All posts by Andra M.

Choosing Fear

Is fear a choice? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself of late.

When my son was a bit younger, I allowed him to do things that could have hurt him: climbing trees, crawling up steep river banks, yes even using knives and matches after I showed him how to properly and safely use both. Nor did I ever leave his side when he did.

Some have asked me why, and the answer is simple: if he scrapes a knee, cuts or burns himself, he’ll quickly learn not to do it again. Because pain is the best teacher out there. More so than his mom constantly screaming, “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!”

Almost all parents learn early on that children don’t always listen to motherly warnings, and eventually push against her natural desire to protect them from harm.

It’s a fine line between teaching children prudence and thoughtfulness when it comes to taking risks, or teaching them to be afraid of taking risks.

Because, like pain is a powerful teacher, fear is a powerful motivator. Healthy fear can prevent us from taking too big of a risk resulting in injury or death, or at least make us pause before we leap. Again, it’s a fine line, and everyone’s line is different. You’ll never see me parachute out of an airplane, but invite me on a fighter jet, I’m there!

Fear is necessary for our survival in many ways. It can quickly jump in when a dangerous situation arises. It releases adrenaline, which increases a body’s reaction-time, strength, and heightens awareness.

Another fear is the one that makes us pause, such as standing at the top of a hill and looking down the other side to gauge its steepness, and determine if we can climb down without risking serious injury or death.

Then there’s another, unrelenting fear that sticks with us day after day. All one has to do is look around to know we are drowning in it: fear of who’ll be elected; fear of losing our liberties (and in some instances, being allowed to keep them); fear of deadly disease; fear of natural (and unnatural) disasters. The list is endless.

Sometimes that fear can motivate us to work against any of the above such as voting, running for office, or campaigning for those of like mind; living healthy to strengthen the body; and preparing for natural and unnatural disasters (such as making sure our homes are secure against storms and our persons against tyranny). Again the list is endless. Being proactive is key in eliminating those fears.

So while fear can be a good thing, it can also hinder and cause us real damage. Unhealthy fear tends to overwhelm, not motivate. When it grabs hold, we isolate ourselves, lose trust in the people and world around us, and in the end quit living. When we quit living, we die soon after, because that fear too often leads to loneliness and despair.

As usual, I must turn to scripture. What does God say about being afraid, and is it really a choice?

And as usual, because fear is universal and effects us in so many negative ways, the Bible is filled with verses about it. Since this entry is getting a bit long, I will share only three. You should see a common thread in all of them:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For God have us a spirit not of fear but of power love and self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (all verses in ESV)

In all three (and every other verse on fear I searched for) stressed the importance of depending on God–that only he can give us the strength and means to rise above our fears.

By wallowing in fear, we are in effect saying that God cannot be trusted or depended upon to protect us. The last verse in particular shows us what we can do.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Far from it. It takes constant, intentional effort. Sometimes daily, if not a minute-by-minute effort through constant, thankful prayer and supplication.

Yet it’s never without reward, that being God’s peace, and protection of our heart and mind. When we fill our heart and mind with God and his promises, there’s no room left for fear.

Spiritual Blockage

Last week I once again signed up to write a few devotions for my church during Advent. While normally greedy by picking between four and six, I chose two (mostly because we were asked to pick only one or two).

As I read through the suggested passages of the first day I chose, I noticed what I can only describe as a spiritual blockage. I couldn’t care about the passages, had no desire to prayerfully seek out wisdom and discernment, and allow God to use his voice through me.

It was a bit startling, and… sad. I honestly had no idea how much I’ve been struggling of late until that moment. I’ve kept it quiet, putting on a brave face—for myself as much as for everyone else.

I could attempt to convince myself that pretending to be strong and “together” was for the benefit of those around me, because they need me to be strong. That may be partially true, but I must also be honest if I am to learn and grow.

Pride is once again my main motivation.

Anyone who’s read my blog for a while knows I don’t enjoy admitting I’m weak. In fact, I hate it.

Yet it must be done. If I continue to allow pride determine my thoughts and actions, it becomes an idol and leaves no more room for God.

My apathy toward the passages mentioned above was God’s way of slamming a door in my face and saying, “You’re neither prepared nor equipped to uplift others until you let me uplift you.”

I like to think God uses the words I write to speak to others, but (again, I must be honest) most often the words that spill from my fingers end up speaking to me. That last statement above in quotes is one of them. I had to stop typing for a few minutes, because I could no longer see through the sudden tears. Just thinking about them now makes me want to cry all over again.

Because that’s who God is. Always aware, always standing by, ready to give us whatever we need—as long as we remain open to receive and accept what he offers with gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving.

And humility.

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless… But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-29, 31 (NLT)

Banish the Dark

I’ve always said our life is built in the moments. We are to live in those moments. We need to avoid dwelling on or live in the past, because it can’t be changed. Nor should we worry about the future, because we can’t control or predict it.

We should also avoid getting so caught up in the moment we’re not doing what we need to do to make that moment better.

For instance, it’s easy to wake up to a dark and cloudy morning and not look for or see the sun peek through a break in those clouds.

I took the above picture this morning as I walked into a coffee shop. If not for the bright orange ball reflected off the store window, I would have missed it by the time I bought my coffee and headed back to my car.

One of the first lessons I learned on my faith journey is that darkness can never banish the light.

I too often wallow in my daily frustrations—this morning being no exception. Yet watching that beautiful sun inevitably rise reminded me that it still rises to banish the dark—in spite of the clouds—-and God is still sovereign.

Put Up or Shut Up

I often like to write (usually on social media) that if we’re unhappy about something, it’s our duty to do what we can to change it. Sitting behind a computer complaining on social media accomplishes next to nothing. After all, how often have we changed someone’s mind from a Facebook or Twitter rant?

Everyone has a hill they’re willing to die on. Sometimes we don’t know what that hill is until we’re standing on it. That happened to me, and I was honestly surprised that ended up being my hill. What is that hill you wonder? Mask mandates. Yep, that’s my hill.

Before I continue, I want to assure you this isn’t a post about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of wearing masks. I’m sure you’ve heard it all anyway and have already made up your mind.

With more cities and counties now considering mandating masks within their city/county limits for all businesses and in public settings, I was faced with a choice. Do I continue to sit behind my computer, send out emails to all city/county commissioners and leave it at that, or do I show myself and everyone else that I am indeed willing to die on this hill by showing up at public meetings whenever and wherever possible?

First I did a little research, sent off my emails, and spent the next three days writing and polishing a speech should the county commission open up the meeting for public comments. And praying. Lots and lots of praying.

I could barely sleep, because the idea of speaking in front of people stresses me out. The first speech I ever gave was a speech class in ninth grade. I was picked first and was so nervous, I got a muscle spasm in my top lip. I looked like I was mimicking Billy Idol’s snarl as I talked about the solar system (or whatever my speech was about). Thankfully that only happened once. Still, I can’t help but think, “What sort of spasm or tick will my body do this time?”

We arrived at the courthouse (my hubby willingly and lovingly gave up the last day of trap shooting for the season to join me for moral support. Because he’s awesome like that). We had to walk through a metal detector and have our temperature taken. I held out my wrist and she took my temperature. Or tried to. It kept saying “Lo.” She tried it on herself and it worked, so she tried again on me. It still wouldn’t read so she placed her wrist on mine. “Wow, you are cold,” she said. She then set the gun down and said, “You obviously don’t have a fever.”

I was only slightly surprised the gauge wouldn’t read, because my hands get frigid when I’m nervous. I didn’t realize that it affected my arms as well.

So we sat through the normal agenda and listened to the health department give their presentation and officially ask the commission to pass a county-wide mask mandate. Although a bit out of the norm (because the agenda didn’t call for a public hearing, something that needs to be announced thirty days prior to the meeting), since so many showed up, the commission did open the floor for public comment.

I looked around the room to see if someone wanted to speak first. After the third, no one stood. I took my speech from my notebook which for some reason decided to fly out of my hand and drop to the floor–rather loudly. All eyes turned toward me, so I stood and said, “Well, I guess that means it’s my turn.”

Because previous speakers had already mentioned some of the points I wanted to make, I used only the last few paragraphs. No spasms or twitches, no Billy Idol snarls, and I even looked up at the commissioners once in a while instead of burying my nose in my paper. I stuttered and stumbled a few times, but I also wasn’t alone in that as most everyone else who spoke did the same.

Once done, I sat and thought, “Finally. I stood up for something I believe strongly in. I didn’t die on this hill (figuratively or literally), but I at least showed (myself if no one else) this time that I’m not all words and no action with regard to my willingness to do so.”

And not to be too braggadocios, a reporter for a local newspaper thought some of my words were good enough to mention in an article about the meeting.

Labor Day 2020

I wrote this on Labor Day back in 2014:

From the US Department of Labor website:

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr also said of labor:

“We must set out to do a good job, irrespective of race, and do it so well that nobody could do it better.

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. As one college president said, “A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”

Today is the day we celebrate a job well done. It’s important to not only take pride in how well we do our job, but resolve to do it better; to become indispensable. Even if (or especially if) that job is considered “below” other jobs.

Because if we were all doctors and lawyers, who would pick up the trash, or clean our sewers?

Even better, perhaps we should use this day to thank others for doing those so-called thankless jobs.

I, for one, thank you.

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I would like to add a few other observations:

This year has been difficult (to put it mildly) to endure with regard to labor. Many have been told their jobs are “inessential,” to the point they’ve permanently lost them. Some have been working under extreme conditions to the point they’ve been yelled at, attacked, even killed. Just because they were doing their jobs.

Slight aside: Because I can’t wear a mask, shopping even in places where masks are not required, I feel uncomfortable. I often get glares from those wearing masks. I still try to put on a smile for them, mostly to disarm and let them know, “I understand you, so please understand me.” I smile more broadly for others who don’t to encourage. To let them know they’re not alone.

The employees I am even more kind to, because none of them have a choice to wear a mask or not, and must enforce company policy whether they like it or not—if they want to remain employed. They are in an untenable position I do not envy, and nor do I blame them. So I hope, regardless of your position on masks (or any other company policy you disagree with), we treat every employee with kindness and gratitude, and above all, as though they are essential. Because they are.

A Spiritual Competition

In reading Leviticus, I’ve discovered some of it is about what’s not said. For example, see previous entry about sacrifice. Since then, I’ve been noticing other things that are never said, or in this case, what God will never say.

I’m reading a bible study on the book of Romans, and one chapter talks about comparing ourselves to others, whether it’s in our professional, personal and/or professional lives. It’s understandable, since so much of what we do and and are is based on competition: competition for food, land, and other resources. It’s how we survive and thrive as a species.

One way to win any competition is to study our competitors and see if we are better or worse than them. Perhaps plan accordingly so we can win against them. Too often, though, when a competitor (real or imagined) exceeds our abilities, we become disillusioned instead of motivated to improve. Again, understandable, but not wise.

All of that, especially disillusion, should never affect our spiritual life. To God, the grace, mercy, blessings, and yes, even conviction, he extends to us are not dependent on anyone else. That’s the definition of relationship. For instance, I treat my husband different from my son different from my friends. To tell my son he needs to be exactly like my co-worker would be silly and more than a little weird.

Since God seeks to build a relationship with each one of us, he never has and never will say, “you lose, because so-and-so prays, and/or works better than you.” Because God’s resources–gifts if you will–are abundant. They’ll never run out, so we need to quit acting and believing as though they will.

An Upside-Down World

The seven deadly sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Contrast those with the seven corresponding virtues: humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.

Whenever I see a “celebrate [specific] pride month” declaration (and they seem to get more numerous every year), I cringe. I have to fight my own pride on a daily basis so it doesn’t get the best of me, because I know first hand the damage it can do.

Isaiah warns us in 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

He continues with, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Vs. 21)

The rest of the chapter goes on with what the Lord of Hosts will do to those who rejected him and his law.

Similar warnings are repeated in 2 Timothy 3:1-4: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this passage is where the seven deadly sins originated.

I also found that not only are people embracing pride, gluttony, sloth, etc., they’ve been vilifying anyone who embraces the seven virtues such as humility, chastity, and diligence.

It’s easy to get angry, scared, or depressed in watching the warnings written from six to two thousand years ago unfold before our eyes. I’ve been silently screaming at the sky like Grandpa Simpson for months now, because my own warnings seem to make little difference. The only ones who hear are those who already agree. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to plant seeds on what is obviously infertile ground.

I can already hear the thoughts of some of you. Your fingers are itching to respond, to tell me what I appear to be missing:

God himself. The power of the Holy Spirit working in our heart and in the world. Yes, we are being warned, and things do appear to be falling apart. Yet God himself is not deterred, broken, or swayed, so neither should we be deterred, broken, or swayed. Just because the ground looks hard and infertile, it could merely be parched, awaiting for me to toss out a few seeds so God’s Spirit can sprinkle a little rain that’ll allow that seed to take root and grow.

Yes, we live in an upside-down world, but God is still working. Diligently and without pause—even if we don’t often see the results.

He still expects us to do our part, and not by focusing on the seven deadly sins so much as making sure we’re living instead by the seven virtues.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

That’s a question people have been debating for centuries. Those on each side of the argument are adamant their point of view is correct, and they each have the scripture to back it up.

On the side of baptism being a requirement:

Matthew 3:13-15: “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’

“But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him.”

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Acts 2:38: “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 13:24: “Before [Jesus] came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized.”

Colossians 2:12: “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”

On the side of baptism being unnecessary:

Mark 1:4; “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.”

Aside: This could be used to prove both sides of the argument, because notice the word should instead of must. Also, it states that baptism shows they had repented, not that baptism was required for forgiveness.

Mark 16: 16: “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Aside: You may wonder why I use this scripture for both. Simple. The last sentence does not say anyone who refuses to believe and be baptized will be condemned.

Luke 3:16: “John answered their questions by saying, ‘I baptize you with [Or in] water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [Or in the Holy Spirit and in fire].’”

Acts 8:14-17: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Aside: Another example that can be used to prove both sides of the argument. However, Peter didn’t baptize the believers with water, but laid hands on them instead.

So which is it? Must I be baptized with water in order to receive salvation?

Since there are scriptural references going both ways, I turn to what I know about the nature of God.

There are many churches such as the Salvation Army that don’t believe water baptism is a requirement. Does that mean every member of the Salvation Army is doomed to Hell?

What about the countless children who didn’t live long enough to be baptized? Does God send them directly to the fires as well?

Since God is love, I don’t believe so, any more than my parents would permanently turn their backs on me because I refuse to shower.

I also have never been baptized (that I know of), nor do I anticipate ever doing so. Is my soul in jeopardy although I’ve given it and my life to God, and asked forgiveness of my sins through the blood of Jesus Christ? If I am to die without a minister or preacher pouring water over me, is my entire life a waste?

I acknowledge that perhaps I test God by not being baptized, but I also trust in God’s love enough that he won’t hold it against me. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression that we have repented of our sins. It comes after we accept salvation, not before, or even during. I show through my other actions I have accepted Jesus as my savior.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is what matters.

Why then did we baptize our son when he was a baby? Does that make me a hypocrite, or at least uncertain as to my belief, willing to jeopardize my soul, but not my son’s?

No. As Mark 1:4 said, baptism is an outward expression of what’s already taken place in the heart and soul. My husband and I wish to show our friends and family that we will teach our son about and (hopefully) accept Jesus as his savior for himself someday.

In the end, like accepting Jesus for yourself, the same holds true for baptism. If you find it necessary, by all means get baptized. If you don’t think it’s necessary, that’s okay, too–as long as your faith is sincere in both cases.

The Mighty Pen

A few days ago, my hubby and I met with some friends at a restaurant. Most of the conversation circled around firearms, but then it turned toward other subjects such as the riots, and other issues and controversies of the day.

Soon the conversation turned toward social media.

One mentioned how he doesn’t always agree with what I write on Facebook. He considers responding, but ends up leaving no comment. He said my posts are so well written, anything he adds would look stupid by comparison. “I simply don’t know how to write with as good of grammar as you do.”

Aside and disclaimer: this is not meant as a braggadocios post, but something else, which I will explain further.

I quirked by head at him and said, “Huh. I never thought of using good grammar as a weapon before.”

“That’s exactly what it is,” he said. “A weapon.”

Another piped up with, “The pen is mightier than the sword after all.”

The problem with some cliches is they often become so common, they take on a certain abstraction with no real-world value people can use in their daily life. I’ve used the pen versus sword phrase before in previous posts, usually to say that we need to ever be aware of every word we speak or write. They can tear people down as easily as they can uplift.

Yet I still never considered writing well (having good grammar) as a weapon to the point people wouldn’t want to engage—feeling inadequate to the task.

in some ways I was gratified by the comment, but it also made me sad. I never want to intimidate anyone with my skills. I want them to be inviting and informative so people will engage, even if they disagree. Sometimes especially if they disagree. I would rather look like a fool for a moment than a fool forever because I didn’t take the time to listen and learn something new.

I get it though.

I like to sing, and love to belt out tunes while in my car or alone in the house. I may even be fairly good at it. I also don’t know how to read a single note of music. I couldn’t distinguish a B from an A to save my life.

If a professional singer asked me to do a duet, however, I would have to politely decline. I’m simply not skilled enough—feeling inadequate to the task. ‘Tis better to sit in the corner and not engage.

At the same time, by not taking up the invitation, I deny myself the benefit of the singer’s skills to possibly improve my own.

Sure, in some instances I like the idea of wielding my grammar skills as a weapon, but I prefer to wield them to teach and edify, but mostly as an invitation to discuss ideas and learn from others.

A Harsh Rebuke

Mark 8:33: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (ESV)

I often wonder what Jesus felt at that moment. Knowing his life would soon end, was Satan tempting him to stay? Was the rebuke as much for himself as for Peter?

Curiosity aside, when God does something that goes contrary to everything I want or think I need, I argue with him. I beg him to change his mind. Intellectually I know God will always do what’s best, and that I will never, ever win an argument with him. Still, I continue to try. He doesn’t rebuke me as harshly as Jesus did Peter, but I wonder if perhaps he should.

Or, maybe it’s not God who needs to rebuke me, but me who needs to rebuke myself and Satan for muddling my heart and my mind with the things of man to the point I can’t focus on the things of God.

It’s easy to do. We are finite creatures on this earth. We have our daily struggles and distractions that to focus on God’s long, eternal view can be near impossible. We lose sight of our trust and faith—whether it’s due to our worries, our doubts, or our pride. Perhaps a combination of all three. We have to remember that even when we get lost, God never does, and he never loses sight of us or what he wants to accomplish through us.

When we feel lost, we have to remember and speak Jesus’ own words: “Get behind me Satan, for my mind will not be set on the things of man, but on the things of God.”