When the Road is Made Smooth

You have driven down roadways in great need of repair. You persevere through the potholes and the bumpy, rocky pavement. Then you cross a county line and suddenly the road stretches out in front of you, a smooth, black, freshly paved ribbon of asphalt.  You let out a sigh of relief and prepare to enjoy the quiet comfortable ride ahead.  After that less than enjoyable stretch of road you just left, you are now content to believe that you have made it through and you will never again have to endure the torture of rocky roads with potholes that could nearly swallow your vehicle.  That’s what you think right? No? You mean you don’t believe, now that you have finally found a smooth path, that you will never have to experience the frustration of a rough road again?

That sounds like nonsense doesn’t it?  Who would be dumb enough to think that?  Then why do we look at life that way?

Why do we struggle with a rough time and then hit a smoother stretch of life’s road only to be upset and disappointed when hard times come again?  Do we really think that somehow we suffered and paid our dues and now it will be easy street from here on out? Have you heard yourself say,”can’t I EVER get a break?”

If you’ve been following this blog over the last couple of years, but particularly the past five months, you know we have had an extremely rough ride. There were times I thought our vehicle would be swallowed for sure.

But we’ve crossed some line and now things have smoothed out a bit.  The terrain alongside this road doesn’t really look any smoother, it still contains the same issues it did. Serious illness, challenging finances, struggling relationships, and change (which has always been very difficult for me).  The issues haven’t gone away. In fact, there are new ones to deal with. We just said goodbye to a son moving 1300 miles away. I know they will all move on and live their own adult lives, independent from me but it’s never easy to have them move so far away.  And another big change for me is that my youngest child becomes an adult this week.  My job of parenting, which has lasted 34 years, is coming to an end. Not that I will no longer be able to provide guidance for them, but the rules have changed.  I have to hand over control to them. I have to let them fly.

All that said, we are enjoying a relatively smooth road at the moment. Randy’s health issues have stabilized for the time being. We are looking forward to a wedding in September and anticipating some wonderful family time (and the special blessing of getting the rare family photo with all of us present).

But that doesn’t mean life will be a breeze from here on out.  We know there will be bigger and more difficult challenges ahead. We have made a decision, as a family, not to dwell on the future which is unknown. We are choosing to focus on the present and to be ever so grateful for the blessing of good days and a family who stands together.  If you had seen us on Saturday, standing on the front porch, blubbering and praying and hugging as we sent David off to his new adventure in Iowa, you would have seen that we are truly grateful.

This life is not an easy one, for any of us.  We need to remember to pray for one another whether we are walking a rocky stretch of the road or a smooth one. After all, our family is not that much different than yours.  We all have moments that are unspeakably hard. But we also get those smoother moments. No guarantee how long those will last, so we are trying to make the best of each day. Isn’t that how we are supposed to live anyway?

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.”  Isaiah 45:2 (NASB)

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:4 (ESV)

Maxey Memory #9 -Christmas in July

Christmas, in July, in Florida. 90 degrees with a chance of thunderstorms.  A typical summer day….but with Christmas music in the kitchen and the Muppets Christmas Carol movie playing on the television.

We gathered in the kitchen to prepare a few of our traditional Christmas foods. Not all of them, that would be messing too much with the real Christmas! There is always some shenanigans that go along with the preparation. This year, Randy and Maggie decided dancing was in order.

Problem was, neither of them wanted to lead!  Don’t you just love Randy’s festive shirt?

And where would we be without Bella’s cool Christmas socks?  We went all out for this celebration including a little decorating of the house. I just love the way my boys relate to each other. It’s always so much fun to have them together. We don’t get the whole gang together to often, but I have learned to be thankful for the ones who are here and not spend too much time wishing for a perfect family get-together with all of them. I’d spend all my time wishing and never enjoy what I have.And our celebration wouldn’t be complete without the white elephant gift exchange.  I ended up with a box of Swiss Cake Rolls. But there were some true treasures among the prizes.   This one was the favorite. A dog toy, actually, but the humans had a good laugh with it and fought over it until Randy finally ended up with it.  When you give it a gentle squeeze it oinks and a strong squeeze makes it squeal. Do I need to say more?

We love doing things that make for great memories. This Christmas in July was a perfect event to add to the list.

When You Pray, What Do You Say?

When you are about to have a conversation with someone important you might rehearse what you want to say.  Imagine you were going to be introduced to the Queen of England. Wouldn’t you be a little nervous about saying things right? You might try hard to stay calm and not make yourself look stupid or uneducated.  After all, this is the QUEEN we’re talking about. She doesn’t have time to waste listening to you stumbling over your words.

But talking to your closest friend is quite different.  You already feel loved by that person. You’ve let your guard down and can speak freely and naturally. They know you well and you’re not concerned about impressing them.

So what about prayer?  Prayer is communicating with the Creator of the Universe. Yes, this trumps the Queen. By a long shot. And yet, God loves you more than your closest friend.

During my hardest days, raising seven sons while my husband traveled extensively for work, I was fighting depression and feeling all alone. I had little energy to think through eloquent prayers. I remember standing beside the washing machine loading the boys’ clothes and all I could say was “Help me, God. Help me, help me, help me.”  That’s as far as I got that day. The words didn’t really matter. I didn’t give God a list of directives in how to help me. No specifics at all. Just crying out for help, knowing He would answer and do what was best to help me.

Even though He is God, even though He is higher than anyone assigned a position of importance by men, He is something else. He is our Heavenly Father and He loves us like no one else can.

You may have heard teaching that says you must be specific when you pray. You should to tell God exactly what you need. That’s true to a point but the fact is, sometimes you have no words. Sometimes you are in a place where you are just desperate for God to show up and you can’t even find the words to ask Him. Does that mean He won’t listen to you and answer?

Do you really think the specifics are so important that if you can’t find the words, God will not pay attention? Perhaps if you choose the perfect words and put them in some special order, like some sort of secret code, it will unlock God’s ability to help you?

God already knows the specifics. He knows the cries of your heart better than you do.  Prayer is more like talking to your best friend than it is like trying to impress some dignitary.

On those days when all you can do is cry for help and leave the rest to God, be assured He has heard and is already sending what you need.  He knew before you asked.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” – Romans 8: 26-27 (NIV)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” -Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)

Sometimes I Just Can’t Keep Up

Things sometimes move so fast it’s hard to keep up.  This week I was thinking about all the changes in the works within my family.  With 7 sons to keep up with, the challenge can be overwhelming at times.

So I have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately and after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t surprising at all.

Here is a brief summary of what is happening with the Maxeys.

One son just got a new job, one will turn 18 in a couple of weeks, another is buying his first home, another is moving to a new apartment.  One is getting a new job, another is getting married soon and another is moving out of state.  It’s no wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed! There’s so much going on, so many changes, so much growing on their part. But for me? The mom?

I think it’s a little like labor pains all over again.  Something new is being birthed in all of them at the same time.  I can do nothing but watch and pray.

Although my parenting job is coming to an end, as a parent, I will always be available for advice, (when asked!) and definitely for prayer.  I am blessed by the number of times my boys come to me and just ask me to pray. They are learning to figure out their own lives but are wise enough to know they can’t succeed without God’s input.

As for me being overwhelmed, I only have to stop and remember that God isn’t surprised by any of it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned raising these sons, it’s that the job has ALWAYS been bigger than I can handle on my own.

When our kids are grown, we graduate from being a parent in the technical sense. But our influence and wisdom can still be of use to our kids.  And that verse that we all know so well from Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” says it clearly. We invest what we can and then trust that God will help them take it the rest of the way.  The key word in that verse is a little one. It’s the word “go” and that is exactly what they do. They are with us for a while and then they go. Off to experience life on their own.

If you are a parent, in any stage of the process, be encouraged that God has your kids in his sight. Pray for each one today, that they would walk with God.  Even when they are out of your sight, they are never out of His.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.  Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.   Isaiah 54:13 (ESV)

 

 

Listen, Consider, Act

We’ve all been on the receiving end of unrequested advice. Our response says a lot about us. Here are 3 ways to respond to such advice.

One way is to be offended and react with a prideful “I don’t need your help. I’ve got this.”  A second way to respond is to be so insecure that you take everyone’s advice and act on it immediately because surely they all know more than you.

Neither of those will be useful to you.  The third way to respond is to listen to what is being said with an open mind and heart and then decide if it is the wise thing to do.

Recently I heard a talk by Andy Stanley called Ask It.  It was about learning to ask this question: “In light of my past experience, my current circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?”

If we approach every decision and lifestyle choice with that question we would make far fewer dumb decisions. Plain and simple. That one question would make us wiser instantly.

So what about all that advice we didn’t ask for?  If we can learn to ask the question we can filter out what is good from all the rest.  And we should remember, most people in our lives give us advice because they care about us.  If we react with pride we  will miss the blessing God may be trying to show us. And, if we act without wisdom, just following others advice blindly, we are being foolish.

So, the best method I’ve found is to listen, consider and then act.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 (ESV

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety– Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)

The Most Difficult Task of All

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44 (HCSB)

Years ago I did a series of word studies from key verses in the New Testament. This particular verse from the book of Matthew is one that stands out as the definition of the ultimate difference between being a Christ-follower and a follower of all other religions.

When you look up just two words in this passage (enemies and persecute) in the dictionary you see the picture clearly. Webster’s dictionary defines these two words as follows:

Enemy – “one that is antagonistic to another; especially: one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent.”

Persecute – “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief” AND “to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities): pester.”

What Jesus is asking us to do is completely contrary to everything we encounter in the world. Wherever we see hatred and revenge condoned, we also see Christ challenging us to love and bless instead. How is that possible?  Only with the strength Jesus promises to give us. I believer that this is the most difficult test of our love for Christ in that we love those HE loves.

Look again at the definition of persecute. It says, “to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches.” Are there people in your life who constantly annoy you? We are called to pray for them. Our prayers may be the very thing that the Lord uses to change their lives for all eternity.  But again, we can only do this in the power of Christ.

Today, ask God to bring to mind those people He would have you love and pray for in spite of their actions or words toward you. Then ask Him for His power to do it.

If You Really Want Wisdom Do These Things

My oldest son, Andrew, is a true technology geek. He knows how to find any information he needs, usually  in a matter of seconds.  Often, when one of his brothers asks for information or wonders aloud about something, Andrew can be heard to say, “You have all the knowledge in the world at your fingertips and you’re asking me?” At this point he holds up his phone with a silly grin on his face.

This actually ties in with a longtime family joke.  As a homeschool family we were all about instilling a love of learning.  I can remember many times we would be sitting at the dinner table and one of the boys would ask a question. My husbands quick answer was always the same. “That would make a good homeschool project.”

Both  of these examples point to the same principle.  If you want to learn something you have to be willing to search for the answer.

It’s no different with the study of the Bible. All through the scriptures there is this theme of gaining understanding and knowledge but no where is it more prevalent than in the Proverbs.

I have been asking God for wisdom for many years. I’ve learned that it isn’t like asking a genie for a wish and it suddenly appears. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”  But the five verses preceding verse 6 give us some insight into how that happens.

Verses 1-5 use words like receive, treasure, be attentive, incline, cry , seek, search, and discover.  Those verses tell me that asking for wisdom isn’t a passive request . I don’t just make the request and then sit back and watch God deliver.

In order to gain wisdom from the Lord I have to be willing to take action. I have to want it enough to go after it.  I can start with one of those action words from the verses in Proverbs 2.  I have to choose to sit in God’s presence and allow Him to impart His gift of wisdom to me day after day. It takes perseverance,  but just gaining the wisdom isn’t the end of the story.You have to DO something with what you learn to make it truly valuable.  To have the wisdom of God, to be able to speak wisdom into situations, to make right decisions, to help find solutions for yourself and others is well worth the effort.

Having wisdom and knowledge but not using it is as bad as not having it in the first place.

How blessed is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding. -Proverbs 3:13 (HCSB)

 

 

Stop Asking the Wrong Question

A couple of weeks ago we said good bye to a good friend we’ve know for over 4 decades.  He was a brilliant man. He did incredible things like reciting Psalm 103 every morning in Hebrew and memorizing entire books of the Bible. Eighteen months ago he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  He fought hard but finally his battle ended.  At his memorial service someone told how they had never heard him ask “why?”  He had only asked “Where is Jesus in this?” He was always looking for Jesus.

Several years ago we lost another friend and mentor to throat cancer. She was gifted in speaking and had life-changing impact on so many lives but spent her final days unable to speak.  No one asked why, they just asked where Jesus was in the situation.

Just last week a man named Dan Hall spoke at our church. Through an accident in his hotel room, he is now paralyzed from the neck down.  He also chose not to ask God why.  He chose to ask instead, that his circumstances would be used to bring God glory. You can listen to his powerful message here.

As my husband and I have tried to adjust to the future with his diagnosis of cirrhosis we have tried very hard to follow the example of those who have had influence in our lives.  We have tried to seek what God is doing in each new turn in the path instead of asking God why it’s all happening.  It isn’t always easy.

Many times we are faced with a situation that seems unfair or unbelievably difficult and our first reaction is to ask “Why me?”  We have somehow come to believe that we don’t deserve to suffer or struggle with difficulties.  We think that for some reason, we should be spared.

Jesus wasn’t spared. He experienced the most unfair, unbelievably difficult, kind of suffering we could ever imagine. A level of suffering that none of us will ever face. He took our sin and suffered the consequences that we deserved and he never asked, “why me?”

Perhaps it’s time we stopped asking the wrong question and began asking the right one.  When was the last time you faced  something hard and asked to see Jesus in the midst of it?  To see God get the glory instead of seeking the answer to the “Why?”

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” –  Romans 8:18 (ESV)

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.

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