The Third Watch

Courtesy Flickr - hosullivanIn the scriptures, there are references to the third watch. Most scholars believe this is the time between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. The time most of us are asleep. That is unless we happen to be wide awake. Sometimes sleep is evasive.

I used to have trouble sleeping. I’d wake in the night and the silence in my usually noisy household would be overwhelming. As I lay there trying to do all the things that are supposed to help sleep ( I never actually resorted to counting sheep) I would become more and more anxious and the quiet would become heavier and heavier. I’d think of all sorts of things that only increased the anxiety.

And if I had one long sleepless night, I would find myself dreading the next night. What if it’s the same? What if I am awake again for hours, all alone? The more I would dread it the more likely it was to happen again.

I tried reading, I tried watching a movie, I tried writing. Those things were all fine activities, that I should have been doing in the daytime, not when the rest of the household was in pleasant slumber while I counted the minutes until sunrise. And none of those things helped me sleep.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to God’s Word. I laid my anxiety before Him and asked him for wisdom and for peace.

Here is what he gave me.

Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

Do I still have sleepless nights sometimes? Yes. But now I know that if I am awake, God knows it. He has promised me sweet sleep so eventually I will sleep. In the meantime, I read my Bible and thank the Lord for His promises. I also pray for others who might be awake and anxious as I used to be. Now I believe that if I am awake, I might as well put that time to good use. I use it to pray not only for those who might also have anxious nights but also for anyone God brings to mind. I am not distracted in those moments and I can pray with purpose.

If you are troubled by sleeplessness, spend some time meditating on the verses above. Maybe even commit them to memory. And join me in praying for others who sometimes struggle in the third watch.

Reminder: You Are Not God and Neither Am I

Sometimes I forget that I’m not God. Sometimes when someone I care about is going through a struggle I get frustrated because I can’t help them fix it.  I want them to have peace in their life, I want them to…be happy!  But it’s not my job to fix their problems.

This is especially difficult when the one with the problem is a family member.  And many times more difficult when it is your child.  What mother or father ever wants to see their child suffer?

But each of us has to learn our own lessons and God is the one doing the teaching. He’s the one who knows what the goal of the lesson is. He is the one who can tell when the lesson has been learned.

From our limited human perspective, we can get a twisted view of what’s happening.  We can’t know all the important details and if we try to do too much to help we end up muddling the whole thing.  We can do more harm than good even with the greatest of intentions. But it’s still hard. Hard to see someone you love suffer. Hard to see them broken and discouraged.

There are some things you can do without taking over God’s job.  You can pray. Pray scripture over their lives.  Some great verses to pray are:

“Commit your works to the Lord and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him…He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him.” Psalm 91:14-16

“Eye has not seem nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

” (I)do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Ephesians 1:16-19

Above all, keep loving them. Keep listening. Keep believing that God can do what you cannot.

A Promise in the Pouring Rain

Pop-up showers. That’s what they call the drenching downpours that come out of nowhere during the rainy season in Florida.  You can be sitting at a stoplight and it can be raining on one side of the road and not on the other.

Recently, I had taken my husband to work and went to a park by the water. This has become a sort of mini retreat for me once a week.  It’s a great place to think. As it turns out, it’s also a great place to hear from God.

This time I sat on a bench watching across the bay as one of those pop-up storms formed in front of me.  I watched it gathering strength.  The wind began to blow and the water began to stir.  As I watched it move toward me, I could see that it was raining between me and the other shore that I faced.  Just to the right of the rain it was clear and sunny.   Just like life, I thought.  Sometimes you can see a storm approaching and you know you are in it’s path but you look around and see other people completely unaffected.  Not even getting sprinkled on.  How is that even fair?

Then, as I was thinking I should probably head toward shelter, I looked at the clouds in front of me and right in the middle of the darkest cloud was a splash of color. A hint of a rainbow.  As I continued to watch, I saw small patches of color elsewhere in the cloud. None of the patches seemed connected. They were just small spots in the middle of this cloud.

God spoke to my heart just then.  Even though that storm was headed my way, even though the sun was shining on other people, God was still with me.  God painted a piece of a rainbow just for me.  It was a reminder that even when the storms come, there is the promise of something good right in the middle of all the struggles.

I quickly headed for shelter and the rain poured from the sky for a time.  And then… you know what happened?

The sun came out again.

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.- Nahum1:7 (ESV)

This was a Hard One to Write

Sometimes things come to a screeching halt until you make a decision. Sometimes the decision is hard. You avoid it. You deny it. You even try to trick yourself into believing it isn’t a big deal.

I’ve come to that place in the past ten days.  I’ve faced a hard decision.  But I believe I am on the right track. The sermon at church yesterday confirmed it.  Again. How does God do that?

You know those charts that list all the things that cause stress and you are supposed to tally up your score to see how vulnerable you are to stress-related illness?  I looked at one of those online the other day and actually laughed out loud.  The number of items I could check off, that have occurred over the past two years, are off the charts.

Many years ago I struggled with depression and after ten years on medication I was well and went my merry way.  I’ve been doing just fine until the long line of challenges began over a year ago and   haven’t let up. I’m sure some of you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes it looks like it will never end. If you’ve been reading my blog posts over the past few months, you can see that I’ve cried out to God for some relief. Asking if we could be done now.  But we aren’t done.

In the sermon yesterday, Pastor Willy spoke directly to where I am. It felt like he’d been reading my journal. He talked about how even Elijah struggled with discouragement and even depression. King   David certainly did.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Especially when you can trace the list of stressful events that eventually cross the line of what any person could handle.  Pastor Willy encouraged us to deal with the physical issues first. I was glad to realize that I had already taken that step by visiting my doctor last week. That was hard. It felt like I was moving backward instead of forward.

Then we were told to address the spiritual issues.  Visits with doctors, medication, counselors, those are all good. But the bottom line is that God is the One who can make all the difference.  He is the final authority about your life and has all the answers you will ever need.

I am glad that I have a support system that helps me deal with the challenges I’m facing right now. I’m glad for skilled medical professionals who offer input and options. But mostly, I’m glad I serve a God who knows my deepest thoughts and knows exactly what I need.

If you are struggling with discouragement or anything else, please be encouraged that God knows where you are. He will guide you to the answers you need. And if His answer includes help from a doctor or counselor, please don’t feel condemned for taking that step.

If you’ve been down a difficult road and have found victory, look for those you can encourage. If we all keep our struggles private, what we go through doesn’t help anyone else. I am praying God will continue to give me the boldness to be transparent. It’s the best way to undo the plans of the enemy by encouraging others to find victory through my own life lessons.

The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. – (Psalm 34:17-19) NASB

The Red Sea Parts…Then What Do You Do?

Can you just see it?  The Israelites have just fled Egypt after an incredible demonstration of God’s power.  Now they stand at the shore of the Red Sea, water before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. Hopelessly trapped. An impossible situation.  No visible way of escape.

Then God does something spectacular.  He speaks to the wind and it parts the sea creating dry ground for the massive nation of Israel to pass through the sea.  But, did you ever consider what it must have felt like to see the sea open up before your eyes?

You would be excited that you’d just witnessed a miracle. You would be amazed that a way of escape had been provided.   But can you imagine the noise of the wind? And what about the walls of water churning on each side of the path that has opened up in front of you? And now you would be expected to walk through all of that on foot with nothing to shield you from the wind and the splash of water right beside you as you walked.

I imagine it was terrifying.  It was the means of escape from the threat of the army closing in on them, but it wasn’t a stroll through a garden. The sounds must have been deafening. The risks were incredible. What if they got out in the middle and the walls of water gave way? They couldn’t turn back. There was only forward.

God says He will make a way for us where there is no way.  Exodus 14 proves that He is fully capable of doing so. He did it for them. He’ll do it for you. But when your prayer is answered and the way of escape has opened up, be prepared to face your fears as you step out in faith and move forward.  It might be scary, it might seem dangerous, it might cause you to consider turning back.  Don’t do it!

Press on and see the faithfulness of God. Don’t be afraid to get your feet muddy.

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way through the sea, and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and the horse, the army and the mighty man (They will lie down together and not rise again; they have been quenched and extinguished like a wick): “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:16-19 (NASB)

What Were You Created For?

I was reminded of a  truth I needed to hear again in the sermon this week.  The verses come from Exodus 31 where God tells Moses that He has appointed a man named Bezalel to be the craftsman who will make all the things they will need for the tent of meeting.   In verse 3 God says He has,” filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every craft.” Then in verse 6 it says,” I have placed wisdom within every skilled craftsman in order to make all that I have commanded you.”

As I listened, I heard the words carve wood, and I leaned over to my husband, Randy, and said, “so you, as a woodworker, can be assured that God has also given you wisdom and ability in your craft.”  We smiled at each other and went back to the sermon.

Later, I was thinking about this again and remembered a devotion I wrote several years ago called, The Master Craftsman, where I talked about how God was the master and He would craft our lives into something beautiful if we allowed him.

Then I went on to think about my own calling.  Sometimes what we feel called to do and what it looks like when we actually put it into practice can be puzzling. We think we know what we’re supposed to be doing but why don’t we see the results we imagined when we began?

Right now Randy is wrestling with how his illness will effect the dreams and plans we’ve talked about for years.  What keeps him motivated to continue when it appears that he might not have time to complete it all?  What keeps any of us motivated to keep going when it doesn’t look like we think it should?

The motivating factor has to be the truth that we gain from scripture.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.”

If He prepared the good works ahead of time, how can we “run out of time” before we accomplish them?  The only way that will happen is if we flat out choose NOT to try in the first place.

If all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28) then what looks like setbacks to us really aren’t.  So Randy’s illness, or my years of depression, or your (________________________________) fill in the blank, can do nothing to stop the good works that God has planned for us.  We just need to keep going.

If we woke up this morning then there is still something for us to do to bring God glory. If we don’t wake up tomorrow then we’re done and can spend eternity with Him!  What can be better than that?

Maxey Memory #8 -When You Have a Son Who Will Try Anything!

Those of you who know my oldest son Andrew will not be surprised by this at all.  He lives his life on the edge of adventure.  He looks for opportunities to try unusual experiences and he makes sure as many family members as possible are participants.

This past week was no exception. Andrew found a place online to purchase a liquid nitrogen flask. He had it shipped from overseas and then found a place locally that would fill it.  He proceeded to gather all of us in the dining room for an experience we won’t forget.He poured the liquid nitrogen into a Styrofoam cooler and the fun began.  We had prepared a variety of food items to freeze, including marshmallows, gummy bears, Oreos,  blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon. He certainly had the kids’ attention!  Then came the best part.ICE CREAM!  If  you make a homemade ice cream recipe and pour it into squeeze bottles and then give them to Andrew and Randy, in a flash you have homemade Dippin’ Dots!  They were a little lumpy, not perfect spheres like the real thing but the kids didn’t seem to care.It was a fun treat and an experience I never expected to have.  Somebody else thought it was pretty sweet too!

I’m Thinking About Rain

My friends up north are tired of rain. They’ve had more than their share lately.  We, in Florida, are desperate for rain. In a place where summer storms come daily, dumping inches of rain in minutes, we can get pretty tired of rain too. But not right now.

Right now we’re experiencing the worst drought some areas have seen since recordkeeping began. Drier than it’s been for over a hundred years.  Most of the state is under an extreme fire danger warning with wildfires breaking out every day.

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you know  about the struggles we’ve been experiencing over the past few months.  When I stop and think about all the different challenges we’re dealing with all at the same time I can’t believe we’re still standing. But we are.

I thought about giving this a different title. Something like,” what do termites, migraines, cirrhosis, and broken A/C units have in common?”  The answer would be –what the Maxeys are up against.

In the past two months we’ve had to deal with a son needing an MRI for increased migraines, termites in our Iowa house, and my father being evaluated for heart surgery at 82. We also had our two-year-old granddaughter in the ER for a cut on her hand requiring about 8 stitches, and we had an encounter with bedbugs that sent us to the laundromat with 12 trash bags of clothing and bedding to wash. And of course, Randy’s diagnosis of cirrhosis, which was enough all by itself.  All of our boys still need testing for the 3 genetic disorders that they believe are playing a role in Randy’s illness.

Some of those things are overwhelming all by themselves and taken together it feels like a raging storm with no end.  There are times in life when we want to wave the white flag of surrender and say we’ve had enough. We didn’t sign up for this.

So what does that have to do with rain, you ask?  I think it is about perspective.  Sometimes in the rainy season in Florida we get rain every day. And if a hurricane comes through we can get 15 inches in just a day or two.  Too much all at once is as bad as not enough. Both bring problems but they are quite different.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about the challenges we were working through.  We talked about storms and how it wouldn’t rain forever. We joked about building an ark.

But then I listened to a song that talked about the story of Elijah praying for rain. Listen here. The tiny cloud started to form and they knew it would rain. The rain was an answer to prayer, not the beginning of a devastating flood.  It’s all in how you look at rain.

In the rainy season, we don’t always welcome the rain but in the drought we are desperate for it.  The water is the same, it’s our perspective that’s changed.

In our lives lately, we have seen all these challenges as the storms that never end.  The deluge of rain that we fear will drown us. But what if we look past the obvious and focus our eyes on the rain that brings good things?  It’s the same water.  The same challenges that threaten to overwhelm us also have the potential to cause growth and fruit.

Instead of building an ark, or running for the umbrella, maybe we should go outside and stand in the rain with outstretched arms. Allowing it to soak us because the One who made us brings the rain.

You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the LORD, have created it. – Isaiah 45:8 (NIV)

From the west, people will fear the name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the LORD drives along – Isaiah 59:19 (NIV)

Why a Christ Follower Should Heed a High Surf Warning

If you live near the water, as I do, weather advisories like this one  are not uncommon. As I read through this information I was struck by how many parallels with life we can find in these simple words.

HIGH SURF ADVISORY – A HIGH SURF ADVISORY MEANS THAT HIGH SURF WILL AFFECT BEACHES IN THE ADVISORY AREA…PRODUCING LOCALIZED BEACH EROSION AND
DANGEROUS SWIMMING CONDITIONS. SWIM NEAR A LIFEGUARD. IF CAUGHT IN A RIP CURRENT, RELAX AND FLOAT. DON`T SWIM AGAINST THE CURRENT. IF ABLE, SWIM IN A DIRECTION FOLLOWING THE SHORELINE. IF UNABLE TO ESCAPE, FACE THE SHORE AND CALL OR WAVE FOR HELP.”

The first thing I saw was how high surf affects the beach.  Beach erosion happens gradually but during a storm or high surf it can happen much more quickly. Have you even stood with your toes in the sand and had the water wash over them? The sand under your feet quickly erodes away and you sink further and further into the sand with each wave.  Such a good picture of a life that is not build on a firm foundation.

Next we see that swimming is dangerous. Riptides are a  hidden danger. The pull of the current is not visible from the shore. The energy produced under these conditions can pull even the strongest swimmer into a life threatening situation.  The advisory recommends swimming close to a lifeguard.  In life, who is our lifeguard?  Jesus, who  promises to keep us safe in every circumstance.

And what should we do if we get caught in a riptide?  The advisory says we should relax and float, not try to swim against it. In life, we face the threat of undercurrents  of sin and temptation every day. Sometimes we heed the warnings and stay clear but other times we think we are strong enough that we won’t be in any danger we can’t get out of on our own. And when we find ourselves in deep water with no strength to get back to shore we look to the Lifeguard. We rest in His strength and float knowing He will rescue us.  We face the shore and call for help.

It all reminds me of an old hymn that sums it up nicely.

My Hope Is Built

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. 

Refrain:
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand. 

When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
(Refrain) 

His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.
(Refrain) 

Jesus tells us clearly that our lives need  stability that only He can provide.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV)

Are You Carrying More Than You Are Meant To?

We’ve had three weeks to get used to this new lifestyle.  When Randy first got home from the hospital I suddenly had so many new responsibilities.  I felt overwhelmed with all the details that I needed to keep track of.  The weight of responsibility was so heavy and it was someone else’s life I was responsible for so I had to get it right. I was physically exhausted  from the stress of the weeks in the hospital but more challenging was the mental fatigue.  I felt like I already had more on my plate than I could manage and I still had so much to learn.

I’ve spent many hours reading cookbooks and going to health food stores reading nutrition labels to find foods Randy can eat on a low carb, low sodium, low vitamin K diet. And how do you begin to make foods that he can eat and still meet the expectations of the rest of the household?  I found myself becoming stuck.  Too much to think about. No one to help me adjust to all of it.

I couldn’t expect Randy to help me. It wasn’t supposed to be about me. This was about helping HIM regain his strength and learn to live with all the new rules. It was so important to get this right.  So much heaviness threatened to crush me.

But then something happened to remind me that God is never far from those who are struggling.  A friend who has been following our story wrote that she had been prompted to pray for Randy in the middle of the night and she shared a passage of scripture that was just what I needed.

“I relieved his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from carrying the basket. You called out in distress, and I rescued you; I answered you from the thundercloud.” – Psalm 81:6-7 (HCSB)

I don’t have to carry this by myself! God has promised to take the weight off my shoulders. A weight He didn’t design me to carry in the first place. I can place all my cares into the basket and then hold that basket out to the Lord. He will take it from me and I can rest.

And when I am able to rest, I can also begin to focus on the good things that are happening.   As I see Randy regaining his strength, I am thankful. When I see him returning to his woodworking, I am overjoyed. When we find a place we can go on date night that has foods he can eat, I am grateful!

What challenges are you facing today?  Perhaps you can mentally place them all into the basket and watch the Lord lovingly take the basket out of your hands. He will be glad to do it!

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