Thursday, September 11, 2014

Suffer well, live well

  
  In the last 5 weeks, we've been in 13 different states, as Paul candidates for various pastoral ministry positions. (We're not done!) We've enjoyed visiting with churches and spending time with several family members and friends along the way, but because the length of the trip was very much unexpected and several stops were added along the way, I've had to adjust my expectations several times (which is not my forte). I like being in control of my life, or at least having the allusion of being in control.  :) I really miss our cute little home in Florida, our friends, and church...and having your own space and schedule is certainly hard to let go of for an extended period of time.  I'm learning to take James 4:13-14 seriously!

In some ways, I've traveled this path before: the unknown and winding path, the fears lurking around every corner, and the insecurity of what the future holds... Walking a path of uncertainty feels strangely familiar. It's almost like a recipe that you've cooked several times before, and though you might add different spices each time, or some other interesting variation, the main recipe stays the same. What's my recipe for hard times? James 1. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Psalm 18, 23, and 40. Worshipping, praying and crying with friends. Choosing thankfulness. Eating too much chocolate. Extra naps and walks and yoga. But sometimes the oven is turned up a little hotter or your capacity (pan size) for the difficulty might be different, etc. Sometimes you cook with friends, sometimes alone (most of life is better with companions). Thankfully, God is a great chef and no matter what He throws in the mix, it eventually turns into something beautiful. Silly analogy? Perhaps. However, considering the fact that I haven't always enjoyed cooking, it's a miracle that it's now one of my favorite activities. The same can be said about seasons of hard times in my life.  I'm certainly not eager to see them come, and just like you, I'd rather life be comfortable, but each trial brings with it particular joys that looking back, I'm glad I didn't miss out on.

 “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” ― G.K. Chesterton


For a wedding gift, a dear friend wrote the quote above in a blank journal, that I later used for a thanksgiving journal. No quote could have been more appropriate for the journey of marriage we've been on together. I think it's easy (and quite natural) to consider trials an inconvenience. Look a little closer at another word in that quote - 'considered'. This same word is in James 1, which, to be honest, has not always been one of my favorites. I know, I know, that's a terribly un-Christian thing to say, but James 1 used to really rub me the wrong way. It is a hard truth to wrestle with, this assertion that it is largely in my control how I experience trials. Notice I did not say, whether or not I go through trials, or what they might look like, but how I experience them. I can be miserable, or I can choose to 'consider them pure joy.' I can choose to 'consider them rightly.' What does that even mean? I'm sorry to say it is probably not the answer you want, and it will require work. Certainly work that God will empower you to do, but it comes down to the battlefield of the mind. This means choosing to think rightly about our trials in the light of who we know God to be, rather than judging God's character in the light of difficult circumstances. {Read more by clicking on the Calm my Anxious Heart image above right - affiliate link}

This definition from the Webster's 1828 Dictionary is very helpful (wonderful dictionary reference): CONSIDER, verb transitive [Latin , to consider to view attentively, to sit by; to sit. The literal sense is, to sit by or close, or to set the mind or the eye to; hence, to view or examine with attention.] 1. To fix the mind on, with a view to a careful examination; to think on with care; to ponder; to study; to meditate on

In essence, when we are going through trials, we must fix our eyes on things that are good, true, and lovely, namely the perfect character of Christ, as being a loving Provider, Protector, Savior, Friend, Warrior, Sympathetic High Priest, One who daily intercedes for us at the right hand of God and promises to NEVER leave or forsake us. He is allowing each trial because He loves us; He is not standing far away, judging us, laughing at us, or wondering if we will choose a certain path. He knows how we will respond, and He knows at exactly which temperature to place the 'oven of life', to produce the results in us that He desires and knows will help us in the eternal sense. If we fix our eyes on the storms around us, like Peter did, we will sink every time. Easy to say, you might be thinking, harder to do. And right you are! I certainly am no expert in this regard, but what I will say is that the fruit flowing from this mental discipline of choosing to focus on GOD and His promises, rather than the trial, is so rewarding. You will find yourself gradually choosing this narrow path more than the easy, oft-travelled path (which eventually leads you into a pit of despair). Trust me, I've been there too many times!  Enter Psalm 40.  :)
Bringing this back to a wellness focus, we see that there is a good and right way to suffer. A way to struggle through life bearing the fruit of righteousness, rather than hardened, bitter hearts.  Research shows that bitterness can lead to so many health problems, not the least of which being anxiety, depression, a weakened immune system, broken relationships, and a diminished view of our own worth and God's love for us. We see the rewards of responding to life's storms with wisdom in Proverbs 3:5-8. Notice especially verse 8: "It will bring healing to your bones and refreshment to your body." I'm certainly not saying that A (doing the right thing) always leads to B (feeling better physically, mentally, spiritually), but as we see with generally following the wisdom principles in Proverbs, choosing to trust God and respond to Him in faith does often lead to positive overall wellness, joy, and peace. This is a never a guarantee this side of heaven though, and certainly not dependent on your level of faith or God's favor in your life. Many people suffer with health problems their entire lives, whether they have been living in wisdom or not.  But doing everything in our power to live healthy, whole lives is something that often (not always) brings favorable results.
As challenging as it might be for you to begin the process of capturing and redirecting your thoughts, the short and long-term benefits are certainly worthy of consideration (there's that word again!). You will find yourself more regularly filled with joy, and your faithful Shepherd will be right beside you, cheering you on, lifting you up when you fall, and lightening your load when it is more than you can carry. Remember those friends we were cooking with earlier?  They will carry you to Jesus if needed, I'm sure. :)
Many blessings of peace and joy...
Ruth

**For further reading, consider Jen Wilkin's study on the book of James.  I'm only just starting, but so far it's excellent!


   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why wellness matters (but the Gospel matters more...)


Falling asleep to crickets instead of careening vehicles is certainly one of the blessings of growing up on (and visiting) the family farm.  Summertime brings an abundance of sweet corn, watermelon and as many tomatoes and cucumbers as your heart desires (while also being entertained by silly cows)!  But a belly full of home-grown goodness pales in comparison to a soul full of love, wise counsel, and passionate discourse on many topics.  Sprinkle in lots of belly laughs, practical jokes, hard work, and board games, and you get a small picture of what we enjoyed as kids.  Going home provides a good body-mind-soul reset!  

It's been a full couple of weeks for Paul and I, visiting churches and praying about where God might have us next.  But the support of family and friends along the way has been invaluable. As my sister jokingly reminded me, we have enough family stops to keep us going for a while. It has been a blessing to stay in numerous homes and find the encouragement we need for the journey ahead, especially considering this road trip won't be over for at least another two weeks! :)  

Being on the road makes it harder to squeeze in exercise time, but it's certainly not impossible.  Taking walks with Paul and using whatever floor space I can find to do a yoga routine has been a fun challenge.  Though it's been an adjustment to shift my focus from my wellness ministry goals to the greater goal of finding a church to serve in as a ministry team, it is well worth it.  I'm reminded of 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 : "On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (NASB) Our passion for Gospel ministry is greater than my desire to encourage women in body-mind-soul wellness, but that God-given passion is still important.  I want to sit with women and encourage them in their marriages, visit them in the hospital, help them set up their homes, pour over Scripture, and hold hearts and hands as we laugh, pray, and weep through life together.  But I also want to encourage them to care for their bodies as well as their mind and soul.  Caring for our bodies may not seem to have lasting eternal value, but I know from my own experience, that when I have NOT properly cared for my body, I am limited in my ability to serve God and others.  It is certainly very important to remember as well that caring for myself physically honors God because I am His daughter and worthy of that effort and personal sacrifice of time and energy. 

This time on the road is also giving me a good opportunity to pray and consider how I'd like this wellness ministry to take shape.  Shifting this blog to more of a wellness focus is easy enough to work on away from home. But again, the overall direction of my future ministry depends on where we end up, and what God is calling us to there.  God (and my sweet husband) are reminding me to take things one. day. at. a. time.  Isn't that always the battle?  But a battle worth fighting.  

Just a couple of weekends ago, my favorite preacher spoke on Romans 12: 1-2: "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (NASB)  

It was a special blessing to my heart, not only because I think he is the best preacher east of the Mississippi, but also because God put this passage on my heart as I have been thinking about wellness ministry.  As we've pursued God's leading for our next assignment, both Paul and I had been thinking about this passage, and didn't know it!  

Our desire separately and together is to glorify God in body, mind, and soul, and offer our entire lives for His service.  What that will look like exactly, we don't know, but we know that sacrificing our desires for the sake of the Kingdom is always the right choice.  Sinking my teeth into some oh-so-good, farm-fresh peaches, berries and melon reminds me that spiritual fruit tastes even sweeter.  I won't be surprised if God has a nice big farm waiting for all of us Perrys in heaven, filled with fruit that lasts for eternity.  


Sunday, June 29, 2014

His beloved child

Yahweh Yoga - Tribe 48
Dear friends,

My intention to post regular updates about my time in AZ has been unrealistic, considering how full our days have been!  But we have some time today to rest, and it feels like such a gift.  Our training has been wonderful in many ways, but I have come to my limits physically, spiritually, and emotionally/relationally.  I would rather see my need to grow, however, than to be content with staying the same.  The first couple of days were especially intense, as I was getting over jet leg and also not used to getting up so early.  Oh, and doing hot yoga for the first time, in HOT Arizona!  I don't remember sweating this much since cross-country training camp in college :)  And that was, a-hem, a few years ago :)

One big thing that I am taking away from this time so far is the knowledge that I am a beloved child of God.  One sweet sister in our class has spoken of this often (thanks Melissa!), and I was also encouraged by a yoga mentor (thanks, Kristin!) to repeat this phrase to myself when I was facing self-condemnation, discouragement, fatigue, etc. : "I am God's beloved child."  What a simple, yet extremely powerful phrase!  It has calmed me spirit immensely over the last few days, even as I continue to struggle with the uncertainty of our future... where will we be living, serving, etc., in the weeks and months to come, now that things have changed with Paul's employment?  I have had to discipline my thoughts, as well as my body, these last few days.  I'm finding that those things, when married together, produce beautiful fruit.  While I would not consider myself a lazy person, per se, I can see how I have more potential 'growth areas' than I thought!  Doing yoga several hours a day is challenging me to not only discipline my body, but it is providing many opportunities to meditate on the truth of God's love for me, and my need to let go of fear, self-judgment, anxiety, and disbelief in God's goodness.  There is something powerful about holding yoga postures, listening to Scripture and worship music, and being given the opportunity to really look within.  I have discovered a deeper battle within - will I surrender to the will of God for my life?  I have a sense that God may be calling Paul and I back into full-time ministry.  Will I let go of my fears about what that might look like, and instead choose to trust His heart of love for us?

Beloved friends, children of the Most High God, you are faced with the same choice today - will you acknowledge God's lavish love for you, and embrace this day, good and bad?  Will you praise God in the midst of suffering, and thank Him for what He IS doing and WILL do through you, if you surrender?  I have not 'arrived', but I am closer to this than I was a week ago.

So thankful for this opportunity to learn, grow, see more of God's love, and rest in my need for Him... Rest in Him today, my friends.  I'd encourage you to check out this great movie about Rich Mullin's life as you seek to deepen your confidence in God's love for you.  We are His beloved children,  ragamuffins, as Mullins and Manning would say, desperately in need of Grace.

Blessings, sweet friends!

Ruth


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The best is yet to come

Dear loyal friends and readers,

I'm thinking of the band Joy Eternal as I write this, and clinging to the amazing truths they sing about.  Life has certainly been a winding road (sometimes troubled, yes!) but we hope in Christ.  God has done so many wonderful things over the past few months, not the least of which being the chance to grow closer to my sweet man as we have prayed for God's leading in our lives.  Every day, we offer our lives over to Christ, and ask that He would use our talents, resources, time, everything for His glory.  It is a scary but wonderful thing to pray.  And so when Paul was laid off just a couple of weeks ago, we fought despair, but remembered the truths of 2 Corinthians 4.  Our hope is that the light of the Gospel would shine through our brokenness.  We are imperfect jars, but the blinding truth found in Christ, of His deep love, compassion, and protection for us, shines best in times like these.  We are 'struck down, but not destroyed'!  We look forward to coming back to this little online space and sharing what new adventure God has for us in the next chapter of our lives.  There are so many dear friends and family who are lifting us up right now (probably you too, dear reader!) and for that, we thank you.  We feel the strength provided by your faithful prayers.

One part of this new season includes my pursuit of a Christian yoga certification with Yahweh Yoga! It has been a wonderful journey these last few weeks, as I've completed the online portion of the training. This morning, we are flying to AZ so I can spend two weeks finishing the training at the studio. I have been so blessed by those who are supporting and encouraging me in this new endeavor, primarily my dear husband, but also many friends and family. Your prayers and words of encouragement are such a wonderful gift! It has been such a privilege to offer the gift of peace and connection with our Savior to friends who have already allowed me to use them as test subjects. 

I look forward to returning here to chronicle my next two weeks for you! I am confident that God will meet me in a new way. To Him be the glory in all things!

Your sister,

Ruth 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Taking a break...

Hello readers and friends, 

It's the Sabbath and I'm thinking about how to find refreshment in the Lord, and in all areas of my life.  I'm surfing through blogs I like to read because that's so refreshing, right??  Not really.  Reading blogs can be helpful, but oftentimes, looking at blogs and social media can make me envious, exhausted, and feeling badly about who God has made me in Christ.  Not exactly the best recipe for a restful Sunday!  

I was also reflecting that though I enjoyed writing most days in October for the 31 day series on praising God, it sometimes felt forced.  Not coming out of who I really am.  Doing something like this should not be an obligation, but a source of joy and refreshment.  So with the holidays coming up, I'm going to take a break from blogging.  I want to focus on serving my husband, friends, family and church, and also taking care of myself.  I want to encourage you to take the pressure off of yourself in areas where you are doing something you don't need to be doing.  Who are you trying to impress?  Who am I trying to impress?  

"Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave. Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ." Galatians 1: 10-12 (MSG)

I'm not sure when I'll be signing back on, but whoever you are out there, find comfort in the grace offered by Christ to you.  "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast." --Ephesians 2:8-9 

This holiday season, let's all find ways to accept the GIFT of GRACE from God.  Not only for our salvation, but in every area of our lives.  

By Grace,


Ruth

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Praise for Lessons Learned

It's been a lovely month with you here, reflecting on ways to praise our Savior.  This was my first try at the 31-day blogging adventure, so forgive me for not showing up every day.  I enjoyed the push to write more often, however!  In the process, I was able to find grace to look past my circumstances and towards Christ.  Being a bit melancholy by nature, it can be a discipline to see life positively at times.  What a hope and comfort to know we can look to our Savior in praise, despite how bleak a season of life may appear.  There is also much joy in knowing that God uses all circumstances for our good and His glory (James 1:1-12 and Romans 8:18-37).  Nothing is wasted!

What lessons have you learned this month? Are you able to praise God for the lesson, or does your heart still feel tender?

Also, try the links below for a couple of 31-day bloggers I've enjoyed this past month...

Holley Gerth: 31 Days to a Happier You
Ann Voskamp: Missing Him: 31 Days of Calling On Jesus

Blessings on your weekend!


Ruth