It was the worst thing that could ever happen, or so I thought, moving all the way from the cool, lush Redwood Empire to hot, dry Southern California the day after 11th grade was over. Sixty-five degrees to a humid one-hundred-and-eighteen in one day—I felt like I’d died and gone to you-know-where. But that wasn’t even the worst part, because my senior year would now be spent at Indio High School and I would not be able to graduate with my friends from our beloved McKinleyville High. The fact that my parents were about to lose their house because my dad couldn’t find steady work in Northern CA and had now found a great job out in the middle of nowhere between Indio and Blythe seemed secondary to my misery. Plus, all of my plans to apply to a nursing school in San Francisco went right out the window because it would now be too far away from home.
But surprise, surprise, surprise; as Gomer Pyle would’ve said at the time. I enjoyed my new friends as well as my senior year; the Los Angeles County Hospital School of Nursing turned out to be a much better fit that the other school would’ve been; and I eventually landed back near the ocean in Santa Monica. There I met my husband, who God had brought all the way from Alabama just for me. And without Jack there never would’ve been Kevin, and I can’t even imagine that. And without Kevin there wouldn’t have been my adorable grandson Casey, and, and, and…
My LORD certainly knew what He was doing then and He still does now, even as I face new “worst things that could ever happen.” God knows best, and I choose to trust Him even when I just don’t get it.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Unlike the wild and rugged coast of the Pacific Northwest, Southern California’s beaches are more populated than isolated. This distinction does offer some unique advantages, not the least of which is a shore dotted with wonderful seaside restaurants where great meals are enhanced by warm sun, roaring waves, peals of laughter from kids frolicking in the surf, seagulls squawking on the beach, and pelicans soaring through the sky and diving into the water to retrieve their own dinner.
And the shops! Oh, the shopping extravaganza that is available throughout the coastal communities for those of us with that particular weakness—everything from boutiques to antiques—a shopaholic’s paradise.
On this particularly perfect day my husband and I started with a leisurely brunch on the San Clemente Pier and then strolled through the downtown shops for several hours; finally topping the afternoon off with some great tacos in a wonderful Mexican restaurant.
But later, as I pondered how relaxed we were and how we enjoyed our brief escape from the daily grind, I realized that it couldn’t compare to the wonder of what God has in store for us. As wondrous as His creation is, it cannot compare to that moment when we see Him face to face in all of His glory.
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Corinthians 2:9
(This is an except from “I’m Still Standing,” a series of essays based on my journals during my encounter with breast cancer.)
Who would have thought so many would turn out to hear what this nondescript young man had to say? What was it that stirred up so much interest—even among those who were sick and tired of hearing any discussion regarding politics or religion; or among those politically-correct individuals who sought to avoid controversy of any kind, preferring their “live and let live” philosophy that rejected any interference or judgment by others? It certainly wasn’t his appearance. He looked like any other 30-something guy; casually dressed in a way that didn’t make any sort of statement; and he didn’t have those movie-star-good-looks that the tabloids loved. But there was something different about him. Was it the humorous gleam in his eye? Or the intriguing way he spoke in what seemed to be riddles? Was it the way he seemed to be speaking directly to you when you were standing way in the back of a crowd? No one seemed to be able to put a finger on it, but there was a certain charisma in his manner that divided people—they either loved him or hated him. He was considered a dangerous terrorist who wanted to bring down the government to some, and a peace-loving pacifist to others. So here they were—common everyday working people, stay-at-home-moms with their kids, reporters, clergy, politicians, celebrities and unknown businessmen—all gathered around and hanging on every word he spoke, just trying to figure him out.
He had a lot to say that day; touching on legal issues, personal accountability, lifestyles, and even the meaning of life. Amazingly, the crowd remained quiet. He was such a captivating speaker that they were literally speechless. Then his manner seemed to change—for a moment he seemed genuinely puzzled as a new thought occurred to him. “Why do you worry so much about things that really aren’t all that important?” he asked. “You shouldn’t be so obsessed with your jobs, your finances, with how you’re going to afford to buy a house, with the cost of that new outfit or car or vacation, or even with where your next meal is coming from. All you really need is faith in God because he knows what you need even before you do. All you really have to do is look to him first and everything else in your life will fall into place.” Oh boy—he’d done it now—if the crowd was just divided before it was polarized now. Yet they remained quiet, almost mesmerized, as he continued speaking, with each person forming his own opinion of just who this guy was, and just how relevant were the things he had to say.
Such could be the scene should Jesus preach what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount in a public forum today. And the simple truth he set down originally is as valid now as it was then, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)
It’s so simple we miss it—no matter that it’s written over and over in God’s Word—we still miss it. “Seek him first.” It means just what it says. It shouldn’t be a complicated or difficult-to-understand instruction. After all, the concept of diligently seeking after something is not foreign to us. If we desire the love and attention of another person we go after it with everything we’ve got—romantic dinners, gifts, doing all of the little things that would please the object of our affection. Or, if it’s a career we want, we perform and perform and perform to keep the boss happy—late hours, heavy workloads, compromised ethics—we do whatever it takes to get that bigger check or promotion. We understand these pursuits, but when the Lord says, “Seek me first,” we don’t seem to get it. We don’t seem to understand we need to pursue him just as we would pursue anyone or anything else that’s important to us.
And what of his admonition not to worry about tomorrow? After all, worry is such a normal part of life. It’s so easy to do it. Who among us doesn’t worry about something? Aren’t we supposed to worry about our kids, our health, or our finances? Aren’t we supposed to worry about threatening global issues like poverty or war?
As a teenager, I remember worrying about what would happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a few years later, about Viet Nam. For my parents it was World War II and the Korean War; for my grandparents, World War I. And today, the terrorism and doomsday scenarios are worse than ever before, even in fictional accounts. Have you ever watched 24, or read a Clancy or Ludlum novel?
Jesus is still the solution. His word remains true—he doesn’t make false promises, and he promised that if we seek him first all of our needs will be supplied. Therefore, worry should have no place to rest in our lives.
So why is something that sounds so simple so difficult to implement? I believe it’s largely because Satan knows how to manipulate us, and worry is just another face of fear. Life is hard, and we routinely face painful and difficult situations and/or decisions. And when fear wears this disguise it often appears legitimate—sometimes even admirable. It appears as concern for things that are our responsibility—the financial stability of our family, the well-being of our child, or issues regarding our health. But when worry appears, fear has done its job. Fear has turned our attention away from the simplicity of God’s command and focused it on the “what-ifs” of life.
Part of my own struggle to overcome worry is recounted in a journal entry: How do I re-focus and get rid of worry? It remains just as Jesus said—I must seek him first. And, in order to do that, I must give him ownership of all of the things that concern me. I must ask myself, “What is the worst-case scenario, and if it happened would God still be there for me?” Yes! As promised in Romans 8:38-39, nothing can separate me from his love. So, it comes back around to wanting him more than anything else—it comes back to seeking him first.
But worry is accepted—even expected—as normal behavior, and I’ve been criticized for not being logical when I’ve refused to worry about certain things. I’ve been accused of being unrealistic, irrational, or impractical. I’ve been told that “the world just doesn’t work that way” or that I need to “get real.” Others have tried to put me on a guilt trip for not worrying—surely they’re more well-adjusted than me because they worry about things that are important, and I’m being irresponsible if I refuse to do it too. But the ways of God are not understood by man’s logic, so I must come back to faith—I must trust what he’s said in his Word—I must live outside of worry because my God is bigger than any problem I face—he’s bigger than the cancer, he’s bigger than the chemotherapy, he’s bigger than the radiation.
This, then, is the foundation of my faith—God is real and his Word is true. Jesus said it—I believe it—I must always seek him first. My life is his and he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace, and my hope. He meets my every need. What more could I want?