Category: thoughts by Marilyn Ehle

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“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)

Theater critic, Brooks Atkinson, once said, “Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect.” Drop, let go, forget – that’s easier said than done. People, events, and circumstances of this past year—perhaps past years—continue to nag at us. Disappointments, betrayals, and losses creep into our minds to disturb the peace that God promises.

How do we move on when our spirits have been wounded, or our families disrupted?

Several words used by the apostle Paul give us clues about the process so necessary for forward movement. First there is the word “focus,” meaning to concentrate on. Instead of allowing our thoughts to meander into the morass of the past, we choose to deliberately think of the future. This in no way means denial, but rather a purposeful action involving looking ahead to what God may have in store.

What about “forget”? This word has within it the idea of neglect, e.g., giving less weight to what has happened in the past, refusing to dwell on those things that disturb our peace and threaten the future God has planned for us.

And then there is “press on.” Here I imagine a runner, surrounded by competitors, just about to cross the finish line. The race has been long, the runner is almost exhausted and she finally sees the ribbon extended across her path. Determined to win the race and knowing that any part of her body must cross that ribbon in order for victory to be declared, she stretches out her arms—she presses on.

This is not a once-a-year process, but rather a daily examination of the hours just past and the glorious future of the day ahead. The heavenly prize is definitely within reach. Let go. Press on.

Question: How has God helped you move beyond hurt and into forgiveness and freedom?

By Marilyn Ehle
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Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Words of an old hymn immediately catch one’s attention: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear.”

Why is it we seem so willing to bear our own burdens, live outside the borders of peace, and shoulder unnecessary pain when God stands with arms outstretched to relieve us of all?  The word “cast” has within it the meaning of throwing with deliberation or intention. We can trust God to accept all that we give to him because, in his very nature, he is love. And he cares for us. He stands ready to strengthen and ease and comfort when we take the step of giving all our pain to him. We can be relieved of needless pain. The hymn writer says it best: we can “carry” everything to God in prayer.

Loving Father, is it because of pride that I carry my own burdens? Do I think that you might fail me? Do I wonder if you truly love me enough to care for me? Help me place my trust in you by accepting you at your word, by casting all my anxiety on you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“…I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

‘You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.’ Song of Solomon 4:7

In her poem ‘What to do with bits of string’, poet Luci Shaw writes, “Women in Africa roll old magazines into beads, varnishing them for sale in other worlds, jewels from junk.” When I read those words, I recalled the roadside stand in an African country where a young girl sat selling ornaments made by her mother and aunt. Earrings, shiny red metal cut into small circles with the Coca Cola  logo clearly visible. Bracelets made from newsprint rolled tightly into cylinders only a quarter inch in diameter. Brooches crafted from fallen bits of woods, rubbed shiny and with a safety pin glued to the back.

I wear bits of jewellery like these and love to tell stories of their creation when people offer their compliments. Some women have even asked how they can learn to make such baubles to earn extra spending money although many grow silent and somewhat pensive when I explain that the mere pennies I paid will buy rice for a family’s supper that evening.

Too often we see ourselves only as ordinary junk. Perhaps we have not grown up with affirmation or, much worse, we have been abused and heard shouts that we are nothing but junk. We compare ourselves to those who possess more, who have attained more, who appear more beautiful or handsome. We see ourselves as mere bottle caps, bit of discarded wood or newsprint.

Then God breaks in with the message He declared at creation:  “This is VERY good!” And as He works in our lives to re-create us after sin’s damaging work, He says: “I know what I’m doing…You are altogether beautiful…I have plans to take care of you…” In a very real sense, God is taking the raw material of our lives, polishing us, shaping us into not mere baubles, but into valuable gems to tell the world that we are jewels, not junk.

Lord, is it unseemly, prideful to call myself a jewel? Or is a statement that gives you all the glory for loving me so much? Help me see myself—and others—as beautiful because of your great love.

Spend time today thanking God specifically for the way He has created you. Then look for someone who needs an affirming word that they, too, have been created as precious jewels.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus… And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them… Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”  Romans 8 (NLT)

We stood on the shores of the Pacific Ocean as the waves relentlessly rolled into shore. Seabirds soared from rock to rock, seemingly unaware of the power of the surge just below them. With no traffic sounds to obscure our hearing, only the roar of the water and the occasional chirp of the birds were audible. Wave after wave. Thunder after thunder.

I thought of this just a few hours ago when I heard the news that the granddaughter of a dear friend had been killed in an auto accident. Then an email message that another friend, suffering from cancer, is weakening. Earlier in the week we received word that an acquaintance had died suddenly. Wave after wave. Thunder after thunder.

“…when sorrows like sea billows roll…” That’s how one man described his lot after financial ruin from the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and then the death of his four daughters in a transatlantic ship collision. Horatio Spafford went to meet his wife in England after his daughters deaths and when the ship on which he was travelling neared the place of the sea tragedy, he began writing the words to a great hymn:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
’It is well, it is well, with my soul.’

Spafford’s poetry—and his later life as a faithful follower of Jesus—indicates how he could say, “It is well with my soul.” Six important words: “Thou has taught me to day…” This man and his wife had walked closely with Jesus, absorbed His love and learned to trust Him in the good times so when the hard, even tragic, times came, through their tears they knew enough of God’s character to know that nothing could separate them—or their daughters—from His love.

We can’t prevent all the accidents and illnesses of life, but we can learn to make Christ the center of our lives each day, trusting Him so that “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

Thank you, Father, for being always present with us. Help me trust you even when I can’t see your hand so that “it is well with my soul” will be daily on my lips.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“You belong to God, my dear children…because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”  1 John 4:4 (NLT)

Some time ago I was invited to a reunion where people who had attended the same grade school would gather. Since I hadn’t seen many of these people for years—in some cases, not since we had left those grade school years—I anticipated the event with joy. At the check in desk, we were given name tags with pictures from those long ago years so we would recognize each other! My, how we had changed but old relationships were quickly renewed as we reminisced and exchanged new information.

In the middle of one such conversation, I glanced toward the door where a woman stood, glancing uneasily into the room. In spite of the passage of years, I recognized Sharon and walked over to greet and welcome her to the party. “Oh, I don’t know if I want to come in. School years weren’t particularly happy for me. I never felt like I belonged. And I don’t feel like I belong now.”

Psychologists and doctors say a sense of belonging is a basic human need, just like food and shelter. Feeling that we belong is important in seeing value in our lives. In the 1600’s, writers of what came to be known as the Heidelberg Catechism (a document of questions and answers designed to teach the biblical basics of the Christian faith) anticipated and understood the importance of belonging. In answer to the question,

What is your only comfort in life and in death?”,

the startling and life affirming answer rings out:

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

I don’t have to pretend to be part of a group. No more wondering if I speak, act, live like others in order to be accepted. Money, education, status, occupation are not prerequisites for this belonging. At a much deeper level, I need never wonder if God is waiting for me to get cleaned up enough to meet His standards. Nothing I do can make God love me more. Or less.

Thus I can sing along with the poet: It is well, it is well, with my soul.
* I Belong.*Horacio Spafford, 1873

Belonging to you, Father, is my safe place. I nestle in your arms, I am protected by your strength, I am loved forever.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone… Do not take revenge… If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink...”  Romans 12:14-20

Civility seems like such a meager word. At its very least it means politeness or courtesy. It’s what we expect from children as we train them to say “please” and “thank you.”

Several years ago, Doctors Guy and Heidi Burgess, Co-Directors of the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado wrote, “Clearly, civility has to mean something more than mere politeness. The movement will have accomplished little if all it does is get people to say, “excuse me please“, while they (figuratively) stab you in the back. Civility also cannot mean “roll over and play dead.

Jesus calls Christians to words and actions that go far beyond civility, even civility as described by the Burgesses. His call is life altering, indeed it is death to self. His standard for speech and lifestyle requires far more than a weekend retreat where opposing sides practice diplomatic debate. Jesus calls for authenticity along with vulnerability. When two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to defend their much loved Savior (“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”), He rebuked them.

To be sure, civility does not mean Christians never disagree among themselves or with others. The Apostle Paul puts it quite succinctly, “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). But it would be profitable if Christians—when speaking the truth—would measure their words against the guidelines given to First Century Christians who lived in a hostile world.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Pay attention to what you hear… Mark 4:24

It was a beautiful quiet moment. I sat on a shaded park bench without interruption of cell phones, appointments or other demands for my attention. An occasional bird song provided a hymn of praise while just beyond me the sun shone through pine branches. I could imagine God as my touchable companion.

And then came squawks and screams! Suddenly a brood of magpies flew from branch to branch, their chorus more cacophonous than melodic as they quarrelled over some tasty morsel. My idyll was broken, my mood shattered, my emotions driven from contemplation to disappointment.

Pausing momentarily in self-pity, I began to hear not magpies but a squawking, screaming world. People lost in confusion, fighting over false morsels the world offers, flying from place to place, person to person seeking satisfaction. While I need time for uninterrupted contemplation, my other call is to live in the world as Jesus did. He invited his friends to “get away and rest awhile,” but he was also willing to be interrupted by a woman drained by life’s miseries, by children needing attention, by a curious, outcast man sitting on a tree branch trying to see Jesus.

The poet John O’Donohue wrote, “One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen,” and the squawking magpies remind me to not only see the souls’ longings, but also hear them. I am called to be an imitator of God as I listen: “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

By Marilyn Ehle
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How precious are your thoughts concerning me.” Psalm 139:17

It had been anything but a ‘quiet’ time. Although I had closed the door and opened my Bible, my attention skittered between meetings just attended, people needs for which I felt responsible and future events crowding the calendar.  Glance at the clock too soon revealed that it was time to leave my private chamber and tend to the day’s responsibilities. ‘So much for spiritual preparation.’ was my somewhat whiny comment to God.as if He had been physically standing before me: “That’s okay, my daughter. I just wanted to sit here with you. I’ve enjoyed our time together.”

We delude ourselves into thinking that our quiet times are primarily for our own benefit. We are intellectually aware that God is always with us, that His eye is not only on the sparrow but on each of us. We claim a personal relationship with Him yet are slow to understand much of what that means.

How different would be our attitudes if we began to learn that we come into His presence to give Him joy.

God, I am so grateful for your personal love for me. To think that you simply desire me to be in your presence is overwhelming. I love you.

by Marilyn Ehle
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If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.  John 14:9

Dan’s earthly father had been cold, distant, unloving and cruelly strict. Although through the years, Dan heard that his Heavenly Father was loving and had even mentally accepted that truth, when terminal illness struck and death inevitably loomed, he seemed afraid to “let go.”

The will to live is strong and physical death exists as the last symptom of Eden’s curse, but why do some face it with peace, even joy and anticipation? Because Dan had no earthly equivalent of a loving father, did God the Father seem “too big” for a personal relationship, too distant for Dan’s—and our—scarred minds to see and understand?

But Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” This Jesus whispered “Mary” to a guilt-stricken, broken-hearted woman. This Jesus invaded culture to touch a leper. This Jesus gathered ignored children to his side. This Jesus fell bloodied from whips and humiliated from curses. This Jesus—this God—is just the right size for our trust and love.

By Marilyn Ehle
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The Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places… you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.  Isaiah 55:11

The spindly, pale green plant drooped more each day as it struggled to survive in the shadow of stronger, taller greenery in the same large pot. Finally, assuming that I couldn’t inflict more damage than what was apparent, I gently tugged it out of its spot, brushed off the dry roots, re-potted it in an old chipped coffee mug and placed it on a windowsill to catch morning light.

Did the drooping plant seem straighter in just a few days? Were pale leaves slowly turning a rich, deep green? Was it just my imagination that this small cutting reached toward the sun when I turned the pot?

Just like the weak plant, we too struggle when we live in the shadows. Sometimes we wither when in the presence of strong, multi-talented, energetic Christians, considering ourselves so little and so less in comparison. Sometimes unwise decisions, unconfessed sin, poor choices, or relationships that damage our view of God and of ourselves block out the sun—the Son. We have forgotten that He is the Light that gives life. He is the Living Water that soaks into drought-stricken souls.

Just as I regularly turn that old coffee mug with its small sprout toward the sun, so we must regularly and intentionally turn to the Son. Bask in his love, drink of his love, accept his love. Feed regularly on the nutrients from his Word, the Bible. Remember that he says,

I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love!” Jeremiah 31:3 (The Message)

By Marilyn Ehle
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Turning around, Jesus saw them (two of John’s disciples) following and asked,

What do you Want?” John 1:37

They were obviously religious men, quite probably those who knew the old prophecies and longed for the coming of the Messiah. They were followers of this strange prophet named John the Baptizer, the one called of God to prepare people for the coming of the Christ.

And then one day John pointed out Jesus passing by and said, “Look, the Lamb of God! Our English translation does not do justice to their importance. I do not believe John simply glanced over on the road and, noticing Jesus, casually commented, “Incidentally, that one I’ve been talking about? You might be interested that he’s just over there.”  We know that on the prior day, John had first pointed out Jesus with the same words (John 1:29-34), even giving personal witness to how God affirmed that Jesus was “God’s Chosen One.”

The two men who evidently were honestly seeking after God still needed to hear the question: “What do you want?”  Jesus took the initiative to help them look more deeply into their own hearts, to examine their motives, and perhaps even get a glimpse of what following Jesus might mean.

Their response to Jesus may seem odd to us, but it is very possible these two knew that the deep longings of their hearts could not be addressed with a mere roadside conversation. They needed a place of privacy and uninterrupted time to reveal their deep needs and to personally hear Jesus’ responses.

What do you want?

God poses that same question to each of us and we, too, need to retreat into a time and place secluded enough to hear His answers.

Lord, so often I do not know what I want; I only know there is a longing that gnaws at my heart. Thank you for your Spirit who will not leave me alone but continually asks,  “What do you really want?” And then you welcome me into your presence.

by Marilyn Ehle
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The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet fad has receded from top shelf popularity. The book, In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon has similarly slipped from public view. Our memories are short, our intentions even shorter, but the motivation behind both bracelet and book is honorable and worth our consideration.

In recent months I’ve become painfully aware of acquaintances and close friends facing near-unspeakable tragedy. Their reactions have been as varied as their situations. Anger. Denial. Futility. Calm–even joyful–acceptance. While personality and past experience profoundly influence their reactions, the months-long walk of one friend captured my attention.

Throughout her long battle with cancer, I saw her intelligent mind engaged as she conferred with doctors, accepting many of their solutions, refusing others. She read medical journals to learn of diet and lifestyle influences on her disease. She continued teaching piano to children and adults even as she underwent the scheduled chemotherapy treatments. That’s the “what” of my friend’s battle.

But the “how” How  could she continue meeting each Sunday morning with a group of friends, sharing both “it’s been a really hard week” and “isn’t God good?” comments. (Many more of the latter than the former!) Not once throughout the long months did we hear a “why” question.

How did she “do” it? As I observed Sue’s life, several answers to that question became obvious.

(1)    She was not surprised by tragedy. She firmly believed that cancer (or any other misfortune) is simply part of living in a fallen—post-Eden—world. This definitely didn’t mean she saw calamity around every corner; she simply accepted that bad-things-happen-to-good/all-people.

(2)    She purposefully lived and shared in community. She kept her family informed of her situation but didn’t call every day with medical updates! (To the chagrin—but final acceptance—of some.) She drove through rain, snow, sleet and sunshine to church activities. We worried about her but also applauded her determination. She continued encouraging other cancer patients through a care network.

(3)    She chose—crucial word—to believe that is God good, that he loved her, that he had a plan for her life. She cultivated this practice for years, before rising from her bed each morning, thanking God for the new day, for the joy she expected him to give her.

(4)    She immersed herself in God’s Word—and words—to her. Reading the Bible wasn’t a mere morning ritual, but a time of contemplating words, phrases, sentences, intentionally digging deep beneath the markings on the page. Not one Sunday passed without Sue’s sharing of some “new” insight, produced and applied by God’s Holy Spirit.

(5)    She was intimately acquainted with Jesus. He was not merely God’s provision of salvation. He was definitely not “just” an example or teacher, nor an ultimate judge. When Sue faced thoughtless words from well-meaning friends(?), she searched the Bible to find how Jesus reacted in similar situations. When the burdens of pain seemed overwhelming, she re-read the Gethsemane story and once more wept the words, “Not my will...” When sleep proved elusive, she—like Jesus—”withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” If he did it, then she, as his disciple and friend, would do likewise.

(6)    She practiced gratitude. Each morning she thanked God for the new day. She thanked him for sufficient resources to pay for treatment. She thanked him for sunshine, rain, storm, flowers. She thanked him for the FedEx delivery man…whom she invited him in and prayed for! Because she was well acquainted with God’s loving nature and purposes, she couldn’t imagine a life without gratitude.

(7)    She willingly placed her family, friends and future into God’s hands. This wasn’t a mere spiritual exercise, but practical action accompanied by holding her hands with open palms and imagining people and plans offered to the God she trusted.

Sue spent little time thinking about the “what” of her situation, but she was immersed in the “how” of living as a Christ follower. She had spent a lifetime “practicing the presence” of Christ so that it became the almost automatic “how” of walking through floods and fires, through the realities that all of us will face at one time or another. She needed neither bracelet or book.

By Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission


If you have never surrendered your life to Christ, you can start today. Simply say this prayer and your journey with Christ will begin:

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I want to trust you from now on. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me be the person You want me to be. Thank you for enabling me to trust you in these uncertain times. Amen.

If this prayer expresses what you desire, take this step to respond to God’s invitation. He will forgive your sins, be with you always, guide you each day and give you eternal life. If you do pray this prayer of faith, God will be faithful to his promise and come into your life.

Just as the introduction is the beginning in any relationship, getting to know God is just the beginning. To grow in your relationship with God, talk to him daily through prayer, start reading the Bible beginning with the gospel of John and seek out others who have a personal faith in God. A relationship with God provides an unchanging foundation of hope in a world of unprecedented change. God will give you the strength to face the challenges of each day and to anticipate the future he has a planned for you.


If you prayed this prayer we would love to hear from you . If you would like to know God deeper we can connect you with an email mentor and/or send you some great links.


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…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.Philippians 2:13

The warning signs are common where road crews are either repairing existing highways or building new ones: Slow Down: Work in Progress. To emphasize the importance of slower speeds throughout these work zones, heavy fines are levied on those who disobey.

Christ followers are taught that spiritual growth is a lifetime affair. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s glorious goal for us this way: He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. (Romans 8:29) But often we are impatient with the speed with which God works. Because God knows His way is the best way, he actually takes a lifetime for the process! In one version of the Bible the word “wait” is used 129 times while the word “hurry” is translated only sixteen times, and is never used of or by God.

In addition to acknowledging God’s slow and progressive work in us, it is necessary for us to more closely match our speed to His. Most who live in Western countries believe that fast is better. I don’t like waiting at traffic lights. I look for the shortest line at the store or bank. I grow impatient if the clerk is not—in my opinion—working efficiently. All this dribbles over into my spiritual life. Surely five minutes a day with God is sufficient? Swiftly reading through the Bible so I check off that I have read it in 365 days seems to earn me a badge as Good Christian.

How different is the process of slowly reading only a few verses, perhaps only a few lines, and then stopping to meditate on them. In Isaiah 31:4 we find these words: “As a lion growls…over its prey…” Eugene Peterson writes “that word ‘growl’ was frequently used for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls.”* Isaiah repeats the word later to describe the cooing of a dove (38:14). It has the meaning of slowly savoring the words before us, taking unhurried pleasure in them.

For God’s work to be best accomplished in us, we must learn to slow to His pace. We must observe the signs: Slow Down: work in Progress.

By Marilyn Ehle
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His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… For this very reason, make every effort to add to.” 2 Peter 1:3 and 5

The business owner who wishes to see positive numbers in the profit column regularly traces the company’s financial progress. Any supervisor who genuinely cares for the welfare of her employees – as well as for the success of her company – consistently tracks how well the employees are doing.

Christians, too, have a way to measure their progress, or growth. God wants to see his children grow to be more like Jesus, and who among us does not want to have the characteristics of Jesus increasingly evident in our lives?

Peter writes that we should make every effort to “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

In their effort to increase employees’ progress, employers and supervisors can provide a positive and encouraging work atmosphere, training sessions, seminar, etc. But God provides much more. He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” The Apostle Paul writes, “God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.” (Philippians 2:13)

How’s your progress?

Father, thank you for providing everything we need to grow spiritually. Forgive us for too often being satisfied with the status quo, or measuring ourselves by others.

by Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission

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Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path..”
Psalm 27:11

In a small utility room in our home hangs a loosely slatted divider to partition the space. Cords at the side are used to roll up the divider when we want to get at the broom, mop or other pieces of cleaning equipment. It is a functional arrangement that usually works quite well.

But those cords cause frustration. If not carefully held separate while being pulled, they quickly tangle into infuriating snarls that take long minutes to unscramble. How could one simple operation cause so much aggravation? The cords seem to take on a life of their own, determined to try my patience. Just when I think I have found the one end that, when pulled through a knot, will solve the problem, the end seems to disappear into a puzzling mesh and I have several more twisted knots to contend with.

Life is all too similar to these tangled cords. Unexpected circumstances—seemingly simple—cause frustration that wears on our patience. Just when we think the solution is near, another tangle appears. Sometimes we are at fault. We have not taken sufficient time to organize the calendar and appointments heap upon one another. Or we allowed ourselves—or family members—to tolerate small messes that soon become mountainous piles of disorder. Other times the unexpected simply rushes in through no fault of our own and we are overwhelmed.

It takes time and patience to sort through the calendar, tackle small jobs before they become huge obstacles or simply learn to expect the unexpected. Whatever the cause, we have a Heavenly Father who never becomes frustrated with our poor attempts and stands ready to show us straight ways.

by Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission

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