The View from the Middle of the Road

In many ways, this is one of the most uncomfortable blog posts I’ve written in my three years at Petals from the Basket. And that’s probably the reason I’ve put off writing it for at least two of those three years. Because of the familiar Christian terminology that most of you—and I—grew up hearing, I want to make sure that my words are both clearly stated and therefore clearly understood in the light of their true meaning. My fear is that someone will take a familiar term (aka: “Christianese”) and attach his or her own meanings or feelings to it. Therefore, I have been very deliberate in my wording, my explanations, and the choice of the material in this post. I have prayed over it long and hard, and I woke this morning with great peace that today was the day to put “pen to page”—or “fingers to keyboard,” as it were. My one request is that you read it in its entirety. It is a package, the contents of which each rely upon the others contained therein.

My background is conservative, meaning clearly on “the right.” While my home life was a rare one where what was taught was lived and where Scripture was sincerely the foundational element for major (and minor) decisions, I had a very “prescribed religion.” My life followed a plan, and the result of some of that plan was that I followed every segment of it, even those areas that left me empty or uncertain of their purpose. Therefore, as did many of my generational and similarly raised friends, I chose to taste “the left” for a while as well. I learned much from both, and I found that the perfect place for me was smack-dab in the middle of the road.

Pause here…please.

For many of you, your thoughts may be rushing to the words lukewarm or compromise. I am not nor have I done either—not about the things that matter.

Others of you may be thinking even stronger words like weak or unwilling to take a stand. I believe that I am not only brave but also that I am standing firmly in the truths of God’s Word: truths that are unwavering, immovable, and unchanging; truths that provide uncommon courage.

Now let’s continue.

My quietly courageous father reminded me several years ago that I must choose for myself what I will do, where I will stand, and how will that will look in my everyday actions. And in his reminder, he was unquestionably clear that each choice must withstand the test of the commands of Scripture. “But in the end,” he told me with great love in words similar to these, “you will stand alone before God. You can’t take Mom and me with you. You can’t point the finger at leaders who have disappointed you—they will give account for their own actions (though, if those actions are wrong or illegal, don’t hesitate even one second to speak up). You can’t blame institutional or traditional rules that may or may not have been wrong within their given context. It’s just you and God, and if you’ve made your choices in light of His Word, you’ll stand there with joy that you have pleased your Lord.”

So each day, each moment, I choose. I choose to follow Christ from a place that has been carved out for me in “the middle of the road.” I am not as conservative as some of you would desire me to be. I’m far more conservative than others of you would like me to be. The extreme “right” wants me to write about “issues” and to speak scathingly of those who live a life that does not follow the humanly devised pattern of “religious” perfection. The extreme “left” wants me to tell you everything you’ve been taught that you should “throw out the window.” I will do neither of these.

Instead, I will keep choosing to have a clear, unobstructed view from the middle of the road. I will remain zealous (the opposite of lukewarm) in my desire to focus my thoughts, my desires, my words, my actions on Christ alone. I’ll mess up along the way, just as I have in the past and in the present. I’ll change course when necessary, as guided by the unfailing, unchanging “lamp to my feet and light to my path.” And just as I have attempted to do all along the way, I’ll continue to focus my writing on what it looks like to be a recipient of God’s unending, uncommon grace and to claim that, apply that, and live that out on a daily, very human basis…from smack-dab in the middle of the road.

______________________________

I have used my own personal photo today, not because I dig on my own looks, but because these are my words and my heart, and I am willing to own them. 

A New Study in Proverbs!


There’s a new study in Proverbs launching today on Amazon and CreateSpace! This book, titled The Words of the Wisewas published posthumously. The author of this material, Dr. Ben Strohbehn, entered into the presence of his Lord early in 2015, after living with Parkinson’s disease for many years. I am Ben Strohbehn’s youngest daughter and the editor of this book.

At the time of my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary (in December 2001), they chose Psalm 71:18 as their goal for their “senior” years: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to everyone that is to come.”

Because my father was confined to his bed in the last months of his life, it seemed nearly impossible for him to have a means to continue teaching and sharing the Word of God that he so dearly loved. So what better way to show God’s strength to “this generation” and His power “to everyone that is to come” than through the written word, which could reach through the walls of home hospice care and beyond the limitations of this earthly life and minister to others long after the writer could share these truths in person?

It is my desire, in publishing this work, to carry out my father’s earnest prayer that this book will help you to avoid the potholes of life as you listen to and follow “the words of the wise” from the book of Proverbs.

Here are a few introductory words from the book itself, written by my father:

The words of the wise—one of the most interesting and instructive sections in the book of Proverbs. Interesting because its unique content is a series of thirty-five warnings about potholes along the road of life and instructive because it gives insight and directions that, if followed, will help one to avoid those potholes.

This “words of the wise” section consists of two parts. The first, introduced as the words of the wise, consists of thirty sayings found in Proverbs 22:17–24:22. “These things also belong to the wise” (verse 23) introduces us to the second part, the remaining five sayings, as recorded in Proverbs 24:23–34.

This portion of Proverbs is one of the most neglected. Why? Primarily because it is not seen as a unit. This also explains why so many people have fallen into one of the potholes: they have missed the warnings of these timeless gems of wisdom and insight. Anyone who has driven a car understands this. When do we hit a pothole with our car? When we fail to keep our eyes on the road or when we fail to heed the warning signs. In the same way, we fall into potholes along the road of life. How unnecessary that some people experience heartaches and “burned-out” lives when the words of the wise provide answers to the challenges and the crises of life. Insight into many spiritual questions and problems can be found in this section. Additionally, there is practical direction for daily living.

On two separate occasions, my father ministered in the country of Togo, West Africa, and he left a part of his heart there each time. Therefore, our family will donate in my father’s name and for God’s glory all proceeds and royalties from the sale of this book directly to the Hospital of Hope in Mango, Togo. 

Click here to learn more about the book and to order your copy (this would make an EXCELLENT graduation gift, birthday gift, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day gift, or personal study book):

Amazon: The Words of the Wise

CreateSpace: The Words of the Wise

 

Grandma Helps You Prepare for the Empty Nest

Dear Grandma,

My oldest graduates from high school this year, and in the next five years my other two children will be leaving home as well. I have such conflicted feelings and emotions on this. First off, I realize that my time is short and there are still so many things to work on with them. Then I start to think of how my life will drastically change without them at home, and it saddens me. I know this is not the right response, since the Proverbs 31 woman “smiles at the future.” I do pray for the Lord to prepare me for the next step since this has been my life for the last 18 years. What advice/encouragement would you give to a mom in my spot?

~~~~~~~

Grandma says:

It seems like just yesterday that I stood where you are standing. Your question seems to come from a wise mother who wants to plan ahead, be prepared, and have her family prepared. Think of your three children as a loan from a loving God. You do not own them. You get to teach them, by example, values that will guide their choices through life.

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7, NIV).

As you prepare your oldest for college, let him or her know of your prayer support and assure your child of your continued listening ear. Be sure the family does not make the child feel guilty for leaving them. You could possibly suggest that your child follow the same devotional reading plan that you will be using at home. When our first child left for college, this was a blessing to him and to us.

If possible, plan to attend events in which your child participates: major sporting events, musical programs or concerts, drama productions, debate or forensics tournaments, etc. Of course, with the help of technology you can occasionally communicate in a comfortable setting while seeing each other via a smartphone or over the Internet.

Show an interest in your child’s friends and also encourage him or her to have an outreach for the Lord through the use of his or her skills and abilities. This includes encouraging your child to have consistent involvement in a good church. This will not only help your child to continue to grow spiritually, but it will also allow him or her to have the support of a church “family” while in college.

The children who are still in your home may enjoy preparing a “care package” for their college sibling. Everything that they see you do for the current college student will help them to look forward to those upcoming years in their own lives.

Have you taught your children everything they need to know? Probably not. But you have taught them values by your example as you faced difficult or everyday situations.

Let your children know often of your unconditional love for them. Show them the joy of sharing, caring, and being teachable throughout life. This is a great privilege!

The relationship between you and your husband is the most important earthly relationship your children will observe. Look forward to the day when it is just the two of you! Plan some projects in your home that you can do together. Do you remember those early days in your marriage when the dream of just you two being together was foremost on your mind? Well, that time has nearly arrived!

Don’t allow worry to creep in. Remember that worry is our attempt to do what only God can do. (Suggested reading: Ephesians 5:22–33.)

Love,
Grandma

_________________________

Do you have a question for Grandma* (about marriage, children, women’s groups, being a caregiver, etc.)?

Send your question to: Grandma@PetalsfromtheBasket.com

__________

*Petals from the Basket, PetalsfromtheBasket.com, Brenda Strohbehn, and Lorraine Strohbehn accept no legal liability for the answers given in the “Ask Grandma” posts. We reserve the right to refuse inappropriate content and will deny access to false or contrived e-mail addresses. Additionally, should the e-mails we receive in conjunction with this site or this series of posts contain information regarding illegal activity or actions that would cause injury to the sender or to others, the required legal action and reporting will occur.

 

My Internal Compass…Revisited

This is one of those weeks when I am trying to mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually regroup—and have fun doing so. So I’m taking it easy on myself and setting realistic expectations (instead of my usual desire to proverbially build Rome in a day). Part of my “enjoy the view” process this week includes allowing myself to share a “repeat” blog post and also asking my mom to answer an “Ask Grandma” question for a blog post later in the week (i.e., no new writing for me this week). This post first appeared on April 19, 2012, less than a month after this blog began. A lot has changed since then. But as I reread it today, it struck me how the truths haven’t changed. God is still an amazing God! So thanks for letting me join you as a reader of this past post!

*  *  *  *  *

The title of this post [the original title was: "My Internal Compass"] makes me laugh. In fact, my family will laugh also! I have NO internal compass. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. The gift of “navigational direction” was withheld from me—completely.

My favorite story to illustrate this is from the time my mom and I were headed from central Iowa straight across the state to a town not far from the Nebraska border. My dad told us that it was a very easy route, and there was only one little section to watch. Well, we were singing and laughing and talking, and apparently we didn’t watch! Add to that the fact that my lack of good “navigational direction” is inherited from my mother, and you get two women who didn’t even KNOW they were lost! To this day we still recall the moment when we simultaneously read a billboard that read: “Welcome to Eagleville, Missouri!” For those of you with the ability to know directions, no, we did not know we were going south instead of west! Ooops!

While doing some packing, I found an old compass that I had used in a play I once directed. Perhaps because of the “direction-seeking” season I am currently experiencing, that little compass reminded me of some great truths last night.

I have two sisters and one brother and (this is my favorite part!) I am the youngest of the four of us. We have many similarities, but we also have very distinct personalities. At times I have said that we are “North, South, East, and West” in the way we do things, but that we still have a strong connection at the center of the compass. As I saw that little glass-encased compass last evening, it was the center of the compass that caused me to think of just how a compass functions. I went to “Wikipedia” (the “online encyclopedia”) for help in summarizing my explanation:

“A compass functions as a pointer to ‘magnetic north’ because the magnetized needle at its heart aligns itself with the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field exerts a torque on the needle, pulling one end or pole of the needle toward the Earth’s North magnetic pole, and the other toward the South magnetic pole. The needle is mounted on a low-friction pivot point…so it can turn easily. When the compass is held level, the needle turns until, after a few seconds to allow oscillations to die out, one end points toward the North magnetic pole.” —Wikipedia

The magnetized needle represents my parents. Guiding us. Teaching us. Uniting us as they pointed us to Christ and to the Word of God—the true Center of our home.

However, it is interesting to note that “the needle is mounted on a low-friction pivot point…so it can turn easily.” I am thankful that my parents, while being the center of the compass and accepting their God-given assignment to “point the way” for their children, were always aware that their children did not “belong” to them but to God. They did not try to become a point on the compass themselves (they were, after all, the only ones who got to claim the title of “parents”—a ranking even higher than “friend!”), but they accepted their positions in the center of the compass, teaching us and allowing us to “turn easily” to the places where we knew God was leading us.

This post is not written to praise my parents, though I am eternally grateful for their example and godly leadership in the home and in their vocational callings, but to remind each of us that we should keep eternal values at the center of the compass. The freedom that comes from loosely holding our families, our possessions, and even our dreams allows us to follow joyfully wherever the compass leads!

Psalm 25:4-5 “Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”

____________________________________

 Image courtesy of voraorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thank you for taking time to read/reread this post. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Trust

Trust is earned. God has earned it.

When He says He will, He does.

When He says He won’t, He doesn’t.

When He says, “always,” He means it.

When He says, “trust me,” you can!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverb 3:5-6, NLT).

Sure, I’ll Clean Your Bathroom

I love to clean bathrooms (seriously)—at someone else’s house. I love to fanatically organize clothes, closets, or storage boxes—at someone else’s house. And, I’m sad to confess, I love to fix what’s wrong—in someone else’s life.

Maybe it’s the way bloggers view life. Maybe it’s just the writer in me, seeking topics of interest to develop into some great masterpiece of timeless literature that will transform hearts and lives (as if). Maybe, just maybe, it’s that it’s easier to point out what someone else is doing wrong and needs to work on than it is to use the mirror of reality, viewing my own reflection through the eyes of truth.

There are many times that I have been tempted to address an “issue” or a “wrong” in order to “preach” at someone else. In my own mind, of course, I convince myself that my goal centers on the lofty purpose of helping him or her to be more like Christ. After all, I’m a teacher, an encourager, and…[as reflected in that mirror of truth]…proud, judgmental, and willingly blind to my own sins.

I’m spending a gloriously inordinate amount of time studying the book of James these days, and James 2:10 had, as it were, a trumpet fanfare of, “Read this carefully, Brenda Lee,” attached to it this morning:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV).

This was one of those SMH (“smack my head”) moments, when I saw the words, “and yet stumbles at just one point.” I teach, know, and wholeheartedly believe that sin is sin; it is that which separates the unholy me from the holiness of God. Yet I continue to excuse my “little sins.” (I love how the writer of this verse called it just stumbling, not even falling!) And my thoughts—”Thank goodness I’m not as bad/sinful/ungodly as that person”—too often cause me to think that my wrong choices and arrogant attitudes are somehow justifiable.

But this morning it hit me (sorry for my delayed learning times, faith-friends—I’m a slow faith-learner!): I cannot justify [make excuses for] my sins, but because of God’s grace, mercy, and love, I am justified [excused, pardoned, forgiven]!

As that takes root in my mind, my heart, my life, I suddenly view my gifts of teaching and encouraging not as tools for “showing others what they’re doing wrong” but as opportunities to reflect the grace, mercy, and love that I have received. I see the forgiveness that I do not deserve, have not earned, and need so often, and my pride turns to grateful humility.

Now, friends, if you’ll excuse, me, I need to go clean the bathrooms…in my own house.

Lord, may the only one I “judge” be me,
and may the One I reflect be You. 

_________________

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Receiving and Giving Comfort

Photo credit: Shutterstock, Feng Yu

On Tuesday afternoon, while working upstairs in my home office, I overheard my mom making several phone calls to promise prayer for, offer comfort to, and encourage several women who had recently lost their husbands. She understands. She gets it. She’s also recently widowed.

I couldn’t help but think of one of her favorite passages of Scripture as I saw her living it out:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. —2 Corinthians 1:3–5, NIV

You  might reply, “But no one reached out to me. No one understood my needs.” Then you should know how greatly you longed for that and how awful it felt not to receive it. Don’t let someone else feel that way.

What loss, life change, shattered dream, problem, trouble have you gone through that you can use as a springboard for reaching out to others with a heart of understanding? They need you. They need your understanding. God has asked you to share it with them. How will you do that today?

Grandma’s Guide to Personal Bible Study

One of the questions I am asked most often is about how to have devotions. People are often told that they should have daily devotions, but they are not taught how to have them. The way I have chosen to have my devotions is a way, not necessarily the way.

In order to worship the Lord and to know His will, we need to have a daily time (a “devoted” time; hence, the term “devotions”) to be alone with Him, reading His Word. When this is an established choice, we are more likely to make it a part of our to-do list for that day. As I mentioned above, I have a plan that works well for me, and I would like to share that plan with you.

1. Begin your devotional time with a plan to memorize Scripture.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV) states: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Determine to learn one verse per week. Read the verse aloud five times. Repeat this before you go to bed. Continue this for the entire week. In the weeks that follow, keep going back over these verses as you add new ones. When you have completed a chapter, continue to say it at least once a week for several months. Then review it at least once a month, and you will have it hidden in your heart forever!

2. Pray for guidance.

Ask the Lord to show you something from His Word that will help you glorify Him and strengthen your Christian walk today.

3. Read your Bible.

Find a place where you can spread out the materials that will make your devotions a time of worship, encouragement, and spiritual growth. Do not substitute other books for the Word of God. Use supplemental materials (e.g., a good commentary or other study aids) to help you understand and get the most from your reading. Second Timothy 2:15 instructs us: “Study to thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Choose a plan for your Bible reading. You may wish to read your Bible through in a year. You may wish to do a more in-depth study of one book of the Bible or do a word study. Character studies are exciting and can be challenging.

4. Have a notebook in which you answer two questions at the end of your Bible reading time:

a. What did I read?

b. What did the Lord show me through what I read?

This is your time to meditate on what you read and to seek God’s wisdom for how to apply it to your life. Answer both of these questions with only one or two sentences. Making your answers too long will discourage you from using your notebook consistently.

5. Pray.

Have a prayer list. I recommend that you divide one page of your notebook into seven columns, one for each day of the week. Simply list those you plan to pray for on each of those days. If you have promised to pray for someone, write it down so that you won’t forget it. You may also wish to include a page where you can write down answers to prayer. First Thessalonians 5:16–18 tells us to: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Keep some little sticky notes in the front of your Bible. Then, when you learn of something you should pray for, write in on one of the blank sticky notes. Later, transfer that note to your prayer list and pray for that need faithfully.

Your daily devotions should be the highlight of your day! Never let them become a boring or meaningless ritual. Psalm 109:105 (NIV) states: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” If we are to glorify God, we must choose to use the light of His Word as the guide for every choice we make.

With love,
Grandma

 

How Could I Not See That?

I’ve often heard that doctors and nurses make the worst patients and that teachers make the worst students. And now I can add another one to the list: editors (of which I am one) are often the last to see the errors in their own writing.

My livelihood is to use a microscopic approach when viewing the words of others. I watch for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, making corrections or suggestions where needed. (But please don’t call me a member of the “grammar police”; I despise that term. I do what I do not to point out everything that’s wrong but to make everything in the document right!)

Until it comes to my own writing, that is. I know what I mean to say, so my mind, eyes, heart—or whatever part of me it is that views my own writing—puts the words into place, even when they’re not really there. Here’s a perfect example: I spent a good deal of time one evening last week “creating” a meme (generally a picture of some sort that contains a brief written message/lesson) for the Petals from the Basket Facebook page. (Do you follow it? I’d love to see you there!) I was really pleased with how it turned out, so I smiled at it for a few minutes, admiring my handiwork and sincerely hoping that its simple beauty would bring home a truth to both my faith-friends and my friends whose faith has not yet found a home.

With that sincere desire in my heart, I clicked “post” and walked away from my computer.

An hour later, I was checking for an update on someone whose mom had been in the hospital, and I glanced at the meme on my own page—the meme I had contentedly and literally smiled at for what might seem an inordinate amount of time before having posted it. Oh my heart. There it was: this gigantic capital H was staring back at me with a snarky look as it announced to all: Brenda clearly didn’t proofread her own meme! [As you can see, I used a capital H on Hope; it should be lowercase as part of this sentence! As for the capitalization of entire words, that was simply a font choice.]

Lesson learned. I will look more closely, through unblinded eyes, or have someone else look at it for me before I post the next meme.

The bottom line, however, is not about the error; it’s about the message in the meme. But at this point, the meme holds a second meaning that hits as close to home for me as the first one.

“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5, NLT).

How quickly I identify the wrong choices someone else makes. How quickly I hear what (I think) they should be saying instead. How quickly I jump right in with “solutions” that will “correct” what (I think) they should be doing better.

How slow I am to accurately identify those wrong choices, wrong words, and wrong actions—in other words: those sins—in my own life.

How slow I am to clear away the sin that is revealed to me, and how quick I am to excuse it, to justify it, and to condemn that very thing in others.

Lord, remove the log in my eye that often clouds my view of my genuine self. When I can once again have unobstructed vision to observe the tiny speck in someone else’s eye, let me grant to that person the grace and unconditional love that I daily receive from You.

 

Promises in the Stars

What fear do you have for the week ahead?

What is consuming your thoughts as you look at the seven days before you?

Do me a favor: look at the stars tonight (or if the clouds are out, remember a starry night). Almighty God not only hung each of those place, but He also knows each one by the name He gave to it!

Now, think back to your answer and hand that thing/thought/worry/problem/need to this same wonderful God and focus on one thing:

He’s got this!

Psalm 147:3-5 (NIV)

He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars

and calls them each by name.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;

his understanding has no limit.

_____________

Photo credit: kriangkrai wangjai, via Shutterstock