Monday, November 23, 2020

The Scraggly Tree

So, I wonder if you've heard about the 75-foot-tall tree that arrived last week in front of Rockefeller Plaza? As the crane lowered the tree into its new home for the next month, it looked like it had just come through 2020! The bottom limbs appeared bare and its needles hung limply, as if it weren’t quite ready for Christmas. On top of all its other struggles, it leaned to the side as if to say "I’m through with this year!”

A spokesperson for Rockefeller Center told NBC’s Today “When it’s unwrapped and first put up, the branches don’t immediately all snap back into place, and those are the photos you’re seeing. It takes a while before it fully settles.”

I have a feeling most of us have felt a bit scraggly over the course of these COVID months. Maybe you have hung your head a bit limply at times as you donned your face one more time with a mask. Perhaps you’ve felt a bit off balance in your life, just like the scraggly tree?

The story of this tree reminded me of one of my favorite passages found in John 15:4-5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

The secret of us human beings being fruitful, as Jesus spoke about in John 15, is to abide in Jesus, to stay connected to Him. That’s not as easy as it sounds! Our natural tendency is to live life for ourselves and seek our own happiness. But the One connected to Jesus has given His life to Jesus and is committed to following Him. We realize that we don’t have to live the Christian life on our own power, but instead, staying connected to the vine. 
How does that look for me personally? Honestly, I need God more than ever these days. The year, 2020, has been one of the toughest years in my life! But, as I daily chose to abide in Christ and walk with Him moment by moment through several ongoing trials, He is faithful to nourish me, strengthen me and use me to bear fruit. I'm just very aware of my desperate need for God.

The Rockefeller tree is not down-and-out like most people think. With water, some beautiful lights and holiday trim, it will look amazing! So, no matter how discouraged or defeated or down-and-out you might feel today, please remember that Jesus is inviting you to connect with His life. Abide in Him. Happy Thanksgiving!

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Grumbling to Gratitude

I don’t usually start out my day wondering “Well, let me see, how many things can I grumble about today?” No, I don’t do that. Grumbling can just sneak in like a slow faucet drip. It can be so natural that I don’t even know I’m doing it. Grumbling can be triggered by life’s stuff…. Barking dogs. Slow traffic. Bad food at a restaurant. Cranky family member. Cold weather. Negative co-worker. Chronic pain. COVID fatigue. It’s hard NOT to utter our distinct displeasure with what irritates us.

Here we are halfway through November, the month of gratitude! I have to confess, I haven’t been bubbling over with gratitude lately. How do I change my grumbles to gratitude?

Well, I’ll share a personal experience. My husband, Ben, had a serious bike accident over Labor Day. He’s still not able to walk, but we are hopeful that will happen soon. I’m embarrassed at the ways I’ve grumbled these last months. There are plenty of things to grumble about. However, that doesn’t give me a license to do so.

Just recently, I started thinking about what I was grateful to God for concerning Ben's injury: I’m grateful Ben survived this accident. I’m grateful for the healing that’s happened. I’m grateful it wasn’t worse. I’m grateful for all the friends and families who prayed and cared for us. I'm grateful for more time together. I’m grateful that God is being faithful to meet all our needs. Consider some of the process that I went through to become more grateful:

1. Get aware of your grumbles- I had to be aware that I was grumbling on a regular basis. I was downright frustrated. Angry. Irritated with God for the cards we were dealt. It turned into a negative spirit where I struggled with a quick temper and definitely more stressed than usual.

2. God is good ALL the time- I recalled that God is a loving Father who has good things planned for us. He allows things in our life that we don’t always like, because we live in a fallen world. But, when I embrace that He is always good, loving, sovereign, just, perfect, and faithful, I find hope in that. I can give thanks to God, knowing He is in full control of our situation.

3. Practice cultivating a heart of gratitude. Practice changes everything. There’s about 15 days left in the month of November. Would you consider joining me in asking God to help you stomp out grumbling and add gratitude into your life? Practice from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. Be a grateful person. God will be pleased. You will be changed and others will be affected by your grateful heart.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Philippians 2:14-15

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Peaceful and Quiet Lives

Daisy, my horse, has taken the elections in stride. In fact, I think Daylight Savings Time was way more of an ordeal! Feeding times were off and that was a bit of a catastrophe. For Chara, our English Springer, she seemed a bit frustrated that we were glued more than usual to the TV, rather than to her.

The cool thing about our pets is they just love to be with us! They relish the simple things of life. Being with their people. Eating.(on time) Exercising. Repeat. They’re pretty chill for the most part. On a cool day, Daisy may kick her legs up as she’s getting lunged, but she’s just letting you know she feels good. They live such peaceful and quiet lives. Perhaps, that’s why we enjoy them so much.

I think most of us would cherish a peaceful and quiet life. We’d like to wish away all the hurt, pain, anger, racism, election issues, grief, COVID, and suffering around us. Many of you are struggling with issues to deep for words. For me personally, the last few months have been anything but peaceful and quiet. They've been tough. Even with the elections soon to be behind us, there will continue to be things that bring angst, fear and anxiety to our hearts. Because, well, that's life. 

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 it says “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I think this is a call to pray for our present and future president and all those in authority. But, I also think it’s a call to how we should live: peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. The purpose of a peaceful and quiet life is not to be comfortable and happy, but so that we can grow in godliness and holiness.

I don’t know the winner of the election at the time of this writing. Whether your candidate won or loss, we need something more than our candidate to win in life. We need God. When we live in relationship with Jesus, we’re freed to live not just for ourselves, but for others. Knowing Christ brings a peace that passes ALL understanding. That kind of peace allows us to respond to a difficult person or crummy circumstance with peace. We don’t return anger for anger. We don't return hate for hate nor judgment for judgment. We don't live in fear or anxiety. We love at all times and carry the peace of Christ wherever we go. 

So, may you receive this blessing today and live in light of God's peace: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22-26)

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Helplessness

I finally figured out what makes me most anxious these days. I feel helpless. Really helpless. I have no control of the elections. I have no control over the riots and volatility in our country. I have no control of the fires, hurricanes and floods in our country. Ditto for so many other things.  

I really don’t like to be helpless. Who does? Being helpless could actually come across weak, powerless and dependent upon others. O. Hallesby, a well known Norwegian theologian born in 1879, wrote one of my favorite classic books entitled simply “Prayer.” He writes “Helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of your helplessness.”  Did you get this? God loves when we come to Him in a state of helplessness. It’s actually a good thing!

Perhaps, we miss out on powerful prayers being answered because we’re too prideful to admit to God our need for Him? Join me in praying some of these simple, helpless prayers. Admitting that we are utterly dependent upon our God in the days ahead is actually a good thing:

Lord, I pray for your sovereign hand over the elections.
Lord, I pray for peace in our country no matter who gets elected.
Lord, I pray for peace in my own heart no matter who gets elected.
Lord, heal those that I know that COVID, cancer or another injury/illness.
Lord, heal those that I know that are grieving a loss of someone dear to them.
Lord, heal my heart that is hurting because of: ___________________.
Lord, I give you my stressors today: ____________________.
Lord, I give you my many weaknesses and want to thank you for your strength.
Lord, I’m so powerless to love others well and need your help to do so.


It feels so weird to be helpless. But when I acknowledge my helplessness, the Lord becomes actively engaged in coming alongside me and adding His strength. You see this so beautifully in Paul’s letter in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power my rest on me.’”
Power made perfect in my weakness. Sit in those words. This is the power we have through Christ. He is available to walk with us through anything!  God’s peace be with you today.

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

In His Hands

How do we make sense of this time in our world? Perhaps you’re experiencing COVID-fatigue these days. You’re just so tired of the whole thing. Maybe you’re on edge with the recent riots in our cities. Or maybe you’re anxious about the upcoming election. Will your choice candidate(s) win or lose? And how will you feel if they lose?

We live in a very challenging time in our country. I don’t know one person who isn’t intimately affected by one or all these events. For me personally, I’ve found that I can’t go a day without running to my God, for help, perspective and hope. I also find comfort when I delve into understanding God’s sovereignty.

What comes to mind when you think about the sovereignty of God? Sovereignty means “supreme power or authority.” How do we make sense of this in terms of God Himself? To be simple, God is God. There is no one else like Him. He has supreme power over everything.

Sometimes, I see God like other humans. I place Him on human level because I’m human. That’s where I go wrong. He is God! It is through Scripture that my mind and heart are lifted to a greater understanding of His sovereignty. Here are a few verses to meditate on in the coming days:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Psalm 115:3

“Daniel praised the God of heaven. He said, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” Daniel 2:19-21

"Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

“And looking at them, Jesus said to them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

God’s plans are greater than our plans. He sees the whole picture. We see what we see. While we are concerned with our own comfort and what we want, He is concerned with the souls of people. We can actually look to His sovereignty and find peace and hope, knowing how much He loves us.

With these world events we are experiencing, it can feel like you're out of control. You can feel very helpless. Remember, you can quickly turn to the One who has the whole world in his hands. He’s got COVID in his hands. He’s got the election in His hands. He’s got the riots and unrest in His hands. He is sovereign. God’s peace be with you.

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Wheelchair Living

I’ve had my share of navigating older folks around in wheelchairs earlier in my career. I remember training our Dallas nursing home staff to help bridge the gap between sympathy and empathy by giving them an extended “experience” in the wheelchair. You see things differently from a wheelchair.

Fast-forward many years. Now, it’s my husband in a wheelchair.  Ben, who recently broke his pelvis in a bike accident, is experiencing life from a wheelchair. As much as Ben would like to walk, it’s necessary that he wait. The wheelchair does something for him he can’t do himself.

I would say all of us would prefer to walk, rather than tool around in a wheelchair. Ben sure would! The wheelchair is that reminder that sometime in our life, we may experience a weakness or inability that makes us dependent upon something or someone else. Most all of us would prefer independence. But, in Scripture, we see that God anticipated our weakness....

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)

As a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit living in me. He actually helps me in my weakness! He does something for me that I can’t do myself, just like the wheelchair!

Ben and I are not left to our own resources to get through this hard time. We have the Holy Spirit who helps us pray. He counsels and comforts us in this challenging season. He prays for us when we struggle to know how to pray. God literally carries us. 

Where do you need God to carry you today? Are your fearful of the election results? Are you struggling in a decision? Are you smack dab in a big trial where you feel drained and inadequate? Do you need wisdom for a challenging relationship? Are you grieving something or someone?

Rest in our Father God’s love. He is very present. He longs to carry you too! He may not take away the circumstance, but He will be so present in the circumstance.

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Desperately Need Help?

Have you ever reached a point where you desperately needed help? The longer we live, we will eventually be in a situation where we need help with relationships, physical challenges, life decisions, finances or another challenge. What do you do when you desperately need help?

Bartimaeus is one of my favorites in the Bible. He was desperately in need of help. In Mark 10:46-52, we read that Bartimaeus was blind. He also was a beggar, which meant that he had no one to take care of him. In the text, we see him sitting beside the road begging. When he heard that Jesus was coming through town, he began to yell, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That didn’t sit well with the crowd. They told him to shut up. I imagine many were thinking he was really crying out “Give me money!”

But, Bartimaeus wasn’t asking for money. He was asking for mercy. In Mark 10:49 it says “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’” Bartimaeus got up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus said “ Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus told him his faith had healed him. In other words, Bartimaeus knew it was Jesus and He had faith that Jesus could heal him.  

On the outside looking in, I could look at this whole scenario and judge Bartimaeus. He probably looked scruffy and was certainly annoying with all his yelling. Why did he have to say the same thing over and over? You know how easy it is to judge your fellow human, right?
But, it was Bartimaeus who had faith! He believed Jesus COULD heal Him. It was the crowds that really couldn’t see. Blindness comes in all sorts of ways, doesn’t it?
What miracle are you asking God for today? Do you really believe that God can do anything? Did you know that God hears your cries for help? Don’t give up asking God to work a miracle in your life. It just takes a very small amount of faith. Just believe. God is able.

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.