Managing Stress And Anxiety

By Kathy Pollard

I wish I could title this post, “Getting Rid of Stress And Anxiety,” but I don’t think that’s very realistic.  With the exception of perhaps childhood, each new phase in life presents its own unique set of challenges.  Maybe you find yourself in one of the following situations:

  • New marriage, new baby, new home, new work.  While these are exciting and wonderful, they also call for stamina and courage and wisdom.
  • Long-term care of an aging parent.  In addition to the physical exhaustion is the emotional turmoil of seeing your loved one suffer.
  • School/ work load.  I know some students right now who are being stretched in more ways than they ever expected.  Perhaps you’re in the midst of a project or job requirement that’s been going on for so long you can’t remember your last decent night of sleep.
  • Poor health.  After months or years of battling whatever is attacking your body, you wonder if you’ll ever simply feel good.
  • Financial worries.  Finding a job, paying your bills, wondering about retirement, health care…whether you’ve accumulated a mound of debt or you just long for financial security, money can be a very real and daily stressor.
  • Rocky relationships.  Perhaps your marriage is just barely hanging on.  Or you’re worried about your grown-up children or a spiritually wayward relative.  The people we love most can be a source of great anxiety.

Sometimes stress is temporary and we know it.  We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re just trying to get through it.  Sometimes stress is ever-present and overwhelming, and we find ourselves trying to survive one day at a time.  Whichever we find ourselves facing, there are a few simple, proactive ways to manage stress and anxiety.

1.  PRAY

Prayer is probably the first reaction when something causes stress, and I don’t think God resents that.  We find many passages reminding us to turn to God in our distress.  We’re told to cast ALL of our cares on Him (1 Pet. 5:7).  Prayer brings peace in the midst of anxiety (Phil. 4:6,7).  When stress is long-term, our prayers can fade or turn sporadic.  A renewed desire for God’s listening ear can go far in calming anxieties.

2.  MEDITATE

I’m not encouraging “getting your Zen on, man,” but rather committing to quality time in Bible study.  I like the quote I ran across the other day– “Meditation is not an emptying of one’s mind, like some religions teach, but a filling of our minds with the truths of God’s Word” (Jen Thorn).  The Scriptures are powerful (Heb. 4:12) and strength-giving (Eph. 6:10-17).  Neglecting this crucial practice only exacerbates stress and anxiety.

3.  BOOST YOUR HEALTH

It’s common knowledge that long-term stress takes a toll on our health.  Is there an area of your physical well-being that’s taking a harder hit?  See if you could make some small changes for overall well-being:

  • Exercise.  It strengthens the heart, clears mind clutter, and boosts stamina and self-esteem.  Take a walk in the morning and try yoga at night.  No one ever regrets making time to get the blood flowing.
  • Water.  The benefits are endless.  How easy it is to replace empty calorie drinks with water.  Add lemon for even more vibrancy.
  • Sleep.  Who hasn’t been robbed of some zzz’s?  Sleep is essential for mental clarity and emotional stability.  Young moms, get over your guilt and take a nap in the middle of the day when the opportunity presents itself.
  • Cleaner eating.  Bad food equals yucky mood.  Studies are now linking a healthy gut to an overall sense of well-being.  The last thing we need when anxiety is churning in our gut is to add processed foods or sugar to the mix.  Seriously, while it may not be fun to talk about, better eating choices are important when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety.

4.  UNPLUG

We are attached to our devices, aren’t we?  They’re everywhere and in every room.  Unplugging for a while each day will allow us to focus on those around us, re-appreciate moments of quietness, and even remove some additional anxiety (unpleasant posts on social media, disturbing news, etc.).  It’s good to give our eyes a break from any kind of screen.  Unplug and listen for natural sounds instead like the wind blowing, leaves rustling, birds chirping.

5.  UNCLUTTER

Speaking of devices…we can remove some from our sleeping space for a more peaceful and relaxing environment.  Clearing counter tops of paper stacks and junk also helps clear our minds.  Taking the time and trouble to make the bed and straighten up makes it easier to drift off to sleep later.  Messy rooms add to a feeling of anxiety.

6.  UNWIND

Yes, we could probably use that half hour to cross an item off the to-do list, but sometimes the wiser choice would be to intentionally unwind.  Don’t think of a soak in the tub as a luxury but as a way of promoting peace and health.  Discover the calming benefits of chamomile tea.  You might have to develop a taste for it, but consider it an all-natural anti-anxiety medicine.  Light a candle, rub your feet with lotion, and take deep breaths.  Even a few minutes of slowing down makes a big difference in a trying day.

7.  LAUGH

Laughing relieves stress, lifts the mood, and burns calories!  Have you laughed today?

8.  LOVE

Looking for tangible ways to show our love for others will ultimately lead to our own happiness.  Giving feels good.  It allows us to step outside of our cares and focus on bringing joy to others.  In the midst of your crazy schedule, do something even crazier like adding in a visit to a shut-in or making a homemade, unexpected surprise for someone.

Hopefully these ideas for managing stress haven’t added even more stress.  You might be thinking, Who has time for any of THAT?!  Some of the tips can be combined, like sipping tea while studying the Bible.  Or praying while going for a walk.  It’s probably unrealistic to try to hit all 8 tips every single day, but we can be more intentional in handling our anxieties.  It will be good for us and for those around us.  God has given us many ways to combat stress.  We could even add singing, looking for beauty, and counting our blessings.  What tips do you have?

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19).

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Wait for the Lord–a Bible-marking topic

By Kathy Pollard

Waiting is hard.  When you’re diligently praying for something and hoping for a quick answer, a delay can be a difficult and trying time.

-Waiting for test results

-Waiting for a Christian mate

-Waiting for a job change

-Waiting for wrongs to be made right

-Waiting for clarification/ answers/ knowing what to do

-Waiting for a heavy burden to be lifted

The advice given is usually something like:  Be patient.  Don’t run ahead of God.  You can trust Him.  He knows what’s best.  But when it’s been a long wait, you just sigh and say, “I know.”  And tap your foot.

This Bible-marking topic is for those times when you’re tired of waiting, and perhaps beginning to wonder if God even hears your prayers.  Be encouraged, friend.  God anticipated those moments and He has words for your heart.  

As you soak in the following Scriptures, keep in mind what the word “wait” means.  It does mean to be patient.  But it also includes an anticipation, a looking forward to something arriving or occurring.  It means to wait in place with expectation.  So the advice you’ve been given is biblical.  Don’t run ahead of God.  But also, don’t give up hope while you’re waiting.  In the front of your Bible, write:

Wait for the Lord- Psa. 25

None of those who wait for You will be ashamed

Read through the entire psalm.  Circle all three occurrences of “wait for You/ wait” (v. 3,5,21).  Notice what David is asking for while he waits (v. 4-7) and what he is doing while he waits (v. 15).  Now go through and underline the qualities of God.  At the end of the psalm, write 27:14.

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

This is another beautiful psalm written by David.  It shows his utter dependence upon God and his refusal to give up (v. 13).  Circle both occurrences of “wait for the Lord.”  Underline “be strong” and “take courage.”  Strengthen your soul with prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship.  God doesn’t want you to be discouraged.  He wants your heart to be filled with courage.  In the margin, write “(see also 31:24).” At the end of the verse, write 33:13-22.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.  For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name.

Circle “waits for the Lord” (v.20).  Draw a square around “hope” (v. 18, 22).  “Hope” in these verses means “to wait, to hope for.”  In the margin next to “hope,” write “to wait.” Underline the phrases that show God still sees and cares:  “the Lord looks” (v. 13), “He sees” (v. 13), “He looks” (v. 14), “He who understands” (v. 15), and “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him” (v. 18).  Squiggly underline “our heart rejoices…because we trust” (v. 21).  At the end of the psalm, write 40:1-3.

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.

Circle “waited patiently for the Lord” (v. 1).  Underline what God did for David (“He inclined,” “heard my cry,” “brought me up,” etc.).  Squiggly underline “many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”  In the margin next to that, write “Others are watching.”  When we wait patiently for the Lord, we are living out our faith and teaching others to trust in God!  At the end of the verse three, write 62:5-8.

My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.

Circle “wait in silence for God.”  Why do we wait for God only?  Draw squares around what He is:  “my hope” (v. 5), “my rock,” “my salvation,” “my stronghold” (v. 6), “my salvation,” “my glory,” “my strength,” “my refuge” (v 7).  Underline all of verse eight.  At the end of the verse, write 130:5.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His Word do I hope.

Circle “wait for the Lord” and “wait.”  Underline “in His Word do I hope.”  What better way to spend waiting time than in drawing hope from the Word?  At the end of the verse, write Prov. 20:22.

Do not say, “I will repay evil;” wait for the Lord, and He will save you.

Circle “wait for the Lord.”  Underline “He will save you.”  Remember, He sees everything and knows all the details.  Don’t take matters into your own hands.  Wait for God to make it all right in the end.  At the end of the verse, write Isa. 40:31.

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Circle “wait for the Lord.”  Underline all the beautiful promises for those who wait:  “gain new strength,” “mount up with wings,” “run and not get tired,” and “walk and not become weary.”  At the end of the verse, write Lam. 3:25.

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

Circle “wait for Him.”  Underline “the Lord is good.”  Notice what God wants us to do while we are waiting for Him.  At the end of the verse, write Micah 7:7.

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation.  My God will hear me.

Circle “wait for the God.”  Underline “my God will hear me.”  Blessed assurance! At the end of the verse, write Isa. 30:18.

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.  For the Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him.

I know we’re backtracking but I wanted to end on this wonderful thought:  God waits for you, too!  Circle “He waits.”  Draw a square around “longs” and “long” and in the margin next to it write, “literally means ‘waits’.”  God waits for His people to trust in Him so He can bless them.  Remember His grace and compassion.  Remember His desire to take care of you.  

While you’re praying, “Please, God,” keep acting in ways that please God.  May the Lord bless you as you wait for Him. 

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Lessons Learned in the ICU

Disclaimer:  I certainly recognize that many others have gone through more serious, long-term stays in hospitals.  These are just a few thoughts from my own personal experiences this week.  

Our oldest son, Gary, went to the ER with respiratory distress early Monday morning.  He was admitted to the ICU, sedated and paralyzed, and put on a ventilator.  My husband and I hopped on a plane and have been with him ever since.  While I wish Gary and his sweet wife, Chelsea, didn’t have to go through this, there are several reasons I feel blessed to have been here this week:

  • God’s Family has no geographical borders.  Our home is in Colorado.  Our son’s home is in Alabama.  We have been welcomed and helped by Christians here just as if we were one of their own.
  • Christians are second-milers.  Oh man, I don’t have enough word-count to share every kindness that’s been extended to us.  We’ve had visits and messages of encouragement.  We’ve been brought snacks, homemade bread, blankets, parking tokens, meals, a gift certificate to a restaurant that delivers to the hospital, a vehicle to borrow, and magazines.  We’ve only slept in the waiting room one night because of the generosity and thoughtfulness of friends and local churches.  The kindnesses just keep coming!
  • Every prayer matters.  Within a couple of hours of our first morning here, we had four different area preachers come by and pray with us in the ICU.  Through the years Neal and I have circled up with folks for a prayer around a patient’s bed.  I never really knew how courage-bolstering that could be.  So many others have let us know they are praying.  Every single time, we feel comforted and grateful.
  • Things get put into perspective.  The world goes on outside these hospital walls but in here it feels like time stands still.  We are mostly focused on life, faith, and family.    Questions rise to the surface:  Does Gary know how much I love him and how proud  he makes me?  Do our Christian friends know how acutely we feel their concern and how much it means to us?  Through it all, we’ve been praying and contemplating.
  • Love is greater than fear.  It seems like every time my heart begins to worry, some kind gesture or word comes our way.  We are really seeing the Light this week.  Its warmth covers our cares.
  • Inside beauty is invaluable.  Oh, our sweet Chelsea.  She has helped Gary through things that weak stomachs won’t want to read about.  She works long hours and sleeps short nights in a hospital room but has yet to complain about a single thing.  Just now Gary asked her, “How are you holding up?”  She answered, “I’m fine, Hon.  You don’t have to worry about me!”  She is a cutie pie but more than that, her inner beauty has been a blessing to us all.  She is a worthy woman and we thank God for her.
  • Progress is worth celebrating.  Every little step on the road recovery causes rejoicing.  From big things (like coming off the ventilator) to little things (like sitting up for the first time), we smile and hug each other as we witness evidence of improvement.  I was never so excited to walk in and see someone eating applesauce.  When we share these good bits with others and they rejoice with us, it makes us smile all over again.  Consider how much more important spiritual progress is for new babes in Christ or for those making their way back from waywardness.  Every small step is a victory.  If we celebrate with them it can only encourage them to keep trying.
  • God is so good!

I was going to include a point about vanity.  It doesn’t matter that I only had five minutes to pack and left behind hair products and other beauty essentials (um, like tweezers).  Our first visitor was an old college friend we haven’t seen in over 26 years.  We’ve been meeting people for the first time and reuniting with family members this week.  I’m wearing sweats and have my hair pulled back in a ponytail.  I was going to include that point about vanity, but I do care.  I wish I looked better.  Ah well, I haven’t learned everything in the ICU.

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The Romans 12 “Do’s & Don’ts” List for Social Media

Social media is pretty great.  Apparently a lot of people think so since literally billions of people use it.  I love staying connected with long-distance friends and family, seeing what God is doing the world over, and laughing out loud over a hilarious meme.  It’s wonderful being able to post a prayer request or read an encouraging status.

But social media can also be misused.  Wasting time, ranting, sowing discord, getting involved in an ungodly relationship, or promoting self are a few examples of being a poor influence through our activities on social media.  Chris Pirillo said, “Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.” Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).  Which category will our posts and messages fall into?  Justified or condemned?

The following list is from Romans 12.  It seems perfect for making sure our social media activity stays good and Christlike!

  • Don’t be conformed to this world- v. 2
  • Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought- v. 3
  • Show mercy with cheerfulness- v. 8
  • Be loving- v. 9
  • Avoid all evil and promote good- v. 9
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love- v. 10
  • Give preference to one another in honor- v. 10
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints- v. 13
  • Bless those who persecute you- v. 14
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep- v. 15
  • Don’t be haughty- v. 16
  • Associate with the lowly- v. 16
  • Don’t be wise in your own estimation- v. 16
  • Never pay back evil for evil- v. 17
  • Respect what is right in the sight of all men- v. 17
  • As much as possible, live at peace with all men- v. 18
  • Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good- v. 21

“Don’t use social media to impress people; use it to impact people” (Dave Willis).

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Image credit: WordStream

 

God Will Be by Your Side, and I’ll Be on Your Other Side

Every now and then I get caught up in the what-if’s.  This afternoon was just such an occasion.  I was worrying about something to the point that Neal asked me what was wrong.  I unloaded my fears.  “What if this happens….what if this doesn’t happen…?” Neal listened and reminded me that God is in control.  I said, “I know but what if…..?”  And I proceeded to try to get him to understand all my reasons for being concerned.  He finally said,

“Even if the very worst scenario happens, God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”

Okay, that was powerful.  How comforting to know that, no matter what, God will never leave me and neither will my husband.  That truth helped me take a deep breath and let go of the useless worrying.  I thank God for His promise to always be with me (Heb. 13:5).  I thank God for Neal’s wisdom and his commitment to caring for me.  I know that next time my “anxieties multiply within me” (Psa. 94:19), I will recall the peace-giving image of God and Neal flanking either side of me.

I wonder how many others need those words said to them?  I can think of individuals I know who are hurting and could probably use the reminder that they’re not alone.  May I never get so caught up in my own little world that I neglect to comfort those around me.        That’s part of the purpose of the church, right (Heb. 10:24-25)?  I love knowing that I could go to another Christian with my fears or failures and be reminded of God’s faithfulness and their love.  May I ever strive to be that Christian for others, too.  I may not be able to solve problems or make the pain go away, but I can certainly hug more, pray more, and remind more that “God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another…1 Pet. 4:8.

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You Can Always Come Home

HOME SWEET HOME.  Those three simple words engage the senses.  They conjure up images of loved ones, the home place, your childhood tree swing.  Perhaps you associate it with the smell of apple pie, your favorite birthday meal, or your mother’s perfume.  Or maybe you can close your eyes and hear your father whistling while he’s working on the car.  We want to fill our own homes with that same sense of belonging and rightness, so we intentionally create good memories for our own families:  laughter around the dinner table, nightly devotionals, loving touches, and sweet traditions.  Home is synonymous with comfort and security.  When we’re away from it, we long for it.  Not every earthly home is ideal, but many would agree that “there’s no place like home.”

Thank God for the home He provides for His family!  He must want us to enjoy that same sense of love and security because He gives us a home to enjoy now and one to look forward to in eternity.  When I close my eyes and think of my church family, I can’t help but recall warm hugs, precious memories, dear songs, and loving support.  No matter where we live, we have a home made up of Christian family.  What a blessing!  I can’t imagine trying to get through this life without it.  Jesus promises a heavenly home with our Father (John 14:1-3).  This one will be big enough to accommodate all of our loved ones.  There will be no goodbyes or sad memories (Rev. 21:3-4).  It will be the ultimate Home Sweet Home.

As dear as home is, some choose to walk away from it.  Whatever the reason for it (indifference, rebellion, sin), the absence is keenly felt by the Father and family.  I ran across a song recently called, “You Can Always Come Home.”  It is based on the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  In that passage, Jesus tells a parable of a young man who chose to leave home to experience the world.  He lived wildly and recklessly.  He cared not for his reputation or his family name.  But his new lifestyle brought no satisfaction.  The thrill was short-lived as he found himself broken and alone.  That’s when he thought of home and his wayward heart longed to return.   This passage never gets old for me.  My breath catches every time I read of his father running to meet him.  His father didn’t say, “You made your bed; now you have to lie in it.”  He didn’t say, “What do you have to say for yourself?!”  He most certainly didn’t say, “I don’t know you,” or “You’re no son of mine.”  Instead, every action on his part said, “Welcome home, my son.

I have loved ones who have wandered away.   I pray they will long for home and make the journey back, regardless of time or distance.  As the song pleads, “Remember, you can always come home.”

My own heart has struggled with seasons of waywardness.  May I always be drawn to the real love and security offered by my Father.  May HOME remain my favorite place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of Stone

By Kathy Pollard

I know what a stony heart feels like, don’t you?

  • It’s when I am indifferent to the needs of others.
  • It’s when I am disengaged in worship week after week.
  • It’s when I’ve been involved in sin and my conscience is no longer pricked.
  • It’s when I withhold forgiveness.
  • It’s when I no longer hunger for the Word.
  • It’s when I stop thinking souls.
  • It’s when Calvary doesn’t move me.
  • It’s when my heart has become divided instead of devoted.

It is an unhappy thing when you know your heart has hardened in any of these areas but you lack the desire or discipline to do anything about it.  Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.  Perhaps you can tell you’ve drifted away from God, or you’ve allowed your connection to your church family to grow cold.  When that happens, it’s easy to become disheartened, discouraged with yourself, or indifferent in your spiritual walk.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “What’s the matter with me?  How did I get here?”

Listen to what God said to His people.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God gave this beautiful promise to people who had misrepresented His holy name.  They weren’t acting like people who belonged to Him.  Those who saw them acknowledged their hypocrisy.  In modern terms they said, “They call themselves ‘Christians’ but they don’t act like it” (v. 20).  Yet God still wanted their heart.  He wanted to redeem them and give them His Spirit (v. 27).

This encourages me.  There are times when my heart problem is obvious to others.  But there are times when only I am aware of the hardening while I continue to go through the motions.  Either way, I can know that God still desires to cleanse me and save me (v. 29, 33).  God is willing to act on my behalf for my good (notice all the “I will” statements He makes in v. 23-38).  This may not be pleasant at first.  It may be in the form of exposed sin or an unhappy trial.  But I can see how necessary it is to shake me out of my complacency.  It reminds me of the song, “Break my heart, dear Lord.”  I am thankful for the opportunities God gives me to soften my heart again.

 

Most People Complain Once a Minute

By Kathy Pollard

According to an article published in Entrepreneur a couple of months ago, “most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation.”  I’ll be paying more attention to my speech to make sure I don’t fall under the category of “most people,” but even if I don’t voice a complaint in my conversations I wonder if I think it?  The article goes on to show the negative effects of complaining:

  • It rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.
  • It becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
  • It damages other areas of your brain.
  • It raises stress levels.
  • It lowers your immune system.
  • It’s contagious.  Like second hand smoke, it negatively affects those around you.

The article states that the solution to complaining is “to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.”    “When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something you’re grateful for.”  Gratitude:

  • Reduces stress levels
  • Improves mood, energy, and productivity
  • Lowers anxiety

I imagine gratitude is also contagious and will positively affect those around you.

I find it interesting that this nonreligious article (based on scientific research) is simply confirming what God has been telling us all along.  “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14).  Instead, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:15,17; Eph. 5:20).  It doesn’t surprise me that it’s been proven that complaining is bad for our health and gratitude is good for our health.  As the saying goes, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not,’ He’s really saying, ‘Do yourself a favor.'”

The article suggests that, over time, complaining or gratitude can become a way of life.  This means my words may reveal more to others than I intended.  They reveal my heart and all that I choose to focus on (Luke 6:45; Prov. 4:23).  My words affect more than I intended.  They affect my own health and even the health of those around me.   Complaining or gratitude.  This simple, daily choice has great impact.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord”

(Psalm 19:14).

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What the Promised Land did for Me

The most frequently asked question since our return home from Israel has been, “What was your favorite part?”  That is nearly impossible to answer.  There were too many wonderful experiences and highlights, each of them meaningful for different reasons.

I can say for certain that it was my “trip of a lifetime” and that it impacted me in multiple ways.  I am most thankful for three of those ways:

It strengthened my faith in the Word.

No doubt about it, the places and people we read about in the Bible are REAL.  Archaeologists continue to uncover locations, discover documents, and learn about practices that prove the truth of God’s Word.

For example, the Bible mentions a place called “Sha’arayim,” which means “two gates” (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31).  Scoffers declared this unlikely as no Judaean city ever had more than one gate, according to archaeological discoveries.  But in 2007, an entire fortified city was unearthed having, not one, but two major gates.  It overlooks the Elah Valley, confirming the Bible’s mention of it in the account of David and Goliath.

I knew the Bible was accurate and reliable.  But it is so faith-building to have that truth confirmed by walking through the MANY “proofs” that populate the land of Israel!

It enhanced my understanding.

David took refuge in “the stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:3,4).  Masada (which means “stronghold”) was a city that sat atop a steep hill out in the middle of an arid wilderness, overlooking the Dead Sea.  It’s location made it easy to see approaching enemies.  It had a “snake path” up the side that could handle only two people wide at a time.  It was impressive!  Scholars believe that this was David’s stronghold.  Now when I read about it, I will be able to see it.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 31:1-3

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First view of Masada

 

And when I read about David hiding in caves in Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4), I will be able to see it.  I understand how easy it was to do that in a land dotted with large, hidden caves.  Adullam means “refuge.”

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One of the caves at Adullam

When I read about Jesus praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26), I will be able to picture Him among the twisted trunks of the olive trees.  I can now see exactly where He pleaded with His Father.

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Olive trees in Gethsemane

There are so many accounts that have come alive in my mind!  I can add extra senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch….) to my understanding.

It engaged my heart.

You don’t have to go to Israel to be touched by the love stories in the Word.

(How can you read about God’s call to Abraham to take his son and offer him, and then God’s deliverance and provision when He rewarded Abraham’s obedient faith without being moved?)

But I had the opportunity to go to Beersheba.  It’s in the middle of the Negev desert.  It’s where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and planted a tamarisk tree (Gen. 21), where he sent Hagar into the wilderness, and where he went to live after God said, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you….” (Gen. 22).  I looked all around me and imagined the account playing out in front of my eyes.

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Beersheba

I had the opportunity to visit the two proposed sites of the Garden Tomb.  While at the first one, I read John’s gospel account of the empty tomb.  I looked at the rock tomb in front of me and read of Mary standing there weeping, of Jesus approaching her and calling her by name, and of her declaration to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

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The Garden Tomb

There were so many emotional moments as we walked through the land of Israel.  I imagine part of that had to do with stepping away from the distractions of the world and immersing myself in the unfolding story of God’s redemption and love.  My heart was revived.

I pray that I will remember that I don’t have to go to Israel to do that.  I can still shut out the world’s distractions and immerse myself in the beautiful and powerful message of God’s love. 

There’s a Sea in Galilee

I wish I were better with words.  I’m going to try to convey what’s filling my heart but I know the words will fall short.

For the past six days I have been in Israel with my husband and our dear friends, John and Carla Moore.  The experience has far exceeded my expectations.  I’ve visited Beersheba where Abraham lived and probably received the call to offer up his son.  I’ve stood in the very valley in which David ran to meet Goliath (and even pulled five smooth stones from the same brook he did).  I’ve explored the impressive sites of Masada and Megiddo.  I’ve seen the wildernesses and the Shephelah.  And so much more.

I knew I’d love it all.  I can already tell that I will never read my Bible the same again.  I knew I’d learn more about geography, archaeology, and history.  What I wasn’t expecting was the soul-searching that would accompany it.

I’ve been impressed with the courage, bravery, faith, and trust of God’s people in harsh environments or overwhelming odds.  Would I be brave in the same situation?  Would I trust God when I couldn’t see my way through?  It’s been good, so good, to hold my heart up for examination.

But today was something special.  Today we went to the Sea.  We hiked up a path to the top of Mount Arbel.  There were sheer cliffs along the way.  When we crested the top and took in the view of the Sea of Galilee and its northern shore, it was as if all the noises around me faded away and I could only hear my own breathing.  My heartbeat slowed as it dawned on me what I was actually viewing.

Up to this point, we’ve visited places where great men and women of God have lived out their faith.  Today we came to the place where the Son of God lived out His faith so He could walk with us through ours.  I saw the towns where He taught in the synagogues.  I saw the shoreline where He called His disciples and where He would later have breakfast with them.   I stared at the waves on which He walked and imagined the storms that He calmed.  Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount here.  He healed here.

As the four of us took it all in, John led us in a verse of “How Great Thou Art.”  Then he prayed a beautiful, heartfelt prayer of praise.  I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Jesus prayed in the very same spot when He would go up on the mount by Himself.  Jesus.  My Jesus.  Today, and the next couple of days, I am walking where He walked.

So many things happened by the Sea on the Sea in the life of Christ.  The same sea is surrounded by bustling and thriving towns today.  The same sea is filled with boats.

I am walking where He walked and in awe of that fact.  But what would He want me to see here?  The Sea?  As impressive as it all is–the cliffs, mountains, villages, and the blue, blue water–there are people all around the Sea who still need to see Jesus in their midst.

Only one place on earth is where Jesus walked but every place on earth is where He wants us to go and tell others about Him.

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