old notions of "that's just me", or "I was just made that way." We have gotten so comfortable with our old selves, 'warts and all', that we start to believe the lies of the enemy, that we can't change, that we'll never be different or get better.
Don't believe the lies. (Don't be stupid). Let go!
As we let go and turn to the Word of God, we participate in the process of sanctification. We begin to look more and more Christ-like and less like our 'old' self. It's like when you pour clean water into a jar of muddy water...the more clean water you pour in the clearer and cleaner the muddy water becomes until finally there is no more dirty water. We can now clearly see the reflection of our true self in the clear water of the Word of God.
We have to allow room for the Holy Spirit to root out the old as He pours into our lives until we look more and more like the woman God created us to be.
Yes...you were fearfully and wonderfully made and there are things about you that are unique to you, those things God created within you. So let His light shine and as it shines, your lovely self will be revealed to the world. And sister, when His light reveals who you are, give Him the glory!
"But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in." ~ C.S. Lewis
Oh and don't forget...
God loves you!
Don't be stupid.
AND Remember Whose you are!
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
Joy. I wrote about joy on my blog two years ago. I rambled on about pizza, and a dream and whether the dream was from my subconscious, from God, or just indigestion from the pizza I had eaten from the previous night.
I had written the dream down in my journal because I rarely remember dreams as vividly as that particular one and I know that God sometimes speaks to me through those kinds of dreams.
I'd like to share some of what I wrote then with you now. Not the dream part, but the joy part.
Just 7 days after the journal entry about the dream I wrote these words...
May 10, 2018. Thursday p.m.
WHERE IS THE JOY?!?!
That's it. Just three words.
I honestly don't even remember what happened to prompt me to write those words down, but apparently, at the time something had occurred that made me question God.
You see, over a span of two years, I had multiple people prophesy over me that God is going to restore my joy. I thought...what? I have joy! I'm not a 'joyless' person.
And then it occurred to me... when I was younger I had so much more joy that it was evident to others around me. My mama would tell me that I was such a happy little girl that I would go around singing all the time. When I was twelve she wrote a short poem about me. Here are the last lines of that poem...
...How does your laughter grow?
With God's merry blessing,
We can all learn a lesson__
By watching your inner glow!
In my teens, an older gentleman in the choir at my church nicknamed me Happy. Even my husband has told me that I don't sing around the house the way I used to. I realized that I'm not THAT joy-filled girl anymore. What happened?
A song is playing in my head. Cue the song, Where is the Love? sung by Roberta Flack. Only in my head, I am hearing the word love replaced with the word joy.
Where is the joy?
You said was mine all mine, 'till the end of time
Was it just a lie?
Where is the joy?
I know ...I know! The rest of the song is totally inappropriate to my point. Still...it's on replay in my brain. And so I cry out with the words of the psalmist, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation!"
Sometimes, life creeps in...disappointment, unmet expectation, family illness, death, you name it...bringing with it all the drama and trauma to destroy our boundless joy in the Lord. It can happen...and the boundless energy that joy brings is replaced with a 'tired' that just sits in your bones. You know what I mean? Even though we are relatively happy and still trusting in the goodness of God...that bone aching weariness can set in and steal our joy.
I think that I struggle with that weariness from time to time. Life can be hard. I struggled even writing this article about joy because I have been feeling the angst of the current climate of unrest in our world. When there is unrest, when there is uncertainty, in some sense we lose a bit of our security.
Security...we all long to feel secure, loved, safe, protected. When I was a little girl I felt all of that at once...loved, safe, protected, secure...all of it. Perhaps that is why I was a joyful child. Laughter came easy.
Even though my dad died when I was just 10 years old, my mother managed to continue to make us all feel safe and secure. As my mom explained to us, God had chosen to take my daddy home instead of letting him die the slow, painful death his doctors had predicted. God loved us so much that he took daddy home to not only prevent his suffering but our own as well. So, instead of such a traumatic event taking away my sense of security, it reinforced it because I was secure in knowing that God was taking care of me, my daddy, and our family. God is good. And my joy was abundant because I was not abandoned. I was not alone. I was secure in His hands.
As a child, the ability to trust God is so pure and simple. But then as we grow up, life happens, and our sense of security weakens. And we begin to ask God questions.
Job, who lost everything, had questions too. Pain tends to do that...pain from loss, physical pain...emotional pain...leaves us asking, "WHY?"
Job asked that same question from different angles. He wrestled with the big questions. God, what is your purpose in all of this? Please God, help me understand your ways! Why am I even here on this earth? I'm thinking Job surely lost his joy because in losing it all he lost his sense of security.
Job, had friends who failed him miserably. They began well...they took the time to just sit with him...not talking, just offering their presence. But then they opened their big mouths and began offering their own opinions as to why Job was suffering and it all went downhill from there. Job's pain actually worsened! There is no joy in being judged by one's friends.
In Job 38:1 we read...
"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm..."
...and the answer continues with God's questions through four chapters! Those questions reveal the very nature and character of God. And while we know Job never questioned the existence of God, he certainly had been feeling abandoned by God. So, within all those questions, God was letting Job know that He was with him through it all. He had not abandoned Job.
God, who was with him through it all, pulled back the veil to reveal His presence at the most important moment of Job's life and Job replied...
"My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you"
God restored Job and we are told that the Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. I'm thinking in all of that restoration the "joy of his salvation" was restored as well. He was again safe and secure in his relationship with God.
So if my premise is correct, that our joy is toggled to our sense of security. Then I need to ask myself, "Where are you looking to find that sense of security...of being held, being heard, being loved, and carried through the storm?
And the realization floods over me...God answered Job "out of the storm" because He was in the storm with him.
He is with me in this storm...He is carrying me...He hears me...He loves me! In His arms, I am safe and secure.
And tears of JOY flood my eyes! God is good!
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
It was the first time in weeks that I was not able to be in the room with my son. So there I was sitting in the waiting room. WAITING…
There were more seats than there were people and that was a good thing. There I sat, unaccustomed to just sitting and waiting to go in to see him. I had been with him since the first day he entered the first hospital. Just how many days before? I couldn't even remember.
This was the 4th hospital in a series of transfers.
How did we get here?
I had ridden to this latest hospital with my son…in an ambulance. Not knowing what was happening…sitting across from him in the back of the ambulance, next to a man I had never seen before…a man whom I depended on to keep my son alive until we reached the hospital.
At any other time, I would have considered a ride such as this an adventure. What a ride! Racing through traffic, with lights and siren blaring. Flying through every intersection, running every red light in our way! A clear path opened before us as if we owned the streets and highways. But this was no thrill ride. This was a race to save a life and I had a front-row seat watching, praying, waiting as we nearly flew to the hospital. This was deeply personal. My only son's life was in the balance.
We had been many days in this 4th hospital. Brad was experiencing non-stop seizures that had begun with a migraine. Just 8 years earlier a migraine had led to a stroke and we were praying against all odds that we were not heading down that same road.
These non-stop seizures were a new development, and the doctors at the best hospital in the nation were having a difficult time getting them under control. Brad was in danger of brain damage, or even death if they could not be stopped.
And so he was admitted to the Neurocritical Care Unit (NCCU) of Johns Hopkins University Hospital and we were only allowed to see him during limited hours each day. My husband and daughter had gotten a hotel room in town so that we could stay close to the hospital each night.
My first and only emotional breakdown occurred in the restroom of that waiting room as we were leaving the hospital that first night.
I had been by my son's side 24/7 since he had entered that first hospital. I had been his advocate. Speaking for him when he was unable to speak...anticipating his needs when the nurses could not understand him. And at times, correcting the mistakes of the very tired and overworked nursing staff. Like a lioness protecting her cub, I had been fierce in overseeing my son's care. Now they were asking me to leave him overnight in the hospital, in his unconscious state, intubated and with tubes coming and going from every cavity of my man-child's body...and they wanted me to leave?
I could not wrap my mind around the whole scenario. So, as we were leaving, I stepped into the bathroom to have a moment. I needed to get myself together as I did not want my daughter to be distraught from seeing my reaction to this unsettling dilemma. As the tears began to flow, the dam burst and I wept as I had never wept before. Hard, gut-wrenching sobs tore through my body. Ugly, guttural cries came from somewhere deep inside me as my knees buckled beneath me and I sank to the floor. I felt as though my heart was literally being ripped from my body. I could not control the flow of tears, they would not stop. The trickle of tears had become a rushing torrent.
It seems that I could handle anything that my son was going through as long as I could be with him. Watch over him. Pray over him. Protect him. But now all control was out of my hands and I was a broken woman.
I had no other choice but to surrender control and give my son into the loving hands of my Heavenly Father...all over again as I had done before when he suffered his stroke at the age of thirteen. I knew from experience that God loved my son even more than I did and that whatever was to come was in His good and loving hands. (I wrote about that experience here: Sacrificial Faith).
After trying increased and varying antiseizure medications, all to no avail, the doctors' decision was to induce a pharmacological coma. And in the days ahead I found myself once again...in the NCCU Waiting Room.
Back in the waiting room...
There I sat feeling helpless. Dependent on the medical staff looking after my son. Trusting God with my son's very life. Waiting desperately for the times they would allow us back into the NCCU. Just...waiting...
And as I sat waiting and praying, I noticed a young woman. She seemed so very young. She was fidgeting as if she was unsure what she was supposed to be doing. And so I began to talk to her. Her name was Jessica.
Her husband was there in the NCCU because he was experiencing swelling of the brain. It was bad, and they had to induce a coma to give his brain a chance and stop the swelling. They had just told her that her husband had experienced a pretty rough night and she was feeling distraught.
I asked her if I could pray with her. Right there in the waiting room we bowed our heads and prayed...for healing, for the doctors treating her husband, for her own peace...for the peace that passes all understanding to guard her heart and mind.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guards your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I was so thankful that God opened my eyes to see this young woman in her distress and gave me the courage to reach out to her, to pray with her. I saw her later that day again in the waiting room and she seemed to be doing better, in spite of hearing the news that they were taking her husband down for a CT scan to make sure he still had brain activity. I whispered a prayer again as she walked away.
Here's the thing. I don't know the outcome for Jessica and her husband. Sadly, I never saw her in the waiting room after that day. But I do know that God wanted me to pray for and with her. He had a purpose when He prompted me to talk to her...to pray with her. I trust that He has worked through it for her good and His glory.
Sometimes in the midst of our own crisis, God is calling us to reach out and minister to others. I have experienced this enough to know it is true...enough to even look for it in the midst of my own pain and trials.
And enough to wonder when and where...I missed it. It breaks my heart to think that perhaps there have been more opportunities missed than I care to admit. But I cannot let that bog me down in the mire of self-pity. I pray that God will continue giving me eyes to see when to step up and into His works in progress.
God has brought us through this crisis with our son. So many years later, I can see so clearly how He held us in the palm of His hand, how He carried us when we could barely put one foot in front of the other. He continues to be our strength and our shield.
And so I will continue to look to be a comfort, as He, the God of all comfort, has comforted me.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Who do you turn to in times of crisis?
Has God used you to bring comfort to others who are going through situations similar to those you have been through?
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
Every young mother has dreams for her children. As we hold that newborn babe in our arms, we begin to see the potential in this tiny human being…one made in the image and likeness of our Creator God. We wonder if that baby girl will grow up to be a carbon copy of her mommy or will she accomplish so much more than her mama had ever dreamed? We see our sons and are in awe that this little man will grow up to be a man perhaps like his father, even having a wife and children of his own someday. We have visions of tea parties, t-ball, and prom dates. But more than anything, I believe we mothers just want our babies to grow into happy, healthy adults.
I was that young mother so many years ago. My babies were just beautiful.
I knew more than anything else I wanted to instill in each of them the love of their heavenly Father…to teach them to walk with God and to view the world around them through the lens of His Word. I wanted them to grow to be God-honoring, responsible adults with families of their own. I too wanted them to grow into happy, healthy adults.
And so, my husband and I set out to make the dreams become a reality. We were doing the best we could to get our children off to a good start in life. We loved watching them grow into who and what they were created to be, each one with his or her distinct personality. So, aware of the way God had gifted each of them in different ways. Our children, Brad and Lyndsay, were truly a blessing from the Lord.
And then it happened…our son, Brad, had a stroke. He was only thirteen years old, and he had a stroke! This was not in our plans! We had to revise. Brad had to relearn everything…to walk, talk, read, write, add, subtract, even to recognize a penny, nickel, and dime.
We were to later learn that Brad has a very rare migraine disease called Sporadic Hemiplegic Migraine (SHM), so rare that it strikes only 0.01 percent of the population or less. SHM is a condition that has caused our son to suffer two traumatic brain events over the years: the first event being his stroke at the age of thirteen (February 1999); then again, the summer after Brad finished his sophomore year at Florida Christian College (July 2007), he experienced another migraine that led to non-stop seizures putting him in danger of permanent brain damage if the seizures could not be stopped. In order to stop the seizures, they put him into a medically induced coma. Finally, the seizures stopped, and ever so slowly Brad began to regain consciousness. In all, Brad was in the Neurocritical Care Unit of Johns Hopkins University Hospital for 16 days! We spent the months of July, August, and September in a series of hospitals. Finally, just a few days into October, we were allowed to bring him home.
Both events in 1999 and 2007 resulted in multiple hospital transfers, multiple days in ICUs/Neurocritical Care Units and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals. Those days were followed by many months of outpatient physical, speech, and occupational therapies. Each time, Brad was unable to do anything…talk, walk, speak, read, write, compute simple math, recognize coins, complete basic care skills, or understand basic social skills. All had to be relearned. I jokingly tell people that I have raised our one son three times. In reality, it’s not a joke but a big part of the story of my son’s life…and mine, as well as every member of our family.
God has a plan and a purpose for my son’s life…for my life. The plans that formulated in my heart as a young mother so many years ago have taken a dramatic turn. I would have thought by now, at age 29, my son would have graduated from college, be established in the profession of his (and God’s) choice, and be married with one or two children of his own. His own dream since he was nine years old was to be a pastor, be married, and have children by the time he had reached his present age.
Many times I have prayed, “Lord, why…why have you not given him his heart’s desire? Surely they line up with your will?” Just when I think none of it makes any sense, God gives me glimpses of His purpose, His glory on the mountaintops. He shows me light on this valley floor. And I am once again comforted and filled with the peace that passes understanding…HIS peace.
Sometimes, in His great love and mercy, God has given me a glimpse into some of the whys.
Times such as this:
The Waiting Room
Sitting in the waiting room of the outpatient rehab hospital, I cried out to God, “Why, Lord, are you allowing my son to struggle once again? Why, Lord, would you allow Brad to be assigned to a speech therapist with an accent that isn’t even close to his native language? How in the world is he ever going to learn the proper pronunciation of the English language with this guy? Why does Brad even have to go through all of this again? Why do we all have to go through this again? Lord, you can heal him…please...why don’t you heal him?”
In the midst of my crying out to God, the therapist, the very one I was just complaining to God about, stepped into the hallway and asked me to join them in the therapy room. He had a few questions he wanted to ask.
Apparently, in the process of the therapy sessions, Brad had insisted that the therapist help him work on writing a sermon. Since writing is a part of speech therapy, the therapist had agreed to help Brad with the sermon. I think at this point he was willing to do anything that would get my son to cooperate in the therapy sessions. In his sermon, Brad was trying to go through the entire Bible beginning with creation, working through Moses and the Exodus (including every one of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea), basically hitting every single miracle in the Bible all the way up to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In this process, Brad had basically forced his speech therapist to look at God’s Word. Not only that, but this young man was raised with a faith that was contrary to Christianity and was beginning to question his own religion. He asked me what kind of church we went to and what we taught. He said that his wife actually attended a Baptist church but that he had never considered going to church with her or looking into her Christian faith. He had been content with his own system of belief. However, after going through the sermon with Brad over the past month or so, he was now considering visiting his wife’s church. He was ready to look into Christianity!
You see, while I was out in the waiting room crying out to God…well…more like complaining, my son was in there introducing his therapist to the One True God. And suddenly I understood. That young man’s eternal destination, his eternal salvation, is far more important than the instant healing of my son.
Sometimes God gives us those moments of clarity in the whys so that we learn to trust in His wisdom, His timing, and His mercy. I have experienced enough of those moments to know that He is faithful and can be trusted with the whys. As I begin to release the ‘right’ to always know why God works as He does, or even why God allows things to happen, peace sets into the depths of my soul. He becomes my hope and my anchor in the storms of life.
Am I saying that God actually chose to inflict my son with this awful condition? No. We live in a fallen world. Everything has been affected by that choice made so long ago. What I am saying is that God, for whatever reason, has allowed this to come to pass, and He has and is going to bring about His glory and His good for Brad and our family. We are promised in His word, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).
I trust that God is working this out. I know that the enemy wants to use this to destroy our family. He might as well give up because God is in control, and we have willingly placed our lives in His hands. He can be trusted.
My son loves the Lord and has been called! I just have to let go and let God work out His plan in His time. I have to follow His footprints, His path for our lives. In those times when life seems to have gone off track, yet again, I have learned to just let it go and trust that my loving, all-knowing, and faithful Heavenly Father has this, too!
Written by: Gay Idle
Read more from Gay at www.gayidle.com.
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