Caution: Drifting Can be Dangerous

Just thinking about the word “drifting” makes me feel relaxed…at first.

Picture by National Geographic

One of the many new experiences I’ve had since moving to Florida is going to nearby springs. My favorite so far is Blue Springs, a place Benny and I have visited on several occasions. We blow up our little yellow inflatable boat, just big enough for two, and take the short, pretty walk to the spring entrance. Because the water is in the low 70’s year round, I quickly jump into the boat while Benny chivalrously braves chest-deep water to guide us to the beginning of the springs. He then climbs aboard and we lazily float in crystal clear water, surrounded by natural Florida beauty, to a dock — then get out to take the path up to start all over.

There’s another kind of drift, though, that’s really dangerous.

I still get a chill down my spine when I think of the summer of 1997. Our Janelle, then age eleven, was playing in the ocean with a friend in front of our family’s favorite vacation getaway. Adults were nearby watching, playing, sunning and glancing to make sure Janelle and Peter weren’t going out too far. Suddenly, Janelle started yelling for help. Because she wasn’t very far from the shore, Benny ran into the waves to grab her and her young friend to get them moving back toward the shore. What he didn’t know was they were caught in a rip current.

Within seconds, the current took he and Janelle further into the ocean. The waves and undertow were strong and Benny was losing strength as Janelle clung to his back. Onlookers headed out as far as they could safely get, and several called 911.

“Daddy,” she asked as wave after wave pulled him under, “are you ok? Are we gonna die?”

Fighting for strength and breath, Benny told his little girl to just hold on. “Honey, no matter what happens, don’t let go of my shoulders. Just keep pushing yourself up with your hands and hold your head up.”

“No, Daddy! I don’t want you to die!”

Benny was certain that when he went down under the next wave, it would be his last. But God had mercy. Rather than pull him helplessly under, the wave must have thrust he and Janelle toward the shore. He suddenly felt hands grabbing his arms and pulling him forward.

I arrived on the beach as Benny was being laid face up onto the sand. His limp body, gray skin and blue lips frightened me. Paramedics were arriving to care of him, and one opened a metal case with the paddles used to get stopped hearts beating again. Gratefully, they weren’t needed and Benny began to shake, cough and choke up water. They loaded him into the ambulance to transport him to an emergency clinic nearby.

It was there we learned that even though he seemed to be improving, there was a serious chance of “secondary drowning.” As the name implies, when fluid gets into the lungs the patient can actually improve at first but get worse later. If left unchecked, fluid damage can cause a hardening in the lungs which further reduces the ability to exchange air and patients can die of¬†asphyxiation or heart attack, even hours or days later.

By God’s grace and in answer to many prayers, Benny improved quickly. In fact, he’s sitting nearby as I type watching a basketball game. ūüôā His heroics also protected our daughter from ingesting much water and she was able to visit Daddy at the clinic soon after we arrived there on that July day.

All this happened because two kids didn’t realize they were drifting.

Drift can be a really dangerous thing. And at my retreat two weeks ago¬†my¬†Father rescued me from three areas of drift in my life. Unlike my young daughter, I wasn’t yelling for help because I wasn’t aware that I had drifted. How kind of Him to notice and help me anyway.

I look forward to telling you about it.

Oh, and by the way: you might be wondering what happened to Janelle’s friend, Peter, who was in the ocean with her back in 1997. That morning, he noticed a framed explanation of rip currents on the wall of our beach house and read it. He learned that rather than fight the waves onto the shore, he should turn onto his back and float until the current ended, then swim in. Lots of lessons for us there, huh?

P.S. I know this post is long. I’m trying to heed the advice of my kids and shorten them. Even considered breaking this up into two posts. ¬†Should I have done that? ¬†Would love to hear your thoughts on post length!

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A Stubborn Struggle

The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) has helped many Christians deal with the shame of depression by taking it from shame to suffering.

Yes. The depressed are sufferers. Even if part of the reason why suffering happens is because sinful choices were made, ongoing discouragement or depression just hurt.

Whether you are battling depression yourself or know of someone who is — or who you think may be — this brief but compassionate video by Ed Welch gives us a tender look at this common struggle.

Remember, depression ranges from mild to severe and touches people of every age and season of life. Even when discouragement or gloominess come and go, the hope that is available to the depressed can help!

I pray this will comfort you or someone you love…and would benefit from hearing what you think.

Beauty in the Desert

Yesterday I mentioned a time 15 years ago when I became familiar with the desert.

Due to all that was happening in our lives at that time, I assumed ¬†the dryness and darkness in my life was simply and only because I was sinning. I wasn’t trusting God. I wasn’t thinking biblically. I was just feeling sorry for myself and wishing life was different. My and others sins were the reason why I found myself in a bad place. Period.

Deserts, to me, were ugly, hard places to avoid…especially since you only got to those dry places because of some wrong you had done. This was before Martyn Lloyd-Jones’¬†Spiritual Depression¬†or Ed Welch’s¬†Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; wonderful books that offer hope and healing to the discouraged and depressed. Back then the common thinking was depression was primarily the consequence of wrong or sinful thinking or decisions. No wonder people (including myself) were hesitant to talk about it — which is exactly what is needed!

Studio 707

The thought of the Lord¬†leading¬†me into the desert¬†to speak tenderly to me¬†(Hosea 2:14-15) was a surprising thought. And how in the world could vineyards — with their beauty and fruit — thrive in the desert???

Prior to the last six months, God has helped me to look back on my late 1990’s desert experience as just that: a really hard season that produced many good things in my life. During the recent challenges I’ve been walking through, though, those comforting thoughts escaped me. Over the past few weeks God has graciously brought a fresh hope-induced perspective. ¬†I am experiencing genuine relief for my soul and ¬†I will someday look back on¬†this¬†dry time with the same eye toward God’s faithfulness.

By God’s grace, that’s starting to happen!

Does the thought of God¬†leading¬†me into the desert disturb you? I wouldn’t be surprised. But if the desert was a place God led Jesus for His good, then why wouldn’t He lead us there? I can honestly say that the hardest seasons of my life are those where God¬†did¬†speak to me with tenderness. And on my retreat last week, He did just that.

I even received some Fatherly correction from Him.  Tender. Clear. And with love. I look forward to telling you about that next week.

The desert is really hard and really helpful.  Only God can do that.

A Vineyard? In the Desert?

To speak of the past 6 months as a “desert” experience feels like an exaggeration. I have not been consistently depressed or gloomy, and have had some wonderful experiences — like watching the birth of Redeemer Church. But there have been dark times when I’ve felt weary, depressed, fearful and hopeless that certain things would ever change. Even my times with the Lord, which over the years have often been the joy of my day, required unusual effort. And there have been too many days when I gave into the temptation to allow busyness or sleep to to crowd out my devotions.

One day I was especially hopeless and realized my longing for heaven was increasingly tainted with a desire for relief from the fatigue, stress and “hardness” of life.

Then I remembered a time when I felt that before.

15 years ago I went through a similar season when I first had the thought: “This is why people can get to the point where they just wanna die.” While I had no intention to commit suicide, there was a new empathy for the hopelessness that, when left un-helped, could lead someone to think death was their only escape. Until then, I really didn’t understand how life could become so hard or sad or painful that self-inflicted death was appealing. One of the fruits of suffering is greater compassion and less self-righteousness over how others handle hardship. ¬†Such a gift.

Back then, a couple of verses tucked away in the Book of Hosea became a source of great comfort to me.

‚ÄúTherefore, behold, I will allure her,¬†and¬†bring her into the wilderness,¬†and¬†speak tenderly to her.¬†And there I will give her her vineyards¬†and make the Valley of Achor¬†a door of hope” (2:14-15).

Whether you are going through a hard or perplexing season now, or will in the future, I hope this verse will cause you to be curious as it did me.

More on that tomorrow.

The Desert Within

What comes to mind when you think of the desert? For east coast Americans, our only reference is media imagery: bright sun, endless sand, little or no life forms, no food, and no water.  Not a place I want to visit, much less hang out!

Yet the Bible has a lot to say about deserts, probably because the typography of many Bible story locations are deserts or semi-deserts.

Just think about it: The Israelites had to pass through the desert to get to the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. David hid in the desert from Saul (1 Samuel 1) and Elijah spent some considerable time there while in danger, too (1 Kings 19).  And, of course, Jesus had his amazing encounter with Satan in the Judean desert (Matthew 4).

I’ve recently been encouraged by remembering that Paul was knocked off his horse and converted in the desert on his way to Damascus, after which he spent three whole years in Arabia (Galatians 1) being prepared for the history-changing ministry God had for him.

Desert experiences are hard. But the really good news is that they always result in sweet fruit.

Real deserts are one thing. But dark nights of the soul (a widely used phrase from a poem by 16th century mystic Saint John of the Cross) are deserts within. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Praying for years for something that hasn’t happened and battling fear or unbelief that God cares.
  • Feeling demotivated and disengaged from things and activities you used to love.
  • ¬†Wondering if long held dreams and goals will ever happen.
  • Battling depression and hopelessness.
  • Wanting to withdraw from people; having to force yourself to go to meetings, hang out with people; etc.
  • Struggling with self-pity and gloominess.
  • General feeling of “going through the motions”; lacking joy.

Are you in the desert? If this list describes you all or in part, consider doing what I did recently and see your doctor to discover if there are things beyond your control that are playing a part in your struggles.¬†Then let people know you’re hurting. For some reason, going through dark times is not something about which we Christians talk to each other. We are too often tempted to put on a happy face and feel ashamed to disclose the desert within.

But what freedom comes when we humble ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well. Can you pray for me?”

More tomorrow on my desert journey. ¬†The hard time I have been walking through doesn’t compare to that of so many who have struggled far longer and for far more serious reasons. If you’re not struggling right now, thank God…and maybe think of someone you know who could use some encouragement.

Because there’s always hope.

A Yellow Flower in the Sand

I spent part of last week on a personal retreat spending leisurely time with the Lord, something I haven’t done for several years. Unlike past retreats, I went into it without much of a plan. (Those of you who know me know that’s a little unusual…smile.) As I was making the two-hour drive to spend 3 full days alone, I asked the Lord to meet me. I was desperate to encounter Him.

If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been going through some rough times. This time away was something Benny really wanted me to do, so I trusted that God was speaking through him. My devotional life hasn’t been as consistent as normal, and my times with the Lord have been characterized more by duty than delight. I was crying out to Him for refreshment…and rest.

While taking a leisurely walk on the beach (with my new sidekick…a camera) I decided to investigate an area with lush green vegetation just a few yards up toward the condo. The mid-atlantic beaches we frequented before moving to Florida didn’t have such beauty growing in the sand, and it continues to surprise me.

Carefully watching my steps to avoid another fall (you can read about that at my last post below) I came upon this pretty yellow flower. My immediate thought was, “How in the world can something so fragile and cheery be growing here in the hot sun and dry sand?” I wondered how it could be possible that the ocean winds — and even storms that certainly must bring water up to this point on the beach — wouldn’t kill it.

Then I glanced over and noticed several other similar flowers scattered nearby. And all of them looked perfectly healthy.

That’s when the Lord started speaking….

You see, I am that little flower. The dryness of recent months, along with winds of change that have blown through my life, have left me feeling in some ways like it must “feel.” Dry. Hot. Kinda lonely. Some physical challenges have taken their fatiguing toll as well.

I wasn’t looking for this little flower. ¬†I was drawn toward the vibrant green vegetation ¬†ahead. But I noticed it — just like God notices me. To Him, I’m not withered, languishing and left unnoticed as He tends to those who are thriving. Just like that little flower, with His help I’ve survived the wind and rain. And like it, too, I’ve actually been growing in a dry place.

These thoughts rushed through my brain and heart with a combination of gentleness and clarity I can’t explain. The Lord was saying: “I have been with you. I have been tenderly caring for you. You thought the dryness was starving you and you wanted out. But it was just what you needed in this season. Some flowers only grow in this environment and that’s what I’ve been doing. Growing something beautiful.”

Ugh. Tears are coming even as I type.

Have you, too, been in a spiritually dry season? Maybe you’re one of those flowers that has been growing nearby me. If so, I hope the things I’ll be sharing over the coming weeks will remind you that God sees you, too. And He is doing something really beautiful in¬†your¬†life because He never wastes anything.

I pray that you, too, will “happen” upon beauty on display in your hot, dry life. The wonderful thing is, you don’t even have to be looking for it. Sometimes God just surprises you along the way.

Was America’s Funniest Home Videos Watching?

Yesterday I talked about needing grace for my week of reading, relaxing and spending time with the Lord.

Little did I know what my “quiet” day had in store.

While trying to lug stuff to the beach by myself, I tripped and fell. (Yep…that white metal thing in the picture is what I intended to use to screw into the sand to hold my umbrella. It went into my leg instead!) I got a pretty nasty wound, as well as some bruises and aches.

God knew when I wrote about needing grace even for a delightful few days like I had planned, He had another plan for me.

My first instinct was to call one of my kids. After all, Benny is hours away visiting his mom in Alabama so he couldn’t come to my rescue. Then I realized GOD is here with me. He knew this little accident was going to happen when I drove into the parking lot Sunday evening. He knew I would be alone and disoriented, trying to figure out what in the world just happened as I gathered two arms full of bulky belongings to drag back up to the 7th floor of the condo with dripping blood and throbbing pain.

The metal was dirty and a little rusty. When was my last tetanus shot? Do I need one? Is there a medical clinic nearby? Does the condo have a first aid kit? Wait…the door key isn’t in my bag! ¬†How will I get back in? (Whew. I found it lying nearby. Thank the Lord!)

I stopped and asked for grace.

A few hours later I’m smiling because grace is always available for both the expected¬†and¬†the unexpected. And I’m picturing myself nearing 60, tripping and falling with arms loaded down with too much stuff. It was one of those scenes you hate yourself for chuckling over on America’s funniest home videos. Now I wish I had a video. Jaime and Janelle would love it and I would be laughing along with them.

I’m going to take the next few days off from blogging and will be back on Monday. ¬†I have some really neat things to share with you about how the Lord is meeting me. He is speaking…even in the midst of falling. I am really excited about sharing these things with you.

Have a wonderful week!

Every Assignment Requires Grace

I’m spending a few days all by myself at the lovely condo of some friends. No dog to feed and walk. No timely work emails to answer. No people to feed but myself. No need for clocks or wake-up alarms or deadlines. And the only noises are the sound of the ocean and the gentle rustling of the blinds as the breeze wafts through open doors and windows.

Worshiping. Reading. Sitting on the porch overlooking the ocean. Snacking. Praying. Resting.

This morning it took me awhile to work through feeling guilty for being here. We ladies are doers…nurturers…fixers…servants. Thoughts of my daughters and daughters-in-law at home doing all the things I’m¬†not¬†flooded my thoughts. “They need this far more than I do,” I chided myself.

But this time is a gift. To me. The Lord gently spoke to me this morning that I need to embrace it.

He reminded me of the day I took my granddaughter, Danae, out to lunch and shopping. We enjoyed Chick Fila together, then went to the nearby K Mart for her to pick out a toy. Later, her sister, Annie, asked if I got a toy for her.

“No, sweetie. It was Granma’s turn to be with your sister and to buy a toy for her. Maybe next time it will be your turn.”

It’s my turn. My Benny really wanted me to have this time alone to rest and spend time with the Lord before he joins me (yay!) on Wednesday. There is grace for me to be here, just as there is grace for you to be doing what God has called¬†you¬†to do this week.

Last week God’s gift to me was to help my daughter pack and move; do work for my son’s business; help my daughter with a writing assignment; sort through pictures for her graduation slideshow; clean up after having my people over for Easter; grocery shop; and continue plans for a Mother’s Day event our church is doing. There was grace for those tasks and God helped me to get them done.

This week my tasks are different, but they also require grace. Whatever is on your plate this week, know that God is there to give you the strength to get it all done.

Blessings to you this week!

A Sombrero and a Son that can’t Dance

Sometimes it’s good to just stop and laugh. That “good medicine” the proverbs talks about seems far away at times. Recently I realized it’s been awhile since I really, truly laughed. The kind of laugh that wells up deep inside and bubbles out. Loud.

Like Janelle and Eric. For years we teased Janelle (our fifth born) that she must find a man who laughed at least¬†as loud as she does. Our faith was weak…until we met Eric. In fact, one of her brothers said he¬†knew¬†Eric was the one for Janelle the first time he heard him laugh. I was relieved to hear that his laugh was actually louder than hers! In a few weeks we will celebrate a year of hearing them laugh (loud) together.

I’m still waiting for that guffaw to come flowing from my own mouth. I came close on Saturday evening. When I noticed that 22-year-old Jake was dressed in a nice shirt and tie for a friend’s birthday outing, I was surprised. Jake enjoys getting dressed up…but for a birthday party? Hmm….surely his girlfriend, Sarah, had coached him about what to wear. But why?

Then he came out with the sombrero. Yep. That’s him. 12 years ago his oldest brother gave his groomsmen hats like this as a “thanks for being in my wedding” gift. The party Saturday night was at a place that included latin dancing, so Jake hunted down the sombrero to wear with his shirt and tie.

The humor of seeing him in the hat was compounded by picturing him¬†dancing¬†while wearing it. Shhh…it’s a secret. Jake, like the rest of the Phillips kids, can.not.dance. The last thing he needed on a dance floor (which he visits only infrequently) was a huge sombrero to draw attention to the fact that his parents did not begat dancers. (Sorry, kids!)

One of the many things I’ve always loved about being a mom is how entertaining kids are. If you’re a mom, stop and laugh today. And if you would like to share your funniest kid story with me, I’d love to share them here soon. Just post a comment.

Maybe one of your kids will make me laugh…loud.

P.S. ¬†Poor Sarah. I wonder how long the sombrero lasted? I need to find out…

A Culture of Love in the Local Church

This weekend our new church is having a seminar to prepare us for starting Community Groups — weekly meetings that will be starting soon. ¬†We have benefited greatly from CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) and their gospel-saturated encouragement to create a culture of care and compassion in the local church.

As I sit here anticipating this important weekend for Redeemer Church, I wanted to share with you why I’m excited about what God is doing.

Take a few minutes to listen to CCEF’s Tim Lane talk about this culture of love. ¬†You don’t have to be in a church whose leaders understand and emphasize this to enjoy it. ¬†You can create this culture FIRST in your own family!

Enjoy by clicking here.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sheree