It Came

I've been tickled at the rivalry between the boisterous and calculating golden heads to post the "Days 'Til Christmas" on our decor. Mostly because it means that I have one less "to do" and because I delight in their anticipation. Closer and closer...more about Jesus, less about cookies...
Challenged by a fellow blogger to really think about the words we sing at Christmas, I began wrestling over verse three of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."
O ye, beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
Look now! For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing
After a little research, I found that minister Edmund Sears penned this five-stanza poem in 1849 per  request for a Sunday School class on Christmas Eve. The world was not at rest and it seems this weighed heavy on Sears who could hardly pen an eloquent poem focused on beauty and peace in Bethlehem while the Christ-child was born within. America was at war with Mexico, revolution loomed in Europe and Sears saw the world in a rage and not wanting to hear the Christmas message: Jesus came once to save mankind and He's coming again.
If we have ears for the Christmas message, we can look forward to the "glad and golden hour" Jesus will return and even now "rest beside the weary road." However, how much of the world is caught up in the rituals and expectations of Christmas festivities, anxiety over a new president, finances, health care...? We can't possibly hear the Holy Spirit speaking to our souls: peace and reassurance, the promise of eternal life in God's presence.
No matter where your heart is this Christmas (I must admit, mine easily gets caught up in lists, cooking, wrapping, shopping...) will you rest and hear the message the angels brought 2000 years ago? This child came to change everything for us. Without His arrival, we were destined for torturous eternal death. Yet, if we would believe that all our sins were heaped upon Him and He satisfied God's wrath toward our sins by offering Himself as a perfect substitution for us, we can be assured of eternal life without fear. This is the "peace among those with whom He is pleased," (Luke 2:14) that the angels sang. Revel in this truth consistently this week.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Maintenance

Somewhere in the midst of a toddler and preschooler, a wise woman shared with me a systematic lifestyle of maintenance. Every day has its task and if you choose to accomplish these few tasks every day of the week, you won't be overwhelmed by a huge task later. These days, that means the golden heads vacuum (if we're lucky) Mondays and Wednesdays and I do the thorough "mom" job on Fridays. (Not that I always vacuum the corners, but I definitely catch a larger percentage of the popcorn crumbs.) So this Friday, sweep by sweep, I began thinking of the value of maintenance. Not waiting until the house is a complete disaster (which maybe the kitchen floor was) to clean but day by day, task by task, maintaining.
What about spiritual maintenance? How do we maintain our hearts? Not our ministries. Our hearts? How do we maintain our relationship with Jesus?
Having moved a handful of times across the country, I can vouch, if you don't maintain a friendship with regular contact, the relationship will fade.
Ever thinking of my resolution to make this Christmas about Jesus, not cookies, I know that He wants a relationship with you and me. Two truths come to mind: relationships are intentional and relationships take time.
And because of His glory and excellence, He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. 2 Peter 1:4-5a
"Make every effort," or be intentional! Just as I must choose to pick up the phone and call a friend, I must choose to STOP and spend time with Jesus. With Jesus, our time can look different from day to day. For example, you might be wrapped in a blanket, in the dark and just listening; writing; reading a Bible passage; meditating or memorizing a verse; stopping irritated veins at the dinner table and asking Jesus to see them through His eyes with patience and love. He doesn't box us in!
Susanna Wesley, mother of 19 children, intentionally spent time with Jesus and her children knew it. At random throughout the day, she would toss her apron over her head and when she did, her children knew that she was spending time with Jesus.
At this time of year, no one seems to have enough time as our "to do" lists get longer and longer. Even a relationship with Jesus will take precious time. However,  I am learning from a new friend how I take time for granted. I choose to spend time on things that don't matter, things without eternal significance, even things that will eventually trip me up spiritually. What if we chose to do things that matter? What if we chose relationships over things? If we're honest, I'm pretty sure that we'd agree, we can all make time for Jesus.
Whether at home or within relationships, maintenance is important and it's also a choice. Don't let Jesus be a relationship you let go this Christmas while you move onto baking and shopping.

Engage

Walking through the department store, my pulse quickens in delight. The twinkling lights, Christmas music, the smell of cinnamon and cider, the taste of sugar cookies...I love it! But as I stroll through the store, I question, How do I make this Christmas more about Jesus and less about the cookies and presents? 
At the end of chapter 5 in Hosea's prophecy to Israel, God has made it clear that until His beloved people acknowledge their guilt of walking away from Him and seek Him earnestly, He's going to let them sit in their own heap of a mess. In the onset of chapter 6, it would seem like Israel decides to turn to Him, but light-heartedly in order to get what's in it for them. Like Dennis the Menace when his parents tell him he can sit in the corner until he's sorry for shooting an aspirin down Mr. Wilson's throat with a sling shot. And just like that, suddenly Dennis is "sorry now." But of course, an all-knowing God sees right through fake, phony, insincerity and knows that Israel's turning back to Him is short-lived like a dew that dissipates in the morning heat. God isn't fooled and He wants nothing of the sort. Instead God says,  
I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
Steadfast love means a zeal toward God, an enduring, faithful, lasting love promise with God. God desires an intimate, authentic, consistent relationship with those He created. This is still true today. He sent Jesus to earth so all mankind could know more about who He is and have a relationship with Him because Jesus would pay the price for all our sins if we call Jesus our Lord. 
God's not interested in our attendance at the Christmas Eve service. He's not interested in our money. He's not interested in being our EMT service when we're in a mess and need a quick fix. He's not interested in a once a year confession. He's interested in our loving Him and knowing Him by pursing a relationship with Him.
This is opposite of what the department stores (ready to make a buck) are interested in this year. This is contrary to our culture, caught up in traditions and materialism. This choice will not feel natural. You will feel like you're walking against the current every step of the way. But if it's what your Creator wants most for Christmas, will you do it? Will you choose to engage in relationship with Jesus?

Tough Stuff

Though I may be hard pressed to find last minute Thanksgiving decorations (apparently the stores have moved onto Christmas), the calendar does beckon me to Thanksgiving. All I wanted was little leaf stickers to decorate my Thanksgiving notes...never to be found. I digress.
The writer in me wanted to share something really inspirational about gratitude. Thankfulness. Something thought-provoking. But I'm afraid I've come on the side of Debbie Downer or Negative Nellie.
What I find more thought-provocing these days, most profound is the choice to be grateful for the obstacles in life. The tough stuff. The things I've said before that I'd really just like to forget are happening or have happened in my life. I'm not suggesting that it's great to be stranded on the side of the road with an overheated car, to be in a tail-spin with your husband or be terminated from your job. I'm just wondering, if we put on aerial-view glasses, should we welcome these difficult circumstances because they give opportunities faith to grow?
I woke in the middle of the night with heavy feelings of bitterness. Why at three in the morning did the Holy Spirit see fit to convict me of bitterness toward someone? Because I had to deal with it, that's why. After confessing and pleading with God to change my bitterness into compassion, empathy and prayer, I'm realizing this isn't likely a one-time confession. This is like a wound that needs more consistent dressing changes. Likely for some time, I'll be confessing the bitterness that's emerged (again), thanking God for forgiveness (again) and asking Him to replace those feelings. Ahh, this will be a long road. Shouldn't I be thankful for the long road? Thankful for the opportunity to be right in my relationship with not only this person, but with God?
Though this will be a longer road than I'd like, "the best things are always achieved by the most difficult paths," (Streams in the Desert, pg.429). Don't I want more compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and love, to bear with others and forgive as Christ forgave me (Colossians 3:12-14)? If this is the circumstance I find myself in to practice and learn these virtues, then why wouldn't I choose to say, thanks for conflict?
This Thanksgiving, go deeper than thanking God for family, a home, health... Yes, these are all great gifts from a generous heavenly Father! And will you also choose to thank Him for the opportunities to grow in character and virtue? Will you choose to thank Him for the tough stuff?

Too easy

Self-diagnosed, I feel the beginning stages of arthritis every time I ring out a rag or twist off a canning jar ring. I tell the engineer, "I'm going to have arthritis just like grandma and I haven't worked near as hard as she did in her life. Pathetic!"
For years, I've been thinking it: My life is too easy; I feel too incredibly blessed. Mostly, these thoughts come to me as I think about the lives of my grandmothers. How different my life is compared to theirs. I garden because I love the feel of the earth in my hands and the flavorful benefits; they gardened out of necessity because it put food on the table for the year to come. One grandma worked outside the home to make ends meet; the five years I worked outside the home, it was to feel a sense a normalcy and self-worth. The other grandma farmed alongside her husband because there was no other way to get the work done and a harvest reaped; I pack a lunch for the engineer to take to work. She sewed everything; I like Kohl's and Amazon.com while leaving sewing in the hobby category.
James Dobson has said that hard times create emotional and physical toughness. The opposite is also true; ease and abundance create weakness. It is possible that God may in fact allow adversity to make us stronger (When God Doesn't Make Sense, 1993, pg. 150).
Going through a trial in my own life right now, an opportunity to trust God even though I do not understand, I "almost kinda" wish my past was harder. I remember just having purchased a fixer-upper, Taco John's 6-pack and a pound in my hand, a one-year old and two-year old sitting with me at the picnic table left behind by the previous owners, thinking, This is impossible. There is too much to accomplish. I can't do this! Fast forward a year, house in operating order and the engineer is traveling 12-weeks straight, maybe seeing the girls and I for 12 or at most, 24-hours a week, thinking, I hate my life. I can't be a single mom. It's too taxing. A few years later: our basement flooding and working like gangbusters to move everything upstairs with no clue how high the waters will rise, God, I can't go on. I don't have the strength. I'm overwhelmed. Looking back, I see that those times made me stronger. I came through those adversities stronger physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I "almost kinda" wish I had more rough times. (But who seriously wishes for those out-loud?)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
All joy? As I wrestle through my own trial, I need to think, "joy"? So I choose not to shrink back. To thank God for this opportunity to grow in faith and trust in God's divine interruption of my life in order to make me complete, lacking nothing. Will you welcome the rough roads? I think it's easier when I take a step back and envision what it will look like to have grown. To consider how God might strengthen me. Yes, maybe my life is easier than Grandma's, but God uses opportunities for growth that are perfectly designed for my bent. I choose to trust Him with all joy.

Overwhelmed

I am easily overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by something trivial like a packing list or huge like God's direction for the next phase of my life. "I know, it's ridiculous! This is small fries; seriously, who really cares that we don't have that birth certificate? Why do I get so overwhelmed?"
So silly! God is present and directs me in the big stuff, the simple stuff, the mundane stuff and the tough stuff. It's so straight and simple in Psalm 23: the "big fries" are eternity. And if that's secure, seriously, everything else is small fries.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
Forever! Nothing changes this. Forever compared to the checkbook not being balanced is like, "Who cares about the checkbook?" Forever compared to should I write a book is like, "Well, whatever about that book." Forever compared to how does God want to shape our family, is like, "Either way, heaven's your destination."
Don't get me wrong, decisions are real but I don't need to fret or manipulate the situation. Wherever I go and whatever I do, God is actively working and directing my steps. I'm reminded of beautiful Sarah of the Old Testament. She was all worked up about God's promise to her hubby, Abraham: "Count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Sarah responds by thinking logically, What? I'm getting older and still no baby, better take matters into my own hands. Here honey, have babies through my maid Hagaar. (And that didn't go well. Read the details here.) How often am I just like Sarah, worrying and trying to manipulate the situation, to work it out the best I can?
Trust in the Lord completely and don't depend on your own reasoning and stellar planning skills. Proverbs 3:5, my paraphrase
God will work and fashion for His good purpose in His perfect timing. Just breathe. Keep taking a step at a time. Keep eternal perspective. Sometimes it does matter next year, sometimes it doesn't. Just remember the big fries: eternity.
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything in His will He hears us. 1 John 5:11-14
There was a young boy who went with his mother to see the premier pianist of his time. As they waited for the concert to begin, the boy's mother was visiting with another mother and the young boy walked up on the stage and began plunking out "Chopsticks" on the grand piano. The audience was aghast and quickly many set to work to remove the boy from the stage. Yet out came the pianist and said to the boy, "That was beautiful! Please keep playing." And as the boy did, the pianist placed his seasoned hands around the young boy's and created a rich, beautiful, full sound that filled the orchestra hall. We are like that little boy, plunking out the rhythms God calls us to: laundry, cleaning, your day job, washing the car, haircuts... These are small fries but the Holy Spirit comes alongside us to make these small, seemingly insignificant tasks and make them shine the light on Jesus. We may never know how our smile or tip made the day of the hairdresser. We may never realize that our act of service for our children allowed them to encourage a friend or allowed them time to pursue a masterpiece of art for the Creator.
All we're called to do is obediently plunk out the melody of what He calls us to do each day. He will take our small fries and make them great in His time, in His will, according to His pleasure. He's promised us big fries. So oh my heart, don't fret the small fries.

Surely Shirley

I still can picture her. A tiny little frame with perfectly colored and curled hair, ninety plus years of age saying, "You won't forget my name: Shirley. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Dad's aunt Shirley from Hull, Iowa, using her name and her years of wisdom to testify to the faithfulness of Jesus.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
For whatever reason, I woke in the middle of the night saying that verse, picturing her face over and over again. I didn't know really know Shirley. Who really gets to know their dad's aunts? She's in heaven now, but I bet her life wasn't always a bundle of roses. I bet she faced rough times in her marriage, finances, parenting, community and church. Drought, job loss, death... Yet in the last days of her life, she testified to God's goodness and mercy all the days of her life.
This inspires me. Overall, God's given me a good life: a husband I can't wait to wrap my arms around at the end of every work day, three healthy daughters who are learning what it means to walk with Jesus, way more house than I need, a garden I can get my hands dirty in, time to express my heart in words, friends that pray for me, parents and siblings that accept me. But then there's the tough stuff: babies I didn't get to hold, years of disconnection and disappointment in marriage, the willfully disobedient toddler years, the hormonal roller-coaster tween years, moving from close friends, burying my eleven-year old nephew, changing families... These things I'd like to forget; in which I hardly see goodness and mercy.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Psalm 23:1-3
God loving leads us through all of it. He provides rest, refreshment and restoration as we need. He doesn't make a wrong turn. All the circumstances of our life refine us and bring Him glory. ALL the days of our life, not just the good ones. He uses those rough days we'd like to forget to shape us more like Jesus. We must accept these realities that we can not change. Maybe He knows we couldn't learn to be like Jesus, couldn't get truth through our thick-skulls if there weren't hardships. In the hardship, He reveals Himself to us so we can mirror Him. Even in those ugly times, He's still leading perfectly and gives gifts of goodness & mercy that follow us around like little chicks following their mother.
Every time I go to the grocery store with all three golden heads, I feel this phenomena. I can't get rid of them. Seriously, they're 12, 11 and 8, but they follow me, nearly stepping on my heels. And while this can be infuriating, suffocating and feel like leeches, I've never lost them in a large store and that's a good thing! Just like a baby chick won't leave their momma, neither will God's inherent goodness and mercy leave those He leads. Granted sometimes for a while, that goodness and mercy might be disguised, in the most tiny form (barely a bud), or seem a nuisance, but goodness and mercy are present. God promises they are present all the days of our lives.
Whether you're in the middle of the good, lush green grasses or you think your surroundings look like desert, choose to trust God's leading you and His plan and purpose is for goodness and mercy to be nipping at your heels, even if you don't quite yet understand.

Valley

When you're sitting in the valley, sometimes you just need time. Right there in the valley. No hurry to get out. You just want to sit. Not because you feel sorry for yourself but you just want to be. How many hours would I love to sit with my hands wrapped around something warm, nestled in a blanket and staring out at the hills just thinking? Pondering God. Considering majesty. Wondering His purposes. Is it wrong for me to be here?
I wonder how long Jesus let the angels minister to Him after His fast and then temptation from Satan in the desert.
Then the devil left (Jesus), and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him. Matthew 4:11
We can't know for sure, but I bet Jesus sat there and let the angels comfort and provide for Him for more than ten minutes before moving on to begin His public ministry in Galilee. He had fasted for forty days then faced extreme temptation, maybe He let Himself rest there in that safe, comforting place for a couple days or weeks. God provided for His Son, why wouldn't Jesus just want to stay? I'd want to. And I think nestled in this safe, quiet spot, I'd like to stay a while too.
This sitting, considering and pondering is part of my waiting for the Lord, being strong and letting my heart take courage (Psalm 27:14). He comes to me here. He comforts me here, ministers to me here and waters my tiny seed of faith that it might become of bud of trust. And yes, I may cry here. But why wouldn't that be okay? God made me with emotions and He reaches my heart in the middle of my emotions.
"It's okay, to not be okay. This is a safe place," begin the lyrics of the song by Plumb. If you're in a valley, it's okay. But don't be in the valley alone. Let Jesus minister to you there. Even if it doesn't look like a structured Bible Study or devotional time. He ministers in many different ways. Just be sure you're with Him there. Real comfort comes from no other place and just as Jesus moved on to begin His ministry, in God's time we will too.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me,
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Psalm 27:13

Fear


Emotions of unbelief, joy, thrill and fear engulf me as I ponder what should be simply good news. What is wrong with me? Why can't I just be joyful? Why am I so scared to accept this new assignment from God? So scared of trusting the call, giving 100% and falling short of fulfilling the mission. The "what-if" scenarios fill my reasoning and fight to steal my joy.
The account of Joseph, husband of Mary, grips my attention (Matthew 1:18-25). Joseph, engaged (as good as married) to Mary, realizes she's pregnant and knows that he's not the father. He has not been intimate with Mary. Intimacy would wait until the wedding ceremony in the months to come. We can only imagine the sear of emotions Joseph might have felt: shock, betrayal, deceived, ashamed, anger... In my experience men are most often problem-solvers. They like to fix, so Joseph was resolving the situation in his mind: what would be best for him and his family; Mary and her family? (After all, she could be stoned for finding herself in this condition.) And then, during one possibly fitful night of sleep, something happens that cannot be dismissed.
But as (Joseph) considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people form their sins." Matthew 1:20-21
The word behold isn't a word we use in the English language too much, so I couldn't help but wonder its significance here. It means to call to attention something external or exterior to oneself; it often comes before words which are to be particularly noted. It's like throwing fifty exclamation points after the sentence for emphasis. It's screaming, "Pay attention, what's about to happen is huge!"
An angel comes to Joseph and says do no be afraid to take the next steps because God is doing something huge! And what does Joseph do? He obeys and he chooses to trust that everything thing the angel said was true even though he doesn't know all of the details.
There's such hope for us in this part of Jesus' arrival as the God-Man. God takes what was shameful and hard to believe and he makes it great. In Joseph's case, God implements the plan to save mankind.
Okay, so maybe situations in our lives won't be quite so huge, but our lives are important to God. Every detail of our lives is recorded in God's book of life (Psalm 139:16). And I feel like this little verse in Matthew 1:20 is for all of us, And while we're considering the things in our life we'd like to forget because it hurts, or we're ashamed, or it embarrasses us, God says, BEHOLD, I'm going to do something huge with this! Our job right now is to trust God with the details, just like Joseph did. Did you notice the first thing the angel said to Joseph? "Do not be afraid..." We need to trust without fear. We can't truly say we trust God if we hold onto fear in the back of our heads. Okay, God's given this, but if it doesn't last or work out then... That's not faith.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we can not see. Hebrews 11:1
Faith is being confident in God's plan unfolding in your life. Trusting in every day He has ordained for your life. Being secure in the belief that He will work out all the hills and valleys of your life out for ultimate good, even though He may not tell you the outline of His plan. It's accepting what He's placed on your plate without a having a contingency backup plan.
So when you feel like me and you're afraid to trust God with complete abandon, recall the angel that appeared to Joseph, and his words, "(Your name), child of Christ, Do not fear..." to take these next steps!

What is that?

I like re-dos. Sometimes when a sentence gets said with a wrong attitude or disrespectful tone, I like to give myself or the golden heads a "try that again." I mess up all the time. I'm thankful for the opportunity to do it better the second time.
It's a daily choice, or discipline, to sit quietly before the Lord allowing Him to search my heart and reveal ways I've offended Him, the opportunities for a re-do. Actually, it's not really that much fun. It reveals what I've done wrong, and like most, I don't like being wrong.
This got me thinking about how even confession is a type of trial that builds character, and if I let the Holy Spirit do its work in me, it produces Christ-like character. But what is that tangibly? What was Jesus like as he walked on this earth? One answer is found in what I would consider the most unlikely of places, in what most of us call the "Love Chapter" of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. You know, the one read at weddings. What I've realized is that this chapter contains a beautiful list that begins with the value of character, then describes character that builds until we meet Christ and can literally see His every character quality.
I could be the best Teaching Director in all of CBS or writer in all America, but if I don't have Christ-like character, I might as well be a bump on a log. I could have the most awe-inspiring spiritual gifts but if I don't build Christ-like character, I might as well not have any gifts. I could be the most generous giver of all time, serving others with every ounce of my time and resources, but if I don't give and serve with genuine Christ-like character, it's all for nothing.
Christ-like character worth striving for is patient, kind, not jealous, humble, generous, courteous, puts others before myself, forbearing, goes out of my way for others, doesn't hold grudges, believes the best possible outcome about others and always gives the benefit of the doubt. Christ-like character believes and establishes its life on every syllable of God's Word. The person with Christ-like character trusts in God's protection and that God works every detail of their lives out for His glory and their ultimate good, even when she can't know or make sense of all the details.
As I build more Christ-like character, I will be sustained by God and grow more and more consistently in character until I meet Jesus face to face.

I won't perfectly attain these, but I must daily choose to obey the Holy Spirit working out these characterists in me. And when I derail, missing the mark, I'll confess, thanking for forgiveness and allow the Holy Spirit to rule and work these out again. These derailings, these confessions are a part of the adversity that builds Christ-like character.
Spend some time this week rewriting 1 Corinthians 13 for yourself and ask the Holy Spirit to begin working these characteristics out in you.

Deceived

"Character is built in adversity. Character is built in adversity. Character is built in adversity..." I repeat over and over in my mind as we paddle canoes down the river in the heavy rain. I recall the gorgeous paddling weather of the day before and press on, trying my best to see every beautiful gift from the Maker and setting an example for the golden heads.
From across the river, wrapped in a poncho and perched under an umbrella in the middle of the other canoe, sits the one the engineer has coined, the "Egyptian Princess," mainly because of such requests as, "Could you not splash me?" and "Could you paddle faster?"
Meanwhile, the engine paddler on my canoe has had her fill of paddling in the rain! "That's it. I'm not paddling anymore. She's not the only princess. I want to be the princess too!"
Knowing, there was seriously little to be done about our predicament, I reasoned, "Sweetie, I'm so sorry that you weren't born into royalty. You would make an wonderful princess with your fair skin and golden blonde hair." The truth is, she is a princess of an eternal kingdom (Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:5).
What a creep Satan is to feed her lies that would cause her to believe that in her trialous state of paddling down the river in the rain, she would be somehow be dethroned from her heirship.
But oh how I relate! Out on a morning run, the deceiver  (Revelation 12:9) fed me a lie. Right away, I thought, This seems like a lie from Satan. I muttered some words I knew to be true but wasn't convinced. Later that evening, I shared the lie with my trusted friend. His reaction was enough to make me see this was a lie and I had believed it. Throughout the hours of insomnia, I was able to speak truth over and over in my mind and in the morning sunshine, thank God (and the engineer) for the truth I believe; I am valued and accepted.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Some of our trials will seem silly. Like paddling in the rain. Some a crisis of who we are in Christ or a crisis of faith in a good God. Big or little, these pain-staking bumps in the road give us a chance to strengthen our faith, build our character to be more like Jesus'.
What trial are you facing right now? Will you allow yourself to be lied to by the deceiver or will you face Satan with the truth, stand on the Word of God and become more like Jesus.

Dreaming

I value dreaming. Possibly even daydreaming. How many times has the boisterous one waved her growing hand in front of my face saying, "Mom. Mom! Are you lost in a daydream?" I believe it healthy to look forward and anticipate something whether its a lunch date with your husband or a family vacation. God wants us to be excited to receive His gifts.
However, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expected. You anticipated your date ending with cuddling by the fireplace but it ends in a fight. The "surprise" vacation was found out by the golden heads and was a stressful time in your family relationships instead of the bonding time you anticipated. The newborn child you anticipated welcoming into your fold slipped into Jesus' arms before he could make it to your nursery.
Some of these disappointments are more heart wrenching than others. But I'm going to ask the hard question (which is much easier to apply to the date gone nightmare than a lost child). What if in being focused on what you wanted (your dream), you missed what God gave? Missed the skyline He painted for you. Missed the opportunity to encourage. Missed the rich, bold taste of your coffee. Missed the feel of your child’s hand tucked in yours. Missed the smell of summer rain (when it’s winter at home). Why would you miss these? Because you focused on the disappointment of your dream. You focused on yourself.
It's easier to see God's gifts in the good times than the difficult times.
Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11
The Jews had been waiting for a promised leader for centuries when Jesus arrived on the scene as an infant. The prophets has predicted the arrival of a savior, a Messiah. The Jews believed this savior would come as a powerful, mighty, earthly king and deliver them from Roman oppression and rule the nation in perfect justice. Many Jews had overlooked the prophet Isaiah who predicted a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
A few recognized this Messiah, in Jesus, the Son of God becoming a man to establish a heavenly kingdom. Thank goodness these select few shared how they saw Jesus, by writing and telling the message to others. Because of their firm belief, we can see God today.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied... Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God... Matthew 5:6, 8
But how often am I like the Jews who didn't recognize their savior? I get so wrapped up in how I believe God should paint the story of my life I forget He (not me) has the blueprints of my future. I focus on my disappointment, not His gifts.
I don't know how deep your disappointment is today. Maybe you grieve over a lost Saturday or a lost child. They're both grief. But I know this, God is there (Psalm 139:7-12). In the midst of your disappointment, don't miss Jesus. You'll usually find His fingerprints in the details.

Why the dark?


Like the rainy, stormy weather this past week, so has been the dark cloud hovering over me. Feelings of uncertainty, heavy-heartedness, and lethargic slowness billow over my being. I don't even know from where these feelings come. I'm a serious person, but not a Debbie-downer.

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.  Psalm 25:8-10

I try do what's right. I sit before the LORD and ask Him to return to me the joy of my salvation. I ask why. I recall His faithfulness. I count my gifts. But the heaviness continues and I feel the blow of being hit by a freight-train. I want to know His way. I want certainty in His direction. My theology believes in His faithfulness but I want to see the purpose of this right now!
What matters is treading with Him! I may never understand this heaviness and uncertainty, but if I am abiding in Him, despite my burdened feelings, even this heavy path is one He's on with me. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.
These feelings don't mean that I've derailed. Though I should make sure I don't have unconfessed sin hindering my relationship with Jesus, but if nothing seems unconfessed, then I must just accept that I am only human and I am allowed to feel the whole gamut of emotions. I can still choose to tread with Jesus, to know He's beside me in the darkness ,and that He is good and upright and soon the sun will come out while the dark clouds move on toward the east like after a morning rain.
Do you find yourself in a dark spot wondering why? If anyone understands, it's Jesus. As His time to walk the road to the cross drew near and came upon Him, Jesus knew the darkness. Talk to Jesus about your circumstance. Choose to believe that even this dark path is one He will remain on with you and His love remains with you. I'd love to pray for you, that the sunshine on your heart would rise. Email me here.

Forgotten

I'm tired. Exhausted. Worn out. The petunias in my hanging pot describe me well. As my friend said last week, pitch the old annual flowers, "It's time for mums." In contrast to my end-of-summer petunia-like fatigue, I am encouraged that God's enlightenment and truth never needs replacing. It's always vibrant.
Paul has only just got started in his letter to the Ephesians, when he conveys his personal prayer for them: he gives thanks to God for them and asks that God gives them, as a result of being controlled by the Holy Spirit, the opportunity to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus.
..that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe... Ephesians 4:17b-19a
What Paul emphasizes is the experiential and practical knowing Jesus, not just a feeling, sense or desire. If you have any history, be it 10 minutes or 10 years walking with Jesus, you have experienced Him, His goodness and His grace. But you may be like me. You may have simply forgotten what's you've experienced!
In my summer fatigue, I've found myself taking on anxiety and I shared this anxiety as a prayer request with a few trusted friends. One friend pointed me to Philippians 4:6 that charges me to present petitions to God with thanksgiving.
Ah...yes! I knew that, I've experienced Philippians 4:7's peace in the past, I had just forgotten! I needed reminding.
The practice of thanksgiving, in my experience with Jesus, is choosing to see, identify and write down my gifts. This has made a huge impact on my life. On one of the hardest days of my life, I was forcing myself through the routine of the morning. The coffee didn't even taste good (no offense Starbucks) and I felt numb. Sitting in my chair with coffee cup in hand, I realized I was forced with a choice: His way or my way. A grateful heart or grieved heart. On that dark day of my life, I chose gratitude. And I continue to choose gratitude. It gets me through the rough days, when I feel like the petunias in August: dried out, leggy and ready to be tossed. My experience with Jesus is always fresh and revitalizing.

Your past is your lens for today. In w
hat way have you experienced Jesus (peace, joy, love, forgiveness...)? Will you share in a comment below? Maybe other readers need to remember what they've forgotten.

Someone

"Well, I had to yell at someone and mommy was the only one home to yell at!" she verbally reasoned. While I didn't enjoy the hour of verbal abuse, I was more concerned with the heart of the matter: training her in the way she should go, teaching her Jesus' way of love and confronting anger.
Kevin Leman on parenting has revealed to me the wisdom of allowing my golden heads to experience natural consequences. But not knowing the best consequence (no sleepover, no swim party, no bonfire, make dinner for a week, doing sister's chores, doing dishes for a week...) my heart became anxious.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131
O mom, hope in God! Wait for God to mold this young heart. Expect that He will do His work in His time, today, tomorrow and always. I can't really know her heart. I can't truly discern her ways. It's too complex for my simple mind to understand. But God knows this face, this heart and what every day of her life beholds (Psalm 139:13-16).
And because I know God's got this golden heart, I can choose to calm my heart, my emotions, my mind, my whole character chooses to be calm. I take a deep breath and remember His control and His trustworthiness.
I trust that my heavenly Father knows best and is in control. Like a momma that knows when it's best to wean a nursing child, even if an infant isn't so sure. It's a natural next step. So also my Father knows best how to direct my child and my parenting, though the process might be grueling.
This anxiety isn't limited to parenting. You might be perusing Facebook and become burdened, concerned and disturbed with broadcasted choices. You could sense a call to something new and different but not know any details of this great unknown. You might desire something so badly yet not know if your will aligns with God's.
Deep breath. God's got her. God's got him. God's got you. God knows best. But maybe in the thick of the unsettledness, the unknown, you need to yell as someone. Please don't yell at your mom. She didn't sign up for that. Goodness knows, I didn't. But take your pleadings, anxiety and verbal shoutings to God. Pour your heart out before Him. Like weaning, the process is painful, but the outcome is peaceful, best and the bond between you and God is tightened because the process builds trust. And like a faithful parent, God's in it every step of the way.
What is your heart anxious or heavy with today? Will you choose to trust God's control over the circumstance and quiet your soul?

Realist

They wanted to stay for the Performing Arts Contest Awards. Would the sister duo get an Award of Excellence for their song and dance? They hoped. We stayed.
During the awards, it was announced their club got Reserve Grand Champion in a skit performed earlier that night. My golden heads also performed in this skit with the other members but sat clapping as other members jumped up and down and ran on stage. The next morning at breakfast, she said to me, "Mom, I didn't understand why everyone was so excited that our club got second place. There were only two club participating; we got last place. What's the big deal?"
Realist. I'm not saying the kids didn't do a great job. I'm saying it's wise to have an eternal, real grasp on life.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Before the competition of the fair began, we had a talk about what mattered most during fair week. Building our lives on the eternal Jesus and showing Jesus to those around us through our attitudes and actions: that's what matters. Not champion ribbons, not she got one more malt than me, not the hot sticky weather or the torential downpour. The reality is that this life is just a dim reflection of the eternal life with Jesus to come, when we see Jesus face to face. And right now, totally matters if we show and invite others to an eternal life with Jesus.
I'm not going to lie. It was thrilling to watch the compassionate one walk across the stage to receive her Champion Banner and shirt. But even if she walked away without these, what matters is how she conducted herself not just when she got Champion, but when she got a red ribbon.
Was she be mindful of eternal consequences of her choices? If she spent all her time and money on one project, there would be any resources left to give to serving others or financially supporting the children in Africa that she loves? If she was rude to other competitors and cheated for the win, would she be showing others that Jesus is patient, kind, humble, generous, forbearing, believes the best about others and loves what's righteous?
Truly, what matters in competition (whether the Olympics of the County Fair) is having an eternal perspective. Is what I'm doing now inviting others of an eternal life with Jesus? The Olympics will end. The County Fair ended. Eternity with Jesus has no end. Today is a precursor. I will give up the worry and anxiety of today and seek to be known by Jesus and introduce those around me to Jesus. I will be a realist in a world that sometimes wants to forget reality.
Are you choosing to believe what's real and what matters? Are you living with an eternal perspective and inviting others to be known by Jesus?

True


It was a really great conversation with the compassionate one, never mind I don't even recall the subject. Music plays softly in the background, the rest of the family dozing off while we barrel down the dark highway, somewhere between 55-60 miles an hour and we're just chatting about life. Then in an instant, Bambi jumps up out of the ditch and smacks the front middle of the truck. There was but a half-second to brake.
Thankfully, the damage wasn't severe enough to render the truck undrivable. After removing the dangling plastic parts from the front bumper, the engineer and I returned to the truck and resume the drive home.
While the engineer and everyone else quickly dozed off to slumberland, the silence filled me full of doubt and self-judgment. He probably thinks I'm to blame. I am to blame. I should pay more attention. He's mad at me. He's not talking to me. This is going to be a horrible week. We'll be mad at each other all week... And like I naturally do, I stew. Like my savory garlic rosemary beef stew, anger and resentment stew and grow rich within me.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23
Jesus taught these words to the crowds that followed Him. The word eye in this passage means the eye of the mind; the part of the brain that knows something is true and allows you to see or understand more clearly. Now consider the opposite of clearly knowing the truth, it would be believing lies and preventing understanding, leading to withdraw, being concealed and not understanding.
So what I believe and understand either makes me full of light or darkness. If I believe what is true, I am full of light, I'm having a good week. If I believe what if false (a lie), I am full of darkness and I'm having a bad week.
My thought patterns determine the quality of my day. They are the very beginning of my entire outlook and actions. Praise God that something (the Holy Spirit) within me, caused me to stop and perceive truth while driving home that night. The truth is, my poor husband is woke up from sleeping in the car by a big thud. We tend to not think or respond normally when we're woken up from sleep. He did what needed to be done and he went back to sleep. He's tired and there was nothing else to do.
So while everyone else continued their slumber in the truck, I turned off the stew! He's not mad at me. He doesn't judge me or think I'm a bad driver. These things simply happen. And  another truth is praise God that we were in the truck, not the minivan or we likely would be sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck!
An hour later, nearly home, the engineer wakes up from his car nap. "Why do deer have to be so stupid? These things just happen so fast and there's nothing you can do about it." Clearly, he didn't blame me or think less of me.
I smile, praising God in my heart! He caused me to believe truth, direct my thought patterns and fill me with light.
What lie are you believing today that is filling your entire outlook with darkness, or causing a horrible day (week, year...)? Will you choose to turn off the stew? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you truth in the matter at hand.

Watching and stilling

It's 4:51 in the morning and it begins. Decide the final plans for the coming weekend. Turn the sprinklers on in the garden. She asked me to make scones (presumedly for my birthday breakfast). I should finish the laundry before the golden heads wake. Practice this morning at 10am. Oh no, she still needs a slip to wear with her skirt tomorrow. And with my mind whirling, I figure, might as well wake up and get going.
My typical notion is that if I wake early enough (long before anyone else) I can escape any demands and expectations from others and sip my morning coffee and be with Him, my Maker. But this morning, I thought I'd get a few things done first: scones, laundry, email, watering... An hour later, I finally set the coffee to drip and something out of ordinary catches my eye while stopping my heart. What was that? Perched on the deck railing was an adult red-tailed hawk. I froze, taking in the wonder. Two, no three, things immediately came to my mind.

  1. Man, that thing is huge.
  2. Roz on Monsters Inc, "I'm watching you, always watching you."
  3. Should I sneak away and grab my camera?
Enough is enough with the things to do! Spend time with Jesus, my Maker. Yes, He's watching me scuttle about, but delights in my quiet moments, my quiet heart before Him.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
He utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. 
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how He has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46

Nothing happens in my day that takes Him by surprise. Nothing that He can't control or destroy in an instant. Only when I let Him live and thrive within me can I be full of joy and completely solid and strong. I just need these few quiet minutes with Him, to be still. To stop and be sure He is on the throne of my heart. Then trust and fully believe that He is in control of every aspect of this day, month, year and His plans for me are for my good.
And who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his span of life? ... Therefore, do not be anxious saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we wear?" for the Gentiles seek after these things and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:27, 31-33
Are you intentionally setting aside your worries and choosing to stop, rest in Jesus and express your trust in His righteous plan for your life? He's watching you. He's got you. No matter the worry or list of things to do this day, express your trust in His perfect power and protection.

Together

Why is it when I'm sitting criss-cross applesauce on the ground God speaks to my heart most? It was early. It was summer. It was camping pack-up mode. I sat with my cup of coffee and felt like the patio potted flowers were beckoning me from my comfortable over-sized chair. We had moved the potted plants to the shaded corner of the deck and gave them a drink the night prior so they might fare well enough in our absence for a couple days. Something about that heap of green with splashes of blooming color shouted out at me. What beautiful similarity yet difference. One would never arrange them together so closely as we had, still doing so was a messy, yet beautiful sight full life and promise.
I feel like a mother hen with my plants. I tell the golden heads, "These are my babies," and it gave me a surge of delight to see them clumped together in the early morning light. That's when I heard Him speak to my heart. This is what it's like for a mother and father; they love to see her children together.
Any parent understands. I love to see my golden heads together (and getting along.) My heart delights and explodes into songs of gratitude when I see them swimming together in the pool, tossing a frisbee on the beach, playing store, blending f'real shakes together... In those moments of peace and unity among those I love and treasure most, a parent understands the young mother Mary in Luke 2:19, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."
For years, I've heard my own parents say things like, "We just want our family together, that's a gift to us." Even when the children are grown with children of their own, a parent loves to see their children come together.
Why would Jesus' heart be any different? After all, we are made in His image. Jesus must love to see His children come together. Read Jesus' desire in His prayer to His father before His crucifixion.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me , and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:20-23
He wants His kids one with Him and when they are in-line with Jesus personally, they will be in-line with each other. He prayed it; He must love to see it. And this would be possible so that the unbelieving world would know Jesus. When the church members love each other, accept each other, spend life together and serve each other, they show the world a little picture of the unbreakable covenant love Jesus has for each of His children individually. Jesus wouldn't give up on anyone who turns to Him and so the church members must not give up on anyone who would follow Him.
I have to admit, I have been quite resistant to the church lately. They rub me the wrong way. I don't deeply connect with many...excuses, excuses. I'm wrong. Jesus loves to see His kids together!
This mother hen reminder from God has challenged me personally to fight for community in the church, to "not neglect meeting together," (Hebrews 10:25). Will you spend time contemplating your attitude toward those in the church and consider that Jesus loves to see His kids together?

Wait

As I laid on the bed throwing a 36-year old temper tantrum, I cried out to God, "I don't want to do this! Make it stop! Take this away!" I didn't like my situation at all and I wanted it changed, NOW! I wanted to grab the engineer's attention, explain my woes, he would take my side and make everything right. Fortunately, as I look back, I couldn't get his attention at the moment and I was left to sit in my sensory discomfort. Somehow, I got through my own selfish desires of that afternoon and it wasn't until later that I realized God's answer to my prayer in His perfect timing.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:1-2
Okay, so I wasn't waiting in silence. I was made to wait...at least for a couple hours. It wasn't until later that day, when I had calmed down and God gave me glorious gifts in the moments with my family that I realized, He did rescue. He calmed my nerves, gave me peace and compassion toward those I was deeply furious. Only God could do that. He's my only hope of rescue.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:5-8
On our day with the boisterous one at Valleyfair, we decided to ride Thunder Canyon where the signs caution, "You might WILL get wet!" No lie; we were drenched. And she was furiously uncomfortable in her short denim shorts and squeaky wet socks and sneakers. She just wanted it fixed, to be dry, NOW! Oh, how I could relate to that sweet little seven-year-old temper tantrum. 
You know what? God did comfort me with my sensory issues and He did dry the boisterous one's shorts (and provide a pair of flip flops.) He always rescues, but sometimes He says wait first.
And I wonder what He means for us to learn in the waiting. 
Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work. Psalm 62:11-12
God wants us to trust in His power and love toward us. Not others (the engineer or parents.) Not money. Not earthly judges. Not government. Not ourselves. He is true power and His love for us is unstoppable! And He's wondering if we really believe it and will choose to wait in trust for His rescue.
Sometimes it's so uncomfortable to sit in your squeaky wet clothes! You do want to scream. (By all means, go for it.) But will you choose to take a deep breath and say to God, "I trust you enough to wait for your rescue in this situation."

Needs

She sat across from me and said, "I have no needs, I used to have lots of needs. Now, I have no needs."
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:1-4
We were made with a need for God, to thirst and long for Him. And we can find Him and be satisfied with Him because He is dependably powerful and He has an unwavering, unstoppable, irrevocable, accepting love toward us. That's want we want: real power and true love. He meets our need.
As we watch the news filled with shootings, stormy weather and political agendas, it's so clear that as a national society, we want power to be just and ultimate security (assuring love.) In our personal lives as well, we want the wrongs made right and we want to feel like we're enough just as we are. We have needs! But the psalmist shows us that not only are we created with needs, we can be satisfied!
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips... Psalm 63:5
With You, God, we can be satisfied! When can we be satisfied?
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night; Psalm 63:6
This is the hinge verse. Not only is it the literal middle of the psalm, it is what can change our lives: when we choose to recall His faithfulness and channel our thoughts on Jesus. In the painful times: "upon my bed." In the good times when we're wondering when things will go wrong: "in the watches of the night." When we choose this thought pattern, NO MATTER our circumstance, we can sing for joy because we're perfectly protected by our powerful and loving God.
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:7-8
What does that look like? I can't tell you how many times I start conversations with God throughout my day: while coloring with the boisterous one, when thinking about the engineer, when I'm ready to moan in the midst of a parenting moment, when making decisions, in a beautiful moment of unity and delight between the golden heads, when my back hurts so badly I can't sleep, when I'm ready to scream because I'm not getting my way. Did you notice these instances include times of need "upon my bed" and "in the watches of the night"? Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to speak to Him. However, He is always available, if we would just approach Him and allow Him to meet our needs. Our need for powerful justice is met by a perfect Judge.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped. Psalm 63:9-11
If only we would remember that help is possible WHEN we focus on Jesus. All our needs are met beyond expectation: satisfied! It doesn't matter if our future looks awesome or bleak. 
When my grandpa died, I heard of a painful trial in his own life: one of those moments "upon his bed." Apparently, with tight financial times on the farm, Grandpa had began driving truck in addition to farming. One evening, checking in with grandma on the phone, she had to relay to him that there had been a storm and hail had destroyed the crops: their expected farming income gone. I can't imagine what that would feel like to the family provider: sick, gut-wrenching, panic, fear... Likely after some tears and emotions, Grandpa kept driving and turned on the radio to a gospel station and heard truth from the Gaithers. 
The God of the mountain, is still God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He'll make them right.
'Cause the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day, is still God of the night.
Are you experiencing a day on the mountain or a month in the valley? Are you "upon your bed" in agony and loss or in the watches of the night when things seem alright? No matter your circumstance, where are your thoughts? Are they fixed on Jesus? If they're not, will you choose to look to Him, think of Him, talk to Him and allow Him to satisfy you? Only He can satisfy your needs.

Now

I was ugly. I was impatient. I was irritable. I was frustrated. At the root of it all, I wasn't trusting God. We had looked forward to this day at Valleyfair with the boisterous one since Christmas and the pain shot and pierced from my back to my middle. How would this day look when I couldn't enjoy any attractions and one-on-one moments with my dear child? How long would the day feel if all I did was wait on the bench while she and the engineer went on ride after ride without me? There was so much uncertainty. What if I went on a ride despite my ailment and was left completely debilitated for days?
As I slowly hinged at the waist to tie my shoes, I thought about how I wasn't trusting God's plan for my today, even though I've applauded many obedient believers who have trusted God. I wanted so badly to trust and I know that God is trustworthy, but I couldn't cross that line.
I envisioned gratitude saving my day if I was forced to sit and wait through each ride by myself. I would consciously choose to thank God for every gift: sunshine, leaves, blue hair, smiles, missing teeth, the smell of wet clothes...
On the other side of our day at Valleyfair, I see God's faithfulness and provision. I was able to ride and my back feels none the worse (maybe better). As I confess my bitterness and lack of trust, I realize that truly what matters is trusting God's plan for my now. This ailment has made me realize that

  • sometimes God calls my now to be serving others
  • sometimes God calls my now to be resting in Him
  • sometimes God calls my now to be trusting in His provision.

God told the rebellious Israelites through Isaiah, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength," (Isaiah 30:15.) The Israelites were unwilling to return, rest, be still and trust in God's plan for their now (especially when their nation's future seemed so uncertain) and so God let them go to their own demise.
I'm so used to doing. I have a heritage of doing. When you're Dutch, you serve; it's what you do. But this ailment has often denied me the opportunity to do anything (literally). And God, in His generosity toward me, showed me how He loves me through the engineer. My programmed brain believes that if I can serve my husband and if I can do more for him, he'll love me more. Yet, in his constant concern with how I'm feeling, his offered hand of assistance, his consistent meeting my needs and then embracing me when I least expect it and saying, "I love you," when I couldn't do anything, I see that my worthiness of love has nothing to do with what I accomplish. That's how God loves me. I don't have to do anything and He loves me and delights in me even when I can't do anything (Zephaniah 3:17).
I trust He will call me to work for Him again. God's given me a passion and love for serving others, but that may not be His plan for my now.
"O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch." Psalm 5:3
I never know how I'm going to feel each morning: could be great, could be awful. But every morning, I can come to Jesus and say, Here I am. Here's my now. I trust in Your plan for my now. And then I watch Him show up.
How is God calling you to trust His plan for your now? Will you choose to rest in the truth that your worthiness of love has nothing to do with what you can accomplish? He simply loves you for being you!

Minnesota Nice


When we moved to the Twin Cities, we first heard this phrase, "Minnesota Nice." Wikipedia defines it as "the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered." This is the culture we live.
In meditating on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I understand that Jesus calls us to be different than the culture we are surrounded; to create a new culture superior to (even) "Minnesota Nice." The bar has been raised for those who receive Jesus' gift of salvation.
You have heard it was said, [You shall not murder...commit adultery...divorce...take an oath...retaliate...]"You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends the rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
The norm of the culture may be "nice", but (like anywhere in the United States) it's centered on me, me, me and watching the news, it's pretty common for me to complain, complain, complain. But Jesus calls us to create a better culture. He calls us to a different standard; a standard of excellence.
All summer long, I feel like a broken record, "Girls, we're not going for perfection or quick and sloppy, we're aiming for doing our best: excellence." Sure, it would be easier and even "nice" to throw your dishes on the kitchen counter, but excellent to load them in the dishwasher and start the wash cycle. I want to train them to create a better culture that thinks beyond what's easiest and best for me.
Though we live mostly among a people that have yet to receive Jesus' call of excellence, we're still called to excellence. To love them more than expected; to be more than "nice." We need to constantly be asking Jesus, how can we love better, serve more, give more, meet a need, go beyond an expectation, make it less about me?
English theologian Matthew Henry in his commentary on Matthew 5 wrote, "It is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press toward a perfection in grace and holiness, Philippians 3:12-14. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father, 1 Peter 1:15, 16."
Truth is, I can't love others perfectly but I am loved perfectly. I will mess up, say the wrong thing; have the wrong motives; step on someone's toes when I'm trying to be helpful, but God loves me perfectly and calls me to be like Him. I will miss the mark. I could not even try, I can't do it perfectly anyway, but Jesus says, Be different. Aim for Me. Look to Me and let Me work through you.
Am I creating a culture where I'm continually asking myself what can I do for others? How can I do whatever is on my task list with excellence? God has done much for us and by creating a better culture than the "nice" one in which we live. I can show my world a snippet of what God looks like, for His glory.
...let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
I have a friend who encourages us on fast days by saying, "Ladies, this is a get to." What a privilege to get to be more than "Minnesota Nice." To love, serve and invite others into our lives with excellence.
How is Jesus calling you today to go beyond the culture of nice? Thank Him that you get to do more than others.

Copy

Cumulus clouds stand out in stark contrast against the intense red sunrise in the northern horizon. Different from the blanket of loose clouds above them, the way these hold their shape and definition captivates my attention. And I ponder, how would I be defined by appearance and externals? I met a lot of new moms yesterday at a field trip with the calculating one and wonder what these women saw in me. How would they describe me? What did they notice about me? It seems what's going on inside a person always finds a way to bubble to the surface (Luke 6:45; Proverbs 4:23).
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand... Philippians 4:4-5
Let my reasonableness be known to everyone. The NIV translates it gentleness; the NLT: consideration; the KJV: moderation. By definition, it means equitable, fair-minded, gentle. It's greek root words literally translate to copy over. What am I suppose to copy over? I believe it's connected to the next phrase: the Lord is at hand. To show the world what God looks like. He is near, fair, gentle and in control of every detail of my life.

If am conscious of God's sovereign orchestration of all things in my life for His glory and my good, this will be apparent to those around me. And Paul goes on to tell us what this looks like on us:
...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
  • Joy, joy, joy, joy
  • Absence of anxiety
  • Communication with God
  • Trust
  • Gratitude
  • Peace
If these attributes were true of one, that person would stand out against the normal culture of fear, anxiety, selfishness and complaint like the cumulus cloud in my morning sunrise.
But how do I start? Again, Paul does not leave us hanging, he says, start with your thoughts.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
And so when adversity creeps my way and I'm tempted to chameleon to the world's pattern of complaint and self-centeredness, sirens of alert should be going off in my head. STOP! Change course. I want to stand out against the crowd, I want to copy Jesus. Guard my thoughts. In this particularly challenging situation, what is 

  • True
  • Honorable
  • Just
  • Pure
  • Lovely
  • Admirable
  • Excellent
  • Worthy of praise?
By choosing to direct my thought patterns, my reasonableness will be known by those around me so they can see what Jesus is like. Jesus is different than the world we live in. He is love, joy, peace, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and controlled. I choose to copy Him.
What situation are you facing today that you need to stop and adjust your thought patterns so that what's in your heart beautifully bubbles up to the top and mirrors Jesus to the people in your sphere of influence? 

Cheerios

After an evening of disappointment and loneliness turn anger, anxiety and fear, a box of Cheerios catches my eye on the kitchen counter. Still processing my emotions from the night prior, something within bides me to pay attention to that bright yellow box. Cheerios. A heart-shaped bowl filled with wholesome oats, milk and an adorning strawberries. What about that box? 
Cheerios. Cheer-ios. The Bible uses the word cheer. 
And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. Matthew 9:2 
(When Jesus' disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus walks on the water toward them in the boat:) For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. Mark 6:50 
(When Jesus was with his closest friends:) These things I (Jesus) have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33 
(When Paul was on trial and the Jews made a plot to end his life:) And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. Acts 23:11 
(When Paul was on ship headed to Rome to stand trial for his faith he directed the ship crew in midst of a terrible storm:) "And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, 'Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.' Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me...Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. Acts 27:22-25, 36 
This greek word is a verb, an action that means to put in good spirits, gladden, make cheerful; to be joyful, be of good cheer, of good courage. The English Standard Version translates "be of good cheer" as take heart, take courage or encouraged.
What strikes me about these verses is they are commands or directions from the Lord. (Even if God speaks to others through Paul.) God the Father, Jesus the Son and God the Holy Spirit direct us to choose to be cheerful and they make cheer possible. God says to us in the Scriptures, "(My child,) in this world you will have troubles, but take heart, have good cheer, choose to be encouraged; I have overcome the world." In the morning, cheer is possible; He is present. In the darkness, cheer is possible; God is present.
Cheerios. The i-o-s resembles Theos, the Greek for God, the creator and sustainer of all things, the One who is with us. Theos is my maker and sustainer and shelter of my heart in all times, including the tough times; a place where my heart can cheer. 
Nothing else can give real, lasting cheer: not a paid off mortgage, not a relationship, NOTHING else. He is simply 100% Pure Righteousness, Faithfulness and goodness that cheers me. May I choose to only let Him fill my heart to the brim. And if other great gifts come along, they can be the adorning strawberries in my heart-shaped bowl.
How have you tried (and failed) to fill you heart-shaped bowl? Thank God for His ability to fill and satisfy you. He sustains you and He is with you. Choose cheer.