Has Your Life Grown Stagnant?

We once lived beside a home with a pond. It was a lovely place with a weeping willow tree on the bank and a wide assortment of wildlife. Fish, frogs and, much to the dismay of the owners, muskrats thrived in the water. A nice place to sit in the shade and experience nature.

Contrast that with a stagnant pond that was down the road a mile or so. This pond was green with algae. It had a slimy film covering the surface and if you had your windows open when you drove by you could smell it before you saw it. I can’t imagine much could live there except mosquitoes. Not a place where you would want to spread a blanket and have a picnic.

The definition of stagnant is “not flowing in a current or stream; not advancing or developing.”  Whatever it is, water, air or something else, if it isn’t moving in some way it becomes stale. If there is only input and no output it slowly loses its life. With water, if there is only input then the only way for the water to leave the pond is evaporation. That process continues to concentrate the minerals until the body of water cannot support life. It’s the reason the Dead Sea is dead.

The thing is, we are like a pond. God is constantly pouring into us wonderful things that He means for us to use. Resources that are for our benefit and the benefit of others. If we just sit there and soak it all in and never find a place to put those resources to use we become like that stagnant pond: smelly, uninviting, and avoided.  And if we get so full that there is no room for more we won’t be able to receive fresh infilling either. We will just continue to become more stagnant, not allowing God to give us fresh living water because we refuse to share what He’s already given us.

Is God doing a new thing in your life? Is He calling you to step out and share with others in a new way? I believe the Lord wants us to take a risk and let Him flush the stagnation from our lives. Ask Him to show you what He has for you to do and I’ll bet it will be the most refreshing thing you’ve done in a long time!

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:38

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” – James 1:22

Do You Have a Critical Spirit?

We all do it. Yes, even you. Even me. We all observe someone else’s behavior at times and make an assumption about their character.  True, good character leads to good behavior. But face it, we are all human and have moments of poor judgment from time to time.

When we observe someone doing something “wrong” or “bad” we can make the mistake of classifying that person as “bad” too. We can then begin a sad downward spiral, thinking that the judgment we just made will predict future behavior from that person.  I am guilty of this.  We once had a neighbor who was prone to excessive drinking. The loud parties on their deck would cause me great anxiety. The language they used caused me to cringe as I realized my small sons were hearing it. I formed an opinion in my mind about these folks and then it seemed I could find something to be critical about concerning everything they did. Then one day I observed the man playing with his infant daughter and I realized there was a side of him I had never considered. Even with all his faults, that I could easily list if called upon to do so, I had to admit he had one fine quality. He loved his little girl.  What else had I missed as I so quickly concluded that the “bad” was all there was?

In the current culture, the first response seems to be to criticize anyone who doesn’t hold the same opinions as we do. And then begins the labeling. We can see it escalating on a daily basis right now. It’s as if we are sorting people and categorizing them based on what we perceive as flaws and then we proceed to cast them aside because they don’t fit our criteria.  The fact is, there are no disposable human beings. All are loved and wanted by God.

So when we find ourselves so quick to pass judgment, perhaps we should pause and examine our own hearts. Are we guilty of having a critical spirit? Do we first jump to conclusions and then allow those conclusions to form our opinions of others?

“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written:
As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.” Romans 14:10-13 (HCSB)

Is there someone you are feeling critical toward? Maybe a spouse, or child or parent? Perhaps a neighbor or co-worker or maybe the President?  Are you quick to form opinions about someone without giving thought to what you don’t know about that person?

My challenge to you is to think of a person you have been guilty of judging and spend time this week praying for their wellbeing. Not a prayer that God would change their opinions to make them agree with yours, but a prayer for the individual. For their needs and fears, for their health and for their families. You might just come away remembering that they are all human beings created in the image of God and loved with the everlasting love of a Heavenly Father.

A wise quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln says, “If you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.”  

Perhaps its time to step away from the ways of the world and begin to look for the good in people.  We just might find it.

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 too 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 for 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 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 and answer you?

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)