Wide Open Spaces

It’s November already! The holidays are upon us. It’s a joyous time of the year with traditions and people and gifts and food, but often each of those characteristics of the season become a task and we feel the season closing in on us. It can make us claustrophobic if we let it.

I became claustrophobic as a child. One day, as I was playing with my brothers and cousins, I climbed into an old dryer out in their yard, that we had been using as a kind of carnival ride. The top of the machine was gone, so a person would get in, they would shut the door, and push the drum from the top. Inside, you would brace yourself against tumbling around so you could not get hurt, but rather, spin head over heals. Great fun! On this day, they decided it would be fun to give me a good spin and then not let me out. The door couldn’t be opened from inside. Panic ensued.

Another time, I was at a friends’ house. Several boys and my brothers were there. There was a stack of old tires we were climbing on. At one point, I found myself inside the stack, and two or three of the boys thought it would be funny to sit on the top, trapping me inside. It was a good time…for them, but for me, panic.

In Psalm 18 David tells us, “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” This verse always blesses me. I find myself wanting to stretch my arms out to my sides and spin in circles. I picture Him pulling me out of that stack of tires, putting me in an open field and letting me spin with nothing to bump in to. I feel the panic of claustrophobia turn to euphoria. No longer trapped, I feel free.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” I’ve been delivered from the excessive fear of claustrophobia, but on a spiritual level it can still haunt me! In this verse, Paul is talking about the bondage of the law. The need to do something to earn God’s love will trap us, chain us, restrain us to the point that we can hardly breathe. Ever feel that way? Subtly, it creeps in and slowly begins to tighten its grip. We are walking our walk with Christ when we forget that He completely fulfilled the law for us and think we have to make up for some sin we’ve committed or prove our love to Him. We start to focus on “doing” rather than “being”, and the grip of the law is tightened. We feel the pressure and try to struggle against it by doing more, adding to, trying harder. When all the while, we can simply trust that His work was finished on the cross for us and walk with him again.

I don’t know why, but when life gets crazier, busier, more hurried, that’s when I tend to forget His provision of freedom. I feel like I have to buckle down and take charge. During the holidays, I really have to be mindful of this tendency and just continue to walk. Ephesians 2:8 & 9 says that it’s, “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.“ He’s in charge and has provided all of my salvation. If I try to do and do in order to please Him or look like I have it all together, I’m trying to earn the right to boast. My responsibility is to stay close to him and obey. When I sense that I “have to”, I can switch to “Jesus did”, and go about my day with him. It doesn’t take away any of the things on the “to do” list, but it takes the pressure off of me to not mess up, or to be in control.

Another scripture I love is Matthew 11:29 & 30, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”. When the need to please God begins to squeeze, I need to rest, not struggle. I never think of panic as restful. It takes so much energy!  I try to let that panicky feeling remind me to let him open the door to the drier, nudge those boys off the tires, and put me into a wide open space, because he delights in me. This holiday season, put the heavy, claustrophobic weight of the demands of the season on Christ and take on His burden, and you will find rest for your soul.

Opportunities to Learn – and Give Thanks!

I am a Minnesota-born girl. I love winter – when the sun is shining and the snow is white. I love my Minnesota cabin – when it is warm and cozy. I love Minnesota snowmobile trails – when they are groomed and smooth. Notice a pattern?

Recently, I had the opportunity to contemplate my natural bent toward conditional gratitude. In mid-February my husband and I headed up to the cabin (we live in Iowa) for a weekend of snowmobiling. The cabin was warm and cozy when we arrived. Just the way I like it. We opened the water lines and turned on the water heater. We had running water; we had hot water. When we flushed the toilet, however, something was not right. The problem? A frozen septic line. We began trouble-shooting on the internet in search of a solution. Our favorite piece of advice – you CAN resolve this problem on your own IF you have REALLY OLD clothing to wear and LOTS of time on your hands. If not, call a professional. We opted to call a professional. The next morning, we watched how he thawed our frozen septic lines (in case we decided to do it ourselves next time!).

Later that morning, we were all set to hit the trails. The snowmobiles were running smoothly (just the way I like it). I lifted the visor on my helmet to receive last-minute instructions. Snap! My visor was now detached on one side of my helmet. Something else was broken and now needed to be fixed. Another delay. Ugh. After multiple attempts to understand the mechanism on my helmet, we located one screw that had become detached and made the necessary repair.

Broken things. Delays. I don’t ask for either. However, these two experiences taught me a valuable lesson:  broken things provide opportunities to learn. I now know how to thaw our frozen septic line. I now know how to repair my snowmobile helmet. Two pieces of information I would not have taken the time to learn in the absence of brokenness. I am thankful for the knowledge. Doug & I gave thanks for other gifts of grace in each situation. The weather was warm – in the lower 30s. We could have been solving both problems in sub-zero temperatures. My helmet broke before we headed out on the trail, so we had access to the tools we needed to make the repair.

How do you view broken things in your life? Perhaps God is giving you an opportunity to learn how to restore, repair, and rebuild. All areas of life have the potential to break. Scripture instructs us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Give thanks for lessons learned. Give thanks for His presence, wisdom, and help. Give thanks for others who come alongside to help. Every obstacle presents an opportunity.

Addendum: I composed the content of this article in my head as I was enjoying the first ten miles of the snowmobile trail that day. Feeling wise, insightful, and a bit smug, I looked at the instrument gauges and noticed that the “check engine” light was on. I began to lose the ability to accelerate. I signaled to my husband, who was in the lead, to stop. Once stopped, my snowmobile’s engine refused to start. Using knowledge gained from a previous similar incident, we determined a possible solution. My husband backtracked to a gas station nearby while I waited alone by my sled. “OK, Jen,” I thought to myself, “Give thanks in all circumstances…Don’t just preach about it. Do it!

I smiled, grateful for the wisdom of God’s Word. I gave thanks for the mild temperatures. I gave thanks for the location of the breakdown. (Before the day was done, we would traverse some very remote locations and accumulate nearly 100 more miles on the trails.) I gave thanks for the opportunity to pull out my phone and take photos of things I would not have appreciated had I traveled past them at a high rate of speed. (Yes, I love to drive FAST!) I will share one photo here. And, yes, the sun was shining. And, yes, the snow was white.




Article Submitted by: Jen Vogel, Director, GCW National Executive Team