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My Journey Through Psalms Day 1

My Journey Through Psalms

A Romantic Gesture to God

I may be a teacher, but I struggle to like poetry. Like my students I have always questioned the meaning, interpretation and use of poetry. Yeah, I know. That wheelbarrow he wrote about very well may be just a wheelbarrow. It may not have a deep symbolic significance or what have you. I teach it. Intellectually I comprehend what scholars say about poetry and verse but I struggle to like it. Probably because it is too abstract. Or maybe because people always want to tell me what it means and I disagree with them and get frustrated when I’m told that my interpretation of the abstract is wrong (which is why I like abstract paintings, but not poetry?). Over the years I’ve developed a healthy respect for poetry, and grown to like certain aspects of it, but it remains a struggle for me.

Why? It goes back to that realist thing. Which is why I believe I need to journey through Psalms again, this time with an open heart and mind looking at it from a more Romantic perspective. Because it is one thing to say you have a problem, another thing to do something to change it.


 

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man [or woman]

Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

Or stand in the way of sinners

Or sit in the seat of mockers.


In this journey I am seeking blessing, passion, a closer relationship with God. This is the very first instruction in this psalm. Three things not to do 1) walk with wicked (alliteration) 2) Stand with sinners (alliteration) or 3) sit in the seat of mockers (alliteration). I find the sound devices to be pleasing to the ear, but also to emphasize the actions. For every non-action, there is an opposite action we can take.

  • If we are not walking with the wicked, then we should walk with the wise. This requires effort. It’s easy to find stupid people. They don’t use their brains. But to find the truly wise and to follow in their ways you have to want that, you have to seek it. God promises that if we seek this we will find it, but it does require that we look. Most often the wise in our lives are the people we don’t want to listen to: parents, mentors, people who have experienced what we are going through. Our culture tells us to be independent, but God tells us to seek wisdom and walk in the ways of the wise. Then we will be blessed.
  • If we are not standing with sinners, then we stand with saints. This is hard, because it means admitting that there are people out there who are better at life than we are. And there are. I have perfectionist tendencies, so I don’t like admitting that I’m not good at something; when I stand next to someone who is better at something than I am I feel inferior and want to run away, but I should want to stand next to them and learn—especially if they are walking in God’s holy ways. It’s not to shame us, but to set an example. It’s a lesson in freedom I am still perfecting.
  • If we are not sitting in the seat of mockers then we are sitting in the seat of encouragers. I tell my students every day to be nice to each other. They tell me that they are only mean to the people they like. I think to myself how sad it is that in our culture it is more natural to say something mean to your friends than it is to say something nice and encouraging. But seriously, how much better do you feel about yourself when you get a text from someone saying ‘Good morning, sunshine’ than ‘Good morning, loser’? There is power in the words we use and mockers, even in ‘good fun’ just don’t bring blessings. It wasn’t what we were designed to do and it pains me to think about how many times a snide remark I’ve made (I’m more sarcastic than I’d like to admit) could have broken someone’s spirit and I didn’t even realize it.

But his [or her] delight is in the law of the Lord,

And on his law he [or she] meditates day and night.

He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he [or she] does prospers.


Meditating is another action here. Meditating on the law day and night, but not begrudgingly, so that it becomes a delight. Or is a delight. It’s your joy to meditate on the law. It’s what you want to do. Crave to do. Can’t wait to do.

I feel that sometimes.

But not all the time.

I want to feel that all the time.

The simile—like a tree planted by streams of water—is the goal. We spend our entire lives searching for prosperity and the key is here. Delighting in the law of the Lord, day and night.

I’m always amazed at the way God uses nature in his word. Water, trees, etc. They are constant images over and over again (thus further proving my point about God being a Romantic), which goes to show that we are interconnected with his creation and as such can find rest there and in his Word.

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Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

That the wind blows away.


A second simile juxtaposed here with the first. Nature again—the useless matter in grain harvesting blowing away instead of being kept to be used in the cycle of life. How depressing.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish.

The promise at the end is both beautiful and haunting. It is beautiful because we see an image of God looking over his people, those who strive to do well (the actions above), but we see the wicked blowing away. Haunting because the image is a hand throwing the wicked to the air, never to be caught up in a pocket of grace again.

I thank God each day for his pockets of grace, because I don’t deserve them, but he has given them to me anyway. Lord, thank you for watching over my ways. Give me grace, peace and a desire for your law and word. I want to delight in them so that I can be this tree.

                March 20, 2016

Questions to ponder:

  1. How is God’s law both delightful and powerful? Why would following it bring me blessing?
  2. If sinners are spread like the useless bits of the harvest, how do I continually bring myself back to the path of the righteous?
  3. How is God’s word nurturing like streams of water to the roots of my tall ever growing tree?

God is a Romantic

I’ve always been a realist. I like things to be tangible, logical, accountable. If I can see, taste and touch it then I can account for how and why something happened, make good decisions, and accurately assess the consequences—both good and bad. This is how I live my life. Boring? Perhaps. Predictable? I suppose. To me, it’s safe, understandable, stable…

It’s not that bad things don’t happen to me, that is not what I mean, but that I usually understand why both good and bad happen because I can analyze the reality of the situation…usually.

Unfortunately I was convicted this week by my safe, stable environment. The fact that my world is so secure, is not necessarily good. Because God is not a realist.

God is a Romantic, probably the ultimate Romantic. And the stories he writes for each of us is more beautiful and full of inexplicable, delightful acts of love full of as much passion as we will allow. And that’s just the thing. My nature is limiting to God. Not that I control him, but I continually try to control what he is and what he does in my life to keep everything in order. Safe. Secure. Real.

How depressing.

Instead of experiencing the awesome power and passion that God has in store for me, I try to tell God when and where I need it, like I know better than he does.

But I don’t.

Intellectually, I recognize this, but intellectually is really the problem so I am working on a heart transplant. Becoming more open, freeing myself from this mind trap of realism and shifting my attitude toward the possibilities. As I told my students when we studied American Romanticism: Romantics see what could be, realists see what is.

Expecting more from God invites him to work his incredible and awesome power into our lives, and that passion shakes things up and shows us what it means to truly be alive. After all, we should live, not just be.

So this is my prayer: Lord, free me from my own limitations. I want to see your power and presence at work in my life even if it rocks my world…especially if it rocks my world. Amen.

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Turn Worry into Worthy

Abundance isn’t God’s provision for me to live in luxury. It’s his provision for me to help others live. God entrusts me with his money, not to build my kingdom on earth, but to build his kingdom in heaven. RANDY ALCORN

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Sometimes, oftentimes, I worry about money. I am pretty good at budgeting. I don’t buy things frivolously (in fact I spend days, months and sometimes years debating the pros and cons of a purchase). I conserve and save when I cam. Yet, constantly I am thinking about, looking at, analyzing and, yes, worrying about money.

Recently I found myself frustrated because I had to budget so carefully. I’m 30 years old, shouldn’t it have gotten easier by now? Don’t I deserve abundance, having enough so I don’t have to watch every penny I spend?

And then I wince.

I don’t actually deserve anything. Sure, I work hard, but not any harder than the single mother down the street who has to work and conserve money. Or the people working halfway around the world to make and produce all the crap I fill my house with. What gives me the right to say I deserve anything?

The fact is I don’t and building any kind of kingdom here on earth really does nothing but make me want more. Materialism and money focused lifestyles breed insatiable appetites for more, more, more.

So I have to shift my perspective.

Rather than worrying about money, thinking I deserve anything I have to remember the point of our existence. To take all our energy and focus it on others.

After all, when our minds are focused on Jesus, we have little time to worry about anything.

Continue reading Turn Worry into Worthy

Stop Making Resolutions

 

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Going into the New Year most people take the time to reflect and review. “R”s that gain almost as much respect as Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic (ironic, since upon reflection those famous ‘R’s aren’t actually ‘R’s at all…what do they teach in schools these days?). As a highly paid educator, I’ve found this time of year becomes quite valuable—if it is used wisely. Once upon a time, I spent the majority of the holiday rushing around, trying to do a lot which, quite frankly held very little value. I even wound up (gasp!) working over the holiday. So instead of returning to the second half of the school year refreshed—I returned more like pack animal, just piling on ‘one more thing’ so that by the time the end of the year rolled around in June I was ready to call it quits.

That’s not how I approach this time of year any more. It became too exhausting. My new approach—one of self-reflection and re-orientation, is liberating.

Some people make resolutions: pie-crust promises to themselves for improvement over the upcoming year. But before the end of January they’re typically off the treadmill and first in line at the Cinnabun stand just like they were the previous January. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Cinnabun, and I have nothing against weight-loss goals. But a pie-crust promise, easily made is easily broken. So I don’t tie myself down with useless resolutions, but rather I set achievable, measurable goals for the upcoming year, that measure ways that I want to grow for the next five or ten years. I learned a very important lesson about myself in the past few years: I need to change. We all do. It’s part of the evolutionary process of life. Not Darwinism, but the adaptation necessary to survive. Species survive when they adapt and change. Humans are the same way. We don’t like change, but we need it. It’s the only way that we can become who we are created to be—living breathing CHANGING organisms. Making resolutions is admirable, but turning them into a goal-oriented, driven lifestyle full of ambition. That is productive.

During this process of change I’ve learned to do two things.

  • Write down my goals.
  • Find accountability.

Writing down your goals:

Writing down your goals may seem stupid, but there is something binding about having a written plan. Legal documents are written, witnessed, even notarized. Shouldn’t you take your future just as seriously? Don’t just say you want to lose weight, write this goal down and make it measurable and achievable.

Goal # 1: Over the course of the next three months I will lose 10 pounds by eating healthier and going to the gym at least three times a week.

Then you can map out your plan (If you need help, may I suggest Ruth Soukup’s blog, Living Well and Spending Less. She has some fabulous resources, including a free ebooklet about setting measurable goals.)

Finding Accountability

I’m single, so being held accountable for anything can get, well, difficult. But even if you are married, asking your spouse to keep you accountable for your goals can put a strain on your relationship (honey, does it look like my diet plan is working? Seems like a loaded question and a great way to set yourself up for a dishonest response or a fight). Accountability doesn’t have to be with someone you live with. In fact it is a great way to help build relationships, and there are many ways to be held accountable for your goals, but if you don’t have someone to hold you accountable—chances are you’ll begin to make excuses little by little until the goal seems less and less important.

If you’re a writer, try a critique group or a writing group in your area. If you’re looking to meet spiritual goals, find a small group to join (church is a great place to start, but small groups are where real relationships are built and where accountability happens).

Zig Ziglar said it best: “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the real problem. We all have 24-hour days. “

Creating a plan, sticking to the plan and having accountability for that plan is how people accomplish great things. And how I plan out my new year.

Imagine what we could accomplish this year if we Taylor Swift the negatives and the bad attitudes and “Shake it Off”. What if we ALL pull a Frozen  on the bad habits and “Let it Go”. If each and every one of us determine to use the next 366 days (yes, it’s a leap year!) to accomplish something great, well we might just change the world.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.

 

Contentment is not as far as you think.

Contentment, like most things in our lives, is a choice.

We are humans, so we don’t like to believe that our happiness is in our own hands, but it is. It’s not in our circumstances. And it certainly isn’t wrapped up in others or even in that gift under the tree (no, not even THAT one). It is a choice we make Every. Single. Day.

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We say I’ll be happy when I have a better job…

When I make more money…

When I have nicer clothes…

When I’m no longer single…

When…fill in the blank…

But the fact of the matter is each moment we live wishing for “when I have” we waste the moment to enjoy or appreciate what we do have.

Sometimes I look at my sister’s life and I envy her. I think how unfair it is that she got the fairy tale ending at 24 with everything including the white picket fence (ok so it is a brow privacy fence but the concept is solid), a mortgage, doting daughters, even stretch marks.

And it hurts.

Then I remember who I am and what I have become because I didn’t get my fairytale at 24.

With the grace of God I have helped first generation students graduate high school and become productive members of society.

I’ve written novels, published stories, met writers, poets, and politicians.

I’ve gotten grants to travel and study in places I’ve always dreamed of cultivating life-long relationships with amazing people.

I’ve taught teenagers about loving Jesus and themselves even when it seems like no one else does.

I’ve loved and been loved.

And sure I still get jealous sometimes(they have a nicer house, car, clothes etc.) but Contentment IS a CHOICE.

When I wake up, I get out of a bed, in a house, with clean water. I drive to work where I teach English freely to both young men and women. All of which are genuine privileges I often take for granted. This is a broken world, but that doesn’t mean that we have to walk around in around permanent state of surly discontentment. God is good. And thank God I have the opportunity everyday to remember that, to thank Him, and to choose contentment over resentment.

Merry Christmas!