It’s All About the Heart

For over a year now my precious husband has been making a funny sound. And it’s not funny as in “LOL” but as in “bizarre.”   To make it more curious, the sound is positional, meaning it is only produced when he goes to bed at night and lies on his left side. Furthermore, I don’t like the sound.

Knowing a little bit about blood flow, I’m not envisioning good things when I hear this sound. Our heart has four rooms, or chambers as we call them. Blood visits these four rooms. Blood returning to our heart makes its first stop into our right atrium. Then flows on down to our right ventricle. After it grabs some oxygen from the lungs it enters into our left atrium and then flows into the last room of our heart, the left ventricle. From there it goes on its journey through our body delivering oxygen to our cells like FedEx delivers packages to our door. Except our blood is also kinda like the garbage truck and picks up our cells’ trash while it’s there, but that’s a more lengthy post I suppose.

So. Considering that the last room our blood visits before it’s grand journey throughout the body is the left ventricle, and considering that my hubby makes an involuntary sound when laying on his left side at night, would make any person push for a professional assessment.

It took a year. First I suggested. Then I nudged. Nudging turned into pushing. Pushing turned into nagging. And then, as I’ve been known to do a time or two, I took matters into my own hands and called myself to make a cardiology appointment.

Puzzled. That’s what I would describe the cardiologist’s response. Brandon is not what we call symptomatic. He has no SOB. (I threw that in to be funny. But really, he doesn’t. That’s what we say in healthcare for shortness of breath). He can run without any issues. While he’s not as lean as he’d prefer, it’s not like he’s really overweight. And his EKG showed no concern with his heart’s electrical activity.

But his cardiologist was again, puzzled. Therefore, we went for an echo to get a little gander of the structure of his heart.

It’s amazing really that we don’t have to have a perfect heart for it to work well and sufficiently meet our body’s need. Which at the same time is both incredible and crazy. And realizing this provides much spiritual insight.

Ever wonder why there are so many scriptures about the heart? I mean why did the psalmist not say, “I will praise you O Lord my God with all my kidney”?

Instead the Psalm says in chapter 86 verse 12 of the NKJV, “I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.”

When we think about shock it definitely makes sense.

Blood shunts toward two vital organs when one’s body goes into shock. And they are two organs we read about so much in scripture. The heart and the brain.

Patients can lose limbs out of the physiological changes a body makes to preserve the heart and the brain. Reduced peripheral perfusion means it all shunts to the core.

See, I believe the science reveals the Creator and what He is telling us. Every part of our body is significant, every organ is vital, but the heart and the mind are core to who we are, not only for our physical existence but our spiritual life as well.

And while we give much attention to public service announcements, and funds to foundations researching and saving the lives of our physical hearts and brains, it is our spiritual hearts and brains that are most vulnerable to injury.

Psalm 7:9 NLT “End the evil of those who are wicked, and defend the righteous. For You look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.”

The Israelites used the words “heart” and “mind” as virtual synonyms to refer to a person’s innermost center of conscious life. To ask God to look deep within the heart and mind, means we are inviting Him to examine the hidden places of our heart, and the hidden places of our thoughts. It’s asking Him to perform His own echocardiogram and get detailed with us, evaluating the structure of our character and motive.

And that is something that is not natural. It is part of our human nature to hide. I mean, do you remember when sin entered into the lives of Adam and Eve? They realized they were as naked as a jaybird and what did they do? They hid.

Asking the Lord to examine our heart and mind is the most significant thing we can do in our pursuit of a growing relationship with Him, because it may be hard to work on the hidden places He uncovers. Maybe we like some of the stuff we’ve got tucked away in the rooms of our heart. Maybe we find some enjoyment in those secret thoughts we revisit here and there. Maybe we’re wanting all the goodness of God but we’re not quite sure about cleaning out and throwing away what we’ve got in those rooms.

But if we are to have a healthy spiritual life, we have to protect our core.

We can’t fill our mind with garbage and pollute our heart with impurity and still experience true living. No. That kind of living is a crisis-mode life. It’s living in a constant state of shock.

And God did not call us to live in critical condition. He called us to live abundantly and victoriously.

So how?

Well here is a scripture from Psalm 51:10 to post on your wall, mirror, fridge or car and wholeheartedly pray,

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

Friends! We have to be renewed! Daily! We are just people. We’re not living as supernatural beings. We’re flesh and we need to continually draw near to the Lord to be renewed and strengthened.

Then ask Him to change the way we think. Talk about a new mindset. Setting our thoughts on things above has some major influence on taking us from a critical state to a powerful state. Romans 12:2 in the NLT says “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” If you want to have a healthy mind, ask the Lord to change the way you think. It’ll be different from the norm, but it will guide you to such goodness. It’s a kind of goodness that sticks with you even in the midst of difficulty.

Last one. Anticipate your mouth to follow. When you set your mind on things above, you think differently. And when you think differently, you sound differently. I’m not talking about the bizarre, out-of-the ordinary sound my husband makes when lying on his left side. No. I’m talking about what Jesus tells us about our hearts in Luke 6:45. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

Remember, we don’t have to have a perfect heart for it to work well. We simply need to allow it to be examined and treated by the hand of our loving Father.

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Living in a Layoff

Insurance is a complex matter to explain to kids. Actually, it’s a bit complex even for teenagers to understand. Honestly, let’s go ahead and include us adults too. There’s just so much to wrap our heads around.

Insurable interest. Risk analysis. Rates. Replacement Cost. Comprehensive and Collision. Deductibles. Liability. They are vocabulary words for the grown-up world.

Now that we have a driver-in-training, we frequently define these important words. And not just regarding auto insurance. A severe storm on July 14th brought one hundred mile-per-hour winds, and over forty thousand dollars worth of damage to our home. It was an unsettling site to see when we came out of the safe-room, especially for the kids. That was our time for informing them about homeowner’s insurance.

My dad sold insurance so I grew up hearing about “policies.” Life Insurance. Health Insurance. Auto Insurance. Homeowner’s Insurance. Flood Insurance. Dental Insurance. Long-term Care Insurance. The list goes on. At one time, Dad even sold Pre-Need Policies allowing for people to make arrangements for their funerals. It wasn’t something he just sold, but something he also did, which may I interject was a magnificent blessing to our family when he passed.

Insurance is a way for us to take precaution, preparing for the unexpected. We hope to never have to use it, but its there if we do. We’ve heard it called “peace-of-mind.”

The thing is, if you’re using your insurance it’s because something isn’t right, because something has gone wrong. And in those instances, while insurance is a blessing, it may not be enough for the unanticipated emotional storms we confront.

Nine days before the summer storm hit our house, Brandon called me with another storm.

“I have good news and bad news. Good news is I’m coming home to spend the day with you and the kids. The bad news is I lost my job.”

Hit the brakes. Tires screeching. Cars crashing. It was that feeling of being caught completely off guard.

I felt such shock and knew I needed to get off the phone. “Babe, would you want to sit out by the pool and visit about it when you get here? We can talk face-to-face or is it better to talk now?” He concurred to visit at home.

I got off the phone and immediately called a prayer warrior, “Brandon just called me. He lost his job. And I’m feeling very emotional. I need you to pray over me because I want to be strong for him when he gets home.” Let me say, while I felt broken during her prayer, I felt as strong as a lion by the time we said “amen.”

While our years of prepare-for-the-unexpected financial mindset, the influence and implementation of Dave Ramsey’s emergency fund, and the blessing of a severance package did of course give us peace of mind; we were on the forefront of reflection and evaluation.

I was the observer. Like a support-person for a patient in the hospital, I just watched, prayed and encouraged. My husband took everything into consideration, weighed every angle. I anticipated one of two things: major mid-life crisis or major encounter with God.

Although the situation came by much surprise, we never felt like it was an attack of the enemy. After having the last couple years with a rebellious child, we are familiar with an attack. We know the warfare of spiritual battles. This wasn’t one.

Brandon was transparent before the Lord desiring to know His plans for Brandon’s life. It’s something really. The whole ordeal made him question himself, his purpose, his abilities and value. As disheartening and helpless as it felt to walk through with him, we both gained treasures we would not have wanted to miss.

God revealed to Brandon that it was less about the plan and all about Him. The more Brandon sought the Lord the more peace He had in knowing that he was right where God wanted him to be and when it was time, the Lord would move him into the place He desired for him to be.

We both knew the big picture had nothing to do with finances, but everything to do with time. The names of the gifts were: time for family-fun with the kids, school drop-off and pick-up, even assisting for coaching soccer, time for physical improvement, time for spiritual growth, time for professional development getting his PMP, and time for marriage having omelet-and-mimosa-hot-tub Fridays.

My personal treasure from the experience was falling even deeper in love with this guy who’s held my heart since I was a teenager. Unemployment didn’t look pitiful to me—it looked admirable. It was an opportunity for what was stripped away to display this man’s character.

It was apparent when evaluating the budget that if I went back to work full-time we’d be able to keep the boat afloat. Not the lifestyle we’ve been used to, but meeting the needs nevertheless. Brandon wouldn’t have it. And he didn’t want us to tap into that emergency fund either. He had already made the decision to sell his car. “I’ll drive the truck.” The truck? The fifteen year-old-truck that doesn’t have a dash, the speaker is busted, the window doesn’t roll down and the rust has eaten away the fenders? “Babe. You love that car.” His response, “It’s just a car. It was fun, but it just isn’t fun anymore.” Hubba-hubba. He couldn’t have looked any sexier than at that moment. My love and respect grew even greater for this man of mine. I felt even deeper pride to be his wife.

The details of how the Lord orchestrated Brandon from July 5th to today are ones I’ve written about in the book. There’s just so much to share. God in His perfect timing and His perfect ways moved Brandon into a better place than what we could have anticipated. And in the process, answered yet another prayer of ours,

Lord, open our eyes to the struggles of those around us. Make us relevant and effective for You. Speak Your hope to hearts through our life.”

This book about overcoming life’s darkest moments, about endurance and perseverance includes a storm so many of us face, one we can’t emotionally insure. Thankful God uses all things. Even layoffs.

I Timothy 6:17-19 ESV
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

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For Better or Worse — we are blessed to face it together

A Valuable Run: Making Family Devotionals a Reality

There are tons of good ideas that are never put into practice.  Many different factors can be the cause.  Ones that I’ve experienced personally are: lack of direction, self-doubt, and good intentions.

The last one listed may throw you for a loop, because there is a lot of good that can come from good intentions.  But as I’m discussing in the book I’m writing, good intentions by itself can cause much harm and damage.  There needs to be more than a good intention if we’re going to actually accomplish something of value, as we’ll see in this post.

There’s a lot to learn from runners.  Some of which was illustrated for me this past Friday during Jaron’s first cross-country meet.  Before the official run, the team got familiar with the track.  They both walked and ran the course, giving them a mental approach in how to tackle it for the run.

I, myself, have never been in an official “run,” unless my treadmill programs and occasional outside run with Brandon count for anything.  But my experience with physical exertion led me to pick up on a few things that relate to our family morning devotionals.

For years I had the desire to have a consistent time for family devotionals. (Key word here is consistent.  We’d find the time here and there, but it was more there than here if you know what I mean).

Countless families have spoke of their family devotional time over the years, but it hit me when we were in….are you ready for it?….dun dun dunnn…..you guessed it—small group!  I told ya we’d make it back for another treasured nugget from attending small group, or life group or Sunday school or whatever we may call it– or as my high school geometry teacher would put it, “whatever floats your boat.”  (I just loved that lady!)

Years and years ago, in our small group class, our friend Dayna shared how her family had their own little service in their living room one night a week growing up.  They got into the Word of God, they had worship, they shared needs and they prayed.  How incredible is that?!  Sign me up!  We’re going to do that with our family!

Only we didn’t.

Through the years I kept thinking it’d pan out.  I envisioned the season Brandon was out of engineering school– then we’d be home together in the evenings and could have what Dayna’s family had.  Well, before we knew it, we had another baby, then I was in nursing school– rarely home for quality family time.  We juggled.  We juggled goals, educations and careers.  We juggled dance recitals, horse riding lessons, soccer practice, basketball practice, baseball practice, birthday parties and school activities and yes, church activities too.

The opportunity for consistent family devotionals was not happening.  Nope.  An open door of time never presented.  So a couple of years ago we created one.

We had to let go of what we thought family devotional time should look like.  We evaluated what would work for our family and we did it.

This is how it looks in our house. At 7:45am we grab our Bibles, sit at either the table or in the living room, read a small bit and pray.

Why is this so important? While we may have a solid daily quiet time with the Lord, we can’t assume our kids will. Think of how long it took for you to get to the place of such commitment. When it comes to establishing a daily devotional time, we need to realize that our kids may need some spiritual spoon-feeding. In their concrete thinking ways, they don’t even know to tell you they’re spiritually hungry. Just assume they are and feed them…daily.

What do we pray? The Word of God is alive and active so we pray what we read over our children each morning.  We pray for the challenges they may face, for the opportunities they may have to show love and kindness, we pray for their teachers, friends and fellow classmates.  This is also the time we pray as a family for the needs of others– from lost dogs to friends with cancer, we bring it in the morning.

Let me tell you.  Once the commitment is made, everything, I mean everything will come in opposition to that time.  There are mornings we haven’t moved as efficiently, or maybe are trying to multi-task too much.  Our allotted fifteen minutes dwindles.  So here’s a couple different things we’ve done.

We set the timer. If we only have seven minutes, we set the timer so we are sure to leave on time and we take the seven minutes. Other times we don’t even have that, so we grab our Bibles and read a little in the car and pray on the way.  Occasionally, we’ve had to condense it even more, grabbing just one scripture to discuss and having prayer.

Friends, the Lord knows our hearts.  So many times we can’t give Him what we think we should so we end up giving nothing.  Just give something.  Start somewhere.  Who knows, maybe it’ll end up looking like what Dayna’s family had, but you’ll never know until you start.

So how in the world does this relate to a runner?

Well–

#1 Have a Game Plan.  Remember how Jaron got to familiarize himself with his course before he ran it?  That gave him a game plan of how to approach it and how to pace himself.  We need a game plan for our family devotional time.  Explore what would be the best approach for you.  Carve out what time you can.  This is going to look different for so many of us.  Develop a plan.  God will honor it.

#2 Let Others Motivate You.  When Jaron ran Friday, the other runners helped him improve his time!  He said he passed seven people during the run.  With each person he passed he wondered if he could pass another.  It was his motivation to keep going and it resulted in improvement.  That’s what Dayna did for our family.  While we’ve not developed a time reflective of the one she had growing up, we did develop one.  If it weren’t for her sharing so specifically and so personally what it meant to her growing up, I don’t know that we’d have hung on to the intention for so long.  We finally made something happen.  And remember, something is better than nothing. Maybe my children will further build upon what we’re doing now and do even more for their family devotional time with their kids!

#3 Just Do It (I’m not sure it’s even legal for me to say that– so for the sake of covering my fanny- let’s just tip our hat to Nike right about now). This is where we get back to the good intentions. We need more than mere good intention.  We need commitment. When we’re committed, we’ve resolved to do something.  If it’s a commitment then it’s strong, determined and unwavering. Sometimes we look at the course and think it’s too difficult; possibly too many hills and too far to the finish line. But once you are going you realize how doable it is and how great it feels each time you finish. There’s only a feeling of accomplishment after a good run. It never feels wasted. It feels good. The same goes with those family devotions. Just start the run!

Psalm 92:2 NLT
It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning,
Your faithfulness in the evening,

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