Build Yourself a Levee

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Now, when I was just a little girl my mamma said to me, “Beware of the devil my child.
But if by chance you should meet, beware of his cold dark eyes full of bold and unholy deceit.
He’ll tempt you with a whirling pool of lies and promises he’ll deny or that he will never keep.”

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Natalie Merchant / Build a Levee

Fighting cancer is a full time job.

  • There are medical appointments all through each and every week.
  • There are sacks full of medications to organize and take throughout each day.
  • The insurance companies and doctors offices all have to be spoken to and need to have the most simple of things explained over and over again.
  • There are invoices in the mail each day – almost all will not need to be paid but will need to be addressed in some way.
  • Who really knows what new symptom will appear in the morning.
  • Every new symptom is an adjustment to living that must be made, from transportation to meals to sleeping and making plans for the future.

Of course, there’s the full time job that needs to be managed as well. The career that keeps one going and living every single day. It’s like an inner tube to which we cling while shooting down the whitewater river of circumstances.

The floods come and wreak so much disaster in everyone’s world. Living seemed to be working just fine, until that unexpected storm arrived.

In order to keep the flood of fear, disease, and despair from filling our dwelling with the inevitable mold and ruination we must build ourselves a levee of some sort – a barrier of faith that will not be breached.

Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen. – Hebrews 11:1 (The Voice)

Fighting cancer, just like living a full-time life, never stops. There’s always a flood raging just down the road. We’ve all got to build ourselves a levee to keep the evil at bay.

What matters most is to build your levee out of what will last for eternity.

God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.  ~ Jerry Bridges

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The Rains Keeps Coming and the Bird Still Sings

Here we sit on day three after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. While the hurricane itself passed west of us here in Houston, we have been experiencing record setting rainfall and flooding. Today, on day three, as I walked to the end of the street to take a look at the flood swollen creek, I heard the song of a bird through the rain and dread. I couldn’t see it, but as I peered up from under my umbrella it made me think about the days before and those that would surely come after.

Storms come and rock the boat, but they don’t last forever. 

I’m sitting here in the house and I can hear the rain hitting on our skylight in the kitchen. It always makes tremendous noise and acts as our very own weather channel whenever there is something falling from the heavens. During Harvey, it doesn’t seem to have gone quiet for very long. Yet as I sit here listening to this constant sound, I can hear a bird singing outside. Where has it been during these days of storm? What has it to sing about?

I’m thinking about Jesus and Peter walking on the water.

  1. Jesus sent his closest followers away in their boat – about their business
  2. He left them to go about His business, praying alone on the mountain
  3. They sailed right into a storm – their special place didn’t save them from the normal problems of life
  4. The disciples became equally afraid of Jesus approach – does God’s method of deliverance (or not) cause fear because it’s not of our choosing?
  5. Peter is ready to follow Jesus, but then he doubts – the disaster in our life isn’t the raging sea and dark clouds, it’s the doubt that lurks in the shadows.
  6. The big lesson here is that there is a storm on the horizon. Your Savior will come, at times ready to deliver in ways that might seem frightening. The real danger you face isn’t the darkness all round, it’s the doubt deep within.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Emily Dickinson

But There Are Giants in the Land!

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” ― Donald Miller

When’s the last time you came face to face with a giant? How did it make you feel? Afraid, uncertain, faithless, ready to run?

Giants come in all sorts of disguises.

  • Some rear their ugly heads, over and over, pushing back and preventing us from making important transitions to the next step.
  • There are monsters that seem to lurk very near. We believe lies about who we are and we carry around terrible and heavy baggage from the past.
  • Some giants are new and appear as we reach different passages in life like marriage, children, career, sickness and loss. They strike fear as we face our inadequacies and realize hidden dependence.

Facing big challenges is an unavoidable part of living. Children of God typically have two choices when confronted with giants – cower in fear or march headlong with that shield of faith. Where have you got your shield stored these days?

The little brother David (maybe as young as 15) said this when he marched out to face the nine-foot tall Goliath…

“You come to me carrying a sword and spear and javelin as your weapons, but I come armed with the name of the Eternal One, the Commander of heavenly armies, the True God of the armies of Israel, the One you have insulted. This very day, the Eternal One will give you into my hands.” – 1 Samuel 17:45-46 (The Voice)

In this life, there’s always going to be something in your way. It’s unrealistic to expect a life with an empty horizon. Please don’t saddle yourself with unnecessary guilt because you have to face dark monsters along your way. We all do. Just remember that when you come up against these big obstacles in your life, there’s never anything in God’s way.

David could conquer this nine-foot tall fear monger because he marched forward without looking, only believing. Go back and read his challenge again. The most important thing to remember is that the real giant that you and I face is our lack of faith. Faith is the most important building block that God uses to transform our lives.

 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” – Matthew 17:20

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” – Mark 5:34

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. – Ephesians 6:16

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” – Matthew 14:29-31

When the young shepherd David was anointed King of Israel in a private family ceremony, the Prophet Samuel addressed the family’s concerns with this deep truth: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

God is in the business of transforming what matters eternally. He’s always at work trying to get us to believe first and see last. That nine-foot tall Goliath had the entire army of Israel trembling in fear. He looked terrifying. He went down with just a little rock from the river bed. Who would have believed it?  “For we live by believing and not by seeing.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

The army of Israel was watching with their eyes and trembling in fear. David ran headlong into the conflict with only his belief to carry him to victory. How are you going to get past your giant? God’s not really worried about Goliath. His interest is focused on what’s happening deep inside your soul. He’s looking at your heart. Look around, there are little rocks all over the place. Pick up a few and put them in plain sight so you’ll remember how easy it is to knock down that giant. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Jesus, Mark 9:23)

“It is often in our weaknesses that God’s strength is most clearly perceived, and it is often in doing something the world sees as backwards that we are taking spiritual steps forward.” –Trevin Wax

Houston, We Have a Problem

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I never could figure out how I ended up in Houston, Texas.

This is not the place I imagined I would spend my years. A big, humid, hot, crowded city down here on the dirty Gulf was never my idea of the part of Texas where I wanted to live.

We’ve been here for almost twenty years. More time here than any other place in my whole life. For years I wondered, what happened? I think I realized why just the other day.

The Bible is full of stories about people who were led by God to foreign lands. Places where God had future plans for them. Places full of challenges, obstacles and providence. Remember when God called Abraham out of his homeland and into an unknown future?

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1

While I do not see myself as a Bible character, I do see the hand of God all around me – just like you do in your own life.

After being here for twenty years I’m now so thankful that here is where we are. Where else would anyone rather be while fighting cancer? We didn’t know so long ago that this beast would one day try and strike us down. But what better place to do this battle than here where we have found the very best medical care in the world?

Today I am reminded of Joseph, who was sold into slavery and so many years later found his brothers and was there to deliver them. He told them, “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” –  Genesis 45:7

I think I know why we are in Houston – we are here to find healing and deliverance from this beast. Our heavenly Father knew what lay ahead of us and prepared the way. He gave us family and friends to bear our burdens.  Here we have found the best of medical care.

Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens— and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld — what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea.  – Job 11:7-9

Half the time, without even realizing it, we are leaning on the everlasting arms.

Be Inspired

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Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors. – Proverbs 8:34

 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. – 1 John 3:1

 

Till men have faith in Christ, their best services are but glorious sins. – Thomas Brooks

 

…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries… – Daniel 2:28

 

Since He hath looked upon me my heart is not my own. He hath run away to heaven with it. – Samuel Rutherford

 

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how your remember it. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

 

You will be dead as long as you refuse to die. – George MacDonald

 

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the [a]Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. – Matthew 27:27-31

 

 

The Reconciliation

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“Go where your best prayers take you.” ― Frederick Buechner

I think what we call faith, what is our own,  is a reconciliation of two essential dimensions of our life; our lived experience and our internalized beliefs.

Our faith isn’t really a noun, it’s a verb. It’s a life-long construction process.  We fit together all that is handed down to us with the bits and pieces of our own lived experience. This faith shields us from a cruel world and an enemy out to destroy us. It makes us feel safe. It really keeps us safe.

Our lives are filled with experiences like coins in a jar. We gather formal knowledge from intentional learning (going to school, reading, watching someone else, etc.). But don’t discount the informal knowledge we gain from everyday interactions and living in the real world:

  • What about that whole menagerie of characters that we have lived and worked with during our life?
  • After those years in school and having a few jobs we start to stockpile all kinds of information about other people and about yourself.
  • Each one of us practices all those lessons and stories about God and how Christianity is supposed to be lived.

We also have beliefs that are internalized into our hearts. Beliefs about other people and the world in which we live. Some of these are from personal experiences (like the list above) but most come from our shared culture:

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going
  • Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

And of course there are our beliefs about God.

Mostly we don’t think too much about our everyday beliefs. Usually they don’t get challenged that often. Every now and then a tragedy might hit and we come face to face with taken-for-granted beliefs about “the way things are” and we see how much of a hurricane they can withstand.

As we mature and reflect, our understanding of our own experiences changes and can deepen. Our beliefs get tested and we discard those that don’t hold enough water. We cling to those that stand up over time. As time goes on and we put together more and more of our life we begin to weave a faith.

I think that’s what walking by faith means. It’s finding your way through what life hands you, your own rebellion, all the everyday experiences and building something meaningful to hang on to.

Faith is also a gift from God.

Our faith is not ours alone but great parts of it are passed on to us by significant others in our lives. Our experiences and beliefs are handed to us by others, intentionally and unintentionally. Our faith is borne up and supported during difficult times by the faith of others who come alongside us and help us travel the dark roads home.

Faith is what grows in a life that is being transformed by the work of God’s Spirit. There is a great reconciliation between our hopes and our hikes. The interaction of experience and belief brings it about. Ultimately we must walk through our faith or it’s not much use.

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.  – Colossians 2:7

Distraction

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“The soul is torn apart in a painful condition as long as it prefers the eternal because of its Truth but does not discard the temporal because of familiarity.”

― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

How long has it been since your last distraction?

Sometimes, they last for a short time and then you refocus and get back to it. I was trying to get a calculation mistake corrected in an email the other day and almost had to chase everyone out of my office so I could focus and get it right. That was a brief distraction and I can’t do math equations with five conversations going on all around me.

There are all sorts of sources of advice about how to keep focused and avoid those inevitable distractions. That kind of advice can be a wonderful distraction itself when you’re tired of whatever task is before you.

“I always advise people never to give advice.”  ― P.G. Wodehouse

What about the ones that take us away for long, long stretches of time and space? Distractions that become habits. Persistent distractions that get in the way consistently.

I was thinking the other day about being distracted for years. Is it possible that a distraction can last that long? Can distraction(s) keep you from what you know is really essential? Can you become distracted for so long that you forget the real purpose, meaning, calling, direction, plan or obedient steps to your life?

It seems like whole seasons of my life pass by and I end up distracted by so much urgency. I was thinking THIS was the big plan but then one day realized it was all a distraction. I get frustrated or angry or despondent because of the distraction of this present moment – losing sight of eternity. Days blend into one long blurr because I’ve lost touch with the eternal purpose that I know is lodged in my soul and draws me onward.

Circumstances get blamed for their distracting effect. I just finished teaching my Sunday School class about Saint Paul chained up in a ship sailing through a fourteen day hurricane all the while giving the captain nautical advice. God had told Paul that he was going to take him to Rome. Even the certainty of a shipwreck, over two hundred panicked passengers, crew members fighting for everyone’s life, none of that could distract him from his certainty of where he had been told he was going – even if it meant a potential execution.

I’m so glad that he never gave up. It inspires me to keep running, despite the failures, opposition and distractions…

I think he was able to keep from being distracted because he had something very certain and specific to focus his mind, heart and soul upon. Unlike Peter, Paul didn’t start to sink but kept his eyes of faith on what he knew was eternal. He certainly suffered tremendous physical, emotional and social pain. Read his epistles and at times he reveals how much he struggled. But, he wasn’t distracted.

“Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1

Circumstances, like weather, change. I don’t want to have a fair weather faith.  Even when I’m soaked to the soul, I want to ignore more and more of those constant distractions and keep walking as if I’m a citizen of eternity right now.

“It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it as the butterfly in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life.”

― Richard Jefferies