Monday, December 12, 2011


This post was going to be about something else... Something I will no doubt publish, just not right this second. There is something more I want to discuss for now. Something God has laid on my heart that is more important.

If you have ever traveled, run a business, or been employed in the workforce, you know that there are some very different people out there, with as many differing opinions as there are unique faces. They have their own religions, their own political views, their own parenting styles. They are all different from you - and from me. No two of us, no matter how perfectly matched, are ever exactly the same in how we think or view our world. It is the dynamic that God created and it makes us the creature he treasures above all other things.

That's pretty incredible, isn't it? And we can all agree that it is so wonderful - as long as we are the ones that God is including in this "great to be different" set... Wonder what I mean by that? Well... Let me share something with you.

My very best friend is my husband, I think I have said that before. But it would be very unfair of me to expect him to meet all of my needs, so I have girlfriends as well. I have a girlfriend that I would consider to be a best friend. We have a lot in common, we have a wonderful time together and we also have differences that we celebrate as well. She is a linear thinker, I am a creative thinker. She is tall and thinly built, I am built like a fire plug. We have been friends now for about 13 years and we are both committed to the friendship in ways we never saw coming, but both of us recognize. We have held each other's hands through marital strife, parenting struggles and career changes. We know how to kick each other in the pants to straighten out wrong-thinking and we know when all that's needed is a listening ear and a glass of wine. We are also very aware that there is but one subject we do not discuss.

That subject would be politics. My friend and I are on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum and we know it about each other. We don't have the same outlook on taxes, educational funding and we don't belong to the same political party. We have agreed, somewhat silently, that we will not allow that part of our lives to color how we feel about the other and it is a subject best left undiscussed in order to keep peace in our relationship. 

I have informed others around me that we have this arrangement and someone, very innocently, quipped, "You are a better friend than I could be. That would drive me crazy. I would have to convert them to my way of thinking or leave the friendship behind." That got me thinking... Of course I value the friendship more than my political bent, but am I doing myself a disservice by curtailing the conversation and ignoring the blaring differences we have between us? I had to really think about that. And I came to some conclusions.

First, I examined the places we are similar. We believe in Christ, that he is the risen Savior, that He is the only way to salvation and that without faith in Him we are without hope. That is more important to me than politics. It is one of the most important things for me in a best friend and confidant. I am friends with non-Christians, and close friends at that, but when I search for advice I have to rely heavily on those with experience in my faith as well as those with the same life experiences.

Secondly, we are told not to be divisive about things that don't matter in the realm of salvation. The Church is a huge entity and it is filled with many folks that don't think the same way my family does... Heck, certain parts of my family don't think like I do! So I think I have Biblical ground to say that on this issue I will blithely stick my head in the sand. It isn't something I see endangering her salvation, so I can let it go. 

Thirdly, and most certainly not least, letting my friend have her own opinions about things that we differ on and not trying to make her think like me is a conscious act of submission to love my neighbor just as she is. I know that she is saved, that she is a believer, so really, there is no work for me to do there. When I feel her heart is wrong on things in her life, I call her on it. I don't have to make it about politics or anything other than behavior that Christ would not want from her. I expect the same from her. Should I have a wrong-hearted attitude about something, sans political bent, I would expect that she would let me know there was a problem.  

We don't have to be political allies to be friends, at least not in my estimation. We only have to be kind to one another, trustworthy with each other's hearts and honest about our own faults before we point out anyone else's. I hope that that makes me a good friend. It might not make me a good Democrat or Republican, but then, that wasn't what I was looking for when I found her anyway...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I Deserve...

He walked from the arena, the sides of his horse heaving like bellows from the exertion, and we looked at eachother in anticipation. It was a great run... Dare we hope? The speakers crackled ever so slightly and the annoucer began his reiteration of the stallion's name and rider. He did not do the signature inflection of the winning score and so for a moment we all deflated just a bit on our metal bleacher seats. Then, with a smile barely perceptable in his voice, as if he knew what he was doing to announce it so blandly, the voice dropped upon our waiting ears the winning score! We were ahead!!! The owner let out a whoop and a holler that belied the surprise and excitement only she could feel at that moment. She spun in place, waving her arms in elation as she giggled like a school girl with delight. What an amazing moment in time... Truly amazing.

As I walked with her back to the excercise arena to meet up with her horse, I was flooded with a rush of gratitude to God for giving her this moment. It was exactly what this woman needed at exactly the right time. This woman who had lost so much, who was dealing with such deep seated regret and anguish in her life, was being graced by God in a way she could hold and understand. As she burst into tears and sobbed, we exchanged a look between us that said much more than words could ever encompass. She knew she had been gifted this blessing not because she deserved it or had a ringer in the bag. God was reaching out and touching her, blessing her beyond measure for His pleasure alone. It is humblng to watch and even more humbling to receive.

You know the moment I speak of. Those times when something has landed in your lap, completely unexpected and undeserved. Those times when you would almost rather not be in the bright spotlight of God's amazing blessing and love. It is almost unbearable, that searing love He pours out upon you with delight in His heart. I have had experiences like that where the blessing seems to keep coming, running over the rim of my outstretched hands for its abundance. It is overwhelming and a little frightening, first because it comes mostly when we least expect it and secondly because when God gives it tends to be much more than we could have ever asked for. Details we never thought to ask for pour forth with perfection in every aspect. Like watching a baby's birth or a brilliant sunrise, we are distinctly reminded that God has it all under control.

We are tempted in that moment occasionally to reject the gift because we are aware in those humbling stretches that we are definitely not worthy of such unconditional, all encompassing love. It is then that we need be reminded, we are never worthy of His love or His gifts, He gives for His pleasure and His glory alone. We can never deserve it, never earn it, never expect it out of our own riteousness, we can only accept that when God gives us His gifts it is at His discretion. Don't expect to ever understand how this works, my friends. He will never make earthly sense to us in this. Just accept that at times, you are the recipient and praise Him for His generosity. Afterall, He could give us exactly what we deserve - And no one wants that!

Waiting on God can be exhausting. It reminds me of having a newborn baby. You are up all times of the day and night, feeding, changing, rocking and caring for this little child. You may have waited years to have kids and you inevitably feel a pang of guilt when you realize you are beginning to resent this tiny bundle of joy who never seems to quit demanding things of you. Just about the time that you think you might crack up and be found wadded up in a heap at the bottom of your closet with the door closed, that precious little child smiles. They begin looking in your eyes with recognition and joy and you realize that you have now been rejuvenated to keep on going. 

God is growing us, stretching us and conditioning us to be His. That can be a painful process, but it isn't without its rewards. Just when you are ready to throw in the towel and call it quits, God is there too. It may not come in a package that you expect, or with such drama as I have described above, but God is waiting to invigorate you as well. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Enough Is More Than I Had Before...

I am in awe that God is so patient with me. More than once I have had aha! moments that I am sure He is rolling his eyes over my utter lack of understanding. This morning was one of those moments.

I read devotionals after I have taken the kids to the bus stop and the house is quieted down from the morning fervor. It is my way of centering my head and getting my day started on (hopefully) the right path. Right now, the two I am most consistent with are "Jesus Calling" and "Jesus Lives" by Sarah Young. (I like her stuff, obviously.) Today, she knocked me back on my heels with an observation that still has tendrils of smoke emanating from my ears.

I think all of us who have experienced Christian-ese are familiar with the term and concept that God gives us "strength for the day." I had heard that many times, right along with, "God won't give you more than you can handle," and "God will equip you for what He asks of you." All very true and you can get into a mantra mind-set with these concepts. Telling yourself over and over, "God is right here with me in this..." but sometimes I realize for me, they are just words. Like a saying given to me as child to calm my fears and panic, I recount these facts in my mind, but never really assimilate what they truly mean.

This morning, I stepped into understanding with Sarah Young's help. Not only does God care about where I am in my life and what is going on, He cares enough to send me just the right amount of holy aid for each individual situation. When I need ALOT he sends ALOT. When I need just a smidge, he sends just a smidge. I know it sounds very pedestrian of me not to have gotten this before now, but I hadn't. God tailors the amount of Holy Help He sends my way depending on the looming need of the task itself... When things are sooo very bad and I am sure I cannot handle it at all, much less alone, God amps up the aid accordingly! I am given differing amounts of God's empowerment correlating directly to how much help I need and how willing I am to depend on Him.

yeah... That last sentence got me too. I am empowered depending on how much I am willing to look to Him for the help. Hmphf! Could it be that those places I want to question God about how much He is helping out are actually pointing to the fact that I am not depending on His abilities, but my own? Very revealing, don't you think? I sure do! I am sure that Peter found it revealing as well when he started to sink in the water after he realized the magnitude of stepping out of that boat to greet his Savior... Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come ahead." But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!" Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, "Faint-heart, what got into you?" (Matthew 14:28-31 MSG)

The next time hard days darken my door, I hope that I can remember the words of Sara Young and realize that God is completely in control of my life. He will empower me with the perfect amount of His abilities to tackle whatever I am facing, as long as I am looking to Him - not my own abilities to overcome. Just don't look down....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things no one will tell you about love....

Anyone who has ever had a teenager in the house knows the truth spoken when one says, "You can't tell them anything!" Teens, by nature are very hard headed and also very sure of themselves. It's a brain chemistry thing. It means that they are going to make some very painful and hurtful mistakes, but once they learn the lesson, one also hopes that they will have it all firmly implanted in the hard drive for future reference!

I speak from experience, not because my own teenage daughter is all that hard headed, but because I was. VERY hard headed, indeed! I insisted on never listening to anyone over the age of 25 and I made a lot of costly, well learned mistakes. I have to say those lessons that were painful are ones I generally didn't repeat. Looking back, there were some things that I wish I could have listened to a little closer. I can't say it would have changed my path, but it might have at least slowed me down just a titch.

I wish that one of the things I could have learned about without all of that painful experience was love. I know that love is an intensely personal thing that differs for each person on an individual level, but there are some universal truths about love that I believe we all could benefit from.

In a land where divorce is commonplace, rudeness is accepted and common courtesy is not the norm, having some basic rules about loving others might keep some of the sanity in our daily living.

First off, let me say that love is a choice. It is not an emotion, passion, lust or a state of something we can be in, per se. Love is a process of decision making that takes over when we care deeply for someone. Love is a choice. We choose to stay when leaving would be easier, we choose to forgive when we have every right to be angry, loving someone means sacrificing our rights and yet not resenting those choices to do so... Ok, well at least not every time!

Not sure I know what I'm talking about? I agree, my view point is unconventional, but it is biblical... Check this out: Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 MSG) Does that sound like a volatile emotional response to you? Yeah, me neither! Wish I had known that when I was seventeen and trying to make some very important decisions about my life...

Secondly, love has lots of different stages. Weird. We grow up watching Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Julia Roberts and we buy into Hollywood's lie that it all looks the same. That love will find us in a coffee shop somewhere, and the guy will be the same guy for the rest of our lives: always romantic, always well dressed and always showered. Um... yeah... Nope. It changes. It comes at us in our youth full of hormones and looking very passionate, but if we truly do love, we stick it out through baby vomit, weight gain, balding heads and crabby pants. It becomes much more like the super comfy sweats that you slide into on a Sunday afternoon. Not something we want our neighbors to have to look at, but we love em just the same!

Lastly, love of the durable kind isn't really possible without God. We just can't wrap our heads around it without that most perfect of examples. Christ truly had the love thing down pat. He loves us when we are most unlovable. Christ loves us even when, in our sin and ignorance, we hate him. That is what I mean by choice. Christ has every right to leave us in the dust and despair that is the human condition... He doesn't. He picks us up out of that filth, brushes us off, gives us living water and chooses to love us even when we don't deserve it. I am immensely grateful for that, aren't you?

Choosing love isn't the easy thing to do. Choosing love isn't always understood by outsiders. Choosing love means that you might get hurt. Choosing love is, however the most important charge we get from Christ. "You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. "But remember the root command: Love one another. (John 15:16, 17 MSG)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


You've seen the poster of the cute, cuddly little kitten hanging on the tree branch, mouth open wide with eyes like saucers. You can almost hear the pitiful meow as you read the "Hang in there!" caption that is supposed to encourage us and remind us that the waiting is only temporary...

If you have lived on this earth for any length of time at all, you know what waiting it out is all about. You know that after the job interview there will be waiting, after the tests are run there will be waiting, when you pray desperately to God for His guidance and aid there will be waiting. It isn't something we excel at, this waiting thing. In fact in the modern day, if you are asked to step outside the line at McDonalds to wait for your order you get rather incensed and irritated, "What exactly is 'fast food' if I have to wait?" Oh, and don't let the internet connection get bogged down... That is cause for all kinds of angst and lamenting! Waiting is not pleasant, and frankly we stink at it! Being stuck in limbo, waiting on something we deem incredibly important, can drive us into all kinds of unattractive behaviors.

You may not have known where the phrase, "Being stuck in limbo," originated. It has been around a long time and originates from the Latin word, limbus which means the edge of something or the boundary. It was used often to describe the edge of Hell. Limbo is one of those places described by certain religious traditions to be that place the dead were hanging out, waiting for Christ to escort them into Heaven. It was only a holding area for those that died in God's favor, but since Christ hadn't come to open the gates they had to hang out and wait for their guide to accompany them into paradise. A very fitting way to describe how we feel when we are waiting out there on a limb...

We can look into the gates of Hell, see and hear the wailing and the laments of past mistakes. We know we don't want to be there, but we have to hang out and wait for Christ to take us on to our true destination. Waiting is hard! The image of waiting at the edge of Hell should be encouragement not to make hasty decisions because we want movement - of any kind! If only I had the forethought to look at my Limbo moments like that!

I know from my own experiences that waiting is a dangerous place to be. I want to make something happen, often even if it is the wrong thing. Once I make a decision, I am often ready to move, with or without my escort there. The problem is, God has designed certain times in our lives to wait. It is a part of Christian growth that often gets overlooked. Well, ok... Maybe overlooked is too nice a phrase. Perhaps "ignored" is more accurate. We don't want to wait. We want to hear the Almighty answer right away, send us on our path and make it all easy peasy! But is that growth? Is that preparing us for times that we will need our patience and trust in our Lord? Not hardly... And it isn't likely that God will deliver it either.

When we wait God is growing us. He is growing our trust, growing our faith, building our spiritual muscles. Like anything, we have to practice to excel. If I decided to set a goal to run a marathon, I had better begin training for that marathon months in advance. Showing up the day of the race with no training or conditioning will spell disaster for my ultimate goal. My lungs will be ill prepared to deliver the oxygen my legs will need to keep running. My legs will not have the muscles built to keep my feet in motion to reach the finish line. My mind will be ill equipped to handle the mental stress of such a long run. God knows we need training and conditioning to run His race as well, and so He teaches us to wait.

Wait with anticipation and trust in God's will to give you hope and a future. Wait in prayer, communing with God about your anxiety and desires for the outcome. Wait knowing it will have a purpose to strengthen you and deliver you to a better place in the long run. Wait and treasure the time the Father is giving you to share with Him your heart.

When you are in Limbo, waiting on Jesus to walk you into the next phase, keep and eye and an ear open for the proof that bad decisions and hasty movement aren't worth the pain. In all movement toward your goal, pray for God's guidance and His will so that you won't be tempted to move without Him. God is very good at letting us know when we are on track. He may not give you billboard signs, but he will cause doors to be shut and windows to open. He will walk with you through anything He puts before you and He has promised to never leave you.

What are you waiting on today? Hang in there... It's worth it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silence is Golden...

The news hit me like a ton of bricks... Cruel, heavy, unwieldy clods of baked earth that sat heavily on my chest. It seemed as though the air had been pressed out of my lungs and the tears that were forming in my eyes stung relentlessly.

I had been enjoying the late fall sunshine with a friend and had entered our home to see the look of utter shock on my husband's face. There was just nothing fair about this news, and yet its state of injustice in my mind wasn't going to change the sheer fact that it just was. The loss was not my own, I had never met the young lady who had passed, but the loss was that of a dear friend and it crushed my heart to know the pain she must be feeling.

I was overwhelmed by the urge to pack up my car with a few overnight things and head to her, immediately. And then I stopped. My friend isn't alone, family surrounds her and it was family that I wasn't all that familiar with. Would my presence be welcomed or intrusive in the face of such grief? And since I didn't know the balance of her family well, would they be stoic when what they really needed was to let loose the flood of overwhelming sorrow? I sat down heavily in my chair and wept, a feeling of helplessness washing over me.

Should I call? Should I ask if I should come, knowing full well the answer in the face of such drowning grief would be "no, please don't." In trying to determine my own reaction to this situation, I put myself in my friend's shoes, as if I could ever fully comprehend the magnitude of such a loss. Even so, trying to understand another's grief, my empathy almost paralyzed me in place. I would honor the direction to stay put... Against my desire to be helpful, I instead respected the family's privacy.

It reminded me how so often we try to make other's feel better because we feel helpless. We attempt to assuage or ease their struggle because we want them to be comforted and we want to be comfortable. In doing so, more often than not, we do the wrong thing, say something insensitive or remain silent in paralytic fear of doing the thing that will cause even more harm.

It took a day and a half's worth of prayer until I truly felt that staying put was the right move on my part. But the thought of intruding on someone's grief process, when family is really the only remedy for this kind of loss, that was a faux pas far worse than I could readily wrap my head around. I am not a stranger to loss and I am a witness to many ill thought out attempts to soothe a mourner's heart. I have come away with some basics that I think warrant sharing.

When you don't know what to say, say very little. As a word-smith, I struggle with this most. I want to use my vast vocabulary to somehow impart the sorrow and angst I feel for the person who is hurting. It isn't necessary and it isn't likely to help anything. Eloquence has it's place, but not here. Not when things are so raw with emotion. It is much more likely that in my nervousness to say the right thing, I will choose the wrong adjectives, the wrong sentiment and then I have done something that cannot be undone. If I feel I must say something, "I'm so sorry," is a good bet. Sitting with someone's silence is hard, sitting with their grief and tears is often much harder. Taking back words said in haste, no matter how well meaning, is impossible.

If you want to send something, flowers are traditional, food is better. The family will be inundated with lots of mourners converging on their home for quite a few days. If you live close, making a casserole and salad and bringing it over, staying only as long as necessary to drop the dishes if you are not specifically invited, can be a Godsend for the weary hosts. With the internet the emergence of many food providers is another great way to send something if you don't live close by. For a few dollars, you can add something that makes a huge difference with very little waste left over. On the sentiment card simply convey your sorrow for the loss and leave your name. You may never know how much the small thought may make but not having to cook or think about heading to the market is such a burden lifted.

Lastly, remember that once the dust settles there is still a lot to deal with. The guests will leave and the extended family will return home, but the loss is still very real. Your friend may need you in ways they never thought possible. It may be as simple as heading over with coffee to sit and allow them to talk or cry. You may be tempted to help clean up - do so only if it doesn't make your friend uncomfortable. Sometimes it is only being present while the mourning take a much needed rest or a walk around the neighborhood. Many times the simplest things are the most thoughtful. We don't have to make elaborate meals, or spend gobs of money to bring comfort in this time, mostly we just have to be there to respond.

My heart is heavy for my friend and her family. There are just no words to say that with any kind of depth. I will stand by, waiting for the right time to sit with her and hold her hand. I will not need words then, she will just know...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

God is not my friend...

When you are sitting in the obstetrician's office, big round belly taking up most of your lap, the best advice you can get as a woman and an up and coming parent is to be a parent. Simply put (again, simple not easy), this means that there will be times in your parenting journey that your child is going to need you to be the tough guy, the hard nose, the bad cop... Kids need boundaries and we as their parents have to be the ones to give it to them - clearly, concisely and firmly. While it is so much more fun to be the one who takes them to the movies, the parent who understands their mood swings, and the person they can feel safest with, it is crucial that we keep the role of parent and friend firmly separated. Our children don't need more friends when they are struggling, they need their parents. They need discipline and guidance that coincide with our particular lifestyle, things only their parents can give.

We see this relationship played out in other avenues as well. Living where I work and working with younger folk, it can be really hard for me not to make those kids my family or my friends. I have to remember, on some level I have to remain their boss. The worst instances of business breakdowns we have suffered around here have come, I believe, when we blurred those lines between friend and employer. It was hard on the employee and it was very hard on us. We needed our boundaries.

The same stands for our relationship with God. God is not our friend - God is the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, he is not, repeat not, our equal.There are some beliefs out there that say we are all our own God... If that is true, someone needs to be dialing 911 right now, because I am in BIG trouble! I don't want to be my own God, I screw up toast! I cannot even begin to think what a mess I would make of even just my own little universe. Trust me, you don't want me being your God either... But I digress.

What I am getting at here is simple and something I have been struggling with on some level for some time. God wants me walking hand in hand with Him, obviously. What God doesn't want is to be tied to my whiny butt, walking alongside of someone who is constantly asking, "Where are we going now? Why did you do it that way? Can't I rest for just one minute? Do you really, really love me?" He wants to be God, not my buddy. I am not His equal to question why He does anything, I am only charged with being obedient to His will.

Understand, God takes it when we act that way... He just isn't a fan. He wants us to trust Him, He wants us to love Him, but He also wants us to treat Him with the respect He is due. I mean, how many times does He have to tell us "I will never leave you, nor forsake you?" It is repeated often throughout the bible, five times that I can immediately find in the NKJV offhand without trying hard at all. Maybe He's trying to tell us something! three out of those five instances involving that phrase accompany verses that also address fear... Hmmmm. Now I know He's on to something! I am often caught worrying "Where is God?" when I am fearful. These words are meant to encourage me that no matter what I see, God hasn't left me. He is still right there by my side.

In a time when we are all becoming very familiar with each other, rarely using the "Mr. So-and-so", "Mrs. You-Know-Who", or even simple "Yes sir/ma'am", God reminds us that our ways are not His ways. He begs us to not lean on our own understanding. Do you think He might have something there? Well, it depends on your view of God. If you consider Him your equal you may be having a hard time understanding why He is choosing to use a particular trial in your life to train you up. If, however, you fully realize and understand who God actually is, you may (and that is a big may if you live in my skin) have a better time walking beside a God who desires your love, your trust and your company - Just not your advice!

Trusting God when it hurts or doesn't make sense will always be the hardest thing we humans have to endure in this life on earth. His goal in our lives isn't open for discussion, but it is always set up to benefit us in the end. Be honored that the King has requested your presence in the garden to stroll with Him at leisure. Treat Him as you would treat someone you greatly admire and respect that His will is not clouded by sin or power, only by the incomprehensible love He has for each and every one of His children. That alone should be enough to awe you into the proper mindset... God deserves our love, demands our respect and hopes for our trust. God is not my friend, He is so much more!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Networking Skills

There's a tree native to the Puerto Rican rainforest. It is monolithic, as you would expect most rainforest trees to be. It reaches a mature growth of around 115 feet tall and 71 inches in diameter. Its smooth grey bark is reminiscent of enormous elephantine legs and the age of the oldest trees has been guessed at 400 years or more. The leafy canopies of its limbs engulf the littered forest floor in shade. Its wood makes beautiful furniture, is useful in lumber applications and can be used much like mahogany or birch. Of all the rainforest trees, the Tabonuco tree is special not for its breath taking size or finished lumbered beauty but for what lies below the surface.

Beneath the littered forest floor of the Puerto Rican island, on the highest, rockiest ridges, the Tabonuco puts down something very, very special. Roots. Yes, I know, every tree puts down roots... But the root system of the Tabonuco is special indeed. It grafts its roots to each other. Instead of standing alone, the Tabonuco creates a system of root sharing that incorporates up to twenty other trees. When tragedy strikes and a hurricane hits the tiny island, the Tabonuco is firmly rooted with its companions to weather the storm. When one is lost in the grafting, scabs and callouses form over the wounds of the tree, but the system doesn't die. It still feeds its group. It is interconnected to its system, each supplying the other with water, food and sunlight. The Tabonuco is quite a tree!

We too were not made to do it alone. We were created to have fellowship, first with the ultimate root system that is Christ and second with each other. We cannot stand alone in the forrest and expect to flourish. We have to have our grafted root system in place to be truly a productive and fruitful individual. When one of us runs into trouble, it is up to the entire system we have in place to respond, first pointing us straight to the Father and then being open to His leading to pick help in whatever way He deems appropriate.

Putting down roots has such varied connotations. It can mean growing up, picking a mate, finding a home, settling in a particular city or geographical area. The roots we put down in our faith, however, are so much more important. These roots are the things that will anchor us when life storms all around us, these roots will keep us standing when everything else is failing and falling around us. When we are rooted in Christ, that solid foundation beneath our feet, the rest of the world can be shifting sand - we will stand firm. Christ should be at the heart of our grafted root system.

The network we build around that foundation, the people we allow into our lives and associate, play and learn with, is the fellowship that Christ has asked us to nurture and grow. We are not made to stand alone, to live the Christian life in a vacuum, untouched and alone. Trees raised in darkness are stunted, Christians living in isolation are fruitless. It's a good thing, too. We thrive in the company of others like ourselves. We are most productive and happy when we have someone to share our successes, our dreams and even our failures and fears. When we feel supported and safe, we reach farther and grow taller even in the face of adversity.

Tend your network today. Touch deeply into the base root of Christ and then radiate outward and check in with your friends and family. They will help you stand strong and you will be ready for the storm when it hits. Who knows, maybe someone in your grafting needs you today! You could be the oasis in their storm that Christ sends to cheer them or just listen.

He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. (Luke 6:48, NKJV)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Living the dream...

You don't have to be college educated, a rocket scientist or a financier to take one look around us and see that we are living in scary, scary times right now. Every time I turn on the television I am greeted by a maniacally grinning talking head espousing the latest DOW drop, the current Congressional feud or the next estimated tax hike and it is starting to have an effect on me.

The Media is swimming with unflattering pictures of glassy-eyed, crazed-looking Tea Party members, frumpy, grumpy Dems or exasperated Republicans. The President is no longer smiling with condescension, informing us lowly peons that panic is unwarranted, he's frowning and sounding defensive. Long gone are the days that entertainment news ruled and we could all bury our collective heads in the sand and pray our ship would come in... We are in the thick of it now, pard'ner! And it only gets uglier from here.

If you believe the doom and gloom, our only hope is to buy gold and other precious metals because the end is near. We need a minimum of two months food and water stocked in our basements or garages and have you bought your generator yet? The Government will be confiscating our bank accounts, taking our earthly possessions as its own and only the armed and the well prepared will survive.

When I look at it like that, I am a deer in the headlights and I am scared! Too scared to even move, if I am downright honest about it. Things like this, times like these, they tend to paralyze me in fear. I get depressed, really depressed, and I stop doing things. I stop cooking, cleaning, and running my life. I start missing deadlines, I start reading a lot. I listen to every report and follow every newscast as though my life depended on it. I stop living for Christ and start living for my next check. It sucks.

My husband hit the nail on the head the other day in the middle of my melt down. He said, "More than having chickens, more than a vegetable garden, or buying up all the gold we can afford, more than anything we feel powerful enough to do, we must learn to pray without ceasing." Becoming more the Master's child, and less the master of our domain will calm us and prepare us for the days to come. To back all of that up, I began scouring my devotionals for any more comfort and I was immediately met head on in Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling." August 5, 6, 7, and 8 speak directly to the futility of thinking we have control over much in our lives, if anything. That our striving for "mastery" is as empty as our hearts without Christ. We have to trust that God will help us deal with the pressures we are given, that He truly doesn't hand us anything He isn't willing to walk with us through. Our job is to listen...

It isn't very glamorous or adventurous to sit and listen, but God wants us to wait on Him. He wants us to be like "still pools" awaiting His stirring of those waters into productive action. We don't get to understand it, to master it. We get to rest in Him. Sarah Young says that peace isn't something we strive to attain, we have it already. We have the ultimate peace when we accept Christ. It is our fallible nature that thinks that if we work at it, we can have more peace. Again, this is one of those "simple not easy" concepts. The hearing and the doing seem miles apart. Being calm when everything around us is falling apart is so very hard! We want to DO something, be active somehow, keep disaster at bay. The truth is we are simply expending useless energy when we do that. God wants our hearts and our trust.

God has been saying it from the beginning. Sad how it takes a crisis on the level of catastrophe to get my attention back to this very simple truth. God wants all of me... again. He isn't asking for a donation or a volunteer on weekends. He wants me all the way. All consumed and thinking about Him every moment of every day. His purpose in loving me is to show me trust. He wants me to trust Him with all of me and He will have his way, whether I come voluntarily and peaceably or whether He drags me there by the hair. His way, or no way at all. It has been eye opening, to say the least.

While it has been eye opening, I also have to say it has been ear closing. (Oh, yes... I hear the collective, "Huh?") At the risk of being very red-neck and labeled as uneducated and rube-ish I have decided to quit watching those talking heads for a while. Fact is, I haven't got any money in the markets, don't have a dime to spare to buy gold (or anything else, for that matter), and me getting over informed is simply giving myself over to the depression that looms in my genetic background. It isn't productive and I can do nothing to stop it from happening. So, to save my sanity, to keep the dinners coming to my family and the laundry from avalanching and killing the dog I am turning off the television and reading some good books, the best of which will be THE Good Book.

Just another day in paradise, living the dream. Over and out...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just when you think things couldn't get worse...

Trust me, I know how it feels to have the vice of God clamped down upon your chest, all of the air gone out like a three day old helium balloon. It is painful, confusing, frustrating and tear filled. Right there with ya, right now as a matter of fact! I have looked around me for the glaring mistake and found none. I have wandered the halls of human solution and found no doors ajar. I have sunk to my knees in prayer, tearfully begging my Lord to show me the way, to relieve me my burden, to enlighten my mind and heart to His desire. I have had no answer... Yet.

I am not calm in this endeavor, at least not all the time. I have moments of peace but nothing lasting. Each time the panic hits me it seems to ratchet up a notch and I am left in a sobbing heap, frightened and exhausted. I don't pretend to know what God is doing, but I do know some very basic truths.

God loves me, has from the start and continues to do so even now. I don't have to feel good to know this. I stand on the truth that He has promised to neither leave nor forsake me. I cling desperately to Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." This alone is my source of strength in this very confusing time. Of course I want a solution, I want to see the issues I am so desperately afraid of come to resolution in my favor. For whatever reason, God is slowing the pace down, stretching my faith, pruning my vine. I accept it, reluctantly.

I realize in my turmoil, my problems pale in comparison to others'. I watched a young woman on television who had been abducted and sexually assaulted at an extremely young age say a very profound thing. She said that if you carried your burdens in a sack to your circle of friends and sat and shared their contents openly with them, and they in turn shared theirs with you, by the end of the day you would be happy to retrieve your own bag and walk your own path, rather than anyone else's. Very wise council indeed. Anytime I think about how hard my life is, I try always to remember that someone else has it much harder than I do.

The last truth I am clinging to is hopeful, but proven time and time again. In the words of my Grandma, "This too shall pass..." (Yes, I know she wasn't the author, she's just the person I remember saying it to me over, and over, and over....) I know that tomorrow holds another challenge, time marches on and once this problem is resolved, I will have more issues to resolve, pray over and wait out with the Lord. When I am faced with those things, I hope I will remember to look back and relive the surety that God is still in control, He still loves me, my problems are for me, not against me and I can rest assured He is walking with me through the valleys as well as the mountain tops.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All You Need is Love...

We have all seen them. That elderly couple, tottering down the aisle way of the local market, holding hands like they were sixteen again. Maybe some of you even have that couple living in your family. A set of grandparents that appear seamless in their love for one another. You hardly ever know of an argument between them, they finish each other's sentences, anniversaries and birthdays don't go forgotten... And if you are like any other human being on this earth, you wonder how they do it.

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV) This is again one of those concepts that is simple, not easy.

I believe that love is a complex concept, not often understood by many in this lonely, fallen world. As complex as it can be, however, I know one thing to be true. Love is not meant to be looked as an emotion, love is a choice, a verb, if you will. This contradicts everything we want to believe about love. We want it to FEEL good, to be easy, to be the one thing we don't have to work at or think about to much. Oh, how wrong we are!

Love as an emotion is so shallow and fickle! If I were to look at my marriage in light of love as an emotion, I should have been divorced long ago. Marriage is hard work! It isn't easy, it isn't convenient and it certainly isn't stable. What it is, frankly, is a choice we make every day to keep on doing it. Love your husband when he isn't lovable, choose to not leave him when he is ill, or unruly, or thoughtless...That is love. A choice.

If you want to make it even clearer, have children. It is then that the love-choice becomes more understandable. Our kids can often be the hardest and the most rewarding things we could ever hope to do in our lives. They are definitely not always lovable, especially when teenage angst enters the picture. Remember when they were tiny and they woke up every couple of hours to demand food from your exhausted self? Loving them then was a choice. As they grew into the willful toddler, pushing every boundary you set up as if it were their life's work to make you crazy, loving them was a choice. Even as they roll their eyes at you and maybe even scream the most hateful of things during those teens, you don't stop loving them. They are your children, you choose to love them through whatever they are going through.

Love isn't easy. Ask Christ how easy it was to hang on the cross and He will tell you He didn't do it because it was easy, He did it because he loves you. I think we all remember, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)" Do you also remember that Christ wept in the garden before he went to that cross, asking God that if there was any other way, let that burden be lifted from His shoulders? His choice is our salvation. His choice is our example. His choice was and still is to love us. We were not worthy of that love, we did nothing to deserve that kind of unconditional sacrifice. He chose to love us anyway. That my friends, is what love really is.

The next time you have a fight with someone near and dear to you, the next time you are tempted to say something you cannot take back, remember, love is not an emotion that we can fall into and out of like rolling in and out of bed. Love, true love, is a choice we make every waking moment of every day. It isn't easy, but then the good things rarely are. Love doesn't mean there won't be pain. There are times that the deeper the love, the more painful it can be. Christ simply urges us to choose love, over and over and over. It is His first and second greatest commandment to us. It isn't a suggestion, it's the rule.

Who will you choose to love today, no matter how much they don't deserve it, no matter how hurt you are? Christ is our example and He will show us how. Choose love!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Decisions, decisions...

The sun was scorchingly hot. He could feel the sweat bead on the nape of his neck and run slowly down his back between the crags of his slumped shoulder blades. It ran into his eyes and stung, mingling with the tears hiding in the midst of the perspiration.

He watched ahead as they hiked up the steep slope while his only son, born a few short years ago in his dotage, bounded up the hillside as only youth can. The boy played with the sticks he carried, beating at the sparse shrubbery as if warding off dangerous beasts and wily robbers. He grumbled low under his breath and played at parrying imaginary foes with the dagger he held. Any other day, the man would have smiled lovingly t the gameplay. Today was different. The boy had no idea.

As the two of them reached the pinnacle, he began harnessing the boy's energies to gather rocks to build a small altar. It seemed barbaric to the man that he would be asking his son to help him now, but there it was. The sweat flowed freely now, the morning giving way to the hot desert afternoon, as they stacked and balanced each piece until the altar was set.

"But, Father," the boy asked quietly, "Where is the sacrifice?"

Can you imagine the father's desperation and despair as he explained that God would provide a sacrifice all the while knowing the boy himself was to be killed on the altar? His heart had to have been breaking with the weight of the small boy's immediate shock as he was bound when the altar had been dressed for the burnt offering. No where in the scripture does it say that the boy resisted his father's will, so am I to assume that he simply crawled up there willingly, in absolute trust? The father didn't stall or argue with God, he simply kept at the task with an almost robotic methodology - this is how I am to sacrifice for my Lord.

The dagger is held up, glinting in the cruel desert sun, ready to plunge into the chest of this man's only, hard won son... And at that precise moment, when it was certain that the man was in full obedience, only then does God intervene.

"Stop! Do not lay a hand on the boy!"

What relief... What sweet relief that father must have felt at that moment! His obedience would be rewarded with so much, but the sweetest had to be gathering up his bewildered son in his arms and telling him how very much he loved him.

Decisions aren't always easy. Sometimes the decisions we are faced with, even when they are the right ones, directed by God, are very, very difficult. Some decisions even seem to contradict what we know to be true and right and definitely contrary to what we deem easy. Some decisions are made because they are the right thing to do, not the easy thing to do.

For whatever reason, we humans seem to think that once we become Christians we will not have hardship. We buy into the ill conceived idea that our decisions, if truly from God, will be made with ease and lightness of heart. We think that God wouldn't make us sad in our decisions for Him. How do we ever come to that conclusion?

Growth is painful. God is in the business of growing us. Ergo, some of the decisions God will ask us to make will be painful, heart rending, antithetical to all we thought would be asked of us. Sometimes God asks us to give up the one thing we feel is holding us together, when what God sees is that very thing holding us back. He cannot do the work in us He desires until we can truly be wholly His, without hesitation or questions. God wants all of us.

Making the decision to be obedient to the Lord will always be rewarded. It may not be an immediate relief or a certain welcoming response, but God rewards faithful and obedient hearts every time. Have faith that in your desire to be obedient to your Lord you will be rewarded with His ultimate praise when you make your decisions based on His truth and His will, not on your emotions. It is a very difficult thing to do, no doubt. Christ never said it would be easy, simply that we would never be alone in it. He will always be with us.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

About that....

Every now and then I get a wild hair and I clean out closets, rearrange my office shelves, or just generally go through stuff and de-clutter. Amazing the things I find buried in my back rooms and upon shelves, pushed far into the back unreachable spaces. I have often re-found something that I had been missing for quite some time and determined to make a place for it at the edge of the shelf instead of the dusty back.

Come to think of it, I do that with God. It's natural, I suppose, that when things are clicking along and doing well I tend to keep God up in His space on the shelf. I can handle these little things, I think. I keep Him up there until it gets dire and I feel strangled, arms tied to my sides, afraid to move at all, lest the binding get even tighter. Then, and only then, do I reach up to that shelf and bring my Lord down to where I am, begging Him to free me from the mess I have created.

Is that really how God wants me to be? Keeping my Christianity compartmentalized and tidy, only bringing Him out when it's convenient or when I deem it necessarily urgent enough? I know that is not true. God wants to be in my life continually. He wants to sit at my side, not be locked away on a shelf somewhere. He created me to be a companion to Him, to walk with Him, to share my desires, my needs and my thoughts with Him. God rejoices in the times I ask for Him to guide me and to complete the tasks I know I cannot. He desires my fellowship and He celebrates in earnest when I choose Him as my confidante and companion.

So how then do I take action and remove God from the dark and dusty closet to the foreground of my everyday life? This is where the rubber meets the road, and that road can get pretty darned bumpy so you might want to buckle up!

I think you know what to insert here... Prayer. Yup, broken record here, but it is a very valid point. Prayer is the first thing I can immediately insert into my day in order to keep God in the foreground. I don't mean that I walk around with my eyes in continuous closure, or mumbling to myself. I mean I pray in my thoughts. I attempt to keep an ongoing dialog with my Father as if I were talking to myself about all the things I have to do today. I find that God chooses at times to rearrange my schedule around His purposes if I do that. He gets the things done on His agenda and His timeline, not necessarily my own. Sometimes they coincide and I too get to check off items from my to-do list.

Second, resist the urge to reserve certain instances for conference with God and keep other things firmly in the realm of the World. The instant I do that, I am reaching up to shelve my Savior and tie His hands. God will not intrude upon me to force me to listen to Him. He has his ways of rattling that shelf, but if I choose not to open the door and take Him down, He will not force me. As I have said before, God wants me to CHOOSE Him. In making that choice I am telling Jesus that I trust Him.

Thirdly, I have to remember to take at least three deep breaths when I am upset before I respond to anything. During those three deep breaths I can ask the Father to guide me, the Holy Spirit to give me words and Jesus to give me compassion for the other person. Even when I am not upset that would be an awesome practice to get into... Can you imagine how many careless words would go unspoken if only we could do that simple exercise? Remember, simple, not easy!

Last, I have to constantly picture God sitting patiently in my living room waiting on my return. I mean no disrespect in this manner. What I am trying to visualize is the fact that the Father WANTS my company. He doesn't need me, He is God, after all. He WANTS me. That is a powerful picture and concept to get my mind around. If I truly had a physical representation of Christ sitting in my living room, would I really ask Him to leave the room while I dealt with some stuff? I don't think so! Would I keep God waiting if I knew he was sitting in my living room, wanting to talk with me? Absolutely not! However, when I don't pray, when I compartmentalize my Christianity, when I respond in haste I am passing by my Lord who is waiting on me to choose to come to Him. He holds every answer to every question I could think to ask. Whether He will indulge me enough to answer any given inquiry is His prerogative, it's my simple job to be available and open to listening to what He has to say.

Monday, June 13, 2011

God's Shelf

A man was worshipping in church one morning when suddenly he was carried away. The surrounding music and atmosphere faded imperceptibly into the background of his mind as he was swept along a long hallway, following a man robed in white before him leading the way. Not so much from the way he looked as the way he carried himself, the man could identify that this was his Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Son of Man was beckoning to him now, eager to reach the end of the hall where a well populated knick knack shelf hung, full of many figurines. it seemed to stretch on for as far as the man could see. Once they reached the shelf, Christ began taking down each figurine, presenting it to him with immense joy and pride. There was a small woman, dressed very obviously as Mother Theresa, her blue and white habit settled about her wiry frame and an eternal look of peace upon her wrinkled little face. A tall, thin man had to have been the representation of one Billy Graham, poised mid-sermon, his shock of wild hair belying his passion for the Lord. There were many more as Christ shared with the man, putting them back in their places carefully but not before he had turned each over to reveal an inscription he lovingly stroked. From where the man stood, it looked like each inscription was the same, though he couldn't quite make it out.

Walking the length of the shelf the man came upon a misshapen glob of clay. He couldn't tell but it seemed that the work had been abandoned, left unfinished in the dimly lit hallway and it had begun to take on an unpleasant odor. While the other figurines had glistened and shone in the darkness of the hallway, this one was dull and lifeless and not at all a work that the man wanted to reach out and touch - in fact, he was repulsed by it. Before he could walk away, however, Jesus put his hand upon the figurine and lifted it just as gently as he'd done with all of the other works he was so proud of. In disbelief, the man watched as Jesus caressed the nasty, odorous glob of unfired clay. His expression was one of absolute adoration, as if only Christ could see the beauty within this vessel.

It was then that the man realized with a sudden clarity that the misshapen, ugly, unfinished work the Lord held so tenderly in his palm was indeed a representation of himself. HE was the unfinished work, reeking of his own sin and willfulness, his pride and his hardened heart. Yet Jesus didn't shy away as he found himself doing. He caressed and looked lovingly upon it, as if it too was as pristine and beautiful as the others they had marveled upon together. Christ reached forward with the figurine's bottom held forth, the inscription clearly readable now. "Cost me everything," was delicately scratched into the surface like a potter's mark. As the man began to weep, Christ placed the unfinished figurine back in its place on the shelf among many other recognizable saints.

In a moments time the man returned from his vision to the worship service, still engaged and yet fully consumed by what he'd just seen. The revelation rang a clear message to his heart: It didn't matter what he had done or what contributions he'd made, Christ saw him as an invaluable part of the family of God. No one person was more valuable than the next, no matter what their lives had produced, how famous they were or how pious they seemed.

You are just as valuable as the man in the story. I know that is terribly hard to believe, but God sees you, not with the eyes of man, but with the eyes of a doting Father. I know, I know, "But you have no idea what I've done!" I don't have to. God knows everything about all of us, and if he can still love me, I know he will love you too.

Each of us has a special place on God's shelf and we must remember that comparing ourselves to other members of the Body is not productive or admirable. We each have talents and works of our own that no one else can complete for us. Remember, when you are tempted to compare yourself to others or even when you are tempted to look upon someone else as unworthy of God's love and grace that Christ looks with unfathomable, unconditional love and tenderness upon you and wants you to do the same for yourself and others. We are all a vital part of his family and we all have value, whether we see it or not. And really, what we see doesn't matter - Only that He sees us and loves us in spite of it. Thank Christ today for loving you no matter what you fall into. I know I will...

(Story related with permission.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Yes becomes Yikes!

We've all been there, haven't we? Said "yes" one too many times and found ourselves overwhelmed and frustrated because nothing is turning out as we expected... I know I have. In fact, it is something I struggle with daily because working from home seems such an innocuous situation. I talk myself into thinking that I have so much time that I can do all kinds of things, often many more than I can actually accomplish in a 24 hour day, forgetting that all of us must schedule in sleeping... oh, and eating... and potty breaks... Ugh. See how it happens?

Time is a precious commodity. One that none of us will ever have enough of, it seems. In American society, you are considered a slacker if you aren't somehow busy 24-7. If you take time out during the day to nap, you are looked at as if there is a physical ailment you must have acquired. If you have only one job during the day, you must also have hobbies that keep you running from place to place with much ado during the evenings and weekends. Time wasters are bad, bad things and we must continually keep an eye out for their ugly little heads to rear up when we least expect them to, when some of the best time wasters relieve so much of the stress we have saddled ourselves with.

Time is only one part of the "Yikes" factor, however... I have also found myself stuck in the position of doing things that are definitely not mine to do. I am often easily manipulated by guilt, the needs of others or again, that pesky inference that because I work from home, I can do all manner of "extras". There are things that I get added to my plate because God asks me to step out of my comfort zone and stretch, but that isn't what I am talking about here. I am talking about doing things that are definitely NOT a God given employ.

For example, I once decided that since the pastor of our church had often announced a need in the church nursery and since I had given birth (twice), I would fill that void. I reported to the nursery, I watched the children, I played and I read stories. I held adorable babies and rocked in the rocking chair - and I was absolutely miserable! I had no heart for ministering in this way. I wasn't negligent, I wasn't unqualified, I simply wasn't gifted for that type of ministry. I had to admit to myself after a few weeks that I was simply filling a void with my body that my soul had no joy in. It was hard to leave that post because I was afraid I was letting so many down, but ultimately God spoke to my heart that I was in the wrong spot. I had tried to say "Yes" where God did not give me permission to do so.

So what do I do when I feel that pull to do more in the day than I have time for? What do I do when I see a need I think I can fill with my body because I have skills to complete the task? How do I protect myself, my family and my heart from the "Yikes" factor before I am knee deep in a situation?

First, I pray. This is of course, easier said than done and it is a habit that isn't fully formed in me as yet. I have to remind myself that when I feel a time crunch coming on I need to stop, drop and pray! I immediately ask God to stretch my time, so that I might get done those things that I have committed to do. I ask that His will be done when my will seems to be so muddled and confused. Then I make a list. I list out the details of the task and pray for God to reveal things that I might delegate to others, if any, and places where I might consolidate two tasks to one. After I have completed the list, I get to work! Prayer is necessary, lists are helpful, but putting rubber to the road is paramount to finishing what I started. (That is, if God doesn't answer the prayer by providing someone else to take the reins.) Once I have completed the task, or failed miserably at it - depending on how big the "yikes" is, I sit myself down and I pray once more. "Lord, how do I not do this to myself again? Was this a task I planned poorly or was this something I did in my own flesh, by my own will and not something You would have chosen for me?"

Depending on His answer I have some choices to make. I can choose to listen to God's answer and be obedient, or I can continue on in my own way, figuring that I will eventually find myself right back in the position of "Yikes" once more. The next thing I get to choose is my response to the situation. There will always be others who try to foist their own "yikes" upon you. A friend of mine uses her list here. She simply checks it in light of the current request, and if it isn't on the list, she politely declines to add it. This keeps her "yes" a "yes" and keeps "yikes" politely on someone else's plate.

Let's face it, saying "no" is hard and not something most folks are comfortable with. It is so much easier (and somehow more acceptable) to say yes and suffer rather than face someone and say no. I try to keep in mind that God has special things that only I can complete for Him. He has special things that he wants to give others. If I am continually doing those things that I am not called to do, I am in effect stealing someone else's thunder at a task that they are better suited for than I could ever be! I miss the opportunity to see God glorified in the most wonderful ways when I allow myself to wallow in the "Yikes."

Enjoy your "yes's" so much more once you learn to say no to the "Yikes" factor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Beauty Series: Working it...

My daughter loves to watch America's Next Top Model. I think her fascination is partly my fault.... I love reality tv. Not something I am proud of, but something I don't hide either. She's funny how she watches it, with all of her pragmatic and teenage attitude hung out there. The girls that whine get on her nerves, the mean-girls should be sent home immediately and she is often rooting for the underdog. The girl that is a little awkward, who's beauty isn't the obvious, jaw dropping, glamorous type but just simply takes your breath away in a photo is usually her favorite.

There is always a segment or even an entire episode devoted to "the walk." Besides taking stunning photos, these gals have to be able to walk down a runway in monstrous heels and incredible fashion contraptions to be able to be a "top model." Some of them are elegant, some are sassy or sexy and others clump down the runway like a moose on stilts. The coaches are often appalled at some of the walks they see and it does make for some very entertaining evenings. What makes it even more entertaining is the way that the girls will defend their particular style and even try to perfect it. They are non-plussed when told they "clump" or "stomp," it simply doesn't phase them. They are confident and controlled, knowing that in an industry that can chew them up and spit them out they need to find a way to stand out. If walking down a runway like some stampeding animal gets them looked at, they are perfectly willing to do just that. They are incredibly comfortable in their own skin. They like themselves, they don't kvech about being too this or too that, they don't whine about wanting more of anything, they just are and they are happy to be that. Ah, youth... But I digress.

There is a saying, "Happiness lies in wanting what you have, not in having what you want." You've met those kinds of people, haven't you? Those souls that have a calming effect on a room just by walking into it? If you look closely at them you may find that they aren't a perfect size two, or drop dead gorgeous by today's model standards. You may actually find that they don't differ greatly from the other people you regularly interact with, at least on a physical level. But you will notice that they have something the others don't have and that is a quiet confidence married up with humility, grace and patience. I know... Hits you where you live, doesn't it? It does me.

God wants us to get there too. He's our coach for our runway walk. He isn't trying to mould us into the same girl or boy, time after time. He wants us to strut our stuff just as we are, with confidence in His ability to use it, no matter what we think we are capable of. He wants to get credit as the designer, for certain, but He also wants us to remember that our uniqueness is our gift, direct from Him.

Each of us has a gift that God has given us to use in our lives. It's incredibly selfish and unfair of us to think that we all should have the same gifts, in the same order and same quantity as everyone else. We all have abilities given by the Father to do work He has designed for only us to compete. My level of humility will look different from my friends', and their grace will look different from mine, but I believe that God gives us each a measure of all of these things to use in our walk in order to bring Him glory. If we Christians all looked the same, it would be rather discouraging. I can tell you that I would never have accepted Christ if I had had to become some quiet, sit-in-the-corner personna that is a mere shadow of who I really am. Likewise, I know plenty of women who would die in their shoes if you told them that to be a Christian they had to stand up in front of every person they ever met from there on out and proclaim the Gospel loudly and forcefully. Luckily, God doesn't ask us to do that. He tailors our walk to the gifts He gives us and asks only that we respond in obedience.

God gives us what we need, when we need it. Our job is to want what we are given. We have to start deciding that our attitude is one of contentment in our gifts, no matter what others have around us, and a willingness to use those gifts however the Father decides is best. THAT is how we work it and strut our stuff! What part of your runway walk is God working on today?

Monday, May 9, 2011

the Beauty Series: What's in Your Make-up Bag?

Tools of the Trade, War Paint, Spackle... It has many different names and lots of different purposes. It is Make-Up. There is eye liner, mascara, foundation, blush, eye shadow, eye brow pencils, lip gloss, lip stick, lip balm not to mention, cover-up, wrinkle cream, exfoliation pads, eye cream, moisturizer and a host of other stuff that would take days to list. The items we carry in our make-up bags can baffle and frighten even the heartiest of souls. I don't know about you other gals, but my husband won't even venture in there for toothpaste!

While I will sit in the aisle of the local department store noodling over the latest cream that promises to make my skin look 10 years younger, I sometimes have a terrible time remembering what is in my spiritual make-up bag to deal with the wrinkles life tends to throw at me. So in true Bag Lady fashion, I thought I would list them out. If they are here, maybe I will be reminded to use them more often... you know, like that eye-shadow I "had to have" that sits in the back of my vanity drawers all dusty and neglected.

Item #1: My Bible. Yup. There it is, in all of it's myriad forms. I am never without a bible. If I don't have the one I usually carry to church with the lovely green cover and it's well worn onion skin pages, I always have my electronic one that sits patiently on my phone. So truly, I am never without it. Really it is the most important part of my make up bag. I can always find truth in it that I may not find in a devotional or another source. The Bible will never be questionable in its truth for me at any given moment. I have only to open it up and read... simple, not easy.

Item #2: Prayer. Ooof.... Yeah, another thing I am never without - Or rather, never without a way to do. God doesn't need anything from me but my willing heart to turn to Him in times of stress and hurt, worry or celebration. When I am faced with life that threatens to take me down into the dirt, I always have the ability to pray, eyes open or closed, head bowed or brow upturned to the sunshine. God simply wants me to talk to Him. No flowery prose, no need for even words if I cannot seem to put them together (and that can be a lot), He is always listening for my inner voice to reach out to Him for comfort. The nice thing is, I am never going to interrupt His day. He will never be in a meeting too important to listen to me and He will never put me on hold. God is eagerly awaiting my call. Why don't I do that more often?

Item #3: Godly Friends. The Lord wants us turning to Him first, but He also knows there are times that we simply need the touch or sound of another to help us through a crisis. Friends are not easy to come by in an age where digital media is so readily available. I have many acquaintances, but few friends. I count those souls one hand and I know that should I need one of them, I have only to reach out and they will be there. True friends are ones that don't have to give you advice, they can just sit and listen to you rant, cry or think out loud. Friends will correct you when you are wrong, confront you if needed and defend you when you are defenseless. Sometimes we are blessed with only one of these precious jewels. Other times we have a bounty. Whatever the case, remember your friends want you to ask them for help if you need it. There is no greater feeling in the world than that feeling of being needed by someone. It is such a privilege to be a friend, don't sell them short by keeping them at arms distance.

Item #4: Church. This can get tricky, but God want us in fellowship with other believers. Schedules will always be challenging, time is ever a shrinking commodity, but making time to be in the company of like-minded individuals is invaluable. It is an important tool in our arsenal against the Enemy. Most of us will never suffer the ravages of big spiritual attack, but there are those "little" things that can build up and separate us from our fellowship with the Father. Trust me, if it takes away from your quiet time with the Lord or it makes you not want to pray, it is a serious spiritual attack. Staying tuned in with a church body, be it a home church, a mega-church or a small town-one-room-jobby, is a huge step in setting up a defense against attacks that can come on sneaky feet. Isn't amazing how your pastor will speak on the very thing you have been struggling with all week long? That is no accident! God is using that dedicated teacher to give you encouragement. Show up, you never know what you might glean from it.

Item #5: Quiet Time. Devotions, no matter what form you like them delivered in, are a perfect tool to use in conjunction with all the other items I have listed here. It doesn't matter what you use to get yourself into the Word, but make sure you do it with a Bible sitting close by. If at any time you wonder if you are being taught the truth, compare it to the scripture. it should always line up and not contradict the Word of God. There are many kinds of devotions out there, from electronically delivered audio blurbs to think on, radio programs, written daily devotionals and many different Christian books. All of them can be great tools to keep you on the path of becoming more and more like our Risen Savior - And that is what it's all about, right? Take time to sit each day, if even for just five minutes, to think about and talk to God. He waits in the Living Room of your heart for you to sit with Him. Keep in mind he walked daily in the Garden with Adam and Eve before the whole "fruity incident" and that was His perfect design. It was us that messed it up (thanks Eve!), not Him. He still desires to walk with us daily and share in our lives those things we hold dear. Don't keep Him waiting, He longs to bless us with His presence.

These are just a few things I have in my Spiritual Make-up Bag... think about your own and leave me a comment (you can do so anonymously). I would love to hear what makes you feel connected and keeps you heading in and out of the Throne Room for encouragement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the Beauty Series: Diet and Exercise

I love to eat. Hasn't always been that way, but once I was out of childhood, I really started to get the whole food-is-good thing! All throughout my teens, into my twenties and even thirties, I could eat and eat and eat, and never gain a pound! Now? Well, now in my forties is a very different story... One that eerily parallels to my spiritual walk.

We have all heard the saying, "You get out what you put in." When you are used to eating whatever and whenever you want, that comes to fruition rather quickly and alarmingly once middle age hits. What I was used to putting in during my youthful years was tons of sugar, processed flour and red meat. What I am now getting out of that is thicker thighs, a muffin top and general roundness in all as-pects! I have to modify my diet drastically before I turn into two-ton Tilly and that takes discipline. Discipline I frankly don't have from years of being very, well - undisciplined.

God is much the same way in my life. For a very long time I was not a Christian and I was not disciplined. I didn't have the slightest clue what my spirit needed to keep my heart tied to my Lord and to help me on the path of becoming more and more like Christ. Once I became a Christian I didn't immediately become disciplined either. I had to work at it - I have to exercise!

If there are two very distinct things I dislike in this life they are dieting and exercising. Dieting is an act of discipline and a denying of one's personal desires and comfort. Exercise is also an act of discipline and it takes practice, coordination and persistence. When I deny my tongue the delight of ice cream or potato chips, my body begins to thank me by not taking on the shape of apples, pears or any other fruity shape not befitting a woman. When I exercise my body also thanks me by doing lots of things, not all of them readily viewable on a scale, including toning my muscles, revving up my metabolism and strengthening my heart.

With our bodies we can often see physical results of our efforts. We view what we put on our dinner plates and we watch the scale and the mirror for results. How do we know when we spiritually diet and exercise what to look for and how to tone up? Take a look and see if any of this sounds familiar...

I diet spiritually when I keep my mind free from television shows that aren't appropriate viewing for my Christian self. I diet when I deny my anger and my "right" to feel mistreated and abused. I diet when I decide to do for others before I do for me. It isn't easy. Dieting never is. It is an act of my will to diet and keep myself from the things that give me pleasure if only for a short time. Like nutrition for the body, feeding my soul is a lifestyle change and a choice I will have to make for a lifetime, not something I can do on a weekend, or just until I get to my goal. I have to continue to make the decision to deny my earthly flesh those things that once satisfied me but now are just empty calories taking up valuable real-estate in my heart.

Putting in the good stuff is also a part of my diet. In place of the sugary snacks I now choose real food for my soul. I choose instead to fill my tank with the Word of God, television that uplifts, and time with my kids playing games. In place of the emptiness of my old habits I now have a fullness that produces in me a sweetness that is truer to who God desires me to be. I know that feeling of loss for a moment when we decide to give up something that we once held so dear, and trust me it is a struggle I still fall victim to on occasion. But just like any other diet, don't throw it all to the wind if you fail. Simply ask for forgiveness and start again. It takes time to develop habits that last a lifetime, but the reward is crucial. It can save your life.

Exercise is a necessary extension of our dieting and similarly is not an easy task to undertake. Exercise takes practice, a repetitive motion that eventually becomes like muscle memory that we do almost without thinking. Like remembering to say "thank you" when we were children, now we are tasked with remembering not to say too much as adults. Exercising our prayer muscles instead of our doing muscles when things don't go our way. Exercising our smiles when we really want to just throw ourselves in the dirt and tantrum like a toddler.

Exercise is a habit that takes a good amount of coordination too. We cannot constantly be tripping over our "rights" if we are trying to exercise our love of others. We have to time our desires with the desires and will of God, or we will land flat on our faces in the mud puddle of sin, rather shamefaced and hurting.

While exercise can be painful, it produces in us a beauty and healthful heart attitude that diet alone cannot deliver. Exercise is a hand-in-hand partner with our diet. It produces the real fruit, but only if we stick to it. We have to be persistent in our exercise routine and we have to change it up when we get stagnant. We are to be continually checking in with our Head Trainer to make sure we are on the right regimen and that we haven't slipped in our push to sweat it out.

Just as I have struggled with a way to find a quick fix for my physical form, there is no valid short cut with my spiritual body either. I have to put in the time, the good nutrition and I have to be unfailingly consistent in order to see results. Diet pills and arrow prayers may work for a short time, but in the long run if I want lasting results I have to make lasting changes. Exercise your spiritual muscles and cut out the empty calories, those are changes that will last and your heart will thank you for it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the Beauty series: Weight Control

Being forty has not been kind to my ego. I used to be able to eat anything, exercise NEVER, and not gain a pound. I smugly used to quip that it was because I didn't diet, I ate all the time and my metabolism thanked me for it. ahem... Now that I am hitting the middle of my life, life is hitting my middle. No, for those that know me personally, I am not overtly heavy. I am just softer around the middle, a bit thicker in the thigh and nothing I seem to do will make this change. Some have said stress is the reason, some have giggled and chided me for not sticking to a routine. Whatever the reason, it isn't leaving and it has brought to mind another aspect of my life.

As we age, we gather things. Remember your grandmother's house? Mine was packed with trinkets, furniture, odds and ends... Stuff that had been collecting over a lifetime lived and enjoyed. (My grandmother also gathered around her middle too... But we won't think about that.) The things I remember about my Grandma are not the things that she had sitting on shelves or tucked away in drawers and closets, however. The memories I have of her are the stories she told, the times I was allowed to sit in her lap even when I was way too big, the advice she would give me when I seemed to be about to come apart at the seems. A favorite was when she told me that there will always be laundry to do, always dishes to be washed, but the time we spend with our kids when they are little we can never get back. It taught me to take time to look up, enjoy the moment and keep life in perspective. It is the cornerstone of my book as well.

We keep ourselves in constant motion in this modern day. It isn't "efficient" to just drive our cars any more. We need to be talking on our phones, making connections, listening to the news. Multitasking has become a way of life and we miss so darned much when we don't look up and take in the beauty that God created to keep us sane and productive. If you have been in the market for a job these days you know how important it is do be able to multitask. If you can't, you are likely still looking. Living on the edge of insanity has somehow become the norm, doing too many things and not doing anything well.

In theory, it's necessary, it's a benefit... it's all great. But in practice, can I be so bold as to say, it's somewhat disastrous. We end up carrying around a lot of baggage in our little Bag Lady carts that we are frankly not supposed to be carrying. We begin to pile so much on our cart that we can't see over the mess of it. We bump into folks and don't say excuse me because we never see them coming or going! We run right over the purpose of God in our lives when we take on so much it clouds our vision of Him as well.

It's time to lose some weight! It's time to take stock of all that stuff in our carts and determine if it is there because God put it there or because we thought we could handle it. Do you have enough time in your day to stop and kiss your wife or husband? Does your family know you'd come running if called? Would you answer if the call was from a family member? If you have any doubts, it's time to inventory your cart. Take the first step and pray God would shine a light on things that you can chuck to get a clearer vision of His purpose. He wants you to see the bright and wonderful world He created just for you, not the mounds of things that have been stacked to the ceiling around you.

Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ - that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. (Colossians 3:2)

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Sale: One slightly over used pedestal...

There are some things that haunt me still. Though they have passed and I have been forgiven, I am hunted down and flayed open by these things standing like skeletons all about me. Words spoken in anger, choices made in the heat of the moment, looks shot and attitudes taken... I know that I am forgiven these lapses of judgement, especially because I recognize them as such and want to change, but still they haunt me. They haunt me because I have not changed. At my very core, I am still the sinful and hateful person I have always been, dancing with my boney friends to the funeral dirge of my inner joy.

Just because I decide I want to change doesn't always mean that I do change. Some things are so ingrained in me that I wonder if it is even possible to change any more. Like my habit of putting myself and my desire for comfort above others, I still struggle through moments that leave me angry and hurt and sadly unproductive.

I put myself on a pedestal.

Absurd, right? I thought so too when God gave me the title to this post. "But Lord," I argued, "I would never do such a thing! I don't want to be worshipped or hailed above others. I am no example to be looked upon with admiration." "And yet," the Lord whispered to my heart, "You insist on acting the way you do when you are wronged. If you don't put yourself up there, who does?" Wow. It stung me right to the core, but as always, my God is absolutely right.

At the basis of my bad behavior is pride, the very thing that lifts me onto that pedestal and shouts for all to come and see. I am prideful when I think that I don't deserve to be mistreated. It is pride that wants to shout my hurts and be validated in my crappy attitude. It is pride that brings me low when I am compared to others and find myself lacking. It is pride that has lifted me onto that pedestal every time.

Remember how we talked about Satan being a very unimaginative assailant? Well, pride is a way that he gets right into my heart and wreaks havoc once more. It isn't a new attack, in fact it is as old as the beginning of man. Just ask Eve. Pride is what felled her relationship with the Father right there in the garden under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pride caused her to doubt that God knew how to keep her safe and happy. Pride told her that God was keeping good things from her for no reason at all. Pride destroyed her chance of reaching the potential God had designed for her.

Pride has attacked others as well. Look up Job and his trials before God, check out David and his love affair with another man's wife, don't forget Moses and the Israelites in the desert for FORTY years... Are you picking up what I am putting down? Pride is nothing to court, rehearse or sing loudly to the crowd! It destroys our relationship with God because it puts us on our pedestals above the garden where He has longed to walk with us for centuries. Pride separates us from accepting His love in a free and trusting manner.

When I am tempted to think that "I don't deserve this treatment," I need to remember only one thing. Truly, I deserve nothing. Yes, you heard me correctly. I don't deserve anything but death because I am a sinful and hurtful and hateful human being and at every turn I will choose to sin in pride again. I deserve punishment for my abhorrent behavior. I deserve the fires of hell.

Luckily, I don't get what I deserve. Gratefully, I rejoice that God has chosen to grant me grace. Grace. Its nature is antithetical to my sense of justice, and thank goodness for that! God chooses to overlook my filthy rags of prideful behavior and He sees only the white and shining robes of His Son, lent to me because I have dirtied my own with sins galore. Christ readily hands me his robes and says, "Here, He will like this. Put it on, instead of your own. I don't mind, I gave all so that you can enter into His presence." I am humbled by that.

Humility is something that we have come to look upon as weakness in this day and age. Quite a shame, don't you think? I do. Humility is that one thing that combats Satan's pride attacks and it is what we run from because we are reticent to look weak. Hilarious! Funny only because we are absolutely weakest when we allow pride to dictate our reactions and not the true humility of God in our hearts. We are only as strong as our trust in the Lord to right the wrongs, mend our hearts and champion or causes. When we can lay those prideful burdens at His almighty throne we become so much stronger than any of Satan's attacks. When we are humble enough to admit our weaknesses to Christ and beg His grace fall upon us, we are then as strong as the one who is our true Champion. He alone is able, and I am incredibly grateful. Aren't you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

PX90 for the soul

In a society that is very focused on outward appearances we have all become very familiar with those obnoxious informercials that tout the latest and greatest way to exercise, the newest diet fad and the next miracle additive that will keep us thin and desirable with no effort at all. I know I am not the last nor have I been the first to fall for some pretty kooky ways to lose weight.

Becoming a member of the over forty crowd has been hard on my ego. I don't lose weight as easily as I used to. In fact, in the last three attempts I have lost nothing at all! How's that for an ego-buster? I was so desperate that I even trooped off to the store to buy a supplement I saw on television... Sprinkle it on my food and miraculously I would start to shed the pounds that exercise and deprivation had so far failed to deliver. I stopped short of spending the exorbitant amount of money, however, once I saw the ingredient list consisted of some very common and non-weight-loss-related items. I guess my age did me some good... It saved me some cash!

Reading the labels helped me see that my desire for a quick fix consisted of nothing more than a great marketing campaign and a glossy package containing little more than salt... I walked away disappointed, but feeling good about my choice. Losing weight was going to have to be done the old fashioned way - Through some hard work and discipline.

The same can be said of my spiritual body. How many times have I wanted God to hand me some quick results instead of doing the work to make my desires come to fruition? Exercising my spiritual body to keep it healthy is as important as my physical needs and it too means doing some hard work that takes my time and my energy to complete. What's more is the underlying fact that I don't always get quick results. Exercising my spiritual muscles means doing it over and over and over, until I am proficient at it and it is a habit of choice. It is also WORK!

I wish it was as easy as those television endorsements say it is to lose weight, but building a sound spiritual body takes time and lots of effort. It takes wanting to make myself be the person that I am not naturally inclined to be. It means putting God before my desire to sleep in or meet with friends on Worship nights. It means that I will have to sacrifice my desire for comfort to fulfill my desire to be more of God's child. It means that I need to educate myself on how to become a better Christian each and every day.

Like so many things in this world there is a lot of misinformation out there. If I didn't know something about ingredients and weight loss to start with, I might have fallen for the scheme of the sprinkle diet. Because I do know the truth, I was able to side-step that pitfall, but how many others have not? The same follows for our spiritual lives. How many folks can you think of right now that have been misled about what a Christian person should or should not look like? Even one is too many, isn't it?

Do you look like a Christian? What does a Christian look like? Would folks be able to recognize that you even are one? I think about that quite a bit. I want people to know that I love the Lord, but I am also a very flawed and fallen individual. I get concerned with whether or not someone might take a look at my life and reject Christ because I have bouts of hypocritical and sinful behavior. I have researched this very dilemma and God has been faithful to provide some beautiful and simple pictures.

In Matthew chapter 13, the Lord delivers the parable of the sower. A farmer goes out to his fields and begins to spread his seed. Some falls on the ground and the birds come and eat it up, some lands in rocky soil and springs up quickly at first but whithers and dies when the sun beats down upon it because it hasn't got deep roots. Other seed is choked out by weeds and yet others fall on good soil and produce well beyond what the farmer had hoped. The meaning is explained later to mean that our only job is to throw out the seed of God's story and good news, He is the one who is responsible for it's landing in the right place at the right time. We cannot dictate how someone will react to the Word. We cannot know if it will be tossed aside (as in the birds eating it up), whether it will look like it took root, but in times of stress wither and die, or whether it will get choked out by the busyness of life. We can only be responsible for throwing it out there as commanded and for making sure that what we throw out is the true and unadulterated instruction of God - NOT our man-made imposition of perfection.

In the same respect I do need to be aware of my actions and my words when I am in the company of non or new believers. There is a lot of misinformation out there and if they haven't been taught correctly (or at all, for that matter) they could misconstrue my freedoms in Christ as sinful or "non-Christian" behavior and become discouraged. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. He explains that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. I should be on constant alert to make sure that my choices would benefit those around me, not cause them to stumble or become confused. At times that means exercising restraint on my freedoms and curtailing my desires, even when I know they aren't sinful.

Bottom line, just like all the kooky, crazy myths surrounding dieting out there, there are even more frustrating and unfounded ideas about Christianity. It isn't our job to right every wrong, but being armed with the true and clarifying Word of God can go a long way to halting some devastating misconceptions. Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven. Our greatest asset lies in the absolute grace of God that forgives us when we confess our sins to Him with a repentant heart. We have the luxury of tapping into that grace each and every moment of every day. Don't we owe it to others to be considerate enough to discipline our hearts so they can learn that too?

Friday, April 1, 2011

MYOB: Wherein She is Reminded... Again!

Yup. Happens. I have to be reminded again and again and again to Mind Your Own Business (MYOB). Let me clarify before your imagination runs amuck. I haven't been caught reading someone's journal, or eavesdropping on someone's conversation (again), no more cyber-stalking... Nope. It's more critical than that.

There's a place in the Bible, late in Jesus' return from the tomb and just before He returns to the Heavenly Father, where our Lord gives Peter a swift kick in the back-side about MYOB. Check out the verses in John 21:21. Peter is asking about one of his comrades after being told some pretty disturbing news by the Son of God. Jesus doesn't hesitate when He pointedly tells Peter that John is simply none of his business, his only job is to do exactly as Christ has asked of HIM.

Boils it right down to the nub of the matter, doesn't it? Our job is to keep our ears open, our eyes peeled and frankly, most of the time, our mouths shut! God wants us to be listening very carefully to the instructions He has for each and every one of us, INDIVIDUALLY. It boggles my mind when I think about the fact that God has planned out every detail in my life and that He has a specific plan for each and every day I am on Earth. Not only does He plan out for me and mine, but ALL of his children have a page in His daily planner, even when they don't profess to be His.

Whew! My brain is smoking... Is yours? Well then, let's simplify shall we? I need it...

In Hebrews 12:1 Paul encourages us to take a look around us. Every person gone before us, even those that are mighty in the eyes of the Lord, should be an encouragement to us in running the race that has been specifically marked out for us and us alone. No one can run our race for us, but each of us can take encouragement from those that have run their own race and realize that we are just as loved and cherished as they were. The more encouraging part for me personally, is that my race course has been personally marked out by the Lord especially for me. That is incredible!

My life, its choices, its mistakes, its successes - all of it - have been touched and massaged and loved into fruition by the Heavenly Master Planner. He walked my course before I was set upon it and He knows its pitfalls and rewards. He knows where I will stumble and where I will soar. He planned it for me to grow and mature and learn to trust more wholly in Him. My course isn't your course, and yours isn't mine. God isn't about making cookie-cutter-Christians. He's into haute-couture! One of a kind designs and special orders...

As humans and sinful ones at that, it is so very easy to take a look over your own backyard fence and start coveting the lush green grass of a neighbor's lawn. The pitfall is that we truly have no idea what it took to make their lawn that lush, we don't have the luxury of time to waste in not cultivating our own back yards and frankly, we cannot see into their home to discover that while the yard might be truly lovely, the kitchen may be a disaster! Where am I going with this??

I can spend a lot of time comparing my race to the race of my spouse, my family and my friends or I can get busy making sure that I am doing the very best I can to keep my own finish line firmly in sight. If you are a runner, you can relate to how unsteady your gait can become if you are constantly looking around at the other runners. Concentration is key and if you don't keep your eye on the goal, you will stumble and you may fall.

The course God has planned for you is so individualized that no one else can complete it. God chose you especially for the task you have before you. He is waiting for you at that finish line to congratulate and reward you for your efforts. Keep your eyes up, your feet steady and your faith strong - It's all yours to win!