December 30, 2009

Out With the Old -- In With the New

Happy New Year! We survived our drive from PA to FL and are enjoying a wonderful visit with family. I wish you a blessed New Year and pray that in 2010 you go deeper still in your experiences with our awesome God.
I posted over at Exemplify Online today. I hope you click over the check it out.


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Get fit. Lose weight. Enjoy life more. Quit smoking. Get organized. Learn something new. Spend more time with family. Help others.

New Year’s resolutions. We make them. We break them. And in a few months we forget all about them. But two years ago I made a resolution I not only kept, it changed my life. On December 31, 2007, I gave my writing to God and promised Him I’d stop talking about writing and actually start doing it. Since then I’ve written over 100,000 words on my blog, attended writers’ conferences, published articles and made wonderful friendships with fellow writers.

Along the way, I’ve battled doubt, discouragement and insecurity. Yet each time I felt like giving up, I recalled my divine promise and asked the Lord for strength and reassurance to press on. With His help, I have…and do. 

As writing brought me into a deeper understanding of God, He challenged me to go further still. So last year I resolved to follow the Lord as He led, and to that end I prayed, “Empty me, fill me, use me.” Looking back on 2009, I am awed at the concrete evidence of God’s answer to my prayer. The year was filled with a whole new set of “firsts.” Some wonderfully rewarding (like our mission trip to the Dominican Republic), others incredibly scary (like sharing my testimony from that trip at church) and others painfully sad (like the passing of our dear friend Kirsten). But in each, I experienced the Almighty in intense and profoundly personal ways.


I share these things not to boast about me, but to boast about our Lord. Christianity is not an attractive accessory with which we decorate our lives. Jesus is the real deal. He has the power to transform our lives in ways we—and our me-focused resolutions—NEVER can. The Bible promises that when we align our desires with His will, there’s no limit to power of the Spirit working in and through us.

However, while I can point to evidence of the “new” in my life, I’m often frustrated with how much of the “old” remains. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians make the process seem immediate and complete. Have I failed because I still have far to go? I choose to read the verse as an ongoing promise—“the old is going, the new is coming.”

Transformation is a process—sometimes dramatic and other times painfully slow. It’s not so important how fast we transform, but that we continue to do so. Step by step. Year after year. “Let the wonderful kindness and the understanding that come from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ help you to keep on growing.” (2 Peter 3:18, emphasis mine).

There’s nothing magical about January 1 as a time to evaluate and start anew, except that it marks a logical rest area on our journey. Spiritual change is more than a list of New Year’s resolutions. It requires perseverance, patience and participation. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get involved in the process. He directs; we follow. We take down; He builds up. We empty; He fills.

Do you want a faith that’s alive and active? Are you tired of the “old” and want to usher in the “new?” Do you want your life to be about more than yourself?

Reflect on the year. Can you point to evidence of God working in and through you? What’s holding you back from taking the next step…or taking any step? Do you want to go deeper in your experience with the Almighty?

Why not start the New Year, focused not on how YOU want to change, but on how HE wants to change you. Pray for direction. Resolve to follow. And prepare for 2010 to be a year unlike any other.

December 22, 2009

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

Six years ago I received the best Christmas gift ever.

When my children were little I was relegated, as most moms are, to drive a minivan. Ours was a green one that transported my kids, their stuff, their friends, their friends’ stuff, a week’s worth of groceries and the family dog—all at the same time. As practical as it was, I hated the thing. Not just that car in particular. I hated minivans. They weren’t me. Not then, not ever.

What I wanted was a lime green punch buggy with a stick shift and a sun roof. I dreamed about having one. I pointed them out every time I saw one: “Look, there goes someone driving away in my car!”  The kids and I “punched” each other whenever we spied one. And as the kids got older, I weaved my longing into their spelling homework. No matter what the word, I could interject my heart’s desire into it:

·         Path: It is much easier to find the path while driving a punch buggy.
·         Leg: I banged my leg on my mom’s lime green punch buggy.
·         Summer: This summer my mom opened the roof in her lime green punch buggy.
·         Petunia: My mom fit a whole flat of petunias in the back of her punch buggy.

You get the picture. In time my kids started to ask their dad for help with their homework.

This went on for years, until my oldest was out of a car seat and my youngest was in a booster seat. While still impractical, owning a VW Beetle was finally a remote possibility. Christmas was coming and I dropped hints like mad, hoping Dan might catch on. One day he’d had enough and told me to knock it off.

Still, I didn’t give up hope. Christmas morning came and I peered outside to see if Santa had left a lime green something parked in the driveway. To my disappointment, the driveway was empty. I peaked into the garage. Nothing in there either. Oh well, it was a crazy thought anyway. I set my hope aside and happily rejoined the festivities with my family.

While enjoying our breakfast, Dan feigned surprise and produced one more present for me. (We always save the biggest presents for last and act like it was a big Santa oversight.) I removed the wrapping to find a velvety jewelry box. It obviously didn’t hold a car and I was a little disappointed. I’m not an expensive jewelry kind of person, so I couldn’t imagine what was inside.

I opened the box. A note taped inside the lid read, “Be still…” Nested inside was another velvety box.

Intrigued, I opened the second box. On its lid another note read, “…and know that I…” Nested inside was a third box.

My curiosity was piqued. I slowly opened the third box. The final note read, “…am driving a punch buggy.” Inside that box was a key. A VW key.

I started screaming…and laughing…and crying! The kids had no idea what was in the box and wondered, with some fear, why their mom was losing it. I ran to the front door and flung it open. There in our driveway sat a lime green punch buggy with a sun roof and a stick shift…and a big red bow on top of it! Just like the commercials.

I was in shock!

Completely without my knowledge, Dan had found the exact car I wanted, purchased it and arranged for our neighbor to hide it in his garage…and then drive it over when he got the “signal.” I told Dan he never had to buy me another present again. Ever!
Punch buggy in hiding


It’s been six years since that Christmas and I still love my car! I still feel giddy when I realize it’s mine. And I’m still blown away by my husband’s extravagant gesture of love.

It reminds me of God’s extravagant gesture of love for us. With the coming of Jesus…Emmanuel…God with us…we’ve received the best Christmas gift ever. Lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. God’s plan for all of humanity realized. Because He loved us.

With Jesus’ life, and then death on the cross, He bridged the gap of sin that forever separated us from God. This gift of grace is so amazing our minds can scarcely conceive or fathom its true meaning.

But God doesn’t want us to analyze the gift, question our worthiness of receiving it or worst of all, reject it.

Imagine if I refused Dan’s gift to me? Or if I let it sit in the garage unused? Or if I spent all my time trying to figure out how the car works? Or if I neglected it? Obviously he’d be hurt. Dan gave me that present because he loves me and wants me to enjoy that little car to its fullest. Doing so brings him joy.

He wants us to do the same—to accept it, to experience it, to be transformed by it and to tell others about it—with joy and thanksgiving!

As much as I love my lime green punch buggy, nothing compares to God sending us the babe in a manger. He’s our true heart’s desire. I am still giddy when I realize the gift of salvation is mine. And I am blown away by God’s incomparable act of love.

He did it for me. And He did it for you, too!


Merry Christmas! I pray that you and your families experience a joyous, wondrous and blessed Christmas.

December 15, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?


There’s like ten days until Christmas (I’m not counting) and I feel a big freak out coming on. No, I didn’t lie when I previously said I have a peace about this Christmas season that I haven’t experienced in years. But c’mon, I’m human. And no amount of chocolate-covered Christmas cheer, festive wrapping paper or sparkly lights can keep life from encroaching/intruding/crashing/interloping onto the carefully crafted scene.

So much of Christmas is about our feelings. Our nostalgia for Christmas past. Our expectations of Christmas future. And our hopes for Christmas right now. Being a sentimental fool, I love the warm fuzzies of Christmas. But emotions are a fair weathered companion and often lie or mislead.

Years ago I learned Christianity isn’t an emotional experience. We can’t rely on our feelings to tell us whether we are or aren’t a Christian. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but for me it was a revolutionary concept. For years I’d chased elusive feelings believing when I caught them I’d be a Christian. But when the warmth of Christmas (or some other "high") faded, my emotions left with them and I'd be left disappointed and distanced from Jesus once again.

Now, looking at Christmas from the vantage point of a Christian (and also a pragmatic skeptic), I think we waste a lot of time trying to creating something that won’t last and missing the One thing that will.

Christmas isn’t magic. But, Jesus is miraculous. And we have our entire year, not just the Christmas season, to adore/worship/spread goodwill/tell it on the mountain. 

With evidence of God’s presence all around, I wonder (as I’m prone to do) why it’s so hard for people to accept His gift of grace?

Why did it take me thirty-some years to finally “get it?”

Why, when churches are filled to the brim on Christmas Eve, don’t more people take Jesus home to grow after visiting Him in the manger?

Why, when we use all the right words and try our hardest, don’t our loved ones believe?

Why, when Jesus is the answer to ALL of life’s problems, don’t more folks reach for the cure?

Why do some people have ears that can hear and others don’t?

I sure don’t have the answers, but I know many of you struggle with the same questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


My Christmas expectations may crash and burn. I might lose my cool. I might not get everything done. I might buy the wrong presents. And I’m okay with that. Because I realize that Christmas isn’t a moment to be captured that fades until next year, it’s the start of a story that lasts forever. And I, for one, want to be a part of that story.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2: 10-11)

December 9, 2009

Ouch! I've Got Something in My Eye!


“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

The other day my friend, Jill, told me about her friend Hope who’s a fanatic about bullying. Whenever Hope catches wind of meanness among other children she goes to the parents, teachers or whomever to bring the situation to light—often to the point of overstepping her bounds. As Hope went on about the latest incident in their children’s shared classroom, pointing fingers at several students, Jill shared her thoughts.

However, one thought Jill didn’t share was the one circling in her head, “Uh, about the bullying…did you know your daughter has been bullying my child?”

How ironic the mother who’s so critical of mean behavior in other children is completely unaware of that very behavior in her own child. That’s the thing about finger pointing. You’d better be prepared for that finger to come pointing right back at you. As I recently learned.

I had a conversation with someone whose opinion I respect. I complained about a project I’d handled and was frustrated with the lack of response by several of the folks involved, especially one person who never replied despite repeated attempts on my part. My subtext implied, Can you imagine someone so rude and inconsiderate?!

To my surprise, instead of offering understanding, the person to whom I spoke recalled a recent example when I’d been unresponsive to a request he’d sent out. I tried (but am sure failed) to maintain a calm exterior. Inside I thought: Are you kidding me? That wasn’t the same thing at all! I was offended and shocked at the comparison.

A few days passed and I mentally revisited the criticism. The emotion faded, but the truth started to emerge. I thought of several recent instances when I’d put off responding to someone and then forgotten about it. While my intent hadn’t been to ignore, my silence sent a message of disrespect and was inconsiderate. I realized I was guilty of the very thing I’d been so critical about. My friend was right. Ouch!

The experience made me confront a shameful habit: I’m a judger. Honestly, I don’t try to be, but it seems that’s where I end up a good bit of the time. It’s not just me. In our flesh, it’s far easier to judge, condemn or hold a grudge than offer the alternative—compassion, mercy and forgiveness. And it’s a cycle that’s hard, if not impossible, to break on our own. Thankfully Jesus understands our weakness and offers us a way out. His solution? A Plankectomy.

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:4-5)

Look at the Pharisees. They were supposedly the most godly among the Jewish people, yet they lived in perpetual finger-pointing mode, identifying infractions, judging misbehavior and punishing rule breakers. They’d perfected their trade: Identify, judge, punish. Condemnation in three easy steps.

Then Jesus came. He revealed their hypocrisy and turned the Pharisees’ wagging fingers back on themselves: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) He left those who thought they had it all together and went to those who knew they didn’t. Jesus’ message found a home among the outcasts – tax collectors, widows, prodigals, lepers, prostitutes, cripples, thieves and the like. He offered a refreshing, and life-giving, change: Follow, repent, believe. Restoration in three easy steps.

We have no idea how blinded we really are. There may come a day when we may need to help our sister with the speck in her eye, but good grief we have a lot of work to do on ourselves first! While I wasn’t happy at the time, I needed to be reminded of the plank in my eye. I don't want to be a condemner, I want to be a restorer like Jesus. I want to help build people up, not tear them to down; offer grace not hold a grudge;  and forgive not finger point. But Lord, I need help!

Even though I messed up again, I’m so thankful Jesus freely offers mercy to me (and to all) as He did the adulterous woman. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11) Jesus follows up this story by telling the crowds “I am the light of the world.” (v. 12)

It’s funny how much better I see that light without hunks of wood in my eye.

December 7, 2009

The Curious Case of "Yeah, But…"

We’re well into Advent and I imagine most churches are seeing an increase in attendance as folks try to get “in the spirit.” Pews are more crowded, parking spaces harder to come by. And come Christmas Eve, it’ll be standing room only in some churches as all gather near to get a glimpse of the babe in the manger.

But, come back on January 3 and you might get a whole row to yourself. Quickly forgotten like the present wanted so badly as a child, but cast aside once received, the reality of Jesus isn’t quite so appealing as the expectation of Him—adorned in beloved Christmas music, sparkly lights and festive trimmings.

C&E Christians, as they’re called, fill churches to overflowing on Christmas and Easter but stay away the rest of the year. I know these people well—because for many years I was one of them. Filled with a sense of tradition, familiarity and sentimentality I never missed a Christmas Eve service. But I couldn’t be bothered to return in January…or February…or March (unless it was Easter).

Yet even though I stayed away 50 out of 52 Sundays, I think I (and most C&Eers) went for one reason. There was something about the baby that made me want to believe. But time and again the “yeah buts” got in my way and I couldn't.

We all have our own "yeah, buts." They’re the roadblocks thrown up that block our path of faith, cause us to detour and sometimes keep us from even getting started. Faced with the truth of Jesus doubt/intellect/fear/pride replies, “Yeah, but.”

Yeah, but…
…Christianity is only one way of many ways to get to God.
…It was easier for the disciples to believe because they saw Jesus.
…A loving God wouldn’t allow so much suffering.
…The Bible was written so long ago and doesn’t really apply to life today.
…I’m a good person.
…I’ve done things that God could never forgive.
…I can be a Christian and not go to church.
…I have nothing special to  offer.
…I’ve stayed away too long.
…I’m too busy to go to church on Sunday/attend a small group/volunteer/read my Bible.

For so long I felt an inner tug toward Jesus, but couldn’t get past my “yeah buts.” Yet God didn’t give up on me. Eventually He brought me to a place where I could set aside my biggest roadblock—my skepticism. When I did, He gave me eyes to see and I met Jesus as if for the very first time. Seven years later I can’t imagine life any other way.


I don’t know what “yeah buts” block your path this Christmas season, but I know you're not alone. Think about Mary and Joseph. They navigated obstacles of all sorts as they journeyed to Bethlehem. And so will we.

Faith isn't easy. There’s a lot about God that’s fuzzy and hard to understand. But some things are crystal clear. God, the creator of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything, didn’t just snap His fingers and make it so, He came down to earth as a helpless little baby to live among us. To be one of us. And He didn’t chose royalty as would have been fitting, He chose common, overlooked, lowly. All because He loves us.

Doesn’t this blow your mind?

But, the hope and excitement of the baby is just the beginning of the story. To pay our respects and leave Bethlehem is to miss the best part. Jesus was born, lived and died for you…and for me—no matter who we are, when we live or what we’ve done (for better or worse).

ALL have sinned.
ALL are invited to receive the gift of Jesus.
ALL are forgiven.
ALL will have eternal life.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

Amazing grace. It’s a gift we can’t earn and one we don’t deserve. But when we accept it, there’s no “yeah buts” about it!

December 3, 2009

Christmas Playlist Party

Advent is upon us and only 22 more shopping days until Christmas! But, after my Black Friday experience I’m determined to choose a different way this month and focus on keeping Jesus at the center of my preparations. I’m excited to see what wonders lie ahead in the coming weeks.

To kick off the season I’m going to jump in (late as usual) to a festive “gathering” Kristen, the cupcake-in-chief at Exemplify Online, is hosting— a Christmas Playlist Link Up. What fun! We love Christmas music in our house and have lots (and lots) of CDs that we play continually all through December. I’m not sure I’ll be able to narrow my favorites for a playlist, but I’ll give it a try.

From sacred to silly…majestic to mirthful…regal to rockin’…and in no particular order, here they are:
  • Silent Night by sung by any choir at a Christmas Eve candlelight service.
  • O Holy Night by Luciano Pavoratti
  • Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Manheim Steamroller (Fresh Aire Christmas)
  • A Baby Just Like You by John Denver and the Muppets (A Christmas Together)
  • (Everybody's Waitin’ For) The Man with the Bag by The Brian Setzer Orchestra (Boogie Woogie Christmas)
  • White Christmas by Raul Malo (Marshmallow World and other Holiday Favorites)
  • Bells of Dublin/Christmas Eve by The Chieftains (The Bells of Dublin)
  • Christmastime is Here (Vocal) by Vince Guaraldi Trio (A Charlie Brown Christmas)
  • Walking in the Air from The Snowman soundtrack
  • Miss Fogerty’s Christmas Cake by Mick Moloney and Eugene O’Donnell
  • Mele Kalikimaka by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (Merry Christmas)
  • River by Robert Downey Jr. (Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas)
  • Carol of the Bells by The Choir of Trinity Church (Candlelight Carols)
  • I Pray on Christmas by Blind Boys of Alabama (Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Run Rudolph Run by Tommy Conwell (A Live Christmas Extravaganza)
  • Someday at Christmas by Stevie Wonder (Someday at Christmas)
 Whew! I could go on…and on, but I’ll stop here. Most of these songs are from our favorite Christmas CDs—which I now can’t wait to start playing tomorrow. Hope you discover a new favorite to add to your list.

Merry Christmas and happy listening! 

To join the Christmas Playlist Party, go to Exemplify Online.

November 30, 2009

Sunrise Services...at Target

I heard the first chime of the alarm and stumbled in the dark of my in-law’s house to the room next door. I shook my peacefully slumbering daughter. “Were you serious about this? We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

Did you ever plan something that seemed like a good/fun/adventurous idea at the time, then once you were in it, realized “Never again!”

At 5:00 a.m., the day after Thanksgiving, I (along with my husband, daughter and niece) entered our first—and probably last—Black Friday experience.

It was my daughter's idea to go in the first place. All the family gathered at my in-laws’ thought she was crazy, but I agreed to join her, as did her cousin and surprisingly my husband as well. We scoured the circulars and picked Target as our first stop. I’m not a morning person and not much of a shopper, but I do love Tar-jhay. Plus, they advertised a keyboard I’d had my eye on for my daughter at 50% off. I figured it’d be fun.

Well…it was lots of things. Fun wasn’t one of them.

Observation #1: Early bird gets the plasma screen. Only the amateurs show up at 5:30 a.m. when the doors open at 5:00 (As we learned later, the real pros started lining up at 2 a.m.) By the time we arrived, the parking lot was completely full. People were already leaving the store, carts overflowing with big ticket items. The place radiated an aura of survival of the fittest.

Observation #2: Be prepared to be completely overwhelmed. I have never seen so many people in a store for any reason. Like ruthless hunters, thousands upon thousands of shoppers filled the aisles, sights laser-focused on prized door-buster kills. The check out line snaked through the ENTIRE store—through housewares…grocery…electronics… boys’…shoes…women’s…and lingerie. I started counting, but eventually gave up at about 250. I guess over 750 people waited in line!

Observation #3: Don’t give up too quickly. I struggled to navigate the aisles as the crush of people, carts and stuff impeded my progress. I finally made it to the music department in search of the keyboard. A shelf tag announced I’d found the right place. A bare spot told me I was too late. Feeling defeated and claustrophobic, I said aloud, “I’ve gotta get out of here!” Problem was I’d lost my family almost as soon as we entered the store.

Eventually I found my daughter and niece. They looked as shell shocked as I felt. As we formulated our exit strategy, my phone rang. “I found the keyboard and am waiting in line,” my husband announced.

“Where’d you find it,” I asked.

“In the boys department. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? “Can you find me a cart? It’s getting really heavy.”

Observation #4: Be patient and pay it forward. With a deluge of bargain hunters descending upon limited low-price merchandise, the tension was palpable. I sensed we were one cut in line or one snatched item away from total pandemonium. The scene teetered precariously between control and chaos. Thankfully, Target shoppers chose “goodwill toward men” over “win at all costs.” Case in point, while I searched in vain for a cart to bring to my husband, a woman noticed him struggling with the massive box and gave him a cart she’d found sitting empty. Later, he offered to buy her a coffee at Starbucks.

Thankfully the Target staff tipped the balance toward civility by providing excellent crowd control. Rumor had it shoppers didn’t fare so well at the nearby Walmart where reportedly punches were traded and an ambulance was called to the scene!

Observation #5: Make a list. Black Friday is not a time for casual browsing. As soon as I entered the frenetic scene in the store, my brain froze. Besides the keyboard, I couldn’t remember a single thing listed in the sale circular or anything I wanted to buy for Christmas. As I walked around dazed and confused, I noticed several battle-hardened Black Friday vets armed with detailed procurement lists working with focused efficiency.

Observation #6: Recession? What recession? I’m not passing judgment (since I was among the participants) but we are a materialistic bunch…and suckers for a deal—especially on electronics. I have never witnessed such conspicuous consumption in one place at one time. I don’t care what the analysts say, consumer spending is alive and well in America.

Dan's view of the line....after standing in it for about 40 minutes.
With two more turns to go, we're down to the home stretch.

In the end I did Black Friday, got a few good buys and survived to tell about it. But the whole experience left me feeling agitated, stressed…and tired. Do I feel like I got a jump start on Christmas? Not really. Would I do it again? Probably not. I love a bargain as much as the next person, but I’m left scratching my head, asking “Why?” Why lose sleep? Why waste hours waiting in line? Why enter the crush of humanity. And why do we need so much of this stuff in the first place?

I wonder what sociologists make of Black Friday. Or Dave Ramsey. Or Jesus.

November 25, 2009

Better is One Day in Your Courts

“ Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

 
Two years ago I was an avid tennis player and was playing better than ever. My doubles partner and I had incredible on-court chemistry that allowed us to obtain a near perfect winning record—beating many teams with far greater skill. We were known and respected in our tennis circles. I was as successful in the sport as I’ll ever be.

Playing tennis allowed me to have fun, socialize, compete and win—all while the kids were at school. Life was good for this stay-at-home mom.

Then, it wasn’t. In the last match of the season, I stretched to return a low ball and something gave way in my elbow. I lamely and painfully finished the match but knew something was really wrong.


An MRI confirmed the doctor’s initial diagnosis: tennis elbow. Prognosis: take it easy for six weeks. Ninety percent of the cases resolve quickly on their own. I was sure mine would too.

However, six weeks turned into six months. A year later my elbow still hadn’t completely healed. During that time, I searched for a cure. Massage, cortisone shots, physical therapy, braces, electric stimulation and even acupuncture. An orthopedic surgeon said my elbow would likely heal on its own, although it might take several years. Unless the pain was severe or I needed to use my elbow in my work, the doctor didn’t recommend surgery.

Finally I had to tell my partner and the teams that were waiting for me that I wouldn’t be coming back in the foreseeable future. I gave up my spots and told them to move on.

A big part of my life was gone. I was crushed. Other people face far greater struggles than not being able to play tennis, but I mourned the loss. I missed  socializing, playing and being known as a tennis player. I missed the schedule that ordered my days and the security I found in it. I felt lost.
I prayed for healing and guidance. And I started doing what I hadn’t found time to do when I was playing tennis—I started to write. A lot. I started a blog and wrote regularly for my church newsletter. People said my words touched them. I attended a writers’ conference and met kindred spirits. I joined a writers’ group and submitted articles. Eventually, I was published.

Volunteer opportunities opened up to help in a food pantry and soup kitchen. I was available to reach out to friends, share my talents in new ways and spend time with the Lord. I could say “yes” far more than I said “no.”

I’m still adjusting to this new life of mine, but now instead of asking for healing, I pray, “I’m here for you, Lord. Show me where you need me to go. Use me.”

According to the doctors, one day my elbow will heal and I’ll be able to play tennis again. When that day comes, I’ll probably return to the game I still love. But after living a far more God-directed life I don’t think I’ll ever go back to life as it was.

I miss the wins on the tennis court. But, I’d trade them all for the victories I’ve experienced in the courts of the Kingdom of God.


Have you experienced loss, discouragement or a change in plans and are struggling to find direction in your present? God promises that no matter what our circumstances He has a good and perfect plan. Soak in His words of assurance in Psalm 25:4, 37:23, 65:11 and 119:105; Isaiah 30:21; Jeremiah 29:11; and John 10:27.
"In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps" ~ Proverbs 16:9

November 20, 2009

Thankful Thursday...or Friday

Yep, I did it again. I’m a day late for Thankful Thursday. But since it’s my blog and I get to make the rules, I’m saying it’s all good (It's good to be queen :-) Here’s what I’m thankful for this week:

  1. I’m thankful that my dad and I went out to dinner this week. Just the two of us. We enjoyed a good meal and free flowing conversation…so much so we closed the restaurant. It’s not something we normally do, but I’m so glad we did.

  2. I’ve been feeling crappy for over a week and am thankful I’m going to the doctor today. I’ve self-diagnosed myself with piglet flu (a minor version of swine flu). I’m also thanking God in advance for a super-strength cough medicine that will tame this monster cough.

  3. I’m thankful I go to a mission-minded church. This past weekend we collected 90 Thanksgiving baskets for two local aid organizations. Even given the poor economy, our church family responded generously, giving 10% more baskets than last year.
    On Tuesday, two of my friends and I helped deliver baskets to Interfaith Housing Group, one of the organizations our church was supporting. We were incredibly blessed to meet Interfaith’s coordinator, hear a bit of her remarkable story and learn about the grass-roots organization. Our church was the only one who gave Thanksgiving baskets to Interfaith and as a result 60+ of their client families will now enjoy a delicious, nutritious, home cooked meal on Thanksgiving. Think of all the churches all over the country reaching out in the same way—and how many families will be reached as a result. Remarkable!

  4. I’m keenly aware that life ebbs and flows, especially as a parent, but I’m so thankful my kids are doing well this year in school. Both are thriving in their new schools (middle school and high school), embracing the workload and meeting new friends.

  1. I’m thankful my husband made it home last night from a business trip to Atlanta. After an FAA glitch froze all air travel in the morning, bad weather in Philadelphia added further delays in the evening and a seating snafu left him without a seat, I was happy he arrived home, late and worn out, but safe.

Of course Thanksgiving is next week, so all our thoughts will turn to counting our blessings. I'll consider this a warm-up.

What are you thankful for this week?

"Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God's hand for that person. Don't tell your neighbor 'Maybe some other time' or 'Try me tomorrow' when the money's right there in your pocket." (Proverbs 3:27-28, MSG)

Visit Truth 4 the Journey for more Thankful Thursday.


November 16, 2009

Book Review: Kabul24

You might say you have faith. But how would you respond if God called you to the mission field…to a country hostile to Christians…like Afghanistan? What if you said yes, and after years of humanitarian work the Taliban destroys it all in minutes…and takes you and your co-workers hostage…and imprisons you in some of the most sqaulid prisons in the country?

Would you drown in a sea of despair? Or would you cling to hope?

Kabul24 tells such a tale. Eight Christian men and women from Western countries and sixteen native Afghanis worked side by side to provide humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees. By feeding, teaching, housing and loving these displaced people, Shelter Now International didn’t preach the gospel, they lived it.

They were peacemakers and problem solvers in a country filled with chaos and conflict. Yet that didn’t matter to the Taliban. In 2001 the Taliban wanted to rid the country of anyone who posed, or seemed to pose, a threat to their rule or Islam. Topping their list was Shelter Now International.

With little warning, the Taliban kidnapped the SNI workers, destroyed their projects, and held them in prisons filled with filth and fear. The SNI Eight, as they called themselves, lived with complete uncertainty about their future. Then the 9/11 attacks occurred and they found themselves behind enemy lines and at the epicenter of the massive Allied bombing raids that followed. Death, at the hands of the Taliban or from Allied bombs, seemed a given.

The SNI Eight lived a daily diet of terror. But in the midst of captivity, they didn’t just survive, they thrived. With an unshakable faith in the sovereign hand of God, they sang, read the Bible, prayed and worshipped in their tiny cells. They lifted each other up and clung to hope that God would deliver them.

Kabul24 is the remarkable true account of faith and hope despite circumstances and likely outcomes. While the writing is clumsy at times, the writers paint a fascinating picture of an Afghanistan you won’t read about in the news and give a fly-on-the-wall look at the Taliban and the Muslim culture—very important insights for the world we live in.

Inspirational, informative and riveting, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Kabul24 and highly recommend it.

November 13, 2009

100% Fat-free Truth

I posted this devotional at Exemplify Online this week.


“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

With hot coffee in hand I looked for the amenities to make my java light and sweet just the way I like it. Hmm, let’s see…sugar, milk, fat-free half and half. Fat-free half and half?! I scratched my head in confusion. How can this be?

Just as its name suggests, half and half contains two ingredients, milk and cream. Half of one, half of the other. That’s why it’s so creamy and delicious—and fattening. It simply cannot be low fat.
But the impostor creamer looked like half and half, it smelled like half and half, and the package said it actually was half and half.
So it must be. Right?
 
Well, a close look at the label reveals quite a concoction of ingredients—nonfat milk, corn syrup, cream, artificial color, sodium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan, vitamin A palmitate.

This product doesn’t come from a cow, it comes from a chemist.

To add to the confusion, the authentic half and half's packaging now bears the moniker, “Traditional.”  As in old fashioned, out-dated, old school.  As in “Puh-leez, full-fat half and half is so 2005!”

As the food we eat gets further from the earth and closer to the laboratory we must watch for linguistic trickery, false claims and empty promises.  Grocery store shelves overflow with products that masquerade as something they’re not.

The same can be said about spiritual “products” that fill the airwaves, line bookshelves, populate our culture and even invade our churches. They sound like truth and look like truth. They come adorned in respectable packaging and mimic the real thing.

We’re captivated by me-centered, wealth-motivated or comfort-driven messages that offer all of the benefits and none of the pesky drawbacks of Christianity—like submission, obedience and selflessness.  “Puh-leez, meekness is so old-school." Subtly and overtly we're told, "The Bible's great, but it's so old.  We need new thinking for our lives today."

Something nudges our insides and we wonder, How can this be?

Jesus warned us to be on guard for such trickery, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16) We can be thankful we have a standard that was, is and always will be our pathway to unchanging, eternal truth. When we hold up the impostors to the Word of God, we unmask them for what they are—foolishness, deceit and lies.

Biblical truth may evade our understanding, challenge our preconceived notions and make us squirm but once we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, no imitation can satisfy.  And God’s Word isn’t just good for our hearts, it’s naturally 100% fat free.

I wish I could say the same about my favorite coffee creamer!

November 11, 2009

The Insignificance Antidote

The blog’s been quiet lately. The words haven’t been there. The ideas not fully formed. The confidence waning.

The silence has caused me to ask once again, “Why do I blog? Am I wasting my time?”

Do you have any idea how many Christian blogs there are? So many lovely, women (and men) tapping away at their keyboards sharing their hearts, insights, experiences, tips and even recipes.

I don’t do well in crowds. I tend to let the most vocal/entertaining/charming take over while I quietly step away and observe.

There are plenty of bloggers out there far more talented, outgoing and engaging than me. Some attract quite a crowd. I pretend I don’t notice or it doesn’t matter, but I do and it does. Not because it’s a competition (although I’m extremely competitive, so maybe it is), but because I wonder, “Why not me?”

In the blogging venue, in particular, I lose track of what’s important. I take my eyes off Jesus and put them on me. I check, compare, measure how I stack up against others. I tie my value to how many readers/comments/hits/ followers I have. And I think others do it so much better, so why bother.

I wonder, Do I add anything to my little corner of the blogosphere? Do others see God through my words or am I adding to the noise? If I quietly stepped away would anyone even notice?

Typically this is when I’d cue the violins to add background music for a big ol’ pity party. But, I refuse to go there—or send out invitations. But, I stand at the edge of the pit, knowing how easy it is to fall or be pushed in.

I have listened to enough heart-to-heart conversations and observed enough life around me to know that for many of us, our greatest fear is being insignificant. That we don't matter. We fear that at the end of the day our contributions won’t make a difference and if we quietly stepped away few would notice.

The enemy loves this kind of attitude. He schemes for ways to push us to the sidelines so we wallow in doubt, fear, anxiety, jealousy and depression. Because when we’re there, we can’t do much good for the Kingdom. Satan’s done his job.

Well, we have a choice—to struggle in our humanity or reach for the divine.

When Jesus came He didn’t seek out the most popular, charming, attractive or qualified. He went to the sidelines and picked from the cast offs. To them He said, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) And when they did, He used them for great things. But let's not forget how much His followers struggled with doubt, fear, rejection, pain, discouragement and much more.

It looks like we’re in good company!

Once again on this writing journey, I’m faced with a choice: to give up because the road’s not filled with applause or press on in the silence.

Why do I blog? Because God’s given me an ability to write and for now it’s one way I can, and I’ve connected with wonderful people—friends—who keep me coming back. I believe God cares more that I’m faithful with the gifts He’s given me than how large my audience is. Because even if I reach just one, isn't that enough?

From time to time I need these wake-up calls to reassess and refocus. I need the reminder that one day I’ll stand before my Maker and account for my life. He'll ask, “What have you done with the talents I entrusted to you?” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Will my answer bring condemnation like the foolish servant who dug a hole and hid his talents out of fear and returned exactly what he'd been given... or applause like the good and faithful servant who doubled what he'd been given?

When we live a life set on multiplying the gifts God's given us surely we've discovered the best insignificance antidote out there.

Lord, I pray as I write, talk and serve that my sole purpose is to make your name famous. Extract me from my need for acceptance, admiration and accomplishment. Help me set my sights on you and you alone.


How are you investing the talents God’s given you? Even the tiniest pebble thrown into a pond ripples far beyond the point of impact.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hebergersite/3630587687/

November 5, 2009

What’s Old is New

Ever since my son was little he’s been banging out the beat of his internal soundtrack on his highchair, the kitchen table, the walls, whatever. When the time came for him to try out to play drums in the school band, we weren’t surprised he made it. “You were made to play the drums,” I told him.

This summer Dan and I took the plunge and bought him a full drum set. Honestly I think playing the drums ranks up at the top of “cool things to know how to do” and the idea of watching my son play in a band makes me giddy.

Although before the band comes the practice. Well…I thought one snare drum was loud. Ha! An entire drumset shakes the house of its foundation! I’m constantly yelling down to the basement, “Are you practicing or just playing as loudly as you can?”

Yesterday was a big day. After weeks of learning rolls and combinations his drum teacher introduced an actual song. As I sat upstairs waiting during his lesson, I wondered what song it might be. Soon the all-too-familiar piano intro from Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll reached my ears and transported me all the way back to 1983.

Filled with nostalgia, I vividly recalled a certain handsome young man sliding across his living room flood clad in an oxford cloth short and tighty-whities, lip synching, dancing and playing air guitar. I chuckled at the memory. Oh, to be young again!

On the drive home I asked my son, “Had you ever heard that song before?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Did you know it was popular when I was a kid?” And I explained the iconic scene that remains forever embedded in my youth.

Recognition sparked and he replied, “Yeah, that’s how it was when David Archuleta did it.”

“David Archuleta?!”

“On the Guitar Hero commercial,” he said.

I rolled my eyes and sighed, “Oh, there’s so much I still need to teach you!”

As I evolve in my faith I’m constantly discovering new truths and insights and finding new ways to worship, pray and understand. How easily I forget that while this journey is new to me, I walk the same path as centuries of believers who came before. As the Bible says, “we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1, NLT)

Like with music and art, each generation looks to find Jesus in ways that resonate with their circumstances and experiences. We rediscover, redefine, reinvent—what’s old is new and what’s new is old. We add our voice to the conversation.

Thankfully while our points of view may change with the times, God doesn’t. He's remains the great I Am, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I imagine visiting with saints of yore—like Oswald Chambers, Martin Luther, St. Augustine and the apostle Paul—and sharing the new things happening in my faith and in my church.

With an eye roll one would say, “That?! We were doing that when I was a youngster back in 300A.D.!

Then they’d chuckle and chime in, “Stick with us kid, there’s so much we need to teach you!”

October 29, 2009

There is a Season

Thank you for your compassion, sympathy, and caring comments and emails on my last two posts. I shared them with Kirsten’s husband John. You blessed him. And you blessed me.


Day and night.
Spring and fall.
Hello and goodbye.
Laughter and tears.
Love and loss.
Birth and death.

Life ebbs and flows. Bringing the good with the bad, the abundant with the lean. Giving and taking away. Again and again.

For better or worse, nothing remains the same.

Some moments/days/seasons shine in unending brilliance. Others bring storm after storm that drench/disorient/destroy. Some people get more of one than the other, without explanation or fairness. I don’t know why, I just know that it is.

This weekend I witnessed the highest highs and lowest lows. By Monday my insides felt buffeted and bruised, yet bolstered. My emotions stretched to their limits.

On Saturday we laid to rest our dear friend Kirsten. A blanket of grief covered the service and we all cried a river of tears. Our hearts breaking for her family, lost without their center. But the Spirit of God moved among us, bringing hope and peace despite the circumstances. I saw faith.

The next day Dan and I attended the wedding of friends—giddy in love with each other, but even more in love with Jesus. Their passion contagious to all who gathered. Family and friends sharing tears of joy. Parents saying goodbye. Young lovers starting anew. I saw hope.

On Monday, we welcomed a new little one into our family. The miracle of new life so perfect and pure. This sweet blessing from above bringing joy and hope and the promise of new beginnings. I saw love.

In three days, in the best and the worst, I saw our humanity intertwined with the divine. I felt the touch of the Almighty.

You and I are part of something much larger than ourselves. We journey together, connected by hearts and history and happenstance. Life ebbs and flows, sometimes seeming random, chaotic, unfair, lucky or fated. But as the Bible says,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9)
Even though we cannot fully understand God’s ways or timing, it doesn’t make His plans any less perfect. Or His presence any less real. In every time there is love—from our heavenly Father and from one another. One day the tides of life will end and El Roi, the God who sees, will wipe the tears from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Life ebbs and flows, and love holds it together.

October 21, 2009

Into the Arms of Jesus

Yesterday Jesus called home our dear friend Kirsten.

Surrounded by the love of her husband, daughters and our pastor, and covered in prayer, she passed from this life into the embrace of our heavenly Father. A moment filled with overwhelming sadness, but also incredible beauty.

During her lengthy, but dignified battle with cancer, her church family, neighbors, long-time friends and many others surrounded Kirsten and her family with an outpouring of love shown through home made meals, prayers, visits, child care, hand holding, hugs and tears. All these actions stand as vivid testimony to her joyful, generous and grace-filled spirit. She loved freely and laughed often (long before these phrases became cliché). Though her time with us was cut short, Kirsten leaves behind a legacy of a life well-lived and well-loved. She was a friend to all, best friend to many.

Kirsten battled this dreaded disease the same way she lived her life—with grace and dignity. And by her, and her husband John’s, courageous and faith-filled example, showed us how to do the same. A lesson we’d rather not have learned, but one that will likely serve us well in the future.

I feel so blessed to have known Kirsten and call her friend. I'm humbled to have been invited into the sacred spaces of her last days. And I am overwhelmed that God prepared my heart, bolstered my faith and allowed me the privilege to enter into this experience because several years I couldn’t have. It would have been too much.

Death is unfamiliar territory for me. As the reality of loss began to sink in this morning, I thought about her husband and young daughters. I wondered how the sun had the audacity to rise. How could birds and squirrels forage for food? People scurry about their business? Life continue on? Don't they know?

It is the beginning of a new normal. We will never know this side of heaven “Why?” But I have faith that even this God will redeem for His glory. I have seen glimpses of that already.

Kirsten’s passing leaves a hole that we will forever hold dear—a space of joy and laughter and love. I’m sure she entered the gates of heaven and found Jesus waiting to welcome her home, “Kirsten, my child. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

October 15, 2009

Yet, I Have Hope

She is in the last stages of life.

Despite our efforts to keep it away, death lingers outside her door.

I’ve never been so close to it before. Never watched someone I love travel this journey.

Even though I’m but a spectator, the sadness lays on me like a leaden blanket. My insides clenched. Battered.

How can this be? It’s so cruel and unfair.

I pray with her and read Psalms and try to find words that comfort.

But what words can I find for a husband losing his wife.

To children losing their mother.

To a father losing his daughter.

Crying out, “Why!”

To respond with phrases of God’s love or His plan sound hollow and Pollyanna.

Words fail.

We prayed for healing. We prayed for a miracle. Our prayers have not been answered.

Our human minds do not understand why.

Does this mean God failed?

Is He a fair-weather god? Powerless or unwilling?

It is a moment of faith. Of choice.

Can we see God’s goodness when the situation is anything but?

Can we accept His will when it’s not our own?

Through this God has challenged me, “Do you believe I am who I say I am?”

Do I?

Do the words I write, the faith I profess, the beliefs I hold ring true as I witness the suffering?

My faith's been shaken. I've teetered.

But, even now, I do believe.

Even in this God has to be merciful and loving. He has to be bigger than the ravages of cancer, the anguish of suffering, the agony of loss.

Because if He isn’t what are we left with?

What is the point faith in the first place?


Jeremiah knew affliction.

In Lamentations 3 He wailed about the darkness in which he walked.

Broken physically, weighed down with chains, shut out from God, mangled, pierced, mocked, trampled in the dust, filled with bitterness and gall, deprived from peace.

And yet after 20 verses of distress he utters,

"Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." (v.21-23)

These words have given hope to Christians through the ages and inspired one of our most beloved hymns: Great is Thy Faithfulness.


So each time I visit my friend I bring Jesus with me, as I know others do as well.

I stand firm in my faith.

It’s all I can do.

Even though she’s a strong believer, her mind is shutting down. She’s sometimes confused and agitated. It’s wrenching to see.

Yesterday, as she settled down from such an episode, I sat at her bedside. We were alone for a few minutes. I think she knew who I was, but I’m not sure.

I told her, “I’m your friend and I love you. And even though you might not think so, God loves you to.”

I told her about heaven and the life waiting for her. How she’d sing and dance and run. That she’d be with everyone she loves. And that it would be more wonderful than the best day at the beach or the funnest vacation or the happiest day with her family.”

She listened intently and visibly settled.

“Do you really believe that?” She asked.

“Yes, I do.” I replied.

Our friend is a remarkable woman who she spreads love wherever she goes. The outpouring that surrounds her and her family stands as testimony to a life lived for Jesus. In every act of compassion and caring we see that love coming back. And we see His hands and feet, loving as He commanded.

Because of His great love, we are not consumed.


October 13, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Jesus Style

Yes, the closet cleaning frenzy continued in these parts. After successfully installing new closet organizers in my own closet, I turned my efforts (and my cordless drill) to my husband’s closet. He was out of town for a week and at the suggestion of my friend Sue J., I thought I’d surprise him with a brand new “clothes management system.” Even though Dan said he was perfectly content with his closet as it was, I knew how much better it could be. *grin*

Some wives “manage” their husband’s clothes, washing, ironing, putting them away and even packing for trips. I, however, am not that kind of wife so it felt a little odd to sort through Dan's closet. (I hoped he wouldn't be mad at the "invasion.") I proceeded with love and for several days painted, installed shelves and racks, bagged discarded clothes and re-organized/re-hung the closet’s contents. With everything back in place, I admired a job well done. Thankfully when Dan returned home, he agreed. Whew!

My daughter felt inspired by all this and asked me to help her redo her closet. We stripped her closet bare, paired down its contents, re-purposed available storage bins and in a few hours finished her closet transformation!

I can’t tell you how liberating it is to have such neat, functional and orderly closets. Each of us can easily find what we’re looking for. We’re wearing clothes we’d thought we lost in the chaos. And just looking into my closet makes me feel ten pounds lighter!

All this emptying, purging and reorganizing got me thinking about Jesus.

Doesn’t He want us to do the same in our own lives? Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (John 14:23)

I look at the “closets” in my life and see I’m hesitant to submit to such a massive undoing. Sure I might seek His help to:

  • Discard a bag of habits.
  • Organize a shelf of quiet time.
  • Purge a basket of brokenness.
  • Rearrange a nook of busyness.
  • Clear out a corner of bitterness.

But in the end, I let go and hold tightly as I choose. Offering some but not all. What holds me back? My need for control? Fear? Disbelief? Self-sufficiency?

And unlike my taking over Dan’s closet, Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn’t force His way in. He waits for the invitation.

In My Heart – Christ’s Home, Robert Boyd Munger writes an allegorical tale about a man who slowly invites Jesus into the respectable rooms of His home. But when Jesus shows up at the door one day and asks to see a locked upstairs closet because it reeks, the man feels Jesus has gone too far. He wants to keep those rotten remnants of his old life. He's angry and wonders why Jesus can't be satisfied with the access He already has. To confront the closet with Jesus is more than he can bear. But as Jesus turns to leave, the man reluctantly gives in.

“I'll give You the key,” I said sadly, “but You will have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven’t the strength to do it.”

“Just give me the key,” He said. “Authorize me to take care of that closet and I will.”

With trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it, walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it. It was done in a moment’s time. Oh, what victory and release!

“Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the management of the whole house and operate it for me as You did that closet?”

His face lit up as He replied, “That is what I want to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. Let me do it through you and for you. But,” He added slowly, “I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine.”

Dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master.”

Lord, I'm tired of trying to organize my life on my own. I give you the key. I want an extreme makeover: Jesus style. Empty me. Fill me. With You. Amen.


Empty Me by Jeremy Camp


October 6, 2009

A Breath of Life from a Dead Prophet

The Old Testament is a tough read. Some of you avoid it at all costs. Others have read it in full— more than once. For years I stuck to the New Testament and avoided the Old altogether because it seemed so irrelevant and well, old. Besides, what could I learn from fantastical stories about arks and giants and big fish?

Turns out a lot.

My fourth grade knowledge of the Bible's most ancient text did a grave disservice to its complexity and depth of insight. I've found the more I venture into the Old Testament, the more I learn about God. The more I learn, the more awestruck I am of His Word—all of it.

Last week when I wrote about Jeremiah 29:11, I did some research on Jeremiah. In doing so I became intrigued and figured it was about time I tackled this book, the longest in the Bible.

However, since I recently struggled through reading Isaiah, I wasn't real anxious to read another prophet (there’s only so much wrath and destruction one can take.) But where Isaiah starts right off with divine anger, Jeremiah begins with tenderness.

I was unprepared to encounter God so gentle. So intimate. So patient. So loving.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:5-10)

I’m tangled in those words. Lost in His tender affirmation. Conscious of the still small voice that whispers to my soul:

“Kelli, long before you came to be, I knew you. I formed you and set you apart. You may not understand it, but I have a plan for your life. But, I need you to follow me.”

“But Lord, I don’t have what it takes. I’m too inexperienced. I’m filled with such doubt. Don’t you see all those more qualified?”

God replied, “Hush child, don’t forget that I see you not as you are, but as you will become. I didn’t create you to live in fear; I created you to fulfill my plans for your life. You must do as I say and go where I lead you. But remember you won’t be alone, I’m with you every step of the way. I made you, how can you doubt me?”

“Lord, I want to believe. Help my unbelief.”

God gently touched my lips, “Shh. I am giving you the words to say, the thoughts to write, the heart to love. As you follow my lead, you’ll go to many places and meet many people. Sometimes the message you carry will be easy, other times it will be difficult. Through it all, take heart because I’m with you and I’ll take care of you. Now let's get started.”


Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You're in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak
Lyrics by Mercy Me

October 5, 2009

A Look at "A Slow Burn"

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of A Slow Burn, Mary DeMuth's sequel to Daisy Chain and the second installment of her Defiance Texas Trilogy. Here's a sneak peek:

"She touched Daisy’s shoulder. So cold. So hard. So unlike Daisy.

Yet so much like herself it made Emory shudder.

Burying her grief, Emory Chance is determined to find her daughter Daisy’s murderer-a man she saw in a flicker of a vision. But when the investigation hits every dead end, her despair escalates. As questions surrounding Daisy’s death continue to mount, Emory’s safety is shattered by the pursuit of a stranger, and she can’t shake the sickening fear that her own choices contributed to Daisy’s disappearance. Will she ever experience the peace her heart longs for?

This suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the power of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive."

_________________________________________________

Mary, how do you find time to write?
I make time to write. I give myself word count goals every day. While my children are at school, I work full time. Lately I’ve been writing and promoting like a crazy woman, pulling 10-12 hour shifts. Even so, it’s a priority for me to have a sit-down dinner with my family every night. It helps that I love to cook.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
I love the initial flurry of words on the page where I’m uninhibited. I love fleshing out a story as it comes to me. I see my novels on the movie screen of my mind, which may account for the visual nature of my narratives.

Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wrote the series of stories based on hearing friends of mine talk about their Christian homes that appeared great on the outside, only to hide abuse on the inside. This really bothered me. Daisy became the inciting incident to explore three people’s stories relating to authenticity and hiding. In book one, Daisy Chain, I explore a teenage boy’s perspective to a family in crisis. In book two, A Slow Burn, I examine what would it be like to have deep, deep mommy regrets enough to want to be free from them. In book three, Life in Defiance, I tell the conclusion of the story through a battered wife’s perspective.

I am not a teenage boy. Nor am I a neglectful mother. And I’m not a battered wife. But I’ve interacted with folks who are. It’s for them that I wrote these stories.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I had to figure out how a drug addict acted and thought. I had to research what drugs do to a person, particularly the lure and the trips they take folks on. I had to get into the mind of a drug addict, which wasn’t easy for me, someone who is terrified of drugs. I created Defiance from my head and my two-year stint in East Texas.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That God is bigger than our sin, our regret, our hopelessness. He takes delight in intersecting the darkest of circumstances. He is there, available.


To learn more about Mary DeMuth, you can visit her website at www.marydemuth.com.

September 30, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Closet Edition

When it comes to home improvement projects I'm frustratingly charmingly impulsive.

When Dan and I were first married we moved into a small split level that boasted a tacky vintage 70s flair. That house was the giving tree of projects. Literally every surface cried out for updating. I’d get a wild hair and the next thing you know I’d start tearing apart a room, pulling out paint cans, ripping up flooring or rearranging furniture. Without much pre-planning or fore thought I’d dive in and go.

My “cut-once-measure-twice… things-are-fine-the-way-they-are” husband would freak out gently question my motives and do what he could to slow me down or redirect my efforts. Since I had momentum and motivation on my side, I’d usually win

I look back and chuckle, but these DIY (do-it-yourself) projects—that inevitably required Dan to get involved—created heaps of conflict in the early years of our marriage. My impulsivity trod over his need to plan and prepare. The end results usually turned out OK, but our clashing work styles needed a makeover!

We're in a new house now that doesn't cry out for updating, but once a DIYer, always as DIYer, and we've done plenty of projects here too, thankfully with less conflict and more pre-planning. But there are still times I’ll wake up with a wild hair, needing to tackle a project RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT.

Monday morning was such a day.

Eleven years ago when we moved into our house, one of the most exciting features were not just one, but two walk-in closets. His and hers. After years of tiny closets, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. This feeling of bliss lasted for about five years. Somewhere in the last six years, though, it began to dawn on me that the closet organizers didn’t provide much in the way of organizing—as evidenced by the chaos of clothes and "stuff."

I thought a closet redo would cost a small fortune so I lived with the clutter.

I guess eleven years was my limit for living with it because I woke up on Monday and HAD to install a new closet system. Right then.

I headed to Home Depot with a handy plan I’d done on the internet and searched for the supplies on my list. Guess what? They didn’t cost a fortune. The total was about $170.

Once home and ready to get to work I hit a snag. In all the excitement I hadn’t considered I had to remove everything in my closet first. Let me tell you, after a decade that was A LOT of stuff! Besides way too many clothes, I found an old bridesmaid dress, my first business suit, my high school varsity jacket, boxes of mementos, old purses and a Christmas present I bought years ago and “lost” in my closet.

If you look closely, you’ll see a dog amid the piles

To help me tread through the pandemonium, I called in the one person I know who could help—my daughter. After hours of watching TLC and HGTV she’s a style/makeover expert.

(Note to self: Be careful what you wish for.) As she picked through piece after piece I had to endure a constant stream of fashion condemnation as the “no” pile grew from a hill to a mountain.

“Mom! Are you kidding me? I never want to see you wear that again!”

“Those are hideous! Did you really wear pants at your waist?”

“You seriously paid money this?”

“Mom, this is why they have stores, so you can buy NEW clothes!”

I pleaded for some sentimental favorites, but reluctantly relinquished most of the items voted out of the closet. *sniff*

Then I hit the second snag. At 5:00 p.m., with only one shelf installed, I realized if I didn't finish the project enough to start hanging things Dan and I would have no where to sleep since our bed was covered in mountains of clothes.

Well, if I do one thing well, it's persevering through a project. I worked diligently all evening and by about 12:30 a.m. declared it a success. Not only was shelving installed, I'd cleared off our bed and made s a path to walk though the room.

Today I finished up with my favorite part—giving everything a home in its new abode. Of course, this included a trip to Lowe’s for some storage baskets. (Is it just me, or do you get excited walking through the home organizing department?)

So, there you have it. It was an intense project, but I’m thrilled with the results…and except for two things that needed cutting, I did it all by myself!

If you’re handy with a power screwdriver and laser level there’s no telling what you can accomplish. Sometimes you just have to dive in and do it.

Before ... I’d already removed the hanging clothes ...just look at the top shelf. Ugh!


After... aaah!... there's even empty space on the shelves

September 28, 2009

"You Lie!"

Happy Monday! I'm posting at Exemplify Online today. You can read the rest of my devotion there.

It was the shout heard ‘round the world—or at least around the country. Three weeks ago, during President Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Rep. Joe Wilson so vehemently disagreed that he interrupted the speech and shouted, “You lie!”

His outburst stunned members of both parties. But given the acrimony displayed at recent town hall meetings, Rep. Wilson’s uncontained emotion wasn’t surprising. That he actually expressed it out loud was.
I wonder how many of those in attendance thought the same thing. Out of respect for the office of the President they kept their mouths shut, but inside their thoughts boiled, I don’t believe you!

As Christians we look to Scripture to hear God speak. And perhaps no verse provides more hope and comfort than 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.” It’s so beloved that when someone in a Bible study starts to quote it, others join in to finish. Inevitably heads nod in agreement.

However, when I look at my slice of the world I seem to see plenty of “harm.” I see lives wrecked by abuse and addiction. Poverty and pain. Infidelity and unemployment. And I see sickness and disease and cancer—so much cancer.

When I examine Jeremiah 29:11 and compare it to the reality in front of me, the words ring false. I want to question God, “You said you have a plan. That you’d prosper and not harm? Where is the protection? The prosperity? The future?”


And while I may not utter the words out loud, deep inside the thought simmers, Did God lie?

I’d guess Jeremiah thought the same thing.


Jeremiah was called to announce the destruction of the kingdom of Judah and proclaim the end of an era. During his tenure as prophet, God’s judgment was so extreme the Lord came close to inflicting the ultimate covenant curse; undoing everything He had promised the Jewish people. Living in the midst of this, Jeremiah had nagging doubts about his calling and God’s faithfulness. He accused the Lord of being undependable, “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” (15:18)
Lord, are you who you say you are…or did you lie?

Isn’t that the question that pricks our souls?

Saints throughout history have wrestled with this very question when confronted with circumstances that didn’t line up with God’s apparent promises. Moses died never entering the Promised Land. Sarah waited dozens of years for the promised baby. And Abraham saw little evidence of the covenant promise God made with him. In fact, all the ancients commended in Hebrews 11 died without receiving what God had promised.

Yet, they chose to believe God despite their circumstances, through their doubts and against logic. This is the epitome of faith, for faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is never easy. Much of the time, it makes little sense to our human minds. While we may not experience God in the way we want, when we want, when we look closely we find evidence of God’s goodness. And our souls spark with recognition of the Almighty.

In the past few months I've experienced God’s glory as I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, dug foundation holes for a new church in the Dominican Republic, worshipped with prisoners, laid with my son on the grass and watched for shooting stars, hugged my teenage daughter after a huge fight, received a note from a friend encouraging me in my writing … and whenever I read the Bible.
How about you?

When it comes to the issues our earthly minds can’t reconcile, we have a choice to make, don’t we?  We can grasp hold of what we do know and choose to press on through our uncertainty and disappointments. Or, we can choose to walk away from God in disbelief and seek our prosperity and future on our own, using society’s promises to deliver them.

Does God lie? Certainly not. But perhaps we can see His truth more clearly when we shift our focus—as the ancients did—from an immediate to an eternal one.

The world fills our ears with rhetoric, misinformation and doublespeak that masquerade as truth. If we can’t trust God at His word, who can we believe?