Monday, March 27, 2017

Tola & Jair - the 7th and 8th Judges

Tola and Jair - Not much is written about them but much can be learned from them. The first was known for his heritage - Tola from the line of Issachar (Genesis 46:13) the second was conspicuous for his wealth - Jair who had 30 sons, who each rode around on their donkeys and they owned 30 towns. They both ruled for approximately the same time - Tola 23 years and Jair 22 years. (Judges 10:1-5) God used both of them to lead Israel and provide peace. It was much-needed peace because they had just survived the rulership of Abimelech.

These two judges don't have asterisks next to their names instead, they both had stable leadership, they both had long tenure, they both seemed to be solid good leaders because after they died, the stability was gone.These were two of the few that were noble and prosperous when they were called, but not all need to be noble or prosperous. In addition to being who they were, they had the Godly character necessary for leadership.

They did their part during their lifetime and when they died the Israelites, left to their own devices, did evil again.

Tola and Jair

Jim and Bob

Andrea and Michelle

Nick and Larry

Sheila and Lisa

You and Me - we all have the opportunity to be used as deliverers; to be used to lead based on our desire to serve and honor God. We can be deliverers to our families, our friends, our co-workers or whatever sphere of influence God has placed us in. And like the Israelites, we may have influence while we are there and then as soon as we are gone, that circle reverts back to their old ways.

After they both died; after 45 years the people did evil again; they abandoned the Lord and no longer served Him so they were oppressed by the Philistines and the Ammonites for eighteen years. They served other gods and when they could take it no more cried out to God. Those gods could not do what God could. Those gods couldn't comfort them, couldn't provide them, did not reward faithfulness- because those gods were powerless. God said, did I not rescue you from all of your enemies (the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Maonites), for you to abandon me. Let your gods rescue you. Judges 10: 6-17

Just typing this breaks my heart!  Because at some point I want the children of Israel to get it just like a parent wants their children to be obedient. Like a human parent, the Lord was grieved for the misery of Israel, yet God was still benevolent towards the children of Israel even though they constantly disobeyed.

God didn't give up on the Israelites and he won't give up on you, no matter how many times you mess up. Be willing to listen to who God has placed in your path to lead and to help you - people like Tola and Jair. Tola and Jair did their part - and that's what we're called to do - our part.



Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29


Do you feel God's calling on your life? How do you influence your circle?
--Nylse

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Comfort of a Long Marriage

As I approach my 28th wedding anniversary today, marriage is on my mind.

I remember when we first met.

I remember our long phone calls.

I remember when he proposed and me having no doubt on how I would respond.

I remember planning the wedding.

I remember my mother making my dress and I remember my future Mother In Law bringing anthuriums from Jamaica.

I remember that I was not a nervous bride and that my future husband was actually on time!

I remember riding to the church in an antique limousine.

I remember the bridal party colors (peach for the bridesmaids and turquoise for the Maid Of Honor) - what was I thinking?

I remember the wedded bliss of the first year - we both agree that this was not a difficult year for us.

I remember the excitement around getting pregnant and looking back, recognizing how both of us had no idea how our lives would change. I remember each subsequent pregnancy.

I remember when we purchased our first house that became a home.

There are so much more memories, that happy tears, sad tears and anything in between rim my eyes as I type this.

The 28th year is not like the first year -we've built lives together and there's a history between us. The giddiness is gone which has been replaced by a steadfastness. Right now we're in a bit of a rut - figuring out what's next and where do we go from here. Being an emotional support to our adult children while not forgetting about each other. Determining which new dreams we want to pursue and figuring out if we have the time, resources or energy. Making sure the 14-year-old (whose birthday is on our anniversary) is getting the best of us. We're in a rut, but we're in it together and sometimes glimmers of that giddiness may reappear.

If I had one marriage key to share it would be to make sure that you agree on the big things, the foundational things, your values, because no matter how strong the winds that blow, you won't be shaken. In our rut we still share, and we still try to talk to each other daily. We still hug and remember to kiss when saying goodbye. The hardest part may be the constant re-learning of each other and just recognizing the person in front of you not who they used to be. I'm the energizer bunny in my household - but I used to be more high strung. Sometimes you get so used to dealing with high-strung you don't recognize the calmer version in front of you.

A three cord strand is not easily broken - this was imprinted on our wedding stationary and this has proven to be true these many years. This has been our foundation. We're in a rut but we're not easily broken because the Person at the center of our marriage keeps us together. I don't know what I expected, but this is a good rut to be in - with someone who loves me unconditionally and vice versa. We're coming out of this rut together and looking forward to many more years ahead.


Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12


Here's to hoping that you can take comfort in the longevity of your marriage. How many years is it for you? If you're single, do you wish to be married? Why or why not?

PS - We're doing something new and exciting today; I'll share with you later.
--Nylse

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Abimelech - The 6th Judge with the Asterisk Next to His Name

If you follow sports, you will notice that if a record is broken in a questionable manner, the person's name is listed with an asterisk. For example - think of Ben Johnson who won the 100-meter dash in Seoul in 1988 and broke the World Record, but was later stripped of his medal due to alleged illegal substances in his body.

Abimelech the concubine's son by Gideon has a questionable status as a judge because God did not appoint him as a leader but he persuaded those around him to make him their leader. He took an opportunity that was never meant to be his which invariably led to his crashing and burning at the bitter end. In short, he sought to rule Israel without proper authority. To eliminate any threats to his rule, he methodically murdered all of seventy of his half brothers minus one - Jotham, the youngest. Working through his worthless and reckless relatives in Shechem, he persuaded the people of that area to recognize him as king.

Jotham escaped, went to a mountaintop and told a parable to the people which basically contains a warning against choosing Abimelech as king. After the parable, where Abimelech is likened to a bramble or a twig - Jotham said -
“Now make sure you have acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelech your king, and that you have done right by Gideon and all of his descendants. Have you treated him with the honor he deserves for all he accomplished?  For he fought for you and risked his life when he rescued you from the Midianites.  But today you have revolted against my father and his descendants, killing his seventy sons on one stone. And you have chosen his slave woman’s son, Abimelech, to be your king just because he is your relative.
“If you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Gideon and his descendants today, then may you find joy in Abimelech, and may he find joy in you.  But if you have not acted in good faith, then may fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leading citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo; and may fire come out from the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo and devour Abimelech!” Judges 9:16-19

After the telling of this parable - Jotham ran away and lived in a different town out of fear of Abimelech.

Judges 9 details Abimelech's  battles and how he ultimately met his demise. Abimelech reigned three years - then God stepped in, in the form of an evil spirit which created contention between Abimelech and the people he ruled - the Shechemites. This contention was retribution for what he did to his brothers. Judges 9:22-24 The same division he employed, was ultimately used against him; treachery created treachery.

Another group - Gaal and his relatives, were angry that Abimelech was in charge and wanted to get rid of him but one of Abimelech's faithful men - Zebul, made him aware of the plot. Carnage ensued. (A side note: when you read through some of these stories you may be mortified at the amount and manner of bloodshed; you might even wonder how a loving God could allow such violence. But it's no different than what we deal with today. Humans have free will and make choices counter to the nature of God, and we all deal with the fallout of our choices. The war and the fighting provide a situational context.)

Abimelech and his men were able to burn down the tower of Shechem because he provided specific instruction  - and they were in the process of repeating these same actions in Thebez when a woman dropped a millstone - a huge, heavy rock, on his head. This woman was strong and determined to do her part in getting rid of Abimelech.

Abimelech wasn't raised in his father's house; he was the son of the concubine, not a wife so he automatically had a lower social status. It was considered odious (2 Samuel 16:21), a defilement, a reason to lose your birthright (1 Chronicles 5:1). Perhaps Abimelech had internalized some of these feelings and wanted to prove that he was just as good as his father - Gideon and his seventy brothers. Feelings of worthlessness can you lead you down a path that was not meant for you. Better to look inward and acknowledge those feelings than striking out at those who you blame.

Abimelech portrays a negative example of how a leader is to influence others. He led by force, murdered his opposition, and led in such a manner that even his subjects sought to overtake him. In contrast to the positive leadership of his father - Gideon, Abimelech focused on his own personal gain, hurting many in the process. (gotquestions.org)

Anti-Leadership Traits
  • Abimelech was divisive
  • Abimelech was punitive
  • Abimelech led by force
  • Abimelech was proud - even in death
  • Abimelech was self-focused


Don't be a leader with an asterisk next to your name -  your leadership is questionable, the title wasn't meant for you, you rule by fear, and those you manage would delight in seeing you gone. We are quick to see these traits in our bosses, presidents, executives, superintendents or others - but let's also look at ourselves. You may be influential like Abimelech, but because the position was not meant for you, your tenure may be shortened and a millstone may fall on your head and knock you out of the game (ouch!). Instead, let's continue to trust that God will place us where we need to be and that He will prepare us so that we are effective leaders. 



In this way, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon was fulfilled. Judges 9: 56-57

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.But when the wicked are in power, they groan. Proverbs 29:2

Do you see yourself as Abimelech, Jotham, or the woman with the rock? 


--Nylse

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Important Leadership Traits



The study of the book of Judges has been eye opening for me because of its intensity and detail. There's so much more there than what I remembered.

I wanted to take a break, just to regroup and ensure that we're all following along.

Remember, these are the judges or leaders that God chose to deliver Israel from their surrounding enemies. These leaders were a far cry from what we would call in today's vernacular, 'ideal candidates'.

So far, we've noticed the following:


  • We've consistently seen the breakdown of the family in the constant cycle of redemption and failure of the Israelites.
  • We've seen that the Spirit of God was present, that it moved individuals to action, in a powerful fashion that provided clarity.
  • We've seen that God allowed their enemies to overcome them so that when God stepped in through their leader, the conclusion could only be that it was God.
  • We've seen that human nature is complex, yet not one part of it is a surprise to the God who made us.
  • The tenure for the leaders we have studied so far were all over 20 years. The longer the tenure the greater the stability.
  • Finally, with God's leading, we've seen how these men and one woman were able to lead the Israelites who were not an easy bunch. Gideon had a degree of fear; Deborah had smarts; Ehud was willing; Shamgar was a fighter and Othniel was ordinary; different character traits yet all possessed the traits of leadership. 
The most prevalent and consistent traits of leadership are obedience - a willingness to listen to someone bigger than you and humility - the recognition that the task at hand is bigger than you and deploying assistance from above and below. We've seen other leadership traits in action also: vision, self-awareness, integrity, commitment and a willingness to help others.

John Maxwell lists 5 stages of leadership - position, permission, production, people development and pinnacle. So far the judges we have studied were leaders because of their position - God placed them there; they were appointed. In addition, most had the respect of the people they led.  The Israelites listened and followed their direction - they had a vested interest in following and listening to their leader. The scripture does not go into detail on each judges' life, but many were hailed as great men.

As we study the remainder of the book of Judges, we'll see additional lessons of leadership that we can apply to our lives today.

But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. John 20:26-28

What's your biggest takeaway on leadership from studying the book of Judges? Would you consider yourself a leader?



--Nylse

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Gideon The Mighty Hero, Finally

In the last post, I mentioned that Gideon received a huge response to his request for warriors - 32,000 men to be exact. Well to you and I, that would make us confident, we would start devising plans and strategizing, all with victory in mind. But God said, "It's too much, your army is too large. If you win, you will think it was because of your strength and not my divine intervention." (Judges 7:2-3) Though Gideon had such a huge turnout, it appeared that many of these men were afraid. With God's guidance, Gideon simply said "If you're afraid, you don't have to fight," and 22,000 men went home. Can you imagine, more than half of his initial army were afraid? It's good to ask questions of people to see where your team stands - you might be surprised yet relieved at the response.

The remaining 10,000 were still too many, so God instructed Gideon to use another creative way to separate them - those who drank water from their hands or those who drank straight from the source. It can be viewed as moderation vs. indulgence. Those that were indulgent were sent home, 9700 and the 300 who lapped the water from their hands were Gideon's army. These 300 passed all the tests - they were not afraid and they were careful - just who you want to fight with you. (Judges 7:1-7)

With this army of 300 Gideon wreaked havoc and defeated the Midianites - but first, before the fighting started he needed one more confirmation. God told him if he's afraid (wasn't Gideon always afraid?) to listen in at the edge of the Midianite camp with his servant. His servant, Purah, was a witness who could also confirm God's plan for Gideon. Gideon heard two of the Midianites talking; they were talking about a dream and its meaning. One man told the other the dream meant that Gideon would defeat them.  Judges 7:9-14. Have you ever overheard someone saying good things about you? Or things you didn't even recognize about yourself? It is usually a confidence booster, just like it was for Gideon.  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord. Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up! For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!” (Judges 7:15)

And just as it was in the interpretation of the dream, it became a reality. Gideon used his army of 300 to create confusion in the Midianites camp - for the fighting started at an unexpected time, in the middle watch, which was between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am. The Midianites were so startled by the blowing of the horns that they attacked each other while also trying to escape. Though they were few, the Israelites used strategy to outsmart the Midianites because they were prepared and the Midianites were not; they also had God on their side. (Judges 7:16-23)

In all of this, Gideon became the mighty hero that God said he would be. He had some missteps along the way - he took revenge against those who wouldn't assist him (Judges 8:1-21), made priestly garments that didn't serve a priestly purpose which ended up leading the Israelites astray(Judges 8:22-28), and he was a womanizer - he had many wives and one on the side (Judges 8:29-31). But in spite of his flaws God used him and his faith is noted in the book of Hebrews.  For the remainder of Gideon's life - about 40 years, the Israelites had peace in the land.

Like Gideon's initial army - sometimes we're too much or we have too much. Too many smarts, too much money, too much pride, too much knowledge. And God is telling us we have to scale back so that he can use us mightily. Or like Gideon also, we're too afraid and God keeps telling us that we don't need to be afraid; I got this!

I see attributes of Gideon in myself. I have to be willing to listen to God to ensure that I have the right people in my corner - my 300, to do what He has called me to do. Sometimes I'm afraid to trust God, but when I am afraid I know that I can rely on Him. I know this without a doubt and it banishes my fear at the moment. It almost does not matter who we are, as long as we believe in God and exhibit the faith in Him that He requires of us.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Psalm 37:23

Are you realizing that you don't need to remain afraid? Do you need to scale back so that God can move mightily? Who should be in your 300? What else can you learn from Gideon's life?

--Nylse

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gideon Owns His Identity

Now that Gideon has accepted his assignment, the magnitude of what needs to be accomplished is staring him in the face; he is called to lead and defeat the Midianites. The Midianites who are prolific and plenteous, and make his people quake in fear. God is on his side but how will he do this?

Gideon was fearful yet obedient - he wanted to honor what had been told to him.

It's no wonder the Israelites were always in this cycle of failure - the previous generations seem to have forgotten what God had done in the past; the knowledge of God's faithfulness and goodness was not passed down to the next generation; it was only hearsay and it seemed many chose not to believe. Joash - Gideon's father displayed this trait.

The first thing he did was to follow God's instruction cut down his father's shrine to a false god - Asherah and build an altar to the True God. Now that took some nerve on Gideon's part, so this plan was carried out at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. In the morning, when this is discovered the people figure out that Gideon is the culprit.They are not happy. They wanted to kill Gideon, but Joash - Gideon's father said if Baal is god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar. At this point, Gideon gains new respect and is also called Jerubabaal - which means let Baal defend himself. Parents and children don't often see eye to eye, but when it came to what was important, Joash - the idol worshipper, defended Gideon. With God on his side, Gideon took a stand against his father.

Gideon is developing more confidence, but he's still wary. Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew his horn and he's in the process of army building- he gets a huge response (which we'll talk about in the next post).

Then he asked the Lord for a sign -

36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, 37 prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” 38 And that is just what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.” 40 So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew. Judges 6:36-40
This is the story we were told in Sunday School, how Gideon puts a fleece down and tested God. But without the greater context of knowing that God had chosen Gideon, God had given him instruction, Gideon was obedient, and God had placed his Spirit on him, many of us seem to think that we can test God willy-nilly and then rebel against God when he doesn't pass our test. We deal with difficult situations but instead of using God's word as a barometer and an indicator for our direction we rely on our feelings. We test God when we doubt him and the promises in His Word instead of having faith in Him. Gideon had a personal encounter with God, God called him a mighty hero; Gideon turned his doubt into faith and knew that the God that was calling him to do this task was faithful. He may have been timid, afraid and grouchy by nature, but with God's help, he would overcome and God confirmed it to him.


Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. Judges 6:34

Is there anything in Gideon's experience that is similar to yours? Please share.

--Nylse

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Grouchy Gideon Becomes a Mighty Hero - the 5th Judge

Rest, disobedience, deliverance, rest. The story of the Israelites is characterized by a cycle of

failing and then renewal. Once more after a period of rest, the children of Israel were disobedient. At the beginning of Judges 6, we see that their current enemy - the Midianites were thick like locusts - they were plenteous, and all encompassing. The Israelites could not escape from them; they pillaged the land and Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. (Judges 6:1-6) This went on for seven years.

We are now introduced to our sixth Judge - Gideon. He seems to be the most reluctant and timid of all the judges we've read about so far. But in spite of his personality, God uses him mightily to defeat the swarming locusts - the Midianites to the point where he is listed as a faith hero in the book of Hebrews. (Hebrews 11:32-34) Intitially, unbeknownst to Gideon, God sent an angel to Gideon to talk and chat with him. When Gideon meets the angel he is threshing wheat and hiding his harvest from the Midianites. Gideon was afraid of the Midianites, yet wise - the hidden wheat meant his family could eat.

The conversation starts with the angel addressing Gideon as, "Mighty Hero." As far we know Gideon never thought of himself in this way and because he's never thought of himself in this manner, he responded, "If that's the case, why are the Midianites terrorizing us? Why does it seem that the Lord has abandoned us? I am the least in my entire family."

More astounding is the response from the angel. He said to Gideon, "Go in the strength you have and rescue Israel. I am sending you."

Gideon says, "Show me a sign that you are indeed Lord. Also, Don't leave until I come back with my offering." Gideon may have begun to realize that this was not an ordinary man he was speaking with. Also, recall from your Sunday School lessons that  Gideon needed lots of signs from God for confirmation.

Gideon returns with a goat meat, broth and biscuits! The angel instructs Gideon to place the meat and the bread on a rock and to then pour the broth over both. Then the angel places his rod on the meat and bread and a fire consumes the meal and disappears. This supernatural act rendered Gideon momentarily speechless and more afraid for he realized that he just had a face to face conversation with God.

The Lord reassures him that he need not be afraid, and he will not die  (Exodus 33:20) as was expected, so Gideon built an altar to the Lord at that spot and referred to the Lord as being his peace - Jehovah Shalom. (Judges 6: 7-24)

Instead of fear, Gideon now had a sense of peace regarding his new assignment. He no longer had to be afraid. God had given him a new identity. What God calls and who you are can be two entirely different things. In the rest of Gideon's story, we will see that he lives up to the moniker that God gave him.




The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you! Judges 6:12



--Nylse

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

My Favorite Tools for a Healthy Lifestyle

One of the benefits of living in California is the abundance of fruit trees right in my backyard. With the unusual rains this year, the lemon tree is blossoming as is the orange tree. When my mother was alive and she visited me she couldn't believe the oranges that were in my yard. She made sure to eat one every day. Sometimes I'd ship some to her since it brought her such joy.

These days I find myself thinking of the number of ways I can use my oranges. First I bought a fruit picker so I could reach the oranges that were out of my reach. Once picked, I juice the oranges and make fresh-squeezed orange juice. Fresh orange juice is refreshing, loaded with enzymes and antioxidants, vitamin C which is an anti-aging collagen booster, a good source of magnesium and other minerals, and boosts your metabolism. Fresh OJ is just good for you! This juicer from Cuisinart which I use, gets the job done easily.

Six oranges typically will yield about 8 oz or more of juice. Since nothing goes to waste I then use some of the orange juice combined with water and make my daily green juice using the NutriBullet we got one year for Christmas. A little story - my husband bought this because he heard of its benefits. But honestly, once I discovered it I've put it to great use. It is better than a blender and he's never touched it, but he does enjoy the fruits of my labor! My green juice recipe is quite simple - half a cucumber, a handful or 2 of spinach or kale, a banana, and some blueberries all combined with liquid. This is my basic recipe to which I add Spirulina, Tumeric or Flaxseed.

No one can live on juice alone, though. The  Instant Pot has changed my life. (I have become a personal evangelist for the Instant Pot and no one is paying me to do so; I just think that anyone who cooks should have one.) I got mine in November - but when I fasted in January this was the primary way we were able to eat healthily and be satisfied. The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that drastically reduces cooking times. For example, spaghetti squash takes about an hour to roast in the oven; in the Instant Pot, it takes 12 minutes. Just put the whole thing in, rest it on the trivet, put a cup of water in, cover and let it cook for 12 minutes. When done and the pressure is released, you have a perfectly done spaghetti squash. My current favorite recipes are:

Spaghetti Squash
Steel Cut Oatmeal
Lentil Soup
Carribean Rice & Beans - I don't have a link to a recipe yet. But in West Indian households, in particular, on Sundays, this is a staple for Sunday dinner. I tried this in the IP recently because my mom always cooked rice in her pressure cooker and it came out exceptionally well. My husband has fallen in love with me all over again! Recipe to come soon.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Eating healthy and taking advantage of all that nature has to offer has made a difference in the way my family and I look and feel. I encourage you to make changes that will benefit you also.

--Nylse

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Fences and Storms and Fences

As mornings sometimes go with children, I was running late. The Little One had to be at school by 6:15 am for an annual trip to a Fine Arts Competition. Though well intentioned, we woke up at 5:42. In this short space of time, we did not get to eat a proper breakfast at home, so the plan was made to stop at any coffee shop for a hot beverage. I ran into Starbucks since they had the shorter line - only 3 people, but no one was being helped.  I took a risk and decided to ask the second person in line if I could order in front of him. He simply looked at me and said no. I smiled, said OK and ran back to the car and told the Little One she would have to forego a hot beverage today.

This past February was one of the rainiest months on record since I've lived in California. Towards the end of February, we had a storm that wreaked havoc on the entire state. For the folks up north in parts of Silicon Valley, the dam broke, homeowners were evacuated out of their homes due to flooding, and there was great property loss. Our damages on this end were not as severe but there were repercussions - 100 yr old trees fell on parked cars, sinkholes were created in streets where cars fell in, there were mudslides and the fence between my house and the neighbor's house collapsed on our side.

The beauty of all this rain is that water usage has gone down and everything is green, really green. It looks like Ireland - the mountains are that green.

When I realized that the fence had collapsed I was in awe; it gave me a new perspective literally and figuratively. Before the fence fell, I'd never seen my neighbor's backyard. I did not realize they had a pool or other things back there. Now the fence was up for a very good reason - they have dogs. Big dogs. Dogs that look scary to me and sound scary when they're out. When she takes them for a walk, it's like they're  walking her instead of the other way around. These dogs are big and rambunctious and just in case it's not clear - I do not like dogs.

A little tidbit about fences - fences on a boundary line belong to both owners when both are using the fence. Both owners are responsible for keeping the fence in good repair, and neither may remove it without the other's permission. Until the fence fell, I was not aware of this rule.

So the fence served a great purpose - it kept those dogs away from me. But it also created a barrier. Until the storm, my neighbor had never rung my doorbell. But now because of the fallen fence, they've rung the doorbell, actually came in and we've even exchanged phone numbers.

Fences don't just affect us, they affect the person on the other side also. When I decided to ask that man if I could go in front of him, I knocked my fence down. This wasn't my normal course of action, it was almost storm-like, but I took the risk. I didn't get the outcome I wanted, and was immediately tempted to be down and vow never to do this again - put my fence back up. Instead, I decided it's worth it to keep the fence down and be open. On the flip side, someone in dire straits needed to go in front of me, and I've acquiesced. So for situations like this, my fence will remain down, though it might be uncomfortable. But there are other times when we need fences, don't we? We can't let everything in but to our detriment sometimes we keep everything in or block necessary things out.

Then a storm comes and blows the fence away and we feel naked, even vulnerable and we realize that our fence needed to go.

Discern your fence. Know when it needs to be up and when it needs to come down. In the case of my neighbor, the fence went back up because of her dogs, but I was grateful for the little smidgen of time that I got to view her world. I hope she felt the same about me.

"Some people build fences to keep people out...and other people build fences to keep people in." (Bono, Fences) Discern your fence.

Sometimes fences have to come down so that you can have better access, better relationships, greater insight. Sometimes you need to protect yourself from dogs, or ravenous wolves or people that are trying to hurt you. But neither of these are permanent conditions - be smart for the situation at hand. When a fence is entrenched, it takes a storm to knock it down. There's beauty in the storm; God uses the fences in our lives - whether it is to build them or knock them down for our good. So don't be afraid - let God work.

Discern your fence. Tweet this.



Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9


Is your fence a boundary or is it blocking your blessings?

--Nylse

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deborah's Cast of Characters - the 4th Judge

When I initially came across the Judge Deborah (pronounced Deb-oh-rah), my heart jumped with joy because she was the first woman identified as a leader in the Bible. I innately knew women could lead, speak, and teach; seeing her example reinforced this. In Christian circles as a child, Deborah is not often spoken of, and as a female, you may grow up with the mistaken impression that a woman's role is limited. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was from my mother that I first heard of this female judge.

So by now the people of Israel are like a record stuck in groove - rest, disobedience, deliverance, rest. Israel was now the captive of King Jabin of Hazor - a Canaanite King; his captain was Sisera who was a harsh taskmaster that worked the Israelites very hard for 20 years. Of course, the Israelites could not take it anymore and begged God for deliverance at which point, God sent Deborah - a wife and a prophet. She was recognized as a  leader because the Israelites would go to her for judgment (i.e. leadership and decision-making).

The story starts in Judges 4, with Deborah sending for Barak and telling him, "The Lord will give you victory over Sisera." She told him to gather 10,000 men to defeat King Jabin. Barak didn't question her leading, though he was hesitant. He said he would do it but only if Deborah came with him. She replied, "Certainly I will go with you. . . . But because of the course, you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” In this statement, Deborah recognized how women were viewed by men and used it as a motivator for Barak. By the way, she wasn't necessarily referring to herself, but Barak didn't know that. Why would a soldier want a woman to come with him to battle? She was a wife and a prophet, not a warrior. Maybe Barak had some reservations about her passing on God's instruction and needed her there as reinforcement. This mindset (i.e. Barak's way of thinking) is more common for women in leadership to deal with than men.

The story continues with Barak's troops defeating all of King Jabin's men with the exception of Sisera. Sisera ran and hid in the tent of a Hebrew woman - Jael. Jael knew who Sisera was - he was the enemy who had oppressed her people for twenty years. Jael misjudged her and thought he was safe. In knowing her enemy, she acted counter to what he expected - she was kind yet cunning. She threw a mantle over him and gave him milk, though he asked for water. He fell asleep after drinking the milk - and then she used the opportunity that presented itself to kill Sisera in a most brutal fashion. She drove a tent spike through his temple; she nailed him to the ground.

When Barak comes looking for Sisera, Jael shows him her conquest - "I will show you who you are looking for." She knew what she had done, she knew that she played a vital role in the defeat of Jabin without anyone telling her, because she knew who the enemy was and that it had to be defeated. Eventually, Israel with God's help subdued and defeated King Jabin.

God subdued Jabin; the Israelites prevailed against him and they had rest for 40 years.

 Because of this amazing supernatural victory - Deborah's heart is full and we have her song, her praise and acknowledgment to God in Judges 5.  Deborah's song is representative of the feeling you get when you have been used by God to do something amazing and in its aftermath, you want to tell everyone, you want to shout from the rooftops, you're giddy with glee, and your endorphins are at an all-time high; this encapsulates Deborah's song.

What can we learn from Deborah?

  • She had a relationship with God; she was called a Prophet. God spoke directly to her and through her. Her job was to listen and obey. She could say with certainty to Barak, "This is what the Lord commands you....."
  • She was obedient - she acted as a facilitator; she didn't know how their deliverance was going to play out. She just knew it was the right time and communicated this to Barak.
  • She was willing to suffer the shame based on the social structure at the time of being a woman so that God's word could be accomplished. God's promise and God's word was greater than who she was.
  • She rehearsed God's goodness - In her song, she re-tells how God delivered Israel. 
  • She was devoid of pride - she celebrated Barak and Jael and the role of the Almighty's hand in defeating King Jabin and Sisera. She acknowledged that it was God who raised her up, "...like a mother to Israel." (Judges 5:7)
  • She was euphoric in her praise - When God does something good in your life, express it.

Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power! Judges 5:31

If you love the Lord, may you too rise like the sun in all its power, even as a woman.

--Nylse

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Using What You Have to Defeat An Enemy - Ehud & Shamgar the 2nd and 3rd Judges

There's a cycle in the book of Judges of the children of Israel: rest, disobedience, deliverance, rest.

After Othniel died, the Israelites disobeyed God, again. Scripture says "they did evil again." This time they needed deliverance from Moab and it's King - King Eglon.

Evil and oppression are constant themes relating to Israel's experience. Evil is anything that is not good; something that is profoundly immoral and malevolent. Oppression is prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control. Oppression is usually tied to some evil behavior or characteristics - the oppressed won't say otherwise.

The Israelites were evil in their actions toward God because of their disobedience. Their enemies were evil in their actions toward them and because of their evil ways, oppressed the Israelites. Evil abounded and evil begot more evil. There were degrees of evilness but the greatest infraction was toward God.

So King Eglon of Moab was evil and oppressive toward the Israelites; in addition, it is highlighted that he was very fat - morbidly obese. He oppressed the Israelites for 18 years and after this time, the Israelites cried out to God for a deliverer and he sends Ehud - who was left handed.

Ehud was left-handed and King Eglon was very fat - these two seemingly random characteristics would play a part in the defeat of Moab.

Ehud made a two-edged sword which ranged in length from 17.5" to 20", hid it under his garment strapped it to his right thigh, and was able to secure a private meeting with the King by offering a gift. In that private meeting, he pulls out his sword with his left hand (which must have caught the King off guard due to his angle) and stabbed him in his belly. His belly was so big and the sword so long that it was, in essence, lodged there - it couldn't be moved. Ehud leaves and closes the door of the King's parlor so that when his men are looking for him they think he's having private time and don't disturb him. By the time they discover that something is amiss - it's too late. King Eglon died and Ehud escaped. Since the Moabite King is dead, they are able to defeat their enemy - the Moabites.

After that, the Israelites had rest for 80 years. (Judges 3:12-30)

Then there was Shamgar - who only gets one verse- who used an ox goad to slay 600 Philistines. (Judges 3:31)  The Philistines were fighters who were very strong. (Recall that Goliath was a Philistine.) An ox goad is a wooden tool, approximately eight feet long, fitted with an iron spike or point at one end, which was used to spur oxen as they pulled a plow or cart. It often had an iron scraper at the non-pointed end to clear clods of earth from the plowshare when it became weighed down. (gotquestions.org)

Then there was peace again, for an unspecified period of time.

Like Ehud and Shamgar, we must use what we have to defeat the enemies of God. The enemies of God are anything that is contrary to God's word. In the Old testament - it was false gods, idol worship and people who supported these ideas. Today it is this and more. Ehud used a two-edged sword that he made and Shamgar used an ox goad -a tool used to prod oxen back in line. Ehud also used his left-handedness, recognizing that it was considered out of the ordinary. These two judges show the sovereignty of God - He uses whatever He wants - a sword, fatness, lefthandedness in addition to whatever else we bring to the table to accomplish His purposes.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:3-5

I am encouraged by the awesomeness of God as played out in the lives of these two judges. How will you be obedient to God?

--Nylse

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Are You Feeling Hot Hot Hot?

WebMD Magazine
As you know, I turned 50 recently! Yeah me! I still feel like my 23-year-old self but certain things are different. At the beginning of my 50th year of life, I noticed that I was hot, like boiling hot all the time and sweating profusely. I also noticed (without getting too detailed) that Aunt Flo was no longer paying regular visits. I was happy that Aunt Flo was no longer a guest but disturbed, disappointed and angry by the incessant heatwave I was in. I was miserable.

I tried different things - some things worked but most things did not or they only worked for a short timeframe. Eventually, I went to my gynecologist and had a thorough exam and a full blood workup. She confirmed that I was not nutty and that indeed I was going through some changes by showing me the data. All of my numbers were in the highlighted range below. I think she may have been in a bit of disbelief herself, because she said, "How do you look like 12 and this is happening?" You can't argue with the data. So here's the data that you should be aware of. If you're past the age of 45, ensure that your blood work is measuring these hormones.


Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
FSH
Estradiol
Progesterone
Follicular Phase
2.4 -12.6
3.5 - 12.5
12.5 - 166
0.1 - 0.9
Ovulation Phase
14.0 - 95.6
4.7 -21.5
85.8 - 498
0.1 - 12.0
Luteal Phase
1.0 - 11.4
1.7 -7.7
43.8 - 211
1.8 - 23.9
PostMenopausal
7.7 - 58.5
25.8 - 134.8
<6.0 - 54.7
0.0 - 0.1

Seeing the data brought acceptance. This stage of life is not all bad. Some of the positives that I have noticed are:

  • I have more energy - the constant fatigue that I had during the child-rearing years is gone
  • No more PMS and its symptoms (this is a HUGE blessing!!!)
  • Greater focus on self-care
  • A willingness to take risks and try new things
  • No worry of pregnancy
In talking to other girlfriends - as they go through this stage, whether naturally or because of a hysterectomy, the sudden changes due to surgery seem to be worse for the individual. Eventually, over time everything evens out and, as women, we adjust to our new normal.

Trying to stay cool!


Here's a short list of things that you can do to take care of yourself:
1. Reduce your caffeine and sugar intake
2. Minimize your ingestion of processed foods
3. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
4. Drink lots of water
5. Minimize drinking hot beverages as it can increase the      heated sensation in your body
6. Try to get some exercise in a way that you like

Also, I've discovered that clothing with vents (i.e. keyhole backs, cold shoulder tops, or some creative way to bare flesh while being modest) or things made with breathable fabric, like these pajamas, or anything made with linen make all the difference in the world.

Every woman will experience this stage of life differently - some have no physical symptoms and some have all of the symptoms. I recommend that you find a doctor you trust and work with them to figure out what's best for you. My doctor has suggested that if you need to go on hormones, it may only be on a short-term basis, but again speak with your doctor as some of these symptoms can really affect your quality of life.

As a young traveler on any airline, I wondered why those vents were blowing cold air over each passenger. I always stopped the airflow and wrapped myself in blankets. The other day, I couldn't believe it, but I was so grateful for those vents. I kept the air flowing on me for most of my flight, with abandon. For me, I'm embracing this new stage of life while looking forward to what the future holds. What about you?


I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Psalm 139:14

If you're here and this is you, how are you handling this stage of your life?

--Nylse
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Friday, March 3, 2017

Notes From My Daughter - Exceptionalism and Excellence Are Very Different

Occasional notes from my second daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes but I am always blown away. Did this child come from me? Read on!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few years ago I went to a rap concert and the artist on stage took the opportunity between songs to get very vulnerable with the audience about his life journey. I was astonished by the conviction which guided his lifestyle to the point where I even shed a few tears. He challenged the audience to pursue EVERYTHING with the mindset of excellence. And my honest response was, "Everything? How?"

As we all know by now, I was labeled smart because I accelerated through school at an unusual pace. By 6 years old I was in 3rd grade, 9 years old I was in 6th grade, by age 12 I started high school and by 16 I graduated and went on to take a gap year filled with more studying. I've always been younger than peers and therefore never really fit in with anyone in particular. My personal feelings about being "different" were neutral because I knew it was something I couldn't control. It was by nature a part of my identity. Trying to change my age or my perceived intelligence would not have made me or anyone else happy, so to some degree, I was secure with who I was and there wasn't much that could threaten that security.

Fortunately for me, I went through puberty relatively early (around the 9 years old 6th-grade point in this timeline) but no one noticed because by that time everyone else's bodies were changing as well since 11/12 is the average age of puberty for most girls. Physically, I had an ability to blend in even though I should've stood out. I balanced being visible and invisible in a way that was acceptable socially too. I would never say I was popular at any stage of my schooling, but I was known by enough popular kids and enough outcast (and I was loved by most* of my teachers) to the point where I just blended in. I didn't straddle the fence on purpose but naturally fell into place wherever I landed and had no intention of forcing anyone to accept me.
The problem when I was singled out. It felt something like this

Anxiety x Imposter Syndrome^2 = wanting to hide and be normal again


It's one thing to be in an honor's class; your still included in a base group, you have friends, and everyone tends to think you're great. It's a different thing to be the one amongst your honors class to lead the charge in filing formal complaints about your honors class teacher(s) because she/he has proved to be unfit for the job time after time.  To be fair, I was self-motivated for the mission at hand, but I was also wanted people to voluntarily choose to do better without me having to make my voice heard. It's burdensome when you feel like "I have to make something happen out of thin air due to this expectation." It's the difference between everything falling into place and everything falling apart.

 It's one thing to not be teased for not having an ideal body type (a ridiculous reason for judgment) by the time your 12 (a ridiculous age for such judgment) and it is another thing to be sexualized and constantly harassed for having the ideal body type. Again I wanted to hide. I wanted to just be exceptional. Slightly above average, but definitely not a trailblazer.

Some would call this feeling a "fear of success." From studying myself I can honestly say this assumption is inaccurate in my case.  For the most part, anything I've tried my hand at I've been good at it if not by talent then by persistence.

My problem was always with the crowd excellence attracted, their constant surveillance, and constant labeling of who I was and what I did. I was afraid of peaking within certain environments and getting stuck there like a hometown hero who never leaves their hometown because ever since they’ve been discovered everyone keeps calling on them.  I was afraid that nothing was ever enough, that my security could always be threatened.  My feelings were complex but God hit me with a simple truth later on:

"Your definition of excellence is not mine." Tweet this.

Excellence didn’t seem like something that could be constantly pursued on this earth. Jesus' ministry was only 3 years long before he was killed by his people. Excellence didn’t come with peace and it just seemed miserable unless you, like God, were already living in paradise. To me, exceptionalism seemed more obtainable.
  
But the more I unlearned my own definition of excellence the more I realized It's better to be set apart by God than set it your own ways. If you always live within your own limits you will never fully know God's abundance.  God honors not because of our efforts but because of his heart for us. Knowing that we are finite and imperfect he allows us to get empty so that he can always pour more of himself into who we are. He is not threatened by our desire to hide but calls us to be courageous. He knows the crowd will come but no threat can overtake the power of his love. Therefore the truth is excellence is obtainable as long as God has constantly made himself available (which he has). 

My unlearning process started at that rap concert and continues almost every day (yup, I get afraid every single day). I encourage you that when God brings awareness between what you thought was right and His truth even though the initial sever may hurt, let Him continue to grow the gap until you do not see the fear in the horizon any longer. Trust that He is truthful.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.  John 10:10

p.s: I would like to do research on early achievers; if anyone knows someone who could help me in that endeavor please let me know