Sunday, June 30, 2013

Your oasis

A garden gnome is the staple of their quaint English cottage.
A plastic, pink flamingo is a dead give away that it is a tropical paradise.
The matching lions flanking each side of the driveway entrance are a grand welcome to their castle.
A few stone fairies are always present in a fantasy land that is reminiscent of a story book tale.
The rooster on the weathervane isn't just there for go-to directional assistance, it also signifies that despite any livestock, this abode is farm through and through.
A few rocking chairs on the front porch and you know you are at grandma's house.
An assortment of plastic cars, fake houses and slides and you know that children reside here.
A big, old, clunky, dirty couch on the front porch and there is a good chance a bachelor can be found inside.

Home becomes a haven for whoever lives inside. The decor of each home can vary as greatly as the personality of the people who decorated them. No two places are the same just like no two people are the same. Each person creates their own unique place and each finds it to be the most comfortable, desirable and appealing place of all. We each get the chance to make our own mini-castle, whether or not we choose to include lions at the entrance. Isn't this a beautiful aspect of freedom and individuality? We all don't have to love the same things and look the same way. The garden gnome in your neighbor's yard might be the epitome of tacky to you but to that neighbor the gnome, with the red hat and green cloak that resides by the front steps, is the best purchase she ever made when it comes to home decorating. That gnome brings a smile to her face each time she ascends up the stairs onto her porch. She thinks he is charming and cute. And who is to say she's wrong?
Each person gets to carve out their own little slice of paradise right here on earth. Some people never take the opportunity to do so. They lament where they live or the home they can afford. They spend their days thinking that the grass on the other side of the fence, or on the other side of town, is of a whole different caliber and color then their own. They can't see the beauty of what they have and the possibilities that can be tapped into if only they will use their imagination. These people miss a grand opportunity to create a haven of their own.
In life we run into this tendency of envy in more then just home but in a multitude of ways. We look at the finances, social life, job, physical figure, marriage, car, or "luck" (even though I don't believe in that) of other people and jealously follows. We want what they have. We start to resent our own life circumstances. This is a nasty little trap of satan. He wants us to be looking anywhere but up. If the in-ground pool in our neighbor's yard will cause envy to grow in your heart then great, he'll use that no problem. If the new car that just pulled up down the street catches your eye and makes you complain about the old car with the faulty transmission that you are stuck driving, then satan will use that to divert your attentions away from what is truly important. He'll stir up envy and jealousy anywhere he see's an opening.
God wants you to make the most of what blessings you have been given, no matter what your bank account or decorating taste. If you don't live in the biggest house on the block he doesn't want you to care. He wants you to love the home you have and make it into an oasis. He wants you to be a good steward of the things he has given you: your body, your finances, your home, your kids, your social life...

Home is a stunning picture of the possibilities to turn humble circumstances into something amazing: a personal paradise. As I drive around the neighborhoods in my home town I am struck by the care so many people take to make their small little homes, on their little cut out of land, into something special. Most of the homes here aren't anything grand. Most of the neighborhoods have homes that all look a lot alike.  Many are small brick ranch style with less then a quarter of an acre of land. Most have only a single car garage. Many don't even have a porch that could hold more then a single rocking chair. In-ground pools are rare. But, thankfully, garden gnomes are not. People here love their homes, no matter what kind of counter tops they have or how high the ceilings measure in at. They take pride in maintaining a well kept yard and orderly home. The taste of most people in this town does not match my own. In fact, I used to roll my eyes at some of the crazy garden accessories people would put out in my neighborhood. The black, wood cutout of a farmer smoking a pipe will always go down in my mind as the most ridiculous of yard decor. But that person kept their lawn clipped to a T and weeds were never to be found. They loved their home and their pipe-smoking guy in the front yard.
You don't need to have anything fancy to have it all. You don't need to be the envy of the neighborhood to have a home sweet home. In life, you just need to embrace where you are and what you have been given. God hasn't made a mistake in his blessings. He hasn't missed you or forgotten to give you your "fair share". He has blessed you abundantly. The question is, are you recognizing the blessings, embracing them and making this life into your own personal paradise?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are you an alien?

1 Peter 2:11
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul."

Yesterday was a landmark day in our country's history. June 26, 2013 will go down as a turning point in the moral decay of the United States of America. The Supreme Court took up two landmark decisions that were ruled on yesterday. The most remarkable of these decisions was made on DOMA, The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. This act says that states don't have to recognize same sex marriage and restricted those couples from receiving federal government benefits on the basis of marriage. Until yesterday, this act was the law of the land. But today that all changed. It is now the opinion of the highest court in America, and the law of the land, that same sex couples can receive marriage benefits from our federal government.
In Mark 10:6-9, the Bible reminds us of what marriage is: " the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate." But today our corrupt government, reasoning with blind eyes that have no regard for God's principles, disregarded the scriptures and the foundational reason for marriage. They trampled on the Bible's intent for the most sacred of earthly unions. And all in the name of "equality" and "fairness." These words that sound like such positive attributes have been used to destroy the very fabric of our country by breaking apart the foundation of a family headed by a father and mother, man and woman.
Listening to the response of my fellow citizens has broken my confidence in the heart of this country more then the actual ruling from the Supreme Court ever could. Instead of a call to return to our founding principles and scriptural truth, I have read countless posts on Facebook and web articles that are proclaiming what a  wonderful day this is for freedom and equality and for human beings everywhere! You would think that each of these writers and joyous advocates of same-sex "marriage" had just gotten married themselves. Their posts and comments were filled with words of celebration. Were these people in chains before this fateful ruling came down? If you didn't know any better you would think they had been locked up with the keys thrown away...until today.
I can't be alone in my stark opposition to the joy they are feeling. In fact, joy is the furthest thing from what I feel about this decision. To me, this day doesn't signify a step of progress for America, it signifies a leap into the abyss of darkness and destruction. Though many may be applauding,  there are those of us weeping for our country and for those who are blindly buying into the distorted principles and practices that are becoming law. But those of us on this side of the political and moral aisle seem to be in the minority. We have been overtaken by a population that thinks wrong is right and right is wrong. We are the "religious", "cynical", "old fashioned", "bigots" who just don't care about other people's happiness. We are seen as the enemy.
This worries me until I remember the words of the Bible: "foreigners and exiles." This is how the Bible refers to Christ's followers. The very defintion of a foreigner is one from outside a particular group or community. So wouldn't it be natural to assume that we will be the minority? If you are an American and you travel to Spain chances are you will be surrounded by people speaking a different language than you, following the practices of a culture unlike your own, and singing a totally different national anthem then the one you have become accustomed . Didn't you expect this? After all, you are the one from the outside, coming into their native land. You aren't Spanish. You are American. So it would follow that the life in Spain will look very different from your own and, at times, rather odd.
The same applies to a Christian's life on earth. We are the outsiders. We are aliens, here for a visit. We are sent to this foreign land to spread the good news of the gospel. But this isn't our home. We are to be busy doing God's work here on earth: being his hands and feet. Your life is to be that of a missionary, even if you never go out into "the field" and live in a village in Africa or move to the inner city to work in a home for recovering drug abusers and alcoholics. As one of Christ's disciples, you are to be on a mission no matter where on this earth you find yourself.
The Bible warns us that on our mission we will face opposition. The world around us will buy into lies and false ways of living. They will condemn those who claim Christianity as the only truth. Instead of claiming the one true God they will make many "mini gods" and rationalize all sorts of sinful behavior. Those of us who strive to live in surrendered obedience to God's word and will are certainly not going to be popular in this culture.
But don't be surprised by any of this. Instead, embrace your alienation. Thank God that you have been set apart. And remember this: if you are going to follow Christ, expect to feel like a foreigner. Because here, on this earth, we are not yet home.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Is this healed?

Hi God,
It is a joy to write to you. I have been enjoying your presence and have been so wildly blessed by you that it is my pleasure to write to you and connect on this level: pen pals. How about that? You (God) and I as pen pals. How do you like the sounds of that? You will write me back I'm sure - or maybe not. Or maybe you will but the post office will lose the letter.... or the email will get sucked into the black abyss known as the World Wide Web. So, maybe I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for a correspondence to land in my mail box.
I'll write anyhow.
I always find it easiest to write when I have a problem. I'm not always great at confrontation and face to face trouble shooting. I problem solve best on paper. So, here it goes: I don't understand your definition of healing. You use that word so willy nilly. Don't laugh at the term "willy nilly." It is exactly how you use it. You want me to trust that I am healed. You healed people in the Bible. Healing, healing, healing! What in the world do you even mean by healing? Because if I am healed, like you said I am, then you and I must certainly be working off of very different definitions of the term.
Let me tell you what healing looks like to me, in this body: 100 pounds, a butt and boobs, functioning/daily digestion, a leg muscle that is at rest and a running regimen that includes 3 miles twice a week - no big deal. And where is my body at now? I don't even want to write the weight - not that I need to, you know what it is. There is no butt and no boobs, like the female body was meant to have (I thought). My digestion is at a stand still. My muscle in my leg is unfortunately not - it instead is flared with all the force of a champion arm wrestler. And running? Ha! A third of a mile would have me huffing and puffing.
And this is my healing? You said I was healed. You told me to go forth in my healing; live as if I am healed and whole because I am! But I am not. How could this possibly be considered healed, whole and healthy? I feel everything but today.
For the first time in about a month I went to the doctor this morning because my muscle was so flared I couldn't even begin to get it resting and loosened. No sooner I had stepped out of the car at home, immediately after the appointment, and the muscle was once again flared. So, I went back again a second time that afternoon. And guess what? It is 7 that evening and it is flared again.
What is wrong with my body? Why won't you heal it? How can I ever fulfill your purpose for me if my body is stuck in this state and my muscle won't relax and cooperate? I feel so hopeless. I was living out my healing but that didn't seem to get me anywhere.
I know what you are going to say: "Be patient. Just wait it out. I know it has been a long time but I truly am healing you. It is taking longer then you would like, that I know. But that doesn't mean that I'm not doing my work. Look at the whole month you went without having to go to the doctor. That is a huge milestone. Don't overlook it. That is work I did. Not you, not a doctor, not a supplement. Me. All ME. So don't give up on me just yet. Keep the faith. You have been strong in me. Don't waver now. Don't teeter on the edge of wanting to chuck it all. I know it is tempting. You want to see results. I know you want to stop feeling the pain in that leg. Just hang in there.
...I know you won't want to hear this but I still have to teach you more. I'm sorry to say that because I know you don't want to hear it but it is the truth. You are not complete yet. Yes, you have come a long way and I think your progress is great. But it isn't finished. Think of yourself as a clay pot. You started out as a gray lump. Now you are molded into an admirable figure but there is still more to do. I wanted to have the chance to add color and a glossy finish. Then of course that firing process to get that stunning shine. You haven't let me complete all the phases of the process yet. Do you want to be the fine piece of art that can be created in good time or would you like me to stop mid work? I can stop now. All you have to do is say so and walk away. I'll be hands off. I can't promise that you'll be pleased with the result of my work because I'm not done yet. I can't guarantee how you will hold up for the long term in your current condition. Without the finishing coat and protectant seal I'm not sure what kind of toll the elements of life will take on you - I am afraid it won't be good. But it is your call. I can't make it for you. I won't lie to you and tell you this is going to be a comfortable and easy process. You know how hard it has been getting to where you are at, and the rest of the road isn't a walk in the park. But I can promise you it will all be worth it in the end. So, what do you say? Will you hang in there with me a while longer? Or do you want to go your own way. I will wait for your response. You can send it in the mail or just post it on the World Wide Web. It doesn't matter because either way there is no chance I won't see it. Not even the post office could intercept a message from you to me."

God, if that is what you write to me, if that is your response, then all I can say is: Okay. I'm all in. You have been too honest and too good to me for me to have any other answer. Thank you for telling me that this isn't going to be easy. At least I could never accuse you of sugar coating. You have laid it out in black and white. This is going to be a struggle and it is going to hurt at times. But what is my alternative? Do I want to do this on my own? Absolutely not. I'd take all the tough days in the world with you over going at this on my own.
I'm here to stay. I'm here for the duration - no matter how much your work will have to hurt. I know it is all part of fulfilling your vision. You are an artist. I don't want to stand in the way of creating your art. So, have your way. I am a canvas just waiting for your masterpiece to be completed. I am that pot ready for the fire. But first, paint me in beautiful colors. Can I request yellow and orange? Maybe a sunset. Oh, who am I kidding. You have something so much better than a sunset in mind.

Longing to see you and loving you all the while,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Some things I've noticed: summer edition

Here are just a few of summer's blessings that thrill the senses. These little sights, sounds and scents take us back to days of old and summer's past. They are quintessential summer. And honestly, who doesn't love summer?

1. The sound of lawn mowers.
2. The smell of freshly cut grass.
3. The refreshing scent that is unique to sprinklers.
4. The sight of children running through their yards in Disney princess bathing suits, jumping in small pools, running through sprinklers, laughing all the way!
5. The smell of barbecue chicken at dinner time.
6. The distant sound of fireworks that can be heard miles away from the local amusement park every Sunday night in June, July and August.
7. Grocery store shelves with displays for all the necessary goodies for s'mores.
8. The sound of neighbors jumping into their pools and splashing about.
9. The crackling of a bon fire in the backyard (or the front yard if you are my family on Memorial Day weekend 2013).
10. The distinct smell and glossy finish of freshly applied sun screen.
11. Fresh strawberries popping up at every grocery store and farmer's market stand.
12. Convertibles cruising along, tops down, just enjoying the breeze.
13. Kids with ice cream stained shirts (which their Mom's fight so hard to prevent - a handy stack of napkins as their weapon of choice).
14. Big, juicy tomatoes.... later in summer but my mouth is already watering.
15. The sound of the local high school marching band at band camp in the late days of August practicing for the upcoming season - the drum line is my favorite.

... This list isn't exhaustive. How could it be? Summer is too good to sum up in words. The things that make June, July and August so special are to be savored in a way you savor a beautiful sunset or fabulously cooked dinner. Summer months are so special that a description doesn't do it justice. It just has to be enjoyed for all its worth, taking in all the moments and storing them for future memories.
For now, in the heat of these summer nights, I will soak up each drop of its goodness. I will consume countless strawberries, tomatoes and other farmer's market offerings. I will take long walks in the evenings and enjoy the heat on my forehead. I will visit the lake and enjoy the still blue water and the small boats that dot its surface. I will put the top down on my convertible, turn up the radio and drive. I will swing on the porch with a good book and comfortable pillow.
Summer is unlike any other time of year so enjoy it, because before you know it September will be here. But don't worry - you still have so much about these gorgeous months to savor.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Be the light

Each day is dotted with small, seemingly insignificant interactions. In the checkout line at the grocery store, walking on the biking path in the park, pumping gas at the convenience store down the street, or simply running through the drive thru at Starbucks for a morning pick me up. From morning to evening, our lives are marked with little conversations with strangers and acquaintances. Every day we can trace what we did, where we went and what we accomplished by what faces we encountered.
When added up over the course of a day, week or year, these little dots start to make quite a mark. The time spent interacting with people we couldn't name and know nothing about (other than maybe the fact that they work at a certain store or drive a certain car) actually comprises of a good portion of our days and, over time, our lives. What started out looking insignificant becomes anything but when looked at over the course of a life.
It raises the question, shouldn't we be making more out of these little snippets of "paper or plastic?" or holding open the door for the person coming in just a few steps behind, or waving another driver out into a busy stream of traffic when they were stuck trying to make that impossible left turn? Our lives are scattered with these little circumstances and yet we treat them as the nothingness in between the real meat of life. Maybe, those little moments are meatier then we give them credit for. Letting one car out at the intersection may not seem like much of a matter for deep interpretation, but when faced with these kinds of situations over and over throughout the course of a life, the time adds up and so does the importance that they play.
We have the choice to either treat these small interactions and minor occurances as insignificant after thoughts, not paying much attention to how we treat them and the impact they have on ourselves or others; or we can treat each of these little moments as a big opportunity.
Next time you come across a new face, either a stranger in the street or an employee at a business you frequent, make a point to be a bright spot in their day. Give them a smile, ask them how they are doing, or give them a genuine compliment. This might seem silly. Could a smile really make a difference? A smile or kind word might seem like no big deal, but you just never know what light it could bring to someone's day. Maybe that person you complimented just went through a break up. Maybe the stranger you smiled at is battling with depression. Perhaps the girl at the checkout needed a friendly face after the irrate customer that just went through her line only a brief 10 minutes ago. You just never know how your simple act of kindness could impact the life of another.
I challenge you to be the light in someone's life. Share your smile. Exchange a kind word. Make a generous gesture. Tomorrow, throughout the course of your day, you will be faced with countless opportunities to carry a peaceful and loving spirit to a world that is filled with animosity and negativity. Bring to it the love of Christ. You can spread his love by the simplest of actions in the most common of circumstances. Will you take on the challenge?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dear future husband...

Dear future husband,
For years I spent my days alone and unattached. There were days I was convinced that would be my forever status, destined to a life of single-hood. I had days where I was content with that possibility. And then there were other days that the thought of never having someone to love was enough to crush my spirit.
As the years wore on the desire to someday be united with someone became stronger. There were parts of my life I wanted to share with someone else. There were experiences that I knew would be multiplied in joy if they could be shared with a male companion. So I surrendered to God these desires. I laid them down before him, admitting to myself and to God that I didn't want to be alone forever. Someday I wanted to be someone's wife. Admitting this was the first step in resting in my singleness. "Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart"... I rested in this promise, knowing that my status in life as a single woman allowed me the most ample opportunity to delight in the Lord. There were no distractions, I could focus all my attentions and energy towards growing in the Lord. He was giving me special time to do just that.
But while I delighted in him, I thought of you and prayed for you. I would pray that wherever you were, whoever you were, God was directing your path and touching your heart. I prayed that you were growing to be more Christlike and learning to live life in obedience to him. I prayed that you were safe and out of harms way. One night I was woken up out of the clear blue with the distinct burden to pray for your physical safety. I wonder now what was happening to you that night. Were you in danger or was your spirit troubled? It was in the spring of 2013 that this night occurred. I often wonder where you were that night.
As I prayed for you I also prayed for myself, that I would be molded into a godly wife. I knew that for our marriage to thrive and honor God in the future we had to both be growing in him as single individuals. I wanted to be a woman living in surrendered obedience to Christ, fulfilling his purpose for my life before I met you. I wanted to be mature in my faith before you and I started our journey in life together.
In those days I struggled with loneliness and the longing to have you. I didn't know you, couldn't picture the cut of your hair or the color of your eyes, but I longed for you. My heart wanted to be united with yours. My arms yearned to be warm in your embrace. At times my longing was overwhelming - it brought me to tears. But in my more rational moments I knew that it wasn't time to know you just yet. God still had work to do on us. When I was able to set emotions aside I could see the blessing we were both being given by being single, alone and unaware of one another. We could get to know God on a deeper level and become molded to his image. That was and is always most important.
Now we are together, united as one. The long anticipated wait is over and the journey of a life together has begun. Just as there were difficult days as singles, there will be difficult days in marriage. At times we will feel frustrated. There will be circumstances where we don't see eye to eye. But we are not embarking on this journey alone, we are in this marriage with God as our guide and as our constant companion. When we were alone we relied on his guidance and became obedient to his teachings and commands. Now we will do the same. We will walk in light of the Bible and its instructions. We will rely on prayer and the wisdom of God.
I am so thankful for the time I spent getting ready for your arrival into my life. I was grown in ways I didn't know I needed to grow. It was all in preparation for the work God had for me and the people he would bring into my life. Ultimately, he worked on me so he could use me. He worked on you for the same purpose. And now he has brought us together so that we can walk the path of furthering his kingdom as a pair, united in purpose and love.
I have loved you before I knew you. I have prayed for you even when I didn't know your name. I can't wait for the surprises that are in store for our future. The road to meet you curved and wound down trails not found on a map and roads rarely traveled. God only knows what route will come next! One thing I do know: it will be the adventure of a lifetime and I couldn't dream up a better partner to experience it with.

Your future wife

My personal pole

A short quarter of a mile from the home I grew up in is the intersection of Sterrettania and Caughey Road. I remember the days when this intersection was marked by stop signs, now it has a traffic light. When the traffic light was installed everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. That intersection had been plagued with a number of accidents due to a slight hill that made those traveling North on Sterrettania come up on the intersection faster then those crossing it realized. The traffic light was a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.
Now the intersection is like any other, complete with electrical poles at each corner with wires running in between them all. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about that. The polls are thick and wooden. The wires dangle sway in the wind like they do in any other town, at any other crossroads. I have seen this intersection a thousand times, probably more, yet for some reason today it took on a whole new light.
As I sat at the intersection, waiting for my light to turn green, I gazed about, enjoying the cloudless sky, low humidity and perfect temperature. As my eyes surveyed my surroundings they landed on the electrical pole to the right of my car. For the first time I noticed the wear and tear that it has endured since its construction, not that many years ago. That might seem insignificant. Who cares about the condition of an electrical pole? And who notices?
Apparently, I do. When I looked at that pole I noticed for the first time the hundreds of nail holes covering the surface of the wood. Some chunks of the pole were broken off, others were holding on by a few strands. Remnants of old fliers hung haphazardly and dots of paint were splattered at random. This pole had taken a beating in its short life. It is a favorite spot for community advertisements to be displayed: garage sales, lost dogs, furniture to sell, fundraisers. Some kids have used that pole as a canvas for their artwork, spray painting, carving and writing on its surface.
Yet, the pole still stands. It has taken abuse from all directions, been hammered upon and possibly even run into by cars, bikes or just rowdy kids. Human action has turned the smooth surface of that pole into a mess.
Today, when I looked at that pole, I saw the cross of Jesus Christ. Each nail hole was no longer just piercing the wood of a pole, but the wood of his cross. I saw in that pole the sins that nailed Jesus to that cross - the sins I committed.
Each of us has our own pole. It is covered from head to toe with lacerations, holes and remnants of the past. We nailed each piece of paper to that pole and carved each lousy attempt at "art". Our sins took something that was smooth and perfect and drove a nail through it.
Yet, the pole still stands.
Jesus Christ still reigns, our holy king, eternal and unshakable. He was nailed to a cross to pay the pentalty for our countless transgressions and sinful, malice hearts. He rose on the third day to reign as victor over death eternal. The people he suffered and died for were still sinful but because of his sacrifice, they could and still can be forgiven for all their wrongdoing.
I am no different from the next person. We are all tainted with the mark of sin and there is only one way to wash it clean. We cannot tape chunks of wood back into our own pole and hope to make ourselves new, fresh and restored. There is only one who can wipe the slate of our lives smooth. He can cleanse our past, break into our present and give us peace for the future. First, we must acknowledge that we nailed Jesus to the cross with our sin. If we cannot humble ourselves, accept our guilt in his suffering and dying, then we cannot receive his sacrifice. But immediately, when we admit our sin, acknowledge his suffering on our behalf, and submit ourselves to his will, asking for his forgiveness and grace, we are restored. The nail holes of our lives disappear, and a smooth surface is put in its place.
Have you asked Jesus to wipe your slate clean? Have you seen the nails you drove into his hands and feet? Next time you are stopped at a traffic light, take a look at the electrical pole. Take note of the damage done by human hands over the course of time. Then stop and reflect on the nails of your own life - the toll they have taken and the mark they have left on the cross of Christ. Then ask God to forgive them.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A word for you...

I'm angry at you. Yes, you read that correctly - I'm talking to you.
I'm angry because of the judging looks that you don't even try to conceal. I'm angry because you think that because I'm thin I am somehow subhuman, not worthy of the consideration of a warm smile or friendly interaction. I'm angry because you stare with a scowl on your face and daggers in your eyes. I'm angry because you don't have the consideration of getting to know me before you decide who I am.
But are you perfect? Does your weight meet the ideal BMI standards? Do you dress in a stylish fashion that makes all the your curves look appealing and hides all the trouble zones that you wish didn't exist? No, no and no. You are over weight, pudgy and sometimes downright obese. You look sloppy in your pajama pants that should barely be warn out the door to grab the mail let alone to the mall to do someone window shopping. Your skin isn't rosey with a dew of optimal health. Instead it is saggy and pale.
Yet you want to judge me because I don't weight enough. You cast your judgement on me because my weight shocks you. Do you know me? Do you know my soul or my heart? Do you have any clue why my weight is so low? You know nothing about me and you won't ever know because before you could ever get to know me you have already written me off as damaged, diseased or mentally sick.
So I am angry at you and I can't hide it. I want to throw daggers at you with my eyes just like you have done to me. I want to judge you for the habits you keep that have led to your less than appealing appearance. If you can judge me because I'm underweight then why can't I judge you because your overweight? Sounds fair to me.
... And then I hear God's voice, quietly at first, reprimanding my hard heart and sinful behavior. Didn't Jesus suffer much worse at the hands of his fellow man? He was mocked, spit on, rejected by the people in his town, written off as crazy and generally disrespected. And he still loved. Although he was treated horribly by the very people he was here to save he didn't hold it against them. He never lashed out at them in return for their actions of hatred and disdain. He was constantly faced with people who treated him like dirt and he never gave anything but love back in return. He displayed the principle of "turn the other cheek." He was unrelenting in his love; unshakable in pouring out grace.
Jesus didn't reserve giving grace and forgiveness only to those who were nice to him or included him or understood him. No, he died for all. He died for the man who spit on him as he carried his cross. He died for the mourner who visited the tomb in a state of unmitigated grief.
If Jesus could die for people who hated him, who am I to hold resentment and anger against the people who heartlessly ignore and judge me?
God whispers in my hear.... "Love them." God wants me to look to Jesus and reflect his love and grace. He doesn't want me to look at the world and determine my response to it based on how I am treated. He doesn't want me to worry about how people react to me or how they judge me. Did Jesus worry about such things? Did he consider the hate and malice when he went to die on the cross? He wasn't dying for sinful man because he felt bad for them and wanted to simply "help" them out; he died because God sent him to do so. He was more concerned with the will of God then the treatment he received from men.
On this journey of becoming more Christlike comes the tough life lesson of learning to extend love and grace in the most trying of circumstances. Even when the world shells out hatred that isn't an excuse to fling it right back at them. Christ tells us to pour out his love on those who love us and those who hate us. Grace isn't reserved only for a few saintly men and women. Jesus came to give the ultimate grace and pour out unconditional love - whether it was "deserved" or not. Thankfully, Jesus' salvation isn't based on what we deserve. If that were the case I'd be stuck as a lousy sinner destined for an eternity in hell. Jesus came to exceed the limits of what we deserve. He came to save us from what we deserve.
As I follow Christ I must also give people more then what I think they deserve. Instead I must give them brotherly, Christlike love. I must reflect Jesus' forgiveness and grace to a world that knows far too little of those Biblical truths. It is a daily decision that I must answer each time I receive the stares of onlookers in this world: will I choose to reflect their hatred and judgement or will I reflect Jesus' love, forgiveness, grace and mercy?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to truly mature

Slowly and surely I pray I am becoming a more mature woman of faith. With age and experience should come an easier temperament, greater patience, less defensiveness, more wisdom. Ideally all of the good characteristics increase, while the not so good decrease.
For the most part I feel as though I have followed this progression. I was once extremely defensive, quick to throw up walls when faced with constructive criticism or the fact that I had acted in a way that was flat out wrong. I used to get angry and unpleasant. Looking back, I believe this is because I knew I was wrong but didn't want to admit it. My go-to defense was denial. If I could deny that my behavior was flawed then I didn't have to face the fact that work needed to be done and changes needed to be made. Over time, through the growing of my faith, I have stopped putting up those walls that stood in the way of making positive changes in my character.
On this journey I still have such a long way to go. Just today I was reminded of how easy it is for me to slip back into my old ways of reacting immaturely. Without constantly calling on the strength of God, I am quick to fall back into bad habits that are childish and unreasonable. But there is a way to avoid such pitfalls and lapses in faithful obedience.
I must honestly examine my behavior and challenge myself to make changes to the areas that don't line up with God's word and commands. Although I am certainly not perfect, I am trying to judge my actions in light of how God would view them. Would God approve of how I treated someone? Would God approve of how I responded to a comment someone made? It is my own version of "What would Jesus do?" Instead, it asks, "What would God think?"
When you start to view your actions in the light of what God would think of them your whole outlook is transformed. No longer are the ways of the world acceptable simply because every one else behaves, talks and acts like that and, "heck, so should I!" No. When you are looking at God's standards you can't be looking at the worlds. Just because the world is rude, impatient and defensive doesn't give the Christ follower the right to live in the same way. Christ commands his children to live their lives in the light of who he is, not what the world is. As children of the most high king, we are to mold and shape ourselves to his image.
In the world we will find that excuses for faulty behavior are readily and easily available. Did you lash out at a co-worker? Oh, that's okay! They deserved it. Were you short with your Mom? No big deal, everyone gets in arguments with their families.
God doesn't let us off the hook because we come up with convincing excuses. He wants us to put down our defenses, forget the excuses, and fess up to the areas of out lives and hearts that need transformation. A temper problem? God can grant patience. A tendency toward cutting, rude comments? God can impart grace. Impatient? God can transform that into patience that relies on his timing.
We can't truly mature without being honest with ourselves and with God about who we are, our shortcomings and what help we need to change. Defensiveness is a way that stands in the way of spiritual growth. Excuses are nothing more then flimsy shields meant to hide the truth.Tear down the walls and drop the shields. God wants to form you to his image but he can't come in and truly transform you until you have surrendered your flawed ways so you can be filled with his Holy Spirit and be shaped to the image of his Son.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Noah had an ark...

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenantbetween me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Can you imagine living on an ark with horses, pigs, lions and tigers and bears?...oh my! This doesn't sound like a place of refuge from a storm. It sounds like a harsh form of punishment! Yet, just such an ark was security for Noah and his family. An ark, filled with smelly animals, was protection from a fierce storm that was raging right outside his boat. Had it not been for the protection of those wooden walls, Noah and his family would have perished just like the rest of humanity who faced the storm head on, without a boat to run to for shelter. 
When Noah emerged from the boat he was faced with a much different world. Maybe it was distinctly quieter then it had been before. The Bible doesn't tell us what exactly Noah experienced. But it does tell us what Noah did. He built an altar and made sacrifices to God. He was facing a world that had been ravaged by a flood, yet he immediately turned to an act of worship. 
In response to his offering, God made a covenant with Noah, promising to never again destroy the earth with a flood. He then went on to bless Noah and his family. And last, but not least, he told him of the sign that would be a reminder of the covenant God had made with all the life on earth. God used a rainbow as his picture of the promise. This rainbow wasn't necessarily for the benefit of Noah. God didn't tell Noah to rely on the rainbow or to only trust God was really living up to his promise if the rainbow was visible. No, God's covenant was good no matter what was seen in the clouds: rainbow or no rainbow. Still, he would use the rainbow as a reminder that the promise was true and enduring. God would be true to his word. 
The rainbow must have been a source of reassurance for Noah as well. If you knew God had made a visible sign to accompany his promises wouldn't you be reminded of those promises every time you came across the sign? That rainbow would hang in the sky as a wink from God, once again smiling down promises and security for his people and all the creatures of the earth.
I can't help but believe that God still has signs that stand to represent promises that his children have today. God's promises are still as true today as they were when they were written in the Bible. So can't God still work in the same way? Can't he still hang a rainbow in the sky to represent a covenant with his people? 
On my walks I often go into deep thinking, allowing God to overtake my thoughts. Today I didn't even have to invite him in, he seemed to just appear. Once again he came in the form of a deer. This is only the second deer that I've seen in Chagrin Falls. Both times I've had a deer encounter it came on a day when I was feeling extreme pangs of loneliness. 
This deer encounter came in the early afternoon, in a neighborhood lined with homes. I saw the deer a block up ahead run across the street and into a yard that backed up to a wall of trees. I figured that by the time I passed that particular house the deer would be long gone, back into the security and protection of nature's foliage. But when I passed the house I was surprised to find that the deer was still in the side yard, just standing stalk still, staring right at me. I didn't stop, I just kept walking but I kept my eyes glued to that deer. She kept her eyes glued on me. She never ran; I don't even think she blinked. I continued on my walk, in a state of disbelief... another deer that didn't run, on a day when I was suffering from the feelings of being utterly alone in the world. Could a deer be the sign God has given me? Is this a reminder of God's promise to me: I will never forsake you, I will never leave you.
Right now I am not in the ideal circumstances - my body is severely underweight and the physical implications are uncomfortable and at times painful. In a way, you could say I'm in my own personal ark. Noah had smelly animals; I have a weak and ravaged body. Both of us were stuck for a time. God allowed Noah to be held up in that ark so he could escape the deadly storm that was destroying the world outside. He kept him there for as long as it took for the ground outside to become dry, ready for Noah's return. I am stuck in my body for now and God has a selected time for me to emerge healthy, new and whole. He hasn't let me in on how long it will take. Then again, did he tell Noah how long he would be in the ark? He just wanted Noah to trust him. And Noah did. 
God is asking me to trust him with my body, believing that this is a season of life that is necessary for my ultimate security and protection. He has promised to never leave me and never forsake me. In Jeremiah he told me that he has a plan for me to prosper. In his time I will see the reality of all these promises. For now, I can look to the deer and see that God is remembering his promises. He hasn't forgotten me. He is right here, in the midst of my suffering, just waiting for the right time to open the door to the ark and let me back into the light.
 In the meantime I can give God my worship. Even without the fulfilling of the promise I can praise God with complete faith in what is to come because his promises are true and enduring. They don't expire and they aren't for a limited time only. They come in his perfect, divine timing. 

Single but not alone

When I was 13 I had my first boyfriend. That relationship lasted for 4 and a half years. All our high school peers had bets that we were sure to end up married. That wasn't meant to be. We were both very different people and growing up only made that more apparent. In the end we parted ways. After that I went through a period of singleness which was just right for me at the time. I had spent so much of my adolescence bound to one person, concerned about not only my own development but my relationship's health and wellbeing. Looking back, it wasn't always the best way to spend those critical teen years. In some ways it was a blessing to have one person dedicated and consistent throughout the tumultuous high school experience. On the other hand, there were drawbacks to hitting critical life steps as a pair instead of as an individual.
For the second half of my senior year in high school and my first year of college I didn't have any serious relationship. I dated here and there but nothing stuck. But I didn't mind - in fact I kind of enjoyed simply getting to know people, spending time with a vast array of new friends at college and not having to worry about a significant other. It was a freeing experience. Of course, as is often the case, we humans tend to trade in that freedom for the security of a relationship. I was just one such human. I dated someone for about 6 months. It was a rocky relationship and a toxic one, to put it mildly. That ended with smoke and fire, and more importantly, a re-commitment of my relationship to Christ. For the first time in my life I truly surrendered my life to God's will. Getting to that point was a battle. Satan fought hard to keep me within his grasp, blinded to God's truth and  living in willful disobedience. But God is much more powerful than Satan.
It only took a short month from the ending of that horrible relationship and the rebirth of my very soul to find a new relationship that looked like "the one." I was completely convinced that I had found the person God had intended for me. I hadn't been actively seeking a relationship. In fact, I was so content and joyful in life that a boyfriend wasn't even on my radar screen. When God seemed to put a Christian man on my doorstep I thought it was divine intervention from above, delivering me my soul mate. Obviously the man on the doorstep agreed. We dated, got engaged and planned a wedding that never took place. Four months before the big day of "I do" we called it off. That is a saga all of its own but that it isn't my intent to drudge through all of the gory details of that situation. At least not right now.
That was 3 years ago. Ever since that day I have been single, alone, unattached, free - my preferred term for my status changes with my mood. Which ever word you choose the principle is the same: I've gone at each day as an individual, unburdened by the needs of a significant other and without the companionship of a partner whom I can enjoy the experiences of life with. This has its benefits and its drawbacks.
When I make my plans for the day I never have to consult with another person, making sure what I want doesn't conflict with what they want. I never have to worry about coordinating schedules to make "couple time" and I don't have to worry that my decisions of how I spend my time might cause someone one else to feel ignored or neglected. On Christmas I don't have to come up with the perfect gift that is useful, thoughtful, personal and practical all at the same time. Gift giving isn't easy and I haven't missed racking my brain over finding that perfect, special something for that special someone.
Above all else, being single has given me the opportunity to grow my relationship with God instead of focusing on growing a relationship with a guy. This has been the undeniable advantage to singleness.
But there are drawbacks, too. There are some experiences that just seem to be calling out, "Share me with someone! Make it romantic!" I swear I'm not the only one who hears this because at the very beginning of summer - when the weather turns beautiful and bright, flowers start to bud and the evenings stay light and warm - couples start bursting forth from every nook and cranny. Restaurants are filled with tables for 2, sidewalks are crammed with couples hand in hand, benches in parks are kept warm by snuggling pairs and beaches become the epicenter of evening romance complete with sandy strolls along water's edge.
This all may sound more like a movie than reality, but come summer these little scenes start popping up with increased frequency that never ceases to amaze me. The stuff of novels isn't limited to the pages of a book. These little snap shots really do take place and when you are alone, without anyone to share such experiences with, you notice their presence all the more.
This is the unpleasant twinge of loneliness that threatens to plague the single. Maybe not everyone who goes at life alone will be overcome with these feelings, but many are. For the past 3 years, as I've experienced what it is to be truly single, truly going at life on my own, I've had very few times when I've longed for someone to desire me in the romantic, twinkle in the eye, sort of way. Most days I've been perfectly content to be just me, myself and Pippy. But when the desire to be loved and wanted comes upon me it is undeniably powerful.
Today is one of those days. My heart is aching for the thrill and excitement of new love; my soul is yearning for someone to want me, romantically, for who I am. The pain of feeling undesirable has reached a peek that is unbearable. There seem to be no words that can console or reassure me. We all want to feel capable of being loved and admired. I believe it is natural to want to be wanted. That's why feeling unwanted is so deeply painful.
Deep down, in the core of my being, I know that I am wanted, desired and longed for by God. It is that fact that keeps me afloat when the overwhelming feelings of loneliness threaten to overtake me. I wish I could say that my faith is so strong that knowing God is the lover of my soul is enough for me to be content and fulfilled. But I'd be lying. My sinful and roaming heart wants to be validated here on earth by the attentions and affections of a significant other. I want to feel that I am beautiful - on the inside and out - because of the love I share with a man. I want someone to want to spend time with me, even if it is just doing something simple like taking a walk.
Truth of the matter is, God wants to take a walk with me. How foolish am I that instead of joining him, I am neglecting his offer, as if it isn't good enough? Who do I think I am going to find that is better? I have the ultimate walking partner - the ultimate life partner - and I am not satisfied.
Shame on me for my wandering heart. Shame on me for desiring someone other than Jesus Christ. He is my ultimate lover. He has proven that in ways no man ever could because no man could ever love me like he does.
No matter how lonely my life may look by the standards of the world, I have the reassurance that I am actually not alone at all. In fact, I am in the greatest relationship of my life. So, honestly, what more could a girl ask for?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A few of my favorite things... the Chagrin Fall edition

Here are just a few of the many things that I love about Chagrin Falls, and you should too:

1. You can take your dog to the bookstore. Try that at Barnes and Nobles!
2. Outdoor diners line the streets, some with dogs, some with kids, all unique. They make a walk downtown much more interactive, plus much more flavorful when it comes to the scents that fill the street.
3. Ducks perch themselves on rocks situated just before the falls drop off under the main road that runs right thru the center of town. It is as if this is their special place of honor. It never fails, these rocks are always filled with ducks, welcoming visitors. They are truly the town's locals.
4. And then there are the human locals - they people watch, they sip coffee, they take their work to Starbucks and their books to the park. They are all friendly, outgoing and curious. They watch this town and know it like the palm of their hand.
5. The fun of a weekend horse drawn carriage ride thru the heart of town. It is a step back in time for riders and those just strolling the streets, taking in the sights. I haven't gone for a ride yet, but I have a secret fantasy - well, not so secret since I am about to reveal it! If I am ever to be in such a relationship with a man that marriage is upon the horizon, I would like him to propose to me on a carriage ride thru Chagrin Falls. Save this and show it so any possible suitors, please and thank you!
6. You feel patriotic just walking down the streets, thanks in part to the flags perched on every light post and outside of nearly every homes' front door. I want to stop and sing God Bless America each time I round the corner on May Court to turn onto Main Street. The view from the top of that small hill is filled with waving flags that line the street on both sides. I can hear a patriotic military band playing in my head. Can you?
7. Nearly every building down town has a unique and distinct brick facade with the year of construction incorporated into the design at the very top of the building. Reading each year is a history line. It is a reminder of the past that paved the way for all those who enjoy this little village today.
8. Parked outside the police station is an old fashioned police car straight from the 1950's. It is in impeccable condition. Getting pulled over by a vintage Chevy would really soften the blow of a ticket in my opinion. I might have a different take on that scenario should the red lights start flashing and siren start wailing behind me on Main Street.

These are just a few of my favorite things about Chagrin Falls. This list is certainly not exhaustive and will certainly be added to in time. But for now,

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A friend we have...

Are you weak and heavy laden?...
Are you cumbered with a load of care?...
Do your friends despise and forsake you?....
Do you have trials and temptations?....
Is there trouble anywhere?....
Tell me, who will all our sorrows share?....

Our friend, Jesus.
We carry a heavy burden, an unnecessary load because we do not carry everything to him in prayer. We give up a peace that could be ours; we abandon the protection of a shield that is found only in the security of his arms. Why? Because we do not carry everything to him in prayer.
Who else could carry our pain? Who else will be so faithful? What friend could bear our sin and sympathize with our grief? None but our Lord and friend, Jesus Christ.

When the weight of the world is upon your back, take it to the Lord in prayer.
And when questions and confusions threaten your peace, carry it to the Lord in prayer.
If you are discouraged by failure, lay your frustrations at the feet of the Lord.
Should you face trials or struggles do not try to conquer them on your own, let the Lord be your protector, your shield and your refuge.

You have the most faithful and true friend who wants to carry the weight of this world for you. He doesn't want you to be burdened with a load you were never meant to carry. He wants to provide you true relief. He wants to be your Savior and your consoler. He will sooth your suffering and alleviate your pains.
The question remains, will you carry everything to him? It is all he asks. You do not need to have answers or explanations. Just carry it all to Jesus in prayer. His arms will shield you. He promises you that in the comfort of his arms you will find a true solace.
Don't spend another day, another hour or another momement with an unnecessary burden. God has sent his Son to carry it for you. So, take it to him in prayer; lay in at the foot of the cross and receive the gift of protection and peace. Why wait to bask in the joy that can only be found in taking everything to the Lord in prayer?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Little observations

Some thing worth noting from my little village life here in Chagrin Falls...

1. I don't have a green thumb. What is the opposite of green? Red? That is the color of my thumb - both thumbs actually. And every other finger or toe I have for that matter. I just don't have that gardeners touch. I do have the uncanny ability to kill plants, though. Impressed? Is there a profitable use for such a skill? If so, sign me up. I'd be a top producer. But ask me to keep a plant alive and I'm hopeless. Well, at least that is one career path I don't have to put on the list of possibilities: gardener. Oh great, now God is going to make me a gardener.... but I didn't say I would NEVER be a gardener. So maybe I'm still safe? That never say never thing gets me every time.

2. An evening rain storm is oddly comforting and peaceful. Don't you find that falling asleep to the sound of rain pinning against the drain pipes and roof to be the best way to drift off? When you think about it, this is really quite an odd phenomenon. Storms are inherently disruptive. They are turbulent, loud and intrusive. So how can they be peaceful and calm when it comes time to sleep? I guess this is one of life's little mysteries. I won't question how much sense it makes, I'm just going to enjoy the effect it has on my night's slumber.

3. Nothing can beat a fresh, local, organic strawberry. They just came in season in Northern Ohio and I am loving their red, sweet, scrumpteous perfection! There is no comparison to a local strawberry and an out of season, shipped 1,000 miles, mass produced strawberry. They shouldn't even be bestowed with the same name. Let the local strawberries get to keep the honor of such a name. Those foreign red, juiceless substances can go find their own!

4. If you are an open book you will meet other open books. You have to be open to sharing your heart, your feelings, your vulnerabilities, your quirks and your passions to find that other people are willing to do the same. If you are locked up like a diary, tucking the key in a secret spot, you will probably find the world to be cold and unwelcoming. Have you stopped to take a look in the mirror before judgingthe  friendliness of the world that surrounds you? Are you just as closed off? Be open to sharing and listening. When you will put yourself out on the limb of openness you will find that the world is much more willing to reciprocate.

5. Embrace what makes you uniquely you. I walk around town with Pippy, my adorable dog with floppy, goofy ears. She is a conversation starter because she is unique and fun! I ride my old school styled bike to Starbucks outfitted with its wicker basket. People love to comment on what a throw back it is to see a bike like that! I drive my VW bug convertible around with the top down and a smiling dog in the passenger seat and people honk, wave and smile back. People I have never met want to give a shout out to the girl in the classic summer ride. All of these things and more make me unique. I want to embrace the things that make me different! They spice up my life and add smiles to the lives of others, too. It is a win-win. So grab hold of what makes you unique and special. Learn to love it and embrace it wholeheartedly. Don't be shy, let your quirks shine!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sun-shinny days

I have a terrible tendency towards escapism. When depression, loneliness or sorrow settle in so does my desire to run the other direction. Immediately I want to be anywhere but where I am. A big city? Sure! A warm beach with the sun shining? Even better! When I get down in the dumps, so to speak, I just want to get away from it all.
The past few days have been emotionally taxing on me personally. There really isn't exactly a rhyme or reason to why certain days are tougher than others. The feeling comes on like a heavy weight placed on my shoulders. I can't always tell when it will come and I can't always shake it off as quickly as I'd like. One thing I can do is long for a place to escape to, and once again that is what I am doing.
My escape du jour is to Destin to lay on the beach and soak up some much needed sunshine. I look at my pale face, pale legs and thin body and long for it to be covered with a golden glow. There is so much about my current appearance that I long to change. Slowly but surely that change will come but it won't come as fast as a tan could. So, my heart is begging for the sun. I'd hop on the next plane to Florida if someone would hand me the ticket (or at least give me the credit card to purchase my own!) I'm not picky. I'll take anywhere with sun. Aren't I flexible?
As I mature (hopefully), I am beginning to realize that these pangs of depression aren't as easily remedied as jetting off to a warm location. It would be great to believe that all the troubles and sorrows of the human heart could be wiped away with a short little jaunt to somewhere far, far away. But that just isn't so. Thinking that life is that easy is childish.
When I was in school I lived for the weekend; especially the 3 day weekend. Somehow having that extra day off would make life so much better! I would be happier and more fulfilled and the rest of school week would be easier to handle, right? Wrong. Going back after that third day off was always tougher then having to return after a traditional 2 day weekend. The time away from the reality of school only made me long to never have to return to the place I didn't enjoy. I didn't want to spend 8 hours a day in the prison like building that lacked windows, comfortable seats and kind peers. When I was able to spend more time in the place I wanted to be I didn't become more tolerant of the world I didn't like. I became more adverse to it and had a harder time returning by the time the late bell rang.
Now I am older but still wanting some version of a 3 day weekend. Can I just stay away from real life a bit longer? Isn't there somewhere I can go or some adventure I can take? Instead of facing what is truly burdening my soul I am looking to deny that these negative feelings exist. I want to push them into the shadows so I can live in the light for just a little while. Will it be easier to deal with what I have ignored after my return flight home? I doubt it.
Escaping reality when I was a child in school made as little sense then as it does now. Instead of running from reality I need to look it in the eye and honestly address the impact it is having on my emotions. Why am I struggling to feel joyful and at peace? Why am I struggling to feel truly, honestly happy? Why am I feeling unfilled? What is the root cause of this dip in spirits and how can it be truly solved, not simply covered up?
Addressing the true status of our hearts must be approached with brutal honesty - the honesty that starts with ourselves. Sometimes it is hardest to face our own feelings, even in the private corners of our minds. Why is it so tough to just tell it like it is to ourselves? Maybe because it is easier to run away.
Being honest means work will most likely need to be done. We might have to deny ourselves some negative influence that has been impacting our thoughts, spend more time in God's word or more time praying. Depression and loneliness haven't taken hold because God has abandoned us. It has occurred because in some way we have taken our eyes off of God. Whatever it is that is getting in the way of seeing him will have to be removed. If it is simply a case of looking down instead of looking up, then our gaze will have to be redirected and retrained to set itself on God and not our surroundings and circumstances.
There is no guarantee in life that we will always be surrounded by cheerful people, sun shine, warm temperatures and pleasant views. There will be times when life feels like drudgery. With that can come a staleness towards life that threatens to wear down on our mood and outlook. This is just another opportunity to connect with God. He hasn't gone anywhere. Just because we don't seem to see him moving doesn't mean he has decided he too needs a vacation. Our lonely, weary hearts can still enjoy the joy of his presence but first we must seek it out. The choice is ours. Will we seek the next flight out of town or will we seek the warm embrace of God, our Father?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Once in a lifetime

This morning I opened the 2002 Daily Bread Devotional book. It is a compilation of all the year's devotionals. I came across the book at my parents business and decided to take it home and revisit the old devotionals. Truth is truth in 2002 just the same as it is in 2013, right?
I turned the page to today's date and read through the little story. It was cute but not earth shattering, at least not for me today. It didn't convict me of anything in particular and didn't necessarily open my eyes to a truth I had been missing. It was a sweet reminder of God's grace and providence, which is always a welcomed reminder.
It is what I found in the pages just before today's date that caught my attention. I noticed what appeared to be a bookmark tucked between the earlier pages. Being from 2002, I was immediately curious as to what the little piece of paper might contain. It is always interesting to look back years later on old writings, sermon notes and bulletins. I find myself transported by these old artifacts, almost as if opening a time capsule that has been buried deep within the ground just waiting for future generations to come and explore.
The little bookmark turned out not to be a bookmark at all. I read the first line, "Necessary only once in a lifetime." It was as if someone threw cold water in my face. For some reason that simple sentence stunned me. Was this a revival hand out that an old church gave out as a means to preach the gospel and draw people to Christ?
I read on.... "The purchase of a Cemetery Plot." This had no Christian affiliation. The little scrap of paper was an advertisement for La Fayette Memorial Park burial. The card went on to lay out the advantages to purchasing a plot now instead of later, purchasing the "before need plan"..."large savings," "no last minute hasty decisions".... The card goes on to tell potential buyers that their inquiries are invited and visitation always welcome.
My immediate reaction of shock gave way to a convicted heart. This card was once used to sell something so personal and, really, quite morbid. Can you imagine having to sell a grave site to someone who hasn't died yet? Do you target a certain audience? The sick, the weak, the old? Or do you just hand a card out to everyone, trying not to be biased in your sales approach? This is certainly one sales job I wouldn't enjoy. The thought of having to sell someone on where their lifeless body will lay is not a pleasant conversation to imagine.
I'd rather talk to people about where their soul will go.
As Christians, we don't need to worry about being the perfect salesman or having the right advertising hand outs. We have the most amazing gift to offer. It doesn't require a downpayment or monthly bill. The cost has already been covered. The debt has already paid. Our job is to spread the message - no sales experience necessary.
What we have to present is eternal, lasting longer then our mortal bodies and far more important then what plot we will choose for our burial ground. Spreading the gospel is the ultimate sale. We are telling people about a place for their soul to rest today and after this life comes to a close. Are we diligent and steadfast in revealing this amazing offer to those who have yet to discover it?
This isn't a limited time offer and it isn't on discount for one day only. This offer is good from now until the day we each pass from this earth. But why make a "last minute hasty decision".... make the "before need plan."
The amazing part of this plan is the benefit you will receive now, today, right in this current moment before death comes knocking. You will receive salvation today! God's Holy Spirit will come into your heart immediately. You aren't signing up for a product that you will have to wait to use, and then not even be around to enjoy. You are coming on board a lifetime adventure that starts today and extends past the limitations of this life, into the realm of everlasting eternity.
Today, take each opportunity to spread this message to the lost and weary in this world who are in desperate need of the truth you have to show them. Ask God to bring along your path  a heart that is soft to hear the message and open to the words of the gospel. Speak the name of Jesus Christ to a lost world in need of his salvation.
You may not come armed with a bookmark sized print out. Don't worry, this isn't a sales pitch. This is something much more exciting then anything that can be purchased. Spreading the benefits of this opportunity is much more appealing then having to convince someone to think about a burial plot. So, don't shy away from telling people about the good news and all its "benefits and advantages"!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The open and shut door

Christian's love to use the phrase "open door." They use it like this: "God opened the door." Have you heard someone use this terminology? Have you used it yourself?
I am guilty of making life decisions based on this open door policy. A solution to a problem will seem to present itself naturally or an unlikely occurrence will present an opportunity, and I see it as God's hand guiding me towards action. Looking back on times when I have made decisions based on this principle I am hard pressed to find a circumstance where the easy, natural, pain-free move was really, in the end, the best one. More often than not, God's guidance has seemed to come in the form of closed (sometimes slammed) doors.
Getting engaged (my open door) and then having to call it off (God slamming it shut).
Moving to Florida for a doctor (my open door) and having my condition worsen (God slamming it shut).
I could lay out more examples but I'm sure you get the point. I made decisions that I thought were in obedience to God. I wasn't trying to be defiant or rebellious, I was trying to walk through the open doors!
How do we know when God has opened a door that he wants us to walk through? Is every open door an invitation to come inside, or are there times God wants us to see the open door and take another path? Are there times we are to wait outside, maybe only to enter later or to never enter at all?
Basing decisions off of this principle can get confusing. As Christians we want to live according to God's will but we don't have a print out of what that will is. God doesn't send us a detailed memo outlining what is to come next and what move we are to make to stay within the plan he has prepared. Sometimes open doors feel like the closest thing to a road map. We desperately want a flashing sign with right and left arrows, merge signs and my favorite the "chevron" sign. In God's language I'm not sure what a chevron sign would indicate. I suppose I'll never have to worry about deciphering that meaning because God doesn't direct his children using black and yellow signage. He doesn't lay it out in yellow, red and green lights (although that would be helpful, and easily interpreted!).
Maybe God doesn't want us to be so concerned about the directions.
This seems to go against everything our human nature yearns for. We want answers. We want to know what is coming next. We want to be useful and productive. We want to accomplish things. So we must make decisions based on our best guess, right? We must scan every door and run through whichever one is open because we must do something! Heaven forbid we rest!
But God doesn't want us to be on the hunt for an open door. He wants us to be more concerned with opportunity... the opportunity to study his word, fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, serve God, spread the gospel, share the message of Jesus Christ's gift of salvation....
When we are busy looking for the next open door our days become reduced to a game of LIFE. Instead of enjoying where we are at and soaking up what this day has to offer we start looking ahead to the possibilities that lie ahead. If we roll a 2 where will we end up? If we roll a 6 will that get us a ranch house or a new job? Our days become reduced to weighing the options of what lies behind each door.
God doesn't intend for our days to be played out like a board game. He hasn't given us a couple of dice, allowing us to roll out our own futures. He wants us to be content with doing our best for him today, letting tomorrow play out in his timing, according to his will.
God wants us to be useful for him today, right where we are at. He wants us to be scanning the horizon for opportunities to further his kingdom and get to know him more intimately. He wants us to pour our hearts into becoming more obedient and more Christ-like.
When we train our hearts and minds to focus on Christ and be looking towards him in all our days we won't feel the need to be constantly scanning all the doors that pop up along our path. Some will be shut and dead bolt locked shut. Others will be wide open. But if we are steadfast in looking to Jesus we won't even notice. We won't see life as a series of open or shut doors. We will see life as an ongoing journey in getting to know our Savior on a deeper, more intimate level.

A well known song says it best...

...."All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart's desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die"....

~ "Knowing you Jesus" by Graham Kendrick 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fear no evil

Confession: I am a self-proclaimed news junkie (Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin). I don't watch any sitcoms on a regular basis and game shows do absolutely nothing for me, but I am hooked on news. I watch Fox and Friends in the morning, listen to Rush from 12 to 3 (best 3 hours on the radio, just ask him) and follow it up with Sean Hannity on the radio. My evening ritual is O'Reiley and Hannity again, this time in living color! What can I say? I'm hooked.
My online reading is news centered, too. American Thinker and the Daily Caller are my primary sources when searching the web but I like to jump around to all sorts of outlets to see opposing viewpoints. I used to buy the USA today but why waste the money? They never covered true news and they charged for it to boot. No thanks. I'll search the web instead.
But web searcher beware. And cell phone user, too, for that matter. If you have been following the news, or simply flipping through channels on the TV, then you are probably aware of the fact that you are being watched by the government.
This isn't really all that shocking. Google knows how to target its users for advertising. Facebook does the same. AT&T can pull up your call records. So can Verizon, TMobile, and Sprint. Why should we believe that the government couldn't get their hands on all that information? Couple that breaking news with the ongoing scandal of the IRS targeting certain political groups because of their beliefs and you have a government on an out of control power spree. Again, are we surprised?
Many Americans are acting like this is a new revelation and they now "fear" their government. Since September 11, 2001 Americans have feared terrorism. It had existed before that fateful day but we hadn't been met with its evil in such a public and devastating way. Ever since that day our country has lived in the shadow of the possibility of another attack. We take our shoes off at airports, put our liquids in little ziplock bags and endure harmful X-rays all in the name of "security." We have let our fear scare us into altering our way of living and viewing the world.
Now we have another fear to add to the list: fear of our government. The news of our computers and phones being watched has cut to the core of American life: our privacy. This is something so fundamental. We would like to believe that what we do in the comfort of our own homes is only ours to know. But that is not so.
How will we respond to this news? Will we cower in fear? Limit our cell phone use? Clear our internet history at the end of each search? Avoid searching for conservative rallies and pro-life groups? Will we allow fear to control us and limit us?
We should never let fear drive our actions or cause us to live with anxiety and stress. God sent his son Jesus Christ to take away this fear. He is the King of this world, he always has been and always will be. He rules on his thrown for all eternity. The nations of this world are fleeting and temporary, but God's Kingdom is eternal. It is never ending. Our home is not here, on this earth, it is in the eternal Kingdom. We are aliens in this world, just strangers passing through. So, why fear what this world can do to us? If God is for us, who can be against us?
If you watch the news and get a queazy stomach and become filled with worry, lift your head, take heart, you have an eternal home ahead! To let fear of this world rule your thoughts and emotions is short sighted. Have you forgotten that this life is only a blink of an eye? Just think of where you will spend eternity. Think of who you will spend eternity with: the great and mighty King, the creator of the heavens and the earth, your perfect Savior.
Our government is certainly out of control. Terrorists really do exist and want to bring harm to Americans and all those who hold religious beliefs different from their own. These are true threats but they are not to be feared. Instead, God is to be trusted. God is to be praised. Our eyes need not be focused on the evil of this world and what it can do to us, but instead, we should focus on hearts and minds on the true ruler of this world. He is almighty in power, saving us for eternity and providing security for our souls here on earth.
Who then shall we fear?

Jesus behind the wheel

Have you ever known someone who is quite simply a terrible driver? Now I know what any red blooded male would say: "Yes, every woman I've ever seen behind the wheel of a vehicle." But I'm not talking about the mythical gender gap in driving ability; I'm talking about individuals who are oblivious and reckless without even knowing it. These are the kinds of drivers that scare their passengers into silence and cause them to grasp with all their might the safety bar over head or the grip next to the door handle. Their knuckles go white and all the color drains from their cheeks, yet the driver is clueless. Does anyone in particular come to mind?
I know a few of these terrible drivers who are completely ignorant of the danger they pose to themselves and every other person on the road. I won't name names. That would be gossipy. But I know the feeling of riding shotgun next to them and it isn't a peaceful experience. It is stressful and anxiety producing. If you try to comment on maybe taking the next bend a bit slower or looking up from the map to pay attention to the road, this kind of driver blows off your suggestion as pure silliness. They know what they're doing! They have been driving for years, longer then you've been alive. Sound familiar? On one hand you want them to learn the error of their ways and become a more prudent driver; but on the other hand you don't want any harm to come on them, so you just silently pray that no small children are playing anywhere near the street.
Today I was driving along listening to the radio when the song "Jesus Take the Wheel" came on the station. I love this song and preceded to belt it out with Carrie Underwood. It was our own private duet and I must say I wasn't sounding too shabby! While I was emoting with each stanza I was struck by the words I was singing. I know practically every word by heart and have even sang this song in church, so the lyrics are nothing new to me. Still, I was struck by the cry of the heart to have Jesus truly take over.

You and I often go through life like that crazy driver, not knowing that we are terribly out of control and in need of guidance. We think we have our lives under control. But we aren't the one's who are supposed to be in control. Jesus is supposed to be behind the wheel. We are foolish and misguided if we believe we are the best masters of our fate and the most qualified to be driving the car that is going to get us there.
You and I are terrible drivers of our lives. We gossip, criticize, hurt people's feeling, lie and make a host of other sins. Our hearts our prone to wonder and our actions are prone to evil. And we think we should be running our own show?
We have a Savior in Heaven who is free of all our faults. He doesn't sin. He doesn't hurt people or forget things or make mistakes. Period, end of story. He is perfection. And guess what... HE wants to run our lives! Isn't that an awesome proposition? The perfect Savior, who loves without conditions and has never committed a single sin wants to be the driver of our car. This is an unbelievable offer. All he asks is that we hand over the keys. How can we expect the perfection he can deliver if we are still grasping the steering wheel? He wants us to get in the back; release control of the wheel, the pedals, the locks and settings. He wants us to sit back and enjoy the ride without having to grip the safety bar or close our eyes our of fear for the next bend. He wants us to relax in the safety only he can provide.
You may be a great driver, with a clean history record and not a single accident in your past, but if you are still behind the wheel of your own life then you are missing a great ride. Jesus has offered to take the wheel and steer. He has promised you an incredible journey if only you will step aside. Release the grip you have on your own life, admit to your sinful ways and flawed nature. Let him get in the drivers seat. He will get you to your destination safely and along the winding road will be an incredible journey you won't want to miss!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A deer encounter

Tonight I encountered a deer. No big deal you say? Read on.

I was walking Pippy along the Chagrin River for our nightly stroll through the village. Vendors were embarking on the cumbersome task of breaking down tents and displays that had taken up residency in the park next to the river for the past two days to celebrate Art By the Falls, an annual craft fair that draws massive crowds and rows upon rows of vendors. Tonight the event came to a close and all that was left were workers and their unsold goods, vans parked in the muddy used-to-be grass and the lingering scents of Carmel Corn and Funnel Cakes. It doesn't sound all that appealing when laid out in words, but there is something sweetly evocative about the closing moments of a summer fair.
During the excitement of the actual event, the work and labor that took place to get there, and the impending labor to get it all back home, are far from the minds of visitors. All they see are beautiful pieces of art work, jewelry crafted by talented hands and breathtaking photography. The air is filled with laughter and crowds meeting friends and enjoying the company of family. At the end of it all, as the crowds fade away, a calm and stillness settles over those that are left behind. It comes on quietly. It comes rolling in like a thick fog.
It is in this setting that my amazing encounter took place. Pippy and I had finished the walk through the park and started to climb the brick stairs that lead to the Chagrin Falls Public Library on Orange Street. As we reached the top of the stairs I looked straight across the street to the big, beautiful white church and there she was: a gorgeous deer standing in front of the church, practically on the sidewalk, and slowly moving in my direction. My walk came to an abrupt stop and so did hers. For a moment it was as if time stood still. We both just gazed at each other. I wonder what was crossing her mind. She didn't bolt and she didn't appear to be startled. For all the commotion that had only just ended, with the vendor's trucks and out of town visitors making their way through town, in those moments, not a car or person came by.
In those moments a distinct and clear thought came to the front of my mind like a message in a bottle on the shores of a great ocean. That deer was placed there for me. She was sent to tell me something: you are okay alone. I have never before seen a deer in Chagrin Falls, and certainly not on the side of one of the busiest streets in town, on one of the busiest weekends in town. When I saw her I immediately looked around her to see if she was traveling with a group or at least a friend. But she was all alone, sort of like me - although not even I was as alone as she was because I had Pippy. In those brief moments it seemed as if the whole world stopped turning so God could send me a message through his creation....
....."Don't worry when the world leaves you, when you feel like an island. You are not alone. I am here. I am always with you. You are just like the deer. She doesn't need the company of others like her to be content and complete. She is beautiful and majestic and yet, all alone. Don't you believe I care for you in the same way? ".....
It must have been 20 or 30 seconds before she began to walk again. She started towards the street, crossing on an angle to go up the hill on my side of the street. As she began to move I saw out of the corner of my eye a bright blue Prius heading up the hill at a quick clip. My eyes darted to the car and then back to the deer. My heart sank in my chest as an impending disaster seemed inevitable. The two would meet the same place in the road at the same moment unless divine intervention stepped in. The deer continued on her path and the car continued barreling towards her, apparently oblivious to the dangers that lay ahead.
I wanted to close my eyes but it all happened so fast. The car came speeding toward the deer and a split second before the two collided the car slammed on its brakes, as the deer narrowly escaped being struck head on. The deer's pace quickened and she made it across the road, darted down a small hill and away into a forest of trees. My eyes must have been bugging out of my head and my jaw must have been on the ground - or at least that is how it felt.
My deer! Me! That deer was a picture of me and she was almost killed (or badly hurt) in front of my very eyes.
Oh, how God knows how to teach his children. He told me he would take care of me, just like he takes care of the deer. That deer came so close to the edge of existence, so close to a fate that could have ended it all in the matter of seconds, yet God delivered her from evil and death. I wanted her to get across safely, with no threat of cars and no near death experience, but God had a different plan in store. The journey ended up being an eventful one, but he still protected her. It was a close call, but God got her across the street in the end without even a scratch.
...."Don't you believe I care for you in the same way?", he asked.
Yes. Yes, God cares for me even when I am alone, even when I endure hardship and even when it feels like danger and peril surround me. He is there. He is faithful. And he will get me to the other side.
All he asks of me is that I trust him.