BY DEFAULT

by Lisa Huddleston

“Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help” (Ezek. 29:16).

From its very beginning, Israel had the bad habit of turning to Egypt when she was in trouble.  Famines, wars, and even rumored threats—any, if not all, concerns sent the Israelites running into the arms of this familiar and dangerous neighbor.  It wasn’t a healthy relationship.  Ezekiel writes regarding Egypt, “You have been a staff of reed for the house of Israel.  When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched.”  Egypt made a rotten crutch, but it was still a crutch.  And sometimes a rotten crutch in the hand is better than two in the bush … or something like that.  Egypt was clearly Israel’s default setting in times of trouble.

Now we’re talking.  We know all about default settings today.  In fact, when I started to write this article, I had to change several of the settings on my word processing program.  I don’t want to use Calibri which is the automatic font setting.  I like Times New Roman.  And I want to use the “No Spacing” setting that doesn’t automatically set up my format—again not the default setting.  These choices may not be the default settings for my word processor, but they are the default settings for Lisa Huddleston.  They have become the conscious choices I make every time I sit down to write. 

But, oh boy, do I have some other default settings that are real doozies.  When I am stressed out or feeling anxious, I want to sleep.  When I’m bored, I want a snack.  When I’m faced with a new opportunity or challenge, I default to panic and lots and lots of text messaging with supportive friends.  And on and on it goes.  Not always the best crutches, but ones that I use with great and back wrenching frequency. And like Israel’s running to Egypt, these default settings or splintered crutches are not only lame and ultimately ineffective, they are sometimes detrimental to my relationship with the Lord. 

What harm does it do to take a nap or eat a snack or text a friend?  What’s so bad about any of those crutches?  Nothing on the surface, but everything in the heart.  Why isn’t my default setting to turn to Jesus?  Why isn’t my first thought to run to Him in prayer?  It’s a discouraging realization.

I could say it’s not my fault, but as in any habit, I do have a choice, and I do know what I’m doing.  Maybe not instantly, but once I’ve wasted time sleeping or snacking or texting and find that I still feel anxious then I know that I’ve been duped.  Those crutches are rotten, splintered, and broken.  I know where to lean—on the Solid Rock that won’t let me fall.  And that’s why I’m working on changing those default settings in my life one choice at a time.  Just as in my writing, I am in control of my decisions, and I am responsible for the final results.  And I choose Jesus, because He first chose me.

What are your automatic settings?  Where do you run when illness, financial worries, or bad relationships strike?  Do you high tail it back to Egypt or do you run to the Rock?  If Jesus isn’t your default, maybe like me it’s time for you to change your settings once and for all.  He alone is our true source of confidence, and He alone can set us free.  What’s your default?

MOVING DAY

by Lisa Huddleston

MOVING DAY

Moving out, moving day, moving on

moving the memories of 22 years

to the basement

to wait for another day

 

Boxes of rocks and starfish

legos and puzzles

coins and books

dusty model airplanes and

carefully assembled vessels of Star Wars

long forgotten

 

Treasures and artifacts

of yesterday

repackaged in Rubbermaid tubs

and moved from the closet

to the basement

for now

 

And this is a good thing

very good and very right

hard on a mother’s heart

but good for the boy now man

 

Making room for treasures unseen

opening a space for today

and putting the past in its place

the basement

 

And I must do the same

move the pictures of the boy in a too big ball cap

talking and dreaming and building and collecting

and store them in dehumidified safety

like rocks left in a special hiding place

under the living room chair

 

Not forgotten

not entirely removed

but no longer in the way

of the future

or the vacuum cleaner

or today

DOING THE OBVIOUS

By Lisa Huddleston

“For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed” (Mark 12:44).

My grandparents lived on a brick alley in a frame house that they rented from before the time of my birth until they each passed away.  They raised five children of their own in that house, and they also managed to shelter others who needed a place to welcome them in for a time.  I know of three of my mother’s cousins who lived there at some point along with an uncle or two.  My grandmother’s sister and her daughter also called this small house home and there were various college students who occasionally rented a room.  It was a house filled with love that was available to whoever needed a place to rest.  My grandparents gave from the heart—not from an excess of wealth or from a need to find purpose—but from a natural desire to be a helping hand to whomever God sent their way.  I’m sure that many people looked at their house and thought they were the ones in need, but they were able to keep giving from what appeared to some to be a place of poverty.  Like the widow who fed Elijah, their well didn’t run dry, and God continued to bless others through their willing and giving hearts.

I am often guilty of idealizing my grandparents’ actions and wishing I could mimic their example.  But, the times are very different now.  With mortgage payments, tuition to several universities, insurance costs, and so on, we just don’t have any extra.  We plan and save and worry and dream of the future when the house will be paid for and the kids will graduate.  And the days pass by—not exactly wasted but not spent with the abandon or freedom of what could be.  And often, I grieve the possibilities.

But God is opening my eyes.  In my own church are at least two young families who are living like Nanny and Papaw did.  With babies of their own, they have welcomed children, teens and young adults into their families and given without reservation or restraint.  I have been shamed by their examples—convicted by their genuine humility, “We’re just doing what is the obvious thing to do.”

And they are right.  It is obvious.  Religion that isn’t useless involves putting our money (and our lives and our homes and our families) where our mouths are.  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).  It’s that simple.

Jesus commended the widow who gave from her poverty all that she had to live on.  It wasn’t much by the world’s standards.  Many were giving greater gifts, but very few were giving without reservation as she gave—with wild abandon to God and with a faith that trusted Him to meet all her needs.

I want to give like that, and I bet you do, too.  Look around.  Can you offer a ride, give a shoulder, be a companion, help with a bill, or even provide a home?  Of course, we can!  After all, it’s just the obvious thing to do.

A STORY TO TELL

By Lisa Huddleston

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

This week I read a book that had a profound impact on me. To Be Told (WaterBrook Press 2005) was written by Dan Allender to help readers hear God’s calling in the tragedies of their own lives that need “to be told” in order to minister to others who are caught in similar experiences. Allender’s premise is that God is the Author of our story, but we are to join him in the co-writing by allowing him to use every part of our story for his glory and to bring others to redemption. We are “to reveal God through the themes he has woven into our character” and to allow those themes to lead us to “a population, a place, a problem, and a process” in which we can say “Yes” to our calling.

As I read examples of the tragedies that others experienced, I was reminded of my own—we all have them. Times when I felt abandoned or rejected. The many times I was the new kid in school. The times I faced bullies. The times I felt alone. It is clear that these experiences shaped me by leading me to introspection and books and giving me a passion for the underdog. God wrote my story in the very experiences that still cause me the most pain, and these are the themes that allow me to be his instrument of grace to others now.

But only if I let them. If I keep my pain to myself, nursing it and rocking it like a worn out doll, then it benefits no one. Not me and not others. It is only when I let go and open myself up that I can hear his call. Then my pain makes room for the matching ache in those God sends my way. He has prepared a way for me and for you to serve and be served, and it is a way prepared through suffering—a beating down of the high places and a raising up of the low.

Oddly, I can recall an awareness of this truth even as I was a child. A sense of there being more to my struggle than I could put my finger on. I could not believe that I was meant to suffer in vain—and I still believe that but in an even deeper way today. God is faithful to see us through. In my case, the tragedies were not horrific as some accounts in Allender’s book, but they did give me a more piercing empathy for those whose suffering is greater than my own. They built into me the themes that direct my path today. Themes that point my way to a person, a place, a problem and even the ways in which I will be able to reach out. And for that I am thankful.

What are the themes God has written into your life? Do you hear the voice of his call in them? If so, redemption is waiting–in the stories of your life and in the lives of those with whom you are willing to share them. Be comforted in order to comfort. We are blessed to be a blessing. Do you have a story that needs to be told?

DOES GOD CARE IF WE’RE HAPPY?

 

By Lisa Huddleston

“If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

A young friend recently asked a very serious question.  With tears brimming in her dark eyes, she bit out, “Does God really care if we’re happy?”  I heard the pain in her voice and felt challenged to reply.  Instinctively, I answered, “Yes!  He’s our Father, and he loves us.  He promises to give us what we need.  If we ask for bread, he won’t give us a stone.”  Again, she challenged, “That’s meeting our needs.  Is that all there is to being happy?”  In frustration and identifying with her pain, I returned the challenge, “What we think doesn’t matter.  What does God have to say about it?”  And then she left the room.

I wish I could have answered her better.  I wish I could have shared some golden words that eased her pain—some absolute truths that would have sent her away in smiles and not in tears.  Yet, the truth is life is hard.  There.  I said it.  Some days stink.  And sometimes we are absolutely unhappy, even miserable.  But, I do believe that God cares.  And as I have searched for truth that doesn’t rest on my feelings alone I have seen that in both the Hebrew and the Greek scriptures, the word that is translated happy also means blessed.

Before you write me off as being too esoteric, please, hear what I have to say today.  Both the Greek makarios and the Hebrew ‘esher mean “to be blessed, fortunate, well off, or happy” (from The New Stong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).  And in the texts I examined which contained these words, the blessings of God and therefore the happiness of the souls involved were tied absolutely to knowing and doing his will. 

Even as I write, I can feel my young friend rolling her eyes at this typical Sunday school answer.  But, this is the truth.  God wants us to be happy, but not if we are outside of his will and not if our being so will do anything to damage his name.  And that is why those mature saints who I read about and the handful I have been blessed to know can suffer and still call themselves happy.  That is why it is written in James, “Behold, we consider those blessed (makarios) who remained steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job?  Happy or blessed are not the words I think of in connection with that name; yet, he was steadfast.  He did not curse God and die.  He made it through the suffering to the blessing that waited for him. And in the end, he was happy.

Still, my young friend, I know that this doesn’t really answer your question in the immediate and soul-soothing way you hope for.  So I will resort once again to my feelings.  I know your parents.  I am a parent.  And I know that one of the best metaphors for our relationship with God is that he is our Heavenly Father.  As our Father, I know that he cares when we are unhappy, but his ultimate concern is for his children to grow in him.  Sometimes that means that we will hurt, but we won’t be hurting alone.  He is there.  Sometimes that means that we will discover more of his will and be “supremely blessed” (Strong’s) by the revelation.  And, likewise, he is there to rejoice with us.  But the ultimate truth that must guide all that we do is his will.  That is how we can truly be happy, by walking in the freedom and peace that are only found in surrender to him.

Oh, my friend, I feel your pain and add to it my own.  I pray that you will take the words I offer as wisdom and truth.  Not from one who knows it all.  Not from one who will write you off as “young.”  But from one who suffers the same doubts and struggles in the same ways, yet has found the Father faithful in the many years I have fought this good fight.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His word,

Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!  How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!  O for grace to trust Him more!

(“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” Louisa M. R. Stead)