Human Pinball

Human Pinball by Shannon Tate

If we were living in the days of old, you would most assuredly find an monument constructed by yours truly in the grass division off of Highway 79 just north of Hermosa, SD. Now, as specifically random as that may be, I promise there is significance to the location.

My husband and I were driving north from visiting his family on Christmas Eve back to my family’s house in Rapid City when the weather went from mild snowfall to blinding blizzard in a span of minutes. This sort of weather change isn’t uncommon for the Hwy 79 corridor but nevertheless it was unnerving. Despite the worsening road conditions, we maintained our speed and concentrated on the road ahead.

We went up and over the big hill like usual when part way down we needed to move into the passing lane to pass a slower moving vehicle. To this day I couldn’t tell you what exactly caused the chain of events to occur. Whether if it was when we changed lanes after passing the car that we hit a patch of black ice or if our speed caused us to lose traction over a section of road, I have no idea but this is what I do remember.

I braced for impact all the while saying calmly, “We’re OK. We’re OK. We’re OK.” I felt peace as the truck glided sideways in front of the vehicle we just passed. I remember focusing on the white snowflakes blurring quickly across the headlights and the green glow of the radio display text. I remember my husband’s hands deftly maneuvering on the steering wheel to maintain control of the vehicle.

We’re OK.

Thunk! The back-right side of the truck hit an unknown object (mailbox? mile marker?). The impact caused us to swing back the other direction, toward the median.

We’re OK. We’re OK.

The truck slid off the road tail first and into the median effortlessly.

Whoosh! The median, being well stocked with fresh snow and grass, made a spectacular spray of snow and dirt which slowed us abruptly and corrected our direction up and out of the median, and back on the highway. By then he regained control of the truck and pulled off to the side.

Silence.

He got out of the truck to assess the damage. No other vehicles were impacted or affected. No one was hurt. The vehicle we passed was nowhere to be seen. The only thing that needed to be replaced was the back right tail light where something knocked us the other way into the median.

My husband got back in the truck, unsettled. After a few moments to collect himself, he said, “That shouldn’t have happened. We should be upside down in that median.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, afterall, we were right side up and sustained minimal damage.

He explained that as a volunteer firefighter, he’s rolled up on accident sites where the vehicle was turned over because the driver overcorrected into the soft-earthed median, which would almost always cause the vehicle to roll. All I could do or say in that moment was, “See, I told you we’d be OK.”

But how did I know that we would be OK? In that moment when we lost traction and started sliding, a peace came over me. Honest to goodness it was probably an angel that bumped us over to the median and another angel to catch us and push us back on the road. A game of pinball, if you will, where angels were the bumpers and we were the pinball. God was there for us that night, I know it.

If we were living in the days of old, I would build a monument in that median where God’s hand protected us from a very not OK situation. But instead, I’ve built a monument in my heart. To this day whenever we drive by that spot, I remember that night and say a silent Thank You to Him. How about you?

Do you ever have times in your life that things seem like they’re spinning out of control and you’re getting bumped around like a human pinball in a very not OK situation? Are you still waiting for that breakthrough moment where the earth can give way and allow you to get back on track?

The Word says, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life,” Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG).

My friends, I encourage you to hold on to that “be still” moment and allow Him to take control of your worries and to settle your situation. He has promised so many good things to you and He’s not about to let you flip upside down in defeat! And when you do have your breakthrough, be sure to keep a special place in your heart for a monument and thank Him.

Fast for Me

Fast for Me by Shannon Tate

I love the story of Esther. It’s a thrilling story of a young Hebrew woman named Hadessa who captured the attention of the very powerful, very wealthy King Xerxes of Persia. Taking the advice of Mordecai, her guardian, Hadessa assumes a Persian name, Esther, in order to hide her identity as a Jew. The king eventually takes Esther as his wife; a real Cinderella story! Except the story doesn’t end there.

A man named Haman was bent on taking revenge for his ancestor’s genocide on the entire Jewish population in Persia. Haman convinced King Xerxes that the kingdom would be better off without the Jews and he was Xerxes’ guy to see the job done. And so a decree was made that the Jews would be executed throughout the country. I’m sure you can imagine the kingdom was in an uproar and the Jews were absolutely devastated with grief. Who would save the Jews?

Mordecai sent a message to his charge, Queen Esther, and implored her that she was in a position of power to do something about this. If she didn’t, Mordecai had faith that someone else would help the Jewish people, but also believed that she was placed in the palace for a reason. What Mordecai was asking of her wasn’t a simple request. To go to the king without his explicit invitation to do so meant almost certain death. How could she save her people?

“Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die,” Esther 4:15-16 (MSG).

Fast for me.

I love how her vulnerability is also her strength in this moment. She didn’t have a grand plan to outmaneuver her enemy but what she did have was her tribe (the people closest to her). And together with her tribe, they set themselves to do some spiritual pre-game warfare. And that, my friends, made all the difference.

During our church-wide fast, I encourage you to reach out to the people who are closest to you and have them come alongside you in your prayers and petitions to God. Be vulnerable like Esther– you don’t need to fast alone! May you and your tribe press in and expect breakthroughs and answered prayers. I’m with you!

Small Potatoes

“Doesn’t that drive you nuts?!” She asked.

“What do you mean?” asked the lady in blue.

“That phrase ‘small potatoes’… I mean, why ‘potatoes’? I don’t even like potatoes. Why can’t it be, ‘small cucumbers’ or ‘small kiwis’?” The first woman’s nose scrunched as she said this, clearly making an extra effort convey her exact opinion of the matter to her friend.

“Why should it drive me nuts? I like potatoes. Besides, it’s just a figure of speech. An idiom,” she lady in blue cooly replied.

“I know that,” exasperatedly replied the first woman. “I don’t like potatoes, so obviously there has to be an idiom about potatoes just to throw salt on the wound. It just seems like everyone and everything is against me, including God.” At this point, the woman sighed and resigned herself to the drink she purchased.

Both women sat in silence for what seemed like an hour. The woman took another sip of her drink before taking another deep breath and exhaling all the air she possibly could out of her lungs. The lady in blue gauged her timing and allowed her friend the space to gather her thoughts before she spoke again.

“Ok. It isn’t about the potatoes,” she sighed.

“I gathered,” the lady said with a half-smile.

“I know you do, that’s why you’re my friend. You always know.”

The lady in blue sat in her own silent wisdom for another few moments. It wasn’t easy seeing her friend like this, she knew, but being there for her friend (thick and thin) was small potatoes compared to the eternity of no more tears and no more sorrows the Bible promises.

“I know it’s difficult to see a solution or to even hope for the best in what you’re going through, but you must trust that God has your best interest in mind and there’s got to be something in this season that He wants you to understand with your full heart.”

Her friend scrunched up her nose again. This told the lady in blue that she had hit a nerve and they were now at an impasse– it all depended on how her friend was going to receive it.

More silence.

It’s a start, thought the lady in blue. Her friend was at least considering the notion that all her emotional pain has a redemption plan.

Quietly, the woman spoke up again. “I still don’t see how my biggest struggle of my life is small potatoes. It’s almost insulting, like God doesn’t understand or care what it’s doing me.” Her hand made a fist in her lap and she choked down the bitter tears.

The woman’s countenance slumped into defeatist mode. She sighed and decided that the tears would be OK so long as there weren’t any heaving sobs to accompany the display of hurt. This was the lady in blue’s cue.

“God doesn’t see your situation or pain as small potatoes. He is very familiar with your pain, probably more than what you could know. There is something He wants to show you, but you’ve got to be brave and hopeful that on the other side of your situation isn’t ruin, but glory. And besides, I’m here for you too,” she added, bringing some levity into the conversation.

She could tell her friend was mulling over her words. It still didn’t sit right with the woman, nor did it seem to assuage her pain. Before the lady in blue spoke again, the Lord gave her a reminder of the verse she had read that morning. She smiled and said, “I know you don’t like potatoes, but God loves you so much that He’ll take something you don’t like and work it out as a blessing in your life.”

The woman shook her head in disbelief and muttered, “How?” The lady in blue pulled out her phone and opened the Bible app on her phone.

“Here,” she said, “this was today’s verse of the day on my Bible app. The Lord reminded me of this and I believe this message was meant for you.”

The woman took the phone from her friend and began to read 2 Corinthians 4:18 (MSG).

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

Slowly, a visible peace settled on the woman. For the first time in a long time, the woman looked at ease. It was going to be a battle, she knew, but it wouldn’t last forever. She took heart in the promise that God spoke into her heart– that although she cared nothing for potatoes, figurative or otherwise, she was known and loved by the One who loved to turn hardships into triumphs.

“Small potatoes,” the woman sighed with a subtle smile.

“Small potatoes,” replied the lady in blue.

* * *   * * *

Friends, I hope you were encouraged by this short story. Often times the difficult seasons in our lives are definitely not small potatoes to us. But nothing is too big for God to handle nor is anything too small to go unnoticed by God. He loves us deeply and intimately. Take comfort in the knowledge that whatever you’re going through, it has a definite end. It has a purpose. It does not go unchecked or unnoticed by our Father in Heaven. Put your trust in Him and you will not be disappointed!

Change Your Tune

For the longest time I expected certain things in my life. I expected my friends to be supportive and attend my birthday parties. I expected that the people I loved would still write to me long after I moved away. I expected myself to get top marks in all my classes. I expected to have an awesome career and be completely satisfied with my life by the time I was 30. I expected, I expected.

more “Change Your Tune”

Get Your Crush On

Do you remember what it was like to have a crush on someone? We languished for the half-second glances in our direction and for the rare moments of small talk. To all the ladies out there that graffiti’ed arrow-pierced hearts throughout diaries with your crush’s name inside and picked petals off of daisies, I’m right there with you. To all the fellas, you probably did something sweet and spontaneous to your crush like kicked her in the shin, pulled her hair, or risked detention to impress her. Did it work? Bottom-line, we got goofy when it came to our crush.

Do you also remember those terrible feelings when your crush rejected your love? Or worse yet, found out that your crush had a crush on someone else? Complete devastation! The road to recovery was long and painful. Did you eat buckets of ice cream and binge watching re-runs of your favorite sitcom? Did you find a replacement crush? Perhaps sworn off love or went into denial? Either way, it wasn’t pretty.

What if I told you that God has the biggest crush on you – to the point that it’s absolutely ridiculous? This goes way beyond diaries with hearts and kicking shins. He architects our life-dreams with the upmost anticipation that we would delight ourselves in His love. But He hasn’t stop there! He orchestrates the symphony of morning songbirds just so He can see you smile at their sound. But there’s more! He spins the plans that were meant to harm you into plans for good and gives us awesome surprise gifts just so we can feel loved. He even gave the ultimate gift of His Son, Jesus, as ransom payment while we were still enemies of God.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 

-1 John 4:9 (NLT)

He is such a Good God who is so infatuated with us that we neglect to think of the heartache and devastation He feels when we reject His love declarations. But God doesn’t eat buckets of ice cream and binge watch sitcoms to cope – He continues to chases us… woo us…bless us… in hopes that one day we’ll choose to turn and face Him, to see His unfailing love and devotion, to win our hearts.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are… But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

– 1 John 3:1-3 (MSG)

Regardless if you’re joining us on our 21-Day Fast on Day 1 for the 4th time this week or struggling to stay strong on Day 11, God is anxiously awaiting to spend time with His crush: you! Remember, it’s not the act of denying the flesh that He loves; it’s the turning of your heart to His heart and hearing how it beats for you. I encourage you to get your crush on and allow God to handwrite His name on your heart because I promise; your name is already on His heart.

Listen to “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band today and let God sing it over you.

 

Inconvenience Yourself

In my hometown in South Dakota, winters are somewhat mild but can be bitter cold and snowy. It is typically considered to be a nice winter day if there’s sunshine, no breeze, and higher than 15°F outside. But heaven help us when the arctic blasts come! In preparation for these days, it is customary for all the crafty do-gooders of the community to knit or crochet hats, gloves, and scarves for the permanently displaced folks in the downtown area. But instead of donating their yarn creations to a shelter, they draped them upon the dozens of bronze statue presidents on every corner in the downtown area.

To the outsider, the site of Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy sporting striped scarves and donated jackets may seem a bit fanatical or down right odd. At one point, the city attorney pointed out to these do-gooders that it was unlawful to “decorate” the presidential statues and asked that this practiced be ceased. Fortunately, the mayor intervened to reverse and modify the law to allow winter wear to be hung on the statues between certain times of the year. If you ask me, I love seeing the statues being adorned with knitted things. But I also know the do-gooders are missing out on something infinitely more valuable than being permitted to hang their knitted things…

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A little known fact about Altus, Oklahoma, it’s not a place many people are familiar with. It’s a quaint little town in the literally in the middle of nowhere whose agricultural roots and military operations are footnoted in America’s history. Unlike South Dakota, the winters in southwestern Oklahoma can be more brutal than its northern neighbors. Ice storms are more probable than snowstorms and there are no natural landforms for Altus to seek shelter from the winter winds.

In these times, folks usually band together; making sure their neighbors are taken care of and will even inconvenience themselves to be a helping hand. A five minute trip to Wal-Mart usually takes two hours – not because everything is scattered throughout the store, but because folks will stop and start conversations with you. They genuinely have an interest to know you!

The same could be said for a small group of Altusians I know who also like to knit scarves and hats for the homeless. But they don’t stop at Altus city limits. These folks purposefully drive down to Wichita Falls, TX (a 90 minute drive) and hand deliver their winter wear to the homeless, spending hours talking with them and loving on them. This ministry is called the “Church Without Walls”. The stories I’ve heard from this ministry would make your heart sink and your soul cry out for mercy. Out of all the provision bags, which contained toiletries, food, and clothing, the Church Without Walls volunteers brought, the most sought-after articles were the handwritten encouragement letters? The only needs that weren’t being met on the streets were human compassion and interaction.

♦♢♦

If we are forthright with ourselves, we know it is far simpler and more agreeable to give out of convenience. It is convenient to make a scarf and passively hand it off to the middleman president statue than it is to drive 90 minutes and strike up a conversation with the homeless woman with two kids. It is far more convenient to stop at Wal-Mart at 9pm in order to “get-in-get-out” than to shop during primetime, least you become inconvenienced with crowded lines. But when you live out of self-conveniences, what are you missing? Honest still, what blessing are you blocking by isolating yourself?

I love what Paul wrote to us in Romans 15. It’s essentially a battle cry to turn away from our self-centeredness and to inconvenience ourselves; coming alongside those who are faltering, troubled, or in need:

1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next…7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! (MSG)

Now before you mentally counter Paul’s call to action with self preservation-based arguments or go charging out the door with a new perspective, pray about it! Often times God wants us to do one simple act of kindness rather than take on a whole battlefront of injustice. Remember, Jesus was more intimate with the Father than He was with the people – listen with an open heart and receive Romans 15 into your spirit. Use this scripture as a mirror and let the Lord help you sort out the life you’ve lived out of convenience. It’s not too late to ask God for a change of heart! He promises that He can give us a new heart and a responsive spirit (check out Ezekiel 36:26, NLT) – just ask Him!

Abba, thank You that You first loved me before I first loved You. Forgive me for my heart of stone. I know it’s not what You had in mind for me. I release to You the things that made me comfortable instead of content. Open my ears to hear what You have for others through me in this season of caring and giving. Let me no longer live a life of convenience but a life for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.