Monday, April 21, 2014

Where the Rubber Meets the...Wrist

Purple ribbons glued onto our name tags, plastic bracelets encircling our arms, bluejeans worn in the workplace on weekends...all evidence of donations made to the American Cancer Society in support of a coworker's wife who is battling the disease. More fundraisers are planned, ideas that flowed out of a think tank of sorts as fellow employees look for concrete ways to help a friend in a time of great need.

It's the donations that are important of course, money to fund the search for a cure. But the emblems that indicate our participation serve a purpose, as well. A lot of us don't have much contact with the coworker in question. As the store manager, he is a man we see from a distance mostly, walking the aisles with his cell phone frequently to his ear, his eyes scanning the store he passes through while his mind concentrates on the voice he hears. But he sees us, and we want him to wade through a sea of purple support everywhere he goes, these images of hope a reminder that he has a team of believers by his side. Trouble is easier to bear when shared.

I look at the bracelet on my arm and turn it around so the white lettering is facing me and read the reminder: Kathy's Believers. If the purple color of the plastic is to catch the manager's eye, this lettering is surely supposed to catch mine and remind me of the third and most important layer of support I can prayers.

There are many, I suppose, who are acquainted with Kathy personally and believe in her personal strength, courage, and ability to beat this disease. I know nothing about the woman aside from her name. But I know God. And I believe in a God who can heal...a God who can help...a God who can hold us when our hearts are breaking...a God who let His own heart be broken that He might offer us the hope of Heaven when we die. And because I believe, I have the privilege of lifting her name up in prayer, inviting God to intervene in her situation, trusting that whatever the outcome He will work all things out to the good. I look at the bracelet and am reminded that as one of Kathy's believers I can speak to God on her behalf.

Yet there is more expected of us than mere speech. Our actions profess our beliefs more than any words we confess. And we want God to be encouraged as He moves among us, that He might see His Spirit at work within those who call themselves by His Name and witness the love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control that define Him. Prayer is so much more than mere words spoken to God. It is a hug to a coworker in tears, a nod of understanding and a listening ear to the most difficult customer, a smile at all times. It is showing up on time and obeying direction and giving one's all, all day long.

Make no mistake: God answers prayer because He is good, not because we are. But as His believers we have the privilege of moving His Hand and His heart by laying our requests before Him. Love is simply the language spoken in the Kingdom, and we have a responsibility to the “Kathys” around us to become fluent in it, however foreign and difficult it sometimes seems to be.

Now each time that rubber circle slips over my hand I remember that Jesus took a nail through His so that we might have the right to speak to God on others' behalf. May it be our actions rather than our armbands that attract His attention, and the love we walk in rather than words on a wristband that determine the true believers among us.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Raynaud's Restrictions

Self diagnosis is said to be dangerous. So for weeks when my fingertips would go white and numb in random combinations and at odd times, I resisted the urge to visit WebMD or consult the book of symptoms sitting on the bookshelf. I would simply shake my hands in the hope of getting the blood flowing through them properly again and likewise shake off the concern that there was something seriously wrong. I prayed that the annoying habit would simply go away, and vowed to consult a doctor if it didn't.

But one morning as I felt the tell-tale tingling start up and watched as the tip of my middle finger turn white, I found I was more curious than worried, and took to the internet to find some answers. I came away with two problems solved, instead of just the one.

I discovered that Raynaud's Phenomenon is a condition in which the digits of the hand and or feet experience a restriction of blood flow due to blood vessel spasms, usually as a result of exposure to heat or cold. A progression of skin color from white to blue to red is characteristic as the blood flow is first restricted, the tissue experiences oxygen deprivation, and then the spasm ends and normal blood flow is once again restored. The most basic treatment is simply to protect the affected area from exposure to the temperatures that triggered it.

I was fascinated by the information, especially as it applied to a similar problem I was having in my spiritual life. I'd likewise experienced a restriction in Blood flow of sorts, especially to my fingertips as they hovered above the computer keyboard, waiting for words to type. No inspiration moved them to connect letters into words that expressed faith, hope, or encouragement of any kind. Pages that once easily filled up with print were left white and waiting for direction from a brain that felt numb and devoid of spiritual direction of any kind. Apparently there was some restriction in my spirit, the evidence of which was my increasingly blue emotional state.

Restrictions in our ability to see and hear from God on a regular basis can have many causes. Sin can sometimes separate us from our Source as we pull back from God out of guilt and a reluctance to submit to His authority. Sometimes God goes quiet to cause us to pursue Him more passionately, as once having had a taste of His Presence in our lives, we become hungry for more. And sometimes He is simply waiting for us to complete His last direction before He's ready to move on with the next step of our spiritual journey.

The latter was the case in my situation. God had been speaking to me about returning to an area of ministry that once filled my thought life as well as my days, but in recent years had been moved to the sidelines as I pursued other spiritual interests. He wanted me to become active in that initial activity once more, and gave me guidelines as to how to go about it. I accepted His direction and dabbled in doing as He asked, but clearly didn't jump into it as wholeheartedly as He desired.

He got my attention by seemingly withholding His; He simply went silent. And suddenly, so did my keyboard. I had nothing to say if I couldn't hear His voice. I tried to shake things loose on my own, and when those attempts were unsuccessful, I got serious in looking to Him for answers. He simply told me there was something He had asked of me that had been left undone.

It didn't take me long to figure out what it was. I took up His request with new resolve, and amazingly, experienced relief on two levels. Just as my fingertips experienced a “flushing” of blood once the blood vessel spasms ceased, so my spirit experienced the same, and ideas and words rushed to fill the void. God's message to me was clear: Remove the restriction and the Blood flows freely once more.

I've likewise learned from my web search that I can prevent future occurrences of Raynaud's Phenomena by protecting vulnerable areas from exposure to the cold. And surely I can do the same with my spirit. I cover my hands now when filling my birdfeeders on chilly mornings, perhaps for more reasons than one. I need the reminder to handle God's directions with kid gloves, making sure I follow them explicitly and finish them completely, so that His Blood can flow to the farthest reaches of my soul.

And Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'”
(1 Samuel 15:22 ESV)
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